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The Last Stand

Chapter Text

June 30th 1997

The Hogwarts Express traditionally made just two journeys a year, one to Kings Cross at the end of June and one to Hogsmeade at the beginning of September.

The previous Christmas had been different, since Umbridge had the floo system in the castle closed down, as it had been a few times during the first war, but now, as term ended once more, things were back on track.

Usually the train rides were accompanied with laughter and jokes, but not this time.

Not even after the tragic end of the Triwizard Tournament in 1996 had the train been this subdued.

The eight students who had fought at the Ministry had taken up residence in the last compartment in the train, activating the enchantments Jen had told them about over Christmas. This had turned out to be a good idea, since what seemed to be every Muggle-born in the lower four years had turned up in the hope of sitting near them, apparently for the security they felt around Harry. The older children seemed content with simply taking the nearby compartments, but the first and second years had taken the opportunity to sit in theirs, even if it meant sitting on the floor – the compartment may have been expanded, but even magic has its limits.

A few had been understandably nervous when they saw Draco, but the arm he kept firmly around Ginny’s waist swiftly dispelled any worries.

Draco and Ginny had not spoken about their bond, at least not that Hermione had heard. They weren’t dating, not yet, but physical contact was increasingly common between them. Currently, Ginny’s head was resting on his shoulder, her eyes closed, but her body was poised to act if something should happen.

Neville and Ron were playing a chess game by the window and Susan and Luna were curled up on the bench next to Ron, half-watching the game, half-chatting to each other.

Unlike Luna, Susan had quite a few friends in her house, but she had found that Hannah, Ernie and Justin didn’t understand what she was going through in the wake of the Department of Mysteries, not like the other seven could, and she and Luna had become very close.

Harry was seated in one of the corners near the door – opposite Draco, who occupied the other corner – and Hermione had situated herself on his lap to make more room for the first years – at least, that was her excuse.

The last Hermione had heard, Harry was still going back to the Dursleys for the first day at least, but Harry didn’t seem too concerned by this, and she had the feeling Jen had changed her mind about not tipping her hand.

She still didn’t know what Jen had planned and hadn’t bothered asking Harry or Draco what she had talked about over the mirror that evening in the Room of Requirement.

Right now, she was more concerned about the children sharing their compartment and how quiet they all were. “It’s unnerving.” She murmured.

“I’m not sure which is worse.” Harry said quietly, not needing to ask what she meant. “The fact that these kids need to worry about the war or the fact that they don’t feel safe traveling on their own.”

“You can blame Pansy for that.” Draco said from the opposite bench without opening his eyes. “The girl’s psycho. I think she’s planning on giving Aunt Bella a run for her money.”

Hermione flinched. “That’s all we need.”

Ron made a strange whining noise and Neville clucked triumphantly. “Check!”

“Neville, why?!” Ron whined. “Why would you do this to me, why?!”

The first years giggled among themselves, which was the reason for Ron’s overreaction in the first place … mostly – he did have a five year winning streak to defend.

At that moment, however, the connecting door into the carriage flew open, bringing with it the sounds of spell-fire, followed by a scream of pain and terror.

Everything seemed to happen at once. The chessboard overturned, the pieces scattering across the floor, as Neville and Ron jumped into action. Susan and Luna darted around Crookshanks, who was chasing the chess figures, to the first years, who had formed a huddle, placing themselves in front of them, wands in hand. At the same time, Draco and Ginny raced out of the compartment, wands drawn, and Harry sprang to his feet, causing Hermione to slide to the ground with a startled squeak.

“Hey!”

Harry paused just long enough to pull her back to her feet and kiss her cheek in apology before sprinting out into the corridor behind Ron and Neville.

Hermione hesitated, listening intently. It sounded as though the fracas outside was caused by an ongoing problem, rather than an attack on the Muggle-born students, but she slipped out of the compartment anyway, her eyes scanning the rest of the carriage. The other compartment doors were tightly shut, despite the presence of Pansy, Theodore Nott, Millicent Bulstrode, Crabbe, Goyle and several sixth and seventh year Slytherins that Hermione knew by sight but not by name.

A whimpered sob near her feet caught her attention and Hermione looked down to see a figure huddled against the wall of the carriage. Erecting a Shield Charm around them, she knelt beside the terrified girl, recognising her instantly as Slytherin “Ice Queen” Daphne Greengrass.

The usually poised and put-together fifth year was trembling so violently that Hermione feared she may have been having some kind of seizure. Her robes were torn, her make-up smeared, a small amount of blood trickling down her cheek and mixing with her tears.

Hermione touched her shoulder and the girl flinched violently, so she pulled back. “Daphne?” She called softly. “Daphne, can you look at me please?”

Terrified blue eyes flitted towards her, settling on her face.

“Do you know who I am?” Hermione asked, keeping her voice gentle.

Daphne nodded jerkily.

“I’d like to help you into our compartment and away from the idiots with wands.” Hermione said. “Is that alright?”

Only once Daphne nodded again did Hermione try once more to touch her. This time, Daphne allowed her to take her arm and help her to her feet.

Susan let out a sharp gasp at their entrance, stepping forwards automatically before catching herself. “What happened?”

“Death Eaters in training.” Hermione said grimly, sitting Daphne down and wrapping her in her cloak. “Do you have any chocolate?”

“I have a few chocolate frogs left over from lunch.” Susan said, pulling them from her pocket and offering them to Daphne. “Here, eat these. It’ll make you feel better.”

A few minutes later, the rest of their party returned, looking incredibly pleased with themselves.

“That was quick.” Susan commented, rhythmically stroking Daphne’s back. Whether there was any rhyme or reason to her actions, Hermione didn’t know, but it did seem to be helping; Daphne was relaxing ever so slowly.

“The rest of the DA showed up to help.” Neville explained. “They followed them here, apparently. Most of them got hit in the crossfire.”

“They took the Slytherins back to the next carriage.” Harry continued, smirking. “Shoved them in one of the empty compartments. Goyle looks like some kind of slug.”

“His mother’ll be happy.” Ron said gleefully. “He’s loads better looking now.”

Daphne let out a reluctant giggle and Draco knelt in front of her, deliberately positioning himself lower than her in a non-threatening pose. “Are you alright?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to a you that’s this human.” Daphne remarked quietly.

“Join the club.” Ron muttered.

Ginny gave her brother a scolding look and touched Daphne’s hand gently. “That didn’t answer the question. Are you alright?”

“Physically, I’m alright.” Daphne said slowly. “It’s just …”

“It’s scary.” Harry finished. “People you thought you could depend on turning on you.”

Daphne snorted. “I never depended on them, Potter. We’re Slytherins. We don’t depend on anybody.”

“We can learn how to.” Draco said wisely. “As long as they’re the right people. I was going to try to contact you during the summer – rumour has it your family’s come down on our side of the fence.”

Daphne smiled wryly. “I have. They haven’t. Part of the reason behind that little display.”

Draco caught Ginny’s eye and she turned to Hermione. “Can we?”

Hermione blinked. “Can we what?”

“Well, she’s in it as deep as we are now, right?” Ginny pointed out. “And she’s got nowhere to go. We can’t just throw her in the deep end and expect her to tread water until the war’s over.”

“Interesting analogy.” Harry noted. “But she’s got a point.”

Hermione nodded in agreement. “Okay. Let me just set up a privacy bubble so the kids can’t hear us and we’ll explain everything.”

***

As the train pulled in to Platform 9¾, the students began gathering their things together, ready to meet their families, but Harry caught Hermione’s arm before she could open the compartment door. “Hey, I want to talk to Draco and Daphne before we leave – go on without us?”

Hermione gave him a questioning look, but agreed, giving him a quick kiss. “I’ll see you in a few minutes.” She, Ron and Ginny gathered the Muggle-borns together and escorted them off the train, seeing them through the barrier before stepping through themselves.

Jen was waiting with Mrs Weasley and, while Molly busied herself fussing over her youngest children, Jen swept Hermione into a tight hug, murmuring apologies into her hair.

Hermione relaxed for what felt like the first time since the Department of Mysteries, her forehead dropping to Jen’s shoulder. “I’m alright.”

Jen pulled back to grip her arms. “Hermione, I am so sorry. We should never have assumed we had the mirror, we should have double-checked. And I shouldn’t have believed Albus when he said that you were too swamped to be contacted.”

“I’m alright.” Hermione repeated. “We both are. Harry’s just having a word with Draco and Daphne – that’s Daphne Greengrass; she’s come down on our side of the fence and her parents have come down on the other.”

Jen grimaced. “Ouch. Poor girl. I’ll think of something.” She raised a hand and waved to Neville and Susan, who were loitering nearby, beckoning them over.

“Your aunt and your grandmother asked if I’d mind collecting you from the station.” She explained when they were within earshot. “We’re just waiting for Harry.”

“Thank you.” Susan said with a smile. “How is everyone?”

Everyone is just fine.” Jen said, including all three students in her answer. “They’re all at home, waiting for you.”

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness.” She turned to the Weasleys, just as Ron was released from his mother’s grip. “Hello Mrs Weasley.”

“Hello Hermione.” Mrs Weasley greeted politely. “How are you?”

“I’m … better, thank you.” Hermione answered, stumbling slightly over the response.

Ginny frowned. Hermione had nearly died in the Department of Mysteries, it was unlike her mother to be so formal all of a sudden. “Mum,” she said slowly, “you’re not upset Hermione and Harry are dating, are you?”

“Of course not, dear.” Her mother said.

“Because Harry’s like my brother.” Ginny continued. “That was never going to …”

She broke off, her blood freezing in her veins, as the quiet presence at the back of her head vanished.

Bonded they may have been, but she and Draco had been careful to give each other space in their shared mind. Nevertheless, his sudden absence struck fear into her heart and she turned back towards the barrier. “Something’s wrong.”

“Ginny?” Hermione asked, but Ginny ignored her, running back through the barrier to Platform 9¾. She scrambled back on to the train and burst into the compartment, but it was empty. Nothing but sweet wrappers remained.

“Ginny!” Her mother scolded, but Hermione swore before she could continue.

“Where are they?!” Hermione demanded.

“I don’t know!” Ginny said frantically. “He’s not there, Hermione – he’s disappeared and they’re not here either and …”

“Ginny, calm down.” Susan said softly. “Let’s search the train and then figure out what to do.”

Twenty minutes later, they stepped back on to the platform, forced to admit that the train was empty. By now, Molly was even more hysterical than Ginny was, and all set to floo straight to Hogwarts, but Jen stopped her.

“We’ll go to the Burrow.”

“But Albus …” Molly began.

“We will go to the Burrow.” Jen said firmly. “We’re not going to be of any help when you’re this worried, Molly. We’ll floo there, come on.”

Ron went through first, followed by Susan and Neville. As soon as Molly had disappeared into the flames, Hermione, still gripping Ginny’s hand tightly, turned to Jen and said, “I didn’t see the Dursleys outside.”

Jen gave her the tiniest wink. “Off you go.”

Hermione smiled, taking Ginny through the fireplace with her.

Molly had collapsed at the kitchen table and Ron was patting her shoulder, a look of frozen terror on his face. Susan had found the kettle and was busying herself making a pot of tea, gnawing anxiously on her bottom lip. Neville was staring out of the kitchen window pensively, his hands in his pockets.

“Where’s the sugar, Ginny?” Susan asked quietly.

Ginny fetched it, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. “Do you think they’re alright?”

“Jen’s not worried.” Hermione said quietly. “And if anyone should be, it’s her.”

“Why can’t I hear him?” Ginny asked.

“I don’t know.” Hermione said, tucking the younger girl under her chin.

Jen took two of the cups from Susan and pushed one of them into Molly’s hands. “Here, Molly, drink this. Take some deep breaths for me. That’s it.”

“The poor boy …” Molly lamented, taking a shaky gulp of tea. “Oh, how did they get him again?!”

“Molly, calm down.” Jen said firmly. “Everything is going to be alright.” She stood and made her way over to Hermione and Ginny. “Ginny, am I right in thinking that there’s a soul bond between you and Draco?”

“Yes.” Ginny said, shooting a covert look at her mother, who didn’t seem to have heard. “Can you sense it?”

Jen smiled at her. “No, but you said that he’d disappeared, not they, and you just asked Hermione why you couldn’t hear him. Suggests a soul bond, and it’s definitely not with Harry. Can you get him a message?”

“I can try.” Ginny said. “The link’s blocked.”

“Tell them it’s all clear and we’ll be with them in the next thirty minutes.”

Hermione sighed loudly, catching the attention of the others in the kitchen. “Jen, where are they?”

“Potter Manor.” Jen answered innocently. “Where else would they be?”

Chapter Text

June 30th 1997

Meanwhile …

If there was anything that could be said about the regulars in The Hanged Man, it was that they liked their gossip.

The same could probably be said of any local pub in any small village where the slightest change to routine can fuel weeks of excitement.

However, The Hanged Man wasn’t just any local pub; it was local pub in Little Hangleton, which happened to be where Voldemort’s father hailed from, so that was the pub Addie was aiming for that afternoon.

Finding the place had not been easy, until Sirius remembered Harry mentioning a man being killed in his original dream about the house and Dumbledore mentioning that the Ministry seemed unconcerned about the murder of a Muggle named Frank Bryce.

From there, Jen had been able to track down the news report of a mysterious death in Little Hangleton in 1995, which was much easier than finding the original reports of the Riddle family.

Unsure how much, if any, Death Eater activity was in the village, Addie had placed a strong Glamour Charm on herself and travelled alone, much to Sirius’s displeasure, but she was not backing down. Her brown hair was scraped back into a messy bun, her brown eyes blinking owlishly from behind thick-framed glasses, and she looked just like a Muggle historian – at least, she hoped she did, since that was the effect she was going for.

Her original wand was still Merlin only knew where, but her replacement was tucked into a wand holster under her shirt. It didn’t respond quite the same way, but it was perfectly acceptable. She doubted any wand would ever be the same as her first, and she had said as much to Mr Ollivander.

His answering smile had been almost sad. “Well, Miss McKinnon, the wand chooses the wizard you know”, he had said, which she had taken to be agreement.

She took her time wandering around the village, stopping to admire the hanging baskets that lined the ‘high street’, taking photographs with a Muggle camera of some of the older houses, all the while observing the manor house on the hill.

It was just as creepy as she had imagined it, and she didn’t attempt to approach it, turning instead to the small pub on the corner.

The interior was dark and smoky and she had to blink a few times to allow her eyes to adjust to the sudden change of light.

The noise level dropped as she entered, people twisting around in their seats and abandoning drinks to focus on the stranger who had wandered into the midst.

The clientele seemed to be made up of the entire population of the village – she could only assume they had nowhere else to go. One side of the pub seemed to be entirely older people, nursing local ales. The other side was primarily teenagers and young adults, playing pool in between cokes and cocktails. A couple of boys to her left seemed incredibly interested in her entrance and she could feel their eyes on her as she crossed the floor.

Their stares sent uncomfortable prickles up and down her spine, but she ignored them, taking a seat at the bar and smiling at the barmaid who almost ran over to her. “Lemonade please.”

“Certainly, love.” The woman said, reaching under the bar for a glass. “Anything else?”

“No thank you.” Addie said, slipping her camera back into her bag. “It’s sweltering out there.”

“Makes a change from the rain.” The barmaid responded, setting her drink on the bar. “£3.20.”

That sounded a lot to Addie, but she had no idea what the exchange rate between galleons and pounds was, and that wasn’t the point of the exercise anyway, so she counted out the coins and handed them over, silently thanking Lily for teaching them how to use Muggle money.

“Travelled far to get here?” The woman asked casually.

Addie smiled – nosy, yes; subtle, no. “Not really. I’m staying in Greater Hangleton for the week – holiday, you know. Never been able to leave work behind. I’m a historian.” She said, anticipating the next question. “Small villages like this fascinate me.” She took a sip of lemonade. At least it was very good. “Out of interest, is there a story behind the old manor house on the hill? It looks deserted.”

Her eyes lit up. “Ah, now, there’s a story! See what happened was … No, tell you what – you want this story first hand, so to speak. ‘Ere, Dorothy! This lady wants to know about the Riddles!”

Addie looked over her shoulder to see a wizened old lady seated in one of the booths with a glass of water. Her face lit up as well, and she beckoned Addie over with a gnarled hand.

Thanking the barmaid, Addie made her way over and slid on to the bench opposite Dorothy, who squinted at her.

“My names Madeline.” Addie said with a smile. “I’m a historian.”

“Ah, then you’ll want to ’ear this story.” Dorothy croaked. “When I was a lass, that ’ouse was owned by the Riddle family – father, mother and son. Weren’t very well liked. The father was the squire around ’ere, but you know as well as I do that don’t mean squat anymore. Didn’t back then, but you wouldn’t think it, the way they carried on. Been a bit of a to-do when I was a babe – the son, Tom, ran off with the daughter of a tramp!”

Addie made an appropriately shocked face. “But he came back?”

Dorothy snorted. “Claimed to have been bewitched. Little ’ussy probably told him she was pregnant. Or maybe he did get ’er pregnant and just ran away when he couldn’t ’andle it.”

“When was that?” Addie asked curiously.

“Ah, now, let’s see …” Dorothy said slowly. “I don’t remember that, but it was only sixteen years later when … I musta been about six at a guess.”

Addie tilted her head curiously. “Sixteen years later … What happened sixteen years later?”

Dorothy leaned towards her, bringing with her a faint whiff of stale cat litter, and Addie tried not to grimace. “I were sittin’ ‘ere, in this very pub, when their maid came runnin’ screamin’ down the road, into the pub. All three of ‘em – dead.”

Addie gasped with feigned horror. “Good gracious! What happened?”

“Well that’s the strange thing!” Dorothy said smugly. “No one knows, do they? Police couldn’t work out ’ow they died. They arrested ol’ Frank Bryce – ’e were the gardener – but they ’ad to let ’im go – no evidence.”

“Do you think he did it?” Addie asked.

“I did.” Dorothy said. “For a long while. But ’e died as well, not so long ago. Found ’im in the garden. Just the same as the Riddles – looked like ’e’d been scared to death.”

Killing Curse, Addie’s mind supplied. “Well, that’s …”

“Exactly.” Dorothy leaned even closer. “There’s somethin’ funny about that ’ouse. You mark my words.”

Addie took a drink, thinking about the story. It wasn’t really the Riddles she was interested in, but she didn’t want to seem too eager. In the worst case scenario, she had to cast a Compulsion Charm or a Memory Charm, but that was the last resort. “What about the tramp’s daughter? What happened to her?”

Dorothy shrugged. “No idea. Disappeared, never came back. Father died, brother went mad, and then ’e died an’ all.”

“What was her name?” Addie asked, hoping she sounded absently curious as opposed to truly interested.

Dorothy’s face screwed up in concentration. “Let’s see … Ma said they were all ‘m’s, and really strange … Merope!” She crowed. “Merope Gaunt – Gaunt by name, and gaunt by nature, me ma used to say – looked like she was starving.”

The Gaunts, from what Addie could remember, were originally an Ancient and Noble pureblood family whose inbreeding and obsession with blood purity had left them ostracised by even the most obsessed of purebloods, despite their ancestor being one Salazar Slytherin.

Even Sirius’s mother would not have been swayed into an arrangement – where the Blacks had managed to escape most of the downfalls of ‘line-breeding’, the Gaunts had managed to catch all of them – their magical power had dwindled, their intelligence with it, each generation became uglier and uglier, and they were all quite mad.

Okay, so none of the Blacks had escaped that particular downfall – even Sirius, Jen and Andie, arguably the sanest of the Blacks, had a streak of insanity within them. They just managed to hide it better than the others.

All of this would certainly explain why Voldemort was such a psychopath, and verified his claims of being Slytherin’s heir.

“If you want to take a look,” Dorothy said thoughtfully, “their old shack is on the road out of town. You can’t miss it – there’s a snake nailed to the door.”

Addie did not leave immediately. She was in no rush and she didn’t want to draw unnecessary attention, so she stayed and nursed her lemonade, asking Dorothy about some of the other houses and the history of the village.

Dorothy was quite happy to tell Addie all of her childhood stories and only when she began visibly tiring did Addie finish her drink, thank her for her time, and leave.

There was only one road in and out of Little Hangleton, and Addie had walked along it on her way into the village, but had seen no shack.

This time however, she walked more slowly, her eyes scanning the hedgerows either side of the country lane, and finally, she found it, a tiny shack set back from the road.

The path was overgrown with nettles and brambles, which explained why Addie had missed it the first time, and she didn’t attempt to fight through them, staying on the lane and observing it from a distance.

Dorothy was right about the snake, but it was no longer nailed to the door. Its body had decomposed, its bones lying on the floor, in front of the door, a dire warning to all who dared enter.

The snake, though, was the last thing Addie was concerned about – magic shimmered around the shack in wards and enchantments. She recognised the signature of the magic from the island and it definitely wasn’t there for nostalgia purposes.

One thing was certain though – she wasn’t stupid enough to attempt a closer look without back-up.

***

As soon as the words left Jen’s mouth, relief flooded through Ginny like a tidal wave. “You set it up!”

Jen squeezed her shoulder. “I didn’t trust Dumbledore not to have someone at the station to force Harry back to the Dursleys, so I told him to call Dobby on to the train and have him take Harry and Draco back to Potter Manor. And Daphne too, I guess.”

Ginny sighed heavily and closed her eyes, reaching for the place where Draco had been earlier. Draco? Jen says it’s all clear and we’ll be with you in the next 30 minutes.

There was a brief moment of silence, then the link reopened and his presence rushed back into her mind. Okay, before you yell at me, Jen insisted we didn’t tell anyone to make sure that no one found out until it was too late.

Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been?! Ginny demanded. Why did you close the link?

I didn’t mean to. Draco insisted. But I’m sorry.

Do it again, and I’ll hex you into the next century.

The response was quick and relieved. Done.

“Jennifer?” Molly asked. “What’s going on? And don’t tell me Harry’s at Potter Manor, because I’ve guessed that.”

“Ginny?” Jen prompted quietly.

Ginny sighed, sitting down opposite her mother. “Mum, about two weeks ago, when Hermione and Draco woke up, I … Well, something happened.”

Molly reached across the table to take her hands, looking concerned. “What is it, Ginny?”

Ginny took a deep breath. “A soul bond formed between me and Draco.”

Molly stared at her and Ginny braced herself for an explosion, but Jen spoke first.

“Neville, Susan, your guardians have given their permission for you to spend the summer at Potter Manor with us.” She said. “But it’s not going to be a holiday, I’m afraid.”
Hermione grinned. “Are you going to train us, Jen?”

Jen nodded, and that was enough to distract Molly – at least for the moment – from her daughter’s soul bond. “I don’t think …”

“Sirius and I are Harry’s legal guardians.” Jen said flatly. “Sirius is also Hermione’s, thanks to Gringotts. Amelia and Augusta have given their permission. Now, admittedly, I cannot train Ron and Ginny without your permission, but I’m not stupid enough to believe that Harry and Hermione won’t do it for me.”

“But they’re children!” Molly protested.

“We’re underage.” Ginny said. “We’re not children.”

Molly scowled at her. “Soul bond or not, my girl …”

“This has nothing to do with the soul bond.” Ginny said fiercely. “Voldemort tried to use me to come back, remember? I know you like pretending that my first year never happened, but it did. I remember Tom Riddle, I remember the after-effects of the possession, I remember seeing Harry on the floor of the Chamber, I remember everything!”

Ginny, Draco whispered. It’s alright, Ginny.

Ginny took a shaky breath, grasping the extra restraint he offered her. “Ron and I nearly died last month, Mum. We could have done. We are already involved, whether you like it or not, because Harry isn’t getting out of this. And we aren’t leaving him.”

“She’s right, Mum.” Ron said, his hand on his mother’s shoulder. “Ground us if you like. Keep us here. We’re still going to fight.”

“You shouldn’t have to!” Molly cried.

“Molly, I agree with you.” Jen said firmly, shutting down Molly’s argument. “I love Harry like he’s my own son. I love all these kids. I hope beyond hope that this war ends and we sit in this kitchen and you can say “I told you so”.” She softened her voice, reaching out beseechingly to the older woman. “But, Molly, if that happens, the kids are alive to see it. If the opposite happens, if they do have to fight for their lives, and I’m the one who can say it … they won’t be.”

“Voldemort has tried to kill Harry five times already.” Hermione pointed out.

“Six, if you include the cursed broom.” Neville said.

Hermione frowned. “Can we include the cursed broom? That was Quirrell, not Voldemort.”
“But Quirrell was possessed by V-V-V-Voldemort.” Ron pointed out.

“True.” Hermione said thoughtfully. “That’s true.”

Jen shook her head in disbelief and turned back to Molly. “You see, Molly, Harry should not have had to defend himself all of those times, but where would he be if he hadn’t?”

***

The first thing Addie saw when the entrance hall of Ravenscroft Manor formed around her was Sirius pacing the floor. He swiftly changed course to meet her halfway.

“Did you find her?”

Addie nodded, allowing him to hug her. She was more comfortable with physical contact and affection now, eased, she suspected, by Sirius keeping his promise to dole out hugs when she needed them. “Her name was Merope Gaunt, daughter of a local tramp.”

“Gaunt. So he is Slytherin’s heir.” Sirius concluded.

“Great minds think alike.” Addie said with a smile. “She caused a great scandal when she ran off with the squire’s son.”

“I bet she did.” Sirius said. “Any sign of a Horcrux?”

“Well, there’s something there.” Addie said slowly. “I just don’t know if it’s a Horcrux. The Gaunts’ old home is covered with magic, really sadistic magic at that. I wasn’t going near it by myself.” She looked around. “Has Remus already gone to Potter Manor?”

Sirius nodded. “Jen let him know that Harry and Draco were there about ten minutes ago.” He offered her his arm. “Shall we?”

Together, they made their way to the reception room and Sirius offered Addie the floo powder. Unlike Ravenscroft, which was connected to several fires, Potter Manor was connected to Ravenscroft Manor only, a fact that Jen had made absolutely sure of.

She stepped through the fire into the warm reception room of Potter Manor, which was almost entirely different to the one she had just left – the Potters, although proud purebloods, had rarely stood on ceremony, even in formal company.

Remus was waiting for them, with three teenagers, but Addie barely had time to acknowledge them, before Sirius appeared from the flames and one of the teens hurtled himself across the room into his arms.

Sirius hugged his godson back with equal emotion, murmuring reassurance into his messy hair. It was a scene that brought a smile to Addie’s face, albeit one tinged with sadness.

A few days after her return, Andromeda had come to visit and, at Jen’s request, given Addie a medical examination. As Addie had suspected and accepted, she had not escaped entirely unscathed, and she considered herself lucky that the only damage was internal and confined to her reproductive system.

Addie had never really been maternal, not that she hadn’t considered  children in the past, so it wasn’t something that she was dwelling on, especially since she had been expecting something (in her opinion) much, much worse.

That didn’t mean that the fact didn’t sting a little, especially when Sirius spoke about Harry and Hermione, and she saw just what a wonderful father he was.

She was easily distracted, though, especially when Sirius released Harry and they both turned to look at her.

“Merlin, you look like your father.” She laughed almost immediately. “Sorry, Harry, I bet you get that a lot.”
“Yeah, I do.” Harry admitted. “But I don’t mind.”

Sirius laughed. “Harry, this is Addison McKinnon. She would have been your godmother.”

“Call me Addie, Harry.” She said, wrinkling her nose. “I can’t think of the last person who called me Addison. It’s nice to finally meet you. Between Lily, James, Jen and Sirius, I feel like I’ve known you forever.”

Harry blushed slightly, but looked pleased. “Are Mum and Dad okay?”

“They were the last time I saw them.” Addie assured them. “I’m doing what I can to help Jen and Remus find the island.”

“Thanks.” Harry said quietly. “Are you okay? After … everything?”

Addie smiled at him, touched by his concern. “I’m getting there, Harry, thank you.” Then, because she could see him searching for another topic of conversation, she asked, “Who are your friends?”

Harry turned towards them automatically. “Oh, this is Draco Malfoy and Daphne Greengrass.”

“Draco,” Sirius greeted, moving to shake his hand. “I hear it’s you I’ve got to thank for my continued existence.”

Draco shrugged a little self-consciously. “I just reacted.”

“Good reflexes.” Addie commented, observing him. Sirius had explained about Draco, but a Malfoy with a friendly face was still a shock.

Speaking of shock, Daphne’s face was pale and she was trembling ever so slightly.

“Are you alright, Daphne?” Addie asked gently.

“She was attacked on the train.” Harry said with a scowl. “Wannabe Death Eaters.”

Addie grimaced and wrapped an arm around the young girl’s shoulders. “Come on. Let’s go and get a cup of tea. Padfoot can show the boys to their rooms.”

Sirius rolled his eyes and gestured for Harry and Draco to follow him, flicking his wand to levitate their trunks after them. He led them up the one of the two marble staircases in the entrance hall that framed the entrance to the ballroom and then up another flight of stairs.

“The first floor is almost entirely a library.” He explained as they reached the second floor. “So this is where the bedrooms start.”

Harry looked horrified. “We’ll need to put Tracking Charms on Hermione, or we’re going to lose her.”

Draco tried to choke back a laugh, but only succeeded in giving himself a coughing fit. Harry slapped him on the back, now grinning broadly, as Sirius stopped outside one of the doors. “Draco, this one’s yours.”

The room had probably once been red and gold like much of the rest of the house but someone, much to Draco’s visible relief, had redecorated in muted green with silver accents.

“Thanks.”

“No problem.” Sirius said. “You can thank Jen for the paint job. Although we should really be thanking Harry for letting us stay here – it’s your house after all.”

“Like I’d say no.” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “Is the next one along …?”

“No.” Sirius said, anticipating the question. “Yours is on the next floor.”

Harry frowned slightly, but Draco didn’t seem surprised. They followed Sirius up another flight of stairs and he pushed open the door to a room that caused Harry’s heart to almost stop.

“Sirius!” He protested. “It’s huge!”

“It’s your room.” Sirius said with a shrug.

“Yeah, but …”

“Pot-Harry.” Draco said, interrupting him. “They’re not doing this to make a point. This is your room. There’s a specific order of rooms in ancestral homes. Your parents, once they became Lord and Lady Potter would have moved into the Master Suite. There’s probably a Mistress’s Suite as well, but I doubt your parents ever used it. This room belongs to the Heir Apparent. It would have been your father’s room, growing up, right?”
“That’s right.” Sirius confirmed. “I used it as well, when I came to stay, even though they had the room. James insisted.”

“This was my dad’s room?” Harry asked, his eyes lighting up.

Sirius’s smile softened. “Yeah, Pronglet, it was. Come on, I’ll show you around.”

***

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was very difficult, if not impossible, to apparate directly into the grounds of Potter Manor, unless you had Potter blood.

As such, Jen and Molly apparated the students to just outside of the wards and Jen ushered them across, almost walking straight into Ginny when she stopped dead.

“I know.” Jen said, anticipating her reaction. “It’s a beautiful house.”

“Stunning.” Hermione agreed faintly.

Jen led them up to the front doors and unlocked them with a tap of her wand, leading them into the magnificent entrance hall. “Hello the house!”

“Sirius is showing Harry and Draco to their rooms.” Remus said by way of greeting. “Addie’s giving Daphne a shoulder to cry on.”

“And hello to you too.” Jen said, kissing him. “She’s good at that.”

Hermione’s gaze remained fixed on the staircases, her hand squeezing Ginny’s tightly, as Draco and Harry appeared, perfectly unharmed, chatting to Sirius on their way back to the ground floor.

Sirius caught sight of them halfway down and excused himself from their discussion to jog the rest of the way, and Hermione took her cue to fly across the room into his waiting arms.

“It’s alright, Kitten.” He whispered. “I’m alright. I’m so sorry I scared you.”

Harry acknowledged his friends and Molly with a wave and jogged straight to Jen, who embraced him tightly. “I am so, so sorry, Harry. I should never have left you alone like that, especially not under those circumstances.”

“It’s okay, Jen.” Harry said, his voice muffled against her shoulder. “You explained why, I understand.”

“Doesn’t make it right.” Jen said, pressing a kiss to his head and releasing him so Hermione could scold him for scaring her.

Harry listened patiently for several minutes, until she began to repeat herself, whereupon he took her in his arms and kissed her softly.

Hermione gave him a stern look. “You can’t do that every time I’m mad at you.”

“I can try.” Harry said with a  cheeky grin.

“Merlin.” Jen muttered under her breath, recalling a similar conversation between James and Lily.

Sirius sidled over to her. “You owe me ten galleons.”
Jen pulled a face at her brother, but didn’t begrudge him the money. He had won the bet, after all.

On her other side, Molly gave a little indignant squawk, drawing her attention to Ginny who appeared to have been mentally berating Draco and finished up by hugging him tightly, a move that seemed to shock him as much as it did Molly.

“I’m sorry.” He whispered, hugging her back. “I won’t do it again.”

“Molly, don’t.” Jen said tiredly. “There’s nothing you can do.”

“But …”

“A soul bond only forms between two people who are perfectly matched.” Jen said. “It doesn’t always form, the circumstances have to be exactly right, and they’re incredibly rare even then. But it would not form if he would ever hurt her. That should be enough.”

“But …” Molly repeated. “Harry ….”

“No.” Jen said flatly. “Quite aside from Ginny’s soul bond with Draco and Harry’s relationship with Hermione, he sees Ginny as a little sister. He calls her ‘sis’, for Merlin’s sake. Take my advice on this, Molly, and let it go.”

“People haven’t always.” Molly insisted. “I grew up hearing rumours of soul bonds, people still kept other betrothals …”

“And they died young.” Remus finished. “Take it from someone who’s experienced a completely blocked bond, Molly, even if very briefly. Breaking a bond is fatal to its participants. I do not recommend it.”

Jen shuddered, remembering those three days before they realised the consequences of shutting the link completely. Try to get her to see reason, would you? She moved forwards to meet Draco as he released Ginny, greeting him with a second unexpected embrace.

“Thank you.” She whispered.

“Thank you.” He responded. “I don’t know what I’d have done if I’d had to go home. Daphne …”

“The more the merrier.” Jen said, releasing him from her arms and turning to survey the young woman who had just appeared with Addie – quite literally; the kitchen at Potter Manor was only accessible from the front of the house by way of a secret passage in the walls.

She was still quite pale but looked a lot better than when Remus first saw her, so whatever Addie had said to her in the kitchen must have done a world of good.

“Hello, Daphne, I’m Jen, Harry’s godmother.”

“Thank you so much for this, Lady Black.” Daphne said quietly, shaking her hand.

While Jen told Daphne not to stand on ceremony, Sirius slung an arm around Addie’s shoulders and guided her towards the new arrivals. “Come on, meet the rest of the rabble.”

“Rabble?” Susan asked, with mock affront. “How dare you, sir?!”

Sirius sniggered. “Addie, this is Susan Bones, Alice’s niece, and Neville Longbottom …”

“Frank and Alice’s son.” Addie finished, shaking their hands. “You look so much like your mother, Neville.”

“Did you know them well?” Neville asked.

Addie nodded with a sad smile. “There were ten of us in our year, so the dorm was split in two. For the first five years, Alice and I shared a dorm with my sister, Leona, and …” she glanced at Molly “… two other girls. Those three were glued at the hip most of the time, so Alice and I, when we weren’t with Jen and the others, we tended to keep each other sane. I am so, so sorry about what happened.”

Neville nodded, his gaze dropping to the floor, and Sirius rescued him by directing Addie’s attention to the Weasleys. “Molly’s youngest, Ron and Ginny.”

“Are we sure Lily didn’t have another one and forget about it?” Addie asked dryly.

“You’re not the first to ask.” Ginny said with a grin. “But I am definitely 100% Weasley.”

“Unfortunately.” Ron muttered with a smirk, ducking the smack his sister aimed at his head.
“And this,” Sirius said, pride filling his voice, “is Hermione.”

Addie smiled broadly, clasping the hand the girl reached out to her. “Hermione, it’s wonderful to finally meet you. Sirius has told me so much about you.”

Hermione’s face lit up with a smile. “Good things, I hope.”

“Very good.” Addie lowered her voice. “He thinks you can walk on water, just so you know.”

“Oh, I can.” Hermione said airily.

“Only on Tuesdays though.” Harry added. “And she does tend to sink even then.”

Addie laughed, her heart lifting. These two were so very important to Sirius and for them to accept her so readily and openly was a relief.

Yes, they were still treading carefully around the borders of their past relationships, focusing on recovery and re-acquaintance as she had insisted upon, but they both knew – although they said nothing to each other – that it was a matter of time.

Jen caught her eye and waved her over and she excused herself to join her best friend out of earshot of the others. “Well?” She asked in a low voice. “What did you find?”
“One apparently abandoned manor house.” Addie answered. “One heavily warded shack. And one pub full of very eager gossips.”

Jen smirked. “Heavily warded, huh?”

“Heavily warded and belonged to the Gaunts.” Addie confirmed with a grin. “The daughter of whom ran off with the squire’s son, Tom Riddle.”

“I love gossips.” Jen said cheerfully. “Did you go inside?”
“No, the magic was pretty nasty.” Addie said. “Wouldn’t want to do it by myself.”

“Fair enough.” Jen said. “We’ll go tomorrow. We’ll get Molly to …” She trailed off, eyeing the woman dubiously. She had stopped arguing with Remus about the soul bond (or at Remus about the soul bond; Remus wasn’t exactly arguing back), but still did not look happy as she watched Ginny and Draco talking with the others. “On second thoughts, the less involved she is, the better. I’ll floo Mandy and Arabella tonight, get them to come and watch the kids.”

“Can we call them kids?” Addie asked sceptically. “I don’t think Sirius has told me everything, but given what he has told me, you can hardly classify them as children.”

“Probably not.” Jen agreed. “But it’s quicker than calling them ‘underage young people’.” She checked her watch. “And given that the next two days could well be a bit overwhelming, I need to borrow a couple of them now. Hermione?”

Hermione looked over questioningly. “Yes?”

Jen smiled. “We’re going shopping.”

Hermione grinned back and grabbed Ginny and Susan’s hands. “’Scuse us, boys.”

Jen laid a hand on Daphne’s shoulder. “You’d better come as well, unless you have some dress robes for the wedding?”

Daphne shook her head, a light pink blush staining her cheeks. “You don’t have to …”

“I know I don’t have to.” Jen said firmly. “But I’m going to. Molly, I’ll bring Ginny home when we’re done.”

“How did you talk Mum into it?” Ginny asked once they were outside. “I mean, I have no arguments if you want to buy me a dress, but Mum tends to get a bit funny about it. I think that’s where Ron gets it from.”

“Yes, I was expecting an argument.” Jen agreed. “So I took precautionary measures.” She winked. “You’ll just have to be another bridesmaid.”

Ginny’s face lit up. “Thanks, Jen.”

“Why are we doing this tonight?” Hermione asked curiously.

“Well, there’s some things we need to do over the next few days, and I don’t know how they’re going to play out.” Jen explained. “Which reminds me, Mandy and Arabella should be coming over tomorrow morning – Addie, Sirius, Remus and I need to disappear for a few hours.”

“Why?” Susan asked.

Jen’s smile turned slightly feral. “We’re going hunting.”

Chapter Text

July 1st

The following morning, once Mandy and Arabella had arrived at Potter Manor, Addie, Jen, Remus and Sirius set off for Little Hangleton.

Like Addie the day before, they travelled on foot from her larger neighbour, clad in Muggle clothes and utilising Glamour Charms so as not to draw attention to themselves.

As they approached the shack, Addie turned to Sirius. “Alright, out with it.”

Sirius gave Remus a pleading glance, but Remus was pretending to be very interested in a nearby butterfly, so he sighed and smiled innocently. “What do you mean?”

“You’re planning something.” Addie said flatly. “What are you planning?”
Sirius fidgeted a little under her gaze and relented. “Well, we know there’s something in the shack. But there might be something in the manor as well.”

“So you think we should check there as well?” Addie asked.

“No, I think we,” Sirius nodded at himself and Remus, “should check the manor, while you ladies handle the shack.”

Jen crossed her arms over her chest and glared at her brother. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that there might be Death Eaters up there, would it?”

“Of course not.” Sirius insisted.

“Because we can take care of ourselves.” Jen continued, switching her glare to her fiancé.

“Don’t look at me.” Remus said, the words resonating in her head at the same time. “This is all his idea.”

“Thanks Moony.” Sirius muttered.

“But you have to admit,” Remus continued, ignoring him, “it would save time if we split up.”

“They do have a point.” Addie said slowly.

Jen’s arms dropped to her sides and she gave her best friend a quizzical look. “Alright.” She agreed. “We’ll meet back here.”

Addie allowed herself a smile when Sirius relaxed and moved forwards to give him a hug. “Be careful.” She whispered.

Sirius brushed a kiss against her cheek as she pulled away. “You too.” He clapped Remus on the shoulder. “Come on, Moony, we’ve got work to do.”

Jen kissed Remus and the two women watched their companions head towards the town. Once they were out of earshot – and keeping her mind shielded – Jen turned to Addie.

“Why aren’t you mad at them?”

Addie shrugged. “You know as well as I do that this was all Sirius – and can you blame him for wanting to protect us, given our history?”

Jen winced. “No.” She admitted. “I can’t. But that wouldn’t normally stop you from being mad.”

Addie smirked at her. “Jen, can we or can we not work much faster without those two under our feet?”

“Well, yes, but …”

“I checked the manor house yesterday after I found this place.” Addie continued. “There’s nothing there. So what’s the harm in letting them go exploring while we take care of business?”

Jen laughed. “I missed you, Addie. Now, about this shack …”

The first order of business, of course, was actually getting through the brambles to the shack itself, which was easier said than done, but a great number of Cutting Curses finally did the trick.

Only then did Jen examine the wards and, like Addie, she did not like what she found. “Oh, that’s nasty.”

“Isn’t it?” Addie agreed. “You can see why I didn’t want to do this by myself.”

“It looks like …” Jen began, frowning. “It looks like there’s a trigger on the front door. What do you think?”

Addie narrowed her eyes, allowing the wards to come into focus. “I think you’re right. I’d guess it would attack the origin of any spell or intruder.” She blinked rapidly, the wards fading out of view again. “So how are we getting in there?”

“Let me think for a moment.” Jen said, pacing up and down.

Addie waited patiently, leaning against one of the trees, watching her pace the length of the clearing three times, before spinning to face her.

“Mirrors.” Jen announced.

“Mirrors?” Addie repeated incredulously, pushing herself away from the tree. “All that, and you came up with mirrors?”

“No, it’s brilliant.” Jen insisted. “We’ll conjure a mirror and reflect a Bombardment Hex at the door. Then we’ll Vanish the mirror and the wards will attack the place the curse came from.”

“That … is brilliant.” Addie conceded. “And nothing I would have ever thought of.”

“Of course not.” Jen said. “You’re a pureblood.”

“So are you.” Addie pointed out.

“Yes, but I lived as a Muggle for a long time.” Jen said. “This is a Muggle solution. Most wizards would overlook it. Including, I’m hoping, Voldemort.”

The plan worked just as Jen had hoped, and the curse triggered by the breaking of the door ricocheted harmlessly away from the two women – as long as they counted the disintegration of a tree as harmless.

Cautiously, they made their way into the cottage, constantly scanning for traps and triggers with every step.

The interior was eerily silent, the heavy layers of dust and cobwebs dampening any sound from outside – and that had been quiet to begin with, since they were more or less in the middle of nowhere.

“This must have been one of the first.” Addie said softly. “No one’s been here for a very long time.”

“I think the first was the diary.” Jen said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the second.”

“I still want to know what diary you’re talking about.” Addie commented, her wand hovering over a cabinet in what had once been a kitchen.

“Sirius didn’t tell you?” Jen asked.

“Well, if he had …” Addie paused, narrowing her eyes at one of the cabinet doors. “If he had, I wouldn’t still want to know, would I? I think I found it.”
Jen joined her, flicking her wand at the place Addie indicated. “I think so.”

The two women took up position either side of the offending cupboard and Jen opened the door. A jet of purple light splashed against the opposite wall and Jen pulled a face. “Lovely.”

“What would that have done?” Addie asked.

“Reversed our internal organs, I believe.” Jen said with false cheeriness. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.”

Neither was under any illusion that Voldemort would have made it possible to magically remove the Horcrux – whatever it was – but they tried it anyway, just in case.

When it didn’t work, Jen reached into her bag and extracted a Muggle litter-picker, carefully poked it through the cupboard door and felt around with it.

It wasn’t easy – not only finding the Horcrux, but actually picking it up – not least because whatever it was was very small, but finally Jen managed to hook on of the metal pincers through something and pull out …

“A ring?” Addie asked dubiously.

“A signet ring.” Jen corrected, examining it closely. It radiated the same evil aura as the locket and it was old – so old that the family crest on the black stone had all but vanished, faded into obscurity over the centuries. “It probably belonged to his grandfather.”

“Or his uncle.” Addie said thoughtfully. “Which one was framed for the Riddles’ murder again?”

“The uncle I think.” Jen said, her eyes fixed on the ring. “Think the father was dead by then.”

There was a strange tone in Jen’s voice and Addie reached out to take the litter-picker. “Jen? Selena, let’s get this packed away safely.”

“Do you know what this is?” Jen asked.

“A Horcrux.” Addie said bluntly. “And it’s messing with your head, Jen, so let’s get it away.

“I’m fine.” Jen said, her brow creasing, still refusing to relax her grip. “Addie, you don’t …”

A red beam of light shot from Addie’s left hand and hit Jen in the chest. She froze mid-sentence and crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

Addie pulled a charmed protective bag from their larger satchel and placed the Horcrux inside it, bagging it twice more before she was satisfied. Then she took a seat beside Jen, tucking her knees up against her chest.

It would have been smarter to have a set of mirrors really, she thought as she waited, because Remus would have felt Jen fall unconscious, so the boys must have been frantic with worry.

Addie had just begun to consider how odd it was that she still referred to them as ‘boys’ in her head when they were all in their late 30s, when there was a commotion outside. She raised her wand, but it was Sirius and Remus who burst in, and she tucked it away again. “Relax, we’re fine.”

“What happened?” Sirius demanded, kneeling to check on his sister.

“It had some kind of Compulsion Charm on it.” Addie explained. “I’m immune to them, because I’m a natural, but she’s not. I don’t know if she’d have fought it or not, but since I didn’t know what it was telling her to do, I figured I’d Stun her as a precaution. How was the manor?”

“You knew it was empty, didn’t you?” Sirius asked.

Addie smiled innocently at him. “If you want to be the big, strong protectors, who am I to ruin your fun?”

“Give it up, Padfoot.” Remus advised, stroking Jen’s hair. “You’re not winning this one.”

A few seconds later, Jen stirred, her eyes blinking open, and she sat up with a groan. “Well, that’s embarrassing.”

“You’re not infallible, Jen.” Addie said gently, before adding with a smirk, “You’re not me.”

Jen made a wordless gesture that caused Sirius to snigger. “It’s still embarrassing.”

“What was it, Jen?” Remus asked, keeping the conversation public for the benefit of their companions. “The Horcrux, I mean.”

“It’s a signet ring.” Jen said tiredly. “But the coat of arms, from what I could see, was the Peverells.”

“It’s plausible.” Sirius said. “From what I remember, Slytherin and Gryffindor were distant cousins. And the Potters are descended from the Peverells way, way, way back. But what does that …”

“Rumour has it they were the three brothers in the story.” Jen said flatly.

“The three brothers.” Addie repeated. “The three brothers? Travelling along a road at twilight –those three brothers?”

“We were always told it was midnight.” Jen said, rubbing her forehead. “But yes. Look at James’s Cloak. They lose potency within three years, but it’s served Harry well, did the same for James, and for his father before him.”

“So it’s a really good Cloak.” Addie said, getting to her feet. “Besides, even if that stone is the Resurrection Stone … what good ever comes from raising the dead?”

“I know that.” Jen whispered, her head falling onto Remus’s shoulder. “That’s where the Compulsion Charm comes in. I couldn’t stop thinking about Reggie and …”

“In the story,” Addie said gently, “the second brother goes mad, because the woman he loves is not truly with him – she’s trapped in both worlds. You don’t want that for him.”

“No.” Jen agreed, letting Remus help her to her feet. “I don’t. Now, I think we’ve stayed here quite long enough. Who wants to go and explore the Chamber of Secrets?”

Remus sighed. “Darling, you have such an odd sense of adventure.”

***

When they returned to Potter Manor, they found Mandy and Arabella out on the Quidditch Pitch. Rather predictably, Mandy was in the air with the fliers, while Arabella sat on the grass below with Hermione, Neville and a young girl none of them recognised.

Hermione jumped to her feet as they approached, gesturing to her. “This is Luna Lovegood. She was with us at the Ministry. She knows everything we do – can she come as well?”

Jen gave the girl a kind smile. “Does your father know where you are, Luna?”

Luna nodded, a somewhat dreamy smile on her face. “Oh yes. I don’t think he knows exactly where we’re going, but he’s just happy I actually have friends.”

“Then of course you can come with us.” Jen said firmly. “I’m Jen, Harry’s godmother. This is my brother, Sirius; this is Addie, and you know Professor Lupin.”

“I’m not your teacher anymore.” Remus added. “Just call me Remus.”

Luna nodded, her gaze fixed on Sirius. “You know some people think you’re Stubby Boardman.”

“I have heard the news.” Sirius said with a grin.

Mandy had already spotted them and led the students in a steep dive, coming to land neatly in front of them. “All okay?”

“Fine.” Jen said shortly. “Hello, Ron, Ginny. Ginny, are you sure you’re alright to come with us?”

Ginny nodded, her face pale but determined. “I need to do this.”

“How are we going to do this?” Mandy asked, putting the brooms away. “We can’t apparate them all.”

“I’ll set up a Portkey to the Shack.” Jen said, rifling through her pockets for something she could use. “We’ll go through the Willow. How did you get Molly to agree?”

“Dad agreed.” Ron explained. “He thinks we need training as well, to make sure we’re safe. Mum doesn’t know about the Chamber – but what she doesn’t know can’t hurt her.”

“Or me.” Jen muttered, finally retrieving a quill. “Okay, everyone, off we go!”

***

“I didn’t think,” Addie said seriously, “that it was possible for this place to look any worse.”

The Shrieking Shack had never been a particularly nice destination when they were students, but it somehow looked even worse now – the wood beginning to rot, cobwebs strung from every available surface, a thick coating of dust on anything that stayed still long enough to collect it …

No wonder the villagers still called it haunted years after the screaming stopped – she could only imagine what it looked like from the outside.

Jen gave the Shack a cursory glance as she pulled open the trapdoor, covering her face to shield against the cloud of dust that rose with the movement. “Neither did I. I should have known better.”

“Wait a moment.” Hermione said softly, narrowing her eyes. “Give me a moment to make sure we’re covered. Draco, I could use a … Thank you.” She added belatedly, feeling him reach out to Hogwarts as well.

It took them a few moments – it was harder to hide their presence when they didn’t have a castle full of students to work with – but finally, Hermione nodded. “That should do it.”

“I’ve got the Map anyway.” Harry said, pulling it from his pocket and activating it. “There’s no one near the windows.”

“Okay then.” Jen said decisively. “Off we go.”

There was a brief moment of panic about halfway to Myrtle’s bathroom when Filch appeared on the Map just round the corner, but a second later, Peeves caused something to fall with a crash and he disappeared down a secret passage just as quickly.

“Was that luck or was that you two?” Mandy asked softly.

Hermione smiled innocently. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Of course not.” Mandy said, smirking.

Harry led them all down the last corridor and into Myrtle’s bathroom. Myrtle herself wasn’t there, strangely, but no one was complaining.

Harry leant over the sink and stared at the tap for a few minutes. Hermione had a sudden thought that, if anyone were to walk in, they would be confronted by a very strange sight – six adults and eight teenagers, all staring at a ninth teenager trying to become one with the plumbing.

As she swallowed her giggles, Harry’s mouth opened and a strange hissing noise escaped it, causing the sink to slowly melt into the floor, leaving behind the gaping mouth of a dark tunnel.

The very sight of it sent shivers down Hermione’s spine and she resisted the urge to back away, swallowing hard. “So now we jump?”

“No.” Ginny answered shakily. “You have to say ‘stairs’.”

“Stairs?” Harry repeated blankly.

Arabella groaned. “Harry, tell me you didn’t just jump head-first into a dark tunnel last time.”

“Well, we made Lockhart go first.” Ron protested.

Mandy’s mouth twitched. “Oh, well, that’s alright then.”

Harry grinned sheepishly and hissed something else, causing stone steps to emerge from the walls, leading down in a tight spiral to whatever lay below them. “Ladies first.”

“Oh, thanks.” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. Nevertheless, she accepted his hand and stepped into the tunnel, her unease comforted by the knowledge that the castle would have warned her if there was anything to fear. Sure enough, she reached the bottom without any trouble and leaned against one of the walls to wait for the others. She considered sitting down, but decided, upon eyeing the debris, that standing was the safer option.

“Harry?” She asked, when she heard his footsteps. “What happened to the basilisk?”

“Er, nothing, I don’t think.” Harry said, emerging from the gloom.

“Oh, great.” Hermione sighed. “That’s going to reek!”

It took about ten minutes for everyone to gather at the bottom of the stairs, by which point Ginny was just short of hyperventilating, clinging to Draco like a lifeline.

“You don’t need to come, Ginny.” Jen reminded her kindly. “No one would think any less of you.”

“I need to.” Ginny said, her voice wavering. “I need to face it. Not for any of you, but for me.”

Jen patted her shoulder. “I get it.” She said, because she did. “We go at your pace, okay? Harry, anything we need to be aware of?”

“Well, you might want a Bubble-Head Charm.” Harry advised. “There’s a dead snake in the next chamber and it’s been there for three years.”

“Oh.” Jen said with a grimace. “Okay, everybody, charms until we can get that sorted out.”

Hermione, having had time to think on the matter, wasn’t worried. She had suddenly remembered something she’d been told, back at the beginning of the year by Rowena, and she had a feeling that the snake was not as issue.

Harry led them through the tunnel, through the narrow gap in the rocks that Ron had needed to clear after Lockhart’s spell backfired, all the way to a circular metal panel engraved with snakes.

“Stand back.” Harry warned, before hissing again.

The metal snakes wriggled, then slithered around the circumference of the door and locked into place, allowing the door to swing open.

Inside the bubble, Harry’s mouth dropped open.

With a rush of excitement, Hermione slipped past him and climbed through the hole to see the four founders standing in front of her, far more solid than they had been when she had first seen them.

With a smile, Rowena opened her arms and Hermione needed no extra prompting to run into them, embracing her great-grandmother tightly.

“Hermione, we’ve been waiting for you.” Rowena chided gently, removing the charm with a wave of her hand and allowing Hermione to take a breath of decay-free air.

“Sorry, Grandmother.” Hermione said. “I take it everyone else can see you down here?”

“That they can.” Helga agreed, embracing her as well.

Hermione shook hands with the two men before turning to her dumbstruck companions, who had removed their charms. “I told you I wasn’t crazy.”

“We never said you were.” Remus said faintly.

“Don’t worry about introductions.” Helga said cheerfully. “They obviously know who we are, and we’ve watched each of them come through Hogwarts.”

“I need to sit down.” Jen murmured. “There’s not a lot of things that’ll shock me, but this is one of them.”

Draco, still stroking Ginny’s hair absently, looked at Ron. “You’re taking this well.”

Ron shrugged. “Actually, after all this time, I just sort of go with it. Philosopher’s Stone? Fine. Chamber of Secrets? Whatever. Time travel? Why not? Why wouldn’t I meet the founders of Hogwarts? It’s almost logical progression at this point. You alright, Gin?”

Hermione glanced over and saw that Ginny’s eyes, unlike everyone else’s, were not fixed on the founders, but something in the corner. Turning in that direction, her gaze fell on the corpse of a fifty-foot snake, still in fairly good condition, and she screamed.

Sirius was the next to notice it, and turned a colour white that could not have been entirely healthy. “Bloody hell, Harry; you killed that when you were a second year?”

“Yeah.” Harry said casually.

“And just what were you doing fighting a basilisk, young man?” Addie asked.

Harry shrugged. “Extra credit?”

“He was saving me.” Ginny whispered, still pale, but not clinging to Draco quite as tightly. Seeing the body seemed to have relaxed her, reminding her that the monster was dead, even if Riddle wasn’t.

Addie turned to Sirius. “Did you know about this?”

Sirius grimaced. “Unfortunately.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Because I’m fairly certain, when you were telling me all about them, you never mentioned it.”

“Well, I didn’t want to throw everything at you at once.” Sirius explained. “They had a couple of eventful years at Hogwarts, and I didn’t want to drop it on your head.”

Addie pulled a face that he knew meant that she knew he was right. “Fair enough.”

Godric cleared his throat. “Well, as interesting as all this is, I think everyone needs to take a seat. There are things you need to know.”

Chapter Text

Ginny sank into one of the chairs that appeared, still gripping Draco’s hand tightly. “Are they good things or bad things?”

“Neither.” Salazar answered vaguely as the others sat down as well.

“First of all, you are right not to trust Albus Dumbledore.” Rowena told them grimly. “His aura grows darker by the day.”

Ginny inhaled sharply, but Hermione merely shook her head sadly. “Fawkes implied as much at the beginning of the year. He only stays to protect Hogwarts – Dumbledore’s convinced that what he’s doing is right, so he won’t even consider that he might be wrong.”

“Precisely.” Rowena agreed softly. “We don’t know the full extent, but we want him out of this school and away from our children as soon as possible.”

“You and me both.” Jen said with a sigh. “But we’ll have to wait before we take him down. Removing him now is just going to cause unrest and that will only help the Death Eaters. Any advice on that front?”

“Funny you should ask.” Salazar said, smirking. “First of all, Harry, I believe if you ask the mouth of that statue to open, you will find a private library with journals believed to have been lost, as well as a few other items of interest. And I think it best for your health if you let Hermione take a look at them first.”

Hermione blushed.

“Secondly,” Hegla continued, “I suggest you work on creating another entrance to this Chamber, one with an English password. You never know when you might need an ace up your sleeve.”

“Thirdly, you might want to harvest that basilisk while you’re down here.” Godric suggested. “I believe the fangs may come in handy.”

“You know about them?” Jen interrupted, her eyes cutting to her bag which contained not only the Gaunt signet ring, but the locket as well.

“Not until you just came in.” Godric said. “We can sense the magic and we’d appreciate it if you destroyed them as soon as possible.”

“What?” Ginny asked curiously.

“I’ll tell you later.” Jen said with a grimace.

Rowena cleared her throat. “Lastly, it would be to your advantage to visit Gringotts at some point, especially you, Hermione. I had a rather good rapport with the goblins.”

Hermione nodded. “I’ll go tomorrow morning.”

“Okay.” Jen said. “Harry, open the statue; you lot scope that out.”

Harry nodded and rose from his chair, addressing the statue in a hiss. The mouth of the great figure opened and, with a grinding, crunching sound, its left hand descended to the floor like a great elevator.

“There’s another snake up there.” Harry said suddenly, putting out a hand to stop anyone from moving.

“It’s not a basilisk.” Salazar assured him. “Just a regular snake.”

“Oh, that’s alright then.” Harry said, pocketing his wand and stepping on to the hand. “Coming, guys?”

Hermione eyed it warily for a second, before following his lead. “Well, I did say once that I’d follow you anywhere.”

The others agreed too, and the hand lifted them up to the open mouth. They all clambered in and followed Harry along a narrow tunnel, which slowly got darker and darker.

Then, all of a sudden, it became lighter and lighter, and they emerged into another cavern, this one furnished like a library.

Draco glanced over his shoulder. “Aren’t they coming to help us?”

“No, that would make it too easy.” Hermione said, running a finger along the dust-covered bookshelves. “Do you think Riddle ever came in here?”

“I don’t know.” Harry said. “The basilisk came out of that tunnel, but it doesn’t look like it was in here. I wonder if he read those books.”

“No, he didn’t.” Hermione said with an intense frown, apparently listening to a voice that only she could hear. “He felt their age overruled that potency.”

“You what?” Ron asked.

“They were too old to be of any used.” Susan elaborated, speaking for the first time since they’d entered the Chamber. “Are they safe to touch?”

“Yes.” Hermione answered decidedly. “They wouldn’t have sent us in here otherwise. Where’s this snake, Harry?”

“I don’t know …” Harry trailed off. “Oh, there she is.”

“She?” Ginny repeated, hesitantly releasing her grip on Draco. “Where is she?”

“Under the desk.” Harry said, moving slowly towards it, his voice slipping back into the hisses and sputters of Parseltongue.

Ginny clapped her hands over her mouth to prevent a scream. The snake was much bigger than had expected, curled up in a mountain of scales. Her tongue flickered out, scenting the air, and she slowly uncoiled herself, slithering up Harry’s outstretched arm to settle on his shoulders.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Harry commented, and the snake hissed in a pleased sort of way.

“That’s one way of putting it.” Ron muttered.

Ginny reached out a hand, stopping just before she reached the snake. “Can I?”

In answer, the snake batted her head against her hand, almost the way a cat would, and Ginny complied, gently stroking the scales. Now the shock had worn off, she could see Harry’s point.

The snake was a shimmering green colour, which seemed to turn rainbow when the light hit her in a certain way.

“What’s her name?” Luna asked, also petting the snake’s head.

“She doesn’t have one.” Harry said. “What do you think we should call her?”

“Esmerelda.” Luna answered with hesitation. “It comes from ‘Emerald’.”

Harry hissed something to the snake and nodded. “She likes that name.”

“Er, would this be a good time to admit that I’m terrified of snakes?” Draco asked shakily.

Ron’s head snapped round so fast his neck cracked and he winced. “But you’re a Slytherin!”

“That doesn’t mean we like snakes.” Draco said, rolling his eyes. “You can’t tell me all Gryffindors like lions.”

“Or all Hufflepuffs like badgers.” Susan continued.

“Or all Ravenclaws like eagles.” Luna finished.

“Besides,” Hermione added, “you’re scared of spiders, you’ve got no room to talk.”

“She’s not that bad.” Neville said, changing the subject as Ron’s ears turned red. “She’s quite pretty actually.”

The snake hissed something and Harry laughed. “She says thank you; you’re not that bad yourself.”

Now it was Neville’s turn to blush and Hermione giggled. “Well, as interesting as that is, Draco, can you come and help me look for things that might help us? We can’t take all these books, as much as I’d like to.”

“Well, Lord Salazar said journals, didn’t he?” Draco asked, joining her. “So it makes sense that we’re looking for something hand-written and untitled.”

“Can we come back?” Daphne asked, flicking through one of the books. “I know they’re not what we’re looking for, but some of this stuff has probably been lost for centuries.”

Harry snorted. “I’m not going to try to keep Hermione away.”

“Hey!” Neville breathed suddenly. “Look at these!”

Hermione hurried over to him to find him staring at four, thick, leather-bound books. Just as Draco had predicted, they had no titles, but when she drew one from the shelf and opened it, she was met with her grandmother’s handwriting. “Wow …” She turned the pages as though they were made of very thin glass. “These aren’t just journals, these are spell-books. Handwritten by each of the founders. Some of these spells I haven’t even heard of.” She handed the book in her hand to Draco and retrieved the others as well. “Let’s take these back down. We’ve got all year to search through the rest; I think these are the important ones.”

Ron gasped. “I never thought I’d hear Hermione Granger call a book unimportant.”

“Granger-Black.” Susan, Neville and Ginny corrected.

“And I didn’t say they were unimportant.” Hermione added. “I said they weren’t as important as these ones. Now move it.”

“Yes, ma’am!” Ron saluted her, spun on his heel and led the way back through the tunnel and back on to the lift that took them back to the ground level of the chamber.

By this time, the basilisk had disappeared and there was a large storage cupboard that hadn’t been there previously.

“Is that where all the pieces are?” Ginny asked.

“All but the fangs.” Addie confirmed, holding up a bag which was smoking slightly. “The rest of it, Harry, is all yours.”

“Mine?” Harry frowned. “Why?”

“You killed it.” Jen reminded. “You get to claim the spoils. You are alright with us taking the fangs, right?”

“Yeah of course.” Harry said absently, eyeing the cupboard. “What do I do with it?”

“Whatever you like.” Jen said with a shrug. “Selling it would be the most obvious course of action – very valuable potions ingredients. Find everything?”

“Four founders journals.” Hermione said.

“Harry,” Mandy said warily, staring at the snake draped over Harry’s shoulder. “What is that?”

“This is Esmerelda.” Harry said. “She likes me. Can we keep her?”

Jen inched forwards and tentatively stroked the snake’s head. “Is she venomous?”

Harry hissed something and shook his head. “She is, but she promises not to bite anyone unless I ask her to.”

Jen glanced at the other adults, who shrugged at her. “Alright,” she said, a little reluctantly. “But make sure you know where she is at all times, alright?”

“Alright.” Harry agreed, his face lighting up in a smile.

“Jen,” Draco said slowly. “You can’t use basilisk fangs in potions, can you?”

“No.” Mandy answered for her. “Unless you’re brewing poisons.”

“Then what do you want with the fangs?” Draco asked curiously.

Sirius flinched. “I think it might be a good idea if we go home and talk there.”

***

An hour later, everyone was gathered in the informal sitting room at Ravenscroft Manor, clutching mugs of hot chocolate.

The silence following Jen’s explanation was almost deafening in its totality while the students tried to digest the concept of such Dark magic.

“Try not to think about it too much.” Jen advised finally. “It’ll drive you mad.”

“Too late.” Ginny muttered, nestled into Draco’s side.

Hermione heaved a sigh and leaned across Harry to fetch a piece of parchment and a quill from the side table next to him. “Alright, let me get this straight. From what Regulus learned, we know he was planning on splitting his soul into seven pieces, right?”

“Right.” Addie confirmed.

“So his body is one.” Hermione said, jotting it down. “The diary was two. You found the ring and the locket, that’s three and four. We think Helga’s cup is a fifth one. It’s a reasonable guess to say that he used something of Grandmother’s for the sixth. So we just need to figure out the seventh.”

“And where they are.” Sirius pointed out.

Hermione nodded, beginning another list. “Right, so he hid one with Lucius, got Bellatrix to hide another in Gringotts. He hid one in his mother’s home and one in a cave.” She frowned. “What’s with the cave?”

“That’s the one that confuses you?” Neville asked.

“Well, Riddle’s a half-blood.” Hermione said fairly. “He wouldn’t have had a Gringotts vault or a fancy manor and title of his own. Those things were important to him. And his mother’s home may not have been important, but it was significant. What’s the significance of the cave?”

“I can’t work that out.” Addie agreed. “The closest I could figure out is near Brighton on the Sussex coast. Remus said a school trip or something.”

Hermione tapped the quill against her chin thoughtfully. “Well, his orphanage was in London, right? Brighton would be a fairly close seaside town, a trip isn’t out of the question.” She sighed. “I suppose it doesn’t really matter –we’ve got that one. We need to figure out where the others were.”

“Hogwarts?” Harry suggested. “He seemed pretty against going home when I saw his memory in second year.”

Hermione frowned. “I don’t think so. Something that Dark … I would have felt it, wouldn’t I? So would the founders, wouldn’t they?”

“Maybe not.” Jen said. “They didn’t notice these two until I walked into the Chamber with them. And, honestly, I’ve been thinking about it – I don’t think there is a sixth Horcrux. I think he was aiming to use Harry’s death to make the last one, and failed – it would explain the amount of Dark magic around Godric’s Hollow.”

“It would.” Addie agreed. “But I don’t think we should discount the snake. You said Harry’s been seeing through the snake’s eyes as well – that’s more than a familiar bond. Maybe when he got his body back, he decided to make up for the lost diary.”

Sirius grimaced. “If you’re right, Ads, we’ve got a problem – he never lets that snake out of his sight.”

“That’ll have to be the last one we destroy then.” Jen said. “Right, anyone else have any bad news to share? Get it out of the way early?”

Hermione nudged Harry, who sighed. “Dumbledore told me the full prophecy.”

What little levity that had been in the room vanished completely.

“How?” Neville asked. “It smashed, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, but Trelawney made it to Dumbledore, remember?” Harry said gloomily. “So he knows the whole thing.”

“Harry?” Jen prompted gently. “You don’t have to tell us, cub.”

“Yeah, I do.” Harry said, taking a deep breath. “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches, born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … And either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives.

For a few moments, there was silence, then Susan said, “Is it just me … or has that already happened?”

“What do you mean?” Jen asked, a little shakily.

“Think about it.” Susan said. “The prophecy could have meant Harry or Neville, Voldemort marked Harry as his equal by choosing to target him. He had whatever protection Lily and/or James gave him, which is the power he knows not, and Voldemort technically died.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Addie said softly. “I mean, that makes sense, but as long as Voldemort believes there’s a prophecy and that Harry has the power to kill him, he’ll keep coming.”

“Dumbledore thinks the ‘power he knows not’ is love.” Harry said.

There was a general reaction of disbelief, but Jen looked thoughtful. “Well …” she said slowly. “He may not be entirely wrong on that count.”

“What’s he going to do?” Sirius asked. “Hug Voldemort to death?”

Harry laughed. “Like father, like daughter.”

Jen shook her head with a snigger. “No. But Harry has all of us, which is something Voldemort doesn’t have. We’ll stick by Harry no matter what, most of the Death Eaters have proved that they won’t. And if sticking by him means teaching him everything he could probably need … Well, someone’s got to do it.”

***

That evening, under the cover of twilight, two women met up outside the Leaky Cauldron, as soon as they could leave their families’ graduation celebrations. They entered Diagon Alley almost silently, one illuminating the directions they had been given with her wand.

“Alicia?” Angelina asked quietly.

“Yeah?” Alicia’s response was quiet and almost habitual; her attention was fixed on the parchment in her hand, so she didn’t need to look up at what the Alley had become.

Since the Ministry’s announcement of Voldemort’s return, the usually bright and vibrant street had become quiet and almost unwelcoming, the usual displays covered by Ministry warnings and posters of known Death Eaters.

The one nearest the entrance held a picture of Sirius Black, who lounged against the frame looking bored, occasionally rolling his eyes at Bellatrix Lestrange, who laughed manically in the poster next to his.

“What was that idea you said George had come up with?” Angelina asked, her voice shaking.

“U-No-Poo.” Alicia answered, finally looking up. As she did, she stopped dead in her tracks.

Amongst the closed-down shops and giant posters of wanted Death Eaters, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes stood out bright and orange and cheerful – and sporting a large sign, exactly as George had worded it. “Oh, they didn’t.”

“They did.” Angelia said faintly.

“Well, that settles it.” Alicia stated matter-of-factly. “They need us. They’ll get themselves killed at this rate.”

“I think they’re closed.” Angelina said, shielding her eyes against the evening sun and peering through the window. “There is someone in there, though.”

“You don’t think …” Alicia whispered, not wanting to vocalise her fears. With the shop closed, the twins should have been upstairs in their flat, not in the shop itself.

“I don’t know.” Angelina drew her wand and tapped it against the door-knob, making it swing open. “Finite Incantatem.

The whisper sent a spell at the door-frame; experience had taught both girls never to take entering a room occupied by either of the twins lightly, and entering one that belonged to both with anything short of ‘Mad-Eye Moody’-worthy paranoia was just criminal.

Another spell assured the young women that, aside from themselves, there were only two other people in the whole building, alive or dead, which meant that the movement must have been …

“Oi, Weasley! You here?”

“Angie!” Fred cried jubilantly. He hurried over and kissed her, lifting her off her feet. “How’d you get in without setting off the alarms?”

“I know you.” Angelina answered. “Hey, Romeo!” She called into the shop. “Juliet’s here!”

Fred placed his hands on her shoulders and turned her to see Alicia already wrapped in George’s arms.

“Oh, that’s alright then.” Angelina said with a smile. “Aren’t you closed?”

“Yeah.” Fred said. He smacked his brother upside the head – which did nothing to break them apart – and led his girlfriend to the curtain at the back of the shop. “Back here is where all the real work’s going on.”

There was an odd noise from behind them – a bit like a plunger being removed from a sink.

“What’s that then?” Alicia asked.

“You two finally resurfaced then.” Fred commented idly. “I give you …” he drew the curtain back with a flourish.

“Weasleys’ Wizard Warfare!” They chorused.

Angelina blinked in the sudden light. The back room was far less colourful than the shop floor, but behind the extra stock were shelves upon shelves of seemingly innocuous items.

“All of these products,” Fred continued, “are part of a DADA line.”

“They’re not pranks.” George added. “But a series of creations designed to help our side take down the Death Munchers.”

“Your imaginations,” Angelina said, taking in the vast array of products, “never cease to amaze me.”

“Well, we can’t take all the credit for these.” George admitted.

“We had some help from some old friends.” Fred added with a wink.

Alicia sighed with no small amount of frustration. “That is the second time you’ve suggested you know who the Marauders are – do you know or not?”

“We do.” George said, his humour fading into something far more serious. “And they’re working on a more proactive approach to the war.”

The two girls barely exchanged a glance before responding in unison: “Count us in!”

***

That night, Ginny found herself lying awake, unable to sleep.

Now this, in itself, wasn’t that much of a surprise; she had returned home after finding out that the diary that possessed her was much more than just an enchanted journal.

What had surprised her was that this news had actually made her feel better about what had happened. There was no way she could have stopped Voldemort himself; the blame now lay with Lucius Malfoy, and with him alone.

And so it was that it was Draco keeping her awake, not her own mind. The link between them was flooded with a toxic swirl of fear and pain. It had jolted her from sleep about an hour previously, and the need to get to him was growing stronger with every second.

She could tell that it was a nightmare, but she could not distinguish what exactly the nightmare was about.

Finally, she gave sleep up as a bad job, slipped on her slightly threadbare robe and hurried down the hall to her parents’ room.

Her parents’ door was rarely closed, but she knocked anyway, waking Molly instantly.

“Ginny? Whatever’s the matter, dear?”

Knocking had been habit, and Ginny cursed it now. Quietly waking her father would have been far easier. “It’s Draco, Mum. He’s having a nightmare. I need to get to him.”

“Absolutely not!” Molly said sharply.

Ginny grimaced, feeling something tugging at her. “I might not have a choice, Mum; the bond’s pulling me.”

Molly seemed to swell with indignation. “Then we will just find some way to …”

“Stop.”

Arthur’s quiet voice prevented his wife from climbing out of bed, but it did not stop her from directing her ire at him.

“Arthur, you cannot possibly …”

“Jennifer has tried to explain soul bonds to you, Molly.” Arthur interrupted. “She has told you that they cannot be forced. She has told you that breaking it would eventually kill both of them. She has told you that it would not have formed if Ginny was in any danger from him whatsoever. I trust Jennifer, therefore I am willing to give Draco the benefit of the doubt. Ginny, what’s going on?”

“Draco’s having a nightmare and the bond’s pulling me to him.” Ginny said through gritted teeth, fighting the magic that was trying to pull her to his side.

Arthur nodded. “I trust you, sweetheart. Go on.”

“Thank you!” Ginny said hastily, finally letting the bond in.

With a sensation that was a cross between flooing and a portkey, Ginny disappeared from in front of her startled parents and reappeared in Potter Manor, on the other side of the wards, in front of an even more startled Hermione.

“Ginny, how did you … Never mind.” Hermione said, interrupting herself. “He’s hurting, Gin; it woke me up.”

“I know.” Ginny whispered. “Leave it to me, Mione; go back to bed. We’ll figure out how I got here tomorrow.”

Hermione nodded and swept out of the room with a quiet ‘goodnight’, leaving Ginny alone in the dark.

She perched on the edge of the bed and laid a hand on Draco’s forehead, making sure he wasn’t feverish.

For someone in the throes of a nightmare, he appeared to be sleeping peacefully, the only sign of his internal distress the sweat beading on his face.

“Draco?” Ginny called, taking her hand in his and opening the link as far as she could without plunging into the dream herself. “Draco, wake up!”

With a gasp and a start, Draco’s eyes shot open. “Ginny?”

“Yeah, it’s me.” Ginny assured him softly. “You alright?”

In answer, he pulled her into his arms and held her tightly, burying his face in her hair, shaking with emotion.

Momentarily taken aback by the strength of his reaction, and not quite sure how to handle it, Ginny settled for rubbing his back and making comforting noises, all the while trying to extract the blankets from between them so she could lie down beside him.

It was a feat that reminded her of having to change out of her bathing suit underneath her towel when she and her brothers used to go swimming in the pond, but she finally managed it, resting her head on the pillow beside him, allowing him to curl up into her arms.

She was starting to worry now – Draco was never one to share his emotions like this, even after the bond had formed between them. “It’s alright.” She whispered. “I’m here. What happened?”

“That bloody diary happened.” Draco muttered. “If I ever find out that my father knew what it was …”

“I doubt he did.” Ginny said with certainty. “He’d have kept it safer if he’d known.” She ran a hand through his hair, feeling him shudder as she did. “Tell me what you saw.”
Draco released her, rolling away from her to lay on his back staring at the ceiling. “It’s nothing.”

“It’s not nothing.” Ginny said. “You practically dragged me here.” She took his hand again, squeezing softly. “You can tell me.”

“We were down in the Chamber.” Draco said softly. “The diary had you again, but it was my father this time, not Voldemort.”

It was the first time Draco had actually used the name, but Ginny didn’t say anything.

“He told me that he’d kill you unless I took the Mark.” Draco continued, his grip tightening on her hand. “And then he came out of you and into his own body, and you collapsed, but you kept telling me not to listen to him. And then he threw the Killing Curse at you.” He closed his eyes, but not before she could see the tears in them, reflected in what little moonlight streamed through the gap in the curtains. “Is that what it felt like when I blocked the link? Like part of you had gone missing and ice was creeping into your heart because it felt like some of you had died?”

“Yes.” Ginny whispered. “Yes, that’s exactly what it felt like. Minus the dying part.”

“I never expected this.” Draco murmured, pulling her close again. “Never.”

Ginny settled against him, his body still tense from the remnants of his nightmare. “Expected what?”

“I never expected to feel like this.” He elaborated, his lips brushing her forehead. “I never expected to need you like this. I never expected … expected to love you like this.”

For a split-second, Ginny thought about refuting this. But it made sense.

There was no other emotion that could describe what she was feeling.

No other emotion could simply exist the way this did.

And, as he tilted her face up and their lips met, she finally realised why it was called a soul-bond.

He was her soul-mate.

Chapter Text

The next morning, when Hermione stumbled downstairs, she was still half asleep and, as a result, it was only the hand that caught her under the arm that kept her from literally stumbling down stairs.

Blinking tiredly, she looked up to see Harry’s grinning face, clearly in a far better mood than he had any right to be at this sort of time in the morning.

“Say it with me,” he said cheekily. “Ban-is-ter.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I feel I should inform you, Harry, that I am bloody exhausted.”

“What happened?” Harry asked, his humour evaporating.

“Nightmare.” Hermione answered. “Draco’s, that is. It woke me up, I couldn’t wake him up. Ginny ended up sitting with him.”

“Ginny?” Harry repeated. “She’s not here.”

“Well, she is now.” Hermione said with a shrug, pushing open the dining room door. “Appeared out of thin air.”

“Who did?” Addie asked, helping herself to porridge. “Morning.”

“Good morning.” Hermione greeted. “Ginny appeared last night. Like she apparated, but without the noise.”

Addie looked thoughtful. “Well, I’ve never heard of anything like that, but I only caught the beginning of Jen and Remus’s bond. Ask them when they get here. Cup of coffee?”

“Oh, yes please.” Hermione said, accepting it gratefully. “I’ve got to wake up before I go to Gringotts.”

“Just be careful.” Addie warned. “Goblins can be tricky.”

Hermione hummed in vague agreement, raising a hand in greeting as Remus, Jen and Sirius joined them, the latter dropping a kiss on her head as he passed.

“Morning.” Jen said with a yawn, falling into the chair beside Addie.

“Morning all.” Ginny greeted, appearing in the doorway with Draco.

Her appearance seemed to wake Jen a bit more and she smiled. “Do I want to know?”

“No.” Ginny answered. “But I do. Draco had a nightmare last night and pulled me here. Did that ever happen with you two?”

Jen nodded. “Yes, it’s part of the link. Sorry, I should have warned you. Are you feeling alright this morning, Draco?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Draco assured her.

“Ginny?” Jen asked. “Any ill-effects?”

Ginny frowned. “No, should there be?”

“Not usually.” Remus answered. “But you were pulled through some pretty intense wards.”

“Well, I seem fine.” Ginny said with a shrug. “What’s the plan for today?”

“Well, I was going to find out if there was any way for Harry and Draco to visit Gringotts without walking though Diagon Alley.” Jen said. “But I think I should probably start on convincing your mum to let you and Ron stay with us.”

“Dad.” Ginny advised. “Go with Dad.”

“I can talk to the goblins about that.” Hermione offered. “I’m already going in to claim my inheritance, I can ask.”

Jen didn’t look convinced, but Addie nodded. “That’s probably a good idea, Selena. Lady Rowena said that she had a ‘rapport’ with the goblins, right? Hermione may be best placed to ask.”

Jen sighed. “Alright. While you’re at it, mention the Horcruxes – don’t mention the Lestrange vault unless it’s going well, alright?”

Hermione decided not to mention that that went without saying.

***

Once again, Hermione found herself standing outside Gringotts Wizarding Bank, slightly concerned that she was about to provoke one of the blood-thirstiest races in the wizarding world.

Then again, retrieving Sirius’s wand from his vault (was that really only two years ago?) had been easier than she had expected, so maybe this would be the same.

And lingering too long in the open space of Diagon Alley was no longer as safe as it used to be.

Squaring her shoulders, she strode into the bank, telling herself over and over again that she had every right to be there, and over to one of the tellers.

She waited for a few seconds, then, when she was not acknowledged, cleared her throat. “Good morning. I’d like to speak with my account manager.” Then, realising belatedly that she might not have an account: “Or open an account.”

“Name?” The goblin grunted.

“Hermione Granger-Black.” Hermione responded.

The goblin looked up at this, peering a little suspiciously at her.

“I was blood-adopted though Gringotts when I was a baby.” Hermione elaborated.

“Very well.” The goblin said, not looking any more convinced. He pushed a small wooden box towards her. “Place your thumb in the indentation on the top.”

Hermione did as she was told, unsurprised by the small prick on her skin. After all, in the years before Jen had claimed Ladyship by proxy, there were probably a lot of witches and wizards who claimed to have Black blood, just to get their hands on the family fortune.

A small piece of parchment appeared on the desk, and the goblin picked it up.

He read it several times, his eyes widening with each pass, and then he seized the arm of the goblin beside him, whispering something in his ear. The next goblin did the same to the one next to him, and Hermione watched the unknown news travel around the room until every non-human eye was on her.

Drawing more attention to herself was the last thing she wanted to do, but she had come this far. “Is there something wrong?”

The goblin hurried out from behind the counter and gave her a very low bow. “My Lady.” He snapped his fingers, and several more goblins hurried over and escorted her out of the lobby and down another corridor.

With every step, Hermione felt her heart rate increase. What kind of rapport had her great-grandmother been talking about?

The door at the end of the office opened and she was ushered into a richly decorated office, where another goblin got to his feet and bowed to her. “Lady Ravenclaw, it is an honour.”

“Thank you.” Hermione said with a curtsey. “May I enquire as to whom I am speaking?”

“Of course, of course.” The goblin gestured to a chair and she took a seat. “My name is Ragnok, I am the leader of the goblin nation.”

For a split second, Hermione’s blood froze in her veins. This is either really, really good. Or really, really bad. “Forgive me, sir, but I was under the impression that you only met with bank customers … well … that you never meet with bank customers.”

Ragnok gave her a fierce look that she only knew from Sirius as a goblin smile. “You are correct, Lady Ravenclaw, but you would not have come into your inheritance were you not worthy of the exalted position inherited from your grandmother, the Lady Rowena.”

It felt a little as though the room was spinning around her. This must have shown on her face, because Ragnok waved his hand with another goblin smile, and a glass half-full of amber liquid appeared on his desk. “Firewhisky, my Lady?”

Under normal circumstances, Hermione would have politely declined, but today, she picked up the glass and took a sip, the fiery taste burning through her shock. “Thank you. Now please excuse my ignorance, sir, but my mother turned her back on the magical world and I know very little about Lady Rowena. I knew I was descended from her, but I had not heard of any … position relating to the goblins.”

“Unfortunately, Lady Ravenclaw, goblins are not renowned for epic tales apart from those of battle.” Ragnok said with a slight bow. “As such, I know only what my father told me. He knew what his father told him, and so on. From what I gather, at the time Hogwarts was founded, goblins were little more than slaves of wizards. It was Lady Rowena who helped us to establish the great nation we are proud of today.”

“But I thought the goblin nation fought for their own independence.” Hermione said carefully.

“Oh, we did.” Ragnok said, with a fierce grin. “But that was only possible with an army. An army was only possible with a nation. Lady Rowena was a kind of … exalted adviser, and a great friend of the Goblin Nation. Originally she intended to pass that position on to her daughters, but after her eldest daughter, the Lady Helena, ran away, she decided to place a spell on her lineage. Only when an heir worthy of our trust and loyalty was born would we be alerted. Because Lady Rowena only had daughters, the Ravenclaw name disappeared and we eventually lost track of her descendants. Until yourself. You are the direct descendant of Lady Maura Ravenclaw, her younger daughter.”

Hermione gazed into her glass, her reflection distorted in the amber liquid, then set it down on the desk. “Is there any chance of a cup of tea?”

“Certainly, my Lady!” Ragnok responded with a cheerful wave of his hand, and a cup and saucer appeared in the air in front of her.

Hermione took it gratefully, feeling the comforting warmth slide down her throat and calm her far more than the alcohol had. “So … what happens now?”

“Well, I must admit that I have never been in this situation myself.” Ragnok said, a little apologetically. “What I propose is … an exchange. Certainly, I am happy to consider you a Friend of the Goblin Nation, and I would ask that, once you are at an age at which you are capable of doing so, you aid us in dealing with the Ministry. In exchange, anything you request, within reason, will be granted.”

“That doesn’t seem like a fair exchange.” Hermione commented, frowning. “I mean, I would have fought for you anyway, it’s the right thing to do, and you shouldn’t be treated as second-class citizens just because you’re not human. So it feels like I’m getting special treatment in exchange for being a decent person.”

Ragnok inclined his head towards her. “A decent person who has more decency than most of the decent people that walk into this bank, Lady Ravenclaw. Your grandmother has chosen well.”

Hermione turned a little red. “Please, sir, call me Hermione. I’m not used to being called ‘Lady’ yet.”

“Certainly, Hermione.” Ragnok said, clasping his hands on the desk. “Now, I am certain you did not come to Gringotts today to discuss your family history.”

“Yes, there are a few things actually.” Hermione admitted. “I did come to claim the Ravenclaw line, although you’re right – I wasn’t expecting this. I have some friends, though – Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. They both need to visit Gringotts, but they’re also both in danger if they walk down Diagon Alley.”

“I see.” Ragnok was silent for a few minutes, looking thoughtful, and Hermione drank her tea. “Is there anything else?” He asked finally. “Before I answer that?”

“Yes,” Hermione said slowly, setting her cup down. “Lord Voldemort has created Horcruxes.”

Ragnok’s eyes widened and an expression that could only be revulsion crossed his face. “He’s done what?”

“He’s created Horcruxes.” Hermione repeated.

“You are certain.” Ragnok said softly.

Hermione nodded. “Very. Lady Black has managed to find two of them. And Harry destroyed one in second year – a diary, it possessed a first year student into opening the Chamber of Secrets.”

Ragnok pressed a button on his desk, activating an intercom. “Griphook, I want you to get me a list of all Tom Riddle’s financial transactions and investments.” Releasing the button, he looked at Hermione. “Lady Ravenclaw, on behalf of the Goblin Nation, I offer my apology for staying neutral in this war for so long. While we cannot touch the vaults of his main investors based on this evidence, we can at least freeze his assets.”

“I shouldn’t think he has many.” Hermione said, smiling widely. “But that’s more than I could have hoped for, thank you. The reason I mentioned them, however, is that we know the diary was destroyed and we have a locket belonging to Salazar Slytherin and a ring belonging to Marvolo Gaunt. Regulus Black believed that he had two others, and we think that he may have made his snake into one when he returned. The other two items, however, are a mystery.” She took a deep breath. “I was wondering if it would be possible to search known Death Eaters’ vaults for either of them. If we destroy the item inside the vault, then it’s not stealing, is it?”

The grin that graced Ragnok’s face could only be described as feral. “An excellent idea, Hermione, and a request I am happy to grant. I will accompany you. As to your other request …” he pulled a box from the lower drawer of his desk and presented it to her, opening it to reveal a beautiful pendant. “This belonged to Lady Rowena, and she used it to portkey directly into and out of this office. You are the only one who can wear and use it, but you can transport as many people as you like with you.”

Reverently, Hermione lifted the pendant from the box, holding it up to the light. The Ravenclaw coat of arms shone, with the eagle almost seeming to move. Underneath, engraved words proclaimed that wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.

Still, Hermione didn’t move to put the pendant around her neck. “Am I safe in assuming that this hasn’t left its box since my great-grandmother’s passing?”

Ragnok looked puzzled. “Yes, you are.”

“We know he turned Slytherin’s locket and we have strong reason to believe that he used a cup belonging to Helga Hufflepuff.” Hermione explained. “It’s not unreasonable to assume he used something of my grandmother’s.”

“I see.” Ragnok said. “The only other artefact owned by Rowena Ravenclaw, other than that pendant, was her diadem, which was rumoured to impart great wisdom. The Lady Helena took it with her when she ran away and it hasn’t been seen since. However, I can assure you that it is absolutely impossible for that pendant to have been infected by a Horcrux.”

“Thank you.” Hermione said, her mind racing. They’d need to find out where Helena went when she ran away. Maybe that would give them a hint as to where the diadem was. “What’s the activation code for the portkey?”

“A circle has no beginning.” Ragnok answered. “It’s longer than most activation phrases, but Lady Rowena felt it was apt for some reason.”

“Thank you.” Hermione repeated, slipping the pendant over her head, feeling it rest beneath her robes, just where her scar began. She stood and bowed to the goblin leader. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She said, thinking of Potter Manor. “A circle has no beginning.”

The transportation was nothing like Hermione had ever experienced. She wasn’t spun around madly like a floo journey. She wasn’t squeezed through a tiny space like apparition. There was no almighty tug behind her navel like an ordinary portkey.

The closest sensation she could think of was the journey between the enchanted rock and the entrance hall at Ravenscroft Manor.

All this took her the journey time to realise, which was about a second, but it took her even less time to realise she had wands aimed at her face.

Her first instinct was to panic.

Then she took the time to observe the faces behind the wands and realised that the portkey had taken her, not to the ward boundary, but straight into the living room, where the others had gathered. “Relax, it’s me.”

Several wands lowered, but the others never even wavered.

“Why won’t you show me the scar Dolohov gave you?” Harry asked.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Because it’s located in a rather compromising place.”

“Okay then.” Harry said, lowering his wand.

The others followed suit, Jen giving Harry a proud smile. “Good boy.”

“Hermione, how did you get through the wards?” Addie asked. “Come to think of it, how did you get here in general?”

Hermione pulled the pendant out from under her robes, but quickly realised that no one could see it. Carefully, she lifted it over her head and handed it to Jen for her to examine.

Jen sat down, shaking her head. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Goblin-made, human-embellished, as much magical protection as both could throw at it. Did you find this in the Ravenclaw vault?”

“Didn’t even need to visit it.” Hermione admitted. “Apparently, when Grandmother said that she had a ‘rapport’ with the goblins, what she meant was she was a Friend of the Goblin Nation and I would inherit that.” She shrugged. “It’s a long story, I’ll explain later. Does anyone other than Harry and Draco need to visit Gringotts?”

“I do.” Addie answered, slipping on a cloak. “I need to discuss McKinnon accounts at some point, may as well be now.”

“Jen, could you come with me please?” Harry asked. “Just in case?”

“Yes, of course, pumpkin.” Jen said, handing the pendant back to Hermione.

Hermione slipped the pendant back on again, before holding her hands out. “Hold on.”

Harry took her right hand and Draco her left, while Jen and Addie settled a hand on each of her shoulders.

“Ginny.” Draco said quietly.

Their eyes locked and they seemed to hold a private conversation for a few minutes – and, Hermione reminded herself, they probably were – before Ginny took hold of Hermione’s elbow and nodded.

“A circle has no beginning.” Hermione murmured under her breath and, with the same strange sensation as last time, they found themselves standing in Ragnok’s office.

Chapter Text

The journey took the newcomers by surprise, as did their destination. Hermione, under no such handicap, greeted Ragnok with a cheerful smile and another curtsey, and was introducing her companions before they’d even had a chance to draw breath.

“Director Ragnok, may I introduce Lady Jennifer Black, Miss Addison McKinnon, Mr Draco Malfoy, Mr Harry Potter and Miss Ginevra Weasley.”

Ginny didn’t know much about the way Gringotts was run – she had always been far more interested in Bill’s tales of tombs and adventure than intra-bank politics – but she still knew who Ragnok was; her curtsey was almost automatic as her mind spun.

Ragnok inclined his head in greeting and beckoned Hermione closer. “Lady Ravenclaw, may I assume that they are all here for banking formalities?”

Hermione nodded. “Harry and Draco need to access their vaults and Addie needs to discuss her accounts. Jen is Harry’s legal guardian and he asked her to come with him, and Ginny is Draco’s …” She hesitated. “He asked her to come.”

“I see.” Ragnok said, glancing at the door as it opened to reveal Griphook. “Enter.”

Griphook hurried to the desk and bowed. “The information you requested, sir.”

“Thank you.” Ragnok took the offered parchment and scanned it. “Hmm. Griphook, escort Lady McKinnon, Mr Potter, and Mr Malfoy, and their companions to separate advisors.”

“Certainly.” Griphook said with another bow, then led the other five out of the room.

Draco took Ginny’s hand almost automatically as they separated from the other three and were shown into another office.

The goblin at the desk stood and bowed to them. “Mr Malfoy, I am Hortnuk, the Malfoy accounts manager; how may I help you today.”

Draco bowed as well. “Hortnuk, it is a pleasure; may our meeting prove profitable for both our families. This is Ginny Weasley; I wish for her to be present for at least the first part of our meeting.”

Ginny thought she saw surprise in the goblin’s expression, but it vanished as soon as it appeared.

Stop looking so tense. Draco told her, pulling out a chair for her. No one’s going to eat you. Aloud, he said, “With my father incapacitated, I would like to enquire about taking control of the Malfoy assets.”

Ginny started. Thanks for the warning!

I like to keep people on their toes.

“Well,” Hortnuk said thoughtfully, “Lord Malfoy is in Azkaban for the time being and you are sixteen, there is no reason you can’t take control of the family by proxy. Given the current circumstances, however, Gringotts and the goblin nation are aligning themselves against Tom Riddle, otherwise known as Lord Voldemort. There are some rules we cannot break, but since proxy-ships are generally assigned in the case of Lords too young for the responsibilities, we are enforcing new requirements for cases such as these.”

“Of course.” Draco said. “If I may draw my wand to make an oath?” The goblin indicated that it was alright, so he drew his wand from his waist. “I, Draco Lucius Malfoy, do swear on my magic and on my life that I do not support Tom Marvolo Riddle, otherwise known as Lord Voldemort, in any way, shape, or form, nor will I ever. So I speak, so mote be it.”

“I think you covered everything.” Ginny said dryly.

Hortnuk was now grinning widely. “In that case, sir, it is perfectly acceptable for you to take the mantle of Lord Malfoy by proxy until you father leaves Azkaban.”

Draco nodded. Now how do I stop him regaining control when he gets out?

Can you cast him from the family? Ginny suggested. Disown him in some way?

Draco turned to her. “That, Gin, is a very good idea. Hortnuk, is it possible to disown my father, Lucius Malfoy?”

“Well, it is highly unusual.” Hortnuk admitted, looking taken aback. “In this case, the family magic would need to allow you to do so and that can be a little finicky – it would definitely need grounds to do so.”

Draco frowned. “Well, supporting the Dark Lord isn’t going to cut it – family magic doesn’t distinguish between good and bad alliances. It would need to be something …” His face brightened. “Treason. He hardly stopped the other Death Eaters trying to kill me at the Ministry.”

“And you’re his only child.” Ginny added. “Which puts the family line in immediate danger.”

Draco seemed to glow – literally, Ginny realised a second later – and when the glow vanished, there was a signet ring sitting on his right hand.

“The family magic has declared that an acceptable reason, my Lord.” Hortnuk announced. “Your father will be informed of his new status when he is released from Azkaban. Now, if you would, add a small drop of blood to this parchment and your listings will be automatically updated.”

Draco did as he was told, pricking his finger lightly with the offered pin. The blood absorbed into the parchment and Hortnuk read through it. “There are monthly instalments being taken from your vault by Tom Marvolo Riddle, am I right in saying …?”

“Stop him.” Draco stated firmly. “All of them. Anyone who can access the vault aside from …” He froze. My mother. Ginny, what about my mother?

Ginny flinched. She hadn’t even considered Narcissa. “We need to speak with Lady Black at the earliest convenience. She’s with Harry Potter.”

What’s that going to do? Draco asked, as Hortnuk pressed the button again.

She’s your mother’s Head of House by proxy. She can dissolve the marriage between your parents and make your mother a Black again.

Gin, I don’t know what I’d do without you.

Ginny turned a light shade of pink and then realised that Hortnuk was inexplicably following her instructions and making arrangements for Jen to join them. “Er, this is probably all confidential information; do you need me to leave?”

Hortnuk glanced up. “Not at all, Lady Malfoy; you are at perfect liberty to stay.”

***

“Lady McKinnon?” Hermione repeated, sitting down. “I wasn’t sure if she’d inherited the title, being supposedly dead and all.”

“She is the oldest daughter and there was no other family.” Ragnok explained. “The family vaults and titles have remained dormant, therefore she automatically inherits.”

“There weren’t any male relatives?” Hermione asked.

“Not close enough to be traced.” Ragnok confirmed, shuffling the papers he’d just been given. “I am afraid this doesn’t help us. All of Riddle’s assets are tired up with his supporters.” He gave her a cunning smile. “You understand, of course, that I cannot show you this parchment.”

“Of course.” Hermione said.

Ragnok set it down on his desk. “If, however, you were to see it while I was otherwise distracted, that would be an entirely different matter. Now, did I finish that report yesterday?” He gazed out of his window, apparently deep in thought.

Hermione grinned and pulled the parchment towards her, memorising the list of names. Most of the names there were not a surprise, nor was the fact that the Malfoy and Lestrange family were tied at the top spot.

“We’re almost certain there’s a Horcrux in the Lestrange vault.” Hermione said, returning the parchment to its previous resting place. “We know that Riddle trusted Malfoy with one, but that’s already been destroyed. I doubt Riddle trusted him with two.”

“True.” Ragnok agreed, turning back to her. “It is also unlikely that he wanted more than one in any one place. Still it cannot hurt to check – I do not want those things in my bank any longer. Follow me.”

“You know,” Hermione remarked, following him to one of the bookcases, “I was expecting this to be harder. Madam Bones was concerned we’d have to really fight for it.”

“The Ministry suffers from an unfortunate handicap.” Ragnok said. “They never consider the most obvious solution.”

“What is the most obvious solution?” Hermione asked.

“Asking for help.” Ragnok said simply. “They never bother.” He chose one of his many books and ran a long finger down its spine. The bookcase shuddered and split down the middle, revealing a secret tunnel.

“Is this a direct passageway to the vaults?” Hermione asked.

“Only the top security vaults.” Ragnok corrected, leading her through the opening.

It had definitely been built with goblins in mind rather than humans, as Hermione had to stoop and she wasn’t very tall, especially compared to Ron, who seemed to tower above her. Even Draco and Harry were a good head above her now.

They emerged into a wider, taller tunnel, facing great iron-cast doors with various crests on them. Ragnok led her to the one that held the Lestrange crest and tapped out a sequence on the key-hole with his finger, whereupon the door swung open silently.

Hermione thought she had already been inside the Black Family vault, but it only hit her after the door opened that it must have been one of the personal vaults, probably one that Sirius had inherited given the protections, because this was about ten times as big, with several piles of gold, but mainly artefacts and portraits.

Ragnok’s hand on her arm stopped her from entering. “My apologies, Lady Ravenclaw, but it is impossible to enter family vaults without the direct permission of the head of the family.”

“Ah.” Hermione said, frowning. “That might cause a bit of a hiccup.”

“That is to say,” Ragnok continued, “it is impossible for humans to enter family vaults without the direct permission of the head of the family.”

Hermione smiled. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“It does make a change from paperwork.” Ragnok conceded. “Do you know what Madam Lestrange had?”

“I don’t think so.” Hermione admitted, her eyes scanning the shelves from her vantage point in the doorway. “We’re looking for something of Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. We think the last one is his snake and I’m fairly sure that’s not in here. There!” She pointed at the very top shelf, where a little golden cup sat glinting in the dim light.

“Everything in this vault has been charmed with Germino and Flagrante Curses.” Ragnok said. “So we need a way to destroy it without touching it.”

Hermione reached into her cloak and pulled out a small bag, extracting from within it a single basilisk fang. “This should do it.”

“Yes,” Ragnok agreed. “I would imagine it would.”

Hermione handed the fang to Ragnok with a bow and he took it gravely. Then, with a wiggle of his fingers, he floated up to the shelf where the cup sat. Without any hesitation, he plunged the fang into the cup and Hermione flinched, a dreadful scream echoing through the vault.

Serenely, Ragnok floated back to her and handed the fang back. “Well,” he said, “I think it’s safe to say that was one of them.”

***

Jen and Harry were led to another room, where the Potter account manager was waiting, a goblin she knew well and greeted with a smile and a curtsey. “Barchoke, how wonderful to see you again.”

Barchoke gave her a low bow. “Lady Black, as always, the pleasure is my own.”

“Barchoke used to visit your grandfather at home.” Jen explained to Harry. “Sirius and I were often there at the time.”

“And Master Harry as well,” Barchoke said, bowing to him as well. “I had begun to think you had no interest in the family accounts.”

“He wasn’t informed about them.” Jen said crisply, ushering Harry into a seat after his rather awkward bow. “Someone who shall remain nameless decided he didn’t need to know.”

Barchoke scowled. “That someone may need to be reminded that inheritance is something that Gringotts and the Ministry of Magic actually agree on.”

“That someone will receive a strong reminder in due course.” Jen said. “In the meantime, could you kindly give Harry a rundown of the accounts please?”

“Certainly Lady Black.” Barchoke said, a piece of parchment appearing in his hands. He duplicated it and handed one to Harry to examine.

The analysis was much as Jen had expected, given that no one had touched the accounts. Harry’s trust fund was updated yearly, as per the custom, and the various investments seemed to be growing strong, with the exception of Gambol and Japes, who were slowly slipping.

“If I were you,” Jen said, “I’d pull that investment and channel it into Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.”

Harry frowned. “Is it a good idea to base investments on personal friendships?”

Jen gave him an approving smile. “Normally, no, you’re right. However, I’m not basing that on personal friendships. I’m basing that on the fact that G&J are on the verge of going out of business and WWW are on-track to becoming a very successful business.”

“I concur.” Barchoke said. “It would be highly profitable to jump in now.”

Harry nodded. “Alright, I’ll do that then.”

Barchoke snapped his fingers and the parchment updated. “There are no other outgoings, which is to be expected, given Lord and Lady Potters’ predicament.”

Harry’s head snapped up. “Wait, you know?”

“Harry.” Jen chided gently. “Manners. I assume that’s the Will?”

“It is.” Barchoke confirmed.

Harry frowned. “What Will?”

“Most Noble Families – and the Potters were definitely that – make their Will with Gringotts.” Jen explained. “But it is sealed with a rather remarkable charm. It’s tied to their life-force. As long as your parents live, the Will cannot be read.”

“But then how does no one know?” Harry asked.

“Have a think, Harry.” Jen said. “Why do you think?”

Harry was silent for a second, then his shoulders slumped. “Because no one would listen to the goblins.”

Barchoke nodded, looking angry. “Professor Dumbledore did come for the Will but we informed him the charm was not broken. Imagine my surprise when I hear nothing about their survival and instead hear that the Wizengamot heard their Will read!  I even – and I do not do this lightly, young man – I even went to the Ministry myself, but I could get no one to even speak to me, let along listen.”

Harry scowled. “You’d think that, given they all trust you with their money, they’d be a little nicer.”

Barchoke gave him an approving smile. “Some do. Your Lady Mother, for example, was always exceptionally friendly.”

“I think a lot of Muggle-borns are.” Jen said. “They didn’t grow up with the same prejudices. Now how does the family stand now, Barchoke?”

“Well,” Barchoke said, “with Lord James still alive, Master Harry can take the responsibilities of Lord Potter by proxy, but regrettably, he cannot enter the family vault without Lord James’s permission until he is 17.”

Jen nodded. “That’s pretty standard.” She explained to Harry. “The family vault is where all the heirlooms are and generally young purebloods with no responsibility can be a little …”

“Irresponsible?” Harry suggested.

Jen laughed. “Well, quite.”

There was a quiet knock at the door and Barchoke called for the visitor to enter.

A very young goblin slipped through the door and gave a very shaky bow. “Begging your pardon, my Lord and Lady, Manager Barchoke sir, but Lord Malfoy is requesting Lady Black’s presence.”

“Lord Malfoy?” Harry repeated in surprise.

Jen raised an eyebrow. “Draco must have taken control of the family by proxy as well. Harry, did you have any other questions?”

Harry thought for a second. “Just one.”

Jen nodded and smiled kindly at the young goblin. “What’s your name?”

The goblin gave another shaky bow. “I am Gornuk, my Lady.”

“Gornuk, kindly inform Lord Malfoy that I will be with him in a few minutes, if you please.”

Gornuk nodded hurriedly and, with one last bow, hurried from the room.

“Harry?” Jen prompted.

“How would I go about selling basilisk parts?” Harry asked.

“Well, now,” Barchoke said thoughtfully, “I presume that is not a hypothetical question.”

“No.” Harry said, a little sheepishly. “I have a large basilisk that I don’t need.”

Jen coughed to cover her laugh. “It has all been harvested.”

Barchoke nodded. “Well, then. What I suggest, Mr Potter – or will you be taking the Lorship by proxy?”

Harry looked faintly alarmed and Jen patted his hand. “You don’t have to until you’re seventeen,” she said kindly. “As your legal guardian, I can handle any of the duties until then.”

Harry nodded, looking relieved. “Yes, please.”

“Well then, Mr Potter,” Barchoke repeated, “what I suggest is that you mail the parts here to Gringotts, addressing it to myself. We will then sell the parts on your behalf. Would you like the proceeds to go into your trust vault, a personal vault or the family vault?”

Harry frowned. “I’m not sure. Can I think about it and let you know?”

“Certainly,” Barchoke said. “Include it with the carcass and we shall endeavour to fulfil your request.”

“Thank you,” Harry said fervently.

“Thank you, Barchoke,” Jen repeated, rising from her chair. “Now I should see what Draco wants.”  She led Harry from the room to where Gornuk was waiting outside. With another bow, he trotted off ahead of them.

“You’ll need to wait outside, Harry,” Jen cautioned as they arrived.

“Yeah, of course,” Harry said, coming to a stop outside the door. “Do you think everything’s okay?”

“I don’t know,” Jen admitted. “But we’ll soon find out.” She rapped sharply on the door and let herself in.

Draco’s account manager had apparently stepped out to give them some privacy.

Ginny was perched on Draco’s lap, her face buried in his neck. When Jen shut the door behind her, she raised her head just long enough for Jen to see the red rimming her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Jen asked urgently, crossing the floor to lay a hand on the girl’s back.

“It turns out,” Draco said, with false calm, “that in goblin culture, a soul bond is considered a legally binding marriage. As far as Gringotts is concerned, Ginny is now Lady Malfoy and she’s a little bit overwhelmed.”

“Just Ginny?” Jen asked automatically.

Draco gave a small shrug. “Well, I was already a Malfoy, it’s not quite as bad.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Ginny asked in a small voice.

“I didn’t know,” Jen said, frowning. “I knew it used to be considered a legally binding marriage by the Wizengamot, but one too many pureblood heirs bonded with Muggle-borns, and the blood-snobs protested it. Did their children no good, of course. Most of them only just lived long enough to produce the next heir before the bond killed them. I didn’t know Gringotts still abided by it.”

“How?” Draco asked. “Didn’t your bond form in your seventh year?”

“Well, yes, but …” Jen closed her eyes, the answer suddenly falling into place. “The Blacks are an Ancient and Noble Family. The goblins are very particular about status and hierarchy. I daresay that Narcissa would still have been Miss Black, even after she married, until Lucius became the head of the family. So they wouldn’t have called me Mrs Lupin, because Miss Black has the higher status, you see?”

“This is all well and good,” Ginny said a little shrilly. “But you and Remus are getting married tomorrow. Draco and I have been thrown in the deep end here!”

***

Ginny’s mind was racing faster than Harry’s Firebolt in a Gryffindor-Slytherin Quidditch Match.

Married? How could she be married? She didn’t even turn fifteen until August, for Merlin’s sake, how could she be …

Ginny? Are you still with us?

Ginny started, Draco’s voice in her head effectively bringing her back to earth with a bump. Yeah. Sorry.

Draco gave her a smile that was close to a smirk, and turned back to Jen. “I’ve taken control of the Malfoy vaults and blocked my father.”

Jen blinked, then broke into a smile. “Well done! How did you manage that?”

“He let the others try to kill me, family magic agreed,” Draco said. “What about my mother?”

Jen hesitated, pursing her lips in thought. “Well … I would remove her access as well. I’ve set up an account for her to use, it’s nowhere big enough for them to keep funding Voldemort, just enough for her to live on. If she has access, there’s not telling with Lucius will do to get hold of it.”

Draco grimaced. “The darker side of Slytherin. Hortnuk?”

The goblin reappeared from the adjoining room with a bow. “Yes, my Lord?”

“From now on, the only people who can access the Malfoy accounts are myself and …” Draco glanced down at Ginny “… Lady Malfoy.”

Draco, you don’t have to …

Now, now, Ginevra, Draco interrupted, it’s only right.

Ginny glared at him, but before she could protest, the meeting was ending and they were leaving the office.

Not here, Draco told her, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm. We’ll talk later.

Harry stood up when they appeared, smoothing his robes down. “Everything sorted?” He asked Draco.

Draco nodded. “He’s out, I’m in.”

Ginny narrowed her eyes. Care to explain why Harry knew what you were planning and you didn’t bother telling me?

He asked, Draco answered simply.

Jen led them back along the corridor to Ragnok’s office, tapping once on the door and letting them in.

Addie had already returned and was talking to Hermione. Her eyes were a little red-rimmed, but Jen pretended not to notice.

“What happened?” Hermione asked immediately, looking straight at Ginny.

“Later,” Ginny muttered.

Hermione frowned, but stood up. “Thank you so much for your help, Ragnok.”

“The pleasure was all mine, Hermione,” Ragnok said with a bow. “I should be thanking you for your assistance in removing that disgusting scourge from my bank.”

Jen breathed a small sigh of relief. It sounded as though Hermione’s mission had been successful.

“There is one last thing I need to as you,” Hermione said, a little reluctantly.

“No need, Hermione,” Ragnok said with a goblin grin. “That pendant has one more trick. Tap it twice with your wand and it will allow you to send a message here to Gringotts. You have my word that you can count on our assistance should trouble arise.”

Hermione gave a low curtsey. “Thank you.”

Jen curtseyed as well, murmuring her own thanks, her knees a little wobbly. To have the Goblin Nation onside was a stroke of fortune she would have never dared hope for.

Hermione held out her hands and her five companions all made sure they were all holding on to some part of her. She muttered something under her breath and they were catapulted back to Potter Manor.

Chapter Text

As soon as they arrived back at Potter Manor, Ginny disappeared in the direction of the Quidditch Pitch.

Although she didn’t say anything, Draco flinched as though she had shouted (and maybe she had) and vanished in the direction of the stairs.

“What happened?” Hermione asked again.

Jen sighed. “It’s not my place to say, Hermione – they found something out, that’s all.”

According to Gringotts, we’re already married.

Excuse me? Remus asked, actually turning to look at her, something they rarely did when they were talking like this.

You heard me. They abide by the Old Laws, which – duh – of course they do, why didn’t I think of that?

“I’m going to check on Ginny,” Jen said aloud. “And then I’m going to talk to Arthur about letting them stay here.”

It didn’t take long to find Ginny. Jen had assumed that she’d need to get her own broom and chase the girl down, but she found her sitting on the pitch, rhythmically pulling up handfuls of grass.

“I’m okay,” she said as Jen approached.

“First of all, no you’re not,” Jen said. “Second of all, if you don’t want to talk about it, it’s fine. I’m going to talk to your parents about letting you and Ron stay here – do you …?”

“No,” Ginny said immediately, looking up at her with wide eyes. “Please don’t tell them.”

Jen chuckled. “I wasn’t going to tell them, Ginny. I was going to ask if you wanted to come with me.”

Ginny shook her head. “Thanks, but Mum probably won’t let me come back if I do. When you get back, could you tell Hermione and Harry for me please?”

“Of course.” Jen squeezed the girl’s shoulder and made her way to the edge of the wards, where she could disapparate to The Burrow.

***

As conversations went, it was a difficult one. Molly cried and protested, Jen attempted to remain as calm as possible, and finally Arthur weighed in.

“Ron and Ginny won’t stay out of it,” he said firmly. “If Jen can help them stay alive, then I will be forever grateful.”

Molly rounded on her husband, giving Jen a momentary reprieve. “And what about this … this … soul bond that Ginny …”

“Keeping them apart is not going to make it go away,” Arthur said, a steely note entering his voice.

“Yes, but to have them in the same house …” Molly began.

“I hope you are not suggesting,” Jen interrupted, allowing the pureblood iciness she was raised with to bleed into her voice, “that I am incapable of preventing two teenagers from sneaking around behind my back.”

Molly faltered, the wind taken out of her sails.

“This soul bond would have formed eventually,” Jen continued, “but it is to Ginny and Draco’s disadvantage that it has formed so early. They haven’t had a chance to figure out their relationship before the bond and now this has fallen in their laps. The only thing they can be sure of right now is that the other person will never hurt them, which is an assurance most of us can only dream of.”

“I agree,” Arthur said, giving Molly a warning look. “Jennifer, as Head of the Weasley Family, I hereby grant you permission to act as Ronald and Ginevra’s guardian this summer.”

Jen inclined her head. “Thank you, Arthur.” She reached out to pat Molly’s arm. “Like I said, Molly, I sincerely hope that when this is all over, we can sit here and you can say ‘I told you so’.”

***

When Jen arrived back at Potter Manor, it was to be confronted by two teenagers.

“What happened?!” Hermione asked for a third time. “Ginny said she asked you to tell us.”

Jen took a deep breath. “A long time ago, a soul bond was considered a legally binding marriage in the wizarding world. That law was changed several hundred years ago, when it interfered with one too many betrothals …”

“Of course it did,” Hermione muttered.

Jen smiled fondly at her niece. “Obviously. However, we discovered today that Gringotts still consider them a legally binding marriage. Ginny is, as far as the goblins are concerned, Lady Malfoy.”

Hermione’s jaw dropped and she jumped to her feet. “Maybe I should go and talk to her; she must be freaking out.”

“Actually,” Jen said, “it’s Draco I’m worried about.”

***

Hermione hesitated, letting her empathy expand. The Quidditch pitch was relatively quiet, but she could feel a haze of fear and anxiety from the east wing. She nodded, bending to kiss Harry, before hurrying towards the source, finding Daphne hovering outside Draco’s bedroom door.

The Slytherin girl looked relieved at her arrival. “I saw him get back; he looked strange, but he won’t answer.”

“Long story,” Hermione muttered, trying the door. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was locked. “Draco? It’s me, can you let me in please?”

There was a brief pause, in which she wondered why she had expected a response. On good terms with her he may be, but if Draco wasn’t going to confide in Daphne, he wasn’t about to confide in …

The lock clicked.

“I wasn’t expecting that to work,” Hermione admitted.

“Good luck,” Daphne said.

Hermione smiled weakly and let herself in, closing the door gently, pausing for a moment to give her eyes time to adjust to the dim light.

Draco was sat on the edge of his bed, his head in his hands, looking – for once – how he felt: utterly despondent.

Hermione sat down next to him, but didn’t say anything, knowing that he’d talk if he wanted to.

After a few minutes, he took a shaky breath. “I can’t feel her. Where is she?”

“Quidditch Pitch,” Hermione said softly. “She asked Jen to tell me and Harry what happened. I guess she needs some time to think.”

“About what?” Draco asked, almost helplessly. “We can’t change it.”

Hermione smiled slightly. “Well, from what I’ve gathered, you and Ginny only share thoughts you want each other to hear, right?”

Draco nodded.

“Well, normally, meeting ‘the one’ entails a good couple of months at least of ‘how is he feeling’, ‘am I acting too forward’, ‘does he really like me’ and so on,” Hermione continued. “Ginny’s trying to get her head around the fact that you’re ‘the one’ and she shouldn’t need to deal with all those questions, but she is, because she won’t use the link to find out what she’s feeling. Also, even though we all knew the soul bond was – you know – it, this is a little more … now.”

“Yeah,” Draco agreed softly. “I thought I’d be freaking out about it, but I’m freaking out more about the fact that she’s closed the link. I can feel her, but I can’t hear her and … and I don’t like it.”

Hermione frowned. “You want me to go and get her?”

Draco sighed. “No. Best let her work it out by herself. She needs …” He stopped, lifting his head to stare at the closed door. “She’s on her way.”

Hermione stood up, squeezing his shoulder as she did. “Alright. And sort this out today, please. We need you both focused.”
Draco pulled a face. “Yes, mum.”

***

Once Ginny’s thoughts settled, guilt began to pool in the pit of her stomach. After her reaction at the beginning of the summer, and their conversation the night before, blocking the link was not only wrong, it was borderline cruel.

She reached the landing just as Hermione left Draco’s room and the other girl gave her a stern look. “Fix it.”

Ginny just nodded, gathering her Gryffindor courage before knocking on the door.

It opened silently, and she stepped inside.

He was still sitting on the edge of the bed, and when he looked at her, it looked like he had already given up.

Gently, she nudged the link open again, flinching at the wave of pain and anxiety that washed over her.

Ginny opened her mouth to explain, then closed it again. After a few more attempts to find the right words, she gave up, took a deep breath, and forced the link open entirely, letting every single one of her thoughts, fears, memories and emotions flood into him.

His expression didn’t change, but the light in his eyes changed from pain, to shock, to … something else.

Then, before Ginny could as much as blink, his arms were around her and his mouth was pressed against hers in a searing kiss that sent shivers down her spine, making every inch of her skin spark with magic.

At the same time, he opened his side of the link.

Ginny found herself spinning through memories of Hogwarts, Slytherin, Lucius Malfoy, Death Eaters, Voldemort … then his emotions joined them; the love he felt for his mother, the fear and disdain for his father, the hatred for Death Eaters, the concern for some of his house-mates … and then she landed upon herself, right in the centre, surrounded by a myriad of emotions, feelings that she was harbouring for him as well, and possibly had been for weeks, maybe even months, but kept hidden.

Keeping the link as open as that would drive them both mad eventually, and they returned it to its usual state, but the connection didn’t disappear; his presence in her mind remained stronger than ever, and their embrace shifted from one of desperate need for contact to a soft, loving kiss that made her heart beat five times faster.

After what seemed like forever, he broke away, keeping her in his arms, pulling back only far enough to meet her eyes. “What were you worried about again?”

Ginny blushed, the curse of fair skin. “Okay, I was overthinking. Are you sure you’re alright with this? I mean, according to Gringotts, it’s you and me until death do us part and all that.”

Draco’s gaze didn’t waver, his azure eyes locked with her chocolate ones. “And providing we survive this war, I fully intend to make it that way in the wizarding world as well.

Ginny started. She knew that he loved her, but … “Really?”

Draco smirked at her – not his ‘Slytherin’ smirk, but one that she had noticed was reserved solely for her, and did things to her insides that she hadn’t entirely come to terms with yet. “Why, of course, Miss Weasley, what were you expecting?”

Ginny chose not to answer, focussing instead on something else. “And here I thought I was Mrs Malfoy now, dear.”

Draco chuckled. “Lady Malfoy, darling, there’s a slight difference.” He became serious again very quickly. “And you’re alright with this as well? You and me? Forever?”

Ginny nodded. “Forever.”

Chapter Text

July 3rd dawned bright and sunny – not that the weather mattered a great deal.

Jen and Remus would be getting married in the ballroom at Ravenscroft Manor and then staying there for a week or so in lieu of a honeymoon, while Addie and Sirius returned to Potter Manor with the students to start training.

“How do I look?” Jen asked, fussing with her hair.

Addie rolled her eyes. “Jen, for the thousandth time, you look beautiful. Now would you relax and stop doing that?” She pulled Jen’s hands away from her hair and carefully pinned the wayward strand back into place.

Jen had chosen to wear her hair down, but scooped back away from her face. It trailed in curls over her shoulders, which had been left bare by her dress robes, styled to look like a Muggle wedding dress.

In contrast, Addie had twisted her hair up into an elaborate topknot and she had chosen a purely Muggle dress in blue satin.

There was a soft tap on the door, and Hermione’s voice floated through the wood. “It’s us, the boys are downstairs.”

Addie opened the door for them and Hermione and Ginny entered, stopping short almost immediately.

“Wow,” Ginny whispered. “Jen, you look stunning.”

Jen smiled, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. Reading her expression, as she had so many times at Hogwarts, Addie reached out and took her hand. “What is it?”

“Lily should be here,” Jen whispered, conjuring a tissue and dabbing her eyes. “It’s her wedding day all over again. I wasn’t supposed to be her maid-of-honour, you were. Like I’m not supposed to be Harry’s godmother, you are.”

“And I’m not supposed to be your maid-of-hour, she is,” Addie finished. “But here we are.” There were tears appearing in her eyes now as well. “I know it’s hard Jen, but …”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Lily’s voice said. “We had enough of this on my wedding day!”

Both women turned to see that Hermione’s eyes were now emerald green.

“Jen?” Addie asked.

Jen gave a watery smile. “It’s Lily. She can’t do it often or for long, but Hermione can let her in like this from time to time. She did it last Christmas.”

‘Lily’ was smiling at them. “You look lovely, Selena.”

Addie cleared her throat loudly.

‘Lily’ rolled her eyes in a painfully familiar fashion. “And so do you, Shadow. You are not doing this today, ladies. I am not dead, I’m just not here. And yes, that’s horrible, but we’ll get there. Now go and knock them both dead.” She blew them a kiss, a shiver passed through Hermione’s body, and her eyes faded back to brown.

Jen swept her into a hug. “Thank you, Hermione.”

“No need to thank me,” Hermione told her, sniffling slightly herself. “If you really want to thank me, talk to Ginny about telling her parents about Gringotts; she’s giving me a headache.”

Jen chuckled, turning to the younger girl. “Nervous?”

Ginny fiddled with the skirt of her dress. “Mum’s going to kill me.”

“She can’t kill you for something you have no control over,” Addie said fairly.

“You don’t know my mother,” Ginny said.

Jen patted her on the shoulder. “The longer you put it off, the harder it will get Ginny, trust me. Just do it quickly and get it over with – just like ripping off a plaster.”

“Easy for you to say,” Ginny muttered under her breath.

Addie chuckled and turned her attention to Hermione, who was standing in front of the mirror, twisting her hair on top of her head experimentally, then giving up.

“Having trouble?”

Hermione met her eyes in the mirror. “I don’t have fifty gallons of Sleakeezy to spare.”

Addie chuckled. “Maybe you should have checked Potter Manor. Harry’s great-grandfather invented the stuff.”

“Did he really?” Hermione asked. “It makes sense, I suppose. Potter Hair is ridiculous.”

“It is,” Addie agreed, carefully untangling the knots that had formed in Hermione’s hair, just from her twisting it. “You got your mother’s hair, I see.”

Hermione grimaced. “For my sins.”

“I’m surprised actually,” Addie commented. “I would have expected the blood adoption to bring the Black out in you a little more.”

“It did,” Hermione said. “I’m wearing a Glamour Charm.”

“It’s more or less self-sustaining by now,” Jen added, helping Ginny with her make-up. “It fell in the Department of Mysteries, but I put it back on for her.”
“I’ve thought about dropping it completely,” Hermione admitted, “but I can’t do that at school. And I’m not sure I’m ready.”

Addie hummed in agreement. “Well, I can partially remove it today for you, to see if it makes this any easier.”

Hermione sighed in relief. “Yes please.”

“Alright, hold still,” Addie said, resting a hand atop her head. “Let’s see what we can do.”

***

While the girls were getting ready, Harry and Draco were lounging downstairs in the ballroom, watching Remus pace and Sirius trying to calm him down, but doing more harm than good.

Amelia, who would be presiding, and Augusta were sending streams of flowers and lights around the room, creating a soft, romantic atmosphere. Susan, already resplendent in pale-green, was helping them, but Neville had spent the night with the Weasleys and would be arriving with them.

At first, the two young men didn’t speak, engulfed in a heavy – yet not awkward – silence, occasionally ducking the occasional wayward sweet pea.

After a good ten minutes, Draco cleared his throat. “So did you ask about the Gryffindor line at Gringotts?”

Harry sighed. “No, but I didn’t need to. Hermione learned more than enough from Ragnok. Rowena wasn’t the only founder who wanted her Heir to prove themselves first. You’d think pulling the sword would have done that.”

“Maybe it means something else,” Draco said. “Gryffindor was all about chivalry as well as bravery. I mean, you did all that to rescue your best friend’s sister. Would it have been as easy if it was, say, me down there?”

Harry pulled a face. “Well, I like to think I wouldn’t have left anyone down there, but I suppose you’ve got a point.”

“Alice!” Augusta suddenly exclaimed. “What are you doing out of bed?”

Both started and looked around. A thin, pale woman stood in the doorway, taking in the happenings with a vacant expression.

“That’s Neville’s mum,” Harry whispered. “What’s she doing here?”

“Madam Longbottom had them both discharged from St Mungo’s at the beginning of summer and moved them here,” Draco answered quietly. “I overheard Jen mentioning it.”

The two older witches had now abandoned their decorating in favour of trying to convince Alice to go back to bed.

Before he had really thought it through, Harry stood up, brushing his dress robes down, and headed over to them. “Do you want me to take her?”

Amelia gave him a tired smile. “Yes please, Harry. I know Jen said she’d like Alice there if she could cope, but she won’t, not really.”

Harry nodded, taking a step towards his friend’s mother. “Alice? Why don’t we go back? You must be tired.”

Alice turned to look at him. For a split-second, he thought he saw something flash in her eyes, but it disappeared too fast for him to be sure.

She took his arm without fuss, and Harry gently steered her out of the room and towards the East wing, where Augusta and Amelia were living. Trying to keep her moving, he chatted away, telling her all about Hogwarts and Neville, until they finally reached a large white room that held two hospital-like beds, one of which held Neville’s father, awake but gazing at the ceiling.

As Harry released her, Alice walked slowly to the empty bed and turned to look at him expectantly. He hesitated, but followed her, helping her under the covers and tucking her in.

Before he could move away, she caught his arm, her grip surprisingly strong for such a frail woman. Her pale eyes locked on his face. “James …”

Harry froze. “No, Alice, I’m Harry. James’s son.”

“James,” Alice repeated, her voice firmer.

Her hand was trembling and he could see her getting upset. “Yes.” He covered her hand with his and squeezed gently. “Yes, I’m James.”

A ghost of a smile graced her face as her grip loosened and her eyes closed.

Harry waited for her breathing to even out, before carefully pulling his arm free and leaving the room, wondering if that was some sort of break-through in her condition.

Halfway back to the ballroom, he came across Hermione and stopped dead in his tracks, all other thoughts flying out of his mind. “Mione, you look … Wow.”

Hermione smiled shyly at him. “Yes?”

“You look amazing,” Harry told her honestly. “Did you … Did you do something with your hair?”

To his relief, Hermione’s smile didn’t waver. If anything, it got bigger. “Actually, no. Addie helped me remove part of the Glamour Charm so my hair was a bit more manageable.”

“How did she know it would do that?” Harry asked.

“Apparently, Black blood outs,” Hermione said dryly. “You really think I look okay?”

Harry sighed. “Hermione, you are beautiful. It doesn’t matter how many times you ask me, my answer is not going to change.”

“I’ll second that,” Draco said from behind him.

Hermione started. “Really?”

“Of course.” Draco turned to Harry, shaking his head. “You really need to do something about her self-esteem, Potter.”

“I don’t see why she has such a problem,” Harry agreed. “She’s stunning.” Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Hermione’s complexion turning bright pink.

Draco also caught it and smirked. “Well, that’s my goal for today reached.” Before she could protest, he bowed formally to her, took her hand and kissed it. “Lady Ravenclaw, allow me to extend my compliments – you will be one of the most beautiful girls in the room today.”

“One of the most?” Harry repeated, wondering how red they could make her. “Surely the most?”

“Well, I would agree with you,” Draco said, “but I do have to include Ginny in my reasoning.”

“Oh, of course,” Harry said, nodding sagely. “And obviously no one can outshine the bride.”

“Obviously,” Draco agreed. “Well, I’d love to stand and chat all day, but Ginny’s a little nervous, what with her parents coming, and her internal monologue has reached a pitch that only dogs can hear, so please excuse me.”

“I’m beginning to agree with Ron,” Harry commented, as soon as he was out of earshot. “He’s actually acting normal.”

Hermione laughed. “Calm down!”

***

As he walked away, Draco knew that Potter – Harry – would make some comment, but didn’t bother to wait and hear it. He was more focussed on trying to soothe his soul-mate, even though he knew she was trying to shield her worry from him.

He knew he was acting very ‘un-Draco Malfoy’, but then again, it was very ‘un-Harry Potter’ for the Gryffindor to just turn his back on the four years of enmity between them.

Recently, however, much of Draco’s behaviour had been an act of self-preservation – the general opinion of the Slytherins was not incorrect; many were pureblood supremacist, if not outright supporters of Voldemort, and Draco was a Slytherin for a reason. If he had been prepared to announce that maybe he didn’t agree with that line of thinking, he would have been a Gryffindor.

His father had certainly done his best to raise a future Death Eater, but his mother, on the rare occasions she was permitted to spend time with her son in private, had done the exact opposite, telling him stories of a Muggle-born Gryffindor, who had been Narcissa’s only true friend and, Draco only realised later, become Lady Lily Potter, the Countess of Richmond.

Ultimately, unfortunately, his father’s teachings had broken through, and he had arrived at Hogwarts believing that the world should be served up to him on a platter.

That attitude had not lasted long.

He had been beaten to the top of his year by a Gryffindor and a Muggle-born at that. What was worse, no matter how he tried to justify it to his father, the fact of the matter was that she was just … better than him.

Humiliated, Draco had spent the next year desperately trying to undermine the so-called ‘Golden Trio’, but nothing bothered them: they were a team, a unit … friends.

He would see them down by the lake, laughing, joking, willing to do anything for each other … and then he would look at his own ‘friends’ – nothing more than political links to appease his father.

He found himself watching them, wishing he was a part of something like that.

Third year, he stopped trying to antagonise them so much – who knew that they were as loyal as Hufflepuffs when it came to Hagrid? (With hindsight, he had to admit that he should have done.) On a bad day, he could still feel the sting where Hermione had punched him; just the fact that she made contact earned her his grudging respect.

And that was all that led him to trust her in his fourth year.

Draco was, if nothing, the perfect Slytherin. But Hermione Granger had him beaten at every turn.

Sometimes he wondered how the Hat sorted her at all.

Analysing his thoughts, he chuckled to himself when he realised that an outsider would mistake his opinion of the young woman for a romantic interest.

But the affection he held for her – because there was affection, he wasn’t going to bother denying that – was strictly platonic. She was a friend – a sister, even.

Reaching Jen’s bedroom drew him out of his thoughts, and he tapped smartly on the door. It opened just enough for Addie to peer out.

“Good morning,” Draco greeted. “May I borrow Ginny?”

Addie smiled at him. “Good morning, Draco. Yes, of course.” She beckoned over her shoulder and Ginny took her place, shutting the door behind her.

“What’s wrong?”

“Really, Ginny , does something have to be wrong?” Draco asked, offering her his arm. “You look stunning.”

“Oh, thank you,” Ginny said, glancing down at her dress as they set off downstairs. “I was a bit worried about this dress actually; blue isn’t really my colour …”
“Gin, you’re not worried about the dress,” Draco said, cutting in smoothly. “If you are, you shouldn’t be. I can feel you in my head. What’s really bothering you?”

Ginny smiled wryly. “Like you don’t already know.”

They emerged into the entrance hall and came to a halt, the only sound the distant murmur of Augusta’s voice as she gave instructions.

Ginny sighed heavily. “I’m worried, Draco. Mum still isn’t happy about this, and she only knows about the bond – she doesn’t know you have feelings for me, she certainly doesn’t know that I have feelings for you, she doesn’t know about Gringotts and she doesn’t know that we’re …” she trailed off, looking around as though hoping the correct descriptive would fall from the ceiling. “… that we’re whatever the hell we are.”

“What about your father?” Draco asked quietly.

“Oh, he’ll be alright,” Ginny said dismissively. “At least, I hope he will. But Mum likes to be in control of every situation, and she’s not in control of this, she could easily forbid me from coming here, I’m still underage, and with the bond we have …”

Draco could see her getting upset now and, taking her hands, he pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. “I’m not losing you, Gin; you’re jumping to conclusions.”

There was a soft pop, and he glanced up to see her family appear behind her. Their invitation acted as a portkey, so they didn’t need to worry about finding the transportation stone.

Neville was with them, but he just gave them a smirk and a wave, and vanished into the ballroom to find his grandmother.

Ron looked oddly smug, a sharp contrast to the anger and confusion on the rest of her brothers’ faces. Molly looked about ready to explode.

It didn’t matter though; what did matter was the fact that Ginny was still upset. “Ginny, your family’s here.”

I don’t want to deal with it. Can’t I just stay here?

Draco sighed and extended a hand to her father, pretending he couldn’t read the mistrust on his face. “Mr Weasley, good to see you again. I’d just like to apologise for everything my father has said and done over the years. And thank you for giving him a black eye a few years ago.”

Fred and George’s glares dropped and they sniggered at the memory.

Slowly, Arthur shook Draco’s hand. “I must admit, Draco, that when Ron told me you were on our side, I was a little sceptical. Apparently, names can be deceiving.”

“You sticking up for me?” Draco asked Ron. “Whatever next?”

Ron shrugged. “Seemed like the right thing to do, considering. What’s with Ginny?”

Draco glanced down at the top of her head. “What, this? Ginny’s a little worried about telling you something. Good morning , Mrs Weasley.”

Molly ignored his greeting. “What things? What’s wrong with her?”

Draco steeled himself, hoping that Ginny being between them would stop him from getting killed. “I assume you all know about the soul-bond.”

“You share a soul-bond?” Bill asked, relaxing almost immediately.

“Bill?” Arthur prompted. “What do you know?”

“Well, soul-bonds are very rare,” Bill said. “They rarely form before the couple have begun dating – I assume this is what happened here?”

Draco nodded. “Absolutely. I was unconscious in the infirmary.” He briefly laid out what happened, including his exhaustion and Pansy’s sudden entrance.

Bill was nodding as well now. “That sounds about right. The thing is, Dad, soul-bonds don’t form unless Magic knows the two would never harm one another. Ginny’s about as safe as she can be.”

“How do you know so much about it?” Charlie asked, looking much happier himself.

“Gringotts lives by the Old Laws,” Bill explained, “so they …. Ah.”

“Yes,” Draco agreed dryly. “Imagine our surprise when I took control of the family and disowned my father, and they started calling her Lady Malfoy.”

“What?!” Ron choked out.

Draco nodded. “Gringotts considers the soul-bond a legally binding marriage still, even if the wizarding world doesn’t.” He turned to Arthur. “Mr Weasley, I just want to reassure you that we are both very aware of the fact that we have been thrown in the deep end, so to speak, and neither of us have any plans to change that until after we have both graduated.”

Arthur raised an eyebrow. “Is that you way of saying you intend to marry my daughter?”

Draco didn’t flinch. “Not without asking your permission.”

“And if, for whatever reason, I decided not to give it?” Arthur asked evenly.

Ginny shifted in his arms, and Draco loosened his grip to let her turn to face her family. “No offence intended, sir, but I love your daughter so I’d marry her anyway.”

“And I love Draco,” Ginny added, “so I’d tell him to ignore you.”

“Well, Ginny is scarier than Dad is,” Charlie said gravely, “so that’s probably wise.”

Arthur nodded, finally allowing himself a smile. “Just wait until you’ve both graduated.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Yes Dad.”

“Arthur …!” Molly began, but her husband held up a hand.

“Molly, we can discuss this at home. This is Jen’s wedding day and neither the time nor the place for this discussion.”

“But …”

Bill and Charlie promptly flanked their mother and steered her out of the entrance hall and into the ballroom, Arthur following close behind.

Ron let out a shaky breath. “Well, this is …” He shook his head and focused on Draco, narrowing his eyes. “Look after her.”

Apparently not trusting himself to say anything more, he followed his parents and older brothers, leaving Ginny and Draco alone with the twins.

If Draco was honest, it was these two, out of anyone, that he was worried about; his hands tightened unconsciously on hers and she sent a wave of reassurance back through the link.

“Have you closed the shop for today then?” Ginny asked.

“No, we left Angie …”

“… and Alicia in charge.”

Ginny raised an eyebrow. “I thought they were going into professional Quidditch.”

“They only got reserve positions.”

“So they came to work with us.”

“Now, Malfoy …”

“We should probably call him Draco if he’s actually dating her.”

“Draco then – you should probably know …”

“… Ron spoke for all of us.”

“So hurt her …”

“… and we’ll hurt you.”

In the time it took Draco to put the separate strands into one sentence, the twins had disappeared into the ballroom themselves, and Ginny was shaking her head.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Draco said, pulling her into the living room so they could talk privately. “That went well.”

Ginny hugged him impulsively. “Yes, it did. Mum’s going to throw a fit, but when Dad puts his foot down, it stays down. Thank you – that could have been so much worse.”

“I meant every word of it,” Draco told her quietly. “You know I did. And did you realise that’s the first time you’ve said that you love me out loud?”

That’s the first time anyone’s said that they loved me out loud.

Ginny sucked in a breath, and it only took a glance for him to realise that he’d projected his last thought to her. “I …”

She reached up on tiptoes and kissed him lightly. “I love you. And I don’t have a problem saying it out loud.”

Draco gave her a genuine smile, realising as he did that she was a year younger than him, so waiting until they had both graduated meant waiting three years, not two.

As she returned his smile, he wondered whether he’d get through those three years with his sanity relatively intact. 

Chapter Text

It was a beautiful ceremony for all its simplicity. Jen and Remus both seemed to glow with happiness and, when the two were finally pronounced man and wife, there were few dry eyes in the room – Hermione swore she even saw Sirius brushing away a tear.

Then, as the new Mr and Mrs Lupin made their way back down the aisle, everyone rose to their feet, firing off red and gold sparks in a salute. With another wave of Amelia’s wand, the chairs flew to surround the small tables along the sides of the ballroom, creating a dance floor.

Hermione directed her wand at a Muggle CD player in the corner, starting up the playlist of Muggle and magical music she and Ginny had put together – for obvious reasons, neither Jen nor Remus had felt comfortable hiring a band.

“They look happy,” Harry murmured in her ear, as people swarmed the happy couple with well-wishes.

“Of course they look happy,” Hermione said quietly. “They just got married.”

Harry sighed, wrapping his arms around her waist. “I want to look that happy one day.”

“You will,” Hermione said confidently. “We will.” She glanced over her shoulder to see Harry giving her a dazzling smile, before he kissed her.

“I love you, Mione.”

“Love you too.” Hermione grabbed his hand and pulled him into the dispersing crowd. “Come on.”

When they reached Jen and Remus, they were talking to Fred and George.

“You could have brought the girls along,” Jen was saying. “I’d have liked to meet them.”

“At least someone would,” Fred grumbled. “When we brought them home for dinner, Mum asked them flat-out if they knew we had no aspirations.”

“Besides,” George added, when Jen’s frown deepened, “we’ll bring them over after the honeymoon.”

“Yeah, they’ve had some amazing ideas,” Fred agreed, brightening up. “We didn’t want to bring up the war today.”

Hermione giggled. “You just did.”

As the twins stuck their tongues out at her in unison, Jen swept her and Harry into a hug. “I’m so glad you two were here for this.”

“Congratulations,” Hermione said. “You too, Moony,” she added over Jen’s shoulder.

Remus hugged her as well, still beaming. “Thank you, Hermione.”

Spotting Mandy and Arabella nearby, Hermione excused herself to jog over to speak to them, having missed them before the ceremony.

Sirius, Remus and Jen had resigned from the Order, saying that they wanted to stay available for Harry and the others, but Mandy and Arabella had stayed, mainly on Jen’s request.

Jen was not going to pretend there was no possibility she could be wrong, so she had asked them to stay close, just in case.

“Are you okay?” Hermione asked, once hugs and greetings had been exchanged.  “You look exhausted.”

“Dumbledore doesn’t buy the reason Jen gave them for their resignation,” Arabella said in a low voice. “That’s half the reason Minerva isn’t here; she’s sent her best wishes, but it would just cause too many problems.”

Hermione frowned. “He doesn’t think they’ve gone dark, does he?”

Mandy shook her head. “No, I think he’s just worried they’re out of his control. It’s taking all of our Occlumency to keep him at bay.”

“Hence looking exhausted,” Arabella said. “With any luck, he’ll drop it soon enough.”

“Oh, he’s got to,” Mandy said wearily. “He might be a manipulative git, but he wants Voldemort gone too.”

“That’s enough,” Arabella said firmly. “I’m not going to think about the war any more today. It’s too depressing and this isn’t a day to be depressed.”

“No,” Mandy agreed, hugging Harry as he came over. “Hey, pumpkin.”

“Hey,” Harry said, “where’ve you two been?”

“Oh, all over the place,” Arabella sighed. “But that’s pretty dull talk, honey, trust me. How’s school been?”

While Harry and Hermione complained about their OWLs, Jen and Remus had been approached by Bill and Charlie.

“Boys, I promise you that Draco’s on our side,” Jen assured them. “Bill, you work for Gringotts; don’t pretend you’re not just being overprotective. Now,” she smirked, “that’s quite enough about your sister’s love-life; what about yours? Bill, I thought you were seeing that Beauxbatons girl? Fleur, I think her name is?”

Bill’s ears turned red, a trait he shared with his father and younger brother. “Yeah, she had to work today. Actually, I’m … I’m thinking of asking her to marry me.”

Jen beamed, mentally reminding her husband of the bet they had going. “Good for you! What’s holding you back?”

Bill didn’t answer, but he couldn’t stop himself glancing over his shoulder, to where his mother was talking to Augusta Longbottom.

“Bill,” Jen said quietly, following his gaze, “Molly will never consider anyone good enough for her children, unless she’s picked them herself. I’m not surprised she doesn’t like Fleur – from what Harry’s told me, they’re total opposites – but you are a grown man. If you really love her, go for it. Make it a long engagement and Molly will come around.”

“Listen to her,” Remus advised. “She’s a smart one.” He stepped back quickly to avoid an elbow to the stomach. “What about you, Charlie? How’s Romania?”

Charlie grinned and held up his left hand. With a wave of his wand, a wedding ring appeared on his third finger.

Three jaws dropped and Bill punched him on the arm. “You git! You got married and didn’t tell me?!”

Charlie hastily hushed him, replacing the Concealment Charm. “Mum and Dad don’t know yet. Any advice, Jen?”

Jen was still gaping at him, and Remus gave him a smile. “She’s got nothing.”

“When?” Jen asked finally. “Who?”

“Her name’s Katherine,” Charlie answered, a giddy smile on his face, “and she’s another dragon handler. We’ve been dating for a while, but I didn’t want Mum to get all broody on me, so I didn’t tell anyone. Well, the twins knew, but they know when to keep a secret.”

“I know Katherine,” Bill said with a frown. “She’s brilliant. When did you two …?” He glanced back at his mother again. “You know.”

“May,” Charlie said heavily, his smile fading. “I went back and I was going to propose to her, but … there’d been an attack while I was gone and she was cursed really badly and the Healers couldn’t do anything and …”

Jen made a soft sympathetic  noise, squeezing his arm.

“We thought that was it,” Charlie said softly. “And she said she wanted to die as my wife so we married quickly and …”

“Please tell me this story has a happy ending,” Jen interrupted.

It broke the tension and Charlie chuckled. “Thankfully, she made a full and miraculous recovery.”

Jen gave him a stern look. “So why isn’t she here?”

“I didn’t want to steal your thunder by breaking the news to Mum today,” Charlie admitted.

Jen smiled at him. “Well, thank you for not upstaging me. You will bring her to visit soon, won’t you? I’d like to meet her.”

“Yeah, of course,” Charlie agreed readily. “She’s really looking forward to visiting the UK.”
“You’ve warned her we’re not at our best right now, right?” Remus asked.

“Oh, she knows,” Charlie said with a sigh.

“Speaking of not at our best,” Bill said, “I’m sorry Percy’s not here.”

“Oh, don’t be,” Jen said with a smile. “It’s not like he ignored the invitation. In fact, he sent me a perfectly lovely letter, thanking us for thinking of him and wishing us all the best.” As Molly began walking towards them, she patted Remus on the arm. “It looks like Kingsley actually brought his date. We should say hello.”

Neither of the Weasley boys got where they were by being stupid and they gave her almost identical grins. “We’ll handle her.”

***

The celebrations continued long into the night, until, one by one, everyone made their excuses, congratulated Jen and Remus once more, and departed until only the residents remained.

Even Ron and Ginny had gone back to The Burrow – although Ginny had warned that she wouldn’t stay long if her mother blew up (and it was a miracle she hadn’t already).

“Well, I guess this is goodbye,” Sirius said. “I don’t want to see either of you for at least a week.”

“Yes,” Addie agreed. “We’ll take care of this lot and hold the fort for you.”

Jen smirked at them. “That’s what concerns me.”

Amelia and Augusta would be remaining in Ravenscroft Manor, in the wings that Jen had set aside from them, along with Frank and Alice, and Jen and Remus were remaining for a week for an approximation of a honeymoon.

Everyone else was moving to Potter Manor for the summer, although Jen had made transport a lot easier.

Technically neither Potter Manor nor Ravenscroft Manor was on the floo grid, so setting up a connection was not easy, especially making it completely private. In the end, Jen had relied on a magical loophole – as they were all living in both places, she could magically count it as one residence.

Once the war was over, they would untangle themselves and figure out who lived where and on what paperwork, but for now, the arrangement was working out fine.

“Madam Longbottom,” Harry said suddenly, as Sirius began ushering the others through the fireplace, “Madam Bones, could I speak with you please?”

The two women exchanged a glance and led him away from the group, quietly reminding him to use their first names while they were at it.

Once they were out of earshot, Harry took a deep breath. “I walked Alice back to her room earlier and she … well, she sort of recognised me.”

“What do you mean, sort of?” Amelia asked.

“Well, she thought I was Dad,” Harry said. “She called me James.” He was starting to feel a little silly; now he was saying it, it didn’t feel as incredible. “Sorry, it’s probably nothing, but I thought I should tell you.”

To his surprise, Amelia smiled at him, a little teary-eyed. “No, Harry, this is good. Alice recognising James in you means she’s recognising things again, which is much more than we had before.”

Harry returned her smile. “That’s good.”

“Harry,” Jen called. “You’re up, sweetheart.”

Harry bid the two women goodbye and hurried over to hug his godmother. “Enjoy your honeymoon; don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Remus ruffled his hair. “That’s a long list, cub, but we’ll do our best.”

With a sprinkle of floo powder, Harry stepped into the flames. “Potter Manor!”

Jen watched with a smile as he disappeared in a whirl of green.

***

Harry stumbled out of the fireplace at the other end and just avoided falling on his face due to Sirius snagging him under the arm.

“Good instincts,” Susan remarked.

“Nah, he’s a Potter,” Sirius said with a grin. “It’s in the genes.”

“Oh, leave the poor boy alone,” Addie chided, checking the clock. “Time for bed, I think.”

No one was arguing, as it was now technically the morning after the wedding.

Amid yawns, Harry, Hermione, Draco, Daphne, Neville and Susan said goodnight and meandered upstairs to bed.

Addie slipped her shoes off, burying her toes in the soft carpet with a sigh. “What’s that look for?”

Sirius was watching her with a fond smile. “Memories. You did that after the Yule Ball in seventh year.”

“Well, I danced the night away that night as well,” Addie said. She hesitated for a second, then added, “Of course, I seem to remember us retiring a little earlier that night.”

“We did,” Sirius agreed quietly.

The space between them changed, tinging it with anticipation.

He didn’t move, waiting for her to make the next move.

Bringing up the Yule Ball could not have been a casual remark, not when the night had ended so intimately that it seemed to stretch across the years to touch them now.

Addie took a deep breath. Her reasons for taking things slow were sound and she had been right. However, she no longer felt the knot of panic at the thought of taking things further and she was confident that the love she had for him was not just the ghost of what they once had, but a promise of what could be as well. “Sirius … we need to talk. Not tonight, but … at some point. Properly talk, I mean. About – About us.”

Sirius held out a hand to her and she took it, allowing him to tug her into his arms. She rested her chin on his shoulder, feeling him rock them gently in an approximation of the last dance of the night.

“Why don’t you and I have dinner tomorrow night?” Sirius asked quietly. “Just the two of us?”

Addie smiled into his collar. “That sounds lovely.”

***

In Ravenscroft Manor, Jen and Remus bid Amelia and Augusta goodnight and made their way upstairs.

Their bedroom door swung closed behind them and Jen stretched languidly, pulling the pin from her hair to let it tumble free over her shoulders.

“I don’t know if I’ve told you,” Remus murmured, wrapping his arms around her waist, “but you are so beautiful.”

“Only several times a day, darling,” Jen said with a smile, leaning back against her husband.

Remus chuckled, kissing her neck. “So we have the next week all to ourselves. What are we going to do?”

Jen laughed and spun in his arms to kiss him properly. “Oh, I can think of a few things …”

Chapter Text

I may or may not have mentioned that I suffer from anxiety. Recently it has been sky-high, which has resulted in it being exceptionally hard to write.
My brain seems to have settled on CSI: NY again and the rewrite of Kindred Spirits, which - okay, is nice, because it's been a while since my inspiration was there, especially since the show was cancelled.
However, it does mean that inspiration for everything else has dried up. And I could force myself to write, but when my anxiety acts up, that ends up causing panic attacks. You do not want me writing on panic attacks, trust me. 
I have not given up on any of my other stories or series. I just need to give myself a time-out for a bit.

Chapter Text

July 4th 1997

The morning after the wedding was supposed to be relaxing and was supposed to begin with a nice lie-in.

Unfortunately for Jen and Remus, this plan was foiled almost immediately, by a soft tapping at the window.

Jen groaned into the pillow. “If that’s Sirius, I’m going to kill him.”

“Even Sirius wouldn’t stoop this low,” Remus said, kissing her cheek as he rolled out of bed. She heard rather than saw him walk to the window to let the owl in. “It’s for you.”

Jen groaned again and rolled over, her eyes opening for the first time that morning. “Sirius?”

“Ministry,” Remus corrected.

Jen frowned and sat up, taking the offered letter. It was sealed with the official Wizengamot seal and was addressed to Lady Guinevere Black, Baroness  Blackmoor.

“Assholes,” Jen muttered, breaking the seal.

“They don’t know we’re married,” Remus pointed out, a twinge of sadness in his tone. “They can’t.”

“It’s not that,” Jen said, sending a wave of love towards her new husband. “They called me Guinevere. Assholes.”
Lady Blackmoor

Your presence is hereby requested by the Wizengamot Chamber for an emergency meeting to discuss the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The Chamber will convene at 10am promptly.

The letter was not signed, but that was normal for Wizengamot summons, she remembered from James’s.

“Are you going?” Remus said, reading over her shoulder.

“No,” Jen said. “It’s our honeymoon.” She caught his eye and a wave of emotion and sighed. “You’re going to be irritatingly reasonable about this, aren’t you?”

“We do need the connections,” Remus pointed out. “Not to mention that I would feel better if one of us was there.”

Jen pulled a face. Technically, as the Head of a Noble House, Addie should get a summons as well – that is, if she had officially claimed her seat, which Jen was not certain she had.

In any case, Addie was certainly not in any fit state to deal with that kind of situation right now, not without Sirius by her side at any rate.

“I hate it when you’re right,” Jen muttered, getting out of bed and checking the time. It was 8 o’clock now. “I’d better get ready and get there early, so I can mingle.” She pulled a face on the last word.

“All part of the job, love,” Remus said with a smile.

Jen’s retort was not verbal but he heard it loud and clear.

***

Clad in her red Wizengamot robes, Jen stepped out of the fireplace at the Ministry and strode over to the golden lifts. As a member of the Wizengamot, she was no longer officially a ‘visitor’ to the Ministry, even if she didn’t work there anymore, so she no longer needed to present her wand for inspection.

People mulled around her as she waited, one or two greeting her with a smile. Someone jostled into her and a voice murmured: “You lost, Mrs Lupin?”

Jen glanced sideways at Mandy, who grinned at her unrepentantly.

“Shouldn’t you be at home in bed or something?” She continued, before Jen could say anything.

Jen coughed back a laugh. “No. Wizengamot meeting at 10am. Someone’s got to do it.”

“Fair enough,” Mandy said with a smile. “Be prepared though; this lift is probably going up before it goes down.”

Jen shrugged. “It’s fine; I’m early.”

“The Chamber’s not due to assemble again until August, isn’t it?” Mandy asked.

“Emergency meeting,” Jen answered. “Presumably about the Department of Mysteries.”

“Ah,” Mandy said with a nod. “Say no more.”

The golden grills slid open and the two women stepped into the lift together.

Sure enough, the lift started to rise, stopping first at Level 7 for the Department of Magical Games and Sports.

Mandy stepped out with a wave and Jen shifted to one side to let a few more people on.

On Level 6, Percy Weasley stepped on, from the Department of Magical Transportation, and the lift doors had closed before he realised who he was standing next to. When he did realise, he turned bright red, mumbling a hello and a congratulations.

Jen smiled to herself. His letter had certainly been far more poised and put-together. “Good morning, Percy. How are you today?”

“Very well thank you, Lady Black,” Percy managed to say, his blush receding a little. He was clutching the reports in his hands like a lifeline. “Are you here for the meeting?”

“I am,” Jen said. “Will you be acting as scribe?”

“Well … Minister Fudge hasn’t asked it of me,” Percy said.

“Well, you are still Junior Assistant to the Minister of Magic, are you not?” Jen asked.

Percy seemed to straighten a little. “Yes, ma’am, I am.”

“Then you seem the most obvious candidate,” Jen said, shuffling over again to allow a few more people on.

Percy’s ears went pink again, which Jen kindly didn’t mention.

Once the doors had closed on Level Two, she said, “You recall the conversation we had in the Leaky Cauldron last September?”

Percy sighed. “Yes, I do.”

Jen gave him a comforting smile. “It holds true, you know. They’d be happy to see you.”

Percy didn’t answer immediately. When the doors opened on Level 1, he said, “I’ll think about it,” and disappeared down the corridor.

Jen shook her head with a sigh and pressed the ‘9’ button again. Not that it really mattered – the lift would call at all floors in order, whether the button had been pressed or not.

Finally – after seven more stops, the doors finally opened on Level 9. Jen stepped out alone and strode along the corridor, her footsteps echoing off the bare stone walls.

She took a sharp left before the Department of Mysteries, down the steps towards the courtrooms.

The very last door led to the Wizengamot antechamber; the Wizengamot Chamber beyond was almost identical to the other courtrooms except for the family crests that adorned the walls.

However, today, that door was closed; it was the door to Courtroom Ten that was wide open and it was from there that voices bubbled out.

“Morning Jen,” A voice called behind her.

Jen turned to smile at Augusta and Amelia. “Great minds think alike. Sorry; I should have waited for you.”

Like Jen, Amelia and Augusta were proxy members of the Wizengamot; unlike Jen, they were acting in proxy on behalf of heirs too young to take their own oaths.

Augusta waved her off. “Nonsense dear, we just got here … Courtroom?”

“Just what I was thinking,” Jen said with a frown. “I take it this is not just a general gathering about Ministry security?”

“Unfortunately not,” Amelia said with a sigh. “It’s trials.”

“Dammit,” Jen muttered. “If I’d known that, I’d have stayed home.”

Amelia chuckled. “Most people would; that’s why they don’t tell us. I only know because I have to preside.”

“Oh, you’re presiding this time?” Jen asked with mock-innocence. “I thought that was the Minister’s job now.”

“Cornelius has been oddly quiet since the … incident,” Amelia said. “Not that I’m complaining.”

“No one would complain about that, dear,” Augusta said as they stepped in to the courtroom.

The next half an hour or so was taken up by a flurry of activity, while the three women – Jen, in particular – greeted old friends and renewed old alliances.

Jen – obviously – hadn’t been in the Wizengamot before the war. Her father (may he rot in Hell) had been Lord Black then, then Regulus, and then Sirius – although that was after her disappearance, and she was certain he never took up any of his duties – rightly or wrongly.

Maybe if he had, it would have been harder for Crouch to skip a trial.

However, she had attended enough Ministry parties and gatherings thrown by friends – including the Potters – that she already knew a good number of the members before she went to her first proper meeting the previous winter.

Not that she was renewing any of her parents’ old alliances.

Eventually Dumbledore arrived, and the members drifted apart to take their seats. Unlike the rest of the chamber, Jen took the stairs to the left of the tiered podiums where Amelia (as Head of the DMLE), Fudge (as Minister) and Dumbledore (as Chief Wizard) would sit in ascending order. Just above Dumbledore’s podium, there was another row of seats. Once, they had run the full length of the chamber; now there were only six, three to the left of the podiums and three to the right.

Jen sat down in the seat on the far left.

In the Wizengamot chamber, practically identical to this one, the Black Family crest would be on the wall behind her.

The other seats – the only remaining Ancient and Noble bloodlines – remained dormant until an heir was found or of age: Ravenclaw and Slytherin beside her (and wasn’t that going to cause a stir when Hermione took her seat) and Potter, Hufflepuff and Gryffindor directly opposite.

Fudge finally appeared, with Percy just behind him carrying a quill and a stack of parchment. He glanced up, caught her eye, and busied himself with the scribe’s desk. Fudge took his seat with uncharacteristic silence and Dumbledore banged his gavel.

“I hereby call to order this emergency gathering of the Wizengamot Council. Madam Bones, you have the floor.”

Amelia rose to her feet, amid the quiet murmur that ran through the room, the few members that didn’t already know finally realising the reason for the meeting.

“My Lords and Ladies,” Amelia began, “it gives me great pleasure to announce that, following the attack on the Department of Mysteries, Rodolphus Lestrange, Rabastan Lestrange, Antonin Dolohov, Augustus Rookwood, Philip Mulciber and Andrew Travers have been re-apprehended and are back in Azkaban.”

The Council applauded – some with more enthusiasm than others.

Unfortunately, the members more likely to be on the ‘less enthusiastic’ side of things were on Jen’s side of the Chamber, and she therefore could not see their faces.

Thankfully, Augusta could, and Jen trusted her to make a note of them.

“Thank you,” Amelia said, causing the clapping to die down. “There were, however, others apprehended, in Death Eater garb, with Dark and Unforgiveable curses showing on their wands. We gather here today to hear testimony and pass judgement.”

A sheet of parchment appeared on the desk in front of Jen’s chair, listing the names and the charges. Lucius Malfoy, Walden McNair, Vincent Crabbe Sr, Calista Jugson, Hubert Avery, Theodore Nott Sr, Isabelle Edwards … all charged with treason to the Ministry, membership of a terrorist organisation (Death Eaters), uses of Unforgivable Curses, breaking and entering …

Jen sighed. It was going to be a long day.

***

While Jen settled in to the first of seven Death Eater trials, Mandy settled in at her desk to review the paperwork for the next Quidditch World Cup.

The European Cup final would be taking place within a few weeks in France, but as England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland had all been knocked out during the first few rounds, Mandy didn’t really need to bother with it. There was not even any cause for Magical Britain to send a representative.

Mandy sighed. Once upon a time, an open seat at any Quidditch game she wished would have been a dream come true.

Not right now, though.

Maybe the war would be over by the time the next World Cup came around and she could talk Sirius and Jen in to letting her take Harry to Germany to see the final – whether the home teams made it or not.

In the meantime, the World Cup hadn’t even started yet, and she still had a lot to do, even if England wasn’t hosting it this time.

A knock at her office door caught her attention and she waved her visitor in absently. “Just one moment.”

“Of course.”

Normally, Mandy would have finished the paragraph she was reading but Amos Diggory showing up in her office was reason enough to take a break.

“Amos,” she greeted, just cordially enough to pass for acceptable. “What can I do for you? Please, close the door.”

Amos pushed the office door closed and took the seat on the other side of her desk. “I apologise for the interruption, but I need to speak to someone about this, and – well – you were the first person I thought of.”

Mandy set the paperwork aside. “Okay, you’ve got my attention.”

Amos took a deep breath. “I’m worried about Cedric. He’s … acting strangely.”

“Strangely?” Mandy prompted.

“He’s quiet, withdrawn …” Amos shook his head. “He’s not acting like himself.”

“Well, he’s been through quite a lot,” Mandy said. “I know Addie said the Death Eaters never came to them, but … Well, sometimes the waiting and the not knowing is the worst part.”

Amos gave a small nod. “How … How is she?”

Mandy gave him a sharp look, but his query appeared to be genuine. “She’s coping.” She answered briskly, then changed the subject. “Has Cedric spoken to anyone about what happened?”

“I assume he spoke with Addie while they were out there,” Amos said. “Other than that, no.”

Mandy thought for a second. “I suppose …” she said slowly. “I suppose Addie and Harry would be the best people for him to talk to … I can send someone to pick him up and take him over to where they’re staying. No offence, but I doubt you and Addie being in the same airspace is a good idea.”

***

Unlike Mandy, Arabella did not have a lot to do. Creature Comforts, the pet shop she had worked in since she graduated and owned since the former owner passed away and left it to her, was open, but it was a quiet day, and so she was working in the back office.

Her two Saturday employees were out on the shop floor, and Arabella had enough confidence in them to let them to run the place. So, instead, she was reviewing the June profits, absently petting the tortoiseshell cat that had hopped up on to her lap.

“Arabella?”

Arabella glanced up, a frown creasing her forehead at the sight of Mandy’s head floating in the flames of the fireplace. “Mandy. Everything okay?”

“Mostly,” Mandy answered. “Amos Diggory just stopped by my office.”

Arabella pulled a face, but said nothing; she and Mandy both knew each other’s opinion of Amos well enough.

“He’s worried about Cedric – the kid hasn’t talked to anyone apparently, since he got back. Do you mind …?”

“Going to get him and take him to Harry and the others?” Arabella finished.

“If it’s not too much trouble,” Mandy said apologetically.

“Not at all.” Arabella flicked her wand, sending the papers flying neatly back into order and into the charmed folder that only she could open. “I’m killing time here anyway.”

Mandy sighed in relief. “Thanks hun – I’m a bit swamped here. I’d ask Jen, but she’s got an emergency Council – and the last thing we need is for Amos to take him over.”

“Absolutely,” Arabella agreed, shifting the cat off her lap in favour of grabbing her cloak. “Let me just let the girls know I’m going and I’ll head on over.”

“Thanks Arabella; I owe you one,” Mandy said, just before she vanished.

Arabella stepped out in to the front of the shop. Charlotte was over by the rabbits, feeding them, and Elizabeth was behind the counter.

“Liz, I’m heading out; I’ve got something to take care of.”

“Not a problem,” Elizabeth said with a smile. “Do you know how long you’ll be?”

“Hopefully not too long,” Arabella answered. “But if something does happen, go to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes – the twins will be able to contact me.”

Elizabeth – who had been at Hogwarts a few years ahead of the twins – shuddered dramatically. “I think we’ll just deal with it ourselves.”

Arabella laughed and made her way through the front of the shop to let herself out into Diagon Alley.

The Alley was busier than it had been when she and Mandy had returned from Europe, but it still had the same unnerving quiet that it had held when she had first started working there.

Arabella hurried through the Alley to the apparition spot and turned sharply, arriving just outside the Diggorys’ home down in Ottery St Catchpole.

It was only then that Mandy’s words caught up with her – Jen was at the Ministry? For an emergency Council?  What happened to the honeymoon?

Deciding then and there that she was not going to mention this when she got to Potter Manor – Sirius would worry and Addie would just feel guilty that she hadn’t sworn in yet so couldn’t go in Jen’s stead – Arabella knocked sharply on the door.

Tabitha Diggory answered with a tired expression that became a smile almost immediately. “Arabella, how wonderful to see you! Please, come in.”

“Thank you,” Arabella said, stepping inside. “I’m sorry for dropping in on you like this …”

“Oh, not at all,” Tabitha said immediately. “Would you like a cup of tea?”

“Oh, no thank you,” Arabella said, trying not to sound hasty. She had never even had a full conversation with Tabitha before the Triwizard Tournament, and that was to tell her that her son was dead.

Or not, as it turned out.

“Actually, Mandy asked me to drop by – Amos said Cedric’s not doing too well?”

Tabitha’s smile faded. “No, he’s not. I’m getting worried.”

“Mandy and I thought it might be a good idea for me to take him over to Potter Manor so he can talk to Harry,” Arabella explained.

“Oh, would you?” Tabitha said. “Thank you so much. He’s barely left his bedroom – he won’t even go flying!”

“Well, that’s the first sign something’s wrong,” Arabella joked – except she wasn’t joking, not really.

Tabitha disappeared up the stairs and Arabella waited for her to return, with Cedric in tow.

When she did, Arabella felt her heart break in her chest, and desperately tried not to let it show on her face.

The Cedric she had taught had been a quiet, well-mannered, chivalrous young man – he would have done well in Gryffindor, were it not for the fact that he rarely sought any recognition from himself.

Arabella remembered Amos wailing about it being ‘his fault’ after the third task, and wondered if maybe Cedric had entered for his father, rather than for himself.

Now, though, he was different. Still quiet, still perfectly polite in the way he greeted her, but the light in his eyes had dimmed and the good humour that had made him such a good prefect and so popular among the younger years had all but vanished from the way he held himself and the look on his face.

“Good morning Professor.”

Arabella smiled at him. “Please, Cedric, just call me Arabella – I’m not teaching now. I was going to go and visit Harry – I thought you might like to come.”

Relief flashed in Cedric’s eyes for a split-second, before he nodded.

Tabitha Diggory gave her son a hug and a kiss, and he followed Arabella out of the house, taking her arm without prompting.

Arabella didn’t question it – Hogwarts taught apparition in sixth year, and students who came of age in the first half of the year had the opportunity to take their test in the spring, unlike their cohorts who would need to wait until the summer, but she had a feeling that the Tournament had delayed Cedric from learning – let alone getting his licence.

They apparated to the outskirts of Potter Manor, and only then did Cedric relax a little.

“Thank you for this,” he said quietly. “Mum means well, but …”

“She doesn’t get it,” Arabella finished.

Cedric nodded. “Neither does Dad.”
Arabella didn’t grace that with a response. Amos had been approached by the Order during the first war, but he had declined, confident that his pure blood would protect him and his family – if no one else.

It was a foolish belief (even if it had held true) – after all, the McKinnons had always been a well-known neutral family, refusing to take sides in any conflict, until Addie and Leona’s parents joined the Order – and no one had known that, even after they were murdered, except the members themselves.

Still, on saying that, Arthur and Molly hadn’t joined the Order the first time either, since they had little ones, so maybe that had been the root of Amos’s dissent; maybe her own feelings for the man were coming in to play.

Whatever the reason, Amos had never seen combat, so he certainly would not understand what his son had gone through, however hard he tried.

“Did Fred and George explain Sirius’s innocence?” Arabella asked.

“They did,” Cedric said. “I still can’t believe he never got a trial – what was Crouch thinking?”

“He was thinking Sirius was from a well-known Dark family and he wanted the popularity points,” Arabella answered dryly. “Then broke his son out of Azkaban and held him under the Imperius for the next thirteen years, the hypocrite.”

“I heard a rumour about that,” Cedric said with a frown. “Mum and Dad won’t actually tell me anything, so …”
“It’s probably going to be better coming from Harry,” Arabella said. “I’m not fobbing you off, I promise. Just … he was there.”

“I know,” Cedric said. “How’s Addie?”

“Much better, last time I saw her,” Arabella said. “That was yesterday, at the wedding.”

“Wedding?” Cedric repeated.

“Jen – Lady Black – got married yesterday,” Arabella explained. “They had to keep it quiet though because she married Professor Lupin and your father hasn’t got the laws overturned yet.”

Cedric’s face lit up in the first genuine smile she’d seen all day. “Brilliant! I liked Professor Lupin – it sucked that he had to leave!”

Arabella smiled. “Yes, it did. I think he’s used to it now though.”

“Well, he shouldn’t be,” Cedric said.

At that moment, as they approached the house, the front door opened and Addie stepped out.

For a second, she just stared at them. Then she was running towards them. “What happened? Are you okay?”

It was probably a question Cedric had been asked a hundred times since his homecoming, but this was also probably the first time he answered it honestly. “No, not really.”

His voice cracked on the last word.

Addie skidded to a halt in front of him, opening her arms, and he just about fell into them. Both women pretended his shoulders weren’t shaking, and greeted each other like nothing had happened.

“The others are all down at the Quidditch pitch,” Addie said. “I felt the wards ping as you arrived so I came back up. You want to meet us down there?”

“Yeah, of course,” Arabella said.

A second later, a brown tabby darted off in the direction of the Quidditch pitch.

Addie smiled to herself. The grounds of Potter Manor were so big that the Marauders had often used their Animagus forms to traverse it (when David Potter wasn’t looking, of course), simply because they could cover more ground like that.

She, herself, didn’t move, waiting for the young man in her arms to stop shaking, whereupon she pressed a kiss to his forehead and released him. “Not doing too well, huh?”

“It’s …” Cedric faltered. “It’s difficult.”

“I know,” Addie said, slipping an arm through his as they ambled in the direction of the pitch. “Believe me, I do.”

Aside from Cedric’s initial explanation of the Tournament and his knowledge of what happened in the graveyard, they hadn’t talked about their ordeals during their imprisonment.

Cedric had filled her in on the fates of her school friends – the ones he knew of – and she had tried to teach him wandless magic and told him stories of her times at Hogwarts.

But neither of them had talked about what really mattered.

Addie had been unwilling to unpick everything she had buried deep inside her; reluctant to break down there, while it wasn’t safe.

Cedric, presumably, had followed her lead.

Now, however, they were safe, so he asked, “That’s right – your body was found, wasn’t it?” She had reminded him of that when he first arrived, as part of her reassurances that he wasn’t dead, that there was another curse.

Addie smiled humourlessly. “Let’s not be so polite about it. They put it in an Inferi army.”

Cedric shuddered. “I did hear that, yes. What happened? And why?”

“Bellatrix Lestrange happened,” Addie said darkly. “Although … she might have still been Bellatrix Black then … No, I’m sure she married straight out of school. Anyway, when she found out Sirius and Jen had joined the aurors, she was furious. I mean, she hated them anyway for refusing to join Voldemort, but actively joining the fight against him was the icing on the cake.”

“So she faked your death?” Cedric asked with a frown. “Why?”

“She made sure mine went straight to Sirius,” Addie whispered. “James said … James said it nearly killed him. The shock, I guess, and …”

“And he couldn’t bring himself to hurt you,” Cedric finished, squeezing her arm. “I can understand that. I mean, why fake it? Why not just kill you? I mean, I’m glad she didn’t, but …”

“I wondered that,” Addie said. “But she knew. I mean, why kill us? She thought Regulus was torturing us and … Merlin knows what else. Bellatrix is a very intelligent woman. Sadistic, yes, but very intelligent. Killing me then would end it. Leaving me alive meant I carried on suffering – and believe me, she wanted me to suffer.”

“Do you think …” Cedric hesitated. “Do you think that was why your family was targeted as well?”

“No,” Addie said with certainty. “Sirius certainly blamed himself, I know, but the world does not revolve around his family hating him. If it was just me who’d been attacked, I’d consider it, but my entire family died. An entire neutral pureblood family, wiped out in a matter of hours. She would never have got up the support without Voldemort, and he wouldn’t have done that for a teenage fling.”

“Hardly a fling,” Cedric said. “You loved him. You still do.”

“I know,” Addie said with a smile. “But we had only been together six months at that point.”

“Huh,” Cedric said. “I figured it was longer.”

“Well, I’d known him a lot longer,” Addie conceded. “But we weren’t really talking about me; we were talking about you. Despite everything else I went through, there is nothing more terrifying than hearing something that sounds like the Killing Curse, and seeing that light rush towards you.”

“I thought I was going to die,” Cedric whispered.

“I know,” Addie said. “And that does something to you. And burying it is not going to help.”

“You buried it,” Cedric muttered, a little petulantly.

“Not when it happened,” Addie said gently. “I talked to my sister. I even talked to Regulus, who was actually surprisingly helpful for someone raised Slytherin whose only advice growing up was ‘walk it off’.”

“I was seventeen,” Cedric said. “Harry was fourteen. And all I could do was leave him there.”

Addie released his arm to wrap hers around his shoulder. “You know, Jen says that Harry’s been blaming himself, and did so right up to the moment he found out you were okay.”

“But he’s a kid,” Cedric protested. “No one knows what happened when he was a baby – it doesn’t make him superhuman!”

“You seem to be one of the few that realises that,” Addie muttered.

As they reached the entrance to the Quidditch pitch, Harry emerged with two brooms – his own Firebolt, and a second that Addie thought might be a Nimbus 2001 – it was hard to tell with the handle pointed away from her.

Cedric stopped dead in his tracks; Harry shifted both brooms to one side and held out a hand. “Welcome back.”

Cedric ignored his outstretched hand and embraced him like a little brother.

Addie rescued the brooms, stepping away to give them a bit of privacy. Whatever was said between the two boys – young men, really – was too quiet for her to hear, and when they broke apart, both of them were a little red-eyed.

Despite this, Harry was smiling. “We’re about to play a pick-up game. Want to play?”

A small smile appeared on Cedric’s face. “Love to. You might actually beat me this time.”

Harry laughed. “No ‘might’ about it, mate.” He took the brooms back from Addie and handed the Nimbus to Cedric. “Come on then.”

Addie followed them in, watching them both take off and join the others in the air.

Neville was sitting with Sirius and Arabella, but Hermione – surprisingly – had joined the others in the air.

“I didn’t know Hermione played,” Addie said.

“She doesn’t,” Neville answered, leaning back on his hands to watch them. “She’s scared of heights.”

“Then how come she’s up there?” Addie asked.

“Numbers,” Sirius answered. “She was going to sit it out, but when Cedric arrived, that made the teams uneven and it wasn’t fair to ask one of the others to sit out.”

“Yes, but is it fair to ask Hermione to fly if she’s scared of heights?” Addie asked.

“No,” Neville answered. “No one asked her; she volunteered. The ground has a Cushioning Charm and she wouldn’t hit it anyway. Harry would catch her first.”

Sirius caught her eye. “Hermione’s only scared of heights when Harry’s not there. I don’t think she even realises she does it.

***

That evening, Addie was tying her hair up before dinner, when Winky appeared beside her with a soft pop and a curtsey.

“Miss Addison, I is having a note for you!”

Addie took the parchment with a smile and unfolded it, finding Sirius’s handwriting inside.

Addie

Would you please join me in the West wing for dinner?

Padfoot

PS, Yes – I’ve sorted the ‘kids’ out.

Addie laughed aloud.

Yes, that was the first thought that came in to her head, right down to the quotation marks.

“Kindly tell Sirius that I will be there in a few moments?”

Winky curtsied again. “Of course, Miss Addison.” She disappeared and Addie finished pinning her hair back, checking her reflection with a critical eye.

She had regained most of the weight she had lost over the last eighteen years and she looked far more alive than she had upon her return. It wasn’t as good as she would like, but progress was progress.

The ‘kids’ as Sirius put it would be eating down in the dining room, giving them a chance for privacy (which in a house the size of Potter Manor was actually harder than you’d think).

The West wing of the house actually started on the second floor, since the library took up the entire first floor by itself.

There were several bedrooms, including Sirius’s, but the only door that was open led to a room that officially had no real purpose, and had likely been used for a hundred different things throughout the generations.

When they were younger, it was this room that James had used as a kind of den when his friends visited, preferring it to the actual ‘Heirs’ Suite’ (which was intended for that purpose).

This evening, however, it bore a single round table, laid for dinner, and a small sofa where Sirius was waiting.

“Did you check on the kids?” He asked by way of greeting, a smile on his face.

“No, I trust you,” Addie responded. She paused. “Should I?”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “I asked for that, didn’t I?”

“Walked straight into it,” Addie said cheerfully, taking the seat beside him. “Do you have any objections if we have that talk now rather than after we eat?”

“No, of course not.” Sirius’s hand brushed against hers and she wove her fingers through his, squeezing lightly. “Ladies first?”

“If you don’t mind,” Addie said, trying to order her thoughts.  Taking a deep breath, she let it out slowly, lifting her eyes to meet his. “I’m not completely okay. I don’t think you are either. But I also think that we could both wait forever and we wouldn’t be okay.”

“I think you’re right,” Sirius said quietly. “Azkaban … I’m not nearly as bad as I was a year ago. Or even six months ago. Having Ravenscroft … and coming here … Before it felt like I’d traded one prison for another; now I actually feel free.”

“You are certainly a lot better than I’d feared,” Addie said. “How did you do it?”

“I was innocent,” Sirius said. “It’s not a happy thought, so they couldn’t take it away. But it gave me something to focus on.” He fell silent for a few moments, his eyes searching her face for … something, she wasn’t sure what.

He did this sometimes, just look at her, and she never asked, because she figured it was similar to her need to touch him, even if just a hand on his arm to remind herself that he was here and alive.

“I lost your face, in Azkaban,” he whispered hoarsely. “But not your voice. That memory of finding you … of watching you disappear in front of me … that was the worst memory I had …”

“But you found Harry, didn’t you?” Addie asked shakily.

“But their bodies weren’t there,” Sirius said. “And Harry and Hermione were okay. And, yes, finding that empty house was awful … realising that my brother was …”

“Fine,” Addie murmured, inching closer. “He’s fine.”

Sirius took a shaky breath. “I know. I know he is. But that was never going to be as awful as watching you disappear in front of my eyes knowing that there was nothing I could do.”

“You were there,” Addie said. “That was enough.” She nestled into his arms and he held her tightly, tighter than he had since her return, even though she knew that holding back cost his restraint dearly.

“You told me that you would always love me,” Sirius said into her hair. “Dementors draw out bad memories, but they can’t edit them. So they could never take you away completely, because they could never take that away from me.”

“What about …?” Addie hesitated, not really wanting to ask but concerned all the same that he was burying things that would come back to haunt him later. “My body appeared.”

“It did,” Sirius said in a low voice. “That nearly killed me.”

Addie shuddered. “I know. James said.”

Sirius shook his head. “Not the … Not at the time. Although, he was probably right about that. I mean afterwards. Living without you was already torture and then …” He sighed. “It probably wasn’t the Gryffindor way, but I went to Jen and I asked her to help me. She cast a modified Memory Charm – I know what happened and everything that followed, but I don’t remember it happening.” He smiled sadly. “I know; I’m a coward.”

“No, you’re not,” Addie said quietly. “There’s nothing cowardly about asking for help, Sirius. I think when Bellatrix faked my death, she thought that the biggest torture for me would be knowing that no one would be looking for me, but … it wasn’t. The worst part was knowing what it would do to you and I … I was so scared you’d do something stupid.”

“I nearly did,” Sirius admitted quietly. “So many times. Until Hermione was born.”

A smile crossed Addie’s face unbidden. “Good.”

Sirius cleared his throat. “Anyway – yes, Azkaban was awful, but I know that I am a lot better than I could be. You said that neither of us was going to be okay again – I think you’re wrong about that.”

Addie raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“What is okay?” Sirius asked rhetorically. “Neither of us are going to be the way we were in seventh year, no. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be okay.”

Addie smiled. “Maybe you’re right.” She fell quiet for a second, savouring the warmth of being held in his arms, something that would have been so second-nature once but that she would never take for granted again. “I guess what I was worried about was … and it’s not the case for me; I loved you then and I love you now … but …. We’re not the people we were when we fell in love with each other. I figured if anything had changed, it was better to figure that out first, rather than try to pick up where we left things off and make things …”
“Difficult,” Sirius finished.

Addie nodded, looking away. Even though every signal she had received should reassure her, she couldn’t help the fear that Sirius was about to break her heart.

A kiss landed on her hairline and she smiled. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I?”

“Yes, you are.” Sirius touched her face and gently drew her attention back to him. “We may have changed, Shadow, but nothing else has. I still love you just as much as I did eighteen years ago, if not more. You were right, when you said that picking up where we left off was a bad idea. But what do you say to starting something new?”

“Well, that depends,” Addie said.

“Oh? And what are your terms, my lady?” Sirius asked with a grin, clearly recognising the glint in her eye.

Addie tilted her face up towards him. “I don’t think we need to start over on everything, do you?”

Sirius chuckled, drawing her closer. “Excellent idea, Miss McKinnon.” He kissed her, for only the second time since her return.

The last time, merely hours after their reunion, had been overshadowed by her inner turmoil, an irrational fear that coursed through her veins like adrenaline.

Now, however, the only adrenaline rushing through her was the familiar love, affection and want that pushed her to move closer, shivering as his hands ran over her back and sliding in to her hair.

Very reluctantly, she broke their embrace. “Not that I’m complaining,” she said, a little breathlessly, “but you did promise me dinner.”

Sirius gave her a roguish grin. “Are you sure there’s no way I can convince you that you’re hungry for something else?”

Addie’s stomach growled in response, and they both laughed.

“I’ll take that as a no,” he said, helping her to her feet. “Come on then, I suppose I’d better feed you.”

Addie rolled her eyes, not bothering to hide her smile. “I take it back – you haven’t changed a bit.”

Dinner appeared on the table as they approached, either by house elf or by the removal of a Preservation Charm.

“If you say so, darling,” Sirius said, pulling out a chair for her. “I’m sure I used to be able to talk you out of dinner every now and then.”

“I’m fairly sure back then, I wasn’t playing Quidditch with a load of teenagers twenty years younger than me,” Addie said. She gave him a coy smile as he sat down. “I’m sure I can be persuaded about dessert though.”

Chapter Text

July 5th 1997

“Hermione … Hermione … Hermione …”

Hermione grumbled and rolled over, but it was hard to ignore the soft prodding to her side. “Harry, what is it?”

“Come on, get up,” Harry said. “We’re going for a run.”

“Good for you,” Hermione mumbled. “I’ll just stay here.”

“No, we’re going for a run,” Harry said, pulling the blanket off her. “All of us. Builds up your stamina.”

“I hated PE at school,” Hermione groaned, finally opening her eyes. “Do I have to?”

“I bet most Death Eaters don’t go running,” Harry said.

“Good point,” Hermione said, closing her eyes again. “Is it too late to switch sides?”

Cold hands slipped under her shirt on to her stomach, and she squealed, jerking fully awake. “Harry!”

Harry grinned at her and sprinted out of the room. “Catch me!”

Grumbling to herself, Hermione pulled on a tracksuit over her pyjamas, and dashed after him.

Thankfully, not only was Hermione not the only person grumbling, she was also not the most unfit person running.

As the only Muggle-raised, Harry and Hermione were used to physical exercise as part of school. Ron and Ginny both had a certain level of physical fitness due to Quidditch training – which, for Gryffindor, included physical exercise.

But to Hermione’s surprise, she could outrun the others, even Draco, who she would have assumed was in fairly good shape.

Maybe Harry had a point.

After breakfast, Addie began teaching them wandless magic, until they began to visibly tire, at which point she convinced them to start their summer homework, starting with History of Magic.

Just like the previous summer, Sirius turned out to be a huge help.

He had just finished talking Ron through one of the points on his essay, when he glanced up to see Addie smiling at him. “What?”

“Have you thought of teaching?” She asked. “When we clear your name, I mean. You’d be much better than Binns.”

Sirius laughed. “Come on, Addie; I’m a Marauder! Can you really see me teaching?”

“I’m seeing it right now,” Addie said, still grinning.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Tell you what, Shadow; I will become a teacher, when you are headmistress of Hogwarts.”

“That’s never gonna happen,” Addie laughed.

Sirius smirked. “Exactly.”

Addie shook her head, checking her watch. “Right, lunchtime. Through to the dining room, please.”

As they filed in, to be met with a plateful of sandwiches courtesy of the house elves, Addie put a hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “You alright, sweetheart? You’ve been very quiet today.”

Hermione shrugged quietly. “It’s nothing.”

“It doesn’t sound like nothing,” Harry said with a frown.

Hermione sighed. “It’s my cousin’s birthday today. Her mum is my father’s sister. They never got along, but Mirabelle and I were really close before Hogwarts. It didn’t bother me too much last summer, but she’s eighteen this year, so she comes of age in the Muggle world.”

“I could take you,” Addie offered. “Where do they live?”

Hermione smiled wryly. “South of France.”

“Ah,” Addie said. “Nothing we can do without an international Portkey. I can’t make another trip like that any time soon.”

“I’d rather you didn’t make another trip like that ever,” Sirius said. “It nearly killed you the first time. You could always try phoning her, Kitten. Lily had a phone put in so she could talk to her parents and sister. Not that Petunia ever picked up. I don’t know if it will still work, but you’re welcome to give it a go.”

Hermione’s face lit up and she hurried out of the room.

“Go on,” Addie said to the others, most of whom looked bewildered. “Go and see. You know,” she added to Sirius, as they all followed Hermione out of the room, “it might be a good idea to make some trips to the Muggle world this summer. Help the purebloods survive out there.”

“Like Lily did for us,” Sirius agreed. “Good idea. We’ll talk to Jen after the honeymoon.”

Thankfully, the telephone did work, and Hermione was able to speak to Mirabelle, who was thrilled to hear from her.

Lunch, therefore, was filled with a discussion about what a telephone was and how exactly it worked.

By the time Amelia turned up, the students were debating whether or not a similar device could be created in the wizarding world.

“Should I be worried?” She asked Sirius.

“I don’t think they’re quite at law-breaking levels yet,” Sirius said. “No work today?”

“I’m delegating,” Amelia said. “And volunteered to come and give you some news.” She raised her voice to cut through the debate. “How about some duelling practice?”

Harry’s face lit up. “Brilliant! Do we need to do that outside?”

“Actually no,” Sirius said. “The Potters had a duelling chamber.”

***

While the students paired off and practiced, Amelia, Sirius and Addie sat against one of the walls to watch and offer advice.

“Out of interest,” Harry said, after a few rounds. “Can the Killing Curse be blocked?”

Sirius smiled. “You know it can’t, Harry.”

“Jen did it,” Harry said with a shrug.

“When was this?” Amelia asked sharply.

“At the Ministry,” Harry answered. “In the atrium, Voldemort threw a Killing Curse at me and Jen stepped in front of it and it …”

“Ricocheted,” Ginny finished. “There was a flash of white light and the spell deflected. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Sirius?” Amelia asked quietly. “What does Jen know that we don’t?”

Sirius sighed. “Probably nothing. Honestly, I’ve never seen Jen do that before. But I will say this: if Jen knew a spell that could block the Killing Curse, she would have told us. I think it’s probably a matter of power.”

“So if you’re powerful enough, you might be able to deflect the Killing Curse?” Amelia asked.

“That’s my theory,” Sirius said. “I would recommend no one tests it.”

“Good advice,” Addie said, watching them start up again. “So what’s the news, Amelia?”

“We had the trials for the Death Eaters captured at the Ministry yesterday,” Amelia said.

“All of them?” Sirius asked.

“No, the ones who had escaped were just put back into Azkaban,” Amelia said. “The new ones were all found guilty and sentenced.”

“Good,” Addie muttered.

“Was Jen there?” Sirius asked.

“Yes, she was,” Amelia answered. “She said that she wanted one of you to be there, but she didn’t want Addie to feel like she had to take her seat yet.”

Addie grimaced. “I would have done it. She’s supposed to be on her honeymoon.”

“But would you have been ready?” Amelia asked knowingly.

“No,” Addie admitted.

“What about Isabelle Edwards?” Sirius asked. “Jen said they found her with the silver hand Voldemort gave Pettigrew for resurrecting him.”

“Well, she admitted under Veritaserum to the ritual that restored Voldemort,” Amelia said with a sigh. “We nearly had a diplomatic incident on our hands, but she has dual citizenship, and the French Ministry sent a representative to witness the trial. They’ve washed their hands of her.”

“Hang on,” Addie said. “If Harry saw Peter, how was it Isabelle? Did she fight the Veritaserum?”

“Why would she do that though?” Sirius asked. “I mean, who lies that they did do something like that?”

“Maybe so Voldemort could keep Peter as a spy?” Addie suggested.

Sirius shook his head. “Maybe, but that still doesn’t really make sense. I mean, even if everyone knows Peter’s alive, he’s still got Wormtail. One rat looks as much like any other.”

“True,” Addie said frowning. “So if Isabelle was telling the truth, that means she was using Polyjuice, so … what’s happened with Peter?”

“I have no idea,” Amelia admitted. “You two probably don’t know this, because I don’t think you ever witnessed a trial, but the questions are either given by the Chief Wizard, or the head of DMLE, so in this case, me or Dumbledore. The thing is, the spells on the chair that the defendants sit in mean that they can only hear one of us at any one time.”

“That makes sense,” Addie said. “Otherwise everyone would be shouting at them.”

“Right,” Amelia agreed. “But only Dumbledore has the ability to switch the spell. So Isabelle couldn’t hear me. And Dumbledore never asked.”

“Excuse me?” Addie asked. “Why not?”

“Apparently, it ‘wasn’t important’,” Amelia said, rolling her eyes.

“I beg to differ,” Sirius muttered.

Addie took a calming breath. “At least tell me the Ministry are taking other measures?”

Amelia laughed humourlessly. “Oh, I wish. Jen tried to get Albert Runcorn questioned, since he had control of the Hogwarts wards when Death Eaters managed to get Harry portkeyed out, but no one really knows enough about the Hogwarts wards to confirm that.”

“Dumbledore would,” Addie said. “Let me guess – it wasn’t important.”

Amelia shook her head. “The Ministry are dragging their feet over any dramatic changes and we can’t get a majority in the Wizengamot. Jen tried to get a proposal through that Ministry personnel have to take an oath of loyalty, but it just got batted back and forth today.”

“How on earth do you argue against that?” Sirius asked in bewilderment.

“They said that it’s an insult against the Ministry workers,” Amelia said. “So it’s had to be tabled for now.”

“No one should be insulted by that,” Addie said. “Please tell me you’re doing something.”

“Of course,” Amelia said. “I’m working my way through the departments and checking people that way. Unfortunately, it’s not admissible in court, so I can’t arrest them, but I can get them fired so at least we won’t get another Rookwood.”

Addie’s entire body stiffened. “Another what?”

Sirius cursed under his breath. “Amelia, can you keep an eye on them for us?”

“Sirius?” Addie asked, as he pulled her to her feet.

“Come on,” Sirius said, tugging her out of the room.

As soon as they had some semblance of privacy, Addie tugged her hand out of his. “Sirius, was she talking about Augustus Rookwood? He was a Death Eater?!”

“Ads, I’m so sorry,” Sirius said quietly. “I know I should have said something before now.”

“I’m not … I’m not upset about that,” Addie said. “But … He was a Death Eater?”

Sirius sighed. “Yes, he was a Death Eater. His was the name that bought Karkaroff’s freedom. And he got a trial, so he was definitely guilty.”

“I’ve known him my entire life,” Addie whispered. “He was one of Mum’s best friends. She’d … She’d invited him round for dinner the night they died.” She sucked in a shaky breath, tears beginning to track their way down her cheeks. “Is that how he knew? Is that how …?”

A sob choked her, swallowing the rest of her words before she could finish. She slumped into his arms, her body shaking as she cried.

Sirius could only hold her. Ever since he had learned of Rookwood’s betrayal, he had wondered if he had something to do with Voldemort learning about the McKinnons joining the Order, just because Marlene McKinnon had been an Unspeakable as well.

Now it seemed that he had not only had something to do with, but actively participated in the attack.

“It’s okay,” he whispered into her hair. “It’ll be okay.”

But they both knew it wouldn’t be.

Chapter Text

July 21st 1997

It had been a long, tiring, emotional, satisfying summer.

All nine students – because Luna’s father had given permission for her to stay – had been training hard.

Every morning, Harry continued to wake them up at six, take them out to the grounds behind the house, and lead them on a run, the length of which varied from day to day.

That first day set the precedence for the whole summer.

After breakfast, Addie would teach them wandless magic, then, as lunchtime drew nearer, Sirius would sit with them in the library and help them catch up on the magical history Professor Binns tended to ignore.

In the afternoon, Amelia would visit and help Harry put them through their paces with Defence Against the Dark Arts training.

After the honeymoon, Jen and Remus joined them and helped them add Healing, Charms and Transfiguration to their training.

In the evenings, Augusta and Jen would talk them through the various pureblood customs and traditions, which – surprisingly – benefited everyone, because only Daphne had been taught all of them – Draco had only ever been taught the Dark, Ron and Ginny the necessary, and Susan and Neville the Light. And Harry, Hermione and Luna had no experience whatsoever.

Two days after the honeymoon, Jen finally removed the block on Harry’s magic. The resulting backlash left Harry unconscious for two hours, which nearly gave her a heart attack.

Now several weeks later, he had finally managed to readjust for the new power, and was performing spells properly again.

Occasionally, one of the Marauders would announce at dinner that they should take the next day off, and Harry and Hermione had great fun taking the others into Muggle London and to theme parks – which they did for Harry’s sixteenth birthdays – and even to a pop concert (which was a huge eye-opener for the purebloods).

Once a week, Mandy and Arabella came for dinner, and would fill them in on the comings and goings of the Order.

By now, Bill and Charlie Weasley had both resigned, citing concerns about their jobs.

Completely disenfranchised, Fred and George had never joined.

July 21st dawned bright and sunny, but Jen and Addie were in no position to enjoy the sunshine.

The official Wizengamot session was upon them, and they were both in the depths of the Ministry of Magic.

Addie had taken her oath and been sworn in, and had taken her seat, the McKinnon family crest lit up on the wall behind her.

Most of the meeting was exceptionally boring.

Addie had watched one or two when she was younger, from the gallery, as the Heir Apparent. Her father had assured her that once she was grown up, it would all make sense.

It didn’t.

The only part of any real importance was when Jen, once again, brought up her suggestion that the Ministry workers should all take an oath of loyalty.

“Is that really necessary?” Elliott Hawthorne asked. “Everyone in this building works hard every day to make our world run smoothly. Are we really going to insult them by asking them to state the obvious?”

It was a decent argument.

Or would have been if Addie didn’t know his politics from when he was at school with her – albeit a year below her.

If he didn’t have the Dark Mark, she would be very surprised.

“With all due respect, Lord Hawthorne,” Addie said, rising to her feet, “I believe in these times no one should be insulted by reasonable security measures. My mother was an Unspeakable, and she was killed. Her co-worker, Augustus Rookwood …” she faltered, sucking in a shaky breath. “Her friend supported Lord Voldemort to the extent,” she raised her voice above the horrified murmurs, “that I truly believe he was partly responsible for her death. Yes, there are many good people in this Ministry. It only takes one. It takes one person, one parasite, to poison everyone around them.”

“Then let me ask you this, Lady McKinnon,” Lord Hawthorne said, in a voice that could only just be considered polite, “how would you feel? If, after everything you had been through, someone asked you to take an oath to prove that you weren’t one of them?”

There were a few shouts of outrage across Addie’s side of the chamber.

Lord Ashford even leapt to his face to shout, “How dare you, sir?”

Addie, however, didn’t flinch. “When?”

The noise stopped immediately, and even Hawthorne looked puzzled. “Excuse me?”

“When would you like me to take the oath, sir?” Addie asked with a smile. “It would be a reasonable request; I escaped under exceptional circumstances. But I have nothing to hide. I am perfectly happy to take an oath. Are you?”

“No one needs to take any oaths,” Dumbledore interrupted.

The proposal was officially tabled, and the court moved on.

Once the meeting was over, Jen met Dumbledore at the bottom of the steps to confront him.

“Sir, why did you do that?”

“Do what, Jennifer?” Dumbledore’s eyes focused on Addie as she approached them. “Addison, it is wonderful to see you again.”

“Thank you, sir,” Addie said, a little frostily. “It’s a pity that none of your spies ever mentioned that island.”

“Indeed,” Dumbledore said gravely. “Alas, not all of Lord Voldemort’s followers are privy to all of his secrets.”

“Albus!” Jen said sharply. “Why did you stop Addie from taking that oath? You know Hawthorne’s alliances as well as I do. If Addie had taken that oath, he would have had to.” She lowered her voice – there were some things you just didn’t shout about. “We cannot have people like that making the laws in this country. That’s the whole reason Voldemort had supporters to come back to.”

“Jennifer, there is no point antagonising people or casting judgement,” Dumbledore said. “It will do us no good.”

Jen’s jaw dropped. “I … I have no words to respond to that.”

Dumbledore seemed to take that as the end of the discussion and bid them goodbye, sweeping out of the chamber.

“He’s deluded,” Addie whispered. “He’s …”

Jen patted her on the shoulder. “I know.”

***

August 31st 1997

Unsurprisingly, no one was happy with Dumbledore in the slightest.

Unfortunately, the search for Horcruxes was at a dead end, so they had all reluctantly agreed that the headmaster would have to be consulted.

On the last evening of the summer holidays, the Marauders and their ‘students’ were slumped in the living room at Potter Manor, exhausted after a day’s training.

Luna, the sole Ravenclaw in the group, had abandoned her dreamy appearance for one of quiet reflection. She had collapsed on the sofa next to Ron and slumped sideways, so her head was resting on his shoulder, and the redhead wasn’t complaining.

Daphne, who had finally accepted that her fellow students genuinely wanted to help her and had no mind for Slytherin politics (at least not within their group), had relaxed a lot more and her ‘Ice Queen’ exterior had melted. She had also shown a gift for healing spells and was currently waving her wand over a nasty wound on Neville’s arm. Susan was sitting on his other side, her hand propped up only by her hand under her chin.

Draco was sat at one end of the sofas, with Ginny curled up on his lap, half-asleep. He was alert, however, talking in undertones with Harry, who was braced against the arm of the other end of the sofa.

Sirius, Remus and Addie were, likewise, unwilling to relax. The reason for this was the notable absence of Hermione and Jen, who had journeyed Grimmauld Place, in order to floo to Dumbledore’s office and tell him of their discovery of the Horcruxes and their destruction.

Even Remus was worried, because Jen had temporarily closed the link, just to be on the safe side.

“I don’t like this,” Draco said, for the hundredth time.

“You think I do?” Harry retorted.

At that moment, the door flew open and Hermione talked in, with Jen following along behind her.

“Hermione, as frustrating as he is, it’s going to be fine.”

“I’m sure it will; that’s not why I’m mad.” Hermione practically fell into Harry’s lap. “Moony, can you fix this?”

“Fix what?” Remus asked, kissing his wife.

In that second, a dazed loo passed over Jen’s face, followed by one of anger. “Why that … that … that …”

“Manipulative bastard?” Hermione finished scathingly.

“Yes!” Jen bit out. “Yes, that’s exactly what he is!”

“Let me guess,” Addie said. “He tried obliviating you, but Hermione’s a natural and Jen’s got a soul bond.” She frowned. “But he knows about the soul bond. And what happened last time. Doesn’t he?”

“Well, maybe last time, he figured it only happened because Remus knew about the memory charm,” Sirius suggested. “He doesn’t know Hermione’s a natural. If she wasn’t, and he thinks none of us know why they went to talk to him, then no one would ever know they’d been charmed.”

“Well, he definitely thinks we didn’t tell anyone,” Hermione said. “As far as he’s aware, I found the locket at Grimmauld Place and asked Jen about it. At least this way, he’ll think he plans are safe, whatever they are.”

“Did he at least know where the others were?” Harry asked. “Or did he just wipe your memories?”

“No, he humoured us at first,” Hermione said. “I think we’re on the right track with the snake and the diadem, but we’ll have to deal with the snake last.”

“And we still don’t know where the diadem is?” Draco asked.

“Not yet,” Hermione said. “I can ask Grandmother when I get back to school, but I really don’t think she’ll know. Ragnok said that the diadem hasn’t been seen since Lady Helena ran away.”

“So what was the cover story?” Addie asked. “I mean, if you didn’t go to talk to him about the Horcrux, why does he think that you think you went?”

“Oh, I went to apply for the Defence Against the Dark Arts position,” Jen answered, “since they don’t have one yet.”

“Still?” Addie asked. “I know Arabella said he didn’t have one a few weeks ago, but … term starts tomorrow; they still don’t have anyone?”

“Shouldn’t think anyone wants the job,” Draco said. “I mean, look at the last five. Remus resigned, but Quirrel’s dead, Lockhart’s in the long-term ward at St Mungo’s, Moody was locked in a truck for nine months, and Umbridge is … Well, should be in Azkaban, but is actually on the run.”

Harry snorted. “I can’t see Umbridge running.”

“Harry!” Jen chided, with a giggle.

Harry grinned. “So you’re our new Defence teacher?”

“Actually, no,” Jen said. “He thinks I went to apply – although why I’d take Hermione is beyond me – but I didn’t get the job regardless. He did ask me to offer the job to someone else though.”

“He can’t honestly think the parents will go for that,” Remus said. “They know what I am now.”

“Oh, I didn’t say it was you, honey,” Jen said with a smirk. “Addie, you up for it?”

“Me?” Addie asked, gaping. “You heard what I said when I said term starts tomorrow, right?”

“He’s desperate,” Jen said. “And apparently, you’re much less of a threat.”

“Well, obviously,” Addie said, rolling her eyes. “I’m much less Slytherin.”

Jen mock-gasped and threw a cushion at her. “I am a Gryffindor, thank you very much.”

“Snake in lion’s clothing, Jen,” Draco said. “We like you like that.”

“Addie, you need to do this,” Jen said, serious now. “This is our chance to put someone in Hogwarts to keep an eye on things, so the kids don’t have to.”

“I know that,” Addie said reluctantly. “But I am not a teacher, Jen; how am I supposed to know what I’m doing? They’ve already been given the text books, haven’t they?”

“It’ll be okay,” Hermione said. “I flicked through ours earlier …” she smacked Ron over the head as he made a muttered remark “… and the fifth and sixth year textbooks practically plan the lessons for you. Maybe the others are the same.”

“I hope so,” Addie muttered.

“Well, I’m going to restart the DA,” Harry announced. “If that’s alright with you, Professor.”

“Professor.” Addie shook her head. “I never even graduated for Merlin’s sake. You do whatever you need to do, Harry.”

“Just please,” Jen added, “change the name.”

***

“Do you have to go?”

Addie stopped rummaging through her wardrobe, smiling as a pair of arms slipped around her waist. “I do. You know I do.”

“It’s not fair,” Sirius mumbled into her neck. “I only just got you back.”

Addie turned in his embrace, winding her arms around his neck. “I know. But I’ll only be at Hogwarts, Sirius. I’ll be perfectly safe.”

“I don’t trust him,” Sirius growled.

Addie smiled, placing a light kiss on his lips. “Natural Legilimens, remember? His mind games and Memory Charms won’t work on me. They won’t work on that daughter of yours either.”

Sirius tried to keep the frown on his face, but he couldn’t help the smile that lit up his face, the same smile that appeared every time she called Hermione his daughter. “I don’t want you to go.”

Addie laughed. “Honestly, Padfoot, you’re acting like a five-year-old. Although why that still surprises me, I don’t know.” She cupped his face in her hands. “I love you. And that’s not going to change whether I’m here or at the school. And Jen’s right. At least if I’m there, I can keep an eye on things.”

Sirius heaved a sigh. “I know. I’ve got a bad feeling about this. That’s all.”

Addie forced herself not to flinch, remembering the last time he’d said that to her over eighteen years ago, as she and her sister prepared to leave Hogwarts for the Easter break to visit their parents.

It had been the last time she’d seen him.

“I’ll have my own fireplace,” Addie reminded him. “And the mirror.” She patted her pocket, where a newly-charmed mirror had been stored earlier. Reluctantly slipping out of his arms, she retrieved the last set of robes from her wardrobe, setting them in her trunk and checking the rest of the contents. “Right, I think I’ve got everything.”

“Not quite,” Sirius said, pulling her to him again.

Addie laughed again. “Padfoot, we’ve been through this. I can’t show up at Hogwarts with a dog.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.” Sirius manoeuvred her in front of the mirror and produced a necklace, bearing a small pendant in the shape of the Marauder sign.

“Sirius, it’s …”

“Important,” Sirius finished, fastening it for her. “It’s charmed to protect you against all minor hexes.”

Addie touched the pendant gently. “Because I can’t do that myself?”

“Of course you can.” Sirius pressed a kiss to her neck. “Humour me. It’s also a portkey. Just think the words ‘heart’s desire’ and you’ll be home. Jen charmed it,” he added with a grin. “She felt it was apt.”

Addie pulled away from him. “Well, thank you. It’s beautiful.” She bent over the lock her trunk, and the necklace heated up against her skin. “Is there a reason it’s warming up?”

“It’s charmed,” Sirius said. “It’ll heat up whenever I think of you.”
“So it’s always going to be warm?” Addie asked with a smile, wrapping her arms around him again. “I think this might be the nicest gift you’ve ever given me.”

***

1st September 1997

Arriving at Platform 9¾ was an interesting experience this year.

Every other year, Hermione had arrived through King’s Cross, but this year, they used the floo connection – from The Burrow, since Jen wanted to keep the Ravenscroft line secure.

Maybe it was the rumours surrounding the events at the Ministry, maybe it was the stories in the Prophet about how Harry was ‘The Chosen One’, or maybe it was the physical changes they had all gone through over the summer, partly thanks to their training, but the platform seemed to quieten as the group brushed down their robes and made their way towards the train, shrunken trunks in their pockets.

Susan and Luna led the way, deep in conversation, two shades of blonde hair in striking contrast with each other.

Daphne, Neville and Ron followed them, chatting about the likelihood of Snape cursing Addie before Christmas.

While the all knew Snape was on their side, they also all knew that Addie’s sense of humour was the same as Sirius’s, and she wasn’t going to make things easy on him, especially given some of the stories she had heard over the summer.

The two boys positioned themselves either side of Daphne, a silent warning for anyone seeking retribution over what had happened in June; both young men had increased in height and muscle and towered over her.

Walking arm-in-arm behind them, in a comfortable silence, but with no less presence, Draco and Ginny caught most of the attention; they were, quite possible, the most unusual couple to grace Hogwarts in the school’s history.

Harry and Hermione brought up the rear, robes billowing behind them as they walked in a way that would make Snape jealous. Any damage caused by the Dursleys’ neglect had been well and truly undone, thanks to proper nourishment and a few potions, and he was now almost as tall as Ron.

This was the Harry Potter who slew a basilisk and stared down Lord Voldemort.

When they reached the train, they separated; Harry kissed Hermione’s cheek, and he, Susan, Luna and Neville disappeared on to the train.

After a few minutes of quiet discussion, Ron and Ginny, prefect badges glinting, set off along the platform to start rounding up the younger students. Daphne, who had replaced Pansy as prefect (and wasn’t she looking forward to that conversation), joined them.

Without another word, Draco and Hermione turned and headed towards the barrier, where a group of people had gathered, huddled together.

As they approached, Hermione gave them all a smile. “First years?”

No one answered, but there was a flurry of nods from some of the kids.

“Muggle-born?”

These nods were slightly more tentative, and Hermione could only wonder what they had encountered upon their first trip to Diagon Alley to make them this nervous.

Several of the parents, indeed, looked like they’d rather not let their children go at all.

“It’s alright,” Hermione said. “My name’s Hermione; this is Draco. We’re two of the prefects at Hogwarts.”

“No one mentioned a war when they told us about all this,” One of the fathers stated tersely.

Hermione winced. “No, I don’t suppose they did. But I wouldn’t worry, sir. Hogwarts is one of the safest magical place in the country. And even if the war does somehow get in, we’ll have enough forewarning to get your children to safety before it does.”

“And our children won’t be involved?” Another parent asked.

“We’re not in the habit of making eleven-year-olds fight in wars, ma’am,” Hermione said. “We won’t let them get involved.”

While they’d been talking, Draco had been stacking the trunks into four piles. Daphne and Ron were now approaching them.

“Are you two alright taking a pile each?”

In response, the two pulled their wands and, with a swish and a flick, two of the piles rose into the air to be guided to the train.

Hermione smiled at Draco as he levitated a pile himself. “I wish I’d had someone to do this my first year.”

“Me too,” Draco agreed.

Neither of them mentioned the fact that they both had had someone who could have done so, but didn’t; Draco’s father because he wanted his son to do it himself, Hermione’s mother because she hadn’t wanted to blow her cover.

“Right. If you’d like the follow Draco?” Hermione lifted the last pile of trunks and watched as the children hugged their parents and trotted obediently after him. She smiled at the cluster of adults, none of whom looked the least bit reassured. “They’ll be fine. I knew nothing about magic when I started, and I just got the highest marks in my year in my Ordinary Wizarding Levels. We’ll keep an eye on them. Make sure they write.”

This earned her at least some smiles, and even a few weak chuckles, and she caught up with the end of the line, following them until they had all filed into the expanded compartment.

Draco, Harry and Neville were stowing the trunks away while Luna talked to the first years, telling them about the boats that would take them to the castle.

Hermione set down the last stack of trunks and she and Draco slipped off to join the prefect meeting.

To Hermione’s surprise, the Head Boy and Girl this year were Katie Bell and Cedric Diggory. She greeted Katie with a hug, before turning to her partner. “Cedric, I wasn’t expecting you here. Well, I was expecting you to return for seventh year, but I wasn’t expecting you here.”

Cedric grinned at her. “Neither was I. I think it’s publicity personally. I don’t think Dumbledore had anything to do with it.”

Hermione nodded in agreement, scanning his emotions carefully. “Come sit with us afterwards?”

“Sure,” Cedric said, sounding confused, but she just smiled at him and took her seat next to Daphne. At least Dumbledore can do something right.

***

By the time the prefects, accompanied by Cedric, made it back to the expanded compartment, the Muggle-borns had been joined by almost all of the other first years.

“Harry’s father and his friends bewitched the compartment when they were at Hogwarts,” Susan explained to Cedric, who was staring around in amazement.

Hermione closed the door behind them and put up the last of the protective spells, sitting down just in time to hear one of the first years ask about the sorting process. “Can’t tell you that,” she said with a smile. “It’s tradition that you don’t know until you get there.”

“Cedric.” Harry stood up and shook his hand, clapping him on the shoulder. “Congrats on getting Head Boy.”

“Thanks, Harry.” Cedric sat down with them. “I hear Addie’s this year’s DADA teacher. Or is that the Hogwarts rumour mill running amok again?”

“No, that one’s true,” Hermione said. “Amazingly.”

“I see,” Cedric said. “That’ll be interesting. How’d you do in your OWLs?”

“All Outstanding,” Hermione said with a grin.

“Well, that doesn’t surprise me,” Cedric said, smiling back at her. “Harry?”

“Outstanding in DADA, Transfiguration and Charms, Exceeds Expectations in everything else, except Divination and History of Magic,” Harry said. “Acceptable in History of Magic, failed Div.”

“Well, no one can blame you for that,” Cedric said. “What about the rest of you?”

“Well, we all got Outstanding in Defence,” Ron said. “I got Exceeds Expectations in everything else, but failed Div. and History.”

“Same as Harry,” Susan said, “except I was smart enough to not to Divination.”

“Same here,” Neville said. “Except I did do Divination and failed it. Oh, and I got Outstanding in Herbology.”

“Exceeds Expectations in everything except DADA, Potions and Charms,” Draco said. “I got Outstanding in those.”

“Likewise,” Daphne added.

“Is it a coincidence that you all did so well in DADA?” Cedric asked. “From what I heard your teacher last year was …”

“Crap,” Ron finished bluntly. “She was.”

“Well, once she was arrested, Professor Jones was fine,” Hermione said. “But she had to teach by the Ministry’s wishes and they were crap. We weren’t even supposed to practice the spells until the exams.”

“The Minister thought Dumbledore was forming an army to take him out,” Harry said, his lips twitching. “I won’t lie and say I’m not tempted.”

“So last year’s class was that bad, and you all got Outstanding?” Cedric asked. “How’d that happen?”

“Well, Daphne and I were lucky,” Draco admitted. “The others I think you can accredit to Harry.”

“He created the Defence Association,” Hermione explained.

“After they talked me into it,” Harry put in.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Either way, you taught us everything we needed.”

Cedric looked from one face to another. “Sometime tells me there was more than exams behind that particular idea.”

“There was,” Harry agreed. “Hermione, love, could you do the honours?”

“Of course.” Hermione drew her wand and set up another layer of privacy and silencing spells around them, letting the first years chat among themselves.

“What we’re about to tell you,” Harry said quietly, “must be kept quiet and not repeated to anyone who doesn’t already know.”

“Of course,” Cedric said immediately. “What’s this about?”

Harry smiled weakly. “For once, the Daily Prophet’s got it dead right.”

Chapter Text

For a few seconds, Cedric stared at them in something skin to shock. Then …

“I should have known,” he said, shaking his head. “Why else would he come after you so often?”

Hermione rolled her eyes and gave Harry an affectionate smile. “He does seem to be a magnet for trouble, doesn’t he? Thing is, it doesn’t quite stop there …”

It took the better part of the morning to explain about the Marauders, the prophecy, and their first five years at Hogwarts, along with the reasons they didn’t trust Dumbledore.

When they had finished, Cedric let out a low whistle. “Unbelievable. I want in.”

“I thought you would,” Susan said.

Cedric looked at Harry. “So your parents …”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Still can’t quite believe it myself. Jen’s still trying to find the place though.”

Cedric frowned. “If their spirits are travelling to and from the place, could they not map it?”

“It’s not really that simple,” Hermione explained. “They can only travel so far from their bodies. After that, they need to … tether themselves, I suppose would be the best description, to a person. So they get to the middle of the ocean, and then they need to use that tether to pull themselves directly to me, or Harry, or Sirius. From us, they then have another maximum radius, but the two don’t cross over.”

“I suppose that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?” Cedric asked.

“Speaking of easy,” Susan said, trying not to smile, “I assume Cho knows you’re back?”

“She knows I’m alive,” Cedric said, pulling a face. “I don’t know she knows I’m back at school. I thought she was a prefect?”

“She was,” Luna said, buried in The Quibbler. “Professor Flitwick thought she had a Wrackspurt infection.”

“Cho did absolutely nothing to stop her friends bulling Luna,” Ron translated.

Cedric’s face darkened. “I didn’t know about that. I haven’t had a moment’s peace all summer. Mum’s barely let anyone visit, so I’ve had owls several times a day. I never realised she was that clingy.”

“Don’t think ‘clingy’ is the word you’re looking for, mate,” Harry said. “She was hanging on to me by September.”

Cedric shook his head. “Unbelievable. It’s not your fault,” he added hastily, seeing the guilt that crossed Harry’s face. “So how can I help with … you know?”

“Well, I think what we need to do,” Hermione said, “is make sure that we’re prepared for the worst-case scenario, which I would say is Voldemort attacks the school and we get no back-up?”

“We’ll get back-up,” Harry said. “Jen and the others would come.”

“What if they can’t?” Hermione asked. “What if we have no way to contact them?”

“We would need the DA to be an actual army,” Luna answered immediately. “Trained in combat, people who know what they’re getting in to, battle-ready strategies, and people to man the infirmary.” She looked over the top of The Quibbler at Cedric, her eyes slightly out of focus. “You have a host of nargles following you, did you know?”

Cedric looked to Susan for help.

Susan shrugged and mouthed, “Go with it.”

“Is that good?” Cedric asked Luna.

“Oh, yes,” Luna answered absently. “Just don’t worry if you start being drawn to people you hadn’t considered.”

Hermione hid a smile. After learning about the thestrals, and how they could only be seen under certain circumstances, she had wondered how many of Luna’s ‘imaginary’ creatures were the same. Many things the girl came out with did make sense if you looked at them from a different perspective, and they had all promised themselves that they wouldn’t do what so many others did and dismiss her out of hand.

“We’ll need to find a way of getting the younger years out of the castle as well,” Daphne said. “And anyone else that doesn’t want to fight. We can’t rely on the floo – what if he finds a way to block it?”

“Good point,” Hermione said, frowning.

“Jen will probably have some ideas,” Ginny said.

“She definitely will,” Hermione said. “Maybe we should all have a think about it.”

Everyone agreed, and she removed the shield charms with a wave of her wand, jumping back into the conversation the first years were having.

When the trolley came round, Harry bought a large selection of sweets, allowing the new Muggle-borns to sample wizarding candy for the first time.

For her part, Hermione delved into her bag and retrieved a selection of Muggle sweets, which was a huge hit among the magically-raised.

Seeing how successful the wizarding etiquette lessons and the Muggle day trips had been among their own group, they had decided to try to bridge the gap between the two cultures as best they could with the younger students.

Once lunch had passed, they took it in turns to take the first years in groups to the next compartment, which was empty thanks to a small charm on the door, to allow them to change into the robes – and help them, in the Muggle-borns cases.

By the time the train pulled into Hogsmeade station, all the students were ready and they had just one more thing to do.

The older girls all opened their bags again and pulled out wand holsters, which they helped the younger students to attach to their arms.

As soon as everyone was armed, Harry and Hermione led the way off the train and on to the platform, where Hagrid’s familiar voice could be heard shouting, “Firs’ years! Firs’ years over here!”

The new Muggle-borns stopped dead and even the other first years hesitated.

Hermione chuckled, wrapping an arm around the shoulder of a young girl who had attached herself to her side. “It’s alright. Hagrid’s a good friend of ours.”

A few of the braver first years trotted forwards, but the others stayed where they were.

Hermione understood. It normally took a good half an hour for all the first years to assemble.

Hagrid was definitely a food example of ‘not judging a book by its cover’.

In these times, however, no one could afford hanging around the station any longer than they needed to; despite the war, and despite the fact that the Hogwarts Express arrived at Hogsmeade Station every year at the same time, there seemed to be no security measures in place.

Most of the others were already at the coaches, making sure that the younger students were all loaded up.

Hermione decided she would need to take matters into her own hands. Squeezing the shoulder of the girl beside her, she lowered her head to talk to her. “What’s your name?”

“Catherine Barter,” she whispered.

Hermione smiled at her. “Come with me, Catherine.” Releasing her shoulder in exchange for taking her hand, she led the young girl over to where Hagrid was standing. “Hello, Hagrid.”

“Hermione!” Hagrid greeting, bending down to give her a hung that was, mercifully restrained. “How are you?”

Hermione automatically touched the top of her scar. “Better, Hagrid; thank you.” She nudged Catherine forward. “This is Catherine Barter; she’s a first year. Catherine, this is Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts.”

Hagrid’s eyes crinkled in a beaming smile and he held out his huge hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, Catherine. I’ve always said a friend o’ Harry and Hermione’s is a friend o’ mine.”

Looking a little startled, Catherine looked up at Hermione, who nodded with a smile. Her face lit up as she shook Hagrid’s hand, her own hand almost disappearing within it.

At that, the rest of the first years surged forwards and Hermione took a step back. “Hagrid will take you up to the castle. We’ll see you in the Great Hall for the Sorting.”

She met Harry and the others at the last carriage, where Ginny was staring at the space in front of them. “Is that a thestrals?”

“Yes,” Draco said. “No one died at the Ministry, did they?”

“No,” Harry said. “But I could see them after Cedric, and I didn’t see them at the end of fourth year. I think that thinking you’ve seen death and mourned over it is enough. We did think Padfoot was dead for a good month.”

“Longer than that,” Ginny muttered, accepting Draco’s help into the last carriage.

Hermione put a tentative hand out, feeling it rest on a leathery neck. “I don’t know if you were one of them,” she whispered. “But thank you for your help last June.”

Something nudged her gently and she started, stepping back into Harry’s arms.

“I think that was a ‘you’re welcome,’” Harry murmured in her ear.

Hermione chuckled weakly. “I guess so.” She twisted her head round to look at him. “Ready for this?”

Harry looked at her for a moment, love shining in his eyes. “Hermione, with you by my side, I’m ready for anything.”

***

The new students had been sorted, the Sorting Hat removed, and the students of Hogwarts were waiting patiently for Dumbledore to address them.

Daphne and Draco were sitting at the Slytherin table, at the end nearest the teachers, unashamedly using the younger years as a barricade between them and their classmates.

Luna was at the Ravenclaw table, being ignored by her classmates as per usual, and in a slight daze – also as per usual, but her friends had come to realise that this expression just meant that she was thinking deeply about something.

Susan and Cedric were sitting together, a little closer than they needed to be.

As soon as they’d entered the Great Hall, Cho had made a beeline for them, and Cedric had quickly wrapped an arm around Susan’s shoulder and pulled her closer, seeming to whisper something private in her ear.

Only Susan knew the truth: “I can’t deal with her right now; please play along.”

Susan had given him a small nod and complied, leaning into him as they walked to their House table, trying to ignore the dirty look his ex-girlfriend gave her.

The five Gryffindors were all grouped together, all of them pointedly looking in any direction other than at Dumbledore.

Hermione was quietly making arrangements with the castle and Ginny was talking to Draco in her head.

Harry, Ron and Neville were scanning the Great Hall, taking in everything and everyone, eyes and minds finely tuned from a summer spent training with the Marauders (who let’s face it, made you as paranoid as the Weasley twins).

They took note of everyone who might possibly pose a problem, for once not just focusing on the table furthest away from them.

Occasionally, their eyes met, and they’d all look at the same person, before agreeing.

It goes without saying that they all kept their shields up, barricading their minds and thoughts from the expected mind-sweep Dumbledore performed before his speech.

As always, Dumbledore explained the general rules to the first years (and reminded everyone else), before explaining that everything and anything sold at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes was now on the ‘Banned Item’s list – Hermione had a feeling that had more to do with the owners than the actual products, especially since Fred and George had come up with a whole range of school-safe pranks …

Okay, Alicia and Angelina had come up with a whole range of school-safe pranks.

“And finally, it is my pleasure to introduce Professor Addison McKinnon, who will take on our Defence Against the Dark Arts classes.”

Amidst the applause, Hermione saw Ginny start, but said nothing until the food had appeared on the table. “What’s wrong?”

“Draco just said something I hadn’t thought of,” Ginny muttered. “I’ll tell you later.”

Hermione nodded understandingly. “Tell Draco that he and Daphne can go to the Room of Requirement after they drop the first years off, if the castle hasn’t already.”

***

Getting the first years safely into their dorms wasn’t easy for Draco or Daphne, but they weren’t in Slytherin for no reason.

They easily put on their icy fronts, responding to the students who wanted help, ignoring those who repeated snide comments about blood traitors.

Then, as curfew approached, they strode out of the Common Room together, heads held high.

They passed several ghosts and countless paintings, and came within a few feet of Filch and Mrs. Norris, but none paid a second’s attention to the two prefects; Draco and Hermione had done their jobs, and no one would notice them, bar the castle herself.

When they reached the Room of Requirements, it didn’t take more than a few seconds for the door to appear, and they were met with a simple, yet comfortable, common room, with two doors leading to bedrooms and ensuite bathroom.

Draco let out a low whistle. “There’s something to be said for pissing off your entire house.”
“I’ll say,” Daphne agreed, running a hand along the back of the sofa, not flinching with Dobby and Winky appeared with their trunks.

“Thanks,” Draco said quietly.

“Thank you,” Daphne echoed.

All of the purebloods had their eyes opened over the summer, but none more so than the two Slytherins.

The trips to the Muggle world had helped Draco in particular understand the way Harry and Hermione saw house elves.

But it had also forced them to see the opportunities the magical world was denying itself.

In some areas, it had to be admitted, magic was superior; there was no way they could compare flooing or portkey or even the Knight Bus with Muggle transportation, but they had come to appreciate how every Muggle-born or raised student must feel entering the magical world for the first time.

Dobby and Winky disappeared with another pop and Daphne turned to Draco. “Why did you suddenly look annoyed with Dumbledore introduced Addie as the DADA teacher?”

“Well, it suddenly hit me that he has no idea who he’s dealing with,” Draco answered. “He hired Addie at the last minute. But as far as he’s concerned, she’s been trapped without magic for eighteen years and never even graduated Hogwarts.”

Daphne cursed under her breath. The fact that Addie had spent her time learning and perfecting wandless magic was a secret only a few were privy to.

“So basically, he’s as bad as the Ministry when it comes to teaching us to defend ourselves, but he’s managed to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes again, because Addie escaped after so long and no one’s cottoned on to the fact that her escape was more luck than anything else. This cannot be good.”

“No,” Draco said, a smirk spreading across his face. “No, this is good. Addie’s a lot more powerful and a lot more controlled than he thinks.”

Daphne nodded thoughtfully. “So what Dumbledore thinks is hindering us is actually helping.” She snorted. “Because obviously, no one would ever hide something from him. Apparently there is an upside to him being an arrogant shit.”

“I don’t think that quite becomes you, Miss Greengrass,” Draco drawled in an accurate impression of himself in third year.

Their eyes met and they both began to laugh.

Daphne calmed down first, bit she was still smiling broadly when she floated her trunk into her room. “Goodnight, Draco.”

“Goodnight, Daphne.”

***

Addie heaved a sigh, surveying her new domain. She had to admit, of all the classrooms at Hogwarts, this one was her favourite, with the spiral staircase behind the desk that led up to the office and, behind that, the private living quarters.

She just never thought it would be her classroom and her office and her living quarters.

She hadn’t had long at all to prepare for this job, although Hermione was right about the text books. Whatever topic she chose practically had the lesson written for her.

Hmm … I could make a few changes here and there … Maybe give them an idea of what they’re dealing with …

With a flick of her wand, a picture of the Dark Mark appeared on the back wall, next to another picture of a Death Eater mask.

They should at least be able to recognise trouble … Now … lessons …

She took a seat at her new desk and pulled a piece of parchment towards her, loading a quill to begin jotting them down.

She could have asked her quill to do it by itself, but for some reason, she’d never quite mastered a wandless levitation charm, and using her wand seemed to be more draining.

Seventh year’s easy enough; that’s just duelling and revision. Sixth year … curses. Offensive curses that can be used safely, and ones that they should recognise but not use … Fifth year is counter curses, I think …

Wordlessly, she conjured a list of spells needed for the DADA OWL exam.

Yes, counter curses. I am right. Better pull a Moody and move Unforgivables further down the list … Or is that pulling a Crouch? Jinxes and hexes in fourth year … magical creatures for third … and then I can concentrate on defensive charms for first and second. Starting with the shield charm.

Addie tapped her quill against the desk thoughtfully. And the first lesson should probably be a history lesson – for all of them.

Addie’s schedule was a little fuller than most of the teachers. Unlike the rest of the classes, Defence Against the Dark Arts was taught in single house groups.

The only exception was first years, who were paired up to make room for the extra introductory lessons they would need – early theory, proper wand care and general subject introductions were all covered in the first few weeks.

It wasn’t quite the Wizarding Studies that Addie privately felt the Muggle-born students could benefit from, but it helped even things out a little – even if Snape refused to participate.

Setting her quill down, Addie rose from her chair and made her way down the classroom.

Thankfully, sense had prevailed this year, and Gryffindor had been paid with Hufflepuff, and Slytherin with Ravenclaw.

It was two fairly neutral pairings, which was especially necessary when the subject matter was so divisive.

She stopped halfway down the classroom, behind a very familiar chair. Closing her eyes, she could almost hear the Marauders’ laughter, Lily and Jen’s stifled giggles, their teacher’s desperate attempts to regain control of the class.

Despite being in a castle full of people, she suddenly felt very alone. The necklace that rested beneath her robes warmed comfortingly, and she smiled.

A throat cleared softly in the doorway, making her jump a little. She looked over sharply, then relaxed immediately. “Oh. Good evening, Professor McGonagall.”

“Addie, please call me Minerva; we are colleagues now,” her old teacher said, stepping into the classroom. “It is so good to see you again.”

Addie had only just arrived before the students did, so she and Minerva had yet to have a proper conversation. “I’m sorry I haven’t been by before; I was finding my feet again and …”
“You certainly don’t need to apologise for that,” Minerva said firmly giving her a very unexpected embrace. “I mean, what you must have gone through … But you don’t want to talk about that.”

“No, I don’t,” Addie agreed fervently.

Minerva sighed, waving her wand at the door, locking and silencing the room. “Addison, there are very few times I disagree with the headmaster, but I’m afraid this is one of them.”

Addie smiled. “Let me guess. You’re concerned, because I’ve been trapped on an island without a wand for eighteen years, so what could I possibly teach these children?”

Minerva faltered. “Well … yes, actually.”

“I taught myself wandless magic out there,” Addie explained. “Although, to the best of my knowledge, Albus doesn’t know that.”

“But then …”

“Why did he hire me?” Addie asked with a sigh. She waved a hand, setting up more privacy charms around them. “I have no idea. But there is something else you need to know, Minerva, but I need a witch’s oath you won’t repeat this, especially to the headmaster.”

The display of magic by her former pupil shocked Minerva into doing just that.

“I wasn’t alone out there,” Addie said.

Minerva sucked in a breath. “Leona?”

Addie nodded. “And James and Lily.”

Hand on heart, Minerva sank into the nearest chair. “Potter?”

“Exactly.” Addie leaned against one of the desks. “They arrived as the Death Eaters vanished, obviously. By the time Cedric reached me, I was in another part of the island … The wards had shot back up to full force again, so I bided my time, hoping they’d forgotten about us … Apparating myself and Cedric out … wandless magic or not, it really was as big a miracle as everyone’s saying it was.”

“Where is this island?” Minerva asked.

Addie sighed. “I don’t know. I wish I did. Jen and Remus are half-buried in books and maps and scrolls trying to find something.”

“What about …?” Minerva began.

“Snape’s taken an Unbreakable Vow,” Addie said.

“And Albus?” Minerva asked. “Why don’t you trust him?”

Addie sighed. “Minerva, we have a number of reasons. My main one is that Regulus Black told Albus we were out there, and to the best of my knowledge, he never bothered to look. My second one is that Albus cast the Fidelius Charm to make Peter their Secret Keeper and yet Sirius still ended up in Azkaban.”

Minerva’s face had paled quite considerably, and Addie took pity on her. “I would talk to Jen. She’s got a whole list of reasons and probably more evidence than I do.”

Minerva nodded slowly. “I believe I will.” She rose from her chair, taking Addie’s hand in bot hof hers. “I must admit that you, Lily and Jennifer were three of my favourite students. And it pains me to see what the three of you have gone through. I’ll keep this to myself. Goodnight, Addison.”

“Goodnight, Minerva.” Addie watched her former head of house leave the classroom and turned to the window.

Focusing her gaze, she could just see the wards shimmering at the edge of the boundary. At some point she would need to take a closer look, so that Jen could adapt Portkeys so they didn’t need to be outside the wards to work.

With a heavy sigh, she made her way up the stairs to her office, crossing the room to the portrait on the wall. “Marauders forever.”

The wizard in the painting winked at her and gave a bow, and the frame swung forwards, allowing Addie access to her new bedchamber.

As she entered, she felt her necklace warm again, and smiled. Maybe this year wouldn’t be so bad after all.