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Deathwish

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Hermione was late. She ought to meet the recently appointed Headmistress, McGonagall, at her office…. roughly an hour ago. 

She was sprinting across the great hall like a woman chased by a bloody troll. She shivered at the thought while recalling the first year’s events. The bathroom attack was just a glimpse of what would follow in the next few years. As traumatizing as it was, worse had been thrown at her plate.

With only a loaf of bread snuggled tightly between her teeth and a cup of coffee that she downed standing still in fear of choking, she ran, waving at the students taking their breakfast before going out and working on the castle repairs.

"Hermione, where to?" Hagrid’s voice greeted her as soon as she stepped off the hall’s exit.

"I have a meeting with the prof-headmistress, one that I’m terribly late to." She didn’t cease her running, just smiled when they came face to face.

"Don’t let me keep you." He waved at Hermione and went to pick up a cardboard box that contained plates and utensils, Narcissa Malfoy’s donation after Draco announced that he was returning to complete his education. "Come by my cottage, if you have time, I’ll be there after five p.m.

"Count me in!" said Hermione, taking a left turn. There was no way she would miss Hagrid’s special, homebrewed tea, and pleasant conversation. The half-giant refused to share his secret recipe, no matter how much she begged. 

She continued on her set path. The heat of the day caught up with her, causing her pace to slightly slow down. The Gryffindor had neglected physical exercise after the war. Her body hadn’t completely recovered from the months of starvation and running around, but even if it had, her mind wouldn’t be up for the task.

Climbing the grand staircase was not an easy fit. The portraits glanced her way in pity, the figures drawn in them were used to her nightly roaming. They asked if she was okay, or if she needed them to fetch Professor McGonagall. From the first day she resided back in the castle, her heavy footsteps and muffled sobs disturbed the portraits' slumber, but surprisingly, the usually judgmental pictures attempted to soothe her. They had been hanged from the castle walls way before the first war and witnessed the effect it had on the students.

Oh, how her younger self would’ve thrown an angry fit at her future actions. She would deny being in any way affected by traumatic events and would try to keep a strong facade even in front of dead people. Time waited for no one, though, and the little bushy-haired girl was not able to survive. War had happened and life had hurt. Hermione was, in a sense, relieved that her innocent part was left behind, into happier days.

Little by little, she reached the imposing griffin statue that guarded the staircase. It stood silent with a piercing gaze. 

           "Beetle Buttons" her voice came out clearly, somewhere between the breaks to catch her breath, she ate the loaf of bread. Immediately, the statue moved its huge frame aside, granting entrance to the Gryffindor, who sighed audibly upon seeing another pair of stairs.

Opening the office door, Hermione found the headmistress going through an impressive stack of paperwork. Her bright green eyes were dull under the thin spectacles resting on the bridge of her nose. Exhaustion was written all over the woman’s face, and Hermione felt like a complete arse when she stood her up.

"Miss Granger, you are late." The headmistress's disapproval was evident from the tight-lipped smile she offered while indicating Hermione to sit on the armchair directly facing her.

"I’m sorry, Profess-" the young witch went on to correct herself, but was shushed by the headmistress’s raised hand.

"It’s okay, all that matters is that you are here." She gestured at a bowl placed in the center of the desk. "Have a Choco ball, you don’t look good my dear."

Hermione laughed openly, sliding down the chair, getting comfortable. The older witch waited patiently for the laughter to die down.

Of course, she didn’t look good, she hadn't had a decent night’s sleep in Merlin knew how long. Except for the weight she lost during the Horcrux hunt, dark circles marred her face, and her hair was greasy because she didn’t feel like taking a bath, an action that required looking directly at her scars for a hefty amount of time.

"I’m working on it," said Hermione, but she wasn’t.

McGonagall let the blatant lie slide for the moment and rummaged through the scattered scrolls she was working on.

"This came for you yesterday." She reached out with her hand, giving a fancy, sealed scroll to Hermione.

"From the ministry?" she asked, immediately recognizing the distinctive capital M engraved on the wax. Without waiting for an answer, she unsealed it. The noise of stretched wax snapping pierced her ears, filling the silence in the room. Hermione focused again on the paper.

Dear Hermione,

I regret to inform you that after the war, many of the ministry’s members were casualties of the terrible war, leaving many offices understaffed and in dire need of capable individuals to fill the positions. I’m aware of your decision to finish your education, but I need you to reconsider. If such an influential war veteran joins the ministry, many witches and wizards will follow your example. Please be mindful that the mystery department will grant you access to information that might prove helpful to retrieving your parents’ memories, a task that would be otherwise impossible. 

I’m looking forward to receiving your answer.

Kingsley Schacklebolt, Minister of Magic

Hermione’s eyebrows were both raised in disbelief. Oh, that’s so rich. Kingsley was practically threatening her by withholding the information he thought she needed. Narcissa Malfoy, the only master Legilimen in magical Britain, had told the Gryffindor that reversing the obliviate spell was impossible. Kingsley was bluffing, but it still irked her that a man she fought alongside would try to lure her like that.

"Incendio." With a flick of her walnut wand, the letter turned to ash.

"What was that about?" asked the headmistress, alarmed. This new, brash behavior was unlike the young lion.

"That," Hermione said, letting the ashes fall to the marble floor, "is my answer to the minister." She put the wand back in her jeans pocket; there was no reason to run around in school robes when working around the castle.

Hermione bowed respectfully before standing up. "Now, if there is nothing else to discuss, I should head to the courtyard. The outer walls won’t get fixed by themselves.

"Hermione, you can take a break from time to time. You don’t have to push yourself so hard all the time." McGonagall smiled gently before continuing, "My door is always open if you want to talk to me. Your friends are worried. Don’t shut them out," the former professor spoke softly, as if she was afraid to scare a wounded animal. 

"I know I won’t, but I must go now." Hermione tried to smile at the headmistress, touched by the witch’s thoughtfulness, but it came out as a painful grimace as she closed the door behind her.

The courtyard was a sight to behold. Once filled with plants and benches for the students to sit on and laze around between classes, it was now a shell of its former self. Broken marble littered the once earthly ground, making it impossible to walk around without whitening your shoes from the dust. Hermione preferred working here, she only needed to cover her face with a piece of cloth to prevent coughing fits and was set for many hours of mind-numbing labor. 

The castle was almost ready for the term to start, only the courtyard was left to become presentable. It was a no-brainer that it would be the last spot to be repaired. It would be too painful to start from here, in the yard where many students lost their lives and where the victory against Voldemort happened.

Hermione reminded her treacherous brain that this was not the time for depressing thoughts and began to levitate the biggest pieces of marble, arranging them in a neat pile.

She only stopped when sweat burned her eyes and her right hand felt sore from the spell work. She scanned the area, satisfied with the process as the ground was now clear of debris. It was easy to get lost in the task. Hermione frequently had someone come to fetch her at dinnertime, by Hagrid’s orders.

With Harry and Ron away, in auror training, she spent most of her free time alone or with her half-giant friend, drinking tea and roaming the forbidden forest at night. Day by day, the Hogwarts library, which seemed to hold all the answers to the Gryffindor’s problems, lost its appeal. She seldom, if ever, checked on books and tomes anymore.

Casting quick tempus, the time indicated that it was early afternoon, the sun shone brightly, and she had to make her way back for lunch.

Upon entering the great hall, Hermione spotted a familiar blonde Ravenclaw and headed to sit down next to her.

"Luna, when did you arrive?" she asked, while the dreamy witch stood up and embraced her tightly, not bothered by the dust on her clothes. Hermione’s heart quieted down, basking in camaraderie.

"Just moments ago, I wanted to see you before your departure," Luna responded, her gaze never leaving her face.

"But I’m not going anywhere." Hermione frowned. Luna often spoke in riddles, but this time the message was clear. "Don’t you remember? I will finish with my N.E.T.W.S just like you, Neville, and Ginny. " 

 "You will, but not here," the blonde said, with such certainty that Hermione was worried she had applied to some other school during one of her breakdowns, she quickly discarded the thought

 "This makes no sense." She put some sausage and beans on her plate, eager to finish with this bizarre conversation.

"Nargles are flying around you. It’s time to take a break, don’t you think?" Luna pierced the Gryffindor with her arctic blue eyes, freezing the air.

"I think that this is something I will decide and not some Nargle." Hermione was getting irritated, the happiness she had felt upon meeting her friend was slowly evaporating.

"And you will do it, that’s for sure,Luna pronounced the words in her trademark dreamy tone, that, combined with Hermione’s earlier mood, was a disaster ready to happen, and as she always did after the war, the Gryffindor fell for it.

"Look! I don’t care, okay?" said Hermione, voice sharp. She pushed a hand through her oily hair, getting disgusted by the slimy texture. She was tempted to leave, but her hunger kept her put. "Agh, I’m just.... I’m not great company when angry. Sorry," Hermione apologized, regretting her outburst, acutely aware that she was losing control of them.

"Don’t worry about it, I still find you great to talk to." Luna grabbed some napkins, already leaving the Gryffindor’s bad attitude behind.

"It’s good to see you, Luna. I missed you." It was the truth. The younger Ravenclaw proved to be a great friend throughout the years, fighting alongside Harry, proving to be braver than many Gryffindors combined and more compassionate than many Hufflepuffs. She was a kind witch that under no circumstances deserved the rough treatment of her classmates during the school years.

"I missed you too." Was the sweet reply, simple but full of love. Hermione smiled, grateful for Luna’s presence in her life.

They ate mostly in silence after that, exchanging a few words of small talk and enjoying the never-ending food supply in Hogwarts that even the damn war couldn’t reduce.

As night fell, she made her way to the forest. Hagrid’s cottage was the only building that was left intact by the fight, and it had a calming effect on every passerby, only to be crushed by the forest’s eeriness moments later, but that was not a problem for Hermione. 

In the past months, the groundskeeper had shown her around, explaining in detail how to track forest creatures and know which ones to avoid, how to navigate around the similar-looking trees, and how to not cross the line of centaur’s land. A line she had crossed with her friends in the fifth year with Dolores Umbridge.Hermione’s past actions pointed to a lack of remorse. It was troubling to an extent, but she decided that it was not the time or place to dwell on it.

It was dark outside the cabin. After lunch, she went back to Gryffindor Tower to catch some sleep, only to wake up swallowing a gut-wrenching scream. It was way past teatime, so she hoped that Hagrid would be up for some late-night adventure. Hermione knocked three times, in case he was asleep.

After a moment, heavy footfall was heard, and candlelight moved to the door. It was visible from the window. The half-giant appeared, towering over the witch. He held a lantern and wore nightclothes.

"Hermione, it’s almost midnight. What are ye doing out here?" his voice was groggy from sleep. She didn’t notice that it was this late when she left her dorm room in a hurry.

"I apologize for the intrusion; I was about to go for a stroll and wondered if you’d like to join me.

"It’s late, Mione." He adjusted the cap on his head before continuing. It was slightly large for his head and kept falling onto his eyes. "You should go back, don’t even think of wandering around alone," Hagrid said, and he fixed her with the sternest gaze he could manage.

"Yes, I see now that it was a bad idea, I will head back. Goodnight and once again, sorry for waking you up." She wasn’t about to admit that she went alone a few times, she would worry her friends needlessly. Instead, she turned and began walking in the same direction she came from.

"Goodnight Mione, be careful. McGonagall would skin me alive if something happened to one of her lions.," he joked but waited at the door until he couldn’t recognize Hermione’s silhouette in the dark, making sure that the witch was returning to the castle.

The forest’s silence was balm for her overthinking mind. The wind twisting around the trees felt like soothing whispers, telling Hermione that, in the end, it would be alright. Sometime during the hunt, before Ron’s abandonment, the three of them sat by the fire and shared their worst fears. Back then, she said that death was her biggest fear. A reasonable fear for a fairly sheltered child, only three days after the confession, had changed to sharp voices, claw-like nails, pale faces, and curly, dark hair. A worthy fear for an adult witch to have. Just asking ten war survivors would prove it.

And of course, in a great display of absolute cowardliness, Hermione didn’t attend Tonks and Lupin’s funeral. Oh, no, she hid like a coward in her parents' house, crying her eyes out and cowering at the prospect of meeting Andromeda Tonks, a woman who had lost so much in the damn war, just because her sister awoke one day and decided that torturing a child was the best way to gather information.

It was during times like these where she felt truly disgusted with her new self. Abandoning her books was fine, not joining the ministry right away was fine, accepting that her parents would not come back was painful, her barely standing house back in London was proof enough, but after many sleepless nights, it became a deep wound that would be fine. A conscious decision to protect them. They were far away but fine. 

Living a life with no purpose, with fear, with nightmares, with a constant void unable to be filled was not fine. Hermione was burning and crashing like a train set on a fixed course with its breaks cut off.

She wandered deeper into the forest, not paying attention to her surroundings. Her war-honed instincts would ring in alarm for potential danger. She was wrong.

A whip-like branch hit her in the right calf, and a stinging pain spread to the whole leg. She took out her wand to cast Lumos. Light shone for a moment before another whip came from the left, targeting her hand. This time, she changed to diffindo in an attempt to sever it and the whips stopped for a while.

A wail shook the ground she was standing on, and as if on cue, many whips lunged at the same time. Hermione threw diffindos in different directions, trying to cut as many as possible, but they kept coming at rapt speed.

When she turned her back for a second to free her leg from the branch that managed to wrap around it, her breath was forced out of her throat from a death grip. With grave seriousness, the Gryffindor realized her mistake. The opposing tree was the Whomping Willow.

The bloody tree disarmed her. A branch kept her wand over her head mockingly. She went to attempt wandless magic and her hands got cuffed behind her back. The whip in her neck squished harder, stealing more of her precious oxygen.

With blurry eyes, shallow breaths, and filled with Gryffindor defiance, Hermione flexed her fingers, imagining hungry flames feasting upon the log of the Willow. Her fingertips started burning, indicating her success, but she still had to direct the spell before burning alive.

The tree, sensing her intentions, squished even harder. She was about to lose consciousness any moment now. She wiggled to no avail and the fire spread to her palms. When it reached her wrists, it would burn the whips. Hermione needed to stay sharp and not faint.

She thought, just a little bit more, trying to calm herself. Hermione was lucky to not feel the full force of the pain, her blood was contained in her head, trying to keep her alive. At the same time the Willow shrieked, piercing her eardrum, she felt the bonds loosen.

The whips got burned, setting her hands free. Unfortunately, her victory was short-lived. A thick whip struck her across the face, hitting her nose and right eye repeatedly. The tree was in a frenzy and Hermione choked on thick blood, her vision darkening. In her last and desperate attempt to hurt the tree, she directed the Fiendfyre towards the veined roots.

And just like that, everything turned dark. The Gryffindor's body felt like a feather being guided by the wind. It was time for Hermione to greet death. A funny thought appeared in her mind. Harry had died too, even momentarily, and when he returned, he said that it wasn’t scary or painful, maybe she would get lucky too.

Oh, how much her face hurt her, her hands too, now that blood circulated normally. It was supposedly the moment that the movies showed the dying person’s life flashing before their eyes. Hermione saw none of that, she only felt a desire so deep that it shook her to the core. She wished she could meet Andromeda, the woman who looked so much like her dead tormentor, to confirm with her own eyes that she was safe, and then, maybe and only then, Hermione would give herself the chance to sleep better. 

Chapter Text

Hermione landed on soft ground. The tree must have thrown her away in an attempt to put out the fire. The humidity and the early autumn breeze blew around, hurting her shaken bones. A painful groan slipped out of her mouth. Her throat felt sore, her nose leaked like a broken dam, and her right eye was impossible to open.

She lay there, unmoving, unyielding, in terrible pain. Hermione must have been crushed on the ground with great force since she had sunk slightly into the damp soil. Her body’s outline was engraved on the muddy surface just like one’s did when creating angels in the snow, only ten times dirtier and not at all uncomfortable. 

Hermione closed her eyes and concentrated on drawing deep breaths in, keeping a steady rhythm; how long would she have to wait for Hagrid to find her? She groaned. There would be no more nighty visits to the forest anymore. McGonagall would make sure of it. 

All the incidents from last year considered, the headmistress would say, "Safety above all." Hermione would answer by laughing disturbingly. Oh yes, she had pictured the conversation already and could see it crystal clearly, going from point a to point b. "Miss Granger, please refer from acting impulsively." The headmistress would not even wait for Hermione to heal, she would barge into the infirmary and lecture the Gryffindor in front of Madam Pomfrey, and honestly, she was not to blame.

Hermione’s ears twitched, something was approaching. If she was lucky, Hagrid’s worried face would greet her. If she wasn’t, well, maybe whatever creature was attracted to her blood would be merciful and leave her be.

It was the sound of steps. She exhaled in relief and looked towards the direction she thought the person would emerge. Somebody was near, with feather steps, a lightweight man or a woman.

"Merlin, what is this?" a masculine voice that Hermione didn’t recognize came out panicked. A wizard near her age kneeled by her side. She couldn’t make out his face. Her already restricted vision was blurred by the tears caused by the hit in the nose. 

"Help me," said Hermione, coughing in between syllables, not sure if the message came across. Her voice was a mess, raspy from the pressure of the whip barely coming out of her constricted throat. The damage was more severe than she initially thought. 

 "Um, yes, yes." He moved his hands frantically, grabbing at the air before settling them inside his hair, and he sounded like he was about to cry, "You are so blue. Do you need CPR? I have a license!"

Hermione’s good eye widened. Just who the hell was this wizard? An anapneo would have solved the problem if she was choking. That meant he was a muggleborn. His line of thoughts was familiar to Hermione as to anyone without magical origin, "When in trouble, go muggle." Unable to speak, she moved her head from side to side, trying to indicate that he needn't try CPR, getting dizzy in the process.

"Why are you moving? Oh, please tell me you are not having a seizure," he said between pauses to catch his breath while his face came into closer view. Hermione had seen him before, somewhere. 

"Okay, calm down, "said the wizard, addressing Hermione, but it seemed more like he was trying to soothe his nerves. He placed his hands on her shoulders and she scowled at the unwanted contact. He was so lost in his panic and Hermione was in no place to explain what had happened, "I’m leaning in, you will feel much better in no time." 

There was no helping it now. Hermione searched around for her wand. It was flung from the tree when she charred the cuffs. She accioed it to no avail. Wandless magic required energy, but wordless and wandless magic required a miracle.

The boy's lips appeared above her bruised one, and his sweaty palms felt like they were digging into her shoulders. Hermione growled, animalistically baring her bloodied teeth, a threat that delivered what words couldn’t, the wizard's resolve to help her wavering.

Another pair of feet were heard. The wizard must have been out with friends, although a little part of her hoped for Hagrid this time, but how come Hermione hadn’t encountered them in her stride?

"Teddy, where are you?" It was a witch’s voice.

"Andy? I’m near the clearing. Come quick!

Teddy didn't move from Hermione's space. He eyed her from time to time while waiting for this Andy to arrive, making sure that the Gryffindor would not attack him.

"What are you doing? Is this your secret girlfriend? The one you told me so much about? " Hermione didn't blame her for assuming the worse. Ted’s body hovering over Hermione’s acted as a barrier, so she wasn’t able to see the injured Gryffindor on the ground. She probably spoke on the assumption that the otherwise intimate position gave away. Hermione didn’t blame her for assuming the worse.

"No! This is not what you are thinking, this..." Ted let Hermione go as if she had burned him and leapt to his feet, gesturing at the semi-conscious Gryffindor, "She... is my cousin," he finished lamely.

Hermione almost barked at this Ted wizard. His lie was so blatant and stupid that he didn’t recognize her under all of this grime and blood, but her photos appeared on the daily prophet at least twice a week for crying out loud!

"And why is she lying down?" the mysterious witch asked, suspicion evident in her voice. She was still a few meters away.

"That’s becauseerr she splinched." Oh, he was a dead man as soon as Hermione was able to hold a wand properly.

"Then what are you standing there for?" She hurried closer, kneeling next to Ted and shoving him a bit to get a better view. "Move aside, I studied some healing spells this summer." 

Were those two trying to kill her? Studying spells was an entirely different matter from casting them. It was the only reason Hermione hesitated when obliviating her parents, the damage she could've caused them would’ve been severe. Frank and Alice Longbottom were the perfect examples of the misuse of magic.

Ted sat beside the Gryffindor’s knees. He smiled, Hermione scowled, and the witch gasped. A perfect symphony of curses fell from her lips.

"This is really bad!" With a sharp move, Andy turned to the wizard, allowing a moment for Hermione to study her through a wall of tears, "Ted, what’s her name?" 

For a second, Hermione took her in, it was unmistakable. The witch was striking, she was glowing in the dark, gorgeous with her pale face and dark curly hair, that for a second, the Gryffindor’s brain didn’t register the similarities between Bellatrix Lestrange. Even though their voices were similar, this one lacked the bite and the sharpness.

"Jo, Jo Tonks," he stammered, but the witch ignored him. She focused her attention on Hermione.

"Jo, I’m Andromeda Black. I wish we’d met under better circumstances. Alas, I will take care of you now and you can thank me when you feel better." She took her wand out and began casting diagnostic spells.

Hermione was too stunned to react. Did those few words manage to completely paralyze her? How was this Andromeda Black? She looked so young. She was wearing school robes, and if she was Andromeda, then this Ted was Ted Tonks, a dead man. This had to be a mind trick. It was not unheard of for the forest to play tricks on the unwanted visitors that wandered around. It was forbidden for a reason, and those two people were imposters.

In a knee-jerk reaction, Hermione grabbed the woman’s hand, taking her by surprise and resulting in the wand falling from her hands. With a quick motion, the Gryffindor grasped the weapon with her left hand. It was not ideal, but it was better than having no wand at all.

She cast a silent Petrificus Totalus at the wizard, only to be paralyzed in fear when she turned to face the witch. The impostor’s expression darkened with an angry expression, her cheekbones sharpened, and her lips tightened, reminding Hermione of the time at Malfoy Manor, moments before the inevitable marking.

"Don’t hurt me!" the words came out muffled and slurry. All her momentary strength dissolved into the night air, leaving cowardliness behind, the other witch understood. Slowly, she retrieved the wand from Gryffindor’s death grip and undid the spell on the wizard, releasing him from his stone body prison.

"Ted, I think your cousin was attacked and she is acting in shock." The witch glanced at Hermione once -causing the Gryffindor to reconsider her earlier conclusion- before flicking her eyes back on the wizard, "I want you to go back and find a professor to help us. We can’t risk levitation, it may cause further damage.

"Be careful, she almost bit me!" Ted whined, and Hermione glared with one eye, making him wince.

"Ted, now!" 

"I’m going," he urged, already disappearing into the thick darkness, leaving the witches alone.

Hermione stared intensely at the woman above her. She was striking, impossible not to notice, her dark brown eyes so different from the black pits that pinned the Gryffindor down to the cold marble floor. Andromeda’s anger had melted away, sharp cheekbones and red lips relaxed, a soft upturn of the witch’s mouth was the only indication that she was a human being and not a work of art.

"Stay with me, help is on the way," Andromeda soothed, placing the wand away from the Gryffindors' grasp. It is always better to be safe than sorry."And stop wiggling around! You are going to hurt yourself further."

Hermione couldn’t help it. Her fingers itched horribly, tears wouldn’t stop spilling from her eyes, her nose was shattered, and she probably suffered severe damage to the retina of her right eye. The disorientation she experienced while gazing at Andromeda hurt her head in ways she hadn’t thought possible. 

She drifted off for some time, preventing her mind from feeling the painful injuries. Andromeda’s presence -albeit deeply concerning for Hermione’s mental health- was steady, like a rock standing amidst the wild sea, cutting through the waves, grounding the Gryffindor to the present, past, or future. Or wherever it was that dead people walked among the living.

A group of people appeared without Hermione noticing, Ted Tonks led them across the Forbidden Forest. She took a searching look at them and locked eyes with Dumbledore, and her barely-there composure broke.

How fun! More dead people was the Gryffindor’s last thought before darkness consumed her.

A white light irritated Hermione’s forcibly opened eyes. A hawthorn wand was touching her right eyelid. A spell she didn’t recognize was whispered repeatedly.

"It’s no use, Albus. The vision is ninety percent lost. I saved the eyeball, but scarring was inevitable. The girl should be fine, the skelegrow worked miracles on the nose, and the burns were superficial." A woman was speaking, another familiar voice. Hermione couldn’t focus her vision. The witch and the headmaster were dark shapes, looming above the bed she had been lying on. The Gryffindor felt the telltale signs of a headache, pressure nestled on her temples. What had happened? Where was she?

"What about the rest?" asked Dumbledore in his distinguished calm tone.

"They were not caused by whatever attacked her, they were old wounds." The mediwitch took a deep breath as if it was painful for her to say the next words, "It’s terrible. There are signs of intense torture in her body. She has a slight tremble in the right foot caused by prolonged use of crucio." A sigh was heard. The witch continued her report, "Albus, these are symptoms I have no experience with. We should move the kid to be admitted for treatment in St. Mungo’s."

"There is no reason for that, as you said these are past injuries."

The mediwitch didn’t answer the headmaster. Her attention was focused on Hermione. "The pupil is reacting. She has regained consciousness." The light turned off, someone canceled the Lumos, a screech from a chair being pulled aside filled the room, and the headmaster sat by her side.

"Miss, can you hear us?" asked Dumbledore, looking better than ever. Hermione blinked rapidly, sizing him up. His grey beard was well trimmed, and the wrinkles from constant worry were less evident. An irrational thought crawled into her mind, and she shoved it down.

"Loud and clear, headmaster," Hermione responded, relieved that she was not in pain. The mediwitch must have healed her abused throat. Speaking of the witch, the Gryffindor scanned around and found a smiling woman wearing red robes under the medical cape. She looked exactly like Pomfrey. The thought crawled up again, crushing on her mind with full force, tearing the nerve cells on its way.

"Are you okay? You paled," said Dumbledore, and placed a hand on her creased forehead, checking for fever. Hermione couldn’t stop her thoughts from spiraling uncontrollably, a young Ted with a young Andromeda, a younger, alive Dumbledore, a young Pomfrey, being flung around by the Whomping Willow, and just like that, she was back in time.

"Poppy, she is hyperventilating." He touched Hermione’s cheek and hummed in an attempt to calm her down.

And it was working. The effect was immediate. Her pulse stopped hammering in her chest, threatening to break free of her ribs. The melody was engraved in the witch’s memory. It was the exact melody the headmaster sang to her when she was bawling her eyes out inside his office, using tissue after tissue, making a mess of the whole room after coming out as a lesbian.  Pansy Parkinson had spread the rumor and Hermione, like the stubborn Gryffindor, confirmed it. right before everyone’s hearing range in the overcrowded great hall. 

Of course, Harry and Ron knew. She told them during the fourth year, the morning after the Yule Ball. She had met Viktor while reading a gay book, and the quidditch player, who was tired of the various girls attempting to ask him out, immediately recognized the piece of literature and proposed for Hermione to attend the dance as each other’s beards. They had a great time being truly themselves, and the Gryffindor wrote three pages of paper about LGBTQ+ rights, gathered the boys, and told them.

Ron reacted first to the news, stating that he was aware of the fact since a witch couldn't hang out with a lad like him and not be head over heels for him, but Harry, who was quick as always, explained that they had noticed Hermione getting enthralled by the Bulgarian Veela mascots in the quidditch world cup, and they were waiting for her to feel ready to tell them. Needless to say, that for the whole day, Hermione was crying and hugging them at random times, grateful for their support. 

Unfortunately, not all the people were supportive right away. The girls in the dorm treated her with contempt at first, driving her to seek the headmaster’s counsel.

At first, Dumbledore listened to everything Hermione had to say, offering words of support when she got too emotional, or sweets when he thought that a break was needed, and in the end, he announced that he was gay too, causing the witch to burst into tears of relief. She only calmed down after a few minutes under the soothing melody.

"I’m fine." She tried to slow down her breaths. "Please don’t stop humming." 

"I will not. We can talk after you settle down. Poppy, do you mind leaving us?" 

The matron nodded, relieved that Hermione was faring better. "Albus, come and get me if our little miss here starts to feel unwell." She nodded to the Gryffindor with a little smile and was out of the door, leaving the teacher and student in the empty infirmary.

"Headmaster, what year is it?" It was the first and most important question Hermione could come up with.

"I’m afraid that it’s August 30th, 1972." He readjusted his half-moon spectacles, a move so closely associated with the eccentric wizard, before continuing, "Judging by your sudden appearance that got noticed by the school’s wards and the fact that I don’t know you, but you seem to do," Dumbledore paused and considered her with intelligent eyes for a second. If I had to take a guess, I would say that you are quite away from your timeline.

Immediately, Hermione checked to see if her Occlumency walls were intact, only to find that they were. She furrowed her eyebrows. Was Dumbledore so perceptive that he figured it out just by looking? 

The wizard detected the girl’s confusion and raised a hand. "You are not the first time traveler I have encountered. I was the head researcher for a time-traveling program founded by the mystery department as an experimental project in case Grindelwald’s terror reign got out of hand. After a year of running the program, the funds were limited, so, attempting to raise them, we took on the assignment of investigating time paradoxes. This inevitably resulted in meeting all sorts of trapped fellows, injured, disoriented, and clutching at their time turners."

"But yours must be lost back in the forest," the headmaster said, scanning the area around Hermione's neck and then at her palms, "but don't worry, I will ask Flich to go find it first thing in the morning."

"There is no need, I don’t have one." She stretched her upper body so she could be in a kind of sitting position, her muscles feeling incredibly sore. How did Harry and Ron manage to spend so many hours on them and not complain even once?

"What do you mean?" Dumbledore asked while accioing two cups of tea that were placed on a wheeled table full of medical equipment, "Please, start from the beginning."

And so she did. Hermione had fully briefed the headmaster of all the events leading to the time-travel while being extremely cautious and avoiding disclosing future affairs. She only spoke about Andromeda and the desire to fix a past mistake. When she finished, they just stared at each other in silence. It was shocking to have rendered Dumbledore speechless and concerning regarding Hermione’s return to the present.

"I’m afraid that your situation is more complicated than the ones I have dealt with in the past, Miss Tonks-"

"It’s Granger." 

"Miss Granger, I think that somehow your thoughts about Miss Black are connected to your travels." He petted his beard. An eyebrow was furrowed in concentration. Dumbledore was reluctant to talk openly. "Are you familiar with the myth of the three Moirai?"

Hermione immediately nodded and explained, "I'm part Greek." Her mother was adamant that her daughter would be fluent in Greek and be at least adept at mythology. The three moirai were some of the most prominent figures, besides the gods, always interfering in the lives of the mortals, cutting and sewing the fate lines as they saw fit.

Clotho, "the one who spins," symbolizes the present, Lachesis, "the one who unfolds," symbolizes the past, and Atropos, "the one who cuts." The personification of fate in human form.

"Delightful! Allow me to tell you the version I know, the version I stumbled upon years back in a tome locked in the department of mysteries. It might differ from the original, but please bear with me." 

Dumbledore adjusted his way of sitting so his knees were in line with his shoulders and his palms rested on his knees. "In the passages, I’ve read that the moirai were free to cut and sew as they desired. It was their choice whether to send innocents to their deaths, curse the unfaithful, or bless the unworthy, and the best part was that no god could sway their decisions. They feared them because their power to control fate was beyond the Olympians. The only rule the moirai had to follow was thrust upon them by their mother, the goddess Anagki, and it was to never extend a mortal’s life. Cut it short, yes, fill it with riches, yes, bring tragedy after tragedy, also yes, but never give away more days. " The headmaster was frowning now, his eyes low and avoidant. "The problem with giving someone complete freedom with so little regulation is that it always has consequences. It is said that in all their centuries of tireless sewing and cutting, the sisters discovered a method to disobey by simply spinning the thread counterclockwise for a short period of time before it turned back to its original direction.

"Πεπρωμένο φυγείν αδύνατον." There was no escaping fate, but why didn’t Hermione just stay dead?

"Why did they choose me? And for how long does this spin last?"

"I believe that your desire to fix your mistakes, even at your last moment, acted as a death wish and your thread resisted the cutting. The moirai are portrayed as mischievous beings, so they probably decided to toy with you before your inevitable department."

And then what? She was too tired to be having this conversation, and the headmaster had not answered her second question.

Hermione took a sharp breath. Hearing about her impending death was strange at best, and terrifying at worst, for Hermione. She wasn’t a firm believer that the Moirai existed, but learning that she was a witch by a professor who could transform into a cat broadened her mind when it came to believing the unbelievable. "Professor, how long does this spin last?"

"It will switch courses after three full circles, but there is no way to measure it by human means, and the research on this topic is sparse at best,"

"Perhaps I'm stuck here until I fix whatever needs to be fixed," Hermione said, her voice emotionless. She couldn't just live her life far away from home, knowing that the next moment could be her last.

She had things to do back in the present. She had to hug her friends close and apologize for her distant behavior after the battle, a trip to Australia to see her parents even without speaking to them, to enjoy Hagrid’s tea, and to spend moments of normalcy with Ginny, Neville, and Luna in the castle. 

"It is highly possible, but we can’t be sure. I need to do some research first. Of course, you are free to help," Dumbledore said, now combing through his beard. "In what year are you?"

"About to begin my seventh, but I’m older," answered Hermione, not being sure where the Headmaster was drifting in the conversation.

"Why don’t you spend your year here? This way, you can participate actively in the research. I’m fairly sure that the curriculum will be below your skill level, but mingling with people your age can teach you so much more than a textbook."

It was a sound idea to create a routine, the first step away from spiraling into a potential existential crisis. The second would be to follow this routine, but Hermione didn’t want to get ahead of herself, and joining the research would ensure that Dumbledore wouldn’t use her as a pawn for her knowledge of the future.

"Yes," the Gryffindor answered, "but at this time my parents haven’t met yet and I don’t go around carrying legal documents in my pockets, and what about Ted Tonks? He said that we are related."

"I see, this is indeed troubling, but, in a way, he gave you both a name and, therefore, a believable background. He probably has his own reasons for lying, but if you manage to swear him into secrecy, I will take care of the legal documents. I have some favors to claim, " said the headmaster, and finished with a wink. There he was, good old cunning Dumbledore, ready to pull an ace from up his sleeve.

"Do we have a deal, Miss Tonks? The elderly wizard reached out his hand towards Hermione, and the Gryffindor shook it firmly, like an employee ready to sign a binding contract.

There was no hesitation on her part; it was this or the madness that would ensue by sitting idle.

"Please call me Jo." 

Chapter Text

 

 

Andromeda was intrigued. Ted’s cousin struck Hogwarts like a meteorite. Rumors of the witch’s arrival spun around, getting more ridiculous every time she heard one. Ted for his part, basked in the newfound attention from the students but did not disclose any information regarding his family. It was a sight to behold. Slytherins from the Sacred Twenty-Eight put aside their bigotry and asked the muggleborn wizard details about his cousin.

Most of the student body knew that Tonks apparated out of nowhere, in the middle of the night and got splinched in progress, but that was not the truth. Andy had read about splinching while preparing to take apparition lessons. When a person failed apparition resulting in splinching, said person usually lost a piece of clothing, muscle tissue, or even whole limbs. None of it applied to Jo.

The witch was attacked, it was evident in the injuries she bore. Andromeda got a glimpse of burn marks on the inside of the hands and of course stinging marks, evident on Jo’s face and neck. Something had gone crazy on Tonks's face, shuttering the nose and damaging her eye while crushing her throat. No wonder the witch was in such a shock.

Still, Andy was curious about Jo. How could she survive such an attack? The only person she could think of pulling a stunt like that was her sister Bella. Her protective and fiercely independent sister, the same sister that ran around doing Merlin knows what. Serving the Lord that their father served, married to Rodolphus Lestrange, a man Bellatrix hated.

Arranged marriages were considered the norm in pureblood society, being perceived as the only way to ensure prosperity and continuation of the noble lineages. Andy had been betrothed to Rabastan Lestrange since birth, because her father Cygnus, and Roderick Lestrange aspired to become business partners, and what could be better than marrying their four kids to seal the deal.

Andromeda was bound to marry Rabastan after graduation as Bella had Rodolphus, and since she wasn’t about to pledge loyalty to the same megalomaniac as the rest of her family, she at least hoped that Lestrange would allow her to pursue a healer’s career. Admittedly Bella had drawn the shortest end of the stick by being born the same year as Rodolphus.

Rabastan wasn’t the brightest person, he was cowardly and ran his mouth wild, always boasting about his family ties with the Dark Lord. He was quick to draw his wand and hex passersby, but he didn’t even come close to Rodolphus’s violent tendencies. At the end of the previous school year, the older muggleborns had thrown a party at the Three Broomsticks, buying rounds of butterbeer to whoever passed the inn’s door. They had been celebrating Rodolphus’s graduation and his upcoming absence from the castle.

Andy focused back on the present., The Great Hall was filled to the brim with students. The excitement was palpable in the air, and if someone concentrated enough, they would taste it. The Ravens sat quietly at their table, soft murmurs could be heard only if you were standing close enough to catch them. On the Badgers table, which was situated next to the blue one, Teddy had a seat in the center, making it easier for the Hufflepuffs to pester him with questions about his cousin. They had a free pass or something like that, as they called it, because of inter-house privileges. Next to them, and as far away from the snakes as possible, sat the lions. They were shouting all over each other, boasting about summer adventures like roosters trying to impress the chickens.

Andy didn’t resent the Gryffindors. She didn’t have strong feelings for any of the four houses, unlike her little sister who sat beside her with arms crossed over her chest. “I can’t stand these preposterous Gryffindors! Why do they feel the urge to yell all the time?”

“Relax, Cissy, they will tone it down when the professors take their seats,” reasoned Andromeda, even if it fell on deaf ears. Narcissa was too uptight and too focused on following the pureblood rules of propriety, which often led her to dismiss great people just because they belonged to non-Slytherin houses, or had no noble magical origin.

Andromeda scanned the four tables looking for Jo but didn’t spot her. Maybe the girl was still recovering. The thought filled her with unexplainable disappointment. She waved the feeling off, focusing her eyes on the hall’s entrance. The first years were due to get their sorting.

The tall frame of Professor McGonagall appeared at the entrance. She was followed closely by small, doe-eyed kids. Andy absentmindedly put a hand on Narcissas's shoulder. Her young sister had been just like these children two years ago. She had been worried about not being sorted into Slytherin that she had cried the whole summer. Bella had reassured Cissy that they would love her no matter what. Andromeda was not sure that Bellatrix would give the same speech now.

As if sensing Andy’s jovial mood, Cissy scowled and freed herself from the light touch. “Andy! I’m not a kid anymore,” she hissed. 

Andromeda rolled her eyes, unaffected.“I can’t help it, you will always be my little sister.” The brunette leaned in and kissed her sister on the cheek. Cissy wiped at the spot frantically and glared with her arctic blue eyes, a sight that could intimidate grown-up wizards but not Andy. It was the same glare their mother used when she was displeased with their behavior, but it lacked the disappointment and intensity that Druella usually conveyed.

“Stop being silly.” Cissy turned to look at the gathered first years, “the sorting is about to begin!”

The hat was placed in a chair in front of Dumbledore’s empty seat, the headmaster nowhere in sight. Andy glanced around and found similar confusion written on the rest of the students’ faces. McGonagall, as if sensing the unease in the room, stepped towards the podium ready to address the restless crowd. Motioning for Filch to replace her and go near the group of first years.

“Students, the Headmaster is on his way,” McGonagall’s confident voice echoed through the hall, “We will continue with the ceremony as always.” She gestured to the little group, fidgeting on their feet. “Let’s begin.”

Students lined up, waiting for their names to be mentioned, faint whispers passing between them, anxious expressions glued on their faces. So far none of them proved to be a hat stall., They were sorted almost immediately.

A witch was called forth. The little one shook like a leaf, awaiting the grumpy hat’s decision. There was a long pause, like a collective hold of breaths, the sound of robes swishing along the marble floor was the sole focus of the student body. Dumbledore was walking with a determined stride, Jo Tonks in tow.

Hurried whispers broke the silence, the students pointed the duo’s way, asking each other if it was her . Andy found Ted’s panicked eyes. He was getting overwhelmed by his housemates' rapid questions.

“Is this the witch?” Cissy’s voice broke Andromeda’s trance, she could only nod in answer.

Jo was, even more, intimidating under the soft candlelight--tall and wiry. The scar which marred her face began above the left ear, climbed over the bridge of her nose, discolored the pupil, and ended on the right temple, creating a pale, straight line. The Headmaster directed Jo to get in line with the first years, and Andy got a giddy feeling, thinking about what house Tonks would be sorted into.

“Merlin, this white-eyed mudblood is ugly.” Rabastan’s deep voice boomed across the Slytherin table, earning him a few chuckles on the way.

“Why do you care, Rab? You already got yourself a hot future wife,” Lucius Malfoy sucked up to Lestrange. Andy sneered, ready to put them in their places.

“Don’t be mistaken, his dad got him a witch,” she said, and full-blown laughter broke out among the snakes, surpassing Lestrange’s lame joke. “And as for Tonks, I don’t believe that she would be interested in any of you.”

“What is it to you, Andy? Afraid that your boyfriend Tonks won’t approve of us talking behind his cousin's back?” Crabbe decided to join in, earning a glare from Rabastan. He had unknowingly struck at the wizard’s pride. Lestrange acted like he was entitled to Andromeda’s exclusivity, and anyone near her was a threat to his eyes.

“She doesn’t have a boyfriend,” declared Lestrange, attempting a smug smile. Cissy raised an eyebrow at that, waiting patiently for Andy’s reciprocation.

“Agreed, I’m not in a relationship with anyone,” Andromeda said. Upon hearing the witch’s words Rabastan's smile fell. The frown suited him much better.

Their conversation was cut short by the hat’s gruff voice shouting Slytherin. Young Thorfinn Rowle made his way to the green table, greeting the older students shyly. Their bickering caused them to miss some of the sortings.

“Joan Tonks,” called McGonagall, capturing everyone’s interest. Huh, was that her full name? Ted hadn’t said. Even the house-elves stopped distributing the plates full of steaming food. The witch made her way to the hat, heavy footfalls echoing across the floor. Andy felt herself leaning forward as if to stand closer to the mysterious woman.

The hat started mumbling to itself, the words rattled, it was absorbed in a one-way conversation. Tonks reacted only once during the sorting process, and that was to nod. The hat cackled a bizarre sound, akin to howling, and confidently announced Hufflepuff. Cheers erupted, shaking the hall like an earthquake. Almost every badger had stood up and clapped, soft smiles spreading across the friendliest table. The student next to Teddy went to sit elsewhere, emptying the spot for Jo. 

“She is kind of cool.” Narcissa’s voice came out timid as if it hurt her to compliment someone of ‘lesser blood’. “Very non-Hufflepuff if you ask me.” There it was good old house prejudice. Aunt Walburga’s annual summer preaching bore its fruits.

“I think it’s for the best,” Andromeda said. “The badger’s kindness is unmatched. Teddy and Amelia are there too.” It was a relief. Jo seemed to be the closed-off type, she probably wouldn’t thrive under Gryffindor’s extreme righteousness and would retreat more to herself in Ravenclaw’s seclusion.

After Tonks’s sorting only a Gryffindor and a Ravenclaw were sorted and with that, the ceremony was over. Then, Dumbledore, standing at the center of the teacher’s table, gave a short speech about the regulations that students should follow during the year. He announced that a new DADA teacher was appointed by the Ministry, but had yet to arrive, and finally, told them to dig into the feast.

Utensils clinked while professors and students alike enjoyed the luxurious food. Andy tried, but ultimately failed, to keep her eyes from wandering to Jo Tonks. The witch remained silent between lively fellows, only nodding sometimes as she had done with the hat. Ted, on the other hand, radiated with a cheerfulness that reached even the Slytherins who stared dissatisfied at the Hufflepuffs. It was the first time that one of the houses surpassed Gryffindors’ loudness.

Dumbledore, after ensuring that the students’ hunger was sated, allowed them to leave the hall. Andy, as a prefect, was obligated to guide her housemates to the dungeons, where Professor Slughorn was waiting to give a heartfelt speech about house pride and Slug club. She wanted to stay back, though, to catch up with the Tonks' cousins, get a better glimpse of Jo. Alas, duty over pleasure won. Adjusting the prefect badge pinned to her chest, Andromeda began leading the snakes out of the room.

The dungeons were dimly lit and cold with a chill that never dispatched, even the fireplace’s heat didn’t drive it away. It was quite contradictory since real serpents loathed cool climates. Coming to a stop before the common room’s door, Andy went off on a speech about house rules and what was expected of every Slytherin through the course of the year. She emphasized the importance of remembering the password without revealing it to anyone that wasn’t in their house.

“If I learn that one of you, unintentionally or not, gave away our password, I will not hesitate to have you sleeping on the floor until I graduate!” she hissed for better effect. A technique she had picked from Bella when dealing with Rodolphus.

The freshmen stared wide-eyed, already frightened of being locked out and having to face the consequences. The upperclassmen standing behind the little ones, giggled. The second-years had the hardest time controlling their expressions, caused by the overflowing excitement of being able to join in on the prank this year.

“Don’t listen to her,” Evan Rosier said. He was standing next to Andy, smiling good-naturedly at his cousin. “She doesn’t mean it.” His soft voice seemed to chase the panic away, creating a sense of false security. Evan was a natural actor.

Narcissa raised an eyebrow and Andromeda winked. Mustering the most accurate imitation of their father, Andromeda squinted her dark eyes and said, “Oh no, I meant every word.” The second the words left her mouth, the already low temperature fell. In that moment you could hear a pin drop.

Andromeda kept the façade up for almost a minute. The first years gulped and shivered. Rabastan opened his mouth to say something—probably an intelligent insult—and Andy cut him off by smiling, making the rest of the Slytherins release their laughter. The little ones stared, confused, needing some time to figure out what was happening. “I’m so sorry,” she addressed them, “You were all so cute, and confused. I couldn’t help myself from scaring you.”

“It’s okay,” said a brave first year, the rest followed his lead by nodding. Andromeda grinned and gestured to the rest of the students to head inside. The password was shared during lunch. 

Evan laid his head on Andy’s shoulder, as he did every time they stayed up late doing homework in the common room. He always complained about his neck getting sore from leaning over the textbooks, and demanded jokingly that Andy must cover his medical expenses if the pain proved to be chronic.

“Great eye for stopping Lestrange, his jokes are never funny,” said Evan, his voice muffled, “Although I must admit, that a hex his way would be nice.” Andy laughed at that, and he raised his head. A trademark Slytherin smirk on his face, “You know, to start the year with a bang.” 

“Or with a detention,” said Andy, and Evan shrugged, standing once again at his full height. “But besides that,” she continued, “I prefer to use more peaceful methods when dealing with Rabastan.”

“Yeah, right. Wouldn’t bet on it, for an aspiring healer you are wicked with a wand.”

“That’s the Black in me, can’t help it,” she said, returning the shrug. There was no shame in being proud of her heritage as long as she didn’t dip into obsessive waters. Her uncle Orion marrying his cousin was a prime example of the Black’s obsession with blood purity.

“Yeah, yeah whatever you say, Ands, let’s head inside.” Evan took a step towards the only bare spot in the wall, muttering ‘Unforgivable’ to the stone and they walked into the common room, where the potions’ master was gesturing flamboyantly.

Andy found Narcissa among the third years and gave her a puzzling glace. Cissy being her observant self caught up immediately and mouthed, “Slug Club”. Andromeda relaxed and leaned against the nearest wall. After all, she was already invited to the parties.

 ***************************************************************************

Hermione was bristling. The day had started with the last checkup from Madam Pomfrey, stating that the Gryffindor was to normally participate in term’s activities. She got permission to have a bath where she had a nasty breakdown upon witnessing her changed appearance.

The previous days, along with the mediwitch, they had performed all sorts of tests to determine the damage inflicted on the pupil. They had concluded that Hermione lost 60-80% of the vision in her right eye and all sense of depth in general. Madam Pomfrey had not mentioned the discoloring and Hermione had to find out for herself, upon looking at the bathroom’s mirror.

After getting cleaned up, she had a meeting with Dumbledore to go over the plan and figure out details they might have missed. The headmaster had proposed that Hermione should get sorted traditionally by the hat to avoid suspicion from her future housemates. The witch, not finding a fault in his logic, had agreed. She had been too preoccupied with thinking of walking across the packed hall in front of everyone. She felt a fear stronger than the one she experienced seven years ago when the magical world was foreign to her, and its horrors well hidden. 

Dumbledore and Hermione had lost track of time being absorbed by setting Hermione’s documents straight and discussing the headmaster’s recent findings on death wishes. Dumbledore had brought books from the Department of mysteries and had hidden them in the library’s restricted section until it was their turn to be studied, but Hermione was free to check them out whenever she wished to with no questions asked from the librarian.

They had only stopped talking when an elderly elf apparated to announce that the ceremony was about to start. It was at this moment that Hermione had realized something vital. She didn’t have her wand, and neither did Dumbledore. She had accioed it to no avail and the headmaster was afraid that it stayed in the future, but the witch felt its’ comforting presence.

This was how Hermione found herself running late for the sorting, surrounded by the looming trees of the forbidden forest yelling accio repeatedly waiting for her wand’s weight to settle in her waiting palm. Dumbledore accompanied her to lead the way and protect her from creatures of the night.

Entering the Great Hall behind the headmaster was a surprisingly humiliating experience. Hundreds of eyes seized the witch up like she was an animal on display. Murmurs echoed against the walls, causing Hermione’s head to spin. ‘Werewolf’, ‘mutilated’, and ‘cyclops ' were the most original insults. Unsurprisingly ‘mudblood’ was the word that most students stuck to.

‘Mudblood’ she could manage or at least hoped she could. Fighting a war during which the slur had been used to address her had taken away some of its effects. This only ever lasted until she looked at her forearm scar. Upon doing so, every pretense of being over the degrading word shattered, and self-consciousness crept up like a venomous viper.

She stood in line, waiting to be called forth. The remaining first years distanced themselves from her ominous presence. He didn’t blame them. It was slightly better than the weird idolizing the younger students did in her timeline.

Her name was spoken. She approached carefully, her first sorting experience still vivid in her mind. Back then, she had rejected Ravenclaw. It had been a conscious choice to be a Gryffindor The same choice she was about to make once again.

The hat smirked, brown leather wrinkled unnaturally. “Come, sit! I won’t bite.”

“I’m not so sure,” answered Hermione, before a much younger professor McGonagall placed the hat on her head. It began talking without missing a beat.

“Hm, I see, I will meet you again. Gryffindor? Yes, you have the desirable traits, I can sense a chivalrous heart but still…” it laughed. It was a deeply disturbing sound. “What was I thinking? I must have been in a jovial mood. Let’s delve deeper.” Hermione felt the hat’s legilimency tearing down her occlumency walls. An impressive feat of magic that pre-war would have had her asking ten questions per minute but now, she was stunned in silence.

Hermione finally processed the familiar faces she recognized. Future death eaters sitting next to future ministry workers. They were walking tombstones., She shivered and averted her gaze.

“Ravenclaw? No, you are too brash. Slytherin is out of the question, founder’s rules, forgive me.” The hat chuckled, having an inside joke with itself. “Tell me, child, would you like to remain a lion?” She nodded. Gryffindor was the only thing she knew. gave her a sense of familiarity while being away from home and this was treasured.

“I made my decision, mark my words child, sometimes we are stuck, unmoving like mountains. This is not always good, after all, what is a wand without flexibility?” Hermione frowned, what was that about? “Huh, don’t worry your mind, I am here to help you.” She had no time to react, the hat drew a deep breath, bracing itself before shouting a loud and clear, “Hufflepuff!”



Chapter Text

It must be a joke.  ‘This is a joke,’ was the phrase Hermione kept repeating all the way from the great hall—where the badgers patted her shoulders in a friendly manner—to the Hogwarts’s kitchen.

The prefect that led them to the basement was Amelia Bones. A beautiful witch with dark hair and skin. Better known as the future head of DMLE, whose family and herself would suffer brutal deaths at the hands of Voldemort.

According to Harry, Bones had been a serious and just woman, who had managed to clear him of all charges. Hermione was having a hard time picturing the prefect as the important person she would become. Amelia was joking during the tour, recounting the most ridiculous stories the badgers had gotten into during the last years. Including one where Ted had managed to make Goyle’s hair disappear with a Crinus Muto that had gone wrong.

“Our dormitory room entrance is hidden in a nook on the right-hand side of the kitchen corridor. Don't worry if you get lost at first, one of the prefects will always be near to redirect you. You too, Jo, don’t be afraid to reach out,” said Amelia, and more than a few heads nodded in agreement.

“Don’t worry about my cousin, guys. I’m going to be her guide!” exclaimed Ted, voice filled with enthusiasm. He had been glued to Hermione’s right side since the moment they left the hall. Adding comments here and there, while ending most of his sentences with a ‘you know’ and a wink.

“He will,” Hermione said, letting the conversation drift to different topics until they came to a stop in front of stacked barrels.

“Oh, this is the best part,” whispered Ted, and Hermione felt a spark of curiosity growing upon watching Amelia walk closer to the barrels.

The former Gryffindor, as well as every non-Hufflepuff, considered the badgers’ common room a mystery. Its location was unknown and its password a well-kept secret that was shared among housemates only. There was even a rumor of a defense mechanism, but Hermione thought it impossible.

“In Hufflepuff, we don’t use the password system as the other houses.” Amelia kneeled, wiped her wand out, and tapped the second barrel from the bottom of the middle row in an unfamiliar rhythm. After a while, a hobbit-like lid opened, granting entrance to the common room. “Remember, you should tap the barrel in the rhythm that Helga Hufflepuff, our founder, has created. It’s not hard, but it requires precision.” 

Hermione was dumbfounded. Gabriel Truman, the badgers’ prefect back in her first year, had told Harry that the Hufflepuff common room hasn’t been seen by students that didn’t belong to the house for thousands of years, but they hadn’t believed him.

“Great right? Try to get the rhythm correct on the first try, or else you will be showered in vinegar. I speak from personal experience.” Ted's words shook Hermione out of her daze. She gave him an appraising glance and didn’t utter a word. Here she was, an impostor acting as his relative, and the wizard was playing along. His complete nonchalance served as a reminder that they needed to talk. 

“Let’s not stand out here,” Amelia addressed the crowd, going inside, followed by everyone else.

Upon entering the common room an inviting warmth touched her cheeks. Hermione’s jaw relaxed, the tension evaporated from her shoulders. There was something about this room, she mused while stepping on the brown carpet, that made her feel like coming home. Sunflower yellow was the dominating color, decorating the walls, adorning the window frames, and painting most of the furniture. A portrait of Helga Hufflepuff hung above the lit fireplace. The position of the painting gave the impression that the founder was watching over them, protecting them. Hermione took comfort in the thought, understanding the reason behind the Hufflepuffs’s pride when talking about their house.

“This is where you can mingle with your housemates or study. It's up to you. In Hufflepuff, we don’t obsess over house points, but we care deeply about being kind to others. Us prefects will not tolerate prejudice or cruelty against other students.” Amelia sent a pointed look towards Hermione and the first years. The prefect’s earlier jovial mood was replaced by a serious expression. Satisfied with what she found in their faces, she continued, “We are a family here, and with all of us away from home, we need as much support as we can get,” Amelia finished her speech, and Hermione nodded in her direction somewhat unconsciously. It was like a sense of duty drove her to do it.

“It feels like Bilbo Baggins’ house.” Ted was once again talking to Hermione making her wonder if the wizard had no friends.

Before she could react, Ted gasped dramatically and leaned into her personal space. “You are a muggleborn, right? Please don’t tell me that you are a pureblood. I figured from the clothes that you wore that you are like me,” he said frantically.

“Shh, of course, I am! Have you seen many purebloods falling from the sky wearing jeans?” hissed Hermione, while pushing him away with her right hand.

“Oof! Imagine the awkwardness if you were, though.” Ted wiped fake sweat from his forehead, messing up his brown hair in the process. “So, have you read The Hobbit?” he asked as if he hadn’t been panicking a moment ago.

Hermione’s eyebrows shot up. She couldn’t believe that the person standing in front of her was real. “Is this your only concern?”

“Um, yes?” Ted tilted his head in an owlish manner and Hermione rolled her eyes.

“Let’s talk tomorrow,” she said.

“Sure thing, cousin.” 

They didn’t have time to say anything more—not that they needed to. Amelia and a male prefect, whose name Hermione couldn’t recall, gathered the students and led them to their respective dorms, where yellow was once again the dominant color. The rooms were similar to the ones in Gryffindor, with four beds covered in yellow quilts and copper lamps to shed light in the otherwise dark dorms. Natural light was not an option when one slept in the basement.

Hermione shared the room with Amelia and four other girls. Her unexpected enrolment had the school elves enlarging the dorm, adding one more bed, and putting ten pairs of the Hufflepuff uniform in the closet that was meant for her. They managed all that during the welcoming feast. First thing after getting settled, she would go thank the elves. A little reminder to Dumbledore about the importance of wages wouldn’t hurt either.

The girls bid Hermione goodnight, exhausted from the day’s traveling. They laid on their beds and closed the curtains, but not without reassuring her that it was fine to wake them up in case she needed anything. Hermione thanked them, knowing well enough that she wouldn’t accept their offer. Tonight would be the first night since having been admitted to the infirmary, that Hermione would have to sleep without the aid of calming draughts.

Hermione hadn’t been able to snatch the potions out from under Madam Pomfrey’s constant surveillance. There was no helping it, she would have to try her luck stealing from Slughorn tomorrow. She sighed and focused her eyes on the dark ceiling, a long night lay ahead of her.

Come morning, after a long and detailed recounting of Hogwarts: A history, it was time for Hermione to get up. She felt alien wearing the uniform. Apart from the black and yellow colors, the uniform’s whole design was different. The black sweater was replaced by a gray one, fitted with an equally gray blazer which was mandatory. Not bothering to follow the etiquette, Hermione opted to avoid the blazer and to put the tie inside the skirt’s pocket.   

She was the first to leave the common room. On her way, she stumbled two times while climbing the steps, and had a hard time not bumping into other students because she miscalculated the distance.

During the two days, she had spent in the infirmary, Madam Pomfrey—worried about Hermione’s physical condition—had focused on helping her perform menial tasks, such as pouring tea or catching objects the mediwitch threw at her. Needless to say, Hermione had gotten burned by tea and had been hit by small balls and books countless times over the span of fewer than forty-eight hours. Madam Pomfrey had said that Hermione’s struggles were normal and would get better once her brain was used to the loss of her eye.

Entering the Great hall was not as intimidating as it had been yesterday, she took a seat at the edge of the Hufflepuff table and tried to ignore the Gryffindors watching her. The hall wasn’t busy yet, and the lack of voices was a balm to Hermione's ears.

The blissful silence didn’t last long, Ted, chipper like a canary, sat opposite Hermione and gave her the timetable. “Got you a little something.”

“Thanks,” she said while scanning the paper. Transfiguration, potions, herbology, and defense against the dark arts were the N.E.W.Ts Hermione had chosen. Dumbledore had given her the option to take more but she declined. Her desire for validation through academic achievements had ceased dramatically in the past year.

“I may or may not have checked your schedule. Bad news; we don’t have potions together. I hate the subject… but good news, we have everything else together.” Ted grinned and Hermione stared at him. The wizard was the human equivalent of a teddy bear. Brown eyes, brown hair, and an overly cheerful expression. Only the bowtie was missing.

“Hufflepuff is sharing every class except herbology with Slytherin. I’m already partnered up with Andy for most of the assignments, but if you want I can-”

“There is no need,” Hermione cut him off, eager to get the conversation far away from Andromeda. Her stomach twisted even at the mention of the Slytherin witch, probably an after-effect courtesy of Bellatrix Lestrange.

“I get it, you like to do your own thing, being mysterious and silent. How does Batman sound?” asked Ted, looking proud of his witty question. Reminding Hermione of Ron, only more adept in pop culture.

“Horrible,” she answered, and grabbed a jug to pour some pumpkin juice in the cup in front of her.

“Move your hand a little to the right.”

Hermione did as she was told, managing to fill the cup without spilling a single drop. She turned to thank the person and was met with dark brown eyes. The words died on her lips.

“Good morning, Tonks.” Andromeda tipped her head in Hermione’s direction and turned to greet Ted. “Glad to see you on time, Teddy.”

“You know me, Andy. Setting a good example for my cousin,” said Ted, gesturing for Andromeda to join them, but the witch shook her head, dark curls bouncing with the motion. Hermione watched the Slytherin for a moment, before averting her eyes back to her cup.

“Can’t stay. Someone has to make sure that Lestrange and Malfoy won't terrorize the first years.”

“Ah, I see. It always comes down to these two, doesn't it?” Ted’s expression faltered, he touched his left forearm briefly before folding his hands on the table. Hermione raised an eyebrow in question.

“You know how it is,” said Andromeda, eyes glued on the Slytherin table. She took a fortifying breath. “I must go now, catch you later.”

“Bye.” Ted waved, but Andromeda had already taken off, wand firmly in hand.

The pair didn’t strike Hermione as the star-crossed lovers she had thought them to be. There seemed to be tension between them, but she couldn’t pinpoint the reason.

“Jo? Can I call you Jo? It was my dog’s name, and I couldn’t come up with anything else.” Ted leaned forward, voice low and eyes scanning the area nearby. “Sorry for not asking how you were doing yesterday. It looks like you’ve been in a nasty fight. I didn’t want to risk asking with so many people around.”

“Jo is fine. I’m fine,” said Hermione, and leaned forward to match the wizard. “Shouldn’t we talk outside?”

Ted cast a tempus, half-past eight. They had no time left to walk out, and students would soon fill the hall.

“Listen, Andy doesn’t know about the cases, and I want to be the one to tell her,” he said and touched his forearm again, causing Hermione to mirror his movement.  

“Cases? What do you mean?”

“The case that Dumbledore brought you here for. The reason I arrived at the castle three days earlier.” Ted glanced around, Hermione followed his gaze. He nodded at a group of Gryffindors. “Students wanted to meet me. There were many more incidents than I initially thought. I have a list of names to show you later. The culprits target only muggleborns, and frankly, we need an auror’s help. Your help.”

“Why were you in the forest?” Hermione asked, meeting Ted’s eyes and feeling dread settling in her stomach. The wizard had completely misunderstood the situation. The worst part was that she had to lie to him to keep her identity hidden. She searched her memory for any notable incidents before the first wizarding war and came up with nothing. What in Merlin’s name was going on? Why didn’t Dumbledore say anything?

“Huh, what a rare sight. Edward Tonks being on time.” Amelia’s voice shook them out of their trance. The prefect sat in the empty spot next to Hermione.

“Good morning to you too, Amelia,” said Ted, his body relaxing and an easy smile spreading into his face. His distress was nowhere to be seen. Hermione understood the cue and attempted not to appear so stiff, but she failed. Her back was rigid, and her shoulders tense.

She took a sip, the pumpkin juice being a welcome distraction from what she had just learned. Was this a part of the moirai’s game? Was she supposed to help Ted? If yes, to what extent? Did she also have to help with Andromeda? And how much help was acceptable before the timeline would begin to alter?

A kick to the shin had Hermione almost wiping out her wand, but she restrained herself. Ted was pointing with his head towards Amelia, signaling that the Hufflepuff prefect had asked her a question.

“Of course, she found her way around the castle easily. Isn’t that right, Jo?” Ted kicked her again. It was softer this time, but Hermione still glared at him.

“Yes, don’t worry about me. I have memorized the whole building's map.” She turned to Amelia and gave her what she hoped was a convincing smile.

“Tonks, are you sure that you are okay?” asked Amelia, her eyes scanning Hermione’s face, and then her body. “You look tired, and you are not wearing your blazer and tie.”

“I’m fine. I will take care of the tie later.” Hermione had forgotten that her appearance was considered out of the ordinary. After the war, eyebags, sickly complexions, disheveled and greasy hair, were the norm. Most of the students, including her, had trouble coping and their hygiene had taken a heavy toll. She couldn’t even remember the last time she had showered before yesterday, and now she had to wear her uniform properly and participate in class. This was definitely a part of the moirai’s game.

“See that you do. The Slytherin prefects can be especially bothersome if they catch you without it,” said Amelia. There was no judgment in her voice, only concern.

“I’m so telling Andy you said that!” Ted crossed his arms in his chest, a smug expression on his face.

“No, you won’t.” Amelia matched stance, and when he went to retaliate, she threw an apple, smacking him straight in the forehead. Hermione watched them closely, waiting for Ted’s reaction. He only laughed and took his wand out to cut the offending fruit into three even pieces. He offered the first one to Amelia who accepted it with a grin and gave the second to Hermione who nodded in acknowledgment.

After that, Ted and Amelia fell into conversation. Hermione was content with just listening and observing. Apart from these two, the badger’s house as a whole was proving to be an enigma. The Hufflepuff students, who passed near the trio, greeted them with waves or nods. No eyes lingered on Hermione’s face longer than necessary, causing her to relax in her seat until the bell rang.

Ted went to his lesson, and Amelia, despite having potions, had to help professor Sprout carry some plants for a class demonstration. This left Hermione to walk alone to the dungeons, the dimly lit stairs played tricks on her mind. She briefly considered casting Lumos, but the unwanted attention wasn’t worth it.

Students had gathered in front of the classroom’s door waiting for professor Slughorn to appear. Hermione leaned into the wall that was furthest away. She had noticed some not-so-friendly glances from the seven-year Slytherins and opted to keep her distance.

“What do we have here? Ah, a dress code violation. Let’s see, no tie and no blazer, how about twenty points from Hufflepuff?” asked a Slytherin whom Hermione didn’t recognize. The wizard came through the shadows like a bat as if he was hiding there the whole time. He was tall and muscular with black hair at shoulder length.

She ignored him. It wasn’t hard to understand that he was looking to cause trouble.

“Tonks, right?” he smirked and moved closer, his tobacco breath causing Hermione to involuntary sneer. Did he smoke cigars before the lesson?

She ignored him, once more.

“Tell me, how does someone get their eye plucked out? Do they need another person to do the job for them, or is splinching enough?”

“I don’t know,” said Hermione, the wizard was playing dirty, and she wasn’t about to fall right into his trap. “Want to find out?”

“What did you say, mud?” the Slytherin loomed above her, trying to intimidate her with his enormous size. Unluckily for him, she had met Fenrir Greyback, and it couldn’t get worse than that.

“I said,” Hermione repeated for emphasis. “Want to find out?”

A vein popped on the wizard’s meaty neck. He was turning tomato red, and Hermione dreaded dueling him. Amelia had made it clear that they shouldn’t get into this kind of trouble, but if he would wipe his wand out, she would strike him.

“Lestrange, Tonks, what are you doing?” a familiar voice came closer with hurried footsteps.

“Nothing to worry about, Andy. I was just pointing out to the new student how to properly wear the uniform,” said Lestrange, in an impressive display of Slytherin's cunning. He was one of the famous death eater siblings. The youngest most likely.

“This is none of your business, you are not a prefect.” Andromeda pointed at his chest where no badge was pinned. “Leave us, Rabastan. I will deal with it.”

“Wow, Andy! I love myself a hard-working witch.” the wizard smirked at Andromeda, wetting his lips.

Hermione looked at them bewildered. There was no way that these two were involved.

“Leave before I hex you,” said Andromeda, the tone of her voice showing the frustration she felt while dealing with the wizard.

“Okay okay, I'm leaving. No need to get violent.” Lestrange put up his hands in the air and began walking towards the students gathered by the door. He neared two Slytherin wizards and kicked the shorter one in the shin before bursting out laughing. The sound was oddly similar to a hyena’s cackling.

“Is he always like that?” asked Hermione and looked back at Andromeda with an eyebrow raised. Ted had reacted strongly to the mention of Lestrange and Malfoy so she figured it was best to avoid them for now.

“I'm afraid so, Rabastan is the biggest arse in the castle.” Andromeda sighed, passing a hand through her hair.

“Is he like…your boyfriend?” blurted Hermione, without thinking the question through. Her mouth opened, but it was too late to take her words back. Andromeda paused with hand midair, and eyes focused on the Gryffindor. She didn’t look offended. Hermione, who had been at the receiving end of her glare two days prior, didn’t find any hardness in Andromeda’s expression. Only curiosity.

“No! Merlin no, but he is my betrothed,” said the prefect as if it was nothing.

“That’s way worse!” Hermione’s voice came out louder than she intended. A few Slytherins turned to look their way, but with a swift glare from Andromeda, they went back on minding their business.

“It is what it is.”

Hermione frowned. Why was the witch not fighting against her arranged marriage? Andromeda was to marry Ted shortly after graduation. She had read about it. And heard about it from Tonks, the real Tonks, for Merlin’s shake.

“If you don’t want this,” said Hermione, her eyes locking with dark ones, “You should do something about it.”

“Why such interest, Tonks? Are you offering yourself up for marriage?” Andromeda smirked, and Hermione choked.

“What? No!” She took a step back, colliding with the wall she had previously leaned against. “Don’t say things like that.” The witch had misunderstood Hermione’s intentions, just like Ted. They were truly made for each other.

“I feel like I should be offended by your reaction, but you are kind of cute so I will let it slide this time,” said Andromeda, eyes gleaming with amusement.

Hermione didn’t answer, blood rushed to her face. The tips of her ears burned, and she was immensely grateful for the dimly lit corridors. Where in the world was Slughorn?

“You are not wearing your tie. Do you need help with it?” Andromeda muttered softly after a prolonged silence.

Hermione felt the black and yellow clothing burn inside the skirt’s pocket. She gulped audibly. Of course, she didn’t need help. She was the one to help Harry and Ron with theirs. So why was she not speaking?

“It’s fine if you prefer to do it yourself, just put it on before the professor sees you, or else he will deduct points. Not wearing a blazer is fine, the weather is still warm.” Andromeda’s voice kept its soft tone, but she misapprehended Hermione’s hesitation and turned to leave.

“Andromeda, wait!” Hermione moved forward, successfully capturing the attention of the Slytherin. “Here, take it,” she said and offered the wrinkled tie to Andromeda. “Please do it slowly. I get startled by quick motions.”

It was the truth but those were not post-war times. The students didn't suffer from PTSD and hadn’t agreed to try not to startle each other. The students along with the Professors hadn’t decided not to have any fireworks during the Yule Ball and the graduation ceremony. This time was different, and Hermione had to keep it in mind.

“Of course, thanks for telling me,” said Andromeda while taking a tentative step closer, filling the space between them with a sweet smell. She got hold of the tie and smiled. Hermione’s heart stuttered at the sight.

“Lower your neck a bit.”

Hermione did as she was told. Andromeda barely touched her neck and flinched, taking a step back.

“Are you okay?” asked Hermione, eye scanning the prefect up and down. Andromeda was frowning, visibly confused by her body’s reaction.

“I…yes. I just felt a sudden burst of dizziness that’s all,” said the Slytherin, but it was not convincing. Hermione didn’t press further.

“Let me try again.” Andromeda moved to the spot where she was previously standing and settled the tie around Hermione’s neck. This time she stood her ground, managing to maneuver the tie into the perfect knot. “All set, want me to tuck it in?” she offered with a small smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

“No, it’s fine. I got it,” said Hermione, not wanting to risk Andromeda flinching again. It wasn’t unheard of purebloods to be afraid of touching muggleborns in case they got tainted by their dirty blood. But the Slytherin witch wasn’t supposed to be like those people.

Hermione felt a weird sense of disappointment, well aware of the fact that it wasn’t her own fault, but just couldn’t help it.

“You can come to me if it gets loose.” Andromeda took a step back and looked over her shoulder, “The professor is here, let’s go.”

“Yeah, let’s.” 

 

Chapter Text

Young Horace Slughorn proved to be a bigger chatterbox than his older, mature self. He was talking extensively about the importance of Slug Club and less about the importance of potion-making. The professor still wore his ridiculous suit, or was it that he recently discovered his style? The whole time-travel concept messed up Hermione’s perception of the past, present, and future.

One thing was certain, Slughorn was mostly the same, but the potion’s classroom was the first room that had seen a lot of change since 1972. Most of the locations had remained the same, including the headmaster's office, the great hall, and the infirmary. Only minor differences reminded Hermione that this was not 1998 in the days before the war.

The potions classroom was not only different in the sitting arrangement by having four chairs instead of three at every worktable, but it had a whole other feel to it. Slughorn’s self-portraits, as well as photos from Slug club meetings, decorated the walls, replacing the jars of pickled animals that used to freak Harry and Ron out during the first year. Candles were lined up on the shelves alongside the books, and with their warm light, the dark corners of the room didn't seem so unnerving. Potions that were stacked in the cupboards were free to use. Hermione thought this was wonderful because sneaking up in the middle of the night to stock up on calming draughts was not the best way to get sent to detention.

Hermione tried to avoid more interactions with Andromeda by sliding to a seat in the middle of the second row, not in the back to avoid Lestrange, and not in the front to get the professor's attention. Unfortunately for Hermione, Andromeda decided to sit opposite of her at the same worktable, while Amelia was beside her. To her dismay, Rabastan Lestrange had to leave his chair in the back, because Slughorn wouldn’t have him repeat sixth year’s accident, whatever that meant.

So, this was how Hermione found herself crushing moonstone with a pestle into a metallic mortar, to produce the draught of peace, while her three partners argued. Huh, so much for peace.

"I agree with Black, you should crush the moonstone." Amelia pointed a sharp glance towards Lestrange. She was every bit as intimidating as she was last night. Hermione didn’t know if she should admire Lestrange's denseness or worry about his well-being.

"That’s a boring job. I want to stir the pot," whined the wizard, while grabbing a caldron from the table next to him where four Hufflepuffs worked. The students merely looked his way, unsurprised by such childish behavior, and continued working on their potion.

"Rabastan put it back! You are to crush the stone because you are not skilled in potion-making. I don’t even know how you got accepted to take the N.E.W.T." Andromeda’s voice came out impatient with a hint of irritation.

"True, I thought you would be forbidden from setting foot in the classroom after last year. I guess a generous donation to Slytherin house can get you a long way." Amelia backed up Andromeda.  The two prefects were a force to be reckoned with.

Hermione was mildly interested in Lestrange’s incident, aware that no one could top her friend Seamus and his ability to set everything ablaze.

"You stupid, Hufflepuff, watch what you say to your betters! Besides, why would I do the same job as the mudblood?" he said, sneering at the rather unamused and unaffected Amelia opposite him. 

How could he not see that both witches were tired of him? The jab was not even witty. Playing the blood card never was. Hermione pondered whether she should answer him and decided against it. She was getting distracted by the small moonstone pieces that were harder to crush. Her aim was off. Maybe charms would have been a better choice. What was she even supposed to do when the time for pouring the potion into the vials came?

"Tonks volunteered to do it, and frankly, I don’t see the problem in doing the same with her," said Andromeda, and Hermione, curiously, raised her head only to find the Slytherin witch smiling at her.

"You can’t possibly mean that!" Lestrange raised his voice and almost stood up. Andromeda’s hand on his shoulder was the only thing keeping him seated. Her smile had vanished, and Hermione despised him for that.

"What are you doing?" Andromeda’s voice was sharp, like the edge of a knife. Lestrange didn’t meet her gaze.

"Andy, how can you say that?" His voice came out low and whiny. Hermione watched him with disdain, while he acted like he was the one getting insulted.

"Rabastan, how many times do I have to tell you to not call me Andy? Just…" Andromeda pinched the bridge of her nose. Her eyebrows were furrowed. She released his shoulder and they locked eyes. "Take a mortar and start crushing. We mustn't waste any more time."

With a glance around the classroom, Hermione saw that most groups had managed to prepare all the ingredients needed and were ready to begin the brewing. She sighed. They would get nowhere if they kept arguing.

Hermione reached out her hand towards Lestrange, offering him the mortar she was using. "Here, take this, and I will ask Slughorn for another one. Most of the stone is crushed but I couldn’t deal with the sma-"

"Like hell, I will. Don’t give me dirty things, you freak!" Lestrange cut Hermione off and backhanded her scarred forearm in an attempt to push her away. The pain took her by surprise. She let out a grunt and reflexively threw the mortar at his face. It was an instinctive reaction to the pain, but Andromeda’s widened eyes told Hermione that she had used more power than she should have.

The sound of the metal meeting the stony floor had her ears ringing and heads turning towards their worktable. Lestrange covered his forehead with his hands. He was clearly in pain, but Hermione felt nothing upon witnessing his struggles, and that scared her more than anything.

"What are you doing?" Amelia got a hold of the offending forearm, and Hermione pulled away from the grip.

"Don’t touch me!" She stood up, panic clutching her throat. The sound of the ticking clock, the stares, the whispers, the tie tight around her neck, her ever-increasing cruelty, everything was becoming too much. Hermione backed away only to find Slughorn’s crossed arms pressed against her upper back.

"What’s going on?" asked the professor, waiting for someone to explain. 

Hermione stayed silent, not turning to face the potion’s master.

"This freak tried to mutilate my face," Lestrange hissed, covering his whole face for dramatic effect.

"Is it true, Miss Tonks?" Slughorn’s raised voice hurt her overwhelmed ears.

"I did throw the mortar." There was nothing more for Hermione to explain, two days in the infirmary, getting her fingers burned by tea, only to find the target at the worst moment possible.

"Miss Tonks, violence is never the answer, and it won't be tolerated in my classroom. Please go to your head's office. She will deal with you." 

Andromeda was about to defend Hermione, but she shook her head no. There was no point in involving more people.

The professor, always the gentleman, led her to the door and waved her off, but not without taking twenty points from Hufflepuff first.

Hermione stood alone in the dimly lit corridor. She took a deep breath and loosened the tie that reminded her of the whips on the Willow. She had fucked up, that much was certain.

Instead of going to Madam Sprout’s office, Hermione proved to be a routine-oriented person by knocking on Professor McGonagall's office door. The elder witch was surprised by the visitor but ushered the former Gryffindor inside anyway.

Hermione sank into the comfortable armchair. There were no choco balls in a bowl waiting this time. It was a pity. She would have liked one.

"Miss Tonks, excuse my forwardness, but why are you here?" McGonagall’s intuitive eyes, way livelier now, years before surviving two wars, scanned the younger witch’s face.

"Professor Slughorn told me to go find the head of my house, but I didn’t know where Madam Sprout’s office was," said Hermione, and hid a yawn inside of her elbow. Her good eye was teary, the lack of sleep was catching up with her.

"But the potion lesson for the seventh-year finishes at eleven and now," McGonagall cast tempus with a flick of her wand. "It is 10:23. Are you unwell?"

"No," said Hermione, internally cringing at having to explain her outburst to her mentor. "I got out of line, and Professor Slughorn sent me..." she paused for a second, taking the older witch’s appearance in, for the first time since their brief meeting during the sorting ceremony.

Where gray and white hairs used to be gathered in a tight and impeccable bun. Now they were replaced by dark locks in a relaxed hold hidden under a pointy hat. The hard lines on the professor's face had smoothed out, leaving behind a witch years younger. Hermione was aware that she was staring hard.

This woman in front of her was not her mentor, she wasn’t even the head of her house. This witch hadn’t fought in a war with her, and Hermione hadn’t cried in her arms when she learned that her mark would remain unhealed. She wasn’t the woman whose soothing words eased the pain of her parents' loss. She was a stranger, just as much of a stranger as Hermione in this timeline.

There was no connection between them, but did it matter? Hermione had no connections with anyone here, she was a pawn in a cruel game, a thread waiting to be cut. Panic seized her once more.

"Miss Tonks, sit down." Came McGonagall's soft request. 

Hermione had stood up without realizing it. Disoriented, she sat back in the chair and traced her facial scar. She used her thumb and index finger to create a gentle motion that was oddly grounding.

"How about we make a deal?" asked the head of the Gryffindor house, leaning forward and placing her hands on top of the wooden office. "Help me by assisting my third-year students to cast duro, and I will tell Madam Sprout that the matter is settled."

"Professor, are you sure? I don’t think students will listen to me. I always…" Hermione stopped. Always what? Always had trouble managing younger students as a prefect?

"I’m sure that you will do just fine. Teenagers need their seniors' guidance, and they are more likely to accept help from people closer to their age," said McGonagall, a reassuring smile on her lips. Hermione was not entirely convinced.

"But you see, I hit a student today. That was why I was sent out. Don’t you think that my presence would do more harm than good?" Hermione scratched the back of her neck in awkwardness, but she had to inform the professor. With the way gossip traveled in the castle, by the time the class was about to start, the rumor would be twisted, taken apart, and recreated as a whole in a way more dramatic manner than the actual events.

"I think that a person having an O in transfiguration and the headmaster’s respect will set a good example for their younger peers."

Hermione felt nice hearing those words from the professor. Having McGonagall’s support warmed her heart, even if the witch wasn’t her mentor. Not to mention, gaining Dumbledore’s respect was an achievement on its own. The headmaster from her time hadn’t been one for sentiment, he might have felt things, but he definitely hadn't voiced them.

"Thank you, I will be glad to help." Hermione managed a genuine smile for the professor, in contrast to the grimace she had given when she received Kingsley's letter.

"Be in front of the Transfiguration classroom by eight in the evening sharp." McGonagall's eyes glinted with humor, as if she was privy to a joke only she knew. "Dismissed."

Hermione nodded gratefully, smiling one more time before leaving the familiar office, feeling better than ever since going on the Horcrux hunt.

 

"Is it true?" Ted sat next to her, a grin plastered on his face. Hermione couldn’t decide whether she was relieved or irritated to see him.

"Is what true?" she asked, feigning ignorance, overly aware of the glances they got from the other tables.

"That you used stupefy on Lestrange," said Ted in awe.

"Who comes up with all of these absurd rumors?" Hermione was not unfamiliar with the concept of gossip, being a friend of Harry and all, but this was getting ridiculous. She stabbed a sausage with a fork with unnecessary force and completely missed the target. The students watching them shivered and turned their heads away. She sighed and took one, using her hand.

"So, it is not true. It is a pity, I hate the arsehole. " Ted pointed at the remaining sausages on her plate, "Are they any good?"

Hermione only nodded, she was still chewing.

"Tonks!" both Muggleborns turned at the sound. Amelia, alongside Andromeda, were heading their way, and by the look of it, the Hufflepuff prefect was not very happy.

"What were you thinking by attacking Lestrange like that? Now his whole gang will target you." The Hufflepuff prefect huffed in disappointment. "And wear your uniform properly." Amelia leaned into Hermione’s space, completely startling her, and readjusted the loose tie, while Ted found the perfect moment to steal food from her plate.

"Ahem." Andromeda cleared her throat, gaining the trio’s attention.

"Girls, join us. Amelia, you can sit next to Jo. Andy with me." Ted grinned and patted the empty spot beside him. The four students sat in a row, with the ‘cousins’ in the middle.

"So, you did attack him! Tell me everything," he said excitedly, and took another sausage from Hermione’s plate, ignoring the glare pointing his way.

"It’s embarrassing, I'd rather not talk about it." She was never proud after an outburst, and recently, it felt like she was exploding at a rapid pace.

"It's fine, Tonks. Let Teddy decide which rumor is more accurate." Andromeda teased the wizard and stole a loaf of bread from his overstuffed plate. Hermione watched this exchange closely. Was eating from other people's plates considered the norm at this time?

"Hm, then I hope you get a nasty detention." Ted winked, and Hermione frowned.

"Tell me, Ted," began Amelia, "how did you keep Jo a secret all these years?"

"We are distant relatives," Hermione replied for him, trying to avoid the subject.

"But Teddy told us that you are first cousins," stated Andromeda.

Hermione widened her eye in disbelief at Ted. The wizard was going to blow her cover.

"Ah, yes we are, but we didn’t meet frequently. So, you could say that there is a certain distance between us," said Ted, and she elbowed him under the table. They exchanged helpless looks, no one knew what to say next.

"Do muggles not celebrate holidays together?" asked Amelia.

Hermione breathed in relief, grateful for the witch’s ignorance of the muggle ways.

"It’s sometimes hard for us to travel, it is too time-consuming, " she explained simply, hoping that her response would not raise additional questions.

"Yes, and Jo was away for school most of the holidays," added Ted, earning another elbow from Hermione while she mouthed stop to him.

"I was homeschooled actually, just didn’t tell you out of embarrassment." They should have talked more about their cover this morning. This was so awkward. Dumbledore had warned Hermione to not say that she was a transfer student from a wizarding school. Many pureblood families had ties with other institutes, and with a few questions, anyone could find out that no Jo Tonks had ever attended said school.

"Really by whom?" asked Andromeda, leaning against the table to meet Hermione’s gaze.

Hermione mumbled, "Dumbledore," through her teeth. The headmaster had given away his warning, but not without offering a solution. He had proposed that she use him as a cover since no one would question his antics. And he was right, but now Andromeda was looking at Hermione like she had grown a second head. 

"No wonder you have those crazy reflexes," said Amelia. She was the first to regain composure, followed by Andromeda and lastly Ted, who shouldn’t be that surprised, to begin with, all things considered.

"Yeah." Hermione averted her gaze to the Gryffindor table, where two students were competing to see who could fill their mouths with more grapes, and the rest of their housemates cheered them on. She smiled at herself and focused back on the conversation, "Let’s not focus on me, tell me more about life in Hogwarts."

After lunch, Hermione’s day passed smoothly. The second and last class of the day was herbology with Ravenclaw. Madam Sprout gifted the former Gryffindor a cactus to formally welcome her to Hufflepuff, earning a few chuckles from her housemates, who, upon seeing the plant, had bombarded Hermione with advice on how to care for it.

Ted discreetly informed her to not heed their words because, despite their love for herbology, the badgers in their year were not the best plant keepers. Because most of them, Ted included, had managed to get their gifts to rot in a mere month back in the first year.

With the promise to have a conversation tomorrow about the list, and after an overdramatic vow to keep her cactus safe until she returned, Hermione and Ted parted ways.

Five minutes before eight, she entered the transfiguration classroom only to find it empty of students but with chunky pieces of wood laying on every desk.

"Miss Tonks, right on time." Professor McGonagall beckoned Hermione to come and stand next to her, the clean blackboard at their backs.

"I want you to assist the students on the left row." The professor pointed at the empty desks. "Don’t let them trick you into doing their assignment for them. These third years are sneaky, just give them some tips and try to stop a fight if you see one. Gryffindors and Slytherins don’t mix well, especially in this class of troublemakers."

"Is there any student in particular that I must keep an eye on?" asked Hermione, glancing at the door to see if she had any chance to bolt.

"No, they are well-behaved until they start provoking each other. If you sense a situation getting out of hand, get my attention and I will deal with it," said the professor, looking serious.

"It can’t be that hard, right?" They were just a bunch of kids, after all. She checked the door again for good measure.

"You have no idea." McGonagall sighed and went to welcome the students by the entrance.

It took Hermione no more than ten minutes to regret her decision, as the little monsters in the left row flatly refused to do their work and instead asked her all kinds of ridiculous questions based on rumors they had heard. Their spokesperson was the young and overly intrusive Rita Skeeter.

"Is it true that you got expelled from every wizardly school before coming here?" asked the blonde witch, with an eyebrow raised mockingly. She was watching Hermione’s every move like a hawk, not missing any chance to ask probing questions.

"No, it is not. And for the last time, get back to your work, the stone won’t transform by itself." Hermione passed Skeeter’s desk and went to help a shy Gryffindor near the back. The teenager had raised his hand barely a centimeter above the desk, and when she caught his gaze, he blushed furiously and looked away.

"Um... hi." The wizard glanced at her discolored eye for a moment before returning his gaze to the wood, "I can’t transfigurate it at all," he said, defeat lacing his voice and mild annoyance.

"Let me see your wand work," Hermione requested, sympathizing with his frustration. It used to drive her crazy when the spells she cast didn’t work. She had spent countless hours poring over huge tomes, obsessing over every little detail she might have missed.

The wizard flicked his wand properly, but something was amiss.

"Am I doing it wrong?" he asked, full of self-consciousness, reminding Hermione of a younger version of Neville. Dark hair and eyes, awkwardly tall and bashful. 

"It’s not that," she paused and took a good look at him. "Can you remind me of your name?"

"Frank, Frank Longbottom."

Hermione felt like slamming her head to Frank’s desk Of course this was Neville’s dad! Why wouldn’t he be? It wasn’t like someone was playing a joke on her, getting entertained at her expense. She almost erupted with laughter, but the look on the wizard’s face grounded her to reality. This was no time nor place for a mental breakdown.

"Frank, your wand work is correct, but you lack intent. You must mean every word you say for the spell to work." It was overly uncomfortable to advise the wizard who would be tortured to oblivion by the same woman who haunted her dreams. The brave auror, who would openly oppose Voldemort’s reign, was somewhere in this lanky kid, sleeping. In a way, it was her duty to help him.

"Do it again, this time with feeling. Not here." She touched her scarred temple. "But here." Hermione pointed towards her heart. It was a cheesy thing to say, but this method always worked for her. No books held the answers she had often looked for, no tomes, and no scrolls. Hermione had been relying solely on logic for a long time, and magic required emotion to work properly.

"Yes, I think I understand." Frank nodded eagerly and flicked his wand. "Duro," he said, but nothing happened.

"Don’t be shy, it’s not embarrassing to pour your feelings into the spell. Try again."

"Here goes nothing." Frank clenched his jaw and furrowed his eyebrows in concentration. He held his wand tighter, performing the spell with expertise. 'Duro!'

The wood hardened and turned into a solid piece of stone. Hermione went to congratulate him when the wizard abruptly jumped into her arms, hugging her neck like a koala. She managed to balance them, but the quick movement almost had her drawing her wand.

"Woah, you startled me." She unhooked Frank’s hands from her neck and released him. Once again, her tie loosened.

"Merlin, I'm so sorry. I don’t know what came over me. My mum always complains about me-" Frank was blushing. His cheeks turned such a vibrant red that Hermione stopped him to get a breath.

"Slow down, it’s fine, just warn me next time," she said with profound calmness, and for a moment, wondered when she turned into Professor Lupin. It had to be the scar on the face, wasn’t it?

"Take it back!" a witch shouted from the middle row, Hermione turned to the source of the noise and searched for McGonagall, but she wasn’t there.

"I won’t," hissed Skeeter, causing trouble once again. 

Hermione patted Frank on the shoulder and headed their way.

"Why are the two of you disturbing the class?" she asked and glanced at the oddly familiar shouting witch.

"Little Black here is overreacting as usual, and she is dragging me with her." Skeeter batted her eyelashes innocently, fooling no one. Nearby, students snickered, abandoning their work, to watch the two blondes argue.  

"You are insulting my family." Narcissa’s artic eyes glared at Skeeter, and the two witches got themselves locked in a staring contest.

"Stop being immature!" Hermione stepped between them, blocking the Slytherins from seeing each other. She turned to the usual suspect. "Skeeter, what did you say to Black?"

"The truth," the light blonde huffed and crossed her arms over her chest, not elaborating further.

"Which is it?"

"That all Blacks are a bunch of death eaters."

"We are not!" Narcissa stated firmly, her eyes burning with righteous anger. An expression that her older self would never express publicly. Emotions beyond apathy and arrogance were strictly forbidden to a pureblood wife.

"Of course, you are. Everyone says it," said Skeeter, not backing down.

"Rita, let me ask you something." Hermione directed the attention to herself, it was time for a more diplomatic approach.

"What do you want?" the witch spoke dismissively and adjusted the glasses on the bridge of her nose. The round spectacles were a far cry from the sleeker ones she would use in the future.

"Do you think that Narcissa is a death eater?"

"Little Black?" Skeeter chuckled. "As if," she said, and Narcissa scoffed.

"How about Andromeda?" Hermione pressed further, mimicking the technique that Dumbledore used when dealing with arguing students.

"Andy is strict sometimes, but she is…nice and cares for us, young Slytherins," admitted Skeeter, and Narcissa, behind Hermione, gasped a little. "Black, I may not see you, but I have ears. Don’t act so surprised, your sister is nice."

"Don’t tell me how to act!"

"Oh, don’t start-"

Hermione cleared her throat to cut them off, mildly impressed with the witches’ ability to bicker. "Girls don’t change the subject," she said, getting them back on course.

"Which is?" Rita and Narcissa asked simultaneously.

"That not all Blacks are death eaters." Hermione glanced at Skeeter. "You said so yourself."

"Tonks is right, you admitted it." Narcissa crossed her arms, daring the other blonde to take her words back.

"So be it," said Skeeter, a small smile on her face. She gazed at Hermione, the argument already forgotten. "Tell me, Tonks, is it true that you are a Durmstrang spy?"

 Hermione sighed, and some of the students laughed before turning to continue their work, just in time for the professor to return. Wood pieces were floating behind her.

 McGonagall placed them on her podium and began the second part of the lecture. One more hour to go. Hermione went to the back of the room and leaned against the wall.

 

Chapter Text

The booming bell indicated the end of the lectures for today. The third-years eager to grab a bite rose from their seats and hurried to the door. Only three students remained seated. 

"Longbottom, Black, Skeeter, we are finished," stated Professor McGonagall, while accioing the assignments from the last lesson. Hermione stood beside the older witch, waiting to be dismissed. Two hours with these energetic teenagers were more than enough.

"I-" three unsure voices started and stopped at the same time.

"Miss Skeeter, you first. Out with it," said the professor, used to handling teenagers and their intense emotions.

"I was wondering if Miss Tonks would like to go on a stroll with me," said Skeeter, and upon receiving quizzical looks from everyone in the room, she hastily added, "For an interview, as the first transfer student in years."

"Actually, I was about to ask for a walk," announced Narcissa, and stood up. unafraid or unaware of Skeeter’s heavy glare.

"That was my intention too." Frank Longbottom was scratching his neck awkwardly. "You know, to talk about spells," he finished lamely, having the two witches glaring at him.

"I see," said McGonagall, and winked at Hermione. A gesture so far from the witch she knew. "Miss Tonks, please accompany those three," the head of Gryffindor pointed at the students, "to their common rooms. It’s awfully late." 

Hermione’s eyes widened, and she looked desperately at the professor, pleading her to change her mind. She didn't want to spend more time with the teenagers. "I’m sure that there are prefects for this job."

"It will be a good exercise to help you memorize the castle." 

"Professor, I have memorized Hogwarts’ map. There is no ne-"

"I guess it is an acceptable compromise," said Skeeter, cutting Hermione off. Narcissa and Frank packed their bags and smiled at their professor. 

"It’s settled then. You may go." McGonagall gave Hermione’s shoulder a slight push and waved at her third-years, a smirk on her lips.

 

"We should first take Longbottom to Gryffindor tower," said Narcissa, the moment they exited the transfiguration corridor and were about to make a turn. She faced Hermione, who was walking a few paces behind the trio, wondering how in Merlin’s name she found herself in such a situation.

"Why not go to Slytherin first?" argued Frank, who seemed to lose some of his timidity outside of the classroom.

"Because we are two and you are one," Skeeter said, linking arms with Narcissa. Both witches were daring the wizard to oppose them.  

Were Hermione and her friends that cheeky at thirteen? Probably not. Still, she had to agree with the girls. Since the Slytherin common room was near the potion classroom and the vials she sought out. "Let’s head to the tower," she announced, and fell in step with the trio.

"So, Tonks," began Skeeter, unable to enjoy the silence. "Is it true that you threatened to kill Lestrange?"

"No, stop believing those ridiculous rumors." Hermione leveled the blonde witch with a strict look and a serious expression on her face. "Stop spreading them too."

"But he said that you almost took his eye out with your wand." Skeeter, with her free hand, made a motion like stabbing someone with a sword. Narcissa, linked to the witch, nodded.

"What else has he been saying?" 

Frank, embarrassed to even utter these words, said, "I don’t know if it counts, but some of my housemates said that he is acting this way because he can’t handle his crush on you."

"Oh, that’s great. Let me write it down. I wonder how many days he will leave me alone to not spread this rumor." Skeeter conjured a spiral notebook out of nowhere and began to write with a pen, a muggle pen. "What? It’s hard to be half-blood in Slytherin. Blackmail material is getting me out of the toughest situations," her voice came out harsh and defensive upon seeing Hermione’s questioning look. 

No articles or books ever mentioned Skeeter’s blood origin, they only mentioned things the public needed to know. Rita Skeeter was a demonic reporter with a habit of twisting the truth until it made an article with a catchy enough title. 

The witch was trying to protect herself, but somewhere along the course of the years, it must have gotten out of hand. This teenage version of the future reporter was intrusive yet humorous, and held a weird kind of kindness, like now that she linked hands with Narcissa whom she had previously misjudged. 

In a moment of true Gryffindor spontaneity or Hufflepuff justice, Hermione locked eyes with Skeeter, and said, "If someone is bothering you, come to me. I know a thing or two about dealing with idiots. You just keep on writing but focus on real events and I'm sure you will do great." She smiled at the stunned witch, "No one will suspect a Hufflepuff."

"What? Don’t be stupid, I don’t need your help."

"Rita, why didn't you say anything? You can count on me too. Most of our housemates want the approval of my family," said Narcissa, completely ignoring Skeeter’s objections.

"Why would I tell you anything? It’s not like we are friends."

"You look pretty friendly to me." 

"Nobody asked for your opinion, silent Frank."

"Wow, that nickname is way kinder than the one I thought you would have for me," said Frank, a grin spreading across his face.

"Come to think of it, Rita, the only harmful, if one can call it that, nickname you have is for Rabastan." 

"Do tell Narcissa, what is it?" asked Hermione, intrigued and amused by Rita’s name-giving.

"It’s man-child," said the youngest Black, and Rita groaned.

"Not my best one, I admit it. As for you, Longbottom, I was tempted to call you Frankenstein, but I didn’t think you would get it."

"Who is Frankenstein?" 

"My words exactly."

Hermione laughed, she couldn’t help it. Seeing teenagers acting their age was truly refreshing. Those months in the castle after the war had taken a toll on everyone, and she knew, deep in her bones, that the students of 1997 wouldn’t laugh as much in the upcoming year.

"I don’t really get you, but don’t forget the Gryffindor." Frank pointed at his chest. "Messing with Slytherins is my job."

"I..." Rita paused, and Narcissa squished their linked arms, smiling. She blushed under all this blatant expression of encouragement. "Thank you."

Hermione led the teenagers to their common rooms. Listening to them bicker about a great number of topics, that even included which professor was hooking up with whom,  information that she really didn't need to know.

After bidding them goodnight and after Rita promised that she would try to stay out of trouble or at least come to Hermione if things got out of hand, the muggleborn witch was finally alone to roam the dungeons.

She cast the disillusionment charm on herself, blending with the dark walls, wishing for Harry’s cloak. The feeling of a broken egg sliding down her hair and face that the spell created was unbearable. She tiptoed carefully as a cat to the potion lab, wary of the prefects patrolling the castle’s corridors. 

It seemed like a lifetime ago when she wore the badge proudly. It felt important back then. She had stayed up many nights wondering if she was doing a good job or if she was on par with the previous prefects. She had lost precious sleep that she desperately needed now and couldn’t get it back.

She made her way to the Potions classroom door and kneeled on the floor. The door was locked, and a simple alohomora didn’t work. Hermione wasn’t about to use bombarda, but she also wasn't about to spend another night awake. There was no physical lock, so trespassing with muggle means was out of the question. She placed her good eye on the keyhole just below the handle and peeked inside.

The tense figure of Slughorn was the first thing she saw. The professor had his hands resting on the podium, his eyes wide and his mouth moving at rapid speed. Hermione focused on his lips, glad that Snape hadn’t invented muffliato yet.

Just as she began reading Slughorn's lips, a broad back blocked the view. The professor was talking with a black-clad man. Great, no potions from here. Hermione would have to try and sneak past Madam Pomfrey.

"You are a stupid old man! That’s what you are," shouted the wizard, his words traveling through the keyhole. And as it was of late, the voice was once again familiar. It was not a good kind of voice. It chilled you to the bone, a voice that film productions sought out when casting villains. 

"You are the one following a mad man, and I am the stupid one?" Slughorn shouted back, unyielding, and unafraid. "Seriously, Corban, I expected so much more from a bright student like you." 

Corban? Yaxley Corban? Hermione swallowed a gasp. Her hand twitched in fury, and her wand followed its lead and twitched in her pocket. A death eater casually visiting Hogwarts? What was Dumbledore doing about it?

"I don’t care what you think, the dark lord has been much too lenient with you, but this is about to change." Yaxley laughed to himself, a disturbing sound that pierced Hermione’s ears. "Now that we will see each other daily, I will make sure that you feel my lord’s disappointment." 

Hermione leaned impossibly close to the keyhole, trying to grasp any information she might have missed. No articles or historical records mentioned Yaxley at Hogwarts. Her head swam with thoughts. Sweat dripped down her spine. She took her wand out.

To do what? What was she going to do? Interfere with the timeline?

A light touch on her shoulder almost made her scream. Somewhere amidst her panic, the disillusionment charm had worn off.

"Hey, what are you doing here?" Andromeda Black, in all her prefect glory, smiled down playfully at Hermione, as if she was not about to ruin her cover. "And please, stop pointing at me with your wand." 

"Sorry," Hermione got back on her feet and sized the wand back into its holder, plans of murder flying away. 

"Do I want to know why you were peeking through the door?"

"I don’t think you do."

"I see." Much to Hermione's relief, Andromeda didn’t push further. "It’s late and I should probably deduct points, but my little sister thinks you are ‘the coolest person in the castle,’ as she and Rita have informed me minutes before my shift." Andromeda winked. "And I won’t hear the end of it if she finds out that I," she bowed theatrically, "as her sister am not treating you nicely." 

"Guess I should thank Narcissa when I see her tomorrow." Hermione glanced back at the door. They had to leave before the wizards decided to come out. "I’m going to head back to my common room," she said and made to leave. Andromeda followed.

"Let me accompany you to thank you for helping my snakes today."

"You don’t have to go out of your way for me. Besides, my common room is a secret not to be shared with other houses," said Hermione, unable to look anywhere except at the witch next to her.

"Ted and I have been best friends since first year. I know a thing or two about your badger secret," said Andromeda, jumping to Hermione's right side, fitting between her and the dungeon's wall. She used her left shoulder to redirect the muggleborn who was flirting dangerously with coming face-to-face with the stone.

"Thank you," said Hermione, rather embarrassed and feeling heat rush to her cheeks.

"Don’t mention it." Andromeda clapped her hands to her chest, a serious expression on her face before saying, "I spoke to Slughorn after the lesson. I told him that Lestrange provoked you before the incident." Her voice was hushed and earnest.

"Andromeda, you don’t need to defend me." Hermione felt oddly touched by the prefect’s words, but at the same time didn’t want to get her into trouble. A pureblood defending a muggleborn was considered dangerous even now, knowing that Voldemort was hiding in the shadows.

"I know, but you were not at fault. I mean, you have some impressive reflexes, and it did seem like a direct attack, but he hurt you first, didn’t he?"

"He did, but this is no excuse." Hermione bumped into Andromeda, and the Slytherin witch brought her hand on Hermione’s shoulder to steady them. She was smiling brightly, and for a moment, Hermione had the impression that the dark corridors had lit up for a bit. An irrational thought climbed up to her mouth, and she was unable to keep it caged. "Do you want to accompany me to the infirmary?"

"Isn't it a bit late for that?" asked Andromeda, raising an eyebrow.

"I need to ask Madam Pomfrey about something regarding my treatment."

"In that case, let me lead the way." Andromeda adjusted the prefect badge and increased the pace.

The infirmary beds were empty of patients. Madam Pomfrey was sitting on a chair similar to the one Dumbledore had sat on when Hermione was first admitted to the Infirmary. Upon hearing footsteps, the mediwitch placed the book she was reading on a nearby bed and stood to address the two witches.

"Miss Tonks, Miss Black, what are you doing here?" 

"Madam Pomfrey, do you have a minute to talk?" asked Hermione, aware that the mediwitch’s workload would increase once she and her friends enrolled in Hogwarts.

"Of course."

"Tonks, I will be waiting outside. Take your time." Andromeda nodded at Madam Pomfrey in a greeting gesture and exited the room.

"Miss Black is an exceptional young witch. It’s good that you became acquainted with her."

"Ah, it’s not that. She just accompanied me here," said Hermione, and focused on the cabinet filled with potions behind Madam Pomfrey.

"She didn’t have to, that’s what I’m saying."

"I don’t understand."

"That’s fine." Madam Pomfrey smiled and followed Hermione’s gaze. "Is this what the night visit is about? I can’t prescribe you more calming draughts, they are highly addictive." 

These were the exact words the mediwitch would say to Hermione in the distant future. Only that now, Hermione had roommates to worry about, secrets to keep, and a timeline to maintain. "How about some dreamless sleep?

"That’s even worse. In high dosages, it can prove lethal," said Madam Pomfrey with a sigh.

"Madam, please, I can’t sleep," said Hermione. There was desperation laced in her voice. The thought of having to explain her night terrors to her roommates was enough to send her hyperventilating.

"I’m going to give you only three. You are going to take one vial tonight, cut the dosage in half tomorrow, and two days after that, cut it to one-third. In the meantime, try to meditate and relax before sleep, because by the end of the week you will be out of the calming draught, and I’m not going to give you more." Madam Pomfrey turned to the storage cabinet and took three vials off of the lower shelf. "Can I trust you with them?"

"Of course." Hermione grabbed the vials eagerly, like a hungry animal deprived of food. She examined the liquid carefully, wondering what it would take for her to get better. "Thank you."

"Don’t thank me, just be careful," said Madam Pomfrey, looking like she had already regretted her decision and Hermione took her leave.

Andromeda was leaning against the wall opposite the infirmary, her stance relaxed, and her dark eyes pinned on the vials. The intensity of her stare almost made Hermione feel bad about taking them in the first place.

"Ready to take me back into my common room?" she asked, trying to avert Andromeda’s focus from her potions.

"Tonks, how is this part of your treatment exactly?"

"I didn’t steal them, Madam Pomfrey gave them to me."

"That’s not what I asked." Andromeda fell in step with Hermione, eyes scanning her face.

"I don’t know what you want me to say."

"How about the fact that you are about to use highly addictive potions for, I presume, sleep?" Andromeda spoke these words with no judgment in her voice, but Hermione was getting mad, nonetheless.

The feeling of intrusion, even though she was the one who had asked the witch to accompany her, combined with Andromeda’s morning flinch upon touching her, caused Hermione to stop walking.

"How about the fact that this is none of your business? As I said, Madam Pomfrey gave them to me. What more do you need to know?"

"Slow down, Tonks. I didn’t mean it like that-" Andromeda went to touch Hermione’s hand and flinched back once more.

"Oh, that’s rich. You touched me fine just an hour ago, but now you remember our blood difference?" she squished the vials tight in her palms, the one snuggled under her underarm threatening to break.

"Tonks, this is not what you think. Sometimes when we touch, I feel-"

"You are just like her, aren’t you?" Hermione cut her off, her voice low and seething.

"Her? What are you saying?" Andromeda’s eyes were wide in question, but they were so similar to Bellatrix’s enraged ones. 

"Forget it." Hermione turned her back on the witch, unable to stomach the sight. The events of the day caught up with her. "I’m going to my common room."

"But how will you find the way?" asked Andromeda, rooted to her spot. A small mercy.

"Don’t worry about me. I know the damned way."

Hermione didn’t realize her slip up until she was safely tucked into her bed, feeling guilty. Surrounded by comforting light and uncomfortable thoughts. Andromeda had not been at fault, Hermione had. Andromeda hadn't jumped to a conclusion, but Hermione had. Andromeda hadn’t backed out of the conversation, Hermione had.

Before downing the vial, she wondered if a miracle would be enough for her to get better.

The following morning, after sleeping with the aid of the calming draught, Amelia Bones dragged Hermione out of bed, just in time to meet Ted in the common room. The prefect had been muttering under her breath about the heritable ability to be late.

Ted was sitting on the sofa near the fireplace, looking way too energetic for such an early hour. He was crossing and uncrossing his legs nervously. The Hufflepuffs near him, sensing his restless energy, granted him space. Hermione went to sit next to him. He was holding a teacup, courtesy of the kitchen elves. 

"Jo!" Ted said, and he almost jumped out of his skin. Tea fell into his pants, but he paid it no mind. "You won't believe what happened yesterday."

"Doubt that, but shoot anyway." Hermione stifled a yawn, the effects of the potion evident.

"Remember how I promised to protect your plant?"

"Do you mean the part where you got down on one knee and promised to keep my cactus safe even if it cost you a limb?"

"Well, yes." Ted glanced at the Hufflepuffs lounging on the nearby sofa. All three of them shook their heads. "The thing is, well it was an accident, but it fell from my hands and the pot broke."

"Is my cactus okay?" Hermione was not very interested in whatever happened to the plant, but Ted seemed to mind, a lot. So, she played along.

"It’s crooked, not straight anymore. Not that being non-straight is bad, I don’t mean that." He was gesturing wildly with his free hand, and Hermione had trouble following his movements.

"Ted, it’s fine. Please, take a breath." 

"It’s not fine, Jo. You trusted me, and I failed you." 

She almost sighed at that. Merlin, It wasn’t that deep.

"You didn’t fail me, and I don’t care about the plant, okay?" Hermione tried to reassure him the best she could, but a collective gasp from every Hufflepuff in the common room told her that she had done anything but that.

"You don’t care about plants?" asked Amelia, oddly disappointed from the other side of the room. She had completely forgotten about the badgers and their love for herbology.

Hermione leaned close to Ted and whispered, "Did I say that loudly?"

The wizard only nodded, he had the same stunned expression as the rest of them. 

"Of course, I care, but Ted’s emotions are more important," said Hermione, turning to Amelia. She didn’t know the witch well, but she hoped to appeal to her logic.

"I see. Let’s meet after classes. I’m sure you won't mind helping me and Madam Sprout move some mandrakes to different pots this afternoon. The second years need them for their next lesson." Amelia crossed her arms in waiting, and Hermione frowned. 

Did the prefect just use any excuse to get a second volunteer to deal with the bothersome plants? Hermione glanced at Helga Hufflepuff’s portrait to make sure that she woke up in the right common room. Ted pushed her foot with his, reminding her that she had yet to answer.

"No problem."

A collective draw of breath was heard, and the students returned to whatever they were doing.

"Okay, you may continue your conversation, just keep it down," said Amelia, and both cousins nodded.

"Let's go outside," Ted proposed with a grin, and he stood up, his earlier distress nowhere to be found. The badger house was proving to be a great mystery.

They walked a fair distance from the castle and settled near the quidditch field under the plane trees. It was still warm outside, but the approaching autumn made itself known by having a crunchy leaf land on Ted’s brown hair.

Both muggleborns looked worse for wear, Hermione with her dissolved hair and dark circles giving her a raccoon-like appearance, while Ted had stained his trousers, and his sweater failed to cover the wrinkles on his button-up shirt. None of them had bothered with a tie.

"I’m so glad that Dumbledore’s response was immediate." Ted enlarged the notebook that he took out of his pocket. "This is the current list. It contains about forty names from all the years. Have a look."

Hermione reached out and took the notebook from his hands. Ted let his back rest on the thick log of the plane tree behind him. She scanned the list and didn’t recognize a single name except Ted’s.

"Every single one is a muggleborn, not even one half-blood. Can you believe it?" he asked and took the leaf from his head, examining it carefully. He was avoiding eye contact.

"Ted, what do these cases include exactly?" Hermione had no clue as to what was going on. She didn’t have the time to ask Dumbledore, and the wizard in front of her was frugal with his words. 

"You know…" he faltered, touched his left forearm, and Hermione felt like screaming at the prospect that someone had hurt all these students the same way she had been hurt. This was no war time, such cruelty belonged in a different era.

"I think I do, but everything is rather vague. Dumbledore is not the most trusting wizard in Britain."

"The headmaster cares. He reported the incident with no questions asked, and four months later you are here. No one takes us seriously and it felt nice that such an influential person paid us some attention. You know how it is," said Ted, with the clarity of a wizard years beyond his age, and Hermione would help him, auror or not.

"I’m well aware, and I’m not asking you to show me the results of the attacks. Just describe what happened before and after, not during." 

"Even if you wanted to hear the whole story, I couldn’t give it to you. I was unconscious for the most part." Ted threw the leaf away and placed his hand on Hermione’s. She squished it. He smiled at the comforting gesture and began, "Someone stupefied me in the middle of the sixth year, after a quidditch match. I was returning to the common room and saw no face nor heard voices. Whoever did it struck me from behind. The next thing I remember was waking up in the forest. My head was pounding, and my body was sore as if they had dragged me all the way there. My skin was burning and stretching. I rolled up my sleeve and found the weirdest symbol tattooed on my forearm. The pain lasted for mere hours, but it frightened me. Some of my muggleborn friends had warned me to not tread alone, but I didn't listen." As Ted's face twisted in anguish, Hermione placed her other hand on his, nesting them in her grasp.

"I went to talk to them only to find that many of them had the same tattoo, but no one had talked openly about it."

"And you took it upon yourself to gather all the names and report the attacks?" asked Hermione, trying to make sense of all the information Ted dished out. History books had failed her once more. How many events had been left out just because the historian was bigoted?

"That’s pretty much it."

"Ted, one more question," she said, averting the subject. Hermione was overly curious about the tattoo but didn’t want to push the wizard to reveal it.

"Ask away."

"Why were you in the forest the day I came to the castle?" This question had been bothering Hermione during her stay in the infirmary. Why were Ted and Andromeda back at Hogwarts days earlier?

"As I told you yesterday, some students arrived earlier just to meet with me. We concluded that whatever is happening takes place in the forest, and I went to search for any kind of evidence that could help us find the culprit."

"You idiot, the forest is forbidden for a reason," said Hermione, and Ted laughed. Their hands were still tightly together.

"That’s what Andy told me, then she proceeded to hex me, and then she followed me." 

"What did you say that you were going to do?" Hermione remembered that Ted had kept this secret from Andromeda.

"Well," Ted paused, blushed, and grinned. "That’s embarrassing, but Andy kind of got me hooked on Troll theories back in the first year, and we take frequent strolls in the forest trying to catch a glimpse of them."

"Trolls are dangerous-" 

"You just haven’t read Andy’s books. The ministry portrays them in a bad light, I’m telling you."

"I have encountered a troll," said Hermione, and Ted gasped.

"Did the troll cause you the eye thing?"

"No, that was a different battle. It happened years ago." Hermione winced at yet another slip-up, and tried to play it off. She had to be more careful.

"So, how old are you?"

"No comment."

"How about your name?"

"Not happening," Hermione said, rising to her feet and pulling Ted along with her. He was grinning. She frowned. How many mood swings could a person have in the span of an hour? 

"You can keep your secrets." He leaned towards her and whispered comically, "For now." And then, as if nothing happened, he said in a normal voice, "I’m glad to be your pretend cousin, and I hope to become your real friend."

Hermione looked at him wide-eyed. This idiot before her was reminding her of both Harry and Ron, wearing his heart on his sleeve and running his big mouth, working his way through her guarded heart.

"Oh, cousin," beamed Ted, unbothered by her non-answer, still holding her hand. "We are going to have so much fun"

Hermione gave a slight smile and didn’t comment on the fun part.

 

Chapter Text

So far, they have had no fun. None at all.

Hermione and Ted had run all the way from the quidditch field to the courtyard and were now sprinting through the castle. Their wheezing breaths made the students glance their way, but they kept at their frantic speed. They were late for the first DADA lesson.

"Merlin, we are so screwed," said Ted, between heaving. Sweat drops were visible on his forehead, and Hermione was certain that she didn’t fare much better.

"I know."

They kept running until they were in front of the classroom door. The corridor was dead silent and deserted. No voices were heard from the inside of the room. Hermione gripped the handle, and Ted murmured something about mercy. With a shake of her head, she opened the door.

The desks were moved aside, leaving most of the space empty to allow freedom of movement. Slytherin and Hufflepuff had formed two groups. No teacher was in sight. Ted relaxed his posture and walked in. Hermione followed closely.

It wasn’t hard to understand that everyone was looking at them with unreadable expressions. Andromeda was standing at the front of the Slytherin group with a wizard next to her. She glanced at them for a moment but turned away when Hermione caught her gaze.

Ted waved at the Hufflepuff group, ready to join the badgers, when from behind them, a brief sound was heard, akin to movement. The hair on the back of Hermione’s neck stood at attention, sensing the danger. If a death eater had found a way to infiltrate Hogwarts, who knew what else they might have let in?

Her wand flew from its holster to her awaiting palm, and when the sound was heard again, Hermione leaped towards the direction of it, only to come face to face with who seemed to be the new professor. Her wand pressed against his jugular.

"Is this how you greet new professors around here?" said Yaxley in his sleazy voice. He was sneering at Hermione, and his teeth were rotten, the only flaw in his otherwise impeccable appearance.

Seeing him up close, not just peeking at him through the keyhole, brought a new wave of anger to Hermione. For a moment she felt an overwhelming urge to press harder, but Ted's gentle pull at her shoulder caused her to step back.

"And who are you two?" Yaxley asked, fixing the collar of his button-up shirt.

"I’m Edward Tonks, sir," said Ted and pointed at Hermione, "and this is my cousin Jo Tonks. Sorry, we are late."

"Well, go ahead." Yaxley gestured for them to go stand beside the Hufflepuffs on the left side, and when they did, he addressed them once more. "Tonks is not a pureblood name. Are you perhaps half-bloods?" he asked with an ugly smile.

Hermione, not trusting herself to answer, remained silent, relying on Ted’s ability to keep his calm.

"No, sir, we are muggleborns," Ted said flatly, his voice devoid of emotion.

“I see, it makes sense considering your behavior." Yaxley fixed them with a sharp glare and Hermione, unable to restrain herself, rolled her eyes, causing Ted to let out a small laugh, which in turn caused a vein to pop on the death eater’s forehead.

"You!" Yaxley pointed at Ted. "Do you think that disrespecting your professor is fine?" Ted shook his head no, but that wasn’t enough for Yaxley.

He whipped his wand out and pointed at Hermione this time. "And you!" he said with conviction. "Attacking the teacher? Is this how much you respect this prestigious wizardring institution?"

Hermione watched the wand as if she was in a trance. She wanted to snap it. The memories, after Voldemort had appointed Yaxley as head of DMLE, were still fresh. The mistreatment of the muggleborns who dared not abandon their rightfully earned jobs and his provocative statements to the Daily Prophet had her head spinning. He was one of the worst death eaters.

She raised her chin defiantly but didn’t give him the satisfaction of causing another scene.

"No response, I see," Yaxley paused, lowering his gaze to inspect his suit. After he made sure that Hermione hadn’t damaged it, he raised his eyes towards the Slytherins and grinned. "I don’t feel like giving detentions. So forty points from Hufflepuff."

The Snakes snickered, high-fiving each other. Andromeda’s frown contrasted heavily with the jovial mood of the group. Ted sighed, and Amelia took a step forward. "Why forty, professor?"

"Lack of propriety and respect." ‘To their betters’ was left unsaid, but it was heavily implied. Amelia went on protesting further, but Yaxley held his free hand up.

"As I was saying before being rudely interrupted." He raised an eyebrow towards Ted and Hermione before continuing. "Today I want you to test your dueling skills to understand what we will need to work on in our future lessons. Every duel will be between a Hufflepuff and a Slytherin. The first one to get unarmed will be eliminated. "

Yaxley walked to the middle of the room. Just like yesterday, his light blonde hair was slicked back, his face perfectly shaved, and wearing an all-black outfit. He was the epitome of what a true pureblood should aspire to be. Hermione shuddered in disgust.

"Miss Tonks, since you were eager to draw your wand, why don’t you come forth and duel me?" he asked with faux politeness. "For demonstration purposes, of course."

"I’m sure of it," Hermione murmured, and the Hufflepuffs moved aside, paving the way for her to go forth. Ted gave a thumbs up but looked anxious. Amelia smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes, and Andromeda didn’t even look her way.

"Now, students pay attention," Yaxley said, rather dramatically. They stood opposite each other, and he smirked. "Miss Tonks, bow."

Hermione obeyed and bowed courteously as the dueling etiquette stated, but Yaxley didn’t reciprocate the gesture.

“Take three steps back."

They put distance between them and took fighting stances.

"Begin!"

Immediately, Yaxley cast a stupefy eager to end this quickly, but Hermione had a protego up, anticipating his move. He started firing spells wordlessly, and Hermione had to maneuver and jump around to dodge the colored lines coming at her before going into the offensive.

"Locomotor wibbly," she said without hesitation when she spotted an opening on his left side.

Yaxley wobbled to his feet but stood his ground and threw a well-aimed diffindo at Hermione’s shoulder, briefly scratching her.
"Petrificus Totalus!" She cast the spell, only to be absorbed by his protego, but Hermione wasn’t finished.

She hid with fumos and approached him stealthily. He was rooted in his spot. After all, his jelly legs would betray him if he took a step forward. Yaxley had not been the most skilled of Voldemort’s goons, always hiding behind Greyback, relying on others to do his dirty work.

They came face-to-face with the smoke dissolving. Hermione was about to cast expelliarmus when Yaxley pointed at her good eye and said, "Conjunctivitis." Temporarily shutting it close.

Hermione could only outline his shape, and the lack of details left her disorientated. She took a step backward, tripped, and met the floor with a thud. Whatever Yaxley lacked in raw power, he made up for with cunning, and Hermione had forgotten it.

"Expelliarmus." The wand flew from her hand and a thick silence engulfed the classroom.

Nobody clapped for Yaxley.

Hermione felt a presence at her back guarding her, and a hand on her forearm, one that didn’t make her flinch. She was helped up. The bastard hadn’t lifted the hex.

"Professor, chancel the spell." It was Andromeda’s harsh voice, her grip on Hermione anything but that.

"Right."

Hermione’s eye opened and tears leaked down her face. Andromeda wiped them tenderly and slowly with her thumb. Ted, who was the one standing behind her, clasped her shoulder and whispered, "Good job.”

“You can go back to your groups, Miss Tonks. Twenty points to Hufflepuff for exceptional dueling skills." The sentence seemed to physically hurt Yaxley, who dismissed them and hurried to continue with the lesson.

The Hufflepuff group congratulated Hermione, and Amelia even pulled her in a one-arm hug.

“Let’s proceed with the rest of the duels. Miss Tonks, you can sit and relax. I’ve seen enough of your skills.”

One by one, the students engaged in dueling. The Slytherins won most rounds, but Amelia and Ted could hold their own. They were fast, smart, and efficient, proceeding to the next rounds when the rest of their housemates had to step down.

The Slytherins had Andromeda, Lestrange, and a Rosier guy winning almost effortlessly. Lestrange charged like a bull, intimidating his opponents, relying on brute force, while Rosier took advantage of his small stature and used the element of surprise to win. Andromeda, though, shone brighter than any of the four students. Her fighting style was different from Bellatrix’s, a fact that showed the unfairness of Hermione’s statement last night while putting her heart at ease and allowing her to observe the skilled witch.

Whereas Bellatrix fought openly showing her intentions, Andromeda had a sleeker approach. She moved like she was boneless, made of liquid. casting spells with the utmost grace while hiding her best moves for the right time. She was deathly exact like a viper, ready to strike and overpower the opponent in just a second of time. Hermione felt her face heating up, aware that her gaze never strayed away from Andromeda.

The students had tried their best, and it took over forty minutes for the semi-finals to be completed. The final round was between Amelia, who eliminated Rosier, and Andromeda, who eliminated Ted, who had previously defeated Lestrange.

The witches fought hard, but there was no malice between them, unlike Yaxley, who had been out to ridicule Hermione. They had determined expressions on their faces and smirked at each other from time to time.

If Andromeda was water, always in motion, Amelia was fire, ready to consume everything in her path. They clashed in a never-ending elemental dance, and when one pushed, the other pulled. Spells flew from a wand, and shields were raised in command of the other, but Hermione and everyone else knew that water always extinguishes the fire.

Andromeda put Amelia in a full body bind and unarmed her.

The class erupted into cheers for both of them.

The Slytherins praised Andromeda's skills with thoughtful compliments, and the Hufflepuff group hugged Amelia until she broke out laughing. Hermione stood a few meters back and patted her house prefect on the shoulder when the hugging stopped.

"Settle down, class." Both groups' good moods were soured by Yaxley, whose presence was forgotten amidst the jovial atmosphere.

"Fifty points to Slytherin for Miss Black’s impressive performance. This is the level of skill that all of you should all aim for by the end of the year." A few "yes sir" and nods passed around before he dismissed them. Both groups exited the classroom and spread out into the corridor.

"Mad skills, Tonks!" Rosier fell in step with Ted, Hermione, and Amelia.

"Ah, thanks." Ted scratched his neck, not sure how to receive the compliment.

"I mean Jo, but you are skilled too," Rosier said, trying to soothe Ted’s pout. They seemed to be comfortable with each other.

"Both of you are skilled. Must run to the family." Andromeda appeared at the side of the Slytherin wizard.

"The same could be said about you two." Amelia pointed at the Slytherins, and Hermione searched her brain for a connection between the two. When she couldn't come up with anything, she frowned.

"We are cousins," Rosier explained, helpfully. "Evan Rosier, glad to make your acquaintance." The wizard bowed dramatically, earning a laugh from Ted.

It wasn’t that funny or funny at all. Hermione threw a side look at Ted.

"You see this, Jo? The snakes are nesting around you," Ted said, and winked playfully.

Andromeda, rather seriously, announced, "I’m mad at Tonks." She faced Hermione. "You were a git and I expect an apology."

"What did our little sunshine here do to anger the Slytherin princess?" Amelia was quick to join the conversation.

Andromeda said confidently, "I prefer the term Queen, thank you very much," only to have Amelia giggle at her remark.

"Trust me, I know, always at the top and giving comm-" Andromeda jumped at Amelia with feline-like precision and placed a hand on her mouth, cutting her rant off. The two wizards laughed. Hermione frowned.

"Not now, Amelia," said Andromeda hurriedly. The prefects exchanged pointed looks but didn’t include the others in their mental argument.

"Fine," Amelia said as she retreated, a smile on her lips."Let’s head to lunch and Tonks," she turned to Hermione, "Don’t forget the promise you made me this morning."

"I won’t forget," Hermione said, but didn’t comment on the apology part. She wanted to give Andromeda a proper apology, and here, in front of everyone, was not a good place to do so.

After the day’s lessons were over, Hermione made her way to the greenhouses behind the castle. Overly conscious to not mention anything about her cactus in front of Madam Sprout.

She walked into the first greenhouse, where Amelia had told her to meet.The prefect was wearing protective gloves and was already working on moving the mandrakes to their new pots.

"No earmuffs?" asked Hermione, and Amelia smirked.

"These are young." She accioed a pair of torn leather gloves and offered them to Hermione. "Just don’t upset them and you will be fine."

Hermione wore the gloves and eyed the plants suspiciously. They seemed calm, too calm. "Are you sure that we are going to be okay?"

"Who knows?" Amelia shrugged her shoulders and continued moving the mandrake she had let down to speak with Hermione. She touched the whiny plans with surgical precision. It was impressive how she did not upset them at all.

Hermione wasn’t sure that she would have the same luck, but alas, she was there for a reason, and that was to help. She grabbed the top of the mandrake and lifted the plant. Its humanoid face didn't fail to impress her, as it did back in the first year and the years that followed. A comforting thought, some things were always going to be the same. Hermione smiled to herself and tried to keep up with Amelia’s fast pace.

The door creaked, causing Hermione to look at the entrance. Evan Rosier walked inside the greenhouse. He tipped his head towards them in greeting and moved towards the far back where the benches were and sat on the one that was facing towards the flowers.

"What is he doing here?" asked Hermione, and she grabbed a pot for the little plant.

Amelia raised her head and wiped at her forehead using her forearm. She looked around, and when her eyes fell on Rosier, she smiled. "Oh, don’t worry about Evan. He just comes by sometimes to gaze at the flowers. He can stare at them for hours and only takes a break when Andy or Ted come and drag him out."

"Isn't that concerning?"

“Well, it was at first, but he has permission from Madam Sprout, and to put it bluntly, if you had to choose to stare at the flowers or hang out with the Slytherin boys, which would you choose?" Amelia took a mandrake in her hands and cooed at it when it showed signs of distress.

"Didn’t you just say that he hangs out with Andromeda and Ted?"

"It's not that simple, Evan," Amelia paused, thinking about what to say next. “He isn't like Andy. He doesn't hang out with whomever he wants and lets people deal with it. He is more socially conscious, or pureblood conscious, for a better word. Hanging out with Andy and Ted doesn’t happen publicly."

"In other words, he just keeps appearances?" Hermione passed a pot to Amelia to place the now-tamed mandrake in.

"Something like that."

"Well, that’s just stupid," said Hermione without thinking it through. The mandrake, which she had barely touched, started to open its mouth to let out a shriek, but Amelia took it from her hands and rubbed at its belly, averting the danger.

“Well, that’s not for you to decide," retorted Amelia, using the same tone as Hermione, showing her how ignorant she had sounded.

"I...” Hermione faltered. It was not often that someone put her in her place, and when it did happen, it always left her surprised. "I’m sorry, you are right, I don’t know what he is going through and shouldn’t jump to conclusions."

Amelia laughed at that. “Oh Tonks, you are a delight to be around, all dark and broody but deep down a softie. Who would have guessed? I made the right decision."

“What decision? That you asked me to help you and Madam Sprout with the mandrakes? Where even is the professor?" Hermione furrowed her eyebrows, not understanding the prefect's amusement.

"Funny story, I told her that you offered to help so she could take the afternoon off and relax, pet a cat, read a book, you get the idea. She called you a sweetheart, by the way," said Amelia nonchalantly. As if she hadn’t almost outed Hermione as a plant hater in the Hufflepuff common room.

"Come on, don’t give me that look."

"What look?" asked Hermione feigning ignorance. She knew exactly what look she was giving, it was the one she used when Harry and Ron came up with ridiculous plans and expected from her to make them work.

"Oh, what a surprise! A snake has arrived." Amelia grinned and pointed behind Hermione, completely unaffected by the muggleborn’s glare.

"Ha ha, hello to you too, Amelia," deadpanned Andromeda and made her way next to Hermione. "Why did you ask me to meet you here?"

"Remember when you offered to help me with my herbology duties?" asked Amelia while taking her gloves off.

"Um, no?" Andromeda asked back, uncertain.

"Exactly! It’s high time you did." Amelia passed the gloves to the surprised Slytherin and made for the door with such swiftness that if someone blinked they would have missed her. "I will be at the owlery. Enjoy yourselves," she said with a wave and exited the greenhouse.

Hermione cursed at her house prefect silently while Andromeda straight-up called Amelia an arsehole, and after that, silence. Not even the mandrakes dared interfere with the odd tension between the two witches.

"Owlery huh, strange place to go," Hermione said, fidgeting with her gloves, which were a size too large.

"She goes there to send letters to her boyfriend," said Andromeda, her voice acting as a perfect reminder of their proximity.

"I see."

Andromeda grabbed a mandrake and placed it in a pot. It didn’t make a sound, and the Slytherin said, "he is in the Auror Academy and they can't meet during the weekends, so she sends him pieces of her undergarments wrapped in paper."

Hermione’s eyes widened, and her admiration for Amelia grew. This confidence and that kind of sexual liberation were very progressive for a witch in the seventies.

"Good for her."

Andromeda turned to Hermione, a smile on her lips. "Look at you, Tonks, being progressive and all."

"I’m not a prude if that’s what you're implying.”

"Oh, I wouldn’t dare." Andromeda stuck her tongue out, pot in hand, creating a weird yet endearing picture.

“Andromeda," said Hermione, sobering the mood. "About yesterday, I was unfair to you and shouldn’t have lashed out. You are right, I was a git and for that I’m sorry."

"Apology accepted."

"What?" Hermione felt the pot she was holding slipping from her hands, it fell to the table with a thud but didn’t break.

"I said apology accepted," said Andromeda. She took the pot to examine it for signs of damage. "It’s better to not use this one." She raised it to Hermione’s eye level and traced a line that had appeared near its center. "It might break if we put a mandrake into it."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive, it’s better to set the pot aside." Andromeda placed it next to her feet and raised her head back up to meet Hermione’s gaze.

"I meant the apology."

"Of course you meant it, that’s why I accepted it."

"What? No, that’s not what I meant," said Hermione, her voice laced with frustration.

"Oh, I know what you mean," joked Andromeda, and ran a hand through her hair.

Let’s just…" Hermione began, but stopped to follow the Slytherin's movement with her eye, "You have." She pointed at her own hair, careful not to touch it. "You have dirt in your hair."

"Where?" Andromeda took one glove out and began running her fingers through her tresses.

"A little to the left."

"My left or your left?"

"Your left," said Hermione, and Andromeda completely missed the spot. "Do you mind if I help you?"

"Go ahead."

Hermione pulled the glove off, relieved to have her hand breathe outside its leather prison, and wiped it on her skirt. She raised it towards Andromeda’s hair and touched briefly the offending lock, taking the solid piece of soil with her.

Andromeda’s curls were as soft as they looked, and Hermione cleared her throat to clear her mind of the thought. "All set."

"Thank you."

Hermione nodded and returned her attention to the task at hand. Andromeda followed her lead and they worked undisturbed until their shoulders brushed and Hermione jumped out of her skin.

"Wow, Tonks, are you okay?" asked Andromeda, her eyes scanning Hermione’s face.

"Yes, I didn’t mean to startle you." Hermione relaxed her posture to match her words. "I was just too focused on moving the plants and forgot that I wasn’t alone."

"Tonks, can I ask you something?"

"Only if you grant me the choice of not answering," said Hermione, and with a nod of her head, Andromeda agreed.

"What had Madam Pomfrey suggested you do after you ran out of the calming draught? Because, and excuse my brashness, there is no way in hell that she let you off with an infinite amount of a highly addictive potion." Andromeda pierced Hermione with her dark eyes. The Slytherin witch was intelligent, that much was detectable, and Andromedaonly needed to utter a few words for someone to realize this.

But something Hermione had completely missed was the witch’s observatory skills. Andromeda hadn’t missed Lestrange movement in the potions lesson, she had recognized the potion without reading the label, and had seen that Yaxley hadn’t canceled the spell. So there was no way for her to miss this detail about the draught.

Hermione sighed. There was no helping it. "She suggested meditation and a lower dosage to ease my organism for when I stop drinking the potion."

Andromeda, mandrake in hand, asked, "Do you have any ideas about mediation?" She, like Amelia, had a way with the moody plants, but where the Hufflepuff prefect was precise and quick, Andromeda was gentle and took her time making the plants relax in their pots. It was their new home, after all.

"Not in the least," Hermione replied truthfully. She was completely lost in that department. When she was younger, relaxation was a big no-no, and she considered it a pointless loss of time. Precious time that she had used to learn new spells or master the ones she had been taught.

"Would you like some help with it? I know a thing or two about meditating and being attuned to your surroundings," said Andromeda, placing the last mandrake in the pot. A soft smile spread across her sharp face.

"It would be great. Thank you."

“Don’t thank me yet. I can be a difficult teacher, or so I have been told."

Hermione didn’t doubt that, not even for a moment, but appreciated the gesture nonetheless. She looked at the table, only one mandrake for her and they would be finished. Amelia had better save them a spot at the Great Hall.

She touched the top of the mandrake the same way she had done a dozen times by now, but the plant let out a small whine. Odd, Hermione thought and took a small breath, careful not to startle it. She tried again, the whine grew louder and Andromeda leaned closer.

"Andromeda, fetch me a pot," said Hermione, her voice soft.

"Here." The Slytherin placed the pot on the table and Hermione lowered the mandrake into it.

No sound.

Hermione turned to congratulate Andromeda and saw the witch’s eyes widening. She raised her hands over Hermione’s ears and covered them, and Hermione reflexively raised her own hands to cover Andromeda’s. They stood still for a minute, waiting for the plant to scream.

No sound.

"Are you two daft?" asked Rosier, wand in hand.

Hermione released Andromeda and took a step back, putting some distance between them. The mandrake was fast asleep, curled up in its pot. Charming the plant to sleep hadn’t occurred to them.They were such idiots.

"Did you think that covering each other's ears was going to protect you?" He looked at them as if they had grown a second head.

"We acted in panic, Evan, don’t be an arsehole." Andromeda rolled her eyes at her cousin. The tips of her ears were red, and Hermione wondered if Rosier had made his cousin that mad.

"Well, a ‘thanks Evan’ would suffice," he said with a smirk, and Andromeda repeated the eye roll.

"Thank you, Evan," said Hermione sincerely. A trip to the infirmary wasn’t the way she wanted to spend what had remained of the evening. Eating and chatting with Ted about mundane topics was more like it.

"See, cousin, some people are not afraid to use their manners. You could learn a lot from Tonks."

"That I’m sure of, but for now I just want to eat something." Andromeda cracked her neck, let out a contented sigh, and took off the gloves. Hermione mirrored her movements, happy to get away from the sleeping plant. Evan put away his wand.

“Lead the way, cousin," he said, rubbing shoulders with Andromeda. The witch pushed him away, but Evan was quick to regain his spot next to her. Hermione walked a few paces behind, but when the cousins exited the greenhouse, she fell in step with them.

Chapter Text

Saturday had rolled in, and the relaxing atmosphere was palpable in the castle. Students walked around, discarding their uniforms for more comfortable clothes, chatting and joking with their friends, enjoying the sunny day. 

For Hermione, though, the end of the school week meant that she had run out of calming potions. The nights had passed without a hitch. She had simply downed a vial and was guaranteed six to eight hours of dreamless sleep. With meditation, she wasn’t sure she would be granted such generous hours.

Hermione sighed and focused on the book placed in her lap. It was ‘Prometheus Bound’, one of the books Dumbledore had brought to the library. One of the few books in the vast library that had mentions of the three morai, but still, it didn’t provide answers.

The book was a dramatic play written by Aeschylus, focusing on the eternal punishment that the gods bestowed on Prometheus. Condemning him to a life of agony, chained at Mount Caucasus, and having his liver eaten by an eagle every morning. His crime? Gifting the fire to the humans. Hermione shuddered. In mythology, gods were cruel, and if the moirai truly existed, they wouldn’t be much different in their tactics. If she wanted a chance at normalcy, her only hope was to find a way out of the deathwish ordeal.

Her eyes fell on the first line of the page where she had paused. ‘For it would be better to die once and for all than to suffer pain for all one's life.’

She shut the book tightly and sighed once more. This was getting her nowhere.

Her crooked cactus was placed next to her on the sofa she was sitting on. She still hadn’t found a way to restore it to its original form. Ted had done a number on it, and Neville’s herbology skills were twenty-five years away.

Hermione stood up, left the book on the table near her, and walked towards the Herbology section of the library. The smell of books filled her nostrils. Worn leather, old paper, and a generous amount of dust that even elven magic couldn't remove created the most comforting smell in the castle. She checked the tomes by name, trying to find something that would suit her needs.

"Tonks!"

Hermione turned abruptly to face the voice that called her.

Narcissa, Rita, and Frank were looking at her with wide eyes. She had taken her wand out.

"Sorry about that," said Hermione, storing her wand in its holster.

"That would be impressive if it wasn’t downright scary," said Rita, regaining some of her composure. Narcissa and Frank followed shortly after.

"Do you need something?" Hermione asked, eyeing them suspiciously. It was noon, and the library wasn’t the best place to spend one’s Saturday.

"We just saw you from across the room and wanted to say hello," said Narcissa with a small smile.

"Hello to you too, guys," Hermione greeted back, softening her expression before adding, "But shouldn’t you be at the great hall eating lunch?"

"Are you asking because you are worried or are you asking because you feel bad about leaving us to starve two days ago?" asked Rita with a smirk, and Narcissa glared at her.

"Rita!"

"What? It’s a genuine question."

"It is not," Narcissa said and turned to Hermione. "Don’t listen to her, we didn’t starve."

"Of course, we didn’t, but my snack stack suffered a heavy toll."

"I didn’t starve either," Frank said, a blush rushing to his face, "my friend Alice saved me some food when I didn’t join her in the Great Hall that night."

"Are you and your friend in the same year?" asked Hermione, curious to see if she had met Neville’s mother.

"She is a year older."

"You see, our friend here is popular with the older ladies." Rita beamed at Frank, and he coughed, averting his gaze from them, focusing on the library’s ceiling.

"Rita, don't mock Frank for his crush. I find it admirable that he will ask her to be his date for the Yule Ball."

"Narcissa, you are not helping here," mumbled Frank, and Rita laughed, pulling him into a side hug.

"There is no way Alice will say no," said the future reporter, causing Frank to loosen up in the embrace.

"And if she does, it will be her loss," Hermione added, and the two blondes nodded in agreement. "So what are you three doing here?" she asked, redirecting them back on topic.

"Would you believe us if we said that we were here to do homework?" asked Rita with way too much innocence to be considered sincere.

"No, not really."

"You are right, we aren't, but we are here for a book." Rita grinned, and the other two followed her lead, creating an odd picture of fake smiles.

"So..." Hermione paused, waiting for one of them to elaborate, but they didn’t. "Why don’t you go find it?"

"You see," Narcissa took a step forward. "We know where the book is, but we can’t get it."

"Do I want to know?" asked Hermione, not wanting to get involved in whatever scheme the trio was planning.

"Rita didn’t have her copy of Frankenstein, and we wanted you to help us get it from Madam Fernsby," Frank said, cutting to the point.

"Why don’t you ask her to give it to you?"

"Because it’s a muggle book, and thus the ministry, overly concerned about our minds turning into puddles, asked for Dumbledore to monitor muggle literature by age restricting the books as if we don’t learn spells that can kill a person and live near a forest full of dangerous creatures," said Rita with an exaggerated roll of her eyes. "A decision that, in my opinion, got voted by the wizengamot to hide the fact that the members are ignorant about muggles in general. I read in the Daily Prophet that they plan to create a new department focused on muggles with Arthur Weasley, a young pureblood, as the head and sole employee. Needless to say, my expectations are low."

Hermione looked at Rita, surprised by her insight, but with a quick look at the other two, she realized that she was the only one. The three teenagers seemed comfortable around each other, a sign that indicated familiarity earned by time spent together. "What is the age restriction?"

"Fifteen," the trio said in unison as if they had rehearsed it, confident that Hermione would agree.

"Fine, I’ll do it."

"Thank you," said Narcissa, prompting the others to do the same.

"Don’t thank me, just be responsible and don’t pass the book around to your classmates." Hermione began walking to the librarian's desk, the third-years following close behind.

"It’s not like we have other friends to share the book with," said Frank, a sentiment rather depressing for a teenager.

"Stay here, I’m going to talk to her." Hermione pointed at a table with four chairs near the librarian’s desk.

She went to stand before Madam Fernsby and crossed her arms behind her back. The witch was reading the same book she had been reading when Hermione had entered the library minutes after nine a.m.

"Uh," began Hermione, but she couldn’t manage to get Madam Frensby to look away from her page. "Hello?"

"What is it?" asked Madam Frensby, still not looking at the book.

"I would like to borrow a muggle novel."

"Let me guess, Frankenstein?"

"Yes?" Hermione said hesitantly, attempting a smile.

"You want the book for yourself?" Madam Frenby closed her novel, eyes on Hermione. She seemed unimpressed and had one eyebrow raised.

"Of course," said Hermione with a slight conviction.

"And this has nothing to do with those three." Madam Frensby tilted her head to the left and pointed behind Hermione.

Hermione turned to look where the librarian was pointing. The trio, to the surprise of no one, had ignored her words and were waving at her, only a few meters away from the spot where she was standing. "Would you believe me if I said no?"

"Are they going to pass the book around?"

"I don’t believe they will," answered Hermione.

"If they do, will you deal with it?"  

Hermione turned to look at the trio once more. Smiles greeted her this time. She sighed. "Yes."

"Very well, let me go fetch it," said Madam Frensby, and she left her seat. She had dark hair pulled into a tight bun and moved with an air of strictness. She was taller than Hermione expected and more intimidating, and when she came back, she let the book fall from her hands to cause a thud. Her expression was unreadable, and Hermione felt like she had just made a pact with the devil. "I expect it back in ten days."

"Yes, of course." Hermione took the book and clutched it close to her chest. "Thank you," she said, and she left hurriedly.

When Hermione made her way to them and gave the book to Rita.

"Oh, Tonks, thank you so much."

"Just don’t let me regret it."

"We won’t," Narcissa reassured Hermione and grabbed the book from Rita, ignoring her pout.

Frank placed his chin on Narcissa’s right shoulder, and Rita went for the left. So they could read the back cover together.

Hermione watched them interact, and a fondness filled her heart. Two Slytherins and a Gryffindor exchanging smiles, two purebloods and a half-blood excited to read a muggle horror book.

She let them have at it and went to retrieve her cactus. Just in time to go meet with the headmaster.

They had decided that Saturday was to be the day of their weekly meetings. Hermione suspected that it was more of a way for the headmaster to check on her mental health rather than check the timeline’s consistency. This Dumbledore, this younger and more open to conversation version of him, was a surprise that Hermione appreciated more than she could explain. Despite the fact that he had numerous opportunities to do so, the wizard had not attempted to get information out of her.

Hermione’s mind, as it was right now, was vulnerable and a skilled legilimens could slither in without her taking much notice. Occlumency had never been her strong suit, and she doubted that it could improve much, if at all, after the war and the time travel.

She climbed the moving stone staircase to the second-floor corridor and came to stand before the Griffin.

"Lemon drops."

The statue moved aside, its heavy body screeching from the friction with the floor. Spiral steps came into view. Hermione took a deep breath, held the pot tighter, and began carefully climbing the steps. If she fell from such a height, it wouldn’t be pretty, and her face didn't have space for more accidents.

Hermione knocked on the door and waited.

"Ah, Miss Tonks." Dumbledore appeared at the entrance, holding the door open, his half-moon glasses lowered on the bridge of his nose. "Please, come inside."

She followed the headmaster inside and slipped into the armchair that was directly facing the office. She set the cactus at her feet. The moment the pot touched the floor, a croak was heard, and Hermione turned to find the source of the sound.

It was Fawkes. He had just landed on Dumbledore’s armchair and focused his gaze on her. Intelligent eyes shone brightly, creating the illusion that he was seeing through her, and maybe he did. His feathers were fiery red and he was small, still a birdling. His rebirth must have been recent. The phoenix had not been at the office the last time Hermione had visited.

"Let me introduce you to my new friend, Fawkes, or companion if you want. We met three days ago in the ministry. I had a meeting with my friend Alastor in his office, and Fawkes was being examined by the unspeakables in the next room. He croaked, I went to see what was going on, and much to Maximilian Crowdy’s protests, he followed me home. " Dumbledore turned to look at Fawkes with overflowing fondness, and the phoenix returned the look tenfold.

"Mr. Crowdy just let you walk away?" asked Hermione, impressed by the headmaster’s influence. Not many people could go against the minister’s wishes.

"Not exactly. He needed some persuasion first," Dumbledore said, fingers scratching Fawke’s chin.

"Persuasion in what way?"

"Fawkes pecked him." Dumbledore smiled and added, "Repeatedly."

Hermione looked at the phoenix suspiciously, and Fawkes tilted his head. "I see," she said, not wanting to know more details.

"But let’s not focus on my week." Dumbledore crossed his hands on his office desk. "How has this week treated you?"

"Sir, with all due respect, don’t you think that we have more important matters to discuss?" asked Hermione, with impatience. What Ted had told her and the appearance of Yaxley had been bothering her since Tuesday. 

"Such as?" Dumbledore asked, with no hint of irony in his voice, and Hermione furrowed her eyebrows.

"Such as the attacks on the muggleborn students. Ted thinks I’m an auror and wants my help. That was the reason he covered for me in the first place, but aside from that, don’t you think that those incidents are important and need to be reported? "

"Of course. I have reported them. These cases have gone to one of my close partners and he is directly working on them. I didn’t tell you because this is private. Mister Tonks trusted me with his and his classmates' trouble and requested my utmost discretion," explained Dumbledore, and Hermione relaxed back into her seat. This was not the man of her time. He hadn’t been burned as many times as his older self had and could still trust people.

Hermione should have understood that when the headmaster explained how he got Fawkes without her needing to ask him first. But still, there was one more thing that needed discussion.

"Sir, about our new Dark arts professor," Hermione said reluctantly, hoping for Dumbledore to catch her innuendo.

"Corban? He was the first to apply for the position, and since he remained the only one, we hired him. Is there a problem? Did he mistreat you? I asked Minerva to keep an eye on him since he is from a noble pureblood family, but she can only do little when he is teaching in a classroom."

"I’m talking about the other thing."

"What other thing?" Dumbledore asked, and Fawkes took off and landed in the office’s library. He looked at them from afar, power oozing from his small body.

"Yaxley is closely involved with Voldemort. He is a death-"

Dumbledore raised his hand, and the blue eyes lost their gleam. For once, he had a serious expression on his face, and Hermione, for the life of her, couldn’t figure him out.

"Miss Granger," he said, and Hermione sobered up at the mention of her real name. She had just given Dumbledore future information. "I know that you worry and have seen things that no young person should have seen, but please," he leveled her with a gaze, "refrain from saying things about the future I don’t wish to know."

Hermione’s eyes widened at that. Dumbledore’s words hit her with full force. It was different for the headmaster to be trusting and not invade her mind, and it was a whole other matter for the headmaster to not want the information when served to him on a plate.

Dumbledore shook his head in amusement and gave Hermione a fatherly smile before saying, "I don’t know what my future self would have done, but trust me when I say that I'm content with not knowing how the future is going to unfold. This is no concern of mine because seeing you here is making me assume that somehow we have managed to overthrow the threat of Tom."

Hermione was stunned. She had so much information about the future and secretly and selfishly hoped that Dumbledore would want to share her knowledge just to lift some of the weight off Hermione’s shoulders. She had noticed that she was carrying a weight after the first lie had fallen from her mouth in the Great Hall when she had agreed with Ted’s assumption of her being an auror.

"Sir," Hermione said, her voice defeated. The butterfly effect was not something to treat lightly. "I’m afraid that the timeline will alter and I will have no way of intervening. I don’t want to change history. I want to reserve it and protect it."

"I may have a solution that will ease some of the burdens you carry. Mind you, it’s in any way useful to the actual prevention of timeline changes, but it will help you."

Dumbledore stood from his chair and went to the office library. He began rummaging around the shelves. Fawkes was still looking in the direction of Hermione.

"With everything out of the way." Dumbledore turned briefly to wink at Hermione. "How has the week been treating you? A certain professor told me that you have a knack for teaching and commanding a classroom. Maybe I should hire you once you graduate."

"Ah, I don’t…" Hermione lowered her head and looked at her hands, "I won’t…I don’t think that this is a good idea."

"Well, I hope that you will change your mind by the time of graduation."

"If I am still here," Hemione said, and the reality of the situation made both hers and Dumbledore’s moods drop. They had no idea when the turning of the wheel would stop and the thread would be cut off.

"How does the research go in that department?" Dumbledore asked, and dug deeper into the top shelf of the library.

"It’s a slow process. The books don’t cover much about the moirai or the people cursed by them."

"Did you read the ministry one?"

"No…not yet," said Hermione. She was afraid to open the tome, only to find out that she was doomed. Getting a second chance to live, even in a different period, was sweet, too sweet for Hermione to be able to part with it.

"Aha!" exclaimed Dumbledore, he was grinning with a purple notebook in his hands. "I found it!"

He came closer and offered the notebook to Hermione. She took it and glanced at him, puzzled. "Do you want me to keep a journal?"

"Exactly," Dumbledore said, and he went back to his seat. "But don’t be mistaken, this is no ordinary notebook."

"How so?" Hermione asked and ran her fingers through the cover of the notebook. It was featherlight, and it gave the impression that her hands were empty.

"It’s made from acacia wood and is a gift from Ollivander when he was trying to expand his business. Needless to say that making five notebooks in a month is not a way to compete with the rest of the school supplies shops. Ah, but don’t let me get ahead of myself, here you can write all about your time’s history and no one will ever open it. This type of wood is stubborn and can only have one master. Think of it like a wand."

Hermione glanced at the notebook with intrigue. It was visible that it was crafted with the utmost care. Garrick Ollivander was a master of wands, and he applied the same skillset to make this. She pried it open and, just as Dumbledore had said, the notebook connected to her magic, and a small H.G appeared on the bottom of the first page. Had Voldemort acquired his notebook from Ollivander as well?

"Just how many years back are we talking about? That Mr. Ollivander made these books," asked Hermione, but she didn’t really want to know.

"About thirty."

Great!

"Sir, are you sure that I can keep it?"

"Of course, it’s not like I can use it now that you opened it," said Dumbledore with a smile, and he glanced at Hermione’s feet. A curious eyebrow was raised. "Is there a reason that you carry a cactus around?"

"I’m trying to heal it…it was a gift from Madam Sprout, and I want to keep it in top condition." It was embarrassing to hear her words out loud. It was a stupid attachment to a bloody plant.

"That’s a noble cause. I wish you the best of luck." Dumbledore’s voice was deep and sincere, a comforting sound that could soften even the needles of the cactus. Hermione nodded, grateful for the headmaster’s input.

"Thank you, I will take my leave now." Hermione leaned to grab the pot just in time for a weight to land on her right shoulder.

"I think someone wants to say goodbye," Dumbledore said, with a small smile.

Fawkes leaned his neck on Hermione’s face when she brought her upper body back to the chair. He nuzzled his beak under her jaw and let out a human-like sigh. Hermione patted his head gently, oddly at ease with the impressive creature. Fawkes pulled back, and she retrieved her hand, not wanting to scare him. He croaked once and pressed his head onto the right side of her face.

"It doesn’t hurt," Hermione said, hoping for the phoenix to understand her.

“It’s a sensitive creature, this one. You should have seen him with the students at the infirmary. He was a real sweetheart," said Dumbledore, and Fawkes turned to look at the headmaster, proving that he indeed understood them.

"Uh, Fawkes." Uttering the phoenix’s name felt weird. Hermione had met him a couple of times during her school years but never had the bird so close to her. "I should go, so if you don’t mind."

The phoenix gave her a last nuzzle and took off to his position next to the headmaster when Hermione left the office.

She wandered alone in the corridors. Ted and Amelia were busy arranging the quidditch tryouts and encouraging Hufflepuff students to join them. Amelia being the team captain and the prefect of the house was rather intimidating to the young ones and Ted offered to help her appear less like the future head of DMLE.

Hermione was holding the notebook in her grasp and was careful not to let the cactus’s needles touch her bicep. Carrying the pot around all day might not have been her greatest idea, but she hadn’t expected to spend so many hours in the library reading in the first place.

A group of students passed her by. They were Slytherins, wearing quidditch uniforms, indicating that the tryouts must be coming to an end.  Hermione headed out, the sun hit her face and she exhaled deeply, leaving some of her frustration for the air to take away. The courtyard was deserted and the silence was unsettlingly similar to how it was in her time, only that now it was in perfect condition. The benches were in the right place, the fountain in the center was spitting water, and the flower bushes were well-trimmed, probably Filch’s doing. No damage had befallen the courtyard, and it would take years for it to be destroyed for hosting the biggest fight of the century.

"Tonks, there you are!" footsteps hurried towards Hermione and Andromeda appeared into view. She was wearing the Slytherin quidditch uniform just like the students Hermione had met in the corridor.

"Were you looking for me?" asked Hermione, taking Andromeda in. She had her hair held in a tight ponytail, and a smile was plastered on her face alongside sweat.

"Well," said Andromeda, coming to stand in front of Hermione, "One would expect that you would be the one looking for me since you must have run out of calming draughts, but you didn't, so I decided to take matters into my own hands."

"How did tryouts go?" asked Hermione, aware of her lack of communication with Andromeda. It wasn’t like she went out of her way to avoid the Slytherin, but she didn’t actively search for her either. Hermione's meditation hadn’t been going well when she tried alone, and she was certain that having a partner would make her tenser.

"Are we going to avoid the subject?"

"Can we, for now?"

"Hm." Andromeda placed a finger under her chin and closed her eyes in faux concentration. "I suppose we can. Come with me."

Hermione followed as Andy led them out of the courtyard and towards the boathouse.

"Did you like your present that much?" asked Andromeda when they sat on the pier near the stairs. "Is this some Hufflepuff trait? I still remember a young Teddy and a young Amelia trying to prevent their plants from rotting. They even asked me to help them go into the restricted section and search the shelves there."

"How did that work out for you?" Hermione set the plant down and minimized the notebook to fit in her skirt pocket. It had only occurred to her that she had no other clothes except the uniform. Maybe that was the next topic she should address with Dumbledore.

"First, we got a proper scare from Filch, the caretaker of Hogwarts and his cat, just the moment we stepped outside the library’s entrance. Then we got a week of detention with Professor McGonagall, but…" Andromeda turned to Hermione with a victorious look in her dark eyes. "It was so worth watching Dumbledore try not to laugh while lecturing us."

"Dumbledore has never been good at being strict," Hermione said, remembering the lenient punishments and the non-deduction of house points.

"You probably know him better than I, being the only student of his in years." Andromeda reached out for the cactus and examined it carefully. "You are lucky, the neck isn’t broken. Unlike Teddy’s and Amelia’s plants, this one has a chance. I can fix it," said Andromeda with certainty, and something about her confidence had Hermione’s heart pounding to her ears.

"You like herbology?"

"I like it as far as the curriculum goes." Andromeda took out her wand and flicked it in an unknown motion. "What I’m truly interested in is healing."

Hermione watched Andromeda’s hand move, and her mind traveled ten days back when she had used the same wand to petrify Ted. Time was everflowing, never waiting for anyone, and that was what Hermione believed until experiencing a time paradox herself.

At one moment, she was in the forbidden forest searching for an escape from her thoughts, while at the same time, in 1972, Andromeda and Ted were nearby searching for forest trolls. Just in time to rescue her, Hermione couldn’t help but wonder if her unaided time-traveling had happened for a reason aside from the pettiness of three deities.

"Tonks." Andromeda’s hand was on Hermione’s shoulder, pulling her out of her stupor. "I lost you for a bit."

"Sorry, got in my head for a second," said Hermione, and she looked at the brand-fixed cactus in the Slytherin’s free hand. "Thank you."

"Don’t mention it. I couldn't erase all the damage. If you look hard enough, you can see that it has a scar in the spot where it had been crooked." Andromeda placed the pot in Hermione’s hands.

"It’s fine, it’s kind of cute," said Hermione, glad to not be the only one that magic couldn’t fix.

"Like its owner."

"What?"

"I said that it’s cute like its owner," Andromeda said, and winked. Hermione almost dropped the cactus into the black lake.

"You fight well," said Hermione, and she wondered if jumping headfirst into the lake was a good idea. Maybe the squid would appreciate the company, or maybe it would squeeze her with its tentacles. Both options were fine by her.

"Not the answer I was expecting, but thank you nonetheless." Andromeda retrieved her hand from Hermione’s shoulder and began untying her boots. She placed the shoes behind them and lowered herself to the step closest to the water. "Join me?"

"Are you going to dip your toes into the lake?"

"My calves too, if it makes you feel any better," Andromeda said as she rolled the pant legs up to her knees.

"It really doesn’t." Hermione slid to a step above Andromeda, a safe distance away from the water.

"Don’t tell me that you are afraid of the merpeople." Andromeda turned to look at Hermione with a raised eyebrow and added, "or is it the squid?"

"They exist you know," Hermione slid one step lower, her shoulder brushing against Andromeda’s. "And if they drag you inside, my swimming skills won't be enough to pull you back to the surface."

"Does ‘Hogwarts a history’ cover what you just told me?"

"No, but rumors pass around," Hermione lied, and heaviness settled on her chest. She watched as Andromeda dipped her feet into the lake, disturbing the water's stillness.

"There are no rumors." Andromeda closed her eyes. "If I concentrate hard enough, I can feel them, their magical aura to be more precise," she said and relaxed her body, leaning slightly into Hermione.

"Do you feel all the magical auras around you?" asked Hermione, sitting impossibly still to not disturb the Slytherin.

"I have been trained to be able to sense them since I was young." Andromeda opened her eyes and let out a sigh. "I can tune it out most of the time, but some people and magical creatures have auras that are impossible to ignore."

"Is it annoying?" Hermione didn’t comment on the training part. She didn’t know much about Cygnus and his parenting methods, but he couldn’t be much better than Sirius's parents.

"Depends, some auras are calming just like the merpeople's and they help me relax, but some others are dark and they feel weird poking around me."  

"So, you come here to relax?"

"Yes, and I thought that this would help you too, but I see that this might not be the case," Andromeda said, pulling back from Hermione. "We can leave if you don’t feel comfortable."

"No, it’s fine. Let me just..." Hermione stood up and went to leave her shoes next to Andromeda’s alongside the pot. "All set," she said and dipped her feet into the cold water. A shiver traveled up her spine. "What do we do now?"

"First of all, I’m going to cast a heating charm on you before your teeth begin to clatter," Andromeda said and cast the charm wandless with a flick of her wrist. "Now that this is out of the way." She turned her upper body towards Hermione, holding her palms out. "Give me your hands."

Hermione nodded and clasped her hands with Andromeda’s. A shiver ran up her spine, but this time it wasn’t the cold affecting her. "Now what?"

"Now we need to get you relaxed." Andromeda’s grip was soft, too soft. Hermione took a deep breath. "That’s it. Exhale."

Hermione did as she was told, trying not to obsess over Andromeda’s thumb tracing her knuckles. The stillness of the lake was not enough for her to calm down.

"Merlin Tonks!" Andromeda pulled one hand back and poked Hermione’s jaw. "I can hear teeth grinding from where I sit."

"You are sitting next to me," Hermione pointed out, earning a raised eyebrow as an answer.

"Let’s try something different," Andromeda said, pulling her other hand away as well. "Close your eyes."

"I don’t think…" Hermione hesitated, not understanding how the lack of vision would help her relax.

Andromeda said, with a comforting smile, "No, that’s exactly your problem, you think and you do it too much." She offered her pinky finger. "I promise that I won’t try anything weird."

Hermione locked her pinky withAndromeda’s and closed her eyes."I believe you."

"You should remember that when I push you into the lake," Andromeda said, and Hermione opened her good eye to see her smirking, satisfied with her joke. "Which is something I won't do."

"I’m going to drag you in with me, and when the squid comes, I will push you towards it."

"You wouldn’t."

"You don’t know that," Hermione said and closed her eye.

"You are too soft for that. I have heard that you offered to help Amelia with the mandrakes."

"I was tricked into it. Amelia kind of blackmailed me," Hermione said, opening her eyes again. Andromeda had her wand out. "I said something about not caring about plants, and I had to redeem myself in my housemates' eyes."

"Ted told me you said you do not care about plants, to comfort him. Close your eyes, don’t cheat."

"Do you three talk about me?" Hermione asked, slightly embarrassed by the others' opinions of her. Having the same group of friends for years and not trying to form friendships with other people could do that to a person. She was grateful to Harry and Ron because, without them, she would have probably ended up alone.

"Only good things, I swear. Ted speaks highly of you, even though he has never mentioned you before." Andromeda’s voice came out suspicious, but she didn’t probe, Hermione closed her eyes once more.

"Expecto patronum!" Andromeda roared, and Hermione could feel the Slytherin’s happy memories embracing her from all directions, creating a blanket of comfort.

"Can I open my eyes now?" asked Hermione, wanting to see the form of the patronus.

"No, not yet. You need to empty your mind first. Let my friend help you. Let our surroundings help you." Andromeda said, and the patronus drew closer to Hermione, touching her briefly on the back. "Lean into the wall."

Hermione pulled her feet out of the water and felt Andromeda’s hand on her shoulder. The Slytherin guided her to turn, and with a slight push, Hermione’s back found the eroding wall.

She tried to steer clear of all her thoughts and focused on her magic, on Andromeda’s magic, and on the black lake and its hidden wonders. She let some of her guilt go, hoping to ease her conscience. The sound of the waves hitting softly against the pier prompted Hermione to delve deeper into her mind.

She saw a gold thread shining brightly in the darkness and decided to follow it. Her body materialized, and Hermione understood that she was in some type of daze, a dream. It was like walking on painted black sand, her feet sank into the ground, and with every step she took, Hermione sank deeper. She kept following the gold thread, afraid of what she would find at the end of it.

Suddenly, a line of light appeared, and it felt like a small sun, heavily contrasting with the thick darkness, shining only for Hermione. Guiding her to the unknown destination. The thread disappeared, but it was not cut. She was certain of it.

She kept going, aware of her every step, every angle, and the depth of the holes that her feet left in the sand. Hermione brought her hands to her face and searched for the scar. She found nothing. Immediately, her hand flew to her forearm. She rolled up her sleeve with fervor and found unblemished skin, smooth and healthy.

Three shapes came into view, and the little sun left Hermione’s side to go shine on them. They were women dressed in white dresses, and they had their backs turned on her.

"Are you…" Hermione faltered, afraid to voice her thoughts out loud, afraid of the illusion her mind had created.

Silence.

"Are you," Hermione tried again, "Are you the moirai?"

No answer.

Hermione made her step closer, she needed to see them, to be sure of their existence.

"Is this a part of your game?" she asked, anger causing her voice to rise.

The figures were unmoving, not reacting in any way to her calls.

"Why won’t you answer me?" Hermione rolled her other sleeve up, her wand was firmly snuggled into the holster. She tried to pull it out with force, but the sand, sensing her intentions as if it was a living being, dissolved under her feet, letting Hermione hang into the air for a second before she fell into the void.

She came back to her body with a ragged breath. Sweat had gathered on her temples, and her uniform would have been less damp if she had jumped into the lake.

"Welcome back to the land of the living. You fell asleep," said Andromeda, smiling to herself. She was leaning with her back to the wall, her hands crossed behind her head, sitting on the step above Hermione’s.

"For how long was I out?" she asked, running a hand through her hair.

"About half an hour," Andromeda said, as she uncrossed her arms. She glanced at Hermione, the sun not hiding any of the muggleborn’s distress. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I think so." Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose, glad to feel the raised skin under her fingers. "But I would like to head back for now."

"Yes, of course. Do you need me to do anything?" asked Andromeda, her eyes scanning Hermione’s face.

"Maybe hold my cactus until we reach the castle?" Hermione didn’t trust herself to hold the pot and not get pierced by the needles.

"Consider it done." Andromeda stood up, boots already on her feet, her quidditch uniform filled with wrinkles from the way she had been sitting.

Hermione accioed her shoes and rolled her pant legs slowly, wishing to be tucked in her bed in the Gryffindor tower back in her original time, with her friends to comfort her.

 

Chapter Text

"There are no more cases this year. I checked with my muggleborn friends, and they checked with their friends and younger students in turn," Ted said as he slid on the sofa next to Hermione, who had been a frequent visitor to the library.

"You double-checked?" she asked while she scribbled in the notebook Dumbledore had given her. The news was good yet troubling. On one hand, it meant that whoever was attacking the students was no longer in the castle, but that meant that Yaxley was here for some other reason that Hermione had no clue about. Dumbledore had only agreed to investigate more about the new DADA professor last week, after a long pleading, which hadn’t left her with much information.

"Triple checked, actually." Ted placed his chin on Hermione’s shoulder and tried to take a peek at what she was writing, but the ink, as they had found out the day after she got the notebook, had turned illegible. He sighed. "I still don’t understand why you won’t come with me to meet them. They will be glad to talk to you. They want to help with the investigation."

"No, it’s better this way," Hermione said. She didn’t want to meet the people she was lying to, even if it was indirectly, even if she was trying to help them. Interacting with Ted was enough for now.

"Suit yourself, but realize you're missing out. When we are all together, it is like group therapy or an emotional support group. It’s easier to cope, not only with the markings and the aftermath but with the bigotry and the cruelty as well." Ted landed his palm on the notebook, and Hermione stopped writing to look at him. "You need to take a break, and I’m saying this as a person affected by the attacks. You have been working nonstop this past month." He took the pen from her hand and placed it in his jeans pocket. "It’s okay to stop for a while. Spend some time with me and Amelia. You have only seen Andy, and as cheesy as it sounds, I missed your grumpy mug."

"I’m not grumpy," said Hermione, and she closed the notebook. "But I must admit, I missed your chattering and nagging. It’s been too silent even for me." Hermione had spent the better part of the past month meditating with Andromeda, meeting up with Dumbledore, and writing down future events she could recall with every detail while dreaming about the moirai. 

The dream was always the same. The sand was black and alive, and Hermione would follow the golden thread until it disappeared and the sun would take its place. Then, she would stand facing the backs of the same three women with the same white dresses and the same unwillingness to talk. 

"Huh, nagging and chattering. Good to know." Ted stood up from the sofa, and Hermione did the same, understanding that there would be no more writing this evening.

"Why is that?" Hermione asked as they began walking to exit the library.

"My mum is looking forward to meeting you for Christmas break, and your description of me will certainly bring a smile to her face."

"You told your parents that I was going to spend Christmas in your home?" Hermione asked with a raised voice and saw the librarian raise an eyebrow pointedly. She offered a slight smile in apology and got nothing in return.

"I don't want to impose, but I don't suppose you have plans," Ted said, waving at Madam Frensby, a gesture that the librarian returned and even smiled a bit before her glance fell on Hermione and her expression soured. "So, how could I let you spend the holidays alone in the castle? After all, we're supposed to be a family."

"Ted, what are we even going to say to your parents?" Hermione asked, bewildered by what had just happened, and Ted smiled.

"I have already told them that you are coming, but I haven’t told them the reason why. I thought that we could figure this out together and get our stories to match for the first time."

"Are they going to be fine with you bringing a girl over?"

"My parents are pretty relaxed. Learning that their only child is a wizard was way too big of a hit to care about girls sleeping over." Ted put his hands in his pockets and they exited the library. He walked on the right side, and Hermione on the left.

"You have brought girls over?" asked Hermione, impressed by Ted’s parents' trust in him. Having people of the opposite gender over was taboo even in 1997, not to mention 1972.

"Just Amelia and Andy for a week during the summer of the fifth year. They wanted to see muggle London, and I offered to be their guide."

"There is no way that Andromeda’s parents agreed to it."

Andromeda told Hermione during one of their daily meditation sessions that Cygnus had sent her a letter the day after Hermione had hit Rabastan with the mortar, asking Andromeda if her betrothed was still okay and if he would be able to function as the future husband of a daughter of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black.

Andromeda had said that Cygnus was so afraid of muggles that he thought Hermione's touching the mortar before throwing it would damage Rabastan’s mind. Hermione hadn’t been able to decide whether to be offended or laugh at Cygnus' ignorance that day, and with a little prodding from Andromeda, she had settled for the latter.

"Of course, they didn't. Andy told them that she would spend a week at Amelia’s, and Amelia’s parents covered for them. Those two are more cunning than all of Slytherin combined," Ted said as he pushed Hermione to the left with his shoulder. "You are getting better at it."

Hermione smiled and found her footing before saying, with a little pride, "I think that my brain has finally caught on with what is going on. I can fill vials with potions and not spill any of them." She still had a long way to go, but she was getting the hang of it.

"Does that mean that I can tell Amelia to write you up as a Quidditch backup?" asked Ted, somewhat hopeful. After his and Amelia’s well-thought but failed campaign to persuade younger students to join the team, the badgers' team was in dire need of bench players.

"I wouldn’t ride a broom even if I had both my eyes."

"I respect the bold statement, but never say never."

They entered the Hufflepuff common room, and by Ted’s sly smile, Hermione knew that something wasn’t right. The room was empty, there were no students on the sofa, only Helga Hufflepuff watching over them.

"Ted, where is everyone?" Hermione asked when Ted made no move to walk further inside. He stayed near the entrance and cast a tempus.

"They are in the kitchen. It seems like we are late."

"Late for what?"

"The annual Hufflepuff quidditch celebration," said Ted, and gestured for Hermione to follow him.

"This is a real thing?"

"Of course. It’s one of the oldest traditions in our house." Ted opened a trapdoor on the left side of the wall. Hermione looked in awe at what seemed to be the famous Hufflepuff secret path to the kitchen. A secret that made it as far as 1997, became a rumor for the other houses to spread, and given that non-Hufflepuff students had never discovered anything, it had worked like a charm.

Ted kneeled and disappeared into the narrow passage. It was dark inside, and he didn’t bother to cast Lumos.

"How can you see?" Hermione asked and went in, following the sound of Ted’s hands and knees touching the ground.

"I don’t need to see, I know the way by heart," said Ted, his voice certain even amidst such thick darkness.

"So, what does this celebration include aside from food?"

"A copious amount of alcohol and school spirit. No alcohol for the youngsters though, Amelia has been adamant on that, and… Oh!" Ted stopped abruptly, and Hermione almost crushed him head-on. "If we win, there will be a mass celebration after the quidditch game tomorrow."

"I see," said Hermione as they continued their crawling.

"You listen."

Hermione groaned at the stupid joke and nudged his left foot. "Keep going, please."

"Come on, admit that it was a good one."

"Never."

Ted laughed, and the high-pitched sound alerted whoever was waiting at the end of the corridor, causing a Lumos to come from the other side of the trapdoor to blind them momentarily. 

"Tonks?" asked a distant voice.

"Both of us!" shouted Ted, and the light turned off. They had made it into the kitchen.

Hermione waited for Ted to stand up and followed him closely, kind of uncomfortable around her housemates. Ted didn't seem to mind her being glued to his side and greeted every student in a ten-meter radius, calling them by their first names and asking them how they were doing.

Hermione looked around the room, the smell of food strong enough to make her salivate. The house-elves were working ferociously, unbothered by the gathering in their kitchen. They were at ease, moving past the students with their heads held high and shoulders pushed back. No trace of fear in their little faces, only smiles.

"Now, this is magic," said Ted, following Hermione’s gaze, "It’s crazy what a little kindness can do to someone."

"You treat them well," she said, impressed by the badgers’ easy going demeanor. Hufflepuff was made up of more than just muggleborns and half-bloods, purebloods made up a sizable proportion, and they treated the elves kindly, which was unheard of even in recent times.

"If we don’t treat the elves that feed us and take care of us well, what would that say about us?"

"I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. From where I come from, treating elves with basic decency is not something that happens a lot." Hermione turned to Ted. She didn’t wish for her gaze to make the elves uncomfortable.

"Where are you from?" Ted, who never missed an opportunity to inquire about her life, asked.

"Let’s just say from somewhere far away."

"You are no fun," whined Ted, but his instant smile said otherwise. He patted Hermione on the shoulder, a gesture he used with the same ease on students and professors alike. Something that Hermione had experienced first-hand when, during a transfiguration lesson, Ted had patted Professor McGonagall on the shoulder after cracking one of his jokes. To say that the witch had not been amused would be an understatement. "You are lucky that I like you."

For the first time since Merlin knew when, Hermione joked, "That doesn’t say much other than that you must raise your standards considering that I petrified you the first time we met."

"I know, but I like to think that if we met under different circumstances, we would get along just fine," Ted said and waved at an elf. "Wait a minute, I’m going to get us something to drink."

"No alcohol," said Hermione, but Ted winked and went to speak with the little guy, at the same time a witch with vibrant red hair entered the kitchen from the main door.

She was wearing the Hufflepuff uniform, but Hermione didn’t recognize her, even though she had become familiar with every member of the badger house in the past month.

The witch moved effortlessly around the students and greeted the elves. She went as far as to shake hands with some of them and bowed in courtesy. Hermione followed the witch’s movements across the room, looking at her as if she had seen her somewhere.

Ted came back with two glasses of butterbeer in hand and a bottle of some alcohol Hermione couldn’t recognize tucked under his arm. "I got us some beer for starters." He handed one of the glasses to Hermione and untucked the bottle. "And this is for later."

Hermione leaned towards Ted and read the label, ‘Ogden's Old Firewhiskey’ She took the bottle and turned it over to check the back: 45% alcohol. "This can knock a hippogriff out, imagine what it will do to us," she said and handed it back to him.

"Not if we share it with friends." Ted turned away from Hermione to scan the area. "She must be here, somewhere."

"Who are you looking for, Ted?" asked Amelia, walking away from a group of five students that were standing next to them. She was smiling and holding a half-empty glass of butterbeer.

"Andy," Ted said, and took a sip of his beer as Amelia came to stand next to him. "She never misses a chance to party with the Hufflepuffs."

"Is Andromeda..." Hermione paused to clear her throat, embarrassed by her voice cracking. "Is Andromeda here?" She managed to let out a croak, and upon seeing Ted’s nod, she brought her glass to her lips and took the first sip of the butterbeer to resist scanning the room for a glimpse of dark curls.

"Didn’t she tell you?" Amelia raised an eyebrow at Hermione and tilted her head to the side to offer her a smirk. "Aren’t you spending almost every afternoon together?"

"Well, yes, but we don’t talk most of the time, it’s more like a physical and mental exercise..." Hermione said, pausing, weirded out by the glances she was getting from both Amelia and Ted. They were looking at her with furrowed eyebrows as if they were waiting for her to make sense, and Hermione returned the look, confused by their behavior.

"Jo," said Ted, oddly serious, breaking the spell of silence that had befallen them. "What do you two do exactly?"

"Meditation, you should try it sometime," the redheaded girl said from behind Ted and Amelia, and Hermione understood why the witch had captured her attention minutes ago.

"Andy!" A laugh escaped Ted upon seeing the witch that Andromeda had been disguised as. "What is this year’s look inspiration?"

Andromeda used her hands to part Amelia and Ted and stood between them with her arms over their shoulders in a three-way side hug. "I spent a week with my Prewett cousins this summer and their hair color fascinated me." She brought the hand from Amelia’s shoulder and grabbed a lock of her transfigured hair. "I think I did a good job. It’s a bit lighter, but it’s close enough."

"Did anyone recognize you on the way to the kitchen?" asked Amelia and handed Andromeda her glass of butterbeer to drink from.

"I got some odd looks from some younger students, but that’s expected. Don’t worry, your Hufflepuff secret is safe with me," said Andromeda, and took a sip from the offered glass. Hermione mirrored the action.

"I still can't believe that Ted sneaked you in two years ago." Amelia bumped shoulders with Andromeda, and the Slytherin winked.

Andromeda added, "I still can’t believe that you guys were not mad when you found out," and Amelia mumbled, "Me neither," earning more laughs from Ted, who seemed to enjoy himself without the aid of strong alcohol.

"I still can’t believe that the sixth-years back then decided to invite you to the next get-together. Their only concern was that the secret of letting an outsider join us not get exposed," Ted finished the tale and leaned forward, over Andromeda’s body, to grin at Amelia, raising his glass towards her. They clinked glasses and gave some to Andromeda as well.

Hermione watched how they exchanged drinks and listened to them, recalling their first get-togethers. She watched as Andromeda’s hair began to lose its fiery color and turned dark, as her features lost their softness and turned sharp once more. The transformation reminded Hermione that even though they had spent a lot of time alone, she still hadn't gotten used to Andromeda's beauty and probably wouldn't. That realization came along with a wave of betrayal towards both Ted and Andromeda, and Hermione downed her drink to push the feeling down. 

It was unfair for the future couple that she was monopolizing Andromeda’s time instead of helping them get together, but Hermione couldn’t stop or, Merlin forgive her, didn't want to stop. She enjoyed the witch's wit immensely, and her admiration kept increasing with every hour they spent together.

"What do you think, Tonks?" asked Amelia, and the attention shifted to Hermione.

"I think that we need to drink some of the firewhiskey," Hermione said, and hoped that it was the correct answer since she stopped listening when Andromeda’s transfigured features returned to normal.

"You are absolutely right," said Ted, and handed his glass to Andromeda, who freed one of his hands and unscrewed the bottle of firewhiskey. The cap came off, and Hermione was the first to offer Ted her glass to fill with burning liquor, despite the fact that she hadn't planned to drink heavily.

The rest of the evening and a good portion of the night had passed with the Hufflepuffs and Andromeda sitting in a circle on the floor, drinking whatever alcohol students had managed to sneak from their earlier visit to Hogsmeade and eating the delicacies the elves had prepared while joking around teasing the only Slytherin about the snakes' quidditch team.

Sometime near midnight, during one of Ted’s horror stories, which he had proudly announced were passed to him by his older cousin when he turned fifteen, Andromeda had placed her hand on Hermione's, muttering something about muggle horror being scarier than wizard horror, and laced their fingers together in front of the majority of Hufflepuff students. Hermione had squished her hand and, if she remembered correctly since her memory was foggy from downing four glasses of firewhiskey in a span of forty minutes, had leaned her head on Andromeda’s shoulder. As she had done many times while they meditated near the black lake, only that this time it felt more intimate, more real, and more like a betrayal.

Their touch hadn’t lasted for longer than five minutes because Hermione had been asked to stand up and help Ted with one of his more vividly performed stories, but now that she headed to the quidditch field, she couldn’t help her rising nervousness at the thought of meeting Andromeda and wiped her hands on her jeans repeatedly.

The sun was visible in the sky with no cloud in sight. Even though it was mid-October, the bright light irked Hermione’s eye and increased the pounding in her head. She had gone to the infirmary to get a pepper-up potion before going out, but Madam Pomfrey had already gone to the field to set up a medical tent in case a student needed immediate care, so Hermione would have to deal with her hangover the way a muggle would without painkillers. She had to endure it and hope that Ted would have some pepper-up to give her after the match.

With every step towards the field, the quietness of the forest was slowly replaced by the excited voices of the students. The first match of the season had been a big deal in her time, and it seemed that 1972 was no different.

Hermione climbed up the stands to find a seat, passing by a sea of yellow and green scarves that waved proudly in the autumn wind.

"Tonks, over here!" Frank stood up from his seat at the lowest spot in the stands and waved at her with both hands. He was wearing a Slytherin scarf, and judging by his new friends, Hermione doubted that he had had much of a choice.

She climbed down the same path she had taken up, muttering "sorry" left and right and ignoring the glares she got from the students she bumped into. She took the seat to the left of Frank. The row was empty aside from them.

"Interesting spot to watch the match from," Hermione said, searching her jeans pocket for her scarf. She had been duped by the sun and underestimated the cold.

"Ah, yes. You see, I’m afraid of heights and I prefer to be at a safe distance from the ground." Frank looked up, towards the towers where the professors and the announcer were seated, and gulped audibly. "I don’t like being off my feet."

"Me neither." Hermione gazed at the tall hoops and shivered at the idea of being that high up in the sky. Quidditch matches tended to be intense, and the chances of people falling off their brooms were high, while the injuries were guaranteed to be ugly. Hermione shivered and lowered her gaze. She turned to Frank. "Why are you alone?"

"Rita and Narcissa are volunteering in the medical tent," Frank said, tightening the scarf around his neck. Hermione wore hers and did the same.

"By their own accord?"

"Yes, they did it last year too. It’s mostly fetching potions and changing dressings, but they like it enough to try and persuade me to join them this year."

"And why didn’t you?"

"Because I hate hospitals more than heights. More than anything, to be honest." Frank shook his head as if to clear his mind of the image and met Hermione’s eyes. "The white setting unsettles me, even if it’s a small tent... I can’t stand being in a hospital for a long time, so I try to stay out of them."

"Uh..." Hermione paused and searched her mind for an appropriate response. She hadn’t expected such a heartfelt answer. A confession that hit too close to the future.

"Sorry." Frank raised his hands in apology. "I shouldn’t have unloaded this on you. I’m sure that you have spent a long amount of time in the infirmary to know that my fear is childish."

"I don’t think it is. I’m grateful to Madam Pomfrey for healing me." Hermione touched the scar on her face to emphasize her point and said, "But I wouldn’t want to spend a minute more in the infirmary bed."

"My mum always says that physical injuries are less important and that the real damage is done on the brain but I don’t get it," Frank said with a sincerity befitting of a thirteen-year-old, and the future, cruel and ironic hung over his head like a vulture waiting patiently for the perfect moment to strike.

"And I hope you never will," Hermione muttered between her teeth, looking away, the weight of the future settling like a ton of bricks on her shoulders.

Frank rummaged in his bag, oblivious to Hermione’s inner turmoil, and pulled out a pair of binoculars alongside a packet of sunflower seeds. "Want some?"

"I don’t know about Tonks, but I sure will." A voice from the row behind them said, and a hand reached out to the packet from Hermione’s left side. Frank held the seeds closer to his chest as Hermione caught the hand midway and twisted in her seat to face the intruder.

"Rosier?"

"The one and only," said Evan, with a smirk, retrieving his hand. His row was almost empty as well, with only a group of students on the right side and him to vacate the seats. "Firm grasp, you must give good handshakes."

"I don’t know about that." Hermione watched him rub his wrist even though she had grabbed him above it and turned to Frank, who was eyeing Evan with an eyebrow raised, looking unimpressed. "Just ask before going to take something. You startled us."

"Ah, sorry." Evan clapped his hands and bowed in his trademark flamboyant way, which Hermione had witnessed a few times this month, but his gesture was exaggerated and she doubted his sincerity. "I just saw you from my seat a bit higher, and thought, why not talk to them."

"A hello is a good way to start," said Frank with a frown, but Evan ignored his displeasure and focused his gaze on Hermione.

"How so that you are down here and not up there?" He asked and pointed at the sky, where some of the players were testing their brooms.

"I don’t like flying."

"But you seem like you do," Evan said, smirking once more, tempting Hermione to turn her head back and ignore him as Frank already had and was enjoying his seeds.

"I don’t like people assuming things about me either."

"Ah, you are no fun. I was only joking." He smiled and kept rubbing his wrist.

"It wasn’t funny, and I didn’t touch your wrist," Hermione said, souring his mood completely. Evan had used the same phrase that Ted had used yesterday, and there was no reason for her to respond this way, but something about the wizard ticked her off.

From the few times she had seen Evan, he had been jumpy, looking behind his shoulder every few minutes, and when he had been asked about it, he had tried to cover it up with extravagance and sly jokes. Just the way he did now, only that this time there was no Andromeda or Ted to deal with him and Hermione had no patience for theatrics.

"No? It must have hurt from before then."

Hermione watched as Evan continued to massage his hand in small circles and noticed that his fingers were smudged with red and yellow ink.

"Do you draw?" Hermione asked as Luna's hands came into her mind. The blonde witch used to have splashes of paint on her fingertips and under her fingernails as she had been spending most of her free time filling canvasses in the Room of Requirement.

"What? Of course, I don't." Evan shrieked, losing all of his smug attitudes, and crossed his arms over his chest. His eyes were wide and his expression was one of offense. "I just..." he faltered and untucked one of his hands to touch his bare neck. He wasn’t wearing the Slytherin scarf, and from the furrow of his brows, he must have only realized that now.

"Drawing is good for the mind and soul. You should give it a shot. It’s relaxing," said Frank in the middle of peeling a seed, unaware of the unfolding scene behind him and missing Evan’s glare.

"Whatever." Evan turned his head to the left, ran a hand through his dark hair, and then stood up. "I just remembered that I have something to do."

He left without saying goodbye and walked away like a man chased from the field. Hermione watched his retrieving form until it became a small dot and disappeared between the trees. Evan was hiding something, at least that was what his behavior was hinting at, with his jumpiness and vague answers. Back in the greenhouse, Amelia had reassured her that Evan was a nice guy despite his fear of being perceived as a blood traitor, but at the end of the day, history had been written, and Evan Rosier had died as a death eater during the first war. She ought to pay him more attention from now on.

As if the announcer had been waiting for Evan to leave, the speaker mic turned on and a screeching sound pierced the ears of the crowd.

"Ahem," a soothing voice said after tapping on the mic two times. "This is your match announcer, Xenophilius Lovegood, speaking. Let’s have a clean game and may the best team win."

The crowd erupted in cheers and whistles when the two teams appeared in the sky in a flurry of yellow and green. Ted, as he had stated many times before, was a chaser and Amelia was the Hufflepuff seeker. Hermione looked up, the pounding in her head forgotten as she searched for a certain witch.

Her eyes scanned the Slytherin team. They had taken positions and were waiting for the game to start. Lucius just like Draco was the seeker, Lestrange was the keeper, Crabbe, Goyle, and a witch Hermione didn't recognize were the chasers, and there, a meter behind them was Andromeda, balancing on her broom with no hands since they were full with the bat.

Andromeda was a beater, and Hermione’s mind was short-circuited, unable to generate coherent thoughts. She gulped, and Frank beside her eyed her with his eyebrows furrowed. She took some seeds to stuff her mouth with, to keep busy while a young Madam Hooch entered the field with the leather bag containing the balls and the snitch.

Madam Hooch said something to the teams that the spectators couldn’t hear and unzipped the bag, signaling the start of the game. 

While Andromeda and the rest of the beaters took positions, Lucius and Amelia began chasing the snitch. Hermione watched the quaffle fall into Ted’s hand, and the rest of the Hufflepuff chasers headed towards the golden hoops to wait for a pass.

Frank took the binoculars that he had left on the empty seat next to him and nudged Hermione on the shoulder. "I think that you might need them more than me."

"Thank you. Are you sure that you don’t want them?" Hermione asked as Frank passed them to her, grateful for the wizard’s thoughtfulness.

"No worries, I’m fine. Have fun. Although you might want to consider that Hufflepuff is on the right side of the field and not the left," Frank said with a sly smile, oddly similar to the two Slytherin blondes he hung out with.

"I’m focusing on the left side because that is where our offense is," Hermione explained rather lamely, it wasn’t her fault that Andromeda happened to be a defender and was bound to clash with Hufflepuffs offenders. Frank eyed her for a moment and laughed.

"I’m sure it is," he said and fell back onto his seat to eat some more sunflower seeds. Hermione focused back on the game, greatly enjoying the closer view.

 

Chapter Text

The game had dragged for over two hours, and the players, as well as the crowd, were getting tired. Hunting for the snitch was a demanding task, and both Amelia and Lucius had their fair share of problems with it. Not that there were no close calls, Amelia had almost caught it somewhere within the first thirty minutes, but a well-aimed bludger from Andromeda had caused the Hufflepuff captain to maneuver away from the offending ball and the snitch.

Hufflepuff was ahead by twenty points, with the overall score being ninety-seventy, but the badgers had stopped cheering after the hour stamp. Not that the snakes were faring any better. The only person to not lose their energy was Xenophilius, who had described the game as ‘a challenge for strong minded people able to ignore the Nargles surrounding them.’

Frank had finished eating seeds and was chewing at his fingernails while Hermione massaged her temples, grateful for the crowd’s silence. The binoculars were hanging from her neck, and their lace was tangled up in her scarf.

"My mom once told me that the longest quidditch match lasted for three months and that the teams kept bringing substitutes so the players could get some rest." Frank turned to Hermione, and she stopped rubbing her temples to focus on him. "All this time, I thought that she had said that to prevent me from joining the Gryffindor team, but I start to believe that she might have said the truth."

"I think that your mom might be right," Hermione said, raising the binoculars to check the air battle.

Ted was balancing on his broom with one hand and wasn’t moving. The quaffle was being passed between Crabbe and Goyle, but no Hufflepuff student attempted to steal the ball. The two Slytherins weren’t much of a threat since they had lost the quaffle while passing it between them over five times in this match. The players were waiting for their respective to catch the snitch, but Amelia and Lucius had taken a break near the Slytherin’s hoops, much to Lestrange’s dismay.

The wizard had blocked many goals with his enormous frame, and as much as it pained Hermione to admit it, he was skilled with the broom and moved with agility and grace that wasn’t expected of him.

"It seems that the seekers are affected by the nargles today. We can only hope that they will shake them off and finish the game." Xenophilius's low voice traveled through the mic, and a few laughs were heard from the crowd. The seekers got back on the hunt.

Hermione leaned back and offered the binoculars to Frank. She had seen enough for now. Even though she enjoyed watching Andromeda play, at the end of the day Quidditch bored her greatly. "Use these and try to not make nail-biting a habit. Speaking from experience, it’s hard to cut it off."

She had gotten around to nail-biting during her first year when the stress of discovering a new world had proved to be too much for her eleven-year-old self, and she kept doing it until the sixth year. She quit it before the Horcrux hunt. Running around all day in fear of her and her friends' lives had her forgetting to eat real food, not to mention biting nails.

Frank nodded while taking them and pressed them t his eyes. A gasp escaped his lips, and Hermione was immediately alerted. "Merlin, look!" He pointed with his finger towards the Slytherin side of the field, and Hermione leaped to her feet.

One glance was enough for panic to surge through her as she took out her wand and began spinning. Andromeda had fallen off her broom and judging by the rising commotion in the stands, no one in the sky had managed to catch her.

With the crack of an apparition, Hermione landed in the center of the field and heard a masculine scream. Ted was surging with his broom, but he had been late. Andromeda was falling with dizzying speed, and the brooms were too far away to make it on time.

Hermione ran to the left and cast a cushioning charm to minimize some of the damage in case she didn’t make it. Looking up, she tried to locate the spot where Andromeda was about to land and how many seconds she had to prepare to catch her, but she couldn't see clearly and the seconds were not enough.

Hermione placed the wand in her mouth and yelled, "Andromeda, feel me!" She hoped that the witch would hear her somewhere amidst her panic and redirect her body to crash on Hermione. She got no answer. The screams of the players subsided.

She was still looking up, with the sun blinding her and sweat gathering on her temples. Hermione fell forward with her arms stretched, knowing fully well that the crash could shatter her forearms. She took a deep breath and hoped for the best.

In a blink of a moment, a weight landed gently on her arms and hands settled on Hermione’s neck. Andromeda was safe... and smirking.

"Fancy meeting you here," she said, looking deep into Hermione’s eyes.

Andromeda's ponytail did not have a hair out of place, her skin was glowing, and her cheeks were tinted pink from the air that had been hitting her face. Hermione gulped, the sweat on her temples growing cold. She couldn’t decide if the shortness of her breath was caused by running on the field or by the sight in front of her.

"Uh…Are you okay?" Hermione asked, feeling self-conscious about the heaviness of her stare.

"More than okay." Andromeda took a strand of wild brown hair and tucked it behind Hermione’s ear. "I have charmed my uniform to act as a strong cushion, but I appreciate the gesture."

"That’s...very Slytherin of you," said Hermione, dumbfounded by what had just happened, but made no move to let Andromeda down.

"I had too many close calls in the past years to keep risking it. Swinging the bat doesn’t mean that I am immune to the bludgers."

"A bludger caused this? Do you need me to carry you to the medical tent?" Hermione asked, tightening her hold on Andromeda. The witch didn’t seem hurt, but bludgers from what Harry and Ron had told her caused ugly bruises.

"There is no need for that, the hit wasn’t strong, it just took me by surprise." Andromeda smiled.The crowd erupted in cheers.Hermione looked upwards at the stands, fairly certain that no one could hear them, and found the source of amusement. Amelia had caught the snitch, and the Hufflepuff had won the first game of Quidditch for this year's season.

"Better luck next time?" Hermione smiled at the Slytherin in her arms and got an eye roll and a smile in return.

 "You bet," said Andromeda, as Ted and Amelia made their way towards them. Hermione let the witch down and took a step back.

"Andyyy!" Ted jumped on Andromeda’s arms and hung on her like a koala, earning a hearty laugh from her.

"Ted, if I had been hurt, this would have destroyed me."

"I don’t care, you witch. You scared me." Ted met Hermione’s eyes over Andromeda’s shoulder and beamed at her. "Jo, I’m so glad that I didn’t sign you up for a backup player. Come here."

Hermione neared the pair just in time for Ted to grab Amelia with one hand and force them into a four-way hug. With Hermione pressed between Ted and Andromeda and facing directly at Amelia.

"Ted, as much as I love you, I would prefer your armpit to be away from my face," Amelia said, and Ted snuggled closer to her, causing the prefect to curse under her breath. "Ugh, you are such an arsehole. I hate you."

"Aw, I love you too," Ted said, winking at Amelia.

"You are so cheesy, I can't stand it." Amelia tried to slither out of the embrace, but a swift hold on her waist by Andromeda brought her back.

"Not so fast, Miss Bones," said the Slytherin, and Amelia groaned.

"You damn snake, unhand me at once."

"Never."

"Good call, Andy. We will be the four of us for all eternity." Ted gave Andromeda a thumbs-up, and Hermione couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.

"Welcome to the club, Tonks. The first years are hard, and it never gets better," Amelia said, and dodged a forehead kiss from Andromeda by straining her neck all the way back.

"Ah, don’t be like that," Andromeda chuckled, and Ted patted Hermione hard on the shoulder.

"I’m so glad that you joined me. Those two are hard to deal with."

"I don’t think Tonks minds," Amelia said.

"I don’t," Hermione agreed and gazed at Andromeda. The Slytherin returned the gaze, a hint of amusement in her sharp face. Hermione’s breath caught in her throat.

"Andy, don’t you think that that’s enough?" A deep voice asked as heavy footsteps came to a stop. The four of them parted to meet the intruder.

Rabastan Lestrange had a sneer plastered on his face and his arms were crossed over his chest. He had discarded his broom on the floor next to Ted’s and Amelia's, being careful to maintain a certain distance. Blood purity ran deep, even on the quidditch pitch.

"Rabastan, how many times do I have to tell you not to call me Andy?" Andromeda asked and let out an exaggerated sigh. Ted next to her stiffened and Hermione cast a sidelong glance at him.

"You are fraternizing with the enemy instead of being with your team, and you think that me calling you Andy is more important? Get a hold of yourself."

"Are you for real? Relax, it's just a game."Amelia said, not looking at all impressed with Lestrange’s speech.

"Who asked you, Bones? This is between me and my-"

"Classmate, prefect, teammate?" Ted, not missing a beat, cut him off, relaxing his stiff posture a bit. Hermione went to his side that was not occupied by Andromeda and crossed her arms, daring Lestrange to start something with them. It was not the place nor the time for his pettiness.

"Rabastan, get whatever ideas you have about me out of your head and leave us. I don’t like being in your presence more than I already have to," Andromeda said with steel in her voice, leaving no room for argument. It was the same steel Tonks used to use when presenting her plans during Order meetings.

"Don’t be like that. You know I’m right. I…" Rabastan paused, scratched his eyebrow, and shook his head dismissively, as if they were not worth his time, deciding against whatever he was going to say. "Forget it."

He summoned his broom and, when it was safely in his meaty palm, he turned to glare in Hermione’s and Ted’s direction. "This isn’t over."

"I believe it is." Hermione stepped forward and returned his glare. She wasn’t about to let him threaten them, but Ted grabbed her hand and pulled her back, giving ample space for Rabastan to fly away.

"Let him go, we need to talk," Ted whispered in her ear, letting her hand fall back to her side. Hermione nodded even though she hadn't planned to fight with Rabastan. Ted releashed a breath.

"What an arsehole," Amelia said with a raised voice, intending for the retreating wizard to hear her. "He is a spoiled brat, not to mention delusional.”

"Please tell this to my father, who thinks Rabastan is a fine young man. It will do me a great favor." Andromeda looked around, a hand on her forehead shading her eyes from the sun. "Now, where is my broom?"

Hermione and Ted parted with the prefects after the witches announced that they had to go to the owlery for, as Amelia had said, "business" but a wink from Andromeda told Hermione that their visit was for a more personal reason.

Ted had remained silent during their trip to the library and was now fidgeting at his spot on the sofa, opening his mouth and then closing it. Hermione decided to lead the conversation until the wizard relaxed.

"Ted, do you happen to have a pepper up with you? My head is killing me." Hermione began with a simple question and hoped to work her way to the root of Ted’s distress without causing him much discomfort.

Ted blinked at her thrice before registering she had spoken. "No, sorry, I left them in my dorm. It’s not like the Quidditch uniforms have pockets." He placed his hands on his pants to make his point clear and smiled. It was strained, and every pretense between them fell apart as Ted sank back and lowered his body on the sofa.

"What is wrong?" Hermione asked and lowered her body to mirror his stance. This time, Ted smiled genuinely at her effort to make him feel more comfortable.

"Where to start?"

"The beginning would be the more sound choice, don’t you think?"

"Right now, I don’t want to think," Ted said. His voice was low, lower than Hermione had ever heard it. "I don’t understand why he had to come and speak to us. Andy is not his property, and we are not his punchbags."

"Rabastan is a git, but we know that. Hell, the whole castle knows that. There is no point in expecting him to act like a decent human being. The best strategy is to ignore him and wait for him to get bored." Hermione focused her gaze on the ceiling, and from the sound of leather meeting leather, Ted did the same. "Trust me, I have my fair share of experience with people like him and it never ends well when engaging with them."

"Oh, I sense a story somewhere. Do tell."

"It’s not really a story, but let’s just say that I punched a guy once because he-"

"Downright deserved it?"

"More or less, but as I see it now." Hermione turned to Ted and waited for him to meet her gaze before adding, "It wasn’t worth it."

Ted scoffed and crossed his arms. "Yeah, right. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I stopped being the bigger person and pushed back. Maybe I wouldn’t have this stupid tattoo on my forearm if I did."

"Don’t say that. This is not your fault. You are not responsible for other people’s cruelty," Hermione soothed, knowing exactly where this conversation was heading. These thoughts that Ted had voiced didn’t differ much from hers after she had recovered from the initial shock of the torture.

She had laid in that creaking bed in the shell cottage, alone and afraid, and had driven herself up the wall with her thoughts. What if she had reacted quicker and what if she had been stronger? These were the thoughts that had stayed with her long after they had left Fleur’s and Bill’s home, and sometimes they returned to haunt her even now. The nightmares from that night had disappeared and were replaced by absurd dreams, but the dread of their reappearance was something that Hermione had difficulty dealing with.

"Sometimes I wish I was." Ted raised his left hand and fixed his gaze on his sleeved forearm. Hermione hadn't seen what was underneath yet. "You know... to spare others the fear. Waking up alone and disorientated is scary, but wondering if you are alone while experiencing these feelings is unbearable."

"That’s sweet of you to say, but no muggleborn that experienced the same would want you to suffer alone. This is a cruel world, and friends help us through."

"You say that, but you still refuse to attend our meetings. It’s not only about the tattoos, you have lost something too," Ted said, and Hermione’s hand trailed to her face.

"It is not the same. This was caused by my foolishness."

"Regardless, you said it yourself, we should share the pain. Ease our burdens."

Ted was right, as he usually was, in his weird fashion and with his compassionate heart. But Hermione’s burdens were caused by being in the wrong timeline, and burdens like these could shatter the future and were not to be shared.

"Jo," said Ted, after a minute of sitting in silence. They were alone in the library, the librarian’s desk was empty. She must have taken a break.

"Hm?" replied Hermione absentmindedly. Her thoughts ran away from her, reminiscing simpler times where war was a distant yet unpleasant memory for the older citizens of magical Britain and only pages in books for her generation.

"The snakes did it."

"They did what?" Hermione snapped her attention back to the present, or past, she didn’t know.

"The markings. I’m sure of it."

"Do you have any proof?" Her suspicion lay with the Slytherins as well, but only because she had future knowledge that often incriminated the snakes, whereas Ted had nothing. In 1972, Voldemort was still working in the shadows of a supremacist ministry, and the majority of Slytherin house had not joined him. At least publicly.

"Right here, actually." Ted smiled bitterly and reached to unbutton his sleeve, but Hermione placed her hands on his, stopping his movement.

"Ted, are you sure?"

"It’s only fair. You are helping me, and I shouldn’t keep something this important from you."

Hermione squished his hand and didn’t let go. She didn’t deserve such honesty from him, and she didn’t deserve his friendship. It was all built on lies, a concrete tower with guilt inside its walls that, sooner or later, would crumble, as all things with no strong foundations do. And when the tower would fall, the crash of Hermione’s lies would pierce Ted’s ears.

"Wait, let me..." Hermione unbuttoned her own sleeve and watched Ted frown. "Let me show you something too."

Maybe it was too late to rebuild the foundations from scratch, but she had the chance to reinforce them. to hope that they would hold steady until she was gone.

"Together?" Ted asked tentatively, and Hermione nodded.

They rolled up their sleeves and gasped.

Hermione's hand flew to Ted’s and he did the same. They clasped each other's marred forearms, but Hermione was faster, and Ted’s hand was the one to face upwards.

"Ted, do you have any idea what this symbol means?" Hermione asked, her eyes never straying away from his tattoo.

"No, but I know the meaning of the word written on your skin." Ted’s voice came out strained. A wet drop fell on their joined hands. He was crying. Hermione didn't deserve this kindness.

"It’s okay, I’m okay."

"This…" Ted sniffled and wiped his tears with his free hand. "This is not okay. Who did this? Have you reported it? Does Dumbledore know about it?"

"Ted, calm down." Hermione smiled at her friend. She had forgotten how shocking it was for other people to see her scar, Harry and Ron had never commented on it, which had helped her forget about it during the day. Nighttime was a different matter. "The person who did this is dead. I’m safe."

"You don’t sound very convinced."

She wasn’t.

"No matter, it’s the truth. I’m safe and I’m not hurting." Hermione raised Ted’s hand to get a better look at the tattoo, to make sure that her eye was not deceiving her, but there was no doubt about it.

Right here, covering most of the length of Ted’s forearm with shiny black ink, was the dark mark. A hideous snake was coming out of a skull, baring its fangs for everyone to see.

Bile raised on Hermione’s throat and pictures of Draco laying on the floor of the boys' bathroom, with blood oozing from his thousands of cuts and his sleeves rolled up, revealing his tattoo, crashed into her mind, forcing their way through. She shuddered. Back then, the smell of iron had been so strong, and Harry’s shock had been so unnerving.

She examined the tattoo closely, her fingers trailing over the skull, which was small yet detailed, and stopped at the base of the snake, focusing on the spots on its back. Something was not right.

"Jo, what do you know about this symbol?"

Hermione released Ted’s hand and lowered her sleeve. He looked shaken up, and she was certain that she didn’t fare much better.

"I’m not sure. I thought I recognized it, but it’s different from the symbol I’m familiar with."

"What about this symbol you talk about? What does it mean?"

"It’s the symbol of a dark wizard…" Hermione faltered. The tattoo had unsettled her. There was something wrong with it. The answer was in the tip of her tongue, she could almost taste it, she needed time to think and space to breathe. She needed to be alone.

"Is this wizard here? Are we in danger?" Ted asked, his frown deepening. Hermione didn’t know how to reassure him.

Voldemort was indeed here. He was free and could do as he pleased, but he wasn’t yet as influential as he was going to be in a few years. His rise to power would be short but utterly catastrophic, and when his time to return came, Ted would die. Tonks and Lupin would die, and Fred too, along with many students and brave people who dared to defy Voldemort’s megalomaniacal schemes.

Andromeda would lose it all once more.

"I don’t think that we are," Hermione lied through gritted teeth, and the tower foundations she had reinforced only moments ago cracked.

***

As night fell, Hermione refused to sleep, too afraid of what she would see if she did. So, instead of going back to her common room when the bell rang ten, she found herself gazing at the moon from the balcony of the astronomy tower, sitting on the floor.

The moon was full, accompanied by countless stars. Hermione clicked the pen in her hand and continued her writing. She had divided the notebook into two parts, one to write down future history and one to write down thoughts she was afraid to admit out loud.

The marks bothered her greatly. Why would Voldemort bestow his symbols on the ones he deemed unworthy, on the ones he actively sought to hurt? What did Rabastan mean when he said that this wasn’t over and who was the person behind all these attacks? Sure, Rabastan was a bigot, but he was a coward as well. He had run straight to Slughorn when Hermione had thrown the mortar at him and then proceeded to spread rumors to make himself look good. Lucius would be the next logical choice but he was too identical to Draco. Without the pressure of Voldmerot living in his house and breathing down his neck the chances of him being behind the attacks were low. 

Hermione paused her musings and shut the notebook tightly. Footsteps were heading in her direction. The newcomer walked with uncertainty, stopping for a few seconds before taking another step forward.

 "Who’s there?" Hermione asked, knowing well enough that if a professor was on the other side of the tower, she would get into so much trouble.

"Tonks?" The person came closer. This time the footsteps were quick and certain, without pauses. "It’s Narcissa."

Blonde hair came into view as the young Slytherin slid next to Hermione, looking at her with arctic blue eyes.

"What are you doing here?" Hermione asked, before casting a tempus to find that it was well past midnight. "Shouldn’t you be sleeping?"

"Shouldn’t you?" Narcissa replied with a question while she crossed her legs to get more comfortable on the marble floor.

"Fair enough, but this doesn’t answer my initial question."

"Then maybe you shouldn’t ask that many questions to begin with," Narcissa said with an air of Slytherin, or was it Black? confidence, that Hermione had become familiar with, only weeks ago. Shesmiled, indicating that she was not actually annoyed.

"Can’t argue with that," Hermione said, deciding to not push the younger witch for an answer. Narcissa was entitled to her privacy, and Hermione hoped that she would turn to Andromeda if something was amiss. She averted her gaze from Narcissa’s arctic eyes and focused back on the sky. This view was meant to be shared.

"The brightest star in the sky is named Sirius. The group of stars next to the moon is named the Pleiades, and it is the first one to appear in the night sky." Narcissa pointed to the sky, smiling with pure, childlike joy.

"Is it safe to say that you enjoy your astronomy lessons?" Hermione asked, noting that the cold from Narcissa’s had melted.

"Not at all. I’m always bored out of my mind. The professor has the most monotonous voice I have ever heard, and it doesn’t help that I was taught astronomy from the moment of my birth. But still, watching the sky brings me a kind of joy that I can't describe. I feel a strong connection to the stars and the comfort they bring me is unparalleled to anything else. I may not be named after constellations like my sisters and cousins, but the connection is there." Narcissa paused and threw Hermione a sidelong look. Her hand flew to her mouth.

"What is wrong?" Hermione touched the Slytherin’s shoulder tentatively, not wanting to startle her.

"I got carried away. Forgive me, rambling is not befitting of a lady," Narcissa said, looking at her feet. Every emotion dissipated from her face, and her lips drew to a thin line.

"According to who?" asked Hermione, not bearing to watch the sight of Narcissa resembling so much her future self. Not the confident one that had lied to Voldemort to save her son, but the one who had watched a child get tortured with apathetic eyes.

"My father."

"Then, according to your father, talking to a muggleborn must not be befitting of a lady as well. Not to mention apologizing to one or reading muggle books. And if you think hard enough about it, it’s not befitting of a lady to sit on the floor or to be out past midnight sneaking by the prefects to go stargazing. It’s not befitting of a lady to mingle with half-bloods and people outside of the sacred twenty-eight families. In other words, it’s not befitting for a lady to have fun. Don’t you think that’s a bit unfair, if not stupid?" Hermione looked at Narcissa and waited for the Slytherin to meet her gaze.

"It doesn’t matter what I think. If I’m not acting according to the etiquette fitting of a witch with a name like mine, the news will travel to my father’s ears sooner or later. I’m not scary like Bella to intimidate Rodolphus to keep his mouth shut, and I’m not as brave as Andromeda to defend my beliefs even in the face of my father’s wrath. Lucius, my betrothed, wouldn’t hesitate to go to him and I wouldn’t be able to stop him," Narcissa said, her voice dripping in ice, so different from the one she used when addressing Rita and Frank.

Hermione went to interject, to tell her that this was not true. Her worth wasn’t determined by her ability to stand up to her bigoted father and betrothed, but a raised hand from Narcissa had her mouth zipped.

"I’m not like them. I don’t have their hair color, and my eyes are unlike theirs. I lack their fire, hence I wasn’t even granted a name after the stars and was named after a-

"Flower," Hermione finished for Narcissa, unable to remain silent. The word tasted weird on her lips and the sense that she was missing something returned.The blonde was looking at her with an unreadable expression, and Hermione focused back on the matter at hand. "And a beautiful one at that. You should be proud of your name and apply some of the love you have for your sisters to yourself. As for being a proper lady, you don’t have to pretend around me. It’s not like I will tell anyone. I appreciate your mischief and cunning too much for this, and I’m sure that your friends and sisters appreciate it too."

Narcissa did not answer immediately. She was looking at Hermione with wide eyes, a blush was forming on her cheeks, and she scratched at her neck to avert some of the tension she must have felt.

"Ah... thank you," Narcissa said, and Hermione gave her a little smile. "Thank you, Tonks. I tend to be hard on myself."

"Yeah, I could tell."

"Can I...can I still sit with you?"

"Of course, you can. Isn’t this your spot after all?"

"It is, but I don’t mind sharing. You might have a dark presence, but I’m used to it. It puts me at ease. It feels like home." Narcissa returned Hermione’s smile and rested her head on her palm.

"Dark presence?" Hermione asked, not knowing if she should worry about the darkness of her presence or the fact that Narcissa found comfort in said darkness.

"Yeah, didn’t Andromeda tell you? It’s easily detectable, I can feel it without actively trying to sense it."

Hermione frowned. Narcissa spoke with such nonchalance, as if she was talking about the weather. Andromeda had not mentioned anything, and Hermione didn’t know what to make of this revelation. "I guess she had forgotten to mention it."

"My sister is not the forgetful type," Narcissa answered, her voice leaving no room for arguing.

"Then I’m sure that she will come to it sooner or later."

"Hm, that might be the case," Narcissa said, averting her gaze to the sky without another word, and Hermione followed her lead.

They shared a companionable silence. The Slytherin would point at a constellation from time to time and would explain to Hermione its significance and meaning. While Hermione’s mind kept going back to the conversation she had with Ted, to the mark and the snake’s spots, to the darkness that surrounded her, to Andromeda’s flinchings the first time they touched, to the constellations, to the greenhouse, to fingers smudged with ink and eventually to the flowers.

And just like that, under the bright moonlight and the shining stars, under the day’s revelations, under Voldemort’s brewing rebellion, and under the fear of her actions altering the timeline, Hermione had her answer.

The spots on the snake’s back were not the usual circles. They were flower petals, and there was only one person who could have drawn them.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Don’t you think that she is a bit weird?"  

"Evan, for the last time, Tonks is not weird. She just doesn’t talk that much. How is that bad?" Andromeda stretched out her legs on Evan’s thighs and let her head fall to the couch cushion. It was too early in the morning for her cousin’s probing questions about Jo.

"Doesn’t that seem a little suspicious to you? She came out of nowhere and has already gotten into trouble. What kind of transfer student does that in an unfamiliar environment." Evan regarded her with a frown on his face.

"How should I know? How should you know? It’s not like we have ever gotten a transfer student in these seven years. Tonks must be the first in over twenty years."

"That doesn’t make her immune to suspicion. I don’t like the way she watches me. "

Andromeda closed her eyes to not let Evan see how she rolled them. "Evan, you two have barely talked."

"So what? Can’t I just say what I’m feeling? I have the suspicion that she has been following me all week."

"As you said, suspicion.. Besides, it’s not like you go to many places other than the greenhouse and the Great Hall."

"Of course I don’t!" Evan exclaimed with more fervor than Andromeda had expected. She raised an eyebrow at that.

"Yes, that’s what I said. Two places, that’s all."

"Yeah… Anyway, I believe that she might be a spy from the ministry."

Andromeda sighed, well aware that this conversation was treading dangerous waters. It wasn’t like the thought had not crossed her mind on several occasions. Tonks was no regular witch. She appeared out of nowhere with injuries all over her body, claiming that Dumbledore was her teacher during the years that she had been homeschooled.

She had seen how Tonks reacted in ways that no person their age would have. She had noticed how the muggleborn would get lost in her head. Evan was highly observant, but one variable did not fit into his equation. Ted had fully embraced his cousin, and their matching looks left no room for doubt.

On the other hand, Andromeda sensed a kind of darkness in Tonks that she had only felt while being surrounded by the cursed objects atBlack Manor.he couldn’t shake that off nor find a logical explanation for it.

"To spy on what?" Andromeda asked, humoring Evan’s hypothesis.

"Not what, but who," he said cryptically.

"Okay, then who? "

"Us," Evan deadpanned, not elaborating further.

"You can’t be serious."

"Well, let me rephrase. When I say us, I mean our families and their ties to the
Dark Lord.What better way to gather evidence than by befriending us?"

Andromeda frowned. Evan’s reasoning was possible, but…"She didn’t try befriending us."

Tonks had avoided interacting with Evan and had avoided Andromeda to the point that she had sought the muggleborn out.

"She can’t be obvious or else we would sniff her out. You should be wary of Tonks."

"Relax, I know how to take care of myse-"

"Just be careful, okay? You spent too much time together."

"Fine, I will," Andromeda only said to soothe some of his nerves.hen she saw his shoulders sag and his upper body relax on the couch, she changed the topic. "How is it going with your engagement preparations?"

"My father is still looking for my future bride, which is nothing new. To no avail, but he still has hopes."

"I see. Ihope that he will quit his ministrations soon." Andromeda didn’t wish for her cousin to go through an arranged marriage, and since he was a wizard, she hoped that her uncle would leave it up to him to choose his future partner. Not that Evan had many chances.

"I wish for that too, but he is unrelenting and stubborn. You know what I mean," Evan teased, and Andromeda nodded slowly. Druella Rosier was her mother, after all, and she had first-hand experience with the stubbornness of the French family. She only wished that her mother would use that trait of hers to do more important things than negotiate with wine merchants for the lowest price for various bottles of alcohol.

"Mother wants you to attend the winter ball in our house," said Andromeda, and waited for Evan’s reaction. Both cousins detested these annual celebrations where the most prestigious families would boast about their wealth and influence. Years ago, the balls were just an excuse for pureblood families to catch up on the latest gossip and to announce which families were blood traitors. Recently, though, these gatherings had taken a darker turn, with the families trying to please the Dark Lord who was also attending the balls.

"Oh, come on! I hate these pretentious balls. Why does it have to be hosted in your house this year?"

"Father is waiting for a promotion…" Andromeda paused for a second to take a look around the common room. Satisfied with the absence of the students, she added, "He is climbing up the ranks of his Lord."

"Brother is awaiting news as well. He believes that he might get a position in the inner circle, whatever that means. He is obsessed with the idea of bringing glory to the family." Evan averted his gaze from Andromeda to focus on the green flames coming through the lit fireplace. An emerald shade fell on his dark eyes. It did not suit him. "Felix has yet to forgive me about the paintings."

"Evan, this was not your fault," Andromeda said slowly, carefully.

"It doesn’t matter, Andy. Father did not believe that I was the one who painted them. You know, Felix as the oldest, got the worst of his ire while I got away with a slap on the wrist and an order to do better." Evan examined his hands. His fingers had been smudged with various colors of ink since Andromeda could remember him. Hogwarts used to be the place where her cousin felt the utmost freedom, but since last year, even the castle seemed to oppress him.

"Did you? Did you do better?" Andromeda asked.

"I’m not sure. I think that somehow I made it worse." Evan snapped his attention back to her. "If that’s even possible."

"Evan, please. Don’t tell me that you are considering joining them." The thought of losing a wizard like him to the cause was heartbreaking. Andromeda had not had much capacity for forgiveness after Bella joined.

"Have you not considered following  Bellatrix’s footsteps?" Evan asked, evading the question.

"No, I won’t join a cause that is against my friend’s existence. After graduating, I plan to study healing. No dark magic," Andromeda said with a steady voice. She had made up her mind a long time ago that she would not lose herself in pursuing power. Many of her relatives had lost their way when trying to obtain it by any means possible, causing them to commit atrocities that earned the Black family their dark reputation.

"I don’t know if I will join them either, but don’t expect me to take a stand against them."

"Sometimes we should fight about the things we believe in," Andromeda hissed, the fear of losing another family member to blood fanaticism and Evan's hesitancy on such an important matter grating on her nerves.

"Why are you pressuring me? As I have told you before, this is not my fight. Don’t ask me to pick sides."

"How is not joining a group that wants to deprive Ted and people like him of their rights, picking sides?" Andromeda asked, taking her legs off Evan and crossing them at the ankles.

"It's not like that, it's not picking Ted or the group. It comes down to choosing friendship over family, and that is something I cannot do. If I join them, my father will be ecstatic, and maybe, for once, he will be proud of me. He will not perceive me as weak or a failure." Evan ran a hand through his hair, messing up his dark curls. "Just... just how in the world can you be so sure of yourself? Always go around speaking your mind, even if it means going against your own father. Just how, Andy?"

"It’s really simple. I know that no matter what I do, my father will never be proud of me. I will always be a traitor in his eyes, unredeemable. So why should I live according to his values and not stand my ground?"

"Aren’t you worried about getting disowned?" Evan asked, surprise evident in his face.

"No, it would be ideal, to be honest. I would get away from Rabastan once and for all, but I don’t want to leave my sisters behind. I feel like Bella is sinking deeper in this vile cause, and if I leave, I don’t know who will pull her back." Andromeda touched her neck, the coolness of the silver chain of her necklace brought her some much-needed comfort. The thought of losing Bella to their father’s Lord was unbearable. Bella had fought for her freedom, but she was getting dragged into a fight that wasn’t hers. A fight that shouldn’t  happen in the first place.

"So just like me you can’t choose between your family or your friends," Evan said smugly, his voice taking a tone that Andromeda did not appreciate at all. It was the tone he used around the Slytherin guys when trying to fit in with them.

"Don’t misunderstand, Evan. I’m willing to fight for what I believe in. There is no indecision on that part."

"Yeah? I want to see you fight while being married to Rabastan," Evan said, and immediately placed a hand on his mouth. "Andy-"

"That was a low blow, Evan." Andromeda regarded him with a glare. Suddenly, the room felt colder than it already was. The couch cushions hardened, and Andromeda wanted to get as far away from the room as she could. It was the first time her cousin ever spoke about her upcoming marriage and he had decided to say that. "I’m going to my dorm."

Andromeda gave him one last look and stood up. Whatever words he was about to let out died in his throat as she made her way to the door leading to the dorms.

Back in the comfort and warmth of her bed, Andromeda let herself sigh. There was still an hour before the students would begin stirring and preparing for the school day. She reached under her pillow for the letter she had been reading before Evan had dragged her out of bed to talk about Tonks. She put her blanket over her head to protect herself from prying eyes.

With the aid of Lumos Andromeda, read the last part. It had been a week since Bella had sent it to her, but the message was still troubling.

Andy, you were right, my necklace keeps acting up. I’m going to do some more research on the matter and come back to you with the results. There are some books in the manor’s library that I have not checked out yet. Don’t involve Cissy in this, not unless she mentions a change in hers.

Much love, Bella.

P.S keep an eye on Rabastan and his crew. Our Lord is planning to bestow them with a task.

Using her free hand, Andromeda touched the chain on her neck. It was as cool as before, and it brought her the same comfort. She closed her eyes. She could feel it. There was trouble coming their way.

* * *

"So, as I said before, my dear students, today we will be brewing the antidote to the truth serum widely known as Veritaserum. I believe that my demonstration has been more than enough to set an example of what I require from this exercise." Slughorn said this with a smile and bowed like an actor at the end of a performance. Amelia, next to Andromeda, rolled her eyes and began inspecting the ingredients that they would need. "The best potion will win a Slug Club invitation from yours truly." He paused, waiting for clapping or whatever Andromeda could not say, but when he got none, he hurriedly added, "With no further ado, you can start."

"I can’t believe him, making us brew the antidote without bothering to teach us how to brew Veritaserum first." Amelia poured honey-water into the pot and lowered the primus flame before placing the pot on it. A frown settled on her face.

"We will be taught both by the end of the year. So why the rush? Do you want to use Veritaserum on someone? Some ex, maybe?" Andromeda teased her friend and bumped her shoulder against hers, only to earn a scowl from the prefect.

"Ha-ha. Andy, you are so funny that I almost can’t restrain myself from breaking into uncontrollable laughter," Amelia said with lips drawn in a thin line and grabbed two silver knives and some Valerian Sprigs. "Take these."

Andromeda accepted the offered knife and followed her friend's rhythm in cutting the sprigs. Amelia seemed tense, tenser than usual. The sharp sound of the blade breaking the fragile stem was coming at such a rapid speed that Andromeda had trouble keeping up. "Amelia, slow down. You are going to chop off a finger if you keep it like that."

"Fuck it." Amelia threw the knife on the counter, the sound gaining the students’ attention, but with a glare from Andromeda, most of them turned to their work. Only a pair of heterochromatic eyes lingered, a pair that Andromeda had found herself drawn to on numerous occasions and was now unable to harden her gaze at them. She focused back on her friend.

"Amelia, what is going on?"

"I just... I." Amelia paused, her brows furrowed. She searched in her pocket and took out a bobble. She tied her hair back in a swift movement, and a sigh escaped her. "Much better. My hair was in the way."

It wasn’t.

"Amelia..." Andromeda said, her hand finding her friend’s instinctively. This behavior was unusual for Amelia, who always seemed in control.

The prefect squeezed Andromeda’s hand back and released the hold. "It’s nothing, I’m just anxious for the N.E.W.T.s and I guess that my nerves got to me. Let’s return to work." Amelia let out a small laugh and went to grab the knife to continue chopping sprigs. Andromeda moved the knives to her side, away from the prefect’s reach. Amelia has had the top grades in their class for six years in a row and had never expressed any concern regarding exams, N.E.W.T.s or not.

 "The honey-water needs to be brought to a simmer. We have time. Besides, didn’t the minister offer you a place in his office last year?"

"Well, he did. But there has been a change of plans." Amelia turned her head to the other side. She was avoiding eye contact.

"Since when?" Andromeda leaned closer, her voice was soft, careful not to be heard by eavesdroppers. Gossip in the castle traveled fast, and gossip about the famous Hufflepuff prefect would spread like fire in dry wheat.

"Last week, I decided to join the auror force instead of just being an office worker at the minister’s office."

Andromeda gasped without meaning to. Her attempt to go unnoticed failed, and this time it was Amelia’s glare that granted them privacy.  "You can’t be serious."

Joining the minister’s office had been Amelia’s dream since the first year, and if Andromeda was to take a guess, it must have been the prefect’s dream even before attending Hogwarts. She had worked hard all these years. Submitting assignments on time, offering to assist professors with out-of-school assignments, assuming the role of perfect with great zeal, and even persuading Andromeda to join her. All that, Amelia did with great confidence. The kind of confidence one has when being certain of their abilities.

When the letter from the ministry came last year, Amelia had been ecstatic, jumping up and down, hugging as many housemates as her arms could fit, and even going as far as hugging Madam Sprout. 

"I’m dead serious. The letter from my parents, you know, the one from last week."

Andromeda nodded slowly and said, "Yes, I remember."

When they had entered the owlery last week after the match, next to Bellatrix’s black raven had been the Bones’ brown owl.. It had seemed that she hadn't been the only one to receive troubling news.

"I read it every night, and some nights more than once…and the thing is, well, the thing is that my parents are fleeing Britain because someone, they don’t know who, is not pleased by their work in the ministry and their advocacy of muggleborn rights. They sent them a threatening letter, heavily implying that there would be consequences if they didn’t stop." Amelia said, looming over the pot. Watching its content intensely. "The water is simmering. Let’s put the sprigs inside."

"Why don’t they try to lay low for a while?" Andromeda asked, but did not need Amelia to answer. If one thing was for certain, it was the Bones’ fearlessness and ability to stand their ground no matter what. Her father had complained many times that Amelia’s parents were interfering with his Lord's plans.

"My parents are not like that. They are going to France, where my father’s family is, and they are going to work from there while trying to search for the sender of the letter."

"At least they will be safe. That's good." Andromeda dropped a handful of Valerian sprigs into the pot. She couldn’t help but feel that her father and his so-called Lord had something to do with the departure of Amelia’s parents. She needed to write to Bella about it. Her sister was a low-ranking member, but the Lord was fond of her and appreciative of her skills. Maybe she could giveAndromeda some information.

"But what about the rest of us? Who is going to keep us safe? I feel like there is something bigger going on. My parents were brief in their letter, but I can’t shake off the unease that I have been feeling since yesterday. I should do something to help the people directly, and the Auror Department is the only way." Amelia glanced up and met Andromeda’s eyes. The distinctive lack of confidence in her friend's dark eyes told Andromeda all that she needed to know.

"Amelia…it’s okay to be scared."

"Who said anything about being scared? I want to help make a difference."

"You can make a difference without abandoning your dream, just like your parents are doing. None of them is an auror, correct?"

Amelia shook her head, her hands crossing over her chest in a defensive posture. "And that’s why they are fleeing the country. I won’t be weak like them. I will stand my ground."

"It is n-"

"It’s my decision, and I want you to respect it." Amelia turned her back, a wall rising between them. Andromeda raised her hand to place it on her shoulder, but the Hufflepuff began walking towards the storage room. "I’m going to bring some mistletoe berries," she said without turning around.

Andromeda sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. There was indeed trouble coming their way.

The rest of the time passed in relative silence. Amelia apologized for her behavior somewhere in the middle of the lesson but didn’t want to discuss the subject further. They finished the potion before everyone else, got an O on their assignment, and got a pat on the back from Slughorn, with their professor stating that he would have to give their invitations to someone else since they already had a place on his table. Then the wizard unknowingly asked Amelia about her parents, causing the already sour mood to intensify and her to flee the classroom as soon as the bell rang.

So now, Andromeda was left watching an empty seat, thinking about ways to comfort her friend.

"Aren’t you leaving?"

Andromeda looked up to meet the shadow that had befallen her, but there was no need. She could feel Tonks’s presence from across the room, steady yet clouded by darkness. A darkness that was so familiar to Andromeda in the way that breathing was. She had grown up around that darkness. It was a distinctive one that seemed to have soaked through the walls of the Black Manor and was reinforced by whatever heirlooms her father brought out of his vault at random times.

She always suspected that her father did it to keep her and her sisters on their toes. To keep them in line, to make sure that they would behave. He was aware of how much they feared the dark energy of the items. After all, he was the one who taught them how to detect it and then relinquished their discomfort like the sadist that he was.

"In a minute or so. I’m not particularly hungry right now. How about you?"

"Ah." Tonks placed her hand on the back of her neck and raised the other towards the lines of caldrons near Slughorn’s office. "I was going to practice a bit. The professor lets me use the lab as long as I clean everything after I’m done," she said and blushed.

Andromeda rested her head on her palm and tilted her head to take a better look at Tonks, trying to pinpoint the reason for the witch’s embarrassment, but instead got distracted. Tonks was wearing her uniform properly for the first time since the semester started, blazer and tie in their supposed place. "So what does this practice involve?"

"Not anything extremely complicated... Only the basics."

"And what are the basics? Do you brew last year’s potions?"

"No, nothing like that. It’s more like pouring water from one cauldron to the other or chopping various ingredients. I’m trying to relearn how to be proficient with a knife. It's, uh, it has been difficult for me to, well, you know…" Tonks stopped her rambling and let her hands fall back to her side. "Anyway, I’m going over there. I will try not to disturb you."

"Tonks, wait!" Andromeda said it louder than intended, and the Hufflepuff jumped slightly. "Sorry for that, but why won’t you practice here at my table? This way, I will not be alone, and you will have someone to stick your fingers back in case you have an accident."

"Are you sure that you don’t want to stay alone? It is no trouble for me really, I can just g-"

Andromeda cut Tonks off by placing her free hand on hers and nudging the witch’s sleeve down. "Nonsense, I enjoy your company a great deal, so don’t worry about me."

"I see," said Tonks, and she slid into Amelia’s seat, back straight and elbows touching the table. She would be the perfect example of stoicism, only if her blush was not so evident. "I enjoy your company too."

"After the month we spent practicing meditation, you better be," Andromeda teased, but as always, Tonks did not rise to the occasion, and did not return the banter. The only options for getting a reaction from the witch were to compliment her, just like the way Andromeda did now, or approach her from behind. "Otherwise I will have to charge you for my time."

"It’s not like I have any money to give," Tonks said, and in a blink of an eye, she took her statement back. "Well, I have money, but not with me. I have some in my dorm."

"Relax, I’m not going to ask for a Gringotts receipt."

"I hope you won’t," Tonks said, grabbing two cauldrons and casting a wandless aguamenti filling the circular one with water.

Andromeda was content to sit there silently watching the witch pour water from one cauldron to the next, experimenting with various shapes and sizes, awkwardly smiling at her when some of the water spilled on the table. There might have been a dark cloud surrounding Tonks, but the steadiness of her aura had Andromeda feeling relaxed in no time, as she had done many times in the past month.

Did she have a boyfriend back in the muggle world? Or maybe a girlfriend? Andromeda couldn’t help but wonder and smirk at the thought of Tonks not being exclusively attracted to wizards. She had never seen her in the company of other wizards other than Ted and Evan, and she could safely say that Tonks did not harbor any positive feelings for Rabastan or his gang. But then again, Tonks did not seem to like anyone besides Amelia, Ted, and her. Narcissa had mentioned Tonks helping her friends with their assignments sometimes, but Andromeda had yet to see for herself if the witch was just being polite or if she genuinely enjoyed the teens' company.

"So, Tonks, is there some special person waiting for you back home?" Andromeda wasn't a fool to ask her directly if she was in a relationship. She had to take the long way if she was about to get any sort of personal answers from the witch.

Tonks stopped her pouring and placed the cauldrons on the table to turn to face Andromeda. She was smiling, "Yes, there is."

"Oh..." Andromeda tried not to sound surprised but failed to restrain herself from scowling, her mouth stretching uncomfortably. "Do tell."

"My friends. They are waiting for me to return home, but I guess that they will have to wait a long time. They are probably wondering where the hell I am," Tonks said, and her smile fell in an instant, as if it was never there to begin with.

"We have less than nine months before graduation. I’m sure they won’t forget you until then. Have you been friends for a long time?" Andromeda asked.

"Yes, we met during our first year of school and have been stuck together since then."

"Did you attend muggle school in the morning and had evening classes with Dumbledore?"

"Something like that," she said hastily, and returned to work. Grabbing a silver knife this time. Andromeda watched the witch closely and wondered why she was lying when she was painfully bad at it.

Evan’s words about Tonks being a spy echoed strongly in her head, but she shook them off. There must have been something else going on. Maybe she was here to take revenge. After all, Black magic was surrounding her.

Tonks took a transparent muggle bag, a plastic bag, as Ted had explained to Andromeda years ago, out from the pocket of her skirt and enlarged it.

"Do I want to know why you carry so many carrots when they should clearly be in the kitchen?" Andromeda asked and picked up a carrot to examine closely. The smell of the soil was still strong on this one. "This looks as fresh as ever."

"Well, Professor Slughorn was not very keen on me cutting expensive potion ingredients only to throw them out. Amelia had overheard our conversation. She had stayed behind and asked Professor Sprout for some herbs. Instead, Sprout pointed us to the house-elves, who were more than happy to support my practice. I must admit that they went a bit overboard and I had to convince them to not give me a pumpkin."

"Sounds like Amelia and the elves. You wouldn’t be a real Hufflepuff if you did not get spoiled by them."

"Spoiled by the elves?" Tonks asked, tilting her head. A gesture Andromeda found rather cute and moved her chair closer to the witch.

"Spoiled by both," Andromeda said, laying further down on the table. Her head rested on her left upper arm. She let out a contented sigh. Her eyes fell closed. The low light of the room was making her drowsy.

It was easy to relax around Tonks. To let her guard down and drift off. To focus only on the familiar feeling of the magic of her home, greeting her after a long time away, and not on the feeling of being enclosed and dark spaces, surrounded by weapons and torture devices that once upon a time had belonged to her ancestors. The sight of her favorite teddy bear placed on the iron chair, plunged by dozens of blades, and the sound of the door clicking shut behind her, leaving her ten-year-old self in thick darkness, would be ingrained inside of her forever.

Andromeda had been subjected to her father's most creative punishments after he had realized that violence did not work on her. But then again, did it work for her sisters?

A weight settled on her shoulders and her eyes flew open, her head rising in alarm.

"Sorry, you shuddered, and I thought that you would like some warmth. I did not mean to startle you." Tonks had her hands raised in front of her chest to show that she meant no danger or offense.

Andromeda touched her shoulder where Tonks’s thick blazer was covering hers and smiled at the thoughtfulness of the witch. "I could have used a heating charm, you know."

"Yes, but having something to use as a blanket is better. More comforting." 

"Cute and considerate? Careful Tonks, if you keep it like that, you will have suitors lining up in no time.” Andromeda teased, "Witches appreciate romantic gestures." She wanted to test the waters to gauge a reaction from the witch.

Tonks’s eyes widened comically as she moved on the edge of her seat, putting some distance between them. "Don’t say that! It is just a blazer to keep you warm, nothing special." She averted her gaze for a moment, and Andromeda considered telling her that she was joking, but Tonks turned to meet her eyes again, adding, "And please stop calling me cute. No one called me that when I wasn’t injured, not to mention now."

"Ah, you misunderstood me. When I compliment you, I don’t praise your physical appearance but your behavior, not that you don’t look goo-"

"Andromeda..."

"Andy."

"What?" Tonks asked, eyebrows furrowing. Andromeda wanted to reach out and ease that frown, but this was not the time for that.

"Call me Andy. It’s always Andromeda this, Andromeda that. You make me feel like I’m in trouble. My parents call me that."

"I see. I just didn’t want to cause you any discomfort, seeing how you don’t like Rabastan calling you Andy," Tonks said, with a profound warmth in her voice that set Andromeda aflame. Just who was this person next to her, and why had she been so late to meet her?

"Thank you, Jo. I appreciate it."

"Think nothing of it. Anyone with some common decency would act like that," Tonks replied, but this was not the case with Andromeda. She had seen how people disrespect each other with no regard to the other person’s feelings. Her own home life being the prime example.

Tonks reached for the knife to continue cutting. She began dicing the carrots carefully, but not without missing the target a few times.

Andromeda noted Tonks’s reaction when she had mentioned witches liking her and, satisfied and warmed, she leaned back on the table. She raised the collar of the blazer to have it reach her neck. The rhythmic sound of blade meeting wood was oddly similar to raindrops pattering against the Black Manor’s library window, and the feeling of coming home engulfed Andromeda once more as she nuzzled into Tonks’s blazer.

Maybe, just maybe, Evan’s words had held some truth in them. Maybe Andromeda was indeed in danger and needed to be more careful around the witch, but not in the way her cousin was worried about.

 

Chapter Text

Hermione was lost. She was certain that Evan had been the one doing the markings, but as the days passed while she trailed behind him, being as discreet as possible, day by day, Hermione lost some of her certainty.

Evan seemed to be a normal student, maybe a bit jumpier and more aware of his surroundings than the others, but that was it. No suspicious meetings, no socializing with the rest of his house, no aggression towards muggleborns. Nothing. He just stood in a corner and watched as his housemates terrorized younger students without interfering. And as grating as his passiveness was, it was not incriminating.

Thus, Hermione was facing a wall and could not find a way to get through it. She couldn’t talk to Ted about it yet, while the possibility of being wrong was strong, and she couldn’t talk about it with Andromeda, since Evan was her cousin and Ted had been adamant about talking about this topic with the Slytherin witch himself.

Dumbledore was the only safe choice and Hermione would have gone straight to him if it weren't for the Headmaster’s absence the past week. He had left a letter for her to Professor McGonagall, stating that should she need him, a patronus message would have him back in no time, but Hermione hadn’t been able to conjure a patronus after the war.

The waiting was becoming unbearable. Hermione was slowly gathering information she did not wish to acquire and pictured the thin line of the future trembling. Ted had said that his attacker was not alone, they were a group, and the older Slytherins might have known something. Not that they would reveal anything to her, but a plan could form around them. Only if Ted told Andromeda the truth. Why hadn’t he?

"Tonks, what in Merlin’s name are you doing here?" Amelia’s strong voice came from behind the couch Hermione was sitting on.

"Miss Bones, keep it down, this is a library, not a quidditch pitch!"

"Sorry, Madam," Amelia said, bowing in the librarian’s direction and plopped down next to Hermione with a frown.

"What is wrong?"

"You are," Amelia said casually, her frown falling only to appear on Hermione’s face.

"Excuse me?"

"Well, not exactly, but you should have been in the courtyard…" Amelia cast a tempus with her wand, "Twenty minutes ago."

"And why is that?" Hermione asked, not pleased at the thought of leaving the library.

"Hogsmeade weekend, you were on the roll call, but since you missed the assembly, Madam Sprout sent me to fetch you."

"I haven’t signed up my name for that," Hermione said. She had no intention of visiting the village near the castle anytime soon. The money Dumbledore had given her, after her insistence, was crumbs to only be used in an emergency and was tucked safely under her mattress in the dorm room alongside Ollivander’s notebook.

"Ted must have grown tired of you roaming the halls like a ghost on weekends and jotted your name down on the list. No matter, we should get going since the others have already begun," Amelia said, standing up. Hermione groaned.

"Is there a way for me to not come?" Hermione asked while knowing the answer. Hogsmeade weekend was the students’ favorite activity, and the chapter dedicated to it in "Hogwarts: A History" did not mention students missing the trip unless they had some serious medical problems. It was safe to assume that voluntary skipping was not considered an option.

"Nope. Absence is allowed only for medical reasons, but you look fine to me. Stand up." Amelia offered her hand and Hermione accepted it begrudgingly while internally cursing Ted for his initiative. "Besides, why wouldn’t you want to go out? The butterbeer might not be great, but it’s ten times better than the pumpkin juice we have in the castle."

Hermione tried to find the appeal in Amelia’s words but failed. Butterbeer, no, alcohol in general, tasted the same to her no matter where it came from. "Can we at least go to the dorms first? I don’t have any money on me."

"Nonsense," Amelia said and waved her hand, "whatever you drink is my treat. It’s your first visit to the village, and we've got to keep you coming somehow." She led them towards the exit of the library. They nodded goodbye to the librarian and got a tight smile in return.

"Are you sure? It’s no trouble for me to g-"

"Merlin, Tonks, when someone offers you something, learn to take it. My parents are well off, so I can afford to buy my friends a few butterbeers without going bankrupt."

"Are we friends?" Hermione asked, hesitating a bit. Ted, similar to Harry and Ron, wore his heart on his sleeve and was not shy about declaring that they were friends, but Amelia had never made such a declaration.

"Of course we are. People who deal with mandrakes together stay together." Amelia grinned and patted Hermione on the back to emphasize her words. "Now, you are going to take my offer, and I will try not to force you into more out-of-class herbology activities."

"Only try?"

"Well, yes. I don’t like going back on my promises. Mind you, this is more than many other people get."

"Okay, I got it," Hermione said, letting her gaze wander to Amelia. She took the prefect in for the first time. "Are you wearing muggle clothes?"

"Ted’s Christmas gift last year. He gave Andromeda and me his mother’s old clothes, but not without adding a modern flair to them. You see this design?" Amelia pointed at her chest where a leaf stamp was and smiled. "Ted added it, using an iron device or something."

"Ted does stamping?" asked Hermione, impressed by the wizard’s skills. The leaf on Amelia’s shirt looked like it was embodied in it upon production.

"Stamping, yes! That was the word he used. You should have seen the tuxedo he wore to the Yule Ball. He stamped a bat-like symbol on the back of his jacket. It was very impressive," Amelia said with wide eyes, and Hermione couldn’t help but smile at the idea of Ted parading around blood fanatics with Batman’s symbol on his back.

"I can imagine it," Hermione replied, and increased her pace a bit to push the front hall door open.

An empty courtyard greeted the two witches, accompanied by the bright sun. It had yet to snow, even though winter was approaching with rapid speed, causing the temperature to drop with every passing day. Hermione fell in step with Amelia, their footsteps sinking into the dirt road, creating prints all over the damp soil.

* * *

Walking in the narrow streets of Hogsmeade was akin to a trip down memory lane. The feeling of the village has remained the same. The shops she had been used to seeing when visiting with Harry and Ron were exactly where she had left them off. They were better kept, with more vibrant colors, but still recognizable. The characteristic line formed by students in front of Honeydukes was another gentle reminder that some things never changed.

Hermione walked next to Amelia in silence. Their shoulders brushed occasionally.

"So, Tonks," began the prefect as they took a turn leading to the Three Broomsticks. "You and Dumbledore are close, aren’t you?"

"I wouldn’t say so," Hermione replied casually, attempting to mask her surprise caused by the out-of-place question.

"Come on, you are the only person I know to have him as a teacher. Don’t you consider him a mentor or something?"

"Not really," Hermione said. Harry had always been the one to admire the headmaster and had no problem announcing it. Ron and she were more reserved toward the elder wizard, and their reservations had only grown with every life-threatening situation the Headmaster had put them through in the name of the greater good. And while Hermione was trustful of this younger version of Dumbledore, he was not her mentor. The headmaster was indebted to her in a sense and protected her identity out of guilt for his future self’s actions, but that was not something to reveal to Amelia.

"You are killing me, Tonks," Amelia said, passing a hand through her black hair. She looked anxious, an emotion Hermione had never seen on her. 

"If you tell me what this is about, I might be able to help you," Hermione offered. Not sure if she truly wanted to know. Adding secrets to an already high pile could cause it to collapse.

"Highly doubt it, but it’s not like I have anything to lose. Let’s talk inside." Amelia halted in front of the pub and raised her hand to grab the pub’s door handle when the door flew open. A redheaded witch wearing a leather apron came out. She grinned at them.

"My, my, look what the cat had dragged in. You are getting better at picking them, Bony," said the witch as her eyes scanned Hermione's face and body. Amelia rolled her eyes.

"It’s not like that. This is Ted’s cousin, and for the love of Merlin, don’t let Andy hear you say that. It will be trouble for both of us."

"Don’t worry. It’s all harmless fun, isn’t that right dear?" The witch asked, tipping her head towards Hermione.

"I know what harmless fun means to you, so don’t…" Amelia said, using the same tone she used when lecturing younger Hufflepuffs, but it fell on deaf ears. The witch simply sidestepped her and reached out to Hermione for a handshake. The prefect gave a huff and stopped talking.

“Don't leave me hanging now.”

Hermione looked between the witch and Amelia. She waited for the prefect’s reaction and when she heard Amelia laugh despite her attempts to remain serious, Hermione shook the witch’s hand. "Jo Tonks."

"Rosmerta Christie, but you can call me... How do the muggles say it?" Madam Rosmerta, or at this time, just Rosmerta, paused, a Cheshire grin spreading over her face. "Ah yes, you can call me anytime. I have a phone sitting by the bar."

"No, this is not happening." Amelia said with one breath, turned to Hermione, who was stunned by the cheesy line, grabbed her hand, bypassed Rosmerta, and hurried inside the pub. "Send someone else to take our order, we will be upstairs."  

"No promises," answered the witch, and her deep laugh echoed inside the pub, earning curious glances from the patrons.

They climbed the stairs and settled on a table with a window that overlooked the alley between Three Broomsticks and the post office. Hermione looked out and remained silent, unsure of how to continue the previous conversation with Amelia.

"Don’t look so uptight, people will think that I forced you to come here," said Amelia, picking up the catalog placed on the table. "The food is acceptable, but I would recommend that you wait until we are back in the castle to eat unless you are hungry."

"I’m good."

"If you say so, I will get straight to the point. This needs to stay between us. Andromeda and Ted will be joining us soon. They have enough on their plates as it is, no need to add more pressure on them.” Amelia placed the catalog aside, a serious look in her dark eyes. "My parents are working with the headmaster on a project, and I want you to help me find out what this project is about so I can help them."

Hermione gulped. There was only one project that Amelia’s parents could be working on with Dumbledore, and it was a project, or a cause, for a better word, that Amelia had never officially joined. "I can’t help you with that."

"Can’t help or don’t want to help?" Amelia asked, leaning closer. Pinning Hermione to her seat with her glare. "This is serious. My parents have left England because someone was threatening them."

"What does this have to do with them working with the headmaster?"

"Dumbledore had begun visiting our house last summer, but my parents have only recently been threatened to stop advocating for muggleborn rights despite them having done this for years. Don’t you find it odd?"

"I do," Hermione whispered, knowing fully well that Amelia was right to suspect Dumbledore. The Bones had been one of the first families to join the Order and had suffered greatly for it. Each one of them had been murdered by Voldemort to seal his feud.

"So will you help me?" Amelia asked, her eyes shining under the low lighting.

"No, I will not," Hermione stated firmly. The prefect had only another twenty years to live, and Hermione would not let her shorten them by making a rash decision.

Amelia slammed her fists onto the table, and Hermione flinched from the quick movement. "Are you fucking kidding me? This is important! My parents' lives are on the line!" she yelled, forgetting momentarily that they were in a crowded pub.

"And do you want to have yours on the line as well?"

"If that means that I can protect them, then so be it." Amelia crossed her arms on her chest. The perfect picture of defiance.

"Your parents don’t need you to protect them. You will only make things worse if you get involved," Hermione said, aware that her breathing was getting quicker. Blood rushed to her head.

"What could you know about that? Your parents are probably somewhere safe, waiting for you to come home. It’s easy to deny me help when you are uninvolved!" Amelia raised her voice at the last part, frustration spilling from her every word. 

"This is far from it!" Hermione matched Amelia’s tone and regretted it immediately. The witch was speaking from a place of hurt and she had no intention of poking fun at Hermione’s situation because she had no idea what was going on in the muggleborn’s life. "Look, Amelia, if you want something, go speak to Dumbledore. I’m leaving. If Ted asks, tell him I wanted to check some shops out."

"Whatever," said Amelia, crossing her arms and closing the topic.

Hermione sighed and stood up. The chair creaked as she dragged it along the wooden floor to mask the whispers of the students that did not bother to wait until she was gone to start their gossiping.

"Leaving so soon? I was about to come to take your order," said Rosmerta, stopping Hermione as she made her way to the door.

"I’m afraid that something came up."

"I see. Some other time then. Don’t worry, it will be on the house. Perks of working here for over a year and all." The witch gestured at the counter where various alcohol bottles sat and smiled.

"Ah, thank you," Hermione said, pulling the door handle.

"Don’t sweat it. Come over anytime." Rosmerta raised her hand in a wave, and Hermione exited the pub.

She wandered a bit around Hogsmeade, taking comfort in its familiarity. The thought that she should have stayed and explained her decision to Amelia wasn’t leaving her mind. She should have stayed to ease the argument, get her point across, and not run away, but as of late, Hermione has proved to have lost most of her tolerance for heated conversations. Where had her debating skills run off to? She used to argue with Harry and Ron for hours, going back and forth until they were all exhausted and ready to settle for the less dangerous plan. A technique that hadn’t worked in their favor, but then again, nothing had.

Hermione walked some more, hands in her pockets to trap the remaining warmth from the pub. The school uniform was not designed for low temperatures, and since she had given her blazer to Andromeda, not bothering to ask for it back after they had left the dungeon yesterday, Hermione was bound to get cold, and a heating charm simply wouldn’t do. Her pace was slow to match the village’s vibe, to become attuned to the passing villagers, and to visit the only place she was curious about without gaining attention.

The shape of the Shrieking Shack got more prominent with every step she took towards the end of the village. The grovel road gave way to a dirt one, and Hermione felt a smile spreading on her face. She stopped to admire the view, and the Shrieking Shack did not disappoint. It was the first place in 1972 to be drastically different from its 1998 counterpart.

Signs of abandonment were evident from the place where she stood. The yard was full of overgrown weeds, the outer wall’s paint had worn off, and large rolled up pieces of it were laying on the ground. The roof was missing a few bricks, the windows were broken, and sharp glass pieces framed them, daring curious kids to enter the house through them and risk nasty cuts. But, despite its unkempt appearance, the house was inviting, no rumor of it being hunted had circulated, and no young professor Lupin had yet transformed inside of it.

Hermione jumped over the fallen fence and placed her hand on the barred, loose-planked door. She closed her eyes to feel the magic of the place, as Andromeda had tried to teach her, but a sudden sound coming from inside the house had them flying open.

It was the sound of footsteps and wood creaking and from what she could make off from standing outside, it was more than one person. She walked carefully to the back of the house, casting Quietus to avoid detection, and peered inside through the lowest window.

Yaxley was the first to march down the stairs, with Lucius, Rabastan, Crabbe, and Goyle tailing him. He went to stand in the center of the living room while the others sat on the floor, creating a circle around him. They looked at Yaxley with the utmost focus, waiting for him to speak. Hermione stood on her toes to gain as much vision of the room as possible.

"I’m going to be brief, we've wasted a lot of time already." Yaxley pointed his glare at Crabbe and Goyle, but the duo paid him no mind. "The leader for this operation will be Rabastan and-"

"But I am the one with prior experience. I helped on last year’s mission alongside Rosier. If someone deserves to lead, that’s me," Lucius cut Yaxley off with a shrill voice. A vein popped on the death eater’s forehead as he leaned into Lucius’s personal space.

"Do you doubt our Lord’s judgment, boy? Do you want me to set up a meeting with him so you can ask him to reconsider?"

"I…no sir," Lucius said, averting his gaze and turning his head to the left. Yaxley pulled back, immensely satisfied with himself if the predatory smile he gave Lucius was an indicator.

"Now that this is settled, Rabastan will lead this year an-"

"Uh, sir…" Yaxley was cut off  by Rabastan, who looked ready to combust from anxiety, his face red and his voice trembling.

"What! What is it this time?" hissed the death eater as his anger rose.

"Sir, where is Rosier?"

Yaxley’s sigh was so loud that it could be heard from where Hermione was standing. He did not answer the question.

"Rosier was accepted to the cause last year. The Lord announced it the day he also announced that Lucius failed. Don’t you remember?" Goyle answered in a perfect display of his lack of ability to read the room. Hermione placed a hand in front of her mouth to cover the laugh that escaped her. If only Harry and Ron were here to see the future death eaters being unprofessional and immature. 

"Oh, I do. Lucius did not talk to us all summer," Crabbe said, going for a high five to his friend but Yaxley grabbed both their hands and twisted them.

"We know, gentlemen, no need for reminders. This is not a school lesson where you can fool around, this is a very important meeting and I need you all to act respectfully." Yaxley regarded the four of them with a glare before clasping his hands behind his back and continuing, "This year's mission will be different. Our Lord decided to give you an item of his for safekeeping."

Hermione strained her ears, not wanting to miss any information.

"Each of you will have it in your possession for a week before passing it to the next. This will last until graduation, Rabatstan, as the leader, will be the one to choose the safe keeper at the end of every week. I will be supervising the mission, but if the item comes to any harm, it will be your necks on the line." Yaxley finished with a smile revealing too many teeth.

"What is so important about this item that our only responsibility will be keeping it safe?" asked Lucius.

"Well, that’s for the Lord to tell you and not me. But since it will be very easy and I wouldn’t like you to get bored, how about we up the stakes a bit? How about that if one of you fails, you all fail?"

"I would prefer that we didn’t," said Rabastan, using the back of his hand to wipe his forehead.

"I’m in," said Lucius at the same time and gave Rabastan a side glare. 

"I will give you some time to think about it. Now for the item." Yaxley accioed a briefcase that was placed on top of the fireplace and took a notebook out of it. Hermione’s eyes widened upon seeing one of Voldemort’s Horcrux in plain sight, with a death eater holding it so casually as if it didn’t contain a piece of his Lord’s soul.

Did Yaxley know the notebook’s significance? Hermione went to grab her wand at the same time a different wand was pressed into her spine.

"You've got a lot of nerve to be spying without a cover," Evan whispered, and Hermione cursed her luck as she turned to face him.

"Just the person I wanted to see," Hermione said, watching as his hand trembled and his lips tightened, creating a straight line.

"I’m sure it is." Evan looked inside the house through the window. "We need to leave before they come out."

"You are one of them. Why the fear?"

"Did the ministry tell you that?" Evan asked, retracting his wand. "I knew I was right to be suspicious of you."

Hermione frowned, her wand itching to be drawn. To demand answers. Instead, she turned back to the window. Yaxley and the group of Slytherins were exiting the living room. "I missed them."

"Oh, yes, because listening to Lucius and Rabastan suck up to Yaxley is such a bad thing to miss," Evan said, and upon realizing the treacherous tint of his words, asked, "Can you act a little bit more shocked. What kind of spy are you?"

"Shh, listen."

The door hinges creaked. Hermione held her breath and hoped for Evan to do the same.

"That’s it for today. Rabastan, next week the notebook will be yours, I will be waiting for you at the forbidden forest in our usual spot," Yaxley said and the crack of apparition was heard.

"You damned coward. Why did you refuse his offer? If I was the leader, I would-"

"Only that you are not, Lucius, I am. I get to decide what we will do and will not waste our opportunity to join the ranks because you are a bloody idiot."

"Piss of, man. Crabbe, Goyle, with me."

Evan rolled his eyes and muttered, "idiots.” 

Hermione shot him a glare but remained silent until their voices lowered and the sounds of their footsteps disappeared.

She turned to Evan, and with a swift movement, she reversed their positions and had him pressed to the wall with her wand to his jugular.

"What are you doing?"

"What does it look like?" Hermione pressed her wand harder against his neck and said, "Listen to me, Rosier. I have no idea what you were spouting about spies, but I know that these guys mentioned your name and your participation in whatever cultist mission you were involved in last year. And I know that my muggleborn friends have been under attack since last year by some cowards that believe that marking someone is acceptable, but the thing that I don’t know, and for your own good, I hope you know, is why they did that."

"You are not a spy?"

"Stop asking questions and give me some answers! Did you do that to Ted?"

"Ted... has the mark?" Evan asked, color leaving his face.

"Why do you think I have been following you around? Ted told me about the attacks and showed me the mark. Drawing petals on the snake while obsessing over the flowers in the greenhouse is not a wise choice."

"It’s not like that. I had not touched these students. I only designed the mark upon demand. The Lord-no someone powerful-" Evan changed his words, trying to cover his slip-up. Hermione threw a Silencio at him.

"Stop, don’t call him lord. You are making me sick. This is sickening." She took a step back, took space to breathe. "I hate people like you. What does ‘I only designed it mean?’ What does ‘it is not like that’ mean? You knew what was going on and did not intervene or even reported it anonymously. What does Voldemort want?"

Evan pointed at his neck and Hermione canceled the spell. He averted his gaze and said, "I don’t know... Tonks, I truly don’t know. He asked me to design him something with a snake and a skull. He even gave me a book on studying muggle tattoos but never said what he wanted to do with it. These are not ordinary tattoos, they are runes. Created and enhanced by him."

"Fuck!" Hermione placed her fingers on her temples, prompting her mind to think about the dark mark and its properties.

Her mind came up with no answers.

"How could I fail to study that? Merlin, I have studied everything," she said more to herself, but got a questioning look from Evan nonetheless. If Voldemort had created the runes, then what chance did she have to destroy them? Was Voldermort’s death the only way to get rid of them?

"Tonks." Evan moved closer, hunched shouldered and wide-eyed. Every step betrayed uneasiness."Are you not a ministry spy?" he asked once more, beginning to sound like a broken record. 

"I am not, but this is not the point." From today, a Horcrux would be in the castle, and Hermione was not sure if she should attempt to destroy it or not. The chamber would remain sealed if she could snatch the notebook and burn it with Fiendfyre. Ginny would not be mocked by her peers, and Harry would not be forced to fight a basilisk.

"I’m afraid that this is exactly the point. We need to go back to the village." Evan’s voice trembled, and Hermione could not help but sneer at him. "I might have done something."

"I can't see what could be worse than what you have already done." Evan had, unknowingly, created the earliest version of what would become the most feared symbol in magical Britain, granting him a position in Voldemort’s ranks.

"I sent a portrait of you to my uncle because I thought you were spying on me for the ministry. He wanted to have a picture of you to check with the ministry workers."

"Did you have to draw me? Is a facial scar and a single eye not enough for a description?" Hermione asked, bothered by Evan putting a target on her back.

Dumbledore had contacted a friend of his in the ministry to create the birth certificate and the rest of her legal documents to the best of their abilities allowed them. But if a wizard of such high caliber as Cygnus Black decided to search for her, Hermione was certain holes would appear in Jo Tonks’s identity, and that, he could find merely by using her name. A portrait to go along with a name would highlight her importance and place her directly on Voldemort’s radar, just like in old times, but the stakes now were a lot higher.

"Did you go to the post office?"

"Yes, could not risk your portrait being associated with my family’s owl. We are using Eurasian eagle owls."

"Of course you do," Hermione said, as she began walking towards the fallen fence of the Shrieking Shack, wondering if this day could get any worse.

* * *

"It’s closed." Evan pressed his face to the glass door of the post office and used his hands to shield his eyes from the sun to peer inside. "No clerks."

"Try alohomora."

"You want me to break in? That’s illegal!"

"It’s not like this has stopped you before," said Hermione, and let her wand fall from its holster. She poked him on the back. "Move aside, I will do it."

"For Merlin’s sake it’s broad daylight, we can’t risk getting caught," Evan said, moving his hands in exasperation. He looked at Hermione as if she had been the one to send his portrait to her blood purist uncle over mere speculation.

"And I can’t risk my portrait falling into Cygnus Black’s hands."

"How did you know that…ugh," Evan paused and sighed. "Forget it. I don’t need the details. Let’s meet tonight and I promise to make it up to you. I’m truly sorry."

Hermione went to argue, but the sincerity she found on Evan’s face disarmed her. His eyes were wide and pleading as he bit his lips nervously. The arrogant smile she was used to seeing on him was missing. "Where?" she asked.

"In the forbidden forest. I will wait for you near the courtyard after midnight."

"If it’s a tra-"

"It is not a trap. I swear I will not let this letter fall into his hands. Just come, okay?"

"Fine, but you owe me an explanation. Your actions are contradicting each other, and your behavior doesn’t make sense." Hermione was about to list the things she found odd about Evan, when a cheery yet deep voice interrupted her.

"Guys, what are you doing down here? Come up," Ted said, his face sticking out of the Three Broomsticks window with his hair all over the place.

Hermione glanced at Evan, who shrugged his shoulders but sent her an uneasy smile. "Uh, Ted, let’s not."

"Nonsense." Ted was pulled back to the table and Amelia’s head appeared in view. "Tonks, come up. I promised you a butterbeer, didn’t I?" she asked with a smile, and the tension in Hermione’s shoulders loosened. "You too, Rosier."

"It’s Evan there?" came Andromeda’s distant voice.

Amelia nodded and got back inside.

Hermione took a step forward the moment Andromeda made her appearance, her Hufflepuff blazer draped over the Slytherin's shoulders. Hermione’s face heated up.

"Evan, you stubborn idiot, where have you been? I searched for you all morning after you avoided me in the courtyard."

"Ah, sorry, Andy. I wasn’t sure if we were okay," Evan said.

"We are. Come on, let’s spend Amelia’s money." Andromeda winked down at them, and Ted laughed loud enough for them to hear him. 

"I can’t," Evan said, smiling bitterly. "We’ll talk back in the castle."

"I will hold you to that."

"I’m going to go now," the wizard addressed Andromeda before turning to Hermione. "Courtyard after midnight."

She only nodded and watched as Evan crossed the street with his hands in his pockets and disappeared inside an alley.