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A Tale of Two Sides

Chapter Text

The Hogwarts Express

 

Emma Potter took a deep breath and tightened her grip on the trolley handles until her knuckles were white.

‘Meow,’ her cat Fluffy said questioningly from atop her trunk.

Just ignore what James said, she told herself. Her brother had pretended to get stuck halfway through the barrier - just to scare her, she knew - but in Hogwarts, A History (her mum had forced her to read it) it said that this sort of thing happened more often than you would think. And it had even happened to someone they knew! Well, sort of... Some guy named Longbottom in her dad’s year had got stuck, and they had to owl Hogwarts to fix it. She refused to let that kind of thing happen to her, and be branded “that girl who got stuck in between platforms”.

She ran as fast as she could, hurtling towards platform 9 ¾ and... she was through!

She let go of the trolley in awe, looking at the busy platform and the red steam-engine her parents had talked about. She didn’t think they even used steam engines anymore.

‘Emma!’ Charles Potter’s shout broke her from her wide-eyed gazing.

She realised that she one; was blocking the entrance, two; her trolley had disappeared, three; said trolley had careened off into her brother, knocking him off his feet. He was now rubbing his arm and staring at her, hurt and aggravated.

Best payback ever! she thought to herself gleefully, before running off to help her brother - and recover her trunk. Luckily, James was just shaken up, and soon saw the funny side. Soon the whole Potter family were laughing, the sounds echoing through the rapidly emptying station, and diffusing any lasting goodbye sadness.

‘Remember to be good, children!’ their mother said, hugging the twins one last time before they got on the train.

Emma buried her face in her mother’s greying hair, taking in the scent of her flowery shampoo. James and she would never admit it, but they were both wary of spending so much time away from their parents.

‘Muuuum,’ James whined for effect, but allowed her a final kiss on his forehead.

‘Family huddle!’ Charles Potter cried, the way he did in their mock-Quidditch matches - which were basically James and Emma trying to get the Quaffle past him. They now gleefully locked arms and stuck their heads in the “conspiracy circle” as their mum liked to call it.

‘Now,’ their dad said, eyes twinkling with laughter. ‘You’re going to go to that school and eat as much of the feast food as you can?’

‘Yes sir!’ the twins shouted on cue.

‘You’re going to earn as many House points as possible?’

‘Yes sir!’

‘You’re going to train up, and make sure that Gryffindor wins the Quidditch cup for six years running, one and for all?’

‘Yes sir!’ the twins thundered excitedly.

‘Just checking,’ their father winked. ‘Now I’ve been keeping this for a special occasion. May it help you as it did me during my Hogwarts years.’ He produced a silvery package from under his cloak. ‘But not a word to your mother!’

‘Charles! The train’s leaving!’ their mother cried worriedly, as the conductor blew the whistle.

***

 

‘So sis,’ James Potter started, craning his head to get a good look at the compartments.

‘Somewhere where there’s no one!’ she interrupted immediately, clutching the mysterious parcel in her arms. ‘Come on, there must be somewhere free!’

They were so busy peering into the compartments that they didn’t notice the boy until Emma almost trod on his foot.

‘Excuse me but, um, I think this is yours,’ he said timidly, offering up the enormous black cat.

‘Fluffy!’ Emma cried guiltily; she had forgotten all about her cat.

‘I’ll take him,’ James said importantly, tucking the resigned-looking cat under his arm. ‘How did you know he was Emma’s? Who’re you anyway? Are you a first year like us?’

Before the boy could reply, a head popped out of the compartment window. ‘That’s my little brother Regulus!’ A hand emerged. ‘I’m Sirius, nice to meet you.’

‘I’m Emma,’ she said, shaking the proffered hand. ‘This is James, my brother.’

‘Come in!’ the head said and withdrew. A moment later, the compartment door slid open to reveal a tall and lanky eleven-year old. ‘Come on little bro, don’t be shy.’

James raised his eyebrows, should we go?

Emma shrugged, we can’t really say no. We’ll just have to wait until later to see dad’s present.

James pouted slightly, but I wanna know now! Fine...

With a nod to each other, the twins entered the compartment, Emma stuffing the parcel in her robes. Oblivious to the telepathic conversation, Regulus re-entered the compartment, darkly muttering something that sounded suspiciously like “only by ten months” before flopping down by the window.

‘So...’ James said. ‘Are you guys twins too?’

Regulus and Sirius shared looks of horror before denying the question as though it were an accusation. Soon they had a friendly banter going. Regulus was younger by ten months, but was still in the same school year. They both loved Quidditch as much as the twins, but Regulus liked chasing after the snitch whereas Sirius just liked watching it. When asked whether they played with their parents, they both went strangely quiet.

As they were playing a game of exploding snap, the compartment door was opened again to reveal yet another black-haired eleven-year old boy, along with a red-headed girl.

‘Bloody hell!’ Sirius exclaimed as the cards blew up in his face.

‘Sorry, but is it okay if we sit here? Everywhere else is full,’ the girl said nervously.

James gestured to the seat next to him with a bit too much enthusiasm, in Emma’s opinion. Apparently, in the other girl’s opinion too, because she made sure to sit by the window, as far away from James as she could. After introducing themselves as Lily and Severus, the four went back to their game, when a word grabbed their attention.

‘Slytherin?’ Emma asked in disgust.

‘Who wants to be in Slytherin? I think I’d leave, wouldn’t you?’ James continued, looking towards Sirius.

‘My whole family have been in Slytherin,’ he replied sheepishly.

‘Blimey,’ said James, ‘and I thought you seemed all right!’

Sirius and Regulus looked uncomfortable. This seemed to be a touchy subject between the two of them, but in a bid to secure their new friendship, the older brother grinned. ‘Maybe I’ll break the tradition. Where are you heading, if you’ve got the choice?’

‘All Potters have been Gryffindors,’ Emma laughed.

As if on cue James lifted an invisible sword. 'Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart!’ Like my dad.’

Severus made a small, disparaging noise. James turned on him, jaw set.

‘Got a problem with that?’

‘No,’ said Severus, though his slight sneer said otherwise. ‘If you’d rather be brawny than brainy -‘

‘Where’re you hoping to go, seeing as you’re neither?’ interjected Sirius, wanting to defend his new friends.

James roared with laughter. Regulus rolled his eyes, and returned to staring out of the window. Lily sat up, rather flushed, and looked from James to Sirius in dislike.

‘Come on, Severus, let’s find another compartment.’

‘Oooooo…’ James and Sirius imitated her lofty voice; James tried to trip Severus as he passed.

‘See ya, Snivellus!’ a Sirius sang, as the compartment door slammed.

Emma raised an eyebrow at them. ‘Well that went well.’

James had the decency to flush with embarrassment. Sirius, however, had no such sense.

‘Aw come on, Emma,’ he cajoled. ‘He was asking for it! Admit it, you found it funny.’

Emma tried to keep a straight face, but couldn’t help the smile creeping up on her. It was true that Severus had insulted her House. Well, almost hers. Regulus looked at her and shook his head, as if to say he couldn’t believe her joining their side. Sirius let out a bark-like laugh.

‘That’s the spirit!’

Chapter Text

'Firs' years! Firs' years over ter me!'

Emma stood some distance away from the giant man, but he was easily visible, waist-high in a sea of eleven-year-olds. She wasn't sure what to think of him: he seemed nice, but she was scared he would squash her. Also, she had never met a wizard that big. And he was waving a pink umbrella around. That just seemed to be asking for trouble. She stared at him for a bit, not sure whether to laugh at him, or be scared, and still hadn't made up her mind when a voice broke through her thoughts.

'What?'

'I asked if you didn't like crowds either,' Regulus asked again, sounding slightly exasperated.

She looked around: in her mistrust, she hadn't noticed that most of the other students were already off on boats of three or four people. James wasn't in sight. Probably managed to get on the first boat; or the one the giant man will be in. James always loved to be the first to do something exciting. Not that Emma didn't like exciting; she just preferred to get comfortable with the thing before being seen by others. James would always tease her if she was scared of something, but she just liked to know exactly what she was in for beforehand. If she had time to prepare and think, she'd do anything as dangerous as James. He usually dragged her into his mad schemes anyway.

'Want to share a boat?' she asked Regulus out of politeness. There was only one boat left anyway, with a frizzy red-headed girl in it.

He smiled, and helped her climb in, "trained gallantry", as he called it with a grimace, explaining that he had etiquette lessons as a kid. Emma didn't know what etiquette was, but it sounded boring, and annoying.

He was more talkative than on the train, she noticed. Probably because Sirius had talked over him for most of the time. She was lucky to have a brother like James. He always listened to her, and would go on about sharing things exactly equally, because that was the "honourable Gryffindor thing to do". Sounded more like Hufflepuff, but she never told him that. Especially when he took the blame for most of their pranks, though that might have had to do with the soft spot their father reserved for his only daughter. She always snuck him chocolates afterwards though, so it had become a tradition. He would do the risky parts of the plan, her the stealthy. They were a team.

'Whoa,' said Regulus, once again breaking into her thoughts. One would think that she would be more concentrated on the fact that she was actually at Hogwarts!

'Whoa' was an accurate description for the turreted castle looming on the horizon, surrounded by acres of grounds, and owls hooting all around. Night had fallen, and it looked like the start of a Beedle the Bard fairytale. However, Emma barely had time to appreciate the view, and wonder what it looked like from the inside before a stern-looking witch in green robes and glasses came out and explained a bit about the Houses and the Sorting Ceremony. Probably for the benefit of the Muggleborns, though Emma wished that they had told them about it sooner, or gave them a book or something.

Just start the Sorting already! she mentally yelled as McGonagall went on and on about house points and rules. She knew she would be in Gryffindor - where else? - but her mind drifted to a conversation she had with her mother.

'You know it doesn't really matter which House you're sorted into dear,' Natalie Potter said, sitting on the edge of her fierce little daughter's bed. 'But if it worries you, remember there are perks to every house. Did you know that Merlin was in Slytherin? And the ghostly Far Friar apparently leads Hufflepuff students to the kitchens, where they can eat whatever they want, whenever they want! Doesn't that sound great?'

'I'm not worried,' the eight-year-old said petulantly.

'Good!' her mother laughed, affectionately ruffling her hair.

But when her mother was gone, Emma let out a sigh of relief. She hated the idea of Hufflepuff, though James assured her that there wasn't a badger bone in her body (though she was sure that it was just because he liked saying that). But maybe, it wasn't as bad as she thought. After all, there was a reason other Houses existed. And also... maybe if she wasn't in the same House as James, with his affable outgoing nature, then she wouldn't feel put to the side. Though James reassured her it wasn't true, sometimes she thought her parents didn't have time for her, being occupied by her brother's loud nature. After all, she didn't want to be known as just "James's sister".

When McGonagall finished droning on, they shuffled into the Great Hall, lining up through the gap between the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables. Emma thought they all looked a bit like sheep being herded into a pen, but then again, that might have been a reaction to the nerves she was trying her best to ignore.

'I hope you're in Gryffindor,' she whispered to Regulus. It would be nice to have one of the only people she knew in her House from the start.

But Regulus only shook his head dejectedly, saying that everyone knew that Blacks belonged in Slytherin as much as Potters did in Gryffindor. Well, she couldn't fault him there, though Sirius seemed adamant on changing the tradition. She had no time to dwell on it though, because James had pushed his way excitedly to his sister.

'There you are! I've been looking everywhere for you! Wasn't the lake cool? Sirius dared me to put my hand in the water, and I felt this slimy tentacle, must have been the Giant Squid! Isn't that just awesome?'

Emma smiled at her beaming brother. At least she could count on James being in her every class for now. She grinned as she thought of all the new potions she could learn for their pranks. As if reading her thoughts James leaned over to whisper in her ear.

'I can't wait to see what Dad got us for Hogwarts that Mum wasn't allowed to see.'

She was about to reply when Regulus exclaimed excitedly, pointing to an old hat sat atop a stool. 'The Sorting's starting!'

'When you're not sure on where to go

The Sorting Hat will always know

They bring me out once a year

So I can tell you loud and clear

 

That Gryffindor is really swell

Where all of the brave hearts dwell

Loyalty is their middle name

Honour they have, with no shame

(James shot an excited look towards Emma)

 

Hufflepuff is for the just and kind

Whoever you are, they don't mind

They'll be your friend

Until the very end

 

As for Rowena Ravenclaw

She told me in person to make sure

That bright and witty students

Chose curiosity over prudence

 

Which brings me to silver and green

Slytherin only accepts the cunning and keen

His proud and ambitious kin

Are sure to make friends within

 

Four Houses do stand tall

But Hogwarts stands above all

Red, green, blue and yellow

All should remember their fellow

Stand together, and you will not fall'

 

There was a rush of hushed whispers, and some half-hearted clapping. Even the teachers frowned, looking slightly worried.

'Is the hat always that ominous?' Emma asked Sirius, who had appeared next to her. She racked her brains for what her parents had said about it.

Sirius just shrugged, his standard response to questions he didn't care about/didn't know the answer to, as she was quickly learning. Before she could pester him about it, the actual Sorting started, and she forgot all about it.

'Adams, Bertie,' McGonagall called.

A blond boy walked up and sat on the stool, visibly shaking. The Hat was placed on his head, and there was a moment of silence before it opened its wide brimmed mouth.

'RAVENCLAW!'

Cheers erupted from the table on their right as Adams, Bertie joined their ranks.

'Aimsworth, Helen.'

'HUFFLEPUFF!'

'Aimsworth, Patricia.'

'Twins!' Emma exclaimed to James.

'Did you think we were the only ones?' James teased.

'HUFFLEPUFF!;

'They try not to separate family members,' they heard someone in front of them say.

The names went on by until 'Black, Regulus.'

'Go on, little bro,' Sirius clapped him on the back. 'Forget about Mum and Dad for once.'

'What was that about?' asked James.

'Well, our parents are really big on the Black family being the "purist" and "noblest" and the "best" family in the world. They think that everyone should worship us because we've intermarried the least among all of the pure-bloods. But really,' Sirius's voice went quiet. 'They don't really care about us apart from holding up their reputation. That's why we didn't want to talk about Quidditch, or family activities. I'd much rather have your parents.'

James and Emma looked surprised. They hadn't talked that much about their family, had they?

'Oh come on,' Sirius looked impatient. 'Everyone heard you all laughing, and saying you'd miss each other, and your mum threatening to send you a Howler if she didn't hear from you at least once a month. I know Reggie wants that too, though he's still clinging onto the hope that if he makes our parents proud then they'll be nicer to us.'

There was a moment of awkward silence. Emma didn't really know what to say, having only just met each other. Of course, it was James who broke the tension.

'Serious words, Sirius.'

Sirius snorted, but just then the Sorting hat cried out.

'SLYTHERIN!'

The table on the far left cheered, and a sixth year with a mass of black curls yelled out. 'Knew you had it in you, cousin!'

'Black, Sirius.'

Sirius had made a face at his brother's Sorting, but walked - almost angrily - towards the stool. The hat barely touched his head before yelling.

'GRYFFINDOR!'

 

Sirius's P.O.V

Sirius hadn't even felt the hat graze his hear before it told him it knew just where to put him. And he knew exactly why. Whenever his family spoke of Gryffindors, with their brash attitudes and reckless ways, Sirius would go off into an action-packed daydream: a world where everyone said what they thought instead of making snide comments that you were supposed to understand. A world where impulsiveness was applauded, and not hexed into having to wash out your mouth with soap. Seven years without his overbearing cousins breathing down his neck, seven years of not having to do the "right and proper" thing, seven years of pure, unadulterated FREEDOM. Well, apart from holidays.

He had walked up to the stool mentally chanting "Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor" and the hat had heard his prayers. Briefly, he thought of Regulus, but the kid would do just fine. He was always better suited to their family's lifestyle. This was the one thing that Sirius had to do for himself. And he couldn't be happier.

 

Regulus's POV

Regulus's heart dropped to his stomach upon hearing the gold and red clad students cheering and clapping. But it wasn't as if it was unexpected. After all, the Hat hadn't known whether to put Regulus in Gryffindor or Slytherin to start with. He had begged it for Slytherin of course - he wasn't prepared to give up his family for people who may not even like him. He admired his brother's courage as he wondered when the first Howler would arrive. He resolved that he wouldn't give Sirius away. If Bellatrix or Narcissa wrote home, then it would take at least a couple of days for the news to get to their parents. Let Sirius settle in first.

 

Emma's POV

The Gryffindors had gone wild, but the rest of the students just stared. Even at the teachers' table, they looked shocked, though Dumbledore was quietly clapping under the table. Beaming, Sirius slid off his seat to the welcoming arms of Gryffindor students.

'Take that Slytherin!'

'Not 'toujours pur' after all, are you Blacks?'

'Good on you mate!'

Sirius looked nervous, but excited as they made room for him at the table. James was shaking his head, as if Sirius had pulled off the greatest prank in history, and had been applauded for it. Emma merely grinned, thinking that Sirius got the new chance at a family he wanted. Maybe he could come to their house if his parents were really so bad. The rest of the names passed in a blur, as the twins talked excitedly about Sirius's Sorting.

Finally, 'Potter, Emma.'

Her stomach gave a jolt at the name, but she refused to acknowledge it. She wouldn't give James the satisfaction of teasing her about nerves as soon as they went home for the holidays. She was going to walk up there as if she hadn't a care in the world.

Or at least try to.

It was eerily quiet under the hat, as if the tearing fabric was able to muffle all outside sound.

Well, what do we have here?

Emma widened her eyes in surprise. Her parents had never said the hat talked!

Aha, a Potter I see! This should be easy: loyalty and courage, better be... Wait. What is this I see? Trying to hide any non-Gryffindor traits? Very clever, very clever my dear, but there's no fooling me! You remind me of another I Sorted today, but ah - I digress. The perfect House for you, there's no denying it, is

'SLYTHERIN!'

Emma couldn't believe it. No one could. The Hall was quiet for a second time, but she could dimly hear whispers that she and Sirius had swapped places. Her mother had told her that Slytherin was a good House, that it had won the House cup more than any other, but... Emma's mind went blank. Empty. She had truly believed that she would only ever be in Gryffindor. How could it be otherwise? But it was otherwise.

McGonagall prodded her a little towards the right table. That's right, I still have the Hat on, she thought absently, before sliding off the stool and quickly walking towards the Slytherin table. Why does it have to be so far away? She concentrated on not tripping over the new robes her mother had bought for the occasion, and tried to ignore James's stare that she could feel heating up the back of her neck.

Regulus quickly made room for her - thank Merlin he was actually sorted here after all - though he too seemed too surprised to say anything. But the guy next to him had no such trouble.

'Three cheers for the first Potter in Slytherin!'

So the Slytherins got their revenge on the cat-calling of the Gryffindors from before. A pretty third year with silvery-blond hair shyly introduced herself as Narcissa, Regulus and Sirius's cousin, and confessed that the latter was never Slytherin material anyway. She looked forward to getting to know Emma, and was the only one except from Regulus who called her by her first name.

James of course got sorted into Gryffindor "where dwell the brave at heart!" and for the first time since Emma could remember, she didn't have her twin by her side to count on. It was Emma's fault anyway, as she thought back again to when her mother had talked to her. She was the one who thought she might make friends without him. Now she was alone.

 

James's POV

'SLYTHERIN!'

James felt his jaw go slack. Never had he thought it possible. He racked his brains for anything that would put his sister in Slytherin, according to his father's standards. Backstabbing? Nope, Emma was loyal to a fault, though she was better at keeping them out of trouble than James was. Power-hungry and attention-seeking? Once, they had put on a play at Christmas with their cousins from France. Emma had needed James to coax her into it, and still stuttered during her lines.

He remembered what Sirius had said about his family. Maybe Emma was in Slytherin to help Sirius and Regulus, so they wouldn't be the odd ones out. But it sounded weird that a hat would ruin her life just to even things out. But then another thought occurred to him: maybe the Sorting Hat is separating us so that Hogwarts will look united. It must know that our twin-bond is stronger than any silly House loyalty.

Yes. That was it. It had to be it.

'Emma!' he called upon reaching this conclusion, staring at her retreating head.

If only I was really telepathic, he fumed inwardly. Surely she knows that I don't care that she's in Slytherin? Well... I know it's not her fault at least.

'Potter, James.'

With one more look towards his sister, who was lost among the celebrating Slytherin students, he climbed onto the dreaded stool. McGonagall cleared her throat, magic making it louder than usual, in order to hush the student.

Another Potter, the Hat said, and James gave a jolt of surprise. It talked?

Yes I do, Though you can stop wondering how it works. That level of magic is far too advanced for an eleven-year-old. There is pride, and a certain disregard for rules that wouldn't go amiss in Slytherin. But all of that is overshadowed by courage - an astounding amount of courage. I hope that you will not have to need it in the years to come. But for the meantime, join your father and his fathers in the House meant for your family...

'GRYFFINDOR!'

He happily bounced over to the Gryffindor table where Sirius was beaming at him. Only one thought marred this perfect day: for the first time in my life, he couldn't share it with his sister.

Chapter Text

Emma’s heart was in her throat. She barely noticed Dumbledore’s speech, and had lost her appetite. Even bearing in mind that her Dad had said to enjoy the feast as much as possible - and she and James took these mock challenges very seriously - the supposedly delicious start-of-term food tasted like cardboard in her mouth. She was dimly aware of Regulus trying to talk to her, but he soon desisted upon seeing her gaze fixed upon the Gryffindor table, and settled for giving her a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.

Regulus, for his part, wondered how Sirius was feeling, but it seemed that he and James were laughing and joking like no tomorrow.

‘How am I ever going to talk to James again?’ Emma asked suddenly. ‘He’s going to hate me. He probably already does.’

The boy felt slightly affronted at that. Was Slytherin really so bad? He was in Slytherin, wasn’t he? But he pushed those feelings aside - after all, he was used to doing that sort of thing - and thought about it. He had seen James’s look after his twin’s Sorting, and he didn’t seem angry, only worried, and maybe surprised, but so was everyone else. So was Regulus, for that matter. He felt an odd twinge of jealousy. He wished his brother cared about him as much as the twins seemed to; Sirius had barely glanced his way. He was just about to offer these words of comfort when the food vanished. The Great Hall immediately went silent.

‘I hope you’ve all enjoyed this meal. I know I did!’ Dumbledore patted his belly, much to the first-years’ surprise. ‘Prefects, lead our new students to their respective dormitories. As for the rest of you: off to bed!’

‘Follow me, first-year,’ a tall bossy-looking girl said, before sweeping off towards the exit.

Emma followed her dejectedly, still worrying. I brought this upon myself, she thought. I wanted to be somewhere without James, and now he’ll probably never want to speak to me again...

‘Emma! Emma!’

She would have recognised that voice anywhere.

Sure enough, James’s tousled head appeared, breathlessly squeezing itself through the mass of Slytherin students.

‘Emma!’ he said again when he got closer. ‘I want you to know: you’ll always be my sister. No matter what House you were Sorted in.’

‘Even if it’s Slytherin?’ she asked in a small voice.

‘Who cares?’ James asked joyfully. ‘I heard that that the Slytherin common room was in the dungeons. The Gryffindor one is in the tower, so more coverage of the castle to discover its secrets!’ His face took on a dreamy expression.

Emma’s face broke into a grin, the first in hours, and she grabbed her brother to hug him as tightly as possible.

‘Tell me your timetable tomorrow!’ he lowered his voice, ‘and there’s still Dad’s present. Don’t unwrap it without me.’

And with those words, the eleven-year-old’s worries vanished. She hurried after Regulus and the gaggle of first-years disappearing around the corner.

‘Find James then, I take it?’ he asked, taking in her beaming appearance.

‘Yup!’

They fell into a comfortable silence as they descended into the candle-lit dungeons. The prefect stopped in front of a seemingly normal alcove in the corner of a side passage.

‘Whomping Willow.’

The alcove’s wall slid into the ground to reveal a spiralling staircase. It led into a rectangular room with low ceilings, lit only by a flickering fire in the middle of the back wall. There were huge windows on either side, reflecting an eerie green glow into the room. Above the fireplace was a huge banner of a snake, and what Emma supposed was the symbol of Slytherin, as the name was etched into the bottom of the fabric. Similar cloth was draped on the side of the stone walls, presumably to keep the chill out. The first years stared awestruck as a ghost rose from an armchair, saluted, and drifted off through a wall.

Emma instantly liked it. Regulus would later say that it was the soothing sound of the lake lapping against the windows, but Emma personally thought it was the old squishy leather armchairs and sofas grouped around the fireplace. The prefect showed them the way to the boys’ and girls’ dormitories before sweeping back out the way she came.

As Regulus turned to say goodnight, Emma felt a wave of guilt rush over her. Here she was, bemoaning the fact that she was in Slytherin and away from her brother, and Regulus was in the same situation. Except that Regulus actually wanted to be here. How is he not insulted right now?

‘Listen, Regulus,’ she started sheepishly. ‘I’m sorry for hating on Slytherin. It’s just that James and I have never been apart. We even share the same room at home! Though I am trying to work on that... But anyway, I wanted to say thanks for being a good friend. I mean, we haven’t even known each other for that long but -'

She was cut off by Regulus laughing at her. ‘No it’s fine. We can be friends.’

‘Cool. Well, good night I guess. See you tomorrow.’

By the time she made it up to the first year’s dormitory, the other girls were already getting ready for bed. The bed closest to the window was empty, except for a trunk, and she suspected that the other girls didn’t really want a view of the giant squid in the morning. They stopped what they were doing as she walked in. A girl with almost luminous white skin and long red hair plaited down her back was the first to act.

‘Hi I’m Alecto. I guess we’re roommates now. We,’ she gestured to herself and the other two girls, ‘all got to know each other already. No need to ask who you are: Emma Potter, right?’
‘Yeah no need to ask who you are,’ repeated a sneering girl with short brown hair. ‘How did you fool the Sorting Hat?’

‘Um, fool the hat?’ Emma asked, frowning.

‘Yeah. We all know you’re just a blood-traitor spy. Don’t expect to get cosy here or anything,’ the girl retorted, before Alecto rounded on her.

‘Shut up, she’s a pure blood like us. Just because her family’s in Gryffindor... Emma here obviously knows where her loyalties lie.’

Emma didn’t know whether to thank her, or get angry at her. Her loyalties? She had been in Slytherin for not even one day! Though she knew how seriously the Houses were taken...

‘At least she’s not a half-blood,’ the mean girl faltered under Alecto’s fiery stare.

‘Hey! Half-blood is better than none,’ said the last girl in a sing-song voice. ‘Ignore Helen, she’s an idiot. We grew up together, she’s not actually that bad once you get to know her. I’m Lucinda by the way, Lucinda Rosier.’

Whilst Emma digested all of this information, the other girls, having satisfied their curiosity, all got into bed, drawing their curtains closed for privacy, and it was over as quickly as it had begun. She realised that most of the Slytherin house, if their reputation was to go by, would have a similar reaction to Helen. Potters didn’t belong in Slytherin, and she’d better not forget it. As if to prove her point, a flash of colour caught her eye on the inside of her school robes.

Though the neutral Hogwarts insignia had automatically changed to green and silver upon her Sorting, there was an inside pocket with a little gold lion sewn onto it. Inside has a note, folded into four.

This is how much we’re sure of you getting into Gryffindor! I can’t wait for your first owl to tell me how you found the common room. Some of your best years will be spent in that tower! - Love Dad

I’m sorry dear, your father really is full of himself. I sewed the lion on there so that you’d remember to be brave. I remember my first night at Hogwarts - after the initial excitement, I began to feel very homesick. So this way, you bring a little bit of home with you. I’ve done the same for James. - Love Mum

Tears sprang to Emma’s eyes, and she shredded the paper in a fit of rage. Like she could believe her mother’s story. She knew that her dad had begged her mum, and that her mum had probably capitulated, thinking there was no harm to it. After all, her house Ravenclaw was very close to the Gryffindors. Emma doubted either of them would believe where she really ended up in. Closing the curtains around her, she curled up in a ball and cried herself to sleep.

***

The next morning saw her blearily pouring cereal into a bowl while trying not to yawn. She had taken an extra-cold shower that morning to wake up, but the restless night still showed. Luckily, most first years couldn’t sleep on the first night anyway, usually from excitement.

James had made sure to appear at the Slytherin table to wish her a good morning, and prove that he didn’t care about her House at all. He told her about his new roommates: Remus and Peter, and how an instant friendship had formed between the four of them. He said that she would like them, and would like her to meet them for lunch if it was a nice day. The unspoken agreement was that they should eat lunch with their respective Houses if not. They saw that they had Potions and Charms together, and the Quidditch practice was for all years anyway. James moaned in a typical James fashion about having to learn broomstick basics again, but Emma was looking forward to flying. She had learnt that first years weren’t allowed to fly unsupervised and she knew that she would miss it.

When Regulus appeared at the Slytherin table, his eyes slid to James and then to the Gryffindor table. He blanched for a second, and the twins followed his line of sight. There, between the heaps of bacon and eggs, was Sirius, staring murderously at James. The latter sighed, and swung his legs over the bench.

‘Catch you later, Ems’,’ he winked, before sauntering off to his friends.

Regulus rolled his eyes, but made no pretence at trying to eat anything. Trying to take his mind off it in return for his support from the night before, Emma suggested that they made their way to their first lessons of the day.

The rest of the week passed without much incident, but on Saturday Emma realised that she had to write to her parents. She decided to sit by the Black Lake, feeling odd seeing it from above water this time. Soon, a pile of crumpled parchment was by her side, and she was throwing pebbles into the lake in frustration.

Dear Mum and Dad,
Guess what? I’m in Slytherin -
Dear Mum and Dad,
I don’t know if you already know this by now, but I’m -
Mum, Dad, I’m in Slytherin -

In the end, she copped out altogether.

Hi Mum and Dad,
How’s your week been? Hogwarts is good, the sight from my room is amazing! (no lies there) I was disappointed that first years weren’t allowed their own broomsticks, but I guess you’ve already got mine and James’s back by now. Luckily Fluffy’s still here, keeping the end of my bed warm, and looking out for potential intruders! So far my favourite class is Potions, or maybe Charms. I made some new friends, Regulus Black, I think James might have told you about his brother Sirius, and a girl called Alecto Carrow. She’s really nice, but she doesn’t understand why I like Potions so much. She thinks that Defence against the Dark Arts is the most interesting subject.
The weather’s nice here, I’m writing from the Hogwarts grounds. There are no holidays for Halloween, so we’ll see each other at Christmas.
Lots of love from
Emma
Hopefully, they wouldn’t notice the gaping hole in her letter.

***

The next day was Sunday: the traditional day normal post came in - a little dig at the Muggles. Every owned owl came in, post or no post, because treats were served in little bowls at breakfast for them. Emma made her way to the Gryffindor table where her brother was joking with Sirius.

‘Hey James,’ she smiled. ‘Mind if I borrow Elewyn?’

‘Sure, no problem,’ he replied, gesturing towards the snowy owl greedily eating out of Sirius’s hand.

Sirius stiffened as she gently tied the roll to the owl’s leg and told her the destination. Emma looked at him questioningly. ‘Did she dig her claws in?’ Elewyn had a nasty habit of doing that before taking off.

‘No,’ he replied coldly. ‘I just don’t take kindly to Slytherins sitting at my table.’

‘Watch it, that’s my sister!’ James warned, before turning to Emma. Why don’t we go and see what Dad’s gift is, now we have the time?’

‘But, I -‘ she tried saying as James steered her into the Entrance Hall. ‘What was that for?’

‘Just before you arrived, Sirius got a Howler from his parents. He’s in a bad mood,’ her brother explained, then shifted awkwardly. ‘I think it’d be better if we came to see each other outside of the Great Hall. Some of the Gryffindors have told us stories about the older Slytherins, and... well... it’s not exactly pretty.’

Emma was hurt and surprised, and James seemed to see that, because he tried again. ‘Look, I’m really sorry. You’re my sister, you always will be, but I’m scared the Gryffindors will get riled up if they see someone from Slytherin appearing at our table. The Great Hall is supposed to be some kind of “truce” place, and they think it’s being ruined and... I don’t want you to get hurt. You know, the old Gryffindor act before you think thing.’

His attempt at a joke stung even more. They weren’t James and Emma anymore, they were James the Gryffindor, and Emma the non-Gryffindor, and it had only been a week. A couple of students were looking at them curiously, and Emma realised she had tears in her eyes. She cast around for something to take her mind off it.

‘Wait, if Sirius got a Howler, how come I didn’t hear it?’

James coloured at that. ‘Well, he got it but -‘

He was interrupted by a shriek, and they hurried into the Great Hall to see a mass of students craning their head to look at the Gryffindor table.

‘SIRIUS ORION BLACK! WE GAVE YOU A CHANCE TO REDEEM YOURSELF, YOU ONLY HAD TO GET SORTED, FOR MERLIN’S SAKE, AND YOU MANAGED TO RUIN EVEN THAT! DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES TO YOUR FATHER AND I? WE’VE BEEN ASKED WHETHER WE MISTREATED YOU AND DROVE YOU INTO THE ARMS OF THOSE MUGGLE-LOVING TRAITORS. WE ARE VERY DISAPPOINTED IN YOU, AND DON’T YOU DARE SAY IT WAS THE HAT’S DECISION. EVEN THE POTTER GIRL MANAGED TO HONOUR HER PURE BLOOD BY GETTING INTO SLYTHERIN. WE WILL BE HAVING A DISCUSSION ABOUT THIS WHEN YOU GET HOME, MARK MY WORDS. AND DON’T YOU DARE SPEND TIME WITH ANY MUDBLOODS WHILE YOU’RE THERE.’

James and Emma looked at each other with horrified expressions. A Howler was rare, and this one seemed extreme. Plus, Sirius’s mother hadn’t exactly been the most tolerant person of what must have made up half of the student body. Glancing towards the Slytherin table, Emma noticed that Regulus had sunk as far into his seat as humanely possible, whereas Bellatrix, his cousin, was looking particularly smug. No doubt she was the one to inform her aunt of her cousin’s transgressions.

When the angry woman mentioned Emma, she reddened. No doubt her father was feeling the complete opposite of Walburga Black’s words. But she hadn’t expected half of the Gryffindors in the room to turn around and stare at her in disgust. So far, she had flown under the radar with them, as they were preoccupied with Sirius, but no doubt that would change now. Her gaze flickered towards James, who was looking half-bemused, half-protective, as though he sensed a danger but didn’t really know what it was yet.

But the worst was Sirius. He slowly got off the table and walked stiffly over towards the twins.

‘Have fun with my family,’ he said scathingly, before pushing exiting the Hall. ‘One wasn’t enough for you, was it?’

‘Emma,’ James began, but his sister cut him off.

‘Go after Sirius, James. He probably needs you more than me.’

And I can’t hide out in the Slytherin common room if you’re following, she added privately to herself.

James rushed off after his friend, and Emma made her way down to the dungeons as quickly as she could without running. However, a group of older Slytherins blocked her path before she got to the entrance.

‘Slytherins only, Potter,’ a tall blond boy stated coldly.

She wordlessly pointed to her badge, but a heavy-set fifth-year boy slammed his arm across the passageway when she tried to get past. Startled, she jumped, and the rest of his group laughed.

‘Aww, is wickle Potter scared without her brave Gwyffindor brother?’ the girl she recognised as Bellatrix Black taunted.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ Emma replied, her heart beating quickly.

‘Simple,’ the brawny boy said leeringly. ‘Either you’re with us, or with them.’

Emma stared at him.

‘You have to spell it out for her, Rodolphus,’ the blond boy smirked. ‘After all, Gryffindor blood runs through her veins.’ He turned to Emma. ‘Sorry, Rodolphus is only good for flexing his muscles. What he means is, we’ve seen you gallivanting off with the Gryffindors. Now, I’m a fair-minded man, so I’ll excuse you for now. But we’re your family now. That means that everything you do reflects upon us. I understand if you want to see your brother, but make it private. We wouldn’t want people having the wrong impression now, would we? How could a Slytherin ever trust you if you’re secretly Gryffindor at heart? So make a choice,’ he leaned closer and whispered in her ear, ‘and remember who can get to you when you’re sleeping at night.’

The eleven-year-old stammered a reply and ducked under Rodolphus’s arm into the common room. She heard the older students laughing, but none of them tried to follow her. Luckily, most students were either at breakfast or enjoying the last few days of summer in the grounds. Though it was a warm day, the fire was lit.

I suppose the sun can’t reach under the lake, she thought to herself, sitting down on the rug and hugging her knees to herself. This wasn’t supposed to have happened. She felt sorry for Sirius, but she felt more sorry for herself. Hogwarts was supposed to be a magical place, the best seven years of her life. A chill went through her that had nothing to do with the temperature of the room, and to her dismay she started crying.

A few minutes later she felt a tap on her shoulder.

‘Hi,’ Regulus was awkwardly squatting next to her, wringing his hands. ‘I remembered you saying that you liked Quidditch on the train.’

She quickly, if not graciously, wiped her face with her sleeve and took a deep breath. To his credit, Regulus didn’t react. She was grateful for it.

‘But McGonagall said first years weren’t allowed,’ she frowned.

‘The way I see it,’ Regulus grinned, ‘we're only not allowed if people see us.’

Emma felt a grin forming on her face despite herself. Her troubles forgotten, she scrambled up excitedly and followed him to the grounds, where they pretended they were second years picking up a broomstick for practice. Luckily Madam Hooch was occupied with some new Bludgers, and didn’t look too closely at them.

‘Now we just need to find somewhere we can’t get caught,’ Regulus said.

‘The Forbidden Forest!’ Emma exclaimed at once. At his shocked look, she went on. ‘No one will think students are sneaking in on a Sunday morning. It’s usually at night and stuff.’

Regulus conceded that she had a point, and they snuck around the gamekeeper’s hut into the woods. Emma had never been in the Forbidden Forest before, but she had imagined it to be dark and gloomy, with giant spiders everywhere, and lots of other mythical creatures. She supposed they all came out at night, because they soon came upon a sunny clearing, and the forest was just like the one behind her house: a slightly damp smell and toadstools everywhere.

Though the broom was only an old Shooting Star and kept on flying to the left, she didn’t care. She was free - or as close to free as a witch could get - and the slight breeze felt good on her face. They flew around in circles so that the leftward flying didn’t matter, and as all young wizards do, they tried to make a sort of tornado with the air currents, loop around to end up exactly where they were before, and generally had a good time. When Emma finally landed, she had forgotten all about the morning’s incident and she was breathless from all the laughing. Her stomach grumbled noisily, reminding her that they had missed lunch. As they raced each other back to the castle, she thought that maybe being in Slytherin wasn’t so bad after all.

Chapter Text

Time seemed to fly by after that. Emma quickly learned that the older Slytherins were probing for weaknesses in everyone, and they didn’t seem to hold a grudge against the fact that her family was in Gryffindor. As long as she didn't give them a reason to hate her, they didn't. In fact, she and Narcissa became friendly, if not friends, and Lucius sometimes helped her with her transfiguration homework, in exchange for her running errands for him. One thing the first years had picked up on was that everything was an exchange, and everything was allowed. Show your weakness, and someone will find a way to use it. Show a strength, and you'd suddenly find people clamouring to be your friend.

Those were the times she missed James and his straightforward honesty. Besides, his knack for picking up transfiguration spells might have helped her. McGonagall loved him, and whereas another might have got detention, he was merely let off with a stern warning. Several times.

Emma was better at Potions, which quickly became one of her favourite subjects, and she quickly became one of Slughorn’s favourite students. He paired her with Lily Evans and if their potions were perfect, he let them keep them afterwards. Needless to say, Severus Snape wasn’t very pleased. The older Slytherins were pressuring him about his friendship with a Mudblood, and a Gryffindor to boot, so he didn’t see much of Lily as it was.

The girls in her dormitory soon became her closest friends, though she got her revenge on Helen by turning her shampoo pink. Nobody suspected her, and it was put down to a faulty delivery. In fact, the ones giving her the hardest time were the Gryffindors. Though the hatred between Slytherin and Gryffindor was legendary, they nursed a special hatred towards Emma, who thanks to Sirius was now known as a traitor to her family, even though no one chose where the Sorting Hat placed them. Thankfully James ignored his stupid friend, and they discovered the invisibility cloak their father gave them in the Astronomy Tower one night. After that, two nights a week they would pick a place in the castle to explore, and laugh at Filch getting annoyed with Mrs Norris over “nothing”.

One October night, they discovered the kitchens. House elves bustled around, making sure that they stuffed themselves with pumpkin pastries, treacle tarts, and hot chocolate filled with tiny marshmallows. James excitedly told her that it was Sirius’s birthday soon, and Emma drew the cake James wanted to surprise his best friend with. Though they didn’t get along well, she wanted to help James, and she secretly hoped that Sirius hating her was just a show. When James talked about him he seemed like a completely different person. The cake was in the shape of a roaring lion. The house elves made it so that it wouldn’t crumble, James bewitched it to shake its mane, and Emma found a charm that made it talk. They burst out laughing on the first try: James had been trying to imitate Sirius’s voice, and the lion somehow ended up sounding like Peter Carson, a rather dim-witted Hufflepuff boy they swapped stories about. James decided that it just would not do, and they devoured the whole cake in a single evening. The second attempt was put off for several days, as they both came down with a “stomach ailment” that had Madame Pomfrey shaking her head in disappointment.

And then suddenly, the Christmas holidays were upon them, and it was time to go home. Their mother was ecstatic, telling them how the house hadn’t been the same without them. Sirius and Regulus both agreed to ask their parents if they could come for the New Year’s. In the carriage on the way to the train, Sirius joked that their mother would be ecstatic at the opportunity to try and marry him off to a pureblood other than his cousins, and they all laughed at that, even Emma. She caught Sirius’s eye, and for a split second there was an understanding between them.

***

 

On the train, Emma sat with Alecto and a few other girls from the first year. They reminisced about the past four months, and marvelled at how the year passed so quickly. Emma and Alecto amused the others by using a couple of charms they had learnt, taking advantage of their magic before the start of the holidays. Emma was in the process of turning Alecto’s chocolate frog yellow when the Slytherin prefect slid open the compartment door.

‘Listen up everyone!’ she started, before frowning. ‘Alecto, I wouldn’t eat that chocolate frog if I were you.’ The frog had turned a murky colour with a yellow tinge. Needless to say, it did not look appetizing. Alecto started to speak before the prefect cut through with a wink. ‘If I don’t hear about it, I can’t deduct points. Anyway, I was just going to say that we’re almost in London. You lot had better get changed quickly.’

‘Aww,’ whined Sophie Parkinson, looking sadly at her robes. ‘I was hoping to show off my new Slytherin badge to my parents.’

‘Me too,’ agreed Lucinda. ‘They’ll be so happy and besides,’ she tossed her hair over her shoulder, ‘green’s always been my colour.’

Everyone laughed, and started pulling their trunks down to stow away their robes.

‘Um…I forgot my jumper in James’s trunk,’ she said.

‘I find it so weird that James has your jumper,’ Lucinda said. ‘I mean, how did it end up there?’

‘Well, we shoved our stuff into the trunks at random when we arrived at Hogwarts,’ Emma said, putting on a guilty look.

The rest of the girls laughed and shook their heads, but Alecto gave Emma a knowing look. She and Regulus alone knew that Emma had hidden her school House from her parents up until now. Sliding open the compartment door, she made her way down the train, peering at the compartments. She was so occupied that she bumped into someone without looking.

‘Oh sorry,’ she said automatically.

‘Save the apology,’ Severus Snape said with a sneer. ‘You may have everyone else fooled, but not me.’

‘Um, what?’

‘Strutting around the school like you own it. You’re so like your brother you make me sick. How did you do it huh? Pretend you’re a Slytherin?’. He lowered his voice. ‘What are you doing for the others to let them give you special treatment? Tell me!’ He grabbed her wrist, and Emma gasped, trying to squirm out of his grasp. ‘How come you’re allowed to hang out with a Gryffindor? Fine, don’t tell me. How long do you think you can last until everyone realises that you’re just a pathetic, treacherous Gryffindor and -‘

‘And what, Snivellus?’

Sirius Black, of all people, was standing in the doorway, twirling his wand, looking like he hadn’t a care in the world.

‘I think he was just about to say that he needed to wash his greasy hair,’ James appeared, a lop-sided grin on his face.

‘You know what James? I’m in a generous mood. Why don’t we give it a wash for him?’

‘Excellent idea, Sirius.’

‘Scourgify!’ they both yelled in unison, and bubbles started appearing among Severus’s lanky locks. When he tried to rub them out, they only multiplied. He cursed and headed towards the bathroom, shooting them a filthy look over his shoulder.

‘Thanks,’ Emma said, turning towards Sirius.

‘I needed something to do,’ he shrugged. ‘I was bored.’

They both knew that he wasn’t just bored. So Emma just gave him her most sincere smile, and internally forgave him for everything he said at the start of the year. Though she was slightly embarrassed at James coming to save her yet again, and coming to tell him her worries, yet again. But she couldn’t turn back now. Neither of them could ever hide anything from each other. James was already giving her his “worried brother” look, but he knew better than to ask about it in front of Sirius.

‘So,’ Sirius said, slinging an arm over her shoulder. ‘What brings you to our side of the train? Come on, let’s introduce you to the rest of the gang.’ He pointed to a short, plump boy. ‘That’s Peter. No not the Hufflepuff Peter, this one’s cool. And this,’ he pointed to the other boy with floppy brown hair, who waved at her shyly, ‘is Remus.’

‘Hi,’ Emma said awkwardly. She knew them from sight, but not much more. She wanted to get to know James’s friends, but if they were already in London she had about fifteen minutes before they arrived. ‘Hey James, you have my jumper.’

This was what she loved about her twin. He took one look at the school robes folded neatly in her arms, understood, and said nothing. He took out a jumper that was clearly his, but it would fit her anyway so it didn’t matter, and declared dramatically that it was his brotherly duty to make sure she got back to her compartment safely. His friends all laughed, and they emerged into the slightly more private corridor. Emma pulled on the jumper, which was ironically red with gold snitched stitched into the sleeves. At least her dad wouldn’t suspect anything until they got home. Hopefully. She had carefully ignored any House-related topics in her letters, and had tactfully replied to inquiries with answers such as “you were right about the moth-eaten armchairs! The one to the left of the fire is my favourite”. True, but not true.

‘You still haven’t told them,’ James said quietly.

‘I thought it would be better face to face,’ she replied.

Her twin looked at her with the special look reserved for idiotic replies. They both laughed, but it soon died down.

‘They’ll be fine about it,’ he reassured her.

‘Yeah maybe Mum, but can you imagine Dad’s face?’

The whistle blew as the train entered the station.

‘Looks like I won’t have to imagine.’

***

 

‘So?’ Charles Potter asked excitedly as their mother left to check on the food. ‘Let’s see you in your House robes!’

They were sitting in the living room around the fireplace, watching - and occasionally helping - their mother make her speciality: Sunday roast. Even though it was Saturday. It had always been James and Emma’s favourite meal, and the Hogwarts roast didn’t quite come up to scratch. All the car ride home, the twins had babbled about their lessons, funny stories about spilled potions and wrongly-cast spells on classmates, just Hogwarts in general. Their parents had laughed in all the right places, and quickly established what was whose favourite class: James loved Transfiguration like their mother; they both enjoyed Charms, and Emma shared a talent in Potions with Charles.

Their father had joked that his lessons had all paled next to Quidditch, so they would have another discussion in their second year about the positions they wanted to play. When James and Emma had both immediately replied chaser, and teased each other about the goals they would mark against each other, Charles had assumed they were talking about tryouts.

Now, James bounded up the stairs and Emma traipsed after him, wondering what to do. James suddenly stopped in the hallway and turned to her, but she ushered him back into his room. She knew how much being a Gryffindor meant to him, and how long he had held it in just for her. Besides, she had an idea. Well, half an idea. She stared at the robes with their snake sigil and green lining folded in the top of her trunk, and took a deep breath.

‘Mum!’ she yelled. ‘Mum I can’t find my trunk!’

‘It’s on your bed honey,’ Natalie called back up to her.

‘Well it’s not anymore! Where did you put it?’

As expected, her mother came grumbling up the stairs. When she spotted Emma standing next to her trunk, she frowned furiously and opened her mouth to scold her, but quickly shut it and the door when she saw what her daughter was wearing.

‘Oh Emma,’ she sighed, and the eleven-year-old burst into tears, running into her arms.

‘I’m so-sorry,’ Emma sobbed. ‘I di-didn’t know how to tell you, and Dad -‘ she sniffed noisily. ‘I don’t know what Dad would say. I didn’t want to ruin it for James. I didn’t do it on purpose.’

Natalie Potter sighed and pulled a tissue out of the box on the bedside table. As her only daughter blew her nose, sniffling all the while, she wondered not for the first time about the effect that the Houses had in Hogwarts. Of course, it helped you find friends with similar basic personality traits, and studies showed that you integrated better but…The problem was the rivalry. She herself had been subject to a Hufflepuff-Ravenclaw competition, but Gryffindor and Slytherin were different. And then this. Charles wasn’t the only one to carry on a House rivalry into his older years. Looking at her daughter, she had to hide a smile thinking about the ruse to get Natalie into the room. There was a lot of Charles in her: proud, unwilling to show fear.

She wondered why her daughter wasn’t in Gryffindor. Then again, Emma was always the quiet, cautious one compared to James. She thought about the little girl’s words: "I didn’t want to ruin it for James". They had waited so long to have children, Natalie was glad that she had twins. She was worried at first: she had heard of the rivalry, the fighting and problems with twins, but James and Emma were like two parts of one person. They seemed to have a sixth sense on how to help each other, and that comforted her when she sent them off to Hogwarts. She hoped that the House rivalry wouldn’t tear them apart.

After a little while, Emma’s sobs subsided, but it took many words of comfort before she went downstairs. By that time, James was holding up an imaginary sword in his favourite Gryffindor expression, and telling his dad all about his exploits with the Fat Lady and her silly passwords. When Charles noticed Emma standing in the doorway he got up off of the sofa.

‘There she is! Found your robes then? Come here and give your old man a good look.’

James watched awkwardly from the side, wanting to help but not knowing what to do. Emma had put on a brave face after her moment of weakness: she didn’t want her dad thinking she had inherited no Gryffindor traits at all. She walked up to her father, who hugged her and twirled her around, laughing. It was only when he set her back down that he noticed the colour on the inside of her robes.

‘Emma,’ he said in a strangled voice. ‘I think they mixed up your robes.’

‘Nope!’ she said, opening one side so that he could see the lion sewn into the side. ‘I’m in Slytherin Dad. Didn’t I mention it in my letters?’

‘You most certainly did not.’

‘Emma,’ her mother warned, but now that it was out in the open, Emma felt a reckless giddiness take hold of her. It was surreal.

‘What’s the matter Dad?’ she teased. ‘You thought I’d be in Gryffindor just because James is?’

‘They’ve made a mistake,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘No child of mine could possibly be in Slytherin. They’re not good enough for you.’

‘Well apparently the Hat thought they were. Maybe I’m just not good enough for you.’

‘Maybe,’ Charles agreed, before he realised what came out of his mouth. ‘Emma, I didn’t -'

‘Mum!’ James said loudly. ‘The stove’s on fire.’ And so it was.

‘The onions!’ Natalie moaned, rushing over to her wand.

***

In the end dinner was saved, but the damage had already been done thanks to Charles. James was quiet all throughout dinner, and Emma picked at her food. It was quickly over with and as the children went up to bed Natalie shot a reproachful look towards her husband.

‘You could have handled that better,’ she started.

‘I know.’

‘She’s our daughter Charles. Not some thick-headed prejudiced meat-head from your old school days. She’s the same person she was this summer. The children she’s been sorted with aren’t responsible for the crimes committed by our generation and Grindelwald. They probably don’t even know about the Muggle hatred. Emma doesn’t. All she knows is that she’s scared her father doesn’t love her anymore because of a two thousand year old Hat.’

‘I know,’ Charles replied, a little angrily.’

‘You need to fix this.’

‘I know,’ he sighed, running a hand through the messy hair their children had inherited. His was completely grey now, a reminder of how late in life they had their children. Both knew they had to make every year count.

As Emma was about to turn off the light, she heard a knock on the door.

‘Can I come in?’ Charles asked, ducking his head through the doorway.

‘You already have,’ she grumbled, but she was secretly hopeful.

He sat heavily on the end of her bed, folding a blanket that she had kicked into a pile.

‘I won’t say I’m not disappointed you’re in Gryffindor. I won’t lie. And I have to admit that Slytherin is a shock too. But you know Emma, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The reason that most Gryffindors and Slytherins hate each other is because they’re reminded of themselves. Gryffindors put on a brave face and pretend they’re never scared. Slytherins are too proud that they need help once in a while. And both are fiercely loyal to their House. But a Slytherin will never admit that they’re glad a Gryffindor tried something first, and a Gryffindor will deny the fact that they want to succeed just as much as Slytherins do. I’m just sad that I won’t be able to share the same Hogwarts experience as you, that’s all.’

Emma thought about this for a little while. Then she reached under her bed and pulled out a silvery cloak. ‘We can share this.’

Charles laughed, and ruffled his daughter’s hair. It had grown during the first term, almost to her shoulders. Yet another difference between her and James. He hoped that the differences would stop there.

Chapter Text

By the time New Year’s Eve rolled around, everything was almost back to normal. Charles even joked about finally understanding why Emma and James talked about different classmates in their letters. Apparently, they had thought that there were an abnormally large amount of Gryffindors Sorted that year. The Potter parents had agreed to have Regulus and Sirius come over for a sleepover and - being unable to refuse their darling twins anything - agreed to let them camp in the garden for the night. The twins spent the day excitedly shopping for sweets as Natalie and Charles puzzled over the renewal of heating charms. They had invited their friends’ parents over too, so Emma wasn’t surprised to see an elegant-looking blonde woman emerge from the green flames of their fireplace at seven o’clock on the dot. She was surprised, however, at how dejected Sirius looked when he followed a second later. He had been forced into a suit, and didn’t look very pleased about it. However, upon seeing the Potter’s house, he cheered up immensely and immediately asked where James was.

‘Manners, Sirius!’ his mother scolded.

‘Sorry mother,’ he said, before turning to Natalie Potter, who had just bustled out of the kitchen. ‘Hello Mrs Potter. Thank you for inviting us. Could you tell me where James is, please?’

Mrs Black opened her mouth to tell him off, but Natalie just laughed. ‘He’s out buying the sweets with Charles, my husband. I’m surprised Emma didn’t go with him.’ As a side to Mrs Black she explained. ‘They’re as thick as thieves. Honestly, we almost had to force them into separate rooms.’

‘I know what you mean. I’m Walburga Black, nice to meet you,’ Mrs Black smiled graciously, and in a blink her features were perfectly composed.

As Emma was admiring how Mrs Black looked like a beautiful model rather than a homely mum, Regulus and Mr Black arrived, dusting off soot before stepping out into the living room. Mr Black greeted Emma’s mother with a bouquet of flowers and introduced himself as Orion. Regulus shyly said hello, complimented the house and thanked Mrs Potter for having them.

‘It’s nice of you to let us come over,’ he said. Mrs Black beamed with pride.

‘That’s how you properly greet your host, Sirius,’ she said loftily.

Sirius muttered something darkly beneath his breath and glared at his brother. Emma hurriedly suggested that she show them the tent where the kids would be sleeping, and her mother offered to show their guests around the house while they waited.

‘Don’t mind him,’ Regulus said. ‘He’s just upset because our parents are still annoyed about him being in Gryffindor. They almost didn’t let him come, but they changed their mind when they found out James was a pureblood with a sister in Slytherin.’

‘Don’t remind me,’ Emma said with a laugh, though she was burning with curiosity about every detail. She wanted to know how it went compared to her own experience, but she knew better than to ask while Sirius was sulking. She still wasn’t sure if they were friends or not.

‘Miss me?’ a voice sang, and a shower of chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott’s every flavour beans, and any other tasty treat they could think of rained down into their make-shift fort.
‘I like what you’ve done with the place,’ said James, fluffing up n one of their many cushions. ‘But Mum says food’s ready.’

***

After an awkward dinner with the parents, the four of them scurried into their den to start the real fun. Walburga had mostly talked about how nice it was to find another pure-blood family and how relieved they were when they realised that Sirius wasn’t cohorting with Muggleborns. Upon seeing Charles’s face, Orion hastily clarified that he was happy because they would have similar backgrounds, so as not to feel too homesick. In the end, the adults laughed about adult stuff, and the kids chatted about what they wanted to do afterwards.

‘Okay so you all know the rules,’ James said, shaking four beans onto each of their outstretched palms. ‘Choose one for each of us. The one with the worst beans gets dared by the one with the best.’

Emma stared at her beans: there was one weird-looking brown one which she immediately reserved for James, and she selected a red one for herself. The red ones were never that bad. Once the beans were distributed, they ate each of the three given to them. The weird brown one turned out to be baked beans: James high-fived Sirius who had got lucky with chocolate, sugared violet and toasted marshmallow. He evilly rubbed his hands together, thinking of a dare. Regulus mouthed a “sorry” to Emma, who was quickly spitting out her dirt-flavoured bean.

‘I never knew a sweet could taste so awful,’ she spluttered as James poured her another hot chocolate. ‘I don’t know what you’re laughing at, dear brother. The elusive bogey flavour has been discovered.’

James made a face. They both had two awful beans, and one neutral. ‘Time to see if we sink or save ourselves.’

‘One. Two. Three!’

They both shoved their last bean into their mouth, chewing furiously.

‘Aaaahhh! Hot, hot hot!’ Emma fanned her mouth. Her “not-so-bad” bean was in fact chilli-flavoured.

‘Ha-ha,’ James mocked. ‘Ketchup. But it’s oddly good.’

Sirius shook his head at his friend’s weird taste, but there were more important things on his mind. He stood up, and grandly pronounced: ‘Emma Jane Potter, I dare you to steal one of my mother’s socks.’
James and Regulus gaped at him, but Emma didn’t hesitate for a second. ‘Done,’ she said. ‘I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.’

In actual fact, she had no idea of what to do as she ran across the lawn to the house. She had agreed to the dare only to prove that she was just as daring as Sirius could be. And to see James’s proud face when she got back. And to see Regulus shocked at her audacity. She wanted to prove to the boys that she wasn’t just some girl that needed comforting and who cried about her Sorting all the time. By the time she made it to the dining room, she knew what to do. It was just a matter of the execution. As predicted, the parents hadn’t left the dinner table, and were in an animated discussion about Quidditch. As she entered, her mother rolled her eyes at her. Natalie Potter had never been a huge sports fan, and was engaged in a conversation about mini-skirts and dresses with Mrs Black. She moved to her mother’s side.

‘Do you know where the spare blankets are?’ she asked quietly. ‘James doesn’t want to get cold when we change into our pyjamas.’

This was a plausible excuse. James had always been a sissy when it came to bedcovers. Her mother excused herself, but while she was getting up, Emma “accidentally” knocked the water jug onto Mrs Black. She felt slightly bad about it: her dress was very pretty, and looked very expensive. Luckily she had aimed well, and the water only splashed on one leg and foot.

‘Oh!’ she cried, quickly standing up. Emma had forgotten to take into account the fact that the glass water jug would smash.’

‘Oh, I’m so sorry Mrs Black,’ Emma said. ‘I wasn’t looking, I didn’t mean to!’ And she looked at Walburga Black with her best guilty look.

‘That’s quite alright my dear,’ the blonde woman replied, softening. ‘After all, it’s only a bit of water.’

‘Careful!’ Charles said. ‘The glass is dangerous!’

Luckily Mr Black kept a calm head in this kind of situations. After all, there were many accidents in the House of Black, especially when his niece Bellatrix was around. ‘Come dear, let’s get you cleaned up. Emma, you should go back to the tent; I’m sure your mother can bring the blankets when we’ve sorted this out.’

Mrs Black was told to put her wet socks on the radiator to dry, and Natalie looked for something for her to wear while her dress dried. On her way out, Emma filched the sock. Though she had seen her mother’s look saying that she was not impressed with her behaviour, it was worth seeing the boys’ face when she dangled the sopping pink sock in Sirius’s face.

‘Done,’ she said, blowing out the oil lamp and picking up a glowing wand. ‘Now who’s up for some ghost stories?’

‘Oh, I’ll go first!’ Regulus said. ‘I know a good one.’

The other three were surprised: Regulus was usually quiet, only participating once in a while, but they all huddled up on one side of the den, waiting expectantly.

‘You all know the Bloody Baron,’ he started. They nodded, shuddering a little. The Bloody Baron was scary.
‘Well, there was once a young wizard who was a favourite of the Four Founders of Hogwarts. Many men admired him, and many women fell in love with him, because he was a passionate person. But he only had eyes for one girl, who he had loved from the day of their first Sorting, though she had rejected him. One day, her mother fell fatally ill, and asked him as a final request to find her estranged daughter so that she could make peace with her once and for all. The baron swore to never rest until he did, and he travelled many days and nights before finding her. She refused him once again though, and they quarrelled bitterly. She told him that she didn’t love him, and he - in a fit of rage and jealousy - told her that if she couldn’t love him, then she couldn’t love anyone at all and he stabbed her to death.’

James gasped, and Emma reached for his hand. It was scary how easily people could be killed. But the hand she found wasn’t familiar like her twin’s, and she glanced across to meet Sirius’s surprised eyes. He looked away, but tightened his grasp. She supposed that even Sirius could be scared once in a while. As Regulus continued his story, she thought about Walburga Black and wondered if they were allowed to be scared. She didn’t seem like the type to comfort you with a hug and bedtime story.

‘And to this day he still wears her blood and his chains in penance for what he did,’ Regulus concluded.

‘How do you even know this story?’ James demanded in awe.

Regulus shrugged. ‘I just hear things in Hogwarts.’

Chapter Text

Their 12th birthday was on a Sunday, a week before Easter. Emma and James eagerly awaited their parents’ owl and they were not disappointed. Unfortunately Hermes didn’t know whether to fly to the Gryffindor or Slytherin table, and ended up flying in dizzy circles until it dropped between the two tables. The twins looked at each other: they always sat facing each other out of habit - they could still have their twin conversations in peace. The Great Hall burst into laughter as McGonagall called for silence.

‘And whose bird is this, may I ask?’

‘Mine miss!’ the twins chimed.

‘Would you mind removing it from obstructing the path, Potter?’ She raised an eyebrow.

Albus Dumbledore chuckled quietly at the unintended joke. McGonagall blushed a little as she sat back down.

They rushed to the owl.

‘Okay so this is for you, and this is for me,’ James said, separating the two parcels. ‘Mine is bigger than yours,’ he stuck his tongue out and skipped back to his table.

Emma rolled her eyes and glanced back at the Slytherin table: all the first years were pretending not to be interested in her present.

‘Better get Hermes to the Owlery,’ she said.

‘I’ll come too,’ Alecto hurried over.

Half an hour later, the owl was looking a lot happier. Alecto was pampering him with Owl Treats while Emma turned the parcel around and around in her hands. It was simple brown paper, held in place with knotted string.

‘So? Do you think your parents are still annoyed that you’re in Slytherin? I thought they were okay with it?’ Alecto asked in a rush.

‘I don’t know,’ Emma said thoughtfully. ‘My mum is, not too sure about Dad.’

‘Only one way to find out!’

Emma pulled the string off. A small box fell out of the wrapping paper.

‘Well go on,’ Alecto said quietly. ‘Open it.’

‘I’m scared of what it’ll be,’ Emma admitted.

‘Okay, so imagine if it’s the worst,’ Alecto put a hand over her friend’s. ‘You still have us.’

‘Does that “us” include Helen?’ Emma asked sarcastically.

‘Oh come on Ems, nobody gives a flying rat’s arse about Helen,’ Alecto laughed. ‘Besides, Narcissa and Bellatrix Black love you, and no one messes with a Black.’

Emma thought of Regulus, the quiet boy who had managed to get her throughout the first few weeks, before the others had deigned to give her a chance. Even at eleven he had that quiet aura of control that had other kids clamouring to be his friend.

‘You don’t, do you?’ Emma smiled. ‘Thanks, Alecto.’

‘Anytime,’ her best friend winked. ‘So…Are you going to make me die of curiosity, or what?’

But neither of them expected what they saw next. An oval locket with a silver chain and glass covering was nestled on a piece of parchment that said “Open me”. Emma quickly found the catch on the side. The inside was black velvet, and another piece of parchment was folded up.

Dear Emma,
Happy 12th Birthday! We just wanted you to know, that it doesn’t matter what House you were sorted in. It only matters that you are happy, make friends and enjoy yourself at Hogwarts. If that means you have to be in Slytherin…Well the Sorting Hat has its reasons.
PS. Anytime your father seems to forget that, just look at the front of the locket! (love Mum)
PPS. Don’t lose it Ems! (love Dad)

Emma quickly turned it back around. Beneath the glass casing was a green snake made up of tiny emeralds, set on a background of gold. The snake was shaped like an S.

‘It’s beautiful,’ Alecto breathed, as Emma blinked back tears. ‘Here, let me put it on you.’

It must have been made of solid gold, because it fell heavily on Emma’s chest. But she liked the weight, it seemed like a physical proof that her family still loved her. I’ll never take it off, she swore, but she hid the note from Alecto. This was something she wouldn’t share with anyone, not even James.

***

 

The rest of the year passed quickly, but Regulus and Sirius’s parents never came back to the Potter’s house. When pressed, Natalie and Charles would reply with vague answers about being busy, or not having the same interests. Besides, their parents had their own friends anyway. The summer was spent at Natalie’s sister’s house in France and their cousins: Lou and Pierre. Pierre was five years older than them, and a distant stranger, but Lou was only a year older and they had fun at the beach. When Dumbledore came to visit, James and Emma were scared that he had caught onto their nightly walks and was there to expel them, but he just wanted to talk to Lou’s parents in private. They told her about their lives in Hogwarts, and she told them about Beauxbatons and etiquette lessons.

In the second year, to their great surprise and Charles’s great pride, both twins became chasers for their respective teams. Emma was respected for being the youngest player, but it was a bit daunting to play with the others towering over her. Luckily the team captain Rachel was a girl, and she was a Chaser too. Regulus was made Seeker, and was a pretty good one at that. They won their first game against Gryffindor 180-60, but James liked to remind Emma that he had scored three of Gryffindor’s goals, so he still beat her. In the summer, she found him reading about Animagi, though she didn’t believe him when he said he was just curious. In the end she got him to admit that he wanted to try it, and though he spent the majority of the summer at his friend Remus’s house, she weaselled information out of Lou, who learnt a lot more about Animagi in Beauxbatons.

By the end of their third year, Emma and James hardly saw each other anymore. James was keeping a secret from her, and it hurt more than she cared to admit. The older Gryffindors jeered at her, saying that she couldn’t deal without her brother to protect her, but she used a hex Bellatrix had taught her on one of her nicer days. They stopped, but they looked so angry that she wasn't sure if that was a good thing. Severus Snape was worse, because he was everywhere she looked. He knew exactly how to get under her skin, though she had developed the impregnable mask that so many Slytherins did to survive, though everyone's was different.

Hers was the chameleon kind, adapted to the person in front of her, but with Severus Snape he knew just what to say to make her hurt. She blamed it on that shared train ride in first year. Though they had grown apart, James still hexed Snape - “Snivellus” - whenever he got the chance, so she knew that her brother was still on her side no matter what. The outside world seemed a far-off place, but rumours of wizards torturing Muggles for fun reached even Hogwarts, and people whispered of a new Grindelwald.

She had underestimated the Gryffindors. One day she went to the Gryffindor Tower to wait for James - it was his turn for the Invisibility Cloak, and the only class they had together was Care of Magical Creatures. They had come out of the portrait hole and seen her standing opposite. She had asked them if they could get James - politely, in her opinion. But they ignored her, telling her that she was lucky James wasn't there, because then he would know that she had used Dark Magic on them - it turned out that Bellatrix's hex wasn't so innocent after all - and that she would pay. They didn't use magic, but they hauled her to the window to watch them drop her bag in the fountain below. When she went to retrieve it, all of her quills had been broken and her textbooks ruined. She went back up to the Tower: after all, she had promised James, but he never came out, and she never forgave him.

Fourth year rolled around, and James confessed his secret - Remus’s secret, though only because he didn’t want her in the Forbidden Forest when it was the full moon. Emma also discovered the Marauder’s Map and their shouting matches could be heard from the other side of the grounds. Emma felt like James had betrayed all the secrets they found together and she was hurt that he had hidden it from her. James defended himself and his friends with the eternal excuse that they had sworn not to speak of it to anyone. In the end they made a deal: Emma could borrow the map if she told James about any secrets she found without him, but it wasn't the same.

That summer, Lou and Pierre’s parents died. By now Pierre was a curse-breaker travelling around the globe, but Lou was in her fifth year at Beauxbatons. Natalie and Charles wouldn’t tell the teens what happened, but they learnt from eavesdropping that Lou’s parents were working for Dumbledore on something dangerous. Apparently, he had promised Lou’s parents to take care of her, so she was Sorted into Ravenclaw in Hogwarts and moved to Dumbledore's own home. Emma had wanted her to move to the Potter’s, but Dumbledore refused. When James asked if Lou could help them become Animagi, she was glad of the project to take her mind off it. By the end of summer, James had managed to turn himself into a stag.

Chapter Text

‘Merlin, your brother got hot over the summer,’ Alecto sighed, pretending to fan herself.

‘And my, my, Sirius is quite a catch,’ Lucinda murmured, looking over at the four boys caper about near the Great Lake.

‘I thought you were interested in Regulus last year,’ Emma said to Lucinda.

‘Ah, but the forbidden fruit is always the sweetest,’ they laughed, and Lucinda muttered. ‘Besides, Regulus doesn’t seem to notice.’

It was true that Regulus mostly kept himself to himself. Oh, he joked around on the Quidditch pitch and was always friendly, but his cool facade never slipped off. Of course, girls loved his mysterious aura, thinking that they could be the one to bring down his walls. When Emma mentioned this to him once he laughed, and she couldn’t tell if he was pleased or annoyed. Maybe both. It probably reminded him of Sirius - the two brothers were barely on speaking terms, and he never told her why. She had grown to accept his silence: it was oddly comforting next to James and Sirius’s constant stream of chatter.

A shadow fell over them, and they looked up to see Rabastan and Regulus exaggeratedly swaggering over. It's like he goes out of his way to prove me wrong, Emma thought, though it was probably Rabastan who had talked him into it.

‘S’up?’ Rabastan asked, raking a hand through his light brown hair. ‘Name’s Potter, but you can call me “Quidditch God”.’

Emma giggled despite herself. Her brother had become slightly big-headed over the last few years. And though she quietly approved of his and Sirius’s pranks, she was not impressed at how often they got caught. “Gotta live up to my reputation, darling,” he had said when she asked him why he let himself get put in detention. “Give the ladies something to talk about.”

Rabastan enchanted a rolled up ball of paper to fly around his head like a Snitch and made a show of arranging himself in a lounging position. Then Regulus gave a lop-sided grin - it was uncanny how much he looked like his brother when he did that - and slid into the seat next to Emma.

‘Hey babe,’ he said, wiggling an eyebrow. ‘I’m Sirius Black. You might have heard of me, self-confessed ladies man. Want to…go somewhere a bit more private?’

‘Careful there Black,’ Emma shoved his face away, but smiled anyway. ‘You wouldn’t want to go provoking the wrath of the Quidditch God over there.’

‘Oh I can take him,’ he winked, pulling her closer. She shook her head, but swung her legs onto his lap. She knew it annoyed him. Lucinda shot her a look of reproach, but she didn’t care. Merlin, that girl could be annoying, swaying between both brothers. She hoped Regulus didn’t return her feelings, even if she was Emma's friend.

By this time Rabastan had noticed what was going on, and challenged Regulus to a duel, mostly consisting in sending flashes of light in each other’s direction. Losing interest, Emma looked back across
the Lake. James might be a bit of an idiot, but he was still her brother. At least she thought he was. Though he had confessed his secret to her, she felt like they were drifting further and further apart. When they were little it was almost like they were the same person. Now he was an acquaintance she exchanged the Invisibility Cloak with. It didn’t help that Regulus and Sirius couldn’t stand to be in the same room as each other either. Regulus noticed the direction she was gazing in and frowned.

‘Come on,’ he said. ‘I think the grounds are getting too crowded around here. Besides, it’s getting late.’

Rabastan agreed with him, he always did, but it was true that the sky was darkening. They all trooped up to the Great Hall where a girl their age with bright red hair they recognised as Lily Evans pushed past them, looking like she was about to cry.

‘Watch it Mudblood!’ Alecto said angrily, brushing her robes where she had been touched.

‘I think that’s the girl James fancies,’ Emma said without thinking, hoping that her brother hadn’t messed up again.

‘What?’ Barty Crouch asked in a dangerously low voice. Emma hadn’t seen him come up behind them. ‘I thought his blood was pure.’

‘Well yeah but that doesn’t mean that -‘ Emma was cut off by Narcissa gliding over to them.

‘Don’t let Bella catch you saying that,’ she warned.

‘Bella ain’t here anymore,’ Alecto said in a sing-song voice. It was true that the middle Black sister had graduated at the end of their first year. ‘Come on Emma, we’re going to miss all the good lasagne!’

***

 

‘Congratulations on getting Prefect,’ Regulus said a couple of days later.

They had missed each other on the train and hadn’t realised it until they were scheduled for patrols together. Emma didn't quite know how, since there was supposed to be a meeting in the prefect compartment. Maybe he had left before she had arrived. In any case, it was a pleasant surprise when she had checked the patrol roster and found his name next to hers.

‘Congratulations yourself,’ Emma grinned. ‘We only have the fourth floor to patrol today.’

They walked around the halls in silence, checking empty classrooms and broom closets. It was odd to be on the other side of the rules, she thought. She was so used to exploring with James under cover, and later helped her friends get to their secret rendezvous without getting caught. None of them knew about the Invisibility Cloak, and she liked seeing their amazed faces when she managed to sneak up on them. She hadn’t found any new passageways in Hogwarts for ages. James was always busy with the Marauders.

‘Hey Regulus,’ she said suddenly. He looked at her inquiringly. ‘You like secrets, don’t you?’

It wasn’t a question, not really. She remembered how quickly he had found out about the little-known story of the Bloody Baron. And she always ended up telling him things she hadn’t meant to leave her mouth.

‘As much as the next person,’ Regulus said carefully, but she had caught the glint in his eye. One of the reasons he was so respected in Slytherin was because he had dirt on everyone.

‘What do you say to taking a few detours on our next patrol?’

He looked at her, puzzled. ‘What are you suggesting?’

‘Nothing,’ she said. James had agreed to lend her the Marauder’s Map the next week. It would be easier to explain then, though she wasn't allowed to show him.

‘You’re a strange one Emma, you know that?’ Regulus said as he opened the next closet.

Whatever Emma was about to say next died in her throat as the girl inside shrieked and dove for her clothes. It wasn’t so much as the what, but the who.

‘Alecto?’ Regulus asked incredulously. ‘And who’s this? I don’t recognise him.’

But Emma did. ‘Regulus, I’ll take care of this. You can go back to do the report.’

Regulus narrowed his eyes. He didn’t take to being sent to bed like a child. ‘If you think you can get her out of this just because she’s your friend -'

‘I’m not trying to get her out of this!’ Emma said, her temper flaring. ‘Just do it.’ She softened her tone. ‘Please.’

It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Regulus, but she didn’t trust him with this. Everyone had a way of surviving in Slytherin: Regulus dealt in secrets, and this was a juicy one.

'Fine,’ he said stiffly, brushing past her. ‘But you owe me one.’

‘Thanks,’ Alecto said weakly when he had gone.

‘Don’t thank me yet,’ Emma said, turning on her. ‘Get him dressed.’

‘But I -‘ the boy started to protest, fully-clothed.

Silencio,’ Emma pointed her wand at him.

Alecto still looked confused, so Emma cast the illusion charm on him herself. The t-shirt and trousers shimmered and turned into black robes with yellow lining. Now it was the boy's turn to look confused. He was still opening and closing his mouth, trying to speak.

‘A Hufflepuff?’ Alecto asked disgustedly, pulling on her shoes.

‘You’re lucky I’m not as good at transfiguration as my brother or he’d be a toad right now,’ she replied shortly, shoving the boy towards the hunched witch. ‘I can’t believe you’d be so stupid as to bring him here. What if your brother saw him? Worse, a teacher? You could have been expelled!’

Alecto had the grace to look shameful, all the way down the passageway, but she still kissed the Muggle when they left him in Hogsmeade and wiped his memory. Emma didn’t bother removing the Silencing charm: it would wear off and she was still annoyed at her friend - mostly because she had used the passage without telling Emma - but also because she was worried about her. What would people say if Alecto Carrow, whose parents were staunch believers in keeping blood pure, was dating a Muggle? No wonder she went overboard with the whole "Mudblood" thing.

She fumed all the way down to the Great Hall where she found a second year Hufflepuff trying to hide under a statue. She grabbed the frightened boy by the scruff of his neck and gave him detention before shoving him in the direction of the kitchens. She then deducted twenty point from Slytherin and threatened to take away more if her friend didn’t go straight to the dungeons. Alecto knew better than to protest when her friend was in a bad mood and rushed down the corridor.

Emma was about to follow, but instead slipped through the double door outside and made her way to the stadium. Lying spread eagled on the Quidditch pitch, she felt the breeze cool her cheeks and stared at the stars. She could make out Orion - barely - but she didn’t know any other constellations. Note to self: pay more attention in Astronomy lessons. A million other thoughts zipped through her mind, and she jumped when she heard the crunch of boots on the ground next to her.

‘Hey,’ Regulus said, sitting down next to her.

She groaned and pulled herself into a sitting position. She didn’t bother to ask him how he found her.

‘You never left,’ she said, guessing. He blinked in reply. She sighed.

‘What’s so important about blood anyway?’ she asked.

‘Well,’ Regulus said slowly. ‘My parents think that Muggles are dirty scum that need to be eliminated. They say that Muggleborns stole their magic somehow, and many pure-bloods agree with them.’

‘What do you think?’

For a second her black-haired friend blinked in surprise, and she was oddly reminded of James. Then his features smoothed the way Walburga’s did when she hid something, and Regulus was back.
‘The way I see it, Muggles led witch hunts whenever they found out about wizards. So it’s natural for us to want to get our revenge. I mean, skulking in the shadows? Having to refuse to use magic because their minds can’t cope with it? I’ve been collecting newspaper clippings about this guy that’s rising in power. He calls himself “Lord Voldemort”. A bit pretentious, but it catches your attention. He wants to educate Muggles. Think about how we could help them with our superior abilities, instead of them bumbling around like idiots and destroying our home. Why should we have to hide from Muggles when we’re better equipped to make life easier for both us and themselves?’

‘You’ve been thinking about this a lot, haven’t you?’ Emma asked quietly.

‘Look, I’m not saying that calling Muggleborns “Mudbloods” is okay. But statistically, they’ve been known to do poorly in exams, and magic doesn’t come as naturally to them. Most don’t like flying, simply because they’re not used to the idea of magic.’

‘I think Lily Evans would beg to differ!’ Emma joked, but then grew serious. ‘But I do understand what you mean. Lots of magical creatures have been forced into nearly uninhabitable places because Muggles would hunt them down. Unicorns became nearly extinct when their properties were found out.’

‘Exactly!’ Regulus said.

‘What would you say if I was dating a Muggle-born?’ she asked abruptly, thinking of Alecto.

‘Are you?’ Regulus smiled. ‘Come on, Emma. I wouldn’t care about their blood. They’re proper wizards. Now if you were dating a Muggle...’

Chapter Text

‘Who are you, and what have you done with my sister?’ James hissed, sliding onto the bench next to her in the library. He glanced from side to side to make sure nobody was listening. The group of Ravenclaws at the nearly table continued working peacefully.

Emma stopped leaning her head on her hand, taking her eyes off of the fat potions book. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Come on Emma,’ James said. ‘I can’t believe who you’re hanging out with. Lestrange? Rosier? You wouldn’t believe the rumours we hear about that group. And Sirius said his brother...’

‘Regulus didn’t do anything!’ she protested.

‘Even this book you’re reading,’ James continued as if he hadn’t heard. ‘The Draught of the Living Death? This is Dark magic, Emma.’

‘Relax James,’ his twin replied, yawning. ‘It’s our Potions essay.’

‘Oh, right,’ he was quiet for a second. ‘But still, Lily says Snivellus -‘

‘Oh Lily says, does she?’ Emma asked, her eyes flashing with hurt. She shut her book, there was no way she was going to be able to get back to work after this. ‘Lily says Snape is doing Dark magic and so I automatically am too? Well news-flash for you James: I hate Snape as much as you do! Why don't you get mad at Lily, since she's the one who's actively hanging out with Snape? Or is it because I’m in Slytherin?’

‘Don’t bring that up again,’ James said exasperatedly, glancing around. People were starting to murmur.

Emma took a deep breath and composed herself. ‘Just because your friends have problems with my House doesn’t mean I’m doing Dark magic. Anyway, stop trying to act as though you care.’

James opened his mouth and then closed it again. He had been distant lately.

‘Tell you what,’ he said. ‘Let’s go to Hogsmeade this weekend, just you and me.’

‘But this weekend isn’t a Hogsmeade one,’ Emma said stupidly. But her annoyance at him had vanished.

‘Oh dear sister, you have missed me,’ James winked and ruffled her now waist-length hair.

‘Hey!’ she said, combing it back down. ‘Just because you like looking like you just woke up doesn’t mean I have to too.’

***

 

‘Do you prefer the red one or the blue?’ Emma asked, holding the dresses up in front of the mirror. They were in the Slytherin dorm, and she was deciding on what to wear.

Lucinda sat down on the corner of Emma's bed and took a long look at each of them. ‘What’s it for?’

‘Emma’s going on a date,’ replied Alecto, lazily flicking through a magazine. She was sprawled on her own bed, but occasionally lifted her eyes to see what was going on.

‘A date?’ Helen squealed, putting her makeup box down. She loved dressing up. She took a long look at Emma. ‘So first things first: you don’t nearly have enough lipstick on. A girl’s got to look the part.
It makes a boy want to kiss you, but he knows he’s got to work for it, coz you ain’t smudging your makeup on the first date.’

‘Good thing I’m not planning on kissing him then,’ Emma said, amused. ‘I think I’ll pick the red. It’s warmer.’

‘It’s not as if you’re going outside of Hogwarts,’ Helen shook her head. ‘The red one’s nice, but the blue brings out your eyes and it's sexier!’

‘She has a point,’ Alecto said without looking up.

‘Okay that settles it,’ Emma laughed. ‘Definitely the red. Besides, he loves his House colours.’

‘I don’t know why I give advice, you never seem to take it,’ Helen pretended to huff dramatically. ‘You’re going on a date with a Gryffindor? How did you manage that one? I thought they all hated us.’

‘Hey, I do take your advice!’ Emma pulled on the red dress. ‘I don’t think James would really appreciate me looking sexy, thanks. But I’ll keep the lipstick thing in mind.’

Helen’s face went the same colour as her dress. ‘I- I didn’t realise,’ she stammered, shooting an evil look towards Alecto, who laughed at her own joke.

‘Have fun!’ she waved. ‘Bring me lots of juicy gossip when you come back.’

‘And Honeydukes for me!’ Lucinda chimed in. Helen looked at her wordlessly.

‘I have my ways,’ Emma replied mysteriously to the unspoken question, dancing down into the common room.

‘Where are you going all dolled up?’ Rabastan asked, looking at her approvingly. He had been reading a book near the fireplace.

‘On a date,’ Emma smiled, repeating Alecto’s words. Let them have fun with that while I’m away, she thought mischievously.

‘What? Regulus, did you hear that?’

‘Yeah, yeah,’ Regulus murmured, not looking up from his game of wizard's chess with Narcissa.

***

 

It was cold in Hogsmeade, but the good kind of chill that made your cheeks flush pink. James insisted on escorting Emma everywhere arm in arm, and once they reached Honeydukes the twins were back to their old selves. Emma had a way of calming James down, making him less of a prat, and her brother made her as carefree and wild as he was for a while. They had snowball fights and dared each other to eat owl treats. Emma insisted on getting some sugar mice for Fluffy as well as Lucinda, and James told her all about his next prank idea.

‘Just don’t eat any fairy cakes at the Yule Ball,’ he warned her as they warmed their hands over butterbeer. ‘Speaking of, who are you going with?’

Dumbledore had caught wind of the tensions between the Houses, and had reinstated the Yule Ball: a Christmas fancy party where your date had to be somebody from a different House. Their parents obviously knew about it beforehand, because they were to be sent dresses and dress robes that weekend.

‘Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that,’ Emma said, putting on a hurt face. ‘There’s this boy I really want to ask me in Gryffindor, but I’m scared he never will.’

‘Oh? Tell me more about this boy,’ James said, leaning forwards with a serious air.

‘Well, he’s in our year, likes Transfiguration, and always seems to end up in detention. Everyone says he’s a womaniser, but I think he’s a real romantic at heart and I know for a fact that he's never kissed a girl before.’

‘Sorry to break this to you Ems, but Sirius is already taken,’ James laughed, though he went slightly red. No one but his sister knew that he was saving his first kiss for Lily Evans. ‘Looks like our cousin Lou has tamed the wild lion.’

‘Really?’ Emma asked, surprised. She hadn’t seen much of their cousin recently, though she knew that she had immediately fallen under Sirius’s charm. ‘Lucinda won’t be happy about that.’
‘Sirius would never live up to his parents expectations by dating a Slytherin,’ James shook his head. ‘I hear about some of the things they do, and… Ems, they’re not very nice people. Present company excluded.’

‘Regulus doesn’t seem to have a problem with them,’ Emma pointed out, slightly heatedly.

‘Regulus wasn’t sorted into Gryffindor,’ James retorted. ‘Do you know how lucky we are to have our parents? I mean seriously -'

‘You were sorted into Gryffindor,’ Emma repeated his words under her breath, but her twin heard all the same. He gave her a look filled with compassion, but she knew that deep down he didn’t understand. He never had to see their dad force a smile every time he talked about a Quidditch win, or earning House points. It was fine as long as they didn't speak about their Houses... or their friends... or...

‘Anyway, enough about that!’ James said a bit too cheerfully. ‘We were talking about the Yule Ball. Now let me see. I think Peter mentioned his crush on you…oh only forty times a day.’

‘Peter?’ Emma asked, shuddering. ‘I know he’s your friend, but he’s really creepy.’

Once she had forgotten her clothes in the Quidditch locker room, and had returned to find Peter sniffing her T-shirt with a dreamy expression. Of course, Alecto had burst out laughing, but Lucinda had looked suitably horrified.

‘Fine, not Peter then,’ James replied smiling. ‘But we had better get back before we’re missed. After all, it’s not really a Hogsmeade weekend.’ He called over to the barmaid. ‘Hey Rosemerta. You’ll keep our secret, won’t you?’ And the twins beamed their identical hopeful smiles.

‘Ah, who could ever give away the two of you,’ Rosemerta chuckled. ‘Though I hope to see you when you’re not breaking the rules one day James.'

'I do believe she has a soft spot for you,' Emma said later, winking like Rosemerta, and the twins burst out laughing.

Chapter Text

That weekend was an eventful one for Emma. It was the start of the Christmas holidays, but for once no one went home. The train was instead scheduled for the following Monday. The Great Hall was bustling with activity: the decorations were being overseen by Flitwick, standing on a stack of enchanted books. Discreet love notes and loud proclamations in the Great Hall were becoming frequent as students realised that they still needed dates. For the first time, Emma saw Regulus turn red as he was handed a singing rose. He thanked the girl solemnly and politely declined. A gaggle of girls in robes of all colours sighed as Sirius tossed his head in his most handsome manner and made it rain confetti.

On the Friday evening, the fifth year Slytherin girls decided that it was high time they had a sleepover. Helen procured a number of makeup appliances, Lucinda unveiled her stash of hidden sweets and Emma got a house-elf to bring them frothing butterbeer and hot chocolate. Sophie Parkinson made them all laugh and gasp with tales of her sexual exploits. But the real gem of the evening was Alecto. Through means best left secret, she revealed a little bottle of clear liquid and squeezed a few drops into each of their mugs.

'Veritaserum,' she said with a smirk. 'This is where the real fun begins. Emma, you have the lion brother. You can start: truth or dare?'

'Dare,' Emma replied immediately. The other girls gasped, but Alecto knew better.

'Wrong! We all know you can sweet talk your way out of anything. I'm not wasting this Veritaserum. What I meant was: truth or truth?'

'Gee, that leaves me loads of choice doesn't it?' she asked sarcastically.

'Ooh, I get the question,' Lucinda said. 'We can take it in turns.' She turned to Emma, watching her take a gulp of her drink. 'Who do you fancy?'

Emma rolled her eyes. 'How long had you been waiting to ask me that one? No, for the last time, I am not secretly in a relationship with Regulus, Sirius, or my brother,' she said the last one to Helen. 'Ew.'

'Hey, twincest happens all the time,' Helen shrugged. 'It's your turn to choose.'

'Wait, you haven't properly replied,' Lucinda pointed out.

'Fine... Maybe Avery, but he's way too -'

'Intense,' Lucinda agreed. He had been their Quidditch captain for three years, but something about him seemed dangerous. There had been a rumour involving him, Dark Magic, and a Gryffindor Muggleborn named Mary McDonald.

'Otherwise, your brother's pretty good-looking! And recently single, I heard,' Emma added with a smirk.

'Forget I asked,' Lucinda replied immediately. 'Who's up next?'

Emma opened her mouth, but Alecto drank without being asked. 'No need. I knew it was me.'

'Is it true your brother's a Death Eater?'

'Yeah. Well, he doesn't have a... you-know-what yet,' Alecto said, tapping her left forearm meaningfully. 'You have to wait 'til you're out of school for that. But you have to keep it quiet for now. They're still amassing power, you know? Lots of the wizarding world thing that their views are too extreme for now. I'll tell you one thing though, they're - What was that?'

A loud noise cracked just outside their window. They all rushed to peer outside.

'Looks like fireworks,' Lucinda said. 'Come on, you can see better from upstairs.'

The words were all in their mouths: fireworks didn't work underwater, but as they entered the common room with its glass walls, they saw that she was right. A series of sparklers lit up the water in a vaguely humanoid shape. It seemed to be waving some kind of stick, a wand? It turned gold and Emma laughed as she realised what it was. The James-shape was waving around the sword the way he did when they were young, except that it spelled out a silvery sentence in the green water.

Emmsy-poo, it read. Leave Fluffy alone for a night and come to the Yule Ball with me. It'll be fun: trust me. Your brother always knows best.

Some of the other students had emerged upon hearing the noise, but for once Emma didn't care about the attention. Her brother was back, in all of his endearing idiocy.

***

 

Alecto nervously smoothed her dress down one last time and checked her makeup in the mirror. True to her Slytherin House, she was wearing a green dress that seemed to ripple as she walked. In honour of the occasion, she had slicked on some bright red lipstick to match her hair, which she kept readjusting in its bun.

'Why are you so nervous?' asked Emma, hunting for her shoe under the bed. They were the last two in the dorm room. 'It's not as if your boyfriend's going to see you.'

'Keep your voice down,' her friend hissed, glancing around. 'I think Rabastan knows.'

'What?' Emma exclaimed loudly. 'Sorry, what?'

'I'm pretty sure he saw us in Hogsmeade last visit, but hopefully he thinks Simon's just another student. Still, I need to throw him off the scent.'

'Oh I see,' Emma said knowingly. 'Seductress mode then.'

'You have no idea what my brother would do to him - or me - if he found out, Emma.'

'Hey no judgement here,' Emma held her hands up. 'A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.'

'Are you hiding something from me?' Alecto narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

'Honestly, you're too paranoid Alecto,' Emma sighed. 'Now shoo. William Davies probably thinks you've stood him up. But if you really want to sell the single factor... As I said, Evan Rosier is available.' She grinned.

'Alright,' she replied dubiously, and left with a practiced twirl.

When she was sure Alecto had gone, Emma put on her other shoe and hauled a huge tome from under the bed. After the incident with the Gryffindors in third year, she had wanted to learn how to defend herself. Of course, Defence Against the Dark Arts did that. Then she realised that she wanted revenge, to make them feel as powerless as she had felt back then. Naturally, Slughorn signed the permission slip for the Restricted Section, but there were immensely complex hand gestures. Only in fifth year had she begun to be able to understand them. And tonight would be the perfect opportunity to test one of them out. Hector Miller was in his seventh year now, so it was her last chance. Entomorphius, she whispered, committing it to memory.

***

 

'Finally!' James exclaimed. 'I was beginning to think I'd been dumped by my own sister. Isn't that dress…a bit much?'

'Mum sent it,' Emma replied, looking down. She quite liked it: silver and shimmery, with a floaty material.

'Isn't it a bit…you know…Revealing? I mean are we supposed to see your legs? And there are no sleeves!'

'James, if you had your way I'd be wearing a ski suit,' Emma said.

'Yeah shut up Prongs,' Sirius said. 'You look hot, female James.'

'Don't listen to your brother Emma,' Lou rolled her eyes, dressed in sky-blue to match Sirius's dress robes. Her eyes were covered with a smoky eye shadow that made them seem amber in the candlelight. Boys were looking at her admiringly, and girls were angrily tugging their gawking dates past them. Though that might have had something to do with Sirius winking at a couple of them. Trust Sirius to make even girls jealous.

'So shall we go?' James asked, giving up and proffering an arm to his sister.

'We shall.'

The twins really did look alike: though Emma's eyes were blue and James's were hazel, they were the same shape and were framed by long, dark lashes; for once James had tried to flatten his straight black hair and Emma had simply left hers loose. She had once confessed to her brother that she kept her hair so long because the weight tamed the messiness. Their parents had sent James elegant but simple black dress-robes, and with Emma's heels they were exactly the same height as they took to the dance floor, where most of the older Hogwarts students were already swaying in time to the first formal dance. Apparently McGonagall had waited for all the students to appear before opening the Hall.

At first James's fan club stopped to gawk at them, wondering who had captured the heart meant for Lily Evans. Slytherins mostly kept themselves to themselves, and James had purposefully told his fans that he would be going stag so as not to break any hearts. Since the twins had spent so much time apart, many had forgotten that they weren't merely siblings, and something about them seemed out of the ordinary. Dancing together came naturally to them, they knew each other so well that they could predict where the other was going flawlessly. To the Gryffindors, it seemed like James was dancing with a female version of himself, and vice-versa to the Slytherins. They had forgotten that Gryffindors and Slytherins could even look alike, let alone come from the same family.

'Mind if I cut in?' Sirius asked once the song ended. 'Only you're making even the ghosts look like they've seen a ghost.'

'Do you really think I would give my sister up to a womaniser like you?' James asked, raising his eyebrows. 'I mean you're my best mate, but she's my sister, Sirius.'

'What if I told you Lily Evans wanted to dance with you?' Sirius's eyes twinkled.

'Sorry Emma, you're on your own. But be warned!' James sprinted off in the direction of the red-head, who to his disgust, was with Snivellus.

'Hello Evans,' James gave his best charming smile. 'Sorry Snivellus, but I'm stealing your date.'

He ignored Lily's squeal of protest and dragged her off to the dance floor, where he was soon intercepted by Professor McGonagall who gave them a lecture on the meaning of INTER-House dancing.

'Works like a charm,' Sirius winked at Emma. 'Want a drink?'

'What was that for?' Emma asked, following him to the punch table.

'I don't know if you've noticed, Emma, but you really do look like a female James,' Sirius said, handing her a goblet.

'What's that supposed to mean?' she asked, taking a gulp to hide her frustration. 'Urgh, I think someone spiked this.'

'That was me, duh. It means you look freaking hot tonight,' he replied, but he was looking towards the dance floor.

'Um…Thank you,' Emma said cautiously. 'Aren't you with Lou tonight?'

'Meh, we're just friends. I'm serious though. You know girls find James good-looking? Well a lot of guys are interested in you. Need proof? Come here for a second,' he dragged her by the hand to one of the low-lit corner tables, still shooting glances behind him. He looked back towards her distractedly. 'What would you say if I said I was into you?'

'I'd say that's rubbish,' Emma replied immediately. 'You're not even really paying attention to this weird conversation.'

'You're right,' Sirius said, amused. 'You look too much like James. Keep that in mind, I don't want you getting any ideas.'

'About wha-'

Sirius slid a hand into her hair and pulled her forwards, crashing his mouth onto hers, ignoring her muted sounds of protest. After a couple of seconds, she got a grip on his chest and pushed him away, eyes flashing with anger. 'What the hell was that?'

'Nothing personal,' he replied. 'Thanks for helping. As I was saying, a lot of guys are interested in you. But I'm only interested in one. He should arrive in about oh, three two one.' He held a finger up, and Regulus appeared.

'Is my brother bothering you?' he asked Emma, but he was looking at Sirius with an expression of utmost disgust.

'Nope,' Sirius said. 'We were getting along just fine. But I should get going. See you later, Ems.' he used James's nickname and sauntered off with a smug expression on his face. Emma stared at him with a slight frown on her face. What the hell just happened?

'See you later?' Regulus demanded. Only his brother could make him lose his cool.

'It's nothing,' Emma replied. 'Your brother is an idiot. I need a drink.'

Regulus went to hold her back, but to her surprise his hand shot back as if there was a Protection charm on her. 'Shit,' he said, massaging his wrist. 'I forgot Dumbledore enchanted the punch so that you can't touch your fellow housemates. Emma, what were you doing with Sirius? He's -'

Emma didn't listen to what Sirius was, suddenly annoyed with their brotherly feud. She pushed past her friend to the spiked punch. Sirius Black just kissed me. Sirius. Black. She didn't live in a cave. Even she could admit that Sirius Black was one of the best-looking guys in Hogwarts, and wouldn't deny that she had fantasised about snogging him in fourth-year Potions when she was bored. But she also knew that she wasn't interested in him, and he her. So what was that for? What did he get out of randomly kissing her? It seemed a little far-fetched that it was just to annoy his brother, though she was sure that Regulus he wouldn't put it past him. She downed her third goblet, but before she could serve herself another it was whisked out of her hand. Who decided it was drag around Emma Potter day? she asked herself, as she came face to face with - as fate would have it - Hector Miller, looking very pleased with himself.

'Emma Potter,' he slurred slightly. 'Emma Potter, the Slytherin who should have been a Gryffindor. I gotta thank Dumbledore for this. You know I'm a Muggleborn. Yep, I'm a Muggleborn. See all those Slytherins?' he waved to the right, where she saw Rabastan, Avery and the Carrow siblings looking at them with varying shades of annoyance. 'They think I'm dirt, they think Purebloods are too good for me, but they can't do nothing.' He giggled. 'You're not like them. You're different. Like a Muggleborn.'

Emma was about to push him off her, but she realised that it was the perfect opportunity for her revenge plan. Instead, she smiled sweetly. 'I don't think you're dirt.'

'No. Youssh…yousshh…youssh special. And pretty. Pretty hair,' he lifted one of her black locks.

How much has he had to drink? What do I do now? Okay think, what would Sirius do? "You look freaking hot". Use it Emma, Salazar knows that you won't have another chance.

'How about we go somewhere private?' she asked, brushing up closer. Godric, he makes me want to vomit.

Miller looked as if he couldn't believe it as she led him off the dance-floor. No one would notice them gone, except maybe Regulus, but she could handle him if he followed them. She nearly stumbled as she went down the steps of the dungeons corridor. Sirius had spiked the punch more than she thought. Entomorphious, she whispered to herself, drawing her wand discreetly. Maybe this is a bad idea. He didn't look that drunk anymore. Too late now: he had pushed her into the Potions supply closet and shoved her against the wall.

'I can't believe you fell for that. Call yourself a Slytherin? I thought they were supposed to be clever,' he laughed cruelly. 'I know what your lot did to Brian's parents, don't try to deny it. Was that your little revenge? Find out which of us were Muggleborn and tell them all about it? This is payback for them.'

'I swear I have no idea,' Emma pleaded, all thoughts of revenge flown from her mind. She really did have no idea.

'You and your brother, you're as bad as each other. Pretend you're all high and mighty but what? His friend stole my girlfriend, and James hexed me for it. Lucky for me you're a whimpering coward who hides behind your Slytherin friends. Not here now though, are they? Brian wanted to hex you, but I'll say this for you, you're good at duelling. And I wasn't going to ruin this pretty little face of yours. This is payback for me too.' He ran a finger across her cheek and she froze. 'Besides, I can't wait to see James's face when his precious little sister turns up battered in the Hospital Wing.'

He pulled her closer to him, leaning close. Too close. Something inside Emma reacted, and she realised that she was still holding her wand. I need more room to use the spell, she thought. She went limp, as though the fight had left her. He moved her towards the wall and bit at her throat savagely before moving onto her mouth. His eyes are closed, here's my chance. She suddenly pushed him to the side.

'Entomorphis!' she cried, moving her wand with more confidence than she felt.

Miller's eyes flew open and he fell to the floor on hands, feet and two extra beetle legs, feelers sprouting from his head. He tried to speak, but all he could do was click the pair of pincers that emerged from his mouth. She smiled, feeling proud of herself, and opened the door before she realised that the spell wasn't continuing. He grabbed a hold of her leg and pulled her down, wriggling until he was on top of her. She shrieked in surprise and dropped her wand. She turned her head, and the pincers snapped closed on a piece of hair. This is so not going as planned.

'Emma!' she heard a familiar voice cry.

Oh no, not Regulus. Please don't let Regulus see this. She wouldn't be able to look him in the eye if he came and saw this. She didn't need help, or his pity. She didn't think she could get over that. In a desperate burst of energy, she kicked Miller away and twisted around, scrabbling for her wand. There!

'Entomorphious,' she said. Her arm trembled, but she completed the spell successfully. He turned into a humanoid insect, flopping around on his back. She looked at him in disgust, hating for making her feel weak once again.

'Like a Muggleborn am I?' she shrieked, angry at him for making her scared, angry at herself for falling for his trick. She stomped on one of the feelers and the bug-Miller made a strangled sound. 'Don't you for once dare to compare me to scum like you.'

'Diffindo!' she yelled, breaking one of the six legs. 'Diffindo, diffindo!'

Feeling slightly better, and calmer, she forced herself to compose herself, wiping the blood from her lips. What was she going to do now? She had just planned on turning him into an insect for a couple of minutes and reverse the curse to shake him up a bit. She couldn't turn him back into a human now, what would he say? She felt disgusted that even he knew how helpless she could have been if she didn't have her wand. She looked up, thinking, and spotted a jar of earthworms.

'My friends were right about you, Mudblood,' she sneered, unstoppering it and casting a shrinking charm on the helpless bug. 'Now you can live up to your name.'

She took a deep breath, trying to smooth down her dress and raked her fingers through her hair before going back to her room to hide the jar. But when she turned around, she saw Regulus, Alecto and Amycus staring at her with their jaws hanging open.

'What?' she asked defensively, not sure what to say, or if she had the energy to say it.

'Remind me never to get on your bad side,' was all Alecto said in reply.

Chapter Text

Emma was worried at how much her friends had seen, but from what Alecto said it seemed that they had only arrived after she had stepped on the feelers. Regulus hadn’t mentioned the incident, or anything about that night, having lapsed into one of his silent moods. Amycus shot her a few odd looks at breakfast, but also said nothing. Her friends were currently chatting to pass time on the train ride home, their compartment filled as ever.

'Emma,' Helen said suddenly. 'Is that a love bite on your neck?'

Emma's hand shot to her bruised throat. I knew I should have worn a scarf, she cursed quietly to herself. "A" love bite. So she only saw one. Thinking quickly, she leaned forwards conspiratorially, letting her hair hang in front of the marks.

'You know I went with James to the Yule Ball?' she drew out the sentence.

'Merlin's saggy underpants, are you two really..?' Helen asked, half-horrified, half-fascinated.

'Don't be disgusting,' Emma replied immediately, then gave what she hoped to be a secretive smile. 'Let's just say I spent some time "getting to know" one of his friends.'

'Which one?' she cooed immediately.

'Well, that's for me to know, isn't it?' Emma winked. It almost seemed unreal, how easy the pretence was.

'Come on,' Helen looked at her with puppy-dog eyes.

Alecto's ears had perked up, though she feigned indifference. Lucinda pretended no such thing.

'It's Sirius, isn't it?' she asked. 'I thought I saw you together, but I wasn't quite sure...'

'Is that true?' Rabastan looked at her, wide-eyed. Oddly, he was the one that minded Gryffindors the least among their gang. 'Good on you Ems, though don't let Regulus find out. He hates his brother so badly!'

'What's Sirius done this time?' Regulus asked from the compartment doorway. Emma inwardly jumped; she hadn't heard the door slide open.

Apparently he had returned from the Prefect meeting earlier than expected. Emma had decided to "forget", since Miller's friend Brian Fuller would be there. The incident was too recent to be able to lie well about it, and she suspected that he would be able to put two and two together if he knew about Miller's plan for the Yule Ball.

'Nothing,' Emma said casually. 'How was the corridor patrol?'

'I had to go with Lupin since somebody decided to shirk her responsibilities,' he gave her a dirty look before throwing himself into a seat. 'Come on, what's the idiot done? I'm in a detention giving mood, and I know which compartment he's in.'

'Emma hooked up with him,' Lucinda said, smirking.

Emma elbowed her, but the damage had been done. There was a silence as Regulus expected her to deny it. She stared at him coolly, hating herself as she did so. If there was one way she could have hurt him, this was it. She waited for him to yell at her, to ask for an explanation, even hex her. But that wasn't Regulus's way. He simply looked at her for a long time as though seeing right through her lie, before turning his head. Eventually the conversation resumed, but he didn't join in and nobody asked him to.

***

 

'Pierre!' Lou cried, running over to hug her brother.

Charles and Natalie smiled at each other. They had convinced Dumbledore to let Lou come for Christmas instead of staying at Hogwarts, but they weren't sure if Pierre could come. You never knew when something would come up. But here he was in Godric's Hollow, grinning and dusting off the remnants of Floo Powder that still stuck to his clothing.

'Have you got any more tattoos?' James immediately wanted to know.

For every major curse he managed to break, Pierre would celebrate and remember that victory with a tattoo. A job like his wasn't easy, and it was all too rare for a curse to be broken without casualty. Usually they had to deal with the aftermath instead, so they ended up needing more Healers than Breakers.

Pierre grinned and shook his arm out of his sleeve, revealing a black skull enclosed in a yellow triangle. As they watched, the triangle grew brighter and the skull dimmed.

'Wicked!' the twins exclaimed in unison.

'I got it just before the news...' his voice trailed off and he cleared his throat before continuing. 'I forgot to tell you about it: going to Egypt means that I'm a proper curse-breaker now, not a recruit in training.'

They all congratulated him and Lou slapped him on the arm for not mentioning it in his letters.

'I hear that you've been keeping things from me too,' he teased her. 'What's this I hear about a cheeky prankster falling under your charms?'

Lou blushed crimson, but Emma shook her head. It wasn't me.

'I've been waiting for so long for Sirius to become part of the family, now it's going to come true!' James shouted with glee, drawing out the "oo" like a howl.

'James!' Lou admonished, but she smiled anyway.

'I thought Sirius said he "wasn't going to be tied down by anything"?' Natalie asked, clearly finding the whole thing funny. 'I distinctly remember a twelve year old telling me girls were poo and got in the way of Quidditch.'

'What can I say, my sister's just that charming,' Pierre teased. 'But now that the fun part's over, he gets to meet the mighty big curse-breaker brother, who will tell him that curses won't be the only thing breaking if I hear something I don't like.'

Lou complained, but everyone could tell that she had been missing her brother. When their parents died, he had been on site in Egypt on his last stage of apprenticeship. All of the wizards working there had been placed under quarantine until they cleared up the whole sight. She had eventually seen him in November for Aunt Anne and Uncle Jean's funeral, but even then, it was only for a weekend. He was looking a lot more cheerful now.

'So Ems,' Pierre turned to his cousin when everyone else was grabbing more snacks. 'You've been rather quiet. How's Hogwarts?'

'Oh you know,' she replied. 'Learning and all that.'

'Nothing wrong?' he inquired.

Emma thought back to how she had wanted to make the Mudblood pay for what he tried to do. 'Nothing at all,' she lied. She didn't want to bother her cousin when he had so much more going on.

'Because you know, even though I'm in France, we're still family. James and Lou write, but I hardly get any letters from you. Lou says she's worried you hate her new friend,' he gave her a weighted look. 'I'm guessing this is the infamous boyfriend.'

'Sirius? I don't dislike him. More like... there's nothing to like.'

'Then you're the perfect person to keep an eye on him!' her cousin grinned.

Emma privately thought that she wouldn't like to come within ten feet of Sirius Black, but she nodded all the same. They lapsed into a comfortable silence.

'Pierre,' she said after a while, glancing towards the kitchen. The others were still making dip. 'Have you ever... done something. Something you never thought you could do?'

'Like what?' he asked, frowning.

'Never mind,' she said hurriedly, then thought better of it and blurted. 'Something... not very nice. But only because you had to.'

'My job is filled with not very nice somethings, Ems,' he laughed. 'Actually, I always thought you'd want to be a curse-breaker when you grew up.'

'Why's that?' she asked. She hadn't really thought much of her future.

'Well, you don't go rushing headlong into situations, but you're still curious,' he replied. 'Actually you and James are both too curious for your own good. But my job mostly relies on instincts. You don't do something because it's right, you do it in order to survive. Not everyone can do what needs to be done if a particularly bad curse explodes.'

Emma didn't know whether to be proud: that Pierre still thought she and James were alike, flattered: because Pierre's job was really hard, or scared: that her cousin thought that she'd do anything to survive. Plus, his words sounded rather ominous. Pierre obviously saw her face, because he patted her on the back.

'Think about it. Look it up. But I could use someone having my back out there.'

***

 

At the end of January, she had almost forgotten about the beetle on her windowsill when Avery appeared next to her at lunch.

‘Go for a walk with me, Potter?’ he asked, gesturing. From the way Rabastan was looking expectantly at them, she didn’t think it wise to ask why.

As they made their way around the Great Lake in silence, she realised that she didn’t know Avery’s first name. She didn’t think anyone knew. Everyone just called him Avery. She stole a glance at him out of the corner of her eye. He was quite handsome: tall, blonde, athletic. He had taken over captaincy of the Quidditch team after Rachel graduated. But there was a cold look in his eye that made most students afraid of him, and rumours of his practicing Dark Magic had reached even James’s deaf ears.

‘Carrow told me about what happened with Miller,’ he said.

He always called people by their surnames, the same way Regulus didn’t like nicknames. Emma wondered which Carrow had told him. Probably Amycus. She didn't reply, unsure of what to say.

‘You’re quiet. I like that,’ he said. ‘Loud people don’t always get the job done.’ He stopped walking and turned to her. ‘Look, I’m not going to grass on you or anything.’

‘I wasn’t expecting you to,’ Emma replied. Avery wouldn’t bother talking to her if he was.

He smiled. ‘You seem to really hate Mudbloods.’

Emma thought of Lily Evans, James’s crush since second year. And then she thought about Brian Fuller, and the bug she fed once a week in the jar on her windowsill. ‘You could say that.’

‘Look, your reasons are your own, but I know someone who would really like to meet you.’ She narrowed her eyes at him, trying to puzzle out his meaning. ‘I’ll do you a deal: come to Lucius Malfoy’s house during the holidays for his engagement party, and in exchange I can make your bug problem disappear. Or more precisely reappear. He’ll only remember the past week as a beetle.’

‘I don’t know where Malfoy lives,’ Emma said, buying time.

‘Regulus does. Tell your parents you’re staying at the Blacks'.'

***

 

‘You’ve gone completely mad!’ Sirius was pacing around in the cramped compartment space, shaking his head. It was a strange vision of déjà vu: the twins and the Black brothers had found an empty compartment on their own. ‘Was this your idea?’ He addressed this question to his younger brother, who was looking slightly bored.

‘Give her some credit, Sirius. Emma can make her own mind up. Yes, I invited her over for the holidays, but I’m not holding her hostage,’ Regulus replied scathingly. The brothers' relationship had done nothing but deteriorate between Christmas and Easter.

‘Why anyone would willingly enter that house is beyond me,’ Sirius muttered. ‘You’re my friend James, back me up here!’

‘You’re just annoyed that James is grounded and you can't go there,’ his brother said, going back to staring out of the window.

James shrugged his shoulders sheepishly. ‘What? That Valentine’s prank on the girls, turning their faces pink when they talked to the person they liked, was genius. I had to take full responsibility.’

Sirius grinned despite himself. ‘Why do you want to come again?’ he asked Emma. 'Couldn't get enough of me at the Inter-House ball?'

'Inter....' James's face went white. Sirius leered, obviously regretting nothing. Regulus's head snapped back to the conversation, looking at Emma with an odd expression on his face. Emma ignored them all.

‘Regulus and I have an Astronomy project on the movement of stars for a consecutive month,’ she replied. ‘Separately, our charts wouldn’t match, and I think Dad would have a fit if there was another Slytherin in the house.’

It was true, though the projects were actually individual. Miller had turned up in the Hospital Wing with no recollection of where he had spent the past month and a strange craving for dirt. Rumours chalked it up to the hate against Mudbloods, but most thought it happened outside of school. Though Emma was apprehensive about the visit to Malfoy’s mansion, she was excited to spend the week at the Black’s. Her father had taken to shaking his head at her recently, as if every slur against Muggleborns was her fault. She had made the mistake at Christmas of agreeing that there should be a separate policy on Muggleborns at the start of Hogwarts to explain what was going on - remembering the tedious McGonagall lecture of first-year - and he had taken it as blood discrimination. Of course, she had made no move to deny his accusations - saying that it was positive discrimination - and the tension only grew.

‘Who takes Astronomy for their OWLs anyway?’

But this time the grumble was general: he and James had dropped the subject in favour of Care of Magical Creatures as soon as possible. Though he hadn’t joined in Sirius’s hate-party, which seemed more about having to go home for a week than not wanting Emma to stay, James hadn’t been pleased. Apparently Sirius had convinced James that Regulus was in love with Emma, and her twin had not liked the idea of her going to his house one bit. Emma then pointed out that she and Regulus had shared the same common room for the past five years, and that Sirius would be the last person that Regulus would talk to about girls even if he did like her that way, so James relented.

Besides, after Sirius's new revelation, James had decided that he would be having words with the older of the Black brothers about his sister.

Chapter Text

A chauffeur took them from the station to the middle of London, to a house Regulus said was called "12 Grimmauld Place". As they stood in the street, alone with their luggage (James had brought Fluffy back with him), a tall black townhouse seemed to squeeze itself out of thin air. The iron gate swung open easily enough, though Emma was surprised none of the neighbours heard the creaking. Sirius marched up to the door and flung it open. Apparently, the Black family had no need of locks.

‘Home sweet home,’ he muttered darkly under his breath, and ran straight up the stairs with his trunk, ignoring the house-elf which appeared next to him, trying to take the luggage in vain. 'Get away! I don't need you clawing around in my stuff.'

‘Hi Kreacher,’ Regulus smiled, and for a minute he looked like a completely different person from Emma’s taciturn friend. But the mask didn’t return when she thought it would, and she was surprised to see Regulus look like Sirius.

‘So this is the living room,’ he said showing her around, explaining that his parents would be back from their business trip in a couple of days. ‘And this is my room, where you’ll be staying,’ he said finally as they reached the top floor, indicating a door with the words “Do Not Enter Without Express Permission of Regulus Arcturus Black”.

Emma looked at him, amused.

‘Don’t ask,’ Regulus said wearily. ‘It comes from the days this house was filled with people. Plus, Rabastan and I have an inside joke: my initials are R.A.B and the start of his name is RAB...’

Inside, she looked around with interest. Her friend wasn’t one to talk much about home - or himself, for that matter - and she wanted to know what his room was like. Predictably, it was spotlessly tidy, with Slytherin banners hanging around the walls. A crest with the words “Toujours Pur” was painted above the bed, which she supposed belonged to the Blacks. Opposite the four-poster bed was a picture of their Quidditch team, and a collage of newspaper clippings were stuck to the left of it. She moved closer, and saw that it retraced this Lord Voldemort’s footprints as he steadily rose in power and popularity.

‘Did you do this?’ she asked, impressed.

He nodded, standing awkwardly to the side. Things hadn't been the same between them since Lucinda had blurted out that Emma had hooked up with Sirius. Better he think that than the truth, Emma thought, feeling the heat rise to her cheeks at the thought of it. She tried to distract herself.

‘I didn’t know he was gathering the magical creatures too,’ she said, scanning the articles. ‘Can it really be that Voldemort will bring back the wizardry of old times?’

‘I hope so,’ Regulus said, eyes shining. ‘I hope that I’ll be able to -'

The door banged open and Sirius stood in the doorway. ‘Just making sure you’re not getting up to any funny business. I told James I’d keep an eye on you two.’

‘More like I should keep an eye on you,’ Emma muttered, remembering the Yule Ball and his strange behaviour - which she had attributed to the over-spiked punch. Though that did help me find an excuse in the end.

Regulus seemed to be thinking the same thing, because the look he was giving his brother was less than warm.

‘What’cha looking at?’ Sirius chuckled, and strolled over. ‘Oh Reggie, did you do that for our parents? I’m sure they’ll be pleased their favourite son is following in their bigoted footsteps.’

Regulus’s face darkened and he looked like he was about to say something, but restricted himself to ‘get out Sirius.’

‘Oh don’t tone down the insults on the behalf of female James here. But anyway, I’m off: you won’t be able to contain yourself all week. Emma, you know where to find me,' he winked and sauntered off.

Regulus rolled his eyes, but said nothing, daring Emma to make a comment. She ignored it and moved to the little balcony, saying casually, ‘I’m beginning to see where your hatred of nicknames came from.’

He gave a short laugh before following her outside. ‘I guess we had better get the telescope ready while we have time.’

***

 

Both brothers had warned her that dinner was a formal affair at their house, and Emma was glad that she had brought her nicer clothes with her. That didn’t stop her feeling awkward and ungainly as they ate, trying to keep her back as straight and stiff as their parents’. She could see where Sirius and Regulus got their grace from.

They were sitting around a mahogany table with a fancy white table cloth. White napkins were placed on their laps, but Emma had a feeling that they were more for decoration than for using to wipe your face. Kreacher came and went in silence, bringing the soup and bread baskets and occasionally refilling Orion and Walburga's wine glasses. The first course passed in silence, save the clatter of Kreacher levitating the empty bowls back to the kitchen. It was only upon his re-entry with silver platters of magically sliced meat and vegetables that somebody spoke. Though Emma had to admit Kreacher was a very good cook.

‘So Emma,’ Walburga said, breaking the silence as she dabbed delicately at the corner of her mouth. ‘I hear you’re on the Quidditch team.’

‘Chaser,’ Emma agreed, though her mind drew a blank upon trying to continue. Why do I always clam up when I'm nervous?

‘Regulus says you’re a good flier,’ Orion said. Emma blushed.

‘Not as good as him,’ she replied, her gaze flickering towards the younger Black brother. She remembered a story from third year. ‘He once caught the Snitch in five minutes flat. Or Sirius. I don’t know how many Bludgers I’ve had to dodge because our team’s Beaters weren’t fast enough.’

Walburga tutted at Sirius, reprimanding him for shooting Bludgers at a girl.

‘That’s the aim of the game, Mother,’ Sirius said shortly, and there was another lull, punctuated by Sirius apparently murdering his food. Walburga opened her mouth, perhaps for another reprimand, but Regulus quickly asked his dad how work was going.

‘Things at the Ministry are really heating up,’ Orion replied animatedly. This was obviously a favourite topic of discussion. ‘People are being divided into three camps: those who support Lord Voldemort’s actions, even if they are a bit drastic; those who are against the way he’s treating Mudbloods; and those who are caught in the middle.’

‘Muggleborns, father. You call them Muggleborns,’ Sirius said, raising his voice.

‘Yes, well,’ his father brushed him off. ‘Rumour has it he’s planning on a revolution that would overturn the order of things around here. The Ministry has reported sightings of massing troll armies in Scotland, and there have been attacks on Muggles who are reputed to know about magic. His followers have started calling themselves the “Death Eaters”, because they won’t give up their vision even in the face of death itself.’

‘It’s finally happening,’ Walburga said in a hushed voice, almost reverent. ‘We must go to see our cousins, tell them how proud we are of Bellatrix and congratulate Cissa on her engagement to Lucius Malfoy. I always knew that boy would go far in life.’

‘What did Bellatrix do?’ Emma asked, wondering what she had got herself into this week. It seemed like a bizarre mirror-image of her own home.

‘It’s all over the papers,’ Orion answered. ‘A group of Mudbloods had tried to attack a clan of werewolves, apparently in self-defence, though we all know that werewolves have been shunned from society. They killed a wizard named Yaxley in the process, but Bellatrix led a group in retaliation to round them up and put them in Azkaban.’ He shook his head in disgust. ‘These Mudbloods think they can do anything: it’s their fault we we’re in this mess. If only Muggles could learn to accept wizards, we wouldn’t have to hide away like rats in sewers. But no, they hate anything that isn’t like them!’
‘As opposed to what?’ Sirius stood up, slamming his hands on the table. ‘You?’ he laughed. ‘Crooning over Bellatrix like she’s some hero; our cousin is sick! She tortured those wizards for hours before handing them over to the authorities!’

‘For interrogation purposes,’ his mother said calmly.

‘Oh yeah, and I bet you just love the fact that she’s killing Muggles instead of being locked up in an insane asylum where she belongs!’

‘It is sad about the growing number of Muggle deaths, but there are many of them, and it is for the greater good,’ Orion said firmly to his son. ‘Now sit down -'

‘No I don’t think I will,’ Sirius said coldly. ‘Don’t pretend to care, we all know you think Muggles are like sheep. What’s next, Regulus becoming a Death Eater?’

‘Oh wouldn’t it be fantastic?’ Walburga cried. ‘Don’t make a joke out of this, Sirius. Regulus has always made this family proud, unlike you! Even your room is disgusting: half-naked Muggles plastered on the walls, wanting one of those rotten Muggle-powered bikes which kills more people than even dragons. Anyone would think you didn’t care about the Black name!’

‘Well they thought right!’ Sirius yelled back, shoving his chair to the side and storming out.

‘What happened Sirius?’ Walburga shouted, following her son out. ‘Where did I go wrong with you? Why can’t you just be more like your brother?’

Orion was about to follow, but seemed to realise that they had a guest. He gave her a strained smile. ‘Why don’t you two go up to do that Astronomy essay then?’

Emma slid a glance towards Regulus, who seemed to have frozen up during the whole conversation. ‘Sure,’ she said, pulling him by the arm up the four flights of stairs.

He blinked, and seemed to wake up, shrugging out of her grip and calling for Kreacher when they got to the top. He whispered quietly to him, and the house-elf disappeared with a loud crack. What have I gotten myself into? Emma asked herself desperately.

She followed Regulus, unsure as to what to say. They got out their homework in silence. Luckily, the sky was clear that night, and most of the constellations were visible even to the naked eye. They worked in silence for a little while, before the tension grew too unbearable for Emma.

‘So is it often like that at your house?’ she asked quietly, as they marked Jupiter’s angle on the map.

‘More often than I’d like,’ he replied, shrugging his shoulders. He didn't look at her, preferring to train the telescope on Gemini. ‘But then they’re so different. I wish Sirius would at least try to get along with them while he’s here.’

‘Like you do?’

The question was barely audible, but it seemed to strike a chord. He stood up and turned to her, running a hand through his usually neat hair. ‘I don’t know. I guess. What kid doesn’t want to make their parents proud?’

She had to agree with him there. They lapsed into silence, their homework forgotten. Emma stared at the constellations, wondering if the centaurs were right and you could predict things. If the future can be predicted, how can we be blamed for what is inevitable? She didn't know what was right anymore: her family disagreeing with her views, or the Blacks and the arguments with Sirius. She had a feeling that they were all wrong.

'Emma,' Regulus said slowly, the way he did when he was trying to figure something out. 'Did you really sleep with Sirius at the ball?'

Emma gulped, disoriented. It was obvious that this had been in his mind since the train journey. She realised that before Sirius had mentioned their kiss, Regulus hadn't believed what the other Slytherins assumed to be true. I suppose that explains his lack of reaction during the term.

Regulus was one of the few people who she had never lied to, and she prided herself on keeping it that way. But the shame and the disgust of having to tell him what really happened was greater. He wasn't stupid: he could tell when she was hiding something, but he didn't know why she would. At least she hoped he didn't.

'Y-yes,' she stammered and a part of her was pleased that she sounded guilty. Probably because she did feel guilty, just not for the same reasons. 'It... it just kind of happened...'

His jaw worked as though he wanted to say something, but he didn't. Oddly, instead of looking disgusted or betrayed, he seemed disappointed and almost... hurt. He just nodded and went outside to look through the telescope. It was ten times worse than if he'd been angry at her.

***

 

Later that evening when she went to get a glass of water, Sirius was sitting forlornly at the kitchen table. Someone, probably Kreacher, had cleared away the plates. A huge welt was visible on his left forearm, but he pulled the sleeve down when he noticed her standing there.

‘Hey,’ he said. ‘Sorry about that.’

‘No worries.’ She sat down opposite him, unsure of what to do. If it had been Regulus, she would have just stayed silent. He seemed to like that. But Sirius was so exuberant, for better or for worse, that it seemed odd to see him look so drawn.

‘I can’t stay here,’ he said after a while. ‘I just can’t.’

‘But they’re your family. Surely they’ll come around?’ she asked, but as the words left her lips she realised that while she was in her pyjamas, Sirius was fully dressed, with a coat by his side. A sinking feeling came over her. Suddenly, she didn't think she could stomach her glass of water.

‘Not while I’m still a taint on the family honour,’ he laughed humourlessly. ‘I just can’t understand them, you know? I can’t stand them speaking like they’re so much better than Muggles and Muggleborns. I mean, we’re all human, right? What next, Squibs being exiled because they can’t do magic?’

‘Actually, there’s not really much point to Squibs being a part of this society....’ she trailed off as Sirius looked at her. Right, not the best time to be spouting politics and philosophy. She settled for a desperate plea. ‘Can’t you just ignore their point of view?’

‘What, like Regulus?’ he scoffed, making it clear what he thought of his younger brother's actions. ‘Not saying anything is just as bad. I can’t pretend that I’m okay with all of this.’

‘So what are you going to do?’ Emma asked.

‘I don’t know,’ Sirius sighed. ‘But I can’t go on as if these people are my family. Families accept each other, love each other. I would kill to have your parents.’

She thought of Charles and Natalie. They seemed to be growing more and more distant, hardly replying to her letters at all. Was James right? Was she changing too? What would they say if she told them she thought that Lord Voldemort had a point?

‘I’m going back to Hogwarts,’ Sirius said, breaking her train of thought. ‘Do me a favour... Look after Regulus will you? I wish he would stand up to our parents more. Maybe if I....’ he trailed off, shooting a regretful look towards the ceiling. ‘I guess it’s too late now.’

‘That sounds rather final,’ Emma said apprehensively.

‘It does, doesn’t it?’

She stood in the doorway as Sirius flagged down the Knight Bus. When it arrived, in all its purple triple-decker glory, he seemed to hesitate. He took one last look at the Victorian townhouse, seemingly committing it to memory, seemingly wavering in his resolve. But the moment passed. He climbed onto the bus and in a flash he disappeared.

Chapter Text

‘Malfoy Manor,’ Emma said clearly, stepping into the green flames.

It had been a few days since Sirius had left. Walburga was furious, but when Regulus said he had gone to Hogwarts to study for his OWLs she had calmed down. When Emma had later pointed out that she probably didn’t believe it, Regulus had laughed, saying that his mother was happy once there was an excuse. It was easier to pretend. Emma didn’t dare ask what was easier for Regulus to pretend. His Hogwarts mask had reappeared, and not even Kreacher could shake it off. They finished the Astronomy project, and convinced Kreacher to throw them balls to help practice Quidditch.

It took Sirius’s disappearance and the house-elf for Emma to realise that her relationship with Regulus was mostly based on Quidditch, school and long periods of silence. She attempted to remedy this by chatting to Kreacher, who was more than happy to comply, with funny and sometimes embarrassing stories. He seemed to adore Regulus, which wasn’t too surprising: he was the only one to pay attention to the elf. When he found out about the stories, whereas most wizards would force a beating, Regulus pulled Kreacher to the side and forbade him to say anything without his consent. Kreacher
took this a little too literally, and Orion was not pleased with the suddenly silent house-elf.

After that, the house went cold. Kreacher limped around on hot-iron shoes, and for the first time since she had met him, Regulus looked close to crying. When Emma apologised, he brushed her off, but he softened when she found a healing spell in their library. It was amazing how many different types of silences that boy had.

The day of Narcissa Black and Lucius Malfoy's engagement party was upon them. It was the weekend before they had to go back to Hogwarts. Emma wasn't sure whether to feel apprehensive or happy. At least there's hope of some things working out, she thought. Narcissa would graduate that year, but she insisted on the marriage taking place only after her year in the Healing program. Abraxas Malfoy, Lucius's father, hadn't been too pleased with that. It was an arranged marriage, after all, and he was worried that Narcissa would find a way to get out of it. This was the agreement they had settled on, though it was obvious to anyone with eyes that Lucius had courted Narcissa until she fell in love with him. It couldn't be more different from her sister Bellatrix's relationship - that was a different story
entirely.

‘Emma!’ Narcissa cried, bringing her back to the present. ‘I’m so glad you could make it!’

Emma brushed off the ash from her robes and looked around. The manor looked much like her own home, though marble floors replaced the fluffy carpets and it didn’t have the sense of home that the Potter’s did. Huge windows ran from the floor to the ceiling, sending a flood of light into the room. To add to the brightness, airy white curtains billowed out. It was both simplistic and beautiful, though the room looked slightly empty. Emma supposed that the furniture had been moved to the side in preparation of the occasion. The only blonde of the Black family was standing in front of her in an elegant dress, and a ring that shined as brightly as her smile.

‘Congratulations on your engagement,’ she remembered to say, and Narcissa’s smile widened.

‘Come on, I’ll show you around. The Carrows are here by the way, you might be happy to see Alecto,’ the blonde girl (or woman, since she was already seventeen) took her by the arm. 'I feel like we haven't spoken in ages, though it's barely been a week. I guess that's what comes from me being in my N.E.W.Ts year and you doing your O.W.Ls.'

‘But Regulus,’ Emma said, half-turning. She didn't really want to abandon him with his parents. Though nice, his mother could be scary.

‘Oh don’t worry about him. My sister’s husband, Rodolphus Lestrange, and his brother Rabastan will take care of him. Besides, he’s been here before. But I think it’s cute you’re worried about your boyfriend.’

‘My boyfriend?’ Emma asked, surprised.

‘Yeah, tell me all about it! Is it an arranged marriage like mine? I was so glad it ended up being Lucius, imagine being married to Crabbe or Goyle!’ Narcissa laughed.

Emma thought of the hulking boys she privately thought must be part troll and shuddered. Luckily, they had left school a couple of years ago, and more importantly: her parents didn't believe in the whole "arranged-marriage" theory. I guess there are some perks to not caring about blood status, she thought.

‘I think you may have got the wrong impression,’ she said aloud as Alecto joined them.

‘Come on,’ the older girl wheedled. ‘You can tell me, I won’t repeat it around the school.’

‘Tell her Alecto: Regulus and I aren’t dating,’ Emma appealed to her friend.

‘The day those two get together, pigs will fly,’ the redhead said matter-of-factly.

‘But she spent the entire week at my cousin’s house!’ Narcissa pouted.

‘Yeah, but that was because I needed someone to bring me to your party,’ Emma explained. ‘Avery said I had to come and my parents aren’t -'

‘Wait, what?’ Alecto asked, suddenly very interested. ‘Avery asked you to come? But I thought Narcissa...’ she trailed off, giving the older girl an odd look.

‘I sent an owl, but Potter answered for her,’ Narcissa frowned. It was odd to hear James be called “Potter”. ‘I just assumed...’

‘There you are,’ Avery, the Slytherin Quidditch captain appeared next to them. He turned to Narcissa and kissed her hand. ‘Congratulations on the engagement, Black. Malfoy’s a good match for you: already in the Ministry at age 21, and well on the way to a promotion.’

‘Thank you,’ Narcissa said courteously.

‘Potter, come with me.’ He turned and left, expecting her to follow without glancing back. Alecto held her back.

‘Tell me what he says to you, lucky,’ she said in an undertone. 'But be careful about Avery. The things my brother tells me...'

And then Emma knew who she was going to meet. She cursed herself for not having realised before, and her mind started panicking. What am I going to do? Before she could formulate a plan, she found herself in a corridor surrounded by familiar faces. All of the sixth-years that had scared her in her first year were here, looking even more scary now they had grown up. They were looking at her expectantly, but she stupidly stood there, unsure of what to do. Fortunately for her, Lord Voldemort was not one to waste time on unimportant business.

‘In here,’ a voice called, and she was ushered into a small study-like room.

It provided a sharp contrast to the rest of the Manor. If the situation had been any less dire, Emma would have giggled and made a remark about it looking like Abraxas Malfoy's secret lair. The shutters were closed and the fireplace lit, giving the room an odd half-light. There was a faint smell of cigars in the air, whereas the rest of the house smelt like the fresh flowers that had been artistically placed in vases around the rooms. Here there were no flowers. There weren't even any pictures, nor family photos. A chest with seven locks was placed in a corner, and the desk was covered in neat stacks of paper.

But Emma's assessment of the room seemed to fade upon seeing the infamous Dark Lord. A man was sitting in the high-backed chair, his hands casually placed on the armrests. He was handsome, in a certain kind of way: tall, with jet black hair and aristocratic features that reminded her of the Black family. The similarities stopped there though. Lord Voldemort had bright red eyes with snake-like pupils, and his skin was so pale it was nearly translucent. Still, he radiated some sort of charm and ease that made you feel like you were in the presence of greatness. A thrill ran through her spine, though of fear or excitement, she couldn't tell.

‘Do I live up to the tales?’ he asked sardonically as she stared.

‘Yes,’ Emma said before she could stop herself and blushed.

‘Avery tells me that you’re interested in my ideas,’ he said. He spoke softly, but his words were as clear as if he had been whispering in her ear. ‘Normally, I would let you prove yourself along with the rest of them, but your circumstances are rather…particular.’ He paused. ‘Your parents are unpronounced on the matter of the current political situation, yes?’

‘You could say that,’ Emma replied diplomatically, the knot in her stomach curling tightly. What did he want with her?

‘You’re probably wondering why you are here,’ he voiced her thoughts. ‘Tell me, Emma Potter. Why did you do what you did to Harold Miller?’

‘I hate Mudbloods,’ she said automatically. This had been a favourite topic of discussion among the older Slytherins of late. ‘He thought he was better than any pureblood Slytherin, so I cursed him.’

‘Tell me the real reason he provoked you,’ he leaned forwards, his mouth curling up in one corner.

‘James hexed him, so he thought he could get back at him through me, so I hexed him,’ Emma corrected herself. She couldn't break her gaze away from his eyes.

‘True,’ Lord Voldemort said. ‘Now, tell me the real reason you cursed him.’

‘I -‘ she started, but the eyes boring into her made it impossible to lie. Her voice grew small. ‘I hated feeling powerless. I hated him even more for seeing the weakness.’

She blushed as the words came out, thanking Merlin once more that her fellow Slytherins had seen nothing of the ordeal. In truth, in the moment she hadn’t cared what blood type he was, just that she wanted to make him pay. Lord Voldemort smiled, seemingly pleased with the response.

‘That’s what I wanted to hear,’ he said. ‘I see potential in you, Emma Potter.’

He called the others back in. ‘Time to put on a little show. Carrow, are you ready to earn your Mark?’

Amycus had entered along with Rodolphus and Bellatrix (now) Lestrange. He nodded eagerly. He's already a Death Eater, Emma thought. What is this about a mark? She knew that there were various ranks in the Dark Lord's followers. The useful, but weak were allowed the special robes. Apparently, though they were black, they were unlike any other robe. Then there was the mask. The closer you got to Lord Voldemort, the riskier your position became. The mask was to protect you from the Ministry's extreme actions. Finally, there was the inner circle. Emma knew Lucius and Bellatrix belonged to it, but it mostly remained a mystery. To many Slytherins, this was the height of ambition, and of pride. This inner circle was where the real magic happened.

‘Potter, Carrow, you know the rules of duelling. Now forget them. Disable your opponent by any means necessary.’

‘But she’s just a girl,’ Amycus said, face falling. Emma looked alarmed: a duel? With a seventh-year? Lord Voldemort nodded to Bellatrix.

‘Diffindo,’ she said carelessly, and Alecto’s brother pulled his arm towards him, drawing in a sharp gasp of pain.

‘I need people that can take this war seriously and are capable fighters. We could meet resistance, and resistance with magic. The loser will become... intimately acquainted with Bellatrix,’ Voldemort said shortly.

The curly-haired witch thanked him breathlessly. Merlin, Sirius was right. She’s insane. However, Emma didn't have time to think about the unfairness or the unexpectedness of this duel. Survive first, think later. This is unreal...

They duelled: Amycus lashing out with hex after hex, and Emma dodging most of them, repelling others. Lots were non-verbal: Amycus was in his seventh year. She couldn’t get a spell in edgeways, but Amycus wasn’t getting anywhere either and was visibly becoming more and more frustrated. Maybe I can just wait until he tires out, she thought. The boy wasn’t exactly fit, and was already wheezing from their dance around the small room. She hid behind a couch, thinking. He seemed to predict every spell she knew, and she hadn’t started non-verbal classes yet. I need an angle, she thought. Something he won’t expect.

‘Stop cheating!’ Amycus complained, reducing the couch to ash.

Emma grabbed a book from the desk and threw it at him with all of the strength Quidditch had given her. He stumbled back in surprise and it hit him in the shoulder, knocking his wand arm off-balance. Perfect. They hadn’t learnt the spell to bind hands yet, though James had used it on her during several of their mock-duels, but she could transfigure some pens into rope and magically wrap it around his hands and feet.

‘Silencio!’ she said quickly before he could think of a spell, feeling proud of herself.

Amycus struggled angrily for a while with his bonds until he slumped over, defeated. Emma plucked his wand out of his grasp before undoing the charm.

‘I give up,’ he said, panting heavily. ‘Untie me.’

She did as he asked, and turned triumphantly to where Lord Voldemort was watching, but he looked at her coolly with his eerie red eyes. Suddenly, she was tackled to the ground, biting her tongue as she landed. Amycus was wrestling his wand out of her grasp.

‘Diffindo!’ he used the same spell as Bellatrix on her wand arm and she dropped it with a hiss of pain. He then did something she didn’t expect at all: punched her in the face. She tasted blood as her head made contact with the floor.

‘What the hell?’ she asked, but the Death Eaters looked at her silently. Disable your opponent by any means necessary. She shouldn’t have let Amycus go. But it wasn’t fair, the duel was over! She turned back to Amycus, but he was looking murderously at her, probably furious at being humiliated by a fifth-year.

‘Deprimo!’ he shouted, seeming to have forgotten that he could do non-verbal spells.

Emma’s eyes widened and she scrabbled out of the way, but her foot got caught by the ray of light. Something invisible and heavy pressed down on it excruciatingly until her ankle broke with a loud crack. Amycus grinned with sadistic pleasure. Her earlier fear returned: this is real to him, she thought. Maybe more real than anything else. Too late, she remembered a story Alecto had told her about Amycus pulling legs and wings off of flies and watching them wriggle around. No wonder people are scared of Slytherins, she thought, when Amycus is in this mood.

Her fear gave her strength and she dived for her wand, Amycus firing spells at her all the while, but it also made her angry. She remembered what Lord Voldemort had talked about and realised that it was a test to see how she would react under pressure. He had probably planned for this to happen all along. Well, I’ll give him his show, she thought furiously. In Quidditch James often took Bludgers to be able to score another goal for Gryffindor. Emma was always too scared to get hurt, because the injury wasn’t worth the penalty to her playing. For the first time, she understood why he was a better Chaser: it was better to take a hit if it enabled you to win the game.

She dragged herself to her feet, ignoring the sharp pain that lanced up her leg. She didn’t mind the pain. In fact, she could hardly feel it, her mind was clear as the world was reduced to her and her objective. She barely felt the Flipendo jinx push her back into the wall, but she would later remember how easily her own curse came to her lips.

Crucio.’

She thrust out a hand to balance herself, but her concentration was on the Unforgivable Curse. Initially used because she doubted Amycus could protect himself against it, she fed all of her pain and frustration into the curse, maintaining it for twenty seconds before it died out. Not wanting to risk turning her back again she performed the simple, but effective “Petrificus Totalus” charm. Only then did she relax, looking Lord Voldemort dead in the eyes, too tired and hurt to worry about the consequences of her actions.

‘Happy now?’ she said in a cocky voice that James would be proud of.

‘How dare you speak to the Dark Lord -‘ Bellatrix started furiously.

‘No,’ Lord Voldemort held out a hand. ‘Go. I want a word alone with Miss Potter.’

The Death Eaters filed out, and Lord Voldemort stepped closer. ‘The hood is yours, if you wish it, but I have a better suited reward in mind. If you help out my campaign, I can teach you magic other wizards only dream of. But you are of no use to me while you act like a schoolgirl. You must learn to control your emotions, or they will hamper your abilities. Avery!’ he called in the seventh-year, who seemed to have been loitering outside the door.

‘Yes, my Lord?’ Avery asked respectfully, keeping his eyes down.

‘Escort Miss Potter back to Grimmauld Place. Give the Blacks’ my regards: their children have done them proud. Oh, and Emma?’ he said as an afterthought. ‘I’ve taken Avery’s word that you are someone to be trusted. Do not make me doubt that word, or there will be…consequences.’

Avery visibly gulped. When Emma took too long limping out of the study, he swung her into his arms as easily as if she were a child and almost ran into the more welcoming part of the Manor. The corridor was deserted now; Emma wondered how long she had been in there for.

‘You’d better remember those words, Potter,’ Avery warned her. ‘My father and I have gone out on a limb for you.’

‘Why?’ she asked. It wasn’t as if she had been the most vehement in her hatred for Muggles, or love for pure-bloods. Her brother was even in Gryffindor.

‘My father thinks your family could have a huge influence on the wizarding way of thinking. They’re from respectable pure-blood families, but have stayed neutral throughout the crisis with Grindelwald in their youth, and even now they haven’t said anything. Personally, I’m not blind. Your brother is one of the best wizards of our generation and he seems to be the only one with any control over Black. And besides,’ he gave her one of his rare smiles. ‘I’ve never seen anyone use the Beetle Curse until you appeared. We’re taught that it passed out of common usage.’

They entered the anti-chamber to the ballroom, where Regulus and Rabastan were chatting in the corner. Regulus noticed them and hurried over. Emma felt slightly self-conscious at being held like an oversized-baby, but it was true her foot wouldn't support the slightest bit of pressure.

‘Emma?’ he asked, looking worried. ‘What the hell did you do to her?’ he demanded, turning on Avery, eyes sleet-grey with anger.

‘Relax,’ Avery said, unperturbed. He handed Emma over to Regulus like an object. ‘She can’t walk, but she won the duel. Make sure you get that ankle looked into, we’ve got practice next week on Tuesday,’ he winked at her, and her anger for him evaporated.

‘I wish you’d take better care of yourself,’ Regulus complained as he walked towards the fireplace, touching her swollen cheek. ‘Lucky for you, Kreacher knows a few healing spells.’

‘Ouch! Just get me home already,’ she said crossly.

***

 

‘So you got initiated, did you?’ Regulus asked, as Kreacher dabbed Emma’s face with various creams and ointments.

They were in Regulus’s room, since he was unwilling to leave until she was healed. It was also the first time they had properly spoken since she had lied to him. For the moment, his concern was overriding his disappointment. Emma realised that she had acted coldly towards him too, the guilt making her put up barriers. I've got to stop acting so defensively, she thought.

‘How do you know that?’ Emma replied with a question of her own. Maybe not today.

‘My parents took me over the Christmas holidays,’ he replied, his mouth twisting contemptuously. ‘They wanted me to make a good impression. Avery wanted me to tell the Dark Lord about your bug-transfiguration.’

‘I thought you wanted to be a Death Eater,’ Emma frowned, ignoring the reference to Miller. Regulus's aspiration to found a world where wizards ruled over Muggles was one of the subjects he talked freely about, and she never tired of hearing of it. It was one of the things that had drawn them close: something between the two extremes.

‘I do but...’ Regulus sighed. ‘It’s just that they’re so big on the purity thing. I want to make a difference: a place to live for magical creatures, the end of the secrecy pact, rights for House Elves,’ he gestured to Kreacher who beamed. ‘I mean of course there would be no way I’d associate with a Muggleborn, but it’s more for them than it is for me. I just wish they’d stop -'

‘Comparing you to Sirius?’ Emma finished, remembering a similar conversation with his brother.

‘Exactly. I had to win their affection, earn their respect. Sirius does whatever the hell he likes and they still forgive him. I’m sure that if I did half the things he did, I’d have been blasted off of the wall already,’ he rolled his eyes. ‘He doesn’t realise how spoiled he is.’

Emma grunted in response, unsure of how to reply and unwilling to break the thin ice she was walking on.

‘Anyway,’ Regulus said, lost in his memories. ‘The Dark Lord thinks I’m dedicated. He thinks I’m like Bellatrix.’

‘Are you?’ Emma asked.

‘Are you kidding?’ Regulus laughed. ‘No matter the cost now, once he’s firmly established his power, it’ll be a better world for both wizards and Muggles. You have to feel kind of sorry for them, don’t you? Muggles, I mean. They don’t know about magic. I don’t think I could live without it.’

‘I feel worse for Squibs,’ Emma said. ‘They know what magic is and can’t use it.’ She shuddered. ‘I would hate that. I don’t know what I would do.’

They sat in silence for a while, even after Kreacher had finished mending Emma’s wounds.

‘Don’t you find it scary how Lord Voldemort seems to be able to read minds?’ Emma asked hesitantly. ‘It was as though he was staring into my soul.’

‘The Dark Lord can use Legilimency and Bellatrix has been teaching me Occlumency ever since she found out how to use it too,’ Regulus explained, before adding. ‘You’ll probably need to learn it too, if you want to join up. If people can read you, then they can use you. Your feelings makes you vulnerable.’

Emma remembered what Voldemort had said about controlling her emotions. It was true that what couldn’t touch you didn’t hurt you. Is that why Regulus hides his all the time? But I know that he cares about his friends. I'm sure Rabastan does too.

‘I’m just worried that I won’t be able to,’ she said, making an effort to open up, since he so rarely did. ‘James is the brave one in our family. I guess that's why he's in Gryffindor. Besides, I…My parents are really anti-Voldemort, and I’m not sure I could go against them, even if it’s to help the wizards. It's messed up: even though I know what I have to do, I just don't. It's frustrating. I just wish they could understand that.'

‘When we came back from Hogwarts for the first time, my mother beat Sirius for being placed in Gryffindor,’ he said. ‘Our dad was away, and she was just so mad. Sirius was begging for help, for anyone to hear him, but I stayed in my room doing nothing, listening to our mother insult him. It was only when I heard her go back down the stairs that I dared go across the hall. I brought him hot water, and bandaged him up as well as I could, but it wasn’t enough. He just sat there crying, and I told him about all of the good things there were in Gryffindor. When the tears dried up, he just looked at me and told me to get out. I wasn’t there when he needed me because I was too afraid of our parents to help my own brother.’

‘I didn’t know that.’

‘That’s because I’ve never told anybody,’ he replied. ‘Sometimes your family is the one that’s messed up.’

Chapter Text

‘Come on Emma!’ James encouraged. ‘You can do it.’

Emma scrunched her face up in concentration.

‘Nope,’ she said finally, letting her breath out in one go. ‘I’m just not Animagus-material.’

‘Nonsense,’ her brother replied. ‘We’ll make one of you yet.’

It was April and they were sunning themselves in their favourite spot by the Great Lake, enjoying the abnormally hot weather. It wasn't often that the twins found some time to themselves, but they tried to enjoy every minute of it. Emma got up and started skipping stones. The Giant Squid started skipping them back. She turned to James to tell him, but he had sat up straight and was staring towards the castle with an expression of disgust.

‘Urgh, don’t you just hate Snivellus?’ he asked.

‘What’s he done this time?’ Emma laughed, following the direction of his look.

Snape was flanked by his usual cronies: Wilkes and Mulciber. Even the spring weather couldn't bring lightness to Mulciber's face. As usual, it looked like Snape hadn't seen a bottle of shampoo in days. It might have been true, since he spent his days locked up with his books. After their initial spat, his anger had turned more towards James and his friends. Emma was impressed despite herself though, he had invented several useful spells that were fast becoming popular. Luckily for her brother, James was also an adept at combining spells - often in hilarious ways (though she was sure it did nothing to improve Lily Evans' opinion of him).

‘He called Lily a Mudblood,’ James replied darkly. Emma patiently waited for the rest of the story, dropping her stone. ‘Ems? A little indignation please?’

‘Oh sorry,’ she apologised. ‘I was waiting for the whole thing.’

He told her about the events leading up to the bad word. ‘And then,’ he finished. ‘When I tried to make him apologise, Evans told me I was as bad as he was! I would NEVER call her something like that, never! Ems, tell me I’m not as bad as he is?’

‘You’re not,’ she replied dutifully, though to her it was just a word. She did understand his annoyance at being put on the same level as Snape though. ‘But you know…Evans loves the rules. Maybe if you stopped hexing him then she’d warm up to you.’

‘Maybe,’ James said doubtfully, taking her stone and throwing it into the lake with a plop. He looked back towards Snape. ‘Hey what’s up with your friend?’ He nodded towards the Great Hall.
Alecto had come running out, and even from this distance they could see that something was wrong. Her head was down and it seemed like she almost tripped with every step.

‘I’ll talk to you later,’ Emma said to her twin, before rushing up to the redhead. ‘What’s wrong?’

Alecto seemed out of sorts, pulling at her head and mumbling incoherently. Emma took a hold of her hands to calm her down. Her friend's mouth turned down in a grimace as she burst out. ‘I’ll tell you what’s wrong! Amycus found out about William! He’s on his way to Hogsmeade right now with Rabastan and Regulus. You have to help me Emma! I don’t know what they’re going to do to him!’

‘Don't worry, I know a shortcut,’ Emma swiftly made her way to the Whomping Willow, looking around for stray bystanders before using magic to lift a twig to press on the special knob. 'After you.'

Alecto didn't even stop to ask about the extra passageway, immediately dropping to her knees and crawling through the narrow gap. They arrived at William’s house out of breath and puffing thirty minutes later. Maybe "house" is too kind a word. Hovel is more like it. The Muggle outskirts of Hogsmeade was like some kind of shantytown. William's nearest neighbours kept goats and pigs in a pen not far, and on the other side of the shack it seemed like one of the buildings had collapsed in on itself.

‘Looks like they haven’t come yet,’ Emma said, checking the surrounding area. ‘Here’s your chance: tell him about magic and make him pretend he’s a Squib.’

Every time William had come into contact with magic, they had cast a Memory Charm on him straight afterwards: usually when Emma found them and hexed him before taking him home. Merlin knew how the Muggle outskirts of Hogsmeade didn’t know about the wizarding community within. Emma was beginning to think that they didn't even know there was a village nearby.

‘I can’t,’ Alecto said. ‘I only just made him forget. You can’t use a Memory Charm twice in twenty four hours, it’s the law: otherwise he’ll get brain damage.’

‘Then you let him know you’re a witch. And you make sure he understands this time, because you’re not going to reverse it. Quickly!’

Alecto knocked on the door, and the overjoyed William let her in, exclaiming that she had barely left. Emma stood outside, staring at the peeling paint on the doorframe, until her friend called her in. She thought that it might once have been white, though now it was a faded brown.

‘And this is Emma,’ Alecto introduced her. Emma gave him a swift smile.

‘Is she a witch too?’ William asked slowly. He seemed to be taking it well.

‘Yes. I’ve told you all of this before, or at least you’ve seen it before, but I cast a Memory Charm to make you forget,’ Alecto explained.

‘Why would you do that?’ he asked.

‘Well, to protect you of course,’ she replied. ‘And I’m not supposed to tell anyone.’

‘So why are you telling me now?’

‘My brother doesn’t like Muggles - non-magic-users - and so you have to pretend you’re a Squib.’

‘What’s that?’

‘A non-magic-user born into a wizarding family.’

‘I see,’ William said, but Emma could tell he didn’t really. His eyes were as glassy as Lucinda's in History of Magic lessons. Thank Merlin we were able to drop that. I can't believe Regulus actually enjoys the lesson.

‘Well, this is the best joke I’ve had played on me in a long while,' Alecto's boyfriend was saying. 'For a minute I actually believed you, but Squibs is just taking it a little too far. As if anyone would call their child a “Squib”.’

‘It’s true!’ Alecto said, pulling out her wand. William's laugh grew louder. ‘I’ll prove it to you.’

And she tidied the room with a wave of her wand. William's laugh stopped in its tracks, to be replaced by a look of awe.

‘Whoa,’ he said. There was a moment of silence. ‘How come you can’t tell anyone?’

‘Because Muggles are so xenophobic,’ Alecto explained.

‘Seems like an excuse to me,’ William replied. ‘I bet you could cure loads of diseases with magic.’

‘We would if you let us,’ Emma said, annoyed. ‘But last time we tried, your lot tried to burn us at the stake.’

‘I would never!’ William cried. ‘I think magic is great.’ Alecto smiled. ‘Teach me it! I swear I’ll be ready to learn. Then we don’t have to worry about your brother.’

‘It doesn’t work like that William,’ Alecto said gently. ‘You’re either born with it or you’re not.’

‘That’s what they said about loads of things! And now you have Paralympics, people with mental disabilities overcoming them and becoming doctors...’

‘Don’t you think we’d teach our Squibs if we could?’

‘They’re just not trying hard enough,’ William said stubbornly. ‘Why won’t you even try? Do you not want me to learn magic?’

‘It’s not that!’ Alecto was becoming frustrated.

‘Then what is it? Are you so selfish as to want to keep it to yourself? I bet that’s why it’s a secret, so you get to keep all the power to yourself. There must be some way to harness it. There’s something you’re not telling me.’

The door opened with a bang to reveal Rabastan, Regulus and Amycus. Emma shot a look at Regulus, who just shrugged. So he hadn’t been able to keep them away. Or he didn’t want to. Emma might bend the rules for her friends, but Regulus had his moral code. He didn’t like the idea of Alecto with a Muggle at all - though she wasn’t planning on marrying him, there was a greater risk of Squib children, which he hated above everything else.

‘Step aside, sister,’ Amycus said, sending William flying into the wall, sending plaster everywhere. The door fell off its hinges from the impact. Emma started to wonder whether the hut would cave in on them.

‘Wait, Amycus! He’s magical, he’s not a Muggle, I swear!’

Emma hated seeing her friend, usually so confident - almost cocky - reduced to a pleading mess by this Muggle. The desperate look on Alecto's face was not one you saw often, and it was doing nothing to convince their classmates of the veracity of her words. Emma hoped he was worth it. She stepped forwards, wanting to help. ‘He’s a Squib. How else do you think he could live in the magical village of Hogsmeade?’

Amycus, who was not known for his great intelligence, seemed to accept this logic. Rabastan, however, did not. ‘Get him to prove it then. Everyone knows that there’s a Muggle community living on the outskirts. Besides, only Muggles could stand to live in a place like this.’

He waved a hand towards the room. It was true that next to Hogwarts, it was rather pitiful. A dirty towel lay in a corner next to a cracked sink. Though he's probably just fallen on hard times, Emma reminded herself. Even wizards can't fix everything with magic.

Alecto ran over to where William lay, but he flinched at her touch. ‘Get away from me, witch!’

She flinched as if she had been slapped.

‘I’m not a squid.’

‘Squib,’ corrected Regulus. Not helping, Emma thought. She wasn't sure, but she thought that he looked faintly amused.

‘Whatever. Just leave me alone. I don’t want anything to do with you. You’re unnatural. You’re freaks!’

‘I guess that solves the question then. Time for a painful lesson, I think. You can't treat one of our own like that and get away,’ Rabastan rolled up his sleeves, but Alecto stopped him.

‘Let me. Crucio!’

It was the first time Emma had seen the Cruciatus Curse put properly to use - her own spell didn’t count, since it fizzled out - and it was both horrifying and fascinating to watch. The more Alecto used it, the more William cursed her with his words, and the more he insulted her, the more furious she became. In the end Rabastan wiped his memory, worried that his screams would attract attention. Alecto didn’t protest, in fact she seemed overjoyed when they left William a drooling mess in the farmhouse.

‘I’m never trusting another Muggle again,’ she said to Emma. ‘Never. I thought he was different. Now I hate them all.’

Chapter Text

‘Last rounds of the school year,’ Regulus said, getting up and stretching. ‘Merlin, but this train ride is long. Are you ready?’

Emma grunted in reply, rubbing her eyes. Alecto had decided that they needed to celebrate the end of the OWLs with lots of firewhisky the night before, and she was still getting over the sleepless night. Around four in the morning, Alecto had burst into tears about William the Muggle, and Emma had to comfort her in the stone cold corridor for a couple of hours. Lucinda and Helen didn’t know: Alecto had sworn Rabastan and Regulus to secrecy and Amycus was too ashamed of his sister’s transgression to tell anyone.

Rabastan put it down to the “follies of youth” though he was the same age as them. Rodolphus was inducted into the Dark Lord's inner circle, so he had been acting rather superior of late. Though he had finally resolved the mystery of how Lord Voldemort rewarded his most loyal followers: with a tattoo of his symbol branded on their forearm. One need only press their wand to the mark to show they were in danger and the others would be able to apparate to him or her on the spot.

He’s planning a coup this summer,’ he said over-conversationally as they patrolled the length of the train. ‘Bellatrix told me. She wants me to join her mission.’

‘Which is?’ asked Emma, trying not to look too concerned. She confiscated a Fanged Frisbee from a second-year appartment.

‘Rallying the powerful wizards who haven’t made choices yet. “Persuading” them if necessary. People are too blinded by fear of change at the moment, but she thinks that if they have something else to fear it might change their minds.'

Regulus paused before entering the next compartment, waiting to hear what she thought of such extreme measures.

‘Isn’t that coercing people, rather than persuading them?’ Emma frowned.

‘Yeah but don’t you think it’s worth it? And if I’m there, maybe I can try to tame Bellatrix a bit,’ he replied.

‘Be careful then,’ Emma warned, not only uneasy about Regulus's cousin. ‘There are some people who want to see all pure-bloods dead with all of the chaos going around.’

‘Don’t worry. Rabastan will be there too.’

Small comfort, she thought, but it was true that he wasn't bad at duelling. I just hope he takes it seriously enough.

***

 

‘And she scores!’ Emma cheered as she got the Quaffle past James.

‘You know I’m not Keeper material Ems,’ he huffed, touching down to the ground. ‘Anyway, we beat you in the Quidditch cup this year.’

‘That’s because running around like a dog all the time has given Sirius serious arm muscles.’

James laughed at the pun. ‘That was pretty bad.’

‘Still made you laugh,’ Emma pointed out.

They lay in the middle of the lawn, catching their breath. Godric's Hollow was the best place to be in August, in Emma's opinion. A small community of magic-users, they didn't have to worry about whether their Quaffle would land in somebody else's back yard. Their own back yard was just about big enough to place a Quidditch post in, though their mother had insisted on keeping warding spells on the patio after an unfortunate accident when they were nine - including but not restricted to the Quaffle being melted on the barbecue and several broken windows.

‘I hope I’m made Quidditch captain,’ James said, and Emma could hear the hope in his voice.

‘Me too.’

‘You’re already a Prefect Ems!’ he exclaimed, rolling over to look at her.

‘A true Slytherin has many ambitions,’ Emma said knowledgeably. ‘But I love Quidditch. I also want to beat you.’

‘Not if I beat you first!’

‘And how do you plan on doing that?’ Emma asked sceptically. ‘Everyone knows I got the brains of the family.’

James, who had received seven “Outstanding” in his OWLs, along with three “Exceeds Expectations”, scoffed. ‘Take that back! You failed Herbology!’

‘Who needs plants anyway?’ Emma asked, grinning. The Bowtruckle near the fence around the side of the house was her only plant-friend. ‘You can’t even do a Tickling Charm properly.’

‘That’s because I don’t need it,’ James tackled his sister to the ground, where they mock-wrestled/tickled until Natalie Potter arrived, standing behind the French doors (just in case they were still playing and a throw went wild).

‘James! Emma! Dinner’s ready!’ she called.

‘Coming Mum!’ They raced back to the house, pushing and shoving each other to the table.

‘What are we having? I’m starving!’ James complained dramatically as soon as they sat down, grabbing a slice of garlic bread from the bowl and stuffing it in his mouth.

‘Where’s Dad?’ Emma asked, noting that only three plates had been set out.

Natalie Potter didn't reply at once as she disappeared behind the bar, but from her facial expression the twins instantly quietened down.

‘Your father’s running late,’ their mother said worriedly as she served the pasta. ‘Apparently Barty Crouch called him into the Ministry.’

‘But Dad’s been retired for ages now,’ James said, stopping his food rampage. ‘What did the Head Auror want with him?’

‘That’s what he’s gone to find out.’

They ate in silence for a while, chewing slowly or pushing the food around their plates until Charles Potter burst in through the door. Immediately they all clamoured for answers. Their mother waved another plate to the table and piled it high with food.

‘Hold on, let me take my coat off first,’ he said tiredly, easing himself into his chair with a groan. ‘One at a time.’

‘What happened?’ asked James, which pretty much summed up all of their questions.

‘Crouch wants to legalise using Unforgivable Curses on Death Eaters. They’ve tried to take the Ministry and failed - barely. The Minister for Magic has now declared it an open war and Crouch thinks the Aurors are losing the battles because they won’t use as extreme methods as Voldemort’s followers.’

‘What?’ Emma gasped, thinking of Regulus and Rabastan.

‘I know Emma, it’s shocking. But if we don’t quell this rebellion now, then we might have another Gellert Grindelwald on our hands. Torturing Muggles has become a sport for these people, a way to show who’s in control.’

Mr and Mrs Potter shared a look. Emma was frowning into her plate. Torturing Muggles? He must have it wrong...

‘I can’t believe it!’ James said loudly, clattering his fork down. ‘Some loon wants power and people are going along with it? How can they do such atrocious things?’

‘People fight for what they believe in, James,’ their mother said wisely.

***

 

Later that evening James was pacing back and forth in Emma’s room as she watched him from her bed.

‘I wish I could do something about this,’ he fumed. ‘Lily said Snivellus was practicing Dark magic with Avery and Rosier, is that true?’ Before Emma could reply, his face went white. ‘Merlin, Lily lives near the slimy git! What if he tries something? What if he tries to kill her?’

‘James, relax. Snape’s only sixteen, I doubt he’d be ready to sacrifice his life just to kill Evans. Besides, didn’t he still want to be friends with her?’ his sister tried to be reasonable.

‘I don’t know Ems, people do strange things when they get emotional,’ James shook his head and grimaced. ‘I wish I could help. I wish I could be an Auror, protect those innocent people.’

‘I don’t think they’re that innocent James,’ his twin muttered, but seeing him frown she hurriedly continued. ‘But would you be ready to do that? Risk your life for some Muggles?’

‘Like Mum said Ems, people fight for what they believe in. If you only let the evil people do so, then you’re as bad as them.’

‘They don’t think they’re evil though,’ Emma pointed out. ‘They think that they’re making things right.’

***

 

That night Emma asked to borrow James’s owl. He nodded with a wave of his hand, absorbed in a discussion with Sirius in the two-way mirrors they had invented. Back in her room, she penned out three quick letters.

Dear Regulus,
Have you heard about Barty Crouch’s new policy? I hope you and Rabastan are okay, and that the mission with Bellatrix went well. It’s odd to have something that James and I can’t talk about. Other than that the summer’s been fun: James and I have been trying to practice new Chaser moves, but with only two of us it’s practically impossible! How did your OWLs go? I got an O in Charms (of course), Transfiguration (thanks to James) and Potions, E’s in Astronomy, Arithmancy and DADA and As in Muggle Studies and Study of Ancient Runes (why do we even take this class? What is the point of it? Oh yeah, curse-breaker). Considering the Mandrake died as I pulled it out and I still have no idea why, you have probably safely guessed that I received a T in Herbology.
Looking forward to seeing you in three weeks,
Emma.

Dear Alecto,
Guess what? 8 OWLs and my parents declared it “passable”. My Dad barely got 5, but of course when you have a genius brother, this seems paltry in comparison. You’re lucky your family is easy to please: get a respectable pure-blood marriage by the time you’re twenty five. Easy enough with your looks. Too bad you scare the boys away with your sparkling personality. (Get it? Because whenever you get angry with someone your wand sends out sparks?) Congratulate Amycus on making it “in” for me. I can’t believe he’s still mad that it took him an extra year because of me. What was I supposed to do, lie there and die? Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. But still... I hope he isn't. Mad, that is. He can be scary when he wants to.
How are you doing, anyway? Does Lucinda still have a crush on Sirius Black? I’m so jealous that you all get to spend the summer together, but I guess that’s what you get from living somewhere as remote as Godric’s Hollow. I know. Even the name of my village is ironic.
We should meet up in Diagon Alley to get our books (and maybe ice-cream?) together. Owl me as soon as you get this!
Emma

Dear Narcissa,
Sorry I haven’t been really keeping in touch lately, but yes I will definitely want to be one of your bridesmaids! How could you think I’d refuse? You and Lucius are like the perfect couple. Speaking of which, I have a favour to ask you. Lucius is in the Ministry now, isn’t he? What exactly is going on with Barty Crouch? Does he even know that his son tags along behind Rabastan and Regulus like some kind of lost puppy? More importantly, is there anything I can do to help?
Tell me if you need anything,
Emma.

As she was tying the last of the parchments to the owl’s leg, she heard a loud crash outside, followed by urgent knocking on the door. She went out onto the landing to see what was going on, but James crashed down the stairs like an elephant, flinging open the front door.

Chapter Text

‘Sirius!’

A bedraggled Sirius was dripping water on the welcome mat. His hair clumped together limply, making a stark contrast to his usual flowing locks. A rather large suitcase was in his left hand and he held a backpack in his right. For the first time since Emma had known him he looked worried, even scared. There was no need to ask what happened.

‘Do you mind if I crash here for a while?’ he asked hopefully, in the voice of someone who was grasping at his last straws.

James and Emma, much to their shame, just stared, listening to the dripping of Sirius's clothes. The door was still open and they could hear the wind egging the rain on. The spell was broken when the twins' parents rushed in.

‘Goodness Sirius what happened?’ Natalie Potter asked, and Emma was reminded that her parents lived in some sort of bubble away from Hogwarts. Of course they didn't know about the Black family's predicament. ‘Let’s get you out of those wet clothes, and then you can tell us all about it.’

Fifteen minutes later, Sirius was nursing a cup of hot tea in the Potter’s kitchen. He explained about the situation with his parents: their love of blood purity and his openly defying them, his rebellious action of getting placed in Gryffindor and his hatred of his cousins: Narcissa, getting married to a potential Death Eater, and Bellatrix, a Death Eater herself. That summer, his remaining cousin Andromeda married a Muggleborn and his mother blew her off of the family tree: a tapestry with the whole Black family woven into it. The sarcasm was evident in his voice as he explained his mother’s manner of “purging” the family in order to keep it pure. She had pressured Sirius to take a side in the wizarding war and threatened to disown him if he chose wrongly.

‘So I told her that nothing would make me happier than to leave that family, so I left,’ he concluded. ‘It was raining in London though, and this is the only place I could think of to go. I hope you don’t mind.’

Emma was suddenly struck with a vision of Sirius climbing aboard the Knight Bus in the dead of the night, not knowing which destination to ask for.

‘Don’t be silly,’ Charles Potter laid a hand on Sirius’s shoulder. ‘You are always welcome in this house.’

***

 

Sirius moving in was a turning point in Emma’s summer. It was subtle at first, the change barely perceptible, but as the month went on it was obvious that Charles kept comparing Emma and Sirius’s situation. It started when Sirius was talking about how the Hat took into account his fervent wish to be in Gryffindor. Charles remarked that maybe Emma should have done so too. When Sirius joked about pranks he would play on Slytherins in retaliation for their bullying Muggleborns, Charles asked if they were Emma’s friends and if so why. It came to a head when their Hogwarts letters arrived and in a true mother-hen fashion, Natalie was making a list of the new books they would buy later that day. She noticed that both Sirius and Emma were continuing Muggle Studies and was curious.

‘Why Muggle Studies then?’ Natalie asked, surprised.

‘Muggles are just fascinating,’ breathed Sirius, eyes lighting up at the mention of his favourite subject. ‘The things they invent to replace magic are amazing. I’m saving up for a motorcycle to see how they really work. Plus, it would make my parents mad.’

‘But Emma you haven’t shown an interest in Muggle transport. You even hate travelling by car! I thought you were more interested in spellcraft.’

‘It’s not the Muggle transport that interests me Mum,’ Emma explained. ‘I want to know just what divided Muggles and wizards in the first place. Why do we need a Statute of Secrecy? What went wrong? There must have been a reason for Muggles to start hating wizards the way they did.’

‘We fear what we do not understand,’ Natalie said.

‘Exactly,' Emma grinned. It was the perfect moment to pitch her speech. She had planned it carefully, mentioning only the goals and not the methods she would be willing to use. 'What if we showed them? What if Muggles saw the ways wizards could help them? They spend so much time on mundane tasks that we can accomplish in a flick of a wand. I just don’t understand. If they accepted magic, we could accept them into our hospitals, stop them from dying of diseases that have nearly been eradicated in the wizarding world. Take broken bones for example: Madame Pomfrey mended James’s arm in a couple of hours, and Muggles need months.’

‘Careful Emma,’ her father warned. ‘You’re starting to sound like Voldemort and his followers.’

‘But Dad,’ Emma said, seeing her opening to make them come around. ‘They do have a point on some things. If Muggles weren’t blinded by their jealousy of magic, giants and werewolves wouldn’t be forced into hiding. And they need us: their technology, though as impressive as Sirius says, doesn’t come close to what can be accomplished by magic. I think the world would be a better place if we make them understand. It might be hard for them at first, but like Mum says, that’s the problem at the moment. Do you know how many Muggle-born children have been sent to St Mungo’s because Muggles have tried to force magic out of them?’

‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this! From my own daughter!’ A horrified look came across Charles’ face. ‘Don’t tell me… Are those Death Eaters brain washing you?’

‘What?’ Emma asked, taken aback. And here I was, thinking I was making reasonable points. Her father had even complained at having to go to a Muggle hospital when they were on holiday, causing his arm to be put in a splint for the remainder of their stay. But he hadn't finished speaking

‘It makes sense now. Those letters that were sealed with the Black family crest... After what Sirius has told me of his family, I decided to burn them. Who knew if there were curses in them? I thought they were for Sirius, but now I know otherwise.’

'Oh and the fact that they probably had Emma Potter written on the front didn't occur to you?' Emma asked snarkily, her anger bubbling to the surface.

'It could have been a ruse,' Charles didn't look regretful at all.

‘Charles!’ Natalie reprimanded, but it was James who surprised them the most.

‘How could you do that Dad? Emma’s your daughter, my twin! If we can’t trust the people we love, then we’re just as bad as them,’ he said furiously, getting up from the table, his breakfast untouched. ‘Why don’t you rip up my letters too Dad? Did you know Remus is a werewolf? Are you going to suspect him because of something he can’t control too? Are you going to forbid my friendship with him?
Come on Ems, we should get to Diagon Alley before the shops close.’

He stormed back into the house. Emma and Sirius exchanged a look and hurried after him, both fearing what the Potters would say after James’s outburst.

‘I didn’t mean to -' Sirius began.

‘I know you didn’t mean to. But you did anyway: your own family wasn’t enough for you, so you had to take mine too.’ She threw the words he said to her in first year back into his face.

Sirius’s face whitened. Emma immediately regretted her rashness: it wasn’t his fault that she was hurt. But it was too late to take it back now, so she just followed James into the Floo network. She squeezed her brother’s arm to show her thanks and hoped that it wouldn’t affect his relationship with their dad. Her own might have been damaged beyond repair, but there was no need to bring James down with her.

‘Look, there is no way I can thank you enough for what you did. But now that we’re here, dad’s kind of right. I want to see how Regulus is doing now Sirius is gone, and you’re known for being pro-Muggleborn. I don’t want to give his parents and the Slytherins reason to think he’s like his brother; who knows what could happen?’

‘But you’re in Slytherin and you’re with me,’ James pointed out.

‘Yeah but you’re my brother: family counts with that lot. I’ll be fine. And besides…I don’t really want to spend the day with Sirius.’

James wasn’t pleased, but nodded. It wasn’t Sirius’s fault that Charles was mad, but he represented what would happen if the problems at home continued. And anyway, I have to apologise for leaking Mooney’s secret, he thought guiltily.

***

 

She wandered through various shops, buying quills and parchment here and potions ingredients there. By the time Emma finally found Regulus in Flourish and Blotts with Rabastan, her anger had dissipated somewhat.

‘Hey, look who’s back from the dead!’ Rabastan said joyfully, but reigned in his hug at a look from Emma. She felt too raw for any kind of physical contact. Plus, ever since that Christmas... ‘Why haven’t you replied to any of our letters?’

So dad got rid of the Lestranges’ letters too, she thought. Makes sense, considering Bellatrix is famous for her “Muggle hunts” and her husband is Rabastan’s brother. I wonder who else tried to contact me.

‘My dad’s been playing the interceptor,’ she laughed humourlessly. ‘He’s scared of you becoming a bad influence on me.’

‘Ouch,’ Rabastan winced, before a thought occurred to him. ‘Hey isn’t Sirius Black staying with you now that he’s been disowned?’

‘Don’t even mention his name in front of me,’ Regulus hissed at his friend, suddenly venomous. Emma turned to him in surprise.

‘Okay, okay,’ Rabastan backed away with his hands in the air, not wishing to receive any more of the brunt of Regulus's anger against his brother. ‘I’m off to get Potions supplies, but Alecto told me she’d be at Fortescue’s with Rosier later on if you’re still here.’

‘Rosier?’ Emma asked Regulus, opting for a safe topic of conversation. ‘Since when does Rabastan call Lucinda Rosier?’

‘He’s talking about Evan,’ Regulus replied shortly. ‘They started dating during the summer. Since when are you best buddies with my brother?’

Emma bit the inside of her cheek. ‘We’re not “best buddies” and you know it. It’s James who’s friends with him.’

‘Yeah well, it seems like you’re pretty okay with it considering,’ Regulus retorted.

‘Considering what? Considering that he had nowhere else to go? That because of him my dad is ready to kick me out? Merlin Regulus, what is your problem all of a sudden?’

‘Sorry,’ he replied, sighing. He ran a hand through his hair - the only nervous habit he had. ‘It’s just that what with your silence these past few weeks and my blood-traitor of a brother staying at your house, people are starting to wonder if you’re really on our side of the war. I was starting to think that... That you'd taken his side.’

‘What? Of course not,’ she said, stunned. ‘You know that. I told you, my dad burned the letters. I'm only in Diagon Alley today because we had an argument. It's still our side, Reg.’

This was the point where she'd normally put a hand on his arm to make her point, but the look that flashed across her friend's face stopped her in her tracks. She didn't have time to process what she saw before his features smoothed again. But by now she knew better than to think she was imagining it.

'What is it?' she asked resignedly.

‘I know that now, but they don’t. I’m serious Emma. They’ve even doubted my family’s loyalty, and it’s probably more dangerous if you’re a turncoat than if you were against them in the first place. Do you know what happens to Death Eaters that defect? The Dark Lord hunts them down personally and tortures them until they beg him to kill them.’

‘Good thing we’re not turncoats then,’ Emma replied.

‘Good thing. Oh and, congratulations on making Quidditch captain,’ Regulus said, pointing to the silver badge on her robes. 'If you don't put me on the team, you won't even have to worry about Voldemort hunting you down. I'll do it myself.'

***

 

She found James and Sirius a couple of hours later to Floo back home, something that she was not looking forward to. She mentally prepared herself, trying to compartmentalise her feelings, separating herself from the ones that hurt too much. She wouldn’t let her father see how much his words hurt her - and how close they were to the truth. If she was honest with herself, the thing that really bothered her was that Sirius managed to fit seamlessly within her family, whereas she was becoming a stranger to Charles.

Over the years he and James had bonded more and more closely and the siblings was drifting apart. At least her mother still seemed somewhat understanding: they spent hours discussing different spells and their categories. Like Emma, she was fascinated with how the Dark Arts worked, and why curses were so easy to make and so hard to break, but Emma didn’t dare tell her about sometimes putting them into practice. Though she could easily cast a Shield Charm, it wasn’t the same as knowing that you could defend yourself, or knowing how the curse worked. The duel prepared by Voldemort had taught her that.

To her surprise though, neither her mother nor father mentioned the fight. In fact, they pretended it hadn’t happened at all. But sometimes Emma caught Charles looking at her in a way that seemed to throw a wrench in her heart. Why can’t he understand that it isn’t all bad? she thought angrily to herself a week later, charming her clothes to fold themselves in her trunk. She and James had figured out long ago that if their parents didn’t see them doing under-age magic, then they didn’t know about it. And she couldn’t be bothered to pack.

Instead she got out her Nimbus 1001 - an early Christmas present from her parents when they found out that both of their children had been made Quidditch captain - and started methodically taking it apart and cleaning it. Why can’t everything be as easy as Quidditch? Her father had given her one of his increasingly rare smiles when they found out the news. Quidditch seemed to be the one thing that breached the House differences. If the Gryffindor Seeker performed a Wronski Feint, then the whole Slytherin team would nod approvingly, knowing how hard it was to achieve.
‘Knock knock,’ Natalie Potter said, entering with a fresh batch of laundry.

Emma hurriedly tried to get her socks to stop packing themselves, but merely succeeded in making them try to stretch from one side of the room to the other. Natalie stopped them with a flick of her wand.

‘Sometimes I think we were too lenient with you and James,’ she sighed. ‘I just found him doing the exact same thing. At least Sirius had the sense to pack yesterday: he even ironed all of his shirts by hand.’

Emma snorted. Sirius really did have an ego problem.

‘Don’t laugh Emma, I think he’s really trying.’

‘Yeah, trying to be your second child,’ Emma muttered, clipping the uneven twigs at the bottom of her broomstick.

‘That’s not fair Emma,’ her mother chided gently.

‘I know,’ she replied, but secretly thought that her father would have much preferred Sirius as a son than herself as a daughter.

‘You just make it so hard sometimes. You’re young and passionate, but I’m scared at how far you would go to make things the way you believe to be right. And then you inherited my interest for spellcraft, and your father can’t distinguish the difference between studying curses and practicing them. Together, well...’ the older woman trailed off.

‘Don’t you think we should do anything in our power to make the world better?’ Emma asked, looking up at her mother.

‘It’s exactly when you say things like that. Promise me you’ll stay in the theory of these things. It’s dangerous, Emma,’ her mother pleaded. 'There's a fine line between understanding Dark wizards and seeing the use in their methods.'

‘I promise,’ Emma lied.

Chapter Text

It was the morning of their first day at Hogwarts. James had already managed to land himself a detention from swelling part a fourth-year’s head to the size of a balloon - his speciality spell. His excuse was that he wanted to see what his wart looked like when enlarged. Needless to say, Lily Evans had not been impressed, and her lecture could be heard all the way from the Slytherin table.

‘Urgh,’ Lucinda covered her ears. ‘It’s too early in the morning for this kind of shit.’

There was a murmured assent, but no one continued; Professor Flitwick was handing out their new timetables. Alecto grabbed Emma’s before she could even look at the first lesson.

‘We didn’t get any of your letters, so I don’t know what lessons you’re taking,’ she explained. ‘I need to know what times of the day I can have some girl talk and complain about stupid problems.’

Emma smiled, shaking her head. ‘You could have asked, you know.’

‘I want to hear too,’ Regulus said from the other side of the table, leaning forwards.

‘Okay, listen up people,’ Alecto scanned the timetable. ‘Our dear Potter is taking Charms, Potions, Arithmancy and Transfiguration, but also Defence Against the Dark Arts (good one Ems) and.…What? Muggle Studies? Why on earth would you continue with that crap? Third year, I could understand: hell, there was no way I was taking Care for Magical Creatures or Ancient Runes. But now... when you have so many other classes?’

A couple of heads shot up from their conversations.

‘Keep your voice down,’ Emma hissed.

‘Why should she?’ Rabastan asked loudly. ‘Our fellow Slytherins have a right to know if we have a blood-traitor within our midst.’

Regulus’s grey eyes were flat as he stared at her with what seemed to be a hint of betrayal.

‘Look, first of all I want to know if they have anything that we can’t deflect with magic,’ she said. ‘Imagine if any had guns.’

‘What’s a gun?’ asked Lucinda.

Alecto shrugged, though Emma knew she had studied them in class with her the year before. The red-head would never admit it, but she had received more than "Acceptable" in her Muggle Studies O.W.L. She only changed her mind after the Muggle, Emma thought spitefully, but kept it to herself.

‘It’s an electricity powered thing that shoots metal out of it really quickly. It’s like a Severing charm that punches holes instead,’ Emma explained, then lowered her voice. ‘Besides, if I do Muggle Studies, then who’s going to suspect me?’

‘Forward thinking,’ Regulus said, but she couldn’t tell if it was genuine or sarcastic.

‘Maybe I should sign up again,’ Alecto said thoughtfully. ‘There have been raids on our house by the Ministry. Of course they didn’t find anything, but someone tipped them off about Amycus. Yeah, I'll go and see Slughorn about it.’

Emma shook her head in disbelief.

‘Or he just wasn’t careful enough,’ Rabastan said derisively. ‘He isn’t exactly what you would call subtle.’

‘One of these days he’s going to end up in Azkaban and I’m going to be the one to fish him out,’ Alecto sighed, rolling her eyes. ‘Anyway I’m off to find Evan, git’s probably sleeping in. Why do seventh years get so many free periods?’

With a shake of her bright red hair, she stalked from the table, scaring a few first years on her way out.

‘I guess that’s my cue to get to Potions,’ Emma sighed, regretfully eyeing a last piece of toast.

‘I have it too, we can go together,’ Regulus offered, though his plate was still half-full.

‘I’ll eat this then shall I?’ Rabastan asked, heaping the eggs onto his own plate. ‘Tell old Sluggy I have a stomach ache or something; he loves dad enough to let me off the hook. Wouldn’t do to have Prefects late to class though, run along now.’

Emma rolled her eyes at the boy’s sudden change in temperament: he could go from murderously angry to joking around in a second flat. She took a quick look at Regulus’s timetable, it was nearly identical to her own. At least she wouldn’t be on her own in Transfiguration - she knew that Helen, Lucinda and Rabastan had all received "Acceptable" in the class. Alecto was good at it, but couldn't always be bothered to come to class. The only difference was that he was taking History of Magic instead of Arithmancy and was - of course - taking Herbology instead of Muggle Studies.

Handing it back, she looked at her friend, not for the first time wondering how he could be so calm. After his first outburst in the bookshop, he acted as though Sirius was just an acquaintance he barely knew. He had told her that Bellatrix had been teaching him Occlumency in preparation for receiving his Dark Mark, which had been hinted at coming soon, but even before that he had always managed to keep his cool. Watching him take his place in front of his potion, she envied the way everything just slid off him, untouchable.

***

 

‘Today we’ll be starting on the Polyjuice Potion,’ Slughorn said, sweeping into class and shrugging Emma out of her thoughts, the same way he did every class.

Except today there are only about fifteen students, Emma noticed to her surprise. Sophie Parkinson was there, along with Severus Snape. They were as far from Sirius Black and her twin brother as possible, and Emma vowed to keep an eye on him. She didn’t put it past Snape to hex James while his back was turned. She also recognised Lily Evans, pointedly ignoring Snape and James, with someone Emma didn’t recognise from Ravenclaw. There were a couple of Hufflepuffs, and the rest were Ravenclaws.

‘Tell you what: to make this interesting, the one who brews the best potion gets a free sample! I have some stock in my supply closet. Doesn’t that sounds exciting?’ Slughorn clapped his hands together eagerly. ‘Instructions are on the blackboard. You have two hours to start.’

‘I’ll get the ingredients,’ Emma muttered and Regulus nodded. In the closet she quickly found the stock and stole some. Who knows when it'll come in handy?

By the time the two hours were up, it was obvious that Severus Snape had won the challenge. His potion was already a dark green, bubbling away merrily while the other potions gurgled and spat out little bubbles. Even Emma had to grudgingly respect his skills as a Potioneer. However he nearly ran out of class as soon as it was over, so the “prize” fell to Lily Evans. Slughorn took out a large bottle of Polyjuice potion and made a big show in presenting it to her.

'Congratulations!' James grinned, going to hug her.

She moved back in alarm and tripped on the foot of his cauldron, the bottle going flying.

'No!' she cried, drawing her wand, but only succeeded in bursting the bottle in the air. The room was showered in thick goop.

James quickly took his own wand out and turned the potion to steam.

'There!' he said. 'Now no one can accidentally drink it.'

'Oh no,' Slughorn murmured. 'Take cover, everybody!'

Emma found herself hiding under a table with her brother.

'Smooth,' she said.

'Hey, no risk no reward, right?' he grinned.

'I'm not sure Lily would agree,' she replied, before noticing that his hair was almost shoulder-length. How did I never see that? 'What, did she tell you she liked long-haired guys, or something?'

James frowned. 'No she -'

'Oh dear Merlin, get away from me!' Rabastan's uncharacteristic screech interrupted him.

They poked their heads out from beneath the table. Rabastan had shoved the Hufflepuff across the room in horror, staring at his hands, which were becoming smaller and thinner. Thick yellow hair was growing from the top of his head. On the other hand, the Hufflepuff's robes were ripping as she grew bigger and stockier.

'It's happening,' Slughorn said in horror.

Emma looked over to him: he was standing in what appeared to be a huge bubble, Lily sitting on the floor next to him.

'You idiot!' she yelled on spotting James. 'What were you thinking?'

James was looking at Emma in awe. 'The steam. We must have soaked it up through our skin, and it must have taken the DNA of the person nearest to us, maybe their breath caught in the steam.'

'What?' Emma shook her head, blinking. The room was getting fuzzy. 'James, I can't really see. Your face is all blurry. What's happening?'

'Here,' he put his glasses on her face. 'I think we just got a dose of Polyjuice Potion.'

'What? How does that even happen?' she asked, but she saw that it was true. People were emerging from their hiding spots to watch the Hufflepuff-Slytherin duo and most had undergone some kind of physical change.

'I think I'm going to be sick,' the Hufflepuff looked green.

‘You can use the basins used for washing ingredients!’ Slughorn said cheerfully. He seemed to be rather enjoying the whole catastrophe now that it was clear that he hadn't been touched.

'Me too,' Sirius said in a strangled voice, rushing forwards.

Emma looked at her twin, who was somehow caught between both of them. The change wasn’t too shocking, though his hair was growing like a metal head’s before his face started shifting. Meanwhile Rabastan and the Hufflepuff - whose name was Hestia - had gotten past that stage. They had quickly shrugged off their shoes and robes and exchanged them, though Emma was sure that Hestia’s clothes underneath must have been four times too small. As if on cue, she rushed into the supply closet and locked herself in.

‘Oh my,’ Slughorn said. ‘This is rather interesting.’

‘Interesting is one word. Vomit-inducing is another,' Regulus said. 'And I don't mean in a literal sense.'

He blew Sirius's mane of glossy hair out of his face in annoyance. 'Do we have to attend class today?'

‘Only if you don’t want extra detention Black,’ Slughorn replied, but before Sirius could open his mouth he added. ‘And I’ll be sure to put them at every Quidditch match.’

'I forgot you were so short,' Sirius had returned. 'You got the better deal Reggie, you get to see what good-looking feels like.’

Regulus ignored his brother: it was odd to see his lofty look on Sirius’s features. Though as aristocratic as Regulus’s own, whereas Regulus barely showed his feelings, Sirius made it a point to exaggerate every expression on his face.

‘I get to be a Prefect,’ James said in a sing-song voice.

Emma had to admit that they got the better deal, considering. She and James were of a height, and when Hestia emerged wearing some very stained clothes (at which Rabastan looked in disgust), they didn't have much to exchange. Emma warned James not to take his shirt off and gave him her jumper for good measure. It was snug on her shoulders and they had to exchange skirt and trousers, but they kept their own shoes. She handed James her timetable, instructing him to try not to prank anyone. In return he told her to tell the Gryffindors that tryouts would be held that very weekend.

‘You don’t lose time do you?’ she asked, amazed.

‘Gotta beat Slytherin after all,’ he held out a hand for her robes.

‘Efficient,’ Slughorn said approvingly. ‘Everybody exchange timetables! The Potion was administered in a small dosage, so you should be back to your old selves within eight hours. Oh and my little reward system is strictly under the radar, so I'm going to have to ask you to keep this to yourselves.’

Chapter Text

‘He’s off his rocker!’ Rabastan exclaimed in a girly voice. ‘Using the Tongue-tying curse so that we can’t say who we really are? Did you do that on purpose Potter?’ he rounded on James-as-Emma.

‘Relax Lestrange,’ it was odd for Emma to hear her own voice. ‘Trust me, if it was up to me, I wouldn’t be the target. Anyway, we're stuck like this, so you'd better get used to it. Luckily for you, you have a free period.’

The three Slytherins made their way down to their common room, Rabastan complaining about being a filthy Mudblood all the way. However just as Emma was about to say the password, Mulciber and Snape appeared.

‘Well, well, well,’ Snape said. ‘If it isn’t Potter and Black. Lost are you? And what’s this? Oh, a Mudblood present for us to play with. You shouldn’t have.’

‘You got no business being down here,’ Mulciber said, waving his wand around thoughtlessly. Emma kept an eye on it.

‘You don’t understand, we’re…Ah!’ Rabastan choked as his throat locked. He glared at Snape, who was intelligent enough to realise what had happened. ‘I hate you.’

‘Maybe you should have been nicer when you spilt my pumpkin juice this morning,’ Snape said snarkily. Mulciber looked confused. ‘Now get out, before I actually do hex you.’

‘Well that was idiotic,’ said Regulus, annoyed. He angrily flipped his hair out of his eyes. ‘And why can’t my bloody brother cut his hair properly?’

‘Hey Sirius,’ a Gryffindor girl with big brown eyes batted her eyelashes at him. Emma held in a laugh.

‘Uh…Hi,’ Regulus nervously ran his hand through his hair, not knowing what to do.

She smiled at him expectantly, before noticing Rabastan uncomfortably tugging at his Hufflepuff tie, his shirt buttons undone.

‘How could you?’ she rounded on him angrily. ‘I mean I had heard about your reputation, but did you really just forget about me in one night? We've been in the same House for years. I can’t believe you’ve already found some slut.’

Rabastan didn’t even try to protest. He wasn’t about to defend a Mudblood’s honour and he was still uncomfortably wearing his old clothes beneath his robes. Emma dug around in her back and offered him her Quidditch jumper.

‘It’s not like that...’ Regulus trailed off weakly, shooting a look at his friends. Oops, Emma thought, realising how bad their actions had looked.

‘Oh really? Then what’s my name Sirius?’ the girl demanded.

‘Umm.…’ Regulus cast his eyes around helplessly. Rabastan and Emma looked at him with pity. ‘Katie?’

‘Not even close,’ she replied, slapping him and storming off.

‘You know what Prongs? I think I could get used to this,’ they heard Sirius using Regulus’s voice from behind them.

They turned around to face themselves. Emma blinked several times in surprise. Rabastan was busy swapping his jumpers.

‘Nice look Lestrange, but make sure to wash that jumper before you return it to my sister,’ James said, smirking. ‘She likes her clothes clean.’

‘As if I could even wash out the stain of a Mudblood,’ Rabastan retorted, before Emma could reprimand her brother. She rolled her eyes. Honestly, those two are more alike than they realise. Rabastan doesn't even mind Gryffindors...

‘Hey Ems, remember to scruff that hair up a bit,’ James mussed up her - or his - hair. ‘Wouldn’t want Evans walking by and not recognising me.’

‘Did someone mention my name?’

‘Salazar, is the whole Potions class in this courtyard?’ Regulus mentioned darkly.

‘Nice to see you too, Black,’ Lily replied coolly, before grinning smugly. ‘Actually I was just about to tell you that we have Defence Against the Dark Arts. We wouldn’t want James and Sirius to be cutting class. Besides, I’m curious to see what would happen today: I can’t wait until lunch.’

‘Lunch at the Hufflepuff table,’ Rabastan groaned. ‘I think that this witch is going to call in sick for the day.’

‘Where would you go?’ Emma asked matter-of-factly. ‘It’s not as if you could go back to the common room, and besides if a Slytherin catches you alone...’ She stopped herself, remembering that her brother was still there.

‘Oh don’t stop that sentence on my account,’ Sirius said snidely. ‘I know sweet Reggie has sensitive ears, but we know what you Slytherins do for “fun”.’

‘Says the person who hexes people at random,’ Emma started, before Regulus grabbed her arm and dragged her off to DADA.

‘C’mon,’ he said. ‘I can’t stand that git.’

***

 

In the DADA class there were a lot more students. It was for Gryffindors and Ravenclaws - Hufflepuffs and Slytherins having the class on a different day. Emma hurried into a seat, not realising that it was next to Lily Evans. I guess this is my chance to get to know who made my brother fall for head over heels. The teacher called for silence.

‘Today we will be starting on the famously difficult Patronus Charm. Now, Professor Flitwick and I will give complementary lessons on this, so to succeed in one is to succeed in the other. The objective of this Charm is to repel Dementors, one of the foulest beings on this Earth. There have been rumours of the self-proclaimed Lord Voldemort amassing an army of them, so we felt it was in your best interests that you learnt as quickly as possible. However, as you all know, a fully corporeal Patronus is immensely difficult, even for wizards having graduated Hogwarts, so a non corporeal one will do.’

Most of the rest of the class was spent studying the theory of the Charm, but fifteen minutes before the end she had them practicing.

‘Think of a happy memory. The happiest you can. Hold it firmly in your mind. Do you all have one? Good, now repeat after me: Expecto Patronum!'

A silvery rabbit sprouted out of her wand to hop around the room before disappearing. Soon the whole classroom was filled with incantations that progressively became more and more annoyed. In the end, Lily Evans was the only one who had issued a white smoky substance out of her wand for a couple of seconds. The teacher awarded 10 points to Gryffindor.

‘Well done,’ Emma congratulated her, though refrained from asking her what her happy memory was. ‘That was really hard.’

Lily looked at her for a second in surprise: she obviously wasn’t used to James talking to her like a normal person.

‘Thanks Potter, I mean Emma,’ she replied. ‘Can I call you Emma?’

‘If it’s the only way you can differentiate James and I,’ Emma said with a laugh. She glanced back: “Sirius” had been approached by another fan girl. Lily saw the look.

‘I’m actually surprised there aren’t more girls after James,’ she admitted. ‘I mean, even I can concede that he’s good-looking, even if he is an arrogant toe-rag. Sorry.’

‘That’s okay,’ Emma replied. ‘It’s true. But James really likes you, Evans. Try not to crush his heart too much.’

Lily laughed. ‘Call me Lily. We've been on enough patrols together to be on first name terms. Anyway, I think it’s become a habit to ask me out, honestly.’

‘No,’ Emma said. ‘It’s not.’

And she left Lily to ponder her words.

***

 

In Charms class, James was struggling. So he was bright, that didn’t mean he studied every single subject over the summer. Besides, he was too busy missing Evans. Her infectious laughter, her brilliant green eyes…It may have started off as a joke, but now he knew she was the person he wanted to marry. He just had to make her realise that too. He glanced over at Sirius, who was examining his tie in disdain. Poor Padfoot, he’s been trying to go against his family’s wishes for years, and today he’s in some kind of parallel universe: what might have happened if he wasn’t so brave.

An unfortunate pug-faced girl sidled up to “Regulus”.

‘Is there something wrong with your tie?’ she asked. ‘I can fix it for you if you’d like.’

To James’s surprise, Sirius allowed her to. Then again, it was Sirius. The girl shot a worried look in James’s direction, as though she was scared that he would tell her off. James thought it would be funny to wink at her. She blushed and dropped Sirius’s tie as though she had been burned. Interesting, James thought. Obviously Emma knows this girl fancies Regulus. I wonder if she’s her friend? If so, he was disappointed in his sister.

He had no idea how this girl had made it past OWL levels. They were doing a quick revision of all the fifth-year level spells, and so far he hadn’t seen her master a single one. A slip of paper slid itself onto James’s desk. He unfolded it: What do you think? Should I get Reggie his first girlfriend?

James grinned and sent it back: I’m all for it, but I don’t think Emma would approve of their getting together…Good thing I’m Emma today.

“Regulus” turned around with a wide Sirius-grin that was unnerving on his taciturn little brother.

‘Please don’t ever do that again,’ James said, shuddering.

He wasn’t sure he liked Regulus. He was too… cool, too distant. Though his sister seemed to have taken a shine to him. Then again, could James blame him, with the parents he had? But this girl - Sophie, he found out when Professor Flitwick reprimanded them - obviously liked this emotional Regulus. She probably thought that she was the one to get past his “mysterious” attitude. He snorted and went back to trying to silence his toad. It croaked pathetically, but it was still making noise. Next to him, Sirius had turned on a different type of charm.

‘You know I could help you with that,’ he nodded towards the pile of paper that Sophie was supposed to burn.

‘You’re so kind, but I think Flitwick would notice,’ she tried to use the spell again, but only succeeded in enlarging the paper.

‘I meant I could tutor you,’ Sirius clarified, and then lowered his voice, staring into Sophie’s eyes. ‘Privately.’

James thanked Merlin that Lily Evans seemed immune to Sirius’s charms. She was probably the only one. Even Emma seemed to have succumbed to a snog at the Yule Ball, though James had made sure that Sirius would never attempt that again. Apparently the threat of having his hair shorn off was greater than the attraction of his twin. Good.

The bell rang to mark the end of the lesson, but Flitwick called him back. ‘Miss Potter, a word?’

‘Yes Professor?’ James dragged his feet to the front desk, wondering what kind of trouble he had gotten his sister into on the first day of lessons.

‘Are you quite alright? I noticed that you had some trouble with your spells today,’ the wizened old teacher looked worried. ‘I hope you aren’t overworking yourself.’

‘Why would I be overworking myself?’ James asked, nonplussed.

‘Quidditch captain, Prefect,’ he pointed to the badges on Emma’s robes. ‘I also know that you’ve been working hard and aspire to be a Curse-breaker. I would advise you to relax for a couple of weeks. You’re exempt from the homework. It’s the first day of school, you can afford to have some fun whilst you can.’

With that he bade James farewell, a little twinkle in his eye. So, Flitwick seems to have a soft spot for my sister, James thought with amusement. Lucky beggar, Flitwick assigned us a ton of homework. He then realised that he hadn’t had Charms class yet. Maybe we’ll get less, he thought hopefully. He didn’t know Emma wanted to become a Curse-breaker though. He realised that there was a lot he didn’t know about his twin anymore.

***

 

The rest of the day passed awkwardly for Regulus, who had learnt to perfect his imitation of Sirius quite well, but still had no idea who all of the girls were, resulting in a couple of jinxes and lots of hurt looks. Emma teased him for being a heart-breaker, but he was not amused. At lunch, Remus commented that Sirius seemed out of sorts, which he attributed to their stolen fake wands in Transfiguration, and that James was quiet, which he thought was a new way to grab Lily’s attention.

For their part, Sirius and James exchanged horrified looks at the casual way the Slytherins mocked Mudbloods. Twice, Sirius had tried to defend Muggleborns and James elbowed him. He may not like it, but if they wanted their siblings to still be alive at the end of the year, they had to pretend to go along with it. James found the perfect opportunity to fit in when Lestrange walked past as Hestia, and they had great fun hexing and jinxing him until he was sent to the hospital wing with six tentacles sprouting out of his purple face, frogs leaping out of his mouth whenever he tried to say something. James realised that maybe they had taken it too far when they saw Mulciber’s overjoyed expression.

‘Just like in fifth year!’ he said enthusiastically, shaking James’s hand until he thought his arm would fall off. Fifth year? I really don't know anything about Emma's life.

‘These people are sick,’ Sirius muttered to him as they went to find Hestia and see how she fared.

It turned out that she found them: they saw Lestrange run past them with strawberry blond hair.

‘Finally!’ Sirius fist-pumped the air. ‘Can’t wait to be rid of my smarmy little brother. I can’t believe half of these kids are scared of him, I mean have they seen what a wimp Regulus can be? Don't they know he's scared of drowning?’

James shook his head, but fervently agreed. Being his twin was weird, especially because she was a girl. He kept on accidentally touching his breasts when he crossed his arms and freaking himself out. Of course Sirius found it immensely funny. Plus, James didn’t know how long he could take the older Slytherins checking Emma out without hexing them. And to make things worse: no Lily.

But even after dinner they still looked like their siblings. James looked over at the Gryffindor table and caught his twin’s eye. She widened them, and pointed to the ceiling. It was already dark outside, after eight o’clock at least. Their Potions lesson had finished at 10.

‘Excuse me,’ he said, walking out of the Great Hall. A couple of minutes later, he was looking at himself. It was creepy.

‘What happened?’ Emma demanded with his voice. ‘Why isn’t the Potion wearing off? All of the others have, McKinnon came back to the Gryffindor table two hours ago. I heard her and Lily talking about it.’

‘I don’t know...’ James said. ‘We need to go and see Slughorn.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Slughorn shook his head at the four of them. ‘I forgot that the Polyjuice Potion has an odd reaction to family members. Your DNA is too similar for the returning effect to be triggered.’

‘You mean we’re stuck like this?’ Sirius squeaked.

‘Please do not make that sound out of my mouth again,’ Regulus narrowed Sirius’s eyes at his brother, who rolled his eyes.

‘Okay this is not at all freaky,’ Emma said. James had to agree: with the four of them together it looked like some sort of pantomime for people who knew them well.

‘Please, children, don’t panic. I’ve heard of this before. All it requires is a simple Memory Potion mixed with Dittany. However, I won’t be able to procure the antidote before tomorrow.’

He closed the office door and the four of them were left staring at the panel of wood.

‘What?’

‘Tomorrow!’

‘But I’m a girl!’

The other three turned to Emma upon the sudden realisation that she would be sharing a dormitory with five sixteen year old boys.

‘No, no, no! I won’t let you!’ James said furiously, stomping his feet. ‘Wormtail's too scared and Moony is okay but the others are pigs!’

‘Hello? I’m one of the others,’ Sirius held up a hand.

‘And you are a pig,’ Regulus said calmly. ‘Ask any of the girls that came up to me today. Besides, I’ll be one of the others.’

‘Um, I don’t know if you noticed, but I am currently James,’ Emma said. ‘I was talking about James being in the Slytherin dorms. I know you love your Lily-flower, but you’re a sixteen year old boy and I don’t want you perving on my friends in the shower or something.’

‘I won’t!’ James protested.

‘Yes you will Prongs, we know you will,’ Sirius laughed.

Chapter Text

'Nobody trusts me in this world,' James grumbled to Sirius as they walked to the dungeons, having had strict instructions on how to get to the Slytherin common room.

It had been decided that Sirius and James would go and sleep in the Prefect's bathroom, saying that Regulus and Emma had Prefect duty. When Sirius had joked that it made it sound like they were going to hook up, he was silenced by three cold stares, but James suggested that Sirius stay in the Slytherin dorms instead - an idea that everyone but Sirius liked.

'It's a hard life Prongs,' Sirius patted his shoulder. 'But don't worry, I still love you.'

'You do?' James looked at him with big puppy dog eyes.

'Okay, I can't do this when you look like your sister,' Sirius immediately withdrew his hand. 'No offense man, but it both turns me on and weirds me out.'

'Too much information Padfoot,' James shuddered. 'Why is it weird anyway? It's not like Emma and I have really different facial expressions. Not like you and your brother.'

'So firstly, that twit is not my brother,' Sirius ticked off his finger. 'And secondly, have you seen how she looks at me? I swear, even a piece of dog poo she found on her shoe would command more respect.'

'What a wonderful metaphor Padfoot,' he commented dryly. 'But why would she do that?'

'Um hello? My brother's poisoned her against me!' Sirius said in a dramatic manner. 'But seriously, maybe I shouldn't have come to yours this summer.'

'Are you kidding? My parents love you!'

'Maybe that's the problem.'

James didn't have an answer for that, especially since Sirius hadn't made his "serious" joke, so he changed the subject. 'Do you know the Slytherin password?'

'Probably "Pure-blood" or something,' Sirius muttered, still brooding.

A couple of hours later, Lestrange returned from the Hospital wing to see the two slouching in front of the alcove. Sirius had gotten himself comfortable between the two pillars, whereas James had adopted the sleep-where-you-stand method. Both started at the sudden darkness that his shadow cast on the entrance.

'Great,' Sirius said under his breath. 'Why couldn't it have been Reggie's admirer?'

'Remember, we're not us,' James whispered. 'If he suspected it was...'

'We'd have the whole Slytherin common room on us, yeah, yeah, I'm not an idiot,' Sirius said in a bored voice.

'Why are you two hanging around here?' Lestrange asked as he came nearer.

'Forgot the password,' James said with what he hoped was an innocuous shrug.

'Both of you?' he asked incredulously, a surprised grin forming on his face.

'Yeah it's very funny, now let us in,' Sirius said, rolling her eyes.

'Well someone's in a bad mood,' Lestrange raised his eyebrows. 'Locomotor Wibbly.'

The Jelly-Legs jinx? James bit back a laugh.

'You would be too, if you were stuck in your bloody brother's body for the day,' Sirius retorted.

'Excuse me? I was a Mudblood. On top of that, your bloody brother as you put it hexed me,' Lestrange said heatedly.

'And you just let it happen?' James feigned shock.

'A Mudblood girl against the entire Slytherin crew? You've got to be joking. I'll get back at him some other day. Now if you don't mind, I have some robes to burn.'

He strode off down the steps, Sirius and James hurrying after him. The latter couldn't resist nudging his friend and teasing him. 'Ooh, better watch your back now Lestrange is onto you.'

'Shut up,' was the answer, but Sirius chuckled all the same.

Inside the common room, the Slytherin sixth and seventh years were already doing work, whilst a group of fifth years played Exploding Snap in a corner. They looked around interestedly at the green light and black leather armchairs.

'Civilised, isn't it?' Sirius muttered. 'I was expecting skulls or at least torture chains.'

'Come on you two!' Emma's redheaded friend called them over to the fireplace. 'Anyone would think you'd never seen the common room before.'

'They couldn't remember the passwords either,' Lestrange chuckled. 'I think the fumes from Potions class Confunded them.'

'I saved you a spot Regulus,' a fourth-year called out.

'Don't tell me my brother's gay?' Sirius said in a joyful undertone to James. 'Oh I bet dear old Mum would love that: a blood-traitor blasted off the family tapestry, and the proper little son incapable of providing an heir. She'd die from the shame.'

They went and slumped on the sofa, which was surprisingly comfortable. Act as if this was Gryffindor, James told himself. At least they have squishy furniture. Another surprise to them was that the Slytherins talked of normal things. Quidditch: a question about the captaincy that James deflected easily, complaining about homework, asking each other about their OWLs and subjects they dropped, talking about Zonko's joke shop. Regulus's tag-along was Barty Crouch's son, to James's surprise. When James commented that he didn't look like his father, the kid looked at him with shining eyes, and James thought that he might have made Emma a new friend. When Alecto Carrow yawned and said she was going to turn in for the night, James had hardly noticed the time fly.

'Merlin!' he said theatrically, jumping up. 'I forgot I was supposed to do the rounds tonight, show the new fifth years how it works.'

'Bit late for that Potter,' Mulciber said. 'They left half an hour ago.'

Perfect, James thought, climbing the stairs to the exit. I hope Sirius survives the night.

'Hey Emma,' Wilkes, one of Snivellus's gang had followed her.

James pretended not to have heard him, but the Slytherin caught up with him outside the secret entrance.

'Emma have you got a sec?' Wilkes asked. 'I was wondering. I mean I know it's early and everything, but do you want to go to Hogsmeade with me? On the weekend when it's posted I mean.'

'No!' James said, horrified at the thought of Emma being with one of Snivellus's cronies. Wilkes took a step back, and James realised that he was acting like the brother. 'It's just I've got a lot of Prefect duties, and I'm team captain - we might have tryouts or something.'

'Well maybe another time,' Wilkes started.

'No, I think I'm busy all the time. Every weekend until the end of the year. And maybe the year after that,' James said definitely, and fled for the Prefect's bathroom.

***

 

'So I guess we should make our way to the Gryffindor tower then,' Regulus said reluctantly.

'No way,' Emma replied. They were dawdling in the Great Hall, wondering how long it would take for Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew to fall asleep. The excuse was that they were planning a great prank, but Lupin had looked at Emma knowingly and mouthed: I know it's about Lily. 'If I'm going to be stuck as my brother the rule breaker, then we should enjoy it as much as we can.'

'What are you saying?' Regulus asked, a hint of a smile playing on his... Sirius's... face.

'I missed your birthday,' Emma reminded him. She still felt guilty about that. She could only imagine what had happened during the Sirius/Walburga fight. 'I thought you were on holiday with your family or something, and that was why you never replied to my letters.'

'I replied to all of them,' Regulus protested.

'I know that now, don't I?' Emma said, rummaging in her bag before a thought struck her. 'Do you realise that we all kept our own schoolbags? I wonder if anyone noticed.'

'Doubt it,' he made a face. 'What are you looking for?'

'Something that I haven't told anyone about,' she said enigmatically, enjoying the look on Regulus's face. It wasn't often that he didn't know about something. 'Ah here it is!'

'A cloak?' Regulus asked dubiously. 'If you wanted a warmer one, you should have asked James when you had the chance.'

'Not just any cloak,' she said. 'Come here.'

He cautiously took a step closer and she threw the cloak over the both of them. Merlin knows how James and Sirius can sneak around in this thing. It barely reaches his ankles! But Regulus was more preoccupied about the nature of their dad's Hogwarts gift.

'You have an Invisibility Cloak?' he gasped. 'And you didn't tell me?'

'I was going to in fifth year, but I guess I just never got around to it. We were Prefects, and there wasn't much point. Remember when I asked you about liking secrets? Besides, it's not as if we sneak around much, do we? We just go down to the Quidditch pitch.'

The dungeons weren't too far from the Great Hall and since their first excursion down to the clearing in the Forbidden Forest, they had become adept at sneaking out into the grounds. They soon found out that no one ever surveyed the Quidditch pitch - after all, they turned a blind eye to players wanting to get in a last bit of practice before the game the next day.

'I guess you have a point,' he conceded.

She led him up to the Entrance Hall and then down to the basement level again, coming to a stop in front of a painting of a bowl of fruit.

'You brought me down here to look at pictures of food?'

She ignored him, tickling the pear until it turned into a doorknob, wrenching it open. The little entrance grew larger and larger, until it seemed like it had been human-sized all along.

'Master James! Master Sirius!' A cheerful elf came bounding up to them. 'Do you want the usual?'

Emma had no idea what the usual was. 'Actually...' she realised that she didn't know what Regulus liked. 'Regulus?'

'Banoffee pie,' Regulus grinned.

He didn't seem too surprised at the fact that the Hogwarts kitchens seemed to be run solely by house elves, maybe because Kreacher was the one to do all the cooking in the Black family household. Either way, he seemed excited to be there, examining pots and pans here and there, even going to stop a few house elves to ask them their name and tell them which foods he liked best.

Emma watched him incredulously. Though she knew he was friendly with Kreacher, she had expected his favourite food to be something fancy, like chocolate gateau, or treacle tart.

'What?' Regulus asked, noticing her stare. Sirius's face tinged red.

'I don't think I've ever seen you blush before,' Emma said, smiling. 'Unless you count the singing rose.'

'Technically you still haven't,' and in the blink of an eye Sirius was serious again. He sat down on one of the long benches. 'Urgh, these Gryffindor robes.'

'They're not that bad,' Emma sat next to him. 'It's only the tie and the crest that changes, really. Oh and the colour of the insides.'

'Yeah, but these even smell like Sirius,' Regulus said in disgust.

'What smell is that?' Emma laughed.

'Like wet dog and gunpowder.'

'What?'

He proffered a sleeve and Emma sniffed it. The worst part is that he's right, she thought.

'Odd,' she said, but by that time a huge banoffee pie had arrived. She conjured a couple of candles and lit them with her wand. 'Happy belated birthday Regulus.'

He hastily blew the candles and thanked the house elf for the forks, turning to her with Sirius's lopsided grin. 'Ready to tackle this?'

Without waiting for an answer, he started eating the dessert at a ferocious pace. It was funny how being given Sirius's appearance had made him forget about being careful with his expressions. Right now, he looked as carefree as his brother, and Emma wondered if he would have looked like that if he had been Sorted into Gryffindor. When they had finished, he sat back with a sigh.

'Best birthday I've had in a long time.'

'Really?' Emma said. 'All it took was banoffee pie?'

'All it took was to be at Hogwarts instead,' Regulus admitted. 'Let's just say that things weren't easy when Sirius left.'

Chapter Text

‘Potter!’ Someone banged on the Gryffindor common room door.

‘How rude!’ the Fat Lady could be heard saying.

‘Potter, come out right now! I have the password, damn it!’

‘You are not a Gryffindor student, Mr Black.’

Regulus’s ears pricked up at that. What was Sirius doing? He quickly finished dressing and shook the still sleeping “James”.

‘James!’ There was no reply.

Remus entered the room and threw the covers off of the sleeping boy with an expert flick. ‘James! Regulus Black is waiting for you outside the corridor, and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone so angry in my entire life.’

‘Tell him to go away,’ Emma said but sat up anyway, rubbing her eyes. ‘Why are you calling me James anyway?’

‘Come on, there’s no time for your games Prongs,’ Remus said impatiently.

It seemed to dawn on Emma that she was still James. She looked at Regulus, wondering what had happened, but he still looked like Sirius.

‘I’m coming, I’m coming,’ she grumbled as she was called for again. She put on her robes over her (James’s) pyjamas, and wandered outside of the portrait door…right into Sirius Black’s wand. ‘Whoa. Why are you pointing your wand at me so early in the morning?’

‘Come with me,’ he marched out into a different corridor for privacy, but a gaggle of students followed them. ‘How dare you? I trusted you, I trusted you! I thought you were looking after him!’

‘Who?’ Emma racked her brains. Had Fluffy eaten Sirius’s pet rat by mistake? She didn’t think Sirius was the type to keep a rat, but she knew he didn’t have an owl or a cat.

‘My brother, you idiot!’ It was unnerving to have Regulus - usually so calm - scream at her.

‘He’s fine, isn’t he? I saw him this morning: he still looks like you though.’ Emma didn’t understand.

‘I woke up this morning to what? Lestrange congratulating me on getting the call. The call from “the Dark Lord”. I specifically told you to help him stand up to our parents, to tell him that wizards aren’t all pure-blood fanatics. I TRUSTED YOU!’ he yelled again. ‘And you betrayed me. And him. HE’LL BE KILLED BECAUSE OF YOU! And I’m going to make you pay.’

The jinx barely missed her as Emma dodged behind a pillar. ‘What the hell, Black?’ she shouted, but the hexes kept flying, and in the end she found herself on the defensive, shouting out “Protego” every two seconds whilst trying to process what Sirius had just said.

‘Don’t you think your brother has a mind of his own?’ she yelled back between hexes, backing down a flight of stairs. ‘Or are you blaming me because he hates you so much?’ she taunted. ‘Worried that your only brother was driven away by you abandoning him?’

‘I wasn’t the one who abandoned him,’ Sirius said, but she saw the flicker of hurt and uncertainty in his eyes. ‘I wasn’t! I tried my best to make him understand!’ He sent another jinx flying, but his heart wasn’t in it.

She drew a breath to hex him back, but just then she saw herself and Sirius-Regulus arrive at the top of the staircase, pushing the crowd of students aside. This must be an odd spectacle to watch...

‘What the hell do you two think you’re doing?’ James yelled with her voice, but Sirius ignored him, focusing on his brother.

‘I can’t believe you. If I could disown you twice, then I would.’

‘What? Where is this coming from?’ Regulus was as nonplussed as Emma was. He had spent as much time as possible ignoring Sirius.

‘Don’t play dumb with me dear brother,’ Sirius sneered. ‘You’re nothing to me now, do you hear that? You’re as bad as our parents. I still hoped that you might come around, but this…This is unforgivable.’

That seemed to anger Regulus. More students gathered around, anxious to hear the row between the Black brothers.

‘You know what’s unforgivable?’ he asked in a low voice, walking down the steps until they were nearly nose to nose. ‘You running out on your family. Did you even stop to think about anyone other than yourself? Did you know that our father - the one you say is “nothing” to you - went out to search for you every night for a week before he found out you were at the Potter’s?’

‘I -'

‘Did you know that he tried to convince our mother not to blast you off the tapestry, and put your running away down to “teenage antics”? Mother had to blast a hole in his hand before she could remove you from the tapestry.’ Regulus drew nearer with a cold expression on his face and dropped his voice to nearly a whisper.

‘Our parents were invited to Bellatrix’s Death Eater ceremony this summer. She told the Dark Lord she wanted to kill you for being a traitor. Our father, the noble Orion Black, begged for mercy and was rewarded with the Cruciatus Curse from Bellatrix - his own niece. The Dark Lord soon put a stop to it, but made it clear that our father better know where his true loyalties lied. That is unforgivable, Sirius, and that is why you were right all those years ago. You're not my brother at all.’

Just then, Professor Slughorn arrived. Regulus stepped back, visibly shaking, and the students dispersed, whispering among themselves.

‘Good, you’re all here. I was worried I would have to send a student to round you up. The Potion is ready,’ he seemed to notice Regulus. ‘Mr Black, are you quite alright?’

‘Yes Professor. I’m just eager to put this behind us.’

Emma didn’t think he was only talking about the Polyjuice Potion.

After that Regulus made sure Emma couldn’t catch him alone. He swapped the Prefect patrols so that they were paired up with different people, and suddenly became very concentrated in Potions class. Slughorn was thrilled. People asked him about his fight with Sirius, praising him to his face, saying he’d cracked behind his back. Only Rabastan had figured out what was going on, and he apologised profusely for having let slip the information.

Regulus wasn’t exactly his calm self either - when Sophie confronted him about their missed study date, he ended up hexing her teeth so that they didn’t stop growing until she reached the hospital wing. After that, the rumours quietened down. As for Sirius, he couldn’t resist making snide comments whenever they crossed paths; in retaliation Emma sent him scathing looks, but Regulus simply pretended he didn’t exist. Poor James was torn, unable to decide what to do, so he ended up not saying anything at all. The twins’ relationship didn’t exist much in school anyway, but it was enough for Emma to know he would defend her if it came to a head.

***

 

Two weeks later, she was pinning the Slytherin tryouts in the common room, having finally found a time that coincided with her busy schedule. The Hufflepuff team seemed determined to beat them out of sheer number of practices that year.

‘Listen up!’ she stood on a table. The Slytherins quietened. ‘Tryouts will be held this Saturday morning, at breakfast. All positions are open, so those having previously been on the team have to sign up too! Oh, and the first Hogsmeade weekend will be three weeks from now. That’s all.’

Murmurs broke out throughout the room. Avery had played favourites, either keeping his friends or existing Quidditch players on the field, but the problem was that both Beaters and their Keeper had left the year before. They would be starting with half a fresh team, and Emma was worried. She planned to win the Cup, but it would only be possible through a combination of good coaching and raw talent. She had purposefully put the tryouts on a Saturday morning: only those dedicated to being on the team would miss their lie-in and breakfast.

‘Bit mean, isn’t it?’ Alecto raised an eyebrow.

‘I need the best,’ Emma replied, taking out her Transfiguration homework.

‘If this is your way of trying to make up with Regulus, I think it’s pointing out the obvious that this won’t work,’ her friend said. ‘Oh come on, don’t give me that look. You two have given up on your late-night mutterings in front of the fire. Face it Ems, you’ve been replaced by someone younger and more interesting.’

Emma laughed, but in a way it was true. Regulus and Barty had become fast friends, though the latter was two years their junior. She looked over towards the other side of the room. They were engaged in an animated game of chess, with several onlookers. The only person Emma had seen to beat Regulus was Lucius Malfoy, but it seemed like the younger boy had the upper hand here.

'Is it because of... you know... what happened between you and Sirius last year?' Alecto asked quietly. 'Did something happen again?'

Emma appreciated her friend's tact. 'No, nothing like that.'

And for some reason she ended up telling Alecto about her dad burning everyone's letters.

'Regulus is upset that I missed his birthday. He thinks I ignored him, and when Sirius arrived at my house, well... he wasn't pleased,' Emma finished. It was at least part of the truth.

'Who would be, with a blood-traitor for a brother who went off to his friend's house? I can't believe you slept with someone who turned out so disappointing,' Alecto sighed. 'Well, I know better than anyone how easily a mistake like that can be made.'

'I never actually slept with Sirius,' Emma said, suddenly desperate for someone to know the truth other than her brother. If anyone could understand, it was her best friend. 'I... It was easier to let people believe that than tell you what really happened.'

Alecto gave her a long look. For a minute, she seemed like she was going to ask her about it. Then she picked up Emma's homework and tossed it aside.

'Who writes a three foot essay on Conjuration anyway?' she grinned.

'There’s only so much you can say on the subject,’ Emma smiled thankfully in return. 'I can't get past the two foot mark.'

‘Write bigger,’ Alecto advised. ‘Hey, do you think Professor Imago will accept “being chased by centaurs and rescued by a stray hippogriff” as a divine dream?’

Emma snorted. ‘Depends on the meaning you give to it.’

‘I will be betrayed by what appears to be good, and saved by what appears to be dangerous?’ Alecto spouted, waving her quill theatrically.

‘He loves that kind of philosophical stuff,’ Emma laughed. ‘I can’t believe you even kept that class.’

‘Hey, easy pass,’ the redhead scrawled something on her parchment. ‘Not all of us can sweet-talk Flitwick into giving her two homework-free weeks. How did you do that exactly?’

Emma shrugged in what she hoped to be a mysteriously superior way. In truth, it was during the Polyjuice Potion, so she had no idea. She had been taking full advantage of it though.

‘Fine, keep your secrets. You know you’re becoming a lot like Regulus nowadays,’ Alecto complained. ‘You never tell me anything anymore. I’m off to bed, coming?’

‘Nah, I’m going to plan the Quidditch plays,’ Emma said, taking up a new roll of parchment.

‘On second thought, I’m not tired. You might be good at Quidditch, but I excel at making people suffer for what they want.’

Chapter Text

There were more people than Emma expected. Way more people. Then she realised that a third of them were wearing red robes. She glanced up at the stands where she could just make out her twin brother. She glared at him, knowing that he would have brought binoculars.

‘Just checking out the competition, Sis'!’ his magically enhanced voice came booming across the stadium.

Great, she thought. The Marauder fan club is here.

‘Anyone who is not a Slytherin and at least a second-year, clear out of the stadium!’ Emma touched her wand to her throat. Two can play at this, James.

‘Let’s start with the Chasers,’ Emma said, her magnified voice echoing around the pitch. ‘Separate yourselves into groups of three.’

There were seventeen people who wanted the position, including Lucinda and Cassandra Greengrass, who were the Chasers from the other years. Emma flew towards them, and told them to use basic manoeuvres.

‘So Lucinda, Cassandra and I will be passing each other the Quaffle from one side of the pitch to the other. Each time, the trio will have to manage to take the Quaffle from us and score before we reach the other side,’ Emma explained.

Several people were easily eliminated with this simple tactic, and eventually she had six people. She flew to hover in the middle of the stadium to watch them more closely, and made sure Lucinda and Cassandra were both on different teams. She got them to perform more complex tactics like the Finbourgh Flick: using their broomstick to hit the Quaffle into the goal, and the Dionysus Dive.

One boy tried this so enthusiastically that he was too far from his broomstick, and plummeted to the ground. Several shocked gasps were audible from the stands: by now most of the students had finished breakfast, and many Slytherins had come to see their team try-out: the only practice it was permitted to watch. Emma quickly rushed up and grabbed him, but her broom was unaccustomed to the extra weight and it was only marginally slower that they both dropped to hover a couple of feet above the ground.

‘Now listen closely people. Only an idiot would try a Dionysus Dive if they didn’t know how without the proper safety measures. This,’ she dropped the boy, ‘is a mild version of what would have happened if he had tried this on his own.’

The fourth-year landed awkwardly and crumpled as his ankle gave way beneath him.

‘Rabastan, take him to the Hospital Wing please. Don’t worry, Beater tryouts will be held last.’

The boy ignored Rabastan’s proffered hand and tried to get up himself, but leaned on the older Slytherin as he realised his ankle was broken. Emma had expected him to shoot her a filthy look, maybe get angry, but he looked at her with an expression of awe and respect. Drawing confidence from that, she got back to business.

‘Right, Chasers you can come back down. The results will be posted in the common room this evening, so relax and take a shower: you all did well.’

After the stick, the carrot, she thought. It had been Alecto’s idea to only post the results later, so as to go over who would work well together, but also to increase the suspense, as well as hiding their team members for as long as possible.

‘Seekers, you’re up! This one’s simple. I release the Snitch, and after thirty seconds,’ she produced an hourglass, ‘the first one to catch it is the Seeker.’

‘Wait a minute!’ James’s magnified voice cried out. ‘Snitches are only allowed at matches!’

‘Ah but Madam Hooch agreed to let me use this one if my players used gloves,’ Emma said smugly. She was proud of that, and knew James would be cursing the fact that he hadn’t thought of it first.
She distributed dragon hide gloves usually used for Herbology out to each of the potential Seekers. Luckily there were only six of them, since she only had ten pairs.

‘How did you get these?’ Regulus asked as she handed him his gloves.

“Nicked ‘em” she mouthed. It wouldn’t do to confess with the increased volume of her voice. He grinned and mounted his broom.

‘On your marks,’ Emma released the Snitch and turned the hourglass around. ‘Get set…Go!’

The six potential players zoomed into the air. A couple decided to search methodically, doing laps around the pitch. Regulus soared high over the pitch and was completely motionless for a couple of minutes. Suddenly he zoomed towards the middle hoop of the goal and it was over before the others had a chance to realise what was going on. Never doubted it, Emma thought with a grin as he handed her the Snitch with a smirk and stalked off to the changing rooms.

For the Keepers, Emma had one man the hoops as the others zoomed around the field. She had four Bludgers in play, having also released the replacement ones for maximum distraction. She tried to score against them by herself, whilst the other players merely flew in front and behind. A couple were injured, but she noted with admiration that Bartemius Crouch managed to catch the Quaffle whilst nursing a broken limb. She had instructed Alecto to note down every catch and every miss with details. She was good at keeping notes.

They kept at it for thirty minutes: five for each possible Keeper, and by the time it had finished Emma was exhausted. Upon landing, one girl started complaining about the fouls and injuries.

‘That’s the game,’ Emma snapped at her. ‘Deal with it.’

They trooped off to the Hospital Wing, many supported by their friends who had ran out to see if they were alright. Emma received more than a few filthy looks, but she ignored them. Noticing that at some point Rabastan had rejoined the ranks of the twenty potential Beaters, she drew the remains of her energy together. She had to act quickly. Alecto had already handed half of them bats. The other half were looking slightly nervous. She was slightly nervous herself.

‘Okay, all Beaters who have bats form a line!’ she shouted. ‘Bludgers, as you know, are enchanted only to fly towards players on broomsticks. I want you to fly out two at a time, and aim to hit the Bludger within any of the six hoops. There are four Bludgers: you have four attempts. However, the other Bludgers will also be trying to attack you, so you must avoid that. Once you have hit the Bludger four times, you may touch down, hand over your bat and come over to stand by me.’

As predicted by Alecto, there were many more injuries than with the potential Keepers. Emma had a bowl of Murtlap Essence brought out next to her on the pitch, provided by Severus Snape the potions genius, whose hate of Gryffindors exceeded his hatred of Emma, and who had mellowed ever since he had caught her using his own hex to dangle Sirius Black from his ankle in a deserted corridor. It didn't hurt that he had an overwhelming desire to see James fail his first year in captaincy.

Each player thanked Merlin upon seeing the bowl, and soaked the potion up with towels which they then dabbed on their injured body parts. When the last player got off his broom, there was a collective sigh of relief, and many spectators started to leave the stands.

‘So here is the catch,’ Emma said, and the players exchanged looks of fear. ‘You’ve completed part one. Part two is a bonus. You don’t have to do it, but I will be noting down who tries. Being a Beater isn’t only about knowing how to hit a ball, it’s also about being able to understand angles and trajectories. Yes, it sounds like Arithmancy, so let me make myself more clear. Those four Bludgers aren’t going to put themselves away. So I want you to attempt to catch them and put them back in the box. You can try this with teams of two, four, five, I don’t really care. Just get them in.’

As she had foreseen, nearly everyone stayed, unwilling to be called cowards by the Gryffindors, or be beaten by their teammates when they had already gotten so far. This was done on purpose. Emma had noticed that Gryffindors were more willing to take risks, so unless Slytherins stopped attempting fouls, or had an exceptionally lucky day, the chasers almost always scored more goals.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t as gruesome as she feared, and Rabastan took particular pleasure in shoving the ball into its appropriate place. She thanked them all for coming and dismissed them, once again reminding them that they would be notified as soon as she had chosen the members.

***

 

‘Wasn’t that a bit brutal?’ James commented as Emma came out of the showers.

‘Merlin, James!’ she shrieked. ‘What if I hadn’t brought my normal clothes into the showers with me?’

‘But you always do,’ James pointed out. ‘And it’s not like I haven’t seen you in a towel before, so stop being all indignant.’

‘Curse you for being right,’ Emma grumbled. ‘Anyway, they’ll live. I had to be sure to get the best players.’

‘But still...’ James said. ‘There were a lot of broken bones on the field today.’

‘And Madame Pomfrey will have them all healed up by evening,’ Emma finished for him.

‘Sometimes you scare me, you know,’ James shook his head.

‘Is that all you came for?’ his twin asked, locking her broomstick in the shed.

‘Nah,’ James replied, leaning against the wall. ‘I put the Slytherin common room on the Map, and I wanted to know if I got it right.’

‘Let’s see,’ Emma scanned the piece of parchment. ‘There’s a passage just outside our common room around here,’ she jabbed the map with a finger. ‘It leads to the lower dungeons. You’ve confused it with the one that leads to the seventh floor in the Entrance Hall. What else…Oh yeah, not exactly anything to do with this, but as a gesture of goodwill from one captain to another, I can show you where the Hufflepuff common room is.’

‘Well then as one captain to another, I’ll tell you that Madame Pomfrey has got Filch out looking for you. She can’t award detentions, but she told him you were the one responsible for the bloody trails in the corridors and he’s baying for blood,’ James grinned. ‘Pun intended.’

‘And when were you planning on telling me this?’

‘After we got to the Great Hall,’ he replied. ‘Aren’t I a nice brother?’

She raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. After all, were the roles reversed, she would have done the same thing.

***

 

In the Great Hall she ate ravenously, having missed all of breakfast and having flown nearly as much as the people trying out. Alecto looked on with amusement as she started on her eighth slice of chicken.

‘I was going to hand you my notes, but I think I’ll wait until your brother has stopped possessing your body,’ she joked.

Emma swallowed with difficulty. ‘Thanks for that by the way. I promise I’ll help you in Charms now.’

‘Gees thanks, my best subject,’ the redhead said sarcastically. ‘Considering I’ve been helping you all week, I think you doing my homework for a week is more fitting.’

‘The teachers would immediately recognise my writing,’ Emma pointed out. ‘I’ll do mine in advance and let you copy?’

‘Deal,’ Alecto grinned, handing over the sheet of paper.

Emma tapped Regulus on the shoulder on her way out, who quickly grabbed a handful of peppermint humbugs on his way out, popping one in his mouth. The only thing he had to say was: ‘Don’t you already let her copy your homework?’

‘Yeah, but never in Transfiguration,’ Emma replied.

‘Don’t you copy my essays in that class?’ asked Regulus.

‘I don’t copy,’ Emma replied haughtily. ‘I draw inspiration. Besides, you never let anyone copy your work, so I wanted to respect that.’

Regulus was touched, until he realised that Emma had just bargained away his work and not hers.

‘Until now,’ she added, making her way to a secluded spot near the Great Lake.

‘Right,’ she said, plonking herself down on the ground and unfolding a makeshift map of the Quidditch field. ‘I’m counting on you to help me choose our teammates.’

‘You mean I’m already on the team?’ Regulus feigned shock. ‘I thought we were only supposed to know this evening!’

‘Don’t be an idiot,’ Emma punched his arm. ‘Now, I had an idea...’

She took out her quill and crudely drew seven stick figures on broomsticks, enchanting them to fly in the direction she waved her wand.

‘Nice,’ Regulus sniggered. ‘Wait a minute.’ He took her quill and added a mass of squiggly hair to one of the players, and a round dot next to it. ‘That one’s you losing the Quaffle.’

‘Regulus! You're as bad as Rabastan; can't you see I’m trying to do this seriously?’ Emma complained.

‘Then you shouldn’t have been so bad at drawing,’ he laughed, but picked up a sheet of Alecto's scribbles. ‘Okay, this is for Chasers. I can’t believe you dropped that guy.’

‘Neither can I, really,’ Emma admitted. It had been a spur of the moment thing.

‘Well be careful. I heard Rabastan say that all he could talk about was how he always wanted a strong, independent woman.’

‘That kid has more problems than just a broken ankle,’ Emma shook her head. ‘Maybe I should have dropped him on his head.’

‘Maybe you should have,’ Regulus said not-quite-jokingly. She looked at him, but he had was already crossing the name off the list. ‘Anyway, I think you should keep Lucinda and Cassandra.’

‘So do I, but I thought you might say I was playing favourites.’

‘It’ll be our secret.’

They laughed, and Emma scrawled their names above two of the hovering players. As an afterthought, she added Regulus’s and her own as well.

‘I think it’s fairly obvious that you’ll be on the team,’ Regulus stated.

‘I was thinking of using a bigger version of this to show the plays I want us to do,’ she replied, scratching her head with her wand. Lucinda flew into the goalpost. ‘Whoops.’

‘Just as long as you don’t do that,’ he laughed. ‘Okay, so Keepers.’

‘Aha! This is what I wanted my map for,’ Emma said excitedly.

Regulus moved the Keeper with his wand as she moved her own little character. They put down the best saves, but also the ones that were most consistent in saving the most popular ways of trying to score. In the end, as Emma had suspected, they chose Barty Crouch. Regulus added a mop of yellow hair to the Keeper and wrote the name down.

‘Why do you have to have such beautiful handwriting?’ Emma complained. ‘I’m the girl here.’

‘Mother made me re-write each of my Christmas cards until they were perfect every year,’ Regulus grimaced. ‘You should see my brother’s -'

He stopped abruptly, his face darkening. Emma hurriedly pulled out the last roll of parchment. ‘So we still have the Beaters to choose from.’

Rabastan was put on the team, if only because he was taller and broader than any of the others, and third-year Anthony Nott was chosen too. He had a surprisingly large amount of strength behind that scrawny arm of his. Emma carefully copied out all of their names in large handwriting on a separate scroll.

‘Right, that’s sorted!’ she finished with her signature. ‘Now I just need to post this.’

‘Well I’ll be off then,’ Regulus got up.

‘What? Why?’

‘You wanted me to help you with the Quidditch team, right?’ Regulus asked. ‘Well it’s done.’

‘Oh come on, Regulus. I never see you anymore.’

‘You saw me all morning!’

‘You know that’s not what I mean,’ Emma huffed, frustrated. ‘Come on, I’m not going to talk to you about that. Even an idiot could tell you don’t want to.’

‘Maybe we should ask Helen then,’ Regulus joked, but stayed where he was. ‘What do you even want to do?’

‘I don’t know…Skip stones?’ she suggested randomly, spotting a couple of flat pebbles.

‘If that’s your idea of fun, then you do need me around,’ Regulus relented. ‘But let’s go back to the castle, it’s getting chilly out here.’

Scottish weather, Emma grumbled to herself. Barely five in the afternoon and we already need coats in September.

In the end, they decided to visit the Hospital Wing. Emma hid her surprise at just how many people from the Quidditch tryouts had ended up in there: there were at least fifteen Slytherins groaning in their beds.

‘Maybe this is a bad idea,’ she muttered. They didn’t know anyone besides Barty Crouch in here. She was trying to slink discreetly back out when a hand grabbed the back of her robes.

‘And just where do you think you’re going, Miss Potter?’ Madame Pomfrey said firmly.

‘Nowhere.’

‘That’s what I thought. Never have I seen so many students with Quidditch injuries in my care at once! And for tryouts?’

‘Quidditch is a rough sport, Madame Pomfrey.’

‘Rough enough without you adding to it! I don’t want this happening again, do I make myself clear? Now be off with you!’

‘Yes, Madame Pomfrey,’ Emma replied dutifully, privately adding, besides, there are only seven players in a Quidditch team.

Chapter Text

'Hey Emma, tough luck against Gryffindor. Better luck next time, hey?'

Emma looked up from the textbook she was studying. Her cousin Lou was standing there with a stack of books in her arms. She plonked them down on the table next to Emma. The others barely looked up. It wasn't uncommon for people of different Houses to study together.

'Thanks,' Emma replied. 'Though it goes to show just how atrociously we played. We caught the Snitch, but lost by over fifty points.'

'I was wondering if you could do me a favour?'

Emma waited.

'In private,' Lou added, looking at the other Slytherins.

'I was done anyway,' Lucinda said tactfully, sloping off. At a glance from Emma, Alecto, Sophie and Helen reluctantly left too, and the cousins were alone in the library.

'I need some help,' Lou swung her legs over the bench, opening several of her books.

'You're in the year above me,' Emma pointed out. 'And top of the class.'

'But I need another person to help me with this Charm. More specifically, you.'

Lou dug around in her bag and produced a miniature motorcycle. At least Emma thought it was a motorcycle. It had two large wheels and a visibly powerful motor that revved as soon as you touched its tiny handlebars. Maybe it was a bicycle. I need to revise my Muggle Studies, she realised with an inward groan.

'What's it for?'

'Sirius,' her French cousin said apprehensively.

'I guessed,' Emma snorted. Her cousin and Sirius had been "officially" dating since the first week of class. So much for "just friends", she thought to herself, remembering their game of cat and mouse from the year before. 'What's the spell?'

'I need it to detect hidden objects,' Lou explained. 'The problem is that it's a two-man spell, and I don't know anyone else who can cast it as well as you. I want it to last.'

'Flattery won't make me agree, you know,' Emma warned her.

'What?' Lou looked dismayed. 'I thought you loved casting challenging spells.'

'Not when it comes to Sirius Black,' Emma replied darkly.

'Come on Ems, give him some slack. He got kicked out of his home.'

'First of all, he left,' Emma corrected. 'And second: he seems to have made himself pretty cosy in mine.'

'So what, you don't like sharing James? Honestly, you two can be so selfish sometimes...'

'What's that supposed to mean?' the Slytherin asked hotly.

'It means that my aunt and uncle, though very sweet, spoiled you a bit. I love you to bits, but you can be self-centred sometimes,' her cousin blushed a little, but looked resolute.

'Me? Sirius has been poisoning my dad against since the day he arrived at our house! Did you know he burnt all my letters?'

'Was it really because of Sirius? From your letters, it sounded to me like you and Uncle Charles were already not getting along,' Lou said sympathetically. 'Besides, his family all but ignored his seventeenth birthday. He's got no one, and you still have your mum, James and me.'

'Fine,' Emma conceded. 'But don't you dare say I helped. I don't want anyone to know.'

'Mum are you okay?' James asked worriedly.

They were back for the Christmas holidays and Natalie Potter had just created giant slugs in the fireplace instead of lighting it. She had been complaining of a headache all day, and had accidentally animated the doorknob when Lou had arrived earlier that afternoon, much to the latter's amusement.

'Oh,' she said yawning. 'Sorry, I'm just tired. I think I might take a nap before dinner if you kids don't mind.'

'Not at all,' Sirius replied. 'We'll take care of the Christmas decorations. I'm actually looking forward to it!'

'Thank you dears,' she said, absentmindedly patting Sirius's head. A bemused expression appeared on his face.

'Incendio!' Emma waved her wand at the fire as soon as her mother left. There was a loud hiss and several popping sounds.

'Couldn't you have vanished the slugs first?' Sirius asked derisively. 'Besides, you're not allowed to use under-age magic.'

'Never stopped you,' she muttered in retaliation. Sirius had been turning his nose up at underage magic all holiday now.

'Guys, please!' Lou said, massaging her temples. 'Can't you leave it for one night?'

They quietened, fixing baubles into place the non-magical way.

'Found them!' Charles Potter announced, coming down from the attic with several cobwebs attached to him.

'Shhh! Mum's sleeping,' James said quickly. 'We think she's got the flu or something.'

'A little Pepper-up potion should fix that up,' Charles said, checking his wizarding watch. 'Emma, Sirius, would you two run down to the village and fetch some from the apothecary? If you hurry you'll make it before closing time. James, you can give me a hand in fixing these to the wall.'

'Wouldn't Sirius have been a better option? He can do magic legally now, you know,' James said, holding a stocking into place as Charles searched for a hammer.

'Some things are nicer without magic,' Charles pronounced. 'These will be hung up with love. Besides, I wanted to talk to you about Sirius.'

'Whatever you think he did, it was probably me!' James defended Sirius immediately. 'He loves it here, don't send him away.'

'What? What are you on about James? I'm talking about this,' he produced a red stocking with a black dog holding a candy cane in its mouth sewn on. As James watched, the dog bounded around happily, chasing its tail before going back to gnaw the cane. At the top bold letters etched in gold the word SIRIUS. 'You told me dogs were his favourite animal, do you think he'll like it?'

'I think he'll love it dad,' James said quietly.

***

 

'Have you even say one nice word to him these holidays?' James asked his twin as they brushed their teeth the next morning. Sirius was still in bed, snoring.

'Nope, and I don't plan to,' Emma replied. 'He's the one who attacked me, he can be the one to apologise.'

'You're so stubborn, you know that?'

'Get it from you, Jamesy-poo,' Emma sang.

Downstairs, her mother ushered her into the kitchen. 'Did you know Sirius turned seventeen in October?'

'Uh yeah mum. They paraded a banner with his head on it shouting "Happy Birthday Sirius" all day. It was hard to miss.'

'Did they really?' Natalie looked impressed. 'Listen, I heard that his family didn't even acknowledge his birthday this year. It seems that they were pretty serious about him not being their son anymore.'

'That's usually the case when you get disowned,' Emma said snarkily, before biting her tongue. 'His uncle Alphard gave him some money, I heard.'

'It's not quite the same though, is it?' her mother looked sad. 'I was thinking we could make a birthday breakfast this morning. Your father and I have grown quite fond of him, and we want to do something special.'

'That's a good idea,' Emma was serious. She might not like Sirius, but she didn't want him to suffer either.

'Well, I was going to ask you - since it's a special occasion - to help me make a chocolate fountain. You see I've made the cake, in the shape of a Gryffindor lion because he's so proud of not -' she paused.

'Of not following in his family's footsteps,' she said delicately. 'I've charmed a couple of candles to hover over the table in the shape of the number 17, and I thought we could dip the pieces of cake in the chocolate fountain instead of using icing. But when I made the fountain, I made it from my wand, so the wand is in the middle. I need you to cast the refilling Charm on it please. And Emma, let's keep this a secret.'

Emma laughed. It was so like her mother to become so animated that she didn't think things through. But as she flicked her wand over the fountain, she noticed the bags under Natalie's eyes.

'Did you drink the Pepper-up, Mum?' she asked.

'Yes, but I think it isn't working as well as it should. Or maybe I'm working too much in my old age. In either case, I think I might take another one after breakfast.' She saw Emma's face. 'Not to worry dear, I'm sure I'll be fine.'

When Sirius walked down the stairs, he didn't understand what was happening at first. 'What's all this? Celebrating seventeen Christmases at Godric's Hollow? Bit early, isn't it?'

'No you dingbat,' James pushed him towards his seat - the one piled high with presents. 'Happy belated birthday! We're your family now! Though technically you're an adult now.'

'But my birthday was two months ago,' Sirius said, bewildered.

'But we missed it!' Charles cried. 'Now open your presents!'

'My… You shouldn't have!'

'We wanted to,' Natalie said warmly.

'You've already had mine!' James nudged him. Sirius's new motorbike was currently residing in the garage.

Sirius opened the first package, which was of course a gold watch, as was custom. He grinned and thanked the Potters profusely, fastening it on his wrist, though they all knew he already had one upstairs.

'It's always good to have a backup,' Charles explained.

The second package was a basket filled with little things: new robes, since he had grown too much; a box of sugar quills; some peppermint humbugs that suddenly reminded Emma that Regulus and Sirius were more alike than they thought; a Broomstick Servicing Kit, because he had run out of polish and several other useful items. Sirius opened the last parcel to reveal a miniature black motorcycle, which roared back and forth on his palm. He looked up at the Potter parents, clearly unsure of what to say.

'It's a variant on a Sneakerscope,' Lou said shyly. 'I didn't know how to use magic on one, so I just charmed a Muggle figurine to detect any hidden things. It'll light up and run over to the thing that's hidden. For example: James?'

James put the Invisibility Cloak on. The motorcycle changed to silver and rolled over towards James.

'I thought it'd be useful if you didn't want to be detected by using magic,' she explained.

'I hope you didn't do all of this at home young lady,' Charles said sternly. 'You're still under-age.'

'Of course not!' Lou replied. 'I got some help from…friends at school.'

'I think it's great,' Sirius grinned widely. He went to kiss her on the cheek, but seemed to think better of it, so they awkwardly hugged.

'Where's your present, Emma?' Charles asked.

'Oh she didn't have to -' Sirius was cut off by Emma.

'I didn't get him one,' she said flatly.

She knew it would cause trouble, but she couldn't help it, seized with the same wild recklessness that had taken hold of her when announcing she was in Slytherin. Somehow, she didn't think this one would go down as well.

'Emma!' Natalie was shocked. 'Sirius is part of the family now.'

'Really it's okay,' Sirius blushed.'

'It most certainly is not!' Charles thundered. 'It's his seventeenth! How could you be so mean?'

'Sorry dad, but I wasn't going to give birthday presents to a person who tried to hex me in school,' Emma replied.

'I'm sure it was only a bit of fun...'

'No, he attacked me dad. I know that this might be a bit hard to believe but...'

'Is this true?' Natalie asked Sirius.

'Well...' he shifted uncomfortably.

'Sirius!' the reprimand came to the seventeen-year-old. 'Why did you do that?'

'Because I...'

Sirius realised that the Potters wouldn't understand why he had tried to hex their daughter if he talked about his fears for Regulus. They were both looking at him worriedly, they had been so kind in taking him in…He didn't want to disappoint them. So he said something he wasn't proud of.

'She said that I was stealing her family away from her. I was just so upset, that I kind of just reacted. I'm sorry,' the apology was heartfelt. He felt bad for twisting Emma's words, especially when he knew how much they would hurt.

'Emma, is this true?' Natalie repeated her words. 'Did you really say such an awful thing to Sirius?'

'Well, yes but it wasn't -'

'That's it! I've had it with you Emma,' Charles scolded. 'I've forgiven you time and time again, but to be so selfish -'

'Dad it's not like that! He tried to hex me because...' she realised that she would never be allowed to see Regulus, or most likely any of her friends, again if she told them the truth.

'Because what? Did you or did you not say those words to Sirius?'

'I did,' Emma said angrily. 'But only because -'

'Yes, but, yes, but,' her father repeated. 'I'm tired of your excuses.'

'But if you just let me speak!'

'You speaking is what got you into this mess. Go to your rooms, all of you. Emma your mother and I will deal with you later.'

'Ems,' James started, as they were going up the stairs.

'You can't fix this, James,' she muttered, fighting back tears.

Back in Emma's room, she told Lou the whole story. She left out what Regulus had said to his brother about their father. That was private. Lou was a good audience: oohing and aahing in all of the right places, but when the tale was over, she was quiet for a while.

'I agree that he shouldn't have used that against you, especially since he threw it at you first,' she said slowly. 'But I mean, you've got to see Sirius's point of view here. He's been kicked out of his home, and the only people he could turn to were James and your parents. It's natural instinct, self preservation.'

'I don't have to do anything,' Emma replied, mouth set into a line. Even she's turned against me now, she thought mournfully. 'What about my point of view?'

'Come on Ems, your parents love you. This'll blow over in a couple of days, you'll see,' Lou replied confidently.

Emma wasn't so sure.

The next day, Sirius found Emma outside, throwing snowballs at the wall of the house with a petulant expression. She had been grounded and "punished as seen fit" until the end of the holidays.

'Hi,' he said.

She glanced over, then rolled up another snowball. It sailed across the garden and hit the wall with a satisfying splat.

'Look, James said I should probably apologise,' he scratched the back of his head. 'It's easy to forget that you're...'

Emma turned to look at him darkly. 'That I'm what.'

'It's not easy for you either. I just keep assuming you're the same as James.'

'Well I'm not,' she said flatly. This time the snowball hit the Wiggen tree growing next to the house. Emma dodged as the Bowtruckle threw it back. 'Is that all you had to say?'

'What did I do wrong this time?' Sirius asked heatedly.

'James is the one that made you say sorry, which by the way you haven't actually done,' Emma replied, attacking the Bowtruckle again. It had gotten used to being roped into the twins' mischief, so never did any damage.

'You're impossible,' Sirius sighed, as a stray snowball missed him by a hair's breadth. 'I know you helped Lou with my birthday present, so why even start the argument?'

'I only told her the spells,' Emma argued. 'Besides, it's your fault I'm grounded. Don't try to shift the blame.'

Just then James's head popped out of the window. 'Ems! Can you come in here for a sec?'

As she walked past Sirius, she dropped the snowball in his hand.

'Have fun with the Bowtruckle.'

The next snowball hit Sirius in the face.

***

 

'What's up?' Emma asked her brother.

'This was delivered with you,' James handed her a letter and parcel. 'You're lucky that I saw the owl before dad.'

'Thanks' Emma said, unrolling the parchment.

Dear Emma,
Merry Christmas! I told Wronski to stay until you wrote back, that way I would be sure that you received it this time. I've included your Christmas present, don't open it until the day! I'll know if you didn't! I hope you're having a great holiday, mine is oddly calm now that Sirius is gone. It's almost like a proper family - well, with Dad and Kreacher in any case. I'm hoping to surprise him with a new den; he never cleans out the old one even though he keeps the house spotless. That's part of the problem actually, but seeing as he's making Christmas dinner, I've gathered together all of the things and stuffed them under my bed (I know, not very inventive) and I'll sort it out on the day.
Rabastan is having a New Year Eve party at his house - there'll be Bellatrix, but who cares? Maybe she'll be in a good mood. Who am I kidding? - but he wants to know, and I want to know if you'll be able to come. Everyone's going to be there, but it wouldn't be the same without you.
My parents say hello, they've really taken to you, though you hardly saw them at Easter. Maybe it's just because you're everything my failure of a brother was not. Wish James a happy Christmas from me too.
Write soon,
Regulus

'Who's it from?' James asked, peering over her shoulder. 'Bit sentimental for Black isn't it? Tell him I say Merry Christmas too, anyway.'

'James!' Emma reprimanded. 'Didn't your mother tell you it was rude to read other people's letters? And I wish you would stop calling him by his surname, it's weird. I call Sirius, Sirius, don't I?'

'Sorry, it's a nasty habit I picked up from my sister,' he grinned. 'Sirius is different, he's like your second brother!'

'Trust me when I say I'd prefer Regulus,' she muttered. Sirius was a topic of conversation that James just didn't understand.

'Ooooh,' James leered, immediately twisted her words. 'Maybe I should come to this party, tell him you fancy him.'

'Shut up James,' Emma pushed his face away. 'You know it's not like that.'

'Who do you fancy then?' James slumped on the sofa. 'Hope it's not that Wilkes, I made it pretty clear you weren't into him.'

'You what?' Emma asked, laughing. 'But no, definitely not Wilkes.'

'Okay, but there must be someone! I told you all about Lilyflower,' James pouted.

'That's true,' Emma conceded, neglecting to mention that he told everyone about Lilyflower. She tucked the parcel into her jacket. 'Okay if I tell you, you can't mention it to anyone! Not even Sirius - especially not Sirius!'

She motioned her twin forwards, and whispered in his ear. 'It's Severus.'

'Snivellus!' James withdrew with a look of horror. 'Why would anyone like Snivellus?'

'His long locks of greasy hair,' Sirius swooned as he came through the doorway.

'His handsomely hooked nose,' Emma rejoined. If he was going to stay, then she might as well try to not ignore him. Especially since she didn't like seeing her brother so worried.

'His sparkling personality.'

'His razor-sharp wit.'

'Everything about the ugly git,' Sirius finished with an uncertain smile at Emma.

Her own face gave nothing away. Her whole mind was screaming to get into another argument, but she knew that it wasn't worth the disappointed look on James's face.

'Fine, fine, I get it,' James threw his hands up in the air. 'But there must be someone you find attractive. Come on Ems, we're sixteen and you've never once mentioned a single boy to me.'

'Oh yes, I did mention one Bertram Aubrey to you in fourth year,' Emma corrected him, pursing her mouth at the memory. 'And as luck would have it, he came down with a case of balloon-headedness right before we were supposed to go to Hogsmeade!'

'Classic,' Sirius high-fived James.

'I always did think he was big-headed for thinking he was good enough for my sister,' James joked.

'What did he say to you? Don't worry, you go on a-head?' Sirius roared with laughter.

'Was the date too great for him to face?'

'What are you three on about?' Natalie Potter appeared in the doorway.

'Oh just talking about Bertram Aubrey's inflated ego,' James sniggered.

Their mother shook her head, but was secretly pleased. From what she had seen, Sirius was fast becoming part of the family.

***

 

'Wake up Ems! Wake up!' James was jumping on her bed. 'It's Christmas!'

'What?' Emma yawned. 'It's seven o'clock, James!'

'But it's Christmas!' James reminded her, as if she was missing the point. 'Mum and Dad said we can't do presents until everyone's dressed and downstairs!'

Emma groaned. She had been planning on getting Charles in a good mood so he would agree to let her go to the New Year's party. Getting up this early was definitely not what she had in mind.

An hour and a half later, they were nursing cups of tea in the living room, a fire crackling merrily in the hearth. Emma privately thought that it was worth getting up so early just to see Sirius's perfect hair look as mussed up as the twins. She wondered if there was a way to discreetly take a photo to blackmail him. They had silently declared an uneasy truce again, at least at home. It was mostly thanks to Lou, who had told them both that they were being selfish, ruining Christmas, and that she would leave if they didn't sort it out.

Sirius and James had both given each other keys for new motorcycles (joint birthday and Christmas presents), which their parents weren't too happy about, but conceded once the boys promised to take Muggle driving classes. Emma had given Sirius some rock-fudge that would literally break your teeth if you tried to eat it without heating it up first, but she got James a broom compass, since he broke his old one. She had bought her parents - at their request - a large duffel bag filled with Honeydukes sweets, and they had great fun playing chocolate charades: each chocolate had a different effect on you. From James she had also received a broom compass, sometimes it was scary how alike they thought. Her parents had gotten her a new cauldron and she got some non-stick-fudge from Sirius that wasn't quite as hard as his own. She refused to feel guilty.

Suddenly she remembered Regulus's gift and made an excuse to go upstairs. Wronski was still sitting next to her unfinished letter. She fed the owl a piece of Sirius's fudge - just to make sure it wasn't cursed - and dug around in her jacket pocket for the little parcel. I did wait, so there, she stuck her tongue out at the package. It was purple - her favourite colour - tied with a green ribbon. She carefully undid it, so as to keep the wrapping paper, and a little round object rolled out. A Snitch?

She turned it around in her hand. There was a little note attached.

You may be wondering why on earth I'm giving you a Snitch when you're a Chaser. The truth is, I stole it after the match. It's the first Snitch I caught for you, and every captain should remember their first win! (Though technically we lost that first match...) Actually if I'm honest, it's also an incentive for you to come to the party: if you do, bring this and you'll get the second part of the present. R.A.B.

Dear Regulus, she wrote back.
Merry Christmas!
When I got your letter, I was having a perfectly nice holiday... Until your idiot of a brother ruined it. I don't want to get into it, suffice it to say that I am now on "house-elf duty" in order to teach me about compassion. Basically, whenever anyone needs something done, I'm the one to do it. Without magic of course. Needless to say, I am currently grounded so my chances of appearing at the party are slim. Unless…Does Rabastan know how to Apparate? His birthday was in September, so technically he could, but we haven't even started the Apparition courses yet! If he does, tell him to arrive at exactly 10 o'clock on the 31st in Godric's Hollow. There should be photos on any map. After that, he can just ask around: our house is easy to find!
Other than that, thanks for the cryptic present (note the sarcasm). I'll give you yours at the party, or at Hogwarts. I think my dad has continued the "interception of Emma's mail". James caught yours before he did (ps. he says Merry Christmas back), and your owl has been nibbling my finger every time I feed him. I think he misses you (poor bird). Glad to hear that things have calmed down in the House of Black!
See you soon
Emma

Chapter Text

New Year's Eve (Breaking Point)

 

‘Have fun guys!’ Natalie Potter yelled down the stairs.

James, Sirius and Lou were going to Marlene McKinnon’s New Year’s party, and Emma was stuck doing the dishes.   

‘Bye Cinderella,’ Sirius grinned on their way out.

‘Who the hell is Cinderella?’ Emma asked crossly. Sirius’s guilt seemed to have dissipated over the holidays, much to Emma's disgust. And I was all prepared to forgive him after that snowball fight...Well, pretend to forgive him at least.

‘Muggle fairy tale: Cinderella gets stuck cleaning the house while her stepsisters go to the ball,’ Sirius explained. ‘She’s called Cinderella because of the ash and soot that gets stuck all over her.’

‘Don’t worry Ems, she has a fairy godmother that helps her get to the ball in the end,’ Lou called. 'Stop it, Sirius.'

‘Don’t forget to clean the fireplace Cindy,’ Sirius smirked, waving his wand and knocking over the fireplace. ‘Oops.’

‘Now would be a good time for that fairy godmother to kick Sirius’s smug ass,’ Emma muttered as James side-along Apparated with Lou.

‘You called?’ Avery appeared at the kitchen window minutes later.

Emma grinned. The ex-Slytherin was a sight for sore eyes. She rose a finger to her lips, and snuck out of the back door, wiping her soapy hands on her way out.

‘What are you doing here? I thought Rabastan was coming.’

Avery wasn't exactly what she had pegged for a party type and he didn't have Rabastan's humour that could lift anyone's spirit, but right now any non-Sirius who could get her out of the house was an angel in Emma's eyes.

‘Just can’t seem to keep away from you,’ he said cockily. He seemed to be in good spirits. ‘Besides, Rabastan can’t Apparate, he failed the test. Nice house, by the way. Why the need for Apparation and not Floo then?’

‘I didn’t get Sirius a birthday present, so they locked me up,’ she said in a deadpan voice.

‘Nice,’ he smirked, then went serious. ‘Wait, why are they punishing you? He’s a blood traitor. Besides, aren’t they your family, not his?’

‘Good question,’ Emma said. ‘I’ll be right back.’

‘What?’ he asked, but she had already disappeared inside.

She surveyed the mess Sirius had made, the table that still needed wiping, the mound of unwashed pots and pans that wouldn't have space on the drying rack anyway.

‘Screw it,’ she mumbled, taking out her wand and waving the dishes and fireplace clean. Then she ran up the stairs to her parents’ room, where they were reading.

‘I’ve done the last of my chores,’ she said breathlessly.

Her mother lay down her magazine and looked up. ‘Oh?’

‘I’ve done everything you’ve asked me to for the past week and a half. Can I pleeeaase go out to the New Year’s party now?’ she asked.

‘Well you have been very good,’ her father smiled. ‘But I thought you weren’t even friends with Marlene? You’ve never mentioned her before.’

‘No, I’m talking about Rabastan’s.’

‘Rabastan…The Lestrange boy?’ Charles’s expression darkened. ‘I’ve heard a lot about that kid, and none of it good.’

‘And I bet you’ve heard it all from Sirius,’ she rejoined. ‘What did he say?’

‘That the Lestranges have a dark sense of humour. Learning Dark Magic, using hexes on poor students in the corridors -‘

‘Oh please Dad,’ Emma said heatedly. ‘James and Sirius do that all the time, and you never say a word.’

‘But that’s different,’ Natalie said reasonably. ‘James and Sirius are just playing.’

‘How is it different? How is Rabastan hexing someone different from Sirius doing it?’

‘Because Sirius is a Gryffin-' her father stopped as he realised what he was saying.

‘So it’s back to this is it?’ Emma shook her head. ‘I can’t believe it. Sirius is a Gryffindor, so he must be good. Rabastan is a Slytherin so he must be evil.’ A sudden realisation dawned on her. ‘Is that why you punished me and not Sirius this holiday? I’m a Slytherin so I must be a liar?’

‘Emma, we’ve been through this already. You provoked him,’ her mother sighed.

‘He said the same thing to me before!’

‘Don’t be childish now, Emma,’ Charles warned. ‘Listen to me -'

‘No you listen, Dad! Sirius hexed me because he thought I was pushing his brother to become a Death Eater. Happy now?’ she was shouting now.

‘Sirius wouldn’t do that,’ her father immediately said. There was a second of silence. ‘Was it true?’

‘The fact that you would even ask!’ Emma yelled indignantly, not caring that her sentence didn't make sense. ‘Besides, isn’t what I said true? Don’t you wish that you had Sirius as a son, and not me as a daughter? Answer honestly, Dad.’

There was another silence. ‘Of course not,’ Charles repeated, but he looked away.

‘That’s all I needed to know,’ Emma choked out, but not what I was expecting. ‘Tell me when I'm worthy of this family again.'

She ran into her room and slammed the door, taking deep breaths as she looked around her room. She heard raised voices as she quickly threw off her jeans and socks, replacing them with party clothes. After a moment’s thought, she put her old clothes in her trunk, shoving a couple of books in too. Everything else was at Hogwarts, except…She grabbed the photo of James and herself, laughing at the camera in their school robes and broomsticks.

For a second, she sat down, staring at the photo. It was of them after they had made the tryouts. Her hair had been shoulder-length and her brother had also been trying out long hair, after Lily Evans complimenting Sirius on his hair. She traced their smiles with her finger. Everything had been much easier then. There had been no war, no factions, no sides to choose. Just her and James against the world and their parents encouraging them from the background. Even Charles hadn't seemed to mind her green robes that day, though Emma noticed that she was clutching her locket as James bounced up and down. She touched the same locket, heavy around her neck, maybe they’ve just forgotten for a bit. Maybe they need to be reminded of life without me.

She was just about to climb out of the window when there was a pitiful meowing. Fluffy! She had brought her cat back for the holidays.

'Don't worry Fluffs,' she stroked the cat until she purred. 'James'll bring you back to me soon. I won't leave you. This isn't goodbye.'

At least I hope not.

***

 

Outside, Avery was waiting impatiently, tapping a foot against the patio tiles.

‘About time!’ he noticed the trunk. ‘What the hell?’

“They…uh…they...’ Emma realised that Avery was a Death Eater, and that her parents had shown that they were less than receptive to the Dark Lord’s methods. ‘Oh shit.’

‘They’re not going to help the cause are they?’ he asked in a low voice. He cast his eyes around, obviously thinking. ‘Right, any good at Occlumency?’

‘Not especially, why?’

‘I told you before that my family’s arse is on the line if yours turns out to be full of blood traitors. For now, they’re neutral, and a respectable pure-blood family. You need to keep it that way,’ he explained quickly. ‘If the Dark Lord was to find out...’

‘Right,’ Emma said, transfiguring the trunk so it would fit in her purse. No party goer would notice unless they were rootling around in there. ‘No going to the Carrows' then. Shit,’ she repeated.

‘You can’t come and stay with me either, our house is the meeting place for…you know,’ he glanced around, but no one was there. Even the house behind them was silent. ‘Is there anyone you know whose family aren’t Death Eaters, and who knows Occlumency?’

‘There’s one,’ she replied, thanking Merlin that his family would be the polar opposite of her own.

‘Emma!’ a shout came from indoors. 'Where are you?'

‘Better go!’

He pulled her next to him before she could protest, and suddenly Emma felt like she was being squeezed from all sides, unable to breathe. Everything swirled black, and when she could see again, everything was different. A wave of nausea overcame her, but she held herself very still, willing the feeling to go away. When she let go of her breath, she saw Avery giving her a calculated look.

‘Most people vomit their first time Apparating.’

‘Yeah well, I’m not most people,’ she replied slightly breathlessly, looking up at the large Victorian country house in front of her.

Now she knew why Rabastan was hosting the party: she didn't think there was a neighbour for miles. The grounds were perfectly well-kept, but no flowers graced the grass like at the Malfoys and it lacked the homeliness of her parents' vegetable plot and huge pond filled with water plants. Instead there were a couple of sleek black cars parked to the side, probably from the Ministry. Maybe there's a garden out back, she thought, staring at the huge wrought-iron double gates and surrounding fence. There were spikes on the top, maybe to deter intruders.

‘After you,’ Avery opened a side gate she hadn't spotted before with a short bow. Suddenly, she noticed that he was dressed very smartly. Obviously Rabastan's party was not only for Hogwarts students.

‘Stop looking up my skirt!’ Emma said crossly.

‘Well it is very short,’ he winked, but Emma was too busy taking a closer look at where her friend lived.

The Malfoy Manor might have been white and airy, but this seemed anything but. The balconies were what drew the eye at first. They seemed to exist for every room in the house. She wondered which was Rabastan's, whether it was in one of the turret-like sides, or one of the shuttered rooms under the chimney.

The path they walked on crunched with flint gravel under the moonlight. She imagined that was supposed to look dark and imposing, especially at night, but she found that it suited her present mood perfectly. It was easier to get angry than the alternative, but now she found herself laced with barely suppressed energy. It felt like it was taking all she had not to float adrift and besides, her parents had already proved that her best behaviour was in vain.

‘Ems! You made it!’ Rabastan yelled, coming out onto the path and shaking the frown she hadn't realised was forming on her face. When he saw her properly, he whistled. ‘Went full out for the party did you? Hey, Reg! You gotta see this.’

He grabbed Emma’s hand and pulled her inside. She tried to pull back, but his grip was too tight. The party was in full swing, empty cups and butterbeer bottles lay everywhere, there was confetti on the floor and the stereo was on full blast. Emma glanced back towards Avery, who blew her a kiss and put his finger to his lips. As if I needed reminding, she thought, as Rabastan weaved his way through the mass of dancing people until he found Regulus listening to Rodolphus Lestrange.

‘Reg! Emma’s here!’ Rabastan yelled to make himself heard.

The two boys turned around. Rodolphus looked Emma up and down with a lecherous grin on the side of his face, whereas Regulus just stared at Emma and Rabastan’s intertwined hands. Emma quickly pulled away self-consciously, rubbing at her palm.

‘Want to dance?’ Rodolphus asked.

‘I think she’ll want a drink before dancing with you,’ Regulus said coolly, motioning Emma towards the drinks table.

‘What?’ Rodolphus cupped a hand around his ear, but Regulus ignored him, expertly weaving his way through the crowd to the other side of the room.

‘Thanks Regulus,’ Emma said, pouring a cup of firewhisky. ‘I want to get drunk,’ she announced, downing the cup.

‘I can see that,’ he said, eyebrows raised, but he didn't ask her anything. The advantage of a friend who valued privacy. ‘James let you out dressed like that?’ He waved to her clothes.

She had a low-cut, short-skirted red dress on that hugged her figure. She had chosen it just to spite her father - though she knew he wouldn't see it, it gave her great pleasure to think he wouldn't approve.

‘It has sleeves,’ she pointed out coyly.

Regulus didn’t reply, or at least didn’t have the time to, because Alecto appeared a minute later.

‘Ems! You’re here! You’ll never guess what I have to tell you,’ she gushed. ‘Mind if I steal her Regulus? Thanks,’ she steered Emma towards the stairway, the latter grabbing the bottle of firewhisky on their way out. ‘So I have to tell you about Evan...’

Sitting on the winding stairwell, Emma listened to her friend gossip about her boyfriend, occasionally adding a comment or taking a swig of firewhisky here or there, until Rodolphus appeared again.

‘Care to dance?’ he asked Emma.

‘Why not,’ Emma said, even though he was at least six years her elder and had a wife.

She got up slightly unsteadily and followed him into the ballroom, vaguely impressed that the Lestranges had a ballroom in their house, though the manner of dancing was far from ball-like. She frowned slightly as he put his hands on her back. She took them off her. Obviously being drunk didn't remove her qualms about what Bellatrix Lestrange would think if she learnt about this.

‘Don’t you have a wife?’ she asked.

‘She’s not here,’ he replied, hands falling even lower.

‘But her cousin is,’ Regulus said, appearing out of nowhere as usual and pulling Emma away. ‘Come on Ems.’

Emma registered the use of a nickname instead of her full name, and deduced that Regulus must be drunk too. He led her into the kitchen, where the music wasn’t as loud.

‘There’s something I have to tell you,’ she remembered, sliding onto the kitchen countertop. Maybe she should ask Regulus if she could crash at his house instead of just appearing.

‘There’s something I need to tell you too,’ Regulus said nervously. Is Regulus - Regulus Black nervous? she asked herself. Merlin, I must be more drunk than I thought. ‘But you go first.’

‘I had a fight with my parents,’ she began, absently taking out her locket and fiddling with it.

Regulus just looked at her, waiting.

‘I don’t want to get into it, but basically they said that all Slytherins are basically Death Eaters (which for them is not a good thing) and they’d rather have Sirius as their child instead of me…So…I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind…if it’s okay with your parents…well, I’m not exactly welcome back there...’

‘Emma!’ Regulus said, putting a hand on her wrist. She flinched and stopped fiddling with her locket. Last year, when somebody held my wrist... Shooting her a concerned look, he gently untwisted the locket’s chain, making sure he didn't touch her skin. ‘Of course you can stay. My parents love you. And,’ he took a deep breath. ‘I think I -'

‘There you are!’ Rabastan burst through the door. ‘Come on, we’re playing "never have I ever", it’ll be fun! Who knows what freaky things people get up to. And everyone’s drunk, so they won’t even lie!’

Regulus glanced at Emma before backing out of the room. ‘Sure.’

‘Seriously dude, maybe we’ll get more info out of you than a couple of sentences.’

‘Maybe,’ he smirked, and they went into the living room. Yet another room in this endless house. 'But not likely.'

***

 

‘Whew, some game huh?’ Alecto grinned up at Emma. She could barely hold herself steady as Emma held her hair for her in one of the house's six bathrooms. Impressive, Rab, Emma had thought upon hearing that.

‘Come on, let’s get you some fresh air,’ she replied, casting Scourgify on her best friend. She had drunk for almost every question.

‘Yeah!’ Alecto punched a first in the air, and opened the toilet door.

‘Sorry,’ Emma told the girl who had been waiting for the past ten minutes. She rushed past pulling a boy into the loo after her and locked it. ‘Number 53: Never have I ever had sex in a toilet: check,’ she added sarcastically, but they didn't hear.

‘The stars are so pretty!’ Alecto said once they got outside. She span around, her dress flying up around her.

Emma opened her mouth to say something, but decided against it. Wasn’t she supposed to get drunk tonight? Somehow it seemed that she had sobered up. She sat on the patio steps where there were a couple of unfinished firewhisky bottles. Why not? She took a swig. It was quiet outside. Though there was a table outside, everyone seemed to be enjoying the music. It had started to give her a headache. She breathed in the fresh night air and tried to look at the stars Alecto was so happy about. They seemed cold and distant to her, though.

‘Hey Potter,’ Avery sat down next to her. ‘What are you doing?’

‘Babysitting,’ Emma replied flatly, motioning towards the dancing Alecto.

‘Want to be doing something more interesting?’

‘Go on,’ she said, anything to stop feeling so bored. What was the worst Alecto could do to herself, eat grass?

He got up, and proffered a hand. She took it, since her high heels were starting to ache, and they walked around to the side of the house. She was more drunk than she thought, the world started spinning as she got up. She blinked several times and wished for the high she had earlier in the evening.

‘So -' she started before his hand appeared on her cheek. She ground her teeth, I should take that off. She still couldn't stand physical contact from anyone but James. Alecto understood, but she was still off mumbling to herself.

‘You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do this,’ he said, and kissed her, sliding the other hand behind her back, pulling him towards him.

Why not? she thought, though it initially repulsed her and deepened the kiss against her body's wishes. Avery was the epitome of everything her parents hated. He was the stereotype of a Slytherin that she had fought so hard to be rid of. But what's the point? May as well live up to their expectations. It wasn't so bad, later, and they had been snogging for a couple of minutes when somebody cleared their throat.

‘Rabastan’s got the champagne out,’ Regulus said, his expression cold. Emma wondered if he still disliked Avery from the whole Malfoy Manor escapade, though it wasn't the older boy's fault. In fact, he had helped Emma, just as he was doing now. I need to explain things to him, she thought, but Regulus continued. ‘It’s almost midnight.’

‘Okay cool,’ Emma said, disentangling herself from Avery. Maybe later. ‘Oi, Alecto!’ she called, and her friend came skipping back. ‘Feel better?’

‘Oh yeah, thanks,’ Alecto smiled, looking less dizzy.

Inside, Rabastan and Rodolphus had popped the corks, champagne spraying out all over the room. They made their way around the room, filling goblets everywhere.

Sonorus!’ Rodolphus yelled, getting on top of a table. ‘Let’s start the countdown!’ Everyone cheered.

‘10...9...8...’ Emma looked around for Regulus. It was tradition for them to wish each other Happy New Year first, ever since that first year in the tent, when James had held out two red straws and two blue, saying that matching straws should kiss. Both pairs of siblings had ended up pulling the same straws, and the whole business was quietly forgotten.

‘7...6...5...’ She spotted him, locking lips with Lucinda Rosier. Good for her, she thought, but felt a twinge of jealousy at her stealing her best friend. They could hook up after midnight, couldn’t they?

‘4...3...2...’ ‘Got no one to kiss, Ems?’ Rabastan asked, and since she couldn’t spot Avery, Emma shrugged. He told her she was too pretty tonight to be stood up, and told her he’d be glad to do the honours. She laughed, but permitted him to draw nearer, closing her eyes.

‘1…’ Suddenly Rabastan was pushed aside. ‘Happy New Year,’ Regulus said, and without thinking Emma threw her arms around him and kissed him. For a second, he returned it, but then gently drew back.

‘You’re drunk Ems,’ Regulus said softly.

‘Happy New Year! I’m not drunk. Well maybe a little. And besides, you're just as drunk as I am. But don't worry, it was a thank you kiss,’ she smiled at him a bit wildly, wanting to tell him just how much she owed him for taking her in. ‘For being the best friend. Like James. Just like James.’ She frowned, thinking of her brother. What would he think of me now? The thought was sobering, and she remembered their kitchen conversation from earlier that night. ‘What did you want to tell me, before?’

‘Oh, nothing,’ he brushed her off. Emma opened her mouth to insist, but Lucinda appeared next to him.

‘Regulus,’ she said in a meaningful tone.

‘Make sure she doesn’t do anything she’ll regret, or James will kill me,’ Regulus told Rabastan, who saluted.

Regulus followed Lucinda up the stairs with Emma and Rabastan staring at them until they were out of sight. He had never been so... blatant... before.

‘Well,’ Rabastan said. ‘I don’t really fancy being impaled on the train-ride back, so I’ll just go and talk to Lucy Vane. She’s making those eyes at me, know what I mean?’ Emma laughed. Trust Rabastan to be Rabastan.

‘Oi, Ems!’ Alecto yelled. She looked around and the red-head patted the sofa, and Emma flopped down next to her, shaking thoughts of boys out of her mind. ‘What a night, hey? Want to start drinking and dancing all over again? What time do you have to get back?’

‘Oh you know,’ Emma replied, taking her locket out. ‘No time soon.'

Chapter Text

Occlumency

 

‘Emma! Emma!’

‘What?’ she asked blearily, shielding her eyes from the light.

‘We should get going,’ Regulus's face slowly came into view. ‘I told Mother I’d be back by lunch, and if you’re coming too, well…Let’s not tempt fate, okay?’

‘Oh Merlin, my head,’ Emma groaned as she sat up.

Saying that the room was a mess would be an understatement. Bottles and cups were lying around, spills were everywhere, and Emma could have sworn that there was vomit on the wall. Several people were comatose on the floor, Alecto was still lying on the sofa, an arm casually wrapped around Emma. She pushed it off gently, picking her way towards the hall. Meanwhile, Regulus looked as presentable as ever, dressed casually but smartly in a shirt and jeans. She tried to picture him with bed hair or odd socks and failed, giggling slightly as she thought of Sirius on Christmas morning and then feeling guilty about it. Then she looked in the mirror.

‘Merlin, I’m a mess,’ she lifted her eyes to the ceiling upon seeing the black smears around her eyes and cheeks.

Thankfully she hadn’t put any lipstick on, but her hair looked more like James’s than ever, i.e. a bird’s nest. She quickly checked for both earrings and her locket: all there. Her eyes were red and puffy, probably from her rude awakening, and her dress was slightly askew. As she rightened it, she realised that her feet were bare, she must have kicked off her shoes whilst dancing, but they were slightly muddy, and she had no explanation for that.

‘I think you still look beautiful,’ Regulus smiled at Emma, pulling a leaf out of her hair.

‘Is that a requirement to say to a girl with a hangover?’ she teased, and he smirked, an almost guilty look on his face. ‘There’s no way your parents are going to see me like this.’

‘Rabastan probably wouldn’t mind if you borrowed a towel,’ he suggested. ‘And there must be Pepper-up Potions somewhere.’

‘Somewhere?’ Emma snorted. ‘I know you were drunk too, there’s no way you’d be able to look so put-together if you hadn’t had one.’

‘Fine, I’ll stick some in some tea, and you can drink it on the way back,’ he said. ‘We’re getting the train. My parents disconnected the Floo in case Sirius tried to come back and steal something.’ He shook his head in disbelief.

***

 

After her shower, Emma felt much better. She wiped off the smudged makeup, and found a ribbon to tie her hair with, though whose she couldn't say. She rootled through her purse, but couldn’t remember how to transfigure her trunk back with her throbbing head. The only spells she could think of were Lumos and the Jelly-Legs Jinx. Good going, Ems.

‘Um, Regulus?’ she tried to quietly call down the stairs, wrapping a towel around herself. Unsurprisingly, there was no reply.

She didn’t really want to go back into the kitchen, but the bathroom was on the second floor, and she didn’t think he would hear. She sighed, and began quietly making her way down the stairs, thanking Merlin that no one would be up at 9am.

‘Well hello, Miss Potter,’ Avery smirked, opening the front door as she was on the third to last step. She cursed the fact that the Lestranges' staircase was in the hallway. ‘Not every day you get greeted by a girl in a towel.’

‘Hi,’ she said, though her heart was pounding. He looked scarier in the daylight, or maybe it was just the nakedness talking. Or the lack of drunkenness. ‘What are you doing here? I thought you left early...’

‘I have business with Rodolphus,’ he said, the smirk not leaving his face as he drew closer, stepping up onto the stair next to her. He fingered the ribbon tying her hair. Too close. ‘Cute…Very schoolgirl of you.’

‘Oh,’ she stammered intelligibly , trying to ignore their proximity. What on earth was I thinking last night?

‘You know, I’ve given it some thought,’ he seemed to read her mind. Oh shit, does he know Legilimency as well as Occlumency? Impossible... ‘I think I deserve something for keeping quiet about your.…situation with your family. In their old age, who knows what would happen if they found themselves on the wrong side when the war’s over?’

‘You’re bluffing,’ she said more confidently than she felt, as he took another step nearer. Why did I leave my wand in the bathroom? What kind of witch am I? ‘Yours would go down too. And they haven’t done anything...’

‘Am I?'

She felt trapped, though all she needed to do was to walk down the stairs. They were surrounded by people and Regulus was fully awake only down the hall. If he tried something, she could scream, but she seemed to lose her voice as he put a hand on her arm.

‘Emma?’ Regulus's disembodied voice asked. Her eyes flickered to the kitchen door opening and he walked towards the stairs. ‘Do you want milk or - what the hell are you wearing?’ he asked, voice fading and eyes drawn downwards.

Emma’s hands flew to her chest, though the towel was doing a better job of covering her up. She would have laughed at her ability to shock her friend if Avery wasn’t standing less than a foot in front of her. Regulus seemed to notice him for the first time. A single glance to the girl's face was all it took to make his school-mask - as Emma had dubbed it - appear on his face.

‘I should probably tell you that my cousin Bellatrix has taken a liking to Emma,’ he said coldly to the older boy.

‘I should probably tell you that I have also taken a liking to her,’ Avery smirked. This was the action of the rigorous Quidditch captain and sadistic man that they had known in his last school year. Emma wondered why he had been so different the night before. Or maybe it was me who was different. ‘And judging from last night, Potter seems to have taken a liking to me.’

But he carried on up the stairs anyway. Emma let out a shaky breath when he disappeared from view. Her breath came out in short bursts, but she tried not to let Regulus see. How was it that they managed to keep their cool? She felt distinctly un-Slytherin-like in that moment. Resourcefulness, cunning... maybe my parents were right to be disappointed in me. I'm a disgrace to my House.

‘What were you thinking?’ he asked.

‘I - I need your help with my clothes,’ she said, banishing her thoughts and blushing at how the phrasing sounded. He raised his eyebrows, but followed her up the stairs in silence, glad of the change of topic.

‘So,’ Regulus said, eyes flickering down before he made an effort to look at her face. His cheeks reddened slightly.

Emma didn’t think she’d ever seen him so embarrassed.

‘I transfigured my trunk into my purse, but I don’t think I feel up to doing any spells yet,’ she explained, as he seemed extremely interested in the purse.

‘Right,’ he drew his wand and reversed the spell. ‘I’ll just, you know, wait outside, if you need me.’

He all but fled, shutting the door behind him. Emma giggled to herself as she dressed more parent-appropriately. She already felt better clothed. Less vulnerable and more like her. More prepared. She made sure to put her most conservative jumper on, in case Avery came back down.

‘I'm decent again,’ she said, emerging from the bathroom.

‘Right,’ Regulus said, appearing to gather his wits. ‘Tea.’

***

 

‘Flowers?’ Regulus asked, as Emma got into the taxi.

She had made him stop the taxi as they drove near a park: partly because she felt carsick, but there was another reason too. She had carefully selected a bouquet of fresh orchids for Mrs Black, since she hadn't brought a gift. Her parents' lesson on being polite, at least, hadn't fallen on deaf ears.

‘Yeah, I thought your mum would like them,’ she replied, buckling her seat belt on.

‘Grimmauld Place, please,’ Regulus told the driver, who nodded in return.

When they pulled up, Regulus pulled out some Muggle money and handed it to the driver, whose eyes widened. ‘Will you be wanting change for that?’

‘Nah, keep it,’ Regulus said distractedly, as though the Muggle was a bothersome fly.

‘How much was it?’ Emma asked interestedly.

‘No idea,’ Regulus replied, shrugging. ‘I just got it for a Galleon in Knockturn Alley.’

‘Fair enough,’ Emma squinted at the appearing house. ‘What if they don’t want me?’

‘Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Come on.’

Emma ran her fingers through her hair one last time, making sure it was tidy, and took a deep breath. You’ve got this, she told herself. If there’s one thing you’re good at, it’s talking to people. Just don’t be nervous. But the voice in the back of her head whispered that she hadn't managed to talk herself out of that supply closet. It's not like the Yule Ball. But there could have been a repeat of the Yule Ball if Regulus hadn't walked into the corridor...

‘Emma, what a lovely surprise!’ Orion Black said, shaking her hand in the entrance. ‘Let Kreacher get your coat for you.’

‘Thanks,’ she said shyly, giving her coat to the house-elf, who beamed at her in return.

‘Manners, Kreacher!’ Orion warned.

Kreacher bowed. ‘So good to see Mistress Emma again, so good indeed, such noble blood and such a good friend of Master Regulus. Master Regulus even says that -'

‘Here’s my coat Kreacher,’ Regulus said louder than usual, and Kreacher vanished with a crack. ‘House-elves.’

‘Walburga? Walburga dear, Emma Potter’s here,’ Orion called up the stairs.

‘Oh really?’ Regulus’s beautiful mother came gliding down the stairs. ‘Oh hello, Emma, it really is delightful to see you again.’ She embraced her and Emma’s eyes watered from the perfume. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘I -' Emma started, but Regulus surprised her by interrupting.

‘She couldn’t stand living with Sirius, Mother,’ he said quickly. ‘You know how that is...’

‘I thought I said that name was forbidden in this house,’ Orion said sharply with a glance towards his wife. ‘You know how upset your mother gets.’

‘It’s quite alright Orion,’ Walburga waved him away, before taking Emma’s hands in her own. ‘You come with me dear, you can sleep in one of the guest bedrooms on the second floor. Kreacher?’

‘How can I serve Mistress?’ Kreacher bowed until his nose scraped the floor.

‘Make up the bed in the Tulip guest bedroom would you? And take Emma’s trunk up,’ she ordered, turning to Emma. ‘Oh you poor dear, don’t worry, the Tulip room is quite airy, and it has a view of the garden, which is quite nice, isn’t it dear?’

‘Oh yes,’ Regulus said, shooting an amused look at Emma. “Tulip room?” she mouthed back. He started to laugh, but smoothed his features when his mother turned around.

‘Why didn’t you tell us that Sirius was at the Potters’?’

‘I forgot,’ he said, averting his eyes.

It seemed like Regulus hadn't given up on his brother after all. Or maybe it marked the last shred of loyalty he had towards the person he grew up with. In any case Emma sensed that this was dangerous territory. She cast around for a distraction.

‘Would you mind showing me around? I seem to have forgotten which room is which.'

‘Of course,’ Regulus jumped at the excuse and held out an arm to escort her upstairs. Emma was strongly reminded of his tale of etiquette lessons during the boat ride on their first day of school. ‘If you would.’

Upstairs, they burst into smothered giggles. The room itself was perfectly fine: a normal guest room, but true to Mrs Black the surfaces held vases of Ever-blooming tulips. The curtains were also decorated with the flowers and there was a small plaque on the door that read the room name in curled handwriting.

‘Tulip room,’ Emma sighed, wiping tears from her eyes. ‘I love your mother.’

***

 

‘Are you ready?’ Regulus asked.

His parents were out for the evening and she had told him about her predicament with her parents and Avery. They were in the drawing room - the quietest room in the house, but also the emptiest. It was used only for Orion's guests from the Ministry and the walls had been soundproofed for the utmost discretion. Of course, Regulus's father locked it as a precaution, but true to his Slytherin nature the boy had found a way to circumvent this problem. The sitting room balcony wasn't too far from the drawing room's one. They couldn't have been outside for more than five minutes but Emma's cheeks had flushed pink from the cold. The drawing room was unusually warm, however, and she had flung her scarf over a piece of furniture upon entering. They now stood just far apart enough that if they stretched their arms, their fingers wouldn't quite touch. The distance was, apparently, a necessary requirement in learning Occlumency. It was also supposed to be easier standing.

‘I think so,’ Emma said, taking a slow breath and concentrating on, well, nothing. ‘Wait. How can you do Legilimency?’

‘Trick from cousin Bella,’ he smiled. ‘She’s not as mad now she has something to concentrate on. I’m not too good at it though, so if you manage it, it might still not be enough. I can teach you enough that we can get Bella to do the rest though.’

‘Okay, I’m ready.’

Legilimens,’ he said.

Images of her first year welled up: her father’s face falling when he realised she was in Slytherin, her mother not knowing what to say for the first time that Emma could remember, realising that when her parents said it didn’t matter it really did...

‘Stop, stop.’ she gasped, clutching her locket.

‘You need to stop that habit,’ Regulus told her. ‘It’ll show that it means something to you: which could be seen as a weakness or a secret. I would vote for both, because usually you keep your vulnerabilities secret.’

Emma looked at him, surprised. She had never heard him speak so curtly before, but it made her realise just how analytical he could be. What else have you noticed during those silences of yours? she asked him in her head.

‘That’s the way you need to be,’ Regulus said, his tone softening. Perhaps her face had given away more than she expected. But Regulus had seen her as a first year, crying because she hadn't gotten into the right house. It was hard to come back from that. ‘You just need to stop…caring. I'm trying to teach you.’

I can do that, she thought to herself. Come on.

‘Again.’

They continued for about an hour before Regulus stopped.

‘I still haven’t managed it though!’ Emma said.

‘You’re getting frustrated, and I’m getting embarrassed about your memories of James,’ Regulus said matter-of-factly, slumping into the small settee in front of the fire, head resting in his hands.

‘Oh come on, he’s my brother,’ Emma said. ‘It’s perfectly normal for him to wander around in boxers sometimes.’

‘It’s not perfectly normal for me to have the image of you stealing his towel from him at age twelve burned into my mind.’

‘I’m going to get a sandwich,’ she said, stomping down towards the kitchen. ‘Hi Kreacher.’

Kreacher emerged from his newly made den. Den was the only word to describe it. Many colourful blankets were hung up from various hooks beneath the kitchen sink, and what looked like a basket was filled with newly-fluffed pillows - probably a Christmas present from Regulus. Strewn around it were little keepsakes and photographs, but Kreacher had closed the cupboard door before she had the chance to see what of. A spike of guilt ran through her. She never really thought of Kreacher as a person. Just as... a pet. Like Fluffy. But Kreacher was obviously much more than that. She brushed the idea away, resolving to treat Kreacher more like a person in the future.

‘Do you want a sandwich? I hope you’ve been keeping your bed clean. You know how Regulus gets about that. Kreacher?’ Kreacher had fallen to the floor.

‘Make Kreacher a sandwich? That is much below Mistress Emma’s station, Mistress would never allow it,’ he stammered.

‘You know what Kreacher? Mistress isn’t here. Hope you like peanut butter,’ and Emma shoved the sandwich into his hand. ‘Am I allowed to bring this plate upstairs?’

‘Of course Mistress Emma,’ Kreacher giggled. ‘Mistress isn’t here, and Kreacher will clean up crumbs.’

‘Thanks Kreacher.’

She proffered the food to Regulus and they sat eating in silence for a while until Emma suddenly jumped up with a muffled noise. Regulus watched her warily as she ran from the room - unlocked from the inside - and reappeared a few minutes later with a present in her hand.

‘Here. At New Year’s I just forgot, what with everything else going on...’

‘Thanks,’ he replied, taking the object with curiosity. He opened it very carefully: peeling the Spellotape off so that it wouldn’t tear the wrapping paper. ‘Hey, isn’t this my wrapping paper?’

Emma nodded, beaming.

‘Impressive. You usually tear through it,’ a small pouch the size of his pocket fell into his lap. ‘Is this -‘

‘A Mokeskin pouch,’ Emma grinned. ‘I found it in the attic one day, but I thought it suited you better. You’re so good at hiding things and keeping them close to your chest that I thought you could do it literally too.’

‘Thanks Ems,’ he leant over and hugged her with one arm. ‘This is really cool.’

‘Open it,’ she urged.

A small snake fell out and broke into five pieces. The metal looked dull and grey for the time being, but Emma knew better.

‘You can store a spell in any of the five slots and it’ll glow green,’ she explained. ‘If there are two or more -‘

‘They can fit together like a jigsaw puzzle,’ Regulus finished. ‘Have you got my Snitch?’

Emma produced it from a pocket. Regulus took it from her and it separated into two in his hands to reveal the same snake. ‘Snap.’

She was too busy marvelling at the fact that the Snitch had just broken in two to say anything about the snake at first. 'How...?'

'Snitches have a hollow centre,' Regulus explained. 'I found out in second year when I stole my first Snitch and thought I had broken it when I was examining it in my dorms later that evening. I looked it up afterwards, and found out that not only do Snitches remember their first touch, but are often used to store things people don't want found. I still can't believe we thought of the exact same present though.'

‘I thought it’d be useful for, you know,’ she replied.

‘Fighting in the war,’ he continued. ‘Creepy.’

‘Well we’re friends for a reason, aren’t we?’ Emma nudged him.

‘Right, and one of those reasons is making sure that your non-believer family is presumed to be neutral,’ Regulus reminded her, dusting off any last crumbs and getting to his feet.

‘Yeah,’ she replied, very unenthusiastically. ‘Great.’

Empty your mind, she told herself, concentrating hard on the wall opposite.

Legilimens.'

She was back at the Yule Ball, she couldn't breathe in the small closet. This is payback for them... I can't wait to see James's face when his precious little sister turns up battered in the Hospital Wing. And suddenly she was trapped and he was holding her face and...

 

Protego!’                                                                   

She had physically recoiled from the memory and bashed her knee against the chair she had previously pulled out. The physical pain was enough for her to regain some sense of self, but before she could even register her counter-curse she was sucked into memories again, except this time they weren’t hers:

Regulus and Sirius playing with their broomsticks outside, Sirius making friends with a Muggle on their road, Walburga shouting at Sirius, reminding him of the filthiness of the “Mudbloods” and the importance of keeping their blood pure. “Toujours pur”! she would say. Do you know what that means? Repeat after me, toujours pur! Don’t let the House of Black down.

Bellatrix was showing a Muggle her powers: she could already hurt people on command. The Muggle didn’t know what was happening, but knew it was the little girl doing it. Sirius screaming and screaming until their mother arrived and cast a memory charm with Regulus watching, always watching, as she took them back inside and beat Sirius until he ran to his room sobbing. Go away Regulus! but Regulus wouldn’t go away, and hugged his brother until the crying stopped.

Sirius coming back, proud to prove his difference in Gryffindor. The shouting lasting the entire night, and breakfast was as if nothing had happened. Congratulations on getting into Slytherin Regulus, his mother said, she was always calmer when they did things to make them proud, couldn’t Sirius see that?

Are you a blood-traitor, asked Bellatrix, and Regulus was shaking his head, no he wasn’t, he was anything but that. He had to be the perfect Slytherin, it would calm his mother down. Mudblood, he used the word for the first time in second year, but it felt like he was the dirty one as the boy ran crying to the toilets.

Are you my brother or not? asked Sirius angrily. Are you going to stick up for me? She’s mental, you know it, just like our cousin. You can’t fix her. But Sirius, Regulus pleaded, if only you would agree with her, do what you like but in secret. In secret? Sirius asked in contempt. Just like we’re secret brothers? You’ll only talk to me when no one’s around, you’ll only come into my room after the damage is done, you’re so scared of what people will think. We’re not secret brothers, we’re not brothers at all. It was third year, and Regulus spent an entire night skipping stones at the lake, not doing anything just skipping stones, and he hid his feelings more than ever because they weren’t helping, they weren’t helping anyone and it just HURT so much.

Kreacher was always there though: Regulus didn’t have to explain to Kreacher because Kreacher already knew. He was the only one who knew Regulus, the real Regulus and not the list of achievements he presented to his family. Master Sirius is just such a handful, Kreacher would say, there’s no time, no time for Master Regulus but they were all proud, very proud, but Regulus hated that word so much.

Fifth year in the summer and the fighting was worse than ever. Regulus was talking about the Dark Lord and what he knew of it, and his parents were proud, so proud, and Walburga didn’t even care about the Muggle posters that Sirius had on his walls, but Sirius had to ruin it by defending the Mudbloods and it just went so far, too far, and suddenly Sirius was upstairs, packing his things and Regulus was watching, pleading him not to go and leave him by himself. Sirius just looked at him and said what he had in their third year: we’re not brothers. A brother would help me, defend me, you’ve never been my brother. Regulus wanted to scream, didn’t Sirius see? He was doing it all for Sirius, the good marks, the prefect badge, it deflected attention. At first he didn’t even believe in the Dark Lord’s policies, just wanted to make their parents happy enough to leave Sirius alone with his love of Muggles and his freedom and Regulus was so careful, so controlled for him, but now he was so used to it that he just stared in silence.

Sirius was out of the door and never coming back, and Walburga was shouting, screaming so loudly that Regulus was scared that the neighbours would hear and the Ministry would come and find out, but she calmed down and called him into the drawing room to see her blast his brother’s name off of the family tapestry No! he answered back for the first time. He’s not my son, do you hear me? He’s not your brother, I have only one son. For the first time, Orion spoke against her and went out searching for his son, his favourite son, Regulus secretly thought, but he was too scared to say it out loud. Scared that it was true.

Two days later Kreacher brought him banoffee pie and vanilla ice-cream and they spent the day by the creek at the bottom of the garden, and Kreacher was the only one who remembered his birthday, even though he was sixteen and his brother wasn’t there anymore, but his brother was there more than ever, and he made the house so stuffy that Regulus sometimes felt like he couldn’t breathe...

 

‘Get away from me!’ Regulus shouted, bringing Emma back to the present.

She stumbled back, shocked. Regulus had dropped to his knees, but immediately turned around, his back to her. His entire body seemed to shiver and Emma was scared that he was going to be sick.

‘Don’t look at me,’ he said eventually in a shaky voice, breath coming in shuddering gasps.

‘Alright, alright, I won’t,’ Emma said calmly, shutting her eyes.

She shuffled forwards, groping blindly in front of her. When her hand touched cloth, she immediately pulled Regulus into a hug, soothing his hair the way James would if it were her, and…the way Regulus would for Sirius. Every inch of her was screaming at her to get away, but she ignored it. This is Regulus, she told herself. And he needs me. Her hands trembled slightly, but she didn't stop.

‘I don’t want you to see me like this,’ Regulus tried to push her away, adding in a quiet voice. ‘It’s embarrassing. Let me just...’

He got up and she opened her eyes. He was avoiding her gaze, shuffling out of the room as fast as he could, but the memories seemed to have winded him. She should probably give him some privacy, let him pull himself together and find a way to suppress the rest of the memories. But Emma thought he had had enough privacy in his life.

‘Kreacher?’ she asked, noticing the house-elf cowering in a corner.

‘Y-yes Mistress Emma?’ Kreacher croaked in a small voice.

He was huddled up as far as he could in his pillowcase, but she could see the big frightened blue eyes peering out. Her heart went out to him, never being able to do anything except watch his family tear itself apart.

‘It’ll be okay,’ she patted his head.

‘But Master said -'

‘I know what he said,’ she replied, scanning the room.

Her scarf lay on one of the chairs and she grabbed it, tying it around her eyes, feeling the heavy cloth obstructing all light and almost all of her nose. She adjusted it as she uncomfortably breathed stale air. The scarf was covering her ears slightly, and it felt eerie to hear the rush of blood and muted sound. Her balance was off, but that wouldn't be important right now.

‘There, Kreacher,’ she said. ‘Will you help me find Regulus now?’

***

 

‘Regulus?’ she asked uncertainly. She thought she was in his room. Kreacher had led her up three flights of stairs and turned right to the end of the corridor. That was where his room had been before, in any case. ‘I can’t see you anymore.’

‘You’ve already seen more than I would ever want you to,’ he said tonelessly, but there was a catch at the end of his sentence.

There was a tug on her dress, and Kreacher whispered. ‘He’s sitting on his bed.’

He disappeared with a large crack, fearing that he had already overstepped his boundaries. Emma tried to make her way to the middle of the room, but it was a lot harder with the scarf muffling her senses.

‘Oof,’ she said as she toppled over Regulus's bed, narrowly missing falling off it altogether.

He let out what could pass for a strangled laugh.

‘It’s okay for it to be about you for once in a while Reg,’ she said, trying not to let the worry seep into her voice. The truth was that she had never seen him this way before.

He snorted in disdain, and she shuffled closer, searching for his hand with her own.

‘It’s not only Sirius who has been hurt,’ she continued. ‘You can stop feeling guilty.’

‘Stop it,’ he said, and his voice was shaking. He tried to get it under control, to no avail. ‘I - Don’t do that.’

‘What?’

‘Read me like a book. It’s disconcerting.’

‘Well at least it’s the other way around for a change,’ Emma laughed, then felt a lump in her throat. ‘Regulus, I’m so sorry.’

‘Not like you did anything,’ he muttered.

‘I didn’t forget about you,’ she said simply, and wanted to smack herself. You’re reminding him that his family did. He doesn’t want to talk about it Ems, he just wants to pretend it didn’t happen. All of it.

‘You know,’ she said idly. ‘Whenever James and I got into a fight when I was little, my mother would put us to bed and read a story from Beedle the Bard. It would put us to sleep, and in the morning we would have already forgotten what we were upset about.’

‘Well, you were lucky,’ came the reply, and he pulled his hand out of her grasp.

‘Maybe you just need a fairytale,’ she said. ‘Go on, humour me,’ and bullied him into letting her sit next to him. She realised that he was shivering, and wrapped an arm around him.

‘Can’t read if you can’t see,’ he huffed, but allowed the contact. ‘Besides, we don’t have the book.’

‘I’ll tell it from memory.’

‘Go on then,’ and Emma thought she could hear a slight smile in his voice.

High on a hill in an enchanted garden, enclosed by tall walls and protected by strong magic flowed the Fountain of Fair Fortune. Once a year, between the hours of sunrise and sunset on the longest day, a single unfortunate was given the chance to fight their way to the Fountain, bathe in its waters and receive Fair Fortune for evermore....

It was late by the time she finished the tale, and Regulus was silent for such a long while that she was sure that he was asleep. Sure enough, when she took her scarf off his eyes were closed. She decided to let him sleep in peace and had just disentangled herself when she felt a hand on her arm.

‘Stay,’ he half-mumbled, and Emma was sure that he wasn’t talking to her.

Chapter Text

Lucinda

 

‘Regulus darling, have you finished packing? Just because we live in London doesn’t mean that there might not be traffic on the way to the Platform! Regulus…Oh my!’ Walburga Black’s hand flew to her mouth.

Emma’s eyes fluttered open in an unfamiliar place. Did I oversleep? Where am - her thoughts trailed off as she saw Regulus’s mother in the doorway. Then she realised that she was curled up next to her son. On his bed. In his room.

She immediately sat up, pushing the boy away from her. At least she was still fully dressed, but the damage had probably been done.

‘It’s not what it looks like Mrs Black -' she started.

‘Oh, call me Walburga, dear,’ she said, breaking into a stunning smile that lit up her face. ‘After all, you’ll be part of the family soon!’

‘I will?’ Emma asked uncertainly, frowning a little. This was not the kind of reaction she was expecting.

Regulus rolled over and yawned, rubbing his eyes. He slowly seemed to become aware of the situation, but didn't seemed too bothered. In fact, he seemed almost too relaxed for Emma's taste. Before he could open his mouth, his mother noticed he was awake and started exclaiming, a faraway look in her eyes.

‘Oh Regulus, you’ve gone about this all wrong, but I forgive you. What a match! The Potters’ blood is almost as pure as the Malfoys’. Oh I just can’t wait to start planning the wedding!’ she clasped her hands together in excitement.

‘The wedding?’ Emma repeated stupidly, her brain trying to work in overtime.

‘It all makes sense now, bringing you home to live with us “for a while”, blaming it on that boy...’

‘Relax Mum, we were just up late studying,’ Regulus cut through his mother's speech in a bored tone. ‘We must have fallen asleep whilst practicing Transfiguration. You’re supposed to change your partner’s eyebrow colour.’

Emma looked at him. No one would think that he was lying from the casual way he picked his Transfiguration book off of the floor. Sometimes he outdid even himself. He must have only just noticed it. He raised an eyebrow meaningfully.

‘Yeah, we’re not very good at it,’ she said, realising that she needed to add some kind of contribution.

‘Oh,’ Walburga looked put out, before putting on a bright smile. ‘Well in that case Emma would you mind giving my son and I a little privacy? Kreacher has made fried eggs and bacon.’

Emma was grateful for the excuse, but couldn’t help a shudder when out of sight. It was uncanny how Walburga could seem like such a normal person when Emma had seen how she acted when no one was around. How could someone treat their own children that way? Walburga had never seemed mean to her - in fact, she had never even seen her raise her temper other than that one time at the dinner table. But even then, it seemed more like the outburst of a brewing argument... She resolved not to let her dislike show though, for Regulus’s sake as well as her own. Besides, who was she to judge?

She took me in when my own parents didn't want me. How can I ever repay that?

***

 

At the station she saw James and Sirius first, and quickly steered Regulus in the opposite direction. Walburga had dropped them off at the station before going off to do…whatever the Black mother did. She was grateful Regulus's parents weren’t present actually. It would be much easier to play off the “oh, I just spent a couple of days at his house”. Though she was beginning to suspect that keeping secrets ran in the family. No wonder Regulus kept his mouth shut so often.

The back of her neck prickled, as if she was being watched, jerking her from her thoughts. Sure enough, when she turned around she saw Avery’s eyes boring into her. What's he doing here? He didn't have any younger siblings that she knew of. He jerked his head in a “come here” movement. She slightly frowned and moved forwards, blocking his view with Regulus’s body. As if I'd be stupid enough to do that.

‘I can’t believe my mother,’ Regulus was saying. ‘It’s only quarter to eleven.’

Emma nodded sympathetically and peeked over his shoulder. His own thoughts must have been full, because he didn't notice her inattention. Avery was still staring, but with an exasperated expression. He rolled his eyes at her, looking at her with a look reserved for terrified first years. It pricked her curiosity as well as shaming her for showing her fear.

‘Wait here for a sec,’ she said to Regulus.

Without waiting for a response, she walked over to the older boy, now hiding in a pillar's shadow.

‘What do you want?’ she asked, glancing around, crossing her arms over her chest.

‘Relax Potter, strictly business today. Black’s too conspicuous to talk to,’ he replied, staring to where a group of giggling girls were talking animatedly, their eyes trained on the Slytherin. Regulus appeared not to notice. ‘But this information is for the both of you. Next Hogsmeade weekend. The Dark Lord wants to test you.’

Without further ado, he turned on the spot and vanished. Emma was left staring at the brick wall behind him, a thousand "test" ideas running through her mind. Before she could really think about it, she heard a voice calling her name.

‘Hey Ems!’ Rabastan was waving out of the corner of her eye. ‘We’ve got a spare compartment! Come on in!’

Spotting her parents entering the station with James, she high-tailed it to the train, literally jumping into the compartment after Rabastan and slamming the compartment door shut, effectively cutting off any conversation going on inside,

‘So…What should we do?’ Rabastan asked after an awkward silence.

The three of them were in a compartment with Evan and Lucinda Rosier. Emma didn’t even know why Evan was there since he was a seventh year. Her guess was boredom and hoping to see Alecto before having to go to the Prefect’s carriage. Fat chance of that, she thought. Alecto was always on the train with seconds to spare.

‘How about thinking of ways to murder my brother?’ Regulus said lightly, looking out of the window.

Emma leaned over, hoping to see James, maybe catch his eye without her parents noticing. She missed him already and if she was really honest with herself, she wanted to know how her parents had reacted to her departure. She felt a stab of sadness, they didn't even bother to send me a letter to ask where I was, or if I was okay. Immediately, she chided herself. Why should she care? They obviously didn't. But she was sure that James did.

She craned her head around a little more. Regulus made a face and pushed her hair out of his face, but she ignored him, scanning the crowds for the tell-tale mop of unruly black hair. She supposed that he had already spotted Lily Evans somewhere. There was a sudden cough. She looked around to see Lucinda glaring at her. Emma raised her eyebrows, what?

‘I hate you sometimes, Emma!’ she burst out, running from the compartment.

Rabastan just shrugged at her. Evan didn’t look like he cared in the slightest. Emma sighed and slid the door open. Lucinda had always been emotional, but she had seemed fine three days ago at the party.

‘James!’ she exclaimed joyfully as she searched the compartments. As usual he was with his group of three other Gryffindors. Lou was probably off with her Ravenclaw buddies.

He raised a hand in greeting and she flew over to hug him.

‘Can’t…breathe…Ems,’ he gasped, but Emma just hugged him tighter. Remus laughed, and James put his arms around his sister. ‘It hasn’t even been a week you know,’ he chided gently.

Or that’s what he would have said, if she dared hug him in front of his friends. Instead she just stood there awkwardly in the doorway, willing James to come out into the corridor. The three Gryffindors stared at her - she had obviously interrupted something.

‘I’m sorry, is this a bad time?’ said a familiar voice.

‘Um.’ James said, torn between his sister and the girl he loved.

‘Not at all Lily,’ Emma smiled brightly, choosing for him. Something seemed to squeeze her heart, and she suppressed all of her questions. She would find her brother later. ‘He’s all yours.’

‘But I don’t want him to be -‘ Lily stuttered as James turned crimson.

‘What James, no declaration of undying love?’ Sirius teased.

‘I think he likes you,’ Emma whispered as she left Lily in the doorway.

She found Lucinda in the loo. Well, it was lucky she did, since she cast Alohamora on the lock. Who knew what could have been lurking behind that door?

‘How did you know it was me?’ the blonde girl sniffled.

‘Well the crying’s kind of a giveaway...’

‘It’s not funny!’ Lucinda cried, looking like she was going to burst into tears again.

Emma sighed and pulled the toilet door closed, locking them in. She perched on the sink opposite and motioned the toilet seat. ‘What’s this about?’

‘Stop doing that,’ the other girl complained, but sat down all the same.

‘Doing what?’

‘Just…Merlin, do you have to be so put-together? At least give us other girls a chance.’

Lucinda pouted, but it seemed like she had gotten what she wanted off her chest.

‘So let me get this straight,’ Emma said slowly. ‘You want me to have a breakdown so…Actually no, I don’t get it.’

There was a pause in which Emma thought about all the times she had cried in front of Regulus or James, precisely to keep up her "tough" act. Appearance was everything, as she had learned in that fifth-year closet. It was better to hide any vulnerabilities, even with Lucinda and Alecto: her best friends.

‘I wish I was like you,’ Lucinda sighed. ‘Everyone respects you, and the younger Slytherins look up to you.’

I worked hard for that image, Emma thought with an inward smile. Now I know it's working. Maybe she would be able to influence the younger Slytherins into joining their cause. However, she had never thought that Lucinda would be bothered.

‘But everyone likes you,’ Emma pointed out, not sure where this was going. ‘And you’re always the life of the party.’

Lucinda's parents worked in exports and imports with Honeydukes and the Bertie Bott's Beans industry, and Emma had always privately thought that Lucinda's bubbly persona came from eating too many sweets when she was young. She was easily one of the most popular girls at school, with a mostly carefree attitude and a knack for fun ideas. Even the teachers smiled when she breezed into the classroom, with the notable exception of Professor McGonagall, who never thought the Slytherin put enough effort into her classes. One of the reasons why Lucinda decided to drop it.

‘But I’ll never be good enough for him,’ Lucinda said sadly, as if it were the end of the world.

‘For who? Sirius? Let me tell you, you are worth eight times that slime ball -' Emma started ranting.

‘Merlin, no! I’m talking about Regulus!’ Lucinda burst out.

‘Regulus?’ Emma asked. Does she think that he looks up to me of all people? Oh man, if only she knew…Regulus’s respect for me is probably at 0% right now. Besides, he can't even look at me after last night. That was a serious invasion of privacy...

‘Isn’t he just wonderful?’ Lucinda had a dreamy look to her.

‘You could say that,’ Emma replied, but the other girl carried on.

‘You know, I always knew he was good-looking. But it’s the way he is, so calm, so sure of himself. Nothing can touch him, you know? That night we spent together... I just lay in his arms thinking that this was the safest I could ever be. Then he’s a pure-blood, and oh so intelligent…’

‘Wait, you....’ Emma trailed off.

‘Oh, I’m not supposed to say!’ Lucinda giggled. ‘But you’ll keep it a secret, won’t you? He says that it’s more special if it’s between just the two of us. The secret makes it all the sweeter.’

‘I bet he did,’ Emma said, thinking of the girls she had seen sneaking out of the Prefect’s bathroom once in a while. At least he kept it out of the broom cupboards.

‘And then I woke up and they said he went home with you!’ Lucinda gave her a long look, and Emma realised that it was no accident that she had told her about New Year’s. She bit back a smile. This was safer territory. This was the gossipy side of Lucinda that tried to find out what happened between who and tried to find a way to use the information.

‘I thought it was just a joke, but then this morning you were all over him and -‘

‘Excuse me?’ Emma frowned. This morning he was so cold I could have poured water onto his head and broken icicles off of his nose.

‘Oh come on, “leaning over to look out of the window”? That’s the oldest trick in the book!’ Lucinda tossed her hair back.

At least she’s feeling better, Emma thought sardonically.

‘What I just want to know is how do you do it?’ Lucinda asked. She had wiped away her tearstains and was looking slightly defiant

‘Do what?’ Emma was getting frustrated. What is the point of all this?

‘Get his attention,’ she said impatiently. ‘You say you’re friends and you’re always together, but most of the time you just sit there in silence. Whenever you’re not there, he asks about you.’

‘Like you said, we’re friends,’ Emma said.

‘I don’t believe you,’ Lucinda said immediately, and then sighed dejectedly. ‘You act as if you can do anything, and people just let you. It’s not fair, playing around with people’s feelings.’

‘Life's a game Lucinda. You just need to learn the rules.’

‘Do you make it a hobby to be so cryptic all the time?’

Emma smiled and smoothed her friend’s curly locks.

‘Look, despite you saying such horrible things today, I like you Lucinda,’ she said. ‘That’s why I’ll give you a clue. If you show your hand to everybody, then you’ll lose no matter what the cards are.’

Chapter Text

Hogsmeade Encounters

 

Emma walked out of Arithmancy class two weeks later, deep in thought. Though she didn't even like to admit it to herself, she was upset. A letter had arrived from her parents, with only two lines of her mother's hurried handwriting: Dear Emma, James has told us you are still in Hogwarts. Thank goodness. Your father didn't mean what he said. Love Mum.

Something was wrong - she just knew it. But a niggling thought deep in the back of her mind told her that she was just hoping something was wrong, hoping that her family was still her family. She hadn't spoken to Regulus about his house. Somehow it felt... intrusive. His voice breaking to the point of tears... It was obvious that he loved his family, had family issues too. But instead of going on about it, he had dealt with it in silence. That or - more alarming - he didn't know that it was different. She remembered first year, the times Sirius and Regulus came over, the time when the brothers were still on speaking terms.

But that's different, she told herself. Regulus's mother might have a temper, but she had always been sweet to Emma. She and Orion had more than welcomed Emma into their arms. Orion might not be a frequent presence, but it was obvious that he loved his sons. She remembered what Regulus had said when the Polyjuice Potion was still in effect. Orion had been punished for trying to help Sirius, and the latter didn't even bother to contact him. It was Sirius who had picked his family apart from the seams, just as it was Sirius who was destroying the relationship she had with her own parents. Something told her it wasn't fair, but she clung to the idea. She wasn't quite prepared for anything else.

The sound of running footsteps alerted her to the fact that she was no longer alone in the hallway.

‘Hey Emma, I think you forgot your book,’ a familiar voice said, accompanied by a friendly smile.

Amos Diggory, Hufflepuff. He was quite popular, if the amount of people clamouring to sit next to him were any judge, and fairly good looking, in a book-smart sort of way. As far as Emma knew, he hadn't spoken to her other than about an assignment in class before now.

‘Err…thanks,’ she replied, taking the book from his hand, unsure as to how to proceed.

‘So, Arithmancy NEWTs look pretty hard huh?’ he said conversationally, falling into step with her.

‘I guess,’ she waited for him to continue. What does he want?

‘Boy, you're not making this easy for me. Are you always this talkative?’ he rubbed the back of his neck.

‘Sometimes,’ she half-smiled, then with an effort pushed her thoughts to the back of her mind. ‘Though you must be used to making girls speechless,’ she winked.

‘Hah,’ he laughed, relaxing. ‘I was wondering…are you doing anything this weekend?’

‘Quidditch,’ she replied immediately. ‘But then, you knew that.’ She pointed to the badge on his chest. ‘Guess I should wish you luck then.’

‘But…Before that? On Saturday?’

She shrugged, looking at him.

‘I’m trying to ask you out,’ he said with one of those smiles that made girls swoon. Admit it Emma, you're swooning too.

‘Isn’t that fraternising with the enemy?’ she joked. ‘I’ll have to be back by six.’

‘Do you have a curfew?’ he teased.

‘No, practice.’

***

 

On Saturday, students gathered in the Entrance Hall, several third-years running up with newly-signed letters from their parents. Amos Diggory was there, dressed to impress and catching several looks. Emma loitered in the staircase for a while, wondering if it was a good idea. What's in this for him? she asked herself suspiciously, scanning the halls for other Hufflepuff upperclassmen. Just last week, she had convinced one of them to lock some Muggleborns in Moaning Myrtle's toilet. Did someone realise I put Effy Midgens up to it? That girl is too gullible by far, thinking that Myrtle would give them tips on their OWLs.

A hand on her shoulder made her jump, but it was just Rabastan and Regulus. Rabastan made a show of hiding behind her, peering over her shoulder into the room beyond.

'Hiding from Black too?' he asked, steadying himself with a hand on the doorway. Emma moved out of the way, backing further behind her statue. 'Smart move, I hear he and Potter are hexing people's makeup to turn ugly an hour later. Supposedly it's so that they can't fix it at Hogsmeade, but the fatal flaw in the plan is that they tried it on a Gryffindor at breakfast. Now she's telling girls to beware of any wand that looks like it's pointing to her face.'

'I'm not scared of those idiots,' Emma said scornfully.

'Then why are you hiding behind a statue?' he asked. Emma let go of the knight's arm.

'I'm just... looking for potential candidates,' she replied. If there was one thing Rabastan loved, it was terrorising first-years and Muggleborns. Plus, it was easier to prank when you had a wingman, or wingwoman.

'Found any?' he sounded interested.

'A few,' she said mysteriously. 'You'll just have to keep your ears open for the next couple of weeks, won't you?'

Rabastan laughed, but Regulus - who hadn't spoken a word the entire time - gave her a you don't fool me look on his way out. Annoyed, Emma pushed past him, marching into the Great Hall with her head held up high and a smile on her lips. Diggory noticed her as she made a beeline for him.

'Hi, sorry I'm late, I didn't see the time!' she exclaimed, taking his arm. 'Shall we go?'

He beamed at her, but Emma turned around and looked at Regulus: see! He just shook his head at her and rolled his eyes. Diggory noticed and asked what it was about.

'Oh nothing,' she said. 'Just a joke between Slytherins. Anyway, where do you want to visit first?'

'I was thinking of going to Scrivenshaft's actually,' he replied. 'I need to stock up on my quills.'

***

 

They went to the Quill Shop: Tomes and Scrolls and Zonko's. For the most part they chatted and laughed, but that was before Madame Puddifoot's, a little tea shop in one of the back alleys. Diggory slowed their pace, until Emma could see the tables for two, each lit by a candle in a heart-shaped holder. She could almost smell the heavy incense from the window, which was adorned by lacy pink curtains.

'Let's go to the Three Broomsticks instead,' Emma pulled Diggory - Amos - away by the arm.

'But this looks much cosier,' Amos replied, drawing her nearer. 'And we are on a date,' he reminded her, an almost bothered expression on his face.

Emma felt a building panic in her stomach: Madame Puddifoot's Tea Shop looked a little too cosy for her liking. Another quick glance showed her that hardly anyone was there either. She knew exactly how that would end: trapped, claustrophobic, unable to breathe. Amos was looking at her expectantly. Time for an excuse.

'Fine, but I've just remembered that I need more Potions supplies,' she suggested, mastering the tone of her voice with a supreme effort of will. 'Let's go there first, and that way we won't have to worry about the time when we're drinking tea. Or butterbeer. Whichever you prefer.'

That seemed to satisfy him, because they carried down the alley to the ingredients shop in silence for a little while. Amos had kept her arm in his, which was slightly uncomfortable, but she didn't mind. Inside the shop however, she was grateful for the excuse to let go of him. He trailed after her as she selected ingredients.

'So I realise that we've been out for three hours and I still don't know much about you,' he said conversationally.

'I like Quidditch,' she said, taking the newt eyes off the shelf.

'Everyone likes Quidditch,' he laughed. 'What do you like most about it? What are your favourite formations?'

So this date is to collect information, she nodded to herself, pleased that it made sense. She relaxed a little more. She had told Lucinda that she had to play her cards right. How do you play if you don't know the rules of the game?

'Do you really think I'd tell you just before the big match?' she teased.

'Come on, you're acting like I set this up just to find out stuff about your team. I'm a Hufflepuff, we play fair,' he said proudly.

'Then what's the point of this date?'

Amos looked at her a little oddly, so she added a "just kidding" and moved on to the whetstones: her knife was pretty blunt. Sometimes it paid off to be quiet instead. It was easier to avoid mistakes.

'So come on. What's your favourite colour?' he said when they walked out of the shop.

'I think I'm obligated to say green or silver here,' she replied, holding her scarf up to her face. 'House pride, you know, that kind of thing.'

'I think that just made me like you even more,' Amos grinned, though he knew she had avoided the question. It didn't seem to bother him that much. In fact, it looked like he was enjoying himself. 'But really. Let's start off easy. What's your family like?'

'Repeat that first sentence again?' Emma asked with her most seductive voice. Thank you Alecto, for your numerous flirtation attempts to prevent your brother from prying into your private love life.

Amos really was attractive, but did he have to pry so much? It felt like an invasion of privacy. Emma didn't want her first date since the start of the year to end in catastrophe, so she stopped and turned to him. Before he could talk again, she pressed her mouth to his, pulling him closer. Really, I should have figured out the use of this a long time ago, she thought. Some part of her filed it away as a means to an end. After all, that's all kissing appeared to be, judging from past experience. Somebody wolf-whistled.

'Wonder who's snogging in dark alleyways, Prongs? Better make sure it isn't your Lily-poo!'

Emma rolled her eyes as they broke apart. Did James and his friends make it a point to visit the least-frequented alleyways every weekend, or just the ones where she was?

'Wait a minute,' James said as he drew nearer. 'Emma? What are you doing here?'

'I was on a date before you so rudely interrupted,' she retorted.

She hadn't known how to approach him after New Year's, not even knowing if he knew about the fight with their parents. He certainly hadn't really bothered with anything other than pleasantries, though that was how it often was between them. But now Sirius had taken her time at home, and it felt like her twin was slipping away from her. She reminded herself to calm down, and might have added something if James hadn't beaten her to it.

'You're not old enough to date are you?'

So that's what he cares about.

'James! I'm the same age as you! We just so happen to be a little thing called twins? Or had you forgotten?' Have you forgotten?

'Right, right, sorry Ems,' James apologised, before turning to Amos. 'What I meant was, is this guy good enough for you to date?'

'James, please don't do the brother thing,' Emma sighed.

'Oh, there's no way he's not doing the brother thing,' Sirius grinned, seeming a little too pleased by the scene. Even looking at him irritated her.

 'Was I talking to you?' she raised her eyebrows at Sirius, wishing that she could throttle him instead.

'Ooh Prongs, your sister's got more temper issues than Moony here.'

That stopped Emma in her tracks. From what she had seen of Remus he was the quietest and nicest of James's friends. She couldn't imagine him other than laid-back. On their rounds he actually avoided people that were breaking curfew so as not to create conflict. Luckily James took advantage of the lull to grill Amos. It shouldn't have surprised her. James had always been protective, even when they were little. And if truth be told, it had been easier to leave all the "brave" things for him to do.

'So, Amos Diggory, Captain of Hufflepuff Quidditch team, seventh year, particularly adept at Care of Magical Creatures,' James ticked off his fingers.

 'How do you know all of this?' Amos asked, surprised.

'I have my ways. But you'll do,' James nodded at him, seemingly in approval. 'Though you should have asked for my permission, but I'll forgive that. Just remember: any wrong move and you'll wish you had graduated early by the time I'm finished with you. And you and I, dear sister, need to have a little chat.'

'You don't own me, James!' Emma said frustratedly.

'It's fine, Emma,' Amos said, trying to reduce the tension between the siblings. 'I'll see you in Arithmancy next week?'

He went to kiss her on the cheek, but for James's benefit she turned her head so it landed on her mouth. When Amos left, James steered Emma towards Honeydukes.

'You're my twin, of course I own you,' James said arrogantly, keeping his arm around her shoulder. 'You're my responsibility!'

 'Says who?' Emma asked, frustrated that she was relieved at his words. She needed to stop relying on her twin all the time. He's not always going to be around. No, he hasn't always been around, she corrected herself.

'Mum and Dad, when they found out you left,' he replied, effectively cutting off all argument that Emma had prepared. So that answers that question.

'Yeah right,' she mumbled, looking down at her feet.

'They're worried about you Ems,' he told her.

'If they really cared, then they wouldn't have let me leave,' she replied petulantly, for some reason close to tears. She hastily commanded them to go away.

 'James,' Remus warned, and for once James fell silent, though he still kept Emma in tow as they arrived at the sweet shop, where a frantic Rabastan was checking the crowds.

'There you are!' he said as he spotted Emma, making his way towards them. 'I've been looking everywhere for you, Emma! You're going to be late!'

'Late for what exactly, Lestrange?' James asked pointedly.

Rabastan seemed to notice her brother for the first time. He opened his mouth and closed it again. Suddenly, Emma remembered that they were supposed to meet the Dark Lord again that day. How could she have forgotten? She shot a look towards James. Rabastan wouldn't say anything, would he? She needed time to talk to her brother. Privately, she wasn't sure he would see things her way, with Sirius influencing his thoughts. And James was too passionate to stay neutral with a war coming. His need to protect didn't solely extend to her.

'For our date, of course,' Rabastan said, with a look that dared them to question him.

Emma blinked, but hid her surprise. Rabastan hadn't really known about Amos Diggory. Besides, Sophie Parkinson had already been on two dates in one day - Emma had heard her talking to Helen in the common room about it. If she thought about it, it would make sense to date Rabastan. They both had the same interests, similar backgrounds (purebloods with a brother and a father in the Ministry) and they shared a sense of humour. It wouldn't seem that odd at all.

'Two in one day? Bit promiscuous of you isn't it?' Sirius asked.

'Promiscuous is a big word for you Sirius,' Emma shot back. 'Has Remus been teaching you how to pretend to be smart? No offence Remus,' she said quickly to the shy brunette. 'You, I know to actually be smart.'

'I'll take that as a compliment then,' he replied pleasantly.

'Who said you could date my sister?' James insisted for the second time that day. Boy, he must be really annoyed that Lily didn't come today.

'One: I spend more time with her than you do, so even if you didn't want me to, I could still see her in the common room; two: I'm one of the only people that isn't scared of your hexes, and you don't want to see your sister grow up an old maid, do you?' Rabastan asked smoothly. 'What was the plan, marry her yourself?'

James spluttered indignantly.

'Let it go, James,' Remus said wisely. 'He has a point.'

Emma thought that she rather liked Remus. She wondered why they had never been on Prefect patrols together before. She had seen that his name was next to hers on the roster, but it had been changed the next day. She always thought that he hated her because he was friends with Sirius. Now she thought that she had misjudged him. Looking at him now, he looked kind, ready to stand up to his friends if they were being idiots. He was a little pale though. Suddenly it hit her. Are my patrols near the full moon?

He looked at her a little strangely and she realised she had been staring. He said nothing though, led James into the pub, the rat-faced Gryffindor following behind. Sirius still stood there, eyes narrowed. Emma raised her eyebrows at him, but he was looking at Rabastan.

'I don't believe you, you slimy snake. You're covering for something evil, I know you are.'

'Why do you even care?' Emma asked him.

'If there's a chance for you, there's a chance for my brother,' he said genuinely, surprising them. 'Besides, there's no way the Potters would let me stay if they knew I hadn't done everything in my power to keep their daughter away from the Dark Arts.'

I knew it was too good to be true, Emma thought. For a minute, it seemed like he actually cared. Still, since he's apparently reporting my every move to Mum and Dad... Maybe I can salvage this relationship. They'll need to be shown that the Dark Lord isn't just about destruction. But that needs time, and it might be too late, unless...

She grabbed Rabastan's face, hoping against hope that he would go for it for her sake. In fact, he kissed her passionately back, hands looping around her waist. When they broke apart, Rabastan shot a smug look at Sirius's disgusted face.

'Satisfied now?' he asked.

Without waiting for an answer, he cupped Emma's hand in his and strolled off in the direction of the Hog's Head, muttering for her to resist turning to look back. She could feel the older Black brother's stare heating her back. As soon as they turned the corner, Emma let go, shoving her hand back into her pocket, suddenly embarrassed.

'Thanks for that,' she said. 'I owe you one.'

'Well it wasn't exactly torturous,' Rabastan laughed. He seemed to laugh at everything. 'Good thing Regulus wasn't there though.'

'Yeah, I don't think he can stand talking to Sirius for more than thirty seconds flat now,' Emma agreed, before adding. 'Not that Sirius ever does.'

'Let's just not mention it then,' Rabastan was quick to suggest and Emma was quick to agree.

***

 

Outside the Hog's Head were a couple of wizards Emma recognised from Narcissa's engagement party, Alecto and Regulus. She was surprised there were so few of them, but then she supposed there weren't many students at Hogwarts. Not every Slytherin would be a Death Eater, and there might be others from other Houses, but they didn't trust the rival Houses to keep a secret. After all, Death Eater status put a bounty on your head. For now, Emma thought, as they approached. The redhead was shifting her weight from one foot to the other impatiently before spotting them. She rolled her eyes, as if to berate Emma for forgetting. Emma ignored the silent reproval.

'No Lucinda?' she asked her friend instead, as they were led to the outskirts of the village. It reminded her of the hovel where William lived, but Alecto didn't react as they passed similar habitats.

'Please Emma,' Alecto scoffed, tossing her mane of red hair back. 'The girl couldn't create a Hiccoughing Solution to save her life, let alone be useful in the times to come. Besides, Evan's already joined.'

'Shh...' the older Death Eater hushed her. 'The Order has spies everywhere.'

'The Order?' Emma asked in a low voice. She looked around, but no one was in sight. Maybe the adults were just paranoid.

'The Order of the Phoenix, that's what they're calling themselves. It's a group of wizards determined to stop the Dark Lord from usurping the order of things,' Alecto whispered back as they arrived in front of a broken down shack. 'My brother says that he interviews people one by one, but we're not allowed to talk about it afterwards.'

Emma felt a little nervous and a little excited when it was her turn to be led into the hut. It felt a little like taking the O.W.Ls again, and she bit back an inappropriate giggle. She forced herself to remain calm... professional. She glanced around the room. There he was, the Dark Lord, looking much the same as last Easter. He still had his magnetic aura and cold red eyes, the feeling of dangerous power mixed with greatness. He somehow managed to adapt the surroundings to his persona: instead of looking like a run-down shack, the crumbling walls seemed to whisper of ancient history, the stone floor stripped down to a level of honesty. There was no furniture, but neither was there mould. It was utilitarian, just like the soldiers the Dark Lord needed for his war.

'So Emma Potter, we meet again,' he said. 'I presume you know why you are here?'

'For my dazzling academic career?' Emma managed to get out, though her heart was in her throat.

'Not quite,' he allowed her a small smile, and it felt like her heart was lifted. 'You have the chance to serve one of the greatest wizards of all time, the one who will change forevermore the course of history. And I shall give you the chance to prove yourself worthy of my inner circle.'

She waited, unsure of what she was supposed to say. She seemed to be trapped within that red gaze and for some reason she couldn't stop thinking about the fight with her parents and what they would say if they saw her here. Her father would probably disown her there and then. Her mother... Who knew what Diane Potter really believed? Emma was sure that she understood her daughter, at least in part. But her father seemed like such a huge presence in comparison, especially because her mother had been ill over the holidays. She wondered if she felt better and made a mental note to ask James. Too late, she realised what was happening, frantically trying to build up the walls that Regulus had told her about. Blank, my mind needs to be blank, she told herself.

The Dark Lord laughed, and it was a high, mocking laugh. 'Do not fear, my dear, for my family has also disappointed me. I have more important things on my mind than pure-bloods who do not understand the need for radicalism in order to change. But it is your mind that interests me, or rather your tongue.'

 My tongue? Emma thought, her anxiety back. Is he going to cut it out? Is that the test?!

 'To be clear, it is your gift with words that I need,' he explained. 'I am sadly lacking in diplomatic friends, though they more than make up for it in... persuasiveness. You see, I find myself in need of allies. The Ministry has proved more resilient than I expected, though it may be more to do with others' incompetence than the enemy's skill.

'The giants in particular have suffered at the hands of the Ministry. They are classed as a dangerous breed. So they shall be receptive to whatever you have to say. I trust you will not fail me in this?'

'No,' Emma breathed, though she had no idea how she could attempt such a feat. She didn't have the faintest idea where giants lived, and was sure that they'd rather eat her alive than parley with her. But she wanted to do something, prove something, that she could make a difference in the war before it was too late.

Chapter Text

‘Did you just get back from a date?’ Lucinda squealed at the sight of Emma dressed up.

After getting back from Hogsmeade she had gone in search of Amos Diggory to apologise for her brother's behaviour, and they had arranged to see each other in the library the following Tuesday, though Emma was uncertain about whether she even wanted to. Well I have nothing better to do, do I? Somehow that didn't really seem enough. But she was curious to see how it would turn out, and it would be a welcome distraction from the N.E.W.T homework piling up. She was damned if she was going to say all of this to Lucinda in the Quidditch changing rooms though.

‘What’s it to you?’

‘I’m your friend! Come on, details!’

Lucinda was too excited about this, in Emma's opinion. Then she remembered that she supposedly fancied Regulus. Another reason to see Amos then, she thought. She was just about to comply when she noticed the conversations around them quieten down. Usually she had to yell for everyone to listen to the plan for the day. She rolled her eyes inwardly, why is everyone so curious? Besides, if Lucinda was right, then she had a fearsome reputation to uphold. One that didn't include gossiping about seventh year Hufflepuffs.

‘I’ll tell you after practice but I warn you, it involves James,’ Emma eventually replied with a grimace. ‘For now, I’m your Captain. In fact, I won’t tell you at all unless you perfect the Dionysus Dive.’

‘I thought we weren’t doing that after the try-outs accident,’ Cassandra Greengrass frowned.

‘I’ve thought of a way we can use it,’ Emma took out the demonstration paper. Regulus smirked at her, having done most of the drawing. Rabastan looked from one to the other, wondering what was so funny and if he could tease someone about it. She ignored both of them.

‘So,’ she tapped her wand on one of the Chasers. ‘La di da, flying along with the Quaffle, opposing Chasers close in, sure of a victory because this person’s alone.’

‘Where are the other Chasers?’ Barty asked, leaning on his broomstick.

‘Don’t do that Barty, you’ll ruin your flying angle,’ Emma said sharply. ‘But good question. Our other Chasers will make sudden dives, distracting the Keeper, who needs to be on the lookout. Meanwhile, the lead Chaser - usually in this case, me - will jump from her broomstick and punch the Quaffle into the least defended goal. The other team will be expecting dives, swerves, anything to avoid the other Chasers.’

The other players contemplated the board in silence for a while, staring at the stick-men act out the play over and over again.

‘What happens to our brooms?’ Cassie asked interestedly. ‘That’s the problem.’

‘The broom will distract the Chasers, who will try to avoid it. I need one of our Chasers to catch the broom, another one to keep trying to score, and that’s where the Beaters will come in.

‘So we leap forwards, with no regard to where our broom is, score, and then…what? Fall to the floor and break something?’ Lucinda looked worried.

‘That’s the best part. Beaters have strong arms, everyone knows that. So what if we used them for something other than whacking Bludgers? Not that you guys aren’t great at that,’ she hastily added. ‘But I think you’ll have fun with this, and it’ll be a good workout.’

They trouped out onto the field and Emma made Rabastan and Anthony Nott hover near the ground - as a precaution. She told Cassie to practice jumping from her broom for them to catch her, and instructed Regulus to keep a close eye on them: if it looked like a Beater would miss, then he would have to perform "Arresto Momentum" on the falling girl and hope that it worked. Technically it was a second-year level charm, but the heavier/faster the object, the harder it would be to cast.

Satisfied that her Chaser was in minimal danger, she took the Quaffle out and took Lucinda and Barty to the goalposts. They practiced jumping from their brooms and shooting the Quaffle in, something they had been learning for the past two years from Avery. Neither of the girls jumped very far, and made sure the other’s broomstick was always there to catch her

After about half an hour, Cassie and Lucinda swapped, and another half hour later Emma called them all back to the ground.

‘So are you ready?’

Cassie nodded eagerly, but Lucinda still looked a little scared: her face was white and her hands were slightly shaking.

‘Don’t worry, Regulus will be here to catch you with a spell if something goes wrong,’ Emma encouraged her, mercilessly using the other girl’s affections. Lucinda gulped and nodded.

The first attempt was awful. Cassie fell face forwards as her foot tangled with the broom, not even making the jump. Emma flew off to fetch it as Rabastan caught her. The next was better, and the one after that, until both Chasers could get in one out of five goals - though Emma suspected that Barty was going easy on them. It was amazing how fast that boy's reflexes were. He had only improved over the past six months: adding skill to his pure talent. Now he knew most of the Chaser tricks, as well as the Keeper's. They're going to have to watch out for him, she mused, thinking of the Captaincy that would be free after her seventh year.

‘Right, let’s make this a little harder,’ she said. Rabastan rubbed his hands together in glee, but was the only one to seem excited. Good old Rabastan.

‘No, no Bludgers Bast, I think it’s a little too early. No, I’m going to pretend to be the other Chaser.’

Emma flew towards Lucinda at a steady pace. The latter panicked and jumped a little too soon: Emma knew that the goal would go wide when she saw the blonde’s body fall sideways instead of forwards. She had little time to think of anything else though, as the broomstick collided with her face. She went flying backwards, barely clinging to her broom as she blinked, her eyes watering from the impact. She was vaguely aware of a cheer that went up behind her.

‘That was perfect Ems!’ Cassie swooped down to meet her, grinning. ‘I caught the Quaffle and sent it through the hoop before Barty realised what was going on!’ She whooped again.

‘Did de Beaters catch Lucinda?’ Emma asked thickly.

‘Why are you speaking weirdly?’ Cassie flew closer to inspect her captain. ‘Merlin’s underpants, you’re bleeding!’

‘Boomstick too fast,’ Emma wiped her nose with her sleeve and flew messily to the ground. Luckily she was able to land without much difficulty. ‘D’you catch her?’ she asked again, worried for her friend's safety.

‘Yeah, that was so cool! I want to do that again!’ Rabastan punched the air. ‘Oh um…do we need to do something about that?’

‘Episkey,’ Barty tapped his wand on Emma’s nose.

Lucinda flew down on Anthony Nott's broomstick. She was still trembling, but there was a huge grin plastered to her face.

'That was some adrenaline rush,' she breathed, her eyes glassy with the memory of her achievement.

Emma took that as a good sign: each time would be easier, and the rush of doing something dangerous would become addictive. This was the real reason they played.

‘Thanks Barty,’ she said, unceremoniously wiping her nose again. ‘Right, sorry about your broomstick Luce, but I think in an hour or so we’ll get the hang of it.’

‘You know, you lose a lot of your credibility when your face is all dirty,’ Rabastan commented. ‘Maybe you should work on that.’

Regulus snorted. Emma turned on him with an exasperated look. ‘What, it was funny!’

‘Congratulations, you’re in charge of fetching broomsticks now,’ Emma smirked at him, efficiently wiping off the grin on her friend's face. He pouted.

‘Rabastan started it,’ he pointed out.

‘Rabastan is being useful in the plays,’ she retorted.

He narrowed his eyes, but traipsed off to find the broom, flying this way and that. Easier than trying to find the Snitch, Emma thought, watching him looping through the stadium with practiced ease for a second. Sometimes she wondered if he didn't belong on a broomstick instead of on the ground. He was certainly most open and happy when they played Quidditch, though that might have just been the endorphins from the sport.

‘Way to regain your authority, Ems,’ Lucinda teased, looking slightly put out.

‘I just felt like making him do some work,’ Emma replied, before an idea occurred to her. ‘But I probably need to practice catching the Quaffle as quickly as possible. Would you mind Regulus flying at you from now on?’

Lucinda’s face brightened, but she quelled the smile. ‘I think that would be okay,’ she said carefully.

‘Good, because we’ve got another couple of hours ahead of us.’

‘What?’ Rabastan complained. ‘But tomorrow’s the game!’

‘Practicing in the dark!’ Emma explained. ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be back in time for dinner.’

‘Better be,’ he muttered darkly.

***

 

Several hours - and a few broken noses and split lips - later, Emma watched the team troop tiredly back to the castle as she buckled the Quaffle back into the box. She would probably never admit it, but she liked this part of practice. It was soothing, the slight smell of sweat mixed with leather, the chill starting to set in at night, the different touch of every ball - even the Snitch. It was amazing how something so small, so fragile-looking could be the most dangerous in the game. After all, it was often the deciding factor for the winning side, and made the Seeker the most injured player on the field. Even Regulus, who was as agile as any player she knew, often got hit and would have been incapacitated five minutes into the match if the Beaters weren't there to protect him.

Hopefully this training was enough, she thought as she started walking. Gryffindor had massacred them in the first match, but she hoped that that was because of the new players on her team and her new tactics as captain. This time would be different. As she shut the shed door, she jumped.

‘Merlin, Regulus, don’t do that!’

Regulus was lounging, cool as a cucumber, on the side of the shed. Obviously he had gone to get changed with the others, since he was in his school robes, his hair freshly wet from his shower. It made Emma realise just how muddy she was.

‘So I noticed that you haven’t been practicing the dive,’ he said conversationally.

‘I’ve been using cushioning charms on the grass in my spare time,’ she said, walking back to the changing rooms.

Did he honestly think I wouldn't have trained just as hard? No. This was Regulus: ultimate observer - the reason why he had been chosen as Seeker in only his second year. There had to be something more to it.

‘Uh-uh,’ he stared at her.

‘You know I can do that dive with my eyes shut,’ she tried again, taking her Quidditch robes and guards off. There was a sinking pit in her stomach, a dread of where this conversation might be going.

He still stared at her. This is starting to get uncomfortable. Give him a good excuse. A believable one. Close to the truth.

‘Fine, I don’t like having to rely on other people to get back into the game.’

‘Do you not trust your team?’ he asked.

‘Of course I do! I just don’t...’

‘Like feeling out of control,’ he finished for her.

Her face darkened and she turned her back on him, making sure her Nimbus was in pristine condition for the following day. Why did Regulus have to press her? Weren't they friends because they didn't force each other to share things that were too personal? Didn't he have the decency to respect her privacy?

‘Sorry,’ he sat on the bench next to her. She could almost sense his hesitation, but he continued anyway. ‘I knew, you know.’

‘Knew what,’ she snapped.

‘You always get angry when you’re unsure,’ he said. ‘I think I’m the only one who’s realised, because you seem to get angry a lot.’

‘Is there a point to this conversation?’

‘I already knew about the Mudblood at the Yule Ball before the Occlumency,’ he admitted. ‘You don’t need to hide it from me. You're allowed to be scared once in a while.’

‘I'm not scared!’ she said a bit too loudly, a bit too quickly. ‘Besides, it’s just a stupid reaction.’

The sinking pit in her stomach had spread to her throat. One of her worst fears realised. She felt her heart beating as though it was trying to escape her ribcage. Don't panic, she told herself, growing angry, though she didn't know whom with.

‘Like the way you jump every time somebody catches you by surprise? Like the way you made Diggory wait half an hour before going on your date?’ Regulus insisted.

‘What the hell Regulus?’ Emma stood up, half-drawing her wand. How dare he talk to me like that?

‘What I didn't understand was how you didn't mind kissing people when the slightest touch on your arm has you jumping back,' he continued, unperturbed, as though this was just another puzzle to solve. This is why he never gets close to people: he acts as though they're mysteries to unravel. 'I thought that maybe you had forgotten it, even after Avery...' he trailed off.

'That kind of thing is hard to forget,' Emma hissed through clenched teeth, but she tried to force herself to calm down. Regulus would not see this vulnerable, affected side of her. Obviously, he didn't think her so weak that she would still be terrified whenever someone unknown came too close. I can do this. She took a hold of her feelings, forcing them to disappear. Apathy came over her, replaced only by a contempt for her friend's prying. 'But to answer your question, kissing is... Well, it's an exchange, isn't it? It's useful. I can put my feelings aside to be useful to the team.'

'Very Slytherin of you,' he remarked. 'While that kind of thinking might help you in Occlumency, how do you think the team’s going to react when they realise that you’re not doing any of the plays you’re making them do? You can't rationalise your instincts.’

‘Well, Mr Know-it-all, what do you suggest?’ she asked coldly.

  ***

 

‘Come on Emma, you just need to fall,’ Regulus encouraged. Her broom was twenty feet up in the air and he was waiting ten feet below. ‘Easy.’

‘Easy,’ Emma muttered.

She carefully stood up on her broom, arms splayed out for balance. It was going to be a cold night, her broomstick was already slippery with frost. But there was no way to back down now. Maybe there was more Gryffindor in her than expected, though she knew that she was mostly doing this to prove a point. She hated the fact that she felt like she needed to prove herself to Regulus, but who else was worthy of trying to impress?

It was impossible to summon up her anger now, however. She was giddy with the adrenaline and for a moment it felt like she was floating, weightless. Then she moved a foot, and suddenly her balance was lost and she was hurtling towards the ground at an alarming rate. With no broomstick to guide her. Dear Merlin, she prayed, shutting her eyes tightly. Her heart was in her throat now, the rest of her insides tied in knots so tightly that she felt like she was becoming detached from her body, but that couldn't be true because she was trapped inside, unable to move. He wasn't going to be there. She was completely at his mercy and now she was going to fall, alone and...

She landed in Regulus’s outstretched arms with a soft thump, the extra weight forcing the broom down another couple of feet before he managed to right it. He reflexively tightened his grip, lest she slip outwards and fall the rest of the distance.

‘There, was that so hard?’ he asked.

He flew up to where her Nimbus was waiting, but Emma made no move to get onto it. It was then that he realised just how tightly she was gripping his shirt and that her whole body was trembling. He manoeuvred them back to the ground, not even bothering to try to get off and flying straight into the changing rooms where he put her broomstick on the bench. He then sat down on the bench next to it, unable to loosen the vice-like grip she had on him.

‘Emma,’ he said. ‘Emma, you need to let go.’

'Don't make me,' she shook her head tearfully, clutching even tighter, her breath coming in ragged gasps.

She couldn't breathe. No matter how much oxygen she inhaled, it felt like it was never enough for her lungs. Her head was spinning, so she kept her eyes tightly shut, focussing on the shirt intertwined in her fingers.

'You need to calm down,' he sighed and unzipped his jacket, forcing her to let go. She immediately put her feet on the bench and curled her arms around her knee. She was no longer shaking, but shivered from the cold, so as an afterthought he put the jacket on her. After that though, he didn’t know what to do. He just waited as she slowly stopped rocking and her shivering transformed itself into one last shuddering breath. Regulus wondered if he should say something. Luckily, that was the moment the black-haired girl chose to speak.

‘Thanks,’ she said dully. After a moment she continued. ‘Sorry about that.’

‘No worries,’ he said lightly, inwardly sighing with relief. ‘I know girls always threaten to never let go, but you’re the first one to physically attempt it.'

She shot him a black look with eyes were still slightly wild. He quietened.

'I'm sorry,' he said, though whether it was for the joke, or forcing her into something that induced a panic attack, she didn't know.

So that's what happens when I let myself go. I'll never lose control again, she vowed. She had thought that her freezing up in front of Avery had been a one-time thing, but apparently not. She supposed that this kind of thing had never happened in fifth year because they were all too concentrated on the O.W.Ls to party after Christmas. But that thought, meant to be comforting, only served to remind her that Regulus had known that a Gryffindor Muggleborn had come so close to... A shiver went up her spine and her cheeks flushed with the shame of it. How could she bear to look at him again? If the Inter-House ball hadn't been enough, surely this deserved his disdain.

‘We should probably go to the Great Hall, eat before it’s too late,’ she said eventually, trying to brush it off. ‘Can’t have a starving Seeker on the field tomorrow.’

She stretched, and Regulus saw that her eyes were red-rimmed. She noticed the look of worry before he had time to compose his features. It's already started.

‘Sorry for biting your head off... It's just it,’ she hesitated, ‘makes me feel like a Muggle.’

‘Trust me, Emma Potter,’ Regulus said on their way up to the castle. ‘No one would ever mistake you for a Muggle.’

Chapter Text

In the Great Hall, Emma slid into the seat between Lucinda and Alecto, quickly wiping her eyes with her sleeve. She had refrained from doing so during the hurried and awkward walk up to the castle. It was enough that Regulus knew, he didn't need to see her crying on top of all of that. He had always told her that he thought crying was useless. Besides, he's endured way worse than I have. Get a grip, Emma.

'Merlin Emma, are you alright? You look like you've been in a fight,' Alecto exclaimed, shocked.

Emma belatedly realised that she hadn't taken a shower, and there was blood all over her face. The Quidditch practice seemed like days ago now. She pointed her wand at herself. 'Tergeo.'

'Better,' the redhead said. 'But everyone will have noticed by now. Isn't that Regulus's jacket?'

'Uh, yeah...' Emma replied, her cheeks tingeing with pink.

Pull yourself together. You can still take control of the situation. Just think of a plausible excuse. Or better yet, just pretend it's inconsequential. She ran her rules of life in a bad situation through her mind before discreetly taking a few calming breaths and plastering a look of smug indifference on her face.

'What?' Lucinda asked. 'Is that why you're so late? But you said you were on a date earlier...'

'Yeah, with Amos Diggory.'

'With who?' Alecto almost choked on her food. 'But he's a half-blood!'

'And pretty handsome,' Emma said, smiling at the Hufflepuff table.

'I told you Ems, he doesn't have to be a Slytherin, but geez find a pure-blood!' Alecto admonished. 'The others are just asking for trouble. Besides, are you really going to put yourself down just for that? Think of your reputation. Think of...' her voice trailed off.

Emma knew exactly what she was going to say. They had been assured that if they could accomplish their individual tasks, then they would be able to join the elusive ranks of the Death Eaters. Alecto was sure that if word got around that Emma was dating a half-blood then it would ruin her chances. Emma ignored her: at least they had magical parents. Even Muggleborns were fine for her, though she thought they needed special education before Hogwarts. No, Emma's disdain was reserved for Muggles, and her pity for Squibs. She was sure that the Dark Lord would understand that. Besides, the tasks were near-impossible, or at least hers was.

'Amos Diggory, did you say?' Lucinda asked, a smile playing upon her lips.

Emma handed Regulus his jumper back the next morning at breakfast, without a word. He accepted it equally silently, though she thought he was on the verge of saying something. The rest of the team was already up, as well as the Hufflepuff team and a few early risers. She wandered down the table, encouraging Anthony to eat some toast. In their first match, he had taken a Bludger to the head within the first five minutes and had woken up days before term ended. Emma was trying to boost his confidence when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

'Hey Captain,' Amos Diggory said, holding out a hand. 'Good luck for the game.'

'Yeah you too,' she replied, shaking it. 'You know we can do this on the field?'

'I know, but I wanted to tell you in person…I'm sorry about yesterday, it was a mistake.'

'What?' she asked, not believing her ears. This really wasn't her weekend.

'Even I'm not foolish to go up against Regulus Black,' he grimaced. 'Didn't you just hand him his jumper?'

'Yeah but we're not together or anything...'

'Oh yeah, she told me that you broke up, but… Your brother pranking me, I thought I could deal with, though that's what probably scares most guys off. Regulus Black is a whole different story. I'm sorry. Maybe you should try dating Gryffindors,' he offered her a smile.

She just looked at him coolly until he went back to his table, then glared at Lucinda as she took her seat. The latter gave her a one-sided smirk: the one she reserved for special occasions of getting what she wanted.

'Didn't you tell me to start playing the game, Ems?' she asked sweetly.

'You're lucky you're a good Chaser,' she muttered darkly. 'If you play exactly like that on the field, I just might not hex you.'

The score was 160-60 to Hufflepuff, it was snowing, and they were down a Keeper. Barty had been knocked off his broom by a double Bludger, resulting in Emma calling a time out in order to swear profusely at Anthony and Rabastan, who at least had the decency to feel ashamed. At least Anthony did. she never knew if Rabastan had just mastered the art of looking contrite so she would shut up. After a reminder from Cassie that their time was coming to an end, she moved onto tactics.

'Right, time to put our play into action,' she said. 'This is our third game, and in order to stay in the running we need to win by one hundred points. Regulus, that means you need to find the Snitch, and fast. We'll get a head start, but once they get the Quaffle back, there's no telling which way it'll swing.'

'What do you think I've been doing for the past hour and a half?' Regulus complained, but promised to try harder.

'Rabastan, I don't want to take any chances. Hit Bludgers if they come your way, but I want you flying under the Chasers at all times.'

The Beater nodded, face scrunched up in concentration. Emma turned to Lucinda and Cassie.

'I'll try to keep them trained on me so neither of you have to jump, but it may have to come down to that,' she said.

'Don't worry Ems, we'll cream 'em,' Lucinda said, and Cassie nodded furiously. Both wanted to win just as much as their captain did.

'Right, back into the air then.'

Madam Hooch blew the whistle, and the game restarted. Anthony got a good shot at Diggory in the Keeper position, but his body guard took the brunt of it, and he was none the worse for wear. The Hufflepuffs got in two more goals before Emma wrestled the Quaffle away from one and scored, putting all of her frustration at the wet Keeper into the throw. 180-70.

Cassie caught the ball and passed it down to Lucinda, who scored again.

Fifty points to go, Emma thought, craning her head to look at Regulus. A body rammed into her, pushing her into the stands and there was some booing from the crowd. Lucinda took the penalty as Emma found her way out again and scored. They flew together as a unit: they needed to keep scoring. Doing the traditional loop of the field, they passed the ball faster and faster and suddenly Cassie flew up, Lucinda flew down, and Emma scored. Apparently Diggory wasn't doing too well: Anthony had decided to pelt only him with Bludgers. She threw the ball to Cassie, but Diggory blocked the Quaffle with the butt of his broomstick and the ball dropped.

There was a Chaser in front of Emma, but a Bludger came soaring past her, knocking the Hufflepuff off-course. This kid really has talent, she thought, amazed as she caught the red ball. Even if we do lose, I couldn't be prouder of this team. She flew up, followed by the two Chasers, but she had her back to the goal and there was no way to turn around in time to score.

'Emma!' Lucinda called, appearing in front of her. Emma quickly threw the ball to her and carried on for a while, hoping to throw the Hufflepuffs off-course. It worked, but as she turned around she saw the two Beaters looming in front of the Slytherin. The Chasers were blocking Emma's path, and Cassie was too far away. Lucinda met Emma's eyes, and leapt.

The same way she leapt the first try. But Emma realised that this time it had been calculated: the broomstick collided with the two Beaters, and the Chasers flew in the direction of the goal, the place Lucinda should have been aiming for.

Emma caught the ball, hoping that Cassie would collect the broom, and scored a goal on the other side of the Keeper. She followed it, looping around the side and scoring again, praying to Merlin that it had given her two Chasers enough time. There! Cassie was waiting behind the goal.

Cassie caught the ball, and the three Chasers blocked the way between Cassie and Emma. What they hadn't expected was Lucinda to be hovering above them. They sat there in surprise as Cassie seemingly chucked the Quaffle towards them, and Lucinda swooped around in a loop, scoring not once, but twice.

Emma could hear the thunderous roar of the Slytherins and the excited shouting of the commentator. She took a quick look at the scoreboard: 180-140. The Hufflepuffs had recovered from their shock, but it was too late. Emma nearly fell off-balance as Regulus rushed past her and by the time she had righted herself he had caught the Snitch.

That evening even the first years stayed up late eating smuggled cakes and drinking Butterbeer. Rabastan had procured some Firewhisky, but Emma refused. She was already drunk on excitement. So, apparently, was her best friend, who was giving her a play-by-play of the event.

'Did you see the Hufflepuff Seeker?' Alecto shouted in her ear. 'He was watching you play and didn't even see the Snitch go past him! I heard Diggory spent an hour shouting at him after the match.'

Emma grinned and clinked her butterbeer against her friend's before getting atop a table.

'Excuse me everyone! Can I have your attention? Slytherin rules!'

Everyone turned around and cheered, waving their various drinks or food in the air. A chant of SLY-THER-IN started up, not letting down until someone accidentally smashed a glass. A quick spell was all that was needed, but Emma took advantage of the quiet.

'Give it up for our Seeker, Regulus Black!'

The crowd applauded and clapped Regulus on the back. He said nothing, but smirked in pride in his corner. Suddenly, Emma was doubly grateful for the Quidditch win: it put something between now and last night. This was the opportunity to prevent things becoming awkward. My luck has turned, she thought, wanting to share that luck with her friends. After all, it wasn't only Regulus who won us that match.

'And! And,' she shouted as it quietened. 'Regulus won us the match, but we're only still in the running thanks to our star Chaser, Lucinda Rosier and her superb dive!'

Lucinda reddened as she was hoisted onto someone's shoulders and the chanting resumed, only this time it had a LU-CIN-DA added to it every few chants. Confetti burst from several seventh-years' wands and one did a superbly complex piece of magic that made birds fly around Lucinda's head in a halo.

Fifteen minutes later, Lucinda found Emma by the window.

'Thanks for that,' she said, still flushed - though Emma was certain that it was from the alcohol. 'Firewhisky?'

'No problem,' Emma replied, setting down her empty butterbeer and suddenly feeling a wave of fatigue. 'I'm off to bed, so no thanks. Good luck with that one,' she nodded towards Regulus, who was watching Rabastan down a whole bottle of Firewhisky in one go.

'Thanks. And... I'm sorry about Diggory,' Lucinda apologised.

'Nah, you did me a favour,' Emma waved her off.

***

 

After taking a well-deserved shower in the dormitory, she threw herself down on her bed, feeling pleased with herself. There was a crinkling noise, and with a frown she withdrew the parchment that had miraculously survived her back pocket. The back was sealed with a skull, a snake protruding from its mouth. She snickered at the Slytherin reference and had to remind herself that they hadn't won the cup yet. She broke the seal and read.

McNair will be staying for the next fortnight in the Hog's Head. He will provide you with the necessary equipment and directions. Fail to turn up, and face my displeasure.

The Dark Lord

She tossed and turned all night. Though she was exhausted from the Quidditch game, thoughts of the Dark Lord's request kept her mind churning until the sound of Alecto's soft snores drove her to her feet. She slipped on her shoes and a warm jumper, and tiptoed up into the common room. Unsurprisingly, Regulus was already sitting by the fire, staring into the flames as if he could extinguish them with a look.

'You read yours,' she said. It wasn't a question.

He held out the scrap of parchment for her to read. It was crumpled, as if he had read it and put it back into his pocket, then taken it out over and over again.

'Aren't you scared I'll steal your glory?' she teased. The Death Eaters had made sure to tell them to keep their tasks secret.

Regulus gave her a tired look. She hid the surprise that she felt. She hadn't really talked to him during their day-long celebration, but now she saw the bags under his eyes. He hadn't looked that bad when she saw him with Rabastan, had he? She unrolled it.

'Who are these people?' she asked, scanning the short list of names. She recognised one, maybe two out of five.

'The most outspoken Mudbloods against the Dark Lord,' Regulus's eyes never moved from the flames. 'Some are Aurors.'

'So they're wizards,' she said.

'Wizards that don't agree with us,' he said. Emma noticed the "us". 'It's a war, Emma. Bad things happen during wars. But it'll be worth it in the end. Think about not having to hide your magic. So far, the Dark Lord is the only one to act on the principles of equal rights for magical creatures. What are a few Muggleborns compared to the amount of house-elves murdered out of neglect?'

'I think you've muddled your arguments,' she said, sitting next to him and immediately regretting her words. Was it possible that Regulus was trying to convince himself that this was the right thing? Was this a hit list?

'So what? I'm not good with words like you. But I do know what kind of world I want my children to grow up in, and it's not one ravaged by war. Everything will fall into place, you'll see. We have to have faith that the Dark Lord knows what he's doing.'

'Then why the ridiculously hard tasks?' she asked.

'Don't you see? He wants us to get used to failure,' Regulus turned to her, and his eyes were shining. 'But I won't fail, and neither will you. We'll show him we're worthy.'

Emma suspected his parents' speech was mixed within his words, but she couldn't deny her hatred of failure. Let her prove to Lord Voldemort that she could do this. Let her temper Bellatrix and Avery's penchant for violent destruction, and show the world that Dark magic wasn't so bad. It was Dark because it was dangerous. But Light magic could be just as harmful. They needed an unprejudiced world and maybe she could convince her father and Bellatrix to see it her way. The Dark Lord's way - he had told her that he had envisioned a better world, where everyone would be helped or treated according to blood. But to do that, she needed to think up the best plan she could.

'I'll help you with your talk if you help me with mine,' she said.

'Won't that be cheating?'

'It's not cheating if there are no rules,' she said, remembering Voldemort's words.

Chapter Text

'Lucky I stole some Polyjuice Potion at the start of the year,' Emma said, staring at the mixture Regulus was pouring into vials.

They were huddled in a corner of the Slytherin dormitories. Emma had pretended to oversleep when Alecto announced that she was going down to breakfast - hardly a feat, considering Lucinda and Sophie had massive hangovers. Helen hadn't even made it back to their dorm the previous night. Barty's classmates had already all gone down. Most people didn't want to get on McGonagall's bad side, especially when your O. were the next year. She would be handing out tips to students who she thought were trying their best. Apparently, Barty didn't need them, since he was unperturbed at the idea of missing Transfiguration. The same couldn't be said for the plan.

He eyed her dubiously and then the potion. 'What do I get out of this again?'

'Direct recommendation, and Quidditch Captaincy when I leave Hogwarts,' she replied. 'Well, I'll put in a good word for you and make sure your talent is adequately displayed.'

'Why me?' he asked, but the sixth-years could tell that he was getting excited. It wasn't often that upperclassmen invited younger years into their scheming. And there was definitely an incentive to want to help.

'You're the best impersonator we know, and someone we can trust,' Emma said, looking him directly in the eye. Maybe that would make him believe it was true. But Barty seemed devoted to Regulus... and their cause. 'Besides, don't you want the Dark Lord to succeed?'

'Of course I do,' Barty breathed. 'Let's start.'

Regulus gathered Emma's hair and evenly trimmed an inch off the bottom.

'You could have just cut a chunk off,' Emma said as Regulus compared the two ends.

'I like things to be neat,' he replied. 'Is this enough Barty?'

'Should be fine,' he replied, putting each dosage in a separate vial. The liquid turned blood-red. 'One in the morning, one in the evening, for a whole week.'

'So I'm off visiting my parents,' Regulus said, going over their plan. 'My grandfather isn't feeling well, and he doesn't have long to live.'

'And what's my alibi?'

'You're recovering at home from your Quidditch injuries,' Emma improvised. 'Will it be checked with your parents?'

'Please,' Barty replied. 'My father hardly knows I exist, he's so wrapped up in catching Dark wizards. He's such a hypocrite, did you know that he agrees entirely with their point of view?'

Regulus and Emma glanced at each other, clearly they had touched a sore spot. The younger boy badly hid a pained expression. Talented he might be, but when he wasn't imitating someone, he was an open book. Emma had vaguely heard of Barty Crouch Senior, but couldn't place the name until she remembered something her father had said. "Crouch wants to legalise using Unforgivable Curses on Death Eaters". No wonder Barty hated him. The Unforgivable Curses were unforgivable for a reason - especially the Killing Curse. They had been invented as a last resort, but were instead the cause of thousands of murders. Luckily, as Emma had found out for herself, you needed to really mean it for an Unforgivable Curse to work. She wondered why they didn't teach about them in Defence Against the Dark Arts class. It would be useful to learn about them, if only to be prepared for the world out there. As it stood, she had no idea what the Killing Curse looked like, nor how the Imperius Curse worked. The only thing she knew of the Cruciatus Curse was that it hurt. A lot. And that objects could deflect it. She realised that she was staring intently at the Polyjuice Potion, when she should be going over the plan. Vaguely, she wondered why her vial was so red, but quickly shunted the thought to the back of her mind.

'I'm off to talk to Dumbledore,' Regulus was saying. 'There shouldn't be too much worry, I can forge my father's handwriting perfectly. Emma, I'll meet you in the common room at two.'

He dusted off any remaining hairs from his robes and left. Barty and Emma were left with the collection of potions. Barty idly picked up a vial and swirled it around a little, obviously wondering if it was safe to drink it yet. Suddenly he stopped, squeezing the object in his hand, eyes snapping back to Emma's face.

'Wait, how are you going to get out of Hogwarts?' he asked.

'Barty, what I am about to tell you remains strictly between you and I,' Emma replied in a low voice.

If he was going to imitate her, there were a couple of things he needed to know. Then she explained about the Invisibility Cloak - in case James asked him about it - and about the basics of her relationship with Sirius Black and her cousin Lou. Those weren't too hard. She was about to continue on the case of her parents, but was interrupted.

'I've got this one,' he said and arranged her features into a scowl. 'I don't like to talk about them.'

'Um okay...' Emma said, disconcerted. 'So with Alecto and Lucinda...'

'I've got that down too, from Quidditch and watching you with Alecto,' he replied. 'How should I act when people tell me about Regulus?'

'What about him?' Emma raised an eyebrow.

'You know,' he said, and Emma swore she saw his lips twitch for a second. 'His grandfather's ill and he'll be away for a week. Do I act all sad, because you're often together; annoyed, that he didn't bother to tell me about it; or like I just don't care?'

'Well…I'll leave that up to you, Barty. Just don't do anything I wouldn't, okay?' she finished lamely, disconcerted.

'Got it.'

***

 

'James,' hissed a voice from right behind his ear.

He jumped and turned around: there was only the portrait of some medieval witch. She was cackling at him, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up uncomfortably. It's only a stupid witch, he thought. Though her face was eerily familiar… He glanced about, but before he could do anything else he was yanked through the fake portrait by his collar.

'Jeez Emma, be a normal person will you?' he massaged his neck.

'No can do, with a brother like you,' she half-smiled.

He scrutinized his twin. He had barely seen her since Christmas, and those dates didn't count. Come to think of it, how was his sister, his Emma, even on two dates in a single day? He knew her better than anyone. No one else had seen the shy girl he had grown up with, coaxed out of her shell when needed. She needed him, that was the way it was. And he was always there to take care of her. That was the way it was. That was the way it would always be.

Something was off.

He was just about to say as much when he noticed her flushed cheeks, her feverish eyes darting around. She looked pale, as if she hadn't slept well in days. He almost smiled as understanding hit him. That's it! he thought with relief. She's ill, and those boys were taking advantage of her. She always does crazy things when she gets the Firebug Flu.

The Firebug Flu was notorious for the restlessness and agitation it caused. Though physically the patients only showed flu-like symptoms, the "Firebug" part was the addling of a wizard's brain: making the victim act on crazy impulses due to the constant adrenaline rush: creating a fight-or-flight situation that lasted for hours on end. Most of the time it was impossible for them to sleep, so after a couple of days, the wizard would feel completely drained and exhausted: in need of medical attention.

'Do you have the Invisibility Cloak?' Emma asked urgently.

'Why would you need that?' James asked, leading her up the secret staircase. 'Come on, I'll take you to the hospital wing.'

He had originally planned on talking to her about their parents, but there was no sense in inflaming the Firebug Flu with further agitation. The more stressed the patient, the worse the aftermath was.

'I'm not sick, I just really need the Invisibility Cloak,' his twin insisted.

'Again, I ask why?' He steered her across the corridor: she didn't seem to notice.

'I... It doesn't matter does it? Do I need your permission now? Are you going to interrogate me like Mum and Dad?' she jumped from one subject to the other.

James felt a lump in his throat. Sirius was finally free of his parents, he had managed to speak to Lily civilly - she had even allowed him to show her to the kitchens where the House-elves made her a cake for her birthday - everything was going well…Why did their Dad have to act the way he did with Emma? Why couldn't it go back to before, when the four of them were happy and never wanted for anything?

When he had gotten back from their New Year's party, he had found his mum almost in tears and his dad transformed into a silent man that kept his jaw clenched shut. He had managed to wheedle the story out of his mother, but it was too late. Natalie already blamed herself for letting Emma leave without a word, thinking that she could go and talk to her after calming her husband down. But when she got to her daughter's room, there were clothes strewn everywhere, and her Hogwarts trunk was missing. Charles had wanted to call the Ministry, but James convinced him not to. School started on the third of January anyway, and James had promised to owl them if he saw Emma there.

Then there was the incident on the train... It had torn his heart apart to let Emma go when there was something so obviously wrong, but he hadn't known what to say. How could he comfort her, knowing that his father had wanted to call the Aurors and his mother had to go for a check-up at St Mungo's? Nothing would have made her feel better, and like a coward he had avoided the conversation. It was distinctly un-Gryffindor of him, and even Lily had noticed his lack of will in pranking. Admittedly, she was happy about it. But still... there was no point in talking to Emma now: he needed to calm her down. She almost looked like she was ready to run, though Merlin knew where. Minnie will understand if I don't have time to do my essay, he decided.

'Here it is,' he said, pulling it out of his schoolbag. 'But you have to go to the Hospital Wing in return. I think you have the Firebug Flu; you should see Madam Pomfrey.'

She lunged towards the cloak, but he held it back, tutting. 'Only after we get to the infirmary.'

She sighed, and seemed to fall into a sulk, but her shoulders sagged in defeat. She knew when he was right. That's the Emma I know, James thought with relief.

He accompanied her all the way to door before handing her the cloak, promising to look in on her at the end of the day. He didn't want to, but he had lessons and had planned a Quidditch practice after the stunt she had pulled the day before. I can't believe she's not in Gryffindor, he thought, before thinking that what could be seen as bravery could also be seen as resourcefulness: a trait he had come to associate with the green and silver House. The lines between our Houses aren't as defined as people think. He wished that there wasn't this war dividing the Houses along their rivalry lines. Nowadays you would never catch a Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw together, let alone Gryffindor and Slytherin. And from the rumours he had heard... many of his twin's housemates were on the wrong side. But he kept these thoughts to himself, filing them away in a box to be opened at a later date. It was what made people think he was so carefree all the time.

'If you're not there when I come back, I'll drag you back myself,' he warned aloud.

Emma realised that she couldn't have planned it better if she wanted to.

***

 

'Do you have it?' Regulus whispered anxiously, several hours later.

'Of course I do. Were you seen?'

He and Barty had snuck into the Hospital Wing whilst Madam Pomfrey ate in her office. If she saw them visiting Emma, it might seem suspicious - especially seeing as technically Barty had already left - and besides, they wouldn't be able to make the swap. Barty had stolen the key earlier that morning and duplicated it, before checking out in the afternoon.

'Of course not. May I ask what you were doing all afternoon?'

'James thinks I have the Firebug Flu,' she explained. 'He came to visit and now believes that I really am ill.'

Both boys looked impressed, so Emma didn't add the fact that it hadn't been her idea in the first place. She pulled some spare robes out of her school bag.

'Here,' she thrust them on Barty and pointed to the drawn curtains. 'Drink the potion and get changed.'

'Yes boss,' he saluted sarcastically, hobbling to the bed and downing one of the vials as though it were a shot. He grimaced for a second. 'You taste spicy, by the way, oh and -'

His fellow Slytherins shared a sudden look of realisation and Regulus thrust a nearby plant pot under his nose just in time to catch the vomit.

'Maybe not spicy then,' Barty said feebly as he threw up.

'Gross,' Emma wrinkled her nose. 'We'll leave you to it then. Make sure you get those red eyes right.'

'I think he won't have any trouble looking ill for today at least,' Regulus joked as Emma threw the Invisibility Cloak around them on the way out.

'I just hope that James doesn't look too closely at the Map...' she said worriedly.

Regulus looked at her oddly, but she didn't elaborate. He had to hunch slightly for the cloak to cover his feet, so was too occupied looking where he was going to press the matter. They scuttled through the corridors until they reached the infamous One-Eyed-Witch passage that she and James had discovered in their second year. Emma stood watch while Regulus scrambled through the opening, nervously shifting her weight from one foot to the other. This was the most visible part of their plan to get out of Hogwarts. After one last glance around the corridor, she bundled up the cloak and followed suit.

'Oof.'

The wind was knocked out of her as she landed on top of her friend, toppling him back into the dust.

'You were supposed to move,' she reprimanded him, picking herself up and proffering him a hand.

He looked at her incredulously for a second, before taking it and inspecting the passageway with interest, taking note of the crumbling stone walls and slightly damp soil covered with dirt and dust.

'How many other secrets are you keeping from me?' he asked, mildly surprised.

'Oh, a ton,' she teased, lighting her wand and brushing the dirt off the cloak. 'This leads to Hogsmeade.'

'I feel like I've just discovered another person,' he complained.

'Come on, Reg, you're just annoyed that there are some things that go on that you're not aware of,' Emma replied as they walked.

He pouted, but said nothing until they reached the outskirts of the village.

'I think it's this one,' he said, pointing to a dishevelled hut.

It was a one-roomed hovel really, but a quick search revealed a large box with the symbol of a skull with a snake protruding from its mouth. The two sixteen-year olds shot each other a quick glance. Emma's heart had started pounding, though with excitement or fear she didn't know. She placed a hand on each side and undid the catch. There was a piece of parchment, detailing what each of the gifts did along with a map of the giants' location in the Scottish highlands. Underneath that was a scythe, supposedly enchanted to act like a Dementor's kiss. A pair of small boots were tucked away in the corner: apparently they changed size to fit the wearer and allowed them to move twice as quickly. Specifically mentioned to be used as a last resort was a large vial of unicorn blood. Emma almost gagged at the thought of the amount of unicorns it would take to provide that dosage. She passed each thing wordlessly to Regulus, who put them in his Mokeskin Pouch. I guess it turned out to be useful after all, she thought.

'Did you get any instructions or help?' she asked him.

He shook his head. 'Only the full names, job description and addresses.'

She offered him a grimace. Impossible seemed like an understatement when it came to describing these tasks.

Chapter Text

'I can't quite believe that we're doing this,' Emma shook her head in disbelief.

They were in a pub not unlike the Leaky Cauldron in Inverness, discussing their plan. They had managed to scrounge another map of the area off of the innkeeper, which was currently spread across Emma's bed in their little room, the Dark Lord's one just next to it. Regulus had dragged his across slightly and was sprawled along the side of his, whereas Emma was sitting up, resting their notes on her legs as she jotted down useful information. Books cluttered the area around them - apparently Regulus's Sunday afternoon had been spent stealing books on Giants from the library. According to one of them, the highlands populated by giants were about a day due west: a spot now circled in red ink. Luckily, he had also thought of the Four-Point spell before they left, and they were pretty certain they'd be able to get there easily enough.

'You'd better start,' he replied grimly. 'Any idea on what you're going to say?'

'Dunno,' she replied. 'I thought I would wing it.'

This time it was Regulus who shook his head in disbelief. He pulled out one of the books he had been making her revise - about the Gurgs and tribes of Scotland. Sometimes Emma forgot that his favourite class was History of Magic. How he didn't get teased more often for that was beyond her, but she couldn't deny its usefulness.

'Who's the current Gurg of the Fachen tribe?'

'Hurrok,' Emma replied, hitting her head against the headboard of her bed. They had been over this a thousand times already.

'And he came to power...?'

'By not only killing the old Gurg, but also his wife and children.'

'And in his spare time he enjoys...?'

'Grabbing Muggle climbers off the side of the mountain and eating them,' Emma suppressed a shudder. 'He's one of the only Giants to eat humans.'

'And your plan is to wing it.'

He stared at her, unimpressed. Emma puffed up her cheeks and let out a long sigh. She felt like her brain was going numb. She also knew that she was better at assessing situations as they arose, rather than Regulus's meticulous planning. It was even taking a toll on the boy, she could see his eyes starting to close in tiredness.

'Come on, take my mind off it,' she stated. 'Tell me a story.'

'What, like the Beedle the Bard?' he snorted.

'No,' she rolled her eyes. 'Like the one about the Bloody Baron. Something you've found out from listening to Binns - you're probably the only person in the history of Hogwarts to continue that class in NEWTs.'

'That's because you can't concentrate for more than five consecutive minutes,' he gave her his best Black smirk, but obliged her, turning the light off.

Emma grinned into the darkness and snuggled down in her bed, shoving all of the books onto the floor with a clang. She could almost see his disapproving glare, but it made her want to laugh all the more.

'The Dementor's kiss is one of the worst punishments known to the wizarding world. Dying gives you a choice: to go on to what can be found after death, or to return as a ghost, forever living a half-life in the mortal realm. The Dementors can take that choice away from you, sucking your soul as you still live and breathe, leaving nothing but an empty shell in its wake. Once, a criminal wizard escaped as he was being sentenced to the kiss. This man was so dangerous that a whole horde of Dementors was sent after him. In a desperate attempt to escape, he stole a rowing boat and rowed as fast as he could to an island far out to sea. Maybe he thought the Dementors would give up, maybe he thought they couldn't cross the sea. Either way, he was horribly wrong, for as you know: Dementors are nothing if not relentless.

'They caught up with him the minute his foot touched the beach, but the story did not end there. There was a colony of goblins, unbeknownst to man, living peacefully on the island. Goblins are not allowed wands, and were forced to see loved ones submitted to the kiss whilst watching helplessly from the sidelines. With the coming of midday, the Dementors retreated to the shadows, biding their time. Ragnok the Silver-handed was known for his ability to combine magic and steel together into a unique purpose. He set all of the villagers to work in order to speed up the process. Eventually a sickle was made, later known as the Sickle of Darkness. It could slice through anything, but Ragnok knew it would not be enough.

'First, he took a three drops of blood from his left arm, to symbolise the giving of his body. Next, he gathered every piece of gold he had - and you know how much goblins love their gold - and ordered the villagers to melt it. When the blade was gilded with his fortune, he took each memory of his wife and daughter from his mind and imbued them into the sickle, his love given to the creation of the weapon. Finally, with tears in his eyes, he committed the worst crime a person can, slashing his wife's throat and ripping apart his soul. This sin bound his soul to the blade, but his guilt was too much to bear. He turned the sickle to himself and gave up any hope of redeeming himself of his crime, forcing him to remain between worlds, unable to do anything but replay his crime over and over again.

'However when the Dementors returned, they were drawn to his daughter's pain. Mourning over the loss of her two parents, she picked up the first thing to hand to try and ward them off: the sickle. Much to her surprise, the weapon made contact and the Dementor burst in a shower of light. She wielded it against the rest and soon made short work of them. In order to enable the sickle to cut apart a soulless creature, Ragnok had to give his very soul to the weapon. Or so the legend goes.'

His voice faded into the night and he was almost certain his friend had fallen asleep before she spoke.

'How is it that someone so silent and secretive could keep such wondrous stories memorized in his head? I hardly ever hear you speak two consecutive sentences, and yet you have all of this locked away. Why do you keep everything so hidden away?' Emma finally let out the question that had been eating at her since they met.

'I collect stories,' he replied, as if it were obvious. 'I don't give them away.'

'Then why tell me?'

'Because you asked.'

***

 

The next day saw them up at the crack of dawn, trekking up the Mòruisg mountain towards the giant encampment. They had been exiled to the mount when wizards had magically enchanted the top of it: making Muggles believe that it was smaller than it actually was. To a Muggle, it would appear easy to climb, getting turned around when they reached the half-way mark. This made sure that they were never exposed to the giants' ruthlessness and Hurrok's greed. However, the climb would not be so easy for a wizard. Emma thanked Merlin for her rigorous Quidditch training, but she was still struggling when Regulus called for a break near midday.

As he passed her a bottle of water, she realised that she was exhausted and sweaty: not the way she wanted to look in front of Regulus, and certainly not the way she wanted to present herself to the Gurg. She needed to look as though the trip was effortless. If there was one thing the Dark Lord had taught her, it was that there was power in appearance. She needed to give out waves of confidence, as though the thought that the giants wouldn't join hadn't even occurred to her. Plus, she wouldn't be able to think straight by the time they reached the caves near the top.

'Reg,' she said, still panting slightly. 'What would happen if I tried to Summon something from the castle?'

To his credit he gave her no incredulous look, simply frowning slightly as he thought. 'Well some wizards say that it's harder to summon things the further away they are. But most say that you just need to picture the object clearly in your mind. Why, did you forget someth-'

'Accio Nimbus 1001s,' Emma said deliberately, picturing their racing brooms, imagining the grain of the wood beneath her fingers. Unconsciously, she flexed them, as though she were going to take up her broom there and then.

Regulus raised his eyebrows at her, but whatever he was going to say was cut off by two brooms zooming towards them. Emma's face lit up like a child's in a candy store. Regulus's jaw dropped.

'How did they even get here so fast?' he asked wonderingly. 'Wait, this isn't mine! I nicked mine on the stands once when I fell.' He showed her the smooth surface near the tail-brush.

'Maybe Inverness is starting their own Quidditch team,' Emma grinned, tying her hair out of her face. 'Now this should go a lot faster.'

Before he could utter a protest, she swung a leg over the broomstick and flew in the direction of the mountains. Why didn't I think of this sooner? she asked herself, enjoying the cool breeze. Nothing beat flying. In less than an hour they had spotted shapes moving down below. Regulus made a downwards motion with his hand, the wind being too strong to hear. She pulled her scarf tighter around her face. That's right, Giants are supposed to be afraid of sudden displays of magic. Well…Here it goes.

They alighted on the hill overlooking the valley's encampment, stashed everything but the boots in a small cave and walked down to the centre of the camp. Even the smallest of these Giants could crush me like a bug, Emma thought, looking at them curiously, though she made sure not to stare. She had never seen one up close before. Most of them stood at over twenty feet tall. She had thought that they would be like over-sized humans, but most of them had rounded, bulbous features and pot bellies. However, that didn't fool her. Their arms and legs, thick as tree trunks, were large and sinewy, their feet calloused from walking barefoot on the harsh mountain terrain. A couple of goats were roasting on spits above log fires. She couldn't help but glance at her travelling companion; he seemed as unperturbed as if he were walking through a spring meadow. Right, confidence. That's the key. Soon they arrived at a sort of clearing: an enormous bonfire surrounded by tree stumps and large logs and stones. She supposed that it was a meeting-place of sorts.

'I wish to speak to the Gurg,' she said loudly, sounding better than she felt. 'Does anyone speak English here? It's important.'

There was a bit of scuffling in the pack that had started to follow them and an enormous twenty-five-foot tall giant with tusks instead of canines. Something that the descriptions in the books failed to mention: he only had one leg. Emma tried not to stare, concentrating on staring him in the face in what she hoped was an assured manner.

'I have come on the behalf of the Dark Lord Voldemort,' she said, clearly enunciating every word. 'He wishes to bring a gift, for the might of Hurrok is legend in the wizarding world.'

It was not false: everyone had heard of the people-eating giant in the mountains. Flattery seemed like the right way to go though, because the Gurg had made no move to kill her yet. She would even go as far as to think he was smiling, though it was hard to see with the tusks. She drew out the boots, thankful that Regulus had thought of enlarging them on the way down.

'These boots will fit themselves to only a worthy wearer,' she invented wildly, taking cue from Regulus's tales. She saw him shoot her an alarmed look, but continued. 'They will double his strength and speed by half of his original power. The more powerful the wearer, the more powerful the boots. Only one so mighty as the Gurg of the Fachens could manage such a feat.'

She placed the boots on the ground with a bow, backing away. And now we wait, she thought. But the Gurg seemed to have different plans, for he grunted to one of the towering beings, not even moving towards the present. The other giant moved forwards and made a slow shooing movement with large palms.

'The Gurg say you go now,' he said in broken English. 'Come back next day, Gurg see you then.'

***

 

That night saw them at the back of their small cave, huddled around Bluebell flames, though even their magic and the mountain's stones couldn't keep the chill out of the Scottish highland air, nor prevent the wind from suddenly gusting in. On top of that, neither knew if Emma's ploy had worked, though both agreed that not having lost their heads was a good sign. All the same, the two teenagers couldn't sleep well into the night. Emma found herself wishing that they had learned the Hot-Air Charm earlier in the year - Flitwick had announced it to be taught in February if they managed to keep up with the curriculum.

That would have been useful right about now, she thought, staring at the dancing shadows on the roof of their cave. Strangely, it was smooth and seamless, with none of the cracks and uneven stone common to natural caves. She wondered if they had been created by giants or humans, deciding that the latter was more probable. Maybe they felt guilty about driving the giants away and this is their attempt at making it up to them. She was saved further thought on the matter when Regulus broke the silence.

'Um... Emma... I- I'm sorry about Saturday,' he stammered out, as though unsure of whether he should speak or not. He was staring into the flames, avoiding eye contact, the faintest hint of a blush on his usually pale cheeks. 'I didn't want you to think... I'm not unsympathetic.'

'You're not unsympathetic,' Emma repeated. What on earth is he going on about?

'I kind of forced you to... What I'm trying to say is that I'm sorry,' he concluded. 'I'm sorry it happened to you and that I got there too late, and I'm sorry I didn't mention that on Saturday. I just didn't know what I could do other than help you with the flying.'

His words hovered in the air for a moment, as though the cave kept them sitting between them, letting them sink in for a second. Emma thought back to that Sorting ceremony so long ago and how it seemed to define their relationship forever onwards: understanding, but not talking, resolving the issue by flying. Hadn't she vowed never to speak to Regulus of the night she accidentally invaded his memories? Every time she discovered some hurt of his, he had actively avoided her so as to not talk about it. Should she mention it now? How could she tell him that she was sorry too?

'I... Thanks,' she ended up saying. 'I'm not unsympathetic either.'

Silence fell again, blanketing each in their own thoughts, but Emma felt that she had to add something, that she needed to convey something to her friend who seemed to always keep everything bottled up.

'I made a Bowtruckle hit Sirius in the face with a snowball,' she remembered.

Regulus's peal of laughter echoing through the cave was a good enough reply.

***

 

Miraculously, they had managed to grab two or three hours of sleep. The following morning saw the two sixteen year olds warily make their way back into the giant fold. By the time they approached the Gurg's encampment, a plan had formed in Emma's mind. It was risky, but Regulus agreed that he thought it might work, through muttered replies. Just in case, they had infused their snake-puzzles with hexes and get-away spells over breakfast. Emma held hers tightly in her left hand, slightly hidden by her scarf.

This time Hurrok was waiting for them at the centre of a group of giants. He patted the huge stone next to him and Emma found herself hoisted up onto it. If she stood, then they were of an equal height, but she would have to be careful. Any sudden movement could see her breaking a leg or worse. Lucky I'm not afraid of heights, she thought. She couldn't help but notice that he was wearing the boots.

'The Gurg has hear of Lord Voldemort. Good things,' the translator said from behind her. 'What does Lord Voldemort want of the Gurg?'

'The Dark Lord believes that all magical creatu... beings have a right to the world as much as the Muggles. Why should we hide away, just because they're weak?' She knew from Regulus's lessons that Giants were very big on strength. 'This Ministry has failed us. They look at Giants with hatred, they think you are stupid and need to be controlled and monitored. They have spoken of destroying Giants altogether.'

At this the Gurg roared and stood, taking a step in her direction. Instinctively she stumbled back and was saved from falling off the ledge by Regulus shoving her back forwards. She shot him a thank you glance and noticed that he was gripping his wand beneath his sleeve. She hadn't even noticed him being lifted up next to her.

'Lord Voldemort doesn't want that!' she had to yell to make herself heard. Her heart was pounding and she knew that she was taking a risk. She had spoken of her plan to Regulus, who had an Apparition plan ready just in case. However that would mean failure worse than not trying; it would mean incompetence. 'He wants to get rid of the Ministry and all of their doctrines. He wants a strong, magical leadership. He wants Giants to go wherever they want, not stay confined to caves in the mountains.'

Hurrok shoved his head next to hers, his breath so strong that she had to brace herself from the wind... and the smell.

'That's why he hopes that Hurrok, Gurg of the Fachens, will use this Sickle of Darkness by the Dark Lord's side when he takes control of the country.'

She unwrapped the sickle from its trappings. Again, Regulus cast a surreptitious engorgement charm for it to fit the hand of a Giant. Emma found herself barely able to lift it, until Regulus muttered "Wingardium Leviosa" next to her. At first Hurrok looked impressed at her "strength", before his eyebrows met dangerously in the middle and he growled something intelligible.

'The Gurg ask why he use "Sickle" when he has weapons and hands of own. Do wizards think Giants need help fighting?' the interpreter asked menacingly.

'Try it out: it can slay even a Dementor,' Emma managed to squeak out. 'That's something bare hands can't.'

The other giant spoke and the Gurg looked at her for a long while. She waited with baited breath, the tension raising the hairs on the back of her neck. She was reaching into her pocket for the head-part of her snake puzzle, maybe it was time to Apparate out of here, when suddenly a hand lurched forwards to grab the Sickle. In one fluid motion, the Gurg beheaded one of his attendants. Emma blinked and felt her heart start to beat in her throat, backing into Regulus and grabbing his arm.

'On the count of three, think of the Three Broomsticks,' he whispered. 'One...Two...'

The Gurg roared with laughter, his tusks rubbing against his top lip in an alarming way. Blood trickled down his chin, but he didn't seem to mind. Soon many Giants joined in, and the interpreter leaned forwards to explain, grinning with his square, yellow teeth the size of Emma's hands.

'The Gurg say that giant stole his food. He say: if Sickle cut Giant steel like soft flesh, Gurg finally cut seat the way he want it.'

Emma and Regulus shared a confused look, but just then Hurrok swept the sickle along the stone he was sitting on, making it completely flat. He then made a show of sitting down, swinging the Sickle onto his shoulder. Several attendants jerked their heads back in alarm, for fear of being beheaded. Emma took a deep breath to calm herself before attempting to speak.

'So the Gurg likes the gift?' she asked hopefully. The giant translated.

Hurrok's big head swung forwards once more, until Emma found herself face to face with beady yellow eyes.

'Gurg like de gift,' he grunted, jutting his blood-red fangs out in content.

'I'm not going back there tomorrow,' Regulus said, shaking his head.

They had respectfully walked out of the encampment with their heads held high, as though it had been nothing more than they had expected. Once out of sight, they had hightailed it back to their secluded cave, gasping for breath and wondering how they had made it out alive.

'I'm not asking you to,' Emma shuddered, dousing out the fire. 'Let the Gurg play with his new toy for a while: I'm sure the Dark Lord will hear of it.'

Surely the Dark Lord doesn't expect a sixteen-year old to bring back the giants as proof, she thought. I don't even know where he keeps his army, when he isn't assaulting the Ministry.

'Let's get out of here.'

'Couldn't agree with you more,' Emma said. 'Good thing we signed up for those apparition classes!'

She pictured Hogsmeade clearly in her head and started to turn on the spot.

'Wait!' Regulus grabbed her arm. 'Don't you think it would be a little suspicious for the Ministry to detect underage magic near the mountains? We created the Bluebell flames in the inn, and there's so much magic hiding the encampment that they wouldn't have noticed anything, but here...'

'Oh right,' Emma's face fell as she lowered her wand. 'Back to brooms and trains?'

'I'm afraid so.'

Chapter Text

'I think I see him,' Emma squinted at the dark silhouette of a man disappearing down the alleyway.

'Let me check,' Regulus took the binoculars from her and zoomed in. 'It's no use, we're going to have to get closer.'

They were in Surrey and after the fourth person on Regulus's list of five. After regrouping at the Leaky Cauldron - Hogsmeade was too suspicious - they realised that they had exactly three days before the Polyjuice Potion ran out, and Barty's absence would become suspicious - if he hadn't been found out already. They needed to act quickly. Luckily, each inn had a wizarding directory that could cross-reference the Dark Lord's details on the wizards. After that, they had been to Flourish and Blotts. It had been impossible to find anything in the wizarding bloodline books, since they were all Muggleborns, but since most worked for the Ministry, they had been able to scrounge some more information up.

The first wizard had been easy. They had managed to scare him into hiding: pretending that they were from the Order of the Phoenix and that Lord Voldemort was after him. Since he never actually defied the Dark Lord, only gave information on people he had found out to be Death Eaters, it was easy to convince him to pack up and move to America, where the world was safer. In a lucky twist of events, the second had been killed off before they could get to her: actually belonging to the Order of the Phoenix, she had been caught up in a surprise raid and fallen from her broom in the ensuing fight.

The third was a Ministry Official who agreed to help pass Anti-Muggle laws so long as the Dark Lord overlooked her Mudblood heritage. Regulus and Emma had looked at each other and immediately agreed. In their opinion the Muggleborns weren't supposed to be harmed anyway - just given special treatment because of their lack of knowledge of the wizarding world. Once they were fully integrated, then the blood status would no longer be an issue.

Unfortunately for the meantime, Muggleborns were seen as lesser, so they understood her want for secrecy. They also took pity on her and her brother, Regulus in particular shuddered when she tearfully recounted the story of how her parents had died, leaving her alone with a Squib for a brother. Dolores Umbridge was not much older than they, so Emma suggested she pretend ancestry with the Selwyns - Alecto had told her that Amycus was always going on about how Selwyn disappointed the Dark Lord. In one swipe, the Dark Lord would gain a follower from the Ministry and a humiliating if harmless punishment for the Death Eater. Little did they know that Dolores had already twisted the truth in order to make them help her.

Fourth on their hit list, Neil Abbot was an Auror of note, having helped Mad-Eye Moody capture several Death Eaters - and not always sending them to Azkaban. It was obvious that he would not be persuaded or tricked into giving up, so they had been watching his home town all day. This was their first sighting of the man, and it seemed like he was as easy to lose as he was hard to find. They snuck down the alleyway as best as they could with the Invisibility Cloak thrown over their shoulders. At one point the Auror turned and cast a spell which was obviously supposed to reveal them, but the Cloak seemed to have protection spells woven into it, because nothing happened. This is our chance, thought Emma. She looked towards Regulus and he nodded.

'Expelliarmus,' Regulus cried just as Emma cast the Muffling Spell on the whole alleyway.

Abbot's wand went clattering into the shadows and he raised his hands to signal his surrender. Regulus advanced on him, wand still pointing at his chest, but no words came out of his mouth. His hand quivered slightly.

'Don't move,' he growled eventually.

'Your master told you to kill me, didn't he?' the Auror guessed. 'Not so easy taking a life, is it? How old are you?'

Regulus pulled his hood further over his face; he couldn't be recognised. Emma stood watch, looking from one exit to the next, hoping that no one would pass by. This was the Auror's hometown, his wife might be worried if he was late home from work and try to go looking for him.

'You deserve it,' Regulus replied.

Abbot might have been an Auror, but he took so much pleasure in his work that he kept on getting passed over for promotion. Oddly, he was rather like Bartemius Crouch Sr. with his "duel-first-ask-later" policy. But this person didn't seem like a sadistic killer. On the other hand, Emma supposed that no one did. In any case, he was awfully put-together for someone who had a wand pointed at his face.

'Go on then,' he said calmly, spreading his arms wide. 'Get it over with.'

Regulus took a deep breath. 'Avada...' his voice trailed off.

Emma could almost hear his frustration. He was always talking about Narcissa's advice: to get them quickly, so that he didn't have time to over think it. Just then, the Auror seized his chance, punching the sixteen year old in the mouth like a common Muggle brawler and diving in the direction of his wand. Before Regulus could get up, the man was back, pointing his wand at the boy's throat. A vicious smile appeared on his face, and Emma recognised him from the Daily Prophet headlines a couple of weeks ago. He had been facing enquiries at work for abuse of his station, and only Barty Crouch's intervention had saved him. It was scary how people could change within seconds. When Regulus still had his wand, he had looked just like any old family man hurrying to get home from a hard day at work.

'Should have taken the chance to run while you could kid,' the man said, and started a spell, swishing the wood in a complicated manner.

'Diffindo!' The word blurted out of Emma's mouth before she even registered it and the Auror's arm snapped like a twig.

He gave a howl of pain and Regulus took advantage of the confusion to cast the Reductor curse.

'Come on,' he said, tugging at her arm, but Emma stood rooted to the spot.

He pulled harder, but only succeeded in knocking Emma's hood down. She took no notice, transfixed in horror at the sight that lay before her. Abbot had fallen to his knees, clutching at what appeared to be a pile of dust on the floor. His mouth gaped open in a silent scream, his eyes bulging in horror. It might have seemed comical, a man groping at the dusty pavement, but Emma knew better.

'His arm...' she whispered. The man's eyes snapped towards her, and she couldn't tell whether he was pleading for mercy or demanding retribution. A faint spark emitted from the dust, and his left hand went scrabbling for his wand.

'We need to go!'

Emma tore her eyes away from the…probably now ex-Auror and raced through the streets after Regulus, not stopping until they found their brooms safely hidden in a Muggle shed.

***

 

Once they were a safe distance away, they found a village to spend the night in. It felt like they had done more flying in this past week than in the entire six years they had been at Hogwarts. On top of that, they only flew at night, to reduce the amount of Muggles that might see them. Thank Merlin brooms don't emit a magical signal, Emma thought, spiralling down towards a field.

'So,' Regulus said resolutely, alighting on the ground and running a hand through his hair - a sure sign that he was troubled. 'I've failed. Well, thanks for your help so far.'

'What do you mean?' Emma asked, following suit. 'We still have two days 'til the end of the week to find the last guy.'

'Yeah, but Abbot's going to be on his guard now,' he replied in an exasperated tone. 'We're dead meat if we get within three feet of him.'

'Why would we want to? You did what was needed, Regulus,' Emma was nonplussed. Then realisation dawned on her. 'Wait…You don't...'

'I don't what?' Regulus prompted.

Emma was silent for a few seconds, choosing her words with caution.

'When you cast the Reductor curse… Regulus, it disintegrated his wand arm. We won't be seeing him capture any more of the Dark Lord's followers for a long time.'

Even under the pale moonlight, she could see his face whiten, his lips tighten in horror.

'You did what had to be done,' she said soothingly.

'No I didn't,' he replied. 'I couldn't…I- All I could think was that when we were watching him...' he took a deep breath. 'He has a wife, Emma. A family, just like any ordinary person. I know our cover might be blown now and it's my fault, but I couldn't cast the curse, I just couldn't.'

Emma knew which curse he was referring to.

'Hey, it's okay,' she put a hand on her friend's arm. 'Look at me. Listen to me when I say that you did a good job. No one's asking you to kill him. We just…we just thought that was our best shot. But the Dark Lord specifically said you were to incapacitate them, take them out of the running and that's exactly what you did with Abbot. We didn't kill any of the others, did we? We'll just have to find a way to make sure he doesn't find out who we are...'

'You're right,' Regulus visibly took a deep breath, letting it out slowly with eyes closed.

When he opened them, he almost looked like himself again. Emma wanted to reassure him some more, but he was back to business, ignoring - as usual - his internal turmoil. He frowned, thinking things over as they made their way to the hotel. Suddenly, Emma noticed that it was a Muggle village. They didn't have any Muggle money on them, having just scooped up what wizarding gold they had on them the day they left. She was just about to point this fact out to Regulus when he spoke again, a thoughtful look on his face.

'Maybe we could implicate the last Muggleborn on here in Abbot's attack…We just need to find out how…The Imperius curse is the obvious choice, but I doubt I could cast it, how about you?'

Emma shook her head. 'I don't think so, we haven't even studied the theory of it. You know that the Unforgivables need an excessive amount of willpower to hold. Maybe we could cast it for five minutes, but there's no way that could ever be enough...' she trailed off, before an idea occurred to her. 'However... I am rather good at Memory Charms...'

Regulus grinned.

Chapter Text

"Suspected involvement of Ministry official Christopher Dean in murder attempt on prominant Auror Neil Abbot. Abbot was in his home town of Surrey when the fight happened, escaping with his life but not in one piece. Rumour has it that he will be placed on office duty, after the tragic event of his disintegrated arm. Abbot himself is unavailable for comment, placed in Spell Damage in St Mungo's Hospital for the time being, but "We will be seeking justice," Mrs Abbot told our reporter. "We cannot allow attacks to continue, even if it was a Ministry official."

Christopher Dean, in an unexpected turn of events, turned up at the Auror's office this morning in the Ministry, confessing his guilt and blaming his actions on passion. He admitted to Abbot catching Dean and Mrs Abbot in an affair. "I never thought it would go this far," he confided to the Daily Prophet. "It just happened so fast." Mrs Abbot has so far been unavailable for comment on this subject."

Alecto laid the newspaper down on the bedside table and proffered a glass of orange juice to Emma. 'Honestly, there won't be any reason to join up at this rate. Aurors are falling like flies.' She lowered her voice. 'I heard Avery almost got the Prewetts, but they escaped by the skin of their teeth. Next time, those blood-traitors won't be so lucky. According to Amycus, they've been at the frontlines on the defence against our troops. Isn't it weird to call them our troops? But I guess that would be the term for them, if this is a war. What are you smiling at?'

'Nothing,' Emma shook her head.

She had flooed to Hogsmeade late the previous night, startling Rosmerta, who had been quickly shushed to secrecy when Emma had invented a wild tale of romance and forbidden love. Regulus had agreed to stay at his parents until the end of the week - he wanted to tell his father about his success. Apparently the man had become morose of late, and maybe this news would cheer was under no illusion about what was making Mr Black "morose". Sirius was loudly telling anyone who would listen that he was proud to be a blood-traitor and Muggle-lover. There was no way for Orion to get his son back.

She also suspected that Regulus was trying to make up for his brother's mistakes. They had never actually made it to the Muggle hotel, preferring to immediately go in search of the last Muggleborn before the news got out. It had taken them the better part of the next day to perfect the Memory Charm and make sure it would hold - Bellatrix's Legilimency classes had come in useful after all. In a moment of exhaustion, Regulus had admitted that Orion wished the Dark Lord could forgive Sirius on account of his pure blood, so his younger son wanted to raise his hopes of getting into the Dark Lord's graces. His story would stay vague though, so as not to worry the Blacks.

Emma had barely made it back through the secret passageways undetected, thanking her lucky stars that the Invisibility Cloak was with her every five minutes. By the time she had reached the Hospital Wing, she was ready to collapse into the bed. Luckily, Barty was allergic to the potions Madame Pomfrey had been giving him, so it had been easy - though not pretty - to pretend to be really ill. He had gratefully stumbled off to the Slytherin dungeons to sleep it off after filling Emma in on life at Hogwarts, but only in return for a full account of their exploits the next day.

Alecto looked at her suspiciously, but didn't press the matter. 'You're looking better today, in any case. I'll tell Rabastan to stop by, he's been sulking since you stopped laughing at his jokes.'

'They probably weren't that funny anyway,' Emma offered.

'No, I'm sure they weren't,' Alecto raised an eyebrow. 'But you two usually seem to have the same humour.'

'Come on Alecto!' Emma whined. 'Even you laughed at McGonagall finding a bunch of Hufflepuffs terrorised by Moaning Myrtle because they had never seen a ghost!'

'I simply found their ignorance ridiculous,' Alecto pretended to turn her nose up, but smiled anyway. 'I never thought I'd be the one to say this, but tone down the anti-Muggle act around here. We wouldn't want to attract suspicion.'

'Look at you,' Emma teased. 'I'm away one week, and Helen's already corrupted you with her "safety first" view.'

'Well excuse me if I don't want to be made into a martyr!' Alecto exclaimed. 'Anyway, I overheard Dumbledore saying Regulus was coming back this evening, looks like you'll be out of the Wing just in time for him not to worry. You know Reg, he'd go crazy if he thought your Quidditch team wasn't in top form just before the final Gryffindor-Slytherin match.'

Emma closed her eyes and inwardly groaned, the Gryffindor-Slytherin match. I had forgotten all about it... The qualifying matches had all ended, but one, though everyone knew that Hufflepuff would slaughter Ravenclaw. However, that wouldn't be enough to get to Gryffindor and Slytherin's level, so there would be one last match between Gryffindor and Slytherin to determine the first and second places, and one between Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff to decide who would be third and who would be last. Trust Alecto to worry about her when there was still two months before the finals. Though it was true that Emma would be planning their attack far in advance if she was in a normal mood. Alecto frowned at the lack of enthusiasm.

'What? I thought you'd be glad to see Reg again. You've been going on about him not visiting ever since you got in,' Alecto was saying.

'Oh really?' This time it was Emma's turn to raise an eyebrow, seems Barty is in need of a stern talking to, sneaky little bastard. 'Don't worry, I'm just worried about the match.'

'I'm sure you've been planning the plays the whole week you've been cooped up in here... Are you sure you're alright?' Alecto frowned and placed a cool hand on Emma's forehead. 'I think I'm going to get Madame Pomfrey just in case.'

'What would I do without you Alecto?' Emma asked.

The red-head turned around, taken aback. She blinked. 'Nothing, of course.'

***

 

'Emma, you're finally out!' Lou cried, running across the Great Hall to sweep her cousin into her arms. 'I was getting worried.'

Madame Pomfrey had turned on her mother hen mode and shooed Alecto out of the room that morning, giving Emma an extra potion to drink that made her fall into a dreamless sleep until evening. The sun had set by the time she awoke, but the nurse had finally decided that the fever had gone and that she was fit to go, warning her to drink plenty of fluids. Emma left ravenously, forcing herself to walk to the Great Hall instead of hurtling towards the food, as her stomach was urging her to.

'Don't worry, it was just the Firebug flu,' Emma comforted, slightly taken aback at the display of affection. She returned the hug gratefully though, she had missed the simple comfort of it.

'But it took so long for you to recover! I can't believe Madame Pomfrey didn't realise you were allergic to the healing potions.'

'Well, to be fair it wasn't on my medical records,' Emma admitted, privately adding, because it's not me who's allergic to them.

'In any case, you should owl your parents. They've been sick with worry!' the French girl said, widening her eyes to emphasize her point.

'So sick with worry that they didn't bother to write?' Emma challenged her cousin.

'But they... Tante Natalie sent your favourite Chocolate Frogs with a letter attached.'

'And my father?' Emma asked in a low voice.

'He didn't know what to say,' James cut in from nowhere, giving her a hug. 'Come on Ems, you know Dad. He's not good at apologies. He misses you, they both do. I took the liberty of eating one of those Frogs they sent you, I saw Mum's note.'

Please come home soon.

Those four letters threatened to break Emma's heart, but she had held on resolutely. As Alecto had pointed out, if she went home these holidays or wrote back, it wouldn't prove anything. She'd been at Hogwarts for most of the time since she left, so they wouldn't have seen her anyway. Nothing would change. They seemed perfectly happy without her anyway. All the same, she tightened her grip on James, burying her face in his familiar smelling shirt. The thing she loved about her twin was that he still just knew things. He let her stay there for a while, giving her a look filled with compassion and guilt when she drew away. She knew that somehow he felt it was his fault, for being sorted into Gryffindor. I should tell him he's the best brother in the world, she thought, her mind wandering to Sirius and Regulus. Why is he friends with him? He's nothing like James or Remus at all...

'Wait, you're still mad about Christmas?' Lou asked, having missed the sibling exchange. Maybe I'll tell him later then. 'I don't understand: the argument wouldn't have even happened in the first place if you weren't too proud to admit you helped with Sirius's present.'

'It's not that,' Emma protested. 'How would you like it if your parents told you they preferred someone they met less than five years ago to you?'

'I wouldn't know,' Lou replied in a choked voice. 'My parents are dead.'

'Lou,' Emma started, a lump in her throat, but the Ravenclaw had already hurried out of the room.

James gave her a meaningful look. She could almost hear his thoughts, even I have more tact than that, he seemed to reproach. The glow she had felt in her stomach seemed to shrivel and die. But he said nothing, only saying he was happy she was better. Suddenly, Emma had lost her appetite. She turned straight around, to the direction of the Owlery. Lou was right, she only had one mother. No need to punish her because Dad's so prejudiced, she thought.

But once the quill was in her hand, she didn't know what to write. She put it off by first starting a letter to Narcissa. They hadn't spoken in a while, and there were some things that only the older girl knew the response to.

Dear Narcissa,

I'm sorry I haven't replied in a while, caught up with Quidditch and the likes. By the way, we won against Hufflepuff, so we're in the finals! I hope you're proud of me. Lucius may have told you that we had a pretty special Hogsmeade visit last week. I can't say much here, but suffice it to say that Regulus and I have given work our best shot. Something scared me though. In a practice duel, when my opponent was about to use an unknown spell, I used a curse on him instead of a Defence spell. I could have used Expelliarmus or a Protection charm, but I retaliated with the offensive. It sounds more like "Dark Arts" than "Defence Against the Dark Arts", doesn't it? Maybe Pierre is right, and Curse-Breaker is the job for me. At least you don't get judged in a survivalist situation.

My mother sent me a letter, but I haven't replied. How do you speak to someone you love, but you're not sure if they love you back? At least not enough... I know she understands me, but she never says anything in front of my father the way she used to. Maybe she's still ill? I feel torn: On one hand I want her to be ill, so there's a reason for her to abandon me. Is that bad? How do you feel about Andromeda? Regulus told me she's been blasted off the tree. I suppose you were never that close to Sirius in the first place.

Enough about that, how are the wedding preparations going? Not interfering too much with your nursing course, are they? I suppose you have a whole horde of Blacks to help you! Are you having it at Malfoy Manor? Speaking of which, how are the Malfoys? (Aside from Lucius).

Missing you,

Emma

 

She sealed the letter with a blob of wax from the writing desk and watched the owl slowly grow smaller and smaller until it was nothing but a speck in the distance. Sighing, she drew out another sheet of parchment. Her quill hovered near the top and dripped with a slight splat. She watched the blob of ink grow larger and larger on the parchment as if in a trance. Ten minutes later, a shadow fell over the page.

'How's the letter-writing going?' asked Regulus.

Emma glanced up questioningly, quickly wiping the nib of her quill and turning the parchment around.

'Your brother told me you'd be up here,' he explained.

'It's harder than it looks,' she said defensively.

'Trust me, I'm an expert when it comes to family estrangement,' Regulus said with a wry grin. 'It seems like names are dropping off the tapestry like flies nowadays.'

He moved her bag and sat next to her on the windowsill, peering at her parchment.

'So you've been slowly freezing to death up here only to…what? Write a letter in morse code?'

Emma smiled despite herself and conjured some bluebell flames. 'Better?'

'Much,' he replied. 'So I would suggest by starting off with a normal sentence like "Dear Mum and Dad", or "Dear Mother and Father", or in Sirius's case "Hello Mother".'

'Sirius wrote to your parents?' Emma asked incredulously.

'Yeah, but only to ask them to send him the rest of his stuff. Of course, Mother went and burnt the lot. She's mad because she can't get rid of the Gryffindor banners and Muggle posters though. He must have put a Permanent Sticking Charm on them.'

Emma rolled her eyes, typical Sirius. Though the thought did bring a smile to her face. Say what you will, but never say that boy doesn't have nerve, she thought admiringly. Then she realised what she had thought and quickly turned her mind back to the task at hand.

Dear Mum, she wrote, thank you for the Chocolate Frogs (though James ate most of them).

'A good start,' Regulus said after a while.

'But I don't know what to write next,' Emma explained, heaving a sigh. She looked out of the window towards the frosted grounds. The moon was shining on the lake, accentuating every ripple. 'I wish I could just stay at Hogwarts, you know? Forget about everything else.'

'Says the girl who skived off a week of class to go chasing after giants and Aurors,' Regulus teased. 'But I know what you mean. Still, you have to at least write to your parents, or you'll end up like Sirius.'

Emma's ears pricked up at the tone of bitterness in this last sentence.

'I'm not like Sirius,' she said hurriedly justified herself. 'I didn't abandon my family, I still love them, it's just that they don't even want to understand! I could never explain the amazing things we did this week like you can.'

As if to prove her point she hurriedly scribbled the rest of the letter.

I'm feeling much better: Madame Pomfrey just needed to find the right healing potions. How are you? James said you had a check up at the Healer's at the start of the month, but we haven't heard from you since. I probably won't be back for the Easter holidays: I have a lot of revision to catch up on. James is staying too. How are things at home?

I miss you,

Emma

'Relax,' Regulus said as she tied the parchment to an owl. 'I didn't say you were Sirius. You don't pretend that James is a stranger you barely know, do you? Besides, I actually like you.'

'Thanks,' she smiled at him. 'For what it's worth, I think your brother still loves you, deep down.'

'So deep down it'll never see the light of day,' Regulus said quietly, with a sad smile. He seemed to shake himself. 'Why are we moping about, anyway? We did the Dark Lord's impossible tasks, didn't we? I think that calls for a celebration. Do you still have your Invisibility Cloak?'

'Regulus Arcturus Black, I do believe I've rubbed off on you,' Emma exclaimed jokingly.

***

 

'I'm going to bed,' Emma said, making a show of stretching and yawning. 'See you tomorrow.'

A chorus of "night"s and one "but we haven't even started Transfiguration!" from Alecto followed her up the stairs. Unfortunately, Barty had had to catch up on his own schoolwork in the Hospital Wing, so she was a full week behind on everything. She heard Regulus make up an excuse about being tired from the Floo journey just before closing the door. She quickly bundled up a jumper and some jeans into a bag and stuffed it under her bed for later. By the time Lucinda had closed the door, she was in her pyjamas and brushing her teeth.

'I can't believe Rabastan,' Helen said. 'As soon as Regulus stops forcing him to work, he does nothing but joke around.'

'What's this?' Emma asked, walking out of the bathroom.

'We decided to call it a night,' Helen replied. 'I was paired with Rabastan on our Bowtruckle assignment, but he's being impossible.'

'Besides, it's hard to concentrate on homework on a Sunday night,' Lucinda added, before locking herself in the bathroom.

'You can thank me later,' Alecto said to Emma, her voice barely audible over the sound of running water.

'Why?'

'Because, Potter, it was me who decided to go to bed - and without Regulus, you, or me, the others don't stand half a chance at revising,' the red-head replied smugly. 'And now you get to do whatever you two have planned.'

'We don't...' Emma trailed off as she was given a look. 'It's just so he can tell me how it went with his parents.'

'Uh-huh,' Alecto smirked.

'Gah,' Emma rolled her eyes, but Helen was looking at them oddly so she dropped the subject and climbed into her four poster bed.

An hour later, the only sounds in the room were regular breathing and the laps of the lake against the windows. Emma grabbed her bag and hastily changed, stuffing the Invisibility Cloak along with her scarf into her coat's pockets. After a quick look to see if the common room was empty, she snuck down, hopping over the stair that creaked. Regulus seemed to be having a staring contest with the fire, occasionally glancing around to see if anyone was there. When he saw her, his raised a finger to his lips and crossed the room to swing the passageway open. Only when they were outside did they dare speak.

'So, what was your plan?' Emma asked.

'There's something in Hogsmeade I wanted to show you,' he replied enigmatically.

'Oh really? At midnight on a Sunday night?'

'You'll see,' he said. 'So…To the passage on the third floor?'

'To the passage on the third floor!' she replied, as if they were embarking upon some sort of epic quest.

They moved as quickly as they could through the Hogwarts halls and stairwells, until suddenly Regulus held out an arm. 'I think I heard someone.'

'We're Prefects,' Emma hissed back.

'Prefects that aren't supposed to be on patrol,' he reminded her. 'Have you got your Cloak?'

'Sure,' Emma fumbled with her coat for a minute. 'Oh no…I lost it.'

'You what?' he asked incredulously. 'Are you sure?'

She patted down every pocket, but only came up with her scarf. She grimaced in apology. 'We're going to have to go back.'

Regulus rolled his eyes, but suddenly turned his head back towards the corridor. Emma followed his gaze, trying to see what captured his attention in the dim lighting. There didn't seem to be anyone there...

'Miaow.'

Mrs Norris had found them.

Chapter Text

'Quick, run!' Emma grabbed Regulus's arm and sprinted back the way they came.

'There it is,' Regulus pointed at a shimmering spot on the stairs. 'We're going to have to lose the cat though.'

They rushed onto the staircase just as it started to move, turning around to see Mrs Norris sitting on the landing, head cocked and mewing pitifully. Emma stuck her tongue out before searching for the lost Invisibility Cloak

'Phew,' she said, picking it up. 'That was close. I don't know what I would have done if I had lost it.'

Regulus just stared at her. 'How do you lose a bloody Invisibility Cloak?'

'Um...' Emma was saved from having to answer by spotting Filch on the platform the staircase was attaching itself to. 'Let's go up.'

They raced back up the staircase and around the corner, zigzagging across the halls until they were sure no one was following them. However, this meant that they had no idea where they were.

'So, we need to get to the third floor right?' Regulus panted, hands on his knees.

'That's right,' Emma said, shaking the dust out of the cloak. 'It's the one-eyed witch just next to the Defence Against the Dark Arts statue.'

The irony of the location made them both smile. There was a lull in which Regulus was obviously trying to figure out how the passageway worked and Emma was untangling the cloak. There was a high risk of getting caught near the third floor, since that was where the teachers traded shifts. It was also the one with the most secret rooms behind portraits or tapestries - one of which Emma had dragged James through barely a week ago.

'Do you use Alohamora? I didn't think so, but I can't remember. It seems such a useful thing to know and yet I forgot all about our escape from Hogwarts,' he mused aloud.

'"Our escape for Hogwarts",' Emma laughed. 'You make it sound like we're criminals. Anyway, for future reference, the spell is Dissendium. If you're nice I just might let you- aah!' she screamed.

Regulus had stood back up straight just as she threw the cloak over their heads. She had put an arm out for balance, but her hand never met solid wall. For the second time in a week, they found themselves tangled in a heap on the dusty ground.

'Sorry,' Regulus breathed, turning his head to face her once their coughing had abated.

A strange expression flashed across his face, but disappeared too fast for her to catch it. Suddenly, Emma became painfully aware of their proximity. She broke eye contact, her gaze flickering past the boy to see a sort of doorway with several steps leading to it.

'It wasn't your fault,' she replied. 'I think we just found another passage.'

After several minutes of trying to extract themselves, they were examining the new doorway. Emma drew back as a seventh-year Prefect walked by, but she seemed to look right through them. Strangely, she patted her hair, rearranging it as she went by.

'I think it's a mirror,' Regulus said slowly. He lifted a hand to touch it, but it was as if it were smoke. 'A one-way mirror.'

He quickly withdrew his hand before anyone wondered what fingertips were doing floating halfway through the mirror. They'd probably think it was one of the ghosts pranking them, thought Emma.

'Well, we may as well try to see where this leads,' Regulus said, gesturing towards the passageway.

'Lumos Maxima,' Emma said, lighting her wand. Dust particles floated in the light, making the corridor look oddly holy, or at least ethereal. 'It looks like it hasn't been used in years. Merlin, look at these cobwebs!'

They made their way down the passageway which, although quite wide, was filthy, with rats running around through cracks in the walls and across the floor. They left footsteps an inch deep in the dust. The wide steps were spaced every few feet and the air slowly became cool and humid, mould starting to appear near the top of the walls and ceiling in black and green patches. Are we going under the Great Lake? she wondered. After a while, there was a gentle incline, leading up instead of down, and before they knew it they were climbing a very small and narrow staircase, avoiding cobwebs that looked like they had taken decades to create. Regulus had to stoop, and was relieved when they found themselves in a large and empty room.

It was rectangular in shape, with a small hole in the floor at the back with a banister leading to what Emma supposed was another staircase. Four windows lined the walls lengthwise, with only three inserted into the other two. They were arched at the top, narrow but very tall, letting the starlight light up the room. The ceiling was high, and would have reminded Emma of a ballroom if it wasn't the only room in the top of the building. Instead it was oddly exposed, with a view of the snowy outdoors everywhere she turned.

'I wonder where this is?' Emma voiced both Slytherins' thoughts. 'It looks abandoned.'

Regulus crossed over to one of the windows. 'I don't believe it,' he breathed. 'We're above Hogsmeade Station.'

'Well that would have been a pretty helpful piece of information about a week ago,' Emma said half-jokingly, before joining him at the window. 'It looks cold outside. I'm glad I brought a coat.'

'This is perfect,' Regulus murmured. Emma looked at him questioningly, but he merely shook his head and led the way down.

It was snowing, but barely, tiny flakes drifting in the wind. The compact snow on the ground crunched like gravel under their feet. Everything looked surreal: shades of black, white and grey. Not a colour was to be seen, save their green and silver scarves and Emma's brown boots. Regulus seemed to know where he was going, but he headed away from Hogsmeade, not towards it. Emma followed, wrapping her scarf more securely around her neck so as not to catch a cold before their big game. She forced it out of her head - she would deal with that another day. They stepped off of the path and into the forest; she couldn't decide whether it was eerie or not. The aspen trees stretched as far as the eye could see, looking bare without their green canopy usually seen in the three other seasons. Though they might have appeared dead, it wasn't the case, with their white barks looking creamy under the snow. The night created a sense of mystery that was lacking come dawn, and yet it seemed to bring a sense of innocence to the forest.

'Here we are,' Regulus said, emerging from the trees.

There was a small jetty that Emma vaguely recognised it from her first year. We must have gotten the boats from here, she realised. It had seemed so much larger when she was small. Or maybe it was just that it was so crowded. Along the side sat a couple of benches, probably for the teachers who had to guide the students to the castle. Emma wondered if the inhabitants of Hogsmeade ever came to picnic here. Maybe the kids learnt to swim and dive, jumping off the jetty into the water below.

Because the real beauty was the Great Lake itself. At school on a sunny day, it would be glassy and mirror-like, but as soon as the sky turned grey, the lake would seem like a bottomless pit - impossible to discern a hint of colour in its depths - hence the nickname "Black Lake". However, here, away from the magical lights of Hogwarts, it seemed like the water was giving up her secrets to the moon. A smooth expanse of pure silver seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see, save for the occasional glint of ripples here or there. It had stopped snowing, but there was still a slight breeze, causing the trees to seem to create dancing shadows on the surface of the water that teased each other in the moonlight, breaking away with a small wave only to return to their original places.

After watching the scene over and over again for a while, Emma looked at Regulus, about to say something about the place, but no words fitting enough to describe the scene in front of her would do it justice. He seemed to understand though, because he gave her one of his rare happy smiles, the one that barely turned the corner of his mouth. He might love secrets, but she suspected that he was even happier to share them. The lake was his discovery, and he was enjoying her reaction to it just as much as the actual scenery.

She suddenly realised that his eyes were so mirror-like that they reflected the lake. His usual grey hadn't changed, but there were nuances, a tiny world within the orbs. The moonlight made it hard to see his pupils, covered by the sheen of the water. It was oddly fitting: the lake seemed to describe him better than she could have anyway. Though it seemed like his reflective mask had been slipping recently. She wondered if it was because of that fateful Occlumency lesson; why hide something she'd already seen? Maybe it would be reinforced now they were back at school.

Regulus broke eye contact and looked back towards the lake, shifting his weight from one foot to another. 'I thought this place was fitting for our situation. Real, but as if you were in a dream.'

She wondered how he had found out about the peacefulness of it. He would have needed to walk - or fly - across the entire lake. Or maybe he had found it between the train and carriage times. That would explain why he's always first out of the train, but reappears in time to take our carriage. Still, she didn't think that it was that: she couldn't imagine Regulus standing here with a bunch of first-years.

Saving the question for later, she murmured her agreement. 'I know, it feels like I could wake up any minute. All this time I've been wanting to make a change, and now that the opportunity's upon us…I can hardly believe it.'

'I believed that man's arm disintegrated,' Regulus said in a quiet voice. The jetty seemed somewhat sacred, like a church. Raising their voices would almost be like committing a crime. As it was, the wind seemed to pick his words up and mute them, blending them into their surroundings. 'I… It won't grow back, even with skele-gro. I saw it in a book of curses earlier this afternoon. They need the arm to do that, and by now the dust will have blown away. I ruined a man's life for this.'

'A man who enjoys killing without giving his victims a fair trial,' she reminded him, thinking how scary it would be if they started thinking that way. 'Regulus, that was a good thing you did there. Who knows what he would have done?'

'I should have killed him. It would have been quick and painless. Now there are going to be questions. What if he saw us? Worse, what if he recognised us? Your hood fell down. If you were expelled or put in Azkaban for my mistake, I would never forgive myself.'

'I won't.'

'How do you know that? The only thing I know for sure is that next time, I won't hesitate. Next time, I won't put anyone else in danger,' Regulus vowed, his face set hard.

Chapter Text

Five days later, Emma found herself practicing Shrinking Solutions with Lily Evans in Potions class. Ever since the incident with the Polyjuice Potion, they had struck up some sort of acquaintanceship - not quite friends, not quite not. There wasn't really much to do at the stage they were at, so they chatted amiably: Emma checked the time whilst Lily checked the heat. They mostly talked about schoolwork, carefully avoiding topics to do with Severus's broken friendship, James, or even the outside world. If she was honest with herself, Emma was uneasy around the Muggleborn. She was the polar opposite to the Dark Lord's beliefs and the statistics Regulus had found. Emma told herself that Lily was naturally talented, an exception to the rule, but she couldn't go deeper than that.

The reason they were working together was because most of their patrols coincided, and they figured that they needed to be able to work together. That, and Slughorn had decided that everyone switch partners at regular intervals. Merlin knew how James and Rabastan prevented their potion from blowing up; both were torn between pranking other students and sending each other death glares.

'Um... excuse me?' a third-year Ravenclaw knocked on the door timidly.

'You're gonna have to be louder than that if you want ole Sluggy to hear you,' Sirius cupped his hands and yelled.

"Ole Sluggy" was currently napping at his teacher's desk. He had thrown another of his little parties the night before, but things went horribly wrong when Peeves arrived and wrecked everything. The teacher had probably been up all night trying to set his office aright. The pigtailed girl pitter-pattered over to Slughorn's desk and cleared her throat.

'Excuse me, sir.'

'She's so cute!' Lily squealed in an undertone to Emma, who chuckled then gasped.

'Oh watch out! The potion needs three stirs counter-clockwise: it's started bubbling.'

Lily quickly scooped up the spoon and stirred, adding a sliced caterpillar.

'Wait a minute, it doesn't have anything about that on here,' Emma frowned, looking at her book.

'Just a little something I figured out,' Lily winked as the potion turned pink.

'Nice,' the Slytherin was impressed. Normally it should have taken an extra fifteen to twenty minutes to finish.

'Miss Potter,' Slughorn called.

Both girls turned around.

'It seems that you are required in the Headmaster's office. Ah, Miss Evans, I see that your potion is finished: as Prefect please escort Miss Potter. You are exempt from the remainder of the class.'

'Oooh look who's getting caught now, Padfoot!' James teased.

'She was in the Hospital Wing for a week, what can you possibly think she's done?' Lily hissed to him on her way to deposit their potion.

James looked as surprised as Emma felt, instantly shutting his mouth.

'Thanks,' she said to the Gryffindor girl on their way out.

'Oh, no problem,' Lily smiled. 'Any chance to tell that arrogant…ahem, your brother off. Do you know what Professor Dumbledore wants with you?'

'No idea,' Emma replied honestly.

Not quite honestly, said a niggling thought in the back of her mind, sending a spike of adrenaline to her heart. She squashed it like a bug, stowing the remains in the furthest recesses of her mind

It can't be that, she thought. There's no way he could have recognised me. Besides, they would have said something sooner...

'Well, we're here,' Lily announced. 'I can wait outside if you want...?' she offered tentatively.

'It's fine, Lily,' the Potter girl smiled at her. 'I'm sure you have better things to do and besides, who knows how long it'll take?'

But once Lily had gone, she had to pause, taking a few deep breaths and compartmentalising her feelings. The Occlumency training had been surprisingly useful when it came to this sort of problem, though she and Regulus hadn't tried the practical side of things since that fateful night.

'I can do this,' she said to herself. 'This is no different from getting James and I out of trouble when we were kids.'

But it was different. Before she panicked and gave herself away, she rushed headlong into the office.

'Ah, Miss Potter, there you are,' the Headmaster looked up from the smart man sitting in front of him. 'Please, take a seat. There's no need to be nervous.'

Emma obliged wordlessly, her eyes on the man next to her. He had short black hair, combed so neatly that even Regulus's looked messy by comparison. However, contrary to the Black boy, it was parted rather severely straight through the middle, as if someone had taken a ruler to it. His narrow, toothbrush moustache had undergone a similar treatment and he sat so straight and still that Emma made an attempt to righten her own posture, though she was by no means slouching. She was sure that she had never seen him before, and yet he looked oddly familiar. She was trying to place him when Dumbledore spoke.

'Miss Potter, this is Mr Crouch, the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.'

Emma nearly gasped. So this was the man she had heard so much about - both from her family and Barty. No wonder the boy felt starved of affection. Bartemius Crouch Sr. did not look to be the kind of person to play a game of rough-and-tumble Quidditch in the backyard. Instead, she forced herself to smile politely, before giving them both a confused look. An idea popped into her mind.

'Is this about my chosen job profession? Professor McGonagall said that we would be meeting somebody from the area in which we want to work. Though, with all due respect, I think you may have confused my application with my brother, James Potter's. He's the one who wants to be an Auror... sir,' she added that last word as a generality, not sure if she was coming across as rude.

'What is this, Dumbledore? Some kind of practical joke?' Crouch asked sharply. 'I don't have time for -'

With a look from the headmaster, his sentence died in his throat. Dumbledore turned towards Emma, a kind look in his eye, resting his clasped hands on his desk and leaning forwards.

'No, Miss Potter, this is about something far worse. It has come to the knowledge of the Law Department,' he nodded towards Mr Crouch, 'that there is a discrepancy between the statement of a victim and that of the self-confessed criminal. I realise that I am not making myself clear. Do you know of the attack on the Auror Neil Abbot?'

'Umm...' Emma managed to stammer out. Come on Emma, if you can handle talking to Voldemort, you can handle Barty's dad. Get some perspective. She frowned, pretending to think. 'I think I remember reading about it in the paper a couple of days ago. Is he the one with the Vanished arm?'

'It was disintegrated, as you well know,' Crouch's tone was almost accusatory. 'Mr Abbot gave a very distinct description of a sixteen-to-seventeen-year old girl with an English accent, long black hair and blue eyes. In fact, one of our investigators did a remarkable job on your portrait.' He shoved a picture of herself in front of her nose.

'But I -' Emma was temporarily at a loss for words. The aggressiveness of Barty Crouch Sr. had surprised her, though she shouldn't have been surprised considering his son's intensity. Luckily for her, Crouch wasn't done.

'He also mentioned an accomplice. Now, if you are being blackmailed or threatened, we need to know about it, but Hogwarts students can't just be whisked away from school, it is my guess that you came along willingly. Do you know what the punishment for such a heinous crime is?'

It was an intimidation technique straight out of the books, but it was successfully working on Emma. As she cast about for her alibis, the door burst open.

'It wasn't her, Professor! It was Sirius and me who did it, I swear! Emma's been in the Hospital Wing all week, just ask anyone! You can't punish her for - oh.' James went quiet as his eyes darted from Barty Crouch Sr. to the Headmaster to his sister. His earnest expression slowly turned into one of confusion.

'Relax, Mr Potter,' Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling. 'Nobody is accusing Miss Potter of the pranks you played this week, though I'm sure your Head of House would like to hear your confession.'

'Oh,' the Gryffindor repeated, unsure as to what to do. 'Well, I guess I'll just…let you get back to it, I suppose.'

And just like that, he slouched sheepishly out of the room, though Emma had no doubt that he was attempting to listen behind the door. Thank you James, she thought, breathing a sigh of relief. For once he was getting her out of trouble, instead of the opposite. He would have no idea what he had just done for her. The initial pounding of her heart had slowed, and she was able to resume her role as an innocent Hogwarts student with confidence, taking cue from her brother's behaviour.

'I'm sorry, Mr Crouch,' she said earnestly. 'But as my brother said, I was ill with the Firebug Flu all week. Your Auror must have been mistaken.'

'He has never been mistaken before.'

'There's a first time for everything, Mr Crouch,' Dumbledore said mildly. 'But don't you think that I would have noticed if one of my students went missing? Or her Head of House? There aren't that many students at Hogwarts, you know, and our entrance is well-guarded. Perhaps you have the wrong girl?' he suggested.

'Perhaps,' Bartemius Crouch conceded unhappily. 'My apologies for my brusqueness, Emma Potter, but in a war, there's no time to be lost. Perhaps my Auror was Confunded, though why the criminal would hide his tracks if he was to confess is beyond me.'

After a few more words to clear the mess up, Crouch swept up his documents and Flooed out of the fireplace, leaving as briskly as he appeared to have come. Emma turned to go, but Dumbledore called her back in. She slunk back towards the desk reluctantly and waited for what would come next.

'Miss Potter, before you go... Is there something you wish to tell me? Anything at all?' And he gave her a look that seemed to see into her very soul.

'Nothing, sir. Nothing at all,' she replied, perhaps a little too quickly. In any case, she had the distinct feeling that he knew. Don't be silly, a voice in her mind said. If he knew, then you wouldn't be standing here right now.

'Very well. Off you go then,' he said, turning around. As an afterthought, he turned and said with a wink. 'And tell your brother he needn't fear me so long as he doesn't turn up late for our meeting.'

***

 

As Emma had suspected, James was lounging on the staircase leading down to the gargoyle. As soon as he saw her come out, he pounced.

'What did Dumbledore want? Why was the head of the Magical Law Enforcement department there? What did he want with you? What was it about? Did you do something?' He jumped down the stairs backwards as she carried on walking.

'James!' Emma shouted, and her hyperactive brother calmed down. 'First of all, how did you know what Barty Crouch looks like?'

'I read the paper, duh,' James said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

'You, reading the paper?' Emma raised an eyebrow skeptically. James always announced that he had better things to do when their parents tried to get him interested in political affairs.

'Yeah, ever since that night when Dad came home talking about…' he looked around the corridor and dropped his voice, 'You-Know-Who…I decided it was time to get interested. I mean, aren't the people who stand by and do nothing just as bad as those who instigate the violence?' Emma fidgeted uncomfortably, but her brother continued. 'Anyway, that's when I decided I wanted to be an Auror - that you know - and well, I wanted to get to know the kind of profile that people looked for.'

Emma was impressed. She had been so wrapped up in her own affairs that she hadn't noticed her twin shift from the pranking jokester to champion of the people. Not that it surprised her; James had always been quick to defend his friends, and quicker to defend the helpless from a prank gone wrong. One of the reasons he got into trouble so much was that he always announced that it was him if an innocent bystander took the blame (something his Head of House had cottoned onto pretty quickly). Not to mention his almost aggressive protectiveness of her, his twin.

'Mr Crouch is looking for any leads on the case of the assault on an Auror,' she replied, knowing it would get out somehow anyway. 'Apparently someone who might know something looks like me.'

'But you were in the Hospital Wing!' James pointed out.

'Exactly,' Emma nodded. 'And here I was, thinking that the only person who looked like me in the whole of Britain was you.'

'Don't flatter yourself Ems,' James preened his hair. 'Everyone knows I'm the handsome one.'

She shook her head, laughing - partly out of relief. I can't believe that just happened. They continued on their way, the conversation veering from one subject to another, but steering clear of family matters. They parted as Emma turned left to Charms class and James right to Defense Against the Dark Arts.

It was only later that she realised she hadn't asked her brother why he had a meeting with Albus Dumbledore.

 

Chapter Text

Emma yawned and stretched, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. Though she hadn't really had any trouble picking up where they had left off, the backlog of homework and essays had her studying in the library until late. Luckily, she had managed to get an extension. Regulus had managed to pull all-nighters the week before, but she had been too caught up in thought about Barty Crouch and how he had almost caught her, though she hadn't mentioned a word to Regulus. He thought that Dumbledore had called her in about the Prefect duties, and whether she was well enough to start up again. She was surprised at how easily he had bought her excuse. Then again, he probably had a lot on his mind. She knew she did. They weren't as invincible as they thought, though there had been no proof to back up Crouch's claim. She was doubly glad of their Memory Charm, as it shielded her from any further probing.

She also made a mental note to make it up to Barty somehow, without him finding out how close they came to being caught, of course. He was young and eager, but still unsure as to how far he would go for their cause. Emma had no such doubts. Of course, Bellatrix could be extreme, but Narcissa had spoken of a whole other side of her sister. And Emma wouldn't forget that it was Bella who had helped her all those years ago with the bullying Gryffindors. The Dark Lord knew that Regulus's cousin was enthusiastic and had reigned her in thus far. It was only now that it was an all-out war that Bellatrix was able to unleash her fighting side. Emma had to keep reminding herself that all this violence was temporary.

The Dark Lord wanted the same things she did, she had seen it in his eyes when they had met. Though he had needed the prejudiced pure-bloods on his side, he was only willing to help the Muggleborns and Muggles. If it meant being called prejudiced by the Daily Prophet, because he wanted laws about who was Muggleborn and who was not, then so be it. The Muggleborns needed extra help, that much was clear from Regulus's research in the library. Statistically, they weren't as good at spells, since the world was so different from the one they were brought up in. It wasn't their fault, but it was true. Plus, the Dark Lord was the one to try and give rights to the trolls, werewolves and giants. What had the Ministry done? Nothing but ostracise them.

It was true that he hadn't spoken of house-elves yet, but Emma thought it was because they were already living in wizarding society. One look at Kreacher was all anyone needed to tell them that if they were freed then it would do them more harm than good. Mrs Black aside, Kreacher loved his home and family. He wouldn't want to be presented clothes for all the world. But the Prophet mentioned none of this, instead focusing on over-the-top Death Eater "attacks". Emma had asked Narcissa if it was true, worried that people like Amycus were taking the war to extreme measures. Her friend had asked her fiancé about it, who had reassured them that the Prophet was telling tall tales to scare the population.

Speaking of the newspaper, she had read it cover to cover in the evenings - making sure that Regulus was nowhere near when she did - searching for mentions of the Auror attack. It wouldn't do to have him think it was his fault. She knew that deep down, he thought Sirius had left because of him. Or that he could have done something more to help. She wished that Sirius would realise what his brother had been doing for him for all those years. She hated the selfish prick, especially since he seemed to just breeze through life. Secretly though, she knew that it was just a facade. Even Sirius Black couldn't have left a household like that unscathed. She was torn between being glad he had someone like James to get him through it, and thinking that he didn't deserve her brother's friendship.

Finishing the newspaper, satisfied that there was no further speculation on the topic of Abbot's attacker - people were now delving into Christopher Dean's past, digging up what information they could and bringing the bad parts to light - she turned back to her Potions essay on antidotes.

Golpalott's Third Law dictates that the antidote for a blended poison will be equal to more than the sum of the antidotes for each of the separate components. In other words, a blended poison is not only a combination of each individual poison, but something much more deadly. As such, the antidote must be more powerful than each separate cure, finding out what the combination of poisons has added to the effect.

Finding this ingredient isn't easy. Often a blended antidote must be made in a hurry, upon finding the person having ingested the poison. There would not be enough time to identify each poison, even if the symptoms were clear, unless the potioneer had a clear view of the actual poisoning.

Instead, one solution would be to identify the symptoms and their causes, treating the potion as if it were an original concoction. This is dangerous, yes, but will abate the poison until the potioneer discovers exactly what the real antidote needs.

Failing that, a stone taken from the stomach of a goat will save you from most poisons, as it absorbs the unknown chemicals within the body. This object is more commonly known as a Bezoar. Thus, each potioneer and indeed, each household should keep a Bezoar at the ready, just in case the trip to St Mungo's would take too long.

She thrust her quill into the ink bottle with a sigh of frustration. She was straying off topic, but it would have to do, even though it didn't nearly cover her usual essay length. Maybe Slughorn would mark her nicely if she brewed an excellent potion. Speaking of which, her partner had been unexpectedly thoughtful in passing Emma all of her notes for the week. Though James was always going on about Lily Evans' kindness, she hadn't quite believed it, upon seeing their interactions together. Alecto had - of course - disapproved, but Emma thought that being friends with one Muggleborn wouldn't change the world. Especially when she was one of the best students in class - the exception to the Muggleborn rule. Plus, Severus Snape was still in love with her, as seen by his moping around. Lily had yet again rebuffed his attempts at being friends, earning him a P in Potions for inattention and the mockery of Mulciber, one of his closest friends.

Now he skulked around the library, supposedly inventing Dark spells in order to prove his worth. James had spoken of him using unknown spells in their daily duels, but Emma had been giving the Slytherin a wide berth. He wasn't exactly known for playing fair, and she didn't think she'd be in his good books after having obtained the Mark he was so desperate to get. At least she thought she'd get the Dark Mark after completing her mission. She couldn't think of anything else to prove her loyalty - so far it seemed as though everyone had given theirs up as a lost cause. Even Alecto had let out a heartfelt sigh upon reading her paper, though said nothing when pressed for information.

Briefly, Emma wondered what it was like in Gryffindor. It was hard for the Dark Lord to know who was trustworthy or not in their rival House, as he himself had been a Slytherin when in Hogwarts, though rumour had it that there were a couple who wanted to join. She doubted that it was a common topic of conversation though, as many Gryffindors were family members of those opposed to the Dark Lord. They were just so stubborn, why not hear him out? She was sure that James would agree with her, though she didn't dare talk about it after their father's reaction. Sirius had probably been poisoning James's mind. Better never to mention it at all.

As if on cue, James appeared and plonked himself down in the chair next to her. 'Whatcha doin'?'

'Homework,' Emma groaned, secretly glad that her brother was there to take her mind off things.

'Homework?' he asked incredulously. 'Well, I've been up to much more interesting things, like pranking dear Snivellus. Tomorrow morning he will wake up to something he's needed in a long time - you'll see what I mean.'

His eyes strayed to the Daily Prophet, which bore the marks of having been thoroughly read. He opened his mouth, probably to say something about last Monday's incident, but then closed it again. His brow was furrowed, the way it always was when he was keeping a secret from her and was wondering whether to tell her or not. A thought occurred to Emma.

'What did Dumbledore want with you?'

'Aha,' James tapped his nose knowingly. 'Top secret stuff, you're too young to know yet.'

'We're the same age!' Emma protested for what seemed to be the millionth time in her life.

'Tell you what, I'll tell you about it soon enough. Let's just say he's asked me to help with some sort of... side project. Come to think of it, I'll ask him if you can come too, he wants people from all of the Houses to show that it's a united effort,' her twin tried to explain, but only seemed more enigmatic than before.

'What's a united effort?' she pressed for details. She had never heard of Dumbledore creating side projects before, though if they were secret she supposed that that was normal.

James only gave her a frustrating, knowing look. She was slightly hurt that her brother wasn't sharing with her, then guiltily remembered the ton of secrets that she was keeping from him. Let James keep his mostly carefree attitude for now, she thought. Maybe she would talk to him this summer, when they were alone. James had mentioned that now Sirius was seventeen, he wanted to get his own flat in Diagon Alley. Her brother got up to leave, apparently spotting his friends by the doorway, but stopped in his tracks.

'Oh, I almost forgot. For some reason I got the letters addressed to you this morning. Apparently, the Hogwarts owls you chose can't tell the difference between "Emma" and "James",' he rolled his eyes. 'Next time, you should probably borrow one of your friends', or at least make sure it isn't the oldest owl in Hogwarts history.'

He tossed a couple of envelopes onto her essay and bounded off, probably to make more mischief, knowing him. Emma quickly rolled up her essay (after sprinkling it with sand to make sure it was dry) and shoved it into her bag. One of the letters was written in Narcissa's elegant script, the other she would have recognised from a mile away. Her name was printed in the bold letters of none other than Charles Potter.

At first, she wasn't sure what to do. She was just getting herself back together, actually doing something, catching up on homework. Sometime in first year, her parents were okay with her being in Slytherin, and if they were once, they could be again. She tried not to think about last Christmas. How do you get past your own parents not wanting you? They had said themselves that they would prefer Sirius as a son…No, a voice in her head said, Dad said that. Then another, smaller and snider one whispered, but Mum didn't refuse it. And that makes all the difference.

Sirius's parents were cold and demanding. That's why he left. But when your warm and loving parents love somebody else rather than you, the knife cuts deeper. Thinking that nothing her father could say would make her feel worse anyway she ripped it open, her heart started beating wildly in her chest. Curse James for not making a big deal out of it, she thought, remembering his nonchalant attitude and brief, guilty look.

Emma,

Your mother is unable to reply, as she has been taken ill. Nothing too serious, we hope, but St Mungo's is running tests. Perhaps I was too harsh with you over the holidays. She misses you very much. I am glad to hear that you are feeling better.

Love from,

Your father.

She didn't know whether to sigh with relief or get angry at the way he had just brushed their fight aside. Then again, her father had always been like James, slightly too blunt, easy to misunderstand. Merlin knew that her brother was useless at explaining himself to Lily Evans. She re-read the short letter, and her chest constricted with worry. Even a Firebug Flu, such as the one she supposedly got, would affect her aging mother a lot more than it would herself. James must have already had the news and not known how to talk to her about it. After all, her relationship with their parents was much more complicated than his. In fact, there wasn't much to say until they knew more about her mother's illness, apart from hope from the best and pray that St Mungo's Healers were as competent as they said.

She set the letter gingerly aside, as if it would crumble to pieces if it wasn't handled delicately, and broke open the seal on Narcissa's, unrolling an unusually long length of parchment.

My dear Emma, she read,

I'm glad to hear that you're continuing Slytherin excellence in Quidditch. I hope that with you as captain this year, you'll be able to win us the cup, though it will require playing directly against your brother. Lucius is well, thank you, and he sends his congratulations. We manage to see each other several times a week, though my nursing schedule is demanding. I wonder if I shall give it up after a few years, the number of patients is exhausting! Lucius also thinks it will reflect badly on him if his wife works. I can't wait until July, it seems like an eternity to wait! Though the wedding preparations are barely under way, so I suppose it's all for the best.

On the subject of your success, news has trickled down through the grapevine and - dare I say it - I do believe the Dark Lord is impressed. But your encounter has opened my eyes to just how dangerous this business is. If Lucius and I were to have children - which I hope we do, though not for a few years at least - I hope that the Dark Lord would be content with all that my family has given him so far. But surely, this is a silly worry. The war will be over long before any children of mine are old enough to join it.

I'm sorry, I've been rambling and you're still troubled by your experience. I think that what you did in that duel was a different kind of defence. If you had cast the disarming charm, who knows what might have happened? The Auror in question (I have read about the attack in the newspaper and think I know who was involved in this) is very dangerous and trained in Muggle combat in the event of a Silencing Charm or loss of his wand. I know this from the spies we have managed to place in the Ministry, so please do not mention this fact to anyone else. By taking out the advantage of his strong arm, you severely weakened your opponent and managed to take him out from the fight without further bloodshed - something I know you, like me, secretly abhor. Unfortunately, in times like these, it is sometimes necessary.

You must remember that there is something much larger at stake here, though I know you do not agree with my specific view on blood purity. In my mind, those that are pure of blood are born into the Wizarding World. The Muggleborns are outcasts. They will never fit in. There is always a risk of them infringing upon the law, and speaking of the Wizarding World to their Muggle friends. Already the fact that their parents know sends a chill down my spine. We do not know what Muggles are capable of, and there are many more of them than us. For this reason, I think the most prominent positions should be sent to the ones best equipped to handle them.

I am worried that Lucius and Bellatrix are more extreme though. To hear them, one would think they wanted to eradicate the Mudbloods, more so than Muggles themselves! But my sister has always been hot-headed, and events that happened during or youth have been severely impregnated in her mind. That and our family motto: Toujours Pur! However, she has a tendency towards violence that even I cannot control anymore. Fortunately, I think she is besotted with our Dark Lord, and he will control her anger. It does not help that a member of our own family has turned out to be a blood-traitor. I can only imagine the shame that Regulus had to go through.

Speaking of which, I will not be a Black for much longer. I hope that you will be able to join me at the Black family country house. It will be my home for only two weeks after your school year ends, and I have not had the opportunity to show you around before I leave for good. Bellatrix has agreed to stay and help the preparations for the marriage, but she has also agreed to take up the Dark Lord's promise to you about learning how to duel (though it seems as though you no longer need it!).

Please take care of yourself, and watch that your brother does not mix with the wrong sort of people. There are rumours of my treacherous cousin joining the Order created solely to oppose us, and I fear for his life (though I would not admit it to anyone but you). Your brother may very well be in the same sort of position, so keep your eyes open.

Your dear friend,

Narcissa Black.

Emma's head was reeling by the time she finished the letter, but on the whole she was relieved. Though Narcissa believed that it was Emma who had cursed the Auror's arm off, the fact that she still supported her friend meant that it must have been alright. Narcissa was one of the gentlest people she knew. Even Bellatrix calmed down with her. But she was worried about Lucius's obvious influence on the Black girl. In Hogwarts, the only thing on her mind apart from romance was her Healer career, and now she seemed ready to give it all up. Of course, Narcissa may have just written the letter on a particularly bad day. Emma ignored the part about Muggleborns being lesser. That kind of talk just gave her a headache. She knew that the Malfoys thought the other magical beings little more than animals, and though it was true that the giants were extremely crude, she couldn't help but think of Kreacher and his big wide eyes, so easy to please and so easily hurt.

She would learn more of the truth of Narcissa's situation if she did indeed come to her house before the wedding, which she gathered would take place at the Black household. Plus, she was supposed to be one of the bridesmaids, which involved helping. Pulling out a sheet of parchment, she dipped her quill in the ink and began to write a reply.

Chapter Text

'Nervous?' Alecto asked.

The two girls were sitting in their dorm room. Sophie, for once, didn't want to go to Hogsmeade, though it was the first visit in spring. She was taking her studies seriously, she said, with a glance towards Regulus at breakfast that morning. He gave her an encouraging smile, but seemed to miss the point. She was wondering if anyone might help her with her Transfiguration. Another meaningful look. Regulus suggested a few reference books. She wanted to know if Regulus would be going to the library, as he was vying for Head Boy. At this statement, Rabastan and Regulus exchanged a raised eyebrow. Rabastan quickly said that they had already made plans. Regulus just gave her an infuriating smirk with that condescending look in his eye. Well, infuriating to Emma. Sophie had made it perfectly clear that she thought it was a secret smile reserved especially for her. In a way she's right. It's becoming more and more reserved for her, Emma thought darkly, before dragging her mind to the present situation.

She gave the red-head a weighted look in reply, not daring to say anything, even though there was no way Lucinda would hear them in the shower. Alecto understood though. It isn't something you can put into words, anyway, Emma reflected, as she tugged at her emerald green jumper and smoothed her ivory-white skirt. Both girls had agreed to wear Slytherin colours, though both inwardly thought themselves foolish for trying to dress up for such an occasion. They couldn't help themselves though. This was the moment Lord Voldemort decided he was impressed, or you were shunted to the side: a lackey in his crusade for the greater good. A nobody, forgotten and misplaced, useless. Emma shuddered. She couldn't think of anything worse. Besides, it was said that Lord Voldemort was a proud descendant of Salazar Slytherin himself!

Alecto arranged and re-arranged her thick ginger hair, whilst Emma nervously twisted her locket around her neck, a lump in her throat. When this is all over, Mum and Dad will understand, she thought. After all, it had to get worse before it could get better. They might not approve of violence, but what could they expect, when both of their children were Quidditch players?

'Ohmygosh,' Lucinda practically shrieked upon entering the room, startling both girls. Dressed in nothing but a towel, she crossed the room - to Emma's shock - to sit on the black-haired girl's bed. Though they had shared a room for the past six years, Lucinda refused to even get into her pyjamas in front of the other girls. 'Is that what I think it is?' she asked breathlessly, pointing to the necklace in her hands.

'Umm,' Emma said, rather taken aback. 'My locket?'

She looked down at it. It was nothing new, and nothing special to the others, as far as she knew. Only Alecto could have guessed at the true meaning it held to her, and she was clever enough never to mention it. Even Regulus knew nothing, apart from the fact that it was one of her treasured possessions.

'It's much more than just a locket, Emma,' Lucinda breathed, before jumping up, freshly curled hair bouncing around. 'Come on, there's something I have to show you!'

'You do realise you're dressed in a towel?' Alecto asked sardonically. 'Or is that your new tactic to woo dates?'

Lucinda blushed, but only for a second. 'Hang on.'

She quickly dressed in the outfit she had previously laid on her bed. She had gotten over her crush on Regulus and was now interested in a seventh-year Hufflepuff. She hadn't resisted the fact that he was Amos Diggory's best friend, and at first used him to tease Emma. She had realised that James scared away most potential boyfriends, and whilst she didn't mock her overtly - something no Slytherin would do to a fellow housemate - she still seemed to harbour some rivalry with the raven-haired girl. It had actually become a bit of a game to them, and though each would say that it annoyed them, they were secretly having fun with their little competitions.

However, Lucinda had discovered a new reason to keep dating the Hufflepuff. "He's just so exciting," she had said when probed. "I don't understand him at all, he's such a mystery!" Emma privately thought that the mystery was primarily due to the fact that the Hufflepuff was a complete optimist. Lucinda's favourite game was to unnerve him with back stories on people - often slightly exaggerated - and have him find their good side.

She was broken from her thoughts by the blonde grabbing her arm and rushing up the stairs, nearly colliding with the password wall in her haste to get out. Alecto hurried behind them, shrugging her shoulders when Emma shot her a questioning look. They came to a skidding stop in the dungeon anti-chamber. Lucinda pointed triumphantly at a portrait of Salazar Slytherin.

'All this, to show us a shortcut we were taught in our first year?' Alecto snorted. 'Everyone knows you can easily get to the Entrance Hall from here.'

'No,' Lucinda said impatiently. 'Look.' And she pointed again, jabbing her finger towards the middle of the portrait. The man inside didn't look too impressed at her lack of manners, though he said nothing.

Emma leaned closer, squinting her eyes at the picture. Salazar Slytherin, the Founder of their House, had his usual enigmatic expression, though he had currently added a smirk to it. She stared him in the eye: He said nothing, though his eyes seemed to suggest that he knew something that she did not. Her gaze swept over the portrait, taking in the balding head, long flowing beard, the locket Slytherin so prized…The locket! She took a closer look, then lifted her own above her head to compare them. They were nearly identical.

'See!' Lucinda seemed too overcome to say anything else. 'Do you know what this means?'

'It means that there might be some hope for me after all,' Emma murmured, too softly for her classmates to hear.

***

 

'My dear friends,' Lord Voldemort spread his arms out in invitation, his silky voice as enticing as ever. 'Welcome back.'

They were standing in a semi-circle behind the Dark Lord. The Death Eaters, that was to say. The sixth-and-seventh-year students stood huddled in a group on the other side of the abandoned house - ostracised, but not rejected. It was a step up from the hut used to give them their tasks, but still somewhere remote: an abandoned farmhouse some way down a dirt track. It seemed out of place with the elegance of the group standing before them. The Dark Lord's eyes seemed to shine with a vision that would guide them to a better world, though his slitted pupils said that he would be prepared to stoop to any level to get to this ideal world. Each time Emma thought about it, she was amazed at the support he had managed to garner in so little time, but then when she saw him it seemed like the obvious choice. How could someone so powerful, so self-assured ever lose? How did he even meet any resistance? Surely if he met the Minister for Magic and spoke with him then the war could be avoided. Maybe it was the Minister's fault, for not even giving them a chance. Emma wished she was in the inner ranks, so that her knowledge wouldn't be so second hand.

'One month ago today, I entrusted each of you with a specific task, to prove your worth to the cause. Most of you disappointed me. Two of you did not.'

There was an outbreak of mutterings from behind him. Emma supposed that this was not a regular occurrence. She fought to keep the grin from her face, keeping her eyes trained on the wooden floorboards beneath her feet. It wouldn't do to seem too smug now. It would be more impressive if she just pretended as though she had expected it all along. Even so, her heart started pounding at such a rate that she had to concentrate to breathe normally. She wondered if they had surprised him, then asked herself what he must have been like at sixteen. A force to be reckoned with, she concluded.

'Silence!' He had not raised his voice, but the word cut through the hum of conversation like a knife. 'Failure is unacceptable. But I am a merciful Lord. You will have your chance, sooner or later, to redeem yourselves. Until then, leave, with the knowledge that you have failed me.'

With the cold and sneering gaze of the Death Eaters upon them, the students made to troop out, heads hung in humiliation. Perhaps all the more so because they had expected everyone to fail. It would not have been so bad, if they had taken their tasks to be impossible. Most hadn't even tried, shaking their heads in defeat, or being comforted by family members that had gone through the same gruelling process. At least that's what it seemed like, when Emma saw a hooded figure look pityingly at Rabastan. She wondered if it was his brother or his father. All had failed, except Regulus and Emma. In a rare display of emotion, Emma caught Regulus's excited look. Moments later, he had rearranged his features into a slightly satisfied smirk, but his eyes betrayed him still. Emma's excitement only grew.

'I do confess,' the Dark Lord said with a slight hint of wonder, 'that your actions surprised me. Of course, neither were tasks that I would entrust to underage wizards alone, but McNair,' he nodded towards one of the masked faces, 'informed me of the Giants' renewed vigour in the fight, whereas Wilkes…has been dealt with.'

The heavy silence emanating from the Death Eaters told Emma what that last sentence meant. She supposed that Wilkes had been tasked with getting rid of the Muggleborn Ministry officials. She wondered how the Wilkes her age was taking it. It was true that he hadn't been here today. She felt slightly bad for his father; to be fair, they had had the advantage of surprise and their faces couldn't be recognised, but she couldn't help but feel a certain pride in her and Regulus's actions. But Wilkes probably still had an opportunity to redeem himself. The Dark Lord was not so harsh as to not give his loyal followers a second chance, though he punished failure.

'I cannot abide sloppy labour. If a sixteen-year-old can achieve in a week what an adult wizard cannot... Well, let us say that even my patience has some limits,' the Dark Lord's mouth twisted into a mocking sneer. 'But enough of disappointments. Today, we welcome two new friends into our fold. Today is a day for family, for celebration. Bellatrix, would you do the honours?'

Emma's heart was beating furiously in her chest. This was it. This was all she had ever dreamed of. Her life would become meaningful. All those fights with her father seemed lessened, because she was loyal to a worthy cause. Although the fighting scared her, she couldn't wait for it to be over, to create a new society, one where there would be restrictions on Muggles, or maybe ways to prevent them from shaming Muggleborn children. She thought that she might burst out singing, but tried to keep her features calm. Still, it was with trembling fingers that she accepted the velvety black cloth. Bellatrix beamed at her, obviously proud at having been bestowed such a meaningful task. There were tears in her eyes when she gave Regulus his robes, as though her cousin had grown up into something far better than she could have ever hoped for.

Putting her arms through the robes, Emma thought they were at once familiar and strange. How could a set of simple black robes be so different from anything else? At first, she was surprised at their weight. They were as heavy as her winter set at Hogwarts, and yet smooth and soft to the touch, leaving her a freedom of movement that Madam Malkins would have approved of. But at the same time, they did not feel warm. If anything, she felt a slight chill - though that may have been to do with the shiver of excitement that ran through her body.

The robes are like their master, she reflected. The Dark Lord emanates power and belonging, and I know that our cause is the right one only…whenever I am in his presence, I feel a thrill of fear. Something's not quite right... She glanced towards Regulus, who was wearing a satisfied smirk on his face. Of course, Regulus has looked at this from all of the angles. Maybe I'm just paranoid, scared of getting in too deep when the fight is only beginning. I need to trust in this. It's normal to feel misgivings. Being a Death Eater is for life.

'Hold out your left arm,' the Dark Lord spoke softly to her, bringing her out of her thoughts.

Her eyes met the snake-like pupils, and every doubt vanished. He was trusting her, her, to do what was needed. She felt a tendril probing her mind, and remembered Regulus's lessons. Occlumency seemed so easy when she felt so confident, and she nearly laughed at the check through her mind, making sure that she was not a spy. No misgivings or doubts were to be found among her memories - her own mind had already banished them with her resolution. She stepped forwards, rolling her new sleeve up to expose the smooth expanse of skin below. The Dark Lord bestowed one of his rare, brilliant smiles upon her. She felt as though she had stepped into the light. If only she could become so sure of herself the entire time.

'Morsmordre,' the incantation came out almost like a hiss, and Emma felt a burning sensation on her arm. She gritted her teeth against the pain, but didn't flinch, watching with dream-like fascination at the smoky substance flowing out of the tip of the wand, tracing the head of a snake in vivid red before travelling up her arm to form a skull near her elbow, grinning up at her with sightless eyes. Two tendrils broke formation, twisting to the side to form the rest of the intricate tattoo, before merging back into the snake. The end result was a snake protruding from the mouth of the skull, twisting to form a loose figure eight knot before travelling half-way down her forearm to bare its fangs.

Chapter Text

'You lucky bitch!' Lucinda yelled out, attracting more than a few looks and head-shakes.

It was the day after their trip to Hogsmeade, and this was the first time that Alecto, Lucinda and Emma had been alone enough for her to tell them about the end of her visit to Hogsmeade. Though Lucinda hadn't been there, her brother Evan had, so the girls agreed that she would find out about it sooner or later. Not to mention that her father was part of the Dark Lord's inner circle. At first, Emma thought Alecto might say something snarky, but true to her best friend, she had merely said that she'd get her mark next year. "Or maybe in May for my birthday!" she had joked.

Lucinda wasn't bothered with the whole war thing going on, leaving familial duty to her older brother. "Who cares about blood if he's hot?" she had joked, though the "uphold the family honour" had been safely drilled into her brain from a young age. The Rosiers were more lenient than some, allowing their children to chose to marry half-bloods if they wanted, as long as the said half-blood had talent. They were more pragmatic than the Black family, who - as Regulus admitted - had some cases of insanity due to the amount of incest. At Emma's surprised look, he had hastily assured her that his parents were no closer than third cousins, something that was common amongst the wizarding world.

Alecto laughed at the blonde's antics, but shushed her, looking around the common room. Emma rolled her sleeve back down, noting Regulus's look as he shook his head. She could almost imagine him now: "it's supposed to be a secret!". It was true that the Dark Lord had told them to trust no one, but Alecto already (sort-of) knew, and Lucinda wouldn't say anything. She knew that this piece of information wasn't to be used in the competitions they had when they were bored.

'Come on, I'm starving,' Emma said, though her snail still had antennae and part of its shell and parchment was strewn across the table.

She had been jittery all day, and it didn't help that the tattoo felt like her skin was on fire. After the Dark Lord was done, her forearm had been pleasantly numb, but during the night the pain had come back in full force, enough to make sweat bead on her forehead. She hadn't slept much, but she was still so filled with energy after the excitement of the day before that she hadn't minded. Still, she had mentioned it to Regulus and he had admitted to the same kind of problems, so at least she knew she wasn't having an allergic reaction or something. However, it wasn't the kind of pain she could take to Madame Pomfrey, so she had to settle with a numbing spell that didn't actually do much good. She wished they learned more about Healing in their class. Maybe Narcissa will be able to advise me, she thought.

Alecto raised an eyebrow, but said nothing, sweeping the lot of schoolwork into her bag (though not before Vanishing the remainder of the snail). 'Come on then, birthday girl. It's not every day you're seventeen.'

'Regulus, Rabastan!' Lucinda got onto her chair, waving her arms. 'We're off to eat.'

Alecto groaned and pulled the over-excited girl back down, rolling her eyes.

'You're making a fool out of yourself,' she said not too kindly, but years of sharing the same dorm meant that Lucinda took it well.

She stepped down quickly and shot Alecto a meaningful look, but quietened. Emma rolled her eyes at her two friends, wondering what they had in store for her at the Great Hall. Last year, Rabastan had enchanted the cakes at dessert to sing happy birthday every time she touched them. Mortified, Emma had retaliated for his seventeenth, asking James to enchant everything he touched to turn Gryffindor gold and red. Her brother had been more than willing to comply, even managing to make the Slytherin's potion roar at him every time he stirred it. Remembering all this, Emma looked warily at Rabastan, who held out five splayed fingers to signal that he was finishing up, casually going back to his game of Exploding Snap with Evan Rosier.

'How are you not as excited as I am?' Lucinda asked Emma on the way to the Great Hall.

'You have enough excitement for us both,' Emma grinned, but secretly she was elated.

The high from getting her Dark Mark was still coursing through her veins, and not even their improvised Quidditch match against James and his friends had managed to dampen her energy, though none of them had really played fair. She wasn't sure if the two teams were actually having fun or if they were just trying to crush the other House into the dust. Being an optimist, she opted for the former option. After all, no one had ended up in the infirmary. Besides, she had actually spent some time with James without Sirius getting in the way. He had been too busy trying to shoot Bludgers at his brother to care about Emma.

'Oh, I forgot something,' Alecto said, turning around and heading back towards the dungeon.

'What?' Emma asked, frowning stopping in her tracks. It wasn't like Alecto to be careless.

'This,' she replied, flicking her wand.

Everything went dark. Inwardly, Emma panicked for a second, her heart rate quadrupling in a matter of moments, but upon raising her hands to her eyes, she realised that Alecto had just charmed a scarf to act as a blindfold and relaxed. 'I should have expected this from you guys.'

'Emmaaaa,' Lucinda whined. 'You're no fun. I thought you would freak out at least a little bit.'

Emma couldn't help the self-satisfied grin on her face. She knew how to wind her friends up. The Slytherins took pride in getting a rise out of each other, since many weren't easily riled up.

'She'll freak out when she realises where we're going,' Emma could almost hear Alecto's malicious grin.

'Oh no...'

'That's more like it!'

***

 

'We're here!' Alecto announced, taking the blindfold off with a flourish.

Emma stood blinking for a couple of seconds, getting used to the light. She was in a room not unlike the Slytherin common room, though it seemed smaller and there were no staircases leading down from the sides. There were no windows, no lake, but bluebell flame candles sent blue shadows flickering across the green carpet. All along the sides of the room and grouped around the fireplace were black leather sofas and armchairs. Several long tables filled with food and drink stood against the walls. Silver letters curled across the green banners draped on the walls, spelling "Happy 17th Birthday". After taking a second to drink it all in, she realised that she was almost speechless. She turned to Alecto and Lucinda, a surprised smile forming on her lips. Her two friends burst into grins in return and they hugged.

'This is amazing guys, thanks,' the seventeen-year old said. 'How did you...?'

'We're on the seventh floor,' Lucinda explained.

'We told the room we required a party,' Alecto smirked. 'I take it you like it then?'

Emma shook her head in astonishment, moving to take a closer look. 'How did you get the food? The Room wouldn't have been able to conjure any.'

'Well, you'll have to thank...'

'Courtesy of Kreacher.'

Emma turned around to see Rabastan and Regulus smirking in the doorway, looking rather pleased with themselves and smarter than usual. Well, Rabastan was in any case. Regulus always took great care to separate his image from that of his brother, which included the way they wore their uniforms.

'He's quite taken with you,' Regulus continued. 'He has a few cousins working in the Hogwarts kitchens who owe him favours.'

'You make it sound like he's part of the mafia,' Lucinda giggled, but didn't fawn as she once would have.

'Thank Merlin that crush went away,' Alecto said in an undertone to Emma. 'I feel like the real Lucy's come back to us. It was her idea, by the way.'

Emma felt a rush of gratitude towards her blond friend, but before she could say anything, the door opened once more.

'So I heard there was a party,' Helen said conversationally, dragging Barty Crouch behind her. 'This one almost didn't want to come.'

Barty scratched the back of his head sheepishly. 'I didn't think I'd be wanted, as a fourth year...'

'Don't be silly,' Emma planted a kiss on his cheek and whispered. 'I haven't forgotten everything I owe you.'

The younger boy flushed a bright pink, though from the kiss or the compliment Emma couldn't say. Of course, this ended up with him getting teased mercilessly by Rabastan. A glance towards Regulus's faintly amused face told him that there would be no help forthcoming from that direction. Luckily, he was saved from Helen gushing "isn't he so cute!" by another arrival.

'I was told there was a party in the making?' Sophie Parkinson was dressed to impress, party clothes and all. Flinging her robe onto one of the chairs that lined the wall, she marched in, closely followed by Evan Rosier, Cassandra Greengrass and a couple of other sixth-and-seventh year students including - much to Emma's distaste - Wilkes and Mulciber. Somehow, James's snide comments about Wilkes had gotten to her, and she couldn't help but snort at the sight of him.

'Do you mind if I bring Gabriel?' Lucinda asked, drawing Emma's attention away from the group.

'Not at all,' Emma smiled, before putting a hand on Lucinda's arm and looking her in the eye. 'Thank you, by the way. This is the best present you could have got me.'

'Good, because I already invited him. Anyway, you're welcome Captain,' the Chaser grinned. 'Enjoy the food, or had you forgotten why we brought you up so early in the first place?'

A short while later the party was in full swing and Emma had surreptitiously eaten most of the Cornish pasties. Someone had hooked a Wizarding Wireless to some speakers thoughtfully provided by the room, and the Butterbeer flowed freely. Most of the students had followed Sophie's lead, and there was now a mishmash of robes to the right of the door. I wonder how we're going to separate all of those, Emma thought, glad that she had left hers next to the afore-mentioned Cornish pasties.

'Having fun?' Wilkies asked just as Emma had taken a particularly large bite.

She nodded her head, not trusting herself to speak. How did he appear here? Emma thought. She could have sworn that she had placed most of the student body between the two of them.

'Want to dance?'

She was saved from having to reply by Alecto casting the Sonorus charm on herself and climbing onto a table near them. As the redhead tapped a fork against a goblet and called for attention, Emma took advantage of the distraction to swallow her mouthful.

'It's not every day that our dear Quidditch captain turns seventeen,' she started. 'Happy birthday Emma!'

Her words echoed through the crowd slightly embarrassingly and Emma hoped that she had wiped all of the crumbs off of her face, as every single person in the room turned to look at her. Apparently yes, she thought, catching her reflection in Helen's glasses. When Wilkes turned to wish her a happy birthday, she was able to give him a smirk. He might have said more, but was cut off by Alecto's resounding voice.

'Now some of you may have noticed the various potions on this small table,' she gestured. Everyone looked with interest at the multicoloured vials of different sizes. 'This is a little game often played when a wizard or witch turns seventeen. Do I need to explain the rules?'

Knowing Alecto, there's a twist to this, Emma thought, but a grin began to form on her face all the same. There was a chorus of "no"s and several "what is it?"s from the students.

'As most of you know, it's customary to fill vials with different drinks and play a guessing game. The players are separated into teams and the team with the most correct answers wins a prize. Well, Lucinda and I have decided to spice it up a little.'

I knew it, Emma's smirk grew wider.

'With the help of Sophie and Rabastan, we created many famous potions. You'll be placed in teams of three and must correctly guess the potion used. The first team to finish. For obvious reasons, Sophie, Rabastan and I are exempt from this challenge - having poured the potions into the vials. But we'll keep score, and make sure no one cheats. We'll tell you about the catch as we come around.'

'So, Emma...'

She was gone before Wilkes managed to finish his sentence.

***

 

'Please, Lucinda save me,' she burst out upon finding her friend.

Lucinda giggled. 'Sorry Ems, but I have inter-house power on my side. Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw - what could go wrong?'

'Raven...' Emma's voice trailed off as she saw Lou there. She cast in her mind for the words she had prepared for when she would see her cousin, but they were no longer there. Luckily, the blue-robed girl didn't need an apology and swept her cousin into her arms.

'Joyeux anniversaire, cousine,' she said in her native language. 'Everyone deserves to be happy on their seventeenth.'

Perhaps she is thinking of my help in making Sirius's present, Emma thought, but immediately banished it. Her cousin was here, and that was all that mattered. All that's missing is James. But she had seen her brother that afternoon. She hugged her cousin tighter for a second before she let go. Lou gave her a dazzling smile in return.

'So, cousin,' Emma teased. 'Dropping me for these guys are you? And in my hour of greatest need...'

'What is your greatest need?' Lou inquired, shaking her head at the other girl's drama before training her eyes on a spot behind Emma. 'Does it happen to involve a certain blond-haired seventh-year Slytherin?'

'That's the one,' Emma replied, before disappearing once more into the crowd. Lou merely laughed, honestly, her humour is a lot like James's sometimes.

'Hey Emma! Over here!' Helen waved an arm. The other seemed to be stopping a certain fourth-year Slytherin from escaping.

Help me, Barty's eyes pleaded. Emma smirked at him; once Helen had her prey in sight, there was no stopping her. Emma's kiss on the cheek had amused her so much that she planned to flirt with him all evening. Plus, it was rather funny to see the mostly level-headed fourth-year so embarrassed. Emma wasn't exactly friends with Helen, but she conceded and weaved her way through the people to join them, wanting to get to know her roommate a little better. This is going to be fun.

'Great, we're sure to win now!' Helen said brightly. Though she wasn't in NEWT level Potions, she did understand the theory better than most. It was the practical exam she had failed. Plus, she was great at Herbology, which was always useful when it came to identifying ingredients. 'Barty here's a boy-genius. How many O.W.L.s are you taking next year again?'

'Twelve,' Barty muttered, flushing pink once more. Helen had leaned into him - probably intoxicating him with her perfume. Emma snorted.

'Don't you think that's impressive?' Helen looked almost hurt.

Emma hastened to explain. 'Oh, that's not why I was -'

'Emma,' Wilkes - now slightly out of breath - had caught up with her. 'Do you want to… Oh, are you lot already in a group?'

'Yeah,' Emma gave him an apologetic smile. 'It's a shame, but sorry.'

'No worries,' he brushed her off. 'I'll just find Severus or Regulus.'

'Is the whole of Slytherin here?' Emma asked once he was a safe distance away.

Helen gave her a small grimace and lifted her shoulders in a shrug.

'Well that wasn't very nice.' Rabastan Lestrange had sauntered over with a bag of potions. Emma had almost forgotten why they were supposed to team up. 'You're going to have to turn him down one day or another, you know.'

'I don't want to hurt his feelings,' Emma protested.

'More like you don't want to get on Avery's bad side,' he snorted. 'Everyone knows that those two are thick as thieves.'

'Please,' Emma smirked. 'As if Avery could scare me. Besides, Wilkes hangs out with Snape, and we all know what happens to Snape if he tries to cross me.'

'Using your brother as a shield,' Rabastan tutted. 'A girl after my own heart.'

'So, how did you get so many vials?' Emma nodded towards the potions he was setting up.

'Gemimo. Gotta hand it to Alecto, she knows her charms. But don't worry, I would have bought up the store for you otherwise,' he winked.

Emma rolled her eyes. 'Yeah right.'

'That's what happens when your family is filthy rich,' Rabastan joked. 'I would have even done it for you, Helen, if your birthday hadn't been during our exam week in December.'

Helen looked torn between flattered, annoyed and amused. 'Stop being a flirt.'

'Never bothered you before,' Rabastan replied cheekily.

His eyes settled on Barty, who was watching the exchange with interest. He had never seen Emma and Rabastan bantering together, having only really seen them at Quidditch practice and at the breakfast table. He seemed relieved at the break from Helen's flirting though - something that Rabastan had noticed. Before he could tease the kid, Emma intervened.

'So, don't you have to give us a piece of paper or something?'

'Oh yeah, almost forgot,' Rabastan rummaged in his bag. 'Here!' He held up a Sugar Quill and a scrap piece of parchment.

'Seriously, a sugar quill?' Helen asked sceptically.

'We thought it was more fun than using a timer. You know, write the answers before it melts kind of thing,' he grinned, before moving onto the next trio.

***

 

'Ready, Set, Go!' Alecto yelled and Lucinda shot sparks out of her wand.

She had always been good at party magic, Emma thought. If Lucinda concentrated on her lessons as much as she did on her social life, her grades would be rocketing up. Lucinda chatted with Alecto for a bit, before she seemed to realise that she was also actually playing and scuttled off to her colourful group. After watching her two best friends goofing off for a moment, Emma turned to the vials.

'So, who's first?'

'I'll go,' Barty volunteered. Helen shot him an admiring look - which he promptly ignored. He unstoppered the cork before recoiling in disgust. 'Polyjuice Potion. I'd bet my life on it.'

Emma had to stop herself from sniggering. Poor Barty did have a bad history with that potion after all. She had just about succeeded in keeping her smile in check, when Helen went and ruined it.

'Wow, you really know your way around. That's a NEWT-level potion,' Helen stroked Barty's arm. He reddened. Emma hastily coughed and grabbed the parchment.

'Purple with cork top: Polyjuice Potion,' she noted hurriedly.

'Are you sure?' Helen asked. 'Just in case.'

'I trust Barty on this one,' Emma said, sharing a look with the younger boy.

She picked out a fat, red container. It had no immediate smell, even when passed around, so they decided to pour a little on the parchment. At least they had the sense not to drink it.

'Swelling Solution,' they said in unison, watching the words get fatter and slightly distorted, something quickly rectified with a spell from Emma.

And so it went on, until there was only one left.

'Who gets this one?' Barty asked nervously.

After all, the one they had left until last was the one labelled "Drink Me". Alecto had warned them that if someone didn't drink it, then they would be disqualified. This was the "spice" in the game. They all stared at the little bottle for a few silent seconds.

'Who has the shortest wand?' Helen asked eventually. It was a fair way to decide.

They all placed their wands butt-first onto the table and compared heights. Helen paled. 'I probably shouldn't have said that.'

'Relax,' Emma reasoned. 'Alecto wouldn't have poisoned it or anything...' Her eyes flickered to meet Barty's, both thinking the exact same thing: I'm glad it wasn't me.

'I hadn't even thought of that,' Helen looked horror-struck. Oops.

The potion was in a small black case - barely enough for a mouthful. Helen downed it like a shot and shut her eyes tightly. Barty and Emma leaned forwards, eager to see the effects. Nothing seemed to happen. Her hair didn't fall out, she didn't shrink or grow in size, her teeth were in place, she wasn't sleeping…

'How do you feel?' Emma asked cautiously.

'Fine,' she replied. 'Maybe it was a dud.'

She cautiously opened her eyes. And smiled. A great blissful smile of the kind that Argus Filch reserved for his kitten, or one that belonged to the faces of the Marauder fan club. Her eyes clouded over dreamily and she heaved a great sigh. Barty and Emma shared an alarmed look, but Helen wasn't finished.

'Barty,' she said breathlessly, locking eyes with him. 'I never realised how muscular you were.'

'Umm…okay, but what about the potion?' the boy asked nervously as she ran a hand up and down his arm.

If she was flirting with him before, at least it was just to tease him. Even Barty knew that it was to get a reaction out of the innocent little fourth year, but that hadn't stopped him from blushing. It was a little game of hers. But now Helen had turned on the full charm, her eyes wide and blinking like a doe's beneath her cat-eye glasses. She ran a hand through her hair, fluffing it out until it fell like a wave around her face.

'Forget about the potion,' she sighed, pushing her chair back. 'How have I not noticed you before today?'

'Just last year you called me a scrawny tadpole,' he reminded her, affronted.

'That was before Quidditch. And now you've opened up my eyes.'

Barty squirmed, looking like a deer caught in headlights as Helen planted a kiss on his cheek. Since he was too shocked to move, she followed up with a trail of kisses down his neck. Emma chuckled.

'What are you laughing at?' he asked grumpily, still unsure as to whether he wanted to piss off a sixth year that most likely knew more hexes than he did.

'Amortentia,' Emma replied, writing the name of the last potion with a flourish.

***

 

'You poisoned her!' Barty accused, pointing a finger towards the doubled up Alecto.

'Relax, Barty,' Sophie Parkinson said when it was obvious that she wasn't going to get any help. Rabastan was currently enjoying the fruits of their labour by watching Evan Rosier trying to get with Mulciber. Now that was something you didn't see every day. 'It's a very mild dosage. Plus, it's not a proper Amortentia potion: the drinker falls in love with the first person they see. It'll go away once she's eaten something - a bit like alcohol, if you want.'

'And after all that, we didn't even win,' the fourth-year grumbled to Emma as they made their way to the rapidly emptying tables.

'Do you know who did?' she asked, plying a plate as high as she could whilst trying to keep Helen off the boy.

'That would be me,' Regulus picked a slice of pizza off of the stack with a self-satisfied smirk.

'Figures,' Emma muttered darkly.

'So, Barty,' he continued as though he hadn't heard her. 'Bad luck mate - it was more potent with Helen, since she was already trying to get lucky tonight.'

'Get…get...' Barty gulped.

'I'm sure you'll be able to manage her just fine,' Regulus slapped him on the back, before steering Emma towards the fire. She was too shocked at his Rabastan-like behaviour to comment, that boy's a bad influence at parties. 'Hello birthday girl.'

'You saw me earlier,' she pointed out.

'Ah but that was before my prize,' his smirk grew wider. Is it possible that he's drunk? It's probably not even 11 o'clock! 'Want to know what it is?'

'I have a feeling you're about to tell me,' she replied dubiously.

He showed her a piece of parchment. "Free pass for the week" was scrawled along the top in Alecto's handwriting. In smaller print was Lucinda's much neater "whatever detention you think you have, whatever homework you can't handle, Emma Potter will do for you!"

'Very funny,' she said flatly, handing it back. 'They can't make me do that.'

'Actually, they said that it'd be better for you if you did. You know Alecto.'

Emma pursed her lips, about to tell him just what she thought of this, when he laughed.

'Relax! I'm not that mean,' he ripped the paper in four. 'And Mulciber has his hands full. I think it might just slip my mind to tell him what the rewards was.' He winked.

'You're oddly cheery,' Emma looked at him a little suspiciously. She wasn't going to thank him until she found out if there was an extra piece of paper.

'Okay so I may or may not have lost a bet with Rabastan, and he may or may not have put a Cheering Charm on me,' he grinned guiltily.

'You guys,' Emma shook her head. She slumped into an armchair facing the warmth of the fire and sighed in contentment. 'But seriously, this is a pretty sweet birthday party. Thanks.'

'Hey,' Regulus sat on the arm and leaned forwards, still grinning like a maniac. 'Dark five.'

He held up his forearm for her to touch, but at the last minute Emma thought better of it. Who knew what happened when two Dark Marks touched each other? Instead she pulled his sleeve down and bumped arms together, giggling from the sheer stupidity of it. This day is one of the best in my life, she thought, committing it to memory. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Barty trying to force feed pizza slices to Helen, who lapped it up adoringly. Clearly, he had taken Sophie's instructions to heart, judging from the pile of food on his plate. She spun around to look at Alecto, who was now sitting in a chair with tears in her eyes. There was nothing like Amortentia to get a party going.

Suddenly the music died, the festive atmosphere gone. Regulus and Emma both twisted around - just in time to see Rabastan and Sirius with their wands at each other's throats.

Chapter Text

 

Regulus followed at a more stately pace, in a manner that could only be described as stalking, eyes narrowed like a cat spotting its prey. Obviously, the Cheering Charm was no match for the hatred of his brother. Behind Sirius was a crowd of Gryffindors, a couple of Ravenclaws and a couple of Hufflepuffs, all trying to peer through the doorway. No Slytherins. Emma spotted her brother looking slightly sheepish off to the side. Suddenly, she realised what was going on and broke out into a peel of surprised laughter, forgetting about why Sirius and Rabastan were about to duel in the first place. James must have felt her gaze on him, because he raised his head to meet her eyes. The corner of his mouth twitched. Then he grinned. Soon the two siblings were laughing like mad, though whether out of nerves or the funniness of the situation, neither could tell.

'Would somebody please tell me just what is so funny?' Sirius asked, eyes never leaving Rabastan's wand.

Emma didn't even bother glancing at him. James attempted to talk, but started laughing once more. Rabastan had also started smiling, though Emma thought it was probably for a different reason altogether. He had wanted to practice his duelling skills ever since the Dark Mark was refused him the first time around.

'If I may,' Remus Lupin spoke up timidly, even raising a hand as though he needed permission to talk. 'I think that the Slytherins had exactly the same idea as us.'

Sirius looked up at the banners on the walls, seemingly taking in the state of the room only then. His eyes narrowed: clearly he was not amused. Luckily for him, James's laughter was infectious, and pretty soon the atmosphere had relaxed. It helped that a couple of the students inside the room had noticed their friends in the crowd standing outside. There were a couple of titters and some grins, but it was Rabastan's moment of insight which defused the situation.

'Happy birthday Potter,' he said, nonchalantly tucking his wand back into his pocket as though duelling had just been a passing fancy of his. 'Want some Firewhiskey?'

And just like that, the four Houses mingled as though they were colour-blind. From what Emma could understand, the Gryffindors had partied in the Tower until McGonagall had come storming in, telling them they were keeping the entire castle awake. That was when his weedy little friend - Petterfew? Pettigrew? Definitely Peter something - had the bright idea to use the Room of Requirement. As the result of this bizarre coincidence, here they were.

Not everybody was enjoying themselves though, the two Blacks stood at opposite sides of the room - Regulus leaning against the wall, watching his brother like a hawk, whilst Sirius's eyes darted over now and then as he laughed a little too loudly at jokes, shifting his weight from one foot to another. Emma noticed that none of their friends were standing too close - Rabastan had gone off to the next new interesting thing, whereas Remus Lupin was quietly chatting with a pretty Ravenclaw. She had yet to see her brother or Petti-something since the mingling, and cast her eyes around the room.

She finally met James's eyes and as if on cue they made their way over to one another, ignoring their two friends. Briefly, Emma thought back to the days when they could have entire conversations just by interpreting the other's body language, when Regulus and Sirius had sibling spats that were never more serious than their own. Now they had to guess at each other's thoughts. But James wasn't interested in family feuds.

'You're too young to be drinking,' he tutted, putting her goblet back on the table - even though it was only Butterbeer and she was the same age as him. He had just assumed it was alcohol. 'So this is your crowd, huh? Sirius told me you were close with Lestrange, but I didn't really believe it until now. Sure you hang out, but isn't that because there aren't many students in a House? I know you won't listen to me, but that guy's trouble. I'm worried that -'

'Can you just drop this subject for one night?' Emma sighed, not waiting for a reply. James could get bossy when he was drunk. Actually, James was pretty bossy most of the time. 'It's our birthday and besides, Rabastan isn't that bad.'

'I still find it weird that you're on first name terms with him,' James quirked an eyebrow, looking at the person in question suspiciously.

Emma followed his gaze, wondering what Rabastan had done to merit such wariness - after all, James had accepted that Firewhisky - but the Slytherin had just thrust a handful of what looked like Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans in his mouth. Judging from the cheering crowd around him exchanging money, it was presumably a dare.

'Would you prefer me to hang around with Snape and Mulciber?' she asked, citing James's two least favourite Slytherins, who were skulking in the corner, probably muttering about the new spells they had come up with. Even Emma had to admit that they were impressive. She was sure that they would be accepted into the Dark Lord's service before long. Prying her thoughts away from such matters, she concentrated on her brother. 'Scratch that, have you even talked to Rabastan?'

Her brother opened and closed his mouth like a goldfish, but he still wore a petulant expression. Clearly he saw her point, but didn't want to give her the satisfaction of being right.

'Come on,' she said, taking advantage of his temporary loss of words to lead him towards the group of people and adding slyly. 'Anyway, don't you think Lily would be impressed to hear you've overcome House prejudices?'

That settled it. James marched over to the Slytherin like a soldier preparing for war - shoulders set back, lips set into a tight line, eyes staring determinedly straight ahead. Emma stifled a giggle and followed behind, eager to see the fruits of her labour.

'Lestrange,' he started, before falling silent.

Emma could almost hear him thinking about what to say next. Luckily for the Gryffindor, Rabastan was a social person whose drunken state had currently lowered his inhibitions.

'How was the Firewhisky? We're trying out the new Bertie Bott's - Lucinda managed to smuggle in the new testing batch, her parents are major shareholders in the firm. Basically they turn you into an animal for a couple of seconds, and we're trying to guess which ones are which.'

'Didn't you just shove a load in your mouth?' Emma asked curiously.

'Yup!' He beamed as though this was some kind of feat. Before she could ask more there was a small pop and he turned into an elephant, a dog, a rabbit and a flamingo in quick succession. This happened several times, each animal vying for the first place before the boy reappeared, spitting out a few feathers.

'Cough up!' he tapped Lucinda gleefully on the shoulder after the last feather was out of his mouth. She reluctantly dropped a couple of Galleons into his outstretched palm.

'Wicked!' James exclaimed, forgetting for a moment who he was talking to. 'You could belong in Gryffindor with those guts! You might have got stuck as a half-elephant, half-dog for all you knew.'

'Yeah, but then my school robes wouldn't match my eyes,' Rabastan joked, fluttering his eyelashes.

The others looked at James cautiously, wondering what a Gryffindor was doing in their midst. Lucinda forgave James for practically every prank played on her, simply because he was "so freaking cool", but not every Slytherin shared that sentiment.

With a glance towards his sister, who nodded encouragingly, James pointed to the colourful sweets. 'Mind if I try, Les… Rabastan?'

But just as Rabastan held out the bag, Sirius stormed over with an expression of outrage, placing himself between the two boys. Obviously, he had been watching their efforts at reconciliation.

'Prongs! What do you think you're doing, mate? You're fraternising with the enemy! He's probably trying to poison you!' he shot the Slytherins a contemptuous look. The tentative peace shrivelled up on the spot.

'As if I have nothing better to do than bringing poisoned food to Em's birthday,' Rabastan scoffed, but his green eyes were glinting angrily.

'Come on Padfoot,' James muttered, obviously in discomfort. 'It's fine.'

'That's what he wants you to think!' Sirius hissed, not taking his eyes off Rabastan.

'Yes, because I obviously keep these on my person at all times on the off-chance that a bunch of knuckle-headed lions would gate-crash a party,' the Slytherin replied sarcastically, mouth set in a sneer.

By now Lucinda was staring daggers at Sirius and Helen had broken off her attempts at flirting with Barty in order to follow the argument. Out of the corner of her eye, Emma noticed Remus and Regulus halt whatever conversation they were having in order to intervene. It was true that both were quiet achievers, but somehow the two of them looked so odd together. Maybe it was because they represented such different parts of Sirius's life. Or maybe it was because Emma had never imagined Regulus getting along with anyone who wasn't a Slytherin. He had confessed in their second year that his parents didn't want him getting friendly with any other Houses, reminding him that they were rivals. He hadn't minded, he wasn't one too seek out social contact anyway. But now the two prefects arrived with the same look of concern etched on their faces: How will this fight escalate if I don't try to stop it? they seemed to be thinking.

'You never know with you snakes,' Sirius rejoined contemptuously, and Emma turned her gaze back to the older Black brother, ironically looking for all the world like his cousin Bellatrix with his haughty expression and long black curls.

'Sirius,' Remus warned, though it was a half-hearted reproach that Emma wasn't even sure that Sirius had heard.

James put a hand on his angry friend's arm, clearly not knowing which side to take. Sirius shook it off. 'Bet you're itching to run along to tell your master what a good little Death Eater you've been, getting rid of the blood-traitors.'

There were several gasps at the use of language and Emma's eyes briefly flickered to Regulus. She couldn't help it, the tasks that they had been set had remained as fresh in her mind as though it had happened only last week. In a way it had - she had woken up in cold sweat after a nightmare about a one-armed man chasing her down dark alleyways. Regulus, of course, remained impassive.

'As far as I can tell, you're the only blood-traitor in here,' Rabastan spat, drawing his wand. He was one of the few who knew about the true nature of Sirius's leaving home. 'How you even bear to look at yourself, I'll never know.'

'He's a sight for sore eyes compared to you, Lestrange!' a voice piped up from behind Sirius, his wand pointed shakily over the latter's shoulder. Sirius also levelled his at the Slytherin's face, shifting a little bit so the small boy could be seen past his broad shoulders.

Great, Emma thought. Now James's freaky friend Pettigrew has joined the party. And we're back to square one.

'Oh look,' Lucinda sneered, looking down her nose at the Gryffindors. 'Seems like not all lions care about a fair fight. You look more like scaredy cats to me. Though I guess the weedy one doesn't really count, does it Rab?'

'Watch what you're saying about Peter!' James protested, finding himself on sure footing once more. Defending his friends was something he was good at.

All of a sudden it seemed like the whole room had their wands out. One by one, everyone seemed to yell out an insult to someone who hadn't yet joined the fight, until only Remus, Regulus, Emma and a couple of Hufflepuffs didn't have a wand drawn. She saw the yellow-robed students leave out of the corner of her eye.

'James,' she pleaded, turning to her brother, willing him to see reason. She glared at Sirius, why does he always have to ruin everything?

'Stay out of this Ems,' her brother didn't even bother to look at her, dismissing her completely. 'I told you that you should have listened to me.'

Emma's face hardened, angry spells leaping into her mind of their own accord. Right, that's it. Time to -

And then Regulus walked casually into the line of fire, one hand forcing Rabastan's wand arm down. He looked at Sirius as though he was the bane of all existence and said in his coldest voice. 'This git's not worth it.'

Although the sentence only served to inflame Sirius's anger, Rabastan agreed, deflating a little. Maybe his sudden changes in mood weren't always a bad thing. 'True. Tell you what: you Griffs leave and we won't hex you into the Hospital Wing.'

'It's James's birthday too!' Pettigrew whined in a squeaky voice.

Lucinda's mouth curled into a mocking grin, but Emma beat her to it, eager to avoid any more of the night. The party had left a bitter taste in her mouth anyway. 'Pettigrew's right. Besides, this party's over anyway.'

The blond girl looked at her incredulously, but Emma just shrugged. Although her brother could be a complete nimbus when he wanted to, he deserved to have some time to celebrate his seventeenth with his friends too. Besides, she didn't want to see the outcome of this duel splattered on the walls. She would get her revenge on Sirius when Slytherin stamped Gryffindor into the dust in two weeks time.

'Wait, Ems,' James said almost demandingly. 'I want you to stay.'

She hated how sometimes he thought that she was a part of him. Of course that was true, but it worked both ways. She was not a doll he could set on the shelf and expect to be waiting when he got back. She was not an extension of himself. She gave him a cool glare and walked towards the exit, grabbing an oblivious Alecto away from her boyfriend on the way out. But before she crossed the threshold, she couldn't help but look back.

"I'm sorry," James mouthed, confusion etched onto his face. "I love you."

I know you do, Emma thought, suddenly regretting her harsh actions, because really, it wasn't his fault. He had partly become that way because she depended on him so much when they were young. Now, they lived in completely different worlds and upon that realisation tears suddenly pricked her eyes. She gave him a small smile and motioned towards him - an old gesture they had used back in their first year. "I love you too."

And for a moment, James understood.

Chapter Text

'Now remember: Destination, Determination and Deliberation. The three D's are the key!'

Lucinda groaned as Mafalda Hopkirk went on to describe the necessary requirements to obtain the three Ds. Emma was long past listening and was instead observing her classmates. Though they had been practicing for nigh on six months, most still hadn't managed to Apparate successfully. Obviously this happened every year, because gym mattresses lay strewn around the Great Hall - courtesy of Professor Albus Dumbledore. Regulus - of course - had mastered the technique, having practiced "Determination" in Occlumency and seemingly having been born with "Deliberation". Not to mention his hasty practicing just before they decided to go on their "work experience" as Emma called it in her mind. If things had gone awry with the Giants, they would have needed a swift exit plan. Emma wondered how she ever thought she could have pulled it off.

Needless to say, Emma managed it - eventually. She had only successfully Apparated for the first time a couple of weeks ago. James however, who couldn't concentrate on one thing to save his life, was busy splinching his eyebrows all over the room. Eventually even the kind-natured instructor told him to take a break, having been rushed over five times to collect James's various body parts. Rabastan was having similar problems, but from lack of effort more than anything else. No wonder he failed his first test, Emma thought to herself. Being Rabastan, he just figured he'd get it before the year was out, and knowing Rabastan and his luck, Emma was sure he would.

Alecto had skived off this lesson, claiming to need sleep "this one Saturday at least". Lily Evans hadn't been to lessons in months, having succeeded in passing her own test, since she turned seventeen in January. Another surprise was Peter Pettigrew, who succeeded on the fourth try. The whole year group had been gobsmacked at that one. Even McGonagall had been rendered temporarily speechless when given with the news, and for once no Slytherin contested the points awarded to Gryffindor.

'Maybe you should try picturing Lily in the circle,' Sirius Black was lazing against a wall, not even attempting to Apparate.

Emma wondered why she had picked a spot so close to her brother's annoying friends. Oh wait, she hadn't picked the spot. James had dragged her over so as to keep an eye on her. Apparently, she was his responsibility. He couldn't even be responsible for himself. But he had looked so heartbroken when she had tried to shake him off that she had just forced Lucinda to come along too. The latter still found Sirius easy on the eyes, though she wouldn't touch him with a ten-foot pole.

She had also wisely stopped talking about James that way, to Emma at least. In fifth year, she was eyeing him up as a potential match to meet her parents: good marks, charismatic, arrogant... In some ways, James was a more perfect pure-blood in her parents eyes than most of their own arranged matches. Emma had had a hard time grinding that idea into the dust. Of course, just as Lucinda gave up on James, she had started on Regulus. Oh well, at least she's come to her senses now, Emma smiled fondly at her friend.

'That might work,' James agreed, and before anyone could stop him he turned on the spot.

'I don't believe it,' Emma breathed, her attention snapping back to the lesson.

Her brother was standing - whole - in the little red circle drawn by Hopkirk.

Lucinda's eyebrows shot so far up that her fringe hid them from view. Sirius almost toppled off of the foot he was balancing on. Remus Lupin just shook his head, as though nothing James did could faze him anymore. James cried out in delight and before anyone could stop him, he was zipping around the Great Hall, stealing various things from students and putting them on others.

'James Potter! Stop that this instant!' But Hopkirk's warning came a little too late.

James had just Apparated straight onto Professor Kettleburn's head.

***

 

'So sorry Professor!' James gasped, trying to steady the poor man, but instead he grabbed at the armless sleeve.

They both toppled down to the floor. Kettleburn wrenched the sleeve of his robes back with his remaining arm with a growl at the seventeen-year old. 'Pull yourself together lad. You could have hurt someone.'

James looked suitably meek. He loved Care For Magical Creatures, mostly because he and Sirius got to have fun with Kettleburn's potentially dangerous magical beasts. Honestly, that boy's going to get himself killed someday, Emma thought, and dragged her brother backwards so that he was no longer standing on the teacher's robes.

'Ah, Miss Potter you are also here. This will make my job much easier.'

Emma looked at the professor in puzzlement. She had dropped the subject faster than you could say "creature" when picking her subjects for their fifth year. Care For Magical Creatures still involved plants and everyone knew that if Frank Longbottom was a green thumb, then Emma was an orange thumb, because everything she touched wilted, died, or exploded.

'You are both wanted in the Headmaster's office. Follow me.'

Kettleburn didn't wait for a response, instead turning and expecting the others to keep pace. The twins hesitated long enough to glance at each other and shrug in unison before running after the teacher. Emma wondered what Professor Dumbledore could want with them. It had been at least a month since their birthday, which had successfully passed under the staff's radar - or they simply ignored it - and if it was for one of James's pranks then Sirius would be in her shoes right then.

It was true that Narcissa had hinted of a bigger role to play in the war once they were let off from school, but neither she nor Regulus had done anything yet, being stuck at Hogwarts. Rabastan had continued to terrorise the younger Muggleborns, but Emma had been keeping a low profile this year, mostly because she was so obsessed with Quidditch that it was impossible to do Prefect rounds, homework and get enough sleep as it was. She was at a complete loss as to why their presence was required. She was still lost in thought when they arrived at the gargoyle, barely noticing the spiralling staircase slide open.

'Mr Potter, Miss Potter, please take a seat,' Dumbledore said once they entered his study.

They sat down warily, taking note of the fact that both of their Heads of Houses were present. McGonagall's face gave nothing away, but Slughorn was looking down on them with a pitying expression. Immediately Emma began to worry. Slughorn worries about crystallised fruit, she reminded herself, trying to stay calm.

'It has come to our attention that your mother has been afflicted with Dragon Pox. I assume you both know what that is?' James and Emma stared at him, eyes glazing over. 'Well, just to be sure,' he took out a roll of parchment stamped with the insignia of St Mungo's. 'A Mrs Natalie Potter was admitted last week with a case of severe Dragon Pox. She exhibits all the signs: a green and purple rash on her arms and legs and sparks coming out of her nose when she sneezes. Mr Charles Potter has been admitted under quarantine to make certain that he does not carry the disease. As you know, this is severely contagious, so we must verify that you two aren't infected.'

'But…Even if we are, it could have affected the whole school by now,' Emma said, thinking of all the people she and James had come into contact with since Christmas. Four months wasn't nothing.

'You are only contagious once you start exhibiting the symptoms, my dear,' Professor Dumbledore looked at her kindly though his glasses.

'But we haven't -' James was interrupted by the Headmaster.

'You may carry the virus without any signs, Mr Potter,' he replied.

'Oh,' James fell back into his chair. 'So what do we do?'

'You will be confined to the Hospital Wing for the remainder of the day under the care of Madame Pomfrey. Once she has performed a number of tests, she will determine whether you will be let out. Minerva, if you would,' Dumbledore nodded to the Head of Gryffindor.

'Certainly,' she nodded, but James wasn't finished.

'Professor…Sirius Black lives at our house. He was there over winter break, shouldn't he...?'

'Quite right Mr Potter, excellent thinking,' Dumbledore said. 'Horace, if you don't mind?'

Slughorn nodded a little too eagerly. Emma supposed that he was looking forward to the one-on-one time to try and convince Sirius to join the "Slug Club". Then the realisation hit her and she closed her eyes in dismay: she was going to have to spend an indeterminate amount of time with Sirius and James, with only Madame Pomfrey to keep her company. Her heart sank even further.

Even Bellatrix couldn't think of a worse punishment.

***

 

'Come along dears, yes even you Mr Black,' the school nurse ushered a bewildered looking Sirius into the Hospital Wing.

The three sixth-years trooped after her, passing the beds filled with various sick patients into her study. Emma had always expected it to be a sterile white, like the Hospital Wing, only homier. She couldn't have been farther from the truth. Madame Pomfrey's private room was dark, the blinds having been pulled shut. There were three wooden chairs in front of the desk and one larger chair in front. The room had the bare minimum of furniture and no personal items: whether they be pictures, photos or even wallpaper. It looked barely lived in. Seeing their look of appraisal, Madame Pomfrey muttered that she just never got around to changing the room, opened the blinds and bustled out again, with strict instructions to not leave the room.

'What if I need the bathroom?' asked Sirius, but the nurse had already left.

'So...' James said awkwardly, as the three of them hung around the room, not knowing what to do with themselves.

'Why are we here?' Sirius asked curiously. 'Not that I need any incentive to miss out on Apparition lessons, but you know...'

James opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. He looked oddly like a fish, gaping as if he was clutching at oxygen, but never inhaling any oxygen. Sirius's smile immediately fell from his face and he turned questioningly towards Emma, all quarrels put aside.

'We're being tested for Dragon Pox,' Emma's mouth moved, but it seemed like Emma herself was strangely disconnected from it all. She was just... numb. Saying it somehow sucked all the feeling out of her body. She didn't even mind that it was Sirius who she was talking to.

Dragon Pox could mean anything from a harmless case similar to the measles, to a dangerous illness resulting in the death of the patient, even though some sort of cure was available. Maybe "cure" wasn't the right word. Treatment was more like it, though rumour had it that Dumbledore was working on a cure of his own. When asked why, he would say that it was for curiosity's sake, though the Wizarding World was never wholly satisfied with the response. All this was told to them by Professor Slughorn as the twins were led down to the Hospital Wing, but the seventeen-year-olds were too shocked to reply. He didn't seem to mind... or notice, for that matter.

'Why?' Sirius looked nonplussed, but that was all the conversation he was going to get out of the two, who had almost simultaneously sat in the wooden chairs, staring off into space.

It can't be Dragon Pox, Emma thought, it just can't. Mum's always been... well, Mum. She's always there to bring us back to reality after Quidditch, be the voice of reason when our plans get far-fetched, the mediator whenever Dad or I have crossed the line. Who will make Sunday roast and enchant the chicken to speak to us depending on what we put on our plate? Who will force James to eat his Brussel sprouts? Now it's us who have to take care of her, or more like we have to wish Dad the best, because we're not allowed to visit the contagious ward...

A timid knock on the door broke her inward melt-down. She glanced towards James, who seemed to have been hypnotised by the wall, and Sirius, who was busy looking through medical files in the cabinet. Neither seemed to have heard, so she opened it to come face to face with her cousin. Before Emma could register this turn of events, though she should have suspected it since Lou had spent most of Christmas with them, Madame Pomfrey had bustled in once more.

'Now, you all know why you're here,' the matron said briskly.

'Uh,' Sirius put his hand up. 'I don't. Why would we have Dragon Pox?'

Madame Pomfrey took in the sight before her - James still sitting, staring at the same spot on the wall, Emma staring at her somewhat vacantly, as though waking up from a long dream - and her face softened. 'Mrs Potter has been taken ill at St Mungo's with Dragon Pox. Since you four came into contact with her last, I'm afraid I'm going to have to run some tests. They'll probably take up the whole day, and I'm also going to have you forego lunch. Some tests require no eating for eight hours.'

Sirius went white and Lou let out a horrified exclamation, quickly muffled by her hands. Emma found it odd that these two should react so suddenly, whilst she and James hadn't even processed the information yet.

'But not to worry,' Madame Pomfrey quickly added. 'There are several ways to cure Dragon Pox now, and it only properly touches the elderly. Really, anyone under the age of sixty should be fine.'

'I think I might be sick,' Emma said, sitting down on the floor with her knees drawn up to her stomach.

Madame Pomfrey seemed like she might cry. She was only trying to be helpful after all, and how could she have known that the Potters were elderly compared to the average age of Hogwarts parents? Emma felt the odd urge to comfort the medi-witch, quickly followed by a surge of anger. What did Madame Pomfrey know of her mother? She was nothing but the Hogwarts nurse.

Her contempt must have shown on her face. Lou had moved towards her to comfort her, but was instead hanging some distance away. It must be worse for her, Emma thought. She lost her parents, and now she's losing the remaining adults in the family. So she carefully shut what she was feeling in a little box in the back of her head, as the Occlumency had trained her to do. After all, it's not as if Mum's dying. We don't know if the cure will work or not. Just... get to that point if necessary. With a huge effort of will, she got back up and walked - if a little zombie-like - towards her brother.

'Hey James,' she said softly. Madame Pomfrey had tactfully elected to start with Lou and Sirius for the general check-up.

James turned his clouded eyes towards her. They were usually his most defining feature, almost golden brown with flecks of amber and green. Though she would never admit it - it would be too weird - Emma loved her brother's expressive eyes. But now... Now it almost seemed like there was a film over them. He couldn't focus them, and they were no longer sparkling with mischief. This was not James behaviour. An overwhelming sense of urgency overpowered Emma, so much so that for a second she was unable to speak. She settled for putting her hands on his shoulders, forcing him to look her in the eyes. A little of the cloudiness disappeared.

'James. Mum has gone to St Mungo's, yes. But she's gone to the best Healers in the country, ones who have all manners of cures. Sitting around here moping about it won't do her any good.'

The harsh words seemed to have had some effect, because at last he turned his deadened eyes towards her. He blinked. She waited.

'I guess you don't mind as much because you're used to missing them,' he said, almost slurring the words.

'What?' Emma almost squeaked, more than slightly hurt.

'James!' Lou admonished.

Madame Pomfrey left the room with a couple of vials, seeming to not have heard what was going on. That, or her tactfulness had reached new highs.

'I'm sorry, I'm not myself,' James lowered his head, a defeated look on his face.

Emma had never seen her brother, her hyperactive, confident-bordering-on-arrogance, happy-go-lucky brother, look this way in her entire life. He had always been straight-forward and honest, but... She was so overwhelmed that she did the first thing that came to mind. She slapped him.

'What did you do that for?' Sirius rushed over to protect his friend.

He held James's face and examined the red welt that was now appearing on his cheek. In a few minutes, he had remembered the necessary healing spell and her brother's face was good as new. Emma was impressed, and once again reminded of the other side of Sirius, the side she had seen in her first year.

'Sorry James,' she immediately apologised. 'I just needed to get you out of that state, and I didn't know...' she trailed off.

'It's okay Ems,' her twin replied, though his voice was quieter than usual. 'I deserved it for what I said. I wasn't thinking.'

'Hang on a second,' Sirius said, looking from one Potter to the other. 'What you said was completely justified. Emma ran away from a perfect family, and now that one of them is terminally ill -'

'You don't know that Sirius,' Lou interjected.

'Now that one of them is in danger,' he continued doggedly, 'all of a sudden you act like you care. As if. You didn't want anything to do with them. No wonder this is affecting James way more than you. If you didn't look so similar, I would wonder if you were from the same family.'

'Are you serious?' Emma asked incredulously.

'Ha. Ha,' Sirius spat back.

'That wasn't a joke,' Emma replied, staring daggers. 'You of all people should understand what it's like to never live up to someone's expectations just because you were in the wrong House. I may have had some differences with my father in the past, but I've always been close with my mother. Something that you wouldn't understand, since you only decided to join us last year after giving up on your own family!'

'Except that you've chosen the wrong side! You've thrown away everyone who's good in your life to join the House notorious for possessing the most evil people in Britain! No wonder your father was ashamed of you!'

'How dare you say something like that! As if I knew that I would have a choice in the Sorting? Do you think there was never a Dark wizard or witch in Gryffindor? Besides, Merlin was in Slytherin, your own brother, for Merlin's sake, is in Slytherin and if you ever managed to get your head out of your prejudiced ass, you would see all the pain you've caused your family. In case you've forgotten, my family is not and will never be yours, Sirius, so leave my father out of this!'

Both were breathing heavily now, the argument having somehow escalated into a shouting match. Somewhere along the lines, Lou had cast a Muffling spell on the walls, because there was no sound from outside. She had wisely elected to let them shout it out before interfering. However, that didn't stop Madame Pomfrey from bustling in at that very moment.

'Right now, James, Emma, it's time to do your check-up,' she said amiably, noting their flushed faces, but not saying a word about them.

Emma was starting to think that she had been in this kind of situation more times than anyone would have wanted. Feeling guilty about her earlier anger towards the nurse, she obligingly climbed onto the stool that Madame Pomfrey had conjured up. Muttering a spell to light her wand, the medi-witch examined the girl's eyes, ears and mouth, telling her to open her jaws as widely as possible to see any trace of sparks. Satisfied that there were none, she then told Emma to hold out her arm. Luckily, Emma had enough wits about her to show her the right one. With a smooth slashing motion, Madame Pomfrey made a clean cut that filled two vials surprisingly quickly and closed the wound just as neatly. There wasn't a speck of blood or pain anywhere.

James's turn was next, so Emma stalked off to the window, watching her brother's examination whilst still being the farthest away from Sirius Black as possible. There were no symptoms there either, so the matron finished quickly. Then to their surprise, she told Lou that she was free to go. Seeing the looks on their faces, the witch explained.

'When reading the history of Miss Antoinette's blood, I was surprised to note traces of Dragon Pox at a young age. Like the Muggle chicken pox, you cannot catch Dragon Pox twice, and the younger you are, the easier it is to overcome. Most likely, Miss Antionette has only one or two pocks that she formerly attributed to childhood accidents. In any case, there is no chance that she caught the virus from Mrs Potter, hence why she is free to go.'

Faced with this impeccable display of logic, their cousin gathered her things and left, lingering for a second in the doorway, her pale white face telling them just how worried she was, both about her Aunt, and the sanity of the remaining people in the room.

Chapter Text

Several hours later, silence reigned supreme in the stuffy little room outside the infirmary. After the nurse had gone, they had fallen into an uncomfortable pause, but neither Sirius nor Emma continued the argument, and James didn't offer any extra words. Now, each was wrapped in their own thoughts in their own corner of the room. Emma mulled over Sirius's words, which had hit harder than she would have cared to admit. It was true that she hadn't really been communicating with her family recently, but she didn't think that James had been either - their writing had gotten sparser and sparser over the years. Spending so much time apart made their Hogwarts friends feel almost more like family than their actual parents, horrible as it might sound. She wished that Regulus was here so that she could talk to him. He would have an answer to everything. Being basically in the same position with his own family, he alone would be able to assuage the guilt she was feeling.

I should have known, she thought. I should have picked up on it at Christmas, forced her to see a doctor sooner. Then she thought about what her mother would have wanted. She could almost imagine her now, telling her that there was no point in worrying about something she had no control over. It wasn't as if she could have done something even if she knew, or was in the room with her mother. Natalie Potter was with the best of the Healers, that much was true.

But it was also true that Emma could have stopped focusing so much on who was right and who was wrong with her father and instead tried to find some way to peacefully resolve this. She could have lied to her parents and told them that she was going to the Gryffindor party at New Year's, saving them from another fight. She knew that that was what Regulus would have done. If he was fine being his father's second-favourite, then why couldn't she accept that Charles would have preferred her to be in Gryffindor? She resolved to mend their relationship as soon as she could, before it was too late. After all, as Lou had told her, she only had one mother, one father. If only it hadn't taken this to remind her of that fact.

However, that didn't mean that she was okay with her current situation, namely being within five feet of Sirius Black. She had no wish to talk to her brother if it meant that the idiot would butt in, and besides, James looked as though he needed the silence. She had never seen her twin in such a state. Though he was no longer in the state of shock that he had been in earlier, he still looked different. His brow was furrowed, half deep in thought and half upset. Emma sent him a mental apology. Though she would have taken the Avada Kadavra curse for him in a heartbeat, she didn't think she could handle making up with Sirius Black. Even if he was his best friend.

Besides, it wasn't as if Sirius was making things easier on her. At first, she thought that she could have forgiven him for acting the way he did around her, though she would never admit it to Regulus. At Christmas, she thought that she had seen a side of him that was strangely human, just a kid who was trying to find happiness and to do the right thing. He hadn't seen the side of her family that she had, the biased side. She thought that he had understood the problems she had with her father. But to throw it in her face like that, throwing salt on the wound.

James's words he had just dealt her… he was certainly vindictive. Whether it was intentional or not, Sirius would never be able to give up being a Black. He, Bellatrix and Walburga were too similar for that.

Madame Pomfrey cut through her musings by bustling back into the room.

'Thank Merlin, I thought I was going to go mad with boredom!' James exclaimed, stretching.

Somehow his words seemed hollow, unlike his usual self. But Emma and Sirius forced smiles onto their faces too. If they acted like everything was normal, maybe normality would follow. Despite the gravity of the situation, when Emma got up she realised just how hungry she was. I guess time doesn't stand still for anyone, she thought, trying to reign in a stomach growl. Eager to leave the not-so-festive atmosphere behind her, she impatiently offered her arm up to the nurse, who muttered a spell that made her wand glow green. After passing it up and down over Emma's skin, she took out a stethoscope to listen to her heart, before casting Lumos.

'Open your mouth. Very wide now.'

She obliged and endured several minutes of poking and prodding before Madame Pomfrey declared her fit to go. Hardly believing her luck, Emma left the room as quickly as possible. She debated on whether to wait for James, see if he was okay, but she knew that he would want to talk with Sirius and - though it pained her to admit it - she didn't think that she could handle any more bad news right now.

So she scurried off into the castle, wondering what time it was, and if she should simply make her way to the kitchens instead of checking in on the Great Hall first. One thought about the plethora of questions that was probably waiting for her at the dinner table - gossip spread like wildfire in Hogwarts - made her choice for her. She sped down to the portrait of the pear, tickling it with unnecessary gusto. As a result, the pear had to be propped up by a couple of apples in order for it to turn into a handle. Yanking on it as soon as it appeared, she threw herself onto one of the benches. A House-elf soon bustled up and asked if she wanted anything.

'Shepherd's pie please, Minky,' she said, trying to smile for the elf.

They were always doubly pleased if they thought they had made you happy. But Emma's smile drooped as soon as the elf was gone, and when her food did arrive she ended up twirling it on her fork, suddenly unable to eat.

The tears were starting to well up in her eyes as she stared at her pie that was steadily growing colder. She couldn't see what was in front of her anymore; memories were rising unbidden and there was no one there to distract her from her thoughts. Maybe the Great Hall would have been the better option, she was thinking to herself, when the portrait opened.

Emma had never moved more quickly in her life. Her fork clanging to the floor, she hurdled the table and ran into the recesses of the kitchen, ignoring the bleeping complaints of the House-elves. They were at a loss as to what to do - defy a human, or keep their kitchen in order? Chaos steadily rose as they frantically tried to follow her and continue cooking at the same time. She barely registered the sound of crashing plates as she ducked to avoid self-cleaning pans. She might have stopped to help, had not the last voice she wanted to hear chosen to speak at that moment.

'What's going on here?'

She groaned. Of course! How stupid could I have been? She knew that James and Sirius liked to come down here as often as she did. Her panic turned to dread. They could not find her here. Not now, not like this. Muttering a quick apology, she sprinted through the kitchens until she found large window open to let out the steam. With only a quick hesitation to see how far down the ground was, she launched herself in a very undignified way out into the air, curling up into a ball as she did so.

She landed with an oof on the soft, wet soil, slightly amazed that she was still intact. The impact seemed to have knocked all the urgency out of her, so with a little more logic, she drew back into the shadows. The riot seemed to have died down though, so James and Sirius must have shrugged it off as usual House-elf nonsense. That, or James was so shaken up that he no longer had his old curiosity. Emma hoped it was the former.

Shakily getting to her feet, she looked around to get her bearings. Almost instinctively, her legs moved in the direction of the Black Lake. She shook her head at her own antics, trying to pull herself together. But when she had thought about it for a second, she continued on her route. The Black Lake had always made her feel calm and once she got to its misty shores, she knew that she had made the right choice. Somehow the massive expanse of water always made her feel insignificant, that she could do no wrong that couldn't be set right again. If the Lake could be so unchanging, then the world could too. Nothing would happen. Her mother would get better, and they would all laugh off the scare they had in the morning. Hopefully, James would come to the same conclusion. He had been the strong one out of the two of them for so long that she could hardly imagine how she could cheer him up. How does one cheer up the most optimistic person in the world?

After sitting for what seemed like hours under one of the trees, she had convinced herself that this illness was nothing but a blip on their radar, made to shock her into making up with her father. Lou would be proud. Her legs felt stiff when she unfolded them, suddenly reminding her that she was still human: cold and hungry. The thought of going back to the kitchens sent a chill down her spine though, so she decided to go back to the dormitory to sleep on it.

***

 

'Where the hell have you been and why are you covered in filth?' Alecto angry-whispered as Emma tried to sneak back into their room.

Emma closed her eyes for half a second and inwardly groaned. She should have guessed that it was too good to be true. She had lost all track of time, but luckily no one noticed her enter the common room - it had mostly been filled with third years. That meant that either all the fourth to seventh years were still enjoying the time before their curfew, or that they had been so exhausted from their work that they had gone up for an early night. Unfortunately for Emma, it was the latter.

Helen snored softly from her bunk, whereas Sophie was out. Emma was hard-pressed to remember when Sophie had last slept in their dorm. She remembered her first year at Hogwarts: Sophie had been Sorted a week later in Dumbledore's study, since she had been home with the flu. A bed had magically appeared in the dorm, but Emma was now secretly glad that Sophie had missed the drama of Emma's Sorting. The attention had been focused on Sirius by then. She hadn't been so lucky with Alecto and Lucinda though, who had been whispering between their bunks when she had entered. The chink of light had been all they needed to pounce on her with Lumos-tipped wands.

'Just out,' she shrugged in what she hoped was a nonchalant way.

'If you think that that is going to satisfy us, then you have become seriously delirious,' Lucinda added, eying the mucky bottom of the raven-haired girl's robes.

Emma was starting to wish that she had taken the time to clean up her appearance before coming up. She had just been so tired though…

Her friends were looking at her expectantly as she tried to figure out a valid excuse. When Alecto decided to wordlessly clean her robes though, she felt a rush of gratitude towards them. After all, they had always been there for her. Why try to lie about this? Lucinda had been clear with her feelings on the train ride in January. Maybe it was time that Emma returned the favour and started trusting them once in a while, letting them in on this small secret that was soon to become common knowledge.

'I found out that my Mum has Dragon Pox,' she admitted, slumping against the back of the door.

Immediately Alecto and Lucinda were on either side of her, each hugging one arm, warming her up more than she could ever have possibly tried herself. Something touched her turbulent heart, and she felt her eyes fill up with tears once more. Turns out I didn't have my feelings under control after all, she thought, angrily wiping them away.

'I know it's stupid to cry. It's not like she's dead or anything...'

'Nonsense,' Lucinda told her. 'You should feel upset. I know we're supposed to be adults and all, but I don't think I could handle my Mum even getting a cold! Nothing works around the house without her, you know.'

Emma nodded glumly, letting a couple of tears slip before she gathered her wits. They stayed like that for a few silent minutes in the semi-dark room, three girls huddled in the doorway. If Helen or Sophie had woken up at that very moment, they might have laughed at the sight of it. But Emma felt like she was cocooned in a bubble of comfort and support and she realised that this was what she had been missing for so long. Regulus might have been able to empathise with her and take her mind off it, but Alecto and Lucinda helped her in a simpler way that reminded her of how easy it had been to be comforted when she was a child.

'We're here for you Ems,' Alecto said comfortingly. 'But we should really get to bed.'

Lucinda gave her hand one final squeeze and went back to bed, pulling her curtains around her for privacy. Alecto lingered for a second, smoothing the sheets around Emma as she climbed into bed, as though she were her mother and Emma was a child again. 'Don't blame yourself,' she said quietly, almost inaudibly, touching her lightly on the shoulder before leaving Emma to her thoughts.

Those three words were something anyone could have said, just a passing pleasantry that Emma wouldn't have given a second thought to if it had been anyone but Alecto. But it had been Alecto and there had been an uncharacteristic weight to her words. They told Emma that she hadn't been so cunning, hadn't been so good at hiding her feelings than she had thought. They told her that Alecto knew about her turbulent relationship with her parents, something Emma had thought to be a well-kept secret between Regulus, Avery and herself. They told her that Alecto was the only person in the world who knew how much Emma's locket meant to her. They told her that she was not alone. And Emma wasn't sure whether to be afraid or relieved.

Chapter Text

Emma blew her Captain's whistle, signalling the end of practice. Her team gratefully touched back down and miserably squelched their way into the changing rooms. The sun was nowhere to be seen, though it should have risen more than half an hour ago. Regulus stomped through puddles to give the Snitch back to Emma by hand - there was no way she could have caught it if he had tossed it to her in this weather. Likewise, Rabastan and Antony handed her the Bludgers they had caught, the former shooting her a filthy look before leaving the pitch.

Regulus tagged along on the way to the Quidditch hut, even opening the door for her as she placed the practice balls in their respective places. She took the opportunity to wring out her mane of black hair, creating a new puddle on the floor. She didn't feel guilty though, what with all the mud they had traipsed in. With a flick of his wand, Regulus cleaned the floor.

'Don't you think it's a bit dangerous to keep your wand in your Quidditch robes?' Emma asked, thinking of all the ways the rod of wood could break during the rough sport.

'It's better than leaving it somewhere anyone can pick it up,' he replied. 'Besides, I have a strap for it.'

He pulled up his sleeve, showing her what could only be described as a "wand sheath" strapped to the inside of his left arm.

'You might want to consider changing arms,' Emma grimaced, nodding towards his very visible tattoo.

'I never thought of that,' Regulus paled. 'I guess I'm going to have to learn how to draw a wand left-handed...'

'You can always swap it to the right hand once it's out,' Emma agreed, as they made their way to the castle, taking their chances with Filch. The Quidditch showers were practical, but cold.

'So are you going to tell me what you did to make the Feast vanish for a few seconds last Saturday?' Regulus asked.

The way he phrased his question made it seem like he had given the subject much thought, not wanting to approach it the wrong way.

'Why in the name of Merlin's left boot would you think that was me?' Emma replied with a question, astonished that he thought she had something to do with it.

She did, but he wasn't to know that. She didn't even know how he could have made the connection.

'You disappear with your brother and my…your cousin for a day,' he stuttered for a second, before continuing to tick off his fingers. 'You don't come to the Feast, which became chaotic for a few seconds. Then you make us practice nearly before dawn for three days straight. Your strange behaviour makes you my prime suspect.'

Emma rolled his eyes at his attempt at simple logic. 'You do know that coincidences exist, right?'

'Not when you're involved, they don't,' he argued. 'Besides, you still haven't told me what happened on Saturday with Professor Kettleburn.'

'Just family stuff,' she waved him off. There was no way he would believe anything else, when Lou, James and Sirius had disappeared along with her. 'And as for the practice, our match against Gryffindor is in less than two weeks! Or had you forgotten?'

'Not likely,' he muttered. 'You know I want to crush them as much as anyone. But forcing us to practice on an empty stomach and a lack of sleep isn't helping anyone. Cassie looked like she was going to drop off her broom, she was so tired. She had patrol late last night, you know.'

Emma remembered guiltily that Cassandra was also a Prefect, with O.W.L.s coming up to boot. She made a mental note to apologise to the poor girl and go easy on her in the future. Still, she wasn't going to let Regulus admonish her that quickly. She was captain for a reason.

'We need to practice in every condition,' she defended. 'Who knows what kind of weather we'll have?'

'Whatever it is, I guarantee that it will be daytime,' he smirked at her.

She made a face at him and wiped her feet on the Entrance Hall doormat. After a moment's thought, she stole Regulus's wand and cast a drying spell on their clothes. Of course, it didn't work as well as it would have with hers, but the result was passable. At least they weren't dripping anymore. Merlin knew what would happen if Filch caught them again. The first time Slughorn had talked them out of a detention, but she doubted he would be able to save them twice.

'So?' he pressed, on the way down to the dungeons. Emma narrowed her eyes.

'You've never been so pushy until now. What makes it different this time?'

'Because you usually tell me anyway,' he replied. 'Or I can guess. Come on, I know Lucinda knows. She never complained once during your hour-long practices and she's usually the first to whine!'

'I bet there are things Rabastan knows about you that I don't,' she rejoined.

Regulus coloured, surprising her with his reaction. She wondered what the boys talked about amongst each other, then decided that she didn't want to know. If they were anything like James and Sirius, it would mostly be about girls. A brief vision of a girl slipping into the Prefect's bathroom with Regulus in tow appeared in her head. She brushed it away, unsure as to why she was so annoyed. Just because she had proximity issues didn't mean that the whole world had to too.

'If you must know,' she said, trying to clear her head. 'I was in the kitchens when Sirius and James arrived.'

The Slytherin boy's face immediately darkened, a frown appearing on his forehead.

'I didn't want to see them after being stuck in the same room as them all day, so I went out through the cooking side of the kitchens.'

'I didn't know there was another way in,' he mused.

'There isn't,' she replied, unable to stop her grin. 'There's another way out.'

And despite her former resolve, she told him all about her escapade. He chuckled all the way to the dungeon alcove before stopping and cocking his head to the side. Before he even asked, she knew what his question was going to be.

'So why were you stuck with your brother and his git friend in the same room all day?'

'Just the usual school health checks,' she replied hurriedly, shooting towards the girl's dormitories as soon as the wall opened. Regulus knew as well as she did that there were no school health checks.

***

 

After a soothing hot shower that unfortunately took up all of her breakfast time, she found herself once again paired with Lily Evans during Potions, trying to stop her stomach from growling and failing. The Gryffindor girl kept shooting her odd looks, giggling when Emma explained that she had skipped food for practice.

'Honestly, you're just like your brother,' the red-head giggled, before flushing as brightly as her roots. 'Not that I especially care about what your brother does…About that actually, do you know what's wrong with him? He hasn't asked me out in three days. In fact he's barely even talked to me...' she trailed off, before seeming to realise what she had just said. 'Not that I mind. I just want to know if he's up to something awful.'

But it was obvious from her expression that Lily was worried.

'He's just had some bad news,' Emma said dismissively.

If James hadn't talked about it, then it was because he didn't want to think about it. Secretly though, she was nervous about her brother. He had never looked so quiet, so withdrawn. Even now, he was peacefully brewing his potion, not disturbing anyone around him. Sirius was hovering around with a pained expression, but dutifully followed James's wishes. The two girls in front of them looked positively relieved at the break. The Wide-Awake potion was difficult to brew at the best of times.

'Could you pass me the crushed earwigs please?' Lily asked, flicking the page forwards and bending over the weighing scales. Everything had to be dosed just right.

'Of course,' Emma checked that the powder within the mortar was indeed a "light shade of grey", before handing it to her classmate.

Uncharacteristically, Lily fumbled with the weights as she tipped the powder in, dropping eight ounces onto Emma's left forearm. The Slytherin snatched her arm back quickly, letting the weights fall to the floor with a clang. Lily jumped in surprise - her eyes had been trained on the front of the class.

'Ow-fff...' Emma bit back a groan, tears springing to her eyes. The Dark Mark still hurt after all this time. She wondered if it would ever stop.

'Are you okay?' Green eyes looked at her, concerned. Lily picked up the weight in confusion. 'I'm sorry, I thought you had them. Did they really hurt you?'

'It's okay,' Emma brushed her off, noticing that Rabastan was looking at her oddly out of the corner of his eye.

'Let me see,' Lily started to lift Emma's sleeve.

'No,' Emma yelped, before calming down. 'I just bruised it badly this morning, that's all. Do you know anything that works better than the bruise paste?'

It wasn't a complete lie. The whole team was bruised and battered from Emma's gruelling practice. Rabastan in particular was only half sitting after a hard collision resulting in him slamming into the ground. Lily seemed to buy the excuse wholeheartedly,

'Yeah, Murtlap essence is great for all kinds of pain,' the Gryffindor replied helpfully. 'Here, I'll make some in the other cauldron whilst we leave this to brew. I'm sure Slughorn won't mind and if he asks, we'll say it's practice for the N.E.W.T.s.'

'Thanks,' Emma's voice was filled with gratitude.

There's no one quite as kind as Lily Evans, she thought. The Gryffindor prefect was a paradox to the Slytherin. So many history books spoke of the difficulties Muggleborns faced in the Wizarding World, but Lily handled most of her classes with an ease that many pure-bloods would envy. She was the exception to the Dark Lord's rule, the piece that didn't quite fit into Emma's puzzle. It ruined her entire logic. If more Muggleborns were like Lily, then the war would be for nothing after all. Somehow, Emma felt ill just thinking of it. Then she remembered the way the Dark Lord explained the world to her, how much sense it all seemed to make. There were still the other magical races to consider. Maybe they could revise their view on Muggleborns.

After all, she was sure that all the Muggles needed was some help to teach them how to act around wizards, though the other Slytherins all seemed to think that they were all as bad as each other. After the war was over, Muggles wouldn't harass wizards anymore, and there would be no reason to distinguish Muggleborns and Pure-bloods. But maybe Lily was just an exception, nothing more. After all, there was no way Emma would forget those Gryffindor Muggleborns from her first few years at Hogwarts.

'Emma?' Lily was waving her hand in front of Emma's face.

'Sorry,' she realised that she had been staring into space, letting the cauldron bubble over.

'Maybe you should go to the Hospital Wing,' the other girl frowned worriedly.

'No, I'm fine,' Emma plastered a smile on her face. 'Just tired.'

The Dark Lord would have an explanation for everything.

***

 

'Today we're going to go through our possible manoeuvres,' Emma said to her Quidditch team.

There was a collective groan.

'Would you prefer to be flying outside?' she asked.

As if on cue, there was a clap of thunder and the rain started falling harder. The lake outside was a mass of turbulent froth, mini bubble whirlpools everywhere. Every now and then, there was a faint thunk as a fish got pushed against the huge common room window. The players shook their heads in unison. Maybe it would be nice to sit by the warm, crackling fire, even if it did mean theory. So long as the Giant Squid didn't get smashed up against the window, they were safe inside.

Plus, even Emma didn't know if she could handle another two-hour practice. She needed all of her team in superb shape before the match, not bruised and tattered, desperately in need of a full night's sleep. Anthony was putting a brave face on, but he was falling asleep on the couch, to be jolted awake every so often by Barty. Emma pretended not to have noticed.

'So the Gryffindors know about our trick against Hufflepuff,' Emma started, pacing back and forth in front of the ring of couches. She had shooed everyone away and even the seventh-years had complied in their eagerness to see Gryffindor crushed. Besides, anyone who saw Emma's face knew that she meant business. 'And if I know anything about my brother, then he will have had his team up at all hours practicing both our play and the counter moves. Do you know what that means?'

A deadly silence hung across their corner of the room, until Antony timidly put his hand up.

'Yes, Antony?'

'We need to find new plays?'

'Ordinarily, yes,' she agreed enthusiastically, a mad gleam in her eye. 'But I have an idea for this match that just might work. I want to run it with you today and you'll vote on it. If you refuse, then we'll brainstorm up new ideas. That's why we're having practice in the common room tonight. There's no sense occupying the pitch in this weather just to sit around and discuss tactics. Though I did reserve the pitch just so that the Gryffindors can't use it.'

'Is that even allowed?' Cassandra gasped.

She was probably one of the sweetest girls in Slytherin, without a bad bone in her body. Sometimes, Emma thought she should be in Hufflepuff, she was so hard-working, but she was glad that the fifth-year had been put in Slytherin. She was an excellent Quidditch player and everyone agreed that in two years she would become Head Girl with no contest. Her mild manners coupled with an enormous amount of ambition meant that she was one of Slughorn's most prized Slug Club members. Not to mention that her family already did well in society. They had wisely chosen the course of neutrality in the brewing war, something that was acknowledged by both sides.

'If it isn't, then I'll say I forgot which date it was,' Emma gave her team a Machiavellian grin. 'Plus, they've reserved the pitch for most of this week's prime hours, so I don't feel bad about it at all.'

'So what's this grand plan?' Barty interrupted eagerly.

'Nothing,' Emma said simply.

She was met with a load of blank stares. Hiding her smirk and knowing that she had grabbed their attention, she went on.

'We've played every match so aggressively, with so many fouls and over-the-top tactics, that they'll be expecting anything out of the ordinary,' she explained, proud of her idea. 'James has probably warned them to expect anything. What they won't expect though, is a clean match using the simplest of tactics. They'll be on edge, expecting us to go left when the logical solution is to go right. They won't know what to do.'

There was a short silence, before Rabastan's face split into a wide grin. 'I get it now. Their reactions will be delayed, allowing them flexibility with any new notions, but plays that have become second nature to us will fly straight through their radar. Complicated manoeuvres take more time, so they'll counter them, but simple ones don't require any thought. Ems, this might be the most genius thought you've ever had!'

'Plus,' Barty joined in the enthusiasm, 'as time goes on, they'll become more and more anxious, waiting for the big play that'll throw them off their game. But there won't be one coming!'

The Quidditch team revelled in their imagined victory for a few seconds.

'So the rest of you,' Emma broke the silence. 'What do you think?'

'It's so crazy it just might work,' Lucinda agreed, giving her friend a supportive smile that wasn't just about Quidditch. Emma knew that Lucy had been worried about her dwelling on the situation with her mother.

'I'm in,' Cassie said simply, shrugging.

'Me too,' Antony nodded.

They all turned expectantly towards Regulus.

'Well I guess it's okay,' he said monotonously, earning himself a punch in the arm from Rabastan.

'Way to kill the mood, Black.'

Regulus smirked in reply and soon the whole team were discussing which moves could be termed as classic plays, and which unusual tactics were still commonplace within the Slytherin team. Half an hour later, their plans were set to go. As the team broke up and went off to their various other activities, Emma tapped Cassandra on the shoulder.

'Hey, I'm sorry for being so hard on you recently,' she apologised.

'It's okay,' Cassie brushed her off, but Emma wasn't finished.

'Seriously. I remember what it was like last year when Avery pushed us too hard. I fumbled with the Quaffle more times than I would care to say. And if you need any help with your O.W.L.s or less time patrolling, just give me a shout. I can't promise anything in the Herbology department, but I'm pretty good at Charms, and Regulus is the only person in the world who loves History of Magic.'

'Everyone knows that, but he never shares his notes from that class,' Cassie complained.

'I know,' Emma winked, then pulled out a sheaf of parchment. 'But I know where he keeps them.'

'How did you -' Cassandra asked wondrously, taking the notes in her arms as if they were her first born child.

'It doesn't matter,' the older girl replied. 'I just need these back after your exams. Merlin knows that he'll kill me if he doesn't have them for next year.'

'You're a life saver!' Cassie threw her arms around her captain.

Slightly taken aback, Emma gingerly patted the younger girl on the back, glad that for once she could do something right.

Chapter Text

The Slytherin common room was in an uproar. They had won. Not only had they won, but they had won by a whopping two hundred points. They were fifty goals up when Regulus had caught the Snitch. The other Seeker had unfortunately tried to pull off a Wronski Feint, which might have worked had not the Snitch been hovering behind the point he had dived from. The sudden movement of the dive caught Regulus's attention and he had found himself staring at a glittering golden object whilst the Gryffindor shot towards the ground. Needless to say, the people in the crowd were beside themselves

The victory seemed tainted to Emma though. She knew in her heart of hearts that they would probably have won anyway, but it seemed like James's heart wasn't in the game. Though he played with his usual fervour and his team was well-trained, he kept on getting distracted. He hadn't thrown the Quaffle with his usual sharpness of angle and their tactics seemed to disorient him more than they should have. Three guesses to what he was thinking about, she thought glumly. As for Emma herself, she had been concentrated in the moment, only thinking of the game. She wondered what that said about herself as a person.

Shit, she thought. Regulus was making a beeline for her - her face must have given her away. Curse him for always looking this way at the wrong moment. She knew from the expression on his face that he was going to continue his prying from a couple of weeks ago.

'Quick, Alecto,' she started, but her red-headed friend had already melted into the crowd.

Cursing, she turned around to find herself face to face with her Seeker. She braced herself for the ensuing interrogation. I should never have let him gang up on me that night after Quidditch, she thought. It seems like he wants to know my every thought and worry. But she knew that it was not only that. Ever since they had completed their tasks together and gotten their Mark together, their relationship had shifted. None of their other friends would ever share that experience and so no one would completely understand the mix of pride and terror of responsibility that they did. Not until they got Marks of their own, at least. It made them even more on the lookout for each other, even more protective of the other's safety.

However, Regulus surprised her by simply commenting on the match. 'Nice tactics Captain. Why don't we toast to the House Cup now? We should've knocked mostly everyone out of the running with this game.'

It was true that the Quidditch points added themselves as House points after every match. Emma had forgotten. Suddenly, the guilt seemed like it was going to eat her whole and the words tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them. She was faintly aware of a voice in the back of her mind telling her that now would be a good time to shut up, but her body wasn't listening to her commands.

'My mother has Dragon Pox and the doctors think it's a severe case and James didn't play well today because he's so worried and I feel so guilty because I shouldn't have played well because I should have been thinking of her instead of the match and -'

She stopped for another breath, but before she could carry on her rant, Regulus grabbed onto her arm. She hissed in pain - though the Murtlap essence worked, she hadn't had time to use it that day. He immediately let go, apologising. Almost unconsciously, he rubbed at his own Dark Mark. She supposed that it itched as much as hers did. Something told her that the feeling would never go away.

'Come on, let's go somewhere quieter,' he suggested.

Emma agreed, running to the corner to rummage through her bag. The magical healing liquid found, they started to move towards the exit. "Go somewhere quieter" was their code for flying a couple of laps around the Quidditch pitch and then trooping down to the kitchens if they were still bothered about their worries.

'Ems, Regulus, my friends,' Rabastan threw an arm around their shoulders, steering them away from the corridor leading away from the common room. 'Not so fast. The party's barely begun and you're already sneaking off?' He waggled a finger. 'Bad manners, that is.'

Emma ducked her head, blushing. She hoped that Rabastan hadn't gotten the wrong idea about the two of them. The prankster seemed to notice this, because he added in her ear. 'Don't worry, I know you're a prude. Besides, Regulus doesn't sleep with his friends.'

Her face went even more scarlet - if that was possible. James would be laughing at her if he could see her now. She could lie her way out of any situation with a straight face, but one lewid joke made her blush like Lily Evans? She could already imagine the teasing. Unfortunately, her face wasn't cooperating, heating up right to the tip of her ears. Luckily, Rabastan had the sense to whisper this kind of thing so quietly that not even Regulus would have heard.

'I'm interested to know what you say to Emma to turn her this interesting colour, Bast,' Lucinda said, as Rabastan led them to a table with all of their friends. 'I've been trying to do this for years.'

'What can I say, I have a gift with the ladies,' Rabastan smirked arrogantly.

Alecto and Emma rolled their eyes in unison, whilst Lucinda scoffed. His face immediately looked chagrined. 'You wound me, fair damsels.'

'Shut up Rab,' Alecto said, playfully pushing him. 'You're just digging yourself deeper.'

He grinned in return and turned to the two prefects. 'So what were you really sneaking off to do?'

'Seeing just how far we were beating the lions in the House Cup championship,' Regulus replied swiftly.

Emma was impressed, until she remembered that he had already been thinking about that before her word vomit. She really needed to pull her act together. At least when they were in public. Anyone could have heard her, and what's more, she knew that if he could Severus would have used it against her brother. Inwardly cursing herself for her stupidity, she poured herself a Butterbeer. Only Rabastan could drink Firewhisky at five in the afternoon. Vaguely, the thought that they had too many parties this year occurred to her. Then she remembered that it was the year of the "seventeens".

'A toast to their inferiority!' she cried with as much gusto as possible, pushing her familial problems to the back of her mind.

'Let's all go down to the Entrance Hall!' Lucinda added joyfully. She hadn't forgotten about the Gryffindors ruining her expertly planned party on Emma's birthday.

They all clinked their glasses together voraciously, spilling Butterbeer everywhere, and trooped down to look at the huge hourglasses. Once there, their jaws fell open in shock.

'Hufflepuff?' Rabastan squeaked pathetically.

'How did they manage that?' Even Regulus was looking slightly slack-jawed.

'It stands to reason,' Lucinda said sensibly. 'They're the most-hardworking and the fairest people in Hogwarts, so they get less points off for detention and more points for having done their reading before class. Plus, we only beat them into the finals by about ten points.'

No one could dispute that logic, so they stood there for a few more minutes. The Hufflepuff hourglass was more than three-quarters full, whereas the Slytherin one was a little over two-thirds, including the points from their last match. The Ravenclaw was next at half-full with the Gryffindor points hot on their heels. The Gryffindors lost a ton of points from the Marauders, so they usually made up for it in the matches. This time, however, they were two hundred less than they would have been any other year.

'Excuse me,' a Hufflepuff third year said, skipping down the stairs. She saw them staring at the House points and gave a little giggle and a wave as she ran off to class, presumably Care For Magical Creatures or Herbology.

'That cheeky little monkey!' Alecto exclaimed, but she looked rather impressed.

They had always seen the Hufflepuffs as their meek little friends. It was no secret that the Ravenclaws got on well with the Gryffindors, whereas the Hufflepuffs always found the company of the Slytherins more enjoyable. The Hufflepuffs were on the whole hard-working and appreciated the ambition of the Slytherins, though they frowned a little upon their tactics. In return, the Slytherins were impressed by the fact that Hufflepuffs would never rat anyone out from their own House, sticking to House loyalty, though they always thought of them as kind but a bit dim. Here they had been proved wrong. A body came into view, blocking their vision.

'Right,' the seventh-year Slytherin prefect, Elisabeth Fawley, said. 'Into the dormitories, now.'

***

 

The entire Slytherin House had been called into the common room, making the space there seem uncomfortably tight and warm. The whole room was buzzing with gossip, drowning out the sounds of still-fizzing Butterbeer and magical crackers. It hadn't taken too long, as most were still celebrating their victory against Gryffindor. The two seventh-year prefects - Elisabeth Fawley and Lucinda's brother Evan Rosier - stood between the sofas near the fire, though they were both tugging uncomfortably at their collars, looking like they already regretted their decision. Evan loosened his robes, but was quickly reprimanded by Elisabeth. Emma could almost imagine her hissing at him to remain dignified.

'Now, you probably all know by now why we've called you here,' Elisabeth said importantly. 'It has come to our attention that for the first time in a hundred years, we may not win the House Cup along with the Quidditch Cup. As you all know, the Quidditch Cup points get added to our emeralds in the Entrance Hall. So first of all, I'd like another round of applause to our team and Captain, Emma Potter.'

There was a dutiful chorus of cheers and clapping. Normally, Emma would have been bursting with pride, but that feeling of guilt and nausea returned to the pit of her stomach. Catching her friend's eye, Alecto discreetly gave her arm a squeeze. Emma plastered on a smile.

'However,' Evan continued in his most authoritative voice. 'That is not enough this time. Hufflepuff has worked its hardest, and as a result, they are two hundred and fifty points above us. This calls for drastic measures. We will not be known as the House who held the Quidditch Cup, but managed to lose enough House points for that not to cover an end of year win. Now, as a matter of Slytherin pride, I am going to ask you to gather every ounce of your strength and pour it into studying.

'Yes, I know, it's the end of the year, and almost time for half-term break. Fifth and seventh years, I think you don't need this lecture, but for the rest of you, I want you paying attention in every class. Yes, that includes Mr Binns'. Yes, cheating is allowed. I want every point taken from Ravenclaw when you raise your hands in class first. I want the Hufflepuffs to lose faith when we beat them at potting plants in the greenhouses. I want the Gryffindors to swallow their arrogance when it comes to Defence Against the Dark Arts. More than anything, I want you all to smarm up to Professor Slughorn in order to scrape some more points for his favourite House. Prefects, I expect you to turn a blind eye to house-mates breaking the rules This is war people, and we're going to use every advantage we can get. You have three months.'

After this bizarre speech was concluded, people broke off into clusters to chat about how the prefects had gone mad. The sixth-years immediately crowded around their favourite table, the fireplace armchairs having been taken up by the older students. Rabastan's half-drunk Firewhisky was still there, which Regulus Vanished with an exasperated flick of his wand.

'Well they're just a bundle of joy this spring, aren't they,' Rabastan said drily, ignoring Regulus's pointed stare.

'I don't know why they're getting so worked up,' Alecto added. 'We haven't got a vendetta against Hufflepuff or something. It's not as if it were Gryffindor. In fact the lions are right at the bottom at the moment.'

'I think it's something to do with the rumours about who'll be appointed Head Boy and Girl next year,' Helen offered, joining the little group. 'This year there was a Slytherin girl and a Ravenclaw boy, but rumour has it that there'll be two of the same House next year because of the arguments they were having.'

'So you think that they're trying to get Slytherin to look good in front of the teachers?' Emma asked. 'Why do they care, it's not as if they'll be here next year.'

Helen just shrugged, but Regulus interjected with his own opinion. 'It's probably because of the House bets.'

'What House bets?' Lucinda inquired on behalf of the rest of the group. Regulus had an annoying habit of only offering up part of the information and enjoying the incomprehension of the rest of the group.

'Well, the sixth-and-seventh year Gryffindors bet that Slytherin wouldn't win the Quidditch Cup, of course, but they had a second, bigger bet going on that because Emma's family is mostly Gryffindor, there'll be a chance of her winning the Cup for us, but that we'll still manage to lose the House Cup.'

'That's a rather elaborate bet,' Alecto remarked doubtfully.

'Yeah well, three guesses to who started the stupid thing,' Regulus muttered angrily.

Comprehension dawned on the group that Sirius Black was the instigator of the uproar. Of course, he had seen Emma's flying skills at home and knew that James wasn't exactly in superb condition before the end game. That also explained how Regulus knew. Most assumed that Sirius threw the bet in his brother's face as soon as he saw the rankings, but Emma had a sneaking suspicion that Regulus had been keeping tabs on his wild sibling. Especially since he now knew what had happened on Saturday.

'How much do you think Evan bet?' Emma asked Lucinda to break the tension.

'Too much, knowing him,' Lucinda shook her head, but didn't seem that bothered.

Money wasn't a problem for her family, but doubtlessly their parents would not be pleased if their son gambled away his allowance time and again. The first time, he had made up for it by working hard towards getting his Mark, rumoured to being bestowed on him as soon as he left Hogwarts. This time, they would not be so lenient. Lucinda looked like she couldn't care less though. She and her brother loved each other, but other than that they let each other live their lives in peace. Lucinda was too caught up in the whirlwind of social life that was Hogwarts, and Evan knew better than to lecture his butterfly sister. Even if he was dating one of her best friends.

Emma still wondered how that had all happened. Both her friends had brushed it off - Lucinda saying that it had just happened and Alecto admitting that she had initially intended it as a summer fling. Looking at the red-head now though, Alecto didn't seem that bothered that her boyfriend may or may not have racked up some serious debt. Emma wondered not for the first time if it had started off just because Evan was the polar opposite of William, the unmentionable Muggle. As if sensing her gaze, Alecto looked up questioningly and Emma tore her attention back to the conversation.

'Anyway,' Regulus was saying. 'Even if I do quit taking points, I'm not going to stop giving detention just because Evan asked me to.'

'You're such a Hufflepuff sometimes,' Rabastan shook his head. 'No fun at all.'

'Come on, as if you wouldn't enjoy giving a detention or two to Mulciber and Wilkes,' Emma defended Regulus, though she privately agreed with Rabastan.

'You're just saying that because you girls don't like them leering at you,' he teased back.

'Well, neither would you,' Lucinda pointed out.

And that's how their new plan to let off some steam was born.

***

 

'I don't want to!' Rabastan squealed in his magically induced high-pitched voice as Alecto shoved him into some blue-lined robes. 'Whose robes are these.'

'My cousin's,' Emma said casually, keeping the tip of her wand pointed at the boy's face. 'Now hold still, Lou will kill me if these get torn.'

He groaned, but complied. The girls - for Regulus refused to take part in such a ridiculous scheme - had decided that it was time once and for all to give Rabastan a taste of his own medicine. He had been teasing the girls nearly non-stop all year, flirting with Cassie Greengrass until she had convinced herself that she was in love with him on the Quidditch pitch and always pushed them towards Mulciber and Wilkes. All in good fun, of course. However, Lucinda had decided that it was high time that Rabastan learned how annoying his "fun" could be when it was unwanted. Alecto had of course agreed, since she was tired of Rabastan telling her to stop whining when a guy gave her a compliment. Emma…Well, Emma just wanted to get a kick out of seeing Rabastan's terrified face.

True to the prefects' instructions, they had been practicing various transfigurations and charms all week until they decided they were finally ready on Friday evening. They had cornered Rabastan with a Drowsing Draught, supplied by a red-cheeked Cassie via a chocolate muffin. Rabastan had made sure to give her a flirty wink as he devoured the sweet, swaying as soon as he swallowed the last mouthful. Emma skilfully carried him through the dungeon hallways with a little help from the featherweight spell.

They had rolled him down the stairs to the girls' dorms, making sure none of the seventh years saw them do so. A couple of face-transfigurations later, they had managed to erect a kind-of-girl-Rabastan. They had left his green eyes and long dark lashes, but lengthened his hair to his shoulder - well, actually to his feet, but then Lucinda had managed to chop it off. They had bribed Regulus with promises of minty treats into shrinking him down to Lou's height, since he was the only one who had completed the essay on Shrinking Solutions that week. Now, Lucinda was walking around him with a critical eye, occasionally issuing orders to Alecto or Emma, who lazily Vanished his stubble - barely leaving him a chin while they were at it - or scurried off to hand Lucinda her makeup bag or hair-straightener. Emma watched with admiration as Lucinda worked her contouring: making Rabastan's face look a lot more feminine than it actually was.

When Lucinda was satisfied, they Petrified Rabastan - not strictly necessary, but a spell they had agreed that Helen needed practicing - and marched out of the common room, carrying him under their arm. When they had arrived at a safe distance from the Slytherin dormitories, Alecto had scampered off to find her boyfriend and test their results. In the meantime, Helen removed the Petrificus Totalus curse.

'What the bloody hell?' were the first words out of Rabastan's mouth as soon as he could move.

He made to jump up and run away, but his chest found resistance in the form of Emma's wand. He shook his head in incredulity, but the girls kept their faces dead serious. Rabastan wasn't often on the receiving end of a prank.

'Not so fast,' Emma replied. 'Do you really think you could remove all we just did by yourself?'

'I can bloody well try,' he retorted.

'We won't help you if you get something wrong. You know self-transformation is the most difficult,' she smirked, showing him a mirror.

'Regulus -' he started.

'Regulus has been otherwise occupied for the next two hours. It's your choice.'

Regulus was busy chatting about the history of House-elves with Minky - a passionate elf very knowledgeable on the subject - and bribed with another plate of refilling mint humbugs, just in case he strayed off topic.

Helen couldn't stop the grin from forming on her face as her eyes looked past them into the corridor. 'Better choose quickly, you don't want to confuse the poor prefect.'

'By the way, if you tell him anything, then we'll deny all knowledge and tell him it was one of your pranks gone wrong,' Lucinda murmured menacingly, stepping closer to the make-believe Ravenclaw. 'Do you really think he'll chose your side of the story when he'll be forced to hand us detention or dock points from all four of us?'

'I hate you,' Rabastan muttered, but his shoulders sagged in defeat. 'Maybe I'll manage to get some fun out of all of this.'

He didn't look like he believed his own words.

'Good luck,' Emma laughed, clapping him on the back. He looked like he had swallowed a frog.

As Alecto drew nearer, they could hear her chattering. 'So would you mind if she ate with us? She's the only one who can turn the goblets into molten silver without burning anything and change them back again.'

'Fine,' they heard Evan huff, probably annoyed at having to enter the Great Hall with a group of five younger girls.

Taking that as their cue, they started walking nonchalantly down the corridor, looking for all intents and purposes like they were a group of friends heading to dinner. Evan made no comment on the girl looking like Rabastan, nor gave any hint that it looked like she had been magically altered. Success! Emma thought.

'So what's your name?' Evan asked gruffly as they entered the dining room.

'Rab - ow!' Rabastan pulled his foot from where Lucinda had stamped on it.

'What was that?' Evan frowned.

'Rabbit,' Rabastan plastered a ditzy smile on his face. 'That's my nickname.'

'Rabbit,' the older boy said slowly, as though he couldn't believe how dim this person was. 'And you're the only one who can cast the liquefying charm?'

'That's me!' Rabastan squeaked. Obviously, he was having trouble getting used to his new voice.

'Hmm,' the prefect grunted, before squeezing in between two seventh-year Slytherins. 'Sorry, there isn't much space here. I guess I'll get to know you some other time.'

His tone of voice suggested otherwise.

'Mission accomplished,' Alecto whispered to Emma as they pushed Rabastan to sit next to Mulciber and opposite Wilkes.

Severus wasn't at dinner that day, but he had been disappearing for longer stretches at a time, so it wasn't too unusual. Emma supposed that he'd return with a new invention soon. Though she had to admit, that Muffliato charm was perfect. The boy had talent. Why are you thinking about Severus? she mentally slapped herself. There's something much more interesting going on now.

'I don't think I've seen you around before,' Mulciber had turned on the full charm for "Rabbit". 'Do you usually come to eat at the Slytherin table?'

'I just came to show my friends the liquefying charm,' Rabastan said, pulling his robes closed when Mulciber tried to get a peek at what was beneath them.

How Emma wished they had had the foresight to give him boobs. Then again, maybe that wouldn't have been such a good idea, she thought. The two sixth-years were completely ignoring the Slytherin girls, instead focusing on newer, maybe more naive prey.

'Oh, clever and pretty?' Wilkes gushed, giving "Rabbit" his best puppy dog eyes. Emma would know. 'Give us a demonstration then.'

Rabastan responded by turning his goblet into a puddle on the table, always eager to show off. 'The trick is the flick of the wand at the end, so that the liquid doesn't sink into the table.'

'Maybe you could come and help me flick my wand after dinner,' Mulciber smirked.

Rabastan looked affronted. Emma didn't think he had said anything like that in his whole life, let alone been talked to in that manner. Lucinda's pumpkin juice spurted all over the table.

'Are you alright, Lucy?' "Rabbit" looked at her with concern. 'Maybe we should get you to the Hospital Wing.

'No... I-I'm fine,' Lucinda choked out between wheezing coughs. It was true that her face had gone an unfortunate shade of purple as her body couldn't decide whether to laugh or cough.

'No, I insist,' Rabastan stared daggers at her and got up from the table, only to have Mulciber catch his sleeve perilously close to his hand.

'You know where to find us,' he winked.

Rabastan just stared at him as though his innocence had been violated in the most vile of manners.

'Yes,' he replied, snatching away his robes. 'Now if you'll just...'

Alecto nodded almost imperceptibly to Emma, their cue for enough is enough. The torture was over, but the fun had only just begun. Emma tried to imprint Rabastan's expression in her memory, willing it to never fade over the years.

Chapter Text

'Today, we will be working on something that many of you have been waiting for since you first set foot in this room,' Professor Archedis said, sweeping into the class clad in his usual deep purple robes. 'There are only two months left of school and though the seventh-years have already covered this last year, it is imperative to the N.E.W.T exams.'

The sixth-to-seventh year students of Arithmancy sat up a little straighter in their seats. Emma kept her back firmly entrenched against the wall. She hadn't minded sitting next to Diggory before, but now everything about him made her want to sneer. Weakling, her mind whispered. He had broken off everything but minimum contact ever since Lucinda had let slip her "relationship" with Regulus. She rolled her eyes at the memory. Unfortunately, she was stuck next to him in class. The teacher chalked up a huge number seven on the blackboard.

'The magical property of different numbers,' he announced dramatically. 'All those who want to work in Gringotts or in the Improper Use of Magic Office later, listen up. The souls of numbers are the keys to understanding magical locks, analysing curses and tracing magic.'

Emma stopped doodling on her page, giving the class her full attention.

'Numbers don't have souls, professor,' one Ravenclaw said sceptically.

'Ah but that is where you are wrong, my dear,' Professor Archedis explained. 'They do not have them in the strict sense of the term, but each number is imbued with a unique magical signature. Each witch or wizard also has a magical signature formed with seven to thirteen numbers. The more numbers there are, the stronger the caster. Now, identifying magical signatures is part of a different class, since it involves a lot of practical study and there is no real theory to it. However, each sensation is associated with a number, which allows the signature to be filed away in a more permanent manner. As for locks and curses, the numbers used to identify them are often more to do with the nature of what the lock or curse protects. This does not apply to curses cast on humans, only inanimate objects.

'Today's lesson will begin by learning the properties of the two most magical numbers known to the Wizarding World: three and seven. The seven is more representative of the essence of magic, the power behind the manifestation of spells and the like, whereas the number three deals with magic across time: past present and future. Time-turners, for example, have a magical signature of "7337" to represent the projection of the caster across the past and the present. In order to use the future, another three would have to be added to the magical signature, though the spell to attune the object to this combination has not yet been found. Harmony is the key to any magical object: any wrong move or imbalance will result in harmful consequences. As such, curses are generally created with a slight imbalance, to make them all the more dangerous. Without fail, curses have a two in their sequence, because it represents balance. Alas, that is a subject for another lesson. Turn your books to page 394.'

There was a flurry of movement and furrowed brows as the students realised that page 394 was just the beginning of a ten page chapter on the number seven. Soon all noise had died down save for the flick of a page or a scribble of a note here or there. When a knock came at the door twenty minutes later, several students jumped at the sudden noise. Professor Archedis quickly moved to quietly speak with the intruder in the hallway. Instead of going back to their reading, the students strained to listen to the heated conversation carried out in whispers in the corridor. Professor Archedis was known for his flamboyant personality and no-interruption rule in his classes. He maintained that it was detrimental to learning such a difficult subject. Rumour had it that he had even forbidden the headmaster from entering unless the situation was urgent. Unfortunately, the Professor had closed the door, so they could only hear the murmur of hushed voices.

Presently, the door was opened again and a harried-looking Arithmancy teacher came back in, stopping to Emma's surprise in front of their desk. 'Miss Potter, it seems that your presence is required in the Headmaster's office. Collect your things and don't you worry about the homework for this week, my dear.'

Something about the way the usually passionate teacher brushed this important topic aside, or maybe the way his eyes softened pityingly alerted Emma to the gravity of the situation. Her heart seemed to plummet to the bottom of the stomach the way a stone would in the Black Lake and she gathered her things, not even bothering to bottle her ink before rushing out of the room. She had expected someone to be in the corridor, but the hallway was empty. Throwing the ink in a nearby bin, she shoved everything else in her schoolbag and sprinted down the corridor, keeping a running monologue in her head all the while, it has to be something about mum, but maybe they just said it was something about the hospital. Maybe she's better now... What if Dad's got Dragon Pox too? Merlin, I don't think I could handle both of them being ill...

She almost missed the gargoyle so wrapped up in her thoughts was she. As she burst into the office, she found the white-haired headmaster looking kindly down his nose at her. After several seconds of her panting to catch her breath and Dumbledore just standing there in silence examining her, she couldn't take it anymore.

'Well? Why am I here?'

She realised that she was being rude, but the headmaster was so infuriating, withholding any information, that she thought that she could just hex his calm expression right off of his face.

'I apologise, Miss Potter, but the Portkey left a five minutes before you arrived,' he replied calmly. 'Sherbet lemon?'

Emma looked at him incredulously. 'What has happened to my mother?' she demanded.

'Please sit,' he motioned towards the chair in front of his desk with an elegant sweep of his hand. 'I apologise for not saying this sooner. Your mother has woken up and the doctors say that she is well enough for them to safely say that the worst should be over.'

Emma's whole body seemed to deflate with relief and she welcomed the support of the chair. Some good news at last, she thought with a smile.

'Your brother and Mr Black are with her now. She is only allowed up to two visitors at a time,' Dumbledore offered by way of explanation.

Emma knew that she should be furious at the fact that Sirius Black got priority over her to see her own mother, but she was too relieved to summon the energy. Besides, he had probably insisted on accompanying James as they shared mostly every class together. Emma was happy that she only had to see the git in Potions and Muggle Studies.

'It has come to my understanding that Mr Black has taken up residence in the Potter house,' the headmaster seemed to insist on wanting to make small talk. She kept her mouth shut, letting him continue. 'How do you feel about this arrangement?'

'Excuse-me sir, but I don't see how this affects me going to visit my mother,' she replied politely, when it became clear that a response was necessary.

'I make it my business to care about the welfare of my students,' he said pleasantly.

It took all she had to hold in her snort of contempt. 'If you don't mind me saying so, if you already know about Sirius coming to stay with us, then you probably also already know about my view on the situation... sir.'

'That much is true,' he agreed, his eyes twinkling as if they shared some private joke.

It immediately annoyed Emma - what happened over Christmas was certainly no joke to her. She stiffened and looked away, intent on ignoring Dumbledore for the next twenty minutes. However, he carried on.

'Pardon me if I have offended you, Miss Potter,' Emma immediately raised her Occlumency walls, 'but I feel very strongly about House unity, particularly in these trying times. I am pleased that you have accepted Sirius into your home and hope that you will continue to make him feel welcome there.'

Emma completely ignored this last sentence. She didn't know why James liked Dumbledore so much, but she was starting to agree with Narcissa and Lucius. Either he knew exactly what had transpired over those holidays and the ensuing months and was pressuring her to ignore everything that Sirius had done, or he really was just a bumbling fool. And he didn't look like the latter. One thing was certain, he definitely favoured Gryffindors. She wondered if he had been placed there himself.

Instead she observed the office with interest, looking at the many portraits of old headmasters. There were none of the Four Founders though. Maybe they would have put too much pressure on the current headmaster for them to be present here. The phoenix was resting in a corner of the room and she admired his colourful plumage until an old lamp reappeared on Dumbledore's desk. Her attention immediately snapped back to the headmaster.

'You may leave now, Miss Potter,' the old man motioned towards the Portkey.

'Where's James?' she asked. She had expected Sirius and her brother to reappear along with it.

'They have been sent through the Floo network to their Head of House's office,' Dumbledore explained. 'After your visit is over, you will also be transported to Professor Slughorn's study.'

Emma nodded in understanding, before a familiar tug at her navel sent the headmaster's office spinning into space.

***

 

Her surroundings were replaced with the stark white walls of St Mungo's hospital. She gave an unsure glance around; it appeared that she was in the lobby. There was a waiting room just behind her and a series of lifts to the left. To the right there was a long, light corridor that she supposed led to the hospital's gardens. A receptionist's desk was directly opposite her, so she made her way to that.

'Um... I'm here to see Mrs Natalie Potter?' she asked timidly.

'Who are you?' the witch asked dully, not looking up from her papers.

'Her daughter,' she replied, fighting the urge to fidget.

'Huh, I was told she only had two children,' the witch replied, looking at her curiously.

'Yes, and I'm one of them. Emma Potter,' she added her name, rather helpfully.

'Strange, because two boys came up claiming to be her sons,' the receptionist said, still in that calm, curious tone of voice.

The witch was starting to get on her nerves now. How hard would it have been to check the hospital's records of every birth? On top of that, how dare Sirius take her place? If Emma wasn't allowed to see her sick mother because of that twit, then she didn't know what she would do. Kick up a fuss, maybe, but she doubted that it would get her in. She tried to wait patiently as the witch decided to send a few notes asking permission, but suddenly, she had enough. Since when did she need permission to visit family?

'Look here,' she started, about to tell the witch just what she thought of her and where she could shove a broom if she happened across one, but luckily the receptionist was saved by a Healer appearing.

'Ah, they told me you'd be here. Emma, is it?' the wizard asked in a brisk, but kindly manner.

Emma nodded, shooting a dark look at the receptionist. The latter didn't even bat an eyelash. In fact, Emma realised that she had been sucking on a gobstopper the whole time they had been talking. As if sensing tension, the middle-aged wizard motioned her down the corridor.

'Right, I'm Healer Crawley, your mother's assigned mediwizard. Mrs Potter is on the second floor in the Magical Bugs and Diseases ward. If you would just follow me.'

Emma followed the Healer so closely that she was almost tripping on his shoes in her impatience. The lift seemed to take an age, but soon they were out and hurrying along another white corridor.

'In here,' the Healer said, motioning towards a private room.

Emma burst through the door with a cry of "Mum!", startling her parents. Natalie Potter's wan face broke into a broad grin, whereas Charles jumped off of the side of the bed. She ran to the bedside to hug her mother, but a nurse she hadn't noticed before stopped her.

'I'm sorry, Miss Potter, but no contact with the patient is allowed until she's signed out of the hospital. It's hospital regulation for contagious diseases.'

The witch really did look very sorry and thoughtfully left the room. She had probably done this with James and Sirius too, since she told Natalie Potter to "just give a ring like last time" if something went amiss. So Emma went and sat on the stool next to her mother's bed, drinking in the sight of her. Natalie Potter's face was as bony as it had been filled out before Emma had left at Christmas and her eyes had sunk into their sockets. Her skin was tinged green and there were purple rashes along her forearms. She noticed her daughter's line of sight and pulled the sleeves of her hospital robes down. Her hands were pockmarked though, as if a thousand little circles had been pressed into her skin. But Emma's mother's eyes were just how she remembered them: blue like her own and bright and clear, lit up with that inner warmth that is always associated with mothers.

''Why weren't you here before?' Charles asked, bordering on accusatory.

Natalie shot him a look, but Emma was so relieved to see her mother alive and - almost - well that she didn't notice her father's tone. 'I was in the Arithmancy tower when the teacher came to get me. By the time I got to the headmaster's office, James and Sirius had already taken the Portkey. It was only made for two,' she added, with a slight hint of reproach. 'I had to wait until they had left the ward.'

'I guess I should have mentioned that Sirius was like family now,' her mother chuckled. 'I'm sorry dear, I didn't know that you would be denied a visit because there was an extra person.'

This was the time when Emma usually would have insisted on the fact that Sirius was more like family than she was, that they couldn't even be bothered to remember her, but she couldn't bring herself to argue right now. It seemed like her father felt the same way, because he didn't bring up the subject that Sirius had managed to get to the Portkey on time as he certainly would have six months ago.

'How are you feeling?' Emma asked the mandatory question.

'If I had a Knut for every time someone asked me that,' Natalie laughed again, but it soon turned into a cough. Emma looked alarmed, but her mother hushed her with a sign, taking a long drink from the water on her bedside table. 'I'm fine really, just a little tired. My throat aches from the sparks coming up from when I coughed - apparently Dragon Pox can burn the insides of your throat, making it itch. But there aren't any sparks any more, and I'm feeling much more awake than I have in a long time.'

'I guess that's good to know,' Emma said doubtfully. Burnt throats didn't sound "well" at all.

'It is good,' Charles said firmly. 'And it's good that you came to visit too. We were worried that you weren't going to come when your brother showed up.'

'The thought never crossed my mind,' Emma replied solemnly.

They were all quiet for a moment, until Natalie made an effort to brighten up the mood.

'So Emma,' she said. 'Tell us all about your Hogwarts life since Christmas.'

Emma gratefully launched into an explanation about her Quidditch matches and how she had managed to trick James enough to win the Quidditch Cup. She told them about the prefects' meeting on the House Cup, though neglected to mention the cheating part, electing laughter from both of her parents. She talked about her recent Arithmancy class to her mother, who had been waiting for the moment Emma would deal with locks and curses in order to be able to better discuss it.

To her father, she recounted their exploits in Potions and her new-found friendship with Lily Evans, the girl James was in love with. They theorised on whether James might actually get the girl and Lily's mellowing attitude towards the last Potter. She refrained from mentioning the fight at her birthday party and the tasks the Dark Lord had set for Regulus and herself, and in return Charles bit back harsh words whenever she talked about Rabastan and Lucinda. It was starting to feel like they might make up for the past six years, that Natalie's illness wasn't for nothing after all, when disaster struck.

It happened when the half an hour was almost up, when Emma got up to go and her mother was positively glowing at having her family back in one piece. Charles had reached into his cloak and told her that they had wanted to give James and her their birthday presents together, but also wanted them to have them before the N.E.W.T.s. James had been delighted with his, and so they had saved hers for the end in the same manner.

'Happy Birthday!' the parents chorused, and Emma opened the box to reveal the traditional wizarding watch.

Each was slightly different, unique to the family or parents who chose it. Hers was a delicate golden colour, with brooms as hands pointing towards tiny roman numerals on a white background. There was another, smaller hand, which Emma had inquired about.

'It measures magic,' her mother said breathlessly. It was obvious that Natalie had been bursting to tell her about this. 'It measures the magic in the air, its power and potential danger. It also measures its difficulty: red is for danger, whereas green is harmless. The size grows in accordance to the spell's power and width for its difficulty. We thought it would be perfect for when you want to be a Curse-breaker.'

'Thank you,' Emma felt a rush of gratitude and emotion.

Her parents hadn't forgotten her, they had been reading her letters when she thought that Charles couldn't care less, and they had poured so much thought into the gift that she felt a lump appear in her throat. Her father beamed as he took the watch out and asked to put it on her wrist. As was tradition, she held her left hand out. And that was when time seemed to stop.

Charles had pushed back Emma's sleeve so that it wouldn't get caught in the clasp. That was when he noticed the dark red tendrils creeping down her wrist. The tattoo had faded quite a lot since it had first been branded onto her, but it was still very noticeable. Too late, Emma remembered and tried to pull her hand away, but the damage had been done. Her father grabbed her wrist and roughly pulled her sleeve up to the elbow, exposing the Dark Mark in all of its skeletal glory. The skull seemed to be laughing, the twisting snake that Emma usually found so fascinating menacing in the glaring hospital lights. The colour left Charles's face and he let go as though he had been stung.

As if in slow motion, the watch went tumbling from his grip. The three Potters watched its descent through the air and saw it touch the ground a split second before they heard the sound of shattering glass. The gold should have been sturdy enough to survive the fall, logically the glass frame should have only been cracked, but the whole watch split into pieces. Every link of the chain was broken, and in that moment it seemed to sever every link that Charles and Emma had worked so hard to repair. Emma's heart felt like the glass, so fragile that anything could shatter it, and the silence was the only thing that kept it at bay.

In a gallant effort to save her family, Natalie Potter got out of bed without a word to gather each tiny piece of the watch. It was painful to watch - her arms and legs were skeletal and she had to lean on the bed from the effort that a simple crouch required. Charles stared at her, thunderstruck, whilst Emma seemed to come to her senses.

'Mum, you shouldn't be out of bed,' she said, moving to help her.

'Don't. You. Dare. Touch. Her.' Charles hissed angrily.

The two women stopped in their tracks. Emma felt an odd vibrating in her chest. Please don't do this, Dad, she tried to say with her eyes, but there was no trace of her father left in the man standing before her.

'Stay away from her,' he continued in the same menacing tone, now advancing towards her. Emma cowered despite herself. How could this man be the same loving father she remembered from her youth? 'How dare you, after all we've done for you. After all you've put us through, after all we've forgiven, it turns out that I was right. You're a good-for-nothing Slytherin and I should have disowned you from the day you were sorted. Who knows what kind of danger you'd bring to our doorstep? And now…That thing…That's the sign of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Tell me one thing, is it in admiration of him slaughtering innocents, or did you actually join his cause?'

'Dad, you don't understand,' Emma said quickly. 'If only you'd let me explain-'

'That response is all the explanation I need,' he cut through shortly.

'Mum,' Emma turned pleading to her mother, who made a move to reach out to her. But Charles took Natalie's hand in his own.

'Don't you dare take advantage of an ill woman, criminal. I don't even recognise the girl I raised.'

'I haven't done anything wrong! You didn't raise me anyway, Mum did! You just sat there, judging me and coming up short every time. Mum, please, you understand, don't you? You still believe in me, don't you?'

Natalie Potter looked from husband to daughter and took her hand out of Charles's. She opened her mouth to speak, but Charles pulled on her alarm bell before either of them could react.

'You have lost the right to call my wife your mother. From now on, neither will you have a father. You've clearly chosen where your loyalties lie. As far as I'm concerned, I never had a daughter.'

Emma was desperate. Out of all of their fights, this was the worst. She needed her mother to speak, to tell her father off as she had in first year and give Emma a chance to explain. But the nurse arrived too quickly for Natalie to interject, so instead she ran to her mother's side, to hold her hand at least one last time if her father was going to forbid them from seeing each other.

'The girl has gone quite mad,' her father said. 'She is upsetting my wife, whom she is not allowed to touch. Please remove her from our presence.'

'Come along dear,' the nurse said immediately, kindly, as if she was used to visiting relatives trying to break the rules.

She put a comforting hand on Emma's shoulder. Emma tried to fight back, grasping the doorway to reach out with her other arm and she could have sworn that her mother had stretched out her fingers too. They were half a centimetre apart, when the nurse finally had enough and took her by the waist, physically dragging her out of the room.

'It's for your own good,' the nurse said crossly, as if talking to a petulant child. 'Your mother may still be contagious.'

But as she was escorted out, Emma could have sworn that she heard a faint voice calling her name.

Chapter Text

When she Flooed into Slughorn's office, she was shaking all over. She hadn't even managed to Floo properly, crashing through the grating in a heap of ash and smoke and startling Slughorn, who drew a line of ink across his whole parchment.

'My dear girl,' the teacher said in a shocked voice. 'Whatever is the matter with you?'

Emma was too busy coughing to be able to reply, so her Head of House helped her up by the arm, dusting off the embers clinging to her shoulder. She looked up at him, disorientated. She knew she recognised him, but somehow her mind wasn't properly linking notions together. School... teacher... she thought slowly. Am I supposed to be doing something? Immediately, his expression of frustration turned to one of worry.

'Not to worry, not to worry,' he said almost to himself, taking his wand out. 'Nothing a little spell can't fix. I daresay that seeing your mother's physical state after the Dragon Pox must have been quite a shock to your system. Hurry along now dear, it's almost time for lunch anyway. Some hot tea will do you some good before your next class. Honestly, why Dumbledore insists on pulling children out of class like this instead of waiting for a proper reunion at the weekend is beyond me. You're the fourth to come through my fireplace this month, though it must be said with the most spectacular entry.'

Slughorn's amiable chatter soothed Emma the whole way to the door, where he sent her on her way with another little pat on the shoulder. Obediently, she followed his instructions and made her way to the Great Hall. It seemed like she needed to remind herself even to keep blinking. Everything was so disjointed that each time she closed her eyes, she needed an extra half a second to open them. If she were to speak, she was sure that she would have slurred. She piled her plate full of bread and jam, simple foods that didn't need much attention. The bread was still warm from the oven, white fluffy rolls that would probably have been better suited to the breakfast table rather than lunch. She touched the inside of one, marvelling at the softness of it.

Presently, she was joined by the other sixth years. They chatted animatedly as they sat down, greeting her before going back to their conversation about their Herbology class. With an inward sigh of relief, she realised that none of them were in Arithmancy and so wouldn't know to expect that something was wrong. So she tried to listen in to the chatter, but somehow couldn't concentrate on the words. Her mind seemed to just float off blankly and when Alecto made the remark that she was even quieter than Regulus that day, she made her voice croak and mimed a sore throat. This earned her sympathetic looks and a mug of hot tea from Rabastan. She wasn't quite sure how tea had appeared at the lunch table either - though Slughorn had mentioned it, she had only ever seen water and pumpkin juice being served at midday.

She was so wrapped up in buttering her bread the right way that she hardly noticed the hall emptying. It was only after a tap from Alecto on her shoulder that she realised that it was time for Charms. Thanking Merlin that the next subject on her list was her easiest and that the rest of the day was composed of free periods, Emma vowed to pay more attention to what was going on, inwardly trying to shake herself awake.

 

 

Fifteen minutes later, she was cursing Merlin for landing her in the Charms class that was practicing the Patronus charm. She had forgotten that Mondays were normal Charms classes, whereas Thursdays and Fridays were the Defence Against the Dark Arts and Charms team up. Professor Flitwick was encouraging them to think up happy memories, but Emma couldn't think of a single one.

'As far as I'm concerned, I never had a daughter,' her father repeated in her head, whenever she tried to remember something. 'The girl has gone quite mad.'

'Emma,' Sophie hissed.

She blinked her glassy eyes, returning to her surroundings. Oddly, it felt a bit like vertigo. She turned her head slowly towards the other girl. 'What's wrong?'

It turned out that she spoke normally after all, though the words felt foreign on her tongue.

'You were saying strange things,' Sophie was looking at her dubiously. 'You kept repeating "the girl has gone quite mad" under your breath. It's disconcerting.'

'Sorry,' Emma replied, casting around in her mind for an explanation. The mental concentration took every ounce of energy she had. 'It's part of my homework for Arithmancy. "The girl has gone quite mad" is the cursed line in one of the books we're studying. We have to figure out how the curse was made.'

'Such a weird class,' Sophie replied, satisfied with the response. 'But we're in Charms now, okay? I know you're great at it and all, but some of us actually need to practice.'

Poor Sophie, Emma thought. She had worked as hard as she could during the Charms O.W.L.s, but somehow it had all trickled out during the summer, due to her faulty long-term memory. She had difficulty with most of the spells now, let alone the Patronus Charm. Emma was sure that Flitwick was going to gently tell her to give it up before her N.E.W.T.s, so that she could concentrate on the things she was better at. She had only chosen Charms because it was one of the core subjects and she didn't know what to do later in life.

So rather than let herself fall back into her trance-like state, Emma chose to help Sophie with her Patronus Charm. In theory of course, it was easy. She corrected the other girl's stance and tried to get her to think of a happy memory, which incidentally was of her family reunited for Christmas. Her sister had been studying in South America for the past three years and was finally back in England. A warm white glow began to radiate from Sophie's wand and she clapped her hands in excitement - promptly breaking the spell. Emma gave her a small smile despite herself. Somehow the Patronus had lifted some of the weight she hadn't realised was pressing in on her.

Flitwick appeared beside them, all three feet of him beaming. 'Ten points to Slytherin. Well done Miss Parkinson, well done!'

Alecto gave them a thumbs up from where she was practicing on the other side of the room with Regulus. Suddenly, Emma remembered the seventh-year prefects new "rule". It seemed so long ago now and so meaningless. On the day, she remembered that she was bursting with the need to prove Slytherin was as good as they thought it was, but now all she could summon was apathy. It's not as if you haven't had fights before, she tried to cheer herself up. Maybe it'll all blow over in a couple of days.

***

 

Three days later, the Sunday post arrived. Emma had somehow managed to get through the last two days without even Regulus suspecting something, the others having attributed her lack of energy to her "cold". She eagerly scanned the mail, searching for their parents' owl. Mum has to have talked some sense into him, she thought. She always does. She's always there for me, even though I might not always see it. But it wasn't there.

There was definitely an owl swooping towards her part of the table though, a great snow white one, and as it grew nearer she could make out its beady little eyes trained on her. It landed with an elegant flutter of its wings and whilst Lucinda and Helen cooed over its beautiful feathers, Emma had eyes only for the envelope and its flowing writing not unlike the bird itself.

Miss Emma Potter

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Scotland

She frowned. This was not the writing of her mother, nor that of her father. Though Narcissa's writing was elegant, it was not so curving. She did not recognise the script at all. She turned it around to see the name of the sender, only to be confronted with a seal that read: St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Even more bemused, she tore it open and began to read.

Dear Miss Potter,

It brings us great sorrow to be the bearers of such unfortunate news. Mrs Natalie Potter, of room 34 of the Magical Bugs and Disease Ward, passed away last night after a severe relapse of Dragon Pox. Though her passing was kept as painless as possible, we believe that the relapse was caused by wanton stress and anxiety at a critical time of the healing procedure.

Please accept our deepest condolences,

St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

Out of some kind of desperation, Emma checked the envelope for any other parchment. As luck would have it, there was another short letter, folded in half. She opened it eagerly, almost ripping it in the process.

Dear Miss Potter,

It is with deepest regret that I must inform you of the situation at hand. Mr Charles Potter has been detained and put into quarantine after coming into contact with a victim of Dragon Pox. As there are no living relatives able to inform you of this, I have taken matters into my own hands,

Please accept my most heartfelt apology,

Healer Henry James

Suddenly, Emma wished that there had not been a second letter. Her whole body felt as though it had been dipped in ice until the very marrow of her bones had frozen over. If she had ever experienced the effect of a Dementor, she would have compared it to that. Her brain - which had been working like treacle for the past few days - seemed to have shut down, and she found herself walking in the empty hallways of her thoughts. Her body took over, wanting to protect her from this danger, but not quite knowing how. Automatically, she folded both letters back into the envelope as if they had been nothing but greeting cards.

'Just a late birthday card from my Great Aunt Ursula,' she said casually, before eating the last of her cardboard toast, forcing it down with a gulp and strolling out of the Great Hall.

She kept up this pace the whole way through the castle, strolling through as if she were out for a walk around the corridors, until she found herself at the Astronomy Tower. There, she hugged her knees and rocked herself back and fro, unsure as what to do. Her whole body felt like it was in an unknown situation. She should be crying her eyes out, she should be throwing a tantrum, she should be doing anything but this. But she wasn't. And somehow, the automatic motion helped a bit. She tried to think if she saw James at the Great Hall. She couldn't remember. She wasn't sure if she wanted to remember. Somehow, she thought that she would know, that she would have sensed it if her mother, the woman who had carried her for nine months, had died. But she had no premonition. She had thought that her mother would get better. She had thought that her mother would have made everything better.

After a while, she was relaxed, though she still couldn't feel anything. She tried to force herself to grieve, but she wouldn't. All she could think was that somehow they had made a mistake and that another owl would be sent in the morning. There was no other option.

***

 

One week later, another owl hadn't arrived. Somehow, Slughorn had known, because he put Emma and James together for Potions that week. Emma wasn't surprised to see James as dejected as he had been when they had been called away from Apparition class, but she was surprised at how serious he had become. He added every ingredient by the book, didn't look around once, and when she peeked over his shoulder to see what he was writing, she saw the Potions class written word for word in his neatest handwriting. The sight of it sent a chill down her spine and made her feel sick to her stomach. She thought that she could have gotten through anything if only James was there too. But James wasn't there. Not the real James, anyway. This one was a robot James, going through the motions, but the personality inside seemed to have shrivelled up.

Just as she had twisted her stomach into knots tied upon knots, because it looked like James was going to leave without even acknowledging her presence, he gave her hand a quick squeeze. She couldn't remember the last time she had been so close to her twin, and instinctively she threw her arms around him and hugged him as hard as she could. She had never felt so grateful in her life that it was hard for James to even catch a cold. She couldn't imagine what would have happened if it had been he who was in quarantine.

But just as quickly as he had shown her some affection, he pushed away, muttering that he was going to be late for his next class. That, more than anything, hurt and Emma wondered for the first time if her father had mentioned their last fight to her brother. He hadn't even looked her in the eyes. She hadn't seen James since, in any case.

Now it was Saturday evening and Emma was nursing a Firewhisky, in honour of Alecto's birthday. It had been surprisingly easy to pretend everything was normal, when she felt so dead inside. She supposed that it was because there wasn't another emotion to conflict with. She felt a little guilty that she couldn't muster the happiness she would have for her best friend, and very guilty that she hadn't even thought of a creative present when Alecto had made so much effort for her seventeenth. Instead, Emma had gotten her friend a new book of Dark spells that she had been wanting to try out, a Quick Quotes Quill and a box of Honeydukes. Alecto had thanked her without a trace of sarcasm though, so she supposed it must have been alright.

She looked over at the redhead now. She was laughing and showing off her new wizard's watch, the one traditionally given by the parents on your seventeenth. Emma was suddenly overcome by a vision of a watch shattering to pieces on a pristine hospital floor. The chill she had felt one week ago in the Astronomy tower returned with such a force that she put her goblet down, for fear of breaking it. A familiar lump found its way to her throat. Quietly, she slipped away from the conversation into the dungeon corridor, swinging the alcove wall back into place.

She felt like a turtle that had been dropped from a great height by the bird that attacked it: At first she had shrunk into herself, pretending that so long as she stayed in her hollow shell, nothing would happen. But the whistling wind had grown louder and louder, and she had peeked out only to see the ground rushing towards her. The scary truth was staring at her in the face, so she let herself go, sliding to the floor pathetically as she gave great shuddering gasps.

Logically, she recognised it as a panic attack much like the time Regulus had made her jump off her broom, but deep down she knew that it was much more than that. She curled up with her head in her knees, trying to take breath after breath, but no matter how deeply she tried to breathe in, it felt like there was never enough oxygen to cover the gaping hole she had found in her heart. Ten minutes later, she still hadn't stopped and her heart was beating so wildly that she was afraid it was going to burst. She tried to concentrate on calming herself down, but only succeeded in making herself even more nervous. She felt like she wanted to run away, but there was nowhere to run to, because her shadow would always follow. She clenched her fists, getting angry. Why didn't she wait for me to say goodbye? Why didn't she tell me? Why didn't she do anything? Didn't she want to live? Did she even try to live?

Suddenly, she was enveloped in warmth. She huddled into it, realising when she breathed in the smell that it was Regulus and that he was holding her the way she had held him after their Occlumency lesson. The way she had told him her mother had held her. She cuddled closer, trying to infuse the warmth into her own icy body, but the cold was too deep to be thawed out. Then she tried to push him away, but he only held her tighter.

'You don't have a Great Aunt Ursula,' was the only explanation he offered.

'You should be at the party,' Emma reprimanded half-heartedly, not wanting to tell him what had happened. If you say it, then it becomes real. She hadn't hit the ground yet.

'No one will miss me,' he replied in a soft voice.

She doubted that. Regulus wasn't much of a talker, but she always knew when he wasn't there. It always felt like something was lacking slightly. Although it was nothing compared to how she felt now.

'I think Sophie might,' she added, a little too late. It seemed like everything she did was a little too late.

'I don't care about Parkinson,' he said simply.

They lapsed back into silence. Emma was turning her father's words around and around in her head. As far as I'm concerned, I never had a daughter. She wanted to know if her mother wanted to talk to her too, if she had said anything after calling her name, something that Emma would now never know. So she did the only thing she knew how to do when she was hurt - she pulled away again.

'I don't even know why you're here,' she said, regretting her actions even as she spoke. Her teeth were chattering.

'I haven't forgotten what you did for me when I needed someone,' he replied. 'You left the envelope on the table last Sunday.'

If Emma hadn't been so wrapped up in her grief, she would have been shocked at his confession. Then again, she wouldn't have let him fold her back into his arms either. Against her will, her shivers turned to shudders. Somehow, having someone know what had happened made the weight on her heart lift just the tiniest bit. But it also made it harder to keep it all locked away. She hadn't told anyone, both ashamed at having a family that didn't want her and it being too late to rectify it. If I say it out loud, then it will become real. Maybe someone would tell her that it was just a mix-up at the hospital, swooping down and saving her turtle-like shell from shattering on the rocks below, the way her watch had shattered her heart.

Slowly, she realised that this was real, whether she said it or not. Never again would her mother bake a fresh cake and forget her wand somewhere. Never again would Emma smell roast potatoes and know that they were going to sit down next to the crackling fire as a happy family again. Never again would her mother be able to make all of her sorrows disappear. Never again would she see Natalie Potter's bright blue eyes crinkle when she was deep in thought or when she was holding in her laughter.

'Why did she leave me?' Emma asked Regulus pitifully, looking up at him as reality finally started to sink in.

He shook his head in reply - there was no good answer for that. That was the moment when the truth hit her and the real tears came, pouring out like a fountain as she sobbed uncontrollably into his robes, crying even harder when he stroked her hair the way her mother never would again.

Chapter Text

'Come on,' Regulus said gently, when her sobs had died down to a trickle. 'We can't stay out here all night.'

Emma nodded, her head spinning. She had a headache from crying, but it seemed that her tears had dried out for now. It seemed like it had been days since she had started. My mother is dead, she thought, acknowledging it for the first time in her mind with the proper terms. She knew that she wouldn't be able to say it out loud. Something had prevented the word from appearing in her mind, but now it seemed like it was stuck at the forefront. My mother is dead. And she won't be coming back. She was not so naive as to think that her mother would return as a ghost. Where would she go? Their house? No one was there for most of the time. Besides, what was there, really, to come back to? A dysfunctional family? Better that Natalie Potter go somewhere far from here to a much better world. After all, it was the harsh reality of this one that had killed her in the end. Emma was under no illusion as to what had caused the relapse. My mother is dead. And it's my fault.

Regulus was up already and holding out his hand to her. He acted the same way James had when a stray fox had entered their garden: patient and unwilling to make any sudden movements. She was grateful for it. She didn't think she could handle any more abruptness at the moment. She took it, and was surprised at its warmth. This is the first time I've held Regulus's hand, she thought. She kept a hold of it when he said the password and if he was surprised, then he didn't comment on it.

She concentrated on the contact with child-like intent. It was warm, as she had noticed earlier, though she thought that someone who kept their cool as much as Regulus did would have had cold hands too. It was calloused from their years of Quidditch and probably from their Potions class too. The thing that interested her the most though, was the fact that she didn't mind the contact. She had always hated people holding her hand, even more so since the incident at the Yule Ball. Before, it had been because no one would ever be on par with James.

Now, it felt caging somehow, like she was stuck and wouldn't be able to break free. It usually sent a thrill of fear up her spine, a laughable reaction to such a small display of trust. Emma didn't quite know why, but now it seemed like Regulus was now her lifeline, the buoy in her sea of sadness. This time, she didn't want to break free. If she let go of him, then she would surely drown. She wasn't that good a swimmer anyway.

When they re-entered, the party was still in full swing. Upon noticing them, Alecto announced that it was time she opened her presents, having only seen Emma's that morning and Rabastan's at lunch - which was to hex everyone who didn't wish her a happy birthday to serenade her. Whilst Alecto loved this diabolical plan, even she got uncomfortable in the end, avoiding any and all Gryffindors. There was only so much bad singing a person could take.

When everyone was safely settled around the fire, Regulus led Emma to the door, urging her to go upstairs. When he let go of her hand, the cold air felt unpleasant. She turned around, ready to do as she was told. Her crying spree had drained her and she hadn't slept properly since before their Quidditch game. Her muscles still ached from misuse and her body was screaming for a break. But she realised that having missed so many moments with her mother and maybe her father made her never want to miss anything important of her friends'.

So she tried to wipe her face and walked back up the stairs towards the fire. Regulus and Rabastan were a little to the side behind the sofa, having what seemed like an argument. She drew nearer, wondering what was bothering the two that were usually thick as thieves. She felt the odd urge to hug them, tell them just how much they meant to her.

'-tell her,' Rabastan was saying. 'That's all I'm saying.'

'It isn't the right time!' Regulus exclaimed in a low voice. 'Her mother just died.'

The words said out loud were shocking... cold, even. It seemed so blunt. Tears pricked Emma's eyes again, but she ignored them. They hadn't noticed her yet. Emma couldn't see Regulus's face, but Rabastan's looked serious for once, as though he earnestly thought he was doing the right thing.

'There isn't a better time, trust me,' he urged.

He might have added more, but his eyes fixed upon Emma. The emotion wiped itself off of his face to be replaced with... shiftiness? Regulus turned immediately and his eyes widened. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it again.

'What should you tell me?' she asked.

They were saved from replying by Alecto's whoop of joy. As was her tradition for everyone's seventeenth, Lucinda had given her free tour tickets to the Bertie Bott's Factory.

'I've been waiting for this all year,' she confessed, slightly embarrassed about her outburst over sweets.

***

 

Later that evening, the five of them were grouped around the fire: Rabastan, Regulus, Alecto, Lucinda and Emma. Everyone else had gone up to bed, but they had decided to clean up then rather than in the morning. Rabastan had offered to go down to the kitchens to get some tea, earning him a slap from Alecto. They all knew that he was just trying to get out of doing some work. Alecto had gone herself, proclaiming that the birthday girl didn't need to clean up. Now, they were enjoying the hot drinks in a - relatively - clean common room. The crackle of the fire sounded odd with the swishing of the lake, but they were used to it by now and found it oddly relaxing.

They chatted quietly about meaningless things, anecdotes about all of their parties - except Regulus's of course - and about their future trip to Bertie Bott's factory. Lucinda had apologised to Alecto and handed Regulus his own gift there and then: The trip was scheduled for the end of July, so it would be useless to wait until his birthday. As Rabastan was teasing Alecto and her put-out face, Emma glanced towards Regulus, a slight frown creasing her forehead.

As if he had read her mind, he muttered in a low voice, 'Alecto and Rabastan already knew. Rabastan was the one to open the envelope and Alecto knew as soon as you walked out of the Great Hall.'

For some reason, it was a relief that Regulus hadn't just told Rabastan as soon as he could. Emma didn't know why, but it somehow felt like a breach of confidence. If she wanted anyone to know her mother died, then she would have told them so. Of course, there would be an obituary, but her mother was already old even by wizarding standards. It wouldn't make the front page and somehow, that was important to her. Her grief was private. As for the way her mother died, she would take that secret to her grave.

After a few more minutes, they all trooped off to bed. As Emma snuggled back into the sheets, she thought about how her friends had helped her without her even knowing it. They were her family away from home and in some ways were closer to her than her parents could ever be. Her brother and cousin were in different Houses, something that made spending time together harder. These four, the four sitting around the fire, they knew her better than she thought. As Lucinda multiplied blankets for everyone to cure hangover shivers in the morning, she resolved to thank them, some way or another.

The next day at breakfast, Emma felt like the night before had been a dream. It had started out so badly, but in the end she had woken after a night of unbroken sleep - a rarity these days. Somehow, a switch had gone off, letting her feel more peaceful. Sad, but peaceful. The roiling energy that had occupied her nights seemed to have disappeared during her breakdown, though she still didn't feel like her normal self. Mostly, she just felt... tired. Worn out.

She was late to breakfast, having taken what could probably have qualified as the slowest shower of her life, but she couldn't bring herself to hurry. Everything was in slow-motion, worst of all her limbs. They felt like they were made out of lead. In the end, she decided to go straight to her Potions class. When she saw Rabastan and Regulus in the hall, it took her half an hour to remember their conversation from the night before.

'What was it that you should tell me, because my mother died?' she asked.

A shocked silence followed her words. Though she had spoken softly, both Rabastan and Regulus were speechless at the callousness of her words. In reality, she just hadn't been able to summon the energy to tiptoe around the subject. That hadn't stopped the words from feeling foreign in her mouth and forbidden, as though she had sworn in front of her parents.

'Regulus...' Rabastan started, before Regulus stepped firmly on his foot.

'Rabastan was saying that there are rumours Snape, Mulciber and Wilkies have their marks. I thought it wouldn't be the best time to tell you about this, since you have other things on your mind, but he begs to differ.'

Regulus gave the taller boy a meaningful look. Rabastan rubbed his neck a little sheepishly. His cheeks reddened, and he refused to look Emma in the eye.

'I thought you would prefer to be kept in the loop,' he said. 'If it turns out it's true, then I was worried you would think we were mollycoddling you.'

'Thanks,' Emma replied shortly. Realising that she sounded cold and sarcastic, she forced herself to add more. 'Who started these rumours?'

As Rabastan launched into an explanation about Snape's curses being discovered by Lucius Malfoy, Emma resigned herself to having to carry on her efforts of listening into conversations. Maybe she wasn't as better as she thought.

***

 

One month later, things still hadn't improved, though Emma had gotten used to the pain - and used to hiding it. Most of the school knew about Mrs Potter by now and even Professor McGonagall was stepping on eggshells around the twins. For the first time since she had come to Hogwarts, the strict Transfiguration teacher had allowed her to resit one of her final exams - the original mark had been a D for Dreadful.

There had been another short note from the Ministry informing James, Emma and Sirius that the Potter house was being fumigated and cleansed of all possible bacteria. In the meantime, it was up to them to find somewhere to stay for the summer. The letter had arrived at breakfast before they were due to leave Hogwarts, though that hadn't made James any more talkative. However, it seemed as though he was avoiding everyone these days. Now they were in the train on the way back to London and Lucinda was still aghast at the simple formality of the letter.

'It's not fair,' she said. 'They should have at least provided you with some sort of accommodation or funding. I can't believe they're not even giving you any money to support yourselves after your father's been taken into quarantine and your mother is -'

'Shh! Lucinda!' Alecto quickly cut through, shocked.

Emma nearly smiled at Lucinda's outburst. She met Alecto's eyes for half a second, conveying her gratitude before she replied.

'Don't worry, it's fine. I'm going to Narcissa's for two weeks anyway, and the house is only unavailable for fifteen days. I'm sure Mrs Black won't mind me staying on a bit to help clean up the wedding mess.'

'If you say so,' Lucinda replied dubiously. 'If not you can always stay at mine.'

'Or mine!' Alecto said, not to be outdone.

'Or mine!' Rabastan quickly added, making them all laugh.

'What we're trying to say,' Lucinda went on. 'Is that you can always call us.'

'Thanks,' Emma smiled at them properly this time.

Lucinda settled back into her seat, satisfied that her point had been driven through. Emma turned her head back to watch the countryside. Her friends were so sweet to her, but they could be so stifling. She needed to take her mind off things, not wallow in them. That was the only way to even remotely get past this. If only they could act normally with her…But then she wasn't acting normally with them.

Feeling like someone was watching her, she looked back into the compartment to meet Regulus's eyes. 'I'm sure my Mum would love to have you too,' he said, smirking slightly. 'She's been asking if we can adopt you and I keep having to tell her that you've still got a father.'

It wasn't quite on par with Rabastan's jokes, but it still elected a round of laughter despite the touchy subject. Sometimes it seemed as though Regulus could read her thoughts. The tension was broken and soon the conversation turned to a different topic.

'My brother told me that we'll probably get our Marks this summer,' Alecto informed them. 'Rabastan and I, that is. It'll probably be at the same time as the others in our year - those rumours were false. Probably Mulciber trying to talk himself up again. Other than that, I think Lucinda's made it perfectly clear that she's not interested in getting into the field.'

'Right you are,' Lucinda replied simply. 'I'm not about to go gallivanting off into Auror territory only to have my head blown off. I'm very attached to it. Besides, it's much cosier and safer where I am. Somebody's got to carry on the family business, since Evan's time is already taken up. Mum's been telling me that she might let me handle some customer deals this summer, if only I can perfect a traditional pureblood meal.'

'I thought you had a house-elf?' Rabastan asked.

'We have two, actually: Tufty and Bauble. But I still have to organise them in tandem, and Bauble keeps insisting on wearing a bell whenever she has to bring trays into the room. Plus, I need to think of the recipes to ask them to make, which have to be traditionally British, but nothing so bad as haggis,' Lucinda sighed.

'It's a hard life Lucy, isn't it?' Regulus grinned.

'You have no idea,' she pouted, ignoring the sarcasm.

Just then, the compartment door slid open to reveal a middle-aged witch's chirpy face, along with a vat of different coloured candies. 'Anything from the trolley, my dears?'

Lucinda made a face. 'Not for me, thank you, I see enough of sweets as it is.'

Emma shook her head in response. Ever since her mother…her father had fallen ill... she found that she had no appetite. She ate the food in front of her, but she had no will to go down to the kitchen for tasty treats as she once would have. Judging by the weight James seemed to have lost, it seemed like the sentiment was shared. An exclamation rose up, shaking her from her dark thoughts.

'I wanted the chocolate frogs!' Rabastan was protesting.

'Well, then you can't have the cockroach clusters,' Alecto's face was firm.

'Why do you want to eat so much anyway?' the boy asked. 'You usually only get three or four sweets.'

'Well, not today,' the redhead replied petulantly.

After several minutes of arguing, Emma gathered that both Rabastan and Alecto had wanted to buy out the trolley, and neither wanted to share. In the end, they tossed a coin to see who would get which sweets, and greedily grabbed the ones they wanted. The trolley lady was quite worn out by the end of it, muttering that she had to go back to the first cabin for a refill.

Of course, Emma knew why Alecto was eating so much. She had seen her stress-eat during her O.W.L.s and knew that the same thing was happening now for the Dark Mark. She wanted to offer some words of comfort, but couldn't think of any that didn't sound completely cliché. Plus, it seemed like too much effort and she didn't know how she was going to tell her anyway. So she returned to her previous preoccupation: staring out of the window. Since when did time decide to pass so quickly?

Chapter Text

'My goodness, Emma, what happened to you?' Narcissa exclaimed on the platform. 'You look positively skeletal!'

She had come out to see her friend personally, rather than send the delegation of house-elves as they usually would. Of course, Dobby was there anyway, to carry Emma's trunk. Dobby would follow Narcissa to the ends of the earth, if need be. Probably because he was so glad that he hadn't sent to be part of Bellatrix's household. He was a particularly odd elf, according to Narcissa, but still very useful.

Emma belatedly realised that of all people, she hadn't informed Narcissa of what had happened these past few months. How could she? It was hard enough choking the words out in person, let alone put them into something as cold as writing. Luckily, she was saved by Narcissa slapping a hand to her forehead.

'Of course, how could I have been so unthoughtful! My poor dear, come to the car, tell me how you are,' her friend gushed, trying to make up for her mistake. 'How could it have slipped my mind, after what happened at the hospital...'

Suddenly, Emma remembered that Narcissa had trained at St Mungo's that year. Somehow, amidst all the chaos that had happened at the hospital, she hadn't thought to ask Narcissa for help. All at once she was bursting with questions, ones that Narcissa would probably not have a response to anyway. As they exited the station, she struggled to slow down her mind enough to let her mouth form the words.

'Did you ever see her?' she blurted out in the car. 'Did you meet them? Did they tell you what happened in the end? Did she talk about me? Have you seen Dad? Have you seen how he is? Has he mentioned me?'

The older girl placed a slim hand upon her arm. 'Relax, Emma. Take a deep breath. I'll try to reply as best as I can. I saw your mother briefly, since we were learning about diseases. Even though I never knew her, I heard enough about her from you to be sorry for your loss. She sounded like a wonderful woman. No one is allowed in the containment ward, so I couldn't say about your father. Emma… Emma, are you alright?'

The younger girl looked severely discomforted, but brushed the question aside. After a couple of seconds, she seemed to think again. 'Actually, would you mind opening the window? I get a little carsick.'

"A little carsick" wasn't how Narcissa would have described it. The colour had drained from her friend's face, leaving it a deathly white. The emotion seemed to have disappeared with it, save for blue eyes that had widened in shock. As Emma placed a hand upon the car door, Narcissa noticed that it was trembling. A lot. However, if her year at St Mungo's had taught her anything though, it was that commenting on symptoms that the patient already knew about only infuriated them.

'Of course,' she replied instead, before tapping the driver on the shoulder. 'Alfred, would you mind opening the window? And also make sure that the bends are softer, I don't want my bridesmaid getting sick two weeks before the wedding. We still have a lot to do.'

'Yes, miss,' Alfred replied.

'It's not long now,' Narcissa said soothingly to Emma. This kind of situation was one of the reasons that made her hesitate about committing herself to life as a Healer. It was impossible to stay emotionally detached, no matter what the trainer tried to tell her. 'We only live a few miles out of London.'

The Slytherin nodded, breathing in the fresh air. Maybe she shouldn't have gotten so excited so quickly. She felt ill, but it wasn't from the moving vehicle. She was so nervous about what her mother might have said that she felt sick to the stomach. All of a sudden, she wasn't so sure that she wanted to know. What if Charles had made Natalie agree with his point of view? What if she hadn't mentioned Emma at all? Did Emma herself really want to know? As bad as their last parting was, her mother had still reached out for her, she had seen it with her own eyes. It was a memory she had clung to these past few weeks, and if it had been a photograph, it would have been worn and scratched from use.

All too soon, it seemed, they had arrived at the Black's summer residence. This is where Regulus and Sirius spent their summers, she thought absentmindedly, looking out at the polished lawn, the rows of neatly laid flowers swaying in the wind. It was at once like and unlike Grimmauld Place. She supposed that Orion and Walburga had been the elder Blacks to have inherited the townhouse. The countryside lacked the magnificence of the London house, instead looking a little more homey, a little more cosy. It was three or four stories tall, but it looked like the children would have had to cram together for Christmas. She thought she could glimpse the hint of a Quidditch Pitch out back, but wasn't sure. It wasn't as though Andromeda, Bellatrix or Narcissa had ever displayed any interest in the sport.

Following her gaze, Narcissa pointed at a circular little garden with a fountain in the middle, proudly announcing that it was her herb garden and that she had weeded it ever since she was a little girl - her one display of defiance to her parents' wishes. Fortunately for them, their elegant daughter hadn't developed an interest in Herbology beyond magical herbs. It wouldn't do to have to marry her off with cracked, calloused hands, since there was no longer any hope for their two other daughters.

It had become clear from the start that Bellatrix was always going to grow up wild, so they had channelled her anger into an industrious outlet: hating Muggles. Living inside a wizarding community, they had seen no harm in making the Muggles the monsters of the girls' bed-time stories. All this had been recounted by Narcissa when they were at school and Narcissa had to explain Bellatrix's violent reaction to Andromeda's betrayal. Plus, Bellatrix had spent a lot of time with her aunt Walburga. In the end, her arranged marriage to Rodolphus Lestrange had been a quiet, ceremonial affair, with no hint of love on either part. Both families had been thrilled - neither of the children had ever expressed any desire to marry, though neither had objected for the good of the family.

As for Andromeda... Well, none of the Blacks really liked talking about that. Regulus had told Emma that she had married a Muggleborn she had met at Hogwarts, defying her parents' wishes. It had even earned her a black scorch mark on Walburga's tapestry. Emma had learnt from the rumours that she had run off with a Hufflepuff, which would have been easier to swallow than Gryffindor if there wasn't the matter of the "stain on her blood", as Mulciber liked to put it. Neither Narcissa nor Bellatrix had ever mentioned her since.

'At last,' Narcissa said, stretching her legs out luxuriously as the driver opened the door. 'Home sweet home.' Her face took on a thoughtful look. 'I guess it won't be home for long, will it?'

'You can still come back whenever you want,' Emma pointed out.

'Yeah, but it will never be the same, will it?' Narcissa sight wistfully. 'Come on in, I'll show you around.'

After hanging their coats up in the hall, Narcissa told Dobby to put Emma's trunk away, instructing Emma on where her room was. Then she gave her a quick tour of the conservatory, kitchen, dining room and lounge. It was obvious that Mr and Mrs Black weren't in yet. Emma vaguely remembered Walburga mentioning that Orion worked with her brother, but couldn't for the life of her remember what. Narcissa let her into the kitchen with a swish of her wand, putting the kettle on to boil.

'I've been learning a couple of things from Dobby,' she confided, taking two mugs out and opening the box of teabags. 'I want to surprise Lucius on our honeymoon. I thought it would be nice if it was just us two, with no house-elves. Even though we'll end up going to the restaurant every day, I still want to try to make a home-made meal or two. Of course, when we settle into our new home, we'll have staff. I'm so happy Mother managed to convince the rest of the family to gift the Malfoys Dobby as my dowry. I've become rather fond of the strange little elf, and I won't feel so homesick. I might have to tiptoe around Mrs Malfoy, but Dobby will still be a part of home that I can control, won't you?'

She reached down to scratch Dobby's ears, as though he were a pet. The house-elf looked strangely at his mistress, but bowed anyway. He already seemed very different from Kreacher. 'Dobby lives to serve the Mistress, Mistress Narcissa.'

Narcissa graced him with one of her airy smiles, before turning back to Emma. 'Milk?'

'Yes please,' Emma held the mug of steaming liquid between both palms. There was nothing quite like tea to make you feel better, no matter the circumstance.

'Anyway,' Narcissa said, setting herself on the stool opposite. 'We can talk about Dobby anytime. Before we launch into any wedding plans or anything, there's something I need to give you. Remember how I said the interns were allowed to see your mother?'

Emma nodded, unconsciously leaning forwards in her seat, tea suddenly lying forgotten on the table. She clasped her hands together to stop them from shaking. They seemed to have made a habit of that lately. Her father would have frowned - no Quidditch player would be useful with those kind of hands.

'Well, she talked to me as I checked her heartbeat. Her voice was so faint, I would have thought I was imagining it if she hadn't been staring at me so intently. She asked me to come back later, after hours. I don't even know how she recognised me,' Narcissa mused.

'She knew your mother, they were in Ravenclaw together,' Emma remembered. 'You must look a lot like her. Or maybe I talked about you a little too much,' she joked.

'Anyway,' Narcissa went on, accepting this piece of information with a nod of her head. 'That's beside the point. I came back a little later, and I'm sorry to say that she looked very weak. I don't think she could have spoken above a whisper if she tried. I had to wear the protective gear, so I couldn't hear very well anyway. But I definitely heard her speak your name, and I handed her a paper and pencil to make things easier...' She let the sentence drift off. Emma wasn't sure whether she was lost in thought or simply didn't know how to finish it.

'What I'm trying to say is, she told me to give you this,' she concluded, pulling a small box out of her pocket. 'I put it in here for safe keeping. I thought you might like to read her words, rather than hear them from me. Don't worry, I haven't looked. They're for your eyes only.'

Emma took the box as though she was handling a delicate eggshell. Her fingers trembled slightly. Did she really want to know what was inside? She looked up into Narcissa's reassuring grey eyes and took courage. The older girl wouldn't have told her about it if she thought it would only make things more painful. It wasn't in her nature. So Emma undid the small golden clasp on the little white box and peered at the context with more anticipation than she thought existed. Thinking back, she should have expected it. But as it was, she was completely overcome.

There, nestled between paper and fabric, were the remains of her wizarding watch. The pieces were exactly the same as they were in the memory etched on her mind, each individual chain unlocked. The glass had been cleared away, and Emma could imagine her fragile mother having to bandage her hands after having picked every sharp edge out of the mess. But it didn't look like a mess anymore, instead it looked like a puzzle, like the ones children had to solve by locking the pieces together. For though everything had fallen apart, not one of the small pieces was broken.

Gently, she tugged at the small slip of paper between her finger and thumb, careful not to pull any part of the watch out of the box. The script was faint and trembling, but clearly Natalie Potter's spidery hand. "Give Emma my love," it said. "Tell her to forgive me."

***

 

'Emma?' Narcissa asked, knocking on her door.

Emma had fled the room upon reading the note, hurriedly telling Narcissa that she needed to put the box somewhere safe as soon as possible. Truth be told, the emotions upon reading her note had overwhelmed her and she hadn't known what to do other than try to gather her thoughts alone. There had been something too private in reading her mother's last words for her to have stayed in the kitchen.

Instead, she had sunk onto the soft bed, tracing the paper with her finger as if the words had been written in Braille. Dirt and ink had rubbed onto her index, but she didn't mind. It seemed like some concrete proof of the existence of Narcissa's... her mother's... gift. How long she had stayed like that, lost in thought, she couldn't say, but Narcissa had brought her back to the present with that gentle tap.

Embarrassed at her rudeness, Emma flushed and muttered something about it being open. The older girl hastened to bring the armchair around next to the bed, dexterously balancing the two teacups in one hand. They weren't actually allowed drinks in the bedrooms, but she thought that she could make an exception, just this once. Making herself comfortable, she offered Emma her tea for the second time around, waiting for the other girl to take it before getting to the matter at hand.

'Do you want to tell me what's so important about that watch?' she asked in the voice she reserved for delicate patients.

Emma stared at her cup, feeling the heat travel through the mug and into her fingers. Narcissa must have put a warming charm on it. She took a sip, it was milky and slightly sweet. The liquid sent the warmth down to her stomach, thawing the ice that seemed to have made her body its permanent residence.

'My parents gave it to me for my birthday,' she said eventually. Narcissa didn't press her, just waited. She appreciated that, for some reason. 'When my father found out about the Dark Mark, it fell. After that, he wouldn't even look at me. "The girl", he called me. As though we were strangers and I was peculiarly dressed.'

It didn't seem to matter so much, whether what her father thought of Lord Voldemort was kept secret or not. The Dark Lord already somewhat knew and made it perfectly clear that he didn't care, there had been rumours of problems at home and besides…What was anyone going to do to a man already doomed to a disease?

'Does your father not agree with us then?' Narcissa probed delicately. This was a subject that Emma had never brought up in her letters. 'I thought your parents had decided to remain neutral in the war.'

'That's what I've been telling people,' Emma twisted her mouth to the side. 'I'm surprised Regulus's parents haven't told your family yet, actually... I guess it doesn't really matter anymore. My mother was the only one who always saw both sides of the issue.'

'She was the one who understood you,' Narcissa nodded, taking a sip of her tea.

Emma moved so that her back was to the wall, propping her feet up onto the bed. They had taken their shoes off in the entrance hall. 'I guess you could say that. But she never really said anything. I was never sure as to what she thought, towards the end. The last day I saw her, she barely said a word. But now...'

'Now?'

'Now it's as though she's telling me that she loved me after all. No matter what choices I made,' Emma touched one of the handles. 'She always talked about things as though they were puzzles that needed solving.'

'So I guess you could say that this is your puzzle,' Narcissa motioned towards the watch. 'That she wanted you to know that nothing's beyond repair.'

'I guess you could,' Emma replied softly, a faraway look in her eyes.

'Right then,' Narcissa said, uncharacteristically brusque. 'That settles what we're going to do in our free time.'

The blonde downed the rest of her tea in one gulp and got up, smoothing the creases of her skirt.

Emma turned wide eyes towards her. 'What?'

'We're going to make sure that watch works again.'

Chapter Text

The next two weeks passed quickly for Emma. Luckily, Narcissa had a clear view of what she wanted the wedding to look like. Not so lucky was the fact that she was unwilling to bend for anyone, save perhaps Mrs Malfoy. When Bellatrix complained that she had better things to do than to go dress shopping, Narcissa shot her a look that would have made even Lord Voldemort quail. Fortunately for the bride-to-be, money was not an issue, and many people were willing to fall head over heels for the united Black and Malfoy families. They were truly a force to be reckoned with.

Emma copied wedding invitations whilst Narcissa perfected her elegant script; she clipped flowers here and there, casting a temporary Everlasting Charm on the bouquets when she was finished - the irony was not lost on her - whenever Narcissa had to go down for an interview with Witch Weekly, or the latest magazine; she replaced Narcissa's butterbeer with a firewhisky whenever it looked like the older girl was going to break down and generally prepared for the wedding. It was going to be held right where they were staying, so one day she suddenly found herself in charge of an elite squad of capable house-elves.

Mrs Black had appeared at that very moment - not Walburga, but her sister-in-law - and had laughingly taken charge, saying that accommodation was the domain of the mother of the bride, something that Emma was thankful for. It seemed that Bellatrix had taken it upon herself to threaten anyone who said they wouldn't be able to make it to the wedding, so it looked like it would be a full house. Lucius dropped in on occasion, to help choose the band, the food and the seating charts, but other than that he was extremely busy with work. His boss had agreed to give him two weeks off for the honeymoon, but seemed like he wanted Lucius to catch up on all of the work before that.

Though the day was a whirlwind, in the evening Narcissa always took a couple of hours off of wedding planning. After dinner, which sometimes included Mr and Mrs Black, but more often not, since they were away on missions that Narcissa gave them in the morning, Narcissa and Emma always sat in the library with a cup of tea, researching on how to fix wizarding watches. Of course, they could have taken it to a jeweller's, but neither proposed the idea and neither felt like it would really fix anything.

Instead, they tried doing it the Muggle way. Or as Muggle a way as they could. They fit the pieces together as best as they could, using magic to slot the trickier parts together. Narcissa never complained about the growing pile of books that Emma piled onto the table and never suggested that they give it up for a night. Sometimes they talked about Hogwarts memories, sometimes they told each other funny anecdotes that they hadn't had time to in their letters. More often than not, they worked in comfortable silence. Rarely, Emma spoke about her mother, but each time Narcissa was patient and attentive.

In all honesty, though she wouldn't let Emma see it, she was afraid every time Emma brought the subject up. There was no proper way to act, something she had learnt from trying to comfort Lucius when Abraxas Malfoy died - ironically of the same disease - five years ago. It had happened not long after they had gotten together and that more than anything had served to bring them closer. Narcissa used to feel guilty that she had used the illness of Lucius's father to get close to him, but after many reassurances now she only felt the slight twinge now and then.

On occasion, Emma failed to appear downstairs on time, whether it be in the morning or the afternoon. Narcissa was never angry though, even if she had a right to be. She knew that the younger girl more than made up for it during the three evenings she had a shift to work at the hospital. The first time, she had come home to find the wedding magazine's neatly piled with various coloured notes sticking to the sides, classing them by theme. Even if Emma hadn't fallen asleep at the table, quill in hand, she would have known that this was the work of no house elf. Since, she had felt guilty about leaving the girl by herself, but her parents had reassured her that they would be there some of the time. They lived in a cottage at the end of their plot of land, claiming that the quaint countryside was more than sufficient for them.

This evening had started out pretty much like any other, they were sitting in silence working on the watch, when an owl tapped at the window - a frequent occurrence those days. Narcissa crossed the room to let it in, allowing it to rest on a perch by the fireplace whilst she read the note.

'Oh no,' she sighed. 'They're all out of white orchids. Apparently, there was another wedding not long ago who had asked for the same flowers.'

'What?' Emma asked, outraged on her friend's behalf. 'But that shop was supposed to have an everlasting stock of them! That's why we went there!'

'I know,' Narcissa said sadly. 'I guess I'll have to pick something out of this list, though it doesn't look like much.'

'No!' Emma said a little too loudly. Narcissa started. 'This is your wedding. You only get one of these in your life. If you want orchids, then you damn well better have orchids! Your parents' aren't paying for someone's hand-me-down flowers! I'm going to Floo there right now to give them a piece of my mind.'

'No, Emma, you can't,' Narcissa caught hold of the hand about to throw the green powder. 'It's already half past nine. We'll go tomorrow morning, but really, I don't mind.'

'It's not fair though! They told you that you'd have white orchids! They promised!' Emma had tears in her eyes now.

Narcissa was starting to think that maybe this wasn't about the flowers after all. 'It's fine. I'll talk it over with my mother, usually she has some good ideas.'

'It's not fine,' Emma replied half-heartedly, but sank back into her seat, wiping a couple of stray tears away when she thought the older girl wasn't looking.

She had been getting upset over the most random of things recently. Once, Mrs Black had asked Emma what her parents did for a living, and she had burst into tears, much to the older woman's bewilderment. She had had to excuse herself to her room that night, curling up like she had on the night of Alecto's birthday to sob pitifully into the night. At times like that, she almost wished that Regulus was there to look after her, then chastised herself about her selfishness. Regulus had his own problems to deal with. She hadn't even owled him this summer yet, feeling like she had nothing to say that didn't sound too superficial.

'How about I make us a cup of tea?' Narcissa asked, breaking into Emma's thoughts.

She nodded glumly, trying to pull herself together. It had been two months already, she should be used to the gaping hole in her chest by now. It didn't help that her father's silence seemed to make the void yearn even wider. Narcissa said that he was still in the containment ward, but that his situation seemed to have stabilised.

Another owl appeared next to the first, pushing it off of the perch before going to crouch by the fireplace. It was only when Emma pulled the parchment off of its well-trained leg that she realised that she knew this owl. Its sleek black plumage and curved beak belonged to none other than Lucius Malfoy, Narcissa's betrothed.

'Narcissa!' she called, sending the other girl running back.

'What's wrong?' Narcissa immediately asked, worried.

Emma waved the piece of parchment in the air. Narcissa grabbed it and opened it, mouth falling open as she read it. Emma grew concerned.

'What is it?' she asked, wondering just what could go wrong enough for Lucius to pay attention to wedding preparations.

'It's Lucius,' Narcissa, said a bit needlessly. 'He's coming tonight for dinner, and he's warning us that he's bringing his best man.'

That piqued Emma's interest. Lucius hadn't chosen his best man for a while, and everyone was wondering who it could possibly be. No one could imagine Avery at a wedding, and besides, he and Lucius didn't seem to get along very well any more. Rodolphus Lestrange was out of the question, since he needed to lay low for a while. He had been spotted by Order members and it took no genius to figure out that they would have spies in this high-profile wedding.

'Who's -'

Before the sentence was even out of her mouth, the fireplace flared green. With a swoop of her wand, Narcissa packed up the books and watch pieces, sending them back to the cupboard where they belonged. By the time Lucius strode out, the living room was immaculate. He barely had time to kiss his bride-to-be hello before there was another flash of green light. Emma's eyes immediately snapped to the fire, only to see someone she very much recognised straighten his black robes and long, lanky hair.

'Severus,' she nodded curtly.

'Emma,' he replied, equally short.

She had to credit him for remembering to not call her Potter. Then again, perhaps that sneer was solely reserved for her brother now that she had been accepted into the Dark Circle. She briefly wondered why he had never bothered with the same creative name-calling as the Marauders' "Snivellus". He walked towards her, and before she knew it they were cordially shaking hands. Thankfully, his palms were a lot cleaner than his hair.

'May I present Severus Snape, my best man,' Lucius announced unnecessarily. 'I thought we might dine together from now on, get to know one another. After all, I would like to name him godfather of our future children. Not long now.'

Emma looked at Narcissa with wide eyes. The older girl flushed a little, but was tactful in her reply. 'I thought we could wait a little, enjoy the time we can spend just together, at least for a couple of years.'

Lucius graced her with one of his quick smiles, before guiding her by the arm towards the dining room. 'Shall we?'

'We didn't know you were coming quite so soon,' Emma replied. 'The food isn't ready yet.'

In fact we didn't know you would be coming at all, she thought in annoyance. Though for Narcissa's sake, she would try to keep an open mind about Severus. Aside from their collaboration on hate-Sirius campaigns, all she knew of him was what James said. And James hadn't said much recently.

'No matter,' Lucius said, lip curling. 'Dobby!' He snapped his fingers, bringing Emma's attention back to Narcissa's fiancé.

The house-elf appeared, looking slightly fearful. 'Yes, Master Lucius?'

'Prepare something for dinner. I want a good meal in ten minutes! Not a minute more, or there will be consequences. Understood?'

'Y-yes Master Lucius,' Dobby replied, disappearing with a crack.

Emma held back a frown. Even house-elves couldn't make a meal up to Lucius's standards in such a small amount of time. She reminded herself that not all wizards were as forward thinking as Regulus and Narcissa. All of that will change, thanks to Lord Voldemort. He hadn't specifically mentioned house-elves, but it was natural to start with goblins and giants first. Rumour had it that he was going to extend a hand to the werewolves too. Maybe that will help James change his mind about this war, she thought, her mind going to Remus Lupin and his condition. Lucius would understand soon. Still, she couldn't help brooding a little as Dobby poured them the Blacks' finest wine. He's already acting as though this was his house, not Narcissa's, she huffed inwardly, following them through to the dining room.

She had to remind herself that Lucius wasn't all bad though, as the dinner progressed. Dobby had managed to make a nice pan-fried turkey covered in breadcrumbs - a dish that Lucius had never tried before and loved. He complimented the elf, making him beam from head to toe, and anyone with eyes could see how he doted on his fiancée. Even Severus had his good points. For one, he had a dry sense of humour that sent them all into hysterics. Emma wondered what James would say if he saw her at this scene. She knew what Sirius would say. Traitor. Home wrecker. In a sense, it was true, as she thought back to the circumstances of her mother's death. Sensing the familiar feeling rise up again, she forced herself to concentrate on the conversation.

'The new Dark Mark ceremony will be taking place at the end of July,' Lucius was saying. He nodded towards Severus. 'Are you ready for it?'

'Can't wait,' the younger boy replied earnestly, with no trace of his usual sarcastic tone. 'I've been wanting for this for a long time.'

'It's something you'll never forget,' Emma added, thinking back to her Mark. The wound had healed, but it still itched from time to time, reminding her that it was still there.

'What was it like?' Severus asked, addressing her properly this time. Lucius turned to her, obviously interested.

'Like you were chosen to be a part of something much, much greater.' she reminisced. 'And you feel like you could take on the world, with the Dark Lord backing you.'

'It is truly a majestic moment,' Lucius murmured in agreement, unconsciously touching his left sleeve. 'Not only do you feel more powerful and confident, you also gain a family.'

The table fell silent as everyone pondered these words. Emma noticed a strange emotion flit across Lucius's face and suddenly remembered that his father had died of dragon pox when he was still at school. It had happened before she had even attended Hogwarts, but she wondered if he felt the same pain she did now. Judging from the haunted look she saw as their eyes met, she would guess at a yes. Somehow, terribly, that made her feel better. She felt a sudden affection towards the reserved young man, something that seemed to create a bond between them. She was so wrapped up in observing Lucius that she didn't notice the way Severus's eyes lit up with what could only be described as longing.

***

 

'Severus, show us the new spell you've been working on,' Lucius said in a commanding voice.

They were sitting on the sofas around the fire in their snug. Who had a snug nowadays? Emma's parents did, but she knew of no one else who did, until now. She had forgotten how comfortable and well... snug... they were. The fire created a warm glow that went well with the small room's painted red walls, meant to make people feel at ease, but right now there was an excited tension in the air, as they tried to get Severus to talk about his new task. No wonder Lucius is rising through the Ministry so quickly. Emma almost wanted to jump up and execute his orders herself. But Severus was made out of sterner stuff than she.

'I said that it was for the Dark Lord's eyes alone,' he replied. 'This is my ticket to getting a Dark Mark, and if anyone were to use it in front of him before me...'

'Oh come on,' Narcissa cajoled. 'Which of us is going to use it? Lucius is busy with the Ministry and Emma and I are wrapped up in last minute wedding plans.'

Severus hesitated again, looking suspiciously at Emma. She stared straight back, raising her eyebrows slightly as if to suggest that she thought he couldn't do it. Of course, James's stories said otherwise, but from her experience, Severus was most impressive when antagonised.

He looked back to Lucius, who smirked at him in a proud older-brother-like way. This was not lost on Emma, who had been wondering just why Severus had been made Lucius's best man. It seems like their relationship's a little like mine and Narcissa's, she thought. Only Lucius is the protective big brother and Severus is the adoring younger sibling. She knew that Lucius had no siblings, but realised that she knew nothing about Severus's home life. Unless they were Squibs or went to another academy, he didn't have any as far as she knew. She supposed that he kept the secrecy for a reason.

Eventually, Severus gave a short, stiff nod.

'Excellent!' cried Lucius, conjuring a makeshift puppet.

'Sectumsempra,' Severus spat out quickly, making a slashing motion with his wand.

Cotton flew everywhere as great gashes appeared on the puppet's body. If it had been a person, they would have bled to death within minutes. There was a stunned silence. Severus stowed away his wand, the hint of a smile playing on his lips.

'Impressive,' Lucius finally got out.

The girls slowly nodded, still speechless. It seemed that Severus Snape was definitely a good wizard to have on your side.

 

Chapter Text

Emma nervously smoothed her dress down for the fourth time that day. Narcissa had warned her not to disturb her before nine o'clock, but Emma had been up for hours making sure everything would go perfectly. Lucius and Severus had set up various Portkeys, Druella Black was busy making the bouquets, Cygnus Black was giving precise instructions to the horde of house-elves and Bellatrix was stationed at the door, ready to welcome guests and hex gatecrashers – especially the dangerous kind. Andromeda had not been invited.

So far, so good, she thought, checking the golden watch on her wrist. She and Narcissa had celebrated by dancing around the living room the previous afternoon when the first hand had ticked. Now, it was almost as good as new, save a small scratch on the glass. Narcissa had offered to fix it with magic, but Emma had declined. It would serve as a reminder - her father may have given her the watch, but it had been Narcissa who had acted as the real family member.

When she repeated these thoughts to her friend, Narcissa's milky face had flushed a brilliant pink and tears had sprung to her pale blue eyes. It seemed that it had been only the start to a very emotional couple of days, as the orchids Narcissa had been waiting for had finally arrived that evening.

Ting, the large hand reached the twelve o'clock mark with a small chime. It was time for the craziness to commence. Taking a deep breath, Emma readied herself for the plunge and knocked on Narcissa's door.

'Come in,' the older girl called softly.

To Emma's surprise, Narcissa was already in her wedding dress, looking perfectly composed. She looked around and patted on the stool next to her. 'Can you help me with the buttons at the top? I can't quite seem to do them up.'

'Is everything okay?' Emma asked hesitantly, doing as she was bid.

'Of course,' Narcissa frowned slightly. 'Why wouldn't it be?'

'I don't know,' Emma shrugged. 'I thought that brides were supposed to have a meltdown on the day of their wedding.'

'Why on earth would I do that?' Narcissa asked. 'This is the one thing I've been sure about in a long time. Plus, what with the war getting serious... I wanted some concrete proof that I count for just as much in his life as the Dark Lord does. Is that too much to ask?'

'You know it isn't,' Emma smiled. She wished that she could have something like that to hold onto in the coming times. 'I'm glad you aren't getting second thoughts, then.'

'It's funny,' Narcissa said. 'I thought that I would be so nervous today, what with the past couple of weeks. But actually, everything's already done, isn't it? There's nothing left for me to worry about... except for tripping over my dress as I walk down the stairs.'

'You're the most graceful person I've ever met,' Emma laughed, doing the last button up. 'Finished. Plus, there's no way you're going to trip in a dress that doesn't even reach the floor.'

'True,' Narcissa grinned.

She had wanted an elegant, silver dress, not one of the big poufy white ones that seemed to be the fashion nowadays. She had complained that the bottom would get dirty and that the white would just make her look paler than ever. Emma had wisely let Narcissa's mother handle the dress business, accepting what she had been given. Oddly, she and Emily Parkinson - Narcissa's classmate from Hogwarts - had been given charcoal grey dresses to wear. Narcissa had apparently wanted a black and white wedding, because she thought that the colours of the flowers would stand out more. Or something like that, anyway.

'Have you got Lucius's ring?' she asked, the thought occurring to her.

'Right here,' the older girl replied, holding out a simple band of gold. 'Lucius said he needed Regulus for some sort of... surprise? Can you remind him about that please? I was to tell him when I was nearly ready. Give him the ring too – he's our ring-bearer. Oh and also the hair and makeup witch? Salazar knows that those spells aren't my strong suit.'

'I'm on it,' Emma saluted. 'Just sit and look pretty.'

Narcissa threw a hairbrush at her in reply.

Downstairs, the Black country house was chaos. Chairs were floating right and left, tables were being directed outside, since the day wasn't too windy and several wizards had taken it upon themselves to artfully decorate the banisters with Narcissa's flowers. In the midst of it all was Lucius, graciously thanking everyone who came with a shake of the hand and a smile. His long blonde hair gleamed in the sunlight, contrasting with his suit, which was the same colour as Emma's dress. Severus stood looking slightly awkward in a light grey suit, his hair slicked back for the occasion. Emma snorted, wondering how long it took to persuade Narcissa that silver just wasn't the right colour for a wedding suit. She did like her symmetry.

'So you're the bride. That's what the surprise is,' Rabastan said, grinning from the bottom of the stairs.

He had opted for normal black dress robes. As usual, he managed to pull the look off with a casual elegance, though Emma couldn't believe he had gotten past the Blacks – it turned out that all but Bellatrix shared Regulus's love for neatness.

'Only if you're proposing,' she replied teasingly, hopping down the last few steps. 'There's a surprise?'

'It's such a shame that I forgot the ring in the Floo powder pot,' Rabastan put on a look of dismay. 'Next time.'

'I can't wait,' Emma grinned. 'So, what's this about a surprise?'

'I thought that as the maid of honour, you would know all about it,' Rabastan said, genuinely surprised.

'I probably do, but since I don't know what the surprise is supposed to be, there's no way of telling if I'll let you in on the wrong secrets,' Emma replied matter-of-factly. 'Speaking of which, have you seen Regulus?'

'Why, does he know about the secret too?' Rabastan asked.

'No, but I need to find him,' she replied, craning her head around Rodolphus and Avery.

'Just say it,' Rabastan sniffed loudly, turning his head away and sticking his nose in the air. 'I'm not good enough for you, am I?'

'Shut up,' Emma rolled her eyes, before snapping her attention back to the entrance. 'Oh, there!'

She heard, rather than saw, Walburga Black arrive with her husband and son in tow. The flowery exclamations could be heard from the stairs as she engaged Bellatrix in a conversation the younger woman really didn't want to have. When Emma arrived, the older Black sister looked relieved.

'Emma will show you to your seats, Aunt Walburga,' she said breathlessly. In an undertone to Emma, she added, 'the security hasn't arrived yet. There's no telling if Dumbledore's order of the bumblebees will show up or not.'

Emma couldn't remember what Dumbledore's resistance group was called, but she was sure that they were not named after a small insect that died as soon as it pricked you. Though that could have been an accurate description of the Ministry at the moment. It was getting more and more desperate as the war wore on. She was already growing tired of the division. You're not helping anyone, thinking like that, she told herself, before turning her mind to the situation at hand.

'Call Yaxely. He's supposed to be taking care of this. And remember to stand in the middle of the crowd, Bellatrix. You'll be targeted first.'

Without waiting for a reply, she started ushering the older Blacks to their seats. She thought she heard a faint scoff that was half-way between feeling and disdain, before Bella walked off with a click of her heels.

'I feel like I'm just meeting you everywhere Emma!' Walburga exclaimed. Her hair was decorated with white lilies in the spirit of the occasion. Narcissa was the flower of the Black family, and the youngest girl to be given away. 'It seems that you're already so close with so much of the family!'

The Black matriarch gave Regulus a pointed look. The latter didn't even bat an eyelash. Rabastan, who had followed them to the Blacks' seats, had to turn away to hide his laugh. Emma just knew that they wouldn't hear the end of it when they returned to Hogwarts.

'And you, darling Rabastan,' Walburga dragged the chuckling teenager over to kiss him on both cheeks, leaving a trail of flowery perfume. 'Have you got a bride-to-be? After all, now that Rodolphus is happily married to my niece, there aren't many... pure... families to choose from anymore, are there? Better get in quick before someone else snaps up all the good ones?'

This time it was Emma who fought back her look of amusement. Walburga was really something. Orion on the other hand... He looks like someone has died, she thought. She wondered if he was thinking about Sirius, their eldest and disowned son. She didn't even know who she empathised with in the Sirius-Walburga feud, but it was evident from Orion's face that Andromeda wasn't the only casualty of war.

She lifted her eyes and caught Regulus's glance. He looked almost... protective. Defensive even. But then Walburga asked him a question and his polite disinterest returned. Emma hated that expression. She remembered Narcissa's request.

'Excuse me, but I'm going to have to steal Regulus for some wedding reasons,' she apologised to the Blacks. A mischievous thought crossed her mind. 'However, Rabastan is free to entertain you until the ceremony takes place. He's actually one of the dedicated hosts, like Bellatrix.'

Rabastan's smile wavered slightly. The message in his eyes was clear, you will pay for that. Oblivious to the teenage teasing, Walburga leaned towards Emma.

'You know, dear, Regulus's blood really is as pure as can be. The family has taken precautions for centuries to make sure so. And the Black fortune is no less grand...'

'Alright mother, we need to go,' Regulus interrupted her loudly, steering Emma away from his parents. 'She's become a nightmare since the holidays began. She realised that I was turning seventeen and still had no arranged match. And now that I'm her heir...'

'Who was Sirius matched to?' Emma asked, remembering Lucinda talking about how their circle was extremely big on arranged marriages.

'Marlene McKinnon, of all people,' Regulus made a face.

Marlene McKinnon was the most brash, loud, proud Gryffindor of all Gryffindors. A Beater on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, she had a fierce right swing and a temper to go with it. Many first years avoided her and many upperclassmen sought to "tame the lion". So far, none had succeeded. Not even pretty boy Sirius Black, before he had been swept up by Lou. Maybe he'll succeed in getting her this year, Emma least then he might concentrate on something other than corrupting her brother.

'So what are you dragging me away conspiratorially for?' Regulus asked, when they were in the upstairs corridor. 'Or was it just a ploy to make Rabastan suffer in your endless teasing war? You know he's creating something big, after that stunt you pulled with Alecto...'

'There was actually a reason,' Emma said defensively. 'Lucius needs you for his "surprise".'

'We're already at that?' Regulus asked, surprised. 'I'd better hurry then. Don't look for me before the ceremony starts.' He started to walk away, but stopped, coming back to stare her uncomfortably in the eyes.

'What?' Emma asked, looking away.

'Are you alright?' he asked softly, an emotion she couldn't quite comprehend in his eyes.

She blushed without knowing exactly why, and averted her eyes even more. Her eyelids seemed to grow heavy. She had put her mother out of her mind recently, strange as that might have sounded, what with all of her time spent on the watch. But it was easier to tiptoe around the gaping hole than to plunge right in.

'I'm better,' she replied, all of the energy seeming to seep out of her.

Regulus backed away with a quick nod, having caught on to the taboo nature of the subject. 'I'll see you at the wedding then.'

'Sure,' Emma replied half-heartedly, before rallying. 'Here, don't forget Lucius's ring!'

He caught it with his Seeker reflexes and Emma set off to find the makeup witch with much less zeal than before.

***

 

Druella Black placed her wand over Lucius and Narcissa's conjoined hands. If Emma looked closely, she could see Druella's hand tremble ever so slightly as happiness radiated from the older Black woman. Unlike most of the younger generation of Blacks, Narcissa had always enjoyed a close relationship with her parents and Druella would have died before Narcissa was matched up with someone her favourite daughter didn't love.

I wonder how Bella's taking this, she thought, shooting a surreptitious glance towards the crowd. No one knew who had joined Dumbledore's little rebel group, and Bellatrix would have made too obvious a target if she were standing at the alter. Narcissa risked nothing, being the newspaper's sweetheart and Lucius had been protected by his ties with the Ministry, but an arrest warrant had been issued for Rodolphus and Bellatrix was not generally well liked by the public.

That hadn't stopped the older Black sister from insisting on playing door guard earlier though. It should have been Bellatrix in Druella's place, but times being what they were made it too dangerous. Emma was sure that Bella was seething.

'You may now say your three vows,' Druella declared, finishing the Latin incantation.

Lucius took his wand with his right hand and touched it to Druella's, 'I, Lucius Malfoy, swear to stand by my wife no matter her decisions in life.'

An odd choice of words for his wife, but many pure-bloods from the Malfoy line thought that the wife should be beneath the husband in all matters. Narcissa beamed at her husband-to-be as a tendril of silver snaked its way over to her ring finger.

She mimicked his wand gesture and took a deep breath, 'I, Narcissa Black, swear to put our family above all, protecting them no matter what happens in life.'

Another controversial topic. A burst of murmurs from the journalists could be heard as a gold light wrapped itself around Lucius's left hand. Narcissa had specifically kept her options open to be a Healer until this day. Some part of her still has the family flair for drama after all, Emma thought wryly. Narcissa had told her long ago what her decision would be.

'I, Narcissa Black, swear to support my husband through sickness and poverty, war and death,' Narcissa's voice wavered, but held resolutely for her turn to start the vows.

Emma knew that Narcissa was worried that someone would notice that she stole her line from Muggle ceremonies, but she couldn't find a sentence that portrayed her feelings better. Luckily, not many Pure-bloods took Muggle studies at school and the last part of the line was very much real. The audience grew quiet. Emma thought she saw Cygnus shedding a tear or two.

'I, Lucius Malfoy, swear to forever remain faithful to the only woman I've ever had eyes for. I knew since I first saw you called up to the Sorting that I wanted to marry you, Narcissa,' Lucius smiled as the next spell strengthened the band of silver. He hesitated for a second before his next vow.

'I, Lucius Malfoy, swear to forgive the fact that Narcissa once told me that I looked like a Veela with my hair. Since our children are surely going to inherit it, I very much hope that they are girls.' Lucius joked, electing a peel of laughter from the audience.

One of the rings Regulus was holding vanished and appeared onto Narcissa's hand. The silver substance solidified into a silver ring with periwinkle stones dotted across the top. There was a gasp of appreciation and some applause. Though the ring ritual was wizarding tradition, most families couldn't be bothered to go through with the hassle of setting it up, since the witness binding the contract and the ring-bearer both had to be blood relatives of one of the fiancés.

'I, Narcissa Black, swear to overlook the fact that Lucius spends more time than I do preening said Veela hair, and to turn the peacocks in Malfoy Manor white blonde upon my entering the grounds,' Narcissa threw her last carefully practised vow our of the window upon hearing Lucius's.

There was a general flurry of movement as the journalists wrote this last vow down. Their marriage would be annulled if Narcissa didn't fulfil her vow within the first month of their marriage. A gold band materialised on Lucius's fourth finger and Druella pronounced them man and wife.

'I love you,' Narcissa said softly, but somehow her words carried throughout the room.

'I love you,' Lucius replied and he kissed the bride.

As soon as their lips touched, a dozen white doves flew out from behind Druella and spiralled up and through the Vanished windows.

***

 

'Beautiful ceremony, wasn't it Luce?' Rabastan asked, his machiavellic grin fixated in place.

Lucinda's already rouged cheeks turned a deeper shade of pink. 'Shut up Rabastan.'

'Oooh Rabastan is it now?' he teased. 'So not only does the wedding make you bawl like a baby, it also made you turn polite?'

'Crying is a perfectly acceptable thing to do at a wedding Rab,' Lucinda retorted, sighing exasperatedly.

Regulus watched the two bicker with his usual smirk of amusement. Emma watched the guests take to the dance floor in the ball room. Tables had been arranged in little groups on the outskirts of the accommodating space. She drank another goblet of champagne as yet another Black walked up to the happy couple to congratulate them. How many people are there in this family?

'Lucinda?' a woman's voice trilled over the crowd. 'Oh, Lucinda, there you are.'

Mrs Rosier – or Madame Rosier, as she preferred to be called – came into view, heels clicking across the marble floor. Her dyed blond hair was swept up into a fancy bun and she was wearing a pure white dress that made her round blue eyes look positively angelic. The white lily secured into her hair with a ribbon only reinforced her Alice in Wonderland look.

'White dress on a wedding day, Madame Rosier?' Rabastan teased. 'That's a dangerous way to live.'

Emma swiftly looked around to see if Walburga was within earshot, but luckily she was next to the happily married couple. She's probably giving Lucius a list of orders he must obey or be hexed off of the family tree he's just become a part of, she thought with a snort. She waited for "Madame" Rosier to react, but was left gobsmacked when she fluttered her eyelashes at the seventeen-year-old.

'Oh Rabastan, you know this is a black and white wedding. The rules don't apply as they normally do. Besides,' she added in a purr leaning over to him. 'I like to live dangerously.' She snapped back to her daughter and added in a more commanding tone. 'Come, Lucinda. There are a couple of clients I need to introduce you to.'

Rabastan watched her swaying hips as she left, Lucinda trailing in tow. Regulus punched him on the arm.

'Ow,' he said. 'What was that for?'

'Being a complete arse,' Regulus rolled his eyes. 'That's Lucinda's mother.'

'Yeah, and?' Rabastan raised an eyebrow.

'She's flirting with you because your father won't endorse her new business contracts. Any Lestrange of age can sign them,' Regulus spoke as if he was talking to a simpleton.

'So it's not my amazingly good looks?' Rabastan pretended to look hurt. 'I'm not an idiot, but nothing's stopping me from enjoying her attempts at manipulation. I'm off to find someone else to tease – like Bella.'

'You might want to throw away your Veritasum-ed drink first,' Regulus commented dryly.

'That little minx!' Rabastan explained, looking put out. He sighed, dumped the drink into the nearest plant pot.

Regulus rolled his eyes again and turned back to Emma. 'So, what do you want to do?'

'Drink?' Emma asked. Their champagne bottle was already finished. 'Well done on the birds, by the way. Lucius's secret?'

'Yeah,' Regulus replied. 'They won't stray far though. Each one of them has a mini-camera attached to them. They're the ones taking photos, since the journalists aren't allowed in anymore. They got their ceremony.'

They meandered off to the refreshments table to watch the happy event. Emma realised with a pang that Narcissa was going to start her new life without her. She wouldn't have time for her old best friend, at least for the meantime. And that was another person in her life that she could no longer depend on staying. Immediately feeling guilty for her thoughts, she downed another goblet of champagne.

'Excuse me,' she murmured to Regulus, suddenly finding the room stifling.

In the "ladies' room", which was basically just one of the downstairs toilets, she tried to pull herself together. Druella had been so happy at Narcissa and Lucius's union, Cygnus was busy telling everyone who would listen about how proud he was of his daughter and Bellatrix could not wipe the beaming smile off of her face. In the meantime, Natalie Potter was dead, Charles Potter was in a contamination ward and James seemed to have disappeared off of the face of the world. She had tried sending messages to him, but the owls came back empty handed. In the end, she had given up.

She took her wizarding watch off and stared at the small hands. This is all I have left of them, she thought unhappily. This and my necklace. It seemed like a poor equivalent of a living, breathing parent. The cool of the watch seemed to just drag her mind to the empty hollow where her heart should have been and she cried again. Except this time, she didn't cry for her mother, or her father. She cried for herself.

When someone knocked on the door impatiently, she was startled out of her misery. Realising how selfish it would be if someone saw her breakdown on her best friend's day, she tried to calm herself down, staring in the mirror. She rose her wand to her temple and then paused. How easy it would be to just Obliviate my memory of them, she thought. But that path was too dangerous to venture down. Instead, she muttered the incantation for a Cheering Charm, remembering how it had affected Regulus at one of their parties. Little did she know how much strength she had put into it.

***

 

Two hours later, she was sitting on the stairs, groaning. Tears of laughter streamed down Rabastan's face and he ignored the dark looks Regulus was shooting him. Never again a Cheering Charm after so much champagne, she vowed. Luckily for her, the wedding revels had moved on outside, so they were relatively alone.

'Hey Emma,' Rabastan got out between splutters of laughter. 'Do you remember stealing Bathilda Bagshot's feathered boa?'

'No,' Emma replied frostily. 'Are you sure that you aren't just making these stories up now?'

'Oh, I wish,' Rabastan replied. 'I hope those doves caught a lot of it on camera. I swear that this is the most fun I've had in my life. Do you remember telling me you loved me and not letting go of me for at least ten minutes?'

'As if I would do something like that,' Emma rolled her eyes, before turning uncertainly to Regulus. 'Would I?'

The conflicted expression on her best friend's face told her all she needed to know. She closed her eyes in embarrassment and buried her face in her knees. 'Wake me up in fifty years.'

'No way am I letting you forget this, Ems,' she could hear the grin in Rabastan's voice. 'Do you remember -'

'Hey Bast,' Regulus interrupted him in a warning tone. 'Why don't you go and get us all some food? I'm sure Emma will want to hear everything once she's recovered from... her ordeal.'

'Fine, I know when I'm being dismissed,' Rabastan replied airily. 'Emma, you have an hour before I resume my torture.'

Emma wearily waved a hand, head still hidden under the other arm.

'Emma,' Regulus said in a softer tone than she had heard in a long time. 'Do you want another Calming Drought?'

'No,' she snapped, before dialling down her aggressive tone. She was trying to not push Regulus away. 'Do you mind talking about anything else?'

'Fine,' she could almost hear Regulus searching for another topic. 'Would you ever want to get married?'

She raised her head, wondering what brought the question on, but Regulus was looking out towards the wedding reception, an indecipherable expression on his face.

'I've never really thought about it,' she admitted. 'I... I don't know. It seems like a big commitment. Wizarding Vows aren't to be taken lightly. I don't know if I'd be ready to lose all of my possessions by breaking one of my wedding Vows. And also... I wouldn't feel like the ring was really mine, knowing it could disappear at any time.'

Wizarding weddings were different from Muggle ones for one reason: the Vows. They weren't as bad as the Unbreakable Vow, you wouldn't die if you broke one, however your partner would be entitled to a third of your worldly possessions for every Vow you broke. Hence the surprised reaction at Narcissa's peacock vow. On the other hand, it was easier to nullify a marriage – simply by breaking one of the Vows. Most didn't want to live with the consequences though. Sometimes Emma wondered why so many people married so young, simply because of the consequences of choosing the wrong person.

'What do you think?' she asked belatedly, realising that the silence had stretched on for a while.

'I think if you marry the right person, then the Vows wouldn't matter so much. Look at Lucius and Narcissa. Did Narcissa have any second thoughts?' Regulus asked, turning to her. His grey eyes seemed to be searching for something.

'No,' Emma replied. There was a short pause. 'Did Lucius?'

'No,' Regulus echoed, looking slightly disappointed.

Emma searched for something to say, but couldn't think of anything exept how comfortable the stairs were. It seemed that Regulus's Calming Drought just turned her into a tired drunk instead of getting rid of all of the symptoms.

'Is it hard for you?'

Regulus's words brought her back down to earth. She knew exactly what he was talking about. She hated him for it, for baring her feelings in words when all she wanted to do was to bury them as far down as possible. He knew that she wouldn't believe in Vows when it felt like everyone she had loved had abandoned her.

'No,' she lied. He saw straight through it. She looked away, her heart thumping in her chest. Where's Rabastan when you need him? She asked herself, wondering how she could extricate herself from the conversation.

'Emma,' he said in a tone that forced her to look back. A reassuring smile appeared on his face. 'Narcissa's not going anywhere. Neither are Rabastan or Lucinda.' His voice dropped so she could hardly hear it. 'Neither am I.'

Something flared to life in the black pit of Emma's heart, something sharp and painful. She had been wanting to chase away the hollow feeling the way she had at Alecto's birthday, but she wasn't sure whether this unknown hurt was any better. Instead in her half-drunken state, she instinctively went to what had comforted her in the first place. Regulus's arms automatically closed around her as she felt herself crying for what seemed like the hundredth time in the past few weeks. She didn't know she had any tears left.

When Rabastan came back, he took one look at her tear-stained face and set the tray of food to levitate in front of them. He sat himself on Emma's opposite side and gave her a quick hug.

'Don't worry about everyone else remembering your shining moment,' he laughed. 'I Confunded them all.'

For once, Rabastan Lestrange wasn't joking.

 

Chapter Text

Emma felt another thrill of excitement run along her spine. Once again, she thought about how strange the situation was. Not even six months ago, she had stood along with her classmates, scared, unsure as to what would happen. One of the outsiders. Now it would be up to her to help the new Death Eaters don their soft, black robes. She hardly dared glance towards Regulus - she knew that she wouldn't be able to resist the urge to grin. This was supposed to be a solemn ceremony.

One by one, the others had proved themselves. Some, she knew just how. Severus, of course, and she heard rumours of Alecto tracking down Muggles like William. Ones that had reportedly driven wizards into insanity. Emma didn't want to know any more details. Sometimes she was uneasy at how her friend could just flip a switch and become unrecognisable. On the one hand, there was the loving, caring, intelligent friend with a witty sense of humour. On the other, a calculating witch who loved to cause pain. It was hard to reconcile the two, so she just turned a blind eye to it.

Next was Rabastan. Dear old trickster Rabastan was an old hat at leading people into traps. One only had to ask Moaning Myrtle, who would delightfully recount tales about the boy she had a soft spot for. She had even suggested him making her toilets a more permanent residence, if ever he needed to hide. Needless to say, the offer had been politely declined. Upon finishing school for the holidays, Rabastan hadn't taken two weeks off to help plan a friend's wedding, no sir. He had been involved in several schemes to misdirect Aurors and had discovered that he was quite good at it - to his surprise and that of many others. Rodolphus couldn't have been prouder and Bellatrix never missed an opportunity to brag about her brother-in-law.

Others, she wasn't so sure about. To her dismay, Wilkes and Mulciber were also about to be accepted into the inner circle. For the life of her, Emma couldn't think of single redeeming quality about Mulciber. Perhaps his brute strength. Or perhaps the Dark Lord needed a bully, now that Crabbe had been put on house arrest. In any case, these five were now to be elevated to the rank of Death Eater, Dark Mark and all.

It was different to Emma's induction. They were back at Rabastan's house, the memory of which brought a slight tinge of red to Emma's cheeks. Upon seeing Rabastan's cheeky grin, she quickly reprimanded her face. However, the colour quickly left when they entered the Lestranges' library. Something about it made Emma's blood turn cold. Maybe it had something to do with the amount of Dark books in the room. The shelves were practically oozing with power.

Emma could tell that Alecto was itching to get her hands on a couple. She wasn't going to lie, there were a couple that had caught her eye too, but Rabastan had promised her unlimited access during the summer. He had winked at her, holding out a hand to shake, saying that he was looking forward to working with her in the future. Then he had further infuriated Alecto by saying that she wasn't allowed, since she would be set to a different task than they. The look on her face had been priceless.

However, some things brought her back to that chilly spring day. The hands folded within velvet black cloth, the ceremonial masks that hid their identity from their enemies, the half-circle spread around behind the Dark Lord. There in the centre stage he stood, as majestic and terrifying as Emma remembered. He spoke calmly, but there was a veiled threat behind each word. If you cease to be useful…it seemed to imply. Emma swore to herself that that would never happen in her case. This time, she was a part of what Lucius had so aptly named the Family. Since then, the word had taken on a capital letter in her mind. After all, she couldn't go around calling their group the "Death Eaters" in public. Of course, Rabastan had laughed when she told her friends, but Regulus's eyes had taken on a faraway look that proved that she hadn't been the only one to think it.

Severus's hand trembled slightly as she presented him with his robe, but she pretended not to notice. She remembered all too well that mix of fear and excitement. Since the wedding of their two closest friends, she had gotten to know him better. He was still snide, he was still rude, but she had grown accustomed to the strange but brilliant young man. Most of his unfriendliness seemed to have stemmed from a lack of caring and confidence anyway, though she would never mention it aloud. After seeing his Sectumsempra spell, she had no doubt that he would soon be at the frontlines alongside Bellatrix and Rodolphus.

Once the initiates had donned their cloaks, Lord Voldemort went to each in turn, speaking a few soft words before burning the brand into their skin. Though she had seen - and felt - her own Mark, Emma remained fascinated with the way the red tattoo snaked along the forearm. Of course now hers was an inky black – as it was whenever she was in the presence of the Dark Lord.

The snake of Salazar Slytherin. Rumour had it that the Dark Lord was descended from that great line of wizards. He made no secret of the fact that he was a Parselmouth. The skull, representing the Death Eaters commitment to the cause. Laughter in the face of death. What was death, when their aim was so just? What was a life in the balance of the history of wizardkind? A change was upon them, a turning point that would change the lives of all involved.

Emma touched her locket unconsciously, only realising it when Bellatrix sent her a strange look with those half-mad eyes of hers. The war will be over before long, she thought. Then Dad will realise just how much better the world will become. She quickly tucked the locket out of view.

Talk of the war had been postponed until the next meeting. This reunion was solely to celebrate the new Death Eaters. So when the Dark Lord beckoned Emma forwards with a slim finger, she was surprised. Dutifully, she walked forwards until barely a metre separated them.

'I heard about the loss of your mother,' he whispered, his voice hesitating slightly on the "s"s. It had changed since the last time he had spoken to her. It was less… human. 'A great sorrow indeed. As for your father…Well, I found myself in the position of needing to purge my family line too. Take care to make the transition smoothly. I trust you will be discreet in the matter. You haven't disappointed me yet.'

Emma stuttered an acknowledgement and left, dismissed with an elegant wave of the hand. She wandered towards the exit without paying attention, lost deep in thought. On her way out, Bellatrix caught her by the arm, nails digging in as she pulled her into the Lestranges' study. Then she whipped out her wand, shutting the door and casting silencing charms on it.

'What is it?' Emma asked angrily, before regretting her words.

One always had to speak calmly to Bellatrix, though it seemed like today was one of her good days. She ignored the rude question and grabbed ahold of the chain around Emma's neck, dragging the younger girl forwards along with it.

'What is this?' she asked in a dangerously low voice.

'It's a locket, as you can well see,' Emma replied, yanking the chain back. She pulled it from under her robes and showed Bellatrix the insignia. 'For Slytherin.'

'Where did you get it?' the older girl tightened her grip on her wand, her pale face becoming even paler. It looked like she was about to have a fit.

'I don't remember,' Emma pretended, staring Bellatrix in the eyes. 'I've had it for a long time.'

Bellatrix visibly relaxed at that last sentence. She stowed her wand back into her pocket and took a step back. What's gotten into her?

'Oh,' she said. 'I thought...' She trailed off. Emma waited.

'I thought that you were thinking of betraying us,' she said. 'I had to be sure of where your loyalties lie.'

For once in her life, Bellatrix looked apologetic. She had surely thought that it was some kind of listening device, to record their meetings in order to hand the organisation over to the authorities. She really doesn't know me at all, Emma thought. But even as she thought it, she realised that Bellatrix's eyes hadn't quite lost that wild look. She seemed almost... scared? Suddenly, she got the feeling that the Dark Lord's right-hand woman wasn't being completely honest. But now wasn't the time to pry.

'With you, obviously,' she replied, sneering and wrenching her sleeve up to show the Dark Mark in all of its glory.

'Just so you don't forget it,' Bellatrix narrowed her eyes. 'You're the person with the most links to blood-traitors here.'

'In case you haven't noticed, your cousin is in Gryffindor, and your sister ran off with a Muggleborn,' Emma retorted before she could stop herself.

Bellatrix widened her eyes, looking furious. This is how I die, Emma thought, her hand going to her pocket, touching the comforting smoothness of her wand. But the older witch just turned and flounced out of the study. Relief flooded Emma, and she reminded herself that she needed to keep her Occlumency in check. Or maybe just my mouth.

***

 

'Ouch,' Rabastan said an hour later, rubbing his forearm. 'Nobody told me it would burn.'

'Stop being such a baby,' Lucinda reprimanded pitilessly, lounging on a nearby armchair. 'So, Emma, what are you going to do now that your house is free and liveable?'

Emma shook her head, breaking out of her reverie. 'What?'

The three others rolled their eyes in unison. Rabastan groaned.

The four of them were hanging out at Rabastan's house after the ceremony. His parents were out, on holiday actually. Mr Lestrange Sr. had requested some time off, but everyone knew that it was just to give his sons the opportunity to shine. He was one of the original Death Eaters, part of the Knights of Walpurgis, a group formed by Voldemort in his early years. The group of Slytherins had only recently learned this fact, as it was deemed treasonous to speak of the Dark Lord's youth to a non-Death Eater. They needed him to become a symbol, something that transcended humanity. It was working - the Daily Prophet had started calling him "You-Know-Who".

Alecto had immediately been cornered by Bellatrix, who had reportedly looked pretty mad. Apparently, they were going on a "hunt", whatever that meant. Feeling slightly guilty, Emma hoped that her mood hadn't had anything to do with their little chat in the study. Alecto had been assigned Bellatrix as a mentor and therefore couldn't say no to any request that had been made. Even so, Emma suspected that even if she had had the choice, she would have said yes. Bellatrix's "hunts" usually ended up making the headlines.

'Lucinda asked what you're going to do with yourself,' Rabastan said, pronouncing each word with extreme care. 'You can't live at Narcissa's forever, especially now that she's married to Malfoy.'

Emma took some time to answer, mulling over her choices. 'I was thinking of getting a flat in Diagon Alley,' she admitted. 'It would feel too weird to go back. Plus, I have no idea if Sirius will still be there, and that's not my idea of a great summer.'

'Hear hear,' Regulus muttered sardonically.

'Sorry Reg,' she said immediately, remembering the fact that last summer he had been stuck with his brother and she hadn't replied to any of his letters.

He waved a hand to show that he was past caring.

'Can I come flat shopping with you?' Lucinda asked, her eyes lighting up. 'I know you, you're useless at shopping and I bet you haven't haggled in your life. What's your budget? How big do you want it to be? Oh Merlin, so many possibilities, I wish that I could come with you and -'

'Merlin's saggy underpants, Luce, calm down!' Rabastan laughed, before he too took on a thoughtful look. 'My family owns a real estate business, maybe Rodolphus could give you pointers…Actually he's in full-time warrior mode, we're better off asking my parents. Better yet…Wait here for a second. Lucinda, with me.'

He marched out of the room and up the stairs, Lucinda trailing behind him and chatting all the way. After watching them leave, Regulus raised an eyebrow at Emma. She made a face in return. 'What?'

'What were you really thinking about earlier?' he asked.

'I...' she hesitated. There was no point in lying to Regulus, and maybe if she mentioned it, he could remind her how crazy it sounded. 'I think the Dark Lord just asked me to murder my father.'

Instead of laughing as she expected, he only nodded thoughtfully. 'I think Bellatrix would jump at the chance to kill Sirius.'

'What?' Emma's voice broke on the word. 'How can you say that with a straight face?'

'Well, if you think about it, it makes sense. The Dark Lord can't make exceptions, not if he wants to keep a strong front. He can't have any opposition and Bellatrix is obsessed with the blood-purity part of his goal. The Dark Lord has more pressing matters to think about.'

Seeing Emma go slack-jawed, he hurriedly continued, 'I'm not saying kill your dad... Merlin this makes me sound like a psychopath. Just see it from the Dark Lord's point of view. He doesn't want any threats and sees people he doesn't personally know as pawns. That's what leaders do. If you want to become the next Bellatrix, then do so by all means, but I would suggest talking to the Dark Lord when he doesn't have so much on his plate. Three people have gone missing, and he suspects that Dumbledore is behind it along with that Order of the Phoenix thing.'

'Dumbledore?' Emma asked, unable to process the rest of the information Regulus had just dumped on her.

She supposed that his family had been in the thick of it from the start, which was why he was so nonchalant. They blasted names off a tapestry, for Salazar's sake. At least the Dark Lord hadn't mentioned James. She would just have to convince him that her father was not a threat. Or at least convince him of a greater threat than a seventy-year-old man in hospital.

Just then, Rabastan and Lucinda re-entered, their faces betraying their bad news. Rabastan refused to meet Emma's eyes as they sat down, whereas Lucinda was looking at her with a pitying smile. What's happened now? Emma asked herself in resignation.

'Um…Ems...' Rabastan started hesitantly, a pile of documents in his hand. 'We were uh…digging around a little and…Well...'

'Hate to break it to you, but you've been disowned,' Lucinda sat down with a plop on the sofa, patting her friend on the back.

Always the tactful one, Emma thought, shaking her head, but keeping her mask of indifference in place. She shouldn't have been surprised that her father had removed her from the will, but it still hurt. It was more of a sting though. He had already caused her so much pain that she couldn't really feel anything anymore. He had told her that he had no daughter. It was hard to keep hope after a declaration like that. So instead of wallowing in the spike that had dug itself into her chest, Emma tried to reply offhandedly.

'Yeah, but my mother left me some money in her will.'

It had been read out to her three days after Narcissa and Lucius's wedding. She had asked Regulus to come, cheeks flaming red as she hated to ask for support - especially the emotional kind. Luckily, though, he hadn't commented, even when she had squeezed his hand so hard during the reading that she was sure that she had left bruises. James and Lou had also been there, along with Sirius, who had been surprisingly tolerable. James had spoken to her for a minute afterwards, asking her if she was dating Regulus - no - and to apologise.

She had finally received an explanation as to why her twin was so absent. Apparently, she reminded him too much of what they had lost, rather than experiencing her need to keep her brother closer. He hadn't spoken that much to Lou or Sirius either, for that matter. The only other thing he had to say was that he was doing a summer internship in Romania in the dragon enclosure for a change of air. He had finished the brief conversation with a hug and a few tears, admitting that he would miss her for the entire six weeks. Emma had choked out an "I miss you too" among numerous tears on her part and that was that.

She had been wrapped up in planning with Narcissa up until that moment. She understood completely why James wanted to go to Romania; she had been able to almost pretend that the rest of her life was a dream until the day of the wedding. Upon seeing everyone there with their families, she... Well, let's just say that Rabastan now had a feathered boa pinned to the wall of his room in memory. Back to the topic at hand, she scolded herself, unwilling to be reprimanded for inattention again.

'And I have a savings account in Gringotts,' she added rather uselessly. It nearly went without saying that every pureblood had a Gringotts bank account that they could access at the age of seventeen without the help of their parents.

'Perfect,' Lucinda clapped her hands. 'Now that the awkward part is behind us, let's start fake shopping.'

And so the rest of the afternoon was spent pouring over parts of Wizarding London: Diagon Alley, Knockturn Alley, and the little street in-between that no one seemed to remember the name of. Emma suspected that Lucinda was already getting excited about decorating the interior of the flat. She kept having to remind Rabastan that no, she did not want a chocolate fountain inside her living room, and Regulus that she wasn't going to keep his extra set of history books in her bedroom, since Walburga thought they were a "waste of space and money".

All in all, they passed a peaceful, almost normal afternoon. Despite her misgivings, even Emma was excited at the prospect of having her own home and a new start.

Chapter Text

 

By the end of July, Emma was beginning to regret her decision. Lucinda had dragged her through the cloying heat of summer to visit numerous dodgy flats or outrageously expensive penthouses. Emma didn't even know that eight-story floors existed in the wizarding world. Who needed that much space anyway? Fortunately, today they were visiting a flat that Rabastan had suggested. Lucinda had been called away to help out at a big charity event with her mother, so the two of them had spent most of morning eating ice-cream at Fortescue's, who was more than happy to suggest the special ice-cream sundae, reputed for having the most toppings in the world. The two had immediately ordered one each, enjoying the fact that the shopkeeper had put an Anti-Melt charm on the food.

Emma closed her eyes, letting chocolate-chip cockroach cluster sauce melt on her tongue, enjoying the fact that they still had half an hour before they needed to meet the estate agent. Suddenly, a shadow fell on her face, blocking the sun. Feeling the sudden cool, she opened her eyes again to be met with the sight of Lou, her cousin.

'Emma,' she said in a strangled voice.

Emma would have thought that her cousin would be happier to see her. Come to think of it, Lou looked terrible. The skin around her eyes was stained purple from lack of sleep and the rest of her face seemed to be a deathly hue of white. The eyes themselves were bloodshot, and it seemed as though Lou was having trouble keeping them open. Emma frowned, pulling out a seat and ushering her cousin into it. After a moment's hesitation, she sighed and sat down.

'I suppose this was inevitable,' she murmured.

'Here, have some ice-cream,' Rabastan pushed the rest of his food towards Lou in an uncharacteristic gesture of worry.

Maybe this war is making even Rabastan start to grow up, Emma thought.

'I had hoped...' Lou trailed off with a small little smile, before mumbling to herself. 'I suppose it's better this way, in person.'

'What's better?' Emma asked immediately.

'I'm going back to France,' Lou admitted. 'I… Professor Dumbledore has been very kind, but I've graduated from Hogwarts and England…Well, I know I have nothing left in France, but I miss it.' She closed her eyes for a second, a pained look flitting across her face. 'That's not the only reason though. I'm scared, Emma. England is dangerous. The whole reason I came here was to avoid this kind of thing. My parents thought I would be safe here, but...' she trailed off.

'What is it, Lou?' her cousin urged. 'Has someone threatened you? Has Sirius done something?'

'No, no, it's nothing to do with Sirius. He understands,' Lou gave another small, tight-lipped smile. 'It's not what I expected, that's all. There's a war going on, the number of casualties increasing every day. Pierre is the one who inherited the love of danger and curiosity, I'm afraid.'

Lou laughed, a sad bark of a noise. 'I just want some peace and quiet. I can't deal with this, never knowing who's going to disappear one day, never to be seen again. My brother and I were going to sell my parents' cottage in France, but I think I've reconsidered. That's the kind of life I want. I can translate Ancient Runes from anywhere in the world, really, and the agency I've signed up with has agreed to receive my transcriptions by owl.'

Unspoken between them was the death of Natalie Potter, the life of Charles hanging on the edge. Emma didn't know if he was getting better or not - James had only said that he wasn't allowed to speak with their father either. Emma supposed that the hospital didn't want a repeat performance. Either way, Lou was probably reliving the problems with her own family.

Emma realised that she had never thought to ask Lou how her parents had died. She had just assumed that she didn't really know, the school year having still been underway when it happened. Emma knew that they had been murdered whilst on a secret mission for Dumbledore from eavesdropping on her parents' conversations, but didn't know if her cousin did. Looking at her now made her think that Dumbledore had ended up telling her the whole story. And she would hazard a guess that the whole story wasn't pretty. But now was not the time to ask.

'So I guess this is goodbye,' Emma said, her voice wavering a little. Her tone was still questioning, as though she couldn't believe it.

'I guess it is,' Lou replied. 'I'm only in Diagon Alley today to clear out my Gringotts bank here and tie up a few loose ends. I had hoped to leave without seeing either of you, but now I wish James were here, so I could say goodbye properly to him too... I suppose that's the way life is. I'm just not used to thinking of you as separate people, even after Hogwarts.'

She let out another small, humourless laugh and got up, swinging her - now that Emma noticed it - unusually large bag over her shoulder. I'm not used to it either, she thought, but her mouth stayed shut. Instead she got to her feet, giving her cousin a tight hug.

A foreboding feeling overtook Emma, a sudden clarity that told her that she would never see her cousin again. Don't be silly, she thought, but still she hugged Lou more closely. All too soon it was over. She looked into her cousin's eyes, wondering if she could change her mind, but there was a steely resolution glimmering in the back of them. Lou would not go back now that the decision had been made.

***

 

'Do you still want to look at the flat?' Rabastan asked as Emma stared at her cousin's retreating back. 'We can schedule it for another day if you'd like.'

'No it's fine,' Emma replied, tearing her eyes away to look at the anxious Slytherin. 'Besides, you said that someone was coming to visit afterwards, I don't want it to be taken, just in case this is the one.'

'My parents do own the agency you know,' Rabastan winked, setting some Sickles on the table as a tip to the friendly owner. 'They can always "lose" the file.'

'Bast!' Emma feigned shock, laughing.

He laughed too and they set off for the flat in far better spirits than before. Emma had long since learned that wallowing wouldn't do her any good. She stowed the memory of her cousin's goodbye in the tightly locked box at the back of her mind. It was starting to fill up.

'Here we are!' Rabastan announced suddenly, stopping in front of a very familiar shop.

'Broomstix?' Emma asked in astonishment, staring at the new Cleansweep in the window. 'Seriously? This is where the flat is?'

'Thank me later,' Rabastan winked. 'There's the estate agent now.'

Emma turned to see a gruff, middle-aged man dressed in plain brown robes walking up the street behind them. There was a clinking sound every time he moved, caused by what she supposed was the jangle of keys. How she hadn't heard him before was a mystery to her. Something about his shuffling gait reminded her of Argus Filch, and she felt the odd urge to laugh. She stifled it, but saw Rabastan's huge grin out of the corner of her eye. Something told her that she wasn't the only one having inappropriate thoughts.

'Good afternoon Miss,' the wizard said, giving her hand a firm shake. 'Mr Lestrange.'

There was a note of respect in his voice as he shook Rabastan's hand, a tone that sounded odd to Emma's ears. Rabastan was obviously lapping it up - his grin only grew wider.

'This way, if you please,' the agent motioned towards a side alley that Emma hadn't noticed before.

They followed him around the Quidditch shop down a small alley, stopping in front of a small purple door set into the side of the building. Despite the colour, Emma thought that she wouldn't have noticed it if the man hadn't pointed it out. Seeing her frown, the estate agent explained. 'There's a small Charm on the door. Some of our residents like a little privacy, you know?'

He looked to Rabastan for approval, who nodded. 'We don't deal in just any kind of real estate Ems,' he added proudly.

'I see,' Emma smiled at his antics. Already, she was beginning to brush off the encounter with Lou.

There was no further conversation as they climbed to the third floor. There were six flights of stairs and even Emma and Rabastan were out of breath by the end of it, despite their rigorous Quidditch training. The agent led them down the hall right to the very end, stopping between two doors.

'Which one is it?' Emma asked, looking from side to side with interest.

'Number 23,' Rabastan read off of his paper.

'But this only goes up to number 21,' Emma replied, frowning.

'I repeat, did you think I'd just offer you any apartment?' Rabastan grinned. 'Who do you think I am, Lucinda?'

The wizard tapped the end wall three times and said, "Aparecium". Another staircase appeared, the wall turning slowly more and more transparent. Of course secret passageways don't only belong to Hogwarts, Emma thought. This set of stairs was smaller, made out of wood rather than stone, and winding. Emma noticed the many cobwebs around the entrance. A mouse scurried across the floorboards. Needless to say, it didn't look very appealing.

'After you,' Rabastan said with a sweeping gesture.

Narrowing her eyes at him, Emma ducked through the entrance and climbed, stairs creaking with every step. Hanging from the ceiling, a single oil lamp swayed unsteadily. There was a wooden door to the right and one to the left with the numbers "22" and "23" stuck to them in carved copper. The middle-aged wizard hurried forwards with the right key, turning it in the lock twice before they heard the click. Rabastan nodded his head for Emma to go forwards. Slightly apprehensive, she swung the door open.

She should have expected to be surprised. She was a witch, and Rabastan had never failed to disappoint before. Still, she stood there in delighted shock, taking in the scene in front of her. Since they were directly under the roof, the ceilings sloped downwards on either side. The entire place was made out of a dark mahogany, smooth, but with the whirls of the wood still visible. Emma walked towards the kitchen area, sliding her hand along one of the counter tops. It was slightly cool to the touch. It was simple enough, an oven with hotplates sitting on top, a sink with a counter on either side. The fridge was a silvery-blue, separated from the oven by a small table with four chairs. On the third wall between the fridge and oven were several cupboards. One had a glass cabinet, showing her the crockery that was already stationed in the flat.

On the other side of the room, there was a low, glass table. Two armchairs and a sofa surrounded it, and behind them she could make out the mantelpiece of a chimney. It seemed like it hadn't been used in years - she could see the dust from where she stood in the centre. The furniture looked used, but she didn't mind that.

'Is the -?'

Before she could finish her question, Rabastan interrupted. 'Yes, the fireplace works. And it's connected to the Floo.'

A smile spread across her face. Looking around for the doors to other rooms, she spotted a couple of stairs leading downwards. Quickly crossing the room, she walked down the six steps and opened the door to the right, confirming her guess that it was the bedroom, made out of the same wooden floors as the upstairs part. There was just room for a double bed and a small bedside table with a little ever-lit lamp next to it. Opposite the bed was a wardrobe and nestled in the corner was a desk with a small green writing lamp. The chair was covered with a plush green cushion and looked to be almost as comfortable as the armchairs in the Slytherin dorms. Exiting the room, she opened the other door to see a sparkling new bathroom, complete with shower and bathtub.

She climbed the stairs again to look out of the pentagon-shaped window. The view was of the bustling street of Diagon Alley, colourful and festive as always, though she couldn't hear the noise from the street below.

'So?' Rabastan asked. It was obvious from his face that he knew what she was going to reply.

'Bast, it's amazing!' Emma exclaimed. 'How is it not rented out yet? How much is it?'

It had to be too expensive, even for Emma's budget.

'First month's free,' he smiled at her. The agent looked like he was about to complain, but Rabastan quelled him with a look. 'We'll see about signing a contract with my father.'

'Thank you!' She pulled him into a hug before he knew what had happened. She had been doing things like that a lot since her mother had died. It felt like she needed to touch the rest of her loved ones, make sure that they were still there - alive and real. She put all the honesty she could muster into her words. 'It's perfect.'

'Well, I wouldn't say...' Rabastan trailed off, cheeks tingeing pink. He scratched the back of his head. 'I just thought you might like it.'

'Of course I do!' Emma practically yelled. She hadn't felt this excited since Christmas as a child.

They sat around the breakfast table to write up the contract. Emma couldn't keep the smile off of her face. I guess Lucinda was right in the end, she thought. I'll have to invite her around for her to make it seem homey. Her joy seemed to be infectious, or else Rabastan had won a bet with Lucinda, because he was beaming too. Then again, Rabastan always had a smile on his face for some reason or other.

'So, should I just put Mr Rabastan Lestrange on the contract, or do you want both of your names to be written?' the wizard asked, taking out a quill.

'Um...' Emma looked blankly at Rabastan, who looked even more embarrassed than when Emma had hugged him. He cleared his throat.

'We're not together,' he clarified.

'Oh,' it was Emma's turn to go red. 'Yeah, he's just helping me find a flat.'

The wizard looked a little sheepish and took out a clean sheet of paper. 'So, Miss...'

'Emma Potter,' Emma supplied helpfully.

'Birthday..'

'27th March, 1960.'

'Do you have anyone who can act as a guarantor?'

There was a pause in which they could hear the watch on Rabastan's wrist ticking. True to his nature, his parents had offered him a flamboyant watch that would associate itself with his mood. If needed, it would be invisible to all but the wearer, whereas when Rabastan was at parties, it would perform all sorts of magic tricks. Now, it betrayed his anxiety.

'I'm sorry, I don't understand,' Emma frowned.

'Do you have anyone who would be able to pay the rent in case you met with any difficulty, this being your first apartment. Usually people put their parents or an older brother or sister,' the man explained.

'Well that's going to be a little difficult,' Emma looked towards Rabastan for help.

'Why?' The wizard asked before Rabastan could reply.

'Well my mother is dead, my father is in hospital with no means of being contacted and my twin brother - who isn't older - is in Romania,' she ticked off her fingers.

It was easier to say all of this in a deadpan voice, without any sugar-coating. Ripping the plaster off, so to speak. Regrettably, this kind of plan usually had an unfortunate side effect. This time it was the wizard who was at a loss for words. Better him than me, Emma thought callously. Another silence pulled up a chair to sit at the table.

'It's alright, just put Narcissa,' Rabastan suggested at last.

'Do you think that would be okay?' Emma asked worriedly.

'I'm sure it's fine. I'm sure Lucius wouldn't mind, especially since you're a part of -'

The words stuck in Rabastan's throat. A part of the Death Eaters, he was going to say. It was an unspoken rule that they would support each other if needed. Of course if someone was caught, then it was their fault and there was no point in dragging anyone else down with them, but for little things.

'A part of?' The wizard repeated in a questioning tone. He looked a little too curious for Emma's taste.

'A part of their Family,' Rabastan rectified, emphasising the word family. Emma smiled at the inside joke. 'Well almost. You were their witness at their wedding.'

'That's true,' Emma conceded. 'Put down "Narcissa Malfoy",' she told the wizard, who seemed to have shrunk into himself upon hearing that surname. Emma and Rabastan pretended not to notice.

***

 

'Well, it was good doing business with you,' the estate agent said, holding out his hand again. 'I guess I'll have to inform my next client that the flat's no longer available.'

They were back outside Broomstix and the wizard seemed to have recovered somewhat. Emma gazed up to see if she could see her room. She thought that it was the pentacle-shaped window right at the top, but then she remembered that there were two flats like that. She wondered if the other was rented, and if so, who would be her new neighbour. She felt a touch on her sleeve and turned around.

'What's he doing here?' she muttered angrily.

After her conversation with Lou earlier, she would have thought that Sirius would be crying in a corner somewhere, since her cousin had realised that she could do so much better. Okay, so that's what I hoped would happen, she admitted to herself. The other situation she had in mind was that Sirius would go running after his love and spend his days happily ever after in a village far, far away. Actually, she would have liked Sirius to disappear to the village and Lou stay in England. She had never really given much thought to the fact that her cousin wasn't going to be at Hogwarts next year. She had never really seen much of her as it was.

'I don't know,' Rabastan replied, staring at the Gryffindor scarf blatantly displayed on Sirius's chest despite the summer heat. His eyes narrowed.

'Hello, my name's Sirius Black,' the Gryffindor said, holding out a hand for the estate agent to shake, completely ignoring the two people staring at him. 'I'm here about the apartment?'

'Oh no you're not,' Emma groaned. This is just my luck.

'Um, yes I am,' Sirius replied matter-of-factly. 'Why's this guy hanging around with you? Finally had enough of my wimp of a brother?'

Emma took a step forwards, but Rabastan spoke quickly before she could do anything. 'I happen to be the one who found her an apartment. The one right here, in fact. It's taken. The papers were signed not ten minutes ago.'

'It's true, I'm afraid,' the estate agent added. 'However, if you would like to take a look at our other apartment, I think you would find it quite to your liking. It's a little pricier than the first, but larger. Our current occupant is leaving at the end of August, so it will soon become available. He's on holiday right now, but I'm sure he wouldn't mind you taking a look around.'

Sirius looked like he was going to agree. Emma felt her heart plummet. Couldn't this guy just give her a break? Not only was she forced to put up with him at school and in her parents' house, but here too? Forced to become neighbours? Forced to see his punchable face every. Single. Day? Luckily for her, Rabastan something else in mind.

'Actually, I'm sure he would,' he said boldly.

'I'm sorry?' the estate agent asked, as though he couldn't quite believe his ears.

'You heard me,' Rabastan replied coolly. 'This apartment isn't available for the likes of him. Not if you value your job.'

'Empty threats again, Lestrange?' Sirius scoffed. 'Please, stop wasting our time. He can't get you fired from your job,' he added to the estate agent, who looked very much like he wanted to Apparate out of England. 'No employer would listen to the accusations of a seventeen-year-old boy about a petty high school problem.'

'Even if the employer was his father?' Rabastan smirked.

Sirius's face fell, his eyes going to the estate agent, who nodded glumly.

'Get yourself a better employer mate,' he said, picking up a sheaf of documents which must have been flat prospects. 'Or better yet, a backbone. As for you,' Sirius turned on Rabastan. 'Enjoy daddy's power while you can.'

With a loud crack, the seventeen-year-old disapparated on the spot. The estate agent looked like he was going to complain, but was silenced by a look from Rabastan. Shaking his head in disgust, the wizard also disapparated away, leaving the two Slytherins to contemplate what had just happened.

'I have a feeling your father's going to be hearing about this,' Emma said hesitantly. 'Are you sure you're not going to get into trouble for any of this?'

'Oh please,' Rabastan waved a hand airily. 'Now that I've got this,' he pointed to his left arm. 'He doesn't care about anything else. Plus, Black's a blood traitor. Let's just not let this get around to Regulus.'

'Good,' Emma replied, not wanting to press the subject any further. 'Now let's go find Lucinda and give her the good news. We can get you some Murtlap essence along the way, I noticed you itching your arm a lot today. You've got to be careful, people might become suspicious. Whoever has been making us disappear will know how to recognise us by now.'

Neither picked up on Sirius's veiled threat.

Chapter Text

'We're going to see Emma's new apaaartment!' Lucinda skipped along Diagon Alley as she sang.

A flustered Alecto ran after her to try to keep her in check - people were starting to stare. Emma smiled as she watched her friends. She had moved in a week ago, the first of August to be precise, but she hadn't had time to invite the others over yet. She had gone back to see the Giants on the Dark Lord's bequest - it turned out that they preferred her to McNair. She couldn't help but give a self-satisfied smirk at that. She had jumped at the opportunity to prove herself, maybe make the Dark Lord forget about her father. She was starting to think she had imagined it - he hadn't mentioned it since.

This time around she wasn't so afraid. Maybe it was the reinforced duelling sessions she had with Rabastan and Regulus - sometimes mentored by Bellatrix or Lucius - or maybe it was the presence of the Dark Mark on her left forearm, just a touch away. Of course, it was only to be pressed in dire circumstances. The Giants were going to participate in a mass revolt in Northern England, near York. It would give Giant exposure, so that the Ministry would have to do some explaining to the Muggle community, or else be forced to spend their time cleaning up the mess. Either way, it was a win for Lord Voldemort and his followers.

The Giants hadn't seemed that enthusiastic about holding up signs and whatnot, but warmed up considerably when she explained in simpler terms that they basically had to wreak havoc and general mayhem. She tried to remind them that it had to be scary, but peaceful, but she wasn't sure they had gotten the message. Either way, it was a certainty that they were going to riot this Saturday - incidentally the day that the five of them were going to tour the Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans factory.

Whilst she had been assured by Narcissa that everything was under control - she had pleaded Lucius to take over Emma's duties for the day - Emma couldn't help but check the time. 11 am. The riots would start at twelve. The tour would start at one thirty. Maybe she would be able to catch a glimpse of it on one of the Muggle moving boxes when they went to find the Portkey. In the meantime, she had invited Rabastan, Regulus, Alecto and Lucinda over for lunch.

Or something like that. As they entered the apartment, oohing and aahing over everything, Emma belatedly realised that she just had some pasta and baked beans in her cupboards, along with butter and milk in the fridge. Even then, she wasn't sure if the milk was off or not. Guess I'll find out soon, she thought wryly, watching Lucinda inspect everything with diligence. She wouldn't have been surprised if the blonde had whipped out a pair of rubber gloves to check the cleanliness of the place. In the meantime, Regulus had wandered over towards the window, whereas Alecto was admiring the sofa. Rabastan stood in the doorway, a smug smile on his face.

'So Lucy?' he asked, as they all sat around drinking glasses of water - the only drinkable liquid Emma had in her flat, apart from a couple of bottles of Firewhisky left over from a previous occupant.

'Fine, fine, I'm not ashamed to admit it,' Lucinda said. 'You found the best flat. I - on the other hand - have been appointed Emma's personal designer. So there.'

'Personal designer?' Alecto asked, cocking one eyebrow.

'Her words, not mine,' Emma clarified.

Lucinda rolled her eyes dramatically. 'It just needs a bit of a personal touch that's all. Look, here's what I suggest. I'll make some changes around here - all approved by the occupant, of course - and then we can all get some fish and chips from the Leaky Cauldron. You seriously need to go shopping, Emma,' this last sentence was said in a tone of disapproval. 'You can't go on living like this.'

'I know,' Emma sighed. 'I've been away.'

'That's no excuse for living off of baked beans,' Lucinda reprimanded.

'She's right, you know,' Alecto said. 'My stomach is grumbling just looking at all of those empty cupboards.'

'Can we please move onto a subject other than food?' Rabastan complained. 'All this is making me hungry.'

Emma looked towards Regulus, her last chance at finding an ally in this debate.

'Sorry, Ems, but even Kreacher stows away more food than this in his den,' he shrugged. 'Though I reserve judgement until next week. As you said, you have been away all this while.'

'Thank you!' Emma said loudly, giving the others a dark look.

'Still, that doesn't excuse this,' he added with a smirk.

He waved a hand towards Emma's two badly-hidden trunks sitting behind an armchair. One had been opened and clearly ransacked, though the belongings were nowhere in sight. The other's contents were spilling everywhere. Emma shot her would-be ally a flat look. He smirked.

'Salazar, I nearly forgot!' Alecto cried, making Lucinda jump. 'Narcissa reminded me to give you this.'

She walked out into the hallway and disapparated with a crack, re-apparating within seconds accompanied by a mewling sound.

'Fluffy!' Emma cried joyfully.

It felt like months since she had seen her cat, though really she had just neglected him for the duration of her stay at the Blacks'. How could she have forgotten to bring him here? Then she remembered the hasty mission that she had been sent on. Luckily, Dobby was a fan of everything furry and warm and had been taking good care of him. She resolved to take better care of the feline in the future. Fortunately for her, he wasn't one to hold a grudge.

'Since when do you talk to Narcissa Black?' Lucinda queried.

'Since she became Narcissa Malfoy,' Alecto replied. 'Most of the Death Eater meetings are at their house now. Lucius is too promising to even appear to look like a Death Eater, and Narcissa is everyone's favourite socialite at the moment.'

It was true that the moment Narcissa came back from her honeymoon had been a turning point in her life. The newspapers wanted interviews with two of the purest bloodlines coming together, hounding her with questions. Obviously a Healer wouldn't have had time for this, but her parents had pressured her into quitting for good. If she became the apple of the wizarding world's eye, then even Dumbledore would have to have hard proof to accuse the Malfoys of allying themselves with Voldemort. The higher Lucius rose within the Ministry, the closer Dumbledore observed him. Rumour had it that Dumbledore would be elected the next Minister for Magic if Barty Crouch didn't get the position, and who knew what would happen then? He might make the Order of the Phoenix public.

'Let's not talk about things like that,' Regulus said quickly, shooting a glance out of the window.

Emma knew that he was becoming slightly paranoid about their safety too. They were too open, too cocky and had been winning too many victories. There had been whispers that Voldemort had found himself a spy within the Order, but none had seen him yet - not even Bellatrix and Rodolphus, the followers that the Dark Lord relied upon the most.

Lucinda shrugged and finished the rest of her water in a large swallow. Death Eater affairs were trivial to her if they didn't contain any major information or gossip. Mostly she just liked the funny anecdotes, though they were becoming few and far between.

'Right,' she said. 'Let's see what we can do here.'

Emma crossed the room to take the cage from Alecto. Fluffy immediately started purring when he was let out, rubbing himself against Rabastan's legs in delight. He didn't seem at all perturbed at the change in surroundings. Then again, he had been moved around so much recently that that was hardly a surprise.

'What kind of a name is "Fluffy", anyway?' Rabastan asked, as the cat moved on to Regulus.

'The kind an eleven-year-old comes up with,' Emma replied, watching Regulus pick Fluffy up and scratch him behind the ears. The cat closed his eyes in pleasure.

'I swear that's the most love I've seen Regulus give anyone in his entire life,' Rabastan joked.

Regulus gave him the middle finger without even looking up.

'Hey, hey,' Lucinda tutted. 'None of that in Emma's new apartment.'

They all rolled their eyes. Lucinda ignored them, conjuring up a fluffy white rug from who knew where. She rolled it under her arm, before standing and surveying the room with a critical eye.

'What?' was all Rabastan could get out.

'Don't even ask,' Emma replied. 'I bed she's researched tons of spells like this precisely for today.'

'As a matter of fact, I have,' Lucinda replied sweetly. 'Now if you could all get your wands out of your arses and levitate the furniture, it would be a great help.'

'I thought there was none of that in Emma's new apartment,' Regulus grumbled under his breath, but put down the cat and complied with the order.

Soon the walls were decorated with moving photographs of the Black Lake that the five of them had taken over the years. Emma could barely even remember some of them, and was touched that Lucinda had thought to pack all of them away somewhere. She was right, it did look more like home, though nearly all of the pictures were just of the scenery from around Hogsmeade and the Lake itself. Lucinda permitted Rabastan to chose one of them all together having a snowball fight on the low glass table as a small concession. He had tried to blow up their most hideous expressions into portraits to be hung on the wall. His suggestion had been met with such a resounding "no" that he hadn't spoken for the next half an hour.

'Let's move onto the bottom floor,' Lucinda said, once she had laid a white tablecloth on the table, sending the glasses to wash themselves with a flick of her wand.

'But...'

'No buts, Emma, I'm here to make your house a home,' Lucinda said matter-of-factly. 'If you've got knickers lying around somewhere, well, it's nothing we all haven't seen before.'

Emma turned scarlet. Ignoring her feeble protests, Lucinda led them all down the stairs. Rabastan seemed to have recovered, poking fun at Emma all the while. Emma herself racked her brains, wondering if she had had the foresight to kick her underwear under the bed first.

'How did you not get more O's in your O.W.L.s?' Alecto asked, impressed at Lucinda's handiwork.

'They weren't interesting enough,' Lucinda replied, shrugging, before stopping suddenly. 'Woah, Emma, did a bomb go off in here?'

'I tried to tell you,' the girl replied resignedly.

There were piles of clothes that had obviously been thrown out in a hurried need to pack, a rucksack lying in a corner - presumably from Emma's return from the Giant colony - and spell books strewn all across the bed, the table and the desk. The lamps had been set to levitate in order to make more room. Ink bottles were set neatly in a row on the desk, but that was all that seemed orderly. There was a Quick-Quotes-Quill that had somehow managed to plant itself into the bed, its green feather waving like a flag above the unmade bed-covers.

'Impressive, Potter,' Rabastan whistled. 'I never pegged you for one of those girls.'

'What kind of girl is that?' Emma asked, immediately on the defensive. 'It's not that bad.'

'Oh Ems,' Lucinda sighed. 'It is that bad.'

She plucked the quill out of the bed.

***

 

An hour later, they were wolfing down their lunch at the Leaky Cauldron. They had fifteen minutes before their Portkey left for the factory, so fifteen minutes to get to Hyde Park in Muggle London to find a brown shoe in the duck pond. From the ferocious way Lucinda was devouring her food, Emma didn't dare ask how big the said duck pond was.

Together, they had managed to organise all of Emma's papers together, a hard task since it involved little amount of magic. Luckily, she had printed in capital letters the subject of the spell at the top of the paper, so it was just a matter of separating the piles. Lucinda created yet another fluffy white carpet and a dark green blanket that was suspiciously Slytherin-like in colour, which she flung at Emma, instructing her to do something with her pile of sheets. Emma easily made the bed with a balanced Wingardium Leviosa, and shoved the clothes into the wardrobe, despite Lucinda's protests.

Regulus surprised them all by then opening the wardrobe door and neatly folding everything within - T-shirts, robes, dresses and jeans alike - with one graceful arc of his wand. Without the slightest hint of embarrassment, he told them it was a trick that Kreacher had taught him. Rabastan had to try very hard not to tease him. In the end he failed, and ended up drenched in five bottles of ink. The remainder of his time in the apartment had been spent in the bathroom, trying to clean it all out with several Scourgify charms. Emma supposed that Herbology did come in handy once in a while.

After all that was done, Lucinda decided that Emma needed some nice curtains, which all agreed was a beautiful spell on her part. The end result was a billowy white cloth that moved slightly with an unnatural wind. Emma wondered how long it would last and if they would still stay up without the help of magic. She made a mental note to buy a handbook on Muggle appliances, like the pole to keep the curtains up.

Regulus had disappeared after his wardrobe trick, but they found him as they made their way back upstairs. He had created a basket with red velvet cushions for Fluffy, as well as creating a hole in the bottom of her door for him to slip outside and in again. Fluffy had of course disdained the use of the basket and had been busy cleaning himself in one of the leather armchairs when they came upstairs. Claw marks were already visible along the side of one of the arms.

Speaking of scratches, Emma noticed Regulus wince as he got salt on the back of his scratched hand. He must have sensed her laughing gaze on him, because he suddenly looked up from his food. 'You really need to get that cat a scratching post.'

'What?' Lucinda asked nonplussed. 'Just what?'

'Oh, Reg's just annoyed that Emma's cat doesn't like him half as well as he likes it,' Rabastan grinned, nudging Regulus in the side.

'Shut up,' Regulus replied, rolling his eyes at the use of the nickname. 'Fluffy loves me,'

'Don't think we didn't notice those scratch marks on your arms before you healed them,' Emma reminded him. 'By the looks of it, you forgot one.'

'That's a sign of affection!'

'Mmhhmmm...' Emma munched on a chip.

'Well, at least we've finally found something that Regulus gets worked up about,' Alecto teased. 'Who knew it would be Emma's cat?'

'Much as I love this conversation, don't we have to get going?' Regulus addressed this question primarily towards Lucinda.

'Yeah, let's go,' Lucinda shoved some gold Galleons onto the table and dragged Rabastan out of the booth.

'But I wasn't finished!' he protested, grabbing the rest of his chips.

'Yeah well, you should have thought of that before you decided to be so chatty,' Lucinda was unforgivable. 'Do you want to come to the factory or not?'

That effectively shut down any retort that Rabastan had left. He contented himself with shoving the rest of his food in his mouth.

'You're such a pig,' Alecto said, disgusted.

He grinned in reply, cheeks bulging.

In the end, they only found the Portkey in time because Regulus noticed the large amount of strangely-dressed people hanging around one particular end of the pond. It didn't take long for them to determine that they were wizards, especially when one person's daughter kept making the ducks turn bright colours. She was quickly brought away from the pool by her mother, who looked around fearfully to see if any Muggles had noticed.

Alecto made sure to stand next to the little girl when the Portkey left, making sure she didn't stumble too much when they arrived. The mother thanked her and Emma saw a strange - almost wistful - smile playing upon her friend's lips. Before she could ask though, mother Lucinda was herding them towards the V.I.P. entrance, talking all the while about the different anecdotes about the workings of the factory. They were getting quite excited by the time they reached the entrance, only to find it blocked by a crowd of reporters and complaining visitors.

'Who's going to run Bertie Bott's main factory from now on?' One shoved his wand next to a security guard's face. The man only grunted in reply. This didn't deter the reporter in the slightest.

'How is Patrick Mckinnon's family doing?'

'Do you blame the Ministry?'

'Do you think he's guilty?'

'Do you think he's innocent?'

'Just WHAT the hell is going on here?'

The sea of reporters made way for Lucinda, who had her hands on her hips. She tossed her blond locks in a regal manner, before marching up to the nearest security guard. All of the others had the presence of mind to stand behind the barrier they had erected.

'Excuse me sir, but my friends and I have five tickets for...'

Before she could go on, the security guard shook his head. 'No can do, little Missy. No one is to go in or out, boss's orders.'

'Do you know who I am?' she asked, rather shrilly.

'Lucinda Rosier,' he replied, folding his arms across his chest. 'I may look dumb Miss, but I promise you I'm not. Your father's at the Ministry trying to clear up this mess, maybe you should ask him what this is about. Come back some other day.'

'Excuse me,' Emma placed a hand on Lucinda's shoulder before she could throw a fit. 'Do you mind just telling us why we're not allowed in?'

'Isn't it obvious?' One of the reporters said, rolling their eyes. 'We're here for Patrick McKinnon. The Ministry of Magic just sent him to Azkaban. He's a Death Eater.'

'Patrick McKinnon, the manager of the factory?' Lucinda asked in shock. 'But…He doesn't even have time to see his daughter half of the time, let alone join up with the Dark Lord. What's he been taken for?'

Before anyone could reply, a woman carrying a three year old pushed through, her two little children tagging along. 'What is the matter here? I spent my savings on getting this trip with my children. I even bought V.I.P. tickets as a treat, since we never go out. What's happening?'

'Yeah,' a burly man with a pointy hat pushed through. 'I hope we're getting our money back for this. This is just appalling.'

'I'm afraid I can't answer any of those questions,' the security guard rumbled.

Emma admired his courage. If she had been in his shoes, she would have panicked and high-tailed it out of there, joining the rest of the guards behind their magical protection charm. But his feet were firmly planted in the ground, cool as a cucumber as he replied to the questions as best as he could.

'Excuse me,' a high, feminine voice cut through the masses. 'I couldn't help but hear that your name was Rosier. Do you happen to be related to Andrew Rosier, right-hand man of Patrick McKinnon?'

A young woman with horn-rimmed glasses and blonde curls made her way through the throngs. Obviously she commanded some kind of respect from the reporters, because they drew back a little to let her through. The families took advantage of the space to start a heated conversation with the security guard. The woman was now talking about her divorce with the children's father.

'Uh yeah,' Lucinda rolled her eyes. 'He's my dad.'

Regulus groaned, putting a hand to his face. Not the best idea Luce, Emma thought. Upon that sentence, the horde of journalists had swivelled their heads around, immediately turning their attention from trying to get through the barrier to interview the other security guards. A dozen wands were shoved at Lucinda's face, Alecto nearly getting knocked over in the process. She scowled at them, but nobody cared.

'What do you think of what's happened?' The woman asked eagerly, before a man jumped in.

'Do you think Patrick McKinnon's guilty? Has he displayed any violent tendencies?' the man grinned. Emma noticed that he was missing one tooth.

'I'm not saying anything until I know why the Ministry thinks they have the right to just up and arrest him,' Lucinda frowned, obviously upset.

Tears were starting to form in her eyes, though from sadness or incomprehension Emma didn't know. They might have even been put on for the cameras, but somehow she didn't think so. She realised just how little they knew of Lucinda's family life - aside from the business they did with Bertie Bott's. Rabastan and Regulus's families were pretty close, but other than that none of them really thought about each other's lives outside of school. Hogwarts took up so much time that it came as a surprise when they saw each other over the holidays.

'He blew up one of the factories in the North, that's what he did,' the man leered. 'The only one managed by a Muggleborn. Even set some Giants on the loose from what I heard.'

'That's impossible!' Emma heard Lucinda cry, but the pounding in her ears took over, drowning out any other sound.

The other journalists had scoffed at the idea of Giants, but Emma knew better. Her mind sorted out the facts with crystal clarity. One of the factories in the North. Today was when the Giants were supposed to go on the protest. Giants hated anything magical that they didn't understand, the town they were supposed to go to was supposed to be filled with Muggles and Muggleborns - shock but not hurt. A factory filled with wizards was not in the plan. Something must have gone horribly wrong... Who knew what kind of havoc they wrecked? If only she had been there, she knew that she would have been able to do something about it, somehow. But she had shirked her duties to have fun for a day.

And she had just landed an innocent man in Azkaban for it.

***

 

'Right, we're off. Emma... Emma!' Regulus had to shout to make himself heard.

The situation had escalated more quickly than he could have possibly imagined, Lucinda was crying from the confusion of it all, the reporters were bombarding her with questions and suppositions, and Alecto's idea of rectifying the situation was to whip her wand out and threaten the horde. The usually cool and collected girl was extremely violent when she came across scary situations, as they had found out with William.

The security guard had called for backup, but who knew when that was going to come. The other guards were trying to separate the crowd without doing any damage, but it was hard and there were children in the way. After one reporter knocked over another's camera, the resulting scuffle had ended up slightly mad. People were trying to run past the security guards who had let down the wall, people were trying to get to Lucinda and the woman with three children was just trying to get out.

Alecto had noticed and had cast a shielding charm, around the family, getting as far away from Lucinda and the factory as possible. It was fairly easy - by now, the woman just wanted to get out, tickets or no, and Alecto wasn't afraid to blast people out of the way with strong Expelliarmus spells, unlike the guards.

Rabastan had been trying to deflect questions from Lucinda and fray them a path, but it was hard to do so with the reporters converging on them. They needed to get out, and get out fast, before things grew nasty. Regulus nodded to Rabastan, who grabbed Lucinda for a Side-Along-Apparation. Alecto understood just as quickly, but Emma wasn't responding. She was just standing there, glassy-eyed. It was a miracle she hadn't been shoved to the ground yet.

He cursed as he realised what was going through her mind.

Emma felt someone shake her by the shoulders, violently. She blinked several times, and Regulus's face swam into view, looking panicky for the first time in history. She looked around, as if seeing her surroundings for the first time. Still, her eyes remained unfocussed.

'Regulus,' she said. 'That factory...'

'I know, Emma!' Regulus glanced back to the Aurors that were now running towards them.

The reporters had decided to try to break in while the security was occupied with sending sparks into the air. It had worked, they had flung the doors open to reveal the building occupied with staff and Ministry officials. He thought he could glimpse Bartemius Crouch Sr., but wasn't sure. In fact, he wasn't sure why anyone was at this factory instead of the Ministry in the first place.

'Now's not the time for that!' he added, tearing his gaze away from the scene. Now was not the time for curiosity either.

'It wasn't McKinnon,' incomprehension written all across her face. 'I need to tell them that he's innocent.'

'Trust the Gryffindor side of you to appear at this moment,' he muttered. 'Right, plan B.'

He grabbed her as tightly as he could, picturing the Lestrange country house as vividly as he could. He had never tried Side-Along-Apparition with someone whose thoughts were somewhere else before. He just hoped that he wouldn't splinch them both and make things worse. Closing his eyes with a grimace, he turned on the spot.

 

Chapter Text

 

Emma rested her chin on the overly large mug she had recently indulged in. She had grown used to living alone by now, though at first it had come as a shock. She had been used to sharing a room with her dorm-mates for so long that the apartment just seemed too quiet. Even at the holidays, her own house was very boisterous, whether from amusement or from her fights with her father.

Fluffy jumped up onto her lap, purring. She absentmindedly stroked him as she stared out of the window at Diagon Alley below. The streets were unusually crowded today - for good reason. Today was the day they got their Hogwarts letters. Hers was nothing special, just a list of supplies that she had to buy for the next year, along with a note saying that she needed to schedule a meeting with her Head of House before Christmas in order to discuss which subjects were the most important for her future career.

She hadn't even thought once about the future this summer. After the Bertie Bott's fiasco three weeks ago, she had been shocked. Of course they knew that there was a war going on - hell, they were part of it - but somehow it had seemed to be almost a game. Somewhat unreel. The eighteen worker deaths at that factory had felt very real to her. The worst part of it was that she couldn't talk to Narcissa about it this time, since Lucius would surely overhear. Everyone was on edge at the moment, most of all Narcissa's husband. He had been the one to survey the Giants at the time and their loss of control had been blamed on him.

When it had been pointed out that the Giants were Emma's jurisdiction, the Dark Lord coldly stated that she was still in the first year of having her Mark and so her superior should take the blame. Her superior was in this case Lucius Malfoy. Narcissa had found herself in the unpleasant situation of being caught between her best friend and her husband. Wisely, she had opted for the route of neutrality, refusing to even mention the incident. Regulus knew all of this of course, when did Regulus ever not know? It was a bit hard to mask this problem seeing as he had splinched the nail off of his finger because of her.

Luckily a nail was easily grown back with a healing spell they had learnt in their sixth year. That didn't stop him from howling in pain when the skin knitted itself back together though. He had shaken Emma out of her trance when they left the factory and talked some sense into her about McKinnon. If she had gone to the Ministry, Crouch would know that she had been involved. And Crouch's memory for faces was legendary. He would immediately recognise her as the girl who may or may not have been involved in the Auror's attack earlier that year. Instead, Regulus had convinced Emma that Lucinda's father would handle it.

Indeed, he had handled it. Just not in the way they would have expected. McKinnon was at the scene of the crime when it happened… simply because he had been trying to stop the Death Eaters. As in: Patrick McKinnon was a member of the Order of the Phoenix. The reason why Lucius had lost control was because as they marched along with the Giants towards York, members of the Order appeared out of nowhere and started attacking. The bursts and shots of spells had enraged the Giants, many of whom had taken a direct hit. They stampeded, chasing the Order members towards the factory, where all manners of magical explosions could be heard - the result of the experimental flavours being tested out.

The rest… well, the rest wasn't hard to imagine. Evan Rosier had come across his dad's business partner, thanking Merlin that they had masks to cover their faces. They had duelled, but were cut short by the factory's explosion. Somehow among the mess of it all, the Giants had made their way into the laboratory reserved to Fizzing Bangs - a product not yet sold because the explosions were too dangerous so far. In theory, the sweet was supposed to fizz on your tongue and then burst, sending flavours all around the sweet-eater's mouth. So far, they had only managed to perfect a larger version of them that usually resulted in craters around the room. Needless to say, the sweets had been knocked over, jinxed, thrown.… whatever happened, the factory had come crashing down.

According to Lucinda, Evan had taken advantage of the chaos to Disarm his opponent and stow away his mask, before dragging him in front of the authorities. It created enough of a scandal to allow his fellow Death Eaters to slip away quietly and a letter had been immediately sent for their father. He had just flooed in when the group of teenagers had gone to the main factory.

Speaking of which, Lucinda and Rabastan had made the newspapers, a picture of Lucinda bursting into tears on repeat on the third page. Rabastan looked fairly murderous, obviously shoving the reporters away from his friend. There was a small paragraph spouting some nonsense about how Lucinda was distraught at this act of betrayal etc. etc… It was a good thing the reporters didn't actually listen to what Lucinda was saying, or she might have found herself in an awkward position. Evan was being hailed as a hero though, so the Rosiers remained largely unscathed by the "actions" of Mr McKinnon.

Patrick McKinnon had been sent to Azkaban for his crimes.

Lucinda couldn't wrap her head around the fact that she felt like Mr McKinnon had indeed betrayed them by joining with the other side. She hadn't spoken to them since she had sent them four copies of the article and a letter explaining what actually happened. Evan, on the other hand, was loving the glory the Dark Lord had bestowed upon him. Even Lucius's reprimand had been slight, because what had happened had in the end turned out better for them.

The thing that upset Emma was that the Death Eaters were becoming a name to be feared in the articles. McKinnon had been locked up for being a Death Eater, a terrorist. That wasn't what she had signed up for. She wanted to be part of the transition into the new world, not a destroyer of the old one. Regulus had tried talking to her, telling her that the fear was only temporary. As soon as we have the ministry, things will change, he had said. But even he couldn't quite hide the glimmer of uncertainty in his eyes. If they mentioned it to anyone else though, they would be accused of treason, betrayal. Emma only had to hope that Regulus was right.

A flash of green among the crowd caught her eye and she was shaken from her memories. Alecto, Rabastan and Regulus were waving towards her window from the street below, all dressed in their Slytherin robes. Alecto was brandishing her scarf like a flag, though it was still twenty five degrees outside. A grin spread itself across Emma's face and she shoved her robes, money and list into her bag.

She raced down the stairs, taking them two at a time, stopping in at the shop below to call out a greeting to the shopkeeper. During her time here, she had spent a lot of time in the shop just chatting to the owner, talking about different models of brooms and how to use them, discussing whether the Chudley Cannons could ever rebound from their losing streaks and generally having a good time far away from the real world.

'Should I expect you back later, honey?' he called out over the excited heads of second years.

'I don't think so, sorry,' Emma cupped one hand over her mouth and brandished the parchment in the other. 'Got some shopping to do!'

'This is a shop!' was the shopkeeper's response.

Emma just laughed and went back out to where her friends were waiting. A couple of minutes later, Lucinda arrived breathlessly.

'Sorry about that, accidentally flooed to the Hog's Head instead of the Leaky Cauldron,' she said, tying her mane of hair up into a ponytail. She had let grow over the past couple of years. She noticed their looks. 'What? I was just thinking that in all of our six years at Hogwarts, we haven't been there once for a drink. Not once! It was an easy mistake to make.'

Alecto just shook her head.

'It's good to have you back Luce,' she said, pulling the blonde into a bear hug, surprising them all. Usually, they were bickering like mad.

'So, off to Flourish and Blotts?' Emma asked.

'Are you mad?' Rabastan's jaw dropped. 'Then we'll have to carry them everywhere whilst getting all of our other stuff! No way, that's last on my list.'

'And Merlin forbid you ever do any manual labour, right Bast?' Regulus joked.

'Shove off,' Rabastan replied, scowling.

He didn't last long before they were laughing again. Nobody said anything about the Bertie Bott's escapade. That was the way their group worked.

***

 

As Emma got back to her apartment, spilling the books all over her little glass table, she noticed a piece of paper that had just fluttered to the floor. Thinking it was a piece of spare parchment, she knelt down to pick it up. She paused. There was already ink on the paper. Frowning, she turned it around.

'Dear Ems,

I know I suck at writing letters, even with my own family. It's inexcusable really. I'm so glad to have gone to Romania, it's really what I needed. Honestly, I think you would love it here - you get to fly on a broom with the tame dragons, and the hatching Hungarian Horntails provide all the excitement you would need! Maybe I should think of becoming a Dragon Trainer. It certainly has some appeal...

I just…I needed to get out of there, you know? England's so stifling right now, and I don't just mean the war. I think I was living in some kind of bubble up until now and I needed some time to readjust and collect my thoughts. After my time here, I've come to a decision. This fighting between you and Dad has to stop. I don't know what happened to get it so out of hand, but I'll talk to him and hopefully he won't be so mule-headed (something we both seem to have inherited).

As soon as he's released, we should move back home…to Godric Hollow. I heard that you're living in Diagon Alley right now, and I don't blame you. The house would feel too cold, too empty… Anyway, that's not what I'm writing about. Lou has gone to France (she wrote me a letter) and I can't have the rest of our family splitting up. I just can't.

I've enclosed a picture of the dragon trainers with the dragons, hopefully you can recognise which one's me! Hope you had fun at Bertie Bott's factory, catch up with you soon.

Your dear and loving brother James.

P.S. Do you mind buying my school supplies? I'll pay you back! I only get back on August the 31st!!!

 

Shaking her head at James's typical lack of organisation, Emma re-read the letter, letting it sink in. So Charles hadn't told James about the Dark Mark. Good. She wasn't ready for that yet. She wasn't sure if she would ever be ready. How would James understand; he was a world apart from her! Better to just prove her point through action, something her brother had always approved of anyway. However, the phrase "I'll talk to him" sent a panic running though her mind. She couldn't let that happen. Even if her father was in quarantine, who knew if they would let him talk with his son? She herself had been barred from entering, her name having been put on the blacklist. She wasn't even allowed to ask how he was, especially when the same secretary recognised her from before.

Suddenly, an idea blossomed in her head. She hastily grabbed another piece of parchment and a quill, before she could talk herself out of it. She had to know if Charles could tell James before her. She knew her brother would be visiting St Mungo's as soon as he got back. He would probably stay there the night if he had to, which was why he hadn't asked her if he could crash at her place the day before. That, or he would be with Sirius. She pushed that last thought out of her mind, lest it crush her.

R.A.B - stop whatever you're doing and come here immediately. It's urgent. - Ems

Rolling the parchment up, she cast around for the owl that must have brought James's letter. None was in sight. Now that she came to think of it, neither was the window open. How did the letter get into her apartment? One thing at a time, she told herself. Who knows when Regulus will get this? She quickly grabbed a handful of Floo powder and sprinkled it on the note.

'12, Grimmauld Place,' she said, throwing it into the ever-lit fireplace.

The flames shot up in a flash of green, before returning to its previous dim embers. That done, Emma immediately scoured her apartment for open windows, cracks in the walls or misplaced items. That last one was hard, since her flat wasn't very tidy to start with.

'Did I remember to lock the door?' she asked herself frantically out loud, tearing through her Hogwarts trunk - the place she kept all of her information for the Death Eater plans. It seemed to be the safest place, no one would look twice at a bunch of papers covered in quills, ink, chocolate frog wrappers and general debris. 'I think I did…But just to make sure...'

She tore up the stairs…or at least tried to. She found herself running into something soft that blocked the path and almost tumbled back down again. A hand grabbed her arm and hauled her back to her feet before she could do so. She hadn't expected him to come so soon.

'What's this emergency?' Regulus asked, craning his head around his friend. 'Emma, did someone break into your flat?'

'No…Yes…No, I don't know!' Emma's thought were darting in a million directions at once. She made an effort to pull herself together. 'That's not the emergency.'

'Seriously though, it looks like someone's ransacked the place,' Regulus commented, leading the way back upstairs and pointing towards the kitchen cupboard doors wide open and the books lying on the floor.

'That was me,' Emma admitted sheepishly. 'Somehow, James got a letter to appear on my table and I don't know where the owl came through. There aren't any holes or windows open, so I thought someone was in my flat. If someone could come for a letter, then they could have returned for anything.'

Regulus stared at her for a minute, before a smirk spread its way across his face.

'What?' Emma demanded, thinking that her reasoning was at least somewhat logical.

'Rabastan's father's buildings always have a special charm on the front door. Look,' he crossed the room to the door to point at a small opening just above the cat flap. 'This is a Muggle invention to let envelopes through. The door's enchanted to then send the letter to the nearest table, so the owner won't have to bend down to pick up his post.' He stopped to survey her for a second. 'You seriously didn't know about this?'

Emma felt her cheeks flush in embarrassment. 'Well, it's not exactly very common!'

'Actually, they're all over London. My parent's house has one too,' he replied matter-of-factly. The smirk only broadened.

Emma took a second to close her eyes at the shame of her stupidity. However, she refused to let that bother her. 'That's not why I wanted you here though.'

Immediately, the smirk fell from Regulus's face, his features stilling. He looked slightly the way he had back when they hadn't discovered each other's most horrible secrets, the faceless mask that was prepared for anything. Of course, now Emma had a new horrible secret. One that wouldn't let her look Regulus in the eye, for fear of what he would see there. She pushed the mix of feelings aside and walked over to James's letter, controlling the slight shake in her footsteps through sheer concentration.

'James is coming back next week,' she said. Then she paused, wondering how to phrase her request. 'He wants to see my dad.'

Regulus waited, obviously not comprehending the emergency. Of course, that was because he didn't know. She had never told him why her father had disowned her, and he had never asked. Or he had never had the opportunity to ask. Either way, she had been glad for it.

'You don't have to go with him, if that's what you're asking,' he eventually said.

'It's not,' she replied, hesitating again. 'I'm scared of what he'll find out.'

'But what can James possible find.…Oh,' a look of comprehension appeared on his face. 'Charles knows.'

'Charles knows,' Emma repeated. 'And he found out in the worst way imaginable. I can't…I can't let him talk to James, have James judge me when my father doesn't understand - had never understood - anything about me. If James should know about the Dark Mark, he should find out from me.'

Regulus gave her a sympathetic look, but he was still frowning in puzzlement. 'Um…Much as I'm flattered that you came to me first, perhaps Alecto would be more helpful when it comes to Charms of that sort?' he asked delicately.

'Ah,' Emma said. 'I don't think you've quite understood what…well, I'm not going to jinx my father with a Memory Charm if that's what you're thinking. I don't want anything to go wrong and I don't think I'll be able to get that close to him anyway. I've got a brand across my forehead whenever I enter that hospital. I was thinking.…well,' she looked down nervously at her fidgeting fingers. 'The only people who would be allowed to get close to Charles Potter would be his son, James Potter, and his surrogate son...'

'Sirius Black,' Regulus finished, his features falling into the carefully composed face from before. 'You're asking me to impersonate my brother.'

'Only... Well, you don't have to do anything, not if you don't want to, but it's just...'

'I'll do it,' Regulus cut through her stuttering. She looked at him, almost disbelievingly. 'I'm not so cold-hearted as to leave your last relationship with your family tattered to shreds,' he muttered.

If she didn't know better, Emma would swear that Regulus's cheeks were turning pink. It must be the heat from the fire, she thought. Her face had also gone red far too many times that day. That was the only thing it could be, she told herself. Soon they would be back at school and the impenetrable masks would have to become even more opaque. So she ignored the gratitude she felt at his monumental effort, as though it were a simple request, and ploughed on.

'I have the Invisibility Cloak,' she said, fetching it from the pile of things. 'I'll come with you if that helps.'

'Sure,' Regulus ruffled his hair, a sure sign that he was uneasy.

Of course he's uneasy, she thought, as she went to get the Floo powder. He's impersonating the only person he loves and hates at the same time. That can't be easy. Ironically, she reflected that he was saving her from the person that she loved and hated. Sometimes, she hated nature's humour. Turning back to Regulus, she saw that he had loosened his shirt and tousled his hair in an effort to look more like his brother. The resemblance was frighteningly similar. Luckily, Regulus's hair was too short to be mistaken for Sirius's shoulder-length locks. She had to bite back a laugh at the way he seemed disgusted with his scruffiness though, as though he had bent to a whole new level.

Shaking the coat over her head, she followed his lead and said very clearly. "Saint Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries."

Here we go again.

Chapter Text

Emma's heart was beating faster than it ever had when Regulus gave his brother's name at the front desk. Of course, it would be teeming whilst she was under the Invisibility Cloak. No one wanted to run into an imaginary wall, so she made sure to step out of everyone's way – who knew hospitals could be so busy? The last time she came, it seemed like it was almost empty.

Back then, she had been nothing but relieved at hearing about her mother's recovery. Now, she knew exactly what was on the line. Not only was she risking James and Sirius finding out that Regulus had come to visit her dad under his brother's name – and alerting them to the fact that all was not well – but also Regulus finding out just why her mother had died. She didn't think she could handle him discovering the truth, not when she was the only person in his life that hadn't betrayed him about his family situation. What would he say – he, who would sacrifice everything for his family – if Charles told him it was Emma who had killed her mother?

She had no doubt as to what caused the stress that had ended Natalie Potter's life. She could only hope that he wouldn't believe what her father told him, but deep down she knew that she couldn't lie. Not about something like this. Besides, she had protected her pride once before by lying to him, and she wouldn't do it again. Not when she saw his betrayed expression upon thinking that she really had slept with Sirius.

He's moving, she realised with a jolt. She hurried down the corridor after him. She had never been more thankful for Regulus's acting abilities. From where she was standing, he seemed cool and collected, his posture betraying the slightest hint of worry necessary to better sell his role. He walked nonchalantly, imitating his brother's gait with ease. She just hoped that she wasn't asking too much of him.

***

 

' Take a seat, Mr Black,' the Healer said, reaching over his desk to shake Regulus's hand. 'My name is Henry James, I'm the Healer assigned to the Potter family.'

'Trust me, I'm only a Black in name now,' Regulus reassured him, trying to imitate his brother's scorn for his family.

His insides twisted unpleasantly, reminding him of his brother's betrayal once more. He refrained from glancing backwards, not only would that arouse suspicion, but he wouldn't even be able to see Emma. He hoped she had managed to get through the door before it closed.

Instead of leading him to Charles Potter's quarantined room, he had been directed to the Healer's study – a small room off the waiting room corridor on the first floor. He wondered why it wasn't on the second, where Charles was being kept, but then realised he had more important issues to worry about.

Merlin let me get through this, he prayed inwardly, hoping that James wouldn't get back early from Romania and foil the plan. That was the problem – there wasn't a plan. There was just Emma, springing this up on him, expecting him to solve everything by imitating his brother. Regulus preferred to plan out every outcome beforehand, maybe even brewing a Polyjuice Potion. Of course, there hadn't been time for that, and he hadn't been able to refuse the desperate look in her eyes.

After all, his own relationship with his family had only improved after having acquired the Dark Mark at such a young age. He only wished that his mother hadn't been quite so perceptive.... or not perceptive enough. He had no idea why she made those little comments about marrying Emma – it only made things worse. He had made his peace with is silence, though Rabastan was against it. He was her best friend, the person she trusted most in the world, and he wouldn't throw that away for something so trivial as unrequited love. Besides, at least that kind of thing wouldn't be on her mind for a while, after what happened with her mother. He hated himself for rejoicing in being so close to her, even as she cried her eyes out over this most recent tragedy.

'Are you quite alright, Mr Black?' the Healer was saying.

'Excuse me,' Regulus gave him a slight smile. 'My thoughts were elsewhere.'

Then he realised he was being Regulus, not Sirius Black. It was easy to predict his brother's actions – the opposite of his own.

'Look, can I go to see him or not?' he asked aggressively, radically changing his behaviour.

The Healer seemed slightly taken aback, but then relaxed. Relatives could be unpredictable in trying times, and this boy had already lost his mother – in every sense of the word but the traditional one. Even Henry James had heard of the Black fiasco, even if it was only because he had read his patient's file.

'I'm sorry, but we're not taking any chances for Charles,' he said gently. 'Natalie was very disturbed after a visit from her family, and we want Charles to recover in a safer environment.'

Regulus got up and started pacing, running a hand through his messy hair. 'So there's nothing I can do? Can I write to him, at least?'

Henry James shook his head. 'I can tell you this – Charles is on the way to making a safe recovery. I estimate him being released within a month. The Potters seem to be very resilient,' he laughed. 'Most older patients can't hold on past the critical stage. But Charles – like Natalie – seems to have bypassed the most dangerous part of the disease. That's why – more than ever – we need to keep him out of any family feuds.'

'Any what? ' Regulus stopped pacing, coming to a stand before the Healer's desk. His shock wasn't fake this time.

Henry James stood up, making his way to the door. 'Mr Black, your dispute with your surrogate sister is legendary, even in the hospital. I suggest you take this up with her. Here,' he scribbled on a piece of paper, 'this is the name of a good counsellor. If I see that you two are back on good terms, then I'll let you and the two Potters in to see Charles.'

'Fine,' Regulus almost spat. He stopped for a minute at the door, visibly calming down, whilst actually giving Emma enough time to leave the room. 'I'm sorry, this is pretty stressful for me at the moment. Do... do you mind not telling James if he comes? I don't want to see him even more upset at the idea that it was because of Emma and me that he can't see his dad...'

And Regulus conjured the guiltiest puppy dog expression that he had ever seen Sirius use, determined to play the ruse to the end.

'Of course, Mr Black. I wish you well,' the Healer looked at him pityingly for a moment, before shutting the door.

***

 

'I told you,' Emma said, looking away. 'I don't know what you mean. The fact that Sirius and I hate each other isn't exactly news.'

They were in an unused waiting room and Emma's Cloak was bunched up in Regulus's hand. Emma should have guessed that he would be mad at having not been told the entire truth. Luckily, Healer James hadn't given everything away... he must have read her mother's file too. You should count yourself lucky he still played along to the end, she thought guiltily.

'What didn't you tell me about your visit with your parents? I had wondered why you hadn't pushed harder to visit your father when you found out he had the same illness. What happened? It wasn't just your mother's death, was it?' The words came tumbling out of Regulus's mouth.

He stopped for breath, but his eyes were still staring into Emma's, as though the gift of Legilimency would be granted to him if only he concentrated hard enough. Emma felt both afraid to look away and afraid to hold his gaze. His irises had become chips of hard flint, and inwardly she was panicking. He's going to find out, she thought. He's going to find out and he's going to hate me. Or worse, he's going to just ignore me, like he did when I accidentally hurt Kreacher.

'Well?' Regulus demanded when his words were met with silence. 'Is this really how you repay me for helping you?'

Emma cast for an excuse, a way to tell him part of the truth, but not the whole of it. Damned if I do, damned if I don't. Just then, the door opened. Emma's mouth fell open.

'James?' her voice cracked.

Her brother had just walked in, cool as a cucumber. He was stockier than she remembered, though she supposed that dragon training would do that to someone. He looked less tanned than a summer in Romania should have left him, but then again, their skin was the burn-white-never-tan kind. For a split second, Emma thought James looked panicked as she studied him, but then his old grin spread across his face. Her appraisal was cut short by the enormous bear hug he pulled her into.

'Thank Merlin you weren't eaten by a Snizzling Snoutback,' she almost sobbed.

'Emma!' he pulled away, holding her at arm's length. She noticed a few small scars across his face. They were new. 'What are you doing here in the Burns section? Last I looked, it wasn't you fighting dragons.'

'Well, I...' she stammered, before white-hot pain shot across her right forearm. She reigned in her hiss of pain before continuing. 'I tried my hand at cooking,' she let an embarrassed smile make its way onto her face. 'Needless to say, I don't get along very well with ovens.'

She pulled up her sleeve before James could notice the tear and showed him the crescent of raised white flesh on the inside of her arm. Thank you Regulus, she thought, even as she took the hint that he was still mad. The modified Stinging Hex hurt like hell.

'Oh,' he let out a sigh which sounded more like relief than worry. 'Same old Ems.'

Emma frowned, but brushed it off. You can't even recognise your brother's reactions, you've grown so distant, she thought sadly. Then she remembered who James was probably staying with.

'Anyway, I see your burn and raise you one,' he replied, unwrapping the bandage for her to see.

Emma gasped, and James's grin grew wider. 'That's the reaction I was hoping to get.'

James's upper forearm was a mess, skin tearing off in some places, oozing in others. The burned flesh was obviously healing, but slowly, and it was clear that the scarring would be horrific.

'What was that?' she asked.

'Hungarian Horntail,' James answered proudly. 'The wound reopened, that's why I'm in St Mungo's early. I would love for us to sit and talk, but I think the hospital would probably take a long time to check this out. I was sent home to get better medical attention – over there, it's mostly Muggle stuff for now. Sirius should be bringing me some of my stuff soon.'

Emma opened her mouth, to ask him anything – everything – before she heard a cough from behind her. Right... she thought, happy mood fading almost as soon as it began.

'Listen, we should probably go before Sirius gets here,' she said reluctantly. James's face fell. 'James, you know what a recipe for disaster it would be if we saw each other. Especially Regulus and Sirius.'

She hated using Regulus to get out, especially after the huge favour he had just done her, but it wasn't to be helped. Glancing over to him, his cold demeanour suggested that he was not impressed.

'I guess I'll see you on the train then,' James smiled gently, before hugging her again.

She hoped that it the promise in his voice wasn't a result of wishful thinking.

***

 

'Are you going to explain?' Regulus asked.

He had waited until they had Flooed back to the apartment. Emma supposed that she was kidding herself if she had thought he would forget about it during the journey. Even after all he had done for her, she was only listening with half an ear. James was back and mostly safe, mostly whole. He had seemed a great deal better than when she saw him last, from the short time that she had seen him. Another thing that Sirius has stolen away from me, she thought viciously. Her reunion with her brother had been cut short and only served to remind her just how much she missed him.

'Don't make me ask a second time,' her best friend warned.

She should. She knew she should, but just imagining her best friend's face when she told him that she was the cause of her own mother's death stopped her in her tracks. So instead, Emma turned to face the window.

'No,' she replied, hating herself as she did so. 'I don't have time for this conversation.'

This wouldn't have happened to Regulus. He would have thought to conceal his mark. If she couldn't hide the Dark Mark from her father – who she knew was a staunch opponent to their crusade – then what was she even doing with the Death Eaters? It was stupid and it was risky. If he hadn't been contaminated... That's your fault too, she reminded herself. If Charles hadn't been worried for her mother, he would never had made contact, never have contracted the disease. Maybe he was right when he said Sirius would be a better son than I a daughter.

'Nothing to do...' Regulus seemed at a loss for words. She could still feel the resentment simmering beneath the surface. 'You're unbelievable. I didn't have to help, you know. You can't call me when it's convenient for you and then keep me out of the loop. If it weren't for me, you'd still be explaining yourself to James now.'

'Thanks for casting that Stinging Hex,' she said, lifting her sleeve up to check the angry welt.

'Believe me, it was my pleasure,' he replied sarcastically.

The beginnings of a Slytherin sneer were upon his face. Emma knew that he was going to shut himself off soon, which was exactly what she wanted. Already, she had managed to get a rise out of him – something rare. However, he surprised her.

He walked up to her, staring at her until she turned to look at him. 'What is it Emma? What is so bad that you can't even tell me about it? What did Sirius do? Are you protecting him?'

'Not likely,' Emma snorted. She was protecting herself. 'It's just... It's nothing to do with Sirius, not really. I... I got into a bit of a fight with my dad when I went to visit my mum, that's all.'

She had already said too much. Regulus had ferreted out a secret with less information than this before. A lump had formed in her throat by now. 'Look, Regulus, I really appreciate everything you've done for me. I'll find a way to repay you.'

Regulus didn't move an inch. She turned her head, back to watching the street below, trying to appear as cold as she could at Hogwarts.

'You know that you can tell me anything Emma,' he tried again.

'Well, maybe I don't want to tell you,' she retorted, knowing that it would hurt him, but not caring. She finally turned towards him, eyes hard, thinking of nothing but the situation they had put themselves in. 'We've got more pressing problems, Regulus. What if Healer James spots Sirius and realises that you were an imposter? What if he changes his mind and tells James and my brother confronts yours?'

Regulus looked at her for a long while and for a second, Emma thought that he would insist further. She set her jaw and concentrated on the welt she knew would leave a scar, willing her cheeks not to colour in shame.

She knew what she would say if she was in that situation. That's your problem then, and maybe curse him for good measure. Though Regulus had already got the curse out of the way. But Regulus wasn't her. She ignored him until she heard him move away, only daring to look up when she heard the Floo being activated.

He didn't return.

Chapter Text

Return to Hogwarts

 

'Just think, this is the last time we'll be here, at King's Cross at eleven o'clock, 1st September,' Lucinda said in a hushed whisper.

Rabastan, who had been about to leap on the train in his usual manner, paused for a second, then jumped off the step, earning him several complaints from the students below. He dragged Lucinda back to where Alecto was saying goodbye to her parents, then took them both to the middle of the station, waiting for Emma and Regulus to join them. It didn't take long; Emma had already spotted them.

Regulus still hadn't spoken to her and although the silence was cold, there was something about his expression, as though he hadn't quite puzzled out why she reacted the way she did a couple of day ago. This was the first time they had seen each other since, and Emma ignored the atmosphere as best as she could, pointing towards their friends.

'What are you lot doing in the middle of the platform when the train's about to leave?' she asked when they had drawn close enough.

'Making memories for Luce,' Rabastan replied, stealing Lucinda's camera from her handbag.

After having decorated Emma's apartment with photos of previous years, she had decided that it was high time to keep a camera on her at all times. She didn't want to miss a moment of their last year together and though she wouldn't mention it, the last year in which they were all safe. Who knew what the future would hold?

Ignoring Lucinda's squawk of protest, Rabastan snapped a picture of the train. Then he motioned them all to get on and took another of them stepping up the steps. In the compartment though, he went completely mad, taking photos of Fluffy to Alecto's Tongue Twister toffee wrapper. In the end, Lucinda snatched the camera back.

'Stop it, you'll waste all my film!' she protested.

Rabastan stuck his tongue out at her, but didn't insist. He had the whole of their seventh year for that. Emma was just about to go back to her favourite occupation in the train - staring out of the window - when Regulus moved her travel bag off of the seat next to her.

'Merlin, Emma, what do you keep in here?' he complained, before looking inside. 'Why the hell have you got your school books in here? And why do you have the Herbology one here? I'm definitely sure you didn't buy that when we went book shopping.'

Emma looked at him, creasing her eyebrows. Normally he would just stay quiet if they had a fight, though the others usually picked up on it. Now, he was going out of his way to pretend nothing had happened. But why? She asked herself. It wasn't as though they needed to hide the visit they had paid to Charles, although she was grateful he hadn't broached the subject.

'Because you remember every book Emma's ever bought?' Lucinda teased.

Regulus ignored her. She was probably right.

'Oh yeah,' Emma remembered, reluctantly getting up from her comfortable position. 'That's James's.'

Regulus seemed to accept this explanation, but Emma could see the questions rising in Lucinda's mouth. She hastily stepped over the trunks that they had left in the middle of the floor and went on a search for her brother. The corridor between the compartments was cold, despite the warm September day. Most of the students had already found compartments, so she resigned herself to the long and boring task of searching them one by one. To her surprise and relief, James and his friends had set up only three doors down.

A sudden flashback to last Christmas played in her mind, when she had slid the door open in much the same manner and had come across the Marauders caught between laughing and pranking. She hadn't dared run over to hug James then, the way she didn't dare now. But that was where the similarities ended. She stopped in the doorway, taking a proper look at him the way she hadn't been able to in the hospital.

Now, James looked tanned and healthy, but tired. He had put on another growth spurt whilst he was away and hadn't had the time to go shopping for new trousers, so his socks were peeping out from under the grey. They were pink with golden Snitches on them. That was the only joyous note in the whole of his appearance. He looked…sad. James Potter not smiling was a rare thing indeed and from the concerned look on his friends' faces, they found it more than abnormal too.

Where has the flicker of the old James disappeared to in such a short amount of time? She had seen none of this in the hospital, though maybe it was because of her state of mind at the time – so happy to see him that she hadn't noticed that the light hadn't properly reached his eyes.

It's not supposed to be like this, her inner child wailed, stomping a petulant foot on the ground of her mind. James was supposed to be the unchanging, the unruffable - except for when it came to his hair and a certain redhead. That was a fact of life. But that fact of life had disappeared. Emma hesitated in the doorway, mouth half open as if to say something, but she couldn't remember what.

Fortunately for her, James knew exactly what to do. Crossing the small room in two quick strides, he engulfed her in another hug. He was so tall now, Emma remarked, as her feet lifted off of the ground. She wasn't complaining though, soon returning the tight embrace. His friends had the wisdom to stay silent during the two minutes of solid hugging. Emma knew what James was feeling as much as he knew her. The physical lack of distance seemed to overcome the psychological one and for a second it seemed like they were just one mind and heart again. Or maybe it was just because both of them felt like they each only had half a heart left.

'Glad to see you haven't got an arm full of puss,' she teased.

James laughed. More quietly than he would have another time, but at least he laughed. 'I see you got my card,' he said, releasing her and looking at the contents of the bag. 'Hold on a sec, I'll pay you back.'

'It's really -' Emma's protest was cut off by Peter Pettigrew.

'Why does he have to pay her back? Aren't they from the same family? Don't they have the same Gringotts account?' he asked in a loud voice.

'Peter, shut up,' Remus said in a controlled whisper.

But that was all that was needed for Sirius to start.

'Well, there's always a slight money problem when someone's disinherited,' he said airily.

'Sirius,' James warned in a rumbling voice.

'What?' Sirius asked, stretching languidly. 'I was commiserating.'

Looking at the cold glint in his eye, Emma wondered just what he was supposed to be commiserating with. James ignored him and turned to his sister. 'Do you want to stay and chat for a bit?'

'Um...' Emma looked back at the scene behind him. She had to give credit to Remus, who was doing his best to overshadow the other two with an overly welcoming smile. 'Actually, I think I have to get to the Prefect's carriage...'

'Okay,' James replied nonchalantly.

That stung a little. Had he just offered his compartment out of politeness? Did he really miss her as much as she did him? Had he forgotten his promise of catching up? He certainly seemed different from when she had seen him at the hospital. The niggling doubts had barely begun to form in her mind when she realised that he had followed her out of the compartment.

'Um…I don't need to be walked to the carriage, thanks,' she said awkwardly.

To her surprise, James blushed a deep red. He pointed to a little badge next to his Quidditch Captain one. Squinting against the reflection on the gold surface, Emma made out the initials H.B.

'Actually, I was made Head Boy,' he replied sheepishly.

Emma felt the shock flood her. 'But Slytherin won the House Cup,' she stammered stupidly.

'Apparently they wanted unity between the two Heads this time, so they had to come from the same House,' he explained, suddenly finding the floor very interesting. 'Since the Head Girl was Lily, they decided…Well, I don't know why they went for me and not Remus, but there you have it.'

Emma was silent for a second before the embarrassment kicked in. I'm such an idiot, she thought. How was that my first reaction? James looked even more uncomfortable than she felt, which was saying something. She tried to make up for her initial lack of enthusiasm.

'Congratulations,' she said, laying a hand on his arm. 'You really deserved it James.'

'I'm not so sure..' he started, biting his lip nervously.

'Come on,' she interrupted. 'You're top in most of your classes, a star Quidditch player and a lot of students respect you. Plus, you've become more studious recently,' she added.

All of this was true and more. Most of the younger years adored James. He used to be cocky, but was never mean, unlike Sirius who took teasing too far. The older students found him annoying around exams, but in their sixth year James had taken the rules a little more seriously than he used to. Once or twice, he even reprimanded Sirius.

'I suppose if you put it like that...' he replied thoughtfully. 'I thought it was a sort of sick consolation prize from Dumbledore. Hey, sorry your mother died, here's a badge to make up for it.'

'James, if that were the case, then Sirius and I would be Heads too, and many other students whose family members have recently gone missing.'

Presumed dead, she added in her mind, thinking of the Bertie Bott incident. Marlene McKinnon was in Gryffindor with her brother. She wondered how she was dealing with the fact that her father was a supposed Death Eater. Before James had a chance to reply, they had arrived at the Prefect's compartment.

The usual crowd was there: Regulus from Slytherin, Amos Diggory (puke) and Abigail Dean from Hufflepuff, Helena…what was her last name? and Michael Finns from Ravenclaw and of course Lily Evans. Remus slipped in behind the twins, taking his seat with a muted apology. Emma slid into the seat between Regulus and Lily - of course there would be a space between the Gryffindor and the Slytherin - whilst James dithered for a while.

'Where are the sixth and fifth years?' he finally asked.

From the bewildered looks on their classmates' faces, none of them had even given a thought to the other Prefects.

***

 

'Don't mistake my silence for letting this go,' Regulus whispered as he got onto the carriage.

Before Emma could reply, or even follow him in, a group of second years ran giggling past, holding their cloaks over their heads to protect them from the rain. It had been pouring for hours now, almost as soon as the train had passed into Scotland, and showed no signs of letting up.

'Bloody second years,' Alecto grumbled as the two of them waited for the next carriage.

If there is a next carriage , Emma thought. They were the only ones left – everyone else had already been spirited away to Hogwarts. She couldn't help but notice that there were fewer students than usual – some parents had probably wanted to keep their kids close to them this year.

'Should we start walking?' she asked dubiously after a while.

'Guess there's nothing for it,' Alecto sighed. 'Do you think this counts as being at school?'

'I'm not sure, why?' Emma asked curiously.

'This,' Alecto said. 'Impervius!'

Suddenly, the rain started flying off their cloaks, preventing them from being completely soaked. Emma smiled appreciatively and conjured two student hats for them too. It wasn't much, but it prevented the walk to Hogwarts from lasting longer than it had to. If they got told off for using magic outside of Hogwarts... Well, they were of age, and they could always blame the school for not having enough carriages.

'How are things with you?' Alecto asked after a while. 'I feel like I've hardly seen you all summer.'

'Oh you know... Trying to make people favourable to the Dark Lord's reign.... not that you're helping much with your “climate of fear”,' she nudged her friend.

'Come on, you know Bellatrix thinks that fear is the fastest way to people's hearts. Besides, she's getting the purebloods riled up with the Mudblood issue,' Alecto brushed off the comment. 'So... Tell me. How was seeing James for the first time in two months like? Has he changed at all?'

'He's.... well, he hasn't changed since the end of last year. Mum's death hit him hard, maybe harder than me. He's more serious now,' she said, her eyes unfocusing at the memory. 'I guess he's grown up. But it's strange. At the hospital he had seemed like the same old James.'

'At the hospital?' Alecto asked sharply. 'What were you doing there?'

Emma glanced towards her friend, who had changed so much over the summer. She had tied her long red hair in a no-nonsense bun, a habit she had picked up from fighting Order members over time. There was a scar on her face, running down one side near her ear. It was faint, but there. Emma wouldn't even have noticed it if Alecto hadn't described one of the battles on the journey to Hogwarts. But her eyes were still creased with concern and her tone was honest.

'I saw him at the hospital,' she said, deciding to trust in her friend who had been there from the start. 'Because I went there to see if he would be able to visit our dad.'

'And why would you do that?' Alecto frowned. 'Surely that would be a good thing, right?'

'I'm not so sure,' Emma said. 'The thing is, Alecto... My father knows.'

'Knows....' Alecto trailed off as her mouth fell open in understanding. 'He knows.'

'Yes,' Emma said quickly. 'I accidentally showed my Dark Mark when I went to visit my mother.'

'And you want to be certain he won't be able to tell James and Sirius all about it,' Alecto concluded.

'Yes,' Emma replied simply.

There was a short pause in which Alecto digested this new information. She won't make the link the way Regulus would, Emma reassured herself, searching the redhead's expression for anything odd, but all Alecto showed was a slight frown.

'Don't worry,' she added. 'My dad's still in quarantine. They won't let anyone see him.'

Relief was plain on Alecto's features. Emma almost sighed in relief, happy to have gotten the weight off of her chest without giving herself away. Alecto may be clever, but she wasn't known for her deduction skills. Still, better safe than sorry, she thought.

'Anyway, enough about my farce of a family. How did your mission with Bellatrix go?' She steered the conversation to another topic.

'Badly,' Alecto cursed as she slipped on the wet ground. She gave a small smile of understanding, accepting that the subject was finished. 'She couldn't find Sirius or Andromeda.'

'Oh,' Emma replied, not knowing what to say. She certainly hadn't been expecting the mission to be a familial one. 'If you don't mind me asking... What did she intend to do with them once she found them?'

'Kill them of course,' Alecto said nonchalantly.

***

 

'Good evening students,' Albus Dumbledore greeted the Great Hall.

The excitement of the Sorting had died down - were first years really that small? - and everyone was more or less patiently waiting for the Headmaster's speech to be over, so that they could get to the important part of getting back to Hogwarts: the feast.

Alecto and Emma had arrived just as the clapping faded, in a considerably more irritated mood than they had upon their arrival at Hogsmeade station. Luckily, the Slytherin table was in the centre of the room this year, so they didn't have far to walk until they could slip into their seats.

'Where were you?' Lucinda hissed.

'There weren't any more carriages,' Alecto replied grumpily, before repeating. 'Bloody second years.'

'You know it's not the second years' fault Alecto,' Emma said, rolling her eyes. 'They must have miscalculated the number of returning students.'

'Three cheers for the people's trust in Dumbledore,' Alecto added drily, upper lip curling in disdain.

From across the table, Helen made a shushing movement with her hands and the friends turned to listen to the Headmaster's annual speech. Emma's eyes swept over the room. There were a few notably empty seats across the tables, though she noted with surprise that McKinnon was still in her usual spot near James and Sirius. The Gryffindor was staring daggers at Lucinda's back, paying no heed to what was going on. When she became aware of Emma's haze, her dark brown eyes shifted to the black-haired girl with just as much hate. Emma quickly broke eye contact and tried to listen to the speech. So she does blame Lucinda's family for what happened, she mused. I wonder just how much her father told her.

'As you all know, we have a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher,' Dumbledore was saying.

'What's new?' Rabastan asked in a low voice, rolling his eyes. 'How does he even find anyone willing to do the job anymore?'

There was a murmured assent that the new professor had to be mad.

'Though she is young, she is very experienced in the matter - having trained as an Auror beforehand. She knows full well what the world outside has in store for you,' Dumbledore paused, surveying the room with a critical sweep of his electric blue eyes. 'Please give a warm welcome to Amelia Bones.'

A collective gasp rippled through the Great Hall. Everyone knew Amelia Bones - i.e. the woman whose parents were murdered during the summer. As for the Slytherins, they were under no illusion as to what happened to Mr and Mrs Bones. Rabastan in particular grew pale under his summer tan, though they pretended not to notice. It was best if the masks were put back on for Hogwarts.

Emma had grown so used to their little group of five having broken down their barriers and finally trusting one another, that it seemed strange that now they were all wrapped in their own thoughts, not daring to speak aloud. Though Mulciber, Wilkies and Snape - Severus - were all part of the "Family" now, that didn't mean that they were trustworthy. Not in the slightest. If Wilkies could denounce Rabastan without implicating himself, he would do so in a heartbeat. Then he would be able to take his place in the hierarchy of things.

Amelia Bones stood up to hesitant applause, stoically looking down upon them. Her jaw was clenched and there seemed to be a hardness to her that could be noticed even from the other side of the room. She was in no way like the Hufflepuff Emma vaguely remembered from her first to third year. Then again, losing someone close to you changed you. Emma would know.

'I would also like to inform you of the imminent danger that the Wizarding World has been placed in,' Dumbledore continued gravely. 'There is a Dark wizard that has taken upon himself to terrorise Britain. He styles himself as Lord Voldemort.'

Another gasp ran through the hall, though this time of fear and awe. Dumbledore nodded.

'Do not be afraid to call him by his title. Fear of a name is fear of the thing itself. In order to better protect yourselves, I have added three more hours of Defence Against the Dark Arts to all of your curriculums. It is paramount that you understand this danger and that you stay united throughout these trying times. I had thought of cancelling the Quidditch Cup.'

A burst of angry muttering swept across the room. Dumbledore raised his long fingers in a calming manner.

'However, my professors have advised me not to. Quidditch - after all - builds strength of body and character, and the matches themselves brings unity amongst students. Nevertheless, I must warn you once more that House unity is not enough in this situation. We must ally ourselves with those who we fight in order to overcome the greater enemy. Inter-House unity is for the greater good. That is all, thank you.'

There was a quiet clapping as the food materialised on the tables. Low murmurings broke out, as opposed to the usual loud chatter that rang out through the Great Hall.

'Sounding more and more like Grindelwald each day, isn't he?' Regulus muttered to Emma.

His voice had been barely above a whisper, it wouldn't do to have any of the others hear even if they were close friends. Some things, they just wouldn't understand. Like how Emma and Regulus privately agreed with Grindelwald on some level, but were hoping that Lord Voldemort would have a better chance at winning his war. Like how neither liked Dumbledore because he was a hypocrite, rather than the senile old fool the Dark Lord made him out to be.

'What a buffoon,' Barty Crouch's lip curled, having obviously not heard Regulus's side comment. Emma noticed his shiny Prefect's badge pinned with pride on his chest. 'As if cancelling Quidditch would have made anything any better. He might as well have started a Duelling Club.'

'I bet McGonagall had something to do with him keeping it,' Rabastan smirked. 'She was gutted over the fact that Gryffindor lost so badly last year.'

Across the table, a different take on the topic was being discussed.

'Enough about Quidditch, how the hell am I supposed to graduate?' Sophie asked in dismay, not even touching her favourite roast beef. 'I didn't even take Defence Against the Dark Arts last year! I only know about the Patronus Charm from Charms class that I was also planning on dropping this year!'

Their part of the table fell quiet for a moment as Professor Bones was surveyed with a critical eye.

Alecto was the one to break the silence. 'What does she think she can teach us anyway? She couldn't even keep her own parents from dying.'

Lucinda gave a sharp intake of breath and looked around. 'Alecto!' she reprimanded breathlessly.

'Well it's true!' Alecto defended herself. 'Plus, I doubt many people heard me.'

Emma was only glad that Alecto hadn't mentioned Rabastan's brother's involvement in the Bones murder. It had been agreed that it was a necessary evil. Neither had been persuaded to the Dark Lord's side, but were too powerful to be left alone. Unfortunately, that meant killing two perfectly pure-blooded wizards, which was a shame in the Death Eaters' books. Emma wondered when the Dark Lord would amass enough power to squelch all of that pure-blood nonsense.

The conversation was brought to a halt by Professor Slughorn passing them their timetables for the next year. Emma quickly scanned hers: Double Defence Against the Dark Arts on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Luckily, Charms was also on two of those days, so the homework wouldn't be too horrendous. Unfortunately, Arithmancy was just before DADA on Fridays, which meant that she would be exhausted at the end of the week. At least she had a free period that morning to catch up on her sleep beforehand. She caught Regulus's defeated look and sneaked a peek at his Fridays: Herbology, History of Magic and DADA. She fought the urge to laugh.

Chapter Text

 

Two months later, she didn't feel like laughing. Not one bit. She quickly learnt that the free periods that she wanted to sleep through were spent in the library more often than not, revising or looking up a spell that the professors only mentioned briefly, but assured them were important for the next stages of non-verbal spells. Most of the time, she would spot James there too. She was past being surprised - no one had been more shocked than her to see James turn into a studious student last year. Maybe he felt that he had been wasting his time pranking, since the trend had continued into his seventh year.

Lily Evans was a frequent study partner for the brother that Emma - she admitted - had taken to spying on. In a surge of petulant jealousy, she had come to the conclusion that the redhead had now replaced her in her twin's life and started ignoring him. She had been even more stung when she realised that he hadn't even noticed. So she had been reduced to stalking him and sulking. Regulus caught her in the act once and shook his head, but didn't comment. It was a good thing he hadn't, because Emma would probably have berated him for being a hypocrite.

Without the slightest bit of guilt, she and Regulus passed some of their Prefect duties onto the fifth and sixth years. Emma had started to trust Cassandra Greengrass with a lot of the tasks that she should have done herself. The younger girl didn't seem to mind that much - in her mind it was just prepping her for Head Girl the next year. One thing about being a Prefect that Emma didn't besmirch was their special bathroom. It was the closest thing to heaven after a long day of studying plus Quidditch in the evening.

Returning to Hogwarts didn't necessarily mean returning to an isolated bubble, though. On their first day back, Emma had been prevented from flopping down onto her bed by a slim book already occupying the spot. Upon opening it, Emma realised that it was a directory of all of the students attending Hogwarts that year. Some of them had been circled in red. Emma was under no illusion as to what that meant. The Dark Lord needed to recruit witches and wizards now that the war had begun in earnest. The younger the better for the informants.

Now that Halloween was upon them, their teachers had let off a bit for half-term. Of course they still had mountains of essays to finish, but at least Emma could sleep in before she did. However, that didn't mean that she was relaxing. She wondered if she was masochistic to set Quidditch practice for every day of the holidays except the last Sunday, but the truth was that they really needed the practice. She hadn't been spending nearly enough time with them. And with four of them being in seventh year, well… She suddenly realised that Barty would have his hands full the next year in trying to replace all of them. Oh well, she thought. At least he gets to train a team from scratch.

As she was thinking up tactics to overcome the Ravenclaw captain on her way back from the library, she bumped into someone.

'Oops, sorry,' she apologised, as they bent down to retrieve one of her books. As the boy straightened back up, she realised that it was Remus Lupin, one of James's friends. Suddenly, she was struck with the opportunity. 'Oh Remus! I was looking for you earlier. Regulus is ill, so do you mind filling in for him on patrol tonight?'

'Sure,' the Gryffindor looked a bit bewildered. 'I saw him about ten minutes ago and he seemed fine though...'

Drat, Emma thought. Why did the one non-Slytherin Regulus was on friendly terms with have to be Remus Lupin?

She put on a confused expression, 'that's odd, I saw him in the Hospital Wing this morning...' she trailed off, an idea coming to her. 'I bet he's taken too many Pepper-Up potions again, so that he can catch up on his work and still do his Prefect duties. I told him not to, it's dangerous when they wear off and you haven't had enough rest!'

'It's fine,' Remus assured her. 'I know what it's like to try to back on top of your homework after being sick. Tell Regulus that I wanted to swap with him because today is better for me, if you like.'

Emma guiltily realised that he was talking about having to shift many patrols and take extra potions for being a werewolf. Of course he would understand her lie. It was the truth of seven years - if not more - for him.

'Great!' she chirped, plastering on a smile. 'I'll see you in half an hour then.'

After rushing down to the Slytherin common room to inform Regulus of his "illness", she met Remus on the third floor to start their patrol. Usually, they would start there and make their way up, the lower corridors usually reserved for teachers and fifth year Prefects. There were less broom closets down there. They walked in companionable silence for some time, but when they moved up to the fourth floor, Emma decided that it was time to put her plan into action.

'How's seventh year going for you?' she asked, deciding to start with a neutral topic.

'Same as anyone else, I guess,' Remus shrugged. 'It makes the O.W.L.s look like first-year exams. The only classes I find even remotely achievable at the moment are Care for Magical Creatures and Defence Against the Dark Arts. The others seem to ask impossible feats. How about you?'

'About the same,' Emma replied. 'It's hard to schedule Quidditch practice on top of all of it too. But I guess I shouldn't complain, you often have to miss school because of your sick mother, don't you?'

Remus's face turned white. 'H-How did you know about that?' he stammered.

'James told me,' she pretended not to notice his lack of comfort. The conversation was going exactly the way she had planned. Now Remus didn't know whether she knew about his secret or not. 'He thought that it would make me feel better, what with what's happening to our parents.' She didn't even need to act when her face fell. 'Or should I say parent.'

Remus's eyes filled with compassion. 'I've been meaning to say this…I am sorry about your loss,' he said awkwardly, hating the stereotypical phrase. 'I know that it hit James very hard…he's quite different from the way he was before.'

'I know,' Emma replied quietly, then decided that it was time to play the "we have something in common card". 'Actually, I feel a little bit like I have no one left. James is always with his friends or Lily and let's just say that my father and I haven't really seen eye to eye recently.'

Remus didn't look surprised. Emma guessed that Sirius had been bragging about it in the Gryffindor common room. That's not fair, her brain chided herself. James probably mentioned it. She gave a theatrical sigh. 'I suppose James has already told you something of it. The worst part is that I can't do anything to fix it. It's not my fault I was Sorted into the House he hated... Have you even been treated radically differently for something you have no control over?'

'You have no idea,' Remus muttered, almost to himself. Emma caught herself in a grin.

'I just wish that there was something, some way to stop people being so prejudiced, you know?' she asked. Remus nodded understandingly. She wished that she could talk about the werewolves, but knew that that wouldn't be a good idea. 'Someone who would be powerful enough to show people how they should act, rather than just telling them to stop. Someone like...'

'Albus Dumbledore,' Remus said, a hint of reverence in his voice.

That stopped Emma short in her tracks. 'Why do you say that?' she asked suspiciously.

'No reason,' he replied hurriedly. Before Emma could press the matter, though, they had reached the end of the seventh corridor. 'Well, I better get off to do some of that revision we had been talking about. Have a nice night!'

And with that he all but fled.

***

 

Twenty minutes later, Emma entered the common room and threw herself into her favourite armchair with a huff. A pair of eyes looked up from "Hogwarts, a History", smirking at her pouting expression.

'I take it the plan didn't work then?' Regulus asked.

'What do you think?' Emma rejoined sarcastically.

'What plan?' Rabastan eagerly shut his books and scooted over to their end of the sofa.

'I had tried to…see if Remus Lupin was going to be a part of our Family, since members seem to be dropping like flies lately,' Emma chose her words carefully.

They seemed a little callous to be talking about the potential death of her father and her brother's new-found closeness with his friends, but they would do for the casual outsider. Rabastan whistled.

'Merlin Ems, you don't do things by halves do you?'

'Excuse me if some of us have ambition,' she replied snottily, pointing out one of Slytherin's trademark traits. Rabastan mimicked her.

Before she could retaliate, Regulus intervened, 'So what happened? How did you try it?'

'How did Emma try what?' Barty Crouch Jr. asked, plopping onto the seat next to Rabastan.

He had planned on taking the Dark Mark as soon as possible long before Emma's task had been set, but had been discouraged by the other Slytherins from trying before he had obtained his O.W.L.s. They all knew how intelligent he was, but the older Death Eaters would prefer some concrete proof of his abilities. Emma opened her mouth to repeat her cryptic phrase, but Rabastan had a better idea.

'She tried to get him to go on a date with her,' he smirked, expecting a spluttering reaction from the girl. But Emma wasn't planning on giving him the satisfaction.

'Why would I ever ask Remus to Hogsmeade when everyone knows perfectly well that I want to go with you, Rabastan?' she asked with a deep, heartfelt sigh. 'If only...' she let her voice trail off theatrically.

'Everyone knows...' Barty processed this new information with wide eyes. For someone so intelligent, he was oddly gullible.

Regulus rolled his eyes at his friends' antics. 'She wants him to join us in Hogsmeade, Barty,' he said, emphasising the word join. Barty's mouth formed into an "O" of understanding. 'So Emma? Care to part with some of your charming secrets? After all, they're good enough to interest even the Dark Lord.'

His voice was as soft as ever, but something in them seemed insulting to Emma. Then again, she was tired and fed up of having failed. 'It doesn't matter anyway, he's too besotted with Dumbledore.' She spat the name as though it were a curse.

'Oh, is Emma having another of her Dumbledore rants?' Alecto asked, stopping behind the sofa on the way to the dormitories.

'I do not have Dumbledore rants,' Emma denied hotly. 'Honestly, I think you're confusing me with yourself sometimes. You always did say he was the most filthy Muggle-lover that ever lived.'

'And I will maintain that truth until the day I die,' Alecto proclaimed, sliding into a spare seat.

'Enough about Dumbledore, I want to hear about Remus Lupin,' Rabastan said impatiently. 'How did you think you could get a Gryffindor on our side?'

'Well, I used all of the usual tricks,' she sighed.

'Seduction?' Rabastan wriggled his eyebrows suggestively.

'Oh shut up Rab,' Emma replied. 'No, I do not plan on seducing Remus Lupin. I made him feel unsafe, as if people would find out about his secrets, then I confided in him so that he would feel the need to share something in return. I actually thought it was going pretty well, until I suggested things that should have lead to the Dark Lord and he blurted out Dumbledore's name.'

'Tough luck,' Alecto said. She knew how depressing a failed mission could be. Just before the holidays, Edgar Bones had hit her with a Stinging Hex to escape - elementary magic that Alecto hadn't seen coming. 'So tell me, what are Remus Lupin's secrets? Do you think he's a part of the Order of the Birds?'

'No!' Emma's voice came out a little bit louder than expected. Four surprised faces turned to meet hers. 'I mean, I don't think Dumbledore would let schoolchildren into his precious club,' she said as venomously as possible.

'So what is Lupin's secret that you thought would turn him to our side?' Regulus asked curiously.

His voice had been carefully neutral, but Emma had grown used to noticing Regulus's slip-ups by now. The knowing half-smirk was to pretend that he already knew - after all, his principal quality was gathering useful information - but the grey eyes clouded with annoyance showed that he wasn't happy with her knowing something he did not and not sharing it. Luckily, he had also forgotten her outburst in his curiosity.

If Remus Lupin is a part of the Order, then that would mean… She thought back to when Dumbledore had asked to keep James in his study for a little while longer, how her brother had paced her room one day and announced that people who decided to stay neutral in a war were as bad as the enemies themselves. She shied away from the direction her mind was going.

'That's your job to find out, isn't it?' she smirked in reply. She uncrossed her legs from their comfortable position on the armchair and stood up. It was time for her to practice her Animagus skills.

***

 

Emma groaned in annoyance. This is impossible, she thought, kicking the tree trunk. As though in retaliation, a gust of wind swept through, shaking the branches. Emma made a face, brushing the leaves out of her hair. It had been a week already and she was no closer to attaining her Animagus form, no matter how determined she was. She hadn't given up on Remus Lupin either. Either he would join once he heard about the werewolf initiative, or he would join with Dumbledore and maybe give her some information she could put to good use. It was a win-win situation.

Her wizarding watch chimed, indicating it was time for her Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Emma rolled her eyes, her mood worsening. She would have to listen to the Gryffindors boasting about how good their spells were, whilst Amelia Bones looked on disapprovingly. Emma was sure that she had started to make the connection between her parents' murder and the students in class. It was only a matter of time before she realised who had joined up with the Dark Lord...

By the time she reached the practice area in the Forbidden Forest - Bones had told them she would be pitting them against Dark creatures - the rest of the class was already there. With surprise, she noted that the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws had joined them. It wasn't the first time - Bones had taken Dumbledore's advice of getting the Houses to work together to heart.

Another reason for mixed Defence classes was that students were randomly assigned classes that fit with their schedules. This also gave them the opportunity to test their duelling skills against all kinds of people.

Upon seeing Sirius, Emma gave him her most withering stare, which he countered with a smile showing every white tooth in his mouth. Regulus noticed almost immediately and broke off his conversation with Rabastan, moving surreptitiously towards her.

'I wish you wouldn't do that,' he muttered.

'Do what?' she asked without looking at him.

'Stoop down to his level.'

Emma tore her eyes away from the older Black brother, about to make a snappy retort, but softened. She knew that Regulus still loved his brother, deep down. So she swallowed her words and offered him a smile instead. Immediately, his face lost some of its earlier hardness. Since the incident at the hospital, neither of them had talked about it - or Sirius, declaring a truce. Emma had apologised, of course, and Regulus had admitted that he could have made his hex less powerful.

'Time to split up the friendships, I think,' Amelia Bones said in a ringing tone, narrowing her eyes at Regulus and Emma. Neither had been listening to what she had been saying.

In the end, Emma found herself in a group with James, Remus and Alecto. The students had quickly cottoned on to Bones's way of teaching, and so made sure not to associate themselves with most of their friends. It was odd, as many would be seen eagerly chatting away with people they hated moments before Bones arrived in her newly designated place - there was no one specific classroom that would cater to her needs, it seemed. Emma sometimes wondered if that was the teacher's true objective, as she was obviously not so stupid as to fall for that trick. However, she wasn't so perceptive as to see who truly were their closest friends, so they were often paired with each other anyway.

You'll never be paired with Regulus again though, she told herself angrily. The Gryffindors had mostly been found out, as they couldn't keep a charade to save their lives. Strangely, the Marauders had managed to split themselves in two: James and Remus pretending not to know one another and the same for Sirius and Peter. Emma was sure it wouldn't last though. The "Marauders" were famous throughout the castle, including the staff room. They had only got away with it so far, because Bones distanced herself from the other teachers too, despite their friendly advances.

She was a good teacher though, Emma would give her that. So far, they had learnt more counter-curses than in any of their Defence lessons up to that point, though the Patronus Charm was something that seemed increasingly difficult to manage. Bones had reassured them that it was natural and that most wizards never learnt them anyway. So far, only Lily and Remus had managed to cast one. Emma suspected that the reason behind this was that most students felt far from happy as the terror of the war only mounted. But Remus has probably known more sadness in his life than most, she reminded herself with curiosity. It had been one of the reasons for her approaching him. Perhaps this lesson would help that, though she couldn't let James suspect anything.

'Today, we will be practising Thestrals,' Professor Bones announced.

There was an outbreak of muttering. Thestrals were a rare magical creature, but mostly harmless. How do you “practise” Thestrals? Emma frowned, thinking.

'Isn't that something that should be reserved for Care for Magical Creatures, Professor?' Lily Evans raised a hand before the noise had died down.

Bones graced her favourite student with a rare smile. 'Normally, yes. However, I have taken it upon myself to teach you about them, as most of you have given up on Care for Magical Creatures by now. The only subject that all seventh-years take is Defence Against the Dark Arts, hence why you are all here.'

This time it was Michael Finns, the Ravenclaw prefect, who raised his hand.

'But Thestrals aren't a Dark creature, miss,' he said. 'Most of us can't even see them.'

'I wouldn't count on that, Mr Finns,' Bones replied darkly. The mutterings stopped. 'Thestrals, if treated correctly, can prove to be a valuable ally against Dark forces. Their link to death makes raised corpses such as Inferi fear them, and so they are a force to be reckoned with. The staff does not have enough time to "make friends" with them, so to speak, not even the gamekeeper Hagrid. So it has fallen to you students to convince this flock that we are on their side. Should Hogwarts even be attacked, the Thestrals will play a key part in defeating Lord Voldemort's army.'

There was a collective gasp at the teacher's use of the Dark Lord's name. Alecto narrowed her eyes in displeasure, but soon turned her expression to fear after a reminder from Emma's elbow.

'So it's true then? You-Know-Who has raised an army of Inferi?' someone asked in a loud whisper. The students craned their heads around to see who spoke.

'If that is all you learn from the lesson, Mr Lestrange, I will have to consider a change of career,' Bones replied drily.

Emma and Alecto looked at one another, puzzled. What possessed Rabastan to draw attention to himself in such an idiotic way? Turning to look at him, Emma received one of his trademark smirks and winks. Of course, she realised. What Bones really wants is to find out future Death Eaters, or at least a connection. She's out for vengeance, and Rabastan just removed himself from the list of suspects. A Death Eater would have known that information, and would never degrade themselves to call the Dark Lord "You-Know-Who" like some scared little boy. Impressive, Rab…impressive.

By the time she started to pay attention to the class, Bones had emptied a sack of raw meat onto the floor in front of them. Alecto muffled a gasp, looking behind Sirius's shoulder. Emma focused on the point, but of course saw nothing. Neither could James or Sirius, to Emma's relief. If James had joined the Order of the Birds, then he would surely have seen death at one point or another.

She had barely enough time to rejoice in this discovery, before Amelia Bones turned her hawk-like gaze on Alecto. James and Sirius also had suspicious expressions. Emma suddenly realised that Alecto was a pure-blood. There would be no reason for her to have had a death in the family, as the Dark Lord priveleged her blood status. The only explanation would be that she - or someone close to her - had seen death. Evidently, Bones had already drawn this conclusion, as her mouth was drawn into a thin line.

'If you don't mind me asking,' she said carefully. 'Can you see the Thestral?'

'Y-yes…Alecto stammered. It was lucky that she was already so pale, Emma noted, otherwise she would have given herself away immediately. 'I didn't think…Well, my uncle had an accident when I was five. I don't even…I don't even remember going to see him in hospital, just my father explaining death to me at the funeral. I didn't think it would count...'

Her story had to have some grain of truth to it, in order for her to invent it that quickly. It did the job though, since Bones just gave her a short nod and a pat on the shoulder, before moving on. Emma let out a deep breath, one she hadn't realised she was holding in, when she felt something hard hit her shoulder. She cried out in shock, turning around even though she expected to find nothing, and stopped dead.

There, less than a metre away from her, was a skeletal horse with holes where the eye sockets should have been. It was a terrifying sight, though she knew logically that it would not harm her. It didn't stop her from stumbling back into Alecto though, using her friend to steady her balance.

'Can you see it now?' her friend whispered.

Emma squeezed Alecto's arm longer than necessary as she righted herself, hoping that the redhead would get the message. Her fall had not gone unnoticed, though. James and Remus were both looking at her will odd expressions, obviously wondering what had happened.

'There was one right behind me,' she explained, opting for the semi-truth. 'It startled me when it touched my shoulder. It's so weird to not be able to see them…Where is it now, Alecto?'

Alecto immediately understood, and described the Thestral to them. Emma made sure to keep her gaze unfocused as the redhead stroked the horse's neck as instructed.

'That is so weird,' James said in awe, picking up a piece of meat and watching it slowly disappear into nothing.

Before Emma had the chance to wonder why she hadn't been able to see the creature from the start, a bark-like laugh reached her ears. She turned in disgust, unable to prevent her eyes from rolling. It was Sirius, of course, regaling his audience with his trademark lopsided grin.

'I mean, we all know she's hoping to ferret out Death Eaters,' he was saying. 'Isn't it obvious? I think only the Slytherins should have been forced to come today, we all know it's them who are causing the problems. This way is just punishing the families of people who have defied Voldemort. I mean we all know that no Gryffindor would ever go dark.'

He sneered at his brother, who merely fed his Thestral an extra piece of meat. Emma tried to see if Regulus could see the horse-bird, but his expression gave nothing away. Rabastan on the other hand, standing next to Sirius, looked rather like he would have liked to feed him to the Thestral. Emma stifled a grin as Alecto whispered angrily beside her.

'How dare he use the Dark Lord's name? Who does he think he is?'

'Relax Alecto,' Emma reassured her seething friend. 'He probably does it so he looks cool.'

Emma, personally, had never seen the problem with using the Dark Lord's name. After all, wasn't it one he had chosen himself, as the legend went? That was what Rabastan's father had told them, anyway.

Still, Alecto took a step forwards, to do what, Emma would never know, as James's owl suddenly swooped down over them, dropping a letter on the top of his head. Pandemonium ensued, a couple of the Thestrals were startled and reared, students fled in all directions, many of them running directly into other Thestrals, and Professor Bones had to try to calm the winged horses down.

'Class dismissed!' she called anxiously, her stone face slipping as she tried to regain control.

'Emma!' Remus put a hand on her shoulder.

She turned from the scene of chaos reluctantly. He guided her to where James seemed to be reading the same words over and over again on the parchment. As she drew closer, he lifted his head, one of his old smiles beaming like a neon light on his face.

'It's dad,' he said. 'Emma, he's getting better!'

Chapter Text

'Merlin, what am I going to do?' Emma asked herself, pacing in front of the fireplace.

She had picked up Regulus's habit of running a hand through her hair and was currently twisting it into knot upon knot, trying not to panic. She had held it together throughout Care For Magical Creatures and Potions, but was thankful for her free period. Though it was meant for homework, today she had allocated this time to more important things. More specifically, finding a solution to the father problem that just seemed to be getting larger and larger. The Dark Lord's words floated through her mind, "take care to make the transition smoothly". Of course in theory, the easiest thing would be…well, that spell, the one the Dark Lord was so famous for.

She quickly shook her head, driving the dark thoughts from her mind. To do that would only prove her father right, and she was under no illusion as to her capacity to perform the spell. That leaves the Memory Charm, she thought, coming to a conclusion. The problem was, would she really be capable of it? More capable than the Killing Curse, Emma... Besides, how would she be able to perform it without James or Sirius suspecting something? She supposed that the visits would be highly regulated at first. In any case, she would have to act quickly - her time was running out. James was probably writing to the hospital at that very moment.

Making her decision, she raced down the stairs to grab the Invisibility Cloak, only to run back up almost as quickly, earning her several odd looks from the sixth years in the common room. She couldn't