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The Diary

Chapter Text

 

Hermione knew it wasn't a normal book the moment she saw it.

The old, faded, and worn leather journal had mysteriously ended up in her belongings. It was likely a result of Malfoy colliding with her in the halls earlier that day, which had been an unnerving exchange in itself. He'd apologized, for one thing, and had even stopped to help organize their things without a single nasty remark.

Granted, his attitude towards her had changed considerably since that summer. Hermione had no idea why he was suddenly not terrorizing her. Even his father had been cordial in Flourish and Blotts before term, sneering at the Weasleys and Harry, but regarding her with little more than bored indifference.

It was curious, to say the least.

Despite her anxiety, she reached out and flipped the journal over. It looked like there was once a name pressed into the bottom. The gold letters were faded to the point where she could hardly read them, but she managed to make out a few letters — "T..…..i..le"

She frowned. The imprints of the letters were worn. She couldn't make any others out.

Judging by the condition of the journal, she assumed it had been treasured by its owner during its prime. That didn't explain why Draco Malfoy would've slipped it into her things, assuming he'd done so with intent.

Her gut told her he had.

Her gut also told her that she should take it to her head of house and be done with it, but instead she flipped it back over and opened it. All the pages were blank and pristine.

Her frown deepened.

Why would someone have a journal with their name imprinted on the back and never use it? If such an item were a gift and had gone unused, wouldn't they have put it somewhere safe, such as a bookshelf or a desk drawer? Their school trunk, even?

Hermione found a book in the library that was full of spells well above her year, but even after trying dozens of revealing charms, the journal remained the same. She researched potions and mixtures that might reveal charmed ink, only to find that they were nothing more than the charms she'd already tried in physical form.

The old journal found a new home hidden within her trunk. She still didn't trust it, didn't know why or how something that had clearly been used showed no signs of said use. But she didn't want to turn it in either. And if it was Malfoy's, well, he'd just have to ask her nicely if he wanted it back.


A/N: Guess who's back, back again... ;) Happy Tomione Day! There's some important info in the A/N on (the NEW) Part II.

Chapter Text


Hermione left the Halloween feast early. As far as Harry and Ron were concerned, she wasn't feeling well, and the two went to Nearly Headless Nick's party without her.

When she returned to Gryffindor Tower, the common room was blissfully empty. Still, she went up to her dorm instead of enjoying the open space and took the odd journal from her trunk. Once the curtains of her four-poster were drawn shut, just in case her roommates came back from the feast sooner than expected, she got out a quill and her favorite sapphire ink.

She flipped the journal open to the first page, inked her quill, and neatly penned the date.

31 October 2012

The ink vanished into the page before it dried and Hermione pressed her lips together as a chill rippled across her shoulders.

As she stared at the once again blank page, glaring at it as if willing it to reveal its secrets to her, dark emerald ink appeared where she'd written the date.

31 October 1962

Her frown deepened, but more green words appeared before she could think of something else to write on the page.

Tell me who you are, what you've charmed my journal with, and why, and I'll consider deducting a much smaller sum of housepoints than I'm currently of the mind to.

Hermione felt her brows draw together and hesitated before dipping her quill back into her blue ink. Several weeks ago, one of my classmates bumped into me and stuck this old journal into my things. I'm just as confused as you are.

Your name? Green Ink wrote. And am I truly meant to believe that?

She glared at the page. I'm not giving personal information to a source I cannot see or judge for myself. Especially not when they're being rude.

The next reply was written faster. Angrier. I'm. A. Prefect. Tell me who you are before I bring this to the attention of my head of house. Or perhaps I'll just go straight to Headmaster Dippet.

A sense of dread settled into Hermione's skin and she rubbed at her arms while she pondered her response, as if the action would make the uncomfortable sensation go away. This person had written the date after she did, only they'd written the wrong year.

Dippet hasn't been Headmaster for thirty-five years, she penned slowly.

The longer you play this foolish little game with me, the more housepoints I'll take when I find you.

She tried to wrack her brain for something, anything, that would prove her point. If, somehow, the journal she held was truly connected to its previous owner in the past, she needed a way to prove to this person that she wasn't a prankster.

If it's truly 1962 for you, which I highly doubt, then I can prove it's 2012 for me.

You must think you're awfully clever, don't you? Clearly you don't know who you're dealing with, but fine. I'll bite. Do enlighten me as to how you're going to convince me you're from the future.

"Oh, you awful, insufferable…" Hermione muttered under her breath. Of course she gets a magic diary from Malfoy and its connected to some prat in the past. If not him pretending to be some prat from the past.

Still, she wrote the little bit of trivia she'd heard in the common room earlier that week when Ron and Harry had lapsed into another Quidditch debate instead of doing their homework. Eunice Murray will die during the first Quidditch game for the Montrose Magpies in November.

It took a few moments for Green Ink to respond. That game is next week.

Then you'll know I'm not lying, she wrote, a triumphant smirk pulling at her lips.

I still expect you to tell me who you are.

Hermione rolled her eyes. I'm not going to give you my real name.

Give me something to call you then, person who is apparently from the future.

With a sigh, she chose the first alias that came to mind, Nyx.

The goddess of night? How romantic. Ares.

You could have at least picked something not Greek, she wrote, annoyed.

I'm not willing to put anymore effort into...whatever this is than necessary. The odds that you'll actually prove to be worth my time are slim at best. What house are you in?

She frowned at his abrupt change in subject. Gryffindor.

You don't sound like a Gryffindor.

"Oh for the love of…" Could everyone tell she'd begged the hat not to stick her where it initially wanted to? I wasn't comfortable with where the hat wanted to put me. It took my suggestion to be sorted elsewhere.

Ravenclaw?

Yes. The lie was familiar.

Well, Miss Nyx of Should-Be-Ravenclaw, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, as much as one can do so through a book, of course.

She didn't know what to make of the sudden shift in tone, nor the unexpected appearance of manners. It's been something, she wrote, but I don't know if I would call this a pleasure.

Give it time, Dove, who knows what we might learn.

Dove? She raised a brow at the moniker. A white bird —a nod to Ravenclaw, surely— representing light and purity instead of darkness like the pen name she'd chosen? She wondered if the ironic new nickname was just a coincidence or something Ares had come up with on the fly.

If the first, she found it funny. If the second, she found herself admiring his quick wit, even if he seemed to have a nasty temper.


They hardly communicated with one another at first, but if Ares wrote to her, the journal would hum with a silent sort of magic only Hermione was acutely aware of. She wasn't sure how it worked on his side, but she knew that the hum faded once she saw his message.

For the first time since Halloween, she decided to write him first.

Are you going home for the holiday?

What holiday?

Christmas, of course.

It's November – the twenty-third to be exact. Why are you worrying about Christmas when we haven't even taken end of term exams?

It became clear rather quickly that the passage of time was not consistent between them. Ares, who was taking Arithmancy and rather skilled at it, realized that time ratio between them appeared to be two to one. For every day that passed for him, two days passed for her.

It's unfortunate, really. We write one another rather steadily throughout the day for me, but you're often waiting for my replies, aren't you? he mused.

Sometimes. I don't mind. She's countered. And it doesn't seem that bad. There are times where we write back and forth steadily without a problem. Besides, it gives me time to study.

Salazar forbid you don't have time to get through the last half of the fourth year curriculum before the hols.

He was a prat even when he didn't think someone was pranking him through his diary, she learned. Though most of the time it seemed like he only made the effort to be awful because her reactions amused him. Still, he was more rational than Harry or Ron, which gave her a pleasant reprieve from their constant tomfoolery.

She loved the boys, but Ares was special. Different.

Are you going home then? For Christmas? he asked her.

Not this year. My parents are taking a trip to France. I wanted to stay with my friends.

Perfect. I have an idea. We might be able to see each other, but it's complicated magic - far above that of a second year.

She clenched her teeth, offended, which was probably his goal. When do we start?

Chapter Text

Harry chose to stay behind as well, mainly, Hermione thought, so she wouldn't be alone. He also received explicit instructions to rest up during the break and had gotten his own promise of biscuits.

Hermione didn't plan to 'rest up'. Ares had told her to get a specific book, a book she knew to be in the Restricted Section. She recognized a challenge when she saw one. Thankfully, Harry didn't seem all that interested in why she wanted to borrow his cloak, likely assuming she was just going to spend a late night in the library. His assumptions would be partially correct, at least.


Her next task was the room. Ares told her how to get to it and how to use it. She passed the wall three times. A door appeared for her on her first try. Ares was impressed.

Well, aren't you a powerful little thing? he'd written. Next the salt circle. Then the spell. Hopefully the room is as clever as it seems and we only need to do this once or twice before it does it for us.

He still wouldn't quite tell her what 'it' was, but she made her salt circle and cast the charm. He had to draw the rune she needed to make in the center of the circle several times before she got it right. Then she set the journal down, pages open, atop the salt rune. Ares realized she was hesitating with the witchlight.

It won't burn, he promised. Magic is about intent. Your witchlight won't burn the diary unless you will it to.

It didn't burn, but the second part of the spell was hard. She struggled for twenty minutes before she got annoyed.

Am I doing something wrong? she asked him.

No, Dove. Keep trying. You nearly had it a moment ago. Be patient, it hasn't even been ten minutes.

Reminding her of the time difference helped her refocus. Her failure was wasting more of her time than his.

She closed her eyes and tried again. Vinculo iungantur…vinculo iungantur…

"Oh, you're a treat, little Dove," he said with a low chuckle. "Well done."

She jumped, wide eyes springing open and landing on the fifth year boy a meter or so in front of her, sat exactly as she was within his own salt circle. His journal, a pristine version of hers, was encased in its own ball of blue flames. The azure glow made his eyes —eyes she was certain were already blue under the witchlight— glow like sapphires and illuminated the rest of his smirking face.

His very pretty smirking face.

Very, very pretty.

Prettier than Lockhart's, even.

"Hello," she murmured shyly.

The pretty smirk widened and his eyes glinted like the silver and emerald prefect badge on his robes.

"Hello, Dove."

Chapter Text

 

Tom and Nyx met in the Room of Requirement as often as their odd time difference would allow. The first meeting, he tested her knowledge of the second year curriculum. The next, third year. Then fourth.

"What have you done, checked out the textbooks in each subject for every year and read through them?" he asked when she managed the briefest silvery wisp of a patronus.

"Yes," she answered defensively, glaring at him.

His dark blue eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "The hat wanted you in Ravenclaw?"

She nodded automatically. Reflexively .

Liar , he thought. "And yet you aren't broadcasting the true depth of your knowledge in order to get into more challenging classes?" he asked.

"No," she answered, bitterly. He wondered why her intellect was such a sore spot. "I get plenty made fun of for having top marks from my own age group."

Ah. Clever, but a bit timid. Defensive.

"The older students would find you adorable and amusing,” he goaded. “They'd protect you."

"Until I started getting higher marks than them too," she muttered.

He smirked at her response and noticed that it made her uncomfortable. " Ravenclaw ?" he asked again, his voice dripping with disbelief. She couldn’t be farther from one of the batty birds. Not that he expected her Gryffindor housemates to pick up on such a thing.

Nyx crossed her arms over her chest with stubborn, slightly defiant set to her shoulders.

Willful little thing. "Cast it again," he ordered.

"You cast it," she snapped.

One of his brows twitched upward. Hit a nerve, did I? "Careful, Dove," he said, letting his teasing smirk level into something decidedly less playful.

He watched her tremble as a chill ran down her spine.

"I like you,” he said. “Don't ruin it."

"Prat," she mumbled.

Tom rolled his eyes. "Cast it again."

On night four, which was just past the halfway point of the holiday break for Nyx , Tom grew concerned with her progress.

"Again."

She sighed, but did as she was told. A pathetic strand of silver sprang from her wand, the same wand wielded by the same tiny witch whose natural magical prowess was akin to his own, before it faded and died.

"Pick a different memory," he said

"I don't have any happier ones!" she shouted, her exasperation wrapped around her like an aura.

He’d have to break her of such dangerous Gryffindor-isms, but that was a lesson for another day. For the time being, he merely raised an eyebrow in warning and stared at her until she looked away, chastised. She was upset with herself, he knew, and thus he overlooked her slip. She’d been blessed with strong instincts, though he wasn’t sure which of them benefited from that more. He hadn’t needed to break her to make her comply. She knew who was in control without him ever having to show her.

"Again," he said.

After six more pathetic attempts, Nyx threw her wand across the room in a fit of anger. Tom flicked his and cast a silent levitation spell so hers wouldn’t break before he eyed the teary, too clever second year before him.

"There has to be something," he said smoothly. He knew positive means of encouragement weren’t his forte, but her problem stemmed from confidence, not competence. The crucios that would correct Abraxas Malfoy or Flynn Avery wouldn’t motivate her, assuming she didn’t run from him. Seeing as she’d run from her proper house, he could only assume her self-preservation knew few bounds.

"A first year has enough happy memories for the charm, but lacks the strength and skill to cast it," he told her instead. “Surely there’s something pleasant enough in your life to fuel your patronus.”

She glared at her feet, fists shaking, jaw clenched, and silent.

Tom resisted the urge to sigh. " Nyx. Look at me."

Her eyes flicked up without hesitation.

She was such a good listener, especially compared to most people he knew. It was so difficult to find the right balance of curiosity, competence, and compliance to fill his social circle with. He could teach her many things, as long as he could keep her loyalties in check, of course.

Tom quickly cast a silent, gentle legilimens. If she couldn’t pick apart her own mind to cast a patronus, he’d do it for her.

He peeled through the intertwining layers of her thoughts, passing from one memory of muggle bullies to another, skimming through memories of the worthless assurances her muggle parents had tried to offer her. The other children were just jealous. Ignore them and they’ll go away.

Tom knew from experience that they would do no such thing, and Nyx —Hermione— had learned the same hard lesson he’d had to learn as well.

He took care combing through the organized areas she filed her troubles into. Frustration here. Sadness there. Disappointment here. Contentment there. Eventually he stumbled across her brighter memories. There was hope surrounding the memory of the day she received her Hogwarts letter, and it made the memory glow bright, white gold. She’d thought the letter would be a new chance. A new start. A new school full of people that were, supposedly, just as odd as she was, a school full of people that hopefully wouldn’t find as many faults with her as her muggle classmates had.

They did, of course. She was still too clever, too eager, too focused on pleasing the adults, too bored by the things other children her age enjoyed.

A school’s a school, Dove , he thought to himself.

Tom skimmed a bit more, trying to find a brighter memory, one that wasn’t tinged with the grey of disappointment, hopelessness, and despair. He nearly missed the tiny light buried amongst her more recent memories. It was wrapped in suspicion and worry, making the glow of it faint, but if those layers were peeled away, it would be plenty pure enough for a patronus.

When he dipped into the memory, the idea , he saw himself through her eyes: An intellectual better, someone who wasn’t using her to boost their essay grades or constantly teasing her about her intelligence with more truth behind their jokes than anyone chose to acknowledge. She wanted to consider him a friend , but had convinced herself that he only saw her as a tool.

She wasn’t wrong with that assessment, but her raw magical power wasn’t the only thing that kept his attention. He’d grown oddly protective of the little fuzz ball since their first night in the Room of Requirement. He made a mental note to teach her a few hair care charms at some point in the future.

With a thoughtful hum, he pulled back from her mind, but didn’t fully withdraw. He wanted to keep an eye on how she processed her next task. She was still angrily staring into space when he refocused on the room.

"Try again, Dove," he said, flicking his wand so hers floated back into her hand. "Even if you think it's a false hope or desire, any idea can be strong enough to form a patronus. The spell isn’t explicitly tied to memories."

Her defeated expression as she reclaimed her wand matched her memory of the night they first met in the Room —when she’d struggled with the spell— and her jaw set defiantly as she focused. The idea of them being friends moved to the forefront of her thoughts and morphed into a daydream where she’d already successfully cast a patronus. He was behind her, smirking but proud, and muttering a quiet ‘Well done, Dove.’

A shimmering Royal Python burst from the tip of her wand before it began to writhe and dance in the air around them. Together they watched it circle first her, then him, before it vanished in a wisp of silver fog. Nyx could hardly suppress her excitement and relief, and Tom didn’t bother hiding his genuinely proud smile.

"Well done, Dove," he said gently.

Before he cast a finite, he watched the idea she used for her patronus morph into a memory. The only notable differences between the two that he saw were the shape of her patronus and the sincerity in his expression.

Chapter Text

 

Nyx was pensive. Or worried, if the abuse her somewhat unfortunate teeth were delivering to her lower lip was anything to go by. Tom waited in silence. She’d talk without his prompting if he let her stew long enough.

"People are acting funny this year," she said a few moments later. He noted that she’d stayed hidden behind the massive tome she was pouring over.

"And this concerns you, how?" he asked, dotting an 'i' on his essay with unnecessary care. It was nearly finished, thankfully. Professor Merrythought was giving them some ridiculously pointless Defense theory assignments this term. He’d grown bored of them by the time Nyx had come around.

"Funny towards me," she clarified.

Tom suppressed a sigh, choosing to remain silent until she got on with whatever point she was hesitating to make.

"You don't think they know I wasn't sorted correctly, do you?" she muttered.

He blew on his parchment to help an unintentionally heavy spot of ink dry. "Ravenclaws treating you oddly?" he baited. "They're clever, but I wouldn't give them that much credit, Dove."

A glance to his left showed him that Nyx was suddenly very interested in the same paragraph she'd been staring at since she first spoke up.

"Or…” he said slowly, “are you trying to tell me that another house has taken notice that perhaps you don't belong where you are? Because if that's the case, then I'm quite impressed with school children of the future. Their predecessors' idiocy must not have been bosom-fed to them after all."

Tom pretended not to notice her uncomfortable shift beside him.

"I suppose," she said. If misery hadn’t been dripping from the words, the cloud of it set around her shoulders would’ve given her away.

Tom was annoyed at himself for being so concerned with one thirteen year old. Surely she knew that, as a muggleborn, she wouldn’t have lasted one night where she belonged.

"They'd have eaten you alive," he said as he cast a proper drying spell over his essay and cast another spell to warm his sealing wax.

"The Ravenclaws?" she asked.

He finished sealing his essay without a word, staring at her until she hid behind her book again.


 

"So this…Snape person," he said. "Awfully disagreeable sort of fellow, especially last year. But this year he treats you better and it's an issue?"

Nyx frowned at him and she unsuccessfully pushed a mass of curls out of her face. He resisted the urge to grab his wand, certain she'd get righteous and offended if he spelled her hair into submission for her. Eventually he'd have her complacent enough, taught well enough, that her hair would always be tamed by the will of one of their wands. It’d probably look nicer if nothing else.

She shrugged her shoulders. "He ignores me for the most part and still treats my housemates like flobberworm spawn," she explained. "But I'm no different than I was last year. He’s just suddenly stopped being as nasty."

"I'm not following."

She huffed in frustration. "Nevermind."

"Certainly there must be more to it that I'm not understanding," he added conversationally, watching poorly concealed panic flicker through her irises.

He wanted to roll his eyes at her. Did she really think he didn’t know?

Out of curiosity, he cast a silent legilimens. Her sorting would be on her mind, he was certain, making the memory easy to find. Surely she’d been a hatstall.

"Difficult…Very Difficult. Such a well-organized mind, powerful too…yes…and determined to excel in whatever crosses your path…"

"Not really," she said quickly. Tom had nearly forgotten that he’d baited her again. Her little lie would have passed by anyone else; her sorting was something she’d lied about often enough to pull off naturally. "I suppose I'm over thinking it,” she said, but the excuse was weak.

"…brave, yes, and loyal too…but so driven…Salazar himself would be impressed..."

Please, don't put me in Slytherin…Please. I’m muggleborn.

"You don't really believe that," Tom said.

"You would change everything they know…they would come to make you their own…"

Not Slytherin. Anywhere but Slytherin, please.

"Yes I do."

"You're hardly aligned to be in any of the other houses, my dear…"

Please…

"Then I suppose it ought to be...GRYFFINDOR!"

His lips curled into a smirk as he withdrew from her mind. Hiding her in Gryffindor because she was brave enough to willingly to face the strain of being genuinely missorted over a much more serious threat. It was a form of bravery, he supposed. She’d picked the smarter battle and she knew that. She’d picked the route that protected herself. It seemed the old rag had trouble telling the difference between nerve and self preservation.

"No you don't, Dove."


 

"Only Dumbledore would hide a valuable stone in a school full of children," Tom snapped when Nyx had finished telling him about the  adventure  she and her friends had faced during their first year. "What was the fool trying to accomplish?"

Nyx Hermione,  he tried to remind himself — shrugged.

"Apparently he was rejected by some political group and was trying to prove his worth?" she told him. "'The Order of' something. They're a very private association, according to the article the Prophet ran after Quirrell was arrested. Forward thinkers. Ran by powerful people. They’ve started a bunch of philanthropic campaigns over the years."

Tom filed the name away for future use. He intended to live a very long life, meaning there was absolutely no reason he wouldn't survive until her time. And eventually their timelines would overlap. In the future he would have a soldier within Hogwarts' walls. A snake pretending to be a raven wearing a lion's skin.

"I'd like to go into politics," he said, “become Minister of Magic, maybe."

Her nose wrinkled. "I'd like to make a difference, I think, and do something important, but I doubt I'd like playing tedious political games with people."

"You could be an unorthodox society wife," he teased, picturing the image – an older version of her with tamed hair, a dangerous smile, and a lack of respect for social conformity.

In fifty years he'd find her again. In fifty years he'd help her marry some acceptably high standing schmuck who found her to be so precious and clever that she had the freedom do whatever suited her fancy. Someone with enough backbone and smarts to keep up with her, but not enough to try and change where Tom saw her fitting into his plans.

"I certainly won't be conforming to such primeval, patriarchal nonsense," she muttered. "I'll build success however I please, thanks."

Tom chuckled. " Ravenclaw ."

Her lips twitched into a hesitant smile.

Chapter Text

 

Happy Christmas. The words bled onto the page in Nyx's familiar hand as Tom laid on his four-poster.

Thank you, Dove, he wrote back. And how is your February afternoon treating you?

As well as can be expected, I suppose. Malfoy caused Ronald to curse himself this morning. He kept the spell from ricocheting onto me though.

Did he now? Tom eyed his left curtain, though it was drawn, and pondered the Malfoy in the next bed over. How kind of him.

I don't understand why he seems to be looking out for me.

Tom could only assume that Abraxas would remain loyal to him. Which meant his grandson would be a viable ally for Hermione. Give the boy a chance. You could use some of your own kind on your side.

That would be a bit obvious, don't you think?

He snorted softly. To another Slytherin maybe. Either way, do you really care?


Draco's grandfather knows you.

Tom smirked in triumph. So his name is Draco now?

You said to give him a chance. We study in the library some nights.

I see. He spoke to you about Abraxas then?

I assume that's who he meant.

Brax is a prick, but an influential and, apparently, a more loyal that I had assumed prick. I would say the same goes for his grandson.

I'm sure he's properly terrified into submission.

Exposure to one of her own was making her cheeky. He didn't mind. As he should be.

You're mental, Ares.

He narrowed his eyes at the pseudonym. It was getting old. Plus he'd nearly slipped and called her by her actual name more than once. They knew one another well enough by now, surely.

Tom, he wrote before he changed his mind.

What?

My name, Dove. It's Tom. Tom Riddle.

He tapped his fingers impatiently against the leather of his diary while he waited for her response.

Hermione Granger. eventually appeared in smooth blue cursive and he smiled.


She was in classes according to his calculations. A quick glance at his copy of her timetable told him she'd just entered a double potions period with her seemingly bipolar dungeon bat of a professor. Her should-be head of house.

Tom had gotten a few new journals in his last Hogsmeade trip. None of them had his name printed on the back like his diary did, but that was hardly a concern. He charmed each one so that only he could read their contents and added 'Snape' to the dark blue journal where he kept a list of things and people to look out for in the future.

He pondered Abraxas and Draco Malfoy, Hermione's secret friend. She truly did need to be resorted, but seemed set upon keeping up the façade of her housing. Tom already had the loyalties of the current scion to the House of Malfoy, which he could use to his advantage when time caught up with itself. If he cultivated this Severus fellow as well, he could build Hermione a foundation of people in Slytherin so her transition into 'enemy territory' would be less jarring. She couldn't stay in Gryffindor forever. She'd go mad eventually.

Still, if he played within the bulk of societies rules he wouldn't be able to become the all-powerful immortal sorcerer he so desired to be. He wanted to crush that nosy bastard Dumbledore and deny him his chances of happiness, just as Tom had been denied his at every turn where the dotty Transfiguration professor was concerned.

Blue ink began to bleed onto the pages of his diary again, and Tom smiled to himself before he spelled the message so the words wouldn't fade until he felt like acknowledging them.

Dumbledore couldn't take her from him, at least.

Hermione was the eldest in her year with her September birthday. She would be seventeen at the dawn of her sixth year, and eighteen at the dawn of her seventh. If his calculations were correct, then he would be finishing his seventh year during the beginning of the second term of hers. At the same time in her timeline, he would have recently turned seventy.

He frowned. Seventy was much too old to be in cohorts with an eighteen-year-old version of Hermione, especially if times continued to move in the progressive fashion they were now. But if Tom could stop his body from aging, then those years would be insignificant.

Assuming his predictions in Divination this week had meant what he interpreted them too, the currently thirteen-year-old witch in question would grow to be his equal, his better in some ways, even.

Dumbledore seemed to think Tom was a monster in every sense of the word. Whether the elements of truth in that observation rendered Tom truly incapable of caring for others, Tom couldn't say. Most people bored him too quickly to even consider giving a damn about them. But he was fretting over Dove's future without even realizing she'd become something of a priority in his mind. She was someone worth expending mental energy on. He was already guessing if the note waiting for him was another report on the sudden change in behavior expressed by her Potion's professor, or maybe he was back to tormenting the clever little witch.

Tom couldn't be entirely incapable of some degree of affection, given the circumstances. Which would make Dumbledore, unsurprisingly, wrong about him.

He might not give the time of day to whatever worthless sods crossed his path, but he could find the company of a frizzy-haired second year enjoyable. And she already considered him a mentor of sorts, a role he wasn't shying away from. She was a quick study. It entertained him to teach her.

Tom shook his head to clear it, trying to prevent his thoughts from spiraling any further than they already had. Remembering his diary and the note waiting for him there, he finally decided to flip it open.

Professor Snape asked me to stay after class…

He frowned at the words. Time moved so quickly for her, at least from his perspective. He was surprised her double period was already over.

He was acting strange, or at least I thought so, perhaps he's always civil with the Slytherins…

Snape knew the truth, then, Tom decided. Which meant he'd successfully built her foundation in the future, didn't it?

He… she stopped writing for a moment, presumably to organize her thoughts. He told me that I've been chosen to be sponsored by the head of the board of governors. Sponsored, Tom! My books, robes, any additional supplies, paid for in full! I'll even receive a monthly allowance next year for trips to Hogsmeade! And additional tutoring if my end of terms are as impressive as last years!

He picked up his quill while gears turned in his mind. He was very pleased for his little Dove, and proud of her for being recognized for her achievements, but suspicion was making the back of his neck itch.

Who's head of the board? he asked.

She didn't reply for several minutes. I'm not sure…

Tom's frown returned.

Snape said he knew about my sorting though…told me to come to him if I ever decided I wanted to switch houses...

Propping himself up on his free elbow, Tom used the hand he was leaning against to rub at the prickling sensation on his neck. After a moment he gave up on the futile effort and penned his reply. I wouldn't fret, my Dove. Just keep your wits sharp and eyes open.

Like a Slytherin, she wrote.

He smirked. A quick study, as always. Precisely.

Chapter Text

 

With exams steadily approaching, and her friendship with Ron strained after an idiotic fight a few days prior, Hermione was more than inclined to spend her time away from Gryffindor Tower. She would get far more studying done with a proper partner than she would trying to get Harry and Ron to start preparing for the end of term anyway.

Her partner in question was at a table in one of the farthest corners of the library, encased by looming bookshelves. The nook he’d settled in was secluded enough to only have two narrow points of entry. Hermione considered it a wonder that anyone had ever found the spot at all. She certainly hadn’t —yet, at least— and doubted she ever would have if he hadn’t provided her a quickly doodled map along with the note to meet him after dinner.

She slipped into the surprisingly spacious study area. “Happy Tuesday,” Draco said without glancing up from his book.

“Afternoon, Draco,” Hermione said as she set her books down and sat across from him.

He glanced up and studied her with eyes that were caught somewhere between the palest of icy blues and most silver of greys. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” he began, “but you look exhausted.”

She tried to muster up a convincing smile and started to assure him that she was fine when one of his pale brows ticked upwards. He saw right through it.

“Weasley?” he guessed.

She sighed and nodded reluctantly, trying to busy herself by flipping open the books she needed.

Draco’s expression turned sour. “Saint Potter’s taken Weasel’s side this time, has he?” he asked.

“No,” Hermione said. “It isn’t like that. He’s just…”

“Immature? An idiot? Can’t see past the end of his own freckled nose?” Draco offered. “Thinks crimson and gold makes you god-like? Thinks anything silver and emerald is evil?”

She sighed again and Draco set his irritation on her behalf aside for a few moments. He reached out to take her nearest hand and returned his attention to his textbook.

“May I write you over the summer?” he asked when she didn’t pull away.

Her fingers gently squeezed his as she reveled in the fact that Draco Malfoy, of all people, was someone she now considered a friend. “You may.”

He squeezed her hand in return and the two fell into a companionable silence.


 

GILDEROY LOCKHART: PRODIGAL HEART THROB OR FRAUD?

By Rita Skeeter

During a routine observational sit-in of several upper year classes, one Hogwarts Board Governor discovered that Gilderoy Lockhart, Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was an “alarmingly incompetent instructor”. The Board of Governors graciously agreed to deliver an official statement to us here at the Prophet , which we are honored to present to the public today.

While the report detailing the “gross educational deficiencies” observed in Professor Lockhart’s classroom is classified information, Deputy Head of the Board, Abraxas Malfoy, assured us here at the Prophet that the Board has already put together an assessment and remediation plan for the 5th through 7th year students, who were found to be sorely under prepared for their O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s respectively.

Governor Malfoy explained that all current Hogwarts students would take an assessment to determine the severity of their academic deficiencies. Summer workshops are currently being set up for all students in need of remedial study. As a result of these unfortunate circumstances, the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s have been postponed until later this summer or until the remedial workshops have had a chance to fill in the gaps left by Professor Lockhart.

The assessment screenings are set to take place before term ends on June 30th, at which time the course of action for the younger students will be plotted and determined. As of now, the lower year students who pass these assessments will be allowed a chance to take their end of term Defense exams as originally scheduled. Those who do not will be fit into the Board’s summer remediation program. And though the head of the board was unavailable for comment, Governor Malfoy was quick to assure us that all students who do not meet their Defense requirements for graduation or their next year of schooling will be tended to, regardless of the circumstances.

The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has opened an official investigation on Lockhart in light of these events. There are also rumors of an anonymous tip being sent to the DMLE about the authenticity of Lockhart’s reputation and career.

According to several of the lower ranking members of the Hogwarts board of governors, traditional hiring procedures were not followed with Lockhart’s hiring. No known action has been taken against Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Order of Merlin, First Class; Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards; and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot) at this time, but board investigations are rumored to be ongoing.

To learn about more secrets uncovered about Lockhart by the DMLE, see page 9.

Hermione skimmed the Prophet over Harry’s shoulder and shook her head. Lockhart turning out to be a complete fraud didn’t bother her as much as Harry or Ron thought it might. She’d stopped caring about him months ago.

She picked at her breakfast while the owls continued their rounds and jumped when a thick envelope landed in front of her. A sleek black owl landed in the middle of the table, managing to avoid the dishes with more grace than Hermione had expected it to have. She offered it a half slice of toast, then shrieked when it flew to her shoulder, and let out an exasperated laugh when it rubbed its head against her cheek before taking off with its toast.

She picked up the letter, noting its weight before inspecting the wax seal pressed into the back. The symbol was familiar —a Caduceus set into silver wax— but she didn’t know who it belonged to and the only thing written on the envelope was her name.

"Wot'cha go' 'ere, 'Mione?" Ron asked around a mouthful of food.

Her lips twitched in distaste. “Honestly, Ronald, must you talk with your mouth full?”

Ron only rolled his eyes at her and continued to eat when it became clear she wasn’t going to engage with him until he used his table manners.

“Who’s it from?” asked Harry from his spot beside her. He, she noticed, had made a point to swallow before speaking.

Hermione shrugged. “I dunno,” she said as she carefully broke the seal.

The stationery inside was crisp and thick, with a delicate border of silver laurels decorating the edges. The silver glinted against the marble white card stock. Despite its sturdiness, Hermione was careful as she removed the letter. Glistening dark green ink stood out against the stationery and as she admired the contrast, she recognized the handwriting.

Chapter Text

Dear Miss Granger,

Due to your Defense professor's shortcomings being brought to light, I've taken to discussing the remainder of your years education with your remaining professors. Some of your classmates will begin sitting their exams at the start of June, an opportunity you will likely be granted upon taking your Board Proficiency Assessment later this week.

However, if you're agreeable, I would prefer you sit your exams over the summer. I'd like the opportunity to evaluate your current educational standings alongside a professor who speaks most highly of you to determine what ways, if any, the lackluster Professor Lockhart has negatively impacted your academic career.

But I leave the choice to you. If you're content with the terms of my request, simply do not sit your exams with your classmates in June, regardless of your assessment results, and notify Professor Snape of your decision. He's familiar with my schedule and can better coordinate a time for us to meet before term ends.

If, however, your heart is set on taking your exams in June, then I wish you the best of luck and hope you enjoy your summer holiday.

Yours,

Tom M. Riddle Jr.

Lord of the House of Gaunt

Head of the Order of Hermes

Head Chair of the Hogwarts Board of Governors

Hermione read the letter twice before taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. "It's from my sponsor," she told Harry. "He wants me to postpone all of my exams until summer."

Harry frowned. "All of them? Haven't you been studying ahead?"

She nodded. She'd also been studying ahead of their year in the Room of Requirement with Tom, but Harry didn't know that. She'd considered telling him over the summer.

"I suppose he's just taking extra precautions, making sure I didn't miss anything in first year, possibly. Or he's worried about my progress in other subjects. I don't mind, though," she said.

Hermione sat the letter beside her plate and resumed her breakfast, but found her eyes were constantly drawn back to the signature. She glanced towards the staff table, wondering when she'd be able to inform Professor Snape of her decision, and found his eyes already trained on her. When his expression turned inquiring, she gave him a small nod.

He gave her a barely noticeable nod in return before switching his attention back to the Slytherin table.


When Harry and Ron returned from their first full day of exams, Hermione was curled up in an armchair with a glamoured fifth year textbook and it was clear that she had been for most of the day.

"So it's true," Ron said hotly, "you get to wait until summer to do your exams?"

Hermione finished the paragraph she was on and turned the page before responding. "I'm choosing to give up part of my summer to take my exams at the request of my sponsor," she said, using a falsely patient tone. "If that's what you meant."

Her comment was met with silence. When she looked away from her book, Ronald was giving her a blank stare and Harry was shaking his head in exasperation.

Hermione felt her blood ignite. He'd asked her why Professor Snape had kept her after class the day she found out about the sponsorship. She'd discussed it with Harry while the two played wizard's chess. She'd opened the letter from her sponsor in front of him and discussed it with Harry over breakfast hardly a fortnight prior.

But before her irritation could present itself verbally, Harry chimed in. "The head of the board is sponsoring her academic career. Remember the night I went to the library with her to help her research it? You didn't want to go." Harry sighed when Ron only showed the slightest indication that he remembered. "Anyway," he continued, "it hasn't been done for ages, but it'll be really helpful when we graduate if she tries for an apprenticeship or something."

Ron's expression twisted into poorly concealed disgust. "Bloody hell, someone pays her to be a swot now?"

"I don't get paid anything," Hermione snapped. "My parents just don't have to pay for my books anymore. Traditionally sponsors also provide monthly or quarterly allowances to their sponsee, but I haven't met my sponsor yet, so I don't know all the details of my particular situation."

"Good for you then," Ron muttered under his breath.

She slammed her book shut loud enough to make Ron jump and then flush with embarrassment.

"Speaking of meeting my sponsor," she said conversationally, as if she wasn't one word away from hexing Ronald in the middle of the common room, "I have to go. I'm Flooing to London or somewhere to meet him." Turning to Harry, she offered him a weak smile as she packed her things into her bag. "Please don't wait up or anything. I'm not sure when I'll be back. Might be late."

"Have fun, 'Mione," Harry called as she made her way through the portrait hole.

She was already gone when Ron muttered something unkind about the situation and earned an elbow to the ribs from Harry.


Hermione made her way down to the dungeons and knocked thrice on the Potion Master's classroom door. She didn't hear Professor Snape approach on the other side and jumped when the door opened.

"Miss Granger," he greeted evenly, brow raised.

She muttered a quick 'Good evening, Professor' as she slipped past him into the room. He led her to his office and grabbed a pouch of Floo powder from one of his desk drawers.

"I trust you came with everything you need?" he asked.

"Yes, sir."

He nodded and poured her a measure of Floo powder when she held out her hand. "We'll be traveling to Proserpine Park, Miss Granger," he said.

Once she'd repeated the name aloud three times to verify that she had the pronunciation correctly, she stepped through the Floo and into a large, ornately decorated drawing room.

Professor Snape stepped through a moment later and cast a quick charm to rid them both of soot before motioning for her to follow him out into the hall. Try as she might have to keep her sense of direction, the myriad of hallways and corners they wound through had her confused immediately. Instead, she tried to admire the decor without losing track of her guide.

She almost didn't notice when Professor Snape stopped in front of her. The door he'd taken her to was at the end of the hall they were currently in and seemed nondescript, or so she thought. Still, the professor knocked twice and listened for a cue she didn't hear before opening the door and stepping through.

Suddenly nervous, Hermione stuck a hand into her satchel. Her fingers found her journal, Tom's journal, and she held it tightly as she followed Professor Snape into yet another richly decorated drawing room.

Chapter Text

He’d forgotten how little she was in the beginning.

Her untamed curls filled him with a bittersweet sort of nostalgia. She was shorter. Her posture was all wrong. Timid, hesitant. The hand she’d slipped into the pocket of her satchel was stiff. She was clutching his diary, their diary, like a lifeline.

I was bloody petrified the first time I met older you, you know.

He could see it on her face, a mixture of anxiety, fear, and just a bit of hope. Hope that his presence meant they’d still be friends.

Friends .

It was always too simple of a phrase to describe them, but Tom knew his younger self hadn’t figured that out yet, and neither had Hermione.

Little Hermione. Hermione the second year. Hermione the Gryffindor. Hermione the quick study.

The Hermione he thought he could teach anything.

The Hermione he would teach everything he knew.

The only thing that hadn’t changed were her eyes. They seemed wider to him, in part because of the emotions running rampant behind them as she tried to get her bearings with their situation, but also because of the innocence that lurked in them.

She was Hermione, but she’d yet to grow into his Hermione. Still…he’d missed her, even if she was his astute little ball of frizz again. She’d become his Hermione in time.

“Hello, Dove,” he said. He kept his expression neutral, but kind. She was nervous. She was confused. He didn’t want to overwhelm her.

She swallowed and shuffled nervously before him. “You know I’m not behind in Defense,” she said, her voice quiet.

She even sounded smaller. The realization amused him. “I do,” he said obligingly. They both knew he’d started teaching her fifth year material recently.

He watched her thoughts turn and tried not to chuckle. If memory served, his younger self had either written her a note, was currently writing it, or at the very least would write her before Tom sent her back to school. She was caught in the middle between them. He wished he could prepare her for the strain of that burden. He wished he could tell her not to worry so much, not to be so afraid of her growing attachment to his younger self.

Wished he could tell her that she was just as important to him as he was to her.

Before the silence could stretch for too long, he said, “I’d nearly forgotten how small you were in your second year. You grew so much, so quickly, that I could hardly remember how you looked before your sixth year.”

Those wide brown eyes blinked up at him as she realized just how drastic the time difference between her and his younger self would turn out to be.

The next five years for her would only be two and a half years for the boy she knew. Tom remembered how it felt like time had flown during his last few years at Hogwarts. This time, he’d live through the crawl. Knowing what would be waiting for him in five years was the only thing that made that fact bearable.

He watched Hermione’s thoughts spiral behind her eyes before rolling his own. “Relax,” he said. “Do you think I’d seek you out if our friendship hadn’t remained anything but strong?”

Certainly that wouldn’t give too much away? Knowing they’d be companions throughout her school years shouldn’t be a surprise to her.

He saw her expression darken for a moment and had to hide his own negative reaction.

Had the spiral truly started this early? Did she already think he’d drop her like hot coals if she made a mistake?

Silly girl , he thought, trying not to smile at the absurdity of their situation. You couldn’t get rid of me even if you tried.

“You haven’t eaten, Dove,” he said, gesturing towards the door on the right side of the room and gestured for her to walk with him. “Come. Humor me.”

She followed, obedient little thing that she was, and Severus trailed behind them. Tom’s labyrinth of a home was a maze to most people, but he knew the halls well.

Once they’d reached one of the smaller dining rooms, he saw to her being seated beside him, across from Severus, and gave a small nod towards the kitchen-hand he saw hovering by the far entryway.

Soon, they each had a glass of ice water, and their dinner was being served. When Tom was certain everything was to the correct standards, he sat back and regarded this unnervingly young version of his first and only friend.

“Refresh my memory, Dove,” he said. “How has your year been? I remember a fair bit, but I’ve been immersed in this Lockhart nonsense for weeks. I’m certain I’ve forgotten details.”

She hesitated at first, but gave him a brief summary of everything that had happened since Draco had slipped her his —their— diary.

He was glad to learn that her secret friendship with Abraxas’s grandson was progressing smoothly. She reminded him how far he’d taught her during their private tutoring nights in the Room of Requirement. Something bitter and uncomfortable stirred in his chest when she admitted how out of place she’d started to feel. She had Harry, but the Weasley brat was a problem Tom would have to wait for history —or the future, he supposed— to resolve on its own.

He was glad to learn that Harry’s loyalty was strengthening in her direction as it should be. He was less glad to learn just how thoroughly Weasley had started to get under her skin.

“I want to tell Harry about my sorting,” she admitted over dessert. “But I don’t think I can. Besides, he was friends with Ronald first. I only became part of their group after the troll incident during first year…”

Tom shared a brief glance with Severus, who was hiding his amusement behind a drink of water.

“You never know, Dove,” Tom said, trying to suppress a smile. “You may not be the only current Hogwarts student that chose one house over another.”

She glanced up at him, her eyes narrowing suspiciously. The expression was so strikingly familiar, so her , that it made his chest ache.

His Hermione was in there. She just needed time.

He could almost hear her calling him a prat and smirked. In a few months, maybe in a year, she’d start throwing those little jabs at him aloud without hesitation. All she needed was time.

And all he needed was patience.


Harry was dozing in Hermione’s favorite armchair when she returned to the common room. He perked up a bit when he realized it was her and smiled lazily.

“Hullo, ‘Mione,” he said.

She smiled back. “You should be in bed.”

Harry shrugged and shifted to one side so she could share the chair with him. Hermione set her bag at their feet and accepted his unspoken invitation gladly.

“Is your sponsor a nice bloke?” he asked once she was comfortable.

“Yeah,” she said as she laid her head on his shoulder. “Intelligent. Charming. Interesting all around really.”

“Good, I’m glad.”

They lapsed into a comfortable silence that was only broken by the pops and crackles of the fireplace. Hermione had started to doze off when Harry spoke up.

“Is there anything odd in Hogwarts: A History about the sorting hat?” he asked.

She frowned. Tom’s words from dinner were starting to make her brain itch. “Not really,” she answered. “The hat’s known to factor in personal reference, I think, but there’s not much documented about it. I think people just assume that it’s charmed to sort students properly.” She hesitated for a moment before asking him why he wanted to know.

Harry sighed. “I just got to thinking and wondered if urging the hat to choose a different house would mean you’ve been ‘missorted’.”

She tilted her head to glance up at him, but found Harry was frowning towards the fire. “Did it want to put you somewhere aside from Gryffindor?” she asked him. She’d already deduced that was the case, but wanted to hear him say it before she got her hopes up.

“Sort of,” he said, his cheeks reddening slightly in the firelight. “I didn’t feel like I belonged there, so I asked it to put me anywhere else.”

“And it chose Gryffindor,” she said.

“Yeah.”

She took a deep breath. “I asked it to put me somewhere else too,” she admitted.

Harry’s gaze shifted from the fire to her. Surprise, worry, and hope stirred in his eyes.

“Didn’t fancy Ravenclaw?” he quipped hesitantly.

“Not exactly.” She gave him a sad smile, trying to convey that she wasn’t exactly sure how she felt about her true house affiliation either. “I’ll tell if you do.”

Harry smiled. “On three?”

They counted down in hushed whispers, staring at one another in silence when the same house tumbled from their lips. Once the shock had settled, they shared relieved smiles and Hermione settled against Harry’s shoulder again.

She wasn’t alone after all. And neither was Harry.

Chapter Text

Tom wasted no time walking from the greenhouses to the Great Hall. It wasn't that he was particularly hungry, but Hermione would be boarding the Hogwarts Express soon. He could feel the gentle magical hum that he'd first noticed in the middle of Herbology, and he wanted to respond to her message before she got distracted on the train.

Abraxas and Flynn weren't far behind him, but he reached the Slytherin table first and settled himself in his usual spot as far from the staff table as possible. He didn't want Dumbledore getting suspicious of his diary and his thorn of a Transfiguration professor paid him enough unwanted attention as it was. Tom didn't want anyone outside of his control learning about Hermione.

She was his little secret.

Thankfully, Dumbledore wasn't at the staff table when Tom sat down, so he was free to take out his diary and a quill without concerning himself with the handful of people trickling in around him.

So. I had a meeting last night.

He raised a brow at the words. It was such a hesitant admission. What had this mystery meeting entailed to make her afraid of talking to him about it?

What sort of meeting? he asked. What constituted as a 'meeting' for a second year, almost third year? A study session? Her coyness bothered him.

Well, there was a pause after she wrote the word, I met my sponsor.

Ah. He'd been wondering who had sought out his Dove as a protegeé. Primarily because he had no desire to share her or her brilliant little mind with anyone in any time period. He'd found her first. You mentioned your sponsor was head of the board of governors? he wrote.

Yeah. He is.

Tom glared at the words. Why so coy, Dove? Do you dislike him?

No. It's just…kinda awkward.

Tom rubbed a temple. He didn't like guessing games, but she was clearly at a loss for how to approach whatever situation she'd found herself in. Why? Is it someone you know? Abraxas' father was on the board now, if memory served. Was Abraxas, or Draco's not-yet-conceived-father, her sponsor?

Yes. You.

He blinked, rereading the words a few times before they faded away. Me? he asked. I'm head of the board? Did that mean his plans to move up in the world would succeed? How successful would he be?

The irony surprised and pleased him. Sharing her with himself wasn't actually sharing, was it?

Yep, she wrote. You wrote me a few weeks ago. I just wasn't sure how I felt about it.

Tom resisted the urge to snort. He didn't know what he'd do if faced with two of her either. Must be odd. That explains why you were quiet.

Yeah. Professor Snape and I Floo'd to your home for the evening.

Coveting Snape would work as well, then, Tom realized. How many of the ideas and plans he' had, would have, pertaining to her would come to fruition he wondered.

Harry waited up for me, she wrote before he'd thought of a reply. Apparently he asked the hat to put him in a different house too.

Did he now? Tom wondered. So your reasonable friend is a snake in lion's skin too, is he? he wrote.

A rush of students descended upon the great hall and the tables began to fill in the moments it took her to respond. He is.

That explains why he's decent, Tom wrote. Another missorted Slytherin. How frequently did students request the sorting hat to put them somewhere aside from where they belonged, he wondered. Was it a common occurrence or was it purely situational on the hat's part?

You're starting to sound like Ronald, she told him. No one house is better than the other.

Tom rolled his eyes. Righteous little thing. Apologies, Dove, he wrote. He'd stand by Slytherin being the best house until proven otherwise, but he didn't feel like arguing with her about it. To be fair, the Weasley boy doesn't exactly paint the best picture for thoroughbred Gryffindors.

Fair enough. Her begrudging amusement was obvious and Tom smirked. Little victories were just as important as bigger ones sometimes. Still, Ron's our friend.

Tom felt a brow twitch upward. He's a shite friend, Dove. The boy was a terror, from what he'd heard. Selfish. Couldn't see the world past the end of his nose. Belittled Hermione's intelligence.

Tom was fortunate enough that the Weasleys of his era wouldn't have another wave of Hogwarts aged children until after he graduated.

What am I like in 2013? he asked her. The curiosity was nagging at him, but he wasn't sure how much she could, or should, tell him. Playing with time was messy, dangerous business.

Charming as ever, she told him. His eyes narrowed. He got the sense that she was making fun of him somehow. You've certainly built a life for yourself, though I still don't understand why you're paying for my school things. I don't need it.

Consider it an investment into your future, Dove. Sponsorship was a hell of an advantage to hold over one's peers. He'd gladly present that advantage to her. I assume I must be fairly well off, then.

You're comfortable, no doubt.

She was being passive again. I detect sarcasm in the form of understatement, he wrote.

Sarcasm? Gryffindors don't know the art.

Tom noticed that dinner had started around him, but didn't start building his plate. Food could wait. If she wanted to play with words, he'd play.

You were never meant to wear red and gold, Dove, he said.

And yet I do.

He snorted softly. Yes, well, I think we've already decided that you and your friend are a pair of lost boys.

Tom glanced up when there was movement beside him. Abraxas had taken Tom's plate and beaten Mulciber to the baked ham. He smirked when Abraxas put all three rings of pineapple on his plate without breaking eye contact with Mulciber before passing Tom the dish.

"Appreciated, Abraxas," said Tom.

"You're busy," Abraxas said with a shrug. "I assumed you wouldn't mind a second set of eyes, under the circumstances."

Tom nodded to signal his agreement, but was already writing a reply to Hermione despite having finally picked up his fork.

Was that a Peter Pan reference? she'd asked. Her surprise amused him.

Muggles may have turned the myth into a bedtime story, but I've always though Pan was more than just a Greek deity, he wrote. A boy who never aged? Don't you think it'd be grand to be young forever?

He started eating while he waited for her to answer, cutting a bit of glaze covered pineapple with his fork before leisurely savoring the morsel of fruit. She took so long to write him back that he'd started to wonder if she'd been distracted by preparing to leave.

Been researching, have you? she asked.

Tom thought the question was odd. Of course he'd been looking into immortality. Was she surprised?

You can't have power if you're old and senile or dead, darling, he wrote, rereading the words until they disappeared.

Darling. It was rather fitting wasn't it? She was his Wendy. A girl who'd caught his attention. A companion. His Neverland was a future where he held power and control, and she was the only person he was determined to bring with him as he built it.

That has a pleasant ring to it, doesn't it? My little Wendy Darling?

Don't even think about it. Her quick response nearly made him choke of a bite of ham and pineapple.

Kill joy, he wrote. Would you at least follow me to Neverland?

Despite waiting for her answer, it didn't come as quickly as he wanted. She was probably boarding the train. He'd just have to be patient. Tom put his diary away in an attempt to ignore his building disappointment. Seeing how annoyed Mulciber was that he'd gotten all the pineapple helped his mood, but he was still the first to finish his dinner and leave the great hall.

He was bored.

The journal didn't hum again until long after Tom had trudged up to the Room of Requirement to study. The room felt too big without her mass of frizzy curls sitting across from him.

Maybe.

His lips twitched. Hermione was amusing when she was being playful.


Harry and Hermione ended up having a compartment to themselves when Ron vanished halfway through the train ride. He'd made some feeble excuse about wanting to ask Seamus something Quidditch related but when he didn't return for an hour it became clear he had no plans to do so.

"He's being such a prat lately," Harry muttered.

Hermione only shrugged. "Let him. I imagine we'll still get invitations from Molly to spend some of the summer at the Burrow."

Harry's brow drew together in confusion and Hermione knew what he would ask before he got the words out. "She didn't send you a letter yet?"

She clenched her teeth and said nothing, seething internally. Harry's temper flared as well. "Nevermind it, Harry," she tried to tell him. He didn't have to sacrifice part of his summer just because Ron had made sure she'd be excluded. "You have fun. Tell everyone hello for me."

Harry was already digging through his bags in search of a quill. "There's no way I'm going," he said. "He's being bloody ridiculous!"

Hermione didn't think it was necessary to remind him that Ronald had a reputation for being ridiculous, as well as absurd. She just let him write his letter of refusal in peace and decided she'd tell him about Tom the younger while they were alone. She also thought he might like to know that Snape had told her to come to him if she wanted to switch. Surely that invitation extended to Harry.

She just wanted him to know that they had options if he ever wanted to take them.

Switching to Slytherin probably wouldn't be as stressful if Harry went with her, anyhow...


Ron,

I'm not coming over this summer.

There's no way I'm excluding Hermione from our summer when she's done nothing to deserve it, you prat. Especially when you tried to be a sneak about it.

Get over it, mate.

-Harry

p.s. Good luck with the Prophet contest.

Chapter Text

 

POTTER CASE REOPENED — IS BLACK INNOCENT?

Rita Skeeter

3 July 2013

Yesterday, July 2nd, Lord Tom Riddle Jr., renowned politician and head chairman of the Hogwarts board of governors, presented the Wizengamot with an appeal to review the trial of Sirius Orion Black, who was previously convicted for assisting in the murders of James and Lily Potter on October 31st, 2001.

After founding his appeal on startling – though unfortunately undisclosed – new evidence and several transcribed conversations between himself and Black, Lord Riddle had these words to share with us here at the Prophet yesterday evening:

"Anyone with half a mind can view the pensive copies of Mr. Black's trial and realize that his confession was given out of guilt, not truth. Veritaserum, while a very useful potion, has been known to fail when faced with distinguishing between a person's perceived truths and legitimate ones. I fear that our legal system failed to save Mr. Black from himself twelve years ago, and with that possibility in mind, we as public servants owe him nothing less than a revision of evidence. If not for his sake, then for his godson's."

Unbeknownst to the public until last evening’s meeting with Lord Riddle, Sirius Black was not only a close friend of the Potter family, but also the godfather of Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived. Mr. Potter only had his muggle relatives to go to after the death of his parents, limiting his access to the magical world, and Lord Riddle has informed us that Black intends to gain custody of his godson should his innocence be proved.

Mr. Potter has not been available to comment on the issue at this time.

With the Wizengamot in deep discussion today, we anxiously await further developments.

(See Page 2, Section 4 for details and transcripts from Lord Riddle's interviews with Sirius Black.) 


Hermione dozed while she ate a bowl of cereal. She had her chin propped on one hand, while the other was going back and forth between writing Tom and the occasional spoonful of cereal.

She didn’t need to eat quickly. There were no classes to rush to, no noisy eaters around her. The house was silent. Her parents had left for the office before she’d gotten out of bed and wouldn’t be back for several hours yet.

The peace was refreshing.

Good morning. You seem drowsy, Tom wrote.

I slept in, she penned. He was right. She was writing slowly. Sleep was clinging to her.

How late is it?

Hermione lifted her head just enough to see the microwave and winced, embarrassed. Yikes. It’s noon. I feel lazy now.

She could feel his amusement as if it were bleeding through the pages. You had a long year. Enjoy the rest while you can get it. She took another bite of cereal while he wrote. I’m at dinner. Malfoy and Black are arguing over some policy their fathers are on opposite sides of at the Wizengamot. It has to do with muggleborns and half-bloods. I’ll take your slothful brunch discussions over their garbage any day.

Hermione snorted. Blood supremacy nonsense, I take it?

The very same. I don’t know who I want to curse more. The only entertaining thing about it is how terrified Avery and Nott are for Malfoy’s sake.

She winced in sympathy. I don’t envy him.

It is both a blessing and a curse that most of my classmates have forgotten I’m a half-blood, he wrote. But it’s his vehemence about muggleborns that’s making my wand hand twitch. I don’t think I’ve mentioned your lineage to them, but it’s no matter. He’ll learn one way or another. The pair of us may be outliers, but we’re still far more powerful than any pureblood.

She frowned and took her time chewing another spoonful of cereal. Blood status doesn’t matter, Tom , she wrote carefully. No one needs some great lineage to fall back on. There are plenty of powerful muggleborns and halfbloods. We’re not exceptions to a rule.

Of course we are, he wrote, the words appearing quicker than Hermione had ever seen him write. There are weak wizards everywhere. Purebloods, halfbloods, muggleborns. Most of them wouldn’t know the different between Aberto and Alohomora if it wasn’t drilled into them during second year. It’s different for us. We’re stronger. We’re better . We can do more than just follow rules and say magic words, Hermione.

And you’re arrogant, she thought to herself, and wrote, We’re motivated. Almost anyone can be a talented witch or wizard if they put their mind to it.

I sincerely doubt that, said Tom. There’s always a hierarchy, Dove.

Hermione shook her head. If you say so. 


She spent most of the day reading and writing Tom, and while she missed going to the Room of Requirement, she enjoyed how her absence led to him telling her about aspects of his day they’d normally gloss over.

Sundays can be so annoying. Everyone’s frantically trying to finish homework due tomorrow. I’ve done mine, of course. Still, they ruin my peace with their tittering.

You’re so easy to pester, she wrote, smiling at his petulance.

The common room echoes.

She asked him to explain and was fascinated by the image he painted for her.

I’m not sure what the Gryffindor common room looks like, but ours is dimly lit. Not so dark that it’s difficult to see, but not bright either. The back wall, across from the entrance, is made up of large windows and one of the fireplaces. Some of the glass is mosaic. Some of it’s clear panes. They’re all reading nooks, though. The benches are padded. Slughorn doesn’t like when we close the curtains around ourselves, but he doesn’t stop us either. Well, I should rephrase. He doesn’t stop those of us who are sitting alone . Everyone gets a bit peeved by idiot fourth, fifth, and sixth years that try to snog back here. Most of the seventh years have figured out how to ward abandoned classrooms if they’re that desperate for privacy. Then again, a fair few of the purebloods are prudes or uppity bints following mummy and daddy’s example.

Some of the sofas are leather. Some are fabric. There’s the far back fireplace, two on the left side (if you’re standing in the entrance) and one on the right. Each fireplace area has its own section of furniture. The stairwells to the boys’ dorms are on the left side, between the two seating areas. The stairwell to the girls’ is directly across from it on the opposite side. The common room floor is dark flagstone, but there are rugs everywhere. Most of them are dark green with the house crest. Some are solid black. On the right side, between the entrance and the right fireplace, is the entrance to a corridor that leads to Slughorn’s office.

And where are you? she asked. Where do you usually spend your time?

The nook directly left of the back fireplace, he answered. My lot usually takes over the back of the room. Being close to the water is calming. When it’s sunny outside, the light shines through the lake a bit. It reminds me of an aquarium.

Hermione sighed wistfully. That sounds much nicer the Gryffindor’s.

She described the Gryffindor common room to him in turn, though she felt her description was far less inspiring than his had been. It’s warm and cozy, no doubt. But rarely peaceful.

It sounds like you’d get a headache the moment you walked in, said Tom. I don’t know how you stand it. 


She wrote Tom and read until her parents got home, then promised to write him after dinner.

Her father returned her bright smile when she met them at the door and was the first to hug her. Her mother planted a kiss to her hair as she passed them in the hallway.

“How was your day?” her father asked.

“Lovely,” she told him. “I’ve read all day.”

“Of course you have,” he said, running a hand over her curls. “What’d you read? Something magical?”

She’d read a bit of muggle and magical material throughout the day, and was happy to launch into a summary of both while her parents started on dinner. She tried not to go too in-depth with the magical parts, knowing it could be difficult to grasp, but was pleased when they asked her questions.

“So,” said David, “you can create water with magic, but not food?”

Hermione nodded from the kitchen table. “I’m not entirely certain if the water conjured by spells is actually summoned from somewhere else or if the spell just causes the molecules around you to converge, turn into oxygen and hydrogen, and then combine to create a steady stream of water, but yes. You can conjure drinking water, but not real food.”

“What if you transfigured -is that the word?- a feather into a sandwich?” he countered.

“At best, you can turn existing food into something different, or make more of it, but you have to have some already. That or the spell would revert in your stomach,” she told them. “It’s complicated stuff. Real food that actually serves its purpose can’t be made with magic. Make a feather into a sandwich and you’ve still eaten a feather.”

The Granger’s skipped the feathers and had chicken pesto sandwiches for dinner. Hermione helped with the dishes and spent half an hour watching telly with her parents before she grew bored.

“Back to your books, love?” Jean called when Hermione headed towards the stairs.

She threw an affirmative over her shoulder and took the stairs two a time. She didn’t know how late it was for Tom, but hoped she’d catch him once more before he went to bed.

Are you still awake? she wrote.

After several impatient minutes on Hermione’s part, his reply appeared on the page and she relaxed.

I am, Dove. Welcome back. Enjoy your supper?

With a contented sigh, she quickly changed into pajamas, grabbed her quill, and threw herself onto her bed. I did. How’s your evening been?

Dealt with Malfoy He was, of course, quick to learn from his mistakes. Black’s another story. I have little use for anything except his name, but I don’t think the backing of the Black family is worth dealing with their tempers and personalities.

Sounds exciting, she wrote, hoping he picked up on her sarcasm. I taught my parents about Gamp’s Law over sandwiches.

You’re absurd, wrote Tom. But amusing.

Hermione grinned. Dad asked why we could conjure water and not food. They’re dentists, doctors. They like to understand things.

Still, said Tom. The image of you teaching basic Transfiguration principals to two muggles over dinner is an entertaining thought.

She rolled her eyes. Now who’s absurd?

Still you, Dove.

Hermione wasn’t sure which of them fell asleep first, but smiled when she woke up beside the diary. Later that afternoon, when Tom woke up for the day, he was adamant that she’d fallen asleep before him.

She wondered if he could tell that she didn’t believe him.

Chapter Text

 

The Malfoy family owl arrived at the Granger household on a pleasantly relaxed Sunday morning. Hermione was quick to offer the bird half of her toast in thanks before she took the letter and opened the window so he could come and go as he pleased while he waited for her reply.

Dear Hermione,

My summer's been great so far, thanks. And yours?

I wish I could claim surprise over the situation, but it’s a pity that Weasley is so disgustingly tactless. I’m glad to hear Potter didn’t take his side, though. Was he really meant to be in Slytherin as well? Ironic, isn’t it? I wonder how many of our classmates are technically “missorted”.

I’m pleased to say that I can officially extend an invitation for you (and Potter) to spend time at the Manor if you’d like to. Mother’s been following our cousin’s trial closely. If the things Lord Riddle has presented to the Wizengamot - Father won’t give me details. He doesn’t think I should be worrying about it just yet, or something - are true and Black is freed, then Potter would become an honorary cousin. Maybe we’ll get along better with you around?

I’m eager to hear your decision, and more than excited to see you again if you decide to come visit. We didn’t get to spend much time together last term. It’s irksome that I can spend as much time with some of the others - Theo Nott, Blaise Zabini, and Tracey Davis, namely. They’re an alright lot - but Salazar forbid either of us get seen spending time with the “enemy”. I’m sure you’d meet more of the Slytherins in our year if you came over. I think you’d like them.

Once I hear back from you, Father will begin making your travel preparations (if you decide to come, of course). Do let me know if Potter will be able to tag along. Mum wants to host a welcome home party for Cousin Sirius when he’s released. Might be less odd for Potter to meet his godfather in a more public setting. I’d be nervous about it if it were me, but I think having friends around might help.

Impatiently and dutifully yours,

Draco

Hermione rolled her eyes at his sign off. His pureblood upbringing was showing again.

She brought up the subject with her parents when she resumed eating. They listened attentively while she explained what she knew of the trial and Harry’s home life.

“Well,” said David, “I don’t mind if your mother doesn’t.”

“I think it’s very good of you all to be thinking of your friend,” said Jean. “If you’re certain this is what you want, then I don’t see why not.”

“You don’t mind?” Hermione asked them. She felt bad for trying to leave again already. She’d barely been home a fortnight.

“It’s your summer break, sweetheart,” David said. “Of course we want to spend time with you, but we also want you to enjoy yourself.”

Jean raised a teasing brow. “You’re here on your own while we’re at the office anyway. I know you like your reading time, but surely you’ll get bored here by yourself after a while.”

Hermione shrugged sheepishly. She did miss her friends, but she’d missed her parents too. “I can come back once Harry’s settled,” she offered.

David shook his head and patted her hair as he stood to take his dishes to the sink. “Not unless you want to,” he said. “We have a conference to go to in France at the end of August, but it’s supposed to end on the thirtieth. Which means we’ll be back in time to see you off at King’s Cross. I don’t see any point in you being here alone for the last week of the summer if you’re having fun with your friends.”

“If you’re sure,” she said.

Jean winked and took a sip of tea. “You do what you need to do, sweetheart. You have other holiday breaks, after all. Even if it is good to have you home.”

Hermione offered them a small smile before she refocused on her breakfast. 


 

She called Harry after lunch to extended Draco’s invitation.

“I never thought I’d be looking forward to spending a summer with Malfoy,” he said. “Have you read the Prophet at all?”

“I have,” she said. “How do you feel about the whole thing?”

“Kind of excited, to be honest. Lord Riddle has sent me a few letters with updates and to see how I felt about some things.”

“Are you excited to meet him?” she asked. “Last I heard the trial was as good as over, and that Sirius is innocent.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s a bit odd and all but…I dunno. I’m hoping he knows more about my family.”

Hermione smiled sadly. “Tom says he was best mates with your parents, Harry. I’m sure he’ll have plenty of stories to tell you once you get to know each other.”

“You’re probably right. Anyway, I suppose you’ll call or write to let me know when we’re leaving?”

“Of course I will.”

“Alright then. I’ve got to run. Talk to you later, ‘Mione.”

“Bye, Harry.”


 

Draco,

Harry and I officially accept your aforementioned invitation. Please let me know when and where it would be most convenient for your Father to meet us.

(Really? 'Dutifully mine'? What are you supposed to be, a knight?)

~Hermione

P.S. I agree that it might be more comfortable for Harry if there are a few familiar faces around. Hopefully we’re right. But I also hope that they get along easily. I think reclaiming some fraction of the magical side of his family would make him very happy.


 

Hermione started to worry when she didn’t hear back from Draco by Thursday. Harry’s birthday was in just over a week, and Sirius Black would be officially released from Ministry custody any day now, if the Prophet was to believed. They were running out of time to get together before Narcissa’s rumored welcoming party for Sirius, so why hadn’t Draco written back?

She was so caught up in trying to distract herself from her worries by doing homework that she didn’t think anything of it when there was a knock on the door after dinner.

She’d been about to write in the diary when she heard ‘Good evening, Mr. Riddle’ float up from the entryway.

Tom’s here?

She hopped up, thankful that she hadn’t changed into pajamas yet, even though her ‘day clothes’ consisted of an old Quidditch jersey of Harry’s, a pair of lounge pants, and socks. She ran to the top of the steps just before Tom followed her father into the kitchen.

She wasn’t surprised that he noticed her right away.

“Hello, you,” he said. “I think your father’s putting the kettle on. Why don’t you join us?”

“Do I…” she trailed off and bit her lip. The other Tom usually wrote her while he was at dinner, and he should be out of classes by now. “Should I grab the…”

Tom shook his head. “It won’t kill me to be bored for an hour or so,” he said, dropping his voice when she reached the base of the stairs. “Besides, I’m fairly certain tonight will be an eventful evening in the great hall for me. I’ll tell you all about it later.” He paused. “Younger me will, that is.”

It was surreal seeing Tom in her kitchen, chatting with her parents while her father made tea. Hermione didn’t realize they’d already met, multiple times it seemed, and watched the three of them in quiet fascination until they’d all settled around the kitchen table.

Tom was across from her parents. Hermione was to his right and her mother’s left. It seemed ironically fitting for her to be in the middle.

When Hermione went to fill her teacup, Tom held out a hand to stop her, his lips twitching. “Wandless practice,” he said.

She blinked at him. “But…I can’t do magic outside of school. Won’t that set off the trace?”

“Doubtful,” he told her. “Besides, you’re in the presence of a Ministry official. I’ll just get it struck from your record if it does pop up. At best, they might get pinged and assume it was me.”

At David and Jean’s confused, but patient expression, Tom chuckled quietly. “Forgive me. I should explain. Wandless magic is part of her IMPP - her Individualized Magical Proficiency Plan. It takes a lot of power, focus, discipline, and practice to master magic without a wand as a conduit. Most wizards will never learn how do something as simple as levitating a feather without their wands, but Hermione’s been learning the fundamentals of wandless magic with me this year.” He gave her a fond smile. “She’s the first witch in the last thousand years to successfully learn wandless casting at her age.”

Hermione blushed and looked at the table. “They don’t teach it anymore,” she muttered.

“Still, darling, that’s incredible!” said Jean. “Well done!”

David grinned at Hermione. “Don’t be shy, love. Show off a bit. We rarely get to see what you can do.”

A quick peak at Tom through her lashes yielded an encouraging nod in the kettle’s direction. She took a deep breath and focused, slowly pouring first her own cup, then topping off Tom’s. Setting the kettle down again and levitating sugar into both of their drinks was easier, and thus she managed to do it faster.

She didn’t tell him she would wandlessly make the sugar cubes break apart and dissolve. When he moved to stir his tea, he cut himself off in the middle of thanking her for her courtesy.

“Very sneaky, Hermione,” he teased.

She smiled around her teacup while basking in her parents’ praises.

It was still odd having him present in the muggle world, but by the time they’d moved on to the purpose for his visit, she’d grown used to his presence.

He explained her sorting issue to her parents, made sure they were fine with him proceeding without them if she chose to change houses in the future, and gave them one of his bee-charmer smiles when they agreed.

“The only other thing I came to discuss were the logistics for getting Hermione and Mr. Potter to Malfoy Manor,” Tom said.

Hermione perked up, and Tom gave her a look that told her he knew what direction her thoughts had turned.

“I promised Draco I’d come speak to you,” he said. “This is easier than trying to coordinate your plans by owl. Lucius can meet you and Harry in Diagon Alley on Saturday. I suggest taking the Knight Bus, just so you’re familiar with it. It also gives the pair of you an afternoon out. I’ve already suggested to Harry that it will be prudent to purchase any new clothing or supplies he needs during that time frame, in the event that he chooses to move in with his godfather.”

“Is Sirius going to be released then?” she asked hopefully.

Tom’s smile softened. “He was released this morning. I requested he give himself a few days to get his affairs in order, with my help of course, before his reunion with Harry. That also gives us a day for the remodeling agency we’ve contracted to fix up his childhood home.”

Hermione grinned. “It gives Mrs. Malfoy time to plan the party Draco mentioned.”

The roll of Tom’s eyes told the Grangers his opinion of Narcissa’s plan. “The small gathering Sirius and I agreed to will be hosted by Narcissa, yes. But he has adjusting to do. I don’t want to overwhelm him the moment he’s released.”

After ensuring the everyone was fine with the travel plans, Tom polished off his third cup of tea and stood. “Thank you for the hospitality,” he said to her parents. “But I must be off. I’m sure you’d like to return to your evening’s activities as well.”

“You haven’t intruded at all,” David assured him. “Your company’s been far more interesting than the telly, Tom.”

They thanked him for stopping by and shared an amused glance when Hermione jumped up to lead him to the door.

“Until next time,” Tom called down the hall. He smiled at Hermione as he left. “And I’ll see you in a few days.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Bye, Tom.”

He threw a wink over his shoulder as she shut the door. “Bye, Dove.”

Chapter Text

After triple checking her things, Hermione moved to sit on her bed and grabbed the journal to write Tom. I can't believe summer is nearly half over already.

Salazar, time moves quickly for you.

Is it truly so drastic?

Well, I'm writing you on a brilliantly rainy March evening. What's the date for you?

20 July 2013, it’s nearly time for lunch.

11 March, 1963. I just got to the great hall for dinner.

Jeez, that’s baffling.

I've been trying to make an arithmancy equation to build into a page of the diary so we always know each other's times. According to what I have right now, you'll be having your start of term feast while I’m eating breakfast on April 2nd my time.

That's...hard to digest.

It is. I've got more tweaking to do, but I've been trying to line up a table of values...

I can tell you the date and time when I write you, if that helps?

I'd appreciate that, little Dove. Run along now. Don't you need to get ready to go get your friend?

I do. I'll write again when I get time, okay?

I know you will. Have fun at Diagon. And, for laughs, if you see Abraxas, tell him I said hello.

Hermione shook her head. You work together at the Ministry.

And that’s why it’ll be funny. 


 

Both of her parents left the office for lunch to see her off.

After crushing hugs from both of them, I love you’s, and assurances that she would, of course, behave herself, Hermione double checked that no one was around before she cast a quick lumos .

Stan Shunpike and Ernie were interesting gents, to say the least. She waved to her parents one last time while Stan stowed her luggage, told them to head to Little Whinging, Surrey, and had barely sat down when the bus shot off.

Her first thought upon arriving at Number 4 Privet Drive was that Harry's relatives were dreadful.

Dreadful .

She swept her eyes over the red-faced Vernon, angry and fearful Petunia, and obliviously dense Dudley, and didn’t bother to hide how unimpressed she was with the lot of them. Still, she smiled at Harry.

"Ready?" she asked from the bottom step of the bus with Stan waiting around behind her. She'd already snapped at him for his impatience when Harry didn’t board immediately. Stan was weary of her now.

Perhaps she'd spent too much time talking to Tom recently.

She noted the hand-me-downs Harry was dressed in and sent another round of dark looks towards the Dursleys. This is what Tom had meant about Harry getting whatever he needed while they were in Diagon. She’d help him shop for a new wardrobe. They should have time to at least get him some basics before they met Lucius.

"Let’s go," Harry said, clearly uncomfortable and probably somewhat embarrassed by the circumstances. She hugged him before he passed her to board the bus and stepped down so Stan could stow Harry’s things. They’d both brought their school trunks. The likelihood of either of them returning ‘home’ before term was slim.

That said, no matter what happened with Sirius Black, she’d be doing everything in her power to keep Harry from ever returning to such a dreadful lot of people.

The Dursleys did not bid their nephew farewell. Harry muttered a bitter ‘see you next summer’ under his breath as Hermione took the seat beside him. She barely had time to warn Harry about the rough ride before they shot off again.

Contempt for the Dursleys filled her senses. She needed to talk to Tom. And not the prefect on the other side of her journal… Struck with an idea, she pulled said journal from her satchel and carefully inked her quill.

I need to talk to you at some point on the evening of 20 July 2013. Can you remember that somehow?

I'll make a note of it. You'll be with the Malfoys by then?

Should be.

Nothing I can do from here, I imagine?

Sadly, no.

I'll endeavor to remember, Dove. 


 

Barely thirty minutes after Harry and Hermione had finished replacing Harry's wardrobe and binning his cousin's old rags, Lucius Malfoy strolled into the Leaky Cauldron. He found the two at a table with their shrunken luggage near a plate of mostly eaten chips. They each had their nose in a book and were quietly working away on what appeared to be a potions essay.

"Miss Granger, Mister Potter," he greeted gently, as not to startle them.

They glanced up and greeted him politely before beginning to pack away their things. He took the time to pay their bill before either could notice and then studied the girl.

She was slightly taller now and a bit less mousy than she had been last summer. Her gaze, once hesitant until provoked, was now more critical and steady. He knew she was still clever thanks to Draco, whose decent marks had improved considerably since befriending the girl. She seemed to be fed well, though the same could not quite be said for the Potter boy.

Lucius hoped he hadn't missed any obvious sign of neglect in the girl. The Dark Lord had mentioned that he would stop by later that evening to check on her, for reasons undisclosed, and Lucius did not want to be on the hexing end of his Lord's wand should he find something amiss with the girl.

Thankfully Narcissa would get a chance to observe the two children before Lord Riddle's arrival as well. Just in case…

Once the two teens had safely stowed their shrunken luggage into their pockets, Lucius asked, "Is there anything else the two of you require before we depart?"

The two shared a glance and seemed to have an entire conversation in the span of a few silent seconds until Potter shrugged.

"Not until we get our supply lists, Mister Malfoy," the girl answered politely.

"Then let us be on our way, shall we?" 


 

Hermione was very aware of the fact that Lucius could have taken them through a much less public Floo than those available at the ministry. She also knew word would get around that  Lucius Malfoy  was escorting  the  Harry Potter and Harry Potter's muggleborn friend to his home. And thanks to a well-timed, "I do apologize in advance if Draco has made a crater in the marble of the entryway. He's been eagerly awaiting your arrival all day," from Lucius, everyone knew that the two were following Lord Malfoy of their own accord.

Harry quietly told Hermione how pleased he was that Ron's father worked at the ministry and wondered how Ron would explain to his family what his 'friends' were doing with the Malfoy clan.

It turned out that Draco hadn't worn a crater into the marble, but he was nearly vibrating from his spot a polite distance away from the Floo in the Manor's receiving hall when Harry stepped through. He gave him a polite, though somewhat weary, nod that Harry returned evenly.

"Start over?" Draco asked at the same time Harry said "Truce?"

They gave each other hesitant smiles as Hermione stepped through the Floo next.

Harry was surprised when Draco's hesitant smile became a wide grin that was equal parts mischievous as it was warm. And he was even more surprised when Hermione stared the blond down, clearly unimpressed with his display.

Draco put on a sneer. " Granger ."

Her lips curled with distaste. " Malfoy."

A second later Draco was laughing and caught in an infamously tight hug by Hermione, who was grinning as well.

"I missed you, you prat," she told him.

"I missed you too," Draco said, waiting a moment longer before releasing her.

Lucius and Narcissa had appeared during the little display, both equally amused with the teens in their receiving hall. Draco flushed when he noticed them, but said nothing to defend his actions.

Narcissa winked at Harry and Hermione as she stepped forward. "I've heard so much about you, Miss Granger," she said, her voice warm. "It's a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance."

“The pleasure's mine, Mrs. Malfoy," Hermione responded instantly. "And Hermione's fine."

Narcissa smiled and said, "Hermione it is, then," before repeating the same social courtesies with Harry.

"You children have traveled and shopped the better part of the day, Lucius tells me," said Narcissa, once it had been established that she was also calling Harry by his first name and that both Harry and Hermione were welcome (expected) to call her 'Cissa' in return. "Dinner should be ready at any moment. Hungry?"

Neither Harry nor Hermione felt as if they'd had several snacks while in Diagon Alley, and Draco was also a growing teen, of course, so all three were famished. Draco summoned Dobby to take up Harry and Hermione's things to their guest rooms in his wing of the mansion. Dobby was exceptionally happy to meet his favorite master's friends, and enthusiastically appointed himself to his task.

Draco rolled his eyes. "He's a funny one," he said somewhat apologetically.

"I like him," Harry said with a shrug.

Though Hermione didn't agree with the idea of house elves, she had to admit that Dobby was very pleasant and seemed to enjoy his servitude under the Malfoy family. She knew that not all house elves were treated so kindly.  

Narcissa and Lucius led them the dining room where they were promptly seated and served tea by two other elves, Ezra and Leeny. Snacks appeared on the table a moment later, and Hermione nibbled on finger foods while the boys launched into an intense Quidditch discussion.

Her worries that their past would prevent them from getting along vanished quickly. By the time the conversation had switched from the team standings last reported by the prophet to that school year’s upcoming tryouts, she was reasonably confident that they were well on their way to being fast friends.

Chapter Text

 

Tom glanced at the clock on his desk and rubbed his eyes. His long day was far from over, but he was looking forward to the ending for the most part. He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands over his chest, trying to refocus on the hissing match across from him.

“For fuck’s sake, Flynn-”

“Don’t ‘fuck’s sake’ me, Braxas, you bastard, I’m right and you damn well know it!”

“You’re right and Merlin has a pygmy puff tattooed on his left arse cheek!”

“You are the most infuriating-

I’m infuriating?!”

Insufferable -”

“This is bloody rich .”

Idiotic-

I know where you sleep, Flynn.

“Girls, please,” said Tom, not bothering to hide his amusement. “You’re both… adequate . I won’t say pretty.”

“Your definition of ‘pretty’ is what birdy grows up to be,” said Flynn, taking the excuse to ignore the blond beside him. “So that’s fair, I suppose.”

“She’s adorable now ,” Tom said somewhat defensively. Her hair was a frizzy disaster, and she was growing up far slower this time around than it had felt the first time,  but that didn’t mean he couldn’t acknowledge that she was a cute little witch. Emphasis on little .

“Are you coming to the Manor tonight?” Abraxas asked.

Tom nodded. “It’s the twentieth. Is your lover’s quarrel over yet?”

Both men glared at him. “You have no room to talk, Tom,” Flynn huffed. “And how we approach Um bitch trying to get involved this bloody early in the timeline is important.”

“It is,” Tom allowed. “But neither of you asked me if I’d taken care of it already.”

Flynn’s jaw dropped and Abraxas snorted. “ Obliviate or did you get her in trouble with her current superior?”

Tom waved his hand and wandlessly set his things to pack themselves. “A bit of this, a bit of that…”

“You son of a…” Flynn sighed. “Fucking hell. Fine then, we’re done here. Say hi to birdy for me.”

“You haven’t formally met her yet.”

“So?”

Tom shook his head as he stood. “When she’s met you, either version of you, I’ll pass along hellos.”

Flynn and Abraxas stood as well, the latter of whom made his way to Tom’s office door and held it open for the others. “You could stop by tonight, Flynn. I’ll be there, of course.”

Flynn frowned. “She doesn’t meet us this early, does she?”

“No,” Tom said.  “I’m the only one she sees tonight.”

Abraxas’ expression fell as they headed towards the lift. “Pity. It’s been ages.”

“Cry me a river,” said Tom.

They parted ways at the public Floos for the sake of showing their faces, though Tom took himself home instead of going directly to Malfoy Manor. He wanted to wear something far more comfortable and casual than he had the last time he’d seen Hermione. Hopefully she’d loosen up a bit if he looked more relaxed than he did in his formal robes.

He immediately found his favorite sweater - Slytherin inspired, argyle patterned wool and cashmere blend, and wand-knit. He’d had it since sixth year, and felt the familiar comfort of the charms woven into the yarn wash over him.

His seventeenth birthday, the day he’d been gifted this sweater, was one of his fondest memories. He was looking forward to seeing Hermione’s face when she realized that she was the one to give it to him, that he still had it.

He chuckled to himself at the memory. She’d been afraid he wouldn’t like it, but really she’d just stunned him into silence.

Sixth year…

He sighed, grabbed a pair of jeans to change into, and left his walk-in closet to finish redressing. Time wouldn’t fully catch up to itself until her seventh year, but Tom figured he was far enough in the future to render dwelling on the past a futile, pathetic activity.

She was still Hermione and he didn’t want her to think he was constantly comparing her to another version of herself, even if he was always aware of the differences.


 

The scent of chocolate had drifted all the way from the dining room to Malfoy Manor’s entrance hall. He could hear voices, though they were quiet, and picked hers out of the lot long before he reached the dining room.

“-I’ve only ever seen the muggle side of Paris,” she said, presumably to Narcissa. “I’m sure the wizarding side is fascinating as well.”

He rounded the corner, smirked when he realized she couldn’t see him, and gave Lucius a nod in greeting before he spoke up. “I shall endeavor to take you there during a less busy summer, Dove.”

She jumped and spun around in her seat, her doe-y brown eyes landing on him in surprise. He could tell by the way her eyes flicked over him that she noticed his attire was drastically different from the last time they’d met. She was nervous to see him again, but glad as well from what he could tell. Her hair was as wild as ever and part of him was glad for it. Hermione had wild hair. Hermione had wide, innocent eyes. Hermione was shy around him.

Dove was different. Older, wiser, sharper around the edges. Smoothed skirts and tamed curls and a gaze that learned to see right through him half a century ago.

“You remembered,” she said to him.

He felt his expression soften as he stopped behind her chair, and didn’t quite manage to prevent himself from pushing some of her hair out of her face. “I did promise,” he said mock-defensively. “How’s summer treating you so far? I haven’t had as many chances to check in on you as I’d hoped, what with the trial and all. Severus said your exams went smoothly?”

Her quick nod was earnest and transparently honest, and he had to focus to keep his expression in check. Despite being nearly fourteen, she seemed so much smaller than she had when he was still in school. It made his stomach twist.

“I’m excellent,” she told him, unbothered by his fool’s task of trying to make her hair lie back. “The exams went very well. Professor Snape was an excellent chauffeur. No one dared get in his way for anything, not even at Fortescue’s before he took me home.”

Tom snorted in amusement. He’d make a mental note to thank Severus, even if part of him was livid that he hadn’t been able to take her out for icecream himself. “Took you for icecream did he?” he asked dryly. “The prat. I told him I’d planned the entire day, but of course more evidence for the trial came up and I wasn’t able to get away from the office. Though I am glad you got your treat for a job well done.”

She flushed. “I haven’t gotten my scores back yet. We don’t know how well I did or didn’t do.”

He raised a brow. She’d been naive once, hadn’t she, especially when it came to the limits of his influence? He’d forgotten. “ You don’t know how well you did,” he said.

She sighed at him and he chuckled. “I’m very proud of you,” he told her. They were words she’d seldom hear from his younger self. She needed to hear them more than he could say them. “Straight O’s.”

Harry and Draco’s reactions, both positive on her behalf, made her cheeks darken, and it hardly helped that Lucius and Narcissa expressed their congratulations as well. Tom chuckled again.

“I’ve embarrassed you, Dove, forgive me,” he said. “I’m pleased to show you off, is all.”

She muttered a quick “S’alright” before taking another bite of cake so she wouldn’t have to say more.

“Shall I have Leeny fetch you a plate, Tom?” Narcissa offered, rising from her seat beside Hermione. A seat he was happy to occupy in her stead.

“Please,” he said after a moment’s consideration. “I’ve had dinner, but something sweet wouldn’t be amiss.”

And it would give Hermione time to finish her dessert at her own pace. In an effort to give her nerves a chance to settle, he turned to the boys. They’d been whispering to one another while he’d been speaking with Hermione, and could only assume Draco had informed Harry of his identity.

“I’ve been terribly rude, I think,” he said to them. “Hello, Draco. And I presume you’re Harry?”

“I am, sir,” said Harry, and Tom was thrown once more by how shy they all seemed at this age. So timid. He blamed their Gryffindor affiliation and offered the boy a smile.

“I’ve heard quite a bit about you from our Hermione, here. It’s a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance outside of letters.”

Harry returned the gesture. “Same to you.”

He caught Hermione subtly shaking her head at her plate and had to resist the urge to laugh. One thing was the same at least: she found his social persona exasperating already.

You’re essentially a different person , she’d told him once. I don’t like it. ‘Normal’ isn’t natural for you.

She knew his darkness, had darkened her light to match his own, even. But not this Hermione. Not yet. Not for quite some time.


 

There was enough daylight left for Draco to suggest practicing Quidditch with Harry after dessert. Lucius volunteered to escort the pair to the pitch deeply tucked away on the south end of the property, and the three were quick to be on their way. Narcissa had vanished into the house after ensuring that Tom got his dessert, presumably to continue preparing for Sirius’ welcome home gathering.

Tom did his best to enjoy his dessert and eat quickly at the same time, which was a challenge considering every twitch and fidget from the girl beside him made his insides knot and curl with discomfort.

He tried to keep the feeling buried, tried to ignore the never ending game of compare-contrast running rampant in the back of his mind, and forced his tone to stay on the lighter side when he spoke. “Come, darling,” he said. His little Wendy Darling, not yet Dove, but still Hermione. “You wanted to see me for a reason, as I recall it. The library might be better suited for our chat.”

She nodded as they both stood and followed him through the house to the library. He was acutely aware of her nervous form at his side as they walked. Her anxiety crawled over his skin and her fidgeting sent twinges of discomfort down his spine. By the time they reached the library, he’d had enough.

Tom wandlessly shut the doors behind them once they were over the threshold and spun around to face Hermione, effectively stopping her in her tracks.

Relax ,” he ordered, feeling his cheerful, unworried mask slip slightly out of place. He was amazed to find that shifting from his attempt at remaining positive and reassuring to his more natural state of being made her obey without hesitation. “I don’t bite, Dove.”

She blinked and a brow raised before she could stop it. “You’re a snake,” she said.

He smirked. “I don’t bite often ,” he amended.

Her lips twitched into a nervous smile. “I’m just not sure what’s appropriate,” she said. “I don’t want to accidentally damage the timelines or something…”

He beckoned for her to continue following him into the room. “You won’t,” he assured her. “Think, Dove. I wouldn’t be here right now if the timelines were damaged somehow.” At her blank stare, he continued. “It’s already happened. From your perspective, yes you’re in younger me’s future, but from mine you’re experiencing events that have already happened. We’re in the present, future, and past simultaneously. What is to come has already come.”

He guided her to the circle of cushioned chairs that usually served as the meeting place for his inner circle - the remaining Knights of Walpurgis and select members of the Order of Hermes. Hermione eyed the dark emerald upholstery with appreciation as she made her way to the seat across from the one he’d taken for himself and he had to fight a smirk. For a brief moment the girl across from him looked more familiar.

“What did you need me for?” he asked, attempting to derail his thoughts. The comparison spiral he kept teetering into was starting to give him a headache. Not to mention he’d already started taking care of her primary concerns. Sirius Black was a free man. Harry Potter would be reunited with his godfather, the man who would show the boy what having a family actually meant.

Her lips turned into a slight frown as she started to fidget again. It was a nervous habit he knew she’d have for a while, but it irked him all the same to see such an easy weakness on full display.

“Stop,” he said coolly. “Hot, cold, anxious, reassured… Pick a mental state and stick to it. You’ve been rotating between several since I got here. I know this situation is…odd to say the least, but only if you think about it too hard.” He raised a brow and she flushed, chastised.

“I’m just trying to wrap my head around it all,” she muttered.

“And I’m happy to explain everything I’m at liberty to explain,” he said slowly. “But you won’t understand every in and out. The only person who truly does is me. ” He made a point to over-stress the word. “I’m the only person capable of creating a paradox or damaging the timelines because I’ve lived it already. Maintaining the integrity of the timelines is my responsibility, my burden to bear. This is not a situation in which your compassionate heart is welcome. I’ve worried and plotted enough without you doing the same. I know what must be done, what mustn’t, and the potential consequences of my actions.”

She listened with rapt attention, but he could see the concerned crease to her brow and sighed.

“You’re barely fourteen, Hermione,” he said, fighting the nausea the words caused. Too young, too small, too easy to read, too vulnerable, too fragile . “Your job is to be a third year. Your job is not worrying about all the things the adults are taking care of. You may know about them for the sake of understanding the world around you and to satisfy your curiosity, but if I think that knowledge comes at the cost of your mental health, then you’ll only be privy to information you need to know .” He took a breath, noticed she’d calmed somewhat, then wondered how and why his less friendly traits relaxed her already.

“I was worried about Harry,” she said, answering his earlier question at last. “He doesn’t have to go back to the Dursleys, right?”

“Not unless he wanted to,” said Tom. “Shall I start from the beginning?”

She nodded and sat up a little straighter in her seat.

Tom’s smirk was wry. Still a good listener…

Chapter Text

"I was informally, then more officially, adopted by two pureblood families by the time I graduated," he began. "To the annoyance of Dumbledore, Headmaster Dippet and Professor Slughorn were happy to confirm that I could spend my summers with my classmates if they were amenable to the idea. Abraxas and Flynn took turns hosting. I think I spent a week at Wool's before Slughorn would fetch me to spend the rest of my summer with the Malfoys or Averys in the summer between my fifth and sixth years."

He didn't mention how he'd spent that week reminding the other orphans why they'd been afraid of him for his, and their, entire lives and earning his reputation with the few new additions to the Wool's 'family'. Nor did he mention how he clung to his diary when he wasn't scaring away snot-nosed muggle brats.

"As far as pureblood society was concerned, my connects to both families made me a pureblood as well. Most of the time, people forget that isn't the case. It's really only brought up when Rita and I decided it would benefit the emotional impact of a press piece. When we were in our late twenties, the boys and I founded the Order of Hermes. A private political faction ran by the three of us with a stringent application process and selective admission. Many of our former classmates wanted to join us in our ever-growing spotlights. The majority of them were turned away."

"Shocking," Hermione muttered. Tom smirked.

"As the Order slowly grew in size and power, so did the group of rejects. Dumbledore saw an opportunity to thwart my goals and started to round them up. He separated them, told some that they were to help him with his more important plans, and didn't let either side know about the other. The underground activists, those who truly mean well but don't think they have a better shot at making a difference in the world without allying themselves Dumbledore, came to be known as the Order of the Phoenix. He left the others to name and organize themselves however they saw fit, as long as they completed the goals and tasks he gave them. Death Eaters was the name they came up with."

Hermione frowned with distaste and Tom shared an understanding glance with her. "This goes without saying I think, but the Death Eaters consists of the people I rejected for their lack of mental stability, obsessive tenancies, overall lack of magical prowess or control, and generally unstable nature. They're a terrorist cell that only has any level of organization because Dumbledore helped them structure themselves."

"Why hasn't he been arrested?" she asked.

"DMLE doesn't have enough proof yet," he said. "Excuse me, the DMLE doesn't have enough legally acquired proof."

Her lips twitched and he winked. "I may or may not have been documenting and keeping a reserve of information against him for years. So when it finally does come out that he's a fraud and the leader of a terrorist cell, the investigation will receive an anonymous box full of years of documentation that can all be traced back and proven correct. All I need is for Dumbledore to get a little too confident. To be fair, he already has."

Hermione squinted. "Why do I get the sense that his overconfidence is tied to Sirius' trial."

Because you're too clever for your own good. "It is. Dumbledore is Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and has been for decades. He's also the person who encouraged the Potters to switch secret keepers when they were hiding from the Death Eaters. He convinced them to distrust Sirius. The position went to another friend of theirs from their school days - Peter Pettigrew. Coincidentally, Peter had been recruited as a Death Eater while the Potters, Black, and several others had joined the Order of the Phoenix."

Hermione's eyes were wide and full of fire. "He knew."

"He also knew the Dursleys were mistreating Harry and wanted to use the emotional gaps in Harry's psyche to his advantage. Even went so far as to convince everyone that someone was checking on Harry a few times a year. They were, but Albus purposefully didn't do anything with that information. He's been playing nice in the papers so far, but the man can't hide behind that dotty old father Christmas facade he loves to wear. He's furious that I'm unraveling his plans and he doesn't know how I'm doing it."

Hermione's lips curled into the cunning smile she'd already started to learn from his younger self. "Because he doesn't know about the diary."

"10 points to Slytherin," he said with a smirk. "Needless to say, Sirius has been made aware of these things and is cutting all ties with the Order of the Phoenix. He was formally added to the OoH roster yesterday, as were a few other new recruits. Your new Defense professor, for example."

"Is there anything I can do?" she asked. "To help get Prof…get Dumbledore out of the way?"

"Yes," said Tom. "Be careful. Peter Pettigrew is still on the loose and Albus doesn't have perfect control over his Death Eaters. Your professors, and the Headmaster, will claim Hogwarts is the safest place you'll ever be. That is only true, in your case, when you're in the Room of Requirement with me. Be mindful of your surroundings. If you get nervous, ask me to teach you more combative magic, although if memory serves, we've already started on defensives, haven't we?"

Hermione nodded. "I started studying fifth year Defense at the end of last term."

"Good girl," he said. "Keep that up. And try not to spread yourself too thin." The words tasted like ashes as they left his mouth. He knew they were futile, but part of him panicked, if only for a moment.

He couldn't change the past.

Her pinched expression made him relax. "I wanted a challenge this year," she said. "We get to choose electives, finally."

He ignored the temple that had started throbbing again and asked a question he already knew the answer to. "Which ones were you planning to take?"

"All of them."

Tom had to slowly breathe out through his nose to calm himself. "Chuck Muggle Studies," he said tersely.

Familiar indignance took over Hermione's expression. "I want to experience the wizarding viewpoint!" she argued. "And it'd hardly be difficult-"

"You cannot take every elective, keep up with your homework, interact with your peers enough to stay sane, and take care of yourself without magical aid," he said impatiently. "I'm not giving a soon-to-be fourteen-year-old a Time-Turner; especially not when she's already juggling two connected timelines."

She scowled at him and he returned the gesture with an annoyed brow. "No. Muggle. Studies."

"You're the sponsor," she said bitterly. The acid dripping from her tone may as well have hit him square in the face.

"Pray…tell," he hissed, "just what you're trying to say, Dove."

"It's your money in the long run, right?" she continued. "So I don't even really have a choice here, do I?"

"I will not allow you to choose the fool's route," he said darkly. She didn't need to know that there was much more about her self-imposed curriculum that he'd love to keep her from, but couldn't. She'd have to figure out some things on her own or with the help of his younger self. "You've chosen to take everything else. The one thing I'm not going to allow is Muggle Studies. You're welcome to torment yourself with every other elective I consider useless to your education if you really think you want to."

She'd only think that way for one year. Just long enough to drive him to the brink of insanity, but he had to remind himself that it was only one year.

Her scowl deepened. "Yes, well, in that case, I'm eternally grateful that you're allowing me to go to school."

"You don't have time for Muggle Studies," he said. "You're muggleborn, for Salazar's sake. You live in both worlds. That class only ends up being beneficial to those who end up involved with muggles or muggleborns in some way. You will never be at a disadvantage in that situation."

She glared at her shoelaces. "Fine." She blew a wayward curl out of her face only for it to slip back down against her cheek. Little Hermione didn't meet his eyes again. "I was really only worried about Harry's situation…"

Her unspoken dismissal made his blood boil, but the sting of his nails in his palms kept his mouth shut. There wasn't a single thing he wanted to say that he could say. He couldn't tell her to stop acting like they weren't friends, because as far as she knew, his younger self didn't consider her as anything but a clever acquisition. He couldn't tell her that she'd overwork herself even without Muggle Studies. Couldn't tell her to remember things she would forget.

He couldn't. Do. Anything.

Instead of risking that his tongue would win the war with his good sense, Tom stood and made his way to the doors.

He didn't say goodbye. Neither did she. And he didn't look back. He didn't stop walking until he reached the entry hall of Malfoy Manor. Once he'd apparated back to Proserpine Park, he didn't stop until he was in his study.

The doors wandlessly shut and locked behind him. He threw his robes unceremoniously onto one of the chairs across from his desk and took his seat.

He undid the glamours on his left hand and reworked them so they only applied to those under the age of 19. Just in case.

His head fell into his hands once his elbows were resting against the desk and he kneaded his temples. It didn't help.

When three quiet knocks sounded from the door, Tom's hand twitched for his wand. It took him longer than he cared to admit that he hadn't felt a trigger in the wards. There were very few people keyed to his wards in such a way that they didn't always tell him when those select few came and went. Very, very select few.

Tom begrudgingly unlocked the doors with his wand and gave the newcomers a tired glare.

Abraxas had two bottles of white wine. Flynn had three tumblers.

"Wine glasses would look really pretentious right now," said Flynn. "But we have it on good authority that you need a drink."

Tom scowled and turned to Abraxas for a more concise explanation.

"We got a message from a little bird," he said. "'Help him remember how he's gotten this far. Don't let him forget who I am.'"

Tom's laughter was low and bitter. "And here I was about to talk myself out of getting pissed and spending the night in my pensieve."

Flynn tossed Tom's discarded robe towards the coat rack in the corner, missed, shrugged, and took one of the seats in front of his desk before he set their glasses down. "Birdy left us orders and I plan to follow them."

"You may not like hearing this, but she's scarier than you are. Or will be," Abraxas added. "So your opinions on the matter are overruled."

"Taught her too well," said Tom, but he sighed and sat up a little straighter. When Flynn vanished the first cork and passed him a tumbler full of pinot grigio, he downed it without hesitation.

"You're supposed to savor wine," said Abraxas. Tom made to glare at him, but rolled his eyes when he saw the blond's smirk.

"I'll savor my wine the next time my wife brings me a glass," Tom grumbled. "Until then, bugger off."

Flynn smiled and sipped from his tumbler. "So where are we starting on memory lane?" he asked. "Before or after the Kiss of 1963?"

"Oh sod off," Tom grumbled. But Abraxas refilled his wine as Flynn kept talking, talking, talking. Until Tom was half a bottle deep and tired enough to throw memories across the desk without his usual guarded sarcasm.

Remember this?

Remember that?

He remembered it all. Too well, some might say, but by the time they'd finished the first two bottles of wine and the few Tom's sole house elf fetched for them, the frustration and nausea and pain had numbed. Only fatigue was left now.

He unsteadily stood from his desk and slowly made his way from his study to his bedroom.

"Hey, Tink," he said around a yawn. His elf popped into the room as he sat heavily on the edge of his bed and kicked off his shoes. Without prompting, Tink snapped her fingers and Tom was in pajamas. His Slytherin sweater was over a plain grey tshirt and he wanted to be annoyed that Tink knew he'd been planning to keep it on.

"Can you put the idiots in their usual rooms?" he asked slowly, shuffling up his bed with difficulty. He wasn't sure why it was so hard to just pull the damned covers down. He heard another snap and the stubborn textiles were out of his way. Tom used the last of his energy to throw himself at one of his plump, oh so very soft pillows and sighed once he'd burrowed into his sheets.

He didn't remember reaching for his blankets, but they ended up covering him anyway.

"Tink will take care of Master's friends."

"I don't have friends Tink," he mumbled. "I have a friend. You haven't met her yet. She'll be really annoyed with me about you one day, though."

"Tink will teach Mistress," said the elf. "Master sleeps now. Tink will take care of Master's friends."

Tom's efforts to correct his house elf was a string of mumbles that were further muffled by his pillow. Not that it would've done him any good. Tink was easily as stubborn as her master.

Chapter Text

Sirius Black was in muggle jeans, a faded Offspring t-shirt, and a leather jacket that was just a bit too big for him when Tom arrived. Tom took one look at the way the other man zipped up the front of said jacket and realized he may as well have been wearing a security blanket.

"We can push it back another day if you're not ready," he said.

Sirius shook his head. "His birthday is in a week. I need to meet my kid. Figure out how close he is to Lily's relatives-"

"He isn't."

"-and let him decide how we're going forward," Sirius finished. "If everything you've told me about Lily's family is true, not that I think it isn't, then I still want to give him the choice. I'm not gonna tear his life apart just because I want custody of my godson."

Tom raised an amused brow. "You know this whole 'Gryffindor chivalry' is almost more annoying when you've been forced to dwell on your impulses before committing them."

Sirius snorted. "Yeah, well, I wasn't supposed to go to Gryffindor. I rejected Slytherin to spite my parents and because I had no interest in playing politics. Still can't bloody stand that bit, but that doesn't mean I don't know how to play the game."

Tom's cat-that-caught-the-canary grin made Sirius tilt his head. "What're you so damn smug about?" he asked.

"I'd momentarily forgotten how much you have in common with your godson," said Tom. "Nothing to worry about. Are you ready?"

"As I'll ever be," he said.


Tom and Sirius stopped outside the drawing room's double doors after arriving at Malfoy Manor.

"Still sure you're ready?" asked Tom.

Sirius tried not to focus on the quiet voices on the other side of those doors and nodded. "How annoyingly crowded is this party of my cousin's going to be?" he asked. "I'm here for my kid, not to put on a show."

"Harry, Hermione, Draco, Narcissa, and Lucius for today," Tom said. "You can meet some of the other Order members before summer ends and Remus has started looking for the means to contact you aside from an owl. I can help him find his way whenever you're ready."

"Right then," said Sirius. "Ready as I'll ever be."

He followed Tom into the room and quickly scanned it. As he noted the exits and verified the headcount Tom had claimed, movement caught his eye.

Tom was greeting everyone quietly in front of him, but Sirius was only paying attention to the boy with dark hair whose anxiety was most obvious in the way he clutched the hand of the girl beside him. The pair were standing beside Narcissa's sofas, and Sirius could only guess that Harry had inherited Lily's inability to sit still when she was nervous.

Narcissa and Lucius played their parts with Tom, politely ignoring the silent, emotionally charged staring contest between a man who'd lost everything and a boy who hardly had anything to lose.

He may have had James' features and hair, and Lily's eyes, but his guarded expression was uniquely Harry. His posture was all his own, entirely foreign to Sirius, but somehow comforting in spite of the fact.

Tom had implied it, but Sirius recognized a pretend-Gryffindor when he saw one. And he saw two. The girl could've been his sister for how stubbornly her curls refused the ponytail she'd pulled them into. And the way Tom looked her over, talked about her, made him remember that he'd mentioned having a sponsee during their first conversation. He'd still been in a cell when they spoke about it and Tom had used that mutual sense of responsibility to segway into talking about Harry. Later, after Sirius was being confined to more pleasant living conditions pending the results of his trial, Tom kept referencing Harry's 'sister' and calling it a slip of the tongue.

I'm used to hearing her refer to him as her brother. They get along so well, they may as well be family. You'll see.

Sirius was glad for Tom's obviously Slytherin cunning, but he was far from the only Pureblood-raised wizard in the room. Harry's friend, Tom had called her Hermione, if Sirius' memory served, shared mannerisms with Riddle that made Sirius suspicious. How long had he been sponsoring the girl? Why did she take after him so obviously? They didn't look like they could be related, but maybe she took after a grandparent from her mother's side?

He'd ask Tom about it later.

After returning his attention to Harry, Sirius took a calming breath before he spoke. "I don't expect you to remember me, but I want you to know that remember you." He stopped briefly to swallow his emotions. "You were barely walking the last time I saw you. You didn't even come up to my knee."

He watched Harry swallow and wince. Another Lily-ism. Her throat had always constricted to the point of pain when she was upset in any way.

"I…I remember a bit," Harry said. He sounded like James, but at the same time he didn't. "Hagrid gave me a photo album at the end of my first year. It jogged some memories and I…I know we had a cat. I remembered playing with it a few times when I saw the pictures…" He took a shaky breath and Sirius waited patiently.

Talk it out, Kid. I'm listening. Take your time.

Harry frowned before he spoke up again. "How come there weren't any pictures with the dog?"

Sirius blinked, stunned, and tried to ignore the way his heart had started to pound. "You didn't have a dog," he said slowly.

Harry shook his head, his forehead creasing further as Lily's stubbornness came to the surface. "We did," he insisted. "It was black it laid in my crib with me sometimes…for kips or something, I suppose."

Sirius tried in vain to combat the burning in his eyes. "You remember that?" he whispered.

And the girl -Hermione- proved that she was just as sharp as her sponsor. "You're an Animagus," she said quietly.

Harry glanced at her in surprise, then fixed Sirius with another look that was so strikingly Lily he wondered how Harry's genetics had split to give him James' looks and his mother's…almost everything else.

"That was…that was you?" he asked.

Sirius' vision blurred over slightly and he couldn't be bothered to care that his voice was unsteady. "That damned cat of your mother's was a saint one minute and a menace the next," he said. "Your Dad and I refused to call it by its proper name. Jiji or something. Lily said it was a muggle reference, but we called it Petunia more often than not. If it was in a mood, it would come scratch you up for no good reason, so if I was around I'd stay with you and ward the damn thing off…"

Harry's eyes had started to water halfway through Sirius' story, causing Narcissa's son to pass Hermione a handkerchief, which she put in the hand Harry had wrapped around her own.

"That…you…" Harry winced again. "Snuffles?" he choked out.

Sirius would laugh later about how he still instinctively perked up at the sound of that name, but at present he was more concerned with his godson, who had let go of Hermione and had moved towards him at the same time that Sirius had taken a forward step of his own to close the distance between them.

He pulled Harry into a firm, long overdue hug and refused to let go until Harry gave him some sign of wanting released, which didn't come right away. Instead, Harry clung to him as panicked pleas tumbled from his lips, muffled by Sirius' jacket and broken by the constricted muscles in his throat. He didn't want to go back to the Dursleys. The real Petunia was worse than their bipolar cat. Sirius noticed Hermione have to fight with herself to stay put when Harry started rambling about frying pans and a cupboard under the stairs that locked from the outside. And how at least the cat had been nice sometimes.

Sirius shared a quick, furious glance with Tom who nodded in understanding. He briefly noted the way Tom immediately returned his attention to Hermione, who shrugged and wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. He pulled a handkerchief from inside his robes and crossed the room to stand near her. She took the handkerchief almost begrudgingly, but her quiet muttering of "I'm fine, I'm fine" cut short when Tom raised a knowing brow. Her scowl was almost identical to his, which Sirius had seen plenty of times in-between hearings at the Ministry.

Their similarities made his brain itch.

Once Harry had calmed down somewhat, and his ramblings had tapered off, Sirius pulled back, gripped him by the shoulders, and dropped down to look him in the eyes.

"You will never ever ever go back to those people, Harry," he said, his voice thick with anger. Anger at Lily's shite family. Anger at Peter. Anger at himself for giving Harry to Hagrid and going after Peter instead of staying with his godson - his son - like he wanted to in the first place. "I swear it on my life and my magic, do you understand?"

Harry nodded, sniffed, and wiped his eyes with the handkerchief Hermione had passed to him earlier. Once he'd cleaned himself up a bit, Sirius stood and pulled him back into a proper hug, leaning down to kiss his mess of black hair before letting him go again.

"Let's get some tea," he said. "Then we can play catch up, yeah?"

"Yeah," Harry agreed, his voice still quiet.

With their moment concluded, at least for the time being, Harry turned back towards Hermione and offered her a weak smile that made her eyes fill with tears again. Harry didn't seem surprised when the little witch threw her arms around him, nor did he seem bothered by the force she'd clearly put into the hug. He hugged her back and sniffed when she let out a quiet "Oh, Harry" in a tone that Sirius couldn't quite decipher.

They were close, though. He could tell that much. Close enough for her to read things in Harry's body language that Sirius hoped he'd pick up on quickly too. So Tom hadn't been exaggerating on that bit.

Sirius glanced at Tom again, noted the slight frown on the other man's face as he stared at the pair of teens, and realized he must've been worried about his charge.

They weren't even third years yet. Tom would've needed at least her 1st year's worth of academic performance to base a sponsorship on, at least traditionally speaking. But more than one year was preferred in most cases. So he couldn't have been her sponsor for more than a year, in theory. Even then, he wouldn't have seen her often enough to warrant how close they were.

He hoped Tom would stay most of the evening, at least until after the teens were ushered off to bed. No one else in the room seemed bothered by the odd, magical static between sponsor and sponsee, or how it felt oddly one-sided; like a bond that should have been complete but wasn't. He was missing information that Lucius and Narcissa had.

And he'd spent years being uninformed, or misinformed, back when he still thought Dumbledore was someone he could trust. He wanted answers. He just needed Tom to stay put long enough to hear his questions.


Thankfully, Tom did lurk until late, smiling at the three teens when they resigned themselves to their fates and headed up to bed.

Sirius spent the afternoon getting a condensed rundown of Harry's life, namely his Hogwarts adventures, and already felt like the gap between himself and his godson was mending faster than he could've ever hoped for. But he hadn't forgotten about the magical energy lurking between Hermione, who he now knew for certain was Harry's self-proclaimed best friend, and Tom, the man Sirius owed his freedom to.

He sat through another hour of back and forth between adults, long enough to be assured that the teens were probably asleep, before he gave Tom a meaningful look.

"Explain something to me," he said.

Tom was unsurprised by his question. He didn't even twitch from his position lounging against Narcissa's sofa. "Gladly," he said.

"What's with you two?" he asked. "Is she…yours or what?"

Tom chuckled quietly. "Not in the way you're thinking," he answered. "Although I must thank you for the laugh. The mere idea of her being my daughter is the most absurd thing I've ever heard in someone else's mind and I've heard a lot of absurd things over the years."

Before Sirius could comment, or make a futile complaint towards the natural Legilimens, Tom muttered a quick finite. At first, Sirius didn't think anything had changed, but then Tom flexed the fingers on his left hand and caused a band of silver to catch the light.

"How the fuck…?" Sirius began. "I mean…that explains the bond but…half of that bond doesn't presently exist? How the hell do you have half of a bond with someone?"

"When it hasn't happened yet," said Tom. "Funny thing about time and history. They like to repeat themselves."

Sirius' brows drew together. "…Explain."


Harry, Hermione, and Draco didn't go to bed as soon after they were dismissed as the adults had assumed, but the three did confine themselves to Harry's guest room. They were all in pajamas sitting around on Harry's bed. Draco had a nondescript book in his hands, Harry was thumbing through a Quidditch magazine Draco had lent him, and Hermione had her nose in her journal.

Harry put the magazine down and stretched out so he was parallel to his pillows, leaving plenty of room for Draco, who was leaning against one of the bed posts with his feet toward Harry, and Hermione, who was laying on her stomach with her head towards Harry's feet. If the bed hadn't been so massive, she might've worried about accidentally getting nudged by said feet, but thankfully, she was just out of reach.

"He's perfect," Harry told the ceiling absently. They hadn't spoken for a while, but the words had been on the back of his tongue all day.

"Did they really keep you in a cupboard?" Draco asked.

"Yeah..." said Harry. "Until my Hogwarts letters started to show up. They were addressed to 'the cupboard under the stairs'. They were afraid they'd been caught."

Hermione made a low noise in the back of her throat that told them just what she thought of Harry's muggle relatives and their foster parenting methods. "I doubt they're just going to be left alone whether you live there or not," she said tersely. "Sirius doesn't strike me as the sort of person to let something like that slide. Not to mention someone was supposed to be making sure you were properly cared for a few times a year. I'm sure Tom and Sirius will be more than happy to handle the situation how they see fit."

Harry nodded absently. He'd seen the look in Sirius' eyes before Sirius promised to never let him go back to the Dursleys. His godfather was a kind, laid-back sort of man, but he showed signs of the determination and cunning he'd seen in Lord Riddle and the Malfoys. "He cares about me," he said. It seemed like a small thing, but for him it was novel.

"He loves you," Hermione corrected. Harry hoped she was right.

"We all do," said Draco. "We're cousins now."

Harry didn't know how to respond, so he continued to stare at the ceiling that had morphed into a painting of the night sky at dusk and watched the faintly twinkling stars instead.

Eventually, Draco and Hermione grew too tired to stay up, but both told Harry he could wake them if he needed them. He didn't have the energy to assure them he was fine but did manage to muster up a goodnight to each of them and return Hermione's gentle parting hug.

Another few hours passed, though time seemed to stand still in the quiet bedroom. Harry spent the time tracing the constellations he recognized on the ceiling with his eyes until the door quietly cracked open, followed by the faint shuffling of paws on wood.

Harry immediately recognized Snuffles -Sirius- and it was only then that he realized the dog was thinner than he remembered. He didn't want to think about what sort of life Sirius had led in Azkaban for twelve years.

Snuffled tilted his head to the side when he realized Harry was still awake and leapt up onto the duvet. Harry reached out to pet him once he'd shuffled closer and Sirius let out an inquiring whine.

"Can't sleep," Harry muttered. His eyes burned from all the tears he'd shed and even though he still felt like he probably still had crying to do, no more tears came.

Sirius whined again and licked Harry's wrist before he nudged Harry with his head a few times. When Harry got under his covers properly, Sirius licked his cheek snuggled up beside him on his pillow.

Harry managed to smile when a cool nose pressed into his cheek and several gentle licks followed. Turning so that he was facing Sirius, he moved closer to the warmth provided his godfather's fur and kept one arm curled so he could pet Snuffles behind the ears.

After a while, their breathing evened out and they both managed to get some sleep. 


Hermione burrowed deeper under her blankets and yawned. There was enough moonlight streaming into her window for her to read the journal and she wasn't quite ready to sleep.

Tom had written to her throughout the day, primarily to vent frustration, but until the adults had shooed her, Harry, and Draco off to bed, she hadn't had a chance to read his notes. He had waited until after she'd finished replying to his earlier complaints to comment on her absence.

You've been quiet.

Harry met his godfather today, she wrote. We'll be moving to his place for the rest of the summer at some point this week. Maybe tomorrow.

You're going? he asked. I thought you were staying with the Malfoys for the rest of the summer.

She frowned and tried to think of a way to explain. Harry and I are close, especially after Ron was a complete prat last term and I've been supporting him since we learned about Sirius. He asked if I could come and stay there with them, and if I wanted to. She paused, tapping the edge of her quill against the page as the words sank into the parchment. You were fine with it.

Just seems odd, he said. Since you both just met this bloke.

You know him, she pointed out. Older you, I mean.

Fair. So that took up most of your day, then?

Yeah. How were things after that Transfiguration disaster?

She could almost feel him rolling his eyes. Flynn is out of the hospital wing, but he chirped when he sneezed earlier so I can only assume he's not completely put back to rights. Mulciber's carelessness and foolishness was addressed after dinner.

She frowned. He could be so cruel to his associates, as he called them. The lower they were on his hierarchy, the more volatile his reaction was if they slipped up somehow. I see, she wrote carefully.

Don't be terse. Everyone else keeps up with their studies. Mulciber had no excuse for his ineptitude aside from laziness and he knew I would figure that out. We have a group studying schedule that accommodates other activities, so he can't use Quidditch as an excuse.

Quidditch can be unbearably exhausting, you know, she wrote. Harry is dead on his feet after practices just as often as he's still capable of studying afterwards.

I'm well aware, Dove, said Tom, and she got the distinct feeling that he was laughing at her. I played.

She stared at the words in shock until they faded.

Tom? Tom Riddle? She tried to envision him in Slytherin Quidditch robes, flushed upon realizing that he was probably just as unnecessarily handsome astride a broom as he was on his feet, but still felt like the idea was ridiculous. What did you play? she asked.

Keeper first year - I was recruited after several flying lessons - and back up Seeker. Chaser second year after I got fed up during a game against the Claws and scored from across the field, still the back up Seeker. Third year, our best Chaser became Captain and swapped my and Flynn’s positions, making me Seeker and him Chaser. Braxas got moved from Chaser to Keeper, and our Keeper (I think it was Rosier’s older brother, whoever it was, he’s graduated now) got moved to Beater. Team stayed the same fourth year. I started out playing this year, but our Captain graduated and I don’t have a sodding clue how Crabbe ended up getting appointed in his place, but he’s utter shite at it. The dolt loathes me though and  I was fed up with the whole thing by the time you came around. We were going to lose games anyway with how the training season went. Sure enough, Slytherin’s already on a losing streak. Whole bloody school knows it’s because I left and our entire house knows I left because of Crabbe. It’s quite entertaining to watch them all turn on him as the season goes on.

You're awful, she wrote, but she was smiling. If he gets dropped, would you play again?

Doubtful. I'm still the backup Seeker and I do exercises with the gents to help keep all of us in shape, but the only way I'd be willing to go back to playing is if I was Captain and I have no interest in being the Captain. Not anymore at least.

Why? she asked. What changed?

Don't play dull, Dove. Pan dropped everything to teach Wendy about Neverland, remember?

Do not call me Wendy, she wrote, despite the smile on her face.

She didn't even bother denying that she had fallen asleep first when he teased her about it the next day. But she didn't let him get away with calling her Wendy either.

 

Chapter Text

When Tom, Sirius, Harry, and Hermione entered Number 12 Grimmauld Place, Sirius realized just how glad he was that Tom had persuaded him to get most of his affairs in order before reuniting with Harry.

The house was nothing like the home he'd grown up in, and was such a stark contrast to Azkaban that it still filled him with a sense of accomplishment that he couldn't quite explain. At one point he'd hated this house, but now it was a proper home, something both he and Harry needed.

Even Kreacher, who had spent most of the week in the presence of Narcissa's elves, was healthier than Sirius had ever seen him. He still mourned Regulus deeply, but he'd regained some of his former house-elf pride and had decided the best way to honor Regulus was to show Sirius similar loyalty.

The boggarts had been removed, furniture restored when possible and replaced as needed, and nearly all of the dark artifacts lingering around the house had either been safely locked away in warded spaces or moved to Sirius' family vault. The structural integrity of the house was verified and updated during the remodel, replacing crooked or creaking areas of the house as the floor plan was tweaked.

Every piece of carpet and plank of hardwood had been replaced. Outdated utilities and lighting fixtures were repaired and updated. Every wall was stripped and repainted. Every rug, towel, and linen sold or burned and replaced. Tom had used a spell Sirius hadn't cared to know the origin of to strip Walburga Black's portrait from the wall. Sirius didn't ask what became of the portrait. It might've been tossed in the vault. It might've been burned. It hardly mattered to him.

When Sirius encouraged the two teens to explore at their leisure with the promise to call them down for lunch, Tom followed him into a drawing room Sirius was starting to grow fond of.

"She reminds me of my brother," he told Tom. "Clever. Quiet for the most part. Seems like Harry's decided that she's honorary family."

"He has," said Tom. "It's good that you're drawing comparisons between her and Regulus on your own. I was worried I'd have to nudge that bond along."

Sirius rolled his eyes as he leaned back in his stuffed chair and got more comfortable. "Doesn't the whole omniscience thing get old?"

"Hm…no," Tom answered. "The annoying part is not knowing what I help along versus when happens naturally. It's tiresome constantly trying to prevent paradoxes."

Sirius frowned in sympathy. "Sounds like a pain in the arse."

Tom hummed in agreement.

"So I should get used to having her around, yeah?" Sirius asked. "Not that I mind. I already had the sense that she comes with the Harry package. With as few people who care about him in his life as the kid has had, the last thing I want to do is take one of those people away."

"She'll be around," said Tom. "They'll only get closer as time goes on and they start to feel less connected to Gryffindor."

Sirius nodded. "Does this conversation have anything to do with your insistence that Harry's bedroom share a drawing room with the next room over?"

Tom's lips twitched into a smirk. "You're learning."


After lunch, Tom and Sirius gave the teens a proper tour and showed them their respective bedrooms.

The entryway walls had been repainted in a mosaic blue, with the trims and door frames done in dark pewter. The wood floors were replaced with wood stained to match the trim. The rug that ran from the doormat to the end of the hall was only slightly lighter than the trim, but the stitching was noticeably light blue, matching the walls.

The kitchen was redone in a muted dolphin blue with simpler, modern cabinets finished in pale cream. The windows and trims were a blue-ish silver that complimented the periwinkle-pewter coating on the new stone floors. The dining room had the same flooring and accent colors, but the walls were a stony hue of mint instead.

All of the bathrooms had been redone with smoke blue-violet walls and a blend of white and stone accents that reflected nicely off the polished black marble floors.

When it came time to personalize the bedrooms, which had been prepared with charmed paints and flooring, Tom produced a furniture catalog and a magazine-style book of charms left by the design team that had altered the house the week prior.

Harry chose a pale stony color for the main walls of his bedroom with a slightly shimmery charcoal for the trim, window sills, door frames, and doors. They picked a desk from the catalog that would go along the right wall, which was charmed to be entirely coated in black chalkboard paint for studying. Harry's floors were hardwood and stained a dark grey, which was similar to the shades he picked for his furniture. With a bit of tweaking, thin diagonal strips of deep emerald green lessened the maturity of the stone colored walls, but kept the decor tasteful. Harry was pleased with the small nod to his true house affiliation and took comfort in the color pallet he'd chosen for his new room. He'd even gotten Sirius to recreate the charmed ceiling from the guest room at Malfoy Manor, which would only appear as the sun went down and the stars became visible outside as well.

It took a bit of encouragement from Harry, Sirius, and Tom for Hermione to decorate her room as she pleased, but eventually they got her to choose a shade for her walls that was similar to the blue-violet in the bathrooms, only slightly less vibrant and with a more grey-blue hue. Tom charmed literary quotes from some of her favorite books to appear as vanishing decals in a light green-tinted silver across the walls. The quotes would appear and disappear at random, only pausing in their unpredictable circuit when they were being read. Hermione had liked Harry's chalkboard wall and picked out her own smaller desk, which would be placed in the top-most left corner of the room.

Tom had suggested she use a dark Arcadia blue for the trims, window sills, doors and door frames that was very similar to her main walls in its slightly muted shade, and he'd been adamant about purchasing her new furnishings. In addition to her desk, she had several free-floating grey-ish white shelves that were arranged from floor to ceiling in the bottom left corner, spread out so they made the shape of a tree along the wall. He'd picked out a chaise that would go in the corner with the tree shelves that had nooks carved out of the body for more book storage. She'd wanted a rug for under the chaise, something circular and a deep emerald that reminded her of the accent paint on Harry's walls.

Her bed, a four poster similar to Harry's, would be far more modern their beds at Hogwarts, with silver cloth wrapped around the top of the curtain rods. They'd be charmed to roll up instead of being pulled to the sides. She'd picked out tiny fairy lights that would be clustered about the room, but were charmed to dim at night and morph into the constellations she would've seen if her walls weren't blocking the sky; similar to Harry's ceiling.

Overall, Grimmauld Place had been given a cool-toned makeover, changing the entire atmosphere of the house. Now it was a peaceful, clean, lighter place with proper lighting and much more relaxed vibes all around. After all the furniture had been ordered and set up for Harry and Hermione's bedrooms, Draco had been invited over to see the finished products. He'd been pleased to inform them that they're recreated the Slytherin common room without the dampness of the dungeons or worn stone.

Harry and Hermione's favorite part of their bedrooms weren't the rooms at all, but the space between them. Their rooms were separated by what used to be two smaller guest rooms, which had been combined into one antechamber during the remodel. It was a space they could share together and with friends if anyone visited, like Draco, but it also gave them the ability to spend time together without being confined to one or the other's bedroom. After seeing what Sirius and Tom had done to the room after Harry and Hermione's bedrooms were finished, the pair had nicknamed their study space 'The Hollow' and agreed to combine their bedroom color schemes to make the place their own. The charmed waterfall along the back wall, courtesy of Tom and Sirius, functioned as a decoration piece and the windows. Natural light was slightly muted and tinged blue by the water, but could still make its way into The Hollow to brighten the space during the day.

"Like it?" Sirius asked. "We figured the more Slytherin inspired aesthetic would suit you both better."

"It's perfect," Harry said, turning to Hermione for her reaction.

"So many places to read," she said wistfully. "I think this will be my favorite, though."

"Just wait 'til it rains," teased Sirius. "Tom charmed it so the scent would come through the waterfall."

"I've never wanted a rainy day so much," said Harry.

Hermione couldn't agree more.


On the Saturday before Harry's birthday, a gentle knock sounded from the front door of Number 12 Grimmauld Place.

Kreacher was a few paces ahead of Sirius, who had a hand on the wand in the back pocket of his jeans -just in case- and answered the door. Sirius relaxed and grinned when he saw who was on the other side.

Remus gave him a shy smile in return.

"You look like shite, mate," Sirius said fondly. "Rough monthly?"

Remus couldn't bring himself to be annoyed, but rolled his eyes at the familiar joke that had gotten old when they were in fifth year. "A bit, yeah," he admitted. "You've no idea how happy I am that you're innocent, Pads."

Sirius gestured for Remus to come into the house and Kreacher insisted upon taking the man's coat. The former marauders shared a quick embrace before Sirius led Remus to the drawing room.

"He's mine," Sirius said with an impish grin as they sat down.

"So the Prophet says," Remus teased. "How is he? Is he adjusting alright?"

Sirius shrugged. "James owes Lils twenty galleons. Kid looks just like him, but gods if he doesn't take after Lily in a lot of ways too. He seems to be adjusting alright, but Godric, Remus, her relatives treated him like shite. Lord Riddle is putting together a deal for them, but I doubt they'll take it. If they don't, this goes back to the Wizengamot and I press charges for neglect and abuse." He sighed. "I still get the sense that he thinks a shoe is gonna drop, but he remembers me. Well…he remembers Snuffles."

Remus laughed. "Of course he does. That's good at least."

"Yeah," Sirius agreed. "His best mate is staying with us. She's Lord Riddle's sponsee. Good kid. Muggleborn, not that it matters, but I think it's part of why they connect so well. I'm getting the sense that she was one of the first people to really care about him. They're very close. She's good for him."

"Good," said Remus. "Is he skittish or does he seem alright? I know Lily's sister was a piece of work when we were younger, but…"

Sirius' jaw clenched as he remembered Harry crying in his arms. "They barely fed him," he said. "They treated him worse than most house elves are treated and kept him in a bloody cupboard under the stairs. They're the worst sort of muggles, Remus, but he seems alright all things considered."

"Bloody hell," Remus muttered.

"The main roadblock right now is trust, I think," said Sirius. "Trust and affection. I'm trying to write a list of ground rules to go over with him at some point, probably after his birthday. That way we can discuss what I expect from him and vice versa. I don't want him to hesitate to communicate with me or be afraid that mistakes or slip-ups will yield the same punishments he was given in the past. Not that I think he'll be in trouble much. He's a good kid, even if I'm furious about how he came to be so well behaved."

"You'll do fine," Remus assured him. "You've been in shoes similar to his and you've loved him like he was your own since we first found out Lils was pregnant." Remus smiled. "Besides, I'll keep an eye on him for you…in Defense at least."

Sirius' eyes lit up. "You got the job?"

"I got the job," Remus said proudly. "Tom Riddle contacted me part of the way through your trial, asked what I knew about the situation and such. After the fact, once he knew you were in the clear, he took me out for lunch and told me some things…" His expression became somber. "We were lied to and misled. I'm not pleased to be under Albus given the circumstances, but it means Harry will have a marauder looking out for him while Tom deals with that problem."

"Yeah," said Sirius. "Did he invite you into the Order?"

"Of Hermes?" asked Remus. "Yeah. I get formally inducted later today actually."

Sirius chuckled wryly. "It's kind of ironic. Harry and Hermione -that's her name by the way- both did what I did with the Sorting Hat. The adult Gryffindors are defecting to the 'Slytherin' side and Tom said they'd switch houses sooner than later."

"Hopefully they go together," said Remus.

"They will," said Sirius. "If they had it their way, they'd be siblings. There's no way one will leave the other behind."

Kreacher popped into the room with a tea tray and sandwiches. "Tea and snacks for Master and his friend," the elf announced.

"Thank you, Kreacher," said Sirius. "Check on Harry and Hermione, if you could. Make sure they eat something if they haven't eaten anything since lunch. We're having dinner with the Malfoys tonight, so they'll be waiting longer between meals."

"Kreacher will check on Young Master and Miss," the elf promised before disappearing again.

Remus raised a teacup in Sirius' direction. "To new beginnings?" he said.

Sirius rolled his eyes. "Sap. Why not?"

They clinked teacups and caught up until Remus had to leave for his induction.

"Next time, I'll say hello to Harry," Remus said. "For now, don't worry about it though. Let him settle."

Sirius nodded in agreement as they walked back to the door and glanced at the stairs. "Yeah. We'll make sure he meets you before they go back to school, though."

"Of course," Remus said.

The two friends shared another embrace before Remus left. Sirius yawned once the door shut behind him and transformed into Padfoot.

He found Harry and Hermione in The Hollow and curled up with his godson. A nap before dinner wouldn't hurt and the sound of them quietly snacking on their own tray of tea and sandwiches while they worked on their summer homework soothed him. He dozed without nightmares, occasionally grunting or nudging Harry with his nose to agree or disagree with a conclusion the pair drew. Once or twice he opened his eyes long enough skim a page of Harry's second year textbooks and pat a passage with his paw, but otherwise his input was rarely necessary.

It did remind him that they needed to make a trip to Diagon sooner than later, however. Something about the idea of school shopping with Harry for the first time made Sirius wish there was a canine equivalent to purring, just to give him a way to audibly express his happiness as Padfoot. 

Chapter Text

Sirius used the portkey Tom had mailed him to take Harry and Hermione to Diagon Alley the afternoon before Harry's birthday. He knew Hermione was anxious to 'get ahead' - or review, as Tom had informed him she was already years ahead of her classmates - and Harry seemed far more interested in his studies than most teenage boys. Sirius got the feeling it was a newer development, but hoped Harry knew that he wasn't going to backpedal with the adoption if Harry didn't maintain perfect marks. Sirius hadn't even maintained perfect marks, never mind James. But if Harry wanted to take a page from Hermione's book, that'd probably be better for his future.

While Harry was distracted roaming around Quality Quidditch Supplies, Sirius and Hermione trailed behind him. After a few moments of peaceful quiet, the former spoke up hesitantly.

"D'you know anything specific I should get him for tomorrow?" he asked her. "I've been putting some things away since the day Tom and I came here to sort out my vaults and such, but I'm afraid he won't be interested in the things I've gotten him."

Hermione's lips turned into a thoughtful frown that Tom's sometimes twitched into and the ex-Marauder had to resist the urge to shake his head. Given what he knew now, it was difficult to tell whether Hermione had picked up Tom's mannerisms or if Tom's younger self had picked up hers.

"I really don't think he's expecting much of anything from you, to be frank," she said after a moment. "I only saw them when I took the Knight Bus to Surrey, but his aunt and uncle seemed like the worst sort of people. And some of the things he's mentioned since I've known him just…" she trailed off, inhaling deeply as her ire rose into her cheeks. "He likes Quidditch, clearly. He's been the Gryffindor Seeker since first year. He's pretty good at Transfiguration, he's gotten better at Potions as of last year, but he started partnering with me instead of Ron towards the end as well… He's alright with Charms. He doesn't particularly care about Wizard's Chess or Exploding Snap. He seems to like animals, even though we won't have Care of Magical Creatures until next term, but he loves Hedwig dearly…"

She shrugged and sighed. "Quidditch is really the only 'thing' he does aside from school work, that I know of."

Sirius nodded, eying the boy several paces ahead of them flipping through what appeared to be an encyclopedia of skillful maneuvers and tactics. "Thank you, Hermione," he said. "You may not think it's much, but if nothing else, I know he needs to explore some other hobbies and talents. And that Quidditch supplies wouldn't be a bad thing to get a bit more of."

She offered him a small smile. "I think he'll mostly be in shock that you're celebrating his birth earnestly."

Sirius hated that she was right and hoped Tom got back to him about the Dursleys sooner than later. He blamed them for being terrible people, obscenely inadequate foster parents, and generally awful, but he ultimately held Dumbledore responsible for putting them in a position to mistreat Harry in the first place.

Still, when Harry eventually put the book down with a quiet sigh and moved deeper into the store, Sirius slipped a copy of the volume off the shelf and tucked it under his arm. He had left over wrapping paper. A few extra presents wouldn't hurt.

Hermione noticed and smiled to herself, pleased for Harry's sake.

Extra presents were purchased, shrunken, and hidden away in Sirius' pockets. He made sure both teens had a few sets of robes - casual, special occasion, and travel - and got Harry some more things to call his own. Hermione insisted her current wardrobe would suit. Sirius covertly took note of her size so he could send her a few sweaters after the two went back to school. Hogwarts was drafty for most of the year.

By the time they worked their way around to Flourish and Blotts, Hermione was eager to dive into the shelves, and Sirius chuckled as she all but sprinted to the far side of the empty store.

"We'll never get her to leave," said Harry. He watched Hermione disappear with a small smile on his face.

Sirius chuckled. "There are worse problems to have than trying to persuade a bookworm to leave a bookstore."

Sirius followed Harry to the parts of the store that interested him while Hermione browsed on her own, and was so focused on slipping books behind his back to buy Harry that he barely registered the doorbell chime. The men who entered, however, were fully aware of their present company.

"Get what you need," Tom told Severus quietly. "I have something to deal with."

And that something was the soon-to-be-fourteen-year-old counting coins in the back of Flourish and Blotts.

"Hermione," he said gently as he neared. She startled, but not as badly as she would've if he'd properly snuck up on her.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

"Severus is getting a few spare textbooks for the school and some light reading," he answered smoothly. It wasn't a lie. He just also knew he needed to start dealing with her growing aversion to his money before it became a problem. "I noticed you three were here when we walked in."

He eyed the books on the floor around her. "Seems you're after some light reading yourself."

She shrugged, a slightly embarrassed smile on her face as she looked away. "I mean, I've certainly dug into my collection at Grimmauld, but there's always so much more waiting to be read. It's hard to choose."

"Get what you want," he said. "You don't have to choose."

She frowned at him. "But they're expensive."

He rolled his eyes and leaned against a nearby shelf. "Galleons are hardly a concern for me, Hermione, and they shouldn't be a concern for you. Get what you want."

"But-"

He held up a hand to stop her. "Please don't argue with me. You can inhale an average-sized novel in a few hours. I could give your free reign in here multiple times a week and you wouldn't spend enough for me to notice."

He watched the conflict stir behind her eyes, noted the slight clench of her jaw as she warred with her pride.

"Still," she said after a few moments. "There's no need to be unreasonable and it's not like I need more books right now."

Tom resisted the urge to sigh. "Either get used to being able to buy all the books your heart desires or resign yourself to a fate of me presenting you with all the books I come across that I think you'll desire." He gave her a pointed look. "The books I come across are worth far more than anything this shop will ever sell, for the record. The boys and I have always enjoyed collecting any and everything that catches our eyes."

Her expression, while still conflicted, became slightly teasing. "You're like a pride of dragons."

His lips twitched. "Not a clan?" he asked cheekily.

"No," she said. "Too few of you for a clan, I think. And you've got a rather niche hoard, don't you think?"

Rare dark artifacts. Books of all sorts. Dark witch spouse in training. Cursed cookware Avery found in the seventies.

He shrugged. "I suppose we have rather unique tastes."

She snorted and he smiled, inclining his head towards the books she'd been trying to choose between. "Grab those and whatever else has caught your eye. I expect to hear about whatever you've read the next time I see you."

She grumbled under her breath for a moment, but collected her books as told and hesitated beside one shelf. He waited. When she sighed and slipped two more volumes from the shelves, he gave her an approving nod.

One day you'll know better than to hesitate over trivial things like this, he wanted to tell her. He couldn't of course, but the words sat on his tongue all the same.

As they headed back towards the front of the store, Tom saw a few familiar spines and grabbed them, to Hermione's displeasure.

"Are those for you or me?" she asked, her underlying accusation clear.

"You, I'm afraid," he said. He hoped she realized he meant it. He didn't enjoy antagonizing her, usually. "They're…familiar."

She made a small noise of understanding. "For all I know you're lying."

"I'm hurt that you think so ill of me," he said, keeping his tone playful despite the unsettling effect her words had on him.

She snorted under her breath but said nothing, making Tom eye her with suspicion. She was fidgety again. He could only assume she, like he, was still bothered by their spat in the library. Only he was better at hiding it.

"I'm not cross," he said gently.

"I noticed," she muttered, puzzling him further.

If she knew he wasn't upset with her, then why was she still acting oddly?

They met the others at the front of the store. Tom noticed Sirius' worried gaze aimed at Hermione and subtly shook his head when their eyes met. He paid for Hermione's books, shrunk them down, and passed them to Sirius while he bought first Harry's purchases, then the books he'd hidden behind his back.

Tom had nearly forgotten the boy's birthday was tomorrow.

"We should get something to eat, while we're all here," Sirius suggested when everyone's purchases were made, shrunken down, and tucked safely into robe pockets. "Unless you two are busy?" he added, glancing between Severus and Tom.

Severus' response was neutral. "I'm needed at the school this evening. Some of these supplies need dealt with and Minerva is expecting me."

"Not a problem," said Tom. "I'll see you soon, I'm sure."

They parted ways with Severus outside Flourish and Blotts, and Tom was struck with inspiration.

"Would any of you be terribly opposed if we split up for dinner?" he asked. "Sirius, I know you mentioned wanting to take Harry somewhere…?"

Tom didn't add the while you were on trial, but Sirius heard it all the same.

"I'm cool with that," he said. "You two could come and we could just sit at separate tables, if you wanted."

Tom offered him a small smile. "Another time maybe. I had a place in mind myself, assuming she's agreeable…?" he trailed off as he switched his attention to Hermione.

She gave him a look that told him she wasn't buying his nonchalance, but shrugged anyway. "I don't care. I'm just hungry."

Thank you, Dove.

"If we don't cross paths before you two are ready to head home, I'll bring her back, of course," said Tom.

"Naturally. See you soon," said Sirius.

Harry and Hermione exchanged farewells as they were lead in opposite directions down Diagon Alley by their respective guardians. Tom lead Hermione towards Knockturn Alley, keeping an arm around her shoulders so he wouldn't lose her in the quickly-building evening crowd.

"We'll be cutting through a rather…unsavory area to get where I'm thinking of," he told her. "Stay close. If you so much as think you've gotten away from me somehow, scream. I never want you to hesitate to defend yourself, trace be damned."

"I really doubt anyone is foolish enough to bother us," she said slowly. "But I will."

His grip on her tightened as they turned down into Knockturn and he cast a silent, invisible shield around them. A few warning glares at too-interested bottom-feeders kept their trip short and undisturbed - thankfully. But by the time they reached the end of the alley, Tom was more than happy to slip away from the eyes following them.

"Wretches," he muttered once he'd pulled her through a secret passageway. One that was not unlike the entrance to Diagon, but subtler. They came out in a less than savory London alleyway, but still in the wizarding part of London. They weren't far now. A few turns and a brisk walk later, and Tom finally led her into a hole-in-the-wall of a restaurant. The establishment couldn't decide if it wanted to be a cozy diner or an abstract cafe. The wallpaper was peeling in some places, and other walls were exposed stone, but aside from appearing worn and battered, it was clean. There was no overwhelming scent of staleness or mold. It was warm and cozy. The bricks were smoothed from wear and the floors creaked with age, but the booths were comfortable. Though Tom would come for the food and the quaint, secluded atmosphere even if the seating was sub-par.

"Welcome to the Tarnished Coil," Tom said as they slid into a booth at the back of the restaurant.

"How did you even find this place?" Hermione asked, taking in the atmosphere as best as she could in the dim lighting.

"By chance," he said. "But I like it here. Sometimes we rent the place out for the evening to host smaller Order gatherings. Their bangers and mash reinvents bangers and mash. And I'm sure you'll be interested in the dessert menu…"

Their meal was genuinely relaxed, unlike the moments with underlying tension since their spat. He asked her how the transition to Grimmauld was, she told him how happy she was for Harry and thanked him for saving Sirius. He didn't point out that he really hadn't had a choice in the matter, since he'd been made aware of Sirius's release during his school days. She asked him about the ministry and what he was currently invested in aside from worrying about the timelines. Over dessert, a shared brownie sundae, he told her all he could about some of the notes and volumes they'd recovered from a tomb in Egypt that had taken nine curse breakers three months to get open.

When he went home after apparating her to Grimmauld and making sure she had her new books, he wasn't drowning in memories or choking on the differences between the girl he had now and the young woman he'd had once upon a time. It still stung, but he was learning how to breathe again. He could stand being around her.

He'd missed her. With his patience high, it didn't matter which her he had. Or at least, it didn't matter as much.

But it still stung.


Happy Friday!

Chapter Text

Tom woke up on a rainy Saturday in March acutely aware that he had nothing to do until classes that afternoon. He stayed in bed longer than usual, until he felt like reaching for his wand and casting a warming charm around himself. The dungeons being underground sometimes helped protect their dorms from the cold, but only so much could be done when drafts were inevitable and most of the flooring was stone.

He was still up, showered, and dressed long before Abraxas and Flynn had begrudgingly woken up. Their tired groans, slow movements, and sharp hisses when their feet touched the cold stone made him roll his eyes.

"Breakfast is soon," he said. "I'd rather not have to fight for my favorites. Do hurry up."

He fished his diary out of his warded nightstand and wrote Hermione while he waited for them. It was afternoon for her already. She was in the shared space between her room and Harry's at his godfather's house. Apparently it was raining in 2013 as well.

He felt a twinge of irritation. Did Harry realize how fortunate he was to spend near-unlimited time with her? Did he even truly understand how valuable her mind was? Did he realize how much of an honor her presence was for someone who wasn't on her tier like Tom was?

He'd been bored out of his mind since she left. The idea that there wasn't anyone else appreciating her value while she was out of his reach angered him. It was a waste of her time and talents to not keep her brain, and her magic, flexing. No one else could appreciate her skills the way he did, and even he struggled to find a way to make their unique…bond tangible.

When the boys finally came down, the three of them were still the earliest risers of their year. There were a few of the sixth and seventh years up, if half asleep on the sofas counted as being 'up', but that was it. Tom passed through the common room with disinterest in his frown and the boys close on his heels. The Great Hall was mostly empty when they arrived and Tom was relieved to find that while Slughorn was awake, Dumbledore hadn't shown up yet.

He could write Hermione a little longer.

The boys passed eggs, sausage links, bacon, toast, and all manner of breakfast things around until their plates were full. Flynn shook his head when Tom and Abraxas made a point to crush and chop bits of bacon and sausage with the sole purpose of topping their already buttered waffles, and drizzling the entire mess in syrup before they started eating.

"You two are heathens," Flynn muttered.

"It's sweet and salty," Abraxas said with a shrug. "You won't even try it. Hell, even Tom likes it. You're missing out Flynn."

"I'll take your word for it," the blond said dryly.

Tom snorted as he answered a Herbology theory question Hermione had penned to him. "It probably wouldn't be polite to eat breakfast this way in a more…sophisticated setting, but we're at school. We're growing young lads." He lifted a perfectly cut piece of waffle, bacon, and sausage to his mouth and chewed it with silent appreciation. "Besides, it's more efficient."

Flynn rolled his eyes and continued to mutter about how he was the only sane one among them. By the time they'd finished eating, the usual morning rush was starting to trickle in, including the professors, and Tom was happy to slip away just as Dumbledore sat down.

Abraxas and Flynn went ahead of him to the Room of Requirement to study while Tom detoured down to the Chamber of Secrets. Salazar Slytherin had a study hidden behind his statue. If there was anywhere Tom expected to potentially find information about bonds between two uniquely powerful beings, it was in Slytherin's journals.

There had to be something to help him explain, or at least define, his connection to Hermione. She was his 'friend', he supposed, but Tom didn't have friends. He had the boys and he had her. Everyone else was extra. Unnecessary. But there had to be some way to properly, formally, mark Hermione as different than everyone else.

He just had to find it.

Even though he called for Chersydri - his Basilisk who preferred to be called Cherie - she didn't answer him, not even as he opened the human entrance to the statue and slipped behind it. He peaked out to the pool that connected to the Black Lake and didn't see her sleeping on her rocky shore, meaning she must've been hunting either in the Forbidden Forest or deep in the water. Either way, he'd come down into the chamber for the books, not the company.

His search was a mostly futile effort however, and Cherie returned before he'd found what he was after.

Master seeks something…she hissed from the passage that lead from her pool to the mouth of Slytherin's statue. Her corridor was only partially walled off from the study Tom was combing through, allowing his familiar to curl up and watch him from the far side of the room. She had to occasionally move to look past a few bookcases, but that was hardly concerning for the serpent.

"I'm looking for connection magics," he said absently. "My protogeé…she's an exemplary witch, Cherie. Young, yes, but a quick study. I want her tied to me, her magic bound to mine in some way... I want her to learn even faster, which she'll be able to do if her less developed magic has access to mine."

An apprenticeship via magical osmosis. It was nothing more than she deserved.

The only rituals capable of binding the magic also bind the body, Cherie told him. And the mind. There are a few older rites that even bind two souls, assuming they're of the same cloth.

Tom frowned with distaste. "Marriage bonds?" he asked, incredulous. "That'd be ridiculous."

How so? Cherie asked. You clearly respect the witch. You admire her power. You enjoy her company.

Tom continued to scowl and tried to figure out how to explain why such an idea would be insulting. "For starters, we've above something as trivial as marriage. Love is for the weak, like Dumbledore. She's like me. She's better than that. I don't want anyone underestimating her just because she has a husband. Especially if it were me. No. We stand separate but together."

Cherie tilted her head at him and flicked her tongue thoughtfully. Your ancestors took powerful witches as brides. They learned to draw strength from love in most cases. It's powerful magic, especially when it's combined with your existing talents. It would be unwise to dismiss the idea entirely.

Tom made a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat. "I doubt it will come to apply to Hermione. All I need is a way to prove that she belongs by my side. If there are no binding rites, what else could I use?"

Cherie was quiet for some time while Tom continued to flip through texts from the study shelves. There is a way to share Parselmagic between people, she said. It is complex and difficult to explain, but Salazar used the ritual to be certain all of his children retained his gift. And his children's children, until the magic became hereditary. Would it satisfy your need for connection if her magic managed to receive the gift from yours?

Tom pondered the idea of a muggleborn witch strong enough to accept a rare pureblood magical trait. If she could, it would only be further proof that she belonged under his wing. If she couldn't, it wouldn't be a terrible surprise, as Parseltongue was a gift so rarely bestowed upon magicfolk as it was. As far as Tom knew, he was the only Parseltongue in Europe. To have her join him on that particular pedestal would be…

Tom didn't know a word strong enough to convey how pleased he would be. Excitement sang through his veins.

"Where do I find this ritual?" he asked Cherie.

She told him about the thin, blue, leather notebook, a journal of Salazar Slytherin's with Celtic knots pressed and carved into its face, and helped him find a much larger volume with detailed notes about various magical rites invented by Slytherin, but written by one of his children.

Those should aid you, Cherie said. Know that the ritual sometimes took days' worth of hours to take hold in some of your ancestors. If it's going to take root in the girl, it may take much repetition and patience.

Tom thanked Cherie and pet her head affectionately before gathering his spoils. He still needed to meet Abraxas and Flynn in the Room. They had work to do, on top of his existing personal projects.

Still, he found himself imagining how a Parselmouth Hermione would sound as he left the Chamber of Secrets and made his way up to the seventh floor.

She could do it. He knew she could.


He ended up spending most of their time in the Room of Requirement buffing out the Arithmancy that would allow him, and Hermione, to know what time it was on either side of the diary at any given moment.

He worked the last few times and dates into his equation before casting the spell to run it. The leather of the back binding of his diary glowed deep blue for several moments before all the magic seemed to slide into place. His data tables vanished and the runes he'd drawn around them moved to form a border around the edges of the binding. Aside from the outline of runes, the leather was blank, smooth, and unassuming once again.

Tom felt a smirk pull at his lips and chuckled to himself.

No more guessing games.

The light from the diary gained Abraxas and Avery's attentions.

"Find something you were looking for?" Abraxas asked.

"Solved a puzzle," Tom answered as he glanced at the time and dates writing themselves across the leather.

Saturday, March 16, 1963 8:45 AM

Monday, July 29, 2013 6:45 PM

His smirk widened. Under their current times, he wrote in the date and time he was most concerned about.

September 1, 2013 8:45 PM

He could've cried out with triumph when his corresponding time started to write itself under his entry.

Tuesday, April 2, 1963 9:45 AM

He closed his diary with satisfaction. It wouldn't be much longer before she returned. Just another fortnight or so. That was plenty of time to get his lesson plans for her in order and keep focusing on his research projects.

He could deal with the boredom until April.

"So," Tom began, pleased when Abraxas and Flynn perked up again, "when you've reached a stopping point in your studies, I'd like to speak with the pair of you."

He waited while Flynn finished a thought in whatever assignment he was working on. Once both of his closest…associates were listening, he gave them a hard look.

"I'm not sharing any of what I'm about to tell you with the lower ranks," he said, letting the firmness in his tone speak for itself. "I'll decide when and how much to tell those halfwits at a later date. For now, I trust the pair of you can handle this information…"

They bobbed their heads and quickly assured him that yes, they could take his news seriously and be trusted, to which he replied with a noncommittal sound from the back of his throat.

"I have a…" he frowned, his gaze turning to stare blankly at the wall as gears turned in his mind. Protogeé was the word, but she was also his associate…except she was above the pair before him. No. He needed another word. Something that gave Abraxas and Flynn a clear sense of were she stood in Tom's hierarchy. "…a friend," he finished slowly, tasting the word. It was foreign. He still didn't think he had friends, at least, not until now. But there wasn't anything else fitting enough to address her by.

"A very clever friend," he continued, more confident with his word choice now.

Internally, he repeated the term to himself a few times, tasting it on the back of his tongue as he connected her to it in his mind. It would have to suffice for now. If he found a better word later, he'd adjust accordingly, but this one was as fitting of a term as he could think of.

They shared a respect for one another, for their abilities and strength. They shared mutual interests. There was an unspoken rule between them to look out for one another. Tom would certainly feel better with her at his back in a duel than he would with either pureblood before him, and they were both proficient duelers. She had a wealth of potential under that fluffy head of hers, her heritage be damned.

Besides, he enjoyed her company.

"A friend…" Flynn repeated slowly.

"Yes," said Tom, turning back towards them now that his thoughts were settled again. Remembering their recent conversation the day she went on holiday, Tom's lips slowly twitched into a smirk. A companion. A friend. Someone to join him in Neverland. "Let's call her Wendy," he told them. He was counting on her finding out he'd used the moniker that irked her so badly as the way his boys would know her. Sometimes her hair got wilder when she was cross, but occasionally her flaring magic would tighten the curls towards something akin to submission, if only for a few moments. It was as fascinating to watch as it was entertaining.

"Do we…" Abraxas began hesitantly, "do we know this Wendy of yours?"

Tom couldn't help the snort that escaped him. "You do not." His smirk faded at the thought. He wasn't sure he trusted them with her enough to try introducing the lot of them… And he certainly wouldn't willingly battle for her attention if his two most competent buffoons decided she was worthy of their pathetic attempts at being charming.

His lips twisted into a scowl. "Nor shall you anytime soon."

A fissure of satisfaction ran through him when the pair of them deflated at the knowledge. He couldn't quite blame them, however. After the capable little witch had entered his life and changed all of his plans, Tom could certainly appreciate a little less testosterone floating around. It was a pity that so few of their classmates were acceptably malleable enough to recruit.

Granted, none of the boys needed anymore reasons to spend time chasing tail. Between Quidditch season and the idiocy that was Hogwarts dating culture, Tom usually marveled at how the wizarding world managed to produce even a handful of valuable members of society per generation. Worthless sods, the lot of them.

The most capable person Tom knew was fifty years in the bloody future, for Salazar's sake.

The nervous glance Abraxas and Flynn shared lasted just long enough for Tom's eyes to narrow in suspicion before the former spoke.

"Is…is she yours, Tom?" he asked with great hesitation. "That is to say…is she…is she to be our Lady?"

Tom blinked. And blinked again.

And again.

First Cherie and now the boys? He was positively befuddled.

As if snogging the little bird would benefit anyone.

"No…she isn't," Tom eventually replied, keeping his tone as neutral as he could manage. "Though she's certainly…most important to me, and thus should be considered important to you."

They both nodded their agreement without hesitation.

"Is there anything we should know to avoid any potentially…undesirable altercations with her?" Flynn asked.

Tom's smirk returned, if only briefly. "Of that, you needn't fret…" he assured them. "Your grandchildren on the other hand…well, we'll just make sure they know exactly who she is when the time comes, yes?"

Abraxas and Flynn shared a glance, their faces slightly paler than usual.

"Y…yes, Tom," they muttered.

By the time they worked up the courage to ask how he'd managed to meet someone ahead of their time, they only had another forty minutes until they were due to go to class.

Their anxiety amused him to no end.


By the time dinner rolled around, Tom had spent most of the day trying to figure out why both Cherie and the boys had immediately assumed a…relationship with Hermione was something worth considering.

A 'proper' relationship, of course. Their relationship as student and master, and as friends -the word still didn't taste quite right in his mind- was solid. Or so he thought. What did adding another layer of complication to his connection with her have to do with furthering his plans? Most of the…romantic and legally binding partnerships he'd observed were pathetic at best and a complete waste of time for the participants at worst.

So what was the fuss about?

He didn't think his basilisk or the boys would truly understand what he meant by that question, so as Tom picked at his dinner, he took it upon himself to start another research project. Thankfully, this one only involved observational study.

And if all else failed, maybe analyzing his peers would give him some insight as to why Hermione was always tense on the days where she reported being around his adult self. Did they not get along as well as she claimed or was the oddity of having two versions of him to juggle something she struggled with?

He only had one way to potentially find out. Unfortunately, his plan proved mostly futile within the first half hour of the meal.

Tom knew a number of his classmates were in platonic friendships, as well as several (usually fleeting) romantic relationships. Admittedly, most cases of the former appeared outside his house, making it difficult for him to get clear results.

He learned that Ravenclaw was hardly worth observing - they kept their ability for decent interaction hidden behind closed doors. He could see their calculating stares, something they shared with Slytherin, but knew they'd stab a friend in the back as soon as it became a benefit to them academically. Frankly, Tom found it barbaric. The few sane relationships he'd seen were hesitant and guarded - the polar opposite of what he was looking to understand.

Hufflepuffs, while being notorious for their gentle natures and strong bonds, gender and blood status be damned, made him uncomfortable. His skin crawled as he watched many of them practically cuddle one another. Leaning, hanging, hugging, touching. Always bloody touching one another. It was far more than he cared to think about and far beyond the limits of what he could handle.

And after a pointless, cursory glance around Slytherin table, noting the familiar politics and huddled, elite groups of comrades, Tom sighed around a bite of his dinner and focused on Gryffindor.

He was pleasantly surprised, if not rather shocked, at what he found.

They were more than annoying, and undeniably rowdy, but their relationships were…normal, compared to the other houses. There was no overly sappiness of the Hufflepuffs or the false-heartedness of the Ravenclaws. Affection, when given, was given freely, but not suffocatingly. Hugs —long, short, quick, and intimate— were commonplace amidst the lions, with more intense affection sometimes accented by chaste kisses in innocent places or brief, tender touches.

They weren't over the top or cold or guarded like the other houses.

He'd have to peek into Hermione's head when she returned to see how her era viewed such things, and how she viewed them, to get a better sense of what information he might be missing.

He'd been about to go back to focusing on his meal when movement caught his eye. A small Gryffindor blonde he didn't recognize, probably a fourth year or so judging by her height, and one of the sixth years from the Gryffindor Quidditch team stood from their table together. She reached up on the tips of her toes to wrap her arms around his neck, which he returned by circling her waist with his.

Tom's head tilted curiously. They were fused like jigsaw pieces, just holding one another for a few intimate moments with her head tucked under his chin before he pressed his lips to her hair. A beat later, they came apart, collected their things, and intertwined their hands as they left the Great Hall.

It was odd. They seemed to find some sense of mutual reward from their interaction, despite how…pointless physical affection generally was. Why cuddle together like animals when you have intellectual intimacy with a person, the way he did with Hermione? What was the bloody point? Snogging, hugging, sex, none of it held the same value. Half the time, he saw all three land his classmates in situations that decidedly decreased the value of their lives.

So why the bloody hell did his companions think it would be natural to pursue such an entanglement with Hermione?

Though he could admit that the Quidditch player and his little witch had certainly seemed delightfully contented after their brief interaction. He wondered how long that feeling had to last for people to consider it worth the hassle.

Chapter Text

Sirius didn't sleep well.

He was anxious and excited, but more of the former than the latter. His nightmares had been fuzzy, but they were enough to make him flinch out of the few bouts of rest he'd managed throughout the night. He couldn't remember much, but he knew the general theme was Harry getting taken from him - whether it be by dementors, or Dumbledore, or even Tom. That dream had quite possibly been the oddest of the lot, although the thought of the man who had given his life back to him ripping everything away again certainly sent chills down Sirius' spine.

Even if it was the least likely to come to fruition of all the nightmares he'd had.

Instead of rolling around in his own sweat and discomfort, Sirius rose at the ungodly hour of four in the morning, showered in his pristine and delightfully modern master bath, and set out to quietly start preparing for his charges to wake.

He was sitting in the kitchen, clad only in a thin pair of pajama bottoms and a cotton t-shirt, wrapping the last few presents for his godson when Kreacher tiredly wandered into the room. The house elf stopped and squinted his eyes further, if possible. His opinion on his master's lack of rest was as clear as his confusion.

"Master did not sleep again," said the elf, his voice twice as gravely with sleep.

Sirius merely shrugged and continued wrapping the present he was working on. "I have things to do, anyway."

"Master knows Lord Riddle made Kreacher swear to keep an eye on his sleeping," the elf continued. "Kreacher serves and looks after the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black…"

"I'm alright, Kreacher," Sirius said distractedly. "Honest. It's probably just nerves anyway."

The elf made a judgmental noise in the back of his throat. "Master might sleep better at the foot of Young Master's bed," were his parting words before he scuttled into the kitchen. Sirius couldn't tell if he was too tired to apparate or simply couldn't be bothered, but by the time Harry's presents were wrapped and stacked along the table, the restless marauder was yawning constantly.

He'd leave Harry be, despite very much so wishing to do exactly as Kreacher suggested. If the day ahead of him stood to remind Sirius of anything - aside from solidifying just how long it had been since he'd last spent so much time with Harry, and how little Harry remembered of him - it was that fourteen year old boys who barely remembered their godparent and had grown up in a neglectful, abusive household likely wouldn't take well to said godparent making a habit of sharing their bed. Even if it was in animagus form.

So Sirius curled up in the room Harry spent the rest of his time in - the Hollow - and managed to doze on a patch of carpet that Harry must've frequently lounged on.

He only got another hour or two, but it was enough to put a little strength into him, enough to make him pad down the stairs just as Kreacher started making breakfast. Not long after he'd started to anxiously fiddle with the presents again, Hermione quietly entered the room, sleep rumpled, but alert. Sirius smirked at her shirt, an old Quidditch jersey that had once belonged to Regulus, and took some measure of comfort that she finally looked comfortable in it. If Harry considered her kin, then so would Sirius.

Either way, the shirt suited her. Sirius liked to think Regulus would've found a kindred spirit in girl before him, if he'd been given the chance of course.

Hermione eyed the collection of presents on the table with mild amusement. "You realize he isn't even expecting a card," she said. "I doubt he'll know what to do with all of this."

Sirius shrugged and offered her a somewhat bittersweet smile. "I've missed a lot of birthdays," he said. "Not to mention damage control thanks to his mother's rotten family."

There were several stronger adjectives than 'rotten' on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed them. Part of his mind was always acutely aware that he was a parent now, and that self control was one of the job requirements. When the teens in his house were a little older, a little less innocent, he'd loosen his filters, but for now, it probably wouldn't be very responsible of him to add a few choice expressions to their vocabularies.

Sirius picked one of the smaller gifts from Harry's pile, shifted into Padfoot, and took the present between his teeth with care. Hermione's amused snort earned her an affectionate brush against her leg as he trotted past her towards the stairs. His jaunt up the steps was quick and he was pleased to find Harry's door slightly cracked open.

Sirius listened for a moment, just to be certain Harry was still asleep, before he slipped into the room. He set the present on the bed before gently pawing at one of Harry's hands until he stirred.

Harry squinted at him tiredly, yawned, and reached for his glasses before offering Padfoot a smile. When Harry sat up, Sirius jumped onto the bed and laid beside his feet while he inspected the small wrapped box.

"What's this then?" Harry asked, his voice still a bit thick with sleep. He shook the box gently, but whatever was inside must've been soft. He could hear it sliding around, but there was no rattle, no thuds as it moved around inside the box.

Sirius used his nose to nudge Harry's hand as his tail flicked with anxiety. He didn't know how much Harry could remember from being so small, but he had hope that there were a few memories buried under the surface… if only so Harry wouldn't question how much he was loved in his new home.

Harry tore the paper from the small, slightly rectangular box, and peered inside. For a moment, he was confused.

The small stuffed toy had faded matted down black fur and had probably been plump enough to stand on its own in its prime. As it was now, the black dog, roughly the size of both of Harry's hands, was flexible - floppy even. It's short, folded ears were the only part of it that still stubbornly held their shape. Picking it up, Harry realized it was pliant enough for the legs to easily spread out in any which way.

It immediately reminded him of a stuffed cat Dudley had once owned, that he'd hugged so much the legs didn't protest being flattened against his front.

But this dog. Harry remembered it. It's shape, it's face, was familiar to him, though he barely knew why. His brows knitted together as he tried to grab onto the whisper of a memory, tried to figure out why Sirius would give him this.

Thinking about Sirius made something in Harry's mind slide into place, and he remembered. He remembered being held, being up high. He remembered the loudness and the lights. He could just barely remember being in the arms of a woman with bright, fiery hair. And he remembered spotting the black dog, pristine at the time, hanging from something…a tent of sorts…

He remembered wanting it desperately, but not why. The woman stopped walking, a man with dark hair, light eyes, and glasses frowning, trying to soothe him. And Sirius. He'd been there. He was the one to figure out what Harry had been upset about.

Oi, mate, how many points do I need for that little thing there?

"Were we…" Harry started to ask, trying his damnedest to remember what happened next. He couldn't recall what else Sirius and the man under the tent had said, but he could remember Sirius grinning at him. Assuring him of something. "Were we at a…a carnival or something?"

Padfoot's tail twitched happily and a quiet, encouraging 'woof' was Harry's answer.

"And…you…" The memory was growing fainter. Sirius did something, talked to the woman with red hair and the man with the glasses, and eventually the latter two started cheering. Harry had been watching the toy. He remembered the man in the tent, or booth, he supposed it was, getting it down from it's hook and passing it to Sirius.

He remembered Sirius turning towards him, presenting him with the black dog.

Snuh-lufs!

The toy had been half Harry's size at the time and he'd eagerly taken it. Hugged it with all his might. But he hadn't stopped looking at Sirius.

I lufs snuh-lufs.

Sirius' smirk turned warm, fond, and he'd lifted Harry from Lily's shoulder to balance him in his arms instead. Snuffles loves you too, buddy.

Harry blinked and the memory was gone. "I thought it looked like you," he said, slightly dazed.

Sirius moved farther down the bed and shifted back into himself. Harry hoped he wouldn't cry. He was having a time of not crying himself, and he hated feeling like a baby in front of his godfather.

"Seemed to us like you wanted a substitute Snuffles for when I wasn't around, or when I wasn't in my animagus form," Sirius said quietly. "I'm surprised you remember that. The lot of you went into hiding not too long after we went to that carnival. You were barely over a year old."

Harry turned his gaze back to toy. "How'd you even find it?"

"Tom let me look through old boxes of evidence and such that's apparently been shrunken down in an old DMLE storage vault this entire time. There wasn't much worth saving, but I found that in there and patched it up…" Sirius trailed off for a moment before looking away, his expression tight. "They would've found it in your nursery somewhere. Maybe even in your crib… We can always go look through that stuff again if you'd like. Tom had it all moved to my personal vault."

"I doubt I'll remember much more," Harry muttered, setting Toy Snuffles on his nightstand. "But I guess it couldn't hurt, yeah?"

Sirius ran a hand through Harry's hair and Harry leaned into the touch instinctively. He got the sense it was something Sirius had done a lot when he was a baby.

"Not today though," Sirius assured him. "Now, up ya get, kiddo. Use the loo, brush your teeth, brush your hair-" He paused, smirking, "-as best you can. Wear your pajamas if you'd like, or change. Doesn't really matter to me. Breakfast will be ready soon though."

He rose from Harry's bed with a wink. "We'll be downstairs when you're ready."

Harry offered him a small smile. "Alright."

When Sirius left, Harry slid out of bed, and his expression didn't change even as he went about his morning rituals.

He liked his present more and more the longer he thought about the faded memory.

He wondered if it'd be weird to hug Sirius when he went downstairs…


Harry's 'party' wasn't really a party.

He spent the morning with Sirius and Hermione opening his presents. The sheer volume of them stunned him, and his first thought upon seeing the pile on the dining room table was Dudley would have a conniption if he saw these. He got more clothes of all sorts to fill his closet. He got at least one pair of shoes for every foreseeable occasion - casual, outdoors, winter, and fancier shoes of both wizarding and muggle variety. He got cloaks, a quilt that had belonged to his parents, a toy snitch, and a new broom. He got books to line his half of The Hollow. He got nice quills and ink and parchment for the desk in his bedroom (that was apparently not part of his school supplies, but purely for at-home use). He got Quidditch figurines and an encyclopedia of flying tricks from Hermione. He got candy.

But what mattered most was that he got attention, not that he realized it. Sirius did, though, and was more relieved by the hour as Harry's initial shyness about his birthday turned into the bright joyousness a thirteen year old boy should be basking in. Sirius took note of the fact that Harry was more affectionate with Hermione than usual, hugging her, seemingly, whenever the urge struck him. And though Sirius wished Harry wouldn't hesitate to seek that affection from him as well, he knew his boy just needed some time.

Tom and Remus stopped by for tea, wished Harry well, and presented him with a few more gifts. Galleons and an enchanted dream catcher from Tom - "I'm told they aid in efficient sleeping. Do let me know if you notice an effect, won't you, Harry?" - and a small photo album from Remus. There were few photos inside, all magical, but they were from Harry's first year of life. Most of them were of him and Sirius together.

"I found a few of these tucked away. I figured the two of you might like copies of them," Remus had said softly.

Harry flipped through it briefly, determined to give it a proper study later in the day, and found one from the day Sirius had won him Toy Snuffles. The wide, doe-eyed smile baby Harry had given Sirius as he clung to the stuffed animal only solidified that as a baby, Harry had some grasp of Sirius being both Snuffles and himself. He'd been so happy, his little grin mischievous, and his clever eyes shining even after Sirius snatched him up for a cuddle.

It made him smile and Harry had thanked Remus profusely.

Halfway through tea, the Malfoys arrived. Once Harry opened his gift from Draco - expensive treats and several posters of famous Quidditch Players - the three teens ran off to show Draco the house. After a thorough tour, they settled into the Hollow to relax and talk about what they'd all been doing since Harry and Hermione left Malfoy Manor. They talked about the upcoming school year, glossed over Harry and Hermione's unfortunate housing situation, and eventually got on the topic of Draco's other friends.

"I think you'd like most of them," he said. "Crabbe and Goyle are just lackeys, but Davis, Nott, and Zabini are good people. Their families work closely with mine and I'm pretty sure Theo's father is an original member of the Order of Hermes." He shrugged, deeming the detail less significant that he originally thought. "Anyway, we usually meet up to finish our school shopping in August. If you two came along, you could meet them all."

Harry and Hermione were wary at first, but Draco's assurances eventually made them less hesitant. By the time Draco was due to go home, they agreed to think on his offer and talk to Sirius about it.

When their guests dispersed, Kreacher announced that Harry's birthday dinner was ready, and the three remaining inhabitants of Number 12 Grimmauld Place followed him into the dining room. An array of treats was presented for dessert, among them a small chocolate cake with thirteen candles. Harry smiled wryly at it.

"Make a wish," said Sirius.

Harry glanced at his godfather, then at his best friend, and back. His wish decided, he made quick work of his candles and sat back, satisfied.

He was so content, in fact, he didn't pay much mind to Hermione discretely excusing herself for the night. She gave Harry one last hug and a kiss on the cheek, claimed she was heading to bed, and went upstairs. Still buzzing with leftover energy from the day, Harry wasn't quite ready for bed himself. Thankfully, it didn't seem like Sirius was either.

"Come on," he beckoned after polishing off another biscuit. "What better place to wind down after a proper birthday than in the drawing room?"

Sirius used his wand to move the furniture around, and they ended up sitting on the floor with their backs against the couch. Harry sat uncomfortably beside him for a solid three minutes before biting the bullet and leaning over to rest his head on Sirius' shoulder in something akin to a hug. The hug he'd been wanting to give the older man since that morning.

And just when he was about to pull away, worried he'd made Sirius uncomfortable, or embarrassed himself somehow, Harry felt an arm wrap around his shoulders and hold him still.

"Thirteen is not too old to want or need affection from your family," he said quietly. "If you need something, you tell me. I don't care if you think it's stupid, or immature, or whatever the hell the bleeding Dursleys convinced you to think about normal, healthy family interactions…"

Harry's eyes burned when fingers started running through his hair, and he scooted closer still, despite the anxiety in his limbs.

Sirius kept talking, ignoring the trembling in Harry's shoulders. "I've been trying to make this first while as simple as possible, because I want you to adjust and I want you to have as relaxing of a summer as you can, given how busy it's been," he said. "What I don't want is you for to go back to school worried sick about upsetting me somehow, or…bloody hell, Harry, I dunno… thinking I won't want you anymore if you got into trouble."

The wince Harry failed the stifle at the words made Sirius lean down and kiss his hair.

"Until this summer, you didn't remember that you had a godfather. Until this summer, I didn't think I'd ever get to be one again, didn't think I'd ever see you again. And I will be grateful to Tom Riddle until the day I die for righting the wrongs of lesser men, but I want you to understand something, Harry."

When Sirius paused, Harry blinked a few tears away, wiped his face on the back of his hand, and tilted his head up to look at him. Sirius' expression was somber.

"Even when you were a baby, you were my son," he said softly. "You were James' boy and Lily's baby, but you were mine too. Sometimes you'd cry if James picked you up and I was around, fussing until I took you. Sometimes you'd be kind to your mum long enough to have some milk, then brush her off too. We all had a good laugh about things like that back then. It was funny to watch you pick your favorite of the week or month. I was around as much as I could be and I spent almost as much time with you as your birth parents did." Sirius surprised Harry by kissing his forehead - his scar - and hugging him tighter. "Until this summer, you were the godson I'd lost," he murmured. "But you are my son, Harry James Potter, whether the 'god' is in there or not. This is your home now and nothing could persuade me to change that fact."

Harry hid his face against Sirius' shoulder and swallowed the painful lump in his throat. "Thank you," he managed to say quietly.

Sirius snorted. "Please don't thank me for not being an abusive arse. It makes me want to do things to those people that would put me back in Azkaban and I'd rather be here."

Harry pressed closer still. "Please don't."

There were lips on his hair again. "I will do everything in my power to never leave you again, Harry," he promised. "At some point tomorrow I do want to talk about rules though. We'll have a nice long chat about what I expect from you, what you think you should expect from me, what you should actually expect from me, and we'll lay out whatever ground rules are needed for you to know what to expect when you get back to school."

Harry shrugged and nodded. This 'talk' idea made him nervous, but Sirius didn't make it sound like it was optional.

"Enough heavy talk, I think." Sirius shifted slightly to get more comfortable and moved the hand in Harry's hair down to rub his shoulder. "Relax, kiddo. You can sit here and have a cuddle with me properly, if you'd like. Loving you is one of the perks of the job. Just because your mum's family chose not to take that benefit doesn't mean it's not on the table."

After more gentle prodding, Harry eventually ended up fulled pressed against Sirius' side, with Sirius reclining against the couch slightly and Harry's head resting near his collarbone. Pointed acknowledgment of Harry's right arm resting awkwardly on his legs led to him having his arm wrapped around Sirius' chest as well. It took several long minutes, but eventually he relaxed until he was only aware of the warmth of the fire and the gentle pattern Sirius was drawing against his arm.

He felt small, and part of him hated it, but eventually that feeling was replaced with something else. Something warm and sad and bitter all at once. It made his eyes burn. Sirius didn't make him talk about what was making him sniffle now, but produced a handkerchief from somewhere and passed it to him without a word.

Harry was nearly asleep when the words "I love you" were spoken softly above him.

He didn't remember saying "Thank you for not forgetting about me" but he remembered the quiet chuckle that echoed under his ear and the fingers that found their way back into his hair.

"As if I could ever forget about you, kiddo."

Chapter Text

Diagon Alley was busy, but not as busy as it would've been if they'd waited until the last weekend before term to get the rest of their school supplies. Sirius led both of his charges to Gringotts, promising to leave them to their own devices once he knew they had plenty to cover their shopping. Sirius ended up going to the vaults on his own anyway, since Harry decided to wait in the currency exchange queue with Hermione.

When Tom Riddle followed a goblin out of a door that Sirius knew led to consultation rooms and management offices, Sirius chided himself for being surprised to see him. Judging by the slightly amused expression on Tom's face when he caught Sirius' gaze, the elder of the two wizards was well aware of the younger's plight.

"Surely you drive her up the walls with this shite," Sirius muttered.

Tom ignored the statement and continued to smirk as he walked up to Griphook's desk and presented the goblin with two keys. "Do you mind if I join the pair of you on the ride down? Galbren and I were finishing up some changes to my account."

Griphook was studying one of the keys Tom had handed him. It was as new and shiny as the key Sirius had been given after his release.

"Why the new vault?" Sirius asked him.

"Not mine," said Tom as Griphook agreed, hopped down from his desk, and led them to one of the carts.

It wasn't until they were flying through the tunnels, and Sirius had gotten some control over the anxiety spike the dark, damp, enclosed space had caused, that Tom spoke up again.

"She's exchanging what her parents sent her, correct?"

Sirius gave Tom a puzzled look. "As far as I know, yes. She got a letter yesterday."

Tom nodded thoughtfully as he watched the tunnels and vaults fly past them. "Fifty pounds, then," he muttered. "A little over two-hundred galleons."

"Is that going to be enough for her to get the rest of her supplies?" Sirius asked. "They weren't able to get the books for their electives when we went last month. I know the prices of those can vary…"

"She'll have enough for her books," Tom said. "But not much else."

"Hence the new vault," said Sirius.

"Not a new vault," said Tom. "Just a new key."

"She know about it?" Sirius asked.

Tom snorted. "No. I did mention setting up her accounts back in July. But will she figure out her new vault is one of my personal vaults? Not until I want her to."

Sirius shook his head. "I know I'm new to this whole role-model and guardian thing, but I'm pretty sure communicating with them spares a whole lot of headache."

Their cart squealed to a stop before the Black vault as Tom shrugged. "She'd fight me regardless. Giving her advanced time to think about it means she'll have time to think of a way around it. Or she'll rebel by buying used copies of her textbooks instead of brand new ones, despite how much she hates having a textbook that has ink smudges and underlines in it already. Or buying lower quality items elsewhere. Making choices that completely nullify the point of having a Sponsor." Tom gave Sirius a look. "I appreciate the concern, but I know who I'm dealing with and she's thrice as stubborn for me as she'll ever be for you."

Sirius snorted wryly as he got out to venture into his vault and fill his galleon purse. "Fair enough."

Harry's vault was next, where Sirius repeated the process, but made a point to pad Harry's coin-pouch with triple what he needed, just in case Harry wanted to buy himself something nice, or get higher quality supplies this year.

They went deeper into the vault caverns until they reached a secluded area where their cart pulled to a stop. Sirius didn't pay much attention to what Tom did inside the vault, but he came out with one pocket heavier than the other and a dark green leather-bound tome.

"Nearly forgot that I'd been tucking things away in there for years," he muttered as he and Griphook joined Sirius on the cart again.

"Such as?" Sirius asked, though he didn't move from his reclined position, nor did he decide to stop resting his eyes.

"Anniversary gifts mostly."

Sirius blinked his eyes open, surprised that Tom had given him a legitimate answer. "Movin'em, I assume?"

Tom hummed, but his eyes were far away. "To my main vault," he said as Griphook started taking them back to the surface. He took a deep breath and loosed it before rubbing his hands over his face and kneading his temples briefly.

"How long has it been?" Sirius asked hesitantly. "Or will be, I suppose?"

Tom gave a soft snort. "The last time I saw her was my last day of 7th year, before Abraxas, Flynn, and I rode our boats across the lake," he said. "If we're basing this question on the time between then and meeting her as a 2nd year, then I waited forty-seven years, ten months, twenty four days, and about…eight hours. If you mean how long between losing her and reuniting with the Hermione I remember?" He snorted again. "Fifty-three years, almost dead even, in fact. Depends on if I see her on her graduation day or not, and if so, when on that day."

"Bloody hell," said Sirius.

Tom shrugged. "I'm closer to the end of this hell race than not," he said. "Doesn't exactly help that she's enlisted my best and brightest to do her bidding retroactively."

When Sirius' silent confusion continued, Tom added, "She left Brax and Flynn notes. Instructions that they can only show me under extreme circumstances, which have yet to occur, and typically involved commanding them to do something that's meant to help me get through the next few years." His tone was sour and slightly offended.

"Can hardly fault a woman for taking care of her husband," Sirius said gently.

Tom grunted as the tunnel began to lighten. They were nearing the surface again.

"I just wish I knew how she knew when I'd need a nudge or a shove back into reality," he grumbled. "It's the one thing I've yet to figure out."

Sirius couldn't think of an answer to that either.

Tom disappeared into the crowd that had filled the bank's lobby before Sirius could wish the man a pleasant afternoon. He found Harry and Hermione sitting on the floor near the doors, waiting for him. They were so deep in conversation that they didn't notice him until he put Harry's pouch of galleons on top of his head.

"You two are free to wander as you see fit," he told them. "Just meet me at Rosa Lee Teabag by four alright? You've got your wands and your Atendo Stones?"

They each pulled their small enchanted rocks from their pockets as proof before safely tucking them away again. Sirius gave them a wink. "If you lose each other or have trouble finding me, use them, but stay together."

Harry and Hermione parted from Sirius after promising to do as he asked, neither noticing his fond smile as they left the bank and made their way up the high street.

The pair decided to save their favorite shops for last, so they ventured to Eeylops Owl Emporium to get a nicer cage for Hedwig - Sirius' idea earlier that morning - and restocked on things Harry would need to take care of her during the school year.

Shopping for Harry's pet reminded Hermione that she'd been wanting to get one of her own - something she'd discussed with her parents in one of their recent letters. As long as she got something that could be house trained and wouldn't potentially destroy the house beyond the realm a normal, non-magical pet would be capable of, she was allowed to get whatever she liked.

Hermione thought a cat would suit nicely, but when they passed the Magical Menagerie and she saw the sheer volume of people there, she decided to maybe save it for later, if not another day entirely.

"We can tell Sirius it was too busy to get a proper look," Harry suggested.

It was as good of an idea as any she might've had.

They got their books from Flourish and Blotts, had them shrunken, and tucked them safely in their pockets. Hermione had cringed at the prices. She didn't realize how much the books for her electives would cost. Getting the rest of her supplies would be a pinch, especially since she still needed new robes…

Seeing the small crowd inside Madame Malkin's, Harry and Hermione decided to briefly venture into Scribbulus Writing Implements while they waited for the shop to clear. They were pleasantly, if not hesitantly, surprised to spot Draco and three other Slytherins from their year already browsing the quiet shop.

Draco's head turned when the bell on the door chimed and his grin was instantaneous, though a bit muted since they were in public. Hermione found comfort in being able to see through his mask and knew she and Harry were likely wearing their own as well.

"Cousin, 'Mione!" he greeted, parting from his group to hug Hermione and shoot Harry a grin. "I wondered if I'd see you today. Come on. I'll introduce you to everyone."

Harry and Hermione followed him to the corner of the store full of various quill displays, where his friends were waiting.

"Harry, 'Mione," Draco began, "meet Theodore Nott, Tracey Davis, and Blaise Zabini - formally, that is."

Theodore's quiet, cordial hello was nearly drowned by Tracey's bright smile and far more emphatic welcome. Blaise, however, was neutral bordering on stoic.

"I didn't realize we hung out with lions now," he said, the words neither sneered nor asked with earnest curiosity. Hermione narrowed her eyes, too focused on trying to read the blank-faced boy in front of her.

It wasn't until Draco's arm, which had stayed around her shoulders, slipped away that she blinked and realized the blond had gone very still as Blaise had spoken. And now Draco had moved directly in front of her, effectively putting himself between Blaise, herself, and Harry. She aimed her confusion at the back of his head, the clenched fist at his side making her frown.

Something about this entire situation was making her brain itch. Like she was missing something. Or was this just some Slytherin-ism she and Harry had never been exposed to? Something they wouldn't know to expect living in their fake house.

"Malfoys aren't in the habit of repeating themselves, Zabini," Draco said coldly.

What he didn't want to repeat was only a mystery to Harry and Hermione, apparently.

She took note of Tracey's expression - lips pressed together, brow slightly furrowed - and Theodore's almost amused shake of his head.

Blaise, though Hermione couldn't see him around Draco without an awkward, unsubtle shuffle, sounded unimpressed. "Who told you that one, Malfoy? Daddy or Grandpa?"

"Don't be a dick, Blaise," Theo said, his tone bored. "It's not Draco's fault you're thick."

"Theo," Tracey muttered as she nudged him in the ribs. "Don't egg them on already. I haven't finished shopping."

"And Blaise has a death wish - what's new?"

"My grandfather," Draco said tersely, stressing the word far more than Hermione thought was necessary to make…whatever point he seemed to be trying to make.

To her surprise, Blaise didn't immediately bite back with another jab. But she did see Theo roll his eyes.

"Seems Blaise finally did some arithmetic. Well done, mate," he said, his words honeyed but his expression vicious.

"Really?" Blaise said, annoyed. The question was aimed at Draco. "Both of them?"

"How slow are you, Blaise?" Draco asked.

"Very," Theo answered before Blaise could. He threw a quick smirk in Hermione's direction. "You've a sponsor, right, Granger? Father mentioned that Lord Riddle had taken an interest in someone in our year. And you're…" he paused briefly, his lips fighting to twitch into more sincere amusement. "You're the only non-Slytherin with marks good enough to catch his attention."

Hermione swallowed the nerves bunching in her throat as she nodded, hoping the motion hid the nervous tell. "Yeah. Tom's my sponsor," she said. "What of it?"

None of the Slytherins said a word until Blaise loosed a tired sigh.

"Cut the guard dog act, Malfoy," he said, his tone bored once again. "Though you might've explained this whole thing better this morning."

"I told you they'd be here," Draco said. His shoulders relaxed minutely, but he shuffled over two steps, putting himself back at Hermione's side as if they hadn't just had a standoff in a quill shop. "Do try to keep up, Blaise."

"Yeah, yeah," Blaise said. "Pleasure to meet the pair of you on more pleasant terms, I guess," he said to Harry and Hermione.

Hermione felt her jaw clench. She didn't know what being Tom's sponsee had to do with Zabini's sudden shift in demeanor, but she didn't like it. She didn't like not knowing what was going on and it bothered her that Draco, that all of them save for Harry, seemed to know something she didn't.

"I can't say I return the sentiment," she said slowly.

Theo's smile widened at the venom in her tone. Even Tracey seemed pleasantly surprised, if not worried the conflict would continue.

Blaise openly smirked.

"If those were your fangs, Granger," he began, "you might consider sharpening them."

She wanted to tell him it was easier to control the amount of effort exerted with claws, that fangs were for finishing blows. That she'd save her venom for when she had a target worthy of using it all but the voice in her head sounded like Tom's, younger Tom's, and that realization made her press her lips together and give the boy a withering glare instead.

"Enough, Blaise," Draco snapped. "Either knock it off or piss off. They're with me - period. Anyone who has a problem with that, however, isn't."

Blaise gave him a tired look. "Didn't I say you could drop the guard dog crap?"

Tracey sighed and rested her hands on her hips, swiveling a warning look between the three official Slytherin boys. "Can we be done with this? They'll never want to switch if this is what they have to look forward to."

"You should see Gryffindors bicker up close," said Harry. "Though that's something of a safety hazard."

Tracey offered him a smile and latched onto the icebreaker with a determination that surprised Hermione. But the rest of the tension in the group, save for Draco's, seemed to evaporate by the time Tracey had dragged Harry, and Theo, over to the quill displays. Blaise wandered off to look at parchment, leaving a confused Hermione with a still-guarded Draco.

She bumped her shoulder against his. "Oi."

His eyes had been following Blaise, calculative and as stony as the grey of his irises, so he blinked at the touch. His gaze turned to her, relaxing now that his focus was on a friend instead of a perceived foe. Hermione chewed the inside of her lip as she studied him.

"I need to look at sealing wax," she said. "Walk with me?"

He nodded stiffly, following her to the other side of the blissfully empty store. Hermione didn't want to think about how long the supplies shop would be quiet and peaceful before the crowds potentially ruined it all.

She picked up a stick of wax, aware of Draco hovering beside her and asked, "What do you know?"

He let out of a short breath in a sound that was barely loud enough to be considered a humorless laugh. "Well, I know about the diary, clearly," he said. "That shouldn't be a surprise."

"It isn't," she said, checking the price of the wax in her hand. She winced and shuffled down the aisle towards the less expensive varieties. "I just hadn't put much thought into a few details until just now."

"You've had a busy summer," said Draco. "Which details? I can't guarantee that I know significantly more than you do. They've kept me on a 'need to know' level so far. I doubt that will change."

Hermione dropped her voice. "Well, for starters, that your grandfather is one of Tom's right-hand men, not just a mate of his..."

She saw his head bob briefly out of the corner of her eye. "You've spent more time with the version of Riddle where your initial assumption was sufficient. I don't think anyone would've thought too hard about that at first, Hermione."

"Still," she said, her mind working furiously as she tried to focus on the task at hand while also processing and analyzing the mini-epiphanies exploding in her head. "He's got…a plan of sorts. Tom, I mean. Do you know why?"

At that Draco shrugged, picking up a few of the expensive wax sticks she'd walked away from. Dark green and dark, blue-ish silver. She wished she was in a mental state where she could bring herself to smile.

"I know it has to do with not buggering all this time nonsense," he said carefully. "Poppy- um, grandfather, that is - said they were trying to prevent something. I don't remember the word. Started with a 'P'."

"Paradox," she said, the answer sliding through her head. That made sense. That put some things into better perspective, very little, but still.

"Yeah," said Draco. "That was it. Something about time collapsing in on itself if one happened."

Hermione had only delved into quantum mechanics once or twice, mostly in passing, but she'd tried to read up on timelines when she was at home earlier in the holiday.

"It's…difficult to explain, but let's just say the results of paradoxes can vary from no obvious signs of change for anyone to extreme consequences," she said. "There are a lot of theories about it. Theories that can't be proven unless someone went back in time, or had knowledge of the future from the past, and created a temporal paradox."

"So Riddle," said Draco. "Since he already lived through what's currently happening. Our present is technically his past."

"Yes."

Draco nodded sagely as she picked up a few cheaper sticks of wax and they moved on to another aisle. "You said multiple things were bugging you."

She thought about her current situation, about Draco and Harry and the small hoard of Slytherins she could now call acquaintances. Then she thought about Tom, Abraxas, Avery, and the Order of Hermes. "Are paradoxes the only thing they're trying to keep under control?"

"…No," he said. "He hasn't told you?"

She glanced up and blinked at him.

"Right, then…um…" He started to fiddle with various sticks of wax with barely concealed anxiety. "I don't know how much I can tell you…or if I should say anything at all, but that terrorist group, the ones who killed Potter's family? They never really disappeared. They're laying low and I know our families—" he inclined his head towards the other side of the store, where the others were "— have been working against them since they first rose up. The whole Order has some powerful, dangerous enemies… I'd imagine they're trying to protect us from that."

"So he built himself a cabinet of sorts," she murmured. "But do you see what's wrong with this scenario?"

Draco raised a brow and she frowned at him.

"He's building me one too," she said softly. "Abraxas and Avery. You and Harry. He doesn't talk about anyone else in his circle, younger him, I mean. I don't know who else is in the Order aside from Sirius and Professor Lupin."

"Theo's father, Tracey's parents, Blaise's mother, though I think she's more of a…consultant than a full member. There's more, but those are the ones I hear of the most," he said, nodding solemnly. "I guess we're the next generation. You're in his pocket, you're his stand-in with us…"

Hermione slowly let out a breath as she picked up one of the least expensive spools of twine on the shelf. "So we know he has some sort of plan. Something that will involve me, so he put the stepping stones in place that way I would end up with the right people by my side," she said, something cold and dense settling in her chest.

She was his soldier.

For what war, she didn't know, but that explained part of why he was so adamantly controlling about certain things. Whatever was to come in the next several years would require her to fit his mold.

Or would it require her to be exactly as he remembered her? Was there even a difference between what he'd sculpt her into and the girl he'd known decades ago? The girl she was, the girl she would become?

She didn't ask Draco any more questions and she didn't pull away when he reached for her hand and squeezed it.

"You're important to him," he murmured. "P-Grandfather used to tell me stories when I was really small... I thought they were just fairy tales until last year. He said that they - him, Riddle, and Avery - had made friends with a fairy girl when they were in school. He told me about adventures they had, things that sounded so far fetched I can't even remember most of them well enough to repeat. That apparently she was closest to Riddle out of the three of them and that she was important to him too. But now I wonder if those were stories or sugar-coated memories."

"A fairy girl?" she asked. As the words passed her lips, she stilled. "Did he give her a name?"

Draco frowned. "He did. Odd though. It's nothing like yours."

"What was it?" she asked him quietly. Her blood was rushing in her ears. She already knew. It was obvious and she knew Tom thought the parallels were funny.

"Wendy, I think," Draco said. "Little Wendy Darling or something like that."

They joined his friends again and she reunited with Harry briefly. They still had plenty of time - nearly two hours until they needed to meet Sirius - but she still needed to get supplies without using all her money for robes.

"Come on." She beckoned Harry to follow her to the aisles they needed. "Let's finish shopping so we can try to get to Madame Malkin's as the rush is leaving."

Chapter Text

Hermione and Harry made their way through the store with organized efficiency. They shared a basket, with their respective sides divided by parchment down the middle, and though Harry noticed how barren Hermione’s side appeared compared to his own, the crease in her brow made him hesitant to comment on it. And Hermione, when she wasn’t keeping track of the total of the items she’d grabbed, was admittedly looking forward to writing Tom about meeting Draco’s other friends.

Even though they were spread throughout the store, she found the other Slytherins’ presences soothing - except for Blaise, who she was mostly indifferent to.

Once all of their necessary supplies were collected, Harry and Hermione ventured up to the counter together. The witch behind the counter smiled at them, nodding as they explained whose belongings were whose. While she was ringing up Harry’s purchases, Hermione noted that her name tag read Penny .

When the patiently cheerful Penny got to Hermione’s much more modest gathering of supplies, her lips pursed slightly.

“You’re sure you’ve got enough parchment for the new term, dear?” she asked carefully. “And do you have an account?”

Hermione blinked at the second part of her question, suddenly remembering Tom’s promise to set hers up, whatever that meant. She gave her small stack of supplies a frown. She barely had enough galleons to get robes, and she certainly wouldn’t be purchasing a pet anytime soon. But she hated to spend Tom’s money, especially after the mountains of books he’d already bought her in the last month.

“I…might have one, actually,” she eventually muttered. “My sponsor was supposed to set one up for me?”

Penny brightened considerably. “Would you be Miss Granger, then? Lord Riddle’s sponsee?”

Hermione nodded shyly at Penny’s warm smile. The elder witch pulled out a charmed journal full of charmed pages. From what she could tell, they were all finance logs of sorts, and Hermione was contemplating the ins and outs of monetary and data entry related charms when Penny perked up again.

“Ah-ha! There you are, Miss Granger,” she said brightly. “Your accounts have been set up, dear. You don’t have a limit, either…are you sure you wouldn’t like to get a bit more parchment?” she asked gently.

Hermione frowned at her basket again. “I suppose…” she said after a moment. She offered Penny a half-hearted smile and promised to return shortly.

Harry grabbed the basket, content to carry it for her, and they slipped down the parchment aisle.

“You alright?” Harry asked.

Her lips were turned down as she picked out several more rolls of her favorite parchment. “Yes,” she said unconvincingly. “It’s just…hard.”

Harry nodded in understanding and followed her back to the sealing wax and stationary. “You don’t like feeling dependent on him. I get it.”

She turned to look at him and he gave her a half-smile and a shrug. “It’s not the same, I know, but still. I get it.”

Her frown deepened. “I think learning to trust your god-father trumps whatever you’d call my situation with Tom.”

He shrugged again. “It’s not a contest, ‘Mione. And I certainly wouldn’t discount juggling two of the same person through time.”

She contemplated several sets of sealing wax to replace the plain black she’d originally picked up instead of responding. When she started debating with herself over the vibrant crimson, emerald green, and deep royal blue options that had caught her eye, Harry gently nudged her shoulder.

“You can get them all,” he said gently.

She blinked at him. Right…Tom hadn’t given her a limit.

Frustration settled bitterly in her chest as she sighed and grabbed two sticks of each color. She did her best not to stomp as she moved throughout the store replacing her initial finds. Her simple string for tying essays was replaced with spools of dragon leather strips and pixie spider silk. She gathered doubles of some ideas, but traded the rest for more expensive alternatives. She tossed a few things into the basket that Harry hadn’t been expecting.

“A fountain pen?” he asked, eying the pretty metal instrument.

She shrugged. “I’ve always wanted one.”

She bought more ink than she probably needed, even considering her extensive note-taking habits, and threw in a few overpriced blank journals for notes…or whatever use she found for them. A satchel caught her eye - albino dragon leather stained a wine-like magenta, with plenty of pockets and buckles and functional zippers for the main body of the bag. The tag boasted of weightlessness and expansion charms. She picked it up.

Penny couldn’t have been happier to ring up Hermione’s annoyance-fueled purchases. Harry was relieved when the witch didn’t announce Hermione’s total, for fear that his best friend’s mood would only worsen if she found out exactly how much of Tom’s money she’d managed to spend at one store.

Before they left, Hermione carefully tucked the charmed box Penny had safely packed her things into within her new satchel. When the weight of the bag didn’t change, she added her shrunken school books and offered to carry Harry’s things as well.

“So far, it weighs the same,” she promised as she zipped her bag up and slung it over her head so it sat across her torso. “I’m gonna go scope out Malkin’s. Can you let Draco and the other’s know?”

Harry made quick work of locating his adopted cousin before jogging to catch up with Hermione. Luck put him on her heels as she pushed open the door to the robes shop.

He grinned at her somewhat surprised expression. “Didn’t want to lose you and need to use our Atendo Stones.”

She snorted as they were approached by a seamstress, and soon they were each on a pedestal being measured by magical tapes. Harry realized his best mate was still on edge and tried to think of something to say to cheer her up.

“We could take a break if you wanted,” he offered. “Or go buy something trivial. Rosa Lee Teabag was having a sale, I think.”

Hermione shrugged. “We could,” she said noncommittally. “I’ll be alright. I’m just a bit tired is all. It’ll be nice to get back to the Hollow and curl up with a book later, y’know? Maybe finish up some of our summer assignments.”

“With your fancy new pen?” Harry quipped.

They met each other’s eyes and snickered as the measuring tapes finished whizzing around them. As they picked out material for their robes, Madame Malkin verified their house status, but Hermione asked her for two Slytherin patches nonetheless.

“I have a few friends who nearly had theirs torn off last year,” she said. “It’d be nice to have a few on hand just in case they almost ruin their robes again.”

Harry wasn’t quite brave enough to ask Hermione if she wanted to switch to Slytherin, at least not with her mood teetering between fine and simmering fury. Still, he eyed the green and silver insignias with a pang of longing before Hermione tucked them into her satchel and the doorbell chimed behind. Tracey and Theodore bickering cut through the relative silence in the store.

“Davis, stop . For Salazar’s sake, can we shop for one thing at a time?” Theo said waspishly.

“It’s not my fault that you can’t multitask, Nott,” Tracey threw over her shoulder with a huff.

Theo scowled at her back as Tracey floated off towards a pedestal to be measured, fully aware that she was actively not looking at him.

Draco shrugged when he caught their gazes and stepped up onto a pedestal beside Tracey without a word. Theo and Blaise followed silently, the former of whom positioned himself as far away from a certain witch as he possibly could.

While bolts of wool and lining cloth for Harry and Hermione’s robes were measuring and cutting themselves, Madame Malkin moved over to the Slytherins for their material preferences and to verify their house affiliation. When Theodore didn’t ask to have his robes lined with silk or cashmere, Tracey sputtered with indignance.

“You’re a Nott ,” she chided. “Old galleons! Aristocracy! And you’re settling for synthetic satin ?!”

Theo gave a derisive snort. “Synthetic satin is slick. There’s less friction than silk-based satin, so my knits won’t get as many pills. Lay off, Davis.”

The Slytherins stepped down once their measurements were complete, allowing Harry and Hermione to take their places once their robes were ready for tailoring. Hermione’s calming sigh as she stood on the pedestal triggered a yawn. Maybe after getting their robes, they’d have time to stop for hot chocolates at the Leaky. She regretted not shrinking the diary and tucking it into the pocket of her jeans. Asking Tom the younger about his day might have distracted her from the discomfort of his older self spending so much money on her in one summer.

The shop felt claustrophobic by the time Hermione had safely tucked both sets of her and Harry’s new robes into her satchel, causing a ripple of discomfort to work its way through her shoulders.

“I’m gonna step outside while we wait for them,” she told Harry quietly.

“I’ll come with you,” he said. “Let me tell Draco.”

She escaped Madame Malkin’s and leaned against the windowsill outside. Harry joined her shortly after, letting their shoulders touch as people walked up and down the busy street. She had just started to relax when voices came from up the street.

“Hermione! Harry!”

She glanced up at the small hoard of gingers waving enthusiastically, then slowly turned towards Harry, whose eyes were stony.

If Molly and Arthur noticed their rigid postures as the Weasley’s approached, they pretended not to. Molly immediately started gushing over them and Hermione had to fight to keep her polite expression in place.

“Oh we missed you this summer, dears! Ron told us about your holiday, Hermione, but he couldn’t recall where you’d gone! Well, wherever it was, I hope you had a grand time! And Harry, sweet boy, was your family reunion tolerable?”

Harry remained silent, blinking in confusion as his gaze went back to Hermione. His building anger felt detached from his person, making it hard for him to deduce how she wanted to handle the situation they’d found themselves in. The only thing that made their predicament even remotely entertaining was how pale and anxious Ron looked.

Hermione gave Ron the barest of glances before she turned back to Molly and offered her a bemused smile. “What holiday, Mrs. Weasley?”

Molly’s brows drew together. “Pardon, dear?”

“What holiday?” Hermione repeated patiently, acutely aware of the small bell that chimed as Draco exited Madam Malkin’s with the other Slytherins in tow.

“We’re finished here, ‘Mi-” he began, his voice trailing off as he took note of their present company. His expression darkened, but his trademark Malfoy sneer wasn’t as strong as she’d expected it to be.

Harry latched onto the excuse to ignore the awkwardness by turning to address the new arrivals with a small grin. “Took you lot long enough,” he said, his teasing aimed at his cousin. “Tracey, did you find the perfect material for the inside of your robes?”

Tracey huffed and flicked her flaxen locks over her shoulder as she threw a glare at Theodore. “ I did , Harry, thank you so much for asking.”

“Lord forbid you chafe,” said Theodore, his tone contradicting his sentiment. “Your knitwear, on the other hand…”

“Don’t start this bollocks again,” Blaise moaned. “Shut up.”

Draco chuckled at the lot, and sensing the growing tension amidst the Weasleys, he made a point to insert himself between Harry and Hermione. He slung an arm over each of their shoulders while holding Ronald’s gaze. “Mister and Missus Wealsey,” he greeted smoothly. “Apologies for the interruption. We were just finishing up our school shopping. Though I did hear that you’d won the ministry raffle - Congratulations. Where did you take your holiday?”

“E-Egypt,” Arthur answered, his voice unsure as he glanced towards his youngest son briefly. “We took a family trip to Egypt.”

Molly made a small noise of distress and gave Ronald a sharp look. “I don’t understand. You told me that they weren’t available this summer, Ronald!”

“Oh not at all, Mrs. Weasley,” Hermione said brightly. Her calmness was making Harry nervous. “I spent a fortnight at home before Draco invited us to Malfoy Manor. When Sirius’ trial wrapped up, Harry and I went to stay with him. Mum and Dad are going to visit soon, but they have a conference to go to.” She shrugged. “It has been a busy summer, I suppose, what with the trial and all, but I didn’t have any preexisting plans… though I did wonder why I never heard from you. I assumed you had plans of your own.”

Harry had never admired his best friend more than in that moment, but he bit the inside of his cheek to hold back a smile.

Molly’s expression crumbled for all of two seconds before she rounded back on her youngest son, her fury burning brighter than her hair. “ Explain yourself.

Ron shrank away. “Harry could’ve come!”

“After Hermione conveniently didn’t receive an invitation?” Harry snapped. “You sure know how to work yourself up over the stupidest of things, Ron. Hermione’s sponsorship isn’t grounds for treating her like rubbish!”

Before Ron could reply, Arthur let out a noise of surprise. “I’d nearly forgotten that Lord Riddle took a sponsor, but with the trip to Egypt, I hadn’t heard who. Congratulations, Hermione!”

Molly and the others, namely Percy, Fred, and George, also expressed their praises, though the twins were more playful in their congratulations than the neutral sincerity their older brother gave off.

Harry gave Ron a dark look and raised a brow. “That’s how you should’ve responded.”

Ron flushed bright red. “If I don’t want to invite someone to my house, that’s my business!” he snapped. “ You’re the ones who went and buddied up with a bunch of bloody snakes!”

“And if I refuse to visit when you exclude my best mate, that’s my business,” Harry growled. “Since you haven’t seen the Prophet much this summer, let me catch you up to speed: My godfather, Sirius Black, was found innocent and released from Azkaban. I was adopted. Sirius and Draco’s mum are cousins, which makes Draco my cousin.” He shared a quick glance with said cousin, who was grinning smugly. “Godric forbid I make an effort to get to know my cousin and his friends.”

“You’re not so bad past the red and gold yourself, cousin,” Draco said sweetly.

Theo snorted quietly and muttered, “Red and gold” under his breath. Tracey stepped on his toes.

“I can feel the love from here, Draco,” Hermione said dryly. “What am I, the doormat?”

No ,” said Draco, grinning. “You’re the clever doormat, ‘Mione.”

Hermione sent a half-hearted elbow into his side as Tracey let out a sharp, scandalized gasp.

“I think we’re late to meet our parents!” she cried, grabbing first Theo’s sweater, then the back of Draco’s shirt and tugging them away from the Weasleys. “Pleasure meeting you all! Sorry to chat and run, but we must be off. See you at school!”

Molly and Arthur’s farewells were weaker than their children's, though Ronald refused to comment on their departure at all. Once Tracey had ushered them all past enough of the crowds that the Weasleys could no longer see them, she let out an exasperated huff.

“So we’re not late, obviously,” she began. “But that was a train wreck and so is that family , so I figured maybe we should get out before they ruined our lovely day, yeah? Yeah. Anymore stops before we head to Rosa Lee?”

Hermione took one look at the witch’s smirk and smugly raised brow, and decided in that moment that she absolutely adored the basket case known as Tracey Davis.

“You are a delight,” Hermione told her. “And I love you for that.”

Tracey winked at her. “I love me too.”

They reached Rosa Lee Teabag with time to spare, but Harry and Hermione noticed Sirius sitting alone in the back of the main parlor. Sighs of relief left them both.

“I think we’re gonna get a table and wait on our parents,” said Draco. “D’you want to join us?”

“Raincheck for Hogsmeade?” Harry asked.

“Sure. See you later then?”

“‘Course.”

Harry and Hermione said their goodbyes before weaving through the parlor towards Sirius, who glanced up and smiled at them.

“You made good time,” he noted. “Get everything you need? Maybe some extras?”

Harry shrugged sheepishly. “Just a few…I thought Hedwig might like a few toys…and I’m low on broom polish…”

Sirius only smiled. “You’re allowed a bit of trivial spending, Harry,” he said, his voice gentle but firm. Hermione got the sense that he was implying a greater message, and wondering if it had anything to do with the discussion Harry said they’d had the day after his birthday.

“Right,” Harry murmured. “But, um…yeah, almost everything I might’ve gotten, I got for my birthday, so…”

Sirius nodded. “As long as you’ve got what you need, and enough wants to be comfortable, I’m content.” Harry mumbled another quiet affirmative as Sirius turned to Hermione. “And you, love?”

She gave him a small smile. “I’ve got everything.”

Except a pet, but well, she’d ask to come back another time…or on holiday.

“Dinner then?” he said. “What are you two hungry for? Italian? Pub food? Indian?”

Harry and Hermione shared a glance and shrugged.

“I’d be content with a meat pie or bangers, t’be honest,” said Harry.

Hermione nodded. “Me too.”

Sirius nodded. “Sounds good to me. It’s a bit early though…tea first? Then you can tell me what’s got you two tied up in knots.”

They ordered tea and told Sirius about their almost-disastrous run-in with the Weasleys. He chuckled when they explained how Tracey had helped them all escape, but Harry’s irritation over the matter was still clear as day. Just as Hermione’s resigned indifference was written all over her face.

“If Ronald gives you any problems this year, I want to know about it alright?” said Sirius. “Either of you.”

Sirius didn’t call them on their half-hearted assurances to inform him of any trouble they might — would — have in the coming term. Instead, he winked when they finished their tea and led them outside, ignoring the onlookers that stared when they realized who he was and who he was with.

No matter how much he wanted to turn around and tell them all to mind their own fucking business.

He doesn’t belong to you pricks , he thought instead. He’s mine. Always has been. Always will be.

He ran a hand through Harry’s wild locks to ground himself, but also for those tactless enough to openly stare as they walked down the street. When Harry gave him a shy grin over his shoulder, an expression Sirius returned warmly, his ire dissolved.

He had far better things, and two far more interesting people, to spend his energy on anyhow.

Chapter Text

Tom knocked on the door of Number 12 Grimmauld place with three quick raps against the wood. The door was opened by Kreacher, who was dressed smartly in his embroidered uniform - a black pillowcase tailored to fit the elf respectably while sporting the Black family crest in silver on each side.

“Master’s expecting yous, Lord Riddle. Might Kreacher take your cloak?”

“Don’t be alarmed,” Tom said over his shoulder. “He’s a house elf. And he’ll put up anything you’d like him to.”

Tom shrugged off his outer cloak and passed it to Kreacher with a nod, suppressing his amusement as Jean and David Granger followed him into the house and acquainted themselves with the elf.

Sirius was leaning against the wall at the end of the hallway by the time Tom and Hermione’s parents were settled, much to Tom’s relief.

“Jean, David, I’d like to introduce you to Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather.”

Tom hung back while the three exchanged pleasantries, quietly observing their interactions. Neither Granger seemed hesitant around Sirius, but Tom wanted to make sure there was no mistrust amongst them. They trusted him , but if Hermione was going to be able to spend as much time with Harry as Tom knew she would, then her parents needed to be comfortable with her staying here. And they needed to understand why she was given a room of her own instead of being put up in a guest bedroom.

Once the adults had a chance to chat about any and everything the Granger’s wondered concerning their daughter’s summer, Kreacher was sent to fetch the two unsuspecting teens. If nothing else, the brightness shining in Hermione’s eyes before she threw herself into her father’s arms was enough to assure Tom that he’d done the right thing by bringing her family to Grimmauld.

Plus, they were pleased that he was willing to help her choose a pet, even though they wouldn’t meet it until she visited for the holidays. One less thing for him to worry about. 


Despite warning her that he’d return after seeing her parents home, Hermione still seemed surprised when Tom strolled into Grimmauld Place at half-one to take her to Diagon Alley.

“You wanted to get a pet this year,” he said offhandedly, straightening his casual day robes needlessly. “I’ve got the day off and I’ve already spoken to your parents about the matter. If you wait much longer all the overly-eager first years will clean out the Menagerie.”

The lunch crowd had dispersed by the time they reached the Magical Menagerie, making sidewalk traffic lean and their shop of choice empty save for a single first year boy and his parents near the reptile displays. Unsurprisingly, Hermione immediately ventured towards the kneazles and cats. Tom spotted a familiar coat of orange fur watching her from the windowsill and tried not to smile.

He’d gone through great lengths to track down this particular half-kneazle. Abraxas and Avery had been listening out for legally and illegally, bred half-kneazles for years before Tom finally got a report back about a small, squishy-faced orange kitten. Naturally, Crookshanks had been a runt, and the breeder had been glad to sell him off for cheap. Tom had kept the kitten with him constantly for his first year of life, until he was strong and clever enough to be temporarily adopted by an elderly muggle heiress for a short time. Crookshanks had learned about his mistress, who hadn’t even received her Hogwarts letter at the time, and Tom had promised the half-kneazle that he’d return home sooner than later. That promise did little to soothe his sour temper when he’d been brought to the Menagerie by a disguised Flynn with explicit orders not to sell this particular animal to anyone he didn’t go to of his own volition.

Crookshanks’ tail flicked as he gave Tom an appraising stare. Tom didn’t need legilimency to know the little beast was thinking about the situation, and smiled when his attention shifted back to the small witch between them. An epiphany passed over the half-cat’s expression as Hermione watched the kneazles. She’d been focusing on a kitten with a Cheshire fur pattern when her soon-to-be-familiar decided he’d had enough of being ignored and quietly padded over to his witch.

Hermione jumped when he brushed his head against her leg, then the rest of his side as he started a slow figure eight between her feet.

“Well hello there,” she said. “And who might you be?”

The shopkeep noticed them as he returned from the back of the store, took one look at Crookshanks, and clicked his tongue. “Careful, luv,” he called. “Tha’ one’s a right menace ‘e is. ‘Orribly ill-tempered for an ‘alf kneazle too.”

Hermione gave the man a slight frown before glancing back down at the cat, who had stopped his circuit around her ankles to stare up at her. Her lips twitched slightly at his expression and she tilted her head at him in return. “Well, what do you want then?”

To the surprise of everyone except Tom, the half kneazle took a few gentle steps back before he leapt into her arms.

The shopkeep’s surprise was obvious. “Looks like ‘e fancies you, luv. Your da first peirson ave seen ‘im be even remo’ely decent tae. ‘E’s wicked smart, dinnae mistake ma meanin’, but a wee terror a times.”

Hermione grinned as the dour half kneazle stuck his head under her chin and started to purr.

“I like him,” she said, ignoring Tom’s quiet chuckle. “How much, sir?”

A salt-and-pepper brow twitched upwards. “Fer you tae willin’ly get da wee beastie off me ‘ands, dar’lin? Notta knut. A’ll e’en throw in a discount on da rest of yer things if you’ll really ‘ave ‘im.”

Hermione’s expression brightened. “Does he have a name already?”

“Aye, love. Cr’ookshanks,  accordin’ to da folks who left ‘im in my care.”

She lifted the orange cat under his arms so they were eye level. "I like you very much, Crookshanks."

Crookshanks’ purring grew louder as he tried in vain to burrow himself under her chin again. The shopkeep simply shook his head in amazement and watched the pair walk off towards the cat and kneazle care supplies nearby. Tom tried not to snort as Crookshanks immediately clawed at a white-bird stuffed toy. He already had his old one waiting for him at Proserpine Park.

Feeling sorry for the man, Tom spoke up. “She’s got something of a talent for bringing the best out of underwhelming creatures. Could make even the coldest of hearts thaw.”

The man chuckled to himself. “‘As she? S’a fair trait on a wee lass, but da lads’ll start dr’awin’ their wands o’er ‘er e’entually. A’ve seen gir’ls like ‘er nearly start wars in cour’tyards.”

Tom snorted, a familiar memory coming to mind. “As have I.”

“Well,” the shopkeep continued, “if she can teach da beastie tae love, a’d bet good coin on ‘im stayin’ with ‘er for all time.”

“Aye,” Tom agreed, watching Hermione pick out toys for the ginger beastie in question. “I doubt he plans to leave her side.”

Once Hermione had finished picking out a bed, several toys, treats, and food for Crookshanks, Tom gave the shopkeep Sirius’ address for an owl to deliver to Grimmauld later that day. And once they had Crookshanks collared and in a cat carrier to be picked up from the Menagerie after they ran a few more errands, Tom led Hermione back out into the street.

“Come on, you,” he said. “I need to get a new owl and I have a few packages waiting for me.”

Hermione fell into step beside him as they walked towards the Owl Emporium. “What happened to the one you wrote me with this year?”

Tom had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. Perceptive thing. “Ares?” he clarified. “Seeing as he’s my main owl and you’ve decided on a cat, it would be dreadfully inconvenient if you needed me for something urgent and difficult to plan through the diary. Thus, I’m purchasing another that will likely spend a fair amount of time at Hogwarts.”

“I can’t have two familiars,” she said dryly.

He glanced at her with a raised brow and the fainted curl to his lips. “You won’t. Not officially anyway. And even if you did, it’s convenient that your sponsor is head of the board, and thus has the ability to make exceptions to rules at his leisure.”

Hermione sighed, but chose not to fight him on that particular battle. Instead she ‘helped him’ pick out the white and ivory barn owl he’d recognized a few weeks prior. Tom was surprised by how reassuring simple events —like meeting his second owl for the first time— were to him. He’d seen and met the pale owl, an ironically stark contrast to Ares, on a few occasions during his school years, but something about holding her as an adult made the distant past seem closer than it was.

“What are you going to name her?” Hermione asked him, her fingers gently running over the feathers on the owl’s back.

Tom’s lips twitched. “Nyx of course,” he said. “What else would I name her?”

He busied himself picking out a cage for Nyx the Owl while Nyx the Witch set her piercing stare on his side, smirking all the while. How would she react, he wondered, when Ares’ affection for the small barn owl became apparent? He knew she wouldn’t put the pieces together until much later, but maybe Tom would have the pleasure of viewing her suspicion this time around, if there was any to be viewed of course.


As they left the Menagerie later that afternoon, heading towards one of the pet-safe Ministry entrances so they could Floo back to Grimmauld Place, Tom remembered one of the subjects he’d been meaning to bring up with her.

“You remember the letter I sent you last term, don’t you?” he asked. “The one where I gave you the full details of your sponsorship? After dinner at Proserpine Park?”

She nodded, though her eyes were on the cat carrier she held. Crookshanks was playing with her fingers through the slats and holes while they stood in the short Floo queue.

“And you remember the bit about your allowances?” he prodded, unsurprised when she tensed beside him.

“I don’t need them,” she said.

“And I’m not budging on the issue,” he countered, trying to keep his voice gentle. “Fighting me over something as trivial as galleons will only make me throw more pursefuls at your feet until you’re no longer bothered by it. Spend it on yourself and your friends, for all I care, but don’t try to out-sneak me, not when it comes to money.”

She finally glanced up, her brows knit and lips pulled into a frown.

“Try,” he said. “I know it’s…difficult to adjust to, especially for someone as fiercely independent as you can be, but I need you to at least make an effort.”

She sighed and shrugged. “I’ll try then, I suppose.”

“That’s all I ask.”

When it was finally their turn to Floo, Tom sent Hermione to Grimmauld first, told her he’d be along shortly, and went to Proserpine Park to introduce his owls to one another.

To his amusement, Ares’ initial reaction to Nyx’s easygoing, inquisitive nature was detached curiosity.

“Oh don’t be like that,” Tom said as Nyx quietly cooed at her new roommate and gently nipped one of his wings. “She just wants to be your friend.”

He changed into more casual attire and downed two glasses of wine before heading to Number 12, just to shake off the mood the owls had put him in once he’d gotten Nyx settled in. It was one thing to talk to an owl. It was another burden entirely when he wanted to imprint the words on his fifth-year-self’s brain.

Grimmauld Place was quiet when he stepped through the Floo in the main drawing room. Hermione was curled up on one of the sofas with a book, but she was the only life he saw or heard.

“Harry and Sirius are having a kip in the Hollow,” she explained. “I think they fell asleep while Harry was trying to finish one of our history assignments.”

Tom settled comfortably into the sofa across from hers. “Sirius has already been filled in on the more delicate matters concerning the upcoming school year, so I imagine he’ll extend this information to Harry once he’s aware that I’ve warned you.”

Hermione used the bookmark resting in her lap to mark her page, set her book on the sofa, and gave him her full attention. “I’m listening.”

“You remember the details of Sirius’ trial…” he began, waiting for her nod of confirmation. “And you’re aware that Peter Pettigrew has been named as, at the very least, an accomplice to the murder of the Potters?”

“Have they found him?” she asked, hope in her voice.

Tom shook his head. “I wish I could say they had. Unfortunately, the DMLE haven’t the faintest idea where to even start looking for him.”

Of course, Tom knew exactly where the little rat prick was hiding, though he couldn’t interfere for the sake of history. He could only have faith in Crookshanks and his younger self’s ability to keep Hermione safe.

“Even so, most of the Wizengamot agrees that Harry and Sirius are likely in some level of danger until Pettigrew is captured. Which means everyone associated with them is potentially in danger…which means Hogwarts needs…additional security this year,” he continued. “The Wizengamot and the Board decided that Dementors would be stationed at Hogwarts this term, until Pettigrew is caught.”

Hermione paled slightly. “That sounds far more dangerous than Pettigrew.”

Tom’s smile was bitter. “Which is why I want you to continue practicing your Patronus when you return to school,” he said. “If you can learn to cast it wandlessly, that would be even better, but it’s much more of a challenge to cast a wandless patronus than it is to, say, cast a wandless Leviosa . Be on your guard and be careful.”

Crookshanks chose that moment to slink into the room, brushing against Tom’s trousers as he did a loop around the coffee table and jumped into Hermione’s lap. Tom relaxed slightly upon seeing him.

“And keep Crooks nearby when you can,” he added. “He’s a clever boy. He’ll likely sense danger long before you do.”

The clever boy in question noticeably preened at the compliment and all but melted against Hermione’s stomach when she started to gently massage his ears. “Gladly,” she said.

Surprising Hermione, and only Hermione, Crookshanks leapt from her lap suddenly, and in one smooth bound, crossed the coffee table. Tom felt a brow quirk as Crookshanks pressed himself against his stomach and continued to purr.

I missed you too , he thought, scratching the half-kneazle behind his ears. Now help me keep her safe. 


His name is Crookshanks, she wrote. He’s sweet, but very choosy about who he interacts with. Which is fine by me, to be honest. I rather like keeping him to myself.

Tom toyed with his quill for a moment before responding. Smart cat. Most people aren’t worth the trouble.

He could almost feel her eyes rolling through the pages as he sat up from his four poster and started switching out the books in his school bag. Once his Astronomy supplies were neatly packed, and the rest of his things tucked away in his trunk, he peeked at his diary again.

He seems to like older you a fair bit. I hope meeting you doesn’t confuse him too badly.

He’s a half-kneazle, you said? he asked. He should be smart enough to at least realize that we’re both the same person and different.

I hope so , she said. Anyway, aren’t I keeping you from Astronomy? I’ll still be awake when you get back.

He picked up his self-inking quill, his diary, and shouldered his bag, mindful of his handwriting as he left the dorm. I’m heading that way now, Dove, don’t fret. You go amuse yourself in your little hollow and I’ll pretend I’m not weeks ahead in this class.

Once he read her assurances that they’d talk more after class, he flipped to the back page of his diary and checked the date on her side - not for the first time that day.

21 August 2013.

He sighed as he entered the common room, shoving the diary in his robe pocket. Abraxas and Flynn were waiting for him and hopped up from their seats to fall into step beside him as he passed.

“Something the matter, Tom?” Abraxas asked quietly as they left the common room and started their trek towards the Astronomy tower.

“Bored,” Tom answered dryly. “It’s a pandemic, I’m told.”

Feeling braver than Abraxas, Flynn cleared his throat and quietly asked, “Does Wendy return soon?”

Tom nodded, finding only a small measure of relief in the fact. “In just under a week now,” he answered. He had a few plans he needed to sort out before her return, but that didn’t prevent him from being annoyed by the wait.

Six days. That’s when his clever little Dove would return.

Tom resisted the urge to sigh again as they continued towards the Astronomy tower.

Chapter Text

 

The morning of September 1st was a somber affair at Number 12 Grimmauld Place. Sirius knew he was failing to hide his dread, but he was acutely aware of Harry and Hermione's anxieties, which was keeping him on edge as well. In his opinion, their summer together had been grand, circumstances accounted for of course. Sirius's only complaint was how short of a time frame he'd been given to reunite with Harry before sending him back to Hogwarts. And judging by the way Harry had started closing in on himself a few days prior, Sirius could only assume his godson felt the same.

Fortunately, and unfortunately, the melancholy morning went by quickly, preventing any of them from dwelling on the coming goodbyes for too long.

Navigating the late morning traffic at King's Cross didn't take as long as Sirius feared it might, which unfortunately meant that the train hadn't even arrived to prepare for boarding when they reached Platform 9 3/4. Crookshanks and Hedwig were, thankfully, content in their respective carriers atop Harry and Hermione's luggage trolleys, but the same could not be said for Sirius, Harry, and Hermione.

"You both have your Hogsmeade slips?" Sirius asked them. If he could just give them all something else to think about, he could stop paying attention to Harry's tense form beside him or Hermione frown as she gave the surrounding platform subtle glances. Tom had already told him that the Grangers wouldn't make it in time to see their daughter off and that they'd called Hermione to tell her so, but it seemed a last-minute bout of homesickness had struck the young witch. Sirius felt for her.

Quiet nods answered his question.

"Neither of you can think of anything you might've forgotten that I need to mail you when I get home?" he asked.

They shook their heads.

"Harry, your broom's packed away?"

"Yeah, in my trunk."

Sirius nodded, swallowing tightly at Harry's hollow tone. "And you remember what we talked about?" he asked carefully.

Harry finally met his eyes, then nodded once.

"What do I expect from you?" Sirius prodded, keeping his tone gentle.

"My best within reason," said Harry.

"And if you think your best isn't good enough…"

"I'll write you then ask 'Mione and my professors for help."

"Good boy," Sirius said. "Have you thought about how much you want to write home?"

Harry shrugged and broke eye contact. "However often isn't annoying, I guess."

Sirius gently moved Harry's chin so he was forced to look at him again. "We talked about this," Sirius said gently. "There are circumstances where I'll need you to be considerate of my time, but this isn't one of them. It's my job to make sure you have everything you need physically and emotionally. If that means I write you once a week, then I'll write you once a week. If that means I respond to each letter you send me, however many that may be, then that's what I'll do. This is about what you want and need, not me."

Harry fidgeted for a moment before mumbling, "At least twice a week?"

"Of course," said Sirius.

"And…reply to however many I write you?"

"Gladly."

Harry swallowed hard and winced. With a sigh and several choice expletives mentally sent in the Dursleys' directions, Sirius pulled Harry close and held him tightly. He gave Hermione an understanding half-smile when her own bitterness-tinged sympathy twisted her expression into a stiff frown.

Harry didn't cry, to Sirius's relief, but he didn't pull away for several long moments either.

"You write too," Sirius told Hermione with a wink, trying to lighten the mood they'd been in all morning.

She managed a small smile. "I will."

Moments after the Hogwarts Express pulled into the station, it seemed as if the rest of the wizarding world appeared in one dense wave. Sirius was glad that they had Harry and Hermione's things loaded before the swarms of other families started spilling onto the platform, and had managed to get them back to the safety of their brick column which helped keep them out of the crowd's way while time ticked down. He watched Hermione continue to scan the platform, his heart aching for the young witch when he saw the realization sink in fully.

Though Tom had already told Sirius about the Granger's situation, he'd also made a point to mention that he'd raze the Ministry to the ground if anyone tried to prevent him from seeing her off. Sirius was starting to wonder if there'd be arson all over the front page of the evening Prophet.

Harry and Hermione caught the eyes of some of their friends as students started boarding the train.

Draco came close enough to shout 'We'll save you seats' before he made his way onto the train. Hermione tried to ignore the pang of homesickness that hit her when Harry and Sirius embraced once more and started their final farewells. She'd spoken to her parents on the phone the day before. She knew their chances of arriving on time were slim and she was glad they'd been able to do something so good for the practice, but being surrounded by classmates being seen off by their families was starting to bug her.

Harry's expression was taut when he finally pulled away from Sirius and gathered what was left of his things. His cheeks were dry, thankfully, but she knew he was upset. "I'm ready if you are," he said quietly.

She nodded, accepted the hug Sirius offered her, and thanked him for having her for the summer.

"You're always welcome with us, Hermione," he said with a bittersweet smile. "Thank you for being such a good friend to Harry. It means the world to me that he has someone like you watching his back. And I can't even begin to explain how nice it's been having other people helping overwrite the memories in that house."

She returned his smile. "Thanks, Sirius."

After taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, Hermione turned to Harry and offered him a halfhearted smile. "Ready."

The weaved through the crowds together with the few belongings they still had on their persons, namely Hermione's satchel with most of their necessities for the train ride and their respective pet carriers.

She was two steps behind Harry and about to board when she her neck and back started to prickle like she was being watched.

"Oh good, Draco and the others are right here," she heard Harry say.

She turned around to scan the platform while Draco helped Harry get Hedwig situated. Sirius gave her an inquiring look when she caught his eye, but she ignored it, searching. Her eyes landed on Tom when Harry turned to ask her what was wrong. He was wearing his argyle sweater again and what appeared to be muggle dress slacks. After passing Crookshanks' carrier to Harry, Hermione noted the first warning whistle as it sounded, and sprinted back onto the platform.

He wasn't wearing an outer robe today, which seemed odd somehow, but she threw her arms around his middle all the same and did her best not to cry.

"It's alright, Dove," he said quietly. He'd wrapped his arms around her firmly, for which she was grateful. It gave her an excuse to keep her face pressed against his sweater. "You have more than one home, more than one family, and it can be quite difficult to juggle the two as I understand it."

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak just yet.

"For what it's worth, when your mother called me earlier to tell me they wouldn't make it after all, she immediately asked what we could do over your holidays so you wouldn't have to choose between both halves of your life as often… Not to mention there's a certain prefect very impatiently awaiting your arrival."

Hermione snorted despite the threat of frustrated tears. "Well, can't keep him waiting, can I?" she managed to mutter.

"I'm sure you could, but he has a rather fickle temper. It might not be the wisest course of action."

She pulled back enough to give him a look that he met with a smirk. Both of their expressions faltered when another warning whistle sounded.

"Off you go, Dove," Tom said gently. "I'll see you soon. Write if you want."

"You or you?" she asked.

Tom snorted as she started to step away. "Either. Both. Whichever suits."

She threw him a small smile over her shoulder. "Bye, Tom."

He winked. "Bye, Dove."

She sprinted back up to the train and bounded up the steps before the final whistle, slipping into the compartment Draco had snagged. Draco, Theodore, Tracey, and Harry looked up when she arrived, the latter of whom moved Crookshanks' carrier from the spot beside him so Hermione could sit in her seat. Once Crookshanks was secured with Hedwig, she sat and tried to get comfortable.

"No Blaise?" she asked.

"He's off hanging out with some other friends of his," said Draco. "I endorsed his decision."

She snorted, immediately perking up at the thought of how Tom —teenage Tom— might react when she tells him about her Slytherin friends later that day. In person.

She'd missed him.

Hermione relaxed while her friends fell into a quiet discussion that she tuned out. They waved from the windows when the train started pulling away and once the compartment had settled again, Hermione pulled out a book and the diary, setting the latter on top of the former as she pretended to get lost in both. In reality she was just letting her mind drift aimlessly. She was tired, but not enough to rest, and though Tom's appearance had made her feel better for a few moments, her unwanted melancholy had returned.

Nearly-fourteen wasn't too old to be homesick, apparently. Nor was it too old to get upset over things she'd already rationalized and accepted. Nor was it too old to feel like a crybaby.

She half-dozed half faded out of awareness for most of the ride. She was so out of it that when the world outside darkened, she just assumed time had passed. She didn't really notice the rain or think much of it when she shuddered with the chill.

It wasn't until the train came to a screeching halt that Hermione was jostled out of her head and back into the compartment. And even then, she was having a hard time regaining her bearings.

"Guys?" Tracey whispered. "What are those?"

Frost crinkled as it started to cover the windows, but they could still make out the black, floating figures outside. There were shrieks from other compartments when the train car shook and shrieks from theirs when the compartment door slid open.

Hermione could see her breath and the black void under the hooded figure looming at their door. An almost silent warning bell in the back of her mind made her fingers twitch towards her wand as it slowly floated into their compartment.

Someone said her name. Then Tracey started screaming.

Hermione's stiff fingers finally curled around her wand as the darkness and cold beckoned her closer. She wanted to follow it even though her ears had started to ring — growing louder by the moment. She tried to say the spell, had no idea if she succeeded, and felt fire in her eyes that raced down her cheeks.

All she wanted to do was save her friends. Save Harry. He didn't deserve this, not when he'd just gotten Sirius back.

The cold grew colder, making the arm she could barely feel shake as she tried to keep it upright.

She felt a thud near her feet. Her books. Her journal. Tom's diary.

Tom.

Hogwarts.

Her other home, her other family, her other life, her other world. The world she was going back to, the world she had to get back to.

She couldn't feel her lips, couldn't hear her own voice, and until that moment she could only see darkness. A flash of light blinded her before the world went dark again.

She was weightless.

She was falling.

And then the ringing stopped. 


Tom had been on edge since he woke up, but his impatience and mood only worsened as he prepared for the day ahead. By the time he'd finished a meager breakfast, even Tom knew he was cranky, plain and simple, and without reasonable cause.

Hermione had been mostly silent for a day due to sleeping, packing, traveling to the station, and boarding the Hogwarts Express, most of which she did while he slept, but he'd hoped that she'd write more during the ride. She'd give him something else to focus on while he ate instead of continuing to count the moments leading up to her arrival and angrily stalking up to the Room of Requirement to await her return.

It was a perfectly reasonable plan or so Tom thought. She writes him while on the train to keep herself occupied for the long journey and he replies the moment he wakes up.

But she hadn't written him at all. If she'd fallen asleep, well, he'd be annoyed but could forgive her since that meant she'd be rested enough to stay in the Room of Requirement for a while before going to bed. Otherwise…well, he was hard-pressed to think of anything inconsequential that would both grab her attention and keep her from writing back.

He told Abraxas and Avery to amuse themselves elsewhere after their meal, carrying himself up to the room pensively once they'd split ways. Thankfully Ancient Runes was canceled, so he'd be free until Divination that afternoon. He was half tempted to backtrack to the Chamber and get Cherie's opinion on how bothered he was by Hermione's silence. He didn't feel annoyed at her, per say, but he wasn't pleased either.

Perhaps 'worried' was the word he was looking for? He so rarely worried about things that it seemed foreign to admit to doing so. He disliked it.

By the time he was comfortably settled in the Room of Requirement, Tom was thoroughly unsettled and couldn't even focus on scanning his ancestors' journals.

Where are you? he penned. Did something happen? Weasley nonsense again, perhaps?

The room he typically conjured to study in had an old grandfather clock tucked away in a corner. When it went off sometime later, sounding nine chimes, his diary was still free of familiar handwriting.

Where are you, Dove? he wondered to himself.

There was so much he wanted to teach her, but now most of their time was gone and she still hadn't appeared. She'd need to sleep before classes started. But it was evening for her already. She couldn't stay in the room as long as he could.

Tom wished he could see where she was, wished he had a locator spell that could transcend time so he could at least know if she was alright.

If only because worrying was starting to make his chest uncomfortable. He didn't like the sensation.