HOA

Look, another update. Yay!

(Just FYI, I'm not too happy with this chapter, but wasn't sure what else to do… oh well.)


Grimmauld Kitchen, Tuesday, July 4th, 6:39am

"…just try to accept that there's nothing you can do besides support her, Mrs. Weasley."

Molly deflated, her eyes bright with worry, but before she could say a word the kitchen door opened. Mortem and Molly turned to see E're shuffle into the room, her hair a mess and a hand pressed to her temple. After sharing a look, Molly turned back towards breakfast and Mortem moved towards his Bonded.

Rocking slightly, E're groaned pitifully before collapsing forward into a chair. Immediately, her forehead settled against the tabletop and her arms came up to wrap around the back of her aching head.

Mortem said nothing, but stood at her side and ran a hand through her hair. The Bond felt clearer, and he could sense just the faintest echo of her emotions. It was barely there, but it was more than it had been the day before.

He watched vacantly as Molly bustled around the kitchen, warm aromas wafting through the air. E're didn't move or say a word as Mortem kept brushing strands of hair through his fingers. He finally stirred when Molly paused at his side, a glass of water in one hand and a potion in another.

With a nod of acknowledgement, he took the two from the plump mother. She gave E're a quick, disapproving look as Mortem nudged her, but said nothing. By the time E're glanced up, Molly was back at the stove, stirring the eggs.

Her green eyes lit up with gratitude as she spotted the potion, and faster than Mortem expected, she snagged the potion from his hand and chugged it. Mortem chuckled as she gagged and then chugged the glass of water as well.

She stuck her tongue out at him before settling back down onto the table, her head cradled in her arms as her eyes slid shut once more. Mortem rolled his eyes but wasn't surprised; this was far from the first time he'd seen Aequivalere hung over. He was just impressed that she had actually gotten out of bed.

"You know you're going to have to move eventually," He pointed out, but E're just scrunched up her nose, eyes still closed.

"Nuhuh," was her eloquent reply. Mortem chuckled and poked her shoulder.

"Then we're going to have to have breakfast on your head, and I wouldn't put it past the twins to actually try to." He teased, but she just stuck her tongue out again.

Mortem glanced over at Molly to see her smiling softly in amusement as she spelled the eggs warm and started on the next dish. He relaxed just the slightest. It would be nice to actually get along with Molly for once.

"True… but you wouldn't let them." E're finally spoke up, and Mortem turned back around to see her eyes open and glinting with humor.

He raised an eyebrow, "Oh really? I don't recall applying for that job."

"But you said you'd protect me." She pouted with wide eyes.

"I don't think that it applies to the Weasley Twins, sorry luv. You can handle them yourself just fine."

Mortem patted her on the head before turning subtly away and glancing at where Kreature was huddled behind the icebox.

"Traitor."

"Whatever you say, dear." He responded absently as Kreature's eyes went wide and he vanished as he noticed Mortem staring at him. He really was an odd elf, though not nearly as odd as Dobby. Mortem wasn't sure if the elf had been avoiding the two of them due to him being Death or for another reason, but he really didn't care. Not as long as Kreature kept from harming his Bonded, which he doubted the little creature would do. The house recognized the both of them as high society guests after all.

Mortem kept half of his attention on the Bond while he picked away at his breakfast and bantered with E're. She became more and more animated as time passed, and by the time everyone else joined them at the table, she seemed almost back to normal.

Or at least, as normal as his Bonded ever was, especially in this situation.

But oh well, at this point, he'd take it.


7:45am

Sirius beat almost everyone else to breakfast, for which he was glad. It was a relief to see his goddaughter stable once more, or at least semi-stable. She was still humming and/or singing constantly under her breath.

As everyone else slowly trickled into the kitchen, they greeted E're with smiles and grabbed their preferred type of caffeine. Thankfully, everyone seemed to have picked up on the unspoken 'do not talk about yesterday' rule. Although, Mortem glaring at anyone who seemed to be about to ask probably helped.

Sirius watched in amusement as E're taught all the kids at the table poker and Texas-hold'em. He and Remus excused themselves from the game, Arthur had to go to work, and Molly seemed to think learning a muggle card game was a fantastic idea.

The animagus figured that if Molly knew that E're was teaching the kids to gamble her tune would change. But he definitely wasn't going to be the one to tell her that.

Mortem, Sirius, and Remus watched with wide smiles as conjured chips, cards, and plates of food were all scattered across the table. E're was playing dealer, and it had long since been established that the white-and-black haired girl had no idea what she was singing between instructions.

"…you've got to know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em…"

But the peace was broken the moment Tonks burst into the kitchen. Sirius and Mortem stiffened as one, and Mortem's eyes flashed back. Sirius shivered as something prickled against his skin. A sense of wrongness was in the air, and for some reason, it seemed to be focused on his cousin.

"Has anyone seen my Auror's badge? I'm on shift at eight and can't find it anywhere!"

Sirius' gaze flickered back and forth between Mortem, E're, and Tonks, trying to figure out what was going on. Mortem was staring at the auror was narrowed black eyes, and seemed obviously agitated. On the other hand, E're didn't seem to sense anything! She was still humming under her breath, simply shaking her head to Tonks' question.

Something was wrong; it was prickling at his skin and gnawing at his magic. Why couldn't anyone else sense it? What was he sensing anyway?

He was snapped back to reality, or the shadow reality, as everyone started moving. Mortem's eyes were back to their silvery-grey, but he still did not look pleased.

"Oh dear, do you think you left it here after the last meeting?" Molly asked her as she drew her wand. Sirius wasn't even sure why Tonks would've had her badge here after their last meeting, but didn't say anything.

He noticed the way Remus suddenly tensed, and shifted in his seat. That foul sense of wrongness washed over him again, and Sirius quickly kicked Mortem under the table.

"I have no idea!" Tonks exclaimed, pulling on her ashy-brown hair in distress as she looked desperately under the half-eaten plates and everyone's cards.

Mortem glared at Sirius before raising an eyebrow in question. The grey eyed man jerked his head towards Remus, just as Tonks made a mess of the table.

"Hey!" Ron – who had only been dragged out of bed by Ginny a few minutes before – frowned as Tonks moved his plate, cards, and conjured chips.

"No need for that Molly," Remus said as he stood, stopping the woman before she could cast a summoning charm and causing Mortem and Sirius to share a look. "I found it last night."

Pulling out the aforementioned badge, he handed it to the frantic auror. Instantly, her hair turned a bright pink and she sighed in relief, the stress practically rolling off of her shoulders. Sirius and Mortem both frowned, while Mortem's eyes bled black again as he gazed at Tonks intensely.

"Thank you so much, Remus!" She cheered and she pecked the werewolf on the lips. "You're a lifesaver!"

Just as Tonks kissed Remus, Sirius practically jumped out of his chair as the largest wave of unsettling energy washed over him. Glancing over at the two Immortals (kinda) Sirius gulped as he realized that Mortem's shadow was stretching out across the kitchen in a rather intimidating fashion while E're was just staring at the two of them with a happy little smile, no suspicion in her eyes at all.

Glancing around, Sirius frowned as he realized that no one else looked startled at the sudden relationship. Not even Molly, who he knew secretly (or not so secretly) shipped Tonks and Charlie.

"That was nice of you dear," Molly told the werewolf as he sat back down at the table, just the faintest blush painting his cheeks. Remus met Sirius' questioning gaze and simply shrugged.

Mortem and Sirius were able to share one last worried look before everyone turned back to their plates of food and hands. The two of them would be able to get together and talk later.

Hopefully nothing else weird or bizarre would happen between now and then.


The Library 10:41am

"…unless of course they use Skeeter's accusations against you. Then you'll have to refer to section 9B of the law…"

Hermione continued on her frantic ramble to 'help' E're prepare for the hearing tomorrow, pulling book after book off of the shelves. In all honesty the black and white haired girl wasn't even paying attention. The once-Immortal was sprawled across one of the think couches, one leg dangling over the edge while the other was thrown over the armrest. Her head was situated firmly in Mortem's lap, and her eyes were closed as her Bonded ran his fingers absently through her hair.

Ron and Ginny had once again reclaimed a corner as the ginger haired girl tried desperately to beat her older brother at chess. No one mentioned to them that it was futile, purely because they knew better than to provoke the youngest Weasley.

Sirius hadn't managed to escape Molly's clutches, and Mortem had a feeling that he was being lectured on proper parenting. Not that he really cared. It gave him more time to figure out how he was going to explain Fati's latest manipulation to Sirius.

"…It must be love…oh, it must be love…"

Mortem's attention flickered down to his Bonded briefly as she switched songs. Still mumbled under her breath, Mortem had to admit. The constant humming or singing was an excellent way to judge Aequivalere's state of mind and thoughts. Especially since the Bond was still reduced to practically nothing – to his frustration. At least he was getting used to the never-ending and painful throbs that echoed through his being at the limitation of the Bond.

Ok, he wasn't. But if E're could lie to herself then so could he.

"…don't know exactly what the agenda is. Mr. Weasley said that Madam Bones is very fair, and most of what I've read agrees with his opinion…"

Mortem cracked one eye open to see the echo of Hermione pull another three books off of the shelf, not even looking towards the girl she was supposedly talking to. With a quirk of his lips his eye drifted shut again. He wasn't completely sure what his Bonded had planned for the hearing. But he knew her well, and knew that it was important to her – though he did wish that finding the other Hollows took a higher priority – so he knew that it'd be an amusing show. It always was.

"…I fall like a sparrow…Fly like a dove…" Hermione dropped a book on her foot, and E're twitched at her yelp but kept on singing. "You must be the dream I've been dreamin' of…"

As the bushy haired girl rubbed her sore foot, she stopped talking long enough to glance over at the Bonded pair. Her eyes instantly narrowed and E're's soft voice finally reached her ears.

"Oh, what a feelin'…It must be love…"

"Harriette Potter, have you listened to a word I've said?!" Hermione scolded, and seeing no reaction from the couple, she crossed her arms over her chest and began a new rant.

"I can't believe it! Here I am digging through old and dusty law books for you, trying to help you prepare for tomorrow, and you're not even listening! Do you want to be expelled tomorrow? Because that's what is going to happen if you aren't ready for anything they throw at you! But no! Instead you're curled up with your boyfriend – who you failed to mention, I'm still not happy about that Harriette – completely ignoring me!"

Mortem's monotone response cut through the air just as Hermione paused for breath, surprising and offsetting the girl.

"If E're thought she needed to prepare, she would. In fact, if she had really wanted to, she could've had the charges dismissed immediately. But she enjoys tricking fools into making asses of themselves too much."

Hermione's left eyebrow twitched and a fiery glint crawled into her brown eyes. "And no one thought to mention this earlier!? And what do you mean she could've had the charges dismissed? How?! Surely if Dumbledore could've…"

The same eye from earlier poked open, and gave the girl a cold silvery glare. Hermione's mouth snapped shut and she bit her lip as she unconsciously took half a step back. There was a lot of venom in that one eyed glare. More than Hermione thought was possible.

"I think it would benefit you greatly for you to finally learn that no one is infallible. Not you, not me," The hatred dripping from his voice surprised the girl, and she briefly wondered what must've happened to him to generate that much self-loathing.

"and especially not Albus Dumbledore." Mortem finished, before closing the silver eye once again. "Now, if you don't mind. E're just fell asleep and I will be incredibly irritated if your good intentions wake her up."

Hermione glanced down at her friend to see that the embodiment of death was correct. E're's singing had finally faded away, and she was obviously sound asleep. With a sigh, Hermione turned and began putting the many law books away.

She had just been trying to help.


Kitchen, 12:16pm

"So, that's what I felt earlier? Fati messing with reality?" Sirius asked the Immortal in a low voice. They hadn't managed to get away from everyone, so a quiet conversation at lunch was the best they could manage. Thankfully, Sirius had mastered the Muffliato spell long ago; otherwise they would've even dared to have the discussion at all.

"Technically not reality. What you felt was the perversion of the timeline and stability of the shadow dimension and the echoes within. Whether or not any of this is truly real – and as such, reality – is a debate that even my Siblings would avoid."

At Sirius' unimpressed look, Mortem sighed and nodded. "Yes, that's what it was."

They both picked at the food in front of them, purely to keep up the charade of eating as the rest of the kitchen chatted away. Sirius was almost certain that Mortem had cast some sort of perception filter charm; no one had tried to talk to them for almost ten minutes.

"And E're didn't notice?"

"No," The Immortal shook his head, eyes almost completely black, "which is what worries me. She should've been able to sense such a manipulation with ease. Fati wasn't even attempting to be subtle – it actually made me nauseous."

Mortem's face scrunched up and turned faintly green, and Sirius blinked at how completely human the Immortal looked.

"A sensation I can definitely do without experiencing again, I assure you."

The dog animagus refused to laugh, despite how hilarious the entire comment was. He had a feeling that Mortem would not be so kind if he burst out into hysterical laughter. The narrowed eyed look Mortem suddenly shot him quickly reinforced that thought, and he pushed any amusement as far back as he could.

"Well, no one else noticed either." Sirius pointed out, purely for something to say. He shivered as Mortem eyed him suspiciously for a second longer before rolling his eyes. The un-convicted convict slumped in relief as Mortem's attention shifted back onto the actual conversation.

"I wouldn't expect them to. They aren't real. They're purely echoes working within the personality parameters left behind by the souls."

At Sirius' blank stare, Mortem rolled his eyes once more. "They're the most basic remains of a shell – the barest of programs, which is why they don't always act like your original memories. Despite what E're would like to believe, they aren't real, and they definitely aren't themselves."

Sirius nodded slowly, eyes gazing distantly as he thought over his most recent interactions with the so-called echoes.

"They're personalities are much flatter, and attributes exaggerated."

"Exactly," Mortem sighed, suddenly looking exhausted as his eyes faded back to pale silver, and he ran a hand across his face. "Now if only E're could really see that."

One of Sirius' eyebrows rose as he processed what he was seeing versus what his childhood teaching of Immortals said.

"You think she doesn't realize that everyone else is an echo?"

He wasn't sure how he felt about that. If it was obvious even to him, then why couldn't she see it?

"A part of her knows that." He elaborated. "Logically, she knows what's going on. She understands that none of this is real; that she's messed up beyond belief, that Fati is using this reality as a weapon against her, and that she should be focusing on finding the rest of her Soul.

"The problem is… the problem is that her heart doesn't completely see that. It doesn't want to. This version of Aequivalere isn't the same as the one who Fati almost killed. You could almost call it a younger version. She doesn't have all of the memories of her other lifetimes to protect her from this shadow. She has so many regrets about this world, about this life. She always has, and I'm sure she always will. The thing is, before Fati shattered her, E're had more or less learned how to live with them."

"And now," Sirius continued slowly when Mortem did not, his voice oddly broken even to his own ears. "And now she has none of that buffer, none of those skills... the pain and regret is brand new."

The Immortal nodded.

"It's a gaping, oozing wound and while it wasn't originally intentional, Fati now has her in the perfect position to manipulate her however she wants."

His black eyes met Sirius' grey, and the wizard struggled to breath as he stared into the endless abyss.

"This world, shadow dimension or not, is Aequivalere's ultimate gingerbread house; and the longer we're here, the less she wants to leave."

"It's sucking her in, isn't it?" Sirius was pretty sure he was shaking at this point, but he was more concerned about the bile crawling its way up his throat to truly pay attention.

A bitter, resentful, broken laugh burst from Mortem's lips. Dry and cracked, it echoed through Sirius' ears as the black eyed being glanced around at the others in the room.

"It's ensnaring her quite thoroughly, and that's without Fati twisting the web."

They were both quiet for a second, the tension not fading despite the relative silence. For a moment, there was simply a shared feeling of loss and worry between the two. The two desperate souls who simply wished to keep the one most important to them safe, and were utterly failing.

"What are we going to do?" Sirius finally asked, swallowing his desperation down his now burning throat. Worry and guilt gnawed at his heart like a wild beast, and he didn't even want to imagine what the Immortal felt. He wasn't even sure he would be able to.

The silence stretched on, and after a moment Mortem took down the many wards and spells. As they were drawn back into the hustle and bustle of lunch, Sirius accepted the fact that he wasn't going to get an answer.

His thoughts drifted as Mortem was scolded by Molly for not getting enough to eat, until the softest of whispers brushed across his mind, filled with so much despair it hurt.

"I don't know."


Kitchen 12:41pm

"I don't know what you're talking about, Ronald." Hermione huffed as she turned away from her ginger friend, who rolled his eyes.

"Then I imagined you reading that book on chess, did I?" He rebutted, Ginny's eyes bouncing back and forth between the two as if it was a game of ping-pong. When the bookworm didn't reply, Ron grinned and continued in a teasing tone. "You know, if you want to get better at chess you could just ask me. There's no need to be sneaking around trying to read chess strategies behind my back."

"I was not sneaking around." 'Mione finally snapped, spinning back around to glare indignantly at the smug teen.

Across the table, Fred slid George a cookie, settling the unsaid bet between the two. No one was still eating, besides Ron of course, but no one wanted to go back to cleaning. So they were lounging around for as long as they could in Molly's territory before she made them return to work.

Sirius and Mortem hadn't spoken much since they rejoined the main conversations, and everyone else used what varying degrees of perception they had to pick up on the fact that the two were not in the mood. Sirius hadn't even laughed when the twins had turned Ginny's hair purple; which, to everyone else at the table, proved just how bad the duo's funk was.

"I was simply not broadcasting what I was reading, which I can't see being a problem, since you never bothered to be interested in what I read before."

"Ooohhh, burn." George mock whispered to his twin as Ron turned red, a shade that was so specific to him it could've been copyrighted.

"Hmm, yes that was a fairly decent comeback."

Everyone jumped and George even toppled over in his chair as eyes suddenly swiveled towards E're. She stood right beside the fallen twin, the smug grin on her face made more prominent by the dark maroon lipstick. With a giggle that was too close to a cackle for most of the table's liking, she twirled around George and came to stand beside Mortem. The short and swishing skirt of her glittering black dress drew his eyes to her legs, and caused his eyebrow to pop up in question.

"What are you wearing?!" Molly exclaimed, eyes wide in shock.

"You're wearing heels." Mortem stated pointlessly, glancing down at the thin, strappy silver things that adorned her feet, adding at least three and a half inches if not more.

Unable to believe that that was Mortem's first comment, Fred snorted and shook his head as he helped his twin to his feet.

"I am," E're confirmed, amusement clear in her voice as her bright green eyes sparkled for the first time in days. "I'm also wearing a dress that probably costs more than most college students make in a year."

Molly, Ginny, and Hermione all made various noises of shock and disbelief at that statement, while Sirius simply threw his head back and laughed. Ron had yet to pick up jaw up off of the floor, and was possibly starting to drool.

Glancing at the subtle and incredibly fine embroidery that decorated the bodice, the crisscrossing straps that just barely kept the V neck from being too low, and the thin bands of silk that held the dress up, Mortem definitely believed it.

"Is there a reason that you're wearing a dress, heels, and makeup? You never wear makeup."

"You are taking me dancing," E're stated simply but sharply, arms crossing over her chest and thinly lined eyes narrowing, "and to dinner, and quite possibly a show. I haven't decided yet. And I don't mean the movie theaters. We can do that whenever. But I can't even remember when we had a proper night out."

If anyone besides E're and Sirius noticed the slight wince that echoed through Mortem's frame at E're's wording, no one mentioned it. Though Sirius suspected that they were too shocked to have noticed, although they should really be used to E're doing random and slightly insane things by now.

"I suppose I don't have a say in this," Mortem said slowly, amusement hiding the pain as he stood and smiled down at his Bonded.

She chuckled, painted lips falling into a small smirk. "Of course you do, you can pick which club we hit first!"

This seemed to be the final straw for Molly and she cut in, red faced and indignant at what she was hearing.

"Absolutely not! You aren't going anywhere young lady, especially not dressed like that!"

E're sighed and rolled her eyes at Mortem before turning and giving Molly rebellious look, one hand on her hip and the other on Mortem's arm.

"Oh? I can't see why not. You have no right to keep me in this house. You aren't my mother, my guardian, or even my teacher. Despite what you may believe Mrs. Weasley, you have absolutely no say over what Mortem and I do. So if we want to go dancing, we'll go dancing and there's nothing you can say or do to stop us."

Molly, still red faced, opened and closed her mouth twice as her eyes steadily got narrower.

"Well, I don't know about that. But where are you planning on finding an open club at this hour?" Fred asked in pure curiosity, George nodding at his brother's side.

"It's what, twelve thirty? Unless I've missed out on a life lesson or two, most clubs aren't even open yet."

Glancing over her shoulder, E're winked at the Auditores, lips twitching back into a teasing grin. "Oh that one's easy boys. It's five o'clock somewhere."

Mortem gave her the most deadpanned look ever at her pun, before giving her the softest smile he could muster.

"Shall we, M'lady?" He bowed, his clothes shimmering and shifting into a simple yet striking pair of black dress pants and open charcoal suit jacket over a pale cream button-down. Once more shock spread through those in the kitchen at the casual display of magic.

"We shall, my good Sir." E're winked at him as he tucked her arm in his and led her towards the door, subtly adding a soft glittery sheen to E're's hair since she had left it down and mostly untouched.

"Don't you dare walk out of this kitchen!" Molly exclaimed in indignant rage, once again finding her voice.

"I don't see the point!" 'Mione chipped in, hesitantly enough that it was obvious she didn't want to start an argument, but loudly enough to show that she didn't approve. "You won't be able to get in, no matter where you go. You're too young!"

Pausing in the doorway, Mortem shook his head wryly as E're looked over her shoulder at 'Mione. Giving her silently laughing godfather a wink, she simply smiled at her old friend.

"Oh 'Mione dear, I'm definitely old enough."

For the first time, Sirius could hear her age – remembered or not – in her voice. The sudden dark tone caused Ginny and Hermione to flinch, and Ron to finally snap out of his hormone induced daze just as E're leaned over and kissed Mortem quite soundly.

Molly did nothing but gasp like a fish as the twins wolf whistled. When the two broke apart a few moments later, E're was noticeably older. She gave the entire kitchen a little wave as the apparent twenty five year old sauntered up the stairs.

Mortem, seeing that no one besides the twins and Sirius were going to be moving anytime soon, just shrugged. For the first time, he gave them his own teasing grin, eyes lightening visibly with humor as he aged his own form to match his Bonded's.

"Don't wait up for us." Was all he said, before the Immortal turned and followed his wayward Bonded out of the house.

Silence reined for a moment as the twins quietly took notes and brainstormed on new aging potions and transforming clothing. Sirius just shook his head and popped out quietly. He was astounded at how Mortem could lock everything away at a drop of a hat for E're. Whether it was a mask, or simply eons of practice, Sirius didn't know.

The only thing he knew was that he was not going to be in that kitchen when Molly Weasley finally snapped out of her shock. He would be much safer in his bedroom for the rest of the day. Besides, maybe he could actually think of something useful that could help his goddaughter and her husband.

He shivered as he silenced his bedroom right as Molly started yelling. Kinda Immortals or not, he would never get used to the thought of them being married.

And that was a feeling that would last lifetimes.


PLEASE READ:

Normally I would never do this, but my best friend is in a very tight spot. She just had a baby and the temporary guardian who was going to take care of her bailed last minute – despite the fact she traveled across the country to said guardian.

Now my friend is practically stranded with her newborn as her and her fiancé try to finance a trip back home since little Veronica can't fly and they had to cancel their flight tickets.

I'm a broke college student and can only do so much to help. Neither of them have any family who could help either.

We have a GoFundMe page, it's called "Help Baby Veronica Get Home". Even if you can't donate, if you could share the page to help get the word out, it would be amazing.

I apologize for imposing, but this is really, really important to me.


REAL AN BEGINS NOW


Ok, so maybe the second half wasn't that bad. But I'm still not too happy with this chapter which is the main reason why it took so long. Anyway, I hope you like it despite it mostly being transition stuff. Next chapter we have the trial, and then things get really interesting.

I am not even going to try and make promises on when I'm going to update, considering I'm crap at keeping them. I'll do my best and I that's all I can do.

Thank you so much everyone who's read, reviewed, and basically put up with my serious inconsistency in the past few years.

You all rock,

Cp