Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any of the characters in the Harry Potter books or movies.

Author's Notes: This story is set in an Alternate Universe and while the basic setting of Harry Potter remains (Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, Voldemort, Grindelwald etc.) the Magical Society is different from canon and a number of characters will act (very) differently.

Many thanks to thekingofsweden1, rpeh and Shamgar777 for betaing.


Chapter 1: On the Train to another World

Another September 1st, Hermione Granger thought, standing in front of a compartment of the Hogwarts Express. She was wearing her school robe already, the one for the students up to and including 5th year. Black, conservatively cut - even for muggles - and sporting a badge on her heart with the colors of Gryffindor, her house at school. The robe looked mundane, but it was heavily charmed, actually floating mere millimeters above her skin and kept at 22 degrees Celsius no matter the actual temperature around her. The fabric was resistant to wear and tear, and repelled most fluids as well. Hermione doubted any other 4th year student could have cast such spells, much less enchanted a robe, but her pride in her work was muted by the need to hide her achievements. It would not do for a muggleborn, much less a true muggleborn, to show up the pureblood students. Even or especially those wearing robes bought and charmed at Madam Malkin's. They wouldn't do anything overtly, of course, but she had enough enemies already. Making more out of pride would be a mistake she wouldn't repeat.

The young witch reached up to touch her necklace. Or more precisely, her torc. Celtic style, pure gold, enchanted of course, showing the Potter crest on one of the pendants between her collarbones, indicating her status as a retainer of the Head of the Potter Family. Which consisted currently, and for the foreseeable future, of herself, and her Patron, Harry Potter. An orphaned boy and a muggleborn girl. No home, ancestral or otherwise. No real estate. No fortune - after buying that torc in their first year Harry had just a bit more than needed to cover his and her remaining education at Hogwarts. And no pureblood ancestry dating back to the Founders. It would be a joke of a family, if not for Harry being famous as the Boy-Who-Lived and the Slayer of Slytherin's Monster.

The first had been achieved by Harry alone. Defeating the worst Dark Lord Wizarding Britain had seen in a long time as a toddler had earned him that title as well as the approval of the Wizengamot for his posthumous adoption by his father, James Potter. If not for that Harry would have legally been the muggleborn Harry Evans. The second title though… that should have been hers as well. Hermione scoffed. Would have, if not for the circumstances of her birth.

Students passed her, most of them nodding at her, receiving a nod in return. Some ignored her, of course. Most of those were wearing the green colors of House Slytherin. Beatrice Wells, Gryffindor 6th year, stopped and smiled. "Hello Hermione."

"Hello Beatrice. Did you have a nice vacation?"

"Oh, yes. My family went to Spain, Barcelona." The older girl smiled. She was wearing the open robes of the 6th and 7th years over a shimmering red and black dress that seemed to slowly flow around her. Hermione recognized it from the display in Madam Malkin's she had seen on her last visit to Diagon Alley. It was the least expensive of the dresses there, though by no means cheap. Simple and very modest, for Wizarding Britain - it covered her from neck to knees. Hermione had expected that, since Wells was another "true muggleborn", as those wizards and witches born to muggle parents were called. One of only four currently at Hogwarts, including Hermione herself. The dresses, if one could call those elaborate magical constructs by such a normal word, some of the pureblood girls of the 6th and 7th years wore under their open robes would turn heads even in the most liberal muggle nightclubs or on the catwalk in Paris.

"Nice. We went to France again. Burgundy this time." Hermione wondered if her and Wells being 'true muggleborn' would make those muggleborns born to magical parents 'fake muggleborns'. It would fit them, she thought, since they were usually as isolated from the muggle world as the half-bloods and purebloods were. The two girls chatted about their vacations a bit more, then Wells went off to find a compartment of her own. Hermione remained standing there, waiting.

More students passed her. Among them was Draco Malfoy, in a robe made of green spider silk, overloaded with gold and jewels, gleaming with enchantments that formed and reformed his family's heraldry on his chest. Another work by Madam Malkin's. The boy was sneering at her. A year ago he'd have insulted her. Had insulted her in fact. Now, with Harry's godfather exonerated and confirmed as Head of the Black Family, Draco apparently had learned some discretion. Hermione didn't think it would last.

She felt her torc grow a bit warmer, the enchantment informing her that Harry was nearby. Turning her head she spotted him entering the carriage and felt the familiar burst of happiness at seeing him. He was clad in a red and black robe that seemed to shine with protective spells woven into the fabric. Professional work, better than her own spells, if not as customized. Sirius hadn't skimped after the incident at the Quidditch World Cup.

The young witch smiled, not as widely as she felt like, but appropriate for a retainer meeting her Patron in public, and bowed in the formal greeting.

"My Patron."

"My Wand."

As soon as Harry returned the formal greeting she straightened up and opened the door to the compartment. He strode inside and she followed, locking the door and providing privacy with a flick of her wand and a muttered incantation. Then she hugged him. Hard. It might just be the magic of the Patron Oath at work, but she was almost sighing contentedly at their brief closeness.

"Hi Harry!"

"Hi Hermione."

Sitting down, Harry pulled out his trunk, unshrunk it, then took his school robes out. Hermione resisted her sudden urge to sort and repack his stuff in an orderly fashion when she saw the chaos inside. Instead she sighed, loudly, which made him laugh, and her giggle.

A conjured screen - a variant of a predecessor of the protego Hermione had found during third year when researching self-defense spells - preserved Harry's modesty while he changed into his school robes.

"Is Hedwig already on her way to Hogwarts?"

"She is, yes. Sent her ahead after breakfast at Sirius's." Harry threw the expensive dress robe into his trunk, grinning when he caught her wincing, then closed and shrunk the piece of luggage. Hermione shook her head at him, smiling wrily despite herself. He had come a long way since she first had seen him, the real him and not the image her books had painted of him in her mind.

It had been her worst day at Hogwarts, in first year. Well, the worst day so far. She had been crying in a bathroom, the harsh words of Ron Weasley hours earlier having been the straw that broke the camel's back. Alone, ostracized by her fellow Gryffindors, her at the time pitiful attempts to make friends rebuffed. It had felt like the end of her new world, a world full of promises, of discoveries, of magic.

Then the troll had entered, sniffing the air, growling, waving with a massive club, a ripped out tree trunk she realized while she stood, frozen in fright. The beast had spotted her, and let out a roar that broke her out of her paralysis. She had scrambled away, on all fours, frantically, ducking and dodging, all thoughts of magic and her wand forgotten in the face of such a monster. It had wrecked the bathroom, smashing toilets, sinks, stalls and walls with ease, showering her with shards and splinters that cut her skin. It had driven her on, away from the door, until she was trapped in a corner, bleeding. The troll had bared its teeth, slowly raising the big club, as if it was savoring the moment until it would smash her. Hermione had known then she'd die there, alone and far away from her family.

And in that moment he had stormed inside. Harry Potter. The orphan hero who had vanquished a Dark Lord as a toddler. Harry had distracted the monster by jumping on his back and climbing up. At once the troll had forgotten about Hermione and had attempted to shake off the young wizard clinging to him. Ron had been there as well, at the door, wand in hand, staring, until she had shouted at him to cast. Their spells had been ineffective though, the skin of the troll too tough, his grip on the club too strong, until Harry had stuck his wand up the monster's nose and roasted his brain with what Hermione later thought to be accidental magic. He had almost been crushed when the monster had toppled over, smashing the last intact sink in the process, but the young wizard had managed to jump clear at the last second. He had never lost his grip on his wand either.

Hermione would never forget the sight of him, standing on the corpse, his wand tip covered with smoking black ichor, smiling at her, asking if she was safe, unhurt. It had been a moment right out of a fairy tale. The hero, having defeated the monster, and the girl he had saved, staring at each other, ready to...

Then the teachers had arrived, and the moment had ended, and they were just students who had broken the rules. And killed a troll.

Hermione touched her torc, running a finger over the three enchanted pendants dangling from it. That incident had changed her life. Without it she doubted she would be here, with Harry. She'd probably be in a similar situation like Wells - or gone from Hogwarts. All due to the troll in the bathroom, and of course the talk between two Slytherins she overheard in the library in Hogwarts.

"That know-it-all made a spectacle out of herself again today. It's a wonder she didn't rip her own arm out of its socket, she was raising her hand so fast at each question."

That had been Pansy Parkinson's voice, a tad shrilly. Hermione had stopped her search for the most recent volume of 'Irish Magical Herbs and Seeds', and had listened to the conversation on the other side of the shelf.

"What can you expect from mudbloods? Even the ones born into our world are barely civilized." That had been Draco Malfoy, chuckling at his own 'wit'. She had recognized his voice easily - there hadn't been a day he had not thrown verbal barbs at her, Harry or Ron.

"And the way she's hanging around Potter. Disgraceful. And he lets her, treats her like an equal even though she owes him her life." Pansy had sniffed, as if she had smelled something nasty.

"Potter is a disgrace. If I was in his place, I'd use her life debt to put her in her place." Draco had laughed at his feeble word play again, but it had sounded a bit forced.

"Does your father know who is going to be her Patron? Maybe she'll be reined in next year."

"That's an excellent idea. Or… maybe my father will become her Patron. That would be ideal. I'll write him."

Hermione had heard Pansy laugh at that and praise Draco for his cunning, but had stopped listening to their talk. Life Debt? Patron? Put her in her place? She had had no idea what the two Slytherins had been talking about. But she had been in a library, the best and biggest library in all of Wizarding Britain. She would find answers.

And she had found out what the two had meant, in the hours that had followed. She had skipped dinner, caught up in her research, hunger losing any importance when faced with the growing feeling of horror at what the various books and scrolls she had read had revealed to her.

'When a wizard risks his own life to save the life of another wizard or witch, a life debt is created. Magic itself will ensure that it is paid back with an equal deed or service. As long as the life debt remains active, a strong bond is formed, to facilitate the repayment. Many a wizard whose life has been saved sacrificed his own life later, to repay the debt. A noteworthy example was Hieronimus Parkinson in the Battle at Hogsmeade in 1612, where he took a dozen poisoned goblin arrows for James Abbot, who had saved him from a Manticore 10 years before. The alliance between the two families created by those deeds lasted until the unfortunate almost-wedding between Agatha Abbot and Cyril Parkinson in 1709.'

Hermione had imagined sacrificing herself to save Harry. It had felt right. Then she had realized how wrong that should have felt, and realized that magic was already influencing her. The young witch had needed a few minutes to calm down after that, her fist pressed into her mouth to prevent herself from screaming in the library.

'To repay a life debt requires an equal deed or service. Among wizards of equal standing, only saving the other's life, honor or livelihood will truly balance the scales, and lacking such an opportunity can cause quite a detrimental effect as the magic keeps prodding the indebted party, even to the point of dividing their loyalties between their saviour and their own Head of Family. It is thought such a situation was the root of the infamous Green Solstice in 1375, when the Head of the Fickleton family as well as his designated successor and bride fell to killing curses cast by his younger brother Anastasius, who owed a life debt to the heir of the Fickleton's ancient rival, the Proudfoot Family. It could not be verified, since Anastasius in turn was slain by his cousin, with a killing curse as well, before his brother's corpse had touched the ground.'

She had already been familiar with the hierarchy of Wizarding Britain caste system - though that particular term was absent in every book she had read - with purebloods on top, half-bloods below them, and muggleborns on the bottom. Since she was a muggleborn and Harry a pureblood, this did not apply to her.

'Between Wizards of unequal standing, repaying a life debt is far easier, for the indebted party can either grant their saviour a boon far above their station, if of higher standing themselves, or enter their service as a retainer, if of lower standing. An extreme example was the adoption of Lucullus Harrison by the Head of the Macmillan family as a reward for saving his life. The muggleborn wizard was thus elevated to pureblood status, though it is believed that he was his natural son, born to a muggleborn retainer of the family, to begin with.'

Hermione had been surprised to realize just how rare Harry's adoption might have been according to this volume - though maybe that had changed since this book had been written a century ago. But the implications for her had pushed such thoughts from her mind. To find out she was pushed by magic to repay her debt to Harry... What she had thought to be friendship could have simply been the effect of magic compelling her. That had been terrifying enough, but what her search for the meaning of 'Patron' had revealed…

'Muggleborns, those rare wizards or witches born to actual muggles, without a magical parentage on either side, posed quite a problem for Wizarding Britain, lacking any blood ties to established pureblood families. In the past most of them were simply taken from their muggle families by the pureblood wizard who discovered them and were raised in a magical family, but that practise was outlawed by a Royal Decree shortly before the 16th century. Instead the Patron System was established by Fytherley Undercliffe, the Headmaster of Hogwarts at the time. Muggleborns would receive a Patron during their time at Hogwarts, to help guide them into the Magical World and provide them with a Head of Family and a proper, secure place in Wizarding Society. At the time most muggleborns were married to half-bloods, elevating their children to half-bloods and creating true ties of blood to a pureblood family. The practise of muggleborns marrying each other, or even entering concubinages with not so discerning purebloods was still unthinkable, so muggleborns very rarely inherited their Patron from their parents, as is the usual case today.'

That had not seemed that bad. Hermione would have welcomed having such a Patron to explain to her the intricacies of Wizarding Society, after her first visit to Diagon Alley. She had felt so overwhelmed at walking through such a magical street, filled with sights she hadn't even been able to imagine, that she hadn't been able to think clearly, much less ask all that she should have asked Professor McGonagall then. And her time in Hogwarts so far had been spent learning magic, not the ins and outs of the society she was now part of. How stupid she had been!

'At the beginning there was a fierce competition among some families for talented muggleborns, which besmirched the dignity and importance of the Patron System and even caused a few muggleborns to grow arrogant and have demands far above their station. Fortunately it quickly became tradition that only one Head of Family would ever offer to become the Patron of a muggleborn, determined at the Summer Solstice Meeting of the Families following the muggleborn's first year at Hogwarts. When the Wizengamot was established this task fell to it.'

Hermione hadn't liked the undertones in that part. To have others decide who her Patron would be - it was unsaid, but clearly implied that the offer could not be refused - seemed wrong to her. What if someone like Snape would pick her? Or, even worse, Draco's father?

'A Patron is like the Head of Family for a true muggleborn. He or she provides guidance for those not fortunate enough to be born and raised in a magical family, helping them to become a productive member of Wizarding Britain and supporting them in their career. While it is a great responsibility to teach a muggleborn wizard or witch the ways of the Magical World, nothing is as rewarding for a Patron as seeing the muggleborn take their place alongside their peers after Hogwarts, marrying and raising children of their own. Only in rare cases does a muggleborn prove to be in need of more than gentle guidance, and thus require their Patron to resort to the means offered by the Patron Oath to correct their behaviour.'

She had been shaking when she had finished that part. If Draco's father would become her Patron … she had felt bile rise in her throat, and had barely managed to keep from vomiting on the library floor. She had not been an expert in Wizarding Britain's politics and society, back then, but she had had no illusions what being a client or retainer of the Malfoy family would mean. Months of constant insults and 'pranks' and 'accidental hexing' had left no doubt about that.

Tears had ran down her cheeks while she had tried to find a way out. Running had been impossible - they'd have found her. Attending Hogwarts was mandatory, and they might even had taken her from her parents afterwards. Hoping for a less bigoted Patron would not have been enough. The teachers would not have been able to help her, since her fate would have been decided in the Wizengamot. Even worse, with her life debt, she'd have been caught between magically enforced loyalty to Harry and whatever magical compulsion her Patron would have been able to command. She hadn't been an expert, but it certainly wouldn't have been a good position to be in. How naive she had been, to assume Wizarding Britain was just like her home country, but with magic!

The young witch had still been searching, desperately, for salvation when the library had closed. Her fellow Gryffindors had assumed she had been studying for an upcoming test, and hadn't cared about her state, though Harry had seemed concerned, before Ron had pulled him up to the boys' dorm. Harry, she had realized then, before she fell asleep herself, hungry and exhausted, had been the key.

"What are you thinking about?" Harry's voice interrupted her thoughts. She smiled at him, and pulled lightly on her torc.

"I was just thinking of when you became my Patron."

"Ah." He smiled, though she was aware he did not completely feel like smiling. For all the two of them had gone through, she knew he still felt a bit guilty about her situation, no matter how often she had told him it was the best thing he could have done for her.

"Harry, I need to talk to you," Hermione had stated. With a glance to Ron she had added, "Alone. It's very important." She hadn't disliked Ron, but she'd certainly not have wanted to discuss the most important decision of her life with someone who argued against doing one's homework on time every time she had reminded him and Harry. Judging by the way Ron had cringed and made himself scarce, her glance might have been closer to a glare. Or he had spotted her full bookbag, and had thought it was about homework. It hadn't mattered, only Harry had, and he had come with her to an unused classroom.

Hermione had closed the door had laid out her notes and books on the table, carefully. She had been delaying, nervous to the point of trembling, and about to bite her lower lip until it bled.

"Are you alright?" Harry had sounded concerned, caring. As she had come to expect of him. She had shaken her head.

"No, I am not. I am in a terrible situation, and only you can help me." His surprise had quickly given way to determination, as she had expected. Quickly - relatively, for it took some time to explain it all - she had told him what she had found out about life debts and the Patron System.

"So… it's possible that Draco's father will become your Patron?" Harry had sounded as horrified at the thought as she had been feeling.

"Yes. It doesn't have to happen, but… he hasn't been a Patron yet, so custom would give him precedence over those wizards and witches who already have been a Patron." Or so she had thought. A lot of Wizarding Britain's customs were not codified, or even written down. One simply had to know it, had had to be born into it. The best she had been able to achieve was inferring and deducing from recorded events.

"But what can I do? I am not a member of the Wizengamot."

"I owe you a life debt, and you are the Head of the Potter family. You can become my Patron. Even though you're still a minor, a life debt is so important, and so personal, it takes precedence over any other claim." At least partially because the magic of a life debt was so strong, one could not trust a Patron Oath to hold against it if the two conflicted. Or any other oath or obligation.

Harry had looked unsure, almost afraid. Hermione had not know what he had been afraid of, but had not cared. Her life had been on the line. She had laid a hand on his arm, looked into his eyes.


Harry had shivered, then taken a deep breath and calmed down. "Alright. I'll do it. But I don't know what I have to do."

Hermione had beamed at him. "Don't worry, I'll teach you!"

Remembering that scene, Hermione had to smile. She had been so naive then, and so selfish. She had had no idea of just how many things she had had to learn, and to teach Harry.

"Did you ever regret what we did then?" Harry asked, fiddling with a small mirror.

"No." Hermione had regretted it, of course. Had even ranted, when she was alone, at the injustice of it. But compared to the alternatives, it had been for the best - both for her, and for Harry. Even though they had had to struggle. Or especially because they had had to struggle for it.

It had been the first time Hermione and Harry had been in the office of the Headmaster. She had been awed, almost distracted by his personal library, by the strange and wonderful knick-knacks, and of course the beautiful phoenix, whose trilling greeting made her feel warm and loved, and banished her nervousness. Dumbledore had kindly smiled at them, introduced them to Fawkes, as the phoenix had been called, invited the two to sit down, and then offered them lemon drops. Hermione had declined, as had Harry. She had been so nervous, she had had trouble eating dinner that day.

"Now, what important topic do you two have to discuss with me?" The Headmaster had sounded like an indulgent grandfather, kind and caring. Hermione had taken heart at that, and had gone straight to the point of their meeting, while she still felt the phoenix' magic calming her.

"Sir, as you without a doubt already know, I owe Harry a life debt, since he has risked his own life to save me from that troll during the Samhain celebration. To repay that I offer to become his retainer. As his guardian, we ask for your blessing." Technically, the Dursleys had been Harry's guardians, but they had only been able to handle the muggle aspects of his life. For anything magical a witch or wizard had been required, and the Headmaster had been Harry's guardian for such matters, in loco parentis. A life debt repayment and a Patron Oath without a doubt qualified as magical matters Harry needed his guardian's permission for.

Hermione had not been sure, but she had thought there had been a flicker of surprise and annoyance on Dumbledore's face, before he spoke with his grandfatherly, if patronizing tone: "Ah! Miss Granger, Harry, you are still young children, who should not be burdened with such grave matters. A life debt is an obligation not easily repaid. One should not talk about becoming or accepting a retainer lightly, or without the knowledge of what such things entail. I would be remiss in my duties if I would let Harry take on a responsibility he is not ready for."

Usually Hermione would have been swayed by his words and manner, deferring to a wiser and more experienced adult, but this had not been some complaint about lessons, or some minor trouble. This had been about her life, and she had given this a lot of thought, had sweated and cried about it. So she had sat straight in her seat, collected all her courage, and responded: "Sir. The life debt exists, its bond exists. I can feel its pull already. All the books I have read agree that unless I repay this debt, I will always feel beholden to Harry. And becoming his retainer is the only way I have to repay the debt, short of saving his life."

"You are still young. Who is to say you will not be able to repay the debt in another way, later in your life?" Hermione had to blink at that. Did the Headmaster expect another troll to enter the castle? "Harry, my boy. You should enjoy your childhood, not try to take on a responsibility beyond your years. We are only young once, and the older we grow, the less carefree we become."

Hermione had been able to see that Harry might be swayed by the Headmaster's reasoning, and had spoken up again, her words aimed at both even though she addressed Dumbledore: "Headmaster, in less than a year I will have a Patron. It could be anyone, even Malfoy." A glance had shown her Harry straightening up. Good.

"Miss Granger, Patrons are selected from the Heads of Families. Experienced wizards and witches. Harry is a mere boy, and raised by muggles. He cannot provide the guidance and insight a Patron has to offer, since he is still in need of guidance himself."

"If given the choice, I'd rather have Harry than Malfoy as a Patron. I think I am better off without the kind of guidance I'd receive from Draco's father if his son is anything to judge him by"

"The Malfoys are an Old Family, Miss Granger, They can offer a lot to a young witch new to the Magical World."

"They can, Sir. Though I have my doubts that they will. Judging by Draco's words and actions, they do not seem to be favorably inclined towards muggleborns such as myself."

"You should not judge the family by the actions of a child, Miss Granger. Young Draco is still seeking his way, making mistakes as children are wont to do." He had turned to Harry, who had been scowling. "Harry, do you really think you can be Miss Granger's Patron? Wouldn't she be better off with a more experienced Patron? What can you offer her that would help her in her life?"

Hermione had seen then how Harry had cringed, doubt and insecurity written on his face. And she had been flush with anger, the urge to protect him, console him, filling her. The life debt at work, she had later realized. At the time, she had simply acted, not thought, and wrapped Harry in a hug while she glared at Dumbledore. "Headmaster! He has saved my life! No one else can ever equal what he has done for me! If he's not ready to be my Patron now, then he'll be ready next year. He can learn. I will help him!" Again a flicker of anger had appeared in Dumbledore's eyes. She had barely noticed it, since Harry had returned her hug at the same time. "If you are unwilling to give your permission for this, then maybe Harry is in need of a guardian who will not stand against all tradition and refuse to let a life debt be honored."

She had not understood, back then, why that had made Dumbledore cave in. She hadn't been experienced enough, hadn't known enough about politics and Wizarding Britain's society. But she had never been able to fully forget the idea that Headmaster might have wanted for Malfoy to become her patron, despite her life debt towards Harry, no matter how stupid it sounded. All that had mattered had been that the Headmaster had given his permission. Hermione, afraid of Harry changing his opinion or losing his backbone, had pushed for an immediate ceremony right then and there.

Harry and Hermione had stood up and had been facing each other in Dumbledore's office, with the Headmaster watching from the side. Hermione had bent her right knee and held out her wand with both hands above her head, as they had rehearsed beforehand.

"Harry James Potter, Head of the Potter family. You have risked your own life to save my life. To repay that, I, Hermione Jean Granger, offer you my wand to be used in your service, to be raised in your defense, until it is buried with me."

Harry had taken the wand. "Hermione Jean Granger, I, Harry James Potter, Head of my family, accept your offer and welcome you into my service and into my family, to be protected in need, and guided when lost." With that he touched her head, then her chest over her heart with Hermione's wand before handing it back to her. "Raise your wand for me."

Hermione stood up, then raised her wand. "I swear to use my wand in your service, raise it in your defense, until it is buried with me. Lumos." While her wand tip lit up with bright light, Harry raised his own wand.

"I swear to protect you in need, and lead you with honor, and treat you as family. Lumos." His wand tip too lit up. They - or rather Hermione - had chosen an older version of the Patron Oath, much closer to an oath of fealty in that it bound both Patron and retainer than the currently commonly used version, which only stipulated the duties of the retainer. She had felt the bond changing when the oath took effect, but it had been a subtle change. The desire to help and protect Harry had still been there, just less urgent. A background melody instead of a voice whispering into her ear.

When the two had canceled the light spells, Fawkes had trilled again, and warmth and happiness had filled Hermione once more. Impulsively, she had hugged Harry. To the side, next to his phoenix, Dumbledore had smiled, though a bit sadly, until the magical bird had pecked at his hand and demanded some treats. He had chuckled then.

Indeed, it had been one of Hermione's most memorable events. The first time she had worked powerful magic with a lasting, life changing effect. Before that day all she had done was casting some spells. Minor magic, fit for a beginner witch, seldom more than training exercises. Easily cast, and easily ended. That oath though… Once again she touched her torc. She was still feeling its effects. That happiness she felt when she saw Harry, the slight nudge to follow his suggestions - easily overcome though, since it was a very weak compulsion - were all due to the Oath.

"Oh, just for your information - Sirius is buying you a 'proper retainer's collar' for your birthday, to go with your dress robes." Harry obviously had noticed her gesture. Hermione looked at him, narrowing her eyes. Given how much of a prankster his godfather was…

Harry held up his hands. "Don't worry, he does mean a real proper collar, not a, ah…"

"Not a dog collar, but a livery collar, yes." Hermione didn't really think Sirius would send a prank gift - he cared very much about his godson's reputation, which by extension included her own - but it would be prudent to open any gift in private. She blushed slightly when she remembered her own reaction to reading about a 'retainer's collar' when she had been researching the Patron System. Fortunately she had not shared what she had thought those collars were with anyone else before she had found out they looked like the chains of office mayors wore to special occasion. They were only worn with dress robes, and at a select few official events though, so they hadn't needed to get one so far.

Her torc had been another thing, far too expensive in her opinion, even now, but then, Harry had been livid when Malfoy had mockingly insinuated he couldn't afford to buy her a proper retainer's insignia, and had gone overboard, no matter how much she had insisted that a simple ribbon would work fine. She was sure that even without Harry being her Patron she wouldn't have been able to convince him.

"He does his best to spoil me." Harry smiled a bit ruefully. He wasn't that comfortable with it, which Hermione privately found funny - she had been in his place, after all, when Harry suddenly had come into money after the basilisk.

"It just means you can use your money for more important things." She grinned at him.

"Like you?" He grinned cheekily right back, causing her to frown. She wasn't a thing.

"Like your education." And hers.

"You just want more rare books to read."

"Yes." Hermione wasn't ashamed to admit that. Books contained knowledge, which they needed. The more they knew, the less mistakes they'd make. And they couldn't afford to make many mistakes to begin with.

"So… which poor piece of muggle electronics will you be wrecking this term?" Harry's tone was light, teasing, and yet Hermione couldn't help but scowl when he reminded her of her past failures in getting electronics to work at Hogwarts.

"A radio receiver and a walkman. I am convinced that wards are the key to make them work. Electronics work fine right next to Diagon Alley, they work fine even when you cast spell after spell around them or on them, but they stop working once you enter the Leaky Cauldron. It has to be the wards that stop them from working."

"You've been busy at home, haven't you?"

"Not more than usual. Besides, home is the only place I could experiment. Grimmauld Place has wards as well." Without the permission of their Head of Family, or Patron, or guardian, an underage student was not allowed to do magic outside school. Hermione had gotten a blanket permission from Harry, so technically it was all legal, even if Harry himself wasn't allowed to cast spells without Sirius's permission.

"It would be good to be able to listen to music and news at Hogwarts. Sirius has a great, if slightly dated, collection of records from the 70s."

"You know my dad has a collection as well. What does Sirius listen to?"

For the next while the two compared the music styles of their respective families, sharing amusement at some of the more embarrassing records they had discovered, and reminiscing about the good songs they'd be missing at Hogwarts until the holidays.

"Do you think the Triwizard Tournament will feature a concert?" Hermione had been overwhelmed by her first wizard concert at the Quidditch World Cup. Words, even records couldn't adequately describe such performances, where spells and music came together to form something far more than either could provide alone. That event alone would have been worth attending the World Cup, Hermione thought.

"I sure hope so!" Harry sounded enthusiastic. Things had been going well for him, and her, ever since Sirius had been exonerated. "This should be a good year. A great year even."

Deep in the bowels of the Ministry for Magic, Barty Crouch Jr. wiped sweat from his brow and sat down for a bit, to catch his breath. Manipulating an ancient artifact dating back to the Founders, or close to, was exhausting. Dangerous too - without the instructions from his master, he would have never survived the attempt, and even so he had had to resort to a dark ritual to affect the Goblet of Fire.

Rested enough, he stood up, then checked his pocket watch. A few more minutes until his polyjuice potion would wear off. He took another swig from his flask. It wouldn't do to suddenly change form, even at this hour of the day. While his father had a legitimate excuse to be at the Ministry in the middle of the night - everyone knew he was married to his work, after the death of his wife, which would also neatly explain his upcoming illness - Barty Crouch Jr. was supposed to have died years ago, and getting discovered might threaten the plans of his Master. Something he'd die to avoid.

And what glorious plans they were! He was not privy to all of them - his master was cunning and cautious - but he had done an important task today. The Boy-Who-Lived and his pet mudblood would receive quite the surprise come Samhain. They would pay for murdering his master's basilisk.