Disclaimer: I am not J.K. Rowling. All characters, places, descriptions, etc (unless original and created by me) belong to her.
Summary: It was a small pack, of course, just the five of them, but together they were something wild. Hermione finds herself in the Marauders' Era, with four new best friends.
A/N: Special shout out to my Beta/Token Hufflepuff friend/Personal Cheerleader, Mack. Thank you, thank you.
Chapter 40: Give and Take
Just as her relationship with Regulus was stabilizing once more, Hermione's relationship with the Marauders shifted as well.
Hermione tended to gravitate most toward James for a multitude of reason—he resembled her best friend, he didn't have as keen a sense of smell as the other, the list went on. Thankfully, Lily wasn't the sort to turn into the green-eyed monster over sharing James' time with Hermione. And given the looks she often gave Hermione, it seemed as though Lily knew more than the others about Hermione's situation.
Remus and Hermione began the month in limbo. Their conversation in the hospital wing had been rough on their friendship, and the confrontation about Regulus' scent had only made things worse. Neither wanted to rehash the argument, but it hung in the air like fog every time the two were around each other. Hermione wasn't sure if she would be able to repeat her outright lie to Remus if he asked her about Regulus again, but it seemed Remus was afraid of the very same thing as he never did. Instead, the two spoke mainly of school and trivial things.
For his part, Sirius tried to talk with Hermione, but it seemed the two could never get a moment alone. Against his very nature, Sirius allowed Hermione her space and tried to be the sort of man she deserved. He stepped away from constantly joking around and harassing Slytherins, instead focusing on the upcoming exam season.
Much to her inner disgust and confusion, Hermione actually found herself spending and, though she would never admit it, enjoying time with Peter, constantly roping Peter into joining her around the castle. At first she used him as a human shield against Remus and Sirius, never allowing herself to be left alone with just one of them, but lately her conversations in front of the fire with Peter became nothing less than a good way to spend her time.
March trudged along, the weather reflecting the turmoil within Hermione's heart. Remus and Peter both had birthdays, and it was on those nights that the pack celebrated as if nothing had changed from the night of Hermione's birthday. They drank and ate and danced in the Shrieking Shack. Remus forgot all about the three gray hairs he had found that morning in the bathroom. Peter forgot all about the letter in which his father complained of the stress he was receiving at work. James forgot about the disturbances in the Daily Prophet and the new column that displayed missing persons.
And Hermione and Sirius forgot to blush when they brushed hands.
21 March 1978
Seventh Year Girls Dormitory
Hermione woke to rustling just outside the curtains to her bed. Without lifting her face from the pillows, Hermione shoved an arm out and caught the culprit by the sleeve.
"Lily, what are you doing at this ungodly hour?"
Lily slipped through Hermione's curtains to sit at the foot of her bed. Hermione shifted to look at her friend though squinted eyes. Lily was holding quite a large box drawn up with a big red bow. Hermione just raised an eyebrow. Lily's grin grew to reach both ears.
"Firstly, good morning to you too, Hermione." Hermione winced at Lily's cheerful tone. "Secondly, it's actually pretty late. You've just about missed breakfast."
As panic set into Hermione's eyes and she tried to lurch forward, Lily gently pushed her back to her pillows.
"Not to worry, I've taken the liberty of bringing you breakfast."
"Lily, you sweet angel. You really are perfect." Hermione finally smiled and sat up against the headboard.
"I know." Lily chuckled. "And I also wanted to give you this."
Taking the box from Lily's outstretched hands, Hermione opened her mouth to protest.
"It's just a little something. Not a big deal at all." Lily went ahead and tore the top off before Hermione could get to it. "Back home my grandmother used to put together little boxes for my sister and me whenever we were sick. So, this one's for you. I'm calling it your Moon Box."
Hermione's heart swelled as she watched Lily take out and explain each item in the box.
"I got you chocolate, because Remus always eats so much around the full moon. I don't know if it's a Remus-thing or a werewolf-thing, but thought what the hell, chocolate can't hurt." "Oh, and this is an eye mask with some herbs inside. If you hit it with a little warming spell, it's really soothing. You can use it on sore muscles too.
"I don't know how to knit, but my mum's pretty great at it. I asked her to make these for you. If you don't like the color, you can charm them however you want."
Hermione placed a hand on Lily to still the excited girl. "Thank you."
Lily calmed immediately and saw the tears brimming in Hermione's eyes. "Of course, Hermione."
The Great Hall
At dinner, Hermione and Remus both picked at the food on their plates. Although it was the first day, Remus looked as if he was ready to call it quits and hide away in a cave. Hermione, on the other hand, remained fairly put together. Her lack of appetite had disappeared with the rising anxiety over the topic she was about to bring up.
"So," she said, speaking for the first time that meal. "I'm going to be gone for a little bit tonight. Need to work out some tension."
Although she hadn't lifted her head from her plate, Sirius looked absolutely ecstatic. "Do you want me to go with you? We could spar like last time."
"No!" Hermione immediately looked up. "I mean, I appreciate it, but no. I've been remiss about this whole thing. I shouldn't have been so dependent; I shouldn't have relied on… other people for so long." Hermione didn't dare speak Regulus' name.
"There's nothing wrong with needing help, Hermione." Sirius said, looking dejected.
"I know," she smiled sadly. "It would make me feel better, I think, if I could do this alone. I really do appreciate the offer, Sirius. And, you know what, if tonight doesn't work out how I want, you can help me tomorrow."
Sirius brightened up a bit and his objection was dropped. He even waved her off when she left to retreat to the Room of Requirement.
Hermione counted her lucky stars that the boys didn't know about the room and that they didn't have the Map. Despite all the rotten luck she'd had, the universe was allowing her this time with Regulus.
The Slytherin in question was already in the room when Hermione arrived.
Regulus conjured a chair just in time to collapse into it. Hermione fell to the ground at her feet, grinning despite the ache already setting into her limbs. She leaned on Regulus' leg and let her eyes close. The pair silent as their breathing slowed and quieted.
"Well, that was especially…"
"I was going to say insane."
"Eh, same thing." Hermione looked up at Regulus and smirked. "Are you okay?"
"Me? Yeah, all good. Nothing a few glamours can't cover up." Regulus took a deep breath and let it out, dropping his head back and closing his eyes.
"You know I appreciate you, right?" Hermione reached up and squeezed his calf.
"I know," said Regulus without moving. "Did they give you any trouble?"
"Nothing I couldn't handle." Hermione smirked to herself but the arrogance on her lips quickly slipped away. Regulus seemed to sense her change in demeanor as he leaned forward and shifted in his chair, reaching out to massage Hermione's shoulders. "This is going to catch up to us, won't it."
"Maybe. Maybe not."
Hermione tried not to think of Sirius' reaction if he ever found out she was still seeing Regulus. She knew that she had no real reason to stay away from Regulus – it wasn't like Sirius' anger was grounded in reason – but she knew the animosity between the brothers was real. She knew Regulus would never ask her to choose between himself and Sirius, no matter how difficult things became. He would never want to put her in a position in which she felt she had no choice. He would be tempted sure, but he would never ask.
Sirius, though. Hermione thought of the man she knew – the man whose chosen brother had been taken from him, the man betrayed by the greatest wizard alive, the man who spent twelve years drowning in his own personal hell only emerging to fall headfirst back into war. And when she thought of the boy she was getting to know, she saw a brave boy, alone but determined to follow the light. If this man, this boy found out, he would ask her to choose. And as much as she hated that, she couldn't fault him for it.
"You'll be back tomorrow?" Regulus' voice brought her back.
"Of course." Regulus rose to his feet and helped Hermione up before grabbing his belongings and heading to the door. "Wouldn't miss it for the world, Granger."
"See you around, Black."
Hermione watched Regulus leave, the door dissolving back into the walls. The fire in her veins was down to an ember, and she felt her grasp on control strengthened. In these moments she saw the world with a strange clarity. At times it almost felt as if she truly understood the events and magic that had brought her back in time. The warm weight of the moonstone necklace strung around her throat offered a reminder of her anchor. She had long since given up trying to activate the stone. It seemed Dumbledore was correct in his assumption that the stone would carry her as it pleased.
As Hermione made her way to the prefects' bathroom to wash away the aftermath of her time with Regulus, she barely registered the slight tapping of shoes following her. Before she turned to face her follower, a voice spoke.
"Miss Granger, a word." Hermione breathed a sigh of relief as she gazed upon the twinkling eyes of Albus Dumbledore.
"Tomorrow evening, Professor McGonagall will hold meetings with your fellow Gryffindor seventh years to discuss the path that begins after Hogwarts."
"Yes, quite." Something flickered in the headmaster's eyes that raised the hairs on the back of Hermione's neck. "If you wouldn't mind, Miss Granger, I think it would be best if you joined me in my office during this time."
"Okay," Hermione blinked. "Yes, Headmaster, I will be there."
"Splendid." Dumbledore smiled and walked away without another word. Hermione shook her head to clear her mind and continued on her way.
As she bathed she pondered what she would say to Dumbledore. In truth, she hadn't given much thought as to what she wanted to do after Hogwarts, even back in her own time. There always seemed to be something more important to think about, and of course, since she and the boys had gone on the run, the last thing Hermione had thought about was career possibilities. But she was in 1978 now, she was actually attending her seventh year and would be taking her NEWT exams soon. Depending on her scores, she had a wide possibility of choices. Of course, she would stay close to London, close to wherever the Order would be headquartered, but beyond those specifics she was open to anything. And maybe, perhaps, Dumbledore already had a plan for her.
Hermione's thoughts shifted to the upcoming exams, and she found herself repeating potion ingredients under her breath when she finally returned to the Gryffindor common room. She sat down next to Peter, who was shuffling through his collection of chocolate frog cards.
"Peter?" The boy beside her grunted in response so she continued. "Do you know what you want to do after graduation?"
"You mean like a party? Or going to a pub?"
"No, I meant career-wise."
"Oh." Peter shifted in his seat. "Er, I used to think I'd just work for my dad, but I dunno if that's going to happen."
"Yeah, I dunno if I'd be interested in all that."
"Boring work?" Hermione tried to remember if she had ever heard about Peter having a job.
"No, it's not that. I mean it's nothing exciting either." Peter shrugged. "No, it's more his customers. Don't think I'd like to put up with them."
Hermione was silent. Were these customers Death Eaters? Was this the beginning of the end? Hermione cursed herself for not finding out why Pettigrew had turned to Voldemort.
"What about you?" Peter was speaking again.
"Do you know what you want to do?"
"Oh, no. Not really."
They didn't speak anymore, just sat together until Hermione excused herself for bed. It was strange, talking about the future as if it hadn't happened yet. And yet here she was, thinking about what she was going to do in the coming years as if she didn't already know that darkness lurked just around the corner, as if she had the capability to change fate.
Hermione hated that word. Granted she hadn't always. When she was a little girl, she used to read stories about princesses and hope fate had such adventure in store for her. But no, Hermione had grown to hate the word almost as soon as she entered the wizarding world. She had cursed fate almost every day of her first term at Hogwarts. She cursed fate for leading her to Hogwarts but not giving her friends. She cursed fate for not giving her magical parents. She cursed fate for targeting Harry. No, as far as Hermione was concerned, there was no fate. Only chance. And dammit, Hermione was going to start taking control of life again.
22 March 1978
"WHAT?!" Hermione's voice echoed around the room.
"I truly am sorry, my dear. Lemon drop?"
Hermione could only stare at the old man before her, fire ablaze in her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, but the words would just not come.
"Miss Granger, I'm afraid you have no other option."
"So, what? I'm just supposed to go look for work in the muggle world? Is that it?"
"I'm sure there are still plenty of jobs to be had in our world."
"I'm not going to be a waitress!" Hermione was shouting again. Her inner wolf was starting to feed off the anger she felt. She needed to leave soon, needed to see Regulus.
"Miss Granger, do calm yourself." Twinkling-Eyed Dumbledore was gone. "You must realize the position you are in. A muggle-born witch-" Hermione scoffed. "-with no family, no history, no registration with the Ministry. You might recall that you aren't supposed to be here? In addition, you find yourself with an affliction very much looked down upon in society. Your options are going to be limited."
"What, so, beggars can't be choosers, is that what you're telling me?"
"Couldn't have said it better myself?" He had the audacity to smile. "Of course, you will have to remain close. It wouldn't be safe for you to go off gallivanting around the world." Those hairs on the back of Hermione's neck prickled again.
"Are you sure I can't tempt you to a lemon drop?" Hermione looked down upon the offered bowl with a sneer that rivaled Draco Malfoy at his worst.
"No, sir. Thank you, sir. I think I'll be off now." It was all she could do not to run screaming from the room.
Three hours later found Hermione and Regulus once again catching their breaths.
"Are you going to tell me what's bothering you?" Hermione shook her head, but Regulus pressed on. "Is it my brother?"
"No, for once it's not Sirius. Though I almost wish it was." Hermione held up her fists again, ready for another round. Regulus didn't move, just looked at her pointedly.
"You know you can tell me, right? I mean who am I going to tell?" Hermione deflated somewhat but maintained her defensive position.
"No, I know. It's just—it has to do with my past."
"Yeah." Hermione dropped her hands.
"And you don't want to talk about it?"
"No, I-I can't. Please don't think I'm keeping something from you, Regulus. I just really can't talk about it."
"I understand." Regulus picked his hands up. Hermione did, too.
"I hope you do." She bounced on her toes before launching toward Regulus.
They fought in silence.
"Will you be okay?"
"I hope so."
A/N: Please review! Let me know what you think!