A/N: Sorry, this chapter had been hell to write. A bit embarrassed to admit that I practically forced it into compliant, since exam period starts in less than a week and as soon as it does, I probably won't be able to write anything until September.
Neither Hermione nor Remus slept that night. Remus, being the one better off out of the duo, snuck to the Library and picked up every book he could find about werewolves. They spent the night reading through them and by the time morning arrived, they were both tired yet very much enlightened.
The way they understood it, while the wolf was the one who chose who to Mark, the chosen person had to accept it for the link to live up to its full potential. If they didn't, the Mark would fade away until, eventually, it could be mistaken as an odd birthmark if one didn't know better
Remus and Hermione, however, did know better. And, more importantly than that, while Hermione was all up to not accepting the bond between them and letting it fade to the background, Remus wasn't so sure.
Logically, he knew he should ignore the link. Emerald was with Gideon, the two of them were undeniably happy together, and he shouldn't let the wolf ruin what little good Hermione had.
Merlin knew she deserved every last bit of it.
On the other hand… as much as he wanted to see Emerald happy, he was also very much selfish, and the only person he wanted to see her happy with was himself.
It would have been so much simpler if they didn't have a choice of what to do next. The wolves had made their choice already, and if they were able to leave it at that he'd have none of the problems he currently did. But life weren't ever so simple.
When Gideon came to visit in the morning, Remus glanced at Emerald one last time before heading out to breakfast.
"Hey," Gideon said, sitting down next to Hermione and brushing a stray curl away from her eyes. "How are you?"
"Tired," Hermione replied. "Sore." She hesitated for a minute before adding, "Worried."
Gideon frowned. "Worried?" he repeated, confused. "Why?"
Wordlessly, Hermione moved her gown to show the Mark present on her collarbone. Gideon looked at it for several long moments before turning to look back at her.
"Yes," she said simply.
Gideon didn't say anything for a while before speaking again. "Does he have one, too?"
Hermione swallowed hard. "Yes."
They fell into silence again, and Hermione wondered how it didn't drive him mad the same way it drove her. Then again, she thought to herself, he wasn't confined to bed for as long as she had.
She was sure at least ten minutes had passed before she spoke again.
"Gideon," she sighed. "Gid, say something."
"What am I supposed to say?" Gideon asked. He didn't sound angry, and that was the worst part. She wanted him to scream, to curse, to be mad at her, to be mad at Remus. Instead, he sounded tired and resigned. "Please, Emerald, tell me what I'm supposed to say because I have absolutely no idea. I'm out of my depth here."
"I didn't want this to happen –"
"You didn't," Gideon agreed. "And honestly, I don't believe Remus did and even if he wanted, he's far too respectful to do something like that when you have a boyfriend. But Luna did. And Moony did."
"I…" Hermione swallowed. "Gid, I don't have to accept it. I can decide I don't want it and it'll just fade. It'll be nothing more special than a birthmark."
"Yes, it will," Gideon said. "Because you know it is. And I… I'll always know it is."
"I need some time, Emerald," Gideon said, standing up. "I know this wasn't planned, and that you didn't want it, but it happened and now we have to face the consequences."
"What consequences?" Hermione asked. Tears started burning in her eyes but she pushed them back down, fighting to keep looking at her boyfriend. "Gideon, this doesn't have to change anything!"
"That's just it, Em," Gideon sighed as he walked out of the room, not looking back at her. "It already had."
The following night, well past curfew, Hermione stumbled back through the portrait after having gone to visit Gideon in the rooms he shared with his twin. Fabe took one look at the couple before deciding to call it an early night.
In retrospective, Hermione doubted he managed to get much sleep what with the yelling match that took place in the living room of the quarters.
If Hermione knew that the Marauders would wait up for her, she might have stopped in the bathroom to wash over the tear marks left on her cheeks or cast a glamour charm to hide her red eyes. As it was, she didn't, and the four all but jumped at her with questions when they saw her distressed state, only stepping back slightly when she told them that she and Gideon broke up.
"Well, think of the bright side," Sirius said as he sat down by her side in the Common Room. "At least you don't have to go to his classes anymore, since you won the War Zone."
"I really don't think that's helpful, Pads," Remus said, wanting to pull Emerald into a hug but also understanding that she probably didn't want or need it at the moment.
After all, he – or rather, Moony and Luna – had been the main reason for the breakup.
"Well," James tried, "Just a few more weeks to bear with, then. As soon as the year's over, we have two months of never having to think of this castle again."
"For you, maybe," Hermione muttered into the pillow she was hugging. "I'm not exactly sure what's gonna happen, but I think I'll stay here."
"What?" Sirius looked positively horrified at the idea of spending summer vacation in school. "Why?"
"Don't exactly have anywhere to go, have I?" Hermione asked. "No family to go to. No friends who can take me in."
"But… what about Christmas?" Peter asked. "You didn't stay here during Christmas, did you?"
"Gid and I went to visit Molly," Hermione explained. "I don't believe I'm unwelcomed there now, per se, but staying with my ex's sister might not be the best idea at the moment."
"Well, that just won't do," James said. "You'll stay with me – simple as that."
"James, I couldn't –"
"Why not?" James asked. "It's not like we have a lack of space. You've been to my place, you know what it's like."
"I don't want it to feel like charity," Hermione replied. "The rich boy taking in the poor orphan because she has nowhere else to go to…"
"That's not what it is," James said. "You know that, Emma. That's not how I think about you."
"I know," Hermione said. "But that's how it'll feel like."
The four Marauders fell into deep thought as Hermione curled herself even tighter into a ball, trying to block them out. She knew James offered what he did with the best of intentions, but she couldn't bring herself to accept. She always prided herself for working for what she had, and this was the exact opposite.
"Stay with me, then."
Hermione sighed as she looked up at Sirius. "We go back to the same spot," she said. "Look, I don't need charity –"
"Who said you're charity?" Sirius asked. "Alright, just hear me out. I got a load of money from my Uncle Alphard so I'm getting my own place, but I know I'm gonna be rubbish at actually being able to live on my own. You'll stay with me, cook, and maybe pitch in a bit for the food if you can get a job. Not charity if you earn your worth, is it?"
"Sirius, I really can't accept something like that," Hermione said.
"Good thing I'm not asking then, is it?" Sirius asked. "Go to Dumbledore, I'm sure he'll be able to help you sort out a job. Something at Diagon Alley, or maybe even Hogsmeade."
"Sirius, I…" Hermione swallowed hard. "I don't know what to say."
"'Thank you' is usually the common response," Sirius replied. "Next weekend's a Hogsmeade weekend, we'll ask McGonagall for permission to go search for a nice flat. I'm thinking London, maybe even a Muggle area…"
"In the meanwhile," Remus said, cutting into his friend's musing, "You should probably get some sleep. Still a school day tomorrow, and I don't think McGonagall will let you out of Hogsmeade if you fall asleep in her class."
Hermione didn't remember going back up to her room, changing to her nightgown or falling on her bed, but she knew she was asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.
Hermione stood nervously in front of the pub, debating whether or not she should walk inside.
She knew it was the smartest thing to do. She knew the chances that anybody else would agree to hire a werewolf were slim to none. But there was something so unwelcoming about this place that she want sure if it was worth it.
You can't live in Sirius' place for free, she told herself. You're a Gryffindor, for Merlin's sake – walk inside and act like it.
She didn't feel much of a Gryffindor as she walked through the doors and into the Hog's Head, Aberforth's eyes fixating on her immediately.
It seemed to be a slow day in the place. There were only two patrons sitting next to table, yet neither of them paid any attention to the young woman who walked in or the old man who marked her to come closer and sit on one of the stools.
Hermione obediently took her place, waiting silently for Aberforth to talk. He seemed to look her up and down, silently assessing and judging her before speaking.
"So," he finally said. "I ain't gonna lie to you, girl. This job's rough. The costumers are nasty. Most of the kind that goes here are the type that Rosmerta won't let in since they'll only cause trouble. These are the people who pay here, and these are the people who'll give the money for your salary if you work here. So don't bother if you're not ready to deal with them."
"I'm ready to deal with them," Hermione said immediately. When Aberforth looked less than convinced, she added, "I know it's not going to be an easy job. I never expected any differently. But I'm willing to work for my pay."
"Do yourself a favour and leave it alone, girl," Aberforth told her. "This isn't a good job – not in general and not for someone like you. Walk out, go a couple steps back and ask Rosmerta if she needed more staff."
"I…" Hermione started, only to pause in shock. "Dumbledore didn't tell you?"
"The only thing Albus told me is that he wanted to set up a job interview for a student who needs some extra cash," Aberforth said. "He didn't say anything about her apparently being made of porcelain or looking so thin that she should stay inside on a windy day or she'll be thrown away."
Hermione swallowed hard. "I can't get a job at the Three Broomsticks," she said. "Or at any other shop here in Hogsmeade – or at Diagon Alley, for that matter."
"Really?" Aberforth asked. "And why would that be?"
"Well, you see, most people have a slight issue with their worker being forced to skip job a week a month."
For the first time since she walked through the door, Hermione felt like Aberforth wasn't looking at her like she was nothing more than a child.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Emerald Grey," she replied.
"Lie," Aberforth stated. "What's your real name?"
"I…" Hermione hesitated before replying. "Hermione Granger. But I go by Emerald."
"How old are you?"
"I'll be twenty come September."
"And how long ago were you…"
"Less than a year." Aberforth was silent again, so Hermione went on, "I don't need 'some extra cash'. I need money so that I don't have to count on school funds to pay for my books next year. I need money to buy myself clothes that are my own. I need money so that I could stay at my friend's house without feeling like I was accepting charity."
Aberforth sighed, glancing at the patrons for a moment before speaking again.
"One pound per hour," he said. "Weekends are non-negotiable as long as it's not the day of the moon or two following it. That means Friday and Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. You'll get paid at the end of every shift, and you can keep the tips if you get any – but I doubt that you would. How long till the year ends?"
"Three weeks, sir," Hermione replied.
"Then I expect to see you here in three weeks and a day so I can teach you the job," Aberforth informed her in a tone that left no place for argument. "And don't call me 'sir', it makes me feel older than I already am. 'Aberforth' or even just 'Ab' should be fine. Any questions?"
"No, si- no."
"Good," the old man nodded sharply. "Off you go, now. No need to stay here and waste my time until you at least get paid for it. Oh, and one more thing," he added, making Hermione turn to look at him. "You mess with the goats, you're out the door before you can say 'Butterbeer'. Am I clear?"
"Crystal," Hermione nodded, a small smile playing on her lips. "And, Aberforth? Thank you."
"Don't mention it," Aberforth replied. "Seriously, don't. Can't let people say I've gone soft."
"Of course not," Hermione smiled, walking out of the pub.
It may not be the best job out there, but Hermione couldn't deny that working at the Hog's Head was going to be an interesting experience.
"Are you okay?"
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. There's no need to be anything but okay, right? It's just… it's just a train."
Hermione stood nervously, looking at the Hogwarts Express. In just a couple of minutes, the train will take off towards London and the summer vacation will officially start. The end of the year feast was already done with, the exam grades had arrived and all that was left to do now was board the train – a simple action Hermione seemed to be unable to do.
Remus standing as close to her as he did didn't help, either. All it did was make her think of another train ride, years ago… or a few decades into the future, depends on how you look at it.
"Emerald?" Remus repeated, snapping her out of her thoughts.
"I'm… I'm fine," she repeated, not believing herself any more than any of the others did.
"How long had it been since you last boarded a train?" James asked.
"I… two years, give or take," Hermione replied. "Yeah, about two years, I think."
The train ride after Dumbledore died. The train ride where they all sat in complete silence, each of them grieving in their own way.
"Take a deep breath," Sirius instructed. "It's just for a couple of hours and then we're in London. The flat's less than five minutes by foot from King's Cross."
Just a couple of hours until she's in the flat. Just a couple of hours until summer starts.
Only a day before she starts working at the Hog's Head.
"Okay," she finally said. "Okay. I'm good now."
Slowly, she set a hesitant foot on the train and pulled herself up, walking inside.
"See?" Remus asked. "Not so bad, is it?"
"Ask me again after it starts moving."
It didn't take them nearly as long as Hermione expected to find a place to sit considering how late they were to board the train. The Marauders seemed used to it, however, having no trouble in finding a place for all of them.
Hermione sat down, trying to decide whether or not to pull out a book to pass the time and calm her nerves when Sirius spoke.
"Oi! Nerds!" he called out, looking at Hermione and Remus. "Don't you dare start reading a book now. We have chess, we have exploding snap and we have snacks. You two are part of the group, get used to it."
"Are all train rides like that?" Hermione asked quietly.
"With Sirius?" Remus asked. "Always."
Less than an hour had passed before Hermione started hoping she'd have stuck to her book. The group was loud, and while the noise helped to keep her mind away from the memory of the previous time she boarded a train, the Marauders were exhausting.
If to judge by the look on Remus' face, he felt the same. Especially considering the full moon wasn't too far away.
When they arrived to King's Cross station, the Marauders had to physically shake Hermione awake before she finally relented and stood up, wiping sleep from her eyes. She followed them out of the train only to be stopped by a thin hand that grasped her arm.
She wasn't sure who was the most surprised when she turned to see Snape – him, her, or the Marauders.
"Go outside," she told Sirius. "I'll see you soon."
Sirius hesitated for a moment before nodding, walking out and leaving Hermione alone with the Slytherin. Severus waited until Sirius was completely out of sight before speaking.
"I wanted to propose the option that we might set to meet at some point during the summer," he said, sounding like it physically pained him to even offer. "I… it's proving to be difficult to find a… passable partner for intelligent conversation even during the school year, and I'd like to avoid the possibility of my brain rotting due to lack of use."
Hermione smiled softly. "I'd love that," she said. "Though the first few weeks will be difficult, what with work and the…" she trailed off, but Snape nodded curtly.
"I'll owl you soon, then," he stated.
"I'll look forward to it," Hermione said. She hesitated for a moment before reaching out her hand for him to shake. "Have a nice summer, Severus."
"I very much doubt that I will," Snape replied dryly, grasping her hand in his for no longer than the minimum amount of time needed to maintain politeness. "Have a nice summer, Grey."
"Thank you," Hermione replied, smiling one last time before following Sirius out of the train.
Once on the platform, it didn't take her long to track the four boys. She moved closer to them, only recognizing the couple they stood next to when she nearly arrived.
"Dorea," she greeted politely. "Charlus."
"Emerald," Dorea greeted back with a warm smile, while her husband nodded shortly towards the girl. "We've been wondering where you'd disappeared to."
"I just made plan with a friend to meet over summer," Hermione replied, ignoring Sirius' horrified look – whether because she referred to Snape as a friend or because she had agreed to meet with him, she didn't know. "Not for a few more weeks, though."
"Yes," Charlus commented. "I trust you'll be arriving to the Manor with Remus, then?"
"If you're certain it's fine with you –"
"Of course it's fine," Charlus waved her concern away. "We'll see you in a few weeks, then. We should get going now," he added to his wife and James.
"Yes, of course," Dorea said. "Remus, we're escorting you home, aren't we?"
"Yes," Remus replied, smiling at his friends. "See you soon, then."
"See you soon, mate," Sirius smiled back. "Hope you idiots know you're invited to the flat whenever you want, yeah? Don't want the first time I'll see you to be in the Manor."
"Careful," Remus joked. "I just might hold you to this."
"Be my guest," Sirius said with such sincerity that Hermione couldn't help but smile.
Maybe this summer won't be so bad, after all.
End of Part 1.
Tell me what you think of the chapter and what you hope to see in the next part, and hopefully I'll see you soon.