Thank you to the fabulous Glittergrrrl05 for her beta work on this story. Her newest story is just hilarious - Venus Ascendant. You should check it out!
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed, favorited, and followed this flight of fancy.
HP and the HP Universe are the property of JK Rowling and her assigns. I receive no monetary compensation from this story.
Regulus held the letter an unfamiliar owl dropped before flying away immediately. He knew the handwriting and, with a great deal of trepidation, he broke the seal.
I know we haven't spoken for a year, but I thought you should know that Mary has had the baby. We have named her Catriona Pleiades Black. She was the first baby of the New Year in the wizarding world. I hope you will come meet your niece.
Always your brother,
Regulus dropped the letter as if it were on fire. He was an uncle - and to a half-blood, no less. He heard his mother coming to his door, and he hastily retrieved and folded the letter, making his way to the fireplace.
"Regulus, dear, who was that letter from? I didn't recognize the owl."
After dropping the missive in the fire, Regulus turned to face her. "Just a school friend. You know him, Severus Snape. He was confirming our lunch plans for tomorrow."
"Oh, yes. Severus, of course." His mother dismissed the matter. "Now, Regulus, we need to talk about your betrothal. I have two witches in mind…."
Regulus carried on the conversation with only half a mind. He was making plans to visit his niece the next day.
Harry rubbed his face tiredly and looked back at the two-way mirror. "Sirius, it wasn't like the papers made it sound."
"Harry, it doesn't matter how it really was. It matters how the papers made it sound. If Hermione were a half-blood from a major house or a pureblood, you'd be engaged right now."
"Really, Sirius? You know Hermione better than that. She'd refuse to be engaged on the basis of some antiquated notion about me being in the same room with her. It's bollocks, and you know it."
Sirius looked unconvinced.
"We slept in the same tent for months. Why wasn't someone screaming about engagement then?" Harry rubbed his forehead as if to scrub away an unwanted image. "And why are you yelling at me? I was trying to help!"
"The tent wasn't in the papers. And you might get a pass because of the war hero stuff, but she won't. You can't let anyone know about the tent, Harry. Anyone. She'd be ruined. And you aren't going to get any more passes. Like it or not, you both need to think about settling down after this year."
Draco chose that moment to return. "Can we talk about this later?" Harry did not want to carry on this conversation with his godfather in Draco's presence.
"No, we really can't. Hermione doesn't have a family to protect her, Harry. Minerva and Molly will do the best they can, but if these vicious reports keep making it to the paper, her reputation will be savaged."
"She's not going to accept being 'protected,' Sirius. Hermione is the most talented witch I know. She can take care of herself." Harry knew Hermione better than anyone else, and he knew she'd react poorly to being coddled.
Malfoy interrupted the conversation. "She may think she can, but if her reputation is ruined, she'll have a hard time finding a job. Shacklebolt can probably get her on at the Ministry, but she won't go far. "
"I didn't ask you, Malfoy." The last person Harry wanted interference from was his roommate.
Sirius spoke from the mirror. "As much as I don't want to say this, he's right, Harry."
Flabbergasted, Harry shot back at his godfather, "Have we fallen back in time a hundred years? You have to be kidding me."
"Regardless, Molly and I will be in Hogsmeade tomorrow. You and Hermione meet us for lunch at the Three Broomsticks, at half twelve. We'll get this sorted out."
Putting the mirror down, Harry threw himself on his bed. "Bugger. This is bloody unfair." Sirius and Molly Weasley? Together? Bloody hell, this is probably worse than I thought.
"Welcome to the peacetime real life of a well-known wizard, Potter. Sucks, doesn't it?" Malfoy's voice floated over to him from across the room. Harry resisted the urge to send him the two-finger salute.
The Room of Requirement
Harry paced the corridor in front of the Room of Requirement, asking for a place for the four of them to talk comfortably. After the third pass, the door appeared and they entered to find a smaller version of their common room.
"Alright, Malfoy, we're here. What did you want to talk about?" He was still short-tempered from his conversation with Sirius that afternoon.
Draco responded in kind. "Nice, Potter. I'm trying to do you two a favor, and you can't even be polite."
Hermione, who had yet to hear of the discussion with Sirius, grabbed Harry's arm. "Be nice, Harry." She turned to Draco. "Malfoy, please, what is it you want to tell us?"
"First, I'd like to suggest that we agree to tell one another the truth tonight. I have truth serum, but it won't force your answer like Veritaserum." He looked at the two Gryffindors specifically and gestured to the vials he had just placed on the table. "Trust isn't a commodity we have in abundance, is it?" He smirked at them. "Each of you choose a vial; I'll take the one left over."
All four students chose a vial and took the potions; they waited a few moments for it to take effect.
"I think I know who sold you out; I just don't know why." Draco dove in without preamble.
"How?" Harry and Hermione chorused.
"What are you two? Twins? Soul mates?" Draco smirked at the Gryffindors. His mouth turned up on the side, Draco continued. "I saw someone watching while you two were talking the other night." At their questioning looks, he continued. "It was either Abbott or Patil; I could see her from looking from their room, #5."
"Which one?" Hermione asked.
Draco shook his head. "I couldn't tell. Just saw one of them from the door."
Harry asked the question he'd wanted to ask from the time Draco began. "Why are you telling us, Malfoy?"
"I can't be a good friend, Potter?"
"You'll forgive us if that's not exactly a side we've seen from you, Malfoy," He repeated his question. "Now, why are you telling us?"
Draco and Daphne exchanged a long look.
Daphne spoke up first. "Draco and I are scheduled to be married next summer."
"What? I didn't know…" Hermione's voice trailed off as Daphne shook her head in the negative.
"It's an arranged marriage. The contracts have been signed since our first year." Draco picked up the tale. "But neither of us want to marry each other."
"What do you want, Malfoy?" Harry still didn't see how this had any bearing on him and Hermione.
"We'd like Granger's help," Draco answered. "We need to find a way out, if possible. And if anyone can find a loophole," he turned to Hermione, "you can."
"So this is some kind of quid pro quo? I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine?" Hermione needed to know exactly what she was getting herself into. She turned to Daphne. "And were you being friends with me so I'd help you?" Hermione tried to keep the hurt out of her tone.
Daphne's normally serene expression cracked. "Actually, no. I've always thought you were an interesting person, and I wanted to have a friend."
Hermione blanched. "I'm sorry. I…I wasn't trying to hurt you or anything. I'm just feeling very, exposed, right now." Harry couldn't take it anymore. He reached over to Hermione and grabbed her hand and squeezed it. Hard. Hermione turned her attention to Draco. "So that was your play – that's why you asked me on a date? You wanted to get on my good side, did you?"
Harry watched Draco's face, but the blonde remained impassive. "Part of the reason, Granger. But not the whole of it."
"I knew you were up to something. Did it occur to either of you to simply ask for my help?"
"They're Slytherin, Hermione; that's not how things work in their house." Harry surprised them all with his insight.
Hermione cocked her head, considering the Slytherins. Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Fine. I'll do the research, see if I can find a way to break the betrothal contract. I'd have done it anyway, but since you're offering, I need to know who sold us out to the papers."
"Potter, have you told her what you heard this afternoon?" Draco asked, amusement lurking in his eyes.
"What's he talking about, Harry?" The alarm in her voice was impossible to mask.
"You wanker. You couldn't have given me a minute?" Harry glared at Draco before turning to Hermione. "I was going to tell you tonight, but I was going to wait until we had some privacy." He couldn't believe he was going to have to have this conversation in front of Draco and Daphne. But in fairness, their classmates would probably be able to answer questions much better than he could.
"Do we need privacy for it?"
Harry ran his fingers through his perpetually messy hair. "Yes. No. Maybe. Hell, Hermione, I don't know."
"That was helpful, Harry. Very specific."
"They can probably answer some questions you're going to have. Hell, I think you've got a better handle on some of this than I do. But Sirius and Molly are coming to Hogsmeade tomorrow. They want us to have lunch with them. Sirius is worried there might be repercussions from the newspaper article."
"Repercussions? Nothing happened. There won't be any repercussions." Hermione was thinking of much more tangible things than her reputation.
Harry took his glasses off and squeezed the bridge of his nose. "Not that kind of repercussion, Hermione." He sighed. "Sirius, and I guess Molly, too, are worried about our reputations, but mostly yours." He put his glasses back on and rubbed his forehead.
"But, that's just…preposterous! Everyone could see that - "
"You were sitting in your bed in Potter's arms, and he was half-naked," Draco interrupted her protest.
"But that's not what -"
"Granger, that's exactly what happened. It doesn't matter that clearly nothing was going on. It just matters that it was reported he was in your bed, not fully dressed."
"Malfoy, stop. Hermione, you just needed to know what some people are thinking. We'll find a way to mute the criticism." Harry really wanted this dreadful conversation done.
"Honestly, this is ridiculous. Why would my reputation suffer for something like this, even if something happened, which it didn't?"
"Hermione," Daphne said, trying to get her attention, "you're Muggle-born, and that's got you at a disadvantage. You're famous. And because you are, you're going to be expected to behave in a certain prescribed manner. And it's not like the Muggle world."
"That's not fair."
"No, it's not, but it's how things are, Hermione," Daphne answered.
"Daphne, I'm out of cover-up. I can't let Molly or even Harry see these black circles under my eyes. What am I going to do?" Hermione's voice started to pitch higher as she began to worry in earnest about their reaction.
"Calm down, Hermione, we can fix this." Daphne got out her wand and began working. Some of the spells she'd been trying recently had actually been working; maybe they'd get lucky today. "Harry? Is he even going to notice one way or the other?"
Hermione gave Daphne an arch look. "Harry, the boy who lived? He tends to notice more than you think, and he's been paying close attention because he's worried about me."
"I think there's more to it than that. He –" a scratching at the window caught her attention. "What is that?"
"Pig!" Hermione hurried over to let in Ron's hapless owl, who fluttered around, making it almost impossible to get the letter off his leg.
"Its' name is Pig?" Daphne thought she must have misunderstood.
"It's Ron's owl," Hermione tossed over her shoulder as she finally managed to get the letter off his leg.
"Ohhhhh." Daphne had the 'and now it's all clear to me' expression on her face. "Ron. That explains a lot."
Just writing. Saw the rubbish in the paper today. Mum is going to help you get this all sorted, you'll see. But, be careful. Sounds like somebody's got it in for you and maybe Harry too.
Try-outs start Monday. I'll know by Friday if I made the team.
Write when you get the chance. Tell me what's going on. If things get bad, I'll come up. I'll not let you get hurt again.
"What did he say?" Daphne saw Hermione's small smile. "He always comes across like such a –" she stopped at Hermione's expectant and warning look, "sort of goofy guy. And you're so much smarter than him. You don't seem like natural friends, that's all." She added hastily, "and I mean that in the nicest possible way."
"I knew what you meant. But you don't survive a troll together as first years without becoming friends."
"I can see that – wait, a troll?" Daphne's wand paused in mid-air above Hermione's face. "You know what, never mind. I'll take your word for it."
"I thought you might."
"Alright, let's get on with this. Swish and flick. Wait. That sort of worked, Hermione. You try. Remember to say the words."
Hermione attempted the beauty spell. It worked. "Daphne, it worked! It worked!"
Daphne inspected Hermione's face. No sign of the bags under her eyes remained. "You're right, it did. Now we just need to see how long it lasts. And check your face while you're out to refresh it if you need to."
At the same time
A line appeared, running to the side from Sirius's picture, and a name and picture of a beautiful witch materialized. Mary Catriona MacDonald. And between their names, another line began to appear, this time quite faint.
Of course, no one noticed because there was no one at home, and even if there had been, Sirius tended to avoid the room at all costs.
On the Road to Hogsmeade
Hermione and Harry decided to walk to Hogsmeade rather than Floo. It was a surprisingly clear day and even balmy for the time of year.
Harry deliberated saying something to Hermione about her lack of sleep. It was too early in the year for school work to be causing the bags he'd started to notice under her eyes. They weren't in evidence today, but he'd seen them under her Muggle make-up this week.
"Why aren't you sleeping, Hermione?"
"What? I mean, I am."
"No, you're not." Harry stopped in the middle of the road. "Don't insult my intelligence or our friendship, Hermione. I know when my best friend isn't rested, even if she's not screaming in the middle of the night." At Hermione's slightly guilty look, he continued, "But you are, aren't you? You've just cast a silencio or a muffliato so we don't hear anymore."
Hermione deflated a bit at his comment. Merlin's balls, she thought she'd covered her interrupted sleep well. "How did you know?"
"I have eyes, Hermione. I may wear glasses, but I see you. And I notice everything about you." His hand moved up to tuck a flyaway lock of hair behind her ear. "So, do you want to tell me what's going on or am I going to have to make you tell me?"
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. "Like you could make me do anything, Harry Potter."
"You think I couldn't?" Harry took a step closer, invading her personal space. She either had to stand her ground and accept it or take a step back; taking a step back was tantamount to a surrender. But standing her ground meant being tantalizingly close to him. Hermione felt her breathing quicken and grow more shallow. When she didn't step back, he leaned down until his mouth was right beside her ear. "You might hex me into next week, but I'll still find out."
Hermione had had enough. She lifted her foot to step back and regain her emotional equilibrium, but he showed exactly why he was a Seeker when he encircled her with his strong arms before she could complete the movement. Whiskey brown eyes clashed with emerald green.
"Harry, what are you doing? You're starting to make me feel uncomfortable."
"I'm getting answers; I need to know what's going on." He loosened his grip just a bit. "And I'm not trying to make you feel uncomfortable." He kept one hand around her waist and used the other to brush the loose locks of hair back from her face again. "But I'm on your side; I want to help, and I can't do that if I don't know what's going on."
Hermione gnawed on her bottom lip. She didn't want to admit it, but the dreams were getting worse. Maybe the councilor they had to start seeing on Monday would be helpful. But she didn't trust this unknown councilor; she trusted Harry. "The dreams are getting worse. It's not always Bellatrix torturing me anymore." She furiously blinked back tears. "I'm dreaming about my parents and being ripped from them, except it's like I'm a baby when it happens. And I get this feeling that you're gone. That I had you, and then you disappeared." She wiped away a stray tear and stared off into the distance.
"Oh, Godric. Hermione." Harry moved his hands from her waist, cupped her face, and tilted her chin up so that he could look her in the eyes. "I'll never leave you. Know that." His brain screamed caution, but his heart was yelling for something else. So, he leaned down on and gently pressed a kiss to her lips. He meant for it to be a chaste kiss between friends, but their lips caught and held for just a moment too long. His head won out, and he pulled back just before it might become too uncomfortable when it ended. As much as he wanted more from her, he would not risk their friendship. "We'll figure out what's causing these dreams and we'll make it better."
He moved back to give them both a bit of breathing room and remembered their lunch appointment. "I think we need to hurry; it's almost half twelve."
"Yes, of course. We can apparate." With loud pops, they appeared in front of the Three Broomsticks, where Molly and Sirius waited outside.
Molly enveloped Hermione in the soft smell of a mother with her hug. "My girl. How are you holding up? You're too thin. Aren't you eating?"
"I'm fine, Molly, I promise."
"Let's go in. Madame Rosmerta reserved her small side room for us." Sirius shepherded them all into the restaurant; there was a strange wizard across the street with a what might be a camera, and Sirius would rather this whole conversation take place in private.
After getting settled and having lunched delivered, Sirius got down to business. "Now, Harry, you told me the newspapers got it wrong. Tell us exactly how much truth there was to the article, and we can decide how to proceed from there."
Harry and Hermione went through the story again.
Molly, true to form, keyed in on the dreams. "Hermione, dear, are they gone or are you still having them? You look well-rested."
"I'm fine, really." Harry's mouth tightened at Hermione's glib reply.
Molly narrowed her eyes suspiciously but continued. "If you say so. And I'll let it go for now, but here's what's important. You two cannot be seen in compromising situations anymore."
"If you do, you'll have to get engaged," Sirius added.
"What?" Hermione spluttered.
Harry choked on his butterbeer.
"I refuse to marry on the basis of some antiquated, outdated notion of propriety." Hermione's indignant tones rang out. "Harry and I aren't even dating. I'm not even interested in him like that."
Harry sat silent. I guess that tells me where I stand.
"Harry, dear, how do you feel?" Molly looked towards the silent wizard.
"Tell them, Harry. Tell them we aren't interested in each other that way," Hermione demanded.
Harry took a moment to collect his thoughts and try to hide his feelings. "I'm fine. But maybe if you could explain what the real problem is. I mean, I really don't understand. It's not like Hermione and I were doing anything wrong. She was having a nightmare, Daphne couldn't wake her up, and I was able to comfort her. I didn't stop and grab a shirt. Is that so bad?"
"No, Harry dear, of course it's not wrong. But the perception is that you were in her bed for some other reason." Molly tried to sooth his feelings.
"So, I'm not supposed to comfort one of my best friends because she's a girl? How does that work?"
"No, of course not." Sirius struggled to find a way to help these two understand. "Harry, when you asked yesterday if we'd fallen back in time a hundred years, you weren't far off, at least with social mores. It's all part of our society. We marry young and are expected to behave circumspectly."
"Really, Sirius? Did you behave circumspectly in school?" Hermione inquired acidly.
"Actually, Hermione, I was never caught in a girl's room, nor did I ever make the papers."
"But you did it, though? It just didn't matter because you weren't caught!" Hermione was absolutely incredulous. "What if you had been, would you have been forced to marry? Or only if she was a pureblood?"
"Harry didn't tell you, then." Sirius shook his head. "Boy, I thought you told her everything."
"Tell me what, exactly?"
"I was married right out of Hogwarts. My wife and daughter were killed by Death Eaters." Sirius's tone was quiet and stern. "So please, Hermione, don't make judgments about things of which you have limited knowledge."
Hermione looked abashed.
"But this isn't about me," Sirius continued without pause. "To a certain extent, you're both protected because of the war status you enjoy. But, some social mores cannot be ignored. If you're perceived to be in a serious physical relationship, then certain prescribed things must occur."
"But we're not." Hermione's voice was a soft wail. "Nothing's going on."
Molly took up the banner. "No, I'm sure there's not. But, Hermione, perception is reality. And the perception is that you're in an intimate relationship. Now, this may well blow over, but a repeat of the situation - that's not going to blow over. And if it doesn't end with a public announcement of your engagement, then both your reputations will suffer, most especially yours, Hermione." Molly's tone was gentle, but her words were not. "No, it's not fair, but it's the world in which we live."
Harry cleared his throat. "What do we need to do?"
Sirius and Molly exchanged a loaded glance. "Well, that all depends on what you want to do."
"I don't know." Harry shook his head. "What do you mean, what do we want to do?"
"If Hermione is right, and there's truly nothing but a friendship between you, then you need to make sure you act as platonic friends. All the time. But you've never been that way, any of you." Molly sounded sympathetic. "I've seen you three, you two and Ron. Your relationships, they don't look platonic, not on the surface."
Molly turned to address Hermione specifically. "It's how the boys treat you. Always an arm around your shoulders, wanting to step in front of boys who want to date you. The occasional kiss on the forehead or cheek – it's all innocent, I know. But people, especially now, are going to talk."
"On the other hand," Sirius's deep voice caught their attention, "if maybe there is something there, then you can proceed as you have been. But you need to know there will be expectations for the two of you at the end of the year since you're a year older; wizards and witches generally marry young, especially ones who've been linked together."
"Just so we're clear, if Harry and I continue our relationship as it is, then we'll be expected to marry at the end of the year? Do you hear yourselves? Victoria is NOT the Queen! It's almost the 21st century. I will not be bound by these antiquated notions." Hermione was adamant.
"Do you plan to live in the wizarding world, Hermione?" Sirius's tone was somber.
"Of course I do; it's my home."
"If you allow your reputation to be ruined, then you'll have a very difficult time making your way."
Harry tried to defend Hermione. "Sirius, she's the brightest witch of our age. She'll be fine."
"No, Harry, she won't. If she were just another nameless witch or wizard, then maybe so. But the status that's protected your reputations from last year is going to hurt you this year because you're famous. Add to that, not very many people are aware of the details of your Horcrux hunt; they just know you both weren't at Hogwarts and that you defeated Voldemort. If that comes out, plus this latest bit? No. It'll hurt you both and ruin Hermione. I was deadly serious when I told you that no one can know about the tent."
Sirius broke eye contact with Harry and spoke to the both of them. "It's worse because you don't have families to protect you. No one would care if you were just a wizard and a witch, dating or being friends, or fooling around. But people do care because you're The-Boy-Who-Lived and the Brightest Witch of Her Age and two-thirds of the Golden Trio." Sirius's face twisted as if he'd just eaten an ear-wax flavored Bertie Bott's bean; this conversation was obviously necessary, but unpalatable.
"So the world we saved will ruin us, but mostly Hermione, if we remain friends," Harry spat out.
"No; you can be friends, but someone has betrayed you, so you can't be the openly demonstrative friends that you are - not if you want to protect your reputations. Normally things that happen at school stay at school, but for some reason that's not happening right now. You need to get rid of the rat," Sirius sneered at the mention of a turncoat.
"We're working on it. Malfoy saw something. He's helping," Harry volunteered.
Sirius cocked his head to the side in his canine fashion. "You've decided to trust Malfoy?"
"Well, he's helping us, we're helping him. Okay – Hermione is helping him and Daphne. They're contracted to marry this summer and they don't want to. So, I'll probably be reading the books Hermione hands me, trying to find an out." Harry's self-deprecating grin accompanied by a shrug inspired a fleeting smile from Hermione for the first time since this distasteful conversation had begun.
"The Headmistress is making us all go to counseling, too." Hermione changed the subject. "She told me she was concerned that we've got have something Muggles called 'shell shock' after World War II. They call it Post-Traumatic Stress or PTS now. Apparently, Madame Pomfrey has gotten numerous requests for Dreamless Sleep Draughts."
"Brew your own. Keep your own council. I don't think you can trust anyone except each other." Sirius leaned back in his chair with hands linked behind his head. The seriousness of his tone belied the relaxed nature of his posture. "I mean it. Someone is betraying you both. And they'll take these counseling sessions and use what they learn against you." He brought his hands down and sat up straight. "You need to set a trap."
The Great Hall
"Dammit," Harry swore softly when he saw the cover of the morning's Daily Prophet. He showed it to Hermione.
"You've got to be kidding me."
Harry Potter and Hermione Granger were spotted yesterday in Hogsmeade village, meeting with Sirius Black, godfather of Potter, and Molly Weasley, mother of Ronald Weasley and purported mother figure to both Potter and Granger. Miss Granger, a Muggle-born, is of age and her parents have not been seen since before the war. The Prophet is investigating the possibility of a betrothal between Potter and Granger.
The picture below showed Sirius ushering them all into the Three Broomsticks.
Thank the Founders he didn't spot us on the road. What a shitstorm that would be. Hermione winced at the thought. When her eyes met Harry's, she had the distinct feeling he was thinking the same thing.
A/N: This is (clearly) a very old-fashioned AU. Think Victorian. The perception of proper behavior is more important than actual behavior in this case. So, if you are famous, a member of high society, or a member of the Sacred 28, you are held to a very strict standard of behavior (at least in public). And the cardinal rule: don't get caught. If you have questions, please let me know. I try to answer most of my reviews, especially the ones where you have questions.
Thanks for reading and reviewing (if you are so motivated)!