Otherwise known as: How Luna tore apart the fabric of reality so that her friends could get decently laid, and accidentally saved the world in the process.
A/N: Welcome to Chapter Thirty-Four! Complete as of 15/02, and apologies for the lateness!
Disclaimer: I do not own the works herein, all characters from the Harry Potter Universe belong to JK Rowling, and all characters, storylines, situations, plots and the like do not belong to me. I make no money from this work.
Warnings: Rated M for situations, swearing, violence... The whole lot, basically.
Iacta Alea Est
Somewhere outside of reality, a steady pocket in the timestream had been occupied by three fretful sisters, for the purposes of correcting their egregious errors before any of their fellows became aware of their fallibility. Luckily for them, they had been planning their attack for nigh on a mortal century.
The pocket had been decorated as a temple from a bygone era, with high white marble walls, arching pillars of the same material, cushions and tables and chairs scattered around. In the centre of the room sat a table upon which there lay a now-defunct spindle, a basket of unspun wool, and two empty crystal caskets, older than time itself. On the far wall there hung a tapestry, a magnificent thing woven from every imaginable colour, glinting in the ambient light of the dying chandelier. The image was unclear, and would yet be for many millenia to come, but it was beautiful even for the confusion it would evoke in any admirer. At the far end the tapestry frayed, thousands upon thousands of threads hanging loose to trail upon the ground, waiting for action.
Two paced before the tapestry, her skirts swirling around her legs in a non-existent wind. As she watched, more twists were made, knots weaving themselves against her instructions. Her long, ebony fingers twisted together just below the sash of her gown, hidden from her sisters by her body. Still, she shook with anger and anxiety as she watched the tapestry work, taking on a life of its own despite the impossibility of that action. No, it wasn't weaving itself – it was being woven by a renegade mortal who'd tapped into powers beyond his comprehension.
Behind her, Three lay on a chaise, her bare feet brushing lightly against the cool marble floor of their sanctuary, the rest of her body arranged across the silver cushions with great care, her arm slung over the back in a deceptively relaxed movement, head propped up on the arm. Her face was turned towards Two, black eyes hooded as she watched her sister. Two raised her hand as if to tug on her hair, and then seemed to remember herself and buried it deep in the folds of her gown again, so violently the whole thing sagged to one side.
"Calm, sister," Three murmured softly, a warning.
Two spun around, her arms tight to her body, keeping herself under rigid control. "How is serenity to solve our problems?" she demanded.
"Serenity, no. Patience, however…" Three glanced over at the end of the tapestry, at the wreck which was all that remained where the three of them had ripped out a whole section in order to reweave it. Golden thread tied four displaced threads together, before they spread again to intersect others' lives. The four of them were irrevocably linked – Two had made certain of that – and the three of them believed that as long as the four of them followed their current path, they would destroy the renegade.
Their threads wove even as the sisters spoke, dancing and flitting between one another and those surrounding them. They dragged others closer, interlocking them into their web, clutching them so close to the original four that they might never escape. Then, Three looked farther up the Tapestry, at the thick black line which headed steadily towards them. In the black one's trail there lay many a frayed thread, not so many as there had been before the reweave, but still hundreds. Hundreds lying dead in his wake, not something that Three usually shied away from but seemed unjust now, as their lives ending had no place in the grander scheme of things and were most certainly not planned. Some dozens more had been infected by his darkness, their threads turning grey with taint. "How am I to summon patience in such circumstances?" Two was demanding now, but Three wasn't listening.
"Something's about to change," Three murmured, her fingers reaching out to examine a bright, thick thread which had featured prominently in this section for many decades now. She frowned, tracing upwards, searching for the trigger while ignoring the burning that came into her hands lately when she touched the tapestry.
"Danger," One announced, shimmering into existence on Three's left, her hands buried deep in a white fur muff, a matching hat perched precariously on her head. She dropped the accessories to the floor, both disappearing before they hit the ground. "It bothers me to be locked here like a lesser being; I have been watching," she explained when Two and Three eyed her askance. "It is good that I have, for I saw the mistake they made." She reached out with a translucent hand and plucked at one of the shorter threads that hung from the end of the tapestry. "You see? Foolhardy of them, wasn't it?"
"Ah," Three nodded, following it back to where it had knotted in with their primary threads, a tiny streak of grey amongst the reds, yellows and purples. "Yes. How do we resolve this?"
"Sister, weren't you just advocating for patience?" Two said snidely. "Now you call for action?"
Three scowled. "He is just as dangerous as the Other. Our intervention is necessary."
"Is it?" Two pressed. "Or are you just bored?"
One pressed the palm of her hand against Two's shoulder in reprimand. "Stop. We mustn't fight, sisters. We chose our champions wisely, have trust in them. We are forewarned."
"Yes," Three jerked a hand toward the tapestry, "Sadly, they are not."
Hermione scanned the area, taking in the expressions of everybody present and generally getting a feel for the atmosphere. It looked like nothing so much as a social club, with armchairs and sofas scattered about, some people laid on the floor looking completely at leisure, others with books in their hands, just reading quietly. Lavender was spread out across the whole of a three-person sofa she'd levitated over a couple of hours ago, having gotten tired of her armchair perch and antsy to use magic while she wasn't so volatile. It was rose-pink with dark wooden legs, some French design, and Lavender had taken to it like it was her soulmate. She had her hair spread out over the arm, the rest of her body twisted into odd positions on the back and sides. She was reading a magazine she'd pilfered from Lily earlier, seemingly engrossed in an article detailing the possibilities of using Ashwinder Eggs in perfume to give them love-potion-esque properties.
Behind her, Luna crouched on a plush golden cushion, braiding tiny plaits into Lavender's hair behind her customary bright pink headband. Every now and again she'd give Lavender an instruction, and the other girl would follow it, rewarded by Luna's hand stroking through her hair to massage her scalp. Luna'd taken up that position the minute she'd come through the door, looking as upset as Luna ever did and still dressed in the nightgown she'd been wearing earlier. The two of them whispered quietly to one another, exchanging small smiles and laughs but never talking loud enough to be heard.
Lily had commandeered Lavender's old armchair, with James seated on the floor beneath her. Lily read from a Muggle romance novel she'd brought with her, one hand absently playing in James's hair. Her calves were over his shoulder and locked on his chest, where James hugged them to him with his arm even as he turned to talk to Remus, who was perched on the arm of another two-person sofa, this one forest green and worn, with squashy cushions that could swallow a small cat if it was so silly as to land on them.
Hermione herself was trying to calm her nerves, pacing around their 'war table', checking her notes to make sure she'd not missed anything. She had faith in Regulus, emotionally, but intellectually she knew that this move was a risk. If Regulus wasn't yet the convert she thought he was – though the evidence worked in his favour on that one – then she'd be inviting a snake into their bosom, betraying the trust everybody had seen fit to vest in her.
She took a deep breath in through her nose, and let it out through her mouth slowly. She could do this. The only person who doubted her was her. Everybody else had faith. Luna, as if sensing her thoughts, turned to shoot her a smile. She returned it, if a little strained. She could do this. If only she knew how Sirius and Ginny's meeting had gone, so that she had a little heads-up. If only she knew how the meet between Regulus and Sirius had gone…
The door swung open to admit Sirius. All eyes turned to him immediately, some softer than others, Luna's surprisingly harsh. He took a glance around the room, his face seemingly carved out of stone. Taking a seat near the back, he shot a brief nod to James and Remus, then folded himself up and stared out the nearest window, neatly blocking the rest of them out.
Lavender turned her head to look at Hermione, the movement pulling her hair from Luna's hands. The other girl let out a miffed little huff, but Lavender ignored her. She was as curious as Hermione was about what had gone down, except for Lavender it was more of a detached curiosity, simply a matter of her wanting the latest news, whereas for Hermione it could make or break their entire operation. "Sirius?" Lily questioned, her voice soft. Sirius didn't respond in any way.
"Padfoot, mate," James said, straightening up. He sent Remus a significant look and the two of them rose, striding over to huddle with their friend. Sirius continued to stare out of the window as the two of them talked to him, nodding every now and again as they posed questions. The exchange was too quiet to hear, but the Black heir gradually relaxed, so it must have been helpful. She was glad for that – it hurt her to see him hurting, though they'd never been that close.
She busied herself with something else, anything else, to give them some semblance of privacy – taking a quick detour to smack Lavender upside the head when it became clear that she'd had the opposite idea. Ignoring her offended looks and Luna's quiet chuckling, she instead checked and re-checked the agenda she'd written up for the meeting, ensured that Luna's map was locked and folded away, and created duplicates of the notes she'd made to help her run the meeting with Lavender and Lily that afternoon.
The silence itself was conspicuous enough to grab Hermione's attention when Regulus walked in the room. She glanced up from her parchment to see him hovering in the doorway, looking small and somewhat lost, with Ginny on his arm grinning like the cat who'd got the cream. Luna stood from her place behind Lavender but didn't move forward – it wouldn't have seemed appropriate, the atmosphere seemed so tense that any sudden movement might shatter it.
Lily, remaining curled up in her armchair, peered over at Regulus with a cold sort of curiosity. She didn't like him, that much was certain, but she was an intellectual and if intellectuals liked to study people then Regulus would be a prize. His eyes were an odd mix of hard and soft, a thin layer of ice preventing you from reading his emotions but still allowing you to see their depth. Indeed, they were like hollows in his head, bearing the strain of his lifestyle in their darkness. His intelligence was equally easily read, and she knew he was assessing the room just as much as everybody in it was assessing him.
The men in the corner with Sirius had stood, automatically shifting into semi-protective positions around their friend. What warmed Hermione's heart, also, was that Remus's eyes shot to her, too, as though it was a reflex to make sure she was safe in the face of a new threat. She battered down a blush as pleasure zipped through her at the thought.
Everybody was still, watching, waiting for something to happen. Ginny didn't drop Regulus's arm, which sent out a clear message to Lily and the Marauders – the girls were taking responsibility for him, he was under their protection, like it or lump it.
A piercing catcall suddenly ripped through the air, breaking the stand-off as everybody's heads whipped around. Lavender, never very good with tension, grinned from her perch on the couch where she had hopped up onto an arm for a better view. "Look at you," she called, shooting Regulus a salacious wink that had him blushing furiously. "Are all of the men in 1979 this beautiful? Because I wasn't looking, but I might be now."
"Lavender!" Hermione scolded over the sound of a few surprised snorts. She glanced back over to Regulus, who was staring at Lavender wide-eyed, like she was a new and disturbing species he'd never come across before. "Ignore her," she told him, waiting for him to turn his attention to her before giving him a warm smile. "She's incorrigible, but harmless."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Lavender murmured, forming a claw with one hand and pawing at the air, smirking in his direction. "I have been known to bite."
"She's also high as a kite – err, a hippogriff?" she corrected hastily when he just looked more bewildered. "She's on about fifty pain potions. Come in, sit down." Coming out from behind her table she moved towards him, Ginny tugging on his arm until he reached her. Gesturing towards the couch farthest from Sirius – and a good distance from Lavender, just in case she wasn't joking – she sat down and beckoned for him to join her.
"I'm Hermione, by the way," she held out a hand, which he shook somewhat awkwardly as he sank into the chair. Luna was behind him almost immediately, swapping places with Ginny who joined Lavender on her settee, allowing the blonde to drape her legs over her lap. "I know we met last night but I don't think we were properly introduced. That's Ginny, I'm sure you know, and the loud one is Lavender."
"Er- yes, hello. Regulus Black – you know that, though." Oh, his voice was so lovely, perfectly cultured and entirely reminiscent of the people Hermione had known as she'd grown up. She was smiling genuinely before she even realised that the other one had been forced. He glanced around again, catching Lily studiously ignoring him, James and Remus still stood in front of Sirius, who was watching the interaction with unfathomable eyes. He then turned back to Hermione. "Can I ask, what am I doing here?"
Hermione furrowed her brow. "You came here last night, don't you remember?" She shot a look at Luna, panicking slightly on the inside. Was he quite well? Had he hit his head?
"Yes, I remember that I came here with my own agenda," Regulus replied carefully, sounding out the words as he weighed them in his mind. "But it's quite clear that you lot want me for something else."
Luna made a quick movement, a strangled noise escaping her throat. Regulus studiously ignored her, but Hermione couldn't stop herself from looking up. Luna stared at her with wide eyes, telling her to tread carefully. Well, of course she'd try to do that, but she wasn't the most delicate of people. Then again, at least she wasn't Lavender.
"You're right," Hermione nodded. Honesty was, after all, the best policy. "Though I do think that our interests are aligned, at least in this case."
Regulus shot her a sceptical look. "I haven't told you why I'm here."
Hermione froze for a split-second, a war raging in her head. It was so very difficult, talking like this, withholding information while sharing enough to earn his trust, all of the subtleties and double-talk that was required while discussing the matter with him because, regardless of how much she wanted to trust him and her knowledge of what had occurred in the future, it remained that they didn't know Regulus, he was a complete wild card. Who knew what might have happened to him if he hadn't died in his quest to retrieve the horcrux – he could have continued to be a Death Eater, he could have changed his mind about destroying the horcrux. And, while Luna obviously adored him and she trusted her judgement; sitting across from him now and staring into those eyes, feeling the darkness in his energy, she felt more and more doubts creep into her mind.
"Why don't you explain, then," Hermione asked, pitching her voice higher to grab everybody's attention, as if they hadn't been fully tuned in already. Lavender's magazine hit the floor with a soft thunk, apparently having slipped through her fingers while she was concentrating on Regulus so hard. "We'll need you to explain to the whole group in as much detail as you can, please, so that we are well informed when we come to take a vote."
"A vote?" Regulus asked, eyes still fixed on Hermione, oblivious to Luna looming behind him, her fingertips playing through the hair at his nape.
"Yes. Lily suggested we take a vote to decide whether we can afford to bring you in. It is, after all, our lives on the line if... well, you understand."
He nodded, and took another scan of the room. He was on edge, rather antsy, which made it all the more odd that he'd not notice Luna. Hermione met her eyes again in question; Luna smiled. The time they'd spent together in the study must have done more than simply bored them.
"Very well," Regulus jerked his head, words clipped neatly at the end. Honestly, how was his accent so very particular when Sirius's was, in contrast, so very gruff? "I suppose that's to be expected. I received a letter yesterday, at school." He fished the square out of his pocket and handed it to Hermione, who unfolded it and smoothed it out over her legs. Relatively short, it held only a few paragraphs in a nauseatingly flourished hand. The sign-off caught her eye – your friend, Lucius – and shocked her, rather. She'd known, of course, that Snape and Malfoy had been friends, and that Snape and Regulus had been friends, but she'd never joined the dots.
She looked back up at Regulus, who tucked a stray hair behind his ear and ducked his head. "It's not what it appears."
Fingering the edge of the page she shot him a smile. "That's only to be expected. I doubt an inquiry into your mother's health would cause you to abandon school."
"Indeed. When he says that, he's not referring to my mother, he's talking about Kreacher, my House-Elf. It's a warning, fairly standard, to let me know that the Dark Lord is interested in using them. Where he invites me to tea, that's informing me that I'll be called up soon…" He trailed off, catching sight of Hermione's raised brow. "What is it?"
"Oh, nothing -"
"She's surprised," Ginny said from behind her, causing Hermione to jump. She'd been reading the letter over Hermione's shoulder without her noticing, and now grinned at Regulus. "Merlin, I'm surprised. Who knew Lucius Malfoy had a heart?"
Hermione touched her fingers to Ginny's pale ones where they rested against the arm of the couch, and the other girl shot her a tight smile. The scars of Malfoy's intervention in her childhood ran deep, much deeper than she pretended, and Hermione knew that her grin took a lot of effort. Regulus had no such knowledge, his feathers all ruffled, righteous indignance in defence of his friend. "Lucius is… complex, but he's not a monster." His voice was quite snippy, reminding Hermione that he was only eighteen.
Personally, Hermione thought complex an extremely generous way to describe the aristocrat, but then she didn't know him very well. It was hard to be charitable towards someone who would sell his own son to the devil, attempt to kill children, then stand back and watch silently as you were tortured.
"I'm sure," Hermione said instead, managing to keep the dubious tone from her voice. "So, Mr. Malfoy sent you a letter warning you that you would be Called on soon, and that it would have something to do with your – with Kreacher."
"Yes. It was the final straw." His face was set defiantly, challenging them to pick up on that, to ask him why, why everything else – the killings, the torture – was just fine but harming his House-Elf was despicable. Everybody kept silent, but she could see those questions spinning through everybody else's mind no matter how much they tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. "I'd been having... doubts for a while, though I couldn't find an appropriate out. Not one that wouldn't get us killed."
"Why didn't you go to Dumbledore?" Hermione asked, curiosity swirling in her. He shot her a contemptuous look.
"Is that not what I have just done?"
She huffed, bristling against his sudden change – the look in his eyes, so familiar from her childhood, that pureblood superiority which grated against her very Muggle ideals of equality. "Not at all," she snapped. "You came to your brother, walking miles in the middle of the night with no certainty of a happy ending, rather than simply taking the stairs. If you'd wanted to go to Dumbledore, you would have. I may not be a Slytherin, Mr. Black, but do not mistake me for a fool."
He narrowed his eyes at her, Luna behind him looking tense. Ginny, behind Hermione, had also straightened up, her hand on her wand. Sure, they would give him the benefit of the doubt, but not at the cost of Hermione's protection, which warmed her deeply. Though if it came to a fight, Hermione wasn't entirely certain where Luna's loyalties would lie.
All of a sudden, satisfaction flit across his face. "So you aren't with the Order," he mused, his mouth ticking up. "Ginny said you weren't, but one cannot be too careful. The Headmaster is known for his tricks."
"Not in our crowd." Hermione replied easily. "You'd be hard pressed to find one person in the Order who'll admit outright to him being the manipulative old coot that he is."
"Yes, but there aren't any Slytherins in the Order, are there? At least – I don't know of any. And you Gryffindors tend to worship him." His nose twitched as though he smelled something bad, the idea was so deeply offensive to him. Still, in his eyes, there was a flicker of respect at her response, though she could tell he found her delivery gauche.
"You haven't answered the question," Hermione tilted her head in curiosity, attempting to steer the conversation back where she'd needed it to go. There was a list of questions on the table behind her, but she didn't want to disrupt the conversation long enough to get it, and she was doing well enough on her own. Or, she thought so, at least. The others might disagree, but they'd put the power in her hands and so she would run the show as she saw fit.
"Headmaster Dumbledore has a past, one which does not set him in good standing when it comes to seeking assistance, not for Dark wizards. Severus, alone -" both Ginny and Hermione rolled their eyes at the automatic derision that emanated from the Marauder's side of the room, though Lavender let out a little snort of her own, amused by their actions, "- has suffered the consequences of his bias more times than any child rightfully should." He studiously did not look at his brother, and Hermione knew what he was thinking of. Having one's own brother attempting to kill one's best friend must be a delicate situation.
"I did not join the Dark Lord because of a belief in his rhetoric. Like many others, I joined because there seemed to be no other place for me. It is hard to fight the monsters in the dark with no weaponry and no support, Miss…?"
"Granger," Hermione replied, waiting for the recognition to cross his face. There it was. He now knew she was a muggleborn. All of her instincts went on alert for any changes to his attitude, anything that might bely his claim that he didn't believe in Voldemort's 'rhetoric' – though, he hadn't exactly said he didn't, had he?
"Miss Granger," he repeated, with a slight acknowledging tilt of his head towards her. "My family was threatened. My friends were threatened. Severus had already joined the cause by the time I was called up and, well, what self-respecting person wouldn't follow their best friend into the dark when they were asked to? Of course, he was angry at me for it, but he understood." Regulus shrugged, the same fluid shrug as his brother. For all of their differences there were still the base similarities of siblings raised in the same environment – their inflections, their movements, their tempers. "I am a Dark wizard, that I won't deny, but Dark doesn't always mean evil and the one thing I cannot stomach is the rape, torture and murder of innocents." He paused, gazing off into the distance. "Well, that and being forced to do things I shouldn't like to do. Being boxed into a corner has a habit of making one lash out."
"I understand." Hermione did, actually. Despite being a Light witch and everything that came with that, there were times when her actions could be seen as grey, or even dark. The mysterious case of Umbridge and the Centaurs, for one. Keeping Skeeter in a jar, for another. Still, she drew the line at murder and mayhem – she didn't crush Skeeter, despite how much she'd wanted to. And she'd sent a message to the castle about Umbridge, too. She had a conscience. She could see how that might work for Regulus, too – his line might be further away, but it still existed.
"We still need a guarantee." She added, remembering what her goal here was. Talking to Regulus was surprisingly absorbing; he had such a different take on life to her, on morality. He was the antithesis of everything she'd been taught made a good wizard; he was slippery, cunning, unmistakeably Dark, and yet she could feel his power and it wasn't a bad one. Powerful despite his own self-consciousness, a sort of seductive caress that held very little appeal to her while at the same time helping her understand what drew Luna in. "We can't have you suddenly decide one day to run back to Lord – He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. If you're in, you're in, and you can't run off just because you're insulted, or upset, or angry. And you have to understand this, too; while we're not the Order, if we're to give you our protection, we will require you to assist us in turn. There will still be times when you are asked to do something difficult, or distasteful. I need reassurance that you will not take off when that happens."
One of his perfectly formed eyebrows crept up on his head. "An Unbreakable Vow?" To give him credit, he didn't flinch at the idea.
Hermione did, though. She wasn't fond of having everybody look at her for guidance, never mind having them be magically beholden to her. "No. Not that."
"An oath," Ginny piped up again. Hermione shot her a confused look, and Ginny continued patiently, "A wand oath, to assure us of your… cooperation. It won't bind you, there is no death penalty, but it is a show of loyalty from Regulus and faith from you, Hermione. A nudge in the right direction whenever he may find himself torn, is all it is."
Hermione turned back to Regulus, an unspoken question on her face. He jerked another nod in response. "That's settled, then." Fiddling with her holster, she drew her wand into her palm. "Your hand, please, Regulus?"