A/N: School is back in session, so it's back to nose + grindstone = no sleep. Updates will be few and far between. Thank you for your understanding.
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, and Flyby Commander Shepard
Who Needs Enemies With Friends Like This?
Every parting is a form of death, as every reunion is a type of heaven. Tryon Edwards
"How are you even alive?" Severus asked with no little astonishment as he stared at Regulus intently.
Regulus sipped his tea and pointed his pinky at Hermione. "She saved me."
Severus' eyebrows asked the silent question.
Regulus tugged at his collar and undid a line of buttons exposing his chest. In the middle of his sternum was an emerald that had been sunken into his breastbone. "Portkey straight to Mungos. I landed in the middle of the front desk along with about twenty Inferi."
"That must have been quite a sight—" Severus replied. "But why did you hide?"
Regulus looked at the bottom of his cup and set it down. "One, I left a rather horrible note for the Dark Lord when I took his locket Horcrux—" He sighed. "Two—"
He pulled up his sleeve and exposed a perfectly pristine left forearm. "I may have been saved by a lioness. Again. But I couldn't show my muzzle in public until now. My parents would have murdered me, hell, my own brother would have murdered me for being a Death Eater. It wasn't safe to be a lion and an ex-Death Eater. So I stayed with Hermione, and I think the pride bond helped us survive the years together before we could show ourselves in public again. Amelia gave us both jobs with the Unspeakables, and we never left the DoM without our uniforms. We worked in the background, only doing what could be done without messing up the timeline."
Regulus frowned. "It was agony for her—being away from you. And then one day, she saw you in Diagon Alley and saw you had taken off her ring."
Regulus fidgeted. "She took it really hard. She thought—she thought—"
"I'd rather forget her than honour her memory," Severus finished quietly.
Regulus nodded. "Yes. She—spent the first few years as a lioness. She didn't even try to be human to speak to other people. She told me it was better to be a lion and remember that there was no future for her than fool herself."
Severus clenched his fist. "I didn't know. I didn't know!"
"We figured it out when we realised everyone that had known you that was still up to—the surface—well, you know, not hidden away like us—didn't remember her. I did. But everyone else—even Dumbledore—didn't remember her. We don't know how. We don't know when, but somehow, someway, someone managed to wipe the memories of everyone that knew her. Even you. I thought, surely if anyone would remember her it would have been you."
Regulus shook his head. "We had no idea. And you know Hermione. Once she found out, it took an act of the gods themselves to keep her from storming Azkaban and laying waste to—well, everyone."
Severus snorted. "That's Hermione alright."
"But—she still had hope. Hope that she'd be reunited with you once her future self went back in time." Regulus grasped Snape's arm when he saw him flinch. "You didn't know. How could you?"
Snape's fists clenched, fur and claws forming fluidly as the shift to lion-man came quickly. "Aurors took her away from me," he growled, teeth grating together. I saw her—she smiled at me as she was trying to cross the street to get to me. A bus was coming. I saw figures moving behind her, then came the bus, and then she was gone. Her sack of purchases from the bakery were strewn all across the sidewalk—then there was a brick. It came through the window. I picked it up and—"
Regulus scratched his head. "I think whoever did it got most of them during one of those Order meetings you used to tell us about. Lucius wasn't terribly hard to find being as conspicuous as he is, but how else could they have gotten McGonagall AND Dumbledore together?"
Severus frowned. "Who? Who that wasn't killed on top of everything that went on already? At first I thought it was those Prewett twins. I remember the hair. I remember how they hated anyone that might even possibly be a Death Eater. But then—Dolohov and his groupies killed them. Nothing changed. I don't really think it was them."
"Hermione said that it was them that brought her in," Regulus said. "But it wasn't them that stripped her down."
Snape's paw tightened around Regulus suddenly. "Wait, you mean to say they stripped her down completely? Not just her arm?"
"They thought she was a Death Eater, Severus. You know how they treated anyone who they had even the slightest suspicion of being involved with the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters. And—" Regulus flinched. "Well, you know what they thought of her. Even while we were still in school."
Severus' eyes darkened. "They were particularly cruel to her because of Potter and his little gang of thugs."
"It did not help that Lily Evans did her very best to turn as many females as she could against her with her—"
"Decisive strikes against her virtue," Severus finished.
Regulus nodded. "Yes. I know you cared about Lily, Severus, but she was such a—"
Regulus aspirated some of his tea, coughing it all over himself. "Severus!"
Snape gave him the arched eyebrow he was renowned for. "I want to know who put her through that. I want them to writhe."
"You aren't the only one, brother," Regulus assured him. "You may trust in that."
Severus sighed. "I am so glad you are alive, Regulus."
"And I am glad you are, old friend. Especially since Hermione wasn't there to keep you out of trouble."
Snape snorted. "Oh really? Me? The troublemaker?"
"Brother, you and I know well that the only reason you didn't murder those boils on the buttocks of humanity back then was because SHE eclipsed every single negative thought we ever had."
Severus closed his eyes. "I wonder how things would have been had she been there—giving us that tired smile. No matter how bad things were, she always had one for us, even if it was out of pure exasperation. All of us, together."
Regulus nodded. "You know when she said 'Regulus, I need to press this into your sternum' I just let her? I didn't even ask. I just—"
Severus looked up, his black eyes conflicted. "Did she ever—find someone else?"
Regulus snorted. "She missed her spiders and her cub. She ended up mothering all the baby animals in the holding pens. She had a line of them following her around like baby ducks. Gargoyle pups, phoenix chicks, hippogriff hatchlings, gryphon cubs, baby sphinx, and even a sodding ironbelly."
Severus' jaw dropped.
"Yeah, an ironbelly. When the mother Dark Weaver started to visit, we realised time was starting to sync up again. Weavers are sensitive to such things, I guess. Then her cub started to visit too. Just POOF. Showed up in the floo like it was nothing. We started to prepare. Amelia kept a close eye on things—but we had to be sure that we timed it just right. Her future self had to get ported back in time, and she had to show up shortly after so you wouldn't torture yourself over it."
Snape gave Regulus a look.
"Oh, don't give me that, Severus. You know as well as I that you would have flogged yourself into Oblivion if she hadn't come back exactly when she did."
"Of course, I'm right."
"You're also insufferable."
Regulus smiled. "That too." He wiggled his eyebrows mischievously.
"You heard about how Umbridge summoned all the Horcruxes together and conveniently brassed-off Sekhmet?"
"Yes, we have Madam Umarachnid in a wonderful terrarium in the main lobby of the dangerous creatures ward."
Snape snorted. "Unspeakables, huh?"
"You know," Snape said. "There were a few nights I came home after enjoying the Dark Lord's pleasure—bleeding inside, beaten. I woke up in my bed, in pain but alive. She watched over me, didn't she—knowing full well that I wouldn't know her from Adam."
"She couldn't bear to see you suffer. Alone. Believing yourself unloved. Unforgiven."
"But she knew I would not have been able to remember her."
Regulus let out his breath slowly. "Yes, she knew."
"And here I was thinking I'd suffered alone. She was suffering right along with me. Close enough to touch but never touching."
"Neither of you have to suffer anymore," Regulus said.
"You're wrong there," Severus said, standing up, his whiskers twitching.
"Now we have to suffer your company together. Again."
Regulus pouted. "Why can't I be the loveable one?"
"I have never quite forgiven you for trying to woo Hermione out from under me."
Regulus' eyes widened. "You weren't even showing any interest back when I was trying!"
Snape narrowed his eyes.
Regulus slumped. "You were always interested, weren't you?"
Severus sighed, offering Regulus his paw to pull him up. "I was doomed from the very moment she fell into our lives, Regulus."
Dumbledore dropped his arm, his wand held lightly in his hand. "I cannot believe it. I sense nothing."
Moody pushed up closer and performed several additional scans, just to be certain. "Aye, Albus. This here is the root of it, or at least—it was. You may not sense it, but I can, and I am not sure why."
"How were we not able to detect this until now?" Albus asked. "How is it that no one could before?"
"This is truly insidious, Albus," Alastor said. "Something—very powerful was anchored to this gargoyle, to its lifeforce. We—you, me, anyone wouldn't have been able to detect it, but something changed somehow. It's unravelling."
"I still do not know how you can sense this yet I cannot?" Albus said, frowning.
"I'm not sure myself, Albus." Moody ran his wand all over the gargoyle. The gargoyle eyed him suspiciously, snorting.
"Albus, how strictly does the gargoyle guard your office?"
"No student ever—made friends with him?"
Albus frowned. "He makes friends all the time, Alastor, as you well know. But he does not allow anyone up unless they are permitted to do so."
"You know," Moody said. "Gargoyles are strange creatures. They munch on rocks and gems and that ends up becoming a part of their skin—protecting them from so many things. I think—" Moody narrowed his eyes. "I think someone slipped the gargoyle a micky. A very special rock or a very special gem."
A low rumbling hgghhh hnnnggghing roar came down the hall as the pride arrived, attracted by the commotion. Kingsley was in the lead this time, padding up to the gargoyle and snuffling the beast curiously. Viktor sniffed the gargoyle's side while Lucius took the other. Hermione unleashed a horde of spiderlings and the mother Dark Weaver to scurry over the gargoyle's body.
"Yup! Dark stuff!"
"We can smell it!"
The gargoyle's head tilted in curiosity as he was sniffed and inundated with spiders, sneezing once.
"Eeee!" a spiderling said, tumbling off his muzzle, rescued by one strand of strong spidersilk. He dangled and skittered back up.
"It's not the killer kind of Dark stuff," one spiderling announced.
"Obfuscate Dark stuff," another confirmed.
"Check for us, Mummy?"
The mother Dark Weaver tapped her legs, moving from place to place over the gargoyle.
Hermione took on her human form. "Joke says it's a hidden spell. Unlike other Dark magic, it's concealed in the weave of the gargoyle's lifeforce."
"Yo-kah?" Alastor tried to sound that out. "Her?" The pointed to the mother spider.
The mother spider bounced.
"Why doesn't she speak like the babies?"
Hermione shrugged as Joke scurried up her arm and snuggled into her neck. "She's a more private spider. She speaks directly to my mind. The babies have no filter."
Alastor shook his head. "Oookay."
The spiderlings bounced, seemingly excited about something.
Hermione tilted her head. "Now they are just showing off."
Alastor looked at Hermione, eyebrow cocked.
"Auror Moody," Hermione said. "Can you tell me something?"
"What's my name? My full name." Hermione asked.
"Hermione Jean Granger."
Hermione gave a tight smile. "Try again, but—" She thrust Joke into Alastor's arms. The mother spider looked up at Moody, legs wiggling. "Hold Joke, please." Hermione gathered up an armful of spiderlings and hoisted them into Dumbledore's arms. "Have some babies."
Albus made a face, but held the armful of wriggling spiderlings.
The spiderlings whispered to each other and then gave Hermione a combined look.
"Erm—Auror Moody, you're going to have to trust me here. I need you to touch Albus. Skin to skin so your magic blends."
"Sesheta. Miss Sesheta," Albus murmured. "That was your name. You—"
"You married Snape!" Moody snarled.
Severus drummed his claws against his arm, his lip curling slightly.
Hermione blinked slowly, leaning towards Moody with a distinctly feline manner. "Now is that any way to treat someone whose wedding you got rip-roaringly knackered at and danced with Minerva until you literally dropped?"
Kingsley snort-jerked and eyed Minerva. The silver lioness gave him a loving slurp across the muzzle.
"I—" Moody frowned, stroking the mother spider with unconscious soothing motions. Joke purred, radiating pure contentment.
"Merlin—I remember. I—" His head tilted. "Such rage at—gods—Severus. I—"
Coira joined her mum, clinging to her back and nudging under Alastor's hand like a friendly cat seeking pets, adding her own energy into the mix to help Moody break through the spell.
Moody clutched the mother Dark Weaver and Coira. "I forgot everything. How did I forget—"
Dumbledore's face darkened. "If this gargoyle was the focal point to a mass memory erasure that goes back to when when Miss Sesheta—Granger—damnation." Albus grumbled. "If Madam Snape's disappearance was around when I remember, then this spell has been in place for well over a decade."
"Can this be unravelled?" Moody asked. "By you as headmaster of Hogwarts?"
"Yes, now that I know it is here," Albus said, his hand clenching his wand with a slight tremble.
"But can you tell who cast it?" Moody asked.
Dumbledore frowned. "I may be able to trace the memory of the event that cast it. The spell requires more power than I have within just myself, however. The spell was not very popular for that reason. People did not enjoy the idea of losing their life's magic to find out how someone else lost their life or commit a crime."
Hermione had returned to lioness form and Joke pounced on her head, happy to be reunited with her favourite lion. She looked up at Severus.
"Hermione says that the Pride can funnel the necessary energy for your spell through Hogwarts itself. You are Headmaster, so you can direct the magic, but the Pride IS of Hogwarts, so we can merge with it and give you access to it."
Dumbledore frowned at Severus. "How is it that the Pride has access to—"
Viktor coughed, taking on his human form. "Price of save life. Bound to magic here to help protect it. School exist. We exist. Part Hogwarts blessing, part Sekhmet."
"I think what he's really asking, laddie, is why can't he just tap into it as Headmaster," Moody said, stroking Coira's back with his finger.
"You want be lion too?" Viktor asked, puzzled.
"Of course not," Albus answered.
Severus scoffed. "He'd be a dreadful lion."
Albus shot him a look.
"Oh, do tell me you'd be happy running around on all fours eating freshly-killed oxen and zebra."
"Point made." Severus shook his head.
"Doesn't it disturb you that YOU enjoy running around on all fours and eating freshly-killed animals?"
The lions exchanged glances and shook their heads together.
Viktor seemed confused as to the nature of the Headmaster's actual gripe and settled for giving a wide leonine yawn as he settled back on all fours.
Albus sighed. "What do I have to do.
Severus flinched. "As much as this grieves me," he said, putting out his paw-like hand. "Take my hand and Alastor's. There is something about Alastor's magic that seems strangely attuned to the spell. A relation, perhaps."
Hermione's head shot up. She gave Severus a significant look.
"What?" Moody asked, frowning.
"Your adoption of young Mr Potter," Severus said.
Alastor seemed to realise where he was going with that connection. "You think his father may have had something to do with it?"
"Perhaps," the Potions master replied slowly.
Albus sighed and begrudgingly took both Moody's and Snape's hands together. He held his wand awkwardly as he adjusted. "This may take a while."
Moody grunted, and Severus said nothing as Dumbledore began to weave his spell.
After having visited with Harry, Sirius was feeling pretty good. Old Mad-Eye was still the crotchety Scotsman he always was, but it seemed he had mellowed somewhat from his Auror days. Perhaps, he thought, Alastor had made the change for Harry, or Harry had encouraged it simply by being there. Harry still seemed suspicious of him, the supposed best mate of his dad, but Sirius was confident that they could have a proper relationship. In time, at least.
Time is what they both needed, and Sirius knew he wasn't father material after his time in Azkaban. There were so many holes in his memories. The healers said that was to be expected after having been Dementor chow for so long, but he couldn't help feeling it was something more.
Every time he saw Harry, he saw James. He literally saw James. He had to shake himself to slowly see the Lily-green eyes and the slight differences in body type. And every time he saw James, he would be filled with the need to do the old things they used to do: plot their pranks and how to get back at Slytherin. It was so hard to remember that James was long dead. He'd try to remember Lily's face but it would come and go.
Still, he felt better than he had in years, Azkaban notwithstanding. While he realised he really didn't have much to compare it against after his glorious home life growing up in Grimmauld Place. He found he missed his brother—his real brother. He missed James, of course, but he missed those times when they were younger kids laying back on the balcony and staring up at the stars trying to find their namesakes. Sirius had failed to find the north star often, and Regulus never let him live that down. For a boy named after the brightest star in the sky, Sirius sort of puttered out in an embarrassing fashion.
As he stood in front of the alcove leading up to the headmaster's office, the pathway rearranged itself to expose the guardian. The gargoyle growled at him, seemingly crankier than he remembered.
"Hey, I'm here to see the headmaster," Sirius said.
A low rumble seemed to shake the floor as a black-maned mahogany lion and a pitch black lion pushed past the gargoyle. They oozed out of the space like a liquid, proving the old adage that felines actually were liquids and not mammals at all. He, on the other hand, was very much the typical dog, far too quick to jump to the defence of his loved ones and blind to any possible consequences. To him, only the immediate gratification seemed to matter, no matter how much he attempted to do or prove otherwise. It was a strength on one day or a failing on another.
The gargoyle stepped aside, allowing entry to the headmaster's office, and Sirius rushed up them, not desiring to linger too long in the presence of such enormous examples of leonine body mass.
There was something about lions.
He rubbed his temple but it was gone like so many other memories the Dementors had so gleefully devoured.
The lions were staring at him. Suspiciously.
Sirius rubbed his head before ducking past the gargoyle and heading up the stairs. As he reached the headmaster's office, his hair stood on end, and he turned slowly to see the lions squeezing back through and up the stairs, their massive bulk barely clearing the sides of the stairwell.
His father had a stuffed lion in the library. His great, great, great someone or another had been attacked by one back in his day. The stories had always been larger than life, but the lion itself hadn't been that impressive. It's coat had worn through the ages even with the house-elves tending it. But these lions were nothing like that. These—
Something itched in his memory, trying to claw its way out.
A lioness' roar. The flashing of teeth.
Remus being torn to shreds by fang and claw.
"It's such a pity you are being so harassed at school," a voice said, yet the memory refused to reveal the source. "Meddling in your affairs, hrm?"
Radiance like the sun itself burned into his retinas as the memory of—
The snarling face of a demonic lioness goddess come to earth, echoed in her—
The lioness that was stalking up the stairs even now.
It was the same lioness.
"I hate her!" Lily's voice screeched as she threw a random hex at him.
Sirius ducked, only barely dodging in time. The wall cracked where she had hit it.
"Why do you even care, Lils? Sirius asked, sitting down beside her.
"All she has to do is spread her legs and all of Slytherin loves her," Lily hissed.
"What's it matter, Lily? It's Slytherin." Sirius scrunched his face. "You're getting married soon. It won't matter. None of it will."
"He should be SUFFERING!" Lily hissed, fist clenching. "I cried my eyes out with Molly over this stupid wedding when she asked where we were going to set Sev and when he called me that—he said he was sorry, but he's not acting sorry anymore! He's just sleeping with that WHORE! She's a bloody Death Eater, just like all of them are!"
"You should be thinking about all the happy years you're going to have with my best mate, Lil," Sirius said.
Lily frowned and sighed. "You choose now to the voice of reason?"
Sirius frowned. "It can happen."
"I was just so angry!" Lily lamented. "I told Molly everything. How that slut just fell from the sky and got you all in trouble. Charms all of Slytherin. Even Sev—ARGHHH! I told Molly she's just a Death Eater like Sev, now. Probably killing innocent people like that other bitch, Bellatrix."
"She believes me. Arthur believes me!"
"It's not that I don't—"
Lily sighed. "It doesn't matter anymore. Fabian and Gideon said they would take care of it."
"Take care of what, Lil?"
Lily was silent.
"Take care of what, Lily?"
Lily picked up her wedding invitations and began to scribble on them almost maniacally.
Sirius placed his hand over hers, stilling her quill.
"Everything okay?" Lily asked. "I won't have to worry about them crashing my wedding?"
Sirius' eyebrows furrowed. "Just worry about your invitations, Lil. Worry about spending a lifetime with Prongs. Worry about what you're going to name the baby."
Lily squared her jaw and wrote furiously.
"Padfoot, you have to do something!"
"What? Do what, Moony?"
"You need to get in here right now and stop them!"
"Who? Stop who? Stop what? Damn it, Moony, you're not making any sense!"
"They took Hermione Sesheta—Snape!"
"Who? Who took her? And why the hell would we even care, Moony?"
Remus slammed Sirius against the wall, his elbow tight against his throat. "Padfoot, I love you. Like a brother. But I swear to the gods if you don't pull your head out of your arse and realise that Hermione Sesheta saved my life on the night you tried to use me as a murder weapon, I'm going to go to McGonagall to learn how to become an Animagus and find a way to take a chunk out of that arse with my teeth."
Sirius' eyes widened in shock. "M-Moony!"
"That woman saved three students' lives that night, Padfoot," Remus said, his voice a harsh whisper. "Four, if you count me. Five, if you count Severus standing up for you so you didn't go to Azkaban, which I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have even considered doing if not for HER influence. Now, if you do not immediately march your sorry, fleabitten arse in there and help her, I'm going to start working on my new Grim-hide throw rug!"
Sirius balked and swallowed hard. "Okay, okay. Gods, Moony, when did you get so aggressive?"
Remus glowered. "Look, she needs help—and I think—"
"What is it Moony?"
Remus gave him a look. "I think she was set up. But I don't know by who just yet. "Something big is going down here, Pads," Remus whispered. "I don't know what or how, but—I'm going to try and figure out what it is and soon."
Sirius frowned. "There is something else, isn't there?"
Remus finally relaxed, letting go of his friend. "I'm not sure yet."
"What is it? Something is bothering you."
Remus squared his jaw. "It's nothing."
"It's not nothing Remus," Sirius said. "What has you all in a tizzy?"
"She was just frustrated with—"
The sandy-haired wizard winced, "She said she could never trust me to be Harry's godfather because I was a bloody werewolf. I had been touched by her!"
Sirius blinked. "She said that to you?"
"No!" Remus said bitterly. "She said it when she thought I wasn't listening. To Prongs. At the wedding."
"At the—Fuck, Remus that was a year ago! You're just saying this now?"
"I have to be sure it's her talking!" Remus said.
"What are you saying?"
Remus's face was a picture of pure frustration. "I think someone is filling her head with—I don't know! Something! Something that—and I don't think she's alone. I think we've all been under the influence of something… or someone, for years. I always thought it was just the wolf within. And until the Goddess came down and burned it out of me, I didn't know any different!"
"All of us?"
"You, Prongs—Wormtail, I'm not sure quite about him either, but for entirely different reasons."
Sirius put his hand on Remus' shoulder. "You're starting to sound downright paranoid, mate."
"I know bloody well what I sound like, Sirius!" Remus snapped. He closed his eyes and shook his head. "Sorry. I—it's why I have to be sure. Just—get her out of there, Sirius. Go. Now. We'll meet up at your flat, and I'll try to tell you what I know."
Sirius closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Okay, Moony. But I want an explanation for why I'm sticking my neck out for the likes of Hermione sodding Snape."
Remus shook his head adamantly. "If what I think is right, then we're all going to want to kick ourselves in the head."
"Alright, I'll go—Remus—"
"I trust you, you know that right?"
"I know," Remus replied. "But I still want to kick you right between the legs at times."
"Ouch, Moony. Why're you being so mean to me?" Sirius moaned.
"You asked for it," Remus replied, pointing to the Ministry. "Hurry up."
Sirius saluted and left Remus standing under a low-flickering lamp. Remus' shoulders slumped as he took in a deep, cleansing breath. "Please, let me be wrong."
Sirius burst into the Auror's office, his hair moving like it was on fire. He heard screaming, and the screaming was more than a little shrill.
"Look at her arm!" James' voice hissed. "That's all the proof we need!"
"Get your hands OFF of me!" a female voice cried.
The sound of flesh against flesh, the connect of arm against face, rang out as cloth ripped. James jerked open the sleeve, ripping the woman's robes clear off her body, leaving her exposed—including both arms.
Both pristine arms.
"That's impossible!" James hissed.
"You told us she was for SURE a Death Eater, Potter!"
"She IS a Death Eater!"
"Well unless you happen to have found a way to cover a Mark up, idiot, she's not Marked!"
"It's a trick!"
"No magic on earth can cover up a MARK, you know that!"
"She has one!" James yelled frantically. He ripped off the remains of the witch's clothing to expose her legs. "She's always spreading her legs for them, so maybe they Marked her THERE!"
The woman screamed in horror and mortification. The men panicked, trying to hold her down.
"She's not a Death Eater!"
"N-no! This isn't possible!"
Hermione was screaming and struggling, and Sirius ran forward.
"What the bloody FUCK are you doing?!" Sirius bellowed loudly, wading in.
Hermione freed her arm and her leg, and she kicked out hard, knocking one Auror flat on his back as her knuckles connected with the other's face. James whipped out his wand and hit her with a stunner, even as the others did the same. Hermione went flying backwards, hit with a chain of stunners.
Sirius flung James into the side of the holding cell. "What the FUCK, mate?"
"She's a DEATH EATER!"
"She's NOT! Look at her ruddy arm!"
James looked down, his face twisted in conflict. "N-no! It can't be!"
"It is, damnit!" Sirius forced James' head around to look at Hermione. "It is! Merlin's undershorts, mate, look what you've done!"
James winced. "She was so sure," he gasped hoarsely.
Sirius frowned. "Sure about what? Who?"
James just seemed to babble incoherently.
Sirius shook him. "Prongs. Snap out of it, mate!"
James made a face—confused, torn.
Gideon wiped the blood from his mouth where Hermione had kicked him straight to the mouth with her dragonhide boots. He pointed to the thin collar around Hermione's neck, so fine that it could have been a piece of jewelry.
"YOU SAID SHE WAS A DEATH EATER!" Fabian roared, taking James by the shoulders, jerking him out of Sirius' arms, and slamming him against the bars of the cell. The three Aurors got into a tussle, throwing each other around as they attempted to attack, defend, or otherwise blame the other.
Sirius dove into the cell, grabbing Hermione up into his arms and rushing out of the holding area. "Fuck!" he cursed, hurrying down the hallways to the DoM. Guilt took their pounds of flesh from him, driving him into even deeper guilt. He'd been just like them. He had believed her to be nothing but a Death Eater or a Death Eater's whore—but she wore the telltale tag from the Department of Mysteries. A tag that he—they—every single one of them as trained Aurors should have checked for before—
Before they fucking ripped off her clothes and hit her with barrage of thrice-cursed STUNNERS!
The first fucking thing they should have seen.
Any newbie Auror got his arse royally chewed out if they forgot to check such things. Agents of the DoM. People protected by the DoM—even setting finger on one was grounds to be fired, thrown into Fiendfyre, and lost in the pits of Oblivion.
He slammed his fist into the authorisation plate placed on a small table beside the hallway door. The door slid open exposing another closed door.
"Auror emergency authorisation code Black, Sirius A-14-32-6-Omega-Foxtrot."
The door slid open, and he stumbled through, carrying Hermione along with him.
An Unspeakable stood in the adjoining alcove, green flame-wreathed eyes—the badge of their office—glowing from behind a white blindfold.
"She needs help!" Sirius cried, staggering.
The Unspeakable said nothing, or at least nothing he could understand, but they placed a gentle hand against Hermione's forehead as he helped Sirius lower her limp body onto one of the cushioned seats.
The Unspeakable hissed, it, her, his—their voice a disturbing rattle of hiss, rattle, and breaking glass. A hawk Patronus zoomed out from the Unspeakable's wand, and they transfigured a blanket out of the nearby pillow, wrapping it snugly around Hermione's body. They glowered darkly at Sirius.
"I brought her here! Don't give me that look!" Sirius bit out.
People rushed in. Unspeakables and a woman cloaked in deep red robes and a black hood. She pulled the hood down from her face exposing short silver hair and piercing blue eyes.
"What happened to her?" she demanded.
"She was hit with multiple stunners," Sirius answered.
Fortunately the woman didn't bother waiting for an answer, and she hurriedly ran her wand over Hermione. She pulled the blanket down to expose Hermione's neck and her wand blazed bright red and green.
"Maximus, dispel this sodding dampening field!" the woman snapped. "Hodges, break that damned hex! Put a tracer on this magic tap and find out who the hell placed it on her. NOW!"
She hooked her finger around the DoM collar and the magical clasp opened. She flung the offending collar away, making the wizards chase after it to finish their tasks. The moment she did, there was a flood of hot, molten magic that flowed out of Hermione's body. Her eyes glowed. Her body jerked, and she burst from the blanket around her as a wrathful golden lioness. She roared, pouncing on Sirius and slamming him down to the ground, her huge paws pinning him to the ground as her fangs bared but an inch from his face. There was fire in her eyes—flames of the burning sun.
The older witch placed a hand on Hermione's shoulder. "Peace, my friend. He is the one who brought you here."
The fire seemed to subside as the lioness' shoulders relaxed. She stepped off of Sirius, but not before she planted one large paw directly to his groin on her way. A few of the Unspeakables surreptitiously checked their own privates in a gesture of obvious male sympathy.
The lioness rubbed up against the elder witch with clear affection, rumbling lowly..
"There now, young lady," the elder witch soothed. "You should go speak with Amelia so she knows what is going on so that she can tell her boss what is going on."
Hermione whuffled the witch's face, snuffling and tickling her with her long whiskers.
"Fffffft," she replied, giving her a playful shove. "Go get yourself properly checked out by Healer Faulkner. You know how it goes."
The lioness yawned, showing all of teeth and lolling her tongue.
"Hnnnngh," Hermione rumbled, placing both paws on the witch's shoulders and practically toppling her over. She rubbed both cheeks with her whiskers and muzzle and gave her a slurp across the nose.
The elder witch sighed and shoved the lioness off with an amused look. "Go on now."
The lioness lazily trotted down the hallway, giving a low, rumbling roar. A gaggle of young children, all decked out in uniforms, squealed in delight and pounced the lioness, following her down the hallway as they clutched her tail like a lifeline.
"Ma'am," Hodges said, eyes flicking to where Sirius was rolling on the floor cupping his groin. "Someone put a magical dampening spell on our identification collar."
"What? Hecate's hairpins, how is that possible?"
Hodges looked uncomfortable. "It shouldn't be for most spell levels."
The elder witch narrowed her eyes. "Take that to Finklestein. I want it traced, and I want to know how someone was powerful enough to dampen a natural form transformation."
"Yes, ma'am," Hodges agreed, using his wand to guide the tampered collar by levitation.
"Thea," Maximus said. "There are only a few people strong enough to put a spell on an Department collar without us noticing it."
The elder witch, narrowed her eyes. "I know, Maximus—and it almost killed her. Amelia will want to know every horrid detail."
The wizards nodded. "We'll make the report and have it memory vialed to her."
Thea frowned. "If it is who I think," she said grimly. "He is untouchable."
The wizards scowled, looking down the hallway where the lioness had left.
Thea turned her gaze to Sirius. "Auror Black, I am sure our boss will wish to speak with you as well—as of yesterday."
Sirius's eyes widened.
"Hermione is probably one of the most warm-hearted and kind individuals we have here, Auror Black, and she just let you off with a very solid warning to your privates. Care to tell me what you could have possibly done that would invoke such an automatic reaction?"
Sirius flushed uncomfortably. "I—let's just say I had anger issues in school, and she was a seemingly logical target."
"What, Mr Black, is an seemingly logical target?" Thea asked, eyes narrowing.
Sirius averted his eyes. "She was Slytherin. Like my family."
Thea's face crinkled, her mouth forming a thin line. "Judging people on their school House is a horrible and childish way to put value onto a person. Judge a person by their deeds, not by rumour and bigotry, because that is what it is, Mr Black. You, as an Auror, should be better than that, and it horrifies me that people who pre-judge someone are Aurors."
"For example, if I were to judge you simply by looks, I would think you as nothing more than a poser, standing there with your expensive leather coat so finely tailored—so far above what a typical Auror can afford. Your messy hair would tell me you don't give a care about your personal appearance unless it matters, and even then—apparently coming to work in the morning doesn't matter enough. You wear tight trousers to accent your assets to the female persuasion, but I can guarantee the only thing you do is prove that you aren't out there to judge a woman by her brains. Or, perhaps, you are over compensating, and are, in fact, attracted to blokes and are desperately trying to prove otherwise. Let me guess. You have a Muggle motorcycle stashed away somewhere so you can make a lot of noise and tear up the streets, feeling the wind in your hair like a dog hanging their head out of a Muggle automobile window. Do you drink every night after a hard day's work, justifying it as well-earned spoils? Does your conscience start to tingle only long enough that you feel you have to drown it in whisky? It would be a shame if all I did was judge you on first impressions, Mr Black. Wherever would we be if the Department of Mysteries did that?"
Sirius swallowed hard.
Thea's face hardened, but then she sighed and relaxed. "But that is neither here nor there, as you have brought our lioness back to us, and that is more than your other pathetic fellows could do. She extended a hand to Sirius. "Might as well get you to Amelia. She'll want to know what happened. From you. Despite whatever actions you may have done in the past, which I imagine are horrible, you did make the right decision today. Perhaps—there is hope for you."
Sirius pulled himself up and balked as his hand met her skin. She eyed him, a flash of gold filling her eyes. "Problems, Mr Black?"
Sirius tried not to look, but he couldn't help it. Finely chiseled scales adorned her skin, so fine they could have been grains of sand. They shimmered like opals. He swallowed audibly, looking back up at her.
Thea's eyes bored into him. "I was in Slytherin House too, Mr Black. Shall you judge me without knowing me?"
Sirius tugged on his collar. "No, ma'am."
Sirius followed Thea down the hall towards Amelia's office, and when she dropped him off, he felt a sort of tangible relief upon arriving, as if he'd been a mouse and she the snake—quite literally.
"What kind of snake is she?" Sirius whispered as Thea left down the hall in a swirl of red and black fabric.
Amelia looked up from her desk, eyebrow raising. "She's not a snake, Mr Black. She's a dragon."
Sirius waited in his flat after having "survived" the interrogation by the powerful witch known as Amelia Bones. He'd heard of her, as most Aurors did, but that was only rumour and whispers. Unlike her boss, whose name seemed to slip away like a darting fish, Amelia had a reputation as a rule enforcer who did not tolerate funny business.
Rumour had it even old Mad-Eye respected Madam Bones—and after that grilling interrogation (which never once even went above a soft voice, making it all the more terrifying) he was willing to swear off stupidity for good. Sirius needed to talk to Prongs. He wanted to know if he'd done it on his own or if Lily had somehow convinced him to take out Hermione Sesheta—no, Snape—because of some stupid teenage grudge over Sni—Severus Snape.
While his job was not as in danger thanks to him being the one who brought Madam Snape back to the DoM, there were questions that were going to have to be answered, lest good old Prongs wake up with a lioness standing on his junk AND his bladder at the same time.
He'd spent the last four hours having a face to muzzle with Hermione Snape through a new and apparently uncursed identification collar that had a sort of—what did Amelia call it?
Telepamagitransmiography? Hell… it was complicated.
Anyway, he spend the evening talking to a lioness. Hermione—fuck.
There was so much he didn't know. Hadn't wanted to know—and now he did know. There was no going back from it. He couldn't deny his past was a clusterfuck, and his attitude had been more so, but—he'd witnessed his best mate strip a innocent witch down to starkers all for a Mark that hadn't been there.
And Sirius knew exactly where that rumour had come from: Lily.
Lily had hated Hermione Sesheta since the day she arrived at Hogwarts. All because Hermione had forgiven "Sev" all his faults and made the wretch of a person hater into a decent man. It didn't help that Severus had Sirius' own ire for befriending his kid-brother and actually getting along with him. That was Sirius' problem with him—even after the other issues of House-hate.
Hate he really had because of his parents rather than—
Fuck, he was messed up.
Sirius pinched his nose and took a drink—stared at the whisky in his glass and then frowned. He threw it into the fireplace, watching it go up in flames.
No more. He wasn't going to use alcohol to make him avoid facing himself and his own past anymore. He was going to have to find his kid brother and confess he was being a totally bastard to him for—
Doing exactly what he had to in order to survive in a house with two highly pureblood parents.
Regulus was the brave one.
Regulus put on a brave face and did everything he was supposed to do to keep the peace.
Not him. No. Sirius had run away. He had literally run away, leaving his kid brother alone to pick up the pieces of his older brother's rebellious—everythings.
Sirius frowned. He was, after everything, ashamed. He'd let his stupid pride over being something other than Slytherin and his hatred for his parents taint his relationship with his brother and everyone he knew. He'd cursed his brother for being a hypocrite—while he was ultimately more so.
Sirius should have known better. Moony had tried to tell them after the entire almost-murdered-your-schoolmate-with-a-werewolf incident that if anyone had deserved to be punished it had been him, Wormtail, and Prongs. Sirius most of all, thanks to his brilliant idea to teach Sni—Severus to keep his great beak of a nose out of their bloody business.
But what was their business anyway? Tormenting Slytherins?
No, it was time to have a sit down with Prongs.
What kind of life did he want to bring his son into? How do you teach your son about the love they had for him if the world he saw around them was most definitely not created out of love. The idea that mini-Prongs would become just like them—hell.
He wondered what Harry would be like when he grew up? Maybe he should worry more about if he'd reach his first birthday—October was coming soon, and the weather was shifting into cold. You Know Who was gaining more and more support. People were disappearing—and the Aurors—
People like him and Prongs were not helping by paranoidly accusing everyone. Wormtail seemed perfectly happy accusing whoever for whatever he could make up, and until this point, Sirius had laughed and not bothered to correct him. Remus, on the other hand, had started to drift away from their blame parties—drinking on Fridays at the Leaky and pointing out supposed Death Eaters. Some of them they had even followed, looking for reasons to arrest them.
There was a knock at his flat door, and he grunted, knowing Remus would take that as a "come in." The ex-werewolf slipped in quietly—almost as if he still had his more preternatural abilities.
"How'd it go?" Remus asked, sitting on the opposite-facing couch.
Sirius stared into the fire where his shot glass was still melting. "It was a learning experience." He paused long and hard. "She's DoM."
"What?" Remus gasped. "I mean, I knew she was special, but—"
"Oh—more than special Moony. She can wrangle a bunch of Unspeakable's children, teach a class, and then do a covert op before dinner. The things I saw, Moony. I'm pathetic. We've been at her like she's some sort of demon incarnate, but she's more like an avenging angel—and we've done nothing but get on her bad side since day one."
Remus gave him a look.
"Except you, Moony—you've been nothing but her advocate since day one."
Remus sighed. "The goddess told you she was her lioness. Why is it that you had such a hard time believing that?"
"Because I don't believe in gods!" Sirius blurted.
Remus jerked his head back. "How? Isn't that something with comes with being a pureblood? How could you not after all you've seen? All you've—"
"I spent my childhood doing the kind of tricks the gods do to people, Remus. I couldn't believe it wasn't just some mad trick. Some slight of hand I didn't know of. That I wanted for myself."
Sirius clenched his fist. "Don't you think I wanted to be able to cure your lycanthropy? Don't you think our becoming Animagi to keep you company wasn't all for you?"
Remus let out a breath. "Pads, I have no doubt that in the beginning that is exactly what it was, but even you have to admit that it changed. It became just one more tool to torment Severus. Slytherin—and especially Hermione Sesheta."
Sirius closed his eyes. "You're right, of course." He slumped, his gaze going to the half-full glass of firewhisky. He reached for it, hand trembling—and then he stopped. "Fuck me, this is hard, Moony."
"It's always been hard, Pads," Remus said.
Sirius swallowed hard, his hand trembling. "You've known, haven't you?"
Remus sighed. "Known what, Pads?"
"That she was more than just—"
Remus shook his head. "Mate, she gave me back my life. My human life. How can I not have known she was so much more than just some random Slytherin witch who happened to show up at exactly the right time?"
Sirius frowned, struggling. "We didn't exactly make it easy for you, did we, Moony?"
Remus averted his gaze. "No," he replied quietly, "you were all sodding wankers about it."
Sirius flushed red, anger rising, and then he suddenly seemed to realise just how stupid it was for him to get mad at Remus for his own behaviour. "I'm just a right mess of things, aren't I?"
"There's still some hope for you," Remus said, not unkindly.
To: Aurors, all
From: Moody, Alastor
I don't know which of you idiots decided it was a-okay to bring in ANYONE and rip off their sodding clothes looking for a Dark Mark, but this shite ends right now!
I have spent days trying to smooth things over with people far above my pay scale to keep us all from being fired, and I want the heads of the parties responsible on a platter on my desk as of yesterday!
I know you all think ol' Madeye is madder than a box of frogs, but I didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday, people, and there is a big gaping hole in the logs around the time a very obvious incident went down. Someone has been covering up their trail, but when I find them, I guarantee it will not go well for them or the ones who are thinking they can't snitch on their buddies. We are the LAW enforcers around here! We are not free to judge someone and then do what we please. If someone throws a Dark magic at you, then you are perfectly sanctioned to retaliate, but assaulting someone here within the Auror's office is not okay. What assault, you ask? This eye of mine isn't for show, people. I could see something happened in that holding cell, but what it can't tell me is who or why, and there is not one report for the time in question.
I want this mystery solved. If it doesn't march into my office with a bow tied around it, I will start bringing each and every one of you into my office for a sit down.
You won't like it.
Bulletin Board Posting (in Aurors-Only lounge)
Auror Potter has resigned his position to better take care of his family during this difficult time of war. He requests that he not be contacted to better ensure the safety of his wife and child.
The time after Sirius' epiphany and reconciliation with Hermione Snape was a jumbled mess. He and Remus had become better friends, and by better he treated Remus with more appreciation for the ex-werewolf's level head. The irony that the one who used to lose control the most had the most level head was not lost on him at all.
Remus began to visit more often, and James began to visit less. Both men didn't seem to understand what was going on in James' head, but both speculated that his obsession with his "family's" safety was more about worrying about what Alastor Moody would do to him if he got his claws into him.
Sirius had already been cleared, and that had been a tricky sort of dance. He was sworn to secrecy under Oath to protect Hermione's position as well as herself, and the only one he could talk about it with was Remus, who had already known. When Sirius couldn't spit out the answers to Moody's questions, he'd almost flown off the handle—at least until Sirius fell to the floor, convulsing as his Oath tried to kill him.
Unspeakable Thea had arrived shortly after, decked in her full uniform of her station and intimidating enough to make Alastor Moody take pause, rushing to Sirius' side to ease his pain as she cursed at Moody for not recognising the mark of Oath to the DoM that clearly stamped to the back of his ear. It was something an experienced Auror like Moody should have known to check, and she was getting tired of Aurors not noticing safeguards the DoM put on the agents so such things wouldn't happen.
She'd hissed at Alastor (literally) for about ten minutes before she remembered she was wearing her full Unspeakables headdress—something that purposely transformed her speech into disturbing hissing whispers. Then she pulled off her head covering so she could properly yell at him, and her anger had her hissing words anyway thanks to her more draconic alterego.
Had Sirius not been on the floor writhing in pain, he would have enjoyed the show.
Moody looked gobsmacked and then inexplicably smitten.
They had gone out for coffee afterwards, so apparently whatever passed between then was settled. Sirius had been "excused." He hadn't been complaining.
Moody was scary enough.
Thea—well she was a dragon. You just don't argue with that—not without serious protection and a distance of maybe a few hundred kilometers between her and your face.
Maybe a few extra hundred…
Sirius shook his head as he watched Remus mixing drinks. They'd, well he'd, recently discovered the wonders of tasty beverages that did not involve alcohol. The first few weeks had been rough—the not drinking—but he was starting to feel more human and less like a drunk.
Prongs had decided to go "on the run" with Lily and baby Harry, the official reason being danger to his family from the Dark Lord, but something felt off about it. He would still floo in and raid Sirius' old stash of alcohol from time to time—looking more and more like a disheveled street urchin than a wizard. He'd seen real stags that looked more human than Prongs.
Remus had let it slip the real reason he had "refused" to be Harry's godfather during one of their bonding sessions. Lily had whispered to Prongs in earshot (which wasn't hard since Remus still had vestiges of acute hearing) that she didn't think Remus was going to be financially able to support Harry if something were to happen to them. Prongs had argued otherwise, but the damage had already been done. Remus had declined.
Sirius, on the other hand, had accepted as a knee-jerk reaction. Of course he'd take care of mini-Prongs. Yet now, he wondered if that was going to be sooner rather than later.
Prongs had been spending way too much time with Wormtail since leaving school, and they'd even made the rat the secret keeper of their new place. Prongs had drunkenly blurted that he could trust Wormtail to be on his side which had caused an even greater rift between Sirius, Remus, and James.
So, Sirius and Remus became comrades in bachelor life, and Sirius stopped bringing home random witches for cheap, meaningless sex. They, like the booze, had become a crutch he no longer wanted. Even though they both worried for James' and Lily's son's future, Prongs wasn't speaking of where they had moved to. That secret belonged only to Wormtail, and Peter wasn't visiting— having more important things to do than wallow with his former best mates.
Sirius and Remus had decided to have a sit in and watch Muggle television and drink non-alcoholic cocktails and share a pizza from D'Agostino's. It was a family-owned business that all the locals knew, but if you didn't know it was easy to miss simply because of the crowd hiding the place. Still, the food smelled utterly divine, and for an ex-lupine and Animagus-dog— well, they were working on adding some much-needed kilos to their emaciated, war-ravaged bodies.
Even so, the pair had decided that maybe they should team up and get a nice place in the country away from the hustle and bustle of London proper, but they didn't want to be targets either. They were far more invisible in Muggle London than in the country or in magical-friendly areas. For now, they would remain surrounded in people— protected by the Muggles that were under the threat of a wizard they didn't even know existed.
"Pass the mini-waffles, would you, Pads?" Remus asked.
"You're addicted, Moony."
"They are tiny bundles of joyous rapture on my tongue."
Sirius sighed. "You're still a wolf, I don't care what you say."
"I imagine myself as a giant black bird with a blue head and attitude."
Sirius blinked. "What?"
"You know, the cassowary. They like fruit. I like fruit. They like mushrooms, I like mushrooms."
"Moony, you just like food."
"The cacao pod is a fruit."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "You should have been a sodding Ravenclaw."
Remus ffffted. "Whatever, Pads."
The flames in the floo rose up, turning green, and James half-fell, half-stumbled out of it, looking as though he hadn't slept in weeks.
"Fuck, Prongs, you look like Moony the morning after the full moon!"
James gave him a weary smile. "It's worth it, Pads. I'm fixing everything."
Remus and Sirius exchanged worried glances.
"What do you mean, 'fixing everything'?"
James waved him off as he poured himself a drink from Sirius' private stash of Muggle alcoholic beverages. He took a huge swig and then set the glass down. "We won't have to worry about Snivellus' little slag anymore. I've taken care of it."
James stared down the empty shot glass, poured another, and then slammed it down. "Or rather, it will, anyway."
Sirius stood up violently, tipping his chair over in the process. "What do you mean you took care of her?"
"Gods, calm down, Pads," James said rather lazily. He wiped his brow and pulled out a gemstone from his coat pocket. "Remember that time we fed the gargoyle Snivellus' transfigured gem project?"
Sirius and Remus exchanged worried glances.
James smiled, squeezing the gem in his hand. "She's not going to be a problem for us anymore. I had Wormtail sneak another gem into Hogwarts and feed it to the gargoyle. Now, all it needs is a little blood and it all goes away."
"Blood magic? Are you nuts?!" Sirius yelped. "You'd risk yourself and your wife and your child by doing BLOOD MAGIC?!" The wizard's hair stood up on end like the hackles on a— dog. "Do you hear yourself? Did you not listen to my stories of what that evil shite did to my family? My mother's father worked blood magic on his wife while she was but in the womb, and you can see what insanity that brought upon her! You've heard her for yourself! Is there some sort of screw loose in your head that makes you think that Lily and Harry won't be affected by this? You know damned well that magic like that ALWAYS exacts a heavy price, what the hell makes you think that you'll be an exception, huh? Don't even try to kid yourself into believing that your intentions somehow make you above it all because blood magic doesn't CARE about your reasons or justifications, you bleeding idiot!"
"You don't understand, Pads! She's ruined everything! I can't even make love to my WIFE without her coming between us! This is FOR my family. This is for my SON. He will never have to grow up and have some inhuman beast hanging over his head!"
Lupin's head jerked up, and his face twisted into a scowl of dismay and anger. "What did you say?"
James blinked at that. "Oh come on, Moony, you know I don't—"
"No, please," Remus said, his lips pursing into a tight line. "Tell me what you truly believe. Tell me you don't share the same opinion that Lily did about having a poor, impoverished man-beast as a godfather for your son."
James looked conflicted. "Moony—"
Remus' eyes were on James, their surface flickered with the hint of what had once been the wolf. The rise of his magic caused his hair to stand on end, and for a moment, James looked as though he had managed to bring the werewolf back out.
In Remus' stead, there was a large, flightless, black bird with a bright blue head and black and red waddles and a crownlike casque on his head. The bird made a loud booming noise that seemed to reach far back to the time when dinosaurs walked the Earth. He launched himself at James, using his beak as his weapon of choice— his huge foot claws only slightly more concerning by their immense size.
James, so shocked by Remus' transformation into something so completely alien and unexpected, could barely stagger back. The gem in his hand dropped to the ground, rolling to a stop in the middle of the floor rug, as James shifted into his stag-form, trying to keep the irate land-bird from gutting him with beak and talons.
"Stop it!" Sirius bellowed. "Talk about this like civilised men!"
Neither of the"men" seemed to be listening, as a buildup of unsaid everythings was boiling out into an act of physical violence— something Remus had never been able to permit himself when he was a werewolf, lest something draw attention to his status as a dangerous lycanthrope.
Prongs tried to impale Moony with his antlers, and Moony kicked upward. Prongs pulled back, but the giant claw scraped the tip of the stag's nose. Blood flowed everywhere— tiny droplets spraying outward in a disorderly crimson cloud.
"NO!" Sirius screamed, whipping out his wand and trying in vain to cast a spell—
But it was too late.
Blood fell upon the forgotten gemstone lying innocently on the carpet.
A sizzling heatwave of blood red magic blew outwards as the gem itself atomised, and all three men (one cassowary, one stag, and a human wizard) were thrown in different directions. Their bodies slammed hard against the walls, knocking off the portraits and cracking the plaster. They slid down, wind knocked clean out of them as the magic tore through them all.
They screamed in agony, clutching their heads as the spell James had woven did whatever it was supposed to do. The magic arced and fizzled as the wizards convulsed on the floor and then went limp.
Sirius woke in a strangely comfortable armchair in Dumbledore's office. He wiped the drool from his chin and looked around. "Nnnghf?"
"Charming, brother," Regulus said, "I see your post-slumber manners haven't changed since you were three."
"How the fuck would you know?" Sirius blurted. "You were two!"
"I was a very talented two-year-old that was juggling bottles with my mind before you could figure out how to open a door."
"Why am I even arguing with you?! You're fucking DEAD!"
"I would disagree, brother."
Sirius shot straight up in the chair, wild-eyed. "R-r-r… Merlin, Regulus?"
"Outstanding," Regulus said dryly. "Do you remember your own name as well?"
Sirius stared, dumbfounded.
"I beg to differ."
"You— but— you're dead!"
Sirius jumped as there was a joint, thunderous roar, and he tumbled backwards out of the chair as he practically had to crawl up over the back in order to tip all the way back. He thumped onto the floor on his back, the chair slamming into his groin.
"Ouch, brother," Regulus muttered, doing a slow check of his own privates in sympathy.
The black and white male lions looks very smug as they pinned their lioness and gave her a good grooming from each side. The mahogany lion groomed the silvery lioness, looking just as smug as the others. Meanwhile Severus— who never ceased to looked like Severus regardless of what body he was in— crossed his arms across his chest and leaned into Albus' bookcase, the corner of his muzzle wrinkling upward in a sneer.
Albus was feeding Fawkes a mango, and the bird was helping himself to the bits that had landed in the old wizard's beard.
"Still as daft as ever, Black," Severus rumbled, his voice deeper with a low growl laced into it.
"You shut the fuck up, SNIVEL—"
Sirius stopped as the giant golden lioness, her solar disc shining with golden light, stepped out of the pride. Her size— gods her size— had her almost to Regulus' shoulder, and her amber eyes blazed and met his. Her lips pulled back from her teeth, exposing her canines in what could only be a show of intimidation, and Sirius' words just screeched to a halt, hopped the tracks, and proceeded to flee in the mountains, throwing itself off the first cliff it could find.
Sirius made incoherent babbling noises.
To everyone's surprise, Severus' hand-paw rested on Hermione's head, and she looked up at him with a curious look. He shook his head, gesturing with his chin, as he held out his pawlike hand to her.
Hermione seemed to shrug, standing on her back legs and rising upwards, transforming into her human form, cracking her neck as she stood as a woman rather than a lioness. She rubbed her cheek against his in a show of solidarity, made somewhat eerie by the very lion action in a human body, and Sirius could only gape as Regulus did the same, once to Hermione and then once to Severus. Severus' mouth parted, exposing his teeth; he lifted his head as he scented using the back of his mouth, then gently rubbed each of them back, a thrumming rumble in his throat.
Sirius attempted to pull himself together. "H— Hermione?"
He clutched his head painfully.
"I fear there is nothing we can do to ease the pain of your remembering, Black," Severus said, eyes narrowing. "From what I understand, you were just as affected as the rest of us that had known her back then. You can blame Potter and Wormtail for that rather— painful epiphany."
A spider cooed from Severus' shoulder, bouncing up and down. "He okay?"
"He doesn't look okay."
"He looks knackered."
"He looked worse than knackered."
The spiderlings peered at Sirius with curiosity and concern.
"I would not recommend moving too quickly," Dumbledore said, rubbing his head. "If it weren't for Fawkes, I'd still be in the infirmary."
"Nnnnnnggg," Sirius managed.
A chocolate bar was being waved under Sirius' nose. "This may help."
"Oh, good. You remember my name too."
Sirius made an odd expression. "I need to sit down."
"You are sitting down."
"I need to sit down on something that is an actual chair."
Remus pulled him up and guided his friend over to the chair and plunked him into it, then yanked the toppled chair over to sit on it.
"You know, I've been locking myself away in a cage after drinking a sleeping draught every evening since— thinking I was going to turn?"
"But you're not—"
"Tell me you knew that twenty minutes ago."
Sirius tried and then made a face. "Oh." He rubbed his head. "This hurts like… FUCK," he groaned, wincing.
I'll be there to help you, brother, I promise."
"You'd better be, brother," Regulus said. "There is no one else who can find me if something goes wrong. When I get there, I will send you my location, just like we did as kids. I need you to be there just in case—"
"I'll be there."
"Promise?" Regulus' voice wavered slightly.
"I let you down before, brother. I will not do it again while life is still inside of me," Sirius swore fervently.
Regulus closed his eyes and nodded. "I'm counting on you, brother."
"I'll be there."
Regulus sighed and nodded.
Sirius watched his baby brother walk back into the DoM, met at the door by a lioness, who rubbed up against him and allowed him to grasp her tail for comfort, like a child putting their hand in their parent's as they walked to the healer's office.
"My baby brother in the DoM—the world really is upside down," Sirius said to himself as the door to the DoM closed behind his brother's retreating figure.
Sirius shook his head, moaning as he clutched his head. "Oh gods— I wasn't there! I wasn't— I never remembered to— I'm the reason you're dead!"
Regulus sighed again. "Brother, I swear that I'm not haunting you, you big buffoon. I'm alive. Hermione saved me. Before I went out, she made me wear a portkey. I got out, brother. I found out later why you never showed, but it was too late to do anything about it."
"How— why weren't you—"
"DoM, brother," Regulus explained. "There isn't a single agent that is allowed out in the field without their wards, amulets, and all that other fun protective stuff."
Sirius seemed lost in thought. He looked to his brother, his friend— to the headmaster and then to the disturbing number of giant lions and swallowed hard. "What… happened?"
"Blood magic," Regulus said, sitting down. "Triggered on the night I was almost trapped in a cave.
Sirius frowned, painfully clutching his head as though to rip the memories out of it. Suddenly, his eyes shot open as his head jerked up. Fury rolled off him. "I'm going to MURDER him!" Sirius roared, flinging himself out of the chair and towards the door—
Hermione stood in front of the door, joined by Viktor, Lucius, Minerva, and Kingsley. Their combined bulk blocked the exit.
Sirius turned to bolt towards the floo, but Severus stood there, looking even more intimidating than he had ever been in school.
Remus put his hands on Sirius' shoulders and shook him. "Prongs is dead, mate. He's gone. Voldemort killed him and Lily, remember?"
Sirius' face looked stricken as his memories caught up with him. "I—"
He sank to the floor, practically laying his head on Severus' dragonhide boots.
"I wasn't there—"
"I wasn't there to help my brother because of HIM!" Sirius wailed. "I rotted in Azkaban because of him and Wormtail. They deserve to pay for that! They deserve—"
Severus pulled his boot away from Sirius. "Unfortunately, they already have." His voice was cold, still haunted by the death, not of James, but of his childhood friend.
Sirius' head shot up angrily— anger being something he was all too easily consumed by, and then he paled as he remembered that it hadn't been just his "best mate" that had died on that horrible night so long ago. Severus had lost his childhood friend, leaving them no way to reconcile— no forgiveness, no closure. Part of that had been purposely foiled by none other than Sirius and James, who had made it their life mission to make sure Lily never forgave him.
"Gods.. oh gods.. I'm sorry." Sirius looked up at the lion-man. "I'm sorry. So sorry."
Severus' lip curled, but then Hermione's wedge of a head maneuvered under his pawlike hand and pushed upward. Severus's face slackened, a peaceful look taking the place of his customary sneer.
"You have already apologised, Black, and back then, you meant it too," Snape uncrossed his arms and helped Sirius up off the floor. Though it only lasted for but a moment before it was wiped away by your best mate."
Sirius looked haunted. "He's sacked," he said, sitting down again on the nearby chair. "Who wants a best mate, even in memory, that would use blood magic to wipe out a woman from across Britain?"
Dumbledore steepled his fingers together. "I fear that much of what we are experiencing today has been waiting to happen since almost a decade ago, and time is righting what we could not. Sadly it was not in time to save Harry from being an orphan— or at least he could have had guardians that cared for him so it did not require relying on him being locked with his only remaining blood relative."
Sirius let out his breath slowly. "And Harry has had to live with it."
"You have the opportunity now to give Harry something you could not give him before," Albus said.
Sirius looked up.
"Family and friends without the— unfortunate strife."
Sirius looked to Remus and then Severus. He stared at his brother, swallowing hard. "That would be," he started to say, "quite a pleasant change."
"You're— a lion?" Sirius whispered as he and his little brother walked Hogwarts' grounds.
"I've always been a lion, brother," Regulus chuckled. "My star is the brightest of Leo."
"But you weren't always an actual lion!"
"Had you not been so oblivious to anything but my crimes against Gryffindor, brother, you would have noticed I've been a registered Animagus since my seventh year."
"Mind you, I was a bright orange Kneazle-looking thing with a squashed face that looked like I took a header into a brick wall. Horrible. I ran around like I had some pretty major allergies. I think I was allergic to myself—but that all changed when Hermione saved my life. I became a part of her Pride, and it gave us both a bit of sanity as the world continued on without us."
"You lost your allergies?"
"I became a lion."
"Oh." Sirius stared down at his feet. "Here I thought me and my best mates had such a thing."
"He looks better!"
"Less like he was trampled by a hippogriff."
"Being stepped on hurts."
Sirius looked up to see two spiderlings on Regulus' shoulder. "Ngh?"
Regulus smiled. "The blue one is Dalziel. The green one is Yaxha. Guys, meet my brother, Sirius."
Sirius blinked. "You have spiders?"
"Oh, pretty much all of the Unspeakables and DoM people have spiders now. Joke had another clutch and they were all adopted out within a few weeks. I think Joke was relieved."
"Mummy is a great mummy, but there were a few hundred of us, and it was getting pretty crowded on her back," Dalziel said.
"Very crowded," Yaxha agreed. "But we're all born able to build a web, so we just weave one in front of a light source and food comes to us on its own."
"I like crickets," Dalziel said. "They require a little more proactive hunting."
Sirius boggled. "I thought— Hermione— guh."
"Really smooth, brother." Regulus snorted.
"Most of us stick with Mummy, and she stays with Hermione," Yaxha said. "But Mummy says we can stick with our friends from the Department of Blistered Knees."
"Mysteries!" Dalziel corrected.
"Oh, why didn't you just say so?" Yaxha said rather crankily.
Dalziel rubbed the spaces between his eyes with his forelegs. "We can't take you anywhere."
"Go back into his hair? Okay!" Yaxha shambled back into Regulus' head of raven-black curls.
Dalziel sighed. "Sorry, she gets a little hard of hearing when she's tired."
Sirius sat down as a dog, looking more than a bit gobsmacked. He tucked his tail between his legs and sighed.
"It's not your fault, brother," Regulus said, giving Sirius a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "I forgave you once I realised what had happened. Hermione— she was despondent for weeks. She wanted to go home to Severus— but he had forgotten she had ever existed. Forgotten everything that had made him—"
"Human," Sirius said, turning back to his human form. "Worthy of love. All he had was his hate for us, the pain of Lily's unforgiveness, and seven years of scorn."
Regulus shook his head. "You made up, brother. We made up. We were all working on being— better with each other. The person who did all those things wasn't the person you were trying to be. The person you became, brother."
Sirius looked haunted. "I guess I've spent so long in Azkaban that finding the good in things always seemed hopeless."
Regulus scowled. "If anyone deserves to be suffering, Sirius, it's Potter. He's the one who sacrificed blood magic to wipe the memory of a witch and all connected to her to save his own miserable hide."
"Who else have you helped with their memories?" Sirius asked.
"Moody was first. He started to remember Thea— his beau from the DoM. They were like two peas in a pod once— and then he forgot. I think they are off in a mountain range somewhere getting to know each other again." Regulus coughed. "Ahem. Yeah that works."
Sirius gaped. "Moody? Moody is shagging a bird?"
Regulus huffed. "She's a dragon, and yes they are quite suited for each other."
"A— wait I remember now. I rem— Oh my— MERLIN! HER?!"
Regulus shook his head. "Dragons need love too, idiot."
Sirius paled. "But she's a— dragon!"
"Yeah, and she's been waiting for the right bloke for upwards of three hundred years, so she's quite happy to find someone to bicker with on her own terms." Regulus shook her head. "She mothered a lot of the foundlings at the DoM with Hermione, but she was like Hermione's mum. She was always making sure no one did any funny business around her furry daughter."
"A dragon adopted a lioness?"
"If it works, don't fix it," Regulus reasoned. "I think Amelia was relieved. Thea stopped focusing all her motherly instincts on her."
"Lions are pride-focused. They love physical contact with each other, and they don't like not knowing where their members are. A motherly dragon was just— comforting. Especially since she only had me to keep her pride-sense in check. I think she spent a few months sulking in Thea's draconic care after the 'incident'. Hell, I did too. As much as I wanted to be out of the thumbs of our parents, I hadn't expected it to go like that. It took about year before we had truly felt at home in the bowels of the DoM. The foundlings brought her out of it the best, I think. She missed her cub and her spiders, but the foundlings were a close substitute. Severus though—"
"You know, as much as she was his anchor, he was hers," Sirius said. "I think— Prongs really envied that. Lily, I know, envied that intensely. That faith. That—love. They didn't even have to be together to feel that."
Sirius clenched his fist. "I envied it."
"Brother, I think we all feel a little jealousy for what they had. Have." Regulus sighed. "I was hunting for it back when I was far too oblivious to realised Severus had already won her over."
"Wait, you courted her?"
"For a couple of months, but I could never take her home. Meet the family. Then, I think we realised we were already family, just not in the way I'd expected. Brother. Remember that old incantation father taught us to swear upon the honour of our family? I—"
Regulus swallowed hard. "I may have accidentally mispronounced it when she saved me and our blood mingled and uh— well—"
"She's our sister."
"Elder sister of the House of Black. In blood."
And stared some more.
Then he tilted back his head and laughed like a hyena. "You bound a witch to our family using blood magic by ACCIDENT?!"
"I can't be sure, but the truth of that may have given our father a coronary."
"That could explain their rather sudden demise—" Sirius said, grinning from ear-to-ear. "When did she save you?"
"When didn't she save me is more like," Regulus said. "I think it was the fourth or fifteeth time she saved me from Death Eaters even after I was made one by our lovely parents to make up for 'our first-born's miserable failure' yadda yadda. They thought it was their doing, anyway, but we had this idea to do it together to be able to save people by working from within. I trained with Hermione at the DoM and Lucius was to do his thing with his connections at the Ministry. Then— everything went straight to Hades."
"When everyone else forgot everything."
"Yeah," Regulus said. "Lucius became the pureblood supremacist bastard that his father always wanted him to be— and Severus forgot what it was to have true happiness in his life. A walking storm cloud of darkness, doom, and gloom, he was. Every single day. Then I had to go into hiding on the night Hermione saved me. You got arrested for going mad on some innocent Muggles—"
Sirius was quiet for a long moment. "Do you think they knew? That it was their own fault that no one could remember to save them?"
"You mean Potter and Evans— er, the Potters?"
"I think they knew, in the end, that their lives had been focused on the wrong things, but— I also think that they realised what was really important too late: their son."
"Prongs deserved punishment, but— is it bad that I wish I could shake him myself?"
"No, I'd say you'd be in a very long line, brother," Regulus replied rather grimly.
Sirius nudged his brother with his elbow. "So we agree for once?"
Regulus snorted. "Don't make it sound like such a bloody miracle."
Sirius shared a smile with his brother as the world seemed to become just a little bit brighter.
Severus curled his arm around Hermione, pulling her close to press her close to him as his face buried into her almost gender-reversed lion's mane of wild, curly hair. Hermione let out a soft whuff of pure contentment. Over the course of the last few hours, he had explored every inch of his wife's scent and body, reacquainting himself with the very tangibility of her existence and reaffirming the seemingly surreal reality that they had been deprived of over a decade together due to an impulsive, selfish act of blood magic.
Severus, feeling guilty that he had lived through all that time not even realising she was alive and suffering, found a sense of awe and wonder in how sympathetic his newly-refound wife was to his plight.
"It wasn't your fault, Severus," she said, snuggling into his chest. "But can you forgive me for not doing more?"
Severus pulled her to him, holding her tight. "You did everything you could. You even risked being seen by me, knowing I would have done my best to harm you had I known you were in my wards."
"I missed you," she whispered into the warmth of his skin.
Severus' face twisted in pain. "I missed you without ever knowing that it was you I missed." He kissed her tenderly, his mouth lingering over hers. "I feel like I should have remembered. Like what we had so strong enough that it should have—"
"Severus, this was no ordinary magic that stole us from each other," Hermione said, her expression sad. "It was blood magic."
"I want to dig up Potter's corpse, resurrect him, and kill him again," Severus said bitterly.
"There's a line, my love, but do not let him steal any more of us than he already has." Hermione pressed her forehead to his. "We deserve so much more than being forever haunted by the ghost of a foolish, selfish man." She licked the end of his nose with a smile. "I'm so glad that Harry is a Moody now. He will need his adopted father's strength to cope with the many sins of his birth father."
Severus growled softly, taking the nape of her neck with his teeth. "I would prefer if Mr Potter would stay out of our marital bed, my wife."
Hermione rumbled, relaxing into the feel of his teeth on her neck, her inner lioness radiating contentment from her mate's attention. "Mrrrrrrrr," she mumbled.
Severus snuggled into her. "You seem like…" his voice trailed off as he pressed his face into her mane of curls.
"I am glad we can truly be together, Severus," Hermione said quietly. "A witch with her wizard. A lioness to her lion. You can share my entire world rather than just accept that I'm different."
"Well, to be fair, you are different."
Hermione gnawed on his arm, causing Severus to chuckle— a strangely alien yet beautiful sound from the adult Severus.
"It's good to hear you laugh," Hermione said wistfully. "I have missed it. For a while, all I could remember was your scowl and your pain."
Severus huffed into her ear. "We had many happier memories before."
"None of you as I remembered you from my first impression of you," Hermione said. "Do you know why it was so easy to fall in love with you?"
"My charming disdain for all things living?"
Hermione snorted. "When you laughed that first time— I realised things could change. All the memories I had of you, none of them included happiness. None of them included me."
"Because the memories had been erased."
"I didn't know that—" Hermione replied. "But it still happened, Severus. We still met, fell in love, married. It still happened, even when I didn't know the outcome. We still ended up together. Somehow, we've always ended up— together."
"I find some irony that when you gave me tips on Potions, you were remembering what I had taught you— so I was, in a strange way, teaching myself."
Hermione grinned up at him. "You see why I didn't want to apprentice with you?"
"Sly lioness-minx is what you are," Severus said. "A she-demon and a goddess— the other half of myself." He frowned. "An Unspeakable. While I was beating sense into children and trying not to let them blow themselves up, you were out there trying to beat sense into older adult children and trying not to let them blow themselves up."
Hermione grinned. "Runs in the family."
Severus touched her cheek. "Do you still—" His face twisted in agony.
"Levitate in my sleep? Unfortunately," Hermione answered, deadpan.
Severus sputtered, frowning.
"Yes, I still want children with you, you insufferably insecure man," Hermione said, placing a kiss on the end of his nose.
"We never had the safety to love each other the way I wished to—"
"We have our entire lives ahead of us, Severus," Hermione said. "Here and now. Now and the future."
Severus sighed and nodded. "We still have to go and appear before the Wizengamot."
Hermione smiled and mrrred. "No worries. After the Wizengamot, we can come home to work on ravaging each other to make up for the last ten-plus years and produce a healthy litter of cubs so Minerva, Thea, and Amelia can be proper aunts."
Severus' jaw dropped to the floor.
Hermione was suddenly a lioness, and she gave Severus a giant slurp across the face and bounded out of the private bedroom and into the greater "savannah" in their shared living quarters.
Severus continued to stare blankly into the space where Hermione had been, stunned speechless.
"They're just CHILDREN! They don't deserve to go to Azkaban!"
"Madam Weasley!" Augusta Longbottom snapped from the main podium. "If you cannot be silent, you will be removed from these proceedings!"
Molly Weasley wrung her hands, clearly in intense distress, and it wasn't helping that her baby girl was screeching for her mum, crying and begging for her mummy to save her.
The doors to the chambers opened, and Amelia Bones walked in draped in her formal Wizengamot robes. Behind her a figure dressed in deep crimson and black with their formal headdress followed, and behind that figure walked an Unspeakable clad in the fine robes of their office— the normal white trimmed in fluctuating patterns that seemed to writhe and churn on the surface of the fabric. Their headdresses tinkled as they walked, small crystals clinking together with a soft chime.
Most of the Wizengamot held their breath— the appearance of one Unspeakable, let alone two, was enough to unsteady even the most stalwart witch or wizard. Add Amelia into the mix, and more than one attendee tugged uncomfortably at their collars. Aurors were agents of law enforcement, but the Unspeakables were the boogeymen of the Wizarding world. The ghostly uniforms were the stuff witches warned their children about.
"Madam Bones, I believe you have memories to submit to our proceedings," a wizened face stated from the gathered.
Amelia nodded to the Unspeakables beside her, and Thea took out her wand and tapped it to the other's head. A stream of silvery memories swirled around them and then into the mirror-like surface of the giant Pensieve, and the face of a young Hermione Granger stared up at her sombre-looking Potions teacher as she reached into her book bag and pulled out her Potions book…
"It's a LIE!" Ronald Weasley bellowed, leaping out of his chair, and a group of Aurors immediately pointed their wands at him. "That person is a bloody liar! Hiding under that ruddy headdress and making up stupid stories!
The Unspeakables, much like their name, remained utterly silent. The slight rustle of dry bone was the only sound as their intimidating gauntlet extended each digit in succession as their fists opened and closed.
"Silence, Mr Weasley," Griselda Marchbanks growled at the red-faced young wizard. "Next witness will please enter for memory sharing."
A darkly clad wizard walked into the proceedings, pausing to only nod respectfully before continuing to the center of the room. Thea had remained to do the extraction, waiting for his nod and tilt of his head. She extracted a stream of memories and guided it to the pool—
"THIS IS SUCH A FARCE!" Molly Weasley cried. You're accepting the memories of a Death Eater over my sweet children?!"
"NO! Arthur! Don't let them do this! You promised when we got rid of that little Slytherin harlot that all of our problems would go away! Well, this isn't going away! DO something, Arthur!"
Arthur Weasley, known Muggle sympathiser, gave Molly a strange look. "Molly—"
"You PROMISED, Arthur!"
"You swore that James Potter would take care of it!" Molly wailed.
The Wizengamot suddenly became deathly quiet. All eyes stared holes through Molly and Arthur Weasley, none more powerful than the eyes of one young, messy-haired young wizard sitting frozen beside Alastor Moody in the witness area.
Molly looked all around her, panic writ large across every line of her face.
Alastor began to stand, his hand reaching for his wand—
Arthur's wand was in his hand as he aimed it at Severus' heart. "You were so much more amusing as a tortured pariah. Avada K—"
A blur of tawny gold shot through the air and landed on Arthur's chest as the beam of his spell went zinging off toward the ceiling and caused a chandelier to come crashing down in a cacophony of shattered glass and crystal.
A blood-curdling scream filled the room as the lioness' fangs clamped down hard on Arthur's wand hand and took it clean off with a wet, crunching snap.
Eight stunners slammed into Arthur Weasley as a gauntlet of Aurors surrounded Molly Weasley and had her restrained in the same breath.
They gave the wrathful lioness a large ring of wary respect even as Thea and Amelia rushed up. Thea placed a hand on the lioness' shoulder, and Hermione's snarl loosened and softened. She rumbled and rubbed against her warm touch even as she spat out the severed hand (and wand) of Arthur Weasley into Amelia's open evidence bag.
Molly— her eyes transfixed upon the sight of the disembodied hand of her husband— sank limp to the floor as a dead weight.
As Aurors and officials swarmed over the Weasleys— Severus Snape stood where he was, his fingers gently touching the velvety fur of the no-longer-quite-so-wrathful lioness.
"Thank you," he whispered.
Dark Lord Exposed
Wizengamot Stunned During Surreal Session
Already knew about the Dark Lord?
After an assault on a witness who was about to testify in a Wizengamot session, Arthur Weasley, husband of Molly Weasley and father of seven, was arrested by Ministry Aurors and questioned extensively under both Veritaserum and Legilimency to expose a dastardly hidden truth: seemingly mild-mannered Ministry worker Arthur Weasley was the true Dark Lord.
Using his well-known reputation as a 'Muggle-loving blood-traitor', Arthur Weasley has admitted, under Veritaserum, that Voldemort's acts of brutality paled in comparison the deeds he had committed "to protect his family from Mudbloods."
Madam Molly Weasley, wife of Arthur Weasley, was subsequently admitted into the Janus Thickey Ward in St Mungo's after having a nervous breakdown in front of the Wizengamot after the ugly altercation that had witches and wizards hitting the floor as Aurors swarmed like a cloud of angry hornets.
After a chain of events that remains sealed in secrecy pending the trial of Arthur Weasley, all that was revealed to our reporters was that Mr Weasley was subdued before a killing curse could be completed.
Charges on the docket for the weekend session are as follows:
Attempted murder of Master Severus T. Snape
Tampering With temporal magic by proxy
Conspiracy to tamper with temporal magic
Tampering with temporal magic resulting in the deaths of countless magical citizens
Magical manipulation leading to irreversible mental breakdown
Conspiracy to Murder Hermione Granger-Sesheta-Snape
Corruption of a minor via the use of Dark magic
Corruption of a minor via the use of temporal magic
Corruption of a minor via the use of blood magic
Teaching forbidden magic to a minor
Unauthorised use of Ministry-owned equipment and connections
Dark geas on multiple targets
Dark spells on multiple magical objects
Corruption of ancient protective magic
Tampering with protective wards at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
The proceedings will be closed to the public due to a number of time-related concerns.
Harry leaned back against Hermione's tawny side. "I used to have dreams about what my parents were like. How they sacrificed themselves for me, so they must have been the most selfless people in the world. Kind, generous— all the things the Dursleys weren't."
Hermione's tail flicked against him. "To be fair, Harry, it doesn't take all that much to be better than the Dursleys."
Harry snorted. He fingered the magical collar around the lioness' neck. "This thing is really wicked, Hermione. I like being able to hear you talk to me even when you're a lioness."
Hermione snuffled him with her whiskers.
"I've never been so glad to be a Moody," Harry said. He eyed Hedwig as she perched on his boot. The owl hooted raspily and screech-chirped, rotating her head and flapping her wings. Marcus perched on top of Hedwig's head, bouncing on all eight legs excitedly.
"What are you two getting on about?" Harry asked.
Marcus stared with his multiple eyes.
"Never can win a staring contest with a spider," Harry pouted.
Hermione gave Harry the eye.
Harry slumped. "You win, you win!" Harry muttered. "Is it true you adopted Fred and George so they wouldn't have to live with their aunt?"
"The entire Weasley family is, unfortunately, under very close scrutiny. Most are being interviewed out of an abundance of caution, and their aunt, Muriel Prewett, though she passed the inquiry, wants nothing to do with—"
"The spawn of Arthur Weasley," Harry said, frowning.
"Blood, unfortunately, is highly suspect in much of the Wizarding world," Hermione said.
"I keep forgetting you're grown and—" Harry smiled. " You sound more like a professor."
Hermione rolled her eyes.
"I'm glad you're still my friend," Harry said.
Hermione thumped him down with one large paw. "That will never change, Harry Potter Moody." She leaned her head into his chest heavily. Harry squirmed and laughed.
Harry grinned as Marcus pounced on his head and dove into his messy black hair.
Harry found himself rubbing Hermione's furry belly. "You really adopted Fred and George?"
"More like we adopted her, Harry," Fred and George said together as they flopped down beside them. "Hey, lion-mum," they said together, each sporting the kind of hair that would make a Black proud and a Snape— a Snape. Their eyes, a shimmering deep grey that bled into a fathomless obsidian black.
"Wicked," Harry breathed.
"Magical adoptions are about the only form of blood magic that's still perfectly legal," George said.
"Which is ironic, because it's also the way you be reborn into a pureblood family."
"Makes the war seem a little more—"
George shrugged. "I think the problem is, none of the purebloods wanted to admit that was an option— that it was always about magic, not blood. If they did, they'd expose the entire nonsense of pureblood superiority."
"As well you know, Mini-Moody," Fred said, grinning at Harry.
Harry grinned back. "What about your brothers?"
George shook his head. "Well, Ickle Ronnikins and Ginny are enjoying Her Majesty's hospitality in the old gaol, but Bill and Charlie are glad they are in Egypt and Romania, I think. Percy—"
Fred rubbed his nose. "He's disowned us—says no brother of his would ever fraternise with a Snape."
Hermione rumbled, tail twitching.
George shook his head. "He called us a pair of blood traitors for wanting to get away from the drama of our former family name, even after Dad up and admitted that he framed our Aunt to get her murdered so the family could get her cottage in Cornwall."
The lioness' brows furrowed.
Fred nudged George. "We both know that Percy wants the quickest path to influence and power. It's why he took that scribe job at the Ministry kissing Fudge's arse."
"Sad that Fudge's reputation is every bit as bad as he thinks ours is."
Hermione yawned toothily, pouncing the twins and knocking the wind out of them.
"Help, we need an adult!"
Harry busted out laughing.
"Sons," a familiar baritone voice said silkily. "Did you forget your detention with Mr Filch for turning his hair pink and Mrs Norris carrot orange?"
Fred and George winced as Hermione's head snapped up, eyes narrowing.
The twins tried in vain to slink off and escape, but Hermione's paw pinned them both down.
"Don't do anything that I'll make Lucius sit on you over," Hermione warned, her golden eyes flashing.
The twins nodded emphatically and scurried off.
"They're doomed," Harry said.
Both Snapes eyed Harry.
"They're never going to get away with anything anymore."
Severus snorted and crossed his arms, his hand-paws drumming a beat against his robes.
Hermione rubbed up against his side and wedged her head under his paw for an ear rub.
Marcus squeaked from Harry's hair, giving Hermione meaningful eyes. Harry quickly snatched the spiderling, making hushing motions. Hermione gave Severus a look, and he rolled his eyes. Harry looked embarrassed, trying to shush the spiderling and keep him from crawling out from between his fingers.
"Come on!" Marcus complained. "You know you want to!"
"Shush!" Harry hushed.
"Just ask! Justaskjustaskjustassmfmfhfff!" Harry's hands cupped around the spiderling and he shoved him under his shirt to muffle him. A spider-shaped lump wiggled under the fabric, tickling Harry.
Harry busted out laughing, writhing on the ground. "Okay! Okay! Okay! AHHH!"
Marcus popped out of Harry's collar and looked mighty smug.
Harry looked at Hermione. "Erm…"
Marcus tickled Harry's neck with his legs.
Hermione and Severus arched identical eyebrows.
"Canwegoforarunlikewedidtheotherdayitwasreallycool?" Harry blurted out.
Severus sighed heavily. "You spoil him," he accused the lioness.
Hermione's lips curled back from her teeth in a leonine smile.
Severus shook his head, pulling out his wand and pointed it at Hermione, "Engorgio."
The huge lioness became even more gargantuan, and Harry leapt on her back. She tore across the green at full tilt, Harry clinging to her back like a monkey.
The spiderling on Severus' shoulder sighed wistfully. "Shouldn't we follow?"
"I will not— frolic— in view of the children of Hogwarts."
"Awww," the spiderling pouted. "But you want to."
"That is hardly the point!"
A large white blur of fur went bounding past him with Draco letting out a whoop of excitement— the rift between father and son apparently having healed in favour of lion frolic.
"Oh, come on, Severus," Kingsley's voice rumbled. "You can't let Lucius have all the fun, hrm?"
"If he wishes to debase himself by running around like a cub with his tail on fire, that is his business," Severus muttered.
"You can't tell me that you don't want to be chasing after your mate and rolling around in the grass with her, Severus," Kingsley said.
"Just because I want to doesn't mean I should!" Severus protested.
"So you DO want to, hrm?"
Severus snorted, crossing his arms tighter across his chest.
Minerva went bounding by, joining in the fray of leonine play with Viktor hot on her heels.
"Don't be such a sourpuss," Kingsley said. "No one is going to fault you for being a lion when you ARE a lion." Kingsley went down on all fours and bounded into the fun as the entire pride (sans one) barrelled towards the water to dump Harry and Draco into the lake.
The spiderling sighed heavily.
Severus' eye twitched.
"Don't make me chew on your neck!" the spiderling said.
The lion-man and the spiderling had a staring contest.
"I'll do it!" the spiderling threatened.
Severus continued to stare.
"You'll have neck cramps for a week!" The spiderling tapped his legs. "And you'll be all cranky, and she'll not want to be around you!"
Severus shoved the spiderling back under his collar with his paw-hand.
"I'll find a way to get through this fur, and when I do— MMMFFFPH!"
Severus dropped on all fours, taking on his full lion form and barrelled down to the rest of the pride. They greeted him, rubbing and tumbling with him, sending out a loud series of roars across the grounds and into the neighbouring forest.
Hour later, when Harry and Draco were sprawled together against the backs of the resting pride, everything finally seemed as though it was the way it should have been all along.
Joke crawled out and perched on Hermione's head, enjoying the sun with her many ungrown babies clinging to her back.
"So, what are you going to name the cubs?" she asked, out loud for the first time in— no one could remember when.
Hermione and Minerva froze in place as Kingsley and Severus' heads shot up at attention.
Joke shook her head. "Spider, not stupid!"
Lucius and Viktor looked smug together, giving each other a high-paw.
Marcus crawled out from under Harry's hair and pounced his mum, causing Joke to give him the eye— from all eight eyes. The spiderlings giggled together.
Harry poked Draco with a finger. "Oi."
"What, Pot— Harry?"
Harry grinned and pointed at Marcus.
Marcus wore his very best spiderling halo.
Draco looked at the spiderling rather suspiciously.
Marcus pointed one leg down towards Hermione's tawny-furred belly.
Harry placed his ear down on Hermione's stomach, a broad grin on his face.
Draco twitched and then gave in, pressing his blond head to Hermione's belly as well. Then the pair of former enemies grinned at each other. Hermione, on the other paw, laid her head over Minerva's belly, her teeth bared in a leonine smile.
Severus groomed Hermione's ears, and she flopped herself against him, mrrrring in pleasure.
The spiderlings gathered to rub up against their mother, and Joke petted them with her legs, fluffing them up and making them look suitably "presentable" in their adorable sun was setting, casting its golden-red glow over the gathering.
Harry leaned back comfortably on Hermione's side, and Draco did the same. "This is the life, yeah?"
Draco smiled, a serene look on his face. "Yeah."
A deep purple spiderling tapped Draco on the sleeve.
"Hrm?" Draco said.
"Love me?" the spiderling asked.
Draco grinned. "Sure."
The spiderling cheered. "Yay!" The spider paused. "Um… I need a name."
"How about Ian?" Draco suggested. "After the rock group."
"You're into Deep Purple?"
Draco gave Harry the eye. Harry hushed and looked over towards the lake, watching the giant squid playing with some curious ducklings.
"I like it!" the spiderling said.
"But you're a girl-spider," Marcus whispered.
"So?" the spiderling accused.
Marcus rubbed his eyes with his forelegs. "Erm…"
"How about Gillian?" Harry suggested.
"Shortened to Gil?" Draco added with a grin.
"Okay!" the spiderling agreed.
Marcus shrugged and snuggled into Harry's neck.
Harry smiled. "I'm ready to live my life."
"Start with finishing school first," Severus said.
Draco and Harry exchanged glances. "Yes, professor."
"You come back here you little—"
Four tawny blurs zoomed out of Hagrid's hut, each carrying a large fish or a huge sausage link clamped in their jaws.
Hagrid burst out from his hut, tripping over the elderly Fang and landing face first into the pumpkin patch. He raised his head, covered completely with pumpkin guts, spitting out seeds.
Fang woofed, sniffing Hagrid slowly and then laying on top of him.
Hagrid let out a wheeze.
Meanwhile, a stream of spiderlings exited Hagrid's window as they carried blueberries wrapped in silken bundles on their back.
Hagrid sighed. "There goes dinner and dessert, I'll have you know. You're going hungry tonight because you don't guard worth a lick."
Fang woofed and drooled on Hagrid.
"You could at least help me keep them away from our food, you dosy dog," Hagrid muttered. "I caught those fish myself!"
Fang licked his muzzle as half of a remaining sausage disappeared.
Hagrid glared. "You were bribed!" he accused.
Fang wagged his tail.
"Taj," Kingsley rumbled, plucking his cub off of a large fish.
The cub squirmed.
"Did you steal this fish from Hagrid?"
The male cub, covered with fur in a rich shade of caramel, squirmed vigorously and complained.
A female cub the colour of cinnamon pounced on the unguarded fish and dragged it off into the shrubbery.
"Tiaret!" Kingsley called out sternly.
Mad rustling followed and then frantic eating noises.
Taj mrowled unhappily, deprived of both his dinner and his dignity.
Minerva busted out of the bushes, carrying Tiaret in her mouth. The cub, still carrying her stolen half-eaten fish, dangling limply in her mum's mouthy embrace.
Kingsley facepalmed, rubbing the bridge of his nose with a heavy sigh. Minerva curled her tail in a lazy loop over her back, radiating pure smugness. She carried her errant cub away with her to where Hermione was sunbathing by the beach, watching with no little amusement as her cubs played tag with the giant squid. Then, the Snape cubs— one pitch black with tawny "headfur" and one tawny with black headfur— sat down at the water's edge and mrowled a question.
Two giant fish landed on the bank, thrown by the ever-so-helpful giant squid. The cubs rubbed up against the squid's tentacles in thanks and proceeded to drag their prizes back to Hermione, using her as their base of operations. They, unlike their unruly pridemates, brought their fish over to share with their mum.
"Why can't my cubs charm fresh fish out of the giant squid?"
"As opposed to the rotting fish?" Severus asked as he billowed by, yawning and sitting by his mate with a sniff of amusement. The cubs pounced him immediately, trying to drag him down like prey but ending up flat on their back with Severus' big paws pinning them down. He let them go the moment they went limp, and he allowed them to attempt to wrestle him down again.
Kingsley flopped next to Severus, pinning his cub in his lap. "Taj and Tiaret haven't figured out how to charm the squid. How is it that your younger cubs have?"
Hermione whapped her tail into Kingsley. "Soren and Ife are only a few months younger," she chided. The two cubs perked and tumbled over their mum, playfully wrestling with her ears. She promptly pinned each one, giving them a quick once-over in grooming and then let them go to tumble, tussle, and pounce.
There was a whooshing sound as a racing broom zoomed by, two cubs glued to it like their paws had gone the way of the gecko instead of the lion. Two charcoal grey cubs made a squeaky leonine chirp of excitement.
Severus and Kingsley looked up. The cubs all looked up, curious and jealous.
"No," Severus and Kingsley said together, and the cubs slumped dejectedly in unison.
As Viktor padded up, letting out a large yawn filled with long teeth, Severus and Kingsley shook their heads together. "Really? Cubs on a broom?"
"Vhy not?" Viktor asked rolling over against Hermione's back.
"Shouldn't you be working on your DADA lesson plans?"
Viktor raised a furry brow. "Beautiful day. Vhy stay cooped up indoors?"
"You set your cubs loose on a broom," Kingsley said.
"Dhey likes brooms," Viktor replied.
Hermione was chuckling loudly, sounding all the more unnerving coming from a lioness' mouth. Severus glared at his wife. "You encourage him."
Hermione licked her elongated canine teeth.
"Now she's silent," Severus accused.
Regulus padded up, and the cubs all ran up to tackle him— as best they could with their smaller size. Instead of wrestling them down, they sort of clung to his mane and chewed on his tail or clinged to his paws in an attempt to drag him down. Regulus gave them an exasperated look, shaking from head to toe to dislodge the furry interlopers.
"You know you want some of your own," Severus said sarcastically.
Regulus sighed. "My sister is doing well enough keeping the Black line alive, thank you very much."
"In blood and magic, perhaps, but not in name," Kingsley noted.
"Bah, name too. Do you know of a lioness with a longer name with or without titles?"
Hermione radiated smugness.
Severus gave her a thorough grooming, his own way of being smug about his mate's prowess.
"Besides, brother and I have working on catching up and getting him to a stable place. Between the memory wipe, finding out your best mate tried to— well succeeded— in using blood magic to wipe someone off the face of memory for over a decade, and realising you left your bro to die after promising to be there, well, he's a project."
"Your brother is and has always been a project, Regulus," Severus said rather dryly.
Regulus snorted appreciatively. "There is that."
Hermione placed a paw on Regulus' muzzle, and he mumbled something.
"What's that, Regulus?" Lucius asked.
"I said Imghffffghahh—" Regulus mumbled while turning into the paw instead of away.
All eyes went to Regulus.
Regulus looked uncomfortable, lion ears popped out from his black hair and a tail stuck out from his robes.
The cubs all piled into his lap and stared up at him.
Regulus slumped. "It doesn't matter. She's terrified of lions."
Lucius took Regulus by the scruff and dragged him off towards the lake.
"Wha—!" Regulus squirmed. "What did I— you're not going to— oh my you ARE! LUCIUS!"
Lucius dumped Regulus into the lake. Regulus came back up spitting out a minnow.
Lucius lay on the end of the pier, using his paw to bop Regulus over the head and push him back down into the water each time he came up.
"OKAY! I'll ask her out!"
Lucius dunked him a few more times for good measure.
An hour later, a dripping Regulus and smug-looking Lucius padded back up to join the pride in sprawling under the shade of a tree. All the cubs rubbed up against Lucius and then pounced on Regulus, covering him completely.
Regulus stared out from between the rear legs of the cub covering his face and sighed. "She's never going to want to roll around in the grass with a bunch of lions."
"How's business going, Fred, George?" Harry asked as he looked around the store.
Half the store was an assortment of fun joke-related and pranking items, but the other half carried a line of more serious fare such as energy bars, invigoration drinks, rescue potions, and regenerative candies for the active witch and wizard on the go.
One section had an assortment of "dinner in a box" and "homemade lunch in a sack" meal replacements "better meals for the busy." Another section had tins of colourful candies and a special area with "Cuppa Candies" to "put a little Snape in your step."
"Caffeinated and decaffeinated?" Harry asked.
"Some people really like the taste but don't want to be awake all night," Fred explained.
"Figgy Pudding—" Harry read. "Christmas Pudding? Sticky Toffee Pudding? This is like a bakery!"
George chuckled. "It's food for the field working wizard and witch. Father helped us iron out the supplements and needs from Poppy Pomfrey. Part of all the sales goes to help buy supplies for the renovation of Hogwart's infirmary."
"I hear they just replaced all the beds and expanded the rooms for a little more privacy," Harry said. "Dad told me it looked pretty good."
The twins nodded. "Good to give a little back, eh Harry? I hear you and Draco are coming up with Dark-soaking bandages. Putting that DADA mastery to work, yeah?"
Harry smiled. "Yeah. We were pretty happy when we realised it would allow Dark-cursed injuries to heal without a scar. You still need a regular healing potion and all, but it draws out the Dark magic and lets the wounds heal."
"That's huge, Harry. Potions are everywhere, but if you don't heal, then it's hardly going to help," Fred said.
"Finally getting along with ol' dad?" George ribbed.
Harry smiled. "You know, it was never as bad as that first year or three," he said. "Once I knew who my parents were— what they were really like— let's just say I appreciated being a Moody even more, and my relationship with Professor Snape improved greatly."
Fred smiled. "Yeah, I'm sure people thought we were nuts wanting to be adopted into the Snape family, but they aren't laughing anymore, are they, brother?"
George elbowed his twin and grinned. "Nope."
"Success breeds envy of others," Fred said with a shrug.
George nodded in agreement. "Personally, I think Arthur thought our father was the only one more "poor" than he was. Everyone thought the Weasleys were poorer than dirt having so many kids and all, but we always had food on the table. It does make wonder if we lived without because of an image. Who would have ever suspected we were anything but the kids of a Muggle-loving blood-traitor, at least in the pureblood crowds, yeah? When even we kids believed it."
"Cept Percy—" Fred said. "He's a chip off the ol' Arthur."
George frowned. "Yes."
"How are Bill and Charlie?" Harry asked.
"Tough," Fred replied. "They're just lucky that they live in Romania and Egypt— both having already made their names before the news got out. I can't tell you now nice it is to have black hair now."
George ruffled his brother's hair. "People either think Black or Snape— and either is preferable to Weasley after all that came out." George frowned again. "Sorry, Harry, I know you had your own fair share of that to deal with."
Harry shrugged. "I never knew my parents. What I thought I did, I imagined to give myself the very best parents, ones that would have done anything to save their child. It was easier to be an orphan and make up reasons why they'd leave me with the Dursleys. I mean, I get it that it wasn't like they planned that— but now I can't help but think if they had survived, I'd be loathed even more than I was famous as the Boy-Who-Lived."
George and Fred gave Harry a shoulder bump between them. "We all have gone through some rather horrifying revelations, Harry. But we still have each other, yeah?"
"Yeah," Harry agreed. Harry rubbed his arms briskly as if he was cold. "Ever find out what happened to your dad? Well— Arthur?" Harry asked, knowing the twins didn't really associate the man that was the true Arthur Weasley with the man that had been their father. It was just too much. Their father was dead— killed by the wizard known only as Arthur.
The Dark Wizard, Arthur.
It was almost too far-fetched to believe.
Both Dark Lords had made strikingly similar mistakes. The main one had been underestimating so-called "lower" creatures— whether man or beast.
"Cabbage roll?" Fred asked, putting a rolled-up something in Harry's hand.
"Old family recipe. Literally— old family as in not the now-family," George said. "We charm them to hold together and not drip, so you can eat them on the go and not ruin your dress robes."
Harry nibbled somewhat suspiciously on the cabbage roll, his eyebrows raising in surprise when he didn't spontaneously transform into something strange and embarrassing.
The twins crossed their arms and mock-pouted. "Must you always look like you expected it to be poison?"
"Sorry guys," Harry sighed. "But I did share a dorm with Ron."
The twins sighed. "We'll give you that."
"He survived it," Fred said to George.
"So did we," George reminded him sombrely. "But he and our little sister of Damnation are now torturing each other until they are old and grey while having tea with Dementors."
"No rehabilitation?" Harry asked.
"No, not after the first bout of it failed utterly." George looked sombre.
Fred nodded. "Lioness mum gave them both a big chance to buck up and become better people, and they paid her back by sending her back in time to get her out of the way. The irony? They botched the spell too. They meant to send her into space. Into SPACE." Fred gestured upward to the sky.
"They just couldn't be bothered to pronounce things right, even as little kids. Ginny always wanted to flourish everything. Ron just— he botched everything from levitate to trying to turn Scabbers yellow. We tried to teach him the Latin, but he could only remember the English."
"He remembered the menus for all the meals," Harry said.
"That's Ron to a T," Fred said with a snort.
"We've taken to sending him letters of concern to our ex-baby brother with pictures of lion mum and dad cuddling together with the rest of the pride. Extra focus on Viktor's pin-up body," George said.
Harry's eyes bugged out.
The twins grinned. "Viktor even signed the picture with a pawprint to decorate his cell."
Fred and George grinned evilly.
"They said they had to move him to a soundproof cell and padded cell after he tried to slam himself into the wall to end his misery," George said with a frown. "I hear they are considering transferring him to a fully human facility that has him under twenty four hour watch. The nearest one with an opening, however, is in Germany."
"She refuses any visitors or correspondence from the family," Fred said. "She got in a fight with another prisoner over a pillow."
Harry just stared.
"So, coming to Friday night dinner? Dad is making his famous lasagna." Fred wiggled his eyebrows.
"You can bring your lady friend," George said knowingly.
The twins crossed their arms together.
"How did you—"
The twins shook their heads. "You missed guy's night at the Leaky. There's only a small amount of things that you'd miss guy's night for. That and Draco looked disgusted, and we all known your love life makes him nauseous."
"I'm starting to think becoming a Snape make you both more insufferable."
"Coming to dinner Friday, hrm?"
Harry's lip twitched. "Yes."
"With your lady friend?"
Harry's eyebrow twitched. "Yes."
Fred and George high-fived. "Excellent."
Every lion cub in the place promptly tackled Harry as he walked into the main savannah habitat. Harry made the low groan of a dying animal.
"Dhink you need to be— rhino or something," Viktor suggested, eyeing Harry as he walked by carrying a large bowl of salad.
The cubs turned their noses up in disgust, proceeding to chew on Harry instead.
Harry glared at the cassowary that was, somehow, carrying a basket of garlic bread on its back to the table. One dark cub was following, carrying a loaf in a tied napkin-bread-holder. "So not fair."
"Maybe you should stop pretending you're only human, hrm?" Severus said, thumping down a large pan of the most delectable smelling lasagna on Earth. Sirius trailed behind with an enormous platter of assorted appetizers, Hermione glided in with a multi-layered tray of desserts (and smacked Remus on the bill for trying to make off with the chocolate gelato), Minerva at her heels with a massive casserole dish loaded with stuffed shells. Then the Malfoys arrived; Lucius padded in carrying a large basket in his mouth loaded with bottles of wine and sparkling fruit juice, Narcissa levitated a pair of huge dishes filled with shrimp scampi and fettucine Alfredo, and Draco came in carrying an antipasto platter piled high with a wide assortment of fresh fruits, meats, cheeses and various accoutrements.
Spiderlings, half-grown spiders, and fully grown Dark Weavers scurried across the table, pulling the tablecloth tight, lighting the candles, and sorting the silverware. Alastor and Thea came in, Alastor stomping like a rhino in a china shop and Thea gliding in like a spectre. The cubs pounced on Alastor's shoes, rubbing up against him before bounding towards Thea and doing figure eights around her ankles. She carefully put down her basket of assorted biscotti and took them all into her arms and twirled them around, spiders and all. Alastor snorted softly in amusement as he set down his fragrant casserole dish of chicken Marsala.
"Hey, dad," Harry said warming. "Glad you could make it."
"I'm old, not decrepit and hard of hearing," Alastor snapped, but his expression was clearly amused.
"Still a few good years left in you, my love," Thea said with a cheeky wink. She leaned in and gave him a gentle kiss.
"Ahhhh, public displays of affection!" Fred and George cried together in mock dismay.
Severus used the palm of his hand to smack both upside the back of the head. "Behave."
Fred and George grinned back at him. "Yes, dad."
"Or I'll sic the cubs on you."
All the cubs promptly pounced on Fred and George, knocking them to the ground.
"Or, they could do it anyway," Severus quipped.
Harry, brushing off his robes that were liberally covered in lion fur, chuckled. "Justice."
"My friends, family—the furry and the not-so-furry," Severus greeted. "I am glad you could all make it to the anniversary of the day all of our lives changed— if but for a terrible, selfish act that created a truly blessed chain of events. The day Hermione Granger became something more. They day— all of us were destined to be more, to remember who we really were."
"To the most loyal of friends," Lucius said, raising a glass.
"To meeting those we most cherish in the world," Thea said, smiling at Alastor.
"To those who saved those we cherish most in the world," Narcissa said.
"To the family found we never knew we were missing," Fred and George said, finally managing to pry themselves free of cub teeth and claws.
"To trust," Alastor said.
"To acceptance," Regulus said, putting his arm around his new wife, the former Ambrosia Flume, who was holding one of her rambunctious cubs.
"To peace, both in the world we make our home, to this school, and to our hearts," Minerva said as Kingsley wrapped his arm around her, fondly cheek-rubbing against her face.
"To new opportunities," Harry and Draco said together, bumping elbows and grinning to Fred and George.
"To family," Sirius said, smiling at Remus. "And friends we do not deserve but who love us anyway."
Hermione stood, smiling at everyone. The ghost of her sun-disc shone brightly above her head. "Let us give thanks to the Goddess, Sekhmet, for teaching us the value of true family both born and not. For blessing us with cubs that our lives be enriched for the future— and teaching us that justice is not dead and sometimes—" Hermione smiled. "Sometimes the plan has always been there. We just have to have faith, both in Her and in each other."
They all raised their glasses in salute, and the ghostly image of the lion-headed Egyptian goddess, Sekhmet, shone over Hermione. Their eyes began to glow a soft gold— a gathering of miniature suns that connected to the goddess who watched over them all.
They all placed their hands (or paws) on their Dark Weaver companions, smiling as the happy-to-please arachnids purred with shared pleasure. The cubs all put their paws up on the table, their spiderlings bouncing happily on their heads.
The cubs all screwed up their faces in concentration. A tingle spread through all of the adults' minds as the cubs struggled to be understood.
Jabari plunked a small goo-covered cub down by the table and rubbed lovingly against his mother, placing his over-sized paws on her hip as he thumped his head into her side. "Love, love, together forever!" the Nundu cub cried joyfully.
Hermione grinned at him, giving him a broad grin.
"Love, love, together!" the cubs cried, their first words echoing the Nundu's happy exclamation.
Severus cracked a small smile. "I couldn't have said it any better myself."
The Nundu cub gave a feline grin, full of sharp feline teeth.
Hermione burst into tears, sniffling. "I love you all so much."
The goo-covered cub tried to sneak away, but Severus plucked him off the ground and gave him the eye. "Even this one?" he said with a sniff.
The cub mrowled unhappily under the scrutiny.
Hermione kissed her husband on the cheek. "Even Bowie." She winked at Regulus, who blushed furiously at his son's name.
Sirius belted out raucous laughter. "You're not allowed to make fun of my posters any more, brother."
"Your posters are not appropriate for our cubs!" Regulus roared, causing the others to giggle, snicker, and otherwise gain tremendous satisfaction at Regulus and Sirius' expense.
The spiderlings covered the goo-covered mischief-seeking cub, all whipping out cleaning sponges and soap, mercilessly scrubbing him down until he was very, very floofy and clean.
The hapless Bowie's fur now stood up on end around his head, giving him an odd sort of spiked crown. The other cubs stared at him and tried to "help", making Bowie's fur into a very— well, Bowie— look.
Hermione grinned at Severus, her smile filling her eyes and radiating outward. "I love you."
Severus pressed his forehead to hers, a low rumble in his throat. "I suppose we should give some thanks to the dunderheads that made this possible."
Hermione smiled mischievously. "I took care of it."
"What did you do?"
"Nothing that you wouldn't have done."
Severus eyed his wife. "That is a very long list of things you could have done."
Hermione grinned. "Isn't it, though?"
Severus pressed his lips to hers. "I love you, my beautiful she-demon. Your horns are showing."
Hermione's eyes glittered with feline mischief.
Far, far away, in two separate cells…
Ronald Bilius Weasley clung to the single candle holder in his cell and screamed bloody murder as his sister did the same in the neighbouring cell.
A plump, very pink, extra fluffy spider built a large web on the frame of his cell-bunk, caught a moth, and proceeded to decapitate it and eat it— noisily.
Meanwhile, Ginevra attempted to stomp her unexpected cellmate to death only to realise the young spiderling was not only impervious to being squished but also a Dark Weaver— the most notoriously poisonous magical spider on Earth.
Her screams echoed through the prison complex along with her brother's.
Hours later, when the guards on the morning shift came to check the ward, they found brother and sister cocooned in spider silk, each with a sound-dampening gag wrapped snugly to their mouths.
No traces of the spider or spiders that constructed the webbing were ever found.
Yet every morning, the pair were found in newly crafted webbed cocoons— and the prison was strangely free of insects.
Two young Dark Weavers appeared out of the Ether and landed on Hermione as she lay cuddled up against her mate. The cubs were all sleeping against her belly as the pride surrounded her. The soft, purring snores of leonine contentment filled the air.
The spiders skittered up to snuggled into Hermione's neck, giving off a spider purr of their own.
Joke extended a long leg and drew her babies closer, all sharing the warmth of Hermione's neck as their mistress and her mate drifted slowly off to sleep.
All was right with the world once more.
A/N: And they all lived happily ever after!
Spiderlings: With spiders!
Jabari bounces in, slide-skidding into the fray, carrying a bright pink-potion-dripping cub.
"Rrawr?" Bowie complained.
All the spiders rubbed the spaces between their multiple eyes with their forelegs. "We can't leave you alone for even a minute!"
Bowie tries to escape and ends up tripping into a pail, ending up with the bucket over his head. "Rrrrowl!" Bowie complained, his distressed mewls echoing back at him.
Bucket, the spiderling, sighed. "Finally, I'm not the only one."
A/N: That's all folks! Thanks for reading! Be sure to send almond cookies to the Dragon and the Rose and banana lollies to Dutchgirl01 and the Flyby Commander Shepard for tolerating my ADHD distra-SQUIRREL! School is in full swing, so my attention is very focused on so many things. Thanks for your understanding!