Yesterday is Tomorrow (Everything is Connected)

TWENTY-FIVE


You want to pull people together, you put them through hell. You want to pull them apart, you give them a secret. – Deacon, 12 Monkeys (TV show)


March 1980

"It's just not possible."

Hermione ignored Barty's grumble, thick around the raisins he was shoving in his mouth, moving them around as he spoke. Petunia's nose wrinkled, but she then hid the expression behind the mug of decaf tea Hermione had prepared for her and Sean when they arrived at the Haberdashery after her recent sonogram.

"Don't be such a pessimist—" began Sean, chidingly, but Barty shook his head.

"It's not possible," he repeated, a frown on his face as he obnoxiously chewed. "We can't get the diary, not when it's at Malfoy Manor. And there's no way that it'll be removed."

"What about oh, what's his name? The little, scrawny teenager Regulus mentioned with the Russian name?" asked Petunia.

"Rabastan?" asked Hermione incredulously, sharing a look with Barty that indicated her horror. "I won't trust Rabastan to go to Malfoy Manor and steal a horcrux!"
"But he's the only one who can still visit it," argued Petunia. "Regulus can't, not now that his father has lobbied the police chief for those funds—"

"Head Auror," muttered Barty. "My father is the head Auror—"

"He's just sixteen, Tuney!" Hermione reeled back. "He's still in school, for one; and two, I won't ask him to go into the viper's nest, and potentially end up the way we did—"

"You escaped—"

"Barely—"

Sean stood. "Whoa, whoa, that's enough. We're clearly not going to solve this today." He warily looked between the two sisters, glowering at one another. He gently touched Petunia's arm, drawing her attention. "It's getting late, Pet. Let's head home…"

"Fine," sniffed Petunia, tossing a last look at Hermione, who rolled her eyes.

"We'll ask Rabastan to meet us over the Easter hols," suggested Hermione, running a hand through her hair and grimacing as her fingers got caught. "Is that good enough, Tuney? We can have a planning session in a few weeks. It's not like the horcrux is going anywhere…"

"Fine," repeated Petunia. She glanced at Barty when she gave a terse, "Goodbye."

Barty lazily waved a hand and then tossed another raisin in his mouth as Sean hurried Petunia down the stairs. Hermione sagged the second the heavy second door to the Haberdashery shut, falling onto the couch, where her stomach protruded. She rested a hand on the tiny bump.

"We're almost there," said Barty quietly, eyes intent upon her.

"I know."

"It's almost over," he continued. He frowned. "What comes then?"

Hermione shrugged. "I'm not sure – it'll be different than what happened after in my original time, I'm sure."

"Did things get better?" asked Barty.

Hermione thought about the divide between purebloods and muggleborn in her time; about the attack in the Ministry; about Kingsley as Minister for Magic, Harry as Head Auror; about the people who died who should have lived.

"In some ways, it did," she finally said. "But in others… human nature doesn't change."

The two sat quietly in the aftermath of that, both introspective.

The quiet was broken by loud thumps racing up the stairs to the Haberdashery, causing both Hermione and Barty to look at each other in confusion and worry. Barty grabbed his wand, eyes blazing as he held it aloft and stood protectively in front of Hermione, who rose from the couch with her own wand in hand.

The door burst open, Regulus flying into the room, eyes wide. "Help!"

Both Hermione and Barty snapped their wands at the figures following behind him, spells on their tongues when Hermione realized what she was seeing: Lucius Malfoy carrying his wife, limp, in his arms. His white-blond hair was dishevelled and out of his usual tie, hanging loose around his shoulders. There was a gaunt, hollowness to him and his face that Hermione recognized from the Battle of Hogwarts.

"Help!" repeated Regulus, turning back to Narcissa. "She's hurt!"

"Then go to St. Mungo's," snapped Barty, not lowering his wand.

"I can't," snarled Lucius, clutching his wife tighter. "He will know!"

"Hermione, please," begged Regulus. He took a few steps closer to her, and Hermione glanced from Narcissa's still form in her husband's arms and the red on his hands and around her middle, to Regulus. "She's my family. She's a Black."

For what she did for Harry, thought Hermione, vaguely, as she pushed the sleeves of her shirt up. "To the bedroom."

Hermione led the way, Malfoy behind her along with Regulus and Barty, who eyed the taller and older wizard with a scowl on his face.

"Put her down on the cot," instructed Hermione, stepping back far enough in the tiny room for him. He carefully did so, a hand coming to gently brush some of Narcissa's dark hair from her forehead.

"You'll help?" he asked quietly.

"I'll do my best," she responded, turning to Regulus and Barty. "Out. You can't be here."

"What!" protested Barty, his voice rising shrilly. "I'll not leave you with him – he's a Death Eater—"

"You can't be in here for this," said Hermione coolly, shoving at Barty who took Regulus, behind him, with him as they were manhandled out of the room. "I think I'll be safe."

Barty went to protest some more, but Hermione slammed the door in his face, turning back to Narcissa and Lucius.

"What magic was cast on her?" asked Hermione as she knelt beside the cot, Lucius hovering at the foot. She had her wand out and cast a diagnostic, something she was very familiar with during her years with Harry.

"Cruiciatus," he replied immediately, voice low. "Cutting hexes, a blood boiler. Others but I didn't – didn't catch them."

Hermione winced. "Was it him? The Dark Lord?"

He nodded, once, sharply.

As Hermione glanced at Narcissa's very obvious baby bump, she asked, "Was it deliberate? With her being pregnant?"

Again, Lucius nodded, a tiny noise escaping him. "Will she… will they… survive?"

Hermione pursed her lips, her eyes running over Narcissa's still form, the paleness to her already grey-tinged face and bloodless lips. "I'll do my best," she repeated, and then got to work.

She did what she could with spells, with dittany, with her own magic, drawing whatever she could out that was considered foul and dark on Narcissa's body. Her own magic had rose in response to the attack, protecting her unborn child – like Harry's own experiences – but she suffered in response, comatose with shallow breaths.

It took hours, but eventually Hermione opened the door to the tiny bedroom, spotting Barty and Regulus both waiting. Barty stood, arms crossed; Regulus was on the floor, elbows perched on his knees with his hands in his hair. Both looked at Hermione.

"She'll survive," she said, worn. She was exhausted. "But I don't think she'll be able to have any more children."

She stepped out of the room, giving the two wizards a glimpse at Lucius sitting next to Narcissa's hip, gently running his fingers through her hair with a soft, but tortured, expression on his face.

The three went to the living space, Barty stoking the fire that dimmed while Hermione was with Narcissa and Lucius. Regulus busied his hands with the kettle, tapping it to warm it again as the water boiled.

After some time, when they were all ranged on the couches and Regulus in his favourite armchair, Lucius appeared.

His eyes skipped over Barty and Regulus, landing on Hermione. He gave a shallow bow. "Mrs. Potter. I am indebted to you for saving the life of my wife and heir – and I acknowledge that."

A tingle of magic ran up Hermione's spine. It wasn't a life debt, but it was significant enough that he would need to do something she asked – and Hermione knew exactly what she wanted. An opportunity like this would not happen again.

Hermione nodded back. "You're welcome." She paused. "Why did the Dark Lord attack Narcissa, of all people?"

Lucius visibly struggled to hide his sneer but eventually answered. "Since – the summer—" how cute, thought Hermione, to hide "kidnapping and torture" under such a guise "—the Dark Lord has been wroth. You named names and several of his were rounded by the Aurors and sent to Azkaban. He lost support that evening."

"So sorry," drawled Barty, rolling his eyes.

Lucius shot him a glare. "Things may have worked out well for you, but for those of us who remained, it's hasn't been pleasant!"

"You made your bed," sneered Barty hotly. "Suck it up."

"Barty," scolded Regulus, stress lines still on his face. "Let the wizard speak."

"Malfoy Manor was raided several times after that," the older man continued with an imperious nose tilt.

"And yet, you're not in Azkaban," pointed out Barty. Hermione was perfectly happy letting him play 'bad Auror.' "So, you must have done something right."

Lucius sneered. "My father made some donations—"

Hermione sighed.

"—and then skipped the bloody country!" the wizard finished, aggravated. "As did my mother, leaving me and 'Cissa behind!"

Behind to feel Voldemort's displeasure, thought Hermione, sympathy tinging in her chest for the witch.

"He's been a menace since then," the wizard finished with a sigh. "Taking his anger out on us for failing him – his other Death Eaters – and yet he lived in my home! Under my roof! And dared to raise his wand against his host!"

"So, he's not there anymore?" asked Regulus, catching that point.

Lucius shook his head. "He left late last evening, to parts unknown. He took some others with him, though – Bellatrix, for one. She's never far from his side."

"Will he be returning?" asked Hermione, leaning forward on the couch.

"No. I failed him enough times, he said."

Barty scoffed and rose from his end of the couch to pace behind it, bleeding off his energy even though he scowled and muttered under his breath uncomplimentary things about the blond wizard in their space.

Hermione glanced at their information board, disguised under a notice-me-not. Lucius would know there was something there they didn't want him to see, but either Barty or Regulus (most likely Barty) would have disguised their mission from him after his frantic run through the Haberdashery. On that information board was the last piece they needed: the diary. And if Voldemort was gone from Malfoy Manor – if he had left the diary with Lucius –

If, if, if.

"In return for my help," began Hermione, turning back from the wall, "I want something you have."

"Granted," drawled Lucius, adopting a bored tone despite the twitch his fingers made. "A book? Some old artworks? Jewelry?"

"No." Hermione leaned forward further, looking hard at him. "In your drawing room, under the floor in the hidden space—" he violently twitched, eyes growing wide in shock that she knew of the space "—there is a collection of dark artefacts. One is what I seek, should you still have it."

Lucius's Adam's apple bobbed in his throat. "What is it?"

"An old diary. Unassuming. Black cover. Thin. Inside it should say, 'property of Tom M. Riddle'."

"I…" Lucius trailed off. "I shall check."

"You have an hour," interrupted Regulus, finally speaking up. "To retrieve it and bring it here. Then the debt is paid."

"What is it to you?" he asked, eyes narrowed between Hermione and Regulus.

"Nothing you need to concern yourself with if you want to debt considered paid," replied Hermione carefully. "Do we have a deal?"

"We do." He paused, glancing down the hall. "Narcissa will be safe?"

"We will guard her with our lives," replied Regulus, as her family member.

Lucius nodded. Then, he was gone.

"How long do we wait?" asked Barty, the second they heard his Apparation crack.

"An hour and not a minute longer," replied Hermione, settling back against the couch. "So, sit back and wait, boys."

Barty nodded but paced, hands behind his back. Regulus stared into the fireplace, the light casting long and hooded shadows across his face, and Hermione kept her eyes close, lightly dozing.

Forty-three minutes later, Lucius was back, just shy of when Barty was going to say "fuck it," and storm out of the Haberdashery. He approached Hermione carefully, hesitantly when he passed over the book. "It feels dark," he said, glancing at her stomach. "Are you sure you want this?"

"I'll take it!" Barty reached and snatched the horcrux, quickly tossing it at the wet bar furthest from them at the back of the room. "That's all, Malfoy."

He was suspicious, eyes flitting between the three, until Hermione said, "Narcissa is well enough to take home, but she should be on bedrest until your heir is born. It shouldn't be much longer now, anyway."

Regulus sent her a sharp glare at that.

"Very well." He had exchanged his wand holster for his wand cane, gripping the head tightly. "I shall retrieve my wife and leave."

"You do that," said Barty, dismissively.

Lucius's face darkened in anger, but he refrained from saying anything else. Narcissa was not conscious, but mobilicorpus had her gently moved from the bed to Lucius's arms, and not ten minutes later, they were both gone.

The air seemed less tense in the haberdashery once they were gone and Barty let out a huge sigh of relief. The three looked at each other and then rushed to the bar, staring at the horcrux where it leeched the light from the space around it.

"Who wants the honours?" asked Hermione.

"Me," replied Regulus darkly. "For my cousin."

Barty and Hermione stepped back, Hermione several more paces until she was as far as she could be from it. The last of the basilisk venom dripped from the crystal vial, hissing and hitting the diary.

As the first, there was no wail of terror, or fuzzy wraith rising from the pages; but the book flipped open and leafed through its yellowed pages in an unseen, vicious wind that whipped at Hermione's hair and ruffled the sticky notes and parchments on their information board. The wind reached a crescendo and then disappeared, leaving silence behind and an innocent-looking book, smoking from the holes where the venom sizzled through.

Barty let out a breath of relief. "Is… Is it gone?"

"It's gone," confirmed Regulus. He put the vial down on the bar, hand trembling.

Hermione moved first to the information board. There was a parchment stuck to the wall with 'diary' written on it in Petunia's handwriting, under "horcruxes." She undid the sticking charm with a tap of her finger, magic making its way from her to the paper windlessly. Then she did the same in reverse, placing the parchment under another heading: "destroyed horcruxes."

Barty and Regulus came to stand on either side of her, staring in vague disbelief at the empty horcrux category and the full 'destroyed' one instead on the other side of their wall.

"Did we…" Barty trailed off.

"Yeah," breathed Regulus.

"Does this mean…" Barty continued, voice thick.

"Uh-huh," answered Regulus, eyes wet. He blinked rapidly.

"He's mortal," finished Hermione, a note of triumph in her voice.


May 1980

As the months tripped along and into spring, James oscillated between putting his foot down on her taking magical means of transport to get places and passive aggressively leaving her newly purchased books and medical pamphlets about the dangers of the Floo on her pregnant body, the body horrors of Apparating while pregnant and splinching oneself, and the statistical mishaps of pregnant witches on the Knight Bus.

Hermione received the message, loud and clear, and resigned herself to not seeing her parents until after the baby was born. It did mean that her social circle was narrowed to her magical friends that could still travel by wizarding means, and Petunia and Sean who had access to the Tube, but with Petunia's own ever-expanding waist, those visits were few and far in between.

But the Crouch family home was only a few streets over, within walking distance from the townhouse Barty had given her, and Grimmauld Place was – by muggle transport – a twenty-minute Tube ride away if Hermione ever had the desire to visit that hellhole again. As it was, she had no desire to visit Grimmauld Place while Walburga was alive; clearly, Sirius felt the same and showed up unannounced one afternoon, with Remus and Peter tagging along behind. And despite James's fretting, Hermione's husband disappeared into their basement with several loud bangs and crashes and raucous laughter emerging an hour or so later.

Hermione, who had been trying to read, huffed loudly. With a tersely written note that charmed to fly down the stairs, Hermione heaved herself up and grumbled as she waddled at seven months pregnant, out the front door and down the tree-lined streets until she arrived at the Crouch family home.

Winky opened the door, bulbous eyes widening further when she saw Hermione on the inner stoop. "Missy Potter!" she ushered the witch inside, eyes lingering on her belly. "Come in!"

"Thank you Winky," replied Hermione, smiling down at the house elf. "Is Barty in?"

"Young Master is, Missy." The elf's head bobbed frantically. "I's take you to him and Mister Regulus."

Hermione brightened. "Oh, Reg is here, too? Wonderful."

Hermione thought she would be led to Barty's room, but instead she was directed to a sitting room, the same one she met Iris Crouch in years ago. Barty was sitting with Regulus on a couch (although stuffing his face with the pastries Winky made while Regulus had a long-suffering look on his face with his pinky finger extended from the teacup, he had in one hand and his saucer in the other), his mother and father also in the room, Mr. Crouch looking grumpy and wan. Iris was in the middle of pouring tea to the other guests in the room: a swarthy looking middle-aged man in a linen suit and a few dangerous looking burns and scars; and two blonde women that shared features with Iris that Hermione both knew from Hogwarts, one holding a newborn cradled in her arms as she cooed over the child, and one who had the tiniest of bumps, emphasized only by the rich and fashionable cut of her robes.

"Mrs. Potter!" Iris beamed as Winky announced her. "Oh, my dear, look at you!"

Iris stood, and Barty and Regulus jumped to their feet, Barty's father grunting and doing so as well, a bit slower. Iris, however, rushed to her side, exclaiming, "Not much longer now, dear, isn't that, right?"

"Late July," agreed Hermione with a mild wince as the baby kicked.

"Oh, please, sit, Mrs. Potter," fussed Iris.

"Mrs. Crouch, you know you can call me by my name," grinned Hermione as Barty scrambled away from his spot on the couch to help Hermione sit. She sighed as she sunk into the cushions. He then moved to a nearby armchair, between the couch and the swarthy-looking wizard.

"It seems everyone is having babies," grinned the witch with the sharper cheekbones and red lipstick, rocking her newborn absently. "But I must say, I wasn't expecting Hermione Evans to be one of them!"

Hermione good naturedly rolled her eyes. "I live to defy expectations, Hyacinth."

"Oh, that's right," began Iris as she poured Hermione a cup of tea, "You and Barty-bear would've been in Ravenclaw that same time as my sister."

Barty grimaced at the nickname and hid it behind a loud slurp of his tea while Regulus shoved – elegantly – a cucumber finger sandwich into his mouth to stop from laughing, a reversal of how they were when she arrived.

Hermione nodded. "Hyacinth was the fifth-year Prefect when we entered." Her eyes moved to the other Fawley sister. "And Clemensia was in Slytherin, although we didn't interact that much, being two years above us."

Clemensia inclined her head. "I knew who you were, of course. Brilliant Ravenclaw, Regulus Black's friend…" she sighed with exaggerated humour. "Your Arithmancy study guides were a hit in the Slytherin dorms come exams."

"I'd never say no to some extra sickles at the time," agreed Hermione with a grin.

"They certainly helped," replied Clemensia. "Regulus suggested it to Albert Runcorn, and he told the rest of us. It was no wonder Professor Pythas had you tutoring James Potter."

"Iris said you are due in July?" interrupted Hyacinth, leaning forward eagerly, her blue eyes wide. "We should schedule a playdate! I wish for Daphne to have a large social circle before she begins Hogwarts."

Hermione blinked, glancing at the baby in Hyacinth's arms only to realize, shock overcoming her, that the newborn in her arms was Daphne Greengrass.

Hyacinth was speaking over any answer Hermione could have given. "—already spoken to Narcissa, her labour was so stressful in March, the poor thing, but House Malfoy has an heir in young Draco, so I suppose it all worked out." She turned to her sister. "Are you still angling for an in there, Clemmie?" there was something wicked on Hyacinth's face when she taunted, "Moving that crush of yours from Lucius to your daughter's goals of becoming the next lady of House Malfoy?"

The swarthy man laughed loudly. "Brother, your sisters-in-law are delightful."

At Hermione's confused glance, the man gave a tiny bow. "Wallace Crouch, ICW Hit Wizard, at your service, Mrs. Potter."

Crouch? Hermione's confused eyes glanced at Barty quickly, who tilted his head in his father's direction. He's family. Someone not heard of in my original time.

"Pleasure," replied Hermione, a bit stiffly, when her eyes rested back on the younger Crouch.

"My nephew and Mr. Black had mentioned your talents, and the Ladies Greengrass and Parkinson agreed," the man continued with an easy, charming grin from behind his moustache that had his eyes crinkling at the corners.

Hermione's face froze and she desperately tried to stop from looking at Clemensia, or her pregnant belly, where Pansy currently resided. Clearly, Hermione's Hogwarts tormentor didn't inherit her mother's blonde hair or pale skin, taking more of her father's looks.

Wallace Crouch continued genially, "What is it that you do, Mrs. Potter? With your abilities, I'd imagine an entire world of career possibilities is available for you. Barty was tight-lipped."

"Research, primarily," answered Hermione truthfully, if not vaguely. "I'm not attached to any particular career at this moment, preferring to be a freelance agent so that my talents can be used where my interests lie."

"Mrs. Potter has been instrumental in closing some high-profile cases," Mr. Crouch said suddenly, drawing all attention to him.

Hermione blinked in surprise as everyone turned to Crouch.

"There had been an incident involving her, my son, and Mr. Black at the end of their Hogwarts career," he explained for Wallace's benefit, while Iris frowned at the conversation topic and Hyacinth grimaced. "The information they provided aided the Auror Department."

Wallace's eyebrows shot up, and he surveyed Hermione anew.

"That so?" he murmured before his eyes skipped to Barty. "Do you work with Mrs. Potter, Barty?"

Her friend nodded, a tight grip on his teacup. "I've been shadowing father at the Ministry lately. He allows me to review old, cold Auror cases."

"I'm pleased to see my son interested in something instead of aimlessly wasting his time away," barked Mr. Crouch with a tiny harrumph at the end of his sentence. "Between the three of them, they've been a great help. Merlin knows I am able to do my job because of them. Damn Bagnold!"

Iris sighed. "Darling, let's not discuss politics—"

"Oh, 'Rissie, if we don't speak of politics, what is there to speak of?" drawled Clemensia in a horribly familiar, grating way that made Hermione repress a shudder. "The weather? Muggles? How droll."

"Muggles are being affected now," muttered Crouch Senior, a feverish look in his eyes. "The liaison to the Muggle Prime Minister's office has been working overtime, trying to smooth relations. Members of their government are going missing – there's been too many unexplained 'gas leaks' across the country, and the permanent cold spell off the coast of Aberdeen means that the Dementors are leaving Azkaban unbidden!"

Barty's father was building himself into a rant, spitting his words out.

"Bagnold's not doing a bloody thing! And the Wizengamot refuses to give special permissions to take down these pureblood terrorists—"

"Are they, though?" interrupted Clemensia with an eye roll. "Are we really saying that these people are purebloods?"

Crouch's glare at his sister-in-law was murderous. "Given who they attack, I can only strongly suspect."

Clemensia sniffed. "Other purebloods have been attacked, Bartemius. Like your son and Mr. Black here. Perhaps it is the work of unhappy halfbloods, or even disgruntled mud—pardon me, muggleborns."

Hermione barely held back rolling her eyes. "Well, given that I happily identified a number of Slytherin alumni when I was kidnapped, Clemensia, I'll have to disagree with them being muggleborns."

Barty snickered, not even trying to hide it.

"If these terrorists – these, Death Eaters," began Regulus, in a carefully modulated but heavily lofty pureblood voice, "are attacking indiscriminately, then they need to be stopped."

"Just so," agreed Crouch with a sharp nod. "I've been asking Bagnold to allow for my Aurors to use the Unforgivables when out—"

"Surely not!" gasped Hyacinth, clutching Daphne closer to her breasts. "Unforgivables, Bartemius? You could potentially end entire lines—"

"Which is what they're already doing," replied Crouch Senior harshly. "Or have you not read the papers recently, Hyacinth? The Bones, the McKinnons – pureblood families, both. The Bones are even Sacred Twenty-Eight, if you want to buy into that rubbish."

Hyacinth fell silent.

"No, the only way to end this is to end them, from root to stem," spat Crouch. "And if I must go elsewhere for the help I need to ensure this country remains free from tyranny, then so be it."

Well, thought Hermione, carefully hiding her shock behind a mask of indifference as Clemensia began to argue with her brother-in-law. I didn't quite see it coming from that angle. She looked at Barty and Regulus, both who gave either a tiny shrug (Barty), or a slight narrowing of their eyes (Regulus) to indicate that this was news to them as well.

But it was Wallace Crouch who caught Hermione's attention, as the thirty-something year old wizard leaned back in his seat, his dark, clever eyes (so like Barty's, and his father's), watched and listened as Crouch and Clemensia really got into it, Iris trying to tempt her sister back into a different conversation with Hyacinth's help – and failing.

The ICW was never involved with Voldemort in either of the wars he fought on British soil in Hermione's past life. Voldemort had been purely a British problem, and the ICW, for all its body attempted to be globally judicial, did nothing except to censure Dumbledore in 1995 for announcing the Dark Lord's return and dismiss him from his post for fearmongering. Even when Voldemort took over the Ministry in his successful coup, the ICW never intervened. They had only done so regarding a Dark Lord with Grindelwald when he crossed international borders.

So, why was Wallace Crouch in Britain? Why was he so interested?

Hermione resolved to ask Barty when they had some privacy; and then made a note to herself to speak to Dorea and Charlus about the ICW and its reach when she saw her in-laws next. Keeping an eye on the wizard was undeniable.

So, Hermione took a sip of her tepid tea and kept her ears open, and eyes on Barty's uncle.

James greeted Sirius joyfully and with a tight hug, clutching at his best friend's shoulders. Startled, Sirius laughed and asked, "Alright, Prongs, what's that for?" even as he hugged him back.

For everything that has yet to happen, thought James, finally drawing back. It was the first time he had seen Sirius since Hermione's reveal about his fate in the future. The Blacks had not fared well in the two wars, with only Andromeda and Narcissa surviving out of the entire clan, and with only Harry, Draco, and Teddy remaining with Black blood. But more than that – Sirius would go through hell for him, and James would not take that future knowledge lightly.

"Just… it's been too long, Pads," he replied instead, leading him to the kitchen while Hermione remained in the sitting room, reading and relaxing.

"Yeah," Sirius agreed with a tired sigh. "Still can't believe they split us up with Auror training! At least we won't be a cadet much longer – though the fast-tracking is literal murder. I don't think I've slept more than three hours a night."

James grimaced. "And I'm certain Crouch told Moody and Scrimgeour to go easy on us because my wife is best friends with his son. You get that by association with me."

"Nah, mate," snorted Sirius, "That's not happening. You get the preferential treatment, not me!"

They were still bickering about it when Remus and Peter both apparated in, a combined, loud pop that they heard at the back of the townhouse. Sirius turned to greet them as they walked into the kitchen, loudly enthusing their hello's and how are you's but James took a moment, keeping his back to them.

He swallowed thickly, eyes shut, and hands clenched even as his heart cried out, Pete, how could you?

"Not yet," whispered Hermione's voice across his mind, and James calmed. Peter had not spied or betrayed (him) the Order until a year before the other James's death. He still had a few months unless Peter was already being courted – or extorted.

When he turned around, it was with a plastered smile on his face, his eyes a bit too wide as he enthusiastically cried, "Moony! Wormtail!"

It was a far cry from the greeting he gave Sirius, who glanced at him, brows furrowed the tiniest. But James ignored Sirius's look and said, loudly, "Let's go to the basement, lads – Hermione's in the sitting room and I don't want to disturb her."

"How's she doing?" asked Remus, concern on his face.

"Moody," admitted James with a goofy grin on his face that he always got when speaking of her or their child – their potential Harry. "Feet swollen, backaches, has heartburn but looking forward to when we see our kid. She keeps distracted with her research."

Remus perked up. "What's she looking at now?"

James gave a brief rundown on one of Hermione's side projects, completely unrelated to Voldemort, his horcruxes, or anything to do with the war effort, as he led his friends down the hall and to the basement door. He did not stop, nor did he allow Remus (who was already muttering follow-up questions to ask Hermione) to head to the sitting room, herding them and shuffling them as one large body.

Sirius trailed, stopping James when Peter and Remus went down the stairs first. "Is everything fine?"

"Yeah, why wouldn't it be?" replied James in confusion even as he hid a wince.

"You're acting strange."

James shook his head. "It's nothing – just some stuff Hermione told me." At Sirius's eyebrow raise, he clarified: "About the future, with our kid. Parental planning, really."

Not a truth, thought James, but not a lie, either.

Sirius still seemed skeptical but let the matter drop.

James distracted himself with his friends and reliving their pranks while coming up with new ones to use on Death Eaters – not like they would, but the idea was funny – and then actively trying to create those pranks. It took his mind off Hermione's alternate future, of where he, Remus, Sirius, and Peter would be in just over a years' time if things remained the same. It also was bittersweet, a hint of nostalgia tinged with frustration and annoyance that they could not go back to being Hogwarts students with fewer cares or worries.

Hours later, when they had worn themselves out laughing and blowing things up, Fawkes burst into the Potter house basement in a flash of heat and white light, depositing a sealed parchment with a familiar phoenix-symbol wax seal on the back.

Sirius put down the muggle beer Hermione kept in the fridge just for him with a loud sigh, looking mournfully at the nearly full can. "Well, it was good while it lasted."

James's shoulders slumped and he summoned a self-inking quill and parchment to leave Hermione a note for when she returned home, not even bothering to hide the information that he was attending an Order meeting – not anymore, not after everything that they shared.

After the wizards had a finger placed on the Order summons, with only a single word written on the inside to activate the portkey, Remus clearly said, "Snickerdoodles," and then they were whisked across space in a swirl of colours and shapes until they were falling from the sky toward a cottage surrounded by fields.

James landed with bent knees, staying upright, as did Sirius. Remus, who never took to portkeys well, bent at the waist and dry heaved, his face green; Peter sprawled on his butt, groaning as he wriggled away from a large rock.

There was a cheery light filtering through the small windows of the cottage, and some noise as they approached. Sirius stepped through first, greeting Fabian and Gideon who were nearest to the door, wands out.

"Potter." Fabian's eyes fell on James as he entered the building, shivering as he felt strong, old wards wash over him. "Dumbledore's asking to see you before we begin."

Sirius glanced back at his best friend, a frown of confusion on his handsome face. "What's he want?"

Fabian made a face. "I don't question our leader, Black, do I?"

James couldn't quite make out what kind of face Fabian made, twisted as it was and Gideon turned quickly to mutter something at his brother that made Remus glance at them speculatively when he and Peter pressed further into the cottage, toward the back where the kitchen was. Sirius lingered.

"It'll be fine, Padfoot," whispered James, warmth suffusing him as his friend hovered. "Maybe even a mission!"

Sirius barked a laugh. "On your bloody own? Doubt it, mate."

James shook his head good-naturedly and turned toward the closed nearest closed door. He knocked once on it, and waited for Dumbledore's "enter," before he turned the knob.

Inside was a smallish bedroom, yet the bed was pushed against the wall and was more of a cot than an actual bed. There was a desk and a large, squishy chair. Dumbledore was in the chair – a garish yellow with orange stripes – and the grizzled Caradoc Dearborn, the burns from his torture while Voldemort's prisoner peaked out from under the collar of his robes. He was leaning against the desk, arms crossed with a frown on his face.

"Ah, James, come in," greeted Dumbledore warmly.

"Sir…" James trailed off in his own greeting, hesitantly stepping into the room. This was his first time seeing the Headmaster since he and Hermione had spoken – and suddenly, the thoughts of Hermione's past, the future she came from, and thoughts of the adventures she and Harry experienced, made James far more cautious than he thought he ought to be.

Dumbledore peered at James from behind his half-moon glasses, a genial smile on his face under his beard. It slowly slipped into something serious. "James, there is something Caradoc and I wish to bring to your attention."

Dearborn snorted. "You wanted to wait until we had more proof, Albus."

Dumbledore's lips thinned under bristles of white. "Yes, well…" He cleared his throat and turned to James. "What do you know of prophecies, James?"

"Prophecies?" James blinked. He hadn't taken divination at Hogwarts, so he drew upon what Hermione had ranted about when he finally got around to asking about the prophecy surrounding Harry's birth, and the ones that followed. "They're, uh, given by seers. Vague, usually, and that means people who hear them shape them to what they want them to be. They're, uh, unreliable."

Dumbledore beamed at him while Dearborn snorted and scowled. "Very good, James! Yes, prophecies are… well, once someone chases after them, they tend to become true if only because of self-determination."

"Prophecies are magical, and we should heed them," muttered Dearborn.

Dumbledore sent Dearborn a look that James could not interpret. When his blue eyes returned to James, he gave a tiny, tight smile. "As you can see, James, Caradoc and I disagree with the nature of a prophecy Caradoc brought to my attention some years ago."

His heart was thundering, and there was a sinking feeling in his stomach that made his throat tighten. "What – what prophecy? Why am I here?"

"Do you know what Caradoc used to do at the Ministry, James?" asked Dumbledore.

Thrown off by the change in topic, James replied, "No…?"

"I was an Unspeakable," said Caradoc gruffly. "I worked in the Hall of Prophecies, mostly."

"Okay…"

"When a prophecy is given, the Hall automatically records it in one of the spheres," explained Caradoc, eyes focused on James, who felt small and caged in. His inner stag was snorting and responding aggressively to the challenge, but James desperately tried to keep a hold of his rising worry, fear, and anger from spilling over. "If an Unspeakable is in the right place at the right time when a sphere records a prophecy, they can overhear it."

Dread filled James. "You overheard a prophecy."

Dearborn nodded. "I did."

James's eyes cut toward Dumbledore, and the headmaster held out his hands, supine. "Caradoc brought it to my attention back in the early 1970s, James. At first, it made no sense and I put it out of my mind – despite living in a very magical world, I like to believe we are masters of our own fate—"

"Then what changed?" interrupted James, something hard on his face. "And why are you telling me this, of all people?"

Dearborn and Dumbledore shared a look, and then Dumbledore sighed. "Caradoc and I spent much time once he told me the prophecy trying to decipher it. Unfortunately," Dumbledore sent an unrepentant Dearborn a mild glare, "doing so is nigh impossible—"

"It's about your wife," interrupted Dearborn rudely, staring at James.

He stared back. "I beg your pardon?"

"She fits," Dearborn continued, uncrossing his arms, and pushing off from the desk. "I wasn't sure – we were looking for someone magically powerful before, and of course, the students would be a good place to look – but I knew after Malfoy Manor."

James's heart stopped, his hazel eyes darting toward Dumbledore. The headmaster leaned forward with his wand against his temple and withdrew a silverly white strand of memory, turning and depositing the memory with a flick into a pensieve – which James saw for the first time was hidden behind his chair and on the desk.

A spectral figure of Dearborn – at least a decade younger – appeared, floating above the silvery liquid. In a tinny, thin voice compared to his in person, the younger memory Dearborn intoned, "An unspeakable evil shrouds the land. Yet by balancing the scales of existence, hope shall be restored when chains are broken, through magic never before seen. What was once yesterday is tomorrow and tomorrow is today… For when the clock rewinds, everything is connected…"

James wanted to throw up. The prophecy was about Hermione alright – magic never before seen? When the clock rewinds? Although only a handful of people knew about her time travelling, or her transmutation skills, it made James wonder what Dearborn and Dumbledore knew.

Swallowing, he managed to say, "How does this relate to my wife? This could be about anyone, any when."

Dearborn shrugged. "Yeah, it could have. But at Malfoy Manor, I saw what she could. She dug a tunnel from a prison. She didn't have a wand and transfigured the landscape to our advantage during a fight. She went toe-to-toe with Voldemort. How could that not be 'magic never before seen'?"

"And I'm sure you're associating 'an unspeakable evil' as You-Know-Who, given that's what people call him," said James, bitterness leaking into his voice.

"It fits," shrugged Dearborn.

"The rest doesn't," argued James, a scowl on his face. He reached up and righted his frames even as he looked at Dumbledore to see what the headmaster thought. "You're picking and choosing what you want for it to work and stick on her shoulders!"

"I agree, James," sighed Dumbledore tiredly. "But I must have hope. I will not tell the others, but we are losing, badly. Voldemort grows stronger every day. His followers grow bolder, no longer just kidnapping people or placing them under the Imperius Curse. Murders are brazen, in daylight. Muggles have noticed the unrest, and the Prime Minister has been adamant in Bagnold finding a solution. We are barely keeping our cauldron full, and the Aurors are tired, as you well know."

"That still doesn't mean it's Hermione," replied James quietly. "Don't put this on her shoulders. We're about to have a child for Merlin's sake—"

"I know." Dumbledore rubbed at the bridge of his nose, looking tired. "I know, James. I did not wish to burden you with this—"

Dearborn interrupted. "Your wife can do things we've never seen with magic. She's held her own against him. She's part of a prophecy. We need her."

James nearly snarled at the man, his palm itching and desperately wanting his wand in his hand and a curse on his lips. "Do not, Dearborn! Do not speak about her that way!"

"James…"

But James shot a glare at Dumbledore. "Or you, sir. Hermione already turned down your offer to join the Order. Respect that. Leave her alone. If you need a prophesized saviour to win the war, then maybe you should reconsider how you're trying to win it."

With that parting shot, James turned on his heel and yanked open the door, slamming it behind him as he stepped through, breathing heavily through his nose. Sirius rested against the wall opposite, casually eyeing his nails with his legs crossed at the ankle. He startled upright when James slammed the door.

"Prongs…?"

Through gritted teeth, James muttered, "Not now, Padfoot."

Warily, Sirius looked back at the door but nodded, falling in step with James as they walked down the hall and entered the cheery kitchen, magically expanded and loud with noise as people caught up and gossiped before Dumbledore entered.

James sat stiffly in his chair with his arms crossed, brooding. From the corner of his eye, he fuzzily caught two redheads' glance at him, even as Sirius sat and tried to rouse his spirits into something less moody.

"Is everything alright?" whispered Remus, from Sirius's other side.

"It's fine—" but Sirius spoke over him.

"Something's bothering Prongs, but he's not talking about it."

Peter piped up, "Anything we can do to help?"

"Just drop it," snapped James, uncharacteristically, causing all three other Marauders to blink at him in shock and shared concerned looks. But Dumbledore appeared soon after, with Dearborn, and the Order crowd settled as he took his place at the head of the table, Dearborn on one side and Moody on the other.

"You-Know-Who has been doing a bit too well for my tastes," began Moody gruffly. "Either he's drunk some Felix Felicis, or we're leaking like a bloody sieve."

Uneasy murmurs ran through the room and people began to eye each other up, warily.

"We're not saying there's a spy in our ranks," began Dumbledore, a genial smile on his face.

It's exactly what he's saying, thought James moodily.

"—but we do need to be vigilant about who we speak to about our movements," he finished, making sure to look at each member for a lingering moment as though he was speaking to that person directly. "If you speak of Order business at home, make sure it is not in front of your children, or your spouses."

At that, Dumbledore's eyes hit James, and James seethed, clenching his hands in his lap. Sirius saw and did a doubletake between his hands, him, and Dumbledore.

"We need to stop reacting," added Dearborn frankly, a sour twist to his mouth. The burned flesh at the side of his neck was a darker red than normal, indicating his annoyance and frustration, much of it lingering from the less-than-fruitful discussion with James earlier, he thought. Again, from the corner of his eye, he saw Fabian and Gideon share a look, and he wondered what that was about - when had the two Prewett twins ever show concern for him?

"We, along with Crouch's Aurors, are often called to the scene after You-Know-Who's Death Eaters have long fled," continued Dearborn. "We need to be there before the Aurors show up—"

"Aren't we working with them?" a confused member piped up. There were some murmurs.

Moody shook his head. "We're considered a vigilante group. Crouch won't go after us—" Moody's eyes skipped at James and Sirius, briefly "—but we're not there to aid them."

"Then what is the point of us?" drawled Fabian, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed.

Good question, thought James, pursing his own lips in agreement as his eyes darted over at Dumbledore.

"Our goal has been, and always will be, to defeat Voldemort." The headmaster of Hogwarts laced his fingers together and rested them on the table. "While Head Auror Crouch has finally received an increase in funding from the Wizengamot, his push to allow his Aurors to use the Unforgiveables is still being blocked. Should that pass, well… the Aurors can focus on Voldemort's Death Eaters."

"Crouch is a stubborn bastard," muttered Dearborn. "He'll get his way sooner or later."

"I'm sorry, Headmaster," spoke up Remus, carefully with wide eyes. "Are you saying that you want us – people who are nowhere near You-Know-Who's skill and power – to fight him? Surely, that's what you are here for."

Dumbledore smiled at Remus. "I have faith that all of us working together will prevail."

James held in his scoff, mulishly glaring down at the table and missing Fabian and Gideon's looks, as well as ignoring Sirius's agitated form next to him practically vibrating with the need to know why he was upset.

There was some more discussion – about patrols, sending out the Prewetts and asking Lily to brew some potions – and then the meeting was dismissed. James was on his feet immediately, ready to stride toward the front door and past the anti-Apparation jinx around the property. He wanted to go home, to Hermione, to rant to her about Dumbledore.

But the man was quick and spry and, on his feet, too, blocking James in the hallway with a hand on his arm. "James. You mustn't tell your wife—"

"Excuse me!" He reeled back, eyes flashing at the man.

"—I only meant," the headmaster sighed, "That this is a burden for her. And one she likely would not appreciate. Let us keep it between us, as you surely do not believe in it and I believe, nor would she."

James scowled, yanking his arm back and out of the headmaster's grip.

"I hope this doesn't change things between us—" he tried to continue.

"I am still committed to ending this war," spat James, barely hearing himself over the furious thundering of his heart. "But I strongly suggest not calling me for some time, Headmaster, lest my wand's aim slip."

Dumbledore's own eyes cooled at the blatant threat. "Very well, Mr. Potter."

"Prongs?" called Sirius, coming up behind him in the tight and narrow hallway. "Headmaster Dumbledore."

"Boys," the headmaster greeted. There was a tight smile on his face, partially hidden by his beard and moustache. "Safe travels."

"Thank you, Headmaster," answered Remus for them even as Sirius ushered James quickly down the hall, a hand on his shoulder as he guided James.

"Oh, Remus," the headmaster called as they neared the door, stopping them. "Do you have a moment?"

Remus nervously glanced back at his friends, at James's stony visage and Sirius's concern. But it was Peter who nudged him with his shoulder, despite their height differences, and said, lowly, "Go on, Moony, see what he has to say. We'll catch up later."

Remus nodded.

James, distracted, muttered a vague goodbye and sped out of the doorway and down the path until he reached the gate. He needed to get home. Immediately.

"James—"

As he spun on his heel, James called, "Later, Pads—" and disapparated with a sharp, angry crack.

He reappeared in his townhouse foyer, eyes adjusting from the country darkness of the Order cottage he had been outside of to the warm interior casting a soft yellow glow against the dark wood panels.

"Hermione?" he shouted.

"Library!" came a distracted shout in reply.

James stormed forward, up the stairs and down the hall until he was in Hermione's office – the library as she called it, since it was overfilled with books. She stood over a desk, ignoring the chair, and was leafing through official documentation, based on the large emblem at the top of the pages.

"What's that?" he asked, stepping into the brightly lit room.

"ICW enlisting," she muttered, partially distracted. "For their Hit Wizard program. Trying to find a name on here but I'm off on dates and I'm not sure when they were born—"

"I'll do some digging on my end at the office tomorrow," offered James, reaching to touch her hand and pull her from the paper.

Her amber eyes glanced up at him and she stilled, a frown on her face. "What happened?"

James was solemn when he replied, "We need to talk."

Slowly, Hermione sank to the chair, her expression as serious as his as he began to explain the Order meeting.


Late May

To make things fair, the Evans sisters agreed to individual baby showers. Marlene had been planning Lily's before her death, and Petunia stepped in at the last minute to help finalize it but decided that since Marlene had made it mostly magical, she wouldn't attend.

For Hermione, who had gone, it had been a who's who of the Gryffindor graduating class in Lily's year, with some other notable additions. There was a palpable gap in the Gryffindor girls, with Marlene dead, an empty space between Phoebe Sinclair – who had married Damocles Belby's brother, Pericles, and muggleborn Mary MacDonald, looking wane and tired, as well as flighty, jumping at every noise.

Alice Longbottom was there, massively pregnant herself and muttering death threats toward an absent Sirius Black; Miriam Lowe, also pregnant and married to Elias Goldstein – Great Scott, that's Anthony in there, thought Hermione, wide-eyed when she greeted the Hufflepuff alum – dropped by the baby shower, as did Evelyn Perks (now, Diggory), Francis Jones (now, Higgs), and some of Lily's favourite professors from Hogwarts, like McGonagall, or people from the Order, like Hestia (who came with her niece, Francis), Dorcas Meadowes, and Emmaline Vance.

Petunia had cried off attending, as had a reluctant Rose Evans when she realized that most of the people at Lily's baby shower were going to be magical, citing that she would attend Petunia and Hermione's instead with Lily's gift. Overall, Hermione found the afternoon atmosphere solemn and mildly tense, as many of those attending was either directly involved with the war (on one side or the other), or very aware of what the others were up to.

Petunia's baby shower, jointly hosted by Hermione and their mother back in Cokeworth, went much better with many of Petunia's schoolmates that knew of Hermione and colly disdained Lily, the awkward sister of the group for a change. But Petunia had fun with the games Rose had planned and Hermione's decorations and food were topnotch, and Petunia ended the day with several necessary items.

Hermione's baby shower was… eclectic.

Her friend circle was, at worst, Barty and Regulus – two men who were either only children or the youngest of the family and therefore had never been around babies. Furthermore, they were both purebloods raised by house elves. They had no idea what babies needed.

When the circle expanded, Hermione realized her only other friend was Dirk, another male. I really need more female friends, thought Hermione wryly, but it accurately reflected her life as Hermione Granger, so she gave a mental shrug and suggested that they extend the baby shower to include James and his friends to bring together everyone who would be involved in their lives.

So, while Petunia, Sean, as well as Hermione's parents Rose and Leonard, were the only muggles attending – having decided to spare their uncle Duncan and grandparents from the chaos that was the Marauders – they were 'in the know' of enough magic that Hermione and James did not need to hide. Even better, Rose Evans and Dorea Potter got along like a house on fire, and Leonard Evans and Charlus Potter – who were already friendly, along with Sean – gravitated to one another and caught up on their rugby.

"All I am saying, dear," protested Dorea hotly and loudly, "Is that having a house elf can be beneficial when the baby comes."

Sirius mimicked gagging. "Until they try to drown you in the tub—"

"Sirius Black!" shrieked Dorea, her voice rising to a pitch that could shatter glass. Her eyes flashed at the younger Black and her curly hair frizzled.

When the Blacks got upset, thought Hermione in amusement, hiding her smile behind a sip of cider, boy, did they ever show their family resemblance to the Bellatrix and Narcissa she remembered from the Battle of Hogwarts.

At her side, James stifled a snigger.

Regulus sighed. "Kreacher never tried to drown you, Sirius—"

"How would you know, Reg, you're younger than me!"

"Well, you're still here, aren't you?" asked a deadpan Regulus, causing laughter to break out around the group.

Sirius loudly booed. "Moony, Wormy, back me up here—"

"Sorry, Pads," apologized Remus, but he was grinning wolfishly. "Can't; never met your house elf."

Sirius theatrically shuddered. "Thank Merlin."

"Oh, he's not that bad, Sirius, stop whinging—"

"He's a fuc—bloody menace!"

"Winky's absolutely lovely," interjected Barty, stopping just shy of maliciously gleeful as he needled Sirius – Hermione didn't think either of them would ever get along. She was just happy that despite Barty's reluctance and fear toward Remus, he didn't blame the werewolf for what happened at the Shrieking Shack all those years ago, placing the blame at Sirius's feet instead.

"See?" preened Dorea. "Growing up, Cobbler was a delight—"

Ignoring them with long practice, Charlus had engaged Leonard and Sean in a discussion of England chances in the 1981 Five Nations, after they had just won the current championship; Petunia was curiously grilling both Dirk and Lily about their magical careers and comparing them to their non-magical equivalent and stumping all three as they tried to correlate Lily's position as a Charms apprentice to the muggle world. The discussion was hesitant between all three as they raked their brains, puzzled frowns on their faces.

"—an apprentice is easy enough to compare—"

"But Charms is really molecular changes—"

"No, that's transfiguration, one thing into another—"

Sounding pedantic, Lily recited, "Charms is defined as 'adding or changing the properties of an object; it focuses on altering what the object does as opposed to what the object is.'"

"Did you get that from Goshawk's Standard Book of Spells?" asked Dirk, trying to keep a straight face.

Lily flushed and muttered, "It's a really good definition to use, here, in our discussion…"

Petunia took pity on her younger sister and asked, "What about production? Could we relate it to mercantile or something similar, when taking something and adding or changing properties?"

Hermione turned her mouth toward James, handing him her cider. "I'm going to begin taking some of these gifts up to the nursery."

James frowned, eyes pulled from Sirius and Dorea's loud argument. "Do you want help?"

"I'll help," offered Barty, sitting on Hermione's other side protectively. Regulus turned his head as he caught the offer and nodded, as well.

James gave Hermione a kiss on the temple as she hefted herself up, hand placed on her back and stomach as her center of gravity was entirely off. James's warm hand hovered near hers on her back, keeping her upright and from toppling one way or another.

"Mobilicorpus," intoned Regulus and Barty, their wands flicking at the presents piled off to the side on a table. The selection rose and Hermione led the way down the hall and up the stairs, out of sight from the sitting room despite the open doors.

James let his eyes trail after them, despite knowing that Hermione was more than safe in their own home and with Regulus and Barty at her side. He was distracted when Sirius threw himself in Hermione's warm spot on the couch, sighing loudly.

"Your mother, I swear," he grunted, causing James to roll his eyes.

"She's your great-aunt," argued James, half-heartedly. It was an old argument, especially once Sirius moved in with them. "It's the Black family traits."

Sirius rolled his eyes, that time. "Where'd princess go?"

"Stop calling her that," scowled James, disliking the nickname Sirius had for her. "Your brother and Crouch helped her take the gifts to the nursery."

"Oh." Sirius blinked. "But there's a few left."

At James's curious look, Sirius summon them, two presents that had fallen from the table and landed between it and one of the armchairs – the same one Sirius had been sitting in. No wonder he had seen them.

"Let's take them up," said James, grabbing one from the air with his reflexes while Sirius took the other.

To the room at large, he announced, "We'll be right back," but only his mother nodded distractedly at him, speaking now to Remus and Peter about something or the other. Feeling slighted, James thought, rude, without heat and left the room.

The nursery was next to the main bedroom, down the hall and the furthest from the stairs as a safety precaution. The room was large and square – he and Hermione fit in a crib, changing table, rocking chair, drawers and even a plush loveseat and bookshelf filled with children's books. There were windows on two sides, being at the back of the townhouse, spilling in natural light that saturated the room on that spring day.

Hermione, Regulus and Barty were inside, but the door was ajar, blocking the hallway from their room and given how far their voices were, the three were probably at the furthest point away from the door, by the drawers, as they piled the presents there or on the loveseat.

James was about to open the door, announcing their presence when Sirius's hand gripped his arm and held him back. James glanced at Sirius. "Pad—?"

"Sshh!" hissed Sirius, eyes alight with glee.

"—going to be godfather?"

Oh, thought James, glancing at Sirius. That was what he wanted to know.

"Sirius is, of course," answered Hermione, answering Barty's question. "That wasn't even a discussion point – it was the easiest decision to make."

Beside him, Sirius preened.

"I didn't want to bring this up just yet, though," continued Hermione. "But I was hoping to also ask you, Reg."

Sirius turned questioning eyes on James, who gave a tiny smile and shrug. Sirius had been the first and only choice in James's mind for godfather in case anything happened to them. Knowing the future Hermione came from though, made him reconsider just one godfather for their child. Sirius had allowed grief to overcome common sense at his and Lily's murder, which led to Harry being raised by Petunia. While Petunia would never treat his son that way in this new time, James didn't want to risk his child's safety and happiness and agreed that a second, more sensible, godparent was needed.

Enter Regulus Black.

"I would've asked you, Barty, but…" there was a sound of clothing rustling. "Let's be honest, putting you and Sirius together as godparents is a terrible idea."

There was a pause, and then Barty said, "Fair enough. And true."

"Besides, both Black sons as godparents to my child?" continued Hermione, sounding amused.

Someone snickered – probably Barty.

"If…" Hermione trailed off, the tone of the room changing from amusement to serious in the span of a single word. "If… the worst happens, Reg… if it all happens again… take Harry and run. Don't… don't let him end up in Dumbledore's hands. Or, god forbid, Voldemort's if there's a spy in the Order."

There was a moment of horrified silence, then Barty broke it, his voice cracking.

"That won't happen! It won't! You won't die!"

At his side, Sirius stiffened in shock, head swinging between the partially closed door and James.

"It could happen." There was a tremor of tiredness and defeat in Hermione's voice. "Time is in flux – things are changing but some things… they stay the same. So, protecting and taking care of this baby – of Harry – is the most important thing if James or I die. You know that – and you know why. You two are the only ones I'd trust and who could teach him what he needs to know, and the only ones I could ask to finish this if I'm gone."

Sirius slowly turned his head away from the door to James, eyes piercing. James swallowed thickly, cutting his eyes away from his friends' face and back at the door.

Regulus swore under his breath. "I'll do it, but don't make me. I swear to Merlin, Hermione, don't make me do this."

Hermione sounded anguished when she replied, "I'm sorry. If – if it does happen – make sure to check in on Lily and Petunia, too, in case it's an Evans thing and not a Potter thing. Tuney knows enough, but Lily doesn't know anything. She'll be in danger."

"We'll protect them. I promise."

"It won't happen," Barty snapped, mulishly.

"It might," replied Hermione idly.

The three were silent, their conversation drifting away to introspection. Worried that they would leave the room and spot Sirius on the landing – and James honestly wasn't sure if he wanted Sirius to know what happened to him in that other future – James grabbed Sirius and dragged him away, barely thinking but absently casting a silencing charm on their shoes to avoid making noise.

By the stairs, Sirius yanked away from James and stared at him. "James. What the fuck was that."

"It's nothing."

"Nothing?" repeated Sirius, incredulously. "You said that about your conversation with Dumbledore at the Order meeting, too, and I let that drop. What did Hermione mean, if things happen again? Or time is in flux?" He ran a hand through his artfully styled waves and laughed – but it was a tad hysterical. "That can't mean – surely, it doesn't mean what I think—"

Trying to diffuse the situation, James gave a fake laugh. "What are you talking about, Pads? It was a joke. Who knows what in-jokes those three have that I'll – we'll – never know?"

Even to his ears, he heard how obviously fake and bad it was, and by Sirius's pained face, he knew he didn't succeed.

"James," whispered Sirius, eyes wide. "I – you'd tell me if there was something I need to know, right? Right? Like, if Dumbledore told you something – something about us – about you, and Hermione? About… about your sprog?"

James pressed his lips together.

"James?" Sirius's voice raised in pitch, shaking at the end, in tension, fear. "James, what did they mean? What do they know?"

It may have been Hermione's story to tell, but James couldn't even bring himself to think about telling Sirius at that moment.

"Sirius," begged James, lowering his voice. There was a hint of steel in it. He firmed his stance and threw his shoulders back a bit as he stood straighter. It was an authoritative position, and despite being shorter than Sirius, he watched as Sirius cowed the slightest bit. "Please, don't. Drop it. Ignore what you heard. It's nothing."

Then he turned on his heel and began down the stairs, not even looking back if Sirius was following. He left his best friend on the landing at the top of the stairs, in shock, in silence.

Was this how Hermione felt, all those years? Never telling those closest to her until she had no choice? wondered James, a sour taste in his mouth as he strode into the kitchen, to the sink. He gripped the edge of the countertop, leaning over it as he dry-heaved, desperately trying to keep the cake he had eaten earlier from coming up.

The fear of what Sirius would do if he knew Peter might be a spy – the rage that would overtake him – the threat of Azkaban –

James wouldn't do it. He couldn't.

Hermione kept quiet to protect people and take that burden on her shoulders to save the world so that people like James, Lily, Sirius, Remus – and so many others – would have a better life. It was no less for James to do the same.


TBC…