Complications of Birth - REVISED
Disclaimer: I am not making money off of this. I'd like to, but men in black suits would come and take me away.
Summary: Sequel to Contemplations of Birth and the WIP Convergence of Birth. Now in seventh year, our intrepid cast faces the ultimate test of their loyalty, strength, and sanity. (Story was written prior to Book 6.)
Pairings: HG/SS, HP/LM, DM/RL, GW/CC, and others
Warnings: Spoilers for Book Five. Mention of mpreg in later chapters, (Not who you think and barely there. Can be overlooked easily if that squeaks you.) Always runs the risk of SM or bondage. Lastly, there will be HEAVY torture scenes towards the end. You have been warned. Oh, and in case you didn't read the pairing listed, this has slash, people. If I go above R, and I plan to, I will post the full version on my home web site and any slash site I can get this posted on. Until then, enjoy.
A/N: This series was started before Book Five. The companion piece to this, Convergence, explains most of the cannon inconsistencies for 5 but no attempt was made to update it for later books. In addition, you really need to have read Contemplations to truly understand this. Also, I'm not sure if Jabbernall feathers are canon or not. I read about them in another fic and I liked the idea. Basically, the feather makes a person jabber on and on. Sort of like truth serum but more subtle
Chapter One: D.C. al fine
May 26th, the dreaded start of exams. Oblivious to the academic tensions of the students, Lucius Malfoy gazed across Albus' desk at the old man. A dark, contemplative look was firmly etched on the man's face. His elegant robes were perfectly draped across both his frame and the chair. Lucius was back to his normal, confident, if somewhat manic self. Not a single hair was misplaced and his callous aura of power was back full force.
"Dumbledore, you have officially lost your last shred of sanity." Lucius set his half-full teacup down with a clatter and decided to get to the point. He'd already been in the cluttered office for over a half-hour. He could only handle so much small talk with senile old men.
"Lucius, my boy, the plan is excellent."
"The plan was concocted by a sixteen-year-old Mudblood while high on the after shock of her first werewolf transformation and less than twelve hours after escaping death at the hands of Lord Voldemort. I hardly think my life is so invaluable as to risk it on such an endeavor." Malfoy snarled and fingered his cane, slowly pulling his wand partially out of its sheathing then gradually back in.
"Now, Lucius, I thought you would be happy," Albus twinkled. Lucius could not understand how the older wizard managed to make twinkling encompass his entire body instead of just his eyes; it was a mystery that had plagued both he and Severus for decades. "If all goes well this should make Riddle think you and Draco are firmly on His side."
Lucius gave a cold laugh. "The man thinks that I've either lost my mind completely or am plotting something. Most likely He is counting on both. The Potter boy would never come willingly to Malfoy Manor and the halfblood knows it. I don't think you fully grasp the situation, old man."
"Then do explain it to me, Malfoy." Dumbledore leaned back and kept one piercing eye focused completely on the wizard across from him. Normally this position sent the other occupant of the room running. Lucius, however, simply raised the strength of his own glare and mirrored Dumbledore's previous movement, leaning back into his own chair.
"The Dark Lord knows that I am behaving differently since the resurrection. He was incensed that I killed everyone He had placed in my dungeons and then sealed them off. He is aware that Severus and I have a rather close relationship – strictly platonic, mind you. It is no secret among the Death Eaters that my participation has been rather lax at the Revels recently."
Lucius paused, as if to consider each word more carefully before he spoke. He was unsure how much of his current situation to reveal to the meddling old miscreant. "I fear that my killing that Muggle child at the last one spoiled a lot of their fun. In short, Headmaster, the Dark Lord has more than enough reason to suspect me of defecting - or at the very least becoming disinterested in His cause."
"Perhaps you should seem more interested then," Dumbledore suggested, his voice light despite the gravity of his words.
"What you suggest would mean murder." Lucius kept his voice even but narrowed his eyes.
Dumbledore remained silent.
"By Merlin, you are a manipulative bastard."
Dumbledore still did not respond, waiting for the wizard to inevitably fill the silence. It was a trick he had picked up over the years. He knew from experience that people tended to prefer to purge their conscience rather than sit in an uneasy silence. His wait proved short and worthwhile.
"I thought by throwing myself in with you, I was done with mindless executions." Lucius threw the other wizard a calculated glare.
Albus sighed, "I will not ask you to do anything you feel is not right, Lucius. But sometimes the ends do justify the means."
"I have spent over two decades trying my damnedest to be a monster, Dumbledore. I failed at it. In fact, I have driven myself to near insanity in the pursuit of something that no one should ever attain." There was silence for a moment as the blond struggled to regain his composure. "No, old man, these means can never justify the end you want."
Albus beamed. "That is what I wished to hear." The wizard was giving the impression of barely contained bouncing at Lucius' response. His twinkle was almost lethal in its intensity and he was practically clapping from the joy of it all.
Lucius snarled as he stood up. "That was a test? You dare to test me?" He hissed, barely above a whisper. "Why you…" His breathing quickened as he tried to contain his indignation. His wand was almost fully unsheathed.
"Calm yourself, Lucius. Try to understand; for you this conversion to the light seems like a long-delayed natural impulse. For the rest of us, it is hard to understand. You have the reputation of being the right hand man to Voldemort. Your knowledge and use of the Dark Arts is virtually unparalleled. Now you say you never wanted to kill, that it was all an act. I may be a senile old man, but I will not be taken for a stupid one."
The wand slammed back into the cane. "It was never an act." Lucius sat down heavily and gave a pleading look to the Headmaster. "I thought if I kept it up long enough I would stop feeling so…. I thought it would stop. I am not an innocent man; I never have been and never can be. I entered His service knowing what it would entail, for the most part at least. I am what I am, Dumbledore: a fool. A bloody, evil, and stupid fool." He looked toward the still napping phoenix before continuing. "Things that made so much sense to me when I was young seem so repugnant now. I do not have the constitution for mayhem and murder that I did as a young man." Lucius only turned back to the Headmaster after the last word had passed his lips. His eyes were struggling between hardness and the rather rare pleading look they had held earlier.
"Forgiveness is possible, for young men like you." Albus sat forward and tried to look forgiving. It didn't work. Especially considering the elderly man had made no move to hide his sneakascope or foe-glass. He did, however, push the box of jabbernall feathers that he had slipped into Lucius' drink further out of sight.
The anger returned as quickly as it had abated. "I do not seek forgiveness. What I seek is far more quantifiable."
"Ever the Slytherin, Lucius," Albus sighed.
"No, Albus, this is more the providence of a Hufflepuff: loyalty - to my son. I don't want Draco to ever sit in this chair and say these things. I don't want my only child to wake up at night to the echo of the screams he has caused in his ears. I don't want his wife to lose her mind from being repeatedly raped by her husband's so-called comrades." Lucius took a deep breath before continuing in a somewhat less harsh tone. "Draco will never stand in a pool of his victim's blood and try to keep from losing his dinner so that his Master will reward him by not sending the Cruciatus his way. Draco is why I am here. The sins of the father will not become the sins of the son. Forgiveness has never been my goal, nor the reason for my presence here."
"And that is why you will receive it," Albus replied gently. "Just as Severus has."
"Not if I follow your plan, old man. I'll be dead long before whatever deity it is you believe in will see fit to grant such a thing to the spawn of Satan." Scorn filled Malfoy's tone, as self-loathing cloaked his features.
"I hardly think you're the spawn of Satan, Lucius. A fallen angel perhaps, but not one that far up. The plan will work."
Lucius snorted at the old Gryffindor's unwavering optimism. "The plan will fail."
"Negative thoughts will not help matters." Albus popped a lemon drop into his mouth and smiled contentedly.
"Negative thoughts have kept me alive for years," Lucius said and eyed the candy bowl apprehensively.
"And kept you chained in service to a mostly dead spectre." Albus picked up the bowl of sweets and offered one to Lucius.
Malfoy sneered at the candy and pushed it away. "Point." He couldn't help but mentally add a comment or two about the prospect of being chained in service to a mostly-batty headmaster. Out of the cauldron and into the fire, indeed.
Setting the candy down, the headmaster replied, "Now please, Lucius, this will work."
"What exactly am I going to say?" Lucius sighed, resigned to defeat. "I already told the Dark Lord that Draco informed you that I had him under Imperius. After Draco telling you that, Potter would never be allowed near Malfoy Manor, no matter your trust in Draco and his…" Lucius stopped, sneering as he continued, "…conversion."
Dumbledore looked speculative for a moment. "Tell Him you convinced me that it was Voldemort that ordered the spell cast and you had no choice. Furthermore, you told me you purposefully kept the spell light so Draco could escape. Make it sound as if you have me fooled into thinking that you never wanted to rejoin the Death Eaters after His return, that you wanted to stay out of the heavy Dark Arts and keep your position in the Ministry safe. Add in your arrest and subsequent trial, at great expense to your personal fortune –bribes are not inexpensive- and it is no wonder you might be less than enthusiastic about a return to the Death Eaters. Seeing your son going through his Marking was enough to make you turn to me. Especially when you found out he had switched sides as well. Malfoy family loyalty and so forth."
"He will never believe you are that gullible." Malfoy eyed the old man wearily. "I was caught red-handed in the Ministry wearing Death Eater robes. Fudge and his friends may be spineless fools, but even they couldn't ignore that. I barely escaped Azkaban and the Dementor's Kiss." He ignored the fact that the Dementors were no longer on the island. "It's only because I called in every debt I had and made more threats than it would be possible to make good on in three lifetimes that I'm out in sunlight even now. You would have to be the biggest idiot on the planet to trust me after that."
"This is close to the truth, Lucius. And the truth is always the best lie." Albus smiled benignly and sucked on his lemon drop.
Lucius ignored him. "It will NEVER work! Who in their right mind would try to use the same plan twice? You already tried this Dark Arts training, might-go-dark-Potter-with-the-spy scheme once. Why on god's green earth would you do it again?"
"That is exactly why it will be a success. Besides, I trust you to make it work. Good day, Lucius." Albus waved his hand and suddenly the other wizard found himself standing, with cane in hand, on the outside of the large oak door to the Headmaster's office.
Lucius stared at the offending piece of wood. "Make it work. I was safer trying to duck His curses than this old fool's trust."
"I have found that is often the case." A deep voice, intoned with amusement, came from behind the blond.
Lucius jumped slightly. "Severus, how long have you been standing there?" He turned sharply to stare at his one time classmate. He hated it when Severus did that. The potion master was the only one still able to startle him. The man didn't walk, he glided.
"Long enough to hear your conversation." Snape smirked and stepped fully onto the landing.
Lucius sighed, "What am I going to do?"
"What Albus said. Voldemort will believe you. After all, He believed the story you fed Him about Draco already. And Albus is known for being soft hearted and freely giving away second chances."
"This is insane." Lucius let his head fall dejectedly to the wall.
"This is normal around here."
"Good Merlin." Malfoy resisted the urge to start banging his head against the wall.
"Exactly." Snape finally took pity on his friend; after all, he had spent twenty years spying himself. "Look, Dumbledore is known to be crazy. Play that up. Mention the fact that he even let Hermione's adoptive MUGGLE grandparents into the school; just don't let on your role in that. Voldemort is always looking for a reason to think Albus has finally lost his marbles."
"And this strategy kept you alive for so long?"
"…." Lucius remained silent and instead devoted his full attention to looking as skeptical as humanly possible.
"Trust me, it will work," Severus promised.
"It had better." Lucius' voice went from harsh to whiny. "What am I supposed to do with a werewolf? Why does that THING have to come along?"
Severus shivered. "Albus isn't quite sure he trusts you yet. Lupin is there in case something goes wrong."
Lucius suddenly realized what a sensitive subject he had struck. "Severus, I'm sorry. I forgot what Draco told me about Hermione. How are you coping with this?" The two started down the steps towards the gargoyle.
"It will take some time." Severus made a great effort to control his voice. "Hermione is not talking."
"To you? What did you do to upset her?"
"No, she is not talking to anyone, at all. She has not spoken a word since we left the Infirmary. I am worried." Severus paused at the bottom of the staircase. "I really must talk to Albus about this, Lucius. Forgive me for not walking you to the gates."
Lucius smiled faintly. "I can make it on my own. Your lapse in manners will meet no punishment this time. Go take care of that girl. She is special."
Snape gave his friend a dark look. "Special and mine."
Lucius laughed and gave Severus a quick pat on the shoulder. "Good. I don't know why, but I like her and I don't want to see her hurt anymore than she already has been."
"She has that effect on people. It is rather annoying." Severus narrowed his eyes. "And you will kindly remember she is off limits."
Lucius snorted. "Yes, well unlike my son, I do not think I will be giving you anything to worry too much about in the near future. I believe keeping myself alive will take up most of my time. I shan't be having enough leisure time to properly woe her." He smirked at Severus' skeptical sideways look. "Goodbye, Severus, and good luck with Dumbledore. He is in a mood today." Lucius brandished his cane and headed for the exit.
Snape watched him leave with a small smile. At least Lucius had managed to cheer him up slightly. A bit of territorial squabbling always made him feel less depressed. At that thought Severus' smile wavered and disappeared. He still had to deal with the Hermione situation. Severus eyed the stairs before heading back up toward Dumbledore's office. It was now or never. He might as well get it over with and see if the old man would have worthwhile advice or more of his usual dribble.
/ / / /
"Do come in, my boy." The cheery voice of the headmaster did nothing for Snape's apprehension. "What can I do for you? I trust you helped ease Lucius' fears."
Snape scowled. "Fears I should by all rights still be shouldering."
Albus dropped the jovial act. The seat across from the desk ran forward to catch the potion professor as he collapsed boneless into the cushions. "Severus, you are too hard on yourself. We all knew your spying was not to last. I was reluctant to ask you to return to it. We were all very blessed to have you come back to us whole."
"Blessed? You confuse me with one of those fools who actually believe in that religious nonsense, Dumbledore. You were lucky that the incident did not end up reflecting badly on the school. As for myself, skill aided me and not some fictional, over-exaggerated deity."
Dumbledore let the comment slide and instead schooled his face back into its customary look of senile joy. "Now my boy, what can I do for you?"
Severus again scowled. "The child refuses to speak. The Potter boy is sulking. Draco is withdrawing. Weasley is a nuisance, as usual. And most of all I fear they will all fail exams. They have not had the proper study environment these last few days."
"This is a problem how, Severus? I thought you always wanted them to fail? Ronald is no longer taking potions since the OWLS and you did, however reluctantly, take Harry on to NEWT level."
"Minerva did not give me a choice." Severus smirked, "and it did annoy Umbridge."
Albus laughed. "Yes, I can see how that would be an added bonus. And you really must admit the boy is not as horrible as you had to make him appear for your cover's sake."
"True. It will be interesting to see how he will improve now that I no longer must give the impression of loathing him."
"Why, Severus, I always assumed it was genuine." Albus sipped his tea.
Severus shook his head. "It once was. But Potter is not why I am here. Dismal as his prospects are, I am sure you will tweak his and the other's final exams enough to compensate for their distractions, as usual." Severus growled out the last part under his breath. "It is Hermione I'm concerned for. Lupin and I are worried about her transformations. In less than six months she has been married, orphaned, held prisoner, assaulted, committed murder, sterilized, and turned into a werewolf."
Albus took a moment to consider the list. It really was quite long… "You don't think she'd do herself harm?" The headmaster sat up straighter in alarm.
Severus quickly put that thought to rest. "No, not intentionally, but she refuses to speak, Albus, even to her grandparents. Potter is constantly at her side but – the Weasley is too uncomfortable in our rooms to even visit. I've purposefully denied Lovegood access. Hermione would wandlessly hex her out the door in her present state."
"In time she will adjust. The last true bit of her that was a child died when she raised her hand, or lips to be more accurate, against Soren. Harry understands better than most what she is feeling. Ronald has yet to undergo the same coming-of-age as they have. Let us hope he does not for some time yet." Albus gazed sorrowfully into his tea, "So many of our children have."
"How do I help her, Albus? What do I do? I remember the first time I killed, under far less noble circumstances. How do I help her?" Severus looked at Fawkes as the bird landed on his chair and trilled for a moment.
"There was precious little anyone could do for you on that fateful night, just as there is little you can do for her just now. Do not push and keep everything as normal as possible for her. Change is not in her best interest."
"I hadn't planned on redecorating in orange and purple anytime soon." Severus wryly commented and Albus snorted.
"Good. Now do send Harry in as you leave. He is trying out his list of sweets with my gargoyle."
Severus rolled his eyes and did as he was told. As usual the headmaster had done little to aid him. Potter shrank back as his professor swept out of the hidden stairwell at a quick pace. "Potter, go on up. You are expected." He sneered, and with a swirl and scowl, Severus left the boy behind to head for his dungeons and his silent wife.
/ / / /
Harry kept his nervous shriek to himself as his professor gruffly brushed passed him. Ever since the Occlumency lessons last year, his fifth, Harry had mixed feelings about the man. Sirius' sudden reappearance, quite alive, last August had deflated much of the boy's anger toward the man. What was left behind was hard to describe. The latest dealings with him had caused a grudging respect to blossom. The worst Dark Arts lessons had gone FAR better than the best Occlumency and Harry had proven an apt pupil this time around. In addition, Hermione was one of his closest friends. Snape might not have saved Sirius last year, but he did save Hermione, twice.
Shaking his head to clear off thoughts of the dark professor, Harry stepped onto the moving staircase. This plan of Hermione's, the last words she'd spoken for close to a week, was not an opportunity Harry was sure he wanted. A whole summer with Draco… and his father. The blondes were causing Harry a few problems.
He knew Malfoy, the younger one, was after Remus. The realization that the werewolf was gay had come as a shock. At the Dursleys such a thing was never discussed. Harry had never contemplated his own preferences… until the dreams. Harry blushed. If Draco was half as limber in real life as he was in Harry's head, Remus was one lucky man.
None of this, however, helped the Boy-Who-Lived. The sudden discovery that his ineptitude with women had more to do with simple lack of real interest than practice had been shocking enough. His fetish for blondes had not helped him any. Harry sighed. There was no way he could survive watching Draco give Remus the eye for a whole summer non-stop. Then there was Lucius. Harry shivered. Like father, like son?
The steps slowed and Harry found himself staring once more at the Headmaster's door. A door he was, quite frankly, tired of seeing. His knock was quickly answered and a candy unceremoniously shoved into his mouth.
"Now, Harry, my boy, what can I do for you?" Albus twinkled.
Harry swallowed the lemon drop out of shear nervousness and tried not to choke. "Sir, I'm …concerned about your plans for me this summer." Harry chose his words carefully. "You know that if I don't return to the Dursleys the protective charms will fail to work ever again."
Albus nodded, "Understand, Harry, I knew they did not want you. But I never thought… as I said this time last year, I knew you were unhappy and less well cared for than I had hoped. The level of mental and physical abuse I never guessed. There is no way I can return you, even if I wished to, now that the public knows." Albus sighed. "This is really the only option you have other than staying here all summer or at Number 12 Grimmauld Place." Harry sat up excitedly. Albus continued with a slightly apologetic expression behind his massive beard, "Neither of which I can truly offer you. Molly will not be manning the house full time now that Sirius is back. You would be all alone there with your godfather. And although I trust you both, together I fear what you might do. Not to mention there is no longer a house-elf to cook or clean. Poor Kreacher's death of old age has left the house rather worse for the wear. Sirius has always been rather inept with such things. As for staying here, I believe Severus and Hermione need some time alone."
Harry was ready to protest when Albus patted him on the shoulder and used the same trick that had worked on Lucius earlier. Harry found himself with a handful of sweets staring at the door with none of his questions answered. Grumbling, Harry descended the stairs two at a time and went to study in the library. After all, he had always understood that apparating inside the school was impossible, let alone a second party apparition. Maybe proving Hermione wrong would get her talking, if for no other reason than to justify her faith in Hogwarts: a History. Just as he went past the gargoyle, Remus Lupin walked up and waved to him. Harry half-heartedly returned the gesture and tried not to openly stare. Was Remus really…like him? Or was he like Remus? And what would everyone say if they knew?
/ / / /
Remus watched Harry disappear around the corner. There was something about the boy that was different since Christmas. He had heard the rumors of course; that the boy was paying far more attention to Malfoy then he should be. Remus shook his head. James had never quite gotten use to having a homosexual best friend. He never wanted to be left alone in the bathroom with Remus or to change in the same room. Remus had tried to explain that he felt nothing for James, and never could. They were friends, nothing more, nothing less. But James had found it hard to adjust. They never stopped being friends, but there was a tension to everything. How would Prongs have felt if his son turned out to have the same inclinations? For once Remus was glad his friend was dead. Harry had enough problems.
Sirius. Now that was a different matter. Sirius Black had been more than enthusiastic about encouraging the werewolf. He had tried to set up dates, bought books, offered to take Remus shopping for…god only knows what. Being entirely straight had not seemed to deter the fellow Gryffindor matchmaker one bit. Sirius had gleefully tossed around Remus' sexuality like a flag. Why that was, Remus could only guess. Yet something told the wizard that Sirius would not be pleased that Harry had taken the same path.
For Remus, his sexuality was a blessing. It kept him off the Ministry radar and meant there would be fewer questions to answer for why he never had children. (He could not risk passing on the lycanthropy but hardly wanted to make that public knowledge at the time.) He also had no obligation to keep a House name alive or pass on a legacy. His parents had made sure those burdens fell on another shortly after he was bitten. Harry, however, had quite a bit to pass on. The Potter family would die with him if he did not produce an heir. The line of Godric Gryffindor would end. Harry had to have a child, or better yet, children. James had known this duty and preformed it willingly. What would Harry do if he found a love? Could he leave his lover's bed to find a witch for the sole purpose of caring on the line?
These questions would have to wait. The gargoyle was snarling impatiently. Remus took a deep breath. Whenever he stepped into Dumbledore's office he felt eleven again. He remembered all too well what it felt like to sit in one of those chairs and listen to his parents and the Headmaster discuss his future as if he wasn't there. The questions of security and secrecy if he should attend Hogwarts, what would happen if he got loose during the transformation, what to do if he was ill, who to trust with his secret, how to cover his absences believably… The talks had lasted for hours. In the end his parents had relented to the Headmaster and allowed their son to enter the school's roster. But Remus had seen the look in their eyes. They were half-terrified and half-elated at the same time. The nasty family secret was going away.
Dumbledore was not in his office. Remus sat down in front of the desk and stared at Fawkes. The phoenix was methodically tearing apart some small rodent. The werewolf suppressed a smile as he superimposed Peter's face on the half-dead animal and listened to the weakening squeaks. He did not notice the Headmaster's entrance.
"I fear the poor thing has all its toes, my dear boy." Albus smiled benignly and nodded towards the rat in the bird's clutches. "Besides, I think even you would not wish Peter to become my phoenix's dinner. Would you care for some tea?"
Remus shook his head no.
"Ah," Dumbledore nodded sagely. "I presume you are also here to tell me how foolish this plan is and that you will not participate." Dumbledore pushed his glasses back up his nose and stroked his bird, smoothing down the brilliant red feathers.
Remus looked startled. "No Headmaster. I just wanted to ask you about Sirius. Have you told him what is going on? When Harry doesn't show up at headquarters, and neither do I, he's going to ask questions. When he finds out the truth he's likely to do something rather stupid."
Albus chuckled, "That, my dear boy, is very like Sirius. I imagine that if I told him the truth he'd apparate right to the Manor and drag you both out. But I can not lie to him. Running the headquarters means he is privy to all the Order's secrets. Next to myself, he is the best-informed person in all of England. He will have to be told."
"He will not be happy." Remus reached for the teapot. On second thought, he could use it. "What are we going to do about him? He's been frantic for quality time with Harry, and vice versa, since he came back." Remus paused and closed his eyes momentarily. "When I thought we'd lost him, and Harry wanted to go after him… God Albus, I almost jumped through that gate myself. If I hadn't had to stop Harry I would have followed him. But he came back, as only Sirius could."
Dumbledore nodded. In the beginning of August Sirius Black had scared Percy Weasley almost to death by simply falling out of the arch. The young wizard had supposedly been cataloging something for the ministry when the Marauder had tumbled from the doorway. While months had gone by for the rest of the world, Sirius had only felt seconds pass. He came out, wand ready to fight Bellatrix, only to find a fainting Percy. When the Aurors showed up and failed to arrest him, he was justifiably confused. Dumbledore arrived moments later and explained what had happened. Sirius' immediate desire was to find Harry and hug him, assure the boy it was not his fault and that everything was fine. Albus had escorted Sirius out of a particularly awed Ministry building and back to Grimmauld Place. Harry had been ecstatic, if slightly confused. Remus had been there too. He had cried as hard as the Boy-Who-Lived. Remus had not let Sirius out of his sight for a fortnight.
Following his triumphant return, Sirius had only had a few short weeks with his godson before the start of term. Both had been looking forward to spending the next summer together. When the article came in late August Harry had to physically keep Sirius from attacking the Dursleys. Then school had started again. Harry had returned 'home', so to speak, for Christmas with Sirius. That was the last time the two had met in person and it was killing Sirius not to see Harry. Both Remus and the Headmaster knew the Animagus would not take Harry's summer plans well.
"Do not worry, Remus. I will talk to Sirius in person tonight. There is little to worry about." Dumbledore sighed. "I will convince him of the merits of this plan. Perhaps if I promise him a visit or two throughout the school year it will appease him."
Remus looked skeptical but held his tongue. Sirius could not be stupid enough to go against a direct order from Albus Dumbledore himself. Could he?
"Now, Remus, I think you need to talk to your daughter.…"
/ / / /
Hermione was sitting in the parlor of her and Severus' rooms when Remus arrived. She was surrounded by parchment and a glazed, faraway look was etched on her face. Remus peeked over her shoulder and recognized the runic symbols used in advanced Arithmancy. But that was as much as he could discern. The patterns looked nothing like he remembered, and Arithmancy had been one of his best subjects. The normal, standard equations were missing. What had replaced them looked like unorganized, random scratches. What was the girl up to?
Albus had told him to come and try and get her to talk. What could he do? She had not even looked up since he had entered. He might teach children, but he knew nothing of parenting. And the girl was pretty much an adult! What was he supposed to do with her? Grounding her was out of the question.
He waved a hand in front of her face, between her eyes and the parchment. No response. He tried yelling at her. Nothing. He tried hitting her with a pillow. Still nothing. Eventually he sat down next to her and waited. When over an hour had passed and she still had not moved, Remus left.
He wandered the halls for another hour and then headed for his old dormitory. If he failed, perhaps the boys would not.
/ / / /
"You want us to what?" Ron asked, eyes large.
"I want you two to provoke Hermione into an argument." Remus stated for the twelfth time.
Harry slammed a rather large book on apparating shut and outright laughed. "I thought of that. But unfortunately I can't find any ammunition for an argument. And furthermore, I came to my senses. Fighting with Hermione is about as intelligent as insulting Dumbledore in front of a drunken Hagrid armed with a crossbow. Trust us, that is not a good idea."
Remus glared. "Harry, I just saw her. She was just scribbling nonsense on paper and nothing I did would snap her out of it."
"Hermione scribbling? Not likely. Whatever she was doing makes sense, Professor. Just not to those of us with normal sized brains." Ron moved his chess piece and took Ginny's knight. Colin ducked his girlfriend's swing. He had suggested she move it there.
"You two are impossible. She is your best friend!"
Harry looked up and quietly stated so that only Remus could hear, "I know this doesn't make sense to you, Moony, but Hermione gets like this every once in a while. Not this bad before, but when she's on a roll with an idea, she's lost to the rest of us. I think this time she's forcing herself to disconnect in order to escape, but in time she'll snap back." Somewhat louder he continued, "If you want us to, Ron and I will go see her. I've been everyday but had no more luck than you."
Ron looked like he was about to protest. Remus shot him a death glare. "Alright, alright. But don't expect me to deal with the greasy git, okay?" Ron took his sister's king and stood up. "Let's get this over with."
/ / / /
Severus opened the door and let the two Gryffindors inside. Hermione was lying down for a bit so he grudgingly offered the boys coffee. He needed the added caffeine.
Ron broke the silence first. "When is she going to go back to the old Hermione? She's never pulled this no talking thing for so long before!" Harry nodded but kept silent. "I want her back to normal. I'd even put up with her badgering me to study all the time."
Snape scowled. "That, Mr. Weasley, is an impossibility. Hermione will never be the same." Harry nodded again and continued sipping the bitter drink.
"What do you mean?" Ron asked, confused and a little red in the face. He hadn't intended to blurt that out; frustration had made his tongue act freely, as usual.
"I mean, Mr. Weasley, that purposefully causing the death of another human being changes an individual. Your friend is no longer the same girl you knew." Severus' voice grew huskier. "The innocence is gone."
Ron looked confused and turned to Harry for a translation. The Boy-Who-Lived wasn't paying any attention to his friend; instead he was gaping at the door to the bedroom. Hermione stood there with an ink smudge running down her nose and across her cheek. Her hair was all over the place and her robes rumpled. She'd heard them talking. Harry cringed, waiting for the verbal rebuke that never came. With eyes that lacked any spark whatsoever, Hermione turned back into the bedroom and shut the door.
"You see, Weasley; she is not as she was." Severus sipped his coffee and picked up a pile of first year exams from that morning. "Now get out. You have a Potion's final tomorrow, Potter. And Weasley, I'm sure you have something to cram for. Be gone." The two took the hint and left. Ron paused and looked back as he shut the door. He just barely caught Snape laying his head on his arms and the scarcely detectable shaking of the man's shoulders. For years Ron would wonder: was it laughter or tears?
/ / / /
Draco paced his room. Tomorrow was the day. Tomorrow they all left for the Manor; finals were over at last. Was the plan going to work? Father had his doubts. Draco snorted. Could he even trust his father? The man had worked for Voldemort, could still be doing so. He had not wanted Draco Marked, but…. Draco plopped down on his bed and stared at the canopy. Things were getting far too complicated.
He hated his life. His mother was a walking lunatic. His father was…not much better. His godfather Severus was an enigma, and a damn annoying one at that. The Granger, er, Penwrath creature was a perfect match for the Potions master. She confused the Malfoy heir just as much. Then there was Potter. The boy had been staring at his arse to the exclusion of all else for WEEKS! Draco couldn't take much more of it. He was about to screw the bloody fool just to get rid of him. Draco grimaced; knowing his luck the Gryffindor would just develop a bigger crush.
Then there was Lupin. The only one to ever really listen, completely listen, to him. The wolf inside the quiet man was a puzzle that did not annoy Draco like puzzles normally did, but instead pulled at him. Lupin listened, cared. But the wolf was hungry. Draco could see it in the amber colored eyes as the full moon approached. The wolf wanted him. But Remus was oh so careful, oh so poised. The inner demon never surfaced anywhere but the eyes. Their soft glow would start to burn and Draco could feel their fire. The boy shivered. He wanted to taste that fire, to drown in it. Lupin was the only one to ever even try to resist his attentions, other than Granger.
He rolled over. Maybe it was genetic. The Granger chit seemed to attract his father and him equally. Not as much as the adult male version, but enough. Maybe the Malfoy's were susceptible to werewolf hormones or something. The small amount of Veela blood passed down from several generations back could account for it. One magical creature calling to another. But both werewolves seemed immune to any such effect, both spurning the would-be attentions of the Malfoys, young and old. Regardless of such theories, Draco wanted Remus Lupin more than he wanted just about anything. And being unaccustomed to non-indulgence, he was determined to get his heart's desire.
Werewolves were pack creatures. Draco had to make sure he got himself included in Remus' pack. To do that, he had to get the rest of the group to accept him. Black was out of bounds, impossible to reach for now, and so Draco would work on him later. Potter…Potter would unfortunately have to be humored if not indulged. Keep the Gryffindork happy and form a friendship. Make Remus think everything was all cozy with the orphan. Then there was the girl, the newly discovered daughter and the heart of the pack.
Draco knew what he had to do. The awkward understanding he and Granger had developed would have to be expanded. The werewolf in Lupin would not allow him to accept a mate that his newfound offspring could not get along with. Draco stood up. The Mudblood, er…fake Mudblood, was not talking. Perfect. If she wasn't talking she couldn't aggravate him into doing something stupid. In his current mood, extreme frustration and all-consuming terror of impending doom, he would be only too easy to provoke. There was little time before they left for the summer. He had to try and get her talking. If he could do what the others had failed at, maybe Remus would notice him.
Draco set off for the Snape family quarters intent on 'developing' his friendship. He smirked. Being Slytherin was so much fun.
He stalked towards the door and confidently knocked. Instead of being greeted by his professor's sour expression as he expected, the door swung open on its own as the wards recognized him. Severus' desk was covered in parchments and a fresh cup of that nocuous Muggle coffee was sitting there. But no Snape. The door off to the side leading to the bathroom was firmly shut. Draco rolled his eyes. What a time for a restroom break. He needed to talk! He needed insight into Granger's head, a helping hand in getting the girl on his side. His little dalliances in helping her along with Potter had not proved to endear him any. Some ground had been gained after…after his Marking. Draco shivered; it was an event best forgotten. Then they had made some sort of alliance in the infirmary, but not a glance had passed between them since.
He had hoped his godfather would be amiable to his plan, if for no other reason than to get his wife talking again. Draco needed some idea of what made Granger's mind tick. Severus could hopefully supply such information in an attempt at getting Granger back to some semblance of normal. Assuming, of course, that Severus wanted her talking…
Draco sat down in front of the stove and was startled when the brown lump on the floor moved. Granger was sitting not two feet away from him, scratching away at some weird looking equation. Draco curbed the urge to snatch the paper away. Not only would it be impolite, it would push his means-to-an-end further away. The small voice in the back of the blonde's head that said he really did want to be friends with her and not just to get at her father, laughed at him.
Instead of indulging his first impulse, Draco inclined his head. "Milady, what are you working on? Might I see?" He tried politeness first.
Hermione's quill paused for a moment and then picked right back up. Draco narrowed his eyes. He'd heard the rumors that she'd been like this for days, ever since that first meeting when they returned from the manor. He hadn't paid much attention to the gossip. He had been far more concerned with keeping himself alive at the time. He knew she wasn't talking, but he figured she still responded in some way. He tried again, this time with his usual tone.
"Granger, what are you doing?" She jerked her head up and stared at him. "That got your attention. But why?" He asked, puzzled, but not expecting an answer.
She glared at him and tried to turn away. Draco grabbed her arm and forced her to look at him. "Why are you ignoring all of us, Granger?" Draco watched her eyes for a response. She looked almost scared. "What is going on in that over worked brain of yours? Having second thoughts on this brilliant scheme of yours? If so you'd better tell us, because by this time tomorrow your precious Potter and I will be dead if your plan backfires." He got his response.
Hermione shook free of him and slapped him.
"Oh, that hurt me, better than the Cruciatus." Draco snarled and barely registered Severus' return. "You've hit me before, Granger. I bet you'll hit me again as well." He watched her eyes flash but his pent up anxiety had found an outlet and he was too stressed to try and stop it. "That is, of course, if this half-baked idea doesn't get me killed. Have you any idea what you're playing at? The Dark Lord may have been tricked by you once Mudblood, what makes you think you can do it again?"
Hermione shook and snarled wordlessly. She shoved the parchments at Draco as if he could understand them.
"What are these? Meaningless dribble. Snap out of it! Get over this self-indulgent crap." Draco balled the papers up and waved them in front of her.
Hermione grabbed her papers back and smoothed them on the table.
"You killed the bastard. So what? He deserved it. You beat the Dark Lord, you saved my hide, you played the hero. Now you go all melodramatic. At least Potter never played THIS sympathy card." Draco sneered. "Upset your name can't be in the paper? Want the Order of Merlin? Well the likes of us don't get those, Granger. Welcome to Slytherin. Gryffindors get the glory and we do the work. Join the ranks of the habitually under-appreciated."
Hermione closed her hands into fists.
"That's all this is about isn't it? You did the impossible and got away from old Smoldyworts himself and nobody can know because it would blow my cover. You can't stand not bragging about it to all your little sniveling Gryffindor friends up there in that cozy tower of yours. So if you can't say what you want to say, you'll be quiet. Well congratulations, Granger. You may not get an Order of Merlin but you win the prize for stupid prat of the year."
A wave of wind slammed Draco into the bookcase across the room.
"ORDER OF MERLIN! You think that's what I want, you spineless bloody hypocrite! I don't want a stupid fucking metal. I want my life back! I want my mother, my father, my home. I want my own damn bed and my own family photos. I want my summers in France at the seashore where daddy liked to go and paint the waves. I want to wear my bikini instead of the bathing suit mum liked and watch her try not to say anything. I want to ride the Hogwart's Express to school and not worry about a Death Eater attack. I want to be able to go outside of these walls and not worry about being killed. I want my grandparents to be able to live the last years of their life in their own home and not tucked away in the back of the castle for their own safety."
She took a shuddering breath. "I want Harry to be able to sleep a whole night through without waking up screaming. I want Severus to stop blaming himself for the wrongs of an entire civilization." She crossed the room and physically pulled Draco to his feet. "I want your father, yes, your father, to be the man he could have been without Voldemort and the stupid ideas your grandfather pounded into his head. I want Severus' mother to rot in hell. I want to be able to have children again, even if I choose not to." She slammed the boy down onto the couch. "I want to be able to look at the moon again without feeling this-this, BEAST, inside me! Do you understand now? Do you get the difference, you slimy nothing? Is your puny little pampered mind capable of grasping such a thing? If they handed me that blasted metal I'd shove it down their throats."
Draco loosened his robe collar and glared back at her. "Oh, I get it. You're feeling sorry for yourself and you just decided to take it out on the Slytherin. Well, join the club, Granger. Gryffindors have been doing that to Slytherins for centuries. What can the slimy snake do to make you happy, hum? What can I do to make your terrible life better?"
"I want Voldemort's head on a platter. Give me that, Malfoy, and I just might start to like you."
Draco gave a cold laugh. "If I had His head I wouldn't part with it. I'd mount it on my wall and force it to watch Muggle comedy films for the rest of eternity. I'd put Longbottom's grandmother's hat on it and send pictures out to the Daily Prophet. I'd take darts and hurl them at it everyday for HOURS!" Draco grabbed his left sleeve and yanked it up to show the blackened Dark Mark starring out in all its grisly glory. "What makes you think you've got the sole right to hate that monster? He had your parents killed. He took your home. You still have your SOUL, Granger. He didn't take that."
It was Draco's turn to back her into the wall. "At least your mother is dead and not a fucking human zombie. At least your father never tortured people trying to impress a bunch of masked idiots. At least your front entryway never doubled as a throne room for a half-dead psychopath!" Draco grabbed her left arm and shoved the sleeve up. "At least this arm of yours only bears a bonding bracelet and not this." Draco shoved his Mark under her nose. "At least the mark you bear gives you something in return." Draco let her go and Hermione fell to the floor. Draco nodded back at Severus as he rolled his sleeve down. "You have him to make up for all you lost. All I have to compensate me for selling my soul is the promise of a painful death either way you look at it."
Draco turned on his heal and walked towards the door. He called back over his shoulder, "Get yourself together Mudblood."
Hermione picked herself up off the floor. "I'm not a Mudblood."
Draco sneered as he put his hand to the door handle. "You could have fooled me with the theatrics. For you, soiled blood is not a matter of genealogy, Penwrath. It is a matter of choice. You are still attached to that Muggle world. As long as you value it, you are a Mudblood. Either learn to be proud of what you are or change it." He slammed the door.
Severus watched her silently for a moment. She turned and looked at him, a helpless expression on her face.
"At least he got you to talk." Severus spoke carefully. Hermione gave a choked laugh as she started to cry.
"Come here, child." She practically flew into his arms. "Draco may have been a little harsh, but you needed to hear what he said, even if he was wrong."
"It all meant nothing. You gave up so much to save me and it meant nothing. I cost you your spying, I hurt the Order. I got my parents killed."
Severus snorted. "You helped Lucius and Draco turn to the light. You made me care for something other than myself and the blasted Order of the Phoenix, something I haven't done in over twenty years. You've given Lupin something to look at and be proud of, something he helped create, however unknowingly."
Snape helped her to the couch and held her close. "You have come up with several ways to keep Potter safe, a hard task I have been working at for years." Hermione tried to say something but Severus shook his head and stopped her. "As for your parents, Soren would have killed them eventually, regardless of you. Even had you married Flint they would have died because of the baby. Don't even think about my spying either. Voldemort would have found another test for me which I most likely would have failed just as spectacularly had you not been there." Severus lifted her chin to force her to meet his eyes. "You are a remarkably gifted young woman, Hermione Granger-Penwrath-Snape and don't you ever doubt that."
He brushed the tears out from her eyes. "Now pull yourself together and get up to the Great Hall for the Leaving Feast. Luna Lovegood has been trying to get in to see you for three days, something about you charming her belongings to come back to her at the end of the year. She thinks the spell has attracted invisible something or others that her father told her about. Since I refuse to allow that…that…that whatever-she-is into my private sanctuary, you will have to go to her in person and explain the impossibility of invisible magical houseflies stealing just one sock. My attempts have gained me nothing but a migraine."
Hermione again choked on a laugh but went to change into a fresh set of robes anyway. Severus watched her leave the room and made a mental note to send Draco both a Howler and a thank you card.
/ / / /
The next morning, Harry, Draco, and Hermione watched their schoolmates leave for Hogsmeade station in the not-so-horseless carriages. The sight of the thestrals made Hermione shiver. She no longer envied Harry the sight of them. Draco was silent and slightly frigid toward her until she smiled and touched his shoulder. She was still not comfortable in public, but she was dealing now, at least partially. She and Severus had talked for hours the night before. It had helped, as had several potions.
"Thank you, Draco." The blond looked confused. "Not everything you said was true; I don't want attention for what I did." She took a deep breath. "As a matter of fact I want everyone to forget it. And that is the problem. I can't have either." She smiled grimly. "But hiding my head in my Arithmancy won't do any good. It would be like Severus brewing fifty caldrons of Wolfsbane for only two werewolves. It might distract him, but the good that comes of it would be minimal." Hermione extended her hand and smirked. "What you did was stupid, Malfoy. Even Harry was smart enough not to provoke me like that. You showed true Gryffindor spirit there. There is hope for you yet."
Draco scowled but nevertheless took her hand. "Granger, you are one weird witch."
She laughed. "You are the only one to still call me that." She pulled him into a hug.
Draco looked down his nose at her. "You dare to touch the Malfoy?" A small chuckle escaped the blond as she released him. "Should I stop calling you that then?" Draco watched Remus out of the corner of his eye. Hermione caught the look and raised an eyebrow.
"No. I rather like it. You keep me from forgetting to be proud of being a Mudblood."
Several of the teachers that were standing nearby gasped at her using the 'm' word. Hermione ignored them and looped her arm through her husband's. "Come on, Severus. Let's go celebrate the summer and the lack of students to hamper our getting to really know each other." She looked back over her shoulder. "Have a good summer, Harry, Draco. Don't do anything I wouldn't do!"
The naughty grin on her face made Harry laugh out loud and call after her, "Does that mean I can take a stab at your husband since he's firmly in the 'would do' category?"
McGonagall almost looked faint at the insinuation. Draco laughed out loud as his godfather's head almost flew off his shoulders and Hermione had to physically pull him inside. Dumbledore chuckled and pulled out an old soda can from his robes and held it out to the still chuckling, if slightly red, Harry. With the exception of the deputy Headmistress the other faculty members had followed the Potions master and his wife back inside.
"Time for you three to get going to Malfoy Manor. Lucius is waiting for you." Albus locked eyes with Harry. His expression went from jovial to worried. "Be careful, Mr. Potter. Sometimes danger is not always easy to see." He paused before he continued in his wispy voice, "The danger is not in losing ones life, but losing ones self."
Harry took the piece of rubbish and watched with bright, if somewhat confused, eyes as Lupin levitated their luggage. "I'll meet you two at the gates to the Manor. I'm Apparating with the luggage from outside the wards." Lupin took off with the trunks floating behind him.
Harry turned to Draco. "What are we waiting for?"
Draco turned and looked up at the castle. "Why do I have a bad feeling about this?"
Harry looked up to. "I always have a bad feeling when leaving here, especially by Portkey."
Draco snorted. "You should have a bad feeling coming back. Isn't this the first year there HASN'T been an attempt to kill you?"
Harry paused, "No, my third year was death attempt free…no wait. A dementor tried to kill me. He wasn't on orders, but…"
"Still counts." Draco smirked. "So if an attempt is made this summer does it count for this year or next?"
Harry smirked back. "Next year."
"Pity. Hate to break the streak. I could fire a couple curses…"
Harry laughed as Draco grabbed the Portkey. The summer had officially started.