By Rurouni Star
There's always been a couple of things I wasn't sure I made clear. For anyone who was wondering, and didn't pick it up: Snape was the one that sent the original research to Hermione, after Dumbledore died. He knew at that point the sort of moral decision it would entail. The bulk of the note that came with it was Dumbledore's. The apology was Snape's.
Also, I had no perfect place to put in some other wrap-ups, but they weren't absolutely critical. Harry does not move in with Sirius – he still needs the protection of his own blood – but Sirius does pay the Dursleys a nice, amusing visit, wherein Azkaban is probably mentioned at least once. Hermione's little time traveling thing is never mentioned to the Ministry, for obvious reasons, though they probably wouldn't believe it anyway. Her parents might have been contacted about her hospital visit, but Dumbledore engineered a bit of confusion in pinpointing them to send anything, so they're none wiser, and Hermione gets to have a horribly uncomfortable conversation when she gets home. She probably lies.
If there are any other questions, I might make an attempt to clear them up, since this story was so ridiculously long and convoluted. Gosh, I miss it already.
I want to make it clear, if I haven't before – I've appreciated the reviews incredibly. They've made me blush, on occasion; and even though we'd like to think otherwise, we all know authors are insecure, and rely on some sort of praise to keep themselves going. I certainly haven't been lacking in that. To anyone who took the time to leave a comprehensive, detailed review, or even just a small one – I read them all. You are what made this monster of a fic worthwhile. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Plans for other fiction are sketchy, but I've started on a novelization of Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark that I might put up. I'm hoping to make it comprehensive enough that anyone can read it and understand it/be entertained. Again, though, I am writing on an actual novel, which is coming along steadily. And our comic. That too.
So much to write. So little time.
"It is indifferent to me where I make a beginning; for
there I come back again."
There was no time, anymore. No extras, no redos, no hurried, last-minute fixes.
There was no time except the time she was supposed to have, and it went in a line now, instead of looping and twisting; it was suddenly so simplistic that it made her occasionally afraid.
But there were things to do. And there was no longer any time to think about this, in view of everything else that had happened.
"I see you're awake, Miss Granger. And no worse for the wear, I hope?"
She looked at the Headmaster warily, trying to discern his intent. He would of course have waited for Sirius to leave. He had to leave some time.
"Much worse, I'm afraid, Headmaster." It was careful, but she couldn't entirely hide the icy tones behind it.
His face didn't change, though she knew he had some semblance of guilt, somewhere deep down. It wasn't enough guilt, though, because she knew he would do everything exactly the same way over again.
"Voldemort is reborn," Dumbledore said. It would have been partially a question, except that he already knew.
"It happened last time too," she said, trying to sound indifferent. The quaver in her voice failed her.
"But there were differences this time," he said. "And I need to know what they were."
Hermione looked at him carefully, trying to gauge him. She knew he was a ruthless man, when he had to be. There had been changes – important ones – but she knew already that she would have to pick and choose her words. "Tell me about Sirius first," she said. "What bargain was he talking about?"
Dumbledore sat down in the vacated chair, the weariness prominent in his face. "The Ministry received a rather interesting note from one of the school owls, around the same time we estimate you apparated away. It seemed to insist that they send a large number of Aurors to a certain graveyard. Of those sent, three are now dead; but among those that returned, Kingsley Shacklebolt seems to swear by the fact that he saw someone the spitting image of Peter Pettigrew. Which seems to corroborate an otherwise incredible sort of story." His mouth twitched tiredly. "Furthermore, in light of the fact that both Crounch Junior and Senior were allied with the Dark Lord, the convictions once made by the latter are now suspect."
Hermione interrupted him here. "Only Crouch Junior was involved," she said. "I told you tha..." Her eyes narrowed.
Dumbledore sighed. "It's best to let certain matters lie, I should think. With one of them dead and the other insane, there's very little reason to save any reputations at the potential expense of Mr. Black."
If it had been anyone else, she may have objected, on principle. But god and the devil both knew she'd already done worse for the sake of Sirius Black.
"...I understand," she said. "But the bargain?"
Dumbledore shrugged eloquently. "Mr. Black has already provided the Ministry with one Horcrux, which it is currently endeavoring to destroy – a gesture of good will on his part, I'm sure. He has agreed to join one of the Auror teams. Shacklebolt's, incidentally. He will be helping with the efforts to secure the other Horcruxes, and in repelling any overt strikes by Voldemort."
"That's unfair," she said bluntly. "He's already done more than enough. And they know he's not guilty."
"Agreed," Dumbledore said. "But he would have done those things in any case, unless I miss my mark. At least this way he'll have people keeping something of a rein on him." He settled himself more squarely in the seat. "As we were speaking of, however... the differences in this last event may be critical."
He wasn't going to let it go.
"...we didn't get to the locket, last time," she said reluctantly. "Nor the snake."
Dumbledore frowned in thought. "You seemed to intimate that Mr. Potter would have been there, instead of Sirius Black."
Hermione had hoped very much that he wouldn't catch that. But there was no point in denying it, and he would only grow suspicious if she did. "I believe so," she said. "I couldn't tell you exactly how it changed things, though. I don't have access to the memories anymore." She avoided looking at the bedstand, though they'd already taken the broken timeturner.
"Is there anything else you can tell me?" he pressed. "Anything else?"
Hermione raced through the details in her mind, looking for something – anything – to placate him with. She had to keep him away from that subject. "...no," she said finally, reluctantly.
Dumbledore watched her for a moment; she kept her eyes low. He didn't need to read it from her mind.
"Then I'll return some other time," he said, rising to his feet. "You'll need to recover your strength if you wish to return to school. We've had your exams delayed, in view of events."
"I'm not going back," she said.
He raised his eyebrows.
She knew it was strange of her. School had always been her main focus – it was a defining aspect, a kind of quintessential detail of being Hermione. Harry and Ron were there, furthermore, and all of her studies and dreams. She was in a good position; she was probably already a shoo-in for Head Girl. It was ludicrous.
"I'm going to apply for the accelerated Auror training," she said. "I'm the right age, technically. I'll have to go through the right legal channels to have it finalized, but there are ways to get it cleared up."
"They very rarely accept people who haven't gone through the school program first," Dumbledore told her slowly. She could tell he was trying to think of ways to dissuade her already.
"I have perfect marks," she said bluntly. "And I may not have all those memories, but most of the things I do remember, I'd like to forget. Exactly the sort of things they need."
"I see," he sighed. "You've already spent time thinking this through, I'm afraid."
"You can't dissuade me," Hermione told him quietly. "And you won't make me forget, or confuse me. There's always the chance that I might know something else."
"You're a very shrewd girl, Miss Granger." Dumbledore said, shaking his head helplessly. "I hope it helps you."
"It already has," she said simply.
And there were answers – very simple answers, surprisingly simple, when she looked back on them.
"Of course we knew," Ron sighed, as he helped her with her trunk at Hogwarts. "We're not stupid, Hermione. Just because we're not geniuses like some-"
"I never said I was a genius!" she retorted hotly, but Harry picked up where he'd left off.
"You kept telling me to mind my own business," he told her, "but really, look where that got you. I figured one of the teachers had to be in on it, since you weren't being bothered about being snappy at all."
"Snappy?" Hermione asked incredulously.
"Be fair, Hermione, you were." Ron frowned, as the trunk split, spilling books down the stairs. "...bother."
Harry plucked one up, but mostly waited for him to clean it up. "I grilled Lupin," he admitted. "I figured he was the most likely to tell me anything. And he kept looking like he wanted to say something to you, but he never did."
"And he just – told you about Sirius, just like that?" she demanded, picking up Hogwarts: A History.
"Of course not," Harry snorted. "Sirius walked in right about in the middle. He was wearing the cloak, but I'm not dense enough to imagine that doors open on their own all the time."
"Some help, Harry?" Ron asked irritably. Harry sighed, and stepped down to collect a few of the volumes. Hermione moved to help as well, but found herself stopped by a hand on her shoulder.
"This way, Granger. I'm sure they can handle it." She let herself be guided off, partially at sheer surprise. Malfoy shook his head as they went. "I was somewhat hoping it'd be a bit more exciting than books – but as it turns out, you're very badly predictable."
"Why is everyone doing their best to insult me today?" she said irritably. He laughed ironically.
"For them, it's because you nearly died. For me – just the usual." He closed the classroom door behind them, and threw himself somewhat lazily into a desk. "Just thought I ought to clear up some things before you go."
"You sent the letter to the Ministry," she said.
Malfoy actually gave her a slightly injured look. "Don't you ever consider just pretending to be surprised?" he asked her. "I thought I had the upper hand for a moment there."
She shrugged, sitting down in front of the door. "Old habits die hard. But... I was surprised, when I heard about it."
He was silent, for a moment. It gave her time to reflect that his hair was back to its irritatingly perfect state, and that his clothing was once again impeccable, expensive, and blood-free. She'd almost preferred the slightly tattered, crimson-stained Malfoy. He hadn't been any less grating, but it had been easier to deal with when he was so obviously off-balance himself.
"Was I always such a fence-sitter?" he asked suddenly, and she found herself surprised again. "Every time, I mean?"
Hermione stared at him for a moment, trying to form a response to the unexpected question. "You..." A pause. "I don't know," she admitted honestly. "From what I remember, you did usually take a long time to decide."
"You were wondering why," he explained to her, glancing over. "That's why. I mean..." He seemed suddenly vaguely uncomfortable. "There's something very depressing, about certainty. I had the sudden urge, to do something entirely different this time."
Hermione nodded, slowly. "No," she said. "I do understand. You wanted to buck fate." A little smile curved her lips. "I always did that, in Divination. There's a kind of satisfaction, in tearing predictions apart."
He shrugged, suddenly looking at the door. "I've chosen sides, Granger."
She understood, then, why he'd wanted to talk to her so badly.
"I was wrong," Hermione said.
He glanced at her, his posture slightly slouched. A small defiance, compared to everything else. "What?"
"You're not a coward. It was actually better than I could have come up with. I'd never have asked it of you, though."
She saw the slight change in him: the straightening, the strengthening of purpose. Because everyone needed vindication, for their sacrifices.
"I'm hardly your drone," he said, though. "I don't need your permission to do things."
"You're right," she agreed, getting to her feet. She could hear Harry and Ron, calling somewhere outside the door.
"Going off to become an Auror?" he asked her, sounding unimpressed.
He hopped off the desk, rubbing at one cheek. "Well..." He frowned. "Leave my father alone, if you can. Because he really is just a coward."
Hermione tilted her head at him consideringly. Malfoy Senior had done some unforgivable things – quite literally, if she remembered correctly. But Malfoy Junior had quite possibly saved her life, and there was no doubt in her mind that he had singularly gotten Sirius his provisional freedom. The second, it turned out, was more important to her than the first.
"I'll try," she said.
He shrugged again, as though it had merely been a sidethought. She knew better.
She sighed, and turned to push her way back through the door. She hoped, in a strange sort of way, that it wouldn't be the last she saw of Malfoy. It wasn't something she let herself admit for some time to come.
And there were things that needed to be aired, one way or another.
Some time after the twins discovered that the Marauder's Map had mysteriously started working again, she had to have a long talk with Sirius. She was halfway afraid of it – for very good reasons.
"You cheated death, and you want to try it again for a living?" he asked her incredulously.
Hermione frowned. "You're going to be doing it," she said.
"Yes, but I've got no choice!" he responded irritably. "And – damnit, why are we having this talk while I have to move my furniture?"
"You started it," Hermione reminded him blithely, as he struggled with one of the chairs in his flat. "Oh, come on, Sirius, you're a wizard." She flicked her own wand. "Wingardium Leviosa."
The chair floated up into the air and traveled across the room, to deposit itself tastefully in a corner.
"I still haven't gotten a decent wand replacement, in case you hadn't noticed," he said acidly. "And aren't you too young to do that?"
"You might think so," she told him, kicking her legs up onto the end of the couch. "But no. Judicious use of an age line has informed both the Ministry and me that I am seventeen."
She fully appreciated the silence from his end. It was a bit of a surprise. She'd been saving it for a rainy day.
"Should I repeat that?" Hermione asked him innocently, but he was already muttering something vile underneath his breath.
"I wondered why you suddenly had a taste for moving furniture," Sirius said. "Look, we already – or, it was fairly well understood that I was not going to-"
"Except," she told him, very serious now. "You will, Sirius. Because this war is just beginning, and god only knows what might happen." She fiddled with her wand a little nervously, trying to keep her voice level. Finally, with a bit of an outburst, she said: "I'd rather get to know you, before I lose you this time!"
There was a good long pause at this one. She heard his footsteps, though, after a moment. He reached over to take one of her hands – hesitantly. She noted, as always, that he was very warm, and that his hands were very smooth. She'd long since started memorizing things about him, on those occasions that she saw him. In case... in case...
"You're not going to lose me," he said. "I can take care of myself. And in any case..." A pause. "Your parents are dentists," he said.
She felt her face change to one of total confusion. "...what? What on earth has that got to do with it?"
"...I don't know," he admitted. "I just felt like using an argument you couldn't logic me out of. You're terribly good at that."
Hermione grinned. "Actually," she said. "You have very nice teeth. You may have to give that point up as well."
He sighed heavily, shaking his head. Then, after a moment of helplessness, he leaned over to press a soft kiss to her forehead.
"See now?" she murmured, angling herself a bit awkwardly to catch his lips instead. "That wasn't so hard, was it?" Murmured against him.
"I think you're getting a terrible amount of fun out of this," he accused her, pulling back.
She shrugged. "I have to get it somewhere. Auror training is going to be hell; the accelerated program is even worse, I hear." She gave him her most innocent expression. "Would you like to teach me again, beforehand? Just to catch me up to speed?"
"You're a cunning little girl," he said. "You know I won't refuse. I want you alive."
"I know," Hermione agreed. "And I'm going to do my best." She hesitated, still holding his hand. "You're going to have to stay alive as well," she said. "For... for more reasons than one. Than me, I mean."
Sirius raised his eyebrows. She could see that he was tempted to make light of things again, but she was being serious, and he understood that. "Why is that?"
Hermione lowered her eyes, and tightened her grip on his hand. "...never mind." She smiled at him, and subsequently changed the subject. "I think you'll have to teach me how to dance, as well."
Surprisingly, he let it go at that.
She spent the rest of the evening helping him get situated. There was little else to do – he was still vaguely uncomfortable with her, she could tell, and it was going to take time to acclimate. It was very similar for her; the difference was that she had the occasional memory of some unfathomable longing. It was sometimes enough to drive her to the edge of tears, until she forced it on herself that he was alive and well and trying to rummage something to eat without the aid of a wand or a house elf.
It was harder now than ever, now that she'd realized a very uncomfortable truth. The one she'd kept from Dumbledore, and then from him, in spite of the fact that he really should have known.
It had been the other Hermione that put it together, just before her end.
Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies...
There had been three lives. Three times, they'd lost. Three times she'd escaped Voldemort, running to a place he couldn't follow. Resetting the table...
"When did I visit you?" she asked Sirius, as he tried to make sense of the pantry. He stopped to glance over at her, a bit confused.
"When did you mean?" he asked.
She stared up at the ceiling blankly - still lying on the couch, her ankles crossed. "...in Azkaban." It was very, very quiet.
It had the effect she'd expected, as his face turned troubled. But she had a definite need to know.
"I don't know," he said. "I couldn't tell you, at all. Days run together there."
Hermione sighed. "Sorry," she said. "It was a weird thought."
It was July.
Dumbledore could hardly have put it together, in the same way she had. Not unless she'd given him much more information than she had. But he, too, knew that Voldemort had taken Sirius' blood; he'd called him his enemy. There was a scar there, still, on his forearm – a small white line, like a spiderweb. It was in much the same place that a Death Eater's mark might have been.
"I'm overanalyzing," she murmured aloud, turning over onto her side.
I don't believe in Divination anyway.
"How the hell do you work this thing?" Sirius demanded aloud. Hermione heard him kick at the stove.
She sighed, and rolled onto her feet. "One moment," she called. "Don't break anything."
From here, it was a long way ahead. She had hope that it would end a little better this time.