Apologies: I would have posted last night - the 19th - but FFN was having login problems.
Disclaimer: Please, I beg of JK Rowling, master of this HP world: rewrite Book 7, and in it bring back the Black brothers, and allow life to Remus, Fred, and so many others…
Author's Notes: Alas, our tale has come to its end. Or rather, so far as I shall take you. An incredible journey it has been, indeed. Through cliffhangers and a myriad of clues, we have arrived at the famous final scenes.
Thank you all for sharing in the ride. Your reviews, comments, PMs… they've been helpful, encouraging, enlightening, and entertaining. You've made this story personal and for that, I thank you.
For those of you who have faithfully followed yet have never voiced your opinion, if you would, please take a moment in this last visit to drop a word or two in salute. If you've stayed this long, you obviously must have at least found it of some entertainment value, and I would love to hear your thoughts.
Stay tuned at the end for an informative on an upcoming story.
All reviews are greatly appreciated, as always.
And now, the conclusion of The Valiant Never…
Epilogue: Of What Dreams May Come
Heavy sigh of contentment ruffled the elongated oval leaves of rich violet as they draped the water filled juice glass before her. Hermione shifted its placement upon the teak hall table, inspecting the cuttings from Zelda's Wandering Jew. The elderly witch had insisted she accept the gift last evening, the original plant formerly entrenched in the Holy Grail itself having grown to near uncontrollable proportions.
Chuckles escaped at the remembrance of the day before. A mere week after Avalon and its events, a private celebration was held at the Burrow, the late summer Saturday welcoming close friends in fellowship. Long awaited was the defeat of Tom Marvolo Riddle, Jr., and spirits were high as the Weasleys played host to immediate family and those directly involved in the liberation from the darkest of wizards. Raj, Angus, Jacob and Zelda had joined Hermione and Remus as guests, Blue popping in for a few hours before a Hobgoblins show. Zelda had brought Molly Weasley fits of gossipy giggles, the women nigh on inseparable by day's end. However, conspicuously absent Black brothers had left the occasion somewhat lacking in Hermione's eyes, but perhaps it had been for the best.
Though privately both Harry and Ron had assured her their acceptance of her newly admitted affections, Hermione could not help but notice the quiet moments of sad reflection upon Ron's face throughout the day. Nor missed was the subject hedging Harry would make to Molly's not-so-subtle references to future family celebrations of the matrimonial kind. Ginny alone had been made privy to the scene in Avalon, and beyond exclamations of astonishment, Sirius' and Regulus' miraculous returns to life were hardly marked upon by the matriarch.
The celebration had gone on well into the late hours, and when the Potters had left near midnight, they had insisted Hermione return with them to Grimmauld Place for the night. Having little excuse to do otherwise, she had obliged, and after a hearty breakfast this morning, had deferred joining them on their venture to Diagon Alley. Time alone was needed, her thoughts bundled with the past days.
It had been a long week for Hermione, indeed. As planned, she and Sirius had been picked up last Saturday at noon, a very joyous Angus thrilled beyond words at Sirius' unexpected recovery. On the return trip to London, the Scotsman had shared the tale of the ball, of grandiose heroics and resulting casualties. But Hermione's mind could only replay emotional torrents from the night before. She'd barely listened as the elder MacGregor had detailed the limited Order members present, the capture of most Death Eaters, the fall of the Dark Lord.
But in the following days, her relationship with Sirius had been kept vague before friends and family, even themselves. Progressively their longing looks and lingering brushes of touch would grow in seconds and appearance, and no doubt it would be understood by Christmas their true feelings. But for the time being, Sirius was still largely unknown to the Wizarding world, even to the Order of the Phoenix. Stubby Boardman still performed, an entertainer of painted face and leather accents. Eventually Sirius would be presented back into society under his own identity, as would Regulus, but only in their own time. Until then, each day was new and tentative, and this illogical place called love remained free of guarantees.
And Hermione would not have it any other way.
Regulus had been recluse since Cornwall, accepting praises for his fight at the ball with little more than minimum acknowledgement. Return to serving at the café, return to tiny flat, return to anonymity. Part of her withered at the thought that he'd seemed to give up the fight once in him, the spirit that drove his intelligent arrogance and made him a fair competitor to his brother. So much had been taken from him these past two decades, and for the first time since making his acquaintance, Hermione wondered if the unflappable Slytherin now found himself without purpose or direction. Voldemort was no longer there to bring down; the Hobgoblins were fronted by his brother; the world did not even know Regulus Black existed.
Tapping at the newly plottable window drew Hermione's musings to an end, and she drew the sitting room sash to allow a small tawny owl entrance, his burden nearly the length of himself. Retrieving the letter, Hermione relocked the casement glass behind the courier's quick departure, and turned to study the décor-laden parchment. Curious, quick tears broke the seal; unfolding before her was flowery script with hearts dotting i's and smilies flittering across the parchment.
Dear Miss Hermione,
The most amazing things happened last Friday at the Witches' Thanksgiving Ball! I've so much to tell you, but you know already most of it, don't you? But let me tell you at least about the daring of one Mr. Raj MacGregor – my hero! He was so dashing when he made his appearance – right in the middle of the Waltzing Warlock dance. Dad had sent me to the Ladies' before the dance, telling me to wait there until he fetched me since he thought I was too young to watch the ritual stuff, but I hid out in the balcony all the same. Oh my, it was everything you read about in those love stories! Merlin, I'm blushing even as I write it.
But whilst watching the dancing (it really was devilish!), this handsome boy made an entrance in all black, a stately masque of theatre quality, and with one sweep of his wand, silenced the music. He removed his masque and, from all the murmurs I heard, would you believe it was You-Know-Who himself?? I honestly had no idea he was so fit! But then he got all hoity about everyone doing his bidding, and how he was going to take over the world, and mates of his showed up and started threatening everyone. Then my dad – he knew him! He even called him 'my lord' and all! Mum was furious!
Anyway, they were pointing wands and all, and talking about how they were taking over, when Raj showed up. He was so handsome, and wasn't wearing a masque, so I knew him straight away. He took charge and dueled with some of the mates (others did, too, as he wasn't alone. I even saw your friend Harry Potter! He was fighting with You-Know-Who, but I couldn't help but watch Raj mostly, so I didn't see everything on that end.) and was so quick and serious. Oh, Hermione, I can't tell you how scared I was for him. But he did wonderfully and knocked out three of the fiends! I was so proud of him. But then someone grabbed me from behind and I screamed – it was one of the nasty crowd – and Raj heard and looked up, and raced up to me. My captor was horrid, keeping me pinned to him with his arm and a wand at my throat. I was really frightened, I tell you, but Raj was so calm and collected and before I knew it, he'd stunned and bound the git. But I'd been so scared that I was shaking, and he held me – HELD ME! It was wonderful, Hermione. Truly. He saved my life! I love him, I really, really do!
And you know, he's invited me to a supper the Secretary of Finance is having next week (since he is being promoted to the post of assistant to the Secretary himself). Well, me and Mum, but still. I think he's opening up, just like you said!
Hermione's brows rose high, amusement shining upon her face. Yes, she had indeed suggested to Chelsea that perhaps in time, Raj would open up around her, talk to her perhaps. But she had meant in a matter of years, when Chelsea was older, out of school. Raj was a fair bit older than the girl. Heavens, he was older than Hermione, and Chelsea was not known for her mature propriety or measure. But then, Hermione considered, brushes with death did tend to hurry along inner growth. Personal experience had taught such lessons well. Watching one's father turn traitor then later arrested for conspiracy and treason did force a new perspective, granted.
Sounds of the front door opening pulled Hermione from her missive, and she refolded it, storing its giggly contents in her denim pocket for later perusal. Harry and Ginny must be back already, and she wanted to properly thank them before heading off to Muggle London for planting necessities on her way back to the dormitory. Footsteps echoed in the foyer, then one set pounded up the stairs, heavy and quick. Looking at the doorway expectedly, mild surprise encroached as not Ginny, but Sirius entered.
Smiles dominated the room: his mischievous and secretive; hers overwhelmed and girlish and hinted with shyness.
"Sirius!" she exclaimed, shriek of childlike enthusiasm mortifying her before him. But Sirius merely grinned more broadly, gray eyes narrowing in humor, the lines about them creasing in a most attractive manner.
"G'morning, Beautiful," he answered in that gravelly low voice, stepping to her until his leather jacketed arms wrapped about her waist, pulling her intimately against him. Cheshire grin had her questioning his recent doings or future intentions, but the feel of him was too pleasant to worry her head about 'what did's' and 'what will's.' Too content was she to remain embraced, staring lovingly up into his handsome face.
Hands smudged in bits of Indian ink found paths of their own volition to palm against his chest, resting comfortably as though forever they'd been there. "What brings you to the house of your forebears this morning, hm?"
"Minor errand of my little brother's. Reg wanted to collect some things from his room. We saw Harry and Ginny in Diagon Alley a bit ago, and Harry said you'd be here, so I suggested we pop on over now so as to not disturb the couple later. Rather selfish on my part, really, but a good excuse to see you alone." Wolfish grin overtook one of mischief, and Hermione's body responded immediately.
Playful smack upon his upper arm brought point to her words. "Yes, but we're not actually alone," she said with humor, light dancing in her eyes at the engaging thought. She changed subjects, forestalling the path they were about to trod down. It would not do to start something they were not in a position to conclude.
"I know you've been chatting with Remus a lot lately; what did you hear about Snape and Malfoy?"
Sirius quirked his lips, smile fading with mock disgust and roll of the eyes. He sighed.
"Not a favorite topic of mine at the moment, but if you simply must discuss it…" Pouting look directed at her for good measure, he straightened long legs and torso, displaying his previous train of thought by merely tugging her hips closer to his own.
"It seems Reggie's mate Auror Inspector Lynley was involved in supplying Malfoy with updates on Voldemort's movements, thus correlating Malfoy's claim that he was helping McCaine's people with trying to protect the Grail, though of course Lynley didn't know what the object was that Voldemort was so intent upon."
"Meaning…?" Hermione prompted.
"Meaning that the Ministry is going to have an official inquiry on Malfoy – and Snape – but for the time being they are simply bound to their homes until the investigation is complete. Harry had spoken publicly to the entire Wizengamot on both wizards' behalf, and considering he had just saved the Wizarding world from its greatest threat since Grindlewald before a ballroom full of international leaders, I'd say Scrimgeour had little room to deny him anything."
Hermione chuckled suddenly, small toss of her head in disbelief. "I still cannot believe Harry disposed of Voldemort with such… such…"
"Indignity?" Sirius inquired, barely holding back laughter. "What I'd have given to have seen that bastard tap dancing himself across the balcony and trip into the orchestra pit. Death by impalement on a cello is a right undignified way to go, I'd agree." This time mirth slipped out.
"Who would have ever guessed it, really?" Hermione agreed, giggling herself. "Though… I do suppose it does fit Dumbledore's sense of humor. After all, the Jellylegs Jinx was his sort of fun."
"While on the other hand," Sirius replied huskily, "my sense of enjoyment was much greater an incentive to stay put than either curses of a good fight, or watching my godson destroy the wizard responsible for the loss of my closest friends, of years of my life." His voice had softened, and closer he drew to her, lips hovering just above hers. "I was finding my life all over again."
The kiss was soft, endearing, full of promise. It was several long moments before Hermione became aware of heavy footsteps. Breaking apart leisurely, they turned to see Regulus just strides into the room, rucksack heavy upon his shoulder.
Sadness washed Hermione in sudden regret. Pain had flashed across Regulus' face the moment he took in their embrace, their obvious intimacy. But just as quickly as it had marred his beautiful features, the cold and distant mask fell into place, hiding from the world his emotions. His line of sight had moved to somewhere past them, and he gave a brief nod as though not in greeting or farewell, but as in acceptance. A dark acceptance, filled with sorrow he would not allow seen. And finally Hermione understood, compassion wrenching her heart for him. She'd made her choice, and it wasn't Regulus. Once more he'd lost to his older brother.
Without word, Regulus turned on his heel, long legs stretching for quick retreat.
"She's here. In London…" Sirius began softly, stopping Regulus in his departure. The younger brother held stark still, seeming to barely breathe. Slightly – only slightly – he turned only his head, enough to give Hermione a quarter view of chiseled facial structure. He was listening, at least.
"Tia," Sirius clarified, barely audible. Regulus' posture, to the untrained eye, would seem to not have faltered in the slightest. But Hermione knew well enough this man to catch the tightening of the jaw, altered, shallow breathing, trembling of sudden muscle tension; he was trying too hard to retain appearances of disinterest, of no reaction. But the very contrary was true.
Silence permeated the air, thick with unspoken emotion laid buried for twenty years. Hermione was shocked by Sirius' words as well, but more than her curiosity of this woman was her concern for this man who'd given up all he'd known to do the right thing years ago. Even now.
"She never married, you know," Sirius continued to his brother's back, his voice gentle in a way it had not been for his sibling in over thirty years. "Your death nearly broke her; she never stopped – " Abrupt cessation. He need not say the words; all three knew their conclusion. Tia had never stopped loving Regulus, even after his betrayal of her by joining Voldemort.
Long moments held heavy in the silence, Sirius allowing Regulus to absorb the information. A breath, a swallow.
"There's an Order meeting tomorrow night," he went on, voice cleared and stronger. "I'm sure Remus has an errand he'd like her to run. Something to round up the rogue Death Eaters, maybe. Perhaps… partnered with a new recruit who's well-versed in Muggle entertainment…?"
Hermione wasn't sure Regulus had heard his brother, so controlled his posture. But his throat began working in compulsive, tight swallows, rapid blinks of long lashes. Indeterminable pause, then the second son offered a nearly imperceptible nod toward the doorway, his eyes set to somewhere before him, unseeing the present. It was acknowledgement; it was thanks.
Stiff backed and limbed and without warning, Regulus strode off, not another word.
"Is he going to be all right?" Hermione asked, worry thick in her voice as her eyes followed him even after he'd disappeared from sight and the soft latching of the front door could be heard.
"I… I think so," Sirius replied hesitantly, watching his brother's departure through the window behind him. "Tia could make all the difference in the world for him, I think. No matter how much he may have tried to do, he's never stopped loving her, either."
Hermione pondered the thought, then turned from the window back to Sirius, mild surprise on her face. "And I didn't know Tia was in the Order," she admitted, interest lacing the words. "I would love to meet her, this woman who stole the stoic Regulus Black's heart, and apparently never let it go." She chuckled at the thought. What a woman indeed this lady must be.
Sirius turned to face her, slight confusion alternatingly furrowing and arching his brows. "Meet her? Why Hermione, you've known her since before your fifth year." At her returned confusion, Sirius laughed in sudden understanding.
"Hermione… Tia is her nickname. Short for Hestia. Hestia Jones."
Even harder did he laugh as Hermione Granger's jaw fell agape. Cocking his head slightly to one side, he added a bit impishly, "You know, that summer… I was lonely – don't give me that look; you were only a child then, and you know it." His mock sternness fell in light of her beautifully jealous face. "Anyway, I was lonely, as we all know, and had on several occasions attempted to, er… well, enlist her company for an evening, shall we say. But she never would," he confessed, a small smile tugging in sad recollection. "I mean, things would get started, but then… then she just couldn't. Said I reminded her too much of Reg. First time I'd ever been accused of that." His look of abject horror in wide eyes and pinched expression ticked Hermione out of her jealousy.
Sirius looked down at her with a compassion in his eyes Hermione had never before seen in reference to his brother. "I don't believe she ever really stopped caring about him… or missing him, either. Tia despised him for his choice, but a part of her never let him go. Even to this day."
A quietness overcame her, and Hermione stared into his eyes, somber and vulnerable. "Some loves are like that," she whispered simply. "Once in a lifetime, and forever."
Transportation by motorbike was little better than flight by hippogriff, Hermione decided, but at least Sirius had kept to the motorway, refraining from the aerodynamic aspect of his newly located memento from the past. Hagrid had hidden it all those years ago in the Room of Requirement, and only recently had he imparted that knowledge to Harry, who had retrieved it for the as-yet-still-assumed-dead godfather of his.
Apparently Hermione did not take as well to the bike as had Regulus when the lads had ventured to Grimmauld Place earlier, but clinging desperately to Sirius' body whilst darting between Muggle traffic did have its advantages, she had to admit. Still, it was with great relief when she climbed off the contraption once they'd reached the particular stretch of shops in London proper.
"Now behave," Hermione admonished playfully with a knowing look to Sirius as he, too, dismounted. Cocky grin of sensuality met her remark, and as he stepped up to meet her, he began to stroll past, seemingly admiring foot traffic, shops, and motoring bustle. Without pause, his strides brought her along as his hand surreptitiously caught her own, long fingers curling about hers tightly. Caught unaware, Hermione could only smile giddily and follow along in a stumble.
Easy chatter settled between them as they wove through Sunday afternoon shoppers. Even the experience of everyday browsing took on new feel with Sirius' hand nestled into hers. Storefronts glistened in bright sunlight, wares displayed in beckoning state. Smart breezes from the Channel whipped tendrils about, stinging wind-burnt cheeks. The gardening shop was just ahead, and Hermione already pictured the perfect hanging wicker basket and rich soil needed for her cuttings.
Jangling bells rang as the garden shop's door opened just as Hermione reached its latch, and out stepped familiar faces, forcing the young witch and her beau back several paces.
"David!" she greeted in genuine surprise. Smiles lit upon her face and his, the young man's expression one of pleasant shock as well.
"Hello, Hermione," he managed between easy laughs. Turning to the children at his feet, he nudge them vocally. "You two remember Hermione, yeah? She helped out at the estate garden a while back. Go on and say hello, Katie."
Ever shy, the little girl clung to her uncle's leg just as she had their first meeting earlier in the summer, peering at Hermione with big eyes and embarrassed grins. Little fingers released trouser material long enough for a pudgy flexing wave before nipping back behind protective leg barrier. Hermione finger-waved back, reassuring Katie that they had indeed met, and she thought the girl grown ever so much since then.
"Hullo, Miss Granger." Big brother had more courage than the last time, though still he seemed rather pensive for an eight year old. Solemn was his little face, and Hermione longed to crush him in a hug that banished away whatever heartbreaks had brought painful maturity so early.
Big smile she offered him, attempt at enticing the same an effort worth while. "Hello, Donnie," she said brightly, disengaging her hand from Sirius' in order to offer it stately to the boy. "It's a pleasure to see you again, sir." Small grin tugged at his lips, and Donnie shifted multiple packets of seeds and a hand trowel to one arm, a bright turquoise leaflet to one little hand and managed a courteous handshake and young man's response of, 'Pleasure.'
"Don't mind him," David offered, a look a familial love shining in his eyes as he studied Donnie. "Poppet here is just a mite undone. We're off to the Mayhew today to look at pets. Late birthday pressie."
"But the dogs won't be there today!" Donnie cried, eyes beseeching as they stared into his uncle's, thrusting the leaflet at arm's length (his right hand gripping once more) for emphasis. "The adoption queue for dogs is for Saturdays."
Soft sigh from David. "I know, Donnie, but we can view the cats today, and if you don't find one to your liking, then we'll consider another trip next week, all right?" Patience was heavily evident in David's voice and features, and Hermione was reminded their afternoon together in the garden. Indeed, her mother had been right about her friend's son; David was quite the handsome, intelligent and special man. He just wasn't Sirius.
David looked up meaningful at Hermione and Sirius, though he first spoke to his nephew. "Besides; cats stay indoors. Much safer that way," he added, a glance back at the boy. But Donnie had turned his head again, staring off into the busy street. "Lost his dog to a car a few months back," he clarified, and understanding had Hermione nodding, though Sirius merely accepted the words as he watched Donnie quietly.
Patrons ducked round David to enter the shop, and passers-by clipped stray elbows in their attempts to move along the pavement. With laughing apologies, the group adjusted to the side of the door against the wall. It was then David made a connection.
"Hold on; you're the Hobgoblins' vocalist, aren't you?" he asked Sirius with delight. "I remember you from the concert. Well, more like the aftermath."
"I'll be damned," Sirius muttered, a smile finally evolving from the suspicious continence of his face. "Didn't recognize you in the daylight, mate. Thanks again for your help."
David laughed. "Think nothing of it; I used to work the venue, and know how rowdy some of those lasses can get at a show." That breath-stopping boyish grin tugged at his face as his hand went up to reroute long tresses blowing across sparkling blue eyes. "Would you believe that one time – Donovan!"
Just in time Hermione turned round to the scene which had cut short David's anecdote, changing amused reminiscence into sheer panic. No time turner could have slowed the next moments more so than their mere horror.
Detached, taken in were the factoids and intricacies with an odd logical categorizing. At her feet lay the trowel and seed packets, curiously gathered rather than dispersed. Before her on its own particular breeze floated the turquoise leaflet, block type faded against the cardstock, a sign of multiple photocopies. Londoners shifting past in eager steps, crowding the pavement, their voices drowning in a parked lorry ticking over nearby, in road works down the way, in horns shouting and rumbling engines in the street. The double decker building speed down the inner lane.
Donnie darting out, arm stretched, grasping single-mindedly for the leaflet. As it reached the inner lane.
All she could do was cover her mouth, its silent scream lost in her throat. A huge black rubbish bag flew past in the wind; a great juggernaut crept by this side of the bus, lumbering in the opposite direction, cutting their view of Donnie. Breaks squealed; tires skid; sickening thud rode the breeze backward to them. Bile rose, and Hermione just knew the worst was near revelation.
Long breaths passed before the lorry shuttled on; the double decker newly revealed began its rattle once more the other way. And amidst lower car traffic, Hermione could see across the way to the opposite pavement.
There stood Donnie, crouched over in a massive hug round the neck of a large, shaggy black dog. Quick glances about… yes; Sirius was gone. Relief swept heavily through her, and faintly she heard David beside her, his own mumblings of praise and fear tumbling out in run-on sentences.
Rubbish bag, indeed.
By the time the three had found a pelican crossing and made their way hurriedly to the other side and to Donnie, the dog had vanished. Donnie stood perfectly still by the lamppost, waiting for his uncle and sister. Lecturing came forth from a kneeling David in equal parts anger and love, but Donnie accepted his due with nary a sniffle or sad eye. In fact, a sense of lighter mood held aura about him.
"Sorry," came the whisper over her shoulder, and Hermione turned attention from family reunion to Sirius' breathy apology by her ear from behind. He was watching Donnie and David, speaking quietly enough for privacy. "Had to find a place to change."
Feeling behind herself for him, Hermione simply took his hand and squeezed tightly, staring at his infinitely close, whiskered cheek. "Thank you," she began, choking with emotion. "You saved his life. Gods, I don't know how you managed it without getting yourself hurt, either. I heard that bus…" Throat closed against shuddering thoughts, and once more she squeezed his hand, happy he was safe.
A strange look crossed Sirius' face, and he turned to her, brows knit.
"Actually," he said lowly, somber in tone. "That bus broke my leg. I felt and heard it snap as I shoved Donnie out of the way." At Hermione's wide eyes and breath for exclamation, Sirius shushed her and added, "I'm fine, now. Promise."
Releasing held breath, she glanced once at Donnie and David, ensuring their attention still with the other and Katie, and took a brief head to toe measure of Sirius. Satisfied, she leaned into him, pressing her cheek to his solid chest, reassured his well-being.
"Didn't know you were so good with healing charms," she murmured into his cotton button down. Would she ever have a moment's peace with this man, a time without worrying daily what new life or death obstacle was going to rise and threaten his right to live out his years?
"I'm not." Sudden stilling against him nudged for continuation, and she peered up to see him staring ahead.
"He did it." Following Sirius' gaze, Hermione gasped.
"I'm really sorry, Hermione, but under the circumstances I think it best we get on. Lacy will want to know about this, though I dread telling her." David's harried words of regret registered, drawing attention back to the young man who'd risen once more. "I'll be seeing you sometime around, yeah?" he asked, friendly grin back in place.
Hermione's eyes shot once more to Donnie, the boy appearing no worse the wear for his adventure. And she smiled, truly smiled. "Yes, David; I'm positive you will." Softly she added, "At least in the next few years."
Goodbyes were said, and Hermione and Sirius stood amongst bustling shoppers on the pavement, watching David gather the kids in hand and head toward the opposite crossing to retrieve their purchases. Only child-strides along, Donnie suddenly turned fully, his hand drawing David and Katie to an abrupt halt. Staring back directly at Sirius, he lifted his chin bravely, smiled sadly, and called in his most confident voice.
"Thank you, Captain. I always knew you'd come back."
-- finis --
Thus concludes our little tale. But what of our dear Regulus? you may ask. Does he not deserve a happy ending as well?
I do believe so, dear readers, but let us find his happy ending not from the now, but from the start.
I invite you all to share with me Reg and Tia's story, from their own beginning. And, perhaps, to a different ending.
The Voice of All the Gods
A Marauders' Era tale of the troubled romance of
Regulus A Black and Hestia A Jones.