Author's Note:

This is an AU story. Events have happened differently than in the books, which means the characters have progressed differently.

Also, my apologies that Hermione has been so damn boring. But this chapter starts a change, I promise.

Another apology for all the flowery language. I'm just a novice writer, and I have no Beta to beat my ass for it. I promise to go through and re-edit, again.

Question answered: Yes, the close proximity of the Protego spell caused Hermione internal bleeding. I'd like to think of the spell as a single punch in the kidney from a very angry bare-knuckle boxing champion. At close range, with little travel distance and thus minimal force lost, it would SUCK.

I know I portray James as an uncaring asshole, but that's how I see him. I think him joining the Order and fighting You-Know-Who had to do with Dumbledore implicitly asking and Lily bending his arm. He reminds me of a more refined Mugen from Samurai Champloo, if you know that show.

P.S. Lily and Snape forever.

The sound of tennis shoes on wet grass interrupted the silence of the morning. The chill of late autumn drew goosebumps on Hermione's skin and made her breath visible, but it didn't bother her.

She was keeping a pathetic pace. Moody had always been adamant about exercise, and he would have cringed to see her now. You can know all the spells in the world and have the greatest battle plans every devised, but none of it means dick if you can't outrun your enemy. But that's the way it always starts- one pathetic jog at a time. Jogs turn to sprints, and sprints turn to full-out runs. One easy defense spell that can barely keep an enemy away turns into a complex combination of spells that can keep an entire house hidden and safe.

Out there on the grounds, there was nothing but the sound of her footsteps and the pounding of her heart in her ears. There were no worries about the future, no mistakes, no promises to keep. There were no ghosts and no enemies to run from.

There was only peace.

"I feel tired just watching her," James muttered. But his eyes weren't looking at Hermione; they were on Sirius. The attractive boy was sprawled out on the grass, absorbing the lukewarm heat of the sunlight. He was watching Hermione, and the intensity of it was unnerving. Remus stood as she jogged closer, stepping over a sleeping Peter to meet her.

"How are you feeling?" he asked quietly.

"Better," she panted. Her lips tugged up into a tiny smile, and he gave a small smile in return.

"The Headmaster just returned from the Ministry this morning. He's leaving tonight again for a council meeting of some sort, so you'd best see him before he leaves."

She nodded, her long ponytail bouncing with the motion. Her curly hair spilled past her shoulders now, and it desperately needed a trim. For a brief second her eyes wandered, catching Sirius' grey eyes, and Hermione wasted no time in picking up the pace of her jog again.

"I trust you're feeling better?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you care to tell me what happened?"

"I got into a fight with my past." Dumbledore looked thoughtful at this. Fawkes, glowing beautifully on his nearby perch, let out a soft croon.

"It's still not safe for you to leave. I don't care to imagine the horrors in store for you if a Death Eater were to find you. You hold a lot of precious answers that the Dark Lord would love to know. How…intertwined are you with your past?"

"Intimately. My mind was too muddled to remember they were here, and I apologize for that."

"It wasn't your fault, my dear."

"This is all my fault. And now I've jeopardized all our futures."

"All is not lost," the old man chuckled. The young witch across from his desk looked confused. "You seem to think you're telling me about the end of the world. But so far, Hermes, you've only given me hope. Hope that, somewhere in the future, there is a way to fight this darkness that is swallowing our world."

"But what if I've changed things?"

"Do you know the odds of surviving the kind of journey you took? They're rather depressing. For you to be alive is a miracle in and of itself. For you to be here, surrounded by people that are familiar to you, is an act of God."

"You think I was sent here on purpose?"

"I think there's a reason you are here. I trust you to make the right decisions, Hermes. If you change things, I imagine they're for the best."

"What if I've made a mess?" His blue eyes glittered rather coldly behind his half-moon spectacles, and it sent a chill through Hermione's spine.

"Then clean it up, whatever it takes."

The library was eerily quiet when Hermione entered. No turning pages or books sliding off shelves or whispers. A handful of girls were staring daggers in her direction, she noticed curiously. The gaggle all stopped what they were doing, rose nearly simultaneously, and slipped out into the hallway like an angry wind. None of the boys in the library seemed to understand either. She shrugged to herself and headed towards her usual spot- the table near the Restricted Section. School girls never change. Whether they're Slytherins like Milicent or my own damn roommates, they love to bully.

Hermione busied herself by sweeping her hair, a mess of uncombed curls, into a tight bun. Distracted by the small handful of knots hiding in her hair, she almost didn't see David Starlan until she collided with his chest. Her brown eyes blinked, face to face with David's nipple.

"You truly are one of the clumsiest girls I've ever met." She glared up into his emerald green eyes at that, which brought a smile to his face.

"Well, one of the prettiest clumsy girls."

"What do you want?" she asked, exasperated. It was so hard to try and make an enemy out of someone that just didn't take the rivalry seriously.

"What a question! I have a few answers to that, but none of them appropriate for this moment. Let's just say I wanted to see how you were doing. And you are, by the looks of things, doing wonderfully." It wasn't quite a leer, but the Slytherin Prefect didn't hide his admiring gaze.

"You've finally gotten some color to your skin. It looks good."

"One of these days I'm going to figure out just what you're planning."

"Mm, you're giving me too much credit. I don't have the imagination it takes to form an elaborate trap. You know, Hermes, one of these days you're going to have to say something nice to me."

"Bugger off, David."

"Fiesty as ever," he sighed. "But you used my first name. Such an intimate gesture!" Starlan winked and let out a hearty laugh. It made his eyes positively sparkle.

"It's a start, at least. And I do want another look at your hand, Hermes, if you're still interested in knowing what I want." With that, he abruptly turned and disappeared. Hermione slunk down into a chair, holding her head in her hands. That Starlan had caused her a massive headache.

"...hey, I thought I heard your voice. Do you mind if I sit with you?"

She glanced up at Remus, her eyes narrowed with the pain of her migraine. The weary-looking boy raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"I promise, I don't bite."

Hermione raised her eyebrows in return. After a beat, Remus caught on as well. His soft hazel eyes were the size of saucers as he backtracked his words.

"Oh, no. No. I mean, that's not what I meant. Oh God, that's the worse werewolf joke ever." She started to chuckle, and he chuckled as well, moving to sit by her side. The chuckles grew into giggles, and then into downright gasps of laughter. Doubled over their books, Remus and Hermione smiled at each other.

"Are you even listening to me?"

"No," Sirius muttered. He sat on the edge of the windowsill by his four-poster bed, looking out onto the grounds.

"What's caught your attention?" James perked up, walking to his best friend's side. "I don't see anything worth drooling over."

Sirius scowled at the comment. "I never drool."

The scruffy-looking quidditch player squinted his eyes as he searched the school grounds just a little more closely. It was late in the day, and many people were already moving inside for dinner in the Great Hall.

"Ah…I see. You know, you could do a helluva' lot better than that."

"Shut up, Prongs."

James moved back to his bed, searching through the sheets for something he'd misplaced.

"What did you do to her?"

Grey eyes briefly glanced away from their vigil at the window. "I didn't do anything. What makes you say that?"

"Padfoot, Hermes has been avoiding you since Madame Pomphrey let her out of the hospital wing. And you've been watching her like a hungry hippogriff."

"Awfully observant of you."

James shrugged. "Lily mentioned it, more like. But are you going to tell me what happened?"

"Nothing happened." Sirius said shortly.

"You got forceful with her, didn't you?" Potter asked, his voice almost giddy. Black suddenly stood and stalked towards the door.

"Don't know what you mean."

"Come on, Padfoot!" James laughed. "It's alright, I know Hermes is uptight. You were just trying to loosen her up a little, right?" Sirius paused at the doorway, throwing a less-than-amused glance behind him.

"I would never-"

"Look, she's skittish! You probably just scared her, that's all. I mean, I've never known you to go for…well…"

"Well what?" Sirius hissed. James threw him an equally unamused look.

"Innocent. You usually just tease the bookworms and mess with their minds a little, not actually go for them."

"It isn't like that," the young Black sighed dismissively.

"Come on, Padfoot. It doesn't bother me. Did you pin her against a wall or something? Remus said she had bruises on her neck." A smile came back to James' face, devious and encouraging. "You really are a dog!" he laughed.

Sirius slammed his fist against the doorframe, silencing his best friend.

"You should hear it from me first." Potters' voice was cold, all traces of humor gone. "Lots of people think it's strange- the shy, mysterious new girl, always near you. And they way you look at her…the other girls don't like it."

"It isn't me she's near, it's Moony."

"She may be hanging around Remus, but you pay more attention to her than you do that little gaggle of yours that walks in your shadow."

"Where are you getting all this?" Sirius snapped. James grinned goofily, back to his old self.

"Lily, of course."

"What else does she know?"

"That you're still Hogwarts' favorite playmate of the year. Hermes doesn't stand in very good light, though. For a quiet girl, she's getting a pretty bad reputation."

"…I'll be back later."

"Take your time, old friend." James chuckled as Sirius finally slipped quietly out of the dormitory. "You're going to need it with that one."

She was slowing down from her daily run by the time he padded out from the forest. Hermione threw herself down on the grass near the lake's edge, taking in deep, cold breaths of air. She settled her bandaged hand on her stomach and slipped her other one into her hair, trying to tug out the elastic band holding her wild hair back.

Behind her, a group of girls were calling out in sweet, baby-like voices to a dog somewhere nearby. Suspicious, Hermione turned to look behind her.

A huge black dog sat on its hind legs, its shaggy tail thumping against the ground. She blinked at it for a moment before turning back to the lake. The giant squid was out for a swim now, its tentacles sending ripples through the top of the lake.

"C'mere sweetheart! Here boy!"

"Chelsea, it could have rabies."

"Don't be a spoilsport. Anyways, he looks okay to me. C'mere boy!"

The dog ignored them, choosing instead to inch closer to the young witch in front of him. He whined and settled himself against her side, watching her for approval. She didn't move away, but she didn't look at him. The dog whined again and nuzzled her hand with a cold, wet nose. Finally, Hermione passed her hand over his coat and let it settle into the fur.

The girls gave up their calls, less then pleased at being passed over. The group went inside the castle, leaving the two alone.

The sweet oranges and reds of the dying sun reflected off the lake and brought a glow to Hermione's skin. Her face was peaceful; eyes looking forward, yet not seeing a thing. Her hand absently stroked the rough coat of the dog by her side. The black mutt had settled his head on the top of her knee, ears smoothed back in sadness. Her sadness radiated to him, in her scent and her touch. Hermione said nothing, but continued to rub his ears and scratch that hard-to-reach spot on the back of his neck. Sirius felt sleepy under her ministration.

A slight breeze drew across the water and teased itself through her hair; a few curly locks brushed against the dog's muzzle. The scent of lavender suddenly overcame the smells of the water, the grass, the wind, and all the remnants of people and creatures that had roamed the grounds that day.

"It's okay," she finally whispered to him.

The dog perked up suddenly, looking past Hermione to someone approaching.

"Is that flea-bitten thing bothering you?" Remus asked, nodding towards the dog at her side. He looked tired, as usual, but his eyes held a sternness to them. Hermione smiled up at him and shook her head.

"No, he's fine."

"Alright then."

Remus extended his hand, which she accepted, and he helped pull her off the ground. His fingers twitched slightly at the contact with her soft skin.

"Let's get some food. You're probably starving."

She nodded and walked with him towards the great, carved doors of Hogwarts. The black dog watched until the two disappeared inside, then padded back towards the forest. A minute later, a handsome young man emerged from the trees.

A number of people lounged in the Gryffindor common room, enjoying the warmth of the fire. Someone had gotten a hold of a bottle of Firewhiskey and was passing it around to anyone that wanted a sip. Peter, having had a sip too many, was snoring at the foot of James and Sirius, who occupied the couch. Remus had vacated his spot in the high-back arm chair for Hermione and was sitting on the edge of the fireplace.

"Ahem. So."

"Yes, right. So." Remus and Hermione, diligently working on their homework, looked up wearily at Potter and Black.

"We were thinking…I mean, since we're all friends here, and friends share…"

"Well, nobody wants to share what you've got, Padfoot," James interjected. "It's contagious, and takes ointments and creams to get rid of."

"…anyways, Hermes, since we all have that transfiguration essay due tomorrow…"

"You don't have to help them." Remus spoke up, giving them an even look. She chuckled. James leaned forward, offering the Firewhiskey that had been passed to him to Hermione. She shook her head, and Lupin crinkled his nose at the incredibly strong smell of alcohol.

"You should confiscate that," Sirius said seriously. Remus scowled, and James retracted the bottle.

"Anyways, it'll be a pain if the two of us have to share Moony's paper. It takes too long, and then we both have to reword his paper. He uses the longest and most complicated words he can, just to toy with us. Honest."

Hermione rolled her eyes, then reached down into her backpack and took out a few parchments of paper. James smiled deviously and took them from her.

"Well done, Hermes."

"You're welcome."

"You shouldn't have done that," Remus sighed, shaking his head. His thin, brown hair fell into his eyes, and he brushed it away.

"Why not?"

"Because now that you've done it once, they'll expect you to do it all the time."

"Well, I'm used to it." She shrugged.

"Hey, what's that?" Sirius asked, pointing to a small box next to Hermione's bag. Before she could even glance down, James picked it up and threw it to Sirius.

"Give it back!" she warned, but there wasn't a real force to her threat. Black ignored her and opened up the box with his wand.

"Food?" James asked eagerly.

"What the hell are these?" he asked incredulously, pulling out a pair of eyeglasses. The lenses were enormous and thick, the frame heavy and black. Sirius put them to his face, blinked, and pulled them off. He threw them at Hermione, who caught them and put them on.

"I hate to tell you this, Hermes, but those glasses just ate your face. You're just hair, robes, and thick, black glasses now."

"You couldn't have gotten something smaller? More flattering and feminine? Those are men's frames," Sirius sighed, shaking his head.

"I think they look good." Remus shrugged, not looking up from his homework.

"Yeah, well, you would think so. You've always had that librarian fantasy," James muttered. Lupin rolled his eyes.

"You'd better go copy that essay," Hermione spoke up. "I'm getting it back first thing in the morning, whether or not you've finished with it."

"But Transfiguration isn't until after lunch tomorrow!"

"First. Thing. Tomorrow."

James scowled, grabbing Sirius by the sleeve and dragging him up the stairs towards their dormitory. Remus chuckled and glanced up at her, and she smirked at him in return. The two continued their work in comfortable silence.

This feels so familiar... This feels like home.

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Author's Note:

So, Peter sleeps through most of this story. I've never spat out a chapter this quickly- I'm rather proud of myself. But I do hate the way it looks- all spaced out. But I don't know how else to structure it! Anyways, Hermione has wrapped herself up in the lives of the Marauders. Her relationship with Remus is growing deeper, and she has a new friendship with Sirius that she's never had before. What will come of it? What does David Starlan want with her? What will James do with her letter to Dumbledore that he stole? Keep reading for the answers, and enjoy the next chapter- 'Howl'.

P.S. Anybody feel like Beta-ing? I'm tired of going through my own work and not getting things right.