"I can't believe we're actually doing this," Rosier said quietly as they lugged an unconscious Harry Potter through a torrential downpour and into Regulus's vacation home.
Were they in the Alps? Rosier couldn't be sure. They were in the mountains. And Regulus had set up about five different portkeys. Rosier thought it was overkill. But, on second thought, maybe it wasn't. Where ever they were, it would have been pretty in any other type of weather.
"Which part? Regulus asked dryly.
Rosier shook his head and adjusted the boy in his arms. "We're going to get caught."
"Eventually," Regulus conceded, "but not today."
Rosier understood. Regulus had taken precautions. Regulus was an idiot, but he wasn't stupid – as silly as that sounded. Hence the five portkeys. Hence the new wands. He'd covered their tracks. But a wizard like Voldemort, who had time, anger, and lackeys on his side, would eventually find them. And when he did…well, it wasn't the first time Rosier contemplated using a certain green curse on himself just to end it quickly.
"I hope you know what you're doing because I'm not sticking around to get murdered because of you."
" I've told you already – I know. I'm sure of it. Just – you can claim you had no knowledge of it if you like." Regulus pushed open the heavy front door and stepped into the hall.
A puddle immediately formed at his feet.
"It hasn't rained this hard in awhile." His words were stilted and awkward. Rosier smiled at the clumsy attempt to change the subject.
"You know – shit," Harry's head smashed against the door frame.
Regulus held in a breath and stared at Rosier, "This is why I wanted you to take the feet," He began warningly.
"I hope I didn't crush his brain, we need that," He replied. He felt kind of guilty. Harry would have a killer headache when he eventually woke up. Rosier felt that he'd be unconscious a little longer than usual.
"I know a way to reanimate his body if it comes to that."
Rosier adjusted Harry in his arms once more and pulled a face.
"Anyway, in Muggle Studies we learned that rain in muggle novels is symbolic for like, I don't remember, change and new life or whatever," Rosier commented mildly as he lowered Harry to the floor.
"I know – we were in that class together. Sixth year was it?"
"So, is that what you think this is? A new life or something?" Rosier peered at him intensely.
Regulus stared back, "No." He looked away and let his cloak drop lifelessly to the floor.
Rosier shrugged, "I think it might be. Because I guess in a way death is a new life."
"When did you get so philosophical?" Regulus asked as he cast a quick drying spell on his sopping socks. He wriggled his toes, content with the suddenly warm wool on his feet.
"'Bout the time I agreed to commit treason against the Dark Lord."
Rosier's friend replied quietly, "That'll do it."
"Right, well. My work here is done," Rosier clapped his hands together, "I'll see you at the meeting tonight?" He asked as he twirled back to the door, opening it slightly.
Regulus slammed it shut. Standing nose to nose he snarled in Rosier's ear, "If you even attempt to set foot outside of this house without me I will kill you – in the most creative and painful ways you can imagine."
The rainfall got louder. More frenzied.
Rosier, his lip curled in disgust and nose haughtily raised looked down at Regulus and said, "I like my spleen where it is, thank you very much."
Regulus was silent for a moment, his pale eyes searching Rosier's face.
"Then we have a deal."
"I suppose we do. Shake on it?" Rosier asked, extending his arm. Regulus knew what he was asking – an unbreakable vow. He felt much better about having Rosier in on this now than he had before.
Harry didn't wake for a few more hours. His eyes finally fluttered open when Rosier and Regulus had sat down to play chess.
"Ah, Harry. You're awake."
"Regulus," Harry spat out. He rubbed his head, leaving his hair sticking up at all angles. Regulus thought he looked very much like a grumpy kitten. "Rosier."
"Sorry about the head trauma. It happens." Rosier smiled over his mug of tea. "Tea? Muffin? You could use a muffin, you're very thin."
Harry ignored the muffin that was bouncing against his cheek.
"This is your plan, huh? Knock me out and keep me in a cabin until Voldemort comes to get me?" he asked as he looked around the bare home.
"Not at all," Regulus said from behind his cup of hot chocolate. "The plan is to keep you in this cabin until we find a way to destroy Voldemort. And then destroy him."
"Don't you have Neville for that?" Harry snapped.
"He's useless," Rosier stated. "I tried to get him in on the plan but he refused."
Regulus's eyes slide from Rosier and landed on Harry. "It's like my mum used to say, Potter, two boys-who-lived is better than one. And I suspect you know more than Neville about this whole Voldemort killing business anyway."
"Your mum says that?" Rosier asked in disbelief. Regulus sent him a look and he quieted. He beckoned Harry to continue.
"Well I don't," Harry said stiffly. The muffin was looming next to his ear.
"And there's the familiar Gryffindor scowl I'm so fond of! You've had how many weeks – months – to yourself to think of a plan? You must have one."
"I do – but that doesn't mean I'm going to share it with the likes of you two. Where I'm from -"
"An alternate dimension."
"Alternate Surrey, then," Regulus rolled his eyes. "You still haven't accepted it yet have you?"
"I have, but if you'd let me finish," Harry said hotly. He stared angrily at the older man. Once he was sure the other wouldn't interrupt him again he continued, "Where I'm from I don't share plans with Death Eaters."
Regulus rolled his eyes, "Yes, the most loyal of the bunch we are."
"Does that plan involve escaping from this cabin? Because I bet you didn't factor that in," Rosier muttered beneath his breath.
He deflated slightly. Rosier snickered.
"Fine," Regulus growled. "Plan for a plan?"
Harry wrinkled his nose, "You show me yours and I'll show you mine?" Confusion flashed across the purebloods faces. "Never mind. You go first."
"The plan is simple – we destroy what's keeping Voldemort alive. And then kill him. I reckon your plan is similar."
"You know what's keeping him alive?" Harry's heart lept.
"We're two very smart men," Rosier said as his knight smashed one of Regulus's bishops. "He has six. One of which has been destroyed by Neville already."
Regulus's cup thunked heavily against the table, "Excuse me."
"I said he has eight," Harry repeated, louder.
"Merlin's anus," Rosier began to let out a string of swears that Harry believed to be the most varied and creative groupings he'd ever heard before. Not even the filthy things Ron had said came close to the vile things Rosier spewed.
"What are they?" Regulus asked timidly, as if he truly didn't want to know the answer.
"Me and Neville."
Rosier's stream of swearing cut off suddenly.
"I'm going to regret asking this, but – how?"
"I don't know, Neville doesn't either. But somehow, in uh my world, when I was a baby Voldemort transferred a piece of his soul to me. Same happened to Neville. That's why we've got these scars."
Regulus seemed to struggle to come up with words.
"And how do we get rid of them?"
"We have to die."
"You have to…" Regulus' voice failed him for a moment. "And you're prepared to do that?"
"I think we both are."
"You have to die? What is this – this isn't like you truly going off the deep end is it? I've risked my life doing this – and my family's – and now you're saying you're going to off yourself? Well fuck that. Excuse me. I'm so sorry, I always forget I can't curse in front of little kids." Rosier fumed, eyes locked onto Harry's green ones.
"So tell me Harry, do you know how to destroy a Horcrux," Regulus asked suddenly, pulling a jeweled goblet from inside his cloak.
Harry stared at the cup, his mouth seemingly unhinged. Something tickled at his brain. He looked at Regulus cautiously, "That's a horcrux?"
Regulus nodded. "This, Harry, belonged to one Helga Hufflepuff."
Oh. "Where," Harry licked his lips and reached out hesitantly with his hand. He withdrew it sharply, as if he had been burned. Green eyes found blue.
"How did you get that?" Harry asked thickly. His head was cloudy with distant memories.
"Goblins," Regulus offered with a small shrug. His gaze shifted to the floor.
"I went with Dumbledore to a cave- the inferi were, they dragged me under and Dumbledore saved me. At least, I thought he did. He had...there was a locket in a basin. A horcrux. "
Rosier shifted in his chair. "Dumbledore knows?" Rosier looked sharply at Regulus.
"I guess. I don't know. I'm not sure. I don't know anything anymore," Harry said hopelessly. "I thought..." He trailed off.
"You thought what?"
Regulus looked unamused. "You're from an alternate universe - I don't think it gets any crazier than that."
"I thought Dumbledore, my Dumbledore, cared about me. But I think he was just grooming me to die." Harry sucked in a shivering breath. The weight of the world was on his shoulders. What did it matter what he told these people? "This isn't my home, my fight. I can't do this."
"But it is Harry," Rosier said calmly, "No matter where you go, what universe you travel to, with that piece of the Dark Lord embedded in you it's always going to be your fight. You can't run away from it."
"What's a little death and dying," Regulus edged in, "when you're saving the wizarding world?"
Harry knew they were right. But doubts nagged at him.
"I don't know if I can."
"Would you do it in your universe?" Rosier asked, Regulus echoing him with "For your friends? Your mum and dad?"
"Of course I would," Harry shot back, glaring at the two men.
"Then what's so different here?" Rosier waved his hand around.
"Everything," Harry stressed. "This isn't my home. These people aren't my friends. James and Lily, my parents are dead. They're not them. All I wanted was a family, my mum and dad. But it's not them. I can't even – everyone here thinks I'm some sort of criminal. "
"You can't go back," Regulus said softly, "You're stuck here. It's your home now, whether you like it or not. You were given a second chance – are you honestly going to let it slip away because you're too afraid?"
Harry sat slack jawed. Suddenly his resolve steeled itself.
Rosier smiled once more and returned to the game of chess sitting before him.
"I told you, I don't know what the other horcrux is," Harry ground out.
"Well, what ones do you know?"
"We've been over this already-"
"So? Go over it again. We're missing something." Regulus threw himself onto the couch, socked feet hanging over the arm. His over laden goblet was, miraculously, still full to the brim.
Harry sighed. "The diary, the locket, the cup, the ring, the snake, me, Neville. I don't know what else there could be."
Harry was restless. All the inactivity was getting to him. Rosier and Regulus seemed fine, though. They sat up late into the night drawing up intricate plans and conversing for hours over minor details. Harry didn't see the point in such in depth planning – things always went sideways when he was involved. Rosier had hushed him quickly when he'd said so and began a speech about preparedness. They needed to solve any possible unknowns first, and then they could begin. Harry snickered at how much Rosier sounded like Hermione.
Through their long nights together Harry slowly learned that they were often the masterminds – along with one or two others who Harry had never heard of before – of the Death Eaters most successful attacks. The Hogsmeade Train Massacre, the one investigator tried to pin on him, had been their doing. Rabastan Lestrange had been an integral component, killing well over 30 people himself. But even more than that – The Diagon Alley Blitz, Chunnel Collapse, the Assault on Appleby, and an attack during a Cannons match against the Bats. They reminisced, voices lilting and laughter falling pleasantly out of their mouths as they spoke of people begging for their lives and the silly things they offered up instead, as they imitated the hysterics of men and women fleeing in terror.
Instead of vitriol rising in his throat, Harry had been oddly calm and accepting of it. He chalked it up to shock, but he wasn't too sure if that was the true reason. Perhaps deep down it comforted him, learning that they knew what they were doing, that they were capable and unintimidated by death and battle. They would literally do anything to win their battle. Maybe he was lucky that they were on his side.
As long as he ignored the implications of a successful Death Eater attack, he could handle it. So he busied himself to keep his mind from thinking too much on it.
But every so often he found himself staring at them and wondering what they would have done to him, his friends, his family, if he hadn't have been important in their quest. He wondered what they would do to him if he refused to go along with their plans.
This wasn't about saving the Wizarding World – it was about ridding it of another Half-blood who lied about his true quest. They didn't hate Voldemort because he was the perpetrator of genocide – they hated him because he wanted immortality more than a pure gene pool. They were getting rid of him before he got rid of them. It was about self-preservation. It was about unseating Voldemort and replacing him with a more respectable figure. You didn't have to look very deep to see the ugly truth – they were no better than the man they were trying to kill. Lurking beneath the charming, polished exteriors were monsters just as perverse and guilty. The only difference was that these monsters were capable of understanding human emotions and course correcting to account for that.
"I bet he has something of Ravenclaws or Gryffindors-" Rosier mused. Harry's gaze drifted from the map above the fireplace to the cup of tea in his hand.
"Why would he want anything to do with Gryffindor?" Regulus butt in, "He's a Slytherin."
"Well then why would he want anything from Hufflepuff?"
"Because she was a pureblood? I don't know, why don't you go and ask?"
"He wants objects that are valuable, probably famous or legendary," Harry drawled. His brain hurt. He felt pulled in two different directions. Regulus had told him the week before that he shouldn't think too much about the moral and ethical dilemmas of working with Death Eaters, or he'd have an existential crisis. But he couldn't help but think of the blood that stained those hands. He knew they slept well at night. But he didn't. Their sins were weighing on him.
"So, either Ravenclaw's Diadem or..whatever Gryffindor had." Regulus nodded slowly to himself.
"A sword," The words came mechanically out of Harry's mouth. He felt like he wasn't him, like someone else was controlling him, his body, his words. He was watching himself act and move and speak. His voice sounded strange to his ears.
Harry looked up. "Gryffindor had a sword."
"Oh I bet the Dark Lord would love to have that in his collection!" Rosier smiled. It was a feral smile and it sent chills up Harry's spin.
It was like he was seeing him for the first time. Rosier, his gentle demeanor just an act that barely concealed the rolling rage underneath, that always threatened to spill out. His words, their steady tenor meant to be comforting and disarming seemed alien and detached.
Harry met Rosier's dark eyes, staring up at him from the sallow face that laid on the table, flat and soulless. "He couldn't – not if Neville used it to kill the basilisk."
"Sometimes I think you just make things up, Harry," Rosier said. He picked his face up off the haphazardly stacked papers of Harry's medical file and stared blankly. Not a hint of emotion.
Regulus rubbed his chin."So you killed the basilisk with the sword, and the diary with a basilisk fang?"
Harry confirmed. Harry fixed his captors with a significant stare. "The sword has basilisk venom in it still – or at least it did, I don't know. Its goblin made and that's…something. That's why the ring was killed."
"So we know basilisk venom kills Horcruxes," Regulus drawled, "So obviously the sword isn't a horcrux. That leaves the Diadem. Which has been lost for centuries.
"We'll worry about that later. The question now is how do we get that sword and kill that thing?" Rosier elbowed in the direction of the heavily jeweled cup.
"Well, Neville killed the basilisk right?" Harry asked.
"Did he?" Rosier snipped.
Regulus shrugged. Harry knew by now that Regulus' cavalier attitude was used to mask the feelings of fear that came with the unknown. Regulus, Harry learned, didn't like the unknowns.
Harry sat in silent thought for a long moment. "He did," he stated confidently, "I know how to get the sword."
"You do?" Regulus asked, suddenly alert. He pulled himself up into a sitting position and tossed his now empty goblet over his shoulder.
"Only a true Gryffindor can get it," Harry said distractedly, the clanging of the goblet holding his attention. The hollow ringing echoed through the rooms.
"Only a true - of course," Regulus slumped back into the cushions. "I should have guessed. Where are we going to find a true Gryffindor."
"I need the Sorting Hat." Harry stated, as he glared at Regulus with pursed lips. "I'm a true Gryffindor, I can get the sword. But we need the hat."
"What," Rosier deadpanned.
Regulus stared at him accusingly. "Why would you need the hat?"
"It can give me the sword," Harry said slowly, as if he was speaking to a young child.
Regulus rolled his eyes and rubbed a hand over his tired face.
Rosier threw his hands in the air, "You're letting us know this now? Why not two bloody weeks ago?"
"I forgot," Harry replied meekly. "So how do we get the hat?"
"You forgot." Rosier snorted. "We get some help, that's what we do."
Harry was scared.
When the first letter came she had thought it was an accident. But then the second, and third, and fourth letters came. Then they came every day. Each letter written in handsome flowing penmanship and signed with an X.
Today the owl came with two. She let out a barely audible screech of rage.
"Merlin, Hermione, who's the secret boyfriend?" Ron asked. He was finishing an essay at the table. He frowned at the jelly smeared across the parchment.
"Not my boyfriend Ronald," Hermione snapped. "It's probably just some practical-" she stopped short. The handwriting was different. It was rushed and the letters were sloppy. Slowly she opened it.
Tired of waiting. Hogshead, tonight.
Her heart seemed to be in her throat. She shoved the letter into her bag and swung it onto her shoulder.
"I'll see you in Potions," she said as she stalked off.
Stupid stupid stupid, she thought. She was so stupid. She pulled her cloak closer to her body, the cold air nipped at her ears and nose.
Hogsmeade was still being rebuilt from the devastating Death Eater attack in December. It was taking longer than usual because of complex wards and spells that had been placed by the attackers. It seemed like so long ago that it had happened. That was the night Harry showed up in this universe, she was certain of it. Since their adventure, she'd been doing reading. More than normal. It lead her to one conclusion, one that she had been trying to disprove : Harry was telling the truth.
Steeling her nerves, she finally entered the dingy establishment called the Hogshead.
This was all some joke, she thought. Probably Malfoy's doing. She'd give anything to hex that white haired prat within an inch of his life. She growled angrily. What if…No, she scolded herself, don't even think that. But what if Draco really did want to meet her? She huffed. No, there was no way. Jerk.
Eyes drifted to watch her as she made her way to an empty table in a far corner. She sat and the barman set a drink before her soon after. She drank it greedily and sputtered. Firewhiskey.
She waited for what seemed to be an eternity. It was long enough that her vision returned to normal and the warm tingly feeling in her face melted away. The patrons of the seedy pub had all but disappeared. The only ones left were the man snoring loudly at the bar and a group of nefarious looking fishermen. She sighed and stood, ready to leave, when he came.
He laid a gentle hand on her elbow and steered her towards the stairs, his hood obscuring his face.
"Wait - where are we going?" She protested quietly, but the man tightened his grip and pushed her forward.
"What are you doing?" Hermione asked, fear tinged her voice. He guided her into an empty room. He locked the door behind him.
"Oh god, please," she murmured, "No." He moved closer to her, and hesitated, as if suddenly unsure.
"I won't hurt you Mudblood."
The sound was ripped from her throat as she was squeezed and jostled about. She tried to fight, punching and kicking and biting, but his hold was too strong. A sudden jolt knocked the breath from her lungs and sent her head against the floor.
Her world was spinning. Her stomach threatened to empty its contents. She tried pushing the heavy body off her but found her limbs suddenly stiff. He pulled himself up slowly, bringing her up with him. White dots danced in her eyes and then. Nothing.
She didn't know what happened. It was morning now. There was sunlight filtering through the window. Sleep pulled at her. Her head felt heavy and the world looked foggy.
"-ched pretty ba-"
The light hurt.
"-ping for the night. I'll be ther-"
She lurched up and heaved into a bin she didn't know had been there. She sat there, head hanging and nose sniffling, wishing the foul taste out of her mouth. A cup found its way to her lips. The bin managed to wriggle out from under her arms. She leaned back against the wall.
She heard heavy footsteps coming toward her. Her eyes fluttered open. She peered at the silhouette in the doorway.
"Come to finish me off?" she croaked. She snuck her hand into her pocket, groping for her wand. It wasn't there. Her heart began to beat harder.
He moved closer, shadows playing across him, until he loomed over her. He was shirtless. She blushed and looked away. He smiled predatorily and held her wand up between two fingers. Then, his hands gripped her chin and turned her face to look at him. He crouched before her, staring into her eyes, searching for something. He needed a haircut. She noticed with satisfaction that his lip was split and smiled in spite of herself.
He released her and sat next to her, "After I spent all that time fixing you up?"
Hermione rolled her eyes and stared at the doorway.
"They'll come looking for me, you know." She pushed herself up but found her arms too weak. She rested against the wall.
"What makes you think that?"
She eyed him suspiciously. "Because you kidnapped me."
He balked at the statement. Hermione felt giggles bubbling up at the absurd look on indignation on his face. She pushed them down.
"No! Well - maybe technically. But you left after dark to meet a stranger. They'll think you ran away."
Hermione felt anger boiling inside her. "I would never-"
"We've already arranged it to look that way," he shrugged, a smile playing at his lips.
"What do you mean," she breathed. He shrugged again.
"And here I was thinking you were the brightest witch of our age." He sounded forlorn.
He began to pull himself forward. She reacted without thinking - grabbed his arm. New pink skin covered her hand and up her arm. Words caught in her mouth and stumbled out past the tip of her tongue.
"Wait, you, things, done, did, me-" He cut her off with a bark of laughter and settled back down against the wall.
He nodded toward her arm. "Regrew it."
She stared at him. He said it as if it had been a simple, every day task. "You...regrew my skin. How?"
Four apparations later they arrived at their destination.
Four apparations and a week in each others company.
Hermione still didn't know who her captor was, or why he'd taken her. Or why she'd thought going alone to meet a stranger had been a good idea. She did know that trying to fight her way out was a lost cause. She'd tried it already, only to be told that Death Eaters had her parents under constant surveillance. After that she had stopped. She stopped eating, talking. She only watched and tried to glean what little information about him she could.
She watched him read, desperate to know what knowledge he held in his hands. The old house they were occupying had a giant library with thick tomes, most of which were in some indecipherable language. But he dug through them and read them all -every once in a while taking notes, or shoving a whole book into her beaded bag (which she had magically enlarged some number of days before), that he had re-purposed for his own use.
She watched him poke his wand around at a haphazardly stitched gash and set a finger with a homemade splint. Some pureblood, she had snorted. She wondered where he had learned that.
They left soon after he found the gash stayed closed under the stitches. Blood still made the dressing pink.
Now here they were, in a cold forest, four apparations away from where they had started.
As the handsome cabin appeared suddenly, she found all she could do was pray that this wasn't a Muggle-born torture chamber or Voldemort's secret command post.
He pushed her roughly into the house. Warmness enveloped her. She found her feet moving of their own volition, carrying her deeper into the building. Maps and papers littered the tables and lumpy cushions were awkwardly arranged. A coffee pot gurgled merrily. The fire cast soft light across the open level.
Hermione turned to find the owner of the shocked voice.
Regulus, the now named man, was looking up at the second floor; his head leaned back exposing his neck. "Brought you a present," his tone was subdued and so unlike what she was used to hearing.
Regulus. Where had she heard that name before? It was a star, she knew that. Mr. Black had said his family all had star names, well, most of them. She urged her brain to think faster.
"Regulus Black?" Hermione questioned. He gave her an unidentifiable look before returning his attention to the second man, who was thumping down the stairs.
"Hermione!" Scrawny and pale, a black bed-headed boy bobbed into sight.
"Harry?" she gasped. "What-"
"Don't question it. What matters is you're here now, safe, and about to have the adventure of a lifetime."
"You," She looked between Regulus and Harry, "He's a Death Eater," she whispered.
Regulus yelled from the kitchen, "Not anymore!" He reappeared with a mug of coffee steaming in his hand. He stared at the largest map on the wall. "Now, what do you know about horcruxes?"
"Hermione wouldn't just run away - and especially not for a boyfriend," Neville said loudly.
"Unless he's made of books, I don't think she would either. You have to believe us," Ginny begged.
James ran a hand through his hair. Things just kept getting worse. First there was the attack on St. Mungos and the disappearance of Harry. Soon after several bodies lacking heads had been found at Kings Cross. Their heads, the heads of several prominent Purebloods, suspected Death Eaters with wands jammed between their teeth. And now this. A missing muggle-born girl, who just happened to be the brains behind the Boy-Who-Lived's success. It couldn't have all been a coincidence. Something must have happened, and somewhere along the line someone messed up big time.
"You know, Mr. Potter," Neville murmured, "With everything that's happened, this can't be a coincidence. I read the news just like you do. Someone took her. Someone bad."
James sighed. Neville was right. Beside him he could hear Padfoot speaking in low tones to Moony.
"And you spoke to Dumbledore about this?" James asked.
"He didn't seem concerned," Ron said angrily.
"I find that a tad unbelievable, Ron," James said. Even Dumbledore had to be worried. Whatever the old man was doing, James was sure he wasn't just going to tell the kids. It was dangerous, allies and enemies were unknown. Dumbledore would be playing it close.
"Ok, well he and the teachers read the letters and he said she must have gone to meet her boyfriend," Ron amended, "They didn't listen to me when I said she didn't even have one."
"They called the Aurors," Neville added.
"Yeah," Ginny agreed, "The Aurors said they'd look for her."
James's eyebrow twitched.
"And you don't think they'll find her?"
"No. Not if someone took her," Neville stood, eyebrows knit and jaw clenched tight.
"Someone, like who?" James pushed.
"Like a Death Eater." Everyone looked up at the new speaker.
It was what they had all been thinking, but didn't want to say. Hearing it out loud made it all the more real. James's heart ached; children shouldn't have to deal with war and tragedy, but here they were, front and center.
Nathan stood in the doorway, "Is she going to be okay?"
No one moved. Sirius and Remus rejoined the conversation. Remus slowly refolded the letters Ginny had given them and put them back in their envelopes.
"It's plausible, Prongs," Sirius said, "We looked over the letters and, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I know who we're looking for."
James felt the pit growing inside his stomach. He swallowed thickly. He looked at the kids standing before him, in his kitchen. He had promised them they wouldn't lie or keep things from them. He regretted that now. He was now gaining a better appreciation for the position Dumbledore must have constantly been in – wanting to protect, finding the balance between telling someone who is too young but too involved just what needs to be done.
"Who?" Ron stood ramrod straight, overly alert.
Sirius frowned. "My brother – I recognize his handwriting." Behind him Remus was nodding.
"A Death Eater," Ron whispered grimly.
"I can't imagine Hermione would go with him herself," Sirius continued, "Either he took her or he had help. Someone to convince her. Have you three spoken with anyone suspicious lately?"
James knew Sirius knew the answer to that. Did he really think…
Ginny gasped, "You don't think Harry would do that would you?" Her eyes began to wet with unshed tears.
"We really don't know him, Ginny," Ron pulled his sister in close.
Her sobs were muffled by his shirt. Ron was right; none of them really did know Harry. It was possible, however much he didn't want it to be true.
"We don't have evidence of that yet. Just speculation. Let's…we have to start somewhere."
Remus handed James a letter. "This is our only clue," he said, "whoever took Hermione met her at the Hogshead, in Hogsmeade. We'll go there in the morning and start questioning patrons. Someone must have seen something."
It was almost a peaceful morning. There was a fresh blanket of snow outside. The fire was roaring. Rosier had made cookies. Harry sighed as voices began to rise.
"What do you mean you 'Won't help'?" Regulus nearly screeched. He slammed his mug onto the table, sending coffee splashing everywhere.
"I mean I will not help you!" Hermione shot back. Harry watched from the couch. Hermione was in that stance that meant she was not backing down. He'd seen it before, once. The night she sent those birds at Ron. Harry wondered if Hermione and Ron were together in this universe.
Hermione had been here for three days, and she still refused to help. She had been appalled by Harry's involvement with the Death Eaters. Regulus tried to convince her that they were risking their lives by committing treason, but she stood resolute.
Harry heard her sniffling quietly late last night. He had watched her for a moment before she turned to him with big teary brown eyes.
"We can escape, Harry," she had said. He shook his head no. "Why not. You don't believe them do you? They're monsters Harry – they're sick and they'll kill both of us when they get the chance," her voice was desperate. He shook his head again. It had been what he had been thinking, weeks ago, but he was resigned to his fate now. "Harry, please – this isn't you."
"I have to kill Voldemort, and they know how," he had replied. "they're the only ones who know. Help us, please."
She had looked so sad. Her face fell and she stared at him like she was seeing him for the first time. "I didn't think this was who you were, Harry," she said. She frowned and rolled back over. He had felt helpless. It wasn't him.
He tried to convince himself that night that desperate times called for desperate measures. But he had changed. He was lying if he said he was still the same Harry. Everything and everyone he knew was dead, his home was gone; but here? It was all here too, but it wasn't the same. He had no one to turn too. He had felt wetness on his cheek. He reached his hand up and wiped it off. He could cry later, after Voldemort was dead. And he reminded himself of that now - he could mourn his dead world when they finished this thin.
"Well why not," Regulus asked. He crossed his arms and looked down at Hermione.
Harry knew that wasn't a good sign either. In the short time Harry had know Regulus he had learned the man was stubborn enough to be in Gryffindor himself. Regulus hadn't spoken to Harry for three days after he had told him that. Hermione told him he was nursing the ego wound like a Gryffindor and Regulus spoke to Harry later that night. You learn a lot about people when you're cooped up in a house, in the mountains, trying to devise a plan to kill an evil wizard.
"I'm not helping you because you're a prat and a liar."
Of names to call Regulus, Harry could think of a few with a lot more heft. Murderer, hypocrite, coward.
"Liar? Little, Mudblood, I've never lied in my entire life."
Harry tried to push himself further into the couch to disappear. He'd have to wait for Rosier to return and settle this. Rosier was extraordinarily good at mediating disputes. He told Harry he learned the skills while working at his first big law gig, mediating divorce and custody proceedings with wealthy wizards and witches from old families. Apparently, Harry learned, divorce was deceptively common among the traditional pureblood families. Harry ended the conversation when Rosier began to explain how 'accidental death' was the stated reason and how those accidents came about.
"There you go again! Call me a Mudblood one more time and I will hex any ability to procreate right out off of you," Hermione brandished her wand and waved it threatening at Regulus.
"Go ahead, it'll be a blessing. I don't like children. Worse than harpies." He gave Hermione a pointed look.
Hermione ground out a growl and twirled around, stalking toward Harry. She opened her mouth but was speechless. She settled for angry staring and pointing. Harry sighed in resignation. He'd never known his Hermione to be like this.
"Regulus, Hermione has a point. You did kidnap both of us-"
"-and you are forcing us to work with you and help you carry out your plan. Not that I don't want to. I want Voldemort dead too. But you can't be calling people you want to help you Mudbloods."
"It's a term of endearment," Regulus said stupidly.
"No it isn't," Hermione snapped. She rounded on Regulus once more, wand poised and ready to hex. A chuckle from the doorway stopped her.
"All these years and you still can't talk to women?" Rosier asked as he dried himself off. He smiled politely at Hermione, who had murder written across her face. "No wonder you're still single."
Hermione smiled a little at that.
"Hermione, we really do need your help. Even if Black is a prat-"
"Mu-" Hermione shot Regulus a dark look, "Much help needed," he quickly corrected, "We need your help very much."
"You don't want to help save the wizarding world?
Before Hermione could reply Rosier butted in. Harry was glad.
"If you two are done, Black, you might wanna take a look at this. I got one too. " Rosier threw a heavy envelope on the table.
Hermione eagerly opened it. She pulled out a thick ivory card embellished with gold calligraphy. Her eyes scanned it quickly, Regulus's own eyes doing the same from beside her, the argument forgotten for now.
Regulus pulled it from her hands and tossed it to Harry.
In his lap it sat. There, staring up at him in swirling gold letters, it read
The Malfoy Family cordially invites you, Regulus Arcturus Black and Guest,
to the Annual Summer Gala on August the 15th
held at the Malfoy Manor Estate
RSVP by July 1st