(Minor AN: Sorry for any awkwardness in formatting. I tried to at least make it readable. Any complaints may be filed directly to the host, not the author :})

PART THREE: The Future

19. Déjà vu

Hermione lifted a bleary eyelid to the world as a high-pitched screaming under the pillow forced her into consciousness. After a minute or two of digging, she successfully extracted her blaring wand and groggily tossed it across the room. She would never, ever get used to the screaming of the Alarm Charm, but Muggle alarm clocks wouldn't work in Hogsmeade. She had to make do with what she had.

Flinging her feet over the bed, she started when warm fur brushed up against her legs. Crookshanks. Her cat would want to be fed and let out before she went off to the Ministry for work. It gave her a second jolt, remembering that she was back in the present time. It was odd, no longer living at Hogwarts amongst the Marauders. Wasn't it just yesterday that Sirius had overturned a goblet full of milk on her Arithmancy homework? Hadn't it only a handful of hours ago that she'd made it her life goal to hunt him down and inflict divine retribution upon his mortal soul?

She tipped a cup of dry cat food into Crookshanks's food dish, her brain working separately from her body. As it was, it almost seemed like the timeline she had meant to fix, the one where You-Know-Who lived to fight a second war, had never existed. It survived only as a distant, nagging memory in Hermione's mind. The three different realities struggled for dominance in Hermione's mind, confusing her-one of the past, one of the previous present world, and one of the new reality she'd created. They clanged about in her thoughts and she could feel a headache building.

Padma had warned her about time paradoxes, but Hermione had been too focused on accomplishing her mission to try to predict how the timeline would react. Contemplating it now, she realised she'd gotten off easy with what could have been a disastrous underestimation.

Because the two timelines had fused together, Hermione discovered she had two separate memories of the past. In one world, a nervous boy looking for his toad had confronted her on the Hogwarts Express and the two of them had ended up in Gryffindor House. There were many fond and full recollections from that life, but a lot of pain and fear. Her best friends had been Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, but she'd watched them both destroyed in a wizarding war.

In the second, different set of memories, ones associated with the new reality she had created, Hermione had ridden Hogwarts Express alone, was sorted into Ravenclaw, and finished her school years in relative silence. She never fought in a war, but never befriended Harry and Ron, too. The second set of reminiscences was void of the strong undercurrents of fear and loss, but at least the first had fond memories of forever-binding friendships.

This contemplation inevitably led to a slippery slope and she tried to block it from her mind as she moved about her flat in preparation for work. One timeline had given her the best friends she could ever ask for. She had many fond recollections and close bonds with people that she'd left behind, friendships that were lacking in the reality now lived in.

A growing sense of loss led to a dangerous avalanche around the time she finished her second cup of tea while comparing the two worlds. Paused with the teacup halfway to her mouth, Hermione came to an epiphany. Her life in this reality was devoid of much of the happiness she'd experienced in the old one. Instead of feeling happy for succeeding with her mission, a growing resentment, anger, and frustration bubbled within.

'Just don't ask yourself which reality you prefer,' her rationality warned as the conflicted emotions began to build up. 'If you admit to preferring the life where you had Harry and Ron by your side, it'll be admitting to a preference for a life where all your loved ones were dead. What's the price of a few fond memories in comparison to having your best mates alive?'

Reality started sinking in as she left her flat. While she had changed, and saved, the future, she'd also lost the things that had been important to her. Her relationships had been the driving force behind her travel to the past. Now, they didn't even exist. Alongside the anger and resentment, a sense of loss and self-pity began to emerge. However, like Racine's play, the one from which she'd procured the name 'Andromache,' rationality still played a leading role in Hermione's brain and she pushed the emotions away. She wished her rationality would disappear away long enough for her to have a good, guilt-free cry, though, something she hated having to indulge in.

She took a moment to control her turmoil before Apparating to the Ministry. Instead of breaking down and crying like a child, Hermione would do the mature thing and immerse herself so deeply into work that she wouldn't have time to contemplate dangerous thoughts. Feeling sorry for herself, and the added feeling of self-hatred because of it, would have to wait while she performed more important tasks.

20. An interlude in the Atrium

Hermione muttered viciously as she made her way through the Atrium at the Ministry of Magic. It was never this bad, this horrendously crowded, coming into work. She doubted the Quidditch World Cup had been this packed.

Cringing, she berated herself for being melodramatic. There were enough things to be petty and bitter about; turning her life into a hyperbole was not on the menu, and the Quidditch World Cup had been horrendously jam-packed. If she were forced to take the stairs to her office, however, the future forecast would be cloudy with a chance of hexing.

"Don't even bother taking the lifts," a voice commented from behind. Hermione turned to face a considerably taller man wearing pinstriped business robes. 'Terry Boot, from your year, in Ravenclaw,' her mind supplied, answering her momentary question as to why he was familiar. He was gazing into the crowd over other people's heads, assessing the situation. "It's looking like the block-up is over in that direction. You might be better off taking the stairs."

It took Hermione a few more seconds to figure out why he was talking to her before her memories as a Ravenclaw overpowered the ones from when she'd been sorted into Gryffindor. Terry Boot was her best mate in this timeline, she remembered. She'd helped him pass Arithmancy back at Hogwarts. This epiphany brought up another thought to Hermione's teeming mind. She didn't know which she disliked more: the fact that she was answering her own questions, or the fact that the answers were naturally there, just above the surface. Instead of thinking about the worrisome state of her mind, though, she nervously plucked at her blue, department-issued, flameproof robes. It was a habit she'd picked up from stroking the silk lining in Andromache's wardrobe and she couldn't seem to stop it.

"What's going on over there? I'm too short to see," she asked, giving up on making her way through the crowd.

"Do you remember Lavender Brown? A pretty girl in our year at Hogwarts, Gryffindor?" he asked, still craning his head to watch the spectacle in front of him.

Hermione bit back a pithy retort that would have been laced with sarcasm. Terry wasn't doing anything wrong. She was just moody today. He couldn't possibly know that she'd been forced through six too many years of living with Lavender, years riddled with all too intimate secrets, such as the fact that the other girl colour-coordinated her knickers to her outfits. "I remember her. She loved divination and worshipped the ground that phoney, Trelawney, walked on."

Terry nodded. "Well, it looks like Ronald Weasley just proposed." A high-pitched feminine squeal was heard over the crowd. "And she just said yes."

In that moment, Hermione's heart cracked and shattered into a million pieces.

21. An interlude in the Department of Experimental Charms and Hexes

'Your day isn't half over,' Hermione coached herself as she entered her office within the Department of Experimental Charms and Hexes. 'It has barely begun. You can't just lose it and start hexing people randomly. It'll look bad,' Her day had started off on a bad foot, gotten progressively gotten worse, and was not over yet, but she would not break down into conjuring attack-canaries until she was off Ministry grounds. She had more dignity than that.

She caught herself absent-mindedly drawing runes in the air with her wand. A final flick forced a brilliant, orange glow over her office door as they set into the wood and faded.

Well, apparently, there might be a few advantages to living in this present, aside from the obvious ones of having family and previous friends alive. Connecting runic images to charms, in order to create stronger spells and barriers, had been a project she'd been working on within the Marauder-filled past to fill her spare time. In this future, she was pleased to note that she'd already finished the research and had successful, working prototypes of the spell. A rampaging elephant wouldn't be able to take down her door.

Sitting down at her desk, Hermione assessed her new life. It made sense that she would pursue a career in spell development alongside the Department of Experimental Charms and Hexes. She'd always been excellent at creating and modifying charm work. The Point-Me spell she'd created for Harry's use in the maze, for one example, had been a modification she'd made of a Compass Charm. Writing "Sneak" across Marietta Edgecomb's face was another good example of her creativity. It was reassuring that some aspects of her old life followed her into this one.

Hermione gazed down to look at her current project spread out on parchment across her desk. Time paradoxes were truly an interesting phenomenon, she noted. Her past timeline had to connect to her present in order to eliminate the paradox factor, and the Powers that Be saw to align them creatively. She gazed down to study excruciatingly thorough and familiar notes on the creation of a new Time-Turner, one that would allow its wearer to venture an extended period of time into the past. In this era, she'd been working in tandem with the Department of Mysteries for some time. Mirroring her Gryffindor past, she'd used a Time-Turner in her third year to take a double course load, so Ravenclaw-Hermione had some familiarity with the magical object. Late-night brainstorming, fuelled by insomnia, led to a mirroring success as well.

Currently, Hermione was left with another dilemma that exceeded morality. She had seen the Ministry at its worst. She knew that parasitic bureaucrats, Lucius Malfoy as her case in point, were like Daily Prophet reporters: harder to stomp out than cockroaches. The prospects of a regular Time-Turner in Malfoy's grubby paws made her shudder. Letting him possess a Time-Turner that could reach back years, then, made her heart stop.

Previously, Hermione had not considered the repercussions of letting such a device fall into the wrong person's hands, but having gone back to change the past herself, Hermione knew that she had a problem. This completed project, used by the wrong person, could utterly destroy reality and they knew it, but the same could happen with the right individual, something she knew from personal experience. Because of this, she now faced setting fire to, and completely destroying, two years of on-again, off-again research. The reality behind the situation brought frustrated tears to her eyes, ones she hurriedly buried to sit alongside her other toiling thoughts.

She placed her notes aside, preparing to give her thoughts more time to calm down. Until then, the working prototype of the Turner remained at home, buried in her school trunk, under enough protective wards and charms that Bill Weasley wouldn't be able to get to it. Unless somebody called in Albus Dumbledore to force his way into her flat and spend several hours hacking away at runic-charm protections, the Turner would be safe until she could come up with a decision as to what she should to do with it.

The contemplation of her old headmaster escalated into another line of thought. In this reality's history, there had been only one Great Wizarding War. According to the historical accounts, shortly after 1977, Albus Percival Wulferic Brian Dumbledore appeared in and out of Hogwarts with a secret project. On September 19, 1979, her birth date, the wizarding world had celebrated You-Know-Who's final, and only, defeat. What the history books did not elaborate on was how Dumbledore had won. When asked about it, much to Rita Skeeter's annoyance, the professor tended to dither on the subject. As far as Hermione was concerned, though, the world was probably better off this way. The less information spread about Horcruxes, the better. She'd already gone to the past to stop the destruction brought by one Dark Lord; she didn't need the stress of worrying about a possible second one.

In place of the Time-Turner dilemma, then, Hermione began to work on another project of hers: the creation of a permanent charm that could replace Boomslang skin in a hair-care potion. It had been one of the fields she'd been interested in pursuing in her other life, before she'd been forced to pass off the project on Padma Patil. Hermione was amused to see she was as far along in her research here as she'd been in her previous, Gryffindor life.

She'd only been working for five minutes when a knock on the door brought her out of her equations. Peevishly, and with a glare to the warded entrance into her office, she pretended to ignore her intruder.

Another, louder knock followed it. She glowered into her parchment irritably. If the trespasser hadn't gotten her request for privacy from the strong charms she'd placed on the door, then her lack of response should have been a clue to go away.

There was a moment of quiet, contemplative silence and Hermione let her hopes rise that the intruder had gone away. She turned back to her work and began to twiddle with her quill. There was a silent, still pause when suddenly, with an earth-shaking bang, her office was blown off its hinges. Hermione threw up a Shielding Charm around her work while the interloper thought to throw another one up around her.

Gazing in horror at the mess in her office, Hermione opened her mouth to screech at the individual. It died in her throat when she saw the figure standing in her doorway. Regulus Black, albeit aged from the last time she'd seen him, gazed down his nose at her with a carefully blank look on his face.

"Sorry about your door," he commented. Could have fooled her. He most definitely did not sound apologetic.

"I'm in the middle of something. Can I help you?" she asked peevishly. As soon as the words were out, she caught herself and cringed. This wasn't just Regulus Black she was dealing with. He was her department head, too. Once again, remembering important facts after the fact raked against her nerves.

"I know you're in the middle of something. I recognized the Privacy Charm you wove around your door and I was really hoping I wouldn't have to blow it off its hinges. Again. I'm beginning to doubt how much more resistance it'll take." He folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the doorframe. "However, I've got the Department of Mysteries on my arse, pelting me with interoffice memos every hour, asking about your advancement with their Time-Turner. I finally made a deal with one of their department heads that, if I got information about its progress from you first-hand, they'd leave me the hell alone for the rest of the day." He pushed himself off the doorframe and walked across the room to inspect her office door laying charred and pathetic on the ground. After a moment of contemplation, he picked it up and leaned it gently against the doorframe.

Hermione sighed and counted to ten. "They're the Department of Mysteries. Don't they understand miracles take time? They're lucky I've progressed so far with the project in such a short period."

Regulus shrugged. "For them, miracles are a daily occurrence. Their job is to dissect them. Or, at least, that's all the information I can get out of my sources, anyway. How does the progress go on the Time-Turner, by the way?" he unexpectedly asked, turning the conversation back to duty.

Hermione bit her lip and rubbed at her robes again. Regulus frowned at these actions, bringing forth more questions to her mind. Just how well did Regulus know her, and was it well enough to recognize her telltale signs of nervousness "What is it now?" he demanded.

She swore in her head. Apparently, he did know her that well. Drat.

"I'm thinking about scrapping the project," she informed him in a tiny voice, unable to meet his eyes.

"Explain," he commanded firmly.

"I used a Time-Turner at Hogwarts so I could take a few extra classes." He snorted at her use of 'a few' but let her continue. "It could only go back twelve hours at the most. However, when I look back at those times, I'm grateful for how honest I was. Do you know many things I could have changed, with only those twelve hours?" she asked him. "There are infinite possibilities!" she exclaimed.

She was met with silence and took it as encouragement. "Having a Time-Turner that could go back years could be disastrous, no matter who uses it or what intentions they have. If the best of individuals can permanently change the future, what would the worst of them do?" Her easy rationality gave her the courage to meet his eyes, and she recognized an unreadable look on his face. It must be a trademark Black Family gaze, for she knew both Andromeda and Sirius had been experts at it.

She continued her explanation. "Think of what could happen if a certain blonde, cane-wielding, high-ranking Ministry wanke-uhh," she stammered slightly, much to his amusement, "official was able to sweet-talk the Minister of Magic into letting him preview my prototype. I wouldn't put it past him to go back in time and kill Professor Dumbledore so You-Know-Who could rise to power. Now that I think about it, I believe it's very dangerous to give somebody that sort of power. Myself included." Once had been enough for her. She'd make sure to destroy the Time-Turner later.

Regulus sighed and moved to sit on the edge of her desk. "I had the feeling you'd eventually come to this conclusion," he admitted.

Hermione's head snapped up from where her gaze had been studying her hands. She glared at him accusingly. "And you let me continue with the project anyway?" she cried, flabbergasted.

He fixed her with a trademark Black Family Smirk. "The chances that you came to this conclusion, before the project was over, were fifty-fifty. I figured if you had the revelation, no harm done, you'd start on a new project, and I'd be proud of you. On the other hand, if you didn't have this epiphany, our department would lord you over the other departments a few weeks, wheedle extra funding out of the Minister for few months, and I'd still be proud of you."

Hermione felt the blush rising to her cheeks at his praise, wanting to sink into the floor. He noticed the redness and laughed, making it worse. "It's not going to be fun letting the DoM know you've decided to scrap the project, though," he added absent-mindedly.

She shrugged. "If they throw a fit about it, just schedule us a meeting and I'll handle them on my own."

"That's my girl," Regulus grinned, ruffling her hair and leaving before she could do him bodily harm.

She leaned back in her office chair, glaring at her charred door. So maybe there was one positive thing about this timeline. Saving Regulus had turned out in her favour.

22. An interlude in the park

It was a beautiful spring day. The sky was a shade of atmospheric blue that should only exist in storybook illustrations. An additional vibrant green from foliage gave off an ethereal glow. Beds of flowers dotted through the park and provided every colour of the rainbow. Children chased each other through the landscape, their laughter ringing out across the park. Even the birds were singing and merrily darting through the sky.

Sequestered off in a corner, in the shadow of a large oak tree, Hermione Granger sat huddled on a red-and-white chequered picnic blanket, glowering at the world. Until yesterday evening, she'd completely forgotten about the mandatory, annual Ministry Picnic. Until yesterday evening, she'd been diligently working on the charm she'd finally decided would replace her Time-Turner project. If things worked out well, she'd successfully create a sister-charm of the runic sequences she'd dabbled with in the past. Instead of having to write the runes in the air and immediately tie them to an incantation, she wanted to invent a sequence that would allow a castor to write them ahead of time to activate at a later instance.

She'd just had a breakthrough when Regulus forced his way into her office and kicked her out of the Department. He'd informed her she was not to return until Monday. Then, he'd made sure she'd left her notes behind before using the moment the lift doors closed to remind her of the mandatory picnic. The furious hex she'd cast had innocently hit the door with a shower of sparks, and his laughter echoed through the lift as it ascended.

Now, she was stuck at this stupid Ministry function, something she discovered Albus Dumbledore had requested of the Minister several years after the final battle. In Hermione's solitary preference, it was greatly preferential to spend work hours actually working, versus sitting outside, getting sun burnt and sweaty. To add insult to injury, Terry had stolen the text she'd brought along and hidden it. He'd told her that he wouldn't return it until she looked like she was having fun. Cries and explanations of a Catch-22 were ignored as he wondered off to socialize with his girlfriend, Susan Bones, and her friends.

The rest of the Ministry, it seemed, was jovially participating in the festivities. A sack race had commenced far across the field. She was a little overjoyed to hear Lee Jordan commentating it, though she preferred Luna's commentaries. Near the sack race, picnic tables were colourfully decked out and witches and wizards socialized with their families. Elsewhere, the smell of burning charcoal enticed her nose. In a few moments, she thought as she twiddled a piece of grass between her fingers, there would be a short, nasty duel amongst the men to see who would win the title of Grill Master, thus winning the privilege to flip the hamburgers and turn the steaks. James Potter, she'd heard, was the long-running champion.

Hermione, on the other hand, preferred to be left alone. She sat with her back against the oak tree, knees pulled up against her chest and held into place with her arms. In her boredom, she contemplated the pattern of the sundress she'd worn in lieu of heavy robes. Daisy-yellow was one of her favourite colours. She associated it with cheerfulness and happiness, but rarely had the chance to wear it. As brilliant a robe-maker as Madam Malkin might be, modern witch-wear was still slightly too Victorian to pull off pastel colours well. She absent-mindedly picked at a bit of white lace that adorned the hems and watched an ant crawl across the far corner of the picnic blanket. Her area was almost like a private bubble cut off from the rest of the park, she reflected lazily.

This was exactly why she wasn't expecting a dog bark in her right ear. When it did come, she screamed at the sudden sound, flinging herself away in fright. Her hand immediately flew for her wand before a moment's hesitation. There, on the picnic blanket, right next to where she'd been, a large, black monstrosity sat on its haunches, panting away and grinning a happy, doggy-smile. Its thick black fur looked extremely uncomfortable, even with the moderate weather they'd been having lately. Its size was another matter. Even sitting, the dog was gigantic. However, its merrily tocking tail illustrated its friendliness. She watched in dismay as it dribbled on the blanket.

'Groenendael,' she thought vaguely while she glared at it. 'A type of Belgian sheepdog.' The big beast reminded her of the sleek animals she'd seen working the fields on the continent's countryside. She'd visited with her parents between her fourth and fifth year at Hogwarts, and had been rather impressed with the dogs' sleek efficiency. After an awkward introduction through a mix of English, French, and German, one of the herders had even allowed her to greet his dogs. She had discovered that the slightly menacing animals were actually extremely active and truly friendly animals. The beast slobbering on her picnic blanket, however, was considerably larger than the ones she'd encountered on vacation.

"I'm guessing that bark in my ear was purely intentional," she said, tucking her wand back to where it had come. It barked again in response, jumping up from its sitting position to where she lied sprawled on the ground. To her disgust, it licked her face from jaw to brow and sat back on its haunches again, tail thumping wildly in pleased, doggy behaviour.

"Ugh!" she cried, wiping at the drool on her face. She glared at the dog, a look that was not unfamiliar on her face as of late. "That was vile and disgusting." It let out a 'whoof' of air in response. "Yes, well, my experience with dogs is that they aren't picky about what they eat. We're not going to broach the subject of where your tongue might have been last." Doing her best to ignore the beast, she futilely brushed at the black fur the beast had left on her yellow dress, dismally wondering why a spell to remove animal fur from clothing had not yet been invented. She might just look into that for a new project.

The dog let out a sound akin to a snicker, much to her surprise. Hermione paused the bleak inspection of her dress to lean in to get a better look at the animal. The intelligence in the dog's eyes was all too sharp to be purely canine smarts. While it had been many years since she'd last seen him this way, wouldn't it be just her luck if...


The dog jumped up from its spot on the blanket like it had been stung by a bee, but it wasn't quick enough for the blue blur that ran past Hermione. She watched as a young toddler took a flying leap and flung itself on the fleeing animal, latching onto its fur. The two struggled for dominance, and soon, the dog was pinned to the ground by what looked like a blue-haired three-year-old. It was her turn to snigger now. Whenever she'd gone out into London in her previous life, she'd been constantly dragging Teddy Lupin away from wildlife. If this dog was who she had an inkling it might be, it served him right if he'd become Teddy's furry "horsie."

"PadspadsPADDYpads woof! Run now!" Teddy cried from where he sat, bouncing up and down on the dog's stomach and a handful of fur in both hands. "Pads GO!" He merrily tugged as hard as he could on his makeshift reigns.

The dog fixed her with the most pathetic look she she'd ever seen on an animal and let out a high, keening whine. She cocked her head to the side and his tail wagged hopefully once, twice, before he scratched at his cheek with a foot.

So much for letting Sirius Black get his comeuppance. Hermione stood up and wearily approached Teddy, who was busy examining the loosened fur he'd ripped out of Sirius's coat. "Why hello there! Do you like puppies?" she asked Teddy, trying to distract his attention from the dog underneath him.

Teddy looked up at her with big blue eyes. Hermione watched his hair turned black. "Puppy is a horsie!" Teddy cried, grin lighting up his face.

"This puppy looks like he might be broken. I don't think he can give you a horsie ride. Would you like me to give you one instead?" Hermione asked him. Teddy thought about it for a few moments and reached his hands up to her. With a practiced swoop, Hermione gathered the toddler into her arms and balanced him on a hip. She swiftly rocked him back and forth, almost like a waltz, in a game she remembered he used to enjoy. He clutched to her sundress with glee and let out a squeal of laughter.

"You do like puppies, but you like horsie rides better, don't you?" she laughed. "Can you tell me what sound the puppy makes?"

Teddy grinned at her. "Puppy? Pads says, 'Bloody wanker!'" he squealed, answering her question. Hermione tripped on one of the tree roots, but at least the dog had the decency to look slightly ashamed at the young boy's parroting. She was definitely dealing with Sirius Black in Animagus form. She wasn't quite sure how comfortable she was, dealing with a man who, last time she'd seen him, had been snogging her, a complete stranger, in the dark but, for now, she didn't have time to think upon it.

"Oh, geez. I'm sorry!" another voice called out. Hermione spun around and was stopped by bright, emerald eyes from behind a pair of glasses.

Harry Potter, completely alive and breathing, stood in front of her, looking slightly sheepish. "I was put in charge of babysitting duties. I let those two out of my sight for two seconds and they end up on the other side of the field." He scratched at the back of his head and grinned. "Hermione Granger, right? You shared Head duties with my mate, Neville. We had a couple of NEWTs classes together. I was in Gryffindor."

A soft smile fell on Hermione's face, a smile that radiated the inner tranquillity she felt at seeing one of her best friends alive, utterly at peace with his family, friends, and position in life. In this world, Harry's life had been perfect, without struggle and hardship. "Harry Potter. I wouldn't forget who you are. Your DADA scores always ousted mine. What did you end up doing after school? I know you were an excellent Quidditch player; we never won a game against you guys."

He smiled back at her. "Quidditch is fun, but I ended up following my dad's footsteps and became an Auror. Head Auror Moody says I have what it takes to become Department Head by the time I'm forty, even if I do put my wand in my back pocket."

"I trust your buttocks are still attached?" she asked cheekily. It surprised a laugh out of him.

"Acquainted with Moody, then?" he wanted to know.

"No. Just familiar with the stories. I work for the Department of Experimental Charms and Hexes, so we really don't see much of the other departments unless they need something from us. Like if somebody accidentally sets off a Skin-Reversal Curse that doesn't have a counter spell, or something." She pondered for a short moment about the memory, absent-mindedly bouncing Teddy on her hip. "Actually, that Curse was an absolute nightmare. Regulus had the entire office dropping their projects to work out its counter-curse, but I was eventually able to figure out a solution that didn't involve ripping off the skin and re-growing it." Out of the corner of her eye, the dog cocked his head at this statement. She refused to interpret the look.

Harry grimaced. "I think I heard about that. The bloke was in the Auror department and mishandled a dark object. They tried to keep it quiet. I... er..." he stammered for a few moments, changing the subject and trying to figure out how to regain his babysitting duties. "I can take the kid if you like?" He gestured to Teddy, who was currently making himself acquainted to fistfuls of Hermione's hair.

"NO!" Teddy cried, clinging tighter to her sundress.

"I guess that answers it. Do you need me to do anything with him?" Hermione asked. Secretly, she was thrilled at having an excuse to spend more time with her old best friend. After realising he was alive and well again, and especially after watching him die once in her old life, she wasn't sure if she wanted to part from him just yet.

"Yeah, sure. That'd be excellent. Actually, I was keeping an eye on him for his parents. His father is currently comforting mine for losing the title of Picnic Grill Master to my mum. Since Teddy seems pretty attached to you-and I watched you bark in her ear when she wasn't paying attention. That wasn't very sportsmanship like," this was directed at the dog, which panted back lazily, "you'd be more than welcome to come join our table. Regulus Black has had some pretty neat things to say about you. And I'll bet you have some excellent stories of your own."

She chuckled to herself. Hermione did have some excellent stories to tell, even if some of those were private to Andromache. She followed Harry out from underneath the shade of the tree and through the sun drenched fields to a particularly loud and festive picnic table. The dog, still lounging on the checked blanket from where he'd been toppled by the toddler, watched the two go with a curious look.

23. An interlude in Regulus's office

It was a normal day in the office, if not more quiet than usual. Ministry members were still experiencing the sobering effects of returning to work after the picnic the Friday before. The surreal feeling of having re-met her best friends just days before-and people that she'd either seen die or were already dead by the time she'd been introduced into the wizarding world-had faded into the recesses of Hermione's mind. Having a breakthrough on a new project also helped focus her attention on more pressing matters.

It was a bit of a surprise, then, when the door that lead into the Department of Experimental Charms and Hexes slammed open down the hall with enough force to knock over a few items on her desk.

Her surprise quickly turned into irritation. It had been her idea, when she'd first started working with the department, to use specialized charms and potions to keep interference between projects from occurring. The slightest outside noise could make or break concentration, which could turn a nearly completed project into scorch marks on a desk. If it hadn't been for her fast control, Hermione would have exploded half the department within her first month on the job when Regulus had chosen an inopportune moment to force his way into her office. Her new project had swiftly turned into creating "bubbles" around the offices in the department to keep outside influences away. Now, faintly hearing resounding explosions and muttered yells as her co-workers lost control of their experiments, even after the dampening spells, was enough to spark her anger.

Hermione pushed up from her desk with a huff and poked her head out the door, an action mirrored by the other employees. An angry black whirlwind made its way through the exploded entranceway and past her, too quick for her to see who or what it was, and slammed into Regulus's office down the way.

"He took the bloody door right off its hinges," a disgruntled voice to her left said. Hermione turned to her neighbour. The middle-aged wizard's face was soot-darkened, his hair was singed, and it looked like he'd lost his eyebrows in an explosion. His department-issued fireproof robes were untouched, but his office gently emitted black clouds of smoke. "Bloody wanker must've really let at it with whatever he threw at the door. He's right lucky I've a hand about my wand, or otherwise, we'd have bigger troubles to deal with right now."

"Your office was incinerated?" a witch across the hall asked. She, too, looked a little worse for wear. Angry, red scratch marks marred her face and her hair had wildly escaped its confines.

"Completely. Been working on a portable Fiendfyre Charm you can carry in a jam jar. The explosion caused the jar to crack. Can you imagine what would've happened if I'd dropped it?" Hermione wasn't quite sure if she liked the proud, nonchalant manner the wizard used when he talked about his project.

At that moment, Regulus's door opened a crack and fifteen heads turned to stare at it. Fifteen pairs of eyes warily regarded an interoffice memo as it zoomed out lazily, but only fourteen breathed a sigh of relief when it made a slight turn and dived into Hermione's hair. She grumbled a sound of complaint as she went through the process of dislodging it. Fingers fought to unfold it from its paper plane shape and she was met by Regulus's looping handwriting.

"Granger. My office. Pronto. Leave your temper at the door."

"Have fun," the man to the left commented, reading the note over her shoulder.

She glared at him and left the confines of her office to walk down the hallway. 'Leave your temper at the door,' had just the opposite effect on her, and Hermione could feel her ire increasing with each footstep. The eyes continued to follow her. Reaching for the door handle, she turned and spun. "Don't you all have projects to be completing?" she snapped. The other fourteen heads disappeared as one, but she could still feel their eyes on her. She opened Regulus's door and slammed it shut behind her. Within, she was met with a tempest.

Regulus's office was a mess. His desk was untouched, but various implements and objects had been thrown at walls in a fit of anger. A crushed bottle of brandy leaked onto the carpet. Regulus, in turn, calmly sat in his Boss Chair, a comfortable monstrosity of stuffing and leather he'd gotten the Ministry to finance. He took careful sips from his own tumbler of brandy and fixed his attention on the raging storm in front of him.

Inside, Hermione let out a sigh. She'd met him both as a teenager and an adult, so she should have expected Sirius Black to be the type of person to literally blow down doors when he was angry. He currently paced the centre of his brother's office, wildly flinging his wand about and exploding small things when his temper overcame him. Sirius's exploding personality was not one to take lightly, especially when he was having a tiff like this.

However, Hermione wasn't about to sit back and take the garbage he was probably going to spew at her. If he wanted to fight, then Regulus couldn't stop her from retaliating. It was important, though, to figure out why Sirius was so angry, just in case any retaliation led to her getting fired. Her only consolation was that she wouldn't have time to be nervous in his presence if he was acting like a petulant child. She'd be able to counteract his anger with a bit of her own.

"Hermione," Regulus greeted cordially, the tranquil foil to his brother's raging anger. "Please come in. Watch out for any shards of glass, Love. I've had a bit of an accident with a brandy decanter." As well as, apparently, a few picture frames, paperweights, inkbottles, and-oh, Merlin. Hermione tried her best to ignore the fluttering pages of a book that appeared to be recently torn out. Sirius Black had better hope for the sanctity of his life that he hadn't touched a book that couldn't be immediately replaced at Flourish and Blotts. If he'd ripped apart an antique, Hermione would use him as her guinea pig.

"I got your memo. Luckily, I was only working on practical theory when the silence was rudely interrupted," she stated. Her eyes drifted over to Sirius. "I've been working on time-activated runic spells. Did either of you take Ancient Runes?" When she was in the past, she knew Regulus had planned on continuing with the subject through NEWTs level, and even if Sirius hadn't taken extra course loads, he would know the basic runic alphabet. "My newest project involves combining Hagalaz with Thurisaz."

This announcement caused Regulus to raise his eyebrows and regain his posture while Sirius's anger turned to slight calculation.

"You're trying to combine Hagalaz and Thurisaz?" he demanded accusingly. "You could decimate the entire Ministry!" Oh, good. He was familiar with the highly destructive tendencies of both runes.

Hermione glared at him. "I'm trying to develop a contained detonation for construction and rock quarries. I have excellent control of my wand, so I doubt that I alone would cause an explosion. What could have 'decimated' the entire Ministry, though, is if I'd been working on the wand work, rather than the theory, when a petulant individual decided to storm up to the department, blow open the entrance doors, stomp through the hallway, and force himself into his brother's office, disrupting many individual projects past the protection charms we've set up around the offices." She might have enjoyed the sputtering anger on his face a little too much. "Was there something you needed from me, Regulus?"

"We'll talk later about additional precautions we might take as you further your investigation on runic sequences," he told her. The look on his face added that they would probably be discussing the reasons why she would no longer continue her research on Hagalaz and Thurisaz combinations, too. "In the meantime, we've got other problems on our hands. Sirius, this is Hermione Granger. She graduated from Ravenclaw at the top of her class with the highest NEWTs scores in half a century. She's been working in my department for several years now and has only blown up her office once." Only in the Department of Experimental Charms and Hexes would a limited amount of office explosions mark proficiency in wand work. With only one office detonation, Hermione could be considered a pro.

"That explosion was your fault," she shot back at him, half-heartedly.

He continued, ignoring her. "Hermione, this is my brother, Sirius Black."

Neither made to acquaintance themselves to the other. Hermione was still ticked at his temper tantrum, and Sirius was itching for a fight, the desire to take it out on the witch in lieu of his brother growing.

"Sirius is currently employed under the Department of Mysteries. He's one of the Department Heads there." Hermione's anger drained slightly at this. She could see where the conversation was going.

Regulus continued. "I sent the DoM a formal request this morning on your desire to desist further experimentation with the Time-Turner. I told them that the Deutsch," he used the slang term that had been coined from their department's anagram-DoECH, "would be scrapping the Time-Turner project and destroying all associated research. I sent that letter," he paused to look at his wrist; Hermione was amused to notice he did not wear a watch, "about twenty minutes ago." He turned to Sirius. "How long would you say it takes to get here from the ninth level?"

"It would depend. Is one using the stairs or the lift? We know one needn't bother to open and close doors, though. Ours is currently hanging off its hinges," Hermione answered.

"This is bloody ridiculous," Sirius raged, interrupting the banter. "The Department of Mysteries has been working alongside your department for two years now, hoping to produce this mechanism. Just last week, you said yourself that a prototype had been created and the project was closing on its finish. Why the hell are you wasting our time and resources when you won't even go through with it?" Sirius demanded, pounding on Regulus's desk.

"Don't take it out on him," Hermione shot at the elder Black. She ran a hand through her frizzy brown mane and it crackled with unrestrained static electricity. It wasn't stupid, perfect, and shiny like the hair sported by the two look-alike brothers in front of her, and she adored it. "I'm the one who was the Deutsch liaison with your department. It was my decision to discontinue and destroy the project. Your brother was just there to support my choices."

Sirius stared at her incredulously. "You? You don't look any older than my godson and he's only barely out of Hogwarts. How the hell did you get landed with a project like this?"

"Did you miss the part where I said her NEWTs scores were the best in half a century?" Regulus asked from the sidelines. "Actually, you'd better remember that before she decides your bollocks are better off detached from your body. She doesn't like being talked down to. Age, or the lack thereof, has never been one of Hermione's problems."

Hermione cast Regulus a dirty look before she continued her fight with Sirius. "I used a Time-Turner through my third year to take additional classes. I'm very familiar with the process, and like Regulus says, I don't take kindly to people who underestimate me due to my age, house status, or birth. Just because I'm twenty doesn't mean I don't have a brain."

"If you don't want to be labelled due to your age, then maybe you should consider making adult decisions and sticking to them, instead of scrapping them for the next best idea," Sirius shot back. "You just tossed hours of my Department's work into the rubbish bin."

"How dare you?" she cried, advancing upon him. The static in her hair crackled, and he met her on an even playing field. The blank, sneering look on his face only continued to irritate her. "How dare you assume that my decision to halt this project was made lightly? You aren't the only one who spent hours of work on this project. Do you have any idea what it's like, realising I have to destroy the thing I've dedicated my life to for the past two years?"

"Then don't destroy it. Sodding finish it and be over with it!" They were now nearly chest-to-chest. Hermione craned her head up to glare into his face and he glowered down at her.

"I can't!" she hollered.

"Don't you yell at me!" he yelled.

"Well, pull your head out of your bum long enough to stop approaching it from a 'poor me, poor us' point of view and focus on the big picture." She jabbed him on the chest. "The Ministry is still full of bureaucracy and there will always be corrupt politicians waltzing about. What do you think it'd take for somebody like Lucius Malfoy to bribe the Minister into seeing the Department of Mystery's 'newest accomplishment'?" She jabbed into his chest again as she asked the question. "And what if that stupid peacock decided, 'Oh. I'm not quite sure how happy with all the Mudbloods running around, sullying the ground I walk upon. I think I'll just Accio that Time-Turner and make sure You-Know-Who lives to purge our society,'?" Her next jab was accompanied by a very angry snarl. "Do you really want an object lying around that can tempt even the most noble of people to change the past 'for the better'? Because I'd really like not to live through a second Great Wizarding War, it it's all the same to you."

He latched onto her finger as she went to jab his chest again. It was then that she realised how close their faces had become in the argument. An Azkaban-free life had been good to him, and very kind to his features. She gulped and tried her best to ignore the memories of last time their faces had been this close together.

"How can you really look at society that harshly?" Sirius wanted to know. He ignored her attempts to pull back her finger. "Do you really distrust people that much?"

Hermione let out a hollow laugh. There was no way he could ever understand the full emotion and history behind her realistic ideology. If he ever had an inkling that she'd been to the past to play with his, and his loved ones', history, he'd be absolutely livid. "I had an ordinary Time-Turner that could only go back twelve hours," she partially lied. "I only ever had honest and noble intentions towards it. And I still felt the pull to go back and change things 'a little.' Now what if I had the means and desire to go back even farther and change things a lot?"

She futilely yanked at her finger, which he still refused to release. She noted now that the spitting anger he had met her with only a monologue before had melted away for a familiar, pensive look across his face. Hermione hadn't liked this look when she masqueraded as Andromache, and she certainly did not like it when she was in her own skin. It was a look that read deep contemplation and, ultimately, greater trouble for her. Their faces were still too close together for comfort, and she couldn't free herself from his grasp.

From the sidelines, Regulus watched the interaction with growing interest. He hadn't seen a fight like this in over two decades. It had been twenty-two years now, in fact. Ignoring the rest of their argument, Regulus began to piece the facts together. There was prototype Time-Turner with the ability to travel back just twenty-two years, if not even further. There was also an intelligent, moral young lady with her loved ones' interests at heart. Regulus recalled another's mysterious appearance, disappearance, and the interactions she'd had with his brother in between. This would serve as food for thought later. For now, he needed to keep the two deadlocked in front of him from killing one another.

24. An interlude in the Three Broomsticks

"And she just went at you?" Remus asked incredulously. Peter snickered into his drink, unwilling to meet anybody's eyes.

Sirius wearily dragged a hand through his hair. "Whose side are you all on?" he demanded. He glared at James, watching the drink sputter from his friend's nose. Sirius dug a dirty handkerchief out of a pocket and flung it at James's head.

"Ta," the other man wheezed, trying his best to mop up the drink before Madam Rosmerta wandered over to yell at them.

"I don't think this is a case of being with you or against you. From the sound of it, you're lucky she didn't blow up the Department," Remus added in with a frown.

"Learn to live a little, Moony," Peter piped in. He took a deep drink. "Pads here hasn't had a bird stick up to him like that in ages. You've seen how they just slobber all over him and agree with everything he says. Does him good to meet up with a witch with a little backbone." He abruptly turned the conversation into a different direction. "You going to ask her on a date?"

"The 'bird' in question is Harry's age," Sirius replied dryly. "She also seemed more concerned for the broken entryway door than she did for me."

"How do you know that?" Peter demanded.

Sirius paused thoughtfully for a moment. "There might have been accusations of having my head too far up my arse to see matters clearly. I was also referred to as a 'petulant teenager' somewhere in the conversation. And then, right after she'd defended her right to drop this project she'd been working on, she seemed to calm down a bit, up until she remembered I...uh... accidentally freed the door from its oppressive constraints. Regulus shielded his office to keep her in there while he went to deal with 'matters,' and took her wand with him. He conveniently forgot to silence her before he left, though, and I thought I'd help him out a bit at that. Not before a few more accusations and an offer to provide me with information on ministry-funded anger management classes and sensitivity training, though."

"You cast a Silencing Charm on her in the middle of a tirade? Do you have a death wish?" James wheezed, partially recovered from inhaling his drink. "Lily's constantly telling me I'm one of the daftest people she's ever met, but even I'm not that daft."

"I didn't cast a Silencing Charm on her!" Sirius defended. The fact that he didn't elaborate on the accusation did not bode well. James, knowing his best friend for three decades now, raised an eyebrow. "Okay," Sirius admitted, "There is a possibility that I froze her tongue to the roof of her mouth before I left, but I didn't cast any silencing spells on her."

There was a round of laughter at the table and a grin unfurled on Sirius's face. He was unable to keep the smile from forming at the memory of the way her eyes burned as he left.

"You've always had a way with women," James chuckled. "I met the girl at the Ministry picnic. Harry introduced her as his class's Head Girl. She didn't seem like the type to be so full of fire like that," he commented.

Sirius now smirked at his friend. "She's got a spark of temper that could put Lily to shame. I just seem to have a gift of bringing it out in her, Regulus says. He also says she's one of the most brilliant people he's ever met and has an inclination for creativity."

"Ahh," James sighed wistfully. "It seems like it was just yesterday that we were third years sitting in Dumbledore's office, listening to McGonagall Floo my parents. She used those very same words, didn't she?"

"I don't think she used them in the same context," Remus replied dryly. "As it is, I think you should make sure your will is updated and current, Padfoot."

"I really don't want to be there when she comes for revenge," Peter agreed. "'Hell hath no fury' and such on."

"You think she'll come back for more?" Sirius asked. He tried to look less interested in the prospect than what he was feeling.

Remus chuckled. "I don't think you'll be able to keep her away. In fact, from the sound of it, I'd be looking into renewing your passport right about now."

25. A second interlude in the Three Broomsticks

"Rough week?" Madam Rosmerta asked with a gentle tone.

Hermione looked up with haunted eyes from where she was hunched over a butterbeer. "You really have no idea."

Madam Rosmerta chuckled heartily. "I might have an inkling. Four of my regulars were here last night, discussing an incident that happened in your department. It sounds like there was a fight between one of the workers there and an employee from the Department of Mysteries."

"Oh really?" This caught Hermione's interest. "What impression did you get from the situation?" she asked.

Rosmerta's eyes twinkled. "Not that my opinion matters or anything, I'm just a barkeep, but Sirius Black ought to be terrified for his life."

"Is he?" Hermione asked calculatingly.

"That boy? Chances are, he's looking forward to the challenge."

"Then I'd better give him something to look forward to. My boss does say I have a tendency to be maliciously creative."

intermède: La vie (de Sirius) en rose

Regulus could hear his older brother stomp into the kitchen, muttering and grumbling and generally being a wonderful morning person, and he took his time finishing his perusal of the Daily Prophet. "The Holyhead Harpies made it through the quasi-semi-finals," he said, rustling the pages. "Looks like Harry might end up taking time off of work like he was afraid he'd have to. Ginny wants him to travel with her if the team makes it to the World Cup. She wants to take a holiday after the season is over. Molly's going to have kittens."

He put down the paper to look at Sirius. There were several, heavy seconds of silence before the gut-wrenching laughter was forcefully pulled from him. His guess may have been out on a limb, but it seemed like Sirius's god-awful mood this morning could be attested to the bright pink hair he sported on his head. Even more amusing was the fact that Sirius's eyebrows, too, were horrendously pink. Regulus was willing to bet the hair on his head wasn't the only place Sirius had turned rose. However, as a younger brother, he lived with a strong, "Don't ask, don't tell," policy, and he wasn't that curious.

Sirius peevishly waited for his brother's laughter to die out. And waited. And waited a bit more. Finally, he cast a Silencing Charm to end the guffaws. "I don't know how that Granger bint did it," Sirius spat, stabbing his spoon into his oatmeal. "It burns, the fact that she knew I have to take a flea potion one a month, although I'm really hoping she doesn't know why. If word leaks out I didn't register as an Animagus, I'm bringing James and Peter down with me." Regulus quietly winced at the treatment the porcelain bowl was getting. "On top of that, she was somehow able to intercept the potion, which I have delivered to my office in the DoM." He glared at Regulus, as if his younger brother was at fault for his current predicament. "What takes the bloody cake, though, is that I have no sodding idea how she dyed my hair. She made it so I'll have to ask for her help to get back to normal."

Regulus lifted the Silencing Charm with a swirl of his wand. "It serves you right. She ended up sitting in my office for over an hour because she was silent and I forgot about her. You deserve whatever you've got coming."

"You think it'll continue?" Sirius asked, forgetting his anger with the oatmeal and becoming curious. Regulus registered the look of curiosity and filed his assessment away for further thought.

"Hermione can be a very vengeful girl. You're lucky she didn't do worse to you. But then again, if she had done worse, it'd mean her retribution was over. I think you've got a bit of a ride in store," Regulus replied thoughtfully, focusing back to the matter at hand.

Regulus didn't much care for the boyish grin that lit Sirius's features, not when it was directed at his protégé. "Excellent. I look forward to it."

27. An interlude in the Ministry of Magic

Something was wrong with the wards on the Ministry. For some reason, Sirius was unable to Apparate into the designated arrival points. Taking the Floo ended up being out of the question, as well. Every time he got close to his destination, a faint, orange glow of the Algiz rune, the ancient rune for shielding, on top of what looked suspiciously like the rune of the Grim, would burn in the air and he'd find himself flung back to his starting point. He'd been forced to use the visitor's entrance into the Ministry. If he hadn't had years of pranking people and having fun at others' expense, his face would have matched his hair for all the laughing and pointing he encountered as he began his descent to the ninth level. He'd even run into James and Harry, both of whom had been anything but supportive.

The fact that the lift doors glowed orange with the same runic equation when he got close to it did not bode well. Sirius was forced to take the stairs to his department, only to find out that the doors leading into the DoM rejected him as well. He found himself taking the stairs back up to the third level to pay Hermione Granger a visit as he reflected on what his brother had told him about the girl. 'Hermione can be a very vengeful girl' was an understatement. Not only had the girl made sure that he would have to publicly show his pink hair to the entire Ministry, but she'd also made sure that he would have to appeal to her and grovel for her help.

The girl was a bloody genius when it came to playing mental games. Underneath the embarrassment, frustration, and pink hair, Sirius was secretly thrilled. If she wanted to play games, so be it. He chuckled a bit when he entered the Deutsch department, noticing a faint blue glow of runes on the door. Eihwaz, the Ancient Rune for protection, sat on top of the Grim's rune, and both were embedded to the department's entrance. She'd warded the damn doors against his magic, guaranteeing that he'd never blow them off their hinges again.

The Department of Experimental Charms and Hexes's hallway was exceedingly quiet. With slight trepidation, Sirius made his way to the door with "Hermione Granger" on the nameplate and sharply knocked upon it.

Inside, Hermione had been expecting his arrival for several minutes now, ever since she had felt the activation on the runes in the DoM, but she was willing to let him sweat it out a bit. She waited until he'd knocked a second time before responding in her sweetest voice, "Come in!"

It took all her will power not to laugh at the disgruntled man in front of her. Pink was not his colour. For all the trouble she'd gone through, what with bribing Anthony Goldstein to slip into his superior's office and steal the potion, wait for her to tamper with it, and return it to its proper place, it had been worth it. "Can I help you, Mr. Black? I'm awfully busy today," she told him, the perfect picture of innocence. She leaned forward, resting on her desk with elbows propped up on the top and hands folded underneath her chin. It was almost like talking to an angel who'd lost a fight with a hairbrush.

"I seem to be having this problem with a slight discolouration of my hair," he responded, matching her tone. He conjured a chair in front of her desk, a monstrosity that would have put Regulus's office chair to shame, and made himself comfortable. "I was using a flea potion on my dog and, and when he went to shake, it got into my hair."

She responded with a thoughtful noise. "Did your dog also end up pink?" she questioned. The smug amusement in her eyes tickled him... pink. Quite literally.

"Indeed." This answer came out a little more grated than necessary. Her lips folded upward in a greater smirk.

"And I see your eyebrows are also pink. Am I to guess that the discolouration doesn't end there?" she asked.

Now the girl was just playing with him. He'd play back. "Darling," he purred, leaning forward. He was thrilled to watch her smirk drop and a look of uncertainty growing on her face at his tone. "If you really wanted to know if the hair on the top of my head matched everywhere else, all you had to do was ask. I'd be glad to show you." He stood up and made to reach for his trousers' fly underneath his robes. The panic and horror on her face amused and annoyed him at the same time.

Just then, Regulus chose to rescue her. He poked his head into Hermione's open office, slightly surprised to find his brother tugging at his trousers and Hermione's responding look of horror. "If you want to show off the Black family jewels, do it on your own time. The Ministry isn't paying Hermione to be scarred for life, and I don't want to have to explain it to the minister why we need another employee sent for mental healing." He turned to address Hermione. "If you could come into my office after you finish this discussion, I'd appreciate it. The Department of International Magical Cooperation is hounding me about lending you to the Americans again. I'm hoping if you help me devise a reply that cleverly says, 'Bugger off,' they'll finally get it." He turned to leave, paused, and shot his brother a dirty grin. "I noticed the runic work on the Apparation point, Floo entries, and the lift. Nice work, Granger." He pretended not to chuckle at the pithy, dirty words his brother had for him.

"What do you say about helping me with my hair, Granger?" Sirius asked, sitting back into his conjured chair and propping his feet up on her desk.

Hermione glared at the dragon hide boots that were resting on the parchment designs for a project she was working on. "Shouldn't you be more concerned with helping your poor dog's fur?" she asked. She smacked at his boots, but he didn't move.

"My dog doesn't work in the Ministry of Magic. A little pink fur never hurt the poor creature. I, on the other hand, don't feel like having to answer questions on how a witch half my age bested me at my own game. It's bad enough that my mates will never let me live it down, let alone their kids," he replied.

She grinned. "Ran into Mr. Potter, then, did you? I was hoping you'd have to come across him." She picked up a piece of parchment resting on a nearby end table and ripped it cleanly in two. It glowed bright orange for a second before the colour faded away. "The runes that were keeping you from using public transportation into the Ministry, the lifts, or getting into your office are now down. Your hair, on the other hand, will either naturally turn to its black colour within five washings, or you can shave it off and it'll grow back normally. I directly tampered with the ingredients in the flea potion, so I can't rip a piece of paper and have things turn back to normal."

"So I'm stuck with this hair until I get a shower?" he whined.

"You can always shave it off. There are multiple Hair Regeneration charms and potions."

He grumbled a bit to himself. "I just got my hair where I like it. I don't want to have to retrain it to give off this 'thoroughly shagged' look. You play a dirty game, Granger."

She gave him a toothy grin. "When I do retribution, I do it well. However, I now have work to complete, so if you could remove your feet from my desk, I'd appreciate it."

Sirius lazily stretched and stood. He went to leave the office and waited for her attention to be elsewhere. Grinning, he covertly pulled his wand from his sleeve and cast a charm at her before walking away. He didn't look back to see its result.

Terry Boot passed a triumphant-looking, pink-headed Sirius Black as he made his way to Hermione's office. Anthony Goldstein had been spreading rumours that the two were involved in some sort of petty prank war and news had gotten around about Black's hair. He wanted to know what the older man had done to his friend to deserve Hermione's attention.

"May I come in?" he asked, poking his head into Hermione's office.

"Oh! Hey Terry! Come on in. I was about to go see Regulus, but he can wait a second. I haven't talked to you since the picnic. How's Susan?" The witch behind the desk sounded like Hermione. She dressed like Hermione. Her skin and eyes were even the same colour as Hermione's. But her hair...

"What in Nimue's knickers happened to your hair?"

"My hair?" Her hands flew to her head and felt around for the wild mess that was normally there. They met perfectly coifed corkscrew curls instead.

"Oh gods!" she wailed, hastily throwing open her desk drawers. She frantically shifted through the contents, pulling out books and papers, broken knickknacks, and the miscellaneous things that could end up shoved in a space with an Extending Charm cast upon it. Towards the bottom of the mess, she found the hand mirror she kept 'just in case' and gazed about her head.

Andromache Black, albeit with darker skin and eyes, and lighter hair, stared back at her.

She bit back a hurried scream and fumbled around for her wand in panic. "Finite Incantatem!" she cried, poking her wand at her skull. Nothing happened. "Finite Incantatem! Finite-bloody hell-stop screwing around! Go away!" she yelled at her hair. She threw the mirror back down on her desk and looked up to Terry with barely veiled panic. With her free hand, she ripped at the corkscrew curls, trying to pull them out of their shape. "I can't be seen like this!" she cried, jumping up from her desk. She grabbed several handfuls of parchment and shoved them into her briefcase when the curls merely bounced back into position. "If any of them see me like this, they'll know who I am and I'll be in even deeper trouble than I am now!"

Terry reached out and latched on to her as she went to bypass him. "Hermione. Calm down. So your hair is a little different," 'Incredibly different,' he added to himself. Almost as if she weren't Hermione Granger anymore, "What's so wrong about it?"

"Ooh Merlin," she groaned. Her eyes were wide with panic. "Sirius did this. Before he came into my office, my hair was perfectly normal. Merlin, I hope he didn't stick around to see what the result was. I..." she trailed off and pulled herself out Terry's grasp. "I need to get home and disappear until this wears off. I can't be seen like this." She poked her head in the hallway and looked around to see if anybody was present. "Regulus-oh blast. Regulus. Terry!" she turned to him and fixed him with a pleading look. "Can you please pop your head into Regulus's office and let him know an emergency came up and I needed to go home immediately? I'll owl him if I need to be gone for an extended period of time. I just... I need to get home right now. Thanks! I owe you one!" and then she was gone.


"What did you do to her?" Sirius was used to his office door being slammed open, but he was not used to his normally calm and collected brother doing it. Regulus stood in the doorway, shaking in dark fury with his wand pointed at Sirius.

"What did I do to whom? You need to be a little more specific," Sirius asked. He was also used to being accused of doing things to people, but he couldn't think of whom he had wronged now.

"One of Hermione's friends went to visit her right after you left. He told me that she'd said you had cast a spell at her. She began to panic and ran out of the Ministry with a message that, if she were gone for an extended stay, she'd let me know. Hermione Granger never runs away from work and she's never gone for extended stays. Hermione Granger is the one who needs kicked out every day because she'll end up staying and working until midnight. What did you do to her?" His wand emitted furious sparks as he spoke.

Sirius was flabbergasted. "I didn't do anything to her. We were bantering about my hair. She told me that I needed to get my boots off her desk for a meeting with you," he stated in innocence. He scrunched his forehead in thought. "I... as I was leaving, I shot her with a Hair Control Charm. I figured if I had pink hair, she could make do without that bush on her head." He jumped from where Regulus flung a stinging hex. "All it would have done is curl her hair. I swear on Merlin's saggy y-fronts," he added, watching Regulus's wand warily

"Then you'd better go fix it," Regulus spat. "You go and crawl on your hands and knees until she forgives you, because she didn't even bother to tidy up her damn office before she left. Whatever you did, you really messed her up."

Sirius nodded. "I need her address. I'll Apparate and see what I can do."


Three showers later, Hermione towelled off her hair and gazed at her reflection in the mirror. Albeit dripping lazily, her hair seemed like it was back to its normal state. When she'd jumped out of the shower the first time, she'd been horrified to notice the curls were still there, already jumping back to their perfectly curly state. Now, they were just frizzing out and beginning to halo around her head.

There was a knock on her front door. Abandoning her towel, Hermione tossed a dressing gown over her body and curiously headed to the flat's entrance. It was the middle of the day, and most of the people she knew were at work. Who could be bothering her now?

She opened the door to a pensive, pink-haired Sirius Black. Her gut reaction was to slam it right back in his face, but his apprehensive demeanour stopped her. His eyes raced up and down her body, not in a sexual manner, but in an apprehensive way. "Are you alright?" he blurted out.

Hermione was taken aback. "I'm sorry?" she asked. Crookshanks, who had been sleeping in a cat bed by the door, began to twine curiously around her legs.

"Regulus came bursting into my office, demanding blood, and retribution, and my first-born child, and said I'd gone and scared you out of the country. He said I could either fix things or become a eunuch. Probably. Are you alright?"

Hermione, while familiar with fretful, nervous men, was not familiar with fretful, guilty-looking Blacks outside her flat door. She opened the door wider to allow him entrance. "I'm fine. The spell it... er... scared me a bit. Surprised me, really. I wasn't expecting it so might have overreacted slightly. Please, come in." Sirius followed her in. He curiously looked around the flat as she closed the door behind them.

"Surprised you?" he inquired, having approved of her living quarters. There were more books crowded into the room than anything else. Crookshanks left his pursuit of trying to trip her by twining around her legs to inspect his instead.

Hermione's face tinged pink at his words. "I don't react well to surprises. Or maybe you missed Regulus's chance to brag about the time I almost blew up the department." Sirius chuckled, tinged with relief. He wasn't used to worrying about his prank victims.

For the first time since he arrived, he took in her dripping state with masculine approval. It took several moments for Hermione to also notice that she was in her flat with and unfamiliar male, and was only wearing a dressing gown, which caused her to blush even harder. She moved to pull the gown closer together.

"Since you aren't dead or dying, why don't you get dressed and come with me to lunch," he proposed. She looked surprised at the offer. Sirius had to admit that even he was feeling a little taken back at his suggestion.

"I... uh..." she began, trying to find an excuse to deny him.

He grinned his lazy grin and leaned in. "I'm sorry. That came out as if I were giving you an option other than going out to lunch with me. Should I rephrase the statement?" He tugged on a wet strand of her hair.

"Do I have much of a choice?" she asked with a frown.

"Well, you can go to lunch in your dressing gown, or you can bother to get dressed, but I'm not really complaining if you go as is," he stated with a lascivious grin.

Hermione slapped at the hand tugging on one of her curls. "Give me ten minutes. Go wait in the living room." She turned away. "If you break anything, I'll make sure your pink hair lasts longer than a few washings."

28. An interlude in the canteen

If she didn't get some free time to herself, and soon, Hermione was going to explode. In between office meetings, the time she spent with Sirius, which had surprisingly increased in the past couple of months, and working alongside other departments to help with spell creation, Hermione hadn't had time for her own projects-or thoughts-in what seemed like forever. Her mood definitely reflected the growing desire to be left alone. Why Regulus felt the need to kick her out of her office and force her to eat in the Ministry mess hall, then, she didn't know. He'd be lucky if there was enough of the eatery left over if she lost her temper.


She started at the sound of her name, nearly spilling her drink. She found herself counting to ten so she wouldn't pull out her wand and mercilessly hex the person crying out for her. Her patience was starting wear thin and she found herself longing for dive-bombing canaries.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you." She turned slowly and was surprised to see Harry grinning down on her. "I never see you here in the mess hall, so I wasn't expecting you to pop out of the woodwork like that. Are you meeting up with somebody else, or would you like to have lunch with me and my mates?"

She was so dumbfounded at being invited to do anything with her previous friend that she could only nod in response. Harry led her to a table off to the east end of the hall and motioned for her to sit down. She did so numbly, noting Neville Longbottom grinning at her from the left and Ronald Weasley sitting across from her, busily contemplating a plateful of hotdogs.

"Nice to see you again, Granger," Neville commented, clapping her on the shoulder. "I heard you've been doing well in the Department of Experimental Charms and Hexes. I figured that's why we don't see more of you around here. I didn't know you were friends with Harry."

"Please, call me 'Hermione,'" she informed him, picking up her fork and poking at her salad. "Harry and I were reacquainted at the Ministry picnic. I helped with babysitting Teddy Lupin for a bit."

Harry grinned. "I would have never guessed how good you are with kids," he admitted, beginning to eat his own lunch. "I was a little surprised at how well Teddy took to you. His hair was curly and brown for about a week."

Hermione laughed at this. "Poor kid. I wouldn't wish this mess on anybody," she said, referring to her own locks, "But I'm fond of it. It's more unique than regular curls."

"I heard you were responsible for Sirius's pink hair," Ron said with a mouthful before swallowing and gave her a sheepish grin. "I'm Ron Weasley, by the way. I think we had a few classes together back at Hogwarts."

Hermione smiled at him brightly. "I remember you. Do you have any idea how hard I cheered when Gryffindor won the Quidditch Cup in our fifth year? It wiped that smirk right off of Malfoy's face when he realised 'Weasley is Our King' had backfired on him."

Ron let out a merry chuckle. "It's one of my favourite Hogwarts memories. The look of horror on Malfoy's face when Harry grabbed the snitch from right under his nose."

Neville laughed. "Harry always got the snitch before Malfoy could," he added. "It happened too often for it to be your favourite memory."

The conversation turned into amicable bickering about their favourite Hogwarts memories, and a sense of normality fell over Hermione. It was as they were talking about infamous potions disasters, several of which had been Neville's fault, when the conversation turned into a branch of thought that Hermione was startled to hear brought up. "Sorry. I forgot I'd meant to ask, but... how did you start a prank war with Sirius Black?" Ron questioned.

Hermione blushed and explained to them how the situation had begun. When she reached the part about tampering with his dog's flea potion, thus turning Sirius's hair pink, the three boys roared with laughter. Hermione grinned, feeling very accomplished with her prank choice.

"I hear you've been spending a lot of time with him lately," Harry said when the laughter finally died down. "It seems like you two have been getting along alright, aside from the pranks."

"Are you and Sirius dating?" Neville asked.

"No," she responded, the same time Harry commented, "Yeah."

They both shot each other an identical look of surprise. "Who told you Sirius and I were dating?" Hermione asked, slightly affronted.

"I assumed as much from what I've heard. Sirius and my dad are best friends, so he's around a lot. He won't shut up about you," Harry replied.

"Merlin, Potter," an unwelcome voice sneered from behind them, interrupting the conversation. Hermione closed her eyes and let out a huff. Only Draco Malfoy could ruin an otherwise perfect lunch. "I wouldn't have put it past you to befriend a Mudblood, but to think she may stand a chance against the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black? Centuries of Black ancestors are turning over in their graves at the thought of a Black heir with a Muggle."

Hermione turned her head to glare at Draco Malfoy. Much like his father, he'd begun 'training' as a Ministry bureaucrat not long after graduation. Hermione was lucky that she didn't have to run into him often because, when she did, the fights never went well. Even in a different timeline, Draco Malfoy was one of the few individuals who could drive her to using violence. He currently stood off to the side of their group, haughtily staring down his nose at them. He had some nerve, cornering three Gryffindors, four if she included herself. The result would probably not be pretty.

Harry had to hold down Ron, whose face was turning a blotchy red over the term 'Mudblood.' Hermione shot him a quick, pointed look, and shook her head. She could fight her own battles. She turned around in her seat so she could face Malfoy. "Considering this 'Muggle's' NEWT scores far outranked the school's majority, including the average score in Slytherin, I think it's safe to say I'm more of a witch that most of the girls we went to school with. How many NEWTs did Parkinson get again?" she asked innocently.

Malfoy sneered at her. "You're just an upstart bitch. Just because a real witch actually worked for her grades when you were every teacher's underdog-pet, you think you're better than her?" he queried.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Funny, but I don't remember Parkinson doing much working off her back. Did she even know where the library was?"

Neville snickered at her side. Bright red splotches of anger burnt into Malfoy's cheeks. "Pure-bloods aren't the ones who have to whore their way into positions of standing; we're usually born with it, Weasley and Longbottom excluded. Tell me, do you enjoy spending time with imbeciles and blood traitors, Granger? I bet Weasley's rare moments of acumen are disheartening. In fact, I know of a spell that can reduce his intelligence to a toddler's. With the flick of a wand, it'll be like you're dealing with a three-year-old. I'll even tell you the incantation if you promise to use it on him."

Hermione wasn't sure what happened next. At the mention of the spell You-Know-Who had used on Ron in her past life, her body had gone instantly cold and then burning hot with rage. Time slowed down to a halt. She could feel her heart pumping blood through her veins, each pulse growing farther and farther apart. There was a moment of pure timelessness before reality sped up and came crashing down on her. Her heart sped up again, pumping like a roaring train.

The next thing she knew, she was very surprised to find herself straddling Draco Malfoy's torso with bruised knuckles, as he gazed up at her through a bloody nose and mouth. Until that moment, the sounds in the canteen had vanished and all she could hear was the roaring in her ears. Now, they all came rushing back in fury.

She viciously clawed at somebody's hand, fighting the attempts to pull her off Malfoy by raking her nails across exposed flesh. "If I ever hear mention of that spell ever again," Hermione began vehemently, not caring that her grasp on his throat was probably doing damage to his trachea, "if I hear news that that it had been cast, or referenced to, if whispers of it reach my, or some random Muggle suffers from similar symptoms," several more sets of hands reached in to pull her off. One managed to release her hold on Malfoy's neck, "I will hunt you down and make you very, very sorry you were ever conceived. I'm always looking for guinea pigs to try out the spells I've created that my boss doesn't know about. Nobody would ever know what happened to you. One day, Draco Malfoy would simply disappear... like magic."

Arms wrapped around her elbows, yanking her backwards and off Malfoy. Hermione fought back, trying to free herself from the grasp; she wasn't done taking out her anger on the vile ferret yet. Another body forced itself between her and Malfoy, drawing her to its chest and into a hug, but blocking the vision of her opponent. Once again ready to use physical force to claw off her captor's face, Hermione's eyes moved instinctively upwards as she fought her restraints. Sirius Black's concerned face gazed down upon her. Staring into his eyes, the reality of the situation came back full-force. Hermione had lost control and had physically attacked Malfoy out of fear and anger. Slowly, her face crumpled. She collapsed into a broken sob against Sirius's chest and clutched to his robes for dear life. She wondered if she'd ever completely get over the horrors of her previous existence.

29. An interlude in a hurry

The Alarm Charm had not gone off on her wand. She did not wake up to the screeching, aggravating blaring that normally forced her out of blissful oblivion every weekday. Today, it was Crookshanks who brought forth her consciousness, half an hour later than usual. His Majesty wanted to be fed, and he made his expectations exceedingly clear as he lapped at her chin.

Pushing her cat away, Hermione groggily turned to the clock on the wall. She took a moment to register the time and then sat up with a sudden start, sending her blankets flying. She bounded out of bed and ran into the bathroom, quickly gathering toiletries as she did so. She was running late. Very late. On the day of an important meeting. Today, she would officially destroy the Time-Turner prototype and all the notes she'd made on it. The Department of Mysteries was making a to-do out of it, turning it into a small ceremony. And she was running absolutely and utterly late.

Hermione scrambled around for the appropriate toiletries as she showered in record time. Robes were haphazardly tossed on and she didn't bother to look in a mirror. It would only cause more stress because she'd ultimately try to fix her hair. Instead, she offered a prayer to the heavens that not messing with her appearance would work out for the better and Apparated to the Ministry.

She dashed through the Atrium, shoving people to the side as she walked. She pushed past an unsuspecting Harry and James, both of whom were on their way towards the lift. Due to her hurry, she missed the look of utter surprise and astonishment on James's face. Instead, she continued to elbow her way through the throngs of Ministry workers until she acquired a spot on the lift. "Where to, Miss?" Jake, the lift operator, asked.

"Ninth level, please. I'm running late for a meeting and I think Sirius Black might murder me if I'm late for my own Destruction Ceremony." Because her morning had been so hectic, Hermione didn't stop to contemplate why Jake hadn't referred to her by her given name the way he had for the past two years. She was more concerned about the hell and teasing she'd get for being tardy.

The lift slowly descended to the ninth level. Hermione made a mad dash to the Department of Mysteries the second the doors opened and, reaching her destination, she breathed a sigh of relief. Regulus was already at the door leading into the department, but he was still waiting for his brother's arrival. They needed Sirius to lead them into the Department and to his office. Once they were there, the Ceremony would begin. She couldn't see Sirius anywhere, so Hermione figured she'd gotten there in time.

"I'm sorry I'm late," she told Regulus, approaching him with a sheepish smile. "For some reason, I forgot to put an Alarm Charm on my wand this morning. I didn't wake up until Crooks decided it was time for breakfast," she vented.

Regulus stared down at her with a confused look on his face. "I'm sorry?" he asked politely.

Hermione raised an eyebrow at him. He hadn't used that polite tone on her for years. "Crookshanks. My part-Kneazle cat? You've seen pictures of him in my office before. No doubt you've had to listen to Sirius go on about how he sheds."

Regulus's puzzlement grew before a look of dawning horror crossed his features. "Regulus?" she asked, taking a step back. "Are you alright? You look like you just swallowed a Snitch."

"I-Hermione?" he asked. His eyes were wide and his mouth was slightly gaping.

"Who else would I be?" she asked, confused.

There was a dash of silence before he responded. "My cousin," he replied, also taking a step back. "The one that's been missing for twenty-two years."

Hermione's hands flew up to her hair as her own look of horror dawned across her face. In her hurry to get ready this morning, she hadn't been paying attention to which shampoo she'd picked up. What were the odds of her picking up the shampoo containing the potion Padma had helped develop for the perfect Black Family hair? The same potion she hadn't poured out yet, because she kept procrastinating whenever the idea came to her? Why had she even kept it in the bathroom, tempting the possibility that she might accidentally pick up the bottle one morning and use it? How daft could she possibly be? Hermione reached up and tugged on a raven ringlet.

"I..." for the first time in her life, Hermione Granger was lost for words. She wasn't sure how much worse the day could get.

"Sorry I'm late, Regulus," a third voice called from behind. Sirius exited the lift, oblivious to his brother's exchange with Hermione. "I stopped to talk with James. He's squealing some garbage about our cousin Andro...mach..." Sirius's sentence trailed off as he took in Hermione's hair. "What the fuck is going on?"

Hermione cringed. That last statement hinted of red, hot anger, and she knew she deserved it. "Bollocks," she muttered. Now the day couldn't get any worse.

30. An interlude in Albus Dumbledore's office

The tension in Dumbledore's office was so thick it could have contained Fiendfyre if its protective jam jar had shattered. Albus Dumbledore surveyed the scene in front of him from behind the safety of his desk, watching his three former students with calculating eyes. Seated in the centre of the three, in a conjured chair, Andromache-Black-nee-Hermione-Granger looked as if she were about to cave in on herself. She had pressed herself into the chair cushions as much as possible, and was fiddling with the hem on her robe's sleeve.

To Hermione's left, Regulus Black sat quietly, brooding mutely. The elderly professor watched as the younger Black brother kept glancing critically between Hermione's seat and the livid man pacing the room behind them.

Albus turned to contemplate the pacing person. To say Sirius Black did not look pleased was a severe understatement. Albus was aware of Sirius's rash and volatile temper, a temper that was released upon other people and objects when peaked. Dumbledore had a multitude of memories from the 1970s when he'd ended up in private discussions with Sirius for the destruction of school property; the Gryffindor common room, for example, had been decimated more times in the seven years Sirius Black and James Potter had attended school than any other seven-year period in history. Currently, Albus assumed that the only reason Sirius had refrained from exploding objects while on the warpath was out of respect for the elderly headmaster who had defeated the Dark Lord two decades ago. As flattering as this thought was, it was also sobering.

"I admit that, while I was beginning to fear my morning would be rather dull, I was not expecting three of my former students to burst into my office, demanding a meeting. May I question as to why you're here?" Albus asked serenely, breaking the silence.

"How much questioning do you need?" Sirius spat. He fought back the urge to kick over an end table. "I present to you my 'cousin,' Andromache Black. Better known as Hermione Granger. Who has successfully," he stated the adverb with a venom that made Hermione cringe, "created and used a Time-Turner to travel back twenty-two years into the past to play out her little fancies with other people's lives."

He paused in his tirade to shoot Hermione a look that Albus had only ever seen Sirius use on his schoolyard nemesis, Severus Snape. "Our curious Head Girl deserves full points for ability, but I'm afraid I need to dock some for malicious intent, darling."

"Sirius," Regulus warned. His hands were calmly resting on his chair's armrests, but Albus could see that his knuckles had turned white.

Sirius laughed scathingly at his brother. It was a hollow, empty sound that made Hermione want to push herself further into the chair's cushions. "Don't 'Sirius' me, Regulus. We've all been played, been had, by a girl who couldn't let curiosity rest."

He turned back to Hermione with a dark expression on his face. "Tell me, sweetheart. How long did you have that Time-Turner before you decided you'd tweak around in the past to 'Change things for the greater good,' I believe your words were?" He kicked at one of the walls, trying to fuel some anger through the action. He then turned his venom back on her, "Or was it your intent all along to skip back into the past and live out somebody else's life for a bit of fun?"

Albus turned his attention back on Hermione. "Miss Granger, are you Andromache Black?" he asked, keenly ignoring the additional accusations Sirius had uttered.

Her nod was barely perceptible.

"And you managed to travel to the past by creating a Time-Turner that would allow its wearer to travel back years in time, instead of hours."

There was another nod.

"I believe I understand why you felt a desire to travel to the past," Albus stated, watching her intently. "I seem to recall a letter I received shortly after Andromache Black's disappearance, regarding Lord Voldemort's destruction. However, I'm curious as to why there was a necessity to create a false personality and remain in the time period for six months."

"Please, don't let Sirius's accusations fall on deaf ears." The bitterness behind this statement surprised the elderly headmaster. For as discomforted as Hermione was acting, the acid in her voice was a stark contrast. She sat up slightly in her seat, enough so she could glare at Sirius. "In living as Andromache, I had every intention of changing the future for the greater good. By travelling to the past as Andromache Black, I had both the wealth and status to be accepted into society. I will admit that it was never my intention to remain in the past for so long, though."

"Why my family?" Regulus wanted to know. His voice was short and clipped.

"So she could live out her fancy of being a pure-blood princess. Curiosity killed the Kneazle. It's Ravenclaw's downfall," Sirius sneered. He continued his frenzied pacing.

The look Hermione shot him was full of loathing and disgust. The tone, the anger, and the venom he was directing at her... she had expected such a reaction from him if the "Kneazle" was ever let out of the bag. Actually hearing the anger and venom, though, and knowing that it was directed at her before she'd been given a chance to defend herself, was disheartening to say the least. It was painful, knowing that, just the previous day, he'd been flirting with her non-stop, aggravating her to the point of drawing her wand against him. Ever since the pink hair incident, their relationship had been amicable and friendly, taking away some of the sting and she'd felt the morning she'd woken up in this new reality. Now, he was treating her with outright scorn and contempt, and it hurt.

"I was able to work alongside your cousin, Andromeda, to create a persona that would allow me freedom of movement," she explained, answering Regulus's question. "In appearing as the long-lost cousin and heiress of a Squib outcast, I would receive a lot less conjecture from both halves of society-pure-blood and everybody else. It put me in a position where I could complete my mission without unnecessary accusations. It also helps that yours was a family where a long-lost heiress would not be questioned past how full her bank account was."

Sirius's self control snapped even further when he heard Andromeda's name dropped. He snarled and grabbed at her chair, ripping it around so he could face her. "You got Andromeda involved? You couldn't just keep your curiosity to yourself, but you also had to bring other people into the mix?"

She faced his snarling with a mocking tone, one she'd adopted for gently explaining common knowledge to daft people. "Yes, I involved Andromeda. Padma Patil, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Professor McGonagall also aided my project. In fact, Professor McGonagall was the one who gave me the idea to return to the past. However, you can ask every single one of those people and none will remember having helped me. I don't even think Mr. Shacklebolt knows who I am anymore. I'm the only one who remembers it all."

"Remembers what?" Sirius questioned testily. Hermione's cryptic dialogue was increasingly irking him.

Hermione snorted slightly, sat up straight in her chair, and gave her best 'Attentive Student' presentation. "Well, to start out, of everybody in this room I was the only one to survive the Second Great Wizarding War."

This stopped Sirius's pacing up short. She wanted to snicker maliciously when he almost tripped on the carpet underneath his feet.

"A second Great Wizarding War?" Regulus queried as he contemplated Hermione's words.

"Not 'a' second Great Wizarding War." She turned away from Sirius and faced the Headmaster evenly. "The Second Great Wizarding War." She paused for a moment, chewing on her lip in contemplation. "Actually, to be quite honest, Regulus didn't survive the First one, Sirius was murdered in a duel at the Department of Mysteries when the Second finally initiated, and your death was just before You-Know-Who took control of the Ministry of Magic."

"There are too many uncharacteristic gaps in that, Hermione," Regulus stated. He'd let go from his grip on the chair's armrests and now folded his arms across his chest in a slightly defensive gesture. "I'm sure I speak for all of us when I ask you to stop being coy and simply explain the situation."

"I'm not being coy," she said bluntly. Her voice was cold and to the point. "I was simply opting for tact. However, since you asked so nicely, I'll admit that I left out the part where Regulus joins the Death Eaters, due to the alienation from the one member of his family who would support his choice to join the Order of the Phoenix. This particular story ends with death by an Inferi attack when Regulus finally gathers the courage to deviate from You-Know-Who's orders. He does manage to collect one of the seven soul fragments that kept You-Know-Who alive, though."

She continued, now facing Sirius with her monologue. "There's another part of the story that involves a prophecy being made that leads You-Know-Who to target the Potters, an infant Harry Potter in particular. Harry is foretold as the 'Chosen One,' the only person who could defeat the Dark Lord. James has Sirius agree to be Secret Keeper, but at last minute, they decided to change the it to somebody else, somebody who turned out to be a Death Eater in disguise. James and Lily are killed, and Sirius is framed for their murder. He spends twelve years in Azkaban, then becomes the prison's first escapee. He dies due to complications of a duel in the Department of Mysteries' Death Room during Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts. His name isn't cleared until long after his death."

The room was silent in shock for a moment. Sirius was the first to break the silence. "Who was the spy?"

"It doesn't matter anymore, because the individual eventually redeems himself. He's also a completely different person in this reality. It won't do you any good to hate somebody who was a Death Eater in one past, but isn't now."

Her brown eyes were drawn to the Headmaster as she continued her story. "You, Sir, fall protecting the school. Death Eaters infiltrate Hogwarts." In quiet tones, she explained how he'd been poisoned by the Horcrux, and how the Death Eaters had been able to break into the school.

Dumbledore sighed, gazing at her with compassion. "I apologize, Miss Granger. It was never my intention to bring war into Hogwarts. I had always hoped that, while Hogwarts still housed students, it would be safe. Obviously, not only did my judgement pull you into the fighting, but other students as well."

She cracked a smile at him, grateful for his words. "If I was pulled into the fighting, it was through my own choices. In that life, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley were my best friends. I made a conscious choice to join the fighting, to help defend innocent people from Death Eaters. Harry never wanted us to get involved. He never wanted us to have to kill, or use Unforgivables. Neither did you. However, I was willing to sacrifice my future to defend the people I loved." She turned to Sirius and sent him another scathing glare. "For all you go on about a Ravenclaw's 'Curiosity killing the Kneazle,' I was sorted into Gryffindor twice before I ever became a Ravenclaw."

Albus spoke before another squabble broke out between her and Sirius. "I think," he suggested slowly, "That it might be easier for us all to understand the implications behind your story if you started at the beginning and worked your way through it. You're giving us bits and pieces of a whole and it's hard to grasp the full picture."

With no holds barred, she did just that. Starting with her first year at Hogwarts, Hermione told them a tale full of misery, blood and death. She spoke of the mental and physical anguish three teenagers had been forced to endure before they'd even bypassed puberty. Discussing the aftermath of the war was just as difficult. She described how, even with the Dark Lord's death, the fighting had continued until their society was in ruins. She described the funerals she'd attended of friends and mentors, until the ceremonies had stopped-not because of a lack of death, but because society was spread too thin to continue them. She described how strongly the economic depression had affected their world, further ripping apart their chances at rebuilding, and what living with Andromeda, Teddy, and Ron had been like. With laboured breath, she told them how the Muggles had discovered the wizarding world, and how they'd descended upon it with rage, connecting many of their miseries to the Second Great Wizarding War. Hermione talked until she felt emotionally drained and wrung out. Then, she began to list off the names of the dead without bar, focusing on both sides of the war.

When she was done, there was utter silence in the room.

Regulus was the first to break it. "Why?" he asked with a shaky voice. "Why were you the one to go back and change things?"

"Because somebody had to," she answered honestly. "I had already sacrificed so much to prove that I belonged in a world that didn't really want me. I was willing to sacrifice my memories and all of my past relationships if that meant I could create a world where Harry could live with his family and Teddy Lupin grew up to know his parents. One where Regulus Black got to prove his worth and where Sirius didn't spend fourteen years blaming himself for the death of his 'heterosexual life mate.' What is one person's happiness compared to an entire civilization?"

"Did you really have to make yourself out to be a martyr?" Sirius quietly questioned.

"The funny thing about friendship is that death isn't very constructive to the relationship. At least this way, I can try to rebuild some of those lost memories. The other present time didn't really create much leeway for a future. I'd rather have them alive, even if they're not in my life, than dead, and just a distant memory."

"Why did you leave so suddenly, in the past?" Regulus asked, turning the questioning into a different direction.

Hermione fixed him with a wry grin. "My place was never in your generation. I needed to complete the tasks set for me, and then come back home. After a few months, I realised I was getting attached to the life and the... uh... people there," she managed to keep her focus on the carpet, the portraits, Professor Dumbledore's desk, and generally everywhere that Sirius wasn't within her line of vision, "and getting attached to them kept me from doing my job. To quote the Muggles, 'there were bigger fish to fry.' I did what I could and then I left."

"Were you in love with Ron Weasley?" Sirius's question caused her head to snap up in surprise. His face was blank again. Merlin, she hated that blank look.

"I thought I was," she admitted. "But the Ron Weasley I loved doesn't exist anymore."

31. A second interlude in Regulus's office

Regulus didn't bother looking more closely at the pink parchment in front of him.

"Explain," he demanded, feeling disappointed when Hermione refused to meet his eyes. She kept her faze firmly on the carpet as she spoke.

"I've made all of the forms in triplicate. I've already passed a copy on to your secretary, as well as to the Department of International Magical Cooperation, as per regulations. Their head of department was more than willing to accept my application, and the Minister of Magic has already planned my next project," she replied. Her voice was strangely monotonous, and it matched the current feeling of her life. The past week had been turned into one giant, beige blur. It was as if letting out all of her fears, anguishes, and remorse in Dumbledore's office had left her empty.

"I understand what the forms are," Regulus said evenly. Hermione wanted to wince, having recognized his tone of neutrality for what it really was, but she couldn't. "What I don't understand is why you suddenly decided to drop your work in the Deutsch to go to the States in an internship for such an extended period of time, especially considering that, after only two years of working here, your name is high on the list of those to succeed me when I retire." He peevishly hurled the files down on his desk.

"The United States Department of Magic has been pushing for me to travel to Washington D.C. since before I graduated. I feel it would be a wise career choice, and a chance to broaden my magical horizons; the US has a rich, melting pot culture that has been influenced society around the globe." Her explanation sounded oddly rehearsed, as if she'd practiced over and over until she got it right. "The Minister is thrilled with me taking an internship overseas. He's taken a personal interest in my career path and believes I can be Minister one day, if I continue this course of action."

"So it has nothing to do with running away and everything to do with ambition? How Slytherin of you," Regulus replied. Hermione started a bit, surprised to hear the slight sneer in his voice directed at her.

"We're not in school anymore. Those labels are useless," she shot back. Regulus was with the slight bit of heat in her voice.

"But you don't deny that you're running away?" he asked.

"It's not running away. It's emotional catharsis. I need some time away from Britain so I can work out what's going on in my head," she replied.

"And Sirius isn't involved at all?" he asked dryly.

Hermione flinched. She wasn't used to her boss taking a direct course of action and this particular question stung. Sirius's accusations had hurt, mostly because his questions had been in her mind for months before he'd voiced them. Had her return to the past been purely selfless? Did she really have everyone's intentions pure at heart? Or had her return been based on selfish reasons, on her wanting to play the pure-blood bitch mixed with the desire to change the unhappy life that had been created for her? Was she really a martyr?

The fact that Sirius had been avoiding her like the plague didn't help. Normally, for the past three or so months, he'd constantly sought her out in the hallways, or made a point of contacting her several times a day, usually for trivial matters, or did something to aggravate her on a daily basis. He was constantly underfoot, to the point where Hermione questioned whether or not he actually got his own work done. Ever since the hair incident they'd gotten close, throwing random movie nights, taking extended lunch periods outside the ministry, and getting dragged along to various impromptu weekend field trips. Now, his avoidance had reached a point where Harry himself had sought her out to ask about his godfather's sudden moodiness. Hermione hadn't had any answers for him, something that almost made matters seem worse.

"Why would Sirius be involved?" she asked Regulus. "Do I look like the type of person to let somebody else decide her career choice?" she retorted. This situation had a lot less to do with the possible romantic ties that had been severed, and a lot more to do with the painful accusations Sirius had made in Dumbledore's office.

She didn't look up from where she was staring at the carpet. Hermione wasn't going to debate her motives with Regulus and she didn't want to see the look of disapproval on his face anymore. It was a look that made her disgusted with herself, just because she was feeling the same disapproval towards herself.

32. An interlude in Grimuald Place's drawing room

Sirius sulkily lied across the drawing room couch, bouncing a Muggle SuperBall against a wall. Regulus was familiar with his brother's moods, but two weeks of soggy, sulking Sirius Black was grating on his nerves. The SuperBall didn't help.

"She's going to the States," Regulus said from the doorway of the room.

Sirius ignored him and continued to bounce the ball, catching it every time it returned.

"She handed in her resignation from the Deutsch a week and a half ago. The Minister has taken a special interest in her career and has decided she'll spend the next few years working in America, in their Bureau of Magical Affairs in Washington DC."

The ball, Regulus decided, was going to "accidentally disappear" within the next twenty-four hours. He turned to leave. "Her international Portkey departs from the Department of Magical Transportation on Monday at three-fifteen in the morning. She'll be gone for three years, or even longer, depending on whether she's as successful in their spell development as she is here or not." He walked away, leaving his brother to brood, calling out behind him, "Thought you might want to know."

33. Another interlude in the Three Broomsticks

James stared at Sirius, flabbergasted. It wasn't often that he faced Sirius with that expression on his face. "She did what?"

James had cornered him that night, demanding to know why his best mate had been so moody for the past few weeks, and the story had just spilled out. Now that he was finished telling James what Hermione had done, Sirius faced him in an utterly miserable mood.

"Changed everything. Gave just about everybody I know a chance to live, loosing everything of value to her in the process. She said it was easier to rebuild it all than living in a world where everything was gone, when everybody was dead."

"And you said what?"

"Before or after I accused her of playing with the our lives out of fancy?" Sirius toyed with the last remaining drops in his tumbler, swirling them around. "Or how about when I accused her of wanting to knock elbows with pure-bloods by pretending to be one?" He tipped the glass over, watching the drops spill onto the table. He reached for the half-empty bottle of firewhisky and poured himself another shot. "I was also pretty close to hexing her, for getting other people involved with her 'fancies,' and I used her words against her."

"I take it you said all this before you let her explain herself?"

Sirius threw back another shot of firewhisky in response. He barely felt the burning any more.

James sighed. "I think we're all pretty familiar with your temper. That's no excuse, but I'm just saying. What then?"

Sirius shrugged. "She finished her story. She apologized for the inconvenience. She left. I proceeded to get blazingly pissed two hours before noon."

"You haven't said anything to her?" James asked. Sirius shook his head. "Have you even tried speaking to her?" He felt like rubbing the bridge of his nose in annoyance. As familiar as Sirius was with the female anatomy, he had a lot of work to do on comprehending the psyche.

Sirius let out an empty laugh. "I just accused her of being an upstart Mudblood." He sneered the term he loathed with a burning passion. "How does one respond, when he actually realises the Upstart had intentions more noble than he could possibly imagine?" He snorted, regretting the choice of action as firewhisky cleared out his nasal passages. "Of course I haven't tried speaking to her. Chances are she doesn't even want to hear the words 'Sirius' or 'Black' ever again. Regulus says she's even taking a Portkey to the States tomorrow, and will be gone for three years. I pissed her off so badly she doesn't even want to stay in Britain."

James had twenty-one years of marriage as experience in dealing with women. He found himself using it on Sirius, who had an entire lifetime of swinging bachelorhood as his experience. "You like this girl." This wasn't a question. It was a statement.

"She saved my life. She saved your life. In fact, I think she saved the lives of everybody in this sodding pub, let alone the majority of the wizarding world. How could I not like her?"

"There's more to it than that. I also wasn't looking for justification when I said you like her." James put down his tumbler and pulled the bottle of Ogden's out of Sirius's reach. "When we were at Hogwarts, I knew you were impressed with the one girl who stood up to you. I was the same way with Lily." Sirius shrugged but let James continue. "And then, she started to do little bits of good here and there. It absolutely rankled you that she would help first years try and prank us back, or that she would help Pete with his Potions assignments, even though there was no gain from it. Then, for what I think had to be the first time ever, you began to respect a girl for more than her assets." He made a crude gesture that made Sirius snicker. "We all noticed how you got quiet and contemplative, but not in your silent, sulky way, over her. And you fell into silent brooding for weeks when she disappeared."

Sirius scowled at James's recollection of his mood swings. "Enter Hermione Granger in your life, twenty-two years later. She approached you the exact same way your cousin had. Once again, you begin to appreciate somebody for more than their assets. You again become more quiet and contemplative, and actually look forward to having a girl outsmart you and turn your fur pink, or replace coffee creamer with itching powder. If I'd done that, you would've hexed me into the next century."

Sirius cracked a grin at that. "I would've hexed you into the next century for a lot less, but I understand where you're headed with this," he said.

"This particular 'appreciating a woman for more than her assets' approach has only happened to you twice in your life, and both times occurred because of the same person. I have a question for you," James stated.


"Why-the-bloody-hell are you so willing to let this good thing run away? And you called her a martyr! Grow a pair and fight for what you want, man!"

34. An interlude in the Portkey Office

Hermione was used to early mornings, but she was not used to really early mornings. She'd had two hours of fitful sleep until her bloody wand set off the Alarm Charm. She'd be leaving for the States today, to start on a new internship involving international cooperation and other idealistic, warm, and fuzzy thoughts. The way she saw it, it was the Americans' way of 'brain-draining' the rest of the world. The fact that the Minister of Magic had been placing an awful lot of attention on her the past week had not gone unnoticed, either. Obviously, he was afraid that the Americans would "steal" Britain's best and brightest out from underneath their noses. It would take only a year in the States, showcasing the amount of success she'd had in the Deutsch, before she'd be receiving offers of United States citizenship.

She didn't consider this thought as bragging so much as realistic thinking, and from the way Regulus had been treating her lately, it was clear that he thought along the same lines.

Hermione had spent the weekend packing up her belongings. Crookshanks had been lovingly left with her parents the Friday before, at her mother's request. Crookshanks was growing old and he hated travel, her mother had said, and it was bad enough that she was losing her daughter for a year, let alone losing such a loving cat. In the end, her mother's stubbornness had won out and Hermione had wished her loving familiar good-bye. Giving him up that day had somehow opened her eyes to the fact that she was actually going away. She'd worked so hard to fix things and now she was leaving it all behind.

Regulus's accusations still rang in her head. 'So it has nothing to do with running away and everything to do with ambition? And Sirius isn't involved at all?' Those two questions kept circling her head, making her dizzy. Even if she'd openly denied those claims in Regulus's office, she knew better than to delude herself.

Sirius might have a bit to do with her running away. Maybe just the slightest, most miniscule amount. Hermione's brain wanted to claim that his accusations of her selfishness in Dumbledore's office were what burned the most, but her heart wouldn't leave it at that. Against all reason, she realised that all the time she'd spent with the man, both getting along and fighting like crazy, had created this... something in her heart. Something that fluttered whenever a good fight was brewing, or whenever that indescribable look of contemplation came across his face. The same fluttery feeling she'd gotten that night in the Room of Requirement when he'd actually approached her as a boy would a girl, not Sirius Black and Andromache or Sirius Black and Hermione. That innocent, fluttery feeling had been growing substantially with the more time she spent with the man... and then had been squashed to a fine powder under the force of his absolute disdain in Dumbledore's office.

She hadn't felt like that since she'd caught Ron snogging Lavender for the first time during sixth year. Her pride had receded to lick its wounds. To make matters worse, Sirius had completely fallen off the face of the earth since. That rankled her pride even more. His disregard may have accounted for one of the larger, multiple reasons why she was 'running away' from her problems here, to start with clean slate somewhere else.

She stepped out of the lift and onto the sixth level, mentally waving it goodbye, and walked the lonely way to the Portkey Office. The rest of her goodbyes had been said previously. She had asked that nobody appear for her departure. They'd only serve to make it more difficult for her to leave the country. She was leaving with her own guilt weighing her down, and did not need others to add to it.

Hermione opened the office and let herself in. The secretary wearily waved her forward and pointed out the office for international Portkeys. Hermione's feet did all the work while she let her brain wander. Her guilt at running away, as well as Sirius's echoing accusations, served as a wonderful tempest to keep her from chickening out. In fact, she was so lost in her own mind that she didn't notice the second pair of footsteps following her until she stopped walking and someone slammed into her.

Hermione would have fallen to the floor if a pair of strong arms hadn't wrapped around her waist to catch her. She was pulled back against a hard chest and a head bent down to rest its chin upon her head. "Please, don't go," a familiar voice rumbled.

"I've got to go," she replied, trying to keep the tremor out of her voice. "There's no place for me here anymore and I can't stay knowing that."

The arms tightened around her. "Please, don't go," was repeated.

"I can't keep living here, Sirius, seeing the people that were once part of my life, and knowing that I don't exist to them now. I can't keep questioning whether if I went back in time to help those people, or if I went back to help myself."

"Please, don't go," he whispered. The chin left the crown of her head and a face buried itself in her neck, right where it met her right shoulder.

The arms around her waist had made her nervous enough. When she felt his caress against her neck, all rationality was thrown out the window and she began to babble, the thoughts pouring out an attempt to hide her edginess. "I also can't keep hating myself for wondering which timeline is better, which goes to show how horrible a person I am, because I begin to prefer the other reality, because I at least had memories of my relationships to keep me going. Then, I chastise myself because I know things are better here, because people are living and happy, but this feeling of self-pity won't go away and I keep hating and loathing myself for having it."

"Please, don't go." A pair of lips lightly met her neck. She was grateful for the strong arms keeping her up.

"I can't stay around, knowing how much people would hate me for messing with their futures." Whether it was because of the lips on her neck, or the feelings behind what she'd said, or maybe a combination of the two, her voice shook. She could feel the tears building up.

He growled into her neck in response, making her body break out in shivers. "You gave those people a future. How could they hate you for that? Please, Hermione, don't go." The lips moved up to nibble on her earlobe, and her concentration wavered dangerously.

A tear trickled down her cheek and she was grateful had her back towards him. She didn't want him to see her break down like this. "I can't live knowing how much you hate me for messing with your life the way I did." She hated herself for how quickly the tears came when she admitted this, but hated herself more for the weak, little voice it had come out in.

The lips on her ear immediately stopped their teasing. Hermione found herself whirled around and she clutched at the robes underneath her fingers to keep from falling. Sirius Black's intense eyes met her own. "You gave me a life. You kept me from rotting away in Azkaban. You gave me back my brother. You made sure my best friends would still be there for me, and you kept them from dying and rotting, too. You ensured their happiness, at the sake of your own. How could I ever hate you?" He reached up and wiped away the trail of tears on her cheeks. His voice sounded incredulous. "And...er... please don't go," he added as an afterthought, cracking a sheepish grin.

"But in Professor Dumbledore's office-" she protested. He silenced her with a single look.

"In Dumbledore's office, I behaved like a prat. You know how big of a jerk I can be. You were one of the first women to ever prove how much of one I am. You were also one of the only women to stand up to me, to challenge me, to prove how I could be wrong. To make me laugh out of pure simplicity, the way we did in the Room of Requirement. To get away with dying my fur pink and switching my coffee creamers for Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes products on a daily basis. You're one of the only people I try to prank, when it has nothing to do with malicious intent. As far as Lily is concerned, you're the only person to choke me into submission in my own game. Please don't go. Please, don't leave me. Not when I've just found you again."

"Why me? Why do you care so much?" she asked, her voice only a whisper.

"Let me tell you a story. There's this really brave girl I met. We haven't always gotten along. I don't think she'll ever forgive me for silencing her in my brother's office, just like I'm sure Ministry workers through the ages will be telling stories about Sirius Black's infamous pink hair." Hermione snorted weakly and he lazily smirked back as he continued. "One day, I was being a big wanker, just spouting out shite without thinking of what I was saying, and just generally being myself, but when I pulled my... how was it said? 'My head' from 'my bum,'? We're going to have to work on your swearing, by the way. Well, when I pulled it out, I realised how brave, noble, and absolutely brilliant this girl was." He grinned sheepishly at the look she shot him. "Okay, I hadn't just realised it, because I knew it before, but it only reiterated it, right? Well, this bird sacrificed her life for me, so I could have one. And I had a bit of an inkling that she might just fancy me a bit, too. I figured that, if that isn't a good enough reason to try and make it work between us, this bird and I, then I don't know what is. If I'm the reason she's running away from her current life, I just want her to know that I shouldn't be. The reason, that is."

Hermione thought the fluttery feeling in her heart had been previously squashed. Now, it came back with a vengeance. She could feel it in her toes, her fingers-her entire body tingled with it. "Aren't you going to ask me to please not go?" she asked.

Sirius leaned in and his lips ghosted just above hers. "Please, don't go," he whispered.

"You make a convincing argument, Sirius Black. I'll have to let this bird of yours know." She tentatively pressed her lips to his and moved her arms up to wrap around his neck. For the first time since she'd returned, she didn't regret a thing.

35. An interlude with a wedding

The bride and groom sat at the front table, happy grins tattooed on their faces. She was beautiful, practically glowing, with her chestnut locks pinned perfectly to her head and adorned with white orchids. Her dress was white silk, bejewelled with pearls, and cut in the empire-waist style to cover up the slight bulge in her stomach that wasn't due for another five months. She exuded a happiness that made onlookers smile. The groom, handsome in his formal black dress robes with an orchid pinned to his lapel, had eyes only for the beauty sitting next to him. He had done a lot of growing up since his years at Hogwarts, and finally approached the woman next to him as a man, a lover, and an eventual father. For the two, no others mattered in the world. Currently, a cry for a speech was going out and it seemed like the Weasley twins were more than willing to answer it.

Away from the happy bride and groom and seated at the opposite end of the garden, Hermione watched the other guests' joyful faces. Her eyes paused to linger on Lavender's hair for a little too long and she half-heartedly glared at the perfect up-do. Sirius followed her gaze and chuckled under his breath "I much prefer your hair all over the place. If you ever tried pinning an orchid to it like that, I bet it'd devour the flower before you'd even set it in place. Then, we'd have to listen to you grumble all night about what a nightmare it'd be to get all the petals out."

Hermione turned her glare to him, but it was even less half-hearted than the one she'd given Lavender's up-do. "You could probably pin a Blast-Ended Skrewt to my hair and it'd be devoured. You'd be finding bits of exoskeleton on the pillows for weeks. Then, I'd have to listen to you moan and complain about how it was starting to affect your hair."

"Touché," Sirius commented with a grin. He stroked her wrist with his thumb from where the two hands were clasped.

"They look happy," Hermione eventually commented. Ron was engaged in a champagne battle with the twins, eagerly sending discarded corks flying at the two as they aimed to continue telling their anecdotes about all the interesting places and positions they'd caught the bride and groom in. Many of the situations involved broomsheds and cupboards, although one or two involved the Quidditch Pitch and the Astronomy Tower. Hermione had not wanted to hear, let alone mentally picture, any of it. She did have to chuckle, though, as the Weasley matriarch entered the war and quickly ended it with a jet of water directed at her twin sons. Leave it to Molly Weasley to keep her youngest son's wedding from being ruined.

Hermione's eyes drifted back to the front table where Harry's head was bent near Ginny's.

She smiled. Youngest son's wedding, but not her youngest child's wedding. Hermione knew that the second happy couple was waiting until after Ron's wedding to announce their recent engagement. Unable to keep it to himself, Harry had confided it to her right after he had proposed, admitting with a brilliant grin, that his knees had been knocking so much that he'd been forced to kneel on the ground. The fact that Harry had told her and no one else spoke greatly of the fast, tight friendship that had brought them together over the past year. Ron, although busy planning a wedding, had been included on the friendship, and she was busy rebuilding what she'd had in another life.

All of this was thanks to Sirius. Sirius had been the one to reintroduce her to the Weasleys. Molly had taken an instant liking to her, and Arthur had begun quizzing her about battery properties right away. It was thanks to Sirius that Hermione now babysat Teddy on a regular basis, and that she actively participated in Marauders-vs-Weasleys prank wars, although she had yet to choose a side; Sirius was proud to note that Hermione worked against both parties, and only for herself. So far, the tally was Marauders- three, Weasleys- three, Hermione- six. And that wasn't all. Ginny Weasley had gone to her and made her swear to be her Bridesmaid. Sirius had helped her put her life back together.

"Are you okay with this?" Sirius asked, gazing up at the dais. Hermione followed his stare to watch the happy, laughing bride and the sheepish, red-faced groom as Molly led the twins out of the wedding at wand point.

"A part of me is always going to wonder what would have happened if we'd ended up together," she admitted, looking down to their clasped hands. "A part of me is always going to love, honour, and cherish Ronald Bilius Weasley. But there's this bloke, you see." She picked her brains for the style Sirius had used in the Portkey Office. "He's a bit of a jerk, and old enough to be my dad. However, he was willing to try and make it work between us, even though we fight like cat and dog-no pun intended-and he can be a great prat sometimes. He was willing to put all the complications aside and try to make it work between us when I was ready to run away from my problems. He helped put my life back together. He's seen me at my best, and at my worst, and he's stuck by my side. I find the more that I'm with him, the more I love him and the less I love Ron."

Her eyes drifted up to meet his serious grey ones. She couldn't decipher that damn look in them, but she could guess what it would lead up to. He tilted his head closer to hers, and she pulled away from him. He gazed down at her with a pitiful, mock-hurt expression and she responded with an innocent smile. "The only problem is, I don't know how to approach the topic with him. As his brother, do you have any input about how I might best tell Regulus how I truly feel about him?" Sirius growled in response, which was her only warning before his lips slammed against hers.

Teasing Sirius always brought a positive outcome. Always.

The sounds of the wedding faded out until the only thing that was important was the feel of Sirius Black's lips upon her own. The future might be mysterious and terrifying, she thought, but at least she knew that, with Sirius by her side, it was going to be all right.