Apologies for the interminable hiatus! I hope you enjoy this one. It's a transition chapter, but so much has happened recently that all the characters need time to digest it!
Grey, fluffy happiness awoke Hermione; a pink tongue licked her fingers. She caressed the wolf pup curled against her with one hand, eyes moving to her window. Snow fell in great silent flakes outside her window, and she sighed and snuggled deeper under her coverlets, content.
During the winter hols she was more or less free to do as she pleased. Her parents seldom troubled to check in on their strange daughter, so she could practice whatever magics she liked without wondering whether they would burst in on her.
She was aware, to some extent, of her own oddness. She realized early in life that her peers and the adults were troubled by the hours she could spend with her arms circling a tree's trunk, ear pressed against the bark to listen its dreams. Or training her unblinking stare upon a single flower, or conversing cheerfully with the rustling waters of a nearby stream.
Her teachers would crinkle their brows like dried leaves, nudge her towards a nearby ballgame. Once or twice they sent her to the school psychologist, who would, through neatly-steepled fingertips, meet her eyes with all the troubled severity of a scientist evaluating his experiment.
She was so weary of the world.
But now...now she had time to herself. Maybe today she would fly to the ancient caverns of France, peek in on the dark-robed seer hermits there. In odd moments, she caught contemplations of Truth in their eyes, visions of the Worlds as they were. They were kind to her there, perhaps because they saw her as pure Spirit, rather than a little girl.
Or perhaps she would visit her mother, her real mother, bound in shadows and death. She was so lonely there, wings clipped, spirit spent. It made Hermione ache to think of it.
Hermione peered down at the wolf pup in her arms, fingers stroking the soft puppy down on Talbot's belly. He was old enough to meet the direwolf clans in the far north, she decided. They would need to teach him the Wolf Mysteries mysterious even to her.
A sudden grin lit her face. She would invite Daphne and Draco, and Julian. Her own pack.
Ignoring Talbot's protesting whimper, she shifted him aside and sprang out of bed. Catlike, she stretched. Then she bustled to her desk to begin writing what would be, without doubt, the most unusual and intriguing invitation her three friends had ever received.
Severus had finally finished writing syllabuses for the spring term, and was rewarding himself with further research on Lord Voldemort. No one had ever, ever, to his knowledge, connected Voldemort with a lover, much less a daughter. Could it be that Hermione Granger was, as the house elves suspected, the Dark Lord's own child?
Now Severus considered the matter, it seemed just like Voldemort to procure an heir in secret, like a reflection of himself, a living creature he could trust. Even love.
It might explain Hermione's powers. Why they were so...well, so vast. If Voldemort had imbued the child with some of his own Dark Magic, who knew what would happen. Placing such mature magic into an underage witch would certainly produce interesting results. But who was the mother? Was there even a human mother involved?
Severus glowered down at the pages before him, at the untidy scrawl that littered every inch. Then he winced and rubbed his eyes. Merlin's beard, he was too tired even for grumpiness.
The protective wards about his tiny, rickety house alerted him to a man's approach, and Severus groaned and hid his face in the crook of his elbow. He couldn't even summon the acerbic ferocity with which he customarily greeted his dearest comrade.
Said comrade coughed politely at the door.
Severus grunted, meaning to shift the powerful wards that encircled his home. Nothing happened.
Rolling his eyes irritably, Severus waved his hands in the appropriate magical gesture. "Oh, go on then," he grumbled at his own magic. "You know it's only Lucius."
Apparently feeling as sulky as Severus, the wards rolled back reluctantly.
Then the wards projected into his mind's eye a vision of Lucius Malfoy stepping smartly into his parlor, handing his steel-gray cloak and gloves to Frella, Severus' old housekeeper. Still hunched in his study, Severus heard them exchange the usual bantering remarks, then footsteps drawing nearer.
On childish impulse, he decided to fall asleep, and was doing a fairly good job of it until a finger jabbed impatiently into his shoulder, and he snapped awake with a jerk.
"Now, now, Severus, enough with the drama. We have much to discuss."
Stifling a choice remark as to who indeed of the two of them was more prone to drama, Severus finally drew himself upright. He examined his friend warily.
He was handsome, Lucius was, still in his magical prime. His face, like all Malfoy faces, hinted at something Fae, some crossed bloodline way back into ancient generations. It was the slanted cheekbones, likely, or the steady silver eyes, clear and penetrating.
Severus realized with some relief that his friend seemed in much better condition than he had been in recent weeks. Things had been strained between Lucius and Hermione, and that stress, more than anything else Severus had witnessed in his friend, had filtered into the rest of his life. OAN business was put on hold; even Lucius' relationship with Narcissa and Draco had changed.
But Hermione and Lucius had reached an understanding. As charming and charismatic as the young girl was, she hated being the subject of public attention, hated it when strangers gawked at her. When the Wizarding World had become aware of the powerful, powerful child blossoming in its midst, it had caused some uproar. And it had taken Hermione some time to accept that Lucius protected her as much as he possibly could.
The girl had recently been introduced formally to the Dark families at the annual Malfoy Yule Ball. The evening had gone splendidly, as far as Severus was concerned, ending with a vastly entertaining episode in which Hermione gave all the proper Pureblood guests a terrific shock by striding through the party, gown in tatters, hair in ruins, with a tiny unconscious wolf pup cradled in her arms.
Severus smirked to himself. Everyone could do with a good shocking now and again.
Because her power was so very remarkable, and perhaps, Severus realized, because Hermione was so remarkably kind-hearted, even the oldest, noblest, stuffiest Dark families indulged her. It was part of her magic, he supposed. One simply couldn't help but feel drawn to her.
And now Hermione was integrating with Draco and his circle of friends—which was constituted of, naturally, children of the most powerful Wizarding families in the world. All was right twixt her and Lucius. Her powers were developing nicely. Everthing was going smoothly.
Lucius Malfoy, looking businesslike and composed and prim in his study, reflected this fact more than anything else, as far as Severus could tell. They were finally gaining a measure of control over the situation, finally coming to terms with the puzzle that was Hermione Granger.
So Severus made some attempt to wake up, to glare at the tall, elegant man before him. "What business?"
"Order business, mostly. And Hermione business," replied Lucius, sliding into the wooden chair across from him. "Though I suppose all business nowadays somehow involves the two. The OAN seemed satisfied enough with her debue. For now."
Frella appeared with tea, disappeared without a word.
Lucius poured. "But there is," he continued softly, "the matter of her recent invitation to the children." He replaced the teapot with infinite care.
Severus, who was familiar with Lucius' grand pauses for dramatic effect, asked dutifully "Oh?"
He watched with mounting impatience as Lucius slowly raised the cup to his lips, took a swallow, then said with utter calmness: "Hermione is taking Draco and a couple others to see the direwolf clans of the north."
Silence. Then: "Direwolves?" Severus repeated faintly.
"Direwolves," Lucius confirmed, looking a touch smug at his obvious surprise. "Our Hermione, apparently, wishes to introduce her new wolf pup to the clans."
Severus sagged back into his seat. "Direwolves. They're meant to be legends, monsters of the past. When I think of the research I could do with them in just one hour..." His eyes began to cloud over.
But Lucius was fixing him with a rather stern stare. "Now Severus, you know this can only be the business of the children. She may take you to meet them later, anyway. But more urgently, Lord Macht and the Lord and Lady Greengrass are on their way to the Manor for tea. And you are are, too."
"I..." Severus blinked, roused from his scholarly musings by this most unpleasant intrusion. "Tea? With Order members? Oh, no no. Lucius, don't make me—"
"As much as I know you despise people, my good man, you're one of her tutors. And my trusted advisor. You'll need to be there to give them some sort of vague assurances of the children's safety."
The dark man threw him a wry smirk. "Hmpf. You know as well as I that they only want to gloat together that the Wizarding World's newest prodigy has chosen their children as playmates."
Lucius dipped his head in silent acknowledgement. "Indeed. But nevertheless, come you must."
Severus sighed long. "You are insufferable. Just let me fetch my cloak."
Lord Macht couldn't hide a smirk. Lord Greengrass, who was a diplomat for Wizarding Britain, kept trying to catch Lucius' eye. Only Lady Greengrass seemed at ease, reclining with Narcissa and sharing a pot of tea and crumpets. But of course she would be nonchalant—she was a painter, after all.
"I don't believe anyone has even sighted direwolves for a good couple centuries," Macht was saying pompously. "And Hermione is taking my boy to meet them. Simply astounding, eh?"
Greengrass nodded importantly. "Both your boys and my daughter, Daphne. They've grown fairly close, Hermione and and my daughter, but I suppose the girl needs a good female friend. I told her—"
Macht cut in. "Yes, yes, they're all good friends by now, but my point is that this could be a huge discovery for the Wizarding World. Why, we should inform scholars and even reporters. They'll be all over this. This is big."
Lucius saw Lady Greengrass and Narcissa exchange amused looks. While living direwolves were certainly an important discovery, it was obvious that Macht was far too keen on publicity; he wanted to establish his son's—and by extension, his own—position as a trusted and important person in Hermione Granger's life.
The head of Ordo Aurorae Novae decided it was time to step in. Smiling the familiar frosty Malfoy smile, Lucius addressed the room. "My friends, let us also consider Hermione's wishes. She knows nothing of OAN business, and little more than that of politics. She wants nothing to do with reporters. In her mind, this is simply a fun outing with a few playmates. Why not give her that?"
Macht licked his lips. "I understand, of course. The commoners haven't given her a moment's rest, and she must be weary of all that. I know my boy Julian certainly is." He rolled his eyes haughtily. "But I think the public needs to know that Hermione is fitting into our society, that she's making friends who are, to be frank, very powerful."
Lucius frowned. That actually was a good point. Rumors had trickled out that Hermione was a dead ringer, according to the house elves, for the boy Lord Voldemort. People would be curious as to which side Hermione was on, and if she had any inkling of Harry Potter and that whole mess with the former Dark Lord. Who may well be her father.
This was something even Lucius hadn't considered. If Hermione was indeed Voldemort's daughter, would she seek vengeance against Potter? He couldn't imagine his Hermione attacking a young boy in revenge. But then again...she had done many things already that were well outside the bounds of his imagination. She might, and she might not.
But now wasn't the time to contemplate this. Lucius nodded surreptitiously at Severus, who was scowling in a corner, cupping a large mug of steaming tea.
Even Narcissa flinched in surprise when the deep voice emerged from the shadows. Lucius knew Severus as an eccentric, brilliant, and darkly witty man, who loved too deeply and sorrowed even more; the rest of the Wizarding World, however, knew Severus Snape as the famed and fearsome right-hand man of the most powerful Dark wizard ever known. They knew him as cruel genius, a wizard of terrible potency.
If anything else besides fear, people looked to Severus Snape with respect.
True to form, he had wreathed his face in shadowy anger. His voice, emerging again from darkness, was calm and laced with venemous warning.
"You will not publicize this, Macht. You will not attempt to follow them. You will most certainly not attempt to contact any reporters. Hermione Granger is my top priority now; she is in my care, and that means I know the best what is best for her. Am I clear?"
Both Greengrass and Macht swallowed. Daphne's father even bowed his head, looking ashamed.
Severus continued, more gently. "I know we all want to know more about her. She's a stunningly intriguing child, with stunning powers. But for now, we let the children play amongst themselves. While they still can."
While they still can. The words seemed to Lucius, even in the familiar parlour flooded with pale winter sunlight, redolent of burning firewood and pine wreaths and comforting Earl Grey, to take on the deeper, grave sense of prophecy. The room stilled. Each person confronted their own thoughts, both hopes and fears, for the future. Their children were just that—children. But in this room of tomorrows and politics and powers unknown, their children were the future, the future of everything they held dear.
Draco was, unusually, flushed with excitement.
He and Daphne had been bustling around for the past hour, making arrangements with house elves for the journey north. Books lay scattered upon Draco's desk in his study, which the pair occasionally consulted as they discussed what to bring.
"Hermione told me she actually rode on a direwolf's back once," Daphne said, eyes sparkling. "But I think she was younger then, much smaller."
Draco laughed, an open, sweet laugh that made Daphne, for some reason, feel unaccountably warm. "I suppose the direwolves are big enough! Who knows if they'll even let us touch them? I'm just thrilled we're going to see them."
"Oh, Draco!" She sank onto one of the squashy armchairs by the window. "We shall have the merriest time in all the world." He lowered himself down beside her, out of breath and gazing out the window.
There was something about an adventure that brought out everything free and boyish and happy inside him. It made him seem, Daphne realized, as young as he was.
He stiffened suddenly.
She glanced at him in alarm, but he only smiled at her and stood, offering a hand to help her up. "Someone's here. Hermione, probably. Julian said he'd come by a little later."
As she took his hand, Daphne couldn't help but marvel at the change she perceived in him. It was almost imperceptible, but she knew him so well she could read him like she read herself. His features became more serious, calmer and controlled. Draco had assumed his role as the Malfoy heir, and leader of their little group.
Sure enough, a knock came at the door. Draco crossed the room with swift, sure grace, and opened the door to reveal Hermione Granger. He dismissed the house elf escorting her with a wave, then closed the door behind them.
"Hello, you two!" She said brightly. Hermione, too, was flushed pink, though Daphne couldn't tell if that was from excitement or the cold. Perhaps both. She clutched Talbot in her arms, who was hiding as best as he could in her wild curls
She giggled. "Come on, now, you know Daphne and Draco." Gently, she untangled wolf from hair, and handed him off to Daphne.
"He's growing so!" Daphne exclaimed, pleased as the tiny pup gave her hand a little lick.
"Indeed," Draco murmured from behind her. He reached over to pat Talbot, allowing a smile to color his voice. "Any idea how big he'll get?"
"Big, I'm hoping. Big enough to carry two or three of us, maybe."
Daphne, astonished, met Hermione's eyes. "That big? Oh, my." That was certainly something to think about. She resumed her seat by the window, loosing Talbot so he could explore the room. "We were just wondering what the direwolves would look like."
Hermione grinned. "You'll see. Tomorrow. What's all this?" She gestured at the furs and instruments and books strewn on the floor of Draco's normally impeccable chambers.
"Ah, yes," Draco said, clapping his hands. "We've been packing. We assume there's no resort out there—" Hermione and Daphne giggled "—so we've arranged for tents, sleeping furs, fur cloaks and hats and mittens and socks, a little stove for tea, a few books. The elves are preparing salted pork and venison, cheeses, some hard breads, and Father said we could even bring a little butterbeer..."
He faltered when he realized Hermione was looking confused. "What? What is it?"
"You mean to bring all that?"
"Of course," Draco frowned. "What else do you bring? Did we forget—"
But he fell silent when Daphne nudged him gently. When he flicked her a questioning glance, she nodded at Hermione, who was beginning to look a little sheepish.
"No! No, you didn't forget anything. It's more than I ever thought to bring, much more."
Draco exchanged another glance with Daphne. "Very well," he said slowly. "What did you bring when you visited the direwolves?"
Hermione shrugged. "Dunno. I suppose I just went as I was, really. The wolves kept me warm, of course."
They stared at her for a moment, speechless. But they had become so accustomed to her innocently blunt admissions of her own strange power that they weren't silent for long.
Daphne laughed, and pulled Hermione down to one of the squashy chairs beside her so she and Hermione and Draco could spend the rest of the evening happily discussing their forthcoming adventures in the north.
Word had somehow leaked out that Draco, Daphne, and Julian were accompanying Hermione on her travels for a few days.
"Who told?" Severus had demanded when Lucius showed him the brief article in the newspaper Higher Tides.
Grimly, Lucius shook his head. "Macht insists he kept it private, as did Greengrass. The children didn't say anything, either."
"Someone had to, Lucius."
He sighed. "My theory is Abelard, the children's tutor. We can't blame him, Severus," he added when the dark man's lips tightened to a frown. "He had to be told that the children would be out for a few days. Perhaps one of the parents let slip a little too much information."
Severus stroked his chin, scanning the article. "It doesn't say much," he admitted. "But I can't have the entire Wizarding population spreading rumors. We need to give them something—"
"—so reporters don't make a fuss at our secrecy," Lucius finished. "I know. But I thought we should discuss it before releasing a report to the press."
"Should we ask Hermione?"
That gave Lucius pause. His brow creased in thought. But not for long; when in doubt, it was always best to consult with Hermione, for he and Severus were learning to trust that their charge, despite being a young girl, was perfectly capable of deciding for herself what was best. "I'll ask her tonight."
The next day, the Wizarding population was abuzz with the knowledge that Hermione Granger had selected a small, close-knit group of friends to see the direwolf clans of the north.
Scholars nearly gagged at the discovery, but the Ministry, under Lucius' influence, informed them that the beaurocratic work alone that had to be done before anyone could begin research there would take months. While the Malfoy family was often the subject of much public interest, the Macht and Greengrass households experienced for the first time a flood of mailings from curious Wizarding families, reporters, politicians, and scholars.
All were fabulously interested to learn of their close relationships with Hermione Granger, the young girl who had taken the Wizarding World by storm.
Severus had questioned the girl's judgement privately to Lucius, right before they opened the gates of Malfoy Manor to the swarm of reporters outside in the snow.
"I don't get it, Lucius. I thought she didn't want all this, all the attention and speculation. Why would she tell you to let the papers in on their adventure?"
But Lucius Malfoy, as head of OAN, a prominent figure in the Ministry, and a popular politician in his own right, knew very well what the sphinx-like Hermione was up to.
He knew her best, after all.
So he said to Severus: "She's gathering followers, and letting the public in on it. Protection for her. Recognition for the Macht and Greengrass families. And more than that—she's telling the Wizarding World the kind of people she values. Scholars, diplomats, artists. She's very, very subtly setting the groundwork for her movement into power. Which won't, of course, come for many years—after Hogwarts, likely. But this is her statement to us: a rejection of the safety net we thought to build for her. And this is her statement to the world. This is who she is."
Then the gates to Malfoy Manor opened, and the throng crowding the grounds shifted inside, all clamoring about Hermione, Hermione, Hermione.
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you like where this is going.