Disclaimer: Nothing's mine but the plot.
The next day, Hermione and Regulus stood in the middle of the Quidditch pitch, holding brooms and shivering. The harsh October wind nipped at Hermione's face, staining her cheeks red. She wished she were inside.
"I don't know if this is such a good idea," said Hermione.
She looked at the school broom accusingly, as if it had been the one coaxing her to fly and not Regulus.
"Nonsense! Just get on the broom," he encouraged.
"I'm not sure about this."
The dark-haired boy gritted his teeth.
"Hermia, get on the broom."
"All right, all right, fine."
She mounted the broom uneasily, looking to Regulus for guidance.
"Grab onto the handle with both hands. No, a bit higher."
"That's right. Now push off from the ground with your legs."
"But, Regulus, what if I fall?" Hermione whimpered.
"I thought you were a Gryffindor."
"Oh, shut it, you."
"Merlin, just do it! Pull the handle closer to you if you want to break."
"How do I turn?" Hermione wanted to know, voice quivering with nerves.
"Lean in the direction you want to go in."
"Regulus, what if-"
"Hermia Ranger, please shut up and fly!" He interrupted.
"If I die, it's your fault."
"Of course," Regulus said dryly, "now go!"
Taking a deep breath, Hermione mustered all her courage and kicked off the ground. It had been a little to forceful, sending her thirty feet in the air in only seconds. Hermione laughed. She felt like she had left her stomach behind with Regulus. But she was flying, really flying, and it was exhilerating. She circled and dipped and raced in the air, thrilled with the danger. Why had she never done this before?
"I'm doing it, Regulus! I'm flying!" She shouted down at the boy, who was a little dot on the Quidditch pitch by now.
After a few minutes, the novelty of flying wore off. Hermione noticed that her hands were raw from gripping the broom handle, and it was really quite cold up there. So she dove back to Regulus. However, by the time she reached the ground, Hermione had become a bit overconfident and fell ungracefully off her broom into the frozen grass.
"Nice landing," sneered Regulus, but Hermione was too optimistic to feel hurt.
"Did you see that? I did it, Regulus, I flew!"
"I told you you could, didn't I?" he said rather cockily.
"Oh, it was brilliant! I've never felt anything like it! One minute I was on the ground, and the next you looked like a little ant! I don't know what I was afraid of, it-"
"Hermia." Regulus interrupted.
"Sorry for rambling. I'm just so excited!" Hermione gushed.
"I can see that," Regulus quipped. "Mind going inside? I'm freezing my arse off, heating charms or not."
"Yeah, of course!" Hermione said.
The two trudged (or in Hermione's case, skipped) across the pitch to the broom closet to replace Hermione's borrowed one. There was someone already inside; and as they neared, Hermione recognised him. Her breath caught. It was Mulciber. He had his back to them, surveying the brooms. The boy turned, as if sensing Hermione's eyes on him.
"Black." Mulciber nodded, and Regulus nodded back.
The boy turned to leave, and she let out a breath she hadn't realised she was holding. Hermione felt a bit guilty. She had almost forgotten why she was getting close with Regulus, in all her excitement. The interaction between him and Mulciber was a rude awakening. Every day that passed without her intervention brought Regulus closer and closer to his fate.
As they left the shed, Hermione said casually, "You know about the attack, yesterday, don't you?"
"Yes," he answered, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"Well...I know he's been preying on Slytherins."
"I was just wondering if you were planning on getting marked," Hermione said, seemingly nonchalant, but frantic on the inside.
"What makes you think that?" Regulus demanded.
"I never said you were," she pointed out.
"Yeah, well, you implied it."
"Sorry. But are you?"
"I don't see how that is any of your business."
"So you are," Hermione concluded. Regulus didn't reply at first.
"Did my brother put you up to this? Because I swear-"
"No! Sirius has nothing to do with this. I just...is it so hard to believe someone cares about you?"
Regulus fell silent again. Finally, Hermione spoke.
"I know about the allure of dark magic. Trust me. I've seen normal people, good people turn completely and irreversibly dark. It's tempting. But there's a reason they call it dark. I'm sure you know. That kind of magic just...changes you. It turns you into a monster, Regulus."
Regulus rolled his eyes.
"What are you, my mother?" He laughed bitterly. "No, fuck that. My mother doesn't give a damn about me. She only wants me to be the Black hei, that's all I am to her."
"I...I'm sorry, Regulus. That must be hard."
"Yeah, whatever. It's not like you care."
"Of course I do."
Regulus looked at her strangely.
"Why? I've never done anything for you."
"Well, we're friends, aren't we? Friends care about each other. And you did teach me to fly."
Hermione almost laughed seeing the skeptical look on his face. Being a Slytherin, friendship and compassion must have been a foreign concept to him.
"I'd like to be," she said earnestly.
"Well, then," Regulus snorted. "Wouldn't wanna disappoint."
"Oh, hi, Mia."
Emerging from the dungeons, Hermione looked up and was surprised to see Lily walking towards her. Gryffindors didn't frequent this part of Hogwarts, just as Slytherins avoided the moving staircase, so it was unusual to run into a housemate here. Hermione thought she might have been talking to Professor Slughorn.
"Hey," she replied, staring down at her feet.
The awkardness between them was palpable. Though her friends had apologised profusely after their accustations, it was still rather uncomfortable for her to be around them. They hadn't, to Hermione's relief, brought Harry up since she'd confessed. She didn't know what she would say to them if they asked.
"Are you going up to the tower?" Hermione wanted to know.
Lily nodded, and the two girls turned the corner. Suddenly, Hermione slammed right into a large, familiar form. She froze.
"Hello, mudblood." Dolohov grinned lechererously, dropping his gaze to her body.
Hermione's brain was not working. It was as if her legs had turned to stone. She could almost feel the memory of Dolohov's stale breath, his mocking sneer, those digusting hands touching her skin...
"Mia. Hermia. Let's go," said Lily.
Still in a daze, Hermione let the redhead pull her away. The two ran the rest of the way to the common room and did not stop, even when their names were called, even when they ran out of breath.
Hermione had just sunk into her seat with a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks when she saw Lucius sitting alone on the other side of the room. Clutching the bottle, Hermione made her way over to him. She had a plan.
"Hello, Lucius. Mind if I join you?" Hermione asked.
"Of course not," Lucius said, and gestured to the chair across from him.
"Where's Avery?" Hermione asked as she took the seat. "I know you two are friends."
"Avery is with his father."
She raised her eyebrow.
"In the middle of the school year?"
"It was an...important matter." Lucius said cryptically.
"He's getting marked," asked Hermione, though it came out more as a statement than a question.
"I do not feel comfortable discussing my friend's private life."
They sat in uncomfortable silence until Hermione spoke again.
"Lucius...you're not getting the mark, are you?"
The blond shrugged.
"My father has. I've little choice in the matter."
"You always have a choice." Hermione said sadly.
"I suppose. But there is always a better option."
"Joining You-Know-Who is not the better option."
"It is expected of me," explained Lucius. "I am a Malfoy, one of the most respected pureblood families in wizarding England, and I have duties to fulfil. You are a muggleborn. You would not understand."
Hermione narrowed her eyes.
"I understand perfectly well. I just think you're using your blood as an excuse not to stand up to your family."
"Are you calling me a coward?"
"No. I'm saying that you need to put yourself first, to consider your needs and wants, before you throw your life away for something as silly as honour."
He had no reply.
After her talk with Lucius, Hermione found the Gryffindor girls at Honeydukes, stocking up for their next 'sleepover' (she found it a bit silly, seeing as they all slept in the same room anyway). Dorcas was holding an armful of chocolate bars, while Lily and Alice preferred fruity sweets. Hermione eyed them disapprovingly.
"That will rot your teeth, you know," she chided.
"Oh, don't be such a killjoy!" Dorcas said.
"Don't be mean, Dorcas." Lily eyed Hermione worriedly, as if the smallest remark could break her. Hermione waved her hand easily.
"It's fine, she's just playing around. Where are we going next?" She wanted to know.
"We're picking up dresses for the Halloween Ball," said Alice.
"Oh, that's right, you're new! Well, every year Hogwarts has a ball for the fourth years and up. It's gorgeous. You've got to come!"
Hermione furrowed her brow. A ball? The only sort of dance at Hogwarts in her time was the Yule Ball, and that was only because of the Triwizard Tournament. She wondered what other obsolete traditions she had missed out on in the 90s.
"We'll see," said Hermione, letting them drag her into the shop.
She watched for what felt like an hour as the three girls tried on gowns of various lengths and colours. Madam Malkin's really did have the best dress robes. Hermione wished she could buy one herself.
"Why don't you try one, Mia?" Lily asked.
"How about this one?" Hermione joked, pulling a gown of its rack. It was long, black taffeta, and looked like something off the cover of a paranormal romance novel.
"Yeah, go ahead!" Said Dorcas, pushing her into a changing room.
"This is going to look ridiculous on me," Hermione insisted, but slipped the dress on anyway. She parted the curtains to show it off.
"What do you think?" Hermione asked dryly.
"Oh, Mia." Lily gushed, covering her mouth in wonder, "you look so beautiful."
Dorcas nodded in agreement.
"Yeah! That dress was made for you."
Hermione scrunched her nose.
"Really? It's a bit...gothic."
"Well, yeah, but it's fab. You've got to buy it," Dorcas insisted.
Hermione fingered the price tag. The dress cost 23 galleons, or 115 pounds. As dentists, Dr. and Dr. Granger were very well off, and Hermione had never worried about money. She would have bought it without thinking twice had she been in her own time. But her parents were not here now. The 100 galleons in Hermione's beaded bag would not last forever.
"I..I can't afford it. I've only got five galleons left to spend today."
"Oh, don't worry about that. I'll pay for it," said Alice. "Consider it an apology for what happened last week."
Hermione prostested, "What? No! That's far too much money. Just forget about it. I'll transfigure something."
Alice stood her ground.
"I'm a Selwyn. I've more money than I could possibly spend in my life. Please let me pay?"
Hermione tried to resist, but the allure of the gown and Alice's round, pleading face softened her. It really was a beautiful dress.
"All right, you can pay," she acquiesced, "but then I'm buying a round of Butterbeers for all of you."
Alice smiled sweetly.
Hermione returned early to Hogwarts, and entered the common room to find it empty, save Sirius. His face brightened visibly at her arrival.
"Hi, Sirius," she said.
"Hey. Where are the girls?"
"They're at the salon. I think this," Hermione pointed at her mass of unruly curls, "is beyond help, so I came back."
"I rather like your hair." Sirius said.
"You don't have to lie."
"No, really. It suits you."
A smile bloomed on Hermione's face.
"Thanks. I like your hair, too," she teased.
Sirius winked and ran a hand through the silky black locks.
"What's not to like?"
"Oh, shut it, you." Hermione grinned and tried to punch him in the arm.
Sirius grinned and caught her by the wrist before she could hit her target, unintentionally pulling Hermione closer to him; but he still didn't let go of the capured hand. He laced his fingers with hers. Hermione met his eyes, and the light-heartedness of the situation was sucked away. She could feel Sirius' breath fanning her forehead, wisping her hair; the heat of his body melding with hers. There was barely an inch between them.
Then, Sirius leaned down.
A/N: Finally, right? Sorry for the wait! I'll try to publish sooner next time. Thanks for reading and reviewing x