A/N: I'd had another version of the previous chapter already completed, and I'd sent myself the wrong one. I liked some of Hermione's thoughts in the second version better, so I went back and edited it. It was mostly about her feelings on Remus' actions. I also added some paragraphs in after a review from Jenie. Thanks, Jenie!

She quickly searched through the folds looking for her friends. What she saw caused her breath to catch. Sirius Black, James Potter, Remus Lupin and Petter Pettigrew were just colliding with Severus Snape. The four of them seemed to have converged on top of Severus and Hermione felt her heart rate increase. "Mischief managed," she breathed before tossing the map back in the bag, throwing it in her trunk and warding it shut.

Chapter 8:

Hermione quickly made her way back out of the portrait hole and through the castle's many secret passageways until she came upon the four Marauders with their wands drawn on a disarmed and disheveled Snape, snarling questions at him. They wanted to know what he did to her. What on earth? They seemed to think he did something to her to cause her to flee the classroom the previous day. In a way they were right, but he'd have no clue of the connection she'd made.

Snapping out of her thoughts, she quickly darted between the four armed boys and stood protectively in front of her future Potions Master. "What in Merlin's name are you doing?!"

"Hermione! Where have you been," asked Remus. "We've been looking everywhere for you!"

"I'm sorry, Remus," she said quietly. She knew she'd have to have an excuse when she finally had to face her friends again, so she was prepared for this moment. The anger she felt at their treatment of Snape helped ease her guilty conscience. "Just before my parents died we'd taken a camping trip. While doing some hiking we came across a herd of Red deer. They didn't spook when they saw us and my parents and I were able to sit and watch them graze. Seeing Severus' patronus just reminded me of times lost and I got a bit overwhelmed. I've just needed some time on my own to think. But why are you attacking Severus this way?"

Remus started to shift uncomfortably, but Sirius was smirking while James still looked angry. "You owe me 5 galleons, Prongs." Then he looked to Hermione and said in a mock whisper, "I thought you ran out because you couldn't stop yourself from laughing at Snivellous' patronus. I mean really, a doe?" Then more loudly he viciously stated, "You're going to be teased unmercifully at your little Death Eater meetings, Snivellous."

Hermione narrowed her eyes at Sirius. "Stop it, Sirius," she said in a dangerous tone.

James made a noise of disgust. "What is it with Gryffindor girls protecting this greasy haired git, Hermione? First Lily and now you."

Hermione gave both Sirius and James a hard stare. "Oh grow up, you two. I live in the real world. A world where a war is brewing and people have and will continue to die. You are practically recruiting for Voldemort by treating people this way," she said, breathing laboriously in her righteous anger.

Everyone flinched at her use of Tom Riddle's alias. Remus less than the others as he wasn't quite so surprised, but he couldn't keep the wince off his countenance. After recovering, James puffed up his chest in righteous fury. "It is a war, Hermione, and the bastard at your back wants to join You Know Who! Just ask him and he'll tell you!"

Hermione thought Snape had been uncharacteristically quiet throughout this confrontation, so she turned to him and asked. "Well, Severus?"

He shifted uncomfortably before sending a glare to the Marauders over her shoulder. "It's none of your business, witch! Now give me back my wand and leave me alone!"

Hermione tilted her head and studied him curiously. She didn't want him exposed to the life of a Death Eater if she could prevent it. From what she heard, one had to perform some ghastly tasks before receiving the mark, and she didn't want Severus to mar his soul that way. She decided to try and change his mind.

Ignoring the protests both verbally, and from Remus, physically, Hermione summoned Snape's wand and then threw up a hasty shield before dragging him to the nearest classroom and warding the door shut. When she turned around Snape was eyeing her warily. She was surprised by his response to her. She'd been prepared for disdain and his ever present biting sarcasm. Having been exposed to his older self since she was eleven, this young version would have a hard time intimidating her. It didn't matter, since he didn't even try. She raised her eyebrow before slowly extending his wand to him.

He gently took the wand from her hand and gifted her with a curt, "Thank you."

Hermione felt like she'd entered the Twilight Zone. She didn't quite know how to take this politer version of Severus Snape. Grabbing his left arm, she decided to delve right into the heart of the matter. She was relieved to see nothing but pale skin when she lifted his sleeve.

After recovering from the shock of her audacious actions, Severus ripped his arm from Hermione's grasp. "Please keep your hands off my person," he snarled angrily. His reaction actually made Hermione relax. This was the Severus Snape she knew how to deal with.

"I had to know, Severus," she stated calmly. "I'm surprised to hear you want to become a Death Eater. I spoke with many of the portraits over the summer months and they caught me up on the goings on around here for the last few years. I was under the impression you'd been friends with Lily Evans." Snape made a painful choking noise, but Hermione continued like she hadn't heard it. "Do you not care about her anymore, Severus," she asked.

"Of course I do," he spat angrily.

"Then why, Severus? You do realize that Volemort and his Death Eaters would love nothing more than to see the streets painted in Lily Evans' blood," she asked, ignoring the dangerous look in his eyes at that proclamation. "Well, that is after they've repeatedly raped and tortured her broken body and she's desperately begging for death," she added as an aside.

Severus' control broke, and Hermione found herself pinned to the wall with his wand at her throat. "Shut up," he spat.

She met his gaze unflinchingly. "I wonder how they'll do it. I'm sure they'll find a way to make her desensitized body feel a bit more pain before she's finally allowed to find her peace in death."

Severus dug his wand deeper into Hermione's neck and she had to hold back her wince of pain as his eyes bored into hers. He was so close their noses touched. "They'll never touch her," he growled.

"Why? Because an 18-year-old boy asks them not to? Because you will be so powerful once you receive Voldemort's mark? Spoiler alert: Voldemort only cares about his own power. His own desires."

"Don't say His name! You know nothing about Him!" Snape had abandoned his wand and was now squeezing Hermione's throat uncomfortably, but not enough to restrict her breathing.

"So you're telling me he secretly has a soft spot for muggleborns? You know, like Lily?"

"He will spare her at my request," he exclaimed. "I will ask for her protection and He will grant it!"

Hermione looked at him like he was a particularly naïve child. "Okay, I'll play along Severus. Let's say he does grant your protection. What about Dorcas Meadows? Would you like to see her writhing under the Cruciatus? Watch her passed from Death Eater to Death Eater? Watch while they mercilessly use her body as she cries for help? Watch as, after they've covered her in their piss and ejaculate, they gut her like a fish and use her intestines to paint the floor with her blood?"

She was being intentionally harsh and vulgar, hoping to shock some sense into him. To put an innocent face on the horrific tortures that delight Voldemort's soldiers. She had to make him see.

Snape was staring at her horrified when they heard a noise in the back of the room. They both turned with their wands drawn and saw young Regulus Black vomiting in the shadowed corner. Neither had seen the boy reading in the corner of the deserted room, as he had extinguished his light and pasted himself to the shadows when he heard them enter.

Hermione quickly approached him and vanished his sick when he finished heaving. She sunk to her knees and cast the breath freshening charm before placing her hand softly on his hunched back. "Are you alright, Regulus," she asked.

He didn't answer and Hermione looked over to Snape in question. He looked just as dazed as Regulus, and just shrugged his shoulders in response. Just as Hermione turned back to him, Regulus spoke. "Is that really what it's like," he asked in a small voice.

Hermione didn't feel and joy at the vulnerability in their reactions, but she knew they both needed a serious reality check. "Regulus, Volemort wants to exterminate all muggles, muggleborns and blood traitors. He is a cruel man who doesn't really care about anyone but himself. He wouldn't hesitate to torture or kill one of his own followers if it meant he gained even an ounce more power. You won't find any power or glory kissing the hems of his robes because he wants it all for himself," she finished solemnly.

Regulas watched her with both fear and contemplation in his eyes. Hermione felt her insides swirl with hope. Maybe she could save him.

"Why do you use his name," he asked with a bit more strength.

"Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself. I am who I am. He is who he is. If we were ever to meet, fear would only handicap me while giving him an added advantage. What happens will happen. I plan to face my fate with my head held high."

Regulus still looked very uneasy. "It's not so easy for me, Hermione. My family is expecting me to join. If I don't, they'll cast me out. They'll disown me," he stated sadly.

"You have to make choices for yourself, Regulus. Not your parents. It's your life, and you'll be the one having to live with the consequences. But I highly doubt your father will disown you."

"You don't know them. They'll be furious," he countered.

"Furious enough to leave the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black without a blood heir? I think not. All you have to do is stall them until you graduate. Tell them you want to finish your education first. Then, after school, you will be of age and able to refuse them without also being dependent on them."

"I'll be penniless! Of course I'll still be dependent on them."

"Regulus, your brother will not turn you away if you refuse Voldemort. He'll be your staunchest ally. You will not be alone or penniless."

She heard Severus scoff behind her, but didn't take her attention from Regulus' hopeful face. "You really think so?"

"I do," Hermione said with a smile. "He'll be so happy; I know he will."

Regulus nodded hesitantly with a small, relieved smile. "So just stall until graduation? Easy as that?"

"Right," Hermione responded, hoping this would all be moot before school starts back next September.

"Thank you, Hermione," Regulus said quietly but with a huge grin. "You have no idea how much stress I've felt over this issue."

Hermione smiled widely before impulsively reaching out to hug him. She was so happy to not only give Regulus a way out, but also to give Sirius his brother back.

Regulus was stiff in her arms. "What are you doing? Why are squeezing me with your body?"*

"It's a hug, Regulus. I'm hugging you," Hermione responded sadly.

After a few moments he relaxed and returned the embrace. Hermione felt her heart melt for the boy, as she knew his cold parents had not shown him much physical affection. When they broke from the hug Regulus turned to leave the room, stating he needed to head to the library to work on some essays. Hermione let him go, knowing he didn't want her to see his emotion and that he needed time to think over what she'd said.

Severus re-warded the door after his exit and Hermione expected to see his face adorned a sneer and his mouth to be ready with some sarcastic comment like, 'How touching."

She was therefore surprised when he turned to her with a neutral expression and words with no teeth. "Do you really think Black will be willing to take in his brother? He hates all Slytherins, you know?"

Hermione sighed. "I know Sirius isn't perfect, Severus. But neither am I. And neither are you. Despite what you may think, he hasn't has some easy, princely life. His parents are abusive and he didn't grow up knowing what it was like to be truly loved or cared for. Regulus is the favored son and even he didn't know what hug was, for Merlin's sake!" Severus started to interrupt, but Hermione spoke over his objections. "I'm not saying his actions are acceptable, but we have all said and done things in our lives we later regret. It's part of being human. The only way we're ever going to live peacefully is if we let go of all this hate and prejudice. If we hold onto it we're only feeding the animosity a dark wizard needs in order to take over like Voldemort has."

Severus seemed to contemplate her words for few moments before begrudgingly meeting her eyes. "I'll never like him."

Hermione laughed. "He's not for everyone, Severus. You don't have to like him, nor he you. You both just have to treat each other civilly. And before you say it, I know he's just as bad an offender as you are, if not worse."

Severus seemed to be pleased with her acknowledgment that Sirius was just as guilty, if not more so, for their feud. She saw a small smirk appear for just a second before it vanished and he was serious once more. "I was just wondering," he began, clearly uncomfortable. "You are trying to mend the tear between Regulus and Sirius. Do you think…do you think you could help me with Lily?"

Hermione sighed sadly. "I heard what happened there, Severus. While I don't approve of blood prejudices and the use of that foul word, I understand that your reaction was under duress. What those boys did to you was wrong. So wrong," she finished quietly. She had seen the memory just hours before. It was still fresh in her mind, and she again felt anger on his behalf. Severus stood across from her, clenching his fists at his sides and refusing to make eye contact.

She took a deep breath and regained her composure before continuing. "Like I said about Sirius, we all do and say things we later regret. You regretted calling Lily that word, but you didn't change your mind about joining the very movement that hopes to see her destroyed."

Severus sighed sadly. "Everyone wants somewhere to belong, Hermione. From the moment I met them, Black and Potter made it clear that it would never be with them. I have been promised my revenge on all those who have wronged me if I joined the Dark Lord. I've also been promised an apprenticeship so I can get my Potions Mastery. I do not come from wealth. I do not have the same options as Regulus," he said, his shoulders hunching dejectedly.

Hermione studied him for several long moments and he fidgeted uneasily under the scrutiny. Taking a deep breath she decided to just take the bull by the horns. She didn't know if she'd ever have another opportunity to reach him, and she didn't want to see him fall through the cracks. "Ignoring everything else, Severus, do you still want to join the Death Eaters because you believe in their cause? Because you have the same goals as they do?"

"No," Severus said with a shaky breath. "To be honest with you, your description of witnessing rape, torture and murder is terrifying. I don't even want to see Black and Potter in that situation. I'd love to see them suffer the same humiliations I've endured, but I never thought to take it that far. The thought of those things happening to Lily…" he trailed off, unable to finish the thought aloud.

Hermione smiled in relief and placed a comforting hand on Severus' arm. "You don't have to join them, Severus. My parents were well off and left me a sizable inheritance. I would be honored to sponsor your apprenticeship far away from any place Voldemort would be willing to travel to seek you out."

Severus looked at her suspiciously. "Why would you do that? You don't even know me."

"I've seen you in Potions, Severus. You're brilliant. So not only would I be denying Voldemort a powerful Potions Master, I'd also know that I played a small part in any breakthroughs you'll undoubtedly make throughout your career. That will be a rather large feather in my cap, I do believe," she responded with a wide grin.

Severus' face softened as he responded with a small smile and a dash of hope. "And Lily?"

Hermione's grin faltered as she sighed. "I'll try, Severus, but I'm not sure she's such an easy fix. She was hurt, humiliated and betrayed by someone she trusted. I'll speak with her, but I can't make any promises. I believe she'll come around in time, though, once she sees that you've changed your course. BUT – and this is the mother of all buts…she is getting very friendly with James; she accepted his invitation to the next Hogsmeade weekend. If you want to repair your relationship with her, you have to accept that he's a part of her life, and you'll never be more than friends."

Severus scowled fiercely. "He doesn't deserve her," he stated vehemently.

"Maybe, maybe not. From what I hear, he's changed a lot since his parents died. The point is that it's not your decision to make, Severus. It's Lily's. She doesn't see you that way. You're going to have to move on. Find someone else. There are other fish in the sea and all that," she responded.

"Oh, so if Remus Lupin decided he wanted to date your most hated enemy you wouldn't try to stop it?"

Hermione laughed. "If Remus wanted to snog Voldemort I'd have to let him go! I wouldn't want to be with someone that crazy anyway!"

Severus rolled his eyes. "Fine, not your enemy. Say he wanted to date Marlene McKinnon?"

"I would let him go, Severus. I love him. I'm a little upset that you've recognized this, but I do. I want him to be happy. If she made him happy then I would move on. It would hurt, but when you love someone, you put their happiness above your own."

Severus sighed. "You're entirely too noble," he responded resignedly. "And you do realize he's a werewolf."

Hermione narrowed her eyes in annoyance. "Yes, Severus. I do realize he's a werewolf. You do realize he can't control that, right? That he didn't send Greyback an invitation to come to him on the full moon when he was seven years old and bite through his flesh? You do realize it could just as easily been you?"

Severus appeared thoroughly dressed down and Hermione took some satisfaction in being able to chastise him without receiving detentions until her deathbed. "You know I'm going to be ostracized from Slytherin, don't you? This is not going to be an easy transition for me."

"Do you really want to be friends with people like Avery and Mulciber, Severus? You do know Mulciber wanted had plans to harm Lily during the duels at the start of term? James took him on so he wouldn't be able to get to her."

Severus scowled and looked away. Hermione smiled softly and reached for his hand, giving it an encouraging squeeze. "I'll be your friend if you'll have me, Severus. I won't leave you adrift alone," she responded earnestly.

"Your friends won't be pleased," he countered, focusing on the wall past her shoulder. It was clear he thought she'd abandon him for the Marauders and Lily, and her heart clenched for him. Always rejected and unloved. No wonder he turned into such a bitter, unfeeling man.

She moved slightly to her left so she could look him in the eye. She needed him to see the truth in her words. To know she wouldn't turn her back on him. "My friends aren't really my friends if they can't respect my decisions. You let me worry about that," she said with feeling. "One thing you'll learn about me, Severus, is that I am very loyal. If you truly wish to be my friend, I will always stick by you."

Severus relaxed his posture slightly and gave a curt nod. "I'd like that."

Hermione smiled and decided to throw caution to the wind. She reached out and hugged the young, vulnerable version of her surly Potion's professor. Like Regulus, and Harry before him, he stiffened at the contact before returning her embrace. She felt a pang of sadness for the boys in her life that didn't get to grow up knowing a parent's love the way she did. Yes, she'd been bullied at school, but her parents had doted on her and she'd never once felt unloved or unwanted by them.

"You'll look after Regulus, won't you," she asked as she released him from her hold.

"Of course," he responded quietly, for once not hesitating to look her in the eyes. He quickly excused himself after she voiced her thanks.

Hermione understood his abrupt exit, as he'd been through quite an ordeal that day. She felt rather drained herself and followed him out of the room, parting ways when she turned off to head toward Gryffindor Tower. Almost immediately after Severus was gone from her presence Remus was on her.

"What the hell were you thinking, Hermione! You locked yourself in a room with two future Death Eaters?!"

"Two? How did you know Regulus was in there, too?"

"We saw him come out of the room! Sirius is so upset with you! And James, too! Merlin, defending Snape, Hermione!" Hermione gave Remus a hard glare as she tried to hurry ahead of him. He, of course, matched her stride easily. "Don't you have anything to say for yourself," he demanded.

"I am not the one who should be explaining themselves, Remus Lupin, but we can discuss this when we get back to the Tower. I'd rather deal with all of you at once," she responded testily.

Remus' mouth snapped shut and settled into a grimace as they quickly made their way to their common room.

The room was still fairly deserted when they returned. None of her friends could be found lounging about, so she immediately started up the stairs to the 7th year boy's dorm. James and Sirius, as well as Lily Evans, jumped when she threw the door open and stomped inelegantly inside. She thanked the heavens to find Peter missing. The two boys immediately scowled, but Lily looked hurt, which drained Hermione of some of her anger.

Sirius was the first to speak. "What are you doing here, Hermione? Why aren't you with your precious Slytherins?"

Hermione rolled her eyes at his dramatics. "Oh, don't be such a child, Sirius. This is not a school yard game. This is war. Every one we can keep from taking the mark means Voldemort has one less wand to protect him and do his bidding. The only reason being sorted into Slytherin typically equates to going dark is because the house is ostracized by people like you, and they have no choice but to follow the path of those before them. They're not shown any other way. You boys have been helping Voldemort with your "pranks" and cruel taunts. You're creating enemies who have the potential to cause problems for you in the future. Hell, your children may even have to pay the price of your foolishness."

Sirius was truly angry now, and stood to tower over her. Remus growled behind her, but she put up her hand. She didn't think Sirius would physically harm her, but she was prepared to defend herself if need be. "So you've been here a few months and suddenly you're the expert on Hogwarts, houses, me and my friends? You don't know who you're dealing with, Hermione, and you're going to get burned. Severus is dark. He's going to take the Mark. He is the enemy. He claimed to be friends with Lily, yet he called her that foul M word. And I saw my brother leave the room before you and Severus. He's my parents' perfect son, and is looking forward to the day he can make them proud by bearing You Know Who's brand," he said, breathing heavily in his anger.

Hermione tried to raise herself up as much as she could, but Sirius was still much taller than her, so she had to speak up to him. "First of all, Severus is not going to take the Mark. He was laboring under some erroneous ideas about what that organization actually does. He does not hate muggleborns. When I explained what he was signing up for, he immediately saw the error of his ways. As for Regulus, I didn't realize he was in the room when I took Severus there. I didn't notice his presence until he vomited after I described the activities in which Death Eaters partake. He is a sweet boy, Sirius, and he needs his big brother. He's felt trapped, forced to join under your mother's insistence, while desperately wishing for a way out. I told him to put your mother off until after he graduated and then you'd help him when she kicks him out. That you'd be so happy your brother refused Voldemort. Please don't make a liar out of me."

Sirius looked as if she'd slapped him. "He said that? That he felt like he had no other choice? Why didn't he come to me?"

"He thinks you hate him, Sirius, but he misses you. He really loves you, you know," she responded sadly.

Sirius made to go around her. "I need to find him."

Hermione grabbed his arm. "Wait, Sirius. You need to understand that he is going to be at Hogwarts for two years without you. He'll need to be able to live with the other Slytherins without endangering himself. If he starts publicly talking to you, they will know something is off and inform your mother. You need to wait, and only seek him out if he's alone."

Sirius was clearly torn, but reluctantly agreed. After a few moments he pulled Hermione into a hug. "Thank you, Mione, for being there for Regulus when I wasn't. Oh Merlin, I feel terrible. I'm an awful brother."

Hermione swallowed hard. This wasn't going to be easy, but Sirius needed some tough love. He could not go on behaving the way he has in the past. "You've not been a great brother," she agreed sadly.

He let go of her like she'd physically burned him. From the look on his face she realized that would probably have been less painful. From the corner of her eye she saw an angry James approach, ready to defend his friend. She put her hand up to stop him and continued speaking.

"Not everyone can be as brave as you, Sirius. Regulus was eleven years old when that hat put him in Slytherin. He'd lived in your parents' house and heard their opinions of your sorting for two years before he made it to Hogwarts. He was undoubtedly scared of their response if both their children were sorted outside Slytherin. But that doesn't make him dark. Or bad. And he did need you."

She stopped speaking when Sirius turned from her and began to walk away. She reached for his arm and he spun around, tears threatening to spill from his eyes. "I get it. I'm a horrible person! You've made your point!"

He tried to rip his arm from her grasp but she held strong. "You're not a horrible person, Sirius. I understand your hatred for the dark. I do. I hate it, too. But you need to realize that house affiliation doesn't really mean anything. It's a person's actions. Has Regulus' personality, his predilections, ever seemed dark to you?"

Sirius looked away from her earnest eyes. "No," he whispered.

Hermione hated to see the sadness creep into his features. It reminded her of the Sirius of her past, and she didn't want to see him reborn. It seemed to help with her other boys, so Hermione pulled Sirius into her embrace. He responded without hesitation, clinging to her desperately.

Hermione knew that when Sirius Black loved someone he loved them fiercely. With his entire being, never holding anything back. So she knew this was killing him. That he'd turned his back on someone he loved, thinking they didn't deserve it, only to find out he was wrong. He'd left his brother to deal with realities most only find in their worst nightmares. He was supposed to protect his little brother, and he'd failed.

There were few things that could break Sirius Black, and this was one of them. As painful as it was, Hermione knew this would help him in the end. He was broken, but he could be put back together, better than before.

With his head buried in her neck, Hermione was able to speak softly into his ear. "It's not too late to be there for him, Sirius. He's not taken the Mark. He is still free to be his own man. To make his own way. And he'll need you. He'll need your support, and your love. And I know you'll be happy to give it to him. You can still save him Sirius. But you need to start taking these things more seriously. It's not a game out there."

Sirius pulled back and held her at arm's length. "You're right, Hermione. I'll try and think before I act, but it won't be easy," he responded with an easy smirk. She rolled her eyes and his face was once more sincere. "And thank you for giving me my brother back," he said, bringing her into another hug.

Hermione returned his embrace easily. She was used to his crazy mood swings and easily followed him through it. "I'm glad I could facilitate it, Sirius. Truly."

He nodded and pulled away from her, holding her at arm's length and looking seriously into her eyes. "You're dead wrong about Snape, though. He's a bad egg, Hermione."

Hermione shook Sirius off her shoulders, annoyance returned, as James voiced his agreement. Would these boys never get it?

"So you're telling me you boys haven't played any part in the instigation of your feud with him," she asked scathingly. "I know what happened after your defense OWL. The portraits told me. He was minding his own business when you attacked him for no reason. You ensured he'd have no chance to defend himself before you even got his attention. You then proceeded to torture and humiliate him in front of the whole school while he was unarmed and outnumbered." The boys were red faced and opening their mouths to defend themselves when she cut them off.

"Before you try to defend yourselves let me tell you about my first encounter with Death Eaters." At their astonished faces she continued. "Yes, first but not last. I have not been living safely inside this castle under the protection of Albus Dumbledore for the better part of the last six years. I have seen things I wish I hadn't. Like a group of Death Eaters torturing a couple of muggles by using the Levicorpus hex. While the muggles were helplessly dangling in the air the Death Eaters laughed and proceeded to remove their pants. Does that sound at all familiar to you two?"

Hermione watched their red sputtering faces wearily. "Severus may have used that foul word, but he was pushed there." Here she turned to an upset Lily. "I'm sorry, Lily. He shouldn't have said that to you. He doesn't even believe in it himself. But he had been attacked and humiliated, and like a trapped animal, he snapped at the safest target. I'm not saying it was right. I'm not even asking you to forgive him. I'm just telling you why I'm willing to extend my friendship to him."

James moved to stand in front of Lily, fury plain on his face. "Don't speak to her! You're defending a future Death Eater! You wouldn't dare if you were truly her friend!"

Hermione calmly wiped the spittle on her face that resulted from James screaming so close to it. As she stared into his venomous hazel eyes, she thanked divine providence that Harry had been blessed with Lily's eyes. That look in eyes so similar to her Harry might have broken her, especially since she knew her next words were going to truly hurt him.

"You know, muggles have this saying: 'Actions speak louder than words.' Severus may have used the words of a Death Eater, but you used the actions. Severus Snape is the only non-pureblood in Slytherin, you know? Why is it that he is the one you target so viciously? There are hundreds of Pureblood Slytherin students whose families' pasts are drowning in darkness. Yet you single out the one whose mother married a muggle."

James took a step back, horror written in his features before it was replaced with anger and he stepped forward again. From the corner of her eye she could see the devastating affect her words were having on Sirius.

"Blood status has nothing to do with it," he vehemently denied. "How dare you?"

Hermione sighed warily as Remus pulled her back. He'd been quiet during their altercation, but was giving James a warning look. Hermione wasn't worried that he'd try to harm her physically, but she was worried about their friendship. However, at the end of the day, she had to do what was right. She'd offered Severus her hand in friendship, and she would stick by him. He had no one else, and she would not turn her back on him.

"I know you're not blood prejudiced. I just don't understand why, James? Not only is he the only half-blood Slytherin, but he was the only Slytherin who was best friends with a muggleborn. What did he ever do to you that earned him such poor treatment? There are others in that house who are very dark, dangerous and have a legitimate hatred for muggleborn and muggles. Why not go after them?"

James looked at her unseeingly for a few moments before the fight left him. His shoulders drooped and he dropped down on his bed with his head in his hands. The question wasn't rhetorical. Hermione truly wanted to know why, but James didn't respond and she didn't want to push him much further.

The silence was broken by Lily's soft voice. "I'd like to know the answer, too, James. Why did you target Severus? He was my friend, and it hurt me to see him hurt and humiliated all the time. And by someone from my own house! Someone who claimed to like me!" Her voice grew stronger yet sadder as she spoke. "You were always spouting sonnets, but you never respected me enough to be civil to my best friend!"

James' head rose in misery. "I was jealous," he admitted quietly.

Lily sputtered, "Jealous?! You went after my best friend because you were jealous?!"

James eyes fell to the floor and Hermione could see how much he regretted his past actions. "I felt a connection to you from the moment we met," he revealed quietly. "You were sitting with Snape on the train, and I wanted to impress you. At first I was just trying to be witty and funny, but I'd already had an opinion on all things Slytherin and it quickly turned meaner than I'd meant for it to. I see that now. But at the time, I was just a kid, and I just thought it was funny."

He looked up at Lily quickly before averting his gaze again. "As we got older things just got worse and I started to truly hate him. Add to that my jealousy that you liked him and hated me…It just got out of control. Then last year, it went off the rails. I finally saw that," he whispered with a quick glance toward Sirius, who looked to the floor in shame.

"Last year," Lily asked. "What happened last year?"

James shook his head. He wasn't going to throw Sirius under the Knight Bus. "It doesn't matter what. All that matters is that the incident, followed by my parents' deaths, really made me see things differently. I knew I had done things that would have made my parents ashamed, and it crushed me. That realization was followed by recognizing that you hated me because I deserved it."

Hermione's heart broke for her friend, knowing this was hurting him even more than he showed. But she knew these issues needed to be addressed. You can't crack an omelet without breaking a few eggs, after all.

Lily sat down next to James and enveloped one of his hands in both of hers. "But you've been trying, haven't you? I've noticed that you've not been bullying people lately." James winced at the reminder that he'd been a bully, but responded like a man.

"I have been trying, Lily. So hard. I want to be the type of man my parents raised me to be. Someone who'd make them proud. Someone worthy of your attention," he finished with a slight blush.

Lily smiled at him encouragingly, and gave his hand a squeeze. "I've noticed, James. And I really like the person I've been getting to know these past few weeks. The real James. Not the arrogant prat you show to everyone else," she finished teasingly, bumping her shoulder in to his.

James' smile dimmed a bit as he looked into Lily's eyes. "I am sorry, Lils. For not respecting your friendship with Snape. And for the way I treated him," he said ashamedly.

"I second that, Lily. I'm sorry," Sirius said quietly, shocking everyone in the room.

"And I'm sorry I turned a blind eye. I knew it was wrong to treat Snape so poorly, but I never said anything, even as a prefect," said Remus sadly.

Hermione smiled widely at them. "I'm so proud of you boys. I know this conversation wasn't easy, but I suspect it will pay dividends in the future," she responded brightly.

They all looked at her like she was crazy, but the door opened before they could respond.

"Hello Peter," she responded coolly as he walked through the door looking around the room warily.

"Worked everything out, did you" he asked glancing at his friends.

"Sure did. Just a misunderstanding," she said with a forced smile.

He nodded with a timid smile and turned to Sirius as he asked, "What did Dumbledore want, Petey?"

Peter scowled, embarrassed. "Just to talk to me about my Defense grade," he replied with a shrug.

Hermione's eyebrows rose. Could it be a coincidence that Dumbledore called Peter to his office at the very moment she needed to speak freely without him around? Somehow, after all she'd learned about him, she doubted it. Maybe his manipulations weren't always a bad thing after all.

A/N:

I want to thank everyone who's sticking with the story after all this time! I really appreciate your support, favorites, follows and especially reviews!

Guest (x3!), KEZZ1, Rinou, LK-HoGwArTs-hEaDgIrL, sweet-tang-honney, kayla, angel897, thinkb4uact, Jenie, SwishlikeaFish, dizziestdaydream, THESE VOICES WONT SHUT UP and dark-driex-07

You guys rock my socks!

*This is a reference to Arrested Development, the best show ever on TV ever. Lucille hugs Michael and he just stands there and says, "What's happening. Why are you squeezing me with your body." She responds, "It's a hug, Michael. I'm hugging you." Love that show! If you didn't watch it, you should check it out on Netflix. You won't be disappointed. And there's going to be new episodes! May 26th!

Please let me know what you think! I'll try to update this weekend. Thanks!