Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to someone who actually speaks the Queen's English and doesn't have to go limping about the internet to bridge a culture gap without coming off as an utter moron to people on both sides of the Atlantic. I did invent the OCs, though, so no poaching s'il vous plait.
A/N: Alright, informal poll: How many of you would like to see Severus Snape have survived the final battle? He being the only exception I'm willing to make from canon deaths, thought whether or not this will actually happen in this story is still in limbo-his survival being the only one that I can make somewhat plausible and without infringing too much on the canon. Who else from Hogwarts would you like to make a reappearance in this story? Please read and review!
Cry Out, Curlew
-The War Among the Bourgeoisie-
Hermione had never had what one might call a social life. She socialized with Harry and the Weasley clan, when it did not interfere with her work or reading or research schedule, and she sometimes made time for cultural events, because her parents had raised her to believe that one could not really be civilized without at least a moderate appreciation for the fine arts, but neither was a priority.
Hermione was aware that she kept others at an emotional distance. She knew, for example, that Ron could never have wiped his parents memories and sent them away, as she had. In fact, she doubted the thought would have ever even have occurred to him, let alone that he could have gathered the emotional fortitude needed to systematically deconstruct his entire life, so that his parents could live on in oblivious safety. Neither would the thought have occurred to Harry, had his parents still been alive. It was not that they loved their parents more than Hermione, but that love was expressed in a different way.
And in Hermione's case, it was in an austere, intellectual manner that told her that living a lie in safety was worth more than any touching, last minute professions of familial love and devotion after a Death Eater attack.
She did not expect them to forgive her. But she expected that time would blunt the pain of that rejection, as it would be years yet before Wizarding Britain was stable enough for her to retrieve them.
Hermione was also not a fool. She knew that the actual chances of retrieving the original memories of Muggles who had been Obliviated ran parallel to a coma patient waking up. The longer she delayed, the less likely they would ever remember their daughter. But Hermione would not make the mistake that Harry had in fifth year, when his emotional agony had placed the one he cared for in the waiting palm of the opposition. She was perfectly content to harden her heart and hope that magi-medical advances would make the improbable possible when it was time to retrieve them.
This kind of extreme dedication to putting her mind to work long before her heart got an opinion was off-putting to most people, who misunderstood it as a lack of caring, but her experiences in putting her heart first in school had been rather traumatizing and she was not one to repeat mistakes. And since her care manifested itself in uncompromising bossiness which she would be the first to claim was for their own good and a nosiness second only to her overwhelming intellectual curiosity, she supposed she ought to be grateful that she had many friends.
But, for the first time in her life, Hermione was surrounded by people who not only tolerated her, but some of them even seemed interested in her opinions and a unique few even had something to add. It was an entirely novel experience.
"You are an uncultured woman if you cannot appreciate abstract art," Revelin insisted.
Hermione wrinkled her nose. "No thank you."
She could detect a distinct sneer in his voice as he said, "Ah, I forgot. Fan of the Neoclassicists, wasn't it? All that extreme dedication to realism. You know, some of them painted their subjects nude before clothing them, in order to assure that the anatomy was spot-on accurate. They reduced art to something almost mathematical." There was distaste on his lips as he said the last word.
A brown brow rose. "Have you seen the Surrealists? Some of the proportions are absurd. And the Post-Modernists shouldn't even count as artists."
"Because art isn't something that needs be tethered to reality in order to be beautiful," Revelin replied. "Your lack of imagination is what makes you a second-grade potioneer. You can only copy, not invent."
Hermione sighed and pressed a hand briefly to an aching temple. A stack of files in the record room had collapsed on her today, forming a perfect end to a day that had dragged on and on, as today had been the monthly department meeting, where Mr. Brimble acknowledged all of the tedious little achievements of each and every member of the department and guided them through the fine print of new legislation that a dunce should have been able to understand without assistance. None of this would have been so intolerable if Revelin had not appraised her of this evening's rendezvous as she had come downstairs this morning.
"Technically, a lot Neoclassic art isn't tied to reality-it's idealized mathematically, just as you said. That's why most of it portrays mythological scenes rather than actual people. And though you criticize it for that reason, it happens to be what I admire about it."
With gratitude, Hermione noticed they were finally at the Dorothy and Michael Hintze Galleries, known more prosaically as Room 22 of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Something about the design of this museum suited it for meeting with vampires older than most of the artwork.
It was a Friday, which meant the museum was open late, night having settled her cloak firmly across the sky hours ago. Though, considering how cloudy it had been all day, it didn't get dark so much as get darker. Hermione caught sight of Bone quickly, standing with his hands begin his back, seemingly admiring one of the statues. She frowned as she recognized it.
It was a terracotta piece from the late eighteenth century, sculpted by Joseph Nollekens. A small piece, compared to the life-size or better statues it shared space with, only a little over eight inches tall, rough and unfinished in feel because it was a study, not a finished piece. A Hero dying in the arms of Victory. It was such a bloody depressing piece, made more personal than it should have been by her own experiences.
"Miss Granger," Abram Bone greeted her as she approached the statue, Revelin falling back wordlessly. An eerie shiver ran across her skin at the show of, if not subservience, then respect from the other Sire. She had seen it before, in that room where they had all gathered, the remaining Sires of Greater London. That deference from creatures that hadn't deferred to much of anyone after their infection.
"Mr. Bone," Hermione returned evenly, matching his stance by turning her attention to the statue. With the mental discipline that made her an excellent Occlumens, she pointedly did not allow her imagination to paint Harry's features of that of the fallen hero.
"I trust that Revelin is enjoying himself, managing your little shop. He's of the kind that needs projects to keep himself busy. He's been at ends these past decades." Though his tone was bland, Hermione picked up a faint sense of smugness. Recalling Revelin's intention of thwarting Bone's expectations, Hermione was startled to find herself amused at the realization that Revelin had only played directly into them instead.
"What was he doing before?" Hermione asked curiously.
"Something singularly foolish, which I put a stop to. But you did not come here to speak about Revelin." Reaching into the pocket of his shirt, he retrieved a folded sheet of paper and handed it to her without turning in her direction.
Unfolding it, brow furrowed, Hermione was faintly bemused to find a list of names. But only for a moment. The air around them changed in quality with an unspoken muffling spell, causing her next words to fall strangely flat in such a tall, spacious room. "These...," she breathed, "are these the men...?"
"Indeed," Bone replied dryly.
"Have you already...?"
"We have done nothing. For now, we are satisfied in knowing the identity of our prey. They have grown more cautious since we took one of them. However, should they attempt to abduct another of us..."
Hermione licked her suddenly dry lips. "I understand." And well did she understand her position. She was again nothing more than a witness. With no evidence permissible in court, her hands were legally bound, but morally she couldn't allow a coven of wizards to do whatever they wished, just because the law could not touch them. She glanced at the list again, trusting to her infallible memory, then, with a glance around the near empty gallery to be certain there were no overcurious Muggles, she drew her wand and obscured the writing on the page before tucking it into her briefcase.
"Is there anything else I can do for you this evening, Mr. Bone?" she inquired.
"Revelin has relayed your desire to understand vampire society. I have considered the wisdom of this for several days now. Not all of us are so charismatic as Revelin, as utilitarian as Lloyd, or as docile as your bartenders. Perhaps, given more exposure to the uglier element of our nature, you will decide we are the monsters you have found in your books and unworthy of aid of any kind, except help to the grave."
Hermione made to make an indignant protest, but Bone held up a hand, forestalling her. "I am aware, Miss Granger, that you believe yourself immeasurably open-minded. However, this is not an insult. I, myself, have killed my kind without number, because I knew them to be a danger to not only wizardkind, but also to my own species. Masters and Sires can control these bestial vampires, but they are still unsuitable for the kind of study you wish to conduct. What you wish to encounter are vampires still capable of individuality. If you can accept that it will be I who chooses your subjects, you may study the vampires I send to you at length."
Hermione considered his offer, recalling Lloyd's horror when she had proposed what would have been a door-to-door campaign, entering known vampire territories in the hope of securing interviews with the inhabitants. From everything she had learned thus far, control seemed to be the overwhelming theme of that society-deviations from routine or protocol upset Lloyd and Revelin both, though they expressed it differently.
It seemed that this would be her best option for the moment, though she still entertained the dream of being allowed access to the vampire culture at large. "I understand," she murmured softly, for the second time that evening.
"See that you do, Miss Granger," Bone said dryly. "I will send them to your Sanguine."
"When?" she prodded.
"In time," Bone replied. "Have a pleasant evening, Miss Granger," he bid her before he began strolling out of the gallery.
Sighing, Hermione ruthlessly plucked the pins from her bun, her wild hair rejoicing in its escape, but her scalp twinged in protest at the added weight. I'll have to let Harry know.
Harry was an excellent host in many respects. Aunt Petunia's early training, though not meant as a kindness, had well prepared him to receive just about anyone into Grimmauld Place. When Mrs. Weasley came to call, he paid careful attention to his housekeeping, when it was Ron, the attention turned to Kreacher's menu.
When receiving Hermione, a frantic search commenced for books left lying about the house, or improperly shelved in his library, though he always left out one or two on Quidditch or some new defense work to give Hermione the impression that he was "not letting his mind go to waste, as Ron was" (her shrill words, spoken in a fit of temper when Ron had carelessly remarked that she was as "bloody boring as she was in school" and the comment had gotten round to her). And he did intend to read them, he simply found his time lately in short supply, the Auror training program being even more rigorous and demanding than McGonnagal had warned him in his sixth year.
Though Hermione had received employment in her department of the Ministry almost immediately after taking what amounted to summer courses and receiving N.E.W.T. scores that ranked among the likes of Tom Riddle and Albus Dumbledore. Though, as he'd playfully pointed, out, neither of them had managed to also fight a war and vanquish a dark lord within the same year they'd taken their exams, so they ought to invent a special grade above O for her. Hermione had flushed so scarlet that it was a wonder she hadn't fainted.
By contrast, his career was far from being established. The Auror training program itself was a four year course, then there would be a further two years of field study under a senior officer. But Harry applied himself with a diligence that would have made Hermione herself proud, for just as she saw much to be desired in the legal system, he could see much room for improvement in the magical law enforcement community. It was a bit embarrassing to admit, now that he belonged to the department, but competent Aurors like Kingsley were the exception rather than the rule.
Or perhaps that wasn't quite true. The Auror department itself was highly competent, thanks to the strict requirements for entry, but they were also rule bound, inflexible, and seemingly incapable of independent thought.
He'd thought magical law enforcement would be more like the crime series on the telly, where crime labs didn't have a backlog and data analysis took no longer than a few conversations. After all, even if computers had limits, magic shouldn't.
Such hadn't been the case. Magical law enforcement leaned heavily on the old justice formulas, namely detaining suspects and interrogating them by use of magic. Witnesses were favored over evidence and one's status and reputation could protect them from both punishment and accusation.
Though the Wizarding world in the U.K. had no hereditary titles, there were magically entailed estates and families with crests, signet rings, and bound servants, which made the titles themselves simply superfluous. It was, quite frankly, an aristocracy of magic. While in the Muggle world the possession of land had been the basis for feudalism, it was the possession of magic that crafted the aristocracy of wizards. One was born with magic, but not with the knowledge of how to bend it to useful purposes. That knowledge was hoarded up by the great families, increasing their power, standing, and size, as newcomers to the magical world had to swear themselves into apprenticeship and therefore into the families to learn magic.
Opening Hogwarts had revolutionized the magical world, opening a basic level of magical competence to everyone born with magic, but going no further than that. There were no Wizarding universities. For knowledge beyond the Hogwarts level, one still had to seek knowledge from a keeper of it, for very, very few people were like Hermione, able to so readily absorb spells from books. It wasn't just the pronunciation, like she insisted, or the wand movements, though those were always difficult to replicate. It was something indefinable, something magical.
Magical objects as well were concentrated among the old families, items with powerful abilities and long histories. And wealth, of course, but unless it was an obscene disparity, such as between the Malfoy and the Weasley families, bloodline and history trumped everything else.
It wasn't as if he didn't respect that system, but it rubbed against the grain to have families such as the Malfoys protected from Ministry raids because spellwrights (the magical equivalent of scientists) weren't obliged to share their discoveries with the Ministry. So, until such time as they chose to publish it at large, people were willing to pay, sometimes dearly, for the right to access the information, which was parted out as the particular spellwright chose and they very often chose to keep the Ministry in the dark.
The irritation he experienced as he reflected on this dissipated as he heard the doorbell. With one last glance over the library, he hurried toward the front of the Grimmauld Place, but Kreacher was already showing Hermione inside.
He had to smile at the politeness shown from each side, recalling how acidly Kreacher had despised Hermione and how much that had changed.
"I hope you're hungry," Harry said, "I think Kreacher's decided we'll be having three courses tonight."
Hermione laughed. "You obviously don't entertain enough, if just me is enough to prompt more than dinner. What are we having?"
"I think we're starting out with a soup, I talked Kreacher out of a fish course, then beef Wellington, followed by an as yet unrevealed dessert. Will that be satisfactory, Mademoiselle?"
Hermione snorted inelegantly. "Harry, you would make a terrible waiter."
"Good thing I've got my day job then, isn't it?"
"Yes," she agreed wryly.
"Well then, instead of lingering in the hall, want to go on in to dinner?" he offered her the crook of his arm and, with a laugh, she threaded her arm through his, content to let him escort her into the dining room, which wasn't far from the entryway.
"I've always wondered," she murmured, "if there weren't sealed rooms in this house."
"What do you mean?" he inquired as he pulled out her chair for her, struggling to keep a straight face as she rolled her eyes.
"Well, obviously the Blacks are one of the families and yet I've never heard of them having a country seat, so Grimmauld Place must have been their primary residence. And yet, it's so small."
"Well, there isn't a terrible lot of room to be had in London," he reminded her.
"Even so, they weren't Muggles, Harry. It all just seems a bit cramped, is all. And if they had room enough for a gallery of the heads of deceased servants, you'd think they'd keep a portrait gallery, wouldn't you? Especially being wizards. After all, it wouldn't do for Uncle Orion to die without notice and keep all his secrets to himself. Wizarding portraits are supposed to aid a family after their subject dies. Much more convenient than lingering around as a ghost."
Harry raised a brow at her theory. "So you believe there are whole rooms sealed away in this house with magic? And Sirius never bothered to unseal them?"
"Well, Sirius wasn't exactly fond of his own family, was he? He barely kept the house livable as it was. And that's the thing, Harry. These old houses have a way about them of sensing such things. Too much magic worked within the walls. Most of them are quasi-sentient. Not so much as Hogwarts, of course, because that's on a different scale, but I've heard that the houses can actually seal themselves up when the lines in abeyance. Perhaps Grimmauld Place couldn't shut him out entirely, because he was still blood, but Sirius was disowned. If you look at it from the perspective of the house, he would be an unwanted interloper."
Harry frowned. "It makes sense, I suppose," he admitted reluctantly. "If you want to poke about, I've no objections to it, but..."
"Don't expect you to help?" Hermione divined. "Where's your curiosity, Harry?"
"At the same place where my restful night's sleep went, I expect," he retorted dryly. "You're looking better, by the way."
Hermione frowned at him. "Yes. Thank you for sending all those leftovers my way."
"Well, I wouldn't have been a very good friend if I let you starve yourself to death."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "I would have done no such thing."
"Hermione...," sighing, Harry abandoned the topic, which might have led to uncomfortable places for him as well. Why Hermione did not eat, why he couldn't sleep, they probably were of the same root cause. Harry doubted she'd even unpacked her little beaded bag, Phineas Nigellus's portrait still absent from the wall where she'd taken it. Even though the war was over, on many fronts it was still being fought. For him, for Hermione, for Ron.
Harry escaped the fear by fighting it, day by day, in his job as an Auror. Hermione buried hers in paperwork. Ron pretended that the fear did not exist.
They all soldiered on as best they could, alone. It was not Hogwarts anymore, where they spent the better part of their day, every day, by each other's side. They had new friends, new acquaintances, new lives that did not hinge on each other.
"I have to appear before the Wizengamot tomorrow," Harry told her. Hermione made a noise of interest, her mouth too full to answer properly, so he continued, "They're assigning us provisional partners for Auror training, which means we've finally covered enough basic protocol to begin some practical training. Before that happens, we're sworn in as trainees before the Wizengamot and we have to take a wand oath of secrecy."
"Are you nervous?" Hermione asked.
"Well, as this time I'm not on trial, not so nervous as the last time I had to face down the Wizengamot. Of course, this time I have to attend in full dress, so..."
Hermione giggled behind her hand. As a holder of an Order of Merlin herself, Hermione owned the same ceremonial robes. There was a mantle of royal purple satin, fully lined with white silk taffeta. The mantle was accompanied by a collar, which for the Order of Merlin, First Class, featured the sword Excalibur, which was worn so that it fell between the shoulder blades, representing the blade being sheathed, except in the state of war, in which case the collar was turned so that the sword dangled in front.
It looked atrocious on Ron with his red hair, but while Hermione wore it well and she insisted he did too, Harry really felt the color was a bit much. "Don't laugh," he told her seriously. "My partner isn't part of an Order, so there he'll be in sober black dress robes and there I'll be, looking like a poorly transfigured eggplant. With big white bows."
"Well, the colors a bit off for eggplant," Hermione offered, still trying unsuccessfully to smother her mirth. "It is a great honor, you know."
Harry scoffed. "Hardly. Fudge had an Order of Merlin."
"Yes, well, but because it will be you wearing it, it will be an honor, whomever wore it in the past notwithstanding."
"You say that because you haven't had to wear them since the presentation."
Hermione made a face at him. "And you've never had to present a case to the Wizengamot. I think we'll call it even. What's your partner like?"
"Cecil? He's a good enough bloke. Bit older than us, but that's not unusual. Most of the recruits are well into their twenties. He was a Ravenclaw in Hogwarts, graduated in the top ten percent of his class. After Hogwarts, he went to work for a private cursebreaking firm. His specialization is the old Celtic stuff, I think, but I couldn't say for certain. He speaks Cymraeg, that's-,"
Hermione cut him off impatiently, "Welsh, I know, Harry."
"Yes, well, he speaks Welsh and that's pretty much all I know about him."
Hermione hummed thoughtfully. "Do you think you'll get on?"
Harry shrugged. "We'll see. It's not as if there's much choice. The recruitment's selective, so even this preliminary group is small. And they've already announced that all of us won't make it. So? What news from the front?"
Hermione's lips thinned out into an expression that wasn't quite a frown. "That's actually what I came here to talk to you about, Harry." She reached into her pocket and produced a folded sheet of paper, which she handed over.
One eyebrow raised, he unfolded, skimming its contents to find it contained a list of names. "What is this?"
"The members of the coven that was abducting vampires."
Harry's head jerked up and he half-stood from his seat. "Where did you get this?" he demanded, mind racing with the possibilities.
"A vampire," Hermione replied, fixing him with an icy stare. "Sit down, Harry. It's not as if they're about to endanger their position by hunting them."
"Then what do you mean to do with this list?" he hissed at her.
"Nothing, for the moment," she replied. "But you-perhaps you could poke around a bit? There has to be a spell or something. We can't just let them get away with it."
With a sigh, Harry slumped back into his seat, regarding the list more seriously. "We're not underage children anymore," he told her wearily, "'poking around' could get me prosecuted."
"That never stopped you before-we could have been expelled a dozen times over, Harry!"
"Hermione...," Harry turned his eyes away from her earnest expression. "Alright. But on one condition. You have to tell me where you live."
"Don't Harry me. I just want to make sure you're living well," he said, making certain his expression was firm.
Finally, after holding his gaze for more than a minute, Hermione conceded. "Oh, alright," she said sourly. "But you can't tell Mrs. Weasley. Or there will be no peace."
"It can't be that bad," Harry said with exasperation.
It was only after dinner that he discovered that, yes, it could be that bad.
"Why," he asked with great composure, "have you taken me to Knockturn Alley?"
"Harry, you promised," she murmured. "And keep your voice down."
"When you told me, 'Harry, don't you dare say anything,' I assumed your house would be dusty, not that it would be in Knockturn Alley," he said peevishly, glancing around the street for he knew not what.
"We're almost there," Hermione murmured, sweeping past him and his hand automatically reached out, tucking her arm firmly through his, as if something might leap out of a darkened alley and snatch her away if she went more than two steps from him. Hermione's glance mingled fondness and irritation, but she didn't pull away. Instead, she simply used the point of contact to lead him quite forcefully toward a particular building.
It was tall, for a building in Knockturn, and looked a bit more reputable than its neighbors, though that was no mystery, seeing as how all the windows were intact and it was lighted within. In proud gold-painted letters it declared itself the Phial & Philter. "A potions shop?" he inquired uncertainly.
"Yes," Hermione replied, with more determination than eagerness in her voice. "You asked to see my home, Harry." They reached the door and Hermione slipped her arm from his. Gesturing inside, she asked, "Won't you come in?"
Warily, Harry stepped inside, not certain what to expect. On one hand, this was Hermione's home, which meant it should be nothing more fearsome than a collection of books it would have taken any other witch a lifetime to accumulate. On the other, it appeared to be a working potions shop in an Alley infamous for dealing in banned materials.
The clerk behind the counter seemed the very definition of unalarming, but less benign was the other clerk, who stopped his activity to glance at them, revealing golden, almost bestial eyes set in a lean body that was almost the very image of a skilled duelist, the movements he had stilled smooth and quick. Hermione's eyes searched out the shop, but he couldn't guess what she was looking for. Pulling Harry inside, she said, with a smile, "Harry, meet Mr. Montjoy," and the elderly clerk ducked his head, "and Mr. Pennelegion."
The bearded clerk greeted him warmly. "Good evening, Mr. Potter. Welcome to the Phial & Philter."
"Ah." The small sound drew Harry's gaze to the stairs. The figure he found there made his eyes widen slightly, for he was more than half certain the stranger was a vampire and not of the order of Lloyd. "Bringing home a guest, Miss Granger? Or are you simply no longer ashamed to admit to our acquaintance?" He seemed almost teasing as he said the last sentence. Apparently finding Harry's presence no longer remarkable, the two clerks resumed what they'd been doing.
"What is this?" he whispered to Hermione.
"They're my staff, Harry," Hermione replied. She grinned at him. "Welcome to the Phial & Philter."
A/N: The Order of Merlin in canon was similar to the Order of the British Empire, or so it was suggested on the wiki, so I faithfully reproduced most the regalia of a chivalric order. Because I believe that if I get to set a fic in England, I should be entitled to a little pomp and circumstance. The mantle, for anyone not familiar with this kind of regalia, looks like an unhooded cloak with a slight collar, the device of the order depicted on the left side, and the collar is a kind of chain, the links worked with some design particular to that particular order that it represents, like an oversized necklace.
Well, readers are familiar with the drill: the more reviews you leave, the more likely this story is the one updated next. Woo me with your words.