A/N: Ooof. It's a bit past 2014, isn't it? It actually shocked me—how many people wanted this. Repudiation is more than the sundering of a bond. It is a forceful rejection of the bond. A magical denial. As the Repudiated, Hermione is forced to bear the weight of the broken bond. It will never completely heal. Hermione will suffer very real side effects that will impact her health. She can never bond again. That rejection/denial means that it is agonizing for her to be in any sort of proximity to Sirius. They aren't able to be together again. There is no easy cure, there is no quick fix for this. Sirius acted impulsively without all the facts, and both he and Hermione will suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives. This isn't a happy ending sort of story. I have been encouraged to make sure that you all understand that. I know, I know, I love Happily Ever After. I always try for happily ever after. You can usually trust me for warm fuzzies. But if you've read any of my other one-shots (Kitten, Yuanfen) then you know that sometimes I'm willing to rip my own heart out and stomp on it if that's what the story needs. You guys, this story definitely ripped my heart out.
Erm... Happy Yule?
When it happened, Hermione was in the middle of a meeting with her milites. They had magical maps of Britain laid out in front of them with the ley lines traced out carefully. Hermione was holding a pendulum over the map and dowsing for Horcruxes.
"Are you sure this will work?" Severus demanded doubtfully, scowling at the map as though it had personally offended him.
"Of course it will work," Hermione huffed at him. "Regulus researched his arse off to make sure that it would work." The pendulum froze in place and Hermione raised her eyes from the map to smirk triumphantly at Severus. "See?"
"Where is that again?" Regulus muttered. He pulled the list towards him to make notes with his quill.
"Some cave off the coast," Lucius replied, squinting at the map in front of them.
With methodical precision, Lucius began to rattle off coordinates to Regulus and his voice blended with the scratch-scratch of Regulus' quill across parchment to create a soothing background noise that Hermione was able to ignore as she concentrated on the map again.
It began as a strange sensation. Pins and needles over her skin, almost as though a limb was falling asleep, but over her entire body. Hermione frowned in confusion and the pendulum slipped from her tingling fingers, her hand coming up to touch her chest. Invisible bands tightened around her chest pulling tighter and tighter. Spots danced in her vision and she struggled to breathe. Her chest tightened even further and her lungs burned with the need for oxygen. Suddenly, there was a sensation, a snap, and the tightness was gone.
The bond—her bond to Sirius—was… gone. Hermione's breath came in shuddery gasps as she struggled to fill her aching lungs. Instinctively, she reached out with her magic, but she almost immediately recoiled, curling in on herself. Where her bond used to be was a jagged, open wound on her magical soul. She choked on air when she realized that the twin bond—the bond that she and Jamie had shared since their birth—was also gone. Severed.
What the fuck is that? What just happened? Is James… fuck, is Sirius… Hermione!
The pain was agonizing. Hermione didn't even realize that she was screaming until Regulus grabbed her head and put his face an inch from hers. He was frowning at her and his lips were moving, but she couldn't hear anything. Her body began to seize at that point and she couldn't concentrate on anything at all.
Waking up was a struggle. The light was too bright and the sounds were too loud and the blankets were too scratchy against her skin. She felt movement near her head and blinked blearily at the wizard standing by her bed. She opened her mouth and tried to speak, but her throat was so raw that she could only make a strangled whimper.
Oh thank Merlin. You scared me, you know. This is… I don't even know.
"Don't try to talk," Regulus murmured, his hand on her forehead. "You are at St. Mungo's."
Never in any of her lives had Hermione not been able to talk. Talking was one of her favorite things to do. Her fingers twitched restlessly on the blankets. There was more movement in the room, and Hermione squinted against the bright light. Suddenly, the light dimmed and Hermione wanted to sigh in relief except for the fact that her throat won't let her.
"Mrs.—, erm, Miss…," the Healer stumbled helplessly, and Hermione frowned at him. She turned to frown at Regulus and blinked.
The entire time that she had counted Regulus among her friends, her family, she had never seen within him the unstable emotionality—the driving, burning passion that so often turned to madness—that seemed to flow through the Black family. She could see it now. The rage burning in Regulus' eyes was frightening for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that she knew that it was not aimed at her.
"Call her lady," Regulus ground out between clenched teeth.
"Erm…," the Healer stared at Regulus for a moment and then stared at Hermione. "Lady… you are suffering the after effects of a Repudiation ceremony."
Wait… what? Her gaze jerked to Regulus' face and the rage made his aura flare in a horrifying display of magic. Repudiation? How could… who could… her insides went ice cold when the realization hit her. The only person that could have possibly performed the Repudiation ceremony was Sirius. Her Sirius had Repudiated her. Why? Why the fuck would he do that? It wasn't possible. It wasn't. It didn't even make sense.
Oh fuck. Oh, honey, I'm so sorry.
"What does that mean for her?" Regulus demanded in the quietest voice Hermione had ever heard him use. She swallowed and then winced in pain.
"There has been damage to her magical core, of course," the Healer explained carefully, flipping through his chart. "We're stabilizing her as well as we can, but it will take time for her to adjust. There's also the matter of… well… erm…"
"What?" Regulus growled.
"She's… erm… she's pregnant," the Healer whispered and then flushed with embarrassment. "Perhaps if the… the father could come here, he could help shore up her magical core so that the strain of the pregnancy doesn't—"
Holy shit… we're pregnant? Did you know we were pregnant? Have you been holding out on me?
I had no idea.
"That would be bloody impossible, since the idiot father is the fucking dumb arse that performed the Repudiation ceremony," Regulus snarled furiously.
The Healer blinked at that for several long moments, completely nonplussed.
"I see," he murmured finally. He stared at the file in front of him and seemed to be thinking something over. He sighed and looked up at the both of them. "I'm going to be frank with you both."
"That would be lovely," Regulus snapped.
"Repudiation ceremonies are… they aren't illegal, but no one's performed one in wizarding Britain for several hundred years," the healer explained in a slow, methodical voice. He paused as if searching for the right words.
"Why not?" Regulus asked with a frown. "What is it that you're trying to say?"
"There are several reasons why people avoid the Repudiation ceremony," the healer replied. "First is intent. If the caster doesn't believe they are an innocent party—if they know that they are also to blame—magic will punish all parties equally. Even if that knowledge is subconscious."
In her bed, Hermione made an abortive inquisitive noise and then stared at Regulus as if she could communicate with him if only she wished hard enough. Regulus frowned at her and put a hand on her shoulder to settle her before he focused his attention back on the healer.
"So… so if someone thought they saw something, or believed that something was happening—even if it hadn't—that's all the spell needs? The caster's belief that they've been wronged?" Regulus rubbed a hand over his face. "You bloody idiot, what have you done?" He groaned into his hand.
"The problem that… that your lady is going to have is that the Repudiation ceremony puts the entire weight of the severed bond on the repudiated person. Her magical core is already showing signs of stress and damage. We're doing the best we can to stabilize her, but with the pregnancy on top of everything, it's… well, it puts her at great risk," the healer admitted.
"What are you trying to say?" The fingers of Regulus' other hand tightened on Hermione's shoulder.
"I don't know that St. Mungo's is the best place for her right now," the healer sighed. "We're certainly not experts in this sort of thing. Maybe Russia or Argentina would be a better bet, especially with her pregnancy thrown into the mix."
"Which is the best?" Regulus demanded.
"There are a couple of specialists," the healer said. "I can send some Owls for you, if you'd like?"
"Yes, do that," Regulus agreed immediately.
Money got specialists from all over the world who were willing to come to wherever her milites requested. The decision to move Hermione for her own safety was made reluctantly, but after she slipped into bond shock and had magical seizures that threatened her life and her unborn child's life, it seemed the only valid option.
"I don't like this," Lucius protested as he paced restlessly. He waved a hand toward Hermione who still struggled to make it through a day and was currently reclining on a chaise longue. "How can we protect her when she's here?"
"It's… it's too difficult to be in wizarding Britain," Hermione said slowly and carefully. "It feels as though my lungs are being slowly crushed."
"I understand that," Lucius sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I just can't… you do remember that we are your milites, yes? Being so far from you makes us all anxious."
"Regulus practically lives here," Hermione protested.
"Maybe Severus and I should—," Lucius began only to have Hermione throw a pillow at his head. He glared at her.
"You are married," Hermione growled at him, her hands curving into fists. "The last thing you need is for Narcissa to… to…" She began to hyperventilate and clutched at the chaise for support. When Lucius hurried toward her, she cowered away from him. "Don't touch me!"
"Domina!" Severus' panicked voice could be heard in the hall. He ran into the room and hurried to Hermione, his hands hovering helplessly as though he wanted to help her, but was afraid to do so. "What's wrong?"
"Tell him, Severus," Hermione gasped at him, still struggling to breathe properly. "He can't just… he has to…" Her throat closed and her chest tightened painfully.
"What the fuck have you two done now?" Regulus snarled as he raced into the room. He grabbed Hermione's hands—even as she flinched back from his touch—and growled in her face. "Stop," he seethed at her. "Focus on me. Breathe with me, domina. Breathe."
All three of them could feel the panic thrumming through their bond to their domina. Their marks weren't quite burning, but it was an unpleasant sensation that made them all on edge. In fact, ever since the Repudiation, there had been a constant low-level ache in every milites' shoulders; their marks twinging with phantom echoes of their domina's broken bonds.
It was difficult for all of them—to know that she was in agony all the time and not be able to help it—but some of them handled it better than others. Last week, Regulus had completely destroyed one of the smaller parlours in a fit of unbridled rage, and had then apologized to Lucius who shrugged helplessly. It wasn't as though each one of them didn't feel powerless and frustrated in the face of their domina's pain.
"Maybe we should bring Narcissa to see her?" Severus suggested quietly. "Maybe she could… maybe it would help?"
"It couldn't possibly get any worse," Lucius muttered. "If it keeps going on like this I think Regulus might actually murder…," he paused and glanced meaningfully at Severus.
No one could even say his name. Regulus regularly called him that bloody fucking berk, but no one said his name aloud.
"Right," Severus sighed in agreement.
The small parlour was charming and cosy. Draco was tucked into a Moses basket at Narcissa's feet, chewing on a soft block. Narcissa held her teacup and saucer carefully and eyed her cousin's… well, not his wife, certainly. Hermione's skin had a greyish cast to it, and her curls were lank and dull against her scalp. Dark circles stood out starkly under hollow brown eyes. There was a wheezing, raspy quality to each breath Hermione took that didn't mean anything good. Narcissa set down her tea and leaned back in her seat.
"Wizards are stupid," Narcissa stated calmly. Hermione snorted and her lips twitched, and Narcissa counted it a victory. She tilted her head. "Lucius says that you're pregnant."
Slowly, almost as if Hermione were unaware that she was doing it, her hands curved over her still-flat abdomen protectively.
"The Healers are worried that… that my condition might affect the pregnancy," Hermione whispered. Her gaze flicked toward Draco and there was a longing there in Hermione's face that Narcissa understood all too well.
"I might have some names for you," Narcissa offered carefully. She paused, considering everything for one long moment, and then made a decision. "Domina."
Hermione blinked at her thoughtfully and then nodded. "Very well," she agreed. Hermione turned back to watch Draco. "I plan on being a very involved godmother."
"I would expect nothing less," Narcissa murmured and picked her tea back up.
"I… it's not safe for me to take the oath right now," Hermione whispered and Narcissa froze, watching the other witch for a moment. "My magical core is too badly damaged to risk it."
"Once you're feeling better," Narcissa murmured. Hermione nodded.
The names that Narcissa had slipped to Hermione had led to Healer Choi. An absolutely ridiculous amount of money had convinced Healer Choi to leave her very lucrative private practice in Seoul to come visit Hermione in France. There were very few things that managed to amuse Hermione anymore, but Healer Choi was one of them.
"You are the patient," Healer Choi stated calmly.
Wow. How old do you suppose she is? I mean, she looks great, really her skin care regimen must be amazing, but—she's old right? That's just not me, right?
She is… a very powerful witch.
So super, super old then. Wow.
"I am," Hermione agreed. She tilted her head to the side and evaluated Healer Choi carefully. "Thank you for agreeing to come see me."
"The safety of a Seer supersedes everything else," Healer Choi said with a shrug, ignoring the way the entire room went still. She glanced at Regulus and Severus who were practically vibrating with the need to do something and then turned back to Hermione. "Your kind grow rarer every century."
"My kind are hunted and killed on a regular basis," Hermione corrected her.
"Just so," Healer Choi agreed. Her lips pressed together and she huffed. "That is why it is so upsetting to see a Seer like this." Healer Choi waved a hand at Hermione's everything. "Your bondmate was an idiot."
No argument there. Can I just say that I really love the fact that every single person seems to have your back? Narcissa freaking Malfoy has your back. What even is that?
"Why do you say that?" Severus asked curiously.
"Their bond… it made infidelity impossible. Their magic actively protected their bond every minute of every day," Healer Choi explained. She squinted at Hermione. "We need to repair your magical core as soon as possible. Will your sworn guard help with that?"
"My what?" Hermione asked coolly.
"It's an old custom, but is still followed. The most recent was the village of Koribeni. I did not expect to see it here, mostly because you have kept your status hidden, but it is probably what has kept you from slipping even further into bond shock and dying." She paused and looked Regulus and Severus in the eye. "That is what most commonly happens after a Repudiation Ceremony, you know. The Repudiated bears the entire weight of the broken bond. The magical core is dramatically impacted. Often, they die."
"We knew that death was a possibility," Severus murmured when Regulus didn't say anything. "That's why we asked you to come."
"What old custom?" Hermione pressed, refusing to be put off by arguments over whether or not she would die. She had heard all of them ad nauseam from her hysterical milites.
"People who would promise their sword, or their wand, to the protection of a Seer," Healer Choi explained. "To see to her protection. Often it would be family members, but sometimes it would be an entire village."
"You believe that we can stabilize her?" The raw hope in Severus' voice made Hermione cringe into her chaise longue.
"Would more of us help?" Regulus blurted out almost on top of Severus. He glanced at Severus and then turned back to Healer Choi. "We would all participate, if it would help."
Healer Choi blinked at that. "How many sworn guards are there?"
"Thirty," Hermione answered. Healer Choi hummed thoughtfully.
"Then yes, I believe we can repair her core." Healer Choi paused and grimaced. "I am sorry, but there is nothing I can do about the broken bond or the repudiation ceremony."
"I don't care about that," Hermione rasped out. Her hands hovered over her abdomen. "If you can… if it will protect my child… that's all that matters."
"When can we do this?" Regulus demanded. "How much time do you need?"
Healer Choi pursed her lips thoughtfully and her eyes unfocused as she thought. Regulus and Severus seemed to be holding their breath, waiting for her response.
"I'll have to make some calculations," Healer Choi said at last. Her gaze swept over Hermione. "There are several variables that need to be accounted for, not the least of which is her pregnancy. As soon as I have figured out the particulars, I will let you know."
"Good," Severus bit out. He ran a hand through his hair. "That's good."
The ritual was overwhelming, but not for any of the reasons that anyone might have supposed. Hermione had never seen all of her milites in one place before. They had certainly never seen each other all in one place, either. Every single wizard had an expression of steely resolve, a fierce determination that was humbling and made Hermione blink back tears.
There was no doubt in her mind that they had all, at one time or another, been witness to Regulus ranting about… about her current condition… because he couldn't help himself. Hermione worried about Regulus' fragile grip on reality some days. His anger had become another person in the room that followed him wherever he went. His need to just… fix… Hermione had practically consumed him, and he didn't like being told that there was no way to fix her.
I think it's guilt, the Other Hermione whispered in the back of her mind. She sounded worried. Good. She should be. This was the sort of thing that allowed the Black madness to fester. This was how you got people like Bellatrix.
"Did it work?" Narcissa asked anxiously. That she had asked to witness the ritual had surprised Hermione.
That Hermione had agreed the moment the words were out of Narcissa's mouth had shocked her Praetor and his lictors even though they tried to hide it. No one argued, though. They allowed Hermione to do whatever she wanted. It was the sort of power that corrupted. It was easy to see how Dark Lords happened. Wizards really were rather stupid.
You are not a burgeoning Dark Lord, the Other Hermione huffed at her.
I could be.
No. No you couldn't, and that is why they cater to your every whim. That, and they're all terrified that you're going to drop dead at any moment.
Not anymore. The ritual worked.
"It worked," Healer Choi said with an air of smug satisfaction. "She'll still have to deal with the broken bond, but her magical core has completely stabilized, and the core damage has been healed."
"Oh, thank Merlin," Severus breathed.
A soft murmur of agreement rippled through the room. Hermione looked around the room at all of the people who had come to help her and offered a wan, strained smile.
"Thank you," she whispered.
Months pass and slowly Hermione's belly begins to swell. Narcissa and Draco visit her almost as often as Lucius did. Her milites carefully collected Horcruxes. There was a distinct timeline involved, and they were aware that their domina wanted this taken care of before October. No one bothered to ask her why October was so important—they trusted that she had Seen something that indicated the best possible timeline.
That timeline was probably the impetus for Hermione's current situation. Regulus knelt on the floor in front of her, his head bowed in supplication. The sight of her proud, arrogant praetor kneeling made her stomach flip with nerves. Her hand clenched on her thigh.
"Get up," she hissed at him.
Instead of obeying her, he raised his head to stare at her with dark eyes. She thanked the hundred little gods every day that his eyes weren't grey. There was a selfish part of her that couldn't decide which would be worse: if her child had stormy grey eyes, or if they had dark eyes like Regulus.
"Domina, please," Regulus begged.
"Get up, Regulus," she repeated with a dark scowl.
"Let me do this," Regulus begged again. A determined light was in his eyes and it made Hermione's worry over his sanity grow. "It's not right! You are my… I can't even claim you as family. This is the only honorable option I have left… please, Hermione."
"I don't need it," Hermione protested. An almost hysterical laugh burst forth from Regulus' lips.
"I do," he countered. "I need this. I need to be able to look into the mirror and know that I did everything I could to protect my—," Regulus faltered at her automatic flinch and swallowed hard. "Please," he whispered.
"Fine," she ground out between clenched teeth. "Happy now?"
"Happy?" Regulus snarled. "That the only way that I can protect you is to make you take the name we give our bastards? That the only way I can claim my… my niece or my nephew is to bloody well adopt them? No, Hermione, I'm not bloody happy."
"Regulus," she whispered and covered her face with her hands. "You have to stop. You're so angry all the time… it's killing you."
"You almost died, Hermione," Regulus countered thickly. "If you weren't the brilliant, manipulative, vicious domina that we know and adore, you'd be dead. And so would my niece and nephew. I can't… you can't ask me to be okay with that."
"I won't," Hermione agreed with a heavy sigh. It hadn't worked so far. She highly doubted that Regulus would suddenly find a way to accept what his… what had happened.
Due to the broken bond and the other underlying health issues that Hermione dealt with, her pregnancy was considered high risk. At the five month mark she was on ordered bed rest. Severus had found a team of Mediwitches that tended her around the clock. They were competent, capable women who only huffed and raised an eyebrow at the strange hours that their patient kept.
There had been sworn oaths to protect Hermione's identity that had been extracted by Regulus before they even started work. Hermione had the sneaking suspicion that they assumed that she was either Regulus's mistress, or the surrogate mother for Regulus's and Severus's child. Or rather, they had no doubt gossiped and shared notes before Hermione's irises had bled black and she'd had a vision in front of them.
Afterwards, they had treated her with a healthy level of wary caution, which proved that they were an intelligent group of witches. Hermione tolerated them because it kept Severus, Lucius, and Regulus from whining more than normal.
At that moment, there was a burning pain in her chest and Hermione rubbed at her breastbone absently. Pain had become such a constant that it was difficult to determine what each pain was from anymore. The Mediwitches did regular scans, but most of it was due to the broken bonds she bore. Hermione had begun to grow accustomed to her new normal and she wasn't really able to discern the minutiae.
"They mean well," Narcissa said gently while Hermione cuddled Draco and played peek-a-boo with him. Hermione looked up at her… well, Lucius' wife.
"Who, the Mediwitches?" Hermione asked in surprise. She frowned and shrugged. "I'm sure they do."
"No, your milites," Narcissa countered with a shake of her head. Hermione sat up completely and frowned at her.
"What have they done?" Hermione asked flatly. Narcissa went completely still and Hermione's nostrils flared. "I said, what have they done?"
"It's… you had a deadline," Narcissa whispered.
"October," Hermione breathed. She blinked and stared at Narcissa. "What did they do?"
"They found all of them," Narcissa replied carefully. She paused and frowned at Hermione. "I don't know what they found—they never say what it is out loud—but I know that they found all of them."
"What." Hermione stared at Narcissa. She clutched Draco to her chest and tried to breathe calmly.
"Lucius will no doubt have a fit that I've told you," Narcissa sighed. She held out her arms for Draco and Hermione reluctantly handed him over. "Just breathe, domina. If Regulus thinks I've upset you, he'll probably kill me."
The truth of Narcissa's statement was unsettling. Both witches knew that Regulus was riding the ragged edge of sanity. He focused everything on making sure that Hermione was safe, and that she was alright. Severus and Lucius were just as invested in her well-being, but there wasn't that frightening swell of mania in their mannerisms that Hermione saw in Regulus' behaviour.
"Why wouldn't they tell me?" Hermione protested, angry despite herself.
This was the culmination of years of work and effort. Why wouldn't her milites tell her that it was time?
"Hermione… you almost died," Narcissa reminded her quietly. "More than once. Lucius was a nervous wreck for months. Severus has been the only one who can keep Regulus under control. And now… you're on ordered bed rest. You can't just… they didn't want to upset you, especially if it would affect the baby."
"Wizards are stupid," Hermione growled and wrapped her arms around herself.
"They are," Narcissa agreed.
"When?" Hermione demanded. Narcissa murmured something to Draco and laid him back in the Moses basket that they used whenever they visited Hermione.
"Now," Narcissa admitted quietly, avoiding eye contact with Hermione.
Nervous energy stretched out between them and Hermione began to fidget helplessly. Right now, her milites were staging an offensive against Riddle.
"The Ladies' Aide Society?" Hermione snapped, frowning at Narcissa.
"Madam Longbottom was apprised," Narcissa admitted.
"Fine." It wasn't remotely fine, but there wasn't anything that Hermione could do at the moment. She tapped the small alert charm by her bed and a Mediwitch hurried into the room. "Can I have some tea, please?"
The Mediwitch's eyes narrowed on Hermione's tense posture. "Chamomile." She said flatly.
"Fine." Hermione bared her teeth in the bare semblance of a smile and the Mediwitch nodded before turning on her heel.
White hot pain shot through Hermione and she cried out, her hands clenching and unclenching. She knew automatically that one of her milites had fallen. A brief scan of her links gave her the information that she needed. Kennilworth Yaxley.
"Is it the baby?" Narcissa asked anxiously. "Do you need the Mediwitch?"
"Yaxley," Hermione gasped out. "He's gone." Narcissa stared at her for a long moment.
"The Dark Mark doesn't work like that," Narcissa pointed out quietly. Hermione snorted and rolled her eyes.
"Unlike that irredeemable bastard, I actually care about my milites," Hermione snarled. "The whole point of all of this was to make sure we saved as many as we could."
There was a slow ripple that spread over Hermione's belly and she gasped and stared down at her stomach. And then… she grimaced at Narcissa.
"What is it?" Narcissa asked worriedly.
"I… this is disgusting, but… I… I think I wet myself?" Hermione huffed. "Call the Mediwitch and see if she can help me into the bath?"
"Hermione," Narcissa whispered. She stared down at Draco sleeping in his Moses basket and then tapped the alert charm. "I don't think that you wet yourself."
Once the Mediwitch and Narcissa were able to help Hermione stand up, they determined that her water had broken. Hermione stared down at the small puddle that was gathering on the floor at her feet and then looked up at Narcissa and the Mediwitch.
"I thought it was supposed to be more of a… well, a flood?" Hermione asked.
The Mediwitch huffed at her. "Come on, let's get you into the bath."
The next several hours bled into one another in a haze of aching discomfort, interrupted twice more for the white hot pain of her milites' suffering. Haakon Rowle. Llewellen Rosier. Tears slipped down her cheeks and she bit her lower lip guiltily, relieved each time that it wasn't Regulus or Severus or Lucius.
By the time hard labor began, it was over and she could hear Regulus pacing impatiently outside of the bathroom. A contraction ripped through her and Hermione screamed, her fingers gripping the side of the tub. The door to the bathroom flew open and Regulus burst into the room.
"Get OUT!" Hermione screamed at him.
"But you're in pain," Regulus protested, his eyes wild.
"I'm giving birth, you bloody idiot. Now, get out!" She growled. Regulus listened and got out of the bathroom.
"It's time now," the Mediwitch said with a placid calmness that made Hermione want to punch her really hard in the face. "On the next contraction, bear down."
On the next contraction, Hermione bore down. It was agonizing. She just wanted it to be over. Surely, childbirth wasn't supposed to go on this long. Maybe they would let her take a break?
"Push," The Mediwitch urged. "Keep pushing."
"I AM PUSHING," Hermione screamed, completely infuriated.
"Again," the Mediwitch who was obviously some kind of sadist—where did Regulus even find these people—barked at her.
Hermione pushed again. Time blurred a little around the edges and then the Mediwitch was putting a naked, squalling infant in her arms. Hermione stared at the baby… at her daughter. The Mediwitch carefully helped the baby latch on to her breast and Hermione continued to stare. Competent hands pressed against Hermione's belly and she ignored it to focus on the baby in her arms. Wet dark curls covered her daughter's head and Hermione's heart contracted in her chest.
"Oh," the Mediwitch murmured. She reached out and plucked the baby from Hermione's arms, handing her to Narcissa.
"What?" Hermione demanded. "What is it?"
Another contraction ripped through her and she gripped the sides of the tub automatically.
"There's another baby," the Mediwitch murmured.
"Another baby?" Narcissa repeated staring at Hermione in surprise. "Twins?"
"No one said," Hermione croaked.
"Too afraid that you'd lose one or both," the Mediwitch grumbled. She rolled her eyes. "I told them it was idiotic, but I was over-ruled."
More pushing, more yelling, and then another squirming infant was pressed into Hermione's arms. A boy this time. The curve of his nose… the shape of his small lips. Hermione felt her chest tighten and a small sob escaped her lips. She stared up at Narcissa with glassy eyes.
"He looks… he…," Hermione whispered.
Silently, Narcissa Malfoy stared at the baby in Hermione's arms. A single tear slid down her porcelain cheek.
"He's beautiful, Hermione," Narcissa whispered. She glanced at the baby in her arms and smiled. "They're perfect. Names?"
"Cassiopeia and Cepheus," Hermione whispered. Narcissa went still and Hermione looked up at her. The other witch was staring at her with wide eyes.
"Really?" Narcissa asked in a small voice.
"Of course," Hermione replied with a frown.
Are you sure about this?
Regulus is going to flip out, but like… with happiness.
I think he'll be pleased, yes.
Pleased was an understatement. Regulus had cried and kissed Hermione on the cheek. He did the adoption ceremony when they were one month old, and sent official notification to every family member he knew—even the disowned ones—save for one.
"Fascinating," Appoline Delacour murmured in French as she squinted at Hermione's aura. "It's… it's remarkably similar to mate rejection."
"Wonderful," Hermione huffed.
"Does that make Aunt Hermione a Veela, Mama?" An eight-year-old Fleur asked curiously.
"No, little one," Appoline replied with a laugh. "Your godmama is just a witch. A very talented witch, but just a witch."
"What does that mean?" Regulus asked with a frown. Appoline sat back in her chair, composed and unflappable, a small smile on her lips.
"Well, it means that some of the techniques that we use to help Veela overcome mate rejection might help Hermione," Appoline pointed out. She paused and gave Hermione a knowing glance. "I can't make any sort of guarantee, but… it couldn't hurt, non?"
"Fine," Hermione sighed. "I'll try." The magical spells and charms to help heal Veela mate rejection seemed to be a stretch, but this time it was Severus who got on his knees and begged her to at least try. Probably to keep Regulus from doing it again. Hermione was tired of her milites exploiting their bond like that, but she allowed the Veela Healers to do their worst, or rather, their best.
Several weeks later, Appoline returned with her two daughters, Fleur and Gabrielle, in tow. The children were sent off to the nursery to play with Cassiopeia and Cepheus under the nanny's watchful eyes. Hermione's health was such that having a nanny was a requirement for the children's safety. If she were too ill to care for them, there was someone in the house who could.
"Is it helping?" Severus asked anxiously. Appoline frowned at Hermione, her head tilted to the side.
"Well, I suppose it helps Hermione as well as it helps Veela," Appoline said finally. She grimaced slightly at Hermione in sympathy and then turned her focus to Severus. "It is important for you and your… erm… brethren… understand that there is no way to cure Repudiation. For the rest of her life, Hermione is going to bear the weight of her broken bond. It will permanently affect her magic and her health. There is nothing that we can do to change any of that."
Severus looked as though he would very much like to argue that point, but he wasn't sure how to go about doing so.
"It helps a little," Hermione said with a shrug of her shoulders. "The pain goes from crushing and excruciating to merely intolerable."
Severus' face twisted in a dark scowl. Obviously, he liked that answer even less. Too bad for him, Hermione supposed, but he wasn't the one who had to live with it every fucking day. Appoline nodded as though she had expected Hermione's explanation.
"I am sorry that we were not able to offer more help," Appoline offered sadly. She offered Hermione a slight smile. "But please know that you are more than welcome within the Delacour enclave. Your status is incredibly rare and it has been the topic of some debate in our enclaves. Our elders consider you to be… well, not a Veela, exactly, but close enough that they are willing to grant you sanctuary."
You feel shocked. Stunned even. Is this a big deal? This feels like it's a really huge, fucking deal.
Slowly, making each movement deliberate and obvious, Hermione sat upright and leaned toward Appoline.
"Please tender my regards to your elders," Hermione stated. "I am humbled and honoured at their offer. Would my children be allowed to join me? If it were necessary that I retreat to an enclave?"
"Of course," Appoline replied automatically. "No Veela would keep a parent from their child."
"Then I gratefully accept their offer, but I reserve the right to claim sanctuary until a later date," Hermione suggested with a raised eyebrow.
A slow smirk spread over Appoline's face and she dipped her her chin.
"Just so. I will inform the elders," she murmured. She glanced around the room. "I should probably go collect Fleur and Gabrielle."
"Oh, no," Hermione protested. "Cassiopeia and Cepheus love them both. Let them play a bit longer."
"Very well," Appoline agreed with a smile. "For a bit longer, then."
When Cassiopeia and Cepheus turned eight years old, they got lost in the woods near the Delacour enclave, and they met a small blonde witch with grey eyes. By the time Hermione found them, Regulus and Severus were crackling with magic. She paused and tilted her head to the side, watching the small blonde standing next to her children, regarding her with solemn, too-wise eyes.
"Luna Lovegood," Hermione said slowly.
"The two Hermiones," Luna replied. Hermione's lips twitched.
"You have the Sight, but you aren't a Seer," Hermione said slowly.
"Not in the same way that you are, ma'am," Luna agreed. Hermione squatted on the forest floor so that she could look Luna in the eye.
"How would you like to be my apprentice?" Hermione asked gently. "I can help you with your gift, if you like."
"We'll have to ask my Mum and Dad," Luna said. She fidgeted in front of Hermione. "But I think that they'll agree."
"As my apprentice, you would be under my protection at Hogwarts," Hermione offered. "The children of my milites will watch out for you, protect you."
"Like friends?" Luna asked shyly. Hermione started slightly and she smiled fondly at the little witch.
"Exactly like friends," Hermione said firmly.
"I'd like that," Luna decided.
It was surprisingly easy to get Luna's parents to agree to an apprenticeship with Hermione. They agreed to every stipulation that Hermione put into the contract, and even agreed to let Luna spend her summers at Hermione's villa in France.
"That was… was that too easy?" Hermione asked Severus worriedly. "Shouldn't they have been more standoffish?"
"Hermione," Severus sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "In certain circles, you are practically infamous. The Lioness, the domina who commanded a legion dedicated to taking down Voldemort. You have received sanctuary rights from the oldest and most respected Veela clan in France. The papers that Healer Choi published after she worked with you have created huge advancements in magical healing. What parent in their right mind wouldn't want you to have something as binding as a master/apprentice relationship with their child?"
"That seems a bit much," Hermione protested weakly.
"There won't be a door that an apprentice of yours won't be able to open, just with that relationship alone," Severus huffed at her. "Once they learn you've accepted one, be prepared to be inundated with requests."
"Luna is the only one I'll take," Hermione said firmly. Severus scoffed.
"Right. Because being your only apprentice would somehow be less appealing," he mocked her lightly.
"She is special," Hermione admitted reluctantly. "This is the only way that I can offer her any sort of protection."
"Special how?" Severus demanded.
"That doesn't matter," Hermione said and shook her head. Severus' nostrils flared and he glared at her.
"Domina," he hissed the word and moved as though he were going to get on his knees. Again.
"She's the purest person I've ever met," Hermione blurted out helplessly. Her hands out as though she could stop Severus from doing anything he wanted to do. "She… she is fey. I don't actually think that she has elven ancestry, mind you, but she is…"
"Special," Severus said flatly, still glaring at her.
"Most people don't understand what a gift someone like Luna is," Hermione explained. "If I can protect her from any of that, then I will."
I didn't understand, when I was young, the Other Hermione admitted in the privacy of their shared space. But you're right. She is special. Thank you for protecting her.
I can't help but want to shield her from the world. She dances to her own song, and most people would try to crush that out of her—force her to be more like them: brutal, hateful, destructive. We need the Lunas of the world. They have more heart than most and they are gifted with an uncanny wisdom.
The silence from the Other Hermione felt like agreement, and Hermione pressed her lips together to avoid smiling at Severus.
"The same could be said for you, domina," Severus reminded her with a put-upon expression that he had perfected in the last eight years. "You are special, and we will do whatever we can to protect you."
"I want at least one of our children in Ravenclaw," Hermione countered with a raised eyebrow. "Her year would be perfect, but a year above is fine."
"Not a year below?" Severus asked drily. Hermione's lips tightened.
"She needs protection, Severus. A year behind would hardly provide that," Hermione pointed out.
"Not Cassiopeia or Cepheus." Severus' brow furrowed as looked at her.
"Don't be ridiculous, Severus," Hermione sighed at him. "They will go to Beauxbatons with Fleur and Gabrielle."
"We're sending children there, too," Severus warned her. "Siwan Rosier is planning on sending Tanwen, and I know that Calladora Selwyn is sending Gareth there."
Hermione's lips twisted slightly. Siwan was considered a milites widow, and was treated with all respect and courtesy by any of Hermione's milites. She was a frequent guest at Hermione's house, and her daughter Tanwen was a close friend of Cassiopeia.
The problem of Calladora was separate, but Hermione felt no less responsible. Calladora had been a member of the Ladies' Aide Society, and had been widowed during the war. Hermione found it interesting that Calladora was planning on sending her only child, the Selwyn Heir, to Beauxbatons. Was the family afraid to send their scion to Hogwarts? Did they believe it to be too dangerous? Had it been suggested to her by Siwan?
"Ilsa's sending Thorfinn to Durmstrang," Hermione offered quietly. "I have asked Priscilla to consider allowing Leander to attend Durmstrang with him. I… I haven't Seen anything, but I dislike the idea of any of ours left to their own devices."
Severus blew out a breath explosively and sat down on the settee next to Hermione. He shook his head in wonder and then turned to look at her.
"I don't know that so many Heirs have ever not been in Hogwarts," he muttered. Hermione's lips tightened into a grimace.
"Not having them under Dumbledore's influence can only be to the good," Hermione said firmly. "They'll see more of the outside world. When they finally claim their seats on the Wizengamot, they won't be so sheltered that they assume wizarding Britain's way is automatically the best."
"A bit of polish never hurt anyone," Severus murmured in agreement. He paused. "Are you sure, Hermione?"
"As much as I can be," Hermione replied. She glanced at him and gave him a wan smile. "If I See anything different, you and Regulus will be the first to know."
The years passed more swiftly than Hermione expected them to do. Luna, as Hermione's apprentice, was gifted with the privilege and honour of a personal Floo connection to Hermione's villa. That had been something that had caused fits from all of Hermione's triumvirate—the three milites that governed the group and acted as her generals: Lucius, Regulus, and Severus. Regulus had very nearly frothed at the mouth, the only thing keeping him tethered had been the steady weight of Severus' hand on his shoulder. Lucius had ranted and raved about the danger for hours. Severus had settled for giving Hermione solemn, judgmental looks that made her roll her eyes.
Every day, for several hours in the afternoon, Luna and Hermione would retreat to Hermione's study where Hermione would teach Luna everything that she could think of to help this small, fey witch navigate their world safely. Meditation to focus Luna's thoughts. Runework to mark all of Luna's belongings. The spell that would call all of Luna's things to her. Anything that might help Luna.
That wasn't to say that Hermione didn't encourage Luna to play and make friends from among the children that spent time at the villa. Ruqayya Lestrange took to Luna almost immediately, and the two of them were usually found with Cassiopeia and Tanwen whispering and giggling in the library. A strange sense of warmth and contentment filled Hermione's chest every time she saw the young witches playing together.
At the very least, I have done this.
They're a good group of girls. Ruqayya's definitely Ravenclaw material. She wasn't there before, was she?
No. Ruqayya is the daughter of Rabastan Lestrange and Tahirih Shafiq. She didn't exist in your world.
That's too bad. She's brilliant.
Before Hermione could credit it, she was sending Cassiopeia and Cepheus off to Beauxbatons. Fleur was in her fourth year at Beauxbatons and had promised her god-maman that she would look out for her 'cousins.' Given that Hermione had been granted sanctuary status with the Delacour enclave, that was a fair enough approximation. Hermione hugged her goddaughter and then kissed her cheeks.
Leaning down, Hermione hugged first Cassiopeia and then Cepheus tightly before giving them light cheek kisses like all of the other parents at the Beauxbatons Floo at the French Ministry of Magic.
"I love you both so much," she whispered into Cepheus' hair. "Be safe and pay attention to your studies."
"Of course, mama," Cepheus promised with a solemn nod.
Despite the fact that her children looked enough like Sirius to make her heart clench in her chest, their mannerisms were far more like Regulus and Severus, and… she had to admit… herself.
Being raised by someone who basically had a chronic illness had produced solemn children who were far more mature than most children their age. Cepheus and Cassiopeia each had special bracelets that would alert Hermione's triumvirate to their location. They had each had to use them at least once when Hermione had suffered health complications. It had not been ideal, and after the second occurrence, Hermione had reluctantly agreed to have milites housed with her all the time.
"And… try to have fun," Hermione begged her self-possessed children. "Break some rules, make some friends… don't get caught," she added.
"Hermione," Severus breathed her name in horror. "What are you trying to do? Destroy Beauxbatons?"
"They're too much like you and Regulus," Hermione protested. "They're eleven going on forty."
"I am thirty-one," Severus snapped indignantly. "I'm hardly forty."
"You spend all of your time worrying about me," Hermione reminded him. "When you aren't worrying about me, you're chasing Regulus all over hell and back trying to keep him from killing someone he feels has upset me."
"You may have a point," Severus huffed at her. "But it isn't as though he has a choice. Between you being his domina, and, Merlin forgive me for the way this sounds, the mother of his children, his magic has got him by the short hairs."
"I'm aware," Hermione admitted reluctantly. She patted Severus' hand in a helpless gesture. "Have I ever thanked you for keeping him grounded? I'm so grateful for it, Sev, truly."
"Lucius helps," Severus muttered a dull flush on his neck.
"Not like you do," Hermione countered. She frowned at Severus thoughtfully, and the flush on his neck grew darker. "Severus—"
"Don't," he muttered at her. "Let's let the other parents say good-bye to their children."
"Malfoy is such a conceited arse," Harry huffed as he collapsed into the free chair at Luna Lovegood's table.
Nearly every day, Luna could be found in the library. The oldest Lestrange girl was usually there with her, as they were inseparable friends. Today, there was a Hufflepuff sitting with them. Lestrange snorted and rolled her eyes.
"Like you aren't a conceited arse, Potter?" Lestrange drawled.
"I'm not like Malfoy," Harry scoffed, his lip curled.
"No. You aren't," the Hufflepuff muttered with a look of disdain. Harry straightened up in his chair and scowled at the 'Puff.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Harry demanded.
"Malfoy knows the value of loyalty," the Hufflepuff snapped.
"Listen here, you deranged badger," Harry snapped. "I'm loyal!"
Lestrange snorted at that. "You have no idea what his name is, do you?" She asked with a smirk that made Harry want to hex her.
"Harry doesn't pay attention to things that don't interest him," Luna announced with an air of calm serenity that Harry found soothing. She looked over at him and shook her head. "You should be more careful, Harry. Just because you don't find something interesting doesn't mean it's not important."
"Like what?" Harry asked before he thought.
"Like the fact that Luna is apprenticed to Malfoy's godmother," Lestrange informed him haughtily. "Malfoy's highly respected godmother that he absolutely adores."
"You're an apprentice?" Harry demanded, his eyes wide. "You're only a Second Year, that's… Luna, that's really impressive."
"She's been an apprentice since she was eight years old, you bloody idiot," the Hufflepuff growled.
"Well, how in the hell am I supposed to know that?" Harry huffed indignantly.
"I see what you mean," Lestrange murmured to Luna. She turned to look at Harry with an unimpressed stare that made the hair on the back of his neck rise. "It was worldwide news for weeks. Luna was on the cover of all the French newspapers. She was interviewed before she entered Hogwarts by Witch Weekly. There was a whole series about juggling an apprenticeship and her Hogwarts studies."
"Ruqayya," Luna sighed.
"So Malfoy's trying to take advantage of you because you're famous?" Harry guessed.
"Oh. My. God," the Hufflepuff groaned. He looked at Lestrange. "Is he for real?"
"Is there a problem here?" Marcus Flint growled from behind Harry.
The older wizard rarely lurked in the library and the only real contact that Harry had with him was on the Quidditch field. To his horror, Luna beamed at Flint. Luna never really smiled. She was quiet and introspective, and the most that Harry had ever been able to do was bring a small, shy smile to her face.
The worst part was that Flint beamed back, completely unselfconscious of his crooked teeth. He nodded to Lestrange and the Hufflepuff and frowned at Harry.
"Flint," Harry bit out.
"Potter," Flint sneered his name the way most Slytherins did. Like Harry was scum on the bottom of their shoes, for whatever weird reason. "Don't you have an elsewhere to be?"
"No." Harry set his jaw and glared defiantly at Flint. He wasn't a Prefect, so there wasn't much the older boy could do to him.
"Marcus, it's fine. Thank you so much for checking on me," Luna said with another wide smile.
"Of course," Flint agreed immediately. He glanced at Harry and then looked back at Luna. "Does Madam know about that?"
"She always knows," Luna replied calmly. Flint nodded, like that made absolute sense.
"I still have to report it to the praetor," Flint muttered. Luna's nose wrinkled in a way that Harry found utterly adorable.
"Perhaps it might be best if you informed one of the other members of the triumvirate?" Luna suggested with a hopeful expression. Flint snorted and shook his head.
"Not how it works, Luna," Flint said with a hint of steel in his voice.
"Fine," Luna agreed with a little nod of her head that seemed almost regal. Flint walked away from their table and Lestrange immediately turned to Luna.
"Are you going to write to her?" Lestrange demanded.
"I don't really have a choice now," Luna huffed. She frowned at Harry. "You really should pay more attention, Harry." She waved a hand at the Hufflepuff. "This is Nasir Shafiq… Ruqayya's cousin."
"Okay…," Harry looked from Lestrange to Luna in confusion.
"Sweet Morgana," Shafiq muttered. He glared at Harry. "I would say hail and well met, but that would be a lie. Ruqayya, I'm writing Uncle Bas. This is… this is ridiculous."
"Daddy knows," Lestrange said with a shrug of her shoulders. "But go ahead and tattle if it makes you feel better."
"I should have picked Beauxbatons," Shafiq said flatly.
"Cassiopeia made Gareth cry last week," Lestrange observed with a cold, vicious smile.
"Durmstrang then," Shafiq countered. "Gods, Tahsin is so lucky."
"Tahsin did what was asked of him," Lestrange reminded her cousin. "He understands duty and honour."
There was a slight pause, and everyone avoided eye contact with Harry. That happened sometimes, especially when he came in contact with other Houses, and he'd never really understood what it meant, or what they were implying. What was more, he had no idea what they were talking about—who was Gareth? Why did this Cassiopeia person make him cry? Who the hell was Tahsin? Being around Luna was so confusing, but… Luna.
The moment he'd met her on the train, Harry had known that Luna was it for him. She been with Lestrange, of course, the two of them slightly uncertain in their plain, unsorted robes, but even then he'd known that someday he was going to marry Luna Lovegood. He just… knew. Ron thought he was a bit of an idiot, but Sebastian didn't, and neither did Neville. The only problem was that Sebastian was wholly and completely on board with helping Harry woo Luna. Neville? Not so much.
"It isn't that I don't think that you're a great bloke," Neville sighed. He rubbed the back of his neck. "You are. You're a great bloke. It's just that… well… Luna Lovegood."
"I know," Harry agreed with a wide, besotted smile. "She's amazing, isn't she?"
"She is," Neville agreed cautiously. He grimaced slightly. "Look, you know that she has the Sight, right? That's why Mme. Delenoir chose Luna as her apprentice. I mean, uh, obviously Luna's not a Seer. They never would have let her attend Hogwarts if that had been the case."
"What's a Seer?" Sebastian asked curiously.
And that was when it got weird. Neville gestured to Harry expectantly. Harry frowned at Neville who gave him a look.
"Someone who sees things?" Harry guessed. Neville groaned and rubbed his hands over his face. "What?"
"You're a Potter," Neville hissed at him.
"I know," Harry hissed back. "What the hell does that have to do with anything?"
"Oh for Merlin's sake. Talk to your Dad," Neville snapped.
During their Ostara break, Harry did just that.
"Dad," Harry drew out the word slowly. James Potter looked up from the estate records to frown at his oldest child.
"Harry?" James countered with a raised eyebrow.
"Why would Neville think that because my last name is Potter, that I would know what a Seer is?" Harry asked curiously.
At those words, his dad went still. The quill he'd been holding in his hand snapped.
"That… that wasn't Neville's place to say," James replied in a tight voice. "I'll speak to Frank about that."
"That's really not the point, Dad," Harry huffed at his father. "Why would Neville think that? What does me being a Potter have to do with it?"
"It's tradition to talk about this after you turn fifteen," James sighed and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his palms.
"Dad." Harry stared at his father.
"Fine," James muttered. "The Potters… we… we generally have a Seer in the family every so many generations. My father used to joke that we were actually overdue for a Seer. You should be prepared… it could be your daughter or your granddaughter."
In his mind's eye, Harry saw Luna give him that shy, small smile.
"Dad… what if I, um, married a witch that had the Sight?" Harry stuttered through his question before flushing bright red. James frowned at him for a long moment.
"If I were you, I would surround myself with people who knew the value of loyalty, people of honour, who would be willing to swear on their wand arm to protect my child," James said carefully. He paused. "Son, is there something that you need to tell me?"
"What does that mean? People who know the value of loyalty?" Harry demanded. He flushed again and scowled at his father. "Some Hufflepuff tried to say that I didn't know how to be loyal."
James winced and avoided his son's gaze. "Were you trying to flirt with this little witch who has the Sight?"
"No." Now it was Harry's turn to avoid his father's gaze. He could feel his cheeks heat and he fidgeted anxiously.
"You have to understand, Harry," James sighed heavily. "Seers, even those who have the Sight, are hunted for their rarity and their gifts. If they manifest as children… most don't make it to Hogwarts. I've never… the only documented Seer I know of that's currently living resides in a heavily armed fortress in Peru. The magical government of Peru has declared her a peerless national treasure. An attack on her is an attack on wizarding Peru. The IWC has declared they will issue official sanctions to any person or government that dares to threaten the Seer's health, happiness, or wellbeing."
"So she's a prisoner?" Harry asked. James snorted and shook his head.
"It's the only way to keep her alive. Her entire village swore an oath to protect her," James explained. He took a deep, shuddering breath and let it out slowly. "It's dangerous to be a Seer, Harry."
"Dangerous, how?" Harry wondered with a frown.
Was Luna in danger? How could he make sure that Luna was safe?
"They are… coveted," James admitted reluctantly with a grimace. "It's difficult to explain, especially since you're so young."
"I'm a Third Year," Harry protested hotly. "I'm not a baby."
James snorted at that. "Of course, how could I have forgotten," he muttered. "Look, Harry, Seers have visions of different possibilities, usually in equal measure to their probability."
"So… if it's highly probable, then the Seer gets that vision a lot?" Harry guessed.
"Yes," James agreed. "But more than that, if the people around them make specific choices, that can influence what they See."
"What if someone does something on a whim?" Harry asked. "I mean… what if they just do something without thinking it through? Would the Seer be able to See that?"
"That is one of the few weaknesses that a Seer has," James said with a sigh. "Chaos inversely affects probability. Occasionally, the Seer will have a vision, but it may be so highly improbable that they discount its merit. Judging which vision is most likely is one of the hardest challenges a Seer faces at any given time."
"Okay." Harry chewed on his thumbnail for a moment. "But what does all that mean? Why are Seers so coveted? Who covets them? Why?"
"If you had a foolproof way to evaluate every plan—how easy do you think it would be to do… well, anything?" James asked with a solemn expression on his face. "If you could show Quidditch strategies to someone, and they could tell you easily which strategies would work best, and which would fail miserably?"
That was a stunning thought. Harry was only a Third Year, and hardly the Quidditch Captain, but he suspected that Wood would kill for that kind of advantage. Maybe. Wood was pretty adamant about playing fairly. He certainly wouldn't put it past the Slytherin or Ravenclaw captains to sink to that level.
Would someone use something like a Seer for things like Hogwarts Quidditch? Or would they maybe use a Seer for… more? What if a League team had access to a Seer? What if a World Cup team did? Harry followed the World Cup pretty avidly and always had done. Suddenly, he realized something rather significant.
"Peru doesn't play in the World Cup," Harry pointed out cautiously. James nodded.
"They do not," James agreed.
"Because of the Seer?" Harry guessed.
"Because of the Seer," James confirmed.
"Dad," Harry began slowly. "What if someone showed a Seer different sorts of plans?"
"Like what?" James prompted Harry.
"Like… um… laws that they want passed," Harry suggested. "Or maybe plans to overthrow a government?"
"A Seer could evaluate the probability of those easily," James replied. He raised an eyebrow at his son. "Keep going."
"People that they want to kill?" Harry guessed with a sick, roiling feeling in his gut.
"Yes," James said quietly. "A Seer could judge the ramifications of removing any one person from a battlefield—as long as someone makes a decision to kill them."
"Dad," Harry whispered. His breath caught in his throat and his chest hitched painfully.
"People on both sides of a conflict have murdered Seers to keep them out of their enemies' hands," James continued with an expression of grim determination. "Seers have committed suicide when they've been captured, so that they can't be used for evil purposes."
"Dad." Harry stared up at his father helplessly.
It was impossible to picture anyone else but Luna. She was only a Second Year student. She couldn't wait for Third Year—she and Lestrange were excited about Arithmancy of all things. She loved Ice Mice and she usually wrote all of her notes with a brilliant sapphire ink. Luna loved to hop from sunlight spill to sunlight spill in the long hallways, dancing and spinning and humming under her breath.
The idea that people would kill her, murder her, just for being herself made Harry's gut clench in fear. Logically, Harry knew that Luna had the Sight—that she was not a Seer—but fear wasn't logical or rational. Harry looked at Luna and the multitude of risks that a Seer bore just by existing overwhelmed him.
A daughter of the House of Potter would most likely be a Seer. They were due a Seer. Even if Luna, his lovely, incomparable Moonbeam, didn't have the Sight, the Potter line would most likely produce a Seer. His daughter, or maybe his granddaughter, would be hunted down and slaughtered for her gift. Unless he could find a way to make wizarding Britain emulate Peru.
Thirteen was far too young to worry about whether or not dark bastards wanted to murder his daughter. The one he didn't even have yet. The one he probably wouldn't have for another seventeen years if Mum had her way.
"I know, lad," James sighed heavily. "My dad always used to thank the Gods that—" He froze for a moment, a sad expression on his face, and stopped speaking. He smiled weakly at Harry and tousled his already wild hair. "Well, that's all water under the bridge, isn't it?"
"You can't do this," Regulus protested furiously, his magic flaring around him in an intimidating display.
"It certainly won't be pleasant," Hermione said calmly and folded her hands in her lap. "Regardless of my own issues I feel as though I should be there for Fleur."
"Have you Seen something, domina?" Severus asked with a worried frown.
"Not exactly," Hermione hedged carefully. "I find the mention of the Triwizard Tournament unsettling. It puts me on edge, but I haven't had any visions."
"Hermione," Regulus growled. "The logistics alone are enough to give me an aneurysm. I'm going to have to rent out an entire hotel. We'll need to call up all of the available milites."
"Fine," Hermione said hollowly. She stood up carefully—moving quickly from standing or sitting could give her vertigo—and nodded to both wizards. "I'm going to go lie down."
"Hermione." Severus said her name gently, but Hermione ignored them and left the room, moving slowly toward her rooms.
The health complications that Hermione had lived with for almost fourteen years meant that her ability to travel was limited. She understood that even better than her milites did. Portkeys were difficult for her to use. Apparition wasn't possible at all. A Floo could give her vertigo that could persist for hours depending on the distance traveled. Basically, anything that interacted with her magical core put additional stress on her magic and exacerbated her existing condition. It had been repaired, yes, but at a price.
It's my fault. I'm sorry that I'm so anxious about it, it's just… Merlin, it was such a fiasco for me. People died.
I understand. While I do not think that the same thing will happen, I share your worries. It would make me feel much better if I could keep eyes on Fleur.
It would be lovely to meet my nephew, but circumstances being what they are, I don't see how that's possible. He would have to approach me alone—he would have to know that he needs to do so. And how on earth would that happen?
I don't know. But I do know Harry. He will approach you.
He's like his father, then.
Yes, I guess he is.
For a month, Hermione kept to her rooms. She was pleasant and polite to anyone who requested entrance to her suite, but she didn't leave—not that anyone ever asked her to do so. She spent her time working on different projects that she had put to the side—an Arithmantic equation that she was working on as a challenge for Luna for this summer, some rune work that she had promised the Delacour enclave.
"You know you're driving them mad, don't you?" Narcissa commented when she came over to visit. Hermione nibbled on her madeleine and sipped at her coffee.
"I am doing exactly what they want me to do," Hermione countered and raised an eyebrow at Narcissa in challenge. "I would expect them to be happy about that."
"You should have been in Slytherin," Narcissa huffed. "You were wasted on Gryffindor."
"I was exactly where I needed to be," Hermione replied serenely. Her lips curled in a slow smile. "It was much easier to recruit for the Ladies' Aide Society as a Lion."
"I suppose so," Narcissa murmured and tipped her head in acknowledgement. "Draco has made several off-hand comments lately."
"About?" Hermione put down her coffee and focused her attention on Narcissa. "Is he well? Do you believe him to be in danger?"
"You and Severus were the best choices that we could have made," Narcissa murmured. She gifted Hermione with a small, genuine smile. "You guard my boy with the kind of tenacious fervor that I would."
"Draco has become a fine young wizard," Hermione replied obliquely. "I'm proud to know him."
"Thanks to your milites," Narcissa countered. "Every day he is shown what it means to be a wizard of honour and integrity. They have modeled duty and faith and sacrifice for him. He knows what it is to stand for one's beliefs, and to protect something greater than himself."
"Every single one of my milites was pulled from Slytherin," Hermione stated calmly. "They are the most cunning, the most ambitious, the most ruthless group of wizards I've ever met. They honour their House in thought and favour, word and deed." She paused and another slow smile curled her lips. "I'm incredibly proud of them."
"Draco wants to join them," Narcissa said. She raised one shoulder and let it drop. "I overheard him talking to his father. I expect that Lucius will ask on his behalf."
"And?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.
"The choice is, of course, yours," Narcissa continued. She looked at her hands in her lap and then looked at Hermione. "Would you accept him?"
"Do you want me to?" Hermione asked curiously. She settled the full weight of a Seer's gaze on Narcissa and didn't smirk when the other witch flinched. "Or would you rather I not?"
"I—," Narcissa seemed to struggle under Hermione's attention.
"I would gently refuse him, if you asked it of me," Hermione admitted. She tilted her head to the side as she observed Narcissa. "Despite our time at Hogwarts, I have come to consider you one of my closest friends. You have become a confidant, of sorts, which is far more precious than you might realize. I am willing to do whatever you ask of me, Narcissa. But you should know that there will be consequences to every decision."
"I understand," Narcissa whispered. "What would happen if I asked you to deny him?"
"When I will be accepting any number of his fellow students?" Hermione asked drily. "When I have known him since he was a baby? When I will accept his best friends, should they be ambitious enough to bend their knee to me?"
"He would doubt himself," Narcissa muttered with a frown. "He would assume that there was some kind of… fault… that kept you from accepting him. Those nebulous faults would consume his thoughts. He would obsess over them, wondering which one was responsible."
"That is definitely one option," Hermione agreed. "I could ask him to wait until he finished his studies. He would understand that it was a concession to his parents. He would resent it, but not overly so. He might accuse Lucius and you of being overbearing and overprotective, but he is fourteen and he respects you both."
"Would you be willing to make him wait?" Narcissa asked curiously. "Rabastan Lestrange was only fourteen when he accepted your Marks."
"We were at war, and the Marks helped us to protect Rabastan from his own family," Hermione reminded Narcissa drily. "Draco doesn't have a psychotic sister-in-law trying to sacrifice him to a megalomaniac despot. No offense," she added with a grimace. Narcissa waved a hand absently.
"Bellatrix was never quite right once she took Voldemort's Mark. I know that you worry about Regulus, but I rather think that your Marks stabilized him. You gave him something to protect, to fight for, and that made all the difference to him," Narcissa sighed. She rubbed at her temples. "Would you be willing to make him wait? Or would it be safer for him to do it now?"
"I would be willing to accept his intent, but we have no need of his wand arm until he's finished Hogwarts," Hermione said calmly. She smiled slightly. "I have already instituted that with the other potentials as an incentive to focus on their studies. It certainly worked with Flint."
"Didn't he repeat his Seventh Year?" Narcissa asked with a slight curl to her lips.
"His mother died after a long battle with Dragonpox," Hermione explained. "Understandably, he struggled through his Seventh Year, and was forced to repeat it."
"And your offer helped him to focus," Narcissa guessed with a nod. "I would… that might work for Draco, especially since you have set it as a precedent for this generation."
"In another life, he was my staunchest defender. He guarded my back as a brother and companion. I will always be grateful to that Draco for his protection of that Hermione," Hermione said in a slightly distant voice, her eyes unfocused, but not bleeding into the familiar black of a vision.
"What about the triumvirate?" Narcissa asked worriedly. "Regulus, Severus, and Lucius would never leave you alone."
"I died before I graduated Hogwarts," Hermione said in that same distant voice. "I was reborn with all my memories of this life. I was a Muggleborn Seer with no family and no protection."
Panic flared through Narcissa and bile rose in her throat. The idea of a child Seer with no links to the magical world—no one to know of the incredible danger she was in, no one to protect her and keep her safe—it was horrifying on a level that Narcissa had never experienced.
"Did she go to Slytherin?" Narcissa asked faintly. "My House would have protected her, Muggleborn or no. A Seer is… precious. Even the children would know that."
"She almost didn't make it to Hogwarts," Hermione murmured. "Her parents were murdered and she barely escaped. She… never mind. That timeline is not this one. This one has a lovely, noble young Draco who wants to follow in his father's footsteps."
"I am pleased to know that Draco will hold a place of honour in your sworn guard," Narcissa said after a long moment of silence. "I wanted you to know that I… I approve."
"I am grateful for your faith in me, Narcissa," Hermione replied. "Thank you for speaking to me about this—I know that it wasn't an easy topic to broach."
"You have never given me cause to question your devotion to our world, to keeping our people safe," Narcissa countered. "I am humbled to be counted amongst your friends."
"Very well," Hermione murmured in agreement. She picked up her coffee and took a sip. "How long do you suppose this will take?"
"Waiting them out?" Narcissa asked with a light laugh. "Not much longer. Lucius hasn't been able to sleep for longer than a couple of hours at a time for days. I think he expects you to stage some sort of great escape."
"Hardly," Hermione huffed and rolled her eyes. "I'm not stupid. If I tried that I'd end up in St. Joan's. Again."
"They remember your impetuosity, and they aren't willing to admit that quality of yours was lost to you some time ago," Narcissa pointed out in a gentle voice.
"If you're trying to comfort me with the fact that my closest family and friends somehow think that I'm still a teenage witch, you have failed," Hermione snapped, irritation bleeding into her voice.
"No, but it might help you when they do finally admit defeat," Narcissa said with a shrug.
Being smug was regrettable behavior. Hermione tried to avoid being smug, but occasionally she succumbed. Walking into the hotel in Hogsmeade that Regulus had rented, Hermione allowed herself a small measure of smugness. Céphée and Cassiopée were firmly ensconced within their Beauxbatons carriage with Fleur. Tomorrow was the first task and, as far as she was aware, her nephew had not been trapped into competing this time.
Thank Merlin for small favors.
I am grateful that my nephew is safe. One hopes that my goddaughter will be just as safe.
Fleur? She was fine in my timeline. Ended up marrying Bill Weasley.
She married Bill Weasley?
What is that supposed to mean? The Weasleys are a fine, upstanding wizarding family. Bill is a great wizard—a Curse-Breaker at Gringotts. He and Fleur are great for each other.
Calm down. I meant only that Molly Weasley is well-known for her petty prejudices against werewolves, Veela, Squibs, and others. I can't imagine Appoline letting her daughter marry into such a family.
Oh. Well… yes. I rather think that Fleur and Bill decided to marry one another and told their respective families to get over it.
Ah. I'll have to make sure that I'm there to support Appoline. She'll be furious.
Attending the first task was slightly more traumatic than she had planned. Cepheus and Cassiopeia had proudly escorted her to the stands, but she had clutched at Cepheus' hand tightly when her magic shifted and faltered. Her lungs tightened painfully and she struggled to breathe normally.
There was only one reason for her body to betray her like this. He was here… somewhere. Close enough to make it difficult to breathe. Close enough to make her magic stutter and her core flex painfully. Fighting every instinct that she had, she ignored her surroundings. Coming into proximity with… with him would be catastrophic for her magic and her health.
"Maman?" Cepheus peered up at her. "Do we need to take you back to the hotel?"
"I'm fine," she wheezed.
Before she even finished speaking, Regulus was at her side slipping his arm carefully around her waist and taking most of her weight.
"I told you this was a stupid, fucking idea," Regulus growled at her in German because neither Cepheus nor Cassiopeia spoke it.
"Save your gloating for later," Hermione responded in the same language. "I knew what would happen."
"Arrogant, pigheaded, stubborn witch," Regulus continued in French. Cepheus glared at his adoptive father. "Well she is! Look at her! If she doesn't end up in St. Joan's over this ridiculous, idiotic farce it will only be the grace of the gods!"
"Don't be silly, Papa," Cassiopeia huffed at him French. "Maman is always careful. You should sit down before you have an aneurysm. Uncle Severus will have a fit if you do."
"What on earth are you lot up to?" Severus demanded peevishly. He scowled at Regulus and then frowned darkly at Hermione. "Are you feeling ill? Should we call a Healer?"
"I'm fine," Hermione managed to grit out between her teeth. "Everything is fine. Sit down next to your boyfriend and pay attention to my goddaughter."
"He is not my boyfriend," Severus hissed indignantly. He glanced around them and then focused on Hermione. "Really, Hermione?"
"I'm ill," Hermione informed him haughtily. "You're supposed to coddle me. Healer Choi said so."
"Healer Choi is a vicious dragon," Severus snapped. "I can't believe you told her that Regulus and I were dating."
"I didn't tell her anything," Hermione informed him smugly. "She knew just by watching you two. I didn't know. My own brother—keeping secrets from me. It's absolutely shocking."
"It just sort of happened," Regulus grumbled. He glanced at Severus and flushed. "It's still kind of new."
Far enough away that your average witch or wizard would not have been able to eavesdrop, a group of wizards stared at Hermione teasing Severus and Regulus about their apparently new relationship. She paused, her breath hitching in her chest, and both wizards leaned toward her anxiously.
"Hermione?" Regulus's voice rose worriedly.
"I can get Healer Choi," Severus decided and half-rose out of his seat.
"It won't do any good unless I leave wizarding Britain," Hermione rasped out breathlessly. "Now shut up and watch my goddaughter. She will be amazing."
"Do you think Fleur will win, Maman?" Cassiopeia asked curiously.
"Of course she will, Cassiopeia," Cepheus huffed at her. "Wasn't she practicing all summer with Aunt Appoline?"
"Don't be rude to your sister, Cepheus," Regulus sighed at him with the air of a parent who has had this conversation one too many times.
"Papa," Cepheus pouted.
"Behave, Cephée," Hermione murmured and stroked her son's black curls.
"Sorry, Maman," he murmured.
"What was that?" Harry demanded once they returned to the cottage that his family had rented for the Triwizard Tournament.
"What was what?" James asked with forced innocence.
"Those two Beauxbatons students that look exactly like Uncle Sirius?" Harry sputtered indignantly. He frowned at the adults of his life who were all avoiding eye contact. "Mum?"
"That's not really my story to tell," his mother muttered. She stood up. "I'm going to go put the kettle on."
"Dad?" Harry prodded. He turned to frown at his two uncles. "Uncle Remus? Uncle Sirius? You all knew who those people were. Dad… you looked like somebody had smacked you in the face."
"I wasn't expecting—" James sighed heavily and scrubbed his hands over his face. "Bloody hell," he muttered into his hands.
"I was stupid," Sirius confessed, his voice cracking with emotion. "I made a horrible mistake and we've lived with the consequences ever since."
"We aren't the only ones, obviously," Lily snapped as she bustled back into the room with a tea tray. She paused and frowned at the tea tray. "Living with the consequences, I meant."
"What?" Harry turned to his Uncle Remus who was leaning against the wall with a stunned expression on his face. "Uncle Remus?"
"She smelled… ill," Remus said to James.
"I imagine she did," Lily said tartly. She poured out five cups of tea and turned to face Harry. "The lady that you saw was once one of my dearest friends. She was your dad's twin sister, and she was bonded to your Uncle Sirius."
"YOU HAVE A SISTER? I HAVE AN AUNT? WHY HAVEN'T I EVER MET HER? WHAT THE BLOODY HELL, DAD?" Harry stood up and glared at his father.
"Language, Harry," Lily murmured absently. She took a careful sip of her tea.
"She… she was my sister," James said. He grimaced slightly and looked to Lily for support.
"Have you never wondered why we were always so strict with you about oaths?" Lily asked.
Most children had to experience the awkward sex talk before starting Hogwarts, and Harry had suffered through that like everyone else, but it had been nothing compared to the grueling lecture that he had received about oath-taking. The worst part was that every single adult in his life had decided to give him that speech—apparently without communicating that information to anyone else—and Harry had sat through four brutal heart-to-hearts about the risks and rewards of swearing anything on his magic. It had definitely left its mark on him.
"I… huh." Harry shook his head. "All of you were so worried about it—I just thought it was something that… I don't know. I just knew it was important to all of you."
"When we were First Years, I convinced Sirius to become my blood brother," James confessed quietly. "We spilled our blood and swore on our magic. It made our oath… particularly potent."
"What did you swear?" Harry asked with a frown. That had been the sticking point in all four of his lectures. The wording of any sworn oath was a delicate, tricky thing that needed to be evaluated carefully.
"It was broad and sweeping in scope," Sirius said quietly. He took a deep breath and sighed heavily, his shoulders slumping. "We had no idea what we had done, or how it would affect those around us."
Never in his life had Harry seen all four of the adults who had helped raise him, his family, look so guilty and upset. His throat closed up with nerves and his heart began to pound in his chest. The looks, the sneers, the comments from other students at school had never phased Harry. He had ignored all of it, confident in who he was as a person and a wizard. Now he was starting to wonder if there was something beyond the typical Slytherin vs. Gryffindor school scuffles.
"Dad… is there a reason that people at school would question my loyalty and my honour," Harry asked softly. Uncle Sirius closed his eyes like Harry had just punched him in the stomach. His dad looked like he was going to start crying. He turned to the one person he trusted to level with him. "Mum?"
"It's my fault," Sirius blurted out. "I… I was a jealous, ridiculous, idiot. I thought that… that my bonded was… being unfaithful."
"That's not possible," Harry protested with a small frown.
In a pathetic attempt to spend more time in Luna's presence, Harry had taken independent tuition in Ancient Runes and Arithmancy so that he could take the class with Luna. They had spent several weeks working on types of bonds: their uses, their weaknesses, their strengths, their advantages, and the impacts of specific bonds.
"What do you mean, dear?" His mother asked with a small frown.
"Well, she was his bonded wife, yes?" Harry turned to Sirius and raised an eyebrow at his godfather. Sirius flushed which was answer enough. "Their bond would have actively worked to protect itself. Infidelity would have been impossible."
"I know that now," Sirius whispered. He lifted a shoulder and let it fall. "S-she was the one who did all the research. She studied our bond for almost a year before she accepted it."
"What did you do?" Harry asked with a frown. His uncle's impetuosity, his headlong dash into danger no matter the risk, was something that everyone told stories about when they gathered together.
"He snuck books out of his ancestral home and performed a Repudiation ceremony—without talking to anyone first," Uncle Remus said quietly. Harry looked at everyone in the room and then focused on his mother.
"That's bad, right?" he asked.
"It's a rejection of the bond," Lily explained gently. "It's a magical denial. Because Sirius and James were so tightly linked, the ceremony denied Her—," she seemed to flinch and then took a breath. "Erm, it denied her as James's sister and Sirius's bonded. She… we didn't know, but she was pregnant. Sirius inadvertently denied their children as well. He relinquished all magical, legal, and blood claims to them, which is why you've never met them. Magically… legally… they aren't his."
"If Dad denied her, and Uncle Sirius denied her, then… I mean… doesn't that mean she doesn't have a House now?" Harry asked worriedly. He had never even heard of this aunt, but he was concerned for her safety.
A witch or a wizard without a House was defenseless. Part of Harry's lessons as an Heir had been about extending House membership to those who were at risk. It was a mutually beneficial relationship that provided protection to the wizard or witch in need, and gave the House an ally. He looked from his father to his godfather and both men appeared gutted.
"My brother…," Sirius took a shuddering breath. "He had no choice but to offer her membership in the cadet House Delenoir, which we… the House of Black… have used for… for illegitimate children for centuries. When the twins were born, he adopted them through ritual magic."
The name Delenoir teased at Harry's mind for just a moment. He could feel a roaring sound in his ears and his heart began to pound when he remembered why. Madame Delenoir was Luna's Mistress. Madame Delenoir… who very likely hated Harry by association… had taken magical oaths with the witch that Harry had loved since he was eleven. He knew that an apprenticeship was a serious, weighty thing. He knew that Luna's apprenticeship was something that the little witch was very proud of, and something that she devoted herself to diligently.
Youthful fantasies of someday convincing Luna Lovegood to marry him crumbled to dust in front of his eyes. It was, perhaps, self-serving to immediately think of Luna, but in Harry's defense most of his thoughts centered around Luna. This was something that affected any possible relationship he might ever hope to have with her in the future, up to and including friendship. He swallowed hard.
"Oh," he whispered and avoided eye contact with everyone.
"Oh." Hermione froze and her eyes turned completely black.
Around her, the milites shifted carefully, observing her behavior. Their domina appeared calm, or at least not distressed. Slowly, they relaxed. She shuddered and blinked, shaking her head for a moment.
"That was the shortest vision I think I've ever seen," Severus observed mildly.
"Harry's coming," she murmured, ignoring the way every wizard in the room stiffened. "You will allow him entry. You will not threaten him. You will not block his way. I'm not asking you to be friendly or kind, but I am asking you to not scare the boy."
"Hermione," Severus growled and Hermione turned to look at him.
"Keep Regulus occupied for a couple of hours," Hermione suggested drily. "Surely you can figure out a way to do that, Severus."
"Hermione." Severus glared at her repressively.
"You will do this, Severus," Hermione snapped.
"Are not the boy," Hermione retorted loudly. "He is his own person. He should be judged for his own actions and his own choices."
Thank you. I know that… that they hurt you, and I understand why you can never… I mean… you really have no control over that part of it, and just… thank you. He really is a great wizard.
I am happy to give him the opportunity to prove you right.
"When?" Severus demanded.
"Tomorrow morning… I think," Hermione said. She stared off into the middle distance for a long moment. "Yes. Tomorrow morning."
"Lucius will be here," Severus pointed out.
"With Draco," Hermione decided. She glanced at Severus and gave him a faint half-smile. "It's time we had a chat, I think."
"Are you certain?" Severus asked in surprise, his eye widening.
"I am certain that our Draco is a wizard of integrity. I know his heart and I would be proud to have him stand for me, should the need arise," Hermione said gently.
"As our domina wills, so shall it be," Severus murmured automatically. Hermione snorted.
"We both know that's not true," Hermione protested.
"You're here, aren't you?" Severus countered. "I thought Regulus was going to tear his hair out."
"Regulus is overly excitable," Hermione reminded him. "He needs to find a way to self-soothe. Perhaps yoga?"
The next morning, Hermione sat in the private garden of the small hotel where they were staying. Regulus had booked the entire hotel and filled it with milites, so there were milites lingering throughout the ground floor of the hotel and several had stationed themselves in the garden. Hermione shifted in her seat and focused on Lucius and Draco.
"Come give your godmother a kiss, Draco," Hermione demanded and turned up her cheek.
Dutifully, Draco rose from his seat and moved forward. He placed a quick kiss on each cheek and carefully hugged her before moving back and sitting next to his father. He frowned at Hermione worriedly.
"Is it safe for you to be here, Aunt Hermione?" Draco fretted aloud.
"It isn't pleasant, but it was necessary," Hermione said with a little shrug.
At her words, every one of her milites stiffened and focused on her. Lucius scowled, his pale brows lowering thunderously.
"Did you See something, domina?" Lucius asked.
"Not exactly, no," Hermione replied. She bit her lower lip and looked out over the garden. "It was more of a gut feeling. Something said that it was important for me to be here, now."
"Is Fleur going to be alright?" Draco asked anxiously. Hermione smiled indulgently and touched his cheek with the tips of her fingers.
"I have every faith in our Fleur's abilities," Hermione assured Draco. "It's nothing I can pinpoint specifically. It's just… I needed to be here."
"Do you think it has to do with Potter?" Lucius demanded.
"Maybe?" Hermione shrugged helplessly. "Harry is… separate… from everything else. There are several paths that I See open for him, and Luna says that he has been fairly vocal about the path that he wants."
Draco snorted and rolled his eyes at that. "He wants Luna," Draco muttered.
"Harry Potter has a great capacity for love," Hermione stated. She glanced at Lucius and then focused on Draco. "He could be a great friend to you, if you both allow it."
"He's such a poncey git," Draco whinged. "Do I have to?"
"If he's clever enough to win our Luna, his granddaughter will be a Seer," Hermione said with an air of calm grace. "Harry has the ability and the opportunity to restore the House of Potter to a position of honour in our world." She smiled faintly at Draco then and shrugged. "But no, you don't have to befriend him."
"Would it benefit the House of Malfoy if I did?" Draco asked thoughtfully.
"You are very like your mother," Hermione murmured and her eyes shone with subtle approval. "Yes, Draco. A friendship between the Houses of Malfoy and Potter would be extremely beneficial for you both."
"Very well," Draco sighed heavily. He frowned at his godmother. "Is that what you wanted to discuss this morning?"
"It was one thing I wanted to discuss," Hermione allowed. She sat back in her chair and tilted her head, just taking a moment to observe her godson.
This Draco was nothing like the boy that the Other Hermione remembered. He was stiff and reserved, using manners and etiquette as a shield against the world, but he wasn't cruel or callous. This Draco had made it a point to clean his House once he got to Hogwarts. Slytherin did not bully other Houses, and their students were scrupulously polite to all of the Muggleborn students currently attending.
"What else did you want to discuss this morning, Aunt Hermione?" Draco asked curiously.
"Your future," Hermione replied coolly. She waved a hand at Lucius. "Your father is in remarkably good health. You will most likely have plenty of time to work on a Mastery or two before you need to take up the mantle of Malfoy Patriarch."
"Uncle Severus has agreed to apprentice me if I want to pursue a Potions Mastery," Draco admitted. Hermione nodded in understanding.
"Is that something that you want?" Hermione asked. "Or would you rather pursue something else?"
"I should like to become a miles," Draco offered with a cautious glance at his father.
"Becoming one of my milites would hardly occupy all of your time," Hermione drawled and arched a brow at her godson. "You could easily pursue a Mastery and also fulfill any obligations as one of my sworn guard."
Draco's mouth fell open and he stared at her with wide eyes.
"You would… you would let me?" Draco stumbled over his words, which was so unlike the young wizard that Hermione blinked at him.
"Draco… my darling boy, whatever gave you the idea that I would not accept you among my milites?" Hermione asked gently.
"I'm still in Hogwarts," Draco reminded her. Hermione nodded.
"I'm well aware." Hermione rearranged the afghan tucked around her. "We are not at war, Draco. I don't need wizards who are still in the schoolroom to defend what remains of my honour. My milites do an admirable job of protecting and defending me. However, once you have graduated and made a choice about your Mastery, I would be pleased to welcome you among their ranks."
Draco's mouth dropped open and he stared at Hermione for a moment.
"Really?" Two pink spots of colour appeared high on his cheeks. He stood up then and seemed to fidget in place. He raised his hands, then lowered them, and finally dropped to the ground to kneel gracefully at Hermione's feet. He took one of her hands in his and kissed the back of her hand. "You won't regret this, domina. I swear it."
Carefully, Hermione extricated her hand from Draco's fervent grip.
"I'm not yet your domina," she reminded him gently. "For now, I'm just Aunt Hermione, your favourite godmother."
"You have always been my domina," Draco protested. "I've grown up knowing that someday I would… that I wanted…"
"Draco," Lucius murmured and Draco stopped talking immediately. He stood up and leaned down to kiss Hermione's cheek again.
"Thank you, Aunt Hermione," He whispered. Hermione patted his check.
"Go, before you make Lucius cranky," Hermione ordered with a faint smile for both Lucius and Draco.
Both wizards bowed deeply to her and then turned and left. Hermione turned to watch them leave and saw her nephew hovering uncertainly in the doorway with Gaius Flint looming menacingly behind him. Hermione waved at her nephew and watched him moved toward her. Unlike the firm poise and confidence of her godson, Harry appeared shy and nervous. This was not the same boy that had approached her previously. There had been casual confidence and arrogance in that boy that seemed to have disappeared.
"Hello, Harry," Hermione called out to him.
Slowly, Harry moved forward. When he drew near enough, he stopped and gave her an awkwardly stiff formal bow. Hermione sat back in her chair in surprise.
"Good morning, Mme. Delenoir," Harry greeted her, wincing slightly over the name.
"You've been researching," Hermione replied carefully. She gestured toward the chairs that the Malfoy men had just vacated. "Please sit."
That's… different. I don't remember Harry ever willingly researching anything.
It is my understanding that he never needed to research anything on his own. He had you. This Harry, while he does have his parents and extended family, does not have you.
"Thank you for receiving me," Harry said in a stiff voice. He tugged at his cuffs. "I know that… I almost expected that you wouldn't."
"You are your own man, Harry Potter," Hermione countered. She settled back in her seat. "What manner of man that may be is up to you. What sort of wizard you want to become is also up to you."
"Can we… are you able to… to be around me?" Harry asked haltingly and his cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
"Yes," Hermione replied. She chewed on her lower lip as she thought. "Please understand that… proximity to… to England is incredibly uncomfortable for me. It affects my magic and my health. I'm only here for the Triwizard Tournament. As soon as it ends, I'll return to France."
For a long moment, Harry stared at her. He cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck. Hermione knew that he was evaluating what she had said and what she had not said carefully.
"Would it be alright if I visited you in France?" Harry finally asked. "If that's easier for you?"
"You are welcome to write to me whenever the mood strikes you," Hermione suggested. Harry's face fell and she shook her head. "I'm not saying that you can't visit me, Harry. It is more that I often am unable to receive visitors. My condition is chronic and progressive and when I have… well… I suppose a 'flare up' is the easiest way to describe it… when that happens, then I am usually dosed with so many pain potions that I'm a bit loopy."
"I would understand," Harry protested. "I mean, if I came for a visit and they told me you were ill I wouldn't be an arse about it."
"Why do you want this so badly?" Hermione asked, overtaken with curiosity. "Before this year you didn't even know that I existed, correct? Why do you care?"
"It isn't just Luna," Harry blurted out and then flushed bright red. He fidgeted helplessly in his seat and stared at his hands. "I mean that I—I want to know you, of course, but there is also the matter of Luna."
"My apprentice," Hermione murmured and took a fortifying sip of her tea.
"Yes," Harry agreed.
"It's a Potter tradition, you know," Hermione offered with a small smile. "Your father decided before the Sorting Ceremony that he was going to marry Lily Evans. Your grandfather met your grandmother on the train as well."
"Yeah," Harry sighed. "I just knew, as soon as I saw her."
"That's usually how it goes for Potter men," Hermione agreed. She watched her nephew for a long moment. "She has already sworn oaths that bind her to me until she achieves her Mastery, but even after that, there is always a bond between apprentice and Master."
"I know," Harry admitted. "Can we… is there a way for us to… to be together?"
"Does Luna wish to marry you?" Hermione asked him baldly, one eyebrow raised.
"She's never asked me to leave her alone," Harry muttered. He scowled fiercely. "I know her friends don't like me, but she's never said that I… that she wanted me to stay away."
"Luna isn't considering marriage when you sit at her table, Harry," Hermione huffed and shook her head. "She's a thirteen-year-old witch with an apprenticeship. She's more focused on her studies."
"Oh." Harry hunched his shoulders, and Hermione sighed.
"I didn't say the girl didn't want you," Hermione pointed out in a dry voice. "I just said that she'd never considered marrying you. There's a Yule Ball coming up. Why don't you ask her to that? If she isn't interested in you romantically, she'll probably tell you. Luna's like that."
"She's never alone," Harry protested. "The Lestrange witch is always with her and Puffs and Slytherins are always hanging about."
"Are you, or are you not, a Gryffindor?" Hermione countered. She tilted her head and frowned at him. "Your father asked your mother on a date every single day for years before she decided to take a chance on him."
"I know," Harry sighed. "But it's Luna. If she says no then... I'll respect it, of course, but I…"
"You don't want her to say no," Hermione murmured. Her lips twitched.
"HERMIONE!" Regulus's voice thundered from inside the hotel. Hermione sighed.
"Oh dear," Hermione murmured and turned to look at Regulus, who stormed out into the garden, his cape swirling about him, a fierce scowl etched into his face.
"What is he doing here?" Regulus snarled.
"He's visiting. Would you like to join us?" Hermione replied drily.
"How can you allow him to… this is beyond the… for the love of Merlin, Hermione," Regulus sputtered in rage.
"Harry has done nothing wrong," Hermione snapped. "Sit down, Regulus, before you give yourself an aneurysm." She glanced back toward the hotel and frowned at Gaius who was still hovering near the door. "Go fetch Severus. I'd like a word with him."
"I knew it," Regulus muttered. "I knew it."
"You knew what?" Hermione asked.
"Severus hates walking through Hogsmeade, but he insisted that we take a turn for old times' sake," Regulus snapped. "I knew that something was up."
"Yes," Hermione drawled coolly and took a pointed sip of her tea. "You've caught me out having tea with my nephew. The absolute horror of it all."
"Hermione," Regulus breathed at her, his dark eyes snapping with magical power. "This isn't a joke. Your safety isn't a joke. Not to me."
"Of course it isn't," Hermione retorted. "I know that you place my safety above your own, which is an argument for another day. However, you had best get used to Harry."
"Why?" Regulus demanded in a cold, clipped voice. "Why do I need to get used to Mr. Potter?"
"He plans to court Luna, I believe," Hermione informed him. She frowned at Regulus. "And you will not interfere."
"That is completely unacceptable," Regulus fumed. "He would have to visit her in France and I absolutely forbid that boy entry into your home. It is unplottable for a reason, Hermione!"
"Fine," Hermione snapped and Harry jumped in his chair. "He will use the Floo at the Malfoy Estate."
"Oh, erm." Harry cleared his throat anxiously. "I don't think that Malfoy would—"
"Lucius would never allow that boy entry into his home," Regulus scoffed and rolled his eyes.
"I think you'll find that Narcissa would," Hermione countered with a cool smirk.
"Of course she would." Regulus slid his hands into his hair and groaned. "I should never have invited her to the house in France."
"I suppose you could have invited Andromeda," Hermione agreed and took another sip of her tea.
"Andromeda would have refused my Owls and sent me curses in the mail," Regulus muttered. He frowned at Harry who turned pale and leaned back in his chair. "You will do nothing to harm my lady."
"N-no," Harry agreed.
"You will not speak of anything that you see or do or hear when you visit my lady. Not to anyone, not even your own parents," Regulus continued, his glare intensifying.
Harry blinked helplessly and looked at Hermione. "I… not even stuff about Luna?" He asked plaintively.
"You are welcome to comment on how the sunlight catches her hair, or how her eyes shine like stars in the sky, or how a particular robe made her skin glow," Hermione suggested with a small shrug. "But if you happen to witness any of the lessons or training that Luna takes with me I would appreciate it if you didn't repeat anything to anyone."
"Why?" Harry asked with a small frown of his own. "I mean… what would it hurt?"
"You have no way of knowing what sort of damage it might inflict," Regulus growled.
"I receive hundreds of requests from potential apprentices every year," Hermione explained. She paused, gathering her thoughts. "Each request is automatically denied. I have only one apprentice. I will never have another."
Harry blinked at that. "Why?" He blurted out, almost as though he couldn't help himself.
He really can't.
Despite the fact that the Other Hermione was an entirely mental "voice," she managed to sigh heavily. Hermione could feel the fondness for Harry that seemed to always tinge the Other Hermione's thoughts.
"My magical core was damaged, Harry," Hermione told him as gently as she could. "We were able to heal the damage, but as with all magic, there was a price. My core has been weakened and the broken bonds still affect my magic."
At Harry's blank look she sighed and looked to Regulus for help.
"Bas says that you're in classes with the girls, and your grades are decent," Regulus huffed impatiently. "Surely you've read up on Magical Theory and Bond Magic."
"Of course," Harry replied. He hesitated for a moment and then added a muttered, "…sir."
Hermione bit the inside of her cheek so that she wouldn't smile and push Regulus over the edge.
"What would your reading suggest about someone with a weakened magical core?" Regulus prompted with a flat stare.
"Erm, well, Agrippa mentions avoiding the stress of greater magical workings. Joining covens is strongly discouraged," Harry began slowly, his brow furrowing as he spoke. "Papus suggests that magically robust bonds also be avoided. Oh." He stared at Hermione for a long moment. "You can't risk another apprentice bond."
"No, I can't," Hermione agreed. She shifted in her seat and Regulus automatically tucked her blanket back in around her.
"When people find out that you have access to my lady, they will attempt to manipulate you," Regulus stated and stared at Harry. "You will not allow that to happen."
"How?" Harry demanded with a bewildered expression.
"I assume that your father has instructed you on your duties as heir?" Regulus drawled haughtily.
"Of course," Harry agreed.
"Has he begun your Occlumency lessons?" Regulus asked with a pointed look.
"Yeah," Harry agreed slowly. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Regulus turned to give Hermione an unimpressed look. Hermione sighed and rolled her eyes at Regulus before focusing on Harry.
"Occlumency helps protect you from magical manipulation," she explained.
"Magical manipulation," Harry repeated in surprise.
"Of course," Hermione replied with a huff. "No one would even try to use emotional or physical manipulation on a Potter."
"The entire line is so stubborn it's ridiculous," Regulus grumbled.
"Please, the Blacks hardly have any room to call anyone stubborn," Hermione scoffed.
"Why will people care so much about me visiting my own aunt?" Harry wondered aloud, confusion clear on his face.
"I have a reputation," Hermione said with a shrug. "They will assume that you are an easy avenue to information about me because of the breakdown in our family. I'm not a member of your House. You have no obligations to me at all—magical, social, or personal."
Harry's mouth dropped open and his face flushed. "I would never," he snarled furiously.
"Of course you wouldn't," Hermione agreed in a gentle voice. "But that doesn't mean that unscrupulous people won't attempt to use you."
"Then they'll just have to be disappointed," Harry huffed in indignation, his jaw jutting out stubbornly.
In that moment, he looked so like Jamie that Hermione's heart tightened painfully in her chest. She took a deep, shuddering breath and blinked rapidly. Regulus was instantly at her side, one hand at her elbow.
"Domina," he muttered, worry evident in the tight lines around his mouth.
"It's okay," Hermione sighed. She closed her eyes and shook her head. "I knew that this would… I'm fine."
"You should leave," Regulus told Harry.
"No, Regulus," Hermione protested.
"You have overtaxed yourself," Regulus countered. "You look feverish. I'll carry you to your room and I'll have one of the others Floo Healer Choi."
"You can't Floo Healer Choi every time I hiccough," Hermione argued.
"Maybe I should go," Harry offered. He glanced at Regulus for a moment and then focused on Hermione. "I can come back, right?"
"Yes, Harry, you are welcome to come back," Hermione assured the boy.
"Alright then. I'll, erm, thank you," Harry said and then flushed, biting his lip. "I know that our… that my House… thank you."
"Of course, Harry," Hermione said gently.
Harry was not as stupid as all of Luna's friends seemed to think he was. The way that Regulus Black had hovered over Hermione was… worrying. His godfather had hovered over Harry like that once when Harry had been very ill as a child. Mum had explained that the magical oaths that Uncle Sirius had taken as his godfather pushed him to hover. Harry wondered what sorts of magical oaths Regulus Black had taken, to make him hover over Harry's Aunt Hermione like that.
Unfortunately, Harry didn't have a lot of attention for Regulus Black's oaths. He had much larger concerns looming in his consciousness. How ill was his Aunt Hermione? What, exactly, did Repudiation do to a person? How did it affect their magic? He haunted the stacks of the Hogwarts Library, looking for the answers to his questions.
Instead of sitting at Luna's table, Harry made the decision to sit in half-hidden alcoves and dusty corners that most people avoided. Researching his aunt's vulnerabilities and his godfather's biggest mistake felt private, a raw, open wound that he didn't want anyone else poking at before he was ready. He saw Flint slip by out of the corner of his eye and Malfoy walked by often enough that it wasn't a coincidence. Despite the not-so-subtle presence of Slytherins lurking near him and watching his every move, Harry managed to learn quite a bit about Repudiation and the resulting magical core damage. None of it was encouraging.
It was perhaps a miracle that Harry remembered to ask Luna to the upcoming Yule Ball. Hogwarts hadn't officially announced anything, but Harry believed his Aunt Hermione. She had been so utterly certain… as though it was something that had already happened. His nerves jangling and his mouth suddenly dry, Harry stopped at Luna's table.
"Harry," Luna greeted him with a slight smile. "It's so nice to see you."
"I was researching some things," Harry offered and gave her a weak smile. "How have you been, Luna?"
"I have missed you," Luna replied with a thoughtful frown. Ruqqaya, Luna's constant companion, made a noise in her throat and Luna shrugged. "It is nice to speak to people who are not… who are different," she amended at the last moment.
Harry wondered what she originally meant to say, but focused instead on the fact that Luna had missed him. Luna had missed him. It gave him the courage he needed to ask his question.
"Miss Lovegood," he said carefully and Luna turned to face him, blinking her large grey eyes at him. Lestrange and her cousin Shafiq snapped to attention at his formal tone, their eyes narrowing on him suspicion. "Would you do me the honour of accompanying me to the Yule Ball?"
"What Yule Ball?" Shafiq muttered. Lestrange hushed him.
"It would be my pleasure, Mr. Potter," Luna replied with a slight smile. She paused. "You have already discussed this with Mistress Delenoir, I take it?"
"Yes." Harry nodded and fiddled with his cuffs. "She… she felt I wasn't showing the proper Gryffindor spirit about things."
"The do—erm, Mistress Delenoir approves of your interest in Luna?" Shafiq demanded incredulously. He turned to frown at his cousin. "Did you know?"
"I am not privy to Mistress Delenoir's thoughts, Nasir," Lestrange huffed at him.
"Potter," Malfoy drawled imperiously. He leaned against the library table with one hip and smiled briefly at Luna and her companions. "Luna. Ruqqaya. Nasir."
"Draco," Luna murmured with a small smile. The other two echoed her, Nasir nodding politely.
"What are you up to, now?" Malfoy asked, focusing on Harry.
"He's asked our Luna to the Yule Ball," Lestrange offered.
"Really?" Malfoy stood up and rolled his shoulders. "I'm sure you understand that if Miss Lovegood is not afforded every possible courtesy that I will be only one of several people that will wish to speak with you."
"I got that memo, thanks," Harry muttered. He turned back to Luna. "Thank you. I'll leave you to your studies."
"Wait," Luna called out and she reached out to grab the sleeve of Harry's robe.
"Yes?" Harry swallowed nervously.
"You are welcome to join us, you know," Luna said. She tilted her head and frowned for a moment at Malfoy. "If anyone has given you the impression that you aren't, I mean."
"Oh." Harry swallowed again and his throat clicked. "No, that's not… thank you."
Then he turned and fled. Aunt Hermione was probably going to have a lot more to say about Gryffindor courage the next time he saw her. Or maybe Mr. Black would just give him another one of his unimpressed looks. The ones that said very clearly that Harry wasn't worth bothering with and he had no idea why Hermione insisted on putting forth the effort. Uncle Sirius could do that one, too, but Harry had only seen him use it the one time they'd run into Mum's sister and her family in London.
Retreating to his chosen corner, Harry continued to research Repudiation. The answers he found were deeply troubling. There was no end to Repudiation. It continued on, forever. He supposed that made a sort of sense as the original bond was meant to continue on, forever as well. There was no cure for Repudiation. There was nothing that could fix his aunt.
Unfortunately, the books that covered the Repudiation Ceremony didn't include information about the magical damage caused by the Repudiation Ceremony, which Harry thought was odd, but a lot of the older books tended to be rather vague. Finding information on magical core damage led him on a merry chase throughout the library. When he found the information that he'd been looking for, he raced out of the library to the nearest loo so that he could throw up.
A damaged magical core and magical core instability, both side effects of the Repudiation Ceremony that he'd dutifully written down in his notes, were progressive conditions that worsened over time. Combined with bond shock and magical bond damage, a magical being would most likely die from magical failure, depending on the person's magical ability. There had been a series of arithmantic formulae that had made Harry's eyes cross, but he hadn't bothered to work through them because he didn't know any of the variables needed to complete them.
Realistically, his aunt Hermione should be dead. If everything he was reading was true, the pregnancy should have strained her already fragile system, and she should have experienced a magical failure, killing her and his cousins. She wasn't dead, and neither were Harry's cousins, and Harry wondered if whatever oaths Regulus had sworn were responsible for that. He wondered what his aunt would say if he asked her.
That made him pause for a moment. Did he care what the answer was? His aunt was still here and so were his cousins. Did it matter how that had happened? He knew Uncle Sirius' answer without asking. His uncle had been pale and wan the last few months. He'd managed to overhear heated, whispered conversations between his dad and his mum, his mum and Uncle Remus, and Uncle Sirius and Dad. Sirius would give anything to change the past, to fix his mistakes—not that there was a way to actually do that. Still. Harry knew Uncle Sirius wouldn't give a damn what his brother had done as long as it protected Aunt Hermione.
Harry really hoped it wasn't illegal blood magic. If Sirius and Dad had to arrest Mr. Black, he had a strong feeling that Aunt Hermione wouldn't be best pleased.
The Yule Ball passed in an excited flurry of activity for the younger set and amused fondness amongst the adults. Healer Choi had to come and check on Hermione at Yule, which meant that she was forced to cancel her tea date with her nephew. Regulus stalked around the hotel glaring at everyone until Severus dragged him off for a walk about Hogsmeade. It was for the best that he had been absent for the conversation that had followed.
With a grace and poise that Hermione wished she was still capable of, Healer Choi sat in the chair next to Hermione's bed.
"We should talk," Healer Choi stated calmly. Hermione sighed. "Being in the United Kingdom is putting unnecessary strain on your magic."
"I know," Hermione admitted. She fidgeted with her blankets. "Do I need to leave?"
"I would recommend it," Healer Choi replied. She put her hands on her knees. "You have done remarkably well for fourteen years, Hermione, but do not fool yourself into thinking that you have unlimited time."
"I know," Hermione whispered.
"If you are lucky and your son or your daughter is precocious, you might live long enough to see them married. Perhaps even a first grandchild," Healer Choi continued. She paused and frowned at Hermione. "But I can't guarantee you even that long."
"I understand." Hermione clutched at her blankets. "When you first saw me, you warned me that the longest you'd ever seen someone survive with a weakened magical core like I had was five years."
"At the time, you didn't care," Healer Choi added. "All you were worried about were your babies."
"They are still my primary concern," Hermione said quietly. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "They know that… they are aware that I…"
"We know that Maman is very ill," Cassiopeia said from the doorway. She slipped into the room and moved to stand next to her mother's bed. Cepheus followed her like a shadow and stood silently at her shoulder.
"Papa can arrange a match for me," Cepheus offered. He rolled his shoulders. "We spoke about it this summer, but I wanted to wait."
"Cephée, my love," Hermione sighed at him. "Whether or not the House of Black continues is the least of my worries. If you want to make me happy or you're worried about whether I'll be proud of you… I already am."
"Maman," Cepheus huffed at her.
"I can already See the wizard that you are, the man you will become," Hermione confessed. A faint smile curled her lips and a single tear slipped down her cheek. "You will be magnificent and I am so proud of you."
"And me, Maman?" Cassiopeia asked curiously.
"I am proud of you, as well," Hermione replied. She reached out and cupped her daughter's cheek. "I'm jealous of your Masteries, if you must know."
"Masteries?" Cassiopeia's voice was pleased and a light flush covered her cheeks.
"There are several paths that you might take, but all of them end up with you earning multiple Masteries," Hermione explained. "I won't say any more because I want you to make your own choices, not the ones that you think I would prefer."
"Well, the child will be pursuing multiple Masteries because you've mentioned it," Healer Choi pointed out with an arched eyebrow.
"I would have done that anyway," Cassiopeia retorted with an arrogant toss of her curls. "I've planned on a double Mastery since I was five."
"I blame your Uncle Severus," Hermione sighed.
"Aunt Appoline is probably more responsible," Cassiopeia countered with a smirk. "Veela culture highly values education and most of the children we played with were already planning their own Masteries."
"That's true," Hermione agreed. "I suppose Appoline must carry some of the blame."
Healer Choi snorted in amusement. "It is my understanding that a Veela would consider it a great honor to have influenced the education of a member of their enclave."
"Appoline will be unbearably smug about it, I'm sure." Hermione rolled her eyes.
"Should Maman retreat to the enclave?" Cepheus asked with a small frown.
Despite their kind and generous offer, Hermione had never felt the need to retreat to the Veela enclave. Chief among those reasons had been her stubbornness and her pathological need for some control over her own life. There was also the not-insubstantial reason that Regulus and the rest of her milites would not be welcome within the enclave. It had been proven that Regulus did not do well when he had no access to his children or to Hermione.
"I think it might help if she retreated to the enclave for a month," Healer Choi stated. "I have spoken to several of the Healers in the Delacour enclave, and they are more than capable of keeping an eye on you. In February, you and I can meet and evaluate your condition."
"I don't have a choice in this, do I?" Hermione asked.
"You can make whatever choice you wish," Healer Choi countered mildly. "However, if you would like to avoid magical core failure, then… yes. You need to do this."
"Very well." Hermione glanced at her children who were watching her with wide grey eyes. "Are you two alright with me doing this?"
"Yes." Cepheus glanced at his sister who nodded.
"I'll speak to your Honour Guard and make arrangements for February," Healer Choi announced as she stood. She frowned down at Hermione. "Take care of yourself, Mistress Delenoir. I have become fond of you."
"I will do my best," Hermione murmured.
They never spoke about Hermione. Sometimes Lily would wake up in the middle of the night and she could hear James crying and she knew that it was about Hermione, but they never spoke about her. What could any of them say? Right after it had all happened, James had gotten blisteringly drunk and he had confessed that he no longer had the right to talk about Hermione. In James's mind, he had failed his sister in every possible way. He'd even managed to magically disown her, barring her from her own House.
While Lily avoided bringing up Hermione, that didn't mean that she didn't miss her. Hermione's childhood bedroom remained untouched. The House Elves treated it like a shrine to their lost family member. There were times that Lily snuck off into Hermione's old bedroom, threw herself on the bed and cried. Every time she went back, the room was clean again, the bed pristine.
When Harry began visiting with his aunt, nothing really changed for them. Harry was surprisingly reticent about his interactions with his aunt, not that any of them asked for details. James wouldn't dream of it. He didn't deserve to know, as far as he was concerned. Sirius couldn't ask. It wasn't as though the Repudiation barred him from asking, but Sirius physically couldn't say her name. Every time that he'd tried his throat would close up and he'd end up gasping helplessly for air. Remus was too afraid of upsetting them to use Hermione's name aloud.
In February, Harry had become quiet and withdrawn. Lily knew that it had something to do with Hermione, but she didn't feel as though she could ask. The last thing she wished to do was to force Harry to violate a confidence or damage the fragile relationship he was attempting to create with his aunt. Despite all of that, Lily still worried about her boy.
Every weekend when Harry came to visit them at the little house they were renting in Hogsmeade, he was quiet and brooding. Lily watched her son and worried about what he didn't say.
"Harry?" Lily called out to him as she walked into the library. "Are you alright? You look a little peaky. Do you want a cuppa?"
Dark circles were under Harry's eyes and his skin was pallid. He shifted in his seat and frowned at his mother.
"Yes, please," he murmured. He paused rubbed a hand over his face. "Thank you, Mum."
"Of course," Lily said immediately. She moved closer to Harry and reached out to touch his wild hair. "What's going on in that head of yours?"
"It's nothing, Mum," he muttered.
Frozen, Lily stared down at the top of her boy's head and that impossible, ridiculous Potter hair. From the time that Harry had taken his first toddling steps, he had always come to Lily with his little hurts and woes. He had always trusted her to care for him. Something was troubling her son deeply. Something he felt he couldn't speak of to her. Something that most likely had to do with her former sister-in-law. Her heart ached in her chest.
That her childhood friendship with the haughty and proud little Potter witch had come to this was a source of constant pain. Once, Lily had considered Hermione the sister of her heart. There had been a time when there had been no secrets between them. Now each of them existed on opposite sides of a chasm so vast that it was insurmountable.
"I'll be back in a minute with tea." Lily swept from the room and headed toward the kitchen, hiding her trembling hands in the folds of her robes.
Making tea would at least give Lily something to do, something to focus on.
Easter break came and Harry seemed nervous, but excited.
"Can you tell me what's going on?" Lily finally asked when she found Harry pacing in the parlour at midnight.
"I'm going to Malfoy Manor tomorrow," Harry blurted out and then flushed. "I can't tell you any more than that."
"That's fine," Lily rushed to assure him. "You don't need to… I'm not asking you to… to reveal anything that you shouldn't."
"You've all been really great," Harry admitted. "I thought you'd be pushy. I expected Dad or Uncle Sirius to want every detail."
"Oh, Harry," Lily sighed. "We have no right to… they hope that she is as well as she can be and that she has found some measure of peace. I hope that she… it isn't necessary for her to know how much they… how much Sirius regrets everything… but I hope that—" Lily faltered and fell silent. She shook her head. "I guess it really doesn't matter," she said at last. "There is no way for anything to be different than it is. I could spend days dreaming of what might-have-been, but it fixes nothing."
"I have no idea about any of that," Harry informed his mother. He rolled his shoulders and frowned. "I've never dared to ask her about any of that."
"No, of course not," Lily agreed. "What could she possibly say? What could any of us say? That Sirius is sorry? He is, certainly. He regrets it every single moment of every single day, but that doesn't fix anything. It doesn't make it better. He couldn't even be in the same room to tell her he was sorry without hurting her, and at that point it's more about him than her and what kind of an apology is it if you're hurting the person you're apologizing to, just to apologize."
Harry blinked at her slowly. "You've thought a lot about this." Lily's laugh was sharp and wet.
"Oh Harry," she sighed and shook her head. "You have no idea."
When her boy left to go to Malfoy Manor, James looked as though he'd been sucking on a lemon, but Sirius' face was carefully neutral. He had hugged Harry tightly and placed a smacking kiss on the boy's forehead.
"Best manners, Harry, yeah?" Sirius had muttered at him. He tugged at the sleeves of Harry's robes. "Make sure you greet the lady of the House. Give her your best bow."
Harry nodded and batted at Sirius' hands. "I know how to behave, Padfoot," he muttered. Sirius had reluctantly taken a step back.
Once Harry had gone through the Floo, Lily turned to frown at Sirius.
"What was that?" She asked tightly. Sirius' jaw went tight and he ran a hand through his hair.
"Our Harry isn't friends with Malfoy," James answered for Sirius. He glanced toward the Floo with a longing expression and then focused on his wife. "It is highly unlikely that he would have been invited to Malfoy Manor over Easter Break."
"But… he called out Malfoy Manor," Lily protested. "We all heard him say it just now."
"It's a security measure," Sirius said. He cleared his throat and turned his back resolutely to the Floo. "He may even be taken through a couple more before his final destination."
"Which is?" Lily demanded tartly. Both James and Sirius avoided her gaze. Lily felt her knees grow weak and moved quickly to sit in a chair. "Oh. Really?"
"It's what I would do," Sirius admitted roughly. He swallowed hard and rubbed at his mouth. "It's what Father did do on a regular basis, the crazy, paranoid bastard."
"So, you're saying that… that right now, Harry is on his way to… to—" Lily went silent and stared at both men with wide eyes.
"Yeah," James bit out and moved to sit next to her on the settee that she was currently occupying.
As soon as James sat down next to her, Lily put a careful hand on his shoulder. He sat silently next to her, staring at the Floo with an unreadable expression. Sirius paced the room for several minutes before he spun on a heel and left the room. Childhood and Hogwarts seemed far away in that small, broken moment.
It was easy to remember how they had all been at Harry's age. James had been such a little git with his ready laughter and his pranks and his bright smile. Sirius had been so carefree and arrogant. He had charmed his way out of every situation and everyone, even the teachers had been well and truly charmed. Remus had fooled most with his studious demeanor and his quiet ways, but he was just as bad as James and Sirius. Lily had watched his shy smile charm so many of their classmates.
Now it was hard to find the pieces of those long-lost boys. James' laughter was hard-won these days and his smiles rare and always a little sad. Sirius hadn't been carefree for over a decade and he had no desire to charm anyone. Remus was still quiet and shy, but even he was more worn, sadder. Lily had poured herself into her son, focusing everything on Harry. What little she had left, she spent on trying to keep the boys together.
The secrets that Lily had sworn as a child to keep the sister of her heart safe were sealed within her. Lily had never even attempted to push at the magic that bound her for fear of what might happen. If it had hurt Hermione more than they already had, Lily wasn't sure that she could live with herself. She knew that she'd never be able to look James or Sirius in the eye, so she kept her silence and her former friend's secrets, and she hoped that Severus was able to help in ways that Lily no longer could.
The remaining Marauders made a conscious choice not to be in the parlour that held their Floo when Harry was scheduled to return. Lily couldn't help herself. She paced helplessly in the parlour and waited.
Finally, Harry stumbled from their Floo into the parlour. His face was chalk-white and he stared at Lily with horror.
"Did you know?" He demanded.
"What?" Lily's voice cracked. She swallowed and tried again. "Harry, what are you talking about?"
"Dad doesn't know," Harry muttered half to himself. "We had that whole conversation last year and it was pretty obvious that he didn't."
"Harry," Lily whispered and her bruised heart hammered in her chest. "Did something happen to… is she alright?"
"What? Oh, she's fine, I guess," Harry muttered. He put his hands into his hair and tugged on it—something she hadn't seen him do since he was a small boy. "Mum, did you know?"
The bottom of Lily's stomach dropped out.
"Did I know what, Harry?" Lily countered with carefully contrived confusion.
"Mum," Harry's voice went quiet and dangerous, like Sirius' did when he was furious. Lily shook her head.
"I'm not sure what you're asking me, Harry," Lily pointed out.
"You knew," Harry breathed out furiously and Lily swallowed at the look in her son's eyes. "Mum, how could you?"
Lily pulled her robe to the side, exposing a shoulder and the paw print that rested there, still as golden as it had been when she'd first sworn to keep Hermione Potter's secrets.
"Do you know what this is?" Lily demanded. Harry frowned.
"I've only seen them once or twice at Hogwarts, when we're in the Quidditch changing rooms," Harry muttered. "At Malfoy Manor, Mr. Malfoy was teaching Draco sword fighting and Draco's sword caught on Mr. Malfoy's robes, cutting them. Mr. Malfoy had them, too." He frowned at his mother's shoulder. "They all have them, don't they? Mum… why do you have them?"
"She was my friend once," Lily reminded her son. "She came to stay the summer with me. Severus lived just down the road and we were going to have so much fun that summer," she whispered. She recalled the night that changed her mind forever and shivered. "Then, one night…"
"You swore your own oaths," Harry muttered under his breath and averted his eyes from her shoulder.
"I am unable to speak of it at all," Lily warned him. Harry nodded.
"I get it, Mum. I do." He sighed heavily and rubbed his hands over his face. "It's just… Dad."
"I know, Harry," Lily whispered.
"No, you don't, Mum," Harry protested. "There are family secrets that… this will kill Dad if he ever finds out."
"I wouldn't be able to ever tell him," Lily sighed. She lifted a hand and let it fall. "So it wouldn't be from me."
"What if—" Harry began, but Lily shook her head and Harry fell silent.
"The milites have been fulfilling their duty to their lady for over fifteen years, Harry," Lily said with quiet conviction. "They will not fail her. Severus would never let anyone hurt her."
"But we should be the ones that… it is my duty and my father's," Harry said with a mulish expression.
"He lost that right," Lily said with a shake of her head. "Magically, she is no longer a member of our House. She no longer shows up in our magical family tree, Harry."
With a growl of frustration, Harry stomped from the room and headed upstairs. Lily watched him go and sighed heavily. This was not going to end well. Harry had far too much James in him. If she were honest, he had too much of her in him, as well.
The year that Cassiopeia and Cepheus Black graduated from Beauxbatons, the House of Black announced that both graduates were planning on pursuing their Masteries. Gossips all over Europe speculated as to how involved Regulus Black would be in his adopted children's education. It made the newspapers in more than one country as did the further news that both Cassiopeia and Cepheus were planning on applying to Mastery programs in Asia. Those who were close to the House of Black knew the reasons for their choices, but the rest of the wizarding world was left baffled. Most had expected to see an engagement announcement almost immediately upon graduation for Cepheus Black. Several newspapers speculated as to why the House of Black hadn't issued any such announcement.
Hermione laid in bed and read through the newspapers. The only sound in the room was the rustling of the newspaper and Hermione's labored breathing. The raspy, rattling sound was new, but Healer Choi admitted that it most likely was here to stay. As a family, they made the decision to move to Jeju-do so that they could be closer to Healer Choi. It had been a toss-up as to whether Hermione ought to retreat to the Veela enclave again. Cassiopeia had obtained an apprenticeship with Healer Choi and it was pleasant to see her daughter every day.
"Did you see what the Bohemian press had to say?" Narcissa asked as she swept into the room followed by a floating tea tray.
Thank Merlin for Narcissa Malfoy.
If anyone had ever suggested that I would ever think such a thing, or even agree with the sentiment I would have laughed myself sick, and then hexed the wanker.
I know that your relationship with Narcissa was vastly different.
You know what? I don't even care. That was in a different world and I was a different person. Even Narcissa was different.
No. You don't need to thank me. For Merlin's sake, you're in almost constant agony. Most of the medications don't work anymore. They can't risk spells or enchantments because they interact with your magical core. She's the one bright spot in your day. Her friendship has made all of this slightly less awful. For that alone, I'd be willing to forgive Narcissa quite a lot.
"The bit where Cepheus is failing in his duty as a scion of his House?" Hermione asked. "Or the part where Regulus allowing Cassiopeia to flit off to Asia, completely unescorted, was a recipe for ruination and the destruction of her House's reputation?"
Narcissa smirked at Hermione. "Both."
"Why does Bohemia care whether or not my eighteen-year-old son is getting married and fathering future little Blacks?" Hermione demanded in exasperation.
"The House of Black has a branch in Bohemia," Narcissa explained as she fixed a cup of tea for Hermione and handed it over. "The House of Czerny has all but died out. Cepheus is their only hope. If he has more than one son, they'll most likely approach and ask if one of them might be named the scion of Czerny."
"Hmm." Hermione sipped carefully at her tea. It was something that Healer Choi had blended for Hermione specifically and it was meant to shore up her lungs.
"How are you feeling today?" Narcissa asked quietly.
"Do you want the truth?" Hermione countered.
Narcissa's eyes filled with tears and her lower lip wobbled. "Hermione. Do they know?"
"Healer Choi knows," Hermione answered. She sighed and closed her eyes. "Cassiopeia has figured it out, I believe. She was always a clever girl."
"You have to tell Regulus," Narcissa protested. "And Cepheus."
"I plan to tell them both," Hermione promised. "Regulus and Severus are on a much-needed holiday. They are scheduled to return just before the twins' nineteenth birthday."
"That's next month," Narcisa pointed out with a frown. "Do you have that much time?"
"I think so, yes," Hermione said with a faint smile. "Healer Choi agrees that I have at least that long."
"Cepheus will try to get married immediately," Narcissa groaned.
"Ruqqaya will wait until he's got a Mastery under his belt. She's not a Ravenclaw for nothing," Hermione countered with a slight smile.
The children of the milites had grown up together. There had been several childhood romances that petered out years before they graduated from their respective schools. Cepheus had known Ruqqaya for years, but he hadn't spent a lot of time with her until the Triwizard Tournament. What followed were years of letters sent back and forth and shy turns in the gardens overseen by Luna, Cassiopeia, and Narcissa.
The solemn daughter of Rabastan Lestrange and Tahirih Shafiq was the perfect match for Cepheus and not because of her pedigree. Most young women their age were more naive and carefree. Their innocence and their ignorance tended to frustrate Cepheus who had little patience with amusement for amusement's sake. He had spent most of his childhood worrying about his mother's health and her safety. Ruqqaya understood all of that and provided solace and comfort when he most needed them.
"Is that a good match," Narcissa wondered aloud. She grimaced slightly, her lips twisting. "I mean, Ruqqaya is a charming young lady, of course. It's just… there doesn't seem to be… well…"
"Passion?" Hermione guessed drily. Narcissa flushed and nodded. "Passion might have worked well for you and Lucius, but it might have served me to have a little less passion."
"Hermione," Narcissa huffed.
"Narcissa," Hermione countered. She rolled her eyes at her closest friend. "I have found the pair of them in more than one compromising position since we've moved here to Jeju. Trust me, the children have more than enough passion for one another."
"Oh." Narcissa's cheeks grew darker and Hermione snorted.
"You are ridiculous," Hermione complained.
The month seemed to both race by and at the same time crawl by in excruciating increments. Every day, Hermione's magic grew more and more erratic as her magical core began to fail. She spent most days in bed with Cassiopeia giving her sponge baths and feeding her broth. Hermione drank gallons of the tea that Healer Choi had prepared, but still struggled for each breath. There was only so much that it could do, after all.
"Mum." Cassiopeia sat by her bed and frowned at her. "We can't wait any longer."
"I know," Hermione rasped. She took one greedy breath, working to get more oxygen in her lungs. "I'm sorry I made you wait, love."
"No," Cassiopeia protested. She brushed her fingers over Hermione's forehead. "I thought that we could do it. Healer Choi agreed. Unfortunately, magical core failure doesn't evolve at a sustained rate."
"You've already called them back," Hermione realized with a start of surprise. When Cassiopeia blushed, Hermione laughed, a broken, raspy laugh, but a laugh all the same. Cassiopeia's head jerked up and she stared at her mother in shock. "You are so like me."
"Thank you," Cassiopeia replied primly and then smirked at her mother.
"Be kind to him, Cassiopeia," Hermione said gently. When Cassiopeia turned to frown at her mother, and ask who, she saw the familiar, black eyes of the Seer. "He was almost your age, a child, really. Not innocent, but naïf enough to not understand the consequences of his actions. There is no excuse, no forgiveness, but you can understand him if you try. Know that he will suffer for generations. The fates will separate us."
"Good," Cassiopeia whispered fiercely. "He should suffer. They should never let him near you again."
A blink and the black was gone, leaving Hermione's hazel eyes. She stared at her daughter for a long moment, considering what she ought to say. She bit her lower lip and sighed.
"There will always be a part of me that will love him," Hermione began carefully. "All of the research that I did… he's mine and I'm his. We have met over and over again in a number of lives. We have loved one another in every life where we had the opportunity to meet one another. Separation punishes us both."
"Mum," Cassiopeia protested. "Are you saying he doesn't deserve to be punished for what he's done?"
"He has punished himself, if I ever knew him at all," Hermione countered. "He won't attempt to seek you out. He won't even try to bump into you, but if you do encounter him—be kind to him. For my sake."
"I'll be polite to him," Cassiopeia muttered. "And if Papa hears I even did that much, I'll never hear the end of it."
"Thank you," Hermione sighed and let her eyes flutter closed. She could feel the press of Cassiopeia's fingers on her forehead again.
"Rest, Maman," Cassiopeia whispered. "Papa and Cephée will be here soon."
"Mmm," Hermione hummed in agreement.
Fingers were gripping her hands tightly. The soft murmur of French drifted over Hermione and she opened her eyes. On one side was Cepheus with Cassiopeia at his side. On the other side, Regulus was clutching at her hand with Severus pressed against his side. Hermione's lips twitched. Her tiny family was here with her. She tightened her hands on theirs, letting them know that she knew they were here. Cepheus' breath hitched and he pressed a kiss to the back of her hand.
"Maman," he muttered against her skin.
"Hermione," Regulus ground out between clenched teeth.
"Love you all," she gasped. Black spots clouded her vision, but she could still see them all around her, keeping vigil with her. Love for her family filled the ache in her chest.
It was perfect, almost. There was just one thing missing.
"Sirius," she whispered and her eyes slipped closed one final time.
The twin roars of pain and fury went unheard and the tears that fell on her hands were unfelt. The last hitched breath left her lips and she was still.
It was a late supper at Potter Manor. James and Sirius had been on a late shift and Lily had prepared something for them both. Harry was already sat at the table. He was preparing to leave for his apprenticeship in Peru next week.
"Why Peru?" James had asked in utter confusion when Harry had broken the news.
Harry had shrugged casually. "They've got a program that I'm quite interested in."
Now, Lily and Harry were waiting impatiently for James and Sirius to return. Harry stretched out his legs under the table.
"When is Dad supposed to be home?" He asked again.
"Soon," Lily replied. She rolled her eyes at her son. "Try and be patient, dear."
Sharp pain bit into both of Lily's shoulders. She couldn't keep the scream behind her teeth. Instead it burst out of her and she clutched at her robes, impatiently pulling them to one side to stare at the paw print there. One shuddering gasp and then another left her lips and soon she was sobbing. Tears she'd tamped down for years fell down her cheeks.
"Mum," Harry whispered. "They've gone black."
"I know," Lily sobbed.
"What does that mean?" Harry demanded. "Why would they do that? It doesn't… Mum—"
There was a tap at the window, and Harry stared at his mother for a moment before he hurried to the window. There was Luna's raven sitting on the window sill, a black-trimmed letter in its beak. Harry shook his head.
"Please, no," Harry protested.
The raven glared at Harry with one beady eye and thrust his beak out. With trembling fingers, Harry took the letter. The raven gave a low, gurgling croak and then turned and flew off into the night.
"Open it," Lily demanded.
"Mum, no," Harry protested.
"Open it," Lily said again. Harry fumbled with the wax and then opened the letter carefully.
"It's from Luna." Harry cleared his throat. "Aunt Hermione…"
"We knew that," Lily reminded him gently. Harry nodded and folded the letter before putting it in his robe pocket.
"What do we tell Dad?" Harry wondered aloud.
"I suggest you tell me the truth, whatever it is," James suggested drily as he walked into the room. He froze when he caught sight of their faces. "Lily, what's happened?"
"It's… well, it's…" Lily faltered into silence and her breath hitched again, tears slipping down her cheeks again.
"It's Aunt Hermione," Harry managed to get out. James flinched and then turned toward Lily.
"What's happened?" James asked with a worried frown.
"She died," Harry admitted. "Earlier tonight. Luna just sent me a letter, letting me know."
"What?" Sirius' voice was strained and his eyes wild as he hurried into the room. "What did you just say?"
"She's gone," Lily choked out.
"No," Sirius breathed. "No."
With her apprenticeship, Cassiopeia wasn't able to visit Maman's grave as often as she might like. She spent most of her time in Korea and when she wasn't in Korea, she was visiting Papa and Severus in the townhouse in London. Cepheus and Ruqqaya tried to visit her as often as they could and occasionally, she was able to make it to see them.
"Hello, Maman," Cassiopeia whispered. Carefully, she set down the large flower display that she'd brought with her. She brushed over the carved letters of her mother's headstone. "I've missed you."
The Delenoir family plot was in a beautiful hidden garden on the family estate in France. Regulus had refused to bury Maman there, as though she was something that he ought to be ashamed of. Instead, he'd had her buried in a magical graveyard outside of Paris. The headstone was a further reflection of Papa's feelings on the subject.
Our Lady, Our Light
"Determination to do right
Makes even the impossible,
There was a rustle behind her and Cassiopeia turned quickly. Staring at her with wide eyes was the man that her mother had asked her to treat kindly. She refused to think of him as her father. That was Papa. Papa had kissed her skinned knees and taught her to fly a broom and held her when her mother had passed beyond the veil. This man had done none of those things and it was his own fault that it had been that way. Still, a promise to Maman was a promise to Maman.
"Hello," she murmured and nodded at him perfunctorily. She stood up and smoothed out her robes. "I was just leaving."
"You don't have to go." His voice was hoarse and rough. "I'll go."
"No, it's fine," she insisted. "I'll come speak to Maman, tomorrow."
"I'll make sure to stay away," he offered.
Cassiopeia offered him another nod and then swept past him, making sure that they were far enough away that they did not brush against one another.
As the seasons passed, she caught sight of him now and again. She did her best to follow her mother's request. When she felt as though she couldn't, she did her best to ignore him.
Every time she spotted him, he looked worse than the last time she'd seen him. Thinner, more haggard, darker circles under his reddened, bloodshot eyes. Cassiopeia observed him with a Healer's eyes.
"You look like shite," she snapped the next time she saw him. "What are you doing to yourself?"
"Nothing," he muttered. He shook his head. "This is the closest I've been able to be to her in twenty years. It… hurts to leave."
"Very well," she huffed. "Do as you like then."
As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted then. She hadn't meant to be so rude. Maman would be cross with her for that. She just couldn't help it. His grief infuriated her. How dare he feel as though he had a right to mourn her? It was his fault that she was dead! His and no one else's.
When she returned a couple of months later, she found him curled up on Maman's grave, his shoulders shaking as he sobbed into the grass. Shaking her head, Cassiopeia turned and left again, allowing him the space to grieve in peace. She liked to think that Maman would have approved. The wind caressed her cheek gently as she left and she smiled.