A/N: Excuses are endless. Long story short… I lost my entire computer. Literally months of research for this story… gone. I lost my uncle, but I gained a son. He just turned one in September – Remus Scott (after my dad). Please enjoy the chapter, it's my longest yet.

Special shout out to my beta QueenQueenie – THANK YOU! You're a queen *wink*

-.-.-

Tuesday. November 4, 1975.

Marian and Rose were giving each other the silent treatment, but Hermione had bigger things on her mind. She dressed for another day of studies, gathered her bag of textbooks and homework, and pocketed Sirius' birthday card. If she wanted to make breakfast, he'd have to wait for his gift.

Hermione rushed down the stairs, nearly tumbling over the last few, before gracelessly landing in the Common Room.

"You're late," Remus said, slinging his own backpack on.

"Shut it, Lupin. I'm well aware." Hermione's patience was low already, and it wasn't even 8 o'clock.

"Whoa, Hermione, are you okay? You seem a bit…tetchy," he replied, visibly taken aback by her attitude.

She sighed as they turned towards the exit, "Yes, I'm just… aggravated, I suppose. Marian and Rose still aren't speaking; I'm too new to know how to help, and it's distracting me from my studies."

Remus shrugged, "They're best friends, they'll get over it. They always do. Besides, you had all your homework done by Saturday afternoon. You can't be that distracted," he claimed.

Hermione's fingers twitched. It wasn't her schoolwork she was worried about – she'd already finished her fifth year before. She was far more concerned with the casualty list hidden away in her trunk. Dumbledore still hadn't met with her about their plan, and Hermione felt like she wouldn't be prepared for what could happen if they didn't come up with something soon.

"Hermione?"

"Hmm?"

Remus stopped, still clutching the backpack on his shoulder. "You seem… off. What is it?"

She let out a frustrated growl, "I just told you, Remus! I'm aggravated! Can we just go now?" Hermione couldn't help but quip at him. He had no idea what she was really going through, and no amount of reassurance from the kind Prefect was going to make up for her lack of preparation.

His face read of uncertainty, but after a moment of silence, he nodded once and continued on their way to the Great Hall. He decided to allow his new friend her privacy, even if he knew something was different.

-.-.-

History of Magic was quiet except for the sounds of Professor Binns droning on. Hermione permitted her mind to wander, just this once, and allow herself to plot any possibilities for her upcoming mission. She jotted notes on a spare bit of parchment, nothing too revealing if someone were to glance at it or if it escaped the confines of her pocket.

Arrive before danger, hide away.

Wait for it, fight

Body doubles

Hermione shook out her quill, annoyed at the imperfect writing it had produced. She noticed the tip had chipped, letting the ink dribble annoyingly in places it didn't belong. Glaring at it in hopes of setting it ablaze with her anger, she slammed it down on her desk. Professor Binns didn't seem to notice the sudden noise, but her neighbors shook awake as if someone had set off an Exploding Snap game. She wanted to look sheepish, but Hermione was tempted to just get up and leave. At least the library could offer her the comfort of books and possibilities.

Much of the day passed in this manner; Hermione wanting nothing more than to hole herself up with informative tomes, or even the Headmaster's wise mind. Lunch was far less relaxing than she could have hoped.

"First match of the season is only four days away!" James exclaimed, rubbing his hands together.

Sirius' eyebrows furrowed, "Oi, mate! It's my birthday and you wanna talk about a game?"

James shoved his friend, "You get a birthday every year!"

"And you get Quidditch matches all year! How about some special treatment?" Sirius replied, shoving James back.

Remus gave a heavy sigh, "Ladies, ladies, can we please just relax? Can't we see that Hermione is distracted and needs our help?"

Hearing her name, Hermione's posture straightened and her eyes focused on the boys again. "What?"

All four of the boys noted her strange behavior and began berating her with questions.

"What's wrong?"

"Is everything okay?"

"Is someone bothering you?"

"Is a boy bothering you?"

"Who do we need to beat up?"

"Enough!" Hermione shouted, startling them all into silence, her hand slamming on the table with a loud boom! "I can handle myself just fine thank-you-very-much and I don't need a bunch of 15-year-olds to come to my rescue at the first sign of a problem! I'm a big girl, I can take care of myself. No need to worry your pretty little heads about me and my attitude, alright? Just shut it!"

The Marauders all sat with mouths agape, unsure of where this anger had spouted from. Sirius was the first to find his bearings and respond.

"Okay but, for the record, I'm 16 now and-"

"Oh for Pete's sake!" she cried, standing now.

Peter looked astounded, "What did I do?"

"Argh!" Hermione cried, yanking her bag off the bench and storming out of the Great Hall with an empty stomach.

Remus brushed his forehead in exasperation. "She was like this earlier as well," he whispered to the others, "Nearly took my head off on our way to breakfast. We need to figure out what's going on."

"Maybe it's just her…ahem time of the month?" Peter supplied, cheeks flushing at the mere mention of a feminine issue. Sirius rolled his eyes.

"A girl can be upset anytime, Pete, it doesn't necessarily make her a… a blood hound," he said hesitantly.

Remus nodded, "Besides, I know she's not. I can smell it," he shuddered, "and she's, well… she's not."

"If we could all stop talking about my adopted sister's lady bits, I'd be forever grateful," James muttered, looking rather green in the face.

"I need to talk about something manly before I punch something in desperation," Sirius said. "Let's go back to the Quidditch thing…"

-.-.-

Hermione wasn't sure how she survived the day. She trudged down the stairs, into a corner of the library, and collapsed into a lone chair at an empty table. As tears of frustration threatened to escape, she pinched the bridge of her nose and hid her face from view, silently praying this would get easier – that she'd grow closer to her dorm mates, that her patience would be stronger, that Dumbledore would actually do something to help.

Guilt was starting to set in; Hermione had been very short-tempered with her friends and they didn't deserve the treatment she gave them. She wanted to explain herself to them, to connect on a higher level and earn some true trust between them, but she knew she couldn't. That kind of information would put them in grave danger, and that's only if they believed her at all. Her story, her ridiculously insane story, would be laughed off faster than she cared to admit, and she couldn't blame them. If she had heard of such a thing, she would personally ensure they were admitted to St. Mungo's, or the school Hospital Wing at the very least.

Hermione unloaded the textbooks from her book bag and spread them out onto her table. She carefully arrangied them in the order she wanted to cite from, and stacked her notes next to her fresh parchment. She pushed through her distractions and began rewriting an essay from the weekend, adding proper citations and adjusting her wordage. When the candles above her table blew out, Hermione tried to relight them with her wand, but found that they wouldn't keep the flame. Rather than allow her temper to rise again, Hermione whispered "Lumos" and shuffled her items back into the bag, not minding if her notes crinkled against each other in her haste.

As she clasped the bag shut, she heard slow, soft footsteps nearby. They were calculated and creeping closer, only to stop a few meters away. Extinguishing her wand, Hermione leaned around a bookshelf and noticed Lucius Malfoy fiddling with a shelf in the shadowed row.

His long, alabaster fingers seemed to push against the inside, as if pressing invisible buttons against the dark wood. He then added a meticulous gesture, an almost silent incantation, and a tap of his wand before a soft click echoed down the row of tomes. His hand was surrounded by a warm orange glow while a compartment seemed to dislodge from the wood. It was the perfect size for a small notebook – or a diary Hermione realized, as he placed a black book into the slot and slid the alcove back into its proper place.

She ducked back behind the shelving, her heart beating in her ears loudly as if the organ had jumped up into her head and made a home there. Not allowing herself to be seen or heard by the blond Slytherin, Hermione held her breath and froze in place, pushing her body against the edge of the bookshelf before sliding away from it, and him, back towards the table with her belongings. Her nerves were frantic and she had a hard time grasping the handle of her bag and nearly tripped on the leg of the chair she'd used only minutes before.

I have to get out of here. I cannot be seen. I have to get to Dumbledore. I have to find a way into that compartment. I have to find out if that's the diary. I have to…

"Isn't it past your bedtime, Mudblood?"

Hermione stopped, her body unwilling to turn around and face her rival. She swallowed hard, begging her legs to engage in either fight or flight rather than freeze.

"I asked you a question," Malfoy added menacingly. He seemed to glide in front of her, and even though his voice was strong and threatening, Hermione noticed his long fingers were twitching slightly.

He's nervous. He thinks you saw. He thinks you know. Don't give him any reason to believe you did…

Hermione forced her body to relax, slinging the sack of books onto her shoulder. "Don't you have anything better to be doing? What is it with you Slytherins being so concerned with my sleeping habits?"

"Ah yes, I did hear about your little run-in with Flint. It's too bad you slipped away from him - your blood could use some purity."

"I'm plenty pure, thanks."

Malfoy's eyebrows shot up at Hermione's implication as a sickening smile reached his lips. "Oh really?" he chortled, "Good to know."

Hermione watched his retreating back, her stomach churning at the vile suggestion she was sure his mind was thinking. Glancing down at her feet, Hermione cursed them for not acting sooner. Traitors! her mind cried, angrily stomping out of the library. After she checked her watch and realized she was running out of time, she made her way to the staircases as fast as her capricious legs would carry her.

Hermione placed herself carefully, two steps above the trick step, and quickly checked for any stray people before aiming her wand. "Bombarda!" The stair gave way, exploding in a mess of stone and debris, some landing in her frizzy hair. Another peek around granted her enough time to clear the rubble and cast the strongest disillusionment charm she could muster. Her wand grew warm from both her own clammy hand as well as the power the wood conducted. Hermione refused to let go of the enchantment, feeling the magic drain from her [slowly, at an agonizing pace. Her watch told her she'd been holding it for almost ten minutes, but her body was screaming it'd been hours. Her arm was growing increasingly fatigued, feeling both empty of magic and full of lead. She was depleting what seemed like all the energy and mana in her system. The wooden stick fell from her fingers as she gasped in pain, falling back onto the banister in weakness.

Her chest heaved with exhaustion, her vision fuzzy around the edges with purple and blue spots. Just a few minutes, she told herself. I'll go to the Common Room in just a few minutes. I just need to catch my breath.

A loud, boisterous group was rounding up the castle stairs, voices bouncing off the stone walls with joy and laughter. Hermione tried to scoot herself as close to the banister as she could, to make room for anyone needing to pass.

"Who's-?" Peter…

"'Mione?" Ah, there's Remus.

"Merlin, someone get help!" Oh calm down, James!

Feet, so many feet, stomping up the flights of stairs, demanding speed and agility towards their goal.

Plunk!

Hermione wanted to see who fell victim first, what poor soul had fallen?

"What the bloody-?"

The weak witch let out a small chuckle. "Happy birthday, Sirius," Hermione whispered, before finally blacking out.

-.-.-

Hermione missed the hurried race to the Common Room, having been unconscious, but she woke to quite an argument between the Marauders.

"Are you daft? We need to get her to the Hospital Wing!" Sirius shouted, his face reddening by the second.

"And say what, exactly? Yes, hello Madam Pomfrey! Hermione's just defacing school property. Mind giving her a look-over? Think clearly, mate!" Hermione agreed, thinking Peter certainly had a point. Detention would be in her future.

"We can't just leave her like this! She looks half-dead! At this rate, I don't know what could happen to her." James certainly did sound like a protective older brother, but she couldn't let him do that.

"Don't… Don't take me," Hermione whispered, wiping her forehead with her the back of her good hand.

Three faces appeared over her. They were blurry and still spotted with a rainbow of colors, but at least her eyes were open.

"Hermione!" they all shouted.

"No, please. Please. Shut. Up," she groaned. "Wait where… Where's Remus?" she asked, attempting to sit up. Each boy had placed a hand on her to lie back down. "I thought Sirius had fallen?"

"He did. I'm right here!" The sandy-haired boy clambered down the Boy's stairs, reaching forward and handing vials out to his friends. "Red is first, that's you, James. Give that one first." James did as he was told, uncorking it quickly and pressing it into Hermione's hands.

"No, James, make her drink it!" Sirius grabbed it before it spilled over, "Oh for Merlin's sake."

Remus handed out a glittering purple one, "This one next, Pete." Peter's watery eyes were etched with terror and uncertainty, his fingers shaking and uncooperative.

Sirius ripped that from Peter's hands as well, "Useless, the lot of you!" He pushed the hair from his eyes in frustration, "Come now, Hermione, drink up. Don't think I won't take you to the Hospital Wing anyway."

Glass tinkled behind her head, "Two more," Remus said, handing two more potions over. "They need to be taken together, mixed if you can. Here, use this to combine them."

Hermione couldn't see the commotion behind her but her body seemed to agree with the administered remedies.

"No, I'm fine now," she claimed, attempting to sit up again.

James, Sirius, and Peter pushed her back down again, but it was James who spoke up this time.

"If you don't lie down on this couch and take these potions, I won't just tell Madam Pomfrey. I'll owl Mum!"

Hermione looked at the fuzzy-edged James with horror before snatching the potion from Sirius and chugging it.

"Blegh! Tastes like wet dog."

Remus chuckled, "Yeah, the taste depends on the- Nevermind. How are you feeling?"

"Depends on the what?" Hermione asked, purely out of curiosity.

"On the person administering it," Remus answered simply. "Everyone has their own unique magical imprint."

Hermione's wand arm began to tingle, her eyes drooping with fatigue. She gave out a small snort, "Happy birthday, Sirius. You're a dog in a staircase." With a final soft snort, Hermione fell asleep.

The four Marauders collapsed onto the floor of the Common Room, adrenaline finally tapering out of their systems. Peter was the first to speak.

"I think she wins. Best birthday present ever."

The others nodded, "She is never allowed to give me a birthday present again," Sirius said with a groan. "I can't do this again."

As the tension released from their bodies, they allowed themselves to erupt in a fit of wild laughter.

Remus sighed, clutching his stomach, "I'm going to need to replenish my stock of potions before…"

"Before your furry little problem returns?" James offered, wiping a tear of laughter from his eye. "Yeah. Hey, let's go sit out by the trick step and watch everyone fall in!"

-.-.-

Monday. November 17, 1975.

Nearly two weeks had allowed Hermione time to recover from her excessive use of magic, but the Marauders were keeping their eyes on her. Thankfully for Hermione, but unfortunately for Remus, the full moon was approaching, which meant the four of them were fairly distracted.

When morning post showed up with screeching owls and excited students, Hermione opened a thin envelope.

Miss LaBaugh,

I have coordinated with your professors to excuse you from classes today. Please meet with me in my office at your earliest convenience.

After much deliberation, I believe I may have conjured a plan for next month's holiday. It would be the most opportune time for you to bring along your research materials. I look forward to our meeting.

Dutifully,

Headmaster Dumbledore

Hermione had to read through it twice to be sure, but this was it! They were finally going to come up with a strategy to save that family next month and Hermione felt like she would skyrocket out of her seat. Not wanting to make a scene in front of her friends, she carefully put the letter into her bag and pulled out a stack of parchments.

"Hey, Jubilee?"

The violet-eyed girl turned towards her with a smile. "Wotcher, 'Mione."

Hermione was thrown for a moment, remembering a pink-haired witch fondly -one who also had feelings for a particular werewolf.

She shook herself out of her thoughts and offered her own smile, "I've got a meeting with Dumbledore. Would you mind handing my assignments in?"

"Wouldn't the professors excuse you if it was a meeting with the Headmaster?" Jubilee asked in surprise.

Hermione's lips twisted in embarrassment, "Well, yes, but… I just want to get my grades back on time. If I wait until next class, I might not get my marks until next week and then-"

"It's fine," Jubilee took the parchments from her friend, "I was just taking the mick out of you," she added with a comical grin. Hermione visibly deflated with relief.

"Thanks so much, Jubes! I owe you one."

Jubilee snorted, "I'll be sure to remember that!"

Grabbing a plain bap for later, Hermione turned to exit the Great Hall.

"What do you mean you have a meeting with Dumbledore?" James asked, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "There wasn't a problem with the adoption, was there?"

Hermione could read the worry in his eyes and prayed for a better excuse to pacify his concern. When nothing came to mind, she simply shrugged.

"I'm not sure, exactly. His letter said we would be discussing my holiday plans-"

"No, but we adopted you! You live with us now, he can't just take you away!"

His hot-headedness was shining through and she felt even guiltier for making him jump to conclusions. Placing a hand on his shoulder, she offered her softest smile, "It's alright, James. I'll talk to Dumbledore. I'm sure it's nothing. Maybe… maybe they found a Last Will and Testament that says-"

"No!" James stood so fast that Hermione had to take a step back in fear that she'd topple over. "No, I don't want them to find anything! I don't care if they found a blood relative, you're my family now."

Sirius grabbed James' wrist, glancing around the hall and whispered, "Mate, you need to calm down. People are starting to stare."

James ripped his hand away, "I don't give two flying fu-"

"James Charlus!" Hermione shouted, "Don't curse!"

"I'll curse if I want to, Hermione! There are laws, there are precedents set in place for situations like this and neither I nor my parents – our parents – will let anyone take you away from us!"

"Ah-hem." The group looked up at the disruption with mixed expressions. "Mister Potter," Dumbledore started, "I assure you, no one intends on removing Miss LaBaugh from your home or your family-"

"But Hermione said-"

Dumbledore raised his hand to silence him, and James complied - albeit with frustration etched onto his normally affable face.

"The topic of our meeting, while confidential between the attendees, has little to do with her placement among your family. If you wish to discuss this matter, please, feel free to join us."

Hermione's face contorted into horror. No way in hell is James going to attend our strategy meeting!

She had to speak up; the infrastructure of their world was hanging in the balance. "P-Professor, I really don't think-"

"Come along, please. I believe we've made enough of a scene for one morning." The Headmaster led the way towards his office, purple robes billowing softly behind him.

Hermione's face was red with anger; she could feel her magic pooling in the tips of her fingers, ready to lash out with her wand. Another word from his mouth and she might curse him eight ways to Sunday!

Dumbledore took a seat in the throne-like chair behind his desk, leaving the two empty seats in front of it for the students.

Hermione was the first to speak after the silent trek to the Headmaster's office. "James, I appreciate you being all 'noble Gryffindor' and 'protective Potter' and 'brotherly… whatever' but this is none of your business."

The raven-haired boy scoffed, "I beg to differ, Hermione. When we took you in, I promised my parents I would keep an eye on you. I promised them I would do everything a normal brother would do, without letting the differences in our lineage obstruct my duties. I swore to protect you, fight for you, and die for you, Hermione. So while I'm sure this behavior may seem ridiculous or over-the-top to you, this is what family does."

Hermione's eyes narrowed, frustration bubbling dangerously close to the surface of her temperament. "And how would you know what a brothers duties are? You've never been one before!"

"I've been a brother to Sirius, Remus, and Peter for the past five years! I've always had their backs, always taken care of them when they needed it. I've done things for them that would straighten your hair - permanently!"

It was Hermione's turn to scoff, "Do you yell at them like this, too?"

"When necessary, yes, I do!"

Hermione couldn't take it anymore. She wanted nothing more than to slap the arrogantly smug expression off his face. He thought he was winning the argument!

"If I may interfere?" Dumbledore spoke up. The two students, finally remembering he was there, stared at him with silent embarrassment. "Mister Potter: Your mindful protectiveness over Miss LaBaugh is admirable, but you should have let her come to you with the secret of our meetings." James nodded and had the decency to look ashamed. "Miss LaBaugh, Mister Potter is simply trying to make his feelings heard. He's worried about you and wants to feel included in your life." Hermione tried not to roll her eyes, but a small sigh of aggravation escaped her.

"Now," Dumbledore continued, "let's get all of this cleared up. Hermione and I have been working on her holiday plans. That's not to say she won't be joining you at Potter Palace for Christmas, but there will be a delay in her arrival."

The raven-haired boy looked confused yet intrigued, while Hermione could feel her arms shaking from nervousness. The Headmaster wouldn't tell James the truth… Hermione realized. Where is he going with this?

Dumbledore took his time rearranging the quills and parchments on his massive desk, allowing the tension to build in the air. James ruffled the hair on his forehead, waiting for the explanation he was promised.

"Er… Sir? I'm afraid I don't really understand," James said.

Dumbledore looked up at him, seemingly happy with the arrangement of his desk. He folded his hands and gave a warm smile.

"I hope this doesn't upset you, Miss LaBaugh, but it seems now is the time to explain your disappearances, and of course, your future absences."

Hermione seemed to be catching on; there was a niggling in the back of her mind to let the Headmaster speak. "It's okay, sir. I understand."

Dumbledore gave a warm smile to the young witch, a sparkle in his eye gave the illusion of him slyly winking. "Mister Potter, Hermione and I have been meeting quite often over the past few weeks of school. Since her situation is rather abnormal, even in our world, the professors and I thought it prudent to offer her some form of therapy. I have been, in a way, counseling her throughout the school year.

"Losing one's parents, particularly in a sudden and tragic way such as the LaBaughs… is painful. Hermione has come such a long way in this time, but I worry that she will have some difficulty over the holidays without the little distractions that the school offers. I've proposed a visit to France to take her to the cemetery in which her parents – her biological parents – were buried."

Hermione looked at James – the brother she had received when she made the choice to save the wizarding world - and he looked white as snow. It was clear that he was embarrassed and grasping for words.

"I-… I'm so sorry, 'Mione," James whispered. "I didn't even think of how hard it would be for you. I'd assumed you would be excited to have your first holidays as a Potter… it seems foolish now. Of course you miss your parents: I would want the same thing in your shoes."

"It's alright, James," Hermione replied with a small smile.

Wiping his face with his hand, James seemed dazed. "I feel like a wanker."

"James, don't-"

"Yeah, yeah, don't curse." With a lopsided grin, James stood from his chair. "I'm just going to let myself out. Sorry for intruding on your privacy, 'Mione. And er… sorry if I made a scene in the Great Hall, Professor."

Dumbledore offered a warm smile, "Ah, Mister Potter, one thing before you go?"

"Sir?"

"I'll be speaking to your parents about Hermione's holiday arrangements."

And just like that, Dumbledore had guaranteed a secret out of James. The young boy pushed his glasses up and nodded. Dumbledore smiled again, "Good day, Mister Potter."

(Published 1/5/2017)