Sirius was torn between wanting to ring Remus' neck for not speaking
more quickly and wanting to hug him. Remus had a plan, and Sirius knew
that no one planned like Remus. That had been part of what had made
them a finely matched pair of friends in school; Sirius had been
impulsive and prone to going off half-cocked, but Remus, who had prided
himself on restraint, had been able to hone Sirius' ideas into schemes
that worked. James, of course, had been the leader, always finding the
middle ground between Sirius and Remus when they disagreed. Peter had
supported James-- but Sirius did his best to leave Peter out of his
Hogwarts memories now.
"You just need a guide.
Someone who won't give off a magical signature, but who understands the
situation and is completely trustworthy."
"Are you going to make me play twenty questions?"
In response, Remus took the letter that Sirius still held and hit his friend over the head with it.
"She's still a kid."
"She's involved already."
"Do you plan to explain this to her parents?"
I plan for you to explain this to her parents while I stay here. We
can't afford to fall out of communication with Arabella and Mundungus
"What should I say?"
"You've never been at a loss for words before."
"Say anything. Say you're one of her professors and you're there to take her on an unplanned school trip."
"That's not three-quarters bad."
"Can I say I'm you?"
"Only if you don't do anything I wouldn't do."
In spite of the tension, a broad smirk slid across Sirius' face. "I think I can handle that."
"It doesn't count things I did under duress when I was an innocent teenager."
"That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Can you Apparate with the wand you're using now?"
it's no problem. We just have to wait until morning. I don't think her
parents would be open to the idea of your whisking her away in the
middle of the night."
Sirius made a face. "I hate waiting."
"So do I, Padfoot. So do I."
night was no shorter for Hermione than it was for her former professor
and his friend. She had little trouble convincing her parents that she
was truly sick; she was irritable, nervous, and unable to sleep.
Hermione was used to worrying about Harry. She had done so almost since
meeting him, to the point of accompanying him uninvited on a duel
before their friendship had solidified because she had been sure that
neither he nor Ron actually knew any dueling spells. "Drop your wand
and punch him in the nose," indeed! This summer, though, things were
different. Accepting that Harry, and Ron too, often found his way into
dangerous situations was one thing; hearing Harry admit that the
situation was affecting him was another, and more troubling.
she felt that nothing less than a miracle had occurred the next morning
when she heard the voice of a man, young but aged beyond his years, in
the front hall of her family's home. Her first impulse was to run into
the room screaming "Sirius!" at the top of her lungs, but some sort of
premonition restrained her and she paused for a moment behind the door.
. . . . And as Hermione is such an exceptional student, we thought that
we should go out of our way to invite her to have this experience,"
Sirius was saying.
"Professor Lupin," Hermione nearly
interrupted her father by snickering as she wondered if Sirius had his
friend's permission to impersonate him "you have me convinced, but
Hermoine's been feeling a bit off. I'm not sure she's up to it."
to what?" she asked as she made her belated entrance. Her jaw nearly
dropped as she did so; she had recognized Sirius by his voice, and that
was a good thing, because she would never have recognized him by his
appearance. She had never before seen him with clean clothes and hair,
and was startled to note that, when given the opportunity to take care
of himself, he looked like the relatively young man that he was.
school field trip," Sirius explained hastily, obviously not certain
that Hermione had overheard his new identity. "Since I taught you the
year before last--"
"Yes, Professor Lupin," Hermione cut in
quickly so that Sirius would not have to make any more explanatory
statements. "Whatever the trip is, I'm gong."
"Are you sure?" her father asked. "You seemed horribly sick yesterday. You still look tired."
"Just a little tired. And I can't miss an experience like this one."
"You don't even know what it is," her father pointed out.
sure to be fascinating. I hardly ever get exposed to magic outside
school since I'm not from a wizarding family. This is a great
opportunity." She favored her father with a beseeching smile, which
threatened to become a grin as she saw permission enter his eyes.
"Far be it for me to deny you a learning experience. Go for it."
"Thanks," she said quickly before turning to her "professor" and inquiring as to whether she needed to bring anything.
"Just yourself. Get ready."
"I am ready."
right, then." Both called good-bye to Hermione's parents, and Hermione
soon found herself pulled behind a cluster of bushes near the corner of
"Why are you pretending to be Professor Lupin?"
she asked before Sirius could open his mouth. "Does he know? Did he get
my owl? Have you talked to Harry? Is he okay?" The questions flowed
forth in an urgent stream.
Luckily, Sirius, who had often been
accused of being unable to keep his mouth shut in his youth, was able
to keep up with Hermione's rapid-fire questioning. "I didn't think I
had much chance of kidnapping you as myself, he knows, he got the
letter and that's why I'm here, and we are on our way to check on
"We are? Really? Why me and not Ron?"
have more knowledge of Muggles, and now that I think about it, Harry's
miserable family is less likely to recognize you than Ron. He's been to
their house before and I doubt they'd forget that hair." Hermione and
Sirius shared a grin. She had attempted to straighten her own hair that
morning, the Muggle way, with a comb and a blow-dryer, but the summer
heat was already causing its natural frizziness to return. A moment
before, she would have traded her hair for Ron's in a second; but now
she was thrilled that its ordinary color would allow her to see Harry,
face to face.
"Are you going to stay Professor Lupin?"
"No. I'm not the least bit connected to the magical community, and neither are you."
Hermione blushed. "Oh. Of course not."
believe you'll be my daughter. Follow my lead. And try to be a spoiled
brat." She nodded. She had had enough experience with spoiled brats
that such an acting job should not be difficult. "So, dear daughter, do
you trust me to Apparate with you?"
Hermione's eyes grew wide. "You can do that? Apparate someone else?"
frowned upon as dangerous, but luckily I'm really good." Sirius' cocky
smile had its intended effect of reassuring Harry's young friend, and,
seeing this, he continued. "I'm going to take us to a train station.
Your job is to work out a way to get us to Harry's house using Muggle
transport and then to get us there. The Ministry covered his
neighborhood with anti-Apparation spells and disorientation spells that
aren't going to affect you because you're considered a Muggle for the
"Can I ask one more question?"
"Make it fast."
"Why don't the Death Eaters just hire a Muggle to walk up to Harry's house and kill him?"
shrugged. "That seems to be a loophole in the defenses. Most Death
Eaters are too bigoted to deal with a Muggle. Harry's also never there
alone. It's a hard place for someone to waltz into without permission."
"Why can't Lucius Malfoy use Draco the way you're using me?"
lives in a wizarding community. His clothes, the food in his stomach,
anything, is likely to be full of magic. That's another reason we
wanted you and not Ron."
"But if Lucius Malfoy found a Slytherin Muggle-born--"
Sirius cut her off with a snort. "You're telling me there are some?"
"If there were?"
"There aren't. Are you ready?"
Under ordinary circumstances, Hermione would have relished the new
feeling of Apparating. Today, though, she shook off the vaguely
electrical feeling, not so terribly different from using a portkey, and
scrambled out of their deserted alcove on a quest to find stacks of
schedules and rows of ticket machines. Quickly and efficiently, she
plotted a course that would put them within walking distance of Privet
Drive. The journey was relatively trouble-free, and Hermione was
pleased to find that Sirius was not awed by Muggle infrastructure or
prone to gawking at the most ordinary things, as she was sure Ron and
his family would have been. She fervently hoped, though, that one day
life would calm down enough to allow her (and Harry) to take Ron on a
tour of the Muggle world.
"Sirius! Follow me," she reminded her companion for the umpteenth time as they meandered toward Number Four, Privet Drive.
"We're almost there."
"How close are we?"
the street, right there," she pointed. "That's probably the phone he
used to call me-- yesterday?" So many things had happened in such a
short expanse of time that she was unsure as to exactly how much time
had passed. A natural time-turner she thought as she shook her head. "That's it."
felt something akin to shock as she stared at the house. It looked
perfectly harmless and, well, normal. She had often been told that the
Dursleys liked nothing more than to be normal, but she had still
expected their home to exude waves of intolerance and evil. "Is that
his uncle?" she whispered under her breath. She had seen Vernon Dursely
more than once, but she had never given him a hard looking-over.
him," Sirius muttered, before raising his voice to its phoniest
garrulous proportions. "Vernon Dursley!" He strode purposefully up to
the man and grasped his arm in a handshake that might have been called
overly firm. "I'm so glad to be able to shake your hand." Wrenching it off your body would be even better.
"Are you the one responsible for that new line of drills? I was sure
you were as soon as I heard about them. No one else could come up with
something so perfect for a normal consumer."
"Well, it's a big
company, but I did do my share," chuckled Harry's uncle, pleased at the
praise even as he sought to discern the identity of his companion.
Sirius swallowed a grin. Flattery would get him everywhere.
don't believe you've met my daughter. Isabelle. Isabelle, this is
Vernon Dursley. The man I was telling you about in the car the other
"I wasn't really listening," Hermione sneered sullenly,
staring at the ground less out of mock insolence than out of genuine
fear that she would somehow betray her true identity. Two things
happened simultaneously, though, which took her mind off of her acting
skills. First, Sirius gave her a small, sharp kick as if telling her to
behave herself, and second, she caught sight of a very familiar figure
inside the house. "Oh," she corrected herself, raising her eyes to
Vernon's so as not to stare at Harry. "The drills. Those really are wonderful. The kind of things nice people use."
right," Sirius continued pointedly. "They are. And this is one of the
men responsible for them." He glanced around. "Lovely garden." Feeling
Vernon's eyes leave him, just for a moment, Sirius used a second
well-placed kick to dislodge the rock that supported most of the
structure of the slightly raised flower bed. Rocks and dirt collapsed
in a miniature landslide. "I hope you intend to take this up with
whomever did this for you."
"I do," growled Vernon, distracted from his confusion about Sirius by his always-barely-suppressed hatred of Harry. "BOY!"
Harry emerged from the house, not looking exactly sullen, but neither looking thrilled with his current situation.
"DIDN'T I TELL YOU WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF YOU DIDN'T DO THIS PROPERLY?" Vernon bellowed.
thought I did do it properly." Harry had not yet given Sirius or
Hermione the slightest glance, although Hermione had forgotten herself
and begun to gape at her friend openly.
"YOU'LL FIX IT! YOU'LL FIX IT NOW!" Harry nodded.
Sirius, meanwhile, nudged his pseudo-daughter. "Stop staring."
"But he's we-eird," whined Hermione without missing a beat.
"Let's pick up your books and get back to the hotel," the pretend parent patronized.
hate books!" Hermione snapped, unable to resist looking back at Harry
to see if she had provoked a smile. She was disturbed to see that she
had not. "It's bad enough that we have to read them in school. I don't
want any during the summer. And I don't want to carry them. Make HIM
"He has work to do here. And I'm sure he isn't
loaned out so cheaply." Sirius pulled a stack of twenty pound notes
from his billfold. Hermione smiled, knowing that he and Professor Lupin
had transfigured them from ordinary scraps of paper in spite of the
regulations regarding such things; Vernon's eyes nearly sprang from his
head at the sight of so much money bandied about so carelessly; and
even Harry looked up with something akin to curiosity. Most
importantly, as it happened, Dudley waddled from the steps, on which he
had been perched since his father had begun to yell at Harry, to take a
"Dad, let him do it," Dudley said in a voice
which exposed Hermione's whine as the amateur attempt that it was. "I
hate it when he's around here, anyway. And nothing happened when he
went to the pet store for Aunt Marge."
"Right you are,
Dudley." A beefy hand clapped down on an equally beefy shoulder. "What
do you ordinarily pay, Sir, for services he can provide?"
silently and casually held up several of his newly manufactured notes.
Vernon grasped them quickly. "He'll be back this evening?" Sirius
nodded. "Take him."
"Pleasure doing business with you." At last, Sirius was able to turn to Harry as if interested in him. "You. Come along."
reverse effects of the disorienting spells helped Sirius and his
companions to move quickly toward the bus stop. "Harry? Are you doing
okay?" Sirius finally ventured once they had boarded the bus.
"Where are we going?" The question was met with a question.
a hotel. If you'd like, we can go somewhere else, but I wasn't sure you
were up to actively doing anything. Some things are less safe than
"Don't I have to carry books?" Not the slightest amount of mirth found its way into the flat, young voice.
"You know you don't."
Harry shrugged. "I don't know anything."
sensing that a public bus was probably not the best place to have the
discussions that needed to be had with Harry, Sirius and Hermione
allowed the small party to lapse into silence until the hotel room had
been reached. "Harry--" Hermione began, her eyes swimming with a
concern that Harry decided he had seen directed at him far too many
"What was that for?"
"That is what you are."
"It's not a nice word."
inquired as to whether Hermione would prefer to be called by several
names which she had occasionally heard Ron direct at Professor Snape
but which she had never heard Harry pronounce.
"No, I wouldn't. I prefer to be called 'Hermione.' And I think you'd prefer to call me 'Hermione,' so let's stick with that."
"Don't decide what I'd prefer," Harry snorted. "You always were a know-it-all."
know you aren't prejudiced against Muggle-borns. Your own mother was a
Muggle-born, and besides, you aren't a narrow-minded, intolerant bigot."
"Not like this. Not in the space of the one day it's been since I talked to you."
eyed her critically. "You're right. I've always been this way." He held
up a hand to stave off her protest. "Want to know a secret? Something I
never told anyone but Dumbledore?"
"The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin." He mimicked the hat as best as he could. "You
could be great, you know, it's all here in your head, and Slytherin
will help you on your way to greatness, no doubt about that. But I begged and begged, and the Hat put me in Gryffindor. See, Mudblood? The Hat was wrong."
Hermione shook her head slowly. "The Hat was
wrong," she said in a slightly quavering voice. "It was wrong to think
you would do well in Slytherin. You might be ambitious, and that's not
bad, but you just don't sound mean enough to be a Slytherin, really.
Remember the first time Draco Malfoy called me that, and neither one of
us knew what he meant, but we both knew it was really bad, not just
because Ron tried to hex him, but because of the way he said it? You
can't say it like that. You say it like you don't want to. You aren't a Slytherin, not in attitude, and I'm not stupid enough to believe that you are!"
speech ended on a vehement note, but she still looked close to tears.
Deciding that watching Hermione cry would further confuse Harry's
already tangled emotions, Sirius took her hand and led her to the door.
"Go down to the lobby. Find something to spend this on. Candy,
whatever, I don't care. Come up in fifteen minutes." He handed her a
random assortment of coins, opting not to send his contraband into
direct circulation, and ushered her outside.
turned back to his godson, Harry was sitting almost regally in the
middle of a bed, as if daring Sirius to pick up where Hermione had left
The dare was accepted.
"So, Harry," he began, settling down near his godson without attempting to touch him, "have you become a Death Eater?"
Sirius' earnest glare seemed to weaken Harry's resistance almost immediately, for he found himself replying "Of course not."
good to hear. It doesn't matter all that much, but it's nice to have
people agree with you politically, don't you think?"
"What do you mean it doesn't matter?"
it doesn't matter from my point of view. I'd still protect you, like
you, love you, if you were a Death Eater." He managed to hold Harry's
gaze for a moment.
"That can't be true," Harry broke in at last.
get you in enough trouble without trying to do anything wrong. Come on,
Sirius, weren't you supposed to be one of the cleverest students
Hogwarts has ever seen?"
"I think my reputation has been
greatly exaggerated there. People love to say things like that about
wizards who get themselves thrown in Azkaban."
"You did an
Animangus transformation when you were fifteen. You wrote the
Marauder's Map. You must be smart enough to realize that if I weren't
in your life you could have spent the last year nice and safe and happy
on whatever tropical island those birds came from instead of hiding in
a cave with no heat, no water, and no food."
"Harry, if I had
spent the last year nice and safe on a tropical island instead of
hiding in a cave without enough heat, enough water, and enough food, I
might as well have tracked down a dementor and asked it to suck my
soul. I couldn't be happy without anyone to care about. That isn't
living. I can't take care of you as well as I want to and I hope you
forgive me for that, but my wanting to take care of you helped me get out of Azkaban and stay alive on the run."
"There are other people you care about. You care about Professor Lupin."
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"He never put you in danger by ending up in a Triwizard tournament and getting stalked by Death Eaters."
give you the Triwizard Tournament. I promise you the Death Eaters have
made it very clear in their own ugly way that they know he's not on
their side. And he did get into all kinds of trouble when he was your
age, mostly because of his lycanthropy. That's something he can't
control any more than you can control being the Boy Who Lived. I can't
measure the things I did with him or for him against the things he did
with me or for me or against what I'll do with you or for you. I risk
everything for people I care for, whether they ask for it or not. You
should understand that. You do the same thing. You do remember saving
my life the first time you met me?"
"Oh, that. It was a pretty big deal to me, Harry."
"Anyone would have. Besides, I had Hermione. She helped."
of all, anyone wouldn't have. Second of all, you did have Hermione, and
Ron, and I expect you always will. The same way you'll always have me."
Harry's eyes met Sirius' once more, and he knew that Sirius had uncovered his plan. "How did you know?"
smiled, not a smile that hit his eyes, but a genuine smile nonetheless.
"You're smart, and you're clever, and you're brave, and you're loyal,
and you're patient, and you're more wonderful things than I can name--
but you are not subtle, Harry. You also aren't the first person who's
ever gotten the idea that the best way to protect the people you love
is to stay away from them."
"What is the best way to protect
them?" Harry hated his voice for cracking. He didn't want Sirius to
change his mind about putting "brave" in that list.
"I think you've been doing all right." Harry bit his lip with as much subtlety as
he could muster to keep it from trembling. "I know it's hard." Sirius'
voice had grown low enough that Harry would not have been able to hear
it had they not been mere centimeters apart. "I know it's hard enough
for you to live with your aunt and uncle part of the year and to be
expected to be the figurehead in a war for the rest of the year. It's
hard enough without your worrying about being a danger to your friends.
It's hard enough without your watching Cedric Diggory die. But that
wasn't your fault. None of this is your fault." He paused until he was
sure that his words were sinking into Harry. "Okay?"
nodded, no longer trusting his voice but trying to mold his expression
into one that suggested that Sirius was silly for thinking that Harry
needed to hear all of this. Sirius half-extended his arm as if to hug
Harry, and Harry surprised them both by returning the hug in full
force. Sirius was still murmuring that Cedric's death hadn't been
"That's what Mrs. Weasley said at the time, in
the hospital wing," Harry finally returned against Sirius' shoulder.
"After you left."
"I shouldn't have left you so quickly--"
"No, I know you had to. I understood."
shouldn't have had to understand." Harry shrugged, using the movement
as an excuse to turn away from Sirius slightly lest Sirius get the
mistaken idea that he was crying. "I'm glad she was there, then." This
time Harry nodded, and belatedly realized that Sirius' behavior just
now had greatly mimicked Ron's mother's behavior on the day of Cedric's
death. His reaction was much the same, too. Hadn't he grown up any over
the time that had passed since that day? He twisted away once more, but
Sirius was still holding him, not just sitting next to him, but really
holding him. "It's okay."
"No, it's not!"
everything is. But it's okay that you don't feel thrilled and happy
with your current lot in life. It's okay if you're sad, or angry, or
nervous, or scared."
"You don't have to be."
the sarcasm that the Dursleys had celebrated the disappearance of
returned to Harry. "Okay. I don't want to go back to the Dursleys. Wow,
saying that changed everything."
"You won't be there all
summer. I know you told Hermione you wanted to stay there. Now that we
know you don't, you don't have to. I'd say that counts as changing
something." Harry rolled his eyes, which, to his immense relief, had
dried out. "Right. Go wash your face and get ready to apologize to
Harry's stomach lurched. "Do you think she'll ever speak to me again?"
"I think she'll speak to you as soon as she gets back up here."
watched as Harry awaited his friend's return, quite obviously composing
an apology in his head. Sirius had less of a frame of reference than he
would have liked, but he still felt that Harry seemed too subdued. He
was functioning, but that was not much of a consolation.
knocked gently on the door just then, and Harry went to open it,
offering apologies that she brushed off as unnecessary. She had calmed
down almost as much as he had. "What were you doing down there?" he
asked, feeling that it was his turn to attempt to make conversation.
"Looking at the videos the store next door has in the window."
having some special children's festival because it's summer. They had a
lot of animated things," she started to ramble, happy that Harry was
talking to her with some semblance of his usual self, "like that one
about Princess Anastasia. You know, it has nothing to do with real
history. Rasputin sells his soul and kills her whole family but loses
his power because he can't kill her so he uses his minions to track her
down and-- oh my God!" She suddenly looked like she might flee the
room, but she unwillingly allowed Harry's eye to catch her own. "What?"
"Go on. How does she defeat Rasputin?"
"Steps on the rod his power is in, I think. It's been a while."
keep that in mind." Their eyes met once more, and suddenly they
collapsed to the floor as one, shaken by gales of nearly hysterical
The strained mood had broken, and the rest of the
day became an exercise in the wasting of time. A feeling of mild
euphoria surrounded them in a cloud as they returned to Privet Drive.
"I'll see you soon, Harry," Sirius said, as they reached the door.
Hermione, much to her chagrin, had had to adopt her spoiled-daughter
persona once more and could not hug Harry good-bye, or even look at
him. Half-resentfully, she left with Sirius without turning back.
she had turned back, she might have noticed the angered look on Petunia
Dursley's face as she scolded her husband and remarked that he had been
tricked, that Harry knew the people who had visited them-- how many
fifteen-year-old girls had hair that looked like it should be used to
clean a toilet bowl? She might even have heard Vernon's promise to
refuse to allow Harry out of his room for the duration of the summer.
As it was, though, she simply began to apologize to Sirius for not being more useful over the course of the day.
"You were great. What are you sorry for?"
staring at him when we first got to his house. For not being better at
talking to him, or being smart enough to leave you alone with him
without being told. For practically crying. For bringing up that video."
"He seemed to think that was funny."
nothing. Things don't have to be perfect. There weren't any major
disasters today, and that's all we could really want." A second later,
Hermione realized that he had spoken too quickly. While passing through
a train station, the two had inadvertently strayed too close to a
wizarding platform. After a sudden shout, she saw the wand of Professor
Sprout pointing directly at Sirius' heart.
Author's Note: Okay, okay, I know that by some timelines
Harry and Hermione would have completed Hogwarts before "Anastasia" was
released, but I couldn't resist that useless little joke. I don't like
this chapter much, and it took me far too much time to get it posted
but, um, at least it's long! Yeah, that's it, at least this chapter is
long. The next one is coming soon. Promise.
Thank you to the
reviewers: Trepidatio (I snickered, too); unknown; Coqui Coquilla13;
Tinabedina; Guy Fawkes (thank you for telling me what works); Anna
Elena; Stickpegasus; Hi Again; Katia; Rachel; and Voltora.