WHAT BLOOD REQUIRES

Sat. 6 July

“Dad!”

The effervescent joy bubbled from Hermione’s soles to her crown. Hermione ran from the front door of the Weasley’s burrow out into the garden meeting her father half-way up the walk.

“Dad!”

She crashed into him like a proton shot from a particle accelerator. She hadn’t realized how much she had missed her father’s embrace. Releasing him Hermione caught sight of his wide-grin as he chuckled at her antics. She experienced a flash of embarrassment remembering that Ginny and Molly were watching, but she was too happy to care.

“Where’s Mum?”

“It turns out that they don’t usually allow cars through into Narnia. Your mum and Mr. Weasley went back so he could escort her in.”

Narnia. Dad had taken to calling it that after he had visited Diagon Alley the first time. It sometimes seemed that way; like you’d stepped through a wardrobe into a land completely apart from the normal. But in truth, the magical alcoves of Britain were a scattering of warded locations that abutted the muggle world. When muggles approached a magical location the wards would make them forget where they were going or cause them to get lost. Unless you had an invitation of course.

“Mr. Granger.”

Molly greeted Dad.

“I apologize for my husband. A simple Ministry pass would’ve sufficed, mind you. He just wants to get his hands inside that muggle automobile. He hasn’t had a chance to fiddle with one since the Ford Anglia ran away. You’ll be lucky if it runs when you’re ready to leave.”

Hermione leaned in and confided quietly to her father.

“You’ll be lucky if it doesn’t fly.”

Her father rolled his eyes mirthfully.

“Hermione, I’ve missed you so much.”

“How did you get a visitor’s pass? The Ministry has been putting all these new rules in place. I heard that even visitation approvals were backed up.”

“Mr. Weasley pulled some strings. We’ve got established jobs and a mortgage, so were unlikely to overstay our welcome.”

She took a note to thank Mr. Weasley. His job at the Ministry was stable but not high ranking. In the current climate, it must have taken a lot for him to pull this off. And she worried that he’d done it because of her withdrawn behaviour.

But whatever the reason, Dad was here and Mum would be coming soon.

“You’re very welcome here for as long as you want to stay. No Ministry bureaucrat is going to kick someone out of my home. I’d like to see them try.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Weasley, but we have to be back to work on Monday. So no need to cause a fuss on our account.”

Hermione suspected that Molly would love to have a reason to raise a fuss about the Ministry even if it was just to Arthur.

“Hermione, we need to talk more about this new law you’ve written about. It’s hard to get information on magical governance as a normie, and you didn’t give very many details. I am not comfortable with the idea of you being trapped here.”

Hermione looked to a small parcel of papers that Dad was carrying under his arm. Following her gaze, her father explained.

“Oh! We brought your mail.”

As Daniel began to pull out select items for Hermione to review, Molly put a temporary stop to it.

“Well none of that out here. It’s a scorcher. Inside with you. I’ve got some tea on.”

* * *

Aurea paced. He’d been gone too long. The transition sometimes left him weak. It was part of what they were, but even so it had been six days. After her first time, it had never taken her longer than three days to recover sufficiently to travel.

If Vargus didn’t return soon, she would have to assume the worst. They had planned for it, but somehow it had never seemed real.

Fenrir always came back.

But if he didn’t come back, then dealing with Rip would be the first problem. Fenrir was the only one that could keep him in line. Rip wanted to be ‘alpha’, and little did he know that Fenrir wasn’t an alpha so much as a leader.

It would be okay. Aurea had made a deal with Kullin and between the two of them they would bring Riparius to heel or they would kill him. No wolf could stand against the pack.

The real problem was Lyko. He was young, impulsive, and worshipped Rip. If he followed Rip’s claim to dominance then it would hinge on Varg who was trustworthy but leaned on slyness more than raw strength.

But Lyko would fall in line if the alternative was losing his chance at Adusta. But judging by the strong scent of Adusta’s adolescence, she wasn’t interested in Lyko at all. She was interested in Anthus though only the moon knew why.

Anthus was weak and timorous. He had no chance of holding the pack in the next generation. That would absolutely be Lyko unless Fenrir brought more into the pack. They had talked about it, but hiding twelve werewolves from the hit wizards that were always after them was difficult enough.

Fenrir had to come back.

* * *

“... and so the car helps you break and steer—like a feather weight charm.”

Emma was doing her best to humour Arthur. If his last car really had been a Ford Anglia, then he probably would be shocked by the complexity under the hood. She didn’t know enough about cars in general to educate him and his earnest interest was amusing, but the real concern was that Hermione marked Arthur as the quiet one of the family.

“Mr. Weasley, if you promise not to damage the car you may examine it to your heart’s content.”

“Call me Arthur, please. I reserve Mr. Weasley for official business meetings and my father.”

“Arthur, then”.

The walk up from the grassy yard on which Arthur had asked her to park was a fair distance, and while Emma was in good health, she was looking forward to getting out of the heat. She was, however, less enamoured with the prospect of staying in the Weasley’s home for long. Magic or not, it appeared to be on the verge of falling over.

Arthur reached the door just ahead of her and without knocking threw open the door and the two walked into the dim entryway. It took several seconds for her eyes to adjust to the interior glow after the beating rays of a clear summer’s day.

“Hi, Honey! I’m home!”

Arthur brightly shouted into the house.

The Weasley’s youngest daughter—Ginny it was—came around the corner from the next room. She was focused on taping up the bristles of a broom and didn’t see Emma.

“Dad, it was funny the first bazillion times you did it. Let it go. It’s a muggle TV show. We get it.”

“Ginevra, don’t be rude. This is Mrs. Granger—Hermione’s mother.”

Ginny’s face snapped up realizing that she’d missed the new arrival.

“Sorry! Mrs. Granger, it’s good to meet you.”

Ginny offered her hand to shake which Emma accepted.

“Your father tells me that I am to call him Arthur. If so, both he and you are to call me ‘Emma’.”

“Okay.”

Arthur now addressed his daughter.

“Gin, could you tell me where your mother is?”

“She’s in the kitchen like always.”

“Of course.”

Arthur led the way towards the back of the home coming through an archway into a very nice if rustic kitchen. As Emma scanned the room she saw that Daniel and Hermione were discussing something serious over a cup of tea.

It had better not be about that fecking law. Dan hadn’t let it go since they received Hermione’s letter. Yes, they needed to discuss it, but it didn’t need to be the first thing on the plate. He could show some graciousness as a guest first.

“Daniel? We talked about how to approach this in the car.”

Daniel got that deer-in-the-headlights look, and somewhere deep inside, she felt a warmth at how cute he was, but right now she was too busy getting angry.

“I’m sorry, dearest. It just came out.”

Hermione got up from the stool she was sitting on and rushed up to her mother who embraced her gladly. The rush of endorphins that Emma got from holding her child again was threatening to wash away the anger.

And no. She wasn’t holding her child. She was holding her adult daughter. Hermione didn’t exactly take after her father or mother in terms of her appearance, but the person in front of Emma Granger was a beautiful young women. And smart—Emma reminded herself—which was more important in the long run.

As Emma released her embrace, she shot Daniel her best this-is-not-over look and then returned Hermione’s smile.

“So your father and I want to talk about this next Hogwarts year. When we agreed to let you stay after that ugly Voldemort affair—” Arthur Weasley shuddered at this, “we had no way to know that your ability to travel freely to and from home might be limited. Part of the reason we came, other than to just visit, is to learn more about what it means and decide, with your input, whether or not this is still the best idea.”

That hadn’t come out perfectly, but it was close. Emma had been considering the best way to broach this topic with her daughter. Hermione had a very good head on her shoulders, but she was also very attached to her magic. The scowl on her set jaw attested that she was not going to just accede to her parents’ request.

“I’m not going home, Mum. Not for more than a visit.”

“We just want to talk about it.”

Emma pointed Hermione to her father and gave a prompting glance signalling him to jump in.

“Elly, the whole thing feels really bad. It seems mean and discriminatory, and I don’t want that to be the culture you grow up in. These people...”

No, Dan. It was the wrong tack to take. It would make her feel like a child. She’d rebel against that.

“‘Mione, we know you’re mature enough to handle this. We just want to talk.” She punctuated this with a sharp glare at her husband.

“Elly—”

“Stop it, Dad. Mum. Both of you. Stop handling me. You’re right...”

Emma was brought up short. She didn’t expect Hermione to give in this easily. Her daughter was as stubborn as she and Dan put together.

“You’re right. I am mature enough to handle this. I want this to be a pleasant time. I miss you both so much. But I swear, if you try to take magic away I won’t just hate you. I’ll leave. And I’ll go to places that you can’t follow me. This is my choice, and if you want to take it away from me, it’ll cost you dearly.”

Emma was shocked at the look in Hermione’s eyes. A steely determination that was backed with something else, something menacing. An intent of sorts. Emma believed her daughter for multiple reasons, not least of which was that Hermione didn’t lie—not usually.

“Okay, Hermione. I’m sorry. We’re just worried about you. I want you to believe that we would never hurt you. Or try to take away your dreams.”

“Dearest, I think—”

Daniel tried to interject, but Hermione beat him to it.

“Mum, you don’t know better than I do what my dreams are or what would hurt me... so I’m telling you. If you try to take magic away you will be hurting me and I won’t let you.”

“Elly—”

Daniel wasn’t giving up. He had never been as good at reading Hermione as Emma. Well in this situation... maybe it was better that he take the flak.

“Dad! Stop!”

The furious look on Hermione’s face was tinged with betrayal. She began to cry. Emma knew her daughter. These were not tears of sadness. These were tears of rage. They were tears reflectively accusing Hermione of not being strong enough to control her emotions.

“I just wanted to see you. I just wanted to see you because I missed you.”

Hermione was gone up the back stairs followed closely by the Weasley’s daughter. Good. Hermione would not want comfort from any parent right now, but she really would need someone to rant at. And speaking of rants...

“Mr. Granger, I would like to speak with you outside.”

* * *

“Hermione... Hermione, wait!”

Ginny leaped up the loudly objecting stairs as Hermione fled to the landing and into Ginny’s room. The door slammed with a quiet click—courtesy of the silencing charm. Being fully fed up with Ginny’s penchant for slamming her bedroom door in protest, Mother had added a permanent charm to her door frame. This had been infuriating but had broken Ginny of the behaviour.

She paused on the landing considering whether or not she should intrude. Hermione might want to be alone to calm down. Ginny sidled up to her own bedroom door feeling odd at the notion. Yep. That was a tell tale sniff on the other side of the door.

For some reason Ginny thought of Harry. He had presumably done this exact same thing the night before the professor’s funeral. That night when he had come in and sat with her. She had yelled at him that night. Hermione had been spiralling before that, but it must have hurt to hear from her best friend that her other best friend and neonatal love could have been saved if only Harry had been there instead of Hermione.

He was wrong. He wasn’t there and couldn’t know. But the last result that Ginny sought was for Hermione to sink back into sadness and continue her somnambulism. An angry, awake Hermione was better than a sad, hiatic Hermione any day.

Ginny opened the door to her own bedroom and quietly entered.

“Go away, Mum. I don’t want to talk to either of you right now.”

“It’s me.”

Hermione looked up with red eyes and a look of shock and embarrassment.

“It’s okay, Hermione. I understand.”

Hermione stood up wiping her eyes and visibly collected herself.

“It’s not your problem. I’m sorry you had to see that.”

“You’ve still got credit with me. Remember, I had a hard time, too, not too long ago.”

Hermione’s visage clouded.

“It’s not the same.”

“No, it’s not. Your parents just threatened to take away an important part of your life. You’re an extraordinary witch. Are you really concerned that you would be an ordinary muggle?”

Ginny walked up close behind Hermione.

“Because that’s not true. Hermione Granger is extraordinary with a wand or without.”

“Once I found out that I was a witch, I always thought magic would define me. I’m really good at it. And I enjoy it. I won’t let them take that away. I think I would rather die.”

A shudder ran through Ginny from the back of her neck down her arms and spine. Hermione had said that so coolly and without any hint that it was just a thing one said.

“Hermione...”

She shook off the hand Ginny had applied to her shoulder.

“Hermione, you were never going to be defined by magic—you are going to redefine magic. You’re not just the best muggle-born in our year... you’re the best anyone in my family has ever known or heard about.”

Hermione finally met and held Ginny’s eyes searching for the truth of her statement in them. And Ginny didn’t flinch realizing that, yes, she really believed that.

“Thanks.”

“And if your parents try to take you away, I’ll come get you. Just like Ron did for Harry my first year.”

Ginny intended this as an encouraging denouement, but Hermione’s quiet tears were struck with a sob. The mention of Ronald maybe.

* * *

“Are you sure?”

Varg was sweating head-to-toe having run a long distance to deliver his news. Their human form did not have the staying power of the wolf, but was far elevated above the humans. Varg nodded confirming to Aurea that the world had shifted.

A pack didn’t always survive the loss of its leader.

“Apparently he was run off the manor grounds, but Aurors pursued him into the countryside and when they caught up to him he refused surrender.”

Damn the fool. Fenrir was strong, but as was so often true, his strength had metastasised into pride. He was better than that.

“So he wasn’t captured.”

“I spoke with an Auror who claims he saw it. He said that animals don’t have rights to due process. It was all I could manage not to rip out his throat on the spot.”

“Well, it is good that you didn’t. There’s been far too much foolhardiness for a lifetime.”

So it was done. Aurea had spent so many years taming and constraining the monster that Fenrir was so dedicated to becoming. She had been the first. He hadn’t even wanted a pack, but he had bit her while brutally raping her at the height of a full moon and in so doing had earned himself a dependent. Aurea hadn’t from that day forward ever let Fenrir operate without her knowledge. She couldn’t undo the wrong done to her. She was a monster and nothing would ever change that. But what was better to face down a monster than another of its kind?

But in a sick kind of way. Aurea would miss him. He was a horrible, cruel bastard, but he had lead the pack well. They survived when so many of their kind were in chains or long dead.

And now Rip would be the head monster in charge—not if she could stop it. Tragically, it would likely cost Adusta dearly.

“We need to tell everyone at the same time. You know what that will mean, right?”

Vargus to his credit just nodded.

At least it wasn’t under a moon. That would’ve ensured a bloodbath.

* * *

Sun. 7 July

Susan’s mindscape swirled with an unwieldy spread of ideas. So, it turned out that infatuation interfered with Occlumency. It figured really. It had just felt different. When Susan and Harry were just acquaintances, barely friends, it had seemed perfectly natural to have him reaching into her mind—‘cause that was normal in any way.

But now. It seemed a little too intimate a little too quickly. What was he thinking? What was Susan thinking? Should they be thinking about thinking when they were just dipping toes into feeling?

And this endless forest of firing neurons was why Harry had no difficulty in finding her presence every time they had practised their Occlumency cat-and-mouse game. Again, Susan wasn’t doing any worse than Harry—which Susan chose to believe was a sign he was in the same condition as she. But this exercise wasn’t working.

Maybe in a week or two. But Harry had asked her on a date only two days ago and Susan was still in the middle of processing that. And so she couldn’t clear her mind.

“It’s not working. I’m sorry, Harry. It was a good idea. With everything going on with Neville, I had forgotten about it until you reminded me.”

“No.” Harry reached out. “Don’t worry about it. I’m shite at this, too.”

Susan looked down to see where Harry had placed his hand on hers. Her heart caught for a beat and her eyes locked on Harry’s. Susan thought about kissing Harry. What would that be like? Would it be different from Justin? That kiss hadn’t felt special at all, just wet. Harry was right there, only a short distance away. She saw Harry’s eyes glance down to her lips.

Yes, do it.

Then he pulled back breaking both hand and eye contact and looking to the side introspectively. Susan was simultaneously relieved and disappointed. And flush with anticipation for the future moment when that desire would be fulfilled.

The deep emerald orbs returned accompanied by a sweet, nearly silly grin.

“Amelia said today is your birthday.”

Susan had missed it coming until about three days ago. With everything going on she hadn’t wanted to make any kind of fuss.

“Do you have any plans?”

The twisting in Susan’s stomach knotted in another direction extending perpendicular to the standard three dimensions. Love was like that she guessed. Well... infatuation, right? Was infatuation different to love or was it just a type of love?

“No. I would normally just have a special dinner with Auntie Em and maybe go out with Hannah for some fun.”

That sounded rather pathetic now that she had said it out loud.

“I was wondering if you’d like to go out for dinner tonight. I don’t have any reservations or anything. I didn’t know until yesterday.”

The prospect of having a romantic dinner with Harry sent flutters through Susan and she felt a grin far sillier than Harry’s spreading on her face.

“We could invite some friends if you like. You said Hannah often comes to your birthday.”

“No!”

Susan interjected very rapidly before really thinking about it. She hoped he wouldn’t read too much into her over-eager response.

“I— I wouldn’t want to put anyone on the spot. I mean it would be really short notice, right? I would really love to have dinner for my birthday. It doesn’t really matter where we go as long you’ll promise to talk with me.”

Susan wanted to feel his touch again. It had been so warm. She reached and took his hand with hers and started to stand up.

“Let’s go ask Auntie Em if she has any good ideas for places to eat.”

* * *

Hermione knew it was petulant, sitting at the Weasley’s kitchen table and overtly refusing to meet anyone’s eyes. It was not as if Molly or Arthur or Ginny had done anything wrong. And she should be strong enough to face her parents. But while she was still angry at their absence of trust and complete lack of consideration for her ability to make her own life decisions, she was more anxious than angry.

Harry and Hermione had often conversed about Harry’s special status in ministry jurisdictions. The ministry didn’t recognize muggle rules of custody and so Harry was never actually under the Dursley’s permanent care. But they did recognize parenthood and Hermione’s parents could—if they decided to—remove her from Hogwarts against her will and she would not be able to re-enroll without their permission until she was already too old to attend—even if she did run away as she had threatened.

She looked across the table to see Ginny making polite conversation with Hermione’s mother. Had Ginny really meant that she would come and get her?

Why?

She and Ginny were friends now, because of Ron and everything they had been through... but that was all new. Why would Ginny go far out of her way to help Hermione? Or was it just something that Ginny had said to make Hermione feel better?

So many questions. And each answer always asked a new question, sometimes more than one. It was a geometrically expanding uncertainty and that more then anything was causing her anxiety.

The way to resolve uncertainty was to seek its anti-particle in one of two trusted places. The first was her mother’s way. Trust your senses, examine the world, and expect consistency. That wasn’t very useful here. The variables rested on future outcomes that she could not know. So it would have to be the second way—Dan’s way. Not her father’s way, but Uncle Dan’s way. Dan was her father’s name but it was also her uncle’s name. Why this had happened Hermione would never understand.

Uncle Dan’s way was finding people, trusting them, learning from them, and expecting consistency. Consistency was important. It was what allowed past events to predict a future.

Of those at the table, Hermione trusted Ginny most. That was troubling in and of itself, but Hermione knew that adolescence brought rejection of hierarchy and an embrace of peership. It was growing up. And growing up meant taking accountability even when you didn’t want to. It meant not being petulant.

Hermione turned and looked directly at her mother.

“Okay. Let’s talk about it. What exactly are your concerns?”

Emma’s face showed worry. If Hermione had to guess, her mother was probably worried that she would damage her relationship with Hermione if this conversation went badly. Hermione wouldn’t do that to them. But for this negotiation maybe it was better that they not know that.

“Hermione, my main concern is for your safety. Everyone has said, from the first day when you got your Hogwarts letter until now, that Hogwarts is the safest place to be. That no one was stronger than Mr. Dumbledore. But honestly your own account of events seems to contradict this.”

Hermione had to concede to herself that Hogwarts had never been as safe as advertised.

“From evil professors and secret chambers with monsters to convicted traitors and even sadistic government overseers, it’s been one disaster after another. Every year. And every year you’ve been honest with us about it and that speaks to your credit.”

“Mum, don’t patronize me. I know what I’ve done right and what I’ve done wrong.”

“Okay, I’m sorry. Every time I’ve challenged anyone on this they’ve fallen back on the argument that Dumbledore wouldn’t let anyone get hurt badly, that he personally would keep all of you from harm. Even if I believed that and I sincerely don’t, he’s gone now. And he died protecting you from people who wanted to hurt you. So whatever protection you had is gone now.”

Molly interjected quietly, “God rest his soul.”

Arthur put a hand on Molly’s shoulder.

“But, Mother, he was fighting Voldemort and he’s dead now too.”

“Was it Voldemort who put the monster in the Hogwarts basement? Or put a sadist in charge of child care?! Was it Voldemort who made you break laws in order to help a convicted criminal escape capture—yes, I acknowledge that he later proved innocent, but you couldn’t truly know that at the time.”

Hermione let this swirl as her mother waited for it to sink in. It was true to some extent. It hadn’t been anyone’s fault, but ‘safe’ would be the wrong word to describe the magical world with.

Emma continued.

“So the threats are still out there. Your father and I—” Dad nodded indicating his assent to his inclusion. “We are worried that news of this law is a sign of more danger to come. The evidence is quite strong. So given that, where are we wrong?”

Hermione took a deep breath. Claim, warrant, impact. Their claim was reasonable, the impact correct. So it was the warrant that was wrong. Or perhaps it was right and their associated conclusion was just wrong. Hermione quickly put her thoughts in order.

“So life’s dangerous. Is that a revelation? I can grant you everything you’ve said and you’d still be wrong that I should come home. I am a known associate of Harry Potter and by extension Albus Dumbledore and by extension the ‘forces of light’. I’m a muggle-born so they hate me all the more for it.”

Hermione pointed out the kitchen window at nothing in particular.

“If evil forces are out there right now gathering strength—organizing—then I’m not safe at home. Muggles died during the Wizarding War and they would come for me if nothing else as a pawn to use against Harry or Arthur. Do you honestly think you can protect me? The police? Guns? It’s all worthless unless you are going to carpet bomb Diagon Alley.”

Hermione felt the fire that had raged out of control yesterday blaze brilliantly in the forge of her mind constructing thought after thought.

“If the worst comes to pass, then I am better off here. Training to make myself as strong as possible and surrounded by capable wizards that might be able to protect me. And if I were to die, I would rather do so serving a good cause then hiding hoping that the evil spirit skips my house.”

Her father was crying now. He was always so emotional about things. She addressed him directly hoping to drive her point home.

“Dad. It was war. It was just starting when it ended, but lots of people died. Not that they would’ve died. They actually died. War doesn’t spare the weak or cowardly. War doesn’t respect anything except power. And I can learn to protect myself and you and others only if I am still here with other witches and wizards.”

Her thoughts were getting dark. Hermione was arguing pragmatism when at heart she was an idealist. In truth, she wanted to stay because it was where she belonged and where she felt she could do the most good and where she could repay her debt to Ron. But the pragmatic argument was stronger because in this case it was objective. It didn’t depend on her viewpoint. She was actually safer among witches than among muggles.

Hogwarts might not be safer for her, but she hoped her mother would miss that distinction. Mum turned to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.

“Was it really that bad? Were we really at war a month ago?”

Arthur looked grim.

“Mr. Crouch, Cedric Diggory—a Hogwarts student, Broderick, Bertha... others. Many good people died. Yes, I would call it war. And last time, when it wasn’t stopped early, it wiped out whole families. The Bones, the McKinnons, the Prewetts—” Arthur wrapped his wife’s hand in his. “The Potters... We’re a small enough community that no magical family was untouched by death. You died, lost someone, or knew someone personally who did.”

Hermione knew that those were hard memories for the Weasley’s who had in many ways been blessed with good fortune during that conflict.

“Mum. One of two things is true. Either I’m in danger or not. If I am, then I need to be here. If I am not, then I want to be here and you have no reason to object.”

Hermione watched as her mother closed her eyes and sighed. She’d won. Her Dad, saw this as well and did not react well.

“Emma! Our daughter is facing a threat. It’s our duty to protect her. It is what it means to be a parent.”

Mum didn’t raise her eyes as she broke the bad news to Dad.

“She knows that. ‘Mione’s point is not that we shouldn’t protect her, but that we can’t. She is already well-known within magical circles and is therefore a target. She is her own best protector now.”

“I can’t believe this! What kind of depraved society leaves a girl to fend for herself?!”

Mum began to rub her temples frustrated at what Hermione knew was going to be an unending rant on the drive home.

“Dad, first, don’t pretend I’m weak because I’m young or because I’m a girl. If I am weak, it’s because I am untrained. And, second, I am not alone. The Weasley’s are some of the best protectors I could want to have. The Hogwarts professors are the best practitioners of their craft and powerful each in their own right.”

He was gazing at her with an unusually inscrutable expression. Was he mad? Worried? Betrayed? Stubborn?

“Hogwarts isn’t safe. It never has been. But it is a place where one can learn to be safe.”

His eyes shifted down, considering, and then he walked out of the room. Hermione heard the front door open and close. He had just left.

Hermione felt an empty place inside. It should not have hurt as much as it did. He just needed to be alone to blow off steam. But somehow it felt like a line had been drawn between them.

Emma finally looked up again and right into Hermione’s soul. It wasn’t an angry stare or worried glance. In fact it seemed devoid of emotion other than exhaustion. Instead it seemed like her mother’s mind was trying to grasp what was going on in Hermione’s.

“I’ll talk to him, ‘Mione.”

* * *

No one moved. Adusta stood apart from the others hoping for an amicable resolution. It had deteriorated fast. Rip had laughed at the news of Fenrir’s death and Varg had attacked him without hesitation. Aurea had been trying to intervene, but her sisters Seri and Amboadia wanted nothing to do with the conflict. They were content with letting Rip have his way with Varg. In fact Amboadia might even have been in Rip’s favour.

But Kullin, who was at least as smart as Aurea, had stepped in and the fight had been stopped momentarily with Aurea and Kullin standing between a severely injured Vargus and a nearly frothing Rip. Varg’s skin was torn all the way down his back and sides. He was bleeding badly. Werewolves fought like wolves even when in human form preferring tooth and nail to fist and heel.

That short conflict would’ve been it. Kullin and Aurea together could force Rip to submit, but Lyko who was only a year older then Adusta and far too young to understand pack politics had come to Rip’s side. Now the standoff held in Rip’s favour. Kullin and Aurea together could hold Rip, but one of them would have to engage Lyko which would leave the other vastly outmatched by Rip who would upon defeating his first opponent turn and destroy the other.

He wouldn’t kill Aurea. He wasn’t that stupid. But it would be a bad death for Kullin and Varg. Rip was unlikely to tolerate other males of reproductive age in his pack.

Adusta looked to Lyko. Did he know that? Fenrir had wanted a thriving growing pack. Rip would just want his power and his females. Did Lyko know that he would be top on the list of expendable wolves?

The pups, Kurt and Susi, sat quietly both too smart to draw attention to themselves. They deserved a better life than Rip would give them even if he did keep Aurea around.

Adusta could think of several moves that could spin the situation in Aurea’s favour. The most obvious was Anthus—oh, Anthus. Adusta looked down to her right at the cowering, useless, pathetic young wolf that she desired with all of her being.

Anthus couldn’t match Lyko, but if he tried he might buy enough time for Aurea and Kullin to stop Rip. That wasn’t going to happen though. He had given himself fully over to his freeze response.

She had considered encouraging Susi and Kurt to annoy Lyko knowing that Serigala would combat any being that threatened her young. But that would be callous, and with Rip in a near berserk state they could be hurt badly or killed.

Amboadia was too attached to Rip to turn against him. She aspired to replace Aurea as matriarch and Rip both could and would give her that.

Adusta died inside. Aurea had foreseen this exact scenario. That’s why she had come to her yesterday. She could ignore it all she wanted, but she knew what had to be done.

She took one last breath of her own and then became a character that was not herself. A character that wasn’t madly devoted to the wrong werewolf. A character that thought Lyko’s aggression was attractive and desirable. A character that didn’t care how much it hurt Anthus or how much it crushed her own heart.

Adusta’s character sauntered over to Lyko took his hands and gave him a look of deep longing. She drew upon the memory of a desire that she was turning her back on.

Rip snarled at her, but he didn’t dare to attack her. He knew of Lyko’s interest.

She reached up and gently caressed the wrong cheek, placed her hand on the wrong shoulder, and stretched up to kiss the wrong lips. His eyes were still filled with the shock of it. She was comforted by his vulnerability until his eyes were adorned with a leer that spoke of his expectations.

Adusta threw up. Or rather she would have, if she still had a mouth of her own. Her body now belonged to another. A character that would smile at his touch and gasp at the feel of his breath upon her neck and shudder in ecstasy at his disgusting leer.

She took his hand once more and pulled him away. Slowly. Almost sensually. Not toward Aurea, but back toward Anthus and the pups. Adusta saw the look on Anthus’s face, finally shaken from his terror by the impending loss. A kiss among wolves was a promise. An announcement of intent.

Go ahead. Do it. Fight him. Fight him and she could kill this character in her body. She could crush its throat and smash its skull. Do it.

But as she passed by with Lyko, Anthus stepped back not forward. The threshold had been crossed and the door was now closed. She both loved and hated Anthus for his betrayal. He was a coward and weak, but unlike Lyko and Rip and even Aurea he didn’t see himself as a monster. Not entirely. He hadn’t given himself over to it. He still thought he could be a good person.

Adusta had to tell herself that this was not necessarily permanent. That maybe after the resolution of the conflict she could come back and be herself again.

Then Lyko pushed her to the ground. As he knelt down upon her and tore at her clothing, Adusta could hear the sounds of Rip’s life coming to an end.

This was wrong. She wanted to run. She had to get away. Hit him. Kill him.

But her body now belonged to another character.

* * *

“Are you sure you don’t want to go? I can probably manage it. I don’t want you to always feel trapped inside.”

Neville was dense.

“No. I think we have some therapy we need to do.”

Hannah gave Neville her best please-read-my-damn-mind look.

“Uh, okay. Yeah! Your right. I had forgotten.”

Susan and Harry were just leaving for their date and Harry had—for God knows what reason—asked if Hannah and Neville wanted to join them.

Boys were stupid.

Hannah wasn’t going to let that fact ruin Susan’s evening. Spending the evening with Harry Potter for a birthday dinner and discussion was one of Susan’s fantasies. It was the sort of thing she had written in her diary about. Not that Hannah had read Susan’s diary... much.

“Well that’s too bad. We’ll have to go together next time.” Susan’s eyes communicated what her voice did not. It was not ‘too bad’ and ‘thank you very much’.

Harry opened the door for Susan and the two were gone. Leaving Hannah and Neville alone. Lady Augusta had gone to bed early saying that she wanted to get an early start to the Ministry the next day.

“So are they going out on a date?”

Hannah facepalmed.

“Yes!”

“Then why did Harry ask if we wanted to go?”

“Because, Neville, you are all oblivious. All of you.”

Neville was quiet for a while. Hannah was beginning to think that she had offended him, but then he spoke again.

“Hannah, we need to talk about something. Can we go to the den?”

“Sure.”

Hannah took Neville’s hand and helped him slowly walk back up the hall to the door that opened into the den. He had badgered Dr. Soulager into letting him out the chair yesterday. They had spent all day getting him acclimated to standing, but it had worked. And Neville seemed much happier for it.

Neville lowered himself into a sitting chair and Hannah perched on the ottoman.

He looked serious. Neville often looked serious, but he looked like he had to tell her that someone had died.

“Hannah, what are we?”

The question took her back.

“What do mean?”

“You’ve been by my side ever since the Ministry. You’ve taken care of me...”

He seem to be getting confused.

“No. That doesn’t matter. I mean it does, but it’s not what I am trying to say. We’ve been acting a certain way, but we haven’t actually said anything to each other about it. I mean... are we together? You know?”

Hannah leaned back and placed her hands alongside her nose and pulled down adding pressure and warmth to her sinuses. She sighed in relief. They hadn’t actually said it and he was getting insecure about it.

“Yes, Neville. We’re a couple. At least, if you want to be.”

“I do.”

Hannah stood up from the ottoman. Lording her new height over him, she leaned.

“Good. You know, we’ve worked on desensitizing your hands, your feet, your legs and arms, your back. I think it’s time to try something a little more advanced.”

Neville was holding his breath.

“What?”

Hannah smiled. Oblivious. Always oblivious.

She leaned in and gently planted her lips upon his. The caressing touch lit her nerves on fire and she knew it did so doubly for him. His back stiffened. He pushed back into her deepening the kiss.

Hannah had been careful not to touch him anywhere else, but he reached up behind her head just above the neck and pulled her in closer. His lips opened slightly and she felt his tongue glide across her lips before she responded in kind.

As it ended, it wasn’t like coming up for air. It was like diving back underwater with the fading memory of your first breath. Hannah was staring at Neville’s lips. They moved.

“I love you.”

Idiot.

“Not yet, Neville. Maybe... but not yet.”

* * *

Susan’s laugh was infectious. Harry couldn’t help but smile at the near giddy joy she was expressing. If he was honest, he would admit his own excitement. He wasn’t though and so he rationalized the vertiginous sensation as a response to his dinner partner.

It was weird.

But not as weird as Amelia had been. Susan’s adoptive parent had seemed comfortable with Harry before tonight, but when Susan had asked for good ideas for a nice place to have dinner, her reaction had been anxiety inducing. Amelia Bones had always been unflappable but had paused for a noticeable gap with the look of a teenager just learning they had failed a final exam. She recovered admirably, but if Harry had noticed then Susan had as well.

Susan wasn’t vegan or vegetarian. Harry knew this from numerous burgers sacrificed at the alter of her lips during Wizengamot recesses. But perhaps in honour of her head of house, she had decided upon dining at The Bower—a restaurant run by Kohlrabi Sprout, the Herbology professor’s husband.

The menu was interesting. It was short, as was often the case at nicer establishments. And it was entirely populated with vegetables, some fruits, but absolutely no meat.

Harry had ordered potato leek soup, since he was familiar with it and found it unobjectionable and Susan had ordered a ‘blooming salad’ which apparently was so named because it contained actual flowers.

Susan’s overly generous laugh which had been brought on by Harry pointing out that her salad should be called a ‘flower-garden salad’ was just dying away when Susan got a distant look. Harry followed her gaze to a table across the dining room at which sat a couple—an older gentlemen and a younger woman.

“What are you looking at?”

Susan looked back and leaned in to impart her observations quietly.

“Look at the age difference. It’s obviously a romantic interlude for the two of them, but... well I want to see if you can figure it out.”

Harry was puzzled. He looked back at the pair. The man was wearing a clean well-pressed suit and the woman was in a more than slinky dress. Harry agreed that the pair were on a romantic date, but he couldn’t really tell more from that.

“I don’t see what you see.”

Susan smiled. Harry was amazed at how Susan could catch the smallest details and glean the most information from them.

“Start with the suit. What do you notice about it?”

“It’s clean. Is it expensive?”

“I’m not sure, but probably not particularly. No, look at how well-pressed the shirt is. It’s probably been starched. Do you see the pen and pad of paper in his pocket? That’s weird for a date. I would guess he’s an academic. Now look at her. Do you see the book sticking out of her bag? Why would you bring a book on a date like this?”

Harry was fascinated with how Susan focused into the situation like it was a crime scene. Susan continued her analysis.

“He’s a professor. And he cheating on his wife with a student. She’s probably in it for grades, or access to his network of resources.”

Maybe. The well-pressed shirt. The slinky dress. The age difference. But...

“Why the book?”

“It’s probably his book. She carries it to stoke his sense of importance.”

“How do you know he’s married?”

“I don’t...”

The man put up his hand to signal to the waiter. Susan excitedly grabbed Harry’s hand and pointed surreptitiously.

“See! On his left hand.”

Harry had to look quickly as the attentive waiter responded immediately, but he did see it. At the base of the ring finger was a distinct impression of a ring.

“Maybe he got divorced.”

Susan gave him a look that said ‘yeah-right’.

“He just finalized a divorce, but has been wearing his ring anyway? And maybe he just broke up with his wife, but then do you really think his clothes would be that well cared for?”

Harry watched as the man paid the check and escorted his mistress from the restaurant.

“So, you like people-watching?”

Susan looked somewhat bashful at this.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“What have you observed about me?”

“Harry Potter, are you fishing for compliments? You can earn them just like everyone else.”

Susan’s dig was punctuated with a smile which blunted the blow.

“Let’s do it the other way then. What would you like to know about me that you don’t already.”

Susan nodded and took several seconds to think before cautiously offering her inquiry.

“How did things end with Cho? I know the history with Cedric, but did you break it off or did she?”

Not wasting any time, apparently. Harry had to take a moment to collect his own thoughts. His feelings for Cho were largely at a rest, but it hadn’t been that long ago and it had been complicated.

“I wish I could tell you that it was mutual. I think it was best for both of us, but I was the one who broke it off. Cho resented the way that Marietta was treated by the D.A. She insisted that Marietta had been forced, but it didn’t seem that way to me or to anyone else. I did want to tell people to stop, but the D.A. had been banned explicitly so I couldn’t really make an announcement to have everyone leave her alone.”

Harry paused. He was being defensive. That wasn’t the right way to go since Susan was asking in earnest and had given no indication of prejudice in the matter. But Harry also knew, that his handling of his relationship with Cho would advise Susan on how to chart a course for hers with him.

“I’m sorry. It got kind of bad. And between the Marietta issue and the fact the Cho couldn’t stop asking and talking about Cedric... She kept taking me back to that night... and—”

“Harry. It’s fine. I was just curious.”

Sure she was. Harry checked his resentment. Susan might lying but it was a reasonable question with a reasonable root concern.

“Have you dated before? Other guys?”

“On dates? Sure. But I’ve never pursued a steady relationship before. This is special for me. Your special for me. I always kind of hoped that... I mean sometimes at bedtime I would fantasize about—”

Susan’s mouth snapped shut.

“No! I’m sorry, don’t listen to me.”

Susan’s deep blush said more than her words. Harry’s arrogance got the better of him. It sounded like Susan had been interested in him for a while. And... ‘fantasized’?

Harry felt a physical and emotional reaction that could only be described as singularly male. He then berated himself both for being so easy and for thinking of Susan in that way when she had asked him to forget it.

Aargh!

He wasn’t going to be able to forget it. Susan was still blushing with her face turned away. A joke had lightened the situation before. Another might smooth things out.

“Oh I get it. You always imagined that your first steady relationship would start over a bowl of edible flowers with a super attractive hunk of a man.”

Harry struck a pose hoping for laughter. Susan just stared at him slack faced and then started crying.

“Susan, I’m sorry. What happened?”

Susan stood up from her chair.

“No. I’m sorry, Harry, I’m just a hot mess. Give me a minute. Don’t go anywhere.”

Susan left the table.

* * *

Susan burst into the ladies facility overflowing with horrified embarrassment. He had been mocking her.

What the fuck was she doing?

She had dreamed of Harry Potter ever since she had met him during her first year at Hogwarts. As her hormones had grown in, those dreams had turned to fantasies. Very private fantasies. And was she just going to confess them on their first date? Was that the type of girl he would want? More importantly was that the type she wanted to be?

No.

She needed to get control over herself. Harry probably thought she was a psycho right now. Obsessing with a cheating couple and confessing fantasies.

Susan double-facepalmed.

He’d made a joke and she’d run away in tears.

Susan went to the mirror and pretended to touch up her makeup to distract herself. Buy time. She needed to think.

Her makeup was fine. Shit.

This was a bad idea. Harry was a person. He was a person with feelings and a mind and individuality. He wasn’t a programmed player in her personal erotica. She knew that. But for some reason facing a real person was breaking her.

She had faced the fact that he might hate her—when she had sat down with Harry at Hannah’s house over lunch—that he might take one look at her and declare her boring. But it had not occurred to her that she might hate him. Or find him lacking. He was Harry Potter.

But she didn’t hate him, or find him lacking. He hadn’t done anything wrong. Why was she reacting to this? Was it just too real?

Susan stared at herself in the mirror.

Shut the fuck up. Her mind berated itself turning in circles. There is nothing wrong. You need to calm down and put yourself together and have a wonderful evening. Just don’t tell him about any more fantasies.

Susan’s determination took over. That part that resonated with Gryffindor stepped up and she felt a sense of clarity. Not calm but clarity.

She closed up her bag and walked to the restroom door. She grasped the handle and opened it stepping back into the dining room. What the fuck was she going to do now? This was the definition of awkward.

Her mind replied with a most infuriating shrug.

Oh screw it.

* * *

After Susan had left, Harry struggled against the idea of going to see what was wrong. But there were only so many times that he and Susan could storm in on each other in the loo and have that be socially acceptable. And something seemed different about him storming into the ladies room to Susan storming into the gentlemen’s.

He had seriously worried that he’d broken something. Had she regretted agreeing to date him? Was she going to come back?

But she came back. She looked nervous, vulnerable. Susan had given up a fact about herself that she worried he might judge her for. Harry wanted to reassure her.

As she approached the table, Harry stood and pulled out her chair for her. The tension was palpable and Harry could only think of one way to break it. As he pushed her chair in he leaned over her right shoulder and whispered conspiratorially.

“I’ve fantasized about you, too.”

Susan stiffened. Harry didn’t know whether he had offended her—if she would think him a pervert or over presumptuous, and he reminded himself that that sense of uncertainty was the whole point. They were now mutually vulnerable.

Harry went back to his seat and sat down.

Rather than tucking back into dinner, Harry caught a frozen stare from Susan. Their eyes locked together with each periodically jumping from staring at one pupil to the other. Harry saw that they were stuck and kicked himself for making an awkward situation unbearable.

“Yep. I’m an idiot.”

Wait. Had he said that out loud?

A generous person would say that Susan laughed at this. Harry was usually generous, but in this case Susan actually snorted and started giggling uncontrollably. The absurdity quickly infected Harry and the two quite conspicuously devolved into hysteria.

Susan recovered first wiping the tears from her eyes.

“Oh my god, what is wrong with us?”

Harry offered his hand across the table and Susan took it. She had said ‘us’.

A sense of ease settled over the subsequent conversation which decided to steer clear of further relationship questions.

“So, Harry, I have an open slot in my class schedule this year. It turns out that I am unredeemable in Transfiguration.”

Harry was about to object and offer to put a word in with Professor McGonagall, but Susan waved him off.

“No. It’s true, and I’m okay with that. I just don’t know what to take in it’s place. I was thinking about trying another Divination course. I dropped it after third year, but I’ve heard good things about the course now that Firenze is staying on.”

Harry shook his head.

“I wouldn’t bother, really. It’s never made any sense to me. And honestly after the way Hermione quit it... You’re planning to replace your Aunt someday in the Wizengamot, right?”

“I don’t think anyone could replace Auntie Em. But yeah, someday.”

“Then why not try a year of Muggle Studies. It’s not popular, but it would give you a better understanding of muggle relations and where muggleborns are coming from.”

Susan scrunched her lips in thought.

“Yeah... I guess I could do that.”

“I mean, it’s your schedule. Don’t do it just because I suggested it.”

Harry saw a flash of Hermione in Susan when she tilted her head in an expression of long suffering annoyance.

“I don’t do anything just because someone suggests it. Your argument makes sense and there are other benefits. There aren’t a lot of Slytherins who take Muggle Studies, and it would be nice to get a break from the constant smugness.

“It would also be nice to have a more intellectual class, with apparition and all of the N.E.W.T. level courses to contend with.”

Harry had heard a little bit about apparition and it sounded terrifying. Apparently when you disappeared from one place and appeared in another, it was possible to leave pieces of yourself behind.

“Yeah, it’s not like anyone’s ever died or lost a limb in Muggle Studies.”

Susan laughed. She was amazing. He kicked himself for ever doubting that she would accept him.

* * *

“Are you sure you don’t want to come inside?”

Harry gave her a weird look and then shook his head. Susan had to remind herself again that infatuation would fade, but it was one thing to know that and another to feel it. It was a painful happiness.

“No, there’s a public floo station just around the block. I’ll head back to the manor from there.”

Susan stood only a foot or so from Harry on the doorstep of her home. Susan observed a big, silly grin spread on Harry’s lips. Her view lingered there.

“So I’ll see you tomorrow then?”

“Of course.”

She wanted his lips. She wanted more of him, but that would not be ‘good and proper’. But a kiss? He was inches away. His eyes shifted downward. He was looking at her lips. Then back to her eyes. Down again. Time stretched tortuously.

“Well, see ya.”

He turned away and headed off down the street.

Susan worked to calm her breath. Oh well. It hurt to see him walk away, it was a pleasant sadness. Like a promise left on the wind.

Susan turned back and let herself inside. She set her things down just inside the door and went back to the kitchen to get a drink of water. Her mouth was dry. The night with Harry had been exhilarating from end to end, but now she found herself suddenly tired.

As she walked down the side hallway to her bedroom, she stopped at Amelia’s study seeing a light peer out from under the door. Auntie Em would want to know that she was back.

Susan knocked gently.

“Come on in.”

As she entered the familiar study, Susan felt a tension in the air and noted the grim look on her aunt’s face.

“How was your evening?”

“Great. It was fun. Harry was great. Is something wrong?”

Amelia just nodded and indicated that Susan should sit.

“It has to do with the estate and certain by-laws. I can see that you’re tired, but if you can bear it I need to explain it to you.”

Susan nodded her consent. The tension in the air didn’t clear. Amelia was puddlefooting around the issue and Susan was smart enough to know that it was about Harry and their nascent relationship. It was like a seed that had just budded and an incautious foot could stunt it. Any time Auntie Em mentioned the ‘by-laws’ Susan knew that what would follow would contain more inexplicably esoteric insanity than good sense.

“The story—and I had to do some research to learn this—starts with a direct ancestor of yours. About seven hundred years ago the Bones family was threatened with extinction of its name because of the Black Death. Many houses were wiped out because the population at that time was already small and was cut in half by the plague.

“You know the marriage requirements for the House of Bones right. They are much older yet. The prima proles, first offspring, of the house must marry in genere, within the blood. In the original reading of the by-law this meant any of witchborn.”

Merlin. She was talking about marriage requirements. Susan’s head short circuited. She wasn’t ready to think about marriage. With Harry? Whatever the issue was it could wait. They’d barely finished there first date, or was it their second? Did the fun park count?

Stop it.

“Most houses have that basic requirement. It’s designed to maintain a purity in the line.”

Susan shook her head. That was so much bullshit.

“I know. I agree with you, but I am not going to change thousands of years of tradition. Purity of line isn’t important to me and I know it isn’t to you, but there are other considerations... social... political...”

“But Harry is witchborn. He’s a half-blood.”

Lily Evans was muggle-born, but she was a witch.

“Yes and no. And it doesn’t matter, but the tradition was that since Lily wasn’t born to a witch that she was a sorceress not a witch, so it would skip a generation—”

Amelia shook her head and waved Susan off.

“It doesn’t matter, because that standard doesn’t apply any more. Any parent of magical ability is enough to be considered witchborn today. So forget that.

“The current by-law which was changed somewhere on a hundred years ago is that as the firstborn Bones you would have to marry a member of a sacred twenty-eight family.”

So that was it? Harry’s last name didn’t sit on the all holy list of true-pure. Amelia signaled with a palm-facing gesture that Susan shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

“I would gladly make an exception to that rule for you. There’s precedent for it and the Potter family is well respected. But there’s more.”

Seriously?

“So when the Bones were nearly wiped out during the plague, your ancestor—Caliculus Bones—established a special case rule in the by-laws. In his time, the Bones line had been reduced to himself and his three daughters. When Caliculus died he would leave only female heirs and he feared that one or more of them might still succumb to plague.

“In that time, the wife always took the husband’s name if he was a magical. It was required except of muggle husbands.”

This was so stupid.

“Caliculus feared that when his daughters married, the name of Bones would be lost as a tributary to another house.”

Oh, God. Susan could see it. It made a stupid creepy kind of sense. Auntie Em showed a look of intense sympathy as she confirmed Susan’s suspicion.

“He made a rule that if all possible heirs are female, then the firstborn must marry a muggle which would ensure the continuation of the Bones name.”

Susan’s head exploded. She couldn’t think and she couldn’t not think. Hysteric tears cascaded upon her face. Her voice came out like a petulant child.

“But Harry could choose to take my name. You could change that much.”

“The rule was already changed that way—by your grandfather actually. But even if Harry’s house doesn’t have a similar rule—and it might—would you ask it of him? He’s the last of the Potters just as you are the last of the Bones. Would you ask him to give up his house to be with you?”

Through eyes blurred with tears Susan saw the answer that floated to the foreground.

No.

No. She wouldn’t.

She shook her head.

“I know it hurts, but that’s real love you’re feeling. If you had any doubt. It takes love to inspire sacrifice.”

The words rolled in Susan’s mind crushing the beautiful and delicate flower that had only begun to bud.

“I’m so sorry. I would’ve told you sooner, but I honestly didn’t think it would matter.”

It mattered. It really fucking mattered. And Susan hated her Aunt for it. She hated the world. She hated magic. And she hated her parents for dying and leaving her to this.

“You can still be friends, but you should end it. It’ll only get harder. I can do it if you want.”

Susan slammed her hand down on Auntie Em’s desk, turned around, and stormed out of the room. Tears of rage fell freely as she slammed the door.

The flower was gone. It had been pulled like a nuissant weed and in its place was an empty dead hole that no tears would fill.