House elf births were …. Ugh, Hermione refused to think about it. Those tiny, skinny bodies were not good for delivering babies. Or maybe no bodies were. There was tearing, blood, and the house-elves are even born blind. Their unseeing eyes are disconcerting. Pale blue when they even do open, but mostly they just keep their eyes closed.
Yet … The look on Csara's face as she cooed her little wrinkly bundle was enough to make her forget that. Csara was so happy.
It had been two days since she last saw Severus. He had never returned from Christmas at the Malfoys, only letting her know with a little 'Will not return until New Years' sent through their necklaces. Every day she hid the newly-discovered information from his was tense, but she knew this was something she had to tell him in person.
Meanwhile, his absence sent her magic into a constant frenzy as it spread and reached for him. There was nothing she could do, and no pains through her magic indicating she should worry, so she tried to put it out of mind by keeping herself busy. She personally helped her she-elves deliver Csara's baby, took Moody aside for some revision in her Defense, and took a rubbing of her rune stone to Bill so he could check her ward-work for her.
That had been nerve-wracking, she recalled. Bill had bombarded her with questions she wasn't sure it was safe answering, like which ley line it ran across, what stones the house was primarily made out of, how big the land was, and – when she mentioned extending it into a beach – the type of water and how far it spanned her property. Still, she answered honestly, just hoping to improve the basic wards she'd put on the place. The Fidelius was safe, yes, but there were others that she could place both for safety and for convenience.
A tracking ward for people in the house, an identification perimeter … Bill tried to get her to place some booby traps in her wards, but Hermione deferred those in favour of one he'd found in an Egyptian crypt that constantly led trespassers in the wrong direction. Like anti-muggle wards, except rather than just hiding it from view it redirected them away from the target. And, of course, worked on wizards and witches too.
Even with all that, she needed more magically-draining work. Without Severus nearby, her magic was flitting around anxiously and growing slightly uncomfortable. She couldn't really describe it, besides saying her magic had developed a severe case o separation anxiety. While Hermione simply missed Severus, her magic was desperate for him. It clung to every person who entered the Black home (excluding Dumbledore, of course) but their magic was too incompatible and just sent her own spiralling away. She'd had to resort to begging them to let her go to Muggle London, because only around muggles could she release some of her pent-up anxiety.
And yet, still, her magic was still yearning for Severus. Hermione needed help, especially if she was going to be without him for any longer. She sent a letter through Dumbledore for help. Hermione could only hope she could help.
"Mrs. Oswin!" Hermione called, brushing the soot from her robes. "Are you there?"
"We're in the kitchen!"
It was nice feeling the magic around her. She'd obviously gotten better at opening to the sensation, because this time the nudge of Mrs. Oswin's magic was gone, replaced with a seamless merging and a wonderful glowing feeling. Hermione sighed in relief, relishing in the peace. For the first time in about a week, her magic was releasing and running through her again. It was alright again.
Mrs. Oswin was sat at the table with a cup of tea while Mr. Oswin was cooking at the stove. Hermione had never met him before, but from the sappy smile on Mrs. Oswin's face, she loved the sight of the man much like she felt about Severus.
"Hermione, this is my official-unofficial husband, George Oswin," Mrs. Oswin called her introduction from her place at the stove. "George, make Hermione feel welcome."
"Of course, Hanna," he said amiably, with a crooked grin shot in Hermione's direction. "Anything you say, dear."
"There'll be no pudding with that attitude!" was called back.
Hermione giggled. "You guys are adorable."
"Come sit next to this adorable old man, then," George winked. "How are you doing, Miss Hermione?"
"Surprisingly well," she smiled genuinely. "What about you? Do you live here?"
George looked surprised, then laughed. "Of course I do! What has my lady been telling you?"
"That was not me!" Mrs. Oswin denied from the stove, giving a smile. "She assumed that on her own."
Hermione flushed. "It's just … well, I didn't see you last time I was here."
"Hannah thought you needed some one-on-one time," George explained softly. "Your Professors seemed, well, anxious for you. We wanted you to have time to get the answers you wanted, not worrying about getting to know two new people."
She smiled kindly at the man. "That was very kind of you, sir. And thank you for inviting me back."
"We didn't know if you'd show up alone, actually," George expressed kindly, but probingly. Hermione flinched. "Are you alright leaving your link-wizard alone?"
It was a sore spot for Hermione, the thought of Severus. Her messages through the protean-charmed necklace were answered simply by 'With the Dark Lord' and nothing else. Hermione had become an antsy, magical ball of excess energy. Being here helped, definitely, because she could feel her energy being absorbed by the fellow link-with. But still, her worry and need for Severus were only growing by the day.
"He-er, well … "Hermione took a breath, readjusting her Occlumency shields once again to cover Severus. "My, erm, mate is gone for the break, actually. I haven't seen him since Christmas morning."
Mrs. Oswin stopped at the stove, and George gave Hermione a sad smile. "I'm sorry. It must be difficult for him to be away so long."
Hermione smiled sadly. "It's why I'm here, actually."
"It wasn't his choice, was it?" Mrs. Oswin asked from the stove. "He does know what being away from us does?"
She shook her head sadly. "I haven't been away from him this long before. I didn't know about it until now, so I know he has zero clue. He really has no choice with where he is, regardless, but I'm sure he'd be here if he knew I needed him."
Mrs. Oswin smiled. "Of course he would. Well, it's good of you to come here."
"I feel better just being here," she assured her predecessor. "I-I'm kind of worried about when I leave, though."
They nodded understandingly.
"Well, the best thing you can do is find a cause," Mrs. Oswin told her. "There haven't really been any disasters in the UK this year, but finding people to help is the best way to use that energy. I would have thought You-Know-Who would keep you busy."
Hermione flushed. "He hasn't attacked recently. It's been quiet. I've been taking watch shifts, but that doesn't use magic."
"What about the hospital?" Mrs. Oswin suggested. "Our magic is unsuitable for psychological problems and genetic abnormalities, but for magical damage, even physical, you could help there. I could teach you a couple of spells I found useful in the last war."
"Thank you," Hermione coughed awkwardly. She couldn't reveal her powers, and healing people would raise questions for sure. She couldn't do that yet.
She changed topics by reaching into her bag. "I-I know its past Christmas, but I wanted to get you guys something. You know, to thank you for inviting me and for all the help, and, well, I had no idea what you needed, but I made you something."
She gave the clearly not-professionally wrapped gift to Mr. Oswin, since he was closest, but Mrs. Oswin came over and encompassed her in a hug.
"That's so thoughtful of you," she thanked before it was even opened. "It's been so long since I've had a surprise here. I wonder what you made!"
Mr. Oswin opened the ends of the package with a dramatic flair, earning giggles from both of the watching women, before finally revealing the soft center of the wrapping. Hermione became instantly nervous.
"It-It's nothing much," Hermione stuttered out. "I-I made some clothes last year and I got good at making, well, things that are straight and flat. I really couldn't do hats or socks, as much. But I used an alpaca wool blend because I wasn't sure about allergies … it's really soft, so it can just be a living room blanket or something, but you don't have to use it."
Hermione had just knitted a wool blanket for them, a simple but reasonably-sized throw in grey. She had to get a lot of Alpaca wool yarn, but at least with magic it hadn't taken too much time from her crafting. The magic use had kept her from going too haywire, and she only had to start and end the thing.
"Oh, it's beautiful dear," Mrs. Oswin hugged her again, their magics basically kissing. "It will make a nice living room throw. It's very considerate of you."
It had been a nice visit. They'd eaten a nice, farm-like meal and then dessert, gathered in the main room to play card games, and laughed together about shared experiences with their lovers with George as the butt of most of them. Hermione found herself identifying with the pure adoration the couple shared for each other, and silently hoped she and Severus became this kind of lovely, old couple.
When she got home, though, Ron was sitting in the hallway in wait. One look at his face said it all.
"What happened to Harry?" Hermione asked immediately. Her magic swept through the house, hunting for the boy's magical signature. It seized and contracted when it came into contact with his dark magic parasite. "He's angry again, isn't he?"
Ron nodded furiously. "Order meeting earlier, and Harry wasn't allowed in. He tried to keep his head, to be fair, but he couldn't not get angry. He asked us to get you the moment you came home, which made Ginny go off on him, making him go off on her, making me go off on him for yelling at my sister. It's a right mess. He's in his room."
Hermione glanced upwards, then back at Ron for permission to go ahead. Regardless of Harry needing her, Ron was his friend and the rejection must have hurt him. While Harry knew of her powers out of necessity, Ron was still in the dark and between that and Harry's angry distance, Hermione knew he was having a hard time.
Ron gave her a tense nod. "Just … call me when he's calmed down, 'kay?"
"Maybe next time you can do broom maintenance together," Hermione offered quietly. "That calms him down."
That was the right thing to say. It was clear that he felt helpless, so even giving him that half-hopeful suggestion raised Ron's spirits. With an extra nudge from her magic, the feeling settled in her friend and she was able to leave him knowing he was emotionally stable for the time-being.
Harry's room was on the top floor of Grimmauld place, next to Sirius'; they were set up in the family quarters. Sirius had set up the Master bedroom for Harry, not wanting to go in there himself because of his parents but supremely pleased to have Harry take the largest room after learning about the cupboard under the stairs. Harry had immediately taken a bed from another room and added it so Ron could stay with him as well.
"Harry?" She knocked on the door, but apparently it wasn't necessary. At the sound of her voice, Harry had apparently run for the door and thrown it wide open in his desperation for her help. "Oh, Harry."
He looked terrible. Red-rimmed eyes that were full of so much pain and a tense slouch in his shoulders that screamed of a wounded animal ready to defend itself told of just how terrible he felt. As if she were the very air itself, he reached for her and pulled her into a hug.
"I knew, I knew it was Voldemort," Harry croaked. "It didn't matter. I couldn't stop it!"
There were no more words needed. Hermione kicked the door shut behind her and returned his hug. She knew enough about his emotional state to know to remain perfectly stationary in his arms, keeping the agitation from setting in from what she was sure would follow irritating the oversensitive skin that came with anxiety, and also that he still needed her hug.
Her magic wanted to protect Harry from the magic within him, but couldn't separate them. Instead, it offered itself to the scarred boy who was her friend. He was clearly desperate because he didn't even fight it. He accepted her magical comfort like it was food to his starving soul. She felt his tears trickle into her hair and hugged him all the more firmly because of it.
"Ron could tell you tried, Harry," Hermione told him comfortingly. "Even if you sometimes lose it with people, they know it's not you, not what you want. You did so well, Harry. Really. You are so strong to be the kind, wonderful friend you are with the hell going on in your head."
With that piece of comfort, Hermione moved their embrace to the bed. It was a place of safety for Harry, she knew, and he needed that. Placing the blanket over the both of them, Hermione continued to feed Harry comfort and reassurance, descriptions of the very real enemy she could feel in his magic, and promises that she would do her best to be there for him until they could figure out how to remove it.
"I have some books on Occlumency," Hermione said softly, "if you want to read them. They're how I learned. If you just read them and then practice, I'm sure this will get better."
"How could it help?" Harry rasped.
She carded her fingers through his hair soothingly. "It's all about controlling your thoughts. These angry thoughts, the ones you hate, are included. It includes thoughts that aren't yours, or thoughts that might trigger them. It's a weapon to fight with."
Harry's anxiety had tired him physically. When he was finally calm, and the darkness had returned to its hiding place in his mind, his breathing evened out and Hermione knew he'd fallen into a much needed slumber. Using her magic to carefully extract herself, she left Harry and returned to the others who were waiting for her downstairs.
Ginny and Ron were sat in the drawing room and looked at her when she entered. Ginny, particularly, seemed desperate for some sort of news.
"He's asleep," Hermione told them.
"Thank goodness," Ron sagged into the cushions. "You got him to calm down?"
A lick of silence, then Ginny prodded, "And?"
"And, what?" Hermione prodded.
"Why did he ask for you, specifically?" Ginny folded her arms. "We could have helped him just as much if he wanted us to."
"Gin!" Ron barked.
Hermione waved off his defense of her. "Ginny, don't you think Harry feels bad about what's happening? Especially with what happened to your dad … maybe he wanted me because I don't remind him of the reason he's so worried in the first place." That was a stretch. "He's like a brother to me, Ginny, and I'm like a sister to him. There's no pressure when I'm there." That was trued.
Ginny softened just a bit. "You're right, sorry. But … what is going on with him? He's just so …angry!"
"You already know," Hermione pointed out, "I don't need to tell you."
"He's not being possessed," Ginny said fiercely. "I'd know if he was."
Ron and Hermione both flinched at that. Hermione, because of the reminder of the violent sensation of petrification, and Ron, because he'd neglected his little sister to the point where he hadn't noticed her own possession. There was such a fierce expression on Ginny's face, like she'd never let Harry get that way and anyone who thought otherwise would get a whooping. Hermione appreciated it.
"I don't think he's possessed, necessarily," Hermione explained hesitantly. "It's more like … he could be. Like … I don't know if Harry really is in danger of being possessed, but the kind of magic at play here is really strong, and his magic's fighting it. I don't want to know what will happen if Harry gets any worse. If the magic gets any stronger, or Harry any weaker…"
Hermione left that thought hanging in the air. It wasn't that she necessarily believed Harry could become truly possessed by Voldemort, not completely. Harry would always be there, and she didn't believe anything could change that. But it could become too much for him, and the she did believe that the moment he stopped fighting he could very well get lost to it. Like the Cruciatus, there could come a breaking point. A point where she, herself, could not heal him.
Neville popped into her mind, their visit with him and his parents the day after the session ended and they picked up Arthur. There was no magical residue from the Cruciatus on his parents, but they were still gone. Vacant. Her powers couldn't fix the mind.
No, some thing weren't technically caused by magic. Just pain.
"If it's that bad, why isn't Dumbledore doing something, then?" Ron asserted. "He has to know something's goin' on with Harry."
"He does," Hermione admitted. "It's why he's ordered Professor Snape to teach him Occlumency. It may be Harry's best chance at blocking whatever it is that's influencing him."
Ginny snorted. "Yeah, that'll be a big help, won't it? Harry already told us about his special lesson with Snape. The bat's just torturing him, Harry told us that much."
"Ginny," she sighed, "you know that's not fair. Severus may not be the most likeable person sometimes, but he's on our side. He would never do that to Harry."
Ron tried to interject, but Hermione just raised her hands to silence him. She wasn't going to listen to them bad-mouth Severus.
"Look, I'm worried too," Hermione tried to soothe them. "But we have to trust each other."
At that moment a sharp heat burned a circle into her ribs. Her hand immediately brought the necklace out from her jumper so she could see the message from Severus.
'Aurors to Azkaban for midnight. Moody, Tonks, Kings.'
Hermine's blood ran cold. "Ron, who's here at Headquarters?"
"Just Sirius and the family," he replied instantly. "Oh, and Tonks's been staying here too, since Remus, er, you know. Why?"
"Sorry guys, but this is important," Hermione turned and ran from the room. "Tonks!
She ran around, trying to find the Metamorphmagus. It was taking too long. She huffed in frustration, trying to think. "Csara!"
Csara popped out of thin air with her baby firmly swaddled on her back and smiled. "Yes, Mistress?"
"Where is Tonks?" Hermione asked quickly, knowing there was no time.
She was led to the top floor, to the room Remus shared with Sirius whenever he stayed;. Sirius and her were playing cards when she violently hurled herself into the room,
"Tonks, we need the aurors!" Hermione said first. Tonks' drab brown hair, the colour of her sadness, turned purple at the tips at her shriek. "The Death Eaters are going to try for Azkaban tonight!"