Part way through the trainride, Draco and Hermione were summoned to the front of the Hogwarts express to get their prefect assignments. Once given their instructions they changed into their school robes. The young witch took her time tying Bella’s green and silver silk tie around her neck before adding her prefect badge to her robes. She was unsure how she felt about the added responsibility, but was pleased with some of the benefits. She would be provided with slightly more private bathing and sleeping arrangements. Though her new room in the dungeons would no doubt be small, she was happy to have an area she could sufficiently ward to keep herself safe. And the access to the prefect bathroom was quite exciting. For the rest of the ride, she and Draco monitored the corridors of the train where most of the Slytherins were.
As the train pulled into the station at Hogwarts Draco looked meaningfully at Crabbe and Goyle, nodding. He leaned close to Hermione and spoke quietly,
“I have something to attend to. Go with Crabbe and Goyle. They will act as your bodyguards of sorts. While you are more than capable of defending yourself, our Lord doesn’t wish you to use defensive or offensive spells outside of the classroom. They will escort you to the Great Hall. I will catch up with you there.”
“Alright. I’ll see you there,” the young witch answered. She gathered her things and followed Crabbe from their car. Goyle walked behind her watching the crowd carefully. When they reached the carriages, they joined a group of Slytherins who were already chatting happily. Hermione said nothing, instead stared at the odd animals pulling the carriages. She’d read about thestrals, but had never been able to see them before. She pulled her robe more tightly around herself, feeling the weight of her part in the raid in London more sharply than before. She listened silently to the school gossip about who in her new house was snogging whom this week. The character of the Slytherins was quite different than the Ravenclaws. While she had enjoyed being surrounded by intellectual equals, they had nothing to compare to the sheer level of entertainment such a diverse group of personalities could have.
As the carriage pulled inside the iron rod gates they paused. Several cloaked men surrounded the vehicle and began magically searching. Professor Flitwick stepped up taking names and checking them out. He went quickly only have listening to the names, as he knew well the faces of the 6th years. When he finally got to Hermione, he immediately flipped to the back of his records looking for the m letter names.
“Hermione Black,” she said quietly but firmly.
“Oh right. Yes, of course, Miss Black.”
“It’s Madame, actually.”
“So it is. My apologies, Madame Black,” he said quickly with a shade of fear in his voice.
Hermione suppressed the urge to smirk. She knew it was somewhat cruel, but she enjoyed the reaction at her wife’s surname. With each passing day she seemed to grow more and more proud of her association with her witch. And the nervous tones with which most discussed Bellatrix reminded her of the powerful and attractive version of the woman she was just beginning to get to know.
They pulled up to the castle without further incident. The Slytherin boys practically fought one another to assist her in getting down from the carriage and then the entire group proceeded to form a ring around her as they walked into the castle. It was clear that the Dark Lord had spoken to the faithful about her protection. It seemed as though she might not get quite as much alone time as she was accustom to. As the group approached the Great Hall, a clear elderly voice called out.
“Miss MacCarthy, if I could please have a word,” Dumbledore said in his usual calm tone.
“Of course, Headmaster,” she answered automatically.
“Do not fear, Mr. Crabbe and Mr. Goyle. I will ensure she returns to you shortly and in one piece.” He led her a few meters away from the streams of students so they would be out of earshot. “Miss MacCarthy,” he began again.
“It’s Black now,” she said stiffly. It was unusual for the wizard to be uninformed from what she had been told, which made his current behavior rather suspect.
“Oh yes, of course. How could I have been so forgetful? You’ve married an old student of mine haven’t you? How is Bellatrix,” he asked casually.
“She is well. Thank you for asking.”
“I must ask you to very carefully consider your legacy, Hermione,” he said in an overly familiar way that made her skin crawl. “There are two sides to every situation, and a young witch like yourself must consider which is wrong and which is right. I know that you have been taken in by an incredibly charming group of people, but you must keep in mind what they are capable of, what they have done in the past, and what your obligation is to the rest of society.”
She stared at him stunned that this was a conversation they were having.
“And though you have some legal ties to them, you must know that not all is lost. It can be undone, you can be free again. I beg you to carefully consider your options,” he continued apparently unaware of her severe discomfort in the conversation. “And when you’ve reached a decision, please come to me. You have many skills and much to offer. I know that there are those of us who would know how best to help you use them and would treasure your participation.” He smiled at her warmly.
“Thank you, Headmaster. You’ve given me a great deal to think about.”
“I’m sure I have, Miss MacCarthy. And though I would prefer to be able to continue this conversation, I am afraid we have a feast to attend to. But I do so hope to see you another time.”
He extended his arm towards the door, giving her permission to go. She took it gratefully, rushing towards the Slytherin table. She easily spotted her blonde haired friend and the space next to him saved for her. She sat down next to him, finally letting the breath out that she had been holding.
“Where have you been,” he whispered urgently.
“Dumbledore detained me.”
“What could the old coot have possibly wanted.”
“It seems he wanted me to reconsider my allegiances. He kept referring to me as MacCarthy even after having been corrected and he gave me the usual choose your side wisely speech.”
“I had no idea he could be so daft.”
“I didn’t expect that my marriage would be ignored, but I didn’t think the attempts would be so obvious.”
“Are you going to tell your wife?”
“Yes. I was planning on writing tonight anyways. But now I most certainly will.”
Their heated but quiet conversation was interrupted by the beginning of the sorting ceremony. Hermione watched as the hat sorted the 1st years. She cheered for the Slytherins, but couldn’t help wondering what her life might have been like if she’d been properly sorted. She felt her eyes fill with tears. She took a deep breath knowing that line of thinking was purposeless. Though the beginning of her life had not been picture perfect, it had brought her to the Blacks and Malfoys. And with them she found more love and acceptance than she had ever hoped for. When at last all of the students were seated, the old wizard stood at the podium and launched into a speech. Much like the year before, it was thinly veiled Order propaganda. Hermione looked about the room wondering how many students in the other houses realized what was going on. It was clear from the looks of shock and anger at the Slytherin table, that her own housemates were well aware of what the headmaster was playing at. She grimaced as the Dark Lord was openly discussed in such a setting. While she had heard horror stories, in her experiences he had been nothing but kind. He even saved her life, though the Order would never consider giving him credit for selfless acts.
She was relieved when the speech finally ended and the food appeared. She caught Draco’s eyes briefly and it was clear that he wanted to talk with her about they had just heard. She nodded in agreement while serving herself dinner. The meal was pleasant. Draco and his friends were overwhelmingly kind and accepting of her. She had never enjoyed a start of term feast so much, but by the end was thoroughly exhausted from both the social interactions and the complete lack of sleep from the night before. She was relieved when she found out that she and Draco would start patrols the next night, as she was quite certain that in order to stay awake much longer she would have needed some sort of potion. Before they left the Great Hall, Severus made eye contact and smirked. She smiled brightly in return, before looking away. She would have to find time in the next few days to tell him about the confrontation, but simply seeing him was more comforting than she would have imagined.
Draco, Crabbe and Goyle led her to the Slytherin dormitories for the first time. The route was entirely different than that which led to Ravenclaw tower. There were a series of dark corridors that might have been creepy had they not been filled with the excited chatter of the returning students. She attempted to memorize the turns and wondered how long it would take her to really know where she was going. She was relieved when she was finally given directions to her room. Draco explained that his was exactly opposite on the boy’s side if she needed to find him. Noting her exhaustion, he told her goodnight and sent her off to bed.
Her room was small but warm in the candlelight. The furnishings in green and silver reminded her of the way that Bella decorated their room at the castle. All of her things were already in the room. She considered unpacking and getting a few of her things out. Before she got started, she laid down on the bed intending to stay for just a moment. She gently pulled the necklace from underneath her robes, running her fingers over the Black family crest. She fell asleep thinking of dark wind blown curls and brown thoughtful eyes.