Chapter 10

Chapter 10 – Rites of Passage

Harry carefully lowered the last of the earth onto the second mound. He twirled his wand carefully, casting a series of Celtic runes into the two piles of soil either side of him. Some were for protection, others for guidance on a journey into the unknown. He called on the white hounds of Arawn as protectors for the spirits. They came, as a white mist, which swirled and hummed lowly around the mausoleum.

Harry closed his eyes, satisfied that his work was done. His father would take care of the rest.

He stepped away then, pocketing his wand slowly. He edged back, each step considered and respectful, until he was standing behind Hermione. He slipped his arms around her waist, drawing her gently towards him until her back, shuddering from silent tears, was pressed fully into his chest. She slid her hands over his and held on tight, letting her grief consume her. In truth, it was consuming them both. Harry, himself, was struggling to breathe. Just seeing Hermione this inconsolably upset was beyond his breaking point. He vainly fought against tears and softly kissed the top of her head, hoping it might help soothe her.

Harry hadn’t expected burying Hermione’s parents would be so traumatic for him.

Hermione turned to him just then, so that they were facing each other. Eyes closed, they pressed their foreheads together, breathing in rhythm. Her hands slid down to hold his waist; he mimicked her actions, his arms encircling and encasing her own. He couldn’t protect her from this, but his tight hold would at least tell her she wasn’t alone. He knew how much worse it would be if she was.

After all, he had been when he did this for his own parents.

For a moment, they just breathed together, Hermione’s wracking sobs dwindling to a steady stream of quiet tears. Harry couldn’t stand to see her like this.

“Are you going to be alright?” he asked softly.

Hermione sighed. “I knew this would be hard…even though I’ve known they’ve been dead for years. I was just numb when Ron told me…when he told me they’d been…when he murdered them. But I don’t think I processed it then. Its been years, but burying them now…it feels like it happened yesterday.”

Hermione whined in anguish again and fresh tears spilt down her cheeks. Harry tightened his grip on her hips.

“I know, I know. It was the same for me.”

Hermione pulled her head back, fixing her puffy eyes on his lone one. “It was?”

Harry nodded. “Bringing them here…it was one of the first things I did when took ownership of the place. I couldn’t stand the thought of them being exposed to those dark bastards. I was right, too, ’cause when I went to get them from Godric’s Hollow, a couple of drunks were at their graves, pissing on them.”

“Oh, Harry” cried Hermione, aghast. “What did you do?”

“You can imagine I wasn’t best pleased,” said Harry, evasively. “They were the first bones I broke after my resurrection. I called Rhian immediately and she helped me exhume my parent’s remains.”

“Then you buried them here?”

Harry nodded again. “The elves dug the plots, I helped carve the headstones. Then I conducted the ceremony by myself. It was like they’d been killed that morning. And, don’t forget, in my damaged mind I’d not long seen my mother on the train to the afterlife. It was pretty raw.”

Hermione stepped in and hugged Harry fully. “Oh, you poor thing! How you must have suffered. Why were you alone?”

“There was no-one else here,” said Harry. “I hadn’t found Neville yet, or recruited my inner circle. Enola was around, but I didn’t feel comfortable enough with her then to share such a private moment. So it was just me and Lily.”

“I’m so sorry, Harry.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” said Harry. “You didn’t kill them.”

“No, but I should have been here with you,” said Hermione, somewhat shrilly. “I gave up on you far too easily. I should have fought harder for you, both when I thought you’d died and at Hogwarts. If we’d been together then, I’d have never left your side the night of the Battle. You’d never have gone to the Forest alone. And I’d not have been stuck with Ron. Its all my fault.”

“Dont do that,” said Harry firmly. “It didn’t happen that way, but regretting it wont change anything. You’re no more at fault than I am. We’re here now, and its not been perfect, but we’ve got a lifetime to put it right. That’s all that matters.”

Hermione hugged Harry as tight as she could manage. He brought his hand up and let it get lost in her bushy hair. He loved this, the gentility of it. In a life that had been so coarse and brutal, this was a refreshing change of pace. One day he’d have to find a way to tell her.

After a minute or so, Hermione disentangled herself from Harry’s arms. He felt her go sadly, he’d have liked to have kept her there just a little longer, despite the morbidity of their situation. But he was joyous a moment later, for Hermione had merely shifted to an earlier position, with her back pressed into Harry’s chest. She pulled his arms back around her waist and folded her own over them, interlocking their fingers when they fell so perfectly together.

“Thank you, Harry, for doing this.”

Harry scoffed. He felt slightly affronted. As if he would have done anything else? He couldn’t believe she even felt she had to thank him for such a thing, and told her so quite forcefully.

“I just meant putting them by your mum and dad,” Hermione replied, blushing slightly at Harry’s suggestion that he would do practically anything for her and she’d never have to thank him for any of it.

“Its where they should be,” said Harry, looking at the matching headstones. “They might not think so, though…I doubt they would approve of me.”

Hermione cocked her head up at him. “Now why would you think that?”

“Leaving aside the fact that nobody would be good enough for you,” Harry began, causing Hermione’s flush to deepen, “I’m not exactly a wholesome sort of bloke, am I? I’m dangerous, and dangerous to know. I’ve killed people, and have people trying to kill me. I’m also ugly as fuck. Not the sort to take home to meet the folks, wouldn’t you say?”

Hermione chuckled and squeezed Harry’s hands with her own. “First off, if it wasn’t for the scar you’d be gorgeous. Even with it, most witches would happily bang your brains out. Because your face is only a piece of your beauty. Its in your heart and courage and kindness where you are truly beautiful. And then there’s your magic, which reduces everyone to gibbering wrecks because its so sexually potent. What’s not to love about that?”

Harry laughed. “I’m sure sexual potency isn’t something to mention in front of the future in-laws!”

“No, perhaps not,” Hermione agreed. “Especially as you haven’t mentioned it in front of your future wife yet. Or demonstrated it. I’m on the verge of getting very impatient with you, Harry.”

“I know,” Harry chuckled again, squeezing her a little. “I was waiting until I could put a ring of some sort on your finger, but that doesn’t seem to be in the near future, as I don’t think we will be ridding the world of your truly Wedded Lord any day soon.”

“Fuck you, Harry. Don’t call him that!”

“I’m just teasing.”

“I know. But I hate it…really fucking hate it! Every single bit of it.”

“I’m sorry. I know how much it bothers you,” said Harry.

“Bothers me? Bothers me? That doesn’t even come close to describing it!” Hermione cried. “Apart from abusing me, and cursing me in my sleep, and creating a connection that allows him to break into my mind at will, he’s also stopping me getting engaged to you. And now you say this is why you wont sleep with me? So he’s cockblocking me, too! I’m literally going to rip him apart when I get my hands on him. I wont even use magic…my pure hatred will be more than enough.”

Harry laughed aloud. “I love you, you know?”

Hermione shifted in his arms. Harry knew it was the effect of his words as they coursed through her. He could feel her energies change, soften, and reach out to entwine with his own. She thrilled at him saying what he did. Harry found it hard to quite wrap his head around that, but the effect was right in front of him, surging and pulsing around them. It was like being in a shroud of delicious emotion that kept the rest of the world, and all its darkness, at arms length.

“I love you, too.”

Now it was Harry’s turn to be dizzied by a declaration. He knew it, felt it on so many levels, but still found it hard to believe or accept. It was only when Hermione spoke the words, laced with such intense sincerity, that Harry truly allowed himself to hope that they were true. That he was actually loved by someone. That it wasn’t a mistake, or a burst of empathy for someone else. Someone normal, someone who was used to love. He was loved, and not just by anyone, but by the girl for whom his entire world span.

It was almost too much. It threatened tears just thinking about it.

Hermione seemed to sense the rise in Harry’s emotion. She smoothed his fingers softly, and pressed back into him, while her own energy billowed out and coated his own. Harry felt it with a breathtaking shock; it was as if he were being caressed on his very soul. Where had she learned to do this? It was ritual-level intimacy, out in the open world. Harry tried to speak, to do something, anything to articulate the sensation.

But Hermione was ready for him. “Sssh, don’t speak,” she said breathily, sultrily. “Just feel me. Inside and out. I love you, Harry, but if you wont make love to me yet, you wont deny me this. Lets be as close as we can.”

Harry closed his eyes and got lost in the swell of emotion. It was as if Hermione’s magic was pulsating inside him, taking the floor from beneath his feet. And it was such a sweet fall. Harry could have happily stayed here forever, but he had to correct her on something.

“I will make love to you,” he whispered into her hair. “And soon.”

“Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep,” said Hermione. “You said we weren’t going to commit husband-icide any time in the near future. So don’t tease.”

“I’m not teasing,” said Harry. “I understand you intend to be inducted into the Order of Acolytes.”

Hermione huffed. “Seriously, Enola can’t keep any secrets, can she?”

“No, she’s rubbish at that,” Harry laughed. “But she’s not the guilty party this time. I went to see Narcissa, to tell her about Draco’s demise. I thought I ought to do it in person. She told me about your request.”

Hermione stiffened in Harry’s arms. “Oh dear. Did you tell her I was the one who killed him?”

“I had to.”

“Fuck. There’s no way she will conduct the ritual then, is there? She won’t induct me after I killed her only son.”

Harry tightened his grip soothingly. “You needn’t worry. Narcissa was upset, obviously. Draco’s still her son. But, in her mind, he died the day he allowed Riddle to split his soul and splice him with an animal. She will still conduct the ritual. She told me as its protocol. I have to approve all applicants before they join.”

“And do you approve of me?”

“Well, I had to think a lot about it,” said Harry, seriously. “Just to be sure, you know?”

Hermione swatted playfully at his arm. “Harry.”

“Of course I approve of you,” said Harry. “If you’re good enough for my mum, who am I to argue?”

Hermione snuggled back into Harry’s chest.

“But that’s why I’m working on another ritual…one we can do the night of your induction. If you’re willing, of course.”

Hermione turned her head and looked up at Harry. There was something in his tone that had stirred in her. Her eyes were on fire.

“Does it involve sex?” she asked, unmistakable hope in her voice. “Please tell me its a sex ritual…that you’re going to do ritual sex magic on me…pretty please?”

Harry laughed out loud. “What the actual fuck, Hermione?”

“What?” she asked, bashfully. “I’m getting a bit wet just at the suggestion. I know that’s what it is. I can feel it in your magic. Its making me really antsy. Please say I’m right. Its ages since I’ve had something to look forward to. And I wont be able to sleep if this is on the horizon. I’ll be too excited.”

“Then maybe I should reconsider.”

“No you bloody wont!” Hermione shrieked. “So, it is a sex ritual?”

Harry sighed. “Yes…yes it is.”

Hermione actually squealed. “Oh my Merlin! Is it my birthday or…or Christmas? On the same day? What’s the ritual, then?”

“I’m still working on it,” said Harry, before adding sheepishly. “Don’t forget…I’ve never done anything like this before. This is new magic to me. I mean, its all new to me, isn’t it?…but if I turn out to be a crap shag, at least the magic will make up for it. That bit I can get right, at least.”

Hermione turned to face Harry. Then kissed him powerfully on the mouth.

“You will not be a crap shag,” she said as they finally broke apart. “We’ll practise as often as possible until we make it perfect. We will be the best shag for each other. Merlin, Harry, we are going to make the most explosive love ever!”

Harry grinned. “I can do that. Probably. Anyway, I have to get the space just right. You’ve seen what my emotions do to the house as it is. I have to prepare the ritual space to absorb a whole other level of passion.”

“We’re going to have our first time together in the ritual chamber?” asked Hermione, questioningly. “Wont it be a bit uncomfortable?”

“It would be,” Harry agreed. “But I’m actually in the process of converting my bedroom for the ritual. After all, it will be our bedroom when we are done. It will have to be able to withstand whatever we throw at it.”

“Sweet baby Merlin!” Hermione swooned dreamily.

“But, in any case, the ritual I’m designing isn’t just about sex, that’s merely the sealant,” Harry went on.

“And what will we be sealing?”

“Our promises to one another,” said Harry. “Once you become an Acolyte you can be formally nominated as my consort. The protocol of the Knights demands that. Then we can ritually seal it. It will be like a betrothal. The sex ritual will be the declaration of us giving to each other wholly. Its a permanent bond, one not to be taken wantonly.”

“The only thing that will be taken wantonly will be you!” said Hermione breathlessly. “Is this what Enola and Neville did?”

“Yep,” said Harry. “And I made them abstain for a month in advance.”

“Was that necessary?” Hermione quirked at Harry’s mischievous tone.

“No, not at all, but it was funny,” said Harry playfully. “They were walking around like wound-up teenagers. By the last week I almost gave in. But I paid for it later.”

“Why?”

“Because the intensity of their love-making on the wedding night was so ferocious it caused a minor earthquake on the grounds,” said Harry, chortling at the memory. “The problem was that, at the time, their suite was above The Warrens – that’s where all the elves live – and the babies were so scared they had to stay in my room for a month, where my magic made them feel safe. I had to babysit ten little elves until they were happy enough to return to their homes.”

Hermione laughed. “Was Sally one of them?”

“Sally was my favourite,” said Harry. “She was one of the oldest, and helped with the others.”

Hermione’s expression paled. “She almost died for me, Harry. She shouldn’t have come to help me. I don’t know if she’ll accept my thanks.”

“Its not thanks the elves are after,” said Harry. “Its love and respect. In their culture, there is nothing more important than family. Being part of one, and contributing positively to it. Its almost like a warrior code. I know you always saw them as slaves to be freed, but that’s not quite right. They take on tasks because being a respected member of the family – and helping others brings that respect – is as high-status as it gets for them.”

Hermione considered that a moment. “And, I suppose, if they can help witches and wizards they see as important, it garners yet more respect from their peers.”

“Exactly. Which was why Sally was so excited when I assigned her to you.”

“To your most favouritest witch,” Hermione parroted with a shy smile.

“I never made much of a secret of that, did I?” Harry replied.

“No, but its very adorable that you didn’t,” said Hermione. “Poor Sally. Do you think she will be okay?”

“I’ve no doubt,” said Harry. “Elves are remarkable creatures. Very resilient, too. And Sally is very taken with you. I think she sees you as a big sister-type. Going to your aid wasn’t even a question in her mind. She’s quite possessive of you. She’ll recover just fine.”

“But you couldn’t save her arm?”

Harry sighed heavily. “Sadly, no. These Dark Curses carry such evil intent, Hermione. You aren’t supposed to survive them. And when you do, it comes at a cost. I’m living proof of that.”

Harry waved his hand blithely at his ruined face.

“Is that what that is? Why you can’t heal it?” asked Hermione, frowning.

“Yeah,” said Harry, nodding and scratching the back of his head awkwardly. “Tom Riddle’s acidic evil swims around in that lovely scar of mine. It resists any attempt to heal it. Remember, there’s no block for Avada Kedavra. The same malevolence which would have killed anyone else, has left me wrecked and forever tainted.”

“Let me see.”

“You’ve already seen,” said Harry. Hermione’s bossy turn of tone had make him oddly nervous.

“I want to have a proper look. I want to see this evil.”

“Why?”

Hermione huffed at him. “Because, if evil did this to you, then I’m going to find a way to use my love to fucking undo it.”

Harry sucked in a rapid breath, startled at Hermione’s sudden ferocity. “I…I’m not sure that’s how it works, Hermione.”

“Well, of course it is,” said Hermione confidently. “Everything has an opposite, Harry. If these evil curses exist, there must be a way to counteract them with comparable-level goodness.”

Harry pondered that a moment. “If that was true, surely somebody would have worked it out before now.”

“Not necessarily,” said Hermione fairly. “I mean…until you, nobody had survived Avada Kedavra. There wasn’t anything to study, to test. But now, we have you. And me. And I’m pretty clever.”

“Pretty and clever,” Harry corrected with a wink.

“Harry…” Hermione blushed. “What I mean is, if anyone can work this out, it will be us. We don’t often fail in things we tackle together, do we?”

“Its not a habit of ours, I’ll give you that.”

“And I swear to Merlin that I wont be bested by Tom Riddle’s evil,” said Hermione staunchly. “Its a case of my love versus his hate at this point. I know which one will win out, which one is stronger.”

Harry just stared at her a moment. His heart thundered beneath his ribs. “Hermione – that’s…that’s what my parents said…when they were protecting me from Riddle.”

Hermione moved her hands up to cup Harry’s head in her palms. She understood the sudden, humble turn of his emotion, and moved to soothe his anxiety. “Then I’m in exalted company, aren’t I?” she breathed softly.

Did she really mean all this, all these things she was saying and suggesting? Harry could scarce believe it. He tried to say something, made several false starts on sentences he simply couldn’t form. Hermione watched him struggle with a little smile, so adoringly cute that Harry physically ached at the sight. So he took to just looking at her, pushed his emotion out with all he had, hoping it would communicate just some of the million things we wanted to say, but just couldn’t get out of his strangled throat.

It seemed to work.

“I know, I know,” Hermione whispered to him gently. “So…let me see your scar.”

Harry tensed. “Not today. Please. Its been a few days since it was cleaned. It’s even more unpleasant than normal just now. I’m waiting for Enola to be done looking after Angharad, then she can clean me up.”

“Enola cleans your scar?”

“She’s the only one who does,” said Harry. “She’s very precise and careful. It still hurts like hell, but after years of doing it she knows to be gentle.”

“Harry…that should be my job now,” said Hermione. “If I get Ennie to teach me how, will you let me do that for you?”

“Hermione…its me at my most disgusting. I really don’t want you to see that.”

“And I really don’t care about your silly pride!” Hermione scoffed. “If you’ll show Enola, you’ll show me. I can accept that you let her so close before, but now only I get to be so intimate with you. This isn’t up for debate. I’ve decided. I’m going to learn Ennie’s healing and then your care belongs to me.”

Harry sighed. “You’re so bossy. I shouldn’t let it turn me on so much. Or your academic curiosity. It makes you so passionate. I’ve always loved how it stirs your fervour. You’re really not playing fair combining them like this.”

Hermione laughed. “At least I know how to dominate you. I’m making a list, you know.”

“Sweet Merlin,” Harry crowed. “I’m in so much trouble with you.”

“Yes, you are,” Hermione agreed. “But its the same for me, so don’t fret about it. Come on, lets go and see Ennie.”

“I think we should wait for her,” said Harry. “Angharad’s wounds require really delicate attention. You should know – the Dolohov Hex is something you’re intimately familiar with.”

“Fucking hell…is that what she was hit with?” asked Hermione, aghast.

Harry nodded. “It left a purple scorch scar on her chest. It would have killed her without the runes on her robe. Myfanwy is borderline mental over it. Poor girl. I might have to take her into ritual to ease her mind.”

“Can I help?”

Harry pierced her with a shrewd stare. “Not with the ritual. Its better for it to be a one-on-one thing. Not that I think Fan will agree willingly. She’s stubborn as an ox. But you could help with the spell deconstruction.”

“How?”

“The runes on Ann’s robe will still have the residue of the hex in them,” Harry explained. “We can draw it out and try to understand its composition, what its intended to do. You were hit with it, we can draw your memory to study the after effects. If you’re willing, of course.”

Hermione bit her lip shyly. “You want to see my memories of the time after…after the fight at the Department of Mysteries?”

“Is that a problem?”

“Well, no…its just that,” Hermione began awkwardly. Then her words tailed off and she looked away.

“What is it?” Harry asked cautiously. He’d hit a nerve it would seem. “Is there something about that time you don’t want me to see? I don’t remember anything that you might want to keep from me. But, to be fair, I was distraught about Sirius. I wasn’t at my most perceptive.”

“It’s silly, really,” said Hermione shyly. “It’s just that…after that night at the Ministry, when I nearly died, I had to look my feelings for you in the face properly for the first time. I’d been avoiding it for a good couple of years. But that year, it was getting harder and harder to. Especially as you’d starting noticing other girls. I really didn’t like that, but what did it mean? Then I almost died for you, I had to rationalise that in my mind. And try to understand why I knew that I’d do it again without question. It was a scary few days for me.”

“I’m sorry,” said Harry. “I never knew…never thought…”

“Oh, Harry, don’t be daft,” said Hermione hotly. “You’d just seen your only loving relative die. Your mind was miles away. My selfish, adolescent concern about what I might feel for you was rightly amongst the last things on it.”

“Hippogriff shit!” Harry countered. “If I had known that maybe I could have sought some comfort from the closest person to family I still had. The girl I intend to make a family with now. I was in a pretty bleak place myself, with only another stay at Privet Drive on the horizon.”

“Would that have helped, do you think?” asked Hermione quietly. “To have me around?”

Harry shook his head in wonder at her. “How can you even ask that? You have no idea, do you? Not even the faintest clue of the peace you bring me? Just having you near me…it makes me feel…well, all sorts of things. You stir me in so many ways. Right now, a lot of them need to be dark and violent. But when its all over, I’m just going to bask in you, the way you calm me. If I’d had you to lean on the Summer after Sirius…well, maybe I would have coped with his loss a little better. I wouldn’t have had to face that misery alone. But why don’t you want me to see what you were actually doing?”

Hermione bit down on her lip again. “Because it was that Summer that I decided to pull away from you. I don’t know if I convinced myself that you wouldn’t return my feelings…or if I was afraid of what it would mean if you did. Both outcomes were equally terrifying. My solution was to distance myself from you. I don’t know…I suppose I just don’t want you to see a version of me where I was actively trying not to love you.”

Harry grinned at her. “Ah, I see. You just don’t want me to see you failing at something.”

Hermione flushed and flapped her mouth open and closed a few times. “Well, that’s not what I…but I suppose I did fail at it, didn’t I?”

“And I’m very happy that you did,” said Harry. “It’s not often that I like to see you fail, but in this case you were spectacularly crap!”

“Harry!” Hermione admonished good-naturedly. “Okay, fine. I’ll let you draw my memory. How long will that take to set up?”

“A few hours,” said Harry. “Lord Kelvin and Enola’s mum are prepping the chamber as we speak. They are the two most proficient runic masters I have at my disposal. In the meantime, we should go and see Luna. And her daughter. You owe little Celesca a ‘thank you’ hug.”

“I do? For what?”

“She helped me locate your parents remains,” Harry explained. His expression darkened. “There were hundreds of skeletons in that grave, Hermione. Just piled there like rubble. Celesca helped me find the right ones. She’s a Seer, fabulously gifted, too. She said your parents helped guide her to their bones.”

Hermione gasped. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“I came right here to bury them,” said Harry apologetically. “There wasn’t a right time…”

“I’m sorry,” said Hermione, quickly. “I didn’t mean to snap. Its an amazing thing you’ve done for me. I didn’t really believe you’d even find them.”

“To be honest, if it wasn’t for Celesca I don’t think I would have,” said Harry. “She helped guide their spirits back here, too. They had just been wandering since…well, since it happened. The Death Eaters didn’t conduct any sort of burial rite.”

Hermione ground her jaw angrily. “That pack of cunts! I’ll avenge you Mum, Dad…I swear it on the lives of mine and Harry’s unborn children. On your grandchildren. I’m sorry…for not being strong enough to keep you safe.”

“Hermione,” said Harry, taking her hand. “There was nothing you could have done.”

“I could’ve, Harry,” said Hermione, wiping away angry tears with her free hand, whilst maintaining a death grip on Harry’s with the other. “I could have resisted Ron. Seen through him. He offered to find them, you see. Use his connections, as he was on the rise in the world. I still believed he was pretending to be part of the New Order then. He offered to find them as a…as a wedding gift. I didn’t think he just wanted to present them to the Death Eaters…as a mark of his fealty to Voldemort.”

Acidic anger stirred in Harry’s gut. He felt Hermione’s own ire reach out to his for companionship. He let them mingle awhile, then he pressed his hand to her chest. Her furious heart was thundering beneath her ribs. Harry willed it to slow, forced calm into her. Hermione allowed it, taking a steadying breath as she settled. She nodded as she became mistress of herself again, and Harry drew away.

“Store it,” he whispered quietly. “And when the time comes, let it out to flay him.”

“I will,” said Hermione. “Thank you, Harry. For everything.”

“I haven’t given you everything…yet,” said Harry. “But I will. Come on, we have a little girl who we owe thanks to.”

Harry curled his arm into Hermione’s, gave it a comforting squeeze, then guided her towards the house.

***

Hermione ended up going visit Luna alone. For no sooner had she and Harry re-entered the palace than he was being whisked away for some urgent business. Secret, too, it would seem, for Neville, who was responsible for the whisking, gave her a stare that told her quite clearly that she wasn’t welcome. She huffed at that, knowing full well it would likely involve some new danger for Harry to face, and that she wouldn’t be allowed to know about it, in case she tried to talk him out of his habit of recklessly diving into the fire.

But she knew better than to argue. She trusted Harry, trusted that he was aware enough of how she might react that he would include her in any decisions he might make. She practically expected it now. They were partners in every other way, so Hermione saw no reason why they wouldn’t become equals in this, too. She might not have Harry’s tactical nous or battle skill, but she was rational and logical. These were attributes she could bring to the table.

But, for now, she was content to leave Harry to it. She had her own tasks to focus on. So they parted in the courtyard of the house, Harry went one way with Neville, while Hermione took the Main Staircase and quested for Luna’s suite. It was on the third floor, and Hermione knocked on the door once before letting herself in. After all, it was her house, she could go wherever she liked.

She opened the door and eased her way inside. Luna welcomed her cheerily, but she wasn’t alone. Susan Bones was also there, sat opposite Luna on the hearthrug between two cosy sofas at the heart of the room. She smiled as Hermione entered.

“Come and join us, Min. We were just talking about you.”

“Only good things, I hope,” Hermione quirked as she lowered herself down onto the rug. She helped herself to tea from a platter set there.

“Sue was just telling me all about Harry,” Luna explained. “Its all amazing, really, isn’t it? He died, but didn’t die. Now you and him are together. Its all so strange. Who would have guessed any of that two months ago at Harry’s Deathday Party, eh?”

Hermione shifted awkwardly on the floor. “Please don’t call it that, Luna. I’ve only just about gotten used to having Harry back…I don’t like the idea of him being dead again.”

“I can understand that. None of us like to think of the people we love being dead,” said Luna conversationally. “Have you seen his face, though? I’d really like to. Is it as bad as I’ve been told?”

“Harry thinks so,” said Hermione. “But I’ve gotten used to it. I don’t really see it at all anymore. It isn’t a pretty sight, but I’m thrilled to have Harry alive with it, rather than being dead without it.”

Luna nodded sagely. “And you look really well, Hermione. I could always tell you were hurting, in pain. Even though you wouldn’t say it. But now, you seem back to your old self. Sex must be doing you wonders.”

Hermione flushed. “Harry and I haven’t gotten that far yet.”

Susan snorted. “A likely story! No woman would walk around as dreamily as you do if they weren’t getting royally seen to every night. Well, apart from Lu here. And as Harry is the descendent of King Arthur, then the royally part of it is quite literal!”

“Sue!” Hermione admonished.

“Is Harry really descended from King Arthur?” asked Luna, her eyes wide.

Hermione nodded her confirmation. “And Merlin, himself.”

“Wow,” said Luna. “No wonder he can’t die. Poor Harry.”

Poor Harry?” asked Hermione, perplexed.

“Well, if he cant die, he’s going to be all alone one day, isn’t he?” said Luna easily. “He’ll have to watch everyone he loves die. I don’t think he’d like that. I wouldn’t.”

Hermione’s jaw dropped in horror, her heart drumming furiously. Was that true? Or was it just another of Luna’s whims?

“I don’t think that’s right,” said Hermione, hoping to convince herself. “Harry just can’t be killed by Voldemort.”

“But if someone that powerful can’t kill him, who could?” asked Luna. “Harry might be immune to Death himself. I think that’s why I was sent to work on the Veil. It leads to the world after death…but no-one knows where. It must be a bad place, because witches and wizards used to be executed by being sent through. I cant imagine it would be a nice place to spend eternity, if it was a punishment. But it might be the only way for Harry to enter the afterlife.”

“How do you know that you were sent to study the Veil?” asked Sue. Hermione was simply trembling at the horrendous concepts skating through her mind.

“Neville told me,” said Luna. “Ernie MacMillan was my boss, and he used to pass my reports to Neville. But now he’s dead, I’ve had to talk to Neville directly. I haven’t learned much new, though, since Ernie was killed. I was one of the first arrested after Harry’s supporters were rounded up. It wasn’t a nice time. I was just telling Sue when you came in, Hermione, about how much I don’t like being raped.”

Hermione gasped, anguish and pity pouring out of her again. She knew what had happened to Luna, of course she did. That surge of Harry’s anger when he pulled the residual memory from her bedroom in Glastonbury…it still resonated in Hermione’s head now. But to have Luna discuss it so casually…it was all sorts of wrong.

“How many times have you been raped, Lu?” asked Sue. “You were about to tell me.”

“Only three times,” said Luna, simply, as though she were discussing how many times she’d been drunk. “Its nowhere near as much as you two. But the last couple were only in the last month, and there were several wizards who did it at the same time. Its what they always seem to do to me, every time I get taken in for something. And they always hurt me really badly. Its the most horrible thing, really.”

Oh, Luna!” Hermione cried, scooting over and enveloping her in a hug. Susan quickly followed suit. “You poor thing!”

“All wizards are bastards, I’ve decided that,” said Susan, as they broke apart. “Touting their cocks like weapons. Fucking bastards.”

“Not all wizards are bad,” said Hermione. “Just most of the ones we’ve met.”

“Just because you’re sleeping with one of the few good ones, don’t defend the rest!” cried Susan.

“For the last time, I’m not sleeping with Harry!”

“Yet,” said Susan, coyly.

“I would be by now, if I were you,” said Luna thoughtfully. “I always thought you were back at school, too.”

Hermione’s jaw dropped open in startled shock. “You did? Why?”

“Well, its not usual for a boy and a girl to be as close as you two were and there not be something going on,” said Luna. “I know Ron was your friend, too, but everyone could tell you and Harry were closer.”

“That’s why no-one was surprised by those articles about the pair of you, during the Triwazard Tournament, remember?” Sue added. “It was only a surprise that you didn’t come out and confirm it. We had a wager in Hufflepuff on when we’d first see you two sucking each other’s faces off around the corridors. I might still be eligible to win the pot, actually, seeing as it was never claimed.”

“I’d get in touch with Gringotts right away,” said Hermione sardonically.

“But you spent all those months together in that tent,” said Luna. “You must have slept together then? Especially when Ron abandoned you?”

Hermione felt a bitter anger swill in her at the memory. Luna was right, Ron had abandoned them. And the way she just spelled it out was stark and jarring. Hermione had forgotten it. She recalled it now, and despised the ginger tosser even more. And why hadn’t she slept with Harry when they were all alone? Even just for a bit of comfort, to feel something other than fear and agony, and the ache of hunger? It was just another episode for Hermione to regret where Harry was concerned.

“Harry and I will sleep together eventually,” Hermione replied. “Its just complicated for us both. Harry has an aversion to being touched, but I’m getting through that barrier slowly. And after four years of being smacked around by Ron, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to have another man’s hands on me.”

“Until Harry swept you off your feet with his magic, and now you can’t wait for him to sweep your knickers off, too,” said Sue.

“Something like that,” said Hermione, grinning shyly. “But – and trust me on this – you will know when it happens. I’m a little afraid of what it will do to the house, actually.”

“The Earth will literally move!” Susan laughed. Hermione joined in.

“That will be nice for you,” said Luna. “You deserve to be happy. We all do.”

“Are you happy, Lu?” asked Susan. “You’ve been through hell lately.”

“I’m not okay,” said Luna frankly. “But I have my daughter. I honestly thought she’d be dead. I can hardly believe she survived. I have to be okay for her.”

“I actually came here to see her,” said Hermione. “To say thank you for her helping Harry to find my parents. Can I?”

Luna shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry, Hermione, but Celesca’s not up for seeing visitors just yet. She likes Harry. He makes her feel safe, so she was happy to help him. But she’s been through a terrible ordeal herself. She needs time to cope with what she saw.”

Hermione nodded in understanding. “You will tell her how grateful I am?”

“Of course I will,” said Luna brightly.

“Lu…I have to ask,” said Susan, somewhat cautiously. “But how in the world did you keep that from us? A kid? When did it even happen?”

Hermione’s attention caught. This was a question she’d been dying to ask, but it seemed wrong to pry.

“I had to keep it a secret,” said Luna. “To keep her safe. They’d have taken her away if they found out…who her father was.”

“But who is her father?” Susan pressed. “You managed to escape a forced marriage because you’re a Pureblood. But I’ve never known you to have a boyfriend for very long, let alone someone to have a kid with. And she must be…what…five? Six?”

Luna closed her eyes and sighed. The memory clearly wasn’t a happy one. Hermione’s pulse thrummed in her neck. She almost didn’t want to know, didn’t want Luna to partake in what was obviously going to be a painful confession.

“She’s only just five,” said Luna. “And I got pregnant the first time I was…that I was raped.”

Hermione’s heart bled. But then Luna looked straight at her. It was a pointed stare that Hermione struggled to read.

“Do you remember, Hermione, when you were off in the tent with Harry? Hunting for pieces of Voldemort? The Snatchers came for me. Dragged me from my Daddy’s arms. Took me to Malfoy Manor. Then they started hurting me, and the others that were there. They wanted me to tell them something I didn’t know – stuff about Harry. Where he was, what he was doing. I couldn’t tell them because I didn’t know. But I don’t think I would have even if I had. I like Harry a lot, I wouldn’t have wanted to make trouble for him.

“But I could never quite understand that. They kept hurting me, because I couldn’t tell them what they wanted. Then they came up with this new idea, thinking it might work. They made Draco do it. I think they were punishing him a bit because he really didn’t want to. Not because of anything noble, he just didn’t like me. It was an act to shame him. They had to give him a special potion so he could do it. And he did. A few times. It hurt a lot, but I still couldn’t tell them anything. Then you and Harry and Ron turned up and that poor little elf saved us.”

Tears were streaming down Hermione’s cheeks by the time Luna came to the end of her story. She just wanted to hug her, but there was that something in her look. It made Hermione feel at fault, somehow responsible for it.

“Lu…that’s so awful,” said Susan, squeezing her arm. “And so you had to bear Draco Malfoy’s spawn! Why didn’t you just get rid of it?”

“I was five months gone by the time I even knew,” said Luna. “I was never sick, and I didn’t really show much of a bump until the end. I know Draco was cruel and evil but the baby growing in me didn’t know that. It wasn’t her fault. I couldn’t punish her by denying her life. Besides, half of her was from me, and I’m quite nice, I think.”

“You’re more than nice!” Hermione sobbed. “You’re lovely! You don’t deserve any of what’s happened to you.”

“Aww, thank you, Hermione,” Luna beamed. “I know we were never as close as the others, but I’ve always liked you. Harry always spoke really highly of you, and that should be a good enough endorsement for anyone.”

Hermione could resist no longer. She reached over and grabbed Luna into a fierce bear hug that nearly sucked the life out of her. Luna returned her embrace and patted her back, as if she were the one in need of consoling. It was a good few minutes before they separated. Hermione looked over at Susan, who was bothering the thread of the hearthrug awkwardly. Hermione swore under her breath…she had to steer the conversation away from this touchy, potentially incendiary subject.

“So who were those two people your daughter was with at Glastonbury?” Hermione asked.

“Venusia was my cousin,” said Luna. “She and her husband, Clive, ran a small trinket shop in Glastonbury High Street. They sold keepsakes for the Muggles and proper magic stuff for everyone else. Vennie ran the shop and Clive made dream-catchers and pretty little gift boxes for the trinkets and things. They were good people, never hurt anyone. They didn’t deserve what happened to them.

“They were the ones who got me into a Muggle hospital to give birth. I knew Cesc would be in danger the moment she was born, so I didn’t want her on the St Mungo’s register. And she couldn’t stay with me. Vennie and Clive lived nearby so they took her, but I could always see her whenever I wanted.”

“When did you tell her you were her real mum?” asked Susan.

“She always knew,” said Luna. “She is really perceptive. I think she knew what we were doing was for her own good, but one day she accidentally called me ‘Mummy’. I remember her thinking she was going to get told off for breaking the rules of ‘the game’ we were playing. She was so frightened, but I just gave her a hug and it was alright.

“And I was so happy the truth was out, even just between us. It was the first time I felt like a Mum. I’m a bit scared of it, actually. Venusia was more of a mother to her than me; I don’t know if she will like being with me full-time. I don’t know if I’ll be any good at it.”

“Of course you will be,” said Hermione confidently. “And you’ll have us to help, wont she, Sue?”

Hermione looked over at Susan, who shrugged awkwardly and offered a half-smile by way of agreement.

“I’m so glad of that!” Luna exclaimed happily. “I wont be half so frightened if I have my friends around me.”

“We aren’t going anywhere,” said Hermione firmly. “And once you meet the other girls you’ll soon feel part of the family.”

“I’d like that,” said Luna. “I haven’t been part of a family for such a long time. I miss it.”

“Well come on, lets start now then,” said Hermione jumping up. “Neville’s wife is doing some healing work on one of the girls who got injured at Hengest. But her girlfriend, Myfanwy, is nice, or Cassie over in the potions lab. Actually, lets go and see her. I need to ask to borrow her lab.”

“Yeah, lets go to Cassie,” said Susan, joining Hermione on her feet. “She’s a hoot. You’ll like her a lot, Luna.”

Hermione quirked an eyebrow at Susan, her mind dwelling on a new possibility there, but she didn’t linger on the thought. She helped Luna to her feet and linked arms as they left the room, determined to be a better friend from now on. Harry would certainly approve, and that was incentive enough.

***

Harry, himself, was deeply angry. He was angry because he was suspicious, and suspicion always fuelled the rage constantly swirling just below his surface. But more than that, he was angry at being angry. The destruction of the camp at Hengest had been a thing of beauty; there was artistry in Harry’s demolition of it. And freeing the wretched souls imprisoned there had been a such an uplifting experience…Harry had actually allowed himself to enjoy the role of Great Liberator that they were all bestowing on him.

But now he was back to being angry again.

Because whatever Neville was about to say to him was bound to be infuriating. It was also bound to be negatively slanted towards Hermione. Neville would never have dismissed her so pointedly if it wasn’t. He was about to tell Harry something he thought Hermione ought not to know. It was pretty naive of Neville. For, whatever it was, the first thing Harry intended to do was tell Hermione all about it.

He had decided never to keep secrets from her again.

But he had to learn what this new devilry was first. Neville was in a hurry, and Harry had to practically jog to keep up with him. And he wouldn’t answer Harry’s repeated queries as to where they were going and what was happening. This thing, it seemed, was something Harry had to see for himself.

And what this suggested simply made him even angrier.

Neville paused at the door to a room two floors below the surface. It was near the Resonator Stone at the very center of the palace. It was here that the ley lines converged, where the wards at the boundary of the grounds drew and renewed their energy. It was also where Harry could tap into the natural energy of magic that criss-crossed Great Britain like a giant, super-charged spiders web.

Neville drew his wand and traced out the access rune to open the door. Only he and Harry knew the correct ancient symbol. Harry made a note to show Hermione what it was, before following Neville inside. The room was gloomy, curved in shape with only one piece of furnishing – a table shaped a little like a boomerang. Twelve milky orbs about the size of footballs, glowing with their own light, lined the table. They emitted a barely-audible hum that infused the room with a weird, sonic charge.

“Nev?” Harry queried as he shut the door. “What’s going on?”

“We had an alarm trigger at the ward boundary,” said Neville, joining Harry near the line of orbs. “I sent a team to investigate. What they found was worrying.”

“Go on.”

“It wasn’t a physical intrusion,” said Neville. “It was magical. Someone was testing the boundary.”

“Attacking it?” asked Harry, confused and angry. He would have felt any assault on the ward shield. His magic was tied to it.

“No, it wasn’t attacking,” said Neville. “The spells were exploratory. The caster moved along the perimeter, from one rune stone to the next. Harry…we think someone is mapping the border.”

Harry swore violently. “How is that possible? They shouldn’t be able to know where we are.”

Neville gulped. He didn’t seem to want to say this. “There’s only one, real way. We must have taken someone in…someone they are tracking.”

Harry’s heart leapt into his throat. His breath came in angry rasps.

“They can’t pinpoint us directly,” said Neville, continuing bravely in the face of Harry’s furious air, which was flowing out of him in dense waves. “But if they can get a general idea of location, they can test the resistance to their magic and effectively draw the outline of our boundary. Then we are vulnerable.”

“They’ll never breach the wards,” said Harry firmly.

“No, but there are other ways to attack us,” said Neville quickly. “We know they’ve been experimenting with weather modification, with tapping into geological faults. We aren’t immune to them.”

“So what, you want me to send Hermione away?” Harry spat angrily. “So they cant use Ron’s connection to her to find us. Is that what you’re saying?”

“No, don’t be so bloody stupid!” said Neville. “But there’s a reality here that you don’t seem to want to confront. And, before you jump down my throat again, this is Hermione’s suggestion, not just mine.”

Harry huffed calm into himself. He had to stop lashing out. “Sorry. I’m just pissed. Can’t even enjoy a victory for five minutes it seems. What are you talking about anyway? What’s Hermione suggesting?”

“Several things, but the main one is that this link Ron has to her has all the potential needed to be followed right to us. Or close enough. This is just proof of it. What I’m saying is that whoever is surveying us is nearly a third of the way around. We need to find them and stop them.”

Harry took several deep, steadying breaths. Then his eyes shot open in understanding. “Wait…are they here now?

Neville nodded. “You need to use the Stones, brother.”

Harry wasted no time. He span away from Neville and cast his hand over the stones, quietening his mind as he did so. He found it surprisingly easy, considering his fury. It seemed that identifying threats to Hermione was actually a powerful way to focus his thoughts.

“There!” Neville cried suddenly.

Harry looked to his left. One of the orbs had lost its milky colour. Instead, it was a swirling mass of blurry images. Harry swept to it and drew his wand. He cast a silent spell at the stone, and a three-dimension image shot out in front of them. It showed a tall, wiry man, crawling on his haunches. His wand was out and casting deft little spells at an unseen target, that Harry knew was his ward boundary. He felt them now, since he had become so re-attuned to the energies of the palace. He looked at the wizard again. At his bespectacled face and coppery red hair.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” Neville exclaimed. “That’s Percy twatting Weasley!”

Harry frowned. “I never did know his middle name.”

Neville guffawed. “Are they actually thick, sending a Weasley here?”

“It makes sense, Nev,” said Harry. “Those tracking spells Ron hit Hermione with…they are replete in the Weasley signature. Ron probably just told old Perce the frequency to look out for.”

“Wait…would that mean any Weasley could tap into the connection?”

“Probably not tap in, but they could at least sense it with the right locator spell.”

“Cunts,” said Neville angrily. “That means Min isn’t safe as long as there is a Weasley about to give her away.”

“Pretty much,” said Harry bitterly. “Have you started calling her Min, too? I can never tell if she likes that.”

“I’ve just picked up the habit from Enola,” said Neville. “I suppose I should have asked.”

“I don’t think I could get used to it,” said Harry. He tried it out a few times. “Min…Min…Minny…hmmm, I don’t know.”

Neville smirked. “You just want to call her Mrs Potter, or Lady Potter, or whatever.”

“Now that I could get used to!”

“What the fuck are we talking about?!” cried Neville. “Harry…you realise we might have to erase the entire Weasley clan from the face of the Earth to keep our women safe?”

“Doesn’t seem such a hardship,” said Harry. “They always were a fucking disgrace to to the pantheon of Ancient and Noble Houses. Bunch of fucking gypsies. They were a shame to the title. We’d be doing the world a service.”

“Then lets start now,” said Neville. “Feel up to a spot of Weasley-hunting?”

“Lead on, Lord Longbottom,” said Harry. “But I have to get Hermione. She will help us find Percy more quickly. Rhian!”

The Head Elf popped next to Harry as he walked along the corridor. “Yes, Master Harry?”

“How’s Sally?” Harry asked as Rhian hurried along beside him.

“Resting, Master Harry,” the elf replied sadly. “She be up and about in a few days. Does Mistress Hermione need something?”

“No, but you make sure Sally stays resting until I say otherwise,” said Harry. “No, Mistress Hermione doesn’t need anything. But I need her. Lord Longbottom and I are heading to the North Causeway. Can you bring Hermione to me there, please?”

“Does she need battle dress?” asked Rhian.

“Oh no, there’ll be no need for that,” said Harry. “But she will need her wand.”

“Yes Master,” said Rhian, and she popped away. Harry watched as Neville Apparated away, gave it five seconds and followed suit himself.

He emerged onto the gravelled driveway of the North Causeway which led through the grounds from the back of the house, near the stables. The unicorns were clustered inside, sleeping through the daylight hours. Harry’s Bayard, Bavieca – who had been a gift from the Spanish Ambassador to the International Confederation of Wizards – was grazing a little way away from the paddock. She looked up as Harry appeared, but lost interest as soon as she saw him without his saddle.

“Sorry, Bav,” he whispered onto the breeze. “Maybe I’ll come for a ride tomorrow.”

He wondered if Hermione would be interested in riding his super-fast steed. She wasn’t much for broomsticks, if he remembered rightly, but this was a more earthly form of travel. They could ride together…that might be something. To have her pressed so tightly against him. But the riding motion might have embarrassing consequences…all that bouncing up and down with her body so close to his. No…that wouldn’t do at all.

Harry shook himself and strode off behind Neville, who was some way ahead already. There was another pop and suddenly Hermione was next to him, falling into stride with ease and purpose.

“What is it?” she asked firmly. “Rhian made it sound urgent.”

“Percy Weasley is trying to map the border to the palace,” said Harry. “And he’s using Ron’s connection to you as a centering point.”

“He’s fucking what?” Hermione spat. “Well, that’s urgent. That pissing family, honest to god…”

“Neville and I were just making a covenant to wipe them from existence,” said Harry. “Wondered if you fancied in on it.”

“Damn bloody right I do,” said Hermione staunchly. “What do you need me to do?”

“Percy can somehow tap into the frequency of the magical connection,” said Harry. “It has a Weasley signature. And, I was thinking – and don’t hex me for this – but as, technically, you’re a Weasley too, maybe you could access it going the other way.”

“Oh, for fucks sake, Harry!” Hermione cried. “You really want to hurt me with that insult, don’t you?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t like you being part of the Big Happy Weasley clan anymore than you do. But we need to use it now.”

“Bollocks,” Hermione huffed. “Fine. What do I do?”

“Try to focus your mind,” said Harry. “Calm it. Block out all sounds and thoughts. Just try to pick out any energy sources that don’t feel like your own.”

“Will I feel yours?” asked Hermione, smirking at him.

“Obviously,” said Harry. “But ignore that for now. We need the direction the Weasley signal is coming from.”

“Fine. I’ll try. But I’m not happy about this, Harry. You’ll owe me a lot of kisses to cleanse me of this poison.”

“Deal,” Harry grinned. “Now, concentrate.”

“I’m trying!” Hermione snapped. “Do you have any idea how intense your connection to me is? Its hard to break through that. It’d be creepy…if it didn’t feel so incredible!”

“Sorry,” said Harry, slightly affronted.

“Don’t pout, it doesn’t suit you,” said Hermione, bossily. She scrunched up her eyes as Harry frowned at her. “I love that, by the way. Just saying. Ah…I think I have it! The link…its weird…it almost feels ginger.”

Harry laughed at that, breaking his stormy mood. “Which way?”

“Off to the right,” said Hermione. And she took off at a run in that direction.

“Hermione!” Harry called after her. “We are in forty acres of land here. Running isn’t the way forward. Look along the connection line. Can you see anything? A landmark? A natural feature?”

Hermione stopped and closed her eyes. By this time Neville had spotted them and was sprinting in their direction.

“Let’s see,” said Hermione, her eyes still tightly shut. “There’s a lot of flat land and grass, an old barn that looked like Bob Ross painted it…and, ohh! Apple trees. Lots of them. Harry…do you have a vineyard here?”

“Yeah, and a wine cellar to match,” he confirmed.

“Merlin, don’t tell Sue that…she’ll drink you dry,” said Hermione. “But, Harry, the Weasel Line runs right through the vineyard.”

“Weasel Line?” Neville chuckled as he reached them, clutching a stitch in his side. “What’s that?”

“Hermione’s using her connection to Ron to find Percy’s connection to her,” Harry explained.

“Oh, of course, since she’s a Weasley herself, really,” said Neville without thinking. “Good idea.”

“Go fuck yourself, Longbottom,” Hermione cursed. “Call me a Weasley again and I’ll break your other wrist!”

“You know, I think I preferred it when you were a docile little thing, who only got rowdy when someone defiled a library book,” said Neville thoughtfully. “You were much less hazardous to my health back then.”

“Yes, well, us Potters aren’t known for our docility, are we, honey?” asked Hermione, turning to Harry.

“It’s not mentioned on my Chocolate Frog card,” said Harry reasonably. He smiled and winked at her.

“I almost pity Tom Riddle,” said Neville. “He has no idea what’s going to happen to him in your hands, does he?”

“No, and neither does Percival Weasley,” said Harry. “Meet at the vineyard in ten seconds.”

And he Apparated first, reappearing between the line of apple trees. They were in season, it would be time for a pressing soon. In a few weeks there would be vats of sweet cider just waiting to be quaffed in the late evening sun. Harry licked his lips as he pictured it, then strode on through rows and rows of grapevines that were tangled on white trellises. He wondered what grape variety the elves were growing this year. Last year’s pinot grigio was wonderful, there were only a couple of bottles left.

Hermione and Neville soon joined Harry and together they exited the vineyard and moved along a dirt path which wound away into the distance.

“Harry…the connection…its really strong now,” said Hermione. “Percy’s close by…I can feel it.”

“The ward boundary is just up ahead,” said Neville, gesturing at a tree-line no more than fifty feet away. “Harry, we’d better act fast.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “If Hermione can sense it more keenly -“

“Then Percy will know, too,” Hermione completed for him.

Harry drew his wand. Magic veritably thundered out around them. It shook several apples from the trees behind.

“Don’t kill him, Harry,” said Hermione warningly. “Not before we use him -“

“- for information, to know what he knows,” said Harry, nodding. “I like how you think.”

“How she thinks?” Neville quirked. “Merlin…watching you two…its like you’re thinking as one.”

Harry and Hermione looked at each other.

“We are,” they chorused. It was a pleasant sensation for the both of them.

Hermione’s wand had snapped into her hand. Her magic throbbed with Harry’s, creating a swirling wind that whipped up dust and twigs from the path.

“Open the ward, Nev,” Harry commanded.

Neville drew his own wand and cast a rune out before them. It struck a solid surface, glowed puce for a moment, then a rent in the air opened up like the entrance to a teepee. For a split second, Percy Weasley was held fast in surprise. He blinked and clocked Harry, then turned a sickly shade of white.

And three spells smashed into him in quick succession.

Percy was thrown back and slammed into the parched ground behind him. His glasses cracked and fell from his face, which had swollen up in angry boils. His tongue, which was now four to five times its normal size, lolled out of his mouth. Harry, Hermione and Neville moved forwards to examine him.

“Everte Statum?” asked Harry appraisingly. “Your work, Nev?”

“What can I say? I like hammering people into the ground,” Neville shrugged. “I like that other little jinx. Its like a bunch of allergic reactions in one go.”

“That was mine,” said Hermione proudly. “Ron always had bad allergies. Sometimes I would trigger them in public…to get back at him for hitting me in private. Its interesting to see how the spell works with more angry intent. What did you do, Harry?”

Harry wrinkled his nose. “Just an Anti-Disapparation jinx. I didn’t trust myself not to obliterate him with anything stronger.”

“Shall we take him inside?” asked Hermione. “Or is that not safe?”

“We’ll check him for detection spells and tracking charms,” said Harry. “Then we’ll take him to the ritual chamber. If he is rigged with anything, the room will absorb it.”

“Rigged?” asked Hermione, raising her eyebrows.

“They must assume capture is a possibility,” said Neville. “If that happens, Percy here could be carrying anything…a poison to release into our air, an item spelled to explode when he reaches our sanctuary. Hell, we even heard tell that they were experimenting with a form of blood magic that would turn a person’s very platelets into mini bombs. Who knows what Percy could be hiding.”

“Neville – snap his wand,” said Harry, nodding to it nearby. Neville picked it up and cracked it in two, before tossing it away. Hermione aimed her own wand at it, then set it on fire.

“Just to be sure,” she said, shrugging her shoulders at Harry’s quizzical look. Harry chuckled at her, then began casting diagnostic spells all over Percy’s body.

“He seems clean,” said Harry, standing after a few minutes of rampant spell casting.

“Apart from being a Weasley,” Hermione hissed.

“Some stains just cant be removed,” said Neville. Hermione glowered furiously at him. “What? You were a Potter five minutes ago. Make up your bleedin’ mind!”

“Neville, seriously…” said Hermione dangerously. “I will hurt you if you carry on.”

Harry just shook his head exasperatedly. “Guys, come on. We have a Weasley…an actual Weasley – in our custody. I, for one, am quite keen for the interrogation.”

Both Neville and Hermione’s eyes flashed maliciously. They nodded apologetically at each other.

“Right.” said Harry. He flicked his wand at Percy, who vanished before them. “I’m going to prepare the ritual chamber. Neville – reseal the ward and gather the Circle. Hermione, if you’ll permit it, I need to borrow your magical link again.”

“For what?”

“I’m going to use it to drill into the head of Percival Weasley,” said Harry viciously. “Then I’m going to rip it out as painfully as I can. When I’m done, I will be in control of the link Ron has to you. And, together, we are going to blow it to pieces.”

Hermione fluttered so much Harry thought she was actually dancing. He smiled at her, then turned into his Apparition.

***

Hermione opened the door to the ritual chamber slowly and stepped inside. It was crackling with magic already. The runes on the floor flared with blues and greens and purples, while the alchemical symbols flashed silver and gold as Harry conducted them in practiced sequence. He was standing near the plinth at the elevated center of the room, his arms raised aloft. His hands were twirling and twisting as if he was speaking sign language. Hermione watched him a moment and gasped.

Harry had no wand. He was casting wandless magic!

And it was more potent than anything she’d yet felt from him. For it was costing him, hurting him even. Hermione went a bit wild at that. But the power he was generating heaved and pumped all around them, like Harry was the huge piston of a great ship. And with each surge, the magic ballooned in intensity. Hermione felt it heavy on her chest and struggled for a clean breath.

“Come along, Lady Hermione,” said Owain Glyndwr Jones, coming up to her. “It isn’t advisable to stay out of the Circle for too long. When Harry’s potency whips up to full force in here, it is liable to shatter your skeleton.”

“Okay.” said Hermione, slightly astonished. “But where do I go? I haven’t been given a place yet.”

“Of course you have,” said Owain, smiling warmly. “Your place is at Harry’s side.”

Hermione blushed in response and allowed herself to be prodded forwards, past the other members of Harry’s enclave. They were all on their knees in a half circle around him, in shiny silver robes and deep hoods. Hermione couldn’t tell who was who, but they all started chanting as soon as Owain dropped to his knees in his spot. Hermione felt the magic begin to rise again, like a gale swirling around them. But it was only at the periphery now. It was like being in the eye of a storm.

Hermione stepped close to Harry. He was resplendent in a robe of deep gold. It was positively dripping in his own magical force, as though it had recorded every piece of magic he’d ever done and trapped its residual power. She’d never felt the like. She was almost certain that, if he was so inclined, Harry could unleash the energy trapped within as though it were a deadly weapon.

She shuddered at the concept. For that was probably the very point.

Hermione found herself trembling a little, in awe of the potency of the power throbbing around her. She was still a little tentative when it came to ritual magic…and Harry hadn’t even added his own power to this one yet. She could feel him focusing it within himself, compressing it for the right moment. Merlin, he was wound tight! She wanted to ease him, but she knew that this was what he had to do. And if he needed her to do the same, she knew she needed to be ready.

He turned to her then, as if sensing her discomfort.

“Relax,” he told her. She couldn’t see his face beneath his hood, but his voice seemed to smile. “You are the safest person in this palace. Well, you and little Ally share that title. But there’s no need to be frightened. Relax and try to give to it. When we really get you involved in this, you’ll find the experience intoxicating.”

“Will our sex ritual be like this? This intense?”

Harry laughed. “Hermione…this doesn’t even come close.

Hermione swooned and inhaled a startled breath. She clucked her tongue with her impatience.

“Here, take this,” said Harry. He proffered a long, white robe. It was made of very fine linen. “Its made from unicorn hair. Its perfect for ritual. It will let you absorb a little bit of the magic we’re about to do. Its best to have a slow introduction to this form of magic. This way, you wont be overloaded.”

“No, that will just be for our wedding night,” said Hermione, grinning.

“Obviously…Mrs Potter,” Harry teased.

“Sorry about that,” said Hermione guiltily. “It was Neville, he was being annoying.”

“Please don’t be sorry,” said Harry. “I liked it. I liked you saying it.”

Hermione smiled to herself and slid the ritual robed over her head. There were spells in the fabric, she could tell that. But they were light, unobtrusive. Not like her battle trenchcoat, which had defensive magic flowing through the weaves like a liquid. This robe seemed to reach out for magic like a magnet, pulling a small amount of the power that was now pounding around them. Hermione smoothed out the robe over her breasts and across her torso, then made to kneel, as the others were doing.

But Harry’s hand shot out and grabbed her firmly beneath the arm. It was an instinctive reflex, for he wasn’t looking in her direction anymore. He tugged her back up.

“My Lady bows to no-one,” Harry said fiercely. “You stand with me.”

Hermione gulped and reached her feet again, curling practically into Harry’s side. This close, his magic was making her breathless and light-headed…and stupidly aroused. She pressed tight to him, carelessly ignorant of anyone who may be watching. And she found herself practically purring into his shoulder and she had to bite her lip…to stop herself from nibbling him. She was sure he’d be delicious.

Then the Inner Circle reached a crescendo of their chanting. The air thrummed with sonic power, as though the sound of their song was a form of magic itself. Hermione decided that it probably was. She felt the frequency resonate in her bones, and her instinct was to resist it as an intrusion. But Harry’s words rang with her, and she opened up to it, even offered her own magic to the ebb and flow enveloping her.

And they welcomed her like a Queen taking her throne.

Hermione felt her magic join with the others seamlessly. She could sense them all separately now, and also as a collective, and understood their intent with a sudden shock of new clarity. One thing was starkly clear to her…they were all utterly devoted to Harry. She felt a powerful surge of emotion for them all just then, and so proud of Harry for inspiring such loyalty. She let her adoration of Harry be added to their collective energy, knowing they would sense that from her in return.

Hermione loved Harry more than any of them, but now they would know she loved them, too.

And the room erupted in a new level of power that took even Harry by surprise. He inclined his head at the blinding light suffusing the entire space like a star gone nova. Hermione didn’t need words. She felt his awe, his gratitude, the rise of his love for her in his chest. It turned the light a rich shade of gold. Hermione squinted at its brightness.

“Are you ready?” he asked, his voice cracked and stuttery.

“I am,” said Hermione. “Do what you need to.”

Harry nodded. Then his wand snapped into his hand, and he finally pushed his own magic into the vortex of the others. It turned the torrent into a hurricane. Hermione couldn’t look at it anymore. She was certain it would blind her. So she closed her eyes, felt it instead. Let it infuse and cover her. 

And her senses were sharpened by her submission. She could see the room of a fashion, though her eyes were still firmly shut. But as the waves of magic shot around the room, Hermione could sense its contours, feel the power of the archaic symbols, knew the position of all the people, as though it were an echo bouncing back at her.

That’s how she became aware that the smashed body of Percy Weasley had slammed onto the plinth next to her.

Hermione fancied she should have been shocked at the state of his body, but she had not the slightest inclination for pity where the Weasley family were concerned. She willed the magic billowing around her to wipe the stinking stench of the name from her being. She was not a Weasley…she never had been. 

It was the worst abomination, the taint of a family so grab-arseing. From Ron and his pathetic clutch at power, to Ginny turning her wizards-sleeve-sized fanny over to churning kids out for Voldemort, to Charlie…who headed up the aerial surveillance and broom-based assault force of Tom Riddle’s army. They were the biggest bunch of bell-ends in Britain.

At least Molly hadn’t taken the road to the dark side before popping her clogs. Hermione had despised that overbearing streak of piss enough as it was.

But Percy was the nobody’s nobody. So peripheral that if you blinked you’d miss him. He hadn’t needed Voldemort’s Dark Revolution to drink from the dark side’s cup. He’d happily cosied up to the corruption of Fudge, the detestable fervour of Umbridge. Sided against Harry on more than one occasion. There was no greater treason in Hermione’s book. Whatever treatment Harry had in store for him, its limit of pain need have no upper threshold in Hermione’s opinion.

But the physical interrogation had already been done. Hermione didn’t have to ask by whom. Harry’s thoughts had strayed to Myfanwy, her stressed state over Angharad. Harry was questioning his decision to turn the interrogation of Percy over to her. She might have killed him, cost them this chance. He would have to force her into a calming ritual. Then Hermione was hit with a bolt of astonishment.

She was reading Harry’s mind. His actual thoughts, as though in her own head. She wondered if he knew.

But she had barely time to dwell on that. The battle was done, Percy had given up anything he was likely to under Myfanwy’s care. Now it was time to take from him what they needed. Harry turned sharply to Hermione.

“This is your last chance to back out,” he said gently.

“Why would I do that?” she queried.

“This is going to be intimate, invasive,” said Harry. “I’m going to have to take control of a portion of your mind for a period of time. I know how much you’ve suffered under those techniques before. I don’t want the experience to shock you into some sort of remission.”

“Is that likely?”

“I don’t know…I’ve never done this before,” said Harry. “But what I’m going to have to do isn’t a million miles away from the control spells the MRC are trying to place on all Muggleborns. I’m doing it to protect you, but I don’t want your mind and magic to recognise the sign of invasion…and shut me down.”

“What will you have to do?” asked Hermione.

“I have to enter your mind, to find that point where the spell is anchored into you,” said Harry. “I’ll be delving into parts of you so deep and intimate and vulnerable…you might rightly reject anyone going there, whether its me or not. The MRC want to use deep-level spelling as a control system, to allow your mind to know only what they want it to. It would, essentially, make you a slave to your Truly Wedded Lord.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad, Harry,” said Hermione, before adding somewhat vapidly. “I could live with being your slave.”

“Hermione, this isn’t a time for joking.”

“Who’s joking?” Hermione replied. “Harry I love you, and I trust you. Do what ever you have to. Just think…love, honour and obey! Its in our future.”

Harry snorted. “Our vows will be love, honour and cherish, thank you very much, if we use them at all.”

Hermione huffed. “Just go ahead and take my mind, Harry. Its only fair…you’ve already given me your heart, which is what you’re all about. Its only right that I share with you my mind. Then we will be truly one.

The room pounded with a deep surge of Harry’s emotion. Hermione basked in it, swam in its very depths. For it was all for her. She felt luckier than any woman in the world just then.

“Okay,” said Harry, easing down. “But if at any time it gets too much, just push me away.”

Hermione knew his inference went far beyond this room.

“Never gonna happen.”

Harry nodded, his smile on the air again. Then Hermione felt his presence, creeping and edging deeper into her. She gasped, but not at the intrusion. She gave to that willingly, let Harry cross her borders without even a second of hesitation. But it was his delicateness, his care. He was so soft and considerate. He would make love to her like this one day. She thrilled at the expectancy.

Her mind had wandered far away. It could be anywhere, or nowhere. Harry was there with her, holding her so tenderly she felt fragile in his arms. That he daren’t let her go or she might shatter beyond repair. She’d be no good to anyone else, not that she wanted anyone else. It could be just her and Harry in an empty world for all she cared. That suited her just fine. She relaxed and enjoyed these giddying sensations.

Then Hermione felt the change. Something shifted in her mind, lightened it. It was like the relief after a heavy sneeze blew clear the sinuses. She blinked at her new awareness, only cognizant of this weight that had been pressing on her now it was gone. She felt it go as though being eased of a burden. And she beamed in delight.

For she knew, without doubt, that she was finally free of the dominion of Ronald Weasley. She could have danced with the happiness of it.

But then she frowned. For where had it gone? She could still feel it in the room, but it was now something distinctly external. It took her all of three seconds to work it out. For Ron’s influence wasn’t the only thing that was gone…Harry’s presence had slipped away with it, unnoticed by Hermione during her blast of euphoria.

“Harry! What have you done?”

She didn’t really need to ask, but he was struggling with the weight he’d taken from her and couldn’t reply. He’d placed both hands on the plinth to steady himself.

“Harry…you idiot!” Hermione cried. “You can’t take Ron’s control spell into yourself! Its too dangerous.”

“He can’t control me as he could you,” Harry shouted through gritted teeth. “My mental control is far more powerful and refined than yours. But I need to understand this link…find a way to use it…find out what else they’ve done to you. It’ll settle. Just give me a minute.”

Hermione huffed and crossed arms angrily over her chest. She was fuming, tamping, raging. Harry had tricked her! Lured her into a ritual to take another of her burdens into himself. She felt stupid for falling for the same trick again. Though she couldn’t feel anything but grateful that Harry was willing to make yet another such sacrifice for her. She didn’t deserve it. But, equally, Harry didn’t deserve her chastening for looking out for her so diligently.

“Can I do anything to help?” she asked. She was getting desperate, Harry was obviously struggling.

“The connection’s resisting my attempt to force my will on it,” said Harry, his voice stretched and pained. “Its trying to lock back on to Percy. I need Enola, or her mother, and my entire array of containment crystals.”

“Is it safe for me to leave?” asked Hermione.

“No, but you can summon them, and create a portal through which they can enter,” said Harry.

“How?”

“Use the energy of the room,” said Harry. “Focus your mind, imagine yourself pulling the magic to you. Then try to concentrate on the energies of the house. I know you can already feel mine in the walls. Try to pick out Ennie’s signature amongst all the other signals. Just think about pushing the idea of crystals down the connection to her. She will understand and know what to do.”

Hermione was a little daunted by the task Harry had set her, but the great academic rose in her chest to meet the challenge. She had to be methodical, even under pressure. Pull the magic. That was the first step. So she tried, but it wasn’t as easy and effortless as Harry made it look. It was like trying to catch a pebble in a raging ocean swell. It skimmed and shimmied away from her grasp, and each failed attempt left her annoyed and frustrated.

Hermione huffed and sought to calm her mind. She was going about this all wrong. She didn’t have the control or experience to handle the entire magical collective, but she could manage one strand. She found Neville’s energy within the swirling tide, and pulled it to herself as though reeling in a wild kite. Shards of the others came with it and Hermione was imbued with a ferocious sense of power a moment as they all settled on her.

Merlin…was this how Harry always felt in ritual! No wonder he was such a lion! This power was incredible!

Hermione blinked the sensation off a moment. She didn’t have the luxury of basking in that right now. She turned back to task, pushing her mind out of the room and searching for Enola. It was easier now. Neville seemed to have cottoned on to what she was doing and had joined with her, guiding her efforts. Hermione piggy-backed on Neville’s mind, let him create the link to his wife, then Hermione concentrated with all her might on the message Harry had asked her to convey.

And seconds later, Enola appeared at her side, a box containing Harry’s power crystals in her hand. Hermione smiled at her. She’d done it! Harry would be so proud of her.

Then Hermione promptly collapsed, utterly exhausted.

“Min!” Enola exclaimed, dropping to her side. “Are you alright?”

“Forget me,” cried Hermione curtly. “Harry needs you. Right now!”

Enola obeyed the command. “Harry! What’s wrong? You’re barely holding on! What have you done?”

“He stole Ron’s connection to me,” Hermione called up when Harry was unable to respond. “He’s trying to take it into himself.”

“Oh, for fucks sake, Harry!” Enola cried. “You know that isn’t how it works…we talked about this!”

“You discussed this?” asked Hermione aghast, dragging herself to her feet. “He planned it!?”

Enola looked dumbfounded at Hermione. “Min…Harry’s considered everything to try and heal you. He’s even flirted with the idea of using an inverted Imperius Curse…to use his mind to order yours to not be afraid of that prick you married.”

Hermione’s mouth dropped open in shock. She felt she ought to be angry at that, but she didn’t have it in her. The very idea that Harry spent so much time thinking of ways to help and heal her…it just stirred such tenderness in her heart that she could think of little else.

“So…what did you discuss about this?” Hermione asked. Her mind was in a frenzy. She could feel Harry’s struggle. He was almost beyond them.

“He wanted to hijack the connection, use it himself to damage Ron,” Enola explained. “But he turned away from the idea, as he didn’t want to violate your mind further than it’s already been. That’s why he abandoned the Imperius plan, too. But he speculated that he could take the link into himself…if he could convince it that it was still connected to you.”

“How did he intend to do that?”

“By creating another plane in his mind,” said Enola. “Filling it with copies of your memories and directing the link there. I was dead against that idea.”

“Why?”

“Its extremely dangerous,” said Enola. “The more we split Harry’s mind, the less control he has in each plane. When he first came to us, after the Forest five years ago, it was the only choice we had. He would have driven himself mad. That dark plane, if you are ever unfortunate enough to see it, that’s what his waking mind was like when he returned from the dead. We had to divide his mind to keep him sane.

“But the more planes we create, the more risky it becomes. The mind isn’t meant to be split any more than the soul is…we could lose him doing this.”

Hermione’s heart jumped into her mouth. What would that mean? Would he die, or just be inordinately different? Might he not recognise her…not love her any more? Hermione thought she might die if that happened. But Enola was already moving, wrenching Hermione back from her speeding thoughts. She had eased Harry to the floor and was placing his crystals strategically around him.

“What are you doing!” Hermione cried. “You said its too dangerous.”

“We don’t have a choice now,” Enola snapped back. “Harry’s gone too far. His mind will break entirely if I can’t create a new plane for him.”

“Okay.” Hermione huffed. “But let me do something. Please! I feel so useless.”

Enola looked scrutinisingly at her. “The connection is reaching out for this Weasley, in absense of any other. It’s making it harder for Harry to focus it on himself. Take Excalibur…sever the link.”

Hermione needed no second invitation. She reached into Harry’s robe, questing for the sword at his hip. She gasped in shock as her hands touched skin and she made a startling discovery…Harry was naked besides his underwear under this fabric. It took incredible will power to hold her hands steady, and it was lucky they soon found the one sort of hilt she was looking for.

She unsheathed the blade. It was surprisingly light, but the sharp edges glinted in the fierce glow still emanating from the walls. Hermione rounded Harry and looked down at Percy. She saw nothing but hatred embodied before her. She placed the blade across his neck, just to take aim, then raised the sword high above her head, before bringing it back down with a swish.

And she beheaded Percy Weasley in a single stroke.

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