Chapter 12

Chapter 12 – White Noise

Neville drove the Sword of Gryffindor into the face of the Section Seven agent fallen at his feet. It was a mercy, really, after Myfanwy’s Blasting Curse had cracked his skull, leaving his body twitching and writhing rather disgustingly. Hermione, meanwhile, was busy transfiguring the tonsils of the Death Eater garrison commander into a large spike, which promptly burst free through a tear in his throat.

The sounds of his gargling for air, through a rush of blood, was really quite satisfying.

“I so wish I had your imagination for things like that,” said Myfanwy, nodding approvingly at Hermione’s handiwork. “I’m more of a blunt force trauma, bludgeoning sort of girl myself.”

“But you do it with such artistry!” Hermione grinned back. “Thanks guys, I think I can take it from here.”

“We aren’t going anywhere,” said Neville, wiping off blood from the sword onto the Agent’s shirt. “We will hold the garrison fort until you come back. You aren’t returning without an escort.”

“It’s too dangerous,” said Hermione.

“So’s Harry’s temper,” Myfanwy quirked. “And he will not be happy if he hears we left you to fend for yourself out here.”

“It’s really pointless to argue,” said Neville. “Just stop dawdling and go. Before those bombs starting raining down on our heads.”

Hermione huffed, then just gave to it. She turned and pulled herself up onto the Apparition parapet, took one last look at Neville and Myfanwy, then disappeared through the restriction ward surrounding the island of Britain.

Hermione’s first thought on hitting solid ground in Calais was one of wild elation. For, by allowing her out, the ward had truly recognised her as a Potter. She felt such a powerful surge of love for Harry in that moment that she clutched at her heart to stop it jumping out of her chest in the excitement. Determined to master the girlish grin which had sprung up on her face, Hermione took a series of steadying breaths of the salty, coastal air, letting the sun warm her skin.

Then two pairs of rugged hands grabbed her roughly from each side.

Hermione didn’t even have time to be afraid, for what happened next shocked her as much as the poor security guards on the receiving end of it. For as soon their aggressive hands touched her, Hermione felt a wave of dense magic erupt from the ring on her finger. It crashed through her body and violently repelled the two security wizards who were attempting to manhandle her. They were thrown bodily backwards, easily ten feet away, where they slammed into the decking of the Apparition Station.

One jumped up and attempted to fire a containment spell at Hermione. Ropes uncoiled from his wand and raced towards her, but the ring responded again. It sent out a gout of fire, which manifested into a flaming dragon head and incinerated the ropes before they got anywhere near. The second guard fired off a Stunning spell in his panic. That was a mistake. The ring simply pulled Hermione’s hand up and absorbed the jet of red light, concentrated it, then sent it arrowing back with ten times the original force.

The last Hermione saw of the guard was his flailing body, disappearing over the railings of the access stairwell to the Apparition platform a further twenty feet back.

Hermione was giddy on power now, emboldened from the heady protection of the Potters, that was encasing her like an impenetrable cocoon. She felt it throb and pulse all through her like an electric charge. She felt supreme, invincible. She would have backed herself in duel against Tom Riddle himself in this state. And she could feel Harry, his protective aura was swirling all around her. She closed her eyes at his signature, wishing it was his touch, but feeling utterly safe under his care.

With a surge of courage she moved forward to face the one guard blocking her path. He was young, much younger than her. Maybe still a teenager. And he looked petrified, with wide, staring eyes and a trembling jaw. Hermione took pity on him.

“Parle Anglais?”

The guard nodded.

“Good.” said Hermione. “I’m not here to hurt you, or to fight with you. But I don’t have the luxury of you wasting my time. I have to get to the ICW Headquarters. You will open the Apparition portal to there. Do you have the relevant clearance for that?”

The guard nodded again, but didn’t move.

Hermione frowned at him. “Then get to it. I’ve bested you and your friend without even drawing my wand. You do not want me to do that.”

With a little raspy squeak, the guard jumped up. He darted into a little booth and hit some configuration runes on a control panel, then motioned Hermione forwards.

“Thank you,” she said, offering a little smile. “Oh, and tell your friend I’m sorry. I hope he isn’t too badly hurt.”

Then magic cascaded around her and Hermione Apparated away.

She landed deftly and shook off the last of the adrenaline running through her. She had been mildly panicked that the guard might have tricked her, and that she would have ended up being Splinched on the other end, or else lost in the ether of teleportation limbo. Calming herself, she looked around to assess her circumstances.

She was at the steps of a large, imposing building. Flags of every nation fluttered on long poles, dotted around a spacious, open garden with a giant fountain at the centre. Witches and wizards hurried around her, some shunting her irritably from the Apparition point she was still occupying. She huffed at them and moved off, resisting to urge to hex them for their impudence.

The European Headquarters of the International Confederation of Wizards was in Geneva, which accounted for the smatterings of French and German Hermione could pick up all around her. The notable absence of English was quite disconcerting. She hurried through the crowds, past a group of pretty young witches catching rays in the late September sun (and wondering if she’d have ever had the courage to simply strip down to her bra on her lunch break) and up the steps to the oak-panelled and marble building ahead of her. The logo of the ICW was emblazoned large on the huge glass doors and Hermione was suddenly anxious about where she was.

Not to mention what she was trying to do.

She entered the building into the cool air of a vast, indoor courtyard. There was a circular reception desk at the centre, with innumerable doors set into royal blue-tiled walls. The upper floors were so numerous that they disappeared into a dark grey mist high above the ground floor. Hermione swallowed hard and moved forwards to the large, imposing wizard manning the desk.

He spoke in French, the official language of the ICW in Europe.

“What can I do for you today?”

Luckily for Hermione, her mother’s family had lived in France for many years and Hermione had picked up enough of the language to comfortably hold a conversation.

“I need to speak to the most senior person I can, on the most urgent of matters,” Hermione replied.

“You are English,” said the wizard, flipping languages easily.

“How could you tell?” asked Hermione.

“Your accent is not native and your vocab is quite obscure,” the wizard replied. “What is an English woman doing here?”

“Trying to save my country while I still have time,” said Hermione bluntly. “Now, who can I see?”

“No-one. The ICW Council is currently in session. Europe is in a state of emergency, as I’m sure you well know.”

“I do know. The Council is sitting right now? Good. Take me there.”

The wizard eyed her coldly. “That isn’t how it works Miss…er…”

Hermione scowled at him. “Potter…and it’s Mrs to you.”

The wizard changed in an instant, shifting to a very awkward pose.

“Potter…not…the Potter?”

“The very same,” said Hermione coolly. She thrust her hand forward and showed him the Potter Family ring. “Proof enough? Now…are you going to call someone, or do I have to tell my husband that you were so infuriatingly difficult with me?”

“No, no, Mrs Potter, that will be quite unnecessary,” the wizard pleaded quickly. All colour had suddenly drained from his face. “If you will…j-just give me a moment. Please.”

Hermione had to bite her lip to stifle a laugh. She had to admit it was a little arousing to see how Harry stirred such fear in people, simply for defying him. The wizard busied himself with several parchment memos, before tossing them into a miniature Floo fire on his desk. He turned back to her with apologetic eyes.

“I’m sure somebody will be with you shortly.”

“Thank you,” said Hermione. “I’ll just take a seat over here. Could you fetch me a glass of water, please? It’s very hot today.”

“Yes, Mrs Potter, right away.”

Hermione swooned. She could so get used to this. Mrs Potter. She wanted to keep taunting the hapless reception wizard just so he would keep saying her assumed name. She literally couldn’t wait for the day when it became her real name. Hermione Potter. She couldn’t wait. She curled her toes with the very notion of it.

Hermione waited for several minutes in the reception courtyard. She frowned a little at the opulence – fresh, Swiss alpine water was all very well, but surely a standard glass from the tap would represent a better use of resources. Fucking politicians. Muggle, Magic it didn’t matter. All on the bloody take. She’d like to burn the lot of them.

She was stirred from her dark reverie by the arrival of a powerfully built, and ruggedly handsome, wizard. She blushed slightly under his gaze. He had piercing dark eyes and and a shock of hazel-blonde hair. It was a good job she was already in love, or else she might have been captivated a moment. But the initial burst passed in a flash and Hermione smiled to herself. It was as if Harry had sensed her eyeing up another man and gave her a gentle nudge to remind her of her sensibilities.

“Well, well, well,” said the wizard, his accent slick and undoubtedly German. “Harry went and got himself a wife, did he? And such a pretty one, too.”

“And if he hears you’ve been flirting with me he might castrate you,” said Hermione coolly. Weirdly, her initial attraction had completely faded and she felt guilty now for betraying Harry. She decided she would make up for it by being cross.

“Oh, Harry knows me better than that,” said the German wizard, sitting opposite Hermione and lounging back into the black leather seat. “If only for the amount of times he refused to come to my bed.”

Hermione blinked in surprise, her mouth forming a startled little ‘o’. “You prefer wizards then?”

“Oh fuck yes,” he replied. “One taste of pussy was quite enough for me. Give me a rock hard cock any day, Harry’s if you can swing it. I’m Dietmar Friedrich, by the way. And you must be Hermione.”

“I must be?”

“Harry only ever talked about one girl in the three years he apprenticed with me,” Dietmar explained. “So I’m assuming you’re her. There’s no way on God’s green Earth he’d marry anyone else. He made quick work of getting you down the aisle, didn’t he? Curious…I never really saw Harry as the charmer-sort.”

“Oh, well,” said Hermione airily as her cheeks coloured. “I guess you can say I did a lot of the work there.”

“And he must also have made quick work of your other husband,” said Dietmar shrewdly. Hermione baulked under his gaze and she felt sure he was probing her mind. She had to get around to building a better defensive mental barrier.

“You lie very badly,” said Dietmar, but he was smiling at her. “You needn’t worry, Miss Hermione. Your secret is safe with me. Besides, it’s only a white lie. You are wearing his ring, after all. May I?”

Hermione sheepishly offered her hand, which Dietmar took.

“Fascinating, the power in this is incredible. I must say, you’re holding it very well. Not overwhelmed by it?”

“It was a bit dizzying at first,” Hermione admitted. “But it’s Harry’s…he calmed me down, helped me to absorb it.”

“So, I suppose the big question is why are you here wearing Harry’s ring? I imagine you’ve come to plead for Britain’s safety on his behalf. Why hasn’t he come himself?”

“A ritual went a little wrong,” said Hermione, deciding it was pointless to lie. “Harry’s alive but undergoing treatment to repair the damage. Then this threat arose and I was the only one who could act in Harry’s place.”

“So here you are,” said Dietmar, releasing Hermione’s hand and leaning back again. “What do you hope to do?”

“Make an appeal to the ICW,” said Hermione. “Hope to persuade them not to drop the wards on Britain…then give us time to get rid of Tom Riddle ourselves.”

Dietmar took a breath. “As much as I’d like to encourage you, Miss Hermione, I wouldn’t be hopeful. The ICW supports the impending Muggle attack on Britain. King Voldemort threatens us all. He has promised a full-scale war on magical Europe once he breaks through the containment wards.”

“Which is why you must let me speak to the ICW,” said Hermione desperately. “The attack will do nothing, except kill millions of innocent people. Tom Riddle will be unharmed.”

Dietmar shifted as his attention caught. “Why do you say that?”

“Because it’s the truth, and I mean that,” said Hermione forcefully. “Voldemort is no ordinary Dark Wizard. He’s brilliant and cunning and he’s taken steps to make himself borderline immortal. Harry is the only one who can kill Tom Riddle. And this attack might kill him instead. Please, Herr Friedrich…I really need your help. Harry is counting on me.”

Dietmar considered her words and nodded his head. “Very well. Come along with me, you must tell all this to the ICW Council.”

“Can you simply barge into a high-level meeting?” asked Hermione.

“I am the head of the ICW’s elite security force,” Dietmar replied smoothly. “In this building, there isn’t anything I can’t do.”

Hermione returned his grin and followed him to a Floo portal. A quick flash of green fire later and she and Dietmar were striding through a pair of large, oak double doors, and onto the floor of the ICW Council meeting, where three hundred of the most powerful magical people in the world were suddenly hissing at the interruption.

“Honoured Members, forgive me,” said Dietmar. “But this is business that cannot be ignored.”

“Captain Friedrich,” said a Spanish wizard seated in the High Minister’s Chair. “What is the meaning of this? And who is this witch?”

“This witch, Supreme Mugwhump, High Minister Diaz, is Hermione Potter. Wife of Harry Potter.”

Three hundred voices broke out into simultaneous whispers around the oval chamber, consorting with their neighbours and pointing down into the base of the bowl-like room. Hermione looked up at them, at all twelve rows of them and glowered at each face, daring them to challenge her.

“She has left the United Kingdom, passing the wards by use of Harry Potter’s family ring,” Dietmar called over the din. “I have seen and verified her credentials.”

“And why is she here?” asked High Minister Diaz.

“I am here to plead with you, on behalf of all the innocent people of my country,” said Hermione, stepping forwards. “Please, you must intervene to prevent the imminent attack on Great Britain by the Muggle army in France.”

“And why should we do that?” asked a witch with a thick Danish accent, sitting in the third row. “King Voldemort represents the greatest threat to peace in magical Europe since Gellert Grindelwald. If the Muggles are offering to take him out, I say let them.”

The chamber erupted in banging and foot-stomping agreement.

“Mrs Potter – tell them what you told me,” Dietmar threw out.

“So, millions of innocents should die, is that what you’re saying?” Hermione hurled back at the Danish witch, ignoring Dietmar in much the same way as the other three hundred people in the room had.

“There will always be collateral damage in warfare,” said a Canadian wizard sat to Hermione’s right. There were more roars of approval. Hermione glared angrily at him.

“Tell them,” Dietmar tried again.

“Besides, it will be a chance to rebuild Britain in a modern way,” said an Italian wizard near to the High Minister. “Your ways are so old fashioned.”

“I can show you just how old fashioned we are!” Hermione screeched angrily. “We invented medieval! You’d do well to remember that!”

“Hermione! Tell them!”

Dietmar’s sonorous-enhanced voice thundered around the chamber, stunning everyone to silence. When the fierce Head of the ZGD spoke, it seemed, everyone was going to listen. Hermione smiled gratefully at him, and he inclined his head in response. The Supreme Mugwhump looked down at her kindly.

“You have the floor, Mrs Potter.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Hermione. “The attack on Britain will not destroy Lord Voldemort.”

“And how do you know this?” asked High Minister Diaz.

“Tom Riddle – the wizard you know as Voldemort – has engaged in some of the darkest forms of magic to make himself almost impossible to kill. He has immersed himself in the despicable magic of Horcrux creation.”

Little hissing wildfires of horrified chatter broke out all around the chamber. High Minister Diaz had to bang his gong for silence.

“He has created a Horcrux?” he asked quietly. He had gone very pale.

“Not one, sir, no… but seven.”

The chamber erupted. Cries and shouts ricochetted off the walls. The anger in the room was palpable. High Minister Diaz had to modify his own voice to bring order again. Hermione heard one wizard proclaim they were all doomed. The Spanish leader of the ICW turned his head back to Hermione.

“You say he has created seven Horcruxes?” Hermione nodded her confirmation. “Abulafia help us!”

“We are finished,” the Danish witch moaned, her voice terrified. “Voldemort will kill us all!”

“Not if you stop the Muggles…and leave it to us to kill him first.”

A silence followed Hermione’s words that was probably unprecedented in its intensity in the history of the ICW.

“Kill him?” asked High Minister Diaz. “He created seven Horcruxes…and you want me to believe you can kill him?”

“We have destroyed six of the Horcruxes already,” said Hermione plainly. She waited for the astonished din to die down before continuing. “And we are on the hunt for the seventh. Then we can go for Riddle. And no, Supreme Mugwhump, I can’t kill Lord Voldemort…but my husband can. He is the only one who can.”

“Harry Potter was fated, by prophecy, to have the power to defeat this Dark Lord,” said Dietmar, taking over. “This chamber has heard of the prophecy. I trained the man to be able to do it. And, trust me ladies and gentleman, you will find no more accomplished and, frankly, deadly dueller on the planet than Harry Potter.”

“Here, here,” said the Minister for Argentina, inclining his water glass to Hermione in respectful salute. “You will tell your husband that Florentin Perez says hello?”

“I will,” Hermione replied with a smile.

“If the prophecy is, indeed, true,” Dietmar continued, “Then we must help Britain…and give the Potters their chance to save their country…to save us all.”

His words were greeted by a hush of heavy breathing. The High Minister eventually addressed Hermione again.

“Mrs Potter, what do you need us to do?”

“Stop the Muggle army from attacking us,” said Hermione. “Tell them what I’ve told you if you must. Make them see the futility of what they are doing. Tell them…tell them the future Queen of England asks it of them.”

The stunned looks that hit the assembled faces around Hermione made her laugh. She couldn’t help it.

“Excuse me,” said High Minister Diaz. “But could you repeat that? I’m afraid my hearing isn’t what it once was.”

“You heard perfectly enough,” said Hermione. “Harry Potter has claimed his legacy as the Heir Descendent of King Arthur…the once and future King of Britain. And, when that future comes, I will be his Queen.”

Excited murmurs exploded around the chamber. Dietmar dropped to one knee.

“May I be the first man to offer fealty to the future Queen of the Britons,” he said with a grin. “I may be a German…but Harry Potter would cut my cock off if I didn’t offer myself to your service.”

Hermione laughed. “I heartily accept. But I ask only that you help to stop Britain being invaded by this Muggle army.”

Dietmar stood and looked ferociously at High Minister Diaz. “The Council’s decision, Supreme Mugwhump?”

“We will stand by Britain…and her Queen,” said Diaz. “Go, Dietmar. You know what you must do. Lady Potter – it has been an honour to meet you. Return home and let us handle Europe on our side. I hope, when we next meet, it will be on far friendlier terms.”

“I’d like that,” said Hermione, smiling. “Thank you, Supreme Mugwhump.”

Diaz smiled warmly at her. “And tell Harry for me…knight to king six.”

“Er…I don’t follow.”

“We were playing a game of postal chess,” said Diaz fondly. “It was my move when we erected the wards.”

“But that was…three and a half years ago!

“Indeed. Harry’s had me on the run all that time. My pieces should approve of this aggressive counter move!”

Hermione laughed and bowed to the High Minister, before turning on her heels and heading for home.

* * *

Enola sat by Harry’s bedside and held his hand. Hermione had been gone for two days and Enola had spent much of that time in her place, caring for Harry as she would. But he was unchanged. His body had slept, they had been reduced to force-feeding him a potion as a food supplement, and they had devised a rota for cleaning out his bedpans.

But Harry might as well have been an enchanted doll for all the life he showed.

Enola sighed in worry as she stared at him. Across the bed, her mother was equally as concerned for her.

“You have to rest,” said Arianwen. “You took terrible.”

“Thanks, Mum,” Enola frowned back. “Make me feel better why don’t you?”

“Just saying,” said Arianwen in her sing-song Welsh lilt. “You can’t help him any more than the rest of us. Go to bed for a bit.”

“I had a nap when I put Alison down,” said Enola. “I can’t leave him, Mum. He might need something. And I promised Min I’d look after him.”

“I’m pretty sure Lady Hermione wouldn’t have expected you to sit by Harry’s bedside twenty-four hours a day.”

Enola tilted her head at her mother. “What’s with all this Lady Hermione ceremony?”

“She’s going to be Harry’s wife,” said Arianwen simply. “He’s the Master of this house, and Lady Hermione will be its Mistress. Might as well get used to addressing them properly. Even you will have to.”

“Pfft,” said Enola with a giggle. “Min won’t make me do all that.”

“It’s not a case of making you, Enola,” said Arianwen. “It’s simply the proper thing to do. I didn’t raise you to be disrespectful.”

“Min’s my friend.”

“And she may also one day be your Queen. She will certainly be Lady of the House. A house we only live in due to Harry’s wonderful generosity.”

“I do hope she’ll ask me to be her Maid of Honour,” said Enola happily, hitching her knees up. “We’ll have such a raucous hen party!”

“Isn’t she very friendly with the girl who killed her baby?” asked Arianwen. “She might ask her.”

“She is, but they haven’t been the same since that happened,” said Enola sadly. “Hermione doesn’t agree with it at all, and Susan is so bitter that she refuses to talk with her about it.”

“It’ll all come back to haunt her one day,” said Arianwen. “It’ll fester if she doesn’t sort her mind on it. Still, maybe Cassie can help her over it.”

“Cassie? What’s she got to do with it?”

“Oh, nothing directly,” said Arianwen, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. “But seeing as I saw them abandoning cultivating mandrakes, to stick their tongues down each others’ throats, I would say she has Miss Bones’s ear!”

What!?” Enola exclaimed in stunned shock. “When did that happen?”

“I couldn’t say, but I walked into the greenhouses the other day and spotted them. The mandrakes were screeching, you see, so I went to have a look what was going on. I thought that monstrous cat of Lady Hermione’s was causing havoc again. But no, they’d just been interrupted on their re-potting.”

“By Cassie and Susan kissing?”

“It was more than just kissing, honey,” said Arianwen patiently. “There was some pretty heavy lip-locking going on, but your best friend had her knickers round her knees. It was one of those g-string types. I did like the colour, though. Hot peach. Needless to say, I tip-toed away as respectfully as I could.

“Well, screw me,” said Enola, shaking her head in disbelief. “Never a dull moment, is there?”

“Watch your language, my girl,” said Arianwen warningly. “Well, I’d better go and check on Angharad. See if she needs anything.”

“How is she?”

“Better now she’s back in her suite,” said Arianwen. “But that curse…it was nearly as bad as an Unforgivable. Heart, lungs, skin…none of them have worked properly since. It’s going to take a hell of a long time for her to fully recover. If she ever does.”

“Harry said Min was hit with it as a girl,” said Enola, thoughtfully. “Do you think we should check her for residual effects?”

“It was the first thing Harry did, as soon as we knew how far-ranging the curse’s effects were. He found a hole in her heart, and it was growing. He thinks that the curse was only in an experimental stage when it was used on Lady Hermione as a youngster. It wasn’t as potent as this version. Even so, if Harry hadn’t found it and repaired it, she might have been dead in a year.”

Enola gasped in shock. “Merlin forbid!”

“Don’t tell her. Harry did it in secret so we can assume he doesn’t want her to know,” said Arianwen warningly. “I’d like to know what he used, actually, because nothing is really denting the effects on poor Ann.”

“Is she still in danger then?” asked Enola.

Arianwen looked at her darkly. “Don’t you dare say anything to Myfanwy, but this is a degrading curse. It’s eating Angharad alive from the inside out. I give her six months at best.”

Enola flung her hand to her mouth, hoping to catch the shocked breath that burst out there. “Oh, no….Mum, don’t say that! There must be something we can do?”

“I’ve tried everything I know,” said Arianwen sadly. “Unless Harry has some miracle cure up his sleeve, we’ll have lost Ann by Christmas.”

Enola stared at her mother in abject horror, then squeezed Harry’s hand tightly. She closed her eyes and prayed to Merlin that Hermione would be back soon with good news. They needed some now more than ever.

And Harry just slept on soundly.

* * *

“Well, we haven’t been nuked to death so I assume you were successful.”

“It’s nice to be home, too, Sir David,” said Hermione, offering a sardonic grin.

“Forgive me, my Lady,” Sir David replied with a little bow. “It’s good to see you home in one piece. How did everything go?”

“As you said, Britain is not yet in the throes of a nuclear winter,” said Hermione. “I’ve explained everything to Neville and Myfanwy. If you’ll assemble the others I’m sure they can brief you all.”

“And what will you be doing?”

“Finding Harry, of course.”

“But, my Lady, you’ve only just arrived back home,” said Sir David. “Surely you should rest.”

Hermione smiled almost pityingly at him. She playfully cupped his chin between her thumb and finger. “My dear, Sir David, we shall have to spend more time together. You really don’t know me at all, do you? And that just wont do.”

She winked at him, before turning and taking the stairs two at a time. She hurried down the second floor corridor and swung into the Recuperation Room, unbuttoning her travelling cloak as she did so. She threw it into a chair just inside the room and rushed over to Harry’s bedside.

“Min! You’re back!”

Enola appeared from around a curtain and crashed into Hermione with a mighty hug, and she returned the embrace with gusto.

“How is he?” asked Hermione, pulling herself gently free and taking Harry’s hand, smoothing it tenderly.

“No different,” said Enola sadly. “He seems to be sleeping more and more though. I don’t know if that’s bad or not. Where’s Nev? Is he all right?”

“Yeah he’s fine, just filling the others in on what happened with the ICW,” said Hermione. Enola sagged into a chair with relief, clutching at her heart as she did so. Colour flooded her cheeks. Hermione could tell she hadn’t slept much.

“You should get some rest,” said Hermione. “But first, I need you to do something for me.”

“What is it?”

“Set me up a ritual circle in here,” said Hermione. “Basic runes, crystals, whatever it is you do. Myfanwy said temporary circles can be set up anywhere easily enough.”

“They can, but it all depends on the purpose,” said Enola, eyeing her curiously. “What do you want it for?”

“I have to get into Harry’s mind,” said Hermione simply. “You’re going to show me how you do it.”

“Now? In here? But you’ve only just arrived.”

“Yes, now,” said Hermione impatiently. “I’ve left him in there for far too long as it is. Please have Rhian fetch Celesca Lovegood and my ritual robe and bring both to me. Also here, also now.”

“Yes, my Lady,” said Enola with a wink. She walked to the fireplace on the far side of the room and threw a handful of Floo Powder into the hearth. Emerald green flames leapt up in the grate. “Mum! I need you. Bring your ritual kit and your rune stylus. The antimony one.”

“Thanks,” Hermione smiled as she started to get undressed. “Sorry to be so bossy. I’m just going mental with him being stuck in there all alone.”

“I know, me too,” said Enola. “Get behind the curtain. I’ll sort everything this side.” Hermione did as she was told. “Merlin, when I tell Harry that you were a foot away from him and naked…and he slept through it….”

“Don’t you dare!” said Hermione grinning madly and popping her head around the curtain rail to glare good-naturedly at Enola, who just hooted with laughter in response.

It took barely half an hour to set everything up. Enola and her mother worked quickly and Hermione watched in deep fascination. They identified the four cardinal points and placed a representation of each of the four elements at each corresponding point; a candle, a feather, a crystal, a sea shell with water in it. Then Enola drew a glowing circle with her wand to join them, while Arianwen etched out various runes with her stylus. Then they held hands and pushed power into the circle with their wands.

When they were done, the circle teemed with magic. It made Hermione’s hair stand on end.

“It’s done,” said Enola stepping back. “The circle will last a few hours, but after that it will lose potency. Min, how are you going to get into Harry’s mind? I have my own link to it, but you don’t.”

“I’m going to take her,” little Celesca chirped. “I can get in there and take Miss Hermione with me.”

“This isn’t dangerous, is it?” asked Luna, who was holding onto Celesca from behind, holding her protectively close. Hermione smiled fondly at them. Seeing them together now it was clear that Celesca was Luna’s daughter, they looked so alike.

“No, its fine, Mummy,” said Celesca, looking up at Luna. “Miss Hermione will be quite safe.”

Hermione smiled at her. “I think your mum meant dangerous for you, sweetheart.”

“Oh.” Celesca frowned. “I’ll be all right. Come on. Mister Harry needs our help.”

“Luna, please,” Hermione pleaded. “We’re all Harry has. I promise I won’t do anything risky. If it looks like we’re in danger, I’ll bring us out.”

“Mummy, we wont be hurt in there,” said Celesca. “But Mister Harry might be. Please, let us find him.”

Luna nodded. “Okay, honey. But Cesc…don’t do anything silly. Promise me.”

“I promise, Mummy. I love you.”

“I love you too, sweetie,” said Luna, smiling fondly. She turned to Hermione. “I’ll give you an hour with her. After that she’ll be pushed too far.”

“Thank you,” said Hermione, squeezing Luna’s hands. “I don’t intend to waste any time.”

“Then lets get to it,” said Enola. “Ladies…enter the circle.”

Hermione switched to holding Celesca’s hand and guided her through the wall of magic. She shivered at it, as though all her skin had been tickled at once. Celesca grinned up at her.

“That felt funny,” she said with a cutesy smile.

“How do we do this?” Hermione asked.

“Just close your eyes,” said Celesca. “I’ll find your mind…then take you into Mister Harry’s head.”

“Okay.” Hermione was doubtful, but she sat cross-legged opposite Celesca and closed her eyes.

“Just imagine an empty space,” said Celesca.

Hermione followed the instruction and breathed deeply, summoning the magic of the circle as Harry had shown her how. It flowed gently around them and Hermione was loosely aware of a foreign connection lurking just outside her mind. It was soft, child-like, but also sorrowful. This was Hermione’s first intimate connection with Celesca, and she immediately felt such pity for the girl.

For she seemed like an old matron already. The things this poor child must have seen through the eyes of others…Hermione railed against it. Life was just so unfair, it would seem.

Then suddenly she was in a white room. A calm space in her own mind. She gasped. For she was hit with such a powerful sense of Harry’s presence that she thought this might be over in seconds, that she’d found him without even trying. It was as if he was there, just out of sight. She reasoned this was his essence from the Potter ring again, or their innate connection rearing its head.

“Harry?” she asked out cautiously.

“He can’t be here, Miss,” said Celesca, who was suddenly standing behind her, waiting patiently with her hands behind her back. “This is your mind. Not enough room for two here.”

“But I can feel him,” Hermione complained.

“Yes, I can too,” said Celesca. “But it’s because we are close to his mind, Miss. Come on, it’s this way.”

Celesca offered her hand and Hermione took it. They walked on, down a dark, tubular corridor that Hermione hadn’t noticed before. The link…between her mind and Harry’s. It was an odd sensation, to be leaving her own body. She felt stretched, somehow thinned. This would take some getting used to. She breathed raggedly and squeezed Celesca’s hand for reassurance.

“It’s okay, Miss,” said Celesca, smiling. “I’ll look after you.”

It was the most bizarre feeling, to be so comforted by this child. But Hermione couldn’t resist it. The girl just had something about her presence, a soothing energy that Hermione struggled to describe. She felt safe under her guidance.

“Here we are, Miss Hermione.”

Hermione blinked. The tube-like corridor had opened up onto something entirely different. They were now in a long hallway, poorly lit by dirty ceiling lights, half of which were spluttering in and out of life. Faded, emerald green wallpaper peeled off the walls and there were distant noises that Hermione couldn’t quite pick out, behind a number of doors set into the left-hand side of the hallway.

Hermione quailed. For all of the noises were those of obvious, terrified distress.

“I thought you said it looked like a building with lots of floors,” said Hermione, perplexed and quivering.

“It does, for me,” Celesca explained. “But this is how you see it. Or maybe how Mister Harry sees it. But it’s the same. Look.”

Celesca pointed down the corridor. There were six doors that Hermione could see, but the corridor went on way beyond them into a blurry sort of fog with an eerie red light set high against the ceiling.

“That’s what I see on the lower floors when I come on my own,” said Celesca, nodding at that weird mist. “We wont be able to get through there, I bet. It’s where the pretty lady dug too deep. Only Mister Harry can reach it.”

“But what if that’s where he is?” said Hermione. “That’s where he might be trapped.”

Celesca shook her head and frowned. “I don’t think so, Miss. I can’t get there, but I can see into it, and he’s never been in there.”

“What do you see?”

Celesca turned her pity-filled eyes to Hermione. “You, Miss…and the horrible gingerbread man. I know…I know the things he did to you.”

Celesca’s ethereal voice was comforting and sympathetic, and as those watery eyes fixed firmly on Hermione, her breathing hitched and surprised tears stung behind her own eyelids. She felt Celesca’s tiny hand slip into her own and give it a gentle squeeze. She choked her breath out to regain control, then moved off along the corridor.

“What am I going to find here, Celesca?” asked Hermione. “Have you been into all of these places?”

Celesca nodded. “Yes, Miss Hermione. You should know…all but one of these places are bad. You wont like what you see in them.”

“Why? What are they?”

“Mister Harry’s memories, mostly,” said Celesca. “And then his pain, his fear, all made into real things. It’s a horrible place. I feel so sorry for Mister Harry to have to carry this inside. I’d like to help him…but I don’t know how I can. His monsters are very real down here, Miss. And very scary.”

“Can I interact with them?” asked Hermione. “Can I get rid of any of them?”

Celesca shook her head. “No, Miss. These are Mister Harry’s memories, his darknesses. We are just watching, Miss. Can only be part of it when Mister Harry’s here. They come properly alive then…and it’s so frightening, I can’t tell you.”

“How? What happens to Harry when he’s here?”

“He goes back…into the memory,” said Celesca. “He becomes that Harry again. Lives it all again. Tries to make it better like that.”

“Does it work?” asked Hermione, horrorstruck.

Celesca shook her head sadly again. “No, Miss, it wont ever work.”

Hermione gasped aloud. “Then how can he be helped?”

“I don’t know, Miss Hermione,” said Celesca quietly. “I really don’t…”

Hermione fought a strangled sob. Poor Harry. Her poor Harry! Hermione’s heart broke at the very concept. She had to find a way to help, to get rid of…whatever she was likely to find down here. She took a moment to compose herself. Then she opened the first door.

And slammed it closed instantly, clutching at her now colourless cheeks.

“D…Dementors?” she panted lowly.

“Told you, Miss,” said Celesca. “Come on, I won’t let them hurt you.”

Celesca took Hermione’s hand again and led her inside the room. Hermione’s mouth fell open in shock, for as soon as they entered this gloomy space a dome of light shot out from Celesca and covered them both like a blanket. Hermione felt utterly shielded from anything outside. It was as if Celesca’s very innocence was a power in and of itself.

And, with a shuddering jolt, Hermione suddenly understood just why she’d been chosen for ritual sacrifice.

Hermione clutched Celesca’s hand tightly, as if to protect her right back. Together, they walked forwards and Hermione looked around in awestruck horror. They were in a vast plane, dark and shadowy as far as Hermione could see in every direction. Angry lightening flashed against a bruise-purple sky, casting a rutted, spiky landscape into stark relief. And there were Dementors everywhere. Thousands of them. Hermione stared open-mouthed at their massive numbers.

And then there was the air itself. It was thick with oppression, coated in worry and throbbing with prickly anxiety. Hermione felt it sting her own skin. Her breaths were heavy, leaden. It was as if she was stuck in a fog of poisonous fumes. It settled acridly dry in her throat.

“All Mister Harry’s fears come here,” Celesca whispered. “Everything he’s afraid of.”

“And what happens to Harry when he comes in here?”

“He loses his mind, Miss,” said Celesca. “There’s just too many of them, even for him. I think he comes here on purpose, to try and deal with as many as he can, so he’s better when he’s back outside. But then he falls down, and the pretty lady has to come and rescue him.”

“Her name’s Enola,” said Hermione. And, she thought, when she got out of here, she was definitely going to have a long chat with her friend. They had to find a way to help Harry. This place was devastatingly dismal.

Then Hermione screeched in fright. For the spectral form of Tom Riddle’s head, pinned into the back of a turban, suddenly rushed past them. Hermione sucked in a startled breath.

“He’s a bad man, isn’t he, Miss?” asked Celesca. “He’s here a lot, in lots of shapes.”

“Yes, he’s a bad man,” said Hermione, looking back at Riddle’s retreating form with hateful disdain. “He’s the worst.”

They walked on, for ages. Hermione didn’t know where they were going, but Celesca seemed to have a practiced route. Hermione almost wished she didn’t, for the horrors she was seeing…Sirius falling through the veil, Harry’s parents being cut down by Voldemort, The Chamber of Secrets…Hermione hadn’t even known how frightened he’d been down there. She had been petrified, after all, unable to help. Her heart broke and bled and broke again.

And then.

“Wow. What the hell?”

For she was looking at herself, half transfigured into a cat.

“He hates this part, Miss,” said Celesca. “I think its the worst bit. He cries so much seeing you like this.”

“Oh, Harry…” Hermione breathed. She’d never known. “He isn’t in here, is he?”

“I don’t think so, Miss,” said Celesca. “He comes to these parts most often. I don’t think he’s here today.”

“How do we get out?”

“We just turn around,” said Celesca.

Confused, Hermione span on the spot. And her mouth fell open, for the door was still directly behind them, oddly stark against that imposing gloom behind it. It was as if they haven’t moved at all.

“I really don’t like this,” said Hermione. She was deeply unsettled.

“Me, neither,” Celesca nodded. “See, I told you they ought not to have done this to poor Mister Harry.”

Hermione couldn’t agree more. The next room didn’t improve things. Hermione fought against tears as she watched Harry fall fifty feet from a broom, get smashed in the face by a bludger – and later by Draco Malfoy’s boot – then get chased and gouged by the Hungarian Horntail he’d faced during the Triwizard Tournament. Then she watched as he writhed and screamed against the fierce, white-hot burning in his old scar as his mind was furiously attacked.

And then, in a way that angered as much as shocked her, she saw her own memories, snippets of her vicious beatings by Ron…only with Harry in her place where he’d stolen the pain from her. She felt a sort of sickness she’d never experienced and roiled against it, as she watched Harry being beaten to a broken pulp.

But it was when she saw his face, his beautiful face, get ripped apart by Tom Riddle’s Avada Kedavra in the Forbidden Forest that Hermione could take no more.

“Get me out of here,” she sobbed. “Please, no more!”

Back in the relative safety of the hallway, Hermione curled up into a ball and wept helpless tears. Harry was so wounded…so, so wounded. How could she have allowed this to happen to him? How could she stand for it now? She had never felt so distressed. Not in all the years under Ron’s boot, not in any time she could ever remember. She just had to help him. She would find a way, she swore it.

“Miss Hermione?”

Celesca’s delicate question, phrased in a tiny voice, pulled Hermione back to the task at hand. She sat up and dabbed at her eyes.

“That was his pain room, right?” asked Hermione. Celesca nodded. “Fear…pain…the worse must be over, then?”

Celesca looked doubtfully at her. “For you, maybe. But the next place is one Mister Harry is the most scared of.”

“I’m not sure I even want to know,” said Hermione. “What’s in there?”

Hermione took the handle of the next door. The level of deep foreboding radiating from it was tangible. It was with a ridiculous amount of dread that Hermione began her search of this plane.

But, on initial appearances, it wasn’t so bad. The air was fairly still, there was nothing to suggest what it was. But then, things began to appear. And Hermione’s heart actually shattered. She fell to her knees as the scenes flashed in front of her. And there was a common theme.

For she, herself, was in every one of them.

Here she was, petrified in the Hogwarts Infirmary, crying in the girls bathroom, sitting depressed and friendless at lunch, as Harry and Ron moodily huffed at her and talked loudly about Harry’s confiscated Firebolt. Then she was dancing with Viktor Krum, and crying again as Ron cut her down. Then, the worst…she was kissing Ron. And the emotion of the room snapped in pained anguish, as if Harry’s heart was the air itself.

“What is this?” asked Hermione in unremitting horror.

“This place is all about you, Miss,” said Celesca. “All Mister Harry regrets and doesn’t like about things he’s done or said to you. He really doesn’t like coming in here. I’ve seen him just sit outside sometimes, and bang his head against the door. He never wants to come in. I really don’t expect him to be in here, either. For him, its the very worst place he could go.”

“I’m starting to think he maybe won’t be in any of them,” said Hermione. “How many are left?”

And how much more can I take?, she thought.

Hermione closed the door with a little click and rested against the hallway wall. Her mind was pounding against her skull. Of all the horrors, terrors she had imagined in this place…she never appreciated they would be quite this fierce, or quite so numerous. She knew Harry had suffered in his life, and that he carried some serious scars. But this…well. Hermione huffed crossly. Standing there, she made a firm decision. Screw the war, screw Riddle and Ron and every Death Eater fucker out there.

She was going to heal Harry of this. That was her priority, the rest of the world could just kiss her arse if they had a problem with it.

Hermione took a deep breath and moved on to the next door, stupidly wary of what she might find behind it. But she halted as she stood in front of it. It was bland, nondescript. It didn’t emit the same sort of foreboding, or have any of the frightening noises shrieking from within.

And it looked out of place. Whereas the others simply seemed like a row of daunting doors on some sort of nightmare hotel floor, this was totally different. For a start, it was only half the height of the others. Hermione wasn’t even sure she’d be able to fit under it. It also wasn’t recessed as the rest were. It looked like a barn door, or maybe..

“A cupboard under the stairs?” Hermione asked, perplexed. “Why in the world…”

Celesca was suddenly fraught, turning to Hermione with wide, frightened eyes.

“Shouldn’t go in there, Miss…shouldn’t…mustn’t…”

“But why?”

“Bad place in there, Miss, the worst,” said Celesca lowly. “Come on…lets go away. The next one is Mister Harry’s quiet place…he likes it there…come on…”

Celesca tugged at Hermione’s robe, but she held firm.

She frowned at the plain door. “What’s in there, Celesca?”

Luna’s daughter looked up. She was so scared, so fitfully anxious that she was actually trembling.

“It’s the worst place, Miss Hermione. “We have to go. You don’t want to see in there. Come on, Miss!”

Celesca tugged hopelessly again on Hermione’s robes, groaning in frustration at being unable to move her along. But Hermione was determined. She had to see what was inside. She knelt down next to Celesca.

“Honey, its okay…tell me why I don’t want to look in there.”

Celesca shook her head furiously from side to side, so rapid in fact that her eyes became unfocused.

“Please…” Hermione prompted. “I have to know. What’s so bad about it?”

Celesca sighed in defeat. “Mister Harry…he’s…he’s…he’s very,” she said hoarsely. “Very young in that room.”

Hermione felt her heart stop a moment. She blinked at Celesca. “Young? Is Harry a child inthere, is that what you’re saying?”

Celesca nodded, still quivering as she did so. “My age, Miss, and a bit older. No more than ten.”

“And what happens to him in there?”

“He gets hurt, Miss, over and over,” said Celesca breathing rapidly. “By a fat man with a red face, and the skinny lady who looks like a horse.”

“His aunt and uncle,” Hermione thought aloud in horror. She sucked in a breath. She looked back in dismay at the door…of course…

‘They kept him in a cupboard for eleven years…ELEVEN YEARS, Hermione…what the fuck is that about?’

Neville’s words echoed in Hermione’s mind and she froze. She pinned her eyes back to the door. This was where Harry siphoned off his memories, the wounds and scars from his life pre-Hogwarts. The ones he’d never spoken about to anyone, not even to her. She shouldn’t go in…Harry might never forgive her.

But she was already turning the handle.

And she immediately wished she hadn’t.

For there was a crack, a whipping sound she knew was a cruel back hander to the face. Ron had given her plenty of those over the years. But this wasn’t Ron, and that pitiful, helpless yelp wasn’t her own. She turned in time to see a carpeted staircase materialise in front of her and Harry, no more than seven or eight years old, came tumbling down it till he hit the bottom, where he lay in a heap. Quite still.

Hermione tried to cry out, but the sound got lost somewhere in her throat.

Then he was there, cradling his left wrist tenderly in the gloom, blowing futilely to try and cool an angry burn, which was welting on his hand, and trying desperately to keep his crying quiet, as his puffy eyes looked in abject terror at the cupboard door; then he was cowering away from the hand of a doctor, as his Uncle talked about him running into a drill he’d been using during a DIY project; and finally he was balled up in the foetal position, clutching at his stomach where the starvation was making him double up in excruciating agony.

“No more! No more!” Hermione shrieked.

And she was pulled bodily from the ritual. She looked up in confused panic a moment, before rolling over and vomiting profusely all over the floor. She retched and heaved until she was spent, and then simply lay there and screamed in anguish.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” little Celesca cried. “I didn’t mean to!”

Hermione was jolted by Celesca’s distress. She rolled over again, right into her pool of vomit.

“It’s not your fault, sweetheart, it’s not,” said Hermione. “Ennie…help me, please!”

Enola hurried forwards and cleaned everything up in a few flicks of her wand. As soon as she had, Celesca rushed forward and threw her arms around Hermione’s neck, and Enola encircled them both. There were quite too many tears for all their likings. Hermione whispered gently to soothe Celesca, while Luna joined them and smoothed her daughter’s hair It was a good few minutes before they separated.

And Hermione turned straight to Enola.

“You knew,” she said breathily. “You knew…knew how horrific it was….and you didn’t tell me.”

Enola looked back nervously. “They aren’t my secrets to tell,” she said in a tiny voice. “Harry…he…he said…”

“Harry was always going to say!” Hermione hissed. “You know what he’s like. He never asks for help, even when he’s crying out for it.”

“I’m sorry, Min,” said Enola, tears welling in her eyes. “I’m so sorry.”

Hermione wanted to rage, to explode. But Enola’s distress was so acute that Hermione’s fury ebbed away in the face of it. She took her hand and squeezed it.

“Just don’t keep anything like that from me again. No matter what Harry has told you. Okay?”

Enola nodded furiously. “I won’t. I promise.”

“Okay.” said Hermione. She sat up and eased Celesca onto her lap, looking deeply into her incredibly expressive eyes. “This wasn’t your fault, sweetie, all right? Don’t be upset. Come on, dry your eyes like a big girl.”

“I t-told you,” Celesca hiccuped. “I s-said you wouldn’t like what you saw.”

“And you were quite right,” said Hermione, smiling weakly. “I’ll listen to you next time. You’re such a bright girl.”

Celesca tried to smile back through her sadness. Hermione caught Luna’s eye and motioned for her to take Celesca. She didn’t think she could stay strong for her much longer. Luna scooped up her daughter and cooed softly to her, before standing and taking her from the room.

And Hermione broke down as soon as she was out of sight.

Enola flung her arms back around her, tears flowing from her too. Hermione couldn’t believe she was so upset, in so much pain. She’d never hurt like this before. It cut to the very centre of her and she cried out in astonishment at the depth of her agony. The visions smacked at the inside of her eyes, and she fought in vain to push them away. But they wouldn’t give.

How could Harry have endured so much? What sort of fucked up world would punish the one she loved so very, very much in so many terrible ways? A man so full of good, who had done so much for others. It was all sorts of wrong. She howled at the injustice, raged and swore vengeance against all those who had wronged him. She vowed she would hunt each and every one of them down, visit such primal revenge on them.

Her love would become the most terrifying weapon. Merlin pity those who had ranged themselves against her Harry, her lover, her soul. She would devastate them all.

She eased free from Enola and stood, only to pull the sheets aside on Harry’s bed and slip in beside him. She worked her hand under his shirt to feel his heartbeat, still there, still thudding strong against her splayed palm. She took a breath, drank in Harry’s scent and closed her eyes. She heard Enola stand and draw the curtains on them, before she passed into deep sleep.

* * *

It was late when Hermione woke. There were shadows flickering through the curtain and hushed, frantic voices drifted in from the corridor outside the Recuperation Room. Hermione looked at Harry. His eye was open, staring aimlessly into space. She sighed. At least he was still alive.

“Enough of this, Harry,” she said crossly. “Come back to me. I’m getting rather annoyed now. And I miss you.”

But Harry stayed as still as ever.

The raised voices were closer now. Hermione huffed and eased herself out of bed. Straightening out her creased ritual robe, she rounded the curtain and made her way out into the corridor. There, she halted in astonishment.

For Narcissa Malfoy was marching towards her, a determined look on her face, with Enola trotting behind her.

They met and, for a moment, simply sized each other up. A dozen different emotions passed between them, and Hermione felt involuntarily for her wand. Narcissa saw the movement and narrowed her eyes.

“Really? Attacking the Chief of the Order you wish to be inducted into?” said Narcissa smoothly. “Is that how our relationship begins?”

“You tell me,” said Hermione resolutely. “I killed your son. How high is revenge on your list?”

Narcissa sighed. “Ah. Let’s deal with this first, shall we? My son died a long time ago. You killed that perversion of a body Tom Riddle contorted him into. I hope only that Draco can find redemption in the next world.”

Hermione cocked an eyebrow doubtfully. Narcissa was still casting her gaze up and down, assessing Hermione. She didn’t like it. She’d always hated being on display, under such scrutiny. She shifted awkwardly.

“I have come only to see if I can be of aid to Harry,” said Narcissa. “For that, we should be on the same page.”

“Then lets base our relationship on that,” said Hermione. “For, as of now, I have zero idea how to help him.”

“Then, lead me to him,” said Narcissa. “Not for nothing am I Harry’s Chief Acolyte. Lets see if I can cover ground you may have been unable to.”

Hermione bowed Narcissa forwards then fell into stride alongside her, casting suspicious glances at the older woman until they reached Harry’s bedside.

“He’s been like this for days,” said Hermione. “I’m getting a little desperate now, to own the truth.”

Narcissa ran her hand over Harry’s still form. Hermione watched with deep curiosity. Narcissa hadn’t drawn her wand; instead, power rushed out from two rings on her outside fingers, which were joined to a dainty wrist circlet by way of a fine thread of silvery chain crossing the back of her hand. She frowned as she completed her tests.

“Harry isn’t in there…anywhere,” said Narcissa, finally.

“No, and we’ve looked as deep as we can go,” said Hermione. “I don’t understand. I can still feel him…it doesn’t make any sort of sense.”

Narcissa studied her intently. Hermione was back to feeling on display again. She puffed out a breath under the attention.

“Enola, you performed this procedure,” said Narcissa, snapping her head to her. “What went wrong? You’ve done this multiple times.”

Enola scuffed her foot and looked down meekly. “I don’t know. There was a lot of power swirling around in the ritual chamber. I could hardly hold Harry still. It was like he was being pulled away from me.”

“And he was in your mind, you say?” Narcissa queried, turning to Hermione, who nodded her confirmation. “But you felt that Harry was being pulled in the opposite direction to you, Enola?”

Enola nodded, sheepishly. Hermione smirked to herself. She’d never seen Ennie this shy or bashful. Narcissa seemed to terrify her.

“Interesting,” Narcissa went on. She turned back to Hermione. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Hermione asked cautiously.

“For this, I know you’ve had trouble with this sort of thing before.”

And suddenly Narcissa span and clasped her hand to Hermione’s forehead. Hermione yelped and tried to jump back, but she was held tightly in place. A wave of magic surged through her from her temples to her toes. It was horrible, invasive. It stung with a sharp burn all through her. She cried out against the pain.

Then it stopped abruptly as Narcissa released her. Hermione fumed into her eyes.

“What the actual fuck?” she demanded.

“I’ve found Harry,” said Narcissa simply. “He’s there…inside you. Well, this is fascinating.”

Hermione’s fury stilled instantly, and her eyes bulged in shock. “What?”

“Do you mean literally or figuratively?” asked Enola, mouth agape.

“Literally,” Narcissa confirmed, staring into Hermione’s face. She cocked her head and narrowed her eyes at her. “He’s there. Trapped inside. Your souls are joined. Or, at least, they could be. They have the same signature. I’ve never come across a pair of actual soulmates before. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I’d have never believed it. This is rather wondrous.”

Narcissa spoke her words as if in genuine surprise. Hermione blushed under her curious gaze.

“Harry’s…inside me?” she breathed. Enola winked wickedly at her. “Shut up, Ennie. I’m being serious. How is that possible?”

“All the theory would say it shouldn’t be,” said Narcissa. “One soul to one body, that’s the norm. But you two…your souls have the potential to be one. That clearly means that Harry’s spirit can happily and safely reside in your body…and yours in his, of course. I’ve never even heard of anything like this. Truly.”

Hermione smiled as the heat from her flush stung her ears. “So the soulmate thing? It’s real?”

“Of course, only extremely rare,” said Narcissa. “To have a soulmate is to have a perfect, complimentary other. If you and Harry are soulmates it’s entirely possible that you are the only pair in the world right now.”

“I’m pretty sure we are,” said Hermione, somewhat coyly. “I love Harry beyond anything in the world, and I know he feels the same for me. But I still feel there’s more to come. So, how can we use this to bring him out of me? Runes and ritual?”

“No, you have to go beyond runes for this,” said Narcissa. “Go to something even more powerful.”

Hermione gasped. “There’s something more powerful than runes? What is it?”

“”You have to step ahead of runes,” Narcissa went on. “…and into alchemy.”

“Alchemy?” Hermione queried. “There are other symbols in Harry’s ritual room, besides the runes…are they alchemical?”

“I would have to see them to be sure, but it’s more than likely,” said Narcissa. “Harry has a great fascination with alchemy. In fact, he probably has his own Cell here somewhere.”

“Cell?”

“An Alchemists’ Cell,” Narcissa explained. “A workshop of sorts. A combination of laboratory and meditative space. The study of alchemy is in one part physical and another more spiritual. Harry is questing to be a Master Alchemist. Come to think of it…”

Narcissa switched her curious look at Hermione to one more piercing, yet appraising at the same time. Hermione felt naked under it, she wished Narcissa would just stop. “What is it now?”

“My initial idea was to use an alchemical ritual to reach Harry’s soul inside you, but now…if you are soulmates…I think we could do something far more reaching. I could be wrong, but there may be more to you than I realise.”

“How so?”

“How much do you know about the alchemical process Mrs…er…Miss…what should I call you?” asked Narcissa.

“Hermione will do just fine for now,” said Hermione, huffing at the mention of her hated marital status. “But if we have to be more formal, I will only respond to ‘Miss Granger’. If you call me by my foul, married name I assure you that I’ll completely blank you, Chief Acolyte or not.”

Narcissa smiled at her. “I like your spunk, Miss Granger. I can see why Harry is so enamoured with you. Once you are inducted we can be more informal with one another. So, the alchemical process?”

“I know the basics, turning base metals to gold and creating the Philosophers’ Stone,” said Hermione. “And there’s the creation of all types of Elixirs in that…ooh, is that how Harry keeps healing these vicious wounds he gets? Alchemical Elixirs?”

“You cotton on very fast, don’t you?” said Narcissa, nodding approvingly. “Harry is very good at creating elixirs. He hasn’t quite made it to the Elixir of Life yet, but he’s proficient at producing some of the others for more earthly healing. Alchemy is a very difficult art…few wizards even get even close to its secrets.”

“Nicolas Flamel did,” said Hermione. “And Dumbledore did a lot of work with him.”

“Yes, but do you know why Flamel succeeded where Dumbledore fell short?” asked Narcissa shrewdly. “And why Harry may also be able to achieve this ridiculously difficult feat?”

Hermione thought hard. Flamel was a brilliant wizard, Dumbledore too. But she didn’t know enough about either to answer confidently. And she couldn’t fathom for the life of her how Harry was at all similar to them. So she simply shook her head.

“Flamel had a partner, an equal in the process,” Narcissa whispered. “Alchemy is fundamentally about the joining of opposites, it is a process of union. Perenelle Flamel was Nicolas’ perfect partner…they were soulmates. Dumbledore never had a partner to work with in the process. And Harry -“

“Has me,” Hermione breathed. Her heart was pounding hard again, speeding her blood all through her. “I’m Harry’s perfect other…two halves of one whole…my mind, his heart…”

“To make one soul,” Narcissa finished quietly, looking at Hermione in near-wonder. “You’ve met with Lily Potter…”

Hermione met the older woman’s gaze resolutely. New understanding and respect flared between them. Hermione just nodded.

“And did Lily…approve of you?” asked Narcissa gently.

“Yes, she gave me her blessing, on behalf on her and James,” said Hermione.

“Then you have been ordained as Harry’s White Queen…by Harry’s own alchemical mentors.”

Narcissa’s voice was bordering on the reverent.

“His White Queen…what does that mean?” Enola asked.

“The alchemical process is about joining the Red King – the hot, dry principle – with the White Queen – the cool, moist compliment,” Narcissa explained. “Harry is certainly a Red King, governed by his sulphuric passions; he is the heart aspect of the union, and marked by the sun.”

“How is Harry marked by the sun?” asked Hermione. “He doesn’t have much of a tan.”

Both Narcissa and Enola looked at Hermione with a sort of pity. The way one looks at a wayward child.

“Enola…draw me the Sowilo rune,” Narcissa ordered. “The rune of the Sun.”

Smirking, Enola drew her whitewood wand. She slashed it three times through the air and eased a bit of her magic into it. It glowed fiercely in reds and oranges. She stepped back as Hermione gasped aloud.

It was shaped like a bolt of lightening.

“Harry’s scar,” Hermione breathed. “His other one, I mean.”

“Marked by the sun,” said Narcissa. “Now you, Miss Granger…his soulmate, his complimentary other. I think we can agree that you are cool, logical, the mind to Harry’s heart. But the alchemical link…Harry is Philosophical Sulphur; to be his White Queen you must be marked as Philosophical Mercury, the partner substance to sulphur. What is your astrological sign?”

“I’m a Virgo,” said Hermione.

Narcissa clapped her hands in elation. “Virgo…ruled by the planet Mercury. And your name…Hermione…female form of Hermes, I’m guessing. Which means Mercury. Actually…Hermione Granger…what’s the chemical symbol for Mercury?”

“Hg. I used to have a Periodical Table poster on my bedroom wall,” said Hermione. Her eyes popped open in wonder. “Oohh…my initials!”

“Oh, Min!” Enola cried. “How awesome is this?”

“Harry has been looking for you his whole life,” said Narcissa. “Lily always thought so. She knew he was a Red King. The Sowilo marker…he’s a Leo, ruled by the sun…Leo is a lion -“

“Harry’s Animagus form is a lion!” Hermione shrieked excitedly. “And he was in Gryffindor. A lion was the symbol of our house!”

“And its colours were red and gold,” Narcissa added. “Harry, a Red King, the very heir of Gryffindor, seeking to become spiritually gold. You know, alchemical adepts are often known as seekers. Harry is a very talented Quidditch player, in a very interesting position, is he not? Coincidence? I don’t think so.”

Hermione had no idea what to say to this torrent of information. She shook her head in wonder. “But what about me? Where do I fit in?”

Narcissa considered her a moment. “The mercury principle seeks, above all else, to join with the sulphur principle. Tell me, how did you and Harry meet?”

Hermione thought back. It seemed a lifetime ago. She smiled at the memory as it reached the surface of her mind. “On the train to Hogwarts. Neville Longbottom had lost his toad. I was trying to help him find it. We checked in Harry’s compartment and that’s how we met.”

“Is that a lie?” asked Narcissa.

“Why would I lie about that?” asked Hermione, affronted.

“Forgive me, Miss Granger,” said Narcissa, softly. “It’s just that…well, the toad is a symbolic representation of the base matter for the alchemical Work. Some treaties are even written from the perspective of a toad. You were searching for that base matter to join with. You found it in Harry. You may have been searching for an actual toad, but in reality, though you didn’t know it, you were actually looking for him.”

Hermione felt her world stop spinning a moment. It gave her dizzying mind a chance to catch up. Narcissa was looking at her in such a way that she wildly expected her to offer her a prayer. Her words rang and swam and hit home with such truth. It was like she’d known it all her life, but the revelation now was simply the most wonderfully incredible thing she’d ever heard. Hermione thought she might explode with the euphoria of it.

“Harry’s Patronus is a stag, I believe,” Narcissa went on. “A homage not only to his father’s spirit, but also as a representation of his part in the alchemical principle. In alchemy, the stag has, as its mate, the unicorn.”

Hermione’s face dropped. “But my Patronus is an otter.”

“But you have been blessed by Lily Potter,” said Narcissa, grinning at Hermione’s disappointment. “And can you guess what her Patronus was? In any case, a Patronus can change.”

“But Min” said Enola, grinning wildly. “Your Patronus is an otter…that’s not too far away from a certain surname I know you covet.”

“Oh…” said Hermione, blinking in surprise. It was a nice thought, but still… she had to know. She drew her wand. “Expecto Patronum!

Hermione fell to the floor as soon as the horn materialised from the end of her wand. She was so overwhelmed by a wave of such sheer joy that her knees buckled beneath her. The silvery unicorn gambolled around her a while, before nuzzling gently at her bushy crown. She reached up to pet it a moment, before it dissipated away. She was sorely tempted to re-cast the spell.

“Well, that clears that up,” said Enola cheerfully. “Congratulations, Min, you are officially the luckiest witch on the planet!”

Hermione grinned back at her. “I already knew that. I’m going to marry Harry Potter for Merlin’s sake! What more do I need?”

Enola smiled back, but Narcissa turned to her with a serious look. “You need to make it official. You need to join your soul with Harry’s, then he can easily be pulled out of you and back into his own body.”

“But I don’t know how I can do that,” said Hermione, before adding bitterly. “I’m still married to that fucking Weasley, aren’t I?”

“A Marriage Bond it a standard rite, and all a bunch of legalities,” said Narcissa. “We’re talking about the union of two souls here. It goes way deeper, far beyond any of that.”

“Then we can do it?” asked Hermione, hopefully. “Please tell me we can.”

“We can,” Narcissa confirmed. Hermione’s heart took flight and Enola actually whooped in triumph. “By performing an Alchemical Wedding we can join you and Harry on a spiritual level, unifying both the alchemical principles you represent. Do you think Harry would object? It will cause a fundamental change in him.”

“How so?” asked Hermione, cautiously.

“Alchemists who stick only to the earthly practices chase the creation of gold, the Elixir and Life and the Philosophers Stone,” said Narcissa. “Harry’s is a spiritual path and his full union with you will represent the completion of his opus. He would, in a metaphysical sense, become a Philosophers Stone. And the power he could wield with it – that you both could – well, it would change the world. It might not be the easiest burden to carry.”

“Harry and I will carry it together,” said Hermione. “I speak on behalf of my…soulmate. I speak for us both. How long will it take to set up the ritual?”

“We have to find Harry’s alchemical space,” said Narcissa. “We can only conduct it there. But, due to the secret nature of alchemy, Harry has probably hidden it from everyone. Even you.”

Hermione smiled. “Perhaps he has. But I have a little friend who can see through even Harry’s cleverest ruses.”

“You’re talking about the girl, the Seer…my grand-daughter.”

Hermione blinked in shock. She hadn’t thought, stupidly hadn’t made the connection from Draco to Narcissa. She took a breath. “Yes. Her name is Celesca. I’m sure she can find this secret Cell of Harry’s.”

“Then take me to her.”

“Not before I speak to her mother,” said Hermione. “If Luna is happy for you to see her, then I’ll allow it. If not, I’ll see her alone.”

“That girl is my grand-daughter,” said Narcissa. “She represents the future of the Malfoy line. This current state of being is only temporary. The Ancient and Noble Houses will be restored. And this girl will stand to inherit my title of Lady Malfoy.”

“That may all be true,” said Hermione firmly. “But she is also the product of your son raping Luna Lovegood. I can’t, and I wont, ignore that. Luna is a good friend of mine. Besides…this is my house…and what I say goes.”

Narcissa looked shrewdly at Hermione. “Very well, my Lady. I make a formal request to see my grand-daughter. Will you please petition her mother on my behalf?”

“I shall,” said Hermione. “But if she refuses, I will honour her wishes. In the meantime, what else can I do to prepare for this ritual?”

“Well,” said Narcissa with a little smile. “You might want to pick out a nice dress…you are getting married after all.”

Hermione smiled back and hurriedly left the room. She wanted to squeal and lose happy control, and it wasn’t the sort of thing a Queen did in public.

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