Chapter 11 – Internal Affairs
The silence in the air of Recuperation Room, on the palace’s second floor, was palpably thick. It sat heavy and unmoving, like the stifling, arid dryness of a breezeless day in the middle of a heatwave. Hermione felt it settle on her like a suffocating weight. She watched Arianwen help Enola to sit up in bed as she stirred, fluffing her daughter’s pillows and checking her over with a swift series of diagnostic spells. Enola frowned and cast an anxious look around, batting away her mother’s attention. She looked first at Hermione, and then at Neville who, for probably the first time in hours, had torn his concerned attention away from her.
For Neville was looking down gravely into the next bed along, at Harry’s motionless form, at his blank, staring eye. His own expression was drawn, pale. Hermione could barely stand to look at it. She was reminded forcibly of that first evening, that wonderful first evening when Harry had come back to her, when what struck her the most wasn’t his hideous scar, or even his throbbing rage, that she would soon become intimately familiar with. It was his eye, turned to chilled steel and lacking all the vibrancy she knew and loved. It had lost hope.
Just as Neville’s eyes betrayed now.
Hermione wanted to fume at him, to vent and rage herself. But she could hardly offer an alternative. For the procedure to create a new plane in Harry’s mind had gone horribly wrong. Enola had struggled to drill deep enough into it, had held onto Harry’s essence with only the barest of her fingertips once she did…and then lost her grip at the vital moment. The plane was just about opened, Enola used the last of her energy to force the Weasley link into it, but then passed out with exhaustion.
And Harry Potter was lost…somewhere in the recesses of his fractured psyche.
Arianwen had taken charge of Harry’s treatment, but she could do little to help. Enola’s speciality was mind magic, and she was uniquely intimate with Harry’s mindscape. She was the only one who could help him. But she had spent twenty-four hours in deep sedation herself, recovering her burnt out energy. Neville had barely spared a glance from her sleeping form the entire time. He looked exhausted now, but was keeping a determined vigil, lest his wife try to dive right back in to Harry’s aid.
For Enola was restlessly eager to atone for what had gone wrong. She sat up in her bed, adjacent to Harry’s own, her arms curled around her hitched-up legs, just staring at Harry’s expressionless face. He might as well have been a deformed sort of mannequin. There was nothing – not a twitch, not a change of colour in his skin, nothing to indicate life at all, beyond the steady puff of breath from his smashed nose.
And even this stuttered. Each time it did, Enola and Hermione were almost in a silent race to react first. Hermione won every time, but it was all Neville could do to keep Enola from trying to gain a head-start on the next pause in Harry’s breathing. She was as fully focused as her fatigue would allow, and Neville was deeply concerned for her.
“You need to eat something, to get your strength back up.” Neville coaxed.
“I’m not hungry,” Enola replied, stubbornly.
“A little tea, then?”
“No, thank you. Where’s my wand?”
“I’ve given it to Alison. She’s practising Summoning Charms with it.”
“You’ve what?” Enola shrieked. “Neville…you haven’t -“
“Of course I haven’t,” Neville huffed back. “How irresponsible a parent do you take me for?”
“Then give me my wand.”
“No. It will try to draw energy from you. And you don’t have any to spare right now.”
“No,” said Neville firmly. “I know what you’ll try and do. I can read you like a book, dear.”
Enola frowned at Neville. “I can’t just leave Harry in there…its my fault.”
“You did your best,” said Neville, placatingly. “It was always a risk. Harry should have known better. Myfanwy…she has the information extracted from Percy. We should focus on that now. See if she learned anything useful.”
Hermione offered a frown of her own in response. “Why are you sounding like Harry wont come back?”
Neville swallowed hard and looked down at Harry’s prostrate form. “Min…I know how difficult this will be to hear but…we might have to accept it…”
Neville’s words fell away. He seemed unable to put the sentence together. The pain flowing through the lines of his face told its own story. Hermione felt her heart crunch into her sternum. Neville was actually serious…he meant this. He thought Harry was…
Hermione couldn’t form the thought, She wouldn’t. “Neville…why are saying this? Harry will be fine. He always comes back. Always.”
Neville shook his head. “Arianwen…she cant help Harry because…because she cant find him in there. She thinks there isn’t enough left of him to bring back.”
Hermione’s breath hooked in her lungs and she bit down on her lip. She looked to Enola, hoping for some sort of counter-argument. But Enola was just as grave as Neville. It stirred an unreasonable anger in Hermione’s chest.
“Well you must have some idea,” she cried. “You did this to him. Its your area of expertise. There must be something you can think of.”
“Hermione, that isn’t fair,” said Neville, rising to Enola’s defence. “Harry’s recklessness forced this on Enola.”
“His recklessness!” Hermione shot, her ire rising rapidly. “I think you mean selflessness, Neville. Harry risked himself to help me, to free me from Ron’s hold. And I know you aren’t stupid enough to say this is my fault, either.”
“Of course he wouldn’t say that,” said Enola, quickly cutting across, as Neville seemed on the verge of being slightly reckless himself. Enola glowered at him until his irate look fell away. “Would you, honey?”
“No…no of course I wouldn’t,” said Neville, sincerely, after pouting for a few seconds. “I’m sorry. I’m just fucking angry. That’s not just Harry Potter laying there. That’s my brother I’m losing. There’s blame to be handed out, for sure, but it isn’t fair to place it all at the door of my wife.”
“Maybe not,” Hermione agreed, trying to slow her own collision of emotions. “But she’s the best hope he has.”
“There may not be any hope,” said Neville gently. “We have to face that.”
“So, what, we just abandon him?” said Hermione incredulously. Her pulse was speeding in her neck. “I’m not going to do that, Neville. I cant.”
“Harry would expect you to,” said Neville evenly. “He’d want you to take up the mantle he’s passed on to you.”
“He hasn’t passed on any mantle,” said Hermione. “What are you talking about?”
“Harry introduced you just enough to our ways to make you understand how they work,” said Neville. “He was thrilled by how you’d adapted to it, even from your brief exposure. He formed a new idea to make you part of our final plan. He’d count on you to see it through. He believed in you, he knew you had immense potential. You have to prove his faith was justified now.”
“Stop talking about him in the past tense!” cried Hermione, standing and glaring fiercely at Neville. Angry tears stung her eyelids.
“Hermione! He’s gone!” said Neville firmly, facing down her passions. “And we have a war to fight in his name. He’s given you just enough to take his place…the rest you can learn in time. He stirred your power as an insurance policy as much as anything. In case something like this happened. It would have been easier with the both of you, but our original plan involved just Harry and me. We can still do this…just with you in Harry’s place.”
“No!” yelled Hermione, flopping back into her seat as the dam behind her eyes shattered.
Neville leant down and placed a soft hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “I know its difficult to accept…I cant even imagine how you will. But Harry is a…a casualty of war. But the fight goes on. If we don’t win it, we’ve lost him for nothing.”
Hermione sobbed uncontrollably. Neville squeezed her shoulder and said nothing. Hermione permitted the contact for just a minute, then she broke free of him. She stood up and rounded on him.
“No, no I wont do this,” said Hermione stoutly. “You want to give up on him, fine. But I wont. He wouldn’t give up on us in any situation.”
“But there’s nothing we can do. We’ve tried…”
“You’ve not tried anything!” Hermione shrieked. “And in any case, this is Harry…conventional rules don’t apply. Fuck you, Neville. You just sit by Enola and whine like a little bitch. I’m going to find a way to bring Harry back.”
“Hermione, its a waste of time,” said Neville, his ire rising with a flush to his cheeks. “We need to go to Myfanwy. We cant expect Riddle to be idle. Revenge for Hengest will be high on his agenda. And he’ll soon guess what has happened to Percy. We need to know what he’s planning.”
“Then you do that,” said Hermione. “If I’m in charge now, that’s my first order. Go and find out what that filth Weasley had to say for himself. If there’s anything to act on, gather everyone together and we’ll discuss it.”
“And what will you be doing?”
“Finally exploring this library Harry built for me,” said Hermione, turning on her heel and striding purposefully away. She didn’t need to explain further and Neville nodded his head at that. For Hermione and a library was always functionally equivalent to the term solution.
“Oh for Merlin’s Balls, fucking sake!”
It was fair to say that Hermione’s frustrations were finally starting to get the better of her. She doubted that any library anywhere would tolerate such language, but, as this one belonged to her, she decided she didn’t really care. Besides, her search wasn’t going well and she couldn’t get used to this conundrum. Books were always the answer. She’d practically lived her life by that mantra.
But here they were, failing in front of her very eyes. Just when Hermione needed them the most.
“Useless fucking waste of wood pulp!” she shrieked, tossing another hapless tome across the room. Hermione immediately felt guilty and hurried over to retrieve it. Harry had obviously spent a great deal of time and effort – not to mention a good proportion of his fortune – assembling this vast collection of books just for Hermione’s pleasure. It would be quite the show of ingratitude for her to break half of them through her own frustrated anger.
But there was nothing here that had been even remotely helpful so far. And Hermione had been scouring the vast shelves for a good ten hours by now. The assorted collection of coffee cups was testament to that. Rhian, who had taken over Hermione’s personal care in Sally’s absence, was growing concerned.
“Does Mistress need a glass of wine? To calm her nerves.”
“No, but another coffee might be an idea,” Hermione replied, pulling at her hair in her angst.
“No, no mores coffee for Mistress Hermione,” said Rhian, seriously. “Too much coffee now…Mistress be buzzing like bee.”
“But I need the energy,” Hermione protested. “Harry needs me to have the energy. So, more coffee, please.”
“Nope,” said Rhian stoutly. “Is for my Lady’s own good. Yous need rest. Can’t help Master Harry while fighting yous own fatigue.”
Hermione knew Rhian was right, but she was in no humour to give in just yet.
“Rhian…do you think this is hopeless? Nev and Enola do.”
“Lord Longbottom be practical sort, his Lady powerful at mind magic,” said Rhian. “To them, Master Harry may be lost. But Rhian knows Lady Hermione…yous cant give up on the love of yous life.”
“But what do you think? You have powerful magic of your own. Is Harry truly gone?”
Rhian flopped her head sadly. “Master Harry be gone. Rhian not sense him anymore. Can he come back? Rhian not be knowing this, Mistress. I’s not know much about it or how it works. Elves never use magic like that. Only witches and wizards be silly enough to mess with breaking up minds and souls.”
Hermione felt her heart sink to the floor. She had hoped for some support from the elf, but to hear her speak with such sincerity…it sliced right to her core. For the first time, Hermione allowed a grain of doubt into her mind. She trembled all over as it took seed, spreading quickly to all parts of her. She felt something break inside and she flung her hand to her chest, to massage the ache which had stabbed at her there.
“Actually, Rhian, I think I’ll take you up on the wine. Might as well bring a bottle. Or three.”
“Very good, Mistress,” said Rhian, and she promptly popped away.
A few moments later and three bottles of fine rioja were next to Hermione on the table. She filled, and promptly drained, the first glass, before pouring the next a little more slowly, with shaking hands. Her mind wouldn’t stay still. She refused to accept the truth that was now creeping perilously close to her conscious thoughts. She couldn’t. It was too horrific to contemplate, to even begin to process the big question of what if. What would she do? How could she possibly start to think about what happens next.
She shuddered simply allowing the words to cross her mind. By the time she reached the bottom of the first bottle, Hermione was in the midst of a full-blown panic attack. Her heart was thudding painfully in her chest, and so fierce was the pulse-point in her neck she was worried it would rupture and spill out all over her skin. And she was restless. She would stand, pace around aimlessly, only to sit back down and rock back and forth, then stand again a minute later and repeat the process.
Wild, unchained thoughts fought for dominance in Hermione’s mind. The most hideous of these was how long would they wait…before asking her to make the next decision. If Harry’s mind was gone, his very soul with it, how long would they leave his body in that lifeless state? They’d argue it wasn’t fair on him…that it would be a mercy…that it was what he’d want…
And Hermione would be looked towards, to make that choice.
She cried out in anguish at it. The vision played over in front of her eyes, like a terrible fate she couldn’t escape. She could see herself, inconsolable tears running down her cheeks, begging Harry for forgiveness.
“I’m so sorry, Harry!” she howled. She felt as if she were signing his death certificate.
“He’s not gone.”
A voice. Tiny, barely a whisper. Hermione looked around. Had she really heard that, or was it the wine talking? The second bottle had only dregs to show for Hermione’s mindless bout of misery.
“He’s not gone.”
Hermione put her glass down and scoured the room. The light was dimming now, the library dull and gloomy in the twilight of the evening. She should have raised the lights. As she thought this, the room slowly lit up, as though the house was responding to her command. Or could Harry hear her, and was giving her what she needed. That was interesting. It stilled Hermione’s panic a moment, only to stir it again as she considered the implications. Maybe Harry was some sort of ghost, haunting her and only able to interact with her in this basic sort of way.
“Mister Harry isn’t gone. You shouldn’t give up.”
Hermione spun and started in shock. A little girl was stood in the corner of the room, partially hidden behind one of the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, peeking out shyly. Hermione was certain she’d checked there. She took a breath to steady herself. Seriously, she was bordering on bringing on a heart attack the way she was going.
“Hello,” she said gently. “I know you. You’re Luna’s daughter, aren’t you?”
Little Celesca Lovegood stepped fully into the light. Her blonde hair had been arranged into a neat little bob just above her shoulders, and she looked far healthier than when Hermione had last seen her. But, she reasoned fairly, being minutes away from becoming a ritual sacrifice was bound to leaving you looking a little fraught.
“Yes. My name’s Celesca.”
“Its nice to meet you, Celesca,” said Hermione. “That’s a pretty name.”
“I think so,” said Celesca. “My Mummy made it up. And you’re Mistress Potter.” Her voice was almost ethereal, as though every word was carrying a revelation. “Mister Harry’s Lady.”
Hermione blushed. “I’m not Mistress Potter. Though one day, I hope to be.”
“But you are his Lady.”
“Yes. That much is definitely true.”
“Then its the same thing,” said Celesca. She came forward and looked Hermione all over. Hermione felt like she was being weighed up by this child. It was a little unsettling. “Mister Harry likes you so much, do you know? I’ve never felt someone liking a person as strongly as he likes you. But you like him nearly as much I think.”
“Nearly?” Hermione quirked.
“Nearly.” Celesca repeated with a jarring finality. “So you ought not to give up on him.”
“I’m trying not to,” said Hermione wearily. “But everyone else seems to think he’s lost and I don’t know what to do.”
“Oh, he’s lost alright,” said Celesca. “But that just means he can’t find his way back. Doesn’t mean he’s gone.”
“You say that with remarkable confidence,” said Hermione cautiously. That seed of doubt in her mind halted its growth spurt a moment.
“With certainty, Lady Potter,” said Celesca.
“You can call me Hermione.”
“My mum says you’re going to be a Queen one day, a real one,” said Celesca, her eyes sparkling with girlish excitement. “So that means I have to address you properly. My mum always said manners are important.”
“And she’s quite right,” said Hermione. “But I’m not a Queen yet. And, if Harry doesn’t come back, I never will be. So you can call me by my name if you like.”
“Mister Harry will come back,” said Celesca. “But only you can help him.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’ve seen his mind, Miss Hermione,” said Celesca, finally sitting herself. “He has lots of layers, all dark and horrid. They should never have done that to him, Miss. Nobody should have that inside them.”
“You’ve seen Harry’s mind?” asked Hermione in a whisper. “How?”
“Its my magic,” said Celesca. “I feel energies everywhere. People have lots of energies around them. I can grab hold of the ones from the mind and move along them, like walking down a corridor. Then I see what they think, or what they are dreaming. But, with Mister Harry…I’ve never seen that before. He has lots and lots of places in his mind. Like a big building with lots of floors. I could go into each one for as long as I liked. But I didn’t like to stay too long…there are some frightening things in some of them, Miss. They’d scare you to death, I’d bet.”
“So, is Harry on one of these…floors?” asked Hermione, frightfully anxious of the contours of Harry’s mind as Celesca had described them.
“He must be, because the other floors are still the same,” said Celesca, cocking her head upwards, in the direction Hermione knew the Recuperation Room was. It was as if Celesca was interfacing with Harry’s mind. Somehow, Hermione was certain of that. “If he was gone, they’d be gone with him. But they’re not. But I can’t get onto the deeper floors. The pretty lady – the one with the baby – she went too deep. She’s gone beyond his mind. Maybe his heart, too. Which is why you are the only one who can help him now.”
“Me? What can I do?” asked Hermione. “I don’t have the first clue about this. Enola knows all about mind magic…and these books are no help.”
“The pretty lady cant help, this is beyond her now,” said Celesca. “And the books are no good; you might as well throw them all away. The only person who can do anything is you. But you have to do something you don’t want to.”
“Believe in yourself,” said Celesca simply. “To turn nearly into the the same. You are holding back from Mister Harry in a deep part of you. It has to be let go. Then your connection to him will be complete and you can find him. Nobody else can.”
“But I don’t know how.”
Celesca stood and walked to stand in front of Hermione. She placed her little hand against Hermione’s chest. “There is a cord of energy here. Its silvery in colour. It goes so deep into you that I never knew there were such places inside. I’ve tried to follow it, but at some point I get blocked off. I’ve never seen it before…except on Mister Harry.”
Hermione shifted in her seat. “Harry has one of these…energy cords?” Celesca nodded. “What are they? Some sort of natural magic?”
“This is more than magic, Miss,” said Celesca. She rolled her eyes as if examining a piece of project work. “They are charged with such force…I think they go right into a person…right into their spirit. I hope I can have one someday. They are the most pretty things. And they vibrate with the same sort of wobble, yours and Mister Harry’s. I think they can join together. But you’re stopping it.”
“I don’t want to stop it!” Hermione protested vehemently. “I want to join with Harry in every way possible.”
Celesca shook her head. “You want to, but you aren’t. I don’t know why. I followed Mister Harry’s side easy enough. It leads right into the very middle of him…and its such a pretty place, Miss. Where the others are so harsh, that place is lovely. But with you…you’re holding back. You need to let it go, whatever it is. Then you can rescue Mister Harry from wherever he’s gotten lost to.”
Hermione looked at Celesca and considered her words. She wanted to dismiss them as nonsense. The ramblings of a little girl who didn’t know what she was talking about. Hermione loved Harry so powerfully it robbed her of her senses half the time. How could there be any possible way she could love even more deeply? But even as she said it, she felt a twinge in her heart. There was something there. It hit her like a bludgeon.
But it was nothing to do with Harry. This was all about her. How, she couldn’t have said, but it seemed the most fitting explanation. She was holding something back. In all her bluster about Harry drawing the line on physical intimacy, she hadn’t considered that maybe there was more to it. That maybe Harry knew something about her that she didn’t, and was simply waiting for her to come up to speed.
It made a skewed sort of sense now she thought about it. Harry had done nothing but look out for her since the day he’d roared to her rescue, both in deeds seen and unseen. It followed that he would look after her in this, too. He had been to the fringe of the afterlife, had his mother point out to him that he was in love, then accepted it completely when he returned to the earthly world. He’d spent years then learning about himself through ritual and study, becoming comfortable with all sorts of aspects to his person.
It could never be said that Harry was nothing if not self-assured.
But Hermione knew she couldn’t claim the same. She had been beaten into physical and emotional submission by Ron. And Harry had bravely ripped the effects of both from her without a single thought for himself. Hermione’s heart stirred at the thought, that he loved her that much. It was the sweetest thing. But had he done it to lift the veil on what she was missing? Risk his own death to finally get what he had come back to life for?
Hermione knew she had to find out. And she had an idea just how to do it.
“I’m not sure about this,” said Neville, placing a Resonance Stone at the centre of the ritual chamber.
“I don’t care, we’re doing it,” said Enola, evenly spacing moonstone crystals in a circle around Neville.
“Look, I know you feel guilty, but Harry wouldn’t approve of this,” said Neville. “This ritual space…its his personal sanctuary. He’s worked hard to harness the power in here. I don’t know that he’d be thrilled to have it…well…abused like this.”
“I disagree,” said Enola. “It isn’t abusing it. Min told me that Harry intends to banish the spirit of Tom Riddle from every plane of existence using this room one day. He might use a ritual like this to do it. And if Luna has been advising her on how to construct this…what did she call it?”
“Necro-Portal,” Neville inserted for her.
“Whatever it is…then maybe that’s what Harry is going to use,” said Enola. “See this as a practice run. Harry will be so pleased if we can make this work.”
Neville looked doubtfully at his wife. “I admire your avoidance.”
“Excuse me, but you should admire everything about me!”
“I do, but you’re pushing this a bit,” said Neville. “Harry’s lost. We have to accept it.”
Enola put down her box of crystals and rounded on him. “Why are you so keen to let Harry go? You haven’t shown any sort of grievance over this. He’s your brother for Merlin’s sake.”
“I know that! Don’t you think I fucking know that?” Neville yelled, his anger flaring so much the runes lit at his feet to dissipate his rage. Enola ground her jaw but faced off to him. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap.” He stepped close to Enola and took her hands, resting his head on her shoulder. His voice was gossamer fragile when he spoke. “This is tearing me up, okay? You want me to admit it? Just seeing him there…its like he’s dead already. I cant feel a damn thing from him and its killing me just being in that bloody room. And I’m so angry at him for doing it.”
“You’d have done it for me,” Enola whispered back, her hand snaking up and cupping the back of his head.
Neville breathed a deep sigh. “You know I bloody would have. And quicker, too. That’s what makes me angry. I cant even be properly angry, ’cause I’d have done exactly the same. Everything just seemed to be on the up…then this. I’m royally pissed off.”
“Think about what I’m going through!” said Enola. “It’s my fault he was lost in the first place. I just couldn’t hold his spirit…it was like he was being tugged away from me.”
“He shouldn’t have put you in that position,” said Neville, drawing back and looking firmly at his wife. “I couldn’t say it in front of Hermione. I thought she was a tick away from hexing me again as it was.”
“I think you’re right,” said Enola. “Her magic was actually sparkling on her skin. I’ve only ever seen that happen to Harry. She’s stupidly powerful, Nev. If anyone can make this work, besides Harry, then its her.”
“I know that,” said Neville huffing. “But what exactly is she planning to do? If Luna’s involved, I’m wary.”
“Min didn’t tell me much,” said Enola, going back to her crystal placing. “All she said was that there is some way she can connect to Harry, but she needs someone to break down a last barrier for her. I don’t know what that means.”
Neville scratched his chin. “She needs someone to break down a barrier…and we are building a portal to the world of the dead…that sounds scarily like Necromancy to me.”
“Well we aren’t killing anyone,” said Enola, fairly. “What was it you said Luna was working on last, at the Department of Mysteries? That was to do with the afterlife, wasn’t it?”
“She called it ghost writing,” said Neville, nodding. “Trying to commune with the dead somehow. She never said it actually worked.”
“Why was she doing that?”
“Harry is mindful that Tom Riddle has been killed before,” said Neville. “His Horcruxes keep his spirit anchored here. We wanted to make sure that, when the final battle came, we destroyed his body and spirit. Harry could easily kill Riddle in a duel, but his spirit cant be allowed to escape. So we wanted a route to the other side, where we might find help. Others who could drag him through or trap him once he got there. There’s only one place we know where such a doorway exists.”
“The Veil, at the Ministry,” said Hermione, who had just opened the door and entered. She marched purposefully across to them. “The only place where there’s a possibility of reaching the other side…or of the other side reaching us.”
“Is that what you’re going to try and do…reach the other side?” asked Neville as Hermione came to a halt in front of him
“Of a fashion,” said Hermione. “Harry’s not lost entirely. I can reach him…I just don’t know how. I’m hoping to find someone who can tell me what I need to do.”
“Who?” asked Enola.
“The person who knows most about Harry’s internal workings,” said Hermione, somewhat cryptically. “The stone at the centre – it is made from iolite, yes? Luna said that’s very important.”
“Yeah, my mum said that too,” said Enola. “It channels dreams and journeys. Is that what you’re going to do, Min? Go on a journey into Harry’s mind?”
“Eventually,” Hermione replied. She began unfolding the ritual robe Harry had given to her. “But first, I need to go into his heart. That’s where the answer is.”
“Lily…you’re going to see Harry’s mum.”
Hermione cocked her head at Enola. “Good guess. How did you know?”
“Easy. She’s the only person in Harry’s heart besides you. And you’re hardly likely to be going to see yourself, are you?”
“Harry’s mum?” Neville queried. “But why?”
Hermione paused and looked sheepishly at Neville and Enola. “Well, I was thinking…me and Harry…well, it sometimes feels bigger than us both. Like fate, or destiny, or something like that. Like it was just meant to be, no matter what. When we’re together, I feel a whole new sort of magic, a different type of energy flowing between us. Its hard to explain…but I think there’s something between Harry and I that goes beyond anything that most couples have, even ones so deeply in love, like you two.”
“What…like you’re soulmates, or something like that?” asked Enola, quietly.
“Or something like that.” Hermione repeated blushing madly. “I don’t even know if there is such a thing, but if there is, me and Harry are definitely it. I couldn’t say how I’m so sure, I just am. Saying I’m in love just isn’t strong enough. It goes much deeper than that, to an emotion that has no name. But there’s something on my end stopping us being together in that way. So I have to ask Lily how she opened Harry up to me…then see if she can help me do the same. I think there’s a power there we can harness together. It could be beautiful, it could be terrible…it could be the answer Harry’s been waiting for. So I have to find it.”
“And you don’t think this is at all dangerous? Communing with the dead?” asked Neville. He held up his hands when both Hermione and Enola frowned at him. “What? Someone has to ask the difficult questions around here. I’m not doubting anything you’ve said about you and Harry…but that doesn’t make this any less grey. Its flirting with Necromancy and you know it.”
“Its a meditation ritual,” said Hermione. “More like astral travelling. I’m going to try and tap into Harry’s energies in here, make contact with all those looking over him. I’m hoping Lily will come to me.”
“And if she doesn’t?”
“I’ll threaten not to let her see her grandchildren,” said Hermione, her eyes twinkling with mischief. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I can be a stubborn little witch when I want to be.”
“We’ve noticed,” Neville and Enola chorused. All three laughed together.
“Well, the stones are all placed as you wanted,” said Enola. “Is there anything more we can do?”
“No, this is perfect, thank you,” said Hermione. “Now, if you don’t mind, I have to strip down into this robe.”
“No need to be modest, Min,” Enola quirked. “Your perky tits speak for themselves. Besides, I’ll see you in the buff during your Acolyte Induction anyway.”
“And you wont be the only one,” said Hermione, her cheeks sparkling again.
Enola squealed. “Oh Min!…Will that be the night?”
Hermione nodded. “Harry’s designed a Bedding Ritual just for it.”
“Oh sweet Merlin,” said Neville. “Remember the one for our wedding, hun? Shook the fucking floor, it did!”
“I’ll never forget that, sweetie,” Enola swooned. “Perhaps we should re-enact it the same night?”
Neville looked lovingly down at his wife, turning her hopeful stare into one so wanton Hermione felt the arousal across the room. “Yeah…like a vow renewal. I’ll have Harry set up the Rite Space in our bedroom…maybe a ward as well. You know what happened last time.”
Enola smirked. “Those poor elves.” She sidled up to Hermione. “You’d better find Harry, Min…its been a long time since I’ve been on a promise.”
Hermione laughed. “Oh, I will find him. Don’t you worry. Now, some privacy please. I have to go and see my future mother-in-law.
He wasn’t sure if it was mist, or clouds, or if it was just some sort of weird, white space. It was sort of like Kings Cross in the afterlife. Tangible, able to create form if it wanted to. Only it didn’t. It wanted to stay vague and dense and unyielding. And it seemed to go everywhere. Or maybe it went nowhere. It was hard to tell.
Either way, Harry was starting to get pretty pissed off with it.
He had literally zero idea where he was. Or how long he’d been here. He remembered falling from a great height, but then he just stopped. It wasn’t a landing as such, more like getting stuck on the fall. Harry spent a good while simply looking around at this unending whiteness, before he realised he could move. So he tried, first at walking pace, before moving to a brisk jog, then upgrading to a full sprint when he panicked slightly at not getting anywhere. It didn’t help. He tried lots of different directions, all with the same result.
He might as well have been jogging on the spot for all the difference his efforts made.
What the hell was this place? Harry could remember the ritual, it hadn’t gone to plan. Enola had been struggling to hold onto him, something was pulling him the other way. It was like a sinew of the Weasley’s connection to Hermione, turning him into a tether to Hermione’s mind. He’d tried to kick away from it, but she wanted him to stay so much. Harry gasped.
He’d let go…the connection had gone to his mind with Enola’s last surge of power, but he wasn’t in the plane she’d opened up…that must mean he was still…that he was…
“Stuck…in Hermione’s mind? That shouldn’t be possible,” Harry said aloud. “Two souls can’t inhabit one body.”
But as soon as he spoke the words he knew they were true. The whiteness shifted in its sensation. It wasn’t dense and smothering anymore, but pure and comforting. He was in Hermione’s mind! And it was much nicer than his own, that was for sure. It was so clean. So ordered. Harry huffed with jealousy at it. She would have to lend him the space, he could meditate in utter peace here. It would be like a little holiday.
If he could ever get out. How the fuck was he supposed to do that? He panicked a little again. In theory, he was stuck here forever. In his own mind, the way he and Ennie had worked it, they had created a conduit for her. One that would open to her magic, so that if Harry was badly hurt and retreated into his mindscape, Enola could open her link to him and pull him out.
But he didn’t have that luxury here. This was Hermione’s mind, pure and unaltered. There would be no tether to the outside world, or any other person. Harry was actually glad of that. He was ridiculously possessive of Hermione now and didn’t like the idea of sharing her with anyone. But he still couldn’t inhabit her mind forever. He had to find a way out. This was going to take some thinking about. Harry sat down, drumming his fingers on his chin and humming as he considered the problem.
Was Hermione’s mind really so undamaged, as Harry had so swiftly assumed? It didn’t make sense that it wasn’t. Ron and Riddle had truly fucked her over. So much so that Harry wasn’t convinced that any form of vicious death would be satisfying enough for him. With each ritual look at her psyche, Harry exposed a little more of the extent of it. He was toying with the idea of reanimating their corpses and killing them a new way every week, till he eventually got bored of it. Which he probably wouldn’t. Maybe in all their shoddy spell work, the dark cunts had left an opening somewhere, something Harry could use to at least get a message out. It was his best hope.
In any case, it wouldn’t hurt to have a look around.
Harry shifted around and crossed his legs. He settled his breathing into its accustomed pattern for meditation, slowing his heart till it was barely a tap against his lungs. He moved towards trance, tuning in for the tell-tale vibrations of Hermione’s thoughts. Her signature was like her scent, warm and comforting. He loved when it swirled around him. The good thing about mind magic of this sort was that it was universal. Harry could pull memories easily from anyone. Except himself. He hated his own memories. For most of them scared the shit out of him. Literally.
Every time he and Enola tried to tackle one in his Dark Plane, it was always a two change of underwear trip.
But this was going to be child’s play. It bothered him greatly, but Hermione’s mind was so unguarded. The flimsy Occlumency shields she had were useful against only the weakest of intrusions. He knew that wasn’t her fault, she’d have been severely punished for anything more stringent. And Ron had put in such control features in Hermione’s mind that Harry didn’t dare try to put in anything himself, lest it trigger some sort of defensive response and hurt her.
Somehow, she would just have to break those particular chains herself.
But Harry could surf gently through Hermione’s memories for now, ride on the back of the ones Ron’s control spells were forcing to her surface. Harry trusted Hermione’s subconscious mind would give him what he needed, recognise his presence and try to join with it to fight against Ron. It might help him let her know he was there, without spooking her.
And, while he was here, maybe he could learn about these deep restriction spells Hermione was littered with. The ones that seemed to have been designed with him in mind. That would be useful.
Harry just had to find where they were. Hermione would probably have compartmentalised everything, knowing her. Harry just had to find the right department. Even if she’d been unconscious when Ron spelled her, there would be a record of it in her mind. Harry needed only to find the right one, pick up on the vibration, then see if Ron had been as sloppy in his spellwork as Harry expected him to be. There would be a way to reach Hermione’s conscious mind that way, and Harry could call for her help.
But the first memory Harry pulled wasn’t about Ron at all. It was just Hermione, sat all alone on her bed at Hogwarts. At first, it was just her and the bed against all that stilled whiteness, then slowly the whole dorm materialised. Harry guessed she was around fourteen or so. She looked adorable. Harry had forgotten how cute she was back then. He chastised himself. He wouldn’t forget that again.
He moved slowly to her, to see what she was doing. At first he thought she was making paper dolls, or else a poison pen letter. She had pages of the Daily Prophet spread haphazardly out around her. And she was cutting bits out with a pair of red scissors. She was taking the utmost care with whatever she was doing; her tongue was poking out as she concentrated, her brow creased as she focused. Harry felt his heart melt at the sight. He’d forgotten she used to do all this. It was unbearably cute to see it again.
But what was she cutting out? Harry moved closer and looked over her shoulder. Then he gasped. They were pictures of him, of her, of them…together. Hermione cocked her head sharply and Harry jumped back on reflex. It was stupidly dumb. This was a memory, he hadn’t been there at the time, so fourteen-year-old Hermione couldn’t know he was there now.
Why was she cutting out pictures of them both? Harry knew what they were from. He could see Rita Skeeter’s toothy picture grinning back from her by-line. The fucking Tournament. That would make Hermione fifteen, Harry thought. It made him feel slightly less creepy about ogling her as he was. But only a bit. But what was with the pictures? Hermione froze again. Voices had sounded outside the door and she hastily stuffed her cuttings under her blankets. Harry could see her visibly quivering in fright.
But the voices passed, heading to an upper bedroom. Hermione’s shoulders sagged in relief and she gently eased the paper cuttings back onto her lap. Harry was amazed. Even in her haste to hide them, Hermione had managed to keep the cuttings flat and pristine. It looked like she was well practiced at this. Harry was morbidly fascinated now. What in the name of Merlin was she up to?
Then she did something totally shocking, and kissed Harry’s moving image on the page in her hand.
Harry’s jaw fell open. He watched guiltily as Hermione hugged the picture to her chest, smiling deeply to herself. Then she gave it another chaste kiss, before reaching for her copy of Hogwarts: A History and sliding the page into the back. One quick transfiguring spell later and it looked like just another page of the book. Hermione nodded her head in approval of a job well done, then moved on to the next cutting.
Harry felt ashamed for watching. He was intruding on something incredibly private and intimate, but he couldn’t drag his eye away. It felt indecent to be doing this, and he was sure Hermione would be very angry if she ever found out, but he couldn’t stop himself. For young Hermione was now holding a picture of them hugging, caught at the opportune moment, just before Harry faced that twatting Horntail. The old scar on his shoulder ached appropriately at the thought.
Hermione was stroking the picture with delicate fingers, looking at it with such reverence, such hope, such earnest desire…but also with something else. Something sorrowful. Harry hated to think it was…resignation…but it seemed to fit perfectly. Harry felt his heart crack as he looked at the scene. Young Hermione was daydreaming, pretending she was in a world she didn’t think would ever really exist. One at Harry’s side, hugging him as a girlfriend would, just before he did something standardly dangerous in his warped life.
But it would never be real for her. He’d never notice her like that. So this mocked up picture was as close as she’d ever likely get. Harry knew her thoughts innately as he looked into her sad eyes. She’d read the stories as if she were someone else, believe all of Rita’s embellishments, if only to indulge her heart a moment, when no-one else could see. Then she’d cast that little charm again to hide the pages, hitch the cover-smile back onto her face, and slide back into that ‘friend zone’ that Harry had stupidly confined her to.
And he’d never hated himself quite as powerfully as he did in that moment.
Until a moment later, when Hermione heard voices outside the room again. Only this time the door handle creaked as it turned, and Hermione dived under her covers as Lavender and Parvati entered the dorm. She was facing away from them and scrunched her eyes closed with a terrible fake snore, as the two girls settled on the farthest bed away.
Then they began to talk.
“You don’t believe it, do you, Lav?” asked Parvati.
“What? About Harry and Hermione?” Lavender replied dismissively. “Of course not. I can hardly think of anything I believe less.”
“Good. Its not just me then,” said Parvati with a self-satisfied smirk. “Padma said there’s a rumour going around Ravenclaw that Harry has a secret date for the Ball lined up. I told her not to put her Galleons on Hermione.”
Lavender spat out an acidic laugh. “Oh, Merlin no! Good sisterly advice, that. Can you imagine if Harry rocked up to the Yule Ball with that? Never mind Harry not living down the shame, fucking Hogwarts would struggle to get over it. We’d forever be the laughing stock of Europe!”
Parvati giggled. “No, Harry’s got too much class and sense for that. He’ll probably go with one of those French slags. Get some French kissing and a hand-job, if he’s lucky.”
“I’d give him a hand job,” said Lavender thoughtfully.
“Lav!” Parvati shrieked quietly and burst into giggles again.
“What? I would,” said Lavender, unabashed. “Maybe I will, just to make Hermione cry.”
“Do you reckon she fancies him, then?”
“Of course, that’s fucking obvious,” said Lavender. “Have you seen how she looks at him pretty much all the time? Especially when she knows he isn’t looking back? And he can’t look back very much.”
“Probably because he doesn’t want to show pity…or be sick,” added Parvati. “Only looks at her when he has to.”
“I sat next to her at Quidditch once,” said Lavender. “Didn’t watch a minute of the game. Just glued her eyes on Harry. It’s pathetic. There’s Bob, there’s Hope, then there’s No Hope! As if he’d ever fancy her.”
“They’ve been spending a lot of time together…alone,” said Parvati. “Maybe they’re being naughty on those long walks around the Lake. Who knows.”
Lavender scoffed. “Hermione? Naughty? Have you swallowed a dodgy potion? I don’t think there’s a charm strong enough untwist the knots in her knickers. As if Harry would want to put his hands down them anyway. Something might bite him!”
Parvati was rocking by now. She gathered herself after a minute or so. “Its a fair question, though. Why else would they be going off together so secretly?”
“They are rowing with Ron, aren’t they?” Lavender pondered. “Maybe that’s why. Some fucked up sort of love triangle. That wouldn’t end well for Ron. And if Harry has gone mental and wants to fool around with Hermione, the Lake is pretty secluded round the back. No-one would see. And if someone did, he could always feed her to the Giant Squid and make it look like an accident!”
“Lav stop!” Parvati giggled. “I’m going to break a rib here…Hermione is asleep, isn’t she?”
“I thought you checked.”
“No, I thought you did.”
“Oops,” said Lavender. She got up and padded over to Hermione, peeking at her pretend-sleeping form. Then she gave a thumbs-up to Parvati, and tip-toed back to her.
“Maybe we should go…just in case,” Parvati whispered.
“Yeah, maybe we disturbed her having a wank,” said Lavender. “Not like anyone else will ever touch her, is it?”
Parvati chortled again. Harry just fumed and raged as he watched the two vacuous Gryffindors bitch about his love. He looked down at Hermione’s body. Her eyes were closed but no longer scrunched, and she was holding herself quite still. Only one thing moved on her…a single tear that was sliding down her cheek. Harry’s thudding heart competed with his anger for dominance, but there was nothing he could do. This was in the past, it had already happened.
Hermione had suffered all alone. And Harry had been there to fail her.
The image faded, leaving Harry to wallow in his misery. He would find a way out of this, make everything up to her. He felt so awful. What made it worse was that he had loved her when this had happened. He didn’t know it at the time, but the revelation would have opened his eyes even then. He loved her…and he let her be broken down like this. Why had this memory come to him? Was it some sort of torture? It felt like that.
But a new image was forming, it took Harry’s attention away. Hermione was lurking at the bottom of one of the spiral staircases of Hogwarts. Or was she hiding? Harry couldn’t tell, but she was the same age as the last memory, pacing around fretfully. Why would she be acting so suspiciously? And why did she look so unspeakably nervous? Harry moved closer and saw Hermione was mouthing something to herself, her voice nothing more than a wisp of breath.
“Would you like to go…I was wondering, seeing as neither of us have…no, that’s dumb, he’ll think I’m taking pity, or asking for some,” Hermione was muttering lowly, her features anxious and strained. She wrung her hands together fitfully and took a heaving breath. “Right, start again…phew…you don’t need to ask anyone else, cos I’ve liked you for ages and I’d just love to go with you, I’ve just never found a good time to say…yes, I like that…
“Right…Harry – I’ve liked you for so long, ages, really…and I’d be so happy if you took me to the Ball…I know I’ve never said anything before but, there’s never been a good time, has there? What with trolls and basilisks and hippogriffs and…what? You like me too? Oh Harry…really? Oh…mwah mwah mwah…”
The final words were lost against the back of Hermione’s palm, where she was frenetically kissing it. But then…voices…up on the stairwell. Hermione froze, took a steeling breath and repeated over and over, with trembling lips, ‘you can do this, you can do this…’ She took one stair and the voices were suddenly right above her, just out of view. One was very familiar.
It should have been. It was Harry’s.
Harry’s heart sank. He knew what this was, when it was, but it made it a memory he knew would hurt to see. He didn’t want to look at Hermione, couldn’t bare to see that expression. But something told him he had to. This was important somehow.
But it was the hardest thing.
The level of disappointment on young Hermione’s face was unprecedented. It was like her entire world had collapsed on top of her. Harry’s heart raced with sorrow as he watched her expression drop to the floor. She clutched at her chest, as if struggling to breathe. Then her head bowed and her entire body sagged. She tucked in behind the bannister to retrieve her always-overweighted school satchel. She heaved it onto her shoulder with a broken groan, then slumped off sadly down a deserted corridor, wiping the once-kissed back of her hand across her glistening cheeks.
Harry fell to his knees as the scene faded. “Why are you showing me these things?” he asked aimlessly into the light. “My heart is breaking here. I don’t want to see any more.”
But there was more.
Hermione materialised again in front of him. Older, maybe by a couple of years. She was sat on a bed again, but it wasn’t Hogwarts. Harry didn’t recognise the neatly ordered room around her. Hermione was holding her wand in shaking fingers, aiming it at a book. It was like she was trying to cast a spell at it, but couldn’t remember the incantation or wand-movement. In any case, the attempted spell was disrupted with every swish by a shrill hiss.
“I have to, Crookshanks, I just have to!” Hermione moaned. “It’s the only way.”
Crookshanks mewled angrily at the end of the bed. His claws were dug sharply into the quilt.
“Don’t you be cross with me, too,” Hermione whispered, her eyes watery. “I’ve already had the lecture from Mum…but she doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand.”
Crookshanks meowed his disagreement.
“No, not even you do, my sweet,” said Hermione. She sighed heavily. “I can’t be in love with him, Crooksie…I just can’t!”
Crookshanks simply stood, pointed his bottle-brush tail into the air in resigned defeat, and stomped away out of the room. Hermione looked to the ceiling for guidance. None was forthcoming. So she returned to her book, flicking to the back pages again. She finally touched her wand-tip to the corner of one, setting it gently alight. She wept as the page curled and separated under the controlled, bluebell flame, and Harry watched his own facsimile turn to ash…as the already burned pictorial Hermione’s arms flung around his neck one last time…
“Hermione! Stop!” Harry called fruitlessly.
But she didn’t. She repeated the process on all her enchanted pages. Harry watched in dumbstruck horror as she did so. Watched her erase all traces of her secret love for him. When she was done, she looked so pale she could have been admitted to St Mungo’s for evaluation. Was being heartbroken a disease? If it was, Harry was its latest victim. He would need Cassie’s strongest Calming Draught to get over this, and months of ritual meditation.
Though Hermione wasn’t done. Once Hogwarts: A History had been liberated of its extra pages, Hermione turned the wand on herself. She pointed the tip at her very heart, and cast a silent spell. It settled on her with a dull, grey glow. Then she moved her wand to her temple, and pulled a silken, silvery thread from her skin. A memory…the record of whatever she’d just done to herself. She didn’t store it, didn’t whip out a vial to keep it in. She just flicked her wand and let the memory strand fall away into the air, where it crisped up like the burning pages and disappeared into nothing.
Hermione changed in a moment. She appeared bright, if weary. She picked up a brush and swept away a ring of salt that Harry hadn’t noticed around the bed. An ancient form of privacy ward she’d cast around herself. Clever, Harry thought. Her underage magic would have gone unnoticed. But what had she done? Harry had no idea.
And no time to ponder, as the scene shifted once more. The vision this time drove Harry to maddening anger.
For Hermione was asleep, but glowing under the influence of a containment ward. She was being spelled to unconsciousness. Harry threw a punch at the one pointing his wand at her, but his spectral fist passed right through Ron Weasley’s ginger fucking head. Harry tried again, just in case. But it was useless. Then a voice spoke, and it chilled Harry to the bone.
It was Tom Riddle.
“She is ripe. She will give you a son.”
Harry forgot how to breathe. He stared in blunted shock as Riddle placed his hands on Hermione’s womb. He had touched her! Harry felt physically sick. Riddle had placed his dirty, filthy hands on the most precious thing in Harry’s world. How dare he! That fucking snake cunt!
“Thank you, my Lord,” Ron simpered. Harry riled violently. Riddle had touched Hermione…and Ron had let him! Oh…the horrors Harry was going to visit on that treacherous little back-stabbing piece of Thestral smegma! They would write songs about it.
“You may never have her heart,” said Riddle. “There’s something there I sense…a barrier of some sort. Interesting magic. Not that it should matter to you.”
“It doesn’t, Exalted One.”
“Good. Take what you need and get rid of the spare,” said Riddle.
“Is it dangerous? This barrier…or what its guarding against?” asked Ron.
“Only if Harry Potter comes back from the grave,” Riddle spat. “It has something to do with him, that much is certain. Perhaps he has stored something behind it. I never did learn what this mythical ‘power-he-knows-not’ might have been. He could have hidden it here for all we know. He was close to this one, yes?”
“He was, O….thou,” Ron offered, almost grovelling.
“Hmm,” said Riddle. “There’s power in this abhorration of magic you married. It’s linked to Potter. If he ever returned, he might find a way to utilise it.”
“Such a thing is impossible, Lord,” said Ron earnestly. “You destroyed that half-blood, half-wit!”
Riddle chuckled mirthlessly in response. “It was a great day. But he still has support out there. And magic has all sorts of wild possibilities.”
“So…Harry could come back?” Ron asked, somewhat aghast.
“I, myself, have practised the Necromantic Arts,” said Riddle. “One can never say never. And those who fail to plan can only plan to fail. This…thing…in her…it concerns me. And, under Potter’s influence, she tends to become extremely powerful…you did come very close to wounding me, young Weasley.”
“We were blind, misguided, foolish,” Ron pleaded. “We did not know the true way…the Way of Your Light. But we have atoned…we continue to atone…to seek forgiveness for our mistakes. Please…tell me what I must do, and I will do it.”
“You must give her to me,” said Riddle coldly.
“You…you want to have Hermione?” said Ron in surprise. “But…my Lord…forgive my impudence…but you promised her to me… for giving you McGonagall…for giving you the orphaned child of Remus Lupin.”
Harry’s heart stopped cold in his throat. Ron had done…what the fuck had he done? Harry was beyond anger, the stunned shock was completely holding him. He took a series of steadying breaths to rein his fury in…he might give Hermione an aneurysm if he lost control of himself in here.
“And she is your prize well earned,” Riddle was saying. Harry struggled to drag his mind back to the scene. “But she is also a danger to me. I cannot allow this.”
“Of course, O King,” said Ron, bowing his head. “She is yours.”
“As must you be,” said Riddle.
“I – I don’t understand,” Ron stammered.
“I ordained your marriage,” said Riddle. “Your Matrimonial Bond contains my signature.”
“And what a blessing it is, Lord,” Ron simpered, bowing lower.
“A blessing I have another need for,” Riddle went on, ignoring Ron’s quest for favour. “You will open up your Bond to me. I will draw its power to protect something very important to me. Should Potter ever return, he will need to destroy the roots of this protection if he is foolish enough to try and resume his fight with me. I’m telling you a very great secret, Weasley, and bestowing on you a great honour. You and your filth wife will forever protect your Immortal Lord.”
Ron fell to his knees. “Oh thank you, Lord, thank you! You will not regret it. We will prove the error of our ways, show that we are the most loyal, most loving supporters of your Greatness.”
“You had better,” said Riddle. “Or you will suffer my wrath.”
Ron quailed under the look Riddle gave to him just then. And the scene dissipated away.
Harry slumped to his knees and tried to process all he’d just seen. He knew what it meant, but didn’t want to think about it. Instead, he had to think of a way around it. But there didn’t seem to be one. Harry’s mind span at the implications. Riddle might just have out-thought him on this one. What was the answer?
The prophecy was clear…Harry had the power to defeat the Dark Lord, and his parents had taken steps to make sure Riddle couldn’t kill him. But was there more to it? Could Harry access an actual power source? One so devastating Riddle had no defence against it? And was that power somehow locked inside Hermione? That didn’t make any sense. If she was so important, surely the prophecy would have mentioned her.
But wasn’t that why his mum and sent Harry back? To get Hermione? Did she know more than she’d let on about her when she coaxed him off that train? Harry’s brain swam at all this new information. He couldn’t process it. And he couldn’t discuss it with anyone, stuck here as he was in Hermione’s mind.
He had to get out, he was mindless with the necessity of it now. Hermione was in the gravest of dangers…and if she did something stupid, or if Neville made her…Harry couldn’t look that reality in the face. There had to be a way out, there just had to be. If only someone could see him in here. See him…of course! Harry clapped a hand to his forehead. This would be hard, it would definitely hurt like hell, but it might be the only way.
He settled down cross-legged again, slowing his breathing, steadying his heart, reaching deep inside in this practiced rhythm.
He just hoped would be enough to let him reach out.
For a few moments, Hermione just blinked at her. She had the most astonishing eyes. Emerald green, of course, and sparkling with energy and humour. Hermione couldn’t look directly at them for very long. It was almost blinding. And she had a delicate sort of smile. It gave her an understated beauty which was at once hard to spot, but mesmerising once you did.
And Hermione understood immediately why Harry had been so enchanted with his own mother. It was hard to look away from her.
For the longest time, Hermione didn’t know what to say. She felt shy, humble in her presence. But calm also. Lily Potter had a magical sort of energy around her. It was like a magnet, and Hermione felt drawn to it.
“You know, for a moment there, I was getting rather frantic. I thought that Harry would never wake up to the beauty of a wonderfully intellectual girl like yourself,” said Lily, eventually. “But I’m ever so pleased he finally did. He is so much like his father in many other ways…thankfully he is his own man in affairs of the heart.
“And its so wonderful to finally meet you, Hermione.”
Hermione blushed hotly. “But you were very clever, Mrs Potter. Your charm work was legendary at Hogwarts. Harry’s dad can’t have been totally dense.”
“But I was also brash and uncouth,” said Lily. “I had beauty and talent and I flaunted it. I defied James because we were so alike. I wanted him to be my trophy, not the other way around. Merlin, how we fought! I was too dumb then to appreciate the subtly of gentility. I see how you are with my Harry…how you always were with him…and it soothes my heart. You’ve done so much good for him, I could never thank you enough.”
Hermione had never flushed so much in her life. She was sure every inch of her skin was a varying degree of scarlet.
“He’s worth every effort,” said Hermione, shyly. “Though he can be very trying at times.”
Lily laughed. “What lover isn’t, my dear? But you are the best match he could possibly have. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you both realise it now. That you realise what you are to each other.”
Hermione took a breath. “That’s what I came here for. I have a problem and I’m hoping you can help.”
Lily smiled brightly. “I know what you are here for, Hermione. And I think, if you are honest with yourself, you do, too.”
Hermione frowned. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be asking, would I?”
“You miss my meaning, sweetheart,” said Lily patiently. “I think you know why you’re here, but you need someone else to tell you.”
Hermione took a breath. “Then…you do know?”
Lily nodded. “I do.”
“Your mother told me,” said Lily, softly.
Hermione gasped. “My…my mother? Is she…is she here.”
Lily shook her head sadly. “Her and your father are resting for a while. It takes a lot of adjustment to have strength in this place, to speak to the living. Even I wont be able to stay too long.”
“But you have seen her?”
“Yes,” Lily nodded. “When Harry performed their burial rite he used his family ring to summon James, asked him to be their guide here. James was delighted, of course. After all, they will be family one day.”
Lily winked at Hermione, who wanted to coil up and hide she felt so humbled.
“We’ve spent a great deal of time talking with them,” Lily went on. “We want to know everything about you. You’re the love of our little boy’s life, the girl he wants so much to marry. And we would be so, so proud, to have you as our daughter-in-law.”
Hermione’s lip trembled. “Mrs Potter…am I able to…hug you…here?”
“Yes, I think -“
But the sentence was lost somewhere in Hermione’s expanse of hair as she clobbered Lily with an almighty bear hug. Lily was stunned at first, then simply laughed as Hermione squeezed her tight. She returned the hug until Hermione eventually disentangled herself and slipped away.
“I…I-I cant tell you how much that means to me,” Hermione stuttered through joyous sobs. “To h-hear you say that. Harry wants so much to be approved of by you…a-and so do I. I want to be worthy of him, for you to think I am.”
Lily smiled warmly at Hermione. “I do, we both do, James and I. That’s why I told Harry to go back. It wasn’t just for him…it was for you as well.”
Hermione’s jaw dropped in shock. “For me? How?”
“Hermione, dear, I’ve watched Harry skirt around his feelings for you since he saved you from that troll when he was just eleven,” said Lily. “He threw himself into mortal danger for a girl, one that he hardly knew. What would make him do that? Some moral idiocy? No, not even James was that stupid. And Harry hasn’t gone quite that mindless for anyone else. He acted out for you on instinct, as if it were somehow natural for him to do so. No, I’ve come to think that there’s much more to it than meets the eye.
“He was drawn to you, maybe you were drawn to each other. So I had to know who you were. I watched you closely, both on your own and during your interactions with my son. And Harry just kept doing it, kept putting himself in harms way to try and protect you. It was an innate reaction for him, I could see that much. But then you started protecting him right back. In subtle ways, and brave ways, but always with his best interests close to your heart.
“I knew then that there was something special about you, about your relationship. Meeting you is the best thing to have ever happened to him, in ways he still doesn’t fully understand or appreciate now. You’ve made him into a better man, made him want to be better, just for you, without him really knowing that was his motivation. Have you noticed how he seeks your approval in everything? How all that he does is for you in some way? He just didn’t realise why that was the case until I told him.”
“And w-why was it?” Hermione asked, her voice the tiniest it had been in her natural life.
“I think Harry has been in love with you his entire life, before he even met or knew you,” said Lily. “You bring to him everything he lacks – coolness, logic, reason. You make him think, whereas normally he lets his heart and passion run away with him. And you…he stirs your heart, lets it dominate where your wonderful mind normally has control. Don’t you see? You are two halves – one mind, one heart…and together you make one soul.”
Hermione couldn’t think straight as the words hit her. It made such utter sense, such a ridiculously veritable truth that it might as well have been a divine proclamation. Harry was, quite literally, her other half. How had she not known it before? It was a truth that screamed through her every fibre. But, still, that barrier…
“If that’s true, why can’t I let him in fully though?” Hermione asked, desperately. “I so want to. It isn’t the sex issue, is it?”
Lily laughed out loud. “Oh no, sweetheart, and trust me, the sex wont be an issue. I’ve seen Harry’s Bedding Ritual. Merlin knows where he thought that one up! Seriously, James and I are going to have to take a holiday to outer space to avoid that awkwardness.”
Hermione blushed shyly. “Is it that bad?”
Lily looked shrewdly at her future daughter-in-law. “Well, that all depends on how you define bad…”
Hermione’s eyes went wide. “Wow. Okay.”
“As for why you can’t let him in,” Lily went on. “You know why. You were scared. You took steps to avoid that fear. Now its a barrier in your way. You have to face your terrifying love for my son…again. Only this time, you have to face yourself too, and conquer your fears over both.”
“I did this…to myself?” asked Hermione, confused. “I don’t remember that. Oh…did I remove my own memory?”
“You really are the smartest witch of your age,” said Lily approvingly. “You thought of everything. But its actually turned out rather in our favour.”
“I cant join fully with your son, I see that as a total loss!” Hermione countered.
“Its just a spell, it can be undone,” said Lily. “But what it has done is protected you from Harry…or from Harry being used against you. Tom Riddle always underestimated how violent a power love could be. “
“I don’t think I understand.”
“Yes you do, just stop doubting yourself,” said Lily. “I don’t have much more time. I’m weakening.”
“Mrs Potter! That isn’t an answer! I need to know -“
“You already know, you’ve guessed it,” said Lily. “All you have to work out is how to use Tom’s mistake against him. Use that beautiful brain of yours.”
“And what about Harry?”
“If you want to find Harry, all you have to do is look inside. He’s always there.”
“And does he know about this barrier I have?”
“Of course he does, but only you can break through it. Farewell…daughter.”
Hermione huffed. “Fucking spirits…always so cryptic!”
“Mind your language!” teased Lily Potter’s disembodied voice. “There are dead people here! A little respect, please.”
“Sorry, Mrs Potter,” said Hermione guiltily. “Will you tell my mum I said hello?”
“Hermione says fucking hello!” Hermione heard Lily say. She cringed at the sound. “Yes, her language has gotten terrible, I quite agree. Our kids, eh? Don’t know where they fucking get it from!”
Hermione laughed then settled her mind. She crushed the crystal in her hand and hoped she’d set up the ritual correctly. It was imperative that she got home alright. She had a lot to think about.
Neville shook his head at Sir David Pincott again. His words didn’t make sense.
“What do you mean…an army?” Neville asked for the fourth time.
“Exactly what I said,” Sir David replied.
“They’ve assembled an army…in France,” Neville repeated.
“The Muggles have?”
“As I said. I forget how many times.”
“And this picture…” said Neville, pointing at a photograph on the desk in front of him. It showed a piece of military hardware. “This is…what, exactly?”
“A mobile missile delivery system,” Sir David explained. “And on top of it is a tactical nuclear warhead.”
“You’re taking the piss!” Patrick O’Brien yelled, grabbing the photo. “They aren’t going to nuke England?”
“Tom Riddle executed the Monarch of Great Britain on a worldwide video sharing website,” said Sir David. “Some people take umbridge at that sort of thing.”
“So they’re going to wipe the country out for it?” Frank Longbottom exclaimed.
“Looks that way,” said Sir David. “They’ve declared Britain an enemy of the free world. They’ve declared war on the country.”
“Where are the European Magical governments on this?” asked Frank. “Surely they should be on our side.”
“Don’t bank on it, Dad,” said Neville darkly. “If the Muggles are promising to get rid of Riddle, they will probably leave them to it. Besides, this report says the army is hundreds of thousands strong. Bullets kill magicals too, don’t forget.”
“For fucks sake,” Frank yelled. “We can’t allow it. We have to do something.”
“Maybe we should just leave them to it,” said Owain Glyndwr Jones, from a chair nearby. “If it will kill Riddle…”
“Owain!” Neville admonished. “You do know what nuclear weapons do, don’t you? They are the most terrible things…there wont be a Britain left to save if this happens.”
“Then we have to strike first,” said Lord Kelvin Angus. He handed Neville a two-way communication mirror. “Contact Xian Lee. He’s Harry’s Muggle Tech contact at the ZGD. He can send a code, in Chinese, which will arm some of the nuclear weapons in the US. When they go off, the Americans will think China is starting a war with them…and they’ll respond. And we’ll be left alone.”
“And we’ll start a war that will kill millions! Reducto!”
Neville turned as the mirror shattered in his hand. Hermione stalked across the room, her wand raised and throbbing with magic, Enola and Myfanwy tight on her heels. She didn’t stop until she reached Lord Angus. He recoiled from her furious anger.
“My Lady…I was just thinking…”
“No!” Hermione thundered. “Thinking was the last thing you were doing! If I ever hear you thinking with your cock again, I’ll cut it off with a rusty spoon. This is a war, not a dick-measuring contest. Are we clear?”
Lord Angus gulped. “Very clear, my Lady.”
“Good,” said Hermione. “Now, is there anyone sensible in this room? Someone who can suggest a non-fucktarded course of action?”
“The ICW may be able to intervene,” said Sir David, stepping forwards. “They placed the exit wards on Britain. I’d imagine they’d have to take them down before any attack could take place.”
“Then we can assume this army is liaising in some fashion with the ICW,” said Hermione. “We need to get out of Britain, make contact. How do we do that?”
“We don’t,” said Neville.
“But Harry did,” Hermione pointed out.
“Yeah, and only him,” said Neville. “Harry was given special dispensation to cross the wards. But he’s a bit out of action right now…unless your little trip yielded something useful?”
“Nothing that we can enact quickly enough,” said Hermione. “How did Harry negotiate an exit? He must have been in touch with someone on the outside.”
“No, it was more like they were hoping he might come out,” said Neville. “They built a workaround into the ward – if a magical Potter tried to come out, the wards would let them. They thought Harry might be reincarnated, or possess someone. Its a bit fucked up, really.”
Hermione grinned. “But it plays to our favour.”
“For a Potter can still get out…me.”
“That’s a sweet idea,” said Neville. “But that isn’t official.”
“To fuck with official,” Hermione huffed. “Harry and I…we are one. In everything but the silly legalities. I am the other half of Harry’s soul. I’ve always been his wife, always been a Potter, I just haven’t said ‘I do‘ yet. Rhian!”
The elf popped next to Hermione. “Yes, Mistress?”
“You are Harry’s elf, yes?” asked Hermione.
“And be proud of it, Mistress,” said Rhian puffing out her little chest.
“So do you only answer to Harry?”
The elf considered her swarthily. “Obey Master Harry, yes…but also obey Mistress Hermione, too.”
Hermione smiled at her. “You don’t have to obey anyone.”
“Rhian knows this,” said Rhian. “But I’s choose to serve Master Harry and Mistress Hermione. I be proud to. The Potters be the bestest family…Rhian love being part of it.”
Hermione knelt down. “And we love you being part of our family, too. But why do you come to me, as well as Harry, if we aren’t married?”
“Mistress Hermione be Master Harry’s Lady, his mate, Lady of the House,” said Rhian. “Only missing a wedding…and a ring…then can get rid of horrible Weasel name.”
“I’m so looking forward to that day,” said Hermione. “But is there anything else I can do in the meantime? To prove I’m Harry’s Lady? That I’m going to be Hermione Potter as soon as I can be?”
Rhian thought a moment. Then her bulbous eyes lit up. “Yous can wear the Potter family ring! Master Harry be getting it from Queenie Liz lately. Poor Queenie. Snake man be horrid wizard.”
“And how will that help?” asked Hermione.
It was Neville who answered. “Family jewellery is ancient and uniquely powerful. They contain the accumulated power of all those who wear a piece through a family’s history. They are symbols of status, and power also. Only someone who has been truly accepted into a family, by its own magic, can wear familial jewellery.”
Hermione grinned confidently. “Rhian, would you please retrieve Harry’s family ring for me?”
Rhian nodded, then snapped away. Thirty seconds later she was back, the red and gold encrusted ring in her hand. She offered it to Hermione.
“It come off easy,” said Rhian. “It knows it going to good hands.”
Hermione started at that. She wasn’t entirely sure she liked the idea of inanimate objects that could think and feel for themselves, but she pushed the notion aside for now. She took the ring in trembling fingers. It was way too big for her own dainty digit, but she tried it anyway. And it slid on, resizing instantly as if it were designed for her.
And everyone in the room dropped to one knee, raising their wands in a gesture of salute.
Hermione blushed crimson and urged everyone back up. She turned to Neville.
“You know where Harry used to cross the international wards?”
Neville nodded. “I’ll get my cloak. Fan…I’d really appreciate you having my back out there.”
“I am your sword and your shield, Lord Longbottom,” Myfanwy replied with a wink.
“Min…is there anything we can do while you’re gone?” asked Enola.
“Speak to Luna, have her show her daughter around the ritual room,” said Hermione.
“Because, when I get back, me and little Celesca are going on a big girls trip,” said Hermione. “She’s going to take me deep into Harry’s mind…and I don’t want her to be frightened of the voyage.”
Enola nodded and turned from the room, leaving Hermione to contemplate a terrifying voyage of her own. This wasn’t France for skiing…it was to prevent a world war.