Chapter 17 – A Fistful of Favours
Hermione was getting to the point where she was considering herself a mamma wolf around the palace. But the more she walked around, and talked and chatted, and spent time with her favourite people, the more she felt as if she were developing mild schizophrenia. For while she laughed and joked and loved, especially with Harry, in the back of her mind she was snarling and growling, and wanting nothing more than to clamp her jaws around the throats of the bastards threatening them all and just rip them to bloody pieces.
She was sat with her favourite cubs on Sunday morning, in the Grand Parlour of the palace. Luna was having her hair styled by Enola, who had insisted on using a growing charm to restore its length and lustre, after it had been shaved off during her imprisonment at Hengest. Hermione tried to watch them, but she was almost entirely focused on herself. For she was sat on one of the squashy sofas with Celesca, who had pulled her legs under herself to sit on her ankles.
Apparently, this was the best way to hand out tuition. And she was being Hermione Potter-level bossy about it.
For little Celesca was conducting an in-depth lesson with Hermione. Today’s subject was Baby Holding, with advanced credit in Bottle Feeding. Hermione was sat, semi-terrified, with baby Alison Longbottom resting in the crook of her left arm, while Celesca offered pointers on posture and grip and talked to Alison in her head, telling her to relax and to not be sick over Hermione, as she was really very afraid of doing something wrong.
And Celesca was very invested in this. After all, if Hermione couldn’t be a good stand-in mother to Alison, how could she be expected to raise Celesca’s future husband, when the time came for her to give birth to him?
“You need to relax, Lady Hermione,” said Celesca, comfortingly. “You are doing just fine. Stop fussing!”
“Yes, boss!” Hermione quirked, swapping grins with Luna. “I’m just worried about her head, that’s all.”
“Her head is fine,” said Celesca. “She says she’s nice and comfy so you can stop worrying, really.”
“I can’t stop worrying, sweetheart,” Hermione moaned. “I’m not very good at this. Oh dear…”
“You’re doing fine,” Celesca soothed. “And you’ll get better if you practice a bit. I’m sure Alison wont mind if you go up and give her a cwtch when you want to. I like that…cwtch. It’s better than cuddles. Though I like that, too. And actual cuddles. Which is why you had better get good at this, Lady Hermione.”
“And why’s that?” Hermione queried, startled by Celesca’s firm tone. “What has me being good with the baby got to do with me being able to cuddle you? I can do that quite well already.”
“Yes, you can, you’re a very good cuddler,” Celesca agreed. “Master Harry certainly likes your cuddling. I don’t understand quite why he always wants you to have no clothes on when he cuddles you, though. Maybe it’s because you’re softer like that. On your skin and things. Master Harry has had a lot of rough, spiky things in his life, hasn’t he? He must prefer you with no clothes…because you must be smoother and nicer – than all the nasty things he’s used to – and he must like that better, I think. Yes, that’s probably it.”
“Probably,” Enola agreed, solemnly, grinning wickedly at Hermione, who was blushing scarlet.
“Though really,” Celesca went on, thoughtfully. “Master Harry thinks about you doing most things with no clothes on, Lady Hermione. Not just cuddling. Though I think that’s his favourite.”
“Is it, Min?” Enola laughed. “Is it his favourite?”
“Well, he thinks about it a lot,” Hermione agreed, with a shy grin. “So I suppose it must be.”
“Just give me a heads up if you decide to take up naked gardening, or something!” Enola crowed. “I can always learn a blindness charm, just in case!”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that,” said Celesca, seriously. “What if you got sunburnt on your bum? You might not be able to sit down till it was better. And that would be bound to hurt your feet after a while.”
“Celesca,” said Luna, in gentle warning, as Enola just broke down in a fit of giggles.
“Sorry, Mummy,” Celesca replied, suitable chastised.
“But, you were saying, Cesc,” Hermione went on. “About why I have to learn to cwtch properly.”
“Oh yes, well,” Celesca rabbited on. “It’s obvious, really. You have to get good at baby cuddles…so you can teach my husband how to be good at cuddling, when you and Master Harry make him as a baby for me. Because I like cuddling quite a lot, you see. Though, I suppose I could teach him how to cuddle when we are married, if you aren’t able to. Do you think he’d want to cuddle me without my clothes on? Like Master Harry does with you?”
“He might want to,” said Hermione. “Husbands and wives often like to cuddle without any clothing on.”
“Oh, I know all about that kind of cuddling, Lady Hermione,” said Celesca sagely. “That’s how babies get into ladies’ tummies.”
“And just who, exactly, told you that?” asked Luna, crossly.
“Nobody told me, Mummy,” Celesca frowned back. “I worked it out all by myself. I’m clever, see, like Lady Hermione. Which is why her baby boy will want to marry me, because he’ll be like Master Harry. And Master Harry likes very much how clever Lady Hermione is, so we’ll be the same as them.”
Hermione couldn’t get used to this, the blasé way Celesca talked about her marriage to Hermione’s as yet unborn, unconcieved son. It was as if she was relating facts, discussing assured circumstances, character traits, as if it were happening now, not in the far off future. It was quite disconcerting to have such an integral part of her son’s life so mapped out.
Not that she minded. She loved Celesca. She could marry all her children if she wanted to, as far as Hermione was concerned.
“What do you mean ‘you worked it out‘, sweetie?” asked Luna. “Did you find a book on it in Hermione’s library or something? I know how much you like it in there. And I hope you’ve said ‘thank you’ to Lady Hermione for letting you use it whenever you like.”
“Oh no, it’s fine Luna, honestly,” said Hermione, smiling. “It’s a gift I’m happy to give.”
“But manners should still be no trouble,” said Luna, sternly, narrowing her eyes at Celesca. “Even for a girl with special magic who might, one day, call the Lady of this house her mother-in-law.“
“Thank you, Lady Hermione,” said Celesca, in a chaste and quiet voice, turning her eyes down sheepishly. “Thank you for letting me use your library whenever I like to.”
Hermione wanted to scoop Celesca into a hug and tell her she was welcome. She looked so upset at being told off, she was on the verge of tears. Hermione had a wild urge to tell Luna off for being so stern. But, she reasoned, that was just something that being a parent was all about. This was a lesson she’d have to learn herself.
“You’re very welcome,” said Hermione, smiling gently. “One day, you’ll have to show me the books you’re reading, and I can tell you which ones are my favourites.”
“Oh, will you?” Celesca exclaimed, perking up in an instant. “I’d so like to know which one your favourite is. I don’t think I have a favourite. Alison likes Zoric the Alien, and I like that one, too. But I don’t think it’s my favourite. I did find a very funny book in the library the other day, though. It was called The Monster Book of Monsters and it went around trying to eat me. And I was so frightened to start with, as it was chasing me round and round, then I saw that it was just playing. And I laughed and laughed and tried to hide from it, then it would find me, and in the end I climbed up and sat on the table so it couldn’t get me, and it got tired and went to sleep. It was the best day.”
Hermione laughed hard at the tale, and Alison shifted in her arms, causing Hermione to squeak in fright.
“Is she okay?” Hermione asked, looking to Celesca in wide-eyed concern.
“Oh yes, she just likes people laughing,” Celesca giggled. “Don’t worry, Lady Hermione. Ally likes you cuddling her. She thinks you smell nice.”
Hermione shook her head in wonder. Celesca was a wonder, this Seer ability…Hermione was just astounded by the ease with which she used it. She found her new connection to Harry as jarring as it was intimate at times, but this, she reasoned, was due to the newness of it. Celesca was a practiced pro at this, but it was still incredible to watch it at work.
“So, Celesca, if it wasn’t a book that told you all about babies, what was it?” asked Enola, curling Luna’s fringe.
Celesca bit her lip, and looked sheepishly at her mother.
“It’s something you’ve Seen, isn’t it?” asked Luna.
Hermione looked over curiously. For some reason, Luna’s tone made Hermione imagine Seen with a capital S.
Celesca nodded. “It’s not a bad thing, Mummy. I wasn’t being naughty. I promise.”
“Then what is it?” asked Luna, gently.
“It might be a secret, and I don’t want you to get mad at me if I say,” said Celesca nervously.
“Is it about me?” asked Luna. Celesca shook her head. “But it’s about someone in here?”
Celesca nodded. “It’s not about baby Ally, though. But I’ve told her, and she thinks I should say.”
Enola quirked a curious look. “My daughter, my baby daughter, thinks you should tell us how learned that babies are made?”
“Yes,” said Celesca, blinking innocently at Enola. “Though I don’t know how they’re made, exactly. But I know how they get there.”
“I have to hear this,” said Enola, smirking in fascination. “Go on, Cesc, there’re no secrets between girls here.”
Celesca looked to Luna for permission, which she gave with a nod. Celesca took a nervous little swallow.
“Well, you remember how you said husbands and wives like to cuddle with no clothes on, Lady Hermione?”
“I remember,” she smiled in confirmation.
“Well…Lord Longbottom and Lady Longbottom have been doing a lot of cuddling with no clothes on lately,” said Celesca, grinning shyly.
“Yes, we have,” said Enola, in unmasked pride. She winked at Hermione.
“Yes, well,” Celesca went on. “Sometimes, when important things are happening, I see them in my dreams.”
Enola’s eyes popped wide and she blushed crimson. “You’ve been watching me and Neville cuddling with no clothes on in your dreams?”
“No, no, no, not that,” said Celesca rapidly, her voice frightened and nervous. “I wasn’t watching, Lady Longbottom, honest I wasn’t. I promise I wasn’t watching, Mummy. You believe me, don’t you, Lady Hermione?”
“Oh, Cesc, honey, I didn’t mean to sound like I was telling you off!” said Enola quickly, her voice soft and soothing. “We all believe you. You just surprised me, that’s all. I’m sorry if you thought I was cross, honey.”
“Oh, that’s okay then,” said Celesca, smiling and visibly relaxing.
Hermione frowned, why was she so afraid all the time? She was quick to terror. Hermione filed it away for later.
“Go on,” Enola encouraged.
“Well, I had a dream the other night,” Celesca continued. “And it was of you and Lord Longbottom cuddling with no clothes on. Then – and this was the really weird part – I could sort of sense a little conversation in your belly. It was weird ’cause there was a tadpole talking to an egg. It wanted to get inside the egg and turn into…and you won’t believe this…and I promise I’m not fibbing…it wanted to turn into a baby.“
All three women gasped aloud. Enola dropped her curling tongs, which hit the floor with a crash.
“Anyway, I thought it was all very silly,” Celesca went on in a sniffy voice. “But, they were right…because the next day I saw you at breakfast and there was a little baby starting to grow in you. It’s nothing like a baby yet, but it’s there. And I didn’t know if you wanted to have a baby in you, so I didn’t tell you, but you said there are no secrets between girls. So, now you know. But…Lady Longbottom…what happened to the shell?”
Enola was too stunned to respond. So Hermione, who was thrilled for her best friend at the news, replied for her.
“What shell, sweetheart?”
“The one on the egg,” said Celesca simply. “It didn’t have one, which isn’t like any egg that I know about. I just wondered if you’d noticed bits coming out when you were having a wee or something.”
Hermione grinned fondly at her favourite Seer. “That kind of egg doesn’t have a shell, sweetie, but you’re very clever for working all that out by yourself.”
“So…I…I’m having a…I’m having a baby?” Enola stuttered, finally finding her voice.
“Well, yes, it’s in your tummy now,” said Celesca brightly. “I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl yet. I could have a look ahead and see, if you like.”
“No, don’t do that, honey, I’d quite like the surprise,” said Enola. “Oh my Merlin! I’m having a baby!”
The euphoria suddenly hit her and she raced to Hermione to hug her deeply. She reached down and scooped Alison into her arms.
“Guess what, babe, you’re going to have a little brother or sister soon?” Enola swooned, rocking her daughter happily. “Do you think you’ll like that?”
“She really does,” Celesca nodded enthusiastically. “She’s ever so excited. She says she’s going to be the best big sister ever!”
Enola laughed heartily and cooed to her baby. “I’m sure you will be! I have to go…I have to tell Nev…he’ll be over the moon with this!”
And with that, she darted off. Luna grinned as she watched her go. “I suppose I’ll just finish my own hair, then!”
“Your hair looks very pretty already, Mummy,” said Celesca. “You should leave it like that.”
“Then I shall,” said Luna, chuckling. “I’m just going to tidy all this up.”
And she set to work, packing away all the brushes and curlers. With her distracted, Hermione turned and spoke quietly with Celesca.
“Celesca…why do you get so afraid when you think you’re going to be told off?”
Celesca turned her wide eyes to Hermione. “Are you going to tell me off?”
“I don’t think I could ever tell you off, sweetheart,” Hermione grinned. “You’re far too cute. But your Mum…when she gets cross with you…why does she scare you? I know she would never hit you or anything, so what is it?”
Celesca gulped in her fear. “I can’t tell you, Lady Hermione. Please don’t make me.”
Now Hermione was concerned. She shifted pointedly. “It’s to do with me?”
Celesca nodded. “It will upset you, and I don’t want to upset you.”
“You’re not…frightened of me…are you?”
“Oh no, it’s not that,” said Celesca. “I like you a lot. That’s why I don’t want to make you sad.”
“And this will?” asked Hermione. Celesca nodded again. This was deeply confusing. “So…you know something that will upset me…and when people get cross it makes you think of it…and it scares you? Is that it?”
Celesca gave an almost imperceptible nod. Hermione’s heart was throbbing at the little girl’s fear.
“You can tell me,” said Hermione softly. “Whatever it is…I’ll look after you. I promise I’ll protect you from it. And, if I get upset, It will just make me protect you more.”
Celesca looked up at that. “Oh. Do you promise?”
Celesca took a deep breath. “Well, it’s just that…when people, especially Mummy, get cross with me…it reminds me of her…the nasty lady with the long black hair.“
Hermione’s heart stopped dead, her breath halting in her lungs. The lady with the black hair? Surely not…not that bitch? What on Earth was this all about?
“That lady frightens you?” Hermione breathed. “But why?”
“Because she’s the nastiest…the ugliest…”
Celesca stopped, breathing hard. Hermione was stunned. She’d never heard Celesca sound so hateful before. She was borderline acidic. What had she Seen?
“You can tell me anything about her, sweetheart,” said Hermione. “Master Harry and I are going to teach that woman a lesson for all her bad ways very soon. But why are you so afraid of her?”
“You’re sure you won’t be mad?”
“Positive. You’re safe here. Go on.”
“She’s just the worst,” said Celesca darkly. “Worse than any of them. Even the man with the snake-face.”
Hermione’s heart was beating so hard now it was hurting. Celesca had seen Voldemort? It was a horror unimaginable.
“Why is she the worst?” asked Hermione, aghast.
“Remember, I said sometimes I just See important things? Remember? Well, they can be good and bad. I saw Lord and Lady Longbottom making a good baby, but I also saw the black-haired lady and the snake-man…and what they did to their babies…”
And whatever this was, it scared Celesca so much she leapt into Hermione’s arms and starting balling into her shoulder. Hermione was startled into shock, and Luna hurried over to sit with them, a look of deep concern on her face.
“What’s happened?” she asked, smoothing Celesca’s back. It was futile to try and break the death grip her fists had dug into Hermione’s cardigan.
“I don’t know,” Hermione whispered, threading her fingers through Celesca’s blonde locks. “She’s seen something…to do with Riddle and Ginny Weasley and their abominable kids…something that will, apparently, upset me…and – somehow – you remind her of it.”
“Cesc, honey, calm down,” Luna soothed. “You’re safe. They can’t hurt you here.”
“She can,” Celesca sobbed. “She can come into my dreams. She’s trying to get me.”
A powerful, protective anger rose in Hermione’s chest, and she wanted to lash out and scratch viciously at the very mention of Ginny’s name.
“Talk to me. Right now,” said Luna, gentle but firm. She pulled Celesca to her. “What do you mean…she’s trying to get you?”
“Cesc, sweetie, we won’t let her hurt you,” said Hermione softly. “Just tell us what’s going on.”
Celesca sighed tiredly. Her grief was draining her. “The black haired lady can get into my dreams. She wants me, you see. To do…that thing…to a new baby she wants to have.”
“What thing?” asked Luna.
“The thing she did to her other ones…with Lady Hermione’s mummy and daddy.”
Hermione shivered coldly all over her skin as Celesca’s words echoed away. She swallowed hard…what was she about to hear?
“Celesca…please tell me…what did she do?” Hermione breathed.
“Her, and the horrible snake-man, they are the worst ever,” said Celesca. “They shouldn’t be allowed to have babies. But they did. But…but…they made sure they had no souls.“
Hermione gasped. Luna had lost all colour from her cheeks.
“What do you mean…no souls?”
“They…they want everyone to do what they tell them, and not argue or anything,” Celesca explained. “But not everyone does that. So they want all the kids to be like that from now on. So, when the babies were growing in the black-haired lady, they forced another soul into it…so it couldn’t have one of it’s own.”
Hermione felt vomit rise in her throat. She retched at it.
“And…are you saying…they used Hermione’s parents for it?” asked Luna, in utter horror.
Celesca bit her lip and nodded. “They told me when I helped Master Harry to find them. But they shouldn’t do things like that, Mummy! Messing with souls…it’s just the worst thing. Worse than messing with minds, like poor Master Harry. At least that can be fixed. Souls…if they get broke they stay broke…forever.”
Hermione choked back a tear. “My parents souls…are they broken?”
“Almost, Lady Hermione,” said Celesca quietly. “You see, when the black haired lady had her babies, the snake-man ripped your mummy and daddies souls out and put it back in their bones, where they were buried. So they couldn’t leave, see, to go over. They were stuck. They put two souls into the babies so there wouldn’t be room for a new one to grow. But your mummy and daddy…their souls got hurt each time they were pulled out of the baby…three times and they would have gone completely.”
“Gone? Gone where?”
“I don’t know, Lady Hermione,” said Celesca darkly. “Even I can’t see into that place…it’s so dark and cold…and so scary…it’s just the most horrible place…don’t let her send me there, please don’t!”
And Celesca erupted into a fresh waves of sobs, burying her head into her mother’s shoulder. Hermione and Luna exchanged desperate, horrorstruck looks. They could find no way to console the distraught little girl between them.
After a few minutes, Celesca eased down on her tears. She pulled back, puffy eyed and sleepy
“Honey,” said Luna, carefully. “Why do you think Ginny wants to send you to that place?”
“S-she told m-me,” Celesca hiccuped. “I was naughty to her, see. The night…the night when Lady Hermione and Master Harry came to rescue me…she was there…and so was he! They were going to make a new baby,and put my soul into it. She…she pretended she was you, Mummy. She looked like you and everything. And she got all cross with me, and was telling me off and told me I had to sit on the naughty seat…till I was good again. Then they tried to set it on fire…with me still in it!”
Luna cried out in anguish, clutching at her chest. Tears flew from her eyes and she pulled Celesca close. “Oh…oh…my poor, poor girl! I’m so sorry…so sorry I wasn’t there for you, my baby!”
Hermione couldn’t think properly. Her mind was in a state of tumult and her heart…she didn’t have the vocabulary to do it justice.
“When they found me, they wanted to put me in a baby, to make it powerful,” Celesca went on. “But I couldn’t stay in there, because of my special magic. But I couldn’t be allowed to be a ghost, either, because I might have told someone what they were doing to all the babies. So they were going to send me to that dark place when the baby came out. I’d have been stuck there forever, and I don’t want to be. You won’t let her, will you, Mummy? Will you, Lady Hermione?“
Hermione cried out in anger. The windows rattled with it. “No, sweetheart, I wont. And, after tonight, she won’t be coming to your dreams anymore.”
Celesca looked up in disbelieving hope. “How do you know that?”
Hermione had to stand up before she answered. Anger and rage, fury such as she’d never ever known, pulsed through her. Her skin crackled with it. She took a dozen breaths to master herself, before turning to Celesca and answering in the firmest tone she possessed.
“Because, tonight, I’m going to kill her, and both of her dirty kids, and send them all to the dark place. They wont be bothering anyone ever again.”
And, with that, she stormed from the room. Harry had some explaining to do.
* * *
Normally, Harry Potter was happy at any chance he got to see his wife. She was beautiful, ridiculously intelligent, and just the person he wanted to be around more than any other. And when Hermione Potter was stirred to passion, she left Harry senseless with how she projected this onto him.
But, seeing her so angry that she looked like she wanted to tear his head from his shoulders, wasn’t his preferred look for her.
And Hermione’s anger was two-pronged. On the one hand, she’d surprised Harry by Apparating to his side at a most inopportune moment – just as he’d applied his pain relief potion to his scar. She watched him in secret, writhing around in abject agony, till his wrecked skin went numb. Then she just stepped from the bedroom into the alchemy cell and glowered at him with a furious look on her face, her emotions racing and jumbled to the point that even Harry, feeling each and every one, felt dizzy at them.
Then there was her other source of chagrin. The one that had brought her to him in the first place. Harry wasn’t quite sure what it was just yet, but he was pretty confident he wouldn’t like it when she told him.
“So…you can still keep secrets then?” Hermione asked angrily. “What happened to sharing everything?”
Harry looked sheepishly down. “I’m sorry. I’m not going to make excuses. My treatment hurts…and I didn’t want you to see. It’s the only way I can get through the day sometimes.”
Hermione’s heart pounded in deep sympathy and pity, angry at his suffering. Harry felt it in his own chest.
Hermione stepped close, cupping his face tenderly. “And you do this…every day?”
Harry nodded. “More than once, sometimes. The potion is a tricky one to brew…Cassie doesn’t always get it right.”
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione moaned, smoothing his skin. “Why did you keep this from me?”
“I…I don’t want you to see me like this…being weak.”
He looked at his feet in shame. Hermione moved her hand under his chin, easing his head back up.
“This isn’t cowardess,” she said softly. “You are so brave to face this sort of pain every day.”
Harry gave a soft chuckle. “It’s worse if I don’t, so it’s not much of a choice.”
“And it’s really the only way?”
Harry nodded. “I can’t treat the wound. No magic touches it. So I make my face numb so I can’t feel it. And the potion keeps it as clean as possible.”
Hermione gasped, as one of Harry’s thoughts flitted across her own mind. “What does that mean?”
“That thought…it keeps it clean… but the Dark Magic is slowly killing me!”
“Oh…fuck.,” Harry replied, awkwardly. “I seriously need to reign my thoughts in.”
“Harry…no…no that can’t be true…not when we’ve just found each other!” Hermione cried, tears bursting down her cheeks. Harry tried not to smirk, Hermione was upset after all…but he knew he’d win their bet.
“Hey, hey,” said Harry consolingly. “Come on, it’s not going to happen soon. I’ve got years and years left yet. You can’t get rid of me that easily.”
“But, Harry,” Hermione wept. “What’s years and years? Sixty? Seventy? Wizards can live to a couple of hundred with the right lifestyles.”
“That’s true. But, for me, it’s more like twenty or thirty,” said Harry, softly.
Hermione howled into the cool air of the alchemy cell. “No, Harry! I love you. I wont allow that!”
Harry took her shaking body and held her close. “There isn’t anything we can do. I’ve been around the world looking for answers. Shamens in America, witchdoctors in Africa, I even tried the tribes in Greenland on the off chance. But they all came up with the same answer – the Killing Curse is meant to kill. It might not have taken me right away, but – especially once I fulfil the terms of the prophecy and kill Riddle – it will.”
“No, Harry, I wont let it,” said Hermione, her voice wobbling. “I just wont.”
“Hey, look,” Harry whispered into her hair. “I’m acclimatised to it. I’ve come back, found the love of my life, married her, apparently we are going to have lots of babies together. To me, that sounds like a pretty good twenty or thirty years to have with you.”
“But that’s not enough, Harry!” Hermione cried. “Not for me! I’d take my own life when you died, rather than be without you. But I can’t do that to our children. So we have to find a way to fix you. I’m not fucking having this. I’m not.”
Harry laughed softly into her hair. “I’m not going to spend my time with you wondering what if. I’ve done enough of that. I’m just going to enjoy what is. And when it happens…it happens. But I’ll know I’ve had that time with you, and I’ll be okay. And I’ll be waiting for you when it’s your time.”
“Fuck that, Harry,” said Hermione, pulling away. “You may have had this great little scheme planned out, but you can forget it. Forget it this instant. Fucking dying! You are not dying in thirty years. And I’m not going to just watchyou get sicker and sicker until that happens, sitting idly by. No way.”
“And what do you propose?” asked Harry, with a tired sigh. “What can you do that no-one else has tried?”
Hermione frowned for all of seven seconds…then her eyes lit up.
“Harry…I can love you to health!”
“You can…what?” He asked. Cautious hope had stirred in him. Hermione was suddenly alive with fervour. Harry felt it ignite in his own body. It was intoxicating.
“That’s what I can do, darling, that nobody else can!” she said proudly. “I can love that fucking evil right out of you!”
“Harry…we cured Ann, with our joined energy,” said Hermione excitedly. “Why can’t I – or we – do the same to you? Riddle cursed you with hate…I’ve wanted to test my love against that…my love for you…Harry, honey, maybe this is my chance!”
Harry’s heart took off. He hadn’t thought of that. It seemed a little dumb that he hadn’t, now it occurred to him. He chuckled to himself. Why were Mrs Potters so much more insightful than the male side, especially when it came to the blindingly obvious?
“Harry, you know more about this,” said Hermione quickly. “Is there any reason why we couldn’t do this?”
Harry thought hard a moment. “Well, the only stumbling block would be the prophecy.”
“Well, under the terms of the prophecy, Riddle could kill me,” said Harry. “We are linked by that. I looked into a lot of rituals that might somehow break that link, but he’d cursed me already. My scar, you see, it’s full of a sort of poison that came with the curse…and it’s spreading.”
Hermione gasped. “How?”
“Blood infection,” Harry explained. “I take a potion to thin my blood and filter it, but it’s deeply ingrained now. It affects my bones. So I hurt quite a lot. I take potions so you don’t see that, either.”
“Come on, Min, I just don’t want you to see me in pain, is that really so hard to accept?”
“No, it’s just your normal, noble silliness,” said Hermione lightly. “But there must be a way to use our new power to help you. There must be. What’s the use of it otherwise?”
Harry felt more hope surge in him. He felt suddenly light, more optimistic than he had in years. “Well, my mum did say we can solve any problem now. Maybe she meant this, too.”
“Your mum? When did you speak to her?” asked Hermione. Then she huffed. “Don’t tell me…another secret?”
“I have good grounds for this one,” said Harry, quickly.
“There’s a room, on the third sub-level. I can go there to meet with my dead ancestors,” Harry began. “I learned all my alchemy stuff in there.”
“Okay. And why did you keep this from me?” Hermione queried.
“I was going to take you,” said Harry. “I will. Merlin is just dying to meet you, you know. Even though he’s already dead. He thinks you’re going to be his favourite witch ever.”
“Don’t distract me, Harry,” Hermione frowned, which was an un-Hermione-like foolish thing to say, as she was totally distracted by that.
“Sorry. It’s just that, I can see my family in there,” said Harry. “And, because you’re sexily clever, you would have worked out that your parents are family now, too, and you’d have wanted to see them.”
“But they couldn’t come because they aren’t strong enough,” Hermione read from inside Harry’s mind. “Because their souls are damaged…because of Ginny.”
Harry started. “What? Ginny…what?”
“You knew they’d been hurt…but you don’t know about Ginny…” Hermione thought, aloud. “Okay. I wont be mad at you for that. But you still should have said about my parents.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” said Harry. “But what the fuck is going on with Ginny? How is that bitch involved with this?”
“She’s mentally stalking Celesca,” said Hermione, bluntly. Harry swore violently in reply. “She was going to use her in some sort of ritual, trying to force her soul into the creation of a baby with Riddle. I can only assume she created some kind of mental link to her as part of that. It allows her to enter her dreams and torment her.”
“Oh fuck Merlin!” Harry exclaimed angrily. “Is she alright?”
“No, she’s totally traumatised by the whole thing,” said Hermione. “Every time someone tries to tell her off, she freaks out. It sounds a bit like PTSD, to me. She may need ritual help to deal with this, Harry. It sounds like Ginny Polyjuiced into Luna..made Celesca enter that sacrificial pyre in Glastonbury by mimicking her own mother! I feel so terrible…I never asked her about that night…when we rescued her. That’s when all this happened, apparently. We were so blind to that, Harry.”
Harry began to pace, his anger throbbing around him. “Ginny and Riddle used a sex ritual, a creation ritual…Merlin forbid. I knew Riddle was going beyond Horcruxes into even deeper and darker Soul Magic…but this? I never imagined…What were they doing? And how did your parents get caught up in it?”
“Cesc said their souls were forced into the bodies of the babies Ginny carried from Riddle,” Hermione explained. “And then used some sort of soul rend to rip them out after birth.”
“Thus leaving a largely empty shell, that they could easily make pliant to their will,” said Harry, nodding as he understood. “Fuck me, Min…what is wrong with these people?”
“They aren’t people, Harry,” said Hermione. “They’re monsters. I can only assume they used my parents simply as just another assault on me.”
“Unless there is some other spell they used, as a bind against you, using your link to your parents,” Harry speculated, darkly. “It doesn’t matter, it’s gone from you now. But…my parents…they are taking care of yours in the next world. I’ll tell them about this. Maybe they can find a way to use it, maybe speed up the healing process.”
“Your family…is taking care of my parents…in the afterlife?” Hermione breathed. She was looking so reverently at Harry he had to look away from her face.
Harry nodded in shy acknowledgement. “I swear I didn’t know about Ginny. I knew your parents souls were injured, my mum and dad told me when we buried them, but I didn’t know how. My best guess was that they were Horcruxes that had gone wrong…or…I don’t know, really. I was just guessing. I was too upset to ask what had actually happened. That ceremony was…emotional for me.”
“I know,” said Hermione softly. “I never said a proper thank you for that. But I will…by healing your scar.”
And she took Harry’s face in her hands, and kissed him softly. When she drew away, she looked closely at his wound, studying it critically.
“Harry…do you think it affects your magic?” she asked, cocking a curious eyebrow at him. “You know…restricts it at all?”
“Why would you think that?”
“Well, it’s just that,” she began. “I think we’ve established that you have command of very potent Light Magic. But could this Dark Magic…that infects you so badly…be acting as a sort of…drag. Could you be even more powerful than you already are if it was gone?”
“Why do I get the feeling the name Dumbledore is on your mind?” Harry smirked at her.
“Ooh, can you read my thoughts too, now?” she grinned at him. “That’s a pity. I was quite enjoying this being a one-way scenario.”
“What? That fight is on the horizon,” said Hermione. “And as much I’ve assured everyone you can beat Dumbledore, neither of us have a clue how you’re going to manage it.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Harry quirked at her.
“There’s no point waxing your ego,” said Hermione, firmly. “This is life and death with the fate of the world in the balance.”
“No pressure, then.”
“We need all the extra power we can get,” Hermione went on. “I just can’t help thinking that if we can get the Darkness from you, the Light will be even stronger.”
“I get your point, I really do,” said Harry. “But healing me isn’t going to be as easy as healing Ann. For her, we had a point of reference, we knew what we were looking for to target. It was a specific spell to undo. Here, Riddle’s very essence has infected me. I might as well have had a transfusion of his filthy blood.”
Hermione looked over, a gleam of dark triumph in her eyes. “Then, perhaps what we need, is some of his blood…to make an antidote.”
“Pretty sure old Tom isn’t going to hold out his arm and let you find a vein,” said Harry, off-handedly.
“No, perhaps not,” said Hermione. “But who said anything about asking him nicely? Who said anything about asking him at all?”
“I smell a plan brewing.”
“We can’t get Riddle’s own blood,” said Hermione. “But, if all we need is his essence, I’m sure one of his children will do just as well.”
Harry gawked at her. She was fierce when she went Dark. It was hotter than he could possibly imagine.
“You never took me out for my birthday, Harry,” said Hermione. “But, you know what…I quite fancy a trip to the theatre tonight…”
* * *
“It’s not a case of just telling you. It’s not a spell you learn. It’s more a technique that you apply.”
Enola was trying to be patient, despite Hermione’s determinedly animated manner.
“Well, you can still teach me that, can’t you?” Hermione asked. She was folding a pea-green baby grow and trying not to be broody about the whole thing.
“Not overnight,” said Enola. “It takes a long time to get to that level.”
“Grrr, Ennie, you are being supremely unhelpful!” Hermione complained.
“Look, Min, I understand your frustration, I really do,” said Enola, placing a consoling hand on her forearm. “But healing is complex and takes a lot of instruction to get right. If you just dive right in you might end up doing more harm than good.”
Hermione huffed. “I don’t want that.”
“No, of course you don’t,” Enola agreed gently. “That’s why I’m saying you need to be mindful of what you’re trying to do.”
“But this isn’t conventional healing,” Hermione argued. “There might be some some sort of exception to the general rule.”
“There might. But as I only know the general rule, I can’t advise you on the other stuff.”
Hermione huffed again. This wasn’t going to plan. There seemed to be an answer so close, but every time she got near it slipped away, like the details of an important dream that should have been written down, but slipped away with the dawn light. And this was ten times more frustrating.
“Do you really think Harry’s scar can be healed then?” Enola asked.
“Personally, I can’t see any reason why not,” said Hermione. “Harry’s a little but skeptical…but I think he’s just so used to thinking he was doomed. Did…did you know how bad his scar was?”
Enola blushed timidly. “Not in so many words. I knew it was worse than he let on, but never how bad it went. I didn’t know about the infection at all.”
Hermione shook her head. “It’s a serious character flaw that he keeps everything so bottled up.” Enola scoffed at that, and Hermione frowned at her. “What?”
“That’s a bit of pot – kettle, isn’t it, Min?” Enola replied. “How many years were you being battered by that ginger gypsy you called a husband? How often did you seek support from your friends?”
“That was different.”
“No it wasn’t,” Enola returned staunchly. “Harry keeps his wounded side to himself…to appear strong for everyone else. So did you. That’s not different, Min…that’s the same. It’s another way of you being so perfect for each other. If the roles had been reversed, the outcome would have been the same.”
Hermione blushed at that. “It’s borderline comical how perfectly matched we are. Even in our suffering. Someone up there will have some serious explaining to do at the end of all this.”
Enola laughed at that. “You know, I can just see you telling off The Almighty for giving Harry a hard time. I don’t envy them when that time comes!”
Hermione grinned back. “I intend that to be a long way down the line. I just have to find a way to heal Harry of the poison in his blood and scar that is fuelling it.”
Enola looked away reticently. “So…you’re really going to do it? Kill a child, I mean?”
Hermione let the words hang between them a moment. She supposed she ought to feel guilty for what she had to do, but she didn’t have it in her. But she felt guilty for not feeling guilty instead, and it pacified her. She just couldn’t get past her hatred for Ginny. For what she’d done to her parents, what she was still doing to Celesca. Even for what she’d done to her own children. She’d robbed them of their innocence before they even had a chance to develop any.
“I just don’t think of them as children,” said Hermione quietly. She went back to folding baby clothes. Her and Enola couldn’t meet each others’ eyes for this conversation. “I don’t even think of them as alive.”
“I just suppose you have to comfort yourself,” Enola offered thoughtfully. “That they’d not hesitate to do it you…or your kids.”
“Or yours,” Hermione added, nodding pointedly at Alison, sleeping away in her crib, and Enola’s occupied womb, which was on her same line of sight.
“True. Gut them both, I’d say.”
“That’s my girl,” Hermione quirked. “In any case, I see it as a mercy I’m serving on them. That’s no life they’ve got. How did Harry describe killing Fleur Weasley? Doing her a favour she didn’t know she needed? I like that.”
“That was cold-blooded, even for Harry,” said Enola, darkly.
Hermione looked at her sternly. “Is that a criticism?”
Enola looked back, startled by Hermione’s harsh tone. “Well…was it really necessary? They weren’t a threat, they’d turned their back on all this.”
“Ha! And therein lies their guilt,” said Hermione triumphantly. “They turned their backs on this! Washed their hands of their own family shame. Do you know, Harry intends to give a full pardon to George Weasley? At least he went out like a proper martyr.
“Harry gave me the dossier he had on Bill and Arthur. They’d set up a cosy little business in Cairo. Bill would curse-break for tourists who went into tombs they shouldn’t have, while Arthur enchanted Muggle objects for a fee. The Egyptian Magical Government are far less strict on such things as other world governments. Merlin…you should see how much Gold tourists were willing to pay for an actual flying carpet from Cairo.
“They had no interest in helping organise resistance from abroad, like so many others did. Some of the other escapees had young families, they can be excused. But Bill, Arthur and Fleur worked for the Order of the Phoenix. And when the war seemed lost, they fled like cowards. They left their friends…of which I was supposed to be one…they left the escape passage, that Harry had built, to their corrupt family and the horrors they turned that in to…
“No, Enola, it was wasn’t cold blooded. It was justice…for treason and cowardice and dereliction of duty.”
Enola took her telling off with admirable composure. “Wow…that’s all I can say. Spoken like a true Queen of old. Remind me never to fuck with you and Harry, Min.”
“Don’t fuck with us,” Hermione parroted. “There’s your warning. You wont get another.”
There was no grin, no light hearted vocal inflection. Hermione meant every syllable. And Enola swallowed hard at the realisation that she did. There was an awkward silence for a few moments, then Hermione turned and drew Enola into a deep hug. They didn’t speak, but their embrace communicated everything that needed to be said. The air held a serious tone, it steeled both women to the reality of the world, but the tension between best friends was broken.
“So, apart from the healing, what else can we do to help Harry?” Enola asked eventually. “Have you had a thought about who else might be protecting Riddle’s lost Horcrux?”
Hermione sighed. She had been thinking. She’d thought of little else. And the outcomes made her sick to her stomach.
“The problem – or perhaps the benefit – of Harry having such a closed circle in life,” Hermione began. “Is that there are only a limited number of possibilities. I’ve been trying to put myself into his shoes…to think as if I was Tom Riddle. And I don’t like what I’ve come up with.”
“The obvious ones are me and Dumbledore,” said Hermione. “Quite public, quite well known, lots of people would confess in a basic interrogation that we were both close to Harry.”
“Or, you’d get a twat husband who’d just hand you over for a fucking percentage profit from a genocidal holocaust,” Enola spat.
“Or that,” Hermione agreed, her tone equally as acrid. “And, speaking of that prick, he can be ruled out a Horcrux Protector. Besides his obvious treachery on a personal level, he exposed me to Riddle, as well as abused me senseless for all those years. Harry hates him. From the depths of his being. You should feel it, the way I have, feel how elemental it is. It would take your breath away.
“I mean…he hates him more than he hates Riddle…probably more than I hate Ron. I almost feel guilty for denying Harry the final death blow on him. But I think he’ll be satisfied with breaking as many parts of his body as he can reach. He would have no problem whatsoever in disembowelling him in front of Molly Weasley’s fat fucking ghost.”
“Wow!” said Enola, as her eyebrows vanished into her fringe. “So…who else is there?”
“That’s the problem, not many,” said Hermione. “There are very few people that Riddle might think Harry would hesitate to take out. Which has been my problem. It’s not who I think…but who he thinks. Which leaves, for me, a shortlist…a very short shortlist.”
“And who’s on it?”
“Harry’s Muggle relatives, the Dursleys,” said Hermione. “Harry was horrifically abused by them as a child, but it’s not common knowledge. He hates them, too, but -“
“He was protected in their home until he was seventeen!” said Enola, nodding as understanding hit. “Riddle might think they gave him that protection willingly. And that Harry loves them for it. I know how fucking backwards that is…Privet Drive is practically the access road to the Dark Plane in his mind.”
“Exactly,” said Hermione. “So I think they are a fair shout. The only other one I can think of…and this may be the most difficult of the lot…is his godson, Teddy Lupin.”
“Oh, Merlin forbid!” Enola hissed quietly. “He’s just a boy…maybe Celesca’s age.”
“Yeah, he’d be around that,” said Hermione. “Harry has never been able to locate him. I’ve always found that suspicious. He might be dead, but if he isn’t, I’d bet my house on him being the last Horcrux Protector.”
“And this is such a big house!” Enola replied, trying to make light of the darkness settling on them both. “This is the bad part of this, isn’t it? The part where it gets real…and ugly real at that.”
“Yep,” Hermione sighed bracingly. “I know I said I’d do anything for Harry, but I’d have preferred it not to involve the deaths of so many children.”
“Having second thoughts?”
“Not for a second,” Hermione replied coolly. “I almost could be seen as doing a good thing. I mean…it’s a lot of favours for people who didn’t know them needed them.”
* * *
Harry entered the sub-level to the palace and locked the door. He never usually locked it, but he didn’t want to be disturbed. He even threw up an Anti-Apparition ward to prevent any magical incursion. This wasn’t something he wanted to share. He’d been waiting far, far too long for it. He was going to enjoy it…and enjoy it alone.
As for Ron Weasley…he was about to have a very bad night.
Harry moved into the Ritual Room and locked that door, too, simply out of habit. He sat back against the cool onyx panelling and heaved in heady breaths. The dark excitement coursing through him would have worried him in the past, but now he didn’t care. Hermione would approve of his actions, and he needed no other validation. In fact, she’d probably be pissed that he hadn’t brought her with him for this.
But he hadn’t. He wanted this first remote crack at Ron’s mind to be all his own. Hermione could come next time. They’d make a date out of it. The sex after would be mind-blowing. Not that it could get much more intense on that score.
Harry moved into the swirling mists of the dark room. When he reached the central dais, he dipped into his pocket and took out the two halves of Hermione’s old wedding ring, placing them carefully on the cold of the stone altar. He moved to inspect Luna’s Archway, the central curtain of light fluttering as if in a soft breeze. Harry couldn’t tell if the light came from this world or the next. It didn’t much matter either way. Perhaps Ron could tell him.
For Harry was planning to shove his head through it, just to see what would happen.
It was an experiment, though Harry had no interest in the scientific method on this one. Ginny Weasley’s Dark cuntressness had given Harry an idea, and he decided he couldn’t wait any more than an hour before he tried it out. So, as Hermione went scampering around the house seeking advice on healing, Harry swiped the two halves of her old wedding ring, went to his Ritual Room and was now going to deal out some pain.
Pretty much yin and yang, really.
Harry drew his wand and began the summoning procedure. Magic swept to his command, heaving around him in dense waves. He thought he might never tire of the intoxicating sway of power as it hit him like this. Every time he performed, it was always the same. It was like a narcotic, and the more intense the ritual, the bigger the high.
Soon he was at the centre of a pulsating tornado of magic; racing, sweeping, dancing sheets of multi-colour, all crackling and hissing with the power they were channelling. With each circuit around Harry they gathered pace, gathered strength, intensified by degrees. The throb of power would have been too much for most, but Harry was in complete control.
And he was about to show his once-best friend how things had changed over the years.
Harry hissed out a summoning spell, mind magic he’d learned from Narcissa. He did it in Parseltongue, just to make it even cooler. He hardly ever used snake language, but it connected him to his inner spirit animal. And, as he was about to kidnap Ron Weasley’s spirit, it seemed somehow appropriate. The magic paused and waited, like a python about to strike, then it shot into the ring.
There was a whoosh, a crackle of energy, a surprised cry of pain. And the solid spirit form of Ron Weasley was suddenly stood before Harry, confused and shocked.
Harry hit him with a spell before he’d even finished the words. Ron’s cry would have been heard in the afterlife. The good – or terrible – thing about mind and spirit magic, was that an assault wasn’t on bones or flesh or sinew. These attacks didn’t leave bruises. There was no physical body to repair of heal. These strikes were on the soul…on the very essence of a person. There was no pain that could compare.
And the wounds were for keeps.
Ron, who had slumped to the ground, looked up in terror. His spirit eyes streaming.
“H-Harry…is that…is that you?”
“Don’t recognise me, Ron?” asked Harry, keeping his voice low, growl-like and dangerous. “Or is your Exalted Lord’s handiwork too difficult for you to look at?”
Harry saw Ron retch, as he moved into a better lit part of the room. He grinned wickedly. He’d left his scarf off for just that reaction. It thrilled him to see it flit across Ron’s petrified face.
Ron’s scream, piercing and high pitched, echoing against Harry’s silent curse, ricocheted off the walls. Harry had never heard a sweeter sound. He wished he’d brought something to record it. He could listen to it all day.
“Don’t you dare beg to me, you cowardly cunt!” Harry hissed. “Not after all you did…after everything you did…to her.”
“Harry,” Harry mocked. “No excuses, eh, Ron? No justification? No attempt at worming your way out? Fuck you, you pathetic waste of life.”
Harry hissed out another Parseltongue assault. Ron writhed and screeched, twitching violently in agony. Harry knew it was burning, too…he could smell it. A soul-deep searing. This was way too much fun.
“How could you do it, Ron? That’s what I can’t wrap my mind around,” Harry went on conversationally, stalking around Ron’s pitiful form, twisting his wand like a conductor’s baton. “How could you take the best and most beautiful girl either of us have ever, or will ever know, and take your wand and fist to her? A girl who was an angel to us throughout school, spent time with us when no other girl would, coached us, coaxed us, supported and stuck by us. A girl with breathtaking magical skill, the kindest heart, the pertest arse…phew…she’s hotter than a carrier bag of bootleg DVD’s in a West London pub.
“Don’t you even think about agreeing with that last point. That’s my wife you’re talking about. Oh, I’m sure you know – but in case you missed it – we got married last week. It was a beautiful ceremony, you’d have loved it. We would have invited you, but we couldn’t decide if you should be sat on the Bride or Groom side. And by that I mean, we couldn’t agree on which one of us you’d fucked over and stabbed in the back the most.
“Hermione was all for tearing you in half down the middle and sharing your corpse. I have to say, I had a lot of time for that idea. But, in the end, I decided that a simple physical death wasn’t near good enough for my oldest pal. Who tried to nick my life, my girl, my country. Who sold me out to a half dead cunt who likes to put his tiny cock into as many snakes as he can. Or as many evil cunt sister’s of yours that he can.”
Ron made a move of protest. Harry cut him down where he stood.
“Don’t moan, Ron,” Harry tutted, balancing his wand vertically on the pad of his index finger, as Ron moaned for all he was worth. Which wasn’t much in Harry’s book. “You must know you’ve had this coming. You and Ginny. I’m going to tell you a secret, Ron. But you have to promise not to tell anyone.”
Ron moaned. He had no concept of speech in his world of agony.
“Yes, yes, I suppose it is my fault that you can’t speak right now,” Harry taunted. “So, I’ll just have to answer for you.” He put on a voice that was as close to a mimic as he could manage. “Yes, I Ronald Fucktard Weasley swear on my lack of honour to uphold Harry Much Better Man Than Me In Every Way Potter’s secrets. Whoosh.“
Harry breathed on Ron, aping the settling of an oath.
“There – it’s a ritual seal now. Merlin, even pretending to be you makes me sick. It’s fine, though, don’t worry about me. I’ll get my wife to lick the stain of you from my tongue later. She’s good at that sort of thing. I know!…who would have guessed? You’re looking at the luckiest wizard alive here, Ron. Hermione’s such a great girl…and her mouth…wow…just wow.”
Harry flicked another lazy spell at Ron just for the sake of it. It was sort of pointless. Ron had reached the zenith of his pain. There was a glass ceiling for these sorts of things…and Harry had smashed through it with his second spell. It was worth halting the assault just to have Ron be lucid enough to hear his taunts now.
“But, do you know what the absolute best thing about being married to my soul mate is?” Harry went on. “Did I mention she’s my soul mate? I can’t remember. Anyway, she’s my soul mate. There’s a lot to cover, you’re just going to have to throw me a bone if I miss anything. Cheers, buddy.
“Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, I was reminding you that you punched, kicked, raped, and threw down the stairs to your basement – where you starved and tortured and left to freeze, in winter, in just her underwear – my soul mate. Amongst other crimes against her. There isn’t a punishment devisable that would come close to enacting justice for even half of that in my world. And I’ve been trying for ages to come up with something suitable. What’s that? You’d just love to hear what I’ve come up with so far? Man, this is just like Divination back in the day. Make shit up and laugh at how funny it is.”
Harry pocketed his wand and sat on his haunches near Ron, who was groaning pathetically.
“So, you’re going to like my creativity on this, so you might want to listen up. I’ve been thinking really hard. So, here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
“There’s a big show on at the Palladium tonight, marking the birthday of the first spawn old Tom had with that weirdo Marietta Edgecomb. I don’t know why no one invited me, I love a bit of theatre. But, I digress. I was pretty cross at not getting tickets, to tell the truth, mate, so I’ve had a bit of a tantrum about it, I’m afraid.
“I’m actually channelling your inner spirit, Ron. I don’t want anyone to have something if I can’t have it, just like you. So, right now, as we speak…well, as I speak…I have a team of crack German and Swiss Hit Wizards, from my friends at the ZGD, that I let into Britain early this morning, going around the Palladium. They are rigging it with high-energy magical explosives – there may even be a hidden Fiendfyre spell or two, I just can’t remember, so sorry – to go off just as the show starts.
“I understand there will be lots of your Death Eater buddies attending. And that twat of a sister of yours. But don’t worry. She wont be killed in the blast. Me and Hermione are heading there soon, see, and this is where the best bit about having her as a wife and soul mate is. I get to give her presents whenever I want.
“And tonight, for a really special gift, I’m going let her kill your sister…before the show starts. Then the magical bombs will just blow her dirty body to bits, but that’s just window dressing, really.”
Ron made sounds of protest, but he was powerless to do anything but groan.
“Oh, but don’t worry,” said Harry. “You wont have to worry about this for a couple of days. Here’s why.”
Harry stood and took Ron by the scruff of his soul. It was cold, fluid. Like trying to hold onto a slippery ghost. But the runes Harry had cast on his hands gave him grip enough. He dragged Ron’s sorry spirit to the flapping Veil, and knelt down close.
“Know what this is?” Harry breathed dangerously, his jokey tone obliterated. “It’s a portal to the other side. I’ve been there. Five years ago. Your big mate Tommy Riddle sent me. Do you know…can you possibly have even the tiniest inkling what it’s like…to go there…and come back? No, of course you don’t. You’re a complete fucktard.
“So, let me educate you. It’s hell. Excruciating mental torture. It’s the single worst experience of my fucking life. It cost me my mind. I may never get it back. I have pieces of a fractured psyche held together by fucking sellotape. And I’ve had powerful mind magic and ritual to preserve my sanity. Fuck knows what a mind would be like without that.
“I know…let’s find out.”
And Harry, without hesitation, pushed Ron’s head through the Veil. His broken screams were lost, somewhere between this world and the silence of the other.
* * *
Harry and Hermione stood in the shadow of the London Eye, watching the waters of the Thames ebb and flow beneath the bridge. Tourists flashed their camera phones at Big Ben, red Buses with loud slogans roared past and street vendors offered their wares along the riverbank. All the while, armed police still patrolled the streets of the Capital. Muggle Britain was still in a state of mourning after the murder of their monarch, and security had never been tighter.
Harry checked the time on the illuminated face of the famous old clock.
“We wont have long,” he breathed to Hermione, as they descended the steps toward Westminster tube station. “Five, maybe ten minutes. No more.”
“Plenty of time,” Hermione whispered back. “I just want to make certain she’s dead. I don’t intend to stretch it out. I can’t stand the skank. I don’t want to breathe the air her filthy breath will pollute.”
“Kill strategy. One more time.”
“Twin blade spring knife, right in the back,” Hermione recited with a swift breath. “Pop open the mechanism and puncture her lungs. While she’s drowning in her own blood, conjure ropes, hang her from the balcony. Then, find one of her spawn. Take his blood. Then away home to work on a healing antidote for you.”
“That’s my girl,” said Harry. “I’ll be right with you the whole time. If we run into trouble, don’t stand and fight. The bombs will go off at 8pm…whether we are out of there or not.”
“Fine. We Apparate at 7.59 then,” said Hermione. “I want to kill her, but she’s not worth dying over.”
“Right. How’s the Polyjuice feeling?”
“Minging,” said Hermione. “Tastes like Goblin Piss. Or so I’m told. “Why couldn’t I have had an Invisibility Tuxedo made, like yours?”
“It takes months to spell the fabric,” Harry explained. “You have to do it in clumps of fibres. Takes ages. Besides, we’re only going in for nine minutes. This thing cost sixty-thousand Galleons. I’ve used it loads of times.”
“It fucking what!” Hermione cried. “Right, that’s it. No more extravagant clothes purchases. I’m taking over family finances. You can’t be trusted not to fritter our money away.”
“Yes, you’re quite right,” said Harry. “The Lily Potter Centre for Abused Witches needs all the Knuts it can get!”
Hermione huffed. “I’m not accepting that as legitimate win, by the way.”
Harry laughed. “We bet you couldn’t go a week without crying. This is day six. You cried, I win, we name the centre after my mum. That was the deal.”
“You cheated, you told me you were dying,” Hermione protested. “I was a tad upset at the news.”
“I am dying,” Harry pointed out, fairly.
“Not for long,” said Hermione in a sniffy voice. “We’re going to cure you after tonight. Then…it’s best Two out of Three.”
“You’re just going to keep going till you win, aren’t you?”
“Now you’re catching on!” Hermione grinned. “Right, Apparate on three.”
A three count later and Harry, invisible as he was, led Hermione to the second level balcony boxes. The narrow corridor outside was, thankfully, empty. There were five booths this side. Ginny owned Box Three. Dietmar and his ZGD Agents had told Harry ten minutes ago that she was there, standing and milking the acknowledgements of the other Death Eater families as they entered, like some sort of Dark Queen.
“Ready?” Harry breathed.
Hermione nodded. Harry eased open the door to the booth and stole inside, while Hermione hung back against the corridor wall. She heard Ginny admonish one of her children for not locking it properly, and the door began to close again. Hermione blocked it with her foot, letting the door bounce back open, and she darted through.
Hermione looked around. Ginny was facing the crowds, waving regally to them as they filed in, turned away from her spawn. The one who had been sent to close the door looked up. Hermione bit in a gasp…for his eyes were just black. No colour, no feeling…no nothing. But he looked like a child. His face twitched in surprise at her sudden appearance.
And he went to speak.
There was a quick wisp of air, a dim puff of light, and suddenly both he, and the other boy, sat in a seat to the left, froze in place as Harry’s silent spell hit them both. Hermione wasted no time. She drew her blade, stole up stealthily on Ginny, then cast a Silencing Charm on her.
No-one would hear her scream.
“Good evening, Ginevra,” Hermione whispered in her ear…then she drove the knife down hard beneath Ginny’s shoulder blades. “The Potter family would like to say hello.”
Ginny Weasley tensed in shocked pain as the knife penetrated her, then twitched violently as the blade mechanism snapped open inside her chest cavity, sending a blade into each of her lungs. Hermione held her tight and close, pinning her arms down as she tried to struggle.
“Don’t fight it,” Hermione breathed into her ear. “It’ll all be over soon. I just wanted you to know it was me who killed you. And know this also…I’m going to kill your kids, too, and your cunt brother for all the hurt he caused to me. Harry’s already killed Charlie, Percy, Bill and Arthur. The Weasley’s are finished. Goodnight, sweet Ginny.”
Hermione stepped back, conjured a tight noose around Ginny’s neck, fastened it with an unmoveable Sticking Charm…and kicked her body over the balcony railings.
Uproar. It erupted loud beneath them. People screamed and shouted, pointing up at Ginny’s hopelessly kicking corpse as the life drained out of her.
“Thirty seconds,” Harry yelled over the din.
Hermione turned to the children…and gasped in surprise. They were utterly identical. They might have have been clones. Hermione took her wand to the one boy’s throat…and she hesitated. She couldn’t do it. This was an abomination, an abhorration of a child…but it still was a child. Still looked like one. Hermione’s wand shook in her stilted grip.
“Fifteen…” Harry cried. “Hermione…love! Come on.”
Love…Harry…Hermione woke from her slumber. She dropped her wand and slashed the boy’s palm. He cried out in pain, but Hermione pushed the cutting screech from her mind. She sucked out a vial full of blood with her wand, screwed on a cap, and stood up just as Harry snatched her by the arm and Apparated her away.
Sixty seconds later, and one half of Diagon Alley was confined to the history books, as it was hit with an explosion so furious it was a tale to be told in both the London’s that felt it.