Chapter 19

Chapter 19 – Life and Death Choices

The midnight moon shone down powerfully through the clear night, throwing a perfect circle of silver onto Harry’s alchemy cell, through the retractable roof that was now thrown open to the elements. Hermione gasped in shock when Harry had done that, as much surprised by the hidden function of the ceiling as she was by the gorgeous night that was suddenly exposed to her. It was simply breathtaking.

This was one secret Hermione was happy that Harry had kept from her, just for this ideal, romantic moment to have him reveal it.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Harry asked, grinning at her.

“It really is,” said Hermione, curling her arm around his and drinking in the star-strewn sky. “We are so just going to sit here sometimes, so we can marvel at it.”

“I have zero problem with that,” said Harry. “And it will be so much nicer if I can have two eyes to enjoy it with.”

Hermione pulled him close. “What have I told you about spouting all this if nonsense? We are going to heal you with this. Get that into your head…or you won’t get head for a whole week!”

Harry chortled at her. “You’re a cruel Queen!”

“You know that’s a wholly empty threat, right?” she purred at him. “Even cruel Queen’s don’t deny themselves their favourite toys!”

“Well, it’s good to know I can exert some power over you,” Harry quirked. “As just lately the power balance in this marriage has tipped distinctly in one direction…and it isn’t mine!”

Hermione sighed. “That’s a trend that will continue, I’m afraid, so you might as well get used to it. You’re mine now. I worked hard enough for you, now I have to change you to what I actually want you to be!”

“Oh really?” Harry laughed. “And what, exactly, do you intend to change?”

“Not much, to be fair,” Hermione grinned. “Perhaps your mouth…you give me far too much sass to be going on with!”

“Hey, just because you’ve managed to get everyone else licking your boots around here, don’t expect me to just fall in line.”

“No, maybe not,” said Hermione, thoughtfully. “They can all lick my boots…and I’ll just leave you to lick the rest of me instead!”

“Fuck me…that mouth of yours,” Harry laughed in wonder. “I’ll happily change mine, but don’t ever change yours.”

“You’re such a dirty boy!” Hermione giggled, hugging in closer.

“Which is why we’re going to take a bath together,” said Harry.

“I did wonder why you asked me to come in here naked,” Hermione replied.

“And well done on putting up such opposition to the request!” Harry chortled. “You could have let me finish saying ‘strip down’ before casting your dressing gown aside!”

“You’re my King. I bow to your commands. Well…some of them”

“How are we ever going to make the big decisions in this marriage?” Harry quirked. “You do what I say, I do what you say…we’ll never agree on anything!”

“Yes, we will,” said Hermione confidently. “You’ll agree to do what want on the big decisions and we’ll live happily ever after. If you wont, I’ll just lock you in a tower until you see sense!”

“We are a proper fairy tale couple, aren’t we!”

“We are, really,” said Hermione, snuggling again. “Everyone says so. But, let’s get back to reality for a minute. We wont have this moon for another month if we don’t do the ritual now.”

“You’re right,” said Harry. “Let’s give this a go.”

“What do you need from me?”

“Just to enter the bath for now,” said Harry. He offered Hermione his hand and helped her step into the warm water.

“This is just like our wedding,” she swooned. “It’ll be nice to have you conscious for this one!”

“You so took advantage of me there,” said Harry lightly. “I would complain…but it was best day of my life, so I don’t have it in me!”

Hermione grinned back, running her hand through the steamy, translucent water. “Is this solution the same?”

“Essentially,” said Harry. “There are three stages to the alchemical process, called the Nigredo, the Albedo and the Rubedo. At the very start I had to take a whole bunch of personal stuff from myself – hair, blood, skin, sweat, spit, urine. Then mix them all together into what was, in all honesty, this quite disgusting dung heap. But it was my base matter. My life forces, as well as my cast-offs, my waste. I infused it with my magic and it formed a semi-solid mass.”

“Sounds delightful,” Hermione grimaced.

“It didn’t fill me with optimism at first, either, I won’t lie, said Harry. “But then I began the Lower Work. Treated this black mass in fire, purged it of its imperfections. Then I multiplied it, used it to turn lead – the basest metal – into four purer forms: Tin, Iron, Quicksilver and Copper. All the copper, and some of the bronze and brass furniture in here, I made from that source. That bath you’re in, for example.”

“You made this yourself?” Hermione asked, impressed. “Wow.”

“Physical alchemists are, above all, Masters of Fire and Master Metallurgists as a result of striving to produce gold,” said Harry. “It’s a baser pursuit, if you like.”

“But you’ve also made silver,” said Hermione, flashing her wedding ring as proof.

“Yeah, I have,” said Harry. “I reached the Albedo stage. As well as turning lead as far as silver in an alchemical bath, the solution I used is what’s known as the White Elixir. It’s produced as the result of the process…but also causes it.

Hermione frowned. “That doesn’t make a bit of sense!”

“Welcome to alchemy!” Harry laughed. “It’s all a bit like that. The Stone is a stone…but not a stone. It makes sense when you get used to it, but, for now, all you need to know is that you are in a bath of a White Elixir solution, and, as you soak in it, it draws your own essence into it to add to my own.”

Hermione scrunched up her nose. “So, what you’re trying to say is…I’m in a bath…with water made from your piss, spit and faeces?”

“But it doesn’t sound so romantic if you say it like that!” Harry teased. “You’re in a bath of my essence. Think of it like that.”

“That sounds nicer,” said Hermione, still frowning slightly. “But it’s still a bubble bath made from your bodily fluids I’m swimming in!”

Harry cocked a filthy eyebrow at her. “You haven’t complained much about my bodily fluids before. And you have been fairly intimate with them lately!”

Hermione huffed. “I suppose I asked for that one, didn’t I?”

“You keep setting them up, honey, and I’ll keep knocking them from the park!”

“Just get on with this,” Hermione frowned.

Harry sighed. “Would you like to see what my purified, Albedo-level essence looks like today?”

“I’ll probably regret this, but okay.”

Harry grinned and moved to his ornate cabinet. He unlocked the bottom draw with a silent spell and reached inside.

What he drew out made Hermione gasp in breathtaking surprise.

It was, essentially, a mass of crystal. It was hard to tell if it was silver or the purest shade of white. Either way, it was dazzling to the eye. It gave off its own subdued light, and looked to be shifting beneath the surface like liquid, but viscous like mercury. Hermione took it with baited breath as Harry handed it to her. She held it with trembling fingers, as though holding a precious, priceless treasure.

“My goodness, Harry…this is beautiful!” Hermione breathed.

“Isn’t it?” Harry replied, grinning fondly. “It’s amazing how pure something can get with the right treatment, when it’s purged of its imperfections, don’t you agree? And, you see how beautiful that thing is you’re holding?”

Hermione nodded.

“And you remember your revulsion at my bodily fluid mixture?” Hermione gave a sheepish little nod again. “Well, if you imagine…that was me at the start of my Opus; base, ugly, corrupt and imperfect. And now I’m at the Albedo stage in my life…and my transmuting force…is you.”

Hermione gasped again, looking at Harry with disbelieving eyes.

“I was the Black Matter before we met,” said Harry. “And, through knowing you, and all the infinite myriad of good you’ve done to, and for, me, I’ve become pure white-silver, like that object in your hands. I am, literally, in your hands. I’ve become a better man…in your hands, under your care. The only thing left to do…is for us to become gold. Together.”

“Then get in here with me,” Hermione breathed. Harry obeyed his Queen. “Just tell me what to do. I am in your hands, too.”

Harry grinned. “If this is, indeed, the right time for this…when all is aligned for it to work…this should be a simple thing.”

“It is…I know it.”

“And I…feel it,” said Harry. “So, we have to call on the Parents of Alchemy to bless us, like in our wedding. With both our hands on the White Stone, we’ll push it into the water. Let everything you have out…all your magic, all your love, all your pee if you want to. It should infuse the Stone. I’ll guide our special bond essence to it, drive it into the heart of the Stone. And that should be it.”

“How will we know if it’s worked?”

“The bath water will turn gold, and the Stone will turn from silver to red-purple. The colour of the Philosopher’s Stone.”

“Let’s do it, Harry,” Hermione smiled at him. “Let’s complete Our Work.”

Harry nodded and slid into the bath opposite Hermione. He placed both hands on the White Stone and eased it into the water, never once taking his eye from his wife’s face. She looked so dazzling in this environment, Harry was finding it hard to look directly at her. He cleared his throat and spoke loudly.

“I call on King Sol, Father of Alchemy, to Bless and Infuse us. I call on him as a Red King – Master of Fire and Air.”

Harry nodded at Hermione, who tried to recall the details of the wedding ritual. It wasn’t hard, it was the best day of her life – she could have transcribed it word for word.

“I call on Queen Luna, Mother of Alchemy, to Bless and Infuse us. I call on her as a White Queen – Mistress of Earth and Water.”

Harry inclined his head and smiled at her, as thumping magic hit the room, causing their bath water to swell and splash.

“Open up your essence, honey, let it all out.”

So she did, as Harry did the same. The result was Hermione’s first orgasm in a bath since she was a teenager and she had learned it was possible. Harry hadn’t meant to cause it, but he was releasing everything, he didn’t think to hold back. And it wasn’t his fault his magic was so naturally charged with sex.

Hermione blinked open her eyes, her chest heaving with her rampant breaths. She looked over at Harry, bright-eyed and flushed.

“Sorry, ” he offered.

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times,” said Hermione breathlessly. “You never have to apologise for being able to bring me to shuddering orgasm without even laying a finger on me!”

Harry grinned guiltily. “Just keep your hands on the Stone. I’m going to push our magic into it now. I’ll…er…try not to be so intimate.

“Don’t hold back on my account,” Hermione grinned. “I’ll just lie back and think of England!”

“Or Wales, just to be faithful to our adopted country!” said Harry.

“That works, too.”

Harry proceeded, dipping into Hermione’s well of energy and drawing it into that ephemeral connection he was always lightly aware of between them these days. It swelling and surged with the sudden increase of power and Harry eased it gently down, trying to ignore Hermione’s shuddering feet touching his thigh. When it crossed into the White Stone, even she felt it.

“Wow, Harry,” she breathed. “What is that? I can feel it changing…does that mean it’s working?”

“I think it must be,” he whispered in awed shock. “Look!

He nodded at the milky water, which was thickening, swilling hard around them, and changing to brilliant gold.

“Keep going, Harry!” Hermione urged. “It’s happening!”

Harry knew it just as certainly. The texture of the Stone was smoothing, refining, becoming richer to the touch. Harry pushed with all his intent…until he felt a light snap, as though he’d crossed a threshold.

He didn’t need to look down. He could feel that it had worked. But he had to see it for himself. So he flicked his eye down, to that space between his legs and Hermione’s, which were now crossed over each other, and there, shining brightly under the water, was the purest red stone he’d ever seen.

Well, since he was eleven-years-old and he drew one from the Mirror of Erised, obviously.

“Harry…” Hermione breathed. “Look at it! It’s the prettiest, most beautiful…”

But she couldn’t say any more, as Harry had closed his lips around hers, drawing her head to him with both hands, as Hermione lifted the Philosopher’s Stone from their alchemical bath. She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him bodily closer until she was practically sat in his lap, deepening their kiss, thrilling as she felt him grow against her inner thigh.

They broke apart after several breathless minutes, and just pressed their foreheads together as they cuddled.

“This…this means,” Hermione whispered. “This means we can really heal you!”

She spoke the words in wonder, believing them unilaterally for the first time.

Harry smiled back at her. “Yes…yes, we can. But, we do it tomorrow. I’ll let you look after me then…but, tonight, your care is all in my hands.”

Hermione giggled, sliding her arms around Harry’s neck as he lifted her powerfully from the bath, deposited the Philosopher’s Stone on his alchemy cabinet, and took his White Queen to bed.

* * *

“How are you feeling?”

Neville looked over at Harry, who had asked the question. He’d poised it to Enola, who was sitting up in bed and looking pouty.

“She can’t hear you, Harry,” said Neville, sadly. “We’re pretty sure her hearing will return soon….her sight did after a a couple of days, after all.”

“It really was a senseless curse,” Harry frowned. Enola suddenly realised he was there, and turned to him with an encouraging smile. Neville was looking less than pleased with Harry’s slip. “Oh…sorry, mate.”

But the curse really had been senseless, robbing Enola of all five of hers in one go. Her sight, touch and smell had already returned, but they were just playing a waiting game on the other two.

“What is it you want, Harry?” asked Neville.

“I wanted to see how Enola was doing,” said Harry. “To see if she was up for a bit of magic.”

Neville frowned. “No, Harry. I don’t want to push her. We don’t know how it will affect her recovery.”

Enola scowled from her place on the bed. She was frustrated at being left out of the conversation, and had no idea why her husband was shaking his head so vigorously at whatever it was that Harry was saying.

“What are you two arguing about?” she asked.

Harry turned in dumb surprise. For some reason he had made the assumption that Enola had lost the power of speech with her robbed senses.

“How are you?” Harry mouthed, slow and loud.

“I’m fine,” Enola returned crossly, in the same exaggerated manner. “I am temporarily impaired, Harry, not stupid. Why are you two rowing?”

Harry looked to Neville. “Go on. She’s just as gobby as normal, so she’s generally fine. What do you want from her anyway?”

“I need her help,” said Harry, grinning. “For…this.”

He reached into his pocket and drew out the Philosopher’s Stone, which he had shrunk. He resized it…and Enola’s eyes doubled in size, too, as they fell on it.

“You did it!” she breathed excitedly, holding out her hands. “Give me! Give me!”

She was gesturing impatiently, like a child receiving her biggest Christmas gift. Harry handed it over with a grin.

“You really did it, Harry?” asked Neville, his voice quiet and awestruck. “Does that mean you can be healed now?”

“That’s what I’m here to find out,” said Harry. “I’ve got Cassie brewing up the potion we used on Sally. She’s adding Riddle’s blood to it, I’m going to draw the seed of the Elixir of Life from inside The Stone, add that, too. I’ve got Hermione casting some healing spells onto a bain-marie that we are going to put the solution into. Then I’m going to soak my face in it and hope for the best.

“But your darling wife is the only one I trust to clean my scar by magic. She hasn’t gotten around to teaching Hermione how yet. I was hoping she’d clean me…one last time if it all works. Then she is she can seal this little gash I’ve been carrying around for five years.”

Enola, who had heard none of that, turned the Stone in her hand carefully. She looked up at Harry.

“We can heal you now?” she asked. Harry nodded. “And you want me to help? And Nev thinks I’m fragile and wont let you ask me?”

Harry grinned widely and nodded again, and Enola threw a dangerous look at Neville.

“Right.” said Enola, pulling herself out of bed with a little huff. She prodded Neville in the chest. “You are sweet, but you’re not the boss of me. I’m fine. Just a little diminished right now. Come on, Harry. Take me where you need me.”

Harry stretched his hand for Enola to take and led her through the house to the Recuperation Room. Cassie and Hermione were already there, eyeing the potion sloshing away inside the large cauldron Cassie had brought with her. Hermione hurried to Enola as she entered, drawing her into a deep hug.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” she breathed. “When I saw that curse hit you…”

Enola cut her off and pointed to her ears. “I can’t hear you, Min. My ears have stopped working.”

Hermione gasped and threw a horrified look at Neville, who was pulling up the rear. “Deaf?”

“Only temporary, we hope,” Neville confirmed. “Bellatrix hit her with a curse that took all her senses. But they’re coming back slowly.”

“That evil cunt,” Hermione hissed. “Can we bring her back to life? I’d like to kill her myself!”

Neville snorted. “Nah, that one was mine. And a thing of beauty it was, too.”

“It so was,” Harry agreed.

“Are you talking about me?” Enola huffed. “It better be good if you are.”

Hermione gave her a thumbs up and led her to the bain-marie, where she tried to demonstrate in crude sign language what she was doing. Enola soon cottoned on and began joining her in spell casting. Harry made his way to Cassie.

“Is it ready?” he asked, looking dubiously into the cauldron. The mixture there was globular, like day-old cold porridge. “It looks…er…delightful.”

“I could add a flavouring agent,” said Cassie, hopelessly. “But we don’t know how that might effect it’s potency.”

“No, I’m sure I can take it,” said Harry. “Just need to add the last bit, I suppose.”

He took the red-purple stone in his left hand and placed the tip of his wand to it. He closed his eyes, pushed his magical intent deep into the Stone, and withdrew it slowly, pulling a deep red bubble away with his wand. He stared at it a moment, took a hopeful breath, and eased it into the cauldron and watched Cassie stir it into the solution.

It transformed immediately to a smoother liquid. It became the blush colour of a rose wine. Harry hoped it would taste that nice. Cassie stirred it for a few minutes more and then scooped a beaker-full out and handed it to Harry. Hermione left Enola and came to his side.

“Now or never,” said Harry, bracingly. “Bottoms up.”

“No, wait!” said Hermione, quickly, halting the beaker as Harry pressed it to his lips. “It needs this.”

She pressed her wand to her chest and drew a small portion of her magic. It came like a sliver of memory, dangling from her wand like a golden, glowing worm. She dropped it into Harry’s beaker and stirred it with her wand.

“Me versus Riddle…with your life as the prize,” Hermione whispered, as she placed a tender kiss to the corner of Harry’s mouth. “My money’s on me.”

Harry smiled at her, closed his eyes, and downed the potion in one.

He shuddered as it passed through him. It had been brewed warm, but it was chilly as it raced through his system. He sat down on the bed, as he was shivering too much to remain standing.

“Taste nice?” Hermione asked.

“A bit like tizer,” said Harry, licking the residue from his lips.

“How does it feel?” Hermione asked gently, smoothing little circles on Harry’s forearm with her fingers, as she sat down next to him.

“Like a million little pinpricks in my very cells,” said Harry, trying in vain to describe it.

“Does it hurt?”

“No, more like a tickling irritant,” said Harry. “Like having a stray hair in your mouth that you just can’t find to pull out.”

“Do you think it’s working?”

“I think it must be,” said Harry, cautiously. “It’s never felt like this before.”

“Then lets finish the job,” said Hermione, firmly. She stood and eased Harry back onto the bed. She drew Enola’s attention, and motioned to Harry’s face.

Enola nodded. “You can’t help with this, Min. Just don’t curse me when Harry starts flailing around. I always try to be delicate, but the sensitivity…”

Harry reached over, squeezed Enola’s hand in a gestured of thanks, then closed his eye to wait. Hermione took his other hand in both her own, gripping tight as Harry pinched hard when Enola started her casting. He hissed and tensed and thrashed about as Enola incanted silently, grinding his teeth and moaning lowly from his throat.

“You’re hurting him,” Hermione breathed angrily.

Enola didn’t hear, but Hermione’s dagger-laden look was clear enough. “I know…I know…but this is the only way.”

The whole process took ten minutes. Hermione was sure Harry was going to crush her fingers with his death grip, but she was determined to stand firm with him. When Enola stopped, the scar did look cleaner…and that foul stench was gone from it, at least. Harry squeezed Enola’s hand again and mouthed a pained ‘thank you’. His hair was soaked in sweat as Hermione ran her fingers through it.

“Right.” said Harry. He sat up. “Honey…the bain-marie.”

Hermione pulled the deep copper basin to Harry’s side and Cassie poured the mixture from her cauldron into it. Hermione repeated her trick from the potion Harry had drunk, as that seemed to have worked before, and handed Harry a snorkle.

Harry cocked her a confused grin as he took it from her. “What’s this for?”

“You have to keep your head in the solution for three whole minutes,” said Hermione. “I thought breathing would be a fun thing to do whilst you’re waiting!”

“You think of everything, don’t you?” Harry quirked. “What would I do without you?”

Hermione smiled. “That’s not something you’ll ever have to find out. Are you ready?”

“Three minutes.” said Harry. “Like a soft boiled egg. Here goes.”

Harry placed the snorkle into his mouth and lowered his face into the bain-marie. He felt the effects instantly. The potion flew to his scar like a magnet, sloshing through the groove like Luke Skywalker attacking the Death Star. Harry just closed his eyes and waited. He had forgotten to start counting when his face entered the liquid, but he trusted Hermione to be keeping the time.

Three minutes seemed to take months to pass. But, eventually, Hermione tugged gently on the back of Harry’s neck and eased his head up. He heard her gasp as his face broke the surface of the potion. He turned to her, shocked at her startled expression. Hermione was beaming at him…but it was Enola who spoke.

“Sweet, Merlin, Harry!” she cried. “Your scar looks clean. Lie down! Quickly now.”

Harry did as he was told and Enola took her wand to him. He felt the ridges of his scarred skin being eased together, and a little tear escaped him as he felt Enola’s healing magic knit them back together. Hermione was crying too, joyous tears, as she knelt at his bedside and buried her head into the crook of his shoulder. Harry brought an arm up around her and massaged her scalp, scarcely daring to believe this was actually working.

“Min…” said Enola softly. “Look…”

Hermione raised her head, cast her eyes over Harry’s perfectly healed faced, and sobbed uncontrollably at the sight.

“His eye, Min,” said Enola, gently. “I think you should do it.”

Hermione’s tears ceased at once. She swallowed hard, hiccuping breaths. Harry just smiled at her…his full face completely robbing her of cogent thought a moment.

“How do I?” Hermione asked.

“Just think it,” said Enola. “Your magic will do the rest. You are super-powerful…and this is Harryyou don’t need training to heal him.”

Hermione drew her wand, struggling to hold it steady in trembling fingers. She held it over Harry’s empty eye socket, closed her own eyes and pulled a memory…the first time she’d ever seen him…surrounded by Chocolate Frogs and liquorice wands…those eyes, so startling to behold as they locked on her own, stealing her breath…emerald green…full of hope and emotion…

And Hermione opened her own, and looked down into Harry’s again. Looked into both of them again.

“Hey, you,” Harry whispered softly, reaching up to smooth fresh, happy tears from Hermione’s face. Vision flooded his brain and he drank in the image of his wife for the first time with two eyes…as though it was the first time he’d ever seen her. And she seemed, somehow, even more beautiful.

“Harry…” Enola breathed quietly. “You…you…you’re gorgeous!”

“You really are, Harry!” Cassie agreed with a deep swoon.

They both looked jealously at Hermione, and chorused, “Luckiest fucking witch in the world!”

“One husband…standing right here!” Neville moaned, bitterly.

But Enola didn’t hear a word of his complaint.

* * *

“Master Harry! Your face is all better! And you’re so pretty now. See, Lady Hermione…I told you he was pretty without his scar!”

Hermione laughed and clung onto Harry’s arm. She hadn’t been out of physical contact with him for hours now. And she just couldn’t stop looking at him. She wasn’t vacuous, and his scar hadn’t made a blind bit of difference to her when he had it. But now that he didn’t…he took her breath away even more.

For Hermione had always been physically attracted to Harry. Ever since she’d developed that sort of sentiment towards boys, Harry had just always made her a little weak-kneed. And it was his eyes that did it for her. An innocuous glance at her, when he thought she wasn’t looking, whatever the intent might have been behind it, was enough to send her a little dopey. It might have been something inane – checking how tired she was as she ploughed through an essay, or making sure she wasn’t ignored when the House discussed a Quidditch victory…just to see that care or concern for her in those emerald green pools…it was enough to leave her melted and bit silly.

But to see Harry’s passionate love for her, burning so fiercely in his gaze now…it was sending Hermione brain into an uncontrolled tailspin.

So, she didn’t have any interest in being anywhere other than curled tight into his side. And Harry was equally as content to have her right there, too, so that his new eye could catch up to the other, in terms of time spent just looking at her. That was all kinds of difficult to process for Hermione, and she blushed under the intensity of his stare. He looked like he felt so lucky to have her…and Hermione couldn’t quite wrap her head around that notion.

And Celesca was very right…he was so pretty without his scar.

“Yes he is, sweetheart,” Hermione grinned back at the girl. “He’s very pretty.”

“I prefer handsome,” Harry frowned. “Pretty…pfft.”

“Does it not hurt now?” asked Celesca. She couldn’t help but reach over and pull on Harry’s newly repaired skin.

“Well, that hurts a bit!” Harry laughed. Celesca pulled her hand back quickly, offering a cute little grin of guilt as she did.

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine, I’m tough, I can take it,” Harry smirked.

“Mummy said you wanted to see me?” said Celesca.

“Yes, we did,” said Harry. “I’m just testing out my new eye. It wants to see everything!”

Celesca giggled. “Does it all work properly, then?”

“Yes, I can see you perfectly well,” said Harry. “Which is a new thing for me, because I used to wear glasses before. Did you do that on purpose, Min?”

“No, but I suppose the Elixir of Life just cured everything,” Hermione replied, thoughtfully.

“Honey…we need to make a bit of a decision on that,” said Harry.

“On what?”

“The Elixir,” said Harry. “You realise we can live forever now, don’t you? I think we should pick a number.”

“Harry, you don’t just decide something like that on the spot!” Hermione cried, shaking her head in wonder. “But, I tell you what. We’ll make enough Elixir to wait until shell suits come back into fashion. Then we’ll know society is on the verge of collapse and we’ll die before it happens!”

Harry chortled. “Deal.”

Hermione turned to Celesca. “But no, Cesc, we didn’t ask for you so that we could make bad jokes. We need your help.”

“Ooh, I like helping,” said Celesca cheerily. “What do you need me to do?”

“We have this item here,” said Harry, tapping the Seal of Gryffindor as he placed it on the coffee table between them. “It has a life signal going to it. We were wondering if you could tell us who it is…and, more importantly, where it goes.”

“Let me see,” said Celesca, sitting on her knees and scooting over to it. Then her expression fell. “Master Harry! Snake-man is in there!”

“I know, honey,” said Harry. “Don’t worry, he cant hurt you. Don’t look at that. Just tell me if there are any energy lines going to it.”

Celesca closed her eyes and breathed deeply, reaching into her Seer magic. She nodded.

“There is a line…just one,” she breathed. “It’s from a child…a little boy…”

Hermione looked sorrowfully at Harry. “It is Teddy, then.”

Harry ground his jaw angrily, and took a breath to steady himself. “Can you find where it goes, Cesc?”

“Yes…yes I should be able to,” said Celesca. She breathed hard again, as if going into trance. “It’s in a village for magical people…lots of shops…a tea shop…two places where wizards go and drink lots of beer and mead…”

“Hogsmeade?” Hermione whispered in shock.

“Yes! That’s what it’s called, Lady Hermione,” said Celesca. “I can see the sign now. There’s a school there.”

“Hogwarts? Why would Teddy be there?

“No, it isn’t the castle for young witches and wizards,” said Celesca. “It’s for even younger ones than them.”

“Harry!” said Hermione, suddenly. “It must be one of the Academies!”

“The what?

“Voldemort set up satellite institutions for young kids,” Hermione explained quickly. “They were called things like The Young Wizards Brigade and the LV Youth. They were centres where children would be educated in a curriculum Riddle designed.”

“Brainwashed, you mean,” Harry replied angrily.

“Pretty much,” Hermione confirmed. “But they were always secret places. Parents had no idea where their kids had gone until they came of age to attend Hogwarts. Two of Ron’s proposed wives had come though that system. That’s the only reason I know about it.”

“Then it looks like we’re going back to school,” said Harry, standing. “Thanks, Celesca, you can come back now.”

“Wait! Master Harry!” Celesca breathed in horror. “You mustn’t go there!”

“Why not?” asked Harry.

“Because…because…Snake-man is there! Right now!” she breathed in a petrified little voice.

“Riddle! He’s with Teddy!” Harry breathed.

Celesca nodded. “They are talking…he’s saying he’s going to give the little boy a tour…a tour of the castle. He says he can pick any room he wants for his own. Master Harry – I think that’s where he lives, you know…”

“Riddle…lives at Hogwarts?” Hermione thought aloud.

“It makes sense, actually,” said Harry. “It was the only place he ever considered to be his home. It follows that he would make his base there.”

“But think of all those kids…a thousand or more of them…all being brainwashed by him on a daily basis,” Hermione hissed in disbelief. “Good Merlin, Harry!”

“I know, I know,” he snarled back.

Then Celesca jumped up. “Master Harry! He knows…he knows I’m here…he can see me!”

“Come away from there! Right now!” Hermione ordered as Harry snatched up the Horcrux. Celesca opened her frightened eyes.

“It’s okay, I got away,” she said, panting heavily. “I’m sorry. I should have hidden. People don’t normally see me when I’m like that.”

“Are you okay?” asked Hermione in desperate concern. Celesca nodded and Hermione drew her into a hug. “I’m sorry, honey, we shouldn’t have asked you to do that.”

“But you know where the little boy is now,” said Celesca brightly. “But I wouldn’t go for him just yet, if I were you.”

“No, we can’t, Harry,” Hermione agreed. “We can’t face Riddle. Not yet.”

“I know,” said Harry, ruefully. “We have to destroy his Horcrux first. Thanks, Cesc. I’ll have Rhian make you that chocolate cake you like so much.”

“Ooh, thank you,” Celesca beamed. “I’ll go and tell Mummy. I’m sure she’ll be very cross with me if I don’t share. She likes cake, too, you see.”

* * *

Hermione huffed as Harry closed the door to the Ritual Room. He looked at her in an apologetic sort of way. But she was very cross with him.

“What do you mean you tortured Ron without me?” she chuffed. “That was supposed to be a family activity!”

“Sorry, I just wanted a go at him myself first,” said Harry. “Look, you took the actual kill off me. I have to be allowed something.”

“Okay, I suppose you have a point,” Hermione replied, with a little frown.

“Besides,” said Harry. “This is a gift that will keep on giving.”

Hermione thought about that a moment. “You mean we can do it again!”

“And again and again, if you like,” Harry grinning.

“I do like,” said Hermione. “But I still get to do the final kill.”

“Of course,” said Harry. “Have you decided on a method yet?”

“Yes…yes, I think so,” said Hermione. “Wanna hear it?”

“I am all ears for this,” said Harry, his eyes flashing. “Hit me with it.”

“Okay. But don’t go all mental at my reasons.”

“All right,” said Harry, cautiously.

“Well, the worst part, of all the tortures he put me through, was the regular raping,” said Hermione, taking Harry’s hands soothingly as he winced at her words. “They were worse than the beatings, even with his tiny cock. It was worse than his punches, his slaps, the clumps of my hair he ripped out. Bruises fade, bones heal, my hair grew back.

“But the rape was more intimate. He was inside me, see. Physically in my body. I can never wash enough to get rid of that. He soiled me.”

“So…what’s your vengeance?” Harry ground out, angrily.

“Well, I found this book on mediaeval torture in the library,” Hermione went on. “And there was this one method that was…inspiring. So, I’m going to adapt it for my purposes.”

“What are you going to do?”

“First, I’m going to castrate him,” said Hermione. “Then transfigure his cock until it’s about nine-feet tall. Then I’m going to put a sharp tip on the end. Then, I’ll strip him naked, put his arsehole onto the cock-spike, and let gravity slowly drive it through his body, until his own bell-end comes out of his mouth and his ginger pubes – which I’ll transfigure to razor-wire – scratch his throat to pieces. It will take a few hours and I’m thinking of getting a bottle of wine, and some cheese and biscuits, and settling in to watch every second of it.”

Harry blinked at her in stunned silence. “Wow…just…okay. Just one question, I suppose.”

“Which is?”

“Red, white or rose…for the wine, I mean?” Harry grinned.

Hermione laughed. “Come on, show me what you’ve done to him so far.”

Harry repeated his process from before, drew all the magic of the Ritual Room to him, then pulled Ron’s spirit back to the place.

And even he was surprised by what he saw.

For Ron was sat with his knees hugged into his chest, rocking side to side and muttering to himself. His head was wobbling with little shakes as his lips flapped open at a rapid pace.

“What did you do to him?” Hermione quirked, as she watched Ron’s insanity course through him.

“I pushed his head through into the next world,” Harry explained. “He was like this when he came back. Wouldn’t surprise me if half his mind is still in there.”

He nodded at the Veil, flapping away in front of him.

Hermione huffed. “And you were shocked at my kill idea? There’s artistry in what you’ve done, honey.”

“Glad you approve,” said Harry. “What’s he saying? I can’t make it out.”

“Something about his mother,” said Hermione, kneeling next to him. “Like she’s telling him off and he’s making excuses. Oh…now that’s an idea!”

“What?”

“Watch this,” Hermione grinned. She drew her wand and pulled some of the swirling magical mist to her, forming it into a large, rotund shape. Then she cast a mimicking charm on her voice.

“Ronald! You naughty little boy! Get up off that floor this instant!”

Harry burst out laughing. Hermione had made herself sound like Molly, and thrown her voice to come from the vague shape standing over Ron. He obeyed the order and got up.

“Now, for being such a disappointing son, I want you to punch yourself in the bollocks three times,” said Hermione, sternly.

And Ron did as he was told, doubling up in agony as the third blow connected. Harry just hooted with laughter.

“And now,” Hermione went on. “Let’s see if we can get your brain to work. Go to the wall and head-butt it for a full minute.”

Ron, again, did as he was told, but knocked himself cold after forty-five seconds. His spirit form vanished as he hit the floor.

“Oh, crap! Did I kill him?” Hermione complained. “I hope not. That’s not how I want it.”

“No, I just think his being unconscious means there isn’t enough energy to make a stable connection,” said Harry. “Interesting. Wow. I really fucked his mind up. Maybe we should leave him like that, keep feeding him the Elixir for eternity so he suffers until the end of time.”

“There’s merit in that,” Hermione pondered. “But, no. I want to kill him. I’m really looking forward to it. I might leave it till Christmas Day, give it to myself as a present.”

Harry laughed. “That’s a grand idea. We could put a bow on him and everything.”

“No,” Hermione said decisively. “That’s three months away. I’m not waiting that long.”

“Okay. So I have another question,” said Harry. “Who goes first? Riddle or Ron?”

“Good question,” Hermione replied, thinking shrewdly a moment. “Only one, sensible, adult way to decide such a thing, really.”

“Which is?”

“Hold up your fists for me. There, good.” said Hermione, easing Harry’s arms apart until they were evenly spaced. “Okay, right is Riddle, left is Ron. Eeenie, meenie, miney, mo…catch a Death Eater, by his toe…if he squeals, let him go…and hit him with a reductor curse or something…eeenie, meenie, miney, mo.”

Harry laughed. “Riddle it is then.”

“I think I prefer it that way around,” said Hermione, nodding. “So, when do we go for Teddy?”

“I’ve sent Didi and his ZGD team to get him,” said Harry. “Person extraction is a speciality of theirs.”

“Harry…you know he wont want to come,” said Hermione. “And do you have any clue how we’re going to break the link to the Horcrux?”

“I genuinely don’t know,” said Harry. “I’m going to bring him right in here, just in case Riddle has rigged him with something.”

“Harry, what if the only way to break the link…is to kill him?”

“Hermione…”

“What? I have to say it,” she replied, firmly. “We killed the Dursleys, Dumbledore…my marriage to Ron had to die, too. It’s a common theme.”

“I’m not killing my godson,” said Harry sternly. “We will have to find another way. I’m wondering if Celesca can somehow block the signal to the Horcrux, just long enough to destroy it. Then we can work on cleansing Teddy’s mind.”

“I’ll give you every chance to do things your way, honey,” said Hermione. Then she stepped forwards and placed a gentle kiss to his cheek, before locking her eyes on both of his with unshakable seriousness. “But…if you cant…I will do what needs to be done…in my way. And you’ll just have to create enough Elixir to live long enough to forgive me for it. Just know that.”

Then she left Harry quite alone with his difficult thoughts.

* * *

It took three days.

When Harry felt the shimmer on the air, that indicated the wards being opened, on a balmy Wednesday at the start of October, he was sat in his secret copse, enjoying the afternoon sun with a pint of ice-cold cider, freshly kegged from his on-site brewery. It was just the most refreshing way to cut through the dry heat of the day. Harry enjoyed brewing, but he enjoyed sampling the fruits of his labour just as much.

And cider was simply the only way to use an orchard full of apples in Harry’s opinion.

It had been a nice day up to that point. Hermione’s was sat nearby, perched in a sort of lotus position. She was meditating on her Animagus form underneath the little Hippogriff fountain. Harry was thrilled to bits that she’d decided to pursue the Animagus transformation, and astounded that she’d decided to try and become a lioness, just to match him as his animal mate.

That was all kinds of awesome in his mind.

When he transformed for her, to allow her to take a cutting of his mane, it was such an intimate moment for them. He’d never transformed for anyone in a private way like that before, and certainly never allowed anyone to pet him. But when Hermione ran her fingers in absolute wonder through his fur…it was just one of the most sensual moments of his life.

Harry was always differently sensitive when he was the lion…and Hermione’s touch was just delicious. He knew instantly why cats purred and rubbed themselves against people after that. He did, butting his head gently against Hermione’s fingers, her thighs, any part he could, leaving his scent all over her. It was addictive.

Now he just couldn’t wait to do it to her…as a human and as a cat. It was a thrilling prospect.

But all that would have to wait. Hermione opened her eyes gently as she felt the air shift, too, and Harry stood, drained the remnants of his glass and made his way quickly towards the house. Hermione was on his heels in seconds.

“Is it Dietmar?” she asked.

“Must be,” said Harry. “There’s no one else outside of the boundary. And Neville has been monitoring our communication links with Didi’s team. That’s Neville’s signature on the air. He opened the wards.”

“How do you want to play this?”

“I’ll go to the Ritual Room,” said Harry. “I’ve told Nev that’s where Teddy is to be brought. You go and fetch Celesca. I know…I know what you said…but I have to try this first.”

“I know you do,” said Hermione, gently. “I’ll get Cesc.”

“Thank you.”

They parted with a kiss and Harry hurried down the staircase and into the Ritual Room. It seemed colder than normal, perhaps due to Harry’s hot, sun-kissed skin and he shivered against it. He was filled with a bizarre sense of foreboding. He couldn’t shake it, and simply paced with his unease until Neville entered the room.

Harry heard them before they entered. A young voice, cursing and shouting, and Neville trying to pacify him. Then they were in the room…and Harry got his first look at his godson.

He was ugly. There was no other way to describe him. Deep-sunk, dark eyes, with a distinctly cruel look, and a sneer for an expression. His hair was shifting in colour and styles, reflecting his angry, frustrated state. He was raging against Neville, who eventually let him go and stood guard at the door. Harry had to flick his wand at the runes, which sent out a wave to magic to hold Teddy Lupin in place.

“Hello, Teddy,” said Harry. “Do you know who I am?”

“Yes, but you don’t know me!” Teddy snapped. “My name isn’t Teddy…it’s Theo…or Theodore, to you. Take me back to my father. Now!”

“Your father?” Harry asked.

“Lord Voldemort!” Theo yelled, almost in reverent salute. “And he will kill you, Harry Potter, when he finds out what you’ve done!”

“Teddy…Theo,” said Harry gently. “That…that man…is not your father. Your father was called Remus Lupin. He was a good friend of mine. He made me your godfather and tasked me with your protection. That’s why I’ve rescued you.”

“I don’t need to be rescued,” he spat angrily. “And I don’t want to be. Take me home!”

“You…want to go back? To Tom Riddle?”

“I don’t know any Tom Riddle,” Theo spewed. His voice was hate-filled, laced with acid. It felt corrosive to Harry’s ears. “Just take me back to my father…so I can watch him kill you!”

Harry felt a piece of his heart break. He closed his eyes.

“Voldemort killed your real parents,” said Harry. “Don’t you want to know who they were?”

He is my Lord and my father! I need no other! If you don’t let me go, I will cut out your heart when you sleep! And my father will reward me greatly!”

‘You’re already doing it while I’m awake!’ Harry thought sorrowfully, his heart sinking under the weight of his hurt.

Just then Hermione entered with Celesca in tow. She crossed to Harry and stood at his side, Celesca drawn close under her right arm. Harry looked at Hermione and gave a delicate shake of his head. She closed her eyes and took a heavy breath. Harry swallowed hard, noticing that Hermione had entered with her wand already drawn. It throbbed with her magic now, steeled for the nightmare task facing them.

Behind Hermione’s wand, the Veil flapped gently in its arch.

“You!” Theo hissed acidly. “You’re the mind witch! My father said you are evil and dangerous. Get away from me, you!”

He was directing his vitriol at Celesca as she stepped away from Hermione.

“I was only trying to find you,” said Celesca. “To help you. The snake-man is very bad. You should stay with us. Let us help you.”

“I don’t need help…you all do,” Theo spat angrily.

“Come on, don’t be cross,” Celesca implored, smiling sweetly. “We can fix you. Maybe we can be friends.”

And she held out her hand in a gesture of good will.

Then, three things happened in quick succession.

First, Theo looked at Celesca’s outstretched hand…then his face darkened with evil intent. He dived forwards aggressively, throwing his hands out as if to push Celesca…

And she had somehow managed to step back onto the Veil Archway platform…

Time seemed to stand still as Theo rushed forward.

Then Harry and Hermione roared and screamed in unison. And their voices, bound with their magic and the power of the room, took on physical form. It was unclear who did what, but the net result was that Celesca was pushed clear to safety…and Theo was left clutching at air, as he lunged into the gap Celesca had vacated, and the other physical shout hit him from behind.

He tripped, stumbled forwards…and toppled through the Veil before anyone could do anything about it.

Harry fell to his knees with a throaty groan, staring at the point where his godson had vanished. Hermione darted to Celesca, who apart from being a bit shaken, was otherwise fine. Then she hurried to Harry, enveloping him in a fierce, consoling embrace.

“Oh…Harry…I’m sorry…so, so sorry,” she whispered gently.

Harry folded into her embrace as Celesca came over, and patted his head awkwardly. Harry snatched his arm around her, drawing her tightly into his lap. They’d almost lost her…this wonderful child, who Harry had grown to love very much. The panic that idea sent through him eroded his guilt at Teddy’s loss for now…he could deal with that later. He gripped Celesca firmly.

“I’m so sorry, honey. Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m all right,” she said brightly. She looked forlornly at the still-flapping Veil. “He was your relative?”

“He was my Godson,” Harry explained. “I loved my own Godfather very much, from the moment I found out about him. I just assumed Teddy would be the same when he met me. It never crossed my mind he’d be so…corrupted. I was stupid…and more blind with two eyes than I ever was with one.”

“He wasn’t the boy you thought he would be,” said Celesca, quietly. “He was…black…inside. The Snake-man must have done something to him…he didn’t feel right.”

Harry hugged her close. “I’m sorry I asked you to come here for this. I won’t abuse your gift again, Celesca. You’re too precious to lose. And that was far too close. Luna will give me scar back when she finds out about this!”

Celesca giggled and clutched him tight. “I won’t let her do that, don’t worry. See, Lady Hermione…this is how to give proper hugs. I think Master Harry should teach my husband how to cuddle when he’s born…he’s so good at it.”

* * *

Harry interlaced his fingers behind his head, took a deep breath, and leant back against the headboard of his and Hermione’s bed. The images of the day were racing through his mind, now that the adrenaline had worn off. He screwed his eyes tight shut, replayed the vision of Teddy falling through the Veil, and tried to master his heartsick anguish at it.

It was like Sirius all over again. His heart ached inside his chest. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Remus and Tonks had trusted him…entailed the safety of their child to him. And he’d failed them spectacularly. Not just by allowing Teddy to die, but by allowing him to be so blackened by the taint of Tom Riddle during his short life. That was a far bigger dereliction of his own duty in Harry’s mind.

He hadn’t tried hard enough to find his Godson, that was what was eating at him. He should have prioritised that. He couldn’t get to Hermione and protect her, but he could have found Teddy and protected him. He should have. Harry could find no good reason why he hadn’t. He could have stopped all of the corruption, before it had a chance to take such profound roots. Harry breathed in heavy, weighted sighs and hated himself more than he had for a while recently.

“Enough now, you couldn’t have done any more than you did,” said Hermione crossly, speaking from the alchemy cell, which she was slowly converting to her own personal en suite bathroom. “About Teddy or me.”

Harry quirked a grin at her. “I thought you agreed not to read my mind anymore?”

“When? I never agreed to that,” Hermione replied, evenly. “And I never will. I’m not stupid enough to give up a gift like that!

Harry chuckled at that. “Come to bed. I need you.”

Hermione stood from the little vanity table she’d installed and put down her hairbrush. And Harry lost his breath a moment. For his wife wasn’t wearing her usual white cotton nightie. She was in a short, satin number. Periwinkle blue with black lace frill, around a plunging neckline, held up by flimsy straps. Her pert cleavage stood proudly as she walked to Harry, who swung himself up to sit on the edge of the bed to meet her.

Harry slid his hands to her satin silky waist and just looked her all over. He met her gaze and found her smiling down at him

“Are you trying to kill me with this, or what?”

“Do you like?” she asked, giving a little curtsey. “I thought I’d try something different for you.”

“And let it never be said that I don’t like change!” Harry grinned. He let himself get lost in her figure for a gorgeous moment. “You’re so beautiful, don’t ever think you’re not.”

Harry slid his hands down the back of Hermione’s soft legs, grinning as her knees shook when his fingertips tickled them from behind. He brought his hands back up maddeningly slowly, caressing every fraction of his wife’s skin, until he reached that satin hem once more. He ran his fingers under it, feeling the hot flesh of Hermione’s arse and shivered pleasantly himself at the contact.

“No knickers?” Harry asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Do I need knickers?” Hermione replied, her voice low and husky.

“Never in my presence,” Harry replied smoothly.

“Maybe I’ll just give them up as a bad job then,” Hermione pondered. “As I intend to always be in your presence!”

“Oh sweet mother of Merlin!”

Hermione laughed softly. “Are you going to be okay?”

Harry sighed deeply. “I’ll have to be, won’t I? I need to finish this, Min. Destroy the Horcrux, put an end to Tom Riddle for good. Then I can mourn. I’ll need you for all of that. And the fallout may be worse than what it takes to win the day. Please…don’t leave me if I fall to pieces.”

“Oh, Harry. I’ll never leave you. I’m not going anywhere.”

Hermione let her hands get lost in Harry’s hair, drawing his head softly to her stomach and rhythmically massaging his scalp, as he continued his gentle kneading of her bum. She allowed him a brief period of self-pity, waiting until his dark minute had passed, until he drew strength from her and calmed. Arousal then came quickly, stirring in Harry, displacing the self-loathing clouding in his mind. Hermione reached down and tugged his t-shirt off, before easing him down gently onto the bed. He went without hesitation, his heart hammering as he slid back to a better position, allowing Hermione to pull off his boxers and straddle him.

She ran a teasing finger from his waistline, right up his stomach and over his chest, to rest on his lips, where he sucked it wantonly into his mouth. Hermione followed the path traced by her fingers with her tongue next, pausing to flick at Harry’s nipples, which sprung to life under her ministrations. Harry gasped wildly as Hermione blew gently on them, before she continued her upward motion and captured his mouth with her own.

Hermione kissed Harry fully, but sensually, no longer inhibited by his broken skin. Her right hand snaked up and got lost in his hair again, pulling his mouth harder to her own. Harry moaned into her throat, his tongue sliding over hers as she quested for access. He gave it without a fight, his hands curling around her shoulders as if acting with minds of their own.

All the while, Hermione’s moistness was slickening Harry’s own potent arousal, where she was sat on him. She moved on him gently, teasing him to the brink of insanity as he got lost in her folds. His mind was racing, his pulse a million times more so. Hermione mewled softly as Harry’s kisses became more passionate, and she knew she couldn’t keep teasing him much longer.

Harry took control, rolling his wife gently onto her back, nuzzling crazily at her neck, as his hand caressed her still satin-covered belly and quested for her breasts. Harry released them from their flimsy cover expertly, tickling his fingers slowly around one nipple then the other, until Hermione could take no more.

“Harry, I need you inside me. Right now.”

Harry, almost lost in his rampant lust, found the presence of mind to reach for his wand, despite his throbbing cock aching in protest at the delay. He raised his wand, and aimed it at Hermione.

“What are you doing?” she asked racily. She wasn’t about to complain, not if Harry was going for sex magic again, not that he needed to. She was mindlessly breathless as it was.

“Contraceptive charm,” said Harry, simply. “Your last one has worn off.”

Hermione bit on her lip a moment, pondering the risk she was about to take. She made the decision…then snatched her hand up and grabbed Harry’s wrist firmly. She looked into his eyes, so bright and vibrant, but now…so confused, also. It was still a bit odd for there to be two of them now. It was taking a bit of getting used to.

But Hermione didn’t need their mental connection to communicate her intent for this one.

Don’t…

Hermione just focused on Harry intensely as her soft word faded, her breathing rapid and nervous. She was afraid for a moment, trying to gauge his reaction. So she repeated her instruction in that gentle, gossamer-soft tone.

“Don’t…just…don’t…

Harry swallowed hard as understanding struck, his breath coming in shallow, uncertain rasps. He looked terrified and wonder-struck all at once, as if Hermione was offering him his best dream and he was unsure how to accept it, but knew it was all he’d ever wanted just the same.

“Y-you sure?”

Hermione smiled, and eased his wand away from her womb. “I’m sure. Make love to me, Harry…with nothing between us. We’ve nearly saved today, so let’s start thinking about tomorrow…about our future…starting tonight.”

Harry leant down and kissed her softly, brushing her lips tenderly with his own. He parted her legs, which she curled around him as he shifted…and he took his rightful place inside her.

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