Chapter 20 – The Land of Our Fathers
“I now declare you…Bonded for life!”
A rousing cheer went up from the crowds at Harry’s words. Myfanwy leaned over and kissed Angharad first, perhaps a little too passionately for a wedding ceremony, but this was a magical wedding and pecks were for prudes. As Angharad proved spectacularly a moment later, by scooping Myfanwy into her arms and carrying her into the special, soundproofed marquee…where they would carry out their Bedding Ceremony, as soon as they both stopped giggling.
Everyone else filed in chirpily to watch. Fan and Ann had wanted it to be a traditional wedding, after all.
“Here you go, Min,” said Enola brightly, as she handed baby Alison to her. “She’s just had a feed, so she wont be any trouble for an hour or so. This should all be over by then.”
“Come on, little munchkin,” said Hermione, calling over to Celesca, who was stood in a pretty yellow dress and matching bonnet nearby. “Let’s go for a walk, shall we?”
Hermione took Celesca’s hand, as she cradled Alison in the crook of her other arm. Harry, watching just to the left of the group, let his mind drift to a most beautiful fantasy a moment. He sidled up to them and took up Celesca’s free hand in his own.
“I don’t understand why I have to go away, when no-one else does,” Celesca frowned, as Harry and Hermione began leading her away from the temporary altar, which was still nicely shaded by the gazebo erected above it. “I was a flower girl, after all.”
“You were, sweetheart,” Hermione soothed. “And a better flower girl we could not have found in the whole world!”
Celesca was pacified at that. “But I still have to go?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” said Harry. “The brides have to conduct a ritual now, and little children aren’t allowed to see it.”
“Oh. I see. They’ll be taking all their clothes off, then.”
Hermione laughed. “What makes you say that?”
“Because loads of things grown-ups do – that kids aren’t allowed to see – involve everyone taking their clothes off,” said Celesca, sagely. “You all like taking your clothes off way too much. You do it for everything. I wonder why you wear them at all sometimes. I hope I don’t have to start taking my clothes off all the time when I get older. I don’t want everyone seeing my foofy.”
Harry choked out a laugh at that. “You just keep up with that attitude, sweetheart, and you’ll go far!”
Hermione smirked at him and shook her head.
“And it’s such a shame, because Miss Myfanwy and Miss Angharad had on such pretty matching dresses,” Celesca went on. She was right. The sky-blue gowns had been stunning. “But…can I ask a question?”
“You can ask as many as you like,” said Harry, helping Celesca onto a little wrought iron bench at the bottom of the garden, far away from the temporary bed chamber up near the house.
“And keep asking till you run out,” Hermione added, sliding down onto the bench next to Luna’s daughter and adjusting Alison into a better position in her lap.
“Well, first…will they be called Mrs and Mrs now?” asked Celesca.
“Now that they’re married, yes,” Hermione replied.
“And who’s name will they have on the end? Because usually the wife has to take the husband’s name, doesn’t she? Like you…Hermione Potter. But…they are both wives…so how do they pick?”
Hermione just took a few seconds to swoon at the sound of her married name. She rather thought she always would.
“It is traditional, you’re right,” said Hermione. “But sometimes people have both names. I’ve just always wanted to be Hermione Potter, so there was no way I’d be anything else once I became Harry’s wife.”
Celesca nodded in solemn understanding. “I’m looking forward to being Celesca Potter when I get married, too.”
Harry blew out a surprised breath. Celesca’s ease with divining the future left him astonished.
“But, my other question is…how can they be married? Because they’re both girls,” said Celesca, innocently.
“Is that a problem, do you think?” asked Harry.
“No…it’s just…girls normally marry boys, don’t they? Celesca queried. “I mean, they can’t have babies with just girls, can they?”
“There’s no reason why girls can’t marry girls, or boys marry boys,” said Hermione. “A Marriage Bond is cast between two people. It doesn’t matter what the configuration is.”
“Configuration?” Harry quirked. “You old romantic, you!”
“Shut it, Harry!” Hermione chortled back.
“It’s really quite simple, Cesc,” said Harry. “Myfanwy and Angharad love each other very much, and want to make the commitment to spend the rest of their lives together. Just like me and Hermione. They’re good girls…and they have just as much right to be miserable in marriage as the rest of us!”
Harry winked at Hermione, who swatted at him behind Celesca’s head.
“I see. But what about babies?”
“If they decide they want to have children, they can find a wizard to help them and they could both have babies if they wanted,” said Hermione.
“Oh yeah!” Celesca chirruped brightly, her eyes popping wide. “I never thought of that. They’d just need a wizard to give them some of his tadpoles, wouldn’t they?”
“Tadpoles?” asked Harry, cluelessly confused.
“Yes, tadpoles,” said Hermione pointedly. “It’s all about tadpoles in our world, honey.”
“And don’t forget the weird eggs with no shells,” said Celesca seriously. This was a facet of baby making she’d made pretty clear she would never be comfortable with. Forget all the messy habit of naked cuddling, the idea of an egg with no shell was the most mind-blowing thing in Celesca’s range of conception.
And, for a Seer, that was saying something.
“No, we shouldn’t forget those,” said Hermione, grinning at the perplexed look on Harry’s face.
“But would the babies be okay? With just having two mummies and no daddy, do you think?” asked Celesca.
“Well, you didn’t have a daddy and you turned out pretty good,” Harry pointed out.
“I did have Uncle Clive, and he played being a Daddy quite well,” said Celesca thoughtfully.
“Just look at me then,” said Harry. “The evil snake-man took my mum and dad away from me before I knew them…and you’ve seen how horrible my aunt and uncle were. And I’m pretty okay. Mostly. I mean, I’ve married the most beautiful woman under the sky…so I can’t be all that bad!”
Harry swapped looks with Hermione, who just smiled at him adoringly.
“Hmmm, Lady Hermione is the prettiest witch,” Celesca pondered, to which Hermione mock swooned to Harry. “I think, though, that’s why you’re going to be such a good Daddy, you know.”
“I…I-I am?” Harry stumbled, shaken by Celesca’s cast-iron certainty on this, one of his most fundamental life goals. “What makes you so sure?”
She turned to him with those expressive blue eyes. “Well, you’ve seen how it can be done so wrong…by your bad uncle and the snake-man to your poor Godson…and you know what you missed by not having your own Daddy…so you know how to do everything right with your own little boys and girls.”
Harry just pulled Celesca tightly to him, saying nothing. He didn’t trust himself to. She had swelled his heart into his throat and pushed tears behind his eyes again. Hermione reached over behind Celesca’s head and took Harry’s hand in her own, smiling gently and smoothing his skin in support and utter agreement at Celesca’s declaration. Harry just hugged Luna’s daughter – who was perfectly content not to know the reason why she was being so lovingly embraced – and hoped his children were half as wonderful as her when they came along. Hermione’s expression, her glowing skin and bright eyes, threatened to melt Harry if he looked at them too long.
“Why all the questions about girls marrying girls, honey?” asked Hermione gently, as Harry let her go reluctantly. “Are you worried that you might want to marry a girl when you get older? It’s perfectly fine if that’s what happens, you need to know that.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure I’m going to marry your son,” said Celesca, biting her lip in a burst of anxiety. “I really want to do that. But I’m not always right. What if I like girls, like Angharad and Myfanwy?”
“Well, it’s simple,” said Harry. “You’ll just have to marry one of our daughters instead!”
“Oh…well, yes, I suppose I could do that, couldn’t I?” Celesca pondered. “Okay. We’ll call that Plan B. But I still think I’d rather marry your son. I’ve made up my mind on that. Besides, if I did marry one of your daughters, I don’t think she’d like his tadpoles making babies with her eggs, would she?”
“No, sweetheart, that’s just all sorts of wrong,” said Hermione, darkly.
Harry just laughed and wondered when his world had become so normal. And to think…a couple more murders might be all it took to keep it this way forever. And, for the first time in his life, Harry felt in complete control of his own destiny. That was something he could definitely achieve. It was startling and, for a second, he was a little afraid of it.
Then he flicked a look at his wife, beaming as she listened to Celesca babbling happily away. And Harry felt his heart soar in his chest. Hermione had mastered holding baby Alison, even going so far as to almost subconsciously adjust the way she was rocking her, in response to the little baby noises she was gurgling out, as though understanding a new language between them. And she was attentive and encouraging to Celesca, prompting her curiosity in all the right ways and easing her towards the correct conclusions on life. And a bolt of understanding hit Harry like a happy arrow to the heart.
Hermione was good at this…good at being a Mum. Harry felt his throat tauten at that. He just watched them a minute…and felt like he was watching his future. Then he had to excuse himself and disappear into his secret copse nearby. If was going to cry these silly, joyous tears – which he so was – then at least the fountain would be able to mask the sound of his girly weeping.
* * *
Harry guffawed and took another glass of champagne from a platter Sally was offering around. Harry had intended on enchanting the platters to float themselves, but Sally was so excited at having two arms again that she insisted on being able to carry things for the party, just to show them off to everyone. It was only when she threatened to put permanent sticking charms on Hermione’s underwear – for she was now back in her role as Lady Potter’s personal helper-elf – that Harry quickly, and emphatically, gave in.
Neville helped himself to a glass, too, as Harry continued to chortle at him.
“I remember seeing a few sex rituals when I was in the U.S.” said Harry. “The Osage tribe have dwelled in the Ozarks since the beginning of recorded history. I went there looking for a cure for my scar. They invited me to add my magic to the marriage ritual of the Chief Elder’s son, as they felt I was a prophecy sent by their Star People Ancestors. Poor kid. He was only 18 or so, and they made him fuck his bride – who was stunning, by the way – in Crooked Creek, which flows there, in front of the entire tribe. It was at midnight, the water was freezing, and it took three anti-impotence charms just to keep him hard!
“They gave me this beautiful ceremonial headdress as a thank you. It can help with spiritual journeys…if you want to smoke a whole bunch of herbal drugs and get off your tits first! I rather thought my mind was fucked up enough as it was, so I’ve never tried it!”
Neville spat out a laugh at that. “Well, this ritual was a bit different to that.”
“In a word?”
“One isn’t enough, mate,” Neville quirked. “Hottest fucking thing ever! That might just cover it! I don’t know what it is about lesbian sex…but the answer was in there somewhere. Merlin, they fuck like pros.”
Harry thundered out a laugh. It didn’t surprise him. He couldn’t remember a gentle display of affection between Fan and Ann…even their ‘good morning’ kisses were like a tempter from a red-lit window in Amsterdam.
“Seriously, brother, it’s a good thing you weren’t there,” said Neville. “You and Hermione can hardly keep your mitts off each other as it is. If you’d seen that…you’d have probably triggered a mass orgy!”
Harry shook his head. “I’m disappointed that you and Ennie didn’t!”
Neville shifted awkwardly and moved to the window of the reception marquee, where they were enjoying the party, in what might have been the last sunshine of the Welsh Summer. Harry, concerned, went with him.
“Sorry, Harry, it’s just…not easy for me to say things like this,” said Neville, looking more shifty than ever.
And then, without warning, he turned and snatched Harry into a bone-crushing hug, breaking five years of unspoken propriety that they’d established between them. Harry, to his own surprise, found he didn’t mind. So he hugged Neville back.
They broke apart, somewhat awkwardly. “Okay. What’s come over you? Has watching a lesbian wedding stirred that latent homosexuality I always suspected in you?”
Neville chortled. “No, not quite. Though I’d better acclimatise to that. Because if I hear Ennie say one more time how we’ve got to tempt you and Hermione into a little tryst…you should have kept the scar, mate. Ennie is dead serious about that now you’re all gorgeous again.”
Harry swallowed his shock and gave a nervous laugh. But Neville’s expression didn’t change. He wasn’t joking…Harry wasn’t sure what he thought about that.
“But, no, it’s just that,” Neville began, embarrassed. “I’ve not had a chance to say thank you.”
“For what you did for me,” said Neville, his cheeks turning scarlet. “For my problem.“
Ah. Now Harry understood. But Neville, it seemed, didn’t think he did.
“I can’t tell you how grateful I am, because I can’t put proper words to it,” he said quietly. “I…I was failing, Harry. Not as a man, there’s more to being a man than that. But as a husband. And a father. I couldn’t make love to my wife, to show her in the most powerful way I can just how much I love her. I couldn’t get my body to respond to her the way my mind and heart were, and I know she blamed herself.
“And I couldn’t do anything about it. Then it started to plague my mind. I started finding excuses to not be intimate with her. I couldn’t stand to see that disappointment on her face. And it was always there. She kept trying…and I just couldn’t do it. And the way her face fell every time she couldn’t get me aroused…I cried, Harry. She held me and told me it wasn’t my fault, but I was so helpless.
“And I might still have been, if you hadn’t spent all that time working on the spells for Hermione. Ennie told me you hoped they might be able to help me, too. I don’t know what I did to deserve you as a friend…but I think Merlin, himself, has blessed me to have you as a brother.”
Harry was stunned by Neville’s admission. He put down his champagne, and drew Neville into another hug. Neville was stung by tears and leant down onto Harry’s shoulder, for he was a fair bit taller than him.
“You’re wrong,” said Harry, patting Neville’s back as he wept. Hermione and Enola looked over in mild concern from across the marquee, but Harry offset their movements toward him with a wave of his hand. “It’s me who’s the lucky one. To have Hermione, as the most perfect wife, and you and Ennie as the perfect siblings… all things Tom Riddle tried to deny me the chance to ever have. You are my family…and I would fuck the world up for you. But I think actually fucking you might be borderline incest!”
Neville hammered out a laugh and stood away from Harry, drying his snivels. “Yeah, that’s what we’ll use to throw Ennie off her lusty ideas!”
“They’ll only get worse, brother,” said Harry. “As the hormones kick in!”
Neville grinned wildly at that. “You’ve heard then? What am I saying…of course you have. I can’t believe it, really.”
“Congratulations, mate,” said Harry, smiling. “I’m over the moon for you both, honestly.”
“And that’s all down to you, too.”
“Why? Did I fuck Enola after all?” Harry quirked. “So much has gone on in the last few months…I can’t keep track!”
Neville chuckled at that. “You know what I mean. It’s all we’ve both ever dreamed about, and we thought it had been taken away from us. But now…you’ve made it possible again.”
“Shut up, you big girl,” Harry teased.
“I’m serious,” said Neville. And he totally was. “And it’s not just because you’ve fixed my cock problem. Look at all you’ve done for everyone – provided this place, sacrificed so much to become super powerful, brought us all under your protection. Then you’ve taken the fight to fucking Riddle, wiped out the Weasleys, defeated Dumbledore. You’ve given us all a fighting chance…at a future.
“I know you always hated being called The-Boy-Who-Lived…but I think we might have to start calling you The-Man-Who-Gave-Life…to us all.”
Harry felt stupefied. He gulped against his meekness. “It doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? You should patent it, though, sell robes with it on, or something.”
Neville chuckled. “I know Hermione isn’t your reward for everything, but you have so earned the chance to be happy…and she makes you that a million times over. That’s something I’ve not said, either…I’m fucking so happy for you, mate…to have finally gotten the girl!“
Harry grinned back. “I still don’t really believe it. Every day I have to wake up and touch her…just to make sure she’s still there and that I haven’t just dreamt the entire fucking thing!”
“Yeah, we all know about your touching,” Neville grinned. “Why do you think I had to spell the downstairs windows with permanent repairing charms! Merlin, Harry, the passion between you two…how do you survive it!?”
Harry laughed aloud. “I honestly don’t know. She blows my fucking head off…and don’t be crude, before you even open your mouth! That’s my wife’s honour you’re about to besmirch!”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Neville grinned. He raised his glass in a gesture of toast. “To our beautiful wives…and the charity they’ve shown in picking us as husbands!”
“I’ll drink to that,” said Harry, clinking his glass against Neville’s and drinking deeply. “So…any preference? Girl or boy?”
“Has to be a boy, I think,” Neville considered. “Ennie wants the set…apparently, so does Hermione.”
“Yeah, we both do,” said Harry, unashamedly. Neville blinked in surprise. “I can trust you with a secret, can’t I?”
“You know you can,” said Neville, proudly.
Harry looked around to make sure they were out of earshot of anyone else. “We’ve decided to…er…start trying.”
Neville’s jaw hit the floor. “What…really! Oh, wow, Harry…that’s amazing!”
“I know,” said Harry, grinning shyly. “We weren’t going to tell anyone, but I know Hermione’s told Enola, who is bound to tell you. She’s the worst at holding onto secrets!”
“She really is!” Neville laughed. “I’d never make her a Secret Keeper. Even the Fidelius Charm wouldn’t keep her flapping jaw shut! But…wow. When did you decide this?”
“Well…Hermione decided for us both, really,” said Harry. He sighed in resigned defeat. “I kind of think that’s going to be the way of things in our marriage.”
“Which will come as a huge shock to absolutely no-one!” Neville quirked. Harry couldn’t disagree. “But…you’re okay with it? Having a baby, I mean?”
Harry shivered in excited pleasure as the words washed over him. He was grinning insanely. He knew he was. He caught Hermione’s eye at that moment, and she was left in no doubt what he was up to. She simply smiled back her approval. Harry had the distinct impression she had just imparted the same good information to Lady Longbottom, just as Harry was telling it to her husband.
“Yeah I’m bloody all right!” Harry cried quietly. “I’m fucking ecstatic, if you must know. I just…need to provide a safe world now…for both our babies.”
Neville sighed deeply. “I know that, brother. But, just take today off, Harry. The Horcrux will still be there tomorrow. And it’s at your mercy now that its’ defences are down. How are coping…with that?”
It was a landmine topic. Harry was cognizant of that. He admired Neville’s courage for bringing it up. Harry sipped on his champagne as he considered his reply.
“It’s fucked up, mate,” he said eventually. “My Godson is dead…I should feel awful. But, for some reason, I can’t get as deeply affected by it as I should be. He had been…perverted…by Tom Riddle. That wasn’t Remus and Tonks’ son that fell through the Veil. It was Riddle’s. I’m trying to convince myself of that.
“I’m more guilty that I left him to be so corrupted in the first place. I was so focused on myself, on Hermione…I forget about Teddy.”
“You didn’t know what Riddle was doing to all those kids,” said Neville, reassuringly. “But we can expect more of that zealous attitude. The best way to make amends is to cure them of Riddle’s stain. Besides, he tried to murder Celesca. I saw that intent, Harry. He knew what he was doing. And I know you love that girl…you had to pick her over any sense of duty towards Teddy.”
Harry took a heavy breath. “I know, I know…I’ve had nightmares about it. If little Cesc had fallen through…I might have killed Teddy myself. I know Hermione would have. She wouldn’t have even hesitated.”
“I know it wont be much consolation, but at least that wasn’t the outcome for you,” said Neville. “Teddy…or Theo…fell through to the next world. He wasn’t pushed, you didn’t have to actually take his life. And he’ll be with his parents now. His real ones. We can only hope they can help him where we were unable to.”
Harry nodded his head at that. “Okay. I’ll take a day off. We’ll get a little bit drunk, have some laughs, then I’ll see if I’ve still got it in me to try for a baby with the wife later.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Neville, chortling. “Merlin…that’s all we’re going to hear for the next year, isn’t it? Baby talk.”
“Probably,” Harry sighed. “Hermione’s quite looking forward to having a baby bump…excellent book rest, apparently!”
Neville hooted a laugh, and steered Harry back to their women folk.
* * *
Harry’s day off turned into three, on account of his stinking hangover following the wedding celebrations. Hermione permitted it, as his first drunken misdemeanor of their marriage, but made it clear that she would only tolerate one proper drinking session a month, or else she’d get cross with him. Harry made a jokey, backhanded comment about them both having a grumpy, grouchy time of the month in that case, which Hermione didn’t see the funny side of at all. She avoided him for the rest of the day, only to apologise in an emotional burst later when they were in bed…as her time of the month had hit that morning and she was all sorts of up and down.
Apparently, she had been cheerily convinced that she’d get pregnant at the first time of trying, and was angry that her body was defying her on this.
To try and cheer her up, Harry invited Hermione to a special meeting he had set up in Cardiff. He thought they could make a day out of it, see a few sights and Harry promised not to tease her, by saying how it was some incredible feat of magic that Hermione could bleed for five days and not die, and other such funnies. She agreed, and promised to only maim him if he continued to make bad jokes about her menstrual cycle, after he asked if he could put playing cards in her spokes…
It was a week into October, and the transition to Autumn was really starting to take hold. The forest directly outside the shield ward was like a Bob Ross painting, full of browns and reds and ochres. They even had the bumpy hills of the Brecon Beacons to complete this stunning backdrop. Harry was a big fan of the magical worlds’ greatest artist, and the Grand Gallery of the Blue Palace was replete with his works. Harry hoped to tempt him to visit one day, but he rarely left Alaska, where he had retired, after faking his death in the Muggle world, to spend more time with his happy little trees and his family.
Harry and Hermione strolled hand-in-hand through this lush, picturesque valley. The first fallen leaves crunched underfoot, early morning songbirds called out against the silent sky and shafts of light cut through the dense canopy overhead, lighting their way.
Hermione curled into Harry, taking his forearm with her free hand. “We’ll be able to do this without fear soon. I can’t wait for that.”
“I’m not afraid,” said Harry, cocking his head to her. “I’m with you.”
“Hey – stop stealing my goofy lines!” Hermione complained good-naturedly.
“We’re married now, Miss Granger, what’s mine is yours!”
Hermione laughed softly and clung a bit tighter. “Including your surname. It’s Mrs Potter, thank you very much. Though I will answer to Lady Potter, if you insist.”
“I will today,” said Harry. “The meeting I’ve set up will require strict formalities. Lord and Lady and all that.”
“Why, where are we going?”
“Well, do you remember all those months back, when we were paid a visit by the Prince of Dyfed?” asked Harry.
Hermione stopped in her surprise. “Merlin, Harry…that seems like a lifetime ago!”
Harry guffawed and steered her on. “Doesn’t it just. Well, it occurred to me, when we were talking about our future, that I have a responsibility not just to us…but to the whole country. So, I’ve set up a meeting to discuss that.”
“You’re talking about…the Crown…aren’t you?” Hermione breathed lowly.
Harry nodded. “That’s why I wanted to take this walk with you this morning. We aren’t going to walk all the way to Cardiff, but we two, you and I, need to discuss how we proceed in this quite delicate matter.”
Hermione fell into stride alongside Harry and regarded him, carefully. “What are your thoughts on it?”
“The simple one is that I don’t want to be King of England,” said Harry bluntly. “It was never in my life plan, and I just don’t want that sort of burden. I said that to Queen Elizabeth.”
Hermione nodded. “Okay. I can’t say I really like the idea of being Queen, either. Always in the public eye, a cheerleader for tourism. I want to be able to do something with my life that doesn’t involve all that.”
“I’m so glad we agree on that,” said Harry, squeezing her hand. “I’ve heard you talking about being a Queen…I just wasn’t sure how far that went for you.”
“Harry…I’m your Queen. In every way. And we have our palace…that’s fairytale enough for me. Let’s leave the business of monarchy to someone else.”
“I love you, don’t ever forget that,” said Harry. “You are just too perfect for me. I hope you don’t wake up and realise that one day.”
Hermione laughed again. “I’ve already realised that, sweetie. But I decided to give you a whirl anyway.”
“Your charity know no bounds, my Lady!” Harry quirked.
“So, if we aren’t going to be King and Queen of Britain, who are?” asked Hermione.
“That’s what we’re going to decide today,” said Harry. “I’m going to have to accept a title, there’s no way around it. So will you, as my wife. But the ancient seals have been reignited. What’s done is done.”
“I don’t know what you’re getting at, but okay. I’ll go along with it.”
By now they had emerged from the forest. They were moving alongside a babbling little brook, looking down over the sweeping vista of the beautiful Brecon valley. Sweeping green and ochre fields, the remnants of old mines, a large reservoir glistening and twinkling in the distance. The locals called this God’s Own Country…and as Harry and Hermione walked through and basked it its magnificence, they were hard-pressed to disagree.
“I, whether I want it or not, have the power of Regency over the British throne,” said Harry. “I can sit on it, or nominate someone to do it for me. But ultimate authority remains my right to claim at any time. Though in order to do that, I have to be officially invested in a high rank that is second only to that of the Monarch…to be next in line, so to speak.”
Hermione gasped as comprehension dawned. “The Prince of Wales! You’re going to become the Prince of Wales!”
Harry nodded. “When I took Excalibur it wasn’t because I was Arthur Pendragon reincarnated. He’s just an ancient ancestor. But the Sword has always been the Badge of Office of the House of Avalon, from which all other magical Houses can trace their descent. The ancient power seats in Wales have been dormant for hundreds of years, since the English crown subjugated this country.”
“But your claiming the title has re-awoken them,” Hermione nodded. “I see.”
“Exactly,” said Harry. “While we’ve been off fighting Riddle, the old Welsh kingdoms have declared their magical independence from the English crown, but there hasn’t been a monarch to ratify it. The Scots and Irish already have it, it’s wrong that the Welsh continue to be denied this freedom.”
“And that’s what you’re going to do?”
“As my one and only act as King of the Britons, yes,” said Harry. “If you’re content to just be the Princess of Wales, that is.”
Hermione went a little dreamy for a moment. She liked the idea of being a Princess much more than being a Queen, which was odd.
“I’m sure I can cope with that,” she smirked. “I mean, look how stunning this place is! Someone else can have the London Eye…I’ll just keep these beautiful hills and valleys, thanks.”
Harry laughed at her. “And we have more castles than anywhere in Europe. We could set up a rival school to Hogwarts with all that money we have, if we wanted.”
Hermione’s face lit up. “Oh…Harry! Can we? What am I saying…that’s my money! Of course we can. Oh…we are so doing that, sweetheart!”
“Another bet for the name?” Harry chuckled. “You did say Best Two out of Three?”
Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Let me come up with a name first, then we’ll decide. Oh, wow, Harry…we have to kill Riddle…and quickly. I’ve got so much to do now!”
Harry laughed at her. “Well, speaking of castles, we’d better get to our first one.”
He took out a piece of rope from his cloak and offered one end to Hermione.
“Portkey?” she queried.
“It will be,” Harry replied, before drawing his wand and proving good to his word.
They emerged at the top of the Norman Keep, at the heart of the Cardiff Castle grounds. From here they could look out across the bustling Capital – as the Castle stood at the absolute centre – which was already in the throes of morning life. Green and orange buses swept along the roads of Kingsway and Castle Street, shuttling coffee-laden commuters and shoppers into the busy city centre. The sun was low overhead, peaking through a silvery cloud-deck, and it speckled the battlements and the pretty clocktower and caused the scores of international flags hoisted from the ramparts to flap and flutter in a light breeze.
Harry watched the giant Welsh flag, with it’s roaring red dragon, wave in front of them, over the draw bridge of the entrance gate, as though welcoming a Prince back to his throne. Which, of course, it pretty much was. Harry stirred at that, his heart thrumming gently beneath his ribs. He’d never had a home…not since Riddle had destroyed his parents…but this country was starting to feel awfully like one.
Then Hermione gasped in astonishment. “Harry…there are peacocks down there! Look!”
Harry followed her line of sight to the well manicured-lawns beneath the Keep. And she was right. Peacocks, maybe half-a-dozen of them, were strutting around and having a jolly old time.
“Ooh, can we go and see them?” Hermione asked adorably, like an excited child.
Harry wasn’t about to deny her anything, and this was an easy win. So they ambled down through the semi-ruined Keep, across a little footbridge and onto a gravel path, where they watched the peacocks strut and stroll and flash their purple and blue plumages.
“Oh, Harry! Aren’t they beautiful!” Hermione whispered, clinging tight to Harry’s arm. He sort of agreed. The feathers were nice but the birds themselves looked cross and moody. Harry was keen to keep them at arms length.
As they were already there, Harry and Hermione decided to take a complete tour of the castle, from its Roman walls to the opulent Victorian Gothic apartments. It was rather breathtaking, but Hermione ruled it out as a possible new school, which Harry was pleased with. Converting a derelict old castle somewhere remote was one thing…denying Cardiff one of its most iconic visitor attractions would be a completely different kind of nightmare.
Harry and Hermione left the castle and made their way through the city. They passed an ancient pub, complete with Tudor black-beam rafters, that Harry was determined to revisit later, a Georgian church and the Old Market, which was once site of the jail and Hangman’s Noose, but now was a vibrant bazaar of fish-sellers, local traders and such a mix of sights and smells that it was a little dizzying.
They moved beyond that, through the thoroughfare of the modern shopping district of the city, weaving between zoned-out, earphone-clad teens and harassed mothers with more kids than they could manage. They eventually stopped, outside a modest-sized concert theatre.
“St. David’s Hall,” Harry explained, as Hermione sent him a quizzical stare. “It’s where the Knights meet. Come on.”
Harry led the way inside. There was an old chap manning the reception. Harry flashed him his family ring as they approached the desk. The man bowed deeply, then guided Harry and Hermione around the back of the reception desk. There was a cloak room here, cool and dimly lit. The old man pulled down on a seemingly random clothes hook…and the wall behind it dissolved to reveal an ancient elevator, similar to the ones at the Ministry of Magic in London.
Harry and Hermione entered the elevator, the old man closed the grate and the wall reappeared, throwing everything into a palpable darkness. Hermione clung tight to Harry, but the darkness was so complete he couldn’t even see her face…though she was so close her breath tickled his ear. The lift rattled down what must have been dozens of floors beneath the ground, for it took a good ten minutes before light re-appeared below them and they came to a juddering halt.
They stepped from the lift and made their way along a short corridor, which led to a single, large room. Hermione lost her breath at the sight. For they were standing at the top of a bowl-like amphitheatre. It was made from dull viridian stone, and a dim light source shone from a point high in the cavernous ceiling. There must have been seating space for several thousand people in here. But, right now, it was silent and deserted.
“Don’t be afraid,” said Harry, holding Hermione’s hand as he sensed the rise of her emotion. “You’re quite safe here. Come on.”
Harry led her down the shallow stairs into the very centre of the amphitheatre. There should have been a stage here, and maybe on some occasions there was, but right now there were just four circular, stone platforms and another, larger one facing them all. It looked like an archaic version of the transporter pads from the Starship Enterprise.
“I see everything’s ready,” said Harry. “Come…stand with me, Princess Hermione.”
She grinned in a silly sort of way and ambled up to Harry’s side.
“This is the King’s Circle,” said Harry. “When I activate this,” he pointed to a rune panel on his right. “It will call the four Princes of the ancient Welsh kingdoms. They won’t actually be here, but will be mere projections. Don’t step out of the circle, or you wont be able to see or hear them. Ready?”
Hermione nodded. Harry placed his wand to the rune stone.
“Princes! I summon you!”
There was a rush of energy to the right-most circle, quickly followed by another two circles to the left. Soon, all four were filled with fluttering images of regal-looking wizards, only one of whom Hermione recognised.
“I, Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed swear solemn fealty to Lord Harry Potter!”
Pwyll bowed his head to his chest.
“Hello, Prince of Dyfed,” said Harry. “It is good to see you again. And how is your daughter?”
Pwyll looked up bashfully. “Very well, my Lord. And happy not to be married! May I be the first to offer my congratulations on your happy marriage, however.”
“Thank you, Lord of Dyfed,” Hermione beamed. “You will pass on our well wishes to Branwen.”
“I will, thank you, my Lady.”
Then the others introduced themselves. There was Llewellyn of Clwyd, Owen of Gwent, and Dayfdd of Powys.
“And I am Harry, Prince of Gwynedd, and King of the Britons by the ancient protocol of Arthurian Accession,” said Harry. “And this, is my wife…Princess Hermione.”
“Princess!” the others chorused in salute. It was a good job it was dark, for Hermione’s blush might just have caused them all a little bit of concern.
“I have called you here today, gentleman, to discuss the matter of the English throne…and of our own,” Harry went on. “I am close now to defeating the Dark Lord known as Voldemort. His destruction will be complete in no more than a month from this date. After that, we must turn our attention to the state of our country. Lord of Powys…the current climate, if you please.”
“We have formally lodged our claim for magical independence,” the Prince replied. “But, in the current power vacuum in London, we have not had a response.”
“The Muggle world remains in a state of high emergency,” Lord Clwyd added. “The Royal Family are being kept under the most stringent security. The sons of Prince Charles came to your aid when fighting at the Hengest camp, but have not left the security of the Tower of London for any reason since.”
“Then that’s where they should remain,” said Harry. “Gentleman, let it be known that I intend to grant Wales magical independence…then turn over Regency of the British crown to the next in line from the House of Windsor.”
“My Lord,” said Lord Dyfed, as the others nodded their excited approval. “That may not be entirely suitable.”
“And why not?”
“Well, it’s Prince Charles, you see,” said Lord Dyfed. “The public execution of his mother, Queen Elizabeth, affected him hugely. He has had a break from reality, and his health is in a very poor state. I would recommend promoting William, his eldest son, to the office of King.”
“I have heard about poor Charles,” said Harry, sadly. “But, gentleman, as you know – as the Heads of the Order of the Knights of St David – I can only nominate a successor to the throne if I assume the title of the next in line…as Prince of Wales, myself.”
The Prince of Dyfed immediately drew his wand, and placed it to his chest.
“I, Pwyll, recognise Harry Potter as rightful Crown Prince of Wales. I swear fealty to him and his kin, so all here bear witness.”
Harry felt the oath fall on him, like a wave of heat from his head down to his chest. He felt it three times more, as the other Princes quickly followed Pwyll’s example. Harry glanced at Hermione, who was wearing a surprised expression. The oath must have settled on her, too. Harry took her hand and squeezed, earning a loving smile in return.
“All hail Prince Harry the First! May his reign be long and prosperous.”
The other princes knelt, and Hermione suddenly did, too. Harry tried to tug her back to her feet. But she resisted.
“It’s just for the ceremony, Harry,” said Hermione, before grinning at him. “Don’t go getting any ideas of being in charge of me, though. We both know where the power lies in our relationship!”
“And I give it gladly!” Harry laughed back. He turned to the others. “Arise, my Princes. Lord Powys, please send word of what has taken place here, and our intentions, to London. I will meet the Royal Family when I can safely deliver the country back to them.
“Everyone else, I ask humbly that you make land and provision available. This war has cost many lives and there are shattered families that will need assistance and convalescence, both at home and those who will return from abroad. I will need to call on your charity and hospitality before long. Till then…to the Land of Our Fathers!”
“The Land of Our Fathers!” the princes called back, before vanishing one by one.
As soon as they were alone, Hermione turned to Harry. “Well…my Prince…that was interesting!”
“Indeed, Princess Hermione,” Harry quirked. “We will have to get you a crown.”
Hermione laughed. “I wouldn’t. Celesca would simply steal it first chance she got! So…what now?”
Harry sighed heavily. “Now comes the hard part. Destroying that Horcrux. Any ideas?”
Hermione moved to him, eyeing him shrewdly. “Do you know who I am? I’m Hermione Potter…of course I have some ideas. And the best one, might just kill two problems with one ritual.”
“Oh yeah, and what would they be?”
“Well, the Horcrux is one, obviously,” said Hermione. “And the other, if my theory works out, might just help clean up your mind. Come on, lets go home…we have a date with the Longbottoms.”
* * *
Hermione was confident that her plan would work. She didn’t make a habit out of failure. But even so, she was nervous as Neville and Enola began their chanting, a key part of the ritual they’d designed for her. Hermione simply held onto Harry’s hand, laying magically sedated on the altar of the Ritual Room, hopeful that she wouldn’t lose him in all this. But the whole thing was fraught with risk.
After all, opening Harry’s dark mindscape to the world at large could leave a gaping hole in the Earth itself, if it got loose.
But that’s exactly what they were trying to do. Hermione had been playing with the idea for several weeks now, ever since Harry had told her that Enola had managed to successfully close down her own mind planes save for one, which she kept Neville’s painful secrets in. It was possible, Enola had done it.
And, by Hermione’s logic, she must have dealt with whatever issues she had there beforehand.
That realisation had led her to think about Harry. His planes were darker, more volatile, but the principle must have been the same. So she’d sought out Enola for an explanation. And the seeds of an idea took root in Hermione’s epic brain. For Enola had used the Ritual Room, projected her inner demons into the magically charged space, and had defeated them, with Harry and Neville’s help.
Now, Hermione was going to do the same with Harry…and then direct all his darkness into battle with Tom Riddle’s last Horcrux. It was a mighty risk. They were going to be releasing the spirit of Gellert Grindelwald – who Riddle had used as a soul anchor for the last part of his soul – and there was no telling how he’d react. Hermione was hoping he’d be up for a spot of revenge against Riddle, but there was no way to be sure.
So Hermione had coaxed Neville into coming along as well. He was resting his head against the hilt of Gryffindor’s sword as he chanted, pulling its power to add to his own. The magic in the room was heaving like a raging ocean and Hermione was shocked by how out of control it seemed without Harry to direct and channel it. She’d been brassy with him about it before, perhaps not fully appreciating the effort it took to keep all this in hand.
But Hermione was finding out first hand just how far she had to go to reach his level.
Enola was actually leading the ritual, but even she was skirting with the borders of her control limits. She was connected to Harry on a deeply cerebral level now, drawing the contents of his mind planes one at a time. She and Hermione had come up with a clever little spell to make it seem as if the Horcrux was Harry, using his connection to Gryffindor as the binding part of the enchantment. That was the incarnation of Harry that would have to face and fight his demons at last…and those closest to his heart were ranged right alongside him.
Enola started with Harry’s childhood pain – which had been sated slightly since the demise of the Dursleys – to see if it had worked. Hermione watched in amazement as figures of Vernon, Petunia and Dudley materialised before them. They were monstrous, possibly exaggerated versions from Harry’s mind…and hideously more terrifying as a result.
Hermione found this hard to watch. She knew she would, but equally she knew she had to see, to understand utterly what Harry went though with all this. Closing the planes would require him to face this…to beat it…and he’d need her desperately in his recovery. But right now it was beating him, in the form of Vernon’s belt, Dudley’s boxing-trained fists and Petunia’s inhumane level of care.
Harry was hurting from it, Hermione could feel that, but the Horcrux was being damaged, too. It was pummelled and burned and cut by insults, as if absorbing the physical blows that had been constantly re-wounding Harry’s psyche for years. But he didn’t seem able to overcome it, and Hermione knew of no way to help.
Then aid came from the most astonishing source.
There was a crackle of energy, a powerful sweep of magic that seemed to erupt from the air itself. Then the Veil started to flap crazily in its arch, as if assaulted by a hurricane. Hermione watched it curiously…then her mouth dropped open. For someone was coming through…
“Petunia! Enough! You will stop and face me now!”
The spectral Dursley’s all froze at the command of the furious, booming voice. Hermione and Enola just stared, totally gobsmacked.
“My son! My son was placed in your care! And you abused him like this! Your souls are mine…for eternity!”
And Lily Potter flashed out a bolt of ice-white light, which lassoed around the Dursley’s like a whip. A whip of fire, perhaps, for they shrieked out at the contact with it. Lily pulled hard, and swung the spectral Dursley’s through the Veil and into their own personal, Potter-driven Hell. And the Horcrux fell still.
Lily stepped forwards and stood by Hermione. “Good evening…Mrs Potter. We thought you might need a hand with this.”
“Lily! I mean…Mrs Potter!” Hermione stumbled out. “How did you know?”
“This Veil is connected to our realm, just like the Stone in Harry’s room down on the third basement level,” said Lily. “This is quite an extraordinary idea you had, my dear. But it’s a couple of degrees above your current skill grade. Only Harry could hope to control the worst part of this, but you’re starting to think like him. Which is wonderful. But you need help…there are some more of us who’ll be along in a minute. Keep going!”
“Ennie!” Hermione called.
Harry’s guilt over Hermione came next, and it was she who pulled this free. She didn’t need Lily to tell her what do do with this, but was thankful Harry’s mum was there to help her do it just the same. They collected it, then sent it spiralling at the Horcrux with a surge of forgiving intent. Hermione didn’t hold Harry responsible for a single fragment of the things that had happened to her, but she was mindful of the fact that he did…and he needed to consider himself forgiven if he was ever going to move on.
Hermione and Lily forgave him so utterly, so lovingly, and with such ferocious power, that it sent the first crack rifling through the shell of the Horcrux Seal. And with it came a wretched scream…Tom Riddle’s soul was rearing from the attack.
“Ennie…how many planes are left?” asked Hermione, as the powerful waves of magic continued to heave around them.
“Well, his physical pain one is gone, and so has his calm plane,” said Enola. “I don’t understand how…I’ve not helped him to close them.”
Lily smiled at her. “It’s simple really, girls. The Elixir of Life has cured all Harry’s lingering physical wounds, and that concoction you made to heal his scar has taken the pain from that.”
“And his calm plane?” asked Hermione.
Lily took her hand. “Why would Harry need a calm plane anymore? He’s happiest when he’s awake and in your arms, Hermione. The calm plane closed because it had become redundant. You’ve replaced calm with living bliss.”
Hermione felt her heart pound hard at that and she hitched a silly grin onto her face. Lily just smiled fondly at her.
“So that just leaves the Weasley connection he took from me…and his Dark Plane.”
“Give the Weasleys to us,” said a deep, familiar voice as three newcomers stepped through the Veil. “We owe those filthy traitors!”
“Sirius!” Hermione yelled in joy, sprinting over and diving onto him in a hug. Then she stepped back in bewilderment. “I can touch you!”
“You didn’t notice that with me!” Lily commented with a little wink.
“Oh, sorry,” Hermione blushed. “But…how?”
“Harry will explain,” said Sirius. “Just know that you can…in here and downstairs, if my Godson ever shows it to you.”
Speaking of godparents…
“Wotcher! Mrs Potter!” Remus’ wife smirked, from behind Sirius. “Oh, Mrs Potter the Younger, I meant.”
“Now I know you aren’t calling me old, Nymph,” Lily smirked. “How do our ages compare on Wii Sports again?”
Nymph frowned. “It’s just the baseball…I can’t get my swing right…”
“Guys…about Teddy…we’re so sorry,” Hermione blurted out before she could stop herself. “There was nothing we could have done…”
“Hermione, calm yourself,” said Remus. “We know…we saw everything. We tried to push Luna’s little girl clear and drag Teddy to us. Don’t fret. We have him with us now.”
“Will he be okay?” asked Hermione.
“In time, he will be,” said Nymph. “That’s the good thing about the afterlife…there’s always plenty of time.”
“I just hope Harry can accept that,” said Hermione, sadly.
“After tonight, he will,” said Remus.
Sirius moved to Hermione and took her shoulders. “Look at you…so strong and so beautiful. You always were the brightest witch of the age…but I think you may turn out to be the brightest witch of any age. We are so proud of you…and you are so welcome in our family.”
“Thank you!” Hermione beamed. “How will you take care of the Weasleys? I really don’t know if you can…the connection…”
“Is a family matter,” said a new voice.
“Or a matter for family, wouldn’t you say,” said another
“I thought you said.”
“I did. Once.”
“Sorry, I didn’t hear you. Only one ear, see.”
Fred and George Weasley stood in the frame of the Archway, half translucent as they straddled the two worlds. Hermione beamed over at them, the only Weasley’s she could tolerate.
“So, Harry’s finally made an honest woman out of you, Hermione?” Fred quirked.
“Well, I don’t know about honest…”George teased.
“Either way, George, you owe me twenty Galleons,” said Fred.
Hermione huffed. “Don’t tell me you had a bet on me and Harry, too?”
Sirius barked out a laugh. “Hermione, dear, even us dead folk had bets on that. Which reminds me…where is James? He still hasn’t paid up.”
Hermione shook her head. Then she frowned. “Why are you standing in the Arch? If you can help, we need you in here.”
“‘Fraid not, Mrs P,” said Fred
“Harry’s banned the family, see,” George explained. “We will cease to exist if we enter that space. No Weasley’s allowed.”
“Unless its Ron. To be deservingly tortured.”
“It’s our new favourite spectator sport,” George added.
“Though we did write the book on it, if you ever run out of ideas.”
“It’s a good job the twins have turned up,” said Sirius, turning to Hermione. “For while your idea has proved solid so far, if you try and channel the Weasleys to the Horcrux it might actually strengthen it…or make Ron a new Protector.”
“Just give it us,” said Fred.
“Yeah,” George added. “We know how to take care of the rest.”
Enola nodded, pulled the Weasley plane from Harry’s mind, sent it shooting around with the magic wave that was circling the room and Fred leapt up and caught it like a Frisbee. George jumped on top of it and Fred dragged him back to the afterlife, taking the Weasley curse with them.
“I hope they’ll be okay,” said Hermione, looking pensive.
“Don’t worry, Hermione,” said Lily. “Merlin himself is on the other side. He’ll help the twins if they need it. Right…one last plane.”
“Lady Longbottom,” said Sirius, sweeping over to her. “Try and pull some of Harry’s individual demons one by one. Let’s pummel this Horcrux to oblivion.”
“Start with us,” said Remus. “It will be Harry’s freshest piece of self-hate.”
Enola nodded. She touched her wand to Harry’s temple, then yanked it away hard. A vision of Teddy Lupin shot out, and Remus tensed and clutched at Nymphadora. Teddy ignored them and raced to the Horcrux…turning to a child-werewolf as he did so.
“Oh…fuck!” Hermione yelped, as Teddy slashed and bit at the trembling Seal. Hermione turned to Lily. “Harry can’t be hurt by that, can he? And by hurt I mean turned?”
“No,” said Remus. “Harry will feel the physical wounds, but he wont be infected.”
“Come on, Remus, lets take our little boy home…he’s been very naughty!”
Teddy looked up at the admonishment, and he soon found himself being manhandled by his spectral parents as they dragged him kicking and screaming through the Veil.
“I’ll take mine next,” said Sirius. He looked warmly to Hermione. “Look after my Godson. Bed him well, Mrs Potter, bed him well.”
“I will,” Hermione smiled with a flush.
Then she watched in amazement as a Sirius Black Doppleganger strode from Harry’s mind, became a Grim to assault the Horcrux – which let out another high-pitched, blood curdling screech – then became a wizard again and faced his facsimile. Hermione burst out laughing, as both Sirius’s seemed so enamoured to see the other that they simply linked arms and walked through the Veil, as if lovers strolling though a meadow.
There was a laugh, and Hermione went wide-eyed in shock.
For James Potter had just come through as Sirius departed. “Really, that man is the vainest wizard I’ve ever met!”
“I think you run him a close second, dear,” Lily quipped.
“Well, I can’t win at everything,” James smirked. “Hello, Hermione. It’s wonderful to finally meet you.”
“Mr Potter,” said Hermione with a little curtsey. “Wow…Harry really does look like you!”
James chortled at that. “Even more so now he has a whole face again. We have so much to thank you for, Hermione.”
“We really do,” Lily beamed. “I don’t know if we’ll ever have time to tell you how much.”
“And what about my thanks to you?” said Hermione fairly. “You sent Harry back when he was attacked in the Forbidden Forest. You sent him back f-for…for me. You’ve given me my wildest dream, my best future, made me the happiest witch in the world. I think that makes us even.”
“And when you give us our grandchildren you will surpass us!” James laughed.
“And when will that be, exactly?” Hermione asked cheekily.
“We can’t give you exact dates,” said Lily. “That isn’t how it works.”
“But let’s just say you and Lady Longbottom, here, will be shopping for baby clothes together,” said James.
“Oh, Min!” Enola cried happily. “Did you hear that! We’re going to have babies at the same time!”
Hermione felt hit by a thunderbolt at the news. She shook a little as she processed it. This time next year, she would have a child…she would be a Mum…to Harry’s baby…she and Harry would have changed names to Mummy and Daddy…
And, in that moment, it was just the most joyous concept she had ever formed in her whole life.
“When those images go through the Veil…what happens to them?” asked Hermione.
“The memories we keep alive are actually tiny fragments of that soul’s energy,” said Lily.
“It’s what keeps that person alive within our hearts,” James added. “They’ve made a lasting, physical impact on us.”
“It gives us that feeling that they aren’t really gone,” said Lily. “Because, they really aren’t…as long as their energy lives on inside us.”
“So we are just returning those fragments of energy to their rightful owners,” said James. “Sirius, for example, would have walked through with his twin, but emerged as one on the other side. He wouldn’t have even noticed that piece of energy had returned to him. But he would have been energised to see you.”
“As we all are,” Lily smiled.
“Right.” said Hermione happily, flushing crimson again. “Let’s finish this.”
“Okay,” said James. “Now, Harry’s psychological damage over our murder is the most potent thing on that plane. It’s defined his life.”
“So when it’s released, it’s going to explode at the Horcrux, and shatter the shell completely,” said Lily.
“Then we’ll take the remnants, and you’ll be left to deal with the Soul Anchor.”
“Grindelwald,” said Hermione, darkly.
“Yes,” said Lily. “And don’t expect Gellert to come quietly. He was forced in there fighting against Riddle, even with no wand. He’ll be primed when he comes out. Be ready.”
“He will likely try to latch onto one of you,” said James. “Neville…you’ll have the best shot at defeating him. Gryffindor’s strength runs through you. That Sword answers to you for good reason.”
“If I stab him with it, will he die?” asked Neville.
Lily nodded. “Gryffindor’s noble spirit imbibes all objects he possessed. Not like a Horcrux, but like a residue of his goodness. And nowhere is it more concentrated than in the Sword.”
“If it interacts with Gellert, that inherent power will take care of the rest,” said James. “But beware…Gellert Grindelwald had the greatest mastery of wandless magic the world has ever known. Don’t take his threat lightly.”
“We wont,” said Hermione. She took the hands of her parents-in-law. “Thank you. From all of us. Please…tell my parents I love them very much…and that I’m so, so sorry. For everything.”
“They know,” said Lily, smiling kindly.
“They asked us to pass on their love to you,” James added. “Hang in there, Hermione. Your parents are proud of you, proud to have Harry as a son-in-law -“
“Though to be fair we did threaten to hex them if they didn’t say that,” Lily teased.
“And as soon as they are strong enough, they’ll come to see you.”
“The damage…” Hermione asked cautiously, her voice wobbling with nerves. “…that Riddle and Ginny did…”
“Is not permanent and they’ll make a complete spiritual recovery,” Lily smiled, before dragging Hermione, who had burst out sobbing with the relief, into a deep embrace.
“T-thank you,” Hermione sniffed. “I’ll take the best care of Harry that I can, I promise.”
“We know you will,” said James. “You are the only one we’d trust to do that properly.
“Just don’t put up with that sassy mouth of his for a day more than you can stand,” Lily quirked. “It’s a failing of the Potter men unfortunately. But it’s nothing a few well-aimed jinxes to the crotch wont fix!”
Lily and James kissed a cheek of Hermione’s each, then nodded at Enola, who pulled their embodiment from Harry’s deeply wounded mind. It shot out like a wild dart, smashing into the Seal, which fractured with an explosion of light. Hermione didn’t see Lily and James leave, but somehow felt them go all the same. The next thing she felt was a firm punch to her chest, as she was knocked flying and toppled over the altar, dragging Harry’s body to safety with her.
She looked up, to see the smoky, ghost-like figure of Grindelwald stand and stretch. Even as a spirit, Hermione could feel the sheer awesomeness of his magic. It rolled off him like a lava flow, feral and unstoppable. He flicked a careless hand at Enola, who was sent spinning into the wall, where she crumpled and groaned and tried to nurse a very sore head.
Neville darted forward with a curse, swinging the Sword of Gryffindor as he went. But Grindelwald smashed him away, too. Hermione frowned. If the Sword of Gryffindor could kill Grindelwald then great…but how in the flying fuck were they supposed to get to him?
Then the answer came.
Grindelwald froze, then turned like he was on a pivot.
Dumbledore strode from the Veil without a care in the world and stopped in front of the legendary German sorcerer.
“Yes, Gellert, it is I,” said Dumbledore. “Surprised to see me?”
“You died, I heard about it,” said Grindelwald, with genuine concern for his old friend.
“So did you, murdered by Tom Riddle,” said Dumbledore simply.
“No, never,” Grindelwald spat. “That circus conjurer would never have bested me.”
“Perhaps in your prime, no,” Dumbledore agreed. “But, after over fifty years of captivity you were, shall we say…rusty.“
Grindelwald laughed. It was a wild, rumbling sound. Hermione remembered it from Rita Skeeter’s damning book on Dumbledore. It seemed so long ago, it might have been in a different universe.
“Then, where am I?” Grindelwald asked, genuinely curious.
“You are at the home of Harry Potter, Heir of Merlin,” said Dumbledore. “He is right over there, quite asleep at the moment, and this is his wife, Hermione.”
Dumbledore regarded Hermione with a good degree of caution, for she was looking as if she wanted to rip his throat out.
“Mrs Potter has every reason in the world to be angry at me, and some more besides that,” said Dumbledore, sadly. “I am not foolish enough to seek redemption from the Potters. My blindness, my mistakes, are unforgivable. I cannot make amends, but I can still do what I should have done in life…and help to defeat Tom Riddle for good. Gellert…I could use your help.”
“I thought we had agreed to be enemies, Albus,” said Grindelwald, smoothly. “We shook on it in 1939. Why should I help you now?”
“I wasn’t asking, Gellert,” said Dumbledore, gently. “I beat you in 1945 when you had the Elder Wand and should have been unbeatable. And I went easy on you. You were my best friend…I didn’t want to hurt you. It was that sentiment which saved your life.”
Even as a ghost, Grindelwald paled at the firm fury masked by Dumbledore’s soft words. He sagged as he conceded.
“Very well, Albus. What should I do?”
“You should tell Mrs Potter which part of Tom Riddle you represent…the part that will be weakened by the destruction of this Horcrux,” said Dumbledore. “That will help her and Harry strategise for the final assault. Then you will accompany me to the next world, join me for a game of Buck-a-roo, and hope that between my brother and sister we may all find some peace at last.”
Grindelwald smiled. He liked the idea, that was obvious. But Hermione frowned.
“Professor Dumbledore,” said Hermione, out of habit. Then she swore at herself. This was her house, for Merlin’s sake. “Albus…what do you mean…the part the Horcrux represents?“
Dumbledore eyed her over his half-moon spectacles. “Each Horcrux took a piece of Tom Riddle with it,” he explained. “The Locket took his eyes, the snake made him into the lizard hybrid he became – as he merely swapped his soul for snake-like attributes with Nagini. This final Horcrux will also contain an element of him. Which is, Gellert?”
Grindelwald smiled wickedly. “This, my dear Albus, is the link to his magic.”
Hermione gasped in triumphant surprise.
“What?” Enola breathed.
“His magic…my word, you’re a pretty frauline, aren’t you?” said Grindelwald silkily. “Forgive me for hurting you.”
Neville growled at him. “We’ll forgive you, if you help us. If not, we’ll send your soul to Hell on a silver platter with a Hallmark card for Satan, himself. Now…explain what you just said.”
“This vessel was draining me,” said Grindelwald, eyeing the Horcrux bitterly. “I could feel it sapping my energy. That was blatant to me just then, for I should have killed you with the magic I cast. But I have been diminished. My natural power has been feeding Voldemort. But now, I can cause a feedback in it…overload him…draw his power to me. I cannot use it…but I can take it from him.”
“You can…take his magic?” asked Hermione. “Make him a Squib?”
“And a very much mortal, murderable Squib,” said Dumbledore, his ice-blue eyes glittering darkly. “Come along, Gellert. Let’s make amends for our earthly mistakes.”
Grindelwald nodded. He reached into the Horcrux and pulled out a horribly deformed…thing. Hermione couldn’t look at it. It might have been a baby, or a creature of some kind, its skin flayed and sore, and the noises it was making…horrific and pitiful, cutting right to the heart of everything good in the world. It was uncomfortable viewing.
“We all make mistakes, Mrs Potter,” said Grindelwald, throwing a poignant glance at Dumbledore. “Some greater than others. But if we are not prepared to forgive those who repent with honesty, with sincere remorse, are we really any better than those who trespass against us?”
Hermione narrowed her eyes into a vicious frown. “And what about our enemies who do not repent?”
Grindelwald smirked. “Then cast them into the flames of Perdition…and piss acid onto their flaming carcasses.”
Hermione grinned. “I like that way better.”
Grindelwald turned and took the little thing to the Veil. Dumbledore lingered, Hermione folded her arms crossly and dared him to make the plea she could see in his eyes. He sighed, stayed silent and steered Grindelwald into the next world, as the lost Horcrux melted behind them.