Chapter 22

Chapter 22 – A Riddle Solved

There had been many times over the past five years that Hermione had considered ending her life. She looked back on them all with shame now, not to mention a sense of cold dread, considering the incredible way things had turned out, but there it was. She couldn’t change it anymore than she could erase the horrors she’d endured. But she’d come to think of it all as her toll, showing the courage and endurance to survive The Dark World Order and her marriage to Ron, all to make her strong enough and worthy enough to have Harry come back to her, for them to finally embrace their love for one another, and to share a wonderful future of marriage and family.

It was the universe’s way of rewarding her and, in her mind, there was no better prize to be had.

But, despite Hermione believing ideas of suicide were a thing confined to her past, this evening she found her mind back on the trail of how she might die. She had always been a stubborn, bossy sort, and if she could have any control in the details of her death she wasn’t going to be denied by anyone. Warriors of old dreamed of going down in battle, Captains going down with their ships.

And now, Hermione Potter had her own idea of the perfect way to die…and there was a going down involved with that, too.

For she was in the throes of excruciating ecstasy and, if it led to her death, she really wasn’t going to complain in the slightest. For she had all her favourite things happening at once; she was in the library of her palace, there were books all around and – which she was finding maddeningly arousing – under her, and her husband was buried balls-deep in her pussy whilst he nibbled and suckled on her neck. The filthy keening sounds she was making were the thing that drove him the most wild – he’d told her so – so Hermione stopped fighting to hold them back and just groaned louder in time with her writhing hips.

That was probably why neither she nor Harry heard the door open.

“Lady Hermione…are you okay? I heard you making some very funny noises so I thought I’d better see if you were all right. What are you doing to her, Master Harry? I don’t think she likes it, whatever it is.”

Harry and Hermione rolled off the table and flew apart, fitfully embarrassed. Hermione flicked an Accio at her knickers, which she had to cast a repairing charm on – due to Harry tearing them in his eagerness to get them off – before she clothed herself. The buttons on her blouse could be anywhere, so she just pinned the two sides together in her fist for now. She glowered at Harry.

“I thought you locked the door!” she hissed.

“Why would there be a lock on the door to the library,” Harry quirked. “I thought you cast a privacy charm.”

“No, I thought you did!”

“Wow, that’s a lot of spells I’ve not cast,” Harry grinned.

“I thought you did it non-verbally,” Hermione breathed crossly. “You know how you like to show off.”

Harry chortled. “Me? I wasn’t the one who knew what I’d get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormword before I’d even arrived at a Potions class!”

Hermione stilled in her anger, and smiled at him fondly. “You remember that?”

“Of course I do. It’s my first memory in the Hermione being brilliant archive. Lets just say you made an impression on me from the word ‘go’,” said Harry. He cast a sealing charm on Hermione’s blouse. He did it non-verbally, just to make a point. So she just poked her tongue out in response.

Just then, Celesca’s head popped around the side of the table. “What are you doing now? If we’re playing hide and seek this really isn’t the best place, is it? Besides, it’ll be a very short game if you both hide in the same spot.”

“No it wouldn’t,” said Hermione, standing up and straightening herself out. “Sorry, sweetie, Harry was just…er…helping me…get a spider off me. There’s lots around just now.”

Celesca nodded in sagely agreement. “Yes there are, I’ve seen some huge ones in the garden. But it’s really bad luck that it crawled up into your foofy. You shouldn’t really have taken your knickers off, should you? Though it is awfully hot in here today. I think I might start wearing two pairs from now on, just in case.”

Hermione’s blush went from bright red to crimson.

“Yes, that’s good advice,” said Harry, who was laughing hard from his place on the floor.

“And it’s a very lucky thing,” Celesca went on, with an approving nod. “That you were here to get the spider out with your willy. Do spiders like eating them, or something?”

Harry blushed now as he semi-choked on Celesca’s words. “What…what makes you think I was…doing that…for the spider, I mean?”

“Well…your willy’s still out,” said Celesca, pointing at Harry, who hadn’t realised he was still naked from the waist down.

“Oh, fuck!” he yelped, pulling a book to cover his modesty. Hermione was rocking with giggles, so much so that she had to sit down before she fell down.

“Don’t worry, I think I’ll get any spiders out myself, so they wont have to eat your willy if you need to help me,” said Celesca sweetly. She turned to Hermione. “What are you reading about? There are lots of books out.”

“We’re trying to find ways to get into Hogwarts,” Hermione replied, pulling out a seat for Celesca to join her. “The evil snake-man – who’s called Tom Riddle, by the way – is hiding there with a big army. We need to find a way to get to him.”

“But didn’t you take his magic?” asked Celesca.

“Yes, but we don’t know how far reaching that is,” said Hermione.

“And he isn’t likely to go around advertising the fact,” Harry added as he joined them at the table. “It isn’t as if his wand will suddenly snap…it will just be a useless piece of wood in his hands.”

“Why don’t you just tell everyone? Maybe someone will try and kill him for you,” said Celesca.

“That’s not a terrible idea, you know,” said Hermione, nodding to Harry.

“No, aside from the fact that if someone takes Riddle’s place we might actually have a competent enemy to fight against,” said Harry. “Keeping Riddle in power is the best situation for us right now. He makes so many mistakes that he makes it easier for us.”

“Like with Lucius, you mean?”

“Exactly. Riddle trying to turn the Muggles against us was a desperate tactic, putting Lucius Malfoy in charge was just dumb. He was punished by being forced to work with the Muggles at MI5, but at least it put him in a position of authority. Now, when Narcissa exposes him as liar, the Muggles will turn against him and expose all the Dark Wizards in the Government. Then they’ll side with us, and we can use William’s coronation as a way to Memory Charm the entire country.”

“It’s an ambitious plan,” said Hermione. “I just hope it works. The Death Eaters are providing security for the Royals, don’t forget. They aren’t staying at The Tower of London for safety, Harry…they’re being held prisoner there.”

“I know,” said Harry bitterly. “We just need to know which of their guards are on our side… which one’s we need to kill.”

“Who’s the Fat Lady?” asked Celesca, absently reading one of the scattered books.

“The who?” asked Hermione.

“The Fat Lady,” Celesca repeated, sliding the book to Hermione. “That one there.”

Celesca was pointing at a picture, one Harry and Hermione had seen literally thousands of times before.

“It says this palace was built for her, but she’s better known as The Fat Lady,” Celesca went on. “That’s not a nice thing to say about her, is it?”

Harry pulled his chair to look more closely at the book.

“Well, isn’t this interesting, Harry?” said Hermione, her eyes alive with curiosity as she read. “The Fat Lady of Gryffindor Tower was known in life as Seren, the daughter of Godric Gryffindor and Rowena Ravenclaw. Godric restored the ancestral castle of his forebears, Brecon Castle in Wales, as a wedding gift, converting the crumbling ruin into a resplendent country palace.

“Seren was to marry Robert, Duke of Pembroke. Robert was the last of a powerful line, sired by Sir Jean-Luc de Mimsy, who had arrived as part of the Norman conquest and was a respected French knight. He took a political wedding to Catherine Porpington, the daughter of an English nobleman. The de Mimsy-Porpington line lasted until 1492, when its last surviving member, Nicholas, was killed by botched beheading.”

“Wow!” said Harry. “That’s fascinating, isn’t it?”

“I didn’t know any of that,” Hermione frowned. “It isn’t mentioned at all in Hogwarts: A History.”

“Who is she at Hogwarts?” asked Celesca.

“There’s a portrait of her, the same as that picture,” Hermione explained. “It guards the door to the Gryffindor Tower Common Room and bedrooms. Well…it did before the houses were all disbanded. I wonder what happened to it.”

“Burned, probably,” said Harry, ruefully. “I’ve often amused myself by thinking Tom changed all the portraits to ones of him in different poses. There’ll be the Christmas collection down by the dungeons – with him in sparkly Santa hats as he cuts the turkey and hands out presents; then there’ll be ones of him and the family – you know, canoodling with the Carrows and bathtime with Bella – in the Trophy Room. I truly hope the Common Rooms are all protected by his swimsuit portfolio…and that Gryffindor Tower got the one of him in a man-kini.”

Hermione giggled at the images. “Merlin…Harry! That’s a vision I might not ever be able to unsee!”

“Well, think of it as one for the laughter bank,” said Harry. He leant back and yawned, starting a chain reaction with the girls.

“I think I’m going to turn in,” said Hermione. “My heads turning to clay.”

“Yeah, mine, too,” Celesca agreed, rubbing her temples as if trying to mould them.

“And you, madam, are up way past your bedtime,” said Hermione. She stood and lifted Celesca into her arms, letting her sleepy head droop to her shoulder. “Come on, lets get you to bed.”

“I’ll just clean up the books, then,” said Harry in mock crossness.

“Yes, honey, you do that,” Hermione quirked with a grin. “And if you’re very quick, I think that spider might still need fishing out…if your rod is up to the task.”

Then she winked at him and flounced sexily from the library.

* * *

Enola looked fondly at the little pile of clothes that was steadily mounting on her bed. There were babygros and mittens and vests and little hats. They had been lurking in the corners of wardrobes and the back of cupboards, but now Enola had decided to inventory them, just to see what she would need to buy new.

Hermione was recording all the items on a sheet of parchment, matching them off against the list of ‘must-haves’ that Enola had dictated to her earlier. It caused Hermione to pale, as she realised just how little she knew about the nuts and bolts of motherhood.

“The thing was, Ally was quite a little baby,” said Enola.

“Aren’t they all little?” asked Hermione, catching a bag of muslin cloths Enola tossed to her.

“Well, yes, but some are littler than others,” Neville’s wife replied. “I could just buy all new, I suppose, but it seems such a waste.”

“It’s a pity I’m having a boy, or else these frilly bows might be quite handy!” said Hermione, examining the items in her hands. She noticed her fingers were trembling.

“Any…advance, on that front?” asked Enola, lightly.

“We’ve been doing a lot of trying,” said Hermione, blushing. “Harry is constantly re-strengthening the new wards on our bedroom, and naturally we have to test them out.”

“Naturally.” Enola agreed, grinning wickedly.

“But I’m not due for another few days, and I’m really hoping I don’t come on at all.”

Enola crossed the room and sat with Hermione. “You really are keen, aren’t you? It’s amazing, really, to see this side of you. When I helped you to hobble up to bed on that first night, all those months ago, I’d have never imagined we’d be sat here having this conversation.”

“You and me both,” Hermione agreed. “It’s all happened so fast, but I’m glad about that, because it gives me and Harry more time to make up for all the things we missed out on together.”

“Like having babies,” said Enola.

“Precisely. I see you with Alison, and all the time I spend with Luna and Celesca, and I just get extremely jealous and rueful. I feel like Harry and I are playing catch-up with everything.”

“And how does he feel about all this?”

“A mix of excited and terrified,” said Hermione, smirking. “But I’m the same. So it’s okay. We’ve done the getting married bit, now the family part is next for us. And we’re both in a hurry to get it going.”

“Which is why you’re having sex in every room in the house!” Enola laughed.

“How did you know about that?” Hermione blushed.

“Min…the library is on the first floor, next to the main staircase. Sound carries everywhere in the palace from there. And those were some sounds you were making!”

“Oh good Merlin!”

“Yeah…I think that was one of them!” said Enola. “The library, though? Really? I’m not sure I could get turned on in a library.”

“You clearly don’t know me at all, then!” Hermione giggled. “It must be one of my top fantasies…I’ve dreamt of Harry screwing me senseless on a pile of books since I was about thirteen!”

Enola hooted a laugh at that. “And was it as good as you hoped?”

“Well it was going that way…until poor Cesc walked in on us!” Hermione confessed. Enola roared and fell back onto the pile of baby clothes. “She saw Harry half-naked and everything.”

“Which half?” Enola snorted.

“The rude half,” Hermione replied.

Enola sat up, shaking her head. “That lucky little witch. She’ll be the envy of the house once she starts telling everyone that.”

“I thought I was the envy of the house?” Hermione protested good-naturedly.

“No, Min, people are too scared of you to envy you,” said Enola. “Nobody wants to risk starting a blood feud with Mrs Potter!”

Hermione smirked. “I love hearing that. My new name, I mean. I know it’s terribly old fashioned for a woman to be proud to take her husband’s name and everything, but I really love being Mrs Hermione Potter. It’s so much more fulfilling then when I was just plain old Hermione Granger. And don’t get me started on how it felt to be Hermione Weasley. Merlin…I feel dirty and diseased just by saying it!”

Enola chortled. “I bet. I like being Ennie Longbottom, you know, now that I think about it. My name has character. Enola Hart was nice enough, but a bit dull.”

Hermione was struck by something just then, a realisation that made her feel quite dense.

“Ennie…where is your father? I’ve never met him and I can’t remember you ever mentioning him.”

Enola’s expression sagged a moment and she looked away. She bothered a loose thread on one of the baby bonnets. Hermione felt her heart twinge at the look on her best friend’s face.

“Sorry…I didn’t mean to pry,” she said softly. “You don’t have to tell me if it’s a difficult subject.”

“No…no, it’s fine,” Enola sighed. “I just…the story isn’t a nice one. That’s all. My dad was a bastard. I don’t really like thinking about him too much.”

“I’m sorry, En. I shouldn’t have brought it up,” said Hermione.

“He cheated on my mum, see,” Enola blurted out. “She was heartbroken by it. I never knew him, but I can see in her eyes how it shattered her, whenever we’ve spoken about it. I’ve never forgiven my father for what he did.”

“What happened to him?”

“He ran off to join the Death Eaters during Riddle’s first blood war,” said Enola. “My Dad was all in with those politics. Tried to get my my mum to go, too, but she wouldn’t. So he tried to kill her. He beat her and left her for dead. Took my brother into the bargain to use as a blood sacrifice, to prove his loyalty to Riddle. What he didn’t know was that Mum was pregnant with me, and we both survived. I was born just a few months before Harry was attacked by Riddle as a baby.”

“Wow, Ennie,” Hermione breathed. “I’m so sorry. No wonder you hate Riddle so much, and your father. Did you ever find out what became of him?”

Enola shook her head. “There aren’t very many reliable records about the Death Eaters from back then. If they weren’t caught or placed in Azkaban, many just fled abroad or pretended they’d been under spells. Or committed suicide. Mum thinks that’s what happened, because there was no trace of him and he didn’t resurface when Riddle was resurrected.

“And there’s the fact that he was just a fucking coward. Battering a pregnant woman just to join a thuggish gang of blood supremacists. Harry has offered several times to hunt him down, but I agree with Mum. He’s dead…and if turns out he isn’t, I’m going to be the one who deals with him. I’ll gut the fucking cunt.”

Even Hermione winced at Enola’s furious anger. Replacing her restrictions, after they’d killed the Weasleys, was a decision Hermione had a feeling she’d never likely regret.

“What about you, though?” Enola asked. “How are you coping with what happened to your parents? You haven’t really spoken much about that.”

Hermione shifted awkwardly. “I feel terribly guilty about it, but the sensible part of me knows it wasn’t my fault. There wasn’t anything I could have done, not with that shroud of stupidity over my eyes. I feel more ashamed of my own actions than guilty about what I let happen to Mum and Dad.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was a stupid, foolish coward, En,” said Hermione, sinking low into the bed. “I gave up on Harry without a fight. I know all the signs pointed to him being dead, but I knew he couldn’t have been. Even then, I knew he wouldn’t have done that to me…he wouldn’t have gone without saying goodbye. Not to me…he might have told everyone else to kiss his arse, but he would have come to me one last time.

“But I allowed myself to be manipulated by Ron. He took advantage of my grief, made me doubt myself. I gave up the fight without a fight, if you see what I mean. I should have kept struggling, joined a resistance movement, maybe even left Britain on Harry’s Ratway. We could have lived together in Germany, or something. We could have found my parents, restored their memories, put them into Harry’s house in Berlin, where they would have been safe. Then I could have trained with him to take this fight to Riddle. As it is, I’m short of what Harry needs me to be, and my parents were murdered by Ron and Terry Boot and their souls damaged by Ginny and Riddle.

“I’ve failed everyone so massively, Enola.”

Hermione felt her eyes well with tears, as she confessed her secret self-loathing to Enola, who scooted to her and drew her into a fierce hug.

“Hey, hey come on,” said Enola consolingly. “Don’t think like that. You didn’t fail anyone. The bad guys are the bastards in this, not you. And that’s why they are the bad guys…because they’re a pack of arseholes. My dad…your ex-husband…they are despicable excuses for human beings. We are going to rid the world of the whole fucking lot of them!”

Hermione laughed weakly and snivelled a bit.

“And as for this crap about you being short of what Harry needs,” Enola added. “I’ve never heard such Unicorn-shite in my whole life! Nobody who has seen you together, or seen the incredible effect you’ve had on Harry since you arrived back in his life, could deny that you are everything that he needs…in a million ways and more! He and my Nev are brothers-in-blood, making Harry my blood brother by proxy. And that makes you my sister-in-blood-law. And let me tell you, girl, I couldn’t be prouder than I am to have you as that!”

Hermione hugged Enola tight. “I love you, I hope you know that.”

“I do,” said Enola. “And Harry is damned lucky that you love him, too. You are everything he wants and needs. You are a perfect wife, perfect lover…and you are going to be a perfect Mum, too. You’ll see. Now, come on…enough of this crying nonsense. You’re getting tears all over my unborn daughter’s enchanted pixie onesie!”

* * *

Each floor of the Blue Palace had its own attic space. The residents of the various suites had demanded it, but who exactly had converted the place with a slew of spatial modification charms was a detail lost to history. Harry suspected it must have been one of the previous Lords of the Manor, who had all resided on the seventh and uppermost floor, and consequently made the attic space there the biggest of the lot.

It was bigger than the Great Hall at Hogwarts.

At the moment Harry, Hermione, Neville and Enola were clambering around the vast space, looking through the assorted collection of junk and priceless artwork that was gathering dust there. Harry wanted to test a theory, but so far the search was frustratingly fruitless.

“How weird is that, though?” said Neville, continuing the train of conversation they’d been having. “So, Nearly Headless Nick was, like, the great-great-great Grandson of the Fat Lady?”

“Something like that,” Hermione confirmed.

“And this palace was built for her?” asked Neville.

“Yep,” said Harry, yanking a gilded frame and checking its contents, before dropping it again with a dull thud.

“And you think she might have a portrait here, that you want to use to spy on Hogwarts? How will that work again?”

It was Hermione who answered for her husband, placing her hands on her hips crossly and talking to Neville like he was on the Hogwarts Express again.

“We’ve told you twice,” said Hermione bossily. “The subjects in paintings can move between other portraits of themselves. We had one of Phineas Nigellus, who could take messages between his pictures at Hogwarts and a house Harry owns in London. We suspect the Fat Lady must have had a portrait here, as it was her home. And if she did, we should be able to use it to get information from inside Hogwarts.”

“Assuming we can find it, and that the other picture is still there,” said Harry. “It’s a long shot, but one that I think is worth taking.”

“Why are we searching like this, though?” asked Enola. “Why don’t we just use an Accio?”

Hermione turned her cross expression to Harry, who had given the order to search for the picture in this way. He looked sheepishly at his angry wife.

“Oh…yeah. Good point. Sorry, guys.”

Hermione huffed and shook her head. “Honestly!”

Harry drew his wand. “Accio…er…Fat Lady picture.”

Nothing. Hermione gave him a pitying look that simply repeated her last word to him. Harry frowned at her.

“You do it then, if you’re so clever,” he hissed at her.

Hermione looked even crosser than usual. Harry wished he didn’t find that look so cute. It was really hard to be angry with her when he so wanted to be. Hermione drew her own wand and rolled up her sleeve. Harry was forcibly reminded of something as she did it, but couldn’t put his finger on what it was.

Accio Seren Gryffindor Portrait!”

Harry groaned as a large picture flew to Hermione’s hand. She caught it deftly, before grinning smugly as she offered it to Harry.

“Here you go, dear,” she teased. He wrinkled his nose at her and she burst out laughing at his pouty face.

Harry considered the portrait. He recognised the location. It was the paddock out by the unicorn stables. There were more trees than were left now, and a rope-swing was hanging from one of them. Harry looked at it doubtfully…there was no way the Fat Lady of Gryffindor would be able to use that swing…she’d more likely pull the tree down if she tried.

“Er…excuse me…Seren Gryffindor? Is anyone there?”

Harry could hear whispers, movement but the picture remained empty. He looked up at Hermione.

“Any bright ideas on this one?”

“We knew there was a possibility the one at Hogwarts had been destroyed,” Hermione replied sadly. “It was a good idea, honey, but we might just have to accept

it -“

“Who are you? What do you want? And what are you doing with my favourite frame?”

Hermione was cut off. The voice was coming from the portrait in Harry’s hands, and the woman who was speaking was just now stepping into view. Harry drew in a breath at the sight of her.

For she was very pretty. Harry found himself blushing as she looked at him, smiling cutely. This was not the Fat Lady he knew so well. She was young, eighteen or nineteen maybe. Slim, vivacious and astoundingly attractive. She was wearing a pink silk dress, but it clung to her shapely figure and Harry found himself staring.

“Well, well…aren’t you the gorgeous one?” Seren swooned. “Forgive my rudeness. You can summon me whenever you like!”

Harry blushed harder, and Hermione scowled at the painting.

“Stop flirting with my husband!” Hermione snapped. She turned to Harry. “And you…stop enjoying it!”

Enola and Neville laughed behind them.

“You’re Harry, I presume,” said Seren, after frowning at Hermione.

“Yes. How do you know?” Harry replied.

“Because you are a near clone of James,” said Seren. “Now there was a boy who knew how to flirt. Until he went and got himself a bossy little witch, too.”

“You knew my mum and dad?” asked Harry, astonished, as Hermione and Seren continued to glare at each other.

“Oh yes,” said Seren simply. “James put this portrait up on his bedroom door when he was about sixteen, to keep his parents out. He wanted the prettiest picture he could find, so naturally he chose mine. He used to let me stay on the inside part of his door, too…and we had such naughty fun…until that little witch of his starting staying over and banned me from watching anything. She was such a spoilsport.”

Harry smirked in astonishment. His dad must have been a randy fucker. At least he knew where he had inherited it from.

“But are you the same person who guards Gryffindor Tower?” asked Hermione, her jaw still firmly set in a scowl.

Seren’s expression turned ugly. “I used to be. Until those evil bastards took us all down and locked us in that horrible Chamber under the school. It stinks down there. Stinks of dead basilisk and piss and shit. They haven’t repaired the plumbing in years.”

“Nice,” said Harry, wrinkling his nose again.

“And to think,” said Hermione, paling. “Ron wanted to kiss me in there. I should have seen that as a bad omen even then!”

Harry frowned at her. “Ron wanting to kiss you anywhere should have given that game away. If only you’d thought to curse him for trying.”

“If only you’d cursed him when he actually did,” said Hermione fairly. “Or cursed me, even…I think I initiated that first kiss.”

“Is that grounds for a divorce?” Harry mused. “Abject stupidity?”

“But which one of us would file it?” asked Hermione. “I want half the house, but I’ll let you live in the other half. I’m not so cruel and bitter as to make you homeless. So long as the family Vaults are in my half.”

“Guys…” said Neville, gently.

“Sorry,” Harry and Hermione chorused. Harry turned back to the portrait. “So, your other picture is still there.”

“It is,” Seren confirmed.

“How come you look different in that one?” Neville asked.

“I used to be like this,” said Seren. “You can change to whatever age you like, as long as you’ve been drawn like it somewhere else. And I had this one done for my seventeenth birthday, and it was always my favourite. But I used to be too distracting for the boys at the school. There was a saying they used to have…A straight Gryffindor is a late Gryffindor…because the boys would always be late for class, if we were having a particularly good flirt.

“So, in the end, they asked me to change to the other picture when I was at the school. I was nearly dead when they drew that one. I’d had seven children and I lost count of how many grandchildren by that time. But it was more appropriate…though James always let me go back to this version when I was on his door. I miss James…he was so pretty.”

“We need your help,” said Harry. “We need to know about things that are going on at the school. And we were hoping you might help us.”

“I don’t see what I could do,” said Seren. “In any case, I’m very busy. I’m meeting the druidess Cliodna and Anna – the mermaid from the Prefects bathroom – for drinks at Gregory the Smarmy’s painting shortly. There’s a newish painting that used to hang in the dungeons of Durmstrang, and he’s going to be introducing us to this new drink that’s all the rage over there. Something called a jagerbomb…sounds delightfully wicked.”

“All we’d want you to do would be have a look around,” said Harry. “Tell us what’s happening there. Especially anything to do with Voldemort.”

Even as a painting, Seren flinched. “That name…do not speak it. It is like acid to the ears.”

“I’m going to kill him,” said Harry easily. “I’m asking you to be part of how I do that. You’re a Gryffindor…I know bravery is in your blood. As it’s in mine.”

Seren puffed up proudly. “I am my father’s daughter on that score, Harry Potter.”

“Then help us.”

“Very well,” said Seren. “But I have to go now. I have my party to prepare for.”

And with that, she slid gracefully from her frame, but not before flicking her hair sexily at Harry as she sashayed away. Hermione resumed her scowl at the canvas.

“That painting is getting burned as soon as we are done with it,” she hissed. “I’ll do it myself.”

Harry laughed at her.

“You know though,” said Enola thoughtfully. “She’s just done two things that none of us can do.”

“Which is what?” Neville quirked. “Flirt with Harry and piss off Hermione and live to tell the tale of it?”

“Well, technically that’s three things, but okay,” said Hermione, frowning. “Go on, En.”

“Well, she’s breached the wards of here and Hogwarts, without having to fight an army or any of the stuff we are planning,” Enola pointed out.

Harry and Hermione exchanged astonished looks. Neville just looked proudly at his wife.

“She’s negated the wards -” said Harry.

“And by-passed Riddle’s forces -” Hermione added.

“So there must be some sort of portal -“

“Between here and there -“

“And if we can find a way to open it up…” Harry breathed. “Seren!”

Seren eased back into the frame. She smiled sultrily at Harry. “Missing me already? You’re so much like James. If you get rid of the others, I’ll let you watch me get changed for my party.”

For a moment, Harry was tempted. Until Hermione took the picture from him.

“Shut your mouth, you filthy little whore!” Hermione cried nastily.

“And you’re just like that Lily. But at least she cursed me the first time I flirted with James. You need to get some backbone if you’re going to be a proper Lady Potter.”

Hermione went for her wand, perhaps to prove just how much of a Lady Potter she was, but Harry snatched the picture back from her.

“Look, Seren, can you just answer us a couple more questions?” asked Harry.

“Of course. My birthday is in March, my cup size is C, and my favourite wine is a nice rioja. Anything else?”

Harry couldn’t help but laugh, even after Hermione had poked him with her wand.

“Yeah, I was wondering if you knew anything about how these magical portraits work,” said Harry. “Specifically, how you can move between yours.”

“Well that’s an easy one,” Seren smiled. “Pictures were the first Portkeys. They only went to fixed locations, though, which had to be drawn accurately in the paintings. They were like gateways which is why, later on, they became useful for security. When I was on the Tower, for example, it was just a wall behind me. If there isn’t the right kind of portrait there, the Common Room can’t be accessed. I created the round portal. I can do it anywhere.”

Harry and Hermione just gasped at each other.

“Can…can you do it now?” Harry breathed.

“For you, gorgeous…I’ll do anything,” Seren purred.

Seren pulled on the side of her frame, which swung open to reveal a dark, dank space. That horrendous smell hit their nostrils. Harry took a steeling look at the others, and drew his wand. They nodded in firm agreement…then followed him through the portal.

* * *

The Chamber of Secrets was much as Harry remembered it, albeit with a pile of portraits now stacked off to one side. The corpse of the giant snake was long gone, but the aroma of its rotting flesh had left a a mark on the place. And it was a mark that was singularly disgusting.

“Right. We need a battle plan,” said Harry.

“Whatever it is, don’t even consider splitting up,” Hermione warned. “We all stick together, no matter what.”

“Agreed,” said Enola.

“Well, at least that’s settled,” Neville grinned.

“We can’t kill Riddle here,” said Harry. “We can’t let his soul escape justice. We have to get him back to my Ritual Room…end his sorry existence there.”

“He should be easy enough to Stun,” said Neville. “He has no magic, does he? Any of us can do him.”

“Yeah, but we are here to capture, not kill. Just remember that,” said Harry. “The biggest problem is going to be a moral dilemma.”

“How so?” asked Hermione. “If we see a Death Eater, we kill them. Seems fairly straight forward to me.”

“And if that Death Eater is a twelve-year-old second year?” Harry asked pointedly. “Don’t make any mistakes – Hogwarts is nothing more than a military academy these days. And these kids will likely be prepared to attack on sight. What if they do?”

“I say the same applies,” Hermione shrugged.

“Min…”

“What? We want these kids to grow up as our allies…but we cannot allow them to grow up as our enemies.”

The truth of Hermione’s words fell like a dense shroud on them all. No one could agree verbally, could vocalise this darkest of truths. But they all shared this grim understanding. A series of solemn nods sealed this covenant between them.

“Okay.” said Harry eventually, his words heavy and leaden. “But lets make this as quick and clean as possible. Where is Riddle likely to be?”

“Pity we don’t have your dad’s old map,” said Hermione ruefully. “That would have made this a lot easier.”

“I’ll remember it for the next Dark Lord I have to come to Hogwarts to kill,” said Harry waspishly. He immediately felt ashamed for his sassy outburst. “Sorry.”

“Well, I know he isn’t the Headmistress,” said Hermione. “Old Dolores Umbridge got that job. So we can rule out the Head’s private chambers.”

“And I wouldn’t imagine he’d fancy bunking down in his old Slytherin dorms with a bunch of first-years,” said Neville.

“And, think about it,” said Enola. “If he’s lost his magic, he’s probably holed himself up somewhere that can do things he wants without it.”

“And a place he could hide -” said Harry, thinking fast.

“Or get lost,” said Hermione, cottoning on.

“The Room of Requirement!” Neville cried. “That brass-balled device. It takes some truly inspired thinking to create a room that will literally do whatever the fuck you need it to. Got a problem? Turn to the good old RoR!”

“The only thing about a secret room is that it becomes pretty shitty hiding place…once the secret gets out,” said Harry. “Come on.”

Harry led the way to door of the Chamber, whispering a Parseltongue command for it to open. The large, circular portal obeyed, swinging wide to reveal a marble staircase spiralling up to the disused girl’s bathroom.

“This is new,” said Harry, mounting the stairs slowly. “I suppose they had to put in access to make it a storage space.”

“Harry! Wait!” said Hermione. “What about security up here? Tracking charms, proximity spells…the sorts of things we saw at Godric’s Hollow?”

“I’m kind of hoping Tom’s overlooked that,” said Harry. “I understand this place has become fairly hellish. You don’t get detention for being out of bed. You get manacled up and whipped. It’s conditioning Min…fear will keep the kids in line.”

They soon found themselves in the bathroom. The toilet stalls were dank and dusty, the wooden doors hanging from their hinges. It hadn’t been used any more recently than for a couple of above-average second years brewing illegal Polyjuice Potion. Harry smiled at the memory.

The corridors were dark and draughty. Autumn tended to arrive more quickly in the Scottish Highlands than the Welsh valleys, and the chilly winds swept up from the Great Lake and coasted silent and icy through the school. Harry led the way through this, the route still imprinted on his memory. If he closed his eyes, he was fifteen again, sneaking past the Inquisitorial Squads to a DA meeting. If he was lucky, Hermione might give him an encouraging smile for a session well managed…

They even had their regular nemesis to contend with.

“Well, well, students out of bed. Aren’t we in tr -“

But Argus Filch could say no more. Harry had reacted with his military instinct, flicking a blasting hex right at the wheezy old Squib’s chest. It punched a tubular hole right through the papery flesh, from breastbone to spine. Harry looked at it for a surreal moment, to see the flash of a cat’s eyes through Filch’s gaping wound. Hermione and Enola reacted in tandem, Stunning the ancient cat with enough potency in their spells to stop its heart.

Filch looked down at the hole in his chest. “I always hated you kids…”

And with that, he fell down, dead as stone.

“We were never too fond of you, either,” said Neville. “Hell of a shot, Harry.”

“Thanks,” Harry replied. “Come on, Nev. Grab the body with me. There’s a broom closet we can stash it in round the corner. One of you girls grab Mrs Norris. If you didn’t kill her, snap her neck.”

Enola took the duty of picking up the cat. There was a snap that pieced the still air of the corridor. Enola looked up unabashed.

“What? It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

“You know what, Nev…I love both our wives,” said Harry, smirking.

“Yep,” Neville agreed. “They’ll kill kids and kitties. What’s not to love?”

They stored the first corpses of their invasion and moved on. The classroom floors were silent. Harry reasoned everyone must be eating or in dorms. But then, he realised, there was nothing to suggest that routines would be anything like the same as when he’d been a pupil. A fact slammed home when they turned a corner and got a glimpse of the main courtyard, though an ornamental arch on the tower staircase.

“Harry…” Hermione hissed lowly. “Look at that!”

And he did. There were lines of students, maybe twenty rows of twenty , and they were engaged in undoubted military drills. Harry knew, for he’d done similar for the ZGD. Even the drill was the same – squat, push-up, spell – obliterating wooden targets at the end of the courtyard. The sound of splintering wood chilled Harry to the bone.

These kids were good.

“Come on,” Harry urged, and pushed them back along the corridor.

Their first real obstacle came as they reached the corridor when the Room of Requirement could be found. Two guards, at the top of the shallow stairwell between floors. These were elite Death Eaters, Tom Riddle’s personal security. Easily identifiable by their acid green battle robes. The Green Shirts, they were known as, or the GS. Hardcore fanatics that were highly-trained in combat magic, led the divisions of the Section Seven secret police, and put Tom Riddle’s life before that of their own children.

And they fired first, hitting Enola with hex that separated her shoulder. She shrieked at the pain and Neville fired off several angry curses in reply. Hermione rushed to Enola as she crumpled, the pain threatening overwhelm her. But one of the GS guards fired a Killing Curse at her. Harry smashed into her with his shoulder, pushing her clear.

Then he responded to the fool who’d threatened his wife.

A slicing jinx to sever his wand arm, a blinding hex, and a body-bind spell so fierce they could all hear the sickening crack of bone, as the guard’s pelvis shattered. He didn’t have time to scream, as Harry flicked an angry chain incendio spell at him, burning his flesh to ash it passed through him.

Harry’s furious magic pulsed out of him, holding the other guard frozen as it swelled in the narrow stairwell. The delay allowed Neville to charge forward, where he gripped the guard by the shoulder and cast powerful spike jinx into his throat. The guard looked up in shock, as blood bubbles popped at the corner of his his mouth. Neville just held him firm, shaking with his rage, his eyes fixed angrily to the guards’ until the last of his life drained from him.

Then he just let his body fold to the floor at his feet.

“Ennie,” Harry cried. He raced to her limp form where Hermione was cradling her.

“She passed out from the pain,” Hermione explained.

“It’s probably better that way,” said Harry. “She wont feel the healing spell nearly as much.”

Harry cast silently, quickly, watching the unnatural way Enola’s arm clicked back into its socket. It was a sickening sight.

“Should we wake her?” Hermione asked.

Harry frowned. “She’ll probably scream the castle down when the pain hits. Wait here.”

“No! I said we aren’t splitting up!” Hermione hissed.

“I’m just checking the corridor,” said Harry, who leapt up and away before Hermione could do anything about it. Harry peered around the corner. “It’s clear. The Room is ten feet away. There may be guards at the other end but we can get in and out before they’d be able to get here.”

“Hermione, go with Harry,” said Neville. “I’ll stay here with Ennie. Take Riddle down, and we’ll escape together.”

Hermione bit her lip, hesitating between thoughts.

“Love, we have to do this,” said Harry. “The GS guards could have had a secret alert, or be on a shift pattern. This is our chance…we have to take it.”

Hermione sucked in a breath. “Okay.”

She scrambled up and joined Harry, and together they stole out from the stairwell and crept along the corridor. There were no guards…the way was clear…Harry felt a thrill of expectation. They were going to do it, finally, after all this time.

Hermione finally realised the same, as they came to a halt in front of that familiar patch of wall.

“Do it, sweetheart, go get him. I’ll stand watch.”

Harry swept in and kissed her on the mouth, deep and powerful. “I so should have done that here years ago.”

Hermione grinned. “When we liberate the school, we’ll christen all the rooms with kisses. Now go!”

Harry did as he was told. He took a breath, then walked back and forth along that small patch of corridor.

Show us the place where Riddle is hiding…Show us the place where Riddle is hiding…Show us the place were Riddle is hiding…”

And a door with a serpentine knocker materialised in the wall. Hermione turned and gasped at it.

“Ready?” Harry asked. Hermione nodded, gripping her wand tight, as it was vibrating with so much force it threatened to fly from her fingers. “Alohomora!”

The door swung open and Harry and Hermione burst in.

The room was a surprisingly simple affair. A plain, unimaginative study. There was a roaring fire and a few trinkets in a glass-fronted cabinet next to the window; there was a large bureau-cum-desk and a single chair behind it. The man sat in it looked up, held frozen by the surprise appearance of uninvited guests in his private space…his slit-like eyes too shocked to react…

“Hello, Tom…Expelliarmus!”

The Elder Wand soared to Harry’s hand as Tom Riddle was knocked to his feet by the force of the spell. Then…

Stupefy!”

Hermione’s Stunner was so powerful it slammed Riddle back into the cabinet, shattering the glass, before he slumped unconscious to the floor. Harry raced to him, and began to haul him to his feet.

“Use magic, Harry!” Hermione implored.

“Oh yeah,” Harry grinned. “I knew I’d brought you along for a reason.”

Harry hoisted Riddle into the air with a hovering charm.

“I’ll lead, you keep an eye on the rear,” said Hermione, holding open the door.

“You don’t have to tell me to keep an eye on your rear,” said Harry, smirking. “Move, quickly now.”

And she did, hurrying along the corridor with Tom Riddle’s motionless form behind her. They re-entered the stairwell.

“Yes!” Neville cried, punching the air in delight. “You’ve got him!”

“Now just have to get him out,” said Harry. “Nev – cast a silencing spell on Ennie then wake her up. We need to move as fast as possible.”

Neville obeyed the order, and they all watched for a rather funny minute as Enola stirred, felt the pain, screamed, then huffed as no sound came out. She looked around crossly, then rotated her shoulder to absorb the discomfort. Then she motioned to her mouth and Neville restored her voice.

“You did it!” she whispered.

“Yeah,” Hermione grinned. “You okay?”

“My shoulder hurts like a bitch,” Enola moaned. “Shotgun going up front. I need some vengeance.”

So they ranged in position – Enola and Hermione leading, Neville covering their retreat, with Harry hovering Riddle in the centre of it. They hurried down corridors as quickly as they could…two unknown teachers left a classroom, and Enola cursed them so fiercely they were knocked out as their heads hit solid brick…they made it to the third floor, down to the second…the bathroom was dead ahead…then…

“Intruders! Second floor corridor!”

A group of students, perhaps six or seven of them, were marching up the staircase near the bathroom. It was a narrow, stone construction, only wide enough for two students at a time. The two groups met, and locked eyes on each other…then all made for their wands.

But Hermione Potter reached hers first, casting a powerful blasting hex at the stone steps, which disintegrated under the force of the spell. Harry and the others just watched on, as the the students suddenly vanished in a cloud of dust and rubble, hurling curses until they hit the floor below with an almighty crash. All was quiet for ten seconds…until pandemonium erupted.

But it was too late for the Death Eaters. Enola and Hermione led the way through into the bathroom, down the steps to the Chamber of Secrets, which Neville blew up behind him as he took the last leap from the staircase. Harry sealed the Chamber with a hiss of Parseltongue. Hermione summoned Seren, the portal reopened, and they dragged Tom Riddle though to his prison in the Ritual Room of the Blue Palace…where he would finally face the justice of the Potters.     

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