Chapter 7

Chapter 7 -A Lion’s Vengeance

Harry hung back out of respect. He knew that Hermione was only taking off her dressing gown, but, as every sinew of his body was aching for her, he didn’t trust himself to hold in his control at just this mild display of disrobing. His imagination was vivid enough to fill in the blanks his loins throbbed for, and the energies of the palace were treacherous to what should be a secret intent. Everyone from the lowest under-gardener to his inner circle would know what was on his mind just then.

If they didn’t already, of course.

But Harry’s composure was being severely tested. His mind raced at what Hermione was doing in the room beyond, no matter how simple an act it was. Not being in sight of her didn’t help at all. Without being able to see, he could picture her doing it teasingly, as though knowing he was watching or thinking about her. An hour ago, the very idea would have been so absurd that Harry would have laughed it off as a symptom of his delusional mania. He might have been concerned about the depths of his mental instability. But now, he could almost convince himself this preposterous idea might actually be possible.

Especially now that Hermione had kissed him like an enamoured lover.

Harry leaned against the wall and marvelled at the evening. It was his best mother’s birthday ever. Harry couldn’t wipe the grin off his face, even if it only could cover half of it. Fucking Voldemort and his power curses. Silly cunt. Hermione had kissed him. Actually kissed him, with her tongue and everything. On purpose. That was something he found extremely hard to conceptualise, even though it had happened less than half an hour previous. The texture of her tongue still clung to the inside of his cheek. He didn’t want to lick it off. He wore it like a private badge of honour.

Hermione had really kissed him!

He felt like a boy again, ridiculously excited at the burgeoning idea of girls, as though it were a brand new thing. He shouldn’t be fluttering inside like this. He’d killed people, conducted dark and dangerous ritual magic, fought the dead and the living and beaten both. He was a tough, ugly, scarred man. Not a lovesick teenager. But that’s how he felt. Dizzy and joyously quivery and light-headed and lost and so flustered he couldn’t hold his head in place.

And all he wanted to do was hug the girl in the next room forever. Fuck Horcruxes and snake-shagging Dark Wizards. Someone else could deal with that. Only the girl herself didn’t want to just hug. She wanted to fight. And that stirred Harry so poignantly that he felt like squealing. He loved Neville, his Brother-In-Blood. He’d enjoyed killing Dark Wizards alongside him. With Enola, too, who killed so flawlessly she made it an art form.

But there was something about the idea of Hermione in battle, killing for him, maybe defending him, that speeded Harry’s heart to reckless abandon. He couldn’t describe it, or why it made him grin so foolishly. And he wasn’t ignorant to the way the idea aroused him, either. The very notion of Hermione opening up on someone to protect him…well, there was just that something about it that excited him. Harry couldn’t rightly explain it, wasn’t sure how to cope with it.

Because there was this hidden element to Hermione’s magic that hit him in the stomach and immediately raced lower. If he had been sensible to such things, Harry might have recognised that it turned him on. But it had been so many years since that had properly happened that Harry had forgotten what it felt like.

But now, it seemed, Hermione’s magic was turning that back on, too.

For her power had taken Harry’s breath away during the ritual to destroy McGonagall’s Horcrux. Harry had always known she was gifted. Of course she was, this was Hermione, more brilliant than anyone he’d ever known. He knew, even though he’d been too shy to say, that she was clever beyond the books she used to shield her modesty, but he had no idea quite how potent she was. He had struggled to hold her magic steady when he drew it from her, and was reduced to taking only a fraction of the amount he otherwise would have.

And even this was enough to basically overload him. In more ways than he would openly admit.

It was sobering. It devastated all the rituals he’d designed for her, to bring out her natural power. He’d been so careful with them, too, factoring in her astral chart and elemental bias, her zodiac signals and what he hoped was her alchemical role. That at least he was certain of. His mother had been utterly right…she was his white queen in every sense. His soror mystica through and through. Mums always knew best, it would seem.

But Hermione’s power level meant Harry would have to redesign everything to account for her, frankly, jaw-dropping magical potential.

Harry was thrilled at that. It set his heart racing at a thunderous tempo. There was so much Hermione didn’t yet know, so much he couldn’t wait to share with her. She had no idea who she was, or who she could be. Who they could be. His own awakening had been so monumental…it brought a smile to his mind just remembering it. It made him laugh to think that a circus conjurer like Tom Riddle would be presumptuous enough to position himself as a threat to that.

Really, Riddle was little more than an irritant in Harry’s mind at this point. Like a mild bout of herpes. Harry knew, almost without doubt, that if they met in battle now he’d finish him in minutes. Oh Tom was powerful, frighteningly so. Harry would never let that from his mind. But that didn’t make Tom a good fighter. Harry had been to the Welsh Valleys, where the big boys pumped themselves full of steroids and talked a tough game.

Didn’t mean they could take a punch.

It was the same in North America. The magic there was potent, but it wasn’t the gangster-dressed mages of New York, or the hooded conclaves of the Florida Keys you had to be wary of. It was the ancient magic of the Native Americans, the covens of the Ozarks, the shape shifting witches of Minnesota…they were the ones who’d turn your insides out without so much as a warning shot. Harry had learnt so much from those groups. He was eminently thankful for the lessons they’d taught him…and the help they’d pledged when it was time for his revolution.

A time that was coming fast.

As for Riddle, if it wasn’t for the pointlessness of it, Harry would have done him by now. But his own High Dark Death Eaters – cunts like the Lestranges and Dolohov – would have simply killed a random passer-by, used their body mass to reanimate their Dark King with his Last Horcrux, as many times as there were victims to be had. Harry didn’t want their blood on his hands. Good, pure blood. He intended to shed so much blood of the evil kind that he doubted the train in the afterlife would accept his spiritual Oyster Card when the time came now.

But so long as Hermione could go, Harry would be okay with that.

Though if, as she’d pledged, she’d kill just as indescriminantly as him, well, they could just roam purgatory together for eternity. There was something to be said for that as a punishment. Harry could live with it. He would need nothing else. The afterlife would be a cheery place, without Dumbledore badgering him constantly, or having to justify a life of misdeeds to his overwrought parents. Just him and Hermione, doing whatever they wanted. Forever. Harry could definitely live with that.

But, for now, he had to deal with Hermione’s earthly woes. For, despite the scale of her magical potential, she was so mentally scarred that Harry was heartbroken just trying to process it. He couldn’t quite accept it. Because for every bruise from Ron’s punches, for all of Hermione’s bones he’d shattered and splintered, Ron’s real damage went so deep into her mind that Harry was worried he didn’t have the power to help her as he’d promised. And he was so earnest when he’d made that vow. He would give all he had not to break it.

But he couldn’t even hold her latest nightmare in his head without losing control of his magic. Sally had described it to him. He couldn’t bring himself to view the memory she’d secretly pulled, under the guise of checking Hermione for a fever. It had helped her forget the horrors that little bit quicker. Harry was sure she wouldn’t hold the violation of her mind against him. He did it for the best.

But just the description was enough to send him frenzied with fury. The image of Hermione, looking so Bludger-stoppingly beautiful, with her hair all done up with bows and sparkles for a party, hair that was pulled and wrenched and actually ripped from her head…it made Harry tear at his own messy locks in anguished frustration.

He could no longer imagine the horrors he would visit on Ron…he hadn’t yet devised a retribution suitable enough. He would have to redefine the very concept to accomodate his justice. And with each new snippet of information on his indiscretions…Harry felt he was skirting with the borders of losing his mind. He would make quick work of Tom Riddle, he was set on that.

But with Ron…he would drag that shit out as long as he could.

The lightshades on the walls of the long corridor abrutply shattered as Harry’s unrestrained anger burst out of him. He didn’t care. Some other fucker could fix them. He wasn’t done with breaking things yet anyway. But just then, the door to Hermione’s suite was flung open and she was there before him, looking concerned. She pressed her hands to his chest, and he stilled almost instantly.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered, worry evident in every line of her face. “I can feel you from in my room! You took it out on my new vase of flowers.”

Harry looked down in shame. “Sorry. I’ll fix it…”

“What is it?” Hermione pressed gently. What’s happened?”

Harry huffed and pulled angrily at his hair. The vision of Ron was swelling in him again, surging through his veins. His magic was building, the pressure throbbing at his temples. The candles in the hall suddenly caught fire as if they were sconces.

Hermione hushed him and drew him close, pulling his head down to her shoulder. Her arms were unfathomably soft and strong. “Calm down, Harry…talk to me.”

“I know…I know what you were dreaming of earlier,” Harry croaked. He was unbearably furious. He couldn’t stop it. “Did…did that really happen? With Ron? After Susan’s birthday?”

Hermione stiffened in his arms, before shuddering violently at the memory. Harry had his answer. His anger was so close to erupting he was afraid he couldn’t control it, even with Hermione trying to calm him.

“That….that…”Harry spat, grinding his jaw. “That…fucking ginger cunt.”

Something snapped in the air. It was like a thunderclap. It rolled for about thirty seconds, then suddenly Enola, Neville, Angharad, Myfanwy, and Enola’s friend Cassie were crowding in the hall. All had their wands drawn and the combined pulsing power turned the air positively sub-tropical. Neville had cast a powerful Shield Charm around them, encasing them all in a shimmering bubble.

“What’s going on?” asked Myfanwy. She looked primed for a fight.

“There’s a crack in the main staircase,” added Neville.

“And half of my potions ingredients just spontaneously combusted!” chirruped Cassie.

“Sorry, Harry was just having a moment,” Hermione explained.

Harry conceded to her as his spokesperson. He was unable to form words through his incendiary wrath. He was actually quite enjoying Hermione threading her fingers rhythmically through his hair to try and sedate him. But the images still roiled within him. He couldn’t push them away.

“Was it about a certain red head we wont mention?” asked Neville, quirking a grin at Hermione. “I told you not to say his name here.”

“I think the term Harry used was ‘fucking ginger cunt’,” she returned evenly.

“Yeah, that’s what he normally calls him,” said Cassie, pocketing her wand now the danger had passed. “I have a whole cabinet of FGC pain potions that we’ve designed to use on him. Unless Harry has shattered them all.”

Harry guffawed, his anger subsiding slightly. “I told you to magic-proof the room.”

“I did!” Cassie complained. “Twice!”

“Sorry,” Harry shrugged.

“Come on,” said Enola, stepping forwards. “There’s only one person who can sort Harry out now. But first…”

She drew her wand and delicately drew a containment rune on Harry’s forehead, his only bit of exposed skin. He rolled his eye but allowed it. Hermione looked on, and Harry watched her curiously. He wasn’t totally sure, but he could have sworn he saw Hermione frown jealously as Enola’s magic touched him. It made Harry’s insides squirm again, and his anger shirked away a little more.

“Where are we going?” asked Hermione. “Who will help Harry?”

“The only person guaranteed to calm him,” said Enola. “Can you take us, Sally?”

Enola looked down at the elf, who had appeared between Harry and Hermione’s legs. She nodded

“Hold hands,” said Sally. Harry, Hermione and Enola obliged. Then Sally placed her long fingers over them and they were Apparated two floors up.

And Harry’s rage slipped away like a raspy breeze.

He didn’t even hesitate to pull his shawl off. It was a reflexive action, as if the room were in command. Or maybe it was the little girl reaching up for a cuddle. Harry was utterly helpless against her. He crossed the room in three strides and scooped her into his arms. She was the cutest little thing. He’d never quite gotten used to that. Or how alive she was, despite her tininess. She squirmed and wriggled all over, moved ever part of her little body at the same time. Harry couldn’t ever wrap his head around her perpetual motion. It was mesmerising.

But at this instant all he felt was shame. Had he woken her? Had his feeble attempt at rage control stolen sleep from her? A thousand curses on him if it had. He hugged her by way of apology, rocked her gently and hoped she didn’t hold his anger against him. She didn’t seem to. Actually, she appeared to be purring. It was the most relaxing sound. And she smelled of talc. Harry always found that weirdly comforting.

“Well, I…of all the things…”

Hermione had come up to his shoulder, and slipped an arm around him. She was looking at him with the most profound, curious expression. But also the most affectionate one he could imagine. His stomach flipped and rippled as considered what she might be thinking. Or was it what he was thinking? He couldn’t process that. His heart might explode at the prospect if he did.

“Alison Longbottom…Lord Potter’s calming influence,” said Enola, joining them and grinning at the scene. She looked at Hermione’s arm, curled around Harry’s waist without any sign of him protesting. She knew something had gone on between them, Harry could tell that from the glint in her eyes. But she didn’t press the point. “She never fails in her job.”

“I’m sorry, En,” said Harry, aghast and disgraced. “If I woke her…”

“You didn’t,” said Enola. “I was just putting her down. I was about to read her a story. She likes to be read to.”

Hermione looked over, that curious expression still dancing in her eyes. “Do you…do you mind if we read to her? I’d quite like a bedtime story myself.”

Enola flashed her eyes from Harry to Hermione and back again, smiling knowingly.

“That might be lovely,” said Enola. “I’ve been reading to her about Zoric the Alien. The book is just on the nightstand. It was one of my favourites as a girl. Just remember to leave the aerial light on for her when you’re done.”

Enola smiled again and slipped from the room. Harry sat in the large rocking chair near the baby’s cot and Hermione picked up the book. She rested her forearms and chin on Harry’s knees as he turned baby Alison into a more comfortable cwtching position for her to hear the story. Then Hermione began to read.

Harry tried to listen, to a light tale about giant birds and mice, a lost alien who made a house from an old teapot, and space-saws that went buzz. But his mind was scrambled. He couldn’t bring his raging thoughts under control. They were all at sea. He was intently focusing on the scene, at once a part of it, but watching from afar all at the same time. If he closed his eye he could almost imagine this was another place, another world…

And another little girl he and Hermione might have been cooing to sleep.

His heart wouldn’t stop thudding against his ribs. Hermione’s voice was soothing, soporific. Harry realised with a jolt that she was good at this. Natural, an expert without even trying. He was glad he didn’t have to speak, as all the words he knew were lodged in his throat and refusing to budge, lest he voice aloud the wild thoughts chasing each other through his mind.

He had to move before his inert desires found life and escaped him. Luckily, baby Alison was as lazy as her father and Harry found she had fallen asleep on his thigh. He drew Hermione’s attention silently, and together they moved the sleepy baby down into her crib. Harry tucked a small, stuffed hippogriff into her tiny hands and she clutched at it happily.

Harry looked over at Hermione. Both their hands were on the rim of the cot. Her eyes were aflame without fire. Harry was actually hypnotised by her look, such was its purity. He gulped hard. He dearly longed to know what she was thinking, but at the same time he was sure the knowing might scare him silly. Or kill with him unbridled joy.

“Isn’t she gorgeous?” Hermione crooned quietly.

“Yeah…she is,” said Harry, who wasn’t looking at the baby.

Hermione curled her head to look at him. “You’ll make a great father,” she said confidently.

Harry swallowed again. “What makes you so sure?”

“I just am,” Hermione smiled. “The way you are with this one would be enough. But then its how you protect everyone, how fiercely you love. What more could a child want in their dad?”

Harry huffed. “A normal face might be nice. I’ll scare any kids I have out of their little minds.”

“You don’t scare Alison. You wont scare our kids,” Hermione retorted on reflex.

She froze, her eyes shooting wide, the echo of her words hanging in the air between them. She looked back to the crib. Harry could see her chest rising and falling as her breathing hitched. Hermione seemed to lack the courage to look at him.

“Would…I mean…is that what you might want? I mean…you know, someday?” Harry asked softly.

Hermione turned to him shyly, as though suspicious her slip hadn’t actually made Harry run a mile. She shrugged and smiled so timidly, so adoringly cutely, that Harry actually ached at the sight.

“I didn’t till I came here,” Hermione eventually replied. “The world outside isn’t fit for children. But, well…would you?”

“With you I would,” said Harry without ceremony. Hermione gasped and fixed her eyes on him.”Sorry…too much?”

Hermione moved and hugged him deeply. “No…nor too soon. Harry…we are so going to kill Tom Riddle. Do you think he knows how badly?”

Harry chortled. “I hope not. I want it to be a surprise.” They stayed hugging like that for a few minutes longer, neither finding a good enough reason to stop. Until one occured to Harry. “Come on, its time we put you to bed.”

“Yes…Dad,” Hermione teased. Harry could only grin stupidly at her.

They made their way back downstairs, Harry leaning on Hermione in something of a role reversal. The damage to her hips that Harry had absorbed was a fucking nightmare. He was pretty sure bone was rubbing on bone. Luckily, the nursery was practically above Hermione’s suite, so they only had to manage the stairs. Harry looked along the corridor. He shifted awkwardly as he noticed someone had fixed all the broken lightshades. He would owe so many apologies tomorrow.

But for now, his only focus was on Hermione. Oddly, the very act of her holding open the door to her bedroom suite made Harry’s insides do somersaults. Then there was the idea of him leading her to bed. That was an entirely new sensation that he would have to properly deconstruct later. Tucking her in was just beyond his understanding of life or his vocabulary. It lodged his heart in his throat as he tried to be as delicate as he could with her. And the sweet look in her eyes…he couldn’t even hold her gaze with it. It muted the world for a moment.

Then he was back to task, trying to master his trembling fingers. He conjured a set of quartz crystals with his wand. Each one was pale pink and humming lowly with their own vibrational frequency. Hermione watched with immense curiosity as Harry took each one in turn, held it in the palm of his hand for several minutes and charged it with his intent. Soon they were all throbbing with it.

“What are you doing to them?” Hermione asked breathily. She was flushed crimson. Harry shrunk back. He’d not controlled that bothersome arousal aspect of his magic. Hermione was bound to think of him as some sort of pervert if he carried on. He wondered if he should apologise.

“Just…just powering them with a spell…to pull any negative dreams from you,” Harry explained in a small voice. “They will be trapped in the crystals. Quartz is good for that.”

“How do you know?”

Harry stiffened. “These are mine.”

Hermione looked up in wide-eyed shock. “You…you use these?” Harry nodded guiltily. “Oh, Harry…but wont you need them?”

“I’ll be alright. You need them more.” said Harry. “Besides, I’m used to nightmares. My days are full of them. Well, except for today. I think that might actually help me sleep.”

Hermione smiled, her eyes sparkling. “If that’s all you need…I’d better kiss you a lot more.”

Harry grinned at her. “I’ll hold you to that. Here, take this.”

Harry reached into his robe and drew out a large golden coin on a chain. He gently hung it on the back of Hermione’s headboard. She sucked in a breath as she saw it.

“Your DA coin?”

Harry nodded. “Its covered in a layer of citrine. Keeps your mind clear. It will help you drift off.”

Hermione frowned at him. “You’re giving me all these because you don’t intend to sleep tonight, do you?”

Harry chuckled. “Its too soon for you to read me like one of your books. Speaking of which, I haven’t shown you round the library yet. I’m sure you’ll approve. You inspired it.”

“Don’t try and distract me,” said Hermione, obviously distracted. “Harry…”

Harry sat on the edge of the bed and reached over to tuck a stray hair behind Hermione’s ear. “Hermione…I’ve waited for the longest time for what happened between us tonight. I honestly never thought it would. There’s no way I will be able to sleep. I’m afraid if I sleep I might wake up and find it never happened at all.”

Hermione looked so tenderly at him Harry had to avert his eye. “Is that really the truth?”

“I know of no other way to speak to you,” said Harry. “Don’t be cross. I came back from the afterlife for this night. I want to enjoy it.”

“Can’t I enjoy it with you?”

Harry smiled. “Next time. I have to be by myself tonight. Find a way to make myself believe this is real. That we are really happening. We are…aren’t we?”

Harry looked suddenly petrified. Hermione couldn’t help but laugh at his panicked expression. “Of course we are, silly. We can pick a name for whatever we are when we find one that fits.”

Harry sighed and relaxed. “Okay. But for now, you need to sleep.”

Harry pulled up a chair and drew his wand. Hermione’s eyes flashed to it quickly. Harry saw the look before she could prevent in. A look of unparalled terror. Harry might as well have pulled a cat-o’nine-tails on her. His entire body shifted in anger at what that meant. He dropped his wand on impulse.

“Hermione…I…I’m sorry…I didn’t think…”

Hermione let out a strangled breath. “It’s my fault, Harry. Its just…”

Her words tailed off. Harry cautiously moved close and hugged her. Hermione gasped. Harry knew why. It was the first hug he had initiated. It surprised her. Harry found her response a little startling, but exciting at the same time. She didn’t resist. She liked Harry hugging her first. He would have to do this more often.

“Nothing that happened to you was your fault,” Harry whispered soothingly. Hermione’s breath hitched and she spluttered out a sob. Harry hugged her tightly. “I’ll look after you now. You’re safe. Nothing will ever hurt you.”

“I know. I trust you, Harry.”

“I don’t need a wand for this magic,” he said. “Just feel my energy. Take it in. It will protect you.”

The air of the room was dense as Harry forced his magic to heave out of him. Wandless magic hurt so much. It was sheer agony. Like pushing out acid from your pores. But Hermione needed it, so Harry ground his teeth and bore his self-harm. For what was a bit of pain for Hermione’s peace of mind, for her rest? Nothing at all. Harry willed his power out of himself, commanded it to help Hermione, to recognise her as friendly and do as she needed. He didn’t know it had worked till he heard her snore into his shoulder some time later.

Harry slid from the bed and collapsed to the floor with a dull thud, totally spent. His skin was soaked with sweat and, as his magic receded, he knew he wouldn’t make it back to his room without aid. He summoned Rhian, made her cast a spell on Hermione for dreamless sleep, then had her Apparate him to his room with no more than the lightest of pops. It took a little more than light persuasion to get her to leave him be.

Harry loved his elves, but they could be immensely trying. He did allow Rhian to fetch him a pepper-up potion from Cassie’s stores, but then insisted he be left to his own recuperation.

Harry checked, re-checked, then checked again that Rhian had actually gone. He even swept a spell over the room to make sure she wasn’t just hiding, or making herself invisible. She was apt to resorting to such tricks to keep an eye on her stubborn Master. When he was satisfied that he was quite alone, he locked the door to his top-floor suite and moved into his bedroom.

The first thing he noticed was the picture of Hermione on his nightstand. It was from the day of Bill and Fleur Weasley’s wedding. Harry had coaxed Neville to get Ernie MacMillan to ‘acquire’ a picture of Hermione for him, without raising too many suspicions. In hindsight, it probably raised every red flag there was.

He never asked how he actually got it, but Harry didn’t care. He had the picture and that was all that mattered. And Hermione looked so shockingly beautiful that all Harry had to do was glance at it for his mood to improve. Every time he did he tried to remember why he hadn’t been so mesmerised by her that day, when he was actually there. Why it had taken so long, and a near-death experience, to fully appreciate just how beautiful a girl Hermione really was.

He knew the reason was distinctly Weasley-shaped.

But he didn’t want to dwell on that. He’d broken enough things on their account for one night. So he dwelt on the picture instead, let his eyes linger on Hermione’s slender form a little longer than he’d normally permit. The moving photo was the one indulgence he’d allowed himself for the past few years – but he didn’t want to besmirch it by taking liberties with the time he was consented to look.

Her dress that day had been cut to form, and it accentuated all her loveliness. Harry feasted on her image. He had to remember to breathe. He recalled Dumbledore once telling him how men had wasted away before the Mirror of Erised. He could certainly relate, could certainly imagine wasting away before this moving vision of elegant beauty before him.

Then she did something she’d never done before, and blew him a kiss.

Harry was so taken aback by the action that if anyone had happened upon him they might have thought he’d been hit by Petrificus Totalus. Hermione’s picture always acted the same. It waved at him, smiled, perhaps gave a twirl or a curtsey to show off her dress. But she never blown kisses. Why had it changed? Harry was deeply fascinated by it. It brought a speeding thrum to his pulse and warmed his chest. It was the most insanely cute thing he could imagine.

Then his chest ached for an entirely different reason and he remembered why he’d dismissed Rhian so firmly. He didn’t know which of Ron’s blows had caused this particular injury to Hermione, but a hairline fracture to the sternum more than hinted at the severity of the assault. Harry scowled at the thought. Then he gave Hermione’s picture one last, slightly bewildered look and crossed the room to his bookcase.

Harry checked that he was alone one more time out of habit. He reached up to the third book from the right, on the second shelf down, and gave it a tug. Then he stepped back as the bookcase swung away from the wall to reveal a hidden room. Harry limped inside and pulled the bookcase-door closed behind him.

The room was small and perfectly circular. It was dimly lit; dust swirled in the air disturbed by the opening door, making it seem like the whole place was suffused with a soft, milky mist. There was no sound. Harry stepped forward and shed his robe, tossing it onto a rail that was off to one side. He shivered as the first draught of cold licked his skin.

“A bit of fire, please Lily.”

The phoenix emerged from a gout of flame, which ignited a fire pit in the heart of the room. Harry closed his eye as the heat washed over his skin like a renewing tide. Lily fluttered to a golden perch near Harry, and trilled in contentment as he scratched her head. Harry completely disrobed and moved to the centre of the room, where he began drawing hot water into the deep bathtub that dominated the space there.

Next to the bath a large, ornate cabinet sat proudly as the only other piece of furnishing in the room. Harry tapped the doors of it, which eased open to reveal a collection of antique equipment, beautifully preserved and infused with a deep power that Harry felt rumble in his own skin.

They’d once belonged to Nicolas Flamel. Harry had acquired them in a game of poker, played in a seedy, backstreet Paris revue bar. Harry hadn’t exactly played fair. But he’d hunted all over Europe for this set of items – he wasn’t about to let some gnarled old Norwegian warlock hold onto some of the most powerful magical relics in the world, now was he.

Not when he had such a greater use in mind for them.

There was a still, an alembic, an athanor. The tools of the Master Alchemist, and shelves that groaned under the weight of the fruit born by the labour of this most difficult art.

Harry wasn’t quite the Master he wanted to be just yet. He hadn’t been studying alchemy for nearly long enough to make that claim. But he was pretty efficient as it was. So he should be, it was his birthright after all. He was a Potter, a master of fire, the ultimate transmuting substance. He hadn’t quite managed to turn lead all the way to gold just yet, and the creation of a Philosopher’s Stone was a lifetime away, but he had a small quantity of silver as proof of his burgeoning skill.

Silver he intended to use to forge Hermione’s engagement ring.

The thought made him grin stupidly to himself. He put the thought away for now, and reached into the cabinet for a vial of silvery liquid. Mercurial Water, a by-product of the albedo stage of the process. It was good for soothing deep wounds, but only of the person who created it, which in this case was himself. He would have given his entire supply if it might have helped Hermione, but it wouldn’t have had any greater effect than the average bubble bath. He didn’t have much left anyway.

“Going to have to get brewing soon,” he said to Lily, before tipping the contents of the vial into the bath. The water turned a pearly sort of champagne colour. “The next full moon is in a few days. I think you and I better make it a date night. I hope you’ll share your tears with me.”

Lily sang out her affirmation. Then she continued to trill.

Harry considered her song thoughtfully. “No, I think its a bit early to involve her in this. One thing at a time, eh?”

Lily sang again, more crossly this time.

“Hey, don’t get sassy with me,” said Harry, frowning at her. “Give the poor girl a break. She has enough to acclimatise to as it is.”

Lily mewled sadly for a minute.

“I know, and I’m glad you like her,” Harry replied, slipping into the bath. “I like her too. A lot. But I still have to be patient with her. You can go to her whenever you want. I don’t mind, and I’m sure Hermione wont either. She’s quite taken with you, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Lily hopped up and down on her perch, her notes returning to something far more lyrical.

“Of course I know how lovely she is, and how powerful,” said Harry in agreement. “I think she’ll be crucial to our completion of the Opus. I don’t want the gold, but I think the Elixir might be the only substance powerful enough to cleanse her of those mental scars. They run so deep, Lil…I just can’t stand to think of her carrying that around.”

Harry sank into the depths of his bath water, the alchemical solution immediately targeting his aching wounds. He moaned as the pain eased. Lily began a new aria, one that was just for Harry. He opened his magic and absorbed it, letting Lily’s healing force sweep through him.

“Thank you,” he croaked. She hissed at him, as though insulted that he felt the need to thank her for something she did for him so naturally, so willingly. “I’m sorry. Come here.”

Lily stomped her talons and pouted.

“Lily…”

The phoenix gave in to Harry’s gentle chiding and soared over to him, perching herself on his shoulder. He smoothed her feathers to pacify her.

“You know, being a diva is quite unbecoming,” Harry teased with a smirk. Lily squawked at him. It might have masked a swear word or two. Harry chuckled at her. “So, have I been formally replaced as your most favourite person?”

Lily didn’t reply.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’. Its okay. I forgive you. She’s my favorite person, too.”

Lily nipped him affectionately on the ear.

“Will you watch over her for me tonight? Rhian’s spells are powerful, but I’d be happier knowing she had company.”

One flash of fire later and Harry was quite alone again. That’s when he curled down into the bath, cradled into himself and let out all his hurt.

And it was enough to reduce him to tears.

Hermione’s stolen pains aside, the effort of his wandless magic earlier just an added extra, Harry’s own personal wounds were beyond repair. His scars were just the surface evidence. He had been hit with the Darkest Magic in creation. The Killing Curse. Not one for the good or faint-hearted. It had struck him twice, coursed through his being and attempted to deprive him of life. Failure or not, that had left an indelible mark on him.

He hurt. All the time. All over, inside and out. He wasn’t supposed to have survived those curses. No-one was. The partial-immunity his parents had given him to Tom Riddle’s magic was well intentioned, but nothing could eradicate the effects of the world’s most evil spell. Harry had survived, but he was scarred by the experience. And the ones on his face were nothing to how he suffered inside.

It was only Enola’s potent spellwork that kept him sane, that reduced the black burning in his veins to background noise. She hadn’t healed him, but she’d made his body avoid facing the pain, or as much as it could. Her Magic of Ignorance, as they’d come to dub it. If Harry didn’t allow his body to know it was in pain, he wouldn’t have to suffer so much from the feeling of it. It was a patch-up job, it would get him through the day.

Then at night, when no-one was watching, he could let out his hurt in secret.

This was the chamber he designed just for the purpose. His workshop, alchemically sealed, hidden from the rest of the palace. Only Lily even knew the room was here. Harry made a habit of disappearing, so when he felt the need to dive in here and let out his anguish he wouldn’t be questioned. It was a useful disguise.

And tonight his need was great. He unplugged the bath with his toes. The last thing he wanted on the day he kissed Hermione was to go and drown himself in the bath. The water sped away, leaving Harry damp and shivery on the bottom of the vast tub. Hugged up in the foetal position, powerless against the waves of searing pain flooding through him. He would just have to ride it out, as he’d done countless times before. He took a steadying breath and closed his eye.

He was in for a long night.

***

It was past noon when Hermione finally rose the next day. She felt obscenely relaxed. But there was guilt with that, for sleeping so well, when Harry had forfeited his own so that she might get a restful night. She was eminently grateful for his kindness. She would have to tell him so later.

And it had definitely earned him a kiss or two.

Hermione was half wild just thinking about that. She was now able to kiss Harry, as much as she wanted. It was just the most incredible thing. She hadn’t coveted such affections for the longest time, and thankfully Ron had stopped forcing kisses from her after the first year of their sham marriage, so she hadn’t had to endure them for years.

But now she was just madly excited about the very idea of kissing. When she’d been younger, she often kissed the back of her fist and pretended it was Harry. It was honestly as close as she thought she’d ever get to the real thing. Now, she clenched that same fist into the folds of her fluffy quilt, attempted to accept a world in which kissing Harry was normal, then fought with the urge to scream out as this amazing notion consumed her. It was bouncing around her heart like a manic pinball.

Kissing Harry wasn’t normal. Hermione couldn’t call it that. It was simply too monumental for it to be so easily compartmentalised. For it was the most satisfying kind of surreal that Hermione could imagine.

She wondered where he was right now. Her mind trained on that spot in the world that he might be just then. And she wondered if he was thinking about her. She almost squeaked at the thought, her mind racing a mile a minute at the possibilities that threw up. She smiled broadly to herself and hoped he’d come to see her first when he got back.

For she knew he wasn’t home. There was just something about the air of the palace, a coolness in the hum of energy she was starting to become so familiar with. When Harry was around, it felt different. Warmer somehow, charged with a different vibration. She felt its comfort in her very veins. When Harry was home, there was just this unmistakable sense of wholeness about the place.

Hermione thrilled wildly at that idea, too. Home. This was her home now. And not in some vague sense, either. This whole palace was hers, or one day it might become hers. She’d be able to call the beautiful gardens and rooms her own, become as familiar with them as she was Hogwarts, or her childhood house. Her home or, more precisely, her and Harry’s home. That was a thought she couldn’t keep still in her mind very long.

And the idea that they might raise their children here someday just flipped her over the edge.

She wanted to dance with the joy of it. And she was never one for dancing. So instead she just curled her toes inside her socks and rocked onto the balls of her feet and tried to contain these waves of unbridled elation. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do with such emotions. She wasn’t used to them. She had no idea how she was meant to cope feeling like this. Feeling so ridiculously happy. It was making her giddy.

So she just jumped up out of bed and crossed to her favourite window, flopped her head onto her hands, perched on the windowsill, and marvelled at the morning outside. Everything was sitting pretty on her.

She drank in the elegant beauty of the gardens, dappled in beaming sunshine. Several elves were tending vines and pruning the hedgerows. Hermione watched them awhile, revelling in their work, taking utmost care with Harry’s plants and flowers. With our plants and flowers, Hermione’s heart whispered to her. She flushed madly and shook her head in wonder at the notion. She looked further out, and saw the trellises of the Mausoleum, gilded by the morning sun. And the memories of the previous night suddenly raced to the tip of Hermione’s mind.

She was still rattled by the way Harry had kissed her. It was beyond passionate. But there had been something nervous and needy there, too. Understandable, really, considering how he’d built up this silly idea of how she was going to react so badly to him. She wondered how long it would be before he dropped those fears. Ages, probably. That didn’t matter so much, not if her kisses were the only tonic he needed. She had plenty of those in store for him.

And, just like that, her addiction for him struck like a blow to the head. He’d been away from her for far too long, and gone somewhere without telling her. He wasn’t allowed to do that anymore. Hermione frowned crossly.

She left the window and crossed her bedroom. It was still something to be able to move without discomfort. She had forgotten how wonderful it felt. Liberating, but taken for granted. Poor Harry. Poor, silly, lovely Harry. She didn’t deserve what he’d done for her. She thought she should have offered to share the pain, maybe take some of his in return. It was a laughable notion, for Harry only ever gave of himself, never took from others. Unless that taking would be for their benefit.

A benefit Hermione was revelling in now.

She felt unspeakably lucky in that moment. It was an odd sensation. Distinctly alien. Luck had been something that she was sure had abandoned her, on that fateful May night at Hogwarts, surrounded by corpses and their killers. She retained a shred of hope for the next six months, until the cleansing of the magical world hit full speed. 

Then that shred became a speck on her wedding day. When no-one had offered up a single objection to her marriage to Ron, when she had so many herself. She could have lent someone one. But no-one stepped forward and that ring, one size too small, was jammed onto her finger, condemning her to years of misery and abuse.

It hadn’t started right away. At least, not the physical side. Ron was always adept at mental torture, it was just built-in to his nature. He displayed this skill flagrantly during their school years, constantly putting her down and belittling her. Hermione only truly recognised that now, in this haven away from it, with Harry as her immovable defender from Ron’s attacks. A role, she also accepted, he’d always fulfilled, if not quite so vitriolically as he did now. He’d always been there for support, to build her up when Ron tore her down. Vaunting her qualities, championing her to anyone who might need to know. She remembered Horace Slughorn telling her once how Harry gushed about her. She hadn’t believed it at the time.

But, oh, how she wished she had now! Things might have been so different.

She might not have suffered so. Ron’s ‘courtship’, such as it was, had been founded on lies and deceit. He pursued her under the guise of protection, claiming his intentions were to keep her out of the hands of Voldemort’s Agencies, ones tasked with the purification of Magical Britain. Hermione could never have guessed he was actually part of these same evil forces. Seduced by promises, drunk on dominance of the weak, enriched by stolen gold and wealth. Finally, he was someone, no matter how dubious the powers were that made him so. It wasn’t something he was likely to give up.

And it was only a matter of time before Hermione’s protests led to him putting her in her place. Violently so. And that hated ring on her finger made the whole thing legal.

Hermione looked down at it, still cruelly glued just above her knuckle. She pulled angrily at it, as she had done so many times before. But it was fruitless. The thing was stuck by magic, only removable once the marriage was officially over. It was a constant reminder of her connection to Ron, his control over her. The thought drained all colour from her face.

“Sally!”

The elf popped into view. “Lady Hermione,” she said, her voice concerned at Hermione’s panicked tone. “What be wrong?”

“Where’s Harry?”

“Master Harry not home,” said Sally.

“I know that,” said Hermione, a little impatiently. “But do you know where he is?”

Sally shook her head, making her ears slap noisily against her cheeks. “No, Lady Hermione. Master Harry not be telling Sally such things. Sally thinks he must be gone somewhere dangerous, though.”

Hermione felt her heart stumble a moment. “Dangerous? What makes you say that?”

“Missus Angharad and Missus Myfanwy slip out after Master Harry this morning,” said Sally. “If they gone together, it be for something dangerous. If they following him, it be even more dangerous. Master Harry always be doing the most dangerous things by hisself, without telling anyone. So the girls be having to stalk him.”

Hermione gasped. Harry in danger? It was the most abhorrent idea. She knew he could look after himself, but now, after last night, things had irrevocably changed for her. Hermione found this the most frightening concept imaginable. She got up and began to pace, pulling at her dressing gown in anguished frustration.

“Master Harry be alright,” said Sally confidently. “Lady Hermione need not worry.”

“How can I not worry!” Hermione shrieked. “I need him and he’s going to get himself killed!”

“Lady Hermione! Sally insist you calm yourself. Do you need Calming Draught? Sally can fetch…”

“I don’t need any drugged potions!” Hermione yelped. “I need Harry!”

“Master Harry will come back to his favouritest witch,” said Sally calmly. Hermione was stilled slightly. “Master Harry love his Lady too much to want her to worry.”

Hermione stopped completely and stared at Sally. It was the first time she’d ever described Harry’s feelings for her as love. It dissolved all her frustrations, but made her heart drum under her ribs in a different sort of fashion. It may have dispelled all her latent anguish, but did turn her a nice sunburnt-style shade of crimson.

Hermione flopped back down in her chair. “I just wish he’d tell me where he goes.”

“Lady Hermione be asking too much, just now to be sure,” said Sally sagely. “Master Harry used to being alone, going solo. It be new for him, to have his Lady here to worry about him. But he learn in time. Maybe not change, but he learn. He still just a man, need to learn how to learn. Lady Hermione need not worry…Master Harry be a total arse-kicker. He be fine. But what you need him for?”

What don’t I need him for? Hermione thought, a little wildly. This obsession with him was becoming dangerously like a dependency.

“I just have some concerns about my safety,” said Hermione. “I want to ask Harry something about the palace protections.”

“I fetch Lady Longbottom,” said Sally. “She know all about it. She stop you worries.”

And, without brooking any opposition, she popped away. Hermione shook her head at her funny little helper.

In the silence, Hermione resolved to master her worries, as Harry did. She crossed to the bed and took the quartz crystals he’d given her in her hand. Their resonance had faded slightly since last night. When Harry had placed them around her bed she’d felt their combined buzz like the thrum of a jet engine. Now, their energy was just a ripple, licking at her own essence like a sleepy kitten. 

Hermione had noticed that lately, how her energy was engaging with the world around her more. This, she supposed, was a result of being exposed to ritual magic for the first time. She was just more actually aware of external energies now, and the understanding of them was growing more pronounced every day. It was an utterly fascinating new experience.

Hermione studied the crystals. The great academian in her was enthused by the challenge of finding out how they worked. She closed her eyes, as she’d seen Harry do, tried to focus on that subtle wave of energy they were emitting. She could almost grab it, but it was tantalisingly beyond her reach. It was like trying to catch a cloud. She looked at them again. Pale pink for the most part, but every now and then, a shot of black passed over them. And every time they did, Hermione felt a tinge of shock in her chest.

And, as if on instinct, she knew what those dark masses were.

These were Harry’s healing crystals. This is where he trapped his nightmares, his fears, held fast till a time he felt strong enough to face them. Those dark shapes could be anything – his doubt, his self-consciousness, his hatred for his enemies. All held in these prisms of stone. Hermione suddenly appreciated a whole new depth to Harry’s intense life. He had such horrors in it, they were beyond his control in the conventional sense. So he had turned to ancient powers, old forms of magic, runes and ritual and ceremony, all so that he might get through another day with his mind intact. Hermione’s heart bled at the very notion that Harry needed to take such measures just to cope.

And these crystals were yet another part of it. Harry was innately tuned to them. Hermione was certain of that. They felt like him, or perhaps of him, would be a better way to describe it. Hermione was confident that if she was given them randomly she would be able to sense his signature in them. It was akin to his scent, or that ephemeral sense of his presence that Hermione found so intoxicating now. She just felt him, in everything he influenced.

In much the same way, she reasoned, that Harry knew which Horcruxes were real, living pieces of Voldemort’s fractured soul.

The thought startled her. She had been awestruck by Harry’s immediate recognition of the signature on the Horcrux made from poor Minerva McGonagall. She marvelled at the power he wielded to do it. But now, sat here with his crystals in her hand, she felt she had that power, too. She was beyond modesty as she considered it. Did that mean she might be able to do all the ridiculously impressive things that Harry could? Did she have it in her to be as powerful and masterful as he? Would that…would it make her his equal? A partner worthy of him?

But Merlin she thought it might.

Hermione laughed at that and felt a lot calmer. It was an odd reaction, she thought, but the joy of the notion had simply exploded out of her. The door to the suite opened just then and Enola came in with Sally. She was carrying a bundle of clothes in her arms. Hermione noticed they belonged to one of her outfits, a silk blouse and jeans combo. But Enola was making alterations to them. There were strips of scaly hide being sewn into the linings of both garments. And the hem of the jeans was glowing under the influence of powerful runes, which had been pressed into the fabric.

“Sally said you needed me,” said Enola, depositing the clothes onto Hermione’s vanity table and joining her on the bed. “What’s wrong? Sally made it sound like you were having some sort of panic attack.”

Hermione laughed again. “Oh, no, it was nothing like that. I was just a little concerned about this fucking wedding ring I can’t remove.”

Enola grinned at her. “Thinking you might need a replacement soon, eh?”

Hermione froze, startled. “I…er…well, no…that’s not what I meant at all…”

Enola barked out a laugh as Hermione flushed beetroot. “Oh, come on, Min! No need to act so coy. I was watching you and Harry last night with my baby. Literally, I thought the room was going to melt. I could feel Harry’s happiness half the floor away. It was quite stunning. Just remember our deal.”

“What deal?”

“The one where you give me a heads up before you shag him,” said Enola. Sally giggled next to them. “Aside from the fact that I don’t want my baby caught up in the inferno – that will be you two burning the palace down with your passion – us girls have a little wager going on for how long it will be till it happens. I could use the extra money.”

Hermione laughed again and stopped fighting her blush. “I’ll do my best. But I have a feeling it will just happen. And I don’t intend to stop in the throes of it to give you a blow-by-blow update.”

“Well…perhaps that’s a little more detail than I need…” Enola grinned suggestively.

“Ennie!” Hermione admonished playfully.

“Okay, okay,” Enola conceded, grinning cheekily. “But if it isn’t Harry making an honest woman out of you in the next week or so, what’s the issue with the ring?”

Hermione offered her the offending hand. “It just occurred to me earlier that this still connects me to Ron. It will till we divorce or he dies. Hopefully the latter. But, I was thinking, it means he can track me, doesn’t it? The Marriage Bond allows him to know where I am at all times if he wants to, especially since the Reforms. If he finds me here…if I’m the one who brings danger to this place…to all of you…and I put you at risk…or Alison…or Harry…”

Enola held up her hand to still Hermione mid-rant. “Min, Min…sshhh. We are quite safe here. Don’t you remember what my Nev told you when you first arrived? Harry protected this place with ancient Celtic magic, in a Welsh runic dialect that is inherent to his own family. No-one, not Ron, not Riddle, not the Muggle Child Support Agency would be able to find you here. Harry’s magic has made this place, for all intents and purposes, off the map. You might as well be on the Moon for all the chance there is of you being found.”

Hermione visibly relaxed. Then she quelled again. “But what about if I leave the boundary? Wont the tracking charm be activated?”

“Probably, if Ron is even looking,” said Enola. “But that’s why I’m making some alterations to an outfit for you.”

She nodded at the pile of garments heaped on the table nearby.

“Ennie…what are you doing to those clothes?”

“Preparing them,” said Enola, moving herself back to Hermione’s vanity table.

“Preparing them?” Hermione queried. “What for?”

“For you. Harry tells me you are going to leave the wards tonight,” said Enola. “I don’t want you to go, Min. You aren’t ready. But I also know you’re as stubborn as a hippogriff with an attitude complex. So I’m armouring up some of your clothes for battle. There’s a nice pair of Thestral hide gloves in there. Useful material that, can be manipulated to make things only visible under the right conditions and to the right people. It will mask the spell on that bothersome piece of tin on your finger. Please, will you wear them for me? It’ll give me such a piece of mind.”

Hermione shivered involuntarily. Enola’s worry was quite sincere. It made things suddenly very real. Hermione felt the air thicken and congeal, become charged as if before a thunderstorm. It settled heavy on her chest.

“I…I’ll be okay. I’ll be with Harry,” she stammered. Her words were framed almost as a question.

“He can’t have eyes everywhere,” said Enola fearfully. “And he’s a bit stunted in that department as it is. Just do this for me. If you got hit by a stray curse…”

Hermione was touched. She couldn’t help but be. She had only known Enola a few weeks but she had grown very fond of her. It was warming to know the sentiment was returned.

“I’ll be careful,” said Hermione. “Harry needs me.”

“Far more than you know,” said Enola. There was something undeniably cryptic in her tone. “If anything were to happen to you, I don’t know how he’d cope. Just do me a favour, wear these clothes. And, for Merlin’s sake, stay close to Harry when you’re out there. Don’t separate…for any reason.”

“We wont.”

“And I mean that long-term, too,” said Enola, grinning. Hermione blushed.

“I’m serious,” Enola went on. “About all of it. Don’t separate now you are together. Harry’s never had a happy glint in his eye before. But I didn’t realise how much it suited him till I saw it there. Till you put it there. But when he takes you out later, don’t leave his side. You’re safe as long as you’re there.”

“I’ll stay close to him, I promise,” said Hermione faithfully. “But En, if anyone bad shows up…how will Harry expect me to fight? How should I fight? I mean, have you?”

“Fought? Yeah, I’ve fought plenty of times,” said Enola simply. “I was part of a triumvirate of Acolyte Warriors with Fan and Ann, till Alison came along. I killed with them, defended our coven and then our Order, and then Harry. As for how you should fight…well, that’s something only you can decide.”

“And what are my criteria?”

Enola put down her sewing. “Min…this is a war. Harry probably wont want you to see the warrior side of him. It’s his darkest face. If you run into trouble, he’ll kill indiscriminately to protect you. Wont even bat an eyelid doing it. Then he’ll face the impact of that later. But he wont Disarm. He isn’t looking to subdue or take prisoners, to Stun someone only for them to come back and fight again. He’ll put them down, either for good or so damaged that they aren’t a threat anymore. And, not to mean this as a burden for you, if you are directly threatened, then the one responsible wont live long enough to regret doing so. But Harry’s acclimatised to that. Experienced at it. You aren’t. Only you can decide what your conscience can take.”

Hermione considered that a moment. She was angry with all that had happened to her, and she’d talked hotly about getting vengeance, a reckoning with her torturers. But now she was on the cusp of it, she hesitated. Could she do it, or live with herself if she did? Could she hurt, maim…kill, if it came to it? If Harry was hurt, his back turned, blindsided, double-teamed…what would she do? How would she react?

The answer came to her shudderingly quickly. It made her angry at herself that she was ever in doubt. It was blindingly obvious. She would rip a fucking hole in the world, or shatter time itself, if it meant protecting Harry. And she would do it with a smile on her face, then piss on her enemies’ ashes.

Enola saw the answer in Hermione’s eyes, and her own glinted maliciously in like-minded reflection. “I miss the fighting, I really do. Harry always favoured blasting curses, slicing hexes. Things that did real damage to limbs and flesh. He developed this version of the Incendio Spell, where his wand sends out a chain of fireballs so hot that they literally burn through anything they touch. That’s a sight to see.”

“Wow,” said Hermione.

“Just remember this,” Enola went on, “when Harry knew you were in danger from Malfoy, he literally lost his shit. And I mean lost it. That display of rage last night was nothing compared to how he was then. I was terrified of Harry that night. I don’t know what he did to Malfoy and his minions when he caught up to them, but there were nine of them at the start. Neville said less than half left your flat alive. And none of them were whole. And Harry did more damage to himself in his fury, than any of them did to him. Nev said…”

Enola tailed off. She’d said too much, her guilty expression betrayed that. But the words were out.

“Neville said what?” Hermione pressed. Enola wrung her hands and looked pained. “Ennie…”

“Harry…sort of…went wild…against himself,” said Enola, her expression avoidant. “He was so upset that you were almost hurt…so convinced that he’d failed you again…that he…well, he attacked himself.”

Hermione’s mouth dropped open in horror. “What do you mean, attacked himself?”

“I don’t know, exactly,” said Enola. “That’s the truth. Neville never told me the whole story. All he said was that Harry used his magic to trap himself in a cage, b-before turning on himself, as a punishment. It only stopped when he lost consciousness through…through the blood loss.”

Hermione let out a shocked sob. Tears followed quickly. Her poor Harry! Why would he do such terrible harm to himself? Over her, no less. The panic drove her mindless a moment, as she tried to picture it. Or not picture it. It wasn’t an image she wanted anywhere near her mind. She knew he hurt enough as it was, she hated to think how deep it went. Enola hurried over to her, drawing her into a comforting hug.

“There’s more I don’t know, isn’t there?” Hermione sniffed. “Things he isn’t telling me?”

Enola didn’t reply, but the way her body tensed was answer enough.

“How bad is it?” Hermione demanded.

Enola sighed. “Whatever the worst is that you can imagine, its worse even than that by degrees. That’s why I’m dead serious about not separating. You are the best thing that I’ve ever seen happen to Harry. He smiles through the pain, maybe even forgets it or doesn’t feel it at all. If he can ever be healed, it will be something beyond my skill…and all about yours. You make him better in a way I never can. He’s so much improved already. Please, don’t stop.”

“I wont, I promise,” Hermione croaked.

“And don’t think badly of Harry for acting darkly in battle,” Enola added. “For he is dark in that environment. It’s all for you, but try not to hold his actions against him if it shocks you.”

Hermione sat up and scoffed angrily. “I will never think badly of Harry. Not ever. Not for anything. But you are going to tell me everything about Harry’s internal darkness, including this mindscape you created together. This isn’t a request, either. Harry might not want you to tell me, might not let me in willingly, but I will go there and fight his demons for him, whether either of you like it or not. So you will tell me what I need to know to do it.”

Enola smiled bracingly. “His Queen, through and through. I could never have dreamt you more worthy of him. I’ll do as you ask, when the time is right. I so approve of you.”

Hermione smiled back. “I like you to, Enola. Now, lets get back to sewing my outfit. I have a wounded man to look after out there.”

* * *

They were ready at eight o’clock. Harry knocked on Hermione’s door and she opened to him. She looked like she wanted to hug him. Something had happened, or she knew something she hadn’t last time they met. Harry wasn’t sure he liked the pained, slightly desperate look in her eyes. It wasn’t much better than the fear he expected to see there. Or maybe it was just different.

And Harry wasn’t sure if different was good or bad in this case.

“What is it?” he asked, guiding her back into the room. They would have to deal with this first. It wouldn’t do to be so distracted out in the dangerous world.

“Its nothing,” said Hermione.

“You’re lying to me,” said Harry, genuinely surprised.

“No, not lying,” said Hermione. “Just avoiding the truth.”

“Hermione…”

She suddenly flung her arms around him, knocking the wind from his lungs. “Oh, Harry…what have you been doing to yourself!”

“Breathing…before this,” he huffed. “What’s going on?”

“Its just…Enola has been telling me about the things…those things that you carry around in your mind,” said Hermione.

“Oh she has, has she?” said Harry, his ire stirring. “What exactly has she been saying?”

“Nothing I didn’t force from her,” said Hermione firmly. “You can’t be angry with her. I wont let you be.”

“And since when do you get to dictate to me?”

“Since we fell in love and you gave me that power. I give it to you in return. Just saying.”

Harry’s heart hammered and he almost fell apart at the declaration. It was the first time it had been phrased so succinctly. He couldn’t stop picturing the words, or the grin they spawned.

“Oh, well…since you put it that way,” he teased, eventually. “It really isn’t fair that you can calm me so easily. I’m supposed to be mad over here.”

“Save it for the Death Eaters,” said Hermione darkly. “I am.”

“And what are you mad at?”

“You!” she squealed. “For holding so much darkness inside and not letting me help fight it. I’m going to, you know. You aren’t alone anymore, Harry, you do know that? We aren’t alone anymore. Me and you…we’re one, now. Your fight is my fight, my darknesses are your darknesses. And vice-versa. But you’re still holding me at arms length. Stop it. Let me in.

Harry couldn’t prevent a laugh. “You’re so bossy. I forgot how much. Or how cute it is. Adorable, actually.”

“Don’t change the subject,” said Hermione. “I’m serious.”

“So am I,” Harry replied. “You really are cute.”

“Harry…”

“What do you want me to do?” asked Harry, exasperated. “I’m a mess. I’ve not made any secret of that.”

“Then let me help tidy you up,” said Hermione. “I need you to help me get over…my things. Let me help you back.”

Harry learned in and hugged her. She curled her arms around him, too. “You already are,” Harry whispered. “But it’s hard for me to keep all this in as it is. I can’t just open it all up. Its too volatile. Give me time…I have to do it my way.”

“Just as long as I’m part of that way,” said Hermione, snuggling into his shoulder.

“More than you can possibly know,” said Harry. With a huge effort, he moved away from her embrace. “But there are other parts, too. And Luna is a key one. So, come on.”

Harry stood and offered Hermione his hand. They moved through the house. It was eerily quiet, as if on edge. Harry felt his own emotions bouncing back at him from the walls. He didn’t want Hermione coming with him, if he was honest. The danger he was putting her in was frightfully reckless. But she had been insistent. He could sense her own concern now and Harry resolved to be stronger for her. He commanded his mind to ignore the pain in his legs, to mask the limp that had developed there.

She looked good in her battle clothes, primed and powerful. The runes in the linings were responding to her magic. Enola’s mother was so good at creating just the right combinations to maximise effect. He hoped he’d be half as good as her one day. Harry could feel Hermione’s magic coursing through her outfit, protecting her as she moved. He wondered if she was sensitised enough to it yet. He was certainly more aware of her each time he saw her.

And it was getting intoxicating.

But he had to throw off the effect. It was very distracting. Though it would have its uses. He could sense when she was nearby, the same way he could with Lily. That was a little weird, but comforting all the same. He would always know where she was. If, by some misfortune, they were separated tonight, he would know where to find her. Though, in all truth, he had no intention of letting her out of his sight, or the range of his wand.

Fuck Merlin…how he would kill any threat to her. It would be the ugliest thing. He was a little in awe of his own determination regarding it. He’d always felt this protective necessity where Hermione was concerned. Ever since seeing this strong, fearless, ultra-clever young witch looking nothing more than a terrified little girl, in the face of a twelve-foot mountain troll and his vicious club. His mild regard, his borderline reverent respect for her talents, transformed in a second into a fierce, burning need to take care of her, to look after her and defend her vulnerabilities. He’d made something of a habit of it ever since. It was his responsibility, as no-one else seemed to realise how much she deserved such care.

Which was why his biggest shame was his abandonment of her. When her need was its greatest, so had his weakness been.

But she was prepared to overlook it, forgive him. As his mother had. That was exalted company in Harry’s book. If only he could join them there. Maybe one day. But not today, for today they had a different kind of fight to wage. One Harry was much happier with, much more confident he could win. He concentrated on that as he led Hermione to the threshold of the palace wards, where he stopped and turned to her.

“Last chance to change your mind,” said Harry.

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. “You honestly think I’m going to let you go into danger while I sit in the parlour drinking tea and twiddling my thumbs and worrying till you come back? There was never a chance of that, Harry. This Lady is not for turning.”

Harry smirked at her. “Let’s go then.”

He led her through the ward boundary, watching her shiver as the magic passed over her.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” Hermione replied. “Its just that, well…the wards at the Camp were so evil. They made me sick. These actually gave me courage.”

Harry grinned. “I’m so glad you picked that up. It shows you are starting to open up to the real nature of magic. When Nev and I configured the wards we built that into it. It was a twat of a ritual, to be frank, but well worth it. Always steels me to face whatever is out there.”

“I feel like I could punch Tom Riddle in the dick without a worry in the world!”

Harry burst out laughing. It took a minute for him to settle. “Oh, Hermione…we are so doing that! I have to see that before I kill him. Ha ha ha. That’s one for the bucket list. Oh…fuck me! Ha ha.”

“Is that one as well?” Hermione asked, sultrily.

Harry grinned back at her. “That, my dear, is numbers one, two and three. And I think it appears a dozen times in my Top Twenty.”

“Good,” said Hermione. “I have lots of positions to tick off then. Sod it, lets just change the B to an F on that List of yours…”

Harry shuddered pleasantly at the inference. It was an idea with plenty of merit. “Good Merlin, you really have been talking to Enola…”

“Yes I have,” said Hermione. “And she told me all about runic magic being used in the bedroom. Some of the stories she told me about her and Neville…I hope you didn’t tell him all your tricks, maybe kept some for me.”

Harry smirked at her. Then he shifted on his feet, coolly embarrassed. “I kept the best ones for you. I think you’ll like them. I…er…only taught Neville the runes and the theory, by the way…I’ve…um…never actually used them myself.”

Hermione turned to him, her eyes wide with doubt and shock. “Harry…are you saying you…you’ve never…”

Harry toe’d the ground sheepishly. “Don’t tell Neville. Don’t tell anyone. Please.”

Hermione looked so gently at Harry just then that he had to turn away. He couldn’t face her.

“How is that possible?” asked Hermione softly. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you’re hot as fuck. Even your magic is sexy. I’ve imagined all these witches falling over each each to jump into bed with you.  How have you never…”

Harry shrugged and kicked a stone in the mud. “You have seen my face, haven’t you? It tends to put people off that sort of thing.”

Hermione walked purposefully around and took Harry by the shoulders, forcing his eye to meet one of her own. “Yes, I have seen it. Before and now. And you’re gorgeous. In any light. This is so amazing, Harry. You are going to be so mine, all mine. And I absolutely love that. And, if it makes you feel any better, I’ve never had any sex that I enjoyed. It will be a first time for me too, in a way. Because I intend to enjoy every long second of it when it happens with you.”

Harry frowned. “It doesn’t make me feel better. Not at all. Knowing that Ron not only fucked you, but made it bad for you…it makes me unspeakably angry. Not to mention insanely jealous. It was easier when I convinced myself that he raped you every time. I could be justifiably furious at that.”

Hermione swallowed hard. “It was practically rape every time. I never wanted it. I certainly never enjoyed it. In fact, I cried for the first six months or more. And, sometimes, when I resisted…it actually became rape.”

A tree nearby went up in raging flames. It took Harry and Hermione working together to douse the inferno. When the tree was nothing more than a smouldering skeleton, Hermione moved to Harry and pressed her hands to his chest.

“This rage of yours is so intense…its dangerous, Harry,” she whispered. “Is that how…how you hurt yourself so badly? The night you rescued me?”

Harry scowled. “I’m going to have such a long chat with Enola. She’s supposed to keep my secrets.”

“No, that’s my job now,” said Hermione. “I’m going to get Ennie to tell me everything, just so you know. So get used to it.”

Harry shook his head in defeat. “I was angry with myself. Very angry. I’m not sorry. I wont ever be sorry for something like that.”

“You wont have to be,” said Hermione. “You’ve already promised not to let anything happen to me. I believe you. But we have to deal with this rage of yours. I wont let it hurt you again. I wont stand for it.”

Harry’s heart ached at the promise. He was so helpless with this girl. He steeled himself. “When this is all over, I’ll break down for you, if that’s what you want. But, right now, this pool of rage is being cultivated for Riddle and his subjects.”

“Then lets release some of it,” said Hermione. “Lets go and find Luna.”

Harry proffered his arm and as soon as Hermione closed her fingers around it, he Apparated them both away. They emerged in a moonlit lane, flanked by high hedges on both sides, which cast deep shadow across the path. It was deathly quiet. Hermione hugged close to Harry.

“It’s alright,” he whispered soothingly. “Just stay with me. Come on.”

They stole out along the lane, moving cautiously at first but quicker as they settled into the night. As they reached a turn at the end, Hermione pulled Harry to an abrupt stop, causing her to collide with him.

“We need to be careful,” she whispered to him. “I know this lane. It leads into Beckery. The village square is just around this bend. There’s a checkpoint there.”

“I know, but thanks for your diligence,” said Harry, grinning in the dark. “If we’re very lucky, we should pass this one quite easily.”

Hermione quirked an eyebrow at him, but didn’t push the point further as Harry led them on again. As she’d promised, the tiny village of Beckery opened up before them. The quaint village square was silent as they entered it. A few cottages on the far side still had windows lit, but other than that the moon provided the greatest source of light. It tinted everything in a surreal silvery coat.

The checkpoint was directly ahead of them. Harry made for it. He was confident, but he caressed his wand out of habit. There was no need to be cocky, after all. Hermione kept pace with him, moving exceptionally close, as though not wanting to be out of his shadow. He was happy with her actions, he didn’t like the idea of her being any further away than was necessary.

They stopped at the checkpoint.

“You will submit your wands for inspection, please.”

Hermione immediately made to hand hers over, fear-conditioned to the promise of punishment for refusing the command. Harry moved to quickly ease her hand down. Then he turned to the checkpoint guards.

“You need to be more forceful,” he said. “Death Eaters never say please.

“Sorry, Harry,” said Angharad, throwing off her hood to reveal herself. Myfanwy followed suit next to her. “I’ll be more of a bitch next time.”

“Good. Any trouble subduing the real guards?”

Myfanwy scoffed. “Real guards? Are you having a laugh? These two couldn’t guard their own arse holes from penetration. A baby could have overpowered them.”

Harry grinned. “Well, good job anyway. Stay vigilant. We can expect trouble at any time. The night has eyes, don’t you know.”

Angharad moved closer to Harry, her dark features set and serious. “It isn’t safe here tonight, Harry. You shouldn’t have come. They are holding some big ceremony up at the old abbey. Its crawling with Vigilantes up there.”

“Vigilantes?” Hermione asked.

“Religious zealots who have deified Riddle,” Harry explained. “They founded the Church of the Dark Mark. They are on a par with the Death Eaters in terms of the hierarchy of things.”

Harry watched Hermione shiver at the mention of the new quasi-religion, which had sprung up in the wake of Tom Riddle’s Accession to self-proclaimed Dark King of England. They were known for brutally putting down all followers of other faiths. Harry remembered being to forced to watch as they burnt down and desecrated a Ministry of Merlin house of worship in Cornwall, including all fifty Merlin Reverents who had been praying inside. He and Neville had arrived too late to help. The screams of the children among the victims had haunted Harry for months afterwards.

“I’ve never heard of them,” said Hermione. Her voice was quavering. “I’ve heard of the Church, of course. Ron forced me to take a vow of subservience to them, almost like a baptism. You had a choice – get doused by water ‘blessed’ by Vold – sorry, Riddle – or get doused with concentrated bubotuber pus.”

“Nice choice,” Myfanwy spat bitterly.

“I was going to go for the pus,” said Hermione. “Then I think Ron hit me with the Imperious Curse, because next thing I knew I was dressed in a ceremonial robe, my hair was soaking and he was hitting me in an altogether different way for my disobedience.”

Harry gritted his teeth. He pushed his swelling anger away from the surface of his furious mind.

“How many are there?” he growled.

“Fifteen to twenty, maybe more,” said Myfanwy.

“Good, that’s five each,” said Harry. The girls scowled maniacally.

“I call dibs on any spares,” said Angharad. “It’s high time we gave these twats a pasting.”

Harry nodded in agreement. “I have to find out about Luna. I have a bad feeling about her,  but I need to know for sure. Give us half an hour, then meet us as the old cemetery. We may have a few new internees for it.”

“Half an hour,” Myfanwy nodded. “We’ll be ready.”

Harry turned to Hermione. “You okay?”

She nodded. “Yeah, I’m good. Come on, Luna’s cottage was this way.”

They left the girls behind and hurried away from the village square. They hadn’t gone more than thirty yards before Hermione pulled Harry behind the low wall of nearby garden.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

“Up there, look,” said Hermione. She pointed to a strange pointy object on top of a war memorial at the far end of the square. It was rotating on its axis. “Scanning Staff. They were only installing it when we left. They are everywhere now. It sweeps a constant spell around the tracking zone, but if we time it right we should be able to stay in the blind spot. Wait…wait for it…now!”

She grabbed Harry by the hand and dragged him from their hiding spot. They scuttled forward, stopped as they were going too fast, started again, then slid down the gap between two houses to escape the tracking zone.

“How did you know where the spell beam was?” asked Harry, leaning into the wall and catching his breath. “I couldn’t see that.”

“I had to dodge them constantly, if I wanted to escape for a bit back at Hengest,” said Hermione. “The camp was dense with security measures. You got used to knowing when the staff tip was pointing at you.”

Harry looked at her admiringly. “Just full of surprises, aren’t you?”

“What can I say, you have to allow a girl her secrets,” Hermione replied. “Luna’s house is close by.”

She made to move again but Harry pinned her to the wall. She looked into his eye and said, somewhat breathily, “Is this really the time?”

Harry smirked at her. “I cant honestly think of a time when this wouldn’t be appropriate. But, look over there, CCTV cameras. We can’t just stroll out into view. Here.”

Harry rapped them both over the head with his wand.

“What was that?” asked Hermione, twitching as the spell settled on her.

“Reflection Charm,” Harry explained. “It will project the background behind us onto our bodies as we move. Just in case the camera is rigged to expose standard concealment spells. There has been quite a lot of advancement in Magical Tech in the past few years.”

Harry pulled Hermione forwards again. Despite the Charm on them, Harry stuck them close to the walls of the houses and the shadows they provided. They moved quickly and Harry let out a tense breath once they were out of sight of the camera. He cancelled the Reflection Charm. He decided there and then that bringing Hermione on this mission was a mistake. If she hadn’t been here, he would have just blasted the camera into bits, then dealt with any security forces who turned up to investigate. Having her at such risk was making him cautious. She seemed to sense his anxiety.

“You’re tense,” she whispered as they walked on. “Nervous, not your assured self. Its because of me, isn’t it?”

“I’m just worried about you,” said Harry. “This is just really dangerous.”

“But so are you,” Hermione quirked. “I feel quite safe, Harry. I’ve got you to protect me. And I’m not so defenceless myself, you know. Just act as you normally would. I’m an extra hand for you here, not a hindrance. I hope.”

Harry felt his chest swell at her determination. “I’m sorry. I’m treating you like you’re delicate. But you’ve come through some serious horrors yourself. I just cant help it. I’m used to protecting you. I like doing it.”

“I like you doing it, too,” Hermione smiled. “But you defend me by being aggressive against any threats. Don’t stop doing that on my account. In fact, be worse for me.”

“Hermione…you really are my Queen,” said Harry.

“Damned fucking right I am,” Hermione replied firmly. Then she pulled him to an abrupt halt. “Harry! A patrol!”

He followed her line of sight. They were still shrouded by the bushy hedge of a garden they were in. It kept them from the view of a pair of wizards walking along the road very close by.

“Death Eaters?” Hermione murmured lowly.

“No, they are just the local law,” Harry hissed in return. “Argus Force Constables. No better, though. Most have ambitions of promotion to the DE Corps from what I hear. The initiation and induction rites include participating in a DUI.”

“DUI?” Hermione queried.

“Death Under Interrogation,” Harry explained. “Its a test of their limits.”

“The Argus Force,” Hermione repeated with a scoff. Then she recited their motto, “Our Eyes are Everywhere. Maybe we should hit those two with a Conjunctivitis Curse...or stop them seeing in a more permanent way.”

“They haven’t even got their wands out,” said Harry, bitterly. “They will regret that over-confidence. Come on.”

Harry darted out from their hiding spot and sped towards the Constables. His crunching footsteps alerted them, and his quick movements triggered motion sensors in the narrow street. The Constables turned and Harry’s wand snapped into his hand, but before he could even cast, Hermione shot a powerful Stunner from behind, slamming one of the wizards into the shutter of a garage, which he smashed into with an almighty clang. His partner aimed his wand at Hermione in response.

Harry’s reaction was so fast Hermione would later tell him she didn’t see it as anything more than a blur. He flicked a Severing Curse at the Constable, which sliced his wand arm clean off at the shoulder. He screeched in agony and collapsed into the pool of blood which spilled out from the wound. But, before he had even hit the floor, Harry had transfigured his lost wand into a dagger and driven it through his skull. It caused his eye to pop out of its socket as the blade cut through the optic nerve.

Harry moved and stood over his victim, eyeing his handiwork. Hermione joined him and looked down. She didn’t speak.

“I asked you not to judge me,” Harry said quietly.

“How can I not?” Hermione asked, evenly. “Transfiguring his own wand? That’s fabulously quick thinking. And mightily impressive magic, too. I like the pattering on the knife handle.”

Harry smirked inside his shawl. “It’s the Sowilo Rune, lightening bolt-shaped. I’ve made it my calling card.”

“I approve,” said Hermione, nodding. She glanced over at garage. “What about the other one?”

“Give me a second,” said Harry, crossing to the prostrate Constable…drawing Excalibur as he went…

Hermione looked away modestly as Harry worked. He might as well have been getting undressed in front of her for the first time. It felt that way. He was reticent to begin with, but Hermione wasn’t flinching at his actions. She was absorbing them, bearing them, adjusting to the way Harry dealt with his enemies, with their enemies. She held her head up and simply kept watch until he returned.

“Has she sated her thirst?” Hermione asked as Harry returned, nodding to the sword swinging at his side.

“Not nearly enough,” said Harry. “But it’ll do for now. That guy had the scroll-spell to cancel the motion alarm, so that’s done. I need to check this one for the Skeleton Key – the pass to enter any property on their watch. All Argus Patrols carry one. It might make getting into Luna’s a little less conspicuous”

“Let me,” said Hermione, bending down and fishing through the robes of the very dead wizard at their feet. They were horribly exposed, frisking a corpse in the middle of the street. Harry marvelled at the weirdness of his life. Then Hermione stood. “Is this it?”

It was indeed. A long, thick key, made of bone, with a skull at the hilt. Harry took it from her. “Thanks. We’d better get this body off the street. Can you clean up the blood while I stash him with the other one?”

Hermione nodded and drew her wand, while Harry flicked and swished and levitated the wizard out of sight. He pulled the two bodies to a verge at the side of the road, where two gnarled trees stood. He disrobed one of the Constables, transfigured the robe into a sheet of tarpaulin to cover them, then dislodged a huge amount of earth to cover his work. It wasn’t perfect, but he and Hermione would be long gone before anyone discovered what had happened.

Harry returned to her. “Still with me?” he asked cautiously.

“More than ever,” she said. “You really are impressive, you know.”

Harry couldn’t prevent a grin. “Hush you. Now, which house was Luna’s?”

Hermione looked around…and drew in a rattling breath. Horrified, she pointed to a building nearby. If she hadn’t drawn Harry’s attention to it, he might have assumed it was derelict. There were curtains flapping from a window whose glass had been shattered. Parts of the brickwork seemed to be crumbling and the thatched roof was charred from fire, exposing the timbers beneath. The door had been blown off its hinges and hung precariously from the splintered door frame.

“Oh, Harry…Luna!” Hermione choked out desperately.

Harry felt a surge of anger pulse through him. He couldn’t bear to face the images of what might have happened, though he fancied he could guess fairly accurately what they would be. He didn’t feel master of words enough to answer Hermione and instead raced across to the house.

“Harry! Be careful! There could be traps, alert spells…”

“Let them come,” Harry growled. He drew his wand at the threshold and heard Hermione gasp close behind, as his throbbing magic swept out of him and washed over her. He was at his peak now, primed to fighting form. He pushed his power into his wand, in readiness for what he might find inside the house. Then he strode in.

The place was wrecked. Furniture was upturned, a bookcase had been cracked in half and lay askew against a Wizarding Wireless set in the corner of the room. A cool breeze blew around fragments of the Daily Prophet, which was covering the birth of another Heir of Voldemort. Harry recognised Cho Chang’s face in the moving snippet of paper, lifeless eyes presenting her baby for the photo session. Harry kicked at it with his boot.

Each room told the story of a violent struggle. The kitchen table was on its side, fragments of a tea pot and cup littering the floor nearby. The star-strewn sky was visible through the roofless ceiling, and signs of the fire that decimated it obvious in the scarred walls, and the charred, acrid smell which still clung to the air.

Harry found Luna’s bedroom and cast the beam of light from his wand around the space. His heart stopped at what he found there, his breath holding fast in his lungs. For there, on the mid-point of the crumpled bedsheets, unmistakable traces of blood. Harry collapsed next to the bed and cast his wand over the spot, closing his eyes to pull the echo of memory. He yelled out in anger as the scene replayed for him.

“Harry!” asked Hermione, skidding to him. “What is it?”

Harry stood and swallowed hard against his resistant throat. “They…they raped her, Hermione. Those fucking bastards!”

“Merlin, no!” Hermione yelped in horror, clutching at her chest. “Why would they?”

“For information…on you. On me.”

Harry flicked his wand and the bed shattered into a dozen pieces. The power of the spell caused Hermione to step back from the shock wave. She moved as soon as she could, and hugged into Harry.

“S-she knew,” Harry spat, hateful anger rising in his very synapses. “She knew about me. But she didn’t tell. Even when they made her bleed. She didn’t tell them a goddamned thing.”

Harry roared out, low and guttural. A menacing snarl. The feral cat inside him was waking, angry and aggressive. Harry felt claws sprout on his fingers. He worked hard to keep the beast back, breathing heavily, but it was tough labour.

“If Luna knew you were alive, maybe coming for her, she might have tried to warn you,” said Hermione softly, trying to calm Harry’s roiling fury, which was surging out of him in uncontrollable spikes. “Focus Harry, let her guide you.”

Harry mastered himself under Hermione’s command. He felt Luna’s signature clearly on the air. Hermione was right, Luna had prepared for this. Harry followed the strength of the signal, tracked it back through the house. In the living room, the vibration was almost overpowering. But Harry couldn’t find the source. He cast a Revelio spell. Nothing.

“It’s here, Hermione, I can feel it. I just can’t see it. Come on, Luna. Talk to me.”

“She thought you were dead,” Hermione reasoned. “And she was working with the Veil at the Department of Mysteries. How would she think to communicate with you, in a way the Death Eaters wouldn’t know to look for?”

Harry clapped his hand to his forehead. “You’re a genius, Hermione! She thought I was dead…she was trying to find a way to talk to them…to talk to ghosts…she called it ghost writing! Ernie MacMillan told Neville all about it.

“Did it work?”

“For ghosts, no,” said Harry. “But it was like Muggle Magic Ink. You could only see it through special glasses…Spectre-Specs…she was going to sell them with the Quibbler. Might have been fun for kids. Look for glasses, Hermione. Ones typically Luna.”

Harry began scrabbling around the wrecked room. Hermione hadn’t moved. Harry stared at her.

“Aren’t you going to help?”

Hermione cocked her head at him. “Brilliant at advanced magic, rubbish at the simple stuff. Accio Spectre-specs!

From across the room, a small, innocuous box flew open and a pair of shocking pink sunglasses, with stars for frames, soared out to Hermione’s waiting grip. She smirked at Harry and waved them at him. Harry frowned at her.

“I take it back. Bringing you was a good idea.”

Hermione smiled and put the glasses on. Then she inhaled sharply as she looked at the far wall.

“What is it?” asked Harry.

“I…I don’t know if I can read it to you, Harry,” Hermione breathed.

“Then give me the glasses.”

“No!” she cried shrilly. “It might be worse if you read the details.”

“Hermione…”

She sighed in resignation. “It’s from Luna. You’re right, Harry…she was raped here. And tortured. All to try and get information on you, where you might be. S-she…she says raped again…oh, Harry! Its so awful! She says they are rounding up people who supported you. She doesn’t know what is going to happen to them, or where they are going to be taken. But she thinks they are going to be used to lure you out. She begs you not to give in…not to die again. I’m sorry…I can’t read any more.”

Hermione flung the glasses off and fell to the floor, tears streaming down her cheeks. Harry dropped down beside her and pulled her close to him. She sobbed into his chest. Harry’s anger dropped to a dull burning in his veins. He wasn’t mindless anymore, he was quite calm. He knew this state, he was in control of it.

It was how he always was before he took evil life.

Harry pulled Hermione’s head up to look into her eyes. “We will find Luna. I don’t think she’d dead. I can’t say how, I just don’t. But for now, we have another task.”

“Which is?”

“It’s been half an hour. Fan and Ann are waiting.”

Hermione wiped at her eyes and took a deep breath. “Then lets meet them. I am so angry, Harry. I might not be able to control myself.”

“Please…don’t. I have no intention of being merciful.”

They stood. Wands out and heaving with their combined magic. Harry was astonished at its potency. Then they nodded at each other, before heading out of the door.

***

Angharad and Myfanwy were waiting for them at the cemetery gates. They had shirked their stolen Death Eater robes and were now resplendent in their battle trenchcoats. Hermione couldn’t help but be impressed by them. They looked formidable, it helped calm her searing nerves.

For Harry was so enraged she was a little meek in the face of him. He hadn’t spoken since they’d left Luna’s cottage. She could only imagine the irate thoughts chasing each other through his mind. For hers were in a similar state. She couldn’t get a grip on Luna’s suffering, her courage in resisting the torture.

Or her own role in being at least partially responsible for it.

It hadn’t occurred to Hermione that her friends would be targeted after her disappearance. She didn’t consider herself that important. Perhaps Susan knew, and could have told her, if she’d regained consciousness. But she was still in the grip of a deep coma, her body only slowly responding to the treatment she was receiving. Hermione had no way of knowing she was being so callously hunted.

The two pairs met. But the introduction was brief. Myfanwy was deeply agitated.

“We have to hurry,” she said sharply. “They’re conducting a ritual. Harry…it looks like they are about to sacrifice somebody.”

“They’ve built a pyre,” Angharad added. “And there’s a sacrificial throne on top. Its very small.”

“Don’t let Hermione out of your sight,” Harry growled to Angharad, then took off at speed. The others followed, but struggled to keep up in his wake. At the crest of the hill they lost him completely, as he transformed into his powerful Animagus lion form.

It was quite a sight for Hermione. She hadn’t really registered it the first time, but he was enormous. Powerfully built, heavy set and lethal. His mane was thick and wild and flowed out behind him as he galloped away. She would have to get him to show her close up one day. He looked lush enough to pet.

But not tonight. Tonight he was a deadly machine, built to kill and on the hunt for blood. Hermione reached the crest of the hill first behind him, and was only prevented from going on by a Shield Wall Charm Myfanwy cast from down the slope. Hermione collided with the thickened air with a yelp of shock, and was stopped in her tracks.

“Hermione! Wait!”

So she did. It gave her time to assess the scene. And she lost her breath as she took the sight in. It was like something she’d imagine from Harry’s nightmare-scape.

There was a long avenue of parched lawn between the remnants of the old abbey buildings. Sporadic outcrops of rock and stone were all that remained these days, and the overgrown grasses were encroaching on the ruins. Off to the right, the smashed debris of the old Chapel of Merlin was clearly visible, to Wizarding eyes only. The Muggles would be put off by the high cordon erected around it.

Hermione was glad to see it a ruin. It was the place she’d been forced to take Ron as her husband. It was a hated site.

But it was along the avenue where things were truly horrific. Two lines of twelve hooded wizards in ochre robes stood still as statues. Each held a long, flaming torch in one hand, creating an arch of crackling fire between the rows, which ran the entire length of the avenue. They were chanting something but Hermione was too far away to hear over the sizzle of the flames.

Then she heard something else, something that made her heart freeze.

A high pitched scream. A little girl screeched out, shattering the silent night. It was infused with more fear than Hermione could rightly conceive. Her mind broke at the sound. It gave a new definition to the concept of terror for her. The little girl cried out again and again, screaming desperately for her mother, as she was dragged along under the arch of fire by a new wizard, robed differently to the others in shades of deep purple. 

Each hooded, torch-bearing wizard fired a spell of dull blue light at the girl as she was hauled past them. They didn’t seem to hurt her, but they made her pleading screams more and more tormented and urgent as each one hit. Her words resonated in the air, hanging there weirdly, as though the ritual was trapping them in place, harnessing the absolute fear in her wretched tone. Hermione could hardly bear to look towards the scene.

But she did. A large bonfire had been erected at the tip of the avenue. It was already lit and burning fiercely. The purple-robed wizard was pulling the terrified little girl towards a simple wooden seat with a high back. Hermione could understand why Angharad had called it a throne. But she had no mind for that. All she could focus on was the blond-haired child being forced into it, all the while sobbing in unrelenting anguish. Hermione was oddly fixated by the girls’ pigtails, and the cute, little red bows tied in them.

It was with a flash of fear, that made her feel dopey and stupefied, that she registered they were about to burn this poor child alive.

She felt an anger unlike anything she’d ever known course through her. She burst through Myfanwy’s Shield Wall and took off down the hill, flicking her wand into her hand. She heard thudding footsteps behind and knew the girls were following, but she couldn’t think about them. She was single-minded for the struggling girl up ahead. She had to reach her…before they raised that detestable throne…

But she was beaten to it.

The air was cleaved by a roar of pure, animalistic rage, and Harry The Lion leapt into view from through the pyre, shattering the bonfire into largely harmless, smoldering planks. In one movement he pounced on the ritual leader, taking his throat between his powerful jaws, and biting through all the bone and sinew. Harry wrenched the head viciously off and sent it rolling away down the slope, as the other Vigilantes scattered and tried to react. Hermione watched in shock as the headless corpse crumpled to the floor. She shook herself and raced forward to help her lion.

But Harry was a mindless bundle of unstoppable power now. He charged around at breathtaking speed, swiping those deadly claws at one, then another, till ochre robes soaked with blood soon littered the field. He was chaos embodied, and his enemies scattered and fled before him. Angharad and Myfanwy joined him in the heat of the fight, darting here and there, Apparating in and out of view so fast Hermione couldn’t keep track of them. And their spells were ferocious. One Blasting Curse from Angharad left a hole in one Vigilantes’ chest where his heart once was. Hermione looked through it in surreal amazement.

And what she saw stirred an unimaginable fear-filled fury in her.

Harry was looming over a Vigilant, his claws swiping viciously at the bastard’s chest, sending showers of blood shooting out all around. But another was moving towards him from behind. He had taken one of the flaming torches, snapped the wood to make a spear, and was hoisting it up to thrust into Harry’s back. Hermione watched the whole thing in slow motion.

Harry was going to be stabbed. They were going to kill him.

And Hermione finally found her mind, and reacted in a feral frenzy. She cast a Reductor Curse so powerful it crushed all the bones in the Vigilante’s body. He folded to the floor, shrieking in high pitched agony. Harry span at Hermione’s lethal spell casting, transformed into his human form and drove Excalibur through the boneless wizard at his feet. He winked at Hermione then darted back into battle.

But by then it was all but done. One Vigilant remained, but as he tried to escape Harry pulled him back with a powerful spell. It was like he’d hooked the man on a fishing line. He skidded to Harry’s boot, which smacked firmly into his face. The Vigilant yelped out, then spat a mouthful of blood and tooth shards onto the grass.

“Secure him,” Harry ordered to Myfanwy. He brandished Excalibur like a practiced swordsman, assessing the carnage. He nodded as he noted there were no more enemies to be cut down. “Ann…the girl.”

“On it,” said Angharad, and she hurried off to free the child, who Hermione could see had fainted, but was otherwise physically unharmed. A second later and both disappeared in a swirl of air.

Hermione moved to Harry and hugged him tight, ignoring Myfanwy’s raised eyebrows next to them. It suddenly struck her how close she had come to losing him again. Her heart throbbed. She was desperate to feel him alive under her touch, so she pushed a hand into his robe to feel his speeding heartbeat, skin on skin. “Are you alright?”

Harry returned her hug fiercely. “I’m fine. You? Did they hurt you?”

“No, I’m okay. What was this, Harry?”

“I think I know,” he said. There was a look of triumph in his eye and he disentangled himself from her and drew out a small, ruby pendant from his pocket. “I found this.”

Hermione stared at it. “That…that looks like McGonagall’s…is it…”

Harry nodded. “Horcrux receptacle. I can feel it. Looks like they’ve standardised them.”

“But, that might mean…” Hermione gasped. “Riddle…he might be coming here!”

Myfanwy shot up, taut. Harry raised his hand to silence her. “Its possible, but not likely. I imagine Riddle has his own space for this particular rite. I’d be amazed if he did it somewhere so public and uncontrolled. But he’s probably waiting for this receptacle, complete with that poor girls’ soul.”

Hermione couldn’t get over Harry’s triumphant look. She grinned widely at it. “What are you thinking?”

“We stopped one, Hermione!” he fist pumped. His enthusiasm was infectious. “We stopped a Horcrux being made. Its a victory! We put a spanner in his works. Not only that, we know what the fakes look like now. They’re all the same. Maybe more important ones will be different, but now we can rule out most of them. That’s a typical Riddle-Mistake. Brilliant, but oh so dumb! He didn’t think I’d come back and expose his ruse. Fucking dumb, snake-blowing cunt! Now, lets see what we can learn from this prick…just in case he does show up.”

Harry stared down at his captive, held fast by Myfanwy’s binding spell. He was a little manic. He was shivering from battle, the adrenaline still pulsing through him. He looked positively ecstatic and his eye was actually glowing. Hermione was beside herself. Harry was so powerful, so intense in this mode, it made her entire body ache at the sight. His energy was like a drug. She wanted him so badly, she wasn’t sure she could resist much longer.

Harry flicked his wand and the Vigilant was flung upside down. Harry cocked his head at him.

“Hello,” he began conversationally. “Do you know who I am?”

“F-fuck you, Potter,” said the Vigilant.

“I see Tom Riddle hasn’t taught you any manners,” said Harry. “But at least you all know what’s coming for you. That I’m coming for you. Each and every one of you fuckers. I like that. Do you want to live?”

“You aren’t going to let me live,” the Vigilant spat.

“Oh I might,” said Harry, blithely. “You see, I like to send old Tom messages from time to time. You might just be the next one. If you’re a good boy.”

“Fuck you.”

“You know, that’s the second time you’ve sworn at me,” said Harry thoughtfully. “We need to wash your mouth out.”

He flicked his wand. The dangling wizard immediately began to choke and sputter.

“Harry…” said Hermione, frowning. “You’re going easy on him.”

“On the contrary,” said Harry. “Right now, this cunt’s lungs are filling up with water. I give it five minutes before he drowns. Its not a pleasant way to go. But, I could always cancel the spell…”

The Vigilant spluttered. Hermione just looked on in amazement.

“What was that?” Harry asked, cupping a sarcastic hand to his ear.

The wizard tried again. “P..ptr,”

“One more time?”

“Potter! P-please…I have children…”

Harry scowled angrily. “Then I pity those unfortunate wretches, to have such a father as you. If you co-operate, you may get to see them again.”

“P -please…I’ll do whatever you want.”

Harry cancelled the spell. The Vigilant coughed again, then vomited a lung-full of water onto the ground.

“There. That’s better, isn’t it?” said Harry. He ended the Levicorpus spell and the wizard hit the floor with a dull thud. “Now, you are going to tell me everything you know about the rounding up of people who pledged support for me. And for every lie you tell, I’ll take a limb. Got it?”

The wizard whimpered at Harry’s feet. Then he began his confession.

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