Chapter 9

Chapter 9 – A Queen Rises

The palace was in state of total chaos. And for the first time since she’d been here, Hermione felt genuinely afraid.

Not for herself, she was too mindless with the anarchy around her to harbour that sort of fear. But she was afraid for everyone, and everything, else. It wasn’t just the walls, shaking as if in the throes of an earthquake, or the shattered glass littering the rooms and the halls. It was the irrepressible, rampant magic that was surging and heaving all around them, knocking them to the ground, disintegrating furniture and sending random sparks shooting out from the very air and cracking the brickwork itself.

Such was the vicious fury of Harry Potter in complete meltdown.

He was an unstoppable force. Uncontrolled, unhinged and impossible to reign in. And everyone was trying. From Hermione and Enola right through to the house-elves. But Harry was impervious to capture. He would Apparate as soon as anyone got near, or cast blinding hexes or conjure heavy, dark clouds to obscure himself. He was totally wild, his mind exerting literally zero control over his raging senses.

And Hermione was almost equally as frantic. She raced around in pursuit of him, trying to repair the suits of armour he was melting, or the antique china sets that were fractured in his wake. She watched him change into his fierce Animagus lion form and tear things to shreds with his razor-sharp claws. Luckily it was just tapestries and furniture rather than living flesh. Hermione was afraid to get too close; Harry was out of his mind. She wasn’t sure he would still even to her, would even recognise that she wasn’t something to be torn, to be destroyed. He changed, then changed back, then partially transformed so he merely had a shaggy golden mane and long, sharp incisors.

And all the while he roared and growled so deep and base that it made Hermione’s skin prickle with anxiety.

But her worry was for him. She knew, deep down, that Harry wouldn’t hurt her. She could still sense that from him, as if he knew she that was following his trail but was permitting her to keep an eye on him, to protect the others from his searing rage. How she might manage to do that was something she couldn’t fathom. The darkly-charged magical current spewing from Harry was so raw and intense that Hermione had no idea how she was supposed to contain it.

In any case, she had to find him first. He’d been out of her sight for a good five minutes now. She could follow him to his last spot easily enough. He left behind vortexes of whirlwinding energy that Hermione could feel from the other side of the palace, as if she were a barometer for the spikes in Harry’s atrocious mood. But he was always just gone by the time she arrived. So she’d taken to randomly racing down corridors, desperately seeking Harry in rooms as she passed, hoping to luck out and get ahead of him.

But she was growing more frenzied with each failed attempt. Harry was darting about seemingly at random, with no plan, getting more and more furious as the events of the evening pressed tighter in on him. The levels of destruction he left behind were the primary indicator of that. And with each miss of Harry, Hermione grew a little more anxious. Every sinew of her being screamed at her to find him. But he was like a sprite, and his dark mischief was devastating their house.

Hermione felt a shot of possessive anger for that. Harry was wrecking their beautiful palace, their future home. The place their kids would one day run and play, when they delivered the world for them. If Harry didn’t leave them anything but a pile of rubble. The air shifted a little at that, eased slightly. Hermione was hit was a bolt of thought – had Harry felt that? Had her own surge of emotion affected him, as though the house was beginning to respond to her intent, too? Or was it the concept of their joint ownership that had triggered the brief change?

Hermione didn’t have much chance to dwell on it, as just then she rounded a corner and walked straight into Neville, who was rushing the other way.

“Oof!” Neville groaned as they collided. “Watch where you’re…oh, hello, Hermione. Any luck?”

“None. You?” Hermione replied, rubbing her head where it had impacted against Neville’s shoulder.

“No, Harry’s too good at this game.” said Neville. “He’s always better than us at it.”

Hermione started. “Has this happened before?”

“Once or twice,” said Neville evasively. The house rumbled as Hermione’s frantic worry for Harry deepened. Dust fell from the plaster ceiling above them. Was that her making this happen…or him? Hermione needed to calm her thoughts to work it out. Neville eyed the ceiling curiously. “This isn’t the worst its been.”

“When was that then?” asked Hermione. “Don’t tell me…the night with Malfoy. Enola told me it was bad. But I had no idea, really.”

“No, no, the night with Malfoy was different,” said Neville. “Harry was enraged because of the immediacy of the danger you were in. It spurred him to action without him really thinking about it. The palace was so focused that night I thought Harry could have turned the air itself into a spear. No, the worst night was when he learned that Ron was battering you. I actually thought he was going to kill himself in his rage. He nearly did.”

Hermione gasped in horror. “How?”

“Well, have you noticed the three round towers at the corners of the old castle walls?” Neville queried. Hermione nodded, grimly. She rather fancied she knew where this was going and didn’t like it one bit. “We used to have four. Harry ruptured the foundations of the other one…while he was still inside it.”

“Sweet Merlin!” Hermione exclaimed, cupping her cheeks in despair.

“He was trying to manipulate the lay line that ran under that tower,” said Neville, almost wistfully. “He reckoned he could channel his anger through it, make it so hot that Ron would be roasted alive on the spot, if Harry could redirect the line to him. It might have worked as well. But the line grew so white hot that the tower foundations melted and the stone work cracked. Harry was buried underneath the debris. It took ten of the house-elves three hours working in tandem to free him.”

“How in the hell did he survive that?”

“Both his legs were crushed, and he took a tasty whack to the head, which sent an impact fracture down his spine,” said Neville, wincing at the memory. “But the roof of the room he was in cracked in half under the intensity of his magic. It formed a sort of dome over him, which absorbed most of the impact. Harry was trapped in a pocket but his legs were smashed. It took a month of healing before he could even leave his bed.”

Hermione was horrified at the tale. But the suggestion of Harry’s own potential for self-harm cut to her on a far more deeper level. Her heart began to speed, racing faster than her legs had done in any part of her hunt for Harry that night.

“Nev – how bad could it get?” Hermione asked tentatively. “I mean…worst case?”

“Worst case is Harry exhausting his base of magic,” said Neville gravely. “If that happens, the magic in his blood will essentially evaporate, smashing his body to pieces as it leaves it. There’d be no way to heal him from that.”

“Oh fucking hell!” Hermione cried. “We have to find him Nev! We have to stop him!”

Hermione was beside herself. She tried to run, desperate to pick up the chase, but she didn’t know which way to go. She stopped, turned, stumbled into Neville just as hot tears spilt from her eyes. She’d never felt so helpless against what she saw as an inevitable outcome before. Not even during her enslavement under Ron’s iron boot.

“Hermione! Calm down!” said Neville, vehemently. “You wont help Harry this way.”

“Well I’m not helping him much fucking standing here with you am I! We have to do something!”

“Look, I’ve got Angharad, Cassie and Enola’s mum watching the potions stores – there are things there that Harry could explode in his current state. Rhian, I’ve sent to the mausoleum -“

“Good thinking. He’ll go mental if he breaks his mum’s headstone in a rage.”

“My reason exactly. Myfanwy is in the armoury, guarding all the weapons. Including the experimental Magic-Tech ones we’ve been working on.”

“Magic-Tech weapons?” Hermione quirked.

“Another time,” said Neville, dismissively. “Myfanwy is the best one for that job. She might not look it, but she’s badder than sin. Probably the best chance against Harry in a one-to-one duel out of all of us. Apart from you, obviously, who he’d never raise his wand against.”

Hermione flushed shyly and the air soothed a little more. Neville didn’t seem to notice, or if he did he ignored it. Hermione rather thought that these subtle changes were only perceptible to her…or maybe Harry and her…as if another form of silent, secret communication between them. She smiled at the idea, as Neville continued his speech.

“…and some of Inner Circle are scattered around the grounds, hoping to catch Harry in a lucky moment.”

“And Enola’s standing guard over Alison, I imagine?”

“Oh Merlin no,” said Neville. “Harry created a special defence ward over the nursery after his last outburst. It throws up a shield that is always more powerful than his emotion…as its fuelled by it. The angrier he gets, the more powerful the ward. Clever bit of magic, that. Alison is the safest person in this whole place.”

“Then where is Ennie?” asked Hermione.

“She’s working on a trap,” said Neville simply.

“What do you mean a trap?” asked Hermione, her tone dangerous and suspicious.

“The best chance we have of saving Harry is to get him in to the ritual room,” said Neville. “The place is designed to absorb and channel his magic. It will keep him magically renewed. Then we can just wait until he physically exhausts himself.”

“But there’s still the chance he can hurt himself, isn’t there?”

“He probably already has,” said Neville. “You just have to accept that. Physical wounds can heal. I know it hurts you to think of Harry injured – but, trust me, its better than the alternative.”

Hermione huffed. “Okay. So, how can we lure Harry to the ritual chamber.”

Neville looked sheepishly. “There is a way…but you wont like it. Though it might be the only thing powerful enough to focus Harry’s rampaging emotions.”

“I’ll do whatever I have to if it will help him,” said Hermione staunchly. “I’m not afraid.”

“You will be. I’m sure of that.”

Hermione paled at Neville’s expression, her pulse hammering resistance in her neck. There was only one thing that would make Neville look at her in such a pitying way…but she couldn’t work out how he would be involved…

“W-what do you want to do with me?” Hermione said, instantly ashamed of her stutter.

The air heaved, thick and potent, and magic lashed out, almost as if to prevent Neville posing the plan. Hermione knew that it was Harry’s protective instinct stirring to her defence. She felt the signature of it prickle across her skin as it flowed around her. Neville cast a Shield Charm deftly to divert the strike, and darted back to avoid the bolt of searing energy, which smashed a hole through the wall he’d been leaning against. Hermione had gone very cold all of a sudden. If Harry was subconsciously trying to protect her, from whatever Neville and Enola were scheming, then she was sure it couldn’t bode well for her.

“There may be a way,” said Neville, cocking a curious eye at the crumbling brickwork of the new hole to his left. “But we have to place you in peril. It wont be physical…but it might be more difficult to deal with as a result.”

“”You want to place me in danger? But I wont get hurt by it? That doesn’t seem so bad…”

“You don’t understand, Hermione,” said Neville. “We will have to expose you to some of your greatest fears. Make Harry feel them, and come to rescue you.”

“Without me physically leaving the house?” asked Hermione.

“This plan is more cerebral than physical. We have to open your mind to danger.”

Hermione stared blankly. “And how will you do that?”

Neville took a deep breath. “My Ennie has detected all sorts of historical charms and curses on you. Harry has noticed them, too, when he’s tried to heal you. They cant break the connection you have to their creator, or his ability to infiltrate your mind. Harry was devising some sort of plan to use it against him, but right now our plan is to expose you to it. Draw him to you.”

Hermione gasped and felt a black weight fall into her abdomen. “Y-you want to…to draw Ron…to me?” Her words stumbled over her trembling lips. “For him to do what?”

“Whatever he wants,” said Neville. “Whatever will be strong enough to summon Harry to your defence. I said you wouldn’t like it.”

“No, I fucking don’t like it!” Hermione cried, her eyes wide and startled as the notion clenched in her chest. “There…isn’t any other way?”

“You’ve been hunting for Harry for the best part of an hour with no success,” said Neville. “We don’t have the time to wait for him to calm enough to do the right thing. He’s just a bundle of anger shooting around and breaking things right now. We have to do something drastic…before he breaks himself.”

Hermione quaked at the idea, the image swimming before her eyes. It was doing battle with the equally harrowing thought of letting Ron into her psyche, exposing herself to him. It made her feel sick to her stomach. Her knees buckled and she had to grab Neville for support.

“Whoa! Are you okay?” he asked, hauling her up. “Is it really that bad a suggestion?”

Hermione shook in Neville’s arms. “I don’t think you truly understand. You’re asking me to willingly face a demon who haunts my dreams. And saying that if I don’t, the man I love, with every atom of my being, might die. It’s like offering me cancer, but promising me ebola if I don’t agree.”

Neville clenched his jaw angrily. “I’m sorry, Hermione. I don’t suppose I’ve really thought how badly you still suffer. You seem loads better since Harry rescued you…and the change you’ve wrought in him…I forget that you went through hell to get here. I wont ask you to do this, we’ll find another way. Fucking Weasley. I hope Harry lets me watch when you rip him apart. Come on, lets think of an alternative.”

Hermione scoffed. “There isn’t one, is there? You know I’m going to do this. Whatever the cost. Its Harry, for fucks sakeThe only thing I wouldn’t do is die for him. I mean, what would be the point? I want to enjoy him. It’s just…facing Ron…it’s terrifying for me.”

The walls vibrated again at that. Neville ducked on instinct, but Harry’s magic merely throbbed around Hermione. It felt gentler, as if trying to dissuade her. But there was something needy there, too. It was an element of Harry Hermione had felt before – that part that desperately needed and wanted help, but could never lower itself to ask for it. It was the part she always imagined herself hugging when she embraced him, that deep part, so wounded it had to be sought out to comfort. It was the part that Hermione knew, if she ever managed to heal it, would make Harry properly righted. It spoke to her now.

And the sensation steeled her. If this was what it took, then Hermione would woman-up and face it like a Queen. Harry needed her. That was all there was to it. And if Harry, so fierce and powerful, needed her, then his situation must be truly dire. Harry didn’t need help…he was the one who gave help. But now he did need, and Hermione was the only one capable of providing it. Her heart hummed at that, dispelled the fear she had been consumed with. Harry truly needed her, and she was able to step up and meet the challenge. To be there for him in a way that no other woman could be.

And her whole body pulsed with such love for Harry in that instant, that the entire house was diverted from its chaos for a moment. It surrendered to the dominance of her intent. Hermione knew then that Neville was right. Harry was attuned intently to her…he would come if she needed him. But that couldn’t be faked. She had to do this…she had to place herself in harms way…if only to focus Harry’s fury on her enemies instead of the world in general.

“I’m ready,” she said to Neville. “Tell me what to do.”

“Take my hand,” said Neville.

Hermione complied and Neville whisked them to the ritual chamber. Enola was already inside. She was moving between all the carved runes and engraved alchemical symbols…setting them alight with her whitewood wand. The whole place was surging and billowing with magic. It was smothering, but ridiculously alluring at the same time. There was such sexuality intrinsic to this form of magic…Hermione decided she would have to read up on this later, to understand this deeply physical element to runic casting. After all, Harry hadn’t shown her this fantastic library he’d built for her yet…

Oh…to make love to Harry in a library…Hermione lost her breath at the idea. Her knees collapsed under her again.

“Minny! Are you okay?”

Enola rushed over and helped Hermione, who had fallen into Neville, back to her feet. Hermione flushed as the erotic images swarmed through her mind. It was so inappropriate…and so badly timed. Then she huffed….Harry! He was doing this! On purpose! But of course – he was primal just now, feral…and sexual because of it.

And suddenly Hermione understood. She knew exactly where this sexual element had come from…and it wasn’t Harry. She knew what she needed to do.

“Get out,” she commanded darkly to Enola and Neville.

“What?” quirked Neville, concerned.

“Just leave,” said Hermione. “I…I know what I have to do. Just be ready to get me out when its time. Oh…and have a robe on hand…I’ll need one.”

Enola went a sickly shade of grey. “Min…I…”

“Just go, while we still have time,” said Hermione, her voice like chilled iron. She brushed off Enola as she tried to hug her.

Then she was left quite alone.

Hermione relaxed her mind. In fact, it was already bizarrely calm. And it wasn’t just the realisation of what she had to do that had made her this way. It was the understanding that this was part of her conditioning. It was the way her mind and body were used to being…when this time of the month rolled around. And its what made her instantly able to tap into the powers of the chamber, to find what she was looking for.

For Harry had long since configured it to torture Ron Weasley when the time was right. There was an entire runic scripture here dedicated to his hated memory. It made him easy to find amidst the other swirling forces of the circular room. Hermione simply let her guard down next to those pulsing with the most vitriolic emotion…and he came right to her, like a moth to a flame.

“Hello…loving wife.”

Hermione froze. No matter how much she’d tried to prepare herself, no matter how often she’d done this in person, to expose her mind to his was far more horrendous than anything she’d imagined. At once, she felt the level of his dominance over her. It was focused and pointed, now that it was all he had left. Harry had liberated her physically, but Ron’s dark magic still held her on so many levels. She gasped as she felt each one, like an ice-cold knife stabbing at each point as it moved through her. There were so many! Hermione was astonished as she realised just how deep under Ron’s magical heel she’d really been. She wondered if Harry knew.

And the runes flared…angry, blood red and fierce gold. She had her answer. And there was something else, too. Something that stirred fierce, protective love all around her like a shield. It made her very body throb with hopeful energy.

Because He knew…on some level…Harry knew Ron was here. And it created waves of magic so potently charged that Hermione’s fears were wiped away.

She was empowered by the emotion. It felt like Harry had been winded, taken by surprise…and, when he recovered, his response would be so ridiculously intense that Ron would be retarded to stay here. It gave Hermione courage. She could do this…face Ron…and heal Harry in the same, weird situation. Time to be a Queen…

“Fuck you…husband.”

Hermione’s ire spilled out of her. It was as if Harry’s anger was infusing her. She willed more of it into herself. But then Ron spoke. And his mere voice was enough to break her.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” Ron said icily. “You know its that time…where you open your legs for me…you don’t want me to open them for you again, do you…you know what happens when you defy me…”

“I’m not afraid of you, Ron.”

He chuckled mirthlessly. “Oh..but you are. And with good reason. You belong to me. I can do what I want with you. You are mine.”

“No part of me is yours,” said Hermione doughtily. She stepped back and clutched against the altar at the centre of the raised dais. Harry’s presence felt strongest there. It renewed Hermione’s courage.

Ron scudded with laughter again. “Oh…my dearest Hermione. You are all mine. You may give Harry your body, your perky ass…maybe even your heart. But your soul is mine!”

Ron said the words with such fierce sincerity that Hermione stepped back from his image.

“Even in this place…wherever it is….you are under my command,” said Ron icily. “Kneel!”

And Hermione did. She wasn’t sure if it was the familiar order, or an involuntary reflex. Either way, Hermione went to her knees, trembling with the fear of what she knew usually followed this stance. She chided herself for her weakness. Some equal of Harry’s she was proving to be!

“Now…how do we normally do this,” said Ron icily, stalking forwards. He might as well have been there in the flesh. Where had he learned such dark magic, and where had he been hiding it? Hermione felt utterly stupid for not paying more attention to the changes in him. His rancid intent was so clear now. Had she been so afraid of the abuses that she hadn’t seen the bigger picture? She rather thought she might have.

And her fear sped through her like a lance. Ron might actually be able to do her real damage here. And she was just getting used to a life without pain. She ground her jaw.

She wasn’t going to give in that easily.

Hermione screwed up her emotions, her fears, her hatred, her love for Harry…and she stood up strongly, facing Ron as he reached her. He looked totally startled as their eyes met, seemingly unable to process how she’d broken through his spell. Hermione was primed now, she glared at Ron, rabid anger in every line of her face. He stumbled back from her.

“How do we do this?” Hermione fumed. “How do you rape me, Ron? You did it so many times. With that tiny dick of yours. I barely felt it…it was easy to forget…”

Ron flushed, his own anger flaring. He slashed his wand and Hermione’s clothes were sliced off. They fell to the floor. But Hermione was unmoved. She advanced on Ron. But he was recovered from his shock now, and dark fury was spreading through him. Hermione could almost see it…as if it were an oil slick coursing over his essence. It made Hermione hesitate.

And Ron struck.

It wasn’t a spell as much as another mental command. And Hermione was slammed back against the ritual altar, knocking the wind and sense from her. She was dizzied by the impact. She felt her legs thrust open by an unseen force and Ron was suddenly next to her, unbuckling his robe…

Then the room thundered and shook violently, as if hit by a sonic boom.

“What was that? Did you do it?!” Ron yelled, reeling away as if struck by a fierce blow. He slashed his hand out. Hermione felt the contact as if on her cheek…but on an emotional level. It knocked her over the altar and flat onto her back. But she looked up, almost maniacally at Ron. She tasted blood in her mouth…or was it something else. She couldn’t be sure. Either way, she smirked darkly at Ron.

He knows…” she said dangerously. “Harry knows what you’re trying to do to me. And he’s coming for you. You fucking idiot!”

“Like I’m afraid of him,” Ron cried angrily. “I have you! Do you think our wedding was words alone? Are you so spasticated that you think our dear Lord Voldemort merely blessed me with the Dark Mark? He gave me his personal promise of protection…and dominion over you. You are mine! Harry Potter’s greatest weakness is under my complete control!

Then Ron drew his wand and slashed it aggressively through the air. For a moment, Hermione just laughed at him. Then something changed. It was as if Hermione’s skin had caught fire. She shrieked in utter agony, swatting helplessly at flesh that was searing hot…but seemed unchanged. It was as if Ron was burning her emotionally, casting her very soul onto his evil pyre. Hermione curled up on the cold floor, naked, pitiful and desperate…and now Ron was the one that was laughing, bellyful and joyous.

“Harry! Help me!” Hermione moaned lowly.

And the air around her literally exploded.

For Harry Potter had finally arrived to defend his Queen. And his rage was unlike anything Hermione had ever felt. He might as well have brought Hell itself with him to the fight.

It was if the swirling winds of magical energy suddenly shattered. Jagged fragments of intense power erupted from an unseen focal point. Ron, in whatever form he was before them, was thrown violently across the ritual chamber. In the same moment, a Shield Wall encased Hermione in a dense, impenetrable cocoon. She couldn’t even see through it. Harry was there, she could feel that of a sort, but his physical body was in a state of flux. He was the embodiment of fury itself. He took hold of Ron’s spirit in powerful, ephemeral jaws and slammed it repeatedly into the walls and floors like a blood-lusted lion devastating its prey, till Ron bled a sort of silvery plasma. He whimpered and screeched in unspeakably, high-pitched agony.

But it only served to stir Harry’s rage into yet more frenetic states. Then Ron spoke.

Morsmordre!”

Hermione cried out as Harry’s impermeable delirium threatened even her, licking dangerously at her skin. He was utterly steeled, ready to face the entire Death Eater clan, Tom Riddle and the abomination of Dumbledore if they showed up. But Hermione was wild with fear for him, and trapped inside this bloody shield charm!. Then there was a pop.

“Lady Hermione will come now! Take Sally’s hand! Take it now!”

Hermione had never heard her elf afraid before. It was so child-like, so utterly terrified that it cut to Hermione, as if a request for help from innocence itself. She gave to it without resistance. She grasped Sally’s soft, scaly palm in her own and allowed herself to be whisked away.

And then she instantly regretted it.

For outside the chamber it was indescribably worse, by a measure of degrees. For Harry was at war inside…and drawing all energies of the palace to his banner. It was like being in a tsunami of potential energy, rushing to its Master’s aid like a gale-force wind that whipped all around them. And Hermione was utterly powerless to help him. She heard his plea, felt his summons for assistance against Ron and the powers of Voldemort…but she was unable to render even the most basic of aid.

She darted forwards, making for the door. Neville stepped across her.

“Hermione! Stand back! Harry’s safe now!”

“Like fuck he is!” Hermione cried. “He’s fighting Ron in there! And Voldemort wont be far behind! Let me in!”

“I cant do that,” said Neville firmly. “Step away!”

“Fuck you, Neville! I’m not leaving Harry alone in there!”

“Min!” Enola yelled. “Nev’s right. Harry will be…”

But Enola didn’t get to finish her sentence. For Hermione, in her incessant rage, spat right in her mouth. Enola retched away to her right.

“Hermione! You need to control yourself. Harry can handle it!”

Hermione saw red. And red in this instance equalled Neville Longbottom.

“Stupefy!”

Neville was taken so surprised by Hermione’s quick draw that he couldn’t respond. The truth was, though, that Hermione’s spell was so intense that Neville’s best blocking spell would have trembled against it. As it was, Neville was smashed against the door of the ritual chamber and knocked out cold.

Hermione, sensing her chance, darted forwards. But then a spell of such unrepentant force hit her that she was left breathless by its power. She turned her eyes, wide and startled, to see Enola, infused with utter fury, with her wand drawn against her. For the first time in their brief acquaintance, Hermione truly appreciated, with a startling tremble of respectful fear, the raw ferocity of Enola Longbottom’s magical ability.

Then Enola’s eyes softened with sad regret. “I’m sorry, Min…but I have to, for all our goods…subicite!”

There was a flash of silvery-white magic. And Hermione was completely, and wholly, subdued.

* * *

Enola watched carefully, marking each surge in Hermione’s energy like a big band conductor. She even had her own baton of a sort. In this case it was her whitewood wand, visceral and throbbing with her magical power. And with each rise of Hermione’s emotion, Enola would carefully and deliberately cast counter-spells and protection runes, pushing them into her before resuming the vigil.

For her new friend was under sustained assault. And Enola was determined to protect her.

The exposure of her mind was always a risk, and until Hermione could replace her own mental shields, she was vulnerable. And as Enola felt responsible for making her defenceless, both in proposing the plan and having to magically sedate her later, she felt duty bound to fight Hermione’s battles for her. So with each attempt at incursion, Enola would cast another barrier, put in another block. It was working so far, but she had to hand it to that fucktard Weasley…he was a persistent little shit.

For they’d been at this duel for sixteen hours straight.

Enola was hardly surprised. There was just something about his magical intent, a sort of wounded desperation. He had shown his weakness, his wizarding limitations as Hermione had overpowered his magical control over her. Even if it was only for an instant. Poor Min! She was so afraid of that joke she had to call a husband. That wasn’t surprising either, considering what he’d put her through. Enola fancied that Hermione hadn’t really dealt properly with that yet. That when the anger subsided the real horror would hit her. Hard.

But at least she’d have Harry to heal and soothe her. That made Enola unspeakably happy. To see Harry laugh and joke and smile…it was something else. And the poor, wounded girl under her care was responsible for all of it. That was reason enough in itself to help her. So Enola was fiercely determined in her personal fight with Ron Weasley. If he wanted Hermione, he’d have to get through her first.

And Enola Longbottom wasn’t about to be bested by a lazy, talentless bigot like Ronald Weasley.

Hermione shifted and jerked again as Ron made another move. He was so blindly resolute to make amends for his failings…Enola was half-wondering if Tom Riddle was stood over his minion, demanding he keep attacking until he broke through. That solidified Enola’s own resolve, as she hoped Weasley was being punished for each failed attempt. It felt like a victory with each successful repel of his invasive magic. So she drew out another powerful defensive rune, pushed it into the path of Ron’s spell, and fist pumped as it was deflected away. She closed her eyes…and imagined Ron’s agonised cry as Riddle whipped a curse across him.

This was childs-play. Enola was genuinely astonished that Weasley had managed any sort of control over Hermione. His magic was so mid-level powered…at best. And Min was so potent. The situation was all sorts of backwards in Enola’s mind. The amount of sly, underhand curses Weasley must have used on her…when she slept, or when she was broken and fragile after a beating…it made Enola’s blood boil with searing anger.

For Hermione was stupendously powerful. Enola knew that now. She’d not appreciated truly how much. Of how close to Harry’s equal she actually was. In truth, Enola was a little bit wary of what Hermione would be like when she woke up. She’d had to reach deep into the recesses of her magical strength to subdue Hermione and hold her there. She’d never driven that deep into herself before. It had shocked her, and she was still a little trembly as a result. If Hermione was angry when she woke…Enola might be in real danger.

After all, she’d dislocated Neville’s shoulder and snapped his wrist with her manic attempt to get to Harry’s aid.

So Enola knew she had to be careful. Hermione whimpered again and Enola threw up another barrier in her mind. She dabbed a cool flannel at Hermione’s forehead, hot with roiling sweat, and whispered comfortingly to her. She wondered how long this would go on for. And she wasn’t the only one.

“You need to take a rest. Let me take over.”

Enola turned to see Neville in the doorway. Both arms were in bandages now.

“How long have you been watching?” Enola quirked.

“Long enough to know you need a break,” said Neville, taking a seat on the opposite side of Hermione’s bed. “You’re exhausted.”

“I’m not leaving her,” said Enola. “She needs help. He makes her too weak to face him alone.”

“Then let me -“

“No!” Enola hissed. “I’ve already crossed a boundary as it is. You aren’t going near her mind. If I could just pull her Occlumency shields back up…it might be enough.”

“Then why don’t you do it?” asked Neville.

“Because its an uninvited invasion!” Enola cried hotly. “You don’t just enter someone’s mind without permission. And she’s probably pissed enough with me as it is!”

“Yeah, probably,” said Neville. “You made yourself a barrier to helping Harry. I’m living proof of what happens to people like that!”

He held up his bandaged hands.

Enola scoffed. “You’re not helping. Besides, you’re just being a pussy. Skele-Gro and a quick healing ritual will have sorted you out. You’re just being a baby. Or fishing for sympathy, which you won’t get from me.”

Neville feigned hurt. “What a wife you are! I’ll have you know I’m very damaged over here.”

“Only in terms of your pride,” said Enola, smirking. “Bested by an untrained witch! Harry’s second-in-command my arse!”

“But what an arse!” Neville quipped. Enola rolled her eyes at him. “But, you’re right, I am in charge while Harry recovers. That’s what I came to say. Me and my dad are going to head out tonight. Do a bit of recon.”

“No you fucking aren’t!” Enola cried, deathly serious. “Its too dangerous out there.”

“Which isn’t going to change unless we do something about it,” said Neville firmly. “This isn’t up for debate. We’re going.”

Enola frowned. “Just don’t do anything reckless. And take your Invisibility Cloaks. And take Fan and Ann…and…and…”

Enola hiccuped with the fear settling on her. Neville rounded the bed and scooped her up into a powerful hug. She melted into his embrace. He made her feel so safe, like everything would be alright…even if it wouldn’t. And he was always so brave. It made her so hot for him.

“I wish we had time for a quickie,” she breathed into his chest. “I miss feeling you inside me.”

Neville tensed up. Enola bit her lip…it was the wrong thing to say. She apologised lowly.

“Dont be sorry…I’ll deal with that problem.,” said Neville. “But this comes first, pardon the pun. Take care of Hermione. I’ll be back.”

“When? Today?”

“No promises,” said Neville. “I’ll be back when I find what I need. You know the score. I’ll be safe.”

And he kissed her deeply. Then turned and swept out of the room. Enola brushed at her wet cheeks, then turned back to Hermione, who jerked and writhed, and called out in anguished despair.

Poor Min! She’d abandoned her. And Ron had broken in! Enola considered breaking into Hermione’s mind for a face-off, but rejected the idea immediately. There was only one thing to do…wake her and face the consequences.

“Rennervate!

Enola’s spell settled firmly on Hermione and she shot awake, with an abrupt shock. She drew quick, rattling breaths, before scrambling up the bed and cowering in the foetal position, as if bracing to be hit. Enola’s heart broke at the sight and she hurried to her side, hushing her and gently smoothing her shoulders.

“Ssshhh, Hermione…hush now…you’re safe…I’m here, I’m here…”

Hermione peeked through a gap in her arms with unfocused, terrified eyes. Her breathing stilled slightly.

“Ennie…is that…is it you”

“Its me, calm down…you’re safe now…sshhh there…”

“Where am I?” Hermione asked groggily. “Where’s Ro…where’s Harry! Ennie…Voldemort’s coming, I can feel it!”

“It was just a nightmare, Min,” said Enola softly as Hermione tried to get up. “Harry’s quite safe. He’s exhausted and resting, but he’ll be fine.”

“And Riddle? And Ron?”

“Harry banished them,” said Enola. “They’re no wiser to where we are. Ron’s been trying to break into your mind. That nightmare was his doing.”

“I…I can sort of remember,” said Hermione, her tense shoulders finally sagging. “But you…I’ve felt you close by. What have you been doing to me?”

Enola bristled nervously. “Sorry, Min, don’t be cross…but I had to enter your mind. Only on a surface level. To help defend you from Ron’s attacks.”

Hermione sat up fully and pierced Enola with a curious stare. “You’ve been protecting me. Why?”

“Ron’s being trying to use the mental connection he has to you to break your mind,” Enola explained. “He frightens you so much…I know now…you couldn’t face him alone. Oh Min…if I’d known how bad it was I’d never have suggested to Nev that we use you in ritual. Please forgive me.”

“That was your idea?”

Enola nodded sheepishly. She couldn’t read Hermione just now.

Then she smiled at her. “Should have known only a warrior woman could come up with something like that. Something that gave zero fucks as long as the end was worth it. But what happened with Harry?”

Enola looked startled. “You aren’t mad at me?”

“Is Harry okay? Are we safe?”

“Yes and yes.”

“Then there’s nothing to forgive,” said Hermione. “I was wild to help Harry…but you stopped me from opening the chamber. What would have happened if I did?”

“It could have let those dark forces into the palace,” said Enola. “It could have given away our location. I had to think of my daughter, of all of us. Plus, they were fighting Harry in his personal ritual space. That was singularly fucking dumb of them. Its the one point on the planet that Harry Potter wields the power of a fucking god.”

“And its where Harry’s going to kill Riddle in the end,” said Hermione nodding in understanding. “And where we are going to go stone-age on Ron Weasley. I felt everything in that chamber, Ennie. It was amazing. Have you ever felt that?”

“No,” said Enola. “Its something Harry restricts from everyone. Well, except you it would seem. What was it like?”

“I, literally, don’t have the vocabulary,” said Hermione breathily, hitching her knees to her chest.. “It was a sort of deep, intimate intensity I never knew existed. As though every particle of Harry was a charged, energetic form that I could reach out and touch if I wanted to. And I so wanted to. It was electrifying, even when I was scared. Sex in there will bring the walls down! Just saying.”

Enola hooted with laughter. “Oh Min! I love you, you know? I’m sorry I had to spell you. But you were a little wildcat!”

Hermione chuckled. “I barely remember it, to be honest. I’m sorry I spat at you. That was disgusting. You did what you had to. Its good that you could. I would hate to be so out of control that I was a threat. Harry scared me a little in the way he was. I’m happy for you to be able to subdue me.”

“I barely could,” Enola admitted. “You are frighteningly powerful. I could barely contain you.”

“But you did,” said Hermione, reaching out and squeezing her hand. “And if you need to again, just do it.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to for long,” said Enola. “I don’t think you’ve fully recovered your strengths. Its not been two months since you arrived here. Give it a few more and only Harry will be able to exert any control over you. And you will be a match even for him.”

Hermione blushed. “I’m already a match for him. In every way.”

Enola chortled at that. “Yes you are. It amazes me that Weasley was able to keep you so downtrodden, given how powerful you are.”

“Trust me, I’ve been thinking the same thing,” said Hermione. “I just lost hope. I could have freed myself from Ron at any time. But where would I have gone? I often thought it would have been better to just be dead, and considered taking it into my own hands on more than on occasion.”

Oh Min! You poor thing!” Enola gasped. “You’ve had such a wretched time of things, haven’t you? Harry will make it all better. He’ll have to answer to me if he doesn’t!”

Hermione grinned a moment, then her expression became stern and serious. “How is he? Can I see him?”

“He’s wiped out, but he’ll be okay,” said Enola. “We had to sedate him, but he’ll recover. Though I think its best, for now, that you stay away from him.”

Hermione frowned. “Why? What’s wrong with me?”

“It’s not what’s wrong with you,” said Enola, shaking her head exasperatedly. “Its what’s right. Harry has forged a deep connection to you. He always had it, but it was singularly one-side. Now, since he’s learned you return all his feelings as powerfully as you do, its intensified beyond anything either of us could have conceived. The connection is coming from you now, too. Its beautiful in every other circumstance, but dangerous to Harry right now.”

“How so?” Hermione asked, flushing crimson.

“Harry’s magic has been stretched to breaking point,” Enola explained. “He needs all he has left to stay stable, as well as to start his recovery. But when he’s anywhere near you, his magic reaches out for you. It seeks you, wants to join with you. He’s too weak to risk sparing any to make that link just now, but he can’t consciously control it in his current state.”

“So, when I’m near him, I’m taking magic from him? Or diluting his reserves? Is that what you’re suggesting?”

“Exactly,” said Enola. “And restricting his powers of recovery. When he’s stronger, being around you will probably help him. But for now, just give him a bit of space, as hard as that might be.”

“Okay. I’ll do what you ask. I’ll stay away,” Hermione huffed, crossing her arms over her chest. “But, hang on…I’m confused. How can I be both a threat and a possible cure?”

“Put it this way,” said Enola, patiently. “If Neville was badly hurt, my power could heal him in a way that another Healer’s couldn’t. Our cores of being, our essences, have fused in the most primal way. They are pretty much one now. That has certain benefits.”

Hermione shifted as she processed Enola’s suggestion. She massaged an ache in her chest.

“That’s because of your marriage, isn’t it? Is that what you’re saying?”

Enola nodded with a smile. “Harry performed a proper wedding ritual on us. A marriage ceremony isn’t just saying nice vows and exchanging rings. Its about giving into those vows absolutely, committing everything to one another. Magic just allows that bond to be formed with a real, energetic force. I made vows to Nev, and he to me. Harry simply used his magic to bind us, and all the forces of our lives, together.”

“Like you think his and mine are trying to do now? Harry created that connection for you?”

“It wasn’t quite like that,” said Enola. “Nev and I had emotionally joined already. Harry just sealed it, empowered and protected it with a ritual. It made me and Nev unspeakably closer. I didn’t think I would ever get that close to another human being, know them so intimately, in such indefinable ways. But it’s incredible. I would die without it, but I could also heal Nev with it.”

“Because its a unique force between you?”

“Exactly. One based on how much we love each other.”

“And you think I could have the same sort of impact on Harry?”

Enola smiled and nodded. “Which is why you seriously need to stop seeing me as a threat to you.”

Hermione blushed with a guilty sigh. Her voice was small when she finally replied. “You’ve noticed that, have you?”

“Just a little,” Enola quirked. “What will it take for you to understand that, though Harry and I are close, its not in that way? And never has been. I am, quite literally, consumed by Neville and our little girl. Just as Harry is obsessed and infatuated with you. Surely, you must know by now the intensity of emotion you invoke in him.”

Hermione smiled to herself as she considered it. “I’m coming to realise it more and more. Its startling and humbling and tough to accept at times. I…I actually feel a bit guilty for having it. But covetous of it at the same time, you know? I’m sure I don’t deserve it. I cant really explain properly. But I almost feel, I don’t know…wrong, in a way.”

Enola looked at her, deeply puzzled. “That’s a weird thing to say. What could possibly be wrong about it? Don’t tell me you’re feeling guilty for cheating on that bellend husband of yours!”

“Oh, fuck no,” Hermione cried, vehemently. “Its nothing to do with that skrewt-fiddler. Well, I suppose it is, really, but definitely not like that. Cheating! The only infidelity I’ve ever committed was against Harry and his memory, by allowing my subjugation by that ginger wank stain.”

Enola barked a laugh. “Glad to see you’ve got your anger under control again. Even your bad language has a sort of poetic elegance to it. I’m quite envious.”

Hermione scoffed. “At least my perception isn’t skewed. Cheating on Ron. Pfft! He gave up any right to expect my faithfulness the first time his fist bruised my cheek.”

“Hermione, love, he relinquished any claim of the sort way before that. Harry’s told me enough for me to know that.”

“And you wonder why I’m jealous of your relationship?” said Hermione hotly. “Harry has shared private things with you. He doesn’t do that with anyone.”

“Except you,” said Enola. “I understand where you’re coming from, I really do, but you needn’t be jealous. Harry and I are close because of the intimate nature of how I’ve helped in his healing, nothing more. We’ve shared things he keeps from others. His fears, his worries, relived some of the things that have given him such a damaged life. It’s created a deep trust between us. Like a doctor/patient relationship, with friends thrown in for good measure.”

“You just happen to be gorgeous,” Hermione huffed. “I’ve seen the way you look at each other…there’s a definite attraction there.”

“Min…you’ve felt Harry. Felt the allure of his energy. You know what he’s like. I think you’ll struggle to find any woman who isn’t at least a little attracted to him because of that. But is that what this is? A purely physical thing?”

Hermione sighed and frowned. “To be honest, a lot of my problems are physical. Its what I meant by it all feeling a bit wrong in a way.”

“How so? Please don’t tell me you’re regretting anything that’s happened with you and Harry since he saved you.”

“No…no, absolutely not!” said Hermione quickly. “That’s not what I meant at all. Its the most incredible, most wonderful…oh, Ennie, I can’t even put good enough words to it! If I’m honest, I’m itching for more, for it to go further. Its Harry that’s holding back. That’s what’s unsettling me.”

“I don’t follow,” said Enola.

“I shouldn’t be feeling like this!” said Hermione, slightly manic. “Not so deliriously happy that I’m with Harry. Not so breath-taken by his magic, by his very presence, that I just want to rip his clothes off and jump on him whenever I’m next to him. I feel feral when I’m around him. More alive than I thought possible.

“But I shouldn’t. After all I’ve been through, I should be the one, surely, who’s afraid of the commitment, of the intimacy. But I’m not. I’m frantic for it, from holding hands to the most passionate moments we’ve shared so far. I haven’t kissed Harry for a couple of days and its driving me potty. But then I think of it and I feel guilty for being happy, then guilty for feeling guilty, when this is all I’ve ever wanted. What does that say about me?”

Her words were tripping over themselves to get out of her. Enola considered that Hermione probably wasn’t used to girl-time…to have someone to share and confess with. She must have been bottling all this up for weeks. It did little to ease Enola’s heartache where she was concerned. She was so bright and lovely, so worthy of being happy and grounded. Enola felt a personal mission coming on.

“It says that you’ve been starved of affection, downtrodden” Enola replied, simply. “And now Harry’s showering you with every scrap of emotion he has. And you’re thrilled by it. There’s no shame in that.”

“No shame!” cried Hermione. “How can you say that? Don’t you think its abnormal that I’ve gotten over my abuses so quickly? That my body now aches for things from Harry that made me physically sick when forced on me by Ron?”

“You told me before you dealt with those abuses by numbing yourself to them,” said Enola, gently. “By making it a fucked up sort of normal so you wouldn’t lose your mind. It detached you, gave you a way to cope. It wasn’t sex to be enjoyed, or intimacy to bask in. It was lay back, get it over with, move on. It let you survive.”

“I know, I know,” said Hermione tiredly. “But I got so conditioned to it. Taught myself that’s all there was to it. But now…I need physical intimacy with Harry. I need to touch him. All the time. That’s why asking me to stay away from him is like asking me to do without oxygen. I have to be near him. But I’ve realised…I always have. Even when we were kids. And its not just because he makes me feel ridiculously safe – which he does – but my own body yearns to be next to his. To feel his heat on mine. But I’ve gotten so used to the cold. Its so confusing.”

“Do you want to know what I think? It explains a lot.”

“It does?”

Enola nodded. “You shut yourself down when you married that fucktard you were forced to. Coped with the last five years almost like a second personality was there instead of you.

“Then Harry comes back to life…and you did, too. Without realising it, part of you had died with him.”

Hermione let out a startled breath, a half-sob. As though Enola’s blatant truth had been hiding in plain sight all this time. It seemed to hit Hermione hard in the heart, as if she felt it was so right. She clutched at her chest again.

“Then Harry comes and rescues you,” Enola continued. “And you give in to how you feel for each other. Neither of you truly appreciates it, but only you can heal the others’ wounds. You’ve made great strides already. And both of you were physically damaged. You want to be intimate with Harry, despite what you’ve been through. And you’re the only person he’s happy to let touch him, in any way, besides my baby daughter. You have each others’ total trust and most powerful affection.

“And you’re possessive of it. I get it. Starved of love, you don’t want to share it. Its all yours. I know how you feel, I really do. I’m very possessive myself. There was this witch, once, who made a play for my Nev. Offered him her Floo address and everything. Right in front of my face. I was livid.”

“When did that happen?”

“There was a nightclub in Gloucester, The Protean, magicals only,” said Enola. “Nev and I went there to celebrate when I found out I was pregnant. It was a masquerade ball so Nev could hide his face. Anyway, this girl spotted him and kept chatting to him whenever he went to the bar. She started getting a bit handsy with him and I flipped.”

“What did you do?” Hermione chortled.

“I broke the silly bitch’s nose!” said Enola. “Then I found out where she worked, and kept bombarding her with daily anonymous Howlers, for about a month.”

“Why did you stop?”

Enola froze, her breathing became suddenly ragged and all the colour left her cheeks. Her voice was unbelievably quiet when she spoke again.

“I learned she was dragged in by the Muggleborn Registration Commission. For being a Muggleborn witch who…who hadn’t secured a marriage to a Pureblood wizard, despite her three month probation.” Enola sucked in a sobbing breath, silent tears flowing from her eyes. “She saw Neville and his family crest, tattooed on his wrist…she had only been trying to…anyway, she was hauled before a trumped-up trial…found guilty of her crimes and…and e-executed. She was only twenty. Apparently she’d spent every night in the club, trying to secure a husband. She was just getting desperate when she saw Neville, his tattoo and no wedding ring. He’d taken it off because we were pretending to be on a first date that night. Its n-not my proudest moment.”

Enola slumped against the bed, heaving tears as the memory consumed her. Hermione leapt up to comfort her, rubbing her shoulders as she wept.

“I hate the world, everything outside of the palace wards,” said Hermione grimly. “I sometimes close my eyes and fume at it, hope my very ire can burn it all down if I wish hard enough for it.”

Enola sniffled and chuckled at that.

“That thing with the girl in the club wasn’t your fault,” Hermione went on comfortingly. “Its Riddle’s fault, and Ron’s, and all the other bigots who bought into this Pureblood mania. We’ll put it right. All of us. They’ve taken so much from us all. But they’ll take no more. A line must be drawn, so lets draw it here! And make them pay for everything they’ve done.”

Enola steeled herself and clutched at Hermione’s hand on her shoulder. Her fingers settled on the ring she wore. “When are you going to marry Harry? You are so his perfect Queen.”

“So everyone keeps saying,” said Hermione. “But I don’t feel anything but my mouth is up to the job!”

Hermione!” Enola cried, mischievously. “How far have you and Harry gotten, then? Tell, tell!”

“Sweet Merlin, Enola!” Hermione replied as she blushed. “You sexualise everything, don’t you? Has anyone ever told you -“

“I need to get laid, yes, I know,” Enola replied sadly. She averted her eyes and bowed her head. “It’s not my fault…”

Her words tailed off into the ether.

“Are you and Neville having…er…troubles? In the bedroom?”

Enola flicked her eyes up, and nodded lightly. “He’s not dealing with the stress very well. Of parenthood and the war and the risks it places on me and Ally. I’ve tried everything to get him in the mood. Dressing up, dirty talk, I left some naughty photos in his wallet…they move, you know…so I was very explicit…”

Enola blushed and looked at the floor.

“To be honest, Ennie, if you can’t get him turned on just by being in the same room I think you need to look at the bigger problem,” said Hermione. “You realise you’re hotter than the sun, don’t you?”

Enola giggled. “Thanks. Harry says that about you, you know.”

Hermione’s jaw dropped. “H-he does?…Well, that’s…um…well…he did? You know, I kind of hate Harry a little bit. He has this annoying habit of making me want to kiss his face off at times he’s nowhere near me!”

Enola laughed. “Keeps you keen, though! Anyway, I don’t know what else to do. Nev just doesn’t seem interested anymore.”

“Well that’s the biggest load of bullshit ever spoken,” Hermione scoffed dismissively. “Nev has told me some of the things he thinks about you. Lack of interest really isn’t the problem. Seriously, En, all the life in this palace would erupt into a mass brawl to line up to fuck you, if you asked them to. Wizard, witch, elf, ghost…fuck me, even the statues would come to life at the chance to get into your knickers!

“And Neville wants you more than any of them. Would violently beat them all into submission for even looking at you in the wrong way. What you need is some alone time. Fuck the war for a couple of days. Leave, go somewhere, just the two of you. Me and Harry will look after Alison. Have romantic daytimes, and turn the nights over to raw passion. And, just in case, take an anti-dysfunction potion, or use an Engorgement Charm.”

“You seem pretty clued up on this, Min,” said Enola, shrewdly. “Didn’t have a bit on the side during your loveless marriage, did you?”

“Only one that was battery powered,” said Hermione shrewdly. “But Ron, thankfully, wasn’t all that attracted to me. Oddly, it was only when he thought about the future wives being groomed for him that he got really excited. He often talked about that during our monthly commune. I’m hoping it was the idea of being able to dominate more than one woman that got him hard and not their age…they were really quite young.

“Anyway, he struggled to get an erection for the last few years. And I had to have sex with him or I could be up for investigation, or possible internment at one of the labour camps. There was a charm on me to prove I had been properly penetrated. So I developed the strongest anti-erectile dysfunction potions and arousal potions I could, and mastered the Engorgio Charm. To be honest, I might have needed Engorgio even if we’d married for the right reasons. Seriously, he barely touched the sides when he stole my virginity!”

Enola cackled at that. “Would…do you think…I mean, would it be too much to ask…”

“Of course I’ll brew them for you,” said Hermione. “They don’t take long. Just get me access to Cassie’s lab for a few hours. I guarantee Nev will last longer than that!”

Enola’s eyes widened, her expression dreamy. “Thank you, Min. I owe you. What can I do for you in return?”

Hermione steeled her expression. She’d been thinking long and hard about this. “Teach me how to fight. I mean properly. I want to become an Acolyte of St David, like you and Harry’s mum. I’m not good enough for him just now. But I so fucking will be. I swear it on our unborn children. I want his mum to be proud of me as her daughter-in-law, maybe his dad to fancy me just a bit.

“Ennie – help make into me the Queen everyone keeps telling me I can be…please?”

Enola looked at her resolutely, testing her sincerity. Hermione met her gaze steadfastly. Satisfied at what she found, Enola nodded.

“It wont be easy,” said Enola. “And it involves some serious oaths and a blood ritual. Oh, and a sacrifice.”

“What sort of sacrifice?”

“Your modesty and inhibitions,” said Enola. “The ritual is conducted in a coven of naked witches. You have to shed your earthly shields and open up to nature fully. The infusion is worth it, though.”

“Naked?” asked Hermione, shyly.

“If you can’t shed your clothes in front of other women, how will you have the courage to slit one’s throat if they threaten your loved ones?”

Hermione nodded. “I can do that. When can we perform the ceremony?”

“I’ll have to nominate you formally,” said Enola. “I’ll do that today. Harry might hate me for it, but I happen to think you’re right on this, so Harry can just put up with it. Then we just need six witches for the ritual. I’ll be one. Fan, Ann, Cass, Alice, my Mum…oh, and we’ll need Narcissa Malfoy.”

Hermione gasped. “For what?”

“She’s the Head Acolyte. Only she can conduct the ritual. I’ll message her. We’ll set it up for Saturday.”

“But that’s days away,” Hermione scoffed.

“I can’t do it sooner,” said Enola. “I’m too worried…and so are you. We wont be focused enough for the ritual.”

“Why are you worried?”

Enola shook and sighed. “Nev’s heading out tonight. Intelligence gathering. He’s done it before, and he’s taking his Dad…but still…”

Her words failed her again. Hermione squeezed her hand.

“He’ll be alright, you know,” said Hermione softly. “He’s used to taking risks. Besides, his Dad will look after him.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Enola, staring wistfully out of the window as if hoping to see Neville looking back. “Its just that…the world is so much more dangerous now. And, though I know I shouldn’t say it, I always knew Harry could go to the rescue if Nev got in too deep before. But now…”

Her voice tailed off. The concern was written into every scrap of her porcelain complexion, settled fitfully behind her green eyes. Hermione looked desperate to soothe her worry, but didn’t know how. She had enough of her own over Harry, and neither situation could guarantee a positive outcome.

“Oh, look at me! Getting all morose,” Enola cried suddenly. She drew a steadying breath. “You’re right. Nev will be fine. He’ll kick ass if he has to. I can’t do anything about that. In the meantime, grab your wand and follow me.”

“Where are we going?”

“Harry and Nev’s duelling suite,” said Enola. Then she grinned. “I owe you for hexing my husband. Who knows how long his cock will take to get over that! It isn’t wise to deny an antsy woman with a wand!”

Hermione chuckled back. “Okay. But Harry…he is alright, yes?”

“He needs to rest,” said Enola. “I’ve helped him to his Safe Space…a level of his Mindscape where he is free of all concerns. He will be relaxing there, quite content. And when he gets discontent he will be healed enough to leave. Then we will need to help him, because to come back he has to face that part of his mind where he traps his darkness. And he is stupidly outnumbered down there just now. But now, I have a challenge for you.”

“Which is?”

“I’ve heard tell that you are the most powerful witch of the age,” said Enola. “Prove it. Only that will be good enough for my Harry.”

Enola winked teasingly at Hermione, who grinned back. And accepted the challenge.

* * *

Neville drummed his fingers on the hilt of Gryffindor’s Sword in his belt, as he paced around the hilltop. He was impatient, restless. But not through fear. He’d been taking this sort of risk for ages, longer than Harry, even. For when Harry had been abroad being tooled up for war, it had been Neville who had borne the brunt of the risks on the infinitely more dangerous Home Front. Not that he resented Harry for it, far from it. It was quite the opposite. He felt proud to be Harry’s most trust General…and Harry was always appreciative of the risks and efforts he undertook. They were a tandem operation.

And it had given him the coolest skill set. Stealth, evasion, espionage…it was one hell of a fucking life as far as adrenaline went. And Neville had proven to be very good at it, which made him love it even more. His early life hadn’t been flush with success and respect, so he relished his adroitness now. The fact that he got to stick two fingers up to the most dangerous dark sorcerer in the world just made him feel even more of a badass.

And he liked that.

But, still, that now familiar niggle pinched at the back of his thoughts. His mind could never fully be on field work now. Two-thirds of it were permanently planted miles away, at that beautiful spot in Wales, where his stunning wife and beautiful daughter were safely ensconced. Oh how he’d love to just live there with them, raise a family and see if he could ever master the local language!

It was a simple dream, but a million miles away right now.

So he paced, and fretted, and waited for the Portkey at his feet to turn blue. If it didn’t, they had problems. But he had a few minutes before he had to consider the ramifications of that. And in those few minutes he could think about his daughter, so pure and happy and a bundle of joy. And how his heart would be ripped to pieces if Tom Riddle slashed her throat…as he’d so heartlessly done with the Queen of England.

The very idea made Neville throw up a bit in his mouth. He spat it out and took a series of deep breaths. Then he went back to pacing.

“Nev, son, you need to take a breather. I’m an old man…I’m tired out just watching you!”

Neville stopped and laughed. “Sorry, Dad. I forgot you were a cretin!”

“Hey! I said ‘old’, not ‘cretinous’.”

“Is there a difference? I’ve never noticed.”

“You know, you may be an adult with a wand but you aren’t beyond a spanking,” said Frank, chuckling.

“That’s child abuse, Dad,” said Neville seriously. “Do the CSA or Childline have a wizarding branch? I can pass your details on to them.”

Frank heaved with laughter. “Oh, Nev…they’d take one look at you and decide I was being too lenient. But, by all means, make a rod for your own back.”

“Shut up, Dad,” Neville smirked.

“But, seriously…what’s wrong?” asked Frank. “You seem troubled.”

Neville stilled and blushed. “Just worried,” he said evasively. “For Ennie and Ally, you know. We are at war, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Frank sighed. “I see little difference now to when you married her, what was it, two years ago?”

“Three,” Neville corrected.

“Three, then. But that isn’t it. You’re a good boy, Nev…which means you are a bad liar. What is it? Come and tell your old Dad.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Neville, looking back at the Portkey.

“Ahh,” said Frank sagely. “Then its your cock.”

“Dad!”

“What?” asked Frank, unabashed. “What else could turn you so coy?”

“What the actual fuck?” Neville cried hotly. He shook his head.

“Look, Nev, I don’t want to point out the blindingly fucking obvious, but I’m not just your father…I’m a man. I know something about this.”

Neville turned around. “Y-you do? What do you know?”

“Tell me your problem first. Maybe we can compare notes.”

“Dad! Seriously?”

“Is it a sex problem?” said Frank, seriously. His tone robbed Neville of his embarrassment. It was firm and, well, frank. “Because – and don’t take this the weird way its going to sound – but you realise you married a veritable goddess of a girl, don’t you?”

“Of course I do!” said Neville, grinning despite the oddity of the conversation. “We’ve been married three years but, sometimes, I still just out and stare at her. For no reason. Well, other than she’s fucking divinity incarnate. I have to pinch myself that I married her.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“I…I don’t know,” said Neville. “I’ve just stopped…being able to be intimate. In a, well, practical sort of way.”

“Ah…I see.”

“Did…did you ever have that problem?” asked Neville, his voice small.

“Me? No,” said Frank, shaking his head. “Your mum turned me on just by looking at me!”

“Oh, sweet fucking Merlin, Dad! Stop right now!”

“What? Do you think you were conceived by divine intervention?” asked Frank. “I don’t know…maybe you do. I never got to have the birds and bees talk with you did I?”

Father and son looked at each other. The chorused together. “Fucking Voldemort.”

And they both fell back laughing.

“Look, Nev,” said Frank, still grinning. “You and Harry brought me back to life essentially. Gave me the chance to be the father to you that the Lestranges tried to deny us. I lost your childhood to them…but being your father is a forever job. If you need to talk, we can talk. No holds barred.”

“Thanks, Dad,” said Neville. Then his attention caught, as did his breath.

For the Portkey in front of them was glowing blue.

“On your feet, son,” said Frank, leaping up and deftly pulling his wand. Neville rose, too…unsheathing the Sword of Gryffindor as he reached his feet. He held the hilt tightly in his hand, feeling its warm power sweep up from his fingertips right to his shoulder. His great ancestors were with him tonight, ranged alongside him and his father.

The Portkey shook and rattled violently, then it shot up into the air, and created a swirling vortex of light and colour. A single wizard span into existence in the middle of it, before being dumped unceremoniously onto the ground, where he lay quite still a moment. Neville watched him carefully, his eyes fixed on his wand-arm. He didn’t move initially, so Frank nudged him with his boot. The wizard moaned in response.

Neville bent down and looked at the wizard’s face. Then he reeled back in disgust. It was horribly mangled. He was deformed almost to the point of being unrecognisable. Neville had to cast a diagnostic spell at his body just be sure it was him. His face was slashed with deep lesions, his nose smashed and his eye sockets nothing more than bulbous, black lumps.

“Steve! Steven!” Neville asked pointedly. “Can you hear me?”

Steven Maxwell, one of the old Queen’s Guard, groaned in response and tried to open his eyes. He could barely even manage that. Neville looked closely at him. He was clinging to life by only the merest of threads.

“Davies? Where is he?”

Maxwell shook his head with the tiniest of movements. Neville swore loudly. In the meantime, Frank knelt down at the wizard’s side and passed his wand up and down Maxwell’s broken body. Neville met his eyes as he completed the diagnostic. His expression was stony and grave and he, too, shook his head.

“Steve…did you find what we asked you to?” Neville pressed, though his tone was a little softer.

Maxwell moaned again by way of response, but it was a small movement of his hand which drew Neville attention. Maxwell opened his fist and a bundled scrap of parchment fell out. Neville took it and read the single word written upon it. His spitit dropped in a moment.

“What is it, Nev?” asked Frank.

Neville handed over the parchment. “That’s the fuck what,” he spat angrily.

Frank read the parchment. “Bollocks.”

“Call the others,” said Neville, taking the parchment back. “We’re going to need help for this. Rhian!”

The head elf popped into view. She looked at the mangled body before her and screwed a stormy expression onto her face.

“I take Mr Steven back for healing,” she said stepping forwards.

“No, there’s no need for that,” said Neville sadly. “Take him back by all means…but have Gwillym prepare him a proper plot…in the cemetery.”

“Oh, Master Neville!” cried Rhian. “Is he that far gone?”

Neville nodded grimly. “I’m afraid so. Have your elves take proper good care of his body.”

“Yes, Master Neville,” said Rhian.

“And take this to Lady Longbottom, will you?” Neville went on. “I’ve been gone three days. She’ll want to know where I am.”

Neville handed the now folded scrap of parchment to the elf. Rhian looked swarthily at him, as though she could read the writing on the closed parchment.

“Master Neville going into silly danger!” she admonished. “Master Harry would not approve. And Lady Longbottom will kill you…if yous get out alive.”

Neville just chuckled at that. “We’ll be alright. The Inner Circle are on their way. Its time to give old Tom Riddle a taste of the power of joined ritual magic.”

Rhian growled, her battle laugh. “You want the elves to join?”

“Oh no, not yet,” said Neville. “We will keep that little gem for another time. They put the shits up us with that little trick of pulling dead Dumbledore out of the hat. Its time to show him we have a few surprises of our own.”

“Master Harry still not approve,” said Rhian. “He be very cross when he finds out. He tell you off chronic for this.”

Neville hooted another laugh. “Don’t worry about Harry. I have the perfect tonic. I’ll get Hermione to kiss him senseless, then he wont be able to tell me off. He wont be able to speak and it will lighten his mood. Its a foolproof plan!”

“That probably work,” Rhian nodded. “I go now. But yous be careful Master and Master Longbottoms. No silly risks!”

“We will,” Frank and Neville chorused. Then Neville exchanged a secretive, knowing wink with his father. Frank nodded with steely, war-like resolve.

Then Rhian placed a hand on Maxwell’s cold skin and Apparated away. She didn’t bother to tell Neville that he’d already died in front of them.

* * *

Harry lounged back in the hammock and stretched his arms above his head. It was another beautifully sunny day in Wales. He scoffed at the notion that it always rained here. He couldn’t remember the last time it wasn’t baking down and bright. Lying bastards. He might as well have been sunning himself in the Med. Okay so he wasn’t at the beach, rocking gently instead between two holly trees in his palace garden, but the ambiance was pretty much the same.

It was calm, serene. This was the life for Harry.

No cares, no worries. No impending death to avoid, or evil life to take. He wasn’t chasing after Dark Wizards who put their cocks into snakes and split their souls just for poops and giggles. He was relaxed, carefree. If he wanted to run and play like he was a child again, he could. Not that he’d ever run and played when he was a child. He’d run a lot. From Dudley Dursley and his gang, from Uncle Vernon’s fists and steel-buckled belt, from Aunt Petunia’s clothes iron and rolling pin and acidic, forked tongue. But it was hardly what you’d call play.

The running didn’t stop at Hogwarts either, really. Only now he was being chased by said snake-bothering wizards and trolls and giant serpents. And the occasional dragon. And the repeated recriminations of his school yard peers, the Wizarding Media and even arms of Wizarding Government. He’d had a pretty fucking hard run of it, when he stopped to consider it.

Which was what the hammock was for. He could lie here idly by the hour, going over all the fucked up crap he’d had to endure. All the while sipping cocktails from a magically-refilling glass. It was a bizarre contrast. But he could almost laugh at it now, marvel all the things he’d experienced and come through alive. It was certainly a story to tell. One day, maybe he’d write it down. It was peaceful enough here to be a scribe.

The only thing he missed about the other worlds was Hermione. One day he’d bring her down here. They could spend years just being together without any earthly distractions. They could make up for all the time they’d lost trying to right the wrongs of the world. Or pacifying love interests who were a contradiction in terms.

Love. Harry had barely any true notion of the idea until just recently. It was always something he was vaguely aware of, something he saw in others, but could never quite grasp in himself. Even when his mother had told him he was in love with Hermione, he didn’t really believe it. He’d have known, surely. He’d barely been out of her company, for even a day, for seven years. It was right in front of him. And everyone said you knew when you were in love.

But that was probably part of the problem. She was right in front of him, or next to him. All the time. And he was just so used to her being there. Supporting him, checking him, becoming his voice of reason in a mind of chaotic recklessness. And he had fallen in love with her just for that, without even knowing. They hadn’t been apart long enough for him to pine for her, and the only time he might have been jealous of a love rival he had the shadow of death hanging over him. It was a cruel distraction.

But he didn’t know love felt like this. So anarchic. Ranging to such extremes, for better and for worse. It made Harry lose his mind either way. And he was senselessly content at either pole. Whether he was wild in his defence of her, or passionate in embracing her, he was equally heightened, and so very alive. And, in a life that had flirted so casually with death, there was something to be said for that.

And she’d like him better down here, he was sure of that. Where he was calm and could be playful if he wanted to, where no-one else would see that side of him. He’d show it to Hermione. And they could play together. And he could look at her with unimpeded vision, drink her in with both his eyes. For he had them in this plane. And he was prettier, too, even if he said so himself. Hermione could have him all to herself. They would be all alone.

Although, they wouldn’t be.

For Harry was blithely aware that he wasn’t alone. It was a niggle he’d been trying to swat away, like an irritating fly making moves for his cocktail glass. He tried to pass it off as his magic recovering. After all, he’d given Ron and the Death Eaters a fucking pasting in the ritual chamber. Even Riddle was there in some form. That wasn’t a battle ground they’d be keen to meet him on again in a hurry. Dumb twats. He hoped he’d put the shits up them something good and proper.

But it had cost him a lot of magic. He was fucked, in truth. He’d been on the hammock for ages recuperating and regeneratingMerlin, it could have been months. He had no concept of the passage of time down here. And he didn’t feel a hell of a lot healthier. It had been one epic fight. And he needed some alone time to recover his strength.

But still…this niggle…

It wouldn’t go away. It was like a darting movement at the corner of his eye. A barely perceptible presence. But a presence it remained. And that was concerning, for there was never anyone else down here. It was just him and his thoughts. Not even Enola came here. She just opened a path for him, but never took it herself.

But this new presence had.

It was soft, benevolent, but distinctly unfamiliar. It was skirting around the edges of his mind and the more he thought about it, the more the irritant became an itch that he would have to scratch.

Eventually, it got too much. Huffing, Harry pulled himself up from his hammock and began his search. It wouldn’t be easy. The palace was empty, devoid of life. Even the walls, which were charmed and runed to respond to and obey him, were silent in this realm. It was Harry’s mindscape, a facsimile of the real thing. It didn’t work the way he’d normally use it. So this hidden life, wherever it was, would have to be located the old fashioned way.

It was a game of hide-and-seek now.

And Harry was a skilled hunter. He moved through the grounds, checking every lawn and copse until he was confident this elusive spirit wasn’t there. Then he began a meticulous search of the house, locking rooms as he ticked off each one. Every now and then, he would catch a flick of movement down a corridor, or through a gap in a door, or between the railings of an upper-floor landing, and it was tempting to go after each one. But he wasn’t to be distracted.

And as he chalked off each floor, he grew closer to his quarry. He felt it more, understood her more. For he knew this was a girl. Young. Not as young as Alison, but not as old as the youngest teenagers who lived in the palace. Harry had a fair idea who it was, but how she’d managed to penetrate his mind was a curious conundrum for him to ponder on his search.

Then he turned a corner into a top-floor corridor. And there she was, standing waiting for him. As he’d suspected, it was the girl he had rescued from Glastonbury. This was damned peculiar.

“You found me!” she giggled. “Its your turn to hide now.”

Harry strode forwards. He offered the girl a warm smile. “My mum told me not to play with strangers. I’ll play…but I need to know who I’m hiding from. You could be a monster. I’d have to make my hiding place really good if you were.”

“I’m not a monster!” the girl protested.

Harry sat cross-legged on the floor in front of her. “That’s what all monsters say,” he teased. He patted the floor in front of him, beckoning the girl to sit.

She mimicked his actions. “My mummy calls me her little star.”

“Does she now?” Harry quirked. “And does the little star have a name?”

“My name’s Celesca,” said the girl brightly. “And you’re Mr Harry.”

“You know me?”

“It’s your mind,” said Celesca, looking around curiously. “Its very quiet here. You must be lonely.”

“I need a quiet space sometimes,” said Harry. “It helps me think.”

Celesca nodded. “Your mind is very busy. Lots and lots going round it. It whirls and whirls like a bad storm.”

Harry eyed the girl questionningly. “How do you know that?”

“I can see things,” said Celesca, shyly. “Some things are far away, some things are right in people’s heads.”

Harry looked at her, astonished. “You’re a Seer?

Celesca grinned shyly. “My mummy used to call me Little Alice.”

“Like Alice Through the Looking-Glass?”

“How do you know? That’s a Muggle book.”

“I was raised by Muggles,” said Harry. “And I’ve always loved to read.”

“Me too!” Celesca chirruped.

“I have a huge library here,” said Harry. “I’ll happily show you round it. If you want to talk when I wake up.”

Celesca suddenly looked terrified. “I don’t think I’m ready to wake up just yet. I need quiet time, too.”

Harry nodded sadly. “Because of what happened to your mother? I’m sorry, Celesca. If I’d have gotten there sooner, maybe I could have saved her, and your dad.”

“Oh…that wasn’t my mum and dad,” said Celesca. “I had to say they were…if the bad men asked…but you’re not one of the bad men, so I can tell you.”

“Okay,” said Harry, startled. “So, who were they then? At Glastonbury?”

“That was Aunt Venusia and Uncle Colin,” Celesca explained. “But I had to pretend they were my parents. I would have been taken away if I lived with my real mum. So I stay with Aunt Venusia.”

“So…who’s your real mum?”

Celesca shifted awkwardly. “I can’t tell. Its a secret. Not mine to tell. Its to keep us both safe.”

“But she’s still alive?” asked Harry. Celesca nodded. “And your dad?”

Celesca frowned nastily. It took harry by surprise. Her soft features didn’t seem capable of such vitriol.

“Don’t mention him!” Celesca hissed. “He’s a bad, bad man. Put me in my mummy’s tummy without asking her. I saw it once in a dream. She cried so much. But my mummy loves me, so she keeps me safe.”

Harry was primed to fighting concern now. “And is your mummy safe?”

Celesca shook her little, white-blonde head. Glistening moisture appeared under her striking blue eyes. “No. She’s not safe at all.”

“Do you know where she is?” asked Harry gently. “I could go and rescue her.”

Celesca looked up in blind hope. “You could?”

Harry nodded firmly. “If I knew where she was.”

Celesca closed her eyes. “She’s in a room. Or it could be a box. She’s standing up, but she’s squashed. There’s only enough room for one person, but there are three others next to her. Two of them are crying. I think one is sleeping. He’s not moving. She doesn’t have any clothes on. And she can’t breathe very well.”

Harry fumed with anger. He felt his power struggling to match his restlessness. He swore at himself. He needed to help this poor woman, but he couldn’t. He was too weak.

“Any thing else?” Harry pushed. “Where is this room? Can you see anything else.”

Little Celesca scrunched up her eyes. Its a big building, in a big complex. There are lots of long buildings. People are there, too. Lots of people. They are all sad and scared. And so very tired. I’m getting tired, Mr Harry. And I’m scared. I don’t want to be here. I think someone’s watching me…”

“Who? Who’s watching you?”

“Its a man…he’s not nice…his eyes scare me…they’re like…they’re like…”

“Like what?”

Snake’s eyes! And he can see me!”

“Come away from there!” said Harry forcefully. Celesca opened her eyes, wide and frightened. She jumped into Harry’s lap and clung to him.

“There, there…its alright now,” said Harry, patting her back awkwardly. “You’re safe.”

“That’s not a nice place, Mr Harry,” Celesca whimpered. “My mummy doesn’t like it there. She’s too lovely for a place like that! Please help her.”

“I will,” Harry promised. “You go and rest. I’ll save your mummy. Then we’ll finish hide-and-seek, okay?”

Celesca smiled up at him. “Okay. I’m going to find another hiding spot. You’ll never find me!”

“We’ll see about that,” said Harry lightly. “I’m very good.”

Celesca stood up. Then she stared at Harry, solemn and serious. Something else was on her mind.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

Celesca glanced up at the ceiling. Harry couldn’t say how he was sure, but he knew she was looking at another world.

“You’d better go…” she said quietly, fearfully. “Better…hurry.”

Harry was suddenly irrationally afraid. “Why?”

Celesca returned her gaze to him. “Your lady knows. She knows where my mummy is. And her friend, the pretty one with the baby…she’s going crazy. Her baby’s daddy is already there…and he’s in trouble. Your lady is going to try and rescue him.”

Harry leapt up, taut and wired. “Lily!”

There was no flash of flame, no crackle of fire. But, suddenly, a beautiful lady was stood before him. They exchanged looks.

“You know I don’t like being without my feathers, Harry,” Lily admonished. “I feel naked.”

“You know what I’m going to ask you to do,” said Harry. “Hermione’s in danger. I need your power now. Sorry. I know how much Burning Days hurt you. And you’ve just had one. Thank you for that, by the way. You saved my life.”

“I’d do it again, as you well know,” she sighed in response. “Come on. We don’t have much time. Lets draw the circle. I’ll take the alchemical and you take the runes?”

Harry nodded. “Draw fast, my love, draw fast.”

* * *

Enola was utterly mindless. Hermione was bordering on subduing her magically. She understood completely, but she wasn’t in the mood to argue.

“Sit down, you are not coming!” said Hermione firmly. She accepted her battle robes from Sally and stripped out of her regular clothes.

“You can’t stop me! That’s my husband out there!”

“And that’s your daughter, crying for her mother!” Hermione shot back, nodding at Alison, balling away in her cot. “She needs you.”

Enola tried to argue, but she couldn’t. So she fumed a moment instead, then went to comfort her daughter.

“In any case,” said Hermione, fastening the dragon-teeth toggles of her robe. “With Harry out of action, and Neville in action, the defence of the palace falls to you. Your place is here.”

“But Neville…”

“Can take care of himself!” said Hermione shrilly. “And he’s not alone in the fight. I’ll be there myself in the next few minutes.”

“And what do you intend to do?” asked Enola.

Hermione looked stoutly at her. “I’ll save Neville. I’ll rescue Luna, if she’s still alive. Then I’ll burn that infernal place to the ground…with my ex-husband still inside it, if I’m lucky!”

Hermione looked angrily at the piece of parchment on the desk. She eyed the single word, written in nervous script, the bloodstains, and her anger stirred.

Hengest. Home sweet fucking home.

“Please hurry, Hermione,” said Enola desperately. “Don’t let them kill my Nev. Don’t let them take him from me.”

Hermione darted forwards and took the baby from her. For Enola had suddenly forgotten how to breathe. She stumbled faintly to her knees, weeping profusely. Hermione handed Alison to Sally, who cooed to her.

“I’ll bring Neville back,” said Hermione clutching Enola’s tear-wracked body tight to her own. “I promise.”

Just then, Cassie skidded into the nursery. She handed Hermione a handful of what looked like ball-bearings.

“Magical bombs,” said Cassie. “Configured to Dark Mark seek, but they’ll take down walls just as well.”

“Thanks,” said Hermione, winking, as she pocketed the bombs.

“Good luck, my Lady!” Cassie grinned. “I’m prepping the infirmary…just in case.”

Enola whined on the ground next to them. Hermione took a steeling breath. Then she summoned Rhian, who appeared with a crack. She didn’t speak, just nodded at Hermione, who clutched her wand. Then Rhian took her hand and whipped her away in a whirl of colour.

* * *

The courtyard was in utter disarray. Hermione didn’t know quite which way to turn. After all, she’d never seen the camp like this before. It was totally battered. She looked one way and saw Frank Longbottom, furiously duelling with a trio of Section Seven Agents, and winning. There were reserves waiting to take up the fight when one of their comrades fell. Behind him, Owain Glyndwr Jones was holding his arms aloft and casting an actual hurricane…sending Death Eaters spinning away at literal breakneck speed. Their bodies were breaking against a nearby palisade wall.

Patrick O’Brien and David Pincott were on fire. Burning and searing any enemies who strayed too close. Over their heads, Hermione could see Angharad and Myfanwy, back-to-back, like the eye of a storm. They were sending out spiral waves of magical force so powerful that they were cutting through the brickwork nearby. Hermione watched in awe, then she saw Neville trying to cut his way through an opening the girls had created.

“Rhian! Take me there!” Hermione commanded.

And the elf obeyed. In a quick rush of colour and air, Hermione was at Neville’s side. She slashed her wand through the air and two Death Eaters crumpled nearby. Neville span to look at Hermione, and the corpses at her feet. He was startled to see her.

“What the fuck?”

“Go to your dad,” Hermione commanded. “He’s outnumbered. I’ll get Luna.”

“You shouldn’t be here,” said Neville. He was sporting a black eye and a split lip. “Harry will be pissed.”

“He’ll be pissed if any of us die,” said Hermione angrily. “You shouldn’t have done this alone. Get your dad…then get home to your wife.”

“Not without Luna. That’s why we’re here.”

“I’ll find her,” said Hermione. “I know my way around. Now go!”

Neville flicked a spell at a Death Eater who spotted them. He was hurled back under its force. Then Neville looked back at Hermione.

“For fucks sake…go!” she commanded. “I’ve got this. Kill some more of those cunts on the way out!”

“Yes…my Lady!” Neville grinned back at her, before disappearing into the chaos of the fight.

Hermione raced into the undercroft of the building she’d met Neville by. It was oddly quiet here. She could hear the ferocity of the battle outside. The cracks and bangs, the screams, the crashes of falling brickwork. But she couldn’t sense Ron yet. He wasn’t here, she was pretty sure of that. She supposed he must know a battle was raging on his land, but he wasn’t part of it.

Fucking pussy. It was typical of him. Ginger prick.

A couple of guards suddenly sped around the corner of the corridor to Hermione’s left. They flung curses at her, but Hermione’s battle robes absorbed them as if they were nothing. She cast a blasting curse in response, cracking their pelvises in half. They screeched in agony and Hermione advanced on them. She raised her wand, but a spark of magic from behind her took their lives. She span around and gasped.

“Sally!”

“Look after Lady Hermione at all costs!” said the elf viciously. “Master Harry was very specific!”

Hermione knelt down and hugged her elf. “Then you stick with me!”

“Yes, my Lady!”

Hermione hugged Sally again, and then they made off. They edged deeper into the building, away from the battle. The air was cool down here, but it was dark, too. Shadows moved and more than once Hermione had to pin herself and Sally to the wall until she was sure they were safe. And they kept going.

Tingles of fear crossed Hermione’s skin now. The initial burst of adrenaline she’d felt upon arriving at the fight was wearing off. Now she was aware, mindful of the danger she was in. This was deep in enemy territory. And the thrill of terror that surged through her at the notion was almost dizzying.

“Lady Hermione, where we’s be going?” Sally whispered.

“There are people trapped here,” said Hermione. “One of them is an old friend that Harry needs to rescue. I’m trying to find her.”

“And yous be sure she’s here?”

“Actually, no,” said Hermione stopping suddenly. “I don’t even know if this is the prisoners block…”

“No…it isn’t…”

A hated voice, a flash of green. Hermione span and pushed Sally out of the way. The spell missed the elf’s heart, hitting her instead in the shoulder and ripping her arm violently from her body. Sally screeched in pitiful agony, before slumping against the wall and passing out.

Hermione looked up, furious anger pumping through her veins. She glowered at the source of the spell, and the forked tongue that had cast it. It was taunting her now.

“You’re a long way from home, Granger. Or, actually, really close to it. I think you’ll like what we’ve done to the place…you might even get to see inside it…if I’m feeling charitable.”

“Fuck you, Malfoy,” said Hermione straightening up. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m not afraid of you.”

“We can always see about changing that,” said Malfoy, stalking forward into a pool of dull amber cast by dirty lights in the low ceiling. His shoulders rolled as his kimodo dragon-infused body edged closer. Hermione steeled herself against him.

“You’re awfully confident for a man with no nose,” Hermione spat. “One who had his arse royally handed to him by a dead man.”

“Ah, yes, where is Potter?” Malfoy sneered. “Leaving all the spade work to you again, I see. Some things never change.”

Then he flicked a surprise spell at Hermione, a jet of purple light careered her way. She dodged it and fired a blasting curse at Malfoy. He side-stepped it lazily, but it still smashed a hole in the wall above his shoulder. He shook off the brick dust where it fell onto his robe.

“I see you’ve developed some claws, Mudblood,” Malfoy drawled. “So much the better. This might actually be fun.”

And it began. Malfoy rattled off quick curses but Hermione easily deflected them. Enola’s advice was ringing in her ears – don’t get hit. She would be in the fight as long she wasn’t struck. But Malfoy’s spells were powerful, some rattled into Hermione’s Shield Charms and almost broke through.

But she could hold him. She realised that quickly. Malfoy was strong, but she was stronger. She danced and span away from a series of lightening blasts, which crashed into the walls but did her no damage. Then one took her by surprise, hitting her right in the gut. She doubled up, winded. But the spell had done only superficial damage. The battlerobe had done its job again. And Hermione realised something else as she assessed her injury.

Malfoy was weakening.

These spells were costing him. Attack after attack was being repelled, but apart from the prospect of a bit of a bruised belly, Hermione was still full of energy. She felt deft and lithe, whereas Malfoy was breathing heavily ten feet away.

“Is that all you have?” Hermione taunted. “Merlin, if I’d known you were such a fanny I’d have smacked you around years ago.”

“You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you Mudblood? Getting smacked about,” Malfoy sneered, firing off another angry bolt that Hermione had to conjure a golden shield to deflect. It connected with a clanging gong and both shield and bolt vanished before them.

“Yeah, and at least Ron managed to hurt me,” Hermione spat back. “You haven’t even made a dent. Fancy getting bested by a Weasley. A shame on your family.”

Malfoy roared and cast a gout of fire from his wand. Hermione Apparated quickly, reappearing right next to Malfoy. He had crumbled to one knee with the effort of the last spell, and he looked up in shock at Hermione’s sudden appearance next to him.

“Here, let me show you what I learned from Ron.”

And she balled up her fist and drove it fiercely into Malfoy’s face. He fell back and hit the floor. Hermione stepped up to him, then stamped on his head, three, four, five times. He whimpered in pain and reached for his wand, but Hermione kicked hard at his wrist. She heard it break with a satisfying crack. Malfoy rolled over and cradled his injured arm, and Hermione booted him repeatedly.

Anger was her master now. She saw only red, had eyes only for destruction. She saw Sally, her arm severed and bleeding out in an astonishing pool. She had to get her help before she died. As much as she would have liked to torture Malfoy, this battle she had won. The clock was against her. And Enola’s words rang in her mind again.

“Like Harry says – don’t toy with your prey. When the fight is done…finish it quickly.”

So Hermione looked down, then rolled Malfoy and his broken body with her boot. She felt nothing as she stared down at his blood-mangled face. Not a shred of regret at what she knew she had to do.

And she raised her wand again.

“And this is something Harry taught me…I think you’ll like it.”

And she cast a Slicing Charm, then watched as a deep gash split Malfoy’s throat in two. He gargled and choked as the blood filled his windpipe, and slid down into his lungs. Little blood bubbles popped at the corners of his mouth. He futilely tried to raise his hand to stem the bleeding, but Hermione simply stood on his wrist to hold his arm down. She held his gaze, fierce and steadfast until the last of his wretched life finally felt him. His body went limp, his last breath escaped from the opening in his throat.

And Hermione lifted her boot from his wrist. For Draco Malfoy was dead.

Hermione rushed back to Sally, casting a healing charm to stop the bleeding. But the elf was so cold. Rapsy breaths left her tiny lungs and Hermione knew time was short, She summoned the severed arm to her, hoping they might find a way to reattach it.

“Rhian!”

The older elf popped before her. Then let out an anguished cry as she saw her daughter in Hermione’s arms.

“She dead! She dead! Mys beautiful Sally bes killed!”

“Rhian! Gather yourself!” said Hermione firmly. “She’s not dead. There’s time to save her.”

“She not dead?” Rhian cried hopefully.

“No, but she’s badly hurt,” said Hermione. “Get her back to the palace. Do it quickly.”

“But why she even here? She a good elf. No place for a good elf in fighting.”

“She came to look after me,” said Hermione. “She took a curse for me. She was so brave. But she needs your help now. Get her home. Get her to Enola.”

“Yes, yes, Lady Longbottom will fix my Sally. Then I spank her for being so foolish!”

Hermione chuckled. “Just get her out of here.”

“What about you?”

“I still have to find Luna,” said Hermione. “I just don’t know where to look.”

“Prisoners in cell block H making much noise,” said Rhian. “And they got real magic over there. The rest be non-magic or Squiblets.”

“Thanks, Rhian. That’s where I’ll go. Take care of Sally.”

Hermione jumped up, kissed Rhian on the head and darted along the corridor, vaulting Draco Malfoy’s corpse on the way. She made her way blindly along the route she’d taken in, trying to remember the way. Several times she thought she was lost in the maze of dark corridors, but then she heard the sounds of the battle still raging above. She sped towards it, finally found the staircase to the surface level and vaulted up it, two steps at a time.

Then she halted and lost her breath. For what looked like Voldemort’s entire army was ranged against her.

She wasn’t alone, but Patrick O’Brien and Sir David Pincott were clinging to each other for support, literally burned out from their fiery exertions. Owain and Neville were still gamely duelling and deflecting the volley of spells being hurled their way, while Frank and Myfanwy tended to Angharad who had a nasty burn across her face and chest, where her battlerobe had been torn open.

Hermione was hit with a shock of fear. They were losing. They couldn’t possibly get out of this. There were hundreds and hundreds of wizards and witches marching on them, firing spells and roaring a blood-lust battle cry. The din was deafening and horrifying. It was the end. Somehow, Hermione knew it.

She didn’t think death would look like this. Or that it would feel so callous. She was so angry at it, at herself. She thought of all the things she wouldn’t get to to, all the wrongs she’d failed to right in her life. She’d revenged on Malfoy, but she wouldn’t get to face Ron. It was a bitter pill to concede victory to him.

And she invariably was led to Harry. All the missed time she’d lost with him. All the kisses and love they could have shared if they’d just opened up fully to each other after that flight on Buckbeak. That was when it truly came alive for her. She was mindlessly wild with the despair that she’d never know when it started for him. That he’d never be able to tell her that story, as they cwtched up in bed together with their newborn baby.

It was another thing she’d never get to do. Be the mother to Harry’s children, or enjoy the making of them with him. It was fucking annoying! How dare they deny her this. She looked out across the courtyard, at the amassed faces there. Wondered which one of the bastards would be the one to take all these things from her. She would come back…haunt them fuck out of them. Drive them insane. It wasn’t much of a revenge, but it was all she had. But who would it be?”

Then she saw a face, locked gazes with a cold, lifeless set of eyes. Black eyes, like a dolls eyes. And black hair. Long, ruler-straight. And skin so pale that it was if the very spectrum of colour had been pulled from her being. She looked at Hermione with dark sarcasm, as if she’d been waiting an age for her to notice. And she pointed in her direction with a malicious grin.

Ginny. Hermione was going to be killed by Ginevra fucking Weasley.

“Not in this life, you slag!”

Hermione flicked a curse across the courtyard. But it merely collided with an intensely powerful defence ward, created by the fusion of all the combined Death Eaters, who were only twenty feet away now. Heads turned to look at Hermione, and laughed viciously. Then they began to run forward towards her. Hermione sighed and took a deep, rattling breath.

This was it. This was the moment. The point it would all stop.

Hermione looked to the sky. “I love you, Harry.”

And the sky erupted in response.

***

The Death Eaters had stopped running. They were held frozen by the decimation of the atmosphere around them. It pushed them backwards. The air had turned thick, almost gelatinous. Cold, unbridled fury rang and sparked on the breeze. Claps of thunder, booming from all around, were powerful enough to throw some of the Death Eaters to the floor. The rest looked frantically around, panicked and unsure.

There was a flash of Apparition, then another. And another. Dozens, scores of them. They yielded wizards robed in the black and gold colours of St David. And suddenly there were as many wizards on one side of the Death Eaters’ shield ward as there were behind it. They faced off, then one of the newcomers dropped his hood. Hermione gasped in surprise.

It was Prince William. And his brother Harry was right next to him. Both wielded sceptres and the power streaming from them made Hermione’s skin tickle. For a moment she just stared at them. Everyone did. It had gone very quiet, like the world was holding a baited breath.

Then, a final flash of Apparition, right at the centre of the stand off.

And Hermione’s heart swooped with fierce, unmitigated joy.

HARRY!”

They were saved! She knew it as surely as anything. Harry was standing, legs astride, battle posed. Excalibur shimmered and pulsed in his hand. The power radiating from Harry swept off him like an electric current. Someone fired a spell but Harry let it hit him. He didn’t move. The spell might as well have been a grain of sand for all the impact it had. He pulled Excalibur back, then slashed the mighty sword through the air in front if him.

It opened up a gaping chasm in the earth between the two armies, easily thirty feet deep. Some of the Death Eaters on the edge fell into the ravine as it emerged beneath their feet. Harry raised his sword again, the Princes took up flanking positions and raised their sceptres. And together they cast a Shield Wall of their own, one so dense they were able to push it forwards and knock the Death Eaters back with it.

Their counter spells were useless. They didn’t even make the barest of impressions. And still Harry advanced, his Acolytes moving with him, right to the sheer wall of the crack Harry had made in the ground. Hermione raced forwards and joined his side, raising her wand and pushing her own magic into the barrier. Harry turned to her.

“The building, on the left. That’s where Luna is. Cassie gave you a gift, didn’t she?”

Hermione grinned and sprinted over to the cell block tower. There were witches and wizards clambering at the windows, cheering them on. Hermione reached into her robe.

“Stand back!” she yelled. Then she threw the little ball-bearings at the tower wall.

And it exploded right in front of her. Shards of jagged brick and stone were flung high into the air, all falling on the Death Eater’s side of the Shield wall, making them scatter and flee. Hermione watched them break rank to avoid the debris. Then witches and wizards came streaming out of the hole in the tower, hurling broken pieces of the prison at their captors, for they had no wands to take up against them.

Hermione scanned the crowd. Her initial plan of searching for Luna’s tell-tale dirty blonde hair was shattered immediately. For all the prisoners’ heads had been shaved. Hermione searched face after face, and just when she was about to give in to despair, she spotted her.

“Luna! Over here!”

Luna turned, her broken expression cracking into one of relieved happiness. She sprinted to Hermione, hugging her deeply as they met.

“I knew! I knew you’d come for me!”

“I’m so sorry it took so long,” said Hermione, gripping her tightly. “Are you okay?”

“No, not really,” said Luna. “But I will be now. Look! There’s Harry! Doesn’t he feel strong?”

Hermione looked over fondly at her…fuck it, she still hadn’t given a title to him! Whatever he was, he was hers. And she thrilled at the very thought.

“Yes, he really does,” said Hermione. “Come on, lets get you out of here.

They raced across the courtyard. Princes William and Harry were still holding the shield wall along with some of the other Acolytes, while others were firing spells through it at the enemy. Neville, Owain, and a rejuvenated David Pincott were in a circle, casting a misty vortex of energy. Myfanwy helped her girlfriend into it and they vanished.

“Communal apparition portal,” Neville explained as Hermione came up to him. “Emergency escape. Hi, Luna. You look like shite! Come on, get yourselves inside.”

“I’m not leaving Harry,” said Hermione fiercely.

“Harry will be right behind you.”

And he was. Turning her bodily and kissing her so ferociously that Hermione lost her mind a little.

“Oh, are you two together now?” asked Luna, her dreamy tone returning. “That’s really nice for you.”

Harry quirked and eyebrow at her, then turned to Hermione. “Rhian told me…about Malfoy. You okay?”

Hermione nodded. “It was easier than I thought. Does that make me a bad person?”

“No, it makes you a Queen. My Queen. Now, take Luna back to our castle.” He turned to Luna again. “Her daughter is waiting for her.”

Luna took one, wide-eyed look at Harry. Then jumped into the vortex.

“Do something for me,” said Hermione, watching Luna vanish behind her. “When you’re done, burn this place to the ground.”

“As you wish…your Highness,” Harry grinned.

 Hermione stepped forward and kissed Harry again, then leapt into the portal.

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