Chapter 1

Chapter 1 – The Deathday Party

They held the party every year. 

For the first one they actually broke into Hogwarts itself, found the very spot where it had happened and tried to perform the ritual there. But the Dark Wards imposed by the new regime alerted the authorities to intruders, and they were forced to take refuge in the Forbidden Forest for several days. By the time it was safe to come out again, the narrow window of opportunity had passed.

Since then they had learned to be more discreet. Public places were out of the question. The surveillance state that had developed since Lord Voldemort’s accession was all-encompassing. There wasn’t a Wizarding street anywhere that escaped round-the-clock monitoring. And with the Muggle world being stealthily subjugated, too, it was proving difficult to find anywhere safe.

But each year they had to. Just for hope’s sake.

This year, on the fifth anniversary, Hermione’s old flat had been chosen as the location. Only a couple of people knew about it, and she trusted them explicitly. If they turned on her, they might as well all give up now. So Hermione had spent the last few weeks preparing. It hadn’t been easy. Ron was watching her more closely now, asking more questions. He knew what she was up to, not that he’d attended the party in the past three years. Not since his promotion.

Commandant of the Hengest Camp for Squib Rehabilitation. He was proud of his role. He’d risen quickly through the ranks, since accepting a job with the Muggleborn Registration Commission. Hermione was disgusted at it. He said he only did it to keep her safe, to keep her out of the hands of the Commission. But it didn’t explain why he’d taken to the role with such zealous enthusiasm. He was just an inside man, he insisted, looking out for her from under the noses of their enemies. It was the only way to keep her alive.

But he said the same thing when she was forced to marry him.

Marriage into a Pureblood family. A free pass to escape the camps. Only she wasn’t free. She felt as much of a prisoner as those poor souls behind the high barbed-wired fences. The ones she now had to endure the horror of seeing every day, since she and Ron had moved into the huge manor house for the Commandant right on the outskirts of the camp. It was a living nightmare.

At least when they’d lived in Glastonbury she could come and go relatively as she pleased. The security measures on every house, every building, every street she entered may have been smothering and cumbersome, but at least she could pass those checkpoints without submitting to a body pat down, surrendering her wand for inspection and enduring the violation of a Legilimency scan.

For that was her life now. At least in the new house she and Ron had separate bedrooms. Their monthly commune – as required by their marriage contract – was now a brief, regimented affair. They would talk about politics and foreign policy for the four or five minutes that Ron was thrusting into her. Then he would grunt, roll off and cast a Contraceptive Charm on her. It wouldn’t do to get her pregnant. The shame might cost him his job. After all, he had a harem of Pureblood witches waiting to bear his children. As soon as they came of age themselves.

Hermione had conditioned herself not to cry after these meetings. The pain had stopped long ago and Ron was so poorly endowed that she barely felt him inside her these days. And he was so clumsy with his spell work that Hermione was half-convinced he had made her barren anyway. She would retreat to the shower after every Bedding Rite and wash the soil of it from every part she could reach. The shower hid her tears in the early days, now it just helped cleanse her self-hatred.

Her only hope of release came on this anniversary. This day every year. She built herself up, mindless of the futility of it. It had never worked. But each year she would find a safe place, follow the local ley lines until they converged, create a tributary from there and set up the ritual space. A pentagram, a convolution of the correct sequence of runes, an array of security enchantments and a slew of spells to summon the one person she hoped her efforts could reach.

Not that he had ever come. And why would he? Why leave the sanctuary of death to return to this hellish new reality? Not even Harry Potter was that chivalrous.

But it still gave Hermione hope. She clung to that notion, as far-fetched as it was. It helped her get through the darkest days. Nothing could bring back the dead. She knew that. But she also knew there were ghosts and other manifestations from the spirit world. She had steadfastly refused to accept that Harry had just left her like that. Without a goodbye, without an explanation. Without being part of the plan.

For hadn’t they been following a plan? Laid out by Dumbledore, wrapped in allegory and misty deceit. Horcruxes, Hallows, Prophecies…and an end to the darkness of Voldemort. Harry was the Chosen One, the Boy Who Lived, the one destined to vanquish Voldemort. Hermione couldn’t wrap her head around him just walking blindly to his death. He wouldn’t do that. There must have been a reason. He was her best and closest friend. He wouldn’t have just left her all alone.

Not her. Everyone else, maybe. But not her.

So she clung staunchly to this belief that somehow, however twisted, this was all still part of the plan. Harry would find a way to tell them, send an emissary, a champion to continue the struggle in his stead, for he was unable. And Hermione would need to do her part. The last of the Order of the Phoenix would need to emerge from hiding and take up arms again. At least the ones Ron hadn’t yet been able to turn over to the Death Eaters. Or worse, one of Draco Malfoy’s Section Seven Agents. Those dark wizards terrified Hermione almost as much as Voldemort himself.

Hermione pushed aside her fears as she continued her incantations. The others would be arriving soon. She had laid out food and drink for them all. This was a celebration, after all. Celebrating Harry’s short life, and the wonderful person he was, one that they all had loved so dearly. Hermione more dearly than any of them. Or all of them combined. This night wasn’t just about indulging fanciful whims and impossible hopes. But as Hermione flicked her wand and whispered the words of Summoning she knew where he thoughts would be all night.

The other members of the Order of Potter, as they had dubbed themselves, began arriving at the pre-determined times. They all knew they were under some level of surveillance. It would be too suspicious for their Floo and Portkey activity to register at the same time and to the same location. The monitoring spells at the Ministry of Magical Governance would be all over them like a bout of spattergoit.

Luna and Seamus were due to arrive first. But at 7.05pm only Luna emerged from the teapot Portkey. Her eyes were tear-stained. And she looked dishevelled. Hermione hurried to her and hugged her tight.

“What’s happened? Where’s Seamus?” she asked quickly.

Luna shook her head. “Section Seven,” she said. “Arrested him this afternoon. He hadn’t fulfilled his Marriage Bedding this month. He’s only a day late. His husband, Alan, had a bad fall during a Quidditch match. He wasn’t able to commune. Its all S7 needed. They’ve been after Seamus for years. Now they’ve got him.”

Luna whimpered and Hermione felt her heart bleed. She tried not to imagine Seamus in one of the Interrogation Suites, in the bowels of the New Magus Intelligence Building. Draco Malfoy had shown her one once during their construction. There was more than a little hint that he was looking forward to getting her in one before long. She shuddered at the thought. There was another pop and Susan Bones appeared before them.

“I heard about Seamus,” she said quickly. “I went to see Alan before coming here. Sorry I’m late.”

“How is he?” asked Hermione.

“Distraught doesn’t even cover it,” said Susan, taking off her coat. “How are you? You look tired.”

“I’m alright,” Hermione lied.

“That black eye tells a different story,” said Susan, angrily. “He’s beating you again, isn’t he?”

“No more than Blaise is knocking you about,” said Hermione, motioning at the cast on Susan’s wrist. “He won’t even let you heal by magic?”

“Its one of my lessons,” said Susan bitterly, before adding sarkily, “how else am I supposed to learn?”

Hermione gave a mirthless laugh.

“The reinstated laws may allow a wizard to punish his wife in his own home,” said Luna thoughtfully, “but there’s nothing that says you can’t defend yourselves. You are both extremely powerful.”

“It isn’t as simple as that,” said Hermione. “Being married to prominent wizards is a burden of its own.”

“Yeah,” Susan nodded. “If we fight back, we will be condemned as corrupt hags and slung up before a show trial. You remember what happened to poor Hannah Abbott when she tried that?”

Hermione shivered at the memory. She had been there. Forced to watch at Ron’s side. The jumped up charges, the torment and humiliation they put her through, the public reintroduction of the Ducking Stool and The Burning Stake. Just for sport. They even used the trial as the first show on the new Wizarding Televisual Network. The latest propaganda tool. Hermione hated it.

“Who else is coming tonight?” asked Susan, pouring a glass of wine for all of them. She looked up, nonplussed. “What? I need a drink! Its been a stressful day.”

“Just pass me one of them,” Hermione smirked. “Well, without poor Seamus it will just be half-a-dozen of us. Ernie can’t make it. He is under investigation by the Commission for passing warnings to some Muggleborns in Kent. They escaped England in a dinghy. Its too risky for him to come.”

“What about Jenny and Sally-Anne?”

“Mrs and Mrs Perks are attending a vigil in Godric’s Hollow,” said Luna. “There’s a lot going to that one. I’m surprised the Death Eaters allow it, to be honest.”

“Its because its a shrine for them, too,” said Hermione bitterly. “It marks both of Harry’s defeats. His parents died in the house, his own death monument is there. The Death Eaters built it themselves, remember. It reminds us all that Voldemort won. The Death Eaters don’t mind having that message reaffirmed. They think it keeps us in line.”

“Bollocks to that,” said Susan, draining and refilling her glass. “So who are the other three coming tonight?”

“The Patil’s will be along later,” said Hermione. “And Justin said he’ll be here.”

“Just us girls then,” said Susan, lightly. “Or five-and-a-half.”

“That’s not nice,” said Luna. “Justin was so excited about finally getting the operation. He had spent so long on the other treatments.”

“Then Muggle Medicine was outlawed,” said Hermione crossly.

“Not before they allowed his castration,” Susan pointed out. “Poor Justin.”

Silence engulfed them. It hung heavy in the air, congealed and thick. They could think of little to say, so just drunk until the others arrived. The Patil twins arrived together. They looked terrible and the reason was soon outed.

“There’s a new initiative at The Balneum,” Padma explained. “We’re part of it.”

“The Balneum?” asked Susan. “Isn’t that the research division of St Mungo’s?”

“The same,” said Parvati. “They are looking into magical development in siblings, with particular interest in twins. We were requested to submit ourselves for examination on Tuesday.”

“Lets just say the tests have been pretty fucking torturous,” said Padma angrily. “I cant remember the last time I slept.”

“Neither of us can,” Parvati agreed. “Now they want to look at our kids!”

Hermione gasped. “They’re taking your boys in?”

Padma nodded. “They don’t think its coincidence we got pregnant at around the same time, were both a month early and both had boys. They want to examine our kids to find a connection.”

Parvati suddenly burst into tears. Hermione and Susan rushed to her, grabbing her before she fell. Luna took Padma’s hand and squeezed it consolingly. This was the scene that greeted Justin Finch-Fletchley as he and his Portkey materialised in the flat. He didn’t even have to ask the details of what was wrong. He simply moved and added his embrace to the hugging women in front of the fire.

The outpouring was cathartic. The group separated and Susan made sure all six had full wine glasses. She proposed a toast.

“Well, we’ve all come from our own personal hells to be here tonight,” she said. Her words were already a little slurred. “But we can put them aside for a few hours, find comfort in each other and toast to the absent friend we have come here to remember. To Harry Potter, may he choose this night, the fifth-year anniversary of his death, to return to us, in whatever form he can. To Harry!”

“To Harry!” the others chorused. Hermione toasted louder than any of them, then they drank to Harry’s name, before smashing their glasses into the pentagram, as the ritual dictated. The lines of the ancient symbol went from white to red as the rite was completed.

“It always looks weird when it does that,” Justin commented.

Luna nodded in agreement. “And its such a shame we have to waste the glass. Its so pretty.”

“Here, have another,” said Susan, thrusting another full glass towards both Justin and Luna.

“Do you think he’ll come tonight?” Padma asked Hermione, her voice low and quiet.

“I always hope so,” said Hermione. Her eyes were swimming in sadness. They betrayed the futility of her lingering hope. Padma nodded in mirrored resignation.

“What would you do if he did?” asked Justin.

“Probably faint,” said Hermione, honestly, eliciting a laugh from everyone. “It would be so incredible, wouldn’t it?”

“But you don’t really believe he will, so he probably wont,” Luna mused absently. “You have to believe or he wont know.”

“What makes you so sure of that?” asked Susan.

“I work in the Department of Mysteries,” said Luna. “They don’t let us out much. Especially those who’ve worked in the Death Chamber.”

“Is that what you’re doing now?” asked Parvati. “Sounds interesting.”

“Ooh it is,” said Luna excitedly. “I’ve been studying the Veil. It connects to the world of the dead somehow, but its a one-way portal. Years ago it was used to carry out death sentences, you know. If you stand really close, you can hear them sometimes. The dead people. So they aren’t far away. Harry knew that when he was alive, I’m sure he knows it now that he’s dead.”

Hermione felt sick at Luna’s words. She hated hearing it spelled out so succinctly like that. She sipped her wine but had to sit down before she became too unsteady.

“Small turn out this year,” Justin commented, sitting opposite Hermione. “There’s getting to be less of us each time.”

“Section 7 came for Seamus today,” Hermione said.

“Fuck off!” said Justin angrily. “No!”

“Afraid so,” Susan confirmed. “Alan’s in bits, obviously.”

“Those cunting bastards,” spat Justin. “First Dean last month, now Seamus. It wont end, will it? Not till we’re all in one of their fucking incinerators.”

“You haven’t heard the worst of it,” said Hermione. “Ron tells me there are plans in place for a breeding programme. Control of the gene pool. Filter out non-Pureblood lines once and for all.”

“You are taking the piss!” cried Susan. “Are you sure he’s not lying?”

“Sue – there are four girls at Hogwarts being groomed for Ron himself!” said Hermione. “Two are only thirteen at the moment. Once they are of age and can bear him children that’s it for me. I’ll be turned over to Malfoy himself and Merlin knows what will happen to me then. I can barely think about it.”

“Oh, Minny!” said Susan, rushing up and hugging Hermione. “Don’t say that!”

“Its the fate for all of us, I imagine,” said Luna conversationally. “I hope they just curse me to death. I don’t think I’d like to be set on fire.”

“Here, here,” said Justin, smirking slightly. “One good curse to the face. That’s how I want to go.”

The Patil twins laughed. Hermione eased free from Susan’s bear hug and looked longingly at the pentagram. It was still glowing. That was odd. It didn’t usually last this long. Something stirred in her chest. She couldn’t explain it, or say what it was. But something was warming her. It was probably the wine. She’d had nigh on half a bottle already. It was making her a little giddy. It was escapist. She realised then that it wasn’t a warming inside her chest she could feel.

It was on it.

Hermione quickly threw her hand to the chain around her neck and dragged out the old galleon that hung there. Her original DA coin. Protean Charmed. Linked to Harry’s own. His Master Coin. It was glowing, it was warm to the touch. Hermione tried to order her muddled mind. That should only happen if Harry touched his own coin, or it he was close by. But that was impossible.

He was dead.

Hermione mentally slapped herself. She so wished Harry could be here. She needed him. She needed him so badly she was hallucinating. She was convincing herself of anything, just for a spark of hope against the dark world engulfing her. She sighed, choked back a tear and a stunted breath.

Then there was a knock on the door.

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