Author: Keira Marcos
Beta: Jilly James
Fandom: Harry Potter/The Sentinel
Relationship: Harry Potter/Hermione Granger
Rating: R for adult themes and language
Warning: I hate Ron Weasley
Word Count: 14,691 (complete)
Summary: Harry comes online as a Sentinel after the war and is forced to face some very difficult realizations about the people around him.
Harry stilled and feigned unconsciousness at the sound of voices because he felt like shite and wasn’t in the mood to deal with Molly Weasley. The woman had become completely unreasonable in the eighteen months since the war because Harry hadn’t returned to Hogwarts and hadn’t started dating her daughter again. Ron had, surprisingly enough, taken his side on both issues. Hermione had been reluctant at first but had quickly buckled down and made a study schedule for them to prepare for their NEWTs. Six months after the war, the three of them had taken their NEWTs and entered the Academy of Higher Magical Education.
“Mum, this isn’t a good idea.”
“Well, if you had followed the schedule, Ronald, he wouldn’t be sick.”
“We should just tell him what Dumbledore said—about how he needs the suppression draught to control his magic. He might have fought it when he was young, but his magic is making him sick, so he’d accept it.”
“No, he wouldn’t,” Molly snapped. “You weren’t there when we tried to explain it to him during his fifth year. He was furious and accused us all of betraying him, and he nearly destroyed Hogwarts in a temper. We had to memory charm him extensively. He was nearly uncontrollable, and we have to do this for the greater good. I promised Albus I would see this done as long as Harry lives.”
Harry forced himself to remain relaxed even as fury built up in his gut. Her fingers pressing against his jaw made him want to gag, but he let her open his mouth and pour the potion down his throat. That it had no taste at all was horrifying, but good in a way because at least it confirmed he wasn’t being potioned with some sort of behavioral modification.
“Ginny asked me to give him a love potion,” Ron confessed to his mother.
“I told her no,” Molly snapped. “A love potion mixed with the suppression draught could kill him.”
“I know. I told her, but Ginny said it was silly because she’d dosed him at Hogwarts.”
“She gave him a jealousy potion and used an attraction charm,” Molly corrected with a huff. “And even that was dangerous. I’ll speak with her again. If she gets caught giving him a behavior modification potion, she’ll go to Azkaban.”
“Is the draught working? What if the healers start doing more tests on him?”
“They won’t because his symptoms will be gone,” Molly said, and a spell hit him. Harry barely refrained moving under it. “Yes, it’s working. It has to be done every two months, Ron. You can’t mess this up again.”
“I won’t, Mum. I promise.”
They left, and as soon as the door shut behind them, Harry slipped from the bed, went into the bathroom, and tried to throw up. He dry-heaved instead. The potion had been completely absorbed. It was shocking, as even pain medications, which were designed to work fast, often took at least five minutes to completely leave the stomach. His mind was reeling from the ramifications—how long had they been dosing him?
He stared at his reflection in the mirror. The unexplainable rash that had spread down the side of his neck three days ago was already gone. His skin wasn’t itching, and the ringing was gone from his ears. The draught she’d given him had obliterated the issues that had taken him out of the Academy and put him in a hospital bed in St. Mungo’s. A part of him wanted to lash out immediately and murder his so-called best mate, but if the war had taught him anything, it was patience. He went back to bed and stared at the ceiling until his healer came around hours later to check on him.
After a few scans, he was released back the Academy with instructions to return if the rash came back. They’d also given him some pamphlets on textile and food allergies as they assumed he’d had an allergic reaction to something in his environment. He tossed the pamphlets in a trash can in the lobby of the Academy, and within a few minutes, was ushered into the end of year meeting.
Ron sent him a relieved smile when Harry slipped into a chair beside him. The urge to murder his oldest friend made him nauseous. Was Ron just a fool? Did he honestly believe that magical suppression was morally right?
Hermione touched his wrist. Concern drifted over her beautiful face, and Harry just offered her a weak smile. He could tell she didn’t buy it for a moment. Her Guide gifts made hiding his emotional state a genuine job. She squeezed gently then released him.
“At this point, we’re ready to start you on your career path. Those interested in moving into auror training will select your course work with the DMLE trainers and those that will be pursuing a mastery will declare a major.”
Harry’s anger just simmered in him as he waited for his name to be called. He couldn’t imagine going into the auror training program with Ron. His grades at the Academy were very good—he’d made sure of it because he hadn’t wanted to enter auror training with shitty grades and the implication that he was only accepted because he was a war hero.
“Miss Granger, your program choice?”
“Healing Arts as my primary focus, but I’d like to pursue a mastery in charms as well, Professor Dalton.”
A few more names passed then it was Harry’s turn. “Mr. Potter?”
“Magical Law, Professor.”
Dalton looked up from the parchment he was working on, clearly startled. “Mr. Potter, the people at the DMLE training facility are eagerly waiting for your arrival.”
Harry took a deep breath. “I’ve seen the worst magical kind can offer up, Professor Dalton, I’d rather not go to work day in and day out for the rest of my life and be slapped in the face with it. A mastery in Magical Law was always on my plate, but I’d thought to pursue it privately after auror training.”
Dalton nodded. “If you’re certain—it’ll be another year before we can slot you into their facility if you change your mind.”
“I won’t,” Harry said firmly. “I’ve seen enough death.”
Dalton flushed. “Yes, lad, of course you have.” He cleared his throat and went back to his list.
Ron tapped his fingers restlessly against the table until his name was called and he chose auror training. Harry knew he didn’t have the grades to follow either of them into mastery classes, so he hadn’t been concerned about that part of everything. Harry was living in the dorms despite Molly’s efforts to get him to share a room with Ron at the Burrow.
They both followed him to his room, and Ron barely allowed the door to shut before he exploded.
“What the fuck, Harry? Being an auror is all you’ve ever talked about!”
“I mentioned it during career counseling when I fifteen, Ron.” Harry threw himself on his bed and pushed the anger down deep. He couldn’t afford to give himself away or he’d end up memory charmed again. As much as he wanted to trust Hermione, he didn’t know if he could handle them both if she were in on it. “I’m tired of fighting, as I told Professor Dalton. It’s nothing more complicated than that. Maybe in a year I’ll feel differently, but I’m not in the right headspace for auror work.”
“Fine whatever! You could’ve told me in advance!” Ron slammed out of the room without giving him time to respond.
Hermione sat down on the edge of his bed. “You’re very…angry. Why are you so mad, Harry?” She touched his hand, and after a few seconds, laced her fingers with his. “Talk to me, please.”
“Why are you here?” Harry questioned. “Why didn’t you give up magic so you could be put in the Muggle Guide search?”
Hermione flushed and averted her gaze. “Harry.”
“Why?” Harry demanded as he sat up. Her fingers tightened briefly in his. “For the love of God, Hermione, please don’t tell you’ve sacrificed your chance to bond with a Sentinel for Ron.”
“No, Merlin, of course not. I know he still thinks I’ll eventually give in and date him, but he’s terrible, Harry. He’s lazy and ill-tempered and judgmental and selfish and…” She trailed off with a sigh. “His jealousy of you—it’s so thick around him that it’s nauseating. Some days, he’s fine then a situation will come up when he’s made to feel inferior to you through no fault of your own, and the resentment that burns in him is like a fire.”
He’d never asked her about her gifts and how she managed them—in truth, he’d envied her when she’d come online during their fifth year. Hermione never had to wonder if someone was lying to her or betraying her. “How do you handle your gifts without the balance of a Sentinel?”
“I use spells to shield my mind,” Hermione said. “But I leave myself openings so I can protect myself. A lot of people would abuse my gifts given the ability to control me, so I have to be very careful. Ron’s the sort who would see me as a path to making money with the least amount of work possible. He actually tried to get me to help him cheat on his NEWTs and didn’t believe me when I told him I couldn’t give him answers telepathically.”
Harry sighed and looked down at their hands. He’d never bothered to hide his attraction to her, but she’d never brought it up. Though she’d also never been so blunt about Ron either.
“How do you feel?” She touched his neck where the rash had been and frowned. “I guess the potions they gave you cleared up the problem.”
Harry stared at her. He wanted to trust her so much—Hermione had never once given him a reason to believe she’d betray him, but what had happened at St. Mungo’s with Molly and Ron had left him raw and more hurt than he was prepared to analyze.
“Are you angry with me?” she asked in a near whisper.
“No,” he denied and cupped her face with his free hand.
She leaned into his touch and a light flush stole over the tops of her cheeks. Harry moved forward briefly but didn’t give in to the desire to kiss her. He released her then sat back on the bed and was slightly surprised by the flash of disappointment that crossed her face.
Hermione cleared her throat. “Please tell me what’s wrong. You were so upset when you came back from St. Mungo’s. Did they give you bad news? Are you really sick?”
“The rash went away, and they stopped trying to figure out why I got it to begin with. The healer just gave me some information on allergies and released me.” Harry huffed. “And I came back here and had to make a decision about my life. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t want to be an auror until it was my turn to declare. I realized the only reason I was even considering it was because it was what Ron wanted—he’s talked about us being partners in the aurors since our fifth year.”
Hermione frowned and sighed. “Right.”
“I.” Harry rubbed his face and left the bed. “Damn it.”
Hermione shifted on the bed to watch him pace. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what is going on.” Harry locked the door and activated his privacy. Her gaze went wide. “Please tell there isn’t another fucking prophecy.”
Harry laughed. “Merlin, no. I mean not that I’m aware of.”
“Are you finally going to make a move? I mean I figured I’d give you another year to get over whatever you’ve got going on before I resorted taking off all of my clothes and crawling into your lap.”
Harry stared at her for a minute. “You can do that particular thing anytime you’re ready.” She laughed, and he relaxed a little. “Let me ask you something?”
“Anything.” She shoved off her shoes and got comfortable.
Harry sat down on the bed. “What do you know about suppression draughts?”
Hermione’s eyes darkened, and her nostrils flared slightly in shock. “They’re illegal for a start and dangerous. They can be tailored for a variety of purposes from hindering magical power development to overriding someone’s sexual preference. The base potion was made illegal by the ICW in the 1800s. It’s not technically a behavior modification, but most consider using it on someone as on par with an Unforgiveable.” She stared at him and tears welled in her eyes. “Why?”
“Last night, my healer put a sleep charm on me so I could get some uninterrupted rest, but I woke up because two people came into my room. They had a discussion about suppression potion then they talked about how I found out I was being dosed in my fifth year and nearly brought down Hogwarts in a temper tantrum. Dumbledore memory charmed me. I kept still, pretended to be asleep and let them dose me again because I didn’t have my wand on me and I was afraid if they realized I was awake they’d memory charm me again.”
Hermione’s magic surfaced briefly, and she grabbed both of his hands. “Who? Who did this?”
“Molly and Ron.”
“That vicious cunt,” Hermione snapped. “Tell me everything.”
The story spilled out of him quickly, and Hermione was practically in his lap by the time he finished. He held her as she trembled against him and just breathed deeply against her hair. Having her close had always been such a comfort. He calmed down by degrees, and for several long moments, she said nothing. They ended up sprawled together on the bed, her legs tangled with his own.
“I thought…” Hermione turned her face against his shoulder and shuddered. “I though the horcrux made you dormant.”
“What do you mean?” Harry questioned. “You think I should be a Guide? They’re super rare, right, among magicals?”
“No, not a Guide.” She lifted her head. “When I came online, Harry, I knew you were meant to be my Sentinel, and I kept waiting for you to come online, but you didn’t. Then we found out about the horcruxes and once we realized you were carrying one—I just thought that had driven you into a dormant state. When you got that rash so out of the blue—I’d hoped it was a sign that you had recovered enough that you were going to come online and we could be together like we were supposed to be.”
He left the bed immediately, unprepared to have his hands on her while he was so furious. “Why the fuck would they…”
“There are only about a thousand magical Sentinels on the whole planet, Harry, and every one of them is a magus. They’re forces for justice, and they’re almost always recruited to work in the upper reaches of international law enforcement. Dumbledore was invested with controlling you and your future. Molly, of course, was completely on board with it because she wants you to marry Ginny. She is right about one thing—a love potion would kill you. The suppression draught has made your core fragile.” Tears welled in her eyes and fell. “They started dosing you because I came online.”
“This is not your fault,” Harry told her firmly. “Don’t think that for a second—we should’ve been able to trust them to be honorable and they weren’t.” He sucked air through his teeth. “Can we trust Shacklebolt?”
“I don’t know,” Hermione admitted. “He was a member of the Order and very loyal to Dumbledore. He’s never been deceptive in my presence, and he appeared to be genuinely sorry when my Sentinel search came back with no results. And I didn’t notice any guilt in him either. Surely if he knew your Sentinel abilities were being suppressed, he would’ve felt some guilt.”
“Do you think I actually came online during fifth year?” Harry questioned. “I mean, Ron missed a dose of the suppression draught and within days I was having issues with my skin and hearing.”
Hermione frowned. “I want to kill them.”
“I want everyone involved to go to prison,” Harry admitted. “But at least two of them are dead.”
Harry snorted. “You don’t honestly think that Dumbledore potioned me without Snape’s help, right? He probably tailored the potion they’re using to keep me contained.”
“Right.” Hermione nodded. “What do we do?”
“I want her to pay for what she’s done—for what she allowed to be done to me when I was practically defenseless against them. They preyed on me, and if you’re right, they did you unspeakable harm.”
“Do you want to be my Sentinel?” Hermione questioned.
“I want to be your everything,” Harry said honestly, and when she held out her hand, he went to her. He let himself be pulled back onto the bed. He didn’t kiss her but just tucked her close and curled his hands into her jumper. “I’m so angry right now. I don’t want to feel that way the first time I kiss you.”
“Okay,” Hermione whispered and rubbed her face against his chest then settled in against him. “We need to get that potion out of you, and I’m afraid to do it without help. I’m not sure who we can trust.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Harry murmured. “But we need to calm down before we can make any sort of solid plan.”
– – – –
Separating from Harry was difficult, but part of their plan hinged on Hermione’s assessment of Kingsley Shacklebolt. Getting a meeting with the Minister might have been difficult for some people, but not for her. In the nearly two years since the war, she had come and gone regularly from Kingsley’s office, and some suspected she acted as a spy on his behalf. That wasn’t necessarily untrue—he had requested that she investigate people in his administration a few times.
“Hermione.” Kingsley offered her a strained smile from his desk. “What brings my favorite witch around? I can order lunch?”
Hermione stared at him and took a deep breath. “Can you activate your privacy protocol?”
The older man raised an eyebrow but immediately reached out and brushed his fingers over a series of runes on his desk to do as she requested. “Is something wrong? I heard Harry was sick but had been released from St. Mungo’s. I also got a formal complaint from the DMLE because he declined auror training. I had to remind those idiots that they couldn’t require someone to become an auror.”
Hermione frowned but nodded. “His decision was a surprise as he hadn’t discussed with anyone, as far as I know, until he made his announcement, but I support his choice.” She crossed her arms and let one hand drift upward until her fingers made contact with the locket she was wearing. With a little push of her magic, she lowered her shield charm before thinning out the protective barrier she’d built with her mind.
“You’re scanning me,” Kingsley said, only mildly surprised. “Fascinating. I assumed I’d feel something if you ever did it, but I wouldn’t even know if you weren’t touching your locket. You should probably move your shield charms to something else so it isn’t so obvious when you do it.”
She looked at him and grinned. “I don’t have to touch it with my fingers to manipulate my shields, Kingsley. I just wanted you to know what that I was doing.”
“Smart,” he murmured. “Ask your questions, Hermione. I have nothing to hide.”
“Did you know that sometime during our fifth year that Dumbledore started dosing Harry with a suppression draught?”
Horror and shock rolled off Shacklebolt, and she relaxed slightly. “What? No. He would never…” He took a deep breath. “Of course he would have. He was obsessed with controlling Harry’s entire life—from the moment James and Lily were killed. Albus wouldn’t have thought twice about subjugating Harry’s magic to control him. Do you know what it is suppressing?”
“Harry’s a Sentinel.” Her mouth trembled slightly. “He’s my Sentinel, and they plotted to keep us apart. Molly Weasley dosed him again last night—she’s been doing it with Ron’s help since Dumbledore died.”
Fury replaced the horror and Kingsley lurched to his feet to pace. “What the fuck! How could they—don’t they know how valuable a Sentinel would’ve been during the war? It could’ve ended faster! Fewer would’ve died!”
“A bonded Sentinel would’ve never sacrificed himself, Kingsley,” Hermione murmured. She watched the older man stop pacing and turn to stare at her. “Dumbledore knew all along that Harry carried a horcrux. He took him down a path full of loss and abuse and misinformation that led to suicide. Don’t you see? That was always his plan. Why else was he forced to live with Muggles who hated him? Those blood wards didn’t protect him from Voldemort—he carried Voldemort with him wherever he went until he was seventeen.”
“I know a necromancer,” Kingsley said out of the blue.
Hermione frowned. “What?”
“We could dig Dumbledore up, reanimate him, and kill him again.” He huffed. “Then probably about ten more times just to get some fucking satisfaction! What is Molly’s part in this?”
“Well, a bonded Sentinel would have no interest in her precious daughter, would he? Ginny’s also been trying to get Ron to dose Harry with love potions, and she doesn’t believe they would harm him.”
“How is Harry?”
“Holed up in a Muggle hotel room to avoid the Weasleys, nurturing a huge amount of hurt and betrayal. He is so angry, Kingsley. I’m worried.”
“Worried that he’ll fall into a feral episode after we get that potion out of him?” Kingsley asked.
“He’s angry right now, but eventually that anger is just going to dissolve into hurt. He trusts so rarely already, and now, he has every reason to not trust other people at all.”
“He has you,” Kingsley said. “And honestly, if all I had in the world was a strong, brilliant woman at my side, I would consider myself a very lucky wizard.”
Hermione eyed him as she released her locket and ignored the way her face was heating with a blush. “Flirt.”
He laughed and shrugged.
– – – –
Ron was waiting for her as she left the ministry via the Diagon Alley exit. The urge to curse him was so strong that her fingers cramped. She shouldered her bag as he fell into step beside her.
“Harry had already left the dorm this morning—they said he checked out for the summer. I thought he was going to stay there since he hadn’t found a flat he liked.”
“He decided he didn’t want to stick around and get complained at all summer about his career choices,” Hermione said tartly. “He mentioned getting a portkey from the bank and going abroad for a few months.”
Ron huffed. “How long will he be gone?”
Hermione shrugged. “His classes won’t start at the Academy until September tenth.”
“That’s almost three months,” Ron protested. “He can’t just go away for three months.”
“He’s an adult, Ron, and can go wherever he’d like,” Hermione snapped though she was slightly amused by his genuine dismay. “I don’t even know why he stayed in Britain to begin with. If I’d been him, I’d have left the day after Voldemort hit the ground. He can’t even make a career choice without people trying to make him feel guilty for not doing what they want.”
She headed for the bookstore, which she knew would get Ron to leave more quickly. He hated the bookstore, and she was prepared to spend hours in Flourish and Blotts in order to scare him off.
“I told my parents about what he said at the Academy yesterday. Mum thinks he needs to see a mind healer because he’s damaged because of the war. And now he’s just run off without us? He’s obviously not capable of taking care of himself.”
Hermione turned to him with a frown, her hand curling already curling around the handle of Flourish and Blotts’ door. “What?”
“Mum says she should’ve taken custody of him after the war—because of his trauma, you know. He’s not capable of making good decisions for himself.”
“Your mother wants to have Harry declared incompetent?” She pushed down on her magic to keep her aura from flaring. “Harry’s not her child, Ron, and she doesn’t get to make decisions for him like she is, and there is nothing wrong with him! He’s stressed and tired but very capable of making rational decisions and taking care of himself. How dare she think she has the right to interfere in his life!”
Ron looked at her with so much pity that she considered cutting off his head right there in the middle of Diagon Alley. “Look, Hermione, it’s nice of you to try to protect him, but he’s a bit mental and needs our help. He’s going to go into auror training, marry Ginny, and be with our family. That’s the way it was always going to be, and you need to get over your crush on him and accept it. I offered you a chance to be part of us, but you can’t see reason. Look at you—you might be pretty, but you’re stuck-up and bossy and irrational. What other wizard would’ve put up with you as long as I have?”
The door opened and Daphne Malfoy nee Greengrass, of all people, pulled her quite carefully into the building. “Actually, Weasel, Granger is beautiful, smart, accomplished, and she was awarded the Order of Merlin. Wizards would line up around the block to date her if she made the slightest indication that she was interested in such a thing. You’re so far out of her league that it’s laughable that you’d think for a second she’d waste her time on you.”
Hermione gaped as Daphne shut the door in Ron’s face. “Wow.”
“I don’t even know why you’re friends with that waste of magic,” Daphne said haughtily. “He’s never deserved it. His family may be highly regarded, but he’s a lazy bastard.” She huffed at her. “Seriously, you need to make better choices about your associations now that you’re out of Hogwarts.”
“Okay.” Hermione stared at her. “I hope Ron didn’t upset you—you seem anxious.”
“No, I…this is your usual day for the bookstore so I was hoping you’d show up. Mr. Flourish let us stay to read while I waited for you. In truth, I rescued you from the Weasel for my own purposes. My mother-in-law is in the sitting area, would you please join us?”
She really didn’t have time, but there was something about the other woman’s demeanor that worried her. “All right.”
Narcissa Malfoy stood as soon as they rounded the corner. “Miss Granger.” She offered her hand, and Hermione took it. She used her magic to touch her locket, but all she discovered about either woman was a low-grade anxiety that didn’t appear to be directed at her. “It’s a pleasure to see you.”
“Something is wrong,” Hermione said as she was led to a sofa. “How can I help?”
Daphne smiled, but it was fleeting. “You were always far more generous with other people than they deserved. I wasn’t kind to you at Hogwarts.”
“You ignored me outright at Hogwarts, which isn’t the same thing as being mean—trust me, there were plenty of people at Hogwarts I wish would’ve ignored me.” Hermione untied her cloak and opened it a little to be more comfortable. “Did you need me to speak to Minister Shacklebolt on your behalf? I’d assumed your issues with the ministry were resolved with Harry’s testimony during the trials. He made sure everyone knew that the Malfoy family was key to his survival and the winning of the war.”
Narcissa shook her head. “No, everything is fine, and we are hardly shunned at all, which is a surprise. Some families, of course, will never forgive my husband for his actions as a Death Eater, but they lost loved ones during the war, and they’re entitled to their grief. This is about…” She turned to Daphne. “Dear?”
Daphne bit down on her lip. “I’m pregnant.”
“Congratulations,” Hermione said warmly and tried to set aside the small bit of envy the news stirred. She was young and had plenty of time to have children, but there was a part of her that was already very impatient to get started.
“The healer performed a test—but it could be wrong.” Daphne twisted her fingers together. “He said I should terminate the pregnancy because the baby might be a squib.”
“Might? How high are the chances he’s wrong?” Hermione questioned.
“He rated the likelihood at sixty-three percent,” Daphne whispered, ashen faced. “I.” Tears welled. “People will think the worst of us—they’ll think Magic is punishing us for what happened during the war, and my baby will be treated like a pariah. I can’t end the pregnancy, Hermione. Could I really hide her? Draco is so worried, and he blames himself. We weren’t even trying to get pregnant.” She brushed her tears from her face. “I wanted to start my tuition at the Academy in the fall, but…now there’s a baby.”
“Did you want me to arrange for her to be adopted in the Muggle world?” Hermione questioned in confusion. “There is a very good and safe process in place at the Ministry to do that. I know it would cause a scandal…”
“No, that’s not…we’ve discussed that as an option already and we’re prepared to give her up if she would have a better and happier life in the Muggle world. But I need to be prepared for that, Hermione—so can you tell me if my baby is a squib?”
“Oh. I don’t know.” Hermione took a deep breath and touched her locket as a matter of show. She let her aura surface as many people expected magical Guides to have a faint glow when they used their gifts.
Daphne moved to sit by her on the sofa without being prompted, and when Hermione hesitated to touch her, Daphne grabbed her hand and pressed it firmly to her flat stomach. “What do you feel from her?”
“Shhh,” Hermione murmured as she settled in and let her mind expand.
The world seemed to still around her, and after nearly a minute, she met the baby. The spark of life was vibrant and breathtaking all at once. She’d spent time around a variety of people since she’d come online, and she knew what a squib felt like to her. The baby’s life force was fierce and very magical. Then another spark caught her attention and time fell away.
Hermione pulled her magic back in and took a deep breath. When she opened her eyes, she was startled to find that they weren’t as alone as she’d assumed. Draco and Lucius Malfoy were standing in the small sitting room and so was Harry. All three men had their wands drawn.
“Lucius put your wand away immediately,” Narcissa hissed. Her husband did as instructed so hastily that Hermione almost laughed. Draco followed his father’s lead.
Hermione sat back and brushed trembling fingers against her damp cheeks. “When you did you get here?” She focused on Harry.
“About thirty minutes ago,” Harry said. “You were late for our meeting, and it took me a bit of time to find you.”
“Hermione, you sat down on the sofa nearly two hours ago,” Narcissa murmured. “We didn’t tell Lucius and Draco what we were up to, and much like your Harry, they came looking for us when we missed our lunch appointment.”
“I’m sorry,” Hermione whispered. “It seemed like no time passed at all.”
“What did you discover?” Daphne asked and took her hand. “I can handle it, Hermione, so just tell me really quick.”
Hermione laughed. “Oh, Daphne.” She huffed a little. “You need a new healer. The inconsistent readings he assumed meant your baby was a squib was really him confusing two babies for one. There’s a boy and a girl. They are both very magical, and I can’t see that changing unless you have some kind of accident, or you’re cursed.”
“Twins,” Draco said weakly.
Lucius cleared his throat. “Thank you, Miss Granger, we owe you a debt. I’ve not heard that you’ve traveled abroad for a Sentinel search—I would be honored to sponsor your search if funds are an issue with your travel.”
Hermione took a deep breath. “No, but thank you. Harry arranged for me to travel to an international gathering in Canada just after the war but I did not make a match.”
“That’s such a shame,” Daphne said. “You’re so gifted, Hermione. I’ve never seen anything like that, and my maternal grandparents were Sentinel and Guide. Is there no hope?”
“Not currently no, the ICW has my magical signature and scent profile on record, and ten different Sentinels have gone to Rome in the past year to be tested, but none were a match.”
Daphne frowned. “Oh, you don’t think he died during the war, do you?”
“No, he’d have surely come online unless something was preventing it,” Narcissa said and stood. “We’ve taken enough of your time, Hermione. Please let us know if we can do anything to help you in the future. I heard you’ll be entering healer’s school in the fall—you’ll make a wonderful healer.”
“Thank you.” Hermione stayed where she was as the Malfoys gathered themselves and left.
Harry dropped down on the sofa beside her as he cast a privacy charm over the entire area. “Are you all right?”
“I want a baby,” she blurted out and blushed when he laughed. “Harry.”
“I’m not opposed to helping you make one,” he told her wryly and grinned when she poked him. “So, I was at the Weasleys spying on Molly when Ron came back with the news. She threw a huge fit and started ranting about how stupid he is, and he shouldn’t have been so selfish yesterday. Then she ordered him to find me and gave him that stupid deluminator that Dumbledore left him.”
Hermione huffed. “She can’t possibly think you’re dumb enough to still have that tracking charm on you, right?”
“He tried to use it, and it failed.” Harry slouched down a little further. “She’s been preparing papers to declare me mentally unfit because of the war. She has letters from people detailing my quick temper and all that rot. She even has a letter from my Aunt Petunia who said I’m a dangerous, mentally ill freak.”
“How do you know what it says?”
“They both left the Burrow to look for me, so I read through the whole file and made a copy. You’re listed as a terrible influence due to your status as a fragile and unbonded Guide. She insinuates that my refusal to establish a romantic relationship with the love of my life is an indication that I remain suicidal. She’s seeking the right to make legal and financial decisions for me until I’m thirty.”
Hermione stared at him, stunned and furious. “She’s out of her goddamned mind.”
“I know. So I stopped by the bank and filled out paperwork making it so that you’re my next of kin and my legal guardian if I become incapacitated in any way. They did tests to ensure I was in my right mind and not under any sort of magical influence, and they assured me that the Wizengamot could not override their judgment on the issue. What happened with Kingsley?”
“He’s requested a healer from the ICW since he can’t be sure we can trust the staff at St. Mungo’s. A lot of them were very loyal to Dumbledore when he lived, and there might be others in on the plan that even Molly is unaware of. He couldn’t be certain she’d survive the war, and he was never the sort to not have a backup plan in place. He’s also given me a portkey to a safe house he maintains in Wales. He wants us to stay there until he can bring the healer.”
“You trust him that much?”
“Yes. He’s furious for you, Harry. He wonders how the war would’ve gone if you’d been allowed to come online as nature intended. He blames Dumbledore and all those involved with suppressing you for the deaths of thousands. How many could we have saved as a bonded pair?”
“I can’t think about it without wanting to explode,” Harry admitted. “You have the portkey?”
“Yeah.” They stood together, and she pulled out the braided piece of cloth Shacklebolt had given her.
Seconds after touching it together, they landed gently on their feet, and Harry turned to Hermione with a bit of a grin since he’d only recently conquered the whole landing part of portkeys.
Kingsley stumbled against the doorway of the room they were in, blood trailing down his side. “Run.”
Harry’s gaze went wide with shock. He snatched Hermione in an instant and apparated. Hermione was trying to wiggle free of his hold the moment they landed. “Stop.”
“We have to help him.”
“We can’t even help ourselves!” Harry shouted and took a deep breath when she blanched. “His wound wasn’t bad, and with us gone, whoever attacked him probably left to follow. At worst, he’ll be memory charmed. They aren’t going to want to murder the Minister for Magic.” He looked toward the one place that no one would expect them to run for. “Let’s hope the Malfoys are as grateful as they said they were.”
Hermione focused on Malfoy Manor and took a deep breath. “Right.”
They waited forty-five minutes at the ward boundary before a house elf appeared and pulled them through the wards then left. They walked across the lawn and up the path to the front entrance. Lucius Malfoy opened the door and stared at them.
“Apparently, Miss Granger, you kidnapped and attempted to murder the Minister for Magic. The wireless is broadcasting an emergency message with a warrant for your arrest.” He took a sip of wine. “Funnily enough, though, you were actually sitting right in front of me when you allegedly kidnapped Minister Shacklebolt.”
Harry sighed. “Those arseholes.”
Lucius inclined his head in agreement and opened the door fully. “Do come in. I will be a much better host this time.”
“I really didn’t need a reminder,” Hermione told him tartly. “Can I have some of that wine?”
“Absolutely,” Malfoy said smoothly. “Daphne and Draco are in Paris celebrating their good news but are likely to return once the warrant for your arrest goes international.”
“You sound so pleased,” Harry said dryly.
“Fortunately for you both, I’m quite adept at harboring criminals.” Lucius led them into a formal salon where Narcissa was sitting on a little bench in front of a large marble fireplace having a conversation over the floo.
“Yes, Henry, I’m quite serious, and, of course, I can swear on my magic concerning her whereabouts when she supposedly kidnapped the Minister. What do you know about Shacklebolt?”
“He’s at St. Mungo’s,” the man said. “He arrived by emergency transport and was isolated immediately for treatment. Percy Weasley made the announcement regarding the kidnapping and attack. He’s painting a picture of an out-of-control Guide who needs help, so the warrant for her arrest is couched with the stipulation that she’s not to be harmed in any fashion. Potter is apparently out of the country, and anyone who sees him is to inform him that he needs to check in with the ministry.”
“Evidence against her?”
“Percy Weasley claims to have witnessed the abduction via portkey. He was organizing the DMLE to locate the Minister when the Minister arrived at St. Mungo’s. Curiously, the Director of St. Mungo’s locked down the entire floor where Shacklebolt is and is seeing to his care personally.”
Narcissa hummed under her breath. “Contact the Sentinel-Guide Division of the ICW and tell them that you believe the British Ministry of Magic is framing an Alpha Guide of a crime to gain control over her. They’ll come here in force to sort this mess out.”
“Well, this is going to be a fantastic mess,” the man said cheerfully. “I’m pleased to be in the middle. I’ll keep you informed.”
The floo went out, and Narcissa rose from the bench gracefully. “Ah, we apologize for the delay in bringing you into the wards. Lucius had to adjust the wardstone to allow you to enter.”
Harry sat down with Hermione and waited for her to speak. She sipped on the wine Lucius had given her without a word so they all waited. Her aura was shimmering on her skin and Harry knew from experience it was best to let her calm down. She had drunk half the glass before she turned to him.
“I don’t…” Her mouth trembled. “Harry, I’ve never even had detention.”
He would’ve laughed if she wasn’t near tears. “I know, but you just have to think it through.”
She set aside the wine and took a deep breath. “Okay, so there is a problem with Kingsley’s privacy protocols in the ministry, and Percy or someone else in the old Order overheard what I told him, which means they also heard our plan in full including the fact that you and I were going to Kingsley’s safe house.”
“And who would know about his safe house?” Harry questioned.
“His Senior Undersecretary,” Hermione stated. “He places a lot of trust in Emmeline Vance, and she’s had that job since he was elected. Percy works for her, which I thought was a favor to Molly. Percy is smart enough, for a wizard living in isolation, but he’s not a dynamic thinker. Kingsley finds him extremely annoying.”
“Did Kingsley contact the ICW while you were there?”
“Yes,” Hermione said. “He wrote a message for the emergency communication system and put it in the box in front of me. I watched the box activate and the message leave. So the Supreme Mugwump knows what is going on.”
“Would you care to tell us what is going on?” Narcissa questioned.
Harry shrugged when Hermione glanced his way.
“Dumbledore and select members of the Order of Phoenix started giving Harry a suppression draught his fifth year,” Hermione said. Narcissa blanched, but Lucius Malfoy’s magical aura flared.
“He’s your Sentinel,” Lucius said. “Those foolish motherfuckers.” He turned and stalked from the room.
Narcissa sat down on a small loveseat, tears streaming down her face. “How…could they do something so stupid? How many died because you weren’t what you were supposed to be?”
“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “Dumbledore believed controlling me was for the greater good, and he wasn’t above sacrificing thousands of people to achieve his vision for the magical world. After all, he allowed Snape to tell Voldemort the part of the prophecy he heard, and he never said a word when they chose Pettigrew as their Secret Keeper. I’ve come to believe he knew that Wormtail was a Death Eater.”
“It was no secret among us that Pettigrew was a Death Eater, so, of course, Severus knew and probably told Dumbledore,” Lucius said from the doorway of the room. He shed his suit coat and went back to the bar then poured himself a large glass of whiskey. “He encouraged the situation with Riddle to a full-scale war.”
“Well, that was the easiest way to thin out the dark families,” Harry pointed out, and Lucius turned to stare at him in shock. “What? I’m not actually an idiot. He had the ability to defeat Grindelwald, but he didn’t do it until Gellert’s forces had basically been decimated by the ministry. What better way to hamper my ability to fight Riddle than to suppress my magic? Yes, he had other reasons to do it, but Dumbledore was a complicated old bastard with far-reaching plans that probably didn’t include his own death.”
“What do you mean?” Hermione questioned.
Harry frowned. “After the war, I spent some time in his quarters—McGonagall gave me all of the things she’d hidden from the ministry, including his personal library. I found the Philosopher’s Stone in a hollowed-out book. He’d told everyone it was destroyed our first year, but that was a lie.”
“Do you still have it?” Lucius asked.
“Yes,” Harry said but didn’t elaborate.
The older man nodded. “I don’t suppose there is anyone else who could be trusted with it.” He tossed back his drink in one unhealthy swallow. “Draco and Daphne have arrived.”
At that moment, Draco walked in pulling off his cloak and focused on Hermione with a grin. “You’ve never even had a detention.”
“I know!” Hermione exclaimed with a huff.
– – – –
“Vance, are you out of your fucking mind?”
Emmeline Vance reared back in shock at the sight of Kingsley Shacklebolt. “Minister! You’re okay!”
Kingsley glared at her. “Heard differently, did you? Where is that little bastard that works for you?”
She paled. “What? I mean, yes, Percy told me your wounds were mortal. We’re still hunting for Miss Granger…”
“You don’t honestly fucking think that Hermione Granger kidnapped me, right? She’s an Alpha Guide! Her spirit animal is a fucking unicorn!” Kingsley huffed when his undersecretary paled further. “Where is Percy Weasley?”
“He…” She glanced toward Thaddeus Banner, the head of DMLE. “He was supposed to be with Director Banner so he could keep me updated on the situation. Sir, I don’t understand.”
“Banner, take her into custody and find out if she’s lying or not. And for the love of Merlin, someone contact the goddamned wireless and let them know the warrant for Granger’s arrest is canceled!” He glared at Emmeline. “You know her, Emmeline. The rest of these arseholes haven’t met her so they trusted another employee.”
Emmeline flushed. “I’ve never trusted her, sir. She’s an unfit Guide. She’s been unbonded for almost five years. Something is obviously wrong with her.”
“Unfit, you say,” Kingsley said lowly. “Banner, find out everything she knows. You’re authorized to spell her for honesty, and if that isn’t sufficient, her employment contract specifically allows for the use of veritaserum.”
“Minister, I don’t understand,” Vance protested.
“Maybe you don’t—we’ll find out,” Shacklebolt said with a look toward Banner. “And find Percy Weasley.”
“Wait!” Emmeline pulled her arm from Banner’s grasp. “What did Percy do?”
“He tried to kill me,” Shacklebolt said shortly and walked away from her.
– – – –
Hermione was in the formal garden at Malfoy Manor, her spirit animal was trailing along behind her. Harry watched her running her fingers over creamy pale roses as she walked.
“They rescinded the warrant for her arrest, and Shacklebolt is back in the ministry,” Draco said. “He spoke on the wireless personally—absolving her of any wrongdoing and letting the public know that Percy Weasley cursed him.”
“Can you brew a flushing draught strong enough to counteract the suppression?” Harry questioned.
“Yes, but…” Draco took a deep breath. “It would be extremely painful. The suppression draught only lasts two months at most—it would be less traumatic to wait it out.”
“If you’d found out that someone had been suppressing an essential part of you for five years, would you wait two months for it to resolve itself?”
“No.” Draco checked his watch. “It’ll take me about three hours to brew it, and we’ll need to prep the ritual room to contain you.” He cleared his throat. “They came at her because they still have plans for you. You realize that, right?”
“Then they should remember that it was always my destiny to be Tom Riddle’s equal,” Harry said quietly. “Dumbledore kept the prophecy secret for more than one reason.”
“I don’t understand,” Draco admitted.
Harry turned to stare at him. “Equal in no way means the opposite.” His gaze returned to Hermione and the unicorn that glowed both of magic and psionic energy that was following her around the garden. “She’ll keep me in the Light but if they kill her—you should kill me the first chance you get.”
“Eh.” Draco shrugged. “Honestly, I’m more likely to help you.”
“What? Frankly, a dark lord with a just cause would be a great change of pace for Britain.”
– – – –
Kingsley Shacklebolt lit an herbal cigarette and took a long drag on it—seeking the calming agent the seller had promised him was to be had. He immediately felt cheated—he’d have gotten more impact from a child’s lolly. He took another drag just to be sure and ignored the way Molly Weasley was huffing across from him.
“Did you hear me, Kingsley?” Molly demanded. “I want these shackles off Percy.”
“I don’t care,” Shacklebolt said mildly. “Honestly, I’ve never given a single toss what you want.” Okay, maybe it was a better soother than a lolly. “The best part of the day Voldemort died is that I no longer had to put up with you on a regular basis. Merlin, you’re annoying as fuck.”
Banner snorted, and Molly Weasley’s face went ruddy with temper. “How dare you!”
“Oh, I dare a lot,” Kingsley admitted and took another hit from the herbal. “For instance, I dare assumed that when I activated the privacy protocols in my office that they would work and that my staff would respect me enough not to circumvent that magic. I, also, dared to assume that Arthur’s innate goodness and lightness of heart was passed on to all of his children.
“Bill is an outstanding young man and very good. The twins—well—they’re a little mischievous, but, at heart, they’re good boys and talented. Charlie is dedicated and a hard worker. Any father would be happy to have the four of them for sons. I just can’t, for the life of me, figure out what happened with the rest of your children.” He waved her off when she huffed. “I’m sure Ginevra is…well. She did allow herself to be regularly possessed by Voldemort for a year, so that’s telling.”
“Ginny is a good girl!”
“Sure, sure,” Kingsley said and waved his herbal and took another drag to avoid starting what he figured was a much-deserved murder spree. “Percy’s in shackles because he tried to kill and memory charm me. He did manage to curse me in my own damn house, but his memory charm slid right off because I’m warded against that bullshite. Then, while I was recovering enough to go to St. Mungo’s, he came back to the ministry and accused Hermione Granger of my kidnapping and attempted murder.”
Molly glared. “It sounds like you do have a memory problem, but Percy didn’t cause it. If anyone could plant such a memory, it would be Hermione Granger. She’s supposedly brilliant.”
“She certainly could’ve done it except for the fact that she was in Flourish and Blotts with five other customers plus Stowe Flourish himself. She was there for almost two hours, including the time that your son announced as the time of her little crime spree.” Kingsley smiled as Percy paled. “Yes, you see, don’t you? By the way, we found the compulsion charms you put on Emmeline Vance, and you’re going to be charged with manipulating a ministry employee with magic, plus my attempted murder. I do have one question for you, Percival.”
Percy hesitated and took a deep breath. “Will my cooperation have an impact on the deal I make with the Prosecutor’s Office?”
Kingsley hummed. “Sure, whatever.” He leaned in. “Were you aware that your mother was using a suppression draught specifically designed to smother Harry Potter’s abilities as a Sentinel?”
Percy’s mouth dropped open. “What? No. Dumbledore said he was powerful, and being cursed as a baby made his core too fragile to contain his magic. The suppression draught was just to keep him alive.” He turned to his mother. “Mum?”
“Yes, that’s what Albus said.”
“You’re lying,” Percy exclaimed in shock. “What have you done? Interfering with a Sentinel is a life sentence in an ICW facility!”
“Banner, you can send him to a cell,” Kingsley said, and said nothing while two aurors pulled Percy from his chair after a gesture by Thaddeus Banner. He finished the herbal and lit another. “Your entire family will be questioned eventually regarding this mess, Molly. Where is Ronald?”
“I don’t know. Harry Potter isn’t a Sentinel and never was. Hermione is just deluded and foolish because she’s not fit to bond. She’s probably talking him into taking a flushing draught as we speak, and it will kill him because his core was damaged by the Killing Curse. Albus started giving him the suppression draught because he almost died. What I did may be illegal, but I won’t be the one that murders him.”
He drew deeply on the herbal and got a little lightheaded, though he wasn’t sure if it was because he was overdosing on calming potion or because he still wanted to murder the woman. Kingsley turned to Banner. “Put her in a cell and concentrate on finding her youngest spawn. Bring in Arthur and everyone else on the list I gave you. And contact the Ministry Potions Master and tell him to start brewing veritaserum. The ICW is going to demand it.”
– – – –
“You’ve checked the potion, and interviewed the healer Narcissa brought in,” Harry reminded. “And my core isn’t nearly as fragile as you feared it might be due to the long-term suppression. Everything will be fine.” He cupped the back of her head and pressed his mouth against hers in a soft kiss.
Hermione moved closer—overwhelmed by the love he had for her. She’d never touched his mind deeply for many reasons—chief among them fear. It would’ve broken her if he hadn’t felt the same way she did, but his feelings for her were intense and beautiful. It was such a relief that she almost protested when he lifted his head.
“I…” She took a deep breath. “I’m going to watch, but I’ll stay out here in the hall.”
“Thank you.” He took the vial of potion that Draco offered and entered the ritual room. The wards activated behind him—to protect both the house and the occupants from any backlash.
Harry pushed off his shoes, walked to the center of the room, and took a seat. Better to already be on the floor since he was entirely certain that he wouldn’t be able to stay on his feet during. He thumbed the cork out of the vial and downed the potion before he could talk himself out of it then lay down. Deep inside, his core started to tremble, and Harry took a deep breath—he’d never been in an earthquake, but he thought a comparison could be drawn.
Distantly, there was pain of a deep bone-breaking sort but he couldn’t quite grasp it, couldn’t hold onto it, and after a few seconds, he stopped trying. Someone was screaming, and Harry was shocked to realize that he was screaming. He pushed that noise aside, and he was assaulted by a thousand scents at once; he pushed them away until he connected with a familiar scent that he’d always associated with Hermione. Old books and lemongrass—comforting, fresh, a little tart, but spicy. There was a comfort in that scent so he stayed there, nestled in it until everything grew quiet and the pain disappeared.
A deep, angry wildness stirred deep inside him, and his spirit animal roared. Instinctually, he started to retreat from the pain and fury, but he stopped as the psionic plane bloomed in his mind’s eyes. He realized, in that wretched moment, that he’d been there once before when he’d fucking died. His magic swirled around him, and a large black dragon appeared in front of him.
They stared at each other and the dragon snorted a mixture of soot and smoke.
“The suppression potion made you sleep,” Harry said. “That’s how Dumbledore was able to take your place here. He’d been dead nearly a year, and he still tried to control me. How? How could he have…oh.”
“Yes.” The dragon’s voice resonated in his head, and Harry almost took a step back. “In this place—after death—we’re all the same, and what we were in life has no bearing.”
“He was dormant,” Harry hissed.
“Yes, a dormant Guide—corrupt and without an ounce of empathy. You’ve freed me, and he will pay for his crimes against you.”
“Was Grindelwald his Sentinel?”
“He would’ve been, if he’d been prepared to serve the tribe, but he was not, and his spirit animal left him. Albus had other choices, another opportunity, but he turned from that path because of anger and bigotry. Neither deserved the legacy—but he lashed out in ways that we could not control.”
“I’m not the only one,” Harry said. “He suppressed others.”
“Yes, and he would’ve done the same to your Guide had she not come online in such a public fashion.” The dragon curled around him as Harry sank to his knees.
“At one time, I felt an immense amount of guilt for Dumbledore’s murder. Now…now I wish I’d killed him myself.” He reached out and trailed his fingers along shining black scales on the dragon’s upper body. “Your name?”
“Hermione interacts with her spirit animal. Why hasn’t Anthar told her about this?”
“Your Guide is unbonded and has never been on the psionic plane. Her connection with her spirit animal is…diminished.”
“Son of a bitch,” Harry whispered. “Why didn’t another spirit animal come when I died—instead of Dumbledore?”
“You are my Sentinel, and no other spirit may stand guard over you,” Soren said and rumbled with ire. “I wish we could interact with souls that are not our own in this place—I would destroy those two wretched creatures you know as Grindelwald and Dumbledore.”
“How will they be punished?”
“They will never live again—they’ve sacrificed their places on Earth and shall not be allowed to return. Their spirits have abandoned them to their fate and ceased to exist.” Soren shifted closer and put his head in Harry’s lap. “We’re ready now—you and me.”
Harry curled his pinky finger around one dangerous looking horn. “Yeah, but are they ready for us?”
Soren snorted soot. “Who the fuck cares?”
– – – –
Hermione took a deep breath as everything grew quiet. Lucius and Draco Malfoy were a few yards down the hall from her—neither Narcissa nor Daphne were able to stay and listen to Harry scream his way through the flushing draught. Harry turned his head and their gazes met. A large shadow moved around the ritual room, merging with shadows so much that she couldn’t get a good look at what it was. Then the animal stepped into the light, and she started with shock.
“What?” Lucius asked. “Should we get the healer?”
“No,” Hermione whispered. “You should both go.”
“Are you certain?” Draco questioned.
“His spirit animal is the dragon.”
“The Harry Bloody Potter factor,” Draco muttered as his father gripped his arm and they moved away quickly.
Hermione returned her attention to the ritual room. Harry was on his feet, head tilted as if he was listening to something beyond her hearing, but his gaze was intent on her. A part of her wanted to run, wanted to make him earn her, and she gave into it. She stood, quirked an eyebrow at him, and apparated. Reappearing deep in the Forest of Dean, Anthar appeared at her side and snorted amusement.
She darted into the woods, and, for a few minutes, her spirit animal trotted beside her then faded from sight. A thunderous boom in the distance told her that he’d followed with no issues. He always landed loud when his mood was aggressive. Light from the setting sun filtered through the trees as she moved, but she didn’t go far as she really wanted to get caught. The forest had been their haven during the war in more than one way. So far removed from people, she gained peace that the fighting stripped from her, and when Ron had abandoned them, it had grown more peaceful. Hermione had purchased land deep in the magical reserve of the forest with the money she’d been given with her Order of Merlin, and as she crossed onto her own property, she relaxed completely.
Harry slipped over her ward boundary, and a little tingle spread up her spine. It was dark—too dark to see—and she almost pulled her wand for light. A rush of warm air was the only warning she got before his hands were on her. Harry pressed her against a tree and buried his face against her neck.
“Guide.” His voice was rough, hoarse from the way he’d screamed.
Hermione shivered and cupped the back of his head as his teeth grazed her pulse point. “Sentinel.”
Her breath caught as he lifted her up, and she wrapped her legs around his waist. Harry’s hands clenched on her hips briefly before sliding under and up the back of her shirt. He groaned and trembled against her. She tightened her hold and let her mind settle around him.
“I need you,” he whispered. “Always. Stay with me.”
“Forever,” she agreed.
Magic and psionic energy moved around them as she surrendered to him. It was the easiest thing she’d ever done, and that was more startling than comforting. Her mind had been her haven for as long as she remembered, and now she would share it with her Sentinel. The bond settled between them like it was waking up, and she started to cry.
“They hurt you,” Harry whispered against her throat and clutched at her. His hands drifted over her as he if he was trying to soothe her. Finally, his fingers clenched in her shirt. “They’ll pay for it.” He pushed away from the tree and gently put her down.
She pressed her face against his shoulder—anger, frustration and years of emotional pain bleeding out of her as their bond settled.
“Come no closer.”
Hermione flinched, and she jerked her head up. Harry was staring out into the darkness, and she drew her wand. “Who’s there?”
“I’d guess a pair of War Mages from the ICW.”
A wand lit with a lumos charm. Hermione frowned at the man and woman trying to place them. There weren’t many male/female pairs working for the ICW. “You’re the Americans—Olivia Landy and Lucas Pierce.” She shifted closer to Harry. “She’s the Sentinel.”
Harry nodded. “I really hope y0u’re not here to try to take custody of my Guide.”
“No, Sentinel Potter. We were ordered to Britain to protect Hermione Granger and figure out why the government here had accused her of a ridiculous crime,” the man said in a calm, even tone. “We were at your ministry—unraveling a foolish bit of conspiracy—when we felt you come online. I imagine every Sentinel/Guide in Europe felt you come online, though it’s not a surprise if it’s true you were suppressed for five years.”
“Your strength is astounding—I’d be a blubbering mess in your place,” the woman said.
“His spirit animal is the dragon,” Hermione said.
Landy paled, grabbed her Guide’s hand, and pulled him several yards back. “I…Jesus Christ.” She pulled out a small device that Hermione realized was a compact mirror and opened it. “Sir. Potter’s online as we suspected, he has his Guide, and he’s the dragon.”
There was a long pause and Hermione realized the other side of the conversation was protected.
The Guide turned slightly and focused on the mirror his Sentinel held. “No, sir, he’s too furious for any sort of sexual bonding.”
Hermione glared at the Guide—he was right, but she didn’t like their private business being discussed so openly. Pierce winced and took a deep breath.
“The man you’re speaking to—he’s in London,” Harry said abruptly.
“Tell them I’m coming.” Harry pulled her close, and before Hermione could say anything, he apparated.
They landed in Kingsley Shacklebolt’s office, despite the wards on the building designed to prevent such a thing. The Minister was on his feet, and an older man was standing near his desk. Hermione watched him close a mirror just like the one Landy had been using and tuck it away.
“My name is Louis Bertrand,” the man murmured. “Potter, it’s good to see you alive—we were told that might not be the case.”
“I’m sure you were told a lot of untrue things,” Harry said evenly and turned to Kingsley. “You don’t have Ron in custody.”
“How do you…” Kingsley sighed. “You heard us talking?”
“No, I heard a wireless broadcast in the place where we were staying—Banner was announcing a reward for his capture. You need to ask Molly Weasley how many other people she was tasked with dosing, and if anyone else was doing it as well.”
“Are you…” Kingsley sat down. “How many did he suppress?”
“We haven’t had a magical Sentinel in Britain since Dumbledore became a professor at Hogwarts,” Hermione said. “And, before me, only two Guides; they both came online at home. I came online in the Great Hall in the middle of dinner, there was no hiding it, no hiding me.”
Kingsley turned to Bertrand. “I don’t have the resources for this. We don’t even have a department in the ministry for Sentinel/Guide issues. It was disbanded fifty years ago because of lack of need.”
“I’ll have to call in all my entire department and probably create a task force. The US has the most robust population due to their size and temperament—they’ll be able to send people here to help you set up a resource team.” Bertrand moved toward the conference table. “I need to write some letters.” He pulled out a small leather pouch that resized, and got comfortable at the table.
He focused on Shacklebolt. “Tell me you had nothing to do with it.”
“I swear on my magic I had nothing to do with your magic or your Sentinel abilities being suppressed.” The oath settled around the older man, and Harry let himself relax slightly.
“Other members of the Order?”
“We had to sedate Minerva she’s so upset,” Kingsley admitted. “We have her at St. Mungo’s actually, and considering what you’ve said, I have to wonder if maybe he suppressed her as well in some fashion. We’ll interrogate Molly again. Do you have any idea where Ron is?”
“No, but he’s a foolish and impetuous git,” Hermione said grimly. “If Harry and I make an appearance then he will show up. He won’t be able to help himself. So, announce on the wireless that Harry’s come online as a Sentinel, and the two of us have bonded. Make it really clear that people should avoid making themselves a threat to me since his spirit animal is the dragon.”
“That’s a big deal, but I don’t know why,” Kingsley said.
“There is but one dragon spirit animal,” Bertrand said gravely. “And he has, over the centuries, joined with only the strongest of Sentinels. Eventually, the dragon’s influence over him will be so profound that living dragons will consider him one of their own. Had he been allowed to progress as nature intended, dragons all over the world would’ve rallied to his side during your blood war.”
“Son of a bitch,” Kingsley muttered and went to the bar near the back of his office. He poured himself a large drink, tossed it back, and coughed a little afterward. “Do you know why Dumbledore did it?”
“His own darkness made him dormant—a Guide. Soren, my spirit animal, told me that Dumbledore was so corrupt he’s been punished in the afterlife. He’ll never live again—not like our kind do—and his spirit animal has faded from existence.” Harry shifted his Guide closer, the space between them was a gentle kind of agony. It always had been, and now he didn’t have to pretend otherwise.
“When did you speak with him?” Hermione questioned. “I don’t…oh. Harry, you died again.”
“Briefly—probably no more than a few seconds in reality.” Distress started to bleed off of her, so he curled fingers around her hip and she relaxed. “It’s fine—my spirit animal was there this time.”
“This time?” Bertrand questioned. “What happened the first time?”
“My true nature was suppressed, and Dumbledore was able to meet me—Soren was asleep and couldn’t prevent it. Just one last dig of manipulation into my life while he had the chance,” Harry said grimly. “We may never know how many he suppressed—many probably died during the blood wars he manufactured to gain fame and power.”
Hermione turned to Kingsley. “About that necromancer.”
Shacklebolt offered her a wry grin. “Not in front of our guest, Granger, it’s not legal outside of Britain.”
– – – –
“You’ll be pleased, I’m sure, to know that Harry survived the flushing draught without much of an issue.” Kingsley watched Molly pale. “Except for the part where he immediately came online as a Sentinel. Using a suppression draught is a five-year sentence in a minimum security facility. Magically interfering with the development of a Sentinel or Guide is an international crime—and the punishment is a life term. I’ve no choice but to turn you over to the ICW for trial and imprisonment. Ronald will be going as well, once he’s captured.”
“I…” Molly lowered her head.
“You have an opportunity, however, to spare your daughter a similar fate.”
“What?” Molly questioned. “Ginny…didn’t…she never…”
“She knew,” Kingsley said. “Harry was awake when you dosed him at St. Mungo’s, Molly. Ginevra knew about the suppression draught, and she’s also guilty of dosing him with an attraction potion. Not to mention her plotting to use love potions against him. Harry’s willing to give her a pass provided that you tell us everything you know about Dumbledore’s reasons for what he did to Harry and the others. We’ll need a list of names.”
Molly took a deep breath. “Albus said that Sentinels and Guides had no place among us—they weren’t meant to be magical, and he blamed the Muggle-born for their introduction into our world. He said that the Muggle ones would be the death of our world eventually—we can’t truly hide from them. Many over the years helped him, and I started when…”
“When what?” Kingsley questioned.
“Arthur came online as a Guide at Hogwarts—we were betrothed already, but he sought to end it. I couldn’t allow that and Dumbledore offered me a way to keep him. Arthur was memory charmed, and his abilities were suppressed with a bracelet. He’s worn it since he was fifteen.” Molly flushed when Kingsley glared at her. “Albus created the bracelets himself—they’re alchemy based. He was furious that he couldn’t put one on Hermione Granger and worried that it would draw attention to the fact that we were potioning Harry.”
“How long have you been potioning Harry?”
“Albus started when he was quite small. His Muggle relatives were terrible to him, but, fortunately, the wards on the house hid that fact from other Muggles—even their Sentinels and Guides couldn’t penetrate the magic that he used to keep Potter under control and hidden. The bracelet didn’t work for Harry so we had to use potions. I think he was dosed the first time when he was six.”
“Who else?” Kingsley ground out. “Who else did he suppress?”
Molly hesitated. “Honestly, I don’t know all their names. Lily Potter for certain, though, even with the suppression cuff in place, she was surprisingly intuitive and that often put Albus out of sorts. Amelia Bones, Minerva McGonagall, Sirius Black, Frank and Alice Longbottom and…” She trailed off and pursed her lips. “You.”
“Me?” Shacklebolt hissed.
“Yes, the war with Riddle seemed to spur many to come online,” Molly admitted. “The Longbottom boy—he’s a Sentinel and wearing a suppression cuff. There are six or seven others, but I don’t remember their names. They weren’t important.”
Kingsley stood from his seat and left the room before he gave into the entirely base desire to murder the woman. He stumbled, but Louis Bertrand caught him.
“Easy there, Minister.”
Kingsley let himself be pressed against the wall for support, and he closed his eyes. “I always felt like something was wrong—missing.”
“Now you know,” Louis said.
“Yes, I know,” Kingsley murmured. “We’re going to need help.”
“The ICW will provide Britain all the help you need to resolve this crisis,” Bertrand promised. “And if you dig Dumbledore up to murder him—we’ll look the other way.”
Shacklebolt laughed, but it was weak even to his ears. He let his head hit the wall, and closed his eyes. “That terrible son of a bitch.”
Harry didn’t have a problem entering the Headmistress’ office. The statue didn’t even demand a password, as he came to Hogwarts often to visit Minerva McGonagall. Though the elderly witch was not in the castle at present—she was in St. Mungo’s catatonic with grief. They’d found the suppression cuff and removed it. Decades of suppressed empathic information had been such a burden on the older woman that some had thought she might die from it. Hermione was silent at his side, furious and of the opinion that he didn’t need to give Dumbledore a chance to explain himself. He wasn’t seeking an explanation.
Dumbledore’s portrait straightened up as soon as he noticed them. “Harry—Minerva’s been gone for days. Is she ill?”
Harry stared at him. “Get a piece of parchment, Mi.” Then he pulled the Elder Wand. Dumbledore reared back in shock.
“I thought you destroyed the wand,” Dumbledore said quietly.
“You were certainly keen that I do so,” Harry murmured. “So I allowed you to believe I did. I even broke a decent replica of it in front of Ron, so he’d report back to you.” He smiled when Dumbledore huffed. “Albus, you’ve done a terrible thing.” A glance toward his Guide told him that she’d seated herself at Minerva’s desk and was ready. “I always knew there was going to come a day when I would sit down in front of your portrait and ask you questions you’d never want to answer honestly. Because of that goal, I read a lot of information about living portraits—how they’re created and powered. I also learned a host of spells to use against portraits.”
Dumbledore frowned. “There’s no need for that, Harry. I’ve never lied to you.”
“All you’ve ever done is lie!” Harry snapped. “Absoluta veritas!” The parselmagic curse hit the portrait, and the whole thing glowed purple for several seconds. The frame rattled, and Dumbledore tried to leave but bounced off the edge of the portrait.
“What have you done? What was that spell? I thought you were no longer a parselmouth!”
“That’s what I told Ron,” Harry said pleasantly, and Dumbledore flushed. “As to the curse I just placed on your portrait, all things considered, it’s just a little bit of justice. It will force you to answer every single question asked of you honestly if it worked properly. You can’t evade. You can’t refuse. You can’t ignore. Manipulation is impossible. Nothing but the absolute truth will fall from your lips as long as your portrait exists.”
Dumbledore glared at him. “How dare you!”
“Oh, don’t act all surprised. After all, I’m the man you made me.” Harry smirked when Dumbledore huffed. “I’m never removing it by the way—and the spell will force you to wake up anytime someone approached the portrait and wants to ask you a question. I can’t put you in an actual prison like you deserve, so this will have to do. A prison of honesty.” He tapped the Elder Wand against his lips thoughtfully. “Ready, Mi?”
“Albus Dumbledore, how many Sentinels and Guides did you suppress through potion or device during your lifetime either by your hand or through the work of another?”
The portrait paled, and Harry considered writing the artist a letter to praise him on his skill. It was very life-like. He watched Dumbledore struggle against the spell, but finally, with a shudder, the old man spoke, “Three hundred twenty-three.”
“What were their names?”
The bastard didn’t hesitate again. “Thomas Marvolo Riddle…”
Harry closed his eyes and walked away from the portrait. He tried to push the sound of the man’s voice away as he listed the names of the lives he’d ruined. Harry barely flinched when his mother’s name was spoken, and just glanced briefly at Hermione when Neville Longbottom’s name was the last given.
“Why did you suppress Riddle?”
“He was powerful—I couldn’t risk him coming online as a Guide. He would’ve interfered with my plans too much. I didn’t realize that suppressing his gifts would make him…”
“A sociopath!” Hermione supplied hotly.
Harry focused on Hermione who was seated in Minerva’s chair, cheeks damp with tears. “Was Riddle always cruel? You made it seem as if he were on the path to darkness before he even received his letter.”
“I altered those memories so you’d see what you needed to see to treat Tom as the enemy he was,” Dumbledore said. “He needed to die for the greater good, and you were born to…”
“Fix your fucking mistake?” Harry demanded. “And you still suppressed me. Did it ever cross your bloody mind that in doing what you did, you actually made me weak against him? How many died for your greater good?” He waved a hand at the portrait. “Don’t answer that. I don’t care what you think about it. What about the others?”
“Why should they have what I was denied? It was so easy to do it to Tom…but I learned to moderate the impact on Guides so they wouldn’t go insane. Sentinels and Guides have no true place in our world—they are difficult to control and can’t mind their own business. How did you discover you’d been suppressed?”
“Molly was caught dosing me,” Harry said. “She’s going to jail for life. The ICW has already retrieved her from Britain, and they’re hunting for Ron since she recruited him to help. She’s already confessed to helping suppress quite a few people and gave us some of the names you listed already.” He turned to Hermione. “We’re done here.”
She rolled up the parchment. “Yes, I agree.”
“Wait, Harry, don’t leave this curse active. It could do a lot of damage—undo decades of work!”
“I’m never lifting that curse,” Harry told him. “Moreover, as soon as Minerva is well enough to handle the duty herself, your portrait will be moved to the atrium of the ministry. Shacklebolt has declared you’ll be available to the public though you will be warded to prevent the portrait’s destruction. Everyone will be told that you’re forced to speak nothing but the truth, everyone will have the right to ask you any question they’d like, and you’ll have no choice but to answer it. As I already said, Albus, your punishment is a prison of honesty. You’ll never tell another lie.”
He held out his hand for Hermione, and she crossed the room to take it. They both ignored Dumbledore’s protests as they left the tower. There was nothing left to do, and torturing a portrait was about all the justice he’d ever really have. He hoped the real one was up in the afterlife having a complete fucking meltdown. Once they were free from the tower, he led his witch through a few hallways and right toward a secluded broom closet, which made her laugh.
Harry grinned as he pulled the door shut and prodded her gently up against the wall. “What? We totally missed out on doing this when we were here.” He shuddered when she curled her hands around the back of his neck.
“What will we do?”
“Survive,” Harry murmured. He clenched his hands on her hips, and she hitched up, wrapping her legs around his waist, which made him laugh, then rearranged his grip on her. “Fight back. Be together. Make love.”
She hummed under her breath and kissed his jaw then his mouth. “We’re not shagging in this broom closet. I’m an adult.”
He grinned. “Then we should take this list to Kingsley then find a more adult-like location.”
“Brilliant idea.” She let her legs drop from his waist.
– – – –
Thanks to the war, the anti-apparition wards for Hogwarts were pushed all the way out past the Shrieking Shack. They were only a few meters past the ramshackle building when Ron appeared. Harry actually sighed, and Hermione turned to him in amused shock before focusing on their former friend.
Ron stared at them, pale and furious. His fingers clenched around his wand as he focused entirely on Harry. She wasn’t surprised to be dismissed entirely; Ron Weasley had never considered her much of a threat even after she’d come online as a Guide.
“You always ruin everything,” Ron said. “Why can’t you just do what is expected of you?”
“You’re just as mental as your mother,” Harry said.
“Look, no matter what Hermione told you, Harry, you’re not a Sentinel. It’s pitiful that you’ve fallen for her scheming nonsense. Whatever spell she’s done to you to mimic the abilities is going to fade, but by then, she’ll have probably trapped you in a marriage.”
“The most amazing part of that statement is that he believes it,” Hermione murmured and shifted closer to Harry. Her wand slid into her hand.
“There is no spell that would mimic the gifts of a Sentinel,” Harry explained. “Not that it matters at all what you believe on that topic. You’re going to Azkaban for using a suppression draught on me, Ron. There is no defense you could mount that would be a good enough excuse for your actions, but you already know that.”
Ron flushed, and he stepped toward them, but he focused on Hermione, and her stomach clenched. “Does he know you’re a whore?”
Hermione frowned at him. “Enjoying sex doesn’t make me a whore, you backward fuckwit.”
Harry grinned at her. “Who did you sleep with?”
“Neville.” She shrugged when he raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, me too,” Harry admitted. “Puberty hit him like a runaway lorry.”
“I know,” Hermione exclaimed. “Merlin, if I’d known you were bisexual, I would’ve suggested a threesome, but now he’s in a relationship and that’s shot.”
“You perverts,” Ron exclaimed in horror.
Harry stunned him. “I’m not going to let that criminal judge my sex life.”
“It was one step too far,” Hermione agreed and frowned. “We’re gonna have to touch him to get him back to the ministry.”
“Fuck that,” Harry muttered. He flicked his wand at Ron, levitated him, and with a swish, pressed him roughly against the wall. “Throw a few incarcerations curses at him. As many as you want.”
Twenty seemed like a nice round number. Once she was finished, only Ron’s mouth and nose were visible. A few strands of red hair were sticking out through the ropes.
Harry stared at her work, head slightly tilted. “Moderation has never been your strong suit.”
She would’ve argued, but he was right. Hermione took the hand he offered and surrendered to his apparition spell. They reappeared in an apparition point in the atrium and moved the ministry with no one even approaching them. Not a surprise since the wireless had been broadcasting warnings regarding them every half hour. The people of Britain hadn’t had to deal with a Sentinel/Guide pair in decades and it showed.
The door to Kingsley office was opened, and the desk where his administrative assistant normally sat was empty. Shacklebolt was seated at his desk, the suppression bracelet visible on his arm. Hermione wondered what his decision would be—Minerva’s reaction to having it removed had given them all pause.
“Kingsley?” Harry questioned.
He looked up, set aside his drink and stood. “Did it work?”
“Yes,” Hermione began and put the scroll on the desk. “Three hundred and twenty-three.” She hesitated. “The first being Tom Riddle.”
“The lousy son of a bitch,” Kingsley murmured and picked his drink back up. “I wonder if my Sentinel is on that list or if he or she has already died.” He tossed back the drink. “It’s…” He cleared his throat and took a deep breath.
Hermione tried to push away the misery and heartbreak pouring off of the man. She shifted closer to Harry. “Kingsley.”
“I’m sorry,” he said hoarsely. “I can’t imagine what you’re picking up for me. You should probably stay away from St. Mungo’s. About thirty people have discovered the cuffs on their own.”
“Ron’s stuck to the side of the Shrieking Shack,” Harry said conversationally, and grinned when Shacklebolt laughed.
Kingsley activated a charm on his desk and relayed instructions to the Director of the DMLE. He closed the connection and sat back in his chair. “Dumbledore’s path of destruction is wider and more horrific than any dark lord that has risen in Britain in four hundred years.”
“You say that like he wasn’t a dark lord himself,” Hermione said evenly then watched both men adjust to that idea. “Everyone will learn that truth once we place his portrait in the atrium.”
“I know that’s the plan…” Kingsley took a deep breath. “Is that the right course of action, truly?”
“Is there anyone he wronged who doesn’t deserve the truth?” Harry questioned. “And at this point, he’s wronged practically every magical in Britain, and perhaps even beyond. He destroyed bonds, prevented the building of families and the births of hundreds of children. Did he drive Sentinel/Guide lines into extinction in Britain? Magical families are small—often only producing a single child in each generation. How many died out during the wars Grindelwald and Riddle wrought because they didn’t find the one that was truly meant for them?” He turned to Shacklebolt and found the older man grim-faced. “You’ve never had children, Kingsley. Did your Sentinel marry another? Did they have children?”
“I…” Kingsley left his desk and went back to the bar. “I’ve never tolerated a relationship for more than a year. The idea of having children with any of the witches I bedded was foul. I’ve never had the urge to father a child, actually.” He tossed back half a glass of firewhiskey. “I’m not sure I’ll remove the bracelet.”
“Why?” Hermione couldn’t keep the horror out of her voice. “Kingsley…”
“I feel fractured on the inside,” Kingsley whispered as he touched the bracelet with trembling fingers. “I’m worried if I take it off that I’ll shatter.”
She wanted to reassure him that there were people who could help him but there was no telling how long his empathy had been suppressed. Hermione leaned against Harry who wrapped an arm around her waist. He led her to a small sofa on the side of the room, and they sat down.
“What did he do to us?” Hermione asked.
“Whatever he wanted,” Harry replied and turned his face into her hair.
She closed her eyes and tried to push away the pain that Harry couldn’t hide from her. Hermione wondered if the betrayal would dull with time, but she thought not—they’d be reminded of it every day for the rest of their lives. In fact, Dumbledore’s crimes would resonate throughout Britain for generations to come.