Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Harry Potter/The Sentinel
Pairing: Harry Potter/Hermione Granger
Word Count: 22,271
Warnings: Explicit Sex, Character Bashing, No Beta (none desired)
Summary: When Ron abandons them during the war, Hermione and Harry make a drastic choice to survive. The sentient magic of an old ritual circle in Godric’s Hollow will either by their salvation or the death of them.
Anxiety twisted in Hermione’s stomach as she stared at the remains of Potter’s home. Harry’s hand clenched in hers, and she shifted closer to him though she had long since given up hope of him genuinely accepting comfort from her. The longer the search dragged on, the more he isolated himself. She thought perhaps it was because Ron had abandoned them, but over the last week, Hermione had come to realize that Harry was close to giving up. He was, she thought, preparing to die and the knowledge of that was heartbreaking.
“Let’s go inside,” she suggested.
Harry glanced at her. “It doesn’t look safe.”
“Just a little bit,” Hermione urged. “It’s your home, Harry.”
Harry looked off in the direction that Bathilda Bagshot had gone but then nodded. “It wouldn’t hurt to look around, would it?”
They stepped off the street.
“There are wards,” Harry said. “Feels like…Dumbledore.”
He pushed open the gate. They walked past the memorial sign in silence though Hermione couldn’t help but frown at the graffiti that had been left behind by tourists. She wondered if the magical world would ever truly understand or appreciate the sacrifices Harry had made. Most of the kids they’d gone to school with had never really understood why Harry didn’t celebrate Halloween. Even Ron hadn’t understood which had been a continuing source of frustration for Hermione for years.
“I don’t think it’s safe to go inside,” Harry said softly. “Let’s go look at the backyard. I have pictures…from a party.”
“Your first birthday,” Hermione said. “I’ve seen them.”
The garden was overgrown, but she hadn’t expected anything different. Harry let go of her hand and sat down on a low wall that surrounded the patio.
“All of my life, all I’ve ever wanted was a home—a place where I was wanted and loved.” He looked around the garden. “I should’ve grown up in this place, Hermione.”
She sat down beside him. “I know.”
“I feel like this house—broken and neglected.”
The confession shocked her. She closed her eyes to keep tears from spilling down her cheeks, and she clutched at his hand. “After the war, we’ll come back here and build a new house on this land just for you, Harry. It’ll be beautiful, safe, and warm. You’ll take care of it and fill it with love. One day your children will run around this garden while they pretend that giant tree over there is a monster out to get them.”
Harry smiled. “That sounds lovely.”
“It will be.” She nodded, and with her free hand, she pointed toward the back of the yard. “You can put a pond in over there and perhaps a little vegetable patch in the other side so you’ll have something to attract gnomes. You can’t make your kids de-gnome the garden if there aren’t any gnomes.”
“True,” Harry nodded. “Sounds perfectly reasonable.” He took a deep breath. “And where will you be?”
She shrugged. “Where do you want me to be?”
“It would be selfish to say,” Harry admitted. “I’ve always thought so I’ve never said it and yet we’re sitting here again, without him, because his loyalty is transitory and his jealousy of me seems to have no end. He wants you, and I’ve known that for a while so I tried to…” He took a deep breath. “I tried to want Ginny, but I don’t, Hermione. I don’t want her. Everyone expects it. Hell, I think even you expect it, and it’s not what I want at all. I don’t want to be…I think I would drown if I forced myself to live the life they want.”
“One big happy Weasley family,” Hermione murmured.
Harry shuddered beside her. “I’m a Potter. I’m the last of my family, and I don’t want to be…”
“Suffocated under Molly’s overbearing and supposedly well-meaning love,” Hermione supplied when Harry trailed off in obvious frustration. “Do you want me?”
“Oh, love, please don’t make me say it,” Harry said roughly and released her hand. “It’s obvious you’ve made your choice. You made it last year and I’ve learned to live with it, but I can’t have this discussion.”
Hermione huffed a little when he stood and walked around the wall to stand on the patio. “Harry Potter.” She shot up and followed. “Did you ever think for a bloody second that maybe I just gave up on you last year because…because!” She waved her hands. “You never said anything! You didn’t invite me to Hogsmeade. You didn’t ask me to the Yule Ball! I waited for weeks before I accepted Krum’s invitation. You chased Cho Chang around like…like…she was the best thing in bloody Britain!”
“I was trying to be a good friend!” Harry snapped.
“To who?” Hermione demanded. “Me or Ron? Because I’m here, Harry. I’ve always been right beside you! Why do you give Ron all of your loyalty and consideration when he gives you none in return?” She poked him in the chest. “Well?”
Harry took a step toward her, and she backed up only to hit the stonewall of the house with a little thud. “Scared, Granger?”
“Bite me, Potter.” She poked him again as soon as he got close enough.
Harry planted his hands on the wall on either side of her head. “It’ll change everything.”
“Maybe everything needs to change,” she countered evenly as she curled her hands into his jacket. “Harry.”
He leaned in and brushed his mouth against hers—a fleeting tease of a kiss that left her breathless. Hermione pulled him closer and lifted her chin. Harry kissed her again; his mouth was soft and far too knowing. It was kind of irritating how good of a kisser he was. His hands slid down the wall and settled on her hips as they moved as close as their layers would allow. Hermione shivered against the sweet stroke of his tongue, and he withdrew.
“You’re cold,” he whispered against her jaw. He pulled her closer still. “I want you with me, Hermione. It’s what I’ve always wanted.” She closed her eyes as he tucked his face against her neck. “Be with me. Stay with me.”
“Yes.” She wrapped her arms around him, and they stayed there against the wall of his destroyed childhood home for a few moments. “I’m serious about the pond.”
He laughed softly against her neck and lifted his head. “Of course.” He touched her face with cool fingers. “And I’ll build you a library.”
Hermione grinned. “Deal.” She looked down and frowned. The stone floor of the patio was glowing. “Hmmm.”
“What?” He stepped back from her and looked down as well. “Did we activate some kind of security?”
“I think you might have done something when you touched the house,” Hermione admitted. “Not security—or we’d have been prodded away at the least.”
“And dismembered at the worst,” Harry muttered as he looked around then pointed toward a pair of bulkhead doors. “That wasn’t there before.”
“It certainly wasn’t visible before,” Hermione agreed. “We should check it out.”
“Magic revealed this to you,” Hermione pointed out. “It must be responding to your blood relation to the caster of the magic which means one of your parents hid that cellar entrance, Harry. It’s not going to hurt us.”
Harry’s shoulders relaxed. “Let me go first, just in case.” He walked toward the entrance, and the doors popped right open. “That’s not as welcoming as it should be.”
Hermione laughed a little under her breath. “The magic is eager.”
“Eager magic has never been a friend to me,” Harry said flatly.
Hermione watched he step down onto the stairs, a nervous excitement stirring her that had little to do with the bit of kissing they’d just indulged in. She’d always suspected that kissing Harry would be lovely and she hadn’t been disappointed. Getting him to admit he had feelings for her was just one step forward, and she didn’t count it as a win entirely. She knew that Harry was far too used to sacrificing for others to his own detriment.
“The steps seem sturdy,” Harry said and glanced toward Hermione. She was standing just a few feet from the entrance, looking curious and as beautiful as ever. He couldn’t help but wonder if she regretted what had just taken place between them. He offered her his hand and as if she thought it was some kind of test she rushed forward to take it. “Careful.”
She huffed a little. “I love secrets.” She peered down into the cellar. “This is a secret about you. About your family. It’s exciting.”
And scary, Harry thought. He’d never really had good experiences with family secrets, but he didn’t want to spoil her excitement, so he started down the stairs and brought her with him. The doors shut gently as soon as they were down far enough. He pulled his wand and it lit in his hand. The lumos charm was the only thing he’d mastered when it came to silent casting, but it still gave him a bit of a thrill to do it.
The moment they stepped fully into the room, lighting charms lit on the walls. He put away his wand with a little hitch of breath. “Is this…”
“A ritual circle,” Hermione supplied as she released his hand. “It’s in stasis, Harry.”
“Stasis?” He shed his coat and put it on an empty table. “What were they doing?”
“It might have something to do with how you survived,” Hermione guessed. “You couldn’t have been the first child to have a parent sacrifice themselves. If sacrificial magic worked like that—the Killing Curse could’ve been neutralized a long time ago. A terminally ill person could’ve stepped in front of the curse to die for everyone that would ever live, and it would’ve rendered the curse impotent.”
“Magical people aren’t very logical, you know,” Harry said.
“Oh, I noticed,” Hermione admitted wryly. “There’s a book here, but the words are gibberish to me. I think it might be your family grimoire.”
Harry walked across the room, careful to skirt around the ritual circle to stand with her at the table that she’d gravitated toward. An empty cauldron sat on one end and a stack of books on another. Perhaps it had been his mother’s workspace in the ritual room. He touched the book in question and brought it closer to him. “I can read it.” He picked it up and checked the cover. “It just has Potter written on the front.”
Hermione motioned toward him. “Read the page that was open then. That’s where your parents left it.”
Harry put the book back down and focused on the page. “Custos est lux.”
“Guardian of the Light,” Hermione translated. “Is it all in Latin?”
“No, just the title of the page.” Harry cleared his throat and began to read, “Four times in the history of our family, we have called upon the Lord of Magic to bless us with the duty of protecting Magic. Each time that call has been met with the gift of becoming an archmagus. In times of great strife, our family has always stood with Zirnitra, the Black Dragon as he alone is tasked with guarding the balance between the Light and the Dark.
“I caution any of my descendants who are considering this path—the life of the Black Dragon’s Guardian is not for the faint of heart. If your petition is accepted you will be granted amazing gifts—your magical power will be astronomical but you will be burdened with enhanced senses and will need a companion to ensure a proper magical balance is maintained.” He paused because Hermione’s breath hitched. “What?”
“It’s talking about a Sentinel,” Hermione said urgently. “This ritual…one of your parents was going to petition Zir to turn themselves into a Sentinel.”
Harry took a deep breath and lifted his hand from the book. “Sentinels and Guides are extinct, Hermione. I read a book about them when I was younger because Aunt Petunia liked to brag that her great-great-grandfather was a Sentinel.”
“Yes, they went extinct during World War II. Most theorists believe the horrific loss of life on earth destroyed our connection with the psionic plane which is what gave Sentinels and Guides their gifts.” She bit down on her bottom lip and started to shift parchments around. “Your mother, however, thought that the deaths actually just closed the door between our world and the psionic plane.” She put the parchment down in front of him. “And she was going to use this ritual to open that door and petition Zir to give her and your Dad the gifts they needed to protect you and win the war.”
Harry touched the writing on the parchment and cleared his throat. “I…I don’t know what to do with this information, Hermione.”
She glanced toward the ritual circle. “I think…we should do the ritual in their place.”
The idea of it was thrilling and scary. He’d never lacked magical power and despite being lazy at Hogwarts had never had problems using the magic he was given to make way in the world.
“Tom Riddle sought more power than he was given.”
“Bah, he sought it for all the wrong reasons and he certainly never dared to seek it from the Lord of Magic!” Hermione waved a hand around the room. “Your parents were extraordinary, Harry. Look what they were prepared to do for you. It’s so lovely and amazing.”
Soft gold magic floated in the air in the circle. “I think that’s my father’s magic.”
“I don’t understand,” Hermione admitted.
“He died downstairs—quickly. Too quickly to have fought back.” Harry took a deep breath. “He died over the ritual circle on the floor above us.”
“He used his magic to hide all of this from Riddle,” Hermione surmised. “And she used hers…There must have been another circle of some kind upstairs. Something Dumbledore hid or perhaps it was destroyed when the curse backfired.” She turned back to the table and started to separate the parchments into several different stacks. “I need time to study this and prepare.”
Harry nodded and watched her for a few moments, overwhelmed by her intense dedication. “I love you.”
She turned to stare at him. “Harry.”
“I love you more than anyone else I’ve ever known. There is no sacrifice I would not make to keep you safe and happy, Hermione.”
Her gaze narrowed and she put her hands on her hips. “If this turns into a speech about stepping aside so I can be happy with Ron Bloody Weasley, Harry Potter, I’m going to curse you into next year!”
Harry laughed, walked to her and caught her around the waist. He pulled her close despite her huffiness and kissed her. “No more stepping aside for me, love, I don’t have it in me to resist the pull of you anymore.”
She frowned at him briefly then waved a hand. “Go get the tent. We’ll set it up over there in the corner. We need to fully explore this.”
“What about Bathilda Bagshot?” Harry questioned.
“She’s lived in this village for her entire life—she’s going nowhere, and this is important. Far more important than a creepy old lady who spied on us in the cemetery.”
“You don’t believe she has the sword.”
“No, Dumbledore would’ve mentioned her in some way if she were important. Nothing in what he left behind even suggested we visit Godric’s Hollow and that’s telling enough.”
Harry couldn’t disagree with that, so he picked up his coat. “One tent coming up.”
“Don’t dally and disillusion yourself before you apparate,” Hermione lectured.
“It says something terrible about me that I find you more attractive when you’re bossy,” Harry admitted ruefully as he performed the disillusion spell then apparated away as she huffed in shock.
He appeared near the tent and was quite pleased with the minimal amount of noise he made.
“I don’t know, mum. I already told you that I can’t find the tent. I’ll just have to keep looking for them when they’re outside of it. I mean it has to be around here somewhere, or the tracker thing you made from Dumbledore’s deluminator wouldn’t have led me here, right?”
Harry stared at Ron in shock. The other wizard was just a few feet away with a communication mirror in his hand.
“You never should’ve left them to begin with,” Molly shouted from her end of the mirrored connection. “What if they’ve been injured or hurt? What if they’re starving?”
Ron scowled at the mirror. “They’re fine, mum. They don’t even need me. I can’t believe you’re making me search for them. Why should I have to help Harry? This war is his fault anyway. He’s the reason that that arsehole got resurrected in the first place. Why should I have to live in a tent for weeks on end and suffer for Harry’s mistakes?”
“You know very well why,” Molly hissed. “Your sister wants to marry Harry Potter, Ronald, and you’re going to make sure that Granger stays out of the way.”
“Hermione is in love with me,” Ron responded and smirked. Harry wanted to punch him in the face. “I’ve got her right where I want her.”
“If you had her where you wanted her, she’d have left with you,” Molly said, and Ron glared at the mirror. “Thank Merlin, she didn’t. Harry would get himself killed without Granger. He’s too reckless.”
“Well, they’re not here so I’ll have to come back tomorrow.”
“Fine, go to your brother’s and I’ll floo you in the morning after breakfast.”
“All right.” Ron put away the mirror.
Harry drew his wand and whispered as softly as he could, “Accio deluminator.” The device popped out of Ron’s pocket just as he apparated and sailed through the air to land in his hand. He shoved it into his pocket with a frown. “Let’s see that tosser search for me without this.”
He made quick work of packing up the tent and apparated back to the patio in Godric’s Hollow. He quickly went down into the cellar and stopped this time to check for a locking system on the doors. There were several, so he engaged them all and finished walking down the steps.
The room was empty but a door was open on the left, so he walked hurriedly toward it. “Hermione?”
“Harry.” Hermione appeared in the doorway instantly. “I found…you have to come now.” She beckoned him with one hand and wiggled her fingers.
He laughed and took it. “Did you find more books?”
“I did but something else. I found something amazing.” She pulled him into the room and Harry came face to face with a magical portrait. “It’s Godric Bloody Gryffindor.”
Gryffindor brushed off his tunic. “I’m quite clean, young woman. My wife insisted I wear new clothes for the portrait sitting.”
Harry grinned. “What are you doing here?”
“He’s your ancestor,” Hermione exclaimed then blushed. “Sorry. I’m just really excited. I’m going to go read some more.”
Godric looked at her fondly as she dashed off. “Quite a witch you’ve got there. In my day, intelligence and beauty like that would’ve made her highly sought after.”
“She makes it a hobby to alienate as many wizards as she can at any one time,” Harry said and laughed at the outrage squawk that earned him from the other room. He focused on the portrait. “Do you know why my parents were going to try the ritual they have set up?”
“To keep you safe,” the portrait said gravely. “They were going to do everything they could to interfere with the prophecy, lad. Your father had no intention of ever allowing the conflict with Riddle to go on so long that you’d have to face him. It’s a man’s duty to defend his family and your father was a good man.”
“I’ve heard things that made me doubt that,” Harry admitted. “Things about his behavior at Hogwarts.”
“Schoolboys do stupid things,” Godric said. “Would your children be proud of everything you’ve done at Hogwarts?”
Harry shook his head. “I wasn’t…I’ve done stupid things.”
“Exactly. Be assured that you matter how foolish your father might have been as a student that he grew up to be a good and righteous man. He was faithful to the Light and to the Lord of Magic. If he’d been allowed to make his petition, he would’ve been blessed by the Black Dragon as a Guardian. I do not doubt it.”
“Should I do it?” Harry questioned softly, and his gaze shifted out of the room so he could focus on Hermione who was standing at the worktable reading.
“In your place, I would,” Godric said. “You’re in the midst of war, and you have a very loyal companion to stand with you. If Zir says no, you’ve lost nothing.” The portrait shrugged. “What’s a little ritual shagging in the grand scheme of things?”
“Ritual what?” Harry asked and held up a hand when the portrait started to respond. “Hermione, did you know this was as sex ritual?” He walked out of the small library room and found her washing the cauldron.
“Of course, I did,” Hermione said as she directed the cleaning spell with her wand. “Sexual energy is often used as a gift to Zir especially since it’s kind of bad form to sacrifice your enemies these days in his name.” She looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “Is that a problem?”
Harry blew air out between his lips and pulled the tent from his pocket. “First, I don’t have a problem with having sex with you, obviously. Second, I also don’t have a problem sacrificing my enemies.” He paused when she laughed. “Third, I’d rather not make love with you for the first time on a cold stone floor. Fourth, and this is going to make you mad, so please put down your wand.”
She frowned but did as instructed.
“When I went to get the tent, I came across Ron nearby in the forest obviously looking for us. He was complaining to his mother via communication mirror because she was forcing him to search for me so that he could make sure I didn’t die or start some kind of relationship with you. He assured her that he had you right where he wanted you and that you were in love with him. She disagreed, and she thinks you’re a threat to the relationship Ginny wants with me in the future and it’s Ron’s job to neutralize that threat. Also, she put a tracking charm on the tent and attached to that deluminator Dumbledore gave Ron.” He pulled that out of his pocket. “That I stole just as he apparated away.”
She pursed her lips. “What else did Ron say?”
“That the war is my fault and he doesn’t want to come back because he shouldn’t have to suffer for the mistake I made by allowing Riddle to resurrect himself.”
“That son of a bitch,” Hermione said hotly. “Do you know where he is?”
“She sent him to his brother’s cottage, so I assume Bill’s since I think Percy lives in a flat and I doubt she’d have seen him all the way to Romania to stay with Charlie.”
Hermione huffed and took the deluminator. “I’ll take all the magic off this stupid thing so Molly can’t try to find it though I doubt she could through these wards. Your dad was a fantastic warder. Apparently, runic magic is a familial gift in your line; I wish we’d known that. You could’ve taken runes with me.”
“I would’ve definitely liked it better than divination,” Harry said and shed his coat. “I’ll put up the tent. Do we need the enchantments, you think?”
“Your dad’s warding is much more robust than the enchantment scheme I figured out. We’re safer here than we’ve been since…well since Riddle was resurrected.” She took a deep breath. “Because you were right, your dad used his magic to fuel these wards to prevent Riddle from finding it. Godric told me about it. It was a contingency plan in case they were discovered. They couldn’t risk Riddle getting a hold of the Gryffindor Circle.”
“This is the Gryffindor Circle?” Harry questioned.
“Yes, this cottage was built here on purpose, to hide it. This is your family legacy, Harry. Dumbledore used your mother’s magic to fuel those blood wards so that’s spent but this magic will remain here for eternity because it’s anchored in the ley line that Godric used to build the circle. Your father’s magic is part of this land now.”
“And my mother used that connection, didn’t she?”
“Yes, she performed a ritual sacrifice and offered herself in eternal service to Zirnitra if he would save you.” Hermione pressed her lips together. “I wanted to go upstairs and look for the evidence, but Godric said the top floor is way too unstable for that.”
“Why would Dumbledore hide that?” Harry questioned. “It must have been obvious what she did.”
“The worship of Zir is considered quite grey,” Hermione said gently. “He is a neutral god and for some magicals that neutrality is an abomination.”
“Because he protects the balance between the light and the dark,” Harry said. “Okay.” He ran his fingers through his hair. ‘Shite.”
He focused on her and inclined his head. “Hermione.”
“Are you willing to petition Zir to become his Guardian on Earth?”
“That depends,” Harry admitted. “Are you willing to open that door with me? Will you stand with me for the rest of my life as my Guide, Hermione?”
Her eyes lit with excitement and her magic flushed over her skin briefly. “Hell yes.”
– – – –
“We need to make a show of leaving,” Harry said as he entered the tent. “Bathilda is watching the cottage.”
Hermione looked up from her reading and glanced toward the portrait that they’d moved into the tent for ease of use. Gryffindor was proving to be very informative, and the portrait could also travel to Hogwarts at will. As a result, they’d learned a lot about the situation at the school.
“She obviously wants to talk to you.”
“Yes, but she’s sneaky about it, and that makes me uncomfortable.” Harry frowned and shifted slightly as the polyjuice wore off then pulled Hermione’s beaded bag out of his cloak pocket. “Grocery shopping has never been more fun.”
She laughed and took the bag. “I’ll unpack since you did the shopping. Why does she make you uncomfortable now? She didn’t last night.”
“I don’t know. She couldn’t even see me through the wards but I watched her for a bit and she doesn’t…something is off about the way she moves and the way she stays still.” Harry admitted. “And she hadn’t moved from the spot she was standing in when I returned—even though I was gone nearly two hours. It’s like she’s standing guard over the cottage from across the street and frankly, she’s too old to have that sort of stamina.”
“Polyjuice,” Hermione suggested.
“If she were a Death Eater, I don’t think we’d have gotten out of the cemetery without a fight,” Harry said. “But she’s clearly invested in luring me into her company, and she suspects we’re still here so we need to leave in a public fashion then return in a way that she can’t detect.”
“She probably thinks we camped in the backyard or something,” Hermione said. “And I have to think if she were a Death Eater in disguise that she’d have already called reinforcements.” She pulled out a sack of flour. “Hmmm…what are we going to do with this?”
“I was thinking scones, pancakes, biscuits…” He trailed off when she looked dubious. “You can’t cook, can you?”
She laughed. “Not at all.” Hermione tucked the bag of flour in the cabinet then did the same with the rest of the dried goods. “You can teach me.”
It would be kind of fun to teach her something for a change, so Harry just nodded and pulled a cup out of the cabinet. “Is that kettle still hot?”
“Yeah, I have a charm on it.”
He made quick work of setting up his tea and sat down at the table near the package of chocolate biscuits she’d placed there. “Any progress on my mum’s notes?”
“Loads,” Hermione admitted. “She was brilliant, you know, and very organized. They planned to do the ritual the first week of November. Your father finished restoring the circle the day that Riddle came. It hadn’t been used for hundreds of years, and some of the runes were degraded.” She sat down at the table with a cup of her own. “It’s a blood circle, Harry.”
He nodded. “Will it allow you to enter it?”
“Yes, but I’ll have to give blood to the power stone.” Hermione cupped her tea with both hands. “That doesn’t bother you? The blood magic?”
“I assumed it was blood magic of some kind. After all, Dumbledore had to use blood magic on my aunt’s home to settle my mum’s magic there. Should it bother me? It’s grey, right?”
“Very grey,” Hermione admitted. “At least in theory but it obviously as practical uses that are the very definition of Light. Most warding schemes for personal property have some sort of blood base. I was worried that you’d be put off by it.”
“Because Ron would be,” Harry guessed and shrugged when she glanced his way in shock. “He’s easily unsettled and flies off the handle at the least little sign something isn’t going to go his way. I’d really hope you don’t see that in me. I know I have a temper…but…”
“No, Harry, you’re nothing like Ron.” Hermione sighed. “At least not in that respect. I mean you were both epically lazy at Hogwarts, but I’ve always wondered if that was more his fault than yours. You named your owl after a witch famous for her runecraft and spell creation. That means you were reading your textbooks quite ardently before school started. The chapter on Hedwig Fromm was halfway through our first history of magic text. Your practical work is on par with mine, so I think you know the theory quite well.”
“Ron would get bent out of shape and accuse me of using my fame to get good grades if I did better than him,” Harry admitted. “The grades were kind of meaningless, Hermione, as long as I passed, so I just slacked off to avoid the drama. No one really cares what your grade was for third-year defense. They care that you have a NEWT in DADA. Even OWLs are only important because they can determine what classes you can take. But I am sorry—I was a better friend to him that he ever deserved, obviously. You were right, you know, I gave him the consideration that I should’ve given you all along. I’m ashamed of it.”
“Just do better now,” Hermione said and plucked a biscuit from the package. “You’re going to have to claim the circle, officially, as the head of the House of Potter.”
“Dumbledore said I needn’t bother claiming my title until I’m twenty-one.”
Hermione frowned at him. “What? You could’ve claimed your title at fourteen, Harry, and been emancipated!” She huffed. “Well, then he would’ve lost control over you, right? Right.” She stood up and stalked away. “For fuck’s sake.”
“She’s adorable even when she’s furious,” Godric said as Hermione stomped off into the sleeping area.
Harry huffed. “Stopped ogling my witch, old man.” The portrait offered him a smug grin in return. “I mean it.” He pointed a finger at him. “I’ll cover you up.”
Hermione laughed from where she was so Harry stood and followed along after her. She was sitting on her bed, so he dropped down beside her and toed off his shoes. “Your witch.”
“Hmmm, that’s what I said.” He tugged on her braid, and she turned toward him. “My girl.”
Hermione rolled to her knees, sat back a bit and stared at him. “I came back here to get my jacket so we could leave and through that old witch off our trail.”
“I came back here hoping we could make out,” Harry admitted and grinned when she blushed furiously. He took her hand gently and maneuvered them both, so they stretched out on the bed. “We should probably talk.”
Hermione propped her head up on one hand and stared. “Okay.”
“Are you a virgin?” Harry questioned.
Hermione pressed her lips together briefly and exhaled. “No. You?”
“No.” He considered asking her who even though he knew it was none of his business. “Luna, last year.”
“Luna?” Hermione blinked in surprise. “I would’ve thought…well. Ginny.”
“No, I never went that far with her. Though she was certainly willing. Luna asked me to…she was worried that her father would be tricked into signing a marriage contract for her because he’s a nutter. Such a contract wouldn’t be valid if she weren’t chaste at the point of signing, so she asked me to…you know. So we did.” He smiled then. “But she told me I wasn’t allowed to get attached to her because she had plans that didn’t involve getting married and having babies with the Chosen One.”
Hermione laughed. “She drives me crazy, and I like her despite it. I’m glad you could do that for her—it never even crossed my mind that she’d have to worry about something like that.” She sighed. “Viktor. Summer before sixth year. I went to visit him in Bulgaria.”
“You said you were with your parents before you went to the Burrow,” Harry said in amusement.
“I just didn’t want to listen to Ron rant about it,” Hermione explained. “I’d have told you the truth if you’d asked any questions about it. It was nice, and he was careful with me, but I came to realize that I was never going to have the romantic feelings he wanted me to have for him. He was disappointed but not angry. I tried to picture how that conversation would’ve gone with Ron, and I can’t help but think he would’ve lost his mind and thrown a huge fit over it.”
“He’ll throw a fit over this,” Harry motioned between them. “No matter his own intentions or his mother’s plans, our being together will be seen as a betrayal to him. Though I imagine they’ll all find the ritual magic we’re about to indulge in quite horrifying. We’d certainly never fit in with their family of the Light image then.”
“Good,” Hermione said with a huff. “We’d drown in that family, Harry. They’d just suck the life right out of us. I don’t know why I ever thought for a minute I could want…Ron’s just not made for a big life, is he?”
“No, he’ll be very comfortable in some dead-end job with the ministry just like his father,” Harry said. “Not that I have a problem with that—I mean, live the life you want to live, right? But I can’t see myself being satisfied with that. The world’s too big and magic is too interesting. But sometimes people raised in the magical world just don’t seem to see the beauty of the world they live in.”
“They take it for granted,” Hermione suggested. “I’d never want to do that. Not ever. I think magic saved me, really. I was never going to truly fit in amongst my Muggle peers. I can’t even get along with people I’m related to.” She huffed when he laughed. “Harry.”
“It’s just, I can’t either. I mean I’m sure I could’ve gotten along with my parents, but the Dursleys are like aliens or something. My Aunt Petunia was deeply invested in living a small ordinary life, and Uncle Vernon was determined to provide her that no matter what he had to do. I can’t even imagine how many people he bribed over the years to keep Dudley out of jail so that she never had to face the fact that they’d raised a bully and a thief.”
“Let’s go throw Bathilda off,” Hermione suggested. “Then we can have dinner.”
“You mean I can cook you dinner,” Harry corrected.
She grinned. “Yes, exactly. You can cook that chicken you bought. I’d love some baked chicken.” Hermione leaned in and kissed him briefly. “Making out will have to wait until after dinner though.” She rolled out of bed with a laugh before he could catch her.
Harry picked up his shoes and tugged them on then went in search of his coat. A few minutes later, they apparated out of the cellar and onto the patio. “Have your wand ready.”
He went first, walking around the side of the house then toward the gate. Bagshot was still lingering on the corner, her gaze focused intently on the property. She straightened up slightly the moment they passed through the wards and out through the gate which Hermione paused to shut.
“Now that you mention it,” Hermione murmured. “There is something weird about her posture.”
“Yeah,” Harry said grimly and offered her his hand.
He focused intently on the old witch and Bagshot inclined her head as their eyes met. His scar twinged, and Harry tightened his grip on Hermione then apparated them both away. He put them right down on the inside of Dumbledore’s wards as silently as he could and watched Bagshot run unnaturally fast down the street toward what must be her house.
“Son of a bitch,” Hermione muttered. “There’s no way that old witch…”
“I don’t think it’s polyjuice,” Harry said grimly. “When our eyes met, my scar started to sting. That’s only happened around Riddle or someone tainted by him. Sometimes Ginny made my scar hurt, that’s one of the reasons I broke up with her. I don’t think she’s necessarily dark, but she is compromised because of the diary. I’d have never been able to trust her with our mission.”
“Could a curse give Bagshot that kind of mobility?” Hermione frowned. “That seems unlikely.”
“It’s also really unlikely that we just stood face to face with a Death Eater without getting cursed outright, Hermione,” Harry said gently. “Whatever’s going on with that witch—isn’t something simple.”
“Or good,” she added by way of agreement. “We’ll investigate her after we do the ritual. The more power we have in the situation, the better.”
“Agreed because that looked like something out of a horror movie.” He made a face. “Creepy old ladies shouldn’t be able to sprint like they’re in the bloody Olympics.”
Hermione snorted then covered her mouth as she started to giggle. “Sorry.”
Harry sighed and apparated them back to the cellar with a little laugh of his own.
– – – –
They both brought reading material to the table. It was interesting to see him so fascinated in his family grimoire, which he had taken from the worktable. Sometimes, he’d read portions aloud to her—especially humorous stories about his ancestor’s magical experiments. Hermione had never realized exactly how much of his own family history Harry had been denied. She felt silly for never discussing his title with him while they were at Hogwarts and wondered if she’d been magically encouraged to ignore it.
Harry closed the grimoire and pushed aside his mostly empty plate. “How was the chicken?”
“Better than my mum’s,” Hermione said. She plucked a roll from the basket between them and tore it open. “The ritual itself it fairly simple on our end of things. We’ll need to add our blood to the power stone and then petition Zir. There is an incantation you’ll have to learn.”
“Then sex,” Harry said.
“Yeah.” She shrugged. “Sex. It’ll be kind of like a magical communion so it could be pretty intense.”
“Sentinels can go feral,” Harry said neutrally. “I’m worried that I might hurt you if I come online in the circle.”
“Muggle Sentinels were prone to feral episodes if they were threatened or if they were without a Guide,” Hermione agreed. “Magical Sentinels rarely experienced those kinds of drives and normally only in the face of a severe threat to themselves or their Guide. We’re very safe here, Harry. I feel it, and I know you do too.”
“I’ve never felt safer,” Harry admitted. “It’s like this cellar is in a different world altogether which I know is impossible but that’s how it feels.”
She blinked and hopped up from the table and darted out of the tent without a word. Harry followed at a more sedate pace and found her standing in front of the ward stone with a book in her hand.
“Shhh,” she admonished and waved a hand. “Give me a minute.”
He took a seat on the empty worktable and watched her trace several of the runes on the warding stone. After nearly ten minutes, she closed the book and turned to face him.
“I’ve often wondered why your parents chose this cottage to hide in. Why not a new property? Why not a property they didn’t even own? Your mum was way too smart to depend on the Fidelius charm alone, and Sirius said that the Order had already started to splinter a bit. He even thought that Remus might be a Death Eater. Then we found this circle, and I thought—okay, this is why.” She motioned toward the circle. “Ancient ritual circles are rare. Stupid rare and if they were going to do something life changing then your dad really needed an ancient ritual circle. One built by his own family magic would be even more valuable.”
“It makes sense,” Harry said. “But that’s not all, right? What’s on the ward stone that has you so excited?”
She grinned. “Harry, your house doesn’t have a cellar.”
“We’re in it, right now,” Harry pointed out.
“No, we’re in a dimensional pocket.” She waved a hand. “It’s like the Room of Requirement, Harry, except it has a permanent configuration. The cottage was built on top of the ritual circle. There is about a foot of crawl space under the actual house.”
“Oh.” He took a deep breath. “Who built the cottage?”
“The cottage is about five hundred years old, but your dad is the one who built the space down here. It’s probably been known for generations that the ritual circle was hidden under this cottage. Your father found a way to access and use the circle in absolute secret. The only reason I saw the entryway is because we were touching when it appeared.”
“We were kissing,” Harry corrected.
“Best first kiss ever,” Hermione said and grinned when he laughed.
He walked over to her and pulled her close gently. “So, what you’re saying is that we’re in a place no one can find.”
“Your father’s magic is protecting the space—it’s very intelligent protection.” She bit down on her bottom lip. “The circumstances are quite unique.”
“Because he died protecting this secret—to prevent Riddle from desecrating the legacy of our family.”
“Perhaps he hoped you’d find it and finish what he started,” Hermione said. She looped her arms around his neck. “I just wish it had never come to that.”
“Me, too,” Harry murmured. “I’d give anything to have them with me now. I don’t feel prepared for this war. I want to blame Dumbledore for that but is that fair?”
“Yes,” Hermione said with a frown. “He never told you all you needed to know, obviously. He didn’t give you the magical education you really needed. If you’d been told the prophecy the first time you asked him at the end of first year, everything would’ve been different. He kept too many secrets, Harry. And now look here we are—in the middle of war neither one of us are bloody prepared for. Death Eaters are in the ministry and in Hogwarts. They’re putting Muggle-borns in camps, and Umbridge…god…don’t get me started on Umbridge.”
“Do you want to concentrate on fighting back rather than finding the horcruxes?” Harry questioned. “What should really be our priority?”
“If we managed to kill his body again—there’s no telling how long it would take for him to cultivate enough power for another resurrection. It would give us time to find the other horcruxes. We could hunt for Nagini properly because I’m certain she’s one and search Hogwarts without having to worry about Death Eater teachers. We could do in peace what Dumbledore failed to do.”
“All right,” Harry agreed as he let his hands settle on her hips. “We’ll take him and his followers out of the picture first then we’ll make sure he has no way to return a second time.”
“Just like that.” Hermione raised an eyebrow. “What about what Dumbledore wanted?”
“You were right, before, you’ve been beside me this entire time. I’ve always been able to count on you, and I think you’re right—I think our focus on the horcruxes has blinded us to a large degree about what is going on in Britain and that’s not the kind of man my father was. It isn’t the kind of man I want to be. It certainly not how a Sentinel acts.” He glanced toward the circle. “I have to be willing to walk that path, right?”
“Right,” Hermione nodded. “We’ll walk it together. I’m going to be the best Guide, Harry. I mean it.”
He smiled. “Oh, love, I know. You’ve been guiding me since we met.”
Hermione huffed. “Harry Potter, being a Guide and being bossy isn’t the same thing at all.”
“Sure, sure.” He laughed when she tried to wiggle out of his hold. “I adore you when you’re bossy.”
He picked her up, and she threw an arm over his shoulders with a put-upon sigh. “You’re the worst sort. Where are you taking me?”
“Somewhere comfortable so I can have a proper snog.”
“Very well,” Hermione said primly and waved a hand. “Carry on.”
Harry shifted on his side and pulled the blanket up, so it covered Hermione better. She moved in her sleep, her fingers curled into his T-shirt as she moved closer. The environmental controls in the tent ensured they were both comfortable physically so he could only assume that she was seeking some kind of emotional validation in her sleep. It made him feel guilty as hell. It was hard not to reflect on the years of their friendship and see all of his faults. He’d rarely been the friend she’d deserved, and that was galling because he owed her his life.
“You’re thinking too loud.”
“You’re the one that said that sharing a bed would facilitate intimacy,” Harry murmured wryly against her hair. He grinned when she huffed. “I’ve never slept with someone, so it’s something to get used to.”
“You’re more comfortable than I thought you’d be,” Hermione admitted. “I was thinking about the ritual.”
“And the sex,” Harry supplied.
“Yeah, of course, I mean it’s pretty hard not to.” She lifted her head slightly, so their gazes met in the semi-darkness of the tent. “I agree about not having sex for the first time in the circle. It could probably be awkward, and…frankly we’re supposed to hmm really enjoy ourselves to make the offering.”
“You think I can’t get you off?” He questioned and raised an eyebrow when her eyes went wide. “Challenging a wizard on such a topic is just asking for trouble, Hermione Jane.”
She laughed. “No, I didn’t mean…well…girls are different than boys.”
“Deliciously different,” Harry agreed and ran one finger along her exposed collarbone.
“Well, we’ve both only ever done it once so I’m concerned I guess that we’d mess it up in the circle.”
“I never said I’d only had sex once,” Harry corrected and scrunched up his nose a bit when she gaped at him. “I mean I took care with myself, of course, and used contraceptive spells. And just before I started dating Ginny, I visited Madam Pomfrey to get a health scan just in case but…ya know.”
“How many?” Hermione asked wide-eyed.
“How many times or how many witches?” He asked and grinned when she huffed. “Oh, love, seriously? Do you know how easy it was for me to get laid in that school last year?”
Hermione huffed. “Harry Potter.” She poked him in the side he laughed. “How many witches?”
“Six?” She waved a hand. “Wow.”
“It’s a perfectly reasonable number,” Harry protested and laughed again when she scowled at him. “Jealous?”
“Immensely,” she admitted and slouched down against him with a pout. “I only got laid that once and it was fine but gah, Harry, I’ve only had my hand since and that’s just rude.”
He laughed as he shifted Hermione onto her back with gentle hands and slid one hand right down between her legs and into her shorts. “It’s very rude.” He teased the lacy edge of her knickers with his fingertips. She lifted her hips a little and made a frustrated sound. “Easy, love, just making sure we’re on the same page.”
“Harry.” She waited until he met her gaze. “I want you inside me. I have a contraceptive charm already in place.”
Harry slid his fingers into her knickers and brushed them gently over the folds of her pussy before pushing in slightly to brush over her clit in a slow circle. Her breath hitched, and she groaned.
“Let’s take off all of these clothes, then.”
“Yeah.” Hermione nodded her agreement.
He pulled his hand free and shifted so he could shed the boxers he’d worn to bed first then jerked his T-shirt over his head. When he turned to her, she’d already discarded the little tank top and was wiggling out of her shorts and knickers. He tucked his hand into the waistbands of both and helped her slide them down her legs then tossed it all on the floor next to the bed.
Harry pulled her into his arms, and she pressed her mouth to his with a needy little groan. He realized then, that despite his intentions to take things slow, that it wasn’t going to go that way. Her eagerness was contagious and letting himself fall into it was a relief. They couldn’t give each other much in their current circumstances—the war had stripped them both bare in a thousand ways, but they could have love and pleasure.
He cupped one breast, and she shivered as he thumbed roughly over her rigid nipple. Harry pulled his mouth free from hers. “You’re lovely.” He slid his hand down and cupped her pussy. “Perfect.” Harry pressed one finger into her and watched her eyes darken with pleasure. “Talk to me, tell me what you want.”
Her eyes widened with shock, and she wet her lips. “Harry.” A blush stole across her cheeks. “I don’t know.” She sucked in a breath as he brushed over her clit with his thumb.
“Oh, love, now is not the time to play dumb,” he murmured. “Do you like this?” He slid two fingers in, deep and slowly started to fuck her with them.
“Yes.” Her breath hitched, and she shuddered against his hand. “Yes, that’s so good.” Her hand clenched on the back of his neck. “Would you…”
“Anything,” he said. “Well, almost anything.”
She laughed and inhaled sharply. “Suck my nipples.”
“Definitely that,” he agreed and lowered his head. He flicked his tongue over one hard nipple then drew it into his mouth.
She twisted against him, tried to get closer, and her fingers brushed over his cock. Harry couldn’t control a slight jerk of his hips when she managed to wrap her hand around his erection. Her touch felt more like curious exploration than an intent to pleasure, which didn’t surprise him at all. Her inquisitive nature was a delight even in the most mundane of situations.
He released her nipple and met her gaze. She caught her bottom lip between her teeth and sucked on it. “Above average. I won’t hurt you.”
“I know that,” Hermione said. “You’d never hurt me given a choice.” She rubbed her thumb over the head, gathering pre-cum. He took a deep breath when she lifted her hand to her mouth and cleaned her thumb with a flick of her tongue. “A little salty but not terrible.”
“Nice to know.”
“Are you teasing me?” Hermione questioned.
“No, love, not at all.” He pressed deep into her with his fingers and curled them slightly as he withdrew then did it again when her breath hitched. “Your honesty is refreshing and relieving. I think the best sex happens when everyone involved in upfront about what they want and need.”
“That sounds good,” she agreed and shuddered. “Merlin, Harry, that’s so good.”
“You should come,” he decided as he brushed his lips over her nipple then licked it. “It’ll make things easier.”
“I’m really close,” she admitted and took a deep breath when he clenched his teeth gently on her nipple then started to suck again. “I love that. It feels so good to get them sucked.”
Her fingers clenched in his hair and she rocked in his hand with a breathy little gasp that spoke to someone who was very used to making as little noise as possible when they came. The idea of her rubbing one off in her dorm surrounded by her roommates was unexpectedly hot. He lifted his head and watched her eyes widen as he pressed firmly down on her clit. She came then with a shuddery moan and turned her face into his shoulder.
Harry pulled his fingers free and waited until she focused on him before he slipped over her to rest between her thighs, which she immediately spread open for him. She slid one foot down his calf before planting them both on the mattress. Her hands curled over his shoulders as he sought her mouth. He braced himself with one hand after a slow, intimate kiss and used the other to position himself.
“Relax,” he murmured as he rubbed the head of his cock against her opening. Her thighs pressed briefly against his hips then she softened against him, body relaxed on the mattress. He slid in with one long, deep stroke and her breath caught. “Too much?”
“No,” Hermione denied and wrapped her legs around his waist. “It’s perfect. You feel so good.”
He gave her a few moments to adjust just in case then started to move. Hermione rocked into each thrust; soft sweet moans fell from her mouth in encouragement. Her hands slid down his back, over his arse, and he couldn’t help but shudder in shocked pleasure when she dug her nails into his lower back. She was far too eager for him to keep a slow even pace and shortly his strokes became hard and fast.
“Yes.” Hermione arched under him. “Merlin, Harry, that’s…yes, just like that.”
“I am so close,” he admitted roughly. She clenched down on him, and he tried to think of the most terrible things he could to keep from coming while avoiding thinking of things that make his dick crawl up into his stomach to hide. It was a difficult balancing act. He worked a hand between them, rubbed over her clit, and she shuddered. “That’s it, love, come for me.”
Her legs fell from around his waist, and she lifted up against his hand eagerly, her pussy clenching around him so tightly that he couldn’t help but groan in response. “God.” He increased the pace of his fingers, and she rushed wet around his cock. With a groan of relief, he thrust into her one final time and released.
“Fuck,” she muttered as he settled some of his weight on her. She trailed one hand down the damp skin of his back. “That was fantastic. I’m totally going to ignore your ho-bag phase at Hogwarts.”
He laughed a little and pulled gently from her body. “Bite me.” Harry dropped on his back beside her and flicked her nipple.
“Though,” Hermione began thoughtfully as she stretched out her body and wiggled a bit against the mattress. “It’s nice to know you were able to learn something in school. You clearly applied yourself to the subject.”
“I wonder how hard I’d have to fuck you to render you mute for about five minutes?” Harry questioned as he stared at the ceiling of the tent.
“You really are the worst sort, Harry Potter.”
– – – –
“The best way to claim the ritual circle is to claim the title,” Godric said as he leaned back in his chair. The same chair, Harry thought, that Dumbledore had sat in at Hogwarts for meals.
“I can’t go to the bank to handle that, sir,” Harry explained and looked up from the grimoire.
“Why on earth would you need to go the bank to claim the title?” the portrait asked roughly. “You’re standing in the middle of your own land, lad, my blood running in your veins! Take the oath, swear yourself to the family line and you’ll be the Earl of Gryffindor. Simple as that.”
“Don’t I need the ring?”
“The ring is a symbol built on family magic. It will come to you if your claim is legitimate and it is.” Godric frowned. “Who told you that you’d have to go the bank to retrieve the ring?”
“Dumbledore.” Harry ran a hand through his hair. “We only ever discussed it once at the end of third year because I asked him if the title would help me in regards to my godfather’s situation. He said no that it was largely ceremonial and offered me no legal recourse regarding my own guardianship. Which is a lie because I could’ve claimed the title that summer and been emancipated per Hermione.”
“Dumbledore truly was an enemy of the House of Potter,” Gryffindor said with a frown. “Ceremonial is one way to put it, but your title also guarantees you a seat on the Wizengamot, Harry. Moreover, you certainly could’ve lobbied to have your godfather, the pureblood heir of the House of Black, put on trial and cleared of wrongdoing. Had he been a peer when it happened, they’d have never been able to put him in jail without a lengthy public trial. I tried to tell Dumbledore this, and he took my portrait down from his office and told me to mind my own business. I was put in storage, and I can’t leave that storage room except to come here to my own remote portrait.”
“We should figure out a way to get your portrait out of that storage cabinet so you can spy for us,” Harry said thoughtfully. “Could a house elf get to it?”
“Yes, especially one who already works at Hogwarts but they are bound to obey the current headmaster. Hermione said that bastard Snape is the new headmaster.”
Harry grinned then. “Well, not every elf who works for Hogwarts is bound to it.” He stood and offered the portrait a nod before he went to find Hermione. She’d dragged a chair from the tent out to the work table and was steadily making her way through the stack of parchments and research his parents had left behind. “I need to go have a conversation with a certain sock wearing house elf.”
Hermione looked up. “Hmmm, why?”
“To liberate Godric’s portrait from storage at Hogwarts so he can spy for us.”
She nodded. “Well, do you think you should go back to the forest and see if Ron returned?”
“Only if I get to curse the shit out of him while I do it,” Harry said.
Hermione shrugged. “Disillusion yourself before you apparate and don’t be tempted to engage him in a conversation. You know he’ll have nothing but empty promises and insincere apologies to offer anyway.”
Harry nodded, kissed the top of her head as she returned to her reading and went into the tent to pick up his jacket. He paused briefly at the kitchen table where the locket lay. They’d decided due to the extra security they now enjoyed to not wear it at all, and he was immensely grateful for that. The thing was getting more disgusting by the day. He pulled on his jacket, disillusioned himself with a tap of his wand, and apparated to the patio. Walking around to the front of the cottage, he paused to survey the street. Bagshot hadn’t come back it seemed. He resolved to set some proximity charms around the property after he returned since he wasn’t magically connected with the wards Dumbledore left behind. Though he should figure out how to claim those wards so he could control them. That decided, he apparated back to the forest.
It had been three days since he’d stolen the deluminator from Ron and thus prevented the tosser from finding them using it. He wondered just how big of a tantrum Molly had thrown when he’d confessed to losing the tracking device. Or if he’d even confessed at all. It was definitely something that Ron would keep to himself if given a choice in the matter. The forest was too quiet, so Harry put silencing charms on his feet with a subvocal spell and walked a few feet down the path from the place where they’d placed the tent.
It really shouldn’t have surprised him at all to find Ron sitting on a fallen tree eating lunch. It was a bit of a shock to see the twins with him. Neither Fred nor George looked particularly happy. They were both watching their younger brother eat.
“Would you stop glaring at me?” Ron demanded. “It’s not my fault I lost the deluminator. It must have splinched or something when I apparated.”
“It is your fault you abandoned your friends in the first place,” one twin said darkly. “It’s pretty fucking telling, Ronald, that our mother gave you a way to keep track of them, to begin with. She knew you were too weak to really be the kind of friend Harry needed during the war. Merlin, I don’t know why we’re bothering with this at all. If I were Harry, I’d never speak to your dumb arse again. All you know how to do is turn your back on him when he needs you most.”
“Shut up,” Ron snapped.
“Fred’s right,” George interjected. “You’re a shite friend, and I hope neither one of them forgive you for this. If they are even alive.” He stood up and stalked away from them. “This is pointless. We’ve been searching this forest forever, and they’ve clearly moved on.”
“If we could find the deluminator then I could search for them using it,” Ron said with a sullen huff. “But you can’t even help me do that!”
Fred stood and waved a hand. “That’s it. I’m done. Let’s go, George.”
Harry blinked when both twins apparated away without another word. He figured there might be more of an argument, but it seemed one made a decision it was a done deal. Though looking back on it, he’d never seen them argue at Hogwarts about anything. They always appeared to be on the exact same page no matter the circumstances. He leaned against the tree and watched Ron refocus his attention on his food.
That lasted nearly a whole minute before Weasley sighed and pulled a mirror out of his pocket. It hadn’t taken the twins long to report to their mother that they’d abandoned Ron to his task.
“I’m still looking, Mum.”
“No, the twins told me there is no point in continuing. The deluminator was probably destroyed by the splinch, or you lost it elsewhere,” Molly sighed. “You can return to Hogwarts when school starts again.”
“But what about Harry and Hermione?”
“It’ll be a miracle if they both survive the war,” Molly said. “If they’ve done something stupid—we’ll just have to work to separate them and correct the problem before he can claim his title.”
“Why does that stupid title matter?”
Molly huffed. “His ring will protect him from untold amounts of manipulation—magical and otherwise. There is a reason why Dumbledore discouraged him from claiming that silly thing. You might as well come home now.”
“No, your brother doesn’t want you in his house,” Molly said. “He floo’d me this morning to let me know. He sent your things via owl. Bill is a stickler for honor, Ronald, and he doesn’t think you have any.”
Ron frowned but then put the mirror away. Harry almost laughed as he realized that Molly had essentially hung-up on her youngest son. He pulled his wand and stunned the git. Ron tipped over onto the ground, the remains of his lunch spilling all over the place.
The house elf popped in front of him immediately. “Harry Potter.” The elf launched forward and wrapped both arms around his leg. “Yous call Dobby.”
“I did.” Harry laughed and patted the elf’s head. “How are things going to at Hogwarts?”
“Oh, Harry Potter, Death Munchers be terrible.” The elf released him. “But we make them miserable whenever possible.”
“Sounds great, you keep doing that,” Harry instructed. “Make them run for their lives.”
Dobby’s gaze narrowed. “Harry Potter mean that? House elves at Hogwarts can be extra mean to Death Munchers?”
“You can be really mean to all of them,” Harry said. “Can you do me a favor?”
“Dobby be happy to serve,” the elf said proudly.
“Great. I want you to remove Godric Gryffindor’s portrait from storage at Hogwarts and put it in Minerva McGonagall’s office. Make sure only she can see him so he’ll be safe from the Death Eaters and Snape specifically.”
“That Greasy Git!” Dobby crossed his arms. “Dobby not like him at all.”
“You can super, extra mean to him,” Harry said and laughed when the elf clapped his hands. “You don’t happen to have a piece of paper and a quill, handy?”
Both items appeared in the elf’s hands within seconds of the question. He offered them, and Harry took them with a smile. “Thank you, Dobby. Be safe as you can and have as much fun as possible.”
Dobby smiled with what could only be described as malicious glee. “Dobby be having all the fun.”
Harry shook his head as the elf popped away then sat down on the tree that Ron had occupied. He considered writing a really long ranty letter, but in the end, he knew that Ron didn’t actually care about their friendship at all. He settled for something short and sweet. He left it on top of the git’s lunch and apparated back to Godric’s Hollow with a sigh then popped back into the cellar from the patio.
Hermione looked up from her reading. “How’d things go?”
“I told Dobby he had permission to be extra mean to all the Death Eaters at Hogwarts,” Harry said. “And Ron was there with the twins, but they got mad and left him. Molly mirror-called and she’s going to send him back to Hogwarts after the holidays since he has no other purpose. Apparently, he’s not welcome at Bill’s because he’s an honorless git who abandoned us. I stunned him and left him a note.”
Her mouth quirked briefly in a smile. “What did the note say?”
“Ron—fuck off. We don’t need or want you. You’ve never been a real friend to either one of us so stop pretending. – Harry & Hermione.” He shrugged when she laughed. “What? It’s true, and I could’ve probably written a bloody novel about how furious he makes me but why bother? He’s not worth that sort of investment.”
“No, I agree.” Hermione sighed. “Well, that’s done I guess. I mean, he’ll certainly try to confront us at some point in the future, but we don’t have to engage him in any sort to of discussion. We aren’t required to accept his apologies, not even if they were sincere. And they won’t be—he probably really hasn’t been our friend since…” She frowned. “Maybe never actually.”
“He was looking for me on the train,” Harry said roughly. “Looking to make friends with the Boy-Who-Lived. I was naïve, and they all took full advantage of that in some fashion or another. The entire magical world has been doing that to me since my parents were murdered and I’m really fucking fed up with it, Hermione.”
“Yeah, well, the next time those arseholes see you—you’ll be a living legend,” Hermione said grimly. “You’ll be the Black Dragon’s Guardian, and there hasn’t been one of those in over five hundred years. You’ll be blessed and protected by Zir, Harry, and not a single magical person on this whole damn planet will be able to manipulate or control you.”
He nodded and leaned against the worktable. “Godric told me I should claim the title in order to gain full control of the circle. He said that the ring will come to me and I don’t have to retrieve it from the bank. I just have to make an oath to my family magic.”
Her gaze narrowed. “When we reach the afterlife, I’m going to punch Albus Dumbledore is his big fat nose.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Harry said in agreement and laughed when she huffed. “Provided my parents haven’t already destroyed him outright. They can’t have been happy to see him.” He shrugged out of his jacket and walked toward the tent to put it away. “Thoughts for lunch?”
“Just sandwiches would be fine,” Hermione said absently. “Do you need my help?”
“Not after that egg disaster this morning,” Harry responded.
“The book said that you could soft boil an egg with that spell,” Hermione protested.
The egg had exploded all over the kitchen. He just laughed as he entered the tent and hung his coat up on the rack. They’d had to use magic to get the shell off the ceiling. He decided on roast beef sandwiches and crisps. After fixing plates for them both, he dropped hers off at the worktable and retreated to the small library to talk with the portrait some more about claiming his title.
– – – –
“I, Harry James Potter, son of James Michael Potter, do solemnly swear on my magic to honor my family both in word and deed. Let magic judge and find me worthy of my family legacy for I am the scion of the Ancient and Noble House of Potter.” He glanced briefly at Hermione before continuing, “I am Harry James Potter, the Earl of Gryffindor.”
The circle lit under his bare feet as magic surged around him and a ring shimmered into place on his hand. He sucked in a deep breath as light danced around him then with a crack of forced apparition, the Sword of Gryffindor appeared before hovering in the air. He reached out and grabbed the pommel with one hand, and his magic settled.
He focused on her. “It worked.”
“Offer me your hand and invite me into your circle, please,” Hermione urged.
He offered her his left hand. “Hermione Jane Granger, please join me in the Gryffindor Circle as my partner in magic.”
Hermione took his hand, and he pulled her gently into the swirling magic of the circle. Before he could say anything else, she slid to her knees. “I solemnly swear on my magic that I will be in the future faithful to Lord Harry James Potter, never cause him or his Ancient and Noble house harm and will observe my homage to him completely against all persons in good faith and without deceit.”
His mind raced against the implications of her words. “I am honored to accept your fealty.” He pulled her from the floor and brought her close. “You crazy witch.”
She wrapped her arms around his waist. “I can’t believe the sword came to you.”
“Godric said it might, but I didn’t know what kind of magic was in play to keep it from me, so I wasn’t sure.” His grip tightened on the sword. “Tomorrow we petition Zir.”
– – – –
The space lacked a cistern for cleansing so they’d looked up spells to serve the same purpose until they could get one placed. Neither of them had the knowledge had to create one. Fortunately, Godric had offered them both lessons in a variety of subjects, which they’d gratefully agreed to. The portrait was missing from the frame as he’d gone off to Hogwarts to have a long conversation with Minerva McGonagall who’d taken the appearance of a founder’s portrait in her office quite well.
They didn’t have ritual robes, but a sex ritual didn’t require them so in that respect they were set though the idea of having robes explicitly made for ritual magic intrigued them both. It was easy to be enthralled with the power of the Gryffindor Circle, but the space felt so safe and familiar that Harry was hard-pressed to be any sort of worried about the influence it was having on them both.
He shed his robe, dropped it on the second, still empty, worktable, and focused on her. “Ready?”
Hermione inhaled and nodded quickly as she took off her own robe and put it beside his. “As I’ll ever be. This is probably not the ritual anyone should undertake for their first time.”
He laughed. “Right, well, there’s no need to be anything less than total Gryffindors about it.”
She flushed then grinned. “Right. If we were going to be all rational minded about this kind of thing we’d be in Ravenclaw.”
They stepped into circle together, and the magic heaved around them in welcome. Harry moved to the center of the space and Hermione followed. She slid into place in front of him and pressed her back to his chest. When she’d explained how they’d be positioned in the circle, he’d been kind of shocked, and a trifle horrified in the back of his mind since his parents had planned on doing the ritual themselves. He’d resolved to never, ever think about that part again as long as he lived.
“May Magic bless our unified purpose,” Harry said and all the runes within the circle that were dormant lit brilliantly with gold magic. He curled one hand around Hermione’s hip and groaned just a bit when his half-hard cock brushed against her arse. “I beseech thee my lord, Zirnitra the god of sorcery, to grant me the power and skills I need to stand in the defense of our beloved Lady Magic on this earth as a Guardian in your service. Donum Magicae.”
Hermione leaned back against him and repeated, “Donum Magicae.”
Harry closed his eyes, steadied himself, and cleared his mind as much as he could. “Custos Draconis.”
Hermione curled one hand over his on her hip. “Particeps in magicae.”
The magic of the circle darkened and swelled around them like an ocean tide, heaving with the power of the spells they’d invoked. Between one moment and the next, Harry found himself sliding to his knees with Hermione clutched tightly against him. She arched in his lap, and he couldn’t help but slide right into her warm, tight cunt. A distant part of him was relieved by her obvious arousal, but the thought slipped away in the wake of the near-feral lust that swept over them.
He urged her to her knees, and she assumed the position without a single protest, her hands clenched on the rough stone floor of the circle. Hermione ground back into every single thrust of his cock, her soft gasping moans filled his ears even as the magic of the circle became thunderous. The pleasure was intense and so consuming that when his magic started to quake inside of him—Harry couldn’t bring himself to care.
Everything snapped as he came—blinding white light filled the circle then suddenly they were standing, naked in the bright mid-day sun next to a set of empty train tracks.
“We’re at King’s Cross,” Hermione said in shock. “Naked.”
Harry went to unholster his wand and found the holster missing from his wrist. “Son of a bitch…my wand is gone.”
“So is mine,” Hermione whispered.
Harry pulled her close and tried to apparate. “I can’t apparate.”
“No, me neither.”
“That’s because you’re not really here,” a voice said wryly. A man appeared before them and raised one dark eyebrow. “You two are a surprise.”
Harry shifted completely in front of Hermione. “You’re…”
“I prefer Zir,” the man said and waved a hand. Robes swept around them, and Harry relaxed as he tied his off. “You two weren’t so modest in offering me that lovely bought of sex magic.”
Harry huffed a little. “I didn’t expect…to actually meet you, sir.”
“It certainly wasn’t included in any of the ritual notes,” Hermione complained under her breath. She slid her hand into Harry’s. “Where are we?”
“Well, physically you’re both still in the ritual circle,” Zir explained as he walked away from them. He nudged a bench with his foot with a frown. “I hate this train station. I loathe the day British magicals started putting their kids on that foolish train because you lot started to view this place as some kind of transitional space. So now, whenever one of you entreats me—I end up here talking with my wife’s children.”
“Are you going to grant our petition?” Harry asked.
“I was going to grant it without any sort of discussion until I realized you have a bloody horcrux in your head,” Zir said and turned to stare at him. “I’ll be having words with Albus Dumbledore shortly about that foolish shite, you can be certain. I had to interfere with the ritual and stop time to prevent that horcrux from interacting with the Gryffindor Circle. It would’ve killed you both in the backlash, as your family magic is aware that Tom Riddle is your mortal enemy. It’s already lashed out him horrifically twice.”
“The night he tried to kill me and my first year at Hogwarts,” Harry said.
“Yes. He circumvented most of that protection by using your blood to resurrect himself, but he’s an utter fool.”
“You can revoke his use of that blood,” Zir said patiently. “His body will disintegrate on the spot. That’s why such rituals are dangerous, and why the unwilling blood donor is most often killed on the spot. Riddle always believed himself smarter than he actually is.” He waved a hand. “You can look that spell up later. Right now, your bodies are in magical stasis. I can remove the horcrux, of course, but it will be quite magically traumatizing.”
“And?” Hermione questioned.
“Your bodies will spend a month in stasis while your minds are bombarded with the information you need to undertake the roles you’ve requested. The training will be intense and intimate both mentally and magically. When you leave me—you’ll be spiritually and magically bound in such a way that you’ll never willing to be parted from one another.” He paused. “This bond will be considered a permanent form of magical marriage within the society you live. Moreover, you’ll not be able to hide what you’ve been given by me. You’ll be marked by my magic for the rest of your lives.”
“Can I defeat Tom Riddle?” Harry questioned. “Completely?”
“Yes, of course, you can, Harry. I’d have never sent you down there to do it in the first place if you were going to fail.” Zir raised one eyebrow. “Yes or no?”
Harry turned and focused on Hermione. “Mi?”
“I still want a pond.”
He grinned. “Right. A pond.” He turned back to Zir. “Yes.”
Harry entered the small library pulling a T-shirt over his head. The portrait looked at him with a mixture of exasperation and palpable relief. “Hey.”
“Lad, I’m glad to see you up and active. I should’ve asked you to move the portrait, so I had a better view of the ritual circle. The ritual was intimate, so I decided against it initially. I had no idea you’d be in what looked like a magical stasis for a bloody month. Minerva McGonagall is ready to come here and tear down this house to get to the two of you. The only thing stopping her is the risk of her actually exposing your location to Riddle’s followers.”
Harry winced. “Yes, sorry about that. Tell her that our petition was granted but that Zir insisted on educating us personally in his realm. A month down here actually equaled two years within his realm, so we learned a lot. Also, let her know that we’ll be returning to the school through the Chamber of Secrets within the next six hours and arrange a time for her to meet us in the third-floor girl’s bathroom. I’m going to reclaim our family land there and take control of the school with a blood rite.”
Godric blinked in surprise. “Certainly within your rights as a founder’s heir. But why?”
“I need to do it before Riddle can,” Harry said grimly. “He’s Slytherin’s heir, Godric, and that’s exactly what he plans to do. He’s going to turn the school into his headquarters for an all-out blood war that will encompass the entire planet. Zir showed me several different paths where he could accomplish this, and every single time it led to the extinction of Muggles and the enslavement of magical kind to Riddle because Hogwarts became a fortress that no one but his followers could enter or leave. No force on Earth could touch him, and the results were horrific.”
“I’ll go now. How will Minerva tell you the time to meet?”
“Tell her to leave a note concealed with my mother’s full name as the password in the middle sink next to the small snake. I’ll find it there,” Harry said and cleared his throat. “We won’t come back here until after the war so I’ll see you at Hogwarts, sir.”
“I’ll let the other founders know to expect you. I’ve had their portraits moved into the central warding room for security purposes. Snape can’t get in there since Hogwarts finds him utterly unpleasant. She barely allows him to use the headmaster’s office and only then because Albus’ portrait has insisted. Should I tell him what you’ve done and what you intend to do?”
“No. I don’t need to hear any more dragonshite from Albus bloody Dumbledore,” Harry said darkly. “Go and don’t get caught spying. I’d rather your portrait not be damaged. You’re valuable to the school and to me personally.”
The portrait quirked an eyebrow, bowed, and left without a word.
Harry turned and found Hermione standing in the doorway. “Yes, I have the grimoire in my pocket. Tent packed?”
“Yes.” She patted her beaded bag, the strap of which was across her body. “Let’s go have a talk with Bathilda Bagshot.”
Harry offered her his hand. “Yeah, let’s just do that.”
He hadn’t been all that surprised when Zir told him that Nagini was wearing a Bathilda Bagshot suit. Disgusted yes, surprised, not exactly. It was just par for his course considering everything that had already happened to him.
“Ah, Potter, one more thing.”
Harry stilled when Zir’s voice echoed through the ritual space. Light sparked around the now unlit ritual circle, and a sharp spike of lightning delivered a little cloud of smoke. When it cleared a little creature lay curled there. Harry huffed a little as the little thing flicked white and silver wings.
They’d already met their spirit animals, and that had been a startling event, to say the least. His black panther and Hermione’s white tiger were primal and very territorial creatures. It had taken more than a week for the two animals to appear at the same time and not fight. However, as his bond with Hermione had settled, the spirit animals had grown close as well. Near the end of the first month, the two big cats had started to nap together while he and Hermione trained.
The little creature stood up on four sturdy little legs and tilted her head toward Harry with bright yellow eyes that were so familiar that his knees weakened. “Hedwig?”
“Oh, wow.” Hermione took a steady breath. “Harry…she’s a longma.”
“Dragon-horse,” Harry said as she slowly walked across the ritual circle and sank to his knees in front of her. “I read about them in third year. Zir, what have you done?”
A near-ghostly laugh filled the space. “Service to me does come with some rewards, Lord Potter. Hedwig decided that an owl body was just too flimsy for her second turn with you and this is the form she chose. A private citizen can’t keep a dragon in Britain, but the longma is considered a docile and light species. But she has a few special gifts.”
“Thank you, sir.” He reached out and touched Hedwig’s face. “Hello, sweetheart.” He was rewarded with a cheerful whinny in return, and she nipped his fingers as she often had as an owl. Her tail whipped around her clawed feet as her body glimmered with magic. “You’re beautiful.” She preened and flicked her wings.
Hermione laughed. “She really is.”
Hedwig tilted her head and trotted over to Hermione then lifted up her hind legs with a little growly sound.
“Ah, I see your game,” Hermione said as she picked her up. “You want in the bag, don’t you?” Hedwig touched the bag with her paw and popped away. “I think we need a list of what special gifts mean,” she muttered. “Longma aren’t supposed to be able to apparate, Harry.”
He shrugged, too happy with the development to look a gift dragon-horse in the mouth. “Snake hunting?”
She took his hand and sighed. “Snake hunting.”
They exited the cellar the way up the stairs and through the bulkhead doors to the patio, there was no moon to cast light over the yard or street, but he didn’t have a problem seeing anything anymore. They walked around the house and toward the gate. He inhaled sharply and made a soft sound of disgust.
“I can smell her from here,” he said grimly. “Whatever magic they’re using to preserve the body is starting to fall apart. Let’s not fuck around, love, we have Death Eaters to throw out of my castle.”
“Ha, our castle.” She nudged him gently when he laughed. “What’s yours is mine.”
“As you say, wife,” Harry said and tugged her down the street.
Bagshot’s house looked like something out of a gothic horror film but then a lot of the magical world sort of fit that description. The door opened before they were halfway up the sidewalk but Harry wasn’t deterred. Hermione’s mental touch grew heavy against his mind—a warning and a steadying influence all at the same time. He spread out his sense of hearing carefully and her empathic shields flexed around them both in response. Two heartbeats. He tapped his finger gently against the top of her hand twice, and she nodded as they walked into the house.
The door snicked shut behind them. The smell of decaying human flesh teased at Harry’s nose but he’d started dialing down his sense of smell the moment they left their own land. He didn’t know what it would be like to zone on such a horrible smell, but he wasn’t prepared to find out in their current circumstances either. Their bond was new in the physical world, so they’d resolved to be careful about zoning and being separated. They found the animated corpse in the kitchen.
Harry grimaced. “Your meat suit is decaying, Nagini.”
Bathilda tilted her head, and Nagini exploded out of the body in the most disgusting fashion possible showering the table in between them in blood, bone, and flesh. Harry pulled the sword from the dimensional space Zir had crafted for them both and took her head off with one lethal swipe.
“I’d be impressed, but you practiced that for three months,” Hermione said dryly. “Also, it wasn’t as nasty in practice either.”
Harry nodded and drew his wand. He cleaned the sword first, tucked it away in the d-space then vanished Bagshot’s remains then the snake’s. He cast several silent cleansing spells and jerked his head toward the stairs. “She’s got a keeper upstairs.”
“I can’t say I blame whoever is up there for staying in a different room,” Hermione said.
Harry took her hand and with a push of his magic disillusioned them both before heading upstairs. He followed the dull thud of a heartbeat at rest to a closed door and opened it. Pettigrew was sound asleep in a chair with a book open across his chest. Harry ended the disillusion charm on himself and let go of his Guide’s hand then he walked across the room and kicked Wormtail’s leg hard.
“Wake up, you weak little fucker.”
Pettigrew started, and his book fell to the floor. “What…Harry?” He glanced around quickly and tried to lunge for his wand on a short table nearby.
Harry shoved him back into the chair with a flick of his wand. “Regretting those anti-apparition charms you have all over this hovel? You should be.”
“Harry—you’re such a good boy,” Peter said. “You saved me once, remember?”
“Yes, I remember,” Harry said evenly. “And I regret it deeply, you murderous piece of shite. I should’ve let Sirius and Remus rip you to shreds! You didn’t deserve to live, Peter, but I was young with a foolish and forgiving heart.” He pointed his wand at the cowering man. “I’m no longer that child, Peter. That child died in a cemetery in Little Hangleton when you murdered Cedric Diggory and used me to resurrect that fucked up creature you call lord. Are you proud?”
“I…I…I had to do what he said, Harry. You must understand. No one wins against him—it’s best to give in and do as he wishes.”
“Look at all you gave up, Peter,” Harry said coldly. “Look at the pitiful, small, and disgusting life you’ve lived because you betrayed my parents. Was it even worth it? Don’t you know how much better it would’ve been to die in the Light? Lady Magic would’ve embraced you and cleansed your magical soul for such an honorable life. But you were weak, and in that weakness, you allowed darkness to breed in your soul and in your magic. There is no room for those such as you in Hekate’s garden, Peter. When you stand before Zir, you’ll be called upon to answer for your crimes against magic. I hope you have your answers ready.”
Peter flinched as Harry’s wand started to glow. “No, please, Harry, please I’ll do anything. Don’t hurt me.”
“Take heart, Wormtail, that I believe in mercy,” Harry said and sent a piercing charm straight through the older wizard’s forehead. He transfigured the body into a piece of parchment, tossed it into the fireplace and set it on fire with three flicks of his wand.
“It’s appallingly easy to cover up a killing with magic,” Hermione said as she took his free hand. “Let’s get out of this creepy house, Harry.”
He renewed his disillusion charm and pulled her close. He inhaled deeply against her hair and concentrated on the Chamber of Secrets. Harry’s magic shifted inside him, adjusting to his intention and desire for security. The anti-apparition charms on the house shattered against the push of his magical power. “Here we go.”
They appeared in the chamber with a silent flush of magic, and he took a deep breath. “Not as bad as I thought it would be.”
“Any lingering pain?”
“No.” He dropped the disillusion spells and looked around the chamber. The skeleton of the basilisk loomed large in the shadows. “I wonder who harvested that big beast. They owe me a lot of money.”
“I’d say Dumbledore did,” Hermione said. “He probably used the money to fund the Order—which would’ve been a total waste since they didn’t do a damn thing really to prevent Riddle from doing whatever the hell he wanted.”
She opened up her bag and peeked down into it. “Hey, girl.” Hedwig popped out immediately and landed gracefully on her feet near Harry. “You need to reset the password on that sink just in case that arsehole manages to get into the school.”
“I will.” He looked down at Hedwig. “Stay with Hermione, okay?”
Hedwig glared at him and slapped his leg with her tail before stalking offing in the direction Hermione had gone with a little growl.
“Hmm, I forget. Can longma breathe fire?”
Hermione looked up from her bag as she pulled out the tent. “Yes, but they rarely get larger than she is right now in the modern age. Once they grew large enough to ride.” He glanced toward Hedwig who had chosen to sprawl at the feet of Salazar Slytherin. “There’s no telling what Zir has given her as far as gifts go. I guess we’ll just have to play it by ear.” She smiled. “Don’t worry—I’ll keep her safe while you’re gone.”
“I wonder why she picked the dragon-horse,” Harry questioned as he stared at his returned familiar. “I mean if he was going to give her a choice she could’ve picked a griffin or even a phoenix.”
“So, I can talk to you, silly wizard boy,” Hedwig said. “A dragon would be illegal as Zir already explained and I certainly wasn’t going slither around on the ground as a bloody snake.”
Harry’s mouth dropped open.
“Holy shite,” Hermione said with a laugh.
“Yes,” Harry said and shook his head. “Well, I’m glad you’re back, Hedwig. You’ll have to tell me all about your new talents when I return.”
He opened the doorway leading to the passage easily enough, paused once more to look at them both before he left the chamber, and closed the door behind him. Once outside of it, he changed the password with a series of spells in the ancient form of parseltongue that Zir had taught him and Hermione both. They’d discovered after removing the horcrux from Harry’s scar that parselmagic was latent in the Potter line, Harry had chosen to have it activated along with his gifts as a Sentinel because he saw it as an advantage and he didn’t want to part with it no matter how anyone viewed it. Hermione had gotten parselmagic when their marriage bond had formed. It had been the most daunting and, in the end, rewarding part of their experience in Zir’s domain.
He gathered up all of the shed skin as he traveled down the hall and stored it in his dimensional space. There were plenty of spells that could restore it and make it useful for armor, which they both needed. Granted, the spells in question required a lot of power, but he now had it to burn. He arrived at the exit and took a moment to read the runes then ruefully called for the stairs. It had been foolish to assume that Slytherin himself would’ve used a slide to leave the chamber. He should’ve looked the first time though taking a ride from Fawkes hadn’t been terrible.
Harry paused at the top of the stairs and let his hearing spread out several hundred meters in every direction. He pushed aside heartbeats and various bodily functions quickly. The Ravenclaw tower was closest, and most of the children were asleep or studying quietly. There were a few conversations here and there. The Headmaster’s office was empty, and he was tempted to extend his senses in an effort to find Snape, but Hermione would get irritated with him for doing such a thing without her. The corridor in front of the bathroom was empty. But, there was a small very fast heartbeat directly above him on or near the sink. He considered opening up his sense of smell, but the chamber didn’t smell great, and neither did the hall leading away from it. They would need to do a lot of cleaning. He clocked the heartbeat at a little over 200 beats per minute so not human but it seemed too large for a rodent.
He wondered then if Minerva McGonagall was in the bathroom in her animagus form. He unholstered his wand, just in case, opened the sink, and stepped up into the room.
Crookshanks was curled up in the sink. The cat opened his eyes, blinked sleepily, stood, stretched then leaped out of the sink and trotted down the stairs. Harry just shook his head and murmured, “Lily Marie Evans.”
There was a shimmer of light, and a folded piece of parchment was revealed tucked behind the taps. He picked it up, returned the stairs and closed the sink. He paused to change the password for entry then hurried down. Crookshanks was sitting patiently by the big door to the chamber when he reached the cat. A fat mouse dangling from his mouth.
“Sorry about this old man,” Harry murmured as he drew his wand. He performed several spells on the cat to verify he was, in fact, Crookshanks. The animal endured the tests with the kind of glare that promised Harry much retribution. “I’m just trying to keep our favorite human safe, you know.”
Crookshanks pawed the door and mewed around his kill.
Harry opened the door and let the cat in ahead of him. “Mi?”
Hermione came out of the tent, and her eyes went wide. “Crookshanks…you’re supposed to be at the Burrow.”
“He was asleep in the sink,” Harry said.
Crookshanks dropped the mouse in front of Hedwig and started yeow vehemently at Hermione.
“He’s telling on me for checking to make sure it was really him,” Harry confessed and turned to watch Hedwig chomp merrily on the offering Crookshanks had made. “Horses don’t eat meat.”
“Dragons do,” Hermione said wryly.
Harry unfolded the parchment as he followed the three of them into the tent. “Do we need to set up enchantments?”
“No, I don’t think so. None of Riddle’s followers are parselmouths, and he wouldn’t get that deep into the school without us knowing about it.”
“I’m going to set up some proximity alarms after I take over the wards.” He sat down at the table and spread the note out in front of him.
Godric has explained the ritual petition you undertook, and I’m very proud to know that two of my lions were found worthy by Zir. The last Dragon Guardian was a Hufflepuff. It was a shameful and dark time in the history of our house.
Congratulations on your bonding and marriage.
If we don’t get these Death Eaters out of my school as soon as possible, I’m going to start murdering them.
I’ll be in the bathroom at precisely 5:00 am. Do not make me wait.
The House of Ross
Order of Merlin
PS-Crookshanks returned to the school with Ginevra Weasley at the start of this term but has spent most of his time in my office staring at Godric’s portrait. I’ve allowed this, but I would remind you both that I’m not a cat sitter.
PPS-However, I’m not opposed to future babysitting opportunities.
– – – –
Harry went up to the bathroom a few minutes early, disillusioned himself and waited. The professor trotted into the bathroom in animagus form right on time so he opened the sink with a low hiss and she kept right on moving down the stairs. He followed. The whole operation took less than fifteen seconds, which was for the best until he could gain control of the wards. By the time he descended the stairs, Minerva McGonagall was on two feet and had her wand pointed at him.
“Whose portrait am I currently hosting in my office?”
Minerva lowered her hand and holstered her wand with a practiced flick. “You look good for someone who spent thirty-two days in magical stasis.”
“Magical stasis in Zir’s care came with some extra benefits,” Harry explained. “We had some nutritional issues and the like which he took care of. We hadn’t been eating much before we got to Godric’s Hollow.”
“You should’ve called for Dobby,” Minerva said sternly. “He would’ve seen you both were eating properly.” She motioned him ahead of her. “Take me to see your wife, young man.”
Harry flushed. “It’s been two years, mentally, but it’s still something I’m kind of getting used to.” He shoved his hands into his pockets as they walked. “Did Ron come back to school?”
“Yes, though for the first week or so he seemed to be under the impression that he wouldn’t be required to do any actual academic work and would be joining the Order officially. I nipped that right in the bud. Neville Longbottom is helping me keep the children safe in the school. I made him Head Boy despite Snape’s preferences and your idiot of a friend, Ronald, seemed to think I should make him the Head Boy instead.”
“He always has wanted more than he ever intended on working for.” Harry opened the big door, and Hermione was waiting the middle of the chamber, wand drawn. Their spirit animals were lounging at her feet on either side of her like sentries.
Minerva snorted. “I’m still not a cat sitter.”
Hermione holstered her wand. “It’s a pleasure to see you, Professor. We’ve set up breakfast if you’re hungry.”
“I haven’t eaten,” Minerva said cautiously. “Do either of you know how to cook?”
“Harry does,” Hermione explained with a cheerful smile. “I’m an utter disaster and apparently can’t be taught. Even Hekate has declared me a lost cause.”
“You met Lady Magic?” Minerva demanded. “How? When?”
“Come have breakfast,” Harry urged and guided the older woman toward the tent she couldn’t see. “We’re close to the entrance of the tent we’re using so just step forward with me, and you’ll be allowed to enter.”
“Very well,” Minerva said and glanced toward the large cats who hadn’t moved. “Your spirit animals?”
“Yes, Kasper is the white tiger, and the black panther is Argos. They come and go as they wish. Argos is my spirit animal, or at least he decided to keep me after a long period of inspection that I wasn’t certain I would survive.” Harry grinned when the professor laughed. “One final step.” They stepped into the tent, and he let his hand drop from Minerva’s elbow.
Minerva took a seat and glanced over the spread. “You’ll make an excellent house husband, Potter. Tea, please.”
Harry laughed as they settled with her at the table and Hermione shifted the teapot in the professor’s direction. “We have a few things to go over. How many of the staff can you trust with news of my arrival and the plan regarding the wards?”
“Filius has the mental skills to prevent Snape from interrogating him, and the so-called Headmaster would never dare try to use some sort of potion on Flitwick due to his heritage. If he were to accidentally injure a half-goblin, the entire Horde would rebel.” She added milk to her tea and swished her finger around in the air above it, which caused the liquid to swirl gently in her cup. “The rest of the original staff still here are loyal to me and the Light, but Snape could easily penetrate their minds. They would be unable to keep any secrets from him should he see them acting suspiciously. Moreover, they’re all quite excitable at this point. Pomona is currently poisoning the Carrow twins. They’ve been so ill recently that Snape had no choice but to return me to my duty as Deputy Head.”
“Professor Sprout is slowly murdering the Carrow twins,” Hermione repeated in shock.
“Oh, no, dear, it’s not going to kill them.” Minerva waved it off. “She’s just torturing them on a daily basis. They stopped going to Poppy after the first week for help because her cure for their condition involves a rather violent expelling of various bodily fluids that is not fit for a discussion over a meal.”
Harry just offered Hermione a shrug when she looked his way for help in responding. The war was a trying time, and the professors at Hogwarts were on their own in the defense of the students in their care. If torturing the Carrows made them feel better, who was he to judge?
“What about Snape?” Harry questioned.
“Dobby has that situation well in hand,” Minerva assured. “In the last month, that house elf has destroyed nearly all of Snape’s material possessions and private potions lab. Apparently, Spinner’s End suffered an unexpected and uncontrolled fire and is considered a dead loss by the DMLE. Every time Snape speaks to a student rudely, an unseen force smacks him in the face.” She paused. “When I asked Dobby about it he told me he’d stolen some sort of stick from Dudley Dursley to use for discipline.”
Harry burst out laughing. Hedwig trotted into the room at that point and hopped up into Harry’s lap. “Hey, girl.”
“What…” Minerva tilted her head. “Hedwig?”
Harry glanced at her in surprise. “Yeah, how did you guess?”
“I can see your familiar bond with her, lad,” Minerva said. “It’s clearly the same bond you had with your owl. I take it Zir facilitated her return to you?”
“Yes,” Harry said. “He said service to him comes with some rewards.”
Minerva nodded and set about fixing herself a plate. “American pancakes?”
“Dudley loved them,” Harry said. “So I learned to make them when I was quite young.” He shrugged when they both looked at him with frowns. “My life as a house elf in the Dursley household is done, and I don’t want to talk about it, really. Zir helped me come to terms with how my aunt treated me because that kind of trauma could be damaging for a Sentinel. Do I resent her—not anymore. I don’t have room for it, but I’ll never forgive her, really, because I know my mother would’ve never treated Dudley that way if the situation had been reversed. Try the pancakes, though, they’re good.”
Minerva eyed up but then put two of the small cakes on her plate. “They have syrup with these things, I believe.”
“Maple,” Hermione said and put a small pitcher near the professor’s plate. “Professor Flitwick’s help would be great. We need to do several rituals, and that’s going to require carving a ritual circle. Is Professor Babbling completely off the list?”
“What do you plan to do first?” Minerva questioned. “Because I’d greatly prefer that you claim the wards and kick all of these dark bastards out of the school.” She focused on Harry as she spoke.
“It will cause an escalation outside of the school,” Harry said. “Riddle will be furious, and any hope I have of staying under the radar would die on the spot. I’m not opposed to it, but it would require a great deal of immediate work. We’d have to liberate the Muggle-born camps while I’m claiming the wards and bring them here for their own safety. I don’t think we could rescue the people in Azkaban or at the Ministry where Umbridge is putting them on trial for stealing magic.” He closed his eyes briefly at the fury he couldn’t completely control. “Someone needs to end her.”
“I could use the house elves currently working at Hogwarts to steal all of the Muggle-borns out of the camp to bring here. This school has plenty of room to house them. We once had a population of over four thousand students. But the blood politics in Britain made the recruitment of students from abroad practically impossible.” McGonagall took a bite of pancake and hummed under her breath as she chewed. “Not bad.”
“Thanks.” Harry stood and went to the coffee maker to refill his coffee. “Once I control the school’s security through blood warding, it’ll never be the same, Professor. It will forever more be a school only for the light and the grey arts only. In fact, the ritual that Zir created will prevent those with dark hearts or violent intentions from stepping onto the grounds. I don’t believe dark equals evil, but due to Riddle and his followers, we can’t afford to make any mistakes on this front. It could lead to a global conflict.”
“What of the students who are already invested in the dark arts?” Minerva questioned.
“The wards will remove them from the grounds,” Harry said. “Once off the grounds, they won’t be able to see Hogwarts. In fact, no one tainted with the dark arts will be able to see the school. She’ll be invisible to them.”
Minerva considered that then nodded. “There are plenty of other educational options in Europe and abroad for such students. Can I ask why Zir made this distinction when he is neutral?”
“Because Hogwarts sits on a lake of magic that supplies all the ley lines on Earth,” Hermione murmured. “We saw timelines where Riddle was allowed to gain control of that magical lake. He tainted the whole world with it, ma’am and it leads to the deaths of billions of people—Muggle and magical alike. That cannot be allowed to happen here. There is too much at stake and Hogwarts must become a sanctuary for all that is good in our world.”
“Then it must be done,” Minerva said. “As soon as possible, so there are no risks to Riddle getting to it before you do, lad. Can you do it today?”
Harry considered that as he watched Hermione smear jam onto her toast. “Yes. Can you get the school ready for the people from the camps without Snape being made aware of it?”
“Hogwarts can do a lot of it without any help at all,” Minerva said. “She’ll take directions from me as she doesn’t truly recognize Snape as Headmaster. A few house elves will be needed for that project, but it won’t be difficult on our end. What about your end?”
“It’ll be taxing magically, and I’ll need Hermione at my side at all times so don’t count on her for any of your logistical planning. Zir warned me to never do any sort of ritual magic without my Guide as she balances my magic as well as my senses.”
“How is that working out for you?”
Harry focused on the professor. “The stress of this situation has caused your blood pressure to be slightly elevated so I would like you to visit Madam Pomfrey after breakfast for a corrective potion.”
Minerva huffed. “Don’t get cheeky, lad.” Hedwig whinnied at her. “No sass from you either, lass.”
“Worrying about you would split my focus,” Harry said and grinned into his coffee cup when his head of house sighed dramatically. “But don’t let that concern you.”
“I don’t know why that stupid hat ever thought you’d do well in Slytherin,” Minerva said evenly. “You’re transparent as air.”
“How did you know that?” Harry questioned with a laugh.
“He told us after the sorting that night. Albus was quite concerned by the information and Snape was horrified.”
“Well, that’s something,” he said wryly. “But you will go visit Madam Pomfrey, right?”
Minerva glared at him and defiantly shoved half a piece of sausage in her mouth.
– – – –
They’d agreed, after a lengthy discussion, that they would wait until after curfew to claim the central warding stone. Godric was playing spy around the school and had a remote portrait in the warding room so he’d be notified if anyone entered it during the day. Snape stayed in his office all day, conversing with Dumbledore’s portrait and being a greasy git, per Dobby’s report. The Carrows had barely made it through lunch before they were both confined to quarters as Professor Sprout had been informed it would probably be her last chance to make them miserable.
Harry and Hermione had moved through the school under disillusion spells, checking on various dorm spaces as they were opened up for occupation. They spied on several classes and monitored the evening meal to get a good look at the students were still in the school. The students were mostly subdued as Snape had come to dinner, something he rarely did they’d been told and was brooding from his place in Dumbledore’s chair. Throughout the day, Dobby had brought them food to eat. The first time an invisible sandwich was pressed into his hand, Harry had been almost too amused to eat it.
Harry had spent most to of the day adjusting his senses to the castle’s population, identifying individuals by the sound of their heart and scent profiles. He wanted to have a firm grasp on that before the ritual so he would know immediately who had been removed from his land by the claiming. They would be marked by his family magic as enemies due to the wording of the blood rite, but as long as they didn’t try to fight back regarding their removal from Hogwarts, it wouldn’t result in an outright blood feud.
An hour after dinner, they returned to the chamber so they could talk freely as he wanted to know what sort of emotional landscape he was dealing with and analyzing that had been Hermione’s task during their surveillance period.
Hermione cupped her hands around the hot chocolate she’d requested as they settled on the sofa together. “Mostly they’re scared. Some of the older kids are stressed and angry—for good and bad reasons. Draco Malfoy is petrified and doesn’t want to go home at all ever. Pansy Parkinson is nearly hysterical with fear, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she has a psychotic break if she doesn’t get some sort of mental stress relief. Goyle is not what I expected. He’s loyal to Draco, obscenely so, and will follow his lead. Vincent Crabbe is a Death Eater—full blown blood purist. He’s as dark as any other follower of Riddle’s.”
Harry nodded and waited while his wife gathered her thoughts. He knew she’d spent a lot of time focused on the two Weasleys because of their previous personal relationships with them.
“Ginny is tainted,” Hermione said, finally, and took a deep breath. “Deeply tainted mentally by what happened with the diary. I think it turned her harmless crush on you into an obsession…much like Riddle’s. While he wants to destroy you, Ginny is determined to own you and doesn’t care at all what you want. Additionally, she’s dark as fuck, but that’s not actually her fault. I can see it in her magic.”
“She was conceived in a dark blood rite,” Hermione said in a rush. “Molly and Arthur Weasley—they did something terrible, Harry.” She took a healthy drink of her coco and exhaled noisily. “There are a couple of rituals that would accomplish it—I studied various ritual conceptions with Hekate. But the only dark one calls for a human sacrifice.”
Harry’s mouth dropped open. “Are you fucking serious? Molly and Arthur sacrificed someone? Come on, Hermione, that sounds…”
“Ridiculous,” Hermione supplied. “But it’s the only way her magic could’ve been so dark at her own conception, Harry. Ginny is the first female child born in the Weasley line in several generations. The question is what would’ve driven them to do something so dark to produce a female child?”
“The seventh child—a daughter. That’s ideal magical circumstance, right?” Harry frowned and focused on his drink. “Please tell me this isn’t about me.”
“You’d already been born,” Hermione pointed out. “Heir to two fortunes because of Sirius naming you his heir shortly after your birth. The future Earl of Gryffindor—the bouncing baby boy of prophecy. Neville was also an option—born the day before you and heir to a noble title and fortune.”
“I wonder who they killed.”
“That’s the horrific part that is probably going to make you lose your mind,” Hermione admitted. “Molly would’ve entered this ritual already very pregnant, Harry. They sacrificed their unborn male child to create a female child instead. Though it’s a bastardization of the original ritual, which was designed to make a female child male before they were ever born. The ritual took place for decades before magical researchers realized that the ritual was actually sacrificial and the child wasn’t being altered—but murdered and replaced.”
Harry left the sofa and set aside his cup. “How much is very pregnant?”
“Eight months at least,” Hermione said.
“For fuck’s sake,” Harry snapped. “Could this ritual get any more goddamned disgusting?”
“I don’t think so,” Hermione admitted.
“What happened to the other child?”
“His body would’ve evaporated in the womb—as it was bombarded by the magic of the ritual,” she said and shook her head. “Let’s not discuss it anymore. You can read about it if you want.”
“I don’t want,” Harry assured her. “Why did Hekate teach you this?”
“Because part of my magical gifts allows me to see the origins of a person’s magic,” Hermione explained. “She wanted me to know what to look for and so that I would know when to trust someone and when not to. It’s about threat assessment.”
“And Ginny’s a threat?”
Hermione frowned and pulled her legs up on the sofa so she could hug them. Her scent pile shifted with building stress and Harry immediately abandoned his own building anger.
He sat back down on the sofa and turned slightly to face her. “Mi?”
“I don’t want you to think I’m insecure,” Hermione said and set aside her cup. “So a part of me wants to lie and say I don’t see her as a threat even though I know you can tell when I lie so it would be useless as hell to even try it. I don’t consider her a threat to our bond or marriage because she is dark and the Sentinel in you would never tolerate her in your space for any sort of time. Moreover, I know that personally, you don’t want her and never really did despite the short relationship you had with her. All of that being said, she is a threat because she will work to destroy everything we are to each other to attain her goal which is you. She’ll be furious about the path you’ve taken and our relationship will drive her around the twist in more than one way.”
“Is she a threat to you?” Harry asked lowly.
“You know she is,” Hermione murmured. “She’d honestly be a threat to anyone you dated or married, Harry because her obsession with you is irrevocable. There is no reasoning with her, and even if she keeps her distance, it’ll always be there. It’s a form of insanity, and no amount of therapy will help her. She was doomed at birth, and the diary just shaped the darkness inside her.”
“Molly told Ron that Ginny wanted to marry me, but Ginny only wants that because Molly has been brainwashing the little chit all of her life,” Harry said roughly and ran his hands through his hair in frustration. “I really don’t have…the patience to deal with this shite, Hermione.”
“If she threatens you in any single way, I’ll kill her,” Harry said. “I don’t think I could stop myself.”
“You’re a Sentinel,” Hermione said simply. “You’re the Black Dragon’s Guardian, Harry, and there’s no coming back from that for either of us. And I don’t regret the choice we made at all.”
“No, I don’t either.” He took her hand and kissed her palm. “Just a few hours left until we pick a real big fight with the darkest bastard on this planet.”
Hermione shrugged. “He started it.”
Harry laughed and pulled her gently until she settled in his lap. He kissed her jaw. “I love you.”
“I love you at least five percent more,” Hermione told him.
“How did you figure that?” Harry asked with amusement.
“Because you leave your towels on the floor and I don’t even yell at you,” Hermione informed him seriously. “That’s true love, Harry James.”
– – – –
He wasn’t shocked to find Flitwick, Sprout, and Pomfrey in the warding room along with Minerva. Since they’d decided to kick Snape out of the school, there was no longer a reason to be concerned about their knowledge of them being in the school. Harry circled in the ward stone in silence, letting the power of it interact with his own magic. He glanced at Godric’s portrait.
“Hogwarts has a degree of sentience,” Godric admitted roughly. “After so many years of sitting on Hekate’s Lake—plus the chaotic energy of all of the children that have lived in her through the years. Come here, lad, and touch the stone beneath my portrait.”
Harry walked across the space and brushed his fingers over the large stone under the portrait. It shifted and started to slowly eject itself from the wall. Harry winced at the sound of the stones grinding together. It wasn’t unlike nails on a chalkboard. Once opened completely, it proved to be a shallow drawer. There was a mithril athame hovering in a magical field. He slid his fingers into it despite Hermione’s intake of breath and pulled the ceremonial knife free.
“This is your personal athame?”
“Yes, it’s for your wife,” Godric said.
Harry nodded and immediately offered the blade to Hermione. He ignored the little gasps of shock from their audience. It wasn’t a surprise that Minerva had told them very little about his new circumstances but now was not the time to indulge their curiosity. Hermione took the blade and flicked it away into their dimensional space with a nod toward Godric.
“Salazar,” Godric said.
Harry turned to stare at Slytherin’s portrait. He raised an eyebrow at the man, and the portrait grimaced. “That giant statue in the chamber is bloody ridiculous.”
Salazar snorted. “My grandson built it in my honor—the wretched little git made my nose entirely too big.” He waved a hand, and a stone drawer slid out from under his portrait. “My athame will serve you best, Lord Potter. You’ve won it through the complete conquest of my magical line. Whatever remains of Riddle is not my heir. I warned him during his time here as a student that he was going down a path that would see to the destruction of his magical existence. It’s a shame that students aren’t taught the truth about the origin of their magic and the consequences of abusing it.”
“If it’s any comfort at all, I’ve been tasked with the complete destruction of Tom Riddle’s soul. He’ll never know Hekate’s embrace.” Harry picked up the athame and peered at the portrait. “His rendering of the nose looks spot on to me.”
“I’d kick your arse if I could,” Salazar returned sharply and poked in his direction. The paint bulged slightly in response.
Harry laughed. “I bet you could step out of that portrait in the Room of Requirement. We could try it out later if you want.”
“I do want,” Slytherin assured with a haughty glare.
Harry pulled off his boots and socks first which he tucked away from the stone. He dropped his jacket and T-shirt on top of them and approached the ward stone clad in a pair of jeans. He stepped up onto the platform and took a deep breath.
“What?” Hermione questioned and shifted around the room until she was close to him as possible without stepping into the magical influence of the ward stone.
“Agitated is really the wrong term,” Harry admitted. “She’s furious, and she has been for decades. Dumbledore muted her connection to him and ignored her outright most of the time. The neglect has weakened the wards because he repeatedly allowed dark objects and creatures to have free reign on the land. Zir was right about the castle’s connection to Hekate’s Lake. There is a taint already, and it would only get worse if Riddle were to claim her.”
“Can the taint be corrected?” Hermione questioned.
“Yes, but we’ll have to do a full out cleansing rite for that.” He quirked an eyebrow when she grinned. “Let’s do that one in private, shall we?”
Minerva snorted. “Take care of your business, lad, and flirt with your wife on your own time.”
Harry met her gaze, as he grew serious. “May Magic Bless my purpose.”
Hermione took a step back, and the professors backed up all the way to the wall as Harry’s magic started to drift around in the air around him. He hesitated only briefly before using the athame to cut his palm. He’d planned to use his wand, but it was clear the founders had believed the ritual knife was the better choice. Blood from the wand hand—rich with magic—swirled around him and sank into the stone beneath his feet.
“Sto fideliter in defensionem Hekate, dilecti Domina Magicae.
Sto fideliter servientem, Zirnitra Deus Sorcerery.
Ego hanc terram, ut mea per ius sanguinis, et magia.
Nemo cum tenebris in corde suo manere.
Nemo cum tenebris, et in eorum corde videre, hoc tuta loco.
Scire meum sanguinem.
Scio mea magia.
Sic mote sit!”
The wards started to flex and reshape themselves to his purpose. One by one, he felt individuals removed from the castle through forced apparition. “Snape is gone. Send the house elves, Professor.”
Minerva left the room immediately shouting various names that Harry lost track of as nearly forty years of ward violation notifications bombarded him. He focused on one person specifically. Riddle’s actions in the past on the grounds of Hogwarts came to him again and again—in his mind’s eye, he saw the murder of young Myrtle who had hidden in a bathroom to cry because she’d been bullied. The memory made him furious, and in his rage, Hogwarts shuddered.
Hermione’s empathic shields wrapped around him and he took a calming breath then refocused himself on the task. He followed Riddle to the next ward violation and watched in shock as a young, still quite human looking Tom Riddle placed a horcrux in the Room of Requirement. He wrapped the small memory up and passed it to his wife through their bond. Riddle had flicked a curse on the DADA job over his shoulder as he’d left the school—on the bloody front doors. It made Harry want to punch Dumbledore in the mouth. Hogwarts had been telling him for years that she’d been cursed.
The magic subsided and the wards resettled. It was done.
“There are some very dark artifacts in various rooms throughout the school—hidden by students and faculty. Horace Slughorn was removed from the school along with Snape, the Carrows, and ten students—five Slytherin. The rest were from Ravenclaw and Gryffindor.” Harry shared a look with Hermione. “Ron stayed, but Ginny is gone.”
“I think I’ll stay in my frame,” Slytherin said dryly.
Flitwick snorted. “Probably a good idea. I’m not sure I could repair you if you were injured.”
Harry stepped down off the ward stone and took his T-shirt when Hermione offered before he focused on Sprout and Pomfrey. He stared pointedly. “Absolutely no more poisoning, ladies. You’ve upset Hogwarts with your very inappropriate behavior. In the future, she’d much prefer you just kill your enemies outright and dump their bodies in the Forbidden Forest.”
Sprout crossed her arms and shrugged. “Things were more unpleasant than usual around here. A witch has her limits, Lord Potter.”
Filius cleared his throat. “I would like to speak with you, Lord Potter. One of my students was taken off the train on the way home at Yule and hasn’t returned.”
“Who?” Harry questioned.
“Luna Lovegood. I’ve contacted my own people and tried to scry for her, but I’ve gotten nowhere which means she’s somewhere secluded.”
Harry shared a look with Hermione before calling out sharply, “Dobby.”
The house elf appeared with a pop. “Harry Potter, we almost finish cleaning out the camps.”
“That’s great,” Harry said. “Can you still enter Malfoy Manor?”
Dobby frowned. “Yes, but Dobby not like that terrible place Harry Potter.” His ears quivered.
“Then I’m very sorry to ask this of you, but I think the Malfoys are holding Luna Lovegood there. Can you go check without getting caught?”
Dobby’s ears drooped, but he nodded. “Lovegoody sweet switch. I goes get her.” He growled. “And burn down that whole place!” He popped away.
“Why do you think she’ll be at Malfoy Manor?” Sprout asked in a subdued voice.
“Because that’s Riddles’ headquarters,” Harry said grimly. “They probably took her because of her father’s politics or because they found out how close of a friend I consider her. She’d be perfect bait for us both, to be honest.” He stopped to pull on his socks and boots then focused on Gryffindor’s portrait. “Sir, I need you to activate all of the security protocols on the portrait matrix for the castle. Any security issues or concerns should be reported to myself and Headmistress McGonagall.”
“Of course, lad.” Godric left his portrait immediately, and Salazar followed shortly thereafter with a nod in Harry’s direction.
Harry turned to Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. “Ladies, if you would be so kind as to activate your portraits in the main hall in support of the new headmistress I would appreciate it.”
Hufflepuff moved out of her frame immediately, but Ravenclaw lingered.
“You saw what he did.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll do everything I can to cleanse it without destroying it. I’m sorry in advance if it’s not possible,” Harry said.
Rowena frowned but then nodded. “Perhaps, Lord Potter, it’s better left destroyed and lost officially to time. It caused nothing but heartache in my lifetime.”
“It’s your legacy.”
She smiled then. “No, lad, you, your lovely wife, and all the other children who have been educated in this school are my legacy, and it is one I’m deeply proud of. I’ve watched you since your arrival here. People often tell you how much you look like your father, but you’re more like your mother at heart, and no one has ever bothered to tell you so as far as I can tell. She was brilliant, magically powerful, loyal, and Light. I see all of that in you. I hope to one day see it in your children and grandchildren. The path you’ve set yourself on is one of great sacrifice and hardship, but I believe you will prevail.” She inclined her head and left her frame.
“No pressure,” Sprout said wryly.
Harry huffed and laughed a little. “Right?” He turned to face them, and McGonagall returned at that point. He held out his hand for Hermione, and she took it. “A month ago, Hermione and I entered the Gryffindor Circle and petitioned Zirnitra. Our petition was granted.”
Flitwick eyes brightened. “What did you ask for?”
“He granted me the honor of becoming his Guardian on Earth.”
“You opened the door,” Flitwick murmured. “Lily said…oh. That’s amazing, young man.”
“Well, that arsehole is really going to regret picking a fight with you,” Pomfrey said.
“He really is,” Harry agreed.
They left the ward room, went up a set of stairs, out into the entryway of the castle. The great hall was overflowing with people, but the crowd was quite subdued. Harry let his gaze travel over them until he found Luna Lovegood sitting with a roughed up looking Dean Thomas.
“I hope Dobby enjoys burning Malfoy Manor down,” Hermione said wryly.
Harry laughed and tugged her toward the front doors. The doors swung open for him, and he stepped outside. Hogwarts wards were glowing. Argos and Kasper appeared in front of them, turned and darted out across the grounds. He watched the big cats until they disappeared into the forest.
“Riddle used Ravenclaw’s diadem as a horcrux,” Hermione said.
“Yes, it’s in the ROR.” Harry glanced back into the castle and sighed. “I guess we should go deal with Ron.”
“He’ll hold. He doesn’t even like either one of us, and once I make it clear that we know that he’s going to slink off and forget all about his mother’s plans,” Hermione murmured. “Just take a moment, Harry, because what comes next will be hard and mean.”
“Lord Potter.” Minerva came to stand beside him. “I’ll like to have you on hand when I explain the situation to the students and guests.”
“Just came out to see the show. The wards will probably glow for a while.”
“It’s a lovely sight,” the headmistress said.
Hermione’s fingers tightened against his, and she motioned toward the forest. A centaur stood at the edge. “It’s their leader, I think.”
Harry watched the centaur as he stepped out of the forest in full and took a deep breath as he was offered a deep bow. He gave Magorian a nod in return. The centaur turned and darted back into the forest.
“It won’t take long for Riddle to realize what you’ve done,” Minerva said.
Harry nodded. “Let him come. We’ll be ready.”
Yes, of course, there will be a sequel. Don’t nag.