Darkly Loyal – Chapters 21-25

Title: Darkly Loyal
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Harry Potter
Relationship: Harry Potter/Hermione Granger/Draco Malfoy
Content Rating: NC-17
Genre: Romance, Time Travel, Fantasy, Menage, Fix It
Warnings: Violence, Explicit Sex, Dark Themes, Temporary Main Character Death, death of a pregnant character, homicide, and permanent character deaths.
Author Note: The only people who are safe from a messy permanent death are my main characters (Harry, Hermione, and Draco).
Summary: Dumbledore loses is a prize asset in his efforts to destroy the Trinity, Ginny takes an unforgivable step, Harry has a delightful Yule break, Francis kicks a Death Eater’s arse, and some more people die.

 

Chapter 21

Nothing of note happened on Halloween, which was so odd that Harry confirmed the date four different times before midnight. Dumbledore was suffering a little reputation damage as the Daily Prophet had reported the death of Moody as luridly as possible and while they hadn’t outright accused him of murder, they clearly thought he’d done something. The first years were skittish around the headmaster, which was nothing short of funny as hell as far as Harry was concerned.

Phineas had reported that Dumbledore was still in his office, so Harry made his way to the gargoyle the Friday after morning after Halloween with a T-shirt full of cloak dust. They’d sent the other cloak back to the Arx to avoid it being discovered. The gargoyle opened without any prompting and Harry rolled his eyes at the drama. It was sort of irritating that he’d found that shite impressive as a kid. Dumbledore was sitting at his desk, neck deep in his harmless old man act.

“Good morning, sir.”

“Lord Potter, I’m glad you came to see me.”

Harry didn’t bother to hide his grimace. “I wouldn’t have if I had another choice, but Hermione figured you were the best person to deal with this since you had the cloak for so long.” He put the T-shirt on the desk. “I found it this morning. We had the cloak hanging on a hook on the wall in our bedroom and sometime during the night, it turned to dust. None of us noticed.”

Dumbledore frowned and carefully opened the T-shirt. He performed several scans with his wand and sat back with a sigh. Then he stood and left his desk. Harry was startled when he brought two boxes to the desk. “The Elder Wand.” He opened the box to display the dust. “And the Resurrection Stone.” He opened the second box and put them down beside the pile of dust that represented the cloak. “The Elder Wand fell to dust in June. I don’t know when the Resurrection Stone was destroyed. And now the cloak has left us as well.”

“What does that mean?” Harry questioned.

“I honestly have no clue, Lord Potter. Do you have a theory?”

“No, none.” He frowned at the collection of dust. “Perhaps they just lost their power.”

“But then why did the cloak last the longest?”

“It wasn’t…in the story, the cloak belonged to Death. He created the wand and the stone from their surroundings, but he took the cloak off his own back. But then maybe they weren’t destroyed at all but were retrieved by Death himself.”

“Do you believe Death to be a real entity?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said. “Draco is faithful to Zir, and he’s been teaching Hermione and me about the legends surrounding the Lord of Magic. So I suppose if I believe in Zir then I must believe in Death and all that comes with it, right?”

“The worship of Zir is not exactly the path of a light wizard, Lord Potter. The Black Dragon is a neutral influence, and largely in Britain many turned from his teachings due to that neutrality.”

“I’m not surprised,” Harry said. “Well, I’m sorry to see my family’s cloak gone, but I guess it’s been returned to the rightful owner.”

Dumbledore tied the T-shirt first; then closed the boxes. “You should take the remains of all three, Lord Potter. They belong to the legacy of your family.”

Harry frowned. “Dobby.”

The house elf appeared beside him with a little pop. “Yes, Lord Potter?”

“Please take these two boxes and the cloak dust to the bank and put them in the Potter vault. Thank you.”

Dobby held out a hand, and all three items flew to him. He disappeared with another pop.

“Mr. Malfoy’s influence over you is a concern for me.”

Consort Potter is a blessing in my life,” Harry said in return. “I am a very lucky wizard, Headmaster, and any further attempts on your part to interfere on my marriage will be met with a formal complaint to the DMLE. I know my rights, and I also know that you have limited authority over me in school, but that’s it. What I do, what I believe, and who I make a family with is none of your business. Your inappropriate interest in my personal life is so concerning that I’ve already left instructions with the ICW that should I suddenly decide to end my marriage that I will be thoroughly examined by Director Arnou personally to ensure I haven’t been cursed or potioned.”

“I’m offended you’d think I’d stoop to such behavior.”

“I don’t care if you’re offended,” Harry said. “Of course, with Snape gone you’d have a bit of a problem with potions. That’s not the sort of thing you could just trust anyone with.”

Dumbledore’s face grew ruddy with building temper. “Professor Snape’s death was an immense loss to the school and the Order.”

“I’m sure you think so,” Harry said and looked toward Fawkes. The phoenix was staring at him intently. He walked over to the bird. “Hello, Fawkes.”

“He’s been out of sorts since he burned a week ago. So if he’s not friendly, please don’t hold it against him,” Dumbledore said.

Fawkes rubbed his head against Harry’s hand and sent him an image of Hedwig. Harry blinked in surprise.

“He seems okay. Maybe it was just a rough burning,” Harry said.

“Perhaps,” Dumbledore agreed. “I’m surprised that you’re willing to be in my company alone, Lord Potter.”

“Who says I’m alone?” Harry questioned and turned to stare at him. “You know—I’ve often found that people raised in the magical world make assumptions then are so wrapped in the comfort of their assumptions that they never bother to check to see if they’re right or wrong. For instance, did you know that when Lupin and Tonks followed Hermione into the park that Draco and I were with her the entire time? Moreover, that Hermione merely disillusioned herself. We took the portkey after Lupin and Tonks darted off to check the Privet Drive Detention Center.”

“Speaking of, the wards fell.”

“Good.”

Dumbledore huffed. “I had to move your mother’s sister to Australia to keep her safe.”

“Well, don’t get snippy with me because you actually had to do some work to fulfill a promise you made.” Harry walked away from Fawkes and Hermione’s hand slipped into his. She appeared in a flash of magic as her disillusion charm ended. Dumbledore gaped at them. “Have a good day, Headmaster.”

Hermione paused as they were about to leave. “Perhaps you could eat breakfast in your office this morning. The first years are petrified of you, and they deserve to have at least their first meal of the day in relative peace.”

Harry laughed and pulled his wife down the stairs and away from Dumbledore. Draco appeared as they all three slipped past the gargoyle. They said nothing until they were back in their quarters. It was still twenty minutes before breakfast.

“Why did he give me the dust?” Harry questioned.

“He fears the Hallows now,” Draco suggested.

“Or he doesn’t wish to be caught with the remains of them considering the Quibbler’s ongoing celebration of the Master of Death,” Hermione said. “Either way, I’m glad you didn’t touch the boxes. We’ll check them for curses or compulsions during Yule Break and move the remains to the Arx for safekeeping in case he reports that you have them to the ministry for some crazy reason. I mean, they’re just dust at this point but there is no need for us to earn the attention of the Department of Mysteries right now or ever honestly, but they’ll give Harry a hard look when he kills Voldemort. We just have to make sure they walk away afterward. One way or another. Especially, if Tobias Savage ends up in charge again after the war. Perhaps we should warn the current Croaker that he’s a target.”

“Agreed, we should definitely warn him,” Harry said. “There’s no need for my new godmother to lose someone that important to her if we can do something about it. What do you remember about his death?”

Hermione frowned. “I don’t…well. I don’t think he was killed as Croaker specifically but tried for crimes and given the kiss. Most of the department directors were executed except for the sympathizers and Arthur Weasley.”

“Merlin,” Harry muttered. “That’s telling, isn’t it? Why the hell did that not ring any alarm bells for me before?”

“You were being potioned into compliance,” Draco said. “Let’s concentrate on what we do know. Umbridge led the charge at the ministry regarding cleaning out those she found undesirable—whether they were Muggle-born or not.”

“Fortunately, she’s no longer a problem,” Harry said with a delighted grin. “That being said, someone will notch right into her place if Riddle gets control of the ministry. We’ve already had some changes that will impact those events—Diggory being the minister and Bones still being in charge of the DMLE for a start. He’s not a politician by nature and has no real experience as a leader which is dangerous, but that means he’ll be open to advice from many fronts. Unfortunately, at this point that includes Dumbledore.”

“Perhaps it’s time Rita started writing her book,” Hermione murmured. “She just needs a little push.”

“There’s another issue.” Harry took a deep breath. “Fawkes had a burning within the last week. When I was petting him, he showed me an image of Hedwig. The exact same image he used before the ritual.”

“So his future self settled in him when he burned?” Draco speculated.

“Maybe or his memories broke free during the burning? Either way, I think he’s working his way free of Dumbledore’s manipulations and spells.” Harry didn’t know what to make of the phoenix and the pictures of Hedwig. “I’m glad he’s back. Did you notice the case where the sword used to be is empty?”

“Yeah, I did,” Hermione said. “I think if it had been destroyed that Dumbledore would’ve mentioned it in his little conversation with you especially since you’re closely related to the sword. Maybe it’s returned to the hat. We know it can do that.”

“Yes,” Harry agreed. “Maybe that’s true, or maybe it just disappeared altogether. It’s a wait and see game with it—but we don’t need it to destroy the horcruxes.”

“Not anymore,” Hermione agreed.

– – – –

Michael Corner had been following them around in an obvious, ridiculous sort of way since the day after Neville told them about his first meeting with Dumbledore. Lupin was still trotting around the school invisible, but Hermione could smell him. He attended every single class they took, followed them all the way to the door of their suite and on one occasion had lingered outside a broom closet for a half hour while Harry had made out with Draco and Hermione wrote her Charms essay. Giving the werewolf a hard time was really the only fun they had on any given day.

Corner was lingering in the shelves just down from their table at the library. Every single time he looked their way, Harry hissed at him. He moved his wand through his fingers like a baton and considered cursing Dumbledore’s little spy, but the boy wasn’t really worth it. And more to the point, he was a hapless victim in Dumbledore’s scheme so it wouldn’t be fair to damage him for doing what he thought was a good thing. Dumbledore was good at that—leading average magical people into dangerous and ultimately fatal situations.

Luna Lovegood emerged from a different aisle and stopped beside her fellow Ravenclaw. “Spying on the Potters again?”

Corner flushed. “Shut up, Looney.”

“I wonder if you had a bad sorting,” Luna said. “Poor Mr. Moody died being a spy for the headmaster. Of course, the Nargles tell me that Dumbledore didn’t kill Mr. Moody, even though he wanted to. Someone beat him to it, you see.”

Corner paled, turned on his heel and left.

Luna hummed under her breath as she passed by their table.

Hermione exhaled sharply as soon as the girl was out of range and turned to Harry. “Did you hear what she was humming?”

“I couldn’t place it.”

“Ring a Ring o’ Roses,” Hermione said.

“The nursery rhyme about the plague?” Harry frowned and raised an eyebrow.

“That’s a popular Muggle urban legend behind the origins, but it’s really just one of many songs that slipped into Muggle culture from the magical world,” Hermione murmured. “The original lyrics, fortunately, never made it quite out of the magical communities.”

“What are the original lyrics?” Harry asked.

Draco hummed a little. “The first verse is…Ring-a-ring o’ roses, a pocket full of copper. Hush they say! Hush they say! Death comes this way! We all fall down.”

Harry huffed. “Great. What are the flowers referencing?”

“Generations ago, magicals buried their dead in graves lined with flowers. The flowers were an offering to Zirnitra. The copper was so the dead could pay the toll to Death to enter the afterlife,” Draco said. “The other verses are just as morbid. The Lovegood family officially creeps me out.”

Hermione giggled, and Harry put a privacy charm on their table to keep from getting kicked out of the library.

– – – –

“Corner is telling everyone you killed Ron,” Neville said as soon as he sat down at dinner.

Harry frowned. “I wasn’t anywhere near Ron when he left the castle.”

“Plenty of people saw Ron leave,” Neville agreed. “And no one got out of the castle after Dumbledore locked us down during the search unless they were part of the search team and we weren’t allowed to help search, so no one is listening to him, much.”

“Meaning?”

“There are a few Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws that are buying into it,” Neville said. “Mostly the same ones who were convinced you were the Heir and that you killed Cedric. Everyone knows that’s all nonsense, but they’re ready to latch on to a new rumor about you if it makes them feel better.”

“How does this make them feel better?” Hermione asked.

“Well, better the devil they know. It’s easier to think that Harry’s gone off the deep end than imagine that some insane killer is running around the school murdering people that they can’t see.” Lavender shrugged. “I guess. I mean I think I would be more scared if I thought Harry was running around killing people because we all know how powerful he is. I’d rather it be some random Death Eater.”

“Funny,” Neville turned to her. “Just the other day I was wishing for a random Death Eater.”

“It’s no fun knowing that Draco would rather sit in Harry’s lap than run around the school with some nefarious plot,” Lavender said. “Sixth year is just not at all entertaining what with the murder and suicide getting us locked up in the school like a bunch of convicts.”

“At least last year we had Umbridge to rail against,” Neville agreed.

“Well, I don’t know why they’re blaming me when Dumbledore was the last to see Ron and Moody. Plus we all know Snape was in and out of his office all the time. Maybe he was the last to see him, too,” Harry said and put on his most innocent expression as Lavender’s mouth dropped open. She hopped right up and went to the Ravenclaw table.

Draco turned to him. “I couldn’t love you more if I tried.”

Harry grinned, leaned in and kissed him.

“Gah, how do you put with this Hermione? Are they that sickeningly sweet all the time?” Seamus asked.

“It’s hot,” Hermione said without looking up from her book. “Even hotter when they’re naked. I mean, like, wow.” She looked up, and everyone was staring at her. “What? They’re mine. I can look at them all I want.”

Harry just laughed and wrapped an arm around her. It wasn’t often that he ended up sandwiched between them at a meal, but he figured they were a little overprotective because of the rumors.

At lunch, the majority of Hufflepuff was convinced that Dumbledore had cracked and turned into a serial killer. Ravenclaw wasn’t sure if he was a spree killer or a serial killer. By dinner, someone in a Slytherin had spread it around that Dumbledore had probably put Pansy under the Imperius and made her kill herself because she was Death Eater. It was the most fun Harry had ever had at meal times. The headmaster had made a brief appearance at dinner but had stormed out when a first year Slytherin burst into tears at the sight of him.

– – – –

“Dumbledore had a difficult day,” Deadmarsh murmured as Harry got settled in front of him at the small table near the back of the professor’s office.

“Yes, well, fame is fickle and I would think he knows that very well considering the life he has led. Even last year, he suffered a great deal of negative attention due to Fudge’s machinations.”

“And your part in the rumors?”

“I have to get my fun somewhere,” Harry said with a laugh. “I’ve finished the first reading list, but I’ve refrained from any spell work. Draco and Hermione are already moving into the second reading list but again, no spell work.”

“Are they intimidated by the subject?”

“No, but both prefer to have practical lessons regarding new spells. That’s how they learn best, and we agreed that I would bring that knowledge to them.”

“Your sheltering of them is honorable, Lord Potter, but do you have any sort of plan in place to deal with public fall-out should it become known that you’ve given your spouses parselmagic?”

“I don’t, no. Magical sharing during a marriage rite was our privilege, and we did nothing illegal though I know most would be horrified at the thought of being given what is considered a dark gift. Hermione and Draco were very willing.”

“Magical theory dictates that such a gift-giving can only be done with consent,” Deadmarsh agreed. “May I ask what you received in return?”

“My wife gave me a mental gift and my husband’s family is well-known for their natural animagus ability. I believe our successful sharing of magical gifts is partly responsible for the depth of our Trinity.”

“I would agree,” Deadmarsh said.

There was a sharp knock on the door and Deadmarsh frowned.

“Do be a good lad and disappear.”

Harry stood and performed a disillusion charm. He moved to the corner of the room and Deadmarsh walked to the door. He opened it, and Remus Lupin offered Deadmarsh a smile. Harry rolled his eyes and really hoped he wasn’t about to watch Lupin try to seduce Deadmarsh.

“I wanted to thank you, Professor Deadmarsh, for the Wolfsbane. It was honestly the best full moon I’ve had in years.”

“Of course,” Deadmarsh said.

Lupin peered into the room and Deadmarsh raised an eyebrow. “Is something amiss?”

“No, of course, not.” Lupin straightened and cleared his throat. “The headmaster told me that you didn’t appear interested in remaining with the staff for more than a year.”

“I did sign a one-year contract,” Deadmarsh said and motioned Lupin inside.

Harry watched as Remus sat down in the chair he’d abandoned.

“I remember you—you were in Ravenclaw.”

“Yes, but two years behind you,” Deadmarsh agreed. “Has Dumbledore sent you down here to try to talk me into joining his little group?”

“You’re a very talented potion’s master, and frankly the Order could use you. We have many situations where you could be useful in the service to the Light.”

“The Light,” Deadmarsh repeated. “If I wanted to be in public service, Mr. Lupin, I would’ve accepted the many offers of employment that the ministry has offered me since I achieved my second mastery. Croaker makes a habit of inviting me to join his department every year at Christmas dinner.”

“You eat Christmas dinner with the Director of the Department of Mysteries?” Lupin questioned, clearly shocked.

“Yes, but that is either here nor there. I have no interest in joining the Order of the Phoenix. It is an illegal organization but moreover, Mr. Lupin, Dumbledore has a habit of getting his followers killed. He’s honestly no better than Voldemort in that regard. I have a duty to my family and my man to live.”

“And your duty to the Light?”

Deadmarsh grinned. “Mr. Lupin, what on earth makes you think I’m a light wizard?”

Lupin’s mouth dropped open. “But…”

“Oh come now, man, you’re a bloody werewolf.” Deadmarsh sighed. “Magic is magic. Light, dark, grey—are arbitrary judgments that polite society assigns based on prejudice and nothing more. Surely a man of your condition would see that.”

Lupin frowned deeply. “I’ve spent my whole life working to overcome my curse.”

“And yet society at large believes you dark merely because of a condition you have no control over. What a terrible way to live.” Deadmarsh crossed his legs at the knee and Lupin stood.

“I’ll be going then.”

“Yes, I suppose you will. Don’t forget to come around next month. I’ll have your Wolfsbane ready before the dinner hour.”

“My thanks,” Lupin muttered and left.

Harry ended his charm as soon as Deadmarsh locked the door. The man cast a privacy charm with a sigh.

“I’m not sure if he was here to get information out of me or to continue to stalk you.”

Harry sighed. “He’s a real pain in my arse.” He slouched down in the chair. “I’m sorry in advance if he ends up reporting to Dumbledore that you and I are having some sort of illicit relationship.”

Deadmarsh snorted. “I’m sure that old bastard would be thrilled with such a report from Lupin.”

“One day, I’m going to ruin Dumbledore’s whole life,” Harry said.

“I wonder how many people have that as a life goal.” Quin walked to a cabinet, pulled out two glasses and a bottle of firewhiskey. He poured half a glass for them both and put the glass down in front of Harry. “A little bit shouldn’t hurt.”

Harry touched the glass, and his ring remained still on his finger. He picked it up and took a sip. “Do you have an animagus form?”

“I’ve done the meditation but never completed the process,” Deadmarsh admitted. “I was actually quite put off by my form.”

“What is it?” Harry asked.

Deadmarsh huffed. “A bloody hummingbird.”

Harry snorted. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s ridiculous. I’m a grown man,” Quin complained. “Regardless, once I met my form I decided that it wasn’t particularly useful and I abandoned the endeavor.”

Harry nodded. “Well, I wouldn’t say it was completely without use. In fact, it might be a means of escape if you found yourself in a difficult situation. Animagus are so rare that hardly anyone would think to secure a prisoner against such a thing.”

Deadmarsh just hummed under his breath and sipped his drink. “Parselmagic is deeply connected to the wild magic that flows through the world. That connection allows us to shape and control magic that would otherwise be feral.”

“Where does feral magic come from?”

“There are many theories, of course, some more sensational than others. Tell me—Lord Potter—are you given magic or do you make it?”

“I don’t know—there are several theories, but none of them really resonate as true to me. Does that make sense?”

“It makes perfect sense actually because a parselmouth has a more intimate relationship with magic. We are gifted by the Black Dragon himself. There was a time long ago that all magical people were parselmouths, but the gift was largely driven from our people.”

“Muggles?”

“Yes, after a fashion. The religious demonized snakes and eventually they connected that taint to magical people. Fear drove them to hunt us.”

“And burn us at the stake.”

“Drowned, stoned, burned, beheaded, hanged, crushed—they were quite inventive in their efforts destroy our kind. An international effort was undertaken to hide our existence—the Statute of Secrecy was created. We created enclaves and slowly through the passage of time, we faded from their memories. All they have left is remembered hysteria and a shameful history, but many of us know that if we were exposed again that history would repeat itself. There were times when the fear rose in them again, but they rarely captured truly magical people. Fortunately, in the modern era, that level of hysteria is very rare when it pertains to us.”

“And parselmagic? How did it fade?”

“Neglect, fear, and outright magical suppression in some cases. Many ancient families made every effort to ritually destroy parselcraft within their familial magic. They were largely successful. Dark families, of course, refused to bow down to such fears.”

Harry considered that. “And parselmagic became associated with dark wizards.”

“Yes, over time,” Quin agreed. “So back to the origin of magic. There are many theories—some based purely on spiritual beliefs and others rooted in what passes for science among magical society. Spiritualists believe that our magic is gifted from a divine source. There are tangible theories involving ley lines and the psionic plane.”

Harry grimaced. “I’ve never been comfortable with the theory that we’re merely a conduit. It strips magic of its beauty in a way. I wouldn’t say I’m a spiritualist, though Draco certainly is, but I do believe magic lives. It is an intelligent force.”

“Yes, I believe that as well,” Quin said. “The goblins theorize that all magical beings are born with magic and that we continuously make magic. We can’t contain it all so it bleeds out of us—projecting an aura that those with mage sight can see. Bonded house elves use this magic to stabilize their own core, which allows them to fully function within our realm. They are not, as many would believe, natural to our world but a misplaced species much like the goblins. It has been many generations since the goblins, and the little elves were stranded in our world.”

“But our magic isn’t feral.”

“No, but there are those that believe that feral magic flows through our realm due to Zir.”

“The Lord of Magic?” Harry questioned.

“He moves among us,” Quin said with wry amusement. “And when he does, he leaves magic in his wake. Magic that parselmouths can interact with and use.”

“Oh.” Harry resolved to read the book Zir had given Hermione as soon as possible. “So his magic just sort of goes wild.”

“No, Lord Potter, it doesn’t go wild. His magic is wild. Zirnitra is a chaotic god.”

“Dumbledore said that Zir is neutral and that neutrality made some people leery of worshiping him.”

“What if I said that chaos is a neutral force?” Deadmarsh questioned.

“Well.” Harry frowned and focused on his drink. He took another sip of firewhiskey. “By its very definition, chaos can’t be predicted or controlled. Upon reflection, chaos is neither good nor bad. It merely is.”

“Such is Magic.”

“If I wanted to take tuition in philosophy, I’d trot off and hire someone.”

Quin laughed. “Perhaps I’m just as much a spiritualist as your Consort.”

 

Chapter 22

By the time Yule break came around, Dumbledore had met with the Board of Governors three different times regarding the hundreds of letters they’d received from parents for letting a suspected serial killer stay in the school. Much to Harry’s amusement, the ministry had been forced to have a press conference to assure the public that Dumbledore hadn’t completely cracked and started killing people at random. Near the end of November, the situation had almost calmed down so Hermione had convinced Romilda Vane that Dumbledore was Ron’s lover but had killed Snape and Ron in a jealous rage when he’d found out about their affair. Ron had gotten quite popular since he’d died.

They packed up their personal items, and Dobby took the trunk to the Arx. They were at the Gryffindor table in the Hall having breakfast when Dumbledore approached them.

“Lord Potter, you’re not on the list to remain here at the school for Yule break.”

“I’m going home,” Harry said. “We need a break, and honestly, I’m beginning to question our safety in the school. One more body around here, sir, and I’ll be investigating education opportunities abroad. I’ll not have our wife in this school at all if you can’t do something about the security situation. Perhaps you should request aurors from the ministry.”

“I must insist that you stay in the school,” Dumbledore said. “It’s for your own good.”

Harry watched him walk away and rolled his eyes. “His confidence in the obedience of others is quite fascinating.”

“He’s just used to getting his way—spoiled by his own fame and power.” Hermione tucked her book into her bag.

Draco closed the paper he was reading. “Finished?”

“Yeah,” Harry murmured and pushed aside his porridge.

They walked out of the hall together and found McGonagall with Dumbledore. The two of them were arguing in a privacy charm, and students were gathered near the stairs watching in the scene unfold.

Flitwick came out of the hall at this point and sighed dramatically. “Come children, you don’t want to miss the train.”

He herded them all out, and they actually made it all the way to the train station before Dumbledore caught up with them on the platform.

“Lord Potter!”

Harry sighed. “Winky.” The house elf appeared immediately. He held out his hands to her and picked her up when she came forward. Draco and Hermione activated their portkeys, but he remained where he was until Dumbledore reached him. “Sir, you don’t have the authority to force me to stay at here for Yule. Your inappropriate interest in my life outside of the school is extremely discomforting especially considering the untoward things I’ve heard about you lately.” He activated his portkey with a push of his magic, and they appeared in the courtyard.

“I come by myself next time,” Winky said. “Winky hate portkeys.”

Harry laughed. “Our bond is new—I just wanted to make sure you got here.” He put her down.

“Lady Potter’s castle is great,” Winky decided and headed off toward the garden.

Harry went to his office, sat down at his desk, and pulled out a piece of parchment. A little hoot caught his attention and Branwell flew into the room and perched briefly on a chair before flying across the room to sit on Harry’s desk. He laughed and picked up the owlet then sat back in his chair. “Hey, crazy boy.”

After a few minutes, he put the owlet on the wood box that held his stationary and inked his quill. If he wanted to cause Dumbledore more problems with the ministry, and he did, he would need to word the letter in such a way that it would elicit sympathy and outrage, but he didn’t want to be accused of using his fame or title to gain special favors. He couldn’t actually control either, but he wanted to make an effort to minimize the impact of both of those in the situation.

Minister Diggory,

I am writing to you with grave concerns regarding the inappropriate interest the Headmaster Dumbledore has demonstrated as it applies to my personal life.

As a student at Hogwarts, I make every effort to conduct myself appropriately. When I married over the summer, I contacted my head of house regarding the change in my status as well as the change of status for my spouses as both are also Hogwarts students. I requested married housing as outlined in the student handbook. That request was denied by the headmaster, and Professor McGonagall housed us in the Head Boy suite for Gryffindor as a result. As the arrangement was private, I made no formal protest at the time—though I’m confident the Board of Governors would’ve taken the appropriate action if I had.

My house elf was forced to dismantle over fifty listening charms in our quarters before we could even unpack and prepare for school. Again, the magic was easy enough to dispel, so I did not lodge a formal protest.

As the semester advanced, I came to know that the headmaster was using portraits to spy on my spouses and me. This seemed relatively harmless as we were just going about our business as students so I said nothing.

An unknown person entered the school, murdered Professor Snape then Ron Weasley was killed in the forest, and I began to wonder if Dumbledore’s obsession with me was interfering with the safety of the other students and staff at Hogwarts. I felt somewhat paranoid and silly for thinking such a thing. The headmaster announced that he’d hired security for the school and I relaxed a little. I felt much better about the situation, but I learned quickly that it was a mistake to be relieved.

Mr. Moody and Mr. Lupin appeared to be more interested in following me around than actually protecting the school. In fact, Mr. Lupin attends all of my classes under an invisibility cloak and follows the three of us around the halls when we are not in our quarters. It’s quite disconcerting to be stalked by a werewolf, especially a werewolf that nearly killed my wife and me when we were just thirteen.

Then Mr. Moody was murdered in the middle of the school in front of the Headmaster. Like many students in the school, I was shocked and horrified by this. I was always told that no place in the magical world was as safe as Hogwarts, but now three people have been murdered in the school. A fourth was almost killed when Theo Nott attacked Blaise Zabini. I was forced to defend my fellow student, and my overreaction cost Mr. Nott his life. I don’t regret protecting Mr. Zabini and myself, but I shouldn’t have had to do such a thing.

So far this year, four Death Eaters (Snape, Nott, Weasley, and Parkinson) have died at Hogwarts. I wonder why marked Death Eaters are even let in the school, to begin with. How is that a safe environment for children? I worry about the younger students especially. I’m sure you’ve heard from parents on this issue but many of the first years are absolutely petrified of the headmaster and several cry when forced to be in the same room with him. Most often this happens at meals, and they barely eat at all. They can’t be healthy. We try to distract them, but it’s difficult when the headmaster appears to not care at all that he’s upsetting them.

As we were getting ready to leave for Yule break, the headmaster told me I was not allowed to leave the school for break. He doesn’t have the authority to demand such a thing, and I’m an emancipated minor. I have a perfectly lovely and secure home. In fact, I’m safer at this very moment than I have been in months. I don’t have to worry about some random Death Eater infiltrating my home and murdering me as I do at Hogwarts.

Since the summer, the headmaster has demonstrated an alarming interest in my personal life. He even drafted a divorce petition for me to fill out, as you know. He’s demanded I divorce my spouses, kidnapped me at one point, and has been actively spying on me. I don’t understand his interest in my intimate and private matters. He’s exceeded his authority as headmaster repeatedly and since I’ve committed no crime—he certainly isn’t acting as the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot in this situation.

I’m at a loss as to what steps I can take to guard my privacy and protect my marriage from Albus Dumbledore’s untoward interest. Any help or advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

In the Service of Magic,

Harry J. Potter
Earl of Blackmoor
House of Potter

 

He cast a drying charm on the letter and read it over. It was probably too long, but teenagers tend to ramble when they were upset, so he thought it would add weight to the situation. Playing the part of a frustrated and insulted sixteen-year-old would probably serve him very well when it came to Minister Diggory. He folded the letter and held out his hand for Branwell. The little owl hooted excitedly.

Harry laughed as the bird hopped to his fingers. “You’re too young to deliver a letter.”

Branwell twittered and slumped down in disappointment.

“Don’t pout,” Harry said. He walked up to the owlery and gave the letter to Mr. Darcy to carry as Hedwig was in Paris delivering a letter to Narcissa. He put Branwell on his perch and the owlet hooted sadly. “Oh, fine.” He picked the little guy back up and went in search of his wife.

– – – –

Harry figured Draco had put a sticking charm on his arse to stay in his seat after he opened his present. They’d made a habit of not loading down each other with a bunch of gifts at Yule over the years. Instead they paired off, and each person got a very special gift. He and Hermione had commissioned the creation of a crystal cauldron for Draco. In the future, they’d been impossible to get because the goblins had largely stopped trading in their craft after the blood war. To say his Consort was thrilled was something of an understatement.

Dobby had arranged the travel of Hermione’s present. A concert grand piano made of vine wood with phoenix feathers in the keys. She played several instruments, and they’d lost them all in their flight from Britain in the first timeline. They’d never been replaced due to their situation. She’d spent nearly thirty minutes playing before Draco had brought in his present.

The wooden box was covered in runes. Stasis, safety, dimensional space. He wondered what was inside it. He touched the lid and hummed under his breath. “What have you two done?”

Draco grinned. “Just open it.”

With a laugh, Harry unlatched the lid and lifted it. Magic streamed out of it and in the wake of it—he was greeted with the flick of a scarlet red, triangle tipped tail. Feet with gleaming black claws hooked on the edge of the box, and a Ryūda appeared. Nearly transparent black wings fluttered from the dragon-snake’s back. Harry picked him up with careful hands. “How did you…”

“We donated generously to the Ryūda Preservation Society,” Hermione said. “He’s just six months old and sterile which you know is a problem for males.”

The Ryūda had gone from endangered to near extinct as all the females died just three years after the blood war and five years after that they’d figured out how they could’ve saved the species. “Have you told them how to correct the problem?”

“I volunteered to research the matter in the three ancestral libraries I have,” Hermione said. “I’m going to spend the next year finding the bits of information they need. Do you like him?”

“I love him. He’s perfect.” The Ryūda wrapped his tail around Harry’s hand and rubbed his chin against the base of his thumb. “They don’t start speaking until they’re a year old, right?”

“Give or take, some mature faster than others,” Hermione said. “We bought you a book on them as well. It’s on your desk.”

“What will you name him?” Draco questioned.

“Aodhán, it means little fire.”

Branwell, who’d been dozing on the back of a chair, flew to him at that point. He landed on Harry’s shoulder and hooted indignantly at Aodhán. Harry sighed and plucked the puffed up little owl off his shoulder.

“Don’t be an arsehole—I’ve already got one bitchy owl.”

Aodhán flicked his tail out and wrapped it briefly around Branwell’s leg, which made the owlet slump in Harry’s hand and wave his foot at the dragon-snake petulantly.

“Merlin, you and animals,” Draco said with a laugh. “Let me have him. I need to introduce him to Cygnus.”

Harry transferred Aodhán to his Consort’s outstretched hand and focused on the owlet still puffed up in his hand. “Seriously, if you grow up to be an arsehole, I won’t let you deliver any of my mail.” He put the little owl on his shoulder and Branwell nipped his ear.

“Do you like him?” Hermione questioned as Draco settled down on the rug near the fire where Cygnus was stretched out.

“You know I do,” he said. “I tried multiple times to find one after the war but after the females died—the males were largely confiscated for study and those that were available to the public where coveted and very expensive. He’s beautiful. I can’t wait until he starts talking. What do you think of the minister’s letter?”

“His offer to have the DMLE investigate the Order’s activities is amusing as hell,” Hermione admitted. “I think we should agree that it would be for the best. It’ll keep Dumbledore busy until we can kill him. I’d like to get rid of him before Voldemort realizes that Dumbledore knows about the horcruxes. To that end, I think we need to put the ring back where Dumbledore found it. At least, what remains of the ring. We can replace the real dust with some dark stone dust. Riddle never knew what the ring was anyway. The fake locket is still in the cave, and I have to wonder if Bellatrix confessed to him that you’d cleaned out her vault.”

“If she had, he would’ve already made a move on the bank in some fashion or another so he could find out where the contents had been transferred,” Draco said from across the room. “Cygnus has informed me that he’s not going to take care of this infant and assured me he wasn’t interested in breeding some nagging female.”

“Your snake is a real jerk,” Hermione said wryly. “Let’s blame your father or you might not ever get laid again.”

Draco just grinned but turned to Harry. “Speaking of getting laid, Fawkes was in the owlery this morning sleeping beside Hedwig.”

“I’m going to find a ward to keep that degenerate away from my owl,” Harry said and frowned when they both laughed at him. “He’s terrible and if I’d known his whole purpose for traveling back in time with us was to deflower Hedwig—I’d have cursed his arse so he’d burn then adopted the little fluff ball out to a family of puffskeins.”

Hermione’s giggles got Branwell so excited he fell of Harry’s shoulder and tumbled into his lap.

– – – –

It was rather disconcerting that once they landed in Little Hangleton, he seemed to know exactly where the ring had been in the shack. Dumbledore had put the floorboard back in place, but they pried it up quickly. Harry put the ring in place, and Hermione carefully piled the dust they’d made.

“The problem is that Dumbledore used brute force to break down the security,” Draco said as he finished his scans. “We can’t reactivate Riddle’s protections.”

“Can we make them look like they eroded or failed due to a mistake on his part?” Hermione questioned.

Draco hummed under his breath as he considered that. “Yes, I think so.” He pulled a piece of parchment out of his bracelet and conjured a table so he could do the spell construction.

The three of them spent nearly three hours activating the remnants of the security that Riddle had created, most of it was at least twenty years old. It didn’t surprise Harry at all that the Dark Twat hadn’t bothered to add new security to the location once he was resurrected. Riddle’s arrogance and vanity was no secret. They shored up the protections the best they could without leaving traces of their own magic and returned to the Arx for lunch.

Winky had taken over the kitchen and Harry had given in with absolutely no grace at all. It was his own fault and losing the battle for the second time was in its own way amusing. In the end, both Dobby and Winky had died for them in the other timeline, and it was difficult to that ignore even in their new circumstances. Harry was very familiar with that kind of loyalty and sacrifice—he’d been wrapped up in it his whole life.

Winky set the table for lunch—hardy vegetable soup and warm roast beef sandwiches. He’d given up the kitchen, but he’d insisted on planning all of their meals. House elves tended toward sweet food when left to make their own choices and he enjoyed sweets but they all preferred moderation on that front. He preferred to get the calories he needed for his magic in complex carbs.

Phineas cleared his throat from the remote portrait they’d hung in the dining room, and they all three looked his way. “You’ll be interested to know that the Order just put Diggory under the Imperius.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open. “What?”

“I wish I were kidding,” Phineas said. “I’ve known for some time that Dumbledore had a corrupt worldview, but I didn’t know he could do something like this. Diggory has been ordered to end your marriage before the end of the school year and to find some way to give regency over your title to Dumbledore until you’re thirty.”

“Do you think Diggory can fight it off?”

“No, his mind is so taken up with grief that he doesn’t have the emotional fortitude to fight the Imperius. You’ll have to find some way to interfere. Dumbledore found out the schedule for curse and potion checks at the ministry, and he cursed the minister shortly after he was checked. He won’t be rechecked for at least forty-five days.”

“Do you know who cursed Diggory?”

“Emmeline Vance is the new Senior Undersecretary of Magic, and she is the one that reported that she was able to curse Diggory and give him the instructions that Dumbledore authored. The old git was very pleased with her performance.” Phineas frowned. “Traditionally, the Earl of Blackmoor has not tolerated this sort of interference, Lord Potter.”

Harry nodded. “Where is Dumbledore, right now?”

“In his office,” Phineas said.

“Go keep an eye on him and let us know if he leaves.”

“Of course.”

Harry picked up his sandwich. “We should go ahead and eat. We’re going to have a very long afternoon and possible night.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to know exactly what is going on in Diggory’s head,” Harry said shortly. “His hatred for me in the future was intense. I need to know if he is my enemy or if he was just their pawn the whole time. Also, we’re going to kill Emmeline Vance. People are going to start wondering if the title of Senior Undersecretary for Magic has been cursed by Voldemort.”

“Killing her is the best way to free Diggory from the curse without alerting Dumbledore to the fact that we have inside knowledge and there is the added bonus of ruining that old bastard’s whole week.” Hermione nodded in agreement.

“The killing part is the bonus,” Draco corrected. “She’s a twisted cunt.”

“Don’t think we have forgotten she spear-headed the investigation against you and manufactured evidence so she could throw you in Azkaban. How Kingsley thought putting Vance in charge of the DMLE after the war was a good idea is beyond me.” Harry sighed. “You know, even a decade after his death, Dumbledore’s little followers were rabidly intent on seeing is agenda accomplished. Voldemort wishes his Death Eaters were that dedicated and loyal.”

Draco laughed. “He’d be so jealous.”

– – – –

It had always struck him as kind of crazy exactly how foolishly complacent magical people were. Even with Voldemort’s resurrection being accepted as fact, the security in the ministry was still laughable. They exited a floo hooded and shortly turned down a narrow empty hall. Draco’s disillusion spell flowed over Harry as he walked. Every single time Draco cast it on them—the spell felt better and more natural. Moreover, both he and Hermione were learning to find each other while they were invisible. Draco could do it on instinct while he and their wife had to rely on the marriage bond, which was deepening every single day.

Their plans had three parts that needed to happen pretty much all at the same time, so Harry had agreed to split up though it was difficult to let go of Hermione’s hand. Dobby and Winky were already in the ministry, and both elves were tasked with making sure that Hermione didn’t get hurt or caught. They split up—Harry headed for the Minister’s office, and Draco headed for Vance. Hermione slipped into the lift with a group of people and headed to the DOM.

He exited the stairwell onto the floor where the minister’s office was located and almost sighed at the lack of security. Penelope Clearwater was sitting at the desk, and Harry hesitated. He didn’t want to hurt her or get her in trouble for a security breach if he got caught.

Diggory came out of his door and handed Penelope a package. Harry watched the witch gather up her cloak and leave the office with it and relaxed. He followed Diggory back into the office and stunned the man in the back. It was pathetic and kind of irritating. He locked the door and put a security ward on it with his stave then rolled Diggory over. He dosed him with veritatis potion—an advanced truth serum that Draco had often brewed for the ICW in their other life. The man’s skin started to glow gold indicating that the potion was working; Harry levitated the minister to the sofa in the back of his office, cast an incarceration spell on the man, and woke him up.

The minister’s eyes flew open, and he turned his head. “What?”

“Do you know who put you under the Imperius, Minister?”

“Don’t know,” Diggory muttered.

“Who do you blame for the murder of your son?”

“Dumbledore.” His face contorted as he struggled against the truth potion. “Pettigrew. Potter.”

“Why do you blame Dumbledore?”

“His fault Potter was in the tournament.”

“Barty Crouch, Jr. entered Potter into the tournament.”

“Dumbledore lied—Potter didn’t have to participate. I read the minister’s diary on the matter. Fudge and Crouch thought Potter would make better headlines. Also, Dumbledore knew that Crouch, Jr. had taken Moody’s place.”

“Why do you blame Potter?”

“Because he doesn’t know how to die,” Diggory whispered fiercely. “My Cedric should’ve lived, and that blasted Boy-Who-Lived should’ve died instead.”

“He was just fourteen years old, Minister Diggory.”

“Some hero,” Diggory seethed. “He didn’t save my boy.”

“Will you hurt Potter? Do you agree with Dumbledore’s plan?”

“Dumbledore is a dark wizard. He’s the reason I was cursed—so I can be blamed for destroying a Trinity bond. The ICW will ruin me for it.” Diggory shuddered. “I know my anger toward Potter is unreasonable. I hate him, I can’t help it.”

“I’m going to help you,” Harry whispered. “When you wake up—you’ll be free of the Imperius curse Dumbledore’s people put on you. Go to a mind healer, Minister Diggory, and get the help you require. Your wife needs you—you don’t mourn alone. Cedric was a good man. Don’t dishonor his memory by acting on the darkness grief has bred in your heart.”

Hypocrisy thy name is Death.

“I won’t tell anyone about this,” Diggory said. His skin was still glowing gold, so he was speaking the truth. “Tell me who cursed me?”

“Emmeline Vance,” Harry said. “But you needn’t worry about her anymore.” He cast a sleeping charm on the man and took a deep breath. He leaned down as his parselmagic stirred and hissed, “You had a terrible headache, Minister, so you took a nap.”

Harry cast several mental health charms on the minister and noted during his scan that the man had been sleeping less than six hours a night since he was made the minister. He hesitated because it would be easy to kill the man and get rid of the potential of a threat, but even as he raised his wand, Minerva McGonagall’s voice seemed to echo in his head telling him to be a righteous man. With a huff, Harry stored his wand and walked away. There was nothing justified about murdering a grieving and mentally ill man. The gold light faded from the man’s skin, and Harry left the office. Penelope’s desk was still empty, so he slipped out of the minister’s suite of offices with no issues.

Draco was waiting in the hallway. Harry squeezed his Consort’s hand as they moved through the administrative area unseen. He wondered if Draco found the lack of security as offensive as he did. They entered the lift behind John Dawlish, and the auror closed the doors. He selected a floor and Harry drew his wand as the lift started to move downward. Draco’s fingers clenched in his, but nothing about the contact felt like a warning. Killing him wasn’t a good idea, which was unfortunate. So, he cursed him impotent out of meanness. Or, in defense of single women in Britain. The arsehole didn’t even know a simple pleasure enhancement charm.

Dawlish left the lift and the doors closed.

“What did you use?”

“Impotence,” Harry said and sighed when Draco laughed. “Vance?”

“Not in her office. I’m still looking, but I figured it would be best to meet you since she wasn’t where she should be. I did check her schedule, and she doesn’t have any out of office meetings this afternoon.”

The lift opened, and they were released into the Atrium. Hermione’s magic brushed against his, and she took his wand hand in hers. They moved down the center of the space and because Zir really and truly loved them—Vance was ejected out of a floo right in front of them. Dumbledore came out directly behind her. They turned slightly as Vance passed them, Dumbledore calling after her.

“Do it,” Harry murmured.

Hermione laughed a little, and a curse shot out across the atrium and hit Vance in the back. People screamed, and Dumbledore turned, his wand drawn. He shot a revealing spell that encompassed the entire area. Harry gripped his spouses hands; they couldn’t portkey out of the ministry due to security protocols. The spell rushed over them in a wave, but they remained invisible, which was astounding. Dumbledore frowned and cast the spell again. Magic washed over the entire atrium again, but Draco’s disillusionment spell remained.

“Accio invisibility cloak!” Dumbledore shouted.

Two meters away from them, a cloak whipped into the air revealing Remus Lupin. Another cloak spun in the air near them exposing Hestia Jones. The spell continued down the atrium, revealing two aurors and Augustus Rookwood. The moment the Death Eater was revealed, the crowd lost their minds, and the ministry protocols started locking down. The floos went dark in an instant. Draco pulled them back from the crowd, and as soon as they were free, a little body hit him at the knees. One arm snaked around his leg, and house elf magic enveloped them.

They all five appeared in a pile in the middle of the foyer at the Arx. Dobby had brought him and Draco. Winky had Hermione’s hand. They all sat there for a long moment then Dobby started laughing. It set Draco off, and Harry leaned back on his hands to watch them as Hermione smirked.

“What?” Harry asked Dobby.

“Random Death Muncher!” Dobby crowed and fell back on his back to giggle.

 

Chapter 23

The owl delivery became the highlight of Harry’s entire day in the week leading up to their return to Hogwarts. Dumbledore, Lupin, Hestia Jones and Rookwood were arrested for Vance’s murder. Dumbledore was the only Order member who was kept more than a single day, and the Daily Prophet had gloried in his public hearing regarding the deaths of both Moody and Vance. They’d both been killed in front of him after all with the same exact curse.

Hermione’s mission to make the current Croaker suspicious of Tobias Savage had worked better than they’d hoped as Savage had been arrested and brought up on fraud charges on Boxing Day. They’d still need to be careful about the DOM, but Harry hoped his godmother’s personal connection to the head of the department would prevent any overt actions against him after the war.

They tucked into the train to return to Hogwarts with little fanfare and put up a repelling charm to keep everyone away. What was left of the Weasleys had been on the platform when they’d walked past so they knew that Ginny was returning to the school. They had a lunch packed, so they skipped the fare from the cart. Winky had stayed at the Arx with several projects, but Harry figured it wouldn’t take long for her to get bored without them there to fuss over. She’d be forcing Dobby to switch out with her on owlet duty soon enough.

At their arrival, Harry roused Hedwig from her cage, as she hadn’t been all that interested in flying to Hogwarts that morning. She left his hand, flew down the length of the train, and did a fly-by on the Gryffindor first years that made them laugh and chase after her toward the carriages. Hermione picked out a carriage and went to step up with Draco’s help. A blasting curse impacted against the side of the carriage. Draco jerked Hermione off the step the moment the curse hit. Harry turned and watched the students scatter away from Rodolphus Lestrange. One Death Eater and they all lost their bloody minds.

“Neville! Get the kids out of the way!”

Lestrange focused on him, and Harry raised his wand. The man hesitated which in any other circumstances would’ve amused him. Then the arsehole summoned a second year Gryffindor who was running toward Harry. The Death Eater caught the little girl and shoved his wand into her neck.

“My Dark Lord wishes to meet with you, Potter,” Lestrange shouted.

“If you want me—you’re going to have to stop hiding behind a twelve-year-old girl and come get me, Lestrange.”

“Do not bait Death Eaters, Harry James,” Hermione hissed from where Draco had her crowded behind a carriage. “Honestly!”

“Oh, come on, he’s hiding behind a little girl!”

“Well, he can’t help being a coward,” Hermione declared.

“You shut up, Mudblood!”

“Don’t talk to our wife like that, you evil tosser,” Draco shouted.

Harry noted out of the corner of his eye that Hermione was trying to wiggle free of Draco’s hold. “Stop struggling, Darling, before he stuns you.”

“Then get Francis back from him,” Hermione ordered. “He’s getting her dirty!”

Francis was, in fact, struggling to get free of Lestrange’s hold. He had to admire her spunk in the situation.

“Francis! That evil man is bad touching you!” Hermione shouted. “Do what I told you to do!”

Harry’s mouth dropped open because Francis chomped down on Lestrange’s arm. The man shouted in shock and tossed the girl furiously. Harry shot a banishing curse at the Death Eater, which he dodged.

Francis stood up, kicked Lestrange in the knee then in the crotch and shouted, “Pervert!”

Harry let her kick him in the bollocks again before he stunned him. Francis straightened her jumper and trotted over to him.

“Excellent work,” Harry praised and shot a petrification spell at Lestrange. “I bet that’s the last wizard that bad touches you.”

“He smelled gross,” Francis complained.

“All Death Eaters stink,” Harry told her sagely, and she just frowned.

The street got noisy with the sound of aurors arriving. Better late than never, he supposed. Amelia Bones came over to them as Kingsley Shacklebolt approached Lestrange. Bones opened her mouth to speak, but Francis took Harry’s left hand and huffed dramatically.

“That evil man bad touched me! So I bit him and kicked him. Then Lord Harry stunned him.”

Bones’ mouth dropped open.

“He summoned Francis and used her as a shield,” Harry explained. “So she got herself free, and I stunned him. Then I put a petrification spell him on him just in case he woke up. Francis was very brave.”

“I’m a Gryffindor,” Francis announced proudly. “We don’t take any sort of nonsense from Death Eaters.”

“He apparently wanted me to come with him voluntarily so Voldemort could try to kill me again,” Harry explained. “Or complain about not being able to kill me. Or attempt to recruit me. Or just bore me to death with his plans of world domination. I can’t really say.”

“I see.” Bones took a deep breath.

“We should go, we’ll miss dinner.” Hermione offered her hand to Francis as the rest of the Hogwarts students came out from behind the train.

Draco repaired the damage done to the carriage and encouraged Francis and Hermione into it. “Funny, the headmaster didn’t come to our aid.” He helped a first-year Slytherin into the carriage. “Well, not funny at all actually. Shouldn’t there be security charms and wards on the train and train station? I would think the headmaster would be intimately involved in the security of the students.”

“Yes, you would think,” Harry agreed. “Perhaps he has greater concerns, or he’s too busy plotting to break up our marriage.”

“His boner for you is really disturbing my peace of mind,” Hermione said in the primmest possible tone. Amelia Bones snorted in laughter. “Come along—I’m starving.”

“What’s a boner?” Francis asked.

“Never you mind,” Harry said and pointed at his wife as he entered the carriage. “Watch your language in front of Francis.” He sat down beside the little girl. “You should be providing a good example.”

“Lady Hermione provides an excellent example,” Francis proclaimed. “She married two really pretty wizards. I, too, aspire to such.”

Hermione smirked.

– – – –

Dinner was a loud affair, mostly because Francis insisted on telling the whole of Gryffindor that she kicked a Death Eater’s arse then she’d been kidnapped to the Ravenclaw table where she told the whole thing again. Dumbledore was lurking at the head table, sour-faced, and clearly out of sorts. Harry wondered if it was because Bones had berated him for not being on the school grounds when the children returned from holiday or because the old man had apparently removed the security notifications attached the train and station that would’ve alerted the DMLE to the attack.

“He looks vexed,” Draco said casually.

“Well, he barely managed to stay out of jail over Yule for murder, and now the DMLE has discovered that he’s circumvented their security measures regarding the train,” Hermione said. “He’s had a difficult school year so far.”

“Do you think he murdered the undersecretary?” Neville asked.

“Well, the Prophet said he was there. And that the same curse that killed Mr. Moody is the same one that killed Madam Vance.” Hermione shrugged delicately. “I can’t imagine two different murderous people using the same exact obscure dark curse. It’s not like either one of them were killed with a Killing Curse. It also required a great deal of magical power, apparently, and the headmaster is very powerful. In fact, he’s famous for it among other things.” She leaned over and focused on Lavender. “Did you read in the Wizarding Times how Dumbledore had a torrid affair with Grindelwald?”

“I did,” Lavender said and shook her head. “I don’t get the attraction. Grindelwald was a very good looking man before he went crazy and tried to take over the world.”

“I do agree,” Hermione said. “He could’ve done much better than Dumbledore.”

“Oh.” Lavender propped her head up on her hand. “Maybe Grindelwald rejected him, and that’s why Dumbledore has been alone and bitter all this time. Now he’s finally cracked under the immense pain of his unrequited love. Also, it could explain his behavior about your marriage—he’s never had love and can’t stand for others to have it either. Did you ever notice that all the professors are unmarried? Isn’t that odd?”

It was odd, and Harry wondered if Dumbledore preferred to hire people with few or no outside attachments. Maybe it made it easier to use them for his own plans or as fodder much like the people in the Order. He’d certainly run through enough of them in the first blood war.

– – – –

Hedwig wasn’t on her perch in their quarters, which was a surprise since she preferred it to the school owlery. Harry offered to take Draco’s letter up to Hedwig—the halls were almost empty, and he ignored the students he did pass on the way up to the owls at least until he reached the stairs and found Ginny Weasley.

She glared at him. “Harry.”

“Ginevra,” he returned. “I’m surprised you’ve returned to the school with what has happened to your family.”

“Ron thought you killed Percy,” Ginny said. “I wonder if he was right—he went off to find out and he died, too.” Her fingers flexed, and her wand hand curled into a fist. “Did you kill him?”

“No.” Harry tried to move past her. She grabbed his arm, and her hand was warm, slick. He glanced down, and blood smeared down his forearm. His stomach dropped even as her nails dug into his skin. “What have you done?”

“No more than you deserved,” she hissed, released him, and ran down the stairs.

He started to go after her, but she wouldn’t go far. Harry went up the stairs into the owlery and agony stirred in his gut. All of the owls were gone but one—Hedwig lay on the floor, feathers dotted with blood. He sank to his knees and picked her up with careful hands. Fury and grief mixed in him, she trembled, and his stomach lurched as she took a ragged breath. He clutched her to his chest, wrapped his robe around her and rushed down the stairs.

The moment he entered the quarters, Hermione and Draco lurched to their feet.

“What happened?” Draco asked.

“Ginny was in the owlery. She cursed Hedwig—a cutting curse I think. She’s still alive.”

“That little bitch,” Hermione snapped.

Harry put Hedwig down on the desk and stepped back so that Draco could scan her.

“Cutting curse,” Draco agreed. “Her lung is punctured, and her magical core is fractured.” He turned to Harry. “I could repair the lung damage but not her core.”

“I know,” Harry said quietly. He sat down in his desk and moved forward so he could pet Hedwig’s head. “What about a pain relief charm?”

“They don’t work on magical creatures,” Draco said. “I could brew a potion specifically for her, but she’d be dead before I could finish it. I’m so sorry, love.”

Harry nodded, but he focused on Hedwig. He should’ve paid more attention to her—he’d lost Hedwig in the first timeline due to his own foolishness, and now it had happened again. “She said this is what I deserve and she blamed me for the murders of both of her brothers.”

“What do you want to do?” Draco asked.

“Something ugly and vicious,” Harry admitted. “But Dumbledore will know she’s done this and if I lash out in any single way he’ll know so we can’t do anything to her right now. Though I think this is just her first move against us. Or at least, her mother’s first step in punishing me for Percy and Ron.”

Hedwig shuddered again and made a soft chuffing sound. Fawkes flamed into the room and perched on the stationary box. He leaned down and rubbed his head against Hedwig’s. Fire danced along the phoenix’s body and flowed onto Hedwig. Harry jerked his hand back in shock. He wanted to be angry, but in the wake of the fire, Hedwig stopped trembling with pain as if the magical fire was soothing. Maybe it was.

Fawkes started to sing, and the flames danced over the owl’s body. The fire leapt high, and they all three pushed back from the desk as the flames obscured her body. The phoenix sang the entire time—soft but joyful. Then the fire disappeared leaving a pile of ash. Harry leaned forward as the dust stirred.

“Son of a bitch,” he murmured. He looked at Fawkes briefly, and the blasted bird showed him an image of Hedwig. “Okay, I get it.”

He reached out and brushed the ashes off Hedwig. She stood then fell down into the pile, dust pillowed up around her, and she chuffed indignantly.

“No one knows how the phoenix is created,” Hermione said.

“Well, at least three people now know how the phoenix is born,” Harry murmured. He picked up Hedwig and sighed. “You’re a real pain in my arse.” She waved her wings and sank her beak into the bottom of his thumb. “And my hand, too, you mean thing.”

“She can’t stay here,” Draco said. “Dumbledore has already demonstrated the ability to capture and imprison a phoenix.”

“You’re right,” Harry said with a sigh. “Winky.”

The house elf appeared in front of his desk.

Her eyes went wide. “What happened to Hedwig?”

“Ginny used a cutting curse on her and Fawkes…” He waved a hand. “For fuck’s sake.”

Winky sighed and came around the desk. “Fan Girl Wheezy be a real bitch.”

Harry nodded. “We need you to take Hedwig to the Arx. She’s not safe here at Hogwarts.”

“No, Dumbles be a bitch, too,” Winky said and held out her hands.

Harry gently put Hedwig in her hand. “Get her comfortable and make sure she has enough to eat. I don’t know…what she eats.”

“Fawkes make baby phoenix Hedwig,” Winky turned to the bird. “Fawkes brings her food!” She pointed at the phoenix and Fawkes nodded his agreement.

– – – –

The next morning, Ginny smirked at the three of them as they sat down for breakfast.

Harry ignored her and turned to Hermione. “I was thinking that in the summer we could go to Paris. You could get a whole new wardrobe tailored before we head to New York.”

“Oh, I don’t need a whole new wardrobe,” Hermione said.

“Who cares?” Draco asked. “We have enough money to buy you a new outfit for every single day of the year.”

“All right,” Hermione said and returned her attention to her book. “When Hedwig gets back from Paris, I’ll send another letter to mother and ask her to make an appointment with Abel Paget. He’s her favorite designer, and I really love that red dress she sent me a picture of.”

“Abel Paget is the most exclusive designer in Paris,” Lavender said. “My mother waited a whole year for an appointment for a single dress. Of course, it was lovely—easily the best dress she’s ever had made. She already made an appointment for me as a present for finishing at Hogwarts. I’ll get two dresses if I get at least five NEWTs.”

“Well, we’ll just have to make sure you get five NEWTs,” Hermione said. “There’s no need to miss out on two dresses from Abel Paget. Of course, when I’m there, I’d be happy to purchase any accessories you might want. I know he has a whole collection of shoes, purses, hats, and cloaks.”

“I’d love a new cloak,” Faye Dunbar said. “We’ll take measurements before the end of school year, and I’ll have my father arrange a bank draft.”

“Hedwig can’t be in Paris—she attacked me last night in the owlery,” Ginny interrupted.

“Hedwig left Hogwarts with a letter for my mother right after dinner,” Draco said. “Harry had to use a school owl to send a letter to the bank. Are you sure you should’ve returned to school so soon? You appear to be a bit delicate mentally.”

“Shut up, Death Eater.”

“Draco doesn’t have the Dark Mark,” Neville interjected. “Everyone knows that Ron had the Dark Mark. He was a Death Eater, and it probably got him killed. Not a surprise, really, that he was dark. He didn’t have a loyal bone in his whole damn body.”

Ginny glared at Neville. “Ron was not a Death Eater. Michael lied about seeing the mark.”

“Sure he did,” Faye said dryly.

– – – –

“I’m going to curse her absolutely silly,” Hermione whispered as they sat down in DADA class. “I’ll start with some sort of skin itching hex and work my way up to limb removal.”

Draco laughed.

“Don’t encourage her,” Harry hissed. “And why on earth aren’t you starting with limb removal?”

Hermione’s delighted laughter filled the room as the rest of the students got settled in their seats.

Bill Weasley moved through the class without really engaging them. It was odd—considering before Yule he’d been sober and subdued but he’d actively participated in the class. It was more like he was monitoring the class. By the end of the two hours, Hermione was regarding their professor with a narrow-eyed concentration that Harry found amusing. As the class was dismissed, Hermione prodded Harry, and he sighed and sat back down in his desk.

“Can I help you, Lord Potter?”

“You seem out of sorts,” Harry admitted. “More than you were before Yule and Hermione is concerned for you. Is there anything we can do?”

“Just tired and stressed—I’d have been better off if I hadn’t gone home, but my mother was very insistent that I come home. The loss of Percy and Ron has been tough for her as you can imagine.” Bill leaned on his desk. “The headmaster has expressed to me that you’re unhappy in your relationship.”

“He tells everyone that but it’s certainly not true. I’m pleased with my marriage, and our bond is deeply magical and loving. It’s disconcerting that Dumbledore is unable to accept I have the right to make my own personal choices.” Harry sighed. “Are you to rescue me?”

“He did tell me that it was my duty to the light to seduce you out of your marriage since you deserve to be with a proper wizard.”

“Oh, I thought your sister was supposed to seduce me,” Harry sighed. “You’d have honestly had better luck than she ever would’ve, but I’m very content in my relationships. What of Fleur?”

“We parted ways. My mother was adamant that I couldn’t marry a woman with Veela blood and I agree it would’ve been a mistake.”

Harry stood. “Right, I understand how your mother might disapprove of such a thing.” He shouldered his bag. “I must go—I promised Draco and Hermione that I would put in an effort on my next potions essay.”

He went straight to Deadmarsh because he had enough on his plate and he figured that if Weasley was compromised, then it was bank business. He knocked on the office door, and the professor opened it almost immediately.

“Can we speak?”

Quintin motioned him inside. “How can I help you, Lord Potter?”

“So I’ll just be blunt about this—Bill Weasley has been potioned, and I’m sure it’s just the beginning of whatever behavior modification his mother is working on. He broke up with Fleur because she had Veela blood and the fact that his mother didn’t approve of her. He also almost sort of hit on me. It’s like he’s not really on board with what the potion is designed to do and is fighting it as much as he can which is substantial, but she’s probably arranged for the dosage to continue while he’s here, so they’re going to break down his defenses.”

“I see.” Deadmarsh nodded and went to the fireplace. He threw a fist full of floo powder in. Ragnok’s face appeared immediately. “Lord Potter reports that Bill Weasley has been compromised—behavioral charm or potion. He ended his relationship with Fleur Delacour due to her blood status which we both know is not in character with him.”

“It would have to be a potion,” Ragnok said. “I’d know if he’d been charmed or hexed due to the way our employees are warded.”

“True enough, so he was potioned by someone he trusts.”

“His mother has a history of such things—she was basically forced to marry Arthur Weasley after she was caught potioning Barty Crouch, Sr. at Hogwarts,” Ragnok explained. “Her father punished her by signing the contract with the poorest family he could find with only a third of the dowry he’d planned to offer.”

“What are my orders?”

“I’m going to send through a portkey. Take it to William and ask him to activate it. If he’s been compromised, then we need to get him in our care as soon as possible. He could be forced to violate his vows to the bank, which would destroy his magic and probably kill him. Make haste, Quin.” The floo connection ended, refired and a box was thrown through.

“Uh, I didn’t know you could transfer objects via the Hogwarts floo.”

“Goblins are very adept at making magic do what they want,” Quin said. “Thank you for your help in this matter, Lord Potter. I’m sure Bill will thank you when he’s in his right mind.”

“I’m glad his issue was so obvious,” Harry said then sighed. “Great, we’ll be getting another new DADA teacher. It’s practically an epidemic. Don’t let Dumbledore talk you into teaching the subject.”

“There’s no telling what sort of arsehole will take Bill’s place,” Quin said as he picked up the box. “How did you know I work for the bank?”

“How did you know I time traveled?” Harry questioned.

Quin grinned. “Touché.”

– – – –

Dobby brought a beautiful snowy white owl in a cage the next morning. She was lovely and looked so much like Hedwig that it was kind of painful. It was true, he hadn’t lost her, but his familiar would never, ever be the same because of Ginny and Fawkes. He took the bird from the cage and walked over to the couch to sit with her. The owl regarded him with bright, intelligent eyes and barked. Harry laughed and rubbed her chest.

“It’s not your fault, I know. You’ll use the perch in here and fly around driving Ginny Weasley mad. Your name is Phoebe, but in public, I’m going to call you Hedwig. So you’ll have to answer to it for now. It’s essential to our plan.” She nodded her agreement. “And also feel free to take a shite on Ginny Weasley’s head anytime you’d like.” Phoebe barked excitedly.

“Can you not corrupt her completely?” Draco questioned. “The likeness is excellent, Dobby. If we didn’t know her very well, I would mistake her for Hedwig.”

“I be looking at owl shops in Ireland and France,” Dobby said. “She be best choice.” He yawned. “Dobby nap now.” He popped away.

Harry put Phoebe on the perch and drew his wand. Then he layered a series of protections and charms on her that he should’ve done for Hedwig from the moment he could.

Chapter 24

Dumbledore appeared to be on the verge of a temper tantrum as he announced that Bill Weasley had left his teaching position at Hogwarts due to personal reasons. Phoebe sailed into the hall as Dumbledore announced that Hestia Jones was the new DADA professor. The headmaster paused only briefly at the sight of her and Harry held out a hand for her. They fussed over her quietly and fed her bacon while Draco retrieved the letter she’d brought. It was actually a letter they’d received Narcissa the day before, but it really didn’t matter. The display was what was important. Hermione attached her own message and Phoebe flew off. She took a shite in Ginny’s porridge. Harry forgave her for the lousy aim—she was a total newbie at it after all.

“I read in the Prophet that Professor Lupin and our new DADA professor were both caught with a Death Eater in the ministry under invisibility cloaks,” Lavender whispered so loudly that several students at the Ravenclaw table turned to look at her. “I wonder if she’s going to try to kill Harry.”

Seamus Finnigan rummaged through his book bag and pulled out a piece of parchment and a quill. “Okay, let’s see—we’ve had a possessed teacher, a memory-charming braggart, a werewolf, a poisonous toad, and a Dementor hybrid. We’ve got a few options for Professor Jones—who wants down for a vampire?”

“Can I go down for Random Death Eater?” Lavender questioned.

“Of course,” Seamus agreed. “I mean we really haven’t had one this year since Ron wasn’t random at all—more like Lazy and Ineffectual Death Eater.”

“Wait.” Draco looked up from his book. “Who were the other Random Death Eaters?”

“In first year, we had Professor Quirrell, while not marked he willingly allowed himself to be possessed and he was a devout follower of Voldemort,” Hermione said. “In second year, we had the ghost diary of Voldemort himself, but I’m not sure if he counts as a random Death Eater—more like the Original Death Eater. In third year, of course, it was revealed that Peter Pettigrew was hiding in the school as Scrabbers, Ron’s pet. I guess we can count him for first and second year as well since he was here the whole time. In our fourth year, we had Barty Crouch, Jr. playing the part of Random Death Eater while Headmaster Karkaroff was more like Tattletale Death Eater.

“Then, of course, we had our Resident Death Eater, Professor Snape,” Hermione continued. “Which means—we’ve really only had three Random Death Eaters—Quirrell, Pettigrew, and Crouch.” She considered that. “Put me down for Random Death Eater, too. I think we’re about due another one.”

Harry considered the options already proposed. “Put me down for another Dementor hybrid.” Everyone groaned. “Come on, look at her. She looks as sour as Snape and as crazy as Umbridge.”

McGonagall appeared behind Seamus at that point, peered at his list and sighed. “A Random Death Eater, this late in the year, is just wishful thinking. Put me down for Dementor hybrid as well.”

Seamus laughed as she walked away, but he gamely added her name to his list.

– – – –

They took lunch in their quarters with Phineas who was delighted to report that Hestia Jones was the only member of the Order willing to take a position in the school and that he was almost entirely certain she’d been charmed into compliance. Lupin and Jones had been fined five hundred galleons each for being in the ministry under an invisibility cloak, which Dumbledore had been forced to pay to free his minions from custody. Of course, during that trip to the bank, the headmaster had learned that Harry had stopped donations to the Order of the Phoenix from the Black vault that Sirius had set up. Dumbledore had yet to approach him concerning the topic, and he was kind of looking forward to that conversation.

“What’s troubling you?” Hermione questioned as she cuddled up next to him on the sofa.

“Dumbledore. What else? It’s odd that I consider him more of a threat to my life than I do Voldemort and I carrying three parts of that fucker’s soul around in my bracelet. It’s foolish really, and I just want…I want to cut his heart out, and I’m not at all joking about that. Every single time I see him something utterly vicious stirs in my chest.”

“It’s no surprise—he’s the architect of every single misery you’ve experienced since your parents were murdered,” Draco said.

Harry looked at his Consort, who was sprawled on the rug in front of the fireplace. “You say that like you think he’s not the cause of that as well.”

Draco frowned. “I don’t…”

“Do you honestly think that Dumbledore didn’t know about Pettigrew? Who do you think cast the Fidelius on Godric’s Hollow?”

Draco’s mouth dropped open. “Harry.”

“Dumbledore knew that Snape took the prophecy to Voldemort, he probably always believed the prophecy was about me, and he must have known that Pettigrew was a Death Eater. He tried to shape my parents’ loyalties, apparently potioned my father to the gills to get him to join the Order, and he knew when the wards fell. How did he know the wards had fallen if he wasn’t the caster?”

“That sorry motherfucker,” Draco said quietly. “He all but murdered your parents himself.”

“Why didn’t my parents have an emergency portkey?” Harry continued. “The list is endless really. It says a lot about Dumbledore’s power that no one really questioned him regarding that entire situation. Or maybe, they were just all so relieved by Riddle’s defeat that they just didn’t care how it had been accomplished.”

“My father used to have long discussions with Snape—they kept trying to figure out how you survived,” Draco said. “My mother interrupted them once and said that love saved you. They were both utterly flabbergasted by the very idea. Looking back on it, I’m not surprised that neither of them believed that love could be such a powerful force as they really had no clue what love really was.”

“Snape was deeply convinced of his epic love of my mother,” Harry said. He ran his fingers through Hermione’s hair as he considered that. “Perhaps he did have some warped fantasy love for her, but it was a selfish and destructive emotion.”

“Love can be immensely selfish and destructive,” Draco said. “Love breeds a special brand of contempt.”

“Isn’t that familiarity?” Harry questioned.

“Hmmm, I don’t know that I ever believed that. I hold many people in contempt that I barely bothered to get to know.”

Harry laughed. “I guess I can agree with that.”

“It’s like that thing about the line being between love and hate being thin. I don’t even think the line exists in some relationships. You can love and hate people at the same exact time.” Draco curled his toes into the rug.

“And sometimes the line is so thick that it can’t be breached and no matter what that person does—or doesn’t do—you can’t stop loving them,” Hermione said quietly. “Perhaps a mother’s love is like that, at least when the mother is genuinely capable of loving their child. My parents love me, but it’s a distant sort of love—like they aren’t certain how they ended up with me, but they’re making the best of their situation.”

Draco snorted and bit down on his lip when Hermione huffed. “Sorry, it’s just the way you phrased that was pretty funny. For the record, you’re the best part of our situation.”

“Certainly,” Harry agreed. “We’ll get them a dog—a cat would probably be too complicated.”

“A dog would be too needy,” Draco said with a sigh.

“A goldfish?”

Hermione laughed. “You’re both complete arseholes. You’re not getting my parents a goldfish to replace me!” She left Harry’s arms and stood. “Okay, it’s time for potions. I don’t want to miss a single second of it. Maybe Deadmarsh will give a surprise quiz. Those are always fascinating.”

“Her crush on him is bigger than both of ours combined,” Harry said.

“We can’t even get mad.”

– – – –

They received the letter from Fleur Delacour shortly after dinner—the potions in Bill’s system had been so bad they were forced to put him in St. Joan’s in Paris.

“He’ll recover,” Hermione murmured as she finished the letter. “Apparently, he was laboring under four different behavioral modification potions since the summer and they only just recently started to erode his mental defense which is good because the goblins are impressed. They don’t consider him compromised so he won’t lose his job with them. It makes you wonder what Dumbledore did to the goblins he corrupted at the bank.”

“If they could prove something like the Imperius, they’d have probably filed charges with the ministry. It had to be some sort of curse or hex. I don’t know how it could’ve been a potion of any kind. But also, how did he circumvent the wards in the bank to cast magic?”

“He could’ve lured them out of the bank, but that seems farfetched,” Draco admitted as he put his school robe back on.

“He had the Elder Wand,” Harry said. “And I’ve cast magic in the bank without getting caught.”

“You didn’t have the Elder Wand then,” Hermione said.

“No, but he’s always been the Master of Death, and he was the master of the wand at that point regardless of whether or not he had possession of it. He’d already reunited the Hallows, basically.” Draco picked up his bag and Hermione’s.

“If it really was the power of the wand then he’s been largely crippled in his ability to take those kinds of risks now.”

– – – –

“Wheezy twins ask me visit them,” Dobby reported as soon as they entered the suite after dinner. “They be thankful about Bill.”

“Anything else?”

“They offer me pranks, and I go back later to shop.”

“That has a terrible amount of potential,” Harry said dryly. He checked his watch. “Draco will be back from the library shortly. He mentioned wanting some tea and a few biscuits.”

Dobby nodded. “Okay.”

Dobby returned twenty minutes later with a tray and Draco hadn’t come back from the library. Harry set aside Zir’s book and rechecked the time. He pulled the map out of the desk and did a search. The magic of the map swept around and seemed to rebel against him briefly before two blank ribbons showed up in the Shrieking Shack. A quick review of the map showed that all the labels, including his own, were blank.

“Mi.”

“Yeah?” Hermione looked up from her place in the bay window.

“Dumbledore’s fucked with the map’s connection to the wards. I did a search for Draco’s name it showed me two blank ribbons in the Shrieking Shack.”

Hermione’s eyes went wide with alarm. “Harry, it’s a full moon.”

“Son of a bitch.” He held out a hand to Dobby. “Take me to the Shrieking Shack.”

Dobby darted over, grabbed Harry’s hand and they both popped away. They appeared in the tunnel and Dobby left again. Harry didn’t wait for Hermione but darted up the tunnel and into the shack. Draco was unconscious on the floor of the shack, and Moony was standing in a pool of moonlight. He realized furiously that the fucking arsehole was waiting for Draco to wake up. He’d never seen a werewolf under the thrall of Wolfsbane before. He supposed the potion really was a miracle of sorts.

“Lupin.”

The werewolf turned just as Hermione tucked up beside Harry. He raised his wand, and Moony backed up a step toward Draco.

“Don’t,” Harry warned. “I know you can’t talk the way you are right now which is for the best because there is nothing you could say that would make any sort of difference. You’re a dark bastard, and it has nothing to do with the fact that you’re a werewolf.”

Remus took another step toward Draco and Hermione drew her stave. Lupin snarled at the sight of the advanced magical focus. Hermione’s response was to put a series of wood spikes straight through the werewolf’s chest. He was thrown back against the wall, and Harry just turned to stare at Hermione.

“What? We don’t have time for this nonsense. Wake up Draco.”

Harry walked to his Consort. When his reviving spell didn’t work, he performed a scan and sighed. “Lupin packs a punch on the stunner front. I can’t wake him up with a simple charm. Dobby take him back to the suite and do not leave him.”

Dobby came forward, took Draco’s hand and disappeared with him. Moony groaned, and Hermione threw another spike at him. Right in the crotch.

“For fuck’s sake,” Harry said. “Hermione, that’s beyond the pale.”

“Don’t talk to me about beyond the pale,” Hermione hissed. “They set Draco up to get bit or eaten by a fucking werewolf. Winky.” The house elf appeared at her side. “Where is Dumbledore?”

“Dumbles leave school and go to Burrow for Order meeting,” Winky frowned at Moony. “Lady Potter, you gots to cut off the head, or he heal up.”

“Oh.” Hermione slashed through the air and sent a cutting curse at the werewolf. The head bobbled slightly and fell forward onto the floor. “Right, take his remains to the forest but don’t be seen. Then come back and return us to the suite.”

Winky disappeared with the body and Hermione set about cleaning up the mess she made. Shortly thereafter, they were back in the suite. They sat down, side by side on the bed near Draco.

“Well, that escalated quickly.”

Hermione snorted and bit down on her lip then started to giggle.

Harry waited until Hermione stopped laughing before continuing. “I mean Dumbledore’s plans have been rather sophisticated compared to this. There is no way Remus wouldn’t have immediately been the number one suspect if Draco had been bitten or killed by a werewolf.”

“So he was going to sacrifice a pawn or perhaps Lupin acted on his own while Dumbledore was out of the school.”

“I doubt Lupin’s taken a piss in decades without Dumbledore’s permission,” Harry murmured. He stood up and started to pace. “Perhaps it was meant to be a threat to force Draco to divorce me—that’s been one of Dumbledore’s long-term goals.”

“Well, now he’s down another minion. He’ll probably have to start recruiting from the student body on a more regular basis now.” Hermione checked her watch. “Let’s give Draco an hour to wake up on his own, and if he doesn’t, I’ll start brewing a draught. He hates them, but we need to know what he remembers. Preferably before Lupin’s body is discovered.”

Draco woke up on his own nearly thirty minutes after they brought him back to the suite but only had vague memories of leaving the library after speaking with Madam Pince about borrowing a title from the special reserve collection.

Hermione brought him a cup of freshly brewed headache potion, and Draco took it reluctantly. He hated pain relief potions as much as Harry did.

“Drink it,” Hermione instructed. “We need you in top form in case Dumbledore acts against us quickly. He’ll know Lupin’s dead soon enough.”

They slept in shifts and downed pepper-up potion that Draco brewed before they left the suite for breakfast. McGonagall met them at the stairs. They weren’t at all surprised to see her. She looked troubled and upset. Harry hated that for her. From Minerva’s point of view, she’d lost a favored former student. He doubted the older woman knew much about Lupin’s true loyalties.

“Lord Potter.”

“Professor, is something wrong?”

“Yes, I’m afraid Remus Lupin was killed in the night.” Minerva sighed. “The Headmaster has requested the three of you in his office. The DMLE is here investigating the death as it happened in the forest not far from Hagrid’s cabin.”

Amelia Bones and John Dawlish were seated in their usual spots when they entered. Again, not much of a surprise. Kingsley Shacklebolt was lurking in the back near the floo. They all got seated, and McGonagall cleared her throat.

“I’ve informed Lord Potter of the passing of Remus,” she said.

Amelia Bones cleared her throat. “Lord Potter, you wrote a letter to the Minister complaining about Mr. Lupin stalking you around the school.”

“Yes, it was quite disconcerting, but I figured it was part of the headmaster’s wrong-headed campaign to end my marriage rather than an inappropriate personal interest in on Mr. Lupin’s part. He was friends with my parents before they died though he rarely spoke of them to me. I’m confused as to why we’re here, Madam Bones.”

“The Headmaster seems to think that you had a problem with Mr. Lupin,” Bones said. “His death wasn’t an accident.”

“I don’t suppose it really matters one way or another,” Harry said. “Last night was a full moon, and it’s not against the law to kill a transformed werewolf—accidentally or on purpose. It’s unfortunate, really, that such creatures don’t have better protections under magical law. I always thought I’d take creature rights on as a personal cause once I formally join the Wizengamot.

“Did I have a problem with Mr. Lupin specifically? No, actually, as he was just following the headmaster’s orders. Honestly, my biggest concern is the fact that Lupin was that close to the school on the night of a full moon. Employee or not, he should’ve been required to leave the area entirely especially after forgetting to take his Wolfsbane during my third year—he almost killed me, Ron and Hermione.”

“When did you last see Mr. Lupin?”

“In the Daily Prophet when he got caught at the ministry under an invisibility cloak. In fact, he spent the last few months stalking around the school under that cloak. It’s an unfortunate situation, but I’m unsure as to why we’ve been brought here. Has the headmaster accused us if killing Mr. Lupin?”

“He seems to think your Consort was involved.”

Harry sighed and stood. Hermione and Draco stood with him. “I’ve had enough of this, Madam Bones. You would admit, surely, that I’ve been very patient with the headmaster and his repeated attempts at undermining my relationship. We’ve answered your questions in the past without a shred of evidence, and perhaps that was a mistake. Do you have any evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing on Draco’s part?”

“No, Lord Potter.”

“Is it, in fact, a crime to kill a transformed werewolf?”

“It’s not a crime to kill a werewolf no matter their state,” Amelia Bones said. “As terrible as that is.”

“I agree that it’s terrible. So, there is no evidence and no actual crime. Yet, we’ve been pulled from our daily routine to be insulted by Headmaster Dumbledore’s incessant accusations. I’m half-tempted to just go completely off the rails and do something terrible just so he can be right for once.” He turned to Hermione. “Ideas?”

“We could steal some library books.” Hermione shrugged delicately as if that was the worst thing she could think of.

“We could get caught after curfew in a broom closet,” Draco suggested.

“I don’t think the two of you are taking this seriously,” Harry admitted. “Neither one of those things would actually lead to the DMLE called out to question us legitimately.”

“Well, I’d suggest kidnapping someone, but honestly I’d rather not spend a great deal of time with anyone the headmaster would notice was missing.” Hermione shifted her bag on her shoulder. “We could probably, with minimal effort, incite a goblin rebellion.”

“Now that has potential,” Harry decided. “Let’s go get some research material before breakfast.” He motioned them toward the stairs then turned to Amelia Bones. “The next time one of us is to be questioned by the DMLE, Madam Bones, I expect the evidence to be overwhelming. I’m quite finished being harassed because the headmaster of the school I attend can’t seem to face reality. His unsavory interest in my personal life is making me deeply uncomfortable. Just how far does he have to go in his perverted quest to ruin my marriage before a single one of you tells him to stop?”

Chapter 25

Dumbledore was lurking outside their last class of the day. He was invisible, but Dobby had slipped them a note when Flitwick hadn’t been looking letting them know the old git was outside in the hallway. Since they figured he’d follow them, they started toward the library, and once they were separate from the rest of the students who’d left the class, Hermione turned to Draco.

“With Lupin’s unfortunate demise, I imagine Dumbledore will have to start doing his own spying on us. Unless you think he’s given up on trying to destroy our marriage.”

“His boner for Harry is pretty epic,” Draco said.

Harry sighed. “Can you please not discuss Dumbledore’s prick? That’s gross.”

“Agreed, gross,” Hermione said. “He’s probably too old to get an erection anyway, and I’d rather not think about his wrinkled up body and sex at the same time.”

“We probably still need to do something about him. We can’t just let him run around accusing us of shite all the time,” Draco said.

“Well, I’ve considered filing a complaint with the ICW for bond interference,” Harry said. “Or maybe we should just find Rita and tell her about his stalking me.”

“Oh, we should definitely write Rita,” Hermione agreed. “Maybe she could do a whole story on all of his relationships. You can’t be the first student he’s perved on, and there’s the affair he had with Snape. And I know you two don’t believe he had anything to do with Ron, but I don’t think we should ignore the fact that Ron and Snape were probably lovers as gross as that is to think about.”

“It’s like she doesn’t want to get laid,” Harry told Draco.

“I expect to get thoroughly fucked by you both after dinner,” Hermione told them sternly then went into the library.

“Always at your service, Lady Potter,” Harry said dryly.

– – – –

Winky had a memory in the pensieve waiting on them after dinner, so Hermione’s sex plan had to be set aside much to her ire. They dropped into the memory and Draco made a face as he glanced around the kitchen of the Burrow.

“It’s not as bad as I thought actually.”

“You should see the outside. The only thing holding this thing together is magic,” Hermione said.

Molly was at the kitchen counter, and she had a cauldron set up. “What’s she brewing?”

Draco strolled over and reviewed the prepared ingredients. “Behavioral modification of some kind. Loyalty or personality suppression. I need a sample. We’ll ask Winky if she can steal some.”

Dumbledore was ejected from the floo at that point, and Molly turned to him. “Well?”

“If they killed him, they aren’t talking about it outside of their quarters,” Dumbledore said gravely. “I know Remus was able to kidnap Malfoy. Either he woke up from being stunned unexpectedly and killed Remus or Potter noticed his Consort was missing and went looking at for him. I’ve done all I can to corrupt that map’s connection to the wards, but I can’t test what the results are since Potter doesn’t take it out of his quarters and his house elves guard their private space.”

“Did you get approval from the Board of Governors to insist that Potter remove his elves from the castle?”

“No, he’s a noble, and he’s allowed to bring an entire household of servants and even a vassal to the castle with him.” Dumbledore sat down, and Molly set up a pot of tea for him. “I have to put up with the house elves, and I can’t interfere with them due to their bonds. They’re extremely loyal. I’ve offered them both bonds in my own household. I thought perhaps my magical power would be a big enough lure, but the female looked at me as if I was insane and popped away without speaking. The male spent twenty-five minutes telling me how amazing his Harry Potter is.”

Molly sighed. “They’re a long-term problem. Can we kill them? Those two things are going to make controlling Harry with potions impossible.”

“Killing a mature house elf is difficult because no ward can contain them. Without being their master, I can’t give them orders to stay put and accept a curse.” Dumbledore frowned as she fixed his tea. “But as much as a problem as the elves are, they’re not nearly the threat that Malfoy has turned out to be. Remus was a powerful wizard and an alpha werewolf in his own right. Malfoy either killed him, or Potter killed one of his father’s dearest friends in defense of Malfoy.”

“I don’t believe that Trinity bond nonsense,” Molly said. “Harry Potter is meant to be with my Ginny, Albus. She’s his soulmate. There is no way he loves Hermione Granger of all people. With Ron gone, we don’t have a good way to get her out of the picture.”

“Have you heard from Bill?”

“No, not since the goblins found the potions. They’re furious, of course, but they can’t do anything to me. I can potion my own children if I want and there is no law that says otherwise. Those creatures had no business interfering in my family business, and that’s what I told them when one of them showed up at my door. I sent a letter, but it was returned.”

“I’ll visit France and try to get him alone,” Dumbledore said. “With Percy and Ron gone—we need another we can trust, and Bill is the most obvious choice. His unfortunate relationship with that young French woman doesn’t mesh well with our goals. Keeping your family pure is important for our long-term plans, Molly. Many of the laws that I will put into place after the war depends on it. Bill could be caught up, and his life destroyed if you allow this relationship to continue.”

“I’ll work on it, but if he doesn’t see reason then he can deal with the consequences of marrying a creature,” Molly said and joined Dumbledore at the table. “I’ve finished several batches of potions. I miss Snape.”

“The loss of Severus was a severe blow to our plans,” Dumbledore acknowledged. “In more ways than one—I have no ability to feed Tom information now in a way that he would trust it. As a result, a lot of the families that I want to be targeted have been left alone, and he’s managed to kill several of my prized assets.”

“What if Remus was killed by Death Eaters?”

“No, I’m sure Malfoy killed him and unfortunately even if I had proof there is no law against killing a werewolf. Many would consider it a public service, and I doubt I could use it to drive a wedge between him and Potter since there is no doubt in my mind that Malfoy immediately confessed what he’d done and why. They are a united front as frustrating as that is. It’s infuriating that Ronald was so selfish during fourth year. I can’t imagine Malfoy would’ve wormed his way into a relationship with Granger and Potter if your son had done what he was told. He should’ve been a well of support for Harry when we forced him into the tournament.”

Molly sighed. “I always knew he was weak, but I thought his greed would supersede that eventually. Do you know who killed him?”

“No, certainly a Death Eater. We’ve found evidence of them in the forest several times this year. Bones has offered aurors to protect the school, but I’m reluctant to allow it since Kingsley’s defection.”

“Well, we knew that was coming as soon as the ministry started testing employees for curses and potions. We were dosing Shacklebolt several times a month to keep him on your side. It’s a good thing they couldn’t trace that back to you.”

“Severus was brilliant,” Dumbledore said wistfully. “And he hated Shacklebolt. He took great glee in turning him into a puppet. I believe Bones got to Moody, too. The day he was killed—we argued twice over my plans for Potter. He was on board with killing Granger and Malfoy, but he didn’t believe we could subjugate Harry’s magic because of the prophecy. I finally told him that I could defeat Riddle when the time comes. I know Riddle’s secret, but he didn’t believe me.”

“Moody was a suspicious and superstitious man. The real problem he had with Sirius Black was the man could turn into a grim. Moody said that made him dark.” Molly shook her head. “But fortunately Bellatrix took care of the Black problem.”

“And created a bigger one for us,” Dumbledore said. “Potter was easier to control before Sirius died. I could’ve used him to keep Potter in line for years.”

“You could take Granger and keep her hostage to make Potter do what you want. We’ll kill her, of course, but not until Potter has done everything we want.” Molly smirked when Dumbledore nodded. “Aunt Muriel could keep her—she has a hidden underground level.”

“Getting Granger alone will be a problem. She doesn’t have a class by herself, and I’ve not seen her without one of her husbands since she started school. Ron encountered a problem with that issue before he was killed and was unable to catch Granger by herself to start working on his part of the original plan.”

“We don’t have to get her alone—just make sure there are no witnesses. Potter is going to know you took her when you start making demands. Who cares if he witnesses the abduction? He won’t have a choice but to do exactly what you want and he will as long as he assumes he’ll get his little bitch back.”

They memory dumped them back into their quarters as Dumbledore stood to leave.

“That fucking bitch is going to suffer so much before she dies,” Draco snapped. “She’ll beg for death.”

Harry said nothing because he didn’t have a single protest. He’d killed Molly the first time, so he figured that it was Draco’s turn. Hermione took a deep breath as she stood from the rug and left them. She walked silently around the room, her magical aura drifting on her skin.

“He’s always known about the horcruxes,” Hermione finally said. “He thinks he has the power to defeat Riddle, but we know he doesn’t especially without the Elder Wand. He doesn’t stand a chance, but he isn’t going to admit to his own followers that he’s weakened now. I wonder if Molly knows about the Hallows or if that was something he only shared with Moody and Snape?”

“They didn’t mention Jones.”

“Perhaps she’s not in the full measure of their plans,” Hermione said. “I’m not saying she’s not a threat because ultimately, anyone on Dumbledore’s side could be a threat to us.”

“Agreed,” Harry said. “But do we leave Molly in play or do we take her out now?”

“We leave Molly alone so we can monitor the distribution of the potions,” Harry said. He turned to Winky. “You keep a close eye on her and see what she does with those potions.” Winky popped away, and he focused on Dobby. “Could you take someone from the girl’s dorm without getting caught?”

“Yes.” Dobby nodded. “You want me to kidnap Fangirl Wheezy?”

Hermione laughed. “Oh.”

“What?” Harry asked. “She’s prepared to kidnap you. I’m just going to give her a taste of her own medicine.” He turned to Draco. “Did you bring that Draught of Living Death you brewed over the summer?”

“Yes,” Draco said with a nod. “Perfect. It’ll keep her in stasis in the Chamber of Secrets, so we won’t have to worry about feeding her, and she can’t escape if she’s unconscious.”

“Yes,” Hermione agreed. “That’s a great plan. She won’t show up on the map, but Dumbledore could be forced to un-fuck the wards.”

“Un-fuck?” Harry questioned.

“It’s a very technical term,” Hermione said and waved a hand.

“Of course,” Harry agreed.

– – – –

In the end, Harry and Hermione stayed in their quarters while Draco took care of basically entombing Ginny Weasley in the chamber just in case she was discovered missing before they were done. Dumbledore would focus on Harry if that were the case and they would have time to have Draco retrieved from the chamber quickly enough. Draco had only been gone twenty minutes when chimes sounded throughout the entire school. Harry sighed as Hermione slipped off his lap and dropped down onto the couch.

“He’s set up some sort of security.”

Hermione stood. “I’ll go into the bedroom so I can call Dobby back when Dumbledore knocks.”

She was in the bedroom roughly a minute before there was a sharp knock on the door. Harry went to it and didn’t even have to fake his tired expression. Dumbledore was standing there, aura flaring. Harry yawned and scratched the back of his head. “Did you lose another lackey? Geez, I can’t even get laid properly because you can’t keep up with your followers.”

“Where is she?” Dumbledore demanded.

“Hermione’s in the bedroom,” Harry said. “Why do you care my wife is?”

“Ginny Weasley!” Dumbledore snapped. “What have you done with her?”

Harry sighed. “I saw her at dinner. She was staring at me creepily and trying to look sexy, but honestly, she just looked like constipated. I almost suggested she visit Madam Pomfrey but then I realized that I just didn’t care about the state of her bowels and said nothing. She wasn’t in the library, which is not a surprise. She rarely studies. Have you lost another student? Merlin, this place is getting ridiculous. This is worse than second year, sir.”

“Where are your spouses?” Dumbledore asked.

Harry turned. “Hey, you guys! Put on some clothes and come here.”

Hermione and Draco came out dressed only in robes much to his amusement. They both look disheveled. Hermione came to him while Draco tossed himself on the sofa in a complete pout. Harry wrapped an arm around Hermione’s waist and pulled her close.

“Is something wrong?”

“Dumbledore’s misplaced another ginger,” Harry said. “He seems to think we did something to Ginny. Did you?”

Hermione frowned. “Well, I thought about hexing her for all that dumb flirting she was doing at dinner, but then I realized it would be petty and she’s already suffered quite a lot what with the loss of her brothers. Besides, I know you don’t find her attractive, and I have nothing to worry about. She wasn’t in the library, so the last place we saw her was at dinner.” She sighed. “Honestly, sir, don’t you think you should be looking for her instead of interrogating us? She could be hurt or kidnapped by Death Eaters—they’ve already killed two of Molly’s children. I’m honestly surprised you didn’t consider the fact that Ginny might be a target.”

McGonagall appeared at that point. “Albus, the Fat Lady reports that Ginevra left the dorm on her own, but none of the portraits saw her on the staircase past the first floor.”

Harry grimaced. “Ah, well, the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets is on the first floor. Do you think the stress and grief has made her do something stupid?”

Dumbledore sighed. “Lord Potter, if you’d take myself and Minerva into the Chamber, I would appreciate it.”

“Let me get dressed,” Harry said. “I’ll meet the two of you in Myrtle’s bathroom.” He shut the door before they could respond.

Hermione and Draco followed him.

“Well?” Harry questioned.

“I hollowed out one of the columns and put her in it,” Draco reported. “After Dobby used his magic to prod her out of Gryffindor and to the bathroom—I opened the entrance, and she went down without much resistance. Myrtle was there, so she’ll report that Ginny went of her own free will. I dosed her with the potion, put her in the column and sealed it up. I also disillusioned her, but I didn’t have time to check to see if it would hide her from all magical detection spells before Hermione called us back up.”

Harry shed his PJ bottoms and pulled on a pair of jeans. “Okay, Dobby, you pop back down to the Chamber. When I get there with the professors—bring Draco and Hermione so I’ll have back up if Dumbledore pulls any stupid shite.”

– – – –

Sprout, Flitwick, and Deadmarsh had been added to the party by the time Harry made it to the bathroom. Dumbledore was interrogating Myrtle, who was sobbing. Harry sighed.

“Sir, she was murdered—don’t you think she’s suffered enough?”

Myrtle dashed across the bathroom and hid behind Harry. “He’s so mean, Harry.”

“Agreed,” Harry said. “Did you see Ginny Weasley in here?”

“Yes, she came in like she used to when she was a first year, and she hissed at the sink, and it opened. I ran away, Harry. I couldn’t see the terrible monster again.”

“Myrtle, I killed the monster, remember? You’re safe from it, I promise. Why don’t you go back in your pipe, now? I’m sure the Headmaster is sorry he upset you so.” He offered the older man a glare as Myrtle disappeared. “Honestly, sir, you’ve got to stop picking on little girls. It’s unseemly.” He went to the sink as Flitwick snorted his amusement. Open.” The sink slid open.

“I’ll go first,” Deadmarsh said. “Headmaster, I believe to ensure the security of the party that you should take up the end? Lord Potter can come after me.” Deadmarsh slid down the slide without another word and whistled sharply just a few seconds later.

Harry shrugged and followed. He hated the slide, but he hadn’t called the stairs out of spite. He really hoped that Dumbledore busted his arse when he landed. He stayed near the exit and caught Minerva, so she didn’t fall then did the same for Sprout and Flitwick. He turned and started down the path and bit down on his lip as Dumbledore slid right out and hit the ground.

“I had my house elves clean the place up so they could harvest the basilisk. It was a real mess down here before that. Ron and I were lucky to get out alive.” Harry sighed. “I have to think if he hadn’t been so thick-headed about my marriage that he’d be alive right now. Hermione and I were stopping him from exploring the forest all the time. Not even Hagrid’s spiders seemed to deter him.” They passed through the entrance and entered the Chamber.

“You should’ve given the basilisk to the school,” Dumbledore chastised.

“Right of Conquest dictates that the carcass belonged to Lord Potter,” Deadmarsh said as he walked to the front of the room where the statue stood. “Salazar was quite fond of himself.”

“Vanity is often a failing of men who seek power,” Harry said. “They get so caught up in their own version of the perfect life that they dismiss the wants and desires of others out of the arrogant assumption that what they want is more important than what anyone else wants. I think that’s the foundation of any blood purist agenda—the ugly assumption that their circumstances are perfect and anyone who isn’t exactly like them is inferior.” He pointed to the place where the basilisk had emerged. “The snake came from there, but I didn’t go back there when I was down here. I don’t know what’s behind the door.”

“And where was Ginevra?” Flitwick questioned.

“Here on the floor in front of the statue but she was unconscious when I came in. In fact, I thought she was dead at first.” He looked around the room. “We should look around for other rooms, I guess since she doesn’t appear to be here. Do you want me to open the snake’s chamber?”

“Miss Weasley isn’t a parselmouth. I’m unsure how she got down here, to begin with.”

“The diary taught her enough parseltongue to open the Chamber and let the snake out,” Harry reminded. “I doubt she knows more than that and I know she said she didn’t remember any of that stuff but come on, sir, she had the diary for almost the whole school year.”

“Maybe the stress of her family situation caused memories from her possession to emerge,” Deadmarsh suggested. He pulled his wand. “Point me, Ginny Weasley.” The wand didn’t move. “Point me, Harry Potter.” The wand spun and pointed at Harry. “It doesn’t appear she’s in the chamber at all.”

“Let’s check the snake’s room. Maybe the snake had an exit? How else did she eat all these years?” He turned to the statue and grimaced. “Speak to me Slytherin greatest of the Hogwarts four!” The door slid open.

Deadmarsh went first, lighting his wand with a silent lumos charm as he did so. The rest followed. Harry noted that McGonagall put herself between him and the headmaster. He wondered how the old man liked that—being so obviously mistrusted by a woman who had once been loyal to him. They went down the tunnel slowly, and at one point, Harry felt Draco’s magic brush against his. He realized that his Consort was moving out ahead of the party. By the time they reached the head, the iron gate over the exit was swung wide open.

“Looks like she used the Chamber of Secrets to leave,” Harry said. “Maybe she got homesick? There are a couple of floos in Hogsmeade that she could use, but it was stupid to try to go there from the forest at night. But why wouldn’t she just come to one of you if she wanted to go home? Surely in her circumstances, it wouldn’t have been a problem.”

“Agreed,” Deadmarsh said. “We need to contact the DMLE and her parents—perhaps her parents first. I’ll escort Lord Potter back upstairs so he can return to his quarters.”

In short order, he was gently but firmly ejected from the Chamber of Secrets by Deadmarsh, so he returned to their quarters. Hermione and Draco were already back, sitting on the rug in front of the fireplace. Harry joined them reluctantly. He shoved off his trainers and relaxed back on his hands.

“Well?”

“I find this more amusing than I should,” Hermione confessed in a rush. “The idea that she’ll never be found if we leave her in that column…” She grinned. “Molly will drive herself crazy looking for her.”

“Agreed, it’s actually better than putting the Dark Mark on Ron which I have to say was pretty fantastic.”

“Oh.” Hermione hugged her legs to her chest. “Tomorrow I’m going to tell Lavender all about Ginny’s first year when she fell in love with Tom Riddle who was stuck in a diary.”

Harry grinned. “That’s amazing. By the end of the week, everyone will think she ran off to find her true love—Voldemort.”

“I know.” Hermione rocked a little, flushed with pleasure. “Who knew gossip was such an effective tool?”

Darkly Loyal – Chapters 26-30

Keira Marcos

In my spare time, I write fanfiction and lead a cult of cock worshippers on the Internet. It's not the usual kind of hobby for a 40ish "domestic engineer" but we live in a modern world and I like fucking with people's expectations.

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