Title: Harry’s Bane
Author: Keira Marcos
Betas: Ladyholder & Chris King
Series: Harry Potter & the Soulmate Bond
Fandom: Harry Potter
Relationship: Harry/Hermione, Draco Malfoy/Daphne Greengrass
Word Count: 12,744
Warnings: Off-screen child abuse, discussion of child abuse, discussion of sexually abusive situations, explicit language, and ritual magic.
Author’s Note: You know I hate Ron and Ginny Weasley, right? See Series page for further author notes, warnings, and ratings.
“Don’t be angry with him,” Minerva said shortly. She held up a hand when Hermione opened her mouth to protest. “There are matters beyond both you and I. Harry’s relationship with Tom Riddle is one of them, Hermione. We must trust in his knowledge of that dark bastard. His reaction to the situation was visceral and it not a testament to his belief in your abilities as a witch. We were all asked to leave the scene and you can’t legally apparate.”
Ito and Armand Dearing emerged from the forest at that point and headed towards where they were all huddled just inside the wards of the school.
“Where is Harry?” Sirius Black demanded.
Ito pointed up and sighed.
Hermione frowned as Pendragon flew above them then began a wide circle above the forest. “What is he doing?”
“I believe he’s going to pick a fight with a very large snake,” Armand said.
“How large?” Sirius demanded.
“The centaur estimate at least twenty-eight stone and fifteen meters long,” Ito said. “I’ve warded the centaur’s village against snakes but she’s killing indiscriminately in the forest. At least one adult unicorn so far and we found evidence that she’s killed at least one griffin. She hasn’t found the nest of acromantulas yet, but the colony is a very good food source so it won’t take long for her to figure out their various nests and hiding places.”
“Bones,” Sirius said and turned to the head of the DMLE. “Return to London immediately and send everyone you can to Hogsmeade. Half of Hogwarts is there today and she might be drawn there as a result.” He cleared his throat. “Star!”
The head Potter elf appeared immediately. “Yes, Lord Black?”
“We’ll need to speak with Ragnok today. Tell him there is a problem in the Forbidden Forest and Harry may need him. We’ll probably come to him within the next few hours.” He turned to Armand as the elf popped away. “Are you going to call the conclave?”
“There is no need, Lord Black; they are already in the forest working on Gryffindor’s Circle. We have many months of cleaning ahead of us. I’ve spoken with Thaddeus Banner and he’s waiting on instructions from myself or Harry.” He paused when Harry landed on the ground with a little boom and started to prowl around. “He’s furious, in case you missed it.”
“The fire breathing sort of gave that way,” Sirius pointed out. “I take it the centaur have felt his wrath?”
“He’s quite… infuriated with their leader for not telling him the extent of the threat,” Hiro glanced towards Hermione. “He’d have never allowed non-parselmouths to accompany him into the forest if he’d known.”
“How dangerous is this creature?” Dumbledore asked.
“Less so than a basilisk but that is only because of the stare,” Armand admitted. “If she is who and what we think she is—she’s a very severe and intelligent threat.”
Harry transformed at that point and stalked past them, his aura drifting over his skin in a horrific display. “This! This is the kind of shite that could make me lose my temper!”
“That wasn’t him losing his temper?” Minerva asked Sirius.
“Eh, no.” Sirius shook his head. “Not really. Of all the things he could’ve gotten in the blood adoption—he was gifted with the Black temper. He’s only really lost his cool once.” He glanced at Hermione. “A couple of years ago.”
Harry came back to them, eyes glowing violet. “Voldemort’s fucking familiar has been hanging out in the Forbidden Forest for weeks and the centaur only decide to tell me because she killed a unicorn. A full grown stallion, no less.”
Sirius took a deep breath. “How sure are you? We’ve had teams hunting for Nagini for ten years, Harry.”
“If it’s not her then it’s something just as bad. This thing is hunting and killing for pleasure,” Harry said grimly, his gaze focused on the forest stretched out in front of him. “Snakes don’t do that unless they’re mentally damaged. They certainly don’t hunt challenging prey. Most magical snakes are intelligent but ultimately lazy hunters. They’d rather eat six mice than attempt to subdue and eat one large animal. A unicorn? Why would she hunt a unicorn then leave the carcass to rot? She did it… because she’s twisted and corrupt. But then, spending more than a decade being possessed by Voldemort’s spirit would do that to any creature.”
“Oh, my god,” Hermione whispered. “What?”
Harry turned to her and his eyes slowly returned to their normal green color. “I’m going to have to debrief some people on this issue so we can hunt her. I would be grateful if you’d wait until that time. I’d not like to explain this more than once. Speaking at length of Tom Riddle is my least favorite thing on Earth.”
Hermione nodded. “Okay. Sure. Is… what can we do now?”
“Nothing,” Harry said shortly. “She’s here for me. She’ll bide her time until she can get to me.” He turned to his father. “You’re going to put Aurors in Hogsmeade?”
Harry nodded. “I need to speak with someone from the Unspeakables. Can you take me to the Ministry now?”
“Of course,” Sirius said and held out his hand as he walked over the ward boundary. Harry glanced Hermione’s way just briefly before they disappeared in a swirl of portkey magic.
Three hours later, Hermione found herself being led into a large conference room at the bank. There were four hooded Unspeakables in the room and a bunch of dverger that she couldn’t hazard a guess to their identities. Amelia Bones and Kingsley Shacklebolt were already seated at the table. Harry’s casual clothes from earlier had been replaced with a black, open day robe that had two buttons at his collar and a waistcoat. He looked elegant and turned out in a way she’d never seen before, not even the day of the inquiry. His nobility had never been more obvious. It was the first time since she’d known him that she felt like she couldn’t approach him. He must have noticed her hesitance because he left the conversation he was in and crossed the room to her.
She took the hand he offered and clenched her fingers around his. Hermione was very grateful that her mother had instructed her to change clothes before they left Hogwarts. He led her from the room and into a small office. Harry shut the door and frowned at her.
“You look… I don’t even think I’ve ever seen that look on your face so I don’t know what that is,” he admitted in hushed voice.
“I.” She exhaled and looked away from him. “You’re going to think I’m insane.”
He laughed. “Just say it, Mi.”
“You’re nothing like me,” Hermione blurted out and flushed when he raised an eyebrow at her. “Harry… you grew up with money.”
“That’s not really a secret,” Harry said quietly. He sat down on the edge of the desk and took a deep breath. “Your parents were fairly well off. You went to a very good school before Hogwarts, lived in a nice house by the standards of anyone…outside of perhaps Malfoy who thinks anything under twenty rooms is a hovel.”
Hermione laughed briefly and shook her head. “I don’t know. When I saw you just now—you looked so unapproachable and out of my league.”
“It’s bizarre to see someone as beautiful and successful as you are so uncertain,” Harry murmured. “It’s not that I want or even expected you to be full of yourself but the extent of your self-esteem issues is mind blowing.”
She blushed and crossed her arms, her eyes dampened with tears. “I’m sorry.”
He frowned. “No, I’m sorry. That came out horrible. I wasn’t complaining or whatever else you might be thinking.”
“I don’t want to be a disappointment.”
“You don’t disappoint me,” Harry said. “Remember that day when we sat in the kitchen at Hogsmeade?”
“When I cried like a big girl all over you?” Hermione asked dryly. “Yes, I remember that quite well.”
“I sort of focused on the part where you sat in my lap for a half hour,” Harry admitted and grinned when she huffed at him. “I meant what I said, you know. You don’t have to be anything more than you are right now. You’re exactly what I want, Hermione. Neither one of us came here to this point, undamaged by life. You’re going to see and hear some things in the next hour or so that will really bring that home for you. I grew up with money, yes. But I also grew up with a mind healer that spent so much time at my house he fell in love with my father when I wasn’t looking. There have been points in my life when the only sleep I got was through magical sedation. I joined the Glain Neidr as a child because I often needed extremely powerful and invasive rituals to function.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Remember how I told you about the horcruxes that Tom Riddle made so he could live forever?”
“He made five on purpose and the night he murdered my parents and tried to kill me—he was going to make a sixth. He intended on making the Gryffindor Athame a horcrux and my murder was to be his vehicle for that ritual. Instead, when his soul split—one part was banished from his body by the reflected killing curse and the other was left free. The soul seeks life, you see.”
Her eyes went wide and tears slid down her cheeks. “Oh, Harry.”
“I carried the final horcrux until the summer I turned thirteen,” Harry said quietly. “As I explained earlier, we’d been trying to destroy him for a very long time. The diary, which I found in the Chamber of Secrets, was the missing piece. The others were found and destroyed by the dverger before that. We always knew there was one more besides the one I carried. We knew because the first time I achieved a meditative state—I absorbed the memories of Tom Riddle in their entirety. I was forced to carry those memories for five years because nothing and no one was successful in suppressing them. They faded after the horcrux was banished from my scar but they aren’t gone. They’ll never be gone.”
“And they can’t be suppressed now?”
“No, they can’t,” Harry said. “I’d lose the first thirteen years of my life and I can’t… no one knows what they would do to me and I promised my Dad that I’d never attempt it.”
“His snake…” Hermione frowned. “She doesn’t want to hurt you, does she?”
“I think she wants to bond with me,” Harry admitted. “I think she senses a part of Tom Riddle in me or in my magic. I’ll never be rid of what he left in me—not the memories and not his magic. Part of the reason I dominated my core was to insure that his magic never sought to control me. At first, I tried to cage it in and ignore that it was there but over the years and with Master Ito’s help, I cleansed his magic and incorporated it into my core.”
“How much of his magic?”
“All of it,” Harry said. “It’s how I defeated him in the end. I absorbed his magic and banished his soul in ritual. I essentially sacrificed him, Hermione. Or at least, I sacrificed his magical soul. It is the darkest thing I’ve ever done but it was the only choice I had. He was irredeemable and evil.”
She nodded. “Okay.”
“As for Nagini, while I believe she does currently seek to bond with me, I think once she gets an up close and personal look at me she will realize I’m not Tom and never will be. At that point, she’ll do her level best to kill me. I have no doubts of this.”
“You’re a smart woman,” Harry said. “Only an idiot would be without concerns in this situation.” He reached out and wrapped one hand around her hip to pull her close. She allowed it without any sort of protest. “We grew up differently—in vastly different financial, social, and even magical circumstances but you and I were made for each other.”
She flushed and averted her gaze. “That’s a romantic thought.”
“It’s the literal truth,” Harry returned evenly. “Our souls have met and loved before. Don’t you feel it? The first time I saw you—I knew you and it had nothing to do with what Emmie had shown me over the years. My soul knew you.”
“I didn’t know how empty I was before you were here,” she whispered and touched her breastbone briefly. She touched the ruby pin in his tie and took a deep breath. “How is this meeting going to go for you and what do you want from me during it?”
He frowned. “I don’t follow.”
“Should I keep my questions to myself?” Hermione asked patiently.
“Oh.” He laughed. “Do you think you could? I’d honestly adore watching you try.”
She tried to frown at him but his genuine amusement was contagious. “I can be quiet. You arse.”
He kissed her gently, stroked fingers down the side of her face. “You are my Lady and you may ask any question you’d like of anyone in that room out there. I have my sword if they don’t like it.” Rowena shimmered around his neck and flicked her tail sullenly at Hermione.
Hermione bit down on her lip and carefully plucked the snake from his neck. “You’ve been so mean to me, Rowena.”
“Where’s Inari?” Harry asked.
“Star put dimensional pockets in all of my cloaks,” Hermione explained and slipped her hand into her the garment in question. She pulled the Ryūda out and Inari fluttered her wings at Harry with a little rumble of pleasure. After a few seconds, she lifted her hand to her hair and Rowena swept around the braided bun and tucked her head away. “She’s so pouty. I wonder what that says about you.”
“That I’m pouty when I don’t get my way?” Harry asked with a laugh. “It’s true enough. I hate to be thwarted.” They separated and Harry reached out to pull gently on the strings holding her cloak in place. “You can leave this in here. The dverger are cold natured so they keep their spaces over-warm by our standards.”
Hermione nodded. “Okay.”
“Don’t draw your wand for any reason in the presence of the dverger Chieftain,” Harry cautioned. “I’m sure your mother has already lectured you about this but it needs to be repeated. If you drew your wand, I’d be forced to kill every dverger in that room out there to protect you and that would change my life in unspeakable ways. I deeply value the relationship I have with the Horde.”
“Okay,” she murmured. “I won’t draw my wand.”
* * * *
Amelia Bones had a passing knowledge of Hermione McGonagall. Many in the Ministry had once expressed interest in the young woman for employment but her adoption and recent relationship with Harry Potter had changed all of that. Most thought she’d have no interest in working for the Ministry of Magic when she had so many other opportunities due to her change in circumstances. The young woman was dressed appropriately for both the occasion and her age in a modest but elegantly cut dark red wool dress. A dragon hide belt cinched the waist and matched the knee-high boots she also wore. Gryffindor’s Tear shimmered at the base of her throat, glinting in the somewhat dark conference room like a star. On her right arm, she wore a bracelet holster and on her left, a mithril snake with brilliant emerald eyes was wrapped around her forearm. The magic glinting off the snake was a surprise and it made Amelia very curious.
The girl had a Ryūda, of all bloody things, perched on one shoulder. The dragon-snake was practically purring with pleasure as it rubbed its head against her pulse point. One of Potter’s snakes was curled in the girl’s hair. Beside Amelia, John Dawlish snorted. She turned to her Auror and the man shook his head.
“The lad might as well put his name on her forehead.”
She bit down on her lip. “They make a striking pair.”
“Yeah,” John agreed. “I wonder what that bracelet is on her arm?”
“His house elves made it for her,” Tonks murmured from Amelia’s right. “They’re all connected to it so she can call them if she needs them.”
“All of them?” John asked.
“All,” Tonks confirmed. “She apparently used it to give his elves instructions the day that the Dementors attacked Hogwarts. It was included in one of the reports that she called the Potter elves and I asked Sirius how she did it. He explained the snake bracelet was a birthday gift from the Potter elves to the Lady Potter.”
Amelia nodded. “Looks like we’re about to be seated.”
“Do you have any idea what he’s called us here to talk about?” John asked.
Amelia sighed. “It’s not good.”
* * * *
“Prophecy is the bane of my existence,” Harry said without preamble. The room’s occupants shifted in their seats but they remained silent. “You are all aware that a prophecy was given concerning me and the man known as Lord Voldemort.” He touched his scar. “In marking me as an infant as his equal, Tom Riddle created his mortal enemy. While I won’t go into the circumstances that allowed it, Voldemort survived the Killing Curse as much as I did that night in 1981. He just survived in a different way. He existed in a phantom state for twelve years. Eventually he gained enough power through his connection to me to possess various animals and magical people. We know that he possessed at least three wizards before 1991 in an effort to regain his own body.
“While he lived, he created objects that he used to tether himself to this world. In order to defeat him, we had to find and destroy these objects. We did so and the summer I turned thirteen, the dverger captured his phantom while he was attempting to retrieve one of the tethers that had been hidden here at the bank by Bellatrix Lastrange. It was a very fortunate incident as we’d had no luck in finding his phantom before then.
“Riddle had tried to steal something from the bank in 1991 while he was possessing Professor Quirinus Quirrell. Fortunately, he was detected before he could take what he’d come to steal, but the phantom escaped when Quirrell was killed down below in the vaults. It was a valuable experience, however, as we knew then exactly what to look for.
“For the sake of our future endeavor, you need to know that I was once a tether for Tom Riddle. He used my magic to stay in the world. We were connected magically on a level so extreme that my father feared it would kill me. Fortunately, the men of my conclave worked tirelessly for nearly a decade to keep me healthy enough to mature to the point where I could sever the connection. I did so shortly after my thirteen birthday when we discovered and destroyed the final tether. The ritual took twenty-six hours total and I slept for three weeks afterward.
“When the connection between us was destroyed, I was able to destroy and banish the remnants of his phantom. While I was connected to Voldemort, I was exposed to his memories. Those memories have faded and are at this point, quite indistinct, which is fortunate as I often sleep through the night these days. To say that Tom Riddle was a monster is something of an understatement.”
He curled one hand around the podium and took a deep breath. “Once his phantom was gone, I was left with his magical power. I had no choice but to absorb it into my own core. As a result, I’ll carry it the rest of my life.” He looked at his mentor at that moment. “But with Master Ito’s help, I’ve cleansed and incorporated Tom Riddle’s magic into my own. If this concerns or worries you, you should know that I took a vow on my magic and life to never practice the dark arts shortly after I magically matured. The first time I cast dark magic, I will drop dead. I took this vow before the Horde and it was sealed with dverger magic. Should you wish to see a memory if it, Chieftain Ragnok will make it available to you after this meeting.” He poured himself a glass of water. “Questions so far?”
“These tethers—you’re positive they were all destroyed?” Amelia Bones asked quietly. “No doubts in your mind?”
“None,” Harry said. “In order to sever his connection with me, the phantom had to be on the cusp of passing through the veil. Had he had any remaining tethers, I’d have never successfully forced his magical soul to pass on. Tom Riddle is really, most sincerely dead.” Inari took that moment to lift off Hermione’s shoulder and fly to him. He caught her easily and she wallowed in his palm shamelessly. “Anyone else?”
“Do you have any idea why you survived the Killing Curse?” John Dawlish asked.
“I have several ideas about it,” Harry admitted. “Though none of them are… I can’t prove any of it, of course. My mother made a sacrifice on my behalf and in the midst of that tricked Tom Riddle into agreeing to spare me in exchange for her. He violated that magical accord when he tried to kill me anyway. Magic is intelligent and perhaps she punished him for violating the agreement. Or perhaps, he was so magically exhausted after fighting off my biological father and my mother that he cast the curse incorrectly. It could be that simple.”
“But you don’t think it is,” Hermione interjected. “There is the prophecy.”
Harry nodded. “Go on.”
She nodded and took a deep breath. “If he had to mark you as his equal before the prophecy could be met, then he couldn’t have killed without meeting that part of your shared fate, first. In his impatience, he marked you with the Killing Curse and drove his own already fragile soul right out of his body in the process. Essentially leaving you both helpless for over a decade. As fate made you equals, he had to wait and basically grow up with you. For every bit of strength and power you gained—he was allowed to gain as well.”
Harry inclined his head and nodded. “That is the theory that is most popular among the wizards in my conclave.” He cleared his throat. “The less popular theory is that I’m actually immune to the Killing Curse but there is no way to reasonably test that.” He glanced at his father who frowned outright at him. He laughed. “There was some experimentation done at one time on my blood that pissed my father off. I have a memory to show you in the pensieve. Anyone here ever have a negative reaction to a projection pensieve? Now’s the time to speak up. Ragnok would be quite unhappy if you threw up on his new rug.” He raised an eyebrow at John Dawlish.
The Auror huffed. “I’ll be fine, Potter.” He glanced towards Hermione and shifted nervously in his chair.
She frowned at him and her fingers twitched on the table. “Watch your tone, Auror Dawlish, when you speak to the Earl of Gryffindor.” Inari fluttered back to her and blew a little bit of fire Dawlish’s way.
Ragnok snorted. “Yes, lest you find yourself unconscious on the floor again.”
Hermione blushed and bit down on her bottom lip as more than one dverger laughed in the wake of their Chieftain’s amusement. “He has terrible manners, you know.”
“I do know,” Ragnok agreed. “I believe we’re ready Lord Potter,” the dverger said and sent Dawlish a pointed look as he did so.
“This first memory is from 1979. Tom Riddle introduced his familiar, Nagini, to his Death Eaters by feeding her. The memory terminates shortly before she actually eats the follower he chose for this particularly gruesome introduction.” Harry activated the pensieve with a nod in the Chieftain’s direction.
“I am pleased to announce that my trip to Albania was successful.” Voldemort waved a hand and a magical viper appeared in a rush of magic around him. The snake hissed and writhed in pleasure as more than one Death Eater jerked back from the pair of them. “Nagini is her name.”
“She is beautiful, my Lord,” Bellatrix Lestrange praised in a rush and clapped her hands. “Is she poisonous?”
“Her venom isn’t lethal but should a wound be left untreated, her victim will bleed to death,” Riddle said with a smirk. “I’m told it will also be very painful as her magic is corrosive.”
“No enemy of yours deserves a quick death, my Lord,” Lucius Malfoy assured. He took a step back as Nagini spread out around Riddle’s feet and spit venom at several of them. “Have you bonded with her?”
“Yes, it was as if she were waiting for me this whole time,” Tom said wistfully. “It’s a pity none of you will ever know the beauty of such companionship.” He turned then, his expression going sly and cruel. “Tell me Benedict, did you think to get away with it?”
“Get away with what my Lord?”
“Telling my secrets to your whore,” Riddle snapped. “Dumbledore’s little spy… bedding a Death Eater for the cause. I wonder, foolish little Benedict, if she’ll receive the Order of Merlin for spreading her legs for you?” His wand appeared in his hand in a crack of magic. “Avada Kedavra!” The body hit the floor with a thump and Riddle smiled. “There now, my dear Nagini, your dinner is served.”
The pensieve deactivated and Harry’s gaze automatically went to his witch. Hermione was pale but her eyes were clear and her expression neutral. Inari was wrapped around one wrist, her wings fluttering. Magic streamed off the gossamer wings in gentle waves. He wasn’t surprised at all when Inari was enveloped in a dark blue elemental fire after just a few seconds. Gryffindor’s Tear vibrated in the hollow of her throat and her eyes flashed gold briefly, before she got a hold of herself.
“You’re fascinating,” Ragnok said as he stared at Hermione. “Truly. I’ve not seen true elemental in several hundred years. Your affinity is fire?”
Hermione flushed and shook her head. “No.”
Ragnok blinked in surprise. “If I may know what it is?”
“I don’t have a single affinity,” she admitted. “I’m equally gifted with all four elements, Chieftain Ragnok. I can conjure water, fire, earth, and wind with no discernible difference in power or strength required. But I’ve yet to encounter a magical fire that I could not hold.”
The dverger turned to Harry.
“Absolutely not,” Harry said mildly. “No matter the outcome of such an experiment, I will ruin the person, being, creature, or entity that tries or succeeds in putting Fiendfyre in my Lady’s hand.”
Ragnok huffed. “You’re not fun at all, lad.” He glared briefly at Sirius.
“Don’t look at me like that, you’re the one that taught him that threatening people was a viable method by which to deal with situations and people who irritate him,” Sirius said. “I prefer to sue people.”
Harry cleared his throat. “I don’t know why I invite either one of you to my parties. You’re always making a scene. I still haven’t forgiven either of you for what happened with the ICW.” He activated the pensieve again and a single image appeared in the center of the table. “Nagini is a magical pit viper. They are very intelligent snakes, capable of complex planning and extremely loyal if they bond with a witch or wizard. They aren’t prone to mental illness in nature but being used in dark rituals can and will drive them insane. I’m going to bring a magical pit viper very similar to Nagini into this room. His name is Atlas and he’s been the father of more than half the vipers to be hatched and sold from Serpent’s Lair for the last five years. Atlas will be in my total control the entire time he’s in this room. I’d remind every non-dverger in the room that you’re not permitted to draw your wand in the presence of the Chieftain and also I’d be really very put out with you if you hurt my snake.”
A door opened in the back and Atlas slithered into the room and swiftly towards Harry. He left the podium and went to the snake. “Hello, big guy.”
“Master Harry.” Atlas slithered up Harry’s body with a sweep of muscle and magic. Harry took his weight and walked over to the table with him.
“Atlas is still growing and therefore hasn’t reached his full size; that will take another ten years. He is, however, the tamest and most reliable pit viper that I own which is why he’s here today. He weighs in at eight stone and is a little over nine meters. Nagini is estimated to be at least twenty-eight stone and fifteen meters in length. The size of pit vipers isn’t the real issue and frankly neither is their venom in the short term. While Atlas could kill every single person in this room with just a kilogram of his venom, it could take minutes, hours, or even days depending on the wound. The main problem with pit viper bites is that their venom contains an anticoagulant, which can cause the victim of such a bite to bleed to death. His venom also contains a toxin that causes paralysis in prey.”
Atlas shifted on the table and turned towards Hermione. His tongue flicked out and his whole body trembled in excitement.
“No, lad, you can meet her later,” Harry touched the snake and Atlas turned back to him with a disappointed hiss.
“What’s the real issue?” Hermione asked, leaning forward.
“Atlas is capable of subduing and even killing a full grown dragon,” Harry said. “The strength of the magical pit viper is frankly horrifying.” He let Atlas wrap several coils around his forearm. “This guy could render my bones to dust if it struck his fancy. He could also swallow me whole as a result.”
“They crush large prey for easy swallowing,” Hermione surmised. “You said Nagini killed a unicorn. Could she have eaten it?”
“Had she been so inclined, yes, she could have crushed the carcass and devoured it in just a few hours.”
“Where has she been all this time?” Amelia Bones questioned.
“I don’t know,” Harry answered honestly. “We do know that Riddle regularly possessed her in the years following his banishment and before we successfully forced his soul to pass through the veil.”
“He drove her insane,” John said eyeing Atlas with dawning horror.
“Yes, he did. Frankly, she was probably already a bit crazy before he started using her body as a host. She’d have had to been a little wrong mentally to bond with Riddle at any rate.”
“Why?” John asked. “Wouldn’t any snake have been drawn to him?” His gaze dropped to Atlas again. “Like you?”
“Tom Riddle wasn’t a parselmouth, at least not in the traditional sense as Master Ito already explained. He could speak to snakes and he could cast basic magic in parseltongue but magically he and I are night and day,” Harry said coolly. “He wasn’t capable of casting parselmagic due to the corruption he invited into his magic and soul when he was a very young man. However, the chances he was born with parselmagic are slim to none. The Gaunt line were all near squib level when Tom was born to Merope and none of them was a genuine parselmouth. If he ever had the ability at all, it was gone by the time he was sixteen when he murdered a young girl at Hogwarts. He opened the Chamber of Secrets and murdered a student to create his first tether.”
“Tether,” Amelia said. “There is another name for that, right? You’re not telling us everything.”
“I’m not, no,” Harry admitted. “Frankly, I don’t speak of the nature of his tethers often as they are the most corrupt and foul magic ever created on this Earth. There is nothing darker than what he did. The act carried him beyond redemption and he did it several times leading to his banishment in 1981. Those tethers are gone and I’ve worked tirelessly since discovering them to destroy them and to prevent the knowledge of them from being widely known. It has been the mission of the Glain Neidr for nearly a decade to prevent the creation of other such devices. It is a task that the Horde has undertaken with us.” He shared a look with Ragnok and noted that Atlas was staring intently at Hermione once more. Harry sighed. “I’m not sure I can ever take you to the Serpent’s Lair.”
She just smiled and shrugged.
Harry lifted his hand from Atlas. “Go ahead, lad, but be so very careful. She is precious to me.”
Atlas trembled again and coiled in a pile in front of Hermione with a blink of any eye, magic sparking off him due to the swiftness of his travel across the stone table. Hermione reached out despite her mother’s intake of breath and stroked the snake’s head.
“Can I see your fangs, Atlas?” She asked and Harry was relieved it didn’t come out as a hiss.
Atlas obligingly opened his mouth for her and she reached out but Harry cleared his throat. “Don’t touch them, Mi; he might release venom by accident.”
She pulled her hand back with a little frown. “Are you bringing him back to Hogwarts?”
“No,” Harry said. “But he’ll spend the rest of the year at the house in Hogsmeade. He’ll deserve a little bit of a holiday after our hunt.”
“Hunt?” Hermione asked. “You’re going to use him to find Nagini?”
“I’m going to use him as a lure but he won’t be in any danger—he’s a particularly virile and sexually mature male of her species. She’ll be drawn to him like a moth to a flame. There’s a reason why he’s fathered so many in the Serpent’s Lair. Atlas has bred every single female pit viper I own in the last year. He probably deserves a vacation based on that fact alone. There are eighty-seven mature female pit vipers in the snake house. That’s frankly a lot of work.” Every man in the room burst out laughing.
Hermione blushed. “Harry James.”
“Back to the topic at hand,” Albus began with a little laugh. “Are you certain that it must be you?”
“I’m not certain of that at all,” Harry admitted. “But I feel like that it’s my job. Tom Riddle is part of me whether I like it or not. It may be a magical duty or merely an ethical concern. What I do know is that it must be a parselmouth and it certainly must be a parselmouth who has a very good control of their magic. She’s feral and insane. Nagini won’t react the way a normal snake would to any given situation. She can’t be trusted to respond properly to stimulus or any sort of magical intervention. If I thought I could save her, I would but I don’t. She’s beyond help and beyond redemption—much like the wizard who was once bound to her. I consider this a task for the Glain Neidr and the men of my conclave are already preparing for the hunt. We’re launching containment wards around the Forbidden Forest to prevent her escape.”
“If you don’t need us, why inform us?” Dawlish asked.
“My father will be using the DMLE to protect Hogsmeade. I’ve made arrangements with the Horde to update the wards at Hogwarts to protect the students. Nagini is a threat and I was informed by my father that it was appropriate to include you all to avoid the appearance of being high handed,” Harry said honestly. “That’s not to say I’m going to be dissuaded from my current plan of action because the only person in a position to tell me no has already agreed with my plans.”
Atlas shifted on the table and Hermione made a little shocked sound when he flowed into her lap, settling a good portion of his body across her thighs and chest. The viper rubbed his big head against her collarbone and shuddered with pleasure as he flicked his tongue out to touch the skin just under her ear.
“For the love of Merlin,” Harry said in exasperation. He walked around the table and hefted the snake out of her lap with a sigh. “You’re never going anywhere near Serpent’s Lair so don’t ever ask.”
Hermione laughed. “Harry.”
“Seriously.” He frowned at her and took Atlas back to the door where the snake had entered the room. The door opened revealing Hiro Ito. “She’s like snake catnip.”
“You’d know,” Ito said wryly.
Hermione blushed and averted her gaze when everyone started to laugh.
Harry went to the podium. “That is, of course, another matter that concerns me. If Nagini isn’t here for me, there is every chance she’s here for Hermione.”
“I don’t follow,” Amelia admitted. “It’s obvious that your snakes find her very interesting but that isn’t a by-product of your own emotional attachment to her?”
“I wish,” Harry admitted. “It’s true that all of the snakes that she’s interacted with as of late are mine but I’m not magically bonded to Atlas. I have four snakes at Hogwarts that I’m not bonded with that regularly seek Hermione out. One of my own familiars prefers to sleep in her hair.”
“But they are connected to you after a fashion,” Dawlish pointed out.
“Master Ito is going to bring in his own familiar. Hermione has never met this snake and today will be the first time he’s seen her at all. His name is Dai and he is a magical boa constrictor. He’s a big guy but incredibly gentle so don’t be alarmed at the sight of him. We’re going to let him… do what he wants to a certain point. Neither of us have given Dai any instructions prior to this moment and he’s unaware of who is in this meeting.”
Ito opened the door and entered. A large snake slowly slithered into the room after him. Dai traveled around the room, lifted off the floor and slid into the stone table with a low hiss.
“The Queen,” Dai hissed and lifted his head in Hermione’s direction. Inari, who had tolerated Atlas, scrambled up Hermione’s arm, perched on her shoulder and blew out fire in irritation. “Stingy Inari.”
“What did he say?” Minerva questioned.
“He told Inari she was stingy.”
“If Nagini is being drawn to Hogwarts because of Miss McGonagall,” Amelia Bones began, “then we must question whether or not allowing her to return to the school is prudent.”
Ragnok leaned forward. “Our warding team is securing the school. This snake will not be getting through our protections. We know very well how to shield against the taint of Tom Riddle. Moreover, if the Lady Potter is the draw then moving her would increase the threat level as we’d quickly lose track of where the snake is. She’s near Hogwarts for one of them—it’s the best chance we have of neutralizing her before she injuries or kills something beyond a creature in the forest. We’re lucky she didn’t attack a resident of Hogsmeade.
“But why?” Dawlish asked. “I understand why she might seek out Lord Potter—his previous connection with Voldemort makes sense. But what does a sixth year witch who’s had no contact with the Dark Lord have to attract this snake’s attention? Is it her magical power or elemental abilities? Has she cast dark arts?”
“How bloody dare you!” Minerva snapped and stood. Hermione leapt up with her and grabbed her mother’s arm to prevent the woman from drawing her wand.
“It’s all right,” Hermione said plainly. She carefully prodded Minerva back into her chair. “It’s fine, Mum. Someone had to ask it and it’s not really a surprise that it was him. Auror Dawlish’s beliefs concerning magic are more rigid than mine and that’s saying something.” She took a deep breath and snatched Inari from her shoulder where the dragon-snake was hissing and blowing fire in a steady stream. “Easy.” She stroked her familiar and blushed as she realized what she’d done. The dead silence in the room was enough to know that she’d shocked everyone who wasn’t aware of her ability.
“She’s a parselmouth?” Shacklebolt asked shocked. “For fuck’s sake, there hasn’t been a female parselmouth in Britain in over two hundred years.”
“That’s not true actually,” Harry said mildly. “There are four female parselmouths in Britain and I know two more latent female parselmouths besides that. As for my Lady, no, she’s not a parselmouth.”
“But she just…” Amelia began in protest.
“She didn’t speak parseltongue,” John Dawlish interrupted. “That wasn’t parseltongue. A parselmouth has a raspy undertone when they speak to snakes and their magic shifts. Her magic didn’t shift and there was no undertone at all.”
Hermione glanced towards him and huffed. “Honestly, Dawlish, you’ve mage sight? How on Earth do I keep getting the drop on you, then? You should see me coming a kilometer away!”
John flushed. “You’re as quick as a…” He laughed. “As a snake.”
Hermione handed Inari to her mother. “Yes.”
“What kind of snake?” Amelia asked. “It must be something pretty special for your registration to be an Official Secret. I saw the Minister push the parchment through last week.”
Hermione flushed and glanced towards Harry who was leaning on the podium looking resigned to his drama-filled life. “I’m a coatl.”
“Bullshite,” John said in shock.
Minerva glared. “Would you like to take this outside, John Dawlish? I’m not above kicking your arse all over the alley!”
“Oh, come on, a coatl?” John demanded. “I’ve spent the last week reading up on animagus forms and a magical creature is one thing but a coatl is a spirit snake. That’s just…” He trailed off because Hermione transformed.
Harry offered her his arm, and Hermione wrapped her gold-scaled body around his forearm, fluttering her wings as she did so. Harry let his fingers drift over the feathers of one wing, stroking the gold and red-tipped feathers. He turned to Minerva. “I just realized…”
“Gryffindor colors,” Minerva said dryly. “It occurred to me when I was filling out her paperwork for her registration.”
“As to why her registration is a secret,” Harry began and focused on Dawlish, “if you’ve been doing as you say, then you realize that she’s practically unique in the magical world right now. The coatl is elusive and difficult to catch or bond with. Many men with my abilities would do incredibly dark things to control one. To control one with Hermione’s magical power would be a temptation like no other. I know my father told you what we are to each other, Auror Dawlish. If I told you I was a magus, what would you assume about my soulmate?”
John’s gaze flicked briefly to Hermione and he sighed. “That she is or will be a magus as well.”
Hermione lifted off Harry’s arm, wings fluttering and transformed. She gained her feet as a witch and checked the fall of her dress as she did so. “Of course, any wizard or witch who tried to use me that way would quickly find themselves in a world of hurt. I’m not without the ability to defend myself.”
“Oh, I know,” John assured and flushed when his boss laughed. He turned to Amelia. “You should invite her to the next department training exercise… maybe if she stunned the entire corps they’d stop talking about how she stunned me.”
“I’m game,” Hermione exclaimed before her mother or Harry could protest his suggestion. “I’ve been working into putting more power into my stunning spells.”
“You needn’t,” John said with genuine horror. “You already have an Auror-grade stunner.”
“I feel like I’m not getting a good distance,” Hermione confided. “It bothers me. Harry said he could’ve thrown Radko Krum all the way to Hogsmeade. I barely made it the length of the Quidditch pitch which in retrospect is kind of embarrassing.”
Harry bit down on his bottom lip but her genuinely earnest expression was so charming that he couldn’t help but laugh.
* * * *
“I thought your main vault was in Paris,” Hermione admitted as Harry helped her out of the cart.
“Oh, my personal vault is in Paris but my ancestral vaults are all here in London. You can’t enter the Gryffindor vault. Honestly, I’m not sure you’ll be able to enter after we marry because it is so heavily entailed to the Gryffindor line to prevent any sort of betrayal of that legacy. It refused my mother entrance and hasn’t allowed my father to enter since I claimed the title. He was able to enter before though he couldn’t remove anything. But honestly, there’s nothing much interesting there. I store most of my money in it for security purposes and there are the Gryffindor grimoires which should be more entertaining than they actually are… except for Niall’s but you can’t ever read that because he was a randy, horrible, inappropriate bastard and I’d have to set his portrait on fire if you read about his sexual exploits.”
Hermione laughed. “You’re kind of inappropriate yourself. At least I know who in your family tree to blame for it.” She stood back while the dverger who had accompanied them took his key and opened the Potter vault.
“Thank you, Gaulrod, if you’d let the Chieftain know I shouldn’t be more than hour? He mentioned the twins are here.”
“Oh, they are. We had a hell of a time keeping them out of the meeting this afternoon. Spoiled rotten little pains in the…” He trailed off with a glance in Hermione’s direction.
Hermione raised an eyebrow but said nothing as Harry took her hand and led her into the vault. It was organized well and mostly all she saw was stacks of trunks floor to ceiling. It seemed to go on forever.
“Most of this is furniture that’s been entailed to the Potter estate,” Harry explained. “Charlus Potter, my grandfather, sold much of our property abroad just before he died as other countries were heavily taxing British citizens to pay for their own wards to keep Voldemort out. So all the furniture is here—twenty-two houses and seven flats around the world were sold in total. He kept the property in Godric’s Hollow, Potter Redoubt, and the island as it was unplottable and in international waters.”
“We can use these things to furnish the new house?” Hermione questioned.
“Yes, or we can buy new depending on what we find in here. Some of it will be so old fashioned and outdated that it wouldn’t even qualify as a conversation piece. While others are antique enough to be impressive but still ultimately useful. I’d rather not live in a museum. I furnished most of Potter Redoubt from the vault and of course, there are modern touches here and there. We had to totally redo the plumbing system before we could move the kids in. The catalog is in my quarters at school by the way.”
“I remember you telling Star to bring it,” Hermione said and glanced around the vault. “So why are we here today?”
“I asked your mother about this first, just so you know.” Harry pulled a long, narrow box from a shelf. “I wanted to make sure she didn’t already have plans in this regard and she admitted that she hadn’t considered it due to your relatively new placement in her coven.”
He opened the box and revealed an athame; the steel blade glinted on the bed of velvet. “This is the athame my great grandmother carried. It’s been passed down through the family for generations. The blade is dverger-wrought platinum. The cross guard is gold. The jewels on the cross guard are sapphires—quite common and not terribly expensive. The pommel is unicorn horn. I’ve held it and there is no… indication that the horn was taken without permission. As old as it is, if it had been stolen the horn would’ve probably already been rendered to dust.”
“It’s lovely,” Hermione said. She stared at the blade for a long moment then met his gaze. “And?”
“And it’s more than you’re saying.”
He laughed. “Yes, it is.”
“It’s not the Athame of Gryffindor.”
“No, that’s in my bracelet. I had it retrieved when I realized it was foolish to only carry an athame I can use by myself. Before I tell you the rest, pick it up and tell me how it feels to you.”
She carefully plucked it from the bed of velvet and her face fell immediately. “Oh.”
He sighed. “I assumed as much. I was just rather hoping to be wrong. It would’ve made for an exciting entry in the family grimoire.”
She put the athame back. “Who did it belong to?”
“There’s a lot of speculation about it actually and the most popular theory among my ancestors was that it once belonged to Elizabeth Gryffindor, the only child of Liam Gryffindor. She married Angus Potter who agreed to accept the title but refused to give up his father’s name. Thus—the Potter line continued on as both a Noble and Ancient house.”
Hermione frowned. “Why doesn’t it like me?”
“No clue, my dad said it hated my mother, too.”
Hermione huffed. “Well, that sucks. It’s very pretty and practical.”
He closed the box and put it back on the shelf. “There are others but I was curious about that one first. It’s sort of a tradition for the Lady Potter to try it. However, no one has been able to carry it for a hundred years or more. Funnily enough, my mother claimed it practically took a bite out of her.”
Hermione laughed before she could help herself. “What if none of the ones you have are a good fit for me?”
“We’ll have you one made,” Harry said easily. “You might prefer that anyway. An athame is a very personal magical tool and as you master the various stages of ritual magic, you’ll learn what pleases your magic most.”
“Why not just have one made from the start?”
“Family athames are uniquely powerful due to the amount of magic they’ve been exposed to,” Harry explained. “They’re just smarter. The Gryffindor Athame guided me with a very heavy hand when I first began to practice ritual magic. It was practically like another tutor to be honest. Considering how new you are ritual and coven magic, your Mum and I agree that you’d be better served with an experienced athame. That being said, if you’d prefer to have your own made, I’ll support that.”
Hermione watched him pull several boxes down and placed them on a trunk near them. He opened them one by one and she moved to stare at them. “I trust that you both know more about the subject than I do. Are there any in the Ross vault?”
“Your mother said no—she carries her grandmother’s athame and apparently her mother barely practiced ritual magic after she married. If she had an athame, it wasn’t entailed to the Ross estate. The Rowan Circle was once a family coven but things changed dramatically over the last two hundred years, especially with your grandmother Isobel’s retreat into the Muggle world.”
Hermione reached out hesitantly and touched a gleaming black blade. “Tell me about this one.”
Harry hummed under his breath and moved so he could inspect it. “No rune work.” He lifted his hand and cleared his throat. “Dobby.”
The elf popped into place, a pair of knitting needles in hand and large swath of knitted pink yarn over his shoulder. “Why Master Harry be in dusty boring vault?”
Harry grinned at him. “Is that a baby blanket?”
Dobby blushed and the knitting disappeared with a snap of magic. “No.”
“You big lying liar,” Harry said with a laugh. “I need the Potter grimoire. I left it on my desk at Hogwarts.”
Dobby scrunched up his nose. “That’s what Master Harry gets for getting up at the arse crack of dawn to complain to his little book about stuck-up horse people.” He snapped his fingers and the journal appeared in his hand. He proffered it.
Harry took it with a grin. “You go sit on the time out stool for an hour for your poor attitude. Maybe you’ll finish that baby blanket before Winky makes you sleep in the dog house.”
“Only dog we have is Master Sirius,” Dobby said. “But I goes and sit on stupid stool and knit for my mate like I be having nothing better to do.”
Hermione bit down on her lip as the elf popped away. “He’s been a bit… snarky lately.”
“Elf babies are exhausting. I think I’ll put him and Winky both on maternity leave. They talked me out of it originally but he’s obviously exhausted and out of sorts. I’ll talk to Star about it this evening.” He set the grimoire on the trunk and picked up the black blade, which he placed on top of the book. He drew his blackwood wand. “Affero Historia.”
“How does that charm work?”
“Every item entailed into the Potter estate has a record. Sometimes the record is very detailed but if an object, like the unicorn athame, has been in the family for generations but entailed by someone other than the original owner the details can be sparse to say the least which leads to pages upon pages of speculation.” Harry lifted the blade off the grimoire and the book opened immediately. “Right.” He put the blade back in the box. “It’s… pretty cool actually.”
“What?” Hermione leaned forward but sighed when all she saw was gibberish on the page.
“It was a betrothal gift to Caerwyn Potter from his godfather, Augustus Slytherin, about four hundred years before the Gryffindor and Potter family merged. He states here that he worried that his godfather would not approve of the marriage because his betrothed was Munborne.”
“Munborne?” Hermione questioned.
“Mundane born,” Harry murmured. “We didn’t always use the word Muggle to describe non-magicals.”
“So what else does it say?”
“The athame is Fey-mined titanium with a gold cross guard. The pommel is from an ancient Rowan tree that is situated on the grounds of Gryffindor Trust. Unfortunately, the blade was not a fit for my magic but it found a lovely home in the hand of my beloved Mina. For our first anniversary, I purchased a ruby and had it placed in the pommel. She was most pleased.”
“High Elves,” Harry murmured. “He was saying that the titanium for the blade was mined and wrought by High Elves which is actually not uncommon for the time period. They closed their realms to us roughly six hundred years ago.”
“I remember that from History of Magic,” Hermione said and touched the blade again. “I feel like this is the one. Who else has carried it?”
Harry returned his attention to the grimoire. “Mina Potter was the first. Her great-grandson’s wife, Alwen was next. Glenys Potter carried it in the 1800s but never used it for ritual magic. She wore it for protection and… it served her well on two occasions.”
“Does that mean what I think it means?”
Harry grinned at her. “Traditionally speaking, the Lady Potter has always been somewhat… blood thirsty.”
“And finally, my grandmother Adele Potter carried it when she was younger but returned it to the vault in 1961 when she lost the ability to cast ritual magic due to contracting dragon pox the year before.”
“Dragon pox can do that?” Hermione asked aghast.
“Not normally, but if left untreated for one reason or another it can damage your ability to channel magic which will prevent you from participating in ritual magic.” He turned the page. “There is no mention as to why she allowed herself to go untreated for it long enough to damage her.”
Hermione frowned. “Is dragon pox lethal?”
“It can be in the very elderly or those who already infirm. It’s not all that different from the Muggle chicken pox. Why?”
“It’s just… isn’t the cure rather hard on the body?”
“Very, actually. In some cases, it’s better to keep the dragon pox than to treat it especially if you’re… oh.” He sighed. “She must have contracted it while she was pregnant with my father. No witch would risk taking the potion cure for dragon pox while pregnant. It leeches so many nutrients out of the body to kill the pox that it would have terminated her pregnancy.”
“Right.” Hermione nodded. “And they had him late, right? Later than most?”
“Yes, they both died of natural causes shortly before I was born,” Harry admitted. “His mother was sixty-four when she had him.”
“Wait.” Hermione grabbed his arm. “Are you telling me I’ll be fertile in my sixties?”
Harry laughed. “Or longer depending on your general health.”
“Oh.” She huffed. “You mean my Mum can still get pregnant?”
“I don’t even know,” Harry admitted. “I’ve never asked and would never presume to check but the average witch goes through menopause around eighty-five. Some sooner and some later. Your mum still has a good sixty or so years left to live if she stays in good health and I’ll be around to make sure she does.” He grinned. “You could always ask for a little sister and see what she says.”
Hermione laughed. “I’d rather not get grounded for being impertinent.”
“I think she’d give you detention and take points before she’d ground you. I think she gave Albus detention over that whole flying experiment. He asked me buy him some lemon drops when we go out into the alley because he had all of his confiscated. I can only think of one person who’d have the bollocks to do that.”
“How should I carry it?” Hermione questioned picking up the athame.
“Let’s get you holster when go out into the Alley. In the meantime, I’ll keep it in my bracelet.”
She handed it to him. “Sounds great.”
* * * *
A pair of tiny dverger hit Harry at the knees the moment he entered the dverger Chieftain’s office. He snatched up pair of them, each a third the size of an adult dverger and stared at their faces. “I’ve heard you’re both genuine pains in the arse. True?”
“Yep!” The two of them exclaimed. The little girl’s pigtails whipped around her head as she nodded.
Harry turned to Hermione. “These two terrors are Hex and Vex, the Chieftain’s first grandchildren by his youngest son and to my dubious honor—my godchildren.”
Her mouth dropped open.
“He’s very honored,” Hex proclaimed and held out his hands for Hermione.
Hermione smiled and took him. “I’m sure he is.” The toddler immediately plucked Inari from her shoulder and the dragon-snake hissed in greeting, wings fluttering. “Be careful.”
“I met Inari before,” Hex assured her. “We’re friends.”
Hermione glanced towards Harry who just grinned at her. “I’ve never seen dverger children before.”
“No, they’re rarely allowed out of the caverns under the bank,” Ragnok said from his place at the desk. “But the children insisted on coming up when they heard Harry was in the bank. They’ve not seen him since August.”
“Where’s my present?” Vex asked.
“Ha,” Harry said. “That’s greedy—asking for a present.”
“I’m a dverger,” she informed him solemnly. “It’s my duty to acquire wealth.”
Hex put Inari back where he found her and reached out for Harry. “Duty first!”
Harry took the kid back and carried them over to a rug near a large fireplace. He sat down with them and flicked two brightly wrapped presents out of his bracelet. “Oh, look, I came prepared to buy the affection of greedy children.”
Hermione stayed where she was and was slightly startled when Ragnok joined her. “How old are they?”
“Just three and quite doted upon by their parents. Their father is Razel—Harry’s account manager here at the bank. In fact, Razel’s entire job is to manage the Earl of Gryffindor’s holdings. One day, I’m sure my son will be pleased to add the House of Ross to his duties.”
Hermione hummed under her breath. “It’s a thought but currently we’re bound up in a stringent agreement with a wizarding accounting firm. My great grandfather apparently felt that a witch wasn’t capable of minding her own money so he left it in his will that the accounting firm of Lockhart, Durant and Jenkins would manage the Ross money if his money and estate fell to a female. They’re arrogant gits.”
“Ah, my dear, have you read the contract?”
“No…” She glanced at him briefly before the squeal of excitement from one of the twins caught her attention. Vex had a plush dragon almost half her size clutched to her chest despite the fact that it was wiggling and growling.
“Do read the fine print when you get a chance, Miss McGonagall, I think you’ll find that Archibald Ross left a way for you if you’re the bold sort.”
“I can be plenty bold,” Hermione said. She watched Hex toss paper aside to reveal a toy serpent that she couldn’t readily identify.
“Ha! A new defense for my castle,” Hex proclaimed.
Harry grinned. “It will live in your moat and eat intruders.”
“What kind of…” She inclined her head. “Is that Nessie?”
“After a fashion, the creature in Loch Ness is actually a sea serpent; the species is formally called Jörmungand by the ICW after the Norse myth. She’s one of like thirty known specimens the world over. There is a conservation effort underway and they hope to introduce her to a mate soon. The Muggle population in the area actually does a lot to protect her despite their tourism trade. I’ve always wanted to go chat with her but I hear she’s rather shy and prefers women.”
“I hate to be rude,” Hermione began quietly to Ragnok, “but how on Earth did Harry become the godfather to your grandchildren?”
Ragnok laughed. “He killed a basilisk. That’s the kind of thing we take note of and he made us a lot of money which we adore.”
“Oh.” Hermione grinned. “I see.”
* * * *
“Stay on the Alley,” Minerva ordered as Hermione allowed herself to be tugged towards the exit of the bank.
“Of course, Aunt Min,” Harry promised. “We won’t stray far.”
“Can we go to Flourish and Blotts?” Hermione asked as soon as they were down the steps of the bank. She tried to ignore the pair of Aurors that fell in step behind them. “And perhaps the Menagerie? I want to get Inari something to chew on. I caught her gnawing on Hogwarts, a History yesterday.”
“It’s a terribly boring book,” Harry offered and grinned when she scowled at him. “And yes to all of that. Did you want to get some lunch first?”
“I’m not very hungry, honestly, I was a bit nervous waiting for you to say we could come to the bank and I ate all of mum’s chocolate biscuits which I should probably replace.”
“A whole tin of chocolate biscuits?”
Hermione shrugged. “You said you didn’t care if I was big as a hippogriff.”
Harry grinned at her. “As long as you’re healthy, no, I don’t care at all.” He checked his watch. “I have to meet a couple of people in about an hour for tea. I can bring you back to the bank if you’d prefer not to attend.”
“What people?” She asked as he opened the door to Flourish and Blotts.
“A couple from Canada actually. Razel, my account manager, came across them in his search for a Forest Keeper. He has a Mastery in Herbology and a Muggle degree in Agriculture. She has an international Mastery in Magical Creature Care and Healing. They met at a creature reserve in Romania when they were young and have been traveling the world together for decades. They have one child and he recently started Muggle medical school in the US. He’s a half-blood and she’s a Muggle-born. Their son is magical and already has his Mastery in magical Healing. I’m looking forward to meeting them. They’re just a bit older than my Dad and uniquely suited to what I need for the Forbidden Forest.”
“I’d like to go, actually. They sound fascinating,” she admitted then rounded a corner. “Mr. Blotts, are there new shelves?”
The older man laughed. “As a matter of a fact, there are. Leave it to you to notice, young lady.” His eyes widened briefly at the sight of Harry. “Lord Potter, pleasure to have you here. Did my last letter reach you?”
“Yes and thank you. I think between you, Razel and Oscar that we almost have the library set to rights.”
“Who’s Oscar?” Hermione asked as she plucked off a series of books and handed them to Harry who dutifully dropped them in the basket he’d picked up as he’d followed her into the new stacks.
An elf appeared between them, eyes wide. “Master Harry hardly ever call Oscar.”
Harry grinned at him. “I thought it was high time you and my Lady met. Hermione, this is Oscar, he’s been the librarian for the Potter collection for seventy-five years. His father, Grimley, held the position for three hundred years and trained Oscar to take over shortly before he passed on.” The elf leaned on Harry’s leg and blushed as Hermione smiled down at him. “I don’t call him because all of his work time goes into maintaining and expanding the Potter library. He travels the world over buying books for us—searching and reading as he goes. Mr. Flotts has been our partner in book buying for the last decade.”
“That’s the best job ever,” Hermione said. She knelt down on the floor in front of the elf. “What’s your favorite book?”
Harry set the basket down between them and walked away with a laugh. He found Mr. Blotts making himself some tea and joined the man when he was motioned forward. “How’s business?”
Blotts hummed under his breath as he put a plate of scones between them. “Flourish is in Canada at the moment, overseeing our expansion. Your investment was timely, young man, and I’ve sent my grandson off to Muggle business school as your father suggested. Of course, that Razel of yours made quick work our books and got us straightened out. After he finished lecturing us over our shoddy bookkeeping, he streamlined our payment process and reorganized our Owl ordering.”
Harry stirred honey into his tea. “Well, you shouldn’t let him boss you around too much, he’ll get the idea he’s in charge.”
Blotts laughed. “Oh, I noticed. He’s a savvy little guy though and helped us out with an export tax situation that had us quite vexed. Fudge was an arsehole, you know.”
“I heard,” Harry said neutrally. “I know my father is working his way through a whole class of laws Fudge put into place just to subjugate Muggle-born owned businesses.”
“Fudge was quite put out with your investment in our store and tried to say since you hadn’t claimed your title at the time that we weren’t entitled to tax benefits that the nobles enjoy. Razel set him right pretty quickly on that front and that twat Claude Humphrey, who runs the tax assessment office, hasn’t been around to bother us in over a year.” Blotts cleared his throat. “Though I’m not sure what possessed you to invest in us, lad.”
“I heard you were in danger of closing,” Harry admitted.
“You’re going to close?” Hermione demanded. Both men turned to stare at her, found her pale and her bottom lip trembling slightly in outright horror.
“No, love, that was several years ago,” Harry soothed and inclined his head towards Blotts. “He was just asking what made me invest in his store. I think he got his answer.”
Blotts snorted. “Merlin, did I.”
Hermione frowned slightly then her mouth formed a perfect little O. “You mean we own part of the store?”
“Just a little bit,” Harry said and held up two fingers to demonstrate how much. “I invested mostly to keep the Ministry from running them out of business due to Mr. Blotts’ status as a Muggle-born.”
Hermione huffed. “That arsehole!” She stalked away and Oscar trotted off behind her with her basket, which he had shrunk down to his size.
“You’re witch whipped,” Blotts muttered and grinned when Harry pretended to glare at him.
She came rushing back, holding an old book, her eyes wide with shock. “Harry.”
“What?” Harry stood, his wand flicked into his hand in a second.
She pushed the book toward him. “I can read this.”
Harry frowned and stowed his wand. He took the book from her, opened it up, and realized immediately what had her so shocked. The book was written in parseltongue. “Is it really a surprise?”
“Snakes don’t read,” Hermione said.
Inari crawled out of her cloak and up her arm, hissing indignantly as she did so. “I can read! Master Harry taught me!”
Harry grinned at Hermione as a truly flummoxed look crossed her face. “This is a great find, by the way, I don’t have this book.” He handed it back to her.
She passed it to Oscar with a little frown, snagged a scone from the plate on the table, and disappeared again.
“I had heard you bought her a Ryūda.”
“I didn’t,” Harry denied. “I’ve owned Inari for eight years. I bought her shortly after she hatched. I had her at my house in Hogsmeade and when she met Hermione—they started to bond.”
“Ah, still people are quite… fascinated by your relationship with her. You might want to get out of ahead of that if you can.”
“Fascinated in a bad way?” Harry asked as he regained his seat. “I mean, the kids at Hogwarts are pretty interested but we’re kind of isolated. The Prophet doesn’t print much about me because of the agreement I have with them regarding the use of my likeness and name. I know Witch Weekly has published a couple articles about the courting period and the duel but nothing that wasn’t basically fact.”
“If you were anyone else people might question the… swiftness of your attachment to her but no one thinks you’ve been potioned or coerced into a relationship with her if that’s your concern. That duel was something else. A few of the younger women on the Alley like to talk about how romantic it was that you fought for her.”
Harry grimaced. “I don’t think it was all that romantic to be honest.”
“No, you were forced to kill that idiot,” Blotts agreed with a sigh.
“But the way I hear it, he more than had that coming. His own father should’ve done something about it long before he became a problem for you and yours. I’d have castrated the kid if he’d been mine and turned him over to the DMLE.”
“I can’t decide if he was a product of his upbringing or if he was born corrupt and twisted.”
“Perhaps a bit of both,” Blotts said. “Aren’t we all a product of our parents making one way or another?”
Harry nodded his agreement. “I’m not prepared to explain my relationship with Hermione McGonagall to the wizarding public. They’ll just have to continue to be curious.”
“Oh, anyone with a decent memory and half a brain knows exactly what’s going on, lad,” Blotts said. “We all know Fudge was a liar.”
Harry flushed. “It’s… right.”
“Don’t worry so,” Blotts murmured. “You’d be stunned to find how many people genuinely care for you are in this country. To so many, you are beloved and they will embrace your Lady when they’re allowed to do so with the same affection and good humor. Besides, you’ve already proven what you’ll do to protect her.”
* * * *
They’d made a quick top at Ollivanders to purchase a holster for her athame which she’d ended up slipping into her boot before rushing off to the tea shop to meet with the couple that Harry wanted to speak with personally about the Forbidden Forest. Matilda and Basil Wallis were already in the shop when they arrived.
“Ah, Lord Potter,” the man stood and offered his hand. “I’d know the look of you anywhere. You’re the spitting image of your grandfather, Christopher.”
Harry took the hand. “His portrait has assured me repeatedly over the years that this is a blessing because he was quite fit in his day.”
The man laughed. “Basil Wallis and this young lady with me is my Matilda.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both. This is my girlfriend, Hermione McGonagall of the House of Ross. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long. We were distracted by the bookstore.”
“Oh, no, we were over at Obscurus Books submitting my new manuscript,” Matilda said. “We’ve only just settled in with a pot.”
“Oh,” Hermione said as she took the seat Harry pulled out for her. “You’re M. Brantwood-Wallis. You wrote The Mysterious and the Unseen Creatures of the World. I read that last year after a classmate pointed out at Hogwarts that the horseless carriages aren’t in fact horseless.”
“Threstals,” Matilda said. “But I imagine all of you who witnessed the duel will have a very different experience the next time you see the carriages.”
“Yes,” Harry said. “Quite.” He took a seat himself and said nothing while Hermione ordered for them both. Once they were all squared away, he pulled his wand and cast a privacy charm. “I trust that Razel informed you of the state of the forest?”
“Yes,” Matilda admitted with a sigh. “I’m surprised by the centaur the most. They are normally much more sensitive to such things and more likely to complain. It’s a very curious situation to be sure and I’m looking forward to setting Godric’s Forest to rights once more. It is one of the biggest and oldest magical reserves in Europe. I would hate to see magic abandon it.”
“The magical wounds are deep and at least one ley line is tainted to the point where I’m seriously considering calling in a coven of Druids.”
Basil sighed. “There are species of creatures that are not indigenous to Europe in the forest as well. I’ll want to address that as much as I can, which means that nest of Acromantula are going to have to go.”
Harry considered that. “Do you think they’re damaging to the ecosystem of the forest?”
“They aren’t supposed to be there, Lord Potter, that’s enough to unbalance things quite a bit. I see no reason to destroy them but they do need to be removed. I understand the colony is quite large. I read through the entire report that Razel created for us. The centaur need a few lessons in manners and your friend Hagrid needs to find a new home for his Cerberus.”
“Fluffy is still around?” Hermione demanded.
“Fluffy?” Harry asked faintly. “Do you mean to tell me you’ve met Hagrid’s Cerberus?”
Hermione blushed. “He was guarding the door that lead down into the traps my first year… I’d have thought Emmie would’ve told you all about that.”
“No,” Harry said. “She didn’t. Dumbledore had a full grown Cerberus in Hogwarts?” He sat back in his chair. “I’m not buying that barmy old codger any lemon drops.”