Title: Hermione’s Vow
Author: Keira Marcos
Series: Harry Potter & the Soulmate Bond
Fandom: Harry Potter
Word Count: 22,839
Warnings: Brief discussion of ritual sacrifice and cannibalism.
Author’s Note: It’s my birthday – here’s a present for you because I’m a generous bitch like that. Also, check out the series page for additional warnings and new cast pictures.
* * * *
High Witch Emerta Réamonn didn’t like her and Hermione wasn’t sure why. The woman had been polite but standoffish since their introduction and she could tell her mother wasn’t all that surprised by the reception. Her daughter, Birgit, had barely spoken a word. Hermione would’ve felt sorry for the girl and her obvious disinterest in the gathering if she hadn’t spent most of the evening glaring at her. She turned slightly to see if there was an avenue of escape and her gaze collided with Janelle Delacour’s. The French witch sent her a little grin and beckoned her forward with a wave of fingers. Hermione almost sagged with relief.
“Mum, Janelle wishes to speak with me. May I be excused?”
Minerva nodded. “Don’t leave the room, dear.”
“Thank you,” Hermione murmured and pushed back from the table. She left without a backward glance towards the other coven leader but refrained from rushing as she walked towards Janelle. The older girl gathered her up in a fierce hug the first chance she got. “Thank Merlin I saw you. I think Emerta Réamonn hates me.”
“Oh, she definitely hates you,” Janelle said with a laugh. She guided Hermione towards a grouping of pale blond witches and Hermione swallowed back a groan at the site of Fleur among them. “I’ve rescued her, Mother.”
The older witch, dressed in a flowing white gown, held out a pale hand. “Miss McGonagall, it’s an honor to meet you. I am Berdine Delacour. Janelle speaks of you fondly.” She offered Hermione a smile. “Your wizard is a lucky man.”
Hermione blushed as the woman released her hand. “I’ve been operating under the assumption that I’m the lucky one.”
“Lucky in love,” Berdine said. “Janelle tells me he’s entirely besotted with you. The first time I met him, he already had soulmate magic drifting in his core. He was just fourteen. He was such a lovely boy—so polite if a bit reserved. Of course, that wasn’t that long after he completed the ritual that ended Tom Riddle.” She turned to the two witches closest to her. “This is my sister, Diandre, and her daughter Fleur whom you’ve met previously.”
“It’s a pleasure,” Hermione said as she took the hand Diandre offered. Fleur blushed as she offered her own hand. “Fleur, it’s lovely to see you again.”
“Hermione.” Fleur clutched at her hand and pressed a fleeting kiss against her cheek. “It’s so good to see you. We should have tea while you’re on Yule break.”
Hermione nodded. “We don’t return to Hogwarts until January 6th, I’ll be in our townhouse in Hogsmeade most of that time as Harry has some conclave obligations over the break.” She stepped back and Fleur released her. The older woman looked a combination of anxious and relieved all at once. “Congratulations on your engagement.”
“William is a professor of yours, true?” Diandre questioned. “What do you think of him?”
Hermione shared a surprised look with Fleur who was biting on her lip. “Oh, he’s quite lovely. Though it certainly isn’t a career choice for him, he’s an excellent teacher and very patient. Harry knows him through the bank and they were together last night actually. Harry led the ritual claiming of Bill’s title, a barony within the Black family. I spoke with him briefly this morning and he said that the ritual went very well and that Bill handled the settling of the title with no problems.”
“That was kind of Lord Potter to do,” Diandre said stiffly and she looked around the room, clearly disgruntled.
Hermione’s gaze narrowed slightly. “Harry finds value in integrity and honor—both of which Bill has in abundance.” She turned to Janelle, dismissing the older woman before she could make a retort. “Why does Emerta Réamonn hate me? We’ve never even met.”
“She tried to align her coven with the Glain Neidr through a marriage with her daughter Birgit. Lord Black refused the marriage contract offer on behalf of his son with prejudice,” Berdine explained. “It was a great offense to deliver on another magical house. The Réamonn family is ancient and Birgit is a parselmouth. They thought to entice Harry in that manner but he’d not have anything to do with the girl the one time they did meet. Emerta tried to force a marriage by claiming that Harry had seduced Birgit.” Berdine grimaced. “Birgit was just fourteen at the time. You can imagine that Lord Black was furious to have his son accused of so base an act. Harry submitted to a dverger tribunal for truth testing to prove that he had not touched the child in any manner at all. He was vindicated, of course, and Emerta was left looking like a fool. The dverger fined her ten thousand galleons for attempting to defraud the Ancient and Noble House of Potter. She could either pay the fine or her entire family would lose the ability to bank with the Horde for eternity.”
Hermione winced. “Harry’s never mentioned it.”
“I’m not surprised. It was quite…untoward,” Berdine said and scrunched up her nose. “His father handled most of it and Harry remained as removed from the legal and punishment process as possible. Then here you are, the woman the Earl of Gryffindor has told the world he will have for his wife, the Heiress of the House of Ross and the Rowan Circle. Plenty of witches would take your place in more than one way, you know. No one even considered it possible that Minerva McGonagall would adopt a daughter for her house and legacy.”
Hermione looked toward the mother and found her in what appeared to be an intense conversation with Emerta. She turned back to Berdine. “I’m definitely the lucky one.”
Thirty minutes later, she was relieved to discover that Emerta was not on the leadership of the council but merely a member of the organization as a whole. The Triumvirate that led the Council was made up of three witches—the current leader was an African American woman from Louisiana named Jasmine Claiborne. Berdine Delacour was seated on her left and a German witch named Gitta Fromm sat on her right.
“It is my honor to announce Hermione Isobel McGonagall, the Heiress of Ross as the official Heiress of the Rowan Circle,” Minerva said when it was her turn to speak. “At this time, I would also notify the Council that my daughter is not available for any apprenticeships nor will she be allowed to travel abroad in the summer without the Earl of Gryffindor. As such, she will be unable to participate in any coven rites that have been requested by various members of the council.”
“This is highly unusual Minerva,” Gitta said and frowned. “May we know the reason?”
“The Earl of Gryffindor requested and we both agreed to limit her exposure to the practice of any grey art. She is, as of this moment, pure in her craft as it is possible to be. Most of the requests made regarding rites participation have been grey in practice and purpose. It is no secret that he is deeply opposed to necromancy and she has agreed to be his wife.” Minerva said as she stared at the older witch. “My daughter has no intention of damaging her relationship with her soulmate in order to practice an art she has no interest in to begin with.”
“She is uniquely suited to such magic,” Berdine pointed out, unnecessarily. “But I see no reason to encourage her to do something she has no interest in.”
“Potter, himself, is a grey wizard,” Fromm interjected. “No matter how clean he keeps his ritual craft now; it’s hard to ignore he performed a ritual sacrifice at thirteen.”
Minerva’s gaze narrowed. “Riddle brought that on himself.”
Jasmine Claiborne snorted then laughed. She waved a hand at the looks she received. “It’s just he really did. I was there for that ritual and I would assure you all that despite the content of the ritual Lord Potter acted with the best possible intentions and in the end spared Tom Riddle an untold amount of terror. The fool split his soul and there is no redemption after such an action. He was a monster and he was destroyed for the greater good. It’s a shame to us all that a boy of thirteen was the one who shouldered such a burden. The men of the Glain Neidr have worked for ten years to train and teach Harry Potter. I, for one, find no fault in him for his position on necromancy. It is far darker than it is light and I’d rather not see the future High Witch of the Rowan Circle tainted in such a way. She will one day claim domain over one of the oldest and most powerful ritual circles in Britain.” She glanced down at the parchment in front of her. “That being said there is a request from the Tuath Dé that is neither grey nor necromancy.”
Minerva inclined her head toward her daughter and Hermione blushed furiously. She’d really hoped that it wouldn’t be questioned. “Hermione.”
Hermione cleared her throat. “Yes, with apologies, I will be indefinitely unavailable for any druid cleansing or renewal rituals.” She paused and bit down on her lip when Berdine merely raised an eyebrow at her. “They require a ninety-day period of celibacy leading up to such rituals. In order to accomplish that, I would have to separate myself from Lord Potter physically by some great distance for the entire ninety days. I’m simply not prepared to do that to him. Just being apart as we are in this moment is deeply uncomfortable and it’s barely been a full twenty-four hours. It’s like half of me got left in Britain.” She looked down when all three witches stared at her in shock. “My skin is too tight. I barely slept at all last night. You must understand, when I retrieved his soul that I essentially tethered us together with our bond. I bound him to me—heart, soul, and magic—to pull him from the Veil’s embrace. I only succeeded because Lady Magic agreed.”
“And you’re saying you could not maintain ninety days of celibacy in Lord Potter’s company?” Fromm asked dryly.
“You’ve never met him,” Berdine said and drew out a lacy fan which she flicked open and fanned herself. “The man’s a menace to knickers everywhere and it’s only going to get worse the older he gets.”
Hermione blushed at the laughter that garnered. “It’s our soulmate bond, Madame Fromm.”
“You built it on sex magic,” Berdine said with some delight.
Hermione blushed. “Yes, well, he’s beautiful and his magic shines on his skin when he’s…” She averted her gaze. “I’m simply unprepared to deny myself or him the fullness of the bond we’ve already created to participate in rituals that, while essential, would not benefit from my participation. I have nothing unique to offer in those circumstances.”
Gitta Fromm shifted in her chair, sat back and crossed her legs. “I witnessed your testimony before the ICW and as such also witnessed the memory of the one and only ritual you’ve led. Frankly, Miss McGonagall, I was both impressed and horrified by the magic you harnessed that night. You shouldered the burden of a full-blown spiritual resurrection and forced an archmagus to submit to you. It’s well-known that the Glain Neidr nearly tore down the bank in Paris trying to keep Potter subdued on a temporary basis and yet, you, with no experience in ritual magic managed to accomplish it. Can you offer an explanation for that?”
“Before the ritual, I had a two hour period of meditation and during that I achieved a state of astral-projection.” She paused at the ripple of shock that drifted through the room. “I passed through the Veil in search of Lily Potter—I needed her to complete the ritual. Because she sacrificed herself for Harry and also because I’ve experienced her magic in the Rowan Circle itself, I felt confident I could locate her.”
“And did you?”
“Yes, I met both of Harry’s deceased parents and was slightly surprised to find his spirit there as well. I should’ve considered it possible—his magic is intimately connected to his mother’s. I spoke with the three of them and Harry told me that in order to anchor him the world of the living that I would have to temporarily dominate his magic. I returned to my body shortly thereafter and we completed the ritual. He submitted because he loves me.” She paused when Fromm frowned. “He told me once that I’m the foundation on which he practices his craft.”
Fromm’s mouth dropped open and she closed it with an audible click of teeth. “I see.”
“I don’t know that you do but it doesn’t really matter,” Hermione said. “My relationship with Lord Potter and his magic is a personal matter.”
“There are plenty of people who would disagree with that. Until you became known, there was concern that Lord Potter could be dangerous and that we’d have no recourse if he lost control of himself. Many rest easier knowing that you’re capable of reigning him in if necessary.”
Hermione lifted an eyebrow the woman. “I imagine they do.”
“Are you disagreeing with the assumption?”
“I guess it would entirely depend on the state of my Lord’s mind,” Hermione said. “If his cause were righteous, I’d help him set the world on fire.”
Berdine sighed. “Ah, young love.”
Minerva huffed and offered her daughter a mild glare. “If there are no other questions.”
“I must protest the blanket refusal of your daughter to participate in necromancy,” Emerta said as she stood. “It is a valuable and ancient craft—one that witches are often sidelined on due to the nature of magic. To have your daughter set it aside merely because of a wizard’s wishes is difficult to swallow, Minerva.”
Hermione frowned but said nothing.
“I have already explained, in depth, Emerta exactly why my daughter will never practice in your circle.”
“She’s an adult and you needn’t make decisions for her like she simple. The girl is the brightest witch of the age or so you’d have us all believe.” Emerta focused on Hermione. “Well? Are you going to let a man control your magical life?”
“I don’t owe you an explanation and my mother has made my position regarding such grey arts perfectly clear.”
“All to keep Harry bleeding Potter happy,” Emerta said snidely.
“No,” Hermione snapped in her building fury. Flames danced at her fingertips and she took a calming breath when the woman took several steps back. Gryffindor’s Tear vibrated in the hollow of her throat and light arced off of it. “No knowledge is worth the cruelty of necromancy. It’s not just a grey art because a practioner interacts with the dead. I will not torture the dead to please the living. It is profane and dark to force those who have passed on to return to the etheric plane even for short periods of time.”
“You’re saying you didn’t force Potter to return to his body?”
“No, Merlin, of course not and if he’d wanted to stay with his parents then that’s where he’d be today.”
“You’d have died with him based on your testimony before the ICW. You’re saying you’d have allowed that?” Emerta scoffed.
“I pity you for the life you’ve led,” Hermione said finally. “It must be horrible to be as old as you are and never known what it means to love with a selfless and giving heart.”
Emerta reared back in shock. “How dare you!”
“Oh, fuck off,” Minerva snapped. “Stop speaking to my daughter before she catches your stupidity.”
* * * *
“Thank you for agreeing to speak with me privately,” Fleur burst out as soon as the door shut on Hermione’s room.
Hermione put her cloak down on the bench at the end of her bed. “It seemed like you had something to say.” She rotated her head slightly and stretched. “I’m still in terrible shape from the portkey. I don’t look forward to the one back to Britain.”
“I saw Harry briefly yesterday when he was meeting with the family about Percy,” Fleur explained. She perched on a chair near the fire place and smiled when Hermione joined her. “I’m sorry.”
“For what, exactly?” Hermione questioned.
“I was terrible to you at Hogwarts,” Fleur murmured. “I knew it at the time—I never said anything to my friends about how they were speaking about you. I wasn’t much better even if I never called you names. I found you frustrating and I was furious that Viktor appeared to prefer you over me.”
“He’d have never gotten away with raping a Veela,” Hermione said shortly and raised an eyebrow when Fleur’s mouth dropped open. “You know that was his intention with me—that’s why I was chosen. I was Muggle-born, had few friends, and he thought I was easy prey. It’s insulting to be sure and maybe for him I was. I don’t know how I would’ve reacted if he’d actually tried. Fortunately, he was never given an opportunity to carry out his plans with me.”
“His death was the most justice I can think of,” Fleur said. “I watched the duel. I didn’t know he was like that when we were there for the tournament. If I’d known, I can’t say I wouldn’t have found some way to ruin him during one of the events.”
Hermione toed off her shoes and stared at Fleur. “Are you apologizing to me because of Harry?”
“No, because of you,” Fleur said then rolled her eyes. “A lot of people might treat you like you’re an extension of him but I won’t. I was jealous and foolish at Hogwarts. I was very used to getting all of the attention both because of my looks and because of my intelligence. No one in Britain hesitated to let me know that a fourth year was twice as smart as I’d ever want to be and on top of it you had Viktor Krum, of all people, trailing after you. I acted poorly and it reflects badly on my family.”
“Your mother doesn’t like Bill.”
“My mother adored Bill until Percy’s trial,” Fleur said. “She insisted I stop seeing Bill and grew irate when I told her that I would not. How can I walk away from my man? I love him so much, Hermione, and she’s unreasonable about the whole thing. He’s not to blame for Percy’s actions.”
“Have you told Bill?”
“No, it’s between me and my mother. She’ll get over it or not but I can’t live my life for her. She knows that she can’t make me ignore my most basic of instincts and I’ve known since I set eyes on Bill that he was to be my mate.” She took a deep breath. “Thank you for defending him.”
“That wasn’t for you,” Hermione said. “I didn’t say anything I didn’t mean. He’s a good and honorable wizard.” She checked her watch. “I have to go out into the shopping district in Dublin to visit a snake shop. Did you want to go?”
“Sounds fun,” Fleur agreed.
* * * *
Hermione shivered and hesitated at the entrance of the shop. Her mother and Fleur came to a stop behind her. The owner of the shop looked up from the paper he was reading, his jaw dropped, and he slowly put the paper down. He stood and cleared his throat.
Hermione smiled. “Good afternoon.”
He put a hand to his chest and took a deep breath. “Miss McGonagall, welcome to the Emerald Snake Emporium. I’m the owner, Finian Walsh. How may I serve the Queen of Snakes?”
She took a step fully into the shop, the show room grew still briefly then every snake in the building started to speak at once. Hermione shuddered against the sound and took a deep breath. “Quiet.” The hissing ceased immediately.
Walsh’s eyes went wide. “You…oh.”
“I’m not a parselmouth,” Hermione said.
“You sounded exactly like a snake,” the man said by way of agreement. “I’ve never met a parselmouth who could do that. Are you shopping for a snake? Did you bring your Ryūda?”
She removed Inari from her interior cloak pocket and the dragon-snake crawled up her arm and perched on her shoulder. “She travels with me everywhere she can.”
“That is the nature of the Ryūda after the bond,” Walsh said. “Come, I wish to introduce you to someone.”
Hermione glanced briefly at her mother before following him deeper into the shop. “I’m actually here on behalf of Lord Potter.”
“Yes, his Grand Medusa. I was going to write him a letter after Yule. I can provide both snakes he requested and I’ve had their linage certified by the dverger. But this is just for you.” He smiled and waved a hand in excitement.
They entered a back room and Hermione took note of the fact that both her mother and Fleur had drawn their wands.
He opened a glowing fire box and drew out a gold Ryūda. “He was a mistake—but I’m calling him the Midas Variant.”
Hermione held out her hands for the snake and Inari rubbed her face against her witch’s pulse point in excitement. “He’s beautiful. How many do you have?”
“Twelve,” Walsh said proudly. “Isn’t he beautiful? He’s just six months old.”
“He’s perfect,” Hermione murmured. The snake curled around her palm and trembled. “How did you breed him?”
“His parents were traditional Ryūda and I accidently placed their eggs in a fiendfyre bath. I thought they’d be destroyed and was devastated by my mistake. Imagine my surprise, when I opened the box and all twelve eggs had survived and thrived in the fiendfyre. I’ll be writing a paper on the process.”
“How much?” Hermione questioned intently as she stroked the creature’s back with one finger.
“Oh, I couldn’t take a sickle for him. Please take him with my compliments.”
She turned toward him. “Ryūda are very valuable, Mr. Walsh.”
“Yes, but it would be an honor to have one of my snakes in your care. Of course, if you were tell anyone who asks where you got him…”
Hermione nodded and Inari crawled down her arm. The two dragon-snakes rubbed against each other and she held their weight in her hands for a minute before separating them. “I’ll need his registration papers.” She turned to her mother. “Is that okay?”
“Of course,” Minerva said. “The House of Ross is pleased to accept your gift, Mr. Walsh, and you are welcome to display our coat of arms to advertise our patronage in your shop.”
After she’d tucked Inari and the unnamed Ryūda in her cloak, Hermione followed Walsh further back into the shop and met her first Grand Medusa. The giant runespoor was bordering on nightmarish but quite interesting to talk to if she ignored their bickering. She met the two snakes that Walsh had picked out for Harry, checked their magic, and approved them. Handing him the bank draft was a little unnerving but he didn’t even blink at the amount. He just tucked the parchment into his pocket and crated the two snakes for transport. The elf that Star had sent to accompany her to the shop appeared as soon as the snakes were ready and disappeared with the box.
Once leaving the shop, she turned to her mother. “Harry neglected to tell me the things were huge.”
“Grand Medusa,” Minerva said and laughed when Hermione huffed.
* * * *
“Is Harry a great shag?” Fleur questioned as she used her wand to paint her toe nails.
“Yes.” Hermione huffed when Janelle agreed with her then laughed when the French witch just smirked. “Honestly.”
“He might have ruined me for other wizards,” Janelle confided. “The last lover I took to bed was so boring, I very nearly fell asleep.”
“It’s probably a crime against magic to bore a Veela during sex,” Hermione theorized. “You should look that up.”
“I should,” Janelle agreed. “Still jealous over me?”
“Are your tits still bigger than mine?” Hermione questioned.
“Certainly,” Janelle said.
“Then yes, I’m very jealous.” She wiggled her toes and stared at the bright red nail color Fleur had put on her. “I like it. I didn’t know you could do this with a color charms but then I never pay much attention when Lavender is talking about cosmetic stuff. I only do the basic charms on my face.”
“You’ll need a few more complicated charms for the Ministry Ball,” Fleur advised. “I’m sure your mother knows them all but if you need help you can floo me. I have a flat in London and I’ll be going to the ball with Bill. You have your dress?”
“Yes, since September. My mother bought me a whole wardrobe for my birthday.” She picked up her mirror off the bed when it started vibrating. “Hey.”
“Hey, Willaby tells me you’ve come to own a Midas Variant. What’s he look like?”
“Yes, you’ve not seen one?”
“No, but I heard about them before I came to Hogwarts but he was keeping them in seclusion. Are you bonding with it?”
“Not yet, but I like him a lot. More importantly, Inari is absolutely enthralled so I think your worries about her mating might be over.” She paused. “Is that a problem?”
“Merlin, no, that’s actually sort of exciting. I can’t see what sort of babies they have. His appearance?”
“Gold—entirely gold from claw to horn. His wings are practically transparent. I’ve named him Agamemnon.”
Harry hummed. “Lovely. Are you alone?”
“No, I’m having a slumber party with your ex-girlfriend and her cousin.” She smirked when he couldn’t keep the shock off his face. “No really.” She turned the mirror so he could see Fleur then Janelle. “Earlier we were naked. You totally missed out.”
“Your habit of getting naked with other witches outside of ritual circumstances wounds me,” Harry said with a sigh. “Tell my ex-girlfriend that her essay on magical flow dynamics was great.”
“I will,” Hermione agreed. “The next time you send me to visit a parselmouth, you might want to give them a warning. The man nearly fainted.”
“I wouldn’t send you to visit just any parselmouth,” Harry said. “How did you like the Grand Medusa?”
“They were exactly what I expected,” Hermione lied and flushed when he raised an eyebrow at her. “Question—why does Mr. Walsh create gold snakes?”
“He has dverger blood,” Harry said with a shrug. “They tend to horde gold in some form or another. He just likes to experiment with snakes and those most often end up gold. It’s a unique gift or a curse depending on how you think about it. He’s not good at creating non-gold variants of any species so he doesn’t breed his Grand Medusas often. He once had a pale yellow fire elemental. It was startling.” He paused. “I heard you had an altercation with Emerta Réamonn.”
“Yes, but Berdine Delacour explained the circumstances to me. She actually tried to protest my stance on necromancy. Her daughter glared at me like I stole her candy all night.” She paused. “I guess I did.”
“Did you just call me candy?” Harry questioned mildly as he stood up and started to walk through the house. “And no, you didn’t steal anything from that little girl. The entire situation was creepy and unfortunate.”
“You’re my favorite candy,” Hermione said and laughed when he blushed. “What are you doing?”
“I’ve just entered the kitchen. Thanks, by the way, I’m never living that down.” He moved his mirror around and showed her a room full of the inner circle of the Glain Neidr. “She did, in fact, receive a Midas Variant.”
She frowned at the groans and various hisses of displeasure she was greeted with across the mirror. “What?”
“You’re the first that we know of to even see the Midas Variant outside of his apprentice. Walsh is being outright stingy with them. How much did he charge you?”
Hermione flushed. “Hmmm, he was a gift.”
“Pardon me?” Harry questioned and frowned at her.
“Is that a problem?”
“That you accepted an expensive present from another parselmouth?” Harry questioned.
“Harry, that man is old enough to my grandfather,” Hermione sighed. “Besides, my mother accepted the snake on my behalf. Agamemnon is formally a gift to the House of Ross.” She raised an eyebrow when he scowled at her. “Keep looking at me like that, Potter, and I won’t let you see him. Besides, how would refusing such a gift be seen? He welcomed me into his shop as the Queen of Snakes. I thought the poor man was going to pass right out he was so excited to see me.”
“I’m not at all surprised actually. For some parselmouths your animagus form is a deity. Coatl worship is common in South America and I don’t know Walsh’s feelings on those things but it should be said that traditionally coatl are gold in color. The red on your wings is more a mark of your human traits presenting than what a coatl has in nature. I didn’t consider his gold-obsession when I asked you to pick up the snakes. He didn’t express any inappropriate interest in you, did he?”
“No, I think he barely refrained from patting my head. Though he did give mum his private floo address.” She frowned as she said it. “So, I’d like you to tell him to leave her alone.”
Harry laughed. “Darling, I’m not going to cockblock your mother. First and foremost, it’s her decision who she sees socially and second, I’d rather not have her return the favor. Anything we do to her she could literally triple on us. Remember the rule.”
“I’m not above setting some philandering old wizard on fire,” Hermione exclaimed and huffed when he laughed. “What are you doing anyways?”
“We’re planning a ritual. I need to create another anti-Dementor ward and we’re also considering building a version of it for the Gryffindor Circle. I was calling to thank you for my snakes and to ask about the Midas. I had no idea I was interrupting an all-girl orgy. I have to protest this, really, if you’re going to sleep with my ex-girlfriend I think I should at least get to watch.”
She laughed. “I can’t sleep with a girl who has bigger breasts than me. It’s a rule.”
“I have nothing to say on this topic,” Harry declared. “Because absolutely no answer to that statement would serve me.”
“It’s for the best really,” Hermione agreed. “Mum has a series of meetings tomorrow and I promised to make every effort not to be contrary during the course of them so I should go. I need all the sleep I can get to be pleasant to some of those witches.”
“I’d like to point out, provided you don’t tell your mother it was my idea, that the absence of contrariness in no way equals pleasant.”
She grinned. “I don’t know how you didn’t get sorted into Slytherin.”
“The hat belonged to Godric. He spelled it to sort all of his descendants into his house—regardless of their wishes, choices, or personality. Besides, it would be utterly crass for the Earl of Gryffindor to be sorted elsewhere.”
“As you say, my Lord,” Hermione murmured. “Don’t stay up late plotting with those old wizards. You already look like you need sleep.”
“Don’t talk about me with my ex-girlfriend.”
“Ah, too late, we’ve already told Fleur you’re an outstanding shag. What’s left?”
“Merlin, witches are the worst,” Harry complained and huffed when she just ended the call with a little grin. He put his mirror away and rolled his eyes when he noticed his entire inner circle looking at him with a mixture of pride and disconcertion. “One, not a single one of you is responsible for my prowess in bed and two, I’m an adult so I can have sex.”
Armand frowned. “I should’ve put a chastity spell on you after your opening.”
“That’s terrible and dark,” Harry told him gravely. “I’d never do such a thing to you.”
Castius smirked and sat back in his chair. “It’s hard to believe, sometimes, that you grew up. And moreover, your recent lack of shame is astounding. It took us six months to talk you into joining the conclave after you found out the induction ritual required you be naked.”
“Now he takes his clothes off at the least provocation,” Sirius said with a sigh. He stood from the table. “And since I gave you a very thorough sex talk against your will, young man, I will certainly take credit for you being an outstanding shag.”
Harry sputtered then blushed. “Dad.”
“That’s about all you said for the entire three hours I spoke,” Sirius agreed. “Hermione’s right—you look tired so don’t stay up all night. Clear?”
“Clear,” Harry promised as his father left the room. “Thaddeus, you had Draco at the Gryffindor Circle this afternoon. Was he uncomfortable?”
“No, he appeared to have no difficulties returning to the scene of his father’s death. He’s an excellent student across the board—strong minded and patient. His biggest concern these days is actually his witch.”
Harry sighed. “That’s his own bloody fault, you know. He hasn’t even offered her a promise ring.”
“I told him,” Thaddeus agreed. “He appears to be certain of his feelings but deeply concerned about hers.”
“Well, considering what he grew up with we should probably cut him some slack,” Armand said. “The lad watched his mother subjugated in a marriage she didn’t want for a decade before Narcissa ran. There is no telling what sort of abuses he witnessed his father do. If he expressed formal interest in her, Gerald Greengrass would put a contract on the table so fast that it would appear to have defied the laws of magic.”
The very idea of leaving his relationship with Hermione open to question was sort of horrifying but he knew he couldn’t compare his own circumstances to Draco’s. Despite some superficial similarities they were barely even friends. He closed his journal after staring at his agenda for a few minutes. There was no point in putting off.
“I need to have a conversation. It’s going to be uncomfortable and most of you will be really pissed off by the time I’m done but I’ve never shied away from saying what needs to be said. And through you all I’ve learned to do what must be done, no matter the personal consequences. I kept a huge secret from you for eight years and I know that has unsettled some of you. Some of you have lost trust in me because of it.” He paused at the glares that earned on him.
“Just speak your mind,” Armand instructed shortly. “And leave off insulting us, before we make you duel every single one of us tonight before you go follow your witch’s instructions and get your beauty sleep like a good boy.”
Harry huffed. “You’re a real git.” He sat back in his chair. “I’m going to remove my Muggle aunt from the long-term care facility she’s been living in since I was five. I’ve purchased her a modest but well-situated town house in London. I’ll be paying for a live-in house keeper and a private nurse to handle her rehabilitation. Early on, I wanted to send her out of the country but considering her health and age—I changed my mind. I need two of you to assist me in healing the injuries that have kept her bedridden. This isn’t a discussion as I’ve already made these decisions.”
Several of them were so angry they were practically vibrating. Castius left the table and walked across the kitchen. He braced himself on the counter and stared out the window. “I’m not capable of doing what you need. If I’m ever in the same room with that woman, I’ll murder her.”
Harry focused on Armand. The man’s smoky-grey aura was drifting on his skin. “And you?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because my mother asked me to.” Harry looked down at the table between them then met the older man’s gaze steadily.
“Thaddeus and I will see to this task on your behalf. You don’t have to see her,” Armand said after a long, tense silence.
“I have a duty here, Armand. I hate it and I don’t want it—but she’s my family.” Harry watched the man chew on that and wasn’t surprised when the older parselmouth’s aura darkened in some places until it was black. “You can’t ever do this in public; you’d scare the shite out of the sheeple in this country.”
Armand huffed and his aura retreated. “Castius, fix me a goddamned drink.”
The French wizard turned on his heel and left the room without a word. He returned in just a few minutes with a tray of glasses and an unopened bottle of dragonfire bourbon. Harry said nothing while they all poured themselves a glass. He’d expected a bigger scene and maybe a few furious exits. He wondered if this was the calm before the storm or if their relatively moderate response was more to do with the change in their dynamic. He’d not paid attention much to the changes in the conclave since he’d become High Warlock; mostly because they practiced so much magic without him due to school and his living in France while most of them were based in Britain.
Thaddeus finished his first and set aside the glass with purpose. “When?”
“I was going to do it during Yule break but I had Razel do some investigating and there are a few issues regarding her status that I didn’t consider. She’s actually the ward of her sister-in-law, Marge Dursley. Though the woman hasn’t visited my aunt since she signed off on her being placed in the facility. He thinks we can avoid a court proceeding but if not, I’m a blood relation and this Dursley woman isn’t. I’m more than willing to charm her into compliance if it comes down to it. I’d rather not draw attention to myself in the Muggle world until it’s time for me to claim my title there.”
“Razel will keep me informed. In the meantime, I’d like you both to visit her and determine what sort of healing she requires. We’ll develop a plan and we should probably start muscle regeneration potions at any rate. She’s technically a squib so there shouldn’t be issues in using magic to heal her.”
“Dumbledore won’t be happy,” Castius pointed out.
“He isn’t in a position to protest this,” Harry returned. “She is not and never has been his responsibility.”
“And killing her is entirely off the table?” Deadmarsh questioned suddenly. “Because putting her out of her misery would be just as merciful as healing and spending money on her she doesn’t deserve.”
Harry frowned at him. “She’s my mother’s sister.”
“She nearly starved you to death!” Castius snapped. “Have you told your father this bullshite?”
“He’s aware,” Harry said.
“And he agrees?”
“Not hardly, but he also realizes that it’s not actually his decision to make,” Harry returned and watched Castius flush. “I’m not asking you to agree or like it for that matter. This is something I have to live with, for better or worse, and I’ve made the best decision I could.” He frowned when the Frenchman started to speak. “I’m the one that will have to look my mother in the eye in the afterlife and explain myself, Castius. Some of us don’t plan to live forever.”
“She doesn’t deserve this!”
“Would you have me be a good man or one just as ugly and cruel as Vernon Dursley ever was?” Harry asked him quietly. “Do you want me to ignore the wishes of the woman who sacrificed her life for me? Is it your wish that I wallow in hatred and resentment the way Tom Riddle did until my magic is corrupt and my soul is irredeemable?”
“You know that I don’t,” Castius said crossly. “More than anyone else at this table, Harry, I know what that woman did to you. You may not bloody remember but I do! I’m the one that suppressed those memories.”
“I know that.”
“She doesn’t deserve your kindness or your attention,” Castius said finally. “I can’t feel differently about this. I’m not the most forgiving of men, you know.”
“I know that as well,” Harry agreed. “I’m not asking you to change how you feel about her or even approve of what I’m going to do. I just need you to accept it because I’m not going to spend the next decade of my life arguing with you about it.”
Castius grimaced. “Am I allowed at least a month of bitching?”
“Sure,” Harry agreed. “As long as you don’t do it for more than three minutes on any given day in my presence.”
“Your terms are less than desirable.”
“You do carry some blame for the man I am,” Harry pointed out. “Don’t dwell on it, you’ll only give yourself a headache.” He paused and considered how to phrase the question he had for the man who’d spent half a decade healing him. “Castius, do I have any memories of Vernon hitting my aunt?”
The French wizard frowned, and his eyes fluttered shut. His whole body stilled as he retreated into a meditative state. After nearly twenty minutes of dead silence, he opened his eyes and reached for the bottle. Thaddeus picked it up before he could and poured the man half a glass of bourbon. Castius threw back all of it and took a deep calming breath. “No, but you have memories of them arguing in upstairs where you couldn’t see from the cupboard they kept you in. Sometimes there was screaming and she’d beg him to stop, he was probably beating her. He screamed at her a lot because of her freak nephew.”
Harry curled his trembling fingers into a fist and let it rest on the table. “You don’t have to keep the memories active, Castius. You’ve carried them longer than I have at this point. I think after I get her settled in London that you should let them go, suppress them or have Armand remove them. They’re hurting you more than you keeping them is helping me.”
“If I could I would drop them wholesale into her head,” Castius said darkly. “So she could fully grasp her crimes against you. It matters not to me that she was his victim, too. She was an adult and we all know she could’ve escaped. Dumbledore left her a method of contact—an emergency communication orb that only had to be shattered to be activated. She starved you even when he wasn’t home to monitor what food you were being given. In the end, while he was a monster she was worse—you are her flesh and blood and she is the one that nearly murdered you. And it was all in an effort to keep her husband happy.”
Harry stared then sighed. “Your three minutes are more than expended.”
“I’ll be mirror calling you daily to ensure I get every single second I’m entitled to,” Castius said peevishly.
* * * *
Harry rolled onto his back and glared at the ceiling of his bedroom. He often slept alone at Hogwarts, though he honestly hadn’t since he’d almost died. Hermione might try to sleep in her dorm, but eventually she would appear in his quarters and slip into bed with him. He was used to her slight weight pressed against his side, one leg tangled up with his. He was deeply uncomfortable and it wasn’t all to do with the way his bond with his soulmate was straining due to their distance. He could feel her, on the edge of his mind, sleeping peacefully. She slept like a child really, never seemed to have trouble going to sleep or staying that way until morning. He didn’t know if she had nightmares and thought perhaps even now Emmie soothed them away before they became a problem.
His magic shifted and Harry sat up in the bed. The unease in him was not going to go away so he slipped from the bed, threw on some clothes and shoes. The wards on the house were calm, unmoved by whatever was disturbing his magic which was unnerving. He went down the hall, pushed open the door to his father’s suite. The outer room was empty which was not expected for three a.m. Harry knocked on the bedroom door and waited.
Sirius opened the door, tying a robe into place. “Why are you dressed?”
Harry glanced into the room and nearly rolled his eyes when he caught sight of Zale Wright half-dressed sitting on the bed.
“Something’s wrong,” Harry said. “In the village, I think. The house wards are calm and I’m not getting any notifications from the wards we set in the forest. It’s not Hogwarts either and I don’t have notifications for any other ward systems.”
“It’s not your witch?” Zale asked as he pulled a jumper over his head.
“No, she’s asleep and I’ve two house elves with her. I would know if she were in trouble of some kind.”
Zale slipped past him, picking up a pair of boots by the door as he did so. He glanced at Sirius. “Should I contact the DMLE?”
Sirius groaned but nodded. “Yes, it’s my official residence and it falls under their protection protocols.” He turned to Harry as Zale left the suite. “Do not say a word, lad. Where I put my dick is honestly none of your business.”
Harry huffed. “Right.” He drew his wand and turned towards the door. “Put on some bloody shoes, Dad.”
He left the suite, knowing that his entirely unexpected anger over Wright’s presence in his house was misplaced. Even if Castius had still been part of the picture, the two of them had made no secret of their open relationship. Harry knew that Castius had not one but two different lovers—one in Germany and another Paris. Lucas’ room was unexpectedly open and empty. He went down the stairs and found Lucas in the dueling room, sitting in the middle of the floor in the lotus position.
Pierce’s head jerked up and he turned slightly. “Harry, is something wrong?”
“Yes,” Harry said. “I’m going to activate the conclave seal and summon the inner circle. Something in the village is disturbing my magic.”
“Through these wards?” Lucas asked. “This house is warded like a high security prison.”
“It is,” Harry agreed and left his vassal in favor of the ritual room.
He stepped into the ritual room, walked to the seal in the center of the circle and stood on it then drew his wand. He activated the seal with a silent push of magic. He let his own unease and urgency leak into the seal to let them know that he was deeply concerned. Lucas appeared in the doorway of the ritual room fastening a dragonhide waistcoat. Harry stepped off the seal and drew the light weight dueling robe he kept in his bracelet out. He put it on and fastened the three buttons down his sternum. The wards thrummed gently as all four floos in the ground floor of the house activated and began delivering members of his inner circle.
In the back of his mind, his unease skyrocketed and Hermione woke up. He swore under his breath and immediately pulled his mirror. It was activating before he could say anything. “Mi.”
“What’s wrong?” She demanded.
“I don’t know but I need you to stay in Ireland.”
“No,” Harry said quietly. “Stay exactly where you are, Hermione.” She started to protest. “Please.” Her eyes welled with tears.
“Okay. Be safe.” The mirror went dark and he put it away. The wards shuddered and the war wards activated. “Goddamn it. It’s responding to a Dark Mark.”
He strode from the ritual room and wasn’t surprised to find the foyer of the house full of his inner circle. He moved through them easily and came to stand beside his father who was standing on the large stone front porch of their townhouse. There was a Dark Mark in the sky across the street and a hooded figure stood under it.
“Dramatic,” Harry murmured.
“One of us should probably go out there and kick his arse,” Thaddeus said thoughtfully.
“Rock, paper, scissors?” Lucas asked.
Sirius huffed and started to step forward. Harry wrapped one hand around his father’s wrist to still him. “Harry.”
“Wait,” Harry murmured. “He’s putting on a show and it would be a shame to not get our money’s worth.”
“He’s going to wake up the neighbors,” Harry said.
Sirius shifted and laced his fingers together with his son’s. Harry said nothing though it had probably been six or seven years since he’d held his father’s hand.
“Star.” His head of house appeared at his side in a flush of a disillusionment charm ending. She frowned at the Dark Mark. “Send an elf to each house on this block for security, don’t disturb the residents if you can help it and if any are awake—request that they stay inside for their own safety. And…” He looked down at her. “Go to Hermione and make sure she’s safe.”
Star nodded and popped away.
Harry rolled his eyes and aurors started appearing on the street. The hooded wizard immediately threw out a reductor curse. The auror he aimed at darted out of the way of the curse like a dancer and ten more hooded people appeared under the glowing Dark Mark.
“Son of a bitch,” Sirius hissed and released his son’s hand to draw his wand.
“Wait,” Harry murmured. “There’s more…they aren’t showing their full hand.” The Aurors had retreated to the edge of the house wards. Harry put his hand on the door frame, connected with the foundation ward, and all the members of the DMLE were gently sucked onto the property by the wards.
Amelia Bones huffed a little, turned on her heel and hurried up the front walk. “Minister, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Sirius assured. “Harry says there are more of them than we’re being shown.”
“How many wizards?” Bones questioned.
“Unknown,” Harry said, his eyes darkened and his nostrils flared gently. Black scales flicked gently out of his skin with little flashes of magic and even his father moved a bit away from him. He frowned. “Quin.”
“I’m here, my Lord,” Deadmarsh said as he moved forward and Thaddeus moved back slightly to give the necromancer room to get close.
“Do you smell it?”
“Yes,” Quin murmured.
“Do you know who they are?”
“No, but considering the very public stand your witch took against necromancy today it’s not really surprise you’re getting a visit like this.”
“Intimidation then,” Harry said.
“They obviously don’t buy into your press kit,” Sirius muttered. “What are you smelling that we’re not?”
“It’s a death cult,” Harry said shortly.
“And they smell like it,” Deadmarsh admitted. “Not a single member of my family has delved that deeply into necromancy. You’re looking at the real deal, Lord Black. A genuine death eater. Tom Riddle was a member of such a group once upon a time but he out grew them after he made his first soul anchor. He appropriated most of the symbolism for his own cause.”
“Genuine,” Sirius repeated. “Cannibalism?”
“It is common among the darkest of arts,” Armand said. “Harry, lad, go out there and show those idiots how much you don’t like their drama. If you don’t take a stand on this issue personally—it’ll only get worse.”
Castius replaced Quintin at Harry’s side. “I think I’ll go, too.”
Harry shrugged, turned to the group of wizards. “It’s terrible rude to come to a man’s house without an invitation in the middle of the bloody night!”
“You interfere in the magical affairs of others,” their leader said, his voice carrying across the street on a sonorous charm. “You would deny us the attention owed to us!”
Unease settled in his stomach at the very idea that a man like this could think that Hermione owed him anything. “My Lady owes you nothing, least of all, her attention.”
“I don’t agree.”
“Wanna fight about it?” Harry questioned and rocked back on his heels with a smirk.
“You arrogant little son of a bitch,” the man hissed.
Harry growled, took two steps off the porch and leapt from the steps human but landed on four legs, tail whipping dangerously in the air. Aurors scattered across their lawn in surprise as Castius joined him, as fifty feet of Hungarian Horntail. The group of wizards across the street scattered, too, when the two dragons crossed the ward line in a burst of horrifying speed. Harry caught their leader, slammed him face down in the snow and put one clawed foot on him while Castius sent the others screaming into the night.
The Frenchman regained his human form with a huff. “Pussies.”
Harry dug his claws into the man underneath him and he screamed.
“Harry,” Sirius admonished from the porch. “Lad, I’ve told you time and time again not to play with your food.” He drew his wand and shot a spell at the Dark Mark forcing it to fade away.
Harry snorted smoke and soot when the man fainted. He regained his human form with a swirl of magic then motioned one of the aurors forward. Kingsley Shacklebolt stepped out onto the street, pulled out a set of magical suppression cuffs and put them on the man. Harry watched him roll the man over and jerk back the hood. “Familiar?”
“No.” Kingsley shook his head. “He reminds me of Humphrey Nott’s boy but he’s got ten years on that kid.”
“Theodore,” Harry supplied. “He’s a sixth year with me at Hogwarts.” He started to say more but his magic shuddered in what could only be recognition. He turned just in time to see a large snake shoot out of the dark right at him. The snake hit him full force and he staggered back as his fangs sank into his shoulder then another body hit them. He felt the portkey activate and before he could say a single thing he was swept up in the magic. In the midst of the travel, he realized Shacklebolt had managed to hitch a ride with him and the snake.
They landed with a horrific thud and Harry pulled his personal athame from his bracelet. He shoved it into the snake with several sharp jabs and the creature screamed as it pulled multiple sets of fangs from his shoulder. He thrust the poisoned ritual knife up through the snake’s head and shoved the reptile off of them. “The same damned shoulder!”
Spell fire flew over their heads and Shacklebolt rolled to his feet in one fluid movement. He fired back with two wands as Harry staggered to his feet. He put his back to the Head Auror’s and drew his staff. They were in the middle of a ritual circle which was never a good sign.
“Anti-apparition!” Shacklebolt shouted then he conjured a shield which he whipped around to one side to deflect a stunner as Harry slammed his staff against the stone circle.
“They’re really going to bloody regret bringing me into their ritual space,” Harry snapped. He pushed his magic deep into the circle and the stone rippled under the feet then fell to dust much to the outrage of the people surrounding them. He shot a cutting curse across the space and took out another large pit viper. “Their snakes aren’t magically reinforced so feel free to cut them to pieces.”
“The wards are still standing!”
“They have a perimeter ward not attached to the ritual space,” Harry shouted as thunder rumbled around them.
“What the hell is that?”
“The wards might be preventing anyone from using tracking charms but they couldn’t stop me from using the ley line attached to the ritual space to activate the Glain Neidr’s adderstone. And that noise? That’s my Dad.” He drove away the wizards on his side of the circle with a series of reductor curses. “Push them out of the wards! They’ve got a surprise waiting for them out there. Find the wardstone and bust it, there are death adders in this circle with us so watch your back!”
He used his magic to shove the four wizards in front of him past the now glowing ward and ignored the screams that followed. Harry swung his staff wide, casting globes of light out in a wide arc, illuminating the entire field as he moved away from the Head Auror despite the man’s rushed protests. He put away his staff, slapped his wand hand against his left shoulder and hissed a healing spell as he ran. It wasn’t going to work long-term but his run in with a basilisk at twelve had made him immune to all magical snake venom so the bite wasn’t killing him just making him bleed a lot.
Harry drew his sword from the bracelet as he allowed his magic to pull him directly toward the death adder. She wasn’t trying to escape, he realized, but heading straight forward hissing nonsense at him. He understood that, at least, she was so crazed words were apparently beyond her. She lunged at him but he retreated and wrapped both hands around the sword’s grip and swung wide, severing her head. His relief didn’t last long as four vipers descended on him. The wards shattered with all the force of a bomb going off and Harry was thrown back across the ritual circle. He landed on his back and sat up to watch in shock as lightning gathered around his father and several bolts burst across the space—obliterating the snakes and leaving a crater in the ground.
Shacklebolt appeared at his side and helped him stand as Harry stored his sword. “When Sirius Black was an auror, Death Eaters ran from him on a regular basis. I bet some of these arseholes are really regretting dismissing all of that as rumor.” He winced when Black punched a hole through one wizard’s chest with another bolt of lightning. “He really shouldn’t be here, he’s the Minister for Magic for fuck’s sake.”
Harry started to respond but his dad was suddenly right there, he barely had time to look at Shacklebolt before he was jerked free of the Head Auror and apparated away from the scene. They landed in the secure arrival point of the Paris branch of Gringotts four breathtakingly fast hops later. “Where was I?”
“Fucking Bulgaria,” Sirius snapped. Harry relaxed against the older man’s grip aware that he wasn’t going anywhere until his father realized he was injured. His dad inhaled sharply against his hair then stiffened. “Blood. I smell blood. Are you hurt?” He stepped back and gapped at the torn material of his robe. “Harry?”
“He bit me, the one that captured me. The bite subdued me long enough for the portkey to activate. Or the portkey might have been set to activate when he bit me. It was deliberate either way. I couldn’t return to my animagus form with this kind of injury.”
Harry struggled with unbuttoning robe briefly before his father gently slapped his hands away and took over. He shrugged out of the robe with a hiss of pain and only glanced briefly at his shoulder. He had four deep puncture wounds, a half dozen smaller ones and his shirt was soaked with blood. Magical pit vipers were like fucking land sharks. “Dad.”
“Hey, lad, stay still. Your blood isn’t clotting.”
“Side effect of pit viper venom,” Harry said dully. “Listen, my clavicle is broken so this is going to be really fucked up.” His knees went a little weak and he curled his fingers tightly into his father’s robe. “About Hermione.”
“Lad, I can’t deny her the right to come here.”
“No, no, I want her. Bring her. I need to see her and make sure she’s all right. The mirror isn’t enough.” He took a deep breath. “I’ve lost a lot of blood. I think I’m going into shock.”
“Agreed,” Sirius said and barely kept his son on his feet when Harry passed out. He turned to the dverger who was waiting at the door way of the entry room. “Get Ragnok and Razel. We’ll need to prep the ritual space for the Glain Neidr. His Lady is in Ireland and she’ll need a secure portkey into the bank. Call his house elf Star to retrieve the portkey when it’s ready.”
* * * *
Hermione was really grateful Fleur had cast an anti-nausea charm on her before the portkey activated. The three of them landed in the arrival chamber for Paris with barely a stumble. She resolved to use dverger portkeys from now on, they were clearly superior.
“Razel, thank you for meeting me. Where’s Lord Potter?”
“He’s in the Glain Neidr ritual room beneath the bank.” He motioned them to follow.
“I thought his ritual space was in London,” Minerva admitted as they followed the dverger from the room. “I was in a ritual space in London that appeared to be the Glain Neidr’s.”
“He has a public ritual space in London,” Razel said. “It’s where we kept him when he was cursed and where he conducts a great many of his meetings in London. However, the Glain Neidr has a protected ritual space in Agharti and that is where Lord Potter currently is. Due to his injury, is father insisted he be placed in the most secure space possible in the bank and that space is within our realm.” He opened a door to reveal Piper Banner. “If you’ll wait here, Lady Potter, I’ll let Master Armand know you are here and he will bring you into the ritual space personally.”
“Thank you,” Hermione murmured. She turned to Piper. “Do you know anything?”
“Nothing that would ease you,” Piper admitted. “He’s on the cusp of physical and magical shock. He was bitten by a magical pit viper.” She paused when Hermione paled.
“One of Nagini’s children?”
“We’re unsure. She wasn’t at the scene herself but the remains of the snakes that were there were brought back to Britain for investigation.”
“Where was he taken?”
“Bulgaria,” Piper admitted. “He was taken by a death cult, Hermione. They were going to use him as bait to lure you. You public declaration concerning your participation in necromancy was admirable but it insulted and enraged some of the darkest practitioners on the planet.”
Hermione started to respond but the door opened and Armand appeared. She unlaced her cloak and passed it to her mother. “How is he?”
“He’s refusing to submit to healing until he sees you,” Armand said shortly. “Your separation so soon after the finalizing of your bond was ill-considered, on both your parts.”
Hermione blushed and nodded. “Yes, I know.”
“You can all come; we’ve opened the protocols for it,” Armand turned and left without another word.
“I think he hates me,” Hermione whispered to her mother as they followed the elderly parselmouth.
“He doesn’t,” Piper assured. “He wouldn’t speak to you at all if he hated you. There are people in the ministry he’s been giving the silent treatment for decades.”
Hermione certainly hoped that was true because Armand Dearing was very important to Harry which meant the mean old wizard was important to her whether he liked it or not. The wards of the room flowed over her skin as she crossed the threshold but she didn’t let it deter her. Harry was on a large adder stone, its structure had been altered into an altar. He turned his head, drawn she figured by the click of her heels on the stone, and met her gaze.
“I hate Bulgaria,” Harry said and held out a hand for her. He shifted on the altar, his bare toes curling against the pain he was in. She laced her fingers with his and stepped up onto the ledge of the altar so she could meet his gaze. “You okay?”
“Me?” Hermione demanded. “I’m not the one who got mauled by an evil snake.” She glanced at the wound and closed her eyes against the carnage. “You’re in a great deal of pain. Why haven’t you let them knock you out? I thought we agreed.”
“We did no such thing,” Harry protested. “You threatened me, which was charming, and I gave you diamond barrettes. That doesn’t sound like agreement to me.”
“No, in retrospect, it sounds like you distracted me on purpose, Harry James,” Hermione said and frowned when he grinned briefly. “Stop acting like this isn’t agony. It’s upsetting enough.” She brushed his hair from his forehead. The scar he was famous for, which was normally barely noticeable, stood out against his pale skin. “Will you let them try to knock you out? I’m not sure I can take them healing you while you’re conscious. My magic is stirred up like a hurricane in my core already.”
He frowned. “Can you feel this? The pain, I mean?”
“No, I know you’re hurting a lot more than you’ve let on but it’s not translating into some sort of pain for me. I knew you were hurt—I could probably tell you the exact moment it happened.”
“Sorry,” Harry murmured. “It was a dangerous situation that I didn’t take seriously because of how foolish it looked. I know better. We all do. My magic was telling me one thing but I was seeing another. I used our mutual safety to keep you in Ireland then turned around and did something stupid and arrogant.”
“Eh, if I wanted perfect I’d be chasing your Dad around Britain.”
Harry laughed unexpectedly and sucked in a breath when he shifted. “Okay. Wait outside?”
“You don’t want me to try to do a pain relief charm first?” Hermione questioned. “Your magic has submitted to me, Harry. It might allow me this.”
“If it doesn’t work are you going to be upset?” Harry questioned.
“No, well, yes but I won’t blame myself for it.” Hermione turned to Armand for guidance. The elderly wizard was standing near the head of the altar.
“What’s the most powerful pain relief charm you can cast that will last at least half an hour?”
Hermione pursed her lips briefly. “Oh, I used to use solacium for menstrual cramps before I received my contraceptive charm and I could maintain it on myself for several hours at a time.”
Armand stared. “You used a surgical pain suppressant on yourself for menstrual cramps?”
“Yes, starting when I was twelve.” She blushed when his mouth dropped open. “Is that a problem?”
“That particular charm is used mostly in permanent limb removal in combination with sleeping charms,” Harry said. “I’m surprised you didn’t murder half your classmates if your cycle was forcing you to use something like that.”
Hermione laughed. “Yes, well. I can cast it. It was the only pain relief charm I knew for years as a matter of a fact. I wanted one that would last at least until lunch break so I wouldn’t have to try to reapply it in class.” She released his hand and drew her wand then hesitated.
“Gather your magic,” Armand instructed. He joined her on the platform. “Let it well in your core like you would if you were casting a Patronus.”
“I haven’t learned that charm, yet.”
“We’ll have to work on that,” Harry said. “Come here.” She leaned down into his space and he cupped the back of her neck as he whispered, “Sometimes you pool your magic during sex. Do you do that on purpose?”
“Yes,” Hermione admitted. “Otherwise, I’d probably set fire to your bed on a regular basis.”
Harry laughed abruptly and released her. “Do that then.”
Hermione lifted away from him and closed her eyes. Everyone stilled around them as her skin started to glow with a soft gold light as her aura surfaced. Godric and Rowena appeared intertwined around his neck, slithered off him and left the altar. Hermione stared at Harry as she lifted her wand. “This is probably going to look like a nightmare.” Gold flames danced along her wand as she gave it a swish and cast, “Solacium!”
Harry shuddered against the flow of magic from her wand and gold flames rushed over his skin. He arched briefly then passed out, the thin white linen trousers he wore fell to ash. Hermione lowered her wand and watched her fire as it encompassed her wizard then turned to Armand. “I can maintain this for about forty minutes, I think. Let’s not dally.” She stepped down from the altar as the older wizard nodded.
“Don’t leave the circle,” Armand ordered. “The wards would cut off your connection to the charm.”
Hermione picked up Godric and Rowena as she went to join the other witches in the circle. Castius Arnou and Hiro Ito joined Armand at the head of the altar. If her fire bothered any of them, they made no show if it. Though she noticed that only Hiro Ito touched the gold flames without hesitating. Both Arnou and Dearing relaxed after a few seconds of contact, and they started vanishing bone fragments and repairing skin damage.
“This is amazing,” Fleur murmured. “I’ve never seen an elemental do something like that and my mother is a fire-witch.”
Hermione considered that. The term fire-witch was often used to refer to an elemental with a fire affinity. “Did you inherit that gift?”
“No, unfortunately. I didn’t even inherit Veela fire.” Fleur sighed. “Is this taxing for you?”
“Yes, but not over much. I’ll definitely need a nap when this is over,” Hermione admitted. Sirius joined them and turned to the older man. “How are you?”
“Still utterly perfect,” Sirius declared and laughed when she blushed. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and she leaned into him with relief. “I have McGregor investigating known death cults here and abroad. We’ll have a definitive list within the week and each High Warlock will receive a bluntly worded letter from the British Ministry of Magic regarding your stance on necromancy and my official backing of that position.”
“Will it be enough?”
“No, but it’ll ensure that if something like this happens again, I’ll be able to set down severe government backed sanctions to both the groups involved and their governments. I’ve people working on a declaration for the ICW and I need you to be prepared to make an oath on your magic. Can you do that?”
“Like Harry’s oath regarding the dark arts?” Hermione questioned. “Sealed by the Horde?”
“It would be best,” Sirius admitted. “No pressure but the clearer your stance and the more impossible it is for someone to force you into a situation for their own benefit, the better.”
“I’ll do it,” Hermione said and her gaze drifted back to Harry. “I don’t want him to spend his whole life at war on my behalf because of what these people think they’re entitled to.”
* * * *
As international messes went, Sirius figured his second argument with the Bulgarian Minister of Magic went much better than the first. The man was quite relieved by the deaths of a known but elusive dark conclave in his borders and wasn’t all that fussed about the mess the Glain Neidr had made in the process. The ICW was a little more put out by the fact that they acted on their own instead of contacting them for help regarding the kidnapping itself. Sirius was letting Dumbledore handle that which probably wasn’t the best decision he could’ve made but he was exhausted and pissed off all at once. Amelia Bones was giving him grief about leaving the DMLE behind but he’d barely spared them a glance once the members of the conclave had started disappearing. He’d demanded Armand take him along and the older wizard hadn’t protested.
On top of it, a large portion of the representatives in the ICW had actually shone up for the Yule Ball. They were always invited but as far as he knew, they’d barely bothered to show up at all in the past ten years. He knew the main attraction was currently on the dance floor. Harry and Hermione were waltzing—elegant and practiced as if they’d spent years dancing together. As much as Sirius sometimes regretted the intrusion of parselmagic in his son’s life, he couldn’t fault its healing practices. Harry had been exhausted but entirely healed by the time they’d left the bank the night before.
The chimes sounded for dinner to be seated and Sirius watched his son navigate the crowd in his direction, Hermione McGonagall tucked at his side. The young woman looked a bit uncomfortable and out of her element now that they were off the dance floor. He shared a look with Harry and they headed toward their assigned table. Unfortunately, her mother had been placed with the other Order of Merlin winners and Minerva had been gracious about sitting at the table for the first time in decades. Apparently, she’d made a hobby of ignoring the fact that Jonah McGregor existed for upwards of fifty years.
Visiting ministers from other countries had been seated at his table, which meant he soon found himself face to face with a half dozen people he’d rather not speak to at all much less have dinner with. He pulled out a chair for Hermione and by unspoken agreement, they tucked her between them. She seemed to relax at having a buffer on either side of her and offered the only other woman at the table a smile in greeting.
“Good evening dear, having fun?” Gitta Fromm questioned.
“Not at all,” Hermione admitted and grinned when the older woman laughed. “I think my picture has been taken several thousand times and I can’t even complain about it.”
“You’re a beautiful, young woman, I should think you’d be used to the attention,” the US Minister interjected.
Sirius barely refrained from frowning. He cleared his throat. “Madam Fromm, perhaps you could handle introductions?”
“Indeed,” Gitta said as she swirled her wine thoughtfully. “I do know all the names, don’t I?” She turned to the wizard who had interrupted her conversation first. “Minister Joseph Samuels and his son Baxter from the US, Minister Luca Azevedo from Brazil, Minister Daniel Flores and his son Andre from Peru, Minister Cyril Laurent from France.” She took a sip of her wine. “Everyone, meet Harry Potter, the Earl of Gryffindor and his betrothed from the House of Ross, Hermione McGonagall.” She focused on Harry. “How are you, lad? I heard you were injured in your most recent kidnapping.”
Harry took a sip of his water and smiled. “I’ve only actually been successfully kidnapped once and I’m fine, Madam Fromm. The Glain Neidr is lousy with healers and I’m always in good hands with my conclave.”
Gitta hummed under her breath and turned to Hermione. “A menace, indeed. I’m sorry for doubting you, dear.”
Hermione laughed and averted her gaze when Harry sent her a questioning look. She smiled then. “Harry named his first familiar after your great-great-grandmother, Madam Fromm.”
Gitta squinted briefly at the pair of them before focusing on Harry. “One of your snakes?”
Harry shook his head. “My first familiar is a snowy owl. It was quite a surprise to be honest as most parselmouths don’t find familiar bonds outside of reptile species. I’m a student of the Fromm Method in runic casting—it’s been an ardent hobby for me since before I ever held a wand.”
“I’ve heard you were quite talented in that arena,” Gitta said. “Will you be attending the International Academy after Hogwarts?” She glanced at Hermione. “The two of you?”
“I’d planned to at one time,” Harry said. “But I also want to attend Muggle university. I can study for my mastery independently and Master Ito will be here in Britain for the next decade.”
“Why would you bother with Muggle university?”
Sirius barely refrained from sighing. Andre Flores looked sort of horrified at the idea that Harry would be considering any sort of education outside of the magical world. He was reminded that there were some magical communities even more rigid and old-fashioned than Britain and it was no comfort. He watched his son retreat from the conversation, his expression closed off and he straightened slightly in his chair.
“I have a title in Muggle society that I’ll claim after my twenty-first birthday. In order to function, properly, in that world I need an education that is on par with my peers. It’s not something I can fake or use magic to ease the way. I have financial concerns as well as most of my estate holdings have Muggle aspects.”
“Are you required to claim the title?” Andre questioned. “I mean…you’re already titled where it’s important, correct?”
Harry’s gaze narrowed slightly but his expression remained neutral. “It would be dishonorable to ignore the duty that my family has been entrusted with by the Crown.”
“Such titles are not common place among our people,” Daniel Flores said smoothly. “We have a few dual citizens from other countries who have hereditary titles that they flaunt about in our country but they hold no influence and give them no duties among our people. British society is quite…feudal…is it not? Were you not forced to engage in an honor duel several months back?”
“It was a challenge,” Sirius corrected. “Be careful of your terms, Daniel, an honor duel would be an altogether different matter. I’m going to take it for granted that you meant no insult towards my son or his future wife.”
Flores blinked. “No, of course not. My apologies.”
“What’s the difference?” Andre questioned.
Hermione’s glass hit the table with a thud. “Honor duels are fought to settle differences between wizards in cases of adultery or some sort of intimate fraud. The violation of a courting period or a betrothal contract would qualify. A challenge is issued one wizard wishes to…”
“Put himself on the board, so to speak,” Harry said casually. “In Viktor Krum’s case, he was attempting to bully my witch into marrying him because he needed her money.”
“And you killed him,” Andre said faintly.
“It was all perfectly legal,” Harry murmured and picked up his water. “But that is hardly the sort of conversation we should have in such company, my apologies Madam Fromm.”
“Oh, no need. I never even met the man and I’m quite relieved he’s dead,” Gitta brandished her wand and picked up the menu card from her plate. “I am, however, ready to eat.”
* * * *
Harry was quite dismayed to find himself left to entertain both Andre Flores and Baxter Samuels. Hermione was dancing with his father. He let his gaze travel to them once then he focused on the conversation the two older boys were having in front of him about an French singer whom they both found quite attractive. He knew she’d been interviewed in the last edition of Witch Weekly but he hadn’t bothered to read Hermione’s copy of the magazine.
“What do you think?”
Harry focused on Baxter. His father had been the American Minister for a decade and the boy had never worked a day in his life—he’d just turned twenty-four. “About Magda?”
Baxter laughed. “Yes.”
“She’s pretty, I guess, but she sounds like an outraged hippogriff and she has terrible table manners. I’ve never interacted with her personally but I’ve seen her at quite a few events in the past few years.” His gaze flicked back to Hermione, she was laughing at something his father was telling her. “She’s got Siren blood, you know. That’s why her concert experiences are so enthralling to some people.”
“So the betrothal thing? That’s for real?” Baxter questioned. “You’re just sixteen and already engaged to be married. Isn’t that kind of odd?”
“No, not odd.” Harry pushed his magic into his water glass and it filled. “It’s actually fairly common for soulmates to marry as early as seventeen in most of Europe. There won’t be anyone else, ever, so there is no need to pretend otherwise. Magic gave us a gift.” He watched his father escort Hermione to the tables and walk away. Hermione slipped into her chair just a few seconds later and picked up his water glass. “If he told you a terrible story about me, don’t believe him.”
Hermione grinned. “He was telling me all the Ministry gossip. I could write a column for Witch Weekly for an entire year based on that conversation. What are you discussing?”
“Magda,” Baxter interjected quickly. “Do you like her music?”
Hermione’s nose scrunched up as she considered the question. “Isn’t she one that screeches like a drunk owl?”
Harry laughed. “Yeah, that’d be her.”
“Well, her breath control is a thing of beauty actually and I think she might actually be able to sing but she’s doing that whole gimmick thing to make money which is a shame. But then her fans really don’t care if she can sing—they’re much more interested in her body than her voice.” She shifted so she could lean against Harry. “I’m bored out of my mind but I promised to rescue Fleur in ten minutes so she can escape the French Minister’s clutches so that might be entertaining. He keeps hauling her around the room introducing her to everyone like she’s a beloved relative when they’re just fourth cousins, twice removed or something. Thank Merlin, she’s only a fourth Veela or she’d have already combusted into a ball of furious feathers and flame.”
Harry laughed and glanced around until he spotted Fleur. “She does look vexed.” He ran his fingers along her neck and Rowena appeared in a flush of flame. He pulled the snake free and glanced towards Andre and Baxter. Both young men were white-faced. “Problem?”
“I just didn’t realize she was wearing a snake,” Andre said faintly. He focused on Hermione. “That doesn’t bother you, Miss McGonagall?”
Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Why would it?” She tucked her fingers into Harry’s cravat and removed Godric. The elemental lengthened and wrapped himself around her wrist, lifted his head, and displayed his hood. “I wear Rowena almost all the time actually. This guy is Godric. Are you all right? You’re quite pale.”
Andre laughed briefly and shook his head. “It’s just not very common in my country to see snakes outside of cages.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Then you must find my animagus form quite discomforting.”
She lifted Godric to Harry’s shoulder and the snake slithered under his collar. Rowena lit with fire as she pulled her free from Harry’s hand, brought her to her hair and the elemental swept up around the intricately braided bun she was wearing. Black fire flickered briefly through Hermione’s hair before the snake calmed.
“I’m sure your form is as beautiful as you are,” Andre said and offered her a charming smile.
Hermione shifted closer to Harry as she sipped water from his glass. “I’d probably give you nightmares.” Her gaze flicked to Fleur. “Right. I’m going in.” She put down the glass, stood, straightened the fall of her dress, and marched off.
“You’re incredibly lucky,” Baxter murmured. “I know men who’d sacrifice a limb for to have such a magically gifted wife. I visited the Book of Souls several years ago, but it didn’t open for me.” He turned to Harry. “How did it feel when it opened for you?”
“It was…” Harry took a deep breath. “At the time, it was the most amazing and magical moment of my entire life. I didn’t think anything would ever top it. Then, well.” He shrugged and his gaze drifted to Hermione who was skillfully extracting Fleur from her circumstances. “I met her.” The American looked like he wanted to ask another question but Harry was saved by Lucas’ abrupt appearance. “Andre Flores and Baxter Samuels meet one of my vassals, Baron Lucas Pierce.”
“Baxter and I went to the same school, my Lord,” Lucas said coolly. “You’re behaving yourself in the Earl’s presence, I’m sure Baxter.”
Harry watched Samuels stiffen briefly before a jovial but entirely fake expression settled into place.
“We’re fine, Lucas. This is the refugee table—Hermione is currently rescuing Fleur.” His gaze returned to his witch. “At this point, I think the French Minister might need saving from them.”
“Do you really require vassals in this day and age?” Andre asked in confusion.
Harry quirked a brow. “Require, no, but it is a duty of my noble house to maintain proper relationships with the magical houses aligned with my own both in times of peace and war. While that hasn’t been a problem for your country, it would be wise to remember that the last magical war in Britain ended when I was fifteen months old. It would be ignorant and irresponsible to ignore that fact and live the life of leisure you seem to think I should.”
Hermione returned without Fleur.
“Oh, I helped her evade her mother and sneak out with Bill,” Hermione explained
Harry turned to Hermione “Baxter was with Lucas at the academy in New York.”
“Oh,” Hermione said and turned her attention toward Baxter. “What are you studying for your mastery?”
“I chose to go into politics like my father instead of continuing my magical education,” Baxter said smoothly.
Hermione didn’t bother to hide her disappointment. She frowned and placed her little red sack purse on the table. She loosened the gold cord that kept it closed. “That sounds terribly boring actually. I’m considering transfiguration and charms personally.” Inari’s tail flicked out of the bag then the dragon-snake climbed out with a little shake of her body.
Harry leaned forward and took a peek at Agamemnon who was at the bottom of the dimensional space, curled up on what looked like a pallet of hot coals. He sighed. The stubborn little thing hadn’t let Harry near him yet. It was annoying. He plucked Inari up from the table and rubbed his thumb under her chin. “How do you like your party accommodations, darling?”
“Better than being left at home,” Inari snarked and wrapped her tail around his hand. “Stupid Rowena in my witch’s hair. Make her stop, Harry.”
Harry laughed and sat back in his chair. “If I have to share her with you then you have to share her with Rowena.”
“Life rarely is, lass,” Harry said as he petted her. Her wings fluttered in irritation.
“What’s she saying?” Baxter asked.
Harry decided to ignore the fact that Andre Flores looked quite ill. “She’s jealous of Rowena. Our familiars are still adjusting to our bond. Both Inari and Hedwig are a problem actually. Hedwig actually moved herself to our house in Hogsmeade to nest instead of nesting my quarters as I would’ve preferred. She doesn’t like Inari, at all, and is upset that Hermione bonded with her. Rowena doesn’t seem to care about any of it.”
“Crookshanks adores Rowena and is avoiding Inari,” Hermione said. “That’s my cat.”
“How many familiars do you have, Lord Potter?” Baxter asked in confusion.
“Three,” Harry said. “Hermione has two but she’s on the verge of bonding with another dragon-snake.” He glanced towards the purse as Inari crawled out of his hand, darted across the table, and dived into the bag. “But snakes are naturally attracted to me due to my gifts in parselmagic so I have many.”
“My father was disappointed when I proved to not be a parselmouth,” Andre said. “My mother was one but she passed when I was very young so I don’t have a lot of exposure to the craft.” His gaze shifted briefly to Rowena who was still visible in Hermione’s hair. “My mother was killed by a runespoor because she refused to bond with it.”
Harry winced. “I have several runespoor in Paris. They’re not the kind of snake you can let your guard down around.” Hermione retied the little purse and she offered it to him. He tucked the bag into a pocket in his robes. She shifted her chair so she could rest almost fully on him. He pressed a kiss to the side of her jaw and ignored the flash of cameras in the distance. “Tired?”
“Very,” Hermione admitted and covered a yawn with her hand. “I shouldn’t have said no to the stimulant that Healer Arnou offered me. I just thought I’d get enough sleep last night.”
“Were you involved in the incident?” Baxter questioned with a frown. “That wasn’t reported.”
“No, I was in Ireland when he was kidnapped,” Hermione said. “But I went to Paris when he was recovered and assisted his conclave in the healing process.” Her gaze drifted around the room and frowned slightly. “Who is that man in the blue robes?”
Harry’s gaze followed hers. “David Connolly. He’s pretty high up in the Healer Corps for St. Mungo’s and works as a liaison healer for the DMLE which is how he got an invitation to tonight’s ball. If he’s making you uncomfortable, we can tell my Dad.”
“No, I don’t want him to think he’s getting to him with all of his creepy staring.”
Lucas shifted slightly in his chair. “I could go get rid of him.”
Harry shook his head. “I’d rather you not pick a fight with him, Lucas. You know how gifted he is and there really isn’t enough room in here to have the kind of brawl I’d like to indulge in.”
Lucas grinned and sat back with a shrug. Then exhaled sharply. “Looks like Master Armand is taking care of it.”
Harry sighed and turned to watch the older man all but frog march Connolly out of the room. “Well, even I’d hesitate to pick a fight with Armand. He’s vicious and prone to permanent limb removal.”
“Why is he a problem?” Baxter questioned.
Hermione stiffened a little against Harry but managed not to outright frown at the American when she said, “It’s private.”
“Is he going to challenge you?” Andre questioned.
Harry wondered if the older boy was completely clueless or being rude on purpose. “We are no longer in a courting period as such a challenge for her affections is completely out of the question for an honorable wizard. Since we are magically betrothed, it would be considered attempted adultery which is a crime in Britain. But we are, as you said earlier, largely feudal when it comes to such things so no one would blink an eye if I killed him for his encroachment.”
“I see,” Andre murmured. “I was not aware that things were so primitive here.”
Baxter snorted. “Oh, Andre, don’t be so melodramatic. Besides your country still burns criminals at the stake.”
Andre flushed. “Not in over fifty years, Baxter.”
Armand arrived at the table so abruptly that even Lucas jumped a little. He focused on Harry. “I’ve informed your father that I’ll be escorting you and Miss McGonagall to the floo so you can return home to rest.”
Harry stood and helped Hermione with her chair without a word. “Yes, sir.”
* * * *
“Good afternoon.” Hermione shifted on her feet as she looked over the crowd that had gathered in the Atrium of the ministry for the press conference her future father-in-law had called on her behalf. “I’ll be making a brief statement then I will accept a limited number of questions.” Her fingers curled around the podium and she glanced toward her mother who gave her a firm nod.
“Harry Potter visited the Book of Souls when he was eight years old.” The crowd shifted, grew still and silent. A great many reporters in the room looked shocked. She knew he’d never spoken of it in public outside of what had happened in the Wizengamot recently. “It was the only thing he asked for to celebrate his birthday that year and when he was asked why he wanted to see it—he told his father that Fate had placed a terrible burden on him and he deserved a soulmate.
“There are many legends and theories about soulmates and about the Book of Souls itself. It is a romantic notion—the idea that Lady Magic created us for each other and reunited us here in this life so that we could meet and love again. Sometimes, in my dreams I see glimpses of other lives we’ve lived together which I attribute to the manifestation of my animagus form.
“We are here today because of my animagus form and the interest both here locally and abroad concerning my participation in future magical endeavors that I’m uniquely suited to—among them necromancy. I was questioned regarding my refusal to indulge in such magic before the Witch’s Council just days ago. I wasn’t particularly diplomatic about my feelings regarding the practice of necromancy and as a result a death cult from Bulgaria made off with my wizard in an effort to lure me into their control or merely because they were stupid. It hardly matters, they’re all dead.” A little gasp of shock filtered through the crowd.
“It crosses my mind there might be other such individuals out there that see him as a path to my cooperation or perhaps one day one of our children might be viewed as a bargaining tool.” She cleared her throat. “This afternoon, I’m going to take an oath on my magic that will be sealed by the Horde to never, under any circumstances practice necromancy. Questions?”
She bit down on her lip when several hundred hands shot in the air. Hermione turned to her mother for help and Minerva stood. She walked to the podium and glanced over the crowd. All of the hands dropped.
“Chad Buckland, Wizarding Times, one question and mind your manners,” Minerva said.
The wizard in question, stood with a flush. “Thank you, Professor.” He fidgeted under her gaze then cleared his throat. “Miss McGonagall, you used your animagus form to great advantage in the ritual that saved Lord Potter just a few weeks ago. What happens if you need to do so again?”
“No matter what anyone might think, I didn’t perform necromancy that night. Lord Potter’s spirit might have been beyond the Veil but his body lived and could’ve done so for several weeks due to the magical intervention of his conclave. We acted quickly because it was feared his spirit would become too comfortable beyond the Veil. I’d have never forced his return.”
Minerva’s gaze flicked around as she made another choice. “Sigourney Greengrass, Witch Weekly.”
The witch hopped up, brandishing a pink quill.
Hermione held up a hand. “Do not ask me a personal question about Lord Potter.”
The reporter shrugged good-naturedly. “Who decided the content of the vow you’ll make this evening?”
“I constructed the vow personally but took advice for both my mother and Master Hiro Ito.”
“Joseph McGregor, the Daily Prophet. Final question so make it count for everyone.”
The young man nodded. “You said, Miss McGonagall, that you fear your future husband or children could be used to force you to use your animagus form to perform necromancy. Do you truly believe this vow will solve the problem?”
“I believe it will make me less attractive to the sort who would stoop so low as to use my family against me. Yes, it will make some people extremely angry and perhaps they might wish to lash out. But I won’t be able to assist them in their endeavors—either willingly or through coercion. I will, essentially, no longer be worth the risk.”
* * * *
A small contingent from the ICW, the Witch’s Council Triumvirate, and a single reporter, who had won a lottery, were in attendance in the Hall of Mages in the bank. The Horde attendance was on par with Harry’s ascension to Patron. A group of rarely seen female dverger had been gathered to attend to Hermione’s vow. Not a single male had been allowed on the main floor of the chamber once the dverger priestess began casting her circle. Hermione had bathed in private and donned the spun mithril ritual robe she’d been given by Ragnok.
Her gaze went to the gathered crowd and she focused on her mother. The older woman gave her a firm nod. Hermione stepped confidently up onto the raised stone platform. A hush fell over entire chamber as runes in the circle lit with golden fire as her magic interacted with the circle the priestess had drawn. The dverger females were slight of stature and slender of form which had surprised her—they were delicate in all the ways their male counterparts were not. The tallest of them barely reached her shoulder.
Fire danced around the bottom of her robe as she moved to stand in the center of the circle. The fire spread out over the dais but the priestess and her coven remained unmoved and appeared unconcerned by magical fire. Hermione relaxed. While her fire wasn’t beyond her control, the runes in the circle and woke up her magic in a way that she couldn’t resist. The priestess stepped forward and proffered a glowing orb.
Hermione took the orb and its magic settled on her heavily. It had been spelled heavily for truth and honesty. Just holding one was an immense magical burden. Light arced off of it as she held it and she took a deep breath—a sound heard around the room due to the sound amplification spells on the circle.
“What brings you into my ritual space, Fire-Witch?”
Hermione blinked at the title but spoke confidently despite the way the orb was pushing a confession from her mouth, “Love, fear, anger, and the madness of others.”
“Yes,” the priestess agreed. “The ambition of others often force the good among us to take drastic paths.” She drew a glowing copper and crystal stave from thin air and cast it wide. Magic swept over the circle, stirring Hermione’s fire but not extinguishing it. “Lex veritatis!”
Hermione’s knees weakened briefly but she stilled herself against the heavy wave of dverger magic. Then a very familiar magic touched her—just a thread—and it wove around her and the ritual space. It was startling and for the first time, she began to understand the depth of Harry’s magical relationship with the Horde.
“Speak your oath, Fire-Witch.”
Hermione’s fingers curled slightly against the orb and her nails clicked gently on the glass. “I, Hermione Isobel of the House of Ross, do solemnly swear on my magic the following: I will never under any circumstances perform necromancy on the living or the dead. I will not willingly or knowingly participate in a dark ritual or rite. I will hold my magic sacred. I will never seek to control or subjugate another person through any magical means. My craft is Light and I will do all that I can to keep it so for as long as I may live. So mote it be.”
“I, Lenore, daughter of Emal, declare this oath magically sound and bound in truth. May you walk the lightest of paths your whole life, Hermione, daughter of Minerva.”
Hermione could only stare as another of the coven stepped forward and removed the orb from her hands. Lenore, the Chieftain’s wife, had never left Agharti as far as anyone knew. She’d hadn’t been seen in public in all the long years he’d been married to her. Silence fell around them, her fire flowed off the dais and covered the entire floor of the large chamber as they stared at one another. She hadn’t a bloody clue what to do or say. No one had prepared her to meet what was essentially the dverger queen.
She gathered the folds of her robes and slid to her knees with as much as grace as she could muster under the circumstances but didn’t lower her gaze. “I am honored by your time and attention, High Priestess Lenore. May our Lady Magic continue to bless you.”
The little dverger queen quirked one eyebrow and offered her a smile—full of pearly sharp teeth—then she proffered the beautiful fire-stave she’d used to open the ritual. “Those who are tempered by fire among my kind are gifted with a stave of copper and crystal. This is my gift to the Countess of Gryffindor—may it embrace you and your magic to the fullest measure.”
Hermione held out her hands, fingers slightly trembling, and accepted the fire-stave. Magic arced off it and sparks, more than she’d experienced with her wand, showered them both for nearly a full minute. Her fire retreated to her, spun around them both in a dance of flame and light then fell away as her magic calmed. She realized, then, that her magic had been seeking the magical focus the entire time she’d been in the ritual circle.
“It is my pleasure to accept your gift, High Priestess Lenore.”
* * * *
Harry found his witch sitting on a bench in one of the ritual preparation rooms. She’d put her dress and tights on but her boots were piled at her feet. The fire-stave was on the bench beside her and Hermione had her face covered with one hand, her shoulders shaking slightly. Her posture wasn’t tense and he couldn’t feel anything through their bond that felt like misery. In fact, had he not been looking at her he would’ve assumed her to be elated based on their connection.
He took off his coat as he stepped into the room and put it beside her own before joining her on the bench. She turned to him then, crawled into his lap and continued to cry softly against his neck. Overwhelmed, he thought. Due to her childhood, Hermione had a difficult time with gifts—especially grand ones. She’d confessed to him one night after they’d nearly exhausted themselves making love that her parents had stopped giving her gifts somewhere around her seventh birthday. And eventually, they’d taken their last gift back from her and sold it. Harry had briefly wondered if he should try to seek out the violin she’d learned to play on but dismissed it as a potentially too painful for her.
A soft clearing of a throat gained his attention and he looked up. Armand was standing in the doorway, looking utterly confused. It was almost amusing as Harry had rarely ever seen the man in such a state. The one and only time, in fact, had been the day that they’d discussed Harry’s apprenticeship as a parselmouth. He’d burst into tears when he’d been told that Armand wasn’t to be his mentor. But then, he’d been just six at the time so he cut himself some slack on the whole crying thing. Harry pressed a kiss against Hermione’s temple.
“You’re making Armand have a confused face.”
Hermione laughed abruptly and exhaled sharply. “Sorry. I’m a complete nutter, obviously.”
“It was a very surprising experience,” Harry said diplomatically and shifted her around in his lap so he could put on her boots. He picked both up off the floor and placed them on the bench. “None of us saw that coming—the gifting of a fire-stave outside the Horde is unheard of.”
Hermione glanced towards the fire-stave but frowned as Harry tucked her left foot into the boot and activated the charm that laced it up to her knee. “Is it…because of you?”
“No, I’d think not,” Harry murmured. “The Horde has never gifted anything to me in such a fashion, Hermione. We have a symbiotic relationship built on service to one another. What happened between you and Lenore is more of an offer.”
“The High Priestess of the Horde is an elemental, like you,” Armand said shortly. “I believe within the year you will receive a formal invitation to learn from her. Such an offer is an immense honor—I do hope you’ll make a careful decision.” He turned to leave then glanced their way again. “Fortunately for you both, the dverger don’t require periods of celibacy during their training.”
Harry laughed when Hermione blushed furiously. He tucked her other boot on and laced it as Armand disappeared. “He’s such an arsehole.”
Hermione huffed. “Witch Weekly published the entire transcript of the Witch’s Council meeting, did you know that?”
“I read it this morning,” Harry said. “Dad found it very entertaining. He hates Emerta with the passion of an out of control fiendfyre so you can imagine how much he enjoyed reading about her being put in her place.”
“She’s a real twat,” Hermione muttered and swung her feet a little. “I like this—being in your lap.”
“I like it, too, but we promised quite a few people dinner so we should go do that.”
“Bah,” Hermione said with a huff. “How am I supposed to carry the fire-stave? It’s not going to fit in a standard holster.”
“There are special dimensional stores for staves—crafted to keep their magic safe from outside influences when it’s not in your hand. I don’t have one in my vault—it’s one reason I had the trunk bracelet created.”
Hermione picked up the fire-stave and they both stared at it. “Do you think you can touch it?”
“I don’t know,” Harry murmured but even as he said it, he reached out and brushed his fingers over one of the crystals. Magic glanced over it and sparks snapped at him. “Huh.”
“What?” Hermione questioned.
“It’s male,” Harry said, unable to keep the shock out of his voice. “I’ve never…that’s so weird.”
“Well, I thought the same thing but is it really weird?”
“Very,” Harry murmured. “I’ve never encountered a single staff or wand that felt male before.”
“But your staff is made of magical wood. This is dverger-wrought copper,” Hermione said as she turned it over in her hands. It was just seventeen inches long, the copper was twisted and at some points braided around shining crystals. Each crystal, including the large one at the top, had an eternal flame burning inside it. “Why did you name your staff?”
“It’s a tradition of Master Ito’s. If he consents to build you a staff—you must honor it with a name when you accept it. Do you want to name the fire-stave?”
Hermione shook her head. “No, it would be like giving myself another name or something. And that is odd since it does feel male.”
“Well, many religions believe that we are made of two energies—male and female.”
“Does that bother you?” Hermione questioned.
“No, not at all. Why would it?”
Hermione shrugged. “I don’t know. I just think that some men would have some problems with it.”
“I was raised by a man who makes no bones of his bisexuality,” Harry said. “I don’t have any of those sorts of hang-ups about gender and sex. He asked me before I touched the Book of Souls if I wanted a male or female soulmate and I told him that I didn’t care—that Magic would give me someone perfect for me.”
Hermione frowned. “Your father should be punished soundly for what he’s done.”
Harry laughed. “What’s that?”
“You’re always saying perfect things like that. It’s really terrible and annoying,” Hermione said. “I didn’t know what to say to her—was it right? I didn’t offend anyone with it?”
“It was obviously unpracticed and I think she caught you off-guard on purpose to see how you’d react. You did very well and no one, least of all her, was offended.”
She slid off his lap and pulled the figure hugging jade green dress down until it was settled properly and glanced his way. “Okay?”
“You look good enough to eat. Maybe we should skip dinner.”
She grinned. “I’m more than willing to be dessert.”
The huff of laughter caught them both off guard. Harry stood as Lucas appeared in the doorway. “Ready?”
“More than,” Lucas said, clearly amused. “Unless you’d like to skip dinner entirely.”
Harry was really tempted but he also thought he should spend some time with his vassals and such opportunities were rare due to his being confined to Hogwarts so much. “I made reservations. It would be rude not to show up.” He stood. “But we have time to go to Ollivander’s to check his options for her fire-stave.”
Hermione picked it up and it glinted with magic. “Can you put it in your bracelet for the time being?”
Harry offered his arm instead. “I doubt it would allow me but it should let you.”
Hermione touched the bracelet and magic rushed between them as the stave trembled slightly in her hand then disappeared. “He didn’t like it.”
“He’s got a lot of personality,” Harry agreed.
* * * *
On the Alley, Thaddeus and Piper moved out ahead of them while Lucas walked with them on Hermione’s left so she was tucked between the two of them. Bill and Fleur appeared to be strolling behind them at a leisurely place. Harry just shared a look with Hermione who looked more bemused by his vassal’s antics than alarmed. It was effective, however, as not a single person appeared interested in invading the little bubble around the two of them they’d created.
Garrick Ollivander was waiting at the entrance of his shop and had the door opened as soon as they turned to enter. “I’ve been waiting for an hour!”
Harry grinned. “Mr. Ollivander.”
“A dverger fire-stave,” Ollivander said excitedly. “I have just ten options but we can do a custom build if nothing suits.” He waved them all in, put up the closed sign, and locked the door. “Now, let’s see this beauty up close. I wish I’d brought my omniculars to the ritual! I could barely see it from my location.”
Hermione shed her coat and blinked in surprise when Piper held out a hand for it. “Thank you, Piper.” The older woman just offered a smile in return. She touched Harry’s bracelet and the fire-stave snapped into her hand with a burst of magic. “He didn’t like being confined in the bracelet.”
“Ah,” Ollivander said. “Not a surprise. The bracelet is not within your magical domain and therefore not a proper environment for the stave when it is not in your hand. You must guard the magic of the fire-stave carefully. It could be influenced. You said he. It feels male to you in energy?”
“Yes, very much so.” Hermione carefully put the fire-stave down on the counter and watched the elderly wand maker as he leaned forward to study it. “He also feels…”
“Mated to your magic,” Ollivander supplied. “That’s what happened when you accepted the stave—a magical mating of sorts. It’s not unlike a familiar bond. It happens with highly magical focus objects. A fire-stave is intelligent and it will guide you much like the ancient athame you already have. Speaking of.” He put a large velvet lined tray on the counter behind the stave. “These are the dimensional stores I have on hand—each is large enough to hold your wand, the stave, and a ritual knife. They are especially designed to hold and shield a staff or stave.”
Hermione let her fingers drift over the pretty ones first but none of them felt right. A plain band of dragon black dragonhide sparked when she touched it but it wasn’t quite right. She frowned as she picked it up and rubbed it with her fingers. The runes of the dimensional store glinted under the pressure of her magic and fire danced over her fingertips. “They’re all spelled to resist elemental fire.”
“All of these, yes,” Ollivander said. “I have a few others for those who buy such things as more of a status symbol. Those won’t work for you. It’s not quite right, is it?”
“No, but it’s closer than any of the others.” She frowned as her fire danced over it then with her free hand pulled the mithril snake the Potter elves had given her from the upper part of her wand arm. It became visible in her hand and she stared at it intently. “Oh, I see.”
She put the bracelet down on the counter, straightened the snake out beside it and stared at them. “Can…we put them together?”
“Hmmm,” Ollivander said and removed the box from the counter. He plucked up the snake and the bracelet. “Yes, I agree. You’ve worn this for several months—it’s intimately entwined with your magic.” He put them down in front of him and pulled his wand. “Once they’re mated, trying to separate them would destroy both.”
“Star.” Hermione turned to the elf as she appeared. She raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t pop.”
Star huffed. “Like I let you go in dverger ritual circle without me nearby.” She lifted up on her toes to look at the bracelet and the snake. “The merger not interfere in our ability to locate you. It be simple location charm, locked with password. Very strong elf magic for certain but it not hurt it to be part of something new.” She focused on Ollivander. “The configuration be open, Garrick.”
Ollivander nodded. “You’ll have to lock it after the merger.” He motioned her around the corner of his counter and Star joined him. She climbed up onto the stool next to him and he returned his attention to his task. He picked up the mithril snake with careful hands and placed it on top of the half-inch wide strip of dragonhide. “Coniungo.” The spell shot of his wand with a bolt of energy but then turned into a stream which he worked up the length over and over again until the two were twined together in a twisted kind of braid. “Once you appear in Witch Weekly with this—I’ll be undulated with young girls wanting one.”
Star snorted. “We unable to keep the hair ornaments in stock. I make special snake for you—we split profits.”
“Deal,” Ollivander murmured. “I’ve had to make over three hundred copies of her wand holster. I get owl orders from other countries on a weekly basis. I’ve been donating a percentage of those proceeds to the Foundation—only fair. I used to sell less than a fifty holsters a year.”
Harry noticed Hermione was blushing and just nudged her a little.
“Something to get used to, I guess,” Hermione said faintly.
“None of them get an exact replica,” Ollivander said. “I won’t make a true copy of this either—it could be used against you in some fashion if someone had an exact replica they might try to switch them out when you were asleep or maybe even leave a copy around for you to pick up and be cursed by it.” The spell ended. “Lovely. Star?”
Star reached out and touched the dimensional store. It glowed in under her hand and the buckle of the original dragon hide bracelet merged into the mithril. When she was finished, she lifted her hand and the clasp was revealed to be the bejeweled head of the snake. “Very good, Garrick.”
The wand maker grinned. “I look forward to my snakes—gold and silver, please.”
“Gold and silver,” Star agreed. She turned to Harry. “I go babysit Sunshine unless you need me.”
“No, we’re good.” Harry turned to watch Hermione put on the bracelet as Star popped away. “She’s getting abrupt in her old age.”
“I’m telling on you,” Hermione informed him seriously as she fastened the bracelet on her left arm and picked up her stave. “At the first opportunity, because that was mean.”
Harry laughed. “She’ll forgive me. How does it feel?”
“Weird,” Hermione admitted. “Good but weird.” Flames leapt out of her fingers, trailed up her hand, and enveloped the bracelet. Sparks shot off it for several seconds then her magic retreated. “Better.” She stored the fire-stave with a little flick of her wrist. “Much better.”
* * * *
Hermione realized, with some discomfort, half way through the meal that the women in Harry’s vassal houses were or would be socially below her in terms of nobility. It was startling and kind of horrifying. They were in Muggle London and while the food was great, she was having a hard time concentrating on eating. She hadn’t spent much time in the Muggle world since her adoption—just their one date after her birthday. She felt foolish to have never really considered what it would mean for her socially to be the Countess of Gryffindor. Only the dverger had made a big deal out of it but Piper and Fleur treated her slightly different than they did each other. It wasn’t ugly by any means but it was formal. Fleur hadn’t been that way in Ireland but now she was emulating Piper Banner.
Her attention drifted away from the conversation and cross the crowded restaurant only to encounter the last person on Earth she could imagine wanting to speak with—a cousin on her biological mother’s side, Bridget Mayes. Harry’s hand suddenly covered hers and she turned to him.
“You’re white as a sheet.”
“My biological mother’s niece is across the room. I don’t know what will be worse—the snide comments about her assumption that I got a nose job or the leading, ridiculous questions she always asks me about school. I think she’s convinced herself my parents put me into some kind of mental institution at eleven.”
“What was wrong with your nose?” Fleur asked with a frown.
“Nothing but after my magical adoption it changed. It would look like I…” She waved a hand over her face. “Had cosmetic medical procedures on my nose, mouth, and eyes. Everything is just a little different than it was. But she doesn’t appear to have noticed me.”
“It’s because of me,” Fleur explained. “I wear a device that basically works as a notice-me-not charm for Muggles. Also, we’re in a magical section of the restaurant. Even the wait staff is magical in this area. That little wall with the plants appears to be the divide. I don’t often pass for a Muggle, Hermione, not even when I’m dressed like one.” She shrugged. “I glow.”
“I guess I’ve sort of gotten used to it,” Hermione admitted. Her gaze drifted back to her Muggle cousin and sighed. “Her boyfriend is a real git. He hit on me last summer then acted surprised when I refused him. He acted like I was mental for wanting nothing to do with him.”
“We could curse him temporarily impotent,” Fleur suggested as she shifted in her seat so she could look at the couple. “He’s rather pasty, isn’t he? Is that a British thing?” She blushed at the abrupt laughter that caused. “Sorry?”
“No,” Harry said with a laugh. “Some of us are quite pasty.” He relaxed back in his chair and slid one arm over the back of Hermione’s chair. He leaned in and spoke against her jaw. “Did you want to go?”
“I’m fine,” Hermione murmured.
“You’re a tense mess,” Harry whispered.
“I don’t…” She frowned then turned to him with a huff. “You know I’m utterly unprepared to be your Countess, right?”
“You mean the social protocol?” Harry questioned.
“Yes, the stuff you learned at five,” Hermione said. “I didn’t even know your title was both Muggle and magical until you told me, Harry. I don’t know who the other nobles are. Do I have to socialize with their wives?”
“You don’t have to be nice to anyone,” Harry said and picked up his water glass. “I guess… well, I’ll be honest I don’t know who is who in the noble houses either. I know names, of course, but I couldn’t point them out in a crowd. We made some assumptions about the ancient families in Britain and we’ve already had to make adjustments to that.” He glanced towards Bill who had the grace to flush. “My Dad is genuinely irritated by the fact that he doesn’t know for certain who the head is each ancient house which has far reaching political ramifications. Will we have to socialize with people we barely know and don’t like? Yes, but we can be completely unpleasant to everyone with very few repercussions. In some cases, the meaner you are the more people like that want to be around you.”
“Besides, you’re very intimidating so most of those women will be very careful with you,” Piper said.
“I’m not…” Hermione trailed off with a frown when Fleur laughed.
“You conjured a super storm that covered the entire country,” Piper said dryly. “Trust me when I say that you’re magically and intellectually very intimidating. But despite that, your mother and I have been fielding formal tea invitations on your behalf for weeks. A lot of powerful and influential witches in Britain want to meet you, get a measure of you. The Witch’s Council was four times the size it normally is because of your attendance which Minerva kept a secret as long as she could.” She waved a hand at Harry. “It’s not all to do with him, you know.”
“I blame him for most of it,” Hermione said immediately. “He’s all Harry Potter all the time which is honestly a lot of hassle. Why can’t he be normal?”
“Normal is boring,” Harry declared and laughed when she frowned at him. “But Piper’s right—it’s not all about me. Elemental witches are rare and your animagus form is legendary. I’m pretty sure I had nothing to do with your spirit animal.”
“Well, truth be known since I was born first—I probably influenced you magically in ways we’ll never know. Though I think you’ve been a dragon many times before—perhaps all the times before.” Her eyes shifted gold. “But I’m not always the same—once I was a phoenix but I made a mistake.”
Harry reached out and took her hand which was still on the table. “What sort of mistake?”
“A phoenix animagus can’t take a Killing Curse and survive but I tried and I died.” She shook herself loose and her eyes returned to their brown shade but gold flecks remained. “Sorry that must have looked really odd.”
“Very,” Thaddeus murmured. “That’s retrocognition—something a coatl can be used to explore in very rigid ritual circumstances. How often do you have waking visions like that?”
“Less often than I dream,” Hermione admitted with a flush and cleared her throat. “It’s hard to control when I sleep.”
“Do you receive imagery from objects?” Lucas questioned.
“No, and thank Merlin.” Hermione huffed. “I wouldn’t be able to sit at half the desks at Hogwarts. There is no telling how many of them have been shagged on.” That caused a burst of laughter over the entire table and everyone relaxed. “And broom closets would be impossible to enter.”
“You’d probably have to avoid the common room as well,” Harry pointed out. “I’ve caught three different sets of fifth years on the sofa in front of the fire place.”
“You should’ve reported them,” Hermione chastised. “What if a first year walked in on that?”
“I taught them privacy charms instead,” Harry admitted and just grinned when she huffed dramatically. “I’m not a prefect.”
“You’re an enabler,” Hermione accused but smiled when he didn’t bother to look contrite. “Both of those sofas are terribly small.”
“You have to be creative about leverage,” Bill agreed.
“Honestly,” Hermione huffed. “I can’t believe you were Head Boy, Bill Weasley!”
“I was a great Head Boy,” Bill said. “And thankfully the position came with a private room because I got way too tall for that sofa.”
Hermione glanced back across the room to where her cousin sat then returned her attention to Piper Banner. “Why are people trying to use you to get to me?”
“I’m your lady-in-waiting. Fleur will join me in that duty after she and Bill marry. You’ll gain another if Lucas ever manages to stay in a single place long enough to find himself a wife. We’ll make sure you know everything you need to know, help you plan the wedding, and if need be, plot a vicious amount of revenge on anyone who crosses you.”
“I don’t think that’s how that works in the Muggle world,” Hermione said thoughtfully. “But I’m on board with this already. I’ve been making a list.”
Piper smirked. “So have I.” She turned to Harry. “But I did want to discuss something with you, my Lord, before you return to Hogwarts.”
Harry set aside the fork he’d been fiddling with and focused on his vassal’s wife. It wasn’t often that Piper Banner asked him for anything so when she did—it was very important. “Is there a problem?”
“Yes, a delicate and unfortunate one at that.” Piper exhaled and pushed her empty wine glass towards her husband. Thaddeus grabbed the bottle and refilled it. “It’s about Penelope Clearwater.”
“Ah,” Harry murmured and sat back in his chair. “I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t thought about her circumstances. How is she holding up?”
“She’s not,” Piper explained. “She’s currently staying in our guest cottage. Her father has disowned her socially and financially in an effort to distance himself from the entire situation.” She paused when Bill cursed softly under his breath. “She’s not emotionally devastated by what happened to Percival—she said that any affection she’d had for him while they were at Hogwarts has been gone for more than a year. She deeply regretted the betrothal but her father refused to cancel it due to the power he thought Percy had in the ministry. She’s my second cousin, so when I found out she was begging for work at the Hogs Head, I retrieved her immediately and brought her home with me.”
Harry nodded. “What do you want me to do, Piper?”
“I want you to make her father pay for what he’s done,” Piper said. “She’s…she has nothing and he’s so busy saving face he wouldn’t have cared if she’d ended up selling herself on a London street corner.” Piper took a deep swallow of wine and exhaled.
Harry turned to Thaddeus. “Your position?”
“She’s not a burden to us in any fashion but I can’t dower her—our relation is too distant. She’s too old to be brought into Potter Redoubt as a resident so you can’t dower her either. I don’t know what sort of scandal it might cause if either of us tried and more speculation is the last thing she needs. It would look like we were trying to buy her a husband. She’s a pretty little thing—very smart but she didn’t continue her education after Hogwarts because her father refused to allow it. He threw her at a political marriage and now that’s fallen through—she has no purpose as far as he’s concerned.”
Harry turned to Hermione and found her staring at the table. “Mi?”
She looked up and her eyes were damp but he could feel the well of hurt and anger in her. “Penny—she was always very kind to me. She was the fifth year prefect for Ravenclaw my first year at Hogwarts and she taught me how to use the library system—it was very different than Muggle ones.”
“That’s not why you’re upset,” Harry said.
Her mouth trembled and he shifted towards her but she inhaled deeply and bit down on her bottom lip. “She must feel so betrayed—her parents were supposed to love her and protect her. But they threw her away instead. She is smart—she was Head Girl and she wanted to study charms after Hogwarts. I feel terrible for not realizing what Percy’s trial would do to her—people probably think she knew more than she possibly could have. She’d have never kept such a horrible secret, Harry.”
“We really should’ve just kidnapped you,” Harry said.
Hermione huffed then laughed. “I try not to think about it too much, you know. How easy it was for them to give me up. I might as well have been an old box of books at a yard sale.” She paused when everyone but Lucas appeared confused. “Muggles sometimes take all of their unused or unwanted possessions out and put them on their lawn to sell them. Strangers come along and buy your unwanted stuff cheaply.”
“That is an utterly wretched comparison,” Fleur exclaimed.
“Agreed,” Harry said with a sigh. “As to Penelope Clearwater and her utterly wretched situation—there is a relatively simple solution.” He turned to Lucas and raised an eyebrow.
Lucas frowned briefly at him but then nodded. “If she’s agreeable then I’m game. Publically dating one of your vassals would repair a great deal of damage done to her reputation as I’d never involve myself with a witch you find inappropriate. After three to six months, she can walk right into the marriage market without much of a hitch in her stride.”
“Or you could marry her,” Piper said and grinned when Lucas groaned. “She’s lovely and smart.”
“Oh,” Hermione murmured. “You know—having a mentorship would help as well, wouldn’t it? The Rowan Circle is lousy with educated witches—if you think she’d be interested?”
“I think she’d be overjoyed,” Piper admitted. “I offered to mentor her in magical creature care but her heart isn’t in the field. She’d do it just to have a trade and there’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but I’d like to see her happy.”
“And she is beautiful,” Hermione said as she turned to Lucas. “Well read, articulate, excellent with young children, and very curvy.” She demonstrated an hourglass shape with her hands. “Magically she’s easily on the enchantress level.”
“The curvy part sold it,” Lucas said with a laugh.
“You’ll just have to remember not to be a git,” Harry told him. “There’s no helping your upbringing so we can only hope she’ll overlook the fact that you were raised in America.” He turned to Hermione. “The curvy part sold it for me, too.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “You can barely handle the witch you got, Harry, there is no need to add to your burden.”
“Quite right. The last thing you need is a comrade in arms,” Harry agreed and focused on Thaddeus. “I need all the information you have on George Clearwater. I’d also like to know how much money she had in trust before he took it. I could, in theory, get that number from the bank but I’d rather not use my relationship with them that way. I’ll contact Miranda and have Penelope put in the New Horizons program—the Foundation can help settle her into a mentorship and pay for mastery tests when the time comes if she’s not had her trust returned to her.”
“What’s the New Horizon program?” Fleur questioned.
“It’s a funding option within the Lily Potter Foundation that helps unmarried and/or widowed women educate themselves so they can make their own way,” Piper said. “It was, in fact, the first arm of the Lily Potter Foundation after Potter Redoubt was founded though it was recently expanded to include more services for witches in Britain and Miranda is currently recruiting solicitors for a legal division. As to the original purpose, there were over a dozen young women too old for Potter Redoubt who’d been basically cast out of the orphanage with nothing. Some of them hadn’t even been allowed to attend Hogwarts for one reason or another. I was one of those young women though I had gone to Hogwarts due to a small trust I had from my grandparents. That’s how I met Harry actually. He was just nine when he created the Lily Potter Foundation. I have to admit to being put out to be portkeyed to France to meet with a little boy.”
Harry laughed. “She glared at me for the first fifteen minutes.”
“I wasn’t prepared to meet someone like him,” Piper admitted. “No matter his fame, I expected a child of nine. What I got was… basically what he is today in a nine year old’s body. At least until the near the end of the interview when his father returned from shopping with a broom. It was kind of a relief to see him act his age after over an hour of him talking about magical law, educational opportunities, and the number of people he had on stand-by for me to interview with regarding my mentorship.”
“I had a terrible crush on her for months,” Harry said to Fleur and when he turned he found Hermione staring at Piper. “What?”
“It’s just…have you ever noticed that the two of us could probably pass for sisters?”
“Miranda, too,” Piper said with a laugh. “He’s certainly got a type.”
* * * *
“Your type, huh?” Hermione questioned as she braced herself on his chest.
“My everything,” Harry murmured and cupped her hips. He rubbed his thumbs over the soft skin he found there and wet his lips. “I’m stupidly proud you’re mine. You were so beautiful and magical today—I see how other men envy me where you’re concerned and it’s foolish but for the first time ever I’m kind of smug.”
Hermione laughed. “That’s terrible.”
“I know but I don’t care,” Harry said he trailed his hands settled on her hips. “I have to take you home soon. I promised your mum you’d be back before she went to sleep.”
Hermione grinned. “It’s our first Christmas morning—it’s going to be kind of weird actually. She put a tree today and it has real fairies in it. They just showed up when she opened the window next to the tree.”
“They’ll stay until the New Year,” Harry explained. “Though we had a pair of fairies once that stayed until Valentine’s Day for reasons unknown. They just made a nest on the mantel out of branches from the tree and stayed there. Star found them particularly vexing since they would tell her off in their little fairy language complete with shaking fists whenever she’d tell them to go home.”
Hermione laughed. “You’re making that up.”
“Wizard’s honor, fairies have terrible tempers but they’re so little and their magic is so invested in the ability to fly that they don’t have anything left to use for good or bad. Though they do throw off quite a bit of dust when they’re angry.”
“Why does Star not like them?” Hermione questioned.
“Technically speaking, a fairy is basically a magical leech. They take the placement of a tree in a magical household at Yule as an invitation. If your mother hadn’t opened the window—they’d have found another, probably destructive, way in. Wards don’t even notice them, no matter their intent, so they come and go as they please. They soak up all the ambient magic they can during Yule and use it all year as basically fuel. There is a whole enclave of fairies at Hogwarts in one of the upper turrets—it’s been there for hundreds of years. To a house elf, a fairy is a pest of a sort. When I was little I’d carry one around in my pocket all Yule. They’d take turns leaving the tree to be with me. It drove Star crazy.”
She grinned. “That’s adorable.” The clock on his dresser across the room chimed and they both looked at it. “I should get dressed and go.”
“Yeah,” Harry murmured but he rolled them over abruptly and with a little adjustment pushed into her. He watched her eyes go wide with pleasure and a little shock. “What? I’ve got an outstanding refractory period.”
“I noticed,” she said and shuddered as he started to move. “Deeper.”
“Bossy,” Harry murmured against her cheek as he pushed in deep. “I warded my entire bed for fire.”
Hermione laughed and relaxed. She ran her hands down his back and cupped his arse. Gold flames bled out of her skin and enveloped them both. “I love having you—inside me, in my fire.”
Harry shuddered. “I don’t hate it. It’s a good thing you’re going to marry me because this whole fire thing has ruined me.”
“Good, because you’re mine.”
“Always,” Harry promised.
1. What? This is the season finale?
A. Yes, it is.
2. When will season 2 start?
A. When I’m ready, don’t harass me for details.
3. Will there be an eBook?
A. No. I don’t care if it makes you mad.