Title: Courting Hermione Granger
Author: Keira Marcos
Beta: Chris King
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Alternate Universe, Angst
Author’s Note: This story contains brief, non-explicit discussion of potions abuse, attempted sexual assault, and sexual harassment, adult language, off-screen murder of original characters, off-screen domestic violence and adult situations but no explicit sexual content. As always, your non-consensual beta is undesired.
All of the researchers for Project Origin were being put up temporarily in an inn just off Diagon Alley. Harry had no problem locating Marc Corey’s room as his people had handled their travel arrangements and the permissions required for them to come to Britain to work. It was mid-morning on Saturday, and the front desk had confirmed that Corey had requested a food delivery just thirty minutes before. He knocked, and the door opened after just a few seconds. The American’s eyes widened slightly.
“Lord Potter.” He stepped back and motioned him inside. “Come in.”
Harry walked into the room and crossed over to the window. He peeked out. “Decent view.”
“Yes, I’m looking for an apartment.”
“We call them flats here,” Harry said. “To avoid confusion later on, when you’re looking at spaces.” He turned and focused on Corey. “I came here because I wished to keep this a private matter and there is no need to make Hermione uncomfortable at work.”
Corey frowned at him. “I see.”
“I don’t think you do since you appeared to have no problem expressing a desire to renew a romantic relationship that has been over for years with a woman who is not only unavailable but your supervisor. Due to the fact that you’re a subordinate, she’ll have to report the fact that you asked her out to the Director of the Department of Mysteries.” Harry watched Corey process that and the man flushed. He wasn’t sure if it was anger or embarrassment. “Let me be blunt, I fully intend to marry Hermione Granger. I suggest you read up on the courting protocols here in Britain so you can avoid meeting me on a dueling platform.”
“I’ve been friends with Hermione for over five years.”
“Are you counting the three years since you left her because you couldn’t sleep with her?” Harry asked baldly, and Corey’s mouth dropped open. “Hermione and I have an open dialogue, Mr. Corey, and she was very honest about the relationship she had with you. You hurt her in the past, and I assure you if you hurt her again with your foolish and immature behavior—I’ll make you pay for it. Clear?”
“Perfectly,” Corey said. “I’ll keep my distance.”
“Treat her with respect, Mr. Corey, if I were worried about your proximity I would have said no to your selection for Project Origin.” Harry left the window and walked to the door. “Have a good weekend.”
“Sure,” Corey said tightly.
* * * *
Ryan Granger was kind of a sarcastic arsehole and Harry really appreciated it. Saturday afternoon found him at Hermione’s parent’s house. She hadn’t asked him about his visit to Marc Corey but since an owl had delivered her an apology shortly after he’d arrived at her parent’s house which she’d read, frowned, and passed to him. The language was formal enough to think that Corey had probably copied it out of a hastily bought etiquette book. After lunch, he’d been guided into Ryan Granger’s office, and he’d accepted the purposeful separation from Hermione with ease.
“No, sir, but thank you.” Harry walked to the French doors in the back of the space. There was a large television tucked against one wall with a comfy looking sofa in front of it. The large desk was mostly empty, but there were a few files on the blotter. “I have too much magical power at my disposal to indulge in hard liquors.” He sat down on the sofa when he was pointed towards it.
“You’re pretty close to the second gesture,” Ryan said.
“Yes, sir, just three weeks away,” Harry agreed.
“Hermione left a book for her mother to read,” he explained. “So I read it as well. Tell me something.”
“If I can.”
“Why are you courting my daughter?”
“Because I want to marry her,” Harry said. “And I wanted to give her time to get to know the life I live. My place in magical society can put pressure on people around me without me saying a single word. The courting protocols have sheltered her from a great deal of the mess that others I’ve dated had to put up with. I suppose it helps that it is public knowledge that she’s wearing a Diana. The press treats her like a princess—and it didn’t hurt at all that she hit the front page of the Prophet with a bloody unicorn shortly into our courting period.
“In the past, six months into a relationship people would be asking me or the woman I was involved with when they could expect to see a ring. There was often speculation about infidelity if I so much as glanced at another woman. My last girlfriend was the target of a heinous amount of gossip, and we often fought over things that were completely outside of my control. At one point, I actually considered purchasing the biggest paper in Britain just to get some peace.”
“Sounds terrible,” Ryan admitted. “I don’t have a frame of reference for the kind of fame you…suffer with.”
“It’s certainly not a joy,” Harry agreed. “But it’s better now than it was when I was younger. The further we get from the war—the better it is. There are some things that will never change. I can’t look in the mirror without being reminded that my birth parents died for me.” He touched the pale scar on his forehead. “I have an immense magical legacy that spans over a thousand years behind me and every single day I am reminded of that.”
“That’s a lot of pressure for a man your age.”
Harry laughed. “Well, I started lessons regarding my magical estate when I was six years old. I don’t remember not knowing my place in the magical world as it were. My dad has always been a well of support—ensuring that I could stand for our family if he fell and there were several points during the war where I thought I might lose him. Voldemort targeted my entire family to terrorize me.”
Ryan nodded. “Not an unheard of strategy. Your response?”
Harry blew air out between his lips. “I sent him the head of his most loyal Death Eater.” He took a deep breath and relaxed when Ryan Granger burst out laughing. “My dad laughed, too. My mother lectured me for an entire week.”
“Well, war is a mind game as much as it anything else. If he didn’t want a fight—he shouldn’t have picked one.” Ryan took a sip of his drink. “Marc Corey is here in Britain.”
“Yes, he’s part of the research team that Hermione created. She approved his application. I could’ve taken him off the list easily, but I had a moment of stupidity.”
“No, really, I was stupid. She felt compelled to approve him because he’s qualified and I left him on the list out of pride. I didn’t want to look insecure, but the end result is that he’s here, and he’s already ignored the courting protocols once and asked her out on a date.”
“That git better leave my little girl alone,” Ryan said darkly. “He walked out on her, broke her heart, and he did that while making it clear that he had no respect whatsoever for her dreams. My wife has a problem with the medallion, as you know.”
“But you don’t.”
“Not in the least,” Ryan confided. “I don’t see how any father could. I know how men are and how easily a woman like Hermione could be used.”
“She’s a romantic,” Harry agreed. “My younger sister is like her—my dad says Aster was born with stars in her eyes. I’m no prince charming, you know.”
“You certainly don’t look like one,” Ryan said wryly. “You look like war.”
“So do you,” Harry said and raised an eyebrow when the older man laughed then just inclined his head in agreement. “But she’s safe with me—regardless of her eventual choice.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Ryan murmured. “Do you play golf?
“As a matter of a fact, I do.”
* * * *
His father loved golf so, of course, he’d tagged along to the country club where Ryan Granger played. They weren’t members but Ryan signed them in as guests of his, without their titles at Harry’s request. His father wasn’t unknown the Muggle world as the Black title had standing in both worlds. They played a full eighteen holes before lunch so they returned to the club to have lunch with Hermione and the mothers who had gone shopping together. It was all very domestic and kind of weird since he hadn’t really socialized with the parents of his past girlfriends.
Dining outside of a privacy charm was also kind of weird for Harry, who tended to avoid Muggle establishments for that very reason, but he tried to get as comfortable as he could.
“Lord,” Hannah said into her wine glass. “Ryan, here come the Tates. Be as rude as possible.”
Ryan laughed. “Hannah.”
“I shouldn’t have to put with wretched people who refuse to floss on my day off,” Hannah said hotly. “She actually blamed me for her issues.”
Harry glanced around and found a pair of Muggles heading their way. “I have a repelling charm on my ring I could activate, but it would force the two of you to leave as well.”
Hannah sighed and looked mournfully into her wine glass as her name was called. “Eloise, how lovely to see you.”
Hannah Granger’s fake smile looked just like Hermione’s fake smile which was amusing all on its own.
“Hannah, Ryan,” the woman said in a simpering little voice that reminded Harry of Delores Umbridge. “We heard you were entertaining guests. I hope you told them how exclusive the club is. We wouldn’t want them to be upset to be denied membership.”
Harry just grinned when Hannah glanced his way in horror, he gave a nod.
“Eloise and Frank Tate allow me to introduce you to His Grace the Duke of Avalon,” Hannah said dryly. “And his parents, the Earl and Countess of Blackmoor.”
Harry stood and offered his hand to Frank Tate, who was rapidly paling. “Good afternoon, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Your Grace,” Frank Tate said faintly. “Yes, I recognize you now…from the telly.”
“Well, it was quite a few years ago,” Harry said diplomatically. Eloise Tate was an interesting shade of purple. “Are you in need of a glass of water, Mrs. Tate?”
“No, but thank you, Your Grace,” she said tightly. “We apologize for interrupting your brunch.”
Harry sat back down as she dragged her husband away. “We have people just like that in the magical world,” he said to Hannah. “I like to put them in jail. It’s a hobby.”
Hannah smirked. “Do you think…”
“Mother,” Hermione said sternly.
“You’re really no fun at all,” Hannah said with a sigh and shook her head. “How did I raise such a serious person?”
“Well, someone has to be the boss of everything,” Hermione said. “Otherwise, nothing would get done.”
* * * *
“At least they don’t appear to hate each other,” Harry said as he dropped down on Hermione’s sofa. She sat down with him and curled against his side. “Right?”
“The mums got on well—have similar taste in clothing, and I think they might have had more fun without me,” Hermione admitted and smiled when he laughed. “Who won the golf game?”
Harry bit down on his lip. “Promise not to tell him.”
“You let my dad win?” Hermione laughed.
“Well, yeah, but mostly because I was repeatedly distracted by my badge which kept vibrating and reporting in on situations that I didn’t need to leave for.”
“There were a few reports on mine regarding a haunting, but Penelope handled it.” She turned to settle more against him, but her phone started to ring. Harry jerked, jarred by the unexpected sound. “Sorry.” She slipped off the couch and crossed the room to grab the portable phone off the base. “Hello.” Her mouth dropped open. “Okay, hold on Chloe. Just calm down and keep her calm, too. I’ll be right there.” She turned off the phone and turned to Harry. “Sophie turned into a puppy.”
“Huh.” Harry stood. “Let’s go check it out.”
* * * *
Chloe answered the door to her flat with a golden retriever puppy in hand. Tears were streaming down her face. “Thank God, Hermione. It happened while she was asleep.” She thrust the puppy forward. “Bring my baby back.”
Harry took the puppy. “Hello, sweetie, look at you.” Hermione pulled the door shut behind them. “Did you have a fun dream?” The puppy tried to lick his face. “Ah, no puppy kisses.” Iris came bounding up at that point and barked sharply. “And look at you falling down on your job,” Harry told the crup sternly. Iris made a huffy sound and barked again. “Don’t sass me,” he ordered and nudged her with his foot. “You can’t go wandering off while she’s asleep if she’s going to do stuff like this.”
“Oh, she’s supposed to sleep with her?” Chloe asked and wiped at her face. “I haven’t let her on the bed. Sophie still sleeps in a cot and I…messed up, didn’t I?”
“I apologize for not being clearer,” Harry said as he sat down on the floor with Iris. “If Iris could’ve had contact with her, she could’ve woken Sophie up before she shifted or had another bout of accidental magic. It’s her job—sort of like a service animal for someone who is blind or deaf. Iris has the ability to absorb the magic Sophie throws off. When it isn’t absorbed, it ends up lingering around Sophie, and it can cause disturbances, including very big bouts of accidental magic like this. She’s very magical. Most kids her age don’t have this kind of issue.”
“But it’s not going to hurt her?”
“No, not at all. I’m going to have to activate some more features on her moderator. We can’t take the risk that she might shapeshift in public or in a school.” He turned to Hermione. “She’s going to need a pain potion.”
Hermione frowned. “We’re going to have to force her?”
“Yes, unfortunately. She’s just too young to do it on her own with intent and mentally she’s not developed enough to understand the instructions for returning to her human form. Also, there is every reason to believe she’ll be stubborn about it.” Harry drew his wand and cast a strong sleeping charm on Sophie. She slumped on the floor in front of him and curled up into a ball with a yawn.
“Now that’s handy,” Chloe said dryly.
Harry laughed. “Very.” He turned to Hermione. “I have some potions in my kitchen if you don’t have any on hand.”
“I think I have some,” Hermione said. “I’ll be back shortly.” She spun on the spot and apparated.
“I feel like I’m in over my head,” Chloe blurted out in the wake of Hermione’s departure. “I just…being a single parent was already a lot of work and now this.” She sat down on the sofa. “Aunt Hannah says it’ll get easier.”
“It will,” Harry agreed. “She’ll gain control as she ages and you know you can depend Hermione to help in any way she can.”
“Aunt Hannah told me that you’re courting her. What does that mean?”
“Well, I guess it depends on your point of view. Basically, I asked her to consider marrying me. We’re approaching our sixth month in the courting process. I’ll offer my second overture and if she accepts then…I’ll start working on the final overture.”
“I’ll buy land and build her a house as part of my final overture which will be a proposal,” Harry said, and Hermione apparated back into the room. Chloe squeaked which made him laugh. “Sorry.”
Hermione pulled the potion from her dress pocket. “I ended up going to your flat. Atticus’ boyfriend is charming.”
Harry scoffed. “He’s still on probation as far as I’m concerned.” He returned his attention to Sophie and performed the spell with a sweep of his wand. The puppy shimmered with magic and Sophie reappeared with a puff of smoky magic. “She’s bloody adorable.” He turned to Hermione. “Can you spell it into her stomach? It’s not flavored for babies and will taste terrible.” He rolled the baby over gently and Hermione knelt. She performed a spell, and the potion disappeared. “Let’s do a scan while she’s asleep.” He did the spell. “Looks good. I’m going to put a more stringent set of warnings on her file so I’ll be notified when she has bouts of accidental magic in her sleep. If she’d done this while she was awake, her emotional state would’ve set off my badge.” He sat back as Hermione picked the baby up.
Sophie stirred and bounced slightly. “Pony!”
“Merlin, I really hope she doesn’t call me that forever,” Hermione said and blushed when Harry just grinned at her. “Seriously.”
“The pain potion wasn’t made for children?” Chloe questioned.
“Magical pain potions don’t work the way Muggle pain medications do—they interact with her magic exactly as she needs. We can’t overdose on pain potions in the magical world, and if she isn’t in any pain the potion does nothing,” Hermione explained. She stood, and Chloe took Sophie. “You okay?”
Chloe burst into tears.
Harry took that as his hint to leave so he patted Iris briefly, endured a sloppy kiss from Sophie on the cheek, and apparated. Atticus and his boyfriend were on the sofa snogging like a couple of teenagers. Harry shot them both with a stinging hex as he walked by.
“Arsehole,” Atticus said as he disengaged. “Hermione said her cousin turned into a puppy. Cute?”
“Golden retriever,” Harry said as he pulled a butter beer from the bar cooling cabinet. “Adorable little thing across the board actually. The mother is a mess, though—she’s probably not going to adjust well to having a magical child. I haven’t told Hermione, yet.”
“What will you do?”
“In most cases, the Muggle parent admits defeat within a year and agrees to a foster situation. Fortunately for Sophie, there are a couple of options—Ryan and Hannah Granger have already raised one magical child with a great deal of success and her own parents, of course, could provide her with a solution or an alternate living situation. I’ll keep a weather eye on the situation, and if I have to, I’ll step in. She really loves her kid, but there are several factors that worry me—she’s a single parent, the father of her child is alcoholic, and his parents are no better, and she’s not handling the stress well. I’ve seen it far too many times not to see where it’s going to go if the situation isn’t handled carefully.” He dropped down in his chair and sighed. “If you two shag on my five hundred galleon sofa I’m going to hex you both impotent for a month.”
“Cruel,” Damon said. “But fair. It’s a great sofa.” He patted it and stood. “We’re going out for dinner. Want to join us?”
“Nope,” Harry said. “I played eighteen holes of golf today. I’m too tired to be your third wheel.”
The training facilities for active duty aurors were twice as robust as anything they pushed through in the academy. In the years that Harry had been in the corps, he’d slowly but surely updated the equipment and dueling generators until his people were combat ready whether they knew it or not. Field assets for the Unspeakables used the facilities, too, but they didn’t have to meet Harry’s standard of fitness since they were more intelligence gathering and spying than peacekeeping. Their talents were honed differently, and Harry had never interfered in how McGregor had them trained.
The Americans had ended up extending their stay so he’d had to put with his two for nearly two months before they were rotated and he received the Head Auror that had been sent and their Minister’s son. He’d introduced himself, formally, then the Head Auror—William Murphy—had requested to follow him around for the day. The kid hadn’t strayed far from his superior’s side, so Harry figured they’d both be shadowing him.
The tour of the training area and the demonstration with the dueling generator had clearly surprised them both which Harry thought was disconcerting. They were in his office, and he’d gone through the priority cases with the field teams first then Neville had come in. He watched his godbrother get settled and noted by the set of his shoulders that they were probably about to have a difficult discussion. He wished he could kick Murphy and his shadow out, but it would probably be considered rude.
“First, I’ve eliminated all of the employees in the building with the power set to curse Chang and I’ve worked my way through two-thirds of the guests at the Malfoy Christmas party. Healers have determined that Chang was put under the Imperious sometime around the 22nd of December so the party is likely the location.”
“And the remaining guests?”
“They’re all noble,” Neville said. “And protocols forbid questioning them on an involuntary basis. That being said, all four adult Malfoys have already come by my office and provided testimony and oaths. They were also very helpful with providing an accurate list of their guests as well as their estimated magical power.”
Harry nodded. “Lucius has a runic array on his front door. He knows exactly how powerful each of his visitors are. I don’t blame him—his family had a difficult time during the war.”
Neville nodded. “Through the array and his estimates, I’ve eliminated another forty people from the list based purely on their lack of magical power. I’m down to ten.”
“And they’re all noble,” Harry said. “Great.”
“Right,” Neville agreed. “I’ve considered giving the list to Chang and watching the fall-out.”
Harry snorted and picked up his quill. “No, but I get why that might be amusing in the short-term. Are you any closer to a definitive reason for the plot to begin with?”
“I’ve ruled out professional concerns which only leaves personal,” Neville said. “I’ve interviewed the entire Weasley family and anyone intimately connected to the family including Percy Weasley’s mistress.” He paused. “Which I admit caused some ruffled feathers. You’ll probably get a complaint.”
“It came in three days ago,” Harry said. “I told Percy if he didn’t want people to know he had a mistress then he shouldn’t take her shopping on Diagon Alley. He’s an idiot. Regardless, they’ve all been cleared?”
“Which leaves me,” Harry murmured. “Thoughts on that?”
“Yes.” Neville sat back and exhaled sharply. “So, your last two girlfriends were paid to leave you.”
Harry’s mouth dropped open. “Excuse me?”
“Right, Anna Mason received ten thousand galleons. Elise Carson apparently held out longer—she was offered two different sums before she finally gave in and took twenty-four thousand and a new job in Paris.” Neville winced. “They don’t know who bribed them, but I did feel compelled to ask your father.”
“And his response?”
“He was just as disbelieving as you appear to be, and he did offer me an oath if I desired. I declined. I also questioned your mother.”
Harry groaned. “Please tell me she didn’t.”
“No,” Neville said with a laugh. “But she admits to being tempted with Elise since she hated her.”
“Have you contacted the dverger to trace the gold?”
“Yes, and that required a warrant from the Chief Warlock, which I received with no issues. There are two customers who transferred large sums of money around the time of both pay-outs. Gerald Greengrass and Tobias Savage. I visited my father-in-law, of course, and he confirmed that his transfers were regarding the purchase of additional land for the family potion’s farm in Ireland which leaves Tobias Savage.”
“And Savage is on your list of suspects.”
“Yes but suspicious bank activity and proximity isn’t going to be enough for me to question a nobleman without an action decision from the Wizengamot.”
“Chang and Savage are in the same voting bloc,” Harry murmured. “They’re both staunch blood rights activists as you know—would he use an ally’s daughter this way or are we being directed this way?”
“Tobias Savage is a real bastard and an unmarked Death Eater,” Neville said. “I’d like to put him under Azkaban, and that’s no secret so someone could’ve made it look like he was responsible, so I would laser in on a personal enemy without considering other angles but I’ve already crossed everything else off the list, and the bank activity is persuasive.”
“Yes, but there are plenty of ways to hide and move money that has nothing to do with the bank. I keep that much money in a personal vault at Potter’s Keep. Plenty of old families do.”
“I did ask the dverger to check trust vaults as well—I’ve known people to use their children’s trust accounts to hide and move money. Nothing matched up. Savage is my only legitimate target at this point.”
“He’s expressed his opinion regarding my personal choices repeatedly,” Harry said.
“Savage knows that you’re the key to passing a lot of legislation that he wants to be implemented. You oppose him on even little issues out of pure spite, and I can’t say I blame you, but his voting bloc is starting to splinter under the strain.”
“He lost two supporters in the last official session—they voted contrary to him on three different issues. Furious barely covered his response to that,” Harry murmured. “Right, well, there is only once choice. Forward an official investigation request to the Prosecutor’s Office. It’ll make my father’s day, and we’ll have to see how it plays out in front of the Wizengamot. Hermione has a lot of social power right now whether she knows it or not. No matter the results, Xian Chang is going to turn on a sickle once he realizes his long-time friend might be responsible for the murder of his only child.”
“Great,” Neville smiled and stood. “Best Monday ever.” He left with a nod towards their guests and Harry rocked in his chair a little.
“It seems like the noble class here in Britain can make things difficult.” Murphy shed his jacket.
“Yes,” Harry agreed. “But it would be hypocritical of me to resent those protocols since they’ve sheltered me my entire life in one way or another. I’d have probably been murdered as a child if my father hadn’t been able to use them to secure and hide my location from Voldemort’s followers.”
“You train your aurors like they’re in the military,” the kid blurted out.
“The Auror Corps in Britain are the vanguard, Mr. Lowery. We are peacekeepers and law enforcement as mandated by the Queen. There have been two wars in magical Britain in my lifetime. I don’t fool myself about the stability of our government or the people that make it up. It would be a fool’s game to think there won’t be another dark wizard to come along and make Voldemort look like a maladjusted toddler.”
* * * *
Marc had been avoiding her as much as possible which she appreciated. The team meetings were going smoothly, and the historical report they were putting together was generating a lot of excitement for the team overall. Pooling of knowledge from various sources all over the planet was going very well as copies of ancient texts were arriving from various countries on a daily basis. The library for Project Origin had over thirty thousand volumes.
Penelope darted into the research hub. “The Auror Department is going to activate the War Generator.”
Hermione demanded. “They are doing what?”
“Oh, you weren’t here the last time,” Penelope said. “It’s a specialized simulator for magical battle—very realistic. The Americans asked for a demonstration and Lord Potter agreed to do it personally.”
She frowned. “They asked him to enter a simulation of a bloody war, and he agreed?” She stood up and marched towards the door. “Of all of the foolish, ill-considered, ridiculous man-things he could do!”
By the time she made it to the training arena, the stands were packed with Ministry employees. Her entire team had ended up following her. She ignored the fact that they snuck into the audience to watch. Harry was near the center of the indoor field with Neville Longbottom and his father. He offered her a smile as soon as he saw her but she was not going to let him charm his way out of this nonsense.
“Harry James Potter.”
Every wizard including his father scattered. Harry snorted as they all ducked for cover. “Hey.”
“You.” She poked his chest. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Just a little simulation for the Americans. It’s perfectly safe…the generator…”
“I bloody know what the generator does,” Hermione hissed. “I created it!”
“Really? Brilliant work. The ICW wouldn’t tell us who designed it just that it was a gift to Britain since the originator was from Britain. This will be my fourth simulation. It’s done a great job in orienting our people to combat situations. I credit it with the fact that we haven’t lost an auror in the line of duty since I started training with it. Though we don’t often do a full war scenario.”
“And it’s not a problem for you? Because in the third field test, I had a combat veteran in it and he had a psychotic break.”
“I don’t have any sort of PTSD or emotional issues from the war, Hermione. I don’t even employ those who do. We have rigorous mental health checks in my department to ensure it.” He touched her face and rubbed his thumb over her bottom lip. “You have to remember that I have the spirit of a dragon in me. I’ve been a registered animagus since I was seven years old.” She huffed. “Now, are you going to watch? Neville and I were about to flip a galleon to see who gets to be the good guy.”
“Oh yeah? How about I be the bad guy?” She raised an eyebrow when his mouth dropped open. “Me and my field personnel against you and yours.”
“Will you get mad if I kick your arse?”
“Ha,” Hermione said with a huff and turned on her heel. When she whipped her Unspeakable hood seemingly out of thin air and tossed it casually over her head, every single Unspeakable in the audience responded. Several of them crawled over the railing in their rush to join their boss.
“We’re going to fight the Unspeakables?” Neville questioned with a raised eyebrow. “A bunch of spies and researchers?”
“You know better than anyone that brute force doesn’t always win the day,” Harry said and glanced towards the group. “Activate all the safety protocols. I’d probably come unglued if one of us hurt her. Her hood even masks her height which is frustrating.”
Two hours and six minutes into the simulation, Harry found his forces cut down by half, and two of his own had defected to the Unspeakables, which was more amusing than irritating. The forest setting was normally where his people performed the best, but Hermione was a vicious planner, and she didn’t take prisoners—every single time she captured an auror she’d promptly jettisoned them from the simulation so there had been no opportunity to rescue his people. It was a harsh lesson for them and one he rarely got to deal out.
“Your witch is vicious,” Boot muttered as he leaned against a tree beside Harry. “We’ve never had an opponent essentially ‘kill’ our people instead of imprisoning them.”
“You do remember that she worked as a Hit Witch for years with the ICW, right?” Harry asked dryly. “Start ejecting her people instead of just stunning them. I’ve been marking the heavy hitters—but their cloaks are masking their magical power.”
“On it,” Terry agreed. He disillusioned himself and trotted off.
Harry started to move but something in his magic shifted, and he disillusioned himself then slid up into the tree, easy as a snake.
“They say,” a voice began, “that you have preternatural instincts.”
“Do they?” Harry questioned. “I find that they say a lot of shite that isn’t true.”
“Ah, but there often a nugget of truth in the wildest of myths and legends.”
He laughed. “Calling me a myth, are you?”
He moved further up the tree.
“You know what else they say, Lord Potter?”
“No, what?” Harry asked in amusement.
“If that had been a snake…”
He started to move, but fangs were already sinking into his hand. “It would’ve bit me.”
The simulation alarm sounded, and Shacklebolt’s voice filled the arena as the forest started to fall to pieces. “Aurors, your leader has fallen, and the battle has been lost.”
Harry landed on his feet as he ended his disillusionment spell, the snake curled around his wrist and pulled its teeth from his skin. The wound disappeared along with the rest of the illusion. The snake was a petite black mamba—a magical species—and highly deadly if it were real. It didn’t feel conjured so he figured that one of the Unspeakables had allowed themselves to be transfigured. It wasn’t the first time he’d lost a simulation—Neville was a competitive bastard—so he wasn’t at all upset to have lost to his witch. The snake shimmered, flowed off his hand, and Unspeakable appeared in front of him. He just laughed when Hermione pushed back her hood.
She smirked and rocked back in her little boots. “Gotcha.”
He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close. “You certainly do.” Harry took a deep breath against her hair. “You’re a badass.”
She laughed and shrugged.
“You transfigured yourself.”
“Yeah, of course. It’s a required skill for ICW.”
* * * *
What she’d done, of course, was reveal a weakness for him that he hadn’t even recognized could be a problem. Because parseltongue sounded just like someone talking to him—he hadn’t known he was talking to a snake. Of course, that wasn’t something he’d ever admit to anyone he didn’t trust, but he’d resolved to spend some time with his snake once she hatched so he could learn the difference. He wasn’t ashamed of being a parselmouth but over the years, he’d downplayed it to make the women in his life more comfortable. His family had long since accepted what he was and what that meant for him magically though he’d always been careful not to bring snakes into the house or to even express interest in owning one. He regretted that a bit as an adult because he’d definitely ignored a large part of his magic as a result.
“Your witch is quite mercenary,” his father said with no small degree of amusement. “She targeted you from the start and eroded your support like a hardened general. Strategically, she had you beat in the first twenty minutes. Whoever taught her combat strategy is nothing short of a genius.”
“I’ve never read her file from the ICW,” Harry admitted. “I only know what she’s told me about her training. It seemed rude to read her file. That being said, I’m pretty sure the little minx has read mine.”
Sirius laughed. “Yes, I agree. It was a great demonstration, though, and I think your people will learn a lot from the analysis. Your American guests are back from lunch by the way.”
Harry looked out into the bullpen and motioned the two men forward. “I have plans for dinner unless you need me.”
“No, lad, enjoy your date.”
* * * *
“What do you know about Potter?”
Roger Davies shrugged. “He’s not someone I’d cross because he can be vicious with personal enemies, why?”
Marc Corey frowned. “You know I used to be engaged to Hermione Granger—when she lived in Rome. I was surprised to find her involved with a wizard like Potter when I arrived here in Britain.”
“Really? He’s a peer and one of the richest men in Britain. He has two masteries, you know, so whatever you might think about his intelligence—he’s brilliant in his own right. What happened with you and Granger?”
“I made a mistake,” Marc muttered. “And three years later, I’m still paying for it. She had him warn me off.”
Davis raised an eyebrow. “You got an official warning from Potter? What sort of dumbarse shite did you do?”
“I asked her to have dinner with me and consider reconciling,” Marc admitted reluctantly. “I didn’t realize that courting thing was serious. We don’t have those protocols in the US.”
“You’re lucky you only got a warning,” Davies said gravely. “Encroaching like that is a stupid thing to do. And she had no choice but to tell him what you’d done—otherwise, she’d be in violation of the protocols. They essentially made promises to each other through the protocols to see only each other socially for an entire year. He told her and basically everyone else that he wants to marry her.”
“The protocols are stupid. I’m disgusted that someone as brilliant as Hermione would allow herself to be subjugated into such a ridiculous arrangement.”
“It is one of the most honorable gestures a wizard can make in Britain,” Davies said coolly. “And she can end the courting at any point, but it is obvious to everyone that she is completely enthralled with him. I expect he’s already looking at land so he can build her betrothal house.”
“It is a tradition in noble families that a wizard offer his future wife a home that is purchased just for her. Potter seems the type to buy and build. His first courting gesture was a book worth several hundred thousand galleons—I don’t know the insured worth as it wasn’t announced. Though those pearls she wears every day are easily worth just as much—I heard they were his Yule gift to her.”
“It sounds like he’s basically buying her,” Marc said.
“It’s obviously a matter of perspective.” Roger stood from his desk and deactivated his light, sealed the workspace, and went to the cloak rack. “You should be careful about voicing such opinions in public. If it got back to Potter, you’d go back to America in a box.”
“I thought you barely knew him.”
“I know enough not to pick a fight with a one-man war,” Roger said snidely. “You might want to take a bit to think about your life choices before you go picking a fight with a man that can turn into a bloody dragon.”
* * * *
Hermione leaned against the wall of her office and considered the conversation she’d heard take place between Roger Davies and Marc. Roger had been part of the DOM for nearly eight years—he’d only done one year with the Department of Regulation before he’d been recruited for R&D by Croaker. He was a solid asset and a thoughtful academic though she’d heard he was something of a womanizer. He’d never looked her way which proved he had better instincts than most.
With a sigh, she left her office and went in search of Croaker. Jonah McGregor was a sarcastic bastard and one prone to the dramatic, but he was actually a great boss so she wasn’t at all concerned to go to him with a problem. His door was open so she stepped in a little and paused at the sight of Lord Black.
“Pardon me, the door wasn’t shut.” She started to step back, but McGregor motioned her forward. “I can come back.”
“You look upset, Granger, get your bum in here and take a seat.” He pointed towards the chair beside Lord Black, and she blushed.
She sighed and pulled the door shut then activated the privacy protocol which made both men sit up a little straighter. “Marc Corey is a problem. I never should’ve kept his name on the list despite his academic qualifications because he’s utterly incapable of being a professional.” She sat down in the chair and frowned. “I was hoping, honestly, that Harry would reject his placement for whatever reason he could think of but he didn’t. Though he did offer to change his mind when I expressed that opinion.”
McGregor sighed. “What sort of problem is Marc Corey?”
“The kind that just sat in a public space in the middle of the DOM and compared a peer’s courting gesture as a method of purchase,” Hermione said and winced when Lord Black swore under his breath. “He said it to Roger Davies but if I overheard there is no telling who else might have heard it. Roger warned him that it was a stupid thing to say, but I’m fairly certain the damage is already done. Marc barely got an Acceptable on his defense OWL for the love of Merlin, and he’s fumbling his way right onto a dueling platform with what Roger called a ‘one-man war’.”
Sirius sighed. “That would be a political shite-storm. The Americans wouldn’t tolerate the killing of one of their citizens in a duel, sanctioned or not. Dueling with a mortal outcome is illegal in the US and heavily frowned upon by the ICW. But that is exactly what the protocols allow when it comes to that sort of insult.”
There was a sharp little knock on the door which made Croaker frown. His people knew better than to knock on his door when privacy was activated. Hermione stood up and answered it, breaking the privacy charm as she opened the door. Penelope Clearwater was there—pale even for her.
“Your…” She exhaled sharply. “Lord Potter is here having a private discussion with Marc. In your office.”
“Oh.” Hermione shared a look with her boss and Lord Black. “Well, shite.”
Sirius grinned. “He’d never kill someone in your office.” He sighed and checked his watch. “Pardon me, ladies.” He slipped past them, walked down the hall, and knocked on Hermione’s office door. “Harry James, you’d better not be making me a liar.” The door opened, and he entered without another word.
Five agonizing minutes later, the door opened, and Marc came out, sheet-white. His hands were trembling. Hermione started to speak but then found she didn’t have a single thing to say to her former friend. She averted her gaze with a frown.
“I’ve decided that Project Origin is not a really fit for me, and I’ll be returning to New York,” Marc said quietly, and Hermione just nodded. “Excuse me.”
She waited until he’d walked away. “Penelope—make sure he only takes things that belong to him.”
“Sure,” Penelope said, and she hurried away.
McGregor snorted and went back to his office. “Who knew you’d come with so much bloody drama, Granger?”
Harry’s father exited the room and just offered her a smile as he walked past her. Hermione took a deep breath and walked into her office. Harry was seated on the sofa. She hadn’t seen him since he’d changed out of his field gear after the simulation. He was wearing a pair of charcoal grey slacks, a red shirt, and a black waistcoat though he hadn’t bothered with a tie or if he had one he’d already removed it for the day.
She pulled the door shut. “Roger?”
“He’s a member of my conclave,” Harry murmured. He patted the sofa beside him.
She sat down, crossed her legs with a sigh and slouched down beside him. “Did you hurt him?”
“Did you threaten him?”
“No,” Harry said and laughed when she looked his way. “I really didn’t have to, you know. As I’ve already said, my reputation proceeds me into most rooms. I just explained to him the steps the courting protocols would require of me if he continued to express such foul and unseemly interest in our relationship. I was very clear and concise, so there was no confusion. Then I suggested that perhaps since he didn’t have the self-control to be a professional about your former relationship with him that he should take his disrespectful arse back to America.”
“Is it me?” Hermione questioned. “Do I just bring out the worst in men?”
“Some men are threatened by a strong and successful woman because they’ve built their own self-worth on the assumption that women are weak and inferior. When they encounter a woman who is neither and whom they can’t force into a place of weakness, they lash out in one way or another.” He took a deep breath. “I’ve never doubted a woman’s strength. Both my mothers taught me valuable lessons regarding that. Did you know that I delivered the twins?”
“Pardon me?” Hermione asked in shock.
Harry laughed weakly. “Yeah, it’s not exactly a family secret, but it isn’t discussed often. I was sixteen, and we were staying in the London townhouse when it was attacked by Death Eaters—Bellatrix Lestrange had been broken out of prison though it hadn’t been announced. She led Voldemort right to my front door. Aster and Atticus were at the Ministry with our dad. I had a choice between standing and fighting—which wasn’t ideal since my mother was nine months pregnant—or portkeying with a woman a week from her due date. We portkeyed.”
“I locked down the wards on the country house, and shortly after that, her water broke. I couldn’t risk calling for help, and only family could enter the property anyway. We didn’t know where Dad was or if the Ministry had been attacked, too. There wasn’t a single communication mirror to be had in the house. So after I had what I believed was fully earned meltdown in the foyer, I helped her upstairs to the master bedroom, and she bloody well gave birth to twins without any sort of pain relief charms whatsoever because I didn’t know any and she couldn’t cast any on herself that would be effective.
“She screamed and cried. I cried, and I probably begged a few times during because I was certain she was going to die. It was an utter nightmare. Then after two hours, which felt like two years, Orion and Aries were born within just three minutes of each other. By the time I got her, and them cleaned up—my father was coming through the front door.”
“You must have been…quite upset.”
Harry laughed. “Well, honestly, I was so worked up by the events it took me a week to acknowledge that I’d seen parts of my mother no son should ever have to see. But on the other side of it, it was the fiercest damn thing I’ve ever seen in my life. After that, I didn’t and won’t ever doubt how strong and frankly heroic a woman can be.”
“I was a little worried about beating you in the simulation,” Hermione admitted. “Did any of your aurors get irritated?”
“No, they’re all way too excited about it. We should cross train more—your people have skills that mine could stand to learn and vice versa. Yours did great in the controlled environment, but they could use some practice on field organization and brute force in emergency situations.”
“I noticed,” Hermione said. “Cross training is a good idea. There was a time when Unspeakables were recruited purely from the Auror Corps but these days they are most often pure academics who are pushed through the Auror Academy unless they have prior law enforcement experience then they end up in your department with very little practical experience. McGregor wasn’t fond of that practice, so I imagine it’ll return to the old way now that he’s the Director of the DOM.”
* * * *
Hermione leaned on her door and smiled, her lips still warm from the sweet kiss Harry had given her before leaving. Dinner had been lovely and perfect, and they’d made arrangements to see each other on Sunday—it was time for his second courting gesture which could thankfully be done in private between the two of them. Her door chime rang, and she frowned before turning to take a peek at her uninvited visitor. She sighed at the sight of Marc Corey and opened the door with a frown.
He glared at her. “You let him kiss you.”
“That’s none of your business, Marc. What are you doing here? How did you find out where I lived?”
“I followed you,” Marc snapped and pushed his way in. “Very quaint—Potter’s habit of walking you home from dinner. Everyone knows about it—those little twits at the Ministry think it’s charming.”
“I think it’s charming, too,” Hermione said. “You can’t just show up here, Marc! Are you crazy?”
“We were engaged, and I couldn’t kiss you!” Marc shouted. “What the fuck?”
Hermione glared at him. “You put off our discussing a date for our wedding three times, Marc. I’m not an idiot—it was becoming abundantly clear that we weren’t on the same page. Then you made that ridiculous demand like you had the right to my body just because I said I’d marry you.”
“No, you didn’t!” Hermione shouted. “I belong to myself, you stupid bastard! You wouldn’t have had the right to touch me without permission even if we had gotten married!”
“You arrogant bitch,” Marc said quietly. “I was your friend. I was kind to you and supported you from the very start!”
“I’m not a bloody machine you can shove the pretense of respect into and get sex in return,” Hermione hissed. “Get the hell out of my flat.”
He drew his wand and she scoffed as her own wand slid into her wand.
“You’ve always underestimated me,” Marc told her. He pointed his wand upward and drew a circle in the air, his eyes dark with fury and magic flared out around him.
Alchemy, Hermione thought, and her eyes went wide. She started to back up, but the magic burst between them and her hastily conjured shield was no match for the ward buster he’d conjured.
“Reducto!” The curse left her wand, and he barely had time to take half a step back before it hit him. The curse flung him through the wall of her flat and out into the hall.
The Diana trembled against her throat and a strange sensation spread through her. She looked down and found the medallion was nearly black and curling around the edges. Her body felt weird, and she realized that Marc had done far more than cast a specialized ward buster. Fortunately, the Diana had a failsafe. A hook around her naval was her only warning before the medallion failed entirely and she disappeared in a flash of portkey magic.
Gringotts was locked down. They hadn’t locked down the bank since the last dverger rebellion. Harry had been recalled to the Ministry and had been surprised to enter the room and find that Hermione wasn’t there. He hesitated as his gaze connected with Amelia Bones. The woman looked horrified.
“Lord Potter, I need you to sit, please.”
Harry glanced briefly at his father who exhaled and averted his gaze. He slid into the chair but kept his hands on the table, his posture relaxed. He’d been told before that when he was tense he looked threatening.
“An hour ago, Hermione Granger was portkeyed into a secure chamber in Gringotts,” Bones said quietly. “Her status is unknown, and the dverger have declared a man named Marc Corey the enemy of the Horde. They are demanding he be captured and turned over to them immediately, or they will consider the Treaty of 1735 void.”
“That’s an international treaty,” Harry said quietly. “What has he done to her?”
“They have refused all questions regarding her condition,” Sirius murmured. “We think you might have better luck but in the meantime, lad, we must find Marc Corey. They want him alive and won’t accept any sort of excuse. Whatever he’s done—they are beyond livid and beyond caring about the future of their relationship with magical kind.”
“I dispatched two people to her flat,” Croaker said. “There was blood in the hallway in front of a fairly large hole in the wall next to her door. She used some sort of curse to shove an intruder straight through the wall. We can assume it was Corey since the Horde is demanding his capture.”
“The Treaty of 1735 is sixteen hundred pages long, but I already have several people reading it trying to figure out what he’s done,” Bones explained.
Harry sucked in a deep breath and stood. “You don’t have to do that—there is only one section of it that would apply to Hermione. The Diana is considered a special effort artifact by the Horde and the destruction of one is a high crime.” He turned his back on them when they all paled. “He’s…I can’t be a part of any team sent to capture him. I’d like to go to the bank to see if they will allow me entry.”
His father and Minister Bones accompanied him to the bank. He knocked and ignored the crowd that had gathered in the street to watch to see if he’d be admitted. By the time they’d made it down Diagon Alley, it had become clear that what had happened and the dverger response was public knowledge. It had been announced on the wireless, and the ICW was already hunting for Corey.
The door opened Razel appeared. “Lord Potter.”
Harry took a step back to give his account manager the appropriate space. “Razel.”
The dverger stared at him then his gaze drifted to the crowd behind him. “Your witch is on the verge of death.”
Harry went weak in the knees. His father caught him.
“We need Dumbledore.” Razel moved to shut the door. “Bring him here and you can enter the bank.” He shut the door without another word.
Harry exhaled sharply and separated from his father. “Star.” She appeared immediately. “Find Albus Dumbledore and bring him here. Accept no excuses.”
Five minutes passed, and Star reappeared with a startled Albus Dumbledore. The elderly wizard patted himself and huffed. “Merlin’s pants, my boy, you didn’t have to have your house elf kidnap me.”
Any other time, Harry would’ve been amused by the man’s ruffled state. “Sir, the dverger are requesting your presence in the bank.”
The door opened, and Razel huffed. “Good. Dumbledore and Potter, come.” He paused. “I suppose that Lord Black and Minister Bones can come as well.”
Harry was too relieved to ask questions of his account manager. They all four followed him into a large ritual chamber. Hermione was on an altar—encased in the kind of stasis ward he’d heard of but had never seen. Her skin was pale, and she was utterly still.
He focused on the dverger who had spoken. “Chieftain Ragnok.”
“Your woman has been gravely cursed. You know her Muggle parents?”
“Yes.” Harry nodded. “They’ve met my house elf, Star. I could send her to them.” Star shimmered into place beside him. “She’s at your service.”
Ragnok focused on Star. “You may bring both of her Muggle parents straight into this chamber, Star. Tell them that their daughter has been cursed and I need to speak with them. Be hasty but don’t transport them without permission.”
Star popped away.
“What’s she been cursed with?” Dumbledore questioned. “And how can I help?”
“We’ve been able to discern that he used an alchemy-based ward buster to destroy the Diana medallion she wore, and a keyed-lust curse was thrown at her at the same time,” Ragnok explained. “What I must speak of next is not to be discussed outside of the bank.” He wanted until they all nodded their agreement. “The Diana is largely powered by the person who wears it. This wizard named Corey used the connection between the medallion and Miss Granger to entrench the curse. We can’t break the lust curse without destroying her core. The only way to ensure her survival is to let the curse run its course.”
Harry shuddered in revulsion.
Star arrived with Ryan and Hannah Granger at that point. Harry walked to stand beside the altar, though the stasis field didn’t let him get too close. The fury boiling inside him had no outlet.
“Absolutely not!” Hannah Granger snapped. “Harry? Make them fix this!”
Harry turned to stare at her then he focused on Ragnok. “Could she survive the loss of her magic?”
Ragnok hesitated but shook his head “No, Lord Potter, she’s as magical as you are and her body is deeply vested in magic.”
“You asked for Dumbledore because you hope his knowledge of alchemy could help you negate the curse?”
“We can’t negate the curse in the time we have but we might be able to alter it,” Razel said hurriedly. “That’s why I asked for Dumbledore.”
“I will do everything I can,” Dumbledore agreed. “Is Miss Granger capable of speaking?”
“We’ve temporarily suppressed the curse and used the stasis field to prolong the suppression. We feel we could suppress the curse for at least three hours, but she agreed to stasis until we’re ready to begin working on the problem,” Ragnok explained. “When we wake her to discuss her options, she will be capable of rational thought. I’ve explained this to you as I have so that you’ll be prepared for whatever decision she makes which will be honored. I’ve given her my word.”
Harry nodded, but he didn’t look at her parents. He walked away from the discussion and leaned against the wall near the altar so he could watch her. Everyone else avoided him after that, even his own father didn’t approach him. He said nothing when it was announced that the ICW had captured Corey in Canada. The American arrived via an international portkey ten minutes after he was captured. No one, really, wanted another dverger rebellion and certainly not over a scum bag who’d actually attacked an immaculate witch, who was internationally known to be wearing a Diana medallion.
Corey looked a little worse for wear when he was brought into the room. His clothes were spattered with blood, and his shoulder looked dislocated. He wondered if Hermione had done that or if people from the ICW had done it capturing him. Either way, neither the dverger nor the ICW appeared all that interested in healing the American. Sirius had to grab Ryan Granger to keep the man from attacking Corey.
“Tell them what you used and exactly how you did it,” Harry demanded.
Corey frowned and shook his head.
“There are many ways to die,” Harry said then, and Corey glared at him.
“You can’t kill me,” Marc scoffed.
Harry turned to Ragnok. “I’ll give you every ounce of gold I have.”
Ragnok scowled. “Keep your money, Potter, you can kill him for free.”
“I used a variant of Amplexus Amantium,” Corey blurted out. “It can’t be altered, and she’s mine, Potter. Nothing you can do will change that.”
“I can kill you, you deviant bastard,” Harry hissed. Scales started to spread across his cheeks, and his father rushed to him. He pushed Harry bodily back against the ritual room wall.
“Calm down, Harry James.” Sirius cupped the back of his head even as his skin darkened. “Look at me, lad. You need to calm down. You can’t help anyone, least of all Hermione if you give into your form.”
Harry exhaled sharply and lowered his head to his father’s shoulder. “Sorry,” he whispered hoarsely.
“Don’t,” Sirius said gently. He ran his hand through Harry’s hair. “You never have to apologize to me.”
“What’s this curse?” Ryan Granger asked. “Will it make her love him?”
“Temporarily,” Harry murmured. “Perhaps as long as a year but then it will fade. It’s illegal but only punishable by a fine. It was used for centuries to…trick both witches and wizards into marriages they wouldn’t want otherwise want.”
“I’m going to cut your head off,” Ragnok told him plainly. “And there isn’t anyone or anything on this planet that will stop me. You’ve destroyed a priceless and deeply magical dverger made artifact—the Diana medallion Miss Granger wore was two thousand years old, and it was crafted by Nordok himself. He was the first chieftain to stand from my line for the Horde. It was my personal honor to stand guard over the brightest witch of the age and your attack on her is an attack on me.”
Marc’s eyes were wide. “I didn’t know. She never said.”
“She wasn’t allowed to say!” Ragnok shouted, clearly furious. “You should’ve respected her to begin with! Get him out of here, Razel.”
* * * *
Hours later, Dumbledore had exhausted his knowledge of alchemy, which was extensive, and they’d called in Nicolas Flamel who hadn’t been able to help either. There was nothing to do but wake her up and tell her the truth of it—they couldn’t break the curse on her in the time they had, and they couldn’t destroy the key that Marc had embedded in it, either. He watched Ragnok break the stasis from across the room by the door. Her parents were near the altar, but Harry knew he wouldn’t be able to even stay in the bank once her choice was made. It was taking every ounce of self-control he had not to hunt for Corey wherever the dverger had hidden him.
Hermione stirred on the altar and she exhaled deeply. Her magic drifted on her skin which wasn’t a surprise—Harry figured she’d gone under in a terrible emotional state. Ragnok stepped forward and spoke to her in a low tone for several minutes. She curled on her side and their gazes connected. In a blur of motion, she rolled off the altar and ran to him. Harry caught her and held her tight as she cried against his throat. Her body was trembling—he didn’t know if it was emotional distress or the curse.
“I can’t,” she whispered against his skin. “I can’t.”
Harry closed his eyes and his fingers curled into the ritual robe she was wearing. “I need you to live.”
“I can’t.” Her fingernails dug into his skin. “Please, Harry.”
“I love you,” he whispered against her cheek. “I’ll love you tomorrow and a year from now and a hundred years from now. The lust part of the curse will fade within twenty-four hours.”
“I can’t stay with him for a year,” Hermione whispered fiercely.
“Darling, he’s not going to survive the week—one way or another—he’s a dead man.” Harry pulled her closer. “You just have to get through the lust curse then you never have to see him again.”
She started to cry in earnest, and all he could do was hold her. He’d never felt so powerless in his entire life.
“I need you to live,” he said again and felt so selfish that he couldn’t breathe for a few seconds. What was being asked of her was beyond foul. It was ugly and vicious and so terrible that he wanted to set the world on fire.
She calmed down by degrees and when she lifted her head, he knew what she’d decided. He couldn’t hold it against her, but it was already breaking his heart. Harry touched her face, rubbed his thumb over bottom lip.
“I love you,” she whispered. “And I’m so sorry, Harry, but I can’t.”
The room was silent around them save her mother’s ragged breathing as everyone else realized when she was saying.
She turned to stare at her father. “No, Daddy. I’m sorry but I can’t.” She looked toward Dumbledore. “You’ve studied his spell.”
“Yes, it’s an astounding accomplishment—the blending of two curses with a ward buster. It’s unfortunate his brilliance took such a dark path.” Dumbledore cleared his throat. “I could…we could memory charm you. You’d never have to remember it.”
“Being raped,” Hermione said. “That’s my choice—request curse breaking despite the fact that it will probably kill me or submit to a rapist,” Hermione said flatly. “If I don’t submit, the curse will fracture my core and kill me anyway. I don’t consider rape a viable alternative to death.”
No one could say anything to that, and Harry wasn’t surprised.
Razel cleared his throat from the doorway of the ritual chamber. “One of her people is here.”
“My people?” Hermione questioned.
“Yes, she was quite vehement about it,” Razel said dryly. “Miss Clearwater is threatening to tear down the doors if she’s not admitted immediately. I think she means it.”
“Oh, yes, could you bring her?”
Razel nodded. “Yes, for the safety of our building if nothing else.”
He returned five minutes later with an untidy Penelope Clearwater. She looked exhausted and like she hadn’t bothered to brush her hair in a month.
“What happened to you?”
Penelope dropped a bag on the altar and hugged Hermione fiercely. “Croaker threw two of us in the time chamber. We spent five hours in it.”
“That’s…five years,” Hermione protested.
“Yes, I hate Roger, or I’m going to marry him. I’m not certain.” Penelope put up her hair. “Seriously, he’s a terrible bastard and a great shag, but he’s arrogant about it which is to be expected I suppose. If I were hung like a centaur, I’d be arrogant as fuck about it.” She motioned to her bag. “Okay, so we’ve researched the curse, and we deconstructed the spell that Marc used. We also decided that he should be castrated with a rusty blade before he is viciously murdered and fed to a dragon.” She rummaged through the bag. “I brought the blade since we figured no dverger would allow one of his own to rust.”
Ragnok took the long knife when she offered it and gave her a nod.
“Great! Okay, Hermione, you have to get married.”
“I’m not marrying that git,” Hermione snapped.
“Oh, well, no, of course not. It’s illegal to marry a corpse in Britain. We assumed you’d marry Lord Potter unless he’s already killed Marc and going to Azkaban then we have a list of volunteers that I swore on my magic not to share with anyone if Potter is still free and on a murder spree.”
“No murder spree, yet,” Harry said faintly. “I can’t speak for tomorrow, though.”
Penelope grinned at him. “We’ve already researched your defense! We’re a hundred percent positive that you can kill him in the bank, and no one but the Horde could charge you with a crime. Also, we drafted a pardon for Madam Bones to sign just in case.” She passed that scroll to Amelia Bones who looked so startled Harry almost laughed. “So, back to the marriage thing.” She focused on Hermione. “Here’s the best part, you very lucky witch, your wizard is a full blown magus. In 1846, in Brazil, a woman was cursed almost just like you and it was negated with the Eternal Rite of Hearts which requires a really powerful bloody wizard. We contacted the Ministry of Magic in Brazil, and they confirmed that the curse was dispelled completely.”
“What about the lust part?” Hermione questioned.
“The ring for the Countess of Gryffindor has built-in fidelity charms that are over a thousand years old. We’ve researched that, too, it’s going to outright destroy the key for the lust curse. It’s done it twice since the ring was created—we read a firsthand account on the subject. The core bond will help you burn through the curse fast. Granted, you’re going to be hot to trot for roughly three hours but fortunately, for you, Potter is nothing short of a legend in that particular area so he can handle shagging for three hours with no issue.”
“Penelope!” Hermione blushed furiously.
“Sorry, Roger corrupted me completely,” Penelope confessed. “I know shite about things I can’t even…you’d be horrified. I probably need a mind healer, but I’d rather get shagged some more so I’m okay with being a bit mental due to the great sacrifice I’ve made on your behalf.” She smiled winningly and rocked back on her heels. “Roger sends his regards. He’s outside since he can’t be civil.”
“You threatened to tear down the doors of the bank,” Hermione protested.
“Roger was all for just taking them down without asking at all,” Penelope said earnestly. “We worked our bums off, and I came running over here as soon as Croaker announced that your stasis had been lifted. We also had diagnostics on your core to review due to your employment warding. You’re a powerhouse, and we’re all super proud you’re our boss so you can’t die.” She bit down on her lip. “Please don’t die.”
Hermione took a deep breath. “Harry and I need to speak in private.”
“Do you trust their research?”
“Yes, of course. They’re both excellent spell crafters, and their deconstruction was extremely thorough,” Hermione said. She set aside the third parchment she’d picked up from Penelope’s pile. “Harry.” She turned to him. “There is a small chance that this could kill us both. The curse backlash could be extreme and also there is every single chance you’d spend your first year of married life with me pining after a dead man.”
“Look at me.”
Hermione’s gaze immediately connected with his. Tears were welling in her eyes.
“I love you, and I don’t want you to submit to that bastard any more than you want to do it. Merlin, help us both, I don’t think I’d ever get over it, and it’s not because of the magical marriage or because I have some obscene attachment to your virginity. But because I do agree with you that it would be rape, and I’d sooner skin Marc Corey alive than allow him to touch you against your wishes. Until Penelope arrived with her suddenly foul mouth and insane plan, I didn’t have a single course of action at my disposal to protect you from this. Now I have one, and I’m a hundred and ten percent on board with this plan. Let’s get married and shag for three hours.”
She blushed. “Harry.”
“I might need a potion,” he continued. “Because legend or not, I am human.”
“And if it kills you?” Hermione asked. “Your line will die with you.”
“I have an idea about that, but it’s probably going to be difficult to ask of my father.”
* * * *
Sirius accepted the vial of blood from his son, pale-faced and dark eyed. “Harry.”
“It’s just in case,” Harry said. “I’ve already performed the adoption spells on the blood. Babies are born every year in the Muggle world that are abandoned when they show signs of magic. I see them adopted into magical families sometimes four or five times a year. I know it’s difficult to think about, and I’m sorry to hurt you with this, but there is no one I would trust more to raise an heir for me.”
“Oh, lad, you’ve been breaking my heart since the day you were born,” Sirius said and cleared his throat. “But I can’t fault you for the choice you’re making here.” He put the vial in a hidden pocket in his waistcoat and patted it with trembling fingers. “Your mother and Aster are here—they’re with Hermione helping her get ready for the ritual. I’ve sent Atticus to Hogwarts to get the twins. They deserve to be here, too.”
“If I die?”
“You’re their brother and the very first person on this planet to hold each of them—they deserve to see you get married, and if it ends terribly, they’ll have the rest of the family to find comfort in. But you’re strong, and magic has always served you when you needed it most—I have faith it’ll be no different today.”
Harry nodded, and the door to the chamber opened, admitting his three brothers. “Hey.”
Orion and Aries ran to him, and he hugged them individually. They were near carbon copies of his dad—in looks and personality—which Harry was sure didn’t comfort the staff at Hogwarts.
“Atticus told us some git cursed your witch,” Aries said. “Is she all right?”
“She will be,” Harry said. “It’s going to be a very intense ritual, and I’ll need you both to be on your best, public behavior.”
“Of course,” Orion said and grinned. “We know how to behave even if we rarely bother to.”
There was a knock at the door, and Atticus opened it to admit Ryan Granger. Harry motioned the man in. “Get thrown out of her chamber?”
Ryan nodded. “Something about cleansing. They activated a ritual cistern. I didn’t know the ceremony would be done in a magical circle.”
“The Eternal Rite of Hearts is the oldest marriage rite we have available to us—it’s a deeply magical marriage,” Sirius said and checked his watch. “You need to get started, son, we don’t need to tax the suppression spell the dverger have on her.”
Harry pulled his shirt from his slacks after shedding the waistcoat he’d already unbuttoned. “Atticus, can you start the cistern?” He pulled a trunk from his pocket, put it down on the bench near the shallow pool filling with magical water, and resized it.
“Is this dangerous?” Orion asked as Harry unpacked a ritual robe and drew the full staff he used for ritual magic out of the trunk.
“Yeah,” Harry admitted. “If the curse backlashes, it’ll kill us both.” He looked at his youngest brothers then. “But I couldn’t live with myself if she took one of the other options. Do you understand?”
Orion nodded, his jaw firmed up. “Yeah, like Dad says sometimes dying with honor is the only path.” He took a deep breath. “I want…if you don’t make it I want to be your heir.”
Harry’s mouth dropped open. “Orion.”
“I trust myself with it,” Orion said. “And Dad has Atticus and Aries for the Blackmoor title.” He glanced towards their father. “Is that okay?”
“Yeah, lad, that’s okay,” Sirius said and cupped his shoulder. He tugged the kid close. “You’re more your mother than you know.”
“Is that okay with you?” Orion asked, focused on Harry.
“Of course, it is,” Harry murmured and ruffled his hair. “I probably wouldn’t trade you for a chicken curry.”
“Yes, you would,” Aries said with a laugh. “I don’t blame you—chicken curry is awesome.”
Harry grinned and turned to Ryan. “I’m about to take off my clothes.”
“I was in the army; I won’t be offended,” Ryan said. “Unless, you’d like me to leave?”
“Nah, I have no shame to speak of,” Harry admitted and pulled the dragonhide undershirt off. “I’ve been practicing ritual magic since I was twelve, and a lot of cleansing rituals are done in the nude.” He sat down to take off his boots. “Dad, give Aries the parchment, and he can recite the wording for me to memorize.”
Sirius pulled the folded parchment from his pocket and passed it to his younger son.
Aries sat down on the bench as Harry finished taking off his socks. “Okay, so standard opening—a call for a magical blessing—you could do that in your sleep. Whoa.”
“What?” Harry dropped his slacks and boxers on the bench.
“This is a core bond, Harry.”
“I know, kiddo,” he said and stepped down into the cistern. “Just give me the wording.”
“Bound ad magica. Deligati ad me.”
Harry repeated it under his breath several times as the mist stirred around him.
“Fidelitas corde in mentem magicae.” Aries blew out air as Harry repeated. “How do you stay faithful in your own mind?”
Harry offered him a grin as he stepped out of the cistern and pulled on the robe that Atticus proffered. “Since it’s a vow on my magic—my magic will protect itself.”
“I don’t understand,” Aries admitted.
“His magic won’t allow him to find other women attractive sexually,” Sirius said. “I haven’t looked at another woman since I married your mother with any sort of sexual intent.”
“Oh, okay.” Aries went back to the parchment. “Repeat what we’ve gone over.”
Harry dutifully repeated it.
“That doesn’t bother you?” Ryan asked. “Having a part of you suppressed by your magic?”
“Why would it?” Harry questioned in return. “It’s my magic protecting me from being tempted to make what I would consider an unforgivable step. Infidelity is dangerous in the magical world—across the board. It can damage your wife and even your children as emotional upset on that level can cause core fractures.”
“It’s times like this that I regret growing up in a Muggle household,” Ryan admitted. “They only did what they thought was best for my brother and me, but it left us ignorant of the history and customs of our family.”
“Your parents were magical?” Orion asked curiously.
“His core was shattered in the womb, Orion,” Harry said quietly, and the boy paled. “That’s why it’s so important to protect a pregnant witch from any sort of magical impact event. Remember when we talked about it?”
Orion nodded. “Yeah.” He turned to Ryan. “Our cousin, Nym, is pregnant. Aries and I were playing with our practice wands around her and got in a lot of trouble. We won’t do it again.”
“Everyone got really mad,” Aries agreed. “But we don’t make the same mistake twice.”
“Yes, they make new ones,” Sirius said wryly, and Ryan laughed.
“Okay, you’ve got two final phrases and then the standard marriage vow.” He cleared his throat. “Desiderium cordis.”
Harry exhaled sharply and repeated it.
“It’s…this last phrase is about the thing we don’t talk about.”
Harry looked over at his brother. “What is it?”
“Ego dominus mortem invocant Magia tueri nexu.”
Harry repeated the phrase under his breath. He rarely spoke of the Hallows or his magical circumstances as the Master of Death. “I’ve never told her about that.”
“You really couldn’t discuss it outside of the family,” Sirius reminded. “She’s a brilliant woman, Harry, she’ll understand why it’s a secret.” He glanced toward Ryan Granger, who was silent but watchful. “My son’s magical circumstances are unique.”
“I would’ve assumed so without being told—after all, you let him go to war when he was a teenager. Having seen you with your children, I can’t see you letting him do that if you had a single choice in the matter.” He cleared his throat. “Do these circumstances present a danger to my daughter?”
“No,” Harry murmured and shook his head. “I’d have never courted her or any other woman if that were the case. I can’t say I don’t have enemies, but most of them go out of their way to avoid me. They don’t understand how I defeated Riddle, who was believed to be more powerful, and he was certainly more experienced. Combine my performance during that duel with my survival as a child and they are left with more questions than answers. A lot of people don’t handle the lack of knowledge with any sort of grace.”
“And you don’t discuss it.”
“No, and I won’t. It’s none of their business. I met my fate and the rest is simply best left unsaid.” He cleared his throat. “I do think, however, that I’m indirectly the cause of our circumstances today.”
“Marc Corey is…” Ryan sighed. “A very insecure young man. I knew the moment I met him, but Hermione was quite enamored with him because he was so supportive of her intellectually. But his pride in her wasn’t quite right if you know what I mean.”
“How she made him look was more important,” Harry said. “I see it in him, too. He was quick to point out to others that they were together in the past, to increase his own status.”
“That’s crass,” Aries said. “You aren’t supposed to use girls like that.”
“Well, some men weren’t raised to be honorable,” Atticus murmured. “Didn’t you get in trouble in October because of someone else’s poor behavior?”
Aries frowned. “Jason Mackey put this hand up Lessa Dilly’s skirt, so I punched him in the face a few times. I only got two days of detention. He got a whole month and had to apologize to her in front of everyone in the house. I told him, later, that you just don’t put your hand up a witch’s skirt without permission.”
“You’re too young to even think about putting your hand up a witch’s skirt,” Harry lectured as he finished fastening his robe.
Aries grinned. “I’d ask first, regardless.”
Ryan laughed and waved in apology when Sirius sighed. “Sorry, but I’m pretty sure you’re just reaping what you sowed here.”
“More than you know,” Sirius admitted. “I’ve paid for my sins over and over again.”
* * * *
Hermione said nothing as her mother slipped the last pearl-bedecked hair comb into her hair. Between the three of them, her hair was up in an elaborate braided arrangement. She wasn’t even sure what was magic and what was her real hair at this point which was just fine. The robe had been delivered before she’d started the ritual cleansing. It was white with silver threads trailing through it. It glittered with magic and considering it had been delivered in a familiar box with the Gryffindor crest—it had probably been meant to be Harry’s second gesture.
It was an invitation, really, to explore ritual magic with him personally and even though they were getting married in such terrible circumstances she felt so relieved and honored by how much thought he’d put into the gesture. Her intellectual knowledge regarding ritual magic was much more extensive than her practical experience.
“Nervous?” Aster Black questioned.
“No.” Hermione shook her head but then stilled so Isobel could finish the make-up charms. “I have nothing to be nervous about.”
“Has she been dosed with a calming potion?” Penelope questioned.
Hermione laughed softly. “No, I promise. I just…well. No matter what happens today, I’ll be with Harry and everything will be fine.”
“How does he do it?” Aster questioned then shook her head. “I guess we should count ourselves lucky that he didn’t decide to take over the world. People just seem to fall at his feet.”
“He has nice feet,” Hermione said. “But I’ve never thrown myself at them.”
“He’s got a nice everything,” Hannah said dryly. “Men shouldn’t look like that—it’s terrible.”
Isobel laughed. “He was such an adorable boy as well. Earnest and thoughtful who always had a plan for his day. He’d get up first thing every single day and decide what he would study, where he would go, and present his plan to his father. Sirius would make adjustments but, Merlin, that required a discussion as Harry often was certain of what was appropriate and how he should go about it.”
“He still is,” Aster said with a laugh. “I bet he sits at breakfast and makes a list.”
They both laughed, and Hermione refocused on the mirror. “The lip color isn’t too dark?”
“It’s the same shade you always wear.”
“Yes, but I’m frightfully more pale than normal.” She frowned and picked up her wand.
“No,” Aster said and took the wand from her. “It could impact the suppression magic for you to perform any spell and you don’t want to…trust me when I say…you don’t want to feel a single moment of that curse while it’s keyed to that terrible wizard.”
“I passed out during the portkey,” Hermione admitted. “I felt something weird when the alchemy magic hit me. I don’t know what it was, but it didn’t feel directed toward anyone.”
“Desire?” Hannah questioned.
“Oh, I wouldn’t know,” Hermione blushed when they all looked at her in horror. “The Diana shielded me from that, and I’ve worn it since before puberty.” She frowned when her mother did. “Mum, please, no lecture about modern womanhood and feminism today.”
Hannah sighed and kissed her forehead. “How did I raise such a girl?”
“I guess you just got lucky,” Hermione said with a small smile then turned to Isobel. “Maybe a shade or two lighter on the lip color?” She relaxed as Isobel corrected the color. “Marc expects me to choose him over death.”
“Then he’ll be bloody disappointed,” Isobel said. “The dverger will keep him in isolation until you return to Britain.”
“Where will Harry take her?” Hannah questioned.
“We have a private island off the coast of Italy,” Isobel said. “Harry and his father discussed it already, but if she prefers something else, of course, Harry will change his plans.”
“I think the island will be good,” Hermione murmured. “We couldn’t really go anywhere else without being recognized, and I’d prefer not to deal with that sort of attention currently. Especially since I know this curse thing has made the papers, despite how valiantly you’ve all worked to keep newspapers out of my hands.”
“We’re just working to keep your stress levels low,” Aster said primly.
Just twenty minutes later, she entered the ritual room. Harry was on the opposite side of the room speaking in a low tone with his father. His own ritual robe was emerald green. Hermione turned to her mother. “I should warn you this is probably going to look like some sort of ritual claiming.”
Hannah’s mouth dropped open.
“Magical marriage to a peer involves induction into his magical house as his wife I’ll become part of his magical domain.”
“That probably shouldn’t be hot,” Hannah admitted, and Isobel Black laughed briefly.
Hermione blushed and shrugged as Aster and Isobel walked across the ritual space and joined the rest of their family. Each of them spoke with him, and Hermione appreciated how he gave each woman of his attention as they told him whatever they had to say. He had a deliberate manner about him, and she had to admit she did wonder if he made a list for the day at breakfast. She’d find out soon enough, and that was an exciting thought—the idea that she’d be an intimate part of his everyday life.
“Yes,” she said and turned to her father. “Are you okay?”
“Fine.” Ryan cleared his throat. “I’d be grateful if you could tell me you’re going to survive this.”
“We’re both strong,” Hermione said. “But I can’t make any promises. I wish I could.”
He nodded. “This isn’t how I envisioned your wedding day.”
“Well, we’ll have to have a public ceremony for the benefit of Harry’s Muggle title,” Hermione said. “The Duke of Avalon just can’t show up with a wife—it would look odd.”
Ragnok entered at that point and cleared his throat. “Lord Potter, if you’re ready, you may claim the ritual space and we can begin.”
“Of course, Chieftain.” Harry held out a hand, and a gleaming black staff appeared in his hand, an emerald the size of his fist was affixed to the top.
She knew he had one as he’d discussed it one night when they’d been speaking of ritual magic and specifically the conclave he’d formed during the war. He stepped into the ritual circle and a dull thud resonated through the chamber as his magic filled the circle. Hermione took a deep breath to settle herself as Harry’s magical aura spilled out around him.
“In rebus magicis.” The spell flowed out of the staff and flowed around him. The carved runes making up the ritual circle lit up with magic, and the circle calmed as he gained control over it.
Harry held out a hand for her, across the boundary of the circle and she took it immediately. Her fingers curled against his palm as she entered the ritual space, his magic sweeping around her like water.
“I offer you shelter in my magical house, do you accept?”
He gave her hand a little squeeze. “Bound ad magica. Deligati ad me.” Magic curled out of him and wrapped around her—strands of gold and white spun around them.
It was warm, and the magic felt very protective which didn’t surprise her at all. Harry had made her feel safe from practically the moment she’d met him. “Fidelitas corde in mentem magicae. Desiderium cordis. Ego dominus mortem invocant Magia tueri nexu.”
She took a deep breath as his words settled on her. He’d called himself the Master of Death. Her thoughts spun out as she considered what that could possibly mean and why he would say it. The dverger had constructed the ritual based on the research Penelope had brought so they must have thought it required that he say it.
Hermione wet her lips and smiled as she repeated the part she was meant to. “Fidelitas corde in mentem magicae. Desiderium cordis.” Her own magic stirred and spilled out around them, and Harry exhaled sharply as their magic merged.
There were little bursts of light, like fireworks, as they settled together. Harry stored his staff and offered her his other hand which she took. They looked toward Ragnok as he took his place in front of a small pedestal just outside the ritual circle and placed three rings on it.
“We gather here today to witness the bonding of Harry James Potter, the Earl of Gryffindor and Miss Hermione Jane Granger. The ancient rite of marriage is our most sacred bond. Let no one seek to interfere in such a rite for it is considered a crime against our beloved Lady Magic.” The Chieftain paused. “A magical marriage is a partnership. As your hands are now joined, so shall your lives be joined. As your hands are now joined, so shall your hearts be joined. As your hands are now joined, so shall your magic be joined. This is the privilege of a wizard and a witch. Do you accept this privilege, Lord Potter?”
“Miss Granger, do you accept this privilege?”
“I do.” Hermione clenched her fingers against his as their eyes met.
“Miss Granger, pledge yourself to your Lord and his magical house.”
“Let all those here know and understand the depth of my devotion. Let Magic, herself, bless me with the grace and strength to bear the responsibilities and duties of the Countess of Gryffindor for these are my promises: I will bear your burdens as if they are my own. I will honor you and your magical House in word and deed. I will be faithful in heart, mind, and body. I will be your wife, your lover, your shelter, the mother of your children, and your partner in magic and in life. I swear this on my magic. So shall it eternally be.”
“Lord Potter, pledge yourself to your Lady.”
“Let all those here know and understand the depth of my devotion. Let Magic, herself, bless me with the grace and strength to bear the responsibilities and duties of the Earl of Gryffindor for these are my promises: I will bear your burdens as if they are my own. My defense of you and your honor shall have no equal. I will be faithful in heart, mind, and body. I will be your husband and Lord. I will be your lover, your shelter, the father of your children and your partner in magic and in life. I swear this on my magic. So shall it eternally be.”
“Lord Potter, bestow upon your wife the ring of the Countess of Gryffindor.” The family ring lifted off the altar and came to him with a rush of magic.
Harry slid the ring onto the ring finger of her wand hand carefully.
“The matrimonial bond between a wizard and a witch is an everlasting one.” The Chieftain waved a hand, and the bonding rings left the pedestal to hover in front of them. “These rings shall represent your ancient bond to the world.”
Harry plucked the ring in front of him out of the air, and he slipped it confidently on Hermione’s left hand. It shrank, magically sizing to fit her. Hermione took the second ring and slipped the ring on his ring finger on his left hand with tears welling in her eyes. Magic shifted around them as they joined hands. Ragnok lifted his staff and performed the bonding spell. Shining silver ribbons of light swirled around them and sank into their skin.
“May you know peace, love, laughter, passion and great joy in your union.” Another set of ribbons wrapped around them and sank in.
“May your children be healthy and magical.” Golden light surrounded them and spread out in a sphere, enclosing them in the physical representation of their bond as it shaped itself and settled around them. “Let no one seek to come between you. Let Magic know that you’ve pledged yourselves eternally to this union.”
The full bond settled on her, and Hermione’s vision darkened. She went weak in the knees, and Harry caught her. A sharp pain burst through her chest. “Harry.”
Hermione woke to the sound of the ocean. She turned her head and found Harry sitting in a chair near the bed she was in. “Hey.”
“Hey, you.” Harry picked up her hand. “You fainted and scared the hell out of everyone.”
“We’re in Italy?”
“It was agreed that when the suppression magic faded you’d definitely wake up. I figured you wouldn’t want to wake up like that in front of your parents.” He turned the mirror he had in his hand and displayed his mother’s face. “But we are in communication via mirror. They’re at my family’s house having dinner. Your father has his own bottle of wine.”
“No tattling,” Ryan called out.
Hermione sighed. “I feel okay. Hang up on them. I shouldn’t have to share you on our honeymoon.”
Harry laughed and turned the mirror back on himself. “I’ll keep an eye on her health diagnostics.” He closed the mirror, and it disappeared in a flash of magic.
“You have a dimensional store.”
“Yes, I use it to store weapons and stuff.” Harry took the hand she offered and let himself be pulled onto the bed. “They were pretty sure that the marriage bond negated most of the curse that Corey put on you. You’ve got some alchemy lingering in your core, but it should be gone within the next twenty-four hours. So if you proclaim your undying love for that git in about an hour, I’m going to totally forgive you for it.”
“I hate him a lot,” Hermione said. “It would take a serious amount of magic to make me feel different. Despite everything that happened between us in the past, I trusted him not to…he said he was nice to me like that was reason enough for me to ignore what I wanted for myself and sleep with him.”
“There’s no explaining such an irrational position,” Harry murmured. He ran his fingers along the edge of her robe. “Do you like it? I had it created just for you for the second gesture.”
“It’s beautiful,” Hermione said. “Just what I always pictured I’d have for the ritual marriage part. It was such a relief to open the box and see it because it must have taken a month to create.”
“Yes, just about but I don’t…oh.” Harry sighed. “Love, you still had doubts that I really wanted to marry you?”
Hermione blushed and shrugged. “You’re everything I could want, and there were times when it didn’t seem real. We went through a lot to get here, it seems. A lot of men would’ve cut and run.”
“I’m not a lot of men,” Harry said. “I’m your man.”
She couldn’t help but smile and tug him closer. “How long does my suppression spell have?”
He brushed his mouth against hers then looked at the clock on the nightstand. “Probably about an hour. Got something on your mind, Lady Potter?”
“I’d really like to be lucid and in my right mind the first time.” She felt her face heat but just relaxed when he nodded.
“Had things gone to plan, about a month before we got married I’d have started asking you questions about this part of things,” Harry admitted. He caught one of her hands in his and laced their fingers together. “I’d have asked you which books you’d read about sex because I’m sure you’ve read more than one. I’d have read them so I’d know what you know. We would’ve talked about my expectations and preferences. By the time we got to this place and this moment—I would’ve been prepared to give you exactly what you’ve always wanted from this.”
“I love the way you love me,” Hermione whispered and took a deep breath. “That sounds amazing, you know. I appreciate how much thought you put into it.” She smiled. “But I think I should be fine if we just keep it simple to start.”
“There is nothing simple about making love,” Harry said as he placed soft kisses along her jaw.
“I just mean…” She laughed and curled into him as his fingers danced along her rib cage. “That, you know, I’d prefer the missionary position and that sort of thing.” Hermione relaxed on the bed and just sucked on her bottom lip when he gently pulled on the first tie holding her robe together. “I’ve never read any books about sex.”
“What?” He stopped and focused on face. “Seriously?”
Hermione blushed. “I was going to buy one a few months back but I ran into Daphne Greengrass in Flourish and Blotts and I couldn’t…what if she reported it in Witch Weekly? Then I was going to go get one from a Muggle store, but the thing with Chloe happened and then the project. I received a thorough talk at the academy during my third year and, of course, my mother was very frank in her talk with me. I’m sorry.”
“No, sweetheart, you don’t owe me an apology.” Harry trailed his fingertips downward from her throat and over the delicate skin between her breasts. He snagged another tie and pulled it open slowly. “First, we should take off these robes and put them away. Ritual robes should be stored to protect their integrity.”
Hermione moved to her knees as Harry slipped from the bed. She finished untying the robe as he watched then shrugged out of it. Her cheeks were hot so she knew she was blushing—she desperately wished she was more confident about this part of things. She realized he was hesitating.
She grinned. “I won’t freak out.”
Harry took the robe she offered and walked away from the bed. “I’m normally well received naked,” he admitted. “Though you’re probably the most virginal virgin I’ve ever known.”
“Shut up and come here,” Hermione said with a laugh.
Harry smiled and put her robe in the trunk he’d brought then shed his own. He ignored the little intake of breath from her as he walked back to the bed. She was still kneeling where he’d left her, her gaze drifted over him twice before he put one knee up on the mattress.
“You’re really pretty,” she said, and he huffed a little as he pulled her into his arms and put her down on the mattress.
He kissed her then lifted his head. “Don’t you dare call me pretty again.” Curling one hand around a hip, he cleared his throat as she laughed. “You good?”
“It’s kind of odd,” he admitted as he trailed his hand down her thigh to her knee and back up. “Being able to touch you so intimately.”
“My leg is intimate?”
“I wouldn’t have thought so before,” Harry whispered. “Now it feels a little dirty.”
She pulled him close. “Love me.”
“Always,” he promised and sought her mouth.
* * * *
Hermione tied the robe she’d found on the end of the bed as she left the bedroom. There was music playing so she followed it down a staircase and into a large airy kitchen. Double doors were opened up to an incredible ocean view, and Harry was standing on the deck with a mug. There was a full tea service on the table near him.
He turned and smiled. “Hey.” He put the mug down on the table and walked across the deck to her. “How do you feel?”
“Great.” She rubbed her face against his chest as he pulled her close. “This isn’t how I thought this would all go.”
“I know,” he whispered against her hair. “And he’ll pay for it, I promise.”
“Ragnok was furious,” Hermione said. “They’ll probably kill him, but they said they would hold him for a formal trial until after my return. Ragnok said I had the right to face Marc. But I…I don’t know that I want to face him. What if it activates some part of the curse lingering in me? I don’t to want to feel anything for him like that.”
“I know, but you need closure on the issue of him and his betrayal of the friendship you once had with him.” He ran his fingers through her hair. “I was so bloody worried about you.”
“I’m sorry. I tried to cast a shield, but alchemy is really hard to block. It’s like water—it just seeps through any defense.” She blinked back tears and held him tighter. “I wish I was stronger.”
“I was going to choose death,” she whispered. “I was going to leave you all rather than…” She closed her eyes and shuddered. “I hate myself for not being strong enough to do that.”
“Darling,” he whispered against her hair. “You were in a terrible place emotionally. Don’t dwell on the choice you almost made. Be with me here and now.” She lifted her face, and he pressed a soft kiss to her mouth. “This isn’t how I thought we’d get here either but I love you, and I’m so honored to be your husband.”
She smiled. “I’m going to make everyone call me Lady Potter.”
He laughed. “As you should.” He brushed her hair back from her face with both hands. “Star brought us some food, and she also brought us both some clothes. After we eat, I’d like to introduce to my house elves so they can develop magical connections to you.”
“Okay, how many are there?”
“Ten but only one in my personal household.”
Her mouth dropped open before she could help herself. “Why so many?”
“As the Duke of Avalon it is my duty to protect and seek justice for all magical creatures,” Harry murmured as he led her to the table and pulled out a chair. He sat down with her as she started to lift the lid of the large tray to reveal a spread of fresh fruit and two plates of steaming French toast. “This is my favorite, but if you have a different preference, she’s not far from here. I can call her, and she’ll cook anything you’d like.”
“No, this is great.” She smiled and turned to him. “So the elves?”
“Some of them I rescued from poor situations and most I’ve found new homes for but every once in a while I come across a house elf who needs more of a magical connection than the average magical person could provide so I bond them to myself. One works at Hogwarts currently to keep an eye on the twins. I have another who is Aster’s personal attendant and will remain with her indefinitely. My head of household is Star, and she keeps the others busy with various tasks at Black Manor, my mother’s country house, the island, of course, Potter Keep, which is the ancestral seat of the House of Potter. Then if they’re bored or out of work they volunteer at St. Mungo’s or Hogwarts to keep busy which is important, as you know, to keep their magic healthy.”
“Why don’t you live in Potter Keep?” Hermione questioned.
“Because it’s a drafty old castle in Wales that is haunted,” Harry said. “By three different ancestors and frankly all three of them are complete arseholes. I can’t actually force family members to cross over, that would be crass, but I’m also utterly unprepared to live with them.”
“I’d like to see it.”
“And you will,” he agreed. “I visit it once a quarter just to check on things and chat with my grandfather’s portrait. He’s a terrible old man but entertaining, too. When I was younger, he had a remote portrait in the manor house and instructed me on the history of the Potter family as part of my education. He also taught me French and Italian.”
“You had a living tutor as well?”
“Yes, several over the years. By the time I entered Hogwarts, I could’ve easily tested out of first through third year, but I stayed with my year mates mostly out of a desire to be as normal as possible no matter the circumstances.”
“So here’s the thing,” Neville Longbottom said as he got settled at the table in the meeting in Gringotts where everyone was gathered. Even Hermione Granger’s parents were there which he found only a little bit surprising. “The Duke of Avalon is a hereditary title, and the duchy will become a magical title the day he passes it to a son. That son will be the Regent of Magical Britain.”
Sirius blew out a surprised breath. “I…wow.”
“Yeah,” Neville said. “That’s why Savage and his ilk have been so intent on basically picking Harry’s wife because she’s going to be the mother of the first magical king in Britain since Arthur Pendragon. It’ll be largely a ceremonial title unless political circumstances demand otherwise.”
“Like another blood war,” Ryan Granger murmured. “But it’s bigger than her blood status. They wanted to have influence over the child as well through familial connections.”
“Yes,” Neville agreed. “Tobias Savage brought Marc Corey here four months ago—long before Project Origin was created in the hopes that he could drive a wedge between Harry and Hermione.” He turned to Ragnok. “Do you know why he hadn’t approached her already?”
“He was still working on the alchemy spell he used to destroy the medallion,” Ragnok said roughly. “He knew it was the only thing he’d be able to use against her. He trained with her at the ICW and knew how powerful her shield was. He was encouraged to use the Imperius on her but was afraid of casting an Unforgivable. I already knew about Savage’s influence over the man. What else have you discovered?”
“Savage cursed Cho Chang—it was his intent to have her either kill Hermione Granger or make it impossible for Harry to continue his relationship with her. I assume that she attempted to crucio her to drive her insane. Cho was originally their choice for Harry to marry but when it became clear he wasn’t going to go near her again for love nor money—Savage decided she was expendable. Xian Chang had no clue of that decision, but he was part of the original plot to control who Harry married due to the Avalon Protocols.”
“Avalon Protocols,” Sirius repeated. “When did they activate?”
“About three minutes after they married,” Neville admitted. “I know Harry has no clue—I can’t think he’d have accepted the Muggle title if he’d known this would happen. He wouldn’t put that kind of pressure knowingly on his son due to his own childhood.”
“Agreed,” Sirius said with a sigh. “He’s going to be livid.” He rubbed his face. “Who figured this out? How did they know?”
“Percy Weasley figured it out.” Neville blew air out between his lips in frustration. “Which explains more about Ron Weasley’s behavior toward Hermione than anything else I could’ve figured. Harry is going to blow his top. We should probably lock him down in a secure room because the last time he got as furious as I expect he’ll be—he turned into a dragon and tore down half a castle. He was already taking Weasley’s behavior personally but to know that she was targeted from the beginning…well.
“It’s in the best interest of public safety that we get everyone in custody before he returns to Britain. He’s my best mate and I trust no one more, but his tolerance of this level of betrayal is practically zero. And he could use the courting protocols to kill every single one of these people.” He tapped the parchment in front him. “I’d rather not spend the next month watching him murder people on a dueling platform no matter how much they deserve it.”
* * * *
Hermione stayed where she was as Marc Corey was prodded into the room by a warrior class dverger. He was shackled at the wrists, knees, and ankles which meant he was moving very slowly. Marc was shoved into a chair and confined with a clang of chains.
He glared at her. “I’m surprised the dverger have been able to suppress the spell this long.”
“Oh, is that what you think?” She pulled off her gloves, revealing her rings. “For the record, you were never an option. If my people hadn’t figured that the ring of the Countess of Gryffindor would subdue most of the lust curse—I was going to insist on curse breaking because I’d have rather died than allow you to touch me.”
“You married Potter?” Marc demanded. “They said…”
“You mean Savage and his little group? They’re all in custody,” Hermione murmured and sat down. “Honestly, out of everyone involved in this ridiculous plot, you’re the one getting off easily. The dverger ins are just going to kill you. The Queen is insisting that all of them be charged with treason and they’ll go to Azkaban for life.”
“You have to save me.”
She laughed. “No, I don’t and even if I could—I wouldn’t interfere. You’ve broken faith with the dverger Horde, and international treaties are at risk. There is a reason your own government is ignoring all of your pleas for help, Marc. No one is going to go against the Horde to protect a would-be rapist.” She stood and checked her watch. “They offered to let me watch your execution, but I declined so this is the last time we’ll see each other.”
“What? You just came here to gloat?”
“Yes,” she admitted as she tied her cloak. “I wanted to see your face when you realized that your plan failed and to tell you that I’d have rather died than allow you to touch me in a single way. You’re a terrible person, and I should’ve realized the depth of your depravity when you assumed that you deserved sex for being nice to me. Men like you treat women like disposable property, and you’re going to get exactly what you deserve for what you attempted to do.”
* * * *
“You’re handling this better than we anticipated,” Sirius said.
Harry pressed his lips together briefly then exhaled sharply. “I promised Hermione I wouldn’t lose my temper and go on a murder spree.” He tapped his fingers on his desk. “Besides, you’ve got them all in custody, and I’m not going to break the law to avenge myself or my wife no matter how justified I think I would be.” He let his head fall back against the chair. “Which sucks across the board. I think I’m probably entitled to a full blown temper tantrum on several fronts. How dare that mean old lady reinstate magical regency through me? That’s not what I bloody well signed up for, Dad!”
Sirius snorted. “She’s crafty that’s for certain, but I can see what she did it. During the war, she had no voice and no one to stand independently from the corrupt Ministry to work on her behalf. She’s guaranteed that won’t happen again anytime soon both with your placement and the eventual birth of a regent who can work with full authority on the matters that concern the Crown.”
“I get it. I just don’t like it,” Harry said crossly. “You know—Neville was just as damned heroic as I was during the war. He didn’t get manipulated into fathering a bloody king.”
“Your hero complex is always getting you in trouble,” Neville said wryly from the doorway. “Besides, it wasn’t like you really had a choice about accepting whatever title she wanted to bestow upon your noble and heroic head.”
“Fuck off,” Harry said crossly and frowned when both his father and godbrother laughed. “Why don’t you both go back to your own offices?”
“We can laugh at you from anywhere,” Sirius said with a smirk.
Harry huffed and started to respond, but activity in the bullpen caught his attention. He watched Hermione stroll up the main aisle and started to stand, but she was stopped by one of his aurors. He watched the two women have a small conversation then Hermione sat down in the visitor chair next to Faye Dunbar’s desk. The auror passed his wife several files, and he sighed.
“Doesn’t look like you’re getting out of here for dinner,” Neville said. “Want me to include you two in the food order?”
“No, we have reservations so we’ll definitely be gone within the hour.” He noted that Hermione had snagged a quill and was making notes on a piece of parchment. “I wonder what those two are up to.”
“Want me to find out?” Neville questioned as he headed toward the door.
“Just make sure it doesn’t impact my ability to leave and have dinner.” He pushed aside the casebook that Neville had presented on the investigation into Chang’s murder and his arrest of three peers. The door shut with a snick, and he focused on his father. “I’m sure you’re already making a plan.”
“Conspiracies have deep roots, lad,” Sirius murmured. “Neville was thorough, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still people in this country who could present themselves as a threat to our family in the years to come. Interfering in a magical marriage is an international crime so they won’t go that route.”
“They’ll target my son,” Harry said. He took a deep breath. “I don’t…”
“You aren’t thinking anything I haven’t thought a million times,” Sirius said. “I know what’s it like to raise a child with a greater destiny than my own, but I have no advice beyond the obvious—be vigilant, teach him compassion, and make sure he understands his place in the world.”
“Did you ever think about just leaving? Packing up the whole family and telling Britain to kiss your arse?”
“Every single day,” Sirius said and checked his watch. “The last time was about three hours ago. This place is full of arseholes, and I don’t trust them. I don’t think I ever will.”
“I want to,” Harry confessed. “I always did, but I don’t trust them either. Maybe, it’s for the best since many of them would be content to subjugate me for their own gain. Even Dumbledore isn’t immune to that. Granted, he’s left me alone in recent years, but I can expect that to change once this Avalon shite becomes known.”
Sirius snorted. “Don’t call the protocols shite, lad, it’s rude.”
* * * *
“Is this too big?” Hermione turned the book in her lap in his direction and activated the projection so he could see the house she was looking at.
“You can have whatever you want, love.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
He laughed. “How many bedrooms?”
“Six but I figured with your family and mine visiting and stuff.” She shrugged.
“What about kids?”
“Oh.” She ended the projection and turned the page. “Six bedrooms just isn’t enough is it? How odd is that?”
He laughed. “I barely remember being an only child and even before Dad got married—I had Neville and Draco around pretty much all the time. My Dad took regency over the Longbottom title when Neville’s paternal uncle basically tried to kill him by tossing him out of a window.”
“What?” Hermione closed the book. “He did what?”
Harry grimaced. “The old fool said he was trying to make sure Neville wasn’t a squib. A lot of pureblood would rather bury a dead squib than put up with a living one in their family. When my dad found it out, he was furious. He was even more furious that Augusta Longbottom didn’t have any ability to interfere because her husband’s brother had regency over the title. So he sued Algernon Longbottom and won primary custody of Neville and regency over the Earldom of Greenwood until Neville was old enough to claim his title. Neville stayed with his grandmother more than us, but he had his own room in our house as well.”
“That’s horrible,” Hermione said. “I’ve heard horror stories about that. In some parts of Europe, there is an annual surge in missing children right around the time magical schools send out invitations.”
“Most often they are simply moved into the Muggle world for their education. In France, there is a boarding school for squibs. They’re taught to integrate into the Muggle world and to prepare for university. I investigate the cases of missing children personally and in my career, I’ve only discovered one who had been murdered. I put both of his parents in Azkaban for life. Then I distributed pamphlets on boarding schools for squibs. I made it perfectly clear that I wouldn’t ignore such a tradition—not even as an auror three weeks out of the academy.”
Hermione nodded and opened the book back up. “I’ve had several letters recently asking me if when I’m researching the Origin that I might also search for a cure for squibs. I just don’t think it works that way, and I’d hate to give them hope when there is none to be found. Of course, I wouldn’t ignore a cure if one was found but something tells me that squibs serve a bigger purpose than we are even aware.”
“You mean the spread of magical potential into the Muggle world?”
“Maybe?” Hermione frowned. “I don’t know. It’s just that we know magic is intelligent, and Zir’s influence is often visible to the devout. There has to be a reason why squibs are born to magical parents, and I don’t think it’s all just incestuous breeding.”
“I’m sure that plays some part,” Harry said dryly. “Some of these people think it’s okay to marry a half-sibling if they don’t have the same father.”
Hermione shuddered. “Gross, Harry.”
“You’re adorable.” He put aside his book. “Come sit in my lap.”
“Bossy,” she muttered, but she stood with her book of house plans and crossed the space between them. She slid into his lap and pulled the book into place so they could both look at it. “I was thinking Devon, but there is a truly lovely property with enough land for a proper garden.”
“Show me,” Harry murmured.
She shifted through the pages until she found it. “Four stories, fifteen bedrooms which I know is a lot. But it already has a library space built in it.” Hermione activated the projection.
“It is beautiful,” he said as he shifted through the projection and reviewed the plans. “The ward foundation is great, and there is a basement level we could use for a safe room if necessary. The runes for plumbing are modern. What’s got you hesitating?”
“It’s in Godric’s Hollow,” Hermione said quietly.
“Oh.” Harry turned and kissed her mouth softly. “Thank you for your concern, darling, but I actually already own property in Godric’s Hollow and my mother’s betrothal house is there. When I accepted the duchy, the Queen asked me to claim territory to attach to the title. I chose Godric’s Hollow, which was partially Muggle at the time. Over the years, I’ve purchased homes to rent out and businesses as Muggles left the area. The magic of my claim sort of gently pushed them away though it wasn’t my intention and I made sure they were given fair value for their property. Two years ago, I was able to make the town entirely magical again and activated the concealment protocols.”
Her lips quirked into a smile. “So Godric’s Hollow is technically Avalon.”
“Well, there is a reason why Godric Gryffindor built his family seat there,” Harry said. “There are rumors that Merlin himself hid the remains of Camelot and perhaps those ruins are Godric’s Hollow. How about we go see this house tomorrow?”
“I’ll send Razel a note and arrange a time,” Hermione slid a ribbon between the pages and closed the book. “Did you want to talk about it?”
“Not really,” Harry admitted. “I’m irritated, and I feel kind of dumb for not considering the ramifications of the duchy.”
“You don’t seek power,” Hermione pointed out. “Nor have you ever sought a way to subjugate others. Of course, it didn’t cross your mind that the Muggle title might someday have magical weight. You don’t care about any of that. We’ll just have to prepare him the best we can and leave it at that.”
“It doesn’t have to be complicated or any big angsty thing. If we approach it like it’s a burden that is exactly how our son will view it. It’s a duty—an honorable one that our family is both proud and humbled to undertake for the good of Britain.”
“I’m going to use that in my press release,” Harry admitted and pulled her closer when she laughed. “I love you so much.” He took a deep breath against her jaw. “I feel your magic touching mine. It’s lovely—like you’re part of me no matter how much distance is between us.”
“I feel it, too,” Hermione said. “It’s amazing. Your connection to magic is so deep and wild. I didn’t know that kind of thing was possible before I met you.”
“Especially for a man who wouldn’t consider himself devout?”
She hummed under her breath. “The dverger call you the Master of Death. What does that mean?”
“Have you read about the Deathly Hallows?” Harry questioned. He laced his fingers with hers when she momentarily stiffened. “I see that you have.”
“You…but that’s just a children’s…oh, Harry. Ignotus Peverell. You told me that first day, didn’t you? When you were showing me the portraits—you laid it all out there for me, and I didn’t even notice.” She frowned as considered the ramifications of Harry’s familial relation to the Peverell family. “You have the Cloak of Invisibility? It was passed down through your family line?”
“Yes. I found the Resurrection Stone during the war. Dumbledore once carried the Elder Wand, but it was taken from him by a man named Severus Snape—Albus trusted him, and he shouldn’t have.” Harry cleared his throat. “He left Dumbledore for dead, but I found him quickly enough to get him to St. Mungo’s for treatment. Six months later, I fought Snape in the Forrest of Dean, and I killed him.”
“And you mastered the Elder Wand.”
“Yes,” Harry admitted. He drew one wand from his bracelet. “This is my first wand—holly and a phoenix feather—the brother wand to the one that Voldemort carried.” He stored it and pulled another. “This is the Elder Wand.” He offered it to her.
Hermione took it with trembling fingers. “Oh.”
“It doesn’t bite,” Harry teased.
“No, but it’s…I have a legend in my hand.”
“Some might say you’re sitting in a legend’s lap,” Harry said dryly and relaxed when she laughed. “I know it’s a lot to take in but this is a family secret, and my father doesn’t make many demands of me—this he demanded. I tried to destroy the stone and the wand.”
“Well, I threw them both through the Veil in the DOM, and they were tossed back out at me. I was left with the impression that Zir would be really pissed at me if I tried to get rid of them again.”
She turned the wand over in her hands. “This is the wand you used to defeat Riddle.”
“I used both wands. My holly wand was able to dominate its brother which made dueling Voldemort both easier and harder all at once.”
“Because you had to cast with both wands at once. I’ve tried to do that—I fainted in the attempt.”
“I slept for weeks afterward,” Harry said. “They weren’t certain that I’d wake up.” He took the wand back when she offered it and stored it. “There is more.”
“Okay.” She turned to face him, shifting slightly in his lap. “Lay it on me.”
“I’ve taken three Killing Curses.” Her mouth dropped open. “I’m pretty sure I died all three times—including when I was fifteen months old only to have my soul shoved back in my body. I’m aging normally so I’m not immortal, but basically I think that I’m not going to die until I’m damn good and ready.”
“So you’re immune to the Killing Curse.”
“That’s the basic theory, but I haven’t gone out of my way to test it. The second time I was hit with one—was in the Forrest of Dean. Snape did it. He left me for dead which was his mistake because I woke up fairly quickly. He hadn’t even made it past the anti-apparition ward I’d launched. I found and killed him. There were no other witnesses to it. The third came with Voldemort in the Forbidden Forrest outside of Hogwarts. I was trying to kill his snake and Riddle caught us. My mother and I. He aimed the curse at her, but I took it. I couldn’t let him kill another…he’d already taken one mother from me. In the confusion, she portkeyed us away, and I woke up after an hour.”
“I’d lose my mind, you know,” Hermione said and shrugged when he looked her way. “And probably curse a few dozen people and cause an international incident.”
He laughed and pressed a soft kiss to her mouth. “That’s my girl.” He closed his eyes and pulled her closer as he breathed against jaw. “The war was such a misery and more often than not I couldn’t see what kind of future I’d have after it was over. Even after everything was said and done, I couldn’t have told anyone that I thought it was worth it.”
“I’d like to go back and tell the sixteen-year-old version of myself that one day he’d meet an amazing woman that would make every single second of the war worth it. I feel like I fought it for you and that’s crazy.” She gave him the wand, and he stored it.
“I’d have fought it for you,” Hermione said and turned her head. She brushed a soft kiss against his mouth and moved to kiss him again but the front door of the flat opened.
Harry sighed and stared pointedly at Atticus, who paused but then shrugged out of his coat. “I thought you were staying at the manor for the week.”
Atticus frowned. “I.” He dropped down in the chair opposite them. “Sorry, I just can’t go home right now because I can’t keep secrets from Dad and he’s going to take one look at my face and know. Then I’ll spend the evening spilling my guts about the giant break up fight I just had with Damon.”
“Do I need to go kick his arse?” Harry questioned. “Because I will.”
Atticus laughed but it was hollow, and he rubbed furiously at his eyes. “No, I mean it’s nothing like that.”
“You need tea,” Hermione decided and left Harry’s lap. She put the book down on the coffee table.
“I really don’t want to talk about it, Harry.” Atticus sighed when his brother just stared. “Merlin, you’re just as bad as Dad.”
“That’s not exactly an insult,” Harry said dryly.
Hermione came back with a tray and a plate of muffins. “Okay, I can go kick his bum, if need be.”
Atticus grinned at her. “I’d almost like to see that.” He cleared his throat. “Can…will you tell me about the Diana and your decision to wear it?”
She stared at him for a few seconds, clearly startled but then sat down on the floor at the coffee table as he slid down to the floor with her and snagged a muffin. “Well, I was much younger than you—I hadn’t even started puberty so I’d not experienced any sort of genuine sexual attraction.”
“Wow,” Atticus said. “So…did it slow down puberty for you or anything?”
“No, I just had no…well. I had intellectual attraction and romantic feelings, of course, but I had no genuine physical desire for sex while I wore the medallion. It made it easier to meet my goal of remaining a virgin.”
“Because you wanted a magical marriage,” Atticus said. He hit a muffin with a warming charm then buttered it. “Now you have one—any regrets?”
“No, none. Well, I mean, beyond that whole mess with Marc. I trusted him and he repaid that trust with betrayal. It’s a difficult pill to swallow.”
She shifted slightly and Harry turned to watch Crookshanks come into the room. The cat trotted over to her and crawled into her lap. The animal wasn’t thrilled with him so he was working on bribing him with treats when Hermione’s back was turned.
“You and Damon fought over sex, I assume,” Hermione finally said, and Atticus blushed.
Harry frowned. “He didn’t…”
“No, of course, not,” Atticus murmured. “We just don’t have the same sort of plans for the future that’s all and besides I’m wearing a discretion ward. I’ve been wearing once since that arsehole tried to potion Aster. Dad insisted, and I didn’t see any reason to say no.” He turned back to Hermione and picked up his teacup. “Yeah, we fought over it. I was telling him about the marriage ritual and how I was looking forward to ritual marriage myself. He was shocked and asked me if that was why I hadn’t gone to bed with him. I admitted it was, and he…he told me that he didn’t date virgins, and I should’ve never kept such a secret from him. I told him the state of my virginity was honestly none of his bloody business, and it got pretty heated after that.”
Her nose scrunched up in ire but then she just huffed. “Yeah, I had that experience on a regular basis for a while there then I just stopped dating completely then I came to Britain. At first it was frustrating then, it was irritating, and finally, it became terribly insulting. One man, I was dating it Italy expected to be invited in on our third date and when he wasn’t—he sent me a long letter detailing all of my faults and how putting out was my only way of compensating for being too smart and working too much.”
“We can go kick his arse, too,” Harry said and finally left his chair. He sat down on the floor with them and toed off his shoes as Atticus prepared him a cup of tea. “Not everyone is interested in a magical marriage, and you’ll have to come to terms with that now rather than later. For some, it’s too intimate and too…invasive to share magic even with a spouse. But you have the right to make this decision for yourself and no one, not even someone you’re dating is allowed more sexual contact than you wish to allow.”
Atticus nodded and picked up another muffin. “I get it, I just wish…I really wish that he’d felt differently that’s all. I like him a lot, and I think I could’ve loved him. But it’s better to have this come out now than six months from now.” He shrugged. “I’ll get over it.”
“We can curse him,” Hermione suggested. “Nothing bad just uncomfortable? Itching hex?”
He laughed. “No. I mean, at least he was honest with me, you know. He could’ve played some stupid game with me and tried to seduce me…” Atticus sighed. “I’m just disappointed, but it’s not the first time that’s happened. The bloke I dated at Hogwarts turned out to be a great big disappointment as well.”
“Did you just compare your ex-boyfriend that turned out to be a Death Eater with the guy who just wants to get laid?” Harry asked then laughed when Atticus did.
“Yeah, I guess Damon isn’t that bad, but I’m disappointed at about the same level,” Atticus turned to Hermione. “We did kick his bum—my first boyfriend turned Death Eater.”
“Good,” Hermione said and unceremoniously dropped her cat in his lap. “Here take Crookshanks. He’s one big ball of fluffy comfort.”
Atticus hesitated but then petted Crookshanks’ head, and the cat curled up against him and purred. “You’ve tamed the beast, I see. He chased me up a tree that week we had him. Harry thought it was really funny.”
“I did get a broom and rescue you,” Harry said. “Don’t be a tattletale.”
Atticus smirked. “You’ve already married her. Dad said we could start telling her all the horrible things that we’ve kept from her.” He turned to Hermione. “He didn’t learn to transfigure his teeth in his animagus form until he was seventeen.”
Harry tossed a piece of muffin at him.
“The first ten times I transformed I couldn’t keep my feathers from sticking up all over the place—sort of like my hair at the time.” She blushed when they both laughed. “I looked ridiculous.”
“Lady Potter, if you would tell the court what happened the day that Miss Chang cursed you?”
It hadn’t really surprised her to be put on the stand first. Zale Wright was leading the prosecution, and she knew him only casually as the Senior Prosecutor under Lord Black. He was one of the more attractive men in the building so he gathered a lot of interest from women but he’d never approached her.
“As the Head Unspeakable, it is my job to hand out assignments. I pulled all the available assets into the main conference room in the Department of Mysteries and handed out projects to everyone. Miss Chang vehemently protested her assignment and told me she was going to file a complaint with Croaker. I told her that it was well within her rights but that I doubted he would be pleased to be forced to deal with such a ridiculous complaint. She drew her wand and started to scream at me that I’d ruined her life and everything. Then she tried but failed to use the Cruciatus Curse on me. She was immediately subdued and taken into custody. Eventually, she was transferred to St. Mungo’s.”
“You weren’t fond of Miss Chang.”
“She…no, I’m afraid not. She was something of a bully with other people in the department and would often force her co-workers to finish her work so she could leave. I came into the department as the Director of Research and Development. The first thing I did was implement a system to track workflow, and that made it impossible for Miss Chang to hide the fact she wasn’t doing all the work she should be doing. She was reprimanded by Croaker. Her dislike of me appeared to be entirely professional at that time, and I ignored her for the most part.”
“Did there come a time before she cursed you that you were no longer able to ignore her?”
“Shortly after I received the first courting gesture from Lord Potter, her behavior towards me took a turn. Any professional issues we had were swept aside as she was profoundly jealous. It was clear that she did not believe I deserved his time or attention. There were others, of course, who expressed displeasure but she was a little unhinged on the topic. Had I known her better, I might have realized she was being manipulated magically and perhaps we could’ve helped her.”
“And would you have helped her? After all, she tried to use a torture curse on you and appeared to be invested in destroying you and your relationship with the man that is now your husband.”
“Yes, I would’ve helped her. Whatever she believed—Cho Chang didn’t deserve to die as she did. There are few more painful deaths in this world for a magical person than core failure.”
Hermione looked briefly at Harry, who was sitting in the Potter box. There was a seat for her there now, which was exciting. There were a great many wives in the boxes today. This trial was no surprise to anyone so the room was filled to capacity. Though again due to the delicate nature of the situation—there were no underage spectators.
“No further questions, Chief Warlock.”
Hermione focused on Harvey Forst and wondered if he specialized in defending terrible people. Forst regarded her with a shrewd smile.
“You’ve come up in the world since we last met, Lady Potter.”
“Yes, it’s a pity you cannot say the same,” Hermione returned evenly, and Forst flushed with temper.
“You purposely baited Cho Chang’s temper the day she cursed you—by giving her an assignment in Bulgaria. The single worst assignment available, is that not true?”
“I didn’t do it to bait her temper—I did it to get her out of my face because I was tired of her petulant and childish behavior. I could’ve suspended her from duty or reprimanded her formally, but I didn’t. I hoped some distance from me and the situation would give her some perspective. It’s not my fault she broke up with Harry during the war.”
“But you were standing in the way of her renewing that relationship,” Forst pointed out.
“You’d have to ask my husband about that.”
“Have you had any interactions with Lord Savage?”
“I met him briefly at the Malfoy Estate during Yule and I’ve seen him in passing in various areas of the Ministry, but we’ve never had a conversation.”
“Do you know of any personal grudge he might have against you?”
“No, not a personal grudge. I was just in his way.”
“In what way?”
Hermione wanted to frown at him. “The Duke of Avalon’s marriage activated the Avalon Protocols thus his firstborn son will have the power of regent over magical Britain. Lord Savage wanted to control that child so he was attempting to control who Harry married. But he was an idiot.”
“In what way? It seems like a reasonable plan to me.”
“You would think so,” Hermione said and just lifted an eyebrow when Forst glared at her. “Two-hundred and twenty-seven.”
“That’s the number of Death Eaters my husband is personally responsible for killing during the last blood war, and I include Voldemort in that number. Tobias Savage was a fool to believe that he could’ve gained even the smallest amount of control over Harry no matter who he ended up married to. The entire plot is ridiculous. But then common sense and self-preservation seem to be the first thing to go out the door when people seek to elevate themselves through fraud and treachery.
“Even now, we’re sitting here because your client was too arrogant to take a plea deal. He knows he’s going to Azkaban—but he wants to sow some discontent and animosity before he goes. Perhaps he’s hoping to stoke someone’s hatred up so far they’ll attempt to finish what they started.”
“You don’t appear to be worried.”
“I have no reason to be. Under the Avalon Protocols, an attack on me would be considered an act of treason and the protocols which are fueled with ancient, wild magic would strip the attacker of their magic. It’s why Savage and his co-conspirators were working so hard to force Lord Potter into the marriage of their choosing.”
“Because you’ll birth our regent.”
“I already carry the Regent of Avalon,” Hermione corrected, and there was a stir in the courtroom. She exhaled sharply. “While I’m not currently with a child—a woman is born with all of the ova she’ll ever have.”
Forst frowned. “What’s ova?”
“Are you serious?” Hermione demanded and turned to stare at Dumbledore in horror. “Is he serious?”
“I’m afraid he is,” Dumbledore sighed. “I’ve tried for decades to introduce a sex education course at Hogwarts.”
Hermione frowned at Forst. “My husband was being a bit of a git when he suggested it, but I think you should buy a dictionary, Mr. Forst.” She just huffed when several people laughed. “Honestly.”
“You haven’t answered the question.”
“It’s an egg cell—a female reproductive cell. It was identified in the late 1920’s by a Muggle scientist named Edgar Allen.”
“And what does this egg cell have to do with the future regent?”
Hermione’s gaze narrowed. “Are you having me on, Mr. Forst?” She paused when her husband coughed into his hand. She offered Harry a glare before turning to Dumbledore. “Chief Warlock, I didn’t realize I was going to be taxed with giving the defense solicitor a lesson in human reproduction!”
“Quite, Mr. Forst, your curiosity is misplaced. It is understood that the Avalon Protocols will shield and protect the future regent and the woman who will birth him. It has been this way since the time of Merlin. If you have no further pertinent questions for Lady Potter, she can step down.”
Furst inhaled and nodded. “Of course, Chief Warlock.”
Harry stood as she left the witness stand and opened the door to his box. She stepped up into it with more confidence that she felt and took her seat. Up the higher reaches of the room, cameras flashed brightly. She tried to pay attention to the testimony as several aurors came and left the witness stand, including Neville Longbottom but she already knew the entire case file. She’d assigned two people in her department to handle the auror department’s research requests regarding the core violator that Savage had used.
In the end, the Prosecutor’s Office had only filed charges against Savage for what he’d done to Cho Chang. It was enough to put in Azkaban for life, and it avoided bringing out the truly tawdry details of Savage’s plans regarding Harry. Though she and Harry both figured that Forst would do his worse in that regard to deflect blame away from his client—it was how he operated.
Harry was called to the stand after the short lunch break and Hermione found herself alone in the Potter box. It was kind of odd, but she tried not to fidget since half the audience was watching her. Her gaze flicked around the room before settling on Harry.
“Lord Potter, if you will tell the court about your relationship with Cho Chang?”
“We had a brief liaison during the war. I made it clear afterward that I wasn’t interested returning to it.”
Wright shifted several parchments on his podium. “By anyone’s standard, Miss Chang was a beautiful and accomplished young woman. Why did you not wish to see her again romantically?”
“She broke off our relationship three days after Hogwarts was invaded because she didn’t want to fall in love with a walking dead man,” Harry said, and there was a rumble of shock from the audience. “When I managed to survive the war, she thought to return. I declined. It was never going to happen, and I made that clear to her. I also made it clear to her father, repeatedly.”
“You didn’t know about the Avalon Protocols, did you?”
“Until I returned from honeymoon and my father told me. The Queen certainly never mentioned it when she bestowed the duchy. I assume she knew I would decline the title no matter the political ramifications.”
“Declined it? But…” Wright trailed off. “It’s an immense honor the Queen has entrusted to your magical house. We have not had a regent in seven hundred years.”
“And you could’ve done without one for another seven hundred if it meant my son could have a normal life,” Harry said shortly. “I grew up under the weight of an immense burden, and I wanted a different life for any children I might have, but that’s not going to happen now, and we’ll deal with it.”
“If you’d been aware that the conferring of your Muggle title would activate the Avalon Protocols upon your marriage, would you’ve done anything differently?”
“I’d have told my wife-to-be she was going to be magically bound to produce an heir for Avalon. Fortunately, since that sort of blind-sided us both, she’s not overly upset about the magical ramifications of our marriage or the protocols themselves. As I said, Mr. Wright, we’ll deal with it.”
“You investigated Miss Chang’s death at St. Mungo’s before it became apparent that her case was intertwined with a larger conspiracy, correct?”
“Yes, though honestly I merely gathered the reports and asked the right questions—the healers at St. Mungo’s did all the investigative work regarding the curse Miss Chang suffered and the report regarding her core failure. The report also indicated that she had a magical instability due to long term, untreated depression. She lost the love of her life during the war and her mother during the war. They don’t believe the instability had anything to do with her eventual core failure. Savage merely preyed on an emotionally vulnerable young woman then when she was no longer useful, his curse murdered her.”
“Thank you, Lord Potter.”
Forst had a smirk on his face, and Hermione wanted to hex it off. Harry looked her way, and she rolled her eyes. He coughed into his hand to keep from laughing.
“Has it crossed your mind, Lord Potter, that if you’d done what was expected of you—we wouldn’t be here today?”
“You mean what Savage and his ilk expected or what Voldemort and his Death Eaters expected?” Harry questioned. “Because while their goals were sort of similar, they had different expectations. Voldemort just wanted me to die, but I have a hard time doing that apparently. Savage is a manipulative old man, and I’ve never had any interest in bowing to manipulation no matter who is pulling the strings.”
“Who are Elise Carson and Anna Mason?”
“Two witches that I dated in the past. Your client paid them to leave me—twenty-four thousand galleons and ten thousand galleons respectively.”
“I wonder how much it would’ve taken to get rid of the former Miss Granger.”
Harry raised a hand when Dumbledore huffed loudly and picked up his orb. “It’s quite all right, Chief Warlock. My wife and I were curious as to why she hadn’t been approached and offered a monetary amount to reject my courting gesture or end our relationship then we realized that her net worth is six times that of Tobias Savage. Though in all honesty, anyone that knows my wife knows that you’d fare much better bribing her with books than with gold.”
Hermione blushed when Forst looked her way.
“Stop glaring at my wife, Forst, before you irritate me,” Harry said. “Did you have any real questions or are just using this as an opportunity to take a few shots at me?”
Forst cleared his throat and returned his gaze to his parchment briefly before focusing on Harry. “You don’t feel at all guilty, do you?”
“I’m not the one on trial for murder and the use of an Unforgivable, Mr. Forst. Your client’s obscene ambitions are not my problem and most certainly not my fault. You’re like a lot of people in Britain, you seem to think I owe you something or perhaps that I owe you everything. You act like the sacrifices my family has already made aren’t enough. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t owe you or any other pure-blood in this country a goddamned thing.”
Hermione made an effort to keep her expression clear to avoid some reporter getting a picture of her doing something that looked like disapproval. She suddenly hated magical cameras. Forst was gaping at Harry, he wasn’t the only one—even Dumbledore looked startled. Shortly after that, Harry was released from the witness stand. Forst obviously hadn’t been prepared for such a blunt response to his grandstanding.
* * * *
“They ought to have thrown him under the jail,” Hermione said shortly after they landed on her parents’ patio.
“The Dementors don’t have access to the dungeon cells,” Harry pointed out and grinned when Hermione just huffed at him.
They looked around in time to see Sophie wiggle down out of her grandmother’s lap and head their way. Harry snatched the toddler up as they walked toward the table where they would be eating dinner.
“You two look like something off the telly,” Chloe said. “Where have you been?”
“Basically wizarding court,” Hermione said as she shed her day robe and put it on the back of her chair. “Here, let me have her.”
“No,” Hermione said with a laugh as she took Sophie. “How is everyone?” She sat down as Harry shed his robe.
“Good, your mother is just about ready to serve. Wine?” Ryan questioned.
“No, we’re both on call, and sober up potions give me a headache,” Hermione said.
“I can have Star bring a bottle of something,” Harry said as he set his tucked his cravat in a pocket inside his waistcoat. “Take my pin. The last time I left it in a trouser pocket, Star lectured me for a full day.”
Hermione picked up the ruby pin and pressed into her locket. Magic flashed briefly, and the necklace settled on her skin. “You guys don’t look fine, actually. Is something wrong?”
Chloe sighed and took a sip of wine. “There was an incident with Brad earlier—he wanted to take Sophie to see his parents during his visitation, but I refused. He had a tantrum and left my flat. Then he showed up at my parents’ house a few hours later, drunk, and threatening to sue me for custody. Mum kept Sophie upstairs so she didn’t see any of it, which was good because she’s already leery of Brad.”
“Leery how?” Hermione questioned as her mother arrived with a tray. “Oh, Mum, let me help.” She passed the baby back to Harry and Sophie made a pleased little cooing sound. “I’d get mad if he didn’t get that response from practically every witch he crosses paths with.”
“Not cool,” Harry informed Hermione and Sophie giggled. He turned to Chloe. “Leery how?”
“Sometimes…is it important?”
“Instincts are very important and often magical children shy away from adults who make them nervous for one reason or another. Hermione told me she used to be petrified of the parish priest but didn’t understand why until after she found out she was magical. Despite our treaty with the Vatican, our relationship with the Catholic church is strained.”
“She allows him to hold her but she doesn’t engage him much, and she doesn’t seek him out when he’s in my flat which is unusual because she normally loves visitors. She doesn’t stay in his lap long and wouldn’t let him hold Iris. He picked the puppy up and Sophie immediately took Iris away from him and told him…” Chloe laughed then. “She said—not for you!”
“Well, magicals do get possessive of their pets if a familiar bond starts to develop,” Hermione said as she set the platter she’d brought out to the table. “I finished setting up her trust fund and the bank has the parchments all filed.”
“If he files suit for custody, contact Hermione and I’ll deal with him,” Harry said. “If his addiction is that much of a problem, the DMLE won’t approve unmonitored visitation with a magical child. Should he show up to visit her drunk again, I’d like you to consider terminating visitation and filing for a protection order.”
“I don’t want to hurt him,” Chloe admitted. “I just wish he’d go back to rehab. His parents aren’t helping the situation at all. But I won’t let him hurt Sophie, and I know he can’t be trusted with the knowledge of magic.”
* * * *
“It’s a problem,” Hermione blurted out as soon as they apparated into her flat. They’d surrendered Harry’s flat to Atticus so he could have a proper post-break-up sulk.
“A big one,” Harry admitted. “If he upset Sophie so much that she had a bout of accidental magic in public…well. The Wizengamot has policies in place, and Chloe would lose physical custody of the baby. They’d insist on you taking her and bringing her into the magical world for her own protection. In most cases, they wouldn’t even allow visitation with the Muggle parent.”
“Putting a magical child purposefully at risk is a crime, Hermione. Her ex is a bomb waiting to go off. I can’t ignore it, and I’ll probably have to spell him and his parents which is going to require special permission from the Minister’s office. I certainly don’t want to take the baby away from your cousin but her…concern for her ex-boyfriend seems to almost weigh evenly with that of her child.”
“I think she still loves him quite a lot,” Hermione admitted. “I can see her taking him back if he got sober and promised to not drink anymore. I want to believe he could do it, for their sakes, but if just the stress of an unintended pregnancy knocked him off the wagon…”
“Right. And why can’t he be trusted with the truth about magic? She didn’t say, and I’m going to have to find out. If he’s the sort that would use his daughter for his own gain in some fashion then frankly, he’s going to suddenly decide he’d prefer to live in New Zealand forever, and his parents are going to forget they have a granddaughter altogether.”
Hermione sighed. “I want what’s best for Sophie.”
“I like sex more than I thought I would.”
Harry slowly lowered the paper he was reading and turned to stare at his wife. They’d shared breakfast and the Daily Prophet in bed which was how he liked to spend his Sunday morning and she hadn’t voiced any sort of preference at all regarding the lazy morning routine he indulged in weekly. Hermione was braiding her hair. “Pardon me?”
“Sex.” She turned to him. “I like it a lot.”
“And you didn’t think you would?”
“I was worried that I might not like it much—it’s messy, and I’ve never liked getting dirty.”
Harry laughed. “Well, I’m glad you don’t mind that I get you dirty.”
She blushed and returned her attention the hand mirror she had hovering in front of her. “I just thought you should know.”
“Okay.” He watched her for a few seconds. “Have you finished reading the book we bought on the subject?”
“Is there anything in it you’d like to try?” Her blush deepened, and he decided not to put any more pressure on the conversation. “How about you bookmark the pages and leave them for me to read?”
She relaxed. “Okay, yes, that works.”
“I don’t have any hang-ups regarding sex, so I’m game for almost anything.”
“Well,” Harry began with a small laugh, “I wouldn’t be on board with a golden shower.”
She turned toward him. “Okay, me neither. That’s kind of gross actually.”
“Some people dig it—I won’t knock it, but I don’t want to do it.” He spread his paper out. “When did the Prophet start listing Muggle movies?”
“Hmmm, about three weeks ago? They have a Muggle-born covering the entertainment section now. No incidents so far but I did have a request come in from the Minister’s office wanting to know what a movie is. I contacted the reporter working for the paper and told them they needed to explain the listings instead of just taking for granted people would get it. I also suggested she publish a dress code with it.”
“She did—with pictures.” Harry laughed. “She also apparently went to Glad Rags and picked out several outfits that people can just go buy to be certain they won’t stand out and look weird. You can go to the store and request a movie package.”
“I appreciate her ambition, but I’m just waiting for us to get a call where we have to memory charm an entire theater of people because some pure-blood freaks out at the screen and fires a curse at it.”
“I’ll certainly be on hand to help, but I can’t promise not to find it hilarious,” Harry said as he turned the page. “Did you want to go to a movie or something?”
She looked his way and smiled. “You’ve caught me, you know. You don’t have to take me out on dates.”
Harry reached out and wrapped an arm around her waist then hauled her into his lap.
She squeaked and laughed. “Hey.”
“Going out on dates with you was never a chore,” he murmured. He ran a finger down her pert little nose. “And I want to date you for the rest of our lives.”
Hermione threw her arms around his neck. “Oh, yeah?”
“Absolutely—picnics, broom rides, movies, dinners, and secret little weekend trips to far off places where we can do normal things without it appearing in the paper.”
“I love you.”
He smiled and let his finger trail down her sternum then teased the lacy edge of her nightgown. “Sometimes, I feel like you’re in my bones. Magical bonds and love are an addictive combination.”
“Agreed—I think if people really understood what they’d get from a magical marriage, it would still be highly coveted.”
“I think it boils down to the desire to protect themselves—shield them from the unimaginable harm of losing a bond mate. I feel like it would easier to lay down a die with you than to try to live without you which is insane and co-dependent.”
“The bond is fresh right now. Perhaps in time, we’ll grow comfortable in it and maybe if I go first you’ll be fine sticking around to make sure our great grandkids don’t turn out to be little gits.”
Harry laughed. “Maybe.” He kissed her mouth gently. “How about…” He trailed off and turned toward the nightstand where the fire box sat with his Yule present still snug inside. “Oh.”
Harry put her down on the mattress. “I think she’s hatching.” He picked up the firebox and deactivated the fire rune and lifted the glass lid off which he sat aside. The ruby red egg rocked in the box and a little crack formed—magic streamed out of the opening followed by a thin trail of grey smoke.
Hermione leaned forward.
“What did they tell you about this egg?” Harry questioned.
“Just that it would be an elemental serpent of some sort. They couldn’t guarantee its form—viper, ryūda, runespoor, or even a coatl.”
A tiny clawed foot pushed through the egg shell.
“Or a drake?” Harry asked.
Hermione’s mouth dropped open. “No, the breeder said he hadn’t produced a drake in fifteen years.”
The egg cracked again.
“Well, it definitely isn’t a dragon egg so that only leaves a ryūda or a fire drake and an immature ryūda can’t breathe fire.” The egg cracked down the middle and fell completely open revealing a gleaming black drake. The miniature dragon flicked bat-like wings and did a full body shake before focusing on Harry. “Hello, little one.”
Harry picked the drake up, and the serpent wrapped her tail around his wrist. “Fire and wind are her elements.” He stroked one fingertip over her unadorned head. “I think I’ll call her Brigit. I’ll have to register her with the Ministry tomorrow.”
“I’ll write the breeder and tell him that he has managed to breed drake. He’ll probably be excited and irritated all at the same time because he sold her unhatched. Do you want to make her available for breeding?”
Harry frowned. “No.” He put the little drake on his chest and held her close to his heart. “Absolutely no breeding.”
Hermione laughed. “Harry.”
“I’m not going to let a breeder introduce her to some shady snake I don’t even know. What if he hurts her feelings?”
She grinned, leaned and kissed his mouth. “Oh, love, I can tell already you’re going to be the kind of father that gives wizards nightmares.”
“I already give wizards nightmares. I pride myself on being at least twenty different people’s bogart.” He looked down at the drake. “I was going to suggest lunch out, but we shouldn’t leave her alone.”
Hermione smiled. “I could go get something—I’d love some pizza.”
“Sounds good. Oh, could you stop at a pet shop and pick up a proper bed for her?”
“I believe I know why Hedwig is such a little diva,” Hermione said. “You spoiled her rotten, didn’t you?”
“Is it rude to point out that I spoil you rotten, too?” Harry questioned.
“Yes.” She poked him in the arm and slipped from the bed. “Should I get one that expands?”
“She’ll probably be about a stone as an adult and maybe a little bit shorter in length that Crookshanks so I guess shop with his size in mind?”
Hermione put her hands on her hips. “She’s going to get as big as Crookshanks?”
Harry grinned. “You bought her.”
“For Merlin’s sake,” Hermione muttered under her breath and went off to get dressed.
“They’re very trainable!” Harry called after her. “She probably won’t burn down the house!” He looked down at Brigit. “I can’t wait to introduce you to Hagrid—he’ll be thrilled.”
* * * *
Hermione sat down at her parent’s kitchen table and munched moodily on a biscuit she’d snagged from the platter in the center of the table. Her parents stared at her.
“Are you fighting with Harry?” Hannah questioned.
She blinked in surprise. “What? No, everything is awesome.”
“So awesome you came over here without him?” Ryan asked.
“This isn’t about Harry, specifically.” She blew air out between her lips and picked up the bottle of water her mother had given her when she’d turned down tea. “It’s about Chloe.”
“I’m concerned about the situation,” Ryan admitted. “I told Roger he should insist she file a report with the MET and perhaps start working on a protection order. Brad is a problem, and frankly his father is no better.”
“Right, well, I just need you both to be prepared for fallout. Harry’s already told me that he’s prepared to take Sophie away from Chloe if she purposefully endangers her. I’m concerned that her feelings for Brad might override her common sense. It’s even more of an issue because of magic and the Statute of Secrecy. If he can’t be trusted with the knowledge that his own child is a witch…then there are policies in place to make sure he’s never a threat to her or the Secret.” She focused on her father. “You’ve met him, right?”
“Yes, last summer.” Ryan frowned then shook his head. “I don’t trust him, and I didn’t from the start. He’s controlling and self-centered. Moreover, he doesn’t pay any sort of child support and seems to think Chloe owes him for getting pregnant to begin with. I know that sounds insane, but that was the impression I was left with after I spoke with Richard. Chloe let it slip to Brad that you’d set up a trust fund for Sophie, and he demanded access to it. He didn’t believe Chloe when she said that she didn’t have any sort of control over it and would only receive support payments from it while Chloe is underage. I expect he’ll show up the first time a payment comes from the Trust and demand at least part of it.”
Hermione sighed and shook her head. “That won’t happen. The money will be put on a debit card through the bank and Chloe won’t be able to withdraw cash or buy anything that isn’t directly involved in the care of Sophie. The card itself is magical. I’ll make sure it’s spelled so only Chloe can use it.” She rubbed her face with a trembling hand and after a minute lowered her head to the table.
“Kiddo?” Ryan questioned. He touched her shoulder.
“She’ll hate me,” Hermione whispered. “And we just…we just started talking again. She’s going to hate me before this said and done, Daddy. Harry’s going to start investigating Brad tomorrow and once he starts down the path—he’ll follow the law to the letter. It’s just who he is. He doesn’t want to hurt Chloe, but Sophie will come first.”
“I don’t disagree with that,” Ryan said. “The baby must come first and protecting magic is bigger than you, bigger than Chloe. Harry understands duty and honor, and I trust that he’ll make the right choices for Sophie.”
Hermione nodded. “I don’t disagree. It’s just upsetting, and I didn’t want to unload this on him because it’s not fair that I feel this way. There was a time when I considered Chloe my best friend and magic basically destroyed that and now… now magic is probably going to become between us again.”
“You might as well know that Chloe asked if there was a way to get rid of Sophie’s magic.”
Hermione’s head jerked up, and she stared at her mother in horror. “What?”
“Your father told her that she should never ask Harry or any other magical authority that question—that such a thing is a very terrible crime in the magical world,” Hannah murmured. “But she went there so I wanted you to be aware of it. She also asked if that bracelet Harry put on Sophie could be used to suppress her magic entirely.”
Hermione’s eyes fluttered shut for a minute as she tried to reign in the disgust that was welling up in her. “I know she’s scared but to be willing to damage Sophie that way…for what?”
“Brad Hedrick is a user,” Hannah said flatly. “And Chloe knows that he would use and abuse magic if he knew about it—even if it meant using and abusing his own child.”
“And Chloe loves him anyway,” Hermione murmured. “And would be willing to destroy a part of her own child to keep her and the man who fathered her.”
“It appears so,” Ryan murmured. “I don’t know what Richard’s been telling her about magic and the magical world, but you know your uncle greatly resents the loss of his magic and more importantly the loss of the Dagworth-Granger fortune. He threw an immense fit when he found out that you’d claimed the money but that you couldn’t share it with us due to the rules of the estate. He doesn’t blame you, but he resents the money, a lot. I thought that when you created Sophie’s trust it would calm him down on that front, and it did, mostly. Then you were cursed.”
“He said he didn’t want his granddaughter exposed to the magical world. He tried to tell Chloe to decline the trustfund, but she insisted on keeping it for Sophie.”
“But Uncle Richard has a very successful business,” Hermione said in confusion.
“Not so successful lately,” Hannah murmured. “And his daughter had an out of wedlock baby who turned out to be magical while you just up and married a peer out of the blue.”
“Oh.” Hermione blushed. “Seriously? That’s an issue? Wow.”
The doorbell rang.
Ryan stood. “I’ll go get it.”
Hermione frowned and took a deep drink of her water. Then checked her watch. She winced, she’d been gone for nearly an hour. She started to stand, but her father entered with Harry in tow.
Harry stared. “You don’t know Occlumency.”
“No, I never learned. Is that a problem?”
“Not especially except for the fact that you just bled all over me emotionally through our bond, and I had to do a tracking charm on your badge to find you.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Good thing I wasn’t starving.”
Hermione blushed then laughed. “You left Brigit?”
“Of course, not,” he scoffed and shed his coat. He pulled the drake out of his pocket and the miniature dragon crawled up his arm to sit on his shoulder.
“What’s that?” Hannah asked.
“A drake—Hermione gave her to me for Yule. She hatched this morning.” Harry sat down beside his wife. “Now, since you didn’t leave the flat in a genuine snit—I’ve decided you probably aren’t sitting here complaining about me. What’s going on?”
“Ah.” Harry sighed. “What will come, will come. There is no need to stress yourself out over that situation before it actually becomes a situation. I have several advanced charms on Sophie to keep her physically safe. She can’t even fall and get a bruise with the way the bracelet is currently configured. What made you mad?”
“Chloe asked my parents if she could have Sophie’s magic suppressed or removed.”
Harry frowned and plucked Brigit off his shoulder where she was chewing his hair and settled her in his lap. “Well, that’s actually a pretty common question for Muggle parents to ask when they find out their child isn’t normal by their standards. The Department of Education has an entire novella dedicated to the subject and why such a process would lead to behavioral problems, depression, and perhaps even suicide.”
“It pisses me off,” Hermione admitted.
“A lot of pure-bloods would be perfectly okay if the law allowed for it,” Harry admitted. “I’ve personally decimated two different men in the House of Lord’s for attempting to present such laws to the Wizengamot. They’re too stupid to realize that without new blood and magic in our enclaves that our society would fall apart in a matter of decades.” He cleared his throat. “So what’s your best case scenario?”
“Chloe gets her head out of her arse, Brad, and his parents disappear, and Sophie grows up safe and happy.”
“Well, I can’t remove your cousin’s head from her arse but I can take care of Brad Hedrick, and his family provided they are the problem we’ve been led to believe they are. Taking Sophie from her mother is the very last option, Hermione, but it is an option that must remain on the table. She’s stressed, emotionally invested in an addict, and frankly unprepared to be a mother to a Muggle child, much less a magical one. At the very least, she needs to consider moving back in with her parents.”
“Richard and Karen put that on the table as an option, but I could tell that Karen wasn’t exactly on board with it. Not a surprise, really, she and Chloe have never been that close despite the fact that Chloe was still a baby when her birth mother died.”
“So Karen is the second wife?” Harry questioned.
“The fourth,” Ryan said. “So Chloe’s had three stepmothers. Karen married my brother when Chloe was ten. It’s a mess, and I’m sorry that you have to deal with it. You should both concentrating on each other and setting up a home.”
“We’ve put in for time off to deal with all of that but Hermione’s new in her job and I’ve got a corruption case on the docket that needs my attention,” Harry said. “Star will handle most of the move anyway once Hermione makes a decision about what she wants.” He turned to Hermione. “Did you even order pizza?”
She laughed. “No, sorry.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Ryan said as he stood.
“Which houses are you looking at?” Hannah asked, and Hermione pulled the property book out of her locket.
Harry stirred in his sleep, and his eyes flew open. His badge was vibrating so hard that the nightstand was rattling. He reached out and grabbed it as he untangled himself from his wife. Sleeping with a woman every night was taking some time to get used to. He slipped from the bed as his badge bombarded him with a lot of information but then stilled as the mortal danger alarm sounded loudly. He turned back as Hermione jerked straight up in the bed.
“Get dressed, love, it’s Sophie.” He summoned his dueling trench coat, shrugged it on and apparated even as the buttons activated.
He was in a house he’d never been in before but assumed it to be Richard Granger’s house considering it was nearly midnight, and he could hear Sophie crying somewhere upstairs. He swallowed back fury and bile when he saw Karen Granger’s body at the bottom of the staircase. His wand slipped into his hand as he knelt and checked her for a pulse. He found none. Her neck appeared broken.
Harry left her because there was nothing he could do. He pulled out his badge and activated Neville’s beacon before heading up the stairs. Richard Granger was sprawled in the hallway, a gunshot wound to the chest. He checked his pulse more out of habit than a hope of survival. He found none.
Pushing on, stopped short of the room Sophie was in and closed his eyes briefly at the carnage before him. Chloe and a man he’d never seen before lay sprawled on the floor. A shotgun lay beside him. Harry ignored the blood, seeping between his toes as he stepped into the room and he picked up Sophie from the cot.
“Hawwy.” Sophie sobbed. “Hawwy.”
“It’s okay, sweetheart,” Harry murmured. “Shhh.” He bounced her a little and picked up Iris, who was trying to climb out of the cot. He tucked baby and puppy close to his chest then left the room.
He looked toward the stairs and found Neville. “Home invasion and murder.”
“This is a Muggle house,” Neville said with some confusion.
“This is Hermione’s cousin,” Harry explained. “Her mother is dead in the room, and I assume the other body is the father.”
“Son of a bitch,” Neville muttered. “I haven’t read the file you were compiling.”
“I hadn’t had time to check out the biological father,” Harry said grimly. “Chloe told me he was an alcoholic who had fallen off the wagon when she got pregnant so she left him. Get someone from the MET here—since a magical child was involved we’ll have jurisdiction, but we’ll need their help with the media cover story.”
They both jerked at Hermione’s call.
“Don’t come up here, love. I’ll bring Sophie down to you.”
“I got this,” Neville murmured. “Take care of your family—it’s going to be a hard night for them.”
When he found her, she was sitting on the couch. Tears were streaming down her face. “Mi.”
“I didn’t…” Hermione turned to him. “I just thought it was another bout of accidental magic, so I took my time getting dressed. I went to Chloe’s flat first then tracked your badge. I brought your boots.” She rubbed at her mouth. “I saw Aunt Karen.”
“Richard was outside of the room the cot was in.”
“Sometimes Chloe stays here with the baby if her class load gets heavy,” Hermione murmured. She reached out for Sophie, and Harry passed her the baby.
He put the puppy down on the sofa and knelt in front of her as she clutched her cousin. “Have you met the father?”
“Brad?” Hermione frowned. “No, but I’ve seen a picture.”
“Black hair, around 180 cm, 11 stone?”
She closed her eyes and nodded. “Chloe’s dead.”
“Yes, it looks he cornered her in the nursery. Sophie’s bracelet activated so he…” Harry took a deep breath. “He tried to kill her, too. There was a spray of gun powder and bullet fragments around her crib, but the bracelet is designed to protect her from impact injuries—including gunfire though honestly this is the first time I’ve ever seen that part of the bracelet in practice. I had them designed to keep the children under my purview from being struck or mistreated physically by their guardians.”
Hermione’s fingers curled into nightgown Sophie was wearing. “I…” She held the baby close and started to cry.
Several pops of apparition caught his attention, and Harry stood. He touched her shoulder briefly before grabbing his boots and went to deal with the people arriving. Sirens in the distance told him that someone had probably reported the disturbance or at the very least the gunshots.
“I used their phone to contact the MET,” Neville said as he came down the stairs that Harry had sat on to put on his boots. “But they already had several calls for the noise and probably the weapon report. They’ve canceled the officers that were coming, and the magical liaison unit is on the way. I’ve started the investigation spell, and the nursery is full of magic. She must have had a serious outburst—the man has multiple wounds. I think…”
“The bracelet repelled the bullet fragments back at him violently,” Harry said grimly. “Looked like one hit him in the neck.”
“Yeah,” Neville agreed. “We’ll have to write it up with the Muggles as a murder/suicide—once they get here, we’ll rearrange the scene to hide the magic. I didn’t realize the situation was this bad.”
“I knew it had the potential to get ugly, but if he was violent with her, Chloe never told Hermione or me.” Harry looked back into the living room where Hermione was seated. “One of the men upstairs is my father-in-law’s brother.” He turned to Neville. “I can’t even imagine.”
“No, me neither,” Neville said and sighed. “You should go to them before they hear the news on the telly or radio. I don’t know how much containment we’ll be able to do.”
Ten minutes later, he apparated the three of them to her parent’s house. Harry put Iris down in the foyer as Hermione called out to her parents. There was some noise upstairs, and Ryan Granger appeared at the top of the stairs in a pair of cotton trousers. His gaze flicked between the three of them.
“Let me get Hannah.”
“We’ll be in the kitchen,” Harry said quietly and gently prodded Hermione that way.
By the time the older Grangers came into the room, Hermione was drinking a cup of tea, and they’d put the baby down in a large chair next to the window. Iris was curled up with her asleep.
Hermione opened her mouth to say it, but tears streamed down her face, and her breath hitched then she turned to Harry.
Harry took her free hand and rubbed gently at her cold fingers. “There’s no easy way to say it so I’m just going to get it out.”
“Okay,” Hannah said quietly.
“Richard, Karen, and Chloe are dead.” Ryan made a horrible, wounded sound and left the table. Harry stilled Hermione when she started to move. He shook his head. “Brad Hedrick entered the house and shot Richard and Chloe. Karen appears to have been pushed down the stairs—her neck was broken. He tried to kill the baby as well but her bracelet defended her—he was killed in the backlash.”
“Son of a bitch,” Ryan snapped and left the kitchen.
“No, let him go,” Harry said quietly when Hermione tried to leave her chair again. “He’ll come back when he’s ready.”
“But…” She trailed off and looked to her mother for support.
“Harry’s right—let your dad process his temper, darling. He…” Hannah brushed tears from her face. “I can’t believe we were sitting here just hours ago talking about this and now…now…fuck.” She stood and walked to the pair of double doors that led out into the backyard and stared out into the newly arriving dawn. “What happens now?”
“I’ll put in a request with the Ministry to memory charm his parents, and his name will be obscured on Sophie’s Muggle birth records,” Harry said quietly and just looked up as Ryan Granger came to lean in the doorway. “Hermione and I will adopt her in both worlds.”
“Are you certain?” Hermione questioned.
“I’m…” Harry took a deep breath. “Her magic will be difficult to control, even with the bracelet, due to her trauma. She’s already demonstrated some pretty fantastic accidental magic, and her mother was murdered in front of her. Her magic will be hyper vigilant for years to come so she can’t stay in the Muggle world.”
“Was yours?” Hermione questioned quietly.
“Yes, very much so,” he admitted. “In fact, my father had to be a stringent ward on me during school hours so I could attend Muggle primary like I wanted. Did you not want to keep her?”
“Of course, I want to keep her,” Hermione said. “But you’re the one just got a wife and a toddler all in the same month.”
He kissed her palm. “I can handle it. I promise.” He stood. “I need to go back to the house and then I’m going to the Ministry to start the process regarding his parents. Stay here?”
“Yes,” Hermione said. “Could you go to Chloe’s and pack Sophie’s things?”
“I’ll send Star.” Harry kissed her forehead and turned to his father-in-law. “I realize you probably want to see your brother, but I think you should stay here in case his parents show up before I can get them contained. It’s going to hit the morning news, there’s no way around that.”
“I’ll stay put,” Ryan murmured.
* * * *
The moment he entered the Ministry, he pulled out his communication mirror and said his father’s name. “I need you.”
Sirius’ gaze narrowed. “Where are you?”
“The Ministry—I’ve got an ugly situation so I need you to throw your weight around so I don’t have to wade through a whole bunch of dragonshite.”
“On the way.”
He ended the call, stored his mirror, and headed directly for the Record’s office. He picked up a standard adoption contract, something he did regularly enough that no one questioned him and went to his own office. He had most of the petition to memory charm Sophie’s paternal grandparents written by the time his father arrived. He kept writing and bluntly laid out the morning’s events as he did so. Finally, he looked up and met his father’s gaze.
“I feel like the biggest arsehole. I should’ve hunted him down and interviewed him when I first created her file.”
“In your defense,” Sirius began, “You’ve had a hectic couple of weeks.” He sighed. “Where’s Hermione?”
“With her parents, I felt it was for the best.” He passed the petition to his father. “I need you to push this through today while I’m working the adoption angle. Neville is handling the scene and the MET to make sure the Statute is protected. He’ll make sure it’s not written down anywhere that basically magic killed that miserable bastard.”
“I’ll take care of my end,” Sirius promised. He paused then sighed. “You know that Isobel and I could take her, son. You’ve barely been married a full month.”
“I won’t ask Hermione to part with Sophie, Dad. They have a deep connection through familial magic. It wouldn’t be fair to either of them.”
“I assumed as much, but the offer is there.” Sirius paused. “She’s not much older than you were, right?”
“Right.” Harry closed his eyes briefly. “He killed her mother in the nursery—right in front of the kid.”
Sirius sat down. “Fuck.”
“I’m fine, Dad, I promise. Furious at myself and at that selfish arsehole, but fine. He shot her father, so, of course, Chloe ran for her baby. It’s what any mother would do. I think Karen Granger tried to interfere because she was at the bottom of the stairs—maybe pushed? Neville started the physical reconstruction spells, but I left before they were complete. The scene was fresh enough that he should’ve been able to pick a full aural imprint of the event. Especially with as much magic was in the air. I’ll be able to pull a report from her bracelet as well.” Harry rubbed his face with both hands.
* * * *
By the time he returned the Grangers, his father had bullied the memory charm request through all three departments required, and he had the adoption papers in hand for Hermione to sign. Magical adoptions where one of the adopting parents was already the child’s guardian were very easy to accomplish. After he filed the paperwork, the Ministry of Magic would backdoor the adoption for the Muggle world.
Ryan Granger answered the door.
“You don’t have to ring the bell, lad.” Ryan motioned him in. “Hermione just pops into the house.”
Harry grinned suddenly. “The last time I popped unannounced into my parent’s house, I caught them in a very unfortunate situation on the kitchen table.”
Ryan snorted. “Well. I’ll try to keep my own shenanigans confined to the upper level of the house.”
“How are they?”
“Hermione ended up charming Sophie to sleep after lunch. The baby got fussy, and her magic surfaced several times on her skin. Not accidents but I can see why you don’t believe we can keep her in the Muggle world.” Ryan took the coat Harry shed and hung it up. “I admit I wanted to argue with you about it—I raised one witch. I didn’t see why I couldn’t raise another. The two of you are newly married and to have this thrust on you like this…well.”
“My father offered to take her as well,” Harry said and sighed. “The truth is, sir, that I’ve come precariously close to adopting two different children in the last three years. In the end, I placed them with families who for some reason or another couldn’t have children of their own, but I was very tempted. Is this about Hermione? Do you think she can’t handle the stress?”
“No, not at all. Hermione is nothing like Chloe—far more mature than even her years and always has been. I never had to worry that Hermione would be tempted to tell anyone about magic or the magical world so she knew about it before she received her letter. I just worry about you both adjusting to marriage and now a baby at the same time.”
“Oh, we’re going to fuck something up,” Harry said earnestly and smiled when Ryan laughed. “But fortunately, we have a supportive family.” He checked his watch. “By the way, most of my family is going to descend on this house within the next hour. Sorry? I can call Star over to feed them?”
“Yes, please, call your elf. Hannah is going to have a fit about the house being a mess.”
* * * *
Sirius found Ryan Granger out on the patio nursing a glass of scotch. The man had disappeared after dinner. He sat down at the table with him and stared out onto a neatly manicured green lawn.
“My brother was murdered by Voldemort when he was eighteen. He’d made a terrible choice, and Regulus realized it far too late—in his efforts to make amends for his actions and to stop the Dark Lord, he was caught and eventually killed.”
Ryan cleared his throat. “Richard and I were vastly different, despite being twins. We fought a lot as children. He deeply resented our loss of magic and often times resented me because I didn’t mourn it the way he did. He was furious when Hermione turned out to be magical and even more so when his own daughter turned out to be a squib. He adored my little girl until her first burst of accidental magic and after that day—he never held her again. I wouldn’t say he hated her for it, but she became a shining and beautiful example of what he’d lost. The money was another thing that infuriated him.”
“He died defending his family—including his magical granddaughter. So whatever resentment he had regarding magic and its presence in his life—in the end, it didn’t matter to him at all.” Sirius watched a butterfly flit from a patch of flowers, and he held out his hand for it. “Hello, little one.”
The butterfly landed on his palm and started to glow.
“When Hermione told me that butterflies were really a species of fairy—I thought she was making it up,” Ryan said wryly. “So she showed me that little trick.”
“Harry once told me he thought magic was hateful and terrible. He was just six years old at the time. He’d asked me repeatedly over that year to tell him what happened to his biological parents. So I did, and that was his response. I spent a great deal of time after that teaching and showing him that magic is beautiful, too.”
“I’m a little worried that this situation will put a strain on their marriage.”
“They have a deep and lovely magical bond,” Sirius said as the butterfly left his hand. “It’s not humble, but I’ll tell you this—I raised an outstanding and strong man. And he’s one hundred percent invested in your daughter and her happiness. They have no idea what they’re getting into, of course, but they’ve got us, and we’ll make sure they don’t lose their minds completely. I’m very sorry for your loss, Ryan. Losing Reg hurt but he wasn’t my twin—I can’t imagine the grief you’re laboring under.”
“We weren’t as close as adults as we had been as children—that hurts the most. I never managed to break through the wall he built up around himself. It doesn’t feel real.”
“No, I get that. Reg and I were at odds the last ten years of his life as crazy as that sounds.” Sirius conjured himself a glass and picked up Ryan’s bottle. “I’m going to take some of this so you don’t get drunk.”
Ryan smiled sadly. “I accept your sacrifice on my part.” He cleared his throat. “I didn’t know Karen as well as I would’ve liked. I stopped getting invested in his wives when he divorced the second one.
* * * *
Hermione frowned. “Great, now they’re sharing the bottle.”
Harry tucked an arm around her waist and pulled her from the doors. “It’ll be fine.”
“Which is fine but hovering is not fine. Hovering is crazy.” He guided her toward the sofa then dropped Brigit in her lap. “Here, make friends with her so she won’t hate you and be jealous.”
Hermione accepted the drake and slouched down to pet her. Her gaze drifted to Sophie, who was asleep in a little fort of pillows in the bay window. There was a slight shimmer of the security charm that she’d set to keep the baby from rolling out into the floor. The drake made a little growly noise and rubbed her chin over Hermione’s palm.
“You’d better like me,” she told the drake firmly. “I bought you, after all. You could’ve ended up in some potion’s shop or worse with a wizard who’d never understand you if it weren’t for me.” Brigit hissed at her. Hermione turned to Harry. “What did she say?”
“She thinks you smell good,” Harry said in amusement.
The funeral was something of a circus because it leaked to the Muggle press that the Duke of Avalon had married in a secret and that members of his new wife’s family had been killed in a home invasion. They used as much magic as they could get away with using to keep the press at bay. Twenty aurors had shown up on a volunteer basis to help, which had been a huge relief to Harry as it had allowed him to concentrate on Hermione who held it together for the most part until it had been time to bury her cousin.
His parents and siblings ran interference—gently dissuading people from asking Ryan and Hannah questions regarding the murders. Neville and Terry Boot were acting as personal security for him and Hermione so not even her distant family had gotten close enough to her to ask questions. Leaving the cemetery involved more hassle with the press than Harry was honestly prepared to deal with. The magical press didn’t have to resort to mob behavior to get pictures.
A camera got so close to Hermione that it almost touched her, and Harry snatched it out of the reporter’s hand. Everyone around them came to a stop, and the crowd went curiously silent. He glared at the man.
“My apologies, Your Grace.”
“Everyone needs to back off and give my wife some space, immediately,” Harry said icily. He pitched the camera back to the photographer and the crowd parted all the way to the car that was waiting for them.
Hermione said nothing until they were settled in the car with her parents. She twisted the handkerchief she’d carried with her most of the day. “Does that get old?”
“What?” Harry questioned as he straightened his cuff.
“Intimidating people without even trying?” Hermione asked. “Merlin, Harry, I’d not be surprised at all if that bloke pissed himself.”
Harry frowned and looked out the window as the car started to move. “I used to find the Muggle world fascinating. I was so excited to go to primary and interact with Muggle children. We had a telly so I’d seen lots of things that I didn’t quite understand and I wanted to learn everything I could. I enjoyed school actually, and a part of me was disappointed to leave the friends I made there behind for Hogwarts. After the Queen guilted me into accepting the duchy, my experiences in the Muggle world changed. When I’m recognized, it can become quite a nightmare. Often, I go out of my way to avoid being recognized. I even commissioned a rune powered glamor to wear.” He fiddled with his cuff link again. “Was I out of line?”
“No,” Ryan said before Hermione could respond. “Not at all. They had no business being that close.”
“I apologize for the spectacle,” Harry murmured and frowned. “I had the person who leaked the information to the press fired. They worked in some kind of record office for the MET. Fortunately, they only had access to the file we created for the Muggle courts and not the full case file which has already been transferred to the DMLE.”
“What about Brad’s parents?” Hannah questioned. “Has that been taken care of?”
“Yes, my father oversaw that operation personally. They were taken into custody by the MET for questioning regarding their son’s actions. They knew what he was going to do, by the way. He was supposed to make it look like a robbery and bring Sophie to them. The father didn’t believe his son killed himself, and they were both demanding the baby.
“In the end, we had Hedrick’s name removed from Sophie’s birth records then his parents were memory charmed to forget about her. Because we had to hide Sophie from them, we were forced to ignore their knowledge of his plans. Several at the MET wanted to put them in jail for conspiracy at the very least, but finally, they agreed that Sophie’s mental and physical health was more important. Edward Hedrick was as bad, if not perhaps worse, as his son. Lisa Hedrick has been in and out of the hospital dozens of times since she married him. If it weren’t against the law, I think my dad would’ve put a compulsion charm on her so that she’d leave her husband.”
* * * *
Hermione had made a completely rash decision regarding the house and had chosen the one in Godric’s Hollow without even visiting it. Star combined their two households and used furniture from the Potter vault to decorate the house. She didn’t know quite what to do with herself as Harry apparated them home. Penelope Clearwater appeared in the doorway leading into the large great room, wand drawn but then relaxed at the sight of them.
“Asleep,” Penelope said as she stowed her wand. “She had a few outbursts but mostly because she wanted you and not me. Iris and I managed to keep her calm enough that she didn’t hurt herself or damage anything. Things must have been terrible today. Did you want me to stay and take care of her so you can two can relax?”
“No, but thank you for asking.” Hermione hugged her with a grateful smile. “Besides, you have plans with Roger, right?”
“Yeah, dinner or maybe just inappropriate amounts of sex.” Penelope smiled grandly at the thought.
Harry laughed, and Hermione blushed with a little huff.
Penelope scoffed. “Like you don’t have inappropriate amounts of sex. You’re still basically on your honeymoon.” She pulled her cloak from the coat rack and flicked it around to cover herself. “Send me an owl or floo if you need me.”
“Thank you,” Harry murmured and opened the front door for her. “Have fun on your…date.” She offered him a smirk and apparated.
Hermione frowned at him as he closed the door. “Don’t encourage her.”’
Harry shed his coat. “Ah, love, he’s asked her to marry him three times. She keeps telling him that he has something called Stockholm Syndrome and doesn’t really want to marry her.”
“Oh, well, that’s…” Hermione tilted her head as she considered it. “They were in a confined space with just each other for company for five years. I can see how that might breed a false sense of intimacy but the only one holding them hostage was Croaker…”
“There’s nothing false about the intimacy they’re sharing, she’s just marriage-shy which I guess I can’t blame her considering how close she came to marrying Percy Weasley after the war.”
Hermione made a horrified face. “What?”
“Right,” Harry agreed and pulled Brigit out of his coat pocket. He put the drake down and she darted through the doorway of the great room. They both followed her.
Brigit climbed the portable cot they’d set up for Sophie and perched on the edge to stare at the baby.
“Pretty baby,” Brigit hissed and flicked out a long fork tongue. “Family.”
“Yes, family,” Harry agreed and watched the drake slide down the side of the enclosed structure, she curled up around Sophie and rested her head on the baby’s stomach.
“What’s she doing?” Hermione asked curiously.
“I think she might have just claimed her. Maternal instinct, maybe? Drakes are known to be fierce in their protection of infants and children no matter the species.”
Iris woke up from her place at the bottom of the cot, gave a little growl and crawled up beside Sophie. The baby shifted in her sleep and put her hand on the puppy’s head. Iris calmed down and nudged the drake with a huff. Brigit flicked her tongue out and licked the crup.
Hermione laughed. “Well, at least they’re getting along.” She sat down on the sofa and pushed off her shoes. “What a terrible day.”
Harry sat down with her and wrapped an arm around her when she curled into him. After a few minutes, she shifted again, and he pulled her into his lap.
“I blame her, and it makes me feel like a terrible person,” Hermione confessed against his jaw. “It’s not fair to her—she had no way of knowing he’d go to such terrible lengths.”
“If Chloe had a weakness it was her belief that there was good in him, and she could retrieve it,” Harry murmured. “Love makes us stupid and sometimes we do foolish things. She was effectively blind to what he was capable of and found out too late exactly who he was. This kind of crime isn’t uncommon in the magical world, you know. It’s just less…of a mess.” Harry grimaced even as he said it. “The number of domestic murders across the globe in magical communities is horrific. Magic makes murder easy.”
“God, Harry, what a terrible world we live in.” She moved so she could meet his gaze. “We should just decide right now that Sophie isn’t allowed to date anyone who hasn’t had a thorough background check and a mental evaluation.”
Harry sighed. “Oh, love.” He rubbed his thumb over her bottom lip. “I’m so very sorry for what happened. I feel like it could’ve been different if I’d acted faster—I want to believe I could’ve seen this coming if I’d interviewed Brad Hedrick sooner.”
“Mum said he could be quite charming,” Hermione said with a small frown and lowered her gaze to her hands. “I…wonder if he was violent with her before and she never told anyone? Maybe he just snapped and lost his mind—he certainly didn’t follow the plan that his parents knew of.”
“Yeah, about that,” Harry sighed. “I’ve reviewed the scene reconstruction. Sophie’s magic surfaced when he shot Chloe. Even with the moderator on, there would’ve been a visible difference in her appearance. She was screaming and throwing off the aura our kind does when we’re upset.”
“She probably looked like something out of a horror movie,” Hermione murmured. “Like a demon or something similar.”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “I don’t know what Muggles see specifically, but I think the comparison could’ve been drawn. Moreover, if he tried to touch her, the bracelet would’ve repelled him for being a threat. I think he tried to kill the baby because in his drunken rage he was afraid of her.”
“The terrible bastard,” Hermione whispered. “I hate him.” Her gaze drifted to the cot, and she scrunched up her nose. “I’m going to need to go buy some books on this, Harry, I don’t know the first thing about being a mother.”
Harry laughed. “Well, fortunately, you’ve got two shining examples of motherhood waiting in the wings to argue over who gets to be called Nona.”
“Oh, they decided,” Hermione said with a small laugh. “Isobel gets Gran, and my mother gets Nona. They were whispering so they don’t think I overheard them. They’re all very worried that we’re going to fall apart with all of these changes.”
“Parents worry—it’s what they do.” He glanced at the cot. “I gotta admit, as much as I’m ready for children, I was kind of looking forward to it just being me and you for a while.”
Hermione nodded. “Well, parenthood is about sacrifice, right?”
“Right,” Harry agreed. “We haven’t had a lot of time to talk about this and what happens next. The legal part is handled in both worlds. Unfortunately, I have a well-honed process for making Muggle-born children essentially disappear into magical families. It was even easier for Sophie since she’d never been in any sort of situation where she was taken care of by anyone outside of the family.”
“I.” Hermione took a deep breath. “Wow, I’m a mum.”
“Yeah, you are,” Harry murmured. “I’m sorry that it came this way. I’d like to give her magic some time to settle down a little before we do the blood adoption itself.”
“You want to do that?” Hermione questioned.
“Of course—I mean, unless, you don’t?” Harry asked in confusion. “Would it upset your father?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Hermione shook her head. “It’s just a big step—bringing Sophie into your family line with blood magic. I wasn’t going to ask.” She bit down on her lip.
“Ah, love, back to the issue of blood status, are we?”
“Not really,” Hermione denied. “I just didn’t want to pressure you on that front—bringing a child into your magic is a huge step. You know that.”
“I do, and I’m not worried at all about it. Dad told me that one of his only regrets in life was that he could not adopt me through blood. It would’ve negated my ability to claim the Potter title. They were going to add him as a third parent through blood magic but things got hectic, and my parents went into hiding with me. It was too late to do that after they were gone.”
* * * *
Hermione woke to the sound of a gentle chime. Harry shifted beside her then slipped from the bed.
“I got her.”
Hermione reached out and activated the listening rune on the bedside table that Star had taught them both to place as Harry left their bedroom.
“Have a bad dream?” Harry asked. The baby made a little huffy sound and Hermione started to leave the bed. “Well, I know all about that. Come here then.”
There was a slight creak as Harry settled into the rocking chair that Star had put in the nursery.
“You know,” Harry murmured. “My life started out just like yours, but it’ll get better. You’ll grow up in a beautiful, magical world and you’ll go to Hogwarts to learn magic then you’ll find love. And after he or she is thoroughly investigated, we’ll probably let you marry them if you want.” Sophie yawned. “I’m sorry I couldn’t protect your mother, but I’ll do everything in my power to keep you safe.”
Harry laughed. “You gotta stop calling her that—if it sticks—she’ll be mortified.”
Sophie giggled. “Pony.”
“Nah, let’s let her sleep—tomorrow she’s going to throw herself into this head first and figure out how to be a mum. I suspect you’ll have to have a lot of patience with us both.”
“You can call me daddy if you want.”
There was a long silence then Sophie spoke, “Daddy, milk.”
“Milk it is.” A little magical pop told Hermione that Star had popped into the room. “See, Star knows what you need even if I’m at a complete loss.”
“Not worry, Master Harry, I not let you and Lady Hermione make a mess of the baby.”
Harry laughed. “We both appreciate your efforts.”
Hermione snuggled down under the covers and listened to her husband chat with the baby. She wondered if she’d been that quick to pick up things as a baby and figured she probably had. She’d taught herself to read at the age of four. Chewing on her bottom lip, she started to make a list of things Sophie would need—tutors, more magical books, and perhaps a toy wand to get her ready for a practice wand—something that had recently been approved for magical children who were at least eight. If they started now, Sophie would have an excellent form by the time she got to Hogwarts. She was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn’t realize Harry had returned until he slid into the bed and pulled her into his arms.
“She go back to sleep?”
“Yeah, she drank about half.” Harry hummed against her neck. “Since we’re both awake.”
Hermione laughed and turned in his arms. “I love you.”
“I love you,” he murmured and kissed her gently. He let one hand fall on her hip as they settled together.
She stroked her fingers through his beard. “I’ll keep you safe, too.”
Hermione watched shock drift over his features then he relaxed against her in a way he never had before. She pulled him close, and he tucked his face against her neck. His lips brushed over her pulse point as she pushed her fingers through the thick mess of his hair. Magic thrummed gently between them, and he sought her mouth. One day she’d tell him about the first time she’d seen him as an adult, standing before the ICW giving a speech on creature rights. Coming home to Britain hadn’t been a hard decision for her to make after that.