Title: Stand by You – Chapters 7-12
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Harry Potter
Relationship: Harry Potter/Hermione Granger
Genre: Canon Divergence, Romance
Warnings: Discussion of canon deaths, adult topics, brief non-explicit discussion of the potential for sexual assault.
Beta: PN Ztivokreb
Summary: Dumbledore seeks out someone to help Harry Potter with his parselmagic after the events of second year and it changes everything.
* * * *
“Dr. Ito.” Hannah Granger paused and smiled. “I’m, of course, thrilled to meet you. I really enjoyed your last paper on pain management. I had no idea you were magical, but then I suppose that is the point. Did you attend medical school or is your…I don’t know how to ask without being rude.”
Hiro laughed and shared a look with Dumbledore before answering her question. “I admit that magicals often…let magic do a great deal of work for them, but in this particular case, if a healer has dual roles, it is because they’ve met the required education requirements in both worlds. I’ve attended medical school as you know it to be six times in my lifetime. I’ve been a healer for four thousand years.”
Ryan Granger spit tea everywhere as he started choking. “What? Pardon me?”
Hiro pulled his wand and cast a charm to clean up the table, and Ryan Granger himself. “My apologies, I should’ve taken more care with that news. I’m 4038 years old as of January of this year. I last attended medical school at Harvard and graduated twenty years ago. I’ve attended Oxford in the past, as well as the University of Tokyo. I first apprenticed to be a healer with what you’d call…a witch doctor. I’ve crossed the globe many times in the years that I’ve lived. In my youth, I was an adventurer, and it wasn’t until I was traveling in Africa that I realized my potential as a healer. I took to the art like a fish to water—absorbing every bit of information I could. It would not be immodest to say that I’ve forgotten more about healing the human body than most people will ever learn.”
“Are you immortal?” Hannah asked.
“Not in the strictest sense of the word,” Hiro said. “I once came across a brilliant but very ill shaman living in South America. I’d just turned seventy years old, and I used my gifts as a healer to save this man and in turn the rest of his village. They were all dying of an illness that would eventually mutate into smallpox. In thanks, he gifted me with a bloodstone. Some call it a Philosopher’s Stone.”
“Hermione…spoke of a stone like that,” Ryan said hoarsely. “After her first year—she said that with it, one could make gold or create the elixir of life that would allow a magical person to live as an immortal. You have one?”
“I do,” Hiro said simply. “I swore on my magic that I would never waste the gift given to me that day. I’ve been a healer, a teacher, a warrior for the innocent, and a protector of those like me—natural born healers—since that day. That’s why I’m here today. I met your daughter this morning.”
Ryan smiled. “I wanted…we wanted…her to be a doctor, but after she was discovered to be magical, Hannah and I stopped trying to make her into something that we wanted and let her be what nature intended her to be. It’s true that we don’t always appreciate or even understand what magic has given our daughter. In some ways, magic seems an easy way out.”
“It can be,” Hiro acknowledged. “But your daughter is strong, brilliant, and very determined. I have two questions to put to you today. I’m sure you’ve read in the paper how Harry Potter is a parselmouth, and he apprenticed with me.”
“Yes,” Hannah admitted. “Hermione told us all about it before she went to the Weasleys. We read a few books together before she left and one, that she swore she was taking back, that was quite horrible.”
“It was very horrible,” Dumbledore admitted. “And she did, indeed, take it back. And made such a fuss in Flourish and Blotts due to them having sold her such a ‘depraved, inaccurate, insulting, and degrading’ book that the owner removed the rest of his copies and replaced the ones that had been sold to other parties. And he also sent an apology letter to Mr. Potter for even stocking the book in the first place. What neither child know was that the ministry recommended that title to Mr. Flourish as a great resource for laypersons not familiar with parselmagic.”
“I’m worried about her interest in a field of magic she has no hope of practicing,” Ryan said. “She’s been absolutely fascinated with it since the end of school. I even caught her playing with a little garden snake in the backyard shortly before she left.”
“Then I must ask my first question,” Hiro said. “If this gift could be given to your daughter…would you allow it?”
“You can do that?” Hannah asked with wide eyes. “How is that possible?”
“Parselmagic is an old gift. It lays dormant in many magical families in Europe, and from one of those old families one of you descends.” Hiro offered his hand to Hannah, who took it immediately. He drew his wand and traced a small rune on the top of her hand. “No, not you but you are, in fact, a squib and not a Muggle. Magic was not long gone from your family—perhaps just three or four generations back?” He released her hand and offered his to Ryan. He repeated the rune. It glowed brightly, and a small snake slithered in the air above the rune. “There. I did this test on Hermione and received the same result. Because you have no magic—the remnants of the gift is left in your body to reveal that once your family was rich with parselmagic. From you, Ryan, Hermione was gifted with these genetics, and from Hannah, she received her magic.”
Ryan sighed as he stared at the rune. “We haven’t been fair to our child. Each year she leaves and returns—different. More magical, smarter, and more beautiful. We are missing all of it, Dr. Ito, and it has made us clutch at her in a foolish fashion. I think the thing with the teeth was the final straw for her. We both knew how much the issue troubled her and we were so stubborn…I wouldn’t be surprised if she injured herself on purpose to get it fixed.”
“Ah,” Albus uttered. “About that.”
Hannah snorted. “I told you that witch lied to us in that letter, and Hermione couldn’t even look us in the eye when she explained what happened. We had to pretend like we were going to drill into one of those new teeth before she’d even act normal.”
“She’s quite infatuated with Mr. Potter,” Albus said. “And he with her. Magicals often connect when they are very young. While their relationship is nearly all friendship and just a smidgen of romantic love—due to their ages—I do believe that they will eventually create a very strong and beautiful bond together.”
“That’s lovely,” Hannah admitted. “I worried she’d end up with that Weasley boy. I rather don’t like him, which is a shame because his parents are wonderful. I read the book about magical bonds that you sent us, Headmaster Dumbledore. Will you tell me why you sent it to us?”
“In May, when your daughter was petrified,” Albus began, “Mr. Potter would sneak out of his dorm every night and sit by her bed. Every day, every spare minute was spent with her—he read to her, held her hand, watched Madam Pomfrey like a guard dog whenever she would run tests on her. What he didn’t know was that Poppy was also scanning him. Hermione’s magic responded to him every time he sat beside her. She recovered mentally, physically, and emotionally four times faster than any other victim of the incident. When we tested her to make sure she’d lost none of her mental abilities due to being petrified—she answered questions that were only covered in class while she was petrified. She even managed to describe a rather vivid set of robes that Professor Lockhart wore to a class that really amused Harry. She couldn’t have gotten some of the answers from any book. She got the information from Harry when he was reading his notes and talking to her about his day in the evenings.”
“Oh.” Ryan sighed. “Do they have any idea?”
“None, but they are very protective of each other. I do hope you didn’t punish her severely over her trip on the Knight Bus.”
Hannah laughed. “Sir, we put her on that bus. She was driving us insane because her journal was blank every day. She wasn’t sleeping and refused to eat for a whole day. I would’ve driven her myself if I had the first clue where Hogsmeade actually is. We even offered to take her to Paris for a vacation, and she looked at us like we were insane, then very angrily suggested we buy her a plane ticket to Japan instead.”
“Hermione had her teeth fixed because of Harry,” Ryan said interjected. “So he’d find her attractive?”
“I was told that she seemed to labor under the impression that her two front teeth being bigger than the rest, and her hair being rather bushy made her less attractive than other witches,” Albus explained. “Mr. Potter is an heir to a fortune and a noble title. He is the future Earl of Gryffindor. I was told she feared that she couldn’t compete with other young women among their peers due to these perceived flaws.” He paused. “I imagine she was quite startled to realize that Mr. Potter had never noticed a problem with her teeth. He had to ask her what she meant when she told him that they’d been fixed. He’s rather happy with her just the way she is, you see. He confided to Healer Ito and me that she was the best part of his life and he had no idea how he got so lucky.”
Ryan frowned. “How am I supposed to intimidate a boy who says something like that?”
Albus removed a small album from his robe and enlarged it. “That isn’t why you’d never successfully put the fear of a father in him.” He opened the album and revealed the pensieve photos that never made it into the Daily Prophet of the moment when Harry killed the basilisk, pulled the fang out of his arm, and stabbed the diary. “This is why.”
Ryan pulled the album closer and took a deep breath. “It was already dead in the pictures in the Daily Prophet. I guess your government didn’t give them these—I can’t see how they wouldn’t have used them instead.”
“They were considered too graphic for public display,” Albus acknowledged. “It is a powerful and provoking image, is it not?”
“It is,” Ryan agreed with a sigh. “My future son-in-law, huh? I guess my little girl couldn’t do much better than a boy who’d slay a monster for her. He did this for her, right?”
“He was very angry over Hermione’s condition,” Albus acknowledged. “Minerva was very worried that he would start…hunting amongst the other students for the culprit, but he confined himself to sitting with Hermione whenever he wasn’t in class.”
“Harry and I have spoken about the Chamber of Secrets,” Ito interjected. “We discussed at length the bite he suffered from the basilisk and the fact that he had to kill such an ancient and rather revered snake among our kind due to him having been driven insane by another. Out of everything he’s processed about the chamber—nearly dying, the slaying of a king among serpents, saving Ginevra Weasley’s life, and facing a specter of the man who murdered his parents—his anger over what Ginny Weasley and that snake did to Hermione is what lingers.
“He thinks, rightly, that the enchanted diary used the girl’s crush on him to manipulate her and that the attempted murder of Hermione was more like a reward to the young girl. A gift to her for her continued help. Her parents have her seeing a mind healer at my suggestion. He killed that snake to protect Hermione. We’ve already had a long discussion about what to do if the Weasley girl continues to be a threat on her own. She owes Harry a magical life debt. He can and will use it to keep her from doing your daughter harm if necessary.”
Hannah pulled the album towards her, studied the pictures intensely then turned the page. “Oh good Lord, Ryan, look at this stupidly large spider.”
“Ah, yes.” Albus sighed. “I’m going to have a very long talk with Hagrid about that.”
She flipped another page. “Is this a dragon?”
Albus leaned forward. “Yes, but a baby one. Honestly, Mr. Potter’s memories have provided me with a lot of information I did not have, and I have no excuse for it. How a dragon was allowed to be carted about in a box in my school without my knowledge is baffling.”
“You know what I think,” Ito said dryly.
Albus frowned at him. “Stop picking on me in front of other people.”
Ryan snorted. “What do you think, Master Ito?”
“The school has a curse on it from Tom Riddle himself,” Ito explained. “I believe the curse started to expand with the arrival of Mr. Potter due to the lad’s parselmagic. It’s no fault of his own, of course, that the curse is feeding off of him. The result is that the curse is more robust and it’s corrupting Albus’ connection to the school and wards. One of my tasks, this coming school year, will be to find and neutralize that curse.”
Hannah closed the album with a little huff and focused on Hiro. “Dr. Ito, how will this parselmagic transference ritual work? What was your second question?”
“Muggle-born children in the magical world are in a limbo of sorts. Albus acts as the defacto magical guardian to most of the students at Hogwarts and to a select few he is their guardian of record—like Harry Potter. Until he became my apprentice, Albus was his magical guardian. This allowed Albus to interfere on Harry’s behalf many times in the past when the ministry, frankly, tried to rob the child blind. Two days after I assumed Mr. Potter’s guardianship, the Under Secretary for Magic tried to file a claim with Gringotts for fifty thousand galleons, the profit they assume he made on the carcass of the basilisk. They’d be foaming at the mouth if they knew they’d underestimated by a factor of four. Of course, I refused and quoted their own laws back to them and offered to meet her on the dueling platform. She declined.”
“I bet she did,” Hannah said with a wry grin. “If at some point she changes her mind, would it be possible for me to watch?”
“I’ll make sure,” Hiro said. “Now, as to Hermione’s situation. She doesn’t have a magical guardian. This circumstance prevents her from many educational opportunities, including internships abroad and an apprenticeship of any kind until she turns seventeen.”
“Are you offering to become her magical guardian?” Ryan asked. “Would that…she’s our daughter, Dr. Ito. I would never want her to think that we’re giving her up or any sort of nonsense like that.”
“You’d retain her Muggle guardianship, and in fact, you could return the favor by accepting guardianship of Harry Potter in the Muggle world. Currently, his Aunt Petunia is his guardian in this world, and frankly the only reason I haven’t killed her is that I literally haven’t had the time,” Ito explained.
“Did she hurt him?” Hannah asked without questioning how serious Ito was.
“She nearly killed him with neglect and her husband did his part with his fists,” Albus said. “I never knew, and Harry would’ve never told us at all if we hadn’t all but forced it out of him. I should’ve known. I should’ve…never left him in their hands, but I thought I was making the best decision I could for him. He wasn’t safe, at all, during that time in the magical world.”
“He has mind healing sessions every day,” Hiro explained. “Magical mind healing isn’t much like Muggle psychology, but there are a few principals they share. He’s confronting his memories, accepting the wrongness of them, and the fact that he’s not to blame for their poor behavior. I expect him to have completed his mental review of his years before Hogwarts by Christmas. I can’t say he’s not impacted by the violent upbringing, but he’s not the kind to repeat the cycle of abuse.”
“No,” Ryan agreed. His gaze flicked to the album. “He’s more likely to get himself killed defending someone instead. Are you working on that? Making sure he values his own life as much as others? Selflessness is fine for a storybook hero, Dr. Ito, but a healthy sense of self-preservation is the kind of thing I’d like my daughter’s life partner to have.”
“I’m working on it,” Ito said. “I’m trying to restore the simple pleasures in his life—he used to sneak away and take piano lessons with a neighbor. She taught him for six years, starting when he was just four. When his Aunt found out about the lessons, she threatened the woman, threatened to report her for being inappropriate with Harry if she ever even spoke to him again. It was a method his aunt would use to get rid of a favored teacher at his primary school as well. He hasn’t touched a musical instrument since that day, but I’ve seen his memories of the lessons…his talent is nothing short of magical. I had the dverger buy and place an instrument in the parlor of his home. The day he sits down at that piano and plays…well, that’ll be the day that tells me that I’ve not been working in vain.”
Hannah got up and left the room without a word. She returned quickly with a violin case in her hands. “Take this to Hermione. She leaves it behind every year, and I know she wishes she could take it with her. Maybe if she plays for him or around him, it will encourage him to return to his own music?”
Hiro took the case and nodded. “Yes, thank you.”
“We accept everything,” Ryan said quietly. “And I’ll help you hide that woman’s body if you’d like to take care of that today as well.”
Albus cleared his throat. “I’d rather you leave her alone at the moment. You’ll ruin all of our hard work if you kill her today. Between the endless hunger Minerva cursed her with, and the nightmare curse on both Vernon and Petunia Severus did, and the instant karma curse Filius Flitwick delivered…you see we owe them ten years of extreme discomfort. It hasn’t even been an entire month.”
“What did you do?” Hannah asked.
“I gave Vernon Dursley all of Harry’s health problems—the brittle bones, the organ atrophy, and arthritis. Over the next ten years, Vernon Dursley will suffer every single injury he inflicted on Harry over the years in the order that they were received. I don’t expect him to survive the fourth concussion but that’s hardly my fault,” Albus said. “Currently he has his left leg in a cast. He broke Harry’s leg shortly after Harry’s second birthday by throwing him down the stairs.”
“Yes, well do let me know when you’re finished torturing them,” Ito said dryly. “I’ve got plenty of time.”
“The transference ritual…will it hurt?” Hannah asked. “I read in one of Hermione’s magical theory book that magic often exacts a price for gifts given in ritual.”
“All magic has a price,” Hiro began. “But in this case, it is not the person who accepts the gift that pays the price. A parselmouth can only do this once, you see. There are rituals that will allow dormant family gifts to rise in an individual, but Hermione has no living magical family to perform the rites. These rites are normally performed on the child’s seventeenth birthday.”
“You…not you,” Ryan said. “You’ve already done it, haven’t you?”
“Yes, in fact, one of the reasons why I agreed to apprentice Harry is because he is by way of magic rather like a grandchild. I gifted parselmagic to Godric Gryffindor, Harry’s distant ancestor.”
“You’re going to ask Harry to give parselmagic to Hermione,” Hannah guessed.
“No, you mistake me,” Ito said. “Harry requested the right to do so the moment he found out it could be possible. The moment she got me alone—she asked me if the trait was dormant in her and if it was if I knew of a parselmouth who would share it with her so that she could…stand with Harry. Neither has any idea the other has made this request.”
“So it appears that even when they don’t talk about it…they are on the same page,” Hannah said.
“We’ve already agreed,” Ryan began. “I can’t see us backing out. She wants it…I can tell when she was reading the books about it. How intimate will this ritual be for them? We’ve both read the books on bonding and magical theory, you see. He’ll be opening up his magical core to her and to a magical person that is more intimate than sexual intercourse.”
“It is not a sex ritual,” Hiro clarified first. “But it is intimate due to the fact that it’s blood magic and they will remain connected magically all of their lives. When Godric died…I was halfway around the world, and I felt it. It was rather like someone cut off one of my arms. It took me weeks to recover my balance. The grief was shockingly deep. I hadn’t seen the man in over a hundred years, and it was as if…I’d lost a very close lover. No matter the fact that we’d never had a relationship of that kind. I think at that point, I realized why it was a gift that can only be given once. It is a truly profound magical connection. Though it wasn’t until I encountered his great-great-grandson many years later that I realized that my gift had been passed onto his children and grandchildren. Parselmagic ran strong and true in the Gryffindor line through Godric. They are a noble family—not only in title but in the richness of their spirit. They nourish, protect, and in times of great strife protect the people they claim as their own. I knew Harry Potter would be no different.”
“We’d like to talk to Hermione,” Hannah said. “I want her to understand that we’re doing this for her and not because we want rid of her. Can you bring her home?”
“How about you we show you Harry’s house in Hogsmeade?” Hiro offered instead. “You can meet Harry, his godfather, and Healer Arnou, who is staying with us currently.” He paused and frowned. “It crosses my mind that your daughter is the only female we have in the house. If it would make you more comfortable, I could call in another…a woman. I have an acolyte currently living in Ireland.”
“Lord Black hardly needs another stranger to deal with in the home,” Hannah said. “I know you by reputation, Dr. Ito, and our many interactions with the headmaster has led us to believe him a very good judge character. He has entrusted someone very valuable in the magical world to your care. I feel comfortable doing the same with our daughter.”
* * * *
Hiro led the Grangers through the house, stopping when one of them took a peek into a room. He wasn’t surprised to find the majority of his blended family on the patio. The garden was very popular. Castius, Remus Lupin, and Sirius Black were at the table with Filius Flitwick whom he had met when he’d first come to Britain.
Remus jerked his chin upward. “Broom ride. It took him a half hour to convince her to go. Apparently, she’s rather afraid of it.” Harry took that moment to shoot over the garden area like a rocket, Hermione’s excited laughter drifted over them. “Well, she was afraid of it.”
Hiro huffed. “It has to be quite chilly up there.”
Castius drew a card from the pile in the middle of the table. “I cast warming charms on them both before I let them leave the environmental ward, sir. They dropped their coats off after the first twenty minutes.”
Hiro nodded. “Very well.” He motioned to his guests. “Doctors Hannah and Ryan Granger—meet Healer Castius Arnou, Sirius Black, the Earl of Blackmoor, Professor Remus Lupin, and Professor Filius Flitwick.” He walked to the edge of the patio as they all greeted each other. He cast a sonorous charm and whistled sharply.
Thirty seconds past before Harry skillfully glided his broom to a stop in front of him and offered Hermione a hand. She slid off the broom, pink-cheeked and breathless. As soon as she was clear, Harry lowered the broom and gracefully gained his feet.
“We have guests,” Hiro said and inclined his head toward the Grangers.
“Mum, Dad!” Hermione darted across the patio and into her mother’s arms. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” Hannah said. “Nothing is wrong. Come inside—show me your room. We want to ask you a few questions.”
Harry watched the Grangers leave with a frown. He turned to Ito but didn’t ask any questions. Hiro watched his apprentice process what little information he had and relax under his attention. He appreciated the trust the lad had in him, so he didn’t make him wait long for an answer to his unspoken question.
“They agreed,” Hiro said. “The Grangers are staying for dinner. Have Dobby arrange a meal in the formal dining room.”
“Of course,” Harry said and paused at the table. “Professor Flitwick, will you be staying for dinner?”
“I’d love to Harry,” Filius said as he laid out his cards with a flourish. “Gin.” He grinned when the wizards around him huffed in frustration.
Hiro laughed as Harry just walked away, shaking his head. The lad had no patience for cards or even board games. He even found chess to be frightfully boring.
* * * *
“And this is my private bath,” Hermione said she opened a door.
“Where does the other door go?”
“It leads to a small hallway that connects to the library,” Hermione explained and bit down on her lip. “What’s going on? Did you want me to come home since I’m not staying at the Weasleys? Harry would never…I mean…we decided to start dating, but he’d never pressure me for something inappropriate. We’ve only kissed twice, and both times it was in front of the headmaster.” She blushed. “Goodbye kisses.”
Ryan laughed and shook his head. “Well, when a lad takes himself off to Japan, I suppose a goodbye kiss or two isn’t exactly out of line.”
“And nothing is wrong,” Hannah assured. She ran her hand over the surface of the desk. “This is absolutely beautiful. I hope he…well, this is very expensive furniture. This is obviously not a guest room, Hermione.”
“No, Harry said it was my room,” Hermione said. “For as long as I want and whenever I need it. He didn’t buy the furniture for me—it’s been in his family for generations. Dobby found it in the Potter vault. All of it as antique as you assume and magically protected against damage. Harry said that it was about five hundred years old and was purchased for an ancestor of his—Addison Potter.” She frowned as her father led her over to the small sofa and sat her down. “If this is about Ron. I’m not going to apologize for breaking his nose.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Princess,” Ryan admitted. “But I’m sure he had it coming.” He took a deep breath. “First, I want to say I’m sorry.”
“For…” He sighed and rubbed his face with one shaking hand. “Did you know that my father wanted me to study law? He was furious when I chose to go into dentistry, and I’m not sure he forgave me for not following in his footsteps. I think he took that resentment to the grave and that’s a cruel thing to have to carry around. I’d never want you to feel that way.”
“Being a traditional doctor isn’t necessarily in the cards for me anymore,” Hermione allowed. “But there are Healing programs all over the world that I could be a part of as a witch.”
“Dr. Ito spoke to us at length about healing in the magical world,” Ryan said. “He also explained to us that without a magical guardian that you couldn’t take summer internships or even apprentice with a master until you turn seventeen. Having Muggle parents is slowing down your education.”
Hermione winced. “That’s not…I mean…I found out during my first year that would be the case, and I don’t resent it. At first, I admit to being a bit jealous of what Harry’s doing because he’s learning things I’ll have to wait for. He’s exploring one of the most ancient forms of magic left on Earth, and he’s doing it alone. I really wish I could help him. But moreover, I wish I could be a part of it, so he doesn’t have to face it alone.”
“Being a parselmouth is quite difficult in the UK.”
“So is being a Muggle-born,” Hermione said. “I’ve weathered that storm fairly well, I think. I could handle the skepticism and the discrimination if I were I allowed to accept the gift of it.”
“We’ve already told Dr. Ito yes,” Ryan said and just smiled when he found himself with an arm full of his excited child. “But there are ramifications, Hermione.”
“Dr. Ito would have to become your magical guardian, and I expect you’d have to agree to an apprenticeship before he’d teach you. He hasn’t said. He’s known the world over as an outstanding educator and doctor—even among Muggles,” Hannah explained. “We’ve agreed to this…Hermione but we don’t want you to think we’re just giving you away.”
“I’d never think that,” Hermione whispered.
“You’ve had to…we fought so hard against your magical life,” Ryan admitted. “So much, in fact, that we ignored how much your situation with your teeth was damaging your self-esteem.”
“You know…there wasn’t an accident, right?”
“The headmaster admitted it,” Hannah explained. “We aren’t angry with you. In fact, if anything we’re rather upset with ourselves. We’re very sorry you felt you had to go along with such a deception to improve yourself.”
Hermione huffed. “Harry didn’t even notice.” She laughed when her father did. “Really? I mean how could he not notice that I ran around for the two years we’ve known each other looking like a beaver?”
“You didn’t look like a beaver,” Hannah admonished but laughed. “I’m so sorry, Hermione.”
“I totally did.” Hermione slumped back on the sofa. “I wonder who Master Ito will ask to share it with me. He has many apprentices.”
“Harry asked Dr. Ito if it was possible if he could do it for you as soon as he found it was feasible,” Ryan explained.
Hermione jumped out and darted out of the room without a word. They caught up with her in the kitchen just in time to watch their daughter throw her arms around Harry Potter and kiss him soundly on the mouth.
Dumbledore, who had arrived while they were in the back of the house, snorted. “Well, as habits go it’s a rather charming one.”
Hermione huffed as Harry set her firmly away from him. “You mean it? You’d share it with me? You don’t have to just because…”
“There is no one else ever I’d rather share it with,” Harry interrupted. “Don’t be silly.” He brushed her hair back from her forehead. “I don’t think you’re supposed to go around kissing boys in front of your father. So, you’re going to have to tell him it’s totally not my fault.” He sent Ryan Granger a sly look and just smiled when every wizard in the room started laughing.
* * * *
Hermione stood at the abrupt scream. She hadn’t been able to sleep, so she’d made herself at home in the library. She started to sit back down…but the scream came again, and she realized it wasn’t Sirius Black. She’d been warned to expect him to have nightmares and she’d been firmly told to stay in her room if she heard him from his place on the second floor.
She went down the short hall to the door that led into Harry’s room and opened it carefully.
Harry was in the middle of his bed, twisting violently in the sheets. He screamed again, and she darted forward just as the other door opened. She crawled into the bed with him and gathered him up in a fierce hug. He only struggled briefly against her before he curled into her, still asleep and fitful.
Hermione looked up then, found all the men in the house standing there. “He has them at Hogwarts, sometimes. Not during our first year…but last year they had a prefect come and get me several times when they couldn’t wake him up.”
“Do you know what he dreams about?” Sirius asked and grimaced when Harry cried out in his sleep.
Hermione caught Harry’s arm by the wrist before he could lash out. “He said Voldemort, but I have to wonder how much he dreams about that horrible man, Vernon Dursley.” She took a deep breath as Harry started to shake. “He’s probably not going to wake up.” She ran her fingers through his sweat-damp hair. “When he doesn’t wake up—he doesn’t remember dreaming the next day. Ron always freaks out when Harry is like this. Avoids him the next day and…finally, I started telling Harry whenever he has an episode, so he’ll understand why Ron is such a git. If any of you are going to be a git tomorrow—do it elsewhere. Hogsmeade has lots of very interesting places to visit.”
Harry groaned low in his throat and then screamed, his body twisting roughly in Hermione’s arms.
“Merlin,” Remus murmured. “How often…”
“Not very often,” Hermione said. “When he’s really tired or stressed out. Sometimes when—” Harry screamed again and jerked his hand free of her grip. He’d have hit her if she hadn’t grabbed him again. “This isn’t…normally it’s enough for me to hold him to calm him down. He responds well to Neville, too. Ron…well, he broke Ron’s jaw one night, but we never told him about it.”
Hiro drew his wand and started to cast a diagnostic. Arnou made a shocked sound as the charm worked.
“He’s not dreaming,” Hiro said as he lowered his wand and the magic faded. “He’s being mentally assaulted.”
“By what?” Hermione demanded. “Who? Dobby!” The elf popped into the room immediately. “Something is attacking Harry. Can you use your bond to see what it is?”
Dobby put one glowing hand on Harry’s leg, and his eyes went wide with horror. “Nasty snake man be trying to touch Master Harry’s mind. Try to damage his special snake magic.”
Hermione bit down on her lip and closed her eyes as the shock filtered through the room. “A psyche diving spell,” she said. “That means it’s not Tom Riddle. He’s currently in a spirit form and can’t perform magic…unless he’s anchored…oh…he…that foul….”
“No outside magical force can fight a diving spell,” Remus said hoarsely.
“Agreed,” Hiro said roughly. “Hermione, I need you to leave the bed. It’s only going to get worse.”
“He’s never hurt me,” Hermione said stubbornly. “Not even when his scar would bleed. Not the night he broke Ron’s jaw. Not even when he dislocated his own shoulder trying to break free of the Weasley twins.” She ran her fingers through Harry’s hair. “You’re being attacked. This isn’t a dream.” She pressed her lips to Harry’s temple. “Do you hear me, Harry? This is a fight, but you’re not alone this time. I’m right here, okay? You have the home field advantage, you know. He’s nothing right now—just a spirit with no true magical power to use against you. He’s a thief, Harry, using magic he stole from another to stay in this world. He’s using stolen magic to attack you, right now.
“All he’s ever been is a thief. Smart? Perhaps but I’m five times smarter. Magical? Surely, but no more so than anyone else before he tainted his body and mind with darkness. He had to corrupt himself for decades to make himself equal to the power you were born with. You’re a great wizard, Harry. Remember the first time I told you that? I was trying to tell you that I knew you were hiding what you were capable of.
“I wish you could see yourself like the rest of us do—the way magic moves and bends to your will is nothing short of astounding. The air shifts around you when you cast even the most simple charms. You treat magic like it’s beautiful and precious. Tom Riddle—he never understood the great responsibility that magic is, but you do. You understood before you ever cast a single spell.
“Riddle is incapable of understanding the greatness of magic because he knows nothing of love or sacrifice. That’s what stopped him before. Your mother stopped him—she stood in front of you and defied fate to give you the precious gift of time. She gave you time to grow up. You’re not defenseless anymore.”
She glanced up briefly and saw that the headmaster, Minerva McGonagall, and Poppy Pomfrey had arrived. Hermione briefly wondered who’d called for them as she started to rock with Harry. “He’s a vicious thug and you, Harry Potter, are the living embodiment of Arthur Pendragon. You drove him from Quirrell’s body in our first year. You killed a thousand-year-old basilisk. You banished Riddle’s spirit away again in the chamber. You pulled Excalibur out of the bloody Sorting Hat. I bet you knew I’d look it up and I did. From Pendragon to Peverell to Gryffindor to Potter—generation upon generation of very brave and magical people came before you. That’s who you are, Harry, you have the blood of the last magical King of Avalon in your veins. You show Tom Riddle what you’re made of and end this right now!”
Harry moved in her arms, screamed, and his body writhed for a few seconds before magic roiled over him, and he changed. Black scales rushed under her fingers, and Hermione Jane Granger found herself with coping with a somewhat small but fierce looking dragon.
She huffed in shock. “Oh my god, Harry.” Hermione turned his head slightly, and her mouth dropped open even as several adults in the room lurched forward abruptly. “He’s…he’s a Hebridean Black!”
“He most certainly is,” Hiro said. “That is the most fascinating thing I’ve seen in several thousand years.”
The dragon growled lowly as he woke. He hissed at them all and curled protectively around Hermione. The bed creaked under his weight, even at just about ten feet long he was heavy.
Hermione tugged on his horn despite the shocked sounds the adults made. “Hey, you. Come here.” She rested her forehead on Harry’s dark one. “This is a very interesting development, Mr. Potter.” He rumbled at her. “Oh, none of that. Whinging is for people who don’t turn into bloody dragons. Can you change back on your own?”
He chuffed and rubbed his snout against her forehead very gently.
“No, you are not staying like this. What if you get stuck? Extremely stupid things happen to people who try the animagus transformation without proper training. Look at you—you’ve skipped ten whole steps!” She tugged on his horn again. “Change back right now.”
He sat back on his haunches, two feet of tail curling around them both and nothing happened. After a few seconds, he climbed down from the bed and went to Ito for guidance.
Hiro dropped to his knees and sighed. “Look at you, indeed.” He stroked Harry’s head with steady hands. “Picture yourself as a wizard. Don’t forget your clothes.” He paused and turned to Hermione. “Do close your eyes, dear.”
Hermione hopped off the bed and turned her back on the proceedings. “Is it really a problem? Turning back and being naked?”
Sirius laughed. “I did it, often.”
“You often did it on purpose,” Remus corrected. “James did, too. The both of you were exhibitionists.”
“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” Sirius said petulantly.
“Focus, find your center,” Hiro said. “And, yes, Hermione, it is common for the very young and inexperienced to forget their clothes when they transform back into their human forms.” He petted Harry gently. “We can force you back, Harry, but I’d rather not see you hurt that way. You’ve had a pretty difficult experience, but something tells me that this isn’t the first time you’ve fought Tom Riddle off in your head. So out of all the things I might let you wallow about in self-pity over, this is never going to be one of them. He is your enemy, and you will allow yourself no weakness on the matter of Tom Riddle.”
Harry shivered as a dragon, his aura flared, and when it receded, he pitched forward in a dead faint as a wizard into Ito’s hands.
“There we go,” Hiro said cheerfully. He picked Harry up easily. “You can turn around, Hermione, he managed to return in his clothes.”
She turned and frowned at Hiro laid Harry down on the bed. “We usually…well, the boys get him through a shower if he wakes up, so he isn’t a mess in the morning. It helps him return to normal if there is no evidence left behind. The times that he doesn’t wake up—we use magic to clean him up as much as possible.”
“What…” Poppy glared at her. “What have you children been keeping from me?”
Hermione blushed, but her mouth firmed up. “It’s not for me to say. You’ll have to ask Harry when he wakes up.” She lifted her chin when Poppy started to speak. “I’ll not talk about Harry’s private business without his permission, Madam Pomfrey. Even Ron knows better than to discuss it, though he had to be taught a lesson on that subject first.”
Poppy raised an eyebrow. “Ron Weasley came to the infirmary last year—just before Christmas with his tongue transfigured into a spider. He claimed he did it to himself.”
Hermione’s gaze narrowed. “Ron is rather petrified of spiders, and unfortunately for his own mental health, he made the mistake of mocking Harry about the bad dreams in an argument.”
“And Mr. Potter transfigured his tongue?” Albus questioned in disbelief.
“Of course not,” Hermione scoffed. “I did.”
Sirius grinned at her. “You’re bloody adorable.”
Hermione sighed. “I’m sure I shouldn’t take you seriously at all.”
He found her having breakfast on the patio. Harry sat down beside her and stared for a few moments. She kept reading though she was clearly aware he was there. “I broke Ron’s jaw.”
“Yes,” Hermione said and closed her book decisively. “It was his decision not to tell you. It was a very small fracture. The twins had some Skele-Gro; I didn’t ask why or how they came to have it. It happened on Halloween. We figured you had enough on your plate at the time and Ron thought it wouldn’t do anything but stress you out to know that it happened. I’m sorry if you think I should’ve told you. I’ve tried very hard not to lie to you, Harry.”
Harry nodded and exhaled. “Have I ever hit you in my sleep?”
“You elbowed me once in the side, but it was more flailing than actually an attempt to strike someone. You punched Ron in the face. You kicked him once, too. You bit George, but that was his fault—he was trying to force a calming potion down your throat. We quickly abandoned any attempts to potion you when it happens after that.”
“But not you,” Harry repeated stubbornly. “You’re saying I’ve never hit you.”
“No, not once.” She stared right at him. “Would you like me to vow on my magic?”
“No.” He huffed and turned his head to stare out into the garden. “If I ever get violent with you in my sleep—you must promise me you’ll get away from me.”
“No, Hermione. I mean it. I can deal with a lot of shite, okay, but if I thought you’d just take that kind of treatment from me because I can’t help it…well, I wouldn’t deal with that well at all.”
“It won’t happen,” Hermione said. “But if it does—I’ll get out of the way and use magic to restrain you. Will that work?”
“Yes,” Harry said and relaxed slightly. “That works. Master Ito said that you figured out what Tom Riddle did to live.”
“There is a reference to Horcruxes in one of the parselmagic books I received from France. It is one of only two extremely dark arts rituals that are uniquely powerful and different in the realm of parselmagic. A wizard without parselmagic could create a single Horcrux. A parselmouth could create…many. I have to think he did.” She pulled a piece of parchment from her book. “I worked out the math this morning. I looked Tom Riddle up, you know, when I came to Hogwarts over the summer. I had free run of the library while we were waiting for Fawkes to return. Tom Riddle was Head Boy his seventh year. He received seven OWLs and seven NEWTs. One of his NEWTs was in Divination and yet another arithmancy. Sixth and seventh year he took transfiguration, charms, potions, arithmancy, divination, and magical theory. That last class hasn’t been taught in twenty years due to lack of interest. I’m considering asking to take it as an independent study next year.”
“He didn’t take DADA?”
“He did it as an independent study under his head of house, Horace Slughorn,” Hermione explained. “Riddle achieved the highest score ever recorded on the DADA NEWT, Harry. His understanding of the dark arts was so profound that he received ten different offers to apprentice for his mastery in Defence.” She paused briefly when the rest of the house’s occupants trickled out the door. Platters of food appeared immediately on the table. “So, we have a powerful young man who grew up in a Muggle orphanage. I think you and I both can relate to how that might have gone. Muggle children were… they seemed to know instinctually that I was different from them. Even before it became obvious that I was smarter than they were—they avoided me. I started reading at four.”
“I…was around four myself,” Harry admitted. “I wasn’t taught to read, not really. It was more about survival than anything else. If my aunt sent me to get something out of the cabinet and I brought the wrong thing—the punishment would be severe. So, I learned to read the labels on food boxes and cans first. The first time she realized I could read we were grocery shopping. I kept retrieving things from her list without her asking.” He took a deep breath and shook his head as he began filling his plate. “She raged the whole way home that I was a freak. I was thrown in the cupboard and left there for a week. I was relieved, actually, that she was so completely unhinged by her realization that she locked me up. My uncle didn’t get the chance to hit me that week.”
“Oh, I’m going to…” Hermione huffed. “I can’t think anything worse than what Snape did to them, yet. I wondered how they fared last night.”
Harry snorted. “Considering what I was experiencing…if they even got a glimpse of what I saw last night, they might end up in an institution because of the nightmare curse alone.”
Hiro cleared his throat. “If you’re ready to speak of it. I’m ready to hear it.”
“I…” Harry frowned. “It was odd at first—like a replay of any day I’ve ever spent at Hogwarts. We were in classes, and Ron ate like a pig at lunch. Neville got a letter from his gran, Dean Thomas got a lecture for not doing his essay the night before from Hermione. Though, by the end of it, she agreed to proof it in transfiguration if she had time because it was for charms. Then I heard…I heard it.”
“The basilisk,” Hermione clarified. “You heard the snake like you did last year in the walls?”
“Yes.” Harry buttered his scone thoughtfully. “He kept moving around the school—going places he couldn’t have in reality. At least, he couldn’t have gone without being noticed. The weird thing was that we had all of our classes on the same day. I realized I was dreaming when I ended up in DADA with Quirrell of all people. Ron kept suggesting that we knock off his turban because he wanted to see Voldemort sticking out the back of his head. Things jumped a little, and I knew something was very wrong when Ron and I went to the infirmary to visit Ginny, who had been petrified.
“Ron tried to suggest we get Lockhart and try to find the chamber. Which…okay, was weird because he was in the office when we went to look, but Quirrell was still teaching a class. Lockhart was different in the dream—very focused. He asked a whole bunch of questions that I ignored. Once we reached the bathroom, Ron went right to the sink. He didn’t in reality. He was frankly too worked up to be very helpful at that point. Ginny was in the infirmary. I said so, and Ron shouted at me—he accused me of not caring if Hermione died. That didn’t make any sense because Hermione was supposed to be in the infirmary, and I started to go check on her only to remember that Ginny was in the bed that Hermione had spent a month in. They’d changed places in my dream.
“Lockhart was too helpful. Ron was prodding me…trying to get me to talk about Hermione. He wanted to know about her. Wanted to know what she meant to me. He honestly asked questions he doesn’t have the emotional depth to even consider in reality. He’s about as deep as a Peeves.” He paused when Hermione laughed. “I’m not wrong.”
“No, you summed him up.” Hermione nodded. “So, Riddle put me in the chamber. That’s an interesting choice. It demonstrates two things—an understanding of what it would take to throw you off your game and a total lack of understanding of me. That’s not surprising if his spirit was connected to the diary at any point—Ginny would’ve hardly mentioned me. I’m sure she spent most of her time pouring her little heart about you and her epic crush on you. She probably wrote Ginny Potter in it like five thousand times.”
Harry blushed. “Merlin, Hermione, that’s a horrible thing to say.”
“Lady Ginevra Potter,” Hermione said and smirked when he gagged. “You keep thinking that way.”
“He had a whole year to observe you when he was at Hogwarts during your first year,” Remus interjected.
“Yeah, but I was just the snotty little Muggle-born in his class that he had to put up with to keep his cover,” Hermione said dismissively. “The only thing I was threatening was the grading curve. What he doesn’t realize is that I’d have turned that diary in the first time it talked back to me. I wanted to turn it in when Harry had it.”
“So, you went into the chamber,” Sirius prodded. “Did it play out the same?”
“No,” Harry said shortly, and his face tightened with fury. “Not at all. I had to…I had to take Ron and Lockhart out of the picture just short of the main door leading into the chamber. They tried to take me hostage. It was weird.”
“Take it out, how?” Remus asked.
“Ron—I stunned him three times before he went down. Lockhart.” He took a deep breath. “I had to kill him. He wouldn’t stop and was more powerful than he ever was in real life.”’
“How did you kill him?” Ito questioned.
“Reductor curse,” Harry said. “It was quite…bloody. At any rate, I broke Ron’s wand and tied him up before I continued on into the chamber.”
“Was I lying on the floor where Ginny was?”
“No,” Harry answered and focused on his plate. “You were…Riddle used you to represent himself in the attack at first. He rightly assumed that I would have a very difficult time hurting you. The basilisk was wreaking havoc all over the chamber, and Riddle was taunting me with my failure. He’d taken you over, and he was going to use you and your magic to return to the living. So, he was quite startled when your real voice started to echo through the chamber. So startled that he resumed his own face. The face I saw the night he murdered my mother—he looked like a humanoid snake. The more you talked, the more he raged. The basilisk bit me—three times—before I stopped it. I could feel the poison burning in my veins, and I couldn’t find the diary. Fawkes wasn’t coming. The memory and the dream were merging. Then, you…you told me to show Riddle what I was made of.”
“And you?” Hermione asked.
“I turned into a dragon, ripped him to pieces, and set his parts on fire,” Harry said.
Hermione nodded thoughtfully. “I bet he didn’t see that coming.” She pushed aside her empty plate and reopened her book. “That sort of mental shock would’ve knocked a living wizard on his bum. We have to assume that Riddle was using someone’s body the way he did in first year. Which means that Lucius Malfoy wasn’t the only Death Eater with a Horcrux.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” Harry admitted.
“The diary gained power from its user. It was draining Ginny all year and finally built up enough of a magical reserve to attempt to regain a body,” Hermione said. “Riddle is a parselmouth, so we know he could make more than one horcrux and in fact, considering his personality, that means he probably made seven. Or at least he intended on making…” She paled and turned to Harry with a glare. “Oh, you, you…how could you not tell me?”
“He wasn’t allowed to,” Ito said sharply and shook his head as he stared at her. “I watched you make the mental leap to the Horcrux theory without a single hesitation last night, and just now you’ve hit another speculation that the Headmaster and I have already agreed on…tell me why you think seven?”
“Well, it’s his pattern. Seven OWLs, seven NEWTs, seven members in his inner circle during the first war. Lucius Malfoy, Bellatrix Lestrange, Rodolphus Lestrange, Rabastan Lestrange, Antonin Dolohov, Barty Crouch, Jr., and,” she paused briefly but continued when Sirius gave her an abrupt nod, “Regulus Black.” She smoothed out her parchment nervously. “He studied magical theory, and arithmancy and seven is the most magical number. He chose Ginny Weasley—the seventh child in the Weasley family for his resurrection through the diary. But more—Ginny is the seventh child of a seventh daughter. His own middle name, Marvolo, is seven letters. Since most magical children start to show signs of magic around seven—it’s likely that Riddle’s obsession with the number seven began then. It is a truly magical age, and he’s deeply superstitious…which leads us to…” She trailed off suddenly.
“It’s quite all right, Hermione, there is no one at this table who hasn’t heard the prophecy. Protecting it is paramount, but keeping vital information from Harry’s godfather is unacceptable, in my opinion.”
Hermione nodded. “Very well, the prophecy must have validated Riddle to an untold degree as his enemy was born in the seventh month and even fate appeared to be telling him that seven was an extremely important number to him.”
“That is a well-reasoned argument, Miss Granger,” Dumbledore said gravely from the backdoor where he stood.
She turned and stared at him in shock. “Sir.”
“I take it you have more?”
“Yes,” Hermione admitted and fidgeted as the headmaster joined them at the table.
“There are seven snakes on the door leading into the chamber,” Harry said suddenly to deflect attention from Hermione, who looked uncomfortable and caught off guard. “In the…event last night. Riddle put seven columns on each side of the chamber when, in reality, there are ten on each side.”
“That’s got to be occlumency bleed,” Castius said quietly to Hiro. “There are probably others. We should review the event and study it at length.”
“Yes, especially the part where Harry ripped him to pieces and set him on fire,” Hermione said. “The arithmancy…well frankly, I’ve read third, fourth, and fifth-year texts on the subject but I’m not confident of the work I’ve done. The magical theory is clear on the fact that to create a Horcrux is to literally invite into your soul a level of corruption that is irredeemable. Once he accomplished it the first time, he was so far gone that doing it again and again would’ve been as easy as…breathing for him. If he did go to Godric’s Hollow to create his seventh horcrux in 1981, he had already made six which meant his soul was so fragile that it broke apart that night. Between the magical contract, the sacrificial ward, and the likelihood he was close to magical exhaustion by the time he reached Harry and his mother…”
“His diminished soul wasn’t strong enough to stay in his body,” Harry finished. “So, each time he created a Horcrux—he tore his soul in half. If the diary was the first—it represented the biggest portion of his soul that is currently tangible. That’s why he thought he could use it to regain a body through ritual. His spirit was probably lurking outside the wards of the school, waiting for Tom Riddle to emerge so he could…but no…Could his spirit merge with a horcrux like that?”
“In order to bring soul fragments together, the creator of them must feel remorse. The piece of Tom’s soul that is wandering about Britain is a relatively small portion of his soul. At the most, the two could have briefly shared the body before the older Riddle drove the younger out and back into an object of some kind,” Ito interjected.
“Even if the younger part of him was bigger?” Hermione questioned.
“The older is more experienced, and though it’s stunning to say—far more cruel. Voldemort would never take a back seat to the boy he once was when he called himself Tom Riddle. Voldemort is also more connected with the living plane as the Horcrux are anchoring him. He has domain over them,” Dumbledore explained.
“Oh.” Hermione wet her bottom lip and tilted her head. “I thought he was smart? That was…why would he…arrogance that’s what that is. Pure arrogance.” She huffed and frowned. “We need an intact Horcrux.”
“We need them all,” Albus said dryly.
“We need one, and with that one, we can find the others,” Hermione said. “It doesn’t matter how big of a piece the soul is in the container either. All that matters is that Riddle is anchored to it.”
“What would we do with it?” Harry asked.
“They’re all connected,” Albus surmised. “Of course, they are connected because they are connected to him.” He shook his head and pointed at Hermione with one long finger. “You. The answer to your earlier thought is—yes. It would be my honor to tutor you in magical theory and frankly anything else you might wish to learn—alchemy, magical dynamics, and I’d offer advanced transfiguration if Minerva hadn’t already mentioned her intentions on that front.”
Hermione blushed and smiled brilliantly at the same time. “I’ll need a book list for advanced reading.” She turned her parchment over and focused on the headmaster. “You’ve been looking for the other Horcruxes? It stands to reason that Lucius wasn’t the only inner circle member of who might have been entrusted with one. Bellatrix was apparently heavily favored and rumored to be his mistress despite her marriage to Rudolphus Lestrange. The ancestral property of the Lestrange family was destroyed after the war and if the ministry had come across a Horcrux—you’d probably already know about it.”
“True,” Albus agreed.
“That leaves her vault at Gringotts,” Sirius said. “She had a personal trust, and her marriage contract stipulated that the vault was separate from the Lestrange estate. The Black sisters all had their own vaults with that stipulation. Their mother was very concerned about her daughters maintaining some independence from the men they were married to.”
“The dverger owe me a boon,” Harry said slowly. “That’s what Chieftain Ragnok said to me.”
“Do you know why?” Sirius asked shocked.
Harry stared at his godfather for a moment. “The original account manager for the House of Black knew you weren’t a Death Eater because your mother…he offered to bribe the Wizengamot to get you out of Azkaban and she refused. She said you were a blood traitor and deserved your fate no matter the fact that you were innocent. She was hoping you’d die there because magic had already deemed you the Earl of Blackmoor and her access to the accounts was severely limited. She tried upwards of ten times to name Draco Malfoy your heir, but you’d already chosen me in a blood ritual. I imagine if she’d known where I was, she would’ve done a better job of trying to murder me than my aunt did.”
Sirius exhale sharply. “I see.”
“At any rate, your previous account manager knew all of this. He confessed under duress. Ragnok believes that since a dverger acted in such a dishonorable fashion that both your house and mine were caused severe harm. They blame themselves for how I was treated in my Muggle aunt’s home. Because until I signed a contract with Master Ito, you were my magical guardian of record as far as they were concerned. I used the boon they owed you—to get their backing against the ministry. They offered to have a small rebellion on your behalf, by the way. A gesture of goodwill to the House of Black.”
Sirius snorted and picked up his tea. “And instead you set them on Fudge?”
“The dverger adore having a mortal enemy,” Harry said. “Giving them one was practically a gift. They foreclosed on his summer house yesterday. I bought it and donated it to the magical orphanage that St. Mungo’s runs.”
“Glad you think so,” Harry said with a laugh. “You paid for half. I’m your Heir Regent until you get off your butt and start handling your business.”
“I like the way you’re handling it,” Sirius said. “But I’ll work on myself and figure out how to be an adult again before school starts.” He paused. “Probably.”
Harry shook his head and cleared his throat. “Dobby?”
The elf appeared right beside his master.
“Would you sit?” Harry asked. He waited until Dobby conjured a stool and gamely climbed on top of it. “I need to ask you some questions that might be upsetting. I know you’re…bound to keep the Malfoy’s secrets due to your years of service to the family, so please let me know if I push you too far. I don’t want you to hurt yourself trying to answer questions you can’t.”
“Okay, Master Harry.”
“Great.” Harry smiled. “Lucius Malfoy kept Tom Riddle’s diary in his home for a while, so I know you had access to it. It was probably in his vault before that.” He paused when Dobby nodded his agreement. “Did you ever touch the diary?”
Dobby shuddered but nodded. “Old Master made me take it from the bank and bring it to him.”
“Okay, so you know what it felt like?”
“Very bad snake-man magic,” Dobby said. “Tom Riddle was terrible dark wizard, Master Harry.”
“I know,” Harry said. “Hogwarts was very special to Tom. Like me, he considered it a home—probably the first home he’d ever really known since he grew up so alone.”
Dobby nodded. “Hogwarts first home to many wizards and witches raised in Muggle world.”
“Right.” Harry nodded. “I need you to search Hogwarts top to bottom—go to every single room and look for something that feels like the diary. When you find it—check it for traps and if you can pick it up, I want you to bring it directly to me.”
“I can gets moleskin pouch,” Dobby said. “Put bad thing in it—be protected from it.”
“That is an excellent idea,” Harry praised. “Go get the pouch first and be very careful about how you search. If you find any dark objects, take them to the Headmaster’s office so he can deal with them.” He paused and after a brief glance towards Dumbledore, who only nodded sadly. “Dobby, this includes Professor Snape’s quarters. If you find anything in his quarters that only has a dark purpose, you are to bring it directly to the Headmaster.”
“Oh, Greasy Git not practice dark magic,” Dobby said. “He’s not nice, but dark magic would ruin him. He not be able to make some special potions if he practiced dark craft. Even his wards on his private quarters are very light.”
“I’m completely surprised,” Harry admitted.
“Surprises are good for Master Harry’s constitution,” Dobby said and smiled when everyone else laughed. “Dobby start searching now?”
“First, do you have any ideas about where he might have hidden something?”
“Dobby check the Come and Go room first,” the elf said. “Many lost and hidden things end up there over the years. I search the Chamber of Secrets, but I be very careful and take JoJo from the kitchen to help when I goes there.”
“Wait,” Sirius said and held out a hand. “Winky!”
A little female elf appeared beside his godfather. She was wearing a little dark green dress and black tights with boots, which Harry found a relief. He hated the idea of house elves running around in rags like the Dursleys’ had forced him to wear for years.
“Winky, this is Dobby. He’s going to be helping Harry look for something. I want you to help him.”
“Of course, Master Sirius,” Winky said and inclined her head. “Dobby share his task with me?” She walked around the table and offered her hand. They both glowed briefly, and Winky’s eyes went comically wide. “Oh. Oh.” She popped away without a word and returned just a few seconds later. She put a locket on the table in front of Harry with trembling hands. “Winky takes it from crazy old Kreacher this morning. He very sick when I find him—magically exhausted. I takes him to healer at Gringotts.”
Harry stared at the locket and swallowed hard. “I…wow. Winky. Is Kreacher able to talk to anyone?”
“No, Healer at Gringotts not sure if he survive. He in very bad way. Alone long time, old house very dark and sick, too. Not sure what happened to him last night.”
Harry nodded. “You two go search Hogwarts, please.”
Hermione waited until the elves popped away before speaking. “Riddle used this locket and that house elf, Kreacher, to attack you last night.”
“It makes sense in a way,” Harry said. “His spirit hasn’t been far from me since I started Hogwarts. Going to London would’ve been easy to accomplish. Since he’s linked to them—finding this one while in his spirit form wouldn’t have been all that difficult.” He focused on Sirius. “Where did Winky come from by the way?”
“I was awarded the Crouch estate in a personal settlement,” Sirius said. “She was part of the estate. I offered to free her so she could search out a family to take care of instead of just me. She said I needed much taking care of and she’d stay with me.”
Hermione nodded. “You definitely need a minder.” She took a deep breath as Harry picked up the locket. “Are you sure you should…”
“It’s okay,” Harry said absently. “This is…Regulus Black must have had it before he was killed, but that doesn’t make much sense. We know that Riddle killed Regulus for some sort of betrayal. That came out in Bellatrix Lestrange’s trial, and Professor Snape confirmed it with the headmaster a few weeks ago.”
“That’s the locket of Salazar Slytherin,” Albus said. “Yes, that makes a great deal of sense, actually. Tom killed Regulus for taking the Horcrux. He would’ve found objects belonging to the founders very attractive. He probably intended to use the Athame of Gryffindor the same way. James had taken it to Godric’s Hollow when he went into hiding.”
“But it’s clean,” Harry murmured. “We know why—that Horcrux was in me.”
“But it’s not now,” Hermione clarified. “Right? It’s not in you anymore.”
“No, Master Ito banished it during the healing ritual,” Harry said. “That’s why I was unconscious for so long. The Horcrux had acted like a magical leech of sorts. We think it was using roughly half my magic to maintain itself.”
Hermione’s eyes widened. “You’ve only had access to half your magic? But…” She took a deep breath. “That’s just…” She shook her head and focused on the Horcrux. “You’ll need a scrying ritual with a full conclave to find the others. The potion will take months to brew.”
Harry put the locket down but continued to stare at it. “I don’t want this in my house.”
“We can’t afford to let it out of our hands either,” Hiro said. “Not even your own vault at Gringotts is safe enough as far as I’m concerned.”
Harry nodded. He stood and left the table without a word. He returned a few minutes later with a small wood box then focused on Master Ito. “Sir?”
Ito hummed under his breath, and a silver quill appeared in his hand. “A runic ward is the best choice and not within your wheelhouse currently.”
Harry nodded. “Like the trunk you showed me—the one with your ritual magic tools inside.”
“Construction of a such a trunk for yourself is on the task list for the year,” Ito said thoughtfully. “Remind me when it comes time to shop that we need to go to the trunk shop for you and Miss Granger.”
“We can’t share one?” Hermione questioned and blushed when Ito raised an eyebrow at her.
“You could,” Ito said. “But I certainly wouldn’t allow such a thing at your age. It would be a very intimate choice to make—to mingle supplies you use for ritual craft together in such a way.”
Harry frowned as Ito removed the lid and started to carve runes into it with the quill. “Why?”
“Ritual magic for a parselmouth is already wrought with intimacy,” Ito murmured as he worked. “Each time we practice within a circle, we open our magic up not only to the God of Sorcery, but to the feral magic that floods our physical plane. If you two were not already magically close, I wouldn’t allow you to share your gift with her until you were an adult.”
Harry felt his face heat, and he glanced toward Hermione, who looked more curious than uncomfortable. “Should we wait?”
“No, the earlier her gifts are woken, the easier it will be for her to master them,” Ito said. “But the ritual will be intimate. Not sexual but intimate in a way that will be startling for you both. I’ll be there to ensure that nothing goes wrong, so don’t fret.”
“What was it like for you when you gave it to Godric?” Harry questioned.
“Godric was…” Ito paused and sighed. “Awe-inspiring. His magic was pure and untainted by the acts he’d been forced to undertake to protect those around him. He was faithful in his craft and his worship of the God of Sorcery, Zirnitra. Though at the time, worship of the Black Dragon in Europe was largely hidden. Magical society was just starting to separate from Muggles and the spells used to hide us were beginning to root in ley lines all over the world. Unfortunately, it took far too long to saturate the world, and many of our kind died at the hands of the church in the meantime. Godric was a valiant young man who swore himself to the protection of both magic and magical kind.”
“Did it hurt?” Hermione questioned. “I don’t want Harry to get hurt doing this…”
“It will be profound,” Ito said, “but not painful. Harry will be aware of you magically in a way he’ll never be with another person as long as he lives. This awareness will not be a romantic sort of thing, which is just as well, since you’re both quite enamored with each other as is.”
Harry huffed. “Master Ito.”
“It’s no secret,” Dumbledore said dryly. “To practically anyone.”
Harry looked toward Hermione and found her cheeks were pink. “We need to find new adults.”
She nodded. “Better adults—ones who know how to adult properly.”
“That’s going to be really difficult in our current location,” Harry said. “You noticed, right?”
“They’re all crazy cakes,” Hermione agreed. “Even the ones you think are normal are really just completely off their rocker.” She flicked a hand, and Harry laughed.
Ito glanced up at them briefly before returning to his carving. “Godric requested to be gifted with parselmagic so he could create the warding foundation of Hogwarts with Salazar. Salazar was…a difficult man who often allowed his grief over a personal situation to get in his way. He allowed that grief to destroy everything he held dear eventually, but that is not a story for me to tell. Salazar had given the gift to the love of his life and could not aid Godric in his quest, but he did suggest that I be contacted. I was intrigued by their intentions and agreed to come to Britain to meet with them. I found Godric enthralling. If I had not been married at the time, I probably would’ve pursued him quite ardently.”
“Was the attraction mutual?” Hermione questioned.
“Very,” Ito admitted. “There were times when I regret the choices I made in that situation, but I no longer can allow myself such a thing. Had I returned to Britain after my marriage ended, Godric wouldn’t have married Rowena…and his line would’ve died.” He looked up and focused on Harry. “And we wouldn’t be sitting here now. I can’t look at Harry, Godric’s many-greats grandson and regret the past. Godric would be so pleased to know that his magical line has flourished in his passing.”
Harry squinted at him. “You already gave me a lecture about family magic and continuing my line and babies. I don’t need it again, sir.”
Ito laughed and focused on his task. “How does the locket feel?”
“Ugly,” Harry said frankly. “Controlling, manipulative. I feel like I should find myself a hobbit and take a trip to Mordor.”
Hermione snorted then covered her nose with a little giggle that Harry found far more endearing than he probably should. “I’ll go with you.”
He smiled. “I know.”
Her eyes brightened, and her cheeks flushed darker.
“What are you two talking about?” Sirius questioned.
Harry relaxed back in his seat and watched his mentor work as Hermione launched into the story of the Lord of the Rings. Forty minutes passed before Ito was finished, and at that point not a single wizard at the table wasn’t all that impressed with Gandalf who couldn’t apparate or make a portkey.
Ito reached for the locket, but Harry snatched it up with a frown. “No.”
“I beg your pardon?” Ito questioned sternly, and the air around them shifted with the older man’s magic. “Harry?”
“I don’t…” Harry dropped the locket in the box and put the lid on it. “I’m already tainted by Riddle and his terrible magic. I don’t want anyone else I care about exposed to it.”
Ito inclined his head. “Take it into the back of the garden and bury it somewhere out of sight from everyone at the table. Seal it in private with your magic so only you can open it. No one should know exactly where it is but you for security purposes.”
“No one at this table would betray me,” Harry protested.
“Not of their own free will,” Ito agreed. “But there are magics, lad, that will utterly destroy a person’s free will, and you know that very well.”
Harry nodded and stood. He looked over the garden with a frown. In truth, burying it in such a beautiful place felt wrong and just as ugly as the locket itself.
He focused on Hermione, who had stood and walked around the table to join him. “What?”
“Remember when we were standing in front of the fire door, and I’d just figured out Snape’s riddle?” she questioned as she took both of his hands and pulled him away from the table just a little. “There was only enough potion for one, I thought, but now I realize I should’ve just waited for the vial to refill. I could’ve gone with you.”
“I’d have never wanted that,” Harry admitted. “It was terrible—Quirrell and Riddle. I can still smell his flesh burning when I think about it…I’ll never be able to look at that mirror again without smelling death and burnt flesh.”
Hermione swallowed hard. “So listen—we both knew that whatever was on the other side of that fire wasn’t going to be great, but you stepped through anyway, and I ran back to get help.”
“Why did you step through that fire?”
“Because you told me that the potion would protect me from it,” Harry admitted.
She laughed, clearly pleased. “No, I mean, why did we go down there to begin with?”
“Because we had to protect the stone,” Harry said. “There was no choice because we weren’t going to get anyone to take us seriously.”
“And why did you go into the Chamber of Secrets?”
“Because that snake tried to kill you,” Harry said with a huff. “And Ginny was down there. Ron was completely mental about the whole thing, and Lockhart was a waste of magic. They were going to close the school, and I’d have had to go back to the Dursleys even earlier and…I just had to.”
“You don’t want that locket anywhere near you. I know that, but this is what you have to do. Hide the box, and when the time comes to destroy those hateful things, we’ll walk right into Mordor together. Okay?”
“This rational thing you’ve got going on really makes me doubt your sorting,” Harry said wryly as he released her hands.
“Ha! You were the hatstall, not me.”
Harry laughed and wondered if he should finally confess the whole Slytherin thing. He didn’t know if she would be appalled or amused, but it would be entertaining for him either way. He decided to save it for later in case she needed a distraction. He picked up the box and ignored the way all the wizards still seated there were staring pointedly at him. He figured he was going to have a really long talk about that whole burning flesh thing, and he didn’t want to at all.
He left them on the patio and meandered down the path. Despite the smallness of his garden physically, magic had ensured that he could wander around in it for hours if he so desired. He walked past his hammock and went to stand at the large pond in the center of the garden. They expected him to bury it, and that’s what Riddle would learn from anyone who knew about the box. Harry found the thought horrifying but knew that any one of them could be captured by a Death Eater in the future and therefore they couldn’t be trusted with such a secret.
Harry pulled his wand and cast an Impervius charm on it. A cursory glance at the runes told him very little as he hadn’t learned much. He did notice the anti-summoning charm rune on it and found that relieving.
The elf appeared immediately and sat down beside him. “Terrible thing in box?”
Dobby nodded. “Master Ito have very strong magic.”
“Can you still feel it?”
“No, Master Harry.”
Harry relaxed and plucked a piece of gillyweed from the shoreline. “I used this stuff in Japan. Master Ito taught me to swim.”
“I remembers,” Dobby said and hugged his legs to close to his chest. “Master Harry worried about snake-man?”
“Yes,” Harry admitted. “Far more than I ever was before. He’s such an evil git, Dobby. I wish…I mean.” He sighed. “I always knew he was terrible. He murdered so many people besides my parents. But to do what he’s done…frankly, I’m not sure what he’s capable of doing to remain in this world. I don’t know how to handle someone or something that has no limits. Even the Dursleys were contained in their own way.”
Dobby made a face. “Master Harry sure I can’t burn down their house?”
“Very sure,” Harry said wryly as he took off his shoes. “It’s my house. It’s part of the Potter estate. When I turn eighteen, I’m going to take great personal pleasure in throwing them out of it.” He paused. “Provided they haven’t been driven into the crazy house first.”
Harry plucked some more gillyweed. “I’m going to hide the box in the pond. I’ll need your help drying off after I’m done since Master Ito would feel me cast drying charms because of the wards. I don’t want him to know I was in the pond.”
“It be better,” Dobby agreed. “I keep yous secrets, Master Harry.”
“I know.” Harry took a deep breath. “You saved my life. Lucius Malfoy would’ve killed me that day…”
“Old master a very bad wizard,” Dobby said. “I be really happy now. Happiest I ever be.”
Harry tried to smile, but the idea that Dobby had lived such a long life of misery was disheartening. “I’m glad you’re free of him.” He plucked up some more gillyweed. “Okay, let’s do this before Hermione comes looking for me.”
Dobby giggled. “Miss Mione be so bossy.”
Harry grinned and shoved the gillyweed in his mouth. He grimaced as he chewed the weed rapidly then plucked up the box from the ground as the magical plant started to change his body. It wasn’t all that startling to discover that the pond was actually much bigger under the surface than it appeared to be from the shore.
He swam toward the center for several moments, went down to the bottom, and pushed the box down into the mud. Then he retrieved a rock to weigh it down. By the time Harry returned to shore, the gillyweed was wearing off. Dobby dried him off and popped away.
When he returned the patio, Harry found that everyone had stayed exactly where he’d left them. None of them asked about the box or where he’d placed it in the garden which was a relief. He relaxed in his chair and focused on Hermione, who was scribbling in her personal notebook with a Muggle ink pen. He wondered if she hated quills as much as he did. She never complained about them at school.
“What are you thinking about?”
She looked up and frowned. “If Riddle wanted to live forever, why didn’t he just hunt down a bloodstone when he was younger? They’re clearly not as rare as we were led to believe. Given his level of intelligence, he probably could’ve eventually made his own. Wouldn’t it have been smarter to cultivate a relationship with Nicolas Flamel to gain access to his stone?”
“So you think immortality was the least of his goals,” Harry said.
“Maybe a side effect,” Hermione surmised. “I mean it would be easy to say that he was just insane and that could be the case, but there is something underneath his actual actions that I don’t understand. And maybe it wasn’t immortality he sought at all but the increase in power that comes from tethering yourself to something or someone powerful. He probably sought out highly magical objects. Slytherin’s locket is well-known for its use in mental manipulation.”
“The diary wasn’t before he used it,” Harry reminded.
“Yes, his first,” Hermione said. “A test to see if he could actually accomplish it. Perhaps the locket was the second—a connection to the bloodline he claimed through his mother.”
“Oh.” Harry took a deep breath. “You think he was trying to capture the family magic of the Slytherin line?”
“It’s lain untouched since the Gaunt family fell to squibs due to inbreeding,” Sirius interjected. “Their downfall actually caused many pureblood families to reconsider how close they married in.”
Harry made a face. “Too bad they weren’t completely put off the whole idea.” He glanced toward Hermione’s notebook and wondered what she’d written down. If it was arithmancy or runes, he’d probably understand very little of it.
“A list of potential objects,” Hermione supplied even though he hadn’t verbalized his question. “I’ve made a list of powerful and well-known objects in Britain that might have drawn his attention.”
“Like?” Harry prodded.
“Hufflepuff’s chalice,” Hermine said first. “It has healing powers and has been missing for a very long time. I can’t say that Riddle would’ve had the resources personally to find it, but any single one of his followers might have. We already have Slytherin’s locket, and I have to believe he really did intend to use Gryffindor’s athame when he came to Godric’s Hollow that night.”
“Ravenclaw?” Harry asked as she passed the parchment to him.
“She had a diadem that was enchanted to teach anyone who wore it,” Dumbledore said. “But it was lost around the same time that her daughter was murdered by the baron. I’ll ask her…” He trailed off. “Actually, Harry, you should ask the Grey Lady yourself about the diadem. She is your ancestor and might feel comfortable confiding in you regarding the diadem and any interactions she might have had with Tom while he was at Hogwarts.”
Harry picked up Hermione’s pen and added the diadem to the list. He looked it over and tilted his head, then made a thin line over one of her items. “Riddle would never risk involving a religious object in his business, so the Club of Dagda wouldn’t cross his radar at all, especially since the club is actually a stave. Whether Dagda was a god or a wizard using his power on Muggles is up for to debate, but the religious origins would’ve put Tom off if he ever knew about it.”
“How can you be certain?” Hermione questioned.
Harry shifted in his chair and took a deep breath. “Because I hosted part of his soul for a very long time, Mi, and I’m working daily to process and separate the memories. There were times in the past that I had completely unacceptable reactions to situations for no discernable reason. The one time my aunt tried to take me to church, I threw such a fit that she was asked to leave. Tom fears religion, and he fears death to an untold degree.”
“Judgment,” Hermione murmured and pulled the parchment back to her. “Is it that simple? He wants to live forever to avoid being judged and found wanting by Zirnitra? What could he have done before the murder of Myrtle to make him fear such a thing?”
“I don’t know, but what’s worse than murder?” Harry asked in confusion.
“The only thing worse than murder is the violation of your magic and body,” Ito murmured. “You said the part of Riddle in the diary was still in school?”
“Yes.” Harry took a breath and focused on Dumbledore, who was pale. “Are you okay, sir?”
“Yes, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “It’s…just not often that I find myself in such a position to learn something so profound from someone your age.” He took off his glasses and cleaned them in a fashion that spoke of a need to gather his thoughts than rather wipe the lenses with his sleeve. “There was a young witch—a Ravenclaw—who caught Tom’s attention in their fifth year. She was intelligent and beautiful by anyone’s standard—her name was Willa FitzClarence.”
Hermione’s mouth dropped open. “As in the FitzClarences? The illegitimate branch of the House of Hanover?”
“Yes,” Dumbledore said. “She was one of several FitzClarence children to come into the magical world. Many of her peers were utterly unaware of her royal heritage, and she made no effort to educate them. She was content to learn magic. Her father had come to Hogwarts and had married the pureblood daughter from the Greengrass family. She was regarded as a half-blood and rarely engaged in any house rivalry. Tom found her fascinating, but her marriage had been arranged, and it was a match she wholeheartedly approved of. Her soon-to-be-husband was a year ahead of her, and they were rarely seen apart unless they were in class.
“Such arrangements were commonplace during the time period amongst magicals, but Tom tried more than once to intrude on that relationship despite the protocols that were in place to protect it contractually and magically. Young Willa was beautiful and magically powerful, and moreover, Tom knew about her distant connection the Muggle crown. He decided that he was more powerful and, therefore, a better wizard than her betrothed, a wizard named Edward Craig. There was a public incident where the headmaster was forced to intervene, but both young men ended up in the infirmary. Three days later, Edward Craig was killed in Hogsmeade. The DMLE ruled it a robbery gone wrong.
“It took three days for Willa to fall ill,” Dumbledore murmured. “She passed in her sleep as her magic atrophied in her body from a broken soul bond.”
“Son of a bitch,” Ito snapped. “He…”
“Killed soulmates,” Dumbledore supplied. “At the time, I knew that Tom had been damaged by his upbringing, but I didn’t believe he was capable of outright murder. Besides, he hadn’t gone to Hogsmeade that day in the carriages.”
Sirius sighed. “There are several secret passages in the castle, Albus, that go straight to Hogsmeade. One is situated in such a way magically, that it’s faster than the carriages. We used to sneak out all the time using it. I doubt we were the first to find it.”
“What’s the punishment for such a thing?” Harry asked.
“If he’d been found guilty of murdering Edward Craig to destroy his relationship with Willa FitzClarence, he would have spent the rest of his life in Azkaban. As to how Zir punishes such a transgression…” Dumbledore trailed off.
Ito cleared his throat. “I can imagine that the Muggle version of hell would be looked upon as a paradise in comparison. Soulmates are marked by Zir, not fate. To interfere with a relationship declared divine by the God of Sorcery himself is to invite upon yourself an unspeakable amount of ruin.”
“Riddle believes himself superior to everyone and everything,” Sirius said.
“And he created a narrative to make it true in his mind,” Hermione agreed. “I imagine he even blamed Willa for her own death. In his way of thinking, she’d allowed herself to be bonded to an inferior wizard. I think even if he’d known they were soulmates he would’ve still killed Edward. There was a small chance that Willa would survive the breaking of a soulmate bond. And if she didn’t, that was fine, because if he couldn’t have her, then she should be dead.”
She focused on her list. “We have to find them all before he regains a body.”
“There are only a few rituals that can do this,” Albus interjected.
“A very powerful parselmouth would be his best bet—he’d need the blood of one for nearly all of the remaining rituals open to him for resurrection,” Ito said.
“That means you or Harry are his best options in the UK at present. If there are others—they aren’t making it well known, and I can’t say I blame them, but the attitude is going to start to change. The first time you do a high-profile healing at St. Mungo’s—the story will make the news in a very positive way. People who have been hiding might start to come out of the woodwork, so to speak.”
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” Harry said quietly. “He’ll want me. My blood. It’s the only way he’ll be able to circumvent the magical sacrifice my mother made for me. We’d be better served to watch the Death Eaters that didn’t end up in jail. He’ll need help—more than just a body. He’ll need a powerful wizard to perform the resurrection for him. Pettigrew is in custody. Most of his inner circle is in Azkaban. That leaves…Lucius Malfoy, whom he’s already used once in an attempt to return. I assume there are others?”
“Several suspected and unmarked Death Eaters escaped prosecution,” Dumbledore admitted. “I do believe that Lucius Malfoy is the single biggest threat against you. He tried to blackmail Severus into killing you in your first year. Fortunately, for you and Severus both, he vowed on his magic shortly before you arrived at Hogwarts to guard you with his life. It was the only way I’d allow him to remain in the castle.”
Harry shared a shocked look with Hermione. “Okay. Someone is going to tell me exactly why he hates me. Right now.”
Remus Lupin cleared his throat. “It is a layered problem. First, you should know up front that Severus was…always a bit of a bastard. Unfortunately, your father was just as vicious as Severus ever wanted to be. They clashed from the moment they met. They’re rivalry only got worse over our years at Hogwarts, and they sucked their friends into it as well. It was frankly an all-out war by the time we were in our fifth year, and it came to a head when in an argument with your mother—Severus called her a mudblood. I could tell the moment it came out of his mouth that he regretted it. It broke her heart, however. She’d been friends with Severus since they were small children—long before Hogwarts.”
Remus cleared his throat. “James had always had a bit of a thing for Lily, and she turned to him for comfort after her friendship with Severus fell apart. I don’t think she understood, even then, how deep their animosity for each other ran. Maybe if she had, she would’ve handled it differently. Severus was at that time one of the lighter members of Slytherin. He was a half-blood, and he had no interest in the Death Eaters or Voldemort. He’d been staying at the school since his third year to avoid his mother, who was a Death Eater.
“Then a day before the second full moon into our sixth year, Severus cursed James severely. It wouldn’t have killed him, but it very nearly made him sterile. We barely got him to the infirmary in time to receive the help he needed to prevent it. James was the only living son of Charlus and Adele Potter—everyone knew that if he didn’t father a child that the Gryffindor title would go extinct. No one else was related closely enough to Gryffindor to claim it. It would’ve have been a severe blow to the entire family—to lose their standing as the last house of Avalon.
“James and Sirius were furious with Severus, and rightly so. Unfortunately, they were also sixteen and stupid. They lured Severus outside to the Shrieking Shack where I was waiting for moonrise.”
“Oh, God,” Harry huffed. “He’s not…you didn’t bite him.”
“No, but I came so close that it is unspeakable. I can’t even say that Severus didn’t deserve it to some extent, but I was furious with Sirius and James for using me that way.” He shot his friend a look and Sirius had the grace to look contrite even so many years later. “At any rate, your father changed his mind at the last second…probably, honestly, because he didn’t know how he’d face Lily if he let me kill or maim Severus for life. Despite their argument, she cared very much for her friend.
“After that night,” Remus paused. “It can’t be ignored that your father and Sirius were not punished for what they did. In fact, none of us were ever punished severely for what we did on either side of the line. Slytherin and Gryffindor engaged in a war for nearly seven years, and no one did anything to stop it.”
Dumbledore sighed. “Quite. I was much more concerned about the Death Eaters outside of the castle rather than the budding ones inside of it. You children were fighting your parent’s war—inside my school, and I didn’t do anything about it.”
“He became a Death Eater,” Harry surmised. “Between the end of his friendship with my mother and the attempt on his life—he was driven right into the arms of Tom Riddle.”
“Not exactly,” Dumbledore interjected. “He went home for Yule break, something he hadn’t done in years. His mother took the opportunity to present her son to the Dark Lord. Unlike many other Death Eaters before and after him, Severus was marked without earning it. Tom wanted a potion’s master, and everyone knew about Severus’ unique talent even then. He could’ve taken his mastery test as a sixth year. His mother and Tom forced the Dark Mark on Severus.”
Harry took a deep breath and stood. “Excuse me.” He walked into the house and emerged 30 seconds later with his broom. He was gone before anyone could say anything.
Hermione watched him in the sky for a long silent moment. She looked down at her parchment, tears blurring her vision. She cleared her throat and took a deep breath. “Sometimes, magic is just the most terrible thing I’ve ever known. It’s difficult to trust any of you in moments like this because I don’t understand how you just continue to let these terrible things happen. How long can you stay on the defensive, sir?” She focused on Dumbledore. “Riddle depends on that, you know. He’s studied you for decades and knows that you don’t act—you just react.”
She stood and left the adults in shocked silence. She walked to the edge of the patio and waited just a minute before Harry glided back down and picked her up. Hermione slid onto the back of the broom, wrapped her arms around his waist, and buried her face against his back. They shot up into the air.
Albus hesitated briefly before he picked up the parchment she left behind. Her words were tumbling around his head, and shame lay like lead in his stomach. It had been decades since anyone had questioned him in such a fashion. He separated the sheets out and took a deep breath as he reviewed the work she’d done. “It’s rather stunning that she’s come this far without a single lesson in arithmancy.”
“Harry sent her a book on occlumency the first week of July,” Hiro began. “She already has rudimentary shields, and her mental organization is on par with a magical three times her age. I’m confident that Castius and I can help her build a mental fortress without calling my full conclave. She’ll gain much of what we gave Harry in the transference ritual when he wakes her parselmagic.” He cleared his throat. “Due to their burgeoning magical connection, the transference will also allow them to share magic on a level quite extreme. Castius believes they’ll share a personal Parseltongue dialect as a result. I’ve seen that happen three times in my lifetime.”
“Do you think it was wise to tell them such a story about soulmates?” Ito asked.
Dumbledore grimaced. “Harry has earned the right to the truth, Hiro, and when I kneel before Zir, it will be with the knowledge that I did all that I could to prepare his chosen warrior for the fate that awaits him. We don’t know for certain that they are soulmates. There are other kinds of magical bonds.”
“Is it worth the risk going to the Book of Souls?” Sirius questioned.
“No.” Hiro frowned. “I don’t want either one of them near Fudge or the ministry for the time being. I’d rather not have to explain myself to the ICW for murdering a sitting Minister for Magic, but I could certainly make time to do it.”
“I like you more than I should,” Dumbledore lamented. “Normally, I make friends with people who don’t speak so casually of murder. You’re terribly jaded.”
“We just keep those conversations out of your hearing,” Minerva McGonagall said dryly, and Albus turned to find his oldest friend standing in the middle of the open French doors that led into the house.
Albus sighed. “Did you get the letters about Hiro serving as a healer in the school sent to the parents?”
“I did,” Minerva assured. “In fact, by the time I sent the last one, more than 30 responses had been returned. Only one parent has declined so far, and it was to be expected. The Macmillan family aren’t exactly the most forward-thinking lot.” She sat down in the chair Hermione had abandoned and glanced over the parchments he still had spread out in front of him. “I see Miss Granger has spent her summer teaching herself arithmancy. I already warned Septima that she’ll catch utter hell keeping that child challenged.”
Dumbledore inclined his head in agreement. “At least Hiro will be around to give her supplemental homework. Otherwise, we’ll have to deal with Madam Pince lodging complaints about Miss Granger’s book hoarding again this year.”
A piercing scream caught their attention, and they all stood immediately, searching the air for the two children. They were falling rapidly toward the ground just north of town. Their small bodies barely visible from where they were. A hundred meters from the ground, Harry shifted into his animagus form—caught Hermione’s flailing form and whirled around in a sweep of magic, so when they hit the ground, he was on the bottom. They hit with a thunderous boom that echoed through the small town.
* * * *
Hermione woke suddenly screaming, still clasped in Harry’s forelegs. She tumbled to the ground beside the juvenile dragon that Harry’s form currently was. She knelt in the snow nearly a half kilometer from the house as residents from Hogsmeade gathered around them, wands drawn.
“No!” she shouted. “Get away from us!”
“Easy, lass, we saw him change,” one elderly witch said. She pulled off her cloak and wrapped it around Hermione as Hiro Ito broke through the crowd and dropped to his knees on the other side of Harry.
“There was a dementor,” Hermione explained hoarsely. She crawled upward until she could put Harry’s head in her lap. She stroked the lean planes of his face despite the growing horror of everyone around them. “It pushed us off the broom.”
“It’s okay,” Hiro said gently as he worked with his wand. Castius Arnou joined them as the crowd parted for the headmaster and Sirius Black. “He’s going to be fine, Hermione. I promise.”
“But…” Her bottom lip trembled. “We hit the ground so hard.”
“Yes, but in this form, he is very strong and so magical,” Hiro explained. “Even as young as he is—an adult wizard or witch would have a difficult time even penetrating his hide.” He sighed. “But he can’t stay like this.” He turned to Minerva McGonagall. “Can you do it, Minerva?”
Minerva’s mouth firmed up. “Is there no other way?”
“Considering the psychological shock he’s currently suffering? No. It must be done. If I do it myself, he might come to associate my magic with pain, which would make training him difficult. Castius has never performed the spell, and I won’t ask it of Lord Black.”
Minerva pulled her wand. “Very well.” She took a deep breath and schooled her features. “Aperio magus.” She held the spell on him, pressing her lips together as the crowded backed off. The dragon trembled under her magic for over twenty seconds before waking, the roar turned to a scream almost instantly. Harry Potter arched off the ground a dragon and slumped back into the snow a wizard. She put her wand away with a shaking hand. “Never ask that of me again.”
Hiro nodded as he picked up his ward. “My apologies for requiring it at all, Minerva.”
Sirius helped Hermione off the ground. “Come on now, we’ll get you some hot chocolate. How’s that?”
“Oh.” Hermione frowned and looked around. “Harry’s broom.”
“We’ll look for it,” Remus promised as she pulled off the cloak she’d been given. He watched her give it back to the elderly woman and offered his hand.
Sirius let her go as his friend gave him a nod. The two apparated shortly after Hiro did. He looked around the ground where his godson landed. “This would’ve killed them both, Dumbledore.”
Albus nodded gravely and looked up at the cloudy sky over Hogsmeade. “Perhaps that was the intention. The Prophet reported that Harry had taken to flying over Hogsmeade regularly just yesterday.”
“It was here because of me,” Sirius snapped. “Obviously the ministry lied when they said that all of the dementors had been returned to Azkaban.”
“Well, that’s some genuine dragonshite,” one of the older men in the crowd muttered and stalked off towards the village. “I’m calling the DMLE! Someone better be explaining why they’re letting a bleeding dark creature fuck about in the sky over my house!”
Sirius blinked when the rest of the crowd stomped off with him. Obviously intent on filing their own complaints. “I…I thought they’d blame me.”
Albus snorted. “I think you underestimate the power of the Boy-Who-Lived, Sirius.”
“What do you mean?” Sirius asked.
“He means that Harry Potter is beloved,” Minerva said. “He told the entire magical world that you were his only family and all he asked of us was your safety. This little town is so pleased that Harry chose to make his home with them that they came out en masse shortly before he came home from being on the wireless and personally escorted every auror on duty in the town to a Floo. The mayor contacted the ministry and informed them that if a single auror entered his town without his direct permission that Harry Potter wouldn’t be the only one suing the ministry.”
Albus sighed. “Now, they’ve nearly killed him with their foolishness. The fall out of this is going to be immense. As to you, Sirius, no that dementor wasn’t here for you. If that were the case, it wouldn’t have been hiding in the clouds waiting for the arrival of Harry.”
Harry woke under the warm weight of his teacher’s magic. He opened his eyes and turned his head just enough to see Hermione sitting on a chair by the bed. Her eyes widened fractionally, and tears spilled down her cheeks. It took a stupid amount of effort, but he moved his hand towards her and relaxed when her slender, cool fingers slipped around his. He pulled just a little, and she hesitated only briefly before she slipped onto the bed with him. The magic Hiro Ito was casting on him enveloped them both then, and Harry let himself relax. He could feel that Hermione was basically unharmed by their fall. She fell asleep against him, and he turned to Hiro.
Hiro nodded. “Yes.”
“On purpose,” Harry said.
“Certainly,” Hiro agreed. “What do you remember?”
“My mother’s voice,” Harry murmured. “Hermione screaming. Falling. Reaching for…reaching for my form. I thought I could at least save her if I took the brunt of the fall.”
“Your animagus form absorbed all of the impact,” Hiro said as he continued to work. “You have a few bone fractures, but I think some of them might be from your forced transformation back into a wizard. I’m sorry that I couldn’t wait for you to come back on your own. The impact of the dementor on your mind was horrific and considering your ability to defend your conscious mind—that is saying something.”
“It’s okay. I don’t resent you or Professor McGonagall for it.”
“She’ll be quite relieved to know that,” Albus said from the foot of the bed. “How do you feel?”
“Decent,” Harry admitted. “Better than I expected to feel.”
“You hardly expected to survive it,” Albus said. “Though, I can’t imagine anyone who would expect to survive it. I have done a few things in the last twenty-four hours.”
“I slept for twenty-four hours?” Harry asked.
“Indeed,” Albus said. He pulled out a piece of parchment. “You made international headlines, my boy. A magical animagus is not unheard of, of course, but there hasn’t been a dragon animagus in recorded history. Merlin’s form was a unicorn if you’re interested in knowing that. The French papers were calling you his heir.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Harry muttered with a scowl.
“Yes,” Albus grinned. “Several history scholars were quick to correct them on the wireless—everyone knows you’re a descendant of Arthur Pendragon, after all.”
“Fantastic,” Harry shifted and pulled Hermione’s sleeping form closer. “Has she slept at all?”
“Very little,” Hiro admitted. “She was very worried about you. I gave her a dreamless potion, but she woke up after just six hours. Dosing her again didn’t seem like it would do much good.”
Harry nodded and trailed his fingers through her hair as Ito’s magic started to lift off of him. “You said you did a few things, sir?”
Albus nodded. “Yes, I registered your animagus form. Normally, we wouldn’t be able to do so since you haven’t demonstrated an ability to do it at will and you haven’t completed the process. However, the Ministry agreed that considering how publicly your form was revealed—the pensieve memories from several residents of Hogsmeade are being played in the atrium of the Ministry. The Minister made some noise about filing charges against you for being an unregistered animagus.”
Harry frowned at him. “A wizard or witch isn’t required to register until they’re seventeen.”
“Yes, he was quite put out by that bit of news,” Albus admitted. “But more put out by the backlash he received when the public realized his intentions. He received seven hundred and forty-six howlers as of an hour ago. Miss Granger used Fawkes to send three before I put my foot down to them both. I think Fawkes was rather enjoying it, to be honest.”
Harry smirked. “You gotta get your fun wherever you can, sir.”
Albus sighed. “There will, however, be a public hearing about your experience. I was unable to stop it. You aren’t being charged with any crime, but the DMLE convened a commission to investigate how a dementor was left loose to attack you in the first place. You and Miss Granger will have to testify.”
Harry frowned at that, his hand curling against her t-shirt. “Any choice on that?”
“None at all, I’m afraid.”
* * * *
Harry stood up as his name was called. Hermione squeezed his fingers reassuringly and offered him a tight smile as he released her hand. They’d come to London nearly three hours earlier—as Master Ito had insisted they both be fitted with formal robes before they appeared before the Wizengamot. He settled into the witness box, very hesitantly drew his wand, and placed it front of him as he’d been instructed to do.
“State your name for the record,” Dumbledore instructed.
“Harry James Potter, Scion of the House of Potter, Heir of the House of Black,” Harry repeated dutifully.
“Due to your age, you will not be asked to swear on your magic,” Albus began. “Be aware, however, that the witness box has been spelled heavily for truthfulness. Don’t be tempted to be dishonest, Mr. Potter, as the consequences will be quite painful.”
“I understand, sir.”
Albus nodded. “Very well, Madam Umbridge, your first question.”
Harry’s gaze drifted to the sour-looking woman he’d met briefly in the minister’s office the day he’d lost his mind a little over Sirius.
“Mr. Potter, can you explain to this court why you were above Hogsmeade on your broom on August 25th of this year?”
“I enjoy flying,” Harry said plainly.
“You enjoy flying,” Umbridge repeated. “That’s the only reason?”
“Well, it’s important to keep up my broom skills. I play quidditch, so I flew every day I could over the summer,” Harry explained. “Hogsmeade is an entirely magical village, and the surrounding land belongs to the Gryffindor Trust. I was informed that it would be no problem for me to fly all I wanted. In fact, I chose Hogsmeade for my home because I’d be able to fly when I wanted without having to worry about Muggles. Also, I liked the idea of living in an all magical village. The people have proven very friendly, and living above the snowline is quite lovely.”
“But you weren’t practicing your quidditch skills that day,” Umbridge pressed. “You had a passenger. Can you tell the court why Miss Granger was on the broom with you when you recklessly engaged a dementor?”
Harry frowned. “I admit to being a bit of reckless flyer when I’m alone, and certainly when I’m playing quidditch, but I’m never reckless when I have Hermione on my broom. I take her safety very seriously. And I didn’t engage the dementor. It knocked us off my broom.”
“Why was Miss Granger on your broom, Mr. Potter?” Umbridge pressed. “I have several statements from your school peers that state emphatically that she is actually afraid to fly.”
“Hermione is a reluctant flyer when she’s on her own broom, but she rather enjoys being a passenger. As to why she was on the broom, we were just taking a broom ride together. If you need a more specific reason, you’ll have to ask her.”
She glared at him, and he sat back in his chair. “Are you refusing to answer my question?”
“I don’t understand the intent of your question, Madam Umbridge. I took my girlfriend for a broom ride, we were accosted and nearly murdered by a dementor. A dementor that I was assured, by the Ministry of Magic, had been returned to Azkaban. If it’s a crime to take a pretty witch for a broom ride, I imagine most the wizards in this room are going to be in quite a bit of trouble.” He shrugged when the people in the gallery started to laugh. Umbridge’s glare only intensified.
“Why wasn’t your animagus form registered?”
“I haven’t completed the training to become an animagus,” Harry said. “Additionally, I’m only thirteen. Per British law, I’m not required to even notify the ministry of my attempts at becoming an animagus until I’m seventeen. I read the law on the subject before I started meditating for my form.”
“If you haven’t finished your training—how did you accomplish a transformation in mid-air?” Umbridge asked clearly flummoxed.
“I transformed for the first time on the 24th in a burst of accidental magic. I hadn’t even met my form in meditation when it happened. Fortunately, Master Ito was able to coax me back into a wizard. After we were knocked off the broom by the dementor—things get a little mentally fuzzy for me. I could hear—my mother’s voice and Hermione screaming. I reached for my form. I didn’t know if I could do it. Honestly, I’m not sure I realized I had accomplished it. I grabbed Hermione and turned us so…that when we landed I’d take the brunt of the impact in the hopes that it would save her life.”
“And your own life?” Dolores asked.
“I had no expectations of surviving it,” Harry admitted.
Dolores Umbridge laid her quill down in front of her. “You thought you were going to die.”
It wasn’t a question, Harry thought. “It’s not the first time I’ve thought I was going to die to save someone else. I wouldn’t count myself much of a wizard if I’d put my own life before the safety of someone I care for.”
“Director Bones do you have any questions?” Albus asked after nearly a full minute of silence from Umbridge.
“Just one,” Amelia said. “We have only seen memories of you and Miss Granger falling, Mr. Potter. How certain are you that you saw a dementor and not something else?”
“I didn’t see it,” Harry admitted. “I know that both Hermione and I suffered the after-effects of dementor exposure and that I was apparently in psychological shock. I know that I heard my mother begging Tom Riddle to spare my life. I’ve been told that dementors often force you to recall your most traumatic experiences. Hermione said it was a dementor; therefore, it was a dementor.”
“No question in your mind that she could’ve been mistaken?”
“No.” He offered her a little smile. “I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be of the mind that my witch is always right.”
Amelia Bones laughed in spite of herself. “No further questions.”
Hermione was called as Harry regained his seat. He watched her being led to the witness box. Madam Malkin had put her in a pretty blue set of formal robes with matching shoes and a bracelet holster for her wand. Hermione drew her wand, stated her name for the record, and placed her wand in front of her before giving her attention to Dolores Umbridge.
“Miss Granger, several of your classmates have indicated you’re afraid of flying. Is that true?”
“You don’t fear flying?” Umbridge pressed.
“No, I’m quite afraid of falling, however,” Hermione said dryly. “I’ve flown in Muggle airplanes with no issues or anxiety. I’m perfectly okay being a passenger on a broom as long as I trust the person doing the work.”
“Why were you on Mr. Potter’s broom on August 25th?” Umbridge asked.
“He offered. That is reason enough?” Umbridge demanded.
Hermione shrugged and smiled. “I think you’d be hard pressed to find a witch between the ages of eleven and 15 who’d turn down a broom ride with Harry Potter. He’s quite fit, you know.”
Umbridge glared at her pointedly and ignored the outright laughter Hermione had earned from the gallery. “Miss Granger, during your first year you sought out a troll loose in the school. Did you talk Mr. Potter into searching Hogsmeade for a dementor?”
“I didn’t search out a troll in my first year. I’d spent most of the afternoon in the bathroom having a pity party because someone hurt my feelings. I was cornered by a troll that I didn’t know was in the school. Harry and Ron Weasley came to tell me about the troll, and the three of us got trapped in the bathroom. Fortunately, the two of them managed to subdue it before we were injured.”
“Your school records indicate you took the blame for that incident. Did Mr. Potter instruct you to lie?”
“No, Harry and Ron were quite shocked by my taking the blame for the incident with the troll. I was in that bathroom because Ron Weasley had been bullying me for weeks. I figured if I admitted that he would get in trouble and I would get bullied more for it.” She looked down at her hands and shook her head. “As to the dementor, no, I didn’t talk Harry into seeking it out. We didn’t know it was there until it knocked us off the broom. What strikes me most difficult to process about the experience is that the dementor didn’t attempt to kiss either one of us. Instead, it knocked us off the broom. We’d have both died horribly if Harry hadn’t done what he did. I doubt anyone would have checked our bodies for the after effects of a dementor. It would’ve been put down as a broom accident.
“Dementors are under the control of the Ministry of Magic. There are no feral dementors in Britain. All of the dementors were supposedly ordered back to Azkaban. The Ministry has claimed for years to have total control of the dementors. This says to me either the Ministry of Magic has lied to the public for decades about their level of control over a soul-eating dark creature or someone in the ministry wants Harry Potter dead. Either way, I’m really glad we’re all here today to figure it out.” She offered Umbridge a very shrewd smile and crossed her legs at the knee.
“So, your story is that you took a broom ride with your boyfriend and accidentally found a dementor?” Umbridge asked snidely.
“No, ma’am, I took a broom ride with my boyfriend and a dementor tried to murder us,” Hermione said.
“And you’re sure it was a dementor?”
“No doubts?” Umbridge pressed.
“None whatsoever,” Hermione said. “Would you like to see a memory of it? Harry was unconscious for twenty-four hours following the event. I wasn’t. I’ve had ample time to organize my thoughts on the matter with Master Ito’s help.”
Amelia Bones stood. “Yes, Miss Granger, I’d like to see the memory.” She walked to the side of the room and returned with a solicitor’s pensieve. “This is a projection pensieve. I’m sure you’re familiar with it.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ve seen the one in the atrium.” Hermione picked up her wand, closed her eyes, and drew out the memory with an elegant swirl of her wand that had more than one person in the room gaping. She opened her eyes and dropped the memory in the pensieve and raised an eyebrow at Amelia Bone’s shocked face. “Are you all right, Madam Bones?”
“You performed a memory retrieval, which is beyond NEWT magic, Miss Granger.”
Hermione relaxed in her chair. “Master Ito taught me. I signed apprentice papers with him this morning, so I’m exempt from the underage magic decree. It took me about twenty minutes to learn the wand movements, which was a little slow for me, honestly. I’m very bright.”
“Yes, I’ve heard.” Amelia sent her a knowing look as their audience laughed. “Thank you for the memory.” She performed the spell that verified that it hadn’t been modified without much flare and activated the pensieve.
The courtroom shifted, reality blurred away, and they were all suspended in a blue and grey sky.
Harry’s voice echoed through the memory as they came into view for the audience. “Wanna see how fast this thing can go?”
“I do not, Harry Potter,” Hermione responded immediately.
“Are you sure?” Harry asked and sped up enough to make her laugh. He took a little dive.
“Don’t you dare do that stupid wonky faint!”
“Wronski Feint, honestly, what kind of quidditch girlfriend are you?”
“The best kind,” Hermione responded. “I don’t care about any of the other players.”
“Point,” Harry agreed with a laugh—then it happened.
The dementor streaked out of the clouds and hit them broadside, knocking them both from the broom. Her screaming and the rush of the wind in the room was almost overwhelming. Twice, Harry managed to catch hold of her only to have the wind rip her from his hands. Then Harry started to change—the shift was rapid, and suddenly he had her pressed against his chest in his dragon form. Forearms wrapped around her slender body, claws retracted. They hit the ground with such a heavy boom that several people watching the memory shouted out in surprise.
It ended, and the courtroom moved around them again. Even Umbridge looked subdued and shocked. Hermione retrieved her memory from the pensieve and returned it to her temple without a word while she waited for the next question.
“Madam Umbridge, do you have any further questions?” Dumbledore prodded when the woman continued to stare at Hermione in shock.
“I…” Dolores took a deep breath. “I don’t. No.”
Amelia cleared her throat. “No. I believe that will be all. Thank you, Miss Granger.”
It was a surprise when Minerva McGonagall was called to the witness box next. She took the honesty oathy in a calm tone and took her seat with a little frown directed straight at Dolores Umbridge. She raised one eyebrow in question when the woman hesitated.
Umbridge cleared her throat. “You performed the spell that returned Mr. Potter to a wizard, Professor McGonagall?”
“I did. I had to hold the spell on him for twenty-two seconds. He woke up during the course of it.”
“What does that length of time tell you about his abilities as an animagus?” Dolores asked.
“That I’d have a very difficult time forcing his change if he were conscious and fought against it. In fact, I’m not sure I could’ve forced him out of his animagus form if he’d been able to fight me off. He is a magically gifted young man, and as we’ve all just witnessed—a very capable wizard in times of great need. Time and time again, since I’ve known the lad, he has exceeded my every expectation. He is, frankly, an enchanting combination of his parents. Her kindness, his bravery, her sense of humor, his sense of fair play, her eyes, and his ridiculous hair.” She cleared her throat. “The time it took to force his change also indicates that his inner animal actually has more control over his transition currently than he does.”
“If you would elaborate?” Dolores asked.
“A magical person with an animagus form is uniquely connected with the wild magic of our world,” Minerva said. “That connection allows us to touch and eventually come to know our animal spirit. When a witch or wizard takes the journey to find their animagus form—they forge strong bonds with their animal spirit. In Mr. Potter’s case, his animal spirit came to him rather than wait to be found.”
“Is that unusual?” Dolores asked.
“Perhaps, but then it’s not every day you come across a wizard with a Hebridean Black for an animal spirit. His magic responded to his need—it is not the first time we’ve seen that happen with Mr. Potter. For the record, Mr. Potter is not an animagus. He will not be able to claim that honor until he makes the transition for the first time entirely on purpose. As amazing as his feat was that day, his transformation was a mixture of accidental and wish magic. It was a breathtaking act of desperation and no small amount of self-sacrifice. He hasn’t studied his dragon form—he really did have no idea he’d survive that fall.”
Amelia Bones stood. “Professor McGonagall, why do you think there are so few animagus in the UK?”
“The lot of you are lazy,” Minerva said dryly. “I’d know. I taught many of you, after all. I was surprised most of you even passed your OWL in transfiguration.”
Amelia bit down on her lip to keep from laughing. “I believe we all see the benefits of having a form in light of today’s events.”
“In that case, I’d suggest St. Mungo’s hire a few more healers. Human transfiguration can often go so very wrong, after all.”
“Did you see the dementor?”
“No, I did not. But like Mr. Potter, I did not doubt Miss Granger’s account of the events. She’s a proper, literal-minded young witch.”
“Who lied to you about a troll her first year,” Umbridge interrupted.
“She confessed to me in private shortly after it happened,” Minerva explained. “I took 15 points for her lying and resolved to keep a sharper eye on her. I was relieved to see that she seemed to make friends with Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley following the event with the troll.”
“You kept an eye on her because you didn’t trust her?” Umbridge questioned.
“No, I kept an eye on her because I did not want her to leave Hogwarts. I knew she was heavily recruited by Salem, Beauxbatons, the American Academy of Witchcraft, and the International Academy of Magical Arts before her first year. It is my understanding that she has standing invitations to join these schools at any time for any reason. She is a brilliant scholar, Madam Umbridge. While receiving her Muggle education, she was touted as being in the top five percent of children in the country for her intelligence.
“Hermione Granger is a prodigy, she’s had two full years of magical instruction, and her scores were released to the academic community as required by the ICW. It’s made her one of the most sought-after students in our world. She received sixteen offers this summer for additional tuition from masters in charms and transfiguration from all over the world. The Salem Witches’ Institute offered her a full scholarship to attend their school this year. I nearly had to duel Madam Tabitha Stevens when Miss Granger wrote back and told her if she pursued a mastery in transfiguration it would be with me. Of course, I can relax a little now on that front.”
“Why is that?” Amelia Bones asked.
“Hogwarts has something those other schools don’t have a hope of providing,” Minerva said dryly and shot Harry a knowing look. “The living embodiment of Arthur Pendragon, indeed, Mr. Potter.”
Hermione blushed furiously, and Harry sank down in his chair with a little laugh in his head of house’s direction. He saluted her with his wand as the people around them started to laugh. After Minerva left the stand, Hiro Ito was called to testify. The man took the stand with a little nod in Dumbledore’s direction, stated his name, and performed his oath before placing his wand.
“Healer Ito, it’s my understanding that you are Harry Potter’s magical guardian,” Umbridge began.
“That is my honor, yes.” Ito paused. “I also recently accepted magical guardianship of Hermione Granger. Her parents are non-magical, as you must know, and her lack of guardian was holding her back academically. I took on the role to see that injustice rectified.”
“I see,” Umbridge said and stared at him. “Where are you from exactly?”
“Where I’m from, exactly, no longer exists on a map,” Hiro returned precisely. “I’m 4038 years old, Madam Umbridge, and as such, my birthplace does not have a name in modern times. I was born in Japan, and I’m currently a resident and a citizen of that country. I also hold citizenship in many other countries—France, Singapore, Brazil, Peru, and Spain, among them. In my lifetime, I’ve lived and worked as a healer on every continent on this planet.”
“You’re 4038 years old?” Umbridge repeated flabbergasted.
“Yes,” Hiro said simply. “My birthday is in January if anyone is interested in attending my next party. I have very good parties—lots of practice.”
She huffed when several people behind her giggled. “I see. What dark magic did you do to make yourself immortal?”
“I have never performed dark magic in my life,” Hiro said easily and free of anger. “I was gifted with a bloodstone shortly before my seventy-first birthday as a reward for my work as a healer in South America.”
“A bloodstone?” Umbridge questioned.
“I believe you British call it a Philosopher’s Stone,” Hiro said.
She stared at him, clearly horrified. “You’ve had a Philosopher’s Stone for….”
“Oh, don’t tax yourself, Madam, 3,967 years,” Hiro said. “Though the first stone is quite a bit older than that. After all, the shaman who gifted me with mine was nearly five thousand years old. He was still quite spry when I saw him last year. There are many ancient societies in this world, Madam Umbridge, and often they are led by souls far older than you’d think.”
“And you came here to teach Mr. Potter to be a healer?” Umbridge pushed on.
“Why?” She asked baldly.
“I’d ask what concern that is of this inquiry,” Hiro asked mildly.
“I’m merely seeking to determine Mr. Potter’s circumstances. After all, he was left unattended while in your care and nearly killed by a dementor.”
“Mr. Potter just turned thirteen, and Miss Granger will be fourteen in September, Madam Umbridge. Even in Britain, where you coddle your children to a foolish degree, that is of an age where they should be allowed to take a broom ride without the fear of being murdered by a dark creature,” Hiro said icily. “But don’t you worry your little head. It won’t happen again. Shortly after I returned Harry to our home and left him in the care of a former apprentice of mine, I went to the home of Mayor Flume and spoke with him about the incident. I offered to ward Hogsmeade Village against dementors and received his enthusiastic consent. The next dementor that comes near my students won’t survive the experience.”
“A dementor can’t be killed.”
“That is patently untrue,” Hiro returned. “The dementor population in Japan was eradicated more than a century ago. The people of my homeland have no tolerance for such creatures.” He wandlessly conjured a glass of water and drank from it as she stared at him. “As to your question as to why I came to Britain to train Harry Potter. He is, after a fashion, rather like my grandchild. I gifted his ancestor, Godric Gryffindor, with parselmagic. That same magic resonates in his many greats-grandson today. In some ways, it is like having young Godric with me once more. Godric apprenticed with me for ten years before he returned to Britain to accept the responsibilities of his title.” He inclined his head toward her. “You think I’m lying. Which is ridiculous—at my age if I lost my magic I’d fall to dust. Even the magic of the Philosopher’s Stone has a price to be paid, Madam. I am as much magic as I am blood and bone.
“It crosses my mind that my young ward has probably angered many in this building with his actions concerning his godfather. For anyone to think that murdering Harry Potter would end their problems on this particular topic is simply foolish. I have magic, time, and gold to burn, you see, and if he were to come to some permanent harm, I would take it as my personal task to see that all justices owed him were paid in full. I also have a conclave of three hundred and twenty-six wizards, all of whom apprenticed to me over the years. Quite a few of them are over a thousand years old, so there would be someone to take up my task if something untoward were to happen to me as well.”
“Was that a threat?” Umbridge asked shocked.
“No, madam, it was merely a statement of facts. A threat would be to tell you that if I’m given an opportunity, I will end the person that set that dark creature loose on my wards. Those two children are my magical responsibility, and under the rules of the ICW, I have every right to terminate any threat against their lives. I was granted the status of War Mage five hundred years ago by the International Confederation of Wizards, and it is a distinction I have to this day.
“If you are unaware that means—it means I have blanket diplomatic immunity across this world and can only be called upon to answer for a crime by the ICW itself. I could strike you dead right here, and legally no one in this room could do a single thing about it.” He vanished his water glass with a flick of his fingers. “It was foolish, Madam Umbridge, to head up this little inquiry yourself. Your mind is narrow, bigoted, and utterly open to even the most passive of Legilimency.”
He stood, and Umbridge stumbled back from her little podium.
“Albus, you will see this woman punished, or I will kill her,” Hiro said bluntly. “Children, we are finished here.”
Harry and Hermione immediately stood and went to him. They each took a hand, and he apparated them right out of the courtroom and through the heaviest anti-apparition wards in the country.
Harry frowned as they appeared in a backyard totally unfamiliar to him. “Where are we?”
“Oh, it’s my house,” Hermione said excitedly.
“Yes, I told Ryan and Hannah that I would bring you both straight here after the hearing so they could see you,” Ito explained.
Harry hesitated as Hermione ran across a patio and past a swimming pool to a pair of French doors calling for her parents. “Are they upset with me? If she hadn’t been up there with me…”
“No, they aren’t upset with you,” Hiro said. “Frankly, I wouldn’t have brought you here if that was the case. What happened with the dementor wasn’t your fault. Albus and I went into that hearing knowing pretty much exactly what happened and what Umbridge’s agenda was. She’s a zealot and a bigot. She thinks you’re practically the devil incarnate. The minister had no idea she was so dangerous, but that doesn’t make him any less guilty in my mind.”
“It’s…” Harry sighed when the three Grangers appeared in the doorway. “Right.”
He went off to face the music and was quite surprised when Hannah Granger pulled him into a hug and kissed him soundly on both cheeks. He turned to Ryan Granger. “Honestly, sir, I have no idea why they keep kissing me.”
Ryan grinned. “Christ, kid, come here.” He tugged Harry free from his wife and hugged him. “You.” He took a deep breath against Harry’s hair. “Just…I don’t even know.”
“I’m still quite a small dragon,” Harry said as he was released.
“Can we see?” Hannah asked.
“I…I’m not sure,” Harry admitted. “I can try if Master Ito says it’s okay?”
Hiro looked around the area, taking in the privacy fence. He pulled his wand and cast a strong ward to repel visitors and then a privacy ward. “You can try.”
Harry walked over to an empty part of the patio and closed his eyes. He thought about what it had felt like when he was falling, and his magic rushed. When he opened his eyes, Ryan and Hannah were staring at him awestruck. He curled his tail around his feet as he sat down.
“Good lord,” Hannah said.
“It’s okay,” Hermione said and pulled her mother closer. “He’s in his right mind. He won’t hurt you.”
Hannah let her daughter lead her over to Harry, and she reached out hesitantly to touch him. “Oh, you’re beautiful.” Tears welled in her eyes and as she trailed gentle fingers down over one horn.
“Oh, Mum, don’t tell him that. He’ll get a big head,” Hermione admonished.
“You’re the one that pronounced him fit to the entire magical world,” Hannah said in return. “You realize that was all broadcast on the wireless, right? The international wireless.”
Hermione huffed and glared at her. “I was literally sitting on an honesty hex!”
Harry snorted, and a trail of smoke trickled between the two Granger women.
“Oh, shut it,” Hermione said crossly and poked him in the neck with one finger. “Let’s see you come back.”
Harry nudged her and made a little growly sound.
“Oh.” Hermione blushed and turned around. “Turn around, mum. It’s…we don’t always come back with clothes on at first. It’s a skill an animagus has to really concentrate on.”
Hannah raised an eyebrow but gamely turned her back.
Hiro walked past the women and watched Harry settle himself. “That’s good. Clear your mind and picture yourself as you were before. Inhale deeply and pull your magic towards you.” Harry appeared almost instantly, swaying slightly on his feet. “Excellent.” Hiro caught him by the shoulders. “How do you feel about a Pepperup potion?”
“They’re exceedingly gross,” Harry said instantly. “But not as gross as Skele-Gro which is almost as nasty as Polyjuice.”
Hiro snorted and pulled a small vial from his pocket. “Drink it.”
Harry sighed as he was put in a chair. He pulled the cork from the vial and downed the contents with a full body shudder. Smoke steamed out of his ears for a few seconds, and he sighed. “International wireless.”
“Oh.” Hermione hummed under her breath. “Well, it isn’t like we had any choice. I couldn’t even help myself from saying some of the things I said…it just came out of my mouth.”
“Yes, it was quite entertaining for nearly everyone in the room watching you work out right there in the witness box that either the ministry was full of a bunch of liars or someone in a very high office tried to murder the two of you,” Hiro said. He turned to Ryan. “You should’ve seen their faces—I don’t know what they expected when she sat down on the chair, but I doubt it included being schooled by a third-year Hogwarts student.”
Ryan laughed. “Where did you get this outfit, Hermione?”
“Oh, Master Ito said I needed to adhere to the social norms of British magical society in order to not distract anyone from my purpose,” Hermione said seriously. “Madam Malkin assured me that the robes were proper for my age and the ministry setting.”
“You look lovely, dear,” Hannah said. “You both do. All grown up.” She turned to Ito. “Can we see the memory? You said you’d bring a device we could use as Muggles?”
“I…” Hermione huffed. “Mum, are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” Hannah said and patted her. “You’re both here and fine. I really want to see what they saw in the courtroom.”
“We should go in the house,” Hiro said as he stood.
A few minutes later, Hermione took her parents into a pensieve. Harry opted not to see it again. Frankly, watching it in court had been extremely difficult for him. The two times he’d…lost her were both like getting punched in the face. The memory was short, so the three of them left the pensieve after just three minutes. Ryan walked to a small bar in the den where they’d all settled in for the viewing and poured two full glasses of what looked like brandy. He brought one to his wife and drank the other in one long swallow.
Hannah sat down in a chair and held her drink in both hands. “I…” Her mouth trembled, and tears slid down her cheeks. “That woman…”
“If she isn’t in Azkaban for life within the week,” Ito began, “I’m going to find her, take her to the middle of Diagon Alley and kill her. No one will ever think about hurting the two of them again without thinking about what I did to that woman.”
* * * *
Bill Weasley was playing exploding snap with Remus and Sirius when they returned to the house.
“Hey, you two.” Bill put down his cards. “Can we talk?”
“Sure,” Harry said and slipped his hand into Hermione’s. “In private or here?”
“Here is fine,” Bill said and waited patiently as they sat down at the kitchen table. “First, they didn’t talk about injuries in the inquiry. Are you two okay?”
“They had some mild dementor exposure,” Hiro began. “Harry went into shock and had a few minor bone fractures. They’ve both recovered fully, or I wouldn’t have allowed them to go to the ministry today.”
“Of course,” Bill said and relaxed. “It was just quite a thing to see. My mum cried for a half hour after we got home today.” He rubbed his face with one hand. “So, first and foremost, Ron…my parents dosed him with Veritaserum and got quickly to the bottom of his actions concerning Hermione.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Veritaserum? Isn’t he a little young for that?”
“Perhaps,” Bill agreed. “But my father isn’t the kind that would ever tolerate a son of his…acting the way he did with you. If he had it in him to rape a witch, we wanted to know.” He paused when she flinched. “He’s jealous and ill-tempered, but he’s not a rapist.”
“Jealous how?” Hermione asked, clearly confused. “He can’t possibly…I mean he treats me worse than he treats Ginny, and that’s saying something.”
“Oh, he does,” Bill said. “But his interest in you is really only a by-product of the fact that he pretty much wants everything Harry has. The title, the money, the fame, the broom talent, the magical ability. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of magical theory can’t be in a room with Harry without realizing how much magical potential he has. I’m not at all surprised to find his animagus form is magical though I’d have guessed magical viper over dragon if I’d had to pick a creature. Though, I can’t say that anyone would’ve guessed a dragon.”
“He’s jealous because I’m famous,” Harry said, his voice dull and low. “Jealous because I’m famous?” He stood, walked to the Floo, and went to the Burrow before anyone could say a word.
* * * *
Harry stalked out of the Floo, his aura flaring with fury. He jerked his friend away from the table where he was stuffing his face and hauled him out of the house before anyone else quite knew what had happened. Once outside, he punched his friend in the face.
“Harry!” George Weasley grabbed him around the waist and pulled him back when he started to hit Ron again. “That’s enough.”
“It’s not enough!” Harry shouted and jerked free of George with a surprising amount of strength.
“I said I’d apologize to Hermione!” Ron shouted and held out his hands in front of him. “I’m really sorry, mate. I don’t know what came over me!”
“You think that’s why I’m here?” Harry demanded. “She’s perfectly capable of handling your stupid arse all by herself. You want my fame, Ron? Is that what you want? You want to be famous like me.” He shoved Ron on his arse as Hiro Ito approached them. “My parents are dead, you git! My baby sister died in the womb! Is that what you want? To be the Boy-Who-Lived? You want the gold in my account? Do you know why I have it? I have it because every single Potter before me is dead! There is a cemetery in Godric’s Hollow that is full of my family, and most of whom died before my first birthday killed by fucking Death Eaters who were searching for me! How much are your parents worth to you, Ron? Ten thousand galleons? How about a hundred? What about Ginny? You ignored her all last year anyway, how much is she worth to you? Your brothers? They’re all extremely talented magically, I imagine you could get quite a bit for them.”
“I’d give it all away. I’d give up every single knut of it for one day with my parents. You—Ron—you’re the wealthiest person I know, and I’d take your place in this family in a heartbeat. The fact that you don’t understand that is obscene. You get your head on straight, you stupid arse. The next time you disrespect your parents with your ignorant behavior, I’m going to put you in the infirmary for a month!” He turned, stalked past them all and went back through the Floo without a word.
Hermione huffed. “Are you okay, Ronald?”
Ron rubbed his jaw. “He hits harder, but you hit more, so yeah, I think I’m okay.”
She kicked his foot, and he scowled at her. “You owe me an apology, Ron Weasley. I’m waiting.”
“Hermione,” Ron whined.
“You apologize, or I’m going to break your nose again!”
“I’m sorry I walked in on you, on purpose. I’m sorry I said what I said. I didn’t mean it. I was just mad because you were keeping secrets from me. It won’t happen again.”
“It’d better not,” Hermione said huffily.
Ron snorted. “Hermione, your boyfriend turns into a dragon. There isn’t a bloke in Britain stupid enough to piss off Harry that much.” He picked himself off the ground and exhaled sharply. “He’s really upset with me.”
“Extremely upset,” Hermione clarified. “Plus, they can’t find his broom. All of Hogsmeade went out and searched for it. You know how much it meant to him. It was like the second present he ever remembers getting, you know.”
“Bloody hell,” Ron said in genuine distress. “His broom’s gone?”
Hermione huffed. “Watch your mouth in front of Master Ito!”
Hiro sent her a wry look. “I’ve heard such before. Trot along and find your dragon before he mucks up my garden in a temper.”
“Yes, sir,” Hermione said and stalked off towards the Floo.
Hiro inclined his head and looked at Ron. “You.”
“I apologize for my foul language,” Ron said quickly.
Hiro snorted. “That is the least of my concerns, young man. Despite your poor behavior, Harry loves you like a brother. Come with me, we’ll sit and perhaps, if I’m very fortunate, your mother will give me a piece of cake.”
Hiro found himself at the kitchen table with a piece of cake in short order. He pulled out a book, resized it, and placed it between him and Ron.
“Magic is a gift,” Hiro said simply. “But more than that, Mr. Weasley, it is a vast, unending responsibility. The burden of being magical weighs on a good man heavily. To use it selfishly and without regard to the duty of being magical is so offensive that it is unforgivable. The more you respect and honor magic—the more she will make herself available to you. Yes, it is possible to create great power through darkness, but that is avarice and sloth. A good man will never take more than he is given. A great wizard honors what he is given and never has the audacity to expect more. Magic sees you—deep into your soul. Each of us is gifted in such a way to bring balance to the magic of our world.
“Harry is a very gifted wizard. But in the moment of his creation, he was chosen by higher forces than you or I can question to bring a balance to our world that had been lost thanks to the dark deeds of Tom Riddle. Yes, Harry’s power is enviable. You are not the only one that would envy such power.” Hiro paused. “Yet, Harry would give up more than just the gold in his vault for his parents. He would give up every bit of his magic as well. If tomorrow, he were given a choice between being magical and having his parents and sister alive and with him—he would give up magic without a single thought to the consequences. That is the depth of his grief. It is not a grief many can understand. Frankly, I’ve lived so long that my parents are a very distant memory. They died when I was just sixteen years old.”
“I know he would,” Ron said in a small voice. “All he saw in the Mirror of Erised was his family alive and smiling at him. I can’t help the way I feel, though.”
“Is that really what you think?” Hiro questioned. He tapped the book between them. “Read this book, young man, and when you finish it come to me. I will ask you just one question and if you answer correctly—I will introduce you to the man who wrote it.”
Ron picked up the book and opened it carefully. His mouth dropped open. “This was written in the second century.”
“The first draft of the Art of War was finished in the year 214 AD,” Hiro confirmed. “Of course, I did not meet Sun Wu until the seventh century. He is frankly an asshole, but I believe you will learn quite a bit from him. Prove to me you deserve it, young man, and you’ll meet him next summer.”
Ron put the book down. “Just…how many ancient people are running around?”
“Well, not many of us are spry enough to run anywhere,” Hiro said with a little smirk as he picked up his fork. “Still, I know twelve people who are over the age of three thousand. There are other, light, magics besides a bloodstone that can keep one around. It is only the weak who turn to dark or black magic to gain power.”
“Bill’s a parselmouth,” Ron said suddenly.
“Yes, I’m aware,” Hiro said. “I can…detect my own kind quite easily when their magic is active. Miss Granger is a latent parselmouth. That’s why I’ve taken her as a ward and as an apprentice. You are not latent if you were worried about it.” He only smiled when Ron visibly relaxed. “You do, however, have latent magical gifts. Mage sight and…” He inclined his head. “Hmm, you’re taking divination this year, correct?”
“I was thinking of dropping it,” Ron admitted. “Harry isn’t taking it and his reason why made sense. I mean…if you don’t have a gift for it then you’re just wasting time with that class.”
“Mr. Potter’s time would be wasted. Miss Granger would emerge from such a course a frustrated nervous wreck,” Hiro said and smiled when Ron laughed. “But, you—your time would not be wasted.” He held out his hand and waited until Ron reluctantly put his own in it. “Relax, Mr. Weasley, I haven’t gobbled up a child in nearly a century.” He laughed when Ron paled. “You should work on that a bit—no need for everyone to see exactly what you’re thinking all over your face.” He pulled his wand and drew a rune in the air above Ron’s hand.
He wasn’t surprised when everyone in the room moved so they could see it.
“Arthur, you intended to wait until he turned seventeen to give him his rites?”
“Yes, that is the tradition in our family. We are set to do Percy’s tomorrow evening.”
“You should include young Ron here as well,” Hiro said as the rune spun around on top of his hand. “And perhaps contact Albus immediately about arranging private tutelage.”
“I don’t understand,” Ron said. “Is something wrong with my magic?”
“No, not at all. You’re just on the cusp of being a genuine prophet, or seer as you Brits prefer to say,” Hiro said. “But if you do not embrace your gift now, it will be gone by the time you’re 15.”
“That’s when we normally test our children,” Arthur said. “When they turn 15. Are you telling me that the others might have had gifts fade because we waited too long?”
Hiro nodded. “There is nothing to be done about it now, Arthur. But let’s have a look at young Ginevra, shall we?” He slashed his wand through the rune above Ron’s hand and turned to Ginny. Her hand was in his as soon as he offered. “How do you feel, young lady?”
“Better. You were right to tell the headmaster I needed a mind healer,” Ginny blushed. “I was…I was in a pretty bad way, so thank you.”
Hiro only nodded. “What do you know of magical bonds, Miss Weasley?”
“Enough to understand that holding on to a crush is only going to hurt me,” Ginny said quietly as the man worked.
“Good. I would hate to see you hurt so again. What you endured at the hands of the diary was frankly beyond the pale.” He shifted the rune around and stared at it. It lit with fire, and he sighed. “The seventh child of the seventh daughter.” He closed the rune and sat back but kept a hold of her hand. “First, I’m very sorry to inform you that your parselmagic is damaged beyond repair. Riddle must have used it predominantly when he was trying to resurrect himself. This is a tragedy for my community, Miss Weasley, as female parselmouths are quite rare in the modern day.” He paused when tears welled in her eyes. “But, your mage sight remains undamaged, your animagus form is extremely healthy and eagerly awaits an introduction, and you are an elemental. Your affinity is wind. There is a druid elemental in Ireland, and she has not had an apprentice in over a hundred years. I will write to her about you. She will come to you when the time is right. Your gifts are hardy and will not fade, but I encourage you to waken them by the time you’re 15 as you will settle into your elemental abilities better if you approach them at the same time you are reaching your magical maturity.”
He turned back to Ron. “One more matter, young man.” He paused until Ron focused on him entirely. “Hermione Granger is my magical ward and my apprentice. If you ever disrespect her as you did last week again—as if she were nothing more than a piece of sexual property—I will curse you impotent for the rest of your life. Are we clear?”
Ron nodded pale-faced. “Yes, sir.”
* * * *
Sirius found his godson pouting in a hammock deep in the garden that seemed to have no bloody end. He knew Hermione had been out with him for a while, but she’d come inside more than an hour before and disappeared into the library.
“The centaurs brought your broom to Hagrid while you were at the Ministry this morning.” Sirius sighed. “It’s not ever going to be the same. We checked it over—the damage is too extensive for safe flying. Sorry kid.”
Harry huffed. “I oughta sue Umbridge.”
“You’ve already been awarded all of her worldly possessions—well, you and Hermione.” Sirius held up a piece of parchment. “Hiro and I were formally informed just a few minutes ago. She’s in Azkaban, and the dverger are liquidating all of her property. The money will be split between the two of you.”
“Give it all to her,” Harry said. “I’ve got more than enough.”
“If you’re sure?” Sirius asked.
“Very,” Harry said with a frown. “Let Umbridge pay for the brightest witch of the age’s education. We should make sure she knows, too, that a Muggle-born is using her assets to learn everything.”
Sirius laughed. “Yeah, sounds good.” He sighed. “Harry, none of us knew…that you remembered that your mum was pregnant.”
“The day before he came,” Harry began, “I have a memory of mum talking to me about the baby. They were going to name her Phillipa Elizabeth Potter. Her name…her name isn’t on the tombstone. It makes me furious.”
“We can change that,” Sirius said gently. “I wasn’t aware that you’d been to Godric’s Hollow.”
“I went the day after I returned to Britain. Master Ito insisted—he said I needed the closure of seeing the house and the graves. All the graves.” Harry turned his head and used his foot to push the hammock into rocking. “I’m just as jealous of Ron as he is of me, you know.”
“I do know. I was disowned very young. Your grandparents welcomed me into their home, but…I always envied the love they had for James. My parents never loved me that way.”
“Mine loved me too much,” Harry said softly. “She didn’t just sacrifice herself—she sacrificed Phillipa, too. I know she didn’t have a choice. She was at least six months pregnant. Master Ito said she couldn’t have apparated safely after her third month. Even if she’d been able to escape the house with me; we’d have never gotten far. She made her stand where she had the most magical power in the house—my nursery. I get it. I just…I’m so angry, Sirius. I want to rip Tom Riddle to fucking pieces, set him on fire, and piss on the ashes.”
“At least you have a plan,” Sirius said dryly. He prodded his godson and grinned when Harry obligingly made room for him in the hammock.
Harry turned slightly and rested his head on his godfather’s shoulder. “Don’t be hurt—but this is more fun with my girlfriend.”
Sirius laughed. “I’d certainly hope so.” He kissed the top of Harry’s head and sighed. “I know no one’s told you, but you have a right to know that you’re bonding with that pretty little witch. Every day it’ll get stronger and more intense. And unless you fuck it up—that’s your future Lady currently researching how to kill your mortal enemy in your library.”
“I know,” Harry whispered. “I felt it…when she was petrified. I felt it happen. Well, I felt something happen, but I didn’t know what it was at the time. I found the memory when I was organizing my thoughts, and I realized that the moment she was petrified that I felt it. Are we about to have the sex talk? Master Ito already had that talk with me—it took six hours. I’d rather not have that talk again, but if you feel the overwhelming desire to spend several hours mortifying me with the intimate details of your youthful sexual indiscretions, I’ll suffer through it.”
Sirius laughed. “No, Hiro told me all about that. Though he didn’t mention it took six hours.”
“You have a four-thousand-year-old womanizer give you the sex talk…” Harry sighed. “I had no idea girl’s bodies were that complicated.”
“At least he was thorough,” Sirius said with a laugh.
“I’m not going to pressure her for anything she doesn’t want to give me,” Harry said seriously. “Even if she wants to wait until marriage. I’m okay with that. I’ve got a hand and an excellent wandless lubrication charm. I’m set.”
Sirius burst out laughing. “Maybe I should get him to give me the sex talk.”
Harry laughed with him. “But, seriously, I just figured I’d let her decide when all that stuff happens. She likes to be in charge of things—bossy by nature. I have no doubts whatsoever that she’ll let me know when she’s ready for that stuff.”
“I think you’re absolutely right about that,” Sirius agreed. “I owe you a birthday present or twelve.”
Harry laughed. “Not really, but it’s a nice thought.”
“Too late, I already bought it,” Sirius said. “It’s sitting on the patio table.”
Harry crawled over his godfather immediately. “Awesome. What is it?” He hauled Sirius out after him.
“You’ll just have to open it,” Sirius said with a laugh.
Harry dragged him quickly through the garden to the patio. The brown paper wrapped around a broom-shaped object was pretty much a dead giveaway, but Harry’s mouth dropped open in shock when he finally got it unwrapped. “Oh. My. God.” He ran his fingers along the Firebolt’s ebony handle. “This is…it’s sold out. I wrote Mr. Dawson at Quality Quidditch Supplies, and he said that it would be six months before he had even one to sell.” He touched the dverger-made ironwork. “There is a waiting list for professionals.”
“Yes, well, the owner of Firebolt was far more accommodating when I firecalled him about a replacement for you,” Sirius said and took a seat. “You ready to take it for a spin, or are you still emotionally damaged by your fall?”
Harry picked up the broom with a huff. “A hundred and fifty miles an hour in ten seconds?” He threw a leg over it. “Let’s just see about that.” He shot off into the sky with a shout of ‘woohoo’.
Hermione sighed from the French doors. “Honestly, a Firebolt?” She looked up and watched Harry darting around the sky above the town like a lunatic. “Fantastic.” She went back into the house and came back out with a lightweight jacket on. “Couldn’t be another Nimbus? No. Sirius bloody Black has to get him the fastest broomstick on the market.”
“Don’t be mean to me, Hermione. I’m fragile,” Sirius sing-songed from his lounger. “The production team even put special charms on it for when he has a passenger. No one and nothing is going to knock you two off that broom. Of course, those safety charms are only active when you’re on the broom with him. He couldn’t play quidditch with it otherwise.”
She offered him a small smile and took a deep breath as Harry slid into place in front of her. She accepted his hand without hesitation, threw a leg over the broom, wrapped her arms around his waist, and hooked her feet over his. “Don’t be stupid.”
Harry laughed and shot off at a much more sedate pace.
“I take it I was wrong,” Remus said dryly said from the door leading into the house.
Sirius flung a hand upward. “Neither one of those two are the kind to let fear get the best of them. Besides, her trust in him is…”
“Justified,” Hiro said.
Harry bit down on his lip as his mentor reviewed the ritual he’d designed. He hadn’t really thought he was ready for it, but Master Ito had explained to them both that the transference ritual was a deeply intimate magical experience and Harry’s instincts were important in the construction of the circle. Worse, her parents had come back to Hogsmeade to watch the whole thing. He felt like any mistake he made in the hours ahead of him would be all the more agonizing due to the audience. He chewed on the corner of his thumbnail briefly but stopped when Sirius nudged him gently.
Ito put the parchment down and focused on him. “Eyes on me, Harry.”
Harry settled his mind as much as he could and met his mentor’s gaze. “Yes, sir.”
“Forget about everyone in the room—no one’s opinion in this matters more than mine.”
Harry grinned and ignored the little huffs of irritation that proclamation had earned his mentor from other adults in the room. “I understand.”
“You’ve built your personal circle within a larger circle. Why?”
“I…” Harry took a deep breath to settle himself. “As much as I trust the wards surrounding the house, I felt like I had no choice but to take into account the fact that Riddle is lingering. The transference ritual will open up my magic. I don’t want to give him a chance to nest in me again or to touch Hermione magically.”
Ito nodded. “You’ve placed the rune Isa in the north.”
“The north guides me,” Harry said as he reached out and touched the rune he’d drawn on the parchment. “Isa speaks to self-awareness, mental clarity, and when used in ritual can help you strengthen your focus and will power. Since the Guardian of the North is my guide in magic, I felt that I should ask these things of her.”
He touched the rune Dagaz, which he’d placed in the south. “My opposite—Dagaz—serene where I’m chaotic. Female where I am male. In this circle, Hermione will awaken as a parselmouth. As I am water; she is fire.” He cleared his throat and ignored the little gasp Hermione couldn’t keep to herself. “In the west, Ansuz must sit. As much as the north guides me, the Guardian of the West offers me wisdom and comfort. The divine power found here speaks to the air that I embrace as my chosen element.
“To the east, lays Uruz and the root of Hermione’s power as a witch. As much as she has chosen fire as her element, she is naturally embraced by earth. Uruz offers strength, determination, and it protects her fertility from outside forces. As this is her first ritual, then that is a magical gift the Guardian of the East will be eager to bestow upon her. I believed it best to give them a path on which they could meet, if they wish, during the ritual.”
Ito hummed under his breath. “Speak to your choice of runes creating the inner circle.”
Harry shifted the parchment around in front of him. “Eihwaz—useful in defense and the realization of potential. It is also instrumental in transformation, which is the central goal of the ritual. Algiz—inner strength and protection.”
“Do you believe you’ve built too much protection into the circle?” Ito questioned. “Should you not leave room for the more feral elements of magic to interact with you both?”
“Not yet,” Harry said and frowned as he touched the next rune. “I live due to such magic, but I don’t think either of us are mature enough magically to allow that sort of interaction with wild magic. Sowilo—salvation, spiritual protection, and honest relationships. My mother used her own magic to paint this rune onto my skin the night she died. Riddle’s curse made it a permanent part of me. I can’t see any ritual now or in the future where Sowilo is not present.”
“In this, she made the wisest choice she ever could’ve,” Ito said gravely. “She invoked an ancient and powerful magic that night, Harry, and even now, so many years later, it lingers in your magic. Her intent was so noble and righteous that you survived when no one before you ever had.”
Harry took a deep breath and focused on the parchment. “Berkana, renewal, and healing. I placed this here in case we experience any injury.”
“Is that likely?” Ryan Granger interjected.
Harry glanced toward him briefly and looked toward Ito for guidance.
“Harry is very powerful magically, and his core is largely untapped due to his age. He’s already demonstrated that his magic can and will react powerfully to certain circumstances. That being said, rituals such as this one can cause muscle strain, and in some cases, bone fractures. Nothing that magic couldn’t fix in a matter of moments. As I explained, if there is a price to pay—Harry will pay it.”
“Are you really sure we shouldn’t wait then?” Hermione questioned.
“No,” Harry murmured as he refocused on the parchment. “This is the best time for you. The younger you are, the better parselcraft will settle into your magical existence.” He traced his finger around the circle. “I chose Ehwaz next because it represents loyalty, teamwork, and harmony. Since our magic is so different in expression, I felt that it would help provide the balance needed in the outer circle. I don’t want to blow out the protective circle. Due to that concern, Gebo is my final choice as it represents unity and will promote balance in the circle.”
Ito sat back in his chair and stared at the ritual design in silence for several long moments, then nodded. “You’ve made wise and thoughtful choices. Your self-awareness was to your benefit in the construction of the elements. Twice you spoke to the chaos of your magic, does it concern you outside of ritual circumstances?”
“No. It’s only a concern for the ritual because I worry about the backlash if I break through the outer circle and magically bleed all over Hogsmeade.” He blew air out between his lips. “Which you know is possible. What would happen?”
“Your legend would grow,” Minerva McGonagall said dryly. “Which would be ridiculous, lad, since it already proceeds you into practically any room you might wish to enter.”
Harry huffed. “Honestly, I wonder at Riddle’s stupidity. He could’ve taken Britain over with a little bit of shock, a lot of awe, and a fist full of galleons.”
He shrugged at the dirty looks and laughter he earned for himself.
“Can you explain the chaos thing?” Hannah Granger asked.
“The magic of a wizard is chaotic, and often feral if left unchecked due to our evolution as a species. In our distant past, wizards were called upon to protect their families and territory just as much as any other man of the time period. Our magic evolved to be hypervigilant in that regard, especially when our females were targeted by the church. Most of the men who were caught up in those atrocities were no sort of wizard at all,” Minerva said. “The witches of the past withdrew, due to fear of persecution, and our magic grew quiet and calm. It was our best defense—to be hidden. Our communities are hidden even to this day because of the nature of witches. Wizards would just as soon start a fight and get it over with to allow for integration into Muggle society.”
“So, witches are less powerful?” Hannah asked with a frown.
Sirius snorted. “The only enemy worse than the one you see coming is the one you don’t even notice until they’ve got a knife if your gut. Never trifle with a witch, not even your own child. Young witches don’t always maintain strict control over their magic if they feel threatened. My cousin Andromeda tore down her parent’s summer cottage because her father tried to tell her she couldn’t marry the man she wanted. She left nothing but smoldering wood and the ashes of the marriage contract they’d prepared on her behalf.”
“Did she marry the wizard of her choice?” Hannah asked curiously.
“It got her disowned, but yes,” Sirius said. “They were afraid to do much more than that—honestly, her parents were lucky to get out of that alive. Most parents spend decades nurturing their daughters, so they follow their wishes willingly. My aunt and uncle were arrogant and assumed that all three of their daughters would obey them to the day they died.” He paused. “Of course, my aunt and uncle died at the hands of their oldest daughter roughly three years later, when they refused to join Riddle’s cause. Bellatrix was unforgiving, to say the least.”
“Sirius Black,” Minerva hissed. “Shut up.”
“It’s true,” Sirius protested. “Witches are evil. I was relieved as hell when I realized I found wizards attractive. Best freaking day of my entire third year.”
“Pay him no mind, Dr. Granger,” Ito said as he stood. “Witches aren’t evil. Vengeful and unreasonable, yes, but hardly evil at all. Besides, your daughter clearly loves you, and her magic would never have cause to lash out against you to protect her.”
Ryan sighed. “Suddenly, I’m really grateful I never put my foot down about her book allowance.”
Hermione was blushing when Harry glanced her way. “Daddy.”
* * * *
Ritual Circle – Stand by You
The runes are interactive. If you click on one you'll
Invites authority & power.
Symbol of masculinity
Invites Divine Power
Wisdom, Inspiration, and luck
Good luck charm
Invites spiritual growth
Invites creativity, wealth and strength
Manifest your greatest potential
Invites protection, healthy & happiness
Invites salvation, spiritual protection and is symbolized by the sun
Invites romance, healing & protection
Bonds of friendship
Invites harmony, joy, and generosity
* * * *
The real uncomfortable part about wearing just a ritual robe was knowing that Hermione was in a similar circumstance. Harry walked around the edge of the circle he’d built and nudged the rune anchor he’d created for Ehwaz gently until it felt like it was in exactly the right place. Because of his worry regarding magical bleed off, Master Ito had built a third circle that encompassed most of the garden. Harry focused on Hermione, who was the only person in the garden inside his larger circle. He’d yet to call the directions for his personal circle. She gave him a firm nod, her eyes lit with excitement.
No pressure, he thought. He wet his lips and curled his toes into the damp grass as he drew his wand. “Guardian of the North, I invoke thee, let water nourish us.” He drew the rune Isa in the air with the magic streaming out of his wand. It swirled around in the air and settled in place as if he’d placed it on a shelf several feet above his head.
“Guardian of the South, I invoke thee, let fire shelter us.” The Dagaz rune flowed out of his wand before he could start to draw and settled. Harry took a deep breath and glanced out over the circles to focus on Hiro Ito. The older wizard merely inclined his head in approval. “Guardian of the East, I invoke thee, let earth guide us.” Uruz shimmered into the air in front of him and lifted upward as it took its place on his left.
“Guardian of the West, I invoke thee, let air teach us.” The Ansuz rune unfurled from his wand like smoke and drifted into place.
His magic shifted and surged inside of him as his circle settled in around him. He’d cast as similar circle the night Master Ito’s conclave had completed a series of transference rituals to teach him various parts of parselcraft. Master Ito believed that those lessons were so fresh in his mind that he might give them to Hermione along with parselmagic.
Harry blew out a breath as he considered the words magic required of him. They were specific, and he’d probably get a lot of grief over them later. “Hermione Jane Granger, in this moment and in this place, I offer you the shelter of my personal ritual circle. May you know nothing but safety and pleasure within the embrace of my magic.” He offered her his hand and watched a pink flush darken her cheeks as she took it.
Her white robe was glowing gently—sparkling a bit in various places—as if magic had been woven into the material, and maybe it had. His own was dark green dragonhide with a silk lining. A gift from Master Ito when he joined with his conclave in Japan. He wondered if Ito had given Hermione her robe and thought that he probably had at least been involved in the purchase. The older man was very specific in the ritual craft he participated in and supervised.
Hermione stepped fully into the inner ritual circle, and magic swelled inside him in response. Intimate, they’d said, and maybe he hadn’t understood what Master Ito and Healer Arnou had meant during that conversation. He thought he had, and certainly expressed that opinion quickly to avoid an in-depth discussion that might lead to another sex talk.
“May our beloved Lady bless my magical purpose.” The runes brightened above their heads, shining like beacons in the darkness of the night sky above the garden.
He led her to the center of the circle and offered her his wand hand after he’d holstered the magical focus. She took it and squeezed gently. Harry wondered how much of his worry was written all over his face. If they failed, they could merely try again, but he wanted to get his right for her. Hermione had stood by him no matter the consequences, and she was offering to share the burden of parselmagic in a country where many viewed it as a sign of evil and darkness.
She gave him a little nod, and he almost laughed. Even at a moment when he should most definitely be in charge, she was bossing him around. She flushed and rolled her eyes when he couldn’t help but smile at her.
“Hermione Jane Granger, with an open heart and mind I invite you into the practice of the oldest and most powerful form of magic to ever be gifted to our kind by Zirnitra. In accepting parselcraft into your mind and body, you accept the eternal patronage of the Black Dragon. Do you agree?”
“Oh, yes, please,” she said eagerly and bounced a little on her bare feet.
“Donum magicae,” Harry hissed, and magic heaved upward in his circle like a rough ocean breaking against the shore.
Magic flowed around and through them gently despite the wild appearance. Dark green, red, white, and gold ribbons of power flowed and wrapped around them. It was nothing like the memory that Master Ito had shown him. He looked toward his mentor for guidance and found the older man utterly calm at the edge where their circles met. Ito inclined his head and nodded.
Harry focused on Hermione and found her following the ribbons with her gaze. He hoped it didn’t make her dizzy. He squeezed her hands; she focused on him.
“Hold precious this gift and allow no one to influence you with a dark heart. Stand above the fray in all that you do and follow the most righteous path you can see in all things, as that is our duty to Zirnitra.”
The magic around them stilled briefly, then streamed into her physically in a rush of light. He wondered what her parents could see of it. He knew that Master Ito had already agreed to show them a pensieve memory of the whole thing if the ritual circles were too obscure for them. Both were in the most technical sense squibs, but that meant different things for each individual.
Harry released her hands and stepped back.
“Hekate, our beloved Lady Magic, we are humbled by your blessings upon this circle, may you forever walk amongst us in grace and in good health.”
Harry waited until Hermione repeated the words and took note of the gentle tremble in her voice. Her face was pale while her eyes were practically shining with magic. Despite how well rested she’d been going into the ritual, she was clearly exhausted now.
“Zirnitra, God of Sorcery and Patron of Serpentkin, we thank you for your presence in our circle. Stay if you will but go, if you must, with the knowledge that you are forever welcome here.”
Hermione swallowed hard and repeated the words carefully though her last word had a slightly slurred quality to it. Harry reached out and took her hands to ground her physically, and she blinked at him.
“If it pleases him, may the Black Dragon watch over us and our magic all of our days,” Harry murmured, and she smiled. “Guardian of the West, thank you for the knowledge you bestowed upon us, I bid thee farewell. Guardian of the East, thank you for your guidance, I bid you farewell. Guardian of the South, thank you for protecting and sheltering us during our time of need, I bid thee farewell. Guardian of the North, thank you for the nourishment you offered our hearts and magic, I bid thee farewell.
“May the circle be open but forever unbroken. So mote it be.”
“So mote it be,” Hermione whispered, and tears slid down her cheeks.
* * * *
“That,” Ryan Granger said flatly, “looked like some sort of magical marriage.”
“Nonsense,” Hiro said as he poured himself a tumbler half full of firewhiskey. “Marriage rituals are normally done in the nude, involve sex magic, and don’t stop until the bride is satisfied or the groom is unconscious.”
Minerva McGonagall snorted. “Whichever comes first.” She paused. “No pun intended.”
Ryan huffed. “I hate you all.” He flicked a hand toward the pensieve. “It didn’t look that intense when I watched in the garden. We missed a lot of the magical elements during the actual event.” He turned to his wife. “Hannah?”
She pursed her lips and took a sip of wine. “We won’t have to witness the whole sex ritual thing, right? Because I’m trying to be supportive, but I already know that even a decade from now I’m not going to be on board with watching ritual shagging.”
Sirius Black laughed, and Ito shot a stinging hex at him with a flick of fingers. “Ouch.”
“Act like a parent,” Ito said sternly. “The three of you will be bound in more than one way as time goes on. Unless something quite terrible happens, the bond the children share will mature and grow into something permanent and lovely. They are truly to be envied such a deep, magical connection.”
* * * *
“Yeah?” Harry focused on Hermione.
Master Ito had allowed them to sneak out of the house. He knew, for a fact, that nothing happened in the house without his knowledge, but he hadn’t wanted to spoil her fun when she’d pulled him out of bed to suggest they walk in the garden.
“Do you regret it?”
“No, of course not,” Harry said gently and joined her on the bench she’d tossed herself on nearly ten minutes before. “Though I may come to regret letting Dobby put this bench by my rose bush.” He glanced down at the pile of rose petals at her feet.
She blushed. “Sorry.” Hermione nudged the petals with her slipper. “How do you think Ron will react?”
“As Ron often does—stupidly and without thought,” Harry said wryly and smiled when she laughed. “He doesn’t know how to think first and react later. Maybe that’s why the hat didn’t even hesitate to put him in Gryffindor.”
“The hat wanted to put me in Ravenclaw,” she said. “But I knew I wouldn’t fit there. I’d met a few on the train, and they were just as hateful as the Slytherin prefect that called me a mudblood.”
“He thought I’d do well in Slytherin,” Harry said. “Looking back on it, I think he might have been right, but I don’t think it would’ve been the best path for me personally. He must have seen the parselmagic in me, or perhaps he saw Riddle’s Horcrux. I don’t know for certain. I think if he’d seen the spiritual possession, he would’ve told Dumbledore and Master Ito assures me that Dumbledore had no clue what was in my scar.”
“You were right to question his knowledge,” Hermione said. “I feel like they should’ve known. It’s wrong that he didn’t realize how terrible your home life was with the Dursleys, but then magical people are so focused on their own circumstances that it probably never crossed his mind to visit that horrible little house where you were being held hostage.”
“He’d have been told if the wards failed,” Harry said. “But by then, it would’ve been too late. The headmaster is working to make amends with me, and I guess that’s all you can ask of someone who’s wronged you. He apologized and seeks atonement.”
She nodded. “And Ron? How long will that last? He’s apologetic now, but in a few weeks or months…he’ll get angry again, and he’ll say something disgusting or horrible. We’ll be expected to forgive him because he can’t help what he says.”
“I’ll make it clear to him that he’s working on his last chance with me,” Harry said. “I can’t keep allowing him to abuse my trust repeatedly. I deserve better. We both do. I won’t tell you how to handle him because that’s not my right, but I can’t stand to see him hurt you. Ron’s world is narrow and small. I don’t know if we can wait for him to grow up, Hermione. Tom Riddle is lurking out there waiting for the next opportunity to strike, and I can’t afford the distraction of a fair-weather friend. I have too much to learn.”
Hermione slid her hand into his and laced their fingers together. “I know. Maybe he’ll understand, but neither one of us can depend on that. We have each other, Harry, and that’s been more than enough since our first year.”
“Friendship and bravery,” Harry murmured.
“And love,” Hermione supplied. “That’s what I was going to say, but I changed my mind because…” She took a deep breath. “Because I didn’t want to make you more uncomfortable. It was then that I realized just how uncomfortable you were with physical affection.”
“Didn’t stop you from hugging me as often as possible,” Harry said with a laugh.
“No, I mean, I resolved to do just that—hug you as often as possible. I wanted you to know how much I cared, and I wanted you to believe that you deserved affection.” She sighed. “So, you and me then.”
“To the bloody end,” Harry agreed.