Title: All the World
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Harry Potter
Relationship: Ragnok/OFC, Harry Potter/Hermione Granger, Sirius Black/OFC, OMC/OFC, OMC/OMC
Genre: Time Travel, Fix-It, Canon Divergence, Romance, Established Relationship, Fantasy
Warnings: Explicit Sex, Discussion-Child Abuse, Discussion-Murder,
Author Notes: I’ve replaced the goblins in HP canon with the dverger. Some magical people call them goblins which the dverger consider a slur. The dverger are, in fact, a dwarf species (a la The Hobbit, LOTR, etc). I first used this connection and term in Small Magic which is not currently available online. Crucio means ‘I torture’. Cruciatus takes its name from the Latin word for “pain” or “torture,” the root of which can be seen in other words such as “excruciating” and “crucifixion.”
Summary: The corruption of magic leads Ragnok Windrider, Chieftain of the Dverger Horde, to choose a path into the past. Saving Harry Potter from himself and Dumbledore will alter the fate of his people and the fabric of the magical world.
– – – –
Harry collapsed on the sofa in the living room in the suite that Sirius and Isobel had been given once he was released from the Healing Halls. Due to the ongoing International Brouhaha, Sirius was confined to the private part of the bank for his own safety. Dumbledore and Fudge were still trying to take custody of him and return him to Azkaban. They both seemed to be oblivious to the fact that people found that whole possibility deeply appalling.
“Tired?” Sirius questioned as he put a butterbeer down on the end table near where Harry was sprawled.
“Yeah,” Harry admitted. “And it’s weird not to be on the train going back to Hogwarts. Hermione cried this morning, but she hid it from me, so I let her. Was that the right choice?”
“I don’t know. She doesn’t normally keep her emotions to herself, right?” Sirius questioned as he sipped his tea.
“Yeah,” Harry said and nodded. “I mean—we’re trying to work our communication because Piper says it’s important to avoid hurting each other with foolish things. I think maybe she doesn’t want me to feel guilty about how sad she is about Hogwarts. Dumbledore is a threat to her because of me.”
“Oh, lad,” Sirius said roughly. “That’s about half the problem, to be honest. Smart, powerful witches like Hermione are coveted after a fashion. Her blood status is a stumbling block for some pure-blood families, but Dumbledore clearly shaped both of your memories of Ronald Weasley. It would’ve been easier to just spell her to avoid you both.”
Harry frowned. Sirius didn’t know about the future or the whole time travel situation. There were several reasons, chief among them, that Sirius would be required to testify before the World Court of Magic fairly soon. They were three weeks into the International Brouhaha, and every single day revealed some new nightmare in the ministry. Zayd Sarr was tearing the place apart. Ragnok was pretty sure that Fudge and some woman named Umbridge were going to end up in some prison abroad.
“She’s brilliant and beautiful,” Harry said.
“But her magical power makes her valuable,” Sirius said. “Especially when one considers the youngest Weasley son is a waste of magic. That kid is going nowhere fast, so his parents are looking around for a solution to that problem. They need a witch who will drag Ronald through life and, in the end, provide for him so they don’t have to. Moreover, her power will enrich their magical legacy. The Weasley family is one of many who have cottoned onto the fact that pure-blood ideology is destroying familial gifts.”
“Ron isn’t on par with his siblings,” Harry said with a frown. “Even Ginny appears to be smarter and more powerful.”
“And that’s because she was created in ritual,” Sirius said roughly. “Molly wanted a female child, and Arthur agreed to ritual conception. It was a big deal at the time that a light family would seek such a thing out since it’s blood magic, and most consider that grey. Such a conception also creates a powerful child. Most dark families only reproduce in ritual; I’m no exception to that, by the way. I’m honestly not sure my parents ever had any sort of sex life outside of ritual reproduction.”
“That’s…bizarre,” Harry said roughly and checked his watch. “The chieftain thinks that Dumbledore will show up shortly to throw a fit about me not being at Hogwarts.”
“Well, it’s hardly your fault he’s a dishonorable git who throws memory charms around like Lockhart.”
“Well, not exactly like Lockhart,” Harry said. “Dumbledore is very sophisticated, Sirius, and it would be a mistake to dismiss him by comparing him to that idiot, Lockhart.”
“Right.” Sirius grimaced. “How did your lessons with the chieftain go today?”
“He’s hard to please,” Harry murmured. “But I feel like I’m learning a lot—far more than I would learn in a classroom full of students. It’s also weird to have his undivided attention, but it’s not like uncomfortable or anything. He knows a lot, and he answers questions thoroughly. Sometimes, our entire session is taken up with a single question because he doesn’t move on until I have a deep understanding. I like that because he never makes me feel like I’m dumb for not knowing something.”
Sirius nodded. “I’m glad you’re taking it seriously. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there are people who would kill to be mentored by him even in informal circumstances. I know, in Britain, that the dverger are treated with deep disdain, but Ragnok is well-respected in international circles.”
“That’s obvious, actually, with the way Justice Bertrand and Master Ito treat him,” Harry admitted. “It honestly makes me hate Dumbledore. His bigotry is shocking and terrible. He’s a disgusting person.” He rubbed his knee and picked up the butterbeer. “Any word from Remus?”
“Nothing,” Sirius murmured. “Dumbledore probably has him out trying to keep the werewolf packs from joining the Death Eaters. But Riddle has Greyback at his beck and call, so I think that the packs that will join him already have.”
Harry nodded. “Right.” He frowned and exhaled sharply. “You don’t seem to be…as angry about it now.”
“Ah, lad,” Sirius began and shrugged. “It’s not like it’s the first time that bastard has betrayed me. He’s made a hobby of it most of our lives. There’s a reason why I thought he was the traitor, and he thought the same of me. In a lot of ways, Remus resented the relationship I had with your dad. He was upset when I was made your godfather. He told James that it was a mistake because of my family. He said I wasn’t the right sort to raise a child and that I wasn’t capable of commitment.
“It wasn’t like they could’ve named Remus as your godfather—there are far too many laws restricting werewolves of that to be a viable choice. Last year, after we met up, he told me I should just go abroad and let Dumbledore handle everything. He said you’d already broken the law and risked your life once for me and that I was just going to ruin your life if I stayed in Britain.”
“Hermione says that’s just projection,” Harry said. “Remus is very invested in his victimhood. It isn’t like he couldn’t scrape together the money to buy a portkey to another country where there are liberal laws for werewolves and treatment programs. Both France and Canada actually provide wolfsbane to their werewolf population for free. He’d rather mourn the life he wanted than live the life he’s got. The chieftain says that’s selfish and an insult to magic.” He cleared his throat. “Do you regret keeping your marriage a secret from Remus?”
“No, more so than I ever, I know it was the best choice to make,” Sirius said. “He’d have told Dumbledore, and there’s no telling what that bastard might have done to her in response. Remus is very loyal to Dumbledore.”
“Could he have been spelled be that way? Like he tried to do with you?”
Sirius shook his head. “No, werewolves can’t be controlled on that level with anything short of the Imperius which Remus has demonstrated an ability to ignore. Though even if he couldn’t, it’s used to control the actions of an individual on a short-term basis. It’s a testament to Crouch’s determination that he managed to keep Barty under control as much as he did.”
“And no real surprise that he eventually lost control of him,” Harry summed up. “Right. Potions?”
“Perhaps,” Sirius said with a sigh. “But he’d have to be dosed twice as often as a regular wizard. In the end, Harry, you have to earn a werewolf’s dedication and loyalty. That’s why Greyback likes to bite children—so he can manipulate them emotionally before their old enough to know better.”
“And why Dumbledore broke the rules to teach a werewolf child?” Harry questioned. “He endangered every single student and member of staff at Hogwarts to see Remus educated. He created an asset that would be loyal to him out of duty and perhaps some warped affection.”
“It’s good that you’re paying attention to people and their motives,” Sirius said. “But, I’m sorry it’s come to this because you shouldn’t have to worry about this kind of thing.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll just be content to live the life I’ve got,” Harry said and took a long sip of his butterbeer. “And curse the shit out of people who fuck with me and mine.”
“I should probably talk to you about your language,” Sirius said conversationally. “But, honestly, that is an excellent life plan.”
Harry grinned then just sighed when a little charm went off on his watch to alert him that the chieftain wanted him. “Dumbledore’s here.”
“I wish I could go tell him to kiss my arse,” Sirius said earnestly. “Make sure to tell him that.”
“I will,” Harry assured and laughed when his godfather just grinned.
He nursed his butterbeer all the way to the conference room and stopped to talk to Fyre Blackaxe. “How’d he look?”
Blackaxe rolled her eyes. “He’s putting on a full show—aura flaring all over the place, and he shouted a lot when he arrived. Ito and Bertrand are here as well. Apparently, Dumbledore filed a complaint with them already about you not going to Hogwarts as he thinks we can’t educate you properly.”
“Do you think I could make him angry enough that he’ll set himself on fire?”
Blackaxe snorted. “I wouldn’t try to do that without Hermione around. What if you succeed? She’d be furious to have missed it.”
“Right, sound advice,” Harry admitted. “I should come to you with all of my girl questions.”
She grinned and quirked one dark eyebrow. “You could use some training up for that’s certain.” Then she shrugged. “At least you’re dressing better these days.” She took his empty bottle and passed it another guard.
“As if your father would allow anything different,” Harry said dryly.
He pushed open the doors, strolled in, and dropped into the seat between the Chieftain and Warhide with as much insolence as he could muster. He stared pointedly at Dumbledore, who was indeed putting on a light show. Harry sighed, exhaled long and slow then focused on Hiro Ito.
“If I’m late for dinner, I’ll get a lecture,” he told the older man. “At this point, I’m wondering if I could file a complaint of harassment against the whole International Brouhaha. Don’t you have more important things to do, Master Ito, than indulge this ridiculous old man’s whims?”
“I do actually, but he filed a proper complaint for the first time, ever, so I have no choice but to investigate it,” Ito said. “Especially considering the information you gave me a few weeks ago.”
Harry nodded. “Ah, yes, the matter of my fate.” He stared pointedly at Dumbledore as he spoke, and the old man’s mouth dropped open. “Headmaster Dumbledore has never once, in the entire time I’ve known him, done a single thing to prepare me for that. Hogwarts classes cannot prepare me either, and he knows that very well. Master Warhide has a list of classes I’m being taught and who is in charge of those classes at any given time. I’m being taught by experienced masters in every single subject from potions to dueling.”
Warhide slid a piece of parchment across the table to Ito. “The physical training and magical education of our patron is the most important concern of the Blacklock clan.”
“Patron,” Dumbledore repeated with a scoff. “Why do you goblins persist with that claim? You know, very well, that he can’t back that up magically.”
“Can’t I?” Harry questioned and focused on Ito. “Is there anything you could witness that would prove to you beyond any doubt that I’m the true and direct heir of Godric Gryffindor?”
“Calling his sword into your hand would prove to me that you have the legal right to act as the wizarding patron of the Horde,” Ito said neutrally. “Can you do that, lad?”
Dumbledore frowned. “Of course, he can’t. Hogwarts controls the Sword of Gryffindor. Yes, he was allowed to use it during his second year, but that means nothing, and the sword has retreated into the wards of the school until it’s needed again.”
Harry kept his gaze on Ito. “And if I could do that?”
“It would satisfy my curiosity.”
“And the matter of me not attending Hogwarts?”
“I couldn’t care less where you go to school, kid,” Ito said. “There are no laws, international or local, that can be used to force you to attend any particular magical school. As long as you receive at least four OWLs, you’ll retain your wand rights. Sarr still has the local government frozen so they won’t be trying to pass any emergency legislation either. He doesn’t expect to conclude his investigation for six months.”
“Which is ridiculous,” Dumbledore burst out. “You’re interfering matters that are none of your business!”
“You’re the one that let Fudge accuse the Chieftain of the Dverger Horde of kidnapping me, so this whole International Brouhaha is your fault,” Harry said and focused on Bertrand who was reading the list. “Justice Bertrand?”
“Everything is in order,” Bertrand announced. “Honestly, Dumbledore, this young man is getting the kind of education that parents would pay thousands of galleons a term for. His dueling instructor has three masteries for fuck’s sake. You have no case at all to make on the subject of Potter’s education, so your complaint will be dismissed during the next session with no discussion. If you don’t stop wasting my time, I’m going to have you arrested and kept in incommunicado until this is over.”
“Great,” Harry said and stood. “I have a date with a pot roast.”
Ragnok snorted, and he shrugged for the dverger’s benefit.
Harry held out his hand casually, and the Sword of Gryffindor slapped against his palm with a crack of forced apparition. He focused on Ito and found the older wizard regarding him with dark, curious eyes. “You should know that the day I turn seventeen, I’m going to institute proceedings to renegotiate the Treaty of 1246 between the Horde and the International Confederation of Wizards. I don’t know how many solicitors you have on staff, but I do know how many I’m going to bring to that conversation, so consider this a head’s up.”
Ito grinned. “I look forward to it if I’m still in the chair.”
“Where did you get that sword?” Dumbledore demanded. “It belongs to Hogwarts!”
“It belongs to me,” Harry responded evenly. He released the sword, and it shimmered away shortly after it left his hand. “And it’s belonged to me since I drew a breath in this life. You can play all the games you want, Headmaster Dumbledore, but it won’t get you anywhere with me ever again. Do you know the difference between you and Tom Riddle?”
Dumbledore glared at him.
Harry smiled. “Taking out Riddle is a task given to me by Fate herself, but when I come for you—and I will—I’ll just be doing the world a favor.”
“You’re arrogant to assume you could take on either of us,” Dumbledore said roughly. “Without me, you have no hope of ever surviving Voldemort.”
“Come on now,” Harry began with a laugh, “like you ever intended me to survive.” He shook his head and turned on his heel to leave. He pulled open the door and said over his shoulder, “Sirius wants you to know you can kiss his arse.”
– – – –
Ragnok poured himself a whiskey then poured another for Warhide, who was sitting in front of his desk, chuckling. He put the glass down in front of the other dverger and dropped down in his chair. “For fuck’s sake.”
“He’s spending way too much with Mistress Omis,” Tyr said with another laugh. “I mean, the results are amazing, but he’s probably just a day or two away from threatening to throw someone down a mine shaft.”
Ragnok grinned. He had to admit that Omis had done more for Potter’s attitude and confidence than any other the boy interreacted with regularly. He spent at least an hour with her every day and had since his godfather had left the Healing Halls. Potter’s interest in the art of healing had clearly shocked quite a few people.
“I’m really looking forward to his testimony before the World Court in the future,” Tyr said fondly. “Though I think we should probably make him wear armor.”
“Certainly,” Ragnok said with a sigh. “And start keeping a list of mortal enemies, because he’s going to make them left and right in the years to come.”
Warhide hummed under his breath. “I’m pretty sure his witch is already keeping that list. She’s given my team the names of several people to investigate in Dumbledore’s organization, and the names of several students at Hogwarts she feels could be an issue for Potter later in life. Of course, she put all of the Weasleys she knew on that list, excluding the one that works for the Horde. Though she expressed concerns about him considering Dumbledore’s penchant for cursing people into doing his bidding. I assured her that Master Deering is keeping Bill Weasley occupied in France and will know if anyone messes with his apprentice’s mind.”
“I almost wish Dumbledore would try,” Ragnok said wistfully. “Armand would cut his head off.”
“It would be great,” Tyr agreed. “Dumbledore is going to be a problem for Potter as long as he’s alive, which means he’s a problem for the Horde. We can’t afford to have our first wizarding patron in six hundred years constantly distracted by that old wizard’s dragonshite.”
“I know that well enough,” Ragnok said roughly and took a sip of whiskey.
Tyr leaned forward slightly and put his glass down on the desk in front of him. “There’s something else going on here—beyond Dumbledore and Voldemort. I don’t know what it is, but I hope that you can trust me with it eventually.”
Ragnok considered that. “It is a burden of leadership that is not currently yours to bear. Perhaps in the future, you’ll be lucky enough to share this burden with my son, but until then, be content with the knowledge that I’m doing everything I can to protect the future of our people.”
“The High Priestess visions regarding the future of magic were horrific,” Tyr murmured. “Does the safety of our Lady Magic play a role in your actions, Chieftain?”
“Yes, but in the end, Lady Magic will grow and change as she wishes,” Ragnok said roughly.
Tyr inclined his head in agreement. “My great-grandfather has requested I return to Rome as soon as possible. I told him that I’m considering a transfer to Britain so I can act as Potter’s permanent legal council going forward.”
“Working for the patron won’t be an easy task,” Ragnok said. “We’ve not had one for a very long time, as you know, and the lad gets an earful regularly from his witch about everything she finds disagreeable in the magical world.”
Tyr grinned. “Honestly, I find her both fascinating and entertaining. Her public service campaign in Witch Weekly is honestly the best thing I’ve ever read in my life. I think she has more disdain for her own kind than I do.”
“I think, first and foremost, Hermione Granger considers herself a human being, and being a witch comes a distant second,” Ragnok said thoughtfully. He considered the journal which he’d recently finished reading. “Most see her intellect and ignore the rest of her. She’s a bundle of potential, certainly, and I look forward to watching that unfold, but I believe her deeply curious nature will be the force that guides her in this life.”
The visitor chime sounded, and he looked up to find Thaddeus Banner standing. Ragnok motioned him inside. “Thaddeus, Sharprock tells me that Potter is adjusting to the use of a staff weapon with startling ease.”
Banner inclined his head. “Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it. The kid absorbs spells very easily. He doesn’t even have to see them cast—wand movements and incantation is enough in almost every single circumstance. His confidence in the practical use of magic plays a factor, of course. He told me yesterday after his charms lesson that he’d held back a lot at Hogwarts, first because of his friendship with that Weasley boy and later because of the way his peers responded to him being a parselmouth.”
“He tried to make himself appear less threatening,” Warhide surmised. “Not a bad position to take considering.” He stood. “Chieftain, if you’ll excuse me, I have several hours of work this evening ahead of me regarding correspondence from the World Court.”
“Good evening then, Master Warhide,” Ragnok said and just grinned when the other dverger left with the glass of whiskey in his hand. “Care for a drink, Thaddeus?”
“No, thank you, sir.” Banner took a deep breath. “I believe privacy protocols would serve the rest of our conversation.”
Ragnok activated the privacy shields for his office and sat back in his chair. “Riddle trip one of your notification traps?”
“Yes, fortunately, not the one in Little Hangleton.” Banner frowned. “As predicted, he’s retreated to the Malfoy estate. His familiar has the run of the grounds, which proved unfortunate for Malfoy’s peacocks. She hunts and kills for sport, which is unheard for her species. I’d say that Nagini is the biggest threat in Riddle’s forces. His control over her is nominal at best though he certainly acts like she does nothing without his permission.”
“Can you lure her free of the wards and capture her?”
“With ease,” Thaddeus said. “I’m everything Riddle isn’t. Even their so-called familiar bond won’t be much of an obstacle the first time she encounters a genuine parselmouth. My magic isn’t a hodgepodge of carefully constructed power rituals, and parseltongue was my first language. I did get close enough to verify that she is a horcrux.”
“You seem surprised by that.”
“I really didn’t think Riddle was that stupid or that insane,” Thaddeus admitted roughly. “A living horcrux is…even in a species so robust as a magical pit viper, it’s an act of madness. Nagini is old—certainly older than Riddle himself. Her magic is different than I expected it to be. I’m not sure if it’s a product of age or something else. I’ve certainly never encountered a snake quite like her. The scholar in me would like to study her once she is captured.”
Ragnok considered that. “We can’t kill her in a traditional fashion as it would release the horcrux inappropriately. Moreover, once captured, we’ll want to keep her alive until everything is in place to prevent Riddle from figuring out what we’re doing.”
“Do you think he could make another horcrux?” Thaddeus questioned.
“Lenore doesn’t think so,” Ragnok murmured. “He’s a deeply suspicious man and may consider trying again to be a step too far. My wife predicts he would not risk creating another while in the magical construct he’s currently living in.”
“He didn’t want to risk being driven out of his body again,” Thaddeus concluded. “He was trying to create a horcrux in Godric’s Hollow then? Surely not with the boy.”
“No, the DMLE recovered the Godric Gryffindor’s athame from the nursery. It was in the robes Riddle left behind when his body disintegrated. He probably intended to use Harry’s murder to create the horcrux but changed his mind once faced with the child fate had determined would be his equal. Perhaps he realized he couldn’t take such a risk, and just killing the child was the best choice he could make.”
Banner grimaced and focused on his boot as if it had the answer to all of his problems. “Harry is not like I expected him to be if I’m honest.”
“Tell me,” Ragnok encouraged. His own interactions with the younger Harry Potter were tainted by his memories of the future, so a new perspective would only help him in the long run.
“He’s powerful and confident in his grasp of magic. He takes joy in small mundane things that I largely take for granted. Despite his age, he’s often content to just sit in the library with Hermione while she reads. They’ve started a relationship, but not once in these last few weeks has he even attempted to enter her bedroom. He’s not invited her into his either.
“I don’t have either of them charmed to prevent sexual activity as I’m not a legal parent to them, but they established intimacy boundaries of their own accord, and he adheres to them almost religiously. For a boy of fifteen, that’s honestly shocking. I can’t say I was the same at his age.”
“He’s demonstrated some rash behavior in the past, but since settling Agharti, that recklessness has all but disappeared. The village children bombard him when he leaves the cottage, but he doesn’t seem to be bothered at all by that. He takes them on broom rides if their parents allow it, and on more than one occasion, I’ve come upon him helping some child degnome a garden.”
“It’s not a bad thing that he’s settled a little into life there,” Ragnok said. “That cottage is his as long as he wants. It’s his home, and I’m beginning to think he’s never really had that. Perhaps that makes all the difference?”
“Perhaps,” Thaddeus said. “He’s largely unaffected and disdainful of his fame, which was a big surprise for me. When he’s hungry, he doesn’t come to Piper to ask for food but instead will head into the kitchen to cook a meal for us all. He’s not prone to mood swings or temper tantrums. The last time I saw him lose his cool was over an article about Dumbledore in the Prophet.
“His response to physical pain is galling and speaks to the kind of childhood that makes me homicidal. If he’s injured, he retreats every single time to care for himself—no matter the significance of the injury. Did Sharprock tell you that he accidentally broke the boy’s arm in training?”
Ragnok nodded. “He’s still hiding from Omis regarding that incident, which is a mistake. I told Sharprock he should just take his punishment and get it over with. How did Potter respond to the broken bone?”
“He shrugged it off and suggested we just set the break so he could finish his training session for the day.” Thaddeus huffed. “Which, of course, we declined to do because I can’t imagine the lecture I’d gotten from my wife if I’d allowed such a thing, and she heard about it.”
“We’d have all been at the bottom of Omis’ favorite mine shaft,” Ragnok said roughly.
The chime sounded again, and Ragnok looked up to find the subject of their conversation standing in the waiting area. He motioned the boy in. “Did the pot roast stand you up?”
Harry laughed and flushed. “We’re waiting on Isobel, she’ll be returning from Paris shortly. I thought that maybe I…should apologize for my behavior during the meeting with Dumbledore?”
“Not on my account,” Ragnok said and pointed Harry toward a seat.
“I’m having a difficult time controlling my temper around him. He offends me a lot, and it’s hard to keep my mouth shut about it. I’m so…” Potter trailed off and looked away from them even as he eased into the seat. “Disappointed in him. When I first came to Hogwarts, it was hard not to get caught up in the mystique of Dumbledore. I’m sure he cultivates that, actually, and enjoys the way the children respond to him and look up to him as if he were practically Merlin.”
“I remember the same,” Banner said. “My parents really believed in Dumbledore and his dedication to the light. In some ways, I’m glad they aren’t here to witness his downfall. It’s going to be quite harsh in a variety of ways, lad, and in the end, none of it will be your fault.”
Harry huffed. “Honestly, Thaddeus, I’d like a little credit for whatever happens to him.” He crossed his arms as Banner started to laugh. “I did want to talk about him and the school. Well, specifically, the school and Riddle. In a lot of ways, Hogwarts was a haven for me when I entered the magical world. I believe that Riddle would feel the same way.”
Ragnok nodded. He’d yet to come upon a way to enter the school and retrieve the horcrux in it. Potter stood pulled a piece of parchment out of his pocket and unfolded it.
“This is the Marauder’s Map,” Harry said quietly. “Sirius and my dad created it as a class project when they were in their fifth year.”
Ragnok stared at the blank document as Potter spread it out in front of him.
“I solemnly swear I’m up to no good,” Harry murmured, and ink spread over the parchment rapidly.
Ragnok blinked in surprise. “This is the school?”
“A live map of the school, yes. It will allow you to keep track of Dumbledore so that when it comes time to search Hogwarts for horcruxes, you’ll know how to avoid him and any other staff. You mentioned the goal of going there during Yule. Of everyone involved directly in this mess, I have the freshest knowledge of the school, so I think I should go with you.”
Ragnok raised an eyebrow. “I’m not opposed, in theory, to you accompanying Master Banner and me to Hogwarts. The school shifts and changes depending on her mood, so your knowledge of the facility would be beneficial.” He focused on the map. “May I keep this for a while?”
“Yeah, I discussed it with Sirius first since it really belongs to him. He said I should have it because of my dad, and he really doesn’t have any need for a map of Hogwarts. In all honesty, I don’t have much need for one either. I’ll never go back there as a student.” He frowned as he said it. “Which makes me pretty mad at Dumbledore all over again. I know we’re getting a better education here, but it’s disheartening to have Hogwarts taken from us both.”
“I understand,” Ragnok said.
Harry cleared his throat. “Could I speak with you privately, sir? I can make an appointment for tomorrow?”
Ragnok shared a look with Banner, and the older wizard stood. “Now is fine, lad. Thaddeus, as you have time this week, I’d like you to investigate Madam Bones’ circumstances thoroughly and make sure her personal security is as it should be. At the rate Fudge is going, we’ll have a new minister soon, and I’d like to see Amelia Bones in that position.”
“Of course, sir,” Thaddeus said. “Harry, if you and Hermione are going to spend the night in Black’s suite tonight, please let me know via floo.”
“We’ll come home,” Harry said. “Hermione says we need to give Sirius and Isobel lots of space to reconnect as a couple. So they don’t need us camping out in their salon.”
Thaddeus laughed and nodded. “In that case, be home by 9pm.”
“Yes, sir.” Harry slid back into the chair as Banner left. He took a deep breath. “I’ve not asked because I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, but you’ve not said much about how I was in the future beyond our terrible inability to tolerate each other.”
Ragnok laughed but then cleared his throat. “Ah.” He considered that. “What do you want to know?”
“Just what you think I can handle, I guess,” Harry said wearily. “I’m not sure where my future is going, but if I made other terrible decisions in the other timeline, I’d like to know.”
“You worked for the ministry as an auror,” Ragnok said. “And you were very successful in the beginning. You were certainly on track to be Head Auror before you were even thirty. In that final year, you became disenchanted with the work. Hermione’s journal indicates this was when you realized that you were tricked into a lifetime commitment to the ministry. This was discovered because Minister Diggory, who couldn’t destroy your life the way he wanted, tried to fire you. He was livid to discover he couldn’t fire you, and you couldn’t quit.”
“And Kingsley Shacklebolt did that to me,” Harry said. “Dumbledore’s inside man in the DMLE.”
“He certainly was in the previous timeline. I’ve heard through various sources that Amelia Bones has forbidden her people from being involved in the Order of the Phoenix. Based on the list that I’ve put together from the journal, that means that both Shacklebolt and a young woman named Nymphadora Tonks are either not part of Dumbledore’s group or they’re going to lose their jobs with the ministry. I don’t think Bones will tolerate them disobeying her orders.”
Harry nodded. “So, I hated my job.” He frowned. “And probably my wife.”
“You were going to be a father in a few months.”
Harry grimaced. “Gross.” He made a face. “I mean I like kids and I’d like to have a few if…ya know…the witch I marry wants to as well, but I can’t believe I made a baby with Ginny knowing I was cursed.”
“I think that in the end, you were just doing what you’ve always done,” Ragnok said. “You accepted your path in life and resolved to make the best of it. I can’t say the situation wasn’t obscene, but…” He trailed off. “Forget that, it was just obscene, and there’s nothing I can say that would make it less so. I can’t say you were genuinely miserable, but with the benefit of hindsight, it was clear that you were a prisoner in your life. I’m sorry for the part I played in it.”
Harry nodded. “Yes, well, in the end, I think we were all victims of the circumstances that Riddle and Dumbledore arranged.” He stood and cleared his throat. “But I accept your apology on behalf of the man I was. I won’t be him again if I can help it, and I’ll do every single thing I can to be a man you can be proud of which I think is the only way I can make amends that would hold any weight.” He smiled then. “Have a good night, sir.”
Ragnok nodded silently and exhaled roughly as Potter left. His wife pushed the privacy veil from the salon area between their two offices. He slouched down in his chair at the quirk of her eyebrow. Since he kept no secrets from his wife, the privacy protocols hadn’t impacted her in the slightest.
“The little git.”
Lenore leaned on the desk. “He caught you off guard with that.”
“The Potter I knew before would’ve AK’d himself before saying such to me,” Ragnok muttered and rubbed his face with one hand.
“He’s right, you know,” Lenore murmured. “All the world fell victim to the machinations of both Riddle and Dumbledore. I don’t think magic will be safe from their corruption until they’re both dead.”
His first day of training with his own staff was going just about Harry had expected it to. With some reluctance, he picked himself up off the ground and held out a hand for the staff, which he’d dropped just short of getting knocked on his ass for the fourth time in ten minutes. It slapped into his hand eagerly, and Harry exhaled sharply in an effort to rein in his temper.
Off to the side, Master Gildhard laughed. “I think you’re making the boy mad, Bannat.”
Bannat of the Stonefoot clan smirked. “Is that so? Am I pissing you off, little wizard?”
Harry cracked his neck and took a deep breath. “I have to admit, Master Bannat, that you’re not my favorite person right now.”
“Well, that’s an unfair contest,” Bannat declared. “I never could be your favorite person while that pretty little witch of yours is running around the worlds.” He swung his own staff casually, magic flowed off of it gently in a stream as he did so. “You’re holding back.”
Harry grimaced and looked away from Bannat, which did no good since the training yard observation area was full to capacity. It often was when he trained, and most of the time, he could ignore it. Today, it felt less like he was on display, and more like he was being judged. Perhaps it was because he was the first wizard in the dverger’s recorded history to wield one of their staff weapons.
It was nothing like a wizard’s staff or stave.
It was made of a magical variation of the Australian Buloke tree that grew exclusively in Agharti on the southern coast. As Master Gildhard had decided during the creation of the staff that Harry’s element was air, the weapon contained the feathers of a phoenix, a giant eagle, and a thunderbird. There had been a fourth feather, which Harry had in his possession. It was a griffin feather, and they hoped, with time, that the staff would accept it as an addition.
But beyond its construction, the staff was sentient. The moment he’d touched it, Harry had felt a bone-deep connection with it that he’d never imagined possible.
Bannat poked him roughly with the crystal end of his own staff weapon. At least it hadn’t been the viciously sharp end. His own had spear point as well, so at least he wasn’t at a disadvantage in that aspect. The crystal on his own staff sparked, and magic arced off it.
“Boy.” Bannat poked him again.
Harry huffed. “Harry.” He turned to glare at the dverger. “My name is Harry for fuck’s sake.” He swung his staff and shoved a wall of magic so thick it was opaque at Bannat. The dverger master flew ten feet backward and landed on his arse.
Gildhard burst out laughing.
Bannat offered him a rueful grin as he stood and dusted himself off. “That’s more like it!”
Harry huffed. “Stop trying to get my temper up, it’s rude, and I don’t want to hurt you.”
“If you hurt me, I deserve it,” Bannat stated. He swung the staff he’d not lost control of during his tumble and used his free hand to beckon Harry. “Come on then, show me what you’ve got.”
“You think Riddle is going to go easy on you?” Bannat demanded. “That corrupt fucker tried to murder you when you were an infant. He’ll come for you. He’ll come for your woman. He’ll come for your children if he lives that long.” Bannat tossed a stinging hex so powerful at him that it cracked like lightening when Harry deflected it. “You’re the future patron of the Horde, kid, and there will never be a day when you’re on Earth that you aren’t in danger of being murdered. Our last two patrons didn’t survive to see fifty.”
“Well, the last one was apparently a real arsehole,” Harry snapped, and Gildhard laughed again. “I know there are plenty of magical people out there that don’t want the Horde to have a patron, and they would take me out given a chance. The Chieftain made that clear to me.”
“Then stop holding back.”
Harry turned his head at the sound of a new voice and found Ragnok leaning against the doorframe of the entrance of the training arena. The chieftain stepped into the arena, and there was a brief rush of conversation amongst the normally silent audience. Ragnok drew his own glossy ebony stave. Harry had never asked about the core. It seemed like a private thing with the dverger. His own cores hadn’t been announced as far as he knew, and only Gildhard was there for the final selections.
Bannat retired from the field with a nod.
Ragnok circled him. “Do you fear Tom Riddle?”
“Do you fear your fate?”
“No.” Harry swallowed hard and took a deep breath.
“Do you still fear dementors?”
“What would you see, Harry Potter, if a dementor sprung full form in front of you at this very moment?” Ragnok questioned. “Death, destruction?”
Harry shook his head. He wasn’t certain what he would see, and that felt like the wrong answer. Still, it was the only one he had. “I don’t know what I would see.”
“A dragon,” Gildhard suggested from where he now stood with Bannat and Sharprock. “A basilisk?”
Harry shook his head. “Death is what it is—if it comes to me in the form of a beast, so be it.”
“Perhaps we’re approaching this from the wrong perspective,” Ragnok said thoughtfully. He swung his stave in a magic heavy arc, and pebbles from the stone floor of the arena rose from the ground lazily. “Fear has never been your motivator, has it?”
Various moments flickered through is mind—Quirrell, the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets, dementors hell-bent on murdering his godfather, a dragon let loose from a chain, Voldemort rising out of the cauldron.
A pebble smacked against his check—the pain was sharp, and the smell of blood filled his nostrils. The pebbles started to swirl around him. His magic swelled, and he cast without thinking. The pebbles evaporated in the wake of the silent evanesco charm that burst from his staff.
“Self-defense is not quite right,” Ragnok said. “And pain doesn’t bother you over much. Your magic is reactive to threats.”
“Hyper magical resonance,” Bannat offered from the sidelines. “A never-ending response to the murder of his mother.”
Harry grimaced and took a deep breath. “I hear her beg for my life when I’m in the presence of a dementor.”
“Son of a bitch,” Sharprock muttered. “You don’t respond this way with a sword in your hand.”
“Had I known, I’d have shaped his staff differently,” Gildhard said snidely.
Harry flushed. “I…”
“You seek aggression from someone who was taught from the cradle to be on the offensive magically,” Warhide said from his place on the observation deck, and all eyes swiveled to him. “It is contrary to his very nature to attack first.” He stood and walked down the stone steps and stepped into the arena. “Harry’s very first act of intentional magic was the rejection of the Killing Curse.”
“I didn’t…” Harry trailed off when Warhide simply quirked when dark blonde eyebrow at him. “I don’t understand.”
“I’ve studied that memory thoroughly, lad,” Warhide said. “It’s evidence in Sirius Black’s trial though I doubt the ministry is dumb enough to request it be played in a public trial.” He drew his own staff and tapped the center of Harry’s chest as Ragnok made room for him. “There are hundreds of theories bouncing around the scholarly guilds regarding it. They speculate that your mother performed some ancient, unknown ritual to protect.
“Some think that Riddle did it to himself by accident due to the number of power building rituals he indulged in over the years. They think he burned himself out. But something in you recognized Tom Riddle that night. Whatever it was, found the Dark Lord’s very existence offensive as fuck, and your magic responded with purpose.” Warhide nudged him gently. “Who are you, Harry Potter?”
“I…” Harry swallowed hard. “Tyr…I…”
“Who are you?” Tyr demanded. “Son of James and Lily Potter?”
“Son of Sirius Black.”
“Yes,” Harry said hoarsely.
“Patron of the Horde,” Tyr prodded.
“Yes, all of that,” Harry snapped impatiently.
“Oh, lad,” Tyr said with a small smile. “That is the least of who you are. Shall we show him, sir?”
“Yes, I think we shall,” Ragnok said and hitched up his chin.
Harry barely had time to recognize their intent before every single dverger on the training arena floor aimed a spell at him. His wand snapped out his dimensional store and into his hand even as he cast a wide defensive shield with his staff. Spell after spell rained on him—from bludgers to cutting curses, and at first, all he could do was shield and deflect. Deflection worked far better than he’d hoped when he pushed a cutting curse, Ragnok shot at him toward Sharprock and the dverger lost of a chunk of flesh from his bare arm.
They gave him no quarter and five minutes into the very one-sided fight, he realized he had no choice but to start taking them out. Biggest threats first, he decided and wondered if they’d all be insulted even as he sent dual stunners at Tyr Warhide. Warhide blocked one but got hit by the second. He targeted the chieftain then Bannat. He managed to knock the wind out of Ragnok, but the older dverger shook off the stunner with startling ease. But the moment Harry drew purposeful blood, the chieftain retired from the fight with a laugh.
Line drawn, Harry quickly took a piece out of all of them until he stood in the arena by himself in front of a stunned audience. He blew out a surprised breath of his own as he stowed his wand.
“Do I owe anyone an apology?” he asked as he offered Tyr Warhide a hand.
Warhide took the hand and let himself be pulled up off the ground. “No, but let me know when you figure out who you are.” He poked Harry in the chest with one finger and laughed. “I look forward to a formal introduction.”
– – – –
Because Sirius couldn’t leave the bank legally, the International Brouhaha convened his trial in the Hall of Mages deep within the bank. Harry and Hermione were settled in a heavily warded observation box that was visible to the dverger in the room and a select few wizards. Dumbledore wasn’t one of them. The headmaster had been relegated to a seat in the audience, and Harry could tell it’d pissed the old wizard off in the extreme.
“Lupin has tried several times to get Sirius’ attention,” Harry noted. He wasn’t surprised his godfather was ignoring the entire audience.
“The whole Order is here,” Hermione murmured to him. “Or at least the ones I was introduced to before I escaped headquarters. The solicitor representing the British Minister of Magic is Dedalus Diggle. He’s an Order member as well. I don’t think it’s illegal, but it makes me uncomfortable. We’ll probably be called as witnesses. I imagine Diggle has instructions from Dumbledore to force one or both of us on the stand. He could probably create a situation where we could incriminate ourselves on the stand for the improper use of a time-turner.”
Harry sighed at that. He wrote it down on a piece of parchment, folded it neatly into a little origami bird, and pushed it past the ward. It dropped briefly then with a delicate flutter of paper wings flew directly to Tyr Warhide. Several human members of the audience looked in their direction in confusion. Harry noted that Dumbledore was now glaring at the space they occupied. Perhaps he was trying to use mage sight to see through the ward.
Warhide unfolded the bird, read the note, and nodded as he shared it with Sirius. Harry watched as his godfather consider Hermione’s theory then nod at something Warhide had asked. Warhide left the table, crossed the arena floor, and walked up the small set of stairs to their box. He walked through the ward with no issue.
“Tell me about the time-turner,” Warhide said roughly. “Who gave it to you, and what instructions were given to you?”
Hermione pursed her lips. “Minerva McGonagall gave it to me. I was given it so I could take all the classes Hogwarts offered to third year students. I was told to use it for my classes and for study time only.” She paused when he huffed. “I know, I feel ridiculous looking back on it. The only good thing that came out of it was that we were able to save Sirius from the ministry.”
“Did you change a single event you knew to be true?” Tyr questioned.
Hermione frowned. “You can’t do that.”
“You most certainly can do that but is dangerous and a violation of international law,” Tyr assured. “Especially with Potter in the mix. His magical power prodigious, and he’s more than capable of twisting a timeline with sheer will. Time-turners are dangerous and are highly restricted. The fact that you were given one was an outrageous abuse of magic that is supposed to be restricted to academic research in a supervised setting.”
“We didn’t change anything we knew to be entirely true,” Hermione said. “The hippogriff that Sirius escaped on was supposed to be killed by the ministry, but we don’t know if that actually happened before we turned time because neither one of us witnessed him executed.”
“Did you, at any point, have a conversation with the younger version of yourselves?” Tyr questioned.
“No,” Harry said. “You’re irritated.”
“With myself,” Warhide admitted. “I dismissed this as an issue, and I feel like a fool for it. No one on my research team considered it an issue either, so I’ll be redirecting my irritation in their direction at a later date. This trial is about Sirius Black’s actions in 1981. His escape in 1994 shouldn’t be an issue at all, but if the ministry wants to go hard on that, then we’ll have no choice but to address the time-turner situation, and they’ll regret that shite since it will put Fudge’s actions on display as well. He ordered the execution of a man who’d never had a trial.”
“Well, he has that habit,” Harry said. “I mean, I’m not sure what kind of trial Barty Crouch, Jr. had, but Fudge had him kissed in a classroom at Hogwarts without even a thought.”
“High Warlock Sarr has that situation under investigation. Fudge exceeded his powers as minister and acted like a tyrant. Crouch, Jr. should’ve been returned to Azkaban to serve his prison term,” Warhide explained. “Fudge committed murder in front of you, kid, and he’ll pay for that in the World Court. He doesn’t even know that charge is coming.”
“Good.” Harry frowned and glanced toward the ministry box. Fudge was front and center the Umbridge woman that liked to glare at him silently whenever he ended up in a room with her. Thankfully, it had only happened a couple of times.
“They’re going to target Hermione to get a rise out of you or as a way of implicating you in a crime involving the time-turner if it comes up. Justice Bertrand is pretty irritated already and might not allow it. The panel of judgment has been sequestered since the International Brouhaha was declared, so they haven’t heard anything about any of this,” Warhide said. “Be prepared and stay as calm as possible.” He paused. “And watch your language, Potter.”
Harry sighed and slouched a little in his chair. “I hate these people, you know.”
“I do know,” Warhide assured. “And honestly, most of them even deserve it.” He tapped the edge of their box gently with this closed fist and left them.
“How did training with your new staff go?” Hermione questioned.
“I’m having a difficult time being the aggressor,” Harry said. “I feel like…my magic…” He huffed. “It’s going to sound really weird, but I feel like I shouldn’t have to seek out a fight. If a fight is necessary, it should come to me.”
Hermione stared at him for a long moment then settled down in her own seat. “Well.”
“I know.” Harry shrugged.
Bertrand activated an orb on his desk, which was high in the arena. The members of the panel of judgment were seated in front of one level down. Harry thought the whole thing looked really pretentious.
“On this date, October 1, 1995, I call this session of the World Court of Magic to order. The British Ministry of Magic vs. Sirius Orion Black. Mr. Black stands charged with the murder of thirteen non-magical human beings on November 1, 1981. Let the record show that in a pre-trial motion submitted by Master Warhide that Mr. Black has pled innocent to all thirteen murder charges.” Bertrand focused on Dedalus Diggle. “Will solicitors of record for both parties please stand and identify themselves.’
Diggle stood. “Dedalus Diggle, British Ministry of Magic, Chief Justice.”
Warhide stood. “Master Tyr Warhide of the clan Ironfist representing Sirius Orion Black.”
Harry shifted in his seat as Diggle made a show of activating a charm on the small podium on his desk.
“Mr. Diggle, I’m aware of the fact that you’ve never presented to the World Court,” Bertrand said evenly. “So I’ll give you a little leeway to get settled in the process, we are not at the point in the trial where you can lodge an objection.”
“With all due respect, Chief Justice Bertrand. I have no choice but to protest Mr. Black’s representation. It is a violation of British law for a goblin to represent a witch or wizard in a criminal proceeding.”
Bertrand stared at him for a long moment, eyes dark. “Mr. Diggle, this is not a British court, and you are not in Britain. Every single square inch of land this bank sits on belongs wholesale to the dverger nation, a matter settled in the Treaty of 1245.”
“Sirius Black is accused of committing thirteen murders in Britain. He is subject to British law, Chief Justice. Failure to provide a proper solicitor for him will invalidate this entire process,” Diggle continued.
Harry was pretty sure that Warhide couldn’t look more bored if he tried.
Bertrand glared openly at Diggle, and the wizard shrank back a little, startled by the outright disapproval. He focused on Warhide. “Master Warhide, how long have you been practicing international law?”
“Fifty-six years,” Warhide said smoothly. “I received my mastery in corporate law first. It was the only mastery I could study for and complete at that age as I was not considered an adult by my own species. I’d just turned forty-four when I tested with the ICW for the certification. I continued to apprentice until I turned seventy-five. I hold additional masteries in creature law, criminal law, and finally, international law. Though it holds no weight in this court, I am also licensed to practice law in the Muggle world both in Italy and Great Britain.”
“That’s ridiculous, Chief Justice, this goblin barely looks thirty years old,” Diggle exclaimed.
“I am, in fact, ninety-four years old,” Tyr said dryly. “Though it’s terribly rude for you to make me admit such a thing in public.”
“But…” Diggle frowned at Warhide.
“Don’t look at me like that—it’s no fault of mine that your species ages so poorly. You look more like a goblin at this very moment than I ever will.”
Bertrand cleared his throat and shot Warhide a knowing look before focusing on Diggle, who looked horrified. “Mr. Diggle, Master Warhide has appeared before the World Court of Magic dozens of times during his association with the International Confederation of Wizards. If I allowed you to declare him unfit in this process, it would invalidate every single trial he’s ever participated in. Therefore, your objection is overruled with prejudice.”
“What does that mean?” Harry questioned softly.
“It means he won’t entertain the objection again from Diggle during this trial,” Hermione murmured. “It’s a good thing. He’s forcing Britain to recognize dverger education as a legitimate option that they’ve been loathed to do for hundreds of years. That’s why the bank’s employees seek mastery testing with the ICW though Dumbledore tried to get rid of that while he was Supreme Mugwomp. He couldn’t even get the percentage of supporters required to call a vote on it.”
Harry nodded. Diggle looked befuddled while Fudge and everyone else in the ministry box looked furious. Good, he hoped they choked on it.
“The British Ministry of Magic may present their evidence,” Bertrand said.
Diggle flushed. “With apologies, Chief Justice Bertrand, due to the age of the case, we were unable to locate the scene reports, interviews, witness statements, or the interview conducted by the DMLE at the time of Mr. Black’s arrest.” Diggle took a deep breath. “The only thing we have in evidence is his wand, but spells conducted on it are inconclusive because due to the fact the Black family is well-known for warding their wands against outside intrusion.”
“Mr. Black,” Bertrand began and focused on him. “Are you aware that it is a crime to ward your wand in such a fashion?”
Warhide put a hand on Sirius’ arm. “Chief Justice, I would call your attention to Britain’s agreement regarding entrance into the ICW on July 2, 1349.” He paused. “They grandfathered in an exception to wand warding for their so-called Sacred Twenty-eight. The Black family was included in that list.”
Bertrand gave Warhide a sour look then focused on Diggle. “Mr. Diggle, per the records of the ICW, more than fifty Muggles witnessed the altercation on the street between Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew. All of their statements were taken before they were memory charmed per the rules regarding the International Statute of Secrecy. They’re all missing?”
Diggle nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“So you’re saying you don’t have a single scrap of evidence to back up your ministry’s illegal incarceration of Sirius Black for twelve years in a prison guarded by dementors?” Bertrand demanded.
“Just a wand we can’t investigate.”
Warhide activated a charm to gain the Chief Justice’s attention, and Bertrand focused on him.
“You may speak, Master Warhide.”
“It would be perfectly reasonable at this point me for me to seek the dismissal of all charges. In fact, many in my place would be doing exactly that, but my client wants to leave this room a free man. He wants the world to know he’s innocent. Since the ministry admits to having no evidence to present, I would like to put my client on the stand and question him under vertiserum.”
“Mr. Diggle, do you have any objections to this?”
“Not regarding the original charges,” Diggle said stiffly. “But there are additional charges that Mr. Black must answer to. He’s an illegal animagus, Chief Justice. Moreover, he escaped custody not once but twice. Both escapes are considered felonies under British magical law.”
“Since neither of his incarcerations were legal, to begin with, I dismiss both charges of escaping custody,” Bertrand said.
Harry had never once seen anyone looked more appalled in his life. He shared a look with Hermione, who bit down on her lip and shrugged.
“He had help escaping the second time,” Diggle announced. “Harry Potter and Hermione Granger helped him—that’s a felony as well. We will be pursuing charges against them both.”
“Will you?” Bertrand questioned with one raised eyebrow. “Per my records, the two children in question were thirteen and fourteen, respectively. I know, for a fact, that Britain doesn’t have a single law on the books that would allow you to charge an underage witch or wizard with a felony. In fact, such matters are automatically referred to the World Court of Magic. When you do forward those charges, they will be dismissed as ridiculous. You’d be wise to reconsider wasting my time.”
Diggle shifted on his feet and glanced toward Fudge. Harry figured that Diggle was going to lose his job at the ministry as soon as someone had the power to fire anyone. Which could be years since Zayd Sarr had set up an office and started interviewing everyone in the place, starting with the people who ran the cafeteria.
“There remains the charge of being an illegal animagus,” Diggle pointed out stubbornly.
Bertrand focused on Black and raised an eyebrow. “Mr. Black?”
Sirius stood and looked toward Harry just once before speaking. “Yes, Chief Justice Bertrand, I am capable of the animagus transformation. I never registered because I believed it was a valuable magical skill to keep to myself during the war. I’d have registered after the fact, of course, if I hadn’t been in Azkaban.”
Bertrand nodded. “Remind me, Master Warhide, what’s the penalty for being an illegal animagus in Britain?”
“Five years in Azkaban in a minimum-security cell,” Warhide answered.
“Very well, Mr. Black, this court finds you guilty by your admission. You’re sentenced to five years in Azkaban, time already served.” Bertrand accepted a piece of parchment from a wizard who approached his desk and signed it. “This ruling protects you from being charged with this crime a second time, Mr. Black. You have thirty days to register after the International Brouhaha concludes.” Bertrand focused on Diggle. “Do you have any other matters?”
“During Black’s second escape, a time-turner was used illegally,” Diggle announced.
“Do you have a single piece of evidence to prove that?” Bertrand asked.
“A witness, perhaps?”
“Just two children you won’t allow me to prosecute,” Diggle snapped and flushed. “My apologies, Chief Justice.”
“I sincerely hope you aren’t saying that the British Ministry of Magic allowed two third-year Hogwarts students to use a time-turner without direct supervision,” Bertrand said lowly. “Is that what you’re confessing, Mr. Diggle?”
“At this point, I’m uncertain as to where the time-turner came from,” Diggle said stiffly.
“You’ve no evidence, no adult witnesses, and no provenance regarding the time-turner itself? Can you verify the time-turner in question even exists, Mr. Diggle?” Bertrand questioned. “Shall I have Erwin Schrödinger himself dragged from his grave and resurrected to figure this out for us?”
Warhide snorted and cleared his throat roughly when several people glanced his way.
“I have no further charges or issues,” Diggle admitted. “I’d like the option to question Mr. Black if his testimony isn’t thorough enough to satisfy British law.”
Harry wondered if Bertrand ever had the urge to throw shite at people because he looked like he did.
“Master Warhide will question his client without interruption. Should you have additional concerns, they will be addressed at that time.” Bertrand focused on Sirius. “Mr. Black, if you’ll stand and come to the witness stand. I would warn you that the chair has been spelled heavily for honesty. Beyond the fact that you’ve agreed to be potioned, the chair will not allow you to lie.”
“I understand, Chief Justice,” Sirius said. “At this point, I have nothing to hide.”
“I requested that Amelia Bones procure the vertiserum to prevent any accusation by the British Ministry of Magic regarding the potion,” Warhide announced. “Madam Bones? If you would give the vertiserum to Chief Justice Bertrand so it may be tested for use in the proceeding?”
“Is testing required?” Diggle questioned. “I have the utmost faith in Madam Bones.”
“Yes, testing is required,” Bertrand stated. “Mr. Black’s testimony will not be considered legal for the proceeding if the potion is not tested. I’m beginning to wonder, Mr. Diggle, if we should’ve investigated your education.”
Diggle flushed. “I have masteries in both British and international law, Chief Justice.”
Bertrand looked liked he didn’t believe that for a hot minute. Harry wondered if the Frenchman would have that looked into. He seemed the type to trust little and verify a lot. Hermione leaned forward slightly in her chair and watched the testing process. Bertrand had a very elegant hand with his wand. Harry wondered if that came with practice or age. Perhaps the Chief Justice had always been the elegant, precise sort.
Warhide watched Amelia Bones take the potion back, and together they administered it. Harry appreciated the dverger’s attention to detail and his ever-vigilant manner when it came to the safety of his godfather. The Chieftain had told him that Warhide wanted to move to Britain and be his personal solicitor going forward. Harry figured he definitely needed someone like Warhide at his side in court and probably at his back on a regular damn basis.
Listening to Sirius answer questions regarding Pettigrew, Godric’s Hollow, and his parents’ murder was difficult, so Harry tried to focus on other things and found himself staring at Hermione. Her cheeks were pale, and her eyes were glistening with unshed tears. He reached out and took her hand, and she tried to smile for him even as she laced her fingers with his.
“It’s okay,” he murmured.
“It’s terrible,” Hermione corrected and took a deep breath.
“Mr. Black, can you tell me what happened after Pettigrew blew up the street and the DMLE arrived?”
“I arrested by Barty Crouch, Sr.”
Harry winced. His godfather’s face was expressionless due to the potion, and his voice lacked any sort of emotional content. It was disconcerting and terrible.
“Who interviewed you after your arrest?”
“No one interviewed you?” Warhide asked. “What happened after you were arrested?”
“Barty Crouch, Sr, took me directly to Azkaban and placed me in a cell,” Sirius responded. “I didn’t leave until I escaped in 1993.”
“Why did you escape Azkaban?”
“I saw Peter Pettigrew in the Daily Prophet. He’s an animagus as well—a rat.”
“Fitting,” Warhide said.
“Very,” Sirius agreed. “Pettigrew was living with a family as their pet. Their youngest son knew my boy. I realized that Pettigrew was near Harry—he could hurt Harry. So I left Azkaban.”
“You just left?”
“It wasn’t hard,” Sirius admitted. “Their security is shite. They rely too much on the dementors. The magical dampening protocols haven’t been updated in a hundred years because the ministry is full of cheap bastards. They have no wards or protections against the animagus transformation. A human guard comes through the cell block once a week. On my cell block, they came through every Sunday. If I’d escaped on a Monday instead of Saturday night, they wouldn’t have noticed I was gone for a whole week.”
Practically everyone in the ministry box was glaring at Sirius. Even Amelia Bones looked genuinely put out, but Harry figured that might be because she’d just realized how lucky she was that Sirius was the only escapee she’d had during her tenure as the Director of the DMLE.
“For the record, why did you escape custody a second time?”
“Because Minister Fudge was going to murder me.”
“Chief Justice, I object!” Diggle shouted.
“Mind your tone,” Bertrand responded. “And use the proper procedure, Mr. Diggle, or I’ll have you arrested for contempt of court.” He shifted parchment around in front of him. “And your objection is overruled, Master Warhide questioned Mr. Black’s motivation, which is his own to determine.”
“He accused the sitting Minister for Magic of Great Britain of attempted murder,” Diggle protested.
“And?” Bertrand raised an eyebrow. “Are you representing the British Ministry of Magic, Mr. Diggle, or are you representing Minister Fudge?” He focused on the man. “You are aware that the two are mutually exclusive, correct?”
Diggle flushed. “Yes, of course.” He sat down.
“I have no further questions for my client,” Warhide announced.
“Mr. Diggle?” Bertrand prodded. “Do you have any questions?”
Diggle hesitated then shook his head. “No, Chief Justice.”
Harry figured that Diggle didn’t want to risk getting the ministry in more trouble.
“As Master Warhide did not request a dismissal of charges, the panel of judgment will now review the charges. Ladies and gentlemen, do you need a period of recess?” They all declined with a shake of their heads. “Then, please cast your votes.”
Charms lit across the panel, and Bertrand merely focused on Sirius. “Sirius Orion Black, the World Court of Magic declares you innocent of all charges. Per the request of Master Warhide, I’ve reviewed compensation law, both local and international, regarding your unlawful incarceration. The British Ministry of Magic will pay you 1,000 galleons for every month you were illegally incarcerated.” He focused on Diggle. “The British Ministry of Magic has 30 days to return Mr. Black’s wand and to arrange the transfer of funds, Mr. Diggle.”
Diggle’s mouth dropped open, and Cornelius Fudge slumped over into his undersecretary’s lap in a dead faint.
“Did you read the story I asked you to read last week?”
“The one about the Deathly Hallows?” Harry questioned. “Yes, sir, Hermione found the whole book pretty fascinating as we’ve never really seen what children’s books look like in the magical world. The animated drawings were cool.” He rubbed his knee. “She says that magical fairytales are pretty dark, but honestly, Muggle ones are just as dark if you really dig deep and find the original ones.” He took a deep breath. “My cloak is the Cloak of Invisibility, right? The one that has been passed down through my family for generations despite the fact that demiguise hair shouldn’t last that long.”
“Yes.” Ragnok watched the boy absorb that information and wasn’t all that surprised by his stoic demeanor. The more information the wizard had, the calmer he was, and the better his thought processes were. It was no wonder that Dumbledore kept him in the dark as much as possible. “Earlier in the summer, after our return, I sought out a horcrux. It was the one I knew I had to get my hands on immediately as Lenore is certain that it was the beginning of our end in the other timeline.”
Potter frowned. “Riddle turned a Hallow into a horcrux? That’s pretty dumb, right? I mean he’s spent his whole life running from Death, then he goes and kicks him right in the face by desecrating one of the Hallows?”
“I doubt Riddle knew the ancestral ring he stole from the Gaunt family had the Resurrection Stone stuck in it,” Ragnok said. “Like you, he wasn’t exposed to children’s tales. Perhaps he knows of them now, but if he’d made the connection to the ring, it would’ve never been left where he left it.” He flicked a small pouch out of his dimensional store and placed it in front of the boy. “I’ve transferred the horcrux to a different object for later destruction. We had to do it in ritual, and it took some time to empower the circle.”
Harry hesitantly picked up the ring. “I…I would’ve liked to have watched that.”
“I did consider it but felt it was not worth the risk. You already have one horcrux nesting in your magic. You don’t need another. Speaking of, Omis believes that you’ll be in a good place to remove the horcrux around Halloween. She’d like to see the ritual performed on October 31st when the veil is thin.”
“We hope that if your spirit is wrenched from your body during the ritual, that we will have enough power to put you back where you belong,” Ragnok said. “To that end, Quintin Deadmarsh will be leading the ritual for the Glain Neidr. He’s a necromancer.”
Harry’s mouth dropped open. “Necromancer?”
“He’s Armand Deering’s nephew and has worked for the bank his entire adult life. Quintin doesn’t perform the darkest rituals available within the craft of necromancy, but there are members of his family who do. His great-grandfather led a death cult. The sort of cult Riddle tried to emulate by calling his followers death eaters.”
“Oh.” Harry exhaled sharply. “I…I mean…I don’t think Hermione would want me anywhere near such a thing.”
Ragnok grinned. “I have to admit that Lenore finds Master Deadmarsh quite vexing, but that more because they are so opposite when it comes to their magical approach to situations and problems. Lenore looks toward the future while Quintin finds comfort in exploring the past.” He pushed the pouch across the desk between them.
Harry sighed but then picked it up. “The story said to use the Resurrection Stone would cause your loved ones nothing but pain.” He wet his lips. “I can’t think of a circumstance where I would do that to my parents.”
“If I told you that you did attempt to use the stone in the other timeline?”
“I…” Harry paused and frowned then spilled the ring out into his hand. The black stone glinted with magic. “Did I think I was going to die?”
Harry nodded. “I must have been scared and worried—maybe I wanted reassurance that I would be reunited with my family after I died.” He put the ring down on the desk. “You said that I attempted to use it.”
“Dumbledore destroyed the stone when he drove the horcrux from it. Whatever your future-self saw, it was nothing more than elaborate enchantment. I imagine Dumbledore spelled the stone to respond to your desires in the hopes that you would use it.”
“One more chance to manipulate me,” Harry said. “Even from the grave. Does his corruption even have an end? Will we be tripping over his schemes and machinations even decades after he is dead?”
Ragnok sighed. “You’ll give me nightmares, lad.”
“You want me to wear the ring,” Harry said.
“No,” Ragnok said. “I merely wanted you to see it as it currently is. I believe, lad, that if you wished it, your staff would absorb the stone.”
“To what end?”
“It would provide it with shelter, something it clearly desires,” Ragnok said roughly. “I believe it is part of your path and your duty to gather and protect the Hallows.”
Harry frowned but drew his staff from his own dimensional store and placed it on the desk. The ring rattled, and the stone snapped free of the gold. It fell to the desk and sat there.
Ragnok picked up the gold setting and flicked it back into his bracelet. “I’ll have the gold melted down.”
“Is it tainted?”
“No, just offensive and badly designed,” Ragnok said. “Whoever set that stone should be thrown down a mine shaft.”
Harry laughed but then focused on the stone. “The High Priestess thinks I should master the Hallows?”
He nodded and picked up the stone. It settled into his palm as he stared at it and took on a gentle glow. “I can see why my future self used it now.”
“Beyond measure, but it would be terribly selfish, and I can’t…I can’t be that man again.”
“Do you think your future-self was selfish?”
“Unspeakably so,” Harry confessed though his gaze never left the stone. “He should’ve been doing everything he could to work free of the loyalty curse. Instead, he just stayed in his situation and made a baby with that terrible witch. I hope I’m never so complacent that I would allow Hermione to suffer as she did in the future.”
“The Hermione from the future seemed convinced they were both stuck in their circumstances,” Ragnok said neutrally.
Harry focused on him then. “Loyalty is a very tricky thing, you know. It can be twisted and turned; obviously, Dumbledore excels at it. I think he focuses on that particular emotion because he’s utterly incapable of it himself. Moreover, he has no hope of earning it from anyone around him if he demonstrates who he really is. I think given enough time, I could’ve twisted whatever loyalty magic I had on me to the point where I was loyal to exactly one Weasley.” He focused on Ragnok. “Though she wouldn’t have been Ron’s wife for long after I accomplished that.”
“Considering your magical power, I agree,” Ragnok said simply. “The limiter on your magic would’ve been destroyed during your second maturation. At that point, magic that the loyalty charm had never had access to would’ve flooded your core. The charm was entrenched, so I doubt you could’ve removed it wholesale, but you could’ve certainly, with time and dedication, mutated to your own purpose.
“But as to the matter of selfishness, I don’t think he was.”
“You were very much at odds with him,” Harry said. “And you don’t consider his actions selfish?”
“Arrogant, perhaps but not selfish. But knowing your other self’s magical circumstances even makes the word arrogance feel wrong. More than anything, Harry, your future-self was a prisoner of his own magic. I’d never wish to see that circumstance again.”
Harry nodded and focused on the stone, then shifted his gaze to the staff that lay across the desk in front of him. He placed it very carefully in a spot just a few inches beneath the crystal focus stone embedded in the top. The stone teetered briefly on the smooth surface of the staff then sank into it with a flash of magic. He picked up the staff and stored it.
“Dumbledore has the Elder Wand.”
Harry made a face. “That figures.” He slouched back in the chair. “Is this what Master Warhide was talking about last week? Is this who I’m meant to be?”
“You’re incredibly young,” Ragnok said. “The next few years will shape the man you become, and that is Warhide’s focus. He’s rearranging his career and life to stand as the head of your staff when you become the Patron of the Horde. He wants to know who you will be, what your goals will be, and how all of that will change the future of the Horde.”
“So he doesn’t know about the Hallows or the horcruxes,” Harry surmised. “Shouldn’t he know?”
“Do you want him to know?” Ragnok questioned.
“Can we tell him the basics without revealing that you and the High Priestess time traveled?”
“Only you, Hermione, and Razel know about the time travel,” Ragnok said. “And that’s how I’d prefer it to remain. The rest can be explained and revealed without a discussion of that. I fear no wizard or their laws, but I won’t have my wife prosecuted for a crime against magic.”
“I understand,” Harry murmured. “It’s your duty to protect her.”
“It’s my privilege,” Ragnok corrected. “And I’m lucky every single day that she allows it.”
Harry nodded. “Have you decided about Hogwarts?”
“If we’re able to remove the horcrux from you before Yule, then yes, you can go with us to retrieve the diadem. It’ll lend authenticity to the search regardless if you’re there to suggest the Room of Lost Things in the Room of Requirement. Hermione’s journal entry about the room and its potential was very detailed.”
“I’ve read the excerpt you gave us about the diadem and the Room of Requirement several times over. I’m pretty sure I can make it work without a hitch, so it looks as if I have a lot of experience with it. I don’t like misleading Master Banner, though.”
“Neither do I, but we have other matters to consider, and I would not want to put him at risk by confiding in him that Lenore and I time-traveled. He would keep my confidence, but if it was ever revealed that he knew he could face charges as well—both locally and internationally.”
Harry nodded. “I understand…it’s just uncomfortable.” He cleared his throat and stood. “But I’ve suffered far more for less, so I’ll push through it and do what needs to be done. I hope he’ll understand if it ever comes out that we were just protecting him.”
“He’ll understand, but he’ll also be furious,” Ragnok said wryly and grinned when Harry laughed. “Such is the way of men of honor. Thaddeus Banner is the best wizard I’ve ever known—strong, faithful, and sure of his place in the world. I’ve never had a moment where I doubted his resolve or his dedication to the light.”
Harry nodded and moved to stand by the window to stare out at Muggle London. “Did he survive the war the first time around?”
“No, he didn’t,” Ragnok said roughly. “He was killed in January of 1997 defending his wife and child. Piper managed to break free of the anti-portkey ward the Death Eaters launched, and she escaped with Jamie. She was heavily pregnant with their second child and barely survived long enough to birth the child. She’d been cursed and when compiled with the death of her husband, whom she shared as a deep magical affinity—it was too much. I arranged for both of their children to be taken to France where they were adopted by their close friend, Zale Wright.”
“The wizard who is friends with Isobel?” Harry questioned. “He’s married to Deadmarsh, right?” He raised an eyebrow. “Is that another reason you don’t want to tell Banner about the time travel? I think he might try to kick your bum if he found out you let a necromancer adopt his kids.”
Ragnok grinned briefly then sobered. “I put his children in the safest hands in Europe, I assure you. He would’ve accepted my reasoning, but I’d hate to tell him about Piper’s fate.”
“Would she have survived his death if she hadn’t been cursed?” Harry questioned.
“Yes, but she’d have never been the same emotionally or magically. There is a price to pay for embracing a magical affinity.”
“Is it really a choice?” Harry asked. “I don’t remember making the conscious decision to develop whatever I have going on with Hermione.”
“Can I be blunt with you?” Ragnok questioned.
Harry turned to face him and briefly chewed the bottom of his lip. “Yes, of course.”
“Right now, your magic is basically flirting with Hermione Granger’s. It will grow and change as your friendship with her continues. Should you wish it, it will never grow to be more than what you currently have with her. But the affinity will deepen with sexual intimacy, and it will become profound after participation in a marriage rite. Most couples report a soul-meeting during their marriage rites even if they’ve engaged in sexual intercourse before marriage.” He watched the boy’s cheeks darken but was pleased when he merely nodded his understanding. “Personal conflict and magical maturation can also change or lessen affinity.”
“So it becomes what we make it,” Harry said.
“In a way, yes,” Ragnok murmured. “But I think you would be remiss to ignore it. Even into adulthood, and despite the magical burden placed on you both, you enjoyed a deep and wonderful friendship.”
“There could’ve been more if we weren’t essentially cursed by Dumbledore,” Harry said.
“Perhaps,” Ragnok agreed. “But I wouldn’t let the potential loss in the other timeline be an immense influence over you now. It’s not fair to either of you.”
“There’s no one I trust more than Hermione,” Harry admitted and turned his attention back toward the window. “And I think my magic was on board that train before the rest of me caught up. I’ll just have to work really hard not to mess it all up.”
“It’s all any of us can do,” Ragnok said with a laugh. “Females are a complicated business, you know.”
– – – –
Harry shoved his hands into his pockets as Dumbledore, Remus Lupin, and Arthur Weasley entered the room. He hadn’t wanted to attend this meeting at all, but Hermione said Sirius needed their support, so they’d left the cottage and come up to the bank to deal with whatever business Dumbledore had with Sirius. Ragnok had put up a ward boundary down their half of the room though it was currently invisible.
Dumbledore had used Sirius’ desire to have a conversation with Remus and Arthur Weasley to manipulate the situation in what Hermione considered an obscene fashion. She was sitting in a chair near the fireplace knitting. And Harry had chosen to stand near her instead of sitting at the table with his godfather.
“Sirius, you look good,” Arthur Weasley said with a pleased smile. “I was glad to see justice served. I hate that it took an international court to give you what you’re due.”
“I never expected to get a fair trial in Britain,” Sirius said. “But thank you, Arthur. I hope the house is working out for your family now that Kreacher is no longer an issue?”
“Ah, well, oddly, yes,” Arthur reported. “Cleaning charms are working now, and the twins managed to get your mother’s portrait off the wall. We tossed her into the attic. I had Bill arrange a place for Buckbeak at a sanctuary in Italy, and he left last week.”
“Thank you,” Sirius murmured and exhaled before he focused on Remus. “You lied to me, Remus. You told me Isobel was dead. Why would you do that?”
Lupin’s eyes widened. “I…I suppose she reached out to you?”
“She came to me as soon as she found out where I was,” Sirius said flatly. “Why did you lie to me?”
Remus looked away from him, and his shoulders tensed up briefly. Harry wondered if he was trying to think of a lie right there on the spot. It was oddly fascinating. Hermione’s needles clicked together gently every few seconds as she worked, it was oddly comforting. He’d grown used to the sound over the last few weeks as she knitted while she worked through things.
“You’d already ruined her life once,” Lupin said. “I saw no reason to involve her in your mess again. She was happy and content in Paris—with her Muggle job. Besides, we needed you here in Britain and not in France playing house with the daughter and sister of a Death Eater.”
“I’m the son and brother of a Death Eater,” Sirius said evenly. “You lied to me, Remus, and I don’t think I can forgive you again. I’m not sure I want to forgive you again.”
“She deserves better than you and whatever life you can offer her now that you’re free,” Remus snapped. “If you were a good wizard, you’d send her away.”
“That’s projection, right?” Harry questioned and focused on Hermione.
She hummed. “Yes, Mr. Lupin is quite convinced he has nothing to offer a woman but ruination so surely Sirius, who comes from a dark family, can do no better. In the end, he figures that neither one of them is as good or as light as your father was, so neither he nor Sirius deserves the life James should’ve gotten to live. It’s sad but also pitiful.”
Lupin glared at her.
Harry stepped forward slightly and forced Lupin to look at him instead. “Watch it, Remus. You’ve already gotten the only chance you’ll ever get come at either one of us without repercussions. It’s not her fault you’re so invested in your own victimhood that you can’t live your life. That could even be excused if you weren’t also deeply invested in making Sirius suffer in the same way.” He focused on Dumbledore when Lupin slumped down in his chair with wide, shocked eyes. “You wanted to speak to me, Headmaster Dumbledore?”
“I’d like you and Miss Granger to return to Hogwarts. Many people have expressed concerns about your current circumstances. You left friends behind who miss you as well.”
“Not on a bet,” Harry said evenly. “We’re both getting the kind of education that people would kill to receive, and I think I’d have better luck changing the course of the Thames with just my hand than I would convincing Hermione to return to a classroom with twenty other students where individual instruction is impossible.” He leaned on her chair. “I don’t think I have any real friends at Hogwarts at this point—not a single one of them has bothered to send me a letter.”
“Ron’s mentioned sending several letters,” Arthur interrupted. “He misses you both a lot, Harry.”
“In the last letter he sent to Hermione, Ron told her everything would’ve been better for him if she’d been killed by the troll during her first year,” Harry explained and watched Arthur pale. “As you can imagine, sir, neither one of us is interested in his friendship. He’s always been a shallow, fickle friend, but now I simply don’t have the time or the inclination to forgive him for his behavior.”
He focused on Dumbledore then. “I have, however, received dozens of letters from the parents of your students thanking me for having the good sense not to return to Hogwarts to endanger their children. They hope I stay away, so Voldemort doesn’t get into the school, again, to try to kill me. I suspect if I were to show up for classes, that many parents would immediately withdraw their own children, and that’s not fair to them.
“There is nothing I need at Hogwarts, sir. The Horde will see to my thorough education, as they’ve already explained to you, Master Ito and Chief Justice Bertrand.”
“You won’t defeat Voldemort without me,” Dumbledore said. “And I won’t speak of what I know in this bank. I don’t trust the goblins and never have.”
Harry frowned at him but then leaned forward a little. “Newsflash, Headmaster, every single dverger above the age of reason hates your guts, so they don’t care if you trust them or not. They think you’re a manipulative old con artist who indulges in magically expensive parlor tricks to bully people into doing what you want. Last time you were in the bank, they took bets on how many times you’d flair your aura in a fake temper. Griphook the Git won fifty galleons.”
Arthur Weasley snorted then coughed quickly into his hand when Dumbledore glared at him.
“I wanted to speak with you in private about the prophecy,” Dumbledore said. “Everyone will have to leave.”
“Hermione and Sirius already know the full content of the prophecy,” Harry said evenly. “And I have no desire whatsoever to discuss my fate with you, Headmaster. It’s none of your bloody business, at any rate. You’ve already played your part in all of this, so you need to step off the field. This isn’t your fight or your problem. I can and will defeat Voldemort. You had years to fix all of this before I was even born, so you’ll just have to be content to sail through your golden years on whatever fame you can still wring out of your defeat of Gellert Grindelwald.”
“Is that truly what you think of me?”
“I can’t even repeat what I actually think of you because Hermione doesn’t like me to use curse words,” Harry declared. “And the last time I used the F word in front of people, Sirius got a lecture from three different people about his subpar parenting skills.”
Sirius raised a hand and displayed four fingers. “Mistress Omis cornered me yesterday afternoon about it.”
“Four,” Harry corrected. “Sirius, did you have anything else to say? Because I’m tired and we promised Isobel we’d return in time for tea.”
Sirius shook his head. “No, I’m done. Arthur, you can keep the house. I’ve signed the deed over to you and your family specifically. Dumbledore should have no issue recasting the Fidelius with you as the Secret Keeper since I’ve already added your blood to the ward stone. The Black library already packed itself up and transferred to the family vault, so do with the rest as you will.” He paused and frowned. “It would be a favor if you’d see the elf heads properly buried.”
Arthur nodded. “Yes…Sirius…I can’t pay you for the house.”
“It’s a gift,” Sirius said and grimaced. “Such as it is. I hate that place, Arthur, and I never want to step foot it in again. Since giving it to Dumbledore would’ve put Harry in a permanent bad mood, we decided to give it to you. You can pass it to Bill or twins if you’d rather not own it after everything is said and done, but I think for now it is best, security-wise, if the deed stays in your name. Magical deeds are powerful in their own way, as you know.”
“Yes, of course, but I think perhaps it should be given to Harry after the war.” He looked toward Harry as if seeking agreement.
“No, sir, but thank you,” Harry said. “Sirius shouldn’t have to suffer that house even for a small visit. I have a home in Agharti, and I will probably seek properties abroad as needed in the future. Working as the Patron of the Horde, I’ll have responsibilities that will take me all over the world at various times.”
Dumbledore exhaled sharply. “This patron business is unsustainable, Harry! I won’t allow you to be bound up in that mess with the goblins! They don’t need a patron.”
“The fact that you are so comfortable repeatedly calling them a racial slur makes it clear they very much need a patron!” Hermione said hotly as she stored her knitting with a furious toss of her wrist. She stood and grabbed Harry’s hand. “I’ve had enough of this dragonshite, Harry.”
Sirius stood. “And we’re done. When Hermione starts cursing, circumstances must change rapidly, or we all pay the price. I’d rather not spend another three hours getting a lecture from her about anything ever again.”
“If you hadn’t started skipping your nutrient potions because you felt fine…” Hermione started, then huffed and glared. “You know what? I’ve reached my limit on foolish wizards. Come along, Harry.” She tugged him toward the door. “Sirius!”
“Right, gotta go, or she’ll tell my wife, and I’ll get in trouble.” He offered Remus another glare and trotted after them.
Harry got one final look at Dumbledore’s flummoxed expression before Sirius pulled the door shut behind them. Hermione kept ahold of his hand and muttered under her breath the whole walk to Sirius’ quarters in the visitor’s section of the bank. She released him once they were inside and started to pace.
“I’m going to write a whole treatise on racism in Britain, and Dumbledore is going to be my prime example!” She decided and crossed her arms. “This is why he never replaced Binns, you know! This is why we have substandard education in magical history, Harry! This is why I got a bloody Acceptable on our practice test for the International History OWL! I barely passed! I’ve never barely passed anything in my life until last week and that stupid test!”
Harry dropped down on the sofa to be the audience she desired, and Sirius, the coward, ran away. He really hoped that his godfather returned with Isobel and tea, or Hermione wouldn’t be the only one in the living room having a fit. Though in all honesty, he’d been kind of irritated to learn exactly how much he didn’t know about magical history while taking that test. He hadn’t passed it at all. Upon investigation, they’d learned that most of it wasn’t covered in the four textbooks they had.
Isobel entered at that moment and brought a tray to the table tucked near the fire. “Hermione, sit and eat.”
Hermione huffed and went to the table. “It’s intolerable.”
“I know,” Isobel said and patted her shoulder. “Harry, I made roast beef sandwiches.”
Harry popped up from the sofa with a pleased sound. Honestly, nothing beat Isobel’s roast beef. He didn’t know what she did to it, but it was amazing. He tucked in and started to arrange his plate and tea immediately. Hermione fiddled with her plate and tea without eating for nearly ten minutes before Isobel gently cleared her throat.
“Sorry,” Hermione murmured. “He just makes me so furious.” She took a bite of her sandwich.
“You believed him to be a good man,” Isobel said. “You thought he was a shining example of the light, and that’s an image he has cultivated for decades. It’s difficult to realize that his morals and values are so contrary to your own principles.”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed and sighed. “His desire for control is pathological. I don’t think he’s mentally fit to be the headmaster of the school. I mean beyond his corrupt moral compass and disgusting views on the dverger—he’s just not right. The more I’m around him, the more disturbing I find him.”
“For the record, you can curse Dumbledore out any time you’d like,” Hermione said roughly and took another big bite of her sandwich. “You can use all the curse words you know, Harry!”
Sirius burst out laughing.
“And we can learn more!” she exclaimed and huffed at Sirius.
– – – –
Ragnok shared a look with Zayd Sarr as both Hiro Ito and Louis Bertrand got settled at the table. He’d chosen a small conference room not far from his office with a round table for the discussion. Part of him figured he should’ve asked for Potter to attend the meeting, but he wanted to get the measure of the three men together before that happened.
Ito pulled a piece of parchment from his cloak, unfolded it, and placed it on the table. “Zayd has verified that there is a prophecy in the Department of Mysteries with Harry Potter’s name on it.”
Ragnok nodded. “Did you want the boy to retrieve it?”
“We’ve moved it into a secure vault on a property we have complete control of,” Zayd murmured. “There was some concern, by Dumbledore, that Riddle would try to get to the prophecy which we all agree would be a bad idea.” He took a deep breath. “What does Lenore think of it?”
“She believes the fate of the world and magic rests on the outcome,” Ragnok said. “Her visions of a future where Harry Potter fails are horrific. A third world war looms on the horizon, gentlemen. But moreover, if his defeat of Riddle is done in the way that Dumbledore seems to think necessary, magic will be corrupted beyond help.”
“And Lenore saw that?” Zayd frowned and rubbed his face with a hand. “For fuck’s sake.”
“Certainly,” Ito murmured. “I’ve heard rumors that your wife is no longer sequestered in Agharti. Is it possible for the three of us to meet and converse with her regarding the potential futures we face?”
“I’ll ask her,” Ragnok said. “I’m not opposed in theory, but only a fool would make such a decision for his wife.” He grinned when Ito nodded. “Do you have concerns about my handling of Potter or the prophecy?”
“I believe that no one is more equipped to prepare him for such a fate,” Ito said. “Dumbledore seems to think he has valuable information he can bargain with to get control of the boy.”
“Riddle made horcruxes,” Ragnok said roughly and winced when all three men jerked as if they’d been hit with severe stinging spells. “Using my wife’s visions, I’ve located four of the six he created. I have solid intelligence on the other two and hope to have them both in hand by Yule. Dumbledore doesn’t know enough about horcruxes to understand his plan to destroy them would actually release Riddle’s soul into the very fabric of magic.”
“Son of a bitch,” Bertrand hissed and stood. He walked away from the table and ended up in front of a small wet bar.
“Go ahead, the bourbon is from the states. I have an employee from Kentucky who swears by the Woodford Reserve,” Ragnok said.
Bertrand poured four glasses without a word and brought them back to the table. “Does Dumbledore have a chance of procuring the two missing horcruxes?”
“Lenore believes them safe from him at the moment. He thinks he knows where two are, but I’ve already taken them. There was one in the bank that he’d have never gotten access to. The biggest concern I have is that I’ve come to worry about the security of Azkaban.”
Zayd sighed and took a sip of his drink. “I’ve corralled the dementors and removed them from the island. Shortly, I will be presenting a bill to the ICW in the spring that would make the use of them in prison a crime. It’s cruel and inhumane. Even people in that place for minor crimes have been driven to the brink of insanity.”
“I’ve authorized the transfer of Riddle’s followers to a prison abroad,” Bertrand interjected. “Hiro oversaw that personally last week. So far, the news of this hasn’t reached the papers, but I expect it will soon enough. I don’t know how Riddle will respond. It promises to be ugly.”
“Certainly,” Ragnok said.
“What did the High Priestess see that was so horrific that the Horde accepted wholesale that you were going to bring the House of Potter into your clan?” Zayd questioned. “Can you tell us?”
“Magical corruption would have horrific and long-term consequences for us all, Zayd. Our wards would fail, enclaves would be exposed, and the Muggles aren’t prepared to deal with the fact that we’ve existed in hidden magical societies for thousands of years. The ramifications would be nightmarish of that there can be no doubt. Lenore saw visions of nuclear explosions. We didn’t understand what they were at first, but we’ve had researchers investigating Muggle weapons.”
“This corruption would bleed into all magical creatures,” Ito said. “Which of us would fall first to mutation?”
“The wizards and witches will mostly die at the hands of Muggles,” Ragnok said. “Some of us will die out completely while my own species would eventually be reduced to something primitive and feral. We’d all lose our grasp on magic. Magic will endure, but we will all lose our ability to interact with her and her gifts on this earth.”
Zayd cupped his glass with both hands. “Is Dumbledore an enemy of magic?”
“I wish I could say yes,” Ragnok said. “I’m sure a case could be made eventually for it, but right now he’s just a meddling old man who thinks he knows best. He’s certainly the enemy of many of us. He’s not above manipulative magic to get his way—compulsions, loyalty charms, and the like are common. I imagine most of his so-called followers are charmed to follow him in some fashion or another. He’s certainly a criminal, and I’d like to see him thrown in jail. He is dark and unredeemable, but the real threat currently is Tom Riddle.”
“Can the boy win in a fight against him?” Zayd questioned with a frown.
“You already know he can’t,” Ragnok said roughly. “He just turned fifteen. He knows precious little magic comparatively speaking. Harry’s magical power is prodigious, and he’s doing very well in training, but it won’t be enough to stand against Riddle in a duel. I don’t know how long the situation with Riddle can be contained, but I certainly don’t think we have enough time to prepare him for that.”
“Ritual judgment,” Ito murmured. “You’re going to have the lad call for judgment.”
Ragnok inclined his head. “He’s favored by Fate, and I believe if the circumstances are just right that Magic herself will respond to his need. I have to believe it; otherwise, I feel like I’m setting up a boy to be murdered by the darkest bastard on Earth.”
The main ritual room in the bank was oddly warm despite the depth of the chamber. They were on the opposite side of the underground structure from the vault system. The area was so heavily warded that no one could enter unless they were specifically added to the ward stone. Harry had spent several hours a week in the space since he’d started taking instruction with the Horde. Various members of the Glain Neidr had been involved in those lessons, but he was about to meet the high warlock.
Armand Deering lived in Paris, but Harry knew he’d been in and out of the British branch of Gringotts for weeks. He hadn’t asked why he hadn’t gotten an introduction. The chieftain was particular about his interactions with the humans that worked for the bank, and Harry hadn’t pressed that issue. There were six wizards, besides Harry, in the room. He’d only met two of them.
“Worried?” Razel questioned
Harry pressed his lips together to keep from immediately saying yes. “I’ve never once, in my memory, had a good Halloween.” He glanced up and found that everyone in the room was staring at him. He flushed and focused on Ragnok, who’d been speaking to Quintin Deadmarsh. “It’ll be fine, though.”
“Certainly,” Ragnok agreed. “We’ve left nothing to chance, and Omis is standing by in the next room if we require her assistance.”
Harry nodded as his fingers curled into the finely woven material of the ritual robe that had been made for him. It was the only thing he’d been allowed to wear into the ritual space, and that had totally thrown him off his stride. He really didn’t know why he couldn’t have pants at least. Questioning this has gotten him a lot of amused looks.
The door opened, and an older man entered dressed in a black robe. There were flashes of gold in the material as he moved. Runes, Harry thought. He really didn’t know much about the construction of robes, but the runes were stitched into his with silver thread.
“Ah, Armand. I hope the portkey wasn’t too taxing.”
The man made a face. “It was tolerable, but I have no intention of going to Australia again for a least a year.” He turned and focused on Harry.
Harry refrained from flinching but did stand from the bench he’d been directed to when he’d entered the room.
“Harry this is Armand Deering, the high warlock of the Glain Neidr. He’s chosen the following wizards to help you this evening from left to right: Quintin Deadmarsh, Thaddeus Banner, Castius Arnou, Carter Myers, Marcus Daniels, and Jacob Dyson.”
Armand Deering stepped forward, and Harry met the older man’s gaze. “My apprentice is outside. Under normal circumstances, he would be witness to this without discussion, but he pointed out you might be uncomfortable with his presence because of his family’s association with Albus Dumbledore.”
“The chieftain told me that Bill Weasley is your apprentice. I have no personal issue with him, and that will continue as long as he adheres to the contract he signed with the bank. There will come a time, in the near future, where such circumstances will be my business on several levels.”
Deering stared for a moment, then nodded. “I see.”
“Do you?” Harry questioned.
“Ragnok, this boy needs none of your coddling,” Deering declared and stepped closer. “I need to take a very close look at your scar. I’m gifted with mage sight.”
“I was warned that you would get in my personal space,” Harry said with some amusement. “Are you going to bring Bill into watch as you stare creepily at my face?”
Razel laughed then shrugged at the look he earned from his father. “Shall I retrieve him?”
“He’s just outside,” Deering murmured.
Harry stayed utterly still as Razel left them, and Deering cupped his face with cool hands. The older wizard tilted his head just so and focused on the scar.
“Does it hurt?”
“It did in my first year whenever I was around the professor Voldemort was possessing,” Harry said. “The specter of Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets didn’t make it hurt, and neither did interacting with the diary earlier in the year. Later, in the cemetery during his resurrection—everything hurt because the portkey was so rough, but after he left the cauldron and before he Crucioed me, the scar stung. His voice was like tiny little needles being pushed into my skin.”
Deering nodded. “Nightmares?”
“Yes, of course. Sometimes I’m pretty sure I’m dreaming about Riddle’s actual experiences. I don’t know if he’s sending them or if the horcrux I’m carrying has given me a window into his unconscious mind. Either way, he’s deeply disturbed mentally in a way I didn’t expect.”
“You don’t think dark equals crazy?” Deering murmured as he shifted Harry’s head just a little.
“You’re considered dark by many,” Harry pointed out. “And don’t appear to be all that crazy. Unless the no-pants rule was yours, then I’m a bit worried about your faculties.”
Deering laughed briefly and released him. “Ah, lad, you’d not imagine how many times over the years I’ve considered getting shorts made out of ritual robe material.”
“It says a lot about you that you never did it,” Harry admitted and glanced toward Bill Weasley, who’d entered the room. “Hello, Bill.”
“Hey, kid,” Bill murmured. “How are you?”
“Could be better, but at least I’m not in a school watching everyone celebrate the anniversary of my parent’s murders and acting like I’m crazy for not being excited about the whole thing,” Harry said and exhaled. “Sorry. I’m not even sure where that came from.”
“Years of resentment, I’m sure,” Deering said. “Most focus on your survival only, and that’s a genuine shame.” He turned and focused on Ragnok. “The horcrux is entrenched, sir. The ritual will be strenuous and painful. We can expect broken bones, muscle strain, and perhaps some severe magical backlash.”
“We’ve set up a siphon to pull any magic he throws off,” Ragnok said. “Omis is prepared to deal with those injuries.” He focused on Harry. “Any other concerns?”
“I’d like…” Harry wet his lips. “I want to go home if it’s at all possible afterward. Hermione’s upset that I asked her to stay in Agharti while we do this.”
Ragnok nodded. “The best I can promise is that we’ll take you into the mountain where she can see you. Omis will decide if you can rest in your own bed or if you should stay in her private healing hall.”
“Okay,” Harry agreed and focused on the altar. “Is Sirius coming?”
Ragnok shook his head. “No, lad, he doesn’t trust himself or his magic not to interfere when things start to hurt you. He’s adjusting, even now, under the parental vow he took for you earlier in the summer. He is waiting with Omis.”
“Okay,” Harry nodded. “That’s…I understand.” He stepped up onto the platform then scooted up on the platform. “I really hope I pass out for most of this, but I’ve got a pretty high pain tolerance.”
“I took note of that when you didn’t pass out while basilisk venom was eroding your blood,” Deering said. “Your memory of that event remains the only time I’ve ever seen a basilisk that large or old.”
Harry considered that. “Part of me recognizes that Riddle destroyed her before I was ever born, but I wish I hadn’t been the one to kill her,” he admitted.
“She was a beautiful beast,” Deering murmured. “Go ahead and get as comfortable as you can. Ragnok has already told you that Quintin will be leading this ritual. Do you have any questions or concerns for him?”
“I’m a little concerned,” Harry said, but he focused on Deadmarsh. “Have you ever met Tom Riddle?”
“No, but he once basically courted my father to join his Death Eaters. My father laughed in his face. Not a single member of my family would stoop so low as to be marked as a slave by anyone much less a wizard of such low caliber,” Deadmarsh said.
Harry laughed a little but then cleared his throat. “The horcrux in me is probably the first one he made—it’s half of his soul and the sixteen-year-old version of Tom Riddle is, for the lack of a better word, compelling. He has a lot of charisma, and I don’t know what Lucius Malfoy told the horcrux through the diary, but he was fascinated with me. I think it extended far beyond what you saw in the memory of the Chamber of Secrets.
“Moreover, the diary ended up in the hands of a little girl who is obsessed with the whole Boy-Who-Lived thing, and the horcrux fed on her for a year. I think it was very happy to latch onto my scar when I destroyed the diary. I don’t know what it will do when you try to pull it out, but I suspect Riddle will attempt to bargain with you.
“He’s smart and cruel. He enjoys the suffering of others in a deeply emotional way, and if he can’t seduce you—he’ll try to destroy you. Riddle loves nothing and values nothing but his own obscene desire to live forever, and there is no telling what the horcrux has learned from me while it’s been in my scar.”
Deadmarsh nodded. “I understand.”
Harry laid down. “I hope so because he’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen—and I include the basilisk and a furious dragon in that.”
“We’re going to cast several spells on you so you can’t leave the altar,” Deering murmured. “It will prevent you from rolling off, which could be an issue once we start prying the horcrux from your core. I could stun you, but you’ll wake up when we start because of the magical intrusion. Trust that none of us are pleased with the fact that you couldn’t take a pain potion before this.”
“It’s fine,” Harry murmured but closed his eyes. “Pain is what it is.” Magic drifted over him, and a warm weight settled over him from the neck down. “Feels like a blanket.”
A cool hand settled briefly on his forehead. “Good, lad, just relax as much as you can.”
Harry figured that was a good idea, so he just took a deep breath and focused on Hermione. She liked to read by the fire at night, and it was nice to be with her. She didn’t expect conversation but seemed to like that he sat with her. Sometimes he read, too, or he wrote in the journal Thaddeus had given him. But it was just as easy to sit and do little more than think while she read. There was a peace in those moments that he felt like he’d always wanted and hadn’t known.
“I have a corporeal Patronus,” Harry murmured.
“Do you?” a voice asked.
“It used to be hard to find a happy memory,” he admitted. “Magic is so ugly at times that it’s hard to remember the beautiful parts. It used to be a stag—my father’s animagus form.” He heard Deadmarsh open the ritual, and he retreated deeper into his thoughts. “But I think it would be different now.”
“Maybe a lioness.” He exhaled slowly as pain sliced through him like a knife. “Something strong and fierce like Hermione.”
“Think about her then,” the voice suggested. “She’s waiting for you in the mountain.”
“I think she’s mad at me for asking her to stay in Agharti,” Harry admitted. “But I couldn’t let her be near it once it’s out of my body. It would know…how important she is. Riddle wants to take everything away from me. He wants me to have nothing, like him.” He wet his lips and shuddered. “Like Dumbledore.” His body jerked despite his efforts to remain still, and he felt something snap around him. The intense weight of the magic they were using to restrain him lessened. “Like Grindelwald.”
“Easy, lad, stay calm,” the voice urged. “Do you compare yourself to Grindelwald or Dumbledore?”
“Neither, those corrupt motherfuckers should’ve choked to death on the bloody greater good.” The pain coiled in him like a snake. “Enough!”
“What did he say?” the voice questioned.
“Just the word ‘enough’. I’m not sure if it was him or the horcrux, Chieftain,” another voice said. “Keep talking to him; Quintin has the horcrux nearly contained.”
“Harry?” A hand brushed over his damp forehead. “Lad, I need you to answer me.”
“Yes,” Ragnok murmured. “I’m here. They’re almost done.”
“It hurts a lot,” Harry said and swallowed hard. “I…I’m trying hard not to cry.” He forced his eyes open briefly, but the sweat on his face stung. “Uncle Vernon says I don’t deserve to cry because I’m a freak.”
“You can cry,” Ragnok said.
“I’m supposed to be strong,” Harry whispered hoarsely. A deep, hot pain lanced through him, and he broke through the magical restraints and surged upward off the altar. Hands grabbed his shoulder and held him fast. “Let me go, goblin!”
“What did he say?” Ragnok questioned as Harry passed out.
“The boy said nothing unless he makes a habit of calling you a goblin,” Deering said. “Steady, Quintin.”
Ragnok shook his head. “No, not since he was told it was an insult.” He shared a look with Razel, who was at the opposite end of the altar holding the boy’s feet. “Razel?”
“Hermione must have mentioned it in the letter she wrote him because he did use it once with me when I first appeared in his room but then apologized for his ignorance on the subject.”
“Then the horcrux is definitely awake,” Deering said. “Quin?”
“I’ve got it,” the necromancer said tightly. “This thing is furious. I’ve never seen a horcrux like this—not even the really ancient ones we found in Iraq. There are some old dead Mesopotamians who’d be really fucking impressed.”
“I saw one like this in a tomb in South America,” Carter Myers said. “Whatever text Riddle learned from—it was from that region. He’d have made six so there would be seven parts—it’s part of that mythology. One of them should be a snake, another part of the myth. The process was once a component of coatl worship.”
“I have all but two,” Ragnok reported, and the men in the room turned their heads in unison to stare at him. “And I know where the snake is. Can you get me information on the ritual and the mythology surrounding it? I focused mostly on Egyptian, Babylonian, and Norse methodologies in my study of horcruxes.”
Myers inclined his head. “As soon as I recover from this, I’ll retrieve every scrap of information I have on the subject.”
Ragnok focused on Potter, who was shivering violently. “How’s his core, Dyson?”
“Stressed,” the wizard reported. “He has some microfractures, but nothing that won’t heal on its own.”
“His collar bone is broken,” Dyson reported, and Ragnok winced. The boy was still pressing hard against his hands, so he had no choice. “I don’t think you did it—but you certainly aren’t helping at this point.”
“Don’t let go,” Deering said.
Ragnok offered him a glare. “I’d remind you, Master Deering, that I was learning ritual magic when you were in nappies.” Potter screamed, but thankfully, he didn’t wake. “Now, Deadmarsh, before this thing gets the upper hand.”
Deadmarsh inclined his head, and with a slash of his wand, the magic thickened in the room, and a dark, smoky stream of magic curled out of Harry’s scar. Streams of magic from six different directions encased the horcrux and forced it into the plain ritual knife Ragnok had chosen to house it. The knife rattled and spun violently under the weight of their magic, then stilled. Harry went lax under his hands, and Ragnok slowly released him.
“He’s going to wake up in a world of hurt,” Dyson said roughly. “He’s got a skull fracture to go with the broken collar bone and six cracked ribs. Muscle strain is extensive, and he’s torn two tendons.”
“His pain tolerance is obscene,” Deering said roughly. “Let’s move him to the Healing Hall.”
“We’re taking him back to Agharti,” Razel said and stared pointedly at his father. “It’s all he asked of you, Adad.”
Ragnok nodded. “Close your circle, Deadmarsh. Omis has two of her staff ready to assist her in his transfer to her private hall in the mountain.”
Deering exhaled sharply. “It’s not our practice to bring someone so low in ritual and not oversee their healing, Chieftain.”
“I’d have explained that to him if I’d thought he’d care,” Ragnok said. “He essentially made his witch promise she’d stay in Agharti, but he’s going to want her when he wakes up. They share a magical affinity.” He paused. “On par, with couples who’ve been together for more than a decade.”
“Fortunately, they both seem to understand that it’s nothing to be taken lightly,” Banner murmured. He glanced toward Bill Weasley. “That isn’t something they’d want to be shared with their former friend, Mr. Weasley.”
“I can manage my own apprentice, Banner,” Deering said roughly.
“Potter and Granger are my responsibility,” Thaddeus said simply.
Deering inclined his head but frowned at Banner anyway. “I’d already apprenticed three wizards when you were in nappies, Thaddeus.”
“This whole nappy discussion is seriously putting me off my dinner,” Razel announced and left the circle. “Honestly.”
– – – –
Harry slowly eased down into the chair in the library. Hermione was curled up on the sofa, but her posture told him that he definitely wasn’t invited to join her. “Mi.”
She glanced at him with pursed lips. “How do you feel? Mistress Omis said you could have another pain potion when you woke up.”
“I feel better than I have…since second year,” Harry said. “I didn’t know what kind of burden it was, or maybe I just thought it was the damage I’d have to learn to deal with because of the basilisk bite.” He rubbed his arm, though the scar the creature had left was long gone. Omis had taken care of it during his first healing session. “I’m sorry that all of this was so upsetting for you.”
She frowned at him. “You do realize that the really horrible part is how you’re underreacting to this whole thing, right?”
Harry considered that. “I don’t know how to be anyone else, so if you can’t handle this…” He trailed off when she glared at him. “I mean, I’m more than willing to go to mind healing, but I don’t think I’ll ever respond the way you think I should.”
Hermione’s face softened. “Oh, Harry.” She closed her book. “I don’t want some sort of pretense from you, but it’s difficult to come to terms with just how…”
“Damaged I am?” Harry questioned. “Is it too much? Because I wouldn’t hold it against you, if it was.”
She glared. “I’m not some shallow, empty-headed fan, Harry!”
“I feel like I can’t win in this conversation,” he admitted and turned his head to stare at the fire.
“I don’t think you’re damaged.”
“Then you really need to have a long conversation with an adult you can trust,” Harry said evenly. “I grew up in a cupboard, Hermione, and my uncle barely allowed me to eat. He hit me often and prefers to call me Freak instead of my name. They hate me for being magical and blame me for every terrible thing that went wrong in their lives. Dumbledore forced them to take me in and never bothered to check on me the whole time I was there. He just tossed me on their front step like a bloody newspaper and walked away.
“I think that Dumbledore saw my Aunt Petunia and her husband as an opportunity to make sure my childhood was just as unloving and terrible as Riddle’s was in that orphanage. You remember what we read from the journal about our original sixth year.”
“Dumbledore leading you around by the nose, giving you as little information as possible, and painting a picture of a Tom Riddle that you could identify with,” Hermione said. “I remember. I told Lenore that I wasn’t certain that I wanted to read any more of it. Every time they give us some passage from it, I’m slapped in the face with my own misery from the previous timeline, and it’s agonizing.”
She cleared her throat. “My parents didn’t want children and made that clear to me. They love me, I guess, but affection was perfunctory at best. It was like they read a parenting book and followed it like it was an instruction manual. I got exactly thirty minutes of their time every evening after dinner, then I was sent to my room. I received educational toys, books, and appropriate clothing. I had a nanny until I started primary. I don’t think either of my parents ever even gave me a bath or dressed me.
“Before they fired the nanny, my mother asked me if I needed help with any personal tasks like bathing or whatever. When I confirmed that I could take care of myself on that front, they fired the nanny. I was given a schedule that I had to follow to the letter every single day. They gave me an alarm clock for my room, so they didn’t have to wake me up. I had to be awake and dressed to be taken to school. At the end of the day, my mother would pick me up, take me home, and I would follow the schedule until it was time for bed. Their thirty-minute of parent/child bonding was clearly marked on the schedule.”
“Wow.” Harry turned his head and looked at her. “That sounds terrible.”
“Well, they fed me at least, and I never lacked for material things. There was nothing to complain about, really, but I was relieved to get my Hogwarts letter. Well, I’d planned to ask for boarding school regardless after primary, but Hogwarts was a pleasant surprise.” Hermione pulled her legs up and hugged them to her chest. “I’ve been sending them a progress report of sorts. I get a polite thank you note each time. In the last one, they told me that if my trust wouldn’t cover the costs of being educated in Rome just to let them know, and they would transfer the needed funds.” She sighed. “I’d rather get a job than ask them for anything else. It’s hard to be around the Banners and their son sometimes. They’re so invested in his happiness and safety.”
“I get it,” Harry murmured. “I’m okay, you know. Mistress Omis wouldn’t have let me come home to rest after just a few hours of healing if she wasn’t satisfied with the results. I only had to take half a vial of Skele-gro.” She made a face at him but nodded.
The clearing of a throat got his attention. He sat up from his slouch and found Thaddeus Banner standing in the doorway of the library. “Hey.”
“The Chieftain needs you in a meeting, lad. He sends his apologies for the hour, but he needs to have a conversation with you before Master Deering leaves for Paris.”
Harry glanced toward Hermione, who looked frustrated and sad. “Did you want to go?”
“Yes, but I wasn’t invited,” she pointed out tartly and sent Banner a dark look.
“I don’t believe the chieftain would be upset if you showed up,” Thaddeus said with a small smile. “Master Deering expressed interest in meeting you, at any rate.”
She stood. “Can I change my clothes quickly?”
“Yes, of course.”
Harry watched her leave and focused on Thaddeus. “Is there such a thing as too much honesty?”
“Yes,” Banner said roughly. “But the other option is just as egregious in the long run. You’re both young, so just give yourself room to make mistakes.”
“That’s all I do lately,” Harry admitted and stood when he heard the click of Hermione’s boots on the wooden floorboards of the hall.
Banner offered them both his hands, and Harry just glanced briefly at Hermione before accepting one. With a quick, gentle squeeze they were deposited in front of the lift that would take them to the bank. The trip up and the walk to the chieftain’s office was short.
Armand Deering was an imposing presence in the room, but Harry had resolved not to let the man intimidate him. It wouldn’t serve him now or in the future, besides Deering just was another wizard. An old, powerful wizard. He’d met plenty of those.
Harry sat down in the chair he was pointed to after introductions were made and relaxed only slightly when Hermione joined him in the second chair
“Was there an issue with containing the horcrux?” Harry asked.
“No, Master Deadmarsh finished that task with no issues, and the athame has joined the others in my personal storage,” Ragnok said. “Though you might not believe it, you did very well in the ritual tonight. Your control over your magic until you passed out was quite impressive.”
Harry felt his cheeks flush and exhaled in surprise. Chieftain Ragnok was not generous with praise when it came to him, and he understood why. Perhaps Ragnok’s feelings about him would always be tainted by what had transpired in the other timeline. He accepted that and wasn’t offended.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Master Deering reports that your parselmagic is healthy despite your magical circumstances and childhood. It was a concern as parselmagic is fragile when your kind are young. He believes you’d be well-served to explore parselcraft.”
“I would be well-served, or his conclave would be well-served?” Harry questioned with a brief glance in Deering’s direction. “I’m not saying I’m opposed, but I’d like to know all the motivations involved before I agree to take any sort of tuition regarding parselmagic. Mistress Omis has mentioned to me that parselcraft has a powerful and useful branch of healing magic, so that’s interesting to me.
“Most parselmouths hide, and I can’t. The whole bloody magical world knows I’m one, so how I present myself going forward when it comes to magic, and specifically parselmagic, is important. I know the world-at-large is less discriminatory when it comes to being a parselmouth, but I wouldn’t want my role as Patron to the Horde to be undermined by people’s distrust of parselmagic.”
“You wish to study healing,” Deering said and managed only a mild grimace. “The field within parselcraft is immense. Hiro Ito, the current Supreme Mugwomp, is a well-know healer and parselmouth. He’s revered around the world for his healing abilities. After the International Brouhaha concludes, I could approach him in my role as High Warlock of the Glain Neidr and call in a favor he owes my conclave to see that you receive tuition from him.”
“In exchange for?” Harry asked and glanced only briefly when Hermione inhaled a little sharply.
“You owe me nothing, lad,” Deering said roughly. “But the world owes you and the House of Potter an immense debt that many would be content to overlook forever. You’ve sacrificed repeatedly for our safety and asked for nothing in return. It’s astonishing, frankly, to meet someone like you.”
“Godric’s line was always a breed apart,” Ragnok said roughly.
“You’d want me to practice magic within your conclave, though,” Harry said.
“I would be a fool not to offer you a position in my conclave in the future,” Deering said simply. “You’re powerful, and your parselcraft is pure, which is not a circumstance any of us anticipated due to the entrenchment of a horcrux. The choice will be yours in the years to come. You won’t be pressured into it if that is a concern.”
“I’m rapidly becoming immune to other people’s expectations,” Harry admitted as he focused on Ragnok. “If the horcrux wasn’t the issue…” He trailed off and raised an eyebrow.
“I plan to have all of the horcruxes in hand by the new year,” Ragnok explained. “At that point, we must consider how much time we’d have before Riddle realizes his horcruxes aren’t safe.”
“He’ll act out,” Harry said. “Perhaps even violently—he’ll probably suspect Dumbledore, so the school will be at risk.” He wet his lips. “Maybe he’ll suspect me, or he’ll try to infiltrate the bank to remove the horcrux Bellatrix hid in her vault. Certainly, his goal will be to secure at least one of them.”
“Would he risk making another?” Hermione questioned.
“Not in his current body,” Ragnok said. “The magical backlash would certainly unmoor him. Thanks to a member of the Glain Neidr, we’ve come upon the ritual circumstances Riddle chose to emulate. The Gaunt family lost parselcraft generations before Riddle was born. They chose to fake it with beast speaking rituals.
“Riddle must have found the Chamber of Secrets early in his time at Hogwarts. He’d also discovered his distant connection to Salazar Slytherin. We know, based on his current appearance, that he did some fairly advanced beast speaking rituals. The horcrux ritual he chose to engage in was originally created by a cult of coatl worshippers. Though they quickly realized how corruptive the practice was and abandoned it. Riddle is deeply invested in the idea that he springs from the well of a grand pure-blood legacy. The Gaunt family was certainly deeply invested in their pure-blood ancestry, to an unfortunate and disgusting degree.”
“They inbred themselves into extinction,” Hermione said and made a face. “These people need to get out more and date people they aren’t related to.”
“Certainly, but certain families in Britain have no use for information regarding genetics and other scientific information that comes from Muggle sources. If you ever want to have a superior afternoon, help a pure-blood figure out where their food is grown and who’s doing the work for it.”
Harry snorted but then focused on the situation on hand. “So, what do you want me to do?”
“Have you ever heard the term a Petition of Judgment?” Ragnok questioned.
“No.” Harry glanced toward Hermione and found the color had drained from her face. “Mi?”
“I…” She took a deep breath. “Neither of us had any sort of introduction to the spiritual component of ritual magic nor the relationship Zirnitra has with magic.” Hermione clutched her trembling hands together. “Would the Black Dragon even respond to someone who has never offered him a single moment’s thought?”
“Zirnitra nor his wife, Hekate, are like the gods you’ve heard of when you lived in the Muggle world,” Ragnok said roughly. “Zirnitra has been a part of this world since before magic spread. He has been known by many names and has walked amongst in various forms throughout his long-life. All he asks of all magical creatures is that we respect his wife and the gifts her very existence gives us. Should we fail in that duty, he stands in judgment over us. One cannot blame him for that, he waited alone for many of thousands of years before Hekate came to stand with him.”
Harry shifted in his chair as he considered that they’d said and not said. “You want me to ask Zirnitra to sit in judgment of Tom Riddle’s crimes, and since Master Deering is here—it will be a ritual of some sort.” He wet his lips. “Would the members of the Glain Neidr follow me in ritual? I would have to lead it, right? Is it complicated? Will I have to build the circle because that could take years?”
“I would build the circle,” Deering interjected. “And my inner circle, the men who were with you earlier in the day for the horcrux removal would indeed follow you in ritual. The chieftain was not the only one impressed by your fortitude and strength during that event.”
Harry nodded. “Okay. So I just ask Zirnitra to judge Tom Riddle.”
“You would petition him, yes, but I can’t guarantee he would decide in your favor. Zirnitra is a neutral god and, while Tom Riddle’s actions on this earth have been horrific by our standards, he might not be all that concerned about the whole situation. I doubt he would punish you for seeking his attention even he didn’t decide in your favor.”
Harry nodded. “Then it will hurt nothing to try,” he said and glanced toward Hermione, who made a soft sound of distress. “You disagree?”
She shook her head, and tears welled in her eyes. “It’s just a lot, and I know we shouldn’t wait, but it feels like everything happened so fast.”
“It would be nice to get it all handled so we can prepare for OWLs,” Harry decided. “And I have a whole campaign to plan with the kids in the village regarding the garden gnome situation. We’re pretty sure they’re planning something pretty outrageous, and there could be a rebellion any minute now.”
Hermione stared at him for a long moment, then started to laugh. “Harry.”
“Are you sure you aren’t French?” Harry questioned. “You really lack in the stoic reserve department. I should report you to someone for lower than average level of Britishness. I think you might even prefer coffee to tea, which is probably a gross breach of the national trust.”
Her face got complicated then she huffed. “My mother is from France, actually.” She crossed her arms over her chest when he grinned at her.
Crisis slightly averted, Harry focused on Ragnok. “I trust you have something for me to study and read?”
“We’ll retool several of your classes in the weeks going forward to prepare you for the event,” Ragnok said and focused on Deering. “Master Deering, if you would prepare the ritual floor in the Hall of Mages and your inner circle for the ritual, I would appreciate it.”
Deering stood. “Of course, I’ll pass Thaddeus any instructions I have regarding preparations for the ritual, and I’ll discuss the magical requirements with Mistress Omis as he may need additional potions to shore up his physical and magical strength for the ritual.”
Harry reached out and took Hermione’s hand. “Relax.”
“I…” She exhaled. “I’m trying really hard not to be another source of stress, you know.”
“You’re just used to being in charge of solving the problem,” Harry said. “It isn’t like either one of us has ever had any experience with, you know, actual adults doing their job in a way that doesn’t nearly ruin us.”
Hermione clenched her fingers briefly against his, and she shook her head. “Yeah, you’re right. Let’s go home and have some cake. Piper and I made a red velvet cake while we were waiting for word about the ritual.”
“I’d love some cake,” Harry admitted. “And some tea.”
“Milk, it’s late,” she corrected as he stood and tugged her from the chair. “Honestly.”
“Milk,” Harry agreed. “Bossy.”
“Superficially, she’s a death adder,” Banner said roughly.
Ragnok raised an eyebrow and walked around the magical field Banner was using to hold Nagini. Banner had returned to the bank and immediately requested that Carter Meyers come in. Meyers had dual masteries in curse-breaking and creature management. Meyers was leaning against the wall in the back of the high-security vault, stone-faced.
“There are no irregularities in her appearance,” Ragnok said. The snake was watching him, which was off-putting, to say the least. “Her vision appears to be abnormal.”
“That was my first clue,” Banner admitted. “She sees and far more than just shapes like a snake of her species should. Even magical snakes normally have poor eyesight.” He glanced toward Meyers.
“She has superior eyesight for a serpent,” Meyers said roughly. “But this is no snake.”
Ragnok accepted that with a nod. “Cursed animagus?”
“Maledictus,” Banner murmured. “She’s probably close to a hundred years old. The curse is fulfilled, and it can’t be reversed. How she allowed herself to be reduced to this, I don’t know. I’ve never known a maledictus to accept the permanent transformation. Normally, they make arrangements to end their life before accepting such an existence.”
“Someone broke her,” Meyers said. “Emotionally or mentally, perhaps both. I could do some research into her origin, but in the end, the only humane thing to do is kill her. She’s living a hellish existence and doesn’t deserve to exist as that foul bastard’s pet.”
“We’ll prepare her for the ritual,” Ragnok said finally. “If she survives the petition, then her life will be ended as painlessly as possible. There is no need to torture her with the removal of the horcrux only to kill her later.”
“Granted,” Meyers said. “I’d like to put her in stasis then—so she’ll not have to suffer this condition a single moment more.”
“Agreed,” Banner said roughly. “Seeing her like this—knowing her humanity has been permanently stripped from her is galling.”
Ragnok nodded. “Very well, I leave her in your capable hands, Master Meyers. Banner will retain the key to this vault until it’s time for the ritual. I trust your stasis spells, but for her own safety, one of you should check on her every day to ensure she’s not fought free of it. I wouldn’t want her to starve to death while we prepare for the ritual.”
“We’ll take care of her, sir,” Banner said. “It’s the least we can do.”
“And clearly more than anyone else ever did,” Ragnok said with a grimace and left the vault. He paused out on the platform and focused on Nagini once more. “Do your research, Master Meyers, so we can honor her culture at the time of her death. If she has family left in the world, they should have her remains at the end, and if not, we will memorialize her ourselves.”
“Will you tell Harry?” Banner questioned.
Ragnok couldn’t tell what the wizard’s preference was, but he saw nothing to be gained from keeping secrets from Potter when it came to matters involving Riddle and his horcruxes. “I will. There is no telling how things will shake out during the petition, and it wouldn’t do for him to be taken by surprise in such a situation.”
“Do you think Zirnitra will actually respond?” Meyers questioned. “It’s been many hundreds of years since he was visibly amongst us. Some even begin to question whether or not he’s still with us.”
“Those that would question the continued existence of the Black Dragon know nothing of magic,” Ragnok said roughly. “And, yes, I’m certain that will Zirnitra will respond personally to the petition.” He paused. “My real concern is that he won’t be the only one.” He just shrugged when Meyers’ mouth dropped open. “Potter’s magical legacy is fraught with matters I’m not at liberty to discuss.”
“Of course,” Carter said and nodded. “If he wants to see her…should we allow it?”
“Yes, for both of their sakes,” Ragnok said and left.
– – – –
They landed on the outskirts of the Forbidden forest near Hagrid’s hut. Harry pulled his cloak closer and took a deep breath as the warming charms settled closer to his skin. He hadn’t worn the cloak since Ragnok had revealed it to be a Deathly Hallow, but even knowing that it had once graced Death’s own back didn’t really put him off. He felt safe in the cloak. He always had.
The map showed the school to be almost empty. The house-elves remained, and Minerva McGonagall was in her quarters. There were a handful of students, but it was late at night, so they were all asleep. Harry wondered where Dumbledore was and why McGonagall had been left to manage the whole castle by herself. Even Filch was gone. Ragnok shifted closer to him.
“Call your elf,” the dverger instructed.
The elf appeared in front of them and leaned forward a little. “Is Master Harry playing a game?”
“In a way, yes,” Harry agreed. “Dobby, can you see my companions?”
“No, but I be feeling them,” Dobby said. “One dverger and two wizards.” He rocked on his heels. “What kind of game you be playing?”
“We have to sneak into the castle and find something,” Harry said. “Why is Professor McGonagall the only professor here?”
“Dumbles or Professor Kitty must stay at all times with the big wards activated. Other professors leave, so wards settle and get strong.”
“Big wards,” Harry murmured. “Do you mean war wards? Did Dumbledore activate the defensive wards to protect the school?”
“Oh, yes, keep out bad wizards,” he paused. “And…others he think be dark.”
“Like the dverger,” Harry surmised. “Will the wards allow me to enter?”
“Wards not hurt students,” Dobby assured.
“But not my companions?” Harry questioned.
“Big wards hurt your friends, Harry Potter.” Dobby shook his head. “Dobby sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, Dobby,” Harry said. “Thank you for your help. I’ll be going to the Room of Requirement tonight. Can you help me if I get in trouble?”
“Dobby always help Harry Potter,” the elf exclaimed then popped away.
“No way in hell am I sending you into that school alone,” Ragnok said huffily. “My life wouldn’t be worth living if Lenore found out.”
“You can’t enter, and I’m not sure Master Banner or Meyers can either without significant injury,” Harry pointed out. “Or their entry would alert Dumbledore. I don’t think Professor McGonagall would attempt to hold me hostage if she catches me.”
“You don’t know how that old bastard has spelled her,” Thaddeus interjected. “Going in alone is a mistake.”
Harry unfolded the map and activated it with a murmur. He shifted it until he could see the Gryffindor tower. It wasn’t much of a surprise to find it almost empty. “There isn’t a Weasley in the place, so that’s something.”
“Your prior experience with an horcrux doesn’t equal the ability to withstand whatever magic might be on the diadem,” Ragnok said. “Lenore’s visions of it are unclear. We don’t know how it’s cursed.”
“I imagine it’s cursed to be used,” Harry said. “Like all the others—cursed to be used as they’re intended to be used so the horcrux within can gain power and knowledge. Wear the ring, write in the diary, wear the locket, wear the diadem…” He trailed off with a frown. “Except for Nagini, whose very magical existence seems to be fueling the one she carries. This is the best time to try for this one, and you know it.”
“I do know it,” Ragnok said. “For fuck’s sake. Banner return to the bank and bring Hermione to us.”
“Sir?” Thaddeus asked in surprise.
“She’s a student, too. The heart of Dumbledore’s complaints to the ICW is that both Potter and Granger are currently enrolled at Hogwarts and can’t be removed as students because of the freeze on most of the ministry’s departments. Besides, she’s done more to keep him alive since she met him than I ever will,” Ragnok muttered. “He needs someone to watch his back in this, and she’s the only choice we have due to the warding situation.”
Banner apparated with a faint pop.
Harry closed the map with trembling hands. “I didn’t want her to more involved than she already is.”
“Give me another choice,” Ragnok ordered.
“I don’t have one,” Harry admitted. “We’ve seen what a horcrux will do to a house-elf, so I don’t want to risk him. He doesn’t deserve to be used that way.” He sighed when there was another faint pop.
It wasn’t too much of a surprise when Hermione’s hand slipped into his despite his use of the cloak. She’d always been able to find him when he wore it. He squeezed her fingers gently.
“We might have to fight our way out,” he said roughly. “Can you handle that?”
“We’ve got some save-the-world stuff going on, Harry, so yeah, I can handle it,” Hermione said. “We can fly up to one of the towers using your broom. The less we have to move around the school, the better. There could be alarms on the gates and front doors.”
“Yeah,” Harry murmured and prodded his bracelet to remove his broom. “We should avoid doing magic inside the school, so end your disillusionment charm.” He pulled off his cloak and let his broom hover beside them. “Dobby.”
The elf popped back in front of him.
“Hermione and I are going into the school. I want you to stay here with Chieftain Ragnok so he can let me know if anything happens out here that’s a problem. I’ll call for you if we get captured.”
“Dobby stay,” the house-elf agreed and happily sat down in a patch of moonlight.
Harry passed the cloak to Hermione and swung a leg over the broom then offered her his hand. She slid on behind him, hooked her feet over his, and whipped the cloak in the air around them. It settled over them both and clung gently. There was a tap to his broom, and it disappeared with a shimmer of magic.
“A simple finite will restore it,” Ragnok murmured. “Don’t hesitate to stun anyone who gets in your way, Harry. You can’t afford to be gentle about it. I think you both know that Dumbledore would do a lot to gain custody of you. The ICW would have to lay siege to this place to get you back.” He took in a noisy breath. “Don’t touch the diadem if you can avoid it. The highly magical circumstances of the Room of Requirement should hide any magic you do from the wards.” A moleskin pouch appeared in the air in front of him. “It’s currently empty.”
Harry took the pouch and flicked it into his bracelet. “We can handle this, sir.”
“Take no chances with Dumbledore, lad, you know exactly what you stand to lose if you fall victim to his machinations.”
Hermione’s arms tightened around his waist.
“I’ll remember.” He used his free hand to cover hers briefly then lifted the broom up into the air. “Hold on, Mi.”
“I will.” She pressed against his back and her hands clenched against his stomach.
He was glad, suddenly, that they’d spent so much time flying around Agharti. She moved with him easily as he flew high above the forest. There was a little brush of warmth against his cheeks despite the outside temperature as they passed over the ward boundary.
“Okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, no weird feelings,” she said against his hair. “You?”
“Just got a little warm. I think it was an environmental ward. They use them in Agharti over the community fields. Though it felt a little simple compared.”
“Dverger warding magic is very complicated compared to what witches and wizards can lay on their own without resorting to blood magic, which most are loathe to do,” Hermione explained and huffed. “Sorry, you know that.”
He laughed a little. “I did know, but it comforts you to share information when you’re nervous, so it’s fine.”
She pulled the cloak closer to their bodies, and it seemed to clutch to his clothes. “Thanks.”
He made a loop around the tower he’d chosen, which was fairly close to the stairs they could take to get to the third floor without using the main staircase. Harry flew away from the tower and stopped the broom as he turned to face the school. He pulled the map from his bracelet and passed it to her.
“Check to make sure the way is clear.”
She pressed the map against his back and whispered the activation phrase. After a few moments, she whispered, “It looks good.”
“I’m worried that Ron might have told Dumbledore about the map. What if he figured out how to hide from it?”
“He has no reason to think we’d return to the school,” Harry pointed out.
“But he has plenty of reasons for not wanting to be tracked in his own school by an artifact outside in his control.” Hermione huffed a little. “I don’t think we have a choice, but we need to be very careful once we get into the school.”
Harry moved forward and hesitated only briefly to lower the broom, so his feet touched the floor. They dismounted the broom together, her grip tightened briefly as the cloak moved around him. He shifted her to his side and pulled the hood over their heads more securely.
“Stay close to me,” he murmured as he stored the broom and pulled his wand then took her hand. “Anything moving?”
“No,” she murmured and frowned at the map. “I hate that I’m not sure we can trust it. Plus, Dumbledore found you while you were wearing this cloak,” Hermione pointed out.
“Because he had tracking charms on me,” Harry reminded. “If I can hide from Death with this thing, then what hope does Dumbledore actually have without his little tricks?”
“True,” Hermione said.
They moved down the stairs quickly and quietly then paused at the entrance to the hallway. Hermione checked the map again and gave him a silent nod. He tightened his hold on her hand briefly, and they turned down the hall to head for the troll tapestry. Thankfully, it was exactly where he remembered it to be, which was honestly kind of weird since the castle had a habit of rearranging herself on some unknown schedule.
“You do it,” she whispered.
I need a place to hide something, he thought repeatedly, and together they moved back and forth in front of the tapestry three times. A door was revealed, and Harry released her hand to grab the knob. They slipped into the room quickly, and he let himself relax a little. The door disappeared behind them.
“Right.” He pulled the cloak off of them and stored it in his bracelet. “Any movement?”
“Nothing that I can see,” she said with a huff. “If Ron did tell Dumbledore about this bloody map, I’m going to…do far more than I already have planned.”
Harry grinned at her. “I did take note of the whole series of columns you wrote about emotional and verbal abuse. Practically every girl in Gryffindor has to know you’re talking about him in those examples.”
“Yes, well, he is a verbally abusive git, and that’s probably the sort of thing that would escalate if he was allowed a single bit of leeway,” Hermione said and folded the map. She tucked it into the pocket of her jeans and looked around the room. “Right, the journal said it was down the middle row hanging on some statue.”
“Remind me to take the vanishing cabinet on our way out,” Harry said. “The chieftain said it was instrumental in Death Eaters getting into the school during our original sixth year. He’s still trying to track down the other end of it—it hasn’t shown up in the shop Malfoy bought it from yet.”
“They probably won’t even try to buy it if the partner isn’t here at Hogwarts,” Hermione said. “Though they might try to import a pair, but they’re stupidly rare and very expensive. The Malfoy’s don’t have as much money as they would like, and Narcissa no longer has access to the Black family trust.” She slipped her hand back into his. “This room is fascinating, I wish my other self had written more about it.”
“The journal was pretty focused on the war and the horcruxes,” Harry said. “So give her a break.”
Hermione laughed. “Right.”
Within a few moments, they were standing in front of the statue holding the diadem. They might have overlooked it if they weren’t looking for it, which was probably what Riddle had intended. Harry pulled the pouch and his athame from his bracelet and offered Hermione the bag. She gamely opened it wide enough to accommodate the diadem.
“He’s a real arrogant arsehole,” Harry muttered as he hooked the ritual knife under the diadem and very carefully lifted it off the statue. “Just leaving this here out in the open like it’s no big deal at all.”
“The horcruxes are a means to an end,” Hermione said and averted her gaze. “It’s very tempting.”
Harry focused on her. “What?”
“I mean, even if it wasn’t swamped in compelling magic, I’d probably want to put it on because it belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw.” She bit down on her lip. “Don’t you want to wear it?”
“No, it looks hideous to me,” Harry admitted roughly. “I feel like putting it on would be agonizing.” He dropped it into the pouch then took it from her. He closed the bag then stored it and the athame in his bracelet. “Are you okay?”
“It’s better now,” Hermione admitted. “I mean, I could ignore the compulsion, but it was stronger than I expected it to be considering the experience we had with the diary. In retrospect, do you think it made you write in it?”
“No,” Harry said. “But, I do wonder if Ginny had to be cajoled into doing what she did or if she was on board with trying to kill you with the basilisk.”
Hermione made a face. “Don’t give me another reason to curse her, Harry. My list is already extremely long.” She pulled the map out of her pocket and unfolded it. “Oh.”
“Oh?” Harry questioned.
“Dumbledore is at the bottom of the tower we used to enter the school.” She huffed. “I guess he couldn’t figure out how the map worked without having it in hand. The wards must have told him someone entered the school via broom.”
“Well, he knows a student used a broom to enter the school,” Harry said. “Maybe he knows it’s me. We should work under the assumption that he’s waiting on me to try to leave that way.” He shifted around to look at the map. Dumbledore started to move down the hall toward them.
“Put on the cloak,” she said.
“Put on the cloak, and I’ll act as a distraction,” she decided and folded the map up.
“No way,” he protested hotly. “He could hurt you!”
“At most, he’ll take me hostage to try to manipulate you,” Hermione said. “But he won’t have a hope of keeping custody of me, the International Brouhaha is still going on, and the ministry can’t protect him.”
“No,” Harry said firmly. “Being in his custody for even a bloody minute could ruin your fucking life.” Her cheeks flushed.
“No, buts,” Harry said firmly. “I’d count myself no sort of wizard at all if I allowed you to do this. That old arsehole out there has no idea what either of us is capable of, and maybe it’s time he got a lesson. He won’t expect us to attack first, so that’s what we’ll do.” He took her hand and pulled her toward the door.
“He knows we’re here,” Harry said. “I don’t want to risk him taking the cloak from me. The last thing that arsehole needs is to have two Deathly Hallows, again.”
“This is the most Gryffindor thing you’ve ever done,” Hermione complained. “When we get out of this—I’m going to lecture you for hours, Harry Potter. I’m going to take turns with Mistress Omis!”
Harry grinned at her. “We’ll both need room to move, so when I let go of your hand, that’s your sign to draw your wand and treat Dumbledore like the worst enemy you’ve ever known.” He grew serious. “His survival may not be an option.”
Her eyes widened. “Harry.” She wet her lips.
“Save-the-world stuff, yeah?”
She smiled briefly, but tears were welling in her eyes. “You’re right—our only hope of beating him is to take him unaware.”
He pulled his wand and gently tapped her head. She disappeared with a shimmer of magic, he did the same to himself. “He might be able to detect that we’re here, but if he can’t see who he’s facing, he might hesitate further. The wards should’ve told him that he’s dealing with students.”
“He can’t afford to outright kill you,” Hermione murmured.
Which worked to his advantage, and Harry knew he needed all the advantages he could get. “If you have any opportunity to take his wand—do it,” Harry said roughly.
“Right.” Hermione took a deep audible breath, and her fingers clenched against his. “Let’s go.”
“I love you,” he blurted out and felt his face heat even though she couldn’t actually see him. “You’re the truest and most amazing part of my life, Hermione. Don’t ever doubt it.”
“Harry Potter, who told you that right before a fight is the proper time to tell a witch such a thing?” she demanded. “You’re the worst.”
He laughed and opened the door. The hall was quiet, and the portraits were empty. As the door closed and disappeared, Harry noted that the trolls were no longer dancing. The silence was disturbing, it was as if the whole school had been put into some kind of stasis. Dumbledore’s impact on the wards had never been more evident.
They rounded the corner and saw him. Dumbledore was standing in the center of the hallway in front of them, near the entrance to the tower they’d used. Harry wondered if they could enter one of the empty classrooms and push past the safety charms on a window. The older wizard drew his wand in a dramatic fashion, and Harry rolled his eyes. He really bloody hated drama.
“I’m surprised you’ve made this so easy for me, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “What could’ve possibly caused you to leave your little goblin nest?”
Harry let go of Hermione’s hand and moved away from her. He stepped forward several steps, and Dumbledore’s gaze stayed on him. “Tracking charm?”
“The wards marked your magical signature the moment you crossed the boundary,” Dumbledore said. “Impressed?”
“That you knowingly violated an underage wizard’s privacy?” Harry questioned. “Not at all. More and more, I’ve come to realize that you’re utterly corrupt. Some days, I wonder if I’m meant to defeat Riddle or you.”
“I’m the leader of the light,” Dumbledore said as he moved closer. “Everything would’ve been easier for all involved if you’d just done as you were told, Harry. You’ve caused a lot of good people to lose their jobs at the ministry. The ICW is intruding on matters that are none of their business, and that is your fault as well. In the end, many could very well die, and you’ll be to blame.”
“For a war that started decades before I was born?” Harry laughed. “Stop trying to gaslight me, you disgusting old bastard. Who Riddle kills is on him, and those that die because of your machinations and secrets is on you. It would do your mental health a world of good if you recognized that. All these years later, you’re still blaming Gellert Grindelwald for Arianna’s death when it was your fault he was anywhere near her, to begin with.”
“What do you know about my sister?” Dumbledore demanded. “What lies have those little beasts told you?”
Harry laughed. “I got an advanced copy of a book my good friend Rita is writing. She’s going to make money hand over fist, making your golden years a misery. I honestly look forward to it. Maybe you’ll suffer enough before you die to make up for the life I had with the Dursleys.”
Dumbledore glared openly at him and flicked his wand. A silent spell sailed toward Harry, and he drew his staff. “Expelliarmus!” He dodged the spell just as Dumbledore crumpled to the ground, and the Elder Wand flip through the air. He caught it with a shocked huff.
Minerva McGonagall appeared in a flash of magic and casually hit Dumbledore with three different silent spells. The last one caused ropes to whip around the old wizard roughly. “Potter?”
He ended his disillusionment spell. “Professor…you…” He wet his lips as Hermione appeared beside him and glanced her way.
“I was trying to work my way behind him, so I could stun him,” Hermione admitted with a flush and glanced toward their head of house who was glaring at him. “Ma’am.”
“You bloody reckless little cubs,” she hissed. “What could possibly make you come here?”
“I can’t say,” Harry said. “I wish we could tell you, truly.”
“He’s locked down the wards, and I don’t have the power to overrule him, not magically or within the warding scheme,” Minerva said. “No one is leaving without his permission. He probably has reinforcements coming, so we have to get you out of here. Neither Snape nor Moody is to be trifled with.” She took Hermione’s hand as she passed between them and tugged her along. “Come, Potter, put away that ridiculous staff and show me the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets.”
“It’s in Myrtle’s bathroom,” Harry replied. He stored his staff and the Elder Wand before drawing his own wand. “Are you going to get in trouble?”
“My time here at Hogwarts is over for the time being,” Minerva said. “But I knew that was coming when I refused to rejoin the Order of the Phoenix.”
Harry considered that. Part of him wanted her to be safe from Dumbledore, but he realized there were students in the school who needed her. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, lad, he’s been trying to find a reason to fire me since he realized I wouldn’t allow him to use me to persuade the two of to return to Hogwarts,” Minerva said. “I have a safe place to land with my man.”
“Your man?” Hermione questioned with a smile.
“Yes, Potter met him earlier in the year.”
Harry was really certainly he’d remember that. He scowled as he followed after them. “Which one of those old wizards are you dating? Bertrand? He’s French, and he has a foul mouth. Ito? He’s thousands of years old, and I think he’s a womanizer, Professor.” He huffed when she just shot him a look as they entered the bathroom. “Is it High Warlock Sarr? I’m torn between being shocked and proud. He’s half your age.”
“Harry! Mind your own business.” Hermione glared at him, then looked around the bathroom. “Well, where is it?”
“The sinks move,” Harry said with a frown toward his head of house.
“You kicked him out of a meeting just as the International Brouhaha started, lad. Don’t worry, he was quite impressed with your operational security,” McGonagall said as she closed the door to the bathroom and threw several charms at it.
“Croaker?” Harry frowned. “You’re dating someone who works for the ministry? Have you met Chief Justice Bertrand? I mean, his mouth is foul, but he heads the world court, so he has a great job and isn’t corrupt.”
“Unspeakables work for the Crown,” Hermione retorted and shook her head. “Stay out of her love life.”
“I’m just concerned,” Harry protested. “I haven’t even properly met this wizard! I don’t even know his name. He could be a Death Eater.”
“I hardly need your protection, Potter,” Minerva said sharply. “Open this entryway so we can get the hell out of here before I have to pick a fight with someone.”
“His name is Jonah McGregor,” Hermione said. “It was in the paper. High Warlock Sarr insisted that the heads of each department be publicly accountable, and McGregor removed his hood in an open session of the World Court.”
Harry found the little snake and hissed, “Open.” He winced at the slide. “Let me go down first so I can make sure neither of you gets hurt with the landing.” He jumped before they could actively protest.
He landed on a pile of debris which hurt, honestly, because it was mostly rubble from the cave-in. He banished as much of it away as he could and called up, “Okay.”
A few moments passed, and he caught Hermione easily. She sent him a sour look at that told him he was going to get a lecture about her abilities and his sexism at the next available opportunity. She joined him on the other side of the exit, and they caught their professor together.
McGonagall huffed a little and smoothed out her dress. “Bloody Slytherin couldn’t make a proper set of steps, could he?” She brushed dirt from her robe. “Thank you for your chivalry, Potter. It’s practically a lost art in the world today.”
Hermione rolled her eyes at him when he smirked at her.
“Okay, the chamber is this way,” Harry pointed ahead. “The snake had a nesting area hidden behind the statue.”
“Yes, this is outside the wards, and Albus repeatedly complained about not being able to find the entrance to the chamber or a parselmouth that would help him. The last one he tried to hire told him that he’d rather not put himself at odds with the future Patron of the Horde.” She shot Harry a knowing look. “Apparently, killing a basilisk down here made the chamber your domain as far as other parselmouths are concerned.”
Harry figured it might be more about the Glain Neidr than anything else, but he just nodded. “Honestly, Professor, the headmaster isn’t exactly making friends left and right with his politics and racism.”
“He used to be much better at hiding it,” Minerva admitted. “Filius put in his notice with the school governors. He said he cannot work for a wizard of Dumbledore’s low moral fiber and still maintain any level of self-respect.”
“Maybe they should just fire him and Snape before the whole staff leaves,” Hermione muttered.
Harry couldn’t agree more, but he focused on the door and hissed for it to open. He’d expected the smell of decay to be overwhelming. The chamber torches lit as he entered, highlighting the looming body of the snake.
“Oh my fucking god,” Hermione whispered in a horrified tone.
“Miss Granger,” Minerva said faintly. “Your language.”
“Look at it,” Hermione said, and her voice broke a little.
“It’s fine,” Harry said and took her hand. “I promise. It can’t hurt you ever again.”
“I barely saw it in the mirror,” Hermione whispered. “And the memory…I could hardly focus on it. God, you were just twelve.”
“It’s worth a lot of money,” McGonagall said shortly and pointed her wand at it. It shrank dramatically, and she threw a few spells at it. “Put that in your dimensional store, Potter, and sell it for yourself. It’s your kill, after all.”
Harry summoned it with a grimace, caught it, and tossed it in his bracelet. “How much money?”
“More than enough for a very comfortable life,” Minerva said. She looked around the chamber. “How did the snake get out here? You said she had a nest? She had to have been hunting in the Forbidden Forest since Riddle woke her while he was a student.”
Harry focused on the statue of Salazar Slytherin. “Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four!” The door opened, revealing a tunnel.
Hermione drew her wand, and the tip lit with a lumos charm.
“Nice silent spell work, Miss Granger,” McGonagall praised. “500 points to Gryffindor.” She smirked and stalked off ahead of them.
“I think she just took one final chance to stick it to Snape,” Harry said in wonder.
Hermione giggled. “I’ve never earned so many points at once before.”
Harry just tugged her down the tunnel. “Wait for me, Professor, there could be traps or whatnot.”
“I’m a grown witch, Potter,” McGonagall snapped over her shoulder.
“Yeah, of course, but you don’t speak parseltongue at all,” he exclaimed with a huff as they picked up their pace and drew even with her. “Honestly.”
“If this is how you are all the time now, I don’t know how Miss Granger puts up with you,” McGonagall said tartly.
Shortly, they were at a large iron gate. The forest spread out on the other side of it.
“I wonder how close we are to the acromantula colony,” McGonagall said with a frown.
“Very far,” Harry assured. “Chieftain Ragnok approached Hagrid in October about moving the colony into Agharti for their own safety. I’m kind of surprised Hagrid hasn’t let that little secret out.”
“Hagrid stopped coming into the castle after the first few articles about Dumbledore,” Minerva admitted. “He’s quite hurt by the whole thing. He thought Albus was a good man but to be slapped in the face with how he really feels about other magical creatures…it’s been very difficult for many of us. The centaur threatened to murder him if he sets foot on their land again. The merfolk in the lake presented a petition to the ICW to be migrated to another location.”
“Again,” Harry began, “It would be easier to fire him.”
“You aren’t the only thinking it,” Minerva assured, she pointed her wand at the iron gate, and a spell shot out which made the whole thing swing open with a loud whine. “Did you two come here alone?”
“No, we had a whole team, but my house-elf warned me that the wards would keep them out.” Harry pulled out his still-invisible broom as they left the tunnel, and McGonagall closed the gate behind them. “I’ll have to fly high above the forest to find their location. Where will you go, Professor?”
“I have a safe house,” Minerva said and glanced back toward Hogwarts. “Dumbledore has probably worked his way free of those stunning spells and the incarceration spell I used. Do you have your cloak? Where’s your broom?”
He pulled out the cloak and passed it to Hermione. “My broom is in my hand. Chieftain Ragnok spelled it invisible.” He slid astride the broom, and Hermione clamored on board behind him. She threw the cloak on but didn’t put up the hood. “You’re sure you’ll be safe, ma’am? I can arrange for you to have quarters in the bank for a while.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Minerva instructed. “Off with you now—I’ll write the two of you a letter when I’m settled.”
Hermione pulled the hood up over them, and Harry turned his broom back toward the forest near Hagrid’s hut as McGonagall apparated away with a faint snap. He settled for a flight path just above the trees to lower a chance of anyone seeing anything, and shortly, he was landing just shy of the spot where Dobby still sat.
“Are either of you hurt,” Ragnok demanded as he appeared.
Banner and Meyers ended their disillusion charms as well.
“No, sir, we’re fine,” Harry said. “Mission accomplished.” Hermione left the broom first and took the cloak with her, so Harry flicked the pouch out of his bracelet and offered it to the chieftain. “We had a run-in with Dumbledore, though.” He glanced around. “But we can talk about that later.”
“Is he dead?” Banner questioned.
“Didn’t get a chance,” Harry admitted and smiled when Hermione huffed.
Ragnok offered his hand. “Time to go.”
Hermione took Banner’s arm as Harry took the dverger chieftain’s hand without a second thought.
“Thank you for your help tonight, Dobby. Stay safe, okay?”
“Dobby keep watching Dumbles,” the elf declared at popped away.
“That is one chatty, bizarre house-elf,” Meyers said, and Harry felt the gentle squeeze of Ragnok’s apparition spell before he could say anything about that.
– – – –
“It doesn’t look like much,” Razel muttered.
Ragnok glanced briefly at his son, then focused on Potter, who was slouched down in a chair in front of his desk. When the boy had unceremoniously drawn the Elder Wand and put it on his desk, he’d felt his sense of reality briefly shift. Banner’s hand curled around the top of Potter’s chair, and he cleared his throat.
“Is that…” Banner trailed off.
“The Elder Wand,” Harry said, then waved a hand at himself. “Master of Death, apparently, at your service.” He blew air out between his lips. “Whatever the hell that means.”
“I have to admit that I have no idea what it means, exactly, as it pertains to your duty in this life or for the state of your magic,” Ragnok said. “But Lenore was clear that the role was yours to inhabit until your death.” He steepled his hands under his chin and stilled the urge to pull on his beard in frustration. “Tell me what happened?”
“Dumbledore had the wards arranged so he’d know specifically if I entered them, a tracking charm on my magical signature,” Harry explained. “He stationed himself between us and the tower. I didn’t want to risk the cloak being out and about in his presence for obvious reasons. I don’t know why he gave it up originally, but I didn’t want to give him a chance to take it back. We used disillusionment charms. He didn’t know about Hermione, so he clearly was relying solely on the tracking charm to keep track of me.
“He fired a silent spell at me. I dodged it and used a disarming charm on him. He didn’t have a chance to fight it because Minerva McGonagall stunned him in the back.”
Ragnok raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?”
“She’s really upset with him. He had the whole school locked down so she couldn’t help us leave. We used the Chamber of Secret’s exit, and I have the basilisk carcass in my bracelet. It hadn’t decayed at all since I killed it.”
“It would probably remain unchanged for a decade or more due to age and magical circumstances,” Banner said.
Razel pulled a trunk from his own bracelet and opened it on the desk in front of Harry. “Let me have that, and I’ll take it Sharprock for rendering.”
Harry gratefully removed the snake from his bracelet and dropped it in the trunk. “Thanks.”
Razel closed the trunk and stored it.
“What happened after she stunned him?” Ragnok questioned.
“She stunned him a few more times then used an incarceration charm on him for good measure. Then we left Hogwarts. She told me that she wasn’t planning on returning until Dumbledore left and that Professor Flitwick has tendered his resignation as well. The school governors are going to have a hard time getting people to teach there because of Dumbledore and Riddle. We both know that he’ll target the school.”
“Hopefully, we can neutralize Riddle before he gets the chance to launch any sort of attack on a school full of children,” Banner said
Ragnok nodded and inclined his head toward the wand. “Good job, Harry.”
Harry smiled. “Thanks, I find I’m quite lucky with that spell.”
Ragnok laughed and shook his head. More relieved than ever that he’d never gone into all that much detail with Potter and Granger regarding the final fight between Potter and Riddle. “More than you know.”
“Should I…” Harry pulled out his staff and placed it on the desk between them. The Elder Wand responded by glowing. “Okay.” He wet his lips. “I really don’t want to put the cloak in the staff, too. Do I have to?”
“No, it’s purpose is on your back,” Ragnok said. “But the wand and the stone will be safer housed in your staff. No enemy will know that they are there, and the wand clearly isn’t opposed.”
“The intelligence of it is disturbing,” Banner muttered. “Was the stone similar?”
“It was eager,” Ragnok allowed. “Harry offered it protection. These artifacts have been a part of the magical fabric of our world for a very long time. The fact that they’ve gained sentience isn’t much of a surprise to me.”
“The cloak clings to me,” Harry admitted. “Sometimes it almost feels like armor rather than just an invisibility cloak. Since the moment I touched it, I’ve felt safe in its embrace. It felt like an old friend being returned to me.”
Ragnok refrained from gaping but noted that Banner’s mouth dropped open, at least briefly, in shock. “I see.”
“It’s hard to explain,” the boy said and flushed. He picked up the Elder Wand and very carefully laid it along the shaft of his staff near where he’d placed the Resurrection Stone. “The wand wants to rest, I think. It served two very selfish and dark-minded wizards back to back. It was taxing as it was created to be neutral.”
“Neutral?” Ragnok questioned.
Harry’s eyes had a faint glow when he looked up. Banner and Razel both flinched. Ragnok inclined his head. “Harry?”
“To hold mastery over death on Earth is a position of neutrality,” Harry said. “Death comes to us all, and no one should be immune to it—dying is the most natural thing we do.” He trailed one finger along the Elder Wand. “The Hallows are merely instruments attuned to the wishes of the entity we know as Death. The Master of Death is not…what I thought it was.”
“What is it?” Razel asked hoarsely.
Harry stopped touching the wand, and it sank with a flash into his staff. “I don’t know yet, but I can tell you with all due certainty that absolutely no one tells Death what to do.” He picked up the staff and stored it. “Perhaps I will find out the answer to that question in the future, or maybe that answer is for someone else to know.”
“I should take him home, sir,” Banner said quietly.
He waved a hand at the two wizards. “Go. Tomorrow, our study of ritual magic will begin in earnest.”
Harry figured he’s spent entirely too much time dressing, considering he’d spend most of his day in a ritual robe. He checked his reflection one more time, smoothing down the tie first, then verifying all the buttons of his waistcoat were right. There was a knock on his bedroom door, and he cleared his throat.
Hermione poked her head in. “Hey, they’re ready for us.” She opened the door a little wider and tilted her head. “Are you ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” he admitted. “I’ve memorized what I have to say, and Master Deering says it probably won’t hurt…” He exhaled sharply. “I mean, what else is there?”
“Did you put your new robe in your bracelet?”
“Yeah,” Harry said and flushed. “Honestly, who needs a ritual robe made out of spun mithril?”
“A wizard who’s about to ask the Black Dragon for a favor?” She asked with a grin and leaned on the door frame. “It’ll be fine, Harry. You’ve practiced this for weeks. Neither the chieftain nor Master Armand would have scheduled the ritual if they didn’t think you could handle it. We should go so we can meet Sirius and Isobel for breakfast.”
Harry nodded and retrieved his winter cloak from his closet. “Thaddeus is already in the Hall of Mages. Has Piper left as well?”
“She wanted to take Jamie to her mother’s house in Aberdeen before the ritual. She’ll be back in time to watch,” Hermione reported. “She said to tell you that you’ve nothing to worry about.”
He grinned. “You’d think being married to someone as dour as Thaddeus would’ve solved that optimism problem she’s got.”
Hermione rolled her eyes and left the doorway, so he followed her through the house, pulling on his own cloak. She picked up hers from the back of the sofa and put it on. “We have about twenty minutes until we’re really due for breakfast, so we could take your broom if you like.”
“Trying to manage me, Granger?” Harry asked wryly and caught her hand. He pulled gently, and she moved willingly into his space.
“Someone’s gotta, Potter,” Hermione murmured and took his other hand as well. She pressed her mouth against his in a soft and sweet kiss.
Harry resisted the urge to deepen the kiss because they really didn’t have the time, and he didn’t want to go into the Hall of Mages thinking about anything but the ritual. Too much was at stake for him to get it wrong. He pulled his mouth free and let his forehead rest on hers. “Mi.”
“It’ll be fine.”
He took a deep breath and nodded. “It always is, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” she agreed with a smile. “It’ll be great. Professor McGonagall accepted her invitation.”
“I saw her on the list,” Harry murmured. “She should already be in our private box when you’re escorted to your seat. Thanks for tolerating that, by the way.”
“There’s no need for you to be distracted worrying about me. Besides, Captain Blackaxe is one of my favorite people. She offered to give me axe lessons next year.”
“Cool,” Harry said. “I’m sure you’ll excel.”
“You’re barely keeping the horror off your face,” she said with amusement and laughed when he frowned at her. “Master Gildhard offered me his personal forge for the weapon.”
“Now I’m horrified,” Harry admitted and grinned when she huffed dramatically. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes briefly. “Today, I stand for our house.”
“For all the world,” Hermione corrected gently.
He exhaled. “But no pressure.”
“None at all because you’re a great wizard, just like I said all those years ago,” she murmured. “Let’s go and try to eat, so Sirius won’t worry.”
“Let’s skip the broom ride,” Harry said. “I want to spend as much time with Sirius and Isobel as I can before the ritual.” He pulled her closer and side-apparated them to the mountain when she nodded her agreement.
“You’re getting great with that,” she said as they appeared in front of the lift. “I get to do it next time.”
– – – –
Ragnok walked the perimeter of the circle slowly, reviewing each rune carefully before he moved to the inner layer. The Glain Neidr had worked in shifts twenty-four hours a day for five weeks to complete the series of circles. The outer circle was one of the most robust wards he’d ever seen constructed within a ritual space, but it was exactly what he’d requested.
“Concerns?” Deering questioned.
“Many,” Ragnok said roughly. “But none regarding the space—you and your conclave have done a superior job as I knew you would.”
“High Priestess Lenore came in last night and touched each rune individually with her magic,” Deering said roughly. “I have to admit that it was a disconcerting experience. I’ve never seen a more magical being in my life.”
“Neither have I,” Ragnok said. “She practically put me on my knees the day we met. It was easy to see, then, why her parents sheltered her so much in their mountain. Had they had a say, she’d have never left their care. Fortunately, for me, Lenore has never allowed anyone to shape the path she walks in this world.” He focused on the wizard. “She, alone, knows the most of about Potter’s fate in this world, Armand. So please take no insult that she chose to add her power to your circle.”
“No insult, Chieftain, we’re honored by her trust. Precious few would touch such magic cast by parselmouths,” Armand said. “Mistress Omis has made it clear to me that she will apprentice Potter regarding healing.”
“Then she shall unless Potter would prefer differently,” Ragnok said with a shrug and focused on Deering, who was making a face. “The education of the future Patron of the Horde is important, Armand, but his free will is equally important. At the age of fifteen, he’ll have done more for this world than wizards a hundred years older than him. I won’t allow anyone, not even myself, to pressure him to live a life where every choice is made for him.”
“Healing,” Armand said and rolled his eyes.
Ragnok laughed. “Stop being a snot, old man, it could be worse. What if he wanted to be some sort of enchanter?”
“I’d stick his little arse in bloody mind healing,” Armand declared. “Magical power like his would be wasted with such a thing.”
“Perhaps,” Thaddeus agreed from the sidelines. “But isn’t his happiness more important than how he spends his magical potential?”
Armand grimaced at him. “Fatherhood has made you a ghastly human being, Thaddeus. I don’t know how your wife stands you.”
Banner just offered them both a wry grin then flicked out a black forked tongue that made Ragnok snort with laughter. He checked his watch and looked around the room. The audience had been building steadily as soon as they’d opened the bank for business. The ministry box was currently empty because they were all in a conference room waiting for a meeting he’d rather not have. Ito, Bertrand, and Sarr were also missing as they were chaperoning Dumbledore.
In the two months following Harry’s successful retreat from Hogwarts, Dumbledore had thrown several public tantrums, one of which had gotten him permanently banned from being a customer at Gringotts. He was only allowed in the bank on ministry business and even then could not personally request to speak with Ragnok or any of the high-level administrative staff.
“I have to meet with the ministry people,” Ragnok said roughly. “And they want Harry there for the meeting. Thaddeus, I’ll need you unless you’ve some pressing task for the Glain Neidr.”
“His only task is wrangling Potter free of his little witch and bringing him here,” Armand said roughly. “We need him in his place in the circle within the next ninety minutes, or the power of the circle will wane, and we’ll have to start all over.”
“Understood,” Ragnok said and inclined his head toward Banner. “Let’s get this over with. I’m sure Dumbledore is about to lay down some nonsense that I have no intention of picking up.”
Banner’s mouth quirked briefly, but he just nodded. He glanced around the room, and his gaze settled on the box Harry had requested for his own guests. Piper Banner was there. Ragnok noted that Minerva McGonagall had, indeed, shown up. She’d come to the bank just once she’d left Hogwarts to have tea with Harry and Hermione. He didn’t know how that conversation had gone, but neither of them had been out of sorts afterward. Augusta Longbottom and her grandson were also in the box. He knew why Harry had invited his godbrother to the event—he wanted to make sure Neville Longbottom had no doubts concerning the outcome of the fate that could’ve fallen on either of them.
Ragnok wasn’t all that surprised to find Harry and Hermione waiting with Fyre Blackaxe just outside the conference room when he and Banner arrived.
“Did you have a good breakfast?” he questioned. “The ritual could be quite taxing physically.”
“I ate everything I was given, sir,” Harry promised. “And took the potions Mistress Omis sent me last night.” He glanced toward the door and made a face. “More and more, I’m wondering why I should even entertain Dumbledore’s interference.”
“After today, there will be nothing left for him to interfere with,” Hermione said.
“Oh, love,” Harry said and focused on her. “Please don’t let yourself think that for another moment. Dumbledore will be genuinely obsessed with controlling me as long as he lives. His investment in the prophecy and Tom Riddle will morph in the months to come, and he will start to tailor his goals for me to suit himself and his vision of the greater good. Politically, I’m an asset he will be desperate to control and shape both locally and on an international level. He’s probably already trying to figure out how he can oust Ito and become the Supreme Mugwomp again.”
Hermione’s mouth pressed into a thin line and turned to Ragnok. “In theory, if I dragged Dumbledore’s unconscious carcass into the lift and took him down to the mountain to murder him, could I be charged with any crime in Britain?”
Ragnok grinned at her even as Blackaxe muttered her agreement. “You’ve got the heart of a dragon, lass.”
Harry laughed. “It’ll be fine, Mi. Dumbledore has no idea what I’m capable of, and by the time he truly realizes it, it will be too late to save himself.”
“For the record, you’re both standing on my land,” Ragnok said as he opened the doors. “And only I can determine what is and what is not a crime in this bank.”
He noted the wards dividing the room were glowing. Ragnok shot Blackaxe a knowing look as he motioned Potter and Granger into the room. Clearly, his Captain of the Guard was put out with the humans from the ministry.
“Drama for drama,” Fyre said with a shrug and smiled as he released the doors. She grabbed the handles. “I have active listening charms, as well.” She shot Dumbledore a look before she pulled the doors shut.
“Why is this room warded this way?” Dumbledore demanded.
“It’s always warded this way,” Harry said evenly as he took a seat. “Because we don’t trust you, and I most certainly never will again.”
“One day, you’ll regret all the choices these beasts have encouraged you to make,” Dumbledore said. “Today is a very big mistake, and there is no telling what sort of price you’ll pay for invoking the wrath of the Black Dragon. He’s not a light creature by any means, Harry, and I’m surprised that Miss Granger hasn’t educated herself on the subject enough to tell you that.”
“Zirnitra is neutral,” Harry said. “And I have no reason, whatsoever, to fear his wrath. I’ve lived my magical life with the best of intentions. I’ve never misused the gift given to me by Hekate any single way, so if he graces me with his attention this day, I won’t be the one he sits in judgment of. My heart and my craft are pure. You and I both know you can’t say the same.”
“Precious few could make such a claim, Mr. Potter,” Bertrand interjected. “Unlike Dumbledore, I don’t think you’ll be punished if you fail this day. Chieftain Ragnok has assured us that you’ve been prepared for the ritual and that you’re aware of the consequences if the event doesn’t go in your favor.”
“And it won’t,” Dumbledore protested. “As I already explained to you, Chief Justice, the ritual will fail because Riddle cannot be judged in his current state!”
“You mean because he split his soul?” Harry asked with the most innocent expression Ragnok had ever seen a human put on. The boy turned to Hermione. “It’s fascinating to be in the same room with someone who thinks he knows better than everyone around him. He has a wizard who is thousands of years old sitting next to him, and Dumbledore still has the utter audacity to assume his knowledge is superior.”
“Arrogance is its own form of mania, and we both know that Dumbledore is five stone of crazy in a one stone sack,” Hermione said, and Banner exhaled noisily.
Harry huffed and rummaged through one of his robe pockets. He pulled out a galleon and passed it to Hermione, then focused on Bertrand, who was watching the exchange curiously. “Thaddeus’ stoic reserve is quite robust, sir. I really didn’t think she’d get him to make a single noise much less actually almost laugh.”
“I don’t know what I did to earn so much disrespect from you, Miss Granger,” Dumbledore said stiffly.
Ragnok was sure he’d spend the next decade sharing this meeting with various people who hate Dumbledore.
“You don’t know?” Hermione questioned. “Really? Beyond the fact that you’re a virulent racist, Headmaster, you are responsible for every single tragedy in Harry’s life. His parents are dead because you let Snape walk away with half the prophecy.” Dumbledore reared back in shock as she stood. “You had a spy in the Death Eaters, so don’t bloody tell me you didn’t know Pettigrew was one of them, and you still let the Potters use him as the Secret Keeper for the damned Fidelius Charm that you bloody cast!
“Then you left a fifteen-month-old baby on a bloody doorstep in November! You’re lucky he survived it! You’re lucky he didn’t get up and bloody walk into traffic or fall into someone’s pond and drown! You knew he’d suffer in Petunia Dursley’s house. You knew, and you left him there to be abused, half-starved, and unloved because you seem to be under the bloody impression that Fate needed your help!” Magic started to stir around the girl, and her hair shifted as her aura surfaced. “You play games with people—like when you let a possessed teacher stay at Hogwarts. I don’t believe for a minute that you didn’t know that Quirrell was hosting Riddle’s disembodied spirit. In fact, I’d wager you encouraged that ridiculous wizard to go to Albania!
“Do you want to talk about the Chamber of Secrets? Should I even bother to guess why you didn’t confiscate the diary from Ginny the night she was sorted? I’ve learned enough about warding to know that you had to be aware she was carrying a dark object around the school. You did nothing and just sat back the same way you did first year and let Harry solve your problems for you.
“How about we talk about Sirius Black and the fact that as the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, you could’ve ordered a trial. Or maybe we could talk about Barty Crouch, Jr, whom you let Fudge murder the night of the third task. You could’ve prevented that as Chief Warlock. You had the power to do it, and you did nothing. I’m honestly disgusted by you.”
Umbridge cleared her throat noisily.
Hermione turned on the woman with a furious hiss. “You! You aren’t allowed to speak in this bank for a whole year as part of your settlement for having dark objects in your vault! How would you like to be banned for life, Madam Umbridge? Go ahead—open your mouth and say a single bloody word. I dare you.” She huffed and sat down when Umbridge visibly shrunk back from her. “Coward.”
“You won’t always be so protected,” Fudge said stiffly. “So, you should learn to watch your mouth, girly.”
“Hermione can say anything she likes to any of you,” Harry interjected. “And if you don’t like it, leave. And she will always be protected. She’s a member of the Blacklock clan just like me. Dverger in magic or in blood, attacking any of us is the prelude to a rebellion.” He flicked a hand. “Not that it’s really a concern for you, Fudge. You’ll probably spend decades in jail once Bertrand can wrestle you free of the ministry freeze. I mean, you realize that’s the only reason you still have a job, right? They literally can’t oust you as minister and arrest you. I’m surprised you can walk considering how many tracking charms they’ve got to have on you.”
Zayd Sarr nodded. “It’s a real bloody trial.”
“I bet,” Harry said idly and focused on Dumbledore, who was glaring at Hermione. “If you ever try to harm Hermione in any single fashion, old man, I will bathe in your blood.” Dumbledore’s gaze jerked to meet his. “Do not doubt it. After all, you weren’t the one prophesied to stand against Riddle as an equal, and the best you ever did was fight him to a standstill.”
Ragnok cleared his throat in the long silence that followed. He’d rarely seen a group of wizards looked more flummoxed in his life. Even Sayd appeared startled, and that was a rare occurrence. Precious few things ruffled that wizard’s feathers.
“The matter of Tom Riddle will be settled today,” Ragnok declared as he checked his watch.
Dumbledore sent him a disbelieving look. “There is no way you have the information you need to be certain of that. Tom did split his soul, and you don’t have the knowledge of him to gather the pieces.”
“We already gathered the pieces of Riddle’s soul,” Harry interjected, and Ragnok wondered if the kid was trying to protect him. He’d be insulted if he weren’t so amused by it. “We also know exactly what horcrux process he went through to create them. You are unnecessary, and you have been since you took a moment out of your day to defeat Grindelwald. Though Hermione’s fairly certain Gellert merely surrendered to you because he couldn’t kill you any more than you could kill him. It’s almost romantic if one overlooks the megalomania, which Hermione assures me I’m never allowed to overlook.”
“I don’t believe that you’ve gathered all the horcruxes. This is an exercise in futility.” Dumbledore sat back in his chair and stared pointedly at Harry. “It could be the end of you. As I said, the Black Dragon is nothing to be trifled with.”
“I don’t care what you believe,” Harry said and checked his own watch. “Honestly, I can’t imagine anything I care less about than your opinion about anything. You’re a cruel old man, Dumbledore, and the world would be better off if you retired and lived the rest of your life in seclusion. Maybe you could go stay in Nurmengard and keep Grindelwald company. That yearly conjugal visit can’t be enough for either of you.”
Ragnok’s mouth dropped open as Louis Bertrand burst out laughing. Everyone else, including Dumbledore, was staring at Potter in mute horror.
Hermione stood abruptly. “Well.” Harry left his seat and took the hand she offered. She cleared her throat and smoothed her robe as Bertrand stopped laughing. “Harry has things to do before the ritual, and this meeting is a waste of our time.” She focused on Banner. “Thaddeus?”
“You’re quite right,” Banner agreed and beckoned them to leave the table. “Chieftain Ragnok?”
“Of course, he needs plenty of time to lament the lack of ritual pants.” Ragnok blew air out between his lips as Banner prodded the two children past him and out of the conference room. Though he was loathed to do it, he walked across the room and took the seat Potter had abandoned. “Master Ito, do you have any questions about today?”
“None,” Ito said and flicked a hand when Dumbledore started to speak. “It’s clear you have the situation well in hand though I do have a concern about Potter.”
Ito shook his head. “Is it really wise to allow him to continue to associate with your sister? If he wishes to be a healer, I can make myself available to mentor him.”
Ragnok grinned and shrugged. “You’re welcome to discuss it with her.”
“Not on a bet,” Ito said sourly. “The last time I had a disagreement with Omis, I walked with a psychosomatic limp for a month.”
“You brought that shite on yourself,” Sayd muttered. “And you know it.”
– – – –
Harry lingered on the edge of the containment circle and watched as Hermione was escorted by Blackaxe and three other guards all the way to the box reserved for his guests. Blackaxe stationed herself at the entrance of a box and focused on him. She offered him a firm nod, so he relaxed a bit. Piper Banner was already in the box with Sirius, Isobel, Minerva McGonagall, Neville, and his grandmother. He was glad that Neville had accepted the invitation. He didn’t want the other boy to ever doubt that the prophecy was finished since it could’ve been either of them as far as many were concerned.
The entire Glain Neidr was in attendance though only the inner circle were within the main ritual circle. The rest were spread out in a pattern of Armand’s design that Harry had reviewed earlier in the week. He hadn’t met them all and honestly wasn’t sure he ever would. The conclave was attractive, in a way, but he personally believed such an endeavor might take too much from him both in time and magic. By the time he had time to give such circumstances, many in the current conclave would be long dead.
He took a deep breath and stepped up onto the main platform. The moment his bare foot touched the stone, runes started to glow. There were over a thousand—each hand-drawn by Armand Deering. The older wizard had guarded the integrity of the circle zealously since he’d started building it and had even slept in the Hall of Mages since he’d started constructing it.
The entire ICW was in attendance and made up the bulk of the human part of the audience. The rest of the hall was full of dverger, and there were far more in attendance than those who’d shown up to personally witness his petition. Razel had told him that it had been generations since so many of his kind had gathered in the same place outside of Agharti. He stepped into his place and drew his staff. Just once, he let his gaze drift to where Ragnok and Lenore sat. Ragnok gave him a firm nod while Lenore merely smiled.
Harry took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and wet his lips. “Guardian of the West, I invoke thee, let air give me life, and the strength to meet my fate.” Magic stirred gently in the circle, and the air around him grew warm.
He turned by a quarter and tightened his grip on his staff, which had started to vibrate gently in his hand. “Guardian of the North, I invoke thee, let water nourish me until my duty is met, and my burdens are no more.”
The warm grew heavy and started to mist. A murmur of shock ran through the human part of the crowd, but Harry dismissed that noise after a brief glance toward Ragnok.
Harry made another quarter turn to face the east. “Guardian of the East, I invoke thee, let earth guide me in my duty in this life and the next.” Magic swirled in ribbons of blue and green around him, bringing with it a gentle flowery scent that he couldn’t place.
He assumed his final position, facing south and spoke, “Guardian of the South, I invoke thee, let fire warm my heart and soul for eternity.” The runes along the outer circle lit with fire. “On behalf of all Earth’s creatures, be they magical or not, I beseech the Lord of Magic to hear my plea.”
A distant rumbling filled the air around him with four thunderous booms they appeared. Part of him had wondered if Zir would actually appear in the circle or if he’d speak his entire petition to nothing but air. He hadn’t been prepared to have four highly magical beings appear. Harry swallowed hard and blinked back tears of shock. He turned once more and focused on the man who had appeared as the Guardian of the West.
Dark hair, pale skin, dark eyes. Magic seemed to seep out of his very skin. “My Lord.” He inclined his head and placed his closed fist over his heart. “You honor me.”
Zirnitra stared at him in silence for several moments before he focused on one of the women in the circle. “Yavanna, he’s just a boy.”
“The one he was meant to meet in combat preyed upon him when he was an infant—it was monstrous,” she said in a soft, sweet voice. She was small, shorter even than the smallest of the dverger, and had flowers in her hair. “I did all I could to protect the heart of him.”
“His heart is pure,” the dverger male said gruffly. “As my wife says.”
“So it is,” Zirnitra agreed as he refocused his attention on Harry. “My wife is fond of you. Were our current circumstances different, she’d have come down herself to make quite a few people bitterly regret their treatment of you.” He stepped forward and cupped Harry’s cheek with one warm hand. “She kept your soul close for a very long time as she believed this world did not deserve you. Though it will be a bittersweet comfort, she guards the souls of your parents zealously as a favor to you.”
Harry took a deep breath and blinked when a tear slid down his cheek. “Thank you, sir.” He looked down and away as the elder god released him, he wiped his cheek with a trembling hand.
Zirnitra hummed under his breath and walked the entire circle with a deliberateness that made Harry’s heart race. “Nice rune work, Armand Deering. I’ve rarely felt more welcome on Earth.”
“I am honored, my Lord,” Deering said and bowed deeply.
“It might interest you to know, Harry,” Zirnitra began as he walked, “that you’ve been at the heart of a bit of conspiracy.”
“Oh, now, brother don’t put on airs,” the woman who stood as Guardian of the North said with a little smile. “You’ve not cared at all what we’ve done on this plane since the last of your favored sailed.”
“Except for that time he stole my hobbits,” Yavanna interjected hotly. “Remember?”
“One can hardly forget,” Zirnitra said dryly. “You’ve been complaining for a thousand years, but look.” He waved a hand. “Would you really want your little darlings scraping by on what magical humans leave behind? They elevate themselves above the people your husband shaped with his own magic. The dverger were magical when humans barely understood the difference between day and night.” He scoffed. “Imagine how they’d treat your sweet little flowers. I’d have had to come down here and destroy them ages ago.” He inclined his head as he walked. “Not that I haven’t been tempted quite a few times to do it.” He focused on Harry. “Something troubles you, lad?”
“I don’t think he’s getting what he expected,” the woman in the north said and grinned when Harry glanced toward her.
“My time is yours, sir,” Harry said for the lack of a proper response. None of them had prepared them for this, but then he didn’t imagine anyone had ever been in his exact circumstances before.
“Before you were born, it was decided that the course of the magical creature you know as Tom Riddle was far too dangerous to be allowed to continue,” Zirnitra said. “Decided by these three, at least, and I made the decision to merely watch the events unfold. As you already know, it didn’t work out all that well.”
“Some mistakes were made,” Harry agreed.
“Yes, certainly, and some wizards don’t know how to mind their own business,” Zirnitra said.
“Dumbledore’s been a real pain in the arse,” Yavanna interjected and waved cheerfully when Harry looked her way. “Hi.”
He smiled at her before he could help himself. “Hi.” He cleared his throat. “Are you a hobbit?”
She considered that and shook her head. “Not really—I’m a Valar. This is my form on this plane, but I did make hobbits in my image.”
“I see.” Harry bit down on his lip when he found Zirnitra had come to a stop in front of him. “Sorry.”
“Your curiosity is charming,” the elder god said. “And unusual, to be honest, the last time more than one of us appeared in a ritual circle, the caster fainted.”
Mahal snorted. “He was the excitable sort.”
“Truly,” Zirnitra said. “But Salazar always was prone to histrionics.” He leaned forward slightly and stared pointedly at Harry. “We’re here to talk about one of his half-arsed descendants, aren’t we?”
Harry flushed. “Yes, but it’s probably not appropriate to blame him for Riddle’s behavior. Salazar Slytherin has been dead for an age.”
“True, but drama lives on in his bloodline,” Mahal said roughly.
“Yavanna had a plan for you, Harry Potter, and your reward would’ve been a long, deeply magical life full of love and children to make up for what she asked of you,” Zirnitra said. “But unfortunately, someone was allowed a glimpse of the future through the benefit of prophecy, and his interference destroyed that path.”
“I know,” Harry said. “That’s why I’m here today—I cannot allow the world to suffer until I’m old enough to face Tom Riddle as I was meant to. No one else should suffer or die for his mindless ambition.”
“Life on this world is fleeting for most,” Zirnitra said. “Why should I care for the shortness of mortal lives? Many of you will merely be born again.” He moved away from Harry. “You’re born, you live, you die.”
“Tom Riddle destroys—free will means nothing to him. His crimes against others are unforgivable and can’t be allowed to continue,” Harry said. “Had I the ability, I would leave this bank, find him and shove my sword right through his chest.” He huffed when Zirnitra laughed. “And we do more than just live.”
Zirnitra raised an eyebrow. “Make each other miserable? Desecrate the gift of magic? Destroy the habitats of other magical creatures under the mistaken belief you’re superior? Many of the people you’d seek to protect from Riddle would stab you in the back, given the opportunity, Potter.”
“The only thing I can do, my Lord, is attend to my own duty to magic and life,” Harry responded. “Our lives are short, but if we’re lucky, those lives are full of love.”
“Do you find beauty in magic?” Yavanna questioned. “Despite what you’ve lost in your young life?”
“How could I not?” Harry questioned. “It isn’t like tragedy is a singular experience only available to magical creatures. Anything that can be done with magic can be done without it if one works hard enough and is cruel enough in some cases.”
“True,” Zirnitra agreed, and he turned toward his sister. “Varda?”
The woman inclined her head. “Yavanna’s choice remains the correct one, Zir. Harry Potter is pure of heart.”
“I see your magic on him,” Zir said roughly. “You’ve allowed him to gain possession of all your Hallows.”
Harry took in a ragged breath, and his gaze snapped to Ragnok’s. The chieftain was standing, shock and horror building on his face. He wasn’t the only one. No one believed that Death would show up in the circle, and also he’d never met anyone who would’ve said Death was female.
“Hekate held his soul close to her heart from the moment of his creation until she allowed him to be born to James and Lily Potter. This is his first life, and she wouldn’t have let him go at all if his magic hadn’t reacted so strongly to the girl’s magic when she was born. They are as close to being soulmates as two creatures can be on this plane can be in this age,” Varda said. “They’re One as Mahal’s people would say.”
Harry’s gaze snapped immediately to Hermione, who was standing at the railing of their private box.
“Even now, she’s using every single ounce of self-restraint she’s got to keep from coming down here and defending him from you,” Varda said in amusement.
Zirnitra focused on Hermione then, and he smiled. “Rarely is there anything more dangerous than a vexed witch, so I shall endeavor to behave myself.”
Hermione blushed furiously and allowed Sirius to prod her back into her seat.
“Very well,” Zirnitra said after a long moment of silence. “Tom Riddle must be present for this process to go any further.” He focused on Harry. “Neither of you will be allowed to perform a single act of magic in my presence, Potter. Remember that.”
Harry hesitated briefly but then stored his wand. Ragnok had told him there was a chance that Zirnitra would summon Riddle to the circle, but he’d really hoped that wasn’t going to be the case. Though Armand had designed a space in the ritual circle for Riddle to stand and Harry wasn’t at all surprised when the older wizard appeared there with a bang of forced apparition.
Riddle tried to step forward and was jerked back magically into place. “What is the bloody meaning of this, Potter!”
“If I could force you to apparate into the spot of my choosing, Tom, it would’ve been in the middle of an active volcano,” Harry said. “And you honestly wouldn’t be alone.”
Riddle reared back in shock, and he hissed as he pressed against the magic that contained him. The magic darkened, and Harry realized the older wizard had been silenced.
“Speak your piece, Potter,” Zirnitra said and resumed his place in the west.
“Tom Marvolo Riddle is a danger to himself and to others. In what can only be determined to be an act of madness, he split his soul six times through ritual murder of other magical people. While he did not directly seek to thwart Death,” Harry began and paused to glance at Varda, “he did so through his desire to artificially increase his magical power. He used a horcrux ritual exclusively used in coatl worship to obtain parselmagic, a gift long gone from his maternal bloodline due to a history of consanguineous marriage.
“Due to his insanity, Tom Riddle’s horcruxes are a corruption like no other on this Earth currently. We’ve gathered them so they wouldn’t be improperly destroyed and left loose to corrupt the very fabric of magic on this world.” Harry looked toward Riddle and found the wizard raging silently. It was horrific to look at, so he focused once more on Zirnitra. “Left unchecked, his madness will do nothing but spread and endanger not just magicals but Muggles as well. There are circumstances where he could essentially destroy life as we know it in this world due to his unnatural state.”
He did a quick mental check to make sure he had the finer points of the argument Hermione had helped him create.
“I would see the horcruxes,” Mahal said.
Harry glanced at Armand, who gave him a sharp nod then turned to face Mahal. “Of course, sir. I have five of them in my dimensional store, and the sixth is contained in a cage of magic. Master Armand is arranging her transport to the circle.”
He pulled a moleskin pouch from his bracelet and loosened it as he knelt. The placed them on the floor one by one. “The locket of Salazar Slytherin. The cup of Helga Hufflepuff. The diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw.” He put an athame on the floor next. “This one once resided in a diary that belonged to Tom when he attended Hogwarts. I destroyed that by mistake when I was twelve, and the soul fragment latched onto me. Fortunately, the dverger was able to remove it and place it in this ritual knife.” He drew out the final horcrux he had in the bag—a simple copper bowl. “And this one was originally placed in the ancestral ring of the House of Gaunt. Though he did not know it, Tom desecrated the Resurrection Stone with that particular ritual. The dverger transferred that horcrux to this bowl, and I was given the stone.”
At that point, Armand Deering carefully pushed the magical cage containing Nagini into the center of the dais. Harry stood as he focused on the snake. She was subdued in her confinement but awake as they’d taken her out of stasis the night before.
“This is Nagini. I do not know her true origin, but she was once a witch—born with a blood curse. Her circumstances are doubly tragic as Riddle turned her into a horcrux.” Harry frowned as he stared at her. “I don’t know if he knew or merely didn’t care that she was once a woman, but his misuse of her is a nightmare.”
“Agreed,” Mahal said roughly and stepped from his place for the first time. He circled the cage, frowning and clearly furious. “Zir, this is an abomination.”
“Truly,” Zirnitra admitted roughly. “As if her circumstances were not grotesque enough.” He focused on Riddle. “Do you have a single thing to say for yourself, Tom Riddle?”
Tom glared at him. “You won’t find worship here, false god. I owe you no explanation.”
“I have no need for worship, Tom Riddle,” Zir said. “Nor are you required to acknowledge my power over you to be at my mercy. You are nothing but a lump of borrowed flesh and stolen bone.” He grimaced. “You made war on a child, and for that, there is no excuse. Though his alliances, that child has gathered your horcruxes and requested I stand in judgment of you. He’s on the cusp of fulfilling the first fate he was born to meet.”
Harry nearly protested that first fate business.
“He can’t defeat me!” Riddle shouted.
“Oh, he can,” Yavanna interjected. “You made a choice in 1981, and as luck would have it, you made the right one.”
Harry stared at Riddle as he seethed. “Would you like to know the whole prophecy, Tom?”
Riddle’s dark red eyes centered on him. “Yes, I have every right to know it.”
“I agree,” Harry said. “It was never anyone’s business but ours.” He paused and cleared his throat. “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives… the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies….” He touched his scar briefly then shrugged while Riddle stared at him in horror.
“What is this power?” Riddle demanded. “Tell me, boy!”
“Dumbledore thinks it’s love,” Harry confided, and Riddle scoffed. “I know, right? High Priestess Lenore laughed her arse off when she had that vision. You’d not believe some of the shite that old git gets up to.”
Riddle stared him at narrow-eyed. “What is the power I know not, Potter? I deserve to know.”
“No, you don’t,” Harry said evenly and focused on Zirnitra, who was regarding them with a curious expression. “I thought, in the beginning, that I would ask that you destroy Tom Riddle for his crimes against magic. But as I stand here, my lord, all I can ask for is mercy on his behalf. I don’t know, for certain, that his insanity is rooted in his family line, in his conception, or in his exposure to Albus Dumbledore at such a young age. More and more, I think Dumbledore saw Tom Riddle as nothing more than an experiment. Maybe he wanted to know and understand the heart of a dark wizard for his own personal reasons. Or maybe he wanted to know if he could’ve saved Gellert Grindelwald from himself. I don’t know if it’s worth knowing at this point.” He glanced around the circle. “In the end, Tom Riddle’s life is to be pitied. He doesn’t understand it—nor would he accept it—but he’s suffered enough in this life.”
Zir held out a hand, and all the horcruxes, save Nagini, lifted off the floor. “Sister?”
Varda stepped forward and touched them one by one—the objects fell to the floor as she released them. She walked across the circle to Nagini, stepped straight through the ward-cage, and knelt. Nagini burst into action, wrapping herself around Death without a single ounce of self-preservation, and Harry shuddered as the snake screamed. He glanced toward Riddle and found that he’d been silenced again. When he focused on the cage again, Varda was holding a beautiful young woman dressed in little more than rags. Magic flowed over her body, and the tattered dress was placed with a simple dark red one.
As Varda stood the cage dissipated, and she returned to her place in the circle. Harry didn’t know what possessed him, but he stepped from his place, walked to Nagini, and offered her his hand. She stared at him, startled, but slowly took it. He helped her to her feet, and she slumped against him immediately. Harry took a deep breath and carefully picked her up. He walked to the edge of the dais and carefully put Nagini in the arms of Armand Deering, who took her with a look so reverent in his direction that it took Harry’s breath.
He slowly walked back to his place in the circle and offered Varda a smile. She inclined her head in return.
“Thank you, my lady.”
“It’s time,” Varda murmured.
Harry nodded. “I know.” He focused on Zirnitra and found the elder god glowing. “My lord.”
“Harry James Potter, Master of the Death and Patron to the Dverger, your petition is granted, and though it is contrary to my nature, Tom Riddle will know nothing but genuine mercy in my hands. If his soul is beyond healing, he will be confined to eternal sleep. Does this please you?”
“It’s justice,” Harry said. “And I must be content with that.”
“My wife was right about you,” Zir said thoughtfully then nodded as he inclined his head toward his sister. “Varda.”
Varda walked around to stand in front of Riddle. She smirked. “Flight of death, huh?”
Harry snorted then covered his mouth. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s funny,” she said with a grin. “Who are you, Tom Riddle, to declare yourself such a thing?”
“I don’t fear you,” Riddle hissed, but his gaze drifted to the now empty space where Nagini’s cage had been.
“You shouldn’t,” Varda said. “Death is the final embrace of all of Hekate’s creatures.”
“You can’t kill me,” Riddle said with a laugh. “None of your kind can—I know that much.”
“I can’t harm you physically,” Varda agreed. “That’s why I have a hand on this world—one imbued with death magic from his birth to act on my behalf.” She focused on Harry and inclined her head. “That’s the power you know not, Tom Marvolo Riddle. It is a power beyond all but one wizard as it was deemed by the most magical of us all worthy of it.”
Harry took a deep breath and drew his staff. The crystal on the top started to glow with his magic. He stepped forward, grasped the staff with both hands as the containment magic on Riddle faded away. The older wizard drew his wand and pointed it at him.
Harry shook his head. “You can’t perform magic in Zirnitra’s presence without his permission, Tom.”
“This not a fair fight,” Riddle shouted.
“Like you care about fair,” Harry chided. “And this is no fight at all.” He stepped forward, lifted his staff, and unceremoniously shoved the spear-like end cap straight into Riddle’s chest. He pushed the older wizard to the ground and held him there with more strength than he would’ve thought possible. “This is judgment.” He shoved the spear point in deep and up slightly to pierce Riddle’s heart. “May Death bring you nothing but peace, Tom Marvolo Riddle.”
Riddle’s body disintegrated between one ragged breath and the next, and his spirit rose from the ashes with a primal scream. Varda held out a hand, and though the specter fought her, the moment she touched him, the final part of Tom Riddle’s soul was claimed.
Harry took a ragged breath then another. Overwhelmed, he stowed his staff and avoided looking at anyone as he returned to his place in the circle. His mind wouldn’t settle suddenly, and his magic felt chaotic inside him. Warm hands cupped his face, and he opened his eyes to find Zirnitra standing with him.
“I’m to tell you that you should study harder,” Zir murmured. “And your father is especially proud of your broom talent. They both think Hermione is amazing, and your mother’s engagement ring is in the ancestral vault in a red velvet box in her glory box. Lily would like you to use it when you propose though not until you both have your masteries because you’re much too young right now.”
Harry laughed, and his magic started to calm down. “Okay.”
“Be well, Harry Potter,” the elder god said as he released him and took a step back. “We’ll be watching.”
“That won’t be weird,” Harry muttered.
“Everyone’s right,” Zir declared. “Omis is a terrible influence on you.”
“I like it,” Mahal interjected cheerfully and tapped his chest with a closed fist. “At your service, Harry Potter.”
Harry returned the gesture, and Mahal disappeared. He focused on Yavanna as she started to glow. “First fate?”
She shrugged. “You’re pretty good at this save-the-world stuff, Harry. You’ll be fine.” Yavanna offered him a grin and popped away.
“Fantastic,” Harry said with a huff, and after a brief glance at Zirnitra, who was standing silently, turned to Varda. “I don’t have to run around killing people, right? There are laws about that in most circumstances.”
She laughed. “I’ll let you know.”
Harry exhaled nosily as she faded away without a sound and turned his attention back to Zir. “Can’t you rein them in?”
“We each have our own duties,” Zir said.
Harry nodded. “About the hobbits? Chieftain Ragnok wanted them to know that they’re welcome in Agharti. Their lands remain ready for them if they want to come, that is. They’ll be safe there, and it’ll probably be pretty fun.”
“They could probably use some fun,” Zir acknowledged. “I’ll ask.” He gave Harry a nod and disappeared with a loud boom.
“Drama king,” Harry muttered and glanced up briefly when he was rewarded with a booming laugh that sounded a lot like Mahal. He drew his staff and swallowed hard before saying, “May the circle be open but forever unbroken. So mote it be.”
Silence settled over the hall as the magic of the circle faded. Harry let the spear point of his staff rest on the floor and closed his eyes as he tried to gather himself. A part of him had been certain that he would fail to even call upon Zirnitra for the ritual despite the work the Glain Neidr had done for him. He blew out a breath then another because it felt pretty good.
“Gentlemen of the Glain Neidr, thank you for your service to magic.” He turned and offered Armand Deering a bow and got one in return.
“Outstanding job, lad,” Deering said and grinned as everyone around them started to laugh with relief.
“Harry!” Hermione pushed through the wizards who had started to move toward him and glomped onto him tightly. “You!”
He buried his face against her hair and smiled. “You.”
“I love you,” she said against his throat and gripped his robe as she lifted her face to stare at him. “I told you it would be fine.”
“It always is,” Harry murmured and let his forehead rest against hers. “When I’m with you.”
Fifteen Years Later
“Daddy! Daddy!” Harry opened one eye as his son tried to climb up the side of the bed. After he slipped off the duvet for the third time, Kaiden huffed dramatically. “Daddy!”
Harry reached out, plucked the five-year-old up, and pulled him onto the bed. “Why are you awake?”
Kaiden stared at him. “Daddy! Today is a very important day!”
“Is it?” Harry questioned. “Are you sure?”
“Today is the day you’re both going to get kicked out of this house and sent back to Rome,” Hermione groused as she sat up and pushed her hair from her face. “Honestly.”
“Mummy,” Kaiden exclaimed cheerfully and crawled over Harry to reach her. “Today is the day! The best day of the whole year!”
“Really?” She asked and pulled him into a hug. “Your jumper is on backward, and your socks don’t match.”
“Dobby says it doesn’t matter if socks match,” Kaiden declared. “And today is the Annual Garden Gnome Rebellion! We have to be prepared to defend our garden, Mum. This is serious business. It’s already started in the Shire. The Thain sent out an alert a whole hour ago!”
Harry grinned when Hermione sent him a knowing look. The Annual Garden Gnome Rebellion was probably the most fun that could be had in Agharti that didn’t involve a copious amount of dragonfire whiskey. “I regret nothing.”
“I know you don’t, you terrible wizard,” she said tartly.
The listening charm in the nursery activated, and they both turned to listen as their daughter started to scream her head off. Harry pushed back the covers. “I’ll get her.”
“Thanks,” Hermione said and slouched back on the pillows.
“Mum, why can’t Ava walk, yet? It’s been months since she got here. She’s being awful lazy.”
Harry laughed as he left the bedroom and crossed the hall to the nursery. He picked up Ava, who was throwing a fit involving all of her limbs. “Ah, lass, this is not the best way to start your first Garden Gnome Rebellion.”
He changed her quickly and took her back to the bedroom, where Kaiden was doing his best to listen to his mother to explain why his three-month-old sister couldn’t walk. Harry handed her the baby and snatched Kaiden from the bed. “Let’s fix your jumper, lad.”
“We should teach Ava to walk, Daddy,” Kaiden decided. “So she can be an independent witch, like Mum.”
“Oh, I have no doubts that your sister will be a very independent witch,” Harry said as he knelt and pulled the jumper over his son’s head. He snorted when he realized that the boy was still wearing his pajama top. “Kaiden, this is not how you get dressed.”
“Clothes aren’t important,” Kaiden declared. “The gnomes are going to destroy the garden, Daddy. It’s war out there already!”
Hermione laughed. “Go on, then, we’ll hold down the fort from here.”
Harry met her gaze and put the jumper back on his son. “Very well, my lad, go get some boots on, and it will be nothing but war until lunchtime.”
Kaiden gasped. “What about my porridge? I can’t make war without porridge!” He pulled down his jumper and stomped off. “Dobby! I need my war porridge!”
Harry laughed and saw down on the edge of the bed. “Did you ever think that Zirnitra went around and found the most contrary soul he could to put in our son?”
“Yes,” Hermione admitted with a grin. “Here’s hoping Ava doesn’t develop a deep-seated desire to fight garden gnomes and eat war porridge.”
Harry leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his daughter’s head then another on Hermione’s mouth. “You haven’t mentioned when you plan to go back to work.”
“I thought I wouldn’t,” she admitted. “Justice Bertrand isn’t thrilled, but I agreed to do freelance research. I missed too much of Kaiden’s first year, and I don’t want to make that mistake again.” She sighed. “Besides, the next year is full of parole hearings and trials that I won’t be able to participate in due to conflict of interest. Cornelius Fudge and Dolores Umbridge both are due to appear for parole though it probably won’t be granted. And Dumbledore’s fourth trial is to commence if he’s deemed physically capable of handling the process.”
“Totally your call, of course,” Harry said. “Dumbledore is already serving a life sentence, so the trial…” He shrugged. “I get the fact that the newly discovered victims deserve closure, but at this point, I’m not sure the security risk of moving him is worth it. Every time we remove him from Appolumi, we give him a chance to escape.” He winced when Kaiden shouted for him. “Right, I think my own war porridge is ready.” He leaned forward and kissed her again. “Saving the world isn’t a bad gig when I have you and our babies to come home to. It’s like the world weighs nothing, you know.”
“Daddy! The gnomes are advancing!”
Hermione shook her head. “If those little arseholes trample my rose bush again this year—I’m going to take it out of your hide.”
Harry hopped up and rushed toward the closet. “Love you!”
“Love you back!” she called out with a laugh.
– – – –
Ragnok landed on the balcony leading into his bedroom and transformed. He strode into the bedroom he shared with his wife. Lenore was at her dressing table, braiding her hair.
“How goes the rebellion?” Lenore asked in amusement.
“I nearly got taken out by a flung garden gnome,” he said with a huff. “I lost two feathers.” He ran his hand through his hair to check for bald spots but found none. “I think there are twice as many of those bloody little monsters than last year. It’s like they’re breeding to increase their numbers for the rebellion.”
Lenore grinned. “I promised Kaiden I’d help him defend his garden patch this afternoon.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Ragnok muttered. “Razel and Tyr are already in the village, helping the children defend the community garden. I’m pretty sure the gnomes have some kind of siege engine.” He huffed when Lenore burst out laughing. “If those little bastards come for this mountain, it’ll be on Potter’s head.”
He sighed as she continued to laugh. Honestly, he’d fight a whole army of crazy garden gnomes if it would make his wife laugh as she was now.
He sat down on the bench beside her. “You’re happy.”
“Immensely,” Lenore said softly and leaned against him. “Razel said that he and Tyr will start trying for a child next year.” She bit down on her lip. “I took a peek or two into the palantír with that in mind.”
“A girl first—a visionary. She’ll carry on my legacy, Ragnok, and guide our people into the brightest of futures. His first son will be strong, brave, and true to his duty.” She hummed under her breath. “And his second…will revive an ancient legacy in the line of Durin thought lost.”
Ragnok blinked and huffed a little. “Are you telling me that Durin the bloody Deathless is coming back?”
Lenore just shrugged and grinned.