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HARRY POTTER CONTINUED
Author's note: I was inspired by J.K. Rowling to write this piece.
“Well, Harry, getting any cold feet?”
It was a warm summer evening. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were staying at the Burrow. School was over for them. Hogwarts had shutdown temporarily to rid itself of all Dark enchantments and objects. Professor McGonagall had decided to let the staff off for a little “break” while she, the Order members, and the ministry put things back in order. The ministry reversed all curses done to its staff and destroyed Azkaban. Several trusted ministry members and Aurors were put to the task of creating and building a new and improved prison for their criminals. Word got around that Peeves was sent to “torture” some of the criminals. Word also got around saying that he very much enjoyed it too. The rest of the Weasleys were away visiting Bill and Fleur in Romania. Fleur decided that staying in London was not very exciting. But, they would all be back in time for the wedding.
Harry had to think about that question for a second. Is this the right choice? Would there be any more danger to come? Would that put Ginny in peril? So many questions flitted through Harry’s brain as the days drew closer to the date. His wedding date.
Ron looked at Harry with a questioning stare. “Well? Are you or not? You’d better be sure about this, mate.”
Harry looked up from the book he was reading, The Tales of Albus Dumbledore.
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
Harry’s scar hadn’t pained him for three years. And it shouldn’t, Hermione stated, for all the years to come. Absentmindedly, Harry touched his scar.
“Harry, you’ve got to stop doing that. It scares all of us.” Hermione said with a small frown upon her face. Ron out down the plates he was trying to clean without a wand and hurried over to put an arm around Hermione’s shoulder. Hermione leaned in closer with a smile.
“There you go, Hermione. All I have to do is be near you and that frown is replaced with a smile.” Ron said. Hermione laughed and gently swatted Ron’s shoulder.
Harry looked at their affection and felt a stab of longing for Ginny. How many months since he hadn’t seen her? Two? More? He didn’t know. But, it felt like eternity.
Mrs. Weasley had sent them a Christmas card wishing them all well. They were all there in the picture; Mr. and Mrs. Weasley smiling, George laughing with his new girlfriend, Bill and Fleur holding hands and smiling. And then there was Ginny, smiling too but a bit away from everyone. Percy was also in the picture, although he seemed preoccupied with the person that was taking the picture.
“Harry, I know you miss her, but you’ve got things to do, remember?” Harry jumped. He didn’t realize that Hermione and Ron were right behind him.
Over the long summer after the death of Voldemort, Harry was quite reserved, not speaking a lot and a bit withdrawn from fall festivities. Hermione and Ron did everything they could to cheer him up. Only in the past month did Harry start to act normal again.
Professor McGonagall had asked Harry to manage all of Dumbledore’s belongings. She felt that he would want Harry to have them. Three weeks after the end of Voldemort, Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix came back and visited the Burrow. In its beak was a golden phoenix tail.
“It could be very useful, Harry.” Hermione had said.
“Yeah. And worth thousands of galleons!” Ron had exclaimed with a longing look.
But, Harry neither sold it nor used it in any way. He felt like the time would come when he would be able to put it in use. It sat, gleaming on his dresser.
After the short encounter, Fawkes flew away into the night. Harry never saw him again.
Harry looked up, and managed to scramble out of his deep thoughts.
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah. I’m fine. Just thinking about, you know, Dumbledore and Ginny and…everything that happened.” Harry took a deep breath and looked down.
Hermione and Ron sat across from him on the worn leather couch.
“I wish…I wish my mum and dad could have seen me now.” Hermione said quietly, blinking back tears. “They would be so proud.”
Ron wrapped his arms around her.
“I’m sure they would. They probably still remember you in their hearts, right Harry?” Ron hinted strongly for him to agree.
“Yeah.” Harry said, feeling deeply guilty. Because of Voldemort, Hermione had to make her muggle parents forget that she was ever their daughter to save them from the wrath of Voldemort. Like Harry, Hermione was now an orphan. But, the Weasleys basically took Harry and Hermione in, sympathetic of their situations.
“Hermione, I’m so sorry…is there anything…” Harry started.
“No, Harry. It’s not your fault. Really, it isn’t. It was my decision and it kept them safe.” Hermione sniffed and rested her head on Ron’s shoulder.
“There, there.” Ron patted Hermione’s head gently as she started to cry. “It’ll be alright.”
Inwardly, Harry grinned. Looking at Hermione and Ron, He had a feeling that a second wedding would take place very, very soon.
It was a perfect, starry night when Harry proposed to Ginny. They were outside the Burrow, taking a stroll and talking in the garden. She was taken very much by surprise. After all, they had been dating only for three months. But, Ginny said yes, kissed him full on the mouth, and then excitedly ran into the Burrow, yelling the good news. Of course, everyone knew about it beforehand, as Harry had asked them advice on exactly how to do it, where to do it, which night to do it, and what ring to buy. Everybody pitched in and told them their views on proposing. Taking careful notes, he followed every instruction or suggestion. Harry carefully planned out all the details and then finally proposed.
But, of course, Ginny did not know this.
The new couple-to-be were congratulated and they all toasted to Harry and Ginny right then and there with tall mugs of firewhiskey.
“Everything that happened…well, Harry what are you going to do?” Ron asked. That question seemed to sum up everything that was going through Harry’s head.
Everything is so different, changed. No more Lupin and Tonks, no more Fred, Snape…
“I honestly don’t know, Ron. But…I feel like I need to do something. I feel like I need to put things to rest…make everything normal again…”
“Harry, nothing will be normal again.” Hermione said seriously.
“Unless you count Fleur coming back to London.” Ron joked.
Harry didn’t laugh.
Ron’s snorts subsided awkwardly. The three young people were lost in thought of the past, the present, and the future.
Two weeks later, the Weasleys came bustling in, with stories bursting from their mouths.
“Harry, Hermione, Ron!” Mrs. Weasley cried, throwing her arms around them. “Oh dears, we’ve missed you!”
“We missed you all too, Mrs. Weasley!” Hermione said, grinning broadly. Hermione then took Ron’s hand and Mrs. Weasley threw Ron a knowing look. Ron blushed scarlet and smiled wide.
“Percy has a girlfriend! Percy has a girlfriend!” George chanted.
Percy walked in, arm and arm with a nerdy-looking girl with giant glasses and stringy brown hair.
“Picked her up from the ministry, Harry. Wow, Percy. Congrats! You finally got someone that likes you for who you are, not for your smartness.” George called out.
“George! You stop that right now!” Mrs. Weasley turned to the girl Percy was with.
“Emma, dear, I’m sorry. You’ll have to forgive George. He’s sometimes-”
“Sometimes?” Fleur questioned loudly. “Sometimes? All the time!” Fleur huffed.
Ginny came to claim Harry next. She rushed towards him, her eyes shining, and her hair blowing softly into her face. She kissed him gently and George wolf-whistled loudly. Harry blushed furiously as the room became silent.
“Harry, I’ve missed you. The whole time I was thinking-”
“-About you. The whole time, Ginny.” Harry paused. Just say it now! Harry took a breath. “I love you Ginny.”
Ginny threw her arms around Harry and when she pulled back, he could see tears in her eyes. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were dabbing their eyes and Ron was looking at Hermione with some sort of burning desire. Hermione was trying unsuccessfully to look away.
After the loudness returned and everyone went to go unpack, George went over to Harry, pulling a tall and beautiful girl behind him.
“Harry, I would like you to meet my girlfriend, Xiyin Chang.”
“Harry Potter…I’ve been longing to meet you! My sister has told me everything about you…”
“Wait…Chang…are you perhaps, Cho’s older sister?”
Xiyin smiled and nodded, her sleek black hair brushing her shoulders.
“Wow…nice to meet you…” Harry couldn’t imagine what Cho said to her older sister about him.
Mr. Weasley was next, pulling Harry into the kitchen.
“Harry, just so you know, the ministry has decided to offer you a job at the ministry. You could be an Auror. Haven’t you always wanted to be one?”
“Mr. Weasley, yes, I have but…don’t you think there is no point now that Voldemort’s dead? And…well, er, I never got the marks to be an Auror.” Mr. Weasley flinched at the sound of Voldemort’s name.
“Harry, do you really think that just because He-Who…I mean, Voldemort is dead, his followers aren’t? Harry, the ministry is still trying to track down his Death Eaters. Kingsley told me that one of them was seen hiding out in the Great Wall of China. Another Death Eater was seen in Paris, selling baguettes off the road. Harry, Aurors still have jobs. Important ones too. I know it has always been your wish to be one…”
“Mr. Weasley, I did want to be an Auror. I thought that was the greatest thing since…well, since Automatic Spell Check Quills, but you see I have, er, other things I want to focus on.”
Mr. Weasley laughed and clapped Harry on the back. “Ah, Harry I see what you mean.” He raised his eyebrows at Ginny and winked.
“The wonders of young love…” Mr. Weasley mumbled, walking away.
Harry turned around to see the scene in front of him. Everyone seemed so happy and relaxed, the happiest in a long time. But, there was always a hole in Harry’s heart as he thought of Fred.
Fred had been murdered by one the Death Eaters. George had never been the same after. All of them weren’t the same after that. But, they all came to one conclusion. Wherever Fred was, they believed that he would have wanted them to be happy.
That night, Harry got some time alone with Ginny.
“Harry, how’ve you been? Truthfully, tell me.”
It was pitch dark out. A shaft of silver moonlight fell through the open window. A small breeze lifted the curtains.
What would I tell her? That I had been worried about Hogwarts?
“Harry, I can see that you’re trying to think of something to say.” Ginny frowned.
“No, I’m not. Truthfully, Ginny, I’ve been thinking about you everyday. Every night.”
Harry cupped Ginny’s smooth, pale check. She looked down and her long, lashes brushed the bottom of her eyes. Harry swallowed. Ginny is so beautiful…
“Harry…Ron was telling me something about…cold feet? Are you having…second thoughts? About…you know…”
“No!” Harry sat up abruptly. “ ‘Course not, Ginny, I would never, ever…”
“Prove it.” Ginny said, a small smile on her lips.
“Prove it or else.”
Harry swallowed. He had ever been big on the romance stuff. But, he knew what Ginny was asking. Here it goes…
“Ginny…” Harry whispered. Ginny turned towards Harry, her green eyes shining brightly.
Harry took her warm, soft hands in his and leaned in. She smelled like warm cinnamon and a sweet meadow. Ginny slowly lowered her eyes as Harry came closer and closer.
Almost hesitantly, Harry’s lips met Ginny’s. He felt like he would explode. Ginny, Ginny, Ginny…
She is so beautiful…her flaming red hair…her bright green eyes…her soft, soft lips…
The sheer moonlight shined bright against the pale of their intertwined arms as the night passed peacefully.
Three weeks later the hustle and bustle of the Burrow almost blew the roof off the top. Literally. Countless spells were used to decorate, bake, cook, wrap…the list seemed to go on forever.
Even though Ginny and Harry tried to help, no one would let them.
“Stay away, harry! It’s a surprise!”
“Ginny! You can’t go near the kitchen! Do you really want to see the wedding cake?”
“Please, Harry, away from the garden! No peeking!”
“Harry, Ginny can you two lovebirds go somewhere else? I’m trying to make the dress!”
“Harry, mate, go away. Hermione would kill me if she knew that you saw the present from us!”
So another week passed like this. In the end, Harry and Ginny were confined only to the bedroom and the bathroom.
“Harry, I’m so excited! This is going to be brilliant! Brilliant, Harry!” Ginny squealed with excitement.
“Yes…brilliant…as we’re only confined to the bedroom and the bathroom.” Harry said, grimacing. Even their meals had to be brought up to them. Their meals were brought up by a very suggestive George, an extremely embarrassed Hermione, and then a very awkward Ron.
Finally, it was the night of. Even wizards followed the tradition of Bachelor’s Night.
Harry, Ron, and George disapparated to the Three Broomsticks for the night.
“So, Harry, all grown up, aren’t we?” George said.
“Yeah…all grown up.” Ron mumbled. He looked at Harry as if in a daze.
“Harry, it still feels like yesterday we were on Platform nine and three-quarters waiting for the Hogwarts express.”
“Yeah, Ron, it does. Our first year…”
“And now here we are. Your wedding tomorrow.” Ron still looked as if he was lost in thought. “Say, Harry, again how did you propose?” Ron asked.
“Ha! Ron! Propose? Wittle Wonnykins? Propose?” George guffawed, almost spilling his firewhiskey.
Ron turned red and then got angry.
“Would you get off your high horse, George?” Ron said angrily.
Harry made a mental note to speak to Ron about this later. He knew just what Ron was talking about and he fully supported it.
“So…Harry? Cheers to one more night of…hmm, freedom?” George raised is glass and the other two did the same.
The long line of guests seemed to stretch on forever. Hagrid was first in line, carrying a gigantic, messily wrapped gift.
“Harry! Congratulations to you two! Married, eh? It only seemed like ‘esterday when I dropped yeh off at ‘ter muggle’s ‘ouse. Only a little baby…” Hagrid reached into his moleskin jacket pocket and took out a handkerchief the size of a tablecloth. He wiped the tears that were streaming down his face.
“Thanks, Hagrid! I appreciate it. Why don’t you go have a seat over there…” Harry gestured to a chair that was enchanted to be three times as large as it is.
As soon as Hagrid’s giant figure left, Harry and Hermione were claimed by Luna Lovegood, her father and Dean Thomas.
“Harry! It feels like I haven’t seen you in ages. Hello, Ginny. Congratulations, both of you.” Luna said, in her usual dream-like voice. “Father, I’m going over there. I think I see a Wrackspurt…”
Mr. Lovegood stepped in and shook Harry’s hand. “Harry, I am so sorry. I am more sorry than you could ever imagine…”
“Mr. Lovegood…please…it’s okay. Really, it’s fine. You were under pressure…I understand…” Harry said quickly. He glanced at the growing line.
“Good, good my boy. Please come over sometime for Gurdyroot tea…” Mr. Lovegood went to Luna’s table to join her.
“Dean!” Ginny exclaimed, smiling grandly. Dean Thomas grinned at both of them and wished them congratulations.
“So…you’re with Luna?” Ginny asked.
“Yeah…she’s something…” He looked dreamily at her and he walked away towards Luna.
When half of the ministry, all of the Hogwarts teachers, and some well-wishers they didn’t even know had come and gave their congratulations, it was almost time for the ceremony to start.
When Hermione and Mrs. Weasley ushered Ginny into a room to change into her wedding gown, several other well-known wizards tried to shake Harry’s hand.
(Insert “When You Look Me in the Eyes”-Jonas Brothers)
Suddenly, several white doves burst from a gigantic white cage. They flew in loops and dives and the traditional wedding song burst from their beaks. The guests took this as a cue to take their seats. Even though it was the middle of summer, the Weasleys had transformed the area into a winter wonderland. Soft, glittering snowflakes dropped from an unseen source though nothing was cold. The seats were magically transformed into fluffy clouds that hovered slightly in the air.
Harry, standing by the front, suddenly saw Ginny down the aisle. She was beyond beautiful. Her flaming red hair stood out against the pure white of her flowing gown. The dress was enchanted to look like silken clouds that clung to every curve. On her head was a veil of sheer mist that burst from a delicate circlet of gleaming silver.
She seemed to glide over the red petals that were scattered before her. Once Ginny reached the front, the official ceremony began.
The small wizard who had spoke at Dumbledore’s funeral add at Bill and Fleur’s wedding now stood in front of Harry and Ginny.
“We are gathered here today to celebrate the union of two faithful souls…”
Hagrid’s loud sobs were heard from the back. Mrs. Weasley echoed him, daintily dabbing a handkerchief to her face. She put a comforting arm around Hagrid’s massive shoulders.
“Do you, Harry Potter, take Ginny Weasley…”
Harry saw Hermione clinging to Ron and sobbing into his dress robes. Mr. Weasley was smiling and tears were streaked down his face.
“…then I declare you bonded for life.”
The tufty-haired wizard raised his wand high over the heads of Harry and Ginny and a silver mist curled around their entwined fingers.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen! If you would please rise!” The little man raised his wand again and the cloud chairs vanished and tables with heaping food, a bandstand, and a dance floor that looked like the night sky replaced them. Immediately the guests began to mingle and help themselves to the food.
Couples broke off from the throng of people and started to dance as the band played the first song of the night. Harry grabbed hold of Ginny and gently pulled her towards the dance floor.
“Shall we have a first dance, Mrs. Potter?” Harry said.
Ginny giggled and twirled with him across the floor, her white dress floating.
“Harry…remember when I couldn’t even be in the same room as you? It feels like yesterday doesn’t it?”
“It does. Remember our fifth year at Hogwarts? When you told everyone that I had a Hungarian Horntail tattooed across my chest?”
Ginny threw back and laughed her tinkling, bell-like laugh. “Yes, I do. And when Dean got all jealous…look at him now.” She nodded her head towards Dean and Luna. They were dancing and seemed to be extremely deep in conversation. Luna laughed and Dean touched her cheek.
“Who would’ve thought they’d end up like that?” Ginny said, shaking her head. “I would have never guessed.”
“Considering the first three years at Hogwarts, I wouldn’t have considered Ron and Hermione either. Ron hated Hermione during the beginning of first year. Said he didn’t want her to be in any of his classes. Look at ‘em now.”
Hermione was almost sitting on Ron’s lap, guiding a spoonful of cake into his mouth. He was holding her tightly and had a look on his face that Harry had never seen before.
“Well, Hermione told me long ago that she fancied Ron. She just never made a big deal of it.”
Harry almost choked. “Are you serious?”
“Completely. Hermione used to fantasize…ah, nevermind. She wouldn’t want me to be telling you all this.”
“Just tell which year she, uh, started ‘fantasizing’ about Ron?”
“Hmm…maybe third year? I think it was then…” Ginny laughed. “By the looks of it, another wedding will be happening soon.”
“Yeah…last night Ron asked me how I proposed to you.”
“Ron? He asked you?” Ginny snorted.
“Well, yes. He did. I’m pretty sure he wants to propose to Hermione.”
“Just wait, Harry, he’ll mess it up and Hermione will take it the wrong way. Then she’ll compose another document about ways to avoid Ron-”
“Wait what?” Harry was bewildered. “Ways to ‘avoid Ron’? What’re talking about? Hermione actually-”
“Made a document for herself to study about the ways to avoid Ron and not talk to him. You should have seen the seriousness of it! Over break-you know, we shared a room and she would tell me everything-she actually studied a list of things to do when she got back to Hogwarts. On the top her list were ways to avoid Ron in all classes and was to forget he existed! She said something about someone named Lavender Brown…” Ginny laughed at the surprise on Harry’s face.
“So I’m assuming you don’t know any of thins?” Ginny asked.
“All new news to me. I’m surprised. It doesn’t seem like Hermione would do something like that.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I thought…” Ginny trailed away. Anyone could tell that she didn’t want to be discussing Hermione and Ron. Harry immediately took the subtle hint.
“So, Mrs. Potter, are you excited?”
“Excited? Excited for what?” Ginny’s eyes twinkled.
“Our honeymoon of course. I’ve got it all planned out…in detail…”
“Oh how lovely! And I thought you’ve forgotten since nobody mentioned anything of the sort to me.”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Tell me…tell me!” Ginny squealed happily. “Rome? Italy? China? Spain? I’ve always wanted to go to Spain. Please tell me!”
“Nope. My lips are sealed. Wait until after the party. We leave right after this.”
“Harry, give me a hint! A clue? Please?”
“All right, fine. One clue only. It’s a romantic city.”
“Are we going to…” Ginny’s eyes opened wide with excitement. Harry put a finger to Ginny’s lips.
“No saying it now. You’ll see when we get there.”
“Are we going by plane?”
“Are we wizards or what?”
“Oh right disapparation. Forgot…” Ginny’s cheeks were flushed red with happiness.
Most of the guests wished the new couple congratulations and then disapparated for it was late into the night.
Many closer friends stayed to help clean up, which only lasted minutes. When the last of the guests departed, the Weasleys sent Harry and Ginny off on their honeymoon. With the last kisses and hugs, the couple disapparated with a loud pop.
(Insert “Teenage Dream”-Katy Perry)
It was the night after Harry and Ginny left for their honeymoon. After three weeks of deep thinking, Ron finally decided to try and at least hint that he wanted to propose to Hermione.
They were lying in bed, they started this months ago, when Ron took a deep breath. Here goes nothing…
“Hermione…I wanted to ask you…if well…I dunno…if, you know…ifyoulikedkidsandwantedtogetmarried.”
Hermione stirred. She as on the verge of falling asleep and she didn’t seem to hear him.
“What did you say?” She asked, yawning and turning over to her side.
“Ifyouwatedtogetmarriedsometime. I mean, I’m not saying to me or anything…just asking, you know, ‘cause Harry ad Ginny are together and everything…so…I was just wondering if…well, yeah. What I just said.”
When Ron got no answer he turned to Hermione’s curled form next to him. She was sleeping. A small smile as upon her face and her breathing was soft and even. Her hair was spread out across the pillow. He reached down and brushed a lock away from her face. Hermione looked so vulnerable, so peaceful when she was sleeping.
“Roonil…Waz…lib…” Hermione muttered suddenly. Ron almost jumped a foot in the air. The he smiled, as she had just said the name that he wrote in his Potions book during fifth year at Hogwarts.
Hermione just said my name! Ron thought proudly. Well, not my real name, but close enough.
Ron gently caressed her smooth cheek as he considered who to ask for advice. Definitely not George, he wouldn’t be able to keep the secret. Mum? No, too obvious. Probably Dad then. He’ll know what to do.
So it was decided. He would ask advice from his dad first thing in the morning. Ron smiled, kissed Hermione lightly on the cheek, then curled up next to Hermione’s form.
“I’m too busy right now, Ron. Some other time.” Mr. Weasley said when Ron had come barging in early in the morning ready for some hard-core advice.
“Dad, it’s important!”
“I have ministry stuff to do right now! Don’t bother me.”
“Fine!” Ron stormed off. Dad was his only chance. He could talk to Harry through owl post, but he was afraid that Ginny would intercept the mail.
It seemed like he would have to plan this one on his own.
“Mornin’ Hermione.” Chorused George and Xiyin, when she sat down at the table.
(Insert “Love Like Woe”-The Ready Set)
“Good morning!” Hermione said cheerfully.
Ron didn’t say anything, looking at her intently. When should I do it? This week would be way too soon. But months would be too long. He decided that he would do it when the time was right. Ah, Hermione. She is so beautiful. Especially when she just wakes up. Her hair is always a little tousled and her eyes sleepy. He couldn’t believe that he had ever tried to make her jealous by going out with Lavender Brown. Now, it seemed childish and stupid. Ron never told anyone that he actually liked it when Hermione was mad at him. Her frowns were extremely endearing. He could look at her all day…
“Ron, are you okay?” Hermione asked, looking suspicious. “What are you staring at?” She raised her eyebrows.
Ron snapped out of his daydreams and answered, “I’m not staring at anything.” Ron looked down and blushed.
“Ron, are you sure you’re okay?” Hermione asked, her sweet voice questioning.
At this moment, Mr. Weasley cleared his throat loudly and finished his coffee. He then left the table throwing George and Xiyin a look. They took the hint immediately and claimed they really wanted to see the backyard.
When they left, Hermione came over to the other side of the table and brushed hair from Ron’s eyes. She thought Ron looked so adorable when he blushed, but of course would never say so.
“Ron what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, Hermione. Really, nothing.”
“Well, we’re not going to hang around the house all day. Do you want to go somewhere?” Hermione took his hand.
“Yeah…erm, we could go to…uh, Luna’s place?” He ended awkwardly.
“I was thinking something more…well just the two of us, I mean? Harry’s wedding took up a lot of our time. We never really had any time alone…”
Ron was about to point out at every night they were alone, but thought the better of it. He could see what she wanted. It was exactly what Harry had done. He had taken Ginny on several ‘outings’ basically all over the world. Harry came back all sorts of stories.
And Ron? Ron didn’t know what to do. He was clueless. He silently cursed his dad for not giving him advice over the breakfast table before Hermione came down.
“Well…I guess we could go-”
“Why don’t we go to the forest where we were when we were hiding out?” Hermione’s eyes were wide with longing.
“There? Why there?” Ron personally had many memories there that he did not want to think about.
“Just because. I think it’ll be fun! I’ll get dressed while you go tell Mr. Weasley.” She kissed him enthusiastically then disapparted up the stairs. Wow she must be really in a hurry, Ron thought. Hermione never uses disapparation anywhere within walking distance.
Hesitantly, Ron went to his father’s office. More a workplace really. All his muggle baubles were lying across the floor.
“Um, dad? Hermione and I…we’re going to the Forest of Dean…”
“Oh, okay George have fun.” Mr. Weasley said not looking up.
“No, it’s me, not George.”
Mr. Weasley looked up. “Oh! I’m sorry Ron! Well have fun and don’t do anything silly. And always the golden rule, don’t force a girl to do anything she doesn’t want. That’s what my dear mum told me when I was exactly your age.” Mr. Weasley grinned and went back to cutting some wires.
“Dad, what’s that supposed to mean?” Ron said angrily. Mr. Weasley merely smiled and didn’t answer. Of course, Ron knew exactly what he was talking about. He was still blushing scarlet when he and Hermione left the Burrow.
They bumped into George and Xiyin laughing about something.
“Oh, hi Hermione. Hi Ron. Enjoy your walk in the woods!” George laughed.
“Ready? One…two…three…” With a pop, the pair disapparated to the Forest of Dean.
“Ah…all the happy memories. Us getting caught by snatchers and me walking away from you lot.”
“Ron don’t be like that. We understood what you were going through.”
“No you didn’t. Harry sure didn’t either!”
“Well…he was only trying to…”
“Forget it Hermione.”
Hermione frowned a little and stepped away from Ron.
“Why are you so moody these days?”
Moody? Ron didn’t know what Hermione was talking about. He was cheerful the whole time.
(Insert “Apologize”-One Republic)
“Ron, for weeks you’ve had this silent…I don’t know…this silent thing about you. Ron, are you not telling me something?” Hermione stepped close and searched his eyes. Ron had to look down. Sometimes Hermione was really too smart for her own good.
“No.” He mumbled. No way. He couldn’t propose now! But some part was telling him that this as the perfect time. The other part said that he should somehow make up an excuse.
Hermione took both hands into hers. Her eyes were about inches away. Then, she steped back and took a breath.
“Ron…if you…well…I can’t properly put this…Ron…” Hermione seemed at lost for words. Ron stood there, waiting patiently.
“Well, Ron, if you need to tell, I can take it. Just say it now.” Hermione wouldn’t meet his eyes.
What was she talking about? Say what? I hope she doesn’t know about the proposing thing. Maybe I said it in my sleep. Couldn’t be, otherwise she wouldn’t look so downcast. Take it? Does she think I’m going to throw a punch at her or something?
“Hermione…I…I don’t know how to do this right…but…” Every sign warned me not to say it now. It wasn’t the right time. But, she probably wants me to propose now. Otherwise she wouldn’t have take me all the way out here.
“Alright, alright. I’ll tell you. It’s because…”
“WAIT! DON’T SAY IT YET! I NEED A MOMENT…” Hermione was sniffing and she was blinking back tears.
Ron was bewildered. Why is she crying? Of all times, cry right before I’m about to propose?!
“Hermione…” He reached out, but she leapt away.
“I understand, Ron. Really I do. But, please tell me who it is. I know. I promise I won’t go and yell at her or anything of the sort.”
What? Who’s her?
“Hermione, I’m sorry…I don’t get-”
“FINE! Don’t tell me who the girl is. I don’t care anymore.” Hermione plopped down on the snow bank, and sniffed into her lap. Tears were falling steadily now. Ron sat down next to her.
“Hermione please tell me what’s going on.”
“Ronald Weasley you still have the nerve to ask me what’s going on?”
“Fine. I’ll say it. I’ll say it all, thought I’d rather you said it and been truthful with me!”
“Wait, truthful? But-”
Hermione held up a hand, her eyebrows scrunched angrily.
“If you had told me earlier, I would have understood. After all, you’ve been with me for the last seven years. I know it’s…natural for you to be attracted to…to someone prettier…a little more air-headed…I wouldn’t have been angry if you told me, Ron. But I understand. She is quite pretty, to be honest. And I know how you feel about her so…alright…I guess then…that’s okay…leave me alone…” She was sobbing loudly now. She turned and started to scramble up the snow bank. Small white snowflakes started falling and the sky turned silver.
Ron quickly grabbed her arm before she could disapparate.
“Hermione I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh yes you do Ronald Weasley there’s no point in lying to me now. I saw the letter from that scruffy poor barn owl-”
“Letter? What letter?”
“THE LETTER FROM LAVENDER BROWN! DON’T THINK THAT I AM SOME IDIOT THAT-”
Ron silenced her with a long, hard kiss straight on the mouth. The snowflakes danced around them and some gently landed on Hermione’s lowered lashes. She blinked hard and her eyes were confused.
Ron tried to speak through the kisses.
“I…never…knew…about…the letter…Hermione…I…think…that…you’re…the most…beautiful…girl…witch…that I’ve…ever…met…”
Hermione pulled away gently. “Do you mean it? Do you, truly?” Her eyes showed the love and devotion that Ron had never seen before.
“With all my heart.”
They walked along the frozen river for a while. Hermione told Ron what the letter was about.
“Lavender said that she misses you, Ron. On the paper were actual drops. Actual tears! She said that she hoped you ‘haven’t caught the eye of some curvaceous blond’ and that when she was with you, it ‘was the best moments of her life’. Ron, she even said that she…she wanted marry you.”
“I would never marry-”
“I know but she seemed so serious about it. And…well…” Hermione turned red. “It seemed like you were corresponding with her too.”
“I was never-”
“I know, I know. But I was really scared at first. And I even told myself that you probably haven’t seen it yet.”
“I never did see-”
“I know! But then you got all distant and quiet. I thought that…well I kind of thought that you wanted to be with Lavender instead of…me.” Hermione’s voice got quiet and small.
“I would never be with-”
“I know. I know when you’re lying and when you’re not. As a girl, though, I just…lost a little self-esteem.”
“But I know you haven’t told me something.” Hermione stopped and faced Ron. “Just tell me.”
“The time’s not right.” Ron mumbled.
“You’ll know when the time is right.” Ron tried to smile. Hermione did not look convinced.
“Alright. If you’re sure about that.”
The two walked on in silence. Suddenly, there was a large crack.
Ron pulled Hermione close, looking around. Nobody appeared.
“Ron what was that?” Hermione whispered, her eyes wide with fear.
“I don’t know. Wands out.” They took out their wands and looked around. There was another crack and then a high-pitched scream. A splash of water, then silence.
Hermione jumped and Ron looked around wildly for any sign of danger.
“Ugh now my dress is ruined!” Came the small sound.
Ron ran back towards the river.
There, sitting half in the melted end of the stream was Lavender Brown.
“What the devil are you doing here?” Ron yelled, helping Lavender out of the stream. She was sopping wet and shivering like mad. Ron took of his coat ad handed it to Lavender. She smiled up at him.
Ron took a step back and involuntarily looked behind him sheepishly to where Hermione was, standing with her arms crossed. Lavender also caught sight of Hermione and glared.
“Ron? What is she doing here? You told me to meet you here half an hour ago!”
“WHAT?!” Hermione roared. “HE TOLD YOU TO MEET YOU HERE?”
Lavender looked a little sacred. She had never seen Hermione so angry before. But she remained defiant.
“Yes he did. By owl. This morning.”
Ron held his hands up, as Hermione stalked towards him.
“Hermione…wait…I didn’t send an owl…”
“I can prove it. Look.” She took out a crumpled piece of paper. Hermione glared at the two of them and disapparted.
“Look what you’ve done!” Ron said angrily. “Everything as going good too! You just had to ruin it!”
(Insert “Don’t Leave”-Vanessa Hudgens)
“Won-won don’t be like that. Remember al the good times we had? We could have that again, if you want.”
“Shut up. I know miss me.” Without warning, Lavender quickly kissed Ron heartily on the lips, dropping the paper and throwing her arms around his neck. She kissed him fiercely as she knew that Ron couldn’t resist her.
Lavender smiled to herself as she felt Ron’s hands on her waist. They both heard a loud sob and Ron saw a flash of brown hair disappear into thin air.
Ron pushed away.
“Stop! I can’t do this to Hermione! Geroff me!” Ron yelled as Lavender came on him once again.
“See, Won-Won? I knew you missed my snogging skills and me. I bet that Granger girl can’t kiss like I can.” She crooned.
Using as much force as he could with a girl, he pushed Lavender away. She tripped over her own feet and toppled into the snow.
“Lavender, go away! I don’t want to see you anymore. Seriously.” Lavender looked hurt.
“Fine! You’ll never see me again!” She pouted and started to leave. When Ron made no move to chase after her she burst into tears and disapparated with a loud crack.
The piece of paper still lay on the ground. Ron picked it up. It read:
I will meet you in the Forest Of Dean at exactly ten o’clock. I miss you so much! Please be on time as I will not be there long.
On the back was an order form from Zonko’s, originally Fred and George’s joke shop.
Ron glared at the paper and felt like he could kill George right now. And Hermione. She is going to kill me tonight. If she ever comes home. Women.
Ron sighed deeply and decided to go back to the Burrow to see if she was there. He disapparated seconds later.
When Ron returned to the Burrow, he saw his mother sitting on the couch, with an arm around a sobbing form.
“Dear, tell me what happened.” Mrs. Weasley said.
(Insert “Better Than Revenge”-Taylor Swfit)
“He…Lavender showed up there…in the forest and…Ron told me he never…he never wrote back…but then Lavender had a piece of paper…the note…sent by owl…this morning…” Then Hermione broke into a series of loud sobs.
“There, there, Hermione. It’s alright.”
“No it’s not alright! When I went back he…Ron was…Ron was snogging that…that…ugly…terrible…he said he only…loved me…” Hermione couldn’t continue.
“Won-Won doesn’t seem like the type of bloke that would do that type of thing.” George said, coming up from behind Ron. The two women on the couch turned to see Ron and George who were throwing punches at each other.
“What the bloody hell, George! That was the stupidest, lamest, prank ever! I hate you!” Ron yelled over George’s complaining.
“BOTH OF YOU. KITCHEN. NOW.” Mrs. Weasley roared. Ron threw another punch at George who ducked.
Once they were in the kitchen, Mrs. Weasley demanded to know what as going on. Ron angrily shoved the crumpled paper onto the countertop.
“Mum I swear I didn’t do it!” George protested as Mrs. Weasley read the note.
“Yeah? And turn it over, mum. There’s Zonko’s all over it. It’s their bloody order form!” Ron yelled.
“Ron no yelling! Care to explain, George?” Mrs. Weasley fumed, with hands on her hips.
“Fine. I admit it. But I didn’t expect Hermione to get all worked up about it!” George protested.
“George enough with your jokes and pranks. It caused Ron to almost not have a future wife!” Mrs. Weasley said.
George snickered at Ron’s red face.
“George I want an apology to Hermione and to your brother, do you understand?”
“And Ron, please make things right with Hermione. She told me it was your last chance.” Mrs. Weasley whispered.
“Don’t worry, mum, Ron’s still got a certain Lavender Brown ready to marry him if Hermione declines.” George joked.
Hermione hadn’t moved at all. She was dabbing her eyes when Ron and George stood in front of her.
“Miss Hermione Granger, please forgive my terrible deed. As a future brother-in-law, please forgive me.” George said a little too sincerely. Hermione smiled a little and turned a little red in the face.
“Forgiven.” Hermione said, her voice shaky. George smiled and hugged her, throwing a guilty and somewhat apologetic look at Ron. George left and Mrs. Weasley said that she had some business to attend to.
(Insert “Love Song”-Sara Bareilles)
Ron sat next to Hermione, who moved an inch away, and turned her head.
“Hermione I’m sorry.”
“No, Ron. I’m sorry. I overreacted. But still, you didn’t have to snog her back either.”
“I pushed her away. I swear.” Ron said anxiously.
“I believe you.” Hermione smiled.
Ron took her hand. “Hermione…about the thing George said…you knosw, future brother-in-law…well…”
“Ron, let’s not talk about that now? I just want to spend time with you, see my parents at least once, wait for Harry and Ginny to come back…and I just don’t want to stress about that stuff now.”
“Oh yeah. I understand. Completely.” Ron said, looking embarrassed.
“Don’t take it as…as I don’t want to be with you or anything. Just…just not right now.”
“Yeah. I get it.” Ron looked like he wished he never brought it up in the first place.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang.
“I can’t get to the door at the moment! Ron you go take it!” Mrs. Weasley yelled.
Standing on the doormat looking slightly out of place in quidditch robes was Krum.
Hermione’s eyes lit up when she saw him She ran over and threw her arms around him looking happier than Ron had ever seen her.
“Krum! What are you doing here?” Hermione asked, her voice a bit high.
“I just wanted to drop in to see you. I’ve missed you Hermione. The last time I saw you was at Bill and Fleur’s wedding. You look stunning. By the way, I play for the national quidditch team now. That’s why I’m dressed like this…” Krum motioned to his robes.
Ron hastily put his arms around Hermione to remind her that he was there too.
“You said my name right! And your accent…”
“Being in London for so long would change anyone’s accent.” Krum frowned and looked at their intertwined arms. “Are you two married?”
Hermione laughed. “No! Of course we aren’t!”
Krum looked relieved. “Well, I’d better be off. Team’s waiting. He jerked his thumb towards the quidditch players that were hovering on their brooms a bit away from the Burrow.
“Goodbye Hermione. I’ll see you soon.” Krum jumped on his broomstick, waved, then sped away into the growing darkness.
The two of them stood there in the doorway, gently swaying as they looked out over the field in silence.
“Tomorrow, we’ll go see them.”
“Your parents, of course. Didn’t you say you wanted to see them?”
“Yes, but I’m afraid it’ll make me lose control again. I’ll be so…”
“Rise and shine, Hermione. Hurry and get dressed. We’re leaving by portkey. It’s leaving in about twenty minutes.”
“Ron…did you plan…” Hermione gazed up at Ron with tenderness and amazement.
“Well, mum helped me with the portkey and dad located your parents.”
“I love you, Ronald Weasley.” Hermione whispered.
“Love you too.” Ron said gruffly, embarrassed.
Hermione quickly changed Ron led her to the portkey. It was a rusted tin can.
“Are you sure we don’t have to say goodbye…?” Hermione said, looking back at the Burrow.
“Yes, yes perfectly sure.” Ron said, impatient. “Grab hold of it…tight…be careful now…people have lost their grip and have ended up in other places.”
“Ron, dear, this isn’t the first time I’ve used a portkey.”
“Just hold on tight, love.”
They arrived on Le Rue Dejuener. There was slight breeze in the air as they landed in front of a large mansion with a huge courtyard in front. Several nice cards lined the immense driveway. Pink balloons were tied to the front fence.
“This is where they live? All the way here in Paris? A mansion? They never had the money to buy a mansion! And all these cars! I wonder what they’re celebrating…” Hermione said, looking at the balloons.
Ron led a faintly dizzy Hermione up to the front steps. They rang the doorbell and a maid ushered them in without looking twice at them or their normal clothes. People were mingling with dainty champagne glasses in hand. Everyone was dressed in their finery.
Several languages filled the room, from Japanese to Italian. Ron saw large banners hanging on the walls saying HAPPY FIRST BIRTHDAY HENRIETTA! Ron looked at Hermione to see if she saw. But, she was too busy trying to spot her parents.
Suddenly, Hermione pulled Ron forward. “I see them! I see them!” She pushed people aside and Ron saw a nice middle-aged couple.
In the woman’s arms was a smiling baby wearing pink dress.
Hermione’s smile faltered and tears welled up in her eyes. Then, she noticed the large pink birthday cake and the banners on the walls. The couple’s baby received her parent’s adoring looks. Then, the man looked up and caught sight of Hermione and Ron.
His smile melted and a confused. He was seeing Hermione’s eyes, her hair, her features. Hermione looked exactly like her parents. The woman finally looked up and saw Hermione.
Suddenly the world seemed to go in slow motion. They were running towards her. Hermione running away, dragging Ron with her.
“Hermione?” The woman’s voice rang out. Hermione stopped cold. Slowly she turned around. They smiled at her and reached out their arms. Suddenly a blank look overcame them.
“Hello! How did you find your way in here?” They were smiling politely.
“We…uh…like your house…” Ron said awkwardly.
“Why thank you! We are the Grangers by the way. It’s nice to see that someone here speaks English like we do. We came from London, originally. But, over time we felt like there was no need to stay there anymore. And of course we lost our interest in being dentists. ” The woman laughed lightly.
“Nice to meet you…” Hermione said shakily.
“Now, do you need any assistance home? Shall I call a cab?”
“No thank you, we’ll leave.” Ron said hurriedly.
“Goodbye…” Hermione whispered.
“Good bye, young lady. And treasure that man beside you. I see good things in him.” Mrs. Granger said with a smile.
They left the mansion quietly and quickly. Hermione seemed to be in shock, so Ron kept quiet. Once they were safely down the block, Hermione spoke.
“I can’t believe that they moved and they stopped being dentists…and they have a baby. Henrietta. It starts with an H too. Ron…did you hear them say my name?”
“Yeah. I did. But, then they got this blank look on their faces after remember? The spell you used…”
“I didn’t think that they would never remember me. For some reason, I thought that after Voldemort died, the spell would wear off or something…”
“Well, I guess it didn’t…say Hermione you must be hungry. There’s a restaurant. Let’s eat there.” Ron said happily at the thought of food.
“But we haven’t got any money!”
“I brought some…you know, in case we were hungry.”
“Table for two, please.” Hermione said when they arrived.
“Right this way.” The waitress guided them to a small table next to a window overlooking the Seine River.
“If I wasn’t so sad about my parents…well this would have been the happiest I’ve felt in a long time.”
“Why is that?”
“Because I’m with you here in Paris. You know, I’ve always wanted to visit Paris…Ron! Isn’t that Ginny and Harry over there?”
“Oh, that’s right! They came here for their honeymoon!” Ron exclaimed.
“Oh, look at Harry. He looks so happy…” There was a slightly wistful look on Hermione’s face that made Ron feel a bit overwhelmed.
“We’re happy too, Hermione.” Ron reminded her.
“Yes…but…ah, never mind…” This made Ron remember his promise to propose. Maybe a twilight river cruise down the Seine and then perhaps a stroll along the restaurants and shops…then maybe we could stay in a hotel room and maybe then I could propose. But, didn’t Hermione say that she didn’t want to think about it at all? Would she be mad if I brought it up again? I do not see why she’s so scared…
“Ron? Earth to Ron!” Hermione said shaking his arm. “Let’s go find Harry and Ginny. I think they went over to the Eiffel Tower!” Hermione pulled Ron to his feet and they left the restaurant.
“I see them! Over there!” Hermione was full on running now. “Harry! Ginny!”
The handsome couple turned and saw Hermione and Ron.
“Hermione!” Ginny squealed. They threw their arms around each other and danced around.
Harry saw Ron’s lovesick face and grinned. “Doing good work lately, Ron?”
“Shut up!” Ron laughed. Then, he got serious ad pulled Harry to the side.
“I need some…advice.” Ron started.
“On how to propose, right?”
Ron’s eyes widened. “How did you know? Have you been using Occlumency on my again?”
“Ron. It’s written all over your face. It’s not that hard to find out.”
“Well? Just propose now. What’re waiting for? Hermione will say yes.”
“No. That’s not the problem. It’s just that just a day ago she said she didn’t want to talk about that stuff. She said she wants to just enjoy life or something.”
“Well, then wait until it’s a very romantic time. She won’t say no.”
“You sure about that?”
“Positive. Do it tonight.”
“Ron everyone has been waiting for your wedding. Did you see your mum? Just before Ginny and I left, she said that she hoped there would be another wedding soon! She meant you, of course. Mate, you’ve got to make your move.”
Ron was nodding his head, deep in thought.
“Yeah. You’re right…make…move…”
Hermione and Ginny came back, laughing and whispering. Hermione immediately took hold of Ron’s arm and Ron looked down at their intertwined arms, smiling happily.
“So…Ginny…I think we should go now.” Harry raised his eyebrows at Hermione and Ron.
“Good idea Harry.” Ginny said loudly, laughing. “Bye Ron, bye Hermione!”
“Bye…” Ron mumbled. He was too preoccupied with the faint pink on Hermione’s cheeks to notice that Harry and Ginny were gone. Hermione was tracing her finger along the curve of Ron’s strong jaw line.
“How about a river cruise down the Seine?” Ron said huskily.
Hermione couldn’t break her gaze. “Sure…”
Aboard the small boat, were violinists, a pianist and several elegant bars.
“Wow, Ron, when you said a cruise, I thought you meant one of those tacky tourists boats. I didn’t expect all this…” She gazed in wonder at the finery. “We’re so out of place.” Hermione giggled self-consciously.
“Yeah…well, I sort of made the maitre de let us in without complaint. I’m a wizard, remember?” Ron said sheepishly.
They stood staring at the starlit sky, with Ron’s arm draped over Hermione protectively.
Ron, this is perfect…you’ve done so much for me-”
“Would you like a flute of France’s finest champagne?” a waiter asked, looking at Hermione with interest.
“Yes please.” Hermione took two flutes and handed one to Ron.
“Miss, if you need anything else, please don’t be afraid to ask.” The young waiter winked and then hurried away before Ron could say anything.
“Calm down, Ron. He was only trying to be nice.”
“Nice? He was flirting with you!”
“You know…” Hermione lowered her voice. “He was kind of nice-looking…” Hermione joked.
“You’re kidding, right? He looked like one of Aunt Muriel’s dogs.”
“Don’t be rude!” Hermione swatted his arm.
They both finished their champagnes and set them down on the tray of a waitress.
“I think I’d fancy firewhiskey more than anything right now. Those muggle drinks are hardly anything compared to that.”
“I don’t want my future husband to be an alcoholic!” Hermione turned bright red then clapped a hand over her mouth.
Ron looked at Hermione with interest.
“What did you say, sweet Hermione?”
Hermione blushed again. “Nothing. I didn’t say anything.”
Ron came behind her, wrapped his arms around her waist, and whispered over her shoulder. “Miss Granger, please repeat what you said. I would trade all the firewhiskey in the world to hear that again.”
“No. I won’t say it.” Hermione coughed. “Let’s change the subject.”
“Ooh! There’s some Bateaux wine! My parents let me try it one time! I absolutely loved it! Ron, you should go try it! You would fancy it!” Hermione rushed to the bar and asked for two large glasses of the Bateaux.
Why is Hermione always afraid of that subject? Does she not want to get married? What is she afraid of?
Hermione came back with the wine and handed one to Ron.
Ron checked them in at a small hotel. He had to carry Hermione back, her cheeks rosy red and her words slurred.
“We’re almost there Hermione. Here lemme-” Ron gently set Hermione against the wall as he fumbled with the key. “Difficult muggle contraptions.” Ron mumbled.
He finally got the door open and put Hermione on the bed. He smoothed her hair and tucked her under the covers. Ron got in the bed and sat for a while, staring at Hermione’s peaceful figure. He let his hands wander and they ended up playing with her soft, brown hair.
She’s so beautiful…so lovely…so soft…she’s all mine. Ron felt a burning desire come over him. He loved kissing her, her warm soft lips and long lashes that brushed his cheek. He wanted to hold her and talk with her. He had never felt so happy in his entire life. He wanted to be able to stay with her until they were old. If only she would accept his proposal…
When the first rays of sunlight pierced through the curtains, Hermione woke up with a very bad headache. She ran to the bathroom, hoping she didn’t look as bad as she felt. Her eyes had faint shadows under them and her hair was tousled. Quickly she conjured a comb and a toothbrush.
She looked at herself. Hermione…just accept. You know that he’s been trying extremely hard to propose. Get off your high horse and just say yes. Think of the happiness…the joy…but her parents had never wanted her to marry so young. Long ago when she was about eight years old, they told her to never marry under the age of twenty-six. She happily agreed and she tried to stick to it. But Ron…
She made a final decision and went back to the bed. Ron had gotten up probably a long time ago. He wasn’t in the room. Hermione jumped back into bed and waited.
A few minutes later, Ron came back with a tray of steaming breakfast. Her stomach growled and Hermione was filled with adoration for someone so thoughtful.
“You got breakfast!”
“I knew you’d be hungry.”
“Ron you are simply amazing.”
After the try was cleared and take away, Ron started to speak nervously.
“Hermione…I was just wondering…do you like children?”
“Children? Why of course like children! They are perfectly charming.” Hermione knew exactly where this conversation was going.
“Well…I’ve been wanting to ask you…” Ron sighed. “Never mind.”
Hermione frowned. I have been waiting for this moment for so long and now he says never mind?
“I heard you talking in your sleep last night…and you said quite a lot.”
Hermione tried to think about what she dreamt about last night. Oh no…oh no…
Hermione had dreamed about children, Ron, and her parents. Of course the combination of all three of them was probably a disaster.
“So your parents don’t want you married until twenty-six?” Ron asked. Hermione noticed that his arms were crossed. Usually he was holding her or touching her hair.
“They did say that when I was eight…” Hermione stated hesitantly.
“And are you going to follow it?” Ron as staring at her intently.
“Um, that’s a very difficult question. I don’t think-”
“So that’s why you’ve been so…so distant on that subject. Every time I bring it up, you quickly change the subject. I know you want to, Hermione, because when you talk in your sleep you’re very truthful.” Ron uncrossed his arms and caressed Hermione’s bare arm.
“What have I been saying?” Hermione asked.
“Well something about two people named Rose and Hugo…? And you were saying something about me being…erm, adoringly beautiful.” He grinned and Hermione looked a little pink in the face.
“So,” Ron swallowed noisily. “Will you wait till you’re twenty six?”
There was a silence. Hermione took and breathe.
“Ron, honestly, I don’t think I can wait that long.” Hermione whispered and Ron opened his arms wide, letting Hermione settle between them.
“I don’t have the ring yet…but I will soon...”
“Ron, you should know by now that I’m not the kind of girl that cares only about the ring and not about the proposer.” Hermione smiled.
“I know you aren’t.” Ron brought his hand to her cheek and left it there for a few moments. They stared into each other’s eyes and shared a special moment.
“Oh Ron…” Hermione’s voice rang with adoration and true love.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at little boutiques and small cafes. Hand in hand, they strolled across bridges and enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon.
“I can’t imagine not being with you, Hermione. I still remember our first year when I told Harry I didn’t want you in any of my classes.”
“You said that?”
“Well…” Ron began defensively. “You were a bit pratty. A know-it-all.”
“What about now?”
“Still a know-it-all but not a prat. More of a gorgeous woman now.”
“Oh, Ron, stop it.” Hermione said, running into a small shop.
“What? I’m serious!” Ron cried, following her.
Finally night overcame the city of Paris and twinkling stars appeared again in the sky.
Ron, you’ve got to do this now.
Hermione and Ron were sitting on a bench in a small park. They were talking about random things like what they would name their children if they had any, Dumbledore, and Harry and Ginny. Ron confessed that he missed Lupin and Tonks a lot. Hermione missed Fred.
Once they came to break in the conversation, Ron stood up. He took Hermione’s hand and helped her up. He then slowly got down on one knee, his eyes shining bright.
“Will you, Miss Hermione Granger take my hand in marriage?” Hermione’s eyes widened in surprise. Clearly she had not expected it to be this very night.
By then, a small crowd had gathered to witness the event.
“Say yes! Say yes! Say yes!” The crowd chanted in French.
Hermione stopped ad stared. Her eyes widened, then narrowed. She seemed to be lost in thought. Then she lowered her eyes.
“Ron…” Her voice was uncertain, almost hesitant. “I wasn’t expecting…”
“Just say yes.” Ron suggested.
“The truth is…I don’t know. I’m sorry. I need to moment to think…” Hermione turned away and Ron’s smile faltered. The crowd chanted louder, clearly wanting Hermione to say yes.
“WAIT! BE QUIET FOR A MOMENT!” Hermione yelled to the crowd. Immediately, it fell silent, though they did not leave. A tear slowly slid down her cheek. She wiped it away hastily.
Hermione seemed torn. “My parents…my parents…their dying wish…” Hermione mumbled to herself. “Ron…”
Hermione seemed to lose control. Fresh tears spilled over her eyelids and Ron looked bewildered.
Someone in the crowd whispered in a French accent, “I think she doesn’t want to marry you.” Ron turned around and glared at the man with the red beret hat that spoke.
“Would you mind shutting up?” Ron said loudly, his eyes dark. The man lifted his hands as if in guiltiness ad slowly backed away.
Hermione opened and closed her mouth, not able to speak. Her eyes were wild and lost.
Ron huffed a little impatiently. Any day now…any day now…
Finally with tears glistening in her eyes, Hermione turned around and nodded. She couldn’t speak. The crowd cheered and whistled. Ron smiled broadly and waved his wand and a small velvet box appeared in his palm. He gingerly took out a glittering silver ring with a single, delicate diamond resting on top. Ron had put enchantments on it so that it would never dull and get lost.
Slowly but surely, Ron slid the ring over Hermione’s finger. She held it up the moonlight and it sparkled like morning dew.
Ron got up and Hermione kissed him with all the enthusiasm she could muster. Ron kissed her back with passion. So much passion that Hermione was lifted off her feet.
They disapparated back to the Burrow the next morning without warning.
“Ron! Hermione! You’re back! Oh, we’ve missed you both!” Cried Mrs. Weasley kissing them both on the cheeks.
“Mum it’s only been two days. We weren’t gone that long.” Ron stated.
“I know, I know but it feels like forever!”
Hermione held up her hand to show the still sparkling ring. “Look Mrs. Weasley! I’m engaged!” She waggled her fingers and the reflection of the ring caught in the light.
Mrs. Weasley covered her mouth with both hands, gasping in delight. She quickly hugged them both and hurried to tell the rest of the family.
Shouts of surprise came form all over the house. One by one they emerged form their rooms and offered their congratulations.
“Ron, I am so proud of you! I knew you could do it!” Mr. Weasley said, clapping Ron across the back. “And Hermione, my dear, I am delighted to have you as my future daughter-in-law!”
Once again, plans and preparations started for the third wedding at the Burrow. Instead of a winter theme, Hermione chose a warm summer theme.
Everyone contributed to the planning, Mrs. Weasley outdoing herself again. There would be lake under the dance floor, with real mermaids and water nymphs under the solid glass floor. The bottom of the lake was transformed to be a replica of the beautiful bottom of the ocean floor. Brightly colored coral reefs and schools of tropical fish could be seen through the floor.
Mrs. Weasley planned to have the whole outside area of the Burrow be transformed into a tropical sunset beach. Each of the guests sat on chairs goblin-made from shells, coral, pearls, and other underwater treasures. There were to be real palm trees planted and silky soft sand that was bewitched to not get on the guests clothing. And instead of rose petals dropped before the bride, bewitched bubbles that couldn’t be popped were to be scattered by the flower girl. Or, in this case, bubble girl.
Mrs. Weasley kept Hermione’s dress a secret though.
“No one, not even the bride herself can see the dress! I need all the concentration in the world to get these spells right!” Mrs. Weasley exclaimed.
“Mum, someone needs to get Harry and Ginny back in town before the wedding!”
“Already done, Ron. They’re coming back on the seventeenth, just in time for the wedding on the eighteenth…perfect! Would you look at this cake? Beautiful…” The five-tiered cake towered over Mrs. Weasley. She smiled at the cake as if it were her own child. Small, moving miniatures of Hermione and Ron were on top of the cake, holding hands and kissing. The rest of the tiers were decorated to look like an underwater paradise.
“Oh my goodness gracious. Look, Arthur, all our kids are grown up. All we have left is George and Xiyin. By the looks of it, George is actually serious about her. Imagine that!” Mrs. Weasley chuckled and Mr. Weasley sighed happily, wiping a stray tear from his eyes.
Ron and Hermione still got their privacy through all the craziness. Sometimes outside in the garden, sometimes in their room. Everywhere was pretty much occupied by Mrs. Weasley, Fleur Delacour, and Xiyin.
“Two days, Ron! Two days!” Hermione squealed happily, her eyes shining with excitement. She clasped her hands with his and they twirled around the room. Ron tripped and they fell in a tangled heap of limbs, laughing.
“Blimey…two days until I can officially call you mine.” Ron said in wonder.
“I’m yours already! For months and months!”
“Not exactly, no, because Krum could’ve showed up any minute and take yu away to his hideout-”
“Ron!” Hermione laughed. “I thought you liked Krum!”
“Yeah, sort of, when I didn’t know what kind of a bloke he is.”
“Ron…do you have to go to Bachelor’s Night? Really do you have to? Could you stay with me?” Hermione batted her eyelashes and ran her finger along the side of Ron’s outstretched arm. She scooted closer to Ron, her body almost molding to his.
That was a tough choice. Beautiful, beautiful Hermione…but I need that last night with my mates.
“Hermione I’ll be spending every day at your side. Let me go tomorrow night…” Ron begged, hoping this didn’t set Hermione off in one of her fits.
“I understand. Ginny let Harry go too. I shouldn’t keep you here with me…all alone…in the dark…” Hermione looked down and pouted.
“Aw, don’t make me feel guilty. Just watch, I’m going to end up staying with you. You make a very convincing witch.” Ron chuckled.
Then, Hermione frowned and bit her lip. Her eyebrows knitted together as if in deep thought.
“You know…I’ve always wanted exactly two children. An angelic little boy with brown curls and a sweet girl full of energy and brains with red hair. They would always have one another and they would keep me company till I’m old…”
“Yeah, two kids would be good…but we could make as many as we can if you want.” Ron’s expression hopeful.
Hermione’s eyes widened and she didn’t answer. She seemed to be at lost for words.
“We’ll see.” Hermione said finally.
Ron looked a bit downcast.
Ron cradled Hermione’s head in his arms ad gently rocked.
“If Professor Trelawney ever saw my future…this future…I would’ve believed that she was a real scam.”
“I thought you already believed that she was a fake.”
“That’s not the point, Ron.”
“Oh. Oh. I get it. So if she saw this…you wouldn’t have talked to me at all?”
“I admit I would be scared. I would’ve have believed it and come running to you-”
“And I would’ve been waiting with my arms open wide. Hermione, I’ve fancied you ever since second year. I didn’t really mention it at all though.”
“Second year?” Hermione said incredulously. “Are you sure about that?”
“More sure than you would ever be.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The thing its that I would have come running and then you would’ve broken my heart like the other time.”
“The other time?”
“You see I grew up with this boy named Thomas. Our parents were family friends and I saw him almost every day. Mind you, this was way before my parents found out that could use magic.” Hermione got a dreamy faraway look in her eyes. “Some nights, I would go downstairs and find my parents talking about me. About Thomas and. They hoped that I could have nice normal family with him. Then a few years later, I got the letter from Hogwarts and my parents never spoke of Thomas again. Somehow, I think that they didn’t want Thomas to know that I was a witch. I feel like they were ashamed. Even though they had smiles on their faces and congratulated me on every Charms or Transfiguration test, I could feel a sort of resentment coming from them. As if…as if they just wanted a normal teenager who could live a non-magical life.” Hermione sighed, looking down at her palms.
“Thomas still came around during Christmas breaks, always asking my parents where I was. He sent me Christmas cards and presents, but I never responded back. I felt like I needed to shield him from everything I was doing. He couldn’t know about Hogwarts. Then…the letters came less and less. The presents had stopped altogether. Then one day at Hogwarts I received a long note from Thomas. If you hadn’t been stuffing your face at breakfast, you would’ve noticed I left in a hurry.”
“Sorry…sorry…” Ron mumbled.
“Anyway, the note said that he knew I had found someone else and that I should never come to find him again. He gave me a last chance. He told me to write back, but I never did. That was because…well, that was because…” Hermione looked up at Ron.
“Because of what?” Ron asked.
“Because of…of…um…you.” Hermione said in a small voice.
“I can’t hear you, Hermione.”
“I…I said because of…because of you, alright?” Hermione cried, laughing. Then, she turned serious again.
“Ron, when we were hiding out in the Forest of Dean, remember when we could listen to all the deaths?”
“Oh no…Hermione…” Ron looked sympathetic.
“Yes. One of the names was Thomas. I was crying that night. It was also one of the nights when you weren’t here too. So…that’s why when you came back…I sort of yelled-”
“And kicked and hit!” Ron finished.
“Sorry.” Hermione said, embarrassed.
“My parents would never know that Thomas died. It saddens me a lot…and I never had the chance to say goodbye.” Tears welled up in Hermione’s big brown eyes and Ron wiped them away with his sleeve.
“It’s all right…it’s all right…” Ron comforted.
“Wait…I’m sorry…we should be talking about something happier. But it’s just been bothering me. I needed to tell someone.”
“ ‘S alright.”
“I saw the dress.” Hermione tilted her head and grinned.
“Dress? Oh…the dress. I’m sure its perfectly gorgeous…”
“Gorgeous? No…there isn’t a word to describe it. Mrs. Weasley outdid herself this time.”
“Don’t call her Mrs. Weasley anymore. Try calling her mum. I’m sure she’ll love it.”
“Mum…? Would that be too…” Hermione turned pink.
Two days! What if something goes wrong? What if I trip or something stupid like that? What if Hermione decides she has cold feet and postpones the wedding? What if she doesn’t want children? Well, obviously she wants children…but what if she doesn’t want to have children with me? What if she gets someone else’s kid and starts to call it ours and then later decides that she doesn’t want me anymore…she wants Krum then-
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah I’m fine. Just thinking.”
Would Ron still love me even after I get old and wrinkly? Would he want two children or more? He would probably want more. What if he decides that Lavender Brown is better looking after all? Would he just leave me to take care of the children? Would he divorce me? What if I caught Ron sending letters to Lavender again? Should I pretend not to see it? What if we’re on our honeymoon and Ron sees some beautiful…curvy…blond that he just has to meet? What if Ron doesn’t love me at all? Maybe he just wants to get married for the thrill of it?
“I’m going downstairs for a drink.” Hermione said suddenly, puling out of Ron’s firm grasp.
A drink? Since when does she go downstairs for a drink? Hmm…does George still have those Extendable Ears? They’d be handy now…
Hermione quietly went downstairs and conjured a glass water with her wand. She then, went to find Mrs. Weasley.
Hermione found her in the kitchen, preparing some food with her wand.
“Um, Mrs. Weasley?”
“Hermione, dear, I was waiting for you.” Mrs. Weasley said, not turning around.
“You were?” Hermione asked uncertainly.
“Of course! Do you think that Ginny didn’t come to see me with her pre-wedding jitters also? Do you think I never went to my own mother before I married Arthur. Best listener she was…that’s why I vowed to be a good listener too. Come sit down, love…here instead of the water…” Mrs. Weasley waved her wand and a warm glass of milk and a plate of cookies appeared on the small table. Hermione took a seat and Mrs. Weasley sat down across from her.
“Hermione, sweet, tell me what you’re worried about.”
Upstairs, Ron lowered his Extendable Ear and it dangled just outside the kitchen door.
“Well…I don’t know where to start…” Hermione looked as if she was ready to burst.
“What if Ron doesn’t like me anymore when I get old? What if he wants more than two children? What if he decides that Lavender Brown is better looking after al? What if they start sending messages to each other? Should I pretend not to see? What if on our honeymoon he sees some attractive blond girl that he has to snog What if he just wants to get married because he’s rushing into it? What if he regrets it after? What if he doesn’t really love me at all?” Hermione was shaking and her hands trembled. Mrs. Weasley patted her hands comfortingly.
“There, there Hermione. It seems like you don’t have a single ounce of faith in Ron!’ Mrs. Weasley laughed.
“You…you’re right…I guess I was a bit…overboard…” Hermione sniffed.
Mrs. Weasley spoke. “Hermione I am very sure that my Ron would never do such a thing. I’ve seen the way he looks at you. He would never look like that if he wasn’t serious. And, love, Lavender brown is nothing compared to you. You are a smart, talented young woman full of potential. That is what Ron sees. Not just the physical features of anyone.”
“I know…I’m just scared that…that…well he said he wanted more than two children. He said something like wanted to make as many children as we can…”
“Oh, Hermione, I think he meant something other than having children.” Mrs. Weasley chuckled.
Hermione still looked mystified.
“Now, run along to bed, I’m sure Ron is waiting very impatiently for you.”
Hermione nodded her head, in a daze. “Thanks Mrs. Weasley…”
“No problem, dearest…”
As Hermione made her way back up to her bedroom, Ron yanked the Extendable Ear up and ran back to bed as quickly as he could. He grabbed a book off the floor and pretended to read.
“Oh you’re back. I was wondering why you took so long.” Ron said innocently once Hermione had gotten in bed again.
“Ron your book is upside down.”
“I know you don’t read. Were you listening to our conversation?” Hermione asked suspiciously.
“Conversation? With what? The glass?”
“No…never mind…” Hermione flushed. “I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”
They curled up against each other.
“You know, Hermione…Bill told me yesterday that they were moving to Romania. So Shell Cottage…well he said if you fancied that placed, we could stay there.”
“Shell Cottage?” Hermione said, her eyes wide with excitement. “I adore that place!”
“That’s brilliant! It’s also by the ocean and everything…” Ron said with a faraway look in his eyes.
“It’s the cutest little cottage overlooking that beautiful sea…Ron?”
“Um, well, I was wondering…” Hermione said suddenly trying to sound casual. “Well where are we going for…moon…honey…” Hermione trailed away. Even in the darkness, Ron could tell she was blushing furiously.
“It’s a surprise.
There was a moment of deep silence.
“I don’t like blonds.” Ron whispered. “Never did. Too dramatic.”
Hermione turned over to face him, her cheeks red. “You did listen in!”
“Never said that…”
“I’m never talking to you again!” Hermione said with an audible huff. She turned away from him.
“You just talked to me.”
“You’re impossible, Ron. Impossible…”
“And what mum said down there…about the other thing…well…I’m not like that…I would never force you…anything…dunno why mum was trying to imply that…only two…only two…” Ron mumbled a bit more then fell asleep.
Hermione was still wide-awake. She figured out what Mrs. Weasley meant. For the third time that night, she blushed crimson. But Ron said he would never force anything on her…
But it was probably what he wanted. Honeymoon. That’s when I’ll wordlessly give permission…
Hermione, then too fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning, some of the guests arrived a day early, congratulating the couple-to-be. Mr. Weasley had bewitched the garden to become comfortable sleeping quarters for the guests.
“Ronald Weasley! It only seems like yesterday when you Transfigured that rat into a cup during second year. And Hermione, Granger, all grown up and looking beautiful. I am so proud of both of you!” Professor McGonagall cried, wiping tears from her eyes.
“We’ve missed you too Professor McGonagall!” Hermione smiled widely. Professor McGonagall walked away, joining Professor Sprout and Professor Flitwick by the Greenhouse.
“Ron? Hermione? I’ve missed you too so much!”
Ron and Hermione turned to see Neville Longbottom in their midst.
“Neville!” Hermione squealed happily, throwing her arms around him. “I haven’t seen you in forever!”
“Yeah, well, I couldn’t make it to Harry and Ginny’s because of my grandmother. She was feeling a bit down these past few months so I decided to stay and watch over her. Oh, By the way, I’ll be teaching at Hogwarts when it reopens.”
“That’s brilliant, Neville…what subject?” Ron said.
“Herbology. Professor Sprout thought I should take her place. She told me something about feeble bones…but, anyway, congratulations!” Neville shook Ron’s hand firmly, smiled, then headed off towards Professor Sprout.
“Neville grew a lot over the summer.” Hermione noticed.
“Yeah almost as tall as me.” Ron said.
“Funny…” Hermione said sarcastically.
And so the afternoon passed in a blur. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were disapparating to get around faster. George and Xiyin were stacking plates with their wands, trying not to break them.
“It’s fine china, Geroge! I do not want to see one broken when I return!” Mrs. Weasley yelled.
Even Percy and Emma were helping out. They stood by the entrance to the Burrow ready to take coats and lead people to the refreshments.
Suddenly a cry rose out.
“Harry and Ginny! They’re back!” Someone yelled. Ron and Hermione quickly went to greet them.
“Hey Ron!” Harry said. He was clutching multiple luggage in one hand and holding Ginny’s hand in the other.
Ginny patted Ron lightly on the shoulder. “Did you miss me at all? Or were you too preoccupied with Hermione?” Ginny giggled.
“Oh be quiet.” Ron said quietly.
Once they were gathered downstairs in the front yard, Ginny pointed into the distance.
“Is that who I think it is?”
A tall blond figure appeared just outside the boundaries of the Burrow, walking briskly as if trying not to be noticed.
“What the devil is Draco Malfoy doing here?” Ron said, getting up. Harry walked towards the Draco.
“Come on. Let’s go see what he’s up to.”
Ron protectively put an arm around Hermione and took his wand out with the other.
“Just in case.” Ron said hastily, as Hermione threw him a questioning stare.
Once they approached Draco, they noticed dark circles under his eyes and small bandages wrapped around his arms.
“What’re doing here?” Ron said.
“Here to talk to Potter.” Draco said in a cool voice.
“If you want to talk to me, talk to all of us.” Harry said. Malfoy suddenly seemed to notice that Ginny was holding Harry’s hand.
“Unlikely match…thought you would choose someone better for your, ah, status.” Malfoy said, almost to himself. Malfoy looked almost exactly like his father, Lucius, except without the long hair. He kept his short and sleek.
“Watch it, Malfoy.” Ron said darkly.
“Ah, Weasley. Also knew you’d mate with a mud- someone smart.”
Ron shot death glares at Draco.
Harry, deciding that Ron would not keep his cool, walked several feet away and Draco Malfoy followed him.
“Muffliato,” said Draco
Harry saw Ginny, Ron, and Hermione shooting Draco death glares behind his back.
“So…the Aurors. They’re searching for the ah, remaining Death Easter’s, are they not?”
“They are.” Harry said uncertainly.
“Well…I know…I know where they are…if that would help…but I can’t be found…don’t say anything…don’t turn your source in….” Malfoy looked down at the ground.
“Tell me who.” Harry said firmly.
“Dolohov, last seen in Romania. He escaped Azkaban shortly after Voldemort died. Mulciber and Rookwood seen in Rome. Karkaroff, China. Macnair, India working as a street peddler.” Malfoy stopped and suddenly his voice turned pleading. “Harry promise me you won’t turn me in.”
“I thought you weren’t a real Death Eater.”
Draco whipped his sleeve up to reveal the Dark Mark. “I am a Death Eater.”
“That’s a tall order, Malfoy. After everything you did, you expect me to protect you?”
“Yes. I’ve given you the names of five Death Eaters and their locations. An eye for a eye.”
“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, Malfoy, I’m sure you heard the expression.”
“What more can I ask? A simple thing Harry, and you won’t get off your ridiculous high horse. Now you now where they all are. It’s a small price to pay, Potter.” Draco said angrily, his eyes flashing.
“Why’d you tell me?” Harry asked.
“What? Do you think I’m so stupid, I’ll walk into the ministry and tell them? They’d have me in chains before I could take another step.”
“No. I meant why’d you tell me? Out of all the people, you tell me. And what about your father? Doesn’t he work at the ministry?”
“My father’s in hiding. Hiding from me. Hiding from my mother. Hiding from the wizarding world. He changed his name and he’s out there, acting and dressing like a muggle so the other Death Eaters can’t find him and kill him.”
“Why would they kill him?”
“I’ve got time.”
“No you don’t. It seems like you have a wedding to go to.” Malfoy sneered, looking behind him to all the decorations being set up.
“You didn’t answer my first question. Why’d you tell me?”
Malfoy looked confused. “You know, Potter, I don’t know. Perhaps I thought you were capable enough to inform the ministry all by yourself.”
“What about the Death Eaters? Why would you betray them?”
“Betray?” Malfoy scoffed. “Help is more like it. Anyway, they never treated my family right. Always sneering and jeering whenever Voldemort ordered my father or mother to do something they didn’t want to do. They were never a big help. Each one seemed to think they were most favored in Voldemort’s eyes. He…Dolohov tried to kill my mother! Why would I ever want him to be set free? Why?” Draco said harshly.
Harry did not answer.
After a moment of silence, Draco spoke. “Anyway, I have business to attend to. I can’t idly chat here anymore. I’ll see you around, Potter.”
When Malfoy Disapparated, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny hurried over to Harry.
“What’d he say?” Ginny asked breathlessly.
“Nothing.” Harry thought that it was best not to say anything. The three of them exchanged worried looks.
They trooped back to the Burrow and Mrs. Weasley spotted them almost immediately.
“Harry! Ginny! Come help! Ron, Hermione go back inside I don’t want you to see any part of this until I’m completely finished!” Mrs. Weasley shooed them inside.
“There’s a countercharm.” Hermione whispered to Ron, once they reached their bedroom.
“A countercharm. Just right now, when we couldn’t hear anything? Malfoy cast the Muffliato spell on us. But, I discovered the countercharm last year so that I could penetrate the spell. Ron, Malfoy was telling Harry not to turn him in to the ministry. Ad he said something about five Death Eaters…what if Draco was asking him to…?”
“That’s what Draco said? I thought he was boasting about his shiny Dark Mark.”
“Ron, he was showing Harry his mark. Anyway, that’s beside the point-” Hermione said firmly when Ron tried to interrupt.
“We need to ask Harry what Malfoy said.”
“But I thought you said that you heard—”
“I didn’t hear all of it! So what we have to do is ask Harry. And you know him. He keeps a lot of stuff to himself. What if Draco asked him to join forces or something-”
“Hermione, Voldemort’s dead remember? Draco can’t be the next Voldemort. Join forces? What are you saying?”
“Just wondering aloud, Ron.”
“No. Whatever Malfoy said to Harry, I’m sure is fine. Nobody’ll ‘join forces’ with anyone else, Hermione.”
“You can’t be sure. Ten years ago, everybody was sure that the Dark Lord wouldn’t rise again. But look, he did. Ron, we have to be careful. Keep an eye out for Harry.”
“Sure. No problem.”
Ron looked down at his hands and frowned.
“What’s wrong?” Hermione said carefully.
“Well about the kid thing…” Ron looked hopefully, looking up.
“Not that again, Ron!” Hermione said, exasperated.
Ron looked downcast. Hermione gently tilted his face up, an affectionate look spreading across her face.
“Don’t look like that.”
“Well…since you won’t…”
“I never said I wouldn’t…!” Hermione cried impatiently. “Just be a little more patient will you?”
“Sure…sure…” Ron mumbled.
“Just be excited for tomorrow.” Hermione suggested.
Herione flipped over and Ron curled up beside her.
The next day seemed to happen in a daze. Hermione was rushed out of bed bright and early in the morning. George, Harry, and Percy claimed Ron as their own, giving last minute tips, fixing his messy red hair, and straightening his tie. Ron just went along with all of it, nodding, wishing he could be with Hermione again. Personally, he wanted this to be all over so he could get Hermione with him again. It felt like the wedding was something so unnecessary.
Nevertheless, Ron went with the motions and agreed to anything anyone said, thinking hard about Hermione’s soft curls. So beautiful…imagine her in that wedding dress mum cooked up…gorgeous stuff…
“Blimey! Are you paying any attention? Snap out of it, mate! You’ve got to listen! As I was saying, be careful not to trip over those ridiculously large feet of yours…”
“Make sure you don’t step on Hermione’s dress or mum’ll have a fit…”
“Greet all the guests and don’t…”
Ron started daydreaming again, his face crumpling into a lovesick grin. He could already picture the two of them on the beach by Shell Cottage, sitting on a swingset, sipping ice tea while the hot sunlight warmed their skin…he would snog her then-
“RONALD BILIUS WEASLEY ARE YOU PAYING ANY ATTENTION AT ALL?” George yelled. He took up his wand and shouted, “AGUAMENTI!”
Cool, crystal clear water burst from the tip of his wand, drenching Ron in a bath of water.
“Bloody hell! What was that for?” Ron roared. He quickly muttered under his breath and his clothes dried immediately.
“Someone had to wake you up from your stupid daydreams.” Percy stated. Ron turned red.
Finally, the four of them trooped outside, ready to greet the guests. Hermione was told to stay inside until it was time for the ceremony to start, so Ron had to greet the guests alone.
“Oh my, Ronald Weasley all grown up. Wouldn’t have imagined the day. Oh, but the day came, the day came. Soon there’ll be another fresh batch of Weasleys coming through the door. Mark my words…mark my words…”
“Yes…yes…” Ron muttered, escorting her to a chair.
When Ron went back to the front of the line he saw Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, Dean Thomas, Professor McGonagall, Hagrid, and Krum waiting for him, all smiling widely.
“Ron! Congrats, mate! Dean shouted.
“I would’ve never guessed that you would marry Hermione. She always seemed to smart for you. But nevertheless…a good match…” Luna said in her dreamy voice.
“Er…thanks.” Ron said. “Your seats are over there…”
“Blimey, Ron! Married at last!”
“Neville! So good to see you!” Ron said happily.
“Yeah, you too. I’m a professor at Hogwarts now.” Neville said proudly.
“Ah, Ronald Weasley, always the clumsy, loyal one.” Professor McGonagall said, wrapping a very tall Ron in an embrace. He awkwardly hugged her then half-smiled.
“Good to see you to, Professor McGonagall.”
Right when professor McGonagall turned away, Hagrid clapped Ron hard on the back.
“Not spittin’ slugs anymor’, ar’ yeh?” Hagrid joked. Ron’s wand had backfired during second year, causing him to throw up slugs.
“Nope…” Ron laughed.
“Ron.” Krum nodded, his face serious.
“Krum.” Ron matched his seriousness.
“Well…erm…congratulations…Hermione…yeah…” Krum seemed at lost for words. He looked extremely jealous. “Treat her right, will you?” Krum asked.
“Yeah…’course.” Ron snapped, sticking his hands in his pockets.
After a longer line than Harry’s due to all his countless aunts and cousins, the wedding was finally starting. Ron took his place by the shirt tufty wizard who was at the last wedding and waited for the ceremonial marriage song to start.
Tropical fish burst out of a small silver diamond-like shell on top of a delicate archway made of clear, hovering, turquoise water. Small fish were swimming inside the delicate looking archway. The song started and one of Ron’s younger cousins slowly walked down the aisle, carrying a small shell that ejected delicate, glittering bubbles into the air behind her.
In the middle of the song, there was an excited gasp. Everyone turned around to look.
There was Hermione, hovering slightly in the air, piles of bubbles around the bottom of her dress. Her dress clung to every curve and it seemed to flow on forever. It was sheer yet a murky bright aqua. A simple white flower was tucked behind one ear, the rest of her hair glowing, wavy and flowing free. The dress was bewitched to have baby colorful fish swimming through it. The dress seemed to be moving, flowing with her every graceful move. A string of the finest pearls decorated Hermione’s neck and a thin circlet of white sea-foam held a veil that looked like an elegant waterfall. Two finely dressed mermaids held Hermione’s graceful train that spread out six feet behind her.
The sound of rushing waves slipping on the beach was heard and a few seagulls flew overhead. The sand on the ground seemed to glow a bright golden, deliciously warm to the touch.
Hermione grasped Ron’s hand when she reached the front. Ron looked into her eyes and saw the fierce, determined love she had for him. He looked back at her with a passionate, burning desire.
“We are gathered here today to celebrate the union of two faithful souls…” The short wizard began.
Ginny was crying, smiling and laughing at the same time. Harry was grinning widely, throwing a thumbs-up. Mrs. Weasley had her face buried into Mr. Weasley’s cot. Mr. Weasley dabbed his eyes and smiled again.
“Do you, Ronald Weasley, take Hermione Granger…”
Ron saw Professor McGonagall crying and Hagrid putting a comforting arm around her shoulders.
Percy was dabbing his eyes delicately, his arm around his mousy-haired girlfriend, Emma. Pixies and fairies zoomed over the crowd throwing handfuls of sparkling fairy dust, causing the air to shimmer and turn. The guests gasped in delight.
“…then I declare you bonded for life.”
The tufty-haired wizard raised his wand high over the heads of Ron and Hermione and a silver mist curled around their entwined fingers. The mist suddenly exploded into a shower of golden light, causing the room to turn exceedingly bright. The light faded, but the thin shadow of the tightly wound silver mist stayed by their clasped hands.
The crowd clapped and whooped loudly as Ron dipped Hermione gracefully into a deep kiss. Both were deep red when they came back to the present. Arm in arm, they proudly strode down the aisle. Hermione could barely make out everyone’s blurred faces through her overflowing tears.
The small wizard once again raised his arms dramatically and all the wedding decorations disappeared. Soft, silky, warm sand ringed a transparent glass dance floor with a lake underneath filled with gorgeous jewel encrusted mermaids, gentle, mysterious water nymphs, tropical fish and other breath-taking treasures of the sea. The sweet perfume of tropical flowers and the soothing melody of island instruments filled the air.
Mrs. Weasley waved her wand and Ron and Hermione’s clothes became more appropriate for their surroundings. Hermione had on a diamond-studded white beach dress over a striking gold bikini and Ron’s strong shoulders pronounced a handsome, loose, white shirt that moved gently in the breeze.
Ron took Hermione’s hand and led her onto the dance floor for their first dance.
“Is this what you imagined?” Ron asked, his lips close to Hermione’s ear lobe.
“Better.” Hermione said, her voice choked with emotion. “I seriously would’ve never…ever…thought that it would be like…like…” For the first time in her lifetime, Hermione was at loss for words.
Ron put a finger to her lips to silence her stuttering. A new smooth confidence seemed to overcome Ron. His usual embarrassment and clumsiness had disappeared. With Hermione in his arms, he twirled around and around in elegant circles till the sun turned to twilight in the sky.
A few days later, the four of them had a whole night to themselves.
“Blimey. Can’t believe all this. I mean…I dunno…just everything that happened. Seems like it all happened in a blur…” Ron said, gazing at the floor. His hands were entwined with Hermione’s.
“Yeah.” Harry reflected thoughtfully.
The Weasleys were now on their way to a muggle opera. Mr. Weasley practically had to force them out the door. Out of all of them, only Mr. Weasley and Percy seemed interested in going.
“Dad probably wouldn’t notice if we left halfway through the opera, Xiyin.” George laughed. “Or worst comes to worst, we could Confound him.”
Xiyin threw back her hair and her silky black hair reflected in the light.
“Oh, hush up!” Mrs. Weasley scolded gently.
But, they soon left and the house was quiet once again.
“Harry,” Hermione started. “Do you think that you’d take up the offer of being an Auror?”
“There’s not really a point anymore, since Voldemort’s gone.” Ginny said confidently.
“Mr. Weasley said that the Aurors still have important jobs. Clean up after…everything. Still have to catch a few more Death Eaters. Heard that the Goblins were trying to reclaim everything that they made. All the Death Eater’s stolen possessions are being stolen by the Goblins. The Aurors have a big job of protecting the treasures from those greedy Goblins.”
“Griphook’s trying to reclaim all the things he made personally. Mental.” Ron said, making a face.
“Oh, Griphook is just trying to take back what is rightfully his. That’s no crime.” Hermione said indignantly.
“Bringing back the whole S.P.E.W. thing, Hermione? Except this time with Goblins?” Ron joked.
Hermione turned red. “I am not. I’m just being optimistic of the whole situation.”
“Yeah. Dumbledore said that Goblins were always the greedier, nastier breed. Not too honest.” Harry said quietly. He swallowed his sadness.
Harry missed Dumbledore. He and Ginny went to Hogwarts a couple of times after their honeymoon. Harry had spent hours talking to Dumbledore’s picture frame. They conversed like old friends. Harry also asked Dumbledore for a lot of advice.
Dumbledore never lost that twinkle in his eyes.
“Ron.” Hermione said, bringing Harry back to the present. “What do you plan on doing as a living?” She raised her eyebrows.
“I dunno…never thought of it, really…a decent job…not too much work…a lot of galleons, though.” Ginny and Hermione rolled their eyes simultaneously and Harry laughed.
Suddenly there was a loud bang and then a dull thud.
Ron and Harry jumped to their feet, whipping out their wands and pointing it at the door.
“Who’s there?” Ron called out loudly.
“Oof! Ouch, yeh great oaf o’ a-” Came the muffled sound. There were more loud thumps and then it was silent.
The four watched the door with wary eyes.
“Harry?” Came the nervous voice from outside.
Ron and Harry exchanged looks.
“Is that who I think it is…” Hermione trailed away, a smile lighting up her face. Without warning she ran to the door and flung it open wide.
“Hermione!” Ron shouted.
“Come back Her-” Harry started.
“Hagrid!” Hermione squealed.
Hermione was already halfway across the front heading towards a large mass of dark. The three of them ran after her.
“Hagrid? Back so soon?” Ron said, a look of relief washing over his face.
“Good ter see you lot ‘gain!” Hagrid’s face was shiny and red and he was panting. “Got a lil’ problem…”
Suddenly, they noticed the giant shadow covering all of them. Slowly, they looked up, afraid to look.
“Grawp.” Ron said in a strangled whisper.
Hermione involuntarily took a step back and Ron clutched her hand tightly.
Hagrid looked slightly guilty.
“Hagrid what’s he…it…doing here? If mum sees this she’ll have kittens…” Ginny took a step back as Grawp stumbled nearer to the group.
“Er, well, I thought maybe yeh all would consider watchin’ o’er him fer a while. I got ter take care o’ some…er…stuff…” Hagrid’s eyes turned pleading.
The four of them were thinking the same exact thing. Even if they agreed to take care of Grawp, where would they put him?
“Hagrid, what ‘stuff’ exactly?” Hermione asked suspiciously. “You’re not doing anything illegal are you? It’d be extremely stupid-”
“No! No! Nothin’ illegal, ‘course. Dunno why yeh would think that.” Hagrid scoffed sheepishly. “But anyway, can’t stay long. Got ter go take care of business…soon.”
Harry looked up at Grawp, then at Hagrid.
“Sure. We’ll look after him.” Harry said. Ron looked at him as if he had grown two more heads.
“Harry, are you mental? You want this…this…giant around when mum comes home-” Ron sputtered.
“We’ll look after him as long as there’s a time limit. We’re not going to be dragging him around everywhere for the rest of our lives, Hagrid.”
“Yeah, yeah, un’erstand, un’erstand. Don’ worry yerself, Harry. I’ll be back soon. As soon as possible…”
“As soon as possible? Like, for the next thirty years?”
“Oh be quiet, Ron. You just don’t want mum to freak out when she sees him.” Ginny snapped. “I think it’s great that this…um…I mean…Grawp is here to stay with us.”
“Yes.” Hermione continued brightly. “We could teach him proper manners and then-”
“As if anyone would have the patience to teach him.” Ron scoffed angrily.
“I would!” Hermione said defiantly, throwing him a glare. Harry and Ginny exchanged worried glances.
They were only married this day and already they were fighting? Harry knew that their bickering was only temporary and very frequent. Ginny, however, expressed her concerns about the matter later.
“Thank yer all. Means ‘lots to me, yeh know.” Hagrid wiped a stray tear from his eye. “But, er, I’d be’r be off ter business-”
“Hagrid, why won’t you tell us what it is?” Harry asked again, persistently.
“Top secret! Professor McGonagall trusted me to do this all by me’ self.” Hagrid said proudly.
“Alright, fine. Don’t tell us.” Hermione pouted. She snuck a smile to Harry.
“Aw, Hermione, yeh know I can’t tell. Don’ look that way.” Hagrid paused, then reconsidered. “Fine,” Hagrid whispered gruffly. “I’ll tell yer lot. It…it…” Hagrid stopped to make sure nobody was listening. “It involves a couple ‘o Death Eaters. And…well…er, giants. That’s all I’m going ter say. Now, I have ter go. I’ll see you all la’er-And DON’T TELL A SINGLE SOUL OR I’LL…I’LL…er…”
Hagrid stopped. Nodded to all of them, and disapparated with a loud crack.
In the short silence, Grawp sat down on the ground with a loud plop, causing the Burrow to lift up in the air for a split second, then fall back onto the earth. He scratched his head and played with a stray garden gnome that happened to cross his path. The gnome squealed in terror and tried to run away. Grawp lifted him in the air, close to his eyes, and started to tickle the gnome. In between shouts of anger, the little garden gnome laughed and giggled.
The four young adults laughed at the sight and started to head back.
“What about Grawp?” Ginny asked.
“What about him? He can stay out there if he wants or he can wander somewhere. He won’t get hurt. He might trip his own feet though.” Ron said carelessly.
“Really, Ronald.” Hermione said impatiently, putting her hands on her hips and suggesting an image that looked a lot like Mrs. Weasley when she was angry. “You ought to have a bit more compassion for these creatures! Grawp should have a nice bed, some shelter, and…and…maybe some toys.” Hermione finished with an air of dignity.
“Okay. Stay out here all night fixing up a nice little home for a nice little GIANT.” Ron huffed. He trudged back up the hill to the Burrow. Harry followed him with a backward glance at Hermione. Ginny stayed.
“You know, Ron’s only mad that you’d rather stay out here making a shelter for Grawp rather than go inside to spend some…ah… ‘quality time’ with him.” Ginny said briefly, winking.
Hermione sputtered for a moment and before she could say anything, Ginny quickly went back to the Burrow, laughing.
Once the three of them were back inside, Ron glanced through the window to see Hermione performing unusual, difficult enchantments to create a large structure for Grawp. A mattress and several odd trinkets appeared in the air and into the structure. Hermione raised her hand, her wand, and mouthed a very long sentence.
Ron pretended to be sitting on the couch when Hermione came back in, slightly breathless.
“I’ve got all the enchantments on. Grawpy won’t be able to move away from the structure except when I allow it, and I’ve put of reinforces around the Burrow so he couldn’t break the house.”
“Grawpy? Since when have you given him a pet name?” Ron said, mystified and angry.
“You’re just jealous that I haven’t made up a name for you-”
Ron blushed red and said, “Why would I want a bloody name-” He started to go up the stairs.
“Oh shut up, you two!” Harry shouted, tired of their stupid arguments.
Hermione followed Ron up the stairs, who was shouting nobly the whole way.
Ron stayed silent while Hermione lectured and scolded him for all his wrongs.
Just keep silent and she’ll stop…eventually…
Finally, Hermione finished her award-winning speech. They were silent for a moment as they both looked up at the dark ceiling, exhausted.
Hermione and Ron started at the same time.
Even through the thick darkness, Hermione could make out a thin blush.
“Go on, say it first.” Hermione said.
“No…it’s okay. You go first.”
“Just go!” Hermione said, exasperated.
“Alright, alright.” Ron mumbled.
“Okay, okay…so…er, well it’s just that…I dunno how to putt his exactly but…Grawp…I don’t…ruin…giant…name…pet…you…us…er…”
“Ronald, is it this difficult to say what you want to say?”
Ron took a breath. “IthinkyouspendtoomuchtimewithotherthingswellactuallyworryingaboutotherthingsratherthanspendingyourtimeonmeifyouknowwhatIamtryingtosay.”
“What…did you say? Sorry, missed it.”
“I…I…can’t repeat it.”
“Well, why not?” Hermione exclaimed.
“Just…can’t. Too…hard. Going to bed.” With that Ron turned over. He stayed awake though long after Hermione had shrugged and gone to bed.
Ron though things over for a long time.
Normally, this would’ve been our honeymoon time. But, of course, mum wanted us to stay a bit before going. So, naturally, Hermione would be concerned with other things, right? Not a sin. Stop being like this. Hermione’ll never want to stay here if you keep this up. Maybe she is better off with Krum after all…famous quidditch player, good looking, nice…Why didn’t I ask Hermione to the Yule Ball when I had the chance? I knew that she wanted me to ask her. I was too preoccupied with Harry getting all the attention…maybe if we went to the Yule Ball, we would’ve been together a lot longer. Maybe even past the stage we’re at now. Stupid git, Ron. You had to go and ruin your chances. Think, if you were a girl, would you stay with me or go off into the sunset with Krum. Answers, obvious, mate. Krum. Unless you were stupid enough to not see the difference. Me or Krum. Maybe Hermione is stupid or something. Or maybe she lost her vision. Dunno why she would…
After some hard thinking, Ron fell fast asleep, dreaming of quidditch and bushy brown hair.
Harry and Ginny were doing some thinking in the next room too. They lay perfectly curled up against one another, Harry’s face deep in Ginny’s sweet smelling hair.
“Harry, I know why Ron’s all upset.” Ginny said quietly.
“Yeah, me too. Knowing Ron for that long…not hard to guess.”
Ginny turned to face him. “You knew?”
“For someone so smart, Hermione is quite daft around relationship stuff, you know.”
“She’ll get it. She catches onto things pretty quickly.” Harry though of the time when Hermione finally realized that Harry liked Ginny.
Ginny was thinking along the same lines but neither spoke.
“Ginny, I wanted to ask you about something.”
“Well, Draco Malfoy told me something yesterday. He gave me the names of the Death Eaters that were still in hiding. I guess Lucius has his connections. Well, I have to go find them. I can’t have them living out there. I know they can’t harm anyone otherwise they would be noticed, but still. I feel that there needs to be some sort of justice here. Those people-no, creatures-killed innocent witches and wizards. They need to be avenged. The ministry needs to imprison them somehow…soon…”
“Harry, I fully support your decision, but wouldn’t it be dangerous? I mean, what if…”
“Ginny, I’ve faced much worse than this. I really need your support ‘cause…”
“Mum and dad, right? And Ron and Hermione? You know mum won’t let you go.”
“They’re going to have to! Think of all those innocent people put to rest…Sirius…Neville’s parents…Fred…Lupin…Tonks…I know they’d all want me to go.”
“I’ll support you on one condition.”
“Take me with you.”
“No. Absolutely not. I won’t have you risk your life just to go with-”
“Fine. Then, no support. At all.” Ginny said firmly. She turned over away from Harry.
“Ginny…” Harry said painfully. Half of him wanted Ginny to be there at his side, but the other half warned him of the dangers involved.
“Ginny, please…don’t do this to me…”
“One condition. And one condition only. You can’t even promise me that? Do you think you want me to stay here all by myself and wait in anxiety for your return. Every single moment I’ll be worried and scared that…Harry do you realize that you were so close to death every single time you faced Voldemort and his Death Eaters? Do you? Do you want your son to not have a father?” Ginny exclaimed, then widened her eyes. She clapped a hand over her mouth and looked away from Harry’s piercing green eyes.
“Ginny…” Harry said slowly. “What did you say?”
“Nothing…I…nothing.” Ginny mumbled.
“When did you find out? Ginny…” Joy washed over Harry as he held his wife close.
There a brief silence.
“A few days ago.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I wasn’t exactly sure…”
“Ginny that’s…that’s…brilliant…I don’t even know what to say…” Harry got light in his eyes that Ginny had never seen before.
Suddenly, Harry jumped out of bed, pulling Ginny along with him.
“Harry…what’re doing…” Ginny asked, bewildered.
When Harry got to the stairs he started to shout.
“Mrs. Weasely! Mr. Weasley! George! Xiyin! Hermione! Ron! Percy! Get out of bed!”
Mrs. Weasley was the first to get downstairs.
“What happened? Is everything alright?” She shouted to Harry, alarmed.
“Yes, yes, mum, everything’s alright!” Laughed Ginny.
“Bloody hell, what’s all this racket about, Harry?” Ron mumbled grumpily, tugging a very sleepy Hermione.
“Harry, this’d better be good. I was just about to kill Professor Umbridge when you woke me up. Good dream, good dream…” George said longingly, hand in hand with a surprisingly not sleepy Xiyin.
“Harry, tell us!” Mr. Weasley called out.
“Yeah, c’mon Harry, dad and I have to leave for the ministry early in the morning.” Percy grumbled.
Harry held the suspense a bit longer and then finally-
“Ginny has a baby!”
Surprised looks overcame everyone’s expressions. Clearly, they were expecting everything but this.
“Oh, Harry, Ginny come here! Congratulations, congratulations, my dears!” Mrs. Weasley cried, throwing her arms open wide. Tears leaked down her face as she pulled both of them into a fierce hug.
“Congrats, Harry! A bouncing baby boy! Or maybe a wee little female baby?” George laughed and Xiyin offered well wishes to the happy couple.
One by one they offered their best wishes, and then trudged up the stairs, sleep overcoming their eyes.
Finally, only Ron and Hermione remained.
“Well, congrats, mate. Didn’t really expect this soon…none of us did…” Ron said glancing at his little sister.
Ginny stuck out her tongue at Ron and smiled.
“Wow, Harry. Congratulations. I mean, wow…I don’t know what to say…Ginny…” Hermione hugged her tight and they smiled. Ron caught sight of Hermione’s wistful, longing look.
After an awkward moment, Ron said, “Guess little Ginny’s all grown up.”
“Oh shut up, Ron. You know you’re jealous.”
That last comment left Ron sputtering.
“Oh…by the way…I need to talk to you two about…”
“Muffliato.” Hermione whispered. “There. No one can hear us.”
“Thanks.” Harry smiled. Then he turned serious.
“I need to go somewhere. I think probably as soon as possible. Maybe tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? That soon?” Ginny’s face turned white with shock.
“Go where, Harry?” Hermione asked suspiciously.
“Nevermind where. Just, I need to go. Alone.” He pointedly looked at the three of them.
“Harry you said…” Ginny started.
“Ginny, you need to stay home and rest. You’re carrying a baby. You can’t come with-”
“I can go wherever I want to!” Ginny said hotly.
“Yes, “ Harry said patiently. “But, it’s too dangerous. Stay home. Please. For me and…for him…or her.” Harry looked at Ginny’s stomach.
Ginny started to say something, then bit her comment back. “Fine. But I’m not happy about it.”
Harry kissed Ginny quickly on the forehead. “Thanks, Ginny.”
Ron idly reached for Hermione’s hand.
“So you two-”
“We’re coming. And don’t try to say anything more. We’re coming.” Hermione said stubbornly.
“We are?” Ron said, looking doubtful.
Hermione threw Ron a glare.
“I mean…er, yeah, we’re coming.”
“No, no…no…you can’t come. I’m sorry…it’s…”
“Harry, Harry, Harry. We’ve been through this plenty of times. I’m actually starting to get sick of it. We’re coming whether you like it or not. Harry, you don’t put us through years of hardships and dangers with you and tell us that we’re not coming with you to defeat a couple of Death Eaters. I don’t care what you say or how you say it, we are coming.”
“Yeah.” Ron echoed.
“Wait…how do you know about…Death Eaters…” Harry looked at Hermione’s guilty expression.
“Countercharm. Hermione told me.”
“Would you shut up?” Hermione whispered angrily.
“Oops…sorry.” Ron mumbled, turning bright red.
“Well…fine…so how do we tell-”
“You don’t.” Ginny said. “You just go. Leave it to me. I’ll make up something. Don’t worry.”
“You’re the best.” Harry smiled at Ginny.
“Well then. Bright and early tomorrow in front of the Burrow. Seven o’clock?”
“Sure.” Harry and Ron mumbled.
Harry and Ginny made their way up to their room. Hermione glanced at Ron swiftly, and then followed them up the stairs to their own room.
Hermione was already in bed when came up a moment later. He tiptoed to the bed and slowly climbed in.
“I’m not asleep, Ronald.” Hermione said.
“Yeah. Knew that.”
“It’s late and I’m tired, Ron. Goodnight.”
Of course Ginny had to have the kid right now. Wrong timing. Damn it, Hermione was almost starting to forget the talk about the kid.
Truthfully, Ron didn’t want to have any kid that would distract Hermione. At first, he did, just because it seemed exciting. But, now he wasn’t so sure. Would it be worth it?
Ron thought that Harry looked extremely happy when he made the announcement. Would Hermione be happier than me? He could almost picture himself standing there, looking glum and sour while Hermione was beaming and smiling with a little baby bouncing on her lap.
Maybe Harry could tell him whether it was worth it or not. Of course, the first half of it would definitely be worth it-Ron blushed at his own thoughts-but, then the second half? Take all of it or leave it.
But Ron couldn’t leave it. It was lying at him like gold. Except, this brand of gold had bushy brown hair and a determined personality.
Ron smiled at the figure beside him. He made a mental note to himself, to never again speak harshly to this delicate strong-minded girl breathing softly next to him.
RONALD WEASLEY GET UP! WE’RE GOING TO BE LATE! THE PORTKEY’S LEAVING IN…TEN MINUTES! GET UP!” Ron got up with a start. Hermione was dressed and ready to go.
“Sorry.” Ron mumbled.
Ten minutes later, they were down in front of the burrow, clutching their portkey-
The three of them landed on springy soil, moist air curling around them.
“Where are we?” Ron asked, looking around at the strange sights.
Monkeys hollered and swung from branch to branch overhead. Huge leafy branches covered the sky. Several tropical birds flew by and the noises of strange foreign animals echoed softly. Because of the time change, it was nighttime.
“Africa? Who’s hiding out here?”
“How could that be? Mum killed her!”
“She had a husband.”
“They never caught him, it seems. Remember when the ministry claimed that they had sent Lestrange into Azkaban? And then Lestrange died a little bit after that? Well, Draco said that Lestrange somehow got somebody else to take a polyjuice potion in his place. Lestrange got out safely and went into hiding after Voldemort died.” Hermione flinched at the name.
“Lestrange…the one the tortured Neville’s parents right?”
“Harry, I seriously hope that Draco didn’t send you on a wild goose chase.”
“He seemed sincere.”
“Malfoy? Sincere? Fat chance.” Ron said disgustedly.
“Harry do you even know where to look? Africa’s a big continent.” Hermione stated.
“You think I don’t know that?”
“We’ve just got to go where things are a little bit strange. A city with a bigger death toll, or maybe things that shouldn’t be there. Even people might know him.”
“Well, Ron, if you’re so doubtful, why don’t you just go home, then.” Harry snapped.
“Harry…” Hermione said patiently. “We know you want…er…revenge as quick as possible but please don’t…take it out on us…”
“Yeah. Right, sorry.” Harry mumbled.
“Lumos.” Hermione whispered.
She walked ahead of them, pointing her wand in front of her.
All was quiet-
Hermione screamed and disappeared from sight. Harry and Ron looked around wildly, wands at the ready.
“Hermione where are you?” Harry called out.
“HERMIONE!” Ron yelled. The tip of his wand emitted small red sparks.
“Lumos.” Harry said. A bright light broke the darkness and he held out his wand in front of him. Harry saw Hermione’s wand on the ground close to their feet.
“Ron! Hermione’s wand. She must be somewhere around here.”
“Harry? Ron? Look up!”
Ron and Harry looked up to see Hermione dangling from some sort of strong net.
“Hermione!” Ron yelled. “Hold on…Relashio!” There was a whimper from Hermione as she clutched her arm and fell from the net twenty feet in the air. Just before she hit the ground, Harry quickly used his wand to direct her to a huge mound of soft leaves.
Ron and Harry rushed over to where she lay.
“Are you alright? Hermione…”
“Ron, you clumsy git, you got her arm.” Harry said frantically.
“Bloody…I’m so sorry…”
Ron quickly mumbled something under his breath and instantly, the deep wound reduced to a faint pink line.
“Thanks.” Hermione said faintly. “I’m…I’m fine.” She looked up to Ron’s eyes. She could see the anxiety and compassion there.
Suddenly, Ron bent low and kissed her hard on the mouth. Hermione kissed back with just as much enthusiasm.
“Really?” Harry said weakly, dumbfounded. “Is this seriously the time and the place?”
“Now or never, mate.”
“What was that?” Hermione said, looking up.
“Dunno…maybe some bloody-”
“Wait…it’s a…trap. An animal trap.” Hermione said slowly. “When my parents took me camping, we saw a huge bear trap that looked a lot like this. Of course, I kind of…made it disappear-”
“ ‘Course you did.” Ron chuckled.
“-And so the bear didn’t die. I wonder why this is here…”
“Um, to catch animals?” Harry said.
The trio walked in silence for a bit.
“This is like old times, Harry.” Ron said, looking around.
“Yeah. Reminds me of the forest we camped out at.”
“But, better. This is much better. You know, I’ve always wanted to go to Africa. But my parents never thought that it was appropriate. Said there was too much fighting between the tribes. Tribal wars are extremely common in Africa, you know. They fight because of all sorts of stuff…animals…trade…even people…but of course…”
Harry and Ron zoned out of Hermione’s little speech.
Wonder what Ginny’s doing all alone at home. Maybe Mrs. Weasley is freaking out by now. Hope she misses me as much as I miss her. We’d better not stay out that long. I have to get home to check on her. Or maybe an owl home. Home…would Ginny like America? I don’t think so. I’d think she wanted to stay somewhere in London. Where to? I wish Sirius was here…I could’ve asked him. He would’ve been so proud…
One thing about Hermione, she can talk and talk and she never gets tired. All that knowledge stored up. Wish she’d put that knowledge somewhere else for now. Hope that she’d forget the kid thing already. It’s stupid. Kids are just too much work. Don’t need any bloody kid to distract her. Look at her, so beautiful, even when she’s bruised and bloody. Still amazingly perfect. The hair, though. Maybe one night I could perform a thinning charm so her hair would go down just a bit…well, maybe not. I like it the way it is. So perfectly-
“What are you looking at?”
Hermione looked bemused and grinned a bit.
“Why thank you, Ronald.”
“Er…no problem.” Ron cleared his throat loudly.
Each of them soon got lost in their thoughts. After about an hour or two, Ron declared that he was tired and that he wanted to stop for the night.
“Ron, do you realize that it’s still morning time in London. You wouldn’t be sleeping right now. You’d be-”
“Not London is it?”
Hermione huffed and turned away.
But, they decided to stop and rest there. Harry unfolded and set up the tent while Hermione performed the necessary enchantments for protection. Ron sat the whole time, watching Hermione with a very strange look.
“Really, Ron, you could help at least a bit.” Harry suggested, irritated.
The tent was different that the one that they used when they were on the run. This one was much more advanced. It had a full-furnished bathroom, two giant beds, a roaring fireplace, and a complete, working kitchen stocked with food.
“Wish we’d brought this tent instead of the other one.”
“Yeah. Loads nicer.” Ron added, looking around in awe.
“Well, I guess I’ll take first watch.” Harry said, trudging outside. Harry took out his wand and settled himself by reading a well-worn copy of The Life of Albus Dumbledore.
Hermione and Ron curled up in the bed farthest from the tent opening. Soon, Ron was snoring loudly.
“Harry?” Hermione called out tentatively.
After a moment, Harry ducked inside the tent. “Yes?”
“Do you want me to take watch next?”
“No, s’okay. Just get some sleep. I’m not really tired. “
“Okay. Well, goodnight.”
Harry returned to his post outside, pulling his jacket closer to himself. The tropical winds whistled through the night as Harry thought of something he had never bothered to mention before. He did not want Hermione and Ron to go through anything else with him that would put them in danger. Ginny, Hermione, and Ron were the people whom he cared about the most. If anything happened…
He couldn’t think of it.
So close to being home free. Only the Snatchers, the Death Eaters, and some giants and dementors, Harry and his family wouldn’t have to worry about anything else for the rest of their lives. So, Harry made up his mind. He would leave very early in the morning and try to find Lestrange by himself.
As the sun made its way slowly over the treetops, Harry stole away carrying with him only his wand and a sack of food. He also left a note explaining his absence. He hoped that they would understand and leave for London as soon as possible.
A few hours after Harry left, Ron woke to find Harry and some food gone.
“Hermione wake up! Harry’s gone.”
Hermione was instantly alert. “What? When?” She hopped out of bed and ran to the tent flap.
“Harry! Harry?” Hermione called out to the muggy forest. “But why would he leave?” Hermione said forlornly once she sat down beside Ron at the table.
“Dunno…maybe he wanted to give us some time alone?”
“You’re hopeless, Ronald, hopeless.” Hermione blushed, chuckling. Then, she turned serious. “We have to go look for him. He couldn’t have gotten far.”
“Unless he disapparated.”
“But wherever to?”
“Don’t ask me.”
Hermione packed up the tent and took Ron’s arm. “Let’s go.”
They hurried along in silence for a while, not knowing what to say and liking the silence better.
“Hermione I-” Ron started loudly.
“Let’s just find Harry first, alright?”
“Er…right, yeah.” Ron muttered.
After another hour of walking, Ron started to complain noisily. Hermione, tired of Ron’s endless grouchiness, started to walk ahead and ignore him. Suddenly, Hermione spotted an odd scrap of cloth hanging on a loose tree limb.
“Harry’s scarf. Bloody hell, what’s this doing here? Do you reckon he was attacked or something?”
“Maybe. Or he’s trying to lead us in the direction in which he was captured.”
Hermione walked noticeably a bit faster and she looked agitated and worried.
“If something happened…oh god…what if he…your stupid loud snoring caused me to not here him leave!”
“I do not snore!”
“Yes you do! Loudly too!”
The conversation ended there and Hermione rushed on through the forest.
“Harry’s got to be somewhere here. He can’t be too far…” Hermione said, fear creeping into her voice. “Harry still has Ginny and a child to get back to. Nothing can happen otherwise…otherwise Ginny would be devastated. Oh-”
“Hermione, Harry went this way.” Ron said tentatively when they came upon a fork in the path.
“What? How do you know where-” Hermione turned angrily. But, when she saw the silver deluminator in Ron’s hand, she cast her eyes downward. A pulsing blue ball of light floated ahead of them a little.
“Alright. Then…let’s follow the…light.” Hermione said quietly.
The blue ball of vibrating light bounced, twirled and floated in the air as Hermione and Ron struggled to catch up with it. Sometimes it bobbed towards the trees and sometimes it went the opposite way.
“Ron, are you sure that this thing knows where to go?” Hermione asked doubtfully.
“Yeah, this thing does.” Ron defended stubbornly.
Suddenly, the ball of blue light disappeared. Hermione screamed in the sudden darkness and instantly, she felt Ron’s hand slip into hers.
“Wands out.” They both took their wands out and pointed in every direction. Suddenly there was a quiet snap and then a rustle.
“Show yourself!” Hermione called out, her voice shaking and wavering with apprehension.
“Petrificus Totalus!” A raspy voice roared. Ron and Hermione toppled to the ground, frozen by both fear and invisible bonds.
“Look Zerir, two more of those nasty wizards. Old daddy Greyback would be so proud. Good work catching your first.” The raspy voice continued again.
“Yeah…thanks uncle.” The voice was small and a bit surprised.
The voice sounded more human than animal, for the creatures that had caught them were werewolves.
“Throw ‘em with the o’er one. He’s back there.”
Ron and Hermione were lifted roughly and tossed into the narrow opening of a cave. There were more werewolves gathered inside the cave, watching with leering eyes at the pair.
Harry was there too. Bound, gagged, and tied, he lay there unmoving. There were bloody streaks covering his face and his arm seemed to be going the wrong way.
“Do I smell…mud…blood…?” A large black haired werewolf sniffed the air and licked his lips, a small golden gleam lighting his dark eyes.
“Ralfe, he said to keep them alive.” A smaller, older werewolf said cautiously.
“He’d better pay us well, then.” Ralfe roared. He muttered something under his breath and suddenly, Ron and Hermione could move again, although they were still tied.
“So…” Ralfe said as he drew nearer to the terrified two. “Are you with…him?” He jerked his thumb rudely to where Harry lay, still unmoving.
“Yeah. We are.” Ron said shortly, not looking up to those hideous yellow eyes and gleaming fangs. He then moved to Hermione, letting the tips of his yellowed claws caress his cheek. His caress drew beads of blood that slowly dripped down her cheek.
Ron struggled against his bindings, his eyes as dark as a stormy sea.
“Get off of her!” Ron roared furiously.
Hermione whimpered, her breath coming in short gasps. “Please…” She whispered.
“Join us.” Ralfe rasped, grinning widely. “Leave the ginger and join us. You’d make a pretty werewolf. Breed many werewolves to continue our generations.” Ralfe laughed, his eyes flashing. Suddenly, his claws clamped down on her leg. Hermione screamed in pain and Ron looked murderous.
“Don’t touch her-” Ron was gagged.
“Knock that one out, Zerir. You’re good at that.” Ralfe sneered.
“JUST DO IT!” Ralfe roared impatiently.
“Yes…uncle.” Zenrir, the youngest of them all, said. He was tall and lean, but extremely thin. He looked a lot like a younger version of Fenrir Greyback. He was really about Ron, Hermione, and Harry’s age.
Zenrir muttered something and Ron instantly blacked out.
“Zenrir, come here.” Ralfe said with a small grin. “Take care of this.” Zenrir’s eyes opened wide, undoubtedly fearful.
“But…uncle…I can’t…I don’t know how to…I don’t…” His eyes locked with Hermione’s and fleeting expression of sadness overcame his facial features.
“You’re becoming…” Ralfe whispered dangerously. “Soft.” Ralfe grinned, but his eyes remained cold and ruthless.
“Kill, Zenrir, kill. It’s what you do best isn’t it?” Ralfe circled the young werewolf as if he was stalking his prey. “Don’t become soft now. Make me proud. Make your ol’ daddy proud. Make our pack proud. Kill. A simple thing. Haven’t you always wanted acceptance? This is your chance. The task will be over soon. Think of the blood…” Ralfe stopped.
“Or maybe you’d like the mudblood as your mate, eh? Breed a few more Greybacks? Is that what you want?”
“No!” Zenrir replied nervously. “I would never…”
“Good. Then take care of them. Only the ginger and the mudblood. Potter goes to the Lord. Leave him here, Zenrir, and take the annoyances in there.” Ralfe pointed to a separate cavern that was connected to the main one. “The Lord will be back soon. I suggest…you…hurry.” Ralfe said slowly and dangerously, licking his lips.
Effortlessly, Zenrir draped Ron and a terrified Hermione over his shoulders and disappeared into the second room.
“Zenrir, please don’t…” Hermione started once the heavy metal door was closed and the three of them were alone.
“Be quiet, mudblood. I shouldn’t be talking to filth like you. My father was right. Witches and wizards are nothing without their wands. Filth.” Though Zenrir was saying these words, Hermione could see that inside he was scared, frightened, and unsure of what to do. After all, he was as young as them.
“Zenrir, at least before you kill us, tell us who you are, why you need Harry and who is your…lord.”
Zenrir looked at Hermione uncertainly. Ron had woken up by now and was staring at Hermione in total shock.
“Hermione what are you…”
“Shut up, Ron!” Hermione hissed quietly.
“Why, mudblood? Why should I tell you anything?”
“She has a name, you dirty werewo-”
“SHUT UP!” Zenrir bellowed, kocking Ron unconscious again. He turned his eyes on Hermione and advanced slowly.
“Uncle is right. Kill. That’s what I have to do. You don’t understand the world I live in, mudblood. Killing is regarded as the highest honor. Ralfe has killed over a thousand people. That’s why he is the leader of our pack. The alpha. And I am beta. You do know that my father was Fenrir Greyback. Your kind killed him. Murdered is more like it-”
“Excuse me but Fenrir Greyback was killing our-” Hermione interrupted.
“If I were you I’d shut my trap before I kill you. You want to know who our lord is? A wizard. He’s the only wizard my uncle has looked up to. Nobody knows why but I think the Lord has some sort of control over Ralfe. Everytime he comes here, Ralfe becomes a whole different person. It’s almost like…almost like he’s under some sort of wizard spell that would make him…” Zenrir trailed off.
“But, never mind. Our Lord wanted someone named Potter. I’ve only heard the elders speak of him. Said he’s the only wizard that could ever defeat Lord Voldemort. I was only a pup when Voldemort was in power. My father served under him as a Snatcher. And now Ralfe…”
“Um…who is your Lord exactly?”
Zenrir quickly glanced around the room.
“I suppose there’s no harm in telling you since I’m about to kill you. Our Lord…our Lord…well none of us is supposed to know his name but I’ve heard Ralfe talk in his sleep one night. He said the Lord’s name is some thing like…Lestrange.”
Hermione sucked in a quick breath and she looked at Ron, who was now awake and glaring at Zenrir again. She shot him a look and he nodded ever so slightly.
“Zenrir, do you like it here?” Hermione asked.
Zenrir was taken aback by the question. “I-yeah, I like it here. What’s not to like?” Zenrir’s eyes looked shifty. “I-I- love it here.”
“You like working under that filthy, low-life murderer who’s been giving you a bunch of-”
“Don’t talk about uncle like that.” Zenrir said fiercely, yet undoubtedly half-hearted.
“Come with us. The wizarding world will accept you-no honor you if you come join us.”
“The wizarding world.” Zenrir scoffed. But, there was a hopeful note in his voice.
Hermione stood confidently. “Zenrir, listen to me. You’ll be admired and praised out there. You’ll be known as the one werewolf who stood up against the others and saved the most famous wizard, Harry Potter. Haven’t you always wanted that? Wanted to stand out because you did something admiring instead of just because you’re Fenrir Greyback’s son? Don’t you want to be known because of other things? Aren’t you tired of Ralfe making you do all the dirty work while he takes all the credit with the Lord? Ralfe shuns you to a corner when he’s around the Lord, yet when he’s alone, he taunts you to do all the work yourself without the credit. Have you noticed that he never asks anybody else to do all the work? Only you?”
“How do you know all this?” Zenrir said uneasily.
“It’s not hard to see, Zenrir.” Hermione said quietly and tenderly.
A million emotions seemed to flit across Zenrir’s face. He started to say something, then closed his mouth. He looked at the floor, thinking hard. Suddenly, he didn’t seem to look at all like his murderous father. He just seemed like a lost, confused young werewolf.
“What’s the plan?” Zenrir decided at last.
Hermione broke into a huge smile and whispered to Ron and Zenrir the plan.
Blood spattered and slightly disheveled, Zenrir walked out of the room.
“Uncle, the deed is done. They put up quite a fight but they’re gone.” Zenrir said nervously, not meting Ralfe’s eyes.
“Ah, the girl’s blood smells delicious. What a waste, what a terrible waste.” Ralfe said with a smile. Harry was now awake and looked in anguish at the young werewolf.
“YOU KILLED THEM? YOU KILLED BOTH OF-” Ralfe knocked him across the face and he lay unmoving.
“Uncle, you have taught me great lesson. You know how I am always afraid to…kill anyone? How I am always uncertain of my future? Well, uncle, I finally know.”
Ralfe looked at Zenrir as if he were his own son. He looked on proudly.
“My nephew, you have grown up. I am very pleased with you. Tell me how to reward you.”
“Anything, my young wolf. Name it.”
“I want to kill Harry Potter.”
Ralfe looked stricken. Then, he glared. “You know very well that I need to bring Potter to the Lord-”
“Uncle listen! You know how my father died. At the hands of Potter and his company. I want to avenge my father’s death. I want to see the blood. I want to cut Potter up into little pieces and-”
“Zenrir…I-I think you’ve turned into a fine werewolf. You finally know the feelings of revenge. So…go on. Kill him. You deserve it.” Ralfe stepped back and let Zenrir through.
“Uncle let me kill him somewhere else. The method I choose…it might be too horrible for the female werewolves to watch. Let me go to the same room where I disposed his filthy friends. Then, before he takes his last breath, he shall see the blood splattered walls. His friend’s blood.”
Looking on proudly, Ralfe watched Zenrir drag Harry into the room and bolt the door.
Once they were alone in the room, Zenrir faced Harry.
“I didn’t kill your friends.” He said quietly.
“What? Where are they? What do you mean-”
“Just-I’ll explain later. You need to disapparate. The mudblood and the rehead are waiting for you, and, well, me. She told me to tell you I had to use side-along apparation.”
“Hurry up, we haven’t got much time.”
Harry looked apprehensive. “Is there some trick…”
“No!” Zenrir said exasperated. “Hurry or Ralfe will come in to see why this took so long. He already wanted to give you to Lestrange but the mudblood told me to-”
“Yeah, our Lord. I’ll explain everything-”
“Later. Right, yeah. Okay, let’s go.” Harry said quickly. He wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.
A second later, they were far, far away from the large cave where they were brought. Hermione was sitting on a slab of stone, her head in her hands. Ron had an arm over her and was gently wiping off some blood.
“Harry!” Hermione shouted, running and throwing her arms around him. “Oh, Harry I was so worried! How did Zenrir get away? How did Ralfe-”
“Let him breathe, Hermione!” Ron said, laughing. “Glad you’re back, mate.” Ron clapped Harry on the back and then shot a furtive look at Zenrir, who was standing quietly apart from the others.
When Hermione had broken away from the hug, she faced Zenrir.
“Thank you. Very much.” Hermione said, offering her hand. Zenrir shook it quickly. “So, um, would you like to join us? We’re actually…why don’t you tell us…” Hermione didn’t know what to say.
Zenrir sat down on another boulder as Ron took a seat next to Hermione.
“Fenrir Greyback, my father, he was always the alpha of the werewolves. Well, actually just our pack. The reason my father started working for Lord Voldemort was because none of the other packs accepted him and his pack,, which included me. So, he decided to join Lord Voldemort in hopes of being honored in the werewolf community. But…of course…he…you know. So, his beta, Ralfe, became alpha and I kind of became his beta. And, you probably won’t believe it but Ralfe actually used to be nice. But when his mate, Agora, got killed by a wizard he kind of got hard. He wasn’t nice anymore and he had frequent temper tantrums. He stopped being nice to everyone except for me. Only ‘cause I’m Greyback’s only son. But, then it became strange. For example, one night he came back speaking nothing of a great wizard and that he would serve under him faithfully to find someone named Potter. He kept on repeating it, which made it weird. Then, on another night he said that we had to obey a second alpha. You know, that never happens, ever. But all the while he had this strange glassy look in his eyes…so later, he made us all speak highly of the Lord. We always had to call him Lord and we were never permitted to learn his name. But, of course, I heard the name…Lestrange. He always ordered me to do all the work. He said a strange word that sort of controlled me for a second, then I don’t know…bounced off me. It was some wizard curse maybe…”
“The Imperious curse.” Hermione whispered.
“Yeah, maybe. But from then on he ordered me about and it seemed as if he was confident that I would obey. So, I just did whatever he wanted. And then…you know the rest.” Zenir stopped and looked at a trio of awed expressions.
“Must’ve been bloody difficult to live under Ralfe.” Said Ron.
“Wait…you said that the Imperious curse bounced off you? You didn’t feel the need to obey whenever Ralfe ordered you to do something did you?” Hermione asked with a small smile dancing on her lips.
“Well, no. I wasn’t forced to obey. I did it on m own free will.” Zenrir said, mystified. Hermione’s expression took on a growing excitement.
“Do you see what this means? This is brilliant! Wow, I can’t believe…Harry, this is wonderful!”
“What’s wonderful? What do you mean?” Harry asked, genuinely confused.
“He’s immune to the Imperious curse! Only two percent of the world’s populations are immune to the Imperious curse! This…this is amazing!” Hermione said breathlessly. “Zenrir, will you please join us? We were originally looking for Lestrange but, I guess we found him. We just need to bring him to the ministry. Please, please join us, will you?”
Zenrir looked around at the three of them and cracked a small, rare smile.
“Sure, why not?”
So the four of them set up the tent and performed the necessary protection enchantments. There was a bit of an awkward dispute about who was going to take the second bed. Obviously Ron and Hermione took the first bed. Harry decided that Zenrir had saved all of them from certain death so he should take the bed. Zenrir claimed that he had never slept in a real bed. In the cave, he said, they slept on mats made from thick leaves.
“What a life, what a life.” Ron interjected.
“Oh be quiet, Ron. Some people aren’t as fortunate as you are.” Hermione scolded gently.
Before bed, Ron had spent a full two hours tenderly bandaging and fixing up Hermione’s wounds while telling her wizard fairytales. Harry watched them laughing and talking in their own world across the tent and he felt a fleeting stab of loneliness. He wondered how Ginny was doing, how his kid was doing. His kid. Harry felt a warm happiness spread from head to toe. Suddenly Harry didn’t feel so lonely anymore.
The morning soon came along with an owl from the Weasleys.
“Ron, take a look at this.”
To Ron, Harry, and Hermione:
WHERE ARE YOU? How could you all leave without telling or without a note? And, Harry, how could you leave your poor pregnant wife behind without a backward glance? But, besides that, how are you? Doing all right? We miss you! Ron, Hermione, I hope that you two are doing well. Hope there aren’t too many fights between you two. Wherever you all are, HURRY BACK SOON!
Harry closed the letter and smiled.
“Ah, mum, always the worrier. Can never be at peace, that woman.” Ron chuckled.
Once Hermione had woken, read the letter, and blushed, they went off to search for Zenrir, as he was not in bed. They found him a while later, hunting for animals.
“Got breakfast.” Zenrir said cheerfully brandishing a strange looking deer and a few tropical fruits.
One they got back to the tent, the deer was sizzling on a little pan and the fruits were cut up and prepared by Hermione. Zenrir said he preferred to eat the meat raw.
“So, how’re we going to get to Lestrange?” Ron said through mouthfuls of deer.
“Stop stuffing your face, Ron.”
“Oops, sorry.” Ron ate some fruit.
“Well, the only way to get to Lestrange is through Ralfe, it seems. So I think we should go back-”
“I am never going back there again-” Zenrir said hotly.
“Relax. It’s not permanent.” Ron replied lazily.
“As I was saying,” Hermione continued. “We need to go back and sort keep watch over Ralfe. He probably summoned Lestrange by now, saying that he caught Harry. So, when he makes his way over here, we’ll be waiting for him.”
“But how will we kill him?”
“We don’t kill, Zenrir. We’re supposed to turn him into the ministry.” Hermione said patiently.
“Ministry? What’s that?”
“Have you been living under a rock your whole life? Every country’s got a ministry of magic.”
“Well, sorry for my obvious lack of knowledge, oh great genius.” Zenrir snapped at Ron.
“Please stop! We have no time for this bickering!” Hermione said, notes of impatience creeping into her voice.
“Sorry.” The two young men mumbled, shooting death glares at each other.
“Hermione, aren’t you forgetting that there is a whole pack of werewolves waiting for our return?” Harry said pointedly.
“And that they would want to protect their Lord?”
“Would you listen to me?”
“That’s why we get them alone. Remember, Harry, we are wizards and we have wands. They have their claws and teeth. Which is faster? A spoken spell or a leap in the air and a tearing of the flesh?”
“Hermione…please…just had breakfast…don’t think you’d want to see it again.”
“No, Ronald, I would not like to see your breakfast again.”
“So, let’s go now.” Hermione said brightly.
“What about the plan?”
“Improvise?” Harry uncertainly.
“Here, I’ll lead. I know where the cave is.” Zenrir said. He shot strange looks at Hermione. They neither bore ill nor had delight. Nevertheless, Ron noticed and kept a close eye on Zenrir for the rest of the day.
“There. Straight ahead. The cave.” Zenrir pointed to the crude opening of the cave. Someone had pushed boulders and logs over the opening.
“It’s for camouflage. You know, so nobody stumbles across it accidentally.”
“Yeah…” Harry said absentmindedly. “So I guess we just sit here and wait?”
When nobody answered him, he settled himself behind a curtain of thick leaves. Hermione sat in Ron’s lap and Zenrir sat facing the cave opening a look of pure hatred upon his face. He shot looks at Ron and Hermione.
They were whispering and laughing about something unknown. Hermione laid her head on Ron’s shoulders and closed her eyes. Soon she was fast asleep. After a while, Ron was lost in his dreams too.
Harry turned his head towards Zenrir. He too had noticed his strange looks.
“Don’t mind me asking, but why do you keep on…I dunno…staring at Ron and Hermione.”
Zenrir looked surprised, then looked a bit embarrassed.
“Come for a walk with me, will you?”
Harry glanced at Ron and Hermione. They’d be okay for a while.
The two of them got up, stretched, and stalked away from their hiding place, away from the cave.
“Hold on…Muffliato.” Harry whispered.
“Please don’t tell Hermione this…”
Harry looked puzzled. “Hermione?”
“Please don’t tell…promise?” Zenrir looked at harry pleadingly.
“Well, you see if you were a werewolf, there are certain things that you are attracted you. And, you really have no choice. Almost like it’s destiny or something. I can’t really explain-”
“No…I know what you mean.” Harry thought of Ginny for a moment.
It suddenly dawned on Harry what Zenrir was talking about.
“No…Zenrir…they…Ron and Hermione…they’re already…” Zenrir suddenly looked so devastated that Harry could bear to say no more.
“I mean…nothing. Ron and Hermione, they’re just, er, friends.” Harry couldn’t believe what he had gotten himself into.
Zenrir’s eyes lit up and he said, “Are you serious?”
Zenrir hurried back to the hiding place, unmistakably joyful.
Hermione and Ron were up by the time they had returned. Hermione stared at Harry questioningly as Zenrir took a seat by the leaves, smiling widely.
“What’d you do? Stun him or something? He looks incredibly happy.” Ron whispered.
“Dunno why…” Harry said, not meeting their eyes.
“Harry! Look!” Hermione pointed through their hiding place to the opening of the cave. Ralfe had come outside, his large from looming in the doorway. He looked around and stealthily hurried away.
“He must be going to meet Lestrange. C’mon!”
Together, they quietly stole after him. It wasn’t easy. For someone that large, he made no sound at all.
“Why can’t we just Confound him now?” Ron whispered to Hermione.
“Of course not, Ron! We need Ralfe to lead us to Lestrange first.”
“And stop holding onto me. I can walk on my own!” Hermione rolled her eyes. Ron let go of his fierce hold on Hermione and looked a bit red in the face.
As quietly as they could, they followed Ralfe closely. Harry noticed that he as carrying a bundle under his arm. Ralfe didn’t look around him, as most would do. He kept his yellow eyes straight ahead, walking quickly and purposefully. Finally, Ralfe came upon a narrow road that led to a small village. They had now left the forest. Harry looked around for a place to hide, but there was none. It was a flat savannah.
“Guess we’ll just have to wait and see where he goes.” Harry said, sighing.
They kept in the edge of the forest and looked on. Suddenly, Ralfe changed into his human from in a matter of seconds. He glanced behind him once and hurried into a darkened pub.
“Let’s go.” Harry said urgently, tugging Hermione with him.
The pub was dark and a small bell hung outside of the door. The windows were dirty and cobwebs lined the frame. A cracked sign overhead, read Cauldron of Fire. The old wooden door was broken and there was no door handle.
“Wait.” Hermione quickly took out a well-worn, almost transparent cloak from a small drawstring bag.
“Hey that’s the-”
Hermione clapped her hand over Ron’s mouth and threw the cloak over all of them except for Zenrir.
“I’ll go uncovered. It’s okay. The…people…creatures…here are used to seeing me around here,” said Zenrir.
Zenrir pushed the door open and inconspicuously let his three companions inside. A group of shifty-eyed goblins sat in a corner table, having a slow but heated discussion over something. A dirty pile of gold lay untouched in the center. Two trolls were sitting near the back, sharing a huge bowl of brown broth. There were strange werewolves there too, with white markings all over their fur. They saw Ralfe nod to a few of the creatures and disappear behind a heavy iron door, way in the back of the pub.
“Over there.” Zenrir said quietly. He made his way to the back and before anyone could interject, he pushed open the door. Harry, Ron and Hermione followed Zenrir up a long flight of creaky staircases, worn and musty. There was hardly any light shining through the fractured, circular window above them. The staircase seemed to go on and on.
“I think it’s okay to take this off.” Ron suggested uncomfortably.
“Yeah, okay.” Harry whipped off the cloak and handed it to Hermione and she stuffed it back into the bag.
Finally, the group came upon a door. It was small and it was not cracked or dirty.
“Ready, wands out.” Wands were drawn and faced towards the door. Zenrir hesitantly pushed it open and they braced themselves for whatever they found. But, only a tall bookcase and bare walls greeted them.
“This has got to be some sort of-”
“Joke. Seriously, I mean…a bookcase? What kind of an obstacle is this? Harry, just blast it aside already.”
“Yeah, okay.” Harry faced the bookcase and-
The bookcase didn’t explode as they all thought it would.
“Harry, don’t use Relashio, try-”
“Harry, stop!” Hermione cried. “We have to take out all the books. Take them all out until one of them triggers an opening to the other side. Trust me.” Hermione said once she saw all of their cynical looks.
“How do you know?”
“I read it in A Hogwarts History. One of the walls in the library opens up to a whole different section when one of the books is removed.”
“Blimey, Hermione.” Ron said, staring at her in wonder.
“Yeah, let’s do as Hermione says. She’s probably right.” Zenrir said wholeheartedly. Hermione beamed at him.
Ron looked suspiciously at the two of them. “What’s he up to?” Ron whispered to Harry.
“Erm…I dunno.” Harry said, not meeting Ron’s questioning glare.
“Help me!” Hermione said as she started to take out the books one by one. Together, they took out rows and rows of books. Finally, after about a dozen shelves were emptied, Hermione took out the right book. The bookcase swung open with a loud creak and a smaller door rested behind it.
“A History of Dark Objects, Beings, and Malfunctions. What irony.” Hermione laughed. Nobody else got it until later.
One by one they went through the doorway. Ron stopped as he caught sight of what was in there. It was a darkened, cold room. The heavy looking door on the opposite side was encircled with a large iron snake. Its tongue hung outside of its mouth in a forked stance.
Several strange looking objects were scattered on a table.
“Blimey, what are these things?” Ron asked in wonder as he held up an object shaped like a corkscrew. It sizzled slightly in his hand.
“Maybe…maybe you’re supposed to use one of these to open the door.” Zenrir suggested suddenly.
“Okay. I’ll try this one first. Stand back.” Harry raised a long, curved object that had several runes scripted on them. Harry looked at it for a moment, and then threw it as hard as he could at the door. The object suddenly glowed a bright red and caused several jolts of electricity through Harry’s arm. Harry flinched and let go of the curved staff, causing it to light on fire. The staff trembled and shook, suddenly taking the form of a long, fiery red snake with glowing green eyes. It lashed out at Harry, shaking its rattles tremendously.
“Auguamenti!” Hermione cried, a spout of water bursting from the tip of her wand. Instantly, the fiery snake crackled once, exploded into bits and then went out, returning to its normal shape.
Harry panted heavily, wide-eyed.
“Harry…” Hermione said, an apologetic expression upon her face. “These are Dark Objects. I should have realized…”
“No,” Harry said, getting to his feet. “Not your fault.” He brushed off some of his singed shirt and looked at the other objects. “One of them has to work. Take one. Try it out. Maybe all of them have to work together or something.”
Ron chose the little corkscrew again, Hermione chose a large silver ball that seemed to have no weight, and Zenrir picked up something that looked like a Sneakoscope.
“I’ll…I’ll go first.” Hermione said bravely. She slowly turned over the ball in her hands, not quite sure what to do with it. Suddenly, it levitated in her hands, a silver mist curling around it.
A high-pitched voice spoke. “Hermione Granger Weasley, mudblood, orphan, currently living in the Burrow.” The floated higher in the air, the mist following it. The silver ball opened and the image of a woman and a child loomed over them. Suddenly, the woman screamed so terribly that the child covered its ears and wept. The child’s tears became small doves and a halo of golden light crowned the child’s head. A man came into view; his tall form shielding the woman from the child. The child had become a ghastly creature with a coiling red tongue and piercing yellow eyes. Fur rose upon the child and fangs replaced pearly white teeth. The child lunged and the woman fell upon the ground, her hair surrounding her head like a soft aura of light. The man fell beside her, his head in his hands, weeping. The silver ball closed with a soft click and the mist disappeared. The ball fell to the ground and shattered into a thousand fragments.
Hermione was staring in shock at the shattered ball. She neither spoke nor moved.
“What was…that was…” Hermione was gasping loudly. Suddenly, she fell to the ground, in a faint.
“Hermione!” Ron rushed to her, lifting her up slightly. He then moved her carefully to a corner. “Let’s get this over with. I want to leave.” Ron said angrily, getting up and holding his corkscrew in his palm.
“Do something you bloody git-”
The corkscrew suddenly started to vibrate in his palm and it dove into his palm and through his arm. It left a burning, searing mark upon his shoulder. Ron yelled in pain. Harry tried to blast it out using countless spells.
“Ron, Ron hold still…wait a moment.” Harry racked his brain for a spell to make it disappear.
“Relashio! Reducto! Evanesco! Expulso!” Harry roared. The corkscrew disappeared in a flash. Ron’s arm was red and burning.
Ron was swearing so loudly, that Hermione woke up. Rubbing her eyes, she could see Ron’s bleeding arm, Harry’s pinched face and Zenrir’s horrified look.
“Ron! Oh my goodness! What happ-” Hermione clutched Ron’s arm tenderly and immediately drew a small bottle of golden liquid from her drawstring bag.
“Phoenix tears.” Hermione said once Harry asked what it was. “Fawkes visited me over the summer. He gave me his tears and I collected them. I figured it would come to some use.”
“You’re brilliant, Hermione. Purely brilliant.” Ron said.
Zenrir was watching them silently from a corner. He looked at his Sneakoscope-like object and threw it across the floor.
Suddenly, Hermione whipped her head towards the door. “Of course. Of course! Harry, it’s a snake!”
“Well, yeah, it’s a-”
“Do you not understand? Snake, Harry. What do you and snakes have in common?”
It suddenly dawned on Harry.
Harry hadn’t spoken Parseltongue in a long time, trying in vain to stay away from it. Whenever he spoke it, he felt as if Voldemort was still a part of him. But, he consented only this time.
“Shhhah yasseeeassshhh.” Harry rasped out. The snake slithered off the door and onto the wall, letting them pass.
Harry took a deep breath and stood beside the door. Ron joined him, rubbing his arm. Hermione stood by him protectively, clutching her wand in front of her.
“Just open it, Harry. Nothing could be worse than that.” Hermione said, obviously still shaken by the image that had appeared in the silver ball.
Harry pushed the door open and came face to face with over a hundred, huge, coiled, hissing snakes.
“Get down!” Harry bellowed, reaching for his wand. He blasted a few aside that were trying to bite his head off. Red, blue, and green colors bounced and rebounded off the walls as curses and spells were thrown everywhere. Zenrir suddenly turned a bit manic. His fangs gleamed and his yellow eyes were filled with hatred. He savagely bit and clawed at any snake that dared to approach him. Using his strength, he managed to get over twenty snakes wrapped so tightly around each that they couldn’t budge.
“Reducto!” Hermione’s curse managed to shrink a dozen snakes to their normal size, letting Ron chop them in half with a flourish of his wand. It seemed that for every one snake that was killed, two more appeared somewhere else. Soon, they were trapped in a dense forest of the ugly, twisted snakes.
“Harry—we’ve got to—get out—of—here—somehow!” Hermione yelled as she deflected a snakebite with her arm, causing a deep cut.
“Mate—think of something!” Ron called desperately, red sparks flying from his wand from so much use.
Harry got momentarily distracted. Sparks…
“Fire! Ron, Hermione! FIRE!” Harry bellowed.
“INCENDIO!” Tongues of red-hot fire emerged from their wands. The snakes reared back in horror as they tried to escape. But, nothing could escape those hungry, greedy flames.
Soon, the entire room was engulfed in magical flames and the snakes had disappeared into nothingness. The tired, singed foursome lay on the floor panting.
“That… was …worse…” Ron said to Hermione between ragged breaths.
Hermione looked a bit resentful.
“Well…next door then? Let’s prepare for the worst…” Zenrir said, getting up. It appeared that he had calmed down and his energy was restored.
“Sure.” Harry said, dreading what was coming next.
“Anything but spiders.” Ron mumbled to himself.
Ralfe rushed at Zenrir, his mouth opened in a twisted grimace. Why does Ralfe look so different…?
“Ridikulous!” Hermione shouted from behind Zenrir. The look-alike Ralfe suddenly burst into a cloud of twittering white doves. “It’s a boggart. I knew because Ralfe doesn’t normally look that way.” Hermione said breathlessly. “I guess we all need to pass the boggart before we can go to the other side.” Hermione stated. “I’ll go next.” Hermione took a deep breath and stepped in front of the shapeless, black cloak.
Surprisingly, it took from of an angelic looking child that suddenly grew fur, fangs, and had yellow eyes. Eyes swimming with tears, Hermione made the terrible image go away. She wouldn’t speak.
Harry stepped forward and unsurprisingly, Voldemort came into view. He raised his wand and grinned cruelly.
“Ridikulous!” Harry shouted. All the memories came flooding back in a rush. His vision turned blurry and he fell to the floor. Cedric…Fred…Sirius…Lupin…Tonks…Mum…Dad…
Harry was once again a first-year student at Hogwarts. He was in front of Professor Quirrell, holding the Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry was a second-year, fighting the basilisk and saving Ginny. A third-year at Hogwarts, watching Professor Lupin change into a werewolf, watching Sirius Black become a huge black dog. As a fourth-year, watching Cedric Diggory die, winning the Tri-wizard Tournament. A lonesome fifth-year, nobody believing him. Watching Sirius murdered by Bellatrix Lestrange. A victorious sixth-year, watching his best friend get the glory. Watching his headmaster and dearest old friend die before his eyes. His final year, seeing Voldemort and his Death Eaters take over Hogwarts. Watched his friends die all around him.
You’ve got to mean what you say, Potter. No unforgiveable curses for you!
You’ve got your mother’s eyes…
Sirius? Sirius…Sirius come back…
Harry! Harry! Harry! Wake up!
Harry’s vision cleared and he saw that he was lying on the floor, his glasses beside him, cracked.
Hermione was staring at him with wide brown eyes. Ron looked nervous.
“Harry, you fell and started to…to…scream some…things. You said Cedric…and-and Sirius and other-”
“Right, yeah.” The boggart was gone and they were in the middle of an empty room. “Sorry.”
Worried glances followed him as he stood up dizzily.
“Harry are you sure you’re alright?” Hermione asked, helping Harry up.
“Quite sure, thanks.” Harry said bitterly, slipping his glasses back on. “Let’s just get through the door and get to Lestrange and Ralfe. They’ve got to be here-”
“Yes, let’s hurry. You blacked out for about ten minutes, Harry.” Hermione reminded Harry.
Four cauldrons of steaming potions in the next room greeted them.
“Don’t you wish you paid a bit more attention in Potions class now?” Hermione said happily.
“No, not really.” Ron said, looking at the cauldrons with distaste.
The cauldron on the far left looked like a thick yellow paste. Small bubbles were rising to the top. The one after that was a dark purple, almost black. It was issuing jets of bright orange mist. The last two cauldrons contained pleasant looking substances that were fizzing. A small envelope sat on the table, the red wax seal still warm.
“Do the honors.” Ron gestured to Zenrir. Ron probably just didn’t want to open it himself, in case there was something like Bubotuber Pus in it. Zenrir opened it cautiously, breaking the seal.
Each of you may use one. But only one. If you know your potions, you will know which one serves you the best. Choose wisely.
“Well, what now? We just test each one to see if we die or not? Lestrange isn’t bound to put any potions with good luck charms in or anything.”
“We don’t test each one, Ron, we analyze each of them then decide.”
“It’s take all day, if it was you analyzing them.” Ron muttered under his breath.
“Did you say something?”
Hermione pointed at the cauldron with the thick yellow paste.
“That is Botswoggin Paste. It’s for cuts, burns or poisons. Heals them instantly. The dark purple one Transfigures the consumer into whatever shape or from they wish. It’s terribly helpful. The only problem is that a counter potion is needed to change a person back. And that is very hard to brew.” Hermione made a face and continued. “The golden one over there…nice-looking but lethal. It’s a…no…why would Lestrange…”
“Well what is it?” Ron said impatiently.
“It’s a truth potion.” Hermione said dumbfounded. “Why would we need a truth potion?”
“Dunno. Maybe one of us has to drink it and spill something.” Unconsciously, Harry glanced at Zenrir, who was looking at the last potion. It was golden
Hermione took a breath. “It’s illegal. It’s…a potion that makes the drinker a hundred times stronger, invincible.”
“Why do you look so sad about that? That’s brilliant! I’ll take that one if nobody…”
“Ron,” Hermione said firmly. “This potion can make someone change entirely. You don’t understand…they are just different afterwards. Not the same, ever again.”
“I’ll take it. Let me…I’ve been waiting for the day to see Ralfe pay.” Zenrir’s eyes flashed and his fur rose slightly.
“Harry, take the Botswoggin Paste. You’ll need it.” Hermione helped Harry spread the paste over his arms and face. All his cuts healed instantly and he was as good as new.
“Ron, it’s best that you take this-” Hermione gave Ron the cauldron with the dark purple potion.
“Yeah. Maybe a dragon or something else-”
“Zenrir will take the…and I guess…the truth potion…” Hermione frowned and looked at the golden liquid.
“Mate, take some of that Botswoggin stuff with you. Could be useful later on.” Ron called over to Harry, who was examining his faint scars.
“Sure…” Harry said absentmindedly. “Hermione would you hand me that flask-”
Hermione reached into her little drawstring pouch and took out an empty vial. She gave the container to Harry who scooped up some of the bubbling potion and then dropped it back into the bag.
The four of them stood over their cauldrons, cups in hand.
Harry looked around. “Ready, one…two…three…” They all swallowed their potions. Zenrir glowed a bright red and his eyes flashed. The rest of Harry’s bruises disappeared. Hermione stood still a hand clapped over her mouth, a look of horror on her face. Ron wasn’t there anymore.
In his place was a large silver wolf. His fur gleamed and his startling white fangs flashed in a smile. The wolf barked in joy and bounded over to Hermione.
“A wolf? What about the dragon?” Hermione said, raising her eyebrows. Ron rubbed his nose against Hermione’s arm. Hermione smiled and petted his silky ears.
The next room contained eight objects lying on a plain wooden table. Another envelope lay on the table. It read:
Four portkeys lead to your destination. Four portkeys lead to a certain, painful death. Choose wisely.
Hermione held the note in her hand, her voice trembling. “Well, shall we have a go at it? It’s a fifty percent chance. Either we all get it, some of us get it, or none.” Hermione took a breath and picked up a green pendant with slim silver snake wrapped around it.
“A snake. It’s probably one of the portkeys.” Harry said, running his finger along the snake. “And this…” Harry held up a bronze goblet, which had strange engravings on it.
“Too bad I didn’t bring my Runes translations book. It would have helped a lot.” Hermione cursed under her breath.
Ron curled up on the floor, his long bushy tail wrapped around him. His expression was somewhat forlorn. He gently nosed a large antique key towards Hermione.
“This could be the portkey too…any of these could be!” Hermione cried impatiently. “We’ve got to see what Lestrange likes, and pick portkeys based off our knowledge of him.”
“We obviously know he likes snakes.” Zenrir deadpanned.
The other objects were a strange assortment of swords and gems. Each of the items had the same inscribing on them.
“Alright.” Hermione started. “We know that these-” Hermione lifted the pendant and the cup. “-Are obviously the portkeys because Lestrange likes snakes.”
“Can’t forget about the key, Hermione. Maybe Lestrange liked to lock things up all the time.” Harry said plainly.
“Yes, maybe.” Hermione said, although her expression was full of doubt. “And this…” She held up a long, noble sword with a snake wrapped around the hilt. “This has a snake but, Harry, we can’t assume that everything that has a snake on it is related to Lestrange.”
“Yes, we can, Hermione. Look at all the other things. They haven’t got a bloody snake on it, have they?” Harry said angrily, impatient with Hermione’s constant know-it-all attitude.
Hermione took a step back, a bit abashed by Harry’s sudden outburst.
“Sorry.” Harry mumbled.
“Harry,” Hermione began gently. “We all know that you’re frustrated and angry but we’re all supposed to help you figure this out.” Hermione widened her brown eyes.
“You’re right. Let’s…let’s figure this out then.”
“Well, we have four already. The sword, the goblet, the key, and the pendant. The thing is…are we sure about it? We can’t go back.”
The four of them were in a circle. They looked up simultaneously, searching through each other’s eyes. Hermione looked frightened and confused. Harry looked grim and steadfast. Ron looked almost…bored. Zenrir’s eyes had a strange glint in them.
Wordlessly, Hermione passed the four portkeys to each person. Ron got the sword, Zenrir got the goblet, Harry got the pendant, and Hermione was left with the key.
“Ready?” They nodded, too afraid to speak. Each of the portkeys suddenly glowed a faint green, a slow hissing noise filling the air. There was a burst of white light and-
All was black.
Harry got up and rubbed his eyes. His vision was blurry and he felt for his glasses. Where are they?
Blindly, Harry felt around the cold, moist ground. Finally, he found them and blinked. Hermione lay beside him, still not awake. Zenrir lay on the other side of him. Harry looked around for Ron but did not see him. He nudged Hermione.
“Wake up!” Harry hissed quietly. Hermione stirred and sat up abruptly, looking around.
“Harry, where are we? And where’s Ron?” Hermione said nervously. She clutched Harry’s arm.
“Dunno…should be here. Just look for a pile of fur…” They looked but he was nowhere to be found. It was dark, too, and the air was chilly.
“Did we choose the wrong portkey? Is this our painful death?” Hermione fretted.
“No. We’re in the cemetery. The cemetery where Voldemort regained his power. The place where Cedric Diggory died.” Harry said, his memories flashing back at him.
Suddenly, a low laugh echoed around them. Hermione gasped and stepped closer to Harry. Zenrir had awoken and agilely leaped next to Hermione defensively.
“Who-who’s there?” Hermione called out bravely, her wand out and trembling.
Suddenly, a tall shadowed figure appeared before them.
“Welcome, my friends. I’ve been waiting. I knew you could get past all my little, ah, inconveniences.” The figure clapped his hands and the cemetery burst into light. Torches were suddenly lighted with roaring fire and a green glow covered them in a dome.
“Lestrange.” Zenrir snarled, eyes flashing.
Lestrange’s smile disappeared threateningly. “Dirty dogs.” He spat. “No respect for your Lords. Pity.” Lestrange smiled, the glow of the torches flickering across his sallow face.
His eyes were sunken and his cheeks bony and pasty white. His teeth were yellowed and cracked, a dark red tongue flicking across rapidly. His nails looked like claws, curved and yellow. His eyes had the tiniest bit of red.
“Harry…Potter…” Lestrange whispered dangerously, his eyes widening in cruel amazement. “Finally, I can lay my eyes upon the wicked soul that destroyed my master. Tell me, boy. How did you do it?” Lestrange smiled again, revealing those crooked yellow fangs.
“Don’t lie to me, boy.” Lestrange’s voice was still soft but intensely cold. His eyes turned a stormy gray, a look of pure hatred upon his face. Harry thought he sounded just like Voldemort himself.
Unexpectedly, Lestrange turned to Hermione.
“Ah, our little mudblood.” Lestrange clasped his hands together and laughed. He placed a cold finger under her chin and yanked her forward forcefully. Hermione’s ragged, terrified breathing echoed in the graveyard. “Still so…filthy.” Lestrange pushed her away. Hermione stumbled and fell, wincing in pain.
“Don’t touch her-” Zenrir roared. Lestrange turned around, surprised.
“A werewolf?” Lestrange grinned. “If you hadn’t spoken up, I’d have thought you were part or Ralfe’s pack.”
“I am. Or…I was.” Zenrir corrected himself.
“Interesting.” Lestrange said, showing no emotion. He turned around and sighed. “What should we do with you lot?” Lestrange walked to a large stone throne, home to a million cobwebs and trapped flies. He sat down, crossing his legs mockingly.
“Do you know why I am here? Do you know how nobody knew about me? Do you?”
“No.” Hermione whispered.
“I got my dear old hag of a mother to get me out. She’d take the potion and…all would be well. She soon died and they took her away, thinking it was me. I was weak and sick; those dirty dementors ate my soul. Ate it all. I was lost. Didn’t know what to do. I made my way to Africa, thinking that the farther away I go, the less likely they’d find me. I found Ralfe at the pub, Cauldron of Fire. I was in need of money and…there he was, ready to serve a Lord.”
Lestrange stopped and smiled to himself.
“Of course, right away I put him under the Imperius Curse. His pack didn’t suspect a thing. He smuggled food to me, gave me shelter, and made me a Lord in the pack’s eyes. Ralfe?”
The large, slouching from of Ralfe came into view. His eyes were crossed and his face looked vulnerable and unprotected.
“You called, my Lord?”
Lestrange showed his teeth. “Welcome our little friends, will you?”
“Yes, my Lord.” Ralfe snapped his fingers and at least a dozen transfixed werewolves appeared, separating Harry, Hermione, and Zenrir, and plopping them down on large iron chairs, tight bonds crawling over them and securely tying them down.
“Lovely. Shall we have some tea?” Cups of frothy brown liquid appeared on their armrests beside them, piping hot.
“Drink up.” Lestrange downed his glass and waited for the others to drink theirs. The stared at the liquid, afraid to drink.
“Much better. Now, you won’t be needing those…Expelliarmus…” Before they could react, Harry’s and Hermione’s wands flew out of their hands and landed neatly beside him. He fingered them with his long curved claws and frowned.
“So much like my Lord’s wand. Pity, what a pity.” Lestrange closed his eyes briefly. “The mudblood’s wand. Familiar…so familiar…”
“She has a name!” Zenrir snarled, thrashing against his bonds and knocking over the cup of tea. The liquid vanished with a flash, smoke curling from the shattered cup.
Harry was glad he didn’t drink it.
Lestrange laughed slowly, getting to his feet. “What…now?” Lestrange said slowly, circling the captive’s iron chairs like a cat stalks its prey. “What should we do with you three? Feed you to the wolves? Torture you? Humiliate you with your darkest secrets? They all sound oh so…fun.” Lestrange grinned.
“Ah…” Lestrange’s smile disappeared. “Let us bring our little Ralfe out of his trance and see how well he reacts to the sight of you three. Ralfe…?”
As if in slow motion, Ralfe shook his head and squinted his eyes. He blinked, looking around him carefully. He caught sight of Zenrir and his expression hardened.
“Zenrir.” Ralfe said, the word escaping like a short, livid hiss.
Zenrir refused to answer.
“You call me Uncle, you dirty-” Ralfe yelled furiously.
“You are no uncle of mine, Ralfe.” Zenrir roared. “This whole time you were slaving away for this indecent, slimy…creature! You betrayed us! Betrayed our whole pack! If my father were alive he would-”
“Skin you alive, you wretched pup!” Ralfe spat feverishly, his yellow eyes turning red. “You betrayed us. Betrayed me! What the hell are you thinking, going off with these polluted wizards and doing-”
“I saved them because they at least have a shred of decency, UNLIKE YOU!” The veins on Zenrir’s furry neck bulged and he panted heavily, puffs of steam escaping his deadly jaws.
Ralfe got deadly quiet. Suddenly, he lunged at Zenrir. Using all of his strength, Zenrir burst from his bonds, snarling and snapping his jaws. The two of them got on all fours, lunging and snapping viciously as Lestrange watched, clapping his hands in delight.
“A bonus!” Lestrange called out to Harry and Hermione. “A bit of entertainment!” He called out happily over the sounds of tearing and biting.
They circled each other, all human qualities disappearing. Suddenly, Zenrir leaped and clamped his jaws down on Ralfe’s side. Ralfe’s eyes widened in anger and used his legs to kick Zenrir hard on the flank. Zenrir howled and slashed Ralfe’s nose, rearing back on two legs. Ralfe stepped a few paces back, his nose dripping with blood. Zenrir’s fur was matted with sweat and dried blood. Ralfe, although larger, was not as quick as Zenrir’s nimble frame. Without warning, Ralfe leaped towards Zenrir, his mouth open, teeth gleaming and drenched in blood.
Fear shone in Zenrir’s eyes, but he fought bravely. Ralfe chomped his fangs on Zenrir’s flank, tearing off a chunk of flesh. Zenrir screamed in pain and Ralfe leapt off his back, having received a nasty gash across his eyes. Ralfe, blinded, now relied on his keen nose to find Zenrir. Zenrir had quickly examined the wound, wincing with every step. His eyes hardened as he saw his uncle thundering at full speed towards him.
A glint shown in Zenrir’s eyes as he waited for Ralfe to come closer. Suddenly, Zenrir crouched low to the ground. Ralfe lunged into the air, thinking he would catch Zenrir straight in the stomach, unconsciously exposing his underside. Zenrir lunged into the air with a powerful kick of his hindquarters and tore at Ralfe’s stomach. Ralfe howled, blood dripping profusely. Zenrir ripped open Ralfe’s stomach with furious swipes. Ralfe’s blinded eyes widened as his intestines spilled out onto the hard ground. Still in his wild trance, Zenrir ripped and tore again and again until Ralfe’s corpse lay in a mangled mess.
Ralfe was unrecognizably dead.
Zenrir came to a screeching halt, morphing back into his human shape. He widened his eyes and terror and in a daze, looked at all the mess on the ground. His hands trembled furiously, tears cascading down his face.
“Uncle…uncle…no, no…uncle!” Zenrir cried in anguish, throwing his hands up into the air. It started to rain. The rain slowly washed away the blood and horror of the night.
Lestrange was grinning and clapping his hands like a child.
“Amazing creatures, werewolves. Amazing!” Lestrange stood up and touched Zenrir on the shoulder, about to congratulate him.
Zenrir flung his arm away, spinning around angrily.
“You! It was you who made me do this!” Zenrir pointed a finger at Lestrange, who held up his hands, an evil grin upon his pale, weathered face.
“No…no…my little werepup. It…was…you.” Lestrange deadpanned, his smile melting away.
Zenrir sunk to his knees, sobbing into his bloody hands. Suddenly, he morphed back into his wolf from and lumbered away into the night, his howls unmistakably heartbroken.
Breathlessly, Hermione looked up with wide eyes. Lestrange towered over her menacingly.
“What to do with the mudblood and the filthy hero?” Lestrange rubbed his hands together, his eyes turning a dark red. Lestrange walked around in a slow circle, looking at the tips of his black boots.
“What are you two especially good at? Tricks? Brewing potions? Hmm…” Lestrange got a hard glint in his eyes. “A duel…a duel perhaps…yes…perfect…” Lestrange straightened and smiled evilly. He snapped his fingers and Harry’s and Hermione’s wands flew into their pockets.
“Duel each other for my…entertainment. We’ll see which one dies first. Oh…almost forgot…you two are…friends.” Lestrange laughed dangerously.
Hermione and Harry got up nervously, their bonds fallen away. The circled each other, their wands in front of them. Each wore a similar pained expression.
Harry spoke in a cracked whisper. “Room of Requirement…fifth year…Dumbledore’s…army…” Harry gave Hermione a long look, willing her to understand. Hermione nodded her head ever so slightly.
They shared an intense moment. All their memories of friendship flashed back as they continued to circle around. Hermione’s face was slick with tears and her hand trembled violently. Harry’s own eyes started to water. He couldn’t kill her. How long would they have to do minor hexes and jinxes until Lestrange would force them to kill one another?
“Please…” Hermione turned to Lestrange, pleading. “Please don’t make us…”
“But, my dear, it’s a duel. One of you will have to kill the other. It’s only a matter of time. And…that’s all I seem to have these days.” Lestrange smiled and settled back onto his black throne again.
Hermione wouldn’t meet Harry’s eyes. Tears were still dripping off her nose. She suddenly dropped her wand, sinking to the ground.
“Hermione!” Before Harry could react, Lestrange shouted, “Crucio!”
Hermione’s limp form was tossed into the air with force, her hair trailing behind her. Her limbs started to suddenly jerk violently, her head whipping back in an unnatural position.
Rage filled Harry’s whole being.
“Protego!” Harry roared. A huge shield outlined in a faint electric blue blocked Lestrange’s curse. Lestrange snarled but before he could utter a word-
“Expelliarmus!” Harry reached up and caught Lestrange’s heavy, black wand midair.
Lestrange growled and snapped his fingers. A huge pack of werewolves appeared from thin air, their eyes clouded with an eerie green. They rushed forward, teeth bared and claws flashing.
A gigantic black werewolf reached him first, trying to grab at Hermione.
“Levicorpus!” The wolf barked in pain and disappeared from sight. Harry blasted a few more off him using simple hexes. A werewolf got a swipe and suddenly, Harry couldn’t see, his glasses on the floor. Blindly, he pointed his wand at blurry shapes shouting any curse, hex, or jinx he could think of.
“Stupefy!” A jet of green light hit a tombstone and bounced off onto a nearby werewolf. The werewolf stumbled and fell, stiff and unmoving.
Off the top of his head Harry shouted, “Imperio!” Against all odds, it hit an unsuspecting Lestrange square on the chest. His eyes turned a cloudy green. With the strange curse lifted from them, the werewolves slid away, disappearing into the growing darkness.
“You okay, Hermione?” Harry asked gently. He was covered in deep cuts, bruises, and dirt.
“Yeah…thanks.” Hermione said breathlessly, wiping blood from her mouth.
Harry furiously stalked over to Lestrange, curses flying from his mouth a top speed.
“Harry…please…stop…we have to…get out of here…” Hermione pulled at Harry’s arm, unable to break him away from his trance. Seeing Lestrange lie on the ground gave Harry a sense of justice. Somehow, he felt that a lot of witches and wizards were now resting in peace.
Harry broke away from his gaze. “Yeah, right…sorry.”
“We apparate! Come on, Harry. We have to Apparate to the ministry.”
They each put a hand on Lestrange’s still form.
“Well, to the ministry.” Hermione said. At once, they were whisked away.
Harry and Hermione, having had much practice, landed squarely on their feet on the ministry floor. Hermione had put invisible, unbreakable binds upon Lestrange just in case he woke up.
Harry spotted Professor McGonagall among the shocked faces of the ministry workers. She rushed over, almost tripping on her emerald green robes.
“Potter! Hermione! What are you doing—” Professor McGonagall suddenly caught sight of a bedraggled Lestrange lying unmoving on the floor.
“Oh my goodness! It’s…” A small wizard fainted, his parchments rolling across the floor.
“LESTRANGE! IT’S LESTRANGE!” A large portly wizard bellowed excitedly. Then, he began barking orders. “Hastings! McGraw! Take this piece of filth to Azkaban! The new and improved Azkaban, of course!” Wizards and witches began crowding around Lestrange, wanting a closer look. The energy of the great hall soared as joyful cries of triumph echoed through the masses.
“Potter caught Lestrange!”
“Must’ve been terribly difficult! Imagine all the hardships he went through!”
“That poor boy!”
“Always knew that he had it in him to do something like this!”
“First Voldemort, now Lestrange!”
“The Weasleys had some part in this too!”
“That’s right I did!” Came the happy cry from a certain redhead. Mr. Weasley clapped Harry on the back and took Hermione’s arm. “Congratulations!” Mr. Weasley beamed. When Ginny told us you went off in search of the Death Eaters, I was certain that you would come back triumphant! Always knew—”
“Mr. Weasley.” Harry said quietly.
“Eternal glory, you both shall receive! And not to mention about a thousand galleons as a bounty prize—”
“Mr. Weasley!” Harry said louder.
“Eh?” Mr. Weasley assessed Harry and Hermione’s grim expressions carefully. Suddenly, he noticed that Ron wasn’t there.
“We were…just getting to that…” Hermione’s eyes suddenly welled up with hot tears. Harry put an arm around Hermione, trying to console her. She sobbed into her hands.
“He’s…gone…Ron’s…gone…” Hermione wailed even louder, attracting the attention of Professor McGonagall.
Mr. Weasley looked bewildered. “What do you mean he’s…gone?” He sputtered. Professor McGonagall hurried over and put an arm around Hermione.
“Whatever is the matter, Hermione? And where is Ron?” Hermione cried, her voice raising a whole octave higher.
“Explain, Potter.” Professor McGonagall said.
“Well, there was this test…one of the rooms we had to go through had portkeys. So, we each chose one. Half of them lead to Lestrange and half of them lead to…erm, we don’t know where. And…another problem is that…uh, Ron is now a wolf.”
Professor McGonagall raised her eyebrows. “A wolf?”
“Er, yeah. A wolf.”
Now, Mr. Weasley started balling like Hermione, his face bright pink. “No…not Ron…no…”
“Mr. Weasley…we will find him again. We really will, right Hermione?” Hermione nodded and blew her nose.
“We’ll even go right now…” Harry pulled Hermione’s arm and led her away from Mr. Weasley and Professor McGonagall, who was doing her best to provide comfort.
With a loud crack, Harry and Hermione Disapparated.
Hermione looked around. “Where are we?”
“Forest of Dean. I sort of do my best thinking here.”
Hermione nodded silently, unable to speak. If only I took the portkey with Ron. I would still be with him right now. What if he’s…no he wouldn’t be. He’s a strong wolf now. He can take care of himself until we find him. Oh, Ronald, wherever you are, please give us some clue as to where you are. Please…
“Those portkeys could’ve taken him anywhere. Where would Lestrange have those portkeys go…?”
“On the note…” Hermione started hesitantly. “It said that four of the portkeys would lead to a certain death…could he be…”
“No. I think that Lestrange just put that there to scare us. I bet Ron’s having loads of fun, wandering around the wilderness…”
“Harry…he’s a silver wolf. A silver wolf, Harry.” Hermione said excitedly. “Where have we read about silver wolfs?’
“Um, dunno, National Geographic?”
“Think, Harry! In Defense Against the Dark Arts with Professor Lupin! Remember?”
“No, sorry.” Harry replied, feeling a bit lost.
“We read a chapter about the silver wolf. It said that all silver wolves are magical creatures. They almost always end up in Antarctica! Antarctica, Harry! Ron is there!”
Harry was still doubtful.
How could the portkey have taken his best friend to Antarctica? Antarctica, of all places. Nevertheless, Harry decided to go with Hermione. It couldn’t hurt, right?
They first stopped at the Burrow. Ginny, overcome with emotion, burst into tears at the sight of Harry and threw her arms around him. Mrs. Weasley pulled Hermione close for a fierce hug and Hermione buried her face in Mrs. Weasley’s hair, sobbing with something like relief.
“When Arthur sent us an owl about you two…oh—”
“Mrs. Weasley…Ron. He’s gone. But don’t worry—”
“We will find him.” Hermione finished Harry’s sentence. Mrs. Weasley seemed to be in a trance-like state.
“Gone…” She whispered softly. She suddenly sank down to the ground, slick tears streaming down her face. “My little boy is gone…”
She didn’t seem to hear Harry.
“There’s no point in talking to her now. Take her up to her room and let’s leave immediately.” Hermione nodded quickly and helped Mrs. Weasley up the Burrow’s narrow stairs.
By the time Hermione came down, Harry had already packed two knapsacks full of food, useful ointments, a few of Hermione’s spell books, and of course their wands. He had bewitched the sacks to carry countless items without its usual weight.
“I’ve only packed enough to last us a few weeks to a month. It shouldn’t take long to find him.” Harry said, once they started on their journey to Antarctica. “I mean, there shouldn’t be too many magical silver wolves in the world, right?”
Hermione shrugged, too tired to respond. So, they plodded along in silence to Knott’s Hill, where the portkey was waiting. The old, black oilcan was pulsing blue and bright as the weary travelers approached.
“Ready?” Harry said. They laid their hands on the greasy can, as an invisible wind lifted them out of Britain to snowy Antarctica.
There was nothing but a flurry of white before their eyes. It seemed to stretch on and on like a giant frosty creature. Harry immediately took Hermione’s hand and led her through the blank whiteness.
“Now where?” Harry had never heard Hermione so beaten and tired. She seemed to have lost all hope.
Suddenly a spark of white light caught Harry’s eye. “There! Look!” Harry pointed to where the source of the light had come from but it had disappeared.
Hermione squinted. “I don’t see anything, Harry. Are you sure you saw—”
The small light flashed again, quicker and brighter. This time, Harry could see it clearly.
“Hermione, there!” Hermione narrowed her eyes again, trying to see through the thick snow.
“I’m sorry, Harry, but I just don’t see anything.” Hermione said apologetically, frowning.
Harry sighed in frustration. It seemed that he was just so impossibly different from everyone else. He could hear things when people couldn’t, he could see things when others couldn’t, and he could also feel things that nobody else could even imagine.
“Never mind.” Harry said quietly. They plodded along in silence.
Finally, they reached a small village, which seemed to be deserted. Small igloos dotted the narrow pathway. Abandoned shops were scattered in between.
“Hello?” Hermione called out tentatively. “Is anyone there?”
She got no answer. Harry kept his arms closely wrapped around Hermione, half protecting her from the cold and half from whatever dangers there could be.
Suddenly, a figure burst from one of the igloos. Harry whipped his wand out and Hermione let out a startled scream. After a moment, Harry realized that it was only a large black dog. The dog painfully reminded Harry of Sirius.
“Sirius…” Hermione breathed, recovering from her moment of terrified shock.
“Yeah.” Harry said softly. “Reminded me of him too.”
They gazed at the dog in a respectful silence, each lost in their own thoughts. A figure emerged quietly from an igloo farther down the path.
“Nero! Come here boy.”
An old man in his late seventies hobbled over to the dog, dragging his cane. The dog licked his master’s feet, drool dripping from his mouth.
The man looked up.
“Who are you?” His eyes were a piercing blue and his face was lined with countless wrinkles. A salt and pepper beard lay on his face.
“We’re travelers.” Hermione said quickly.
“Yeah…travelers.” Harry echoed. Hermione pushed Harry’s hands off her shoulders.
“We’re also looking for room and board. And some food, too. Do you happen to know where we could stay?” A bit of Hermione’s bossy personality was showing through.
The old man looked at the two of them up and down, a suspicious look on his weathered face.
“Follow me.” He said finally, though a bit gruff. “Come, Nero.” The dog took to his heels and dutifully followed his owner.
Hermione grabbed Harry’s hand and pulled him along with a hard look. Reluctantly, Harry followed, feeling a sense of dread.
They came upon a small igloo. Chunks of the hard snow were crumbling off and the front archway was to the point of collapsing. The old man beckoned them inside.
“Magic!” Hermione whispered. Harry felt uneasy.
The inside was bewitched to be ten times as large as the igloo itself. It was lavishly decorated with expensive furs, regal furnishings, and rich carpets. A large fireplace roared by a kettle stove. The man hung up his fur cloak and bustled around the stove, stirring a cauldron of steamy liquid. He snapped his fingers and three place settings appeared on a grand, golden table.
“Seal and turnip soup.” The old man did not turn around. He ladled out three portions of the bubbling soup and snapped his fingers again. The bowls hovered in the air and gently drifted towards the table. Once they reached the table, however, they did not settle on the table. The man snapped his fingers again and the bowls silently dropped onto the table.
Harry felt that the gestures were extremely familiar, although he couldn’t quite place them yet. The black dog was tossed a large piece of raw meat. Nero chomped on it and barked happily. When they had taken their places at the table, Hermione stared unhappily at the bowl of murky soup. Lumps of seal and turnip bobbed to the surface of the bowl.
“Sir…we don’t know your name.” Hermione said slowly.
The man did not look up. Instead, he continued to slurp the stew hungrily.
“Name’s Jeriel. Jeriel Enrile.” Jeriel stared at Hermione with a glint in his eye.
Enrile…Jeriel Enrile…where have I heard that name? Harry thought to himself. Never mind. We are safe and we have food. That’s all that matters. The name will come up later.
“Mr. Enrile…you…are you…” Hermione seemed to be trying to ask something, but did not know to word it.
“Spit it out, girl.” Jeriel said curtly.
“I was just wondering if…erm, never mind.”
“Want to know if I’m part house-elf, don’t you?” Jeriel said.
Hermione widened her eyes and seemed to have nothing to say.
“How did you know—”
“Yes. My mum was part house-elf. My father, a wizard.” Jeriel laughed mirthlessly. “I only got house-elf abilities. Can’t even touch a bloody wand. Only snap my fingers and disappear anywhere I want. Not much against a git’s wand.” Jeriel glared at Harry’s wand, which was sticking out of his pants pocket.
So that was why the gestures looked familiar. Dobby used to do the same thing to disappear and reappear.
“How is your mum part house—” Hermione started.
“You don’t want to know.” Jeriel said abruptly.
The three of them finished their meal in silence.
“There are beds over there. Stay if you want.” With that Jeriel got into a large mattress topped with many large furs and thick woolen blankets. He snapped his fingers and a large bubble burst from the palm of his hand. It looked like Jeriel was encased in a wall of fire. The bubble crackled once more and then remained silent.
“It’s like Protego, except for, erm, house-elves.” Hermione answered Harry’s questioning stare.
Harry and Hermione settled on one of the other beds. Hermione decided to cast the usual protection enchantments just be safe.
Once they were settled under the blankets, an uncomfortable silence filled the air.
“Well, ‘night, then.”
The chilly morning air sapped all of Harry’s strength. He did not feel like leaving this comfortable bed to trudge through thick fields of unrelenting snow. Hermione was already up and dressed, drinking out of an earthen bowl filled with some dark liquid. Harry hoped that it wasn’t leftover soup.
“Morning!” Hermione said cheerfully. “There’s soup by the hearth.”
Harry groggily rubbed his eyes and yawned.
“Of course not! Mr. Enrile was already up and about! He just made the stew this morning. I think you’ll like it Harry.”
“It just tastes like…it tastes like something…something you’d enjoy.” Hermione said, an odd look on her face.
Harry was too tired to process the information. He rolled out of bed, ran a hand through his messy dark hair and tried to smooth the creases out of his clothes.
“Here.” Jeriel said gruffly, passing him a bowl of thick brown stew. The smell was almost intoxicating.
Nero, the big black dog, was lazily gnawing the end off a large piece of bone. The marrow inside was dripping out onto the floor. Harry squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to think of the raw meat. Out of the corner of his eye, harry saw Hermione slowly packing up their few belongings. She cast curious glances at a long black cloak resting on a tattered armchair. Something shimmering, half-concealed by the cloak, was lying on top. Harry felt as though he had seen the exact color somewhere but…
“Oh my goodness.” Hermione breathed almost inaudibly. A hand was clapped over her mouth and she stepped back in shock, her eyes wide.
“What?” Hermione, what is it?” Harry said, a feeling of panic spreading across his body.
Hermione shook her head, not able to speak. Jeriel looked up, surprised. He followed Hermione’s gaze and his eyes suddenly narrowed.
“You shouldn’t have seen that.” Jeriel said quietly. Thumping his way across the igloo, he quickly snatched up the black cloak and the shimmering object.
“You…you’re…” Hermione started. She had a nervous look on her face. Harry stood there, confused. Where had he seen that shimmering silver…?
“You didn’t see nothing.” Jeriel said harshly. “Nothing, you hear?”
Hermione swallowed and tugged at a few strands of hair lingering around her face.
“Now get out!” Jeriel roared. Nero growled, showing his gleaming white teeth.
Harry tugged at Hermione’s sleeve, urging her to get out as quickly as possible. She jerked her arm back and shook her head.
“Bloody hell! Would you stop calling me that?”
Hermione took an involuntary step back, a bit abashed at the sudden outburst. But, this did not faze whatever she was going to say.
“Um…Jeriel…please, please let us stay. I’m so sorry I-we- saw that! I didn’t know…please…”
Jeriel glared, although a hint of uncertainty lingered in his eyes. He stroked Nero’s silky black ears, trying to calm down his pet. Finally, after heartbeats of silence, Jeriel grunted and turned away, settling on one of his armchairs.
“Sit.” He growled.
With wide eyes, Harry and Hermione sat on chairs across from him.
“Drag me off. Tie me up in chains and whip me with a mat of threaded of hair. Do anything but send me to that horrible place. I refuse to go there. Understood?”
Hermione nodded enthusiastically. Harry gave a weak nod of his head, completely and utterly confused.
“Go on.” Hermione encouraged.
“I was at his mercy.” Jeriel scoffed. “He could have killed me. But, he needed followers. And, I was willing. I should have killed myself instead. I should have…” Jeriel paused, deep in thought.
“I was a robber. Not just a small house-stealing robber. I robbed banks. I robbed cities. I robbed countries of their wealth. I was an expert. I could steal thousands of pounds by myself. Millions, even. I hoodwinked the greatest man of all time. He gave me more than half of his earnings and his fortune.”
Jeriel paused and his face grew dark, as if remembering a sad thought.
“I had a wife, Martha. Children, even. I told them I had a high paying job. A job that made me a large fortune. We lived in luxury. But, every night I would go off in search of my master. He would have orders for me and I would stupidly follow. He paid me well. My family had more money than we had ever gotten before.”
Jeriel stopped and sighed heavily.
“One night he was angry. I had collected my fortune and I stopped acting on his orders. Although we took everything we had and left, he pursued me. He made sure that I never could rest at peace. We fled to America. To the farthest possible place I could think of. Antarctica. I broke the link between us, making it harder for us to be found. I cut off the flesh containing the Dark mark.” Jeriel pushed up his sleeve and revealed a long jagged scar that stretched from his wrist to his elbow.
“After a few years I could tell he stopped searching for me. Something had weakened him. Weakened him so much he was almost destroyed.” Jeriel shifted his gaze to Harry. Harry felt a pang of sadness as he recalled that terrible night.
“Your scar…” Jeriel reached out and Harry held as still as he could without cringing.
“I saw everything. The revolt against him. The terror. When he came back to that graveyard your fourth year at Hogwarts, I felt him. He was more angry and powerful than ever before. He wanted to kill you, Harry. He wanted vengeance, your blood. I watched him kill. I could feel each victim’s last, dying breath. He killed them with a smile.”
A crease had formed between Hermione’s eyebrows.
“Jeriel…if you don’t mind me asking…where are your wife and children?” She bit her lip, almost instantly regretting her question.
Surprisingly, he remained impassive.
“My wife died a few months after Voldemort came to power. Some sickness no magical herb could heal.” Jeriel scoffed angrily. “My children vanished days after Martha passed away. At first, I thought that Voldemort had finally found me at last. Found my children. I followed wizarding news in Britain to see if my children were murdered. Year after year, I heard about the deaths of everyone but my children.” Jeriel choked on his words.
“When Voldemort was finally dead, and I still had no news of my children, I gave up. I couldn’t keep hoping for something that was never going to happen. They’re gone.” He said simply.
Hermione, her eyes wide and tearful said, “Jeriel…we can help you. I know you’ve given up help but we can help look.”
A hopeful look flitted through Jeriel’s eyes but he immediately hardened.
“No. No. It’s no use. I will never see them again.”
He held up a hand, silencing her. Slowly, he rose from his chair and walked towards the tattered armchair. He lifted the haunting black cloak and the silver object lying in between it.
“Take it. I don’t want to see it anymore. It could help you later on.” Jeriel thrust the cloak and the silver object into Hermione’s hands. Wide-eyed she clutched the material. Only then could Harry see what the shimmering silver object was.
It was a Death Eater mask.
Vivid memories flashed through Harry’s mind in a flurry of haunting memories. The Room of Requirement. The Department of Mysteries. Sirius. The final battle at Hogwarts. Albus Dumbledore. Tonks. Lupin. Fred. The night at the graveyard. Cedric. Wormtail. Voldemort.
“Harry…Harry!” Hermione as shaking him. Harry shook his head to clear his mind of the traumatizing experiences.
“Sorry.” He muttered as he wiped his glasses clean. “And, er, thank you.” Harry said, remembering his manners. Jeriel grunted in response.
“Can we at least have the names of your children?”
Jeriel hesitated, and then spoke as if with great pain.
“Sia and Bret.”
Hermione carefully placed the cloak and the mask into her bag and straightened.
“Go.” Jeriel said gruffly, but not unkindly. Hermione and Harry quickly left the igloo shivering with anticipation and nerves.
When they were a safe distance away, Hermione began to blabber at full speed.
“That was quite the experience wasn’t that?” Hermione whooshed out in a long breath. “Jeriel is quite the character! Can you possibly imagine the fact that he was a Death Eater? It seems quite impossible. And the luxuries that igloo had! I’ve read that the American igloos were very basic and only included necessary items. Jeriel had more than the queen! I think I shall go home and burn that book. Quite some rubbish don’t you agree? I—”
“Hermione, Jeriel was part wizard. He wasn’t just your average American Eskimo.”
“Yes, yes, forgive me.” Hermione’s sudden rush of adrenaline lowered dramatically, as she now completely stopped talking. After a few minutes of walking, Harry spoke.
“So…where now? I mean…”
“Well, obviously we have to find Ronald first. Then, we have to find more of those Death Eaters and their hiding places. Oh, we need to know what Hagrid’s mission for Dumbledore is and of course—”
“Isn’t that a little too much?”
“Oh be quiet, Harry. As I was saying, we should try to find Jeriel’s children too. I think that what is making him so gruff is the loss of his children.”
Harry tuned Hermione out. All he wanted to do was to find his best mate and head home to Ginny and the baby. His baby. The thought of a life blooming inside of his beloved wife warmed him to the core. It felt like nothing else mattered in the entire world anymore. Once all this was over he and Ginny could go find a nice quiet place to live peacefully and watch his child grow up and become a wizard himself. Maybe he and Ginny could even make the rounds and visit Professor McGonagall, Neville, Sean, Seamus, and even Dumbledore’s picture at Hogwarts. He wondered if their baby would have Ginny’s beautiful flaming red locks or his mess dark hair. Would he look like James? Would he have my eyes-no, Lily’s eyes- or Ginny’s deep brown ones? Ginny would probably like a nice place right by the beach. Maybe a bit like Shell Cottage. Or maybe something in a meadow. Yes, she’d like that. Ginny…
“Harry? Harry? Harry, have you been listening to me?” Hermione waved her hands in front of Harry’s face. He blinked a few times and realized they came upon a thick forest of trees laced with snowy white drifts.
“Yes, sorry, I…er…”
Hermione sighed. “I understand. Ginny?”
Harry nodded. “And you…?”
Hermione lowered her head.
“Yes. Let’s just find him soon.” She said grimly. Without a moment of hesitation, Harry gripped Hermione’s delicate cold one. Together, hand in hand, they entered the forbidding forest.
Only the sounds of animals and birds filled the chilly morning air. The mist that swirled around them was foreboding. Birds tittered warnings to each other. Animals crawled back into their safe homes. Still, all was silent.
“What were you really thinking of? Just Ginny or…um, other things too?” Hermione asked tentatively, which surprised Harry. Usually, Hermione was sure about every word or question that came out of her mouth.
“I was thinking about…the baby. Our baby.”
Hermione shot him a strange look. It was a mixture of curiosity and wistfulness.
“I…I…never mind. I don’t…I didn’t know what…” Hermione bit her lip as she struggled to find words. “I’m sure he’ll look just like you.” Hermione finished with a small smile.
“Hermione…what is it? What’s wrong?” Harry squeezed Hermione’s hand gently. Suddenly, Hermione burst into tears. Bewildered, Harry stopped and wiped the trickling tears off Hermione’s face. He wrapped Hermione in a close embrace. Hermione wept onto his shoulder shaking her head and claiming she had no idea why she was crying. After several minutes her sobs turned to whimpers and her tears dried up on her face.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. I…I’m so…”
Harry combed his fingers through her hair and suddenly he felt the urge to hold her delicate form all daylong.
She’s not all that bad. Sure, she can be an annoyance sometimes but she means well. Truly, if it weren’t for Weasleys, I would’ve been with her in the end.
Harry tried to imagine what it would have been like. He had always loved her, even right from the start. But, it was never that kind of love. These days, he was not sure what he felt anymore. He briefly recalled the moment when Hermione said her vows on her wedding day. He remembered feeing a sense of longing and regret. Something he should not have felt.
He tried to remember those days at Hogwarts, spending time with Hermione. She had stayed by him even though everyone else did not believe that Voldemort was back. He remembered when he saw her with Cormac McLaggen at Sughorn’s Christmas party. How something inside of him stirred. It was barely noticeable, though, because he never gave that feeling a second thought. He was too blinded by Ginny to rouse that again. When Zenrir confessed his invisible bond between them, Harry again felt this strange offensive reaction. He did not want a werewolf around something as fragile as Hermione. When Hermione was almost killed by Ralfe, the feeling stirred inside of him again. Only this time, stronger. Much stronger.
As Hermione slid her thin arms around Harry, his emotions conflicted with conscience. He wanted to hold her forever and go somewhere deeper than friends, but he knew he was married and had a baby. His emotions had overridden his conscience.
Soon night fell and a camp spot was determined. Hermione set up the usual protective enchantments around them while Harry cooked supper. Hermione was quiet all throughout. As the lay side by side under the bright starlit sky, Harry noticed shiny tracks of liquid running down Hermione’ face. He still did not know what was troubling her.
“Come here.” Harry drew Hermione into his arms.
“I’m so sorry…I don’t even know why I…I miss home…I don’t want to be chasing after Death Eaters anymore…I’m just so tired…”
“Was it because of Ron?”
Hermione sighed. “Yes and no. I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?”
“He…he’s a wolf. And he’s just so far away. I wouldn’t give up looking for him, but I feel like he isn’t even trying to look for us. And Zenrir…I don’t know what became of him. He…he could be dead, Harry. After all he’s done for us—”
“He wanted to defy his uncle. It was his own choice.”
“Yes, but he helped us so much that…that I feel indebted to him. Harry, we have to find him too. We have to make sure he’s okay. Please? We have to.”
Hermione looked at him with big pleading eyes. It was hard to say no.
“Er, sure.” Harry mumbled. After a while, her breathing slowed and she was asleep. All Harry knew was that he could provide the most comfort since Ron was not there.
Ah…Ron…my best mate.
Harry knew he could not do this to his best friend. It was unmoral.
I’ll just take his place for a little while. Provide all the comfort she would need and then let her go when we find Ron, Harry decided, although he knew deep down inside he was acting selfish.
He stayed awake for a while, cradling Hermione with one arm and gently playing with her hair with the other. He marveled on the quiet beauty Hermione possessed. He realized he was sightless to Hermione because of Ginny’s more prominent beauty. With her wild hair and soulful eyes, Ginny attracted far more attention than Hermione ever did. Harry traced Hermione’s graceful curve and beautiful jaw line, swirling invisible patterns with the tip of his finger.
Hermione muttered something in her sleep and shifted closer to Harry. He felt an unexpected wave of joy and compassion for this subtly beautiful creature beside him.
As the morning rays peered through the tent opening, Harry yawned and squinted through the bright sunlight. The smell of sizzling meat came from outside. Following his nose, he found Hermione cooking breakfast over a small fire stove. Her hair was gorgeously tousled, flowing in soft ringlets down her back. She was wearing a light and airy spring dress that fell to mid-thigh. As Hermione turned, Harry caught sight of her slightly weary face. But, her eyes were bright and sparkling. Harry felt his breath catch in his throat.
“Breakfast is ready!” She said cheerfully as she kissed him on the cheek.
“Dress…” Harry managed to croak out.
Hermione blushed. “My other clothes were tracked with mud and, um, tears so I put on the first thing I touched. It was an old dress my mum used to make me wear to church.”
“It…nice…dress…” Harry swallowed. Harry felt dumbstruck for a moment, half blinded by the sun and half blinded by Hermione’s beauty. Most of all though, by the kiss. He remembered to raise his jaw.
“Harry? Are you okay?” Hermione asked, aware that Harry was staring at her quite open-mouthed.
“Erm, yeah. I’m fine.” He quickly sat down, almost knocking over the pan of sausages. When Hermione sat down, she rested her hand across Harry’s.
“Are you sure you’re okay? You look a bit pale.” She felt his forehead.
“No, I’m fine.” Harry says quickly, popping a piece of sausage in his mouth. All through breakfast, Harry could not speak. He ate fast, trying not to look at Hermione. A sudden flash of white light illuminated from behind a few trees to their left. Without a word, Harry rose from the table taking out his wand. Hermione did the same. After a few moments, the white light extinguished.
“What was that?” Hermione whispered, fear in her voice.
“Dunno. Death Eaters probably.”
“But Death Eaters are never white. Could somebody have apparated here and then disapparated again?”
Harry gazed at the spot between the trees. He thought he saw a man’s face. Sneering.
“Somebody knows we’re here. Let’s pack up the tent.” Harry said earnestly. With a quick flip of her wand, Hermione managed to pack their belongings in a matter of seconds.
“Let’s go.” Hermione muttered under her breath to remove the enchantments and they were once again vulnerable to whatever lay waiting for them. Grabbing Hermione ‘s hand protectively, they set off for the deepest part in the woods. The trees were becoming thicker and denser. Snow capped mountains lay to the west of them. Each step felt like trap and there were none of the usual forest sounds. It was deathly quiet.
Another spark of white light burst from a nearby tree, disappearing as quickly as it had come. They both had their wands drawn, standing back to back. As they looked around, Harry noticed that they were in front of some sort of cave. At first, it was hard to see because of the intense camouflaging. But, as he peered closer, he could make out a rusted iron gate blocking the entrance to the cave. Thick jagged rocks jutted from the sides, almost concealing a thick torch flaming with white light.
“The light…” Hermione whispered.
Harry suddenly remembered where he had seen the light before.
“Hermione! The first day we got here! That’s when I saw the light, remember?”
“The one I couldn’t see?”
“Yes!” Harry said, almost to the point of excitement.
“Harry…” Hermione said quietly, fear creeping into her voice. “That means that whoever sent the light has been waiting for us for three days now. Somebody knew we were out there, looking for Ron. They’re waiting.”
Harry realized she was right. Somebody knew their plans long before they did. Another Death Eater? Possibly.
“We have to go in.” Hermione said abruptly.
“We can’t risk being captured again.”
“Whoever sent us here could be watching us right now. There’s no choice, Harry.” Hermione grabbed Harry’s hand and as they approached the iron gate.
“Wands…” Harry said faintly.
Hermione placed her hands on the cool gate. It suddenly lurched forward and Hermione tumbled inside. Harry followed right at her heels. When they stopped spinning, they realized that they were deposited in a vast stone hall. The walls were covered with paintings of knights and kings. Battle armor lay scattered over the ground.
“Are those…” Hermione could not continue. At the far end of the hall Harry could faintly make out the forms of bones. Human bones.
“Harry…” Hermione’s voice trembled with fear. “I don’t like this.”
“Stay close.” Harry whispered. “Lumos.” Harry’s wand shone, illuminating the rest of the hall. Bones of all sizes lay scattered about. Some even large enough to be horse bones. Several articles of different types of clothing also lay strewn messily on the cold stone ground. The clothes were matted with dark stains.
“Harry…look.” Hermione pointed to the ceiling. Harry swung his wand over to get a better look.
“They’re…” Harry was at loss for words. Horrifying human skins of all different skin colors and races were hanging from posts attached to the high ceiling. The empty eyeholes cast grisly shadows over the ground. Some of the mouths were still wide open, as if screaming their last scream of pain and terror. Harry wrapped his arms around Hermione, shielding her from the sickening sight.
Still, all was quiet.
It was as if whoever led them there wanted them to see all of his gruesome decorations. Suddenly the ball of light emerged again bobbing up and down. Harry nudged Hermione silently. Slowly, the ball of light traveled down the hall to another large room. In the middle of the room was a huge mirror studded with gems and bordered with gold. The ball of light disappeared. Harry walked over to the mirror, running his hands along the frame. Hermione stood in front of the mirror, squinting.
“What is it?”
“I don’t see my reflection. All I see is…ourselves. Look.”
Harry gazed into the mirror, seeing two small objects moving amidst a large blanket of snow. Then, the image suddenly flickered and dissolved into Jeriel’s igloo. They were inside, talking and eating the stew. The image flickered again and Harry and Hermione were once again walking through thick snow, entering the forest. The image changed and it showed Harry cradling Hermione and playing with her hair. Harry quickly glanced at Hermione, thinking she would be questioning, but her face remained oddly impassive. The last image showed an animal we knew all too well.
“Ron.” Hermione whispered, touching the mirror. Suddenly, her fingers started to melt into the glass. Hermione reeled back in horror, clutching her hand.
“I touched something. Something…furry. Something is behind this mirror, Harry.” Hermione said, horrified.
“Let’s try the door. Alomahora.” Harry banged on the door in frustration when the lock would not open. “Wizard work. There is no other reason why this door won’t open. There’s a death eater behind that mirror.”
“But I touched something furry!”
“Maybe you touched Ron’s fur…”
“No.” Hermione whispered fiercely. At the mention of Ron’s name, Hermione pushed herself through the mirror. The glass enveloped her body with a hiss. Without a second thought, Harry jumped in after her. Harry thought that it would only take a second to get to the other side, but instead it felt like he was falling for eternity. Suddenly, Harry heard a far-off scream that echoed though the silvery tunnel he was falling through. He kicked his legs, trying to swim through this substance. With every kick, Harry felt his strength being drained. Faintly, he heard Hermione’s voice in his head.
Don’t kick! The harder you kick, the thicker the substance will be. Just let it surround you.
After much internal struggle, he stopped kicking and felt the silver liquid filling his nose, mouth, and ears. The pressure built up around his head. Just when he thought he would collapse, he dropped to solid ground. The silver liquid evaporated and his vision cleared. He looked around the brightly lit area, taking in his surroundings. He was in a large, circular stadium lined with many large doors all facing the center. Squares that looked like small platforms were arranged in a peculiar fashion across the sanded floor. Several thick columns were placed in a ring in the center. Harry gripped his wand, feeling a sense of anxiety. Suddenly, he spotted a dark figure dart from a column. Harry fervently wished he had his invisibility cloak with him.
“Who’s there?” He called out. After a few heartbeats of silence, a thunderous roar came from one of the doors. Harry spun around, slick sweat making the grip on his wand slippery. Whatever was going to come from those doors, Harry did not think he was ready to face it. The doors creaked open and an enormous monster emerged bearing razor-sharp fangs and blood red eyes. It looked like a cross between Fluffy, Hagrid’s three-headed dog, a large dementor, and a giant ghastly reptile. The creature lunged at Harry, its jaws dripping with sticky drool.
“Stupefy!” Harry shouted. The curse hit the monster square on the face, but it shook its massive head and dived for another bite at Harry. Harry started to run, shooting curses and hexes over his shoulder. As the monster lunged at Harry again and again, his memory suddenly flashed back to his second year at Hogwarts when he faced the Basilisk.
The creature, taking advantage of Harry’s distraction, swiped him with a large sharp paw. Harry gritted his teeth and ran between the monster’s legs. Each of the heads searched for Harry as he ran in between the columns trying to confuse the beast.
“Sectumsempra!” Harry bellowed. The creature reared back in pain, howling and shrieking. Green liquid oozed out of every orifice in the creature’s body. Soon, its movements became feeble. Finally, it fell to its side, dead.
Harry lay panting on the ground, his hair matted with sand and his arms bloodied. He ripped a piece of cloth from his shirt and made makeshift bandages for his wounds.
“Congratulations, Harry Potter!” A voice boomed from all around the arena. Harry looked up, startled. He scanned the stone steps for the source of the voice. Finally, he spotted two figures huddled and tied up beside each other on a raised platform high above the arena. A third figure towered over them, pointed a wand to his throat. He had on a dark black cloak and a black mask over part of his face.
“You have beaten the Syphyllus! I applaud you. Now, Potter,” the figure continued mockingly. “I shall propose a deal with you. If you win the, ah, games in this arena, I shall let all of you go. If you should lose…well then, expect to have the Mudblood and the mutt die before your very eyes.” The figure smiled, revealing grotesque rotten teeth.
Hermione! And…Zenrir? What is he doing here?
“Who are you?” Harry called out, brandishing his wand.
“That is surely insignificant when you are about to die, Potter.” He paused. “Twenty years, Potter. Twenty years I have been waiting for this day. To see your crumpled form beneath my foot. To see Lily’s eyes lifeless. To see James’ arrogance gone forever. To never again see that scar upon your forehead. But, finally today my Lord shall be avenged. How greatly I would be rewarded! Your life put this scar on my face!” he said angrily, jabbing a finer at his mask. “I’ve followed my Lord diligently all these years. When you destroyed him, I vowed to kill you and all your loved ones. A Death Eater I have been for years and years. But today, I become the avenger.” He raised his arms dramatically. “Let the games begin!”
Harry was forced to break his attention away from the figure cackling atop the platform as several figures with their faces adorned in masks emerged from another door to his left. In one motion, they whipped off the masks and Harry gasped in horror. In front of him were the forms of all the dead people whom he had loved. They reached out to him, their smiles reassuring and comforting. Part of him wanted to turn and run and the other part wanted to melt into their embraces.
Harry, it’s me, your mum. I love you Harry. Lily’s red hair and soft green eyes were painful reminder of Ginny and the childhood he never had.
My boy…all grown up. Harry’s father, James, stood before him. His dark hair was untidy and stood up in all directions. Harry had the sudden urge to touch his own messy hair.
Harry…take care of Teddy… Lupin and Tonks stood side by side reaching out their arms towards him. Lupin looked the same as always, slightly disheveled and weary. Tonks smiled wide and her hair turned bright pink.
Harry choked back an unexpected lump of emotion.
Harry, I miss you. All of you. Tell George I’m okay. Fred grinned and pulled out a rubber chicken from behind Harry’s ear. Harry could not suppress his laugh. Many other figures stopped to tell Harry something, including the small Creevy brother and Dumbledore.
The voice suddenly echoed all around the arena again.
“Here is the real game. You have to kill them all.” The Death Eater screeched with laughter and settled on a golden throne made from muggle bones.
As Harry faced the spirits of those dearest to him, he tried to tell himself that these were not their real spirits. These were just made up. Not real. Fake.
Their faces reflected their sadness.
Don’t kill me. Harry… don’t.
Harry, you can’t murder your own mother!
Please don’t…please don’t hurt me.
Their voices left an aching hole in Harry’s heart. He raised his wand. The voices grew louder, more persistent. Harry pounded his head, trying to make them go away. He felt like he was on the verge of insanity, as the voices grew louder, trapping him inside of himself.
“Shut up!” Harry roared, clutching what was left of his soul. “Stop…stop…”
The voices swirled together, creating a haunting choir of soulless voices. Soon, Hermione’s, Ron’s, and Zenrir’s voice joined those and Harry shook himself, trying to wake himself from this internal nightmare.
The chanting grew furious, demanding. The voices no longer matched the figures. Instead the voices were now raspy and delirious.
“Expecto Patronum!” Harry cried. The silver stag erupted from the tip of his wand. It cantered around the spirits and images. The voices disappeared from his head and Harry regained enough strength to blast away the remaining figures with a flick of his wand. When the last image, Harry fell to the ground exhausted. He briefly checked the platform to make sure that Hermione and Zenrir were still alive. Harry’s vision blurred but he could make out the faint outlines moving before the world turning black.
When Harry came too, the first thing he noticed was Hermione dabbing Zenrir’s forehead with a cloth on a cot a few paces away from Harry.
“There, that should do it. I told you not to jump in front of that hex! It could’ve killed you! I was doing fine on my own—”
“What happened?” Harry spoke, partly because he was curious and partly because he was the tiniest bit jealous that Hermione was talking to the werewolf so tenderly. He noticed that he was not in the arena anymore but in their tent in the middle of the forest.
“Harry!” Hermione said brightly. “You’re awake!”
“Obviously.” Harry retorted, feeling a little snappish. Hermione’s smile faltered and Harry instantly regretted it.
“Well…” Hermione took a deep breath. She and Zenrir exchanged looks.
“What?” Harry said irritably. He hated the fact that they shared something together without his knowledge.
“We got away.” Hermione said slowly. “You had passed out because of the mind games Macabre played on you. Because he was so distracted with you, we got ourselves untied and retrieved our wands from his pockets. You know, the accio charm. So…we stunned him from behind and I was trying to get our bags together…” Hermione stopped.
Hermione took a deep breath. “When I was trying to apparate us out of the arena, Macabre broke free of the spell and shot a hex at me. Zenrir—” Hermione threw Zenrir a warm glance that twisted Harry’s heart.
“Zenrir jumped in front of it, shielding me. He saved me, Harry. But…I… couldn’t save the bags. I could only bring the tent.” Hermione frowned apologetically.
“I would’ve done that any day.” Harry muttered under his breath.
“I…nothing.” Harry rolled over on his cot and ignored the confused silence that filled the room. After a while of utter silence, he heard Hermione and Zenrir go outside. He heard their quiet conversations eventually turn to laughter. Hermione’s laughter sounded like tinkling bells while Zenrir’s was low and throaty. Harry rolled around, his heart hardening at each peal of laughter.
“Hermione,” Harry started as he walked out of the tent. “Did you salvage any—” Harry stopped short when he saw Hermione resting her head on Zenrir’s storng, tanned shoulder. Zenrir’s arms were around her, holding her gently. They were sitting on the banks, overlooking the river. The late afternoon sun enveloped them in a soft golden light.
Something feral leapt inside of Harry.
“Get off her!” Harry barked, interrupting their peaceful moment. Zenrir, surprised, threw his arms off Hermione. Then, seeing it was only Harry, he bristled. Harry whipped out his wand and jabbed it in Zenrir’s face. Snarling, Zenrir stepped a few paces back.
“Stop it! Both of you! Harry! Put the wand away!” Hermione stood in between them, waving her arms. If Harry were not so steamed at the moment, he would have thought this moment as comical.
“Harry!” Reluctantly, Harry stuffed his wand back into his pocket still glaring at Zenrir.
Zenrir growled, snapping his teeth menacingly. Slowly, Harry headed back towards the tent without a second glance. When he rached the flap of the tent, however, he turned around to see the two of them talking in low voices, casting furtive glances over the water. Hermione nodded her head and Zenrir leaned in towards her ear, whispering something. Hermione laughed and swatted Zenrir gently on the shoulder.
Harry was going to have to try harder.
Supper was dreadful for the three of them. Zenrir and Harry glared at each other over steaming bowls of thin soup while Hermione sat in between them, looking miserable.
“I believe you are wondering what became of me when I left you that night at the graveyard.” Zenrir started.
“I’m not.” Harry said shortly.
Hermione threw him a reprimanding look.
“I am, Zenrir, tell me.”
“After I murdered my stepfather, I…I felt a scathing remorse. I—”
“Remorse? That creature deserved its death!” Harry retorted angrily.
Zenrir opened his mouth but Hermione cut him off. “Harry! Just listen, will you?”
“As I was saying,” glared Zenrir. “I was tortured internally. I was suffering so much; I had to go see what became of my pack, my family. They were all gone. Every single one of them.” Zenrir shook his head sadly.
“Even the young ones, he killed. I knew all of you lived and I knew that at last Lestrange was dead. I tried to find you two. I searched all over, day and night. I was in one of the forests in Africa, wondering if you went back there. That was when I met him…Macabre. At first, he did not let me reveal his name. He also wore a mask that covered only half of his face. He seemed friendly at the time. He saw that I was young, tired, and lonely, so he offered me a place to stay and rest. I accepted. He said we would need to…to…what is that word?”
“Apparate?” Hermione asked quietly.
“Yes…apparate. So, we apparated somewhere cold and so very white. I, being used to the muggy temperatures of Africa, hated this new foreign weather. Still, I looked forward to a good place to stay. Since he said that we were still thousands of miles away from his home, I was forced to make camp in this cold cold dungeon. Naturally, I became homesick. I kept running away, tired of my strange companion. No matter how far I ran, somehow he would find me and again and force me to come along with him. Soon, he held me by invisibe binds. The more I struggled, the tighter they became. After a week, we arrived at his home. It was cold and dark inside and he locked me up in a large stone cellar. For several weeks, he shoved food under the door, making me eat cold bulbs and thin stew. When I reached the point of starvation, he unocked the door and told me that he needed help. He ordered me to keep watch over two people that he wanted to meet. He gave me a peculiar small object and threw me in a chamber with only a glass mirror in it. The object was thin and made of a strange type of metal. He told me to click it every time I saw two people in the mirror. When he showed me the people through the mirror, I immediately recognized your faces. Dilligently, every time I saw the two of you appear in the mirror, I clicked the small object. I did not know exactly what I did, but you seemed to be coming in the direction of Macabre’s cave. I tried to lead you away from that terrible place, but you kept on coming and coming. I had no choice to open the gate when you two arrived at Macabre’s front steps.”
Zenrir paused for breath.
“So that was the light you saw, Harry.” Hermione said, relieved of the mystery.
“Hermione, when you melted into the mirror, there was nothing I could do to save you. Macabre stupefied you before I could do anything. Then…well, you know the rest. I am so sorry, Hermione.”
“No…no, it was not your fault.” Hermione smiled gently and patted Zenrir’s arm. Harry wanted to puke. Instead, he shoved the rest of the soup in his mouth and hastily announced that he could take first watch. Without waiting for their consent, he left the tent.
Harry sat outside for an hour, thinking of possible ways to get rid of Zenrir.
We could run and hide. No…Hermione would never agree to that. Fake an accident? Push him off a cliff? Disapparate without him? Hermione’d eventually know the truth. If I could only persuade Zenrir to leave…
“May I sit?”
Harry looked up in surprise. Crouching beside him was Zenrir.
“Er…sure.” Harry shifted to his right, creating seom necessary space between them. Zenrir noticed the move, but did not say anything.
“The bond between us is unbreakable.” Zenrir started. Harry knew right away that Zenrir was referring to his strange wolfish bond with Hermione.
“You have no right to—”
“Just listen!” Zenrir cut him off loudly. Harry forced himself to bite his tongue.
“Go on, then.”
A crease formed between Zenrir’s eyebrows. “Does…does Hermione have a…are you…are you her mate?” Zenrir wondered aloud, staring questioningly at Harry.
“No.” Harry said forlornly. “I’m not. But…Hermione…she has one already.”
Zenrir narrowed his eyes in surprise.
“The other one we were with? Is that her mate? Why didn’t you tell me before?” Zenrir stared accusingly.
“I…” Harry said helplessly, unable to find the words.
For a while, Zenrir sat in silence, looking at the small pile of glowing yellow embers at Harry’s feet.
“You love her too.” Zenrir said simply. Harry felt angry. How could this werewolf see his feelings so clearly? Were they that apparent? Harry decided to play innocent.
“Of course I love her! I grew up with her. She’s like my sister. She—”
“No…” Zenrir shook his head. “You love her.” Zenrir gazed at Harry square in the face, with large brown eyes.
“Hermione told me she’s always loved you very much. Right from the beginning on that first train to Hogwarts. She has a diary, you know. She told me that she’d always envisioned the two of you together. Every night she would make a list of all the things she planned to do in the future. She couldn’t see any other way. On the top of the list, was mating you.”
Hermione stared open-mouthed, shocked.
“I didn’t know…I couldn’t have known…she’s always been with Ron…why…she…”
“This is what I’m asking you for.” Zenrir’s voice turned pleading. “Please, Harry. I’m asking for this one thing. Let me have her. I’ll do anything—”
“No.” Harry said firmly. “No. She’s with Ron…I can’t do this to my—”
“But you love her too!” Zenrir’s voice had become dangerously high. “He is a wolf now! He will never be able to take care of her! He’ll never be able to give her what she wants. Face it, Harry. There is no hope for the two of them. He will never become human—”
“No! Hermione is good at spells…she’d never choose you over Ron. She…she loves Ron.”
“You won’t let me have her because you want her. I can see it in your eyes. This has nothing to do with the wolf, and you know it.”
“That’s ironic, coming from someone like you.” Harry retorted angrily. They sat in silence for what seemed like eternity.
“She’s so beautiful.”
Harry shifted uncomfortably. He did not like the fact that Zenrir was talking about his Hermione.
“You barely know her.”
“That was all the time I needed.”
“No…I won’t allow it. What if you lose control…or-or—”
“You are not her keeper.” Zenrir hissed. “She can do whatever she wants.”
“I’ve known her long enough to know that she would never be with a mutt like you!” Harry snarled.
“Just because you’re some chosen one does not mean that you have a right to every single thing you want!” Zenrir sneered.
“Leave.” Harry fumed. “Leave!”
“If I leave, I take Hermione with me.” Zenrir growled.
Harry pointed his wand at Zenrir. “Try me.”
At that moment, Hermione came bounding outside, hair disheveled and eyes sleepy.
“Stop! Stop it, both of you!” She spread her arms, frantically waving. Zenrir growled, fur bristling.
“Protego!” Hermione cried.
A rippling blue shield separated Zenrir and Harry, forcing them to break apart. They stopped, chests heaving and eyes glaring. Hermione looked back and forth between the two, bewildered.
“What is going on with you two?”
“Ask the werepup.” Harry scoffed. Zenrir hissed, showing his gleaming fangs.
“Please…please can you two get along? Just…try?” Hermione searched Zenrir’s wild eyes, waiting for an answer. She glanced at Harry, still waiting.
“You know…she’ll have to choose in the end.”
“Yes, ultimately it is her decision.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Hermione’s confusion settled the tense atmosphere. Zenrir suddenly turned to Harry, a glint in his eyes. Even in the darkness, Harry could make out Zenrir’s cunning smile.
“May the best man win.”
With a grunt, Zenrir disappeared inside the tent. Hermione turned to Harry. Before she could speak, he stalked over to a nearby tree and plopped down.
“Harry…what…” Hermione started.
“I’ll take first watch.” Harry was in no mood to talk to anyone.
“I…okay.” With a last sidelong glance, Hermione entered the tent.
Harry sat outside for a while, staring intently at the trees and flow of the stream. He reflected on what Zenrir had said. May the best man win…
What if in the end, Hermione chose Zenrir? How could a werewolf provide for her more than a wizard could? What if one day he got into a fit and lost control? If she happened to be standing nearby…
Harry couldn’t even imagine it. It was too horrible.
Stop it! How can you even think about Hermione when you have Ginny? Ginny…Ginny…Ginny…It’s always been Ginny.
A strange feeling overcame Harry, something gradual yet somehow swift. His heart no longer palpitated when Ginny entered his mind. His mind no longer rested on her figure alone. Now, a new being entered Harry’s world and filled his mind.
Over the next few weeks, both Zenrir and Harry tried unsuccessfully to coax Hermione out of her protective shell. They answered her every question, demand, or complaint untiringly.
“Hermione, tea?” Zenrir offered one night. Hermione looked up, surprised.
“Yes, please, thank you.” Hermione said, smiling. Harry grudgingly noticed that she lingered her hand on his arm for a moment too long.
One morning, before Zenrir had risen, Harry used is wand to conjure a delicate bouquet of colorful flowers. Hermione took the bundle, delight etched across her face. A wide smile lifted her rosy cheeks. When Hermione looked up at him, Harry noticed tears in her eyes.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Harry brushed the hair away from her eyes.
“Nothing…I’m just thinking about…everything, I suppose.” She looked out over the cliff top towards the rising sun.
“It’s beautiful here.” Hermione whispered.
“Thought you’d like it.” Harry responded. Slowly, he took Hermione’s hand, squeezing it. She leaned her head on his shoulder and, together, they watched the sunrise.
“Watch,” Zenrir said one night after dinner. In a blink of an eye, he transformed into his wolf self, grinning his wolfish grin. He stood up on his hind legs; barking and yelping, his tongue hanging. Hermione laughed and clapped her hands, delighted. Zenrir dropped down on all fours and licked Hermione on her cheek. She wiped the slobber away, then buried her face in Zenrir’s warm fur and sighed contentedly.
“I’ve always wanted a dog. Mum is…was allergic. She didn’t like the way they shed.” Hermione smiled, stroking Zenrir’s fur.
“Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with it.” Zenrir barked happily and gently nosed her knee. Harry turned away, thoroughly repulsed.
The days stretched to weeks as the threesome wandered through the snowy terrains of Antarctica. Each day lengthened, each night shortened. The weeks passed almost mindlessly.
“Harry, what is going on between you and Zenrir?” Hermione questioned one morning before the sun had risen. Harry joined her by the edge of the forest, looking out over the flat white landscape. Hermione turned around and took Harry’s hand, raising her eyebrows.
“Is there some…competition or something? I don’t understand…” Hermione searched Harry’s eyes.
Harry looked down. “Yes.”
“We…I…” Harry looked up, unable to answer. “I just…” He sighed and dropped Hermione’s warm hand.
Suddenly, it registered in Hermione’s eyes. She took a step back, an expression of shock on her face.
“Harry…” Hermione started, exasperation and disbelief in her voice. “What about…what about Ginny? Your wife! Harry, you have a wife! Do you not remember—”
Harry silenced her with a kiss. Hermione struggled at first, but then let herself melt into his embrace. Slowly, they let their thoughts go, allowing their emotions take control. It seemed like eternity before Hermione broke away, gasping for air. She stepped back, lightheaded.
“I can’t…” Her voice broke. “Ron would…he would never forgive me.” She whispered, her eyes brimming with tears. At the mention of Ron’s name, the mood shattered and Harry, too, stepped away.
“Harry…” She reached forward and sobbed onto his shoulder. Harry felt a strong mix of emotions whirling a tornado inside of him. He patted Hermione’s back and whispered words of comfort to her.
“I want to but I can’t…I can’t…” Hermione wept. “I’m so sorry…”
The day passed awkwardly. Zenrir noticed the visible silence between Harry and Hermione but did not comment. Instead, he busied himself with chores and cooking.
“Here. I’ve marked all the places we’ve been to but for some reason I just cannot find where we are right now.” Hermione frowned that night. She spread out a thick dust encrusted map in front of the roaring fire Zenrir made. Several intricate lines and symbols were hand drawn across the parchment. Narrowing her eyes, Hermione traced her finger down a long thick line.
“We started out over here…then…we went…no…that was Jeriel’s igloo…” She mumbled quietly.
“Hermione, where did you get this?” Harry asked, fingering the paper. She continued to mutter to herself, sliding her finger over the lines.
She looked up, an annoyed look on her face. “What is it?”
“I asked where you got it.”
Hermione pushed back a strand of hair from her face.
“I brought it along with me…in my bag. He…a nice old man gave it to me.” She replied distractedly.
“ ‘A nice old man’?” Zenrir questioned suspiciously.
“Yeah…he sold it to me. Said he had no use for it anymore…got it!” Hermione cried excitedly. “Come, bring the candle over. ” Hermione motioned her two companions over.
“So, I believe we left here two weeks ago.” She tapped a small black dot with strange symbols surrounding it. She ran her finger over a dotted line connecting the dot and another dot, this one slightly larger.
“This is Macabre’s cave. And we are basically somewhere around here.” She tapped a large dark area.
“But there’s nothing there!” Zenrir exclaimed, confused.
A small smile played on the edge of Hermione’s lips. “Exactly. But wait.” She took out her wand and held it steadily over the area covered in black ink.
“Areum Revelum.” She whispered. Slowly, the ink melted away from the paper, revealing many house shaped dots scattered around something that looked like a large lake.
“What is that?”
“I read up on it. It took me days to find the answer—anyway, this here,” She pointed to the house-shaped dots. “Is an ancient wizarding village. It is Antarctica’s best kept—”
“Wizarding village?” Harry asked incredulously.
“Don’t interrupt.” Hermione reprimanded lightly.
“As I was saying, it is Antarctica’s best kept secret. That is why it needed a spell to be revealed on the map.”
“Are there wizards still living there?” Harry asked.
Hermione stared solemnly at her two friends. The glow of the candlelight cast eerie shadows over her face.
“The legend says that something terrible passed over the village one morning while most of the people were asleep. The only ones who survived were two small children. They describe as a…a…mist, sort of. It came during the night and fled by morning. The children…they disappeared and were never seen again. Legend has it that the old town is still haunted by whatever killed them.”
It was completely silent as they tried to digest this strange myth.
“And…we’re headed there?” Zenrir asked a little squeakily, breaking the long silence.
“Well, yes, I suppose.” There was an odd look in Hermione’s eyes.
“I…um…fresh air…” Zenrir managed to say before rushing out of the tent. After a few moments of silence Harry asked, “Hermione, what’s the real reason for going there?” He knew her well enough to know that they were not just going to traipse into an old wizarding town unless she had a purpose.
“Erm…I…the man who sold me that map said that there was an old lady who still lived there…” Hermione looked away, uncertainly.
“She knows where to get the ingredients.”
“Yes,” Hermione said carefully. “The ingredients for the potions. It’s to help Ron change back from…from wolf—”
“She knows what the ingredients are? How would she know? Hermione…who was that old man that told you all of this? How did he know? You can’t just go trusting every old man you think is harmless!” Harry said.
“I…I might have told him a few things—”
“Hermione! We are supposed to be catching Death Eaters! Now they’ll bloody know where we are—”
“He won’t tell anyone, Harry. I swear he looked familiar…” said Hermione.
“Oh, so ‘looking familiar’ makes it okay to tell everyone where we are—”
“I didn’t give specifics, Harry!” Hermione cried. “Why are you being like this? You’re not wearing that god awful locket anymore so you have no excuse.”
Harry nodded slowly, swallowing loudly.
“Right. Sorry. Got…er…carried away for a bit.”
Hermione turned away, refusing to meet his eyes.
Zenrir suddenly popped back into the tent, wearing a bemused expression.
“Right then. I say we go schlep through this old wizarding ghost town, talk to the old dame, and then get our bottoms up to the White Mountains as quickly as we can without those filthy Death Eaters. Agree?”
Without speaking to each other, Harry and Hermione trudged off to their beds (Zenrir to his trundle on the floor) and turned out the lights. As the room plunged into pitch darkness, Harry couldn’t help feeling a sense of foreboding.
It’s all right. We’ll just bring the Invisibility Cloak along. Bloody handy thing, it is.
The next day was bright and sunny, hardly the kind of day Harry, Hermione, and Zenrir needed. This day called for a beach visit or drinking lemonade and playing a game of Exploding Snap on the front porch. It was certainly not the day for hiding under an invisibility cloak while trying to locate an old hag in an old wizarding ghost town.
“Do you reckon she’s still alive?” Zenrir asked.
“Of course! How would the man know about her if she was dead?” Hermione said.
“You never know…you never know…” Zenrir muttered to himself. Hermione rolled her eyes, something that Harry almost never saw.
“Hermione…” Harry said slowly as if trying to find the right words. “Does this old man have a name?”
When Hermione looked up to the sky, Hermione knew instantly that the old man did indeed have a name. A name that Hermione was clearly not willing to share.
“Go on. Spit it out.”
“Oh, all right. He…he said his name was Albledore Forthdum.” Hermione bit her lip, searching the eyes of her companions to see if they had noticed what she had apparently realized a while ago.
“Albledore Forthdum!” Hermione cried. “What-who does that remind you of?”
Harry and Zenrir shook their heads, unable to fathom anything that was coming from Hermione’s lips.
“Dunno… was he in a commercial?” Harry said weakly, grasping at straws.
“A commercial?” Hermione thundered incredulously. “Harry, think! Think! Only the greatest wizard of all time…”
An image of Voldemort immediately popped into Harry’s head, but he pushed aside the thought forcefully.
Greatest wizard…greatest wizard…no…no…that’s impossible…he can’t…he’s at Hog—
“Excuse me?” Hermione raised an eyebrow.
Zenrir and Hermione exchanged anxious looks.
“Hermione that’s not possible. He’s at Hogwarts. He can’t take human from. He…he…”
Dumbledore? Albus Dumbledore able to take a human form? He is a great wizard but he surely can’t be able to do that…could he?
“Yes!” Hermione said, animatedly. “He must’ve discovered a way to return-or at least borrow a human from for a little while. Harry, he’s still trying to help us! He knows he can’t help through a picture frame so…so he ‘rented’ a human from! It’s so simple! He is…he is oh, so truly magnificent!” Hermione was close to tears. Happy, excited tears.
“No…no, Hermione. It’s impossible. No wizard or witch has ever done that.” Even Harry wanted it to be true. But ‘renting’ a human form? Even Lord Voldemort couldn’t have possibly done that.
But he did, a small voice in the back of Harry’s brain said. He was a part of Professor Quirrell’s body, don’t forget. If Voldemort can do it, surely the great Albus Dumbledore can too.
“Fine. Say he can do that. It’s still besides the point isn’t it? All we need to do is get those stupid ingredients—”
“Harry, you don’t get it. Professor Dumbledore could be with us. He could guide us and…and…it could be like before.”
“And next you’ll be wanting to bring Snape back to life so he can make that potion for Ron, eh?”
Hermione turned red.
“Fine.” Hermione sniffed. “I just thought…”
“Instead of arguing, my dearest friends, why don’t we actually get moving? The faster we get that list, the faster we can leave. This place is giving me shivers.” Zenrir interrupted, rubbing his arms.
“Right then. We have to stay under the cloak at all times. We get the list, get back under the cloak, and leave.” Harry said.
“And don’t touch anything.” Hermione warned Zenrir, who was flicking a broken ceramic cup with his tail. Zenrir wanted to be a werewolf as a ‘form of precaution’ (“Someone will have to save you two helpless wizards in the time of need.” And then Hermione glared him, making him shut up).
“Okay…and under…” Once they were all comfortably under the cloak (Hermione used an enlargement charm), Harry cautioned Hermione.
“Keep your wand out at the ready. There could be Death Eaters there already. Just…be careful.” Harry whispered, giving Hermione’s hand a gentle squeeze. Hermione searched his eyes as if it were the last time she would ever see them.
“You too.” Her breath tickled Harry’s cheek. “Be safe and don’t go looking for them.”
“Why would I—” Harry started. Hermione silenced him with a quick peck on the cheek. As Harry met Hermione’s warm brown eyes, his next words became stuck in his throat.
“Any day now.” Zenrir said sarcastically, casting embarrassed looks at the two of them.
Hermione pulled away, red on the tips of her ears. Harry sucked in a breath of air trying to resist the urge of touching her soft hair.
“Erm…right. Let’s go.”
And so the stammering boy, the blushing girl, and the big shaggy werewolf set off into the peculiar old town with an even more peculiar old legend.
When the town finally came into view, they first noticed that several enormously tall pillars formed two lines that went into the heart of the town. The pillars depicted many strange stories, figures, and symbols. Some of the poles had gruesome beasts eating men while others had women carrying their children. While they all had different meanings, they had a single common trait. Each man or woman carved onto these pillars brandished a long black wand.
“These wizards were perhaps some of the oldest of our time.” Hermione said, pointing to the poles. “They first discovered magic. At least that was what the book said, though I’m not quite sure.” Said Hermione with a small frown.
They walked between the towering poles to what looked like a small well planted in the middle.
“Why is there a well here?” Harry wondered aloud.
“It’s to ward off evil spirits.”
“Didn’t quite work, did it?” Zenrir said shaking his head.
Hermione nodded sadly.
They continued to walk in silence, passing by old stone huts, broken jugs and pots scattered over the ground, and long wooden beams propped up against the roofs. Shops with broken windows and dusty floors emitted such a terrible stench that Hermione was forced to plug all their noses with the De-smelling charm. A few rats skittered into the holes that bordered a thick wooden gate. Behind the gate was a large square building with patched tiles and no door. The inside looked pitch black.
“Hermione, what I don’t understand is why there are shops and…and glass.” Harry questioned.
“I mean, you said these wizards were some of the first—”
“I didn’t say that. The book did.” Hermione said indignantly. “I told you that awful book was wrong! These people were probably here only perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago.” Hermione guessed as she examined a broken piece of stone.
“Well, we’d better hurry,” said Harry, glancing up at the sky. “Sun’s going down.”
“Harry, it’s still morning.”
As they walked past a worn out hut a bit behind the others, Hermione did a double take and went back.
“Harry, look.” Hermione pointed to a thin wisp of smoke curling out from a stubby—
“Chimney?” Harry said with disbelief laced in his voice. “Why do they have chimney’s? Hermione, your book should really be burned—”
“Shh!” Hermione whispered, pointing. Harry squinted, trying to make out the fuzzy outline of something moving inside the little hut.
“There’s somebody in there.” Zenrir whimpered quietly.
“Who’s out there?” A thick, raspy voice called. “Who are you? Show yourself. Is it you again, Malfoy? Don’t be shy.”
“Malfoy?” Hermione mouthed silently, puzzled, to Harry. Harry shrugged, just as confused as she.
“It’s…Penelope. Penelope Clearwater,” Hermione called out.
“What are you doing? Are you mad?” Zenrir hissed.
“It’s the only way we can get the potion! And maybe she knows where the lady is,” Hermione whispered.
Before Zenrir could respond, a withered ancient looking old woman came shuffling out of her hut leaning her weight on an old but sturdy walking stick. She had a shock of white hair, eyes with a look of suspicion, and knarled fingers. She was draped in a thin magenta scarf and under that was a worn cotton dress. The old woman’s eyes narrowed as she studied Hermione carefully.
“Penelope Clearwater, you say?” The woman said.
“Um…yes,” said Hermione.
“My dear.” The woman said slowly, contemplating her words. “You have no need to lie to an old, frail woman. I know who you are. I know who you all are.” She pointed her stick at the spot where Harry and Zenrir were hiding underneath the cloak.
“Come out. Don’t hide from old Adelaide. Especially you, Harry Potter.”
Harry pulled off the Invisibility Cloak and pulled out his wand, instantly suspicious.
“Who are you? And how do you know my name?”
“Put the wand away, Potter. No need for magic here. I’ve got enough of it.” Adelaide lifted her hand, gesturing for the very confused trio to follow her into the hut.
“Excuse me, Miss Adelaide, but why—”
“Ada, please. Adelaide is too old a family name. Ada is much simpler. Nicer, Miss Hermione Granger.”
“It’s actually not Granger anymore. It’s—” Hermione stopped short. Then, she bit her lip and went silent.
“Ah,” Ada said, a small smile playing on the edge of her lips. “Young love. Weasley is it?”
Hermione’s mouth dropped open in surprise.
“How did…how did you know…I…” she stuttered.
“Arthur Weasley still tinkering with Muggle objects? Molly still alive and well? And Bill Weasley? Still in Romania as hearty as always? What about Percy? Has he finally gotten that Head Boy badge he’s always wanted? Ah, and young Fred and George. Not so young anymore, I suppose. And then…little Ronald.” Ada pursed her lips.
“I believe he is the same age as you, Hermione? So he your husband. I always knew he’d turn out to be a fine young man. A bit on the sarcastic side though…and I cannot forget the beautiful baby girl Ginny.” Ada’s eyes twinkled as she glanced at Harry.
“Ginny Potter, eh? A becoming name, I reckon. Such a beautiful, beautiful girl. A baby too! My what the dickens are you doing here, Potter? Zenrir…” Ada turned to Zenrir, who was fidgeting nervously on the floor.
“You know me?”
“Why of course I know you! I see great things in you, my little werewolf, said Ada.
Zenrir huffed. “I’m not that little.”
“Ada…are you…are you a seer?” Hermione asked suddenly.
“I am. A true seer. That is the only reason why I have been able to live this long. I’ve stayed here for about…perhaps a hundred and fifty years or so—”
“Yes!” Hermione cried out triumphantly. “I told you, Harry! I’m better than the book!”
“Naturally,” said Ada.
“So how come you know the Weaselys? And Hermione, and me, and…even Zenrir?” Harry asked.
“I thought you to be smarter, boy! I am a seer. A true seer. And a true seer knows everything.”
“Okay,” Zenrir said. “Tell me what will happen next week.”
“I am a seer, not a fortune teller. There is a difference, pup.” Ada chided lightly.
Zenrir huffed and turned to sniff a pot full of flowers on a low table.
“How do you know the Malfoys?” Harry asked suspiciously. Anyone who came in touch with the Malfoys couldn’t possibly be good.
Ada closed her eyes, as if remembering an old thought.
“The Malfoy boy came to me a while ago. Said he needed help finding Death Eaters and-poor boy- his very own father.”
Ada shook her head, turning back to Harry.
“I see you are still unsure of who I am. Dumbledore. You know Dumbledore, I suppose?”
“Yes,” said Harry.
“Well, let’s just say he asked me to receive you three most kindly.”
“How do you know him?”
“I am not surprised Dumbledore never mentioned me. He was a man of secrets, was he not? He may have not mentioned me because I got him out of a few, ah, difficult spots that he would rather not be reminded of.”
“Never mind that! Moving on.”
“All right. Well, we came here for a reason. We need—”
“The ingredients for the potion to turn Ronald back into a human again?”
Harry didn’t even bother asking her how she knew.
“I have them, but beware! They are extremely difficult things to find and… erm, capture.”
“Capture?” Zenrir said reluctantly.
“Yes, little wolf, capture. And to make the potion is a whole other story altogether! But, good thing we have such a talented young witch amongst us. Glad you paid attention during Professor Snape’s potion lessons, dear.”
“I have just the thing here…”
Ada disappeared behind a curtain of swinging beads. Harry could see her rummaging through piles of old newspapers, cauldrons, and peculiar objects until at last she held up something faded and yellow.
“Here it is! Preserved it quite well over the years. The secret is to sprinkle ten drops of beetle juice over it every day. Keeps the parchment nice and yellow.” Ada grinned a yellow-toothed smile. She spread out the roll of parchment over a small wooden table and they leaned over it anxiously.
“Puffintrump Potion?” Hermione said a little worriedly. If Hermione was starting to look troubled, then Harry knew he would be in serious trouble. After all, he never paid any attention whatsoever in Snape’s boring classes.
A word of caution: This potion is highly dangerous! If even one small step is wrong the consumer will die in a matter of seconds. Not even the Bezoar could save him or her.
This potion was designed to bring humans out of their animal forms. They will lose all qualities of the animal also, guaranteed.
Instructions proudly presented to you by Simple-And-Easy-Potions Incorporated
½ of an Erumpent Horn
2 Doxy Eggs (The blacker the better!)
A poached Lacewing Fly in Unicorn blood
3 ½ strips of Wiggenbush Bark
2 cups of Wartcap Powder
1 screaming Mandrake
Bouncing Spider Juice
1 Sopophorous bean
Syrup of Hellebore
Halliwinkles (The shinier the better!)
Eye of Newt
Venomous Tentacula leaf
Pureed Dragonfly thorax
½ cup of Dittany
3 grazes of Star grass
Spine of Lionfish
Easy step-by-step instructions:
1. Poach your Lacewing Fly. Then add Unicorn blood.
2. Add your Doxy Eggs, the ½ cup of Dittany, and the Flobberworm mucus and stir well. (The potion should look like something just died in your cauldron)
3. Puree your Dragonfly thorax and mix that with the Wartcap Powder. Add to cauldron. (Cauldron should now be bright yellow)
4. Drip Bouncing Spider Juice over your screaming mandrake and quickly put in cauldron.
5. Lace your Jobberknoll feather with Venomous Tentacula leaf and place carefully in cauldron.
6. Roll the Eye of Newt in Boomslang skin, chop it carefully, and add pieces to cauldron.
7. Feed a Fire Slug 3 grazes of Star grass and collect its feces. Then, skin the slug. Add skin and feces to cauldron.
8. Grow a Sopophorous bean and add to cauldron.
9. Glue strips of Wiggenbush bark together with Syrup of Helleborne. Add to cauldron.
10. Add the Erumpent horn.
11. Add your sliced Spine of Lionfish.
12. Massage the Halliwinkles until they turn into a shiny purple color. Then, add to potion. They should add a nice shimmering effect to it.
Now stir the cauldron one more time chanting the words:
Bring this human
Out of Animalia
Easy does it. Do not say it too anxiously or loudly. It has to be just right. If your potion starts to bubble over, remember to turn down the fire for your safety. Happy potion making!
“Where are we supposed to find ‘bouncing spider juice’?” Zenrir asked in disbelief.
“I mean what kind of potion is this?”
“If you don’t want it, give it back,” said Ada cheerfully.
“No,” said Hermione quickly. “We’ll take it.”
“Good choice. Now would you have tea?” Ada said.
“No thank you. We really should be going. Thanks a lot for the list, Ada,” said Harry.
“Oh alright. Don’t spend time with a poor little lady.” Ada puffed, then smiled knowingly.
“Remember, dears, I’ll always be watching. Just call for help, and help will arrive.” Ada said mysteriously.
“What do you mean—” Hermione started.
“Hermione, let’s go,” said Harry, tugging her sleeve.
“Thank you Ada!”
Hermione tucked the ingredients list in her bag and pulled out her wand. Harry also pulled his out and Zenrir shook his fur, snarling, ready to attack.
Suddenly, a flash of dark disappeared around a bend.
“Be ready,” whispered Harry.
It was so quiet, they could hear a mouse squealing in terror a few streets away. Then—
“DUCK!” Harry shouted, flinging curses at the black shape that just about knocked them all out.
“Stupefy!” Hermione yelled. Quickly the black shape turned to human form. The Death Eater had greasy hair, yellowed teeth, weathered dark skin, milky white eyes, and he donned dirty black robes. He blocked the curse with a smile. Slowly but steadily, he advanced, whispering jinks, hexes and curses, using Dark magic.
“Expelliarmus!” Harry shouted.
“Confringo!” The Death Eater roared at the same time. The two spells met and then disappeared with a loud pop.
Zenrir leapt onto the Death clamping his powerful jaws over his leg. The Death Eater lashed out in fury, delivering a striking blow to Zenrir’s head. Zenrir fell back with a whimper.
Harry and Hermione rounded a bend and ran into a small darkened shop, hiding. The Death Eater came pounding by, his black robes billowing.
“Where are you, Potter? Don’t hide from me you cowardly git. .We’re all looking for you. Good thing the old man was able to tell me where you three were.”
Hermione’s mouth dropped open and Harry glared at her.
“Are you hiding with the mudblood, Potter? Protecting her? What a filthy, disgusting mudblood. Would you like to hear her scream? Imagine the joy of ripping her flesh bit by bit—“
“SHUT UP!” Harry roared, leaping away from his hiding spot.
“No, Harry!” Hermione cried.
In a blind fury he shot countless curses at the Death Eater making him stumble and fall. Harry jabbed his wand at the Death Eaters throat.
“Expelliarmus!” Hermione said. The Death Eater, wandless and bleeding, started to laugh.
“We all want you dead, Potter. All of us that are left alive. Your blood stained upon our hands and clothes will be a mark of true justice. Our Lord must be avenged. He will be avenged when your blood flows free of its bindings, your skin reduced to shreds.” The Death Eater laughed again, throwing his head back. He licked his lips and rolled his eyeballs in their sockets, twitching.
“HE WILL BE AVENGED!” The Death Eater thundered. With a cruel grin, he disapparated.
“Harry! You let him get away!” Hermione said, shocked.
“C’mon. We have to go. He’ll tell the others where we are. They’ll all be here soon.” Harry said, grabbing Hermione’s arm.
“What about Ada?” asked Hermione. “We can’t just leave her here. They’ll torture her, or worse—”
“I think she can manage, Hermione,” said Harry quickly. “But we have to leave…now.”
With one last glance at the wrecked town, Hermione, Harry, and Zenrir broke into a sprint for the end of the street. Suddenly, blurs of black raced next to them as cruel laughter filled the sky.
“Potty! Potty, Potter! Come out, come out wherever you are!” Someone cackled.
“Harry! On your left!” Hermione cried. A Death Eater had shouted a killing curse, almost hitting Harry squarely in the chest. Instead, the curse caused a store to explode into a brilliant green. Taking advantage of the chaos, Hermione dragged Harry as quickly as they could, away from the Death Eaters, while still trying to hide behind fallen rubble.
“Get down lower!” Hermione hissed.
Harry ducked as Hermione shouted, “Immobulus!”
The Death Eater dropped heavily to the ground with a loud moan.
A Jinxing Hex narrowly missed Hermione by inches as she and Harry struggled to make it out of the village unseen.
“Harry—Confringo—get the—Confundo—your—Expulso—cloak…Harry—Protego—please, hurry!” Hermione shouted, trying to defend the both of them while speaking to Harry.
“Okay…I’ve…I got it somewhere….I can’t find it…this is brilliant.” Harry muttered. He desperately scanned the floor for his Invisibility Cloak, but the dust and debris was making it hard for him to see.
“YOU’RE A WIZARD, HARRY. USE YOUR WAND!” Hermione roared exasperatedly.
“Right…Accio cloak.” Seconds later, the cloak was safely in Harry’s possession.
With one last jinx thrown behind her, Hermione slipped under the cloak, breathing laboriously. Quietly, they followed a narrow cobblestone street that led to a thicket of trees and shrubbery.
“Oi! Harry Potter’s gone!” One of the Death Eaters shouted a few moments later.
“GET HIM, YOU BLOODY FOOLS!” Another Death Eater roared furiously. Harry recognized his voice. He was the Death Eater that had escaped from them earlier.
The three of them bounded into the forest, dirty and bleeding, but safely hidden. Zenrir collapsed on the ground, panting heavily. They could hear the angry shouts of the Death Eaters behind them, all wanting Harry’s untimely death. Once they safely reached a small hilltop with a view of the village and the despaired Death Eaters, Hermione leaned her head on Harry’s shoulder, tears speckling her eyes.
“Hermione…” said Harry in alarm. “What’s wrong?”
He felt her head move. “Nothing. I just…”
Hermione looked up at him with big watery eyes.
“I’m just so glad you’re safe,” whispered Hermione. With that, she wrapped both her arms tightly around Harry’s waist. Harry stood there a bit awkwardly, trying to decide what to do.
Finally, she pulled away, wiping her tears with the back of her hand.
“Sorry,” Hermione muttered, before walking away.
“So,” said Hermione, once they started to walk again. “We need to start heading…that way,” said Hermione, pointing in the direction of impossibly large snow spotted mountains, awfully far away. “Some of the ingredients can be found there.”
“Are you sure?” muttered Zenrir. “The last time we listened to you, a bunch of Death Eaters almost killed us.”
“We got the ingrediants, though, didn’t we?” Hermione countered.
“But nothing,” said Hermione shrilly. Then she frowned.
“What?” asked Harry.
Hermione wrung her hands nervously, looking around the snow covered doldrums.
“I do hope Ada’s all right. I cannot believe we left her there, Harry. She’s old and…and frail…”
“You worry too much,” stated Zenrir. Harry nodded in agreement.
“I don’t…It’s just she…”
Harry tuned out and continued to plod along in silence. He thought back to the times when they were searching for the Horcruxes, wandering around the forest like they were now. They were difficult times, yes, but Harry often felt the most comfort when he was alone with his two best friends. Harry knew that he was extremely focused on the Horcruxes and paid very little attention to his friends’ needs. But, at the same time he was happy to be with them.
Sometimes he just wanted their friendship to be how it was in the very beginning. Simple, with no pitfalls of love or anger. He wanted just friendship. He almost wished that Hermione and Ron weren’t together and he and Ginny had never developed a relationship.
But people move on, Harry.
That was just the thing. He did not want to move on.
Of course, that was nearly impossible, now that Ginny was very pregnant, Ron was out there somewhere in the from of a wolf, and Harry had developed strange feelings for Hermione. He thought back to first year, when he met a too smart Hermione, a grinning, loyal Ron, and a bully named Draco. Harry thought of Neville with his courage found at last, Seamus Finnigan with his quick doubts, and even Dean Thomas the key to Harry and Ginny’s relationship.
The name used to bring all sorts of emotions to Harry, but now, he just felt an almost distant sort of feeling. It was odd that his feelings were directed towards Hermione. Harry glanced sideways at Hermione and felt a stab of longing. She was talking animatedly to Zenrir, who was soaking it all up greedily. Harry scowled, and yearned to wipe that silly grin off Zenrir’s face.
“…you should have seen the look on his face! It was simply amazing! Honestly, I never felt better in my entire life!” Hermione was saying. “Right , Harry?”
“In our third year at Hogwarts. I punched Draco Malfoy right in the face, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. Brilliant, Hermione was.” said Harry.
“And what about your sixth year?” said Zenrir, obviously fishing for things to say to keep the conversation going.
“Oh, don’t even get me started on sixth year!” said Hermione, her cheeks flushed from talking too long.
“That was when Lavender brown started draping herself all over Ron. She gave him a locket…and it was just so ridiculous!” Hermione laughed. “Ron even drank a love potion made by Romilda Vane—it was really made for Harry—and…oh goodness. I really do miss Hogwarts,” said Hermione, with a small frown on her face.
“Do you want to make camp here?” Zenrir asked a few hours later as they neared a cluster of trees with a nice, wide-open space in between. Hermione looked up at the night sky, sighed, and then nodded.
“I’ll start the enchantments,” said Hermione almost tiredly. Seeing Hermione’s lack of enthusiasm, Harry quickly offered to do it instead. With a grateful smile, Hermione accepted and ducked inside the already propped up tent, leaving Harry alone in the dark with his thoughts.
Harry knew that, of all people, he could not be the one to have sudden unexplainable feelings for his best mate’s wife. And Hermione was his best friend too! There was absolutely no possible way that Harry would ever develop anything more than friendship with the Hermione Granger he’d known almost his entire life. At least that was what he thought in the beginning. Suddenly, Harry began to have doubts about marrying Ginny as he swept his wand over the darkened clearing, whispering the necessary protective spells.
He wondered what it would’ve been like to be bound to the smart and beautiful Hermione for the rest of his life. Harry felt a small shiver trickle down his spine as he thought back to the first time he had laid eyes on Hermione. She had bushy hair, rather large front teeth, and a particularly large storage of knowledge holed up in her brain. Harry knew that Ron strongly disliked her smart attitude and precise way of doing things, but Harry had always appreciated that aspect of his best girl friend. Harry knew quite well that without her, Hermione, they would have never made it as far as they had.
But then Ron started to drop several strong hints of his fancying to her, so Harry decided to forget about any feelings that had started to bud. By sixth year, those feelings were swept away by Ginny and her gorgeous, flowing red hair. Ron had started to take a liking to Hermione during their second year when Draco Malfoy had labeled Hermione as a mudblood. Ron, of course, came to her defense and tried to jinx Malfoy, but instead managed to shoot the jinx at himself because the tip of his wand was broken. The three of them ended up in Hagrid’s hut, aiding Ron as he purged slugs. Then events changed quite dramatically as they got older, blossoming this feeling of animosity or that feeling of jealousy.
Harry couldn’t imagine how Ron would react to the news that his best mate, the friend that was always in the limelight instead of him, was starting to love his wife. Ron probably wouldn’t talk to me till the end of our time, thought Harry. Either that, or he would move to Timbuktu and start his life over.
As Harry’s thoughts wandered, he noticed the faded silhouette of Hermione shaking as if she was sobbing very lightly and trying to conceal it. Harry finished the last of the spells and quickly made his way to the tent, lifting the flap open and finding Hermione on the ground, crouched over a small picture frame.
“Hermione…” Harry began.
Hermione looked up with large brown eyes filled with heavy tears. She blinked, and they brimmed over, making small rivers flowing down the length of her thin face as Harry kneeled down next to her, catching a glimpse of the moving figures inside the frame. It was a small picture of the three of them standing side by side; Hermione, in the middle and Ron and Harry beside her. They were laughing, in the middle of a funny conversation, when somebody had taken this picture without them knowing. Ron’s eyes were only on Hermione, filled with adoration and love while Harry was holding Hermione’s hand in a supposedly friendly way. Hermione had her head thrown back, laughing so hard there were small tears gathered in the corners of her eyes, her teeth gleaming and cheeks a rosy pink.
Harry knew how Hermione felt; how this picture made them both feel. It was simple, just the three of them, with no distractions, no jealousy, no hidden feelings. It two summers ago, in the beginning of this book, before any marriages, any fights, and any strange missions or perilous journeys. Harry desperately wished things could go back to that simplicity. As Hermione met Harry’s eyes, they both knew at once where their hearts lay. Hermione leaned on Harry’s shoulder and closed her eyes, her fingers searching for his. When their grasps met and Harry’s heart exploded in joy, triumph, and love, Hermione wept in happiness, sadness, and also love.
They lay quietly together, their thoughts and feelings mingled in one breath.
Zenrir awakened the next morning, in a happy mood, ready to start the day’s journey, when he stumbled upon Harry and Hermione lying side by side on the floor, with their hands clasped tight together. Suddenly, his morning turned very stormy and gray.
“Wake up!” called Zenrir rather moodily, as he went to the kitchen to start breakfast.
Harry blinked and rubbed the sleep from his eyes, awakening to the smell of sizzling sausages, as Hermione stirred and squinted up at the sunlight streaming through the tent flap opening.
“Oh…” Hermione’s eyes widened as she looked around her and down at her hand in the grip of Harry’s. With her eyes still wide, she pulled her hand free from Harry’s and went to freshen up. Harry sat back, almost in a trancelike state.
“Hermione...” Harry began, when she had come back into view, with fresh clothes on and her hair tied back into a side ponytail.
“We have to eat and start heading out. We’re getting no closer to the mountains if we stay here.” Hermione did not meet Harry or Zenrir’s eyes. Instead she hurriedly ate, packed up and removed the enchantments.
“Hermione,” said Harry again, in his second attempt to speak to her.
“Later,” insisted Hermione, quite abruptly. The three companions trooped down a small hill as the sun rose higher and higher into the crisp morning sky.
For days they walked on and on, though the White Mountains seemed to be getting no closer. Hermione still refused to speak to Harry, and he speculated that either she was somewhat embarrassed about what had happened that night (though nothing really did happen), or she was confused of her feelings and did not want to talk to Harry anytime soon. Either way, Hermione was doing a spectacular job of ignoring both men for days (“Why are you mad at me? I did nothing!” Zenrir had exclaimed), and only saying necessary things like, “Could you please hand me my wand,” or, “Set up the tent here, please”. It was unpleasant and very cold for both boys for those ten days. All in all, the week was very confusing and not the best for all of them as they sorted out their ridiculously complex thoughts, feelings, and actions.
On the way they had stopped by several old Eskimo towns filled with Eskimo muggles (“What the bloody hell are muggles?” Zenrir had asked.), and got their fair share of thieves, Snatchers, and even some pesky magical creatures including Doxies (What are Doxies doing in Antarctica? They hate the cold!” Hermione had said, shaking her head in disbelief.), pixies, a mischievous boggart, and a terribly annoying, screaming banshee. A few rogue Snatchers almost got a hold of Zenrir before Hermione threatened them with her wand at their throats. Recognizing Hermione from countless books, pictures, and newspapers, they backed away, hands up, with slightly sheepish smiles on their faces before they Disapparated with loud cracks. One time Harry got in a row with a large, buff werewolf and a slippery vampire (“A werewolf and a vampire working together? I have honestly never seen that!” Hermione had gushed excitedly.) over the cost of a few necessary supplies needed for their journey. Soon the werewolf was flexing his claws, the vampire was lengthening his fangs, and Harry was brandishing his wand threateningly. Zenrir, surprisingly, came the rescue, talking to both the werewolf and the vampire in friendly tones, causing everyone to lower their hackles a bit. Soon, Zenrir bargained a good price for the supplies and the three of them were once again off on their own.
All the while, Harry was trying to hold in his emotions and trying to understand himself and Hermione. They had left things so unresolved and complicated that Harry wanted to scream in frustration almost every single day. Zenrir made it even worse by throwing in useless innuendos and taunts, causing Harry and Hermione even more difficulty. Even with threats from Harry and raised eyebrows from Hermione, Zenrir kept up his unalleviated teasing, which was suspiciously more to hurt than merely a simple joke.
Finally, Harry could stand it no longer. As they just finished supper that night, Harry pulled Hermione away from the table and motioned for her to step outside.
Hermione nodded slowly, anticipating the conversation topic.
Once they were outside and before Harry could utter a word, Zenrir lifted the tent flap and said quite loudly that he was going to go hunting. He obviously knew better to stick around when Harry and Hermione were going to have a little ‘talk’. Harry nodded impatiently and Zenrir bounded off into the starlit night.
“So,” Harry started, suddenly nervous. “What’s going on?”
“What do you mean ‘what’s going on’?” said Hermione.
Harry knew, then, at that very moment, that this was going to be an extremely difficult conversation.
“Well, ever since…erm…that night you’ve been ignoring me completely and I just thought that maybe…” Harry trailed off, not knowing how to begin to explain himself.
“Maybe what?” said Hermione.
“Well…that…you were either…er…embarrassed or maybe—”
“Embarrassed? I was not embarrassed!” said Hermione hotly.
“Well then…er…I thought that maybe somehow you just didn’t want to talk to—”
“Of course I wanted to talk to you Harry! I just didn’t know... um…how…” finished Hermione, quite lamely.
Harry, at this point, was quite perplexed. So she was ignoring me but she didn’t want to talk to me, thought Harry, confusing, women are.
“Then…why…” Harry could not continue, for this was getting a bit awkward for him as he stood outside their tent under the star-filled sky. The inky blackness covered them like a warm mantel as Hermione began to speak.
“I’m sorry!” She burst out quite suddenly. Harry jumped. “I’m really sorry! I’ve just been so confused about all of this! I mean…” she took several gasps of breath, “I’m married!” And Hermione lifted her finger to show her gleaming ring. Harry squinted and shielded his eyes from the vast, sparkling mist of brightness that cascaded off the ring due to Ron’s Never Ending Light Charm he had set on it a while ago.
“Put it down!” Harry said.
“Oh…sorry,” said Hermione as she lowered her hand.
Hermione took a deep breath and continued. “I really wanted to, Harry, you have to believe me! I just felt so guilty that night…I couldn’t explain my feelings. I told myself that it was wrong—”
“And of course my other self just had to contradict my other half and I was thinking and thinking about all those times...you know, I feel as if I rushed into marriage. I felt like I should’ve waited a bit. It’s much too early…even my parents said so—”
“They were completely right. I should’ve waited longer. It’s just that that night was so beautiful and there was a crowd cheering us on…oh, Harry I can’t even describe it… it was simply wonderful. I know I love him, but I rushed into it too fast. I really should’ve waited—”
“Yes, Hermione, but—”
“So I said yes and there I was walking down the aisle, lost in a haze, throwing myself into something I did not fully agree upon. I have cold feet, Harry, if you get my drift. I don’t understand why. It could perfectly be because of my feelings towards you, though I am not quite sure. It could very well be something entirely different for all I know—”
“Harry,” said Hermione, looking a bit taken aback. “What is it?”
“It…those feelings or whatever…they weren’t wrong, Hermione. They’re right.”
“Wait, please, Harry I don’t understand—”
“Just let me finish,” said Harry.
Hermione closed her mouth.
“Maybe you’re right. You…actually, we, both rushed into these…these marriages too soon. I…it’s mutual, all right? It’s…shared…both… I,” stammered Harry.
“What are you trying to say?” said Hermione, completely and utterly baffled.
“I just…I…nothing,” finished Harry, who was feeling quite at loss for words.
“What?” said Hermione slowly. “All you say is ‘nothing’? I…I’ve been waiting and waiting…but you just won’t…” Hermione’s eyes brimmed with tears. “You won’t even say what you need to say. How am I supposed to tell you anything if you’re too shy—”
“I am not shy,” claimed Harry indignantly.
“Well you certainly act that way, Harry Potter. I’ve been waiting ages and you still won’t say it!”
“I…all right…fine…I… it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever but I…my thoughts have always been…it feels to me like Ginny was a lifetime ago. I felt like I knew her, met her, and then—”
“You did a lot more than simply knowing her,” sniffed Hermione.
“—Then she’s gone. She doesn’t come to my mind the way she used to. I think I was blinded…you know, Hermione, the first time I saw you, I knew right away that we would be the best of friends. I admired your knowledge and bravery and…and talent! It started before Ron began to fancy you, I believe, but I pushed it away by second year because I saw Ron acting all protective around you. I knew already, even before he told me. So… I guess those feelings just… went away.”
Hermione took a step closer to Harry, closing the space between them. Harry could feel her warm breath against his cheek, soft and smooth like velvet.
“What about now? Are those feelings still away?”
Harry stared into Hermione’s eyes, seeing his own green ones reflected back at him with such intensity, it made his insides squirm.
“No,” said Harry, his voice barely above a whisper. “They’re here. They’re back.”
Hermione smiled and took Harry’s hand in hers. At that moment, Harry and Hermione did not care whom they were married to or what their guilty feelings told them; with big smiles spread across their faces, they walked hand in hand back towards the tent, laughing.
“Let’s keep this under the wraps, shall we, Hermione? It’s best if the pup not interfere,” said Harry, as they neared the tent.
“What?” grinned Hermione, a small smile dancing on the edges of her lips. “Scared he’ll try and snog me or something?” Hermione teased.
Harry smiled feebly; that was exactly what he thought Zenrir would try and do.
After a few more paces, Harry suddenly stopped, cocking his ears. He swore he heard something like a whimper mixed with a deep gowl.
“Who’s there?” said Harry, pulling out his wand. Hermione did the same and they slowly turned to face the ominous thicket of trees.
“Zenrir, is it you? Stop playing,” said Hermione, her voice trembling a bit. Again, they heard the soft growl and Harry felt Hermione stiffen beside him.
“Zenrir,” Harry said in a warning tone. “Quit it.”
After a few heartbeets of silence, Harry lost his patience.
“Petrificus Totalus,” said Harry in the direction of the trees. The spell, having made no contact with anything, simply vanished. Harry grumbled under his breath.
“Here. Let me try,” said Hermione. She took a deep breath and whispered, “Hommenum Revelio.”
Hermione frowned when nothing happened.
“That’s odd…I…” mumbled Hermione.
“Hermione,” Harry said slowly. “Isn’t that spell used to reveal… people?”
“Yes, of course, that’s why—”
“People don’t growl Hermione,” Harry stated quite matter-of-factly.
Hermione’s eyes widened and two faint pink spots appeared on her cheeks.
“Oh! Of course…I…I wasn’t thinking…”
Suddenly, a tremendous crash disturbed the tense quiet of the night. Harry and Hermione turned only to catch a glimpse of a tremendously large animal disappearing into the shadows. Hermione squinted towards the trees.
“Harry…I swear that looks like…” Hermione shook her head, as if trying to clear her thoughts. “No. Never mind. It can’t be.”
Harry knew very well who Hermione was talking about, though he chose to ignore it. Instead, he turned his heel and went inside their little hut. Hermione came in moments after mumbling to herself and claiming she had to go to sleep immediately. Harry had asked if anything was wrong but Hermione was lost in her own world, completely oblivious to Harry’s question.
A few hours after Hermione had gone to bed, Zenrir came bounding in, smelling of meat and strangely, fruit.
“Did I miss anything?” asked Zenrir loudly, not knowing that Hermione was fast asleep and snoring lightly. Harry shushed him, inclining his head to Hermione’s sleeping form. Zenrir widened his eyes in comprehension and nodded quickly.
But before Zenrir could turn to retire, however, Harry whispered, “Lots.”
As Harry stepped outside the next morning and squinted up at the morning sun, he noticed that the White Mountains seemed loads closer than it was yesterday.
That’s odd, thought Harry. Only yesterday, the mountains still looked leagues away; now, it seemed as if they were at the base of the mountains.
“Hermione…” Harry called inside the tent. He could hear Hermione mumbling to herself as she woke up and yawned, stretching.
“Hermione…come outside for a moment. You…you need to see this,” said Harry.
“What is it?” said Hermione once she shuffled outside sleepily, still yawning widely.
“Look.” Harry pointed to the White Mountains and watched He as her jaw dropped in disbelief.
“But…but…yesterday we were…what…” Hermione was clearly baffled as she looked up to the towering mountains directly above them. “How did this…happen…” Hermione took several deep breaths and Harry placed a hand on her arm to steady her.
“I calculated it,” said Hermione in a small whine. “I did all the calculations! We would have been there in two days exactly if we kept going at that rate. How did…how did…” Hermione took one last glance at the mountains and ran back inside the tent with a whimper of defeat.
“Hermione…” Harry called after her.
Zenrir had awakened to the sound of voices and blinked, looking around the room sleepily. He could make out the shaking from of Hermione and Harry’s figure directly beside her, comforting her. He blinked again. It seemed as if Hermione was terribly confused about something and Harry was doing his best to console her.
“What’s up with her?” asked Zenrir groggily as he got out of bed. Harry threw Zenrir a glare, obviously meant to shut him up. Zenrir threw up his hands in sarcastic surrender and busied himself with starting breakfast.
“Hermione,” Harry was saying. “It’s all right. It’s not your fault. Your calculations were perfect, of course—”
“They weren’t!” wailed Hermione miserably. “I must have made a mistake! I never do that. Oh, Harry, I knew we shouldn’t have skipped seventh year at Hogwarts! I feel so left behind!”
“Hermione it was only a year—”
“I know. Of course I know but still I wish I attended…” She trailed off wistfully. Harry rubbed her shoulders.
“I don’t think it has anything whatsoever to do with your calculations, Hermione. I think people who have a purpose and resolve all unresolved issues can enter the White Mountains,” said Harry.
“What?” said Hermione, a little taken aback.
“The mountain will only present itself to you if you have a sole purpose to be there.”
“But we’ve had a purpose ever since we left Africa! Why didn’t it…” comprehension dawned on Hermione as she nodded her head. “Puffintrump Potion. We didn’t have that yet.”
Hermione narrowed her eyes. “But we still had to walk for days before…well, before today. We should have entered days ago!”
“Yes. I thought that too. So that’s why I think it makes sure that everyone solves their issues before going up the mountain. Didn’t you say it was a place of tranquility?”
“Why yes, I did, but—”
“So that’s why,” finished Harry. “It’s simple, really.”
“But issues? What issues did we solve?” asked Hermione.
“Well, for example, the issue we just solved just last night,” said Harry.
Hermione nodded and bit her lip, apparently still puzzled. Without precise calculations or specific times and dates, Hermione was completely lost.
“I suppose you’re right,” she sighed. “Let’s head out then. Early starts are always good.”
Harry nodded in reply and turned to pack up their belongings; soon the tent was put away, the enchantments were removed and the three companions set off for the White Mountains, two hand in hand, the other on four legs.
For a while they walked in complete silence, straining their ears to hear any strange noises or weird sounds. When they heard none, they relaxed and began to shift their attention onto each other and the scenery not necessarily in that order.
“Beautiful day,” said Hermione, breaking the silence.
“Yeah. It’s so quiet,” said Harry.
The both watched in silence as Zenrir bounded ahead of them, sniffing foreign plants and chasing Bowtruckles, wagging his tail happily.
“Bowtruckles? What are Bowtruckles doing out here?” cried Hermione excitedly, pointing at the tiny stick-like fairies running from Zenrir’s snapping jaws.
“I dunno,” said Harry.
“Bowtruckles…Bowtruckles…that means that these mountains are for potion ingredient gathering and wand making!” said Hermione.
“What?” said Harry.
“Harry,” said Hermione exasperatedly. “Bowtruckles are tree guardians of the wood that are used to make wands! That’s why Ada sent us here. I merely thought this was another ordinary muggle mountain.”
Hermione laughed. “I remember reading something about these mountains. They are extremely magical, have magical creatures inhabiting it, and are the places to find rare potion ingredients and wand materials. Dumbledore told me that there were only five places in the whole world where the supplies were available. He also said that the seeker had to…had to…oh my goodness Harry you were right!”
“I—what?” said Harry, utterly at loss for brainpower.
“You said that the mountain would only present itself to you if you have a sole, unslefish purpose. That’s why we stumbled upon it. And that’s why when we first got the recipe for the Puffintrump Potion, we could barely see the mountain and it seemed ages away. So that means that not any witch or wizard could come across these mountains otherwise there’d be no need for wand shops or potion ingredient stores. Someone could make millions of galleons off the supply here. No wonder…”
Harry left Hermione to almost ridiculous musings and wandered over to the edge of the ledge they were walking up. The snow-blanketed valley below them shimmered under the morning sun; the tall pines were dusted in sugary looking snow and little villages composed of small cottages dotted the edges of the valley. The ledge itself was precarious, dropping a hundred feet to certain death. The mountain had a vibrating energy that radiated a golden mist, a symbol of pure magic. Small magical creatures ducked in and out of sight, sometimes scurrying for food or simply playing with their peers. Trees of all different shapes and sizes lined the path up the mountain while rows of plants including Venomous Tentacula, Wolfsbane, Belladonna (“That’s deadly nightshade, Zenrir. Please be careful,” Hermione had warned when Zenrir when he tried to bite a few leaves off), and mandrakes.
Harry’s thoughts shifted away from the scenery and instead focused on his and Hermione’s confusing relationship. Whether or not he was officially or unofficially with Hermione, he still did not know how to act around her. Was he supposed to hold her hand or maybe even rest it on her shoulder? Should he have told Zenrir about them or let him figure it out himself? Maybe Hermione still misses Ron? All these thoughts swirled around Harry’s head as he contemplated this somewhat awkward situation.
“…and I bet Dumbledore’s been here loads of times! He probably—” Hermione was saying animatedly.
Then she stopped and stared at Harry.
“Are you even listening at all?” she asked plaintively, both her eyebrows raised.
“Er… yeah… you were talking about Dumbledore coming here all the time, right?” said Harry quickly.
“Right,” said Hermione slowly, her eyebrows still partly raised. “Anyway I was saying that he probably came here to get all our potion ingredients and—”
“Wouldn’t Snape have come here, though, him being Potions professor?” said Harry. They had now rounded a corner and started a steeper ascend up the mountain.
“Well, maybe Dumbledore didn’t trust him enough to come here—”
“We both know very well that Snape is a trusted man, Hermione,” said Harry, if not a bit heatedly.
“Was, Harry,” said Hermione in a small voice.
“Was,” said Hermione. “He’s gone now.”
There was a long silence that stretched out between the two. Harry wished he had never brought up Snape for it was too painful of a memory.
They both said at the same exact moment; then they stopped.
“You first,” said Harry quickly.
Hermione took a deep breath. “Well, I’m sorry I…well, always act so…so motherly. It’s in my nature, Harry. I tell you what to do and… and what you’re doing wrong and… oh, Harry I know it gets frustrating, I know. And I’m really, really sorry. I’ll try my best not to… to always reprimand you and tell you what you ought to be doing. I promise, Harry,” said Hermione, who held out her hand, smiling a small please-forgive-me smile.
Harry took her outstretched hand and smiled back at her.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you. It’s just Snape…” Harry screwed his eyes shut, trying to tear the image of Snape’s bat-like figure from his mind. “He was a good man till the end, and…and I didn’t even know…I just feel so bad. He helped me so much and I didn’t know…” he trailed off uncomfortably; almost wistfully. But, after feeling the soothing warmth of Hermione’s hand, he instantly felt better.
“It’ll be okay,” said Hermione reassuringly.
Harry wanted to argue, wanted to tell her that no, everything was not all right even if Voldemort was dead; they still had blood-hungry death eaters on their tail, not to mention other pesky magical beings, and on top of all that, they needed to find potion ingredients to turn Ron back into a human.
And they haven’t even found Ron yet.
But, when Hermione looked up at Harry with those big chocolate brown eyes, he suddenly had no heart to argue with her at all. Instead, he kept his mouth shut, his heart closed, and they walked on in peaceful silence.
By mid-afternoon, they reached a large area of land covered in a forest of magical plants and herbs complete with their own magical insects and small creatures.
“I believe this is the first level of potion ingredients, the tropical forest level. Here, we can probably collect—”
“They’re different levels?” asked Zenrir incredulously. “You mean there’s more than this?”
“Of course there is! This is the first level out of five hundred,” said Hermione happily, as she read over the ingredients list again.
Zenrir and Harry exchanged unhappy glances.
“All right. So here we can find Lacewing Flies, Mandrakes, a Sopophorous bean, Eye of Newt, Venomous Tentacula Leaf, Star grass, and Bouncing Spider Juice.” Hermione looked up. “Let’s get to it, shall we?”
There was a pause.
“Er, Hermione,” said Harry. “How are we supposed to find these things if…”
“First of all, Harry, these are not ‘things’. These are potion ingredients and we’ll just have to search until we find each one. It should take less than four hours at the least,” said Hermione brightly.
“Four hours?” Zenrir whimpered to Harry as he turned to look for bouncing spiders.
“Unfortunately, yes,” said Harry, searching for the Star grass.
“It’s quite simple, really,” called Hermione from a patch of screaming plants. “I’ve already found a Mandrake.”
Four hours and more than a dozen cuts on each of their arms and legs later, Harry, Hermione, and Zenrir were able to scrape up the Mandrake, a measly Sopophorous bean, a bouncing spider that would not give up its juice, and a Tentacula Leaf; all of which was placed carefully into a special bag meant for collecting large or small, alive or not alive potion ingredients. They were still missing the Lacewing Flies, Eye of Newt, and Star grass.
“And you searched every inch of this area?” asked Hermione, narrowing her eyes.
“Yeah…I mean, well, most of it…I obviously couldn’t cover everything…”
“I didn’t really see anything else…I tried to but I just…I can’t…”
Hermione’s eyes narrowed even more at the boy’s excuses and finally she declared, “Give me one hour. I’ll find them.” With that, she turned her heel and disappeared from sight. During the hazy hour, Harry and Zenrir could either hear Hermione mumbling to herself or gasping in pain as something bit her. At each sound, Harry’s heart leapt, but then was relieved when he could see some bit of Hermione moving about behind the dense thicket of trees and shrubs.
At exactly a minute to the hour, Hermione came trudging back to where Harry was lounging, unnerving (otherwise called poking) a patch of Venomous Tentacula with long sticks.
“I’ve found the rest!” said Hermione triumphantly; quite exhausted and holding up her wiggling sack, obviously filled with the remaining potion ingredients.
“Really? Where?” asked Zenrir, who was curled up on a peculiar type of grass that gave massages to it’s host.
“Where you obviously didn’t look,” said Hermione haughtily. As Harry observed the countless scratches and bruises on Hermione’s arms and legs, he came to conclusion that the task of finding these ingredients was not an easy one.
“Hermione, are you all right?” asked Harry, concertedly.
“Never been better!” snapped Hermione, tenderly examining her cuts.
After Zenrir gallantly insisted on carrying the potion sack up the mountain upon his back, the three companions made their way to the next landing, home to all magical types of trees and bushes. In only two hours, they managed to collect the Wiggenbush Bark, the Wartcap Powder, and Syrup of Hellbore (“No you may certainly not drink it, Zenrir, I don’t care how thirsty you are,” Hermione had chastened.) They were exhausted, but with Hermione’s ever-so-helpful encouragement, they managed to drag themselves up to the next level, a place of wild magical creatures.
“Right,” said Hermione, once they reached the woodland-like expanse; every tree imaginable lay with its roots planted firmly in the ground in front of their very eyes. “So here we can get the...” Hermione squinted down at the list in her hands. “Halliwinkles…Boomslang skin… goodness I heard those were hard to capture…dragonfly thorax…Flobberworm mucus…the Fire Slug…ooh, ouch…we’ll need to use those gloves for that…and…wait aren’t they only found in Brazil? Oh…” Hermione trailed off and looked up at the others standing in front of her.
“What it is?” said Harry.
“We need a Jobberknoll feather. They’re ridiculously hard to capture. I read somewhere that they utter a terrible, piercing scream, which consists of everything they have heard backwards, right before they die. It’s supposed to make the killer let it go or something, although I don’t quite understand it,” said Hermione tensely. “I really hope this won’t take too long, the sun’s setting.” Harry followed her gaze to the orangey, pink sun that was soon to disappear behind the tops of the snow-capped glacial mountains.
“Well, we’d better get started. I’ll take the, Halliwinkles and the slug—”
“Here, take these,” Hermione said as she fished through her sack for a pair of thick burnt orange gloves; Harry accepted with a small thank you.
“I’ll find the dragonfly and the Flobberworm…mucus, is it? Gross,” said Zenrir, hurrying off to gather the creatures.
Whether it was the growing darkness or the fact that the creatures in the dense woodland seemed to be strangely silent, Harry felt a sort of unease settle in the pit of his stomach.
“Anything…er, out of the ordinary…yell or scream…or, or…” said Harry.
“Or use my wand?” laughed Hermione. “We are wizards after all.” Hermione smiled and touched Harry’s left cheek with the tip of her finger; after a moment, she lowered her hand and disappeared into the forest. Harry watched her retreating back silently.
With one last glance at the winking sun, Harry pulled on the protective Dragon-hide gloves and set off into the forest.
Halliwinkles, thought Harry, aren’t they supposed to be really shiny…like a fairy or something? Yeah, probably. Harry answered himself.
Harry paced around the spongy ground, squinting, trying to make out tiny flashes of light or sparkle. The canopies of leaves above him formed such a great shade, that it seemed almost pitch black inside. Small animals scurried into their holes, mates calling them to dinner; larger animals stayed hidden in the shadows, watching Harry’s every move with silent, steadfast eyes. Harry pulled out his wand and held it in front of him whispering, “Lumos Maxima.”
A beam of pure white light shot from his wand and created an overhead light that followed Harry wherever he went. The creatures scurried away: large ones moving deeper into the heart of the woods, the small ones leaping into their hiding places, fearing a predator.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” called Harry, frustrated, talking to nobody in particular. “C’mon Halliwinkles…I don’t have all night for you lot.”
Suddenly, a spark of red light flashed across the bark of a tall tree. Harry stopped, pointing his wand at the source of the flash.
There was a fluttering of branches and a flock of strangely shaped birds flew into the air, squawking in fear. Harry’s breath quickened, his pulse running high. He could feel the sweat clinging to his neck as the muggy air pressed down on him. He could now hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears. Thump. Thump. Thump.
Another flash, though, this time, it was purple; it leaped across Harry’s chest and darted towards a low hanging branch with spindly sticks growing out of it in thick clumps.
“So you’re what they call a Halliwinkle,” said Harry, relieved that it was nothing threatening. Quickly but carefully, Harry advanced upon the unsuspecting Halliwinkle, whom was shaking its wings to rid itself of the miniscule water droplets that had accumulated on the wings. With no hesitation, Harry clapped the potion sack over the Halliwinkle. Harry could hear it scream in fury for a few seconds before silencing in frustration.
“Sorry,” whispered Harry. “But we need you to make the potion.”
The Halliwinkle refused to say a thing.
Harry wondered, partly, if he was going mad. First, he thought about things that he had never thought about before, such as the idea of being with Hermione, the friend that he never had once fancied. And now he was talking to Halliwinkles.
Harry was going mad. Completely, utterly, barking mad. Shrugging, Harry continued his traipse through the woods, wiggling his wingers inside of the uncomfortable and itchy dragon gloves.
Harry tried to remember what Hermione had told him about finding the Fire Slug. Something about liking to dwell in dark places…like a patch of… of… of what?
Harry, lost in thought, suddenly collided with another figure, nearly as large as him. Startled, Harry gave a shout, which echoed all around him. He held his wand at the figure’s throat menacingly.
“Harry! Harry! It’s me! Calm down!” cried Zenrir, his arms up in alarm, eyes wide. Harry, feeling rather foolish, lowered his arm and apologized half-heartedly.
“Next time announce it when you’re going to stand in front of me in pitch blackness, okay?”
“You have light, though,” Zenrir said pointing at the pulsing ball of light radiating off a silvery glow.
“Yeah, well, I was lost in thought,” said Harry defensively, shoving his wand back inside his pocket a bit angrily. After walking for a good twenty minutes (in which they had found the fire slug), they heard a high-pitched scream. The boys took one look at each other before following the source of the scream, running madly through the forest. Creatures of all shapes and sizes hissed at the pair if them for their homes were trampled or Harry’s sneakers killed their offspring.
“Hermione!” yelled Harry, who feared the worst. “Hermione!”
“I’m over here!” They heard Hermione’s faint voice coming from a large, oddly twisted tree that sported several strange fruits and flowers on its branches.
“Here! I need help…oh…this is not working…” Hermione groaned. Her hair was out of its bun and her arms were flapping wildly, the potion sack clinging for dear life on her shoulder. Even her clothes were askew; looking suspiciously like someone or perhaps something had taken large bites of it.
“Hermione, what happened? Was that you who screamed? Are you okay?” asked Zenrir once they reached the disheveled Hermione, worry etched across his face.
“Yes, yes, I’m extremely swell,” snapped Hermione. “Now, please—”
“Hermione? Your clothes…”
“Never mind the clothing, Harry! Help me catch the Jobberknoll!”
All this conversation went on while a small, blue speckled bird hopped wildly from tree branch to tree branch screaming so loudly, Harry swore his ear drums were going to burst.
The three silently decided to corner it and after much difficulty, the little bird was stuffed into the bag by a very bitter Zenrir, a frustrated Harry, and a worn out Hermione. However, the deed was done, and they had their ingredients. With sighs of relief, they made their way out of the wooded area and back to the main pathway up the mountain.
“Now we go six levels higher to reach the Fountains of Dittany, Youth, and Destiny,” said Hermione, puffing her way up the mountain.
“Fountain of Youth? Aren’t muggles everywhere looking for it?” asked Zenrir.
“Why, yes, they are. Most think that it really does not exist, but only a handful know it does. But, they’ve never been able to find it because it’s only on wizard soil. This mountain is protected from muggles of all kinds. Even those who have figured out the wizarding world,” said Hermione.
“And Destiny? What is that?”
Hermione frowned, but did not answer.
“You’ll see,” said Hermione, after a few moments, rather mysteriously.
When they reached the sixth level, breathless and almost to the point of exhaustion, what greeted their eyes was not what they had expected at all. Three large rocks the size of massive boulders spurted three different colors of silvery thick liquid down its sides, making soft hissing noises as it hit the thousand multi-colored crystals shimmering below. The silver boulder on the left produced a sea green liquid, the turquoise boulder in the middle exuded a chocolate brown liquid, and the last boulder on the right, a rich jade green color, gushed a golden substance. The air around them was filled with a sweet, pungent smell of intoxicating perfumes and spices while the ground swayed gently at their feet; slightly rocking them like a mother rocks a baby’s cradle.
“I didn’t expect…I…I don’t…” Hermione stammered breathlessly. “It’s just so beautiful.”
“I expected a fountain! You know, like the one in your…what is it? Ministry of Magic thing…” Zenrir commented idly, half talking to himself.
“Yeah… brilliant…” whispered Harry, dazed. The perfumes were starting to reach its tendrils inside of Harry’s mind, body, and soul. Within seconds, he was completely possessed by its rich undying smell full of warmth…passion…love…
Hermione was shaking him awake. Not wanting to disturb this new piece of mind he had acquired, he shrugged her off impatiently. Harry could faintly hear her impatient noises from above, but even as he tried to resist its powerful grasp, the force of the smells pulled him back into her clutches.
“Stop…stop…” moaned Harry.
“Harry?” Hermione’s voice was full of fear. “Are you all right?”
Blinking, Harry sat up and realized he was lying face down on the ground. He looked around and saw Zenrir off to one side, dozing peacefully upon a large, strange exotic plant.
“What…what was…was…that…” For some reason, Harry’s speech was coming out slurred and almost incomprehensible.
“It’s the perfumes in the air. They give off a scent only men will fall prey to. Some unlucky wizards have been stuck here for thousands of years, never growing older, wiser, or younger. They stay here and sleep all day and all night because the smells incarcerate them forever. Look around.”
Harry looked, and for the first time, he realized that they were not alone. Hundreds of wizards of all different races, countries, and backgrounds were laying haphazardly all across the ground in small heaps. For some odd reason, they did not look the normal size for a human being. They seemed…smaller. Too small.
“They are shrunken,” said Hermione in response to Harry’s questioning stare. “But they don’t feel it at all. They’re sleeping, anyway. How else is it going to contain thousands of wizards?”
“So everyone gets trapped here once they enter?” said Harry.
“No. Women,” said Hermione a bit triumphantly, “Do not succumb to slight pressure. We are immune to its intoxications. And only the smart men, men who plug their nose and ears, get out alive.”
“Why didn’t you tell us to plug up ourselves then?”
There was an odd look on Hermione’s face.
“Maybe I wanted to see if you two could resist it.”
Then, she walked away, taking out a small vial.
Feeling as though Hermione was somewhat disappointed in him, Harry hurried to make amends.
“Hermione,” called Harry. “Which is the Dittany?”
Harry followed her finger to the turquoise boulder jetting brown liquid.
“You should know that by now, Harry. Didn’t you pay the least attention in Potions?” Hermione said, using extreme effort not to roll her eyes.
“’Course not,” scoffed Harry, “It’s Potions.” He said it as if that explained everything. Now, Hermione rolled her eyes.
“And the green one?”
“That,” said Hermione slowly, “is Destiny. It could be extremely fatal, and many have died that way.”
“What does it do?”
Hermione waited for a moment before speaking. “Let me start this way. Everyone has his or her own inner destiny written up somewhere, but it can be changed and altered. Every action you take has a reaction. If you decide to do one thing, something will happen as a result of it. That is changing your destiny.”
Harry shrugged, still not getting the point.
“Once someone has drunk or bathed in Destiny, someone…something will let you choose a path for yourself. You can choose anything you want. Anything in the world. But, you have to stay on that path and follow every move it instructs you to do. Yes, in the end you will achieve your goal, but you might end up with nothing in the process.”
Harry blinked, still completely blank.
“I read about a man who drank a vial of Destiny because he wanted to be rich. He asked Destiny to get him to the goal and, yes, in the end he was rich, but he got the money by selling his wife, children, and parents into slave labor.”
“Why would he sell—”
“The man did not want to sell his beloved family, Harry, Destiny forced him, constantly reminding him of the choice he made to be rich. So, in the end, he gained nothing.”
Harry was silent.
“It’s dangerous, Harry. It…it controls you…forever…”
“What happened in the end?”
“The man,” sighed Hermione, “threw himself into a cage of hungry lions in total despair.”
She stopped and blinked sadly.
“He had just gotten news that his youngest daughter, Gertrude, was beaten to death by the slave owner. Without thinking he just…just…” Hermione gave a soft hiccup, blinking back tears.
Harry suddenly wanted very much to get out of this strange Utopia, which was not even a Utopia at all anymore.
“Come on,” said Hermione, wiping her moist eyes with the back of her hand. “Let’s just get this over with.” Hermione uncorked the crystal vial and dipped it into the frothing brown liquid. The Dittany gurgled a few times in protest, then fell into silence as Hermione plugged the cork back in. She dropped the Dittany into her bag and looked up.
“Ready?” she asked.
“Yeah,” said Harry, still gazing at the foaming green Destiny. His gaze then traveled down to where Zenrir still lay, snoring happily. “What about this bloke?”
“Oh, Harry, he’s really not that bad,” said Hermione with a small smile, moving to Zenrir’s side and gently nudging him awake. Zenrir awoke with a loud snort and blinked at them, as if seeing some sort of heavenly light.
“What happened? What’d I miss?” asked Zenrir a bit loudly.
“Nothing,” laughed Hermione. “Nothing at all.”
The three companions had gathered just outside the Three Fountains area on a large stone rock that announced every single action it’s inhabitant makes.
“So, all we need is the Erumpent Horn, the Doxy Eggs, and the Spine of Lionfish. The Doxy Eggs, we can perhaps buy or bargain it from a wizard. The Erumpent horns are found in-oh—” Hermione frowned at Zenrir.
“What?” asked Zenrir, perplexed.
“The Erumpent is found in Africa! We were just there too,” Hermione sighed. “Never mind that. We’ll just have to make another stop there. The only problem are the African wizards and witches.”
“What do you mean?” asked Harry.
“They treasure their Erumpents so much. They’d never let us capture one and use its horn. It said in the Care of Magical Creatures handbook that the only way Erumpents have been captured in the past was because many powerful wizards were strong enough to fight the tribes of African wizards. That’s the only way,” Hermione looked at her two friends.
“We’ll have to fight,” she said, a glint of steel in her eye.
“Fight,” Zenrir echoed hollowly.
Harry knew what that meant for Zenrir. He would have to fight against his own people because, after all, he was born and raised in Africa, the tribes always acting as mutual benefactors instead of enemies. He remembered that Zenrir had once told them that the wizards in Africa always gave him nice bone necklaces and flint tools. And the African witches always baked him good food and took care of him when he was sick. The only catch was that Zenrir had to hunt for them. Still, Zenrir had never minded the task and he received all this in return. Harry hoped that come time of the struggle for the Erumpent, Zenrir would not leave him and Hermione stranded to face a whole tribe of angry African wizards.
“Well,” said Hermione, bringing Harry out of his thoughts. “Ron is still waiting out there, somewhere. We’ve better get a move on.”
Harry said, “erm… right, yeah,” and followed Hermione and Zenrir onto a narrow ledge overlooking the entire forest and village.
“Okay, I’m going to Apparate us out of here. Once we’ve Disapparated, we will arrive at the same place we started-no, Zenrir, please do not try to jump that ledge- and then we will need to get away from the site immediately,” said Hermione.
“Why would we need to leave—”
“Because,” said Hermione impatiently, “The Mountain moves its location every single time so wizards and witches can’t tell each other where it is. It’s a safety precaution. If you don’t move, however, you risk the chance of being sucked into the mountain and disappearing forever.”
“All right-hands,” said Hermione. The three of them joined hands and with a whoosh of sound, they arrived back where they started only a day ago.
“The clock’s ticking, we have to move,” Hermione said urgently. They broke into a sprint, headed for the safe area about a hundred yards away. In the last second, they managed to reach the oasis and looked back, hearts pounding ad hair slightly askew, at the majestic White Mountains before them. In a single beat, the entire mountain suddenly lifted off the ground with a tremendous roaring sound and clouds of dust and debris swirled up into the air causing a giant windstorm. Harry closed his mouth and squeezed his eyes shut as to not let any dirt get caught. Finally, after two terrible seconds, it was completely silent and the wind disappeared along with the Mountains. The three were breathing hard, blinking around them. Before them, now lay an empty, barren grassland with a few patches of snow that covered its surface.
“That was…that was…”
“Interesting,” breathed Hermione.
“So what now?” asked Harry.
Hermione looked up at the sky, her eyebrows knitted in thought.
“We look,” she said simply.
The next few days dragged on and soon blended into weeks, always on the move, and never catching a glimpse of what they needed to find the most. They collected more useful things along their journey, talked to old and wise wizards and witches, and even went to an outdoors wizard’s bargaining fair. There, they acquired a hefty bag of snake fangs, a bottle of Billywig stings, Horklump juice, a jar of Bat Spleens, a few sprigs of Valerian, Wolfsbane, and even a large jar of Lethe River Water. All this was carefully tucked into Hermione’s unfailingly useful potion bag. In the course of three weeks, the three of them discovered new “safe-houses” they could revisit in times of trouble, managed to spear some ridiculously large and colorful fish for supper, tricked a gnome into giving up his Leaping Toadstool, partook in a small battle with a fifty pesky pixies, found a beautiful haven full of Hippogriffs, and even managed to ride a couple. The days were as happy and eventful as Harry, Hermione, and Zenrir had ever experienced in their entire journey.
Along with that, Harry and Hermione also had several long conversations while sitting on a log overlooking the valley, often in the late afternoons. They would verbally renew their experiences and memories from Hogwarts, often taking the time out to remember those who had died in the struggle for freedom against Voldemort. They ventured into their own twisted relationship, still confused but almost always refreshed by the pleasant talk. They held hands, and that came as naturally as talking. They shared things they never shared before and experienced intense and positive bonding moments and delved into tricky subjects, tackling them with ease and mature.
By now, Zenrir had more or less gotten over the fact that he could never be with Hermione. Judging by the looks on the faces of Harry and Hermione each day and night, Zenrir knew better than to interfere. Hermione still treated him like her younger brother and Harry had stopped thinking he was a big bloke. All three of them renewed old bonds and made new ones. Ones they would never forget.
After supper, that night, Hermione volunteered to take first watch, already whipping out her book and producing a small fire that hovered next to her. Zenrir yawned widely and claimed exhaustion, falling into deep sleep right as he hit the bed; Harry lay awake for a while, thoughts churning like butter through his mind. He drew nearer and nearer to deep sleep, yawning and shifting on the bed. Soon he drifted completely, and was swept away by his vivid dreams.
The dream started out fuzzy and black and white at first, about Hermione and him arguing over something stupid. Gradually, as the dream progressed and they had stopped fighting and were happy once more, the scene changed colors from bright purples to shimmering shades of gold. Harry was kneeling down on the ground in front of Hermione, their location unknown. He took out a small velvet box and opened it, but there was nothing inside. Hermione looked surprised and strangely happy, nodding her head vigorously. The scene changed and suddenly, they were standing under a blinding white archway with singing doves holding ribbons in their beaks. Hermione’s face was covered with a veil and Harry was dressed in muggle clothes. Harry reached up to remove the veil, but it would not budge. The more he tried, the harder it was to remove it. Suddenly, Hermione was screaming loudly in his ear, the veil still over her face. Then, her voice suddenly became Zenrir’s voice—
“”HARRY! HARRY WAKE UP!” Zenrir was shouting, waving his arms.
Harry awoke; sweat running down his forehead and arms. Groggily he climbed out of bed and squinted his eyes, trying to see what was the matter.
“ZENRIR, GET THE TENT-GET EVERYTHING- Harry get out here and help-WE HAVE TO GO…NOW!” Harry heard Hermione cry from outside.
Harry reached for his wand, yanking his shoes on while slipping a jacket over his head, reaching for the tent flap. Outside was complete chaos: magical fire was strewn over the ground, the flames leaping and licking the nearby trees, causing small explosions to erupt. Harry could make out the figures in black swirling and zooming around shooting jinxes, hexes, and killing curses at Hermione, who was trying her best to deflect and use curses of her own.
Large, strange looking creatures were attacking the campsite too. They were massive, each with arms the size of broomsticks, and thick trunk-like legs that sprouted a hard, black rock. Its body was coal black and almost impenetrable.
“Confringo!” Harry cried, and one of the rock monsters exploded into flames. Its companions scuttled away from Harry and his line of vision, trying to conceal themselves behind the trees. Hermione blasted the trees away and her spell hit two others square in the center of their rock bodies.
“Expulso!” yelled Hermione, and the largest rock creature closest to them was blasted back and slammed against a boulder. The creature exploded and millions of tiny rock particles flew everywhere.
A Death Eater suddenly popped up in front of Hermione, startling her. He shouted a Severing charm, creating several deep cuts in Hermione’s arms and legs. She cried out in pain and doubled over on the ground, her wounds dripping fast with blood. Rage bubbled over, and Harry shot a Body-Bind Curse at the offending Death Eater. The Death Eater’s smile vanished as he dropped to the ground, motionless. Harry produced more hexes and curses at anything that came across his vision in a wild rage, the spells bouncing every which way, trying to find a vulnerable target.
One of the rock creatures took a swipe at Hermione’s still form, and out of nowhere came Zenrir, his forepaws and back legs stretching miraculously long as he flew in front of her. The heavy rock arms contacted Zenrir’s left flank and he howled in pain and fury. He clamped down on the creature’s trunk legs snapping his jaws, his teeth gleaming in the darkness. The creature suddenly snapped its hand over Zenrir and clasped him so tightly, Zenrir could not move.
“Relashio!” shouted Harry, releasing Zenrir from the creature’s clutches. Harry then blasted the creature with a Blasting Hex and continued to battle with the last menacing Death Eater.
The Death Eater advanced quickly, red eyes glowing bright and hot. His wand whipped expertly back and forth as he whispered hexes, jinxes, and killing curses. As Harry battled him on diligently, he felt a singular chill travel up his spine: he recognized the Death Eater’s voice.
“You,” Harry whispered before the world went black.
He could hear humming and some good smells coming from a sizzling pan. He rolled over and sucked in deep breath of air. For some reason, his head felt strangely empty, as if there was a hole.
“He’s awake. Come here!” Harry rolled to face upward again, and saw Hermione’s eager eyes staring down at him, her wavy brown hair fanned about her face. She waved a hand over his face and mouthed something. Zenrir also leaned over him. He had several deep cuts and gashes lining his face and his eyes were wet with tears.
“You’re alive,” he croaked, trying to get up to sitting position. “You’re both alive.”
Hermione immediately put her arms around him and helped ease him up. Zenrir strangely did not come any closer and resisted all contact. She handed Harry his glasses and he noticed there was a small lightning-shaped crack on the right lens.
“What happened…we were there…where are we…my head hurts…”
Harry couldn’t continue; he shook his head.
“Harry, I know everything is very confusing right now, but I have to ask you who you were battling with at the very end when Ron—”
Hermione’s eyes widened and she clamped her mouth shut.
Harry blinked, confused. Did she just say Ron’s name?
“Ron? Ron. He was here?” Harry asked, looking up, searching the eyes of the two of them. Zenrir refused to meet his companion’s eyes.
She looked up.
“Its…” she hesitated. “It’s a long story…”
“We’ve got time,” Harry muttered impatiently.
“Well,” she started, looking uncomfortable. “Zenrir? Do you want to start?”
Zenrir shifted away, claiming a desperate need to use the toilet. He ran back in the cabin and nobody bothered to remind him that there was no available bathroom in the tent.
“The camp was attacked. Zenrir went to take you up…and…and you immediately joined the fight. You were wonderful, you blasted those rock…rock things…and then I think I passed out and…Harry, why on earth can’t you remember anything?” Hermione stared at him, waiting for an answer.
Harry scratched his head. He couldn’t seem to remember anything. He only remembered glimpses of what had happened. He remembered saying something…something like….you.
“What?” said Hermione, startled.
“I said ‘You’, to him. I don’t remember what he looked like, but I know that I knew him from…from…from somewhere…”
“You must have hit your head really hard last night otherwise—” A strange look suddenly clouded her face and her smile slipped off her face.
“What’s wrong? What is it?” said Harry.
“Harry… your mind…explain how you feel right now…”
“Um...I guess my head hurts and it feels really empty. Now how is that…”
Hermione sighed. “Of course, Harry.”
“What?” he asked, bewildered.
“Your mind,” Hermione tapped her temple, “was wiped. Obliviate.”
Harry slumped over, his heart sinking.
“Someone probably did not want you to remember him, so he erased his own image from your brain. He probably knew you’d recognize him and try to track him down later.”
“What did you say about Ron, Hermione?” Honestly, Harry could’ve cared less who had wiped his brain. Any news of his old mate was indeed way more important.
“Right,” said Hermione slowly. “When you sort of, erm, passed out—”
“I never ‘passed out’, I was brain wiped!”
Harry snorted. “Go on.”
“The Death Eater, whoever he was, was about to kill you. I mean I could already see the killing curse on his lips, Harry. Suddenly, this big animal comes out of the trees, and I thought that it was another terrible creature. Instead, it turned upon the Death Eaters and drove them out of our campsite. When the animal was done, I caught a look at the face, and realized that it was a silver wolf, Harry, and it looked exactly like Ron…”
“Blimey…what if it really was…” Harry trailed off uncertainly. Of course it would be great to have his best friend back even though he was still in wolf form. On the other hand, it would mean being away from Hermione and everything he loved about her. No, he’d, rather selfishly, stay with Hermione than have his best mate back.
“It couldn’t be him,” said Harry, forcing certainty in his voice. “It’s probably just another wolf that looks like him. The lighting was bad.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow. “ ‘The lighting was bad’. You’re saying the light was bad?” Hermione shook her head in disbelief.
“Well,” said Harry a bit defensively. “You really never know it could—”
“How could you say that, Harry? He’s your best friend!” Hermione cried angrily before storming inside.
“Hermione!” Harry called weakly. Honestly, he did not want to remind her any more of Ron. No, he was not being selfish…merely holding her sanity.
The next morning, Harry awoke early due to terrible nightmares full of large silver animals and screaming girls. He glanced over at Hermione. She was sleeping soundly, her hair splayed about her face like a halo; her cheeks were red, and her lashes nearly touching her smooth white cheek. She sighed through her mouth and shifted the other way. Zenrir let out a loud snort and rolled towards the edge of his bedroll.
Harry stepped outside into the chilly morning forest air and stretched, his arms reaching a miraculous length, farther than he’d ever reached before. He was growing taller. With nothing else to do, Harry walked the perimeter of their protective bubble and checked the enchantments. As Harry was waving his wand and tracing silvery cloud shapes in the air, something dark caught his eye. Harry turned halfway and suddenly found himself face to face with Ron.
Harry almost let out a yell, as Ron was not Ron, but, instead, an awfully gigantic creature with massive forepaws and a huge head complete with razor sharp fangs. Harry was about to appease Ron, but then remembered that the enchantments were still working. Perhaps Ron smelled Harry, but most certainly could not see him.
As if realizing this thought too, Ron snorted impatiently and dug his nose in the ground, beating his paws on the moist earth. It seemed to Harry as if he was knocking at a door. Harry considered the option of going outside the protective circle and risk getting his throat slashed out, or possibly to just go back inside and pretend he never saw anything. Remembering the look on Hermione’s face last night, he decided to give it a go with his old mate and best friend.
Before leaving the bubble, however, Harry stepped back to take a good look at his friend. Small tufts of reddish fur was beginning to peek out amidst the silver fur. His ribs were sticking out and his face was narrower, longer. Patches of his fur was missing and the edge of his lip was crusted with dried blood.
Before he could change his mind, Harry stepped out of the enchantments. Almost immediately, Ron’s head snapped up and a wolfish growl escaped from his throat. His eyes were narrowed and dangerously black.
“Ron.” Harry squeaked.
Ron growled again and nodded his massive head towards the tent. Then he fixed his eyes on Harry and let a snarl rip.
Harry was smart. He knew what Ron was trying to tell him. Better yet, yell at him.
“I know,” said Harry calmly. “I know that whatever you saw, you probably didn’t like. And I’m sorry, Ron, I don’t want to hurt you; you’re my best mate. I just…over these past few weeks I’ve developed…sort of some feelings for your…er, wife. Ron, you don’t understand.” Harry looked into Ron’s ebony black eyes, seeing the mistrust and fury there.
“I’m really sorry.” Harry opened his arms wide, in a defenseless gesture. “I can’t control my feelings. And…well, I guess Hermione cant control hers either.”
Ron narrowed his eyes and let out a wounded yelp before turning his heel and lumbering away into the trees, crashing through the shrubbery without a look back.
That night, as Harry sat by their little makeshift campfire, he thought back to the old times, when he used to confide in Ron about everything. Yeah, they fought many times, but in the end, they stayed the closest of friends. He stayed loyal and true, through thick and thin. Ron’s old lopsided grin and humorous eyes almost brought tears into Harry’s eyes.
“Harry, you okay?” Hermione was kneeling by the fire, poking it with a long stick. Bits of fiery embers stuck to her faded knit sweater and she swatted at them unceremoniously.
Yes, Harry had considered telling Hermione that he’d seen her husband that very morning, but had decided against it. He couldn’t risk losing her too.
“I’m all right…just…dunno…sorry…”
“It’s Ron, isn’t it?” said Hermione.
Harry looked up, startled.
“I saw everything this morning, Harry. I know you talked to him. I couldn’t hear what you said, but it was pretty evident. Ron didn’t want to come back, did he?” Hermione’s brown eyes were filled with tears.
Harry bit his tongue, guilt coursing through his veins, red-hot like lightning.
“You were telling him to come back and he didn’t, right? Oh, I knew it! I knew he wouldn’t want to come back at all!” Hermione burst into tears and sobbed into her hands, her shoulders shaking with grief.
“He likes it out in the wild, he probably even found a female wolf already and…and…” Hermione burst into a fresh waterfall of hysterics and put her head on Harry’s shoulder. Harry patted her hair a bit awkwardly not knowing what to say.
“Really, Hermione, he actually—”
“It’s all right, Harry. I know you tried to convince him of coming back but he refused. It’s okay, I understand. I really, really do, Harry,” Hermione sniffed.
Harry could not stand the sight of Hermione crying her eyeballs out because of him. After all, he hadn’t exactly been truthful with her.
“Come one,” said Harry as he stood up and dusted off his pants. He stuck oout her hand.
“Where are we going?” asked Hermione, as she took hold of Harry’s warm hand.
“I’ve decided you need a bit of fun. You haven’t had much of it ever since we started the journey and it’s time you get some,” said Harry quite indignantly.
“But…” Hermione sniffed. “All right, Harry. Lead the way.”
With a smile, Harry Disapparated with a loud crack, bringing Hermione along with him. Harry and Hermione whooshed onto the ground, appearing out of thin air. The muggles walking to and fro hardly noticed their presence. The small snow filled street was bustling with muggles layered in thick coats and gloves, toting bags of Christmas shopping on their arms. A cheery tune of music filled the air and the lights twinkled dreamily on the merry round trees that lined the street. Ever store was crammed with excited holiday shoppers, getting their last minute gifts and shouting in cheery voices to family and relatives.
“It’s Christmas, Hermione. Christmas Eve.”
A sudden rosy glow came to Hermione’s cheeks as she wiped away her tears and tried to soak up everything at once with her shining eyes.
“Harry, this is wonderful! I haven’t been shopping for Christmas in forever,” exclaimed Hermione. She was blowing on her hands and trying to smile at every person that passed them.
“Let’s go!” Laughing, Harry allowed himself to be pulled by Hermione into the throng of shoppers ready to do some last minute Christmas shopping. For hours, Hermione dragged him around to at least thirty different stores, walking out of each of them with at least six large bags filled to the brim with clothes, jewelry, Christmas decorations, and much more. Harry had easily fit the countless shopping bags into Hermione’s magical bottomless bag, making the weight of it all disappear. Later, when Hermione had finally tired of walking in and out of stores, they settled down at a small pub at the end of the street. It was a muggle pub, and several loud men and women were cheering for their favorite sports teams, brandishing large mugs of frothy beer.
“Where are we, Harry? I’m sorry, I got so caught up in all the shopping—” Hermione took a few gulps of air, “—that I completely forgot to ask you where we were.”
Harry laughed, his heart aching to reach out and touch her soft, shining cheeks.
“We’re in the most populated town in all of Ireland.”
“IRELAND?” Hermione almost yelled. “Harry! We left Zenrir all by himself out in…out in…Antarctica …oh no, Harry he’s probably wondering where—”
“Relax, Hermione,” said Harry calmly. “He’s fine.” With that, Harry ordered a round of muggle drinks and they toasted to good health and luck, Hermione having calmed down significantly. Hermione, who had never tasted Irish alcohol before, downed quite an astounding amount of thick glasses in the deep hours of night. Soon, she was slurring words, her eyes disoriented, and her cheeks a flaming red. Used to an occasional glass of firewhiskey himself, Harry had an easier time dealing with the thick Irish beer and finished his round of mugs in a timely fashion also. Feeling a bit wobbly and dizzy, Harry managed to stumble out of the old pub and Disapparate them both back to their modest campsite in Antarctica.
Once they reached their campsite, Harry carefully laid Hermione down on the bed, for she had fallen asleep and was snoring lightly. Harry studied her still from for a moment, loving the way her delicate figure curved in an S shape. Her hair lay bundled in a loose knot about her face. The light dripping off from the moon cast a white glow over Hermione’s face, her lashed creating deep-cut shadows that lined her jawbone.
She was so beautiful; Harry felt his heart break.
He knew that he could never be with her. Forget it…forget it…forget it…the voices kept whispering in his mind and Harry tried to ignore them as he turned to leave.
Suddenly, he felt two arms grasp his waist from behind. Harry stiffened, until he saw who it was. Hermione was blinking up at him with huge starry eyes, the decision clear in her eyes. Slowly, Harry turned to face her, his arms circling around her lean back. He leaned down towards her and felt Hermione melt into him as they swayed for a moment. Without thinking, without any thought at all, Harry and Hermione let their feelings carry them away. Away to a place neither of them had ever explored before, drifting passionately as the silver moonlight encircled their pulsing forms. As their lips met, a sudden burst of color exploded through their senses, coursing through their veins and creating an unimaginable, fiery heat that seemed to defy the cold air. With arms entangled around each other’s waists, arms, hair, they fell onto the fur bed rugs, twisting and making a dazzling melody with their bodies. She kissed him hungrily for she had not felt the touch of a man for almost two years. He matched her movements, fluid and melting like a gold energy that cantered through both bodies, a sizzling mist hanging in the air, suspended.
They paused for a moment, and Harry marveled at the soft whiteness of Hermione’s skin, the way her hips curved, the way her lips tasted, like sweet melting sugar. The shadows that jagged across her pale, ice skin, made little designs and patterns he traced with his fingertips over every curve or ridge. Hermione rolled over on top, her long, thick hair spilling after her. She ran her hands across the firm ridges lining his stomach, the bulge of muscle that sculpted his arms, his smooth wintry chest, the faint shadow of stubble on his jaw. His eyes, eyes so pure, so emerald green gazing back at her with a certain undying love and passion. She lay her cheek on his chest and he smoothed her hair. One stroke, two. Three.
She lifted her head to meet his burning gaze. A strange, surreal sizzle of electricity passed through their eyes, and suddenly they could see everything. Every wish, every thought, every action. They felt what the other felt. Through love, triumph, despair. The faintest of nods, not permission, but a beg. A yearning, tender, passion-filled beg so sweet and pure it twisted his heart in two. Slowly, as if they hung suspended in thick water, he gently held her in the depths, him above, floating gently over her.
She gave a gift so wholesome, pure, so saintly. Out of love and not yearning or pressure. She gave it with her whole heart, gave everything her heart offered to this boy, this beautiful, glittering boy beside her. He treasured it, taking it in his arms like a radiant glowing diamond, held precious in his hands, in his heart. Her gift, so beautiful and beloved, he took for himself, not swallowing it greedily like others would, but softly nurturing, caring, tenderly handling it. Her treasure, worth more than the world itself, lay in his heart, his hands, his very being. She gave everything to him.
He stopped, hovering above her, still floating in the icy blue water, suspended in time, as she looked up, tears of pure love in her eyes. He kissed them away, feeling the tangy saltiness stain his tongue like a strawberry dipped in ice white sugar crystals. He held her, so delicate and tiny, wrapped in his wide expanse of arm and leg, until she closed her eyes, her soft doe eyes blinking in exhaustion. He kissed her neck, her collarbones, her stomach, traveling down her inhumanly angelic, fragile body, smoothing creases and rubbing her feet.
Even without seeing, she knew the body next to her. She knew every muscle, every ridge, every joint, every smooth patch of white skin. She memorized each muscle that curved on his stomach, every valley, every mountain. She smoothed her fingers over his chest, seeing his brilliant eyes in her mind’s eye, her lips touching every inch of him, not ceasing. She gave a gift so willingly, so wonderfully, so radiant. She explored places she’d never imagined exploring before, her body now unconnected to the mind. She let her limbs move freely, cease the innocent curiosity, explored caves, crevices, plateaus, islands never stopping until she had her fill.
Again, they came together, though now quicker, with more fiery hot steam building faster and faster, their bodies bolding into one shapeless form. And again and again, making the mountains move and dousing the sun, unstoppable as they reached an invisible far off land with nobody but the two of them.
He held her, rocked her till she fell asleep, eyes wet with liquid. A quiet peacefulness settled over her features as they lay curved, side-by-side, awaiting the coming dawn.
Zenrir had gotten the speedy little note with Harry’s name on it explaining his absence. Fine. That was all fine and dandy. Just ditch the werewolf and go to Ireland. Then, Zenrir decides he’s hungry and goes off to find something decent. Zenrir gets into a fight with a measly little raccoon! Really, it had started off quite peacefully until that silly little creature decided to test its luck against such a ferocious werewolf. It had taken its chances, waiting for the best time to steal his piece of fruit. First the little git goes and bites his tail, then dashes around and steals the fruit out from under his nose. That started the chase. After hunting the bloody thing down and taking back the fruit, Zenrir was confronted by an equally annoying monkey that kept on swatting at his ears, chattering like a foolish lump of monkey. To top the night off, he ran smack dab into a gigantic, monstrous silvery thing that gave him a deathly stare and once-over then leapt off into the night.
Zenrir was feeling pretty murderous already before he approached the sight that greeted his eyes back in the tent.
Clothes lay strewn about across the tent. Shoes, socks, pants, shirt, and pretty much everything else lay scattered about everywhere except for the rug space near Zenrir’s bed. At least a ton of multi-colored bags lay everywhere, their contents half spilling out, shiny tags attached and all. What really drove Zenrir insane, though, were the two figures curled against each other in the center of the fur rugs. They were holding each other, mouths literally inches apart, their legs twisted together under the blankets.
A sort of sad understanding passed through Zenrir as he stared at the product of passionate love. He had given up all hope of having Hermione, but this sight hit home. Sniffing loudly, he started to gather the shopping bags and stack them in rows in the corner of the tent. He picked up the clothes and folded them neatly, one pile of Harry’s, one pile of Hermione’s.
Soon, that sadness turned to anger. Didn’t they both have spouses? Did they forget or were they choosing to forget? Anger coursed through him all through his measly breakfast of fruit and bread and through lunchtime until Harry finally woke up, stretching.
“Zenrir!” He sort of screeched when he awoke. Zenrir glared.
“About time. It’s already late lunch!” A growl escaped his throat. Harry looked so flustered, Zenrir decided to enjoy it for the moment.
“Had fun last night?” said Zenrir, his arms crossed tightly over his chest.
A sloppy, love-drunk look came over Harry as he said, “Yeah.” Zenrir swept his gaze over Hermione and saw that Harry bristled out of the corner of his eyes.
“Don’t even think about it,” growled Harry.
Zenrir raised his arms in mock defeat. “No, mate, I’m not.” Zenrir sighed, exasperated. “I’ll leave so you two can get somewhat decent.”
Without waiting for a reply, Zenrir hopped off the chair and loped out the tent, grumbling under his breath. He mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like young love these days.
Harry stared at Zenrir’s retreating back for a moment before shifting his attention to the breathtaking creature beside him. He held his breath, not wanting to disturb the peaceful stillness in the air. Instead, he slowly shifted off the rugs, careful not to wake Hermione. He quickly got dressed and prepared a pot of steaming black coffee. By the time he took out a pan and started to crack an egg, Hermione stirred and rolled to her back, yawning and stretching. In her morning confusion, the blanket slipped just a little. Harry felt a catch in his throat as he awed over the perfection of her God given body. Hermione didn’t bother to fix the blanket and instead, she wiggled out of the covers and padded to where Harry was standing, star struck, a half cracked egg in his hand. Hermione came up behind him and squeezed gently as she removed the drippy egg from his hand. Harry turned around and stared at her gorgeous being. She looked even more beautiful in the bright sunlight that filtered through cracks in their tent. Hermione giggled and wrapped her arms around him, not letting him go. Harry kissed her neck, smiling. They stayed involved for minutes before Hermione broke off.
“It wasn’t enough. We don’t even have to travel today, Harry, let’s just stay here all day, please…” whispered Hermione hungrily. Harry gently cupped her cheek.
“If we move faster, we can find Ron and—”
“Ron,” said Hermione bitterly, breaking away from their embrace. “I don’t want to hear that ever again, I want to hear your name only…just yours, yours, Harry…” Hermione bit her lip and a wave of tenderness almost made Harry burst.
“I love you, Hermione,” whispered Harry.
Hermione looked up, a surprised light in her eyes.
She smiled, “I love you more.”
She pulled him back towards the rugs again, smiling, her head tilted back in laughter. He followed her, reveling in her astounding beauty. Together, they stayed under the blankets forgetting about the real world and diving into their special two-person island, breakfast forgotten, egg splattered over the floor.
Together, they made love until darkness settled over them like a blanket, and the day melted another, and another until they lost all track of time. Zenrir stayed out of the way, not coming back for many nights, knowing he was not welcome anymore. They fed each other breakfast, practiced their spells on each other, and always, always, always, made love until daybreak. She shared some of her pent up knowledge and he entertained her with stories from the old Hogwarts days. They stayed together, side by side, never leaving to do other things, always being within two feet of each other. They frolicked and laughed like two newlyweds on their honeymoon adventure, always twisting and turning under the blankets, laughter heard from miles and miles away.
One chilly Sunday evening, Zenrir came back after being missing for three days. Neither Harry nor Hermione noticed anyhow. He came in through the tent; the snow piling on his shoulders and back for there was a terrible snowstorm raging outside. I his hands were packages of food and a bundle of supplies tucked under his arms.
“Someone has to do the grocery shopping,” grumbled Zenrir, stomping his feet on the small mat by the front. He placed the wet bundles and parcels on the kitchen counter and rubbed his hands together, blowing. “Nasty outside. Don’t think I can out anymore to get food. This is all we’ll have for a bit,” said Zenrir.
“You mean we can’t travel anytime soon?” asked Hermione.
“No,” said Zenrir, “but it doesn’t look to me that you two necessarily want to travel.”
Hermione frowned. “What do you mean—”
Harry wrapped a blanket over Hermione’s shoulders.
“What do you mean we don’t want to travel?” continued Hermione.
“Well,” Zenrir inclined his head to the two of them wrapped up inside the numerous blankets and furs. Hermione looked around at them as if seeing what they were doing for the first time. She jumped out of bed and widened her eyes dramatically.
“Harry, we’ve lost so much traveling time! Oh goodness, Harry I didn’t realize…” Hermione clapped a hand over her forehead and sighed in exasperation, already starting to pack u their belongings quite haphazardly. “We need the blankets of course…the stove…potion ingredients…oh where have you placed them Zenrir? Then, of course, the food—give me those parcels will you?—and we need the bed rolls…money…wands, wands, wands…our tent…”
“I’ll start the fire, it’ll get colder in here when it gets darker,” said Harry, hopping out of bed and grabbing his wand. He produced several large jars and with a simple Wingardium Leviosa, he managed to float the jars and make them hover around their tent. Then, he started the fires with a flick of his wand and the room was filled with a warm, fiery glow.
“That’s better,” said Harry, sticking his wand in his back pocket and gazing at his handiwork with a small sense of pride.
“Quit staring at those jars and come help me pack, Harry,” called Hermione; who was struggling to fit a particularly large roll of fur into the small knapsack. “I’ve tried everything…it won’t fit! I don’t understand…”
Harry muttered a simple bottomless bag charm and watched the surprise on Hermione’s face when the fur slipped in easily.
“How…” Her mouth was open, but she didn’t question further. Instead, she hurriedly packed up the rest of their belongings using her wand, the clothes swishing and bedrolls swaying in the air, zooming around. Zenrir sat silently, watching the whole process animatedly.
When the final piece of clothing was put into the knapsacks, Hermione gave a startled cry.
“What is it?” Harry rushed to Hermione’s side in an instant.
A jagged piece of black stone lay on the icy wooden floor; around it, was a thin black mist that hovered in tendrils of ice. Ice slipped down Harry’s throat as he read the blood red symbols carved on the stone.
“They’ve got Jeriel,” said Harry hollowly. Hermione swallowed a lump in his throat and resisted the urge to moisten his eyes.
“What? Harry, how do you know? These symbols can’t mean…”
But it was quite clear from the crude drawings cut hurriedly into the stone.
“Who’s Jeriel? How come you’ve never mentioned him before?” asked Zenrir.
“Nobody, I’l explain later,” Harry hissed.
“I can see the Death Eaters took a man, but how do you know—” began Hermione.
“I saw these rocks at Jeriel’s igloo! I know it’s from him! I can feel it!” cried Harry.
“Is it your scar? Is that happening again?” said Hermione, running a finger over his lightning bolt.
“No,” said Harry, pushing her hand away. “I can just feel it. They’ve got him and we have to do something about it. It’s our fault they caught up to him! If we hadn’t talked to him, none of this would’ve happened. C’mon, we have to go before it’s too late.” Harry started to pick up the bags and blankets and bundles of food.
He started to walk towards the door but realized that nobody was following him.
“What are you two waiting for? They’ve got him and if you two don’t move your bloody behinds, he’ll be dead before we reach him!”
“Harry…” said Hermione tentatively.
“What?” came the reply, sharp and angry.
“Remember what happened with…with….Sirius?” Hermione sniffed.
Harry’s face turned ashen. “Yeah, why?”
“Well…” Hermione wrung her hands together anxiously, “You played hero and—”
“I didn’t ‘play hero’. I—”
“—you rushed right into Voldemort’s trap. Harry, this could be another trap. They outnumber us, Harry, we can’t take the risk. We’ve still got to find Ron…and, and make the potion…and…and…”
“Oh I get it,” snapped Harry. “This is about Ron isn’t it. You just don’t want to take a side trip to save a man’s life, and instead search for your precious Won-Won.”
“No,” cried Hermione, tears threatening to spill over. “No, I didn’t mean it like that. I just wanted you to come to your senses—”
“Oh, so now I don’t have my bloody wits about me, eh? Fine, I’ll go myself. I don’t need you two as boat anchors anyway. I’m fine on my own.” Harry dropped the bags and stomped out the front door into the howling wind.
“Harry!” Hermione tore after him. “Wait, stop, please! You can’t leave, we, we have to do this together, I’m sorry,” Hermione wiped the tears from her eyes. “We’ll go, let me just pack—”
“I don’t have time to watch you while you get the tent ready, Jeriel could die any moment. If he’s dead, Hermione, that’ll be another person who will lose their life for me. For me. Do you know how that feels? To have people dying for you left and right? No. No. You don’t know how that feels, because nobody’s cared enough to die for you. I have to go alone.”
But, his retreating back had already disappeared into the white storm. Hermione knelt on the icy, wet ground sobbing, until Zenrir came out to gently pull her back inside.
“So what now?” asked Zenrir once they had started a roaring fire and wrapped several thick furs around themselves. “Do we go look for him, continue on with finding Ron, or…what?”
There was a pregnant silence.
“I don’t know,” whispered Hermione, “I don’t know.”
The next few days passed in a blurry daze. Hermione had tried every means of communication with Harry, but to no prevail. Zenrir went out all day, to get more food and supplies; they’d be there for a long time, due to the storm. Hermione gave up all hope when the news report came out saying the storm could last weeks, even months.
“Typical Antarctica,” muttered Zenrir. “’Course we’re stuck in a stupid storm…”
Hermione sighed. “We’ll be days away from him. Why does this always happen? First it was Ron back when we were seventeen. Now, it’s Harry.” Zenrir rubbed Hermione’s shoulders.
“It’ll be okay.”
Hermione didn’t answer.
“Maybe just one and a half days until the storm clears and we can get moving again, although I don’t know how Harry could’ve survived that storm. He could be blown off the charts,” Zenrir said quietly.
“Serves him right. I wouldn’t care if he was blown all the way to China,” grumbled Hermione. She honestly had enough of men; they were too temperamental. Almost like girls, really.
A long awkward silence filled the air.
“Can I tell you something?” said Zenrir at last.
Hermione turned around. “Sure, I have all night.”
Zenrir slowly made his way to the small leather couch and sat down, a mug of steaming black coffee in his hands.
“Well, I think…I think there was a period of time when I Imprinted on you.”
“Imprint?” said Hermione. “What’s that?”
“It’s when a male werewolf lays his eyes on a female and there’s an unbreakable bond that forms between you two. It’s like a true love, except this one you can’t really change.”
“Oh…so…” Hermione’s eyes widened.
“Don’t worry,” said Zenrir quickly, “I’m not…not anymore…no…”
Hermione smiled uncertainly. “I’m sure you’ll find someone sooner or later. You’re not so bad a werewolf.”
Zenrir looked up.
“You know, Zenrir, I really can’t believe I’m doing all this,” Hermione sighed and folded her arms across her chest. “I don’t understand why all of a sudden, everyone seems to take a strange liking to me. And me! Liking them back. It’s all a bit confusing, you know. And strange. I don’t know what to do.” Hermione got up and started to pace around the room. “I love Ron, I always have. And then, Harry…well I’ve always loved him too. Those eyes…but really, I do love Ron. He’s always been there, ever since Malfoy made fun of me being a mudblood back in second year. Ronald’s ‘eat slugs’ spell backfired on himself!” Hermione laughed softly. “I think I rushed into things too fast. I liked it when it was just the three of us, with no distractions, no complications. It was so much easier.”
“Yeah…” said Zenrir, “I understand.”
“Do you really?”
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, and I came to the conclusion that I should just live out the rest of my days alone. Alone with my hundred cats and pots of smelly tea…” Hermione and Zenrir laughed together, their voices mingling. Hermione breathed out a puff of air and turned serious again.
“But, really, Zenrir, that’s what I should do. I can’t take this anymore. I should just walk out that door like Ron and Harry did, and forget about all my troubles and problems…”
Hermione and Zenrir whipped around simultaneously, wands out and teeth bared.
“Who’s there?” called Hermione, her voice shaky.
“It’s just me, calm down. I’m tempted to call you a mudblood again, but that wouldn’t be too adult-like would it?”
“Dra…Draco?” whispered Hermione.
When the thick clouds of snow and the sounds of a raging storm disappeared, a white blond head emerged, followed by a tall and lean body. Draco Malfoy shook snow off his coat and hurried over to the fire, ignoring the two’s shocked looks.
“What, Hermione? Aren’t you glad to see an old friend of yours?” said Draco, in a condescending tone.
“We were never friends, Malfoy,” said Hermione firmly.
“Well, let’s change that, shall we?”
“What’s your business here?” barked Zenrir. Draco looked round at Zenrir as if noticing him for the first time. Draco widened his eyes and lifted a finger.
“You…you look like…no…it can’t be you…you’re supposed to be dead,” mumbled Draco, leaning away.
“Why do I always get that?” said Zenrir, exasperated. “I’m his son. I’m assuming you’re speaking of my father, Fenrir Greyback? Well, yeah, I’m his son.”
“Impossible! Greyback never had a son…”
“Well you’re looking at him right now,” Zenrir said bluntly.
“So,” said Hermione, “what are you doing here?”
Draco moved away from the fire and sat on one of the chairs, eyes downcast. He stayed silent until Zenrir shifted threateningly.
“Well…I’ve come to help you,” Draco finally said.
“Help us? How?”
“Death Eaters. I want to help you kill them one by one…to tear their eyeballs from their sockets…to skin them alive…and hear their dying pleas—”
“Right, yeah, sorry. Got carried away there. Anyway, I want to help you two kill them. But, I was expecting the two most hated blokes—”
“If you mean Harry and Ron, they’ve walked out. Well, Ron got turned into a werewolf and Harry just left about two days ago. He went to save the old Death Eater, Jeriel. Jeriel Enrile.”
“Old Death Eater?”
“Yeah, your Death Eater buddies have captured our Death Eater friend. He was a Death Eater—” continued Hermione, seeing the triumphant look on Draco’s face, “—but is no longer. That’s the only reason why we’ve befriended him.”
“That’s brilliant! Then, I can tag along and help with the killing!” said Draco, his face eager.
“How did you know we were here?”
Draco laughed. “You think if Harry Potter and his little sidekicks came to town, nobody would talk? I just had to ask around a few places and they gladly told me of your, ah, campsite.”
Hermione rolled her eyes.
“And for the record, those aren’t my ‘Death Eater buddies’. I hate them, remember?” said Draco.
“Yeah, fine,” said Hermione impatiently. She still felt uneasy, as if Malfoy wasn’t telling the whole truth. “You can stay with us if there isn’t any trouble…and…and if this isn’t a little trap devised by your cronies. Is that clear?”
Draco lifted his hands in mock surrender.
“So when do we start out?” asked Malfoy that night, as Hermione cooked dinner and Zenrir repaired a broken patch in the tent. “Tonight, maybe? If we get a move on, we can probably catch up to one of those nasty gits and finish them off—”
“We’re not leaving tonight, Malfoy,” said Hermione, “It’s better if we just hold still till the weather clears, or until we hear back from Harry.”
“I’ve left him countless messages and tried to locate him in Antarctica, but I really can’t seem to find him anywhere. I’ll let him be.”
“He’ll just have to suffer the consequences if the Death Eaters catch up to him and he’s outnumbered. His fault, the bloke,” muttered Zenrir from his corner of the tent. He had just finished patching up a small hole, and started to drift towards the meal Hermione was preparing.
“Smells delicious, Hermione, what is it?” said Malfoy.
Hermione looked up, still not completely sure of Draco’s intents.
“Salmon and Halibut stew, bread, and some fruit for dessert. Simple, but that’s all I can rustle up right now.”
“No, no, don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful meal,” said Malfoy licking his lips.
Hermione wondered why on earth Draco Malfoy was suddenly being so chivalrous when he’d been trying to make her life miserable for the past eight years.
“Why are you…” Hermione started.
Malfoy looked up with a smile. “Why am I what?”
Malfoy simply shrugged and turned to set the table for dinner, a small smile playing on his lips.
Once they had sit down and started to eat, Malfoy started to throw Hermione peculiar looks. Zenrir, noticing, decided not to say anything and quickly slurped his soup and hurried outside, claiming a strong urge to go find some flowers. Hermione, also noticing but not saying anything, decided to hold it in until she couldn’t take it anymore.
“Malfoy!” Hermione practically screamed half an hour later of awkward silence and weird looks.
Malfoy smiled, his teeth gleaming. “Yeah?”
“Can we…can I talk to you?” said Hermione, as she got up to pick up the plates. She stacked the plates and bowls in her arms carefully and paused before Malfoy, who was holding his bowl up, waiting for her.
“Sure,” said Malfoy.
“You…you seem so…so different. Like another person, I don’t understand,” said Hermione, with a small frown on her face. “I just…yes, I don’t get it. At all. So help me.”
Malfoy grinned and stretched out his arms, yawning. “Well…you’re different too.”
Hermione raised her eyebrows skeptically. “How so?”
“You used to be so ugly,” Malfoy grinned wider at Hermione’s sudden snort of contempt, “—and now…well, look at you. All grown up. You’re actually stunning. No wonder Potter ditched his weasel wife and slept with you.”
Hermione made an angry noise. “Have you been…watching us?”
Malfoy laughed uncomfortably. “Um…maybe?”
Hermione huffed angrily and threw the dishes into the little rusty sink. With a wave of her wand, the dishes started to wash themselves, lathering first, then rinsing and drying themselves before zooming into the cupboards.
Hermione stopped. She’d never heard this tone of voice from Malfoy before. His ususal cockiness and arrogance disappeared, replaced with the foreign sound of sincerity.
“Come walk with me?”
The question was so sincere and stripped of all bravado, that Hermione was compelled to follow Malfoy outside and hear him out. Dropping the soapy dishrag, she wiped her hands on the backs of her jeans and followed Draco Malfoy out into the cold, dark night.
“So what is it?” said Hermione, once they were a bit away from the campsite. Malfoy looked up at the sky. It was still gray and it was still snowing, but the wind had died down and the storm was a little less cruel.
“All those times, Hermione…I don’t know, but, it’s different now. I’m changed, you’re changed. It’s all different,” said Malfoy.
“I don’t understand,” Hermione said slowly.
“I was…I was realy jealous. All the time. From the moment he didn’t shake my hand, from the first time you beat me in Charms class, from the first time he was admired and praised for his quidditch skills. Every single time, it as like that. Day after day, I’d plan and plan and plan and…to no avail. Nothing came out of it.” Malfoy sighed, “I’m still on the Ministry’s Most Wanted list, everyone hates me…all this…”
“I still don’t understand,” said Hermione, gentler this time. She registered the genuiune expressions and tone of voice coming from the blond haired boy beside her.
“Every single time I called you mudblood…I felt satisfaction—”
“Eveybody knew that—”
“Let me finish, Hermione,” said Malfoy exasperated.
“Sorry,” she whispered.
“Anyway,” continued Malfoy, “I never truly believed it, you know. Never. It was just my family…well, as you know I didn’t spend much quality time with my type of family,” Malfoy scoffed. “I just grew up believeing that mudbloods were terrible, terrible, vile creatures that—”
“We get the point,” Hermione said shortly.
Malfoy took a deep breath. “Sorry.”
The pair had rounded a bend and came upon a clearing bearing a small, frozen stream and a few measly patches of yellowed weeds.
“Honestly…it’s really hard for me to say this, but you deserve the truth, Hermione. All that time…at…at Hogwarts, well, I didn’t really hate you three. Especially not you.”
“Oh give me a break, Malfoy! You not hating us? Is this another one of our stupid—”
“No, Hermione! No. It’s not, I’m dead serious right now.”
“Lok, the whole time…I was really just jeaous. Jealous that Potter got all the attention, that you were so smart in everything…that Ron, well, that he got you in the end.”
“Everyone knew you were jealous—” Hermione stopped.
“Wait…exactly what did you say?”
Malfoy kicked at the ground and fidgeted with his wand, not meeting Hermione’s piercing gaze.
“Right, well, we should get back now—”
“DRACO MALFOY WHAT DID YOU SAY?”
Malfoy looked ashen. “Um—”
Hermione had completely rounded up on Malfoy now, her eyes wide, her breath coming out in fluffy white puffs of steaming air. Her hands lay on her hips in such a threatening way; Malfoy took an involuntary step back.
Hermione narrowed her eyes. “WHAT DID YOU SAY?”
“I said that I was jealous of Potter—”
“NO, NO, NO—THE OTHER PART!” Hermione practically yelled.
“That…um…Weasley got to have you in the end,” Malfoy said quietly.
With those words of doom, Hermione fell back onto the snow and covered her face in despair. Why must all the men come and grovel at my feet like…like I’m some kind of goddess? Why?!
“Are you all right?” said Malfoy worriedly.
“Quite, thank you,” snapped Hermione.
“I’m sorry if—”
“What was that?” interrupted Hermione.
“What?” said Malfoy, taken aback by the abrupt change in topic.
A twig snapped.
“That!” Hermione hissed.
“It’s nothing. Probably just a—”
A sudden roar erupted from the dense woods behind them.
“Well, I was going to say squirrel but I don’t think—”
There was the sound of a tree splitting in half and something large, lumpy, and gray emerged from the woods, dragging a gigantic wooden club behind it, leaving a six foot trench in the snow.
“Where’s Grawp when you need him,” muttered Hermione, as she readied herself to face the twenty foot tall giant with gleaming teeth and angry black eyes.
“Hermione, watch out!” Malfoy yelled as the giant took a swing at Hermione. Grunting, she jumped and managed to latch onto the giant’s club. Digging in her fingernails, she began to climb, gritting her teeth against the cold wind that lashed at her face, not to mention the horrific giant drool that was dripping over her head. She had a sudden flashback of the giant they had tackled during their first year at Hogwarts. Harry had bravely grabbed onto the giant’s head and stuck his wand inside of his nose. Clamping her mouth shut, Hermione started her ascent to its huge potato-like head. Meanwhile, Malfoy was still on the ground, shouting curses, hexes, and jinxes at the giant’s tough hide, but to no avail. He cursed in rage and started to aim for the giant’s head. The creature roared and swung his club left and right, narrowly missing Hermione’s head and almost whacking Malfoy in the stomach. The giant seemed to finally understand that Hermione was on his back, and with one surprisingly swift gesture, he grasped Hermione by the middle and swung her around to face him. With the giant’s grinning face looming ahead of her, Hermione made a final attempt to stick her wand up its nose.
“Hold on, Hermione, I’m gonna get this bloke—”
Malfoy shouted more, and blue and silver streaks slashed through the air, barely damaging the hefty giant. The creature opened its wide, revolting mouth and Hermione screamed. Just as she closed her eyes, the giant stopped moving and with a dramatic swaying motion that almost made Hermione puke, it toppled to the ground, blowing up snow all around it, causing a mini snowstorm right in the clearing.
Hermione was shaking, wet, and dirty when Malfoy finally managed to retrieve Hermione from the giant’s ferocious grasp. He helped her out of its clutches and gave the giant a final blow to its head, causing it to snort and release a blast of breath that blew them back several feet.
“You okay?” said Malfoy, breathing heavily.
“Yes,” wheezed Hermione, surveying their damage. “I’m good.”
“So what did you do back there?” asked Hermione, once they were back in the woods, headed for home. Malfoy shrugged.
“Nothing, just a combination of a Stun spell and a hex at once,” said Draco, “well, and a full body slam against the thing’s leg, but that doesn’t count, does it?”
Hermione laughed, shaking her head.
“Well thank you anyway. I didn’t really expect that out of…” She stopped.
Malfoy smiled sheepishly. “No, you’re right. After all those years, I didn’t even expect myself to do that, quite frankly.”
Hermione chuckled softly, sticking her wand back in her pocket.
A twig snapped.
“More giants?” whispered Hermione.
“No,” said Malfoy. “I don’t think so.”
This time, a larger branch snapped and almost instinctively, Malfoy’s hand reached protectively around Hermione’s waist. She stiffened automatically and even in the dark, both knew the other was blushing furiously.
Malfoy stepped a distance away. “Sorry,” he muttered.
Hermione stayed silent, unsure of what to say. A sort of tension filled the air, the snapping branches forgotten. Hermione rushed back the campsite and immediately strengthened her protective enchantments, not meeting Malfoy’s gaze.
No…no…no! This can’t happen again! Especially with Malfoy! Hermione thought as she whispered Repello Muggletum three times. Malfoy retreated to the tent, feeling peculiarly warm. His heart was fluttering furiously and his forehead was slick with sweat. What was happening?
“No…no…no…” Hermione whispered to herself over and over.
Later that night, when Zenrir and Malfoy had fallen asleep, Hermione took out a small, jewel encrusted hand mirror and stared at her reflection disapprovingly. Sure, she lost the buckteeth, the large nose, the bushy brown hair, but she still looked the same as ever. Her hair was streaked with bits of gold, her teeth were pearly and white, her eyes wide and confused. Confused was right. She knew she was supposed to be in love with Ron, but then Harry came along and messed the chemistry up with those captivating emerald eyes, and now Malfoy? Draco Malfoy, the threesome’s archenemy for eight years, their tormentor, bully. Hermione couldn’t understand why she suddenly looked past Draco’s arrogant demeanor and saw the scared, confused and normal boy he rarely let anyone see. How come she could see past that brave heart and see all his fears and dreams, wishes and desires? How come she saw the sincere, kind boy that showed chivalry in times of need? Not abandonment, but help. Sincere help. Why? Hermione shook her head to clear her thoughts, setting the mirror back in its place, wishing she could look to her parents for advice. Hermione rolled over and closed her eyes.
Tomorrow was going to be a long day.
Hermione woke to the sounds of busy activity, papers rustling, bags being opened and closed, and the wonderful sound of sizzling bacon. She twisted onto her back, blinking and squinting her eyes against a glare of light shining through a crack in the roof of their tent. She placed a hand on her forehead and breathed through her mouth, savoring a few more minutes of sleep.
“You better not hurt her in any way, you understand me?” Hermione heard someone that sounded suspiciously like Zenrir say. There was more rustling and the sound of a cabinet door opening.
“Yeah, mate, don’t worry, I promise I won’t do anything,” Malfoy said.
“I’ll be watching,” Zenrir said threateningly.
Zenrir growled under his breath.
Hermione smiled under the blankets.
“And uh…” said Zenrir after a few moments of silence.
“Yes?” said Malfoy.
“Don’t tell her I talked to you. She’s, um, sensitive about that kind of stuff.”
“No worries,” said Malfoy, and Hermione could hear the little smile in his voice. Maybe Draco Malfoy wasn’t so bad. After all, everyone has a good side right?
“Morning,” Hermione called out. She yawned and stretched out her arms, blinking the sleep away.
“We’ll be ready to go in about a half hour. Zenrir and I packed up. We’ll just get something to eat, then we can start heading out—”
“Do we even know where we’re headed? Or where those Death Eaters are holding this Jeriel person hostage? Or where Harry is? Or where—” Zenrir burst out.
“No, not exactly,” said Malfoy, cutting his chatter off, “but I’m sure we can figure it out. I mean, logically, those blokes are probably watching us and they’ll want us to find them, so they’ll probably be leaving clues around.”
“Clues?” said Hermione, “how?”
Malfoy shrugged. “Dunno, maybe they’ll set a giant on us again,”—Malfoy shot Hermione a look— “or maybe some other disgusting brute just to lead us on. We’ll get there soon enough. I’ve been with that crowd before, and they won’t be hiding out. They want action. They want us to find them.”
“What about the direction then?” said Zenrir. “North, south, east—”
“We’ll start with that little gift they sent us. The rock, where is it?”
“Here.” Hermione handed the black stone carefully to Malfoy. He squinted at it, ran his thumbs over the jagged edges, and meticulously studied each symbol and picture. Malfoy took out his wand and set the stone on the table. He whispered something, and suddenly the stone began to shake and smoke causing the whole table to tremble.
“What are you doing? What’s going on?” cried Zenrir, looking around in confusion.
“Malfoy,” called Hermione, “what are you doing?”
Malfoy shushed them, moving his wand again, making the rock start to levitate in the air, black mist swirling around it.
“Dark magic…” Hermione whispered. “Malfoy, stop it! You’re using Dark magic!”
“I need to!” Malfoy insisted quietly.
With another jet of black sparks erupting from his wand, a sudden hologram appeared over the rock. They could make out a bunch of black clad figures moving around in the picture, but nothing else.
All of a sudden, the stone stopped vibrating and dropped to the table with a loud clunk; the swirling black mist vanished and it once again became a simple rock.
Hermione glared at him. “Why did you—”
“I used that to see their location.”
Hermione opened her mouth angrily.
“Do you know any magic that can do that?”
Hermione closed her mouth indignantly.
“So where are they? Do you know?” asked Zenrir.
Malfoy turned around and put down the bag he was carrying. “Well…no.”
Zenrir raised his eyebrows. “Um, okay, but that was kind of the whole point—”
“Yeah, I know, I get it, but the picture was too blurry. I’m not that good at the Dark Magic stuff yet. My father, he…” Malfoy got a faraway look in his eyes and without warning, he snapped back at Zenrir, “never mind.”
“You can’t just leave without knowing which direction and exactly which longitudes—”
“Life doesn’t work that way sometimes,” said Malfoy impatiently, cutting Hermione off. “You can’t always rely on plain facts and knowledge. Sometimes… you have to just follow your heart.”
Hermione stared at Malfoy for a long time, not saying a word.
“You’re right,” she finally said, “I’m too…um, yeah, you’re just right.” Without another word, she picked up her share of the packs and strode out the door, not taking a backward glance. Malfoy gave a small smile at her retreating back, and shouldered his bags, following her out into the cold. Zenrir followed, feeling a little bit left out of whatever was happening between Hermione and the new blond kid. Once outside and squinting tremendously, the three companions scanned the horizon for any sign or spark of life. The roaring whiteness raged on, not revealing anything to them, and not providing even a small sanctuary against the bitter cold.
“There,” said Zenrir after a few minutes, pointing, “I think I see some green over there, it might not mean finding Harry or Ron, but it would mean some shelter against this…this…thing.”
“Zenrir’s right,” said Hermione, “we need to head towards shelter. I don’t think we can do much traveling today. The storm’s not letting up.”
“After you,” said Malfoy with a smile. Hermione gave him a strange look and set off for the comforting patch of green oasis ahead. About twenty minutes later, the three entered the quiet area of green and brown woodland. It sheltered them significantly, but snow still littered the ground at calf height, making it extremely difficult to walk at a brisk pace; a pace Hermione was desperately hoping for.
“Can we make camp now?” complained Zenrir.
Hermione shot him a disapproving look.
“We just left our camp twenty minutes ago, Zenrir. Now, if you’d stop complaining and start looking for clues to lead us to Harry, Ron, or Jeriel, that would be wonderful,” said Hermione, forced gentleness in her voice.
“All right, all right,” grumbled Zenrir, deliberately making a great show of how unfortunate his cold and wet situation was.
From that point on, they walked on in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.
Hermione was thinking about her growing feelings for Malfoy and her twisted relationship with Harry and Ron, confused and too lost in her own world to notice the faint pattering of footsteps and the soft swishing of some unknown creature…
Malfoy was wrapped up in thoughts of just how much Hermione had changed over the course of nine years, how beautiful she was now, and how unavailable she was. Sure, he knew what happened with Harry and her, but he didn’t care. If he could just have one night with her alone without the spitting image of Fenrir Greyback…
Zenrir was shivering and dying of the bitterness of the cold. With every step, he could feel his muscles slacking and sharp stabs of ice on his red face. All he could think about was his old cave and his old pack and his old life…
Hermione stopped and looked up.
Malfoy and Zenrir were not by her side. It was dead silent, the storm having stopped, and little to no wildlife in the woods.
“Malfoy?” called Hermione tentatively. “Zenrir?”
Hermione walked a few paces, straining her ears for any sound of movement. She heard a faint rustle behind a few trees and followed the sound, her breath quickening, heart pounding. She peeked around one of the trees and braced herself against whatever was behind.
Just a one squirrel, which scampered out of sight with a high-pitched chatter.
Hermione turned around and retraced her steps, backtracking to where she had last seen Malfoy and Zenrir. She brandished her wand in front of her protectively, involuntarily shaking. Hermione struggled to keep her footsteps light and her breathing calm and steady.
Hermione began to panic. She knew she couldn’t make it anywhere without the tent and the supplies, the supplies that Malfoy and Zenrir were carrying. All she had in her pack were a few meals, and her bedroll. Hermione stopped and decided to just listen. Dropping her bags on the ground, she looked up at the treetops and cocked her ears for any sounds of her companions.
Hermione widened her eyes in surprise, following the faint stream of sound that named her name. She shouldered and packs and started to jog towards the sound, a sound that was similar to Zenrir’s voice.
Her breath came quick as Hermione staggered towards the second faint cry. A plead.
“I’m coming, Zenrir! I’m coming, hold on!” Hermione broke out into a full run, dashing against the trees that seemed to claw at her clothing, breaking her stride. Stray branches and thorns dragged over her body, making deep red crevices in her skin; Hermione cried out but continued to run.
Staggering, she came to a stop, panting for air, searching the woods, eyes blinking in exhaustion.
Hermione kicked at the ground in frustration.
“I know you have them!” Hermione called out, “Whatever you are, come out. Don’t be a coward!”
The wind tickled the air, the leaves rustled, and the animals bayed in the growing afternoon, but still no sign of Zenrir or Malfoy. Hermione spun around, her whereabouts unclear; each tree looking the same as the next, with no identifiable landmarks.
She narrowed her eyes. “Malfoy?”
The voice sounded closer; sounding much like Malfoy, yet strangely distorted, like something being said partly under water. Hermione moved slowly, wand still out in front, towards the voice. As she peeked behind a large, thick and rotting tree trunk, a flash of black whipped through somewhere about ten yards away. Hermione caught her breath and slowly turned around, every nerve tingling with caution. Another flash of black appeared in the other direction, almost causing Hermione to trip over her own feet.
“Stop playing tricks and come out to face me!” cried Hermione.
Suddenly, a bizarre, cold, music came spiraling into the air, twisting at Hermione’s ears and causing them to itch in a weird, popping way; she clutched at her ears in pain, eyes watering and mouth drying.
“Stop it!” Blinking her eyes, Hermione suddenly caught sight of Malfoy’s thin figure hovering a few paces away, staring into space. Blinking back tears, Hermione got up and unclenched her ears, once again allowing the flow of the cold, metal music to pass through her ears.
Malfoy was standing, with a vacant stare, tilted towards a figure lying on a large, silvery purple boulder. The figure, Hermione realized after a moment, was a woman. She had wildly thick green and silver hair, thick white lashes that lined her deep set, blue-purple cat-eyes, and white-silver skin that stretched across her impossibly rail-thin, slender bones. She was clad in a long, white, billowing robe, a red sash, and a pulsing blue necklace, which was clasped tightly across her neck and chest.
The woman had not yet seen Hermione, and was guiding something sharp and silver into Malfoy’s hands. A steamy mist curled off the silver object, and Malfoy clasped it tightly in his hands. The object started to spurt red liquid that dripped off his startlingly white hands and it took Hermione a few moments to realize that he was holding a jewel-laden knife in his fingers. The woman smiled, her lips curling back to reveal sharp yellow teeth and a long, flicking white tongue. All the while, the bleak music grew stronger, louder, and a sense of excitement filled the eccentric music, filling Hermione’s ears with a raw pulsing beat that made her heart thud unceremoniously. The woman arched her neck and flicked out her long white, snake-like tongue, flicking the drops of red off Malfoy’s fingers. She seemed to shudder and whispered something, making Malfoy nod blankly. He suddenly plunged the bejeweled knife into his forearm, causing an enormous seeping, dark red hole. Hermione cried out, out of pain for Malfoy, and the woman whipped her head around in fury.
“Leave.” She hissed, the mist rising off her skin like vats of billowing hot air.
Hermione made a move towards Malfoy, and the woman leaped off the rock with surprising agility and speed, clawing at Hermione’s throat angrily.
“I SAID LEAVE!” The woman roared before dragging Malfoy by the hair behind her. Hermione shook her wand.
“Relashio!” cried Hermione. Malfoy was wrenched out of the woman’s clutches and collapsed to the floor. Hermione shook his head and blinked dizzily.
“The spell…it’s wearing…” The woman hissed quietly, angrily, her eyes flashing.
“Malfoy!” Hermione called. He looked up and blinked in confusion. “Come here! Hurry!”
Malfoy got up slowly, tottering as he made his way to Hermione. The woman glared at them for a second, then disappeared in a puff of smoke, cursing in a foreign tongue.
“Malfoy!” Hermione ran to him, catching him right before he collapsed a second time, breathing hard. “Malfoy!”
Hermione knelt on the ground, his head in her arms. His skin was a sickly green shade, his lip was cut, and his arm was still pulsing with red blood. Hermione ripped off a piece of cloth from her shirt and pressed it against the wound, stopping the blood flow, while trying to wake him from a permanent sleep.
“Please don’t leave…don’t leave me…you have to wake up…” Hermione whispered through the blur of tears sliding down her face. Hermione pressed her ear against his chest, hoping and praying for the beautiful sound of a human heartbeat.
He suddenly stirred, his eyelids shifting.
“Malfoy!” Hermione shook him awake, shaking with relief and joy that he was still alive. She brushed the hair from his eyes and he gazed up at her with a steady look.
“I thought she would…I…I…” Hermione breathed heavily.
“She put me under a spell,” said Malfoy, with difficulty. “Sire…sire…” he trailed off, eyes fluttering.
“Sire…” Hermione’s eyes widened. “Siren?”
He nodded, swallowing.
“Unconscious…didn’t see…sorry…probably…probably in her lair…” Malfoy coughed.
“Lair? She has a lair?”
“In the back…over…over there…” He lifted a weak finger to where the siren had vanished without a sight.
“Wait right here,” said Hermione, “I’m going in to find him.” After gently laying Malfoy to rest on the ground, she cautiously returned to the place where she had last seen the siren. Wand held high, she slowly advanced towards the gaping hole of earth that Malfoy called the creature’s lair.
“Anyone there? Zenrir?” Hermione called out. No sound.
There was a faint rustling and a group of bats zoomed from their hiding places, screeching in fright. Hermione, startled, recovered quickly.
Hermione squared her shoulders and decided to be brave and face whatever blocked her way. Zenrir had always been a charming, loyal and compassionate friend. Without him…well, Hermione couldn’t bear to think of that.
“All right. I’m coming in and I don’t care whom you are or how powerful you are. I am coming to take back what was mine.” Hermione worked to steady her voice. “You have my friend, Zenrir, and I’m coming in…right now. Right this moment.” Hermione swallowed and stopped talking, knowing she was just stalling.
Hermione walked for about a few minutes in the complete darkness, using her wand as a faint shaft of light and keeping her eyes glued in front of her.
“It’s no use calling.”
The slippery female voice boomed throughout the cave, ringing hollowly. Hermione stopped, a chill passing through her body, slipping down each vein like ice.
“Who are you?” Hermione called out.
“Mesea, forest Siren.”
“Where have you put Zenrir?”
A chilling, echoic laugh.
“The little pup? Quite delicious.”
“Please what? Please don’t kill my precious lover?”
“What?” Hermione said, surprised. “He’s not my lover.”
A high-pitched giggle.
“Wait and see,” came the voice.
Hermione blinked, confused.
“Please just bring him back. We need him. He’s our friend.”
“I only ask one thing, little girl.”
“What do you want?”
“Hermione…the only reason—”
“How did you know my name was Hermione?”
“Don’t interrupt me girl,” Mesea said dangerously.
“As I was saying, the only reason I, ah, borrow young men is because I can’t get my main food supply. Unlike my silly water cousins who lure sailors to their deaths, I only lure these men to get the blood I need. I don’t kill them. Ever since my main supply of cobra venom disappeared from the forest, I haven’t had anything worthwhile to drink. The next best thing is the fresh blood of young men.”
“But how did you lure Malfoy and Zenrir to you? They were literally right next to me and then they—”
“Disappeared? Ah, yes. It wasn’t that hard, actually. All I had to do was hypnotize them into thinking it was you speaking to them.”
“What do you mean—”
“Never mind that, you foolish little girl. I like deals so let me propose one to you now. I cannot leave this forest, so I want you to go and get me cobra venom. In return, I will give you back your precious wolf.”
“Cobra venom? Just any cobra’s venom?”
“You think I, the greatest forest Siren, can rely on regular cobra’s venom? Who do you think I am? My pathetic cousin who’s only killed one sailor in her career so far? No! Of course this won’t be a regular cobra! It’s the king of all cobras. His name is Rafaezel and he’s always on the move, slithering to China one day and catching the ferry to Canada the next day. Don’t ask me how he does it. It took me years to figure this out and I cannot believe I am going to give this away to you now, but I am desperate. So, the only way he will give up his venom if you offer him something he does not already have and something extremely valuable. I’m not talking about gold and jewels; he has too much of that. Something that’s priceless. But heed my warning. He’s crafty and clever, and will try to trick you into giving him everything, and you, nothing. Be wise.”
“Where would we start looking though?”
“It’s about shedding season, so he’d probably be in the south of France. He does like warm places while he sheds.”
“What does he look like? Small, big, red, black…”
“Foolish girl, you won’t have any trouble spotting him. He is very hard to miss. And while you’re at it, bring that ridiculously thin boy with you. His blood did not suit my taste.”
“Wait, but where in the South of—”
“Until we meet again, little girl. ”
Mesea’s voice disappeared.
Hermione grumbled internally, making her way out of the cave. Brilliant, exactly what they need; another diversion to their main goal of finding Ron and Harry.
“What did it say?” asked Malfoy, who was well recovered and back on the balls of his feet.
“She said that we need to find Rafaezel and get his venom and then bring it back to Mesea in exchange for Zenrir,” said Hermione with a frown.
Malfoy wrinkled his forehead in confusion, “Mesea? Rafaezel? Venom?”
“Mesea is the woman who lured you and Rafaezel is the cobra whose venom we need to take to bring back to her.”
Malfoy widened his eyes and puffed out a gust of frustrated air.
“Life hates us,” he said.
Hermione nodded, unable to agree anymore wholeheartedly.
“So, how, exactly, did Mesea lure you in?” asked Hermione.
Malfoy and Hermione had Disapparated to the south of France and were now traipsing through tall, golden fields of wheat, feeling the glaring sun on their backs and the rolling waves of heat on their dusty faces. They had been walking for two days, with little sleep and meager food, and had absolutely no idea where on earth they were headed to or even if they were headed in the right direction. With the south of France being impossibly large, they could take up to weeks searching for Rafaezel.
“Well, er, it’s of little importance,” replied Malfoy. He suddenly stopped and sat down on a stray rock, shedding his packs and fanning himself with a few leftover pieces of stationary paper Hermione had used last week to write to Harry.
“What are you doing?” cried Hermione. “We need to continue walking otherwise we’ll never find Rafaezel and we’ll never get Zenrir back—”
“He’s really important to you, isn’t he?” interjected Malfoy.
“Zenrir. He must be really important to you.”
Hermione rolled her eyes, frustrated. “No! I mean, yes. But, no.” Hermione squeezed her eyes shut. “He’s been a valuable friend. He’s…humorous, loyal…I just…it’s not like that…we’re just…”
“So you love him.”
“No!” exclaimed Hermione. “I don’t! He’s a very trustworthy companion and…and…I would hate to lose him. Anyway, I love—” Hermione stopped short, her cheeks reddening.
Malfoy grinned humorlessly.
“It’s Potter isn’t it?”
Hermione looked away.
“I just don’t see what is so bloody attractive about him! First that Ravenclaw girl back in fourth year, then the Weasley sister, and now…you?”
“Well,” said Hermione hotly, “There’s nothing really attractive about you either. I don’t even understand why on earth you’re helping me! You hate us…me! Are you forgetting that I’m your average mudblood?”
“Hermione,” said Malfoy softly, “I never meant those things. I was on the wrong side of the battle back then.”
“Now you realize it only because Voldemort lost and Harry won.”
“No!” said Malfoy, flinching at the sound of his old master’s name. “I was forced to do many things I didn’t want to. There was so much pressure on me…”
“But you had the chance to leave. To come back to our side. You would’ve been a valuable asset—”
“My parents were on the line! If I didn’t do whatever Voldemort told me to, he would have killed them! You know what it’s like to lose your parents, Hermione. I didn’t want that to happen to them, no matter what evil things they did. They were still my parents.” His voice broke.
Hermione moved closer, placing a hand on his knee.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Malfoy remained silent.
“C’mon, let’s just find this damned beast and get it over with.”
The hot sun soon drifted away to the gentle push of the growing night. The fields turned cold, and along with it, Hermione and Malfoy. Desperate for a little food, they decided to find a nearby farm, even if it meant risking their necks.
“There. Over there!” Hermione pointed to a small dot of light coming from an old, faded red farmhouse. They could make out figures moving inside, having their supper.
“Right, we’ll sneak around the back, and get into their barn, take some milk, maybe find some scraps from the pig trough, and then we’ll just quickly get out before—”
“Or,” interrupted Hermione, “we can knock on the front door like civilized people and not thieves.”
Malfoy looked sheepish. “Yeah, that’d probably work too.”
“Just follow my lead and don’t say anything. I’ll handle this.” She started to set off across the field that separated them from their supper.
“I hope they don’t have guns.”
As they approached the farmhouse, Hermione began to feel a sense of homesickness. She missed her parents, her friends back home, the life she had before. She missed the way Ron used to stare at her, the way Harry treated her like a queen, and the way Zenrir barked and wagged his tail. Just looking at the happy French family through the side window made tears spring to Hermione’s eyes.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” said Malfoy softly, stopping and wiping the stray tear from her cheek.
Hermione sniffed. “Just remembering everything…my parents. I mean look at them,” she stopped to gaze at the smiling children and chuckling adults. “They’re so…so happy.”
“We both lost our parents. I understand.”
Malfoy turned around and held both of Hermione’s cold hands in his strong ones.
Hermione gazed up at him, unblinking.
Slowly, in a fuzzy haze, Malfoy leaned closer to Hermione’s face, just inches away…
“Why don’t we go now,” said Hermione, abruptly breaking away. She crossed her arms and shifted her eyes to the ground.
Malfoy cleared his throat, an expression of disappointment flitting across his face. “Yeah, erm, good idea.”
Hermione walked the rest of the way in silence.
“If these people aren’t safe, wands out no matter what, all right?” said Malfoy.
A moment later, the front door opened to reveal a woman carrying a baby on her hip.
“Bonjour. Comment est-ce que je peux vous aider?” said the woman. A dark-haired man joined her side before Hermione could utter a single word.
“Er, bonjour,” said Hermione shakily. “Nous sommes perdus. Nous sommes des voyageurs. Pourrions-nous manger de la nourriture?”
“What did you say?” mouthed Malfoy.
“That we’re lost, we’re travelers, and we need some food,” Hermione mouthed back.
Malfoy gave a thumbs up.
The woman raised her eyebrows and smiled. She whispered something to her husband and he walked away.
“Entré, entrez! Bienvenue! Nouse sommes les Duponts,” said the woman, still smiling widely. The baby wailed.
“I’m taking that as a ‘welcome to our home’.” said Malfoy, crossing the threshold, following the woman. She set the baby down carefully on a chair and hurried into the kitchen.
The farmhouse was beautifully decorated. Thick Persian rugs covered the floor, windows partly covered with warm brown shades, an inviting fireplace, wonderfully painted walls, and comforting rooms complete with mahogany furnishings.
“Their home is beautiful! It reminds me of our cabin—” Hermione stopped, realizing she was speaking English, and turned to Malfoy. “Perhaps we should still speak French…”
“It’s all right,” said the woman, coming through the door again, this time holding a pot of steaming soup. “I speak a bit of broken English here and there myself.” She smiled warmly.
Malfoy raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Bon!”
After a hearty meal of soup, bread, and fresh cheese, Hermione, Malfoy, and the Duponts gathered around the crackling fireplace and a platter of fancy French pastries.
“We only bring these out when we have special guests, isn’t that right, little Olivier?” She tickled the babies peachy cheek and smiled.
“So how did you learn English?” asked Hermione. She reached for a strawberry and brought it to her lips.
Mrs. Dupont smiled and looked at her husband.
“Well, it was when I met Harry, back when we were, ah, twenty. He had an English major and, uh, we went from there!” She clapped her hands lightly and beamed at her husband. Mr. Dupont barely noticed and reached for a slightly browned circular French pastry. When he crunched down on it, a thick yellow paste squirted from the side and slowly dripped onto the collar of his workshirt. Hermione and Malfoy watched, disgusted, as the yellow slug made its way lower and lower—
“Bertrand! You silly thing, you got custard over your shirt! Go change, dear, immediately!” said Mrs. Dupont, shooing her husband out of the room.
“Er, did you just call your husband Bertrand? I thought his name was Harry, Mrs. Dupont,” said Hermione, narrowing her eyes. Hermione slid her eyes over to Malfoy, and silently placed her fingers on the hilt of her wand.
Mrs. Dupont clapped a hand over her mouth and widened her eyes. “Oh my, did I say that? Bertrand was my late husband. Died of automobile accident. Don’t mention it to Harry. He doesn’t need to know under all the stress he is in right now.”
“Stress?” asked Malfoy, with one suspicious eyebrow still arched. “What stress?”
“Our farm,” sighed Mrs. Dupont sadly. “The landowners want to use this place as another construction site for some townhouses. Townhouses! Can you imagine townhouses out in this beautiful stretch of land? It would completely ruin the beauty of it. I swore to my old mum that I would raise my children on this land until they are full grown! So my dear old Harry is working to save our farm,” Mrs. Dupont lowered her voice. “That is why he did not speak much at supper. I apologize.”
Hermione loosened her grip on her wand and relaxed. Malfoy did the same.
She smiled. “It’s quite all right, Mrs. Dupont. We hardly noticed.”
The rest of the night flew by, with hot cups of tea passed around and stories traded. Hermione decided not to say who they really were, just in case it could be used against them later. Hermione quickly created fake profiles, saying that they were a recently married couple, broke, and lost. Mrs. Dupont filled their mugs, nodding and smiling at such seemingly innocent young love. Malfoy surprisingly spun a beautiful story about the day they met.
“We were at the university, the same class actually,” Malfoy smiled. “And when she walked into the classroom, I knew it…I just knew she was one.”
He snuck a peek at Hermione.
“But, when I tried talking to her, she just laughed and walked off. So, day after day, I tried again and again to get her attention. I did so many pathetic things, from flowers to tap-dancing. You name it. Finally, it was one night, actually,” Malfoy threaded his hands through Hermione’s. Slightly flinching, she smiled. “When we were at the class, alone, because apparently nobody had showed up, and we started talking…and talking…and talking! I found out that you just…you just need to break through her shell to get inside of her.” Malfoy stared into Hermione’s eyes. “I think I really understand her now.”
After a uncomfortable few moments of silence Mrs. Dupont mistook for true love, Hermione broke the eye contact, and looked to the ground, swallowing nervously. Somehow, inside, she felt something twist, churn, then change. She felt as if some part of her was slipping away and a new part was taking its place. Suddenly, she felt freer and open. Her limbs felt weightless.
“Yes,” she said a little breathlessly. “That’s, um, how we met.”
Mrs. Dupont clapped her hands, her eyes twinkling merrily. “That’s so beautiful…” Mrs. Dupont wiped the tears that were trickling from the corners of her eyes and beamed.
“More tea?” She offered.
Hermione shook her head. “No thank you, we really should be going now. Long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
“No, no, you should stay here,” said Mrs. Dupont. When Hermione protested, Mrs. Dupont stuck her hands on her hips and did a striking impression of Mrs. Weasley.
So, they stayed in the extra room in the back of the house, facing the morning sun. When Malfoy offered to sleep on the floor, Hermione had a sudden flashback of Ron doing the same thing back at Grimauld Place.
“What? Are you all right?” said Malfoy, quite concerned, when Hermione sat on the ground and covered her eyes with her hands. He slowly slid to the ground beside her and placed a hand on her arm. Starting to weep, Hermione rested her head on his shoulder.
“He did the same thing…he-he wanted me to take the…the…” Unable to continue, she shoved her head into her arms and wept silently.
“Ron?” asked Malfoy.
This time, Malfoy knew not to make some snide comment about his old red-haired school rival and instead, held Hermione to his chest, patting her head. Later, when they had separated and retreated to their beds, Hermione asked a question she could no longer keep inside of her.
“Draco?” Hermione whispered in the darkness.
She heard him stir and rustle the blankets.
“Yeah?” He said, his voice low.
“You said something…after dinner, when Mrs. Dupont asked us how we, uh, met. You said that you had to break through my shell…I just didn’t understand…didn’t understand…what you meant…” For some strange reason, she could not continue. Her throat had closed up and she felt a little faint.
Malfoy was completely silent for a few moments. Hermione held very still, trying to slow her pulsing heart.
“You have this air of…of certainness around you,” said Malfoy. “Even back then, in school, you used your smarts and knowledge as your protective shell. You hid everything…and you still do.”
Hermione felt a hot flush creep up her neck; embarrassed that Malfoy had just called her out on something. Embarrassed that Malfoy was right. She did not reply.
“Hermione?” His voice was soft and tender. The way he whispered her name…
Still, she refused to reply and feigned sleep.
After a while, she heard him turn to his side and start to snore softly. Hermione lay in the dark and stared at the faded, cracked ceiling, knowing she would have the face the music sometime. She couldn’t sit around forever and ignore the disturbing feeling she felt for this peculiar white boy. It was the same feeling Hermione carried around with her during school, when she had started to fancy Ron. It was that beautiful, giddy-like feeling she swore only girls got at adolescence. And now, she had those same feelings for Malfoy. It was odd, really, how much she once hated those ice blue eyes. And now? All the frost melted away and his eyes became her personal escape to the tropical oceans of the Bahamas.
He was warm.
Some part of Hermione’s mind wondered if she was starting to go mad. She didn’t even recognize herself anymore. First, she betrayed Ron, her husband, and had started a relationship—really, an affair—with her best friend, Harry. After Harry left, she started to feel those same feelings for Malfoy. And through all of that, Zenrir had Imprinted on her and had lusted for her! Mad, mad, crazy, insane…the words of chaos zipped through her mind at lightning speed and she felt the world twist around her. Only a few years ago, she was still innocent. She was still utterly loyal to Ron, had absolutely no feelings whatsoever for Malfoy, and would have scoffed at the idea of Hermione Granger being an adulteress. Adulteress. The word felt heavy and unnatural in her mind, but she knew it was true. She was an adulteress.
She felt as if her mind and her body had become two separate beings. Her mind was still the smart and rational, one-hundred percent Hermione Granger, whereas her body was this new creature she had never known before. Her body hungered for a man’s touch, and would not stop until her needs were satisfied. Her body was a foreign, undiscovered part of Hermione Granger, the part no one had ever seen before. It was, in some sense, much freer than the meticulously smart Hermione everyone fondly knew.
And then her thoughts drifted to Harry. Harry Potter. The Chosen One. The Boy Who Lived. She’d always buried the fact that the great Harry Potter always overshadowed her and Ron. She knew it. Ron knew it. They just chose not to show it on more occasions than one. After all, she was human. She did have feelings.
But a small part of her had always loved Harry, even from the moment they met on the Hogwarts Express when they were eleven years old. She adored the way his hair was always messy, how shy he was around girls, how he placed those charming green eyes on Cho Chang. Even during their fourth year, when Rita Skeeter proclaimed their young love in her gossipy news articles, Hermione had dismissed it quite bluntly. She knew those seemingly blunt words were fake. Faker than Rita Skeeter herself. In truth, when Hermione had read that article first thing in the morning before anyone woke up, she felt a jolty feeling of forbidden love. She understood completely that he had his mind set on Cho, but she felt those feelings anyway. She made up her mind, and decided to write off the article as complete rubbish. Inside, she was dying. After the escapade with Cho Chang, Hermione thought she could finally reveal her feelings for Harry.
But then, Ginny.
The girl Hermione grew up with and thought of as her own sister. Harry was in love with Ginny. Not Hermione. The realization had hit her like a punch one day after class. In much distress, she had skipped Ancient Runes. Later, after apologizing profusely to the professor, she made up all the work and completed all future assignments. From that moment on, she buried those feelings deep within her, in an abyss she dared not reach. And then Ron became a nice distraction. A distraction that broke her heart yet again.
But then this happened. One night changed it all. Half of her knew that Harry just missed Ginny and wanted to feel a woman sleep beside him again. The other half of her wished that Harry had true feelings for her. That he slept with her because he loved her.
Under all the pretenses of the smart, unbeatable Hermione, she knew that she was really an emotional wreck; an unstable girl who yearned for a boyfriend. If you pealed off those first layers of skin, she would be like anybody else. Normal.