So far... After the Paradise-gully experience, Harry is back at Hogwarts, trying to adjust to a life without Hermione.. Now read on...
The Blessing Fulfilled
~~~ Heart ~~~
On the last day of term, Harry quit breakfast early, hoping to get away by himself and avoid too many goodbyes. He trudged to the Gryffindor common room one last time and from there up to his dormitory. For now, he would take only sufficient to get by — his trunk could be sent on later when he had found somewhere to stay. The despondent youth retrieved his small travel bag, stuffed in some underwear, a couple of shirts, and his invisibility cloak he thrust on top. But some things he'd forgotten had been accidentally dragged out and tumbled onto the floor: a penknife and a crumpled tee-shirt with 'Friends' showing upon it. One of Luna's veggy friendship rings also lay there. He picked it up; It had hardened like iron since last he had handled it but its interlinked twin must have split off or rotted away which only added to his depression.
He examined the one good ring more carefully and played with it between his fingers. It was astonishingly like his ring, he suddenly realised, the one he himself had cut from the tube gourd. How was that conceivable? Luna had given this one to him by the lake. Impossible! he said to himself. 'That' Luna had been Neville's girlfriend and didn't even exist in this world. Yet, he reminded himself, there could only be one Luna, and anyway, surely the ring he, himself, had cut from the gourd was no more real either... was it? He rubbed it hard against his sleeve then slipped it onto his finger. It fitted perfectly and... it glowed.
Harry took one last look around the empty dormitory wishing he did not have to leave, then collapsed down onto his bed, clutching his bag, wondering how he could ever lead a normal life again: the endless lessons that now seemed to lack any purpose or meaning, the Quidditch matches which could never truly make his heart soar unless she was watching, the endless homework and mountains of books to study... so tedious without her patient guidance.
One particular book did come to his remembrance then. He had passed over it several times recently because it was so tiny — his dad's book full of runic potion notes. He took it out once more from his travel chest and brushed his fingers over it affectionately. She had held it in her own hands. On the front cover was the embossed heart — he'd forgotten about that. Harry stiffened and held his breath. He could hear Dumbledore's words in his head. No, Harry, never let her go. She's still alive in your heart, is she not? ... then that's where you will find her...
Something else had the heart emblem too, he recalled. His mother's watch had also had a heart-shaped winder. Hurriedly, he shovelled through his chest again... until he remembered — he had loaned his mother's watch to Hermione to wear forever. It would have been incinerated when the dragon...
He stood up from his bed, struggling to push away the dreadful image; the blackened corpse he had insisted he help carry in its temporary box with the others to the school — the memory was coming back and with it his feelings at the time: why had it seemed so wrong? What was it about Hermione's remains that did not ring true?
Without warning, an idea flashed through Harry's mind that had never occurred to the 'other' Harry at the time — Hermione's wrist had been bare! He lowered himself back down onto the bed. She had always appeared so proud to wear his mother's watch and... she never took it off! Not in all the time since he had said to her, "It's okay to wear it, Hermione," not once had he seen her without it... except that one time she massaged his hand with Murtlap Essence.
Had she removed it to participate in the Tournament? Unlikely. She always took great care about being punctual for everything. Had fear made her forget to put it on that day? That didn't fit her nature either. Wait, wait, wait! She had checked the watch that day to cleverly time her dashes from rock to rock! — he had observed her doing it! Why then was it not on her body? Her clothing, shoes, even her Time-turner, had all burnt onto the corpse. What was going on?
He cast around for the book and found he was sitting on it. Rumpled, a page had come loose - yet not a page, it was one of Hermione's countless notes. It was creased over and his fingers shook as he unfolded it.
open, 3 & 9, travelling, Merlin's Cup or Blessing. Might help Harry and Ginny come together?
His vision blurred with shining tears. He had been there when first she wrote those words, long, long ago in that Charms class... Had she thought then that he and Ginny might be more than friends? Had she wished it for him? Was that why she had sought Merlin's Blessing? Not for herself but because she thought that he would be happy with Ginny?
The noise of other students from breakfast could be heard downstairs. Ron would be up here any moment...
He wiped his eyes with his sleeve then read the note over and over. Hermione was dead yet here she was, talking to him. But what was she saying? What did it mean? Open was obvious enough; he opened the book. 3 & 9? They had to be page numbers...
A quick examination of the runes on both those pages conveyed nothing to him. He lifted the pages between so he could see both three and nine side by side. Was there anything common to both?
Ron's footsteps sounded, ascending the stone steps. Harry sighed and with his thumbs smoothed down the two pages she must have felt were important, then stood up. Yet his stomach seemed to remain where he had sat. It took a long time to catch up with him in the darkness that had suddenly engulfed him. A demonic, fragmented, heavy child-like shape flashed through the gloom, stared at him for a moment, then was gone leaving only regret. He had felt drawn to it, for like that dread succubus, it had reminded him of her — but then, everything reminded him of his bonded sister — no... his wife, his true family.
The book slid from his fingers along with his bag as he stumbled onto what felt like carpet. His wand he drew immediately from his pocket and cast up a glowing light. Where on earth was he? All he could see was a long bookshelf...
~~~ A Small Space ~~~
Harry gazed around the tiny space in which he found himself for several seconds. Apart from the bookshelves, a table and one chair, it was virtually empty. Had Hermione also found this secret chamber before she returned the book to him? Was it below the castle? Or beyond it? The Portkey journey had seemed short but that was subjective in a zone where time seems to stop. The little book... Why such an intricate Portkey that needed the user to touch two pages at the same moment? Extra security? Harry nodded to himself; his dad was smart - his mum too.
Sirius had given him that book. Harry struggled to recollect his message. Yes, there had been something about bookshelves and... a warning about a spectre! Was that the demonic child or dwarf he had witnessed just before he arrived? He took out his wand again.
He looked at the long rows of books and picked out one or two. Perhaps Hermione might have found them absorbing but he certainly did not. No, he thought, it seemed most unlikely that his parents would devise a secret Portkey merely to come here to read books; there had to be more...
His eyes searched the walls for a lever, a pressure switch, a hidden button. Magical stories and even Dudley's video games always had a cleverly-placed coat hook, he knew, or a... His gaze fell upon a book sticking out on the bottom shelf. He laughed to himself. That old ploy! They really ought to have charmed it to be unnoticeable, he thought to himself. He gripped his wand tightly then pushed back the book — hard.
Yet, despite everything, he was not prepared for the dark-haloed dwarf hag which glared eye to eye, right in his face before him. Her howl sent shudders down his spine. The apparation appeared as a Frankensteinian monster of parts, breaking, splitting, distorting like an old television with poor reception. Yet it was not black and white; red was its dominant colouring — raw red — and it appeared to be very real and substantial indeed.
Defensively, Harry raised the wand he still held. He need not have, for the demon fled wailing across the hall and disappeared through a doorway. The shock hit him then and he realised his wand was trembling. He was reluctant to put it away.
"I beg your pardon, my Lord," said a voice behind Harry. The voice was thin, and a cold drenching told him it must be a ghost even before he turned to look.
"I did not realise you were here, sir. Do forgive me," said the figure.
Something about the way the apparition was staring at Harry, troubled him and his over-familiar attitude was disturbing too. Was Harry supposed to know him? Or was he being led to believe that?
Harry, still nervous from the encounter with the spectre, frowned. "And you are?"
"Lord Cautius Peverell, at your service, my Lord. Only a former lord of this domain, I do confess; it is the Mistress of Peverell Retreat who manages the house now."
"The... M- Mistress?" Harry didn't like the sound of this. His head turned rapidly from side to side. "Was that...?" He pointed in the direction of the spectre's departure and gripped his wand more tightly.
Cautius nodded. "She awaits you in her study." With a sweep of his arm, the ghost indicated the closed door.
"Awaits m- me? Right this m- moment?" stammered Harry.
"Why certainly sir, The mistress is always very punctual."
~~~ A Meeting with Nobility ~~~
The ghost of Lord Cautius Peverell led Harry into the modest Victorian study illuminated by the short reach of numerous candles from walls, mantel, and ceiling, yet which left many shadowy areas to worry the eye and give the chamber an air of sinister mystery. To add to Harry's unease, the ghost backed swiftly out of the room and it clicked shut with an air of finality. Has he locked me in? How can a ghost do that?
With two hands, Harry held his wand high before him again. If that creature reappeared then he needed to be ready. His eyes flashed back and forth, searching the darkest corners. The hearth added its own warm, ruddy glow but its flickering light also revealed something that made Harry jump: there was definitely something alive already in the chamber.
Before the fire, off to one side, a high-backed leather armchair supported but obscured a dark figure wearing a long navy gown, laced boots and white cuffs peeping from a buttoned sleeve — he could see nothing more. For one heart-surging moment, he thought it might be her, but this figure was slighter and smaller. He shuddered, then crept slowly around to get a better view...
Without warning, Harry's senses lurched dizzily. Even through the gloom, there was something inexpressible in the person's features that warned him not to let down his guard. Frantically probing his wand even further ahead of him, he side-stepped and backed away both to get a better view and to secure a safer distance.
In that moment, he knew for sure: the spectre and demon, incubus and succubus — the shape-changing Whorlech, all were one and the same. His heart leapt with fear and he flourished his wand — yet all the power of desire overwhelmed him once more and he was lost, unable to chant a curse or even to tear himself away. The arch of the limbs, the line of the cheek, the eyes perfectly matching her eyes with a new intensity, a vividness and precision that broke his heart.
"Hello, Harry. I knew you'd come."
To say that Harry was astonished would not do justice to the high orbit of his emotions. To claim he was shocked would mislead one into the negative when all the universe was now wholly good. To suggest he was bowled over might be close because the figure launched itself at him in a fearsome hug which was oh, so familiar...
"HERMIONE? By all that's... It can't be... I didn't recognise you with..."
"With so many clothes on?" she smirked, releasing him from her embrace.
Harry looked her up and down, still not comprehending, still not believing this was other than a vision, a new form of the demon, more refined, more perfected, more... perfect — yet younger.
"How? How is it possible?"
"Oh, I took them from one of the wardrobes." She watched him intently, enjoying herself immensely.
Harry blinked rapidly, trying to make sense of what she was saying. "No, not your clothes! How did you... Why aren't you... erm... dead?" His eyes flickered over her then as if checking for any trace that she might have ghostly features. "And so young-looking!"
"So are you, Harry — or have you lacked the spirit to consider yourself in the mirror? This is nineteen-ninety-five, and I'm not quite sixteen yet." She sighed. "Take a seat, Harry and I'll explain — and apologise."
The astonished youth started obediently towards the guest armchair which she indicated with an outstretched arm, but then he stopped and stepped back to her. He placed his hands on her upper arms, pressing inwards as if he were uncertain of her solidity. His hands slid down to her fingers and he lifted them. She wore his mother's watch on her left wrist. Luna's other friendship ring was on her finger — no, his ring that he had given her in the gully.
He could not ever let go of her hands.
"You're real... you're really real..."
She could see in the contortions of his face that he was still struggling with powerful emotion.
He glanced over his shoulder at the seat she had offered him.
"No," he said.
"No?" There was a humorous challenge in her smile.
He drew her down to sit with him on the great shaggy rug before the flickering fire. "Never did need any chairs, did we?" said he, kicking off his shoes.
His arms drew her close and they held one another tight for a long time without speaking. An exquisite sensation of presence bound them in unutterable joy. Harry could not help but wonder why he had not been able to do this before, what could possibly have hindered them? Hermione basked in their new rush of affection for each other.
"How are you, Harry? How have you been?"
"Miserable." He drew back only enough to study her face. "I wished you'd contacted me, told me you were alive." There was no condemnation in his voice, just an air of confusion, amazement, and acceptance of whatever this was, real or unreal, he wanted it to go on and on...
"I was weak; for several days I was frail," said Hermione. There was no easy way. And what would happen if Hogwarts received an owl from the deceased Hermione Granger?"
Harry nodded encouragingly and rubbed her back in comforting circles. The last thing he wanted was for her to ever feel guilty about anything.
"But those were not the real reasons," she added.
He waited, still locking her to him with his arms, afraid to let go.
"I have known for some time the hour you would come, the exact minute in fact. I dare not break that event for it had already happened."
"Harry, did you see anything... strange when you arrived?"
He let out a long breath. "That spectre that Sirius warned us about. It's real! I saw it twice. It was hideous. But I suspect it's really that demon — the Whorlech!"
"They are all me."
"They are? Oh. ... Well, when I said 'hideous' I meant—"
"You remember this?" She hooked one thumb around the chain at her throat.
"The Time-turner? But it's..."
"Just a copy, yes, I know. I was impetuous and used it. Big mistake. Oh, it works reasonably well, but it leaves fragmented images of me through time, all slowly trying to catch up. And for quite a while after arriving, I appear, sort of... distorted, twisted apart."
"Does it hurt?"
"Not at all. I feel normal and mobile. After a few minutes the imagery catches up but it scared me a lot in the beginning."
"I bet it did. Scared the hell out of me too!" He snuggled in even closer. She responded. He wondered if it might be possible to hug forever and separate only occasionally instead of the other way round.
"Sorry about that!" She laughed. "It was unintentional. I had to often move through time, you see, particularly to learn more about Merlin's Blessing — over a decade into the past. I could not then sit around for the years to roll forward to return here. Harry! The Time-turners DO work forward when unrestricted! You only have to be careful not to change anything you know for certain has already happened or must happen in the future."
He scarcely comprehended, being too focused on the little movements of her body against him as she spoke, the expansion of her torso when she drew life into her lungs, that same breath on his cheek as her words flowed over him, the scent of white lilies, the detailed sensation of her dress material under his fingers. "Mmm... Yes, I see..." he said vaguely, and not seeing at all, "Time-turner..."
"Once I knew that, I made a vow to myself that after using the Blessing I would put a big message indicating its success or failure in the hall saying simply, Yes, No, or nothing at all if I didn't think I ought to know."
Each tiny emphasis was a delicious little nudge. This warm yielding fitted them together much more nicely than elbows and clenched-away fists under the invisibility cloak, Harry observed.
"Then I used the Time-turner to go forward but there was nothing there. That's when I heard it." Her body stiffened briefly against him.
"Heard what?" He twisted back just a little to see her expression again, then quickly hugged in again.
"Someone was trying to get in. Even though it's impossible for anyone to enter who's not wanted, the Peverells still made it so they could hear if an intruder had reached the bookcase. That's why they made it awkward to get past it."
"It wasn't that difficult," smirked Harry.
"It wasn't?" Hermione stared blankly into the fire. "Of course!" She muttered something to herself.
"Well it wasn't!" said Harry. "Any video gamer would soon spot the book trigger and push it in."
"There weren't any video games when the Peverells designed the security for this place, Harry."
"I guess not."
"So, it was... obvious? The book, I mean?"
Harry nodded. She could feel his grin against her cheek.
"I ought to have charmed it again..." muttered Hermione.
"What are you talking about, Hermione?"
"There was a Notice-me-not charm on that book when I first arrived. I removed it but never thought to charm it again. Yes, it all makes sense now. I wondered how you got in so quickly."
"But what about the intruder? Who was it?"
Harry felt her body tremble with laughter that buzzed into his ear. Fingers were combing affectionately through his hair.
She said, "I'd just come forward to the future to see if I had left a message. I heard someone stumbling about and cursing beyond the wall. I tried to think what to do before the prowler figured it out — I knew I ought not to interact with anyone not of my own time, you see — but I was taken by surprise because he got in so quickly!"
"So who was it?"
"Why, you of course! I screamed and ran in here. I soon realised I daren't stay, so I used the Time-turner to go back to my own time."
"Then you must have seen the spectre, Hermione! It was..." He tailed off as he recalled what she had said earlier.
She stroked the side of his face and smiled. "The spectre was me, remember?"
A darkness clouded his features. "Does this mean... Hermione, is this how you... Oh, no..." He pulled back from her, almost releasing her for the first time since arriving.
"What is it, Harry?"
"Have you come from the past to tell me all this? Have you yet to... go back and die in the Tournament? That's where it all must end? How long have you got?" He suddenly became very agitated. "Don't go back, Hermione! Don't go! I don't care if the universe is ripped apart! I don't give a—!"
"Harry, Harry! Calm down." She cupped her hands around his face and looked at him. "You cannot cheat fate like that. That's what Merlin's Blessing is for."
"But, then how...?"
"You remember when you taught me to fly low and safely on a broomstick — just before the first task?"
He paused only briefly then nodded.
"And when we went up to the stadium I shouted at you to go away?"
"I came back," he said.
"You did?" The flames in the fire crackled and spat sparks and for a few moments a yellowish flare highlighted Hermione's surprised expression.
"I came back, Hermione. I knew what you were doing. You knew you were likely to get killed. You didn't want me to get too attached to you, did you? Bit late for that! Anyway, when I returned you had gone. Where did you go to, Hermione?"
"Not where but when. I travelled forward in time."
"To now? You still have to go back?"
She smile-kissed him on the forehead to ease his anxiety.
"No, Harry, I only went forward a few hours. I couldn't tell much from the empty stadium. I wanted to get a better idea of the layout, where the dragon might move..."
"I can't believe..."
"I saw where I died, Harry. I knew I would die and there was nothing I could do about it because I had already seen it had happened and you can never change what is true without extreme risk."
Harry gulped and his voice grew fainter and fainter. "Then how did... How could... How do you cope with something like that?"
"It was really difficult to handle. Then I remembered Buckbeak."
"Buckbeak?" said Harry, weakly.
"Remember, we never really saw the Hippogriff die in our third year, did we, Harry?"
"Nnn... not directly, but we heard the thud of the axe."
"Yes, but if we had seen... If we'd seen his head... Well, there'd be no way to change that."
"But we all saw you die, Hermione! Hundreds of us! I saw your face! We all saw your body afterwards. It was the most dreadful thing I've ever seen in my life and I've seen a lot!"
"It wasn't me, Harry," said Hermione, quietly.
"Who then? I saw your face on the approach. It was you, I know it was!"
"It was Kayley Stevens. At least, it was her after the dragon fire hit me."
"Who?" croaked Harry. His voice had now all but faded away.
"Kayley Stevens. She was a Muggle, a runaway from Social Services."
"Can't be. You couldn't have switched with... That's too ghastly!"
"What do you take me for! She had already asphyxiated and partly burnt in an abandoned house. Smoke fumes got her."
"But why were you there?"
"Same as her. I ran away, Harry. It was that Hogsmeade weekend I ran away. It wasn't only about Ron and Lavender — I intended never to return."
"I was scared!" she said defensively, pulling back from him a little and shifting her position on the rug but he still clung to one of her hands as if afraid she might suddenly try to leave him. She continued, "You can't imagine how scared I was before the Tournament. I ran away from Hogwarts. I was prepared to lose my magic in the end, I was so badly frightened."
He squeezed her hand gently. "I can imagine, Hermione. I can."
"Anyway, when I saw that poor girl... well, I wanted to know what had led her there. I confess I read her diary. She had suffered so much, I felt ashamed. In the end I returned the same day, as you know."
Harry stared at her. There was a ringing silence for a while. When she could see he was starting to think, trying to work it out, she continued.
"After you showed me to the arena, after I saw where I was supposed to die in the future, I used the Time-turner again. I went back to that Hogsmeade weekend and went out again — that time Filch saw me, remember? I concealed her body with a charm and brought it to Hogwarts.
Harry looked horrified. "Why didn't you go back earlier and warn her about the explosion!"
"Harry, you can't do that. She was stone-cold dead. I saw her body! You can't change what has actually happened or you might create a rift in time. The consequences could be disastrous!"
Harry didn't answer. He let go of her hand and went to stir the fire with the brass poker that stood in the hearth. It didn't need it.
Hermione read his expression lit by the flames. "Well, what if that rift destroyed an entire town? Or Hogwarts? Or the world itself? Oh, sorry, I wanted to save this one person! Harry Potter says so!"
"Alright! Alright! I get it!"
"No, you don't, Harry! It's real! It's really real what the Time-turner does. It's power is frightening. It makes disarming a fusion bomb in Trafalgar Square seem trivial by comparison. That's why I was so terrified when you had your wand raised pointing at what you thought was the spectre! If you had killed me then, it would have been dreadful — and I don't mean only for me! I had not then yet used the Blessing. I hadn't done anything yet! It would all have unwound and you with it!"
She was standing now, staring at him, even as he stared into the fire. She took a deep breath. "Don't you realise? You would never have had that near-death experience. Voldemort's soul would still be inside you right now! I've been researching that. It meant he could have come back! He might have enslaved the world for many terrible years. Billions would have suffered and died horribly. Of course, I do not know that specifically but I know the scale of the potential horror."
His expression did not convince her that he fully appreciated the magnitude of what she was saying but at least he had lost the sense of criticism that had stung her before.
"So, what did you do with poor Kayley's body," he said sullenly. "How on earth did you bring her back to Hogwarts?"
"I dressed the body up in some of my own school robes — there was a ripped one where I had needed to tear away that damned GRANGER'S NAME IS MUD— badge — the curse made it impossible to repair. She was very near my size but at least she was not stiff with rigor mortis"
Harry winced. "That must have been a fun session," he growled. "I can just see you two on the bus. Didn't Stan Shunpike notice anything odd, like, erm... she was dead?"
Hermione rolled her eyes in a way so characteristic of her that Harry struggled to suppress a smile despite a wish to remain annoyed.
"I couldn't take her on the bus, could I, Harry! No, I... uuh... borrowed your Firebolt."
"Don't you remember Filch told Fudge I snuck out with a broomstick just after nine? I had no choice. I used a concealment charm on myself and the broom and flew all the way to Inverness and back. Terrified me to death but it was hours of extra practice for the tournament actually."
"Hang on, how could you get back into Hogwarts later in the day? Everyone, including Filch, knew we were under arrest."
"You're forgetting the Time-turner. When I got back not too far down the road from the Hogwarts gates I went back to about nine-fifteen, kept the body concealed with the charm and used the Mobilicorpus spell to hover it above my head as I walked through the gates. It's not surprising that Filch, being a Squib, cannot test for flying invisible dead bodies, and the underage trace could only relate to the earlier Hermione whose—"
"Whose wand had not been used!"
"Precisely. So, once inside Hogwarts' grounds I hovered Kayley over to—"
Harry sighed. "Poor girl, lugged around like a sack of—"
"I didn't like it, Harry! But according to the newspapers she was friendless and had no relatives to care what happened to her after she had run away. I treated her body with respect and dignity as best I could and she was decently buried by my parents in my name. It was as if we had taken her into our family. She will always be honoured as a Granger who saved not only my life but—"
"Your parents! What about your parents, Hermione?" He took a step back towards her.
"I fully informed them what I was doing, obviously. Like you, they were concerned, but delighted I had found a way out of that dreadful Tournament in a way that no Death Eater would have any reason to threaten them again — there'd be no point... frankly, they were glad I was out of Hogwarts too."
"They were threatened?"
"Yes, and tortured to force them to make an Unbreakable Vow! I've not been able to track that foul coward down yet but I know he had straw-coloured hair and pale skin. One day I swear I'll—"
"Barty Crouch, Junior," said Harry, solemnly.
"Who? How do you know?"
"He had been disguised as Mad-eye Moody all along — even that time he Imperiused us in class, remember?"
Hermione put a hand to her mouth in astonishment. It all seemed so long ago but she remembered it vividly. Her eyes narrowed viciously. "Where is he? How do I find him? I'm resolved to rid the world of Death Eater scum like him!"
"No need, Hermione. Moody himself told me that after you found a way out of the Tournament that it was Crouch's magic that failed not yours, because he was the actual one who entered the name. He was arrested and eventually received the Dementor's Kiss."
"Oh. ... So that's why...!" Hermione tried to digest the information — that it was her own action that had eventually sealed Crouch's fate.
Harry saw the mixed emotions crossing her face and cut quickly into her thoughts, "That Tournament — how on earth did you get the girl's body into the arena without anyone noticing? Not even Dumbledore?"
"I took her forward in time and placed her in the stadium behind the rock — just ahead of where I was supposed to die at the edge. Then I copied the Time-turner copy again."
"It was really risky. The fragmentation effect was even worse after that. The spectre became more... disfigured... distorted."
"But did it matter, on the body, I mean?"
"I put the first copy on Kayley, and I kept the second copy for myself."
"Why? Why didn't you—!"
"Harry, I was rushing and scared out of my wits. I don't know why, I just did. Maybe I felt I owed it to her not to risk sending her to... Who knows what? I didn't have any idea what might happen with double-copied magic."
"Like more dreadful than dragon fire? And what about yourself? Something awful might have happened to you."
Hermione bit her lip. "I suppose I could have worked it out better... Anyway, it actually helped because the first copy of the Time-turner only went wrong for... well, seconds — far less than a minute anyway, but using this second copy, I fragment for longer depending on how far in time I move. It would have been obvious to everybody in the stadium if the body was splitting and distorting and glowing red for several minutes! I didn't know that at the time, of course. Just dumb luck..."
Harry sighed and came back to her, taking her hands in his once more. "You did great. I'm just being horrible and grumpy. It takes some adjusting to all this. You only left some of your appearance behind — I think I've left my brain behind somewhere! I still can't believe you're alive! Anything you do is fine by me!" His eyes were moving constantly and delightedly over her features, her eyes, her lips, her hairline.
Hermione's face brightened a little and she carried on excitedly. "I put the Time-turner on her and sent her back to within the time of my task. I couldn't be more precise than that because I couldn't be certain of all my exact moves and the Time-turner itself was inexact, proportional to how far I travelled.
Harry drew in a quick gasp but quickly said, "What then?"
"It seemed odd to be sending her at that time — my time I mean, but I knew that meant she would appear at the right moment. Later... I mean earlier, of course... when I was doing the actual task."
Harry grimaced and his brow twisted in puzzlement, trying to follow what she was saying.
Hermione continued, "I mean, when I was doing the actual task, I advanced slowly, drawing out the time as long as I could until I saw her body appear behind the rock, then I made my move. I dashed across the gap between the rocks expecting to get to safety then hover her body back into position but the Firebolt seemed sluggish compared to when we practised and when I flew to Inverness. Do broomsticks wear out if you—?"
"MALFOY! I'll kill him! I saw him heading away from the locker rooms after you... well, you know... told me to clear off, basically."
"Sorry," said Hermione, woefully.
"Anyway, I bet he jinxed the Firebolt!"
Hermione shook her head slowly in disbelief. "Then he's another one I'd like to have put in prison — I mean, he nearly killed me! Those few seconds delay made all the difference. The dragon saw me and it was so fast for such a big beast! It breathed flames in my direction almost instantly! Only your fire shield spell bought me enough time. I summoned Kayley's body to me in the blaze and used your mother's Portkey an instant later."
"My mother had her own Portkey?"
"The watch, remember?" She lifted her wrist to show him. "The Portkey is inside the back cover. I had it open and ready in my pocket. There's no other way out of Hogwarts without permission. Apparition doesn't work. You can't even Portkey into Hogwarts unless it's a return journey. But the castle doesn't care who Portkeys outwards; it's penetration that it guards against.
"No, I guess not." He stared at her. "You worked all this out without telling anyone? Without asking anyone?"
She frowned. I didn't think anyone would let me go ahead — especially you. I suppose I ought to have told—"
"It's genius, that's what it is!" said Harry, exuberantly, taking her into a hug again. "It's... inspired! It's bloody brilliant! Your best ever!"
Hermione had the grace to blush. "Well... yes, it wasn't bad, was it?" She smiled, pleased with herself at last, accepting his approval with gratitude.
"So, I got out of Hogwarts," she said breathlessly. "I escaped that foul Tournament. And, amazingly, I didn't lose my magic! I half-expected to but I was so miserable I was determined to go anyway." She lapsed into murmuring to herself, "So, it was Crouch that put your name in... it was he that lost his magic instead..."
Harry frowned, and sat them down on the rug again, holding hands like little children. "No, your name, you mean. That's what makes no sense."
Hermione shook her neat head of hair. "He did put your name in, Harry but I had already cast a guardian spell on your dad's book to protect you. With myself as the guardian, that charm put me into the Tournament instead of you.
Harry blinked rapidly, utterly bewildered. "I can't keep up with all of this. You did all that for me?"
Hermione remained silent, giving him time to consider what had been said.
"Hermione, there's something I want to do," said Harry, finally.
"Yes, of course."
"I want to kiss you properly. I mean, I was a total loser back there in the gully and ruined it for you. It's bothered me ever since."
"No, it was my fault."
"I know we're not in love or anything but we can do this, Hermione, I know we can! I mean, do it properly. May I try again?"
Hermione stared at Harry, biting her lip. Eventually her eyes began to shine with tears."We can't Harry. I'm so sorry."
"Wh...?" Harry could not speak.
"I tried to tell you before. It wouldn't be right. We're related."
"No, listen to me, Harry. Lady Potter lives upstairs. I worked it out. She couldn't be Lily, nor James's mother — she has to be his grandmother."
Harry was thunderstruck. "M-my ... g-great ... grand—?"
"You've s-seen her?"
Hermione nodded. "She's the spectre."
Harry blinked. "But I thought you said you're the spectre?"
Hermione was still nodding and said very solemnly, "Exactly. There can only be one explanation. I must have travelled back in time to marry James's grandfather — still have to in a few years' time when I'm the right age."
For a long time Harry stared at Hermione with a completely baffled expression on his face, then his eyes widened in astonishment followed by the trace of a smile touching his lips. Finally, he progressed to laughing — so vigorously he had to let go of her to clutch his ribs. He twisted from side to side where they sat on the carpet as if Hermione had said something incredibly funny.
"I'm not joking, Harry!" snapped Hermione. "It means we can never marry, never have children, and we ought never to kiss — not in that sense anyway."
Harry laughed even harder.
"STOP IT! STOP IT, HARRY! Aren't you even listening?"
That restored his self-control sufficient to merely grin as he said, "Hermione Granger, the smartest witch of our year!" He started to laugh again but stopped himself immediately when Hermione scowled.
"Look," he said, "you've overlooked one thing..."
"What!" said Hermione, huffily.
"We already are married. You already are Lady Potter. That first spectre you saw was Lady Potter, but not from years ago!"
"Hermione, the enchanted vow we took was not to get married after six months but to be married!"
"And magically, months have passed — we are both over seventeen. I can use my wand, Hermione! I've cast spells in the street without the underage trace detecting me — so you definitely can too!"
Hermione looked rather faint. "We have to be sure, Harry..."
"Hermione, my great-grandmother died in Azkaban years ago — Sirius told me. There's nobody upstairs."
"But she gave me permission to use this study and the library. I'd never have kept visiting here without that."
"You gave yourself permission, Hermione. Obviously, you've yet to do that, using the Time-turner."
He went to the door, frowning when he confirmed they were locked in, found the key on the inside, turned it, then called out for the ghost. "Erm... excuse me, Lord Cautius, who is upstairs?"
"Why, no one, my Lord."
"Then where is Lady Potter?"
The apparation looked puzzled, "Why, Lady Potter is right there with you, my Lord," he said, open-handedly gesturing towards Hermione.
"Is there another Lady Potter?"
"Not for many years, sir."
"And who am I?"
The ghost blinked in astonishment. "Why, my Lord, you're... Lord Potter, of course."
"Thank you." Harry returned and sat down on the rug again with Hermione. He heard the lock turn in the door again and frowned.
"So, I'm...?" murmured Hermione.
"You're my wife, Hermione, and I'm your husband," he said softly.
"You and I?"
Again, he nodded, examining her expression closely.
She smiled at that, bright-eyed, and they were drawn closer together, his hands on her shoulders, looking at each other's expression, searching the other's eyes for a mutual understanding and reassurance of their intentions. Then all hesitation was dismissed, pushed aside by their determination and fuelled by the pain of separation they had suffered.
Harry's eyes closed instinctively as he touched his mouth to hers. It felt smaller than he had anticipated... very soft... and quite still as if she was not yet sure how to respond. Like gentle fingertips, his lips blindly searched across hers and she reacted — chasing his little kisses around with her own, and stirring herself in his arms. This was her dearest friend who held her at last, young and scrawny again perhaps, but stalwart and reliable and forever true. There was a sweetness in their explorations until her smile opened for him and Harry felt himself slipping into her sudden passion. A fierceness had taken over their embrace with that yielding, locking them into a strange but exhilarating freedom together.
Long moments of tender lovemaking confirmed and satisfied their highest hopes, and the happy couple lay side by side, breathing heavily, and gazing into each other's eyes.
"I do love you, Harry, you know that, don't you?" she said. "Even if it's not the greatest romance of the century."
Harry's throat growled in happy assent, "Mmm... me too. I've never felt this close to anyone, Hermione. I'm not really bothered about that romance stuff anymore. You?"
"No. This is lovely."
"Me too. Very."
"If they could see us now in the Great Hall..." murmured Hermione.
"You could go back? To Hogwarts?" said Harry.
"Only if you want me to, Harry." Her expression hardened. "I still have a few scores to settle with..." She trailed off into a mumble for a few seconds, gazing far away then abruptly shook herself of the reverie. "I'm not sure I can face everyone at Hogwarts, not after letting them all think I'm dead."
"To hell with them — they all abused you something rotten while you were there." He looked into her eyes. "They don't deserve you, Hermione. You are, without a doubt, the best of them."
She looked back at him and glowed invitingly. He kissed her again.
"These kisses are quite good now, aren't they?" she said, mischievously.
"Brilliant," said Harry, pulling up for a moment to look at her face. "You're just so... I'm unbelievably happy that you..." His face grew serious all of a sudden. "But how did you escape from...?"
He nodded. "I thought I'd lost you for sure. I wanted to get back to you, honestly, I did. There was a river. I was swept along..."
"You knew, didn't you?" he said, propping himself up on one elbow, his eyes ever on hers.
"I didn't know the details but I knew from what the succubus said that you earned the right to pass through because of your sacrifice to save me. You attacked it even though you expected to die from its rebound shield. I don't know why it was like that, but it was."
"But... you thought that you could never escape? I didn't see it at the time but since, well, it was obvious with hindsight that you lied to me, didn't you?"
"Sorry, Harry," she said, meekly.
"No need to apologise! You told me I could come back for you but now I reckon you knew I would not be able to."
She nodded. "Yes, there was no way for me to ever sacrifice myself for you after you'd gone so I could never escape that place. If I'd have told you that, then you wouldn't have gone."
"You're right, I wouldn't," said Harry firmly. "Yet you did escape, and now I know how you did it."
Hermione frowned. Had she overlooked something? She had puzzled it over many times.
"You sacrificed yourself when you lied to me," said Harry. "Oh, not to die, but to endure a living death in that place all alone for eternity. Never ageing, but never truly living either — a half-life, Hermione, a meaningless existence."
"Ooh, don't remind me... It was almost paradise with... when we were..."
"...together?" he finished for her, "but hell on your own. I'd have stayed, Hermione. If I'd have known you were stuck there, I would never have left you, no matter what."
"I know you would have, Harry, I know it."
"And yet..." said Harry, becoming serious again, "how actually did you find the way out in time? There were those eruptions. I barely escaped myself!"
"When the lava finally started to spill into the gully, I decided to try this." She held up the wristwatch. "The Portkey to this house."
Harry's eyes almost popped out of his head. "You could have escaped anytime!"
"And leave you there alone? The emblem is too small for two. Anyway, we were in another... life... another dimension... another... reality? Who knows where a Portkey would have taken me? Did the Peverell Retreat even exist in that world?" She gestured to the room around them. "This place is magically carved into solid granite within a mountain. A Portkey only travels through space, not between alternate life possibilities. I had no idea if it would work or if I'd be squashed flat. And I also wanted to work out what the Blessing intended us to do."
He nodded his understanding. "You mean, you no longer cared about the risk once all that lava was pouring towards you!"
"Exactly. It was rather motivating!"
"It was your sacrifice that made the Portkey bring you here," said Harry, "to bring you back... to me. I absolutely love you, Hermione — never doubt that."
They lay smiling at each other again for a while, sharing giggles now and again at the silly, wondrous easiness of it all.
"So... who are you going to save next?" he said after a while.
"Never, never again. Merlin's Blessing is more like Merlin's Curse. I mean, all that we suffered."
Puzzlement frowned across Harry's face. "I'd have thought it was worth it."
"Well, yes — for us. That's different. But imagine inflicting it on anyone else."
"Well, think, why did you use Merlin's Blessing in the first place?"
"Well, it's supposed to bring the fullest happiness possible, given the circumstances. It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"But you did it for me, didn't you."
"For you — yes, of course. I told you, I think you've had enough misery what with the Dursleys and Voldemort."
"So, it worked. Voldemort's soul was destroyed in me, he's dead as well, and..."
"...and what, Harry?" but she knew what he was going to say.
"It made us realise how close is our friendship, even if it's not true romantic love. It brought us together, Hermione. There's no way we'd have done the practical, sensible thing — not for marriage. No, we'd have waited and waited for the noble, righteous thing, hoping to fall in love with the perfect soul-mate! But then, statistically, most likely those blissful partnerships would all have fallen apart sooner or later. Oh, we might have stayed married to someone else for the sake of the kids, or for security or convenience or some noble reason but we'd never have the happiness and the trust, and the companionship with someone else that we have in each other."
"I can't really imagine anyone else," she said, misty-eyed.
They enjoyed looking at one another for a while. They kissed a lot and reminisced. Occasionally, Hermione blushed at their shared memories and he grinned and she would say, "Don't you dare start thinking about that!" and, "I'm never letting you within a mile of a Pensieve!"
~~~ A Bright Future ~~~
Late the next morning, Hermione stretched an arm sleepily across the sheets but Harry was already up and dressed, sitting at the foot of the bed watching her.
"So, sleepyhead, what have you been doing here by yourself all these months?" he said.
"Oh, studying..." She yawned and stretched. Her eyes widened as the cool air touched her skin and she instinctively tugged the bedclothes up to her chin. Her nightgown lay sprawled across the floor. She rolled over to bury her blushes in the pillow.
Harry came and sat beside her, stroking her back to soothe away her shyness. "Catching up on your missed schoolwork, you mean?"
"Only partly," came her muffled reply. "There's a wonderful library here - and a lovely ghost teacher called Candria Peverell. I'd been researching how I might revenge myself on the Death Eaters for what happened to Mum and Dad. What about you?"
She rolled over then and seized his playful hands. "Anything special happened at Hogwarts since I've been gone? Anything good?"
"Erm... Oh, yeah, Ginny and Neville are totally together since the Christmas Ball. Looks very serious if their snogging is anything to go by."
"Ginny and Neville? That's wonderful!"
"All thanks to you, really, now I come to think about it."
"Me! What did I do?"
Harry gazed blankly at her then reached forward and caressed her hair away from her eyes so he could kiss them. "Don't be silly. You know... when you helped Ginny find her true love."
Hermione blinked. Harry grinned. "Merlin's Blessing could not have made me completely happy if Ginny had been hurt, could it? She forgot all about her first-year crush on me, that's for sure. I'm grateful to you for that."
A puzzled look crossed Hermione's face. "I thought Neville was with Luna..."
Harry's frown deepened. "No, that was in my other world, wasn't it? Luna's got an owl-buddy in Scandinavia somewhere. Remember? Your memories are still adjusting. You erm... you do remember last night, don't you, Mrs Potter?" He bit his lip in mock horror.
She bashed him with the pillow. "Of course I do! Turn your back, I want to get dressed."
He laughed and threw her the nightgown as he turned away to the sun-lit window. "The view over the glen is glorious in the morning. Come and look when you're ready."
He could hear her fumbling into old Victorian undergarments behind him. He almost turned... but not quite.
"That's... yes, of course... Luna was... So... Ginny and Neville — right. These different memories are bewildering."
"Yeah, tell me about it — but at least the others are not so strong for me now. Think back to her first year. Ginny was so content with Neville to chat with as her best friend, she didn't write in her diary again, did she? When she gave it to you, and you handed it in to Dumbledore, then he deceived Riddle into telling him all he wanted to know. You do remember that, surely?"
Hermione shook her head. "No."
He heard the bedsprings creak as she sat down and began lacing her boots. Harry came back to her then.
"Hermione! You must remember! You realised right away that the diary was evil. You handed it in to Dumbledore, didn't you, yeah?"
"That's right..." said Hermione, hesitantly. "I'm starting to recollect that... It seems each time a thread of this memory comes back, the other memories fade a little more." Her eyes lit up. "I'll start a log book and write down absolutely everything. You do it too, Harry, so we don't ever forget! I'll get you one of those homework reminders. You know they—"
Harry sighed. "Now I know it's you for sure! For a minute there, I was beginning to think you were another Hermione from another world who hates books and where none of this ever happened!"
"It's Christmas that is especially hazy..." She looked puzzled for a while, thinking it out. "That's right... I was Confunded by Seamus in Snape's Defence class! I spent the night in—"
Her abrupt silence made him take hold of her by the shoulders. She stood up to be enfolded once more by his arms. He said, "What's wrong?"
"I spent the night in the hospital wing. There was a little girl, Mary — a first-year Muggle-born. She died and I didn't realise until..."
Harry nodded. "That's right — Dumbledore announced it at breakfast, didn't he — but... that's fifth year! Hermione, that's fifth year!"
"What of it?"
"I mean, it's not happened yet! Perhaps..." He broke off. "My God, Hestia mentioned a girl called Mary Robinson starting in September. I wonder if it could be her? She's Muggle-born."
"Than I must save her!" cried Hermione.
Harry frowned. "But can you? You mustn't change what has happened or what must happen — you said it yourself."
"But Harry, this hasn't happened at all yet! The Blessing only showed us one possibility! I can save her! I can save her, Harry!"
She dashed off downstairs with Harry in pursuit. "Where are you going! It's months till Christmas!"
"Duty book!" — she puffed — "In — Study — So — don't forget!"
He leaned over her shoulder to watch her write. He loved watching her do stuff. "These other entries..."
"All investigations and information-gathering I'd been planning." She whirled around to face him. "Harry! It'll be easier now you're here! We can— you are staying here, aren't you?"
Harry blinked. A lot. "I'm staying wherever you are, Hermione."
Her face lit up. "And you have your invisibility cloak?"
He nodded. "I also have this." He pulled out Dumbledore's list from his pocket and showed it to her. "Dumbledore erm... kind of gave it to me. They're all known Death Eaters who have escaped justice. I was wondering myself how I might—"
"Together! You and I, Harry!" cried Hermione. She stared at the names. "But this is amazing! Some of these are already in my book too, and I know where two of them are staying. Listen, I've been studying the legal uses of Veritaserum — you'd be surprised at what is possible. We can make this work, Harry! We'll find the evidence we need! We can do something worthwhile and be useful in the world again!"
He smiled at her eagerness. Once breakfast was over they made love again. A bright future was certain for Harry and Hermione Potter.
~~~ Epilogue ~~~
"But what happened to Auntie Luna's friendship rings, Daddy? Why were they separated and not on your remembrance wall?"
"They're linked by marriage as well as friendship now, Rosalie. They're our wedding rings." He held out his hand for her to see. "Your mum's wearing the other. He twisted his arm back around to peer at his watch. "She'll be home soon, then you'll see the ring magic glow when we touch." He winked.
"Did Mummy really have no clothes on? Or was it a dream?"
"Both. It was part of the Blessing experience needed to bring your mother and I uuh... together."
There was a giggle.
"Is that why you fell in love?"
"Rosalie... your mother and I do love one another, but we're not in love, sweetheart — we're just really, really, really close friends."
Rosalie shook her head and grinned cheekily.
As she ran towards the clamour and squeals of the rest of the family arriving in the hallway, she called back over her shoulder, "What's the difference!
"Jamie! Lunabeth! Wotcha get me!"
"Hold your horses, Rosie — let me get poor little Lu's mittens off first. ... Lu — run to Daddy's office and ask him to rub your hands warm and give him this smoochy kiss from me. There! ... Jamie, can you start hovering the groceries away for me?"
Hermione's voice raised a couple of decibels above her son's grumbles. "Harry! Did you send Nev and Ginny's cards yet? Ron and Fay said they can bring them through their Floo after all so that'll save us owling."
"What about the Scamanders? Will Luna be back in the country in time?" he called.
"Thestral sledge. They're flying straight here for breakfast on the morning, as soon as the twins have opened their presents. I told her they can land in the meadow; the snow's really deep there."
"Wow! Must see that! Be a full house then when your mum and dad arrive!"
"I love loads of excited kids running about! Did you get my kiss yet?" she shouted.
"I got several wet giggle-kisses — where they all yours? Hang on. I'm sending Lu back with my own..."
It was going to be a wonderful Christmas for the Potters. All was well.
And there you have it. Simple really! Haha! But are Harry and Hermione really romantically in love or not? YOU decide.
I wasn't sure what to call the kids. I could find nothing about the origin of 'Rose Weasley's' name in the original so I assume Hermione liked it but I wanted this fic to be a bit different because it's a different pairing, so I chose 'Rosalie' — she's eleven in the new year. Same with 'Jamie' which I wanted to be a bit different to 'James' and hint at a Scottish location — he's twelve. Since Sirius, Snape, and Dumbledore did not die in this fic I didn't feel the same emotional pressure for Harry to name his kids after them but I did want to honour Luna's name somehow with little Lunabeth, who is only about three.
Finally, after all that Harry and Hermione had been through, I just had to round it off with JKR's own words: 'All was well.'
Oh, yes, and the fire, air, water, earth endings to each of the four parts of the story? Well, the Retreat is 3/4ths underground right?
Many thanks for all comments and reviews. These are most welcome and very encouraging. Let me know of any weaknesses or faults — I'm always trying to improve my writing so feedback is really useful. :)