This chapter is in response to Vegasman59's suggestion that I needed at least one more chapter. Here you go!
FOUR YEARS LATER
"Daddy!", screamed Lillian Jane Potter, rushing across the lawn to where her father had just apparrated in. Hermione put her book down, smiling, as the love of her life swept their little girl up in his arms, allowing her to rain kisses all over his face. Chuckling at her antics, he carried their precocious child back to her mother, depositing her amongst the toys she'd been playing with moments before. One final kiss on his daughter's cheek, and Harry leaned over to be met with one of his wife's sensual kisses that always seemed to run chills up and down his spine.
"How was your day, dear?", asked Hermione, putting her book on the side table by her chair.
Harry snorted, a combination of disgust and frustration evident in his tone. "Those bloody old farts are so damned stubborn! One minor change of wording in a law, and they act as if I'm attempting to change the very fabric of the universe. " His eyes met his wife's, smiling at her beautiful face. "The darned thing should have taken a total of fifteen minutes, tops, to be reviewed and passed. Instead, four hours later, plus two hours for lunch, and they decided to vote on it tomorrow! I've half a mind to tell the whole lot to sod off!"
Hermione laughed, smiling. Years ago Harry would have done just what he said, but being a loving husband, combined with fatherhood had changed him drastically. He now exhibited a patience that all of his friends and colleagues commented on. More than once Harry had stood by somewhat abashed, as people complimented her on what a changed man he was, compared to the temperamental youth of just a few years before. Harry himself looked back on his teenage years with embarrassment, recalling some of his more famous outbursts, one of which had left their Headmasters office a shambles. He still didn't understand why he never served a detention for that!
As one, they both looked to where their first-born was playing with her toys, poking her little broom, encouraging it to travel in circles around her. At each pass she patted it, encouraging it to go faster, clapping her little hands in glee. "Oh, she is going to be the death of me! I can just see it!", moaned Hermione, answered by her husband's chuckle. With love and admiration they watched their daughter.
Though Hermione had secretly been hoping for a boy, she'd been amazed at how happy Harry had been with they'd found out their first-born was a girl. "Every family needs a girl just like you were", he'd explained, "to keep the other's in line. Just like you did for me!" Tears had been running down her face at his explanation, which had earned him an extra special night he still remembered fondly.
Lilly, unaware of her parent's scrutiny, was now trying to get her toy to perform figure-eights. She'd been blessed with her mother's hair, yet had the same piercing green eyes as her father. As both her parents were quite slim, she was tinier than one would expect of a three and a half year old. However, much to her parents dismay she displayed traits of recklessness, thankfully curbed by intelligence and an extraordinarily organized mind for someone so young. On more than one occasion they'd stood there as she explained things to her father in an all too familiar lecturing tone. Harry, a bemused expression on his face, only had to look at his wife to see her snickering at him before the pair burst into laughter. This only served to aggravate Lilly, and she'd stomp her little foot and storm off. She'd then throw herself on her little chair, arms crossed, angry expression on her face trying to figure out what her parents found so funny.
After the birth of their daughter, Harry had rented out Grimmauld Place, as neither he nor Hermione wanted to raise their children in urban London. Both had felt the freedom enjoyed by the Weasley children, being able to play and enjoy the gift of their magical heritage while growing up would give their child the best of both worlds. They still took her to Diagon Alley regularly, usually followed by visits to art galleries, museums, and libraries in muggle London. Once she was a little older they felt it would be good to expose her to travelling, giving her the experiences Hermione had enjoyed while exploring places with her highly educated parents.
Hermione had cut back her hours, settling into a research/consultant role with the Unspeakable department. It was virtually unheard of, but both she and Harry had given the Ministry an ultimatum; either that or she'd leave for good. With her brains and their combined reputation there were no doors she couldn't open, and no venue she probably couldn't conquer. So, once a week, an intern would arrive with a satchel of classified documents, pick up her weeks work, and leave. Once a month she'd attend department meetings for updates or collaborations, if it was deemed necessary.
Harry had stuck with the law department. He'd turned out to have an eye for detecting loopholes, and/or conflicting problems with existing or proposed laws. As such, he'd gained a reputation for having the backbone to stand up to the Wizengamot, often telling them directly to their face they were a bunch of blind old fools. It had helped that many of the laws he was helping change actually bettered society, ensuring a more stable environment. Enlisting the help of Gringott's, he'd proven that the changes would encourage growth, and it had, the wizarding galleon now enjoying an all time high in it's worldwide exchange rate. A nice bonus for the Potter's was that once a month now, the goblins often sent gift-baskets containing rare and exotic treats and or items as a thank you for helping them make them even more money.
Those bonuses had allowed them to invest their money wisely, with the added benefit of the country home they now lived in, less than twenty miles from the Rookery, the Lovegood's home. It was a humble, two-storey, four bedroom country home on ten hectares, surrounded by trees, with a small stream running through the rear of the property. There was a small detached garage, housing their modified SUV.
As Harry and Hermione were both a little on the paranoid side, they'd warded the property heavily, adding in runic protection similar to that employed on the grounds of Hogwarts. It would take a full-scale assault similar to what occurred at the last battle at the castle to even broach their defences. Additionally, Harry had hired Arthur Weasley to show him how he'd modified the Ford Anglia, and had enhanced the vehicle magically. Rather than having it fly, it could now be fully-cloaked, with modified Disillusionment charms, and was bomb proof. It would take several hits from multiple RPG's to even throw the vehicle off course. The benefit of the magical enhancements meant there was no added weight, and so could still maintain factory speeds. It had taken Hermione's genius intellect to figure out how to buffer the sensitive electronics from the 'backlash' of magic that would normally short such things as microchips out.
The stability and security of their home gave them a perfect environment for raising a family, and it showed.
Hermione leaned back, easing herself into a more comfortable position. Her slim body gave evidence as her dress shifted, showing the telltale bulge of another child on the way. "You okay?", Harry asked, seeing her shifting uncomfortably.
She smiled reassuringly. He was such a devoted and loving husband, she thought to herself. "I'm fine. It's just the normal discomfort as my back is getting used to...", her hands gestured, indicating her stomach growth. "It throws off my balance quite badly, you know!"
Harry chuckled, meeting her loving eyes with his own. Being so slim, his wife grew forward during pregnancy, so that it seemed she was carrying a football under her clothing. It made her movements during the later stages of pregnancy clumsy, a fact which he had tried so hard not to laugh at on more than one occasion. His wife's skill with a wand had increased, as well as her knowledge, and he had no wish to be on the receiving end of her hexes. She'd have felt bad afterwards, but it still would have been painful.
Switching the topic to more mundane things, they chatted the remainder of the day away, watching their daughter play in the grass of the back yard. Harry's stomach growled, at which point Hermione announced it was time for dinner, and a shrieking Lilly ran over, grabbing her parent's hands as they made their way into the house.
He awoke, head aching, confused. Opening his eyes slowly he tried to recollect what had happened. There had been a fight. Bellatrix. Suddenly it all came back to him. "Harry!", he screamed, jumping to his feet, wand at the ready, eyes searching. He was surrounded by a vast landscape of rolling green grass, interrupted here and there by protruding rocks and shrubs. There was nothing nearby to give any clue to his whereabouts. Alarmed even more, he turned in a slow circle, eyes scanning for friends and enemies. For all intents and purposes, it seemed he'd been deposited in a farmers field in Wales, yet nothing looked remotely familiar.
In the distance he thought he saw a small roof. Looking around he saw no other recourse, and resolutely started walking, all the while his mind racing in a combination of fear and determination.
"Does he know?", asked a figure, watching the strides of the lanky, dark haired man.
"Yes. And also no", came a cryptic response. Someone snorted.
"Okay. It's us, so you can lay off the mumbo-jumbo!", another stated.
"How long do we have?", asked another.
"It will take as long as it takes." This from the 'leader', his long beard quivering in silent mirth. It seemed death allowed one to still maintain humour, much to his compatriots despair. Someone groaned.
Sensing frustration, he sighed. No one had ever really appreciated his humour, often being too vague for many to grasp. "Not long now. Perhaps an hour, maybe two", he offered. Several sighs of relief met his final words.
His blue eyes twinkling over the tops of his half-moon glasses , he looked around. "You all do understand that that everything here is...highly unusual?" Everyone nodded.
A red-haired younger woman looked at him, green-piercing eyes meeting his gaze. "If it is as you surmised, 'intent', then there is a precedent here none expected. There does remain a chance." The old man met her gaze unflinchingly.
"Indeed!" Turning to the shimmering bowl in front of them they saw the figure was now half way to his destination. "There does also remain the chance that his mind might not be able to grasp what is transpiring. That could be...catastrophic. For 'him'."
They all turned as one, and with bated breath saw he was now much closer.
"Soon, we will know!", he finished, his gaze now locked on the wand in the man's hand.
Harry sat in his favourite chair, reading his daughter a bed-time story, or so she thought. "So", her face scrunched up in concentration. "Unka Sirius and your daddy, and Wormy all became ani...ani...?"
"Animagi", he finished. "Yes, so they could help Unka Remus. They all ran through the woods, to help him keep him happy, so he wouldn't hurt anyone", he added. Their bedtime stories were a little offbeat, but both he and Hermione had wanted their children to remember the people they'd loved so much. Well, not 'Wormy', as she called him.
The tale finished, he tucked Lilly into her bed and came downstairs, sagging into the chair, his heart heavy. It was hard to remember what he'd had for only a short time in his life, without being overcome by sadness. At his side Hermione unconsciously grasped his hand in hers, entwining their fingers. She hadn't looked up from her novel, but through the bond they shared she could easily feel his pain. Sighing, he gently squeezed her hand before disengaging and fetching them both a butterbeer. On the way back he picked up one of the few pictures he had of Sirius, gazing at the beloved man who'd been in his life for far too short a time.
The figure winked, and smiled, waving. As much as he loved the moving wizarding pictures, at times the lifelike movements were 'too real', leading one to momentarily forget that the person within was gone from your life.
"Do you ever wonder what is beyond the Veil?", he asked softly, seating himself beside his wife, handing her the drink.
"Far too often, Harry. Far too often!", she smiled, sadness on her features as she gazed at her love.
"I know it used to be used to end lives, but really, where did they go?" Many times they'd had these conversations, but for some reason his voice sounded...different. Hermione fixed her gaze on her husband, knowing too well what that faraway look in his eyes was. She'd always seen it just before he'd had some sort of epiphany, an answer to a question or puzzle.
His eyes met hers, and he continued. "The Veil was utilized for executions, but where did they go? Death claims souls, unless there are unresolved issues. Hence ghosts. But all those sentenced were also put through without their wands. He still had his." Harry stopped, reaching a crossroad in his thoughts. Slowly, pausing, as he collected his thoughts, "Has any magical object ever been created without a purpose?", he asked, eyes fixed on his wife's.
Hermione knew they'd had similar discussions to this many times, but that was the first time he'd ever posed her that question, and she wracked her mind for an answer. "Nooo", she answered, drawing the word out. "It is theoretically impossible to create without intent. Every spell must contain intent, or else fail in the casting. It's like trying to drive a nail without looking at the head of it." She demonstrated with a similar hand movement. "Just because you want the nail to be in the wood, joining the two pieces together, doesn't make it happen. It is the intent, followed by the action, that determines the hammer hitting the nail that makes it so." Right now she was thoroughly puzzled, especially as to why this question had never been asked before.
Sensing her husband might be onto something, she patted his hand comfortingly, trying to draw him away from such potentially depressing thoughts. "Leave it dear. It's almost the weekend. I'll call in and get some background material, and we can both look into it." She held up a hand, knowing how he still had the propensity to tear off on an objective, exhausting himself mentally and physically. "I know what you're thinking, so maybe Neville and Hanna can take Lilly for the day so we're not distracted?"
Realizing his wife was right, he agreed. He wasn't sure why he had this niggling feeling in the back of his mind, but he knew if they didn't at least look on their own he'd be plagued with sleepless nights and brooding thoughts, irritating the crap out of his pregnant wife. Those were dangerous waters!
The former Marauder had stopped, examining the structure before him. It seemed innocuous enough, yet he had a feeling something was going on. Years of pulling pranks, escaping authority figures, Auror training, followed by years in prison had instilled in him a distrust of situations he couldn't fully understand.
No one from his past could ever accuse him of being an intellectual, rather more a womanizer and troublemaker, yet he'd the feeling something strange was in the works. His last memories were of falling through that strange archway, then nothing, until his eyes had opened shortly before. He was still wearing the clothes he'd worn to the Ministry, and still had his wand, and could still feel his magic pulsing at his fingertips, ready to leap at his call. That house had beckoned to him, yet he was reluctant to go any further. In his own mind he believed himself dead, but close examination of his own body while walking spoke otherwise.
His lungs seemed to work, and he could feel his heartbeat. There was no breeze, but was able to feel a warmth on his skin from...something. There was no discernable sun, yet it was light out and apparently early summer, judging by the grass his footsteps left marks in.
Puzzled, and anxious, he studied the house, searching for answers. None forthcoming, he shrugged, squared his shoulders and marched up to the door. Raising his hand, he knocked, listening to the echo as the sound travelled through the dwelling.
"He's here!", the red-haired woman said in an excited whisper.
"I think it's time for you all to disappear", said the old man, raising a hand before their whispers could build. Expecting protests, he looked around, glad they all still respected his knowledge somewhat, even in these unusual circumstances. He smiled then, and with a gentle 'shooing' gesture they should make themselves scarce. As the final one disappeared around the corner a loud knock resounded throughout the house.
Of all the people Sirius Black expected to see in his own personal hell or heaven, the last one he'd ever considered was the aged, long-bearded figure who threw open the door. His eyes widened, spell on his lips fading as he sputtered, "Albus?".
The aged wizard smiled, stepping to the side and beckoning the younger man into the house. "Come, my old friend. Come. We have some things to discuss!" Sirius stood rooted to the spot, still staring at the old man, who frowned at his hesitation.
"Sirius?", he asked, the question loaded with numerous nuances.
"I, ah, urrrgh, are you dead?", came a choked reply. At which he only received a chuckle in reply.
"In a manner of speaking", he said in his usual round-about way, causing the first sign of life in the 'unexpected guest'.
"Yup. Definitely you!", snorted the lanky man, and strode into the house, finally regaining some composure.
Inside, he looked around curiously, as the house was very plain, with only basic furnishings in site. His stomach rumbled, and he realized he was hungry. He looked at the old wizard, hopefully, and was rewarded with another laugh. "Yes, yes. This way, and we'll see what we can do about your belly!" Leading the way, he travelled through a small hallway to a rather cozy kitchen, where a teapot simmered on a stove. The smell of fresh, baked bread assailed their noses, and a scent of roast beef made Sirius's mouth water. Striding past the figure who appeared to be none other than Albus Dumbledore, he spotted where the bread and beef were laid out on a platter, and laid in with a gusto. Albus just watched bemused, pulling forth a chair, seating himself while carefully arranging his ornate robes.
Several minutes later, his body's needs met, Sirius sat staring at the old man, trying to match him gaze for gaze. As always he had to give, as with one hundred and fifty years under his belt none could really match the Headmaster's stern look.
With eyes closed, Sirius sensed something large, and rather heavy, was destined to drop into his lap. Inside, he wasn't sure if he was up to it. Opening his eyes he scrubbed his hand across his rough face, suddenly tired. "What gives, old man?"
Albus met his eyes for a moment longer, before sighing himself. "Well, we're not exactly sure", he started, before being interrupted by the younger man.
"Yes, we. Who, for now reamains unimportant. The questions you should presently be considering now are rather the why and how?" His eyes twinkling he met the former Marauder's look. "How much do you remember?", he asked, gently.
"I see", he said, after being told, nodding to himself. "And just when do you think this happened?" His eyes hardened, and for some reason Sirius knew that this answer was especially important.
He thought, carefully, before answering. "Maybe yesterday, perhaps as early as a few hours ago?"
Albus stared at him thoughtfully. "Would you be willing to believe that, by my reckoning, it was almost two years ago?"
Sirius felt his heart skip a beat, and stood, suddenly not able to sit any longer. Pacing the kitchen his panicked mind tried to formulate what the former Headmaster was telling him. Two years? Impossible, yet, was it? No one had ever really figured out what that damned arch had been constructed for, nor where it went. He searched his memory for what he could recollect from his Auror days. It had been proposed as multiple things, from a long distance travel device, to an execution device, to nothing more than a random mistake. He whirled, a question on his lips.
"Where am I?", he demanded.
Dumbledore smiled, tapping his finger on the side of his nose. "Now we're getting somewhere!", he chuckled. Getting up he beckoned Sirius to follow. He led them into a sitting room, motioning for the younger man to sit.
Satisfied that he was now beginning to think, he started.
"Are you aware of the Veil's origins?", he asked, and received a negative head shake. "Very well, then let me tell you what I've deduced."
"Firstly, I must tell you four things, and you must not question me about them until I've finished, agreed?" Meeting the younger man's eyes, he received a slow nod. "Very well."
"There are mysterious things at work here, but I must inform you of these very, very important facts. One, I am no longer among the world of the living. Two, Tom Riddle has been defeated. Three, perhaps most importantly, is that your godson, Harry, is alive and well", he smiled at Sirius's sigh of relief. "Fourth, and most curious of all, is that I do not believe that you have passed into the world of spirit. You are, I believe, alive." He stopped, waiting to see if the conflicting facts stymied the younger man, or caused a mental breakdown of any sort.
"I, you...how?", came the articulate response. Sirius felt his mind was going to explode. He'd never been the brains of his group, in fact none of them really had been, with the exception of Jame's wife.
Seeing that this might take a while, the shade of Albus Dumbledore sat down, arranging his robes as he'd always had while living. It wasn't long before curiousity got the better of the younger man and he settled down. Feeling he now had his focused attention, he continued
"You see, years ago I became quite curious about the Veil, and disregarding the Ministry's, ah, assumptions, began some research of my own. You and I both have heard the theories, yet none had seemed willing to actually put them to test. All my research and writings led me to only one possible conclusion." He leaned forward, his focused gaze even causing Sirius to lean forward sensing something monumental about to be revealed. "The Veil was built around Arthurian times, judging by it's construct, and yet the etchings on it were quite unfamiliar. Rather than focusing on it's intent, I began studying those, which led me to it's possible architect. Merlin."
Sirius sat back in shock. To everyone's knowledge there were no surviving artifacts from that time, and certainly none by the first and perhaps greatest Wizard of all times. If it were true, it was the greatest discovery since, well, magic! His stunned look gave Dumbledore the motivation to continue.
"I came to the conclusion that Merlin developed the arch as a means for transportation, of non-magical folk or items, yet for some reason there is no destination. Would you care to guess, perhaps, as to why that might be?" He couldn't help himself, and fell into his familiar role as teacher, encouraging Sirius to think for himself.
Running through all implications, he could only come up with one. "Too dangerous?", he asked, and was rewarded with a beaming smile.
"Again, I will give you an answer that seems to vex many. Yes, and also no. It was never meant to be moved, I believe, as it is far too bulky. I think it was meant to be semi-permanent, say, for food transportation from the coast? Fish, perhaps. Or building supplies. Perhaps a secure means to transport gold, from a mine. We can only surmise it's original intent. Yet one begs to question what happened to it's brother, for lack of a better term?"
Frustrated, Sirius sat back, fixing Dumbledore with a glare. "Be that as it may, it still doesn't explain...", his hand gestured between the two of them.
Dumbledore fixed him with a look that quieted the younger man. "I believe we are both somewhat in between. I'm in one room, and you are in another. Right now, we are both in the doorway. Is this making any sense?"
"Aaarrrrgh! You're giving me a headache!", groaned Sirius.
He was silenced by the old man's next words. "And that is why I think you are still alive!" It was so prophetic it did the one thing many had tried and failed to do. Get Sirius Black to shut up and think.
After several minutes he spoke in a more reasonable tone. "So, where did the food come from?", he asked, curious.
"Accidental magic. You were unconsciously hungry, and therefore, conjured it. I believe it was one of your favorite meals, was it not?", he was asked.
Stumped, Sirius sat back, dumbfounded, as Albus's former words rang in his memory. "How long?", he croaked, knowing he wouldn't like the answer.
"Too long, and I believe if we hadn't stumbled upon you, you would indeed have perished. You are, or have been, falling through a gateway, essentially frozen in time. Think of a rock falling. In air, quite quickly. In a viscious fluid, much more slowly. In spirit?", he shrugged. "I think the only reason you survived was actually thanks to your cousin. You were unconscious when you entered the gateway, thus your mind survived. The in between is somewhat disconcerting."
It was all becoming too much, and Sirius was beginning to doubt his sanity. Frustrated he ran his hands through his hair, the end result being a wild rats nest resembling when he'd first escaped prison. Silently he stood and paced, mumbling to himself. This went on for some time, yet all the while Albus watched, sensing the younger man needed to come to grips with the astounding possibilities. He was finally able to smile as the young man whirled to face him. "What can I do?", he demanded.
Chuckling, Albus Dumbledore answered, "Shouldn't you be asking what CAN'T you do?"
Harry and Hermione were sitting in their living room surrounded by boxes and boxes of papers, while the floor contained many more individual parchments. They'd been combing through the documents systematically, disregarding preposterous theories such as space travel, to contacting alien life. Hermione groaned at one point. "I had no idea there were as many crackpots in wizarding society as there were in the muggle world! Most of this is complete rubbish!"
Harry's hair was proof of his state of mind, sticking up wildly in all directions as it hadn't been since he'd last played quidditch. He had a hunch suddenly, and drew his wand. "Accio Dumbledore's papers!" In answer the lid flew off one box in the corner and a stream of paperwork flew at them like cards being sprayed from a deck at a gaming table.
"I knew it! That old coot had lived so long I figured at one point or another he'd have looked at that cursed thing!" Elated, they gathered up the papers and began sorting. Judging by the look they had over a thousand pages to go through, so Hermione got up to put a pot of tea on. Neville and Hanna were keeping Lilly till tomorrow, so they could stay up all night if they had to.
Sirius stood facing Dumbledore, wand in his hand, a questioning look in his face. "Are you sure?", he asked nervously.
"I'm already dead, Sirius. I assure you I am merely trying to get you to believe in your own abilities!" He stood serenely as if he hadn't just asked the younger man to blast him with a bludgeoning hex.
"Alrighty then! Reducto!", he spoke, wand swishing in the precise movements. His eyes widened as the spell, built up with all his power, could be seen to displace air as it hurtled right at Dumbledore, and then swept right through him. "Huh!", he exclaimed.
At Dumbledore's prodding, he swept spell after spell at the old man, and all were at his maximum power, yet left the old man completely unharmed, other than making his beard move in the unseen wind. After some time he quit, panting, as he was beginning to tire.
Regaining his breath, he asked what had been puzzling him all along. "Okay, so I can do magic. But there's nothing here!", he shouted, exasperated.
Dumbledore smiled, infuriatingly. "Have you never wondered where your body went when you apparrated?", he asked, eyebrows raising as though surprised the younger man hadn't come to the same conclusion.
Hermione had had a question rattling around in her brain for the last two hours, as her eyes skimmed the papers in front of her, searching for clues. She looked over at her husband, smiling at his furrowed brow, eyes restlessly searching as hers had been moments ago. He'd forgone wearing his contacts tonight, and she didn't mind one bit. She thought the classic titanium frames suited his face just nicely, giving him an intellectual look that stirred her inside. Pusing her hormonal response down, she returned to her thoughts. "Why? And why now?"
"Ummm?", came his wordless response.
"Haaaaarrrrrryyyy? Earth to Harry?"
He looked up, a smirk on his face. Her bookish habits had worn off on him, and often found himself so engrossed she'd resorted to getting his attention that way many times. At least this time she wasn't naked, because that would have completely ruined any chances of research being done.
"Yes, my love?", he growled in a low voice that he knew drove her crazy.
Shivering, she promised herself he'd get his due later. "Why?", she asked, forcing him to think.
"What do you mean, why?"
"This, all this, now? Why are we just looking this up now?" She fixed him with a very serious gaze, trying to keep his thoughts out of the gutter. She loved it when they went there, but now wasn't the time.
He quickly followed her train of thought, and stood, beginning to pace. She'd noticed he did that often when thinking, and let his mind go where it wanted. Over the years he'd developed almost a sixth sense in being able to follow convoluted paths to an answer.
It wasn't too long before he stopped, and turned to her, a grimace on his features. "I think we need the Stone."
She shivered at his words, but seeing the resolution on his face, pushed herself to her feet. "Now?"
Holding out his hand to hers, he nodded. "Now!"
He was surprised it had been so easy to recall where he'd dropped the stone, but as those events were indelibly etched into his memory it was a mistake he would not repeat. Hermione held his hand as he looked at the rock, still covered with dirt from where it had been pressed into the forest floor. He'd had to accio it several times before the power of the spell overcame the suction from where'd it'd been pounded into the ground, and here it was.
Swallowing loudly, he turned the stone over in his hands three times, and braced himself.
Hermione had never seen Harry so white, even after Hagrid had appeared from the forest with his body cradled in his massive arms. Shakily he lowered himself into the loveseat in their living room, while she bustled into the kitchen to grab a glass of firewhisky. She was glad Harry had never been much of a drinker, but they always kept a small store for friends and guests when they stopped over. The information they'd just received almost made her regret that she couldn't have one with him. Returning, she placed it in his hands, and was relieved he had the presence of mind to just take a sip, rather than shooting the whole glass down.
"How? Alive?", he looked at her completely confused.
"They said it was kind of a corridor. No one looked, because no one thought of it, Harry!", she tried to console him. It was indeed shocking to learn that his godfather had been trapped in the same spot they apparrated through on a daily basis.
Taking a huge gulp of the whiskey, Hermione almost snorted as steam began to shoot from his ears. "That's what you get when you let a wizard run a distillery!", she thought, but was wise enought to say nothing. She'd kid him about it later. Right now they had a task to do.
Gathering himself, Harry fixed her eyes with his gaze, the familiar steely glint back in them. "Do you remember the instructions, exactly?" At her nod, he stood. "Okay! We've got some calls to do. There's absolutely no time to waste, if what we heard is correct!" Taking her hand, they headed to the floo. It was going to be a long night, and possibly even a longer day tomorrow."
"Did you talk to him?", asked Dumbledore.
She sniffled. "Yes. It seems we did break through, though it took Hermione to realize what was happening."
"Brightest witch, indeed!", he smiled, and everyone around them chuckled.
They were each surrounding the sleeping form of Sirius, feeling for his plight. "How much longer can he last?", asked a man with dark, messy hair, concern in his voice.
"I think, just long enough!", smiled Albus Dumbledore, glad in his heart that one more could be saved. Of all the times he could have been wrong in his life, he had never been so happy that this one was one of his biggest mistakes ever. Believing a man dead, when he only really had, perhaps, taken a wrong turn!
Neville Longbottom wasn't the brightest wizard around, yet after years of self-doubt he'd finally come to realize that it had only been that, doubt, that had ever really held him back. Now though, he was, if he admitted it to himself, more than a little befuddled.
"How exactly are we supposed to cast an anti-splinching spell, when no one's been splinched?", he asked, scratching his head. Hannah, his wife, smacked his hand. She liked his hair and hated it when he did that. The 'bed-head' look Harry pulled off did not look becoming on her husband.
"Doesn't matter", Hermione said, bustling around. They'd followed the instructions exactly, and were prepared as best they could. They had assembled in Godric's Hollow, one of the few places they knew were indelibly etched in Sirius's mind that he could use as an apparition point. Gathered were Professors Flitwick and McGonagall, Poppy, Kingsley, Luna, Molly, Arthur, George, Bill, Fleur, Neville, Hannah, and Neville. Present also were two Ministry workers who were well versed in reversing the effects of splinching, and how to cast the counter spell. They hadn't been told anything other than they expected someone was going to attempt to apparrate from a long distance, as his life was in danger. Everyone present knew what they were doing, just not why or for whom.
"Time?", Hermione called, anxious.
Harry checked his watch. "Three minutes and counting!" The expensive analog divers watch she'd bought him kept very accurate time, and the hands now pointed to ten fifty-seven. At eleven the church bell would begin to toll, signalling the beginning of the arrival. Or the end.
"Are you sure this is even possible?", he asked. His hands belied his nervousness. He was rewarded with a smile and a nod.
"I believe many things are, including a seventeen year old boy beating the most powerful dark wizard in over a hundred years!", Dumbledore answered. "If it relieves you any, old friend, though I am here, I still retain all my memories. I had been a wizard for over one-hundred and forty years, and that", he smiled, "is a very long time, with a lot of things learned!"
Sirius Black nodded, relieved but still anxious. He began pacing, psyching himself up for one of the most dangerous things he'd never dreamt he would try.
It seemed like forever before he felt a hand on his shoulder, still him. He met those brilliant blue eyes, and gulped. "It's time for you to go home, Sirius. It's time for you to go home!"
Nodding, he moved to the spot he'd chosen, fixed his destination in his mind, and threw his entire being behind it. With a swirl, he was gone.
"Bon Voyage, my boy! May your heart help you find your way!", were the last whispered words in that strange world of in between.
The bell began to toll, and Hermione felt the familiar surge of an unguarded apparition. "NOW!", she screamed. Thirteen simultaneously cast anti-splinching spells hit the point at the same time. For a moment they thought they'd failed, before with a strange squelching sound, a mangy, long-haired, tattooed figure crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
THREE WEEKS LATER
He groaned, opening his eyes slowly. "Crap!", he swore. "This is seeming way too familiar!" His vision was swimming, and he felt a rather nasty aftertaste in his mouth. Smacking his lips, he mumbled. "Tastes worse than rotten Polyjuice, for Merlin's sake!" Just then he heard a voice he'd never thought to ever hear again.
"Padfoot! He's awake!" He struggled upwards from the bed he'd been laying on, bleary eyes looking around.
As his eyes came into focus, he saw a pair of brilliant green eyes, topped with a...a...bush? He squinted, staring at the little girl in front of him, as she stared unblinkingly at him.
"Are you Unka Padfoot?", she asked. Just then another pair of green eyes appeared over her shoulder, followed by a bushy head with warm brown eyes.
"God's! What's a guy gotta do to get a drink around here?", he asked no one, trying to keep the widening smile from his face. Tears were leaking from everyone's eyes, as they reunited with someone they'd thought lost forever.
Harry grabbed his godfather in hug, followed by Hermione. "Welcome home Sirius!" he whispered into the former convict's ear. "Welcome home!"
From somewhere underneath the arms holding him tight, a little girls voice loudly interrupted. "Are you gonna play with me now? I'm bored of watching you sleep, you know!"