Sorry for the long delay. The second half of 2016 has been very stressful, private and jobwise. That being said, I'm happy to finally be able to finish the epilogue. It got quite long, I have to say.
Should there be anything you would like to have added, please review or write a PM.
Thank you all for the patience, the interest and the many helpful comments over the years.
Epilogue – A new adeventure begins
The Healing – St. Mungo – Curse Injuries Ward – 30th of October 1996
In all parts of Great Britain and even in neighbouring countries joy was in the air. People were celebrating the newest – and hopefully last – victory over Voldemort. They were dancing, drinking and doing all kind of silly things to express their relief about the end of dark times for time to come. They were celebrating everywhere but here, in the "Ward for Curse Injuries" of St. Mungo's.
Harry and his friends were waiting for news, any news. They were hoping for the best while fearing for the worst at the same time. Hermione was clinging to Neville with teary eyes. It had been a long way for her to fully accept Luna Lovegood and her "inspired" ideas about the world, its inhabitants and laws. However, there was no doubt about how much of an impact the little girl had on the logical bookworm over time. They had become like sisters and the thought to never again see that spark of curiosity and delight at the unknown in Luna's eyes terrified her. The sight of those pale, cooked eyes had been horrible.
Harry was sitting on his own, kneading his hands, barely able to stay sitting on the chair. He wished for Daphne at his side, but his fiancée was with her mother among the best healers Britain and the Congregation were able to muster. The prospects were slim. Harry glanced towards Millie, currently stomping up and down the corridor, completely ignoring the glares of the nurses. Harry couldn't imagine how the big girl was feeling – aside from being angry beyond measure. His left hand went up and touched his brow. He hissed in pain. I deserved that – and far more. Millie had nearly knocked him out with a single punch. As expected, she had been torn between rage and concern. Now she was waiting, like the rest of them – waiting and hoping.
A couple of hours later they were still waiting. Daphne, Roxanne and even Nel had admitted their inability to reverse the damage. The curse itself had been lifted; her organs were mostly back in order. They only needed a few more weeks of potion regime and quiet rest. Her eyes however were another matter. The Aestuate curse, cast by such a powerful wizard as Voldemort in his enhanced body, had completely wrecked her eyes. The medical possibilities had advanced immensely since Moody got his weird artificial eye decades ago however. There were ways to help her gain her sight back, but it wouldn't be through her own eyes. The last hope was a duo of Chinese specialists that had been called in an hour ago, but even they hadn't promised anything.
Hermione was sleeping now, her head in Neville's lap. Millie was standing a couple yards away, her head resting against a pillar. She hadn't moved for the last 30 minutes, but Harry was certain she was only waiting, tense as a coil spring. Millie was the first to move when something happened near the entrance. Hermione needed a bit longer, looking around bleary-eyed, trying to digest the weird sight.
St. Mungo's has certainly had its share of strange happenings in the past. There had been all kinds of injuries and curses to treat, all kind of patients had entered its boundaries, and some very unusual guests had arrived at its doorstep. However, never before and perhaps never again had such a couple arrived and demanded entrance. A pair of British Aurors tried to stop them, uncertain how to react to these… beings. The bigger one, however, wouldn't hear of it: without altering her pace, she simply pushed onward, her big lion-body knocking the Aurors aside. One of them moved to draw his wand. Luckily he was stopped by a curly-haired missile that barrelled into the smaller being accompanying the huge Sphinx.
"Meryem," Hermione greeted her. She felt immense relief. Everything would be good now. "You're here."
The Egyptian healer patted Hermione's back, soothing her fears and sorrows through her presence alone. "A good friend of mine told me that I would be needed here." She gestured towards the Sphinx at her side, a Sphinx well known to Harry.
"You're the one," he gulped. "You're the one from the maze, the one that told me about the Ruapehu and the Crumple-Horned Snorkacks."
The Sphinx bowed slightly and grinned – the sight more than a little frightening.
"Don't I get a hug?" she asked, reminding him of his daring move more than a year ago.
Harry rolled his eyes but complied, the sight shocking more than one observer.
"We found them," Millie whispered. The Sphinx turned around and something moved on her back. Only now did Harry realize that not two but five beings had entered the ward. Three tiny fur balls were clinging to their mother's back and watching this strange place. One of them now moved – half climbing, half fluttering with its tiny and half-developed wings – onto its mother's head to have a better look. "We found the Snorkacks."
"Did you now?" the Sphinx replied, obviously already knowing what had happened on the last vacation of Luna and Millie.
"You're here to help Luna?" Hermione's question instantly got Millie's full attention. Meryem nodded.
"Do you… can you really help her?" Millie asked with a small voice. She flinched back as the tiny creature on the Sphinx' head left its lofty resting place and fluttered towards her, clumsy but determined. Millie blinked but did nothing to evade the Sphinx-ling. Perhaps her time around Luna had taught her how to treat such a being, how to behave in such a situation. With a little bump the fur ball landed on Millie's shoulder and steadied itself, its tiny claws drawing a suppressed hiss from the girl. It turned around and bumped its head against Millie's, apparently waiting for something – a tasty morsel or a fondle at least. It got the latter.
"I'll do my best," Meryem simply replied, carefully watching the big girl. "And you'll help me."
The Funeral – Hogwarts' grounds – 31st of October 1996 – 1 day after the battle
Tomorrow there would be a time and place for celebrating, a time for joy and happiness. This evening, however, was designated to remembrance and retrospection. They had barely an hour of daylight left, the sun already low and its edge touching the treetops of the Forbidden Forest. The house-elves of Hogwarts had prepared a beautiful mound for their revered Matriarch. Mathilda had been their leader, their big aunt and grandmother for more than 150 years. She would be direly missed in coming years, despite her son already being a respected successor of hers.
Robert was standing in the middle of the assembly with Lina at his side. Since her arrival at Hogwarts barely a month ago, she had gotten close to the new Patriarch. There had been a bit of grumbling at first with her being so much younger than Robert and from a different branch of elves. This however had been stopped very fast by the open support of the late Matriarch Mathilda.
"It's time for all elves to close ranks," she had told her clan. "House-elves, hill-elves, and wood-elves – we belong together, in these dark times more than ever."
As a sign of their support, Matron Bryndis of the Iceland hill-elves had arrived with a small detachment of her clan, as well as several groups of house and wood elves from all over Europe. Some of the teachers only now seemed to realize the far-reaching connections and respect Matron Mathilda attained among her race in her long life.
All in all hundreds of elves had come to say their farewell. Every single house-elf from Hogwarts was present; countless family members that served one or other old family in Britain or France, some of them even going against the order of their "owner" in being here. They formed a massive ring around the mound, the whole event looking more like a gargantuan picnic than a funeral service.
"She would have liked it this way," Robert had simply explained. "Not mourning but celebrating, not weeping but laughing, sharing, and remembering."
Everybody brought a blanket, something to drink or a salad such as the cress/tomato sandwiches Mathilda loved so dearly or some small cake. That did not mean it was lacking a fair share of tears from all around, especially among the younger elves.
The students and teachers of Hogwarts had been invited as well. Most came and some brought their parents or older siblings with them, if only to be witness of this unusual event. Hermione, Daphne and Minerva had gotten a special invitation, only now realizing that the dresses they had gotten as presents for their daughters had a far deeper meaning than they had assumed.
"You have been close to her. She trusted you. Your daughters will have a special place among us when they arrive at Hogwarts," Robert commented the invitations.
Harry and Neville had accompanied them, naturally, as did Augusta Longbottom. The old matriarch had been the only full human allowed in helping erect the mound, and only one of six non-elves allowed to participate in the small family ceremony that had happened within the mound prior to the far bigger funeral service.
Harry accepted a small cake from Fipsy with a thankful nod. Glancing around he smiled as his eyes came to rest on the couple to his left. Luna had mostly recovered from her ordeal, but her eyes were still hidden behind a blindfold. She had insisted in taking part at the funeral, complaining and whining until Millie relented. For hours, the big girl had been carrying her around bridal-style, showing no signs of exhaustion, which Luna looked quite content about. She was currently feeding Millie from a bowl of mixed fruits while nibbling on a one-foot liquorice stick. The little Sphinx-ling had stayed with them and was now chasing some butterfly in the grass.
It certainly was one the more unusual funerals he would ever be a part of, Harry mused. And the message was clearly written all over the place:
"We won't forget you, Mathilda. "
The Cleansing – Cornwall – 18th of November 1996 – 19 days since the battle.
At a measured step, they followed Catriona into the holy cavern. It had taken quite a toll on them to break each and every ward placed on the entrance by Viktor, to disarm every trap and cancel the magic keeping Catriona and other dragons away from this sacred place; every living dragon at least as Viktor had been more than eager to abuse their dead relatives.
There were still signs of the battle everywhere. The remains of a hundred animal skeletons littered the ground, the bones of two dead dragons dominating the scene. The ground looked scorched from the elemental fury and burned from the acid. The poisonous vapours had luckily dissipated in the meantime. They would have turned the following labour into something even more hazardous.
"We'll turn this place into something worth of your ancestors again, Catriona." Harry's low but determined voice easily permeated the place. "This place will be sacred again. Our runes will protect it from such a fate in the future." Harry had used the last week to invent a pattern of runes, integrating the work of Madam Ironsides and Professor Babbling. Hermione created the anchor stones and Daphne had been the one to weave the runes deeply into the granite. Neville would empower them, their teamwork protecting the dragon boneyard from a second desecrating. No defence was absolute, but afterwards the place would be even better protected than it ever was.
"I thank you, Dian Sgiathan." It had been no surprise to learn that the Goblins had a spell to communicate with their dragons, even if they mostly used the lesser and dumber species among them. The four friends had not told Catriona about the origin of the spell they used for communication, as it was a sore matter to talk about for the Goblins.
"It's beautiful," Hermione whispered.
"It's a little frightening," Neville admitted.
"It's beautiful and frightening," Daphne compromised.
She got it right in the end. They were waiting outside the cave with Catriona, listening to Harry's song. Big waves of incredible hot fire billowed from the cavern entrance. Here and there all over the hill, smaller fires showed the exits of smaller natural funnels leading below. Catriona's face showed pure bliss, recognizable even for the humans around her. Unlike them, she felt the full blast of the purging magic in Harry's fire-song. He was cleansing the cavern from the remains of the dark magic that had defiled the place. With the animal remains removed and the dragon skeletons put back into their proper places, the song was the last step before they could anchor the rune stones and charge them up.
Nothing would be left behind, no trace and no sign of the days Viktor and Voldemort had been here. It would be a place of sanctified eternal peace again, and waiting for the next fourteen generations of Catriona's clan to guard over it.
Catriona nodded slowly. She was content. Catriona closed her eyes and listened – listened to Harry and his fire song.
The Departing – Hogwarts – 24th of June 1998 – 20 months since the battle
Hogwarts had always been crowded on graduation day, with hundreds of parents, older and younger siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents and all imaginable kinds of friends and family members gathering to watch another cohort of students leave the castle for the last time. To watch them depart from a place many of them had called home for seven years, and to enter the world of adults at last.
This year the Great Hall was even more packed than usual, despite the Headmaster's best efforts to magically enlarge the place. Headmaster Flitwick was still not too surprised about the masses invading "his" school. Yes, it was still "his" school and would remain so in the foreseeable future. Despite the initial compromise to install him in his position only for a five-year-term, much had changed since then: Alice Longbottom, taking over her mother-in-law's seat as school governor, ruled over the board with an iron but charismatic fist. With Agatha Pinegrew at her side, she had been able to convince the board to turn Flitwick's instalment into a permanent one. No longer did he have to fear that new improvements around the school might be taken down in two years' time.
And making changes he did aplenty. Wizard culture was an integral part of the curriculum these days, alongside an up-to-date Muggle Lore course. Visits of Gringotts, Centaur Clans and Werewolf Packs as well as some more unusual trips to hill elves, Norse Mountain Trolls – far calmer and a tad brighter than their British peers – and even a very special Sphinx family down in Wales broadened the horizon of both Muggleborn and Pureblood children alike. Next year, Charley Weasley would even start a small class for future dragon handlers, teaching them all he knew about those proud creatures. A niece of Catriona, far smaller and less frightening than her aunt, was willing to help him, and offered him a chance to deepen his knowledge of the dragon tongue.
But there had been other changes as well: Next year, a new Biology/Chemistry teacher would need to be appointed, as Mrs. Granger intended to leave the school with her daughter. Petunia Evans and Caren Chentz would however remain for a while. Penelope Clearwater, Head of his old house Ravenclaw since last Christmas, now taught all regular potion classes while Severus Snape only allowed the most promising students into his special and very advanced courses. With Penelope getting her mastery last summer, Severus had even been willing to accept a new apprentice last spring. Michel Rivers, older brother of Oliver Rivers who would leave Hogwarts with his year mates today, had squandered the past four years as a low-paid potioneer because his family lacked the funds and connections to get him an apprenticeship. He had nearly fainted when his old potion teacher suddenly entered his working area to make that generous offer. He was still a bit frightened of his master, but Penelope was working energetically on that front.
With new special courses in practical Arithmancy, wand lore, xeno- and magi-biology, formal duelling – a course Filius often taught himself – sword-fighting under a gruff and scarred goblin warrior, and a whole bunch of healing classes which the Congregation used to have a look at potential recruits, Hogwarts had turned into a school Filius was proud to be headmaster of.
Yet today another school year ended and it was time for goodbyes.
Filius sighed, his eyes resting on the gathering of students who at the root of many such changes to the better. Harry and Daphne, Hermione and Neville had played an important part in this, but they were not all alone. Draco Black, now proudly wearing his new name and barely able or willing to let his fiancée leave his side for the time of the celebration, had perhaps changed the most. Long gone were the days he was mocking Muggleborn know-it-alls and promoting pureblood supremacy. He, together with his mother, hadn't stopped their renewed efforts with the Lily-Evans-Library. Since then a couple more, if smaller, libraries popped up all over Britain and his mother funded a couple of day-care school for the preparations of Muggleborn. She had started the fostering program, pairing Muggleborn families with purebloods, with the help of her late sister two years ago and it was in full works now. Even the more conservative families participated in the program if only because of the reputation it reaped.
Over there Pansy Parkinson was sitting with Ginny Weasley, chatting happily, something uterely unthinkable only three years prior. Ginny and Cedric had parted on friendly terms as far as Filius knew, and there was no lack of suitors chasing the beautiful redhead. So far she had stayed single, concentrating on her future Quidditch career. There had been offers already, and not only from the Holyhead Harpies, but she had decided to finish her education first, much to her father's relief. Next year it would be her turn to finish school, the last Weasley to leave its corridors. Her brother Ron would get his diploma as well today, only at another school. Filius frowned for a moment. He still hadn't forgiven the boy for his traitorous act. Perhaps he never would. Nonetheless, it was a good thing Ron Prewitt got another chance to live his life. Charley, one of the few Weasleys still in contact with Ron and Molly, spoke of him from time to time, although never within earshot of Ginny.
Many heads turned around as a group of newcomers entered the hall and looked for their places. Watching Petunia Evans clasp hands with Xenophilius Lovegood was still a weird and somewhat creepy sight. They were dating – more or less – at least on those rare weeks Xeno stayed in Britain instead of visiting another place somewhere around the world. He had left the Quibbler in the capable hands of his daughter Luna and turned into a dedicated researcher, his reputation sky-rocketing after he found another three formerly unknown species. Petunia, as Filius would announce later, not only finished her Muggle stadium of math, but also got her Arithmancy mastery a mere four weeks ago, a fact that would rock the wizarding world more than a little bit: She was the first British squib to get a mastery since 1659 and the very first one to get a mastery in Arithmancy. Around Easter her nerves had been strained enough for Harry to call for an intervention, forcing her to spend a weekend in Southern France with Xeno spoiling her.
Not far behind Xeno and Petunia, Filius detected one of the cutest couples ever gracing Hogwarts' halls. Six months ago, Luna, barely sixteen and legally allowed to marry within Scotland's borders, eloped with Millicent Bulstrode along with their witnesses Pansy and Ginny. Millie would finish school today, but already accepted a one-year interims job at Hogwarts. It would mostly consist in helping Madam Pomfrey and some of the teachers with easy but time-consuming jobs, nothing extraordinary, but it would allow her to stay close to her Luna. Filius had no doubt that Luna and Millie would find their way, certainly by mixing stays at Britain with some excursions on their own.
He greeted the girls with a smile, his eyes resting on theirs for a moment. A warm feeling filled his stomach as the pondered Luna's recovered eyesight. With Millie's help, Meryem had been able to heal the damage from Riddle's curse, regaining Luna her dreamy look. It still had changed, as did Millie's eyes. Luna's pale blue eyes had green flicks in them now, while Millie's green eyes had some blue slivers. There were rumours of other changes as well, of a deeper emotional and spiritual connection, but the girls had stayed silent on that front. Elsa, their fury little friend, had to stay at home today, as the Sphinx wasn't so little anymore. Last time he saw the curious creature, it was reaching his shoulders' height already.
The couple greeted Harry and his friends, exchanging hugs and smiles as they did. Truth be told, Harry had been a little miffed no to be invited to the wedding. However, despite his protectiveness about the little girl he saw like the rest of the quartet as their baby sister, he trusted Millie to take care of her. Both girls had been helpful, together with Charley and Xeno, to turn the treaty between the Dragons and Wyvern of Britain into something long-termed and broadly accepted. Only time would tell how the treaty fared when reality would kick in.
A sore point regarding Millie was her relationship with her mother. Millie never completely forgave her mother for her weakness, her inability to protect her daughter and to be proud of her accomplishments. Her mother's outspoken denial of Millie's marriage with another woman certainly didn't help either. She was present today however, willing to be polite for a day at least. Filius felt a smile creep on his lips as he thought about something that certainly would be a complete surprise for Mrs. Bulstrode who still believed her daughter to be a complete disaster and utter failure. Everybody had expected him to choose the valedictorian of the day among Daphne Pinegrew and Hermione Granger, the two students competing for the top spot grade-wise. Both stepped down and convinced him that some things were more important to learn at Hogwarts than Potions and Charms: standing up for yourself, growing up and taking a stand, changing for the better and helping others to do the same... So, for most teachers it hadn't been a real surprise when he made his choice.
"Please welcome with me the valedictorian of the class of '98: Millicent Lovegood-Bulstrode…"
Camp of Sheikh Malak – Darfur – 19th of September 2000
It was her 21st birthday.
It was the day of her wedding.
Hermione stared into the mirror and sighed. She loved her outfit. Local garb had been strange in the beginning, but it had grown on her over the years. Now she looked a little like the Arabian princess from that 1920s Rudolph Valentino cinematic she once watched with her mother nearly a decade ago.
She still had a hard time to grasp the fact that she would finally marry him today. Despite the years spent together with Neville, and the time she had been engaged to him, some part of her still expected to wake up one day from this sweet dream.
"It's really happening, sweetie." Emma Granger put an arm around her daughter's shoulder and hugged her lightly. "In no time you'll be Hermione Longbottom now." There was a hint of sadness in her voice and Hermione hastened to return the hug.
"I'll forever be Hermione Granger where it counts."
"Are my beautiful ladies ready for the big moment?" Dan Granger interrupted the teary moment. If Emma and Hermione noticed the slight shake in his voice they didn't mention it.
"As ready as I will ever be," Hermione responded with a smile, accepting the offered arm of her father.
Dan led her to the tent flap. While the engagement party had been a huge social gathering back in 'Good ol' England', Hermione and Neville had wished to be married in Sudan, where they had spent most of the past two years since graduation. They had lived the remaining time all other the world in order to learn about water engineering. While they had the dire urge to do something about the water shortage in Sudan as soon as possible, they intended to do so the right way, without causing more disruption than strictly necessary. Mostly they used Hermione's abilities to find water sources while Neville created new underground waterways with his Earth magic. It was a slow progress, slower than Hermione wished for, but it caused far less trouble than some big mojo water show.
The Grangers had accompanied their daughter, and even Alice and Frank Longbottom became well-known and well-liked camp visitors these days. Dan Granger had returned to his work with "Doctors without Borders" while Emma had started to found schools all over the country. Now and then there had been trouble with some macho behaviour towards her – surprisingly happening far more often with city officials than within the tribes – but this made her only even more determined to go through with her plans.
Dan stopped at the tent flap to allow his daughter a moment to breathe deeply. On the outside hundreds of Arabic nomads, three dozen of her close friends and former teachers, not to forget a couple of British house-elves, some of them never straying far away from Minerva and little Freya, were waiting. Harry and Daphne were also present as their best man and maid of honour, while Suha, Yasmine and Marwa filled the role of flower girls with proud smiles. Yasmine, Malak's granddaughter, and Marwa, Hermione's first Arabic patient from years ago, were still close to her. Suha, carrying a small stone bowl filled with pure water and a single water lily, had started her apprenticeship as Hermione's first pupil only three months ago.
"Ready?" Dan asked softly.
Hermione took a last deep breath and nodded. "Let's go."
Ottery St. Catchpole - Cemetery – November 2002
It was windy and raining, but the young man noticed none of it. His eyes rested on the gravestone in front of him. The grave was well-cared for and ever-blooming flowers decorated it.
February 6th, 1949 – November 3rd, 2001
Beloved father, loyal friend and visionary
We'll miss you
The rest of the family had already left, only Bill staying at Percy's side. Bill put a reassuring hand on his younger brother's shoulder. One year ago, on Halloween 2001, a trio of wannabee Death Eaters had attacked Arthur on his way home where the rest of the family and a couple of friends had been waiting to celebrate Halloween. They had known about the resistance to his plans – plans he had started to implement after getting promoted to Head of the new "Muggle Liaison" Department. His ideas to promote unity between Muggles and Magicals, to include Squibs in the magical world in a better way and to help the parents of Muggleborn with understanding this foreign and often frightening world, hadn't earned him friends only all over Britain. They hadn't expected the resistance to turn this vicious and bloody however.
"He would be proud of you," Bill ascertained his grieving brother.
Percy had barely been able to mend fences with Arthur, to establish a relationship of love and respect with his formerly estranged father, when that murderous act brought everything to a sudden stop. He had hunted the killers down, Charlie and Bill close by his side. Afterwards Minister Fudge – re-elected in 1999 with an overwhelming majority – had offered him his father's job. Percy accepted and had done a damned good job so far, in Bill's opinion. His name, formerly mostly renowned for traits like overly correctness and stiff rule-obeying, was now already far more connected with new ideas revolutionising the magical world in a good and considered way. The newest addition to his team of advisers had been Dudley Evans and his long-term girlfriend Sophie Roper, fresh from her NEWTs.
Caringly Percy caressed the gravestone. "I'll continue your work, Dad. I promise."
Hafnarfjördur – Iceland – 1st of January 2004
While the fact that Hermione and Neville's wedding happened far away from English soil had been a disappointment to many fellow wizards all over the country, especially among the "very important" Ministry officials and society members that longed to be seen with the famous couple, the announcement of Harry and Daphne's plans to follow in their friends' steps had caused an uproar of epic proportions. It hadn't fazed the young couple in the least.
"This day is about us," Harry had calmly declared. "Not about anybody willing to get something from this day."
In the end, from among the English press only Colin Creevey and Luna Lovegood were allowed to be present at the ceremony. The four friends expected Colin to get quite the income from the pictures taken despite his promise to donate half of it to the funding of some photograph classes at Hogwarts. Naturally, a number of journalists had tried to slip in, but the local hill-elves had done a splendid job at deflecting them. A trio of the peskiest journalists had even been "convinced" to spend the day clearing out some of the stables in the neighbourhood. Being forced to shovel the turd of Iceland ponies for a couple of hours hopefully did wonder education-wise. Surprisingly Rita Skeeter hadn't tried anything funny. Or perhaps it wasn't such a surprise after all. After some not very comfortable – on her part at least – clashes with Daphne and Hermione over the years, she apparently had learned a thing or two about not to annoy those strong-willed and temperamental witches – or their protective elves. Daphne and Hermione had even grown closer if possible to the elves of Hogwarts and Iceland after their first little booklet about Matron Mathilda's life got published.
While the wedding of Neville and Hermione had been a bit like an Arabian dream come true, this day had seemed more of a Nordic fairy tale. Hundreds of house, hill and wood elves were present, their number overshadowing even the score of human and Goblin friends present. Hagrid was there as well, standing side by side with his brother Grawp. It needed quite some organization on Hermione's part to get him here. However, the pure joy in his face was worth every bead of sweat. He wasn't the only giant attending the wedding, as Matron Bryndis had convinced Daphne and Harry to have someone "earth-bound" be witness of their joining. It was meant as a way to balance the flighty elements of Fire and Air the couple represented. So it came to happen that Fuchur, a giant rarely seen even by the magical races of Iceland, was sitting a hundred paces away, unmoving, his ancient eyes never leaving the young couple. A dozen of the younger, more adventurous elf children were climbing all over him, their parents happy to have them out of their hairs for a few minutes.
Eight years before Harry had proposed to Daphne at the same spot. Eight years before Daphne had accepted, fully aware that their engagement would be a long one. Again, it was a clear night and there was an Aurora Borealis, a polar night, visible at the sky, like the powers above wanted to publicly give their consent. In reciprocation to Hermione's wedding, this time she was Daphne's maid of honour while Gabrielle, Ginny and Astoria were bridesmaids. Neville was Harry's best man and did his best not to think about the weird development of having Draco as one of the groomsmen. With Gabrielle and Ginny without partners at the moment, Remus and Sirius had stepped in. The Marauders were more than happy to be part of this. Sirius even resisted from teasing Draco – mostly.
Six-year-old Freya was flower girl together with the two-year-old and very cute Meryem. Hermione's daughter, two years younger than her brother Argyle and none too happy about the prospect of sharing her mother with those "dumb twins growing in her stomach", Meryem was a real spitfire that absolutely needed the dozen of honour aunts watching her back over in Camp Asim. Today she was well-behaved however and preened under her mother's proud smile. Argyle, the undisputed and adored favourite of Augusta Longbottom, had been named after Neville's late grandfather, a fact that had turned Augusta into a weepy mess when the name had been announced.
The sole downer was the absence of Cardinal Marcello. He had been invited to attend the wedding and even intended to come, but had taken ill some weeks ago and was too weak for such an ordeal. Harry had written him a "get well" letter and promised to visit him on the 16th, the Cardinal's 86th birthday.
Daphne was wearing an incredible bridal gown tailored of elven silk. It was floating around her like living, breathing air and water, allowing a glimpse now and then on her crystal shoes. Harry's Acromantula silken attire was more sedated and traditional, but what he lacked in clothes he more than made up with the happiest, sappiest grin his family and friends had ever seen on his face. The happy couple intended to spend the next few weeks somewhere far away – not even their closest friends had any idea about the location of their honeymoon only that it was somewhere warm and very Muggle – before returning to their old, but certainly not boring, jobs.
Harry, feeling a tad insecure about what to do with his life after his graduation and using his newfound freedom to tour the world for a while, had accepted an offer from Lara Andresen in the end. The former Danish Minister of Magic had begun to create a more permanent council of cooperation for the countries of the AVA – the Anti-Voldemort-Alliance. It was meant as a way to enhance the cooperation between the Ministries, schools and public of Britain, France, Spain and Denmark. There were permanent ambassadors, new simplifications for travels and trade, and a number of quite successful exchange programs mostly from the schools and medical services of all four countries, the last one seriously supported by Greek and Italy as well, two countries with traditionally strong influence of the Congregation of the Asp.
Other countries had shown interest in joining the alliance as well, but so far the four founders were not eager to enlarge their number. The experience with the magical ICW, as well as watching the problems of the too fast-growing Muggle EU, cautioned them to take it slow. The next step was expected to be the creation of a magical counterpart of Interpol, a brainchild of Carlos Romero, the Spanish DMLE Head, and something Harry wished to be a deciding part of.
Daphne, who had like Hermione rejected a couple of Ministry jobs, would return to her research centre/hospital located in apparition distance of Pinegrew Manor. Roxanne and Agatha Pinegrew worked part-time at the research centre that had a fast-growing reputation as being the most advanced one regarding the treatment of nerve damage and dark curses. The Congregation hadn't been happy about both girls' decisions not to accept some high-ranking position in the organization. In the end, Mother Sarah and Mother Joanna decided to choose a wait-and-see policy. They still hoped that, after some years or even a decade or two, both girls would change their mind and take a more active stance within the Congregation.
"Dear attendants, friends and family – today we gathered to join these two people in happy matrimony…"
Darfur – August 2011
„We can't tell Hermione and Neville," Emma Granger decided; her wet eyes still on what had been such a lovely camp only two hours ago. Salim, son of Malak and future Sheikh of the Asim, opened his mouth to object but closed it again without uttering a word and bowed his head in acknowledgment. The young man had really grown up since the day a barely adult Hermione Granger entered the camp of his tribe for the first time. While he still saw it as his male duty to protect the women and children of his tribe – a description that nowadays encompassed Hermione as well as her mother – he accepted their right to make their own decisions.
Emma looked around, her thoughts drifting to her grandchildren. The joining of Hermione's Water and Neville's Earth magic had done wonders to their fertility, causing some teasing from their families and friends as her daughter announced her fourth pregnancy. After Argyle, Meryem and the twins, Hermione hadn't intended to get pregnant once more. However, her fifth child would grow up as beloved as their older siblings, this for certain. The pregnancy had been a difficult one so far, and after some arduous cajoling on Emma's part, Hermione had agreed to lay low for a while. She was spending a couple of weeks with Neville with some of their Arabic friends at a fairytale oasis fifty miles to the East – lounging, sleeping and relaxing with some light reading.
Meryem was at the main camp with Tariq. Yasmine's younger brother was already a carbon copy of his grandfather Malak, and the only one so far to keep up with the strong-willed and spirited girl. Their parents fully expected the children to grow into a couple later, a thought that brought wistful smiles on Sheikh Malak's wrinkled face every time. Her brother Argyle, just turned ten and fully intended to go to Hogwarts next year. He had been allowed to visit his "Uncles" Fred and George. Hermione had only allowed this to happen because she hoped that Angelina and Alicia would reign in their husbands and prevent the worst.
This left the Twins to take care of. Emma Granger, already in her fifties and well occupied with her educational and organisational duties all over Darfur, had left the day-to-day care to a couple of honour-aunts of the Twins: mothers of the bunch of Arabic children that had grown close to the Twins. Perhaps this had been an error, she wondered. She felt every single year of her age right now, something quite unusual actually. She didn't look her age but more like being in her forties. The reason wasn't really clear. Most assumed it had to do with her daughter's presence or the simple fact that she spent her days in the open, doing meaningful work. Emma secretly supposed Healer Meryem to be responsible for her impeccable health.
This morning, like every other day this week, she had dropped the twins at the small camp before continuing on her way. Nadeen and Haijdar, their names meaning "Hope" and "Lion", had already shown in the past that they were far more responsible than could be expected from four year olds. They had – contrary to their older siblings – inherited their parents' special abilities as well. Nadeen was able to create the most astonishing sand castles with a wish of her tiny hand while Haijdar had the nickname "water prince" for a reason. Emma feared that these abilities had been the reason of their abduction in the end. Luckily nobody had been killed, but quite a number of mothers were injured while trying to defend the children. This could easily escalate into a tribal war. Emma had to act fast.
"Your men should stay here," Emma suggested, her voice telling Salim that it wasn't really a suggestion. "The two of us… have a visit to make."
The sight was a troubling one as they entered the foreign camp and for a moment Emma almost felt pity for its inhabitants – almost. Then the picture of her grandchildren being abducted returned with vehemence and her blood started to boil. The jeep stopped near the centre of the camp, dozens of eye-pairs watching them closely. The people looked poor and under-nourished; the fields around them were ill-cared for and obviously hadn't seen enough water in the past.
Emma tried to remember what she knew about these people. The Mahan or "cow people" belonged to the same ethnical group as the Asim. Their leader however was a political enemy of Sheikh Malak. His uncle had been the one responsible for Dan Granger's abduction years ago, the memory still making her mad like crazy. Sheikh Omar was barely a decade older than Salim, his mind apparently set on increasing his stance and reputation at all costs. That his men hadn't even hidden their identity while abducting the children was a bad sign. It strongly suggested that he assumed his position strong enough to openly defy Sheikh Malak.
Salim left the jeep and readjusted his weapons before helping Emma. He gulped, feeling unhappy about being here on his own. If this turned bad, he wouldn't be able to properly protect the woman at his side. Emma on the other hand had an aura of determination around her. She took a long glance around, her eyes resting on something for a moment. Salim turned around to take a look. Mothers, children – Salim furrowed his brow. Why was she more interested in the tribe's families than their warriors? There were more than enough rifles visible to make him uncomfortable.
Before leaving the jeep behind, Emma reached into the car and pulled something from behind her seat. Salim's eyes widened, as he watched Emma girding a weapon belt complete with sabre. It was a traditional weapon of the tribes despite them using more modern ones today. The sabre had been a gift from Meryem to her fiftieth birthday, complemented by a couple of fencing lesson she got from Jerome. Meryem's husband, who had been an officer in the Napoleonic expedition corps to Egypt in a time long gone by, hadn't lost his touch with the weapon and found a dedicated student in the elder Granger woman. While Emma didn't possess the talent and agility to enter any tournament, she certainly learned enough about fencing to not cut her own foot with the sharp blade.
She rarely put the weapon on show. So far she had only used it on high days or to annoy some city official. Today, however, she had something different in mind. She meant business – family business. With a steady step she walked towards the main tent. A couple of nomads moved to block her advance, only to be stopped by a glance from this weird woman. It wasn't hate they found there and not even anger alone. There was a calm disappointment, one they perhaps remembered from their mothers and grandmothers back in their childhood after doing something especially stupid.
"You aren't welcome around here," Sheikh Omar sneered. He tried to make a show of self-confidence but his eyes flickered a bit too much. That he only addressed Salim – and in Arabic to add – annoyed her even more. She certainly wasn't in the mood to be ignored.
"I'm here to get my grandchildren," she cut him short in a very brusque manner, knowing well enough how impolite he would judge her behaviour. In her opinion, however, it was more important to make it clear that this wasn't the time for endless talk and empty gestures.
Sheikh Omar grimaced as he addressed her. "Women have no right to speak when men talk."
Emma noticed quite a few nods from the men around but also the hint of something on the face of the woman standing near the tent's entrance. "Does your wife share your opinion?" She asked, nodding towards the woman. "Doesn't she have a right to speak when the actions of her husband endanger her children? When you provoke a war with this stupidity?" She raised her hand accusingly, noticing that the woman paled at the mention of her children.
"She'll do her duty," Sheikh Omar replied, barely able to stop himself from looking around. His two eldest children had joined their mother now and for a second Emma had been able have a glance at Nadeen. Her heart clenched.
"I don't doubt it. But her duty is to take care of her children, to protect them and to show them how to grow up into honest, upstanding people – men and women their family and tribe can be proud of. Not weak cowards that attack mothers and children."
Sheikh Omar growled and made a step towards her in a threatening way. Emma didn't flinch but put her hand on the sabre's grip. Salim hadn't his expression under control as well, but refrained from raising his weapon, trusting that Emma Granger had everything under control for now.
"You call me a weakling? A coward?"
„I do," Emma replied calmly. "And you would know that I'm right if you were the man your people expect you to be. Only a coward abducts children when their defenders aren't around. Only a weakling sees no other way to lead his people."
Sheikh Omar grated his teeth. He breathed deeply to regain control of his temper. "My people are starving. They need water."
"You could have asked for help."
He narrowed his eyes as if unwilling to take this option into consideration. "Sheikh Malak is my enemy."
"My. Daughter. Is. Not. Your. Enemy." Emma glared. "At least she wasn't until now," she added with a dangerous growl.
"I don't fear your daughter." He tried to sound confident.
"Your actions suggest otherwise," Emma snarked. She narrowed her eyes. "You endangered her children. Your men injured women and children that are her friends. If she hears of it, her fury will know no bounds – the fury of a mother that is friends with the Holy Lioness and the White Hag."
Sheikh Omar paled. Even they dumbest Mahan knew not to mess with Meryem, the Holy Lioness. And the White Hag had been the stuff of nightmare for a long time, long before even his grandfather had been a toddler. She certainly was as infamous around here as Baba Yaga was in Russia.
"If, not when?" For the first time his wife spoke up. Concern about her children was clearly visible on her face – as was the determination to protect them against any danger, be it this foreign woman or her own husband.
Emma calmed down. This was a concerned mother, something she could connect to. This woman was as frightened about her children as she was about Nadeen and Haijdar. That Sheikh Omar allowed her to speak despite his former words was clear proof of his affection as well. "She doesn't have to hear about this. If I get my grandchildren back and if you," she addressed Sheikh Omar now "offer Sheikh Malak your hand in peace, we can leave this episode behind is. It won't be easily forgiven and certainly not forgotten, but we can have a new start."
Omar's wife looked pleadingly and whispered. "I don't want a war. I don't want our children to grow up like this. I want them to look up to you and see the great man and leader of our tribe in you I saw at our wedding."
His resolve weakened but he still had his doubts. "Sheikh Malak won't accept my hand."
"I'm sure he will," Emma replied. She had to be careful, couldn't suggest that she was able to influence Sheikh Malak too much. "He is a man of peace, a leader with a vision. He'll see the wisdom in a truce between the Asim and the Mahan."
"And if I won't accept this?"
Emma strengthened the grip on her sabre, her knuckles white. "Then I'll cut you down to pieces, here and now."
She wouldn't be able to go through with this threat. Emma knew it and Sheikh Omar as well. Her expression however left no doubt that she would try it at least, forcing him to kill her. Such an act would make a serious blow to his reputation and start the war she had been speaking about. Omar's wife stepped between Emma and her husband, bowing her head deeply. She didn't utter a single word, but her action spoke louder than any word.
Today there wouldn't be any more bloodshed.
Today there would start a new era of peace.
London – near Diagon Alley – 6th of July 2014
The "Swords and Crown" looked every bit like he remembered it from his first visit more a decade ago. It had been the week after his graduation. Lucius Malfoy, back then his friend and mentor, had been generous enough to invite him to this place for a little NEWT-party. Without him he never would have entered this place. Not only were the prices far too steep for his liking – even today with money not really a concern for him anymore. The noble restaurant, located in a well-off side alley of Diagon Alley, had always made high demands on his clientele, expecting a special "distinctiveness" of them. In times past this distinctiveness had been family and blood status – a demand his companion always fulfilled contrary to his own history: half-blood and poor hadn't been high on their invitation list. Today they still expected money but added a respectable name or at least some influence and fame. No, they never would chuck you out in case you didn't met those expectations, but they certainly had a way to make you feel unwelcome. Gesture, voice and the whole social package were welcome tools to keep you away.
None of that was a concern for Professor Severus Snape as he accompanied his colleague Narcissa Black into the side room they had rented for today. Severus looked around. It was a tad too bright and colourful for his taste but assumed that Narcissa had chosen the location to make her guest welcome – a guest they were waiting for right now, while Narcissa got more nervous by the second. No, money wasn't a concern for him anymore, not after a decade of researching a couple of special potions, one of them allowing those among his former "comrades" to get rid of the dark mark he deemed sufficient re-educated from her former ways. There were other potions that bore his name, that prolonged your youthful appearance if you had the money, or helped pureblood ladies get – and stay – pregnant. None of those were cheap, and he earned quite the galleon with them, enough to be generous by secretly donating some of them now and then.
After making his order – some light white vine to start with, as he wanted her to relax, not be drunk before the conversation even started – he glanced at her. Since Lucius' death they had grown closer. Narcissa was one of the few people that knew about his role in the whole murder affair. It brought them together but also kept them apart in the end. They were friends – friends with benefits a Muggle would call them nowadays. They liked spending time together, be it a visit to a modern art gallery, some vacation on the Bermuda or some hours in her very comfortable bed. However, there had never been a misconception about the depth of their feelings for each other. They weren't meant to be together and one day they would find "the one" – or realize that she already found her years ago, Severus mused.
"Do you think she'll come?" Narcissa asked.
Severus had to suppress the urge to roll his eyes about the silly question. That Narcissa even asked was proof enough of her emotional state. "I remember Miss Frobisher as a responsible young woman with a good head on her shoulders – despite her regrettable Gryffindorish nature."
Fifteen years ago, he had been impressed by the girl's diligence to pursue her beautiful teacher, and quite thankful for her help in getting Narcissa out of the nightmare prison Bellatrix had put her in for revenge. Foolishly she had to destroy his good opinion of her by being the goody two-shoes most Gryffindors had in their nature. When Narcissa, after two years of dating the freshly graduated young woman, asked her to leave and look for someone her age, Vicky Frobisher had to be the noble one and obeyed Narcissa's stupid wish. Severus had felt the dire urge to knock some sense into the heads of his friends, with a cast-iron cauldron preferably, despite the fact that her decision had been the reason he had been able to lay Narcissa. Severus wasn't certain if she was actually bisexual or if it was too ingrained into her to behave like a pureblood lady: marry a man, get children and assure the continuity of a bloodline. Vicky Frobisher had left, following her house principle: I would sacrifice everything for those I love. A Slytherin would have fought for the woman he desired; a Slytherin would have led her home.
"She promised to arrive at 1 PM, together with her… companion, and I expect her to fulfil her promise." His scrutinizing look wasn't fooled by her bland mask. There was a hint of hurt as he mentioned Miss Frobisher's companion. As far as he knew she was some respected counsellor from a well-off Boston family. It was mostly a Muggle family but with their share of witches and wizards among them. This made the rest Squibs actually, not that they cared for such a differentiation. He had met the uncle of Miss Frobisher's… girlfriend? Lover? Fiancée? It had been about some patent lawsuit. After all the Magical Americans weren't better about heeding foreign patent rights than their Muggle counterparts. Without a competent counsellor and the financial backup of Narcissa and Draco Black he would have lost the lawsuit. It left a sour taste and he still didn't like the country and its magical higher society. Didn't stop him from doing business with them. A man had to earn his meagre living, hadn't he?
The door opened and a waiter announced: "your guests arrived, Lady Black."
"Lead them in."
Severus empathised with the young woman, he really did. Despite his reputation as a bone-hard cynic, the feeling of having his heart broken wasn't foreign to him. And a heart was breaking right now, he could watch it with clinical interest.
More than once Narcissa had wondered if Vicky Frobisher still thought of her from time to time, if she still nourished her crush after all those years. She hadn't expected it, actually, despite being selfish enough to hope for it. The question was answered with a single glance at the woman accompanying Miss Frobisher. Alexandra – never call me Ally – Crane was the spitting image of a younger Narcissa; a carbon copy of a Narcissa that had still to grow into her full elegancy and grandeur. Narcissa saw it and for a second there was a glimmer of hope in her eyes, a glimmer she crushed immediately before greeting the object of her desire. It was over too fast for Miss Frobisher to notice it, but not for Severus. Yes, he saw it, and Miss Crane did it as well. He could nearly hear her heart break, despite her quite respectable efforts to gloss over her feelings.
For a while they sat together, enjoying vine and meal, more or less at least, while doing small talk. Any other day it could have been interesting to share thoughts with three quite intelligent and well-educated women, to speak about the differences and similarities between their societies and educational systems. Today however he only wished for this to end soon. It was hurtful to watch Narcissa and Vicky dance around each other, with Miss Crane getting paler by the minute.
"You're very silent today, Severus," Narcissa mentioned after a while, drawing everybody's attention to him.
Severus narrowed his eyes and sighed. After a moment of collecting his thoughts he responded a little coldly: "I wonder when the two of you will stop playing fools."
Narcissa's and Vicky's eyes widened. Both knew exactly what he was speaking about. Both grasped for words to invalidate his statement, but he stopped them with a gruff gesture. He kicked his chair back and stood up.
"Solve this. Solve it today." He fetched something from his pocket and put it on the table. It was the portkey he had prepared, a portkey meant to take Narcissa and him to that cosy hideaway on Crete that belong to Sirius Black but was often used by the rest of the family. There had been a silent acknowledgment between Narcissa and him that she could use a couple of days to recover from this meeting in case it didn't go well. Now his stony look ordered Narcissa to make good use of the place, to take someone else there and restore order as it should have been for the past decade.
Without waiting for a reply, he walked around the table and offered Miss Crane his arm. For a moment, nobody moved. Narcissa looked torn between hope and despair, her face unusual open and readable. Vicky looked guilty, but made no move to stop her girlfriend from leaving. Her body frozen, there was a painful thankfulness in her eyes as she tried to convey her feelings to everybody. Miss Crane slowly and excessively carefully dabbed her mouth before she placed her napkin on the table again.
"Thank you for the invitation, Lady Black. We should repeat this one day. Please let me know, should you ever visit Boston." Miss Crane stood up, accepting Severus' small nod with a flair of nonchalance that only good breeding and life-long tutoring generated. She accepted Severus' arm but stopped him for a last comment. Her eyes narrowing, she addressed Narcissa, her voice cold as ice: "treat her well, Lady Black. If you hurt her again, I'll make you pay."
Narcissa gulped and bowed her head. Her eyes followed the young woman as she left the place. Only after a long minute of hesitating did she dare to turn around, her eyes wandering to the young woman across her.
She had a second chance now.
She wouldn't squander it again.
Pinegrew Manor – 22nd of August 2018
It was time for a little gathering again. Like every year, the quartet used the last days of August for a "family and friends get together". Daphne's 38th birthday had been three days ago, a far more private affair just as Harry and Daphne loved to celebrate it. Today however it was about friends, family and the countless children that belonged to them. The new schoolyear at Hogwarts was just around the corner, so this was the last chance to meet everybody, to "oooh" and "aaaah" about how much the children had grown up and to tell stories about the last summer vacation.
It was a friendly and open affair, a garden party with barbeque, lots of strawberry punch and other cold drinks, and a dozen tables scattered all over the place to enjoy things like pasta salad, cake and a couple of strange morsels Luna or some of the other guests brought along. There was more than enough space for the children to fool around, and their laughter, shrieking and squealing filled the air. It certainly wasn't your usual sedated pureblood party, but it was how Daphne and her friends loved it.
As usual, one of the first couples to arrive was Percy and Penelope. They had gotten married in the summer of '98 and had been a happy couple since then, with Penelope helping Percy to lighten up a little bit. He was now on good term with his all of his siblings, even writing Ron from time to time. Continuing his father's work in such a convincing way had certainly helped their relationship. Unable to get children on their own, Percy and Penelope had adopted two orphans: Maddy and Jason Crosner had been two late victims of the second pureblood war. While the family had survived the surprise visit of a deranged Dolores Umbridge, the blow had been strong enough to cause months of vicious nightmares to the children. The father couldn't handle it, perhaps in part because he felt guilty about being unable to protect his family. The parents got a divorce, only to have the mother wither away and die a year later, consequence of the tortures she had experienced.
Percy heard about the children's plight and rescued them from a fate of orphanage, much to Penelope's delight. Maddy and Jason, being ten and twelve back then, were long grown up now and had children on their own, turning Percy and Penelope into proud grandparents that spent quite some afternoons with the little ones. Those were always fun but educational as well, as Percy still couldn't leave behind his urge to learn and to teach. They were beloved grandparents nonetheless. Their oldest granddaughter was riding on Elsa right now, the still growing and immensely patient Sphinx already taller than a traditional lioness.
Fred and George would join the couple with their respective wives and children later, arriving traditionally late and laden with bags full of WWW-items. They certainly were the favourite uncles of most of the children around today. Speaking of favourites: Millie and Luna certainly kept the title of favourite aunts. They had thought about adopting children or get some of their own, with a little help of magic, but so far simply hadn't been willing to settle down. There was a whole bunch of published books about their travels, the plants and creatures they found and – this part was Millie's work – what to obey regarding local customs and traditions, and how to prepare a visit of the country, including tips and tricks about voyaging, meals and clothing. This made them the most famous travel writers of the magical world – and quite renowned among Muggles as well – but left only a couple of weeks now and then to spend in Britain. However, they made it work every year to experience the Pinegrew Summer Festival.
"Have you seen Ginny already?" Daphne wondered. Despite their rocky start and their differences in lifestyle, the women had grown close over the years.
"Not even the ghost of her so far," Harry replied, frowning slightly while looking up from the small booklet. It belonged to a couple of books Cardinal Marcello left to him. Harry's old pen pal and confidant had died only a couple of months after the wedding of Harry and Daphne. From time to time he fetched it from his personal library to have a look. Reading it always calmed him, something direly needed on hurried days like today. "Did she say anything about her possible plus one?"
"No, she's solo right now."
"You mean between two lovers," Harry smirked. Since Cedric, there hadn't been any serious relationship so far, only "friends with benefits" and short-term lovers. Nobody had been able to fetch the redhead's heart for long, and there had been some musing about the reasons. Harry simply assumed that Ginny's heart was already taken and had been for a long time. He really hoped that Ginny would realize how much she still loved Cedric before he found someone else. The boy-wonder certainly didn't lack in female admirers – and quite some male as well.
"Hello Harry. Daphne." The couple turned around and greeted the newly arrived guests. This year, Fleur had convinced her cousin Grazyna Mazur to accompany her.
"Hello ladies," Harry greeted them with a smile and a hand kiss for Grazyna before hugging his favourite French sister-in-law – in feeling at least if not legally. She had married Charlie in a most romantic and opulent wedding; and their trio of children were the joy and delight of their grandparents both sides of the Channel. Grazyna was a rare guest at these feasts but a welcome addition nonetheless. Cormac McLaggen, who had left Hogwarts for the greener grass of Krakow, had found a formidable foe in the young woman. Despite the early warnings, he hadn't been able to keep his "urges" in check, leading to a number of detentions and bruises, followed by a lengthy visit of the local hospital. It ended six months later with a five-year sentence to a comfortable cell. Since then he had left the country and even his family had – at least officially – cut all contacts. Nobody really missed him among Harry's friends.
Hopefully McLaggen had learnt his lesson.
An hour later, a dozen more couples and families had arrived at the garden party. Colin Creevey joined the others with his wife Masha, a famous Muggle pantomime actor he met at one of his shootings. He was still working with Luna from time to time, but spend more time with his family nowadays since their twins arrived a couple of years ago.
Harry smiled as he watched Draco listening to Masha, Astoria hanging on his arm, both paying rapt attention to the newest story from the sparkling world of actors and artists. Draco Regulus Black, née Malfoy, as he really had changed his name the day after inheriting the Malfoy wealth, only to spend a third of it to causes that would make his "dear daddy" spin in his grave. They had only one son so far, Scorpius, about to start his last year at Hogwarts, together with Argyle Longbottom. Like Draco before, Scorpius had to endure quite some lectures from his father about being the everlasting second of his year. However, very unlike his father, Draco had always tried to prove to his son that he loved and respected him nonetheless. Scorpius and Argyle, who would be Headboy this year, had a steady friendship since their third year when both joined the same elective of wand crafting. Both didn't intend to turn their hobby into their profession, but were talented enough to get an offer of a one-year internship by a French wandmaker, a colleague and long-term friend of Olivander.
Blaise Zabini and Tracey Davis mingled with the other families, their current partners watching over them while the ex-couple shared longing glances. They had never gotten back what they had lost through the war despite their friends' best wishes. Hopefully they'll see reason one day, Harry hoped. In his eyes they belonged together. However, he wasn't so naïve as to expect every love to win in the end. Perhaps these two weren't meant to be happy.
"Amelia just arrived," Dudley mentioned, nudging Harry back from his daydream.
"Thanks, mate," Harry nodded and smiled shortly towards Sophie Evans, née Roper. The couple had four children. Only two of them had shown magic so far, but all four were truly beloved. Their mother cared for their studies, not unlike Hermione and Daphne would have done, while Dudley used every opportunity to induce a love for sport – and eating – into them. They had been very successful with all of this. Their eldest daughter planned to study sports medicine, while their only son already earned some prizes with his cooking. Petunia was with the couple – Petunia Evans, still, but not for long as Harry hoped. After much nudging from his daughter Luna, Xeno Lovegood had at last realized what he had to do. Harry sighed. They otherworldly man had needed longer than anybody else to see behind Petunia's serious face. He intended to propose to her tonight and Harry was more than happy about the idea.
Harry left them and greeted Amelia Bones, Brychan Camwy not far behind. Harry's former mentor had proposed to the stubborn woman no less than four times over the years. She had refused every time. "I don't need a ring to feel loved or to love you," she explained the last time. And love each other they did – sometimes very loudly to the embarrassment of her niece Susan. As expected she had been elected Minister in 2009, following the retirement of a well-respected Cornelius Fudge. Brychan was still her Secretary, the man at her side even without rings. Amelia Bones had been very successful in reforming the DMLE. Not everybody had been happy about it. Not everybody liked a competent DMLE or a less corrupt Ministry, but most had seen the light – and the benefits of an efficient bureaucracy.
He sighed as another ring-less couple entered the scene. Sirius Black and Carmen Sanchez had been engaged to be married a whopping three times in the past two decades. Every time the wedding had been cancelled – once on the morning of the wedding actually. They had a steamy relationship all the time, with much shouting, slapping and cursing as well as the hottest make-up sex – one of those resulted in a lifelong ban from a five-star restaurant in Chelsea. Today they avoided each other, but at least they were without their current lovers. Harry had no idea that Daphne only invited them after both hotheads promised not to annoy each other with the sight of their hated better halves.
Sirius' friend Remus had been more successful with his social life. Two years after marrying Tonks, Harry's godson Ted had been born. He would start his fifth year in a week, together with Hermione's daughter Meryem. He was a loyal friend of hers and the only one Tariq entrusted with the welfare and honour of his fiery fiancée.
While Harry used the moment to speak with Amelia and Brychan about something regarding MagiPol, Daphne was chatting with Megan Chentz, née Jones. Niles still had the friendly face and loving voice but got at least two stones more on his already sturdy frame. He was fighting a never-ending but losing battle with his love for food and his loathing of anything sporty. Megan at least hadn't given up and still tried to change his eating habits – only to yell at her beloved husband when she found another chocolate box among his socks.
Emma Granger had tried to help her with some tips about diet and healthy lifestyle, but so far hadn't been any more successful. Emma had become, with the staunchest support from a couple of European countries, UNO ambassador, specifically assigned to Sudan and neighbouring countries. While still the location of some turmoil over the years, the area had gotten better since then, with the tribal chiefs more willing to solve their problems peacefully – problems that still had mostly to do with water, food and health.
What a wonderful result of Headmaster Flitwick's decision to make Emma Hogwarts' liaison to the Centaurs, Harry mused.
Dan had stopped to tour around after the Twins incident of '11 and was now the calm anchor of his family, providing them with a steady home near the Asim grounds, while he still did some organizational work for "Doctors without Borders".
Yes, many friends had come and hopefully would again next year. Harry loved his big family gatherings. What a change from his childhood experience.
„I've gotten another letter from Terence," Hermione calmly announced a wee bit later. One-year-old Minerva Longbottom was sleeping on her mother's lap, while six-year-old Marcelo sat on the ground, playing with one of Balou's kittens. There were at least a dozen more kittens on the Manor's grounds, to Ciddy's endless delight and Paddoc's growling annoyance.
"How is he doing? "Harry asked.
"Very well apparently. His boss offered Terence to make him his successor in a couple of years. With his children old enough already, he accepted."
Harry nodded. Hermione had kept up correspondence with Terence Higgs and his Muggleborn wife for the whole time since graduation, their friendship not very close but full of understanding for their differences and the reasons behind. Hermione had been sincerely happy when Terence had been able to patch up with his mother. It was a weird friendship, one Harry didn't fully understand, like he was still a tad awkward around Daphne's friendship with the surviving Carrows.
Daphne had visited the Werewolves of Prague several times in the past, partially to learn from Ildiko but partially as well to meet with Alecto and Hestia Carrow. Aunt and niece had gotten better over time, mentally and emotionally, thanks to Ildiko's care and their growing connection with Charlotte Michaels. The girl had evolved into a stunning beauty, a Werewolf with a soft heart and graceful manners. While still close to her brother – the Ravenclaw was living in London but visited her at least once a year with his family – she had more than accepted Hestia as her older sister and Alecto as her slightly mad aunt. They were a creepy trio, Harry mused, but Daphne likes them.
"Do you think they'll be alright?" Hermione whisper-asked, sounding concerned now. Crooks, still with her after all those years and looking not a year older after some rituals that had bonded him even more closely to his Mistress than Balou to Daphne, purred calmingly. Harry had decided against undergoing such rituals with Hedwig. "She had earned her rest," he said when he parted with her more than a little tearfully a decade ago – not before Hedwig bestowed him with nearly a dozen fledglings.
Harry followed her look until his eyes rested on the Twins as well. They were speaking with their favourite aunt Freya. Minerva's daughter had never developed the usual bland of magic. Instead she showed some very rare talents from early childhood on. Luna, unsurprisingly, had been the first to acknowledge Freya's sometimes frightening ability to "see" things. Auras, ghosts, invisible creatures – you name it, she sees them. Luna had been the one to teach her, while Millie roughed up everyone who dared to insult the girl. Despite more than one bout of accidental magic, Freya had been completely unable to learn wand magic. That didn't mean she hadn't learned something at Hogwarts, only her teachers hadn't been the professors but a couple of house-elves among Lina's friends. Nowadays Freya was one of barely a handful of wizards and witches worldwide able to use elven and fairy magic. She was the sun of Minerva's life and the reason, Harry was convinced, that Hermione's favourite professor hadn't turned into an old maid but was full of vigour.
"They'll be alright," Harry tried to calm the concerned mother. "Ted promised to watch over them and they have Argyle and Meryem around as well." There had been some long discussions about what to do with the Twins. Their elemental abilities had grown stronger by leaps and bounds over the years, perhaps getting even stronger than those of their parents. One the other hand they shared Freya's fate about not being able to do any wand-magic, one of the many reasons they loved her so much. In the end, Minerva had been able to convince Hermione to send the Twins to Hogwarts nonetheless. Like Freya they would learn Magical Theory as well as every other subject they were deemed able to study. Hadjar had already shown an obvious talent with Runes while his sister Nadeen was a math whiz and one of Petunia's favourites.
He sighed. "I'm more concerned about Nelly."
Hermione patted his shoulder, rightfully distracted from her own concerns. "She's really your daughter."
Harry pouted for a moment but had to admit how right she was. Nelly, his eleven-year-old daughter, would start Hogwarts with the Twins. She was the eldest of his three children, with Charlus being eight and his younger daughter Lily just turning three. Nelly's two most distinct features were her temper and her natural ability to turn into a Wyvern, a talent her shocked parents noticed when the girl turned scaly the first time she had a temper tantrum on her seventh birthday. It was a terrifying combination and Harry had done his best to impart a couple of meditation and Occlumency techniques. Hopefully it would help.
He had his doubts.
Darfur – Summer 2083 – Eighty-seven years after the battle
With slow, scuffling steps Yasmine walked through the village. Like three generations ago, it was a tiny village, an unimportant village in the grand scale of things. To her, however, it was important, always had been. She was leaning heavily on her granddaughter's arm. She needed the support with her ninety-two years. Every year she visited the village, doing her duty. This year would be her last visit; she felt it in her bones. Her small great grandson was accompanying her. Hamza, unlike his mother, had inherited the family's gift. Today he would help Yasmine with her duty and next year he would do it on his own.
Hamza would light the flame to activate the stone. He would kindle the life-giving well, the well of Hermione the water bringer.
"Are you alright, auntie?"
Yasmine looked up, her old eyes weary. The expression of concern on her nephew's face brought a smile to her old lips, chapped from decades under the sun and the harsh winds of her home country. Naji had always been her favourite among her nephews and nieces. After finishing her education at Hogwarts, Meryem Longbottom had barely waited a year before addressing the matter of marriage. In a wicked and heated battle, she had fought Salim, the father of Yasmine and Tariq, in an honour duel. His sword against her claws, as Meryem – who hadn't inherited her mother's water magic but her knack for shape-changing – had turned into a fully grown lioness, proud and incredible in her grandeur. She won the fight and there had been no doubt that she had honourably earned the victory. More than one member of the tribe compared her to Malak's grandmother Shadana.
The wedding had been beautiful, their marriage a beacon of hope for their people. Proving that she was every bit the woman their Sheikh needed at his side, Sheikh Salim – who had led the Asim for more than twenty years himself after his father's death – had stepped down long before his time and allowed his son Tariq to take over. Since 2047 the couple had ruled the Asim and the tribe had prospered. One day one of their children would be their leader.
Yasmine hoped it would be Naji, as the custom to have the oldest step in was no more. Luckily times had changed. Udai, Tariq's oldest son and second of his four children, had inherited the restlessness and hot-headedness from his grandfather Salim. He was great with horses, respected by the men and beloved by the women – perhaps a bit too much even. However, he had no patience and was prone to insulting those who offended him somehow. No, he wouldn't be a great leader like his father , but he could turn into a great warchief for his younger brother. All of this was idle talk, however, for the time being. Meryem was a healthy middle-aged woman still, being a witch and all, and Tariq hopefully had at least another decade to go before age forced his hands.
So much had changed since the Grangers arrived in their lands. Yasmine was thankful about being allowed to watch these times of prosperity.
"Everything is alright, Naji. Everything is okay."
Tomb of Harry and Daphne – year 2135 (and far, far later)
It was the time of the ritual again. They had gathered to celebrate it, and it was her duty to take care of everything, to prepare them – and especially the young ones. They had to learn the ways. Tradition was important.
"Tell us the story about their tomb again," the small girl demanded, excitedly bobbing on her hind claws.
"Yes, Auntie, please… please," her best friend added, looking pleadingly with her big, slit eyes.
The elderly lady sighed deeply. "I've told you the story a hundred times already."
"But we want to hear it again," the girls whined unisonously.
The elderly lady sighed again – beaten. "Alright, alright, I'll do it."
"Everybody had expected Harry and Daphne to live for a long, long time. After all, Harry was one of the greatest wizards ever and Daphne was the most famous healer all over the world, her reputation in the end even surpassing that of her mentor Spiritualist Nowles. Certainly they would break every age record. However, that didn't happened. They said their fire burned too brightly to continue living. They illuminated the world with their fire of love and breathed life into society with their air of compassion, but in the end there was nothing left for themselves and the candle flickered into extinction.
"Harry Potter, called Dian Sgiathan – fire-wing by the dragons – was well-respected among his kind. Each and every time there was an election in Great Britain, someone asked Harry – or Daphne in a few cases – to run for Minister. Each and every time he declined."
"It was better this way, wasn't it?" The small girl asked.
"Yes, it was, dearie," her aunt agreed.
„Instead he stayed with MagiPol and later succeeded Lara Andresen as the head of the Council of Seven. Ireland, Portugal and Italy had joined the former AVA-countries, as did Norway and Sweden when they – together with Denmark – reformed into the magical Kingdom of Thule in 2038. Greece on the other hand remained neutral, but a close ally. Harry led the council for a long time, through deep troubles and magnificent prosperity. In 2066 France left the council after some bitter controversies about Veela rights, but re-joined two years later when it couldn't overlook Germany's advances towards the Council any longer.
"His greatest success perhaps has been the extension of the council by adding ambassadors of five other races.
"There were the Mermen, equally speaking for their own people but all water-dwellers as well.
"Then there was a representative of the elves…"
"That certainly made Hermione quite happy," a boy interrupted who had been silent so far.
"Yes, it did," the aunt nodded. "But Hermione's story is for another day."
"They represented the elves of all kind and the faerie people as well.
"The third ambassador was Thudd, Grawp's oldest son. He was far more intelligent than any other giant before him, perhaps a result of his father living on Hogwarts' ground for some time. Thudd rarely spoke in the council and only when it concerned the giants or trolls, but he was respected for his wisdom.
"Unsurprisingly there was an ambassador of the Centaurs as well, speaking for the tribes and all woodland-creatures."
"And the fifth was a dragon," the elderly lady was interrupted again.
Auntie glared at the interrupter and continued.
"While Catriona's oldest daughter, like the tradition demanded, inherited her mother's duty to protect the sacred cave, her second daughter was the first dragon to raise her voice in such a council for a long time, perhaps for the first time since the druidic covens fifteen centuries ago. Catriona herself had died long before her time, having lost decades of her natural lifespan because of the dark magic of Viktor and even more years because of the duress to cleanse her body and soul afterwards. She got a tomb in the main cavern of the sacred caves, which had been enlarged by Hermione and Neville.
"These five ambassadors were added to the human ones, turning it into a council of twelve. And like that they stayed for centuries, mostly in harmony, sometimes quarrelling, but never openly fighting.
"The Goblins on the other hand stayed away from the council, not out of free will but because the Gnomes and Dwarves feared favouritism of their competitors if they were ingrained too closely with the wizarding nations. Veela and Werewolves only sent "counsellors" instead of ambassadors, partly to prove that they weren't something completely different, not other races but only humans with a furry or feathery problem."
"What happened to Daphne?" The little girl knew the answer, but she especially liked that part of the story.
"Daphne Pinegrew – she was called Anail Beatha, breath of life, by the dragons. For more than ninety years she lived as a healer and researcher, helping people wherever needed. While Harry was respected, she was truly beloved. To her endless embarrassment, some of the families of former patients of hers started a cult by erecting small shrines of hers, calling her a saint and patron of healing. Even many of the hospitals followed that example, mostly in the southern countries but some in Scotland and Ireland as well.
"Only after turning 111 did she yield to the endless hustle of the congregation. Like Hermione a decade before her, she was elevated into the status of a "Mother of the Congregation", the two friends becoming a part of the leading trio for some decades. Against no small amount of resistance they ended the congregation's withhold from helping Muggles on a broad scale, starting an era of cooperation with Muggle institutions all over the world and saving thousands of people who were beyond recovery by non-magical means.
"In 2134 she died, many said heartbroken by the death of her daughter Lily. Her daughter had died in 2125, succumbing to a rare magical disease even beyond the capabilities of her mother to heal, after living a healthy 110 years, thirty-eight of those as a headmistress of Hogwarts."
"And they erected a tomb on the grounds of Hogwarts for Harry and Daphne?" The girls asked.
"Matron Mathilda's tomb didn't remain the only one on Hogwarts' grounds forever. In 2042 a second one followed, this one for Headmaster Flitwick. Thanks to a potion regime created by Daphne, Hermione and Master Snape, he had been able to fill the shoes of the headmaster for a whopping 47 years, despite already being 95 when he started the job. His funeral had been a very public affair, with great honours both from the wizards and goblins all over Europe. Even the most die-hard opponents of the idea of a half-goblin leading Britain's premier school had to accept what a wonderful job he had done, turning the conservative school into something worthwhile and contemporary.
"A third tomb followed in 2061, this one housing the remains of Groundkeeper Hagrid. Later it was enlarged to provide enough space for his brother Grawp as well. Minerva McGonagall however, while offered a place at Hogwarts as well, chose Hafnarjördur as her resting place, the hill-elves of Iceland allowing her and Freya to live among them when old age and retirement reached out for the former professor at last.
"And in 2135 – a year after Daphne's death – Harry Potter died as well, his flame dying because Daphne's breathe left him. They created a tomb between the ones of Filius and Hagrid, the space luckily not allowing the monumental one to be created some of the wizards had in mind for their hero. Hundreds and thousands of mourners arrived, human and non-human alike. Only dragons and wyvern stayed away, mostly not to frighten the attendees. Naturally Hermione and Neville were there and many other friends; Nellie, still very sprightly despite her 128 years, had to support her younger but already decrepit brother Charlus. Teachers and students, Aurors and politicians – everybody wanted to be there, to pay his respect or to be seen. It was the biggest funeral ever, with a dozen magical televisions allowing millions others to watch the event from afar."
"Yes, it was a grandiose funeral, and a magnificent tomb."
"And they never realized it was empty?" The little girl asked her aunt.
"No, they never did; not the public at least."
"As could have been expected, there had been threats to the security of the tomb. Even after all those years there existed some dunderheads eager to desecrate the resting place of Harry and Daphne. However, Hermione and Neville had done their best to protect their friends' peace. The stone walls were magically reinforced. Hermione created an array of runes that spoiled the best-planned intrusion, infused to the brim with Earth Magic by Neville. It was the sturdiest vault outside Gringotts in the end.
"And it was completely empty.
"Only a rare few friends knew the truth: Hermione, Neville, Nellie being the only one among their children and grand-children. Ironsides, the tough Goblin lady, knew about it as did Meryem and her husband Jerome. Among the unliving only Baron Pascal and Richard Madsin were present at the actual, both to pay their respect and to help with the building of the real tomb. It had been the first time for decades that Richard left the Mexican Hacienda he inhabited with his wife Hafsa.
"And naturally our ancestors have been there: dozens of Dragons from all over Britain and scores of Wyvern paying their respect to the greatest of their kind; never before and never again since then had there been such a scaly gathering.
"Back in 1996 Harry promised Catriona to cleanse Naomh Leac, the sacred cave. A month after the last battle he lived up to his promise, purging the cave of the evil that had festered there, using his fire-song to do so. His daughter Nellie inherited that same fire-song, as did her oldest child and grandchild. He repeated that promise later. When Catriona took her last breath, Harry was there again, affirming by oath that the cave would be save from such a vile act as Viktor's intrusion for as long as there was a breathing Dragon in Great Britain. He was determined to keep his word.
"On Halloween 2135, two months after the official funeral, Dian Sgiathan and Anail Beatha found their last resting place between the claws of Catriona. From there they would protect the sacred cave and guard the fate of the British Dragons. Their wills and magic created a pillar of fire right there, fuelled by the magic of the Naomh Leac and prolonged through our yearly ritual – the Ritual of the Cleansing Flame."
The old dragon lady hugged her niece, the small dragonling sighing contently. It was the same every year, with the small ones urging her to repeat the old story. She had been the same, two hundred years ago. Perhaps one day her niece would tell the story to a new generation of Dragons. She glanced around, her old eyes resting on the three dozen dragons that had gathered today, as well a handful of Wyvern and a single human.
"And so it happened eight dragon generations ago, that our ancestors reciprocated their oath. They promised to keep their flame alive, to gather every year on the night of Lughnasadh, the night between the 31st of July and the 1st of August. We meet to pay our respect to Dian Sgiathan and Anail Beatha as well as to Catriona, the Dorcha Corraich, and to renew their alliance. And we will continue to do so as long as there is a breathing Dragon on Britain's earth. And in return Dian Sgiathan and Anail Beatha will watch over us, they'll protect us and return to our side in times of our direst need."
She raised her right forepaw and gestured the human to step forward. Roxanne Potter-Pinegrew gulped. She was the third woman of that name since the days of old. This was the first time she would play her role in this ritual, like her father had done and seventeen generations of Potter-Pinegrews before her. Breathing deeply a few times, she switched into her scaly other self, feeling the fire filling her chest. The magic of the place reverberated in her innermost core and she felt something – someone – watching her. Any doubt was soothed, replaced by the security that this was simply right. Roxanne opened her mighty jaws and intonated it – the fire-song.
Seconds later the dragons joined in, their flames filling the air and fuelling the sacred fire.
And the ghosts of a small black-white tomcat and a snow-white owl watched from above.
In the middle of Darfur – one hundred fifty feet below the surface – 2229/2236 and far, far later
"Please hold me tonight," she whispered into his ear.
"Always," he responded, his eyes filled with wonder that she still loved him after all those years.
The old lady snuggled into his arms, her head resting on his chest. She had lost much of her weight over the past couple of years. Now she was only a wisp of her former self. He had felt the end nearing, her death coming. She wouldn't see the next morning, he knew.
Only a month ago had been her 240th birthday. She had lived a long life, a happy life, full of joy and love, with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren adoring her. After Daphne's death, she continued to lead the Congregation, being a "Mother" for an incredible 99 years. Only then did she step down to use her remaining years for teaching water magic to others. All over the world small schools had started to teach her ways – the ways of live-giving water, never visible to non-magicals but always improving their lives.
One week ago, they had visited Naomh Leac. They wanted to pay their respect to their late friends for a last time before continuing on to their next great voyage. Nellie had been there, watching her grandson sing the fire-song. It had been her last visit as well.
Neville hugged Hermione closer to his chest. He felt her smile. She sighed contently.
"Love you." It was barely audible. In the background they heard the TV. It was a broadcast panel discussion from the Collega Magica in Oxford. Nadeen and Haijdar spoke with Muggle and Magical specialists, trying to find ways how to support the long-term terraforming projects on Mars with Water and Earth Magic.
"Love you too." He glanced to the left as he noticed the soft purr. Crooks was sleeping there. He certainly was the longest-living cat ever. Neville sighed. Sometimes, he missed Mandragora. Two centuries ago, he had decided against a binding ritual, allowing Mandy to live a normal owl life. He wondered what would happen to Crooks after tonight.
Thanks to his Earth Magic Neville could continue for another century at least, as he clearly knew. Age hadn't taken its toll on him like with Hermione. However, he remembered clearly that last year of Harry's, how his fire slowly died down without Daphne breathing life into his heart. He didn't want to experience the same, not endure decades without the love of his life. His children and grand-children would survive without them. From their six children, only Nadeen and Haijdar had survived this long, he assumed because of their inherited Earth and Water magic.
And Meryem. She was the grand dame of the Sudanese tribes, respected and feared in her anger. More than one quarrel she had stopped, her deathly glare cowing the hardest tribal chief into submission like a misbehaving toddler. She had buried her husband Tariq and most of her children, but nothing had been able to quench her inner fire. Sometimes he wondered if his daughter had somehow inherited that part from Harry.
No, he wanted to go with her, to continue onto the next adventure. And so he had decided years ago that he would will himself to die tonight as well. Hermione knew it, despite never speaking openly about it. And while wishing him a long life, many more decades with his family, she loved him enough to accept his decision without protest.
Neville listened to her breath, which got slower and slower, shallower and shallower. Slowly he leant forward and gently kissed her forehead.
"It is time, my love. "
Soft, big paws found their way through the sand of the gargantuan cavern. A soft light filled the air, stemming from hundreds of crystals all over the walls and ceiling. It looked like a star-filled desert night with the morning sun approaching.
The big lioness bent her head and drank from the waters of the underground river. The water ended in the picturesque lake of the oasis a hundred feet above. Somehow the water created a feeling of peace and purity every time she was here. She liked the place. It had been created by Nadeen and Haijdar the year after their parents' death. They had been interred in the middle of the cavern, two cedars springing into life the very next day. Now, only seven years later, but growing much faster than usual, they stood there, entwined, appearing like being a century old already.
She smiled as she thought about the Twins.
Haijdar had married the daughter of Sheikh Omar of the Mahan, bringing peace to the tribes. He had met the girl on the day of his abduction and never been able to forget this one friendly face. Asim and Mahan were as close as possible today, with many marriages happening between their sons and daughters. Decades later, Haijdar's grandson even became Sheikh of the Mahan after the death of his cousin on an ill-planned hunting trip.
Nadeen had a very different fate. Staying solo for a long time, she had to get into her fifties before meeting "the one." It was an Archaeologist from Chicago, USA, and with an age of only 22 years more than three decades her junior. There had been a fiery clash of epic proportions between Nadeen and her mother Hermione about the affair, until Neville stepped in. Nadeen never married the man, who was far too much of a globetrotter to settle down, but had two children with him, born out of wedlock. He died in Nadeen's arms days after his 84th birthday.
Meryem the Elder sighed and transformed into her human self. She missed her late husband Jerome. He had died thirty years ago after nearly four centuries of marriage. It was an open secret that Neville had died before his time to stay with Hermione. Perhaps he had made the right decision. On days like these she felt every single year of her long life.
She felt a soft nose nudging her foot and looked down. "Hello Crooks," she greeted her old friend. From the quartet and their animal friends, Crooks had survived the longest. He was lonely now; she felt it, the presence of the younger Longbottoms and his own spawn not helping anymore. His life was bound to Hermione's magic and he should have died with her. However, the spiritual presence of Hermione and Neville filled the cavern, keeping him alive despite his wishes. The tomcat turned around and Meryem followed him to his favourite place under the branches of the two cedars. It was a slightly slick looking stone that was always hand-warm to the touch. He curled up and closed his eyes, dreaming of his mistress.
Meryem the Elder smiled sadly. She knelt down and fondled his fur. "It is time to go on, little one. She is waiting for you on the other side." She stayed like this until his breath slowed down, until his heart stopped. Crooks was at peace at last.
"Farewell, my little friend."
Another visit, another century gone by – Meryem walked the same sands, the magic of the cavern informing her about the newest visitors. Many visitors from far and wide had entered the cavern over the years. Even Ironsides had been here once, a year before she died at last. The visits of Richard and Hafsa had only stopped when they died battling a deadly coven of demon-worshipping Serpentis Vampires in Mexico City. They had won their last battle but succumbed to the wounds afterwards, Richard's fire cleansing them of the taint.
Baron Pascal still came from time to time, calmer now than in former times. He was the spiritual leader of all European Vampires, filling the role there that the White Hag had in Africa. Nowadays he lived withdrawn in Southern France, but his words still reached every corner of the Vampire society. The cavern was a place of life and harmony, but even after death Hermione was unwilling to reject any soul that needed advice or a comforting branch, be the soul alive or not.
Every being able to understand and feeling the wish for freedom and happiness deserves them.
Happiness – decades after Jerome's death she had found happiness again. Meryem the Elder wondered what Hermione and Neville would think about her new lover. Gwydion was the latest fire-singer, descendant of Nellie like every fire-singer before him and of Freya, Minerva's daughter. Freya herself hadn't been seen for decades, but nobody doubted her to be still alive, wandering the moors of Scotland with her godmother, and tempering her difficult moods. Among the Scottish country people Freya was as renowned as Gwrach y Rhibyn, and many a wanderer prayed to her for guidance – and to distract her godmother from his steps. Meryem had met Gwydion Pinegrew a decade ago and over the years he had been able to convince her that happiness was no betrayal to Jerome. Even she deserved happiness, she accepted now.
The Oasis above had turned into a place of peaceful negotiations over time. More than once a war had been stopped or prohibited from erupting by a meeting of the hostile parties at the lake's edge. Never had a weapon been drawn there, and a meeting under the palm trees had always been a sign of hope. In 2458, two centuries after their death, the most famous meeting led to the signing of the African Magna Carta by more than three dozen governments, finally fulfilling the dream of Hermione and Neville.
The cavern itself on the other hand was mostly known as a place of fertility. Thousands of women had visited over time, praying for children. A couple dozen of them had done far more than this, bravely seducing their husbands and lovers under the trees of the double cedar. While many elders frowned on the "practice", the magic of the place not only allowed it but hid the young couples from detection. Meryem herself assumed that this part was Crooks' doing.
The couple visiting the place today had no such thing in mind. Meryem smiled as her eyes rested on Amelie's soft face. After her long and difficult recovery, Baron Pascal's daughter had visited the cavern dozens of times in the past, mostly hiding her face not to scare the other visitors. Even after all these years as a Vampire, she still kept to her humanity. Meryem knew that Amelie missed her former life. She had been Pascal's conscience for a long time, but with the Patriarch feeling his age, feeling the time of the long slumber nearing, it had been Amelie's decision to go through with something Hermione had hinted at two hundred years ago.
"I want to be human again," she had whispered longingly back then.
"I want to be human again," she sighed again tonight.
Meryem nodded. She turned towards the man at Amelie's side. It was a rare event to see the French Mage out of the country. Even after all these years, Meryem didn't know his real name, only that he was Pascal's oldest friend and mentor since the Vampire lord entered the political arena. In the 1180s, when she visited the European countries trying – quite unsuccessfully – to stop the third crusade from happening, she had met the freshly turned Ildiko who accompanied the Bohemian King to a meeting of the European nobility. At the same conference she met a young man for the first time, back then father confessor of an important Provencal noble. He had caught her interest back then and he held it even today. Still, she wasn't one step closer to lifting the secret of his long life, how he was able to still breathe thirteen centuries later. He was no Vampire, that she knew, but nothing more.
"I'm only here for moral support," he clarified his role.
Meryem bowed slightly. He was right. This day was about Amelie and her – and about the special magic of Neville and Hermione, the magic of the life-givers. Today they would work a miracle. A Vampire would turn mortal again, allowed to die in peace with her soul intact.
"Neville, Hermione – please watch over us," she prayed, continuing silently. "And you as well, little one."
And so they did.
Four years, more than a million words, 3,000 reviews, 3 million views and endless hours my beta-reader butterfly83 tried to eradicate my gravest errors.
This story took some quite different turns to how I intended it to happen, but I loved it nonetheless and hope you liked it as well. Please stay on the line for more stories – shorter ones this time, I promise.