A/N: First, a bow to moreremusplease, who tore through this (and other stories), leaving me notes along the way. Thanks so much!
Second, a curtsy to Katmom, who is my ever-present brain in time of exhaustion. :) She's had a rotten summer cold, and still answers her email!
Laughter surrounded Hermione and Harry when the Portkey dropped them, unceremoniously, seven feet above the floor.
Sirius, Remus, and Tonks were lounging at the perimeter of the room that morning, each one with a pillow on their lap. Soon, the pillows were fired at Harry and Hermione, making it nigh on impossible to get to their feet.
She laughed as well. "Pillows," she cried, gasping. "What next, little rubber balls?"
"Had a good time of it, did you?"
"So? Worth waiting for?"
"Took you long enough to get home, kids."
Hermione felt her face catch fire, whilst Harry plowed ungracefully to his feet and glared at them. "Yes, yes, and what time is it?"
Hearing him answer like that helped Hermione banish her irritation and embarrassment as she wondered when Harry would make their announcement for them. They had decided, before Portkeying home, that he should do so as they would be in the midst of his family.
"It's half seven, Harry," Tonks said, crossing her legs and grinning like a mad woman. "Had a good night, I take it?"
"We left in the middle of the night, Tonks." Hermione opened her bag with its Undetectable Extension Charms and rummaged about. "Harry helped me pack my house. It was rather a busy day."
Remus sobered, rising to his feet and clearing the floor with two swipes of his wand. "So we heard. May I see, Harry? Your forehead?"
Harry turned to Hermione and smiled softly as he took her hand. "In a minute." Her former Defense professor sat down again. "First you need to know something."
Hermione felt her heart jump. They hadn't seen anyone from the coven before they'd left, so no one else had heard that she and Harry were engaged. This was the first time they'd be telling anyone and she was unaccountably nervous. She squeezed Harry's hand.
He reciprocated and straightened his spine. "I asked Hermione to marry me and she said yes."
She laughed, feeling ridiculous for the lightning-fast nerves that had possessed, then left, her. "I did."
Sirius's face lit up brighter than Christmas in New York. He didn't even have words, there, as he beamed, laughed, tugged at his hair, stood, sat, and then finally crossed the room to envelope Harry in his arms.
"Pup! Prongslet! Wonderful news. Wonderful. Perfect." He was still grinning like a madman, she thought, when he let Harry go and swooped her up and off the stone floor with a shout. "And you! I knew I loved you."
"Hey!" Harry protested with a laugh.
Sirius let her down, his smile softer, now, but no less proud as he included Harry in a family hug. "Best thing I could think of. After, you know, getting that thing out of your head, Pup."
Remus and Tonks took this as their cue to join them and, for fully a quarter of an hour, there was nothing but joy and congratulations filling Farecliffe Hall.
But then, the Auror amongst them sighed and stepped back, her face flat and inscrutable. "Sorry to break this up, but we have people to contact if Remus and I are ever going to get to make our announcement as well."
Hermione blinked. "What?"
Tonks offered her a subdued smile. "We've decided to get married, but only after the Dark Git is gone."
With one arm around Tonks's shoulders, Remus nodded. "So, let's get to work." He fished a scrap of parchment from a trouser pocket. "I've got a list here of everyone who's ready to join us and they'll meet us here and then we'll all take a Portkey—"
They all groaned, save for Remus.
"—A Portkey," he repeated, "to the cottage. Minerva knows where it is, so that's handled. So does Mad-Eye. So that really leaves the Weasleys." He looked to Harry. "Is Ron still at the Burrow?"
Harry's skin heated and Hermione had to smile a little. "Well, maybe? He's got a girl, now, who lives in Muggle London."
"You can send your Patronus to him?"
"Yeah. He and Prongs are old friends." Harry's smile held a lot of memories and Hermione sighed inwardly. She might share a few of those memories, but not most of them. She'd missed so much.
"Hermione," Remus said next, focusing on her. "Would you, wait, are you all right?" He winced and scrubbed at his graying blond hair. "Merlin, you two. I've forgot. Have you had any sleep—sleep, Pads, so close your mouth—in the past twenty-four hours?"
Hermione shrugged and met Harry's look. Oh, there'd been sex in the shower and then she'd done her best to deep-throat him before he got dressed and they'd tumbled into bed and snuggled and talked and dozed before waking in the odd but welcome circumstance of her sprawled atop his body, his heat rubbing against hers.
"Some," they said in unison, then laughed.
"Right." Remus grimaced. "I hesitate to recommend some Invigoration Draught, but you might want a phial to take with you."
"Take-away style potions!" Tonks inserted. "Just in case."
Hermione wordlessly accepted both phials and, after removing her potions kit from her bag, she tucked them safely away.
"Merlin, Hermione," Sirius asked in apparent awe. "What have you got in there?"
"Oh, about everything, Sirius. Plus two phials of Invigoration Draught."
Sirius Black had seen war. He'd fought against Death Eaters. Hell, he'd stayed in Azkaban for more than a bleeding decade. He'd seen war. He'd seen his son, Harry, fight in a war as well. It was more than any man should have to see, but he'd survived it.
Somehow, it was worse this morning.
The dueling room—where he, Harry, and Remus had spent years working and playing—was nearly filled to functional capacity and it was barely eight in the morning. Eight Weasleys joined Minerva, Remus and Tonks, Harry and Hermione, and of course Sirius himself. At the cottage, where they'd be going, would be Mad-Eye and Snape.
Fifteen people against the darkest lord in Europe. Would it be enough?
Harry leapt atop a bench and shot bright sparks from the tip of his wand. "Hello. First, thank you all for responding so quickly. Just wanted to go over a quick plan before we leave."
Arthur Weasley nodded and said, "We know this is your fated fight, Harry. Proud we'll be there to see it and help if needed." Others mumbled similar sentiments, but Sirius wasn't one of them. Instead, he was seeing Harry as the lad had been over the years. When he'd been scrawny with glasses falling off his nose. When he'd shot up like a weed that one summer and was all feet and hands. The time he had entered the Hall for the first time and nearly cried to have a real home. . .
And here he was, an adult, leading an army—again—and engaged to be married.
Married. Merlin. James, Lily, you'd have loved this girl so much.
"So. I spoke with Severus Snape and he informed me that Voldemort would be expecting to see Hermione and me this morning with Dumbledore. Something you do not know, but that you ought, was that Dumbledore did not only lie about declaring Hermione to be dead."
Hermione hopped up carefully to join Harry on the bench and took his free hand in hers. "He's lied about a great deal," she said, then she offered a look to Harry that Sirius couldn't interpret.
Harry nodded, though, and said, "Dumbledore told everyone that I survived the Killing Curse."
"The Boy Who Lived and all that shite," Remus said from his spot next to the wall.
"Didn't happen. The only Avada that night came from Dumbledore himself. He killed Lily Potter. He killed my mum."
Sirius watched as Hermione and Harry let the furor run its course before Hermione sent sparks from her wand shooting over everyone's heads. "It's a long story, and we don't have time for it now. Harry said that to tell you that the whole Boy Who Lived thing is a lie. Lily Potter protected Harry, but not in the way she thought. Lily cursed Voldemort and he stayed, what, disembodied?" Harry nodded and she went on. "Disembodied for years. He's going to be at Dumbledore's cottage very soon and we will be there to meet him. Dumbledore is a murderer. Voldemort is evil. Please don't second-guess Harry or anything he says or does."
Harry lifted her hand to his lips to kiss it and then shot a mischievous look at Sirius, who smiled a bit. "Nice one, Pup," he murmured. No one heard him.
His son continued. "We're going to Apparate or Portkey to the cottage and then everyone will Disillusion themselves save me and Hermione. Dad and Remus are to come into the cottage with us, no matter who else is there. The rest of you, I need you to surround the place and take care of any Death Eaters who might have accompanied Voldemort. If we do this right, we'll be in and out in less than ten minutes, with bad guys being the only casualties."
"And if not?" Charlie Weasley asked, his brow lifted skeptically.
Harry blew out a breath and met Sirius's eyes. "If not, it's going to get messy. Be prepared. Any questions?"
There weren't any. In the space of less than a minute, the dueling room was empty and Sirius warded it as well as the entire estate. He had to preserve it for his son.
There was no doubt in his mind that Harry would return, but Sirius was not as sure about his own fate.
He smirked as he sketched out a final ward at the gates to Farecliffe Hall. "Not like I have a Dark Magic expert of my own, do I? Nor prophecies about her. Well. This will be ready for them both, no matter what happens."
Dumbledore Cottage, River Esk, Scotland
"Don't start," Hermione muttered, yawning behind her hand.
Harry yawned again, for the third time, as he assessed the cottage and tried to discover who, precisely, was inside before he made an entrance. "Sorry. I was fine 'til Remus mentioned being tired."
"Same here. Want the Invigoration Draught?"
He did a quick assessment of himself. "Yeah. You as well, all right? If we get the post- I.D.-Shakes after, we can handle it then." It was a side-effect of the potion. Sure one woke and was alert and functional for a limited period of time, but then it was as if there was a huge adrenal drop and a man got all shaky and wobbly. Not the best condition to be in to handle the Dark Wanker.
Hermione handed Harry his potion's phial and he swallowed the contents, feeling the nearly instantaneous burst of energy as he handed the phial back to her. After meeting her gaze, he nodded and turned his focus outward.
The "reveal the humans" charm revealed nothing at all outside of the cottage. Inside, though, anyone there was still hidden from their eyes. He straightened his spine, checked to see that Hermione's crystal was in evidence around her neck, and led her to the front door. Behind them, he heard the dual pops of Apparition that told him his dad and honorary uncle had arrived.
He didn't call out to them; he just entered the cottage, deciding to make it a big entrance. "Shields," he whispered.
He could hear Hermione whisper, "Protego horribilis," as he did the same. He didn't point his wand up, however, though that was the traditional motion. Instead, he concentrated on himself and Hermione.
"Dumbledore!" he called.
There was a scream. A ragged, weak scream. The scream issuing forth from a man too weary, who had perhaps screamed for too long without reward. Harry shuddered. Though he wanted Dumbledore to die, Harry was not a sadist.
The screaming stopped abruptly. "Harry Potter. Oh, it's Harry Potter-Black, now, isn't it? And you've brought your pet Mudblood. Charming."
Tom Marvolo Riddle sat at the foot of Dumbledore's bed, wand held negligently to dangle over Dumbledore's legs. His voice was high, thin, and somehow insubstantial, even though it came from a wizard who radiated power. He wore gray robes that appeared to be heavy. Perhaps they were lined with some sort of armor. His noseless face was set in what were likely supposed to be pleasant lines, his red eyes neither narrow nor wide. "Well? Are you going to stare at me all morning? I've been expecting you."
Severus was near Dumbledore's head. His posture was stiff, alert, but secretive. Harry did not envy the man the double role he played. "Potter. What brings you here? Come to rescue the old man?"
Hermione, who was standing near enough to Harry's free hand so that he could feel her twitch, cleared her throat. "No. I think we've come to kill him."
Harry huffed and nudged her with an elbow in an overplayed manner, as if shushing her. "I want to know why," Harry said. He knew this was a play, of sorts, and could only hope that their audience was receptive. "But, it is a bonus to see you, Tom."
"Do not call me that!" Voldemort stood, extending his wand. "You will kneel before me as your lord or I will slay your Mudblood! I meant to have you with me from childhood, to claim as my own, but you've been ruined."
"Meant to have me? When? When you put a piece of your soul in my head?" Riddle started then, and his wand faltered a little. "Oh, yes. Found it. Thanks so much for the present. We've unwrapped it already, you see."
"Trust me, Harry," Hermione whispered, leaning into his body before stepping away from him.
The mere sentence terrified him, but he gripped his wand and waited whilst his fiancé raised her hand to her crystal. "Seems a Mudblood," she said, her tone saucy and perhaps a touch too arrogant, "can find things like the pieces of your soul. I can contain them, as well!"
She dashed to the bedside, grabbing Dumbledore's blackened hand to pull off the ring.
"No!" shouted everyone else in the room. Including Harry. Still, she did it, seemingly uncaring about the damage it did to Dumbledore. Hermione tugged the ring off with one hand whilst she pulled her necklace from around her neck with the other, draping the ring over the crystal.
Snape swore as Voldemort flicked his wand at Hermione, casting something wordless and dark red at her.
It bounced off to hit Dumbledore. "Ah!" he cried, arching his back on the bed.
"No!" shrieked Voldemort. "No!"
Remus and his dad appeared in the cottage at that moment as Dumbledore struggled and flailed about, freed from whatever containment that had held him. Their wands were out and they had curses flying. Harry only barely saw Hermione roll on the floor to Severus's feet, before both she and the former bat of the dungeon seemed to disappear from the room.
"Hermione!" Harry screamed.
"She's gone! My spy has claimed his reward, Potter. And now I claim you!"
Harry steeled himself, shielded himself, and aimed his wand at his nemesis. "Reducto!" The hex bounced off without incident.
"Ha! As if that would work when I wield this!" Riddle sneered as he lifted Dumbledore's wand. "I took it from him and it is mine!"
"Dad, find Hermione!" He couldn't deal with the distraction.
Sirius flared a light, brighter than a cloud-free noon, into the room and Voldemort hissed. Harry called, "Expelliarmus," to get the wand away and then, Sirius and Remus both aimed blasting curses at Tom Riddle as he fell back against the wall of the cottage.
"Got it!" Harry called, gripping the Elder Wand.
"Got 'em!" his dad and Remus said in unison.
Stunned, Harry crossed the room to stand between the two men. There was Tom Riddle, a hole through his gut and one arm blown to pieces so small they couldn't be seen. His eyes were still gleaming red, though, so Harry shook his head. "Not dead yet, you dark bastard? Dissolutio." He pointed the Elder Wand at Tom Riddle and spoke the Disintegration Curse dispassionately, but with deadly intent. A thick red light shot from the tip of the wand to hit Riddle's chest and the effect was immediate.
The darkest wizard of the age exploded, turning into particles that blew everywhere.
Sirius fell to his knees. Remus grabbed Harry in a one-armed hug. And coming in behind them, Minerva McGonagall shouted, "Is he gone?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "I think so."
"So's Albus." Minerva sounded sad and vindicated as she looked at Dumbledore, which Harry totally understood. Expressions ranging from horror to victory and back to loss seemed to pass over everyone's faces.
Everyone's save— "Bloody hell! Where's Hermione? Severus?"
Panic erupted in his chest. What if Snape had, after all, played them false? What if he'd taken Hermione and the final Horcrux? What if . . .?
Ginny, who had been outside, dashed in. "Harry! It's 'Mione! And Snape! And—" She paused to gasp in a lungful of air but Harry didn't wait to find out what she was going to say. He ran.
Severus Snape, still garbed entirely in black and white, though he had shed the frock coat, stood over Hermione's motionless form. "Stop!" Severus called as Harry lifted his wand. "Wait. She's fine, Potter. Put that wand away and approach slowly."
"What happened?" The question was echoed in chorus behind him.
"Snivellus! What did you do?"
"Black. Shut. Up. She's fine. Now, Potter, are you going to come carry her off like a proper hero or what?"
Heart pounding, Harry took a step forward. His dad, though, stopped him. "Are you sure, son?"
"Yeah. If she needs help, I'll Apparate us out of here to St. Mungo's."
"Good. And if you do that, I'm killing Snivellus. Snape. Damn him."
"Not without proof, Dad," Harry advised with a lifted brow. "Let me go."
Each step felt impossible. Each one. What if it wasn't Severus but the Horcrux? What if it killed her? What if it's inside her and I have to get it out? I can't do what she did. What if Voldemort possesses her? What will I do? I can't survive losing her again.
"Where's the ring?" he heard himself ask, his voice wooden as he reached Hermione's side and knelt on the grass next to her. Her skin was warm, that was something. He felt a bit better.
"She . . . created some sort of impenetrable bubble once I dropped the ring—Stone and all—into a phial of basilisk venom. You know, what you used to destroy the Diary. The ring dissolved and she had to keep the dark soul within from escaping."
Harry pressed his forehead to Hermione's and felt her breath, faint against his nose and mouth and he smiled. "She's not dead."
"No, you dunderhead. She's not dead. She's exhausted. Whatever it was she did seemed to take everything she had."
"Harry?" Ginny's voice carried across the open grassy area. "How's Hermione?"
He felt his own limbs tremble with equal exhaustion as he turned to face the sea of hopeful gingers, his dad, his uncle, an Auror, a Headmistress, and—
"Wait? Where's Moody?"
Snape sighed. "The Dark Lord took him out immediately. Alastor didn't have a chance. Of all the times for him to see a man about a horse."
Harry scowled at the stupid slang as it pertained to Mad-Eye's death, but he could imagine that the timing could not have been worse. "Well, damn."
"Indeed." Severus sighed and Harry looked up at him, though he seemed to have to work very hard to focus in the brightening light of the morning. "I am sorry, you know. I know he spent a great deal of time training you. He did well." With another sigh, Severus added, "Your mum would be proud."
All other considerations were set aside with relief as Harry scooped Hermione up into his lap. He couldn't carry her off like a proper hero, but as they were surrounded by friends and family, he found he didn't really care.
Farecliffe Hall, 1 January 2003
Minerva McGonagall won the prize for most surprising gift for the Dagworth/Potter-Black wedding.
"He apparently made his way out to Hagrid after . . . well, after," she told a tearful Hermione Potter-Black. "Hagrid and I looked after him in your honor, of course."
"Crookshanks! Oh, Professor!"
"Minerva. Thank you! You're the best!" Hermione embraced her and Minerva returned it as much as she could. She felt uncomfortable, with that one enormous secret hanging between her and everyone, but she kept it close.
She'd never been a demonstrative person, anyway.
Still, she waved as Harry and Hermione left their wedding reception to go to a certain island known only to Sirius Black. "We need a month to get sorted," Harry had announced with a red-faced grin.
"And make a plan for what to do next," Hermione had added with a nod.
Minerva brushed the lingering cat hairs from her dress robes. Perhaps she'd offer the pair jobs on their return.
Or perhaps they'd take over the Ministry. Either way, the English Wizarding World would benefit.
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End Note: And that's a wrap!
My thanks to everyone who's been reading and reviewing since the first chapter. You've borne with separation, angst, "Not that pairing!" and so on.
My thanks to everyone who joined in here toward the end. You took a look and stuck around anyway!
My thanks to everyone who's popped in to let me know you were there. :) That's always a pleasure.
I really appreciate being able to interact with readers. It's always awesome.
And now, I have three historical fiction projects to get out before fall turns to winter, out here in the real world where people, oddly enough, pay me for my words. The mind boggles.
But I'll be back. ~ LJ Summers