No one knew why some were gifted over others.
Gods and Goddesses of old, wizards and witches of legend, were sometimes revived in those who walked the world after them. For generations, the gods were reborn, but those who would become them were not born with their gifts.
Some earned them young. Some earned them old. No one knew what force chose who would become who, so they gave the blame to magic and respected its will. In recent years, the newest wave of Olympian incarnates had risen, though not all were present. The world was in a state of balance, for the most part, as each of the Gifted did their parts to maintain peace.
But peace wasn't always achievable.
Several of Hermione's classmates had been gifted. Draco Malfoy, Blaise Zabini, Theodore Nott, and Pansy Parkinson had all left Hogwarts before graduating. Their gifts manifested, called them away to their higher purposes. Some of them left their friends behind. Some didn't. It depended on the person. It depended on their gift.
When Harry was gifted in fourth year, Hermione never imagined he'd leave her behind.
Death, fire, darkness, and dark magic called to him. She never saw him hesitate to accept the gift, even though she couldn't imagine him wanting anything to do with such vicious forms of magic. Yet he'd welcomed them into himself as if they'd always been a part of him.
She hadn't seen him since Draco - Zeus - and several other members of the current British Pantheon came to fetch him. Zeus had welcomed Harry as a brother and called him Hades. That was the last time she'd seen him. It wasn't a surprise when she and Ron drifted apart in the weeks following. Their friendship had always been rocky at best. Losing the boy that tied them together had only made things worse, especially when they only served to remind each other of the friend they'd lost.
It wasn't until seventh year, on Halloween, when lessons were interrupted by the news that several of the Gifted were visiting the school, that she heard his name again, whispered in the halls between hushed giggles and sighs. Have you seen him recently? He's so handsome now. He's terrifying. They say he's looking for one of the Remaining. Gods, he's intimidating.
Hermione kept her head down and followed her classmates to the great hall. She didn't want to see him again. He wasn't Harry anymore, just as Malfoy wasn't Malfoy. And in fifth and sixth year when Zabini, Parkinson, and Nott had left, their gifts accepted, they too stopped being themselves.
The only person even close to a friend that Hermione had left was Neville, but she wasn't sure if their friendship was genuine or built purely out of necessity and convenience. Still, he found her in the crowd and lead her to a spot at one of the tables lined against the walls. She sat beside him and kept her eyes trained on the floor.
"It'll be alright," he told her. "I know it hurts."
She just wanted to know why they had to come in the fall. The world was dreary and dying in the fall. Why not come in the latter half of term when the world was alive again?
A brief glance around the room told her that only the sixth and seventh years were assembled. She wondered why, but the doors bursting open stilled her thoughts. She ignored the newcomers.
Not all of the Gifted left the plain mortals like herself and her classmates behind. Bile burned in the back of her throat when she reminded herself that Harry had chosen to stay away. He'd chosen not to return. Not to write. He wasn't like Professor Sprout, who frowned if addressed by her Olympic name - Demeter- and had refused to give up teaching when she'd been gifted three years into her career at Hogwarts. He wasn't like Professor McGonagall, Athena, who pointedly refused to acknowledge her other name if it was spoken. Even Oliver Wood, Aether, had stayed behind until he graduated. Madame Pomfrey smiled as she corrected first years that nervously called her Artemis.
He didn't have to leave them behind.
Neville gently wrapped an arm around her shoulders and she leaned into him, blinking the burning from her eyes. The smell of ashes and incense was faint, but noticeable even from where they were seated. She tried not to wonder if it was him.
"He brought Eros, Hermes, and Phoebe," Neville whispered to her.
Sirius and Regulus Black, and Rowena Ravenclaw. The lattermost of whom was one of the few Olympians to gain what appeared to be immortality. She'd lived for centuries, watched the other gods and goddesses die and be reborn and die again. All four founders had become eternal beings, but that didn't explain why he brought her here.
"I'm sure very few of you are upset to have your studies interrupted," said Hermes, his voice ringing smooth and clear throughout the silent hall. His smile was shy, but he seemed comfortable before them. "You're gathered here because the Pantheon is looking for some of the Remaining. At least one is thought to be among you all."
Gasps and murmurs broke out immediately, but Phoebe's looming, patient presence silenced them with little more than a quiet clearing of her throat.
Hermes gave her a grateful smile. "While we have our suspicions on who several of the Remaining could be, we've agreed to base very little of our search off of them. It's more important to be thorough and if we find out our initial hunches were incorrect, we don't want any friction between the existing Pantheon and the newest of us."
Hermione snorted softly. "We know why he's here now," she said under her breath. "Persephone hasn't been reborn."
She tuned out most of Hermes' speech after that. He named four Remaining: Persephone, Theia, Selene, and Astraeus; and she felt bitterness settle inside of her the same way dead leaves had begun to blanket the Forbidden Forest floor. Of all the Gifted to become so very selfish, she never imagined he would be one of them.
She never imagined he'd be Hades either.
Hermes asked everyone to be aware of themselves and their friends. "Receiving a gift can be gradual or instantaneous. Several of the Remaining we're searching for have a history of gradually coming into their gifts. The transition tends to be jarring when Gifted suffer in silence. Please speak up if you suspect you or your classmates might be transitioning. None of the Pantheon want our brothers and sisters to suffer unnecessarily. Let us help."
They were dismissed half an hour before the period was due to end, and Professor McGonagall said they weren't required to return to classes. Lunch was scheduled to begin in just under an hour. They were free to go.
Despite how badly she wanted to escape, Hermione hung back with Neville. "Are we asking Sprout if we can go to the greenhouses early?" she asked him.
"Sure," he said. "I can always grab us sandwiches from here in a bit if you don't want to come back for lunch."
They let their peers pass them, standing at the edge of the room while the gathered members of the Pantheon continued to congregate and talk in hushed tones in the center. Hades and Eros appeared to be arguing with Professors Sprout and McGonagall. Hermione could only assume that they suspected Persephone was one of Sprout's Hufflepuffs, since the woman was childless.
"Persephone hasn't been born of my blood for centuries," Sprout snapped, her voice loud enough, angry enough, to carry across the room. "And she hasn't been sweet or innocent since her first incarnation. The rebirth of spring and the death of autumn are strenuous enough, but her magic knows it's aligned to your domain, Hades. If you think you'll find her by only looking for her light, you're twice the fool you're convinced you aren't."
Hermione tried to hide her grin. Sprout twisted her words like vines when she was cross. Hades wasn't amused, but Eros was faster.
"He felt her awakening begin last spring, Demeter. It is as much a part of your nature to protect Persephone as it is part of his to search for her. They always reunite. Helping us will spare her frustration," he said. "Fighting him will prolong it."
Hermione felt eyes on her and glanced up to meet Phoebe's patient gaze. It made her uncomfortable, but she didn't look away.
"Demeter," said Phoebe a moment later. "I believe your charges are in need of your counsel."
Professor Sprout turned away, interrupting the glaring contest she was in with Hades, and her expression softened when she saw them. "Neville, Hermione! I'm so sorry, dears." She moved towards them with a smile. "Let me guess, greenhouses?"
Neville gave her a shy smile in return. "We were hoping to get a head start on tending to our projects. We wanted to make sure you were alright with it first."
"Of course," she assured them. "I checked on both of your projects yesterday morning. They appear to be doing well. Just don't get so distracted by your work that you forget to eat."
Hermione didn't wait for Neville to assure her that they wouldn't before she started heading for the door. He had to jog to catch up to her, but quickly fell into step beside her as they made their way towards the greenhouses at last.
She tried to ignore the burning stare heating her back. Maybe it was Phoebe, but she doubted it. Though why Hades was interested in her now was a mystery. If he thought she'd pretend they were still friends when he hadn't even returned to see her, to see any of his former friends, he was sorely mistaken.
The soil was dark, rich, and cool beneath her fingers. Hermione had been fortunate enough that Professor Sprout was willing to help her find the ideal environment for her project - making magical variants of different plants, herbs, and fungi to make them entirely independent of light. She had a potion that let her see in the pitch black, as not to use any artificial light that her altered organisms may cling to, but the area she worked in was entirely void of any light sources. Ironically, several of her plants had become bioluminescent, and she let them, curious to see how it impacted the others.
Since the cave was deep underground and, Hermione assumed, hundreds of miles from Scotland, there was a portal - a circle of glyphs controlled by a crystal that would float in place wherever she set it - that took her to and from the greenhouses. When she was done re-imbuing some of the soil with her magic, she wiped most of the dirt from her hands and stood to return to campus. She needed to water them, then plant the new seeds she'd created the week before and to see if they'd grow.
The greenhouse smelled like incense and ashes when she stepped through, and Hermione knew she was scowling even as she blinked away the light and willed her eyes to adjust faster.
Neville was at the work table in front of her, so she ignored the figure she could see out of the corner of her eye and addressed him. "Any luck with that one?"
Neville glanced up and offered her a 'What can you do?' smile. "Not really. Guess this species isn't a good match."
She moved towards the sinks, which were unfortunately closer to the person she was steadfastly ignoring, and washed the nearly-black dirt from her hands. "Have you tried flowers yet?" she asked. "Common types may work. Roses. Tulips."
"I haven't," Neville admitted, and she could hear his relieved smile. "You're brilliant, 'Mione. I'll try those next."
She shrugged. "You're the one trying to make minimal and non-food-bearing plants food-bearing."
He made a noise of disbelief. "How many different plants have you made that don't need light to live?"
"Four confirmed," she answered automatically, then smiled. "They glow in the dark now."
He glanced up from his rows of miniature pots and various plants. "All of them or just the four?"
"Just the four. And three are technically fungi. The other is a moss. I made a few herb variants last week that I'm starting now," she explained, not really thinking about her words as she moved to the charmed cabinet she and Neville shared for their projects. Her little burlap pouch of seeds was exactly where it should be, as was the enchanted watering can she used, charmed so that no light particles could reach the liquid inside, and purified to the point where no outside light-dependent microorganisms remained. Only water with pure minerals was allowed to be used in her project.
"Demeter mentioned you'd grown a green thumb," he said. "I admit, I'm surprised. It doesn't seem like something you'd find challenging."
Hermione tried and failed to keep her temper from tensing every muscle in her body. It had been years since she'd heard him speak. He sounded different. His voice was deeper. Smoother. Older. She hated how well darkness seemed to suit him.
"Professor Sprout is, unsurprisingly, too kind," she said slowly. She moved towards the sink again, rested her half-empty watering can in the basin, and started casting purifying charms on the water coming from the faucet before levitating it into the can. "Herbology is relaxing and offers plenty of intellectual opportunities to the right person, but it's not my primary academic focus by any means, if that's what you were trying to imply."
Both men were silent behind her for several beats before he cautiously spoke up again. "Of course. I wouldn't know from experience. Gardening isn't exactly a hobby of mine. I trade with Dem…or rather, Sprout when I need Overworld greenery. But you probably knew that already."
Hermione turned off the faucet with more force than was necessary, and nearly spilled some of her water yanking the can out of the sink. Her feet carried her back towards the portal at the far end of the room, and the only thing that kept her hands from shaking was the weight of the watering can.
She didn't know that already. She didn't know he'd visited the Overworld with any level of frequency. She didn't know he'd chosen to ignore them more than once.
Her eyes were burning when she activated the portal.
"May I see?"
She turned her head slightly to the side, refusing to look at him, but enough for him to know she'd heard.
"Your project. Dem-Sprout didn't tell me much about it, but Neville said it's brilliant. I'd like to see for myself, if you don't mind."
She looked at the faintly glowing blue runes waiting for her to step forward and slowly let out a breath. "I. Don't. Care… What. You. Do," she said, her voice cold and measured. "Just don't kill my plants."
He'd taken enough from her as it was.
He didn't follow her right away, but by the time she'd let a few tears drop into the soil she'd tilled by hand earlier and started planting small rows of herb seeds, she heard the quiet sound of the portal behind her.
"This is amazing."
She ignored him.
"I can't even fathom how you've managed this. These things, these plants, they're beautiful, Hermione-"
She clawed her hands into the soil and squeezed it to mush between her palms. "Why are you here?" he asked, her voice barely above a whisper but thick and hardened with poorly suppressed fury.
Again, he was briefly stunned into silence. "I don't understand," he said eventually. He was guarded now. She could hear it.
"You left," she seethed. "You haven't spoken to me since the day you left. You do not just get to come back after three bloody years and act like we're still friends! Like you didn't leave all of us behind."
He gently touched her shoulder and she was surprised his touch was neither scalding hot, nor did it make her flinch. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I didn't realize…I should've…" He sighed. "That's not what happened, but I'm still sorry, Hermione."
He wasn't the same, but in that moment, he sounded like Harry. Something inside her broke.
"'Mione, please," he said. "I'm so sorry, but I'm back. I won't leave you behind again, I swear it."
She laughed bitterly and only just managed not to lose herself to hysteria. She wondered if he thought she'd ever believe those words.
She finished tending to her lightless garden, spelled her face clear of all signs of her earlier distress, and escorted him back to the greenhouses. While he'd seemed to relax, to morph into a less-altered version of the friend she remembered when they were in her garden, his features stiffened and hardened once they left.
"I need to speak with Artemis," he said. "She asked me to stop by her office. If Demeter returns, please tell her I need to speak with her."
Hermione shared a glance with Neville, who shrugged, and she copied the gesture. "Sure."
"Thank you," he said. He offered them the barest of smiles. "Hopefully I'll see you both again soon."
She watched him leave and sighed to try and relieve some of the frustration that had coiled its way through the muscles of her back and shoulders in the process.
"Before you came back earlier," Neville began, "when he first got here, I told him you wouldn't want to see him. I laid into him a bit, really. He said someone was supposed to tell you when he was on campus visiting the Overworld. Someone was supposed to be telling you that he wanted to see you. That person told him, every time, that you refused."
Her eyes narrowed and Neville shrugged again. "He seemed very genuine, Hermione. He seemed…well…like Harry, at the time. I don't think he was lying, but I thought you ought to know if he didn't tell you himself."
"He didn't," she said. "He mentioned that he hadn't just up and left like I thought, but he didn't elaborate. It doesn't matter. Assuming he didn't make up that claim, he's not going to be able to keep any promises of visiting more."
Neville frowned. "Why not?"
She raised a tired brow. "Because he's struggling to find his precious queen of the underworld. He'll hardly have the time or energy for friends once he's found his bride-to-be."
"I suppose," he said as she began to put away her things. "Still. I hope you're wrong just this once."
She snorted, but said nothing.
Part of her wanted to be wrong too.
She didn't see him again for weeks.
Winter had settled upon Scotland and blanketed the grounds with snow by early December. Hermione wasn't as tired as she had been in the autumn, but there were days where the dreariness still got to her. Thankfully, the day Hades returned with what looked like half the Pantheon in tow was one of her better days.
Zeus was flanking his brother, his expression just as, if not more sour than Hades' as they approached the staff table. Hermione's eyes watered at the scent of ashes and incense, which was stronger that it had ever been, and wondered if Hades' mood had something to do with it. She didn't understand how no one else was reacting to it, either.
"The Pantheon is having an emergency gathering. This is not optional," snapped Zeus. "Nor am I waiting on any of you."
Professor Sprout started to sputter about Hogsmeade chaperones and what could possible be so important that—
The hushed whispers that had broken out after the initial shock of the Pantheon's arrival ceased. Professor Sprout was giving Hades' the most hateful look Hermione had ever seen on the woman, but it didn't hold a candle to the murderous expression he wore.
"This is not up for debate," Hades continued, his voice carrying throughout the room despite how low and dark his words had become. "Several of the Remaining have been manipulated and their awareness of their gifts has been stunted. So don't try to say administrative bullshite is more important. Your first priority is balance, Demeter. We don't have time for you to play professor instead of fulfilling your role as a goddess."
When Sprout gave Zeus a look as if he were responsible for Hades, the leader of the gods raised a pale brow. "My brothers are not children," he said. "And I'll certainly not ask him to check his temper when you've been a child about this entire issue for months, Demeter. The Pantheon, all of us, are leaving the premises now."
"It isn't worth the fight, Demeter," said Poseidon from the back of the group. The other gods and goddesses parted so he could join his brothers, and Salazar Slytherin gave Professor Sprout an unimpressed glare. "Do not be a fool about this."
Professor McGonagall rose from her seat gracefully. "Of course, we'll come. If the remaining members of the staff could please see to the students' activities today?"
The scent of ashes had surged when Hades' ire had spike, overwhelming the incense and making Hermione's eyes water. She ended up choking on a breath, and tried to keep her coughing to a minimum. Neville passed her a glass of water with a worried expression, which helped, but her throat was still raw, her lungs still full of ash scented air.
The staff members who belonged to the Pantheon filed out ahead of their fellow deities. The three brothers held back, watching to make sure all of the others left. McGonagall, Sprout, Snape, Vector, Riddle, and Pomfrey.
Hyperion looks pissed," Neville muttered.
She nodded. Professor Riddle had little interest in drama. He'd started teaching Defense in fourth year after Dumbledore —Prometheus— was slain by the Pantheon for meddling with the progression of young Gifted and nearly causing several of them to die in the process of developing their gifts. Professor Riddle didn't require students address him by his Olympic name, but he answered to it just the same as he did his mortal one.
She felt bad for those who had classes with him the next few days. His temper could be nearly as foul as Professor Snape's.
"Erebus and Nyx don't look pleased either," she whispered. Snape and Vector had shared a glance before they stood from the staff table and made their way towards the doors.
Her eyes were still watering when Hades caught her eye. His expression remained stiff, but his lips turned into a slight frown. She shrugged, hoping he understood that she was fine.
He said something to Poseidon and Zeus that was too quiet to carry through the room and the two nodded stiffly. He shot her one last unreadable, intense look before the Triumvirate moved as one towards the door.
"I wonder who betrayed the Pantheon this time," Neville said quietly." He frowned briefly. "You don't think Hades' reaction is because Persephone is involved, do you?"
Hermione shrugged again. "He might just be pissed because it hits close to home. Prometheus tried to prevent his gift from manifesting. The idea of other Gifted being interfered with probably smarts."
She was in her cave the next time she saw him.
"Neville showed me where your dark vision potion was," he said quietly after stepping through her portal. "I'm not disturbing you, am I?"
He smelled like incense more than ashes today, so she shrugged. "I already told you that I don't care what you do."
"How are the new seeds?" he asked gently. She thought his change of subject was wise under the circumstances.
"A few have sprouted. They all seem to grow faster initially, then slow down once they've broken through the soil," she said. "I'm surprised the herbs grew so quickly, though. The fungi I expected to work fairly well, but light-dependent plants I was less sure of."
"More of them are glowing," he said.
She glanced up and looked at her fungi. The dark vision potion didn't illuminate the world around her, only made it so the world was nearly greyscale and visible, so she could see what he meant. The mushrooms were brighter, as was the Foxfire.
"Yeah," she said. "That's a variable I didn't expect."
They fell silent while she worked. She buried her fingers into the soil and pushed her magic outward towards the plants. She watered them. She documented the changes she noticed in her dirt smudged notebook.
"Can I ask you something?"
She turned and raised a brow at him. He almost smiled.
She shrugged. "Don't care, remember?"
His half-smile faltered slightly. "How comprehensively do you study Herbology? Are you mostly into altering species like this or have you grown to care about plants overall?"
She frowned while she thought. "Plants are relaxing overall," she said. "But I wouldn't say I prefer Herbology to Arithmancy or Runes. It's not even really a class for me anymore. I just happen to be getting graded for it."
When his expression turned hopeful, her eyes narrowed. "Why?" she asked.
"You inspired me," he admitted. "I was hoping you could help me with a garden I'm trying to set up."
She blinked at him. "I can't go to the Underworld," she said slowly. "So I don't know how much I'll be able to help you."
"If you're guided, you can visit," he said, but his expression had tightened into something unreadable. "I wouldn't let you die, Hermione…"
She flushed and looked away. Guilt settled in her stomach unevenly. "I wasn't trying to imply that you would."
"It's alright," he said. "I know you…you don't trust me anymore and I understand why. I just want to make it up to you."
She rolled her eyes and dusted dirt from her hands. "Why though?"
He shifted awkwardly and stood when she did. "I missed you," he said. "I did visit, but…I can't talk about it yet. There's too much going on within the Pantheon. I don't want to risk making anything worse, but let's just say someone was trying to make my life harder, and isolating me from my friends was part of it."
It was her turn to feel awkward. "You really tried to visit?" she asked quietly. "You came up here and sent for me and someone told you I didn't want to see you?"
He blinked in surprise but nodded. "Every time I was here I asked for you, 'Mione. But…" his eyes drifted back towards her garden. "The look on your face when my gift manifested, when I accepted it instead of fighting it off…You were afraid of me, so I believed them, even though my gut told me you wouldn't do that, that you wouldn't cut me out of your life like that just because you thought I'd turned into some kind of monster. I knew you would've wanted to verify whatever I'd become with your own eyes after the fact, but I was still in transition back then. I had to relearn who I was and that messed with how I thought and felt…"
Her throat tightened and she tried to swallow the feeling away. "Who did it?" she whispered painfully. "I thought you'd…I was so angry and just…"
She was pulled against him in an instant, one hand threaded into her hair while the other coiled around her waist and he pressed his face into her shoulder. She pressed hers against his chest and wrapped her arms around him for the first time in three years. Her vision blurred over.
"I can't tell you," he murmured. "Not yet at least. I'm sorry. It's already taking all of my self control not to tear them to pieces. Giving your temper a target won't help me keep mine in check."
She nodded, drank in his scent, and tried to stop crying.
"No one will take you from me again, 'Mione," he swore. "No one."
She snorted softly, but didn't bother reminding him of the Remaining, and hoped the Pantheon punished whoever had isolated him so thoroughly.
"What's going to be in your garden?" she asked him quietly, hoping the change in subject lessened the stress and tension they'd fallen into.
"I wanted some fruit bearing trees and bushes, if possible," he said. "Flowers. Something alive and colorful."
For Persephone, she thought bitterly. "I'll need to know the condition of the soil, the location, and what fruits you're hoping for."
He pulled back enough to look at her and wiped a tear she hadn't felt from her cheek. "Of course. I can take you there whenever it's convenient for you."
"I'm done here," she said. "And I don't have anything else to do. I didn't even have to come here today. I just felt like it."
He smiled at her. "Let's get back above ground then," he said. "We can go now, if you'd like?"
His sudden delight was infectious and she offered him a small, tentative smile. "Sure."
His smiled bloomed into a grin that reminded her of Hogsmeade trips when she was fifteen and post-Quidditch match celebrations and July.
She was going to miss him when he left her behind again.
The Underworld was blissfully warm.
She shivered when he pulled her through the portal he'd conjured three feet from the greenhouses with a slight flick of his wrist.
"Demeter gets cross if I come and go too close to her plants," he'd said with a mischievous grin. "What she doesn't know is that I control how far the darkness can seep out of these portals. I've only ever let it kill her plants when she's on my nerves."
"What's going to be dead when we get back," she asked, trying to feel sorry for the fate of Professor Sprout but finding herself unable to muster up any pity. Hades' took her hand and led her up a smooth dirt pathway. She was too busy soaking in the heat to look up at first, and stopped dead when she saw where there were going. "The palace is carved out of a cliff side?" she asked.
"Just some vines," he said, then after following her gaze, he shrugged, and she thought he might be embarrassed. "Yeah. I'm still not certain I've been in every room yet. I mostly stick to the upper levels when I'm here."
The landscape wasn't as dry or barren as she'd been expecting, though it was lacking in color. The ground was dark, as if the dirt were soaking wet when in reality it was on the brink of being too dry. What foliage did grow along the cliff and in the valley it presided over was dark green and thick. Coarse bushes, thick ropes of vine, wide leaves that made a canopy over the rest of the foliage. There was an archway carved into part of the mountain to her left, allowing her to see a thin waterfall in the distance that emptied into what looked like a large bay. From what she could tell, the bay itself emptied into an ocean that disappeared behind more mountains and high ridges.
To the right of the arch began was the cliff side and palace grounds, sections of the mountainside that had been carved out and flattened to create usable land. The building itself followed the curve of the partial peninsula and was built into the cliff's face. White, grey, and black marble stood out amongst the stone. The higher she tried to look, the less she could make out.
"There's another palace on the North side that's a bit less…shall we say ambitious as this one. Poseidon didn't think my first incarnation could successfully build something like this that was safe to live in. I proved him wrong. I don't live here though, not usually," Hades' explained as they entered through a marble archway.
She followed him deeper into the property, up a few flights of stairs, and towards what looked like a transportation room, before speaking up again. "If he, you, whatever, only built it out of spite, why didn't you tear it down afterwards?"
His expression became undecipherable. "Persephone liked the views, as I understand it."
"Oh," she said lamely. "Can't say I blame her. It is beautiful, like a tropical jungle with all the colors washed out or something…"
Part of his earlier smile returned. "Or something," he agreed and took her hand. They stepped through a portal he activated and landed in a nearly identical room, but there were more doors. More directions to go. A more reasonable floor plan. She assumed they were at the other palace.
"We're on the top floor," he said. "I wanted to turn one of the balconies into the garden. The biggest balcony is off the library."
"You have your library on the top floor?" she asked.
"Well," he said, "the main library is on the ground floor. The private royal library is up here."
Most of the decor still consisted of marble, but painted wood made an appearance in the library. The outer body of the bookshelves ranged from black to grey to white marble, but the shelving was all woods painted to match. There were large window panes overlooking the balcony, which limited the view of the vista beyond. Hades led her past the bookshelves to the double doors that opened out to the balcony.
It was massive and had to be equal to half the area of the library behind them.
"This high up, can a balcony this large support fruit-bearing trees?" she asked him. "What's supporting it?"
"Weightlessness charms infused into the marble," he answered. "It was intended to be idiotically massive and thereby needed to be excessively charmed."
"Another bet?" she guessed.
"Yes." His smile was audible.
"Well," she said, "in that case, you certainly have the space. I feel like I'm standing on a small marble Quidditch pitch. You're missing dirt though. And if you want the ground level to be flush with the floor, that'll require carving out the marble. How deep is the floor? You'll need at least a foot of dirt to use an extendable charm on the soil so the roots have plenty of room to grow."
"I think it's a foot and a half or two feet thick. There's room to carve," he said.
"I assume you want to use soil from the surrounding area?" she guessed.
She nodded and leisurely made her way through the space until she'd reached the railing. The view was stunning. She assumed the ocean on her left was the same ocean she'd seen earlier, only now there was a valley below her, the low end of the mountains before her, and flatter land to her right. She thought she could even make out the edge of a town.
"There's more of the populace to see from the north end of the palace," Hades said behind her. She wasn't sure how he'd ended up on the same mental wavelength as her. "The royal suites all face the south and south west."
"It gives the illusion of solitude," she said.
"There also isn't nearly as much nature to bask in on the city side," he said.
She'd forgotten about Persephone for a moment and mentally scolded herself. The woman hadn't even awoken yet and Hermione already hated her. A besotted, thoughtful husband, a beautiful —if not lacking in color— landscape full of odd but abundant plant life, and a kingdom.
"Spoiled bitch," she muttered under her breath. Then louder, she asked, "What all are you wanting to plant here?"
"Oranges and kiwi maybe? Raspberries, if possible. Almonds, Vanilla, bergamot, Narcissus flowers, lily of the valley, oriental lilies, and ivy were my first few thoughts," he said.
"Pomegranates, I imagine?" she asked, her voice bland.
He snorted behind her. "I thought those might be a bit heavy handed. They grow naturally throughout the island."
Hermione shrugged. "Your garden. Your wife. Your decision."
He was quiet for several tense beats. "One pomegranate tree," he said eventually. "For tradition's sake."
She nodded stiffly. "I'll need soil samples, saplings of what you want, and seeds. Depending on the pH of the soil, nutrient density, and average rainfall this area gets, I'll have to do some tweaking. Then we can plant everything."
"Is it too much to ask for you to teach me to do all of that alongside you?" he asked. "Anyone can ask or hire someone to plant a garden. I was hoping to learn how to do it with my own two hands."
She turned around and raised a brow at him. "The King of the Underworld wants to learn how to garden," she said slowly. He shrugged and she rolled her eyes. "Don't cry at me when you can't get dirt out from under your nails for a week."
He promised not to, verified that there wasn't anything else she needed to see with her own eyes, and offered to take her back to the Overworld. As she stepped through the portal with him and took her first breath of Overworld air in several hours, she noted how watery and cold the world smelled. Under air was thicker. Sweeter. Like the incense-y scent that clung to the God-King behind her.
"Thank you, Hermione, truly," he said. "You don't know what this means to me."
She tried and didn't quite manage to give him a small smile. "Sure thing. Just get those saplings and such to me when you can."
"Yeah, sure," he said. "I'll try to stop by again soon."
"Alright," she said. "Bye."
Professor Sprout was in the greenhouse when she returned to gather the things she'd stowed in her and Neville's cabinet.
"Neville was looking for you," she said. "Where did you get off to?"
Hermione shouldered her bag with ease and made a quiet noise of nonchalance. "Hades wanted my opinion on something in the Underworld, so I took a field trip."
"I…what?" Sprout stammered. "You went Under?"
Hermione hesitated in the doorway briefly. "I did. It's beautiful and warm, which was lovely." She shivered when a gust of wind blew into the room. "It's dreadful here this time of year."
"I see," she said, but Hermione noted that her usual cheery demeanor wasn't quite up to par. "I'm glad you made it back safely."
Something about her tone made Hermione bristle. "He wouldn't let me die down there," she said. "He's still Harry, sort of."
"I'm sure he wants you to feel that way," Professor Sprout said vaguely. "Just be careful, dear."
"Of course, Professor," Hermione said before finally slipping out the door. The entire exchange made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end and she tried to push it from her mind.
As she wove towards the castle, she noticed many of the vines and roots that had made their was out of the greenhouses were shriveled or singed and chuckled under her breath. Harry was still in there, even if Hades was too.
He brought her raspberry and strawberry seeds; an orange and a pomegranate sapling; male and female kiwi plants, and seeds for all the flowers he'd mentioned in the Underworld.
"The kiwifruit might be tricky," she said, "but I can probably make it asexually reproductive. Have you started renovating the balcony?"
He was leaning up against the sink watching her go through the supplies he'd set on one of the worktables. "I have. The floor has been carved out and filled with soil. I extended the dimensions a bit so the garden could be larger without getting rid of room for the furniture that's already out there. There are stone walkways that run through the middle of the garden from both sides, so it will have quadrants."
She nodded. "That will give us boundaries for charming the soil accordingly."
"I can have some small pillars put in at each corner of the garden as well, if the kiwi vines need it," he said.
"Dimensions?" she asked.
"After the extension, the garden is five by five meters."
He thanked her profusely before he left her to work, promising to return in a fortnight if he wasn't needed in the Overworld before then. When she finished altering his seeds, saplings, and the kiwi vines in less time than expected, she realized she had no way to contact him.
If he occasionally traded with Professor Sprout, then surely she wouldn't mind passing on a short message?
"I'll let him know and get back to you, dear," she'd said absently. She was grading third year's plant potting and pruning, then cleaning up their work for their plants' sakes. "Where are the things he needs?"
"Locked in my project cabinet," said Hermione. "I need to verify a few details with him before he takes any of it and I didn't want them to get contaminated somehow by leaving them out."
Sprout nodded. "I'll let you know what he says."
Sunday, Professor Sprout had said. He'd stop by Sunday afternoon.
The seventh year greenhouse was empty, as expected. Even Professor Sprout was gone, having volunteered to chaperone that weekend's Hogsmeade trip. Hermione had given Neville some galleons and asked him to pick up a few things for her while he was out, since she wasn't sure exactly when to expect Hades.
By two in the afternoon, she got bored, put all his plants back in the cabinet, and decided to spend some time with her own garden, leaving the bottle of darkvision potion on the table so he'd know where she went. She resurfaced at half past five to an empty room. No note. No hints of ash or incense in the air.
Neville showed up at seven with a bag for her full of the items she'd asked for.
"Has he left already?" he asked.
She could barely muster up a grateful smile. "He hasn't showed."
Neville sat with her and told her about his trip into town until eight. "Dinner will end in an hour," he said. "We should go eat."
She was stiff when she followed him, but made herself leave the greenhouse after making sure Hades' plants were safely tucked away. If anyone tampered with them, it'd be her. She had half a mind to leave them in a pile of ashes for him to find.
No one will take you from me again, 'Mione. No one.
Liar, she thought as fell into step beside Neville and headed towards the Great Hall. You'll do it yourself.
A fortnight from when he dropped off the plants, incense floated into the greenhouse and Hermione stiffened, but didn't look up from the seeds she was altering.
"Hey," he said cheerfully. "How are you?"
She scoffed under her breath and lifted her gaze just enough to glower at him. His smile faltered.
"No owl?" she snapped.
"I don't understand," he said, his expression twisting with confusion. "We agreed that I'd come back in a fortnight."
"And you told Sprout you'd be here last week when I finished your stupid project early," she said lowly. "I waited for you for all afternoon and you couldn't even let me know you weren't available?!"
Understanding crossed over his eyes and his expression hardened a moment before the scent of ashes began to fill the air.
"Hermione…" he said slowly, "I haven't spoken to Demeter since Zeus dragged the Pantheon together in December."
She sat up and stared at him, dread and confusion crawling down her spine. "I…asked her to tell you I was finished. She said you told her last Sunday was fine…"
His jaw tightened, but he didn't speak.
I can't tell you. Not yet at least. I'm sorry. It's already taking all of my self control not to tear them to pieces. Giving you a target won't help me keep mine in check.
"She's the one who tried to keep you isolated, isn't she?" she whispered. Her temper flared. A ceramic pot in front of her cracked once, then shattered entirely. Without the pot's support, the dirt dropped out of its shape and made small mound of earth on the table.
"Come here," he said gently. "Losing your temper won't fix anything and we can't confront her now. I need to speak to Zeus and I don't want this to ruin our day. We can go on a warpath tomorrow."
She stepped around the table, aware that her limbs were shaking, and let him pull her into his arms. The air still smelled like ash, but he radiated incense. It calmed her.
"I found some really pretty spots while I was collecting soil for the garden," he said. "If you'd like, we can go Under and I'll take you there?"
She nodded against his shoulder.
He didn't let her hand go when they went through the portal he made. She didn't pull away, even as they walked through the town she'd noticed last time, and she didn't ask him what damage would be done to the greenhouses when she returned. Part of her hoped he knew which plants were Sprout's verses students', and if he did, that he'd torched enough of them for her to notice.
Despite having their king wandering the streets with a living woman they'd never seen, Hermione noticed that the citizens of Hades were relatively uninterested in either of them. She was grateful for it. He showed her different shops and stalls in peace, guiding her hand in hand until she noticed something out of the corner of her eye and pulled away from him.
There was an old arithmancer's pocket watch in blue-hued silver for sale. It could keep twelve different times, all of which could be set to match an equation or to follow a different speed. The first three were normal time, half time, and double time.
She noticed the unsettling silence surrounding her before she started trying to decipher the fourth. When she glanced up, people were staring at her, including the merchant behind the stall. Hades offered her a small, fond smile when she looked at him anxiously.
"Ignore them," he said. "It's nothing. They're not used to being around the living. Your liveliness is different than theirs. More intense. Unexpected." He walked over, pulled several gold pieces that weren't galleons from his pocket, and paid the merchant. "It's yours," he said to her. "Repay me by telling me any and everything you use it for."
"But-" she stammered.
He smiled, put the chain and the pocket watch in her right hand, and took her left again. "It's yours."
He showed her random, small groupings of flowers that had randomly grown throughout the valley. There was an isolated cluster of Narcissus flowers the size of a fairy ring, with no other flowers in sight to explain their appearance. A single vein of Lily of the Valley was dangling from a ledge small enough to be a foothold for climbers.
"There are grape vines over by the Styx falls," he told her. "But that's a bit too dangerous for comfort. For you, at least."
"That's fine," she said, and she meant it. "This has already been better than starting a witch hunt on Sprout."
He snorted softly. "Zeus will be displeased with her," he said. "She was ordered to leave me and my affairs alone. All of them."
"It's also sort of super illegal to cross one of the Triumvirate isn't it?"
He shrugged. "Depends on the situation. Attacks on our person in some way, yes. Disagreeing with us, not so much."
"Well," Hermione said, trying to sound nonchalant. "Hopefully she hasn't permanently damaged any of the Remaining."
He squeezed her hand. "She's not clever enough to manage that, thankfully. Though I'm interested to see who else she's targeted or if she's just acting on a millennia old grudge over something that didn't happen the way she convinced herself it did."
Despite the bitterness that had settled on the back of her tongue, she squeezed his hand in return. She knew he was referring to his original incarnation and how he ended up married to Persephone. "I hope she's just rotten throughout," she said. "She'll be reborn whether she dies naturally or is executed by the Pantheon."
Hades chuckled beside her. "Easy, little lioness. She'll get hers. I'll make sure of it."
He was beaming when he visited her a few weeks later, on the Sunday before Valentine's. She glanced up from her garden, raised an amused brow, and waited for him to get on with whatever he had to say.
"Busy after this?" he asked.
"I'm not," she said. "Why?"
"I want to show you something."
He was lit up like he used to be on Christmas mornings when he remembered his friends loved him more than his relatives and had actually gotten him presents. She'd managed to identify what incense he always smelled like since the last time. A mix of dragon's blood and bergamot. With every breath, it seemed his good mood fused into her bones.
"I just need to finish my notes," she said. "Then we can go."
He was vibrating with energy as he took them Under. She recognized their location as the northern palace, and followed him towards the royal library on the top floor.
There were curtains along the back wall of windows this time, blocking the view of the balcony beyond.
"Have you finished it already?" she asked him.
He shrugged shyly and his anxiety, which had started to take over his excitement, was palpable. "Something like that. I was hoping for your opinion."
She gave him a small smile, but wondered how he managed it. She was certain he'd need to bring her back to help set everything up. And most of the plants he'd wanted would need at least a few seasons' worth of time to produce fruit. It'd be interesting to see how he'd fared on his own.
He took a few quick steps to get ahead of her and block the doors. His hands were behind his back, wrapped around the handles, and he gave her a small grin. "Ready?"
"As I'll ever be," she said dryly, shaking her head at his antics.
He pushed the doors open without moving from where he'd stopped and quietly stepped to the side as she crossed the threshold.
It was breathtaking. The pillars he'd wanted for the kiwi vines were thin enough to support the plants without being obstructing. Each pillar was connected by slabs of marble, with vines laden with ripe kiwi hanging off of them like the curtains of a four poster. The orange and pomegranate trees were in the quadrants closest to the balcony railing, and both bore heavy, ripe fruit that made her mouth water.
The stone paths he'd told her about were lined with flowers. The Narcissus and the various lilies he'd wanted were all in full bloom. Ivy wove itself between and around the kiwi vines. The berry bushes filled in the first two quadrants and pressed up against the bases of the trees.
It was a wealth of color and sweet fragrances that stuck out against the less colorful landscape behind it.
"So…what do you think?" he asked from the doorway.
She walked forward until she was at the intersection of the rock paths and took a deep breath of oranges and flowers. "She's going to love it," she told him. "Please don't be nervous."
"Who?" he asked. She rolled her eyes.
"Persephone, Hades. Harry. She'll love this."
"'Mione, I didn't ask what you thought Persephone would like," he said, and she couldn't put a name to his tone. "I asked how you felt about it. You're the one who made this possible. Your opinion is the one I care about right now."
She turned around and gave him a puzzled look. "It's lovely, but how I feel about it doesn't matter, does it?" she asked. "I don't live here. It's not my balcony and it's not my garden."
He gave her a curious look before he stepped away from the door frame and joined her in the center of the garden. "Answer something else for me then."
She blinked and raised a brow. "Alright then…"
"Why was Prometheus executed?"
"He…" she began, unsure. Prometheus was a touchy subject for him, or should've been. "He was locating undeveloped Gifted and interfering with their environments. It was impacting the development of their gifts."
"Why?" he asked.
"To control them?" she guessed.
"Yes, in part," he said. "But some Gifted appear in the same order every lifetime. So if you stunt one…"
"You stunt the other," she finished. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"The biggest problem with what Prometheus did was that Gifted were gaining physical manifestations of their powers before they were mentally aware of them," he said. "He was trapping part of their souls, locking them away in their own heads."
She swallowed and rubbed gooseflesh from her arms. "Is…is that why yours appeared so suddenly?"
"Yes," he said, his eyes blazing intensely. "But also because I always come before certain Gifted. Zeus always finds Hera. Poseidon always finds Amphitrite. Erebus always finds Nyx."
The back of her neck began to prickle with discomfort, though she wasn't sure why. "You always find Persephone."
"I'm always Gifted first, maybe," he said. "I always recognize her for who she is first, undoubtedly. But you found me first during our original incarnations. We pass the gauntlet back and forth every few lifetimes."
Hermione stared at him in disbelief. "You think I'm-"
"There's no thinking, Hermione," he interrupted. "You are. I suspected it when I realized Demeter had been lying to keep us separated and I knew for certain when I overheard her bragging to Nyx and Hermes about the 'green thumb' you'd grown in the past two years." He gently grasped her biceps and tugged her closer. "And you couldn't know for yourself because Demeter's been meddling. This is why you've been so angry thinking I left you in the dust. This is why, unbeknownst to you, I was constantly trying to see you, to make it up to you, to get you to talk to me again…"
He pressed his forehead against hers and sighed.
"So, yes, Hermione, my dear, broken Persephone, your opinion matters. This is your garden. This is your balcony. You do live here, or, you will at any rate. You've lived here, with me, for millennia."
"I'm confused," she murmured. "I don't feel like I'm much different than I was three years ago…"
"Your gift is still maturing," he told her. "The more often we see each other, and for longer stretches of time, the faster your gift will recuperate."
He pressed his lips to her forehead and reached for a nearby branch. With the grace of someone who'd done so thousands of times, he broke open a pomegranate and offered her half. "I'd prefer you stayed away from Demeter, but I know Herbology relaxes you. So I'll only ask you to be careful until this is all sorted out, please."
She nodded, still numbed by shock, and accepted the fruit he offered her. "I was right," she said. When he didn't show signs of understanding she elaborated. "I said she'd love it."
He fed her pomegranate seeds and orange slices and raspberries while he told her how he managed to make all the plants fruit bearing in such a short span of time. She fed him in return, bathed in the warmth of the Underworld, and soaked up the relaxing energies surrounding her in the garden he'd made. The garden he'd planted for her.
He took her back to the castle midway through dinner, kissed the remnants of pomegranate juice from her lips, and promised to visit her after classes.
She forced herself to walk past the greenhouses without going inside. They'd agreed to let the Pantheon handle Demeter and Hermione didn't trust her own temper.
Professor McGonagall was speechless. "I beg your pardon, Miss Granger?"
Hermione smiled and sat up a little straighter. "I want to drop Herbology," she said again. "I know it seems sudden, but I'm familiar enough with the curriculum that I can self teach anything else I need for my N.E.W.T.s. But I'd like to drop the course."
"If you're sure…" she said hesitantly.
"I am," said Hermione. "I couldn't be more certain, Professor."
She was shivering in an archway leading out onto the grounds when he appeared a few feet in front of her. He opened his arms and she sprinted into them, sighing against his collarbone as his heat sank into her skin.
"Warming charms are your friends, love," he chuckled. "Not that I'm complaining."
"They don't work well for me," she muttered, teeth still chattering. "Not this time of year."
Understanding laced his tone. "That'd be your magic metamorphosing to accommodate your gift," he said. "Have you been more tired than usual since winter started?"
"Since fall," she admitted. "In hindsight, that fact alone makes me feel a bit dense."
He kissed her cheek, pulled her backwards a few steps, and pulled them Under. She didn't let him go, but did sigh contentedly when they were surrounded by warmth.
"You couldn't have known any better than I did when my gift started to manifest," he said. "Your magic will sort itself out, I promise. Until then, I'm more than happy to keep you warm."
He kept her close to his side as they made their way to their garden and sat under the pomegranate tree together in the small space where he hadn't planted any bushes or flowers against its trunk. She had started to doze, her stomach full of kiwi and orange slices, when he kissed her hair and spoke up again.
"Pantheon meets in three days. Demeter will have to answer for herself then."
Hermione hummed, happy with the news. "I dropped Herbology," she told him. "I took the portal crystal and wrapped the charms around it so I could still work with my plants, but I refuse to see her. I'll do something rash."
He sighed. "I'm sorry. I know you enjoyed it."
She shrugged. "I still study it, just in my free time. Besides, its not like it'll prevent me from interacting with plants. You've taken care of that already."
His lips gently pressed against her hair again and she nuzzled his collarbone in return. "You're spring, but you're also winter," he said. "I wanted to make sure you had somewhere light to rest when the darker aspects of your gift manifested. For your sake, I'm glad the spring side manifested first."
"Even though spring is nearing, I don't feel like the…shadowy feeling of winter is diminishing," she admitted. "I'm so…angry when I'm not here with you."
A finger under her chin made her look up at him. Familiar green eyes regarded her with worried tenderness. "My magic is always, shall we say, keeping an eye out for yours. Please don't stress about the darker side of yourself. I will come to you if I feel even a minor change in your magic that feels unusual."
She nodded and laid her head back on his shoulder. But that didn't stop her temper from flaring every time she passed a Hufflepuff in the halls, or felt Sprout's gaze on her at meals. A deeper, colder, darker part of herself had started to awaken, and as winter inched closer to spring, the quiet voice in the back of Hermione's mind only grew louder. Stronger.
Mother, mother, how do you fare?
Neville still sat with her, but his concern had become obvious to her. He wouldn't ask her what had changed, but there was a day, when they were studying together in the library, that he worked up the courage to discuss the topic with her.
"You've been hanging out with Hades more. How did his garden turn out?"
"It's beautiful," she said. "We're adding bergamot trees in a few weeks, hopefully."
Mother, mother, do beware.
"I thought you were…hesitant to become friends with him again?" he asked. "What changed?"
Hermione snorted softly and pushed one of the many historic texts about the Pantheon to the side. "Me, I suppose."
Mother, mother, don't you see…?
Neville's discomfort was glaringly apparently, so she offered him a small smile. "You can ask."
"Seems that way."
"Then why did he piss off for all those years?"
His genuine concern and anger on her behalf made her smile turn tender. "Prometheus had a few like minded companions," she said. "One of them was in his way."
Understanding lit Neville's eyes. "Oh no…that's why you quit Herbology isn't it?" he asked, dropping his voice further.
She shrugged. "What can you do?"
Cross my love and you've crossed me.
Hermione wasn't exactly sure how she knew that the snow blanketing the ground would be the last snow of the season, but she did. Fat clumps of powdery flakes crunched under her boots, while the rest flew out around her feet with every step. She was only walking a lap around the grounds because she was stir crazy and knew she wouldn't see Harry -Hades- until closer to evening.
She'd been so preoccupied trying to focus on what other talents her changing magic gave her to realize she had reached a part of the grounds she hadn't been to for weeks.
Her fist clenched as she glanced up, willing her features to remain passive despite the fury coursing through her. And the voice, the quiet, sing-song voice that sometimes creeped into her thoughts, spoke up:
Mother, mother, do beware.
Mother, mother, life's not fair.
Mother, mother, listen true.
Cross my love and I'll kill you.
Hermione wasn't sure where she ended and Persephone began, but their feelings towards the woman drawing closer were in sync.
"What are you doing out here in the cold dear?" Sprout asked as she drew nearer. "It's frigid outside."
"I'm cozy," she said stiffly, moving the hands shoved into her pockets for emphasis. "Thank you."
Sprout frowned. "I tried to get Artemis to tell me why you'd dropped Herbology, but she said you didn't give her a reason. Did something happen? You and Neville were the best in your years. I was heartbroken to see you go."
Mother, mother, don't play dull.
You've forgotten my ire in the lull.
Hermione smiled, feigning an inkling of remorse. "Professor, with all due respect, we both know why I left."
Sprout's confusion might've been genuine, Hermione couldn't tell. "I tried to think of reasons, dear, but I truly don't know what put you off the course. Was it anything I said?"
Mother, mother, fool's love gold.
"Said?" echoed Hermione. "No, I suppose not. But your actions, Demeter, are another story entirely."
Mother, mother, I'm his to hold.
"I don't follow," said Sprout. "If I did or said anything that upset you somehow, I—"
Ice ghosted over Hermione's skin before her lips moved of their own accord. "Be silent," she hissed. "You tried to take him from me. You're no better than Prometheus!"
Sprout's demeanor changed in an instant, shifting from concerned and upset to bitter and sour. "He ruins you. He always ruins you, you couldn't possibly understand!"
There are dormant seeds beneath our feet. No amount of rain or sun will make them come alive on their own. Call to them. Plants are our domain, not hers.
Vines shot up from the soil and knocked Demeter backwards into the greenhouse she'd come from. Hermione followed, unconcerned with the cry of outrage and and smash of clay pots upon the floor. She felt the leaves stir as Demeter dared to retaliate, but quickly usurped her control.
"Plants do not belong to you," said Hermione, her voice still not her own. "You should know that by now, Mother."
"Persephone, stop this!" Demeter shouted. "You are not yourself! Hades poisons you with his darkness, he takes advantage of your weakness during the winter! Fight it!"
Hermione felt her head tilt to the side. "You're a fool," she said softly.
The roots and vines that had twitched, ready to answer her silent command, stilled. Demeter started at them, aware that they were pointing directly at her, and that her life was in a precarious balance.
That did not stop her from glaring at Hades when he appeared behind Hermione."
"Calm down," he said. "She'll get hers, 'Sephone, I promise."
Hermione continued to glare at the woman on the floor. "I'm cold now," she said. "I dislike being cold."
"I know, love. But killing Demeter before the Pantheon meets won't warm you. That's what I'm here for."
She peeked at him over her shoulder, saw the concern in his eyes, and noticed the tiny reflection of herself as well, if only because of the violet glow of hers she saw there.
"Let me take you home," he said gently. "We can stop by Zeus' on the way."
Demeter received one last glare before the plants in the greenhouse fell dormant once again.
"Do Goddesses need graduation certificates?" she asked as he wrapped a blissfully warm arm around her frigid shoulders. Her coat could keep the wind from her skin, but the chill overwhelming her wasn't coming from the elements. It was coming from herself.
"Not particularly," he told her. He made them a portal, but instead of landing in Hades, they landed at the front gates of a massive manor house. "But I know school is important to you."
Hermione glared at her shoes. "I don't need to graduate Hogwarts to fulfill my duties."
"You don't. I can teach you anything you need to know about ruling the underworld with me. And I'll visit as often as possible when you spend time in the Overworld for the warm seasons."
Hermione shivered and burrowed deeper into his side. "I just want to sleep and be warm."
"We can nap in the garden after this," he promised. "I'll hold you."
Zeus was in, but Hera was out roaming the Malfoy Manor gardens when they arrived. He raised a slightly amused brow when he noticed Hermione on Hades' arm.
"Sister," he greeted. "Awakening slowly this time, I see."
"Apparently," Hermione said dryly.
"You told Demeter to leave her alone after our last discussion?" asked Hades.
"Of course," said Zeus. "I'm going to take a wild guess and assume she disobeyed once again."
"I happened to wander by the greenhouses," said Hermione. "Persephone's patience ran thin."
Zeus' lips twitched. "Hades is your gentler half."
Hermione smiled. Hades snorted as he led her to one of the loveseats across from Zeus. "She'd be dead if I hadn't gotten there when I did," he said.
"Persephone?" Zeus asked.
Hermione scoffed under her breath as Hades smiled and said, "Demeter."
Zeus' laughter echoed around the room. "Less stunted than we feared, aren't you?" he asked Persephone ironically.
She shrugged. "She took him from me. I don't appreciate that."
Zeus and Hades shared a glance. "Well then, Sister," said the former. "I suppose I must beg a favor from you before the Pantheon is summoned for Demeter's transgressions."
After a pause in which Hermione stared him down without a word, Zeus continued, his growing amusement lacing his words. "We get to have some fun revealing your awakening."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm still transitioning."
Zeus shrugged, laid back against his sofa, and rested his right ankle on his left knee. "Details, Granger. Lighten up for once."
The Pantheon interrupted breakfast on what Hermione considered an ironically pleasant Friday morning. The last snow had not yet melted, but the sun was out despite the cool air, and she could taste spring in the rays that had filtered through the windows in her dorm room when she'd been getting dressed for the day.
The Triumvirate moved as one and Professor McGonagall rose to greet them. Hermes and Eros were behind them, as were the remaining three founders —Helios, Phoebe, and Hestia. They made for quite the congregation and Hermione snorted softly as she speared a sausage link.
"Any idea what this is about?" Neville asked her.
She gave him a blank look. "Several things."
Zeus gave McGonagall a charming smile. "Athena, you're looking lovely today."
His flirting was met with an unimpressed brow. "To what do we owe the honors?" she asked.
He made a show of glancing towards Hades. "My dear sister-in-law has risen," he said. "We're here to collect her."
Neville nudged Hermione and gave her a questioning look. She sighed and nodded.
McGonagall gave Hades a smile. "We've been worried. I think I speak on behalf of the entire staff when I say how glad I am for you."
Hermione noted the rigidity in Hades shoulders and the stiff smile he gave Athena. "Thank you, Professor," he said. "If we may?"
"Of course, of course," said McGonagall as she took her seat. "By all means, let the last wife of the Triumvirate rise."
The silence among the student body stretched for all of two moments before first a Slytherin, then a Ravenclaw, and a Hufflepuff rose. Their arrogance amazed Hermione to no end, but upon catching the delighted look on Zeus' face, she decided to wait.
Hades was less entertained. "I don't recommend embarrassing yourselves," he said, halting the first three girls, and their half-standing copycat housemates, in their tracks. "'Sephone, I know we agreed to humor Zeus, but for my sake, nip this in the bud."
She almost choked on a sip of pumpkin juice. "A gardening joke, Harry?" she called. "Really?"
A less pinched smile was on his face when she stood and met his gaze. She could've done without the stares of her classmates, without Demeter's quiet fuming at the staff table, but she'd walk through the Styx for that smile.
Lover, lover, how do you fare? Persephone whispered. Lover, lover, do beware.
"Lover, lover, can't you see?" she murmured, taking Hades' proffered hand. "If I love you, you must love me."
"You drive a hard bargain," he said, ghosting his lips against her forehead. "But I accept."
"With that said and done," Zeus began. "Helios, could you please restrain Demeter?"
Godric Gryffindor flicked his wand in one lightning-fast movement, casting a silent incarcerous. Without prompting, Nyx cast a silencing charm on the infuriated goddess.
"I don't think any of us care to listen to her screech," said Vector. "And I presume the Triumvirate would prefer she go on a proper trial instead of my husband taking her fate into his own hands in a fit of annoyance?"
"Preferably," said Hades dryly, though he shared an understanding glance with Snape. "Not that I can blame him for the urge."
"Dibs," said Hermione.
Hades smiled down at her. "Of course, love."
She waved at Neville as the lower gods and goddesses, including the restrained Demeter, left the Great Hall.
"The Pantheon will be summoned on Sunday morning for Demeter's trial," said Zeus. "Don't be late."
Hades wrapped an arm around her waist, a gesture she mimicked, and they left with Zeus, Hera, and Poseidon. Hermione never imagined she'd be so relieved to put Hogwarts behind her.
They found Cerberus by chance, mere hours before Demeter's trial. His coat was dark and sleek, marred only by the single patch of white that sat atop his head. Despite being a puppy, the energetic hellhound had already partially learned to multiply, splitting into three, then one, then two, then one again over the course of a few seconds until Hermione picked him up.
"Hello, sweet boy," she said, receiving a lick to the cheek as he shook and wriggled in her arms. The force of his own tail was too much for him. "I know someone who will be very happy to see you again."
She'd set Cerberus down outside Hades' study, glad that the door had been left cracked open. She watched him sprint the last few feet to the door, nearly miss his turn into the room, and heard his paws scrape against the floor as he did his damnedest to get to his best friend.
She took Hades' surprised laughter as invitation to follow the dog. "Found something of yours," she told him.
"Where was he?" Hades asked. "I've been looking all over for him since my gift manifested!"
"I went to the southern palace today," she said. "He was wandering around on the beach near the ocean-side garden."
Cerberus was trying to get as physically close to Hades as he could, despite having been picked up and cuddled against his chest on principle. Hades grinned, hugged him, and kissed the spot on his head. "I missed you."
Hermione made a note to only kiss him on the other cheek until he'd washed his face, as Cerberus attacked her unofficial husband with his tongue. Hades only laughed.
"Wanna go to your first court case, Cer?" he asked.
Happy yips and renewed energy in his vibrating was Hades' answer. Hermione rolled her eyes, but was smiling as wrapped his free arm around her and took the three of them to the Overworld.
The Pantheon headquarters towered behind Gringotts in Diagon Alley. The ancient, heavily warded structure could only be accessed by its members unless Zeus chose to lower the wards for a time, usually for tours or political matters, allowing members of the general wizarding public to walk its halls.
Hermione relaxed against Hades' side when she was able to pass through the wards without a problem.
"Zeus would've let you in," said Hades.
She shrugged. It still would've bothered her.
Hades pulled her with him towards the Triumvirate dais, passed Cerberus to her before he sat down, and pulled her into his lap, to his brothers' amusements. She didn't particularly care either way, but seeing the two sets of stands, one on each side, where the rest of the British Pantheon would file in, made her glad to be near him.
She wasn't interested in the case. She only cared what the Pantheon decided to do with Demeter.
"Mother, mother, was it fun?" she muttered against Hades' collar bone. "We all know just what you've done. Mother, mother, don't you know…?"
"He'll hide your body in the snow?" Hades whispered as he placed a kiss above her ear. She smiled.
"You burned your bridges in a row," she said. "I like your version better."
"I like that you're sounding like yourself again," he said.
"Dangerous," he said.
She dozed against his shoulder, idly petting Cerberus as the proceedings went on. At some point Demeter was brought into the room, restrained, an left on a chair between the two rows of gods and goddesses. Hermione ignored her. Spring was starting to come, but the Overworld was still cold. Hades and Cerberus were warm. But they weren't warm enough to fight the coldness that seemed to be nestled in her core. She hated it, but it was familiar.
She woke up to the sound of her other name.
"Hades and Persephone have the final say in Demeter's fate," said Zeus. "Demeter failed to comply with the orders given to her, meddled in the affairs of two members of this Pantheon, directly disobeyed multiple orders to cease, and attempted to prevent the awakening of another goddess - the fact that the goddess in question happens to be one of the three queens triples the weight of that offense."
"I defer to my wife," Hades said above her. "She's always been far more creative than me when it comes to punishing wrong doers, whether they be in the Over or Underworld."
"You haven't remarried me yet," she said, smiling as she rose from his lap.
He returned her grin. "It's on my to do list."
Demeter was glowering at her when she turned around, and Hermione tilted her head.
She could sense plants in the Underworld. Things her past incarnation had planted or cultivated. Belladonna by the Styx. Strawberries and night-blooming flowers in the forest on the other side of the mountains that connected Under to the realm of Erebus. Various bits of greenery she'd convinced to grow in places they wouldn't have on their own.
She wanted the nightshade.
"You need me," said Demeter. "You all do."
Hermione shrugged. "We need your magic, maybe," she said, "but I already have a plan for that."
Demeter's eyes widened. "You can't just-"
A mental, magical tug and a twitch of her wrist created a partial portal under Demeter's seat. Nightshade branches, young ones weighed down by fruit that were still thin enough to bend and curl answered her summons. They twisted around Demeter, adding to the restraints around her arms and torso before twisting around her head to hold it still.
Thirty berries came loose from their branches with ease and floated in the air.
"One for every month you kept him from me," said Hermione. Her skin was feverish, but her insides still felt like ice.
She spelled slices in the berries, then spelled them and their juices into Demeter's stomach.
Her pupils dilated. Her breathing quickened with shock and panic, then slowed unnaturally. Her body shook. If the plants and binds from incarcerous hadn't been keeping her upright she would've doubled over in pain. Sweat broke out along all of her exposed skin. Her vision unfocused. Her movements became jerky and slower.
Persephone could feel Demeter's heart begin to stutter.
Mother, mother, do beware?
Mother, mother, are you scared?
Mother, mother, don't you see?
You crossed him. You've crossed me.
Hades had never kissed her harder than he did when they returned to the Underworld.
"You're awake," he mumbled against her lips. "About that wedding…"
Persephone smiled. "Either in the spring or next winter," she said. "I don't mind either way."
"Spring," he said. "Tomorrow. Yesterday. Soon."
He trailed kisses down her neck and in her relief, in the glow of her awakening, she laughed.
Cerberus enjoyed running errands. Persephone took him with her to visit Hogwarts, to visit Neville.
"You look different," he said. "Good, but different."
"I'm not used to the eyes either," she told him. They'd turned violet when she'd executed Demeter and hadn't gone back to brown, even when the frosty feeling in her core subsided. "Under is nice though."
"Yeah? I'm glad you're happy," he said. "How've you guys been?"
She shrugged and scratched Cerberus behind the ears. "We're parents now, as you can see."
His lips twitched as he eyed the tiny, wriggling ball of fluff in her arms. "Congrats. He looks just like his father."
She snorted. "I had something I wanted to run by you, though. You can say no."
Neville raised a brow and put his quill down on the work table. She'd missed the greenhouses more than she'd realized. "Dog sitting?"
She smiled. "No. Demeter is dead, but her spirit, and her magic, have not been released back into the cycle. We were hoping to find someone of a much stronger will to take over that role. Sprout let her original incarnation overwhelm her. The first Demeter is just as bitter and batty as she was the first time around…" She shrugged. "We're not confined to our original genders, even if we gravitate towards them most of the time when we're reborn. I wanted to offer it to you."
"Me?" he echoed.
"You have a genuine love for Herbology," she explained. "So your hobbies would hardly change. You'd be even closer to your plants. Occasionally Zeus will drag you to court for something, but for the most part, you'd get to relax and enjoy your Gift. I've already spoken with Athena. She was going to offer you Sprout's job when you graduated anyway, if you wanted it."
Neville's mouth was agape. "You think I could be a Gifted?"
She gave him a wry smile. "The magical adjustment can suck, but it's not quite as glamorous as it looks. You're not even moving to a new realm or anything."
She tricked a faint smile out of him. "I…I don't know what to say," he admitted. "You're certain Demeter won't make me hate you or anything?"
"Pretty positive," she said. "Unless you secretly hated me already."
"Then you'll be fine." She grinned. "Is that a yes?"
"I…bloody hell, sure, I suppose?"
She hugged him briefly and let Cerberus lick his cheek. "Excellent. See you soon then, yeah?"
"Yeah…? Bye, Hermi- um…"
"You can still call me by my birth name," she called over her shoulder as she left the greenhouse. "Only my husband and his brothers use my other name anyhow."
Hades was in their garden when she arrived and glanced up from his book with a smile. "I love seeing you do that," he said.
It was certainly convenient to be able to transport herself to and from realms, but she understood the appeal. Watching him use magic related to his Gifts was a delight for her as well.
Cerberus jumped from her arms and pounced his way over to Hades. She curled up under their pomegranate tree with them.
"Neville accepted," she said. "Problem solved."
"Such a clever queen we have, eh Cer?" said Hades.
Cerberus yipped and continued to 'wrestle' Hades' fingers.
Persephone chuckled and laid her head on her husband's shoulder with a contented sigh. Spring had settled in the Overworld and Under was never cold. She was warm. Content.
A nap in her garden with her husband would hardly be amiss…