Hello again everyone! I apologize for the long delay in updating this story. A lot has happened in life, and I have come across a terrible case of writer's block.
Also, I wanted to quickly note that when I post a chapter, I try very hard to catch all my typos and grammatical errors. I don't have a Beta or anyone else on the side checking my writing for me. When you come across a grammatical error, and you will, please understand that I don't do that on purpose. I had someone get slightly angry in a comment on my last story about how one of the sentences from Narcissa was grammatically incorrect. That is an example of an, unfortunately, read over and unfixed typo. Sometimes I read what the character is supposed to be saying rather than what is written. All that to say, please try to be understanding, and allow me to say a quick apology for all future typos.
So, there's a lot going on with the family at this point. What's up with the Founder's Elements? Is Albus going to be all right? Who is this strange figure that is faceless, nameless, and in the background of all the mischief? So many questions! You will all know in good time, I promise. This chapter may be a bit shorter since I want to give you all an update, and gradually work my way around this block that I'm having. Happy reading!
Albus woke early the next morning, and smiled softly as he noticed that Minerva's head was still on his chest, her fist clenching his nightshirt. He softly kissed her forehead, and gently untangled his shirt from her fingers so that he could get out of bed. He was feeling more energized than he had felt in the past few days, and realizing he wouldn't be going back to sleep, decided to go into his office. Looking at the wall clock, he read that it was six in the morning. This was the time he usually rose during the school year, but he decided he wouldn't get ready for the day yet; he would relax in the comfort of his nightclothes and robe while he thought over Phyllida's words from the previous evening.
As he sat himself behind his desk, he quietly called out for one of the house-elves to bring him some tea, and within seconds a steaming pot appeared before him. As he sipped the warm, calming liquid he puzzled over how someone could have discovered the Founder's Elements. The magic was so old that Albus doubted very much that someone had simply heard about it by word of mouth. Perhaps someone had recorded it in a book, but what type of book would have mentioned them? Yet, it wouldn't be that much of a stretch for someone to have discovered the Elements from a book. The Deathly Hallows were told about in a children's book for Merlin's sake, and for those who thought – and knew – that the tale of the Deathly Hallows was in fact true, the Founder's Elements wouldn't be that much harder to believe.
It was one hurdle in figuring out how someone had discovered the existence and whereabouts of the Elements, and quite another to unravel the reason someone would want to take them. Albus couldn't remember a time when anyone had sought the powers those talismans possessed. None of the other Headmasters or Headmistresses had told him of anyone in their times either. The only person he could think of who would want them was Voldemort. However, good sources of information had stated the last known area Voldemort had been sighted in was Albania. Perhaps one of his Death Eaters was working on the side to assist him? Yet, he struggled to see how the Elements would help that person bring Voldemort back to full power. Phyllida had mentioned that together the Elements would enhance in a person what each of the founders valued most. Maybe the person was hoping to find Ravenclaw's talisman to enhance their wisdom to find another way to revive Voldemort? Or maybe he was giving Voldemort too much credit? Perhaps someone was acting on their own to become the next powerful, dark wizard in Voldemort's absence?
Albus sighed in frustration. Whatever the reason for this person or persons wanting the Elements, the fact of the matter was that without the Elements, the castle was not as well protected. Also with him weakened by the castle supplementing itself with his magic, he wasn't as powerful, and therefore, he couldn't offer as much protection either for those residing within the castle.
At those troubling thoughts, he looked back to his bedroom and thought of Minerva. After so many years of fighting his feelings for her, he had finally embraced them, getting the pleasure of taking her as his wife. He had promised her that he would always be there for her, protect her, challenge her, be there for better or worse, in sickness and health. They had shared many happy years, both before and after becoming husband and wife, despite the various dark wizards making trouble in the between years. Now their family had grown to include Severus and Hermione.
Chuckling to himself, Albus turned to the other door that led to Hermione's room. That little girl in there had done more for their family than she could ever imagine. She was a beautiful little girl with lots of wisdom, kindness, and love to share with others. Albus saw a bright future for her and her father. He also couldn't be any prouder of Severus than if he had vanquished Voldemort himself. Severus never wanted the best of himself revealed to anyone, which had deprived a lot of people from really getting to know and like the young man. He had been so hard on himself since Lily had died that Albus had feared he may never recover, fully choosing to live in a past that he could never change. Then all it had taken to give Severus a purpose again was that little girl lying asleep in that room.
Albus frowned at Hermione's door as he thought about how much his family depended on him, and realizing how much he needed them in return. He had failed his family once many years ago, and he would not fail his family now. He quickly looked around the room before he opened one of his desk drawers and brought out an old, tattered, black-and-white picture of a young girl. Even though the picture lacked color, Albus could vividly see how blue the little girl's eyes were and how red her hair was. He could see the freckles on her face despite some slight tattering from years of looking at the photo. He remembered her smile and could hear her laughter. He could hear her saying as though she was sitting across from him, like she had as a small child, "C'mon, Alby! Come play with us!"
Albus lightly caressed his thumb over the girl's cheek as he whispered hoarsely to her, "I'm sorry I can't make it up to you, Ariana. But I'm trying not to fail them now as I failed you. I wish you were here."
As he stared at the picture with a mixture of love and remorse, he suddenly felt a small pulse of magic. He looked around his office confused at first until he felt it again, and this time he homed in on Hermione's room. He suddenly remembered what Hermione had said the night before about her father knowing she was having a nightmare because he felt her putting up a Silencing Charm. Albus promptly put down his sister's photo and went to Hermione's room. He quietly opened the door and saw the little girl silently crying and tossing about slightly. Albus hurried into the room, closing the door behind him. Waving his hand, he canceled the spell, and heard Hermione's heartbreaking cries. Much to his surprise, she was calling for him.
"Granddad! Granddad, don't go!" She was sobbing now, tossing, and reaching for him.
"Shh, my little kitten," Albus soothed her as he sat on the edge of her bed, cradling her in his arms, and rocking back and forth. "I'm not going anywhere. Wake up, kitten, I'm here. Shh."
After a few minutes, Hermione finally stopped crying, cuddling into Albus. A minute later, she opened her watery eyes, looking up into Albus' face as she asked in a pitifully small voice, "Granddad?"
"Good morning, pet," Albus answered, smiling down at her. He kissed the top of her head and said, "Let's talk about your nightmare."
She looked at him with a mixture of sadness and embarrassment as she asked, "Do we have to?"
"Your father's orders," Albus insisted, trying not to give in to her puppy dog eyes, and not be the bad guy either. Grandparents weren't supposed to be the bad guys after all as that was what parents were for.
Hermione sighed and finally consented much to Albus' relief. Chuckling, Albus suggested, "How about you sit with me in my office with a cup of hot chocolate?"
Hermione's eyes lit up at the idea of getting an early morning hot chocolate. Ever since she had tasted it for the first time with her Granddad, she had loved it. She would always associate the sweet, chocolatey beverage with him. She nodded eagerly before springing out of bed. She made a stop at her bathroom first while Albus made his way back into his office, and reheated his cup of tea. A minute later, Hermione came into the room, and Albus patted his knee to indicate that she should sit on his lap. Hermione was only happy to oblige. When she had, Albus called out for a mug of hot chocolate which appeared before Hermione a second later. She looked around at him in awe.
"We have house-elves at Hogwarts as well," he explained, "and as Headmaster, I have my own personal elf to assist me. More at Mimi's request than mine as at times I can get very involved in my work, and I forget there is such a thing as food."
Hermione nodded as she carefully took the mug into her hands. She couldn't help but smile as she smelled the delicious drink, and then she took a sip. Hermione smiled at Albus to show off her brown moustache which made Albus' eyes twinkle and earned her a chuckle.
"Now," Albus said, using his deep voice to get her attention, "about your nightmare."
Hermione looked away and put the mug down on his desk as she licked her upper lip in thought. Deciding to just get it over with she explained, "It was about you."
Albus nodded as he patiently waited for Hermione to continue. She sighed and said, "I don't know why you're feeling badly, but you'll be all right, won't you?"
"Ah," Albus said as he understood that she was describing the toll the missing Element was having on him. He knew she didn't know the true reason behind his fatigue and pain, and as was agreed upon last night, she wasn't going to find out. "I will be all right, kitten. I fear that I am just simply getting old. One as young as yourself still has a great while before you experience the pains of growing old. Growing older isn't for the weak."
She frowned at him as she thought over his explanation. Finally, she bluntly asked him, "How old are you?"
Albus smiled as he answered, "This past July I turned one-hundred and nine." Hermione's jaw dropped causing Albus to laugh out right. "Do you believe me now that I am old?"
"How?" Hermione asked in shock. "I've never known anyone to be over one-hundred!"
"Well," Albus explained, "magical folks live longer than Muggles do. No one knows why for sure, but most believe that it is our magic that extends our lives."
"Wow," Hermione said quietly. Albus gave her a kind look.
"I will be just fine," Albus tried to convince her. "This will pass, perhaps like a kidney stone, but I will be fine. I am not going to leave you for a long time."
The shock of learning Albus' age was replaced with worry for his health as she stated, "I just don't want to lose you. I love you, Granddad."
"And I love you too, Hermione," Albus told her, hugging her to him, letting her nuzzle into his neck. "You are a wonderful person, full of so much love. It is rather remarkable considering the life you have had to endure. You are an inspiration, my dear."
Hermione smiled at his praise. "I don't know about being an inspiration. I'm not that great."
Albus thought about her comment, and then made her sit up and look at him. "'Not that great'? You know I beg to differ as does Mimi and your father."
Hermione shrugged, looking anywhere but at him. "I think of you, Mimi, and Daddy as being great. Especially with everything you all have done. I'm not like you."
"You are so much more than I am, pet," Albus told her seriously. "You will do great things in time. You have already done several great things which I have already listed to you. When I was your age, I couldn't imagine accomplishing all that you have. I am positive that by the time you are my age, you will have done more than I ever considered doing."
Hermione was silent. She couldn't even imagine reaching his age. She couldn't even imagine reaching the age of eighteen, not that she would tell her family that. Before she had been rescued from her parents, she hadn't been sure which age she would reach, but she knew she wouldn't get very old. Sure, she had thought about what she would be when she was an adult, but that was more her attempting to trick herself into thinking she would survive her home life. For some reason, she still had a feeling in the bottom of her heart that she wouldn't make it to adulthood.
When Hermione looked up, she noticed her grandfather giving her a soft yet scrutinizing look over his glasses. She quickly looked away and took up her mug wanting to get a drink, so she wouldn't have to say anything. She heard him sigh softly while at the same time she heard a door close. She looked up briefly to see her grandmother coming towards her, smiling as she pulled her tartan robe around her neck against the slight chill of Albus' office. She snapped her fingers in the general direction of the fireplace where flames spontaneously ignited in the grate.
"Good morning, kitten," Minerva greeted as she walked around Albus' desk to give him a good morning kiss. "Good morning to you too, Albus."
"Good morning, Tabby," returned Albus, giving her a flirtatious wink over Hermione's head. Minerva smiled.
"Good morning, Mimi!" Hermione greeted her enthusiastically as she slid off her grandfather's lap to hug her grandmother. Minerva returned the little girl's hug, and then noticed the mug of hot chocolate that was still sitting on Albus' desk.
She arched her eyebrow as she asked, "Hot chocolate first thing in the morning?"
"Well –" Albus began.
"Honestly," Minerva said, shaking her head. "All right, love, it's time to start getting ready. Breakfast starts at eight o'clock, and we are to meet your father and Draco there. Go one now."
Hermione looked to Albus who gave her a slight nod that she was excused from their talk. Somewhat thankful, Hermione ran into her room to do as her grandmother asked. When Hermione's door had closed, Minerva gently told her husband, "We had better start getting ready too."
"She had a nightmare, Minerva," Albus said. "We were talking over hot chocolate."
Minerva briefly closed her as she said, "I am so sorry, Albus. I didn't realize. Is she all right?"
"It's all right," Albus said, accepting her apology. "She is fine. However, keeping my…condition…from her may not be easy."
Minerva gave him a concerned look as she asked quietly, "How so?"
"She is incredibly observant," Albus told her, leaning back in his chair. "Her nightmare last night involved something terrible happening to me. She said she didn't want to lose me…."
"None of us do, Albus," Minerva confirmed softly as she came around his desk and knelt in front of him. "You are more to us than just the most powerful wizard of the age and Headmaster of Hogwarts. You are more to us than your titles and accomplishments. You are my husband, whom I love very much because of the man you are. You are like Severus' father, and you know his biological one severely lacked in anything paternal. And you are Hermione's grandfather, the man who rescued her from a dire situation without knowing who she was except for a child in need. We love you for you, Albus, and we would all be devasted if anything happened to you. We want you around, and, well, we need you around. You're part of us."
She saw his eyes well up with tears and stood to hug him as he put his arms around her middle. As she stroked his hair, she looked over at his desk and noticed the faded picture of his sister, Ariana. She heaved a sigh of sadness as she hugged him tighter and asked him softly, "What is going through your mind, Albus? What prompted you to bring out Ariana's picture?"
She felt him stiffen slightly, but in the next moment he tightened his grip on her as he explained, "I failed to protect her. I had an obligation to her as her older brother and guardian and I failed her. She may still be alive today if it wasn't for me and my pride. I only hope that I don't fail you all in the same way. I hope that I can stop this person before he or she endangers my family and this school."
"And you will," Minerva said confidently. "You faced other trials and came through. However, this time you have a family who is more than willing to help you. Let us help you win this fight, my love. You have carried the burden to protect others on your shoulders for years out of guilt for Ariana. Sometimes you want to protect us so fiercely that you distance yourself from those who love you because of the potential we may get hurt. You push us away when we desire so much to help you. Let me help you."
Albus was silent for a while before he said hoarsely, "I may not have a choice. If this person finds and removes any more elements, I will be incapacitated. One of my worst fears though is that this negatively impacts you as well. I can't lose you, or Severus, or Hermione like I lost Ariana. I don't know that I would have the ability to live through something like that again."
"You won't have to, love," Minerva soothed him, kissing his forehead. "I promise, we will all make it through this in one piece."
Hermione was finishing getting ready in her room as she thought over her conversation with her grandfather earlier that morning. She knew there was something wrong with him, but she didn't know what was suddenly causing his health to deteriorate. She also had a nagging feeling that maybe he knew more about his condition than he was letting on. Even if he was older than any person she had ever known, his age couldn't be the only reason he was feeling terrible. He hadn't been the same since dinner at McGonagall Manor, and he had been in excruciating pain.
No, something was wrong, and he knew what it was, he just didn't want to tell her. Maybe she could heal him like she had healed her grandmother. Maybe all he had to do was tell her what was wrong or where he was hurting, and she could help. Granted she didn't understand exactly how she had healed Mimi, but she would be willing to try again if that meant making him feel better and like his old self.
With her mind made up, she marched to her door with her hand on the knob when she heard her name mentioned from her grandfather's office. Knowing it was wrong, but unable to help herself, she opened her door a crack and listened to what was being said.
"I may not have a choice. If this person finds and removes any more elements, I will be incapacitated. One of my worst fears though is that this negatively impacts you as well. I can't lose you, or Severus, or Hermione like I lost Ariana. I don't know that I would have the ability to live through something like that again." Her grandfather's voice sounded more heavy and sad than she had ever heard him.
"You won't have to, love," Minerva soothed him. "I promise, we will all make it through this in one piece."
Hermione silently closed the door. Why was her Granddad afraid to lose them? What were the elements he mentioned? Who was Ariana? Why was her grandmother saying they would all make it in one piece? What was happening around her family and Hogwarts this year? She fell back against her bed more concerned now than she had been before. So, her grandfather was the start of something that was going to affect all of them? What were these elements her Granddad spoke of that would leave him incapacitated? Was that what was wrong with him? Even though she was more concerned, at least she wasn't completely clueless anymore. She had some clues to work with now, and she knew exactly where she needed to go.