Epilogue: Four Years Later
'The Atlanteans, having 'bred out' the muggles amongst them over several generations during which time marriages between muggles were prohibited and mixed marriages, which usually resulted in magical children, were strongly encouraged, quickly grew to view muggles - and soon, foreigners in general - with contempt. It was likely because of this widespread contempt towards muggles that the Atlanteans went to such great lengths to ensure that the various slave species they created could use magic. And it was that contempt, born from and perpetuating ignorance, which, ultimately, doomed them: They simply could not imagine that a muggle's soul was equal to a wizard's, and so they were completely unprepared for their planned Second Grand Sacrifice to go so fatally wrong when the unwilling sacrifices took control over the very ritual that their deaths had empowered.
If we could only learn one lesson from Atlantis, then it should be this: The combination of arrogance and ignorance will ruin even the mightiest of wizards.'
- Excerpt from 'Atlantis: A Preliminary Summary, Vol. 1' by Hermione Granger, London, 2004
Devon, Ottery St Catchpole, July 31st, 2005
Ron Weasley smiled as he watched Alanza, Belmira and Caskata stalk their prey. In the tall grass next to the garden, they were almost invisible - unless you were watching from a broom in the sky, as he was. Or, he added to himself, unless Caskata forgot not to raise her tail high when sneaking. But she seemed to have learned her lesson since last time - she was keeping low to the ground, carefully putting one paw in front of the other.
The three had spread out, too - they couldn't encircle their prey, but they could cut off half the possible escape routes. Alanza was the most eager, as usual. She was about a yard ahead of the others, almost at the garden fence. He could see her tail twitch in anticipation.
Would she be able to wait until her sisters were ready? Almost, as it turned out. Belmira was still getting into position when Alanza roared and pounced, razor-sharp claws digging into the wooden fence as she propelled herself upwards before descending upon her shrieking prey from above, followed a second later by Caskata and Belmira.
Their really loudly screeching prey, Ron realised with a wince - Victoire must have transformed. "Maman! Maman! À l'aide!"
He quickly guided his broom down to the ground. "Girls! Girls!" he yelled. "Don't…"
But it was too late. Fireballs started flying in every direction, and three jaguar cubs sped away from the screeching young Veela as fast as their paws could carry them. Fortunately, the fireballs were as pint-sized as the bird-girl throwing them, but it was the height of summer, and while they wouldn't really hurt a human - or a jaguar - there was a lot of flammable material around.
But Ron was quite a skilled wizard and managed to put out the fires with a few quickly cast Water-Making Spells before they could really get going.
Unfortunately, he wasn't quite quick enough to manage that and also calm Victoire down before Fleur, trailed by a grimacing Bill, noticed and ran over from the house.
"Ron! What have your daughters done now?"
Well, it seemed Victoire would be able to screech even without transforming if she took after her mother. "They're just playing," he said. "Look! She wasn't even scratched."
The little Veela's screeching turned into crying. "Elles veulent me manger tout cru!"
"No, they don't want to eat you!" Ron was quick to assure - or try to - his niece. "They just like play-hunting."
"Je ne veux pas être chassée!"
"Ron! You need to control your little beasts!" Fleur snapped as she gathered her daughter in her arms.
"Hey!" He frowned at that. "They're not beasts!"
"They act like beasts!"
And she walked off with her little girl.
Ron looked at Bill, who shrugged. "She's very protective," his brother told Ron. "But your kids do like to scare Victoire a little too much."
"'snot true!" Alanza piped up from the batch of tall grass behind Ron. "We hunt each other, too!"
Ron had conjured a short dress for her out of habit before she finished speaking. Mum loved all her grandkids - she was the only one able to handle all of them together without any of them misbehaving - but she had a few issues with them running around naked, shapeshifters or not.
"You shouldn't be hunting anyone," Bill said.
"What?" Belmira did her best to imitate Victoire as a dress settled on her small form. "Mum says we'll starve if we can't hunt!"
"And Mum said we should play-hunt family! Vicky is family!" Caskata added, nodding in agreement with her own argument.
"Ari probably didn't mean it like that," Bill said.
Ari had meant it exactly like that, Ron knew, but correcting his brother would only cause more drama. And, as usual when the Weasleys gathered, Harry's birthday or not, there was already a lot of drama. And mischief. "Anyway," he said, dressing his third daughter with a wave of his wand, "that's enough hunting for now. Let's go see if there's pudding!"
"I want cake!"
His three little angels tore off towards the house, leaving Ron and Bill behind. Even though they really liked meat - and ate more of it than normal witches their age - they did love their desserts.
"Victoire's not used to this kind of horseplay," Bill said.
"I know." Compared to what the twins or Ginny had done during Ron's childhood, his daughters were real angels. And Ari's standards were… different. As long as none of them were bleeding, his wife wasn't really concerned. "I'll talk to them." Not that it would do much good. And it wasn't as if Victoire wouldn't get back at them.
Bill glanced at him, then shook his head. "Let's see if the little beasts left us any pudding."
"Alright. Guess my babysitting shift is over," Ron agreed. Mum could take over, and he could take a break. Ari could probably also use a break from helping Dad by translating a foreign muggle manual in the shed.
London, Kingston upon Thames, July 31st, 2005
Hermione Granger had her wand out, although held at her side and pointing at the ground, as she approached her parents' house through the garden. The bounty placed by the Ottomans had been rescinded years ago, but that didn't mean Hermione and her friends had no enemies. After all, they had never found the relics stolen from the jinn by Kohlmeier. He must have left them somewhere before he went to Atlantis with Mr Mallory. Perhaps with someone - like a Storm Wizard, or a houngan - who'd want to avenge his death.
But she didn't spot any danger as she stepped into the warded area and entered the house. "Mum! Dad!"
"We're in the living room!"
And there they were. She hugged both of them. "Are you ready?"
"Yes. But I really don't like Apparition," Dad said.
She shouldn't have told them about Splinching. "I'm very familiar with The Burrow. Side-Along-Apparition with me is perfectly safe," she assured them.
"It's also a perfectly horrible experience," Mum told her.
She couldn't dispute that. "But it's the best option. Portkeys are regulated by the Ministry." She ignored Dad's muttered comment about the horrible spinning around. "And the Ministry doesn't like adding muggle homes to the Floo Network."
Which would be too dangerous anyway - they had never found the traitor in the Ministry who had sold them out to the bounty hunters who had attacked The Burrow. They might never find them, either - Humphrey Kettlebrook, the main suspect, had been killed in the latest war between the Republic of Magical Maine and Magical Québec. That, at least, was certain - Hermione had personally checked the body for tampering.
Something she hadn't told her parents, of course. "Besides," she reminded them, "you didn't complain on the trip to Atlantis." And they had loved the visit.
"That was Atlantis," Dad retorted. "The most important discovery of the century. Not your boyfriend's birthday party."
"If you had informed us a little earlier that the party would be held at The Burrow, instead of at your home, we could have taken the car," her mum complained.
"It was a last-minute change," Hermione said. "Sirius's fault." He wanted to see Harry use his gift - a new broom - right away. And it meant they were less likely to have to deal with reporters trying to catch Harry at his birthday party, though the press's attention had started to wane in the last year. Not that they had a prayer of getting through Grimmauld Place's protections anyway.
"Ah." Her parents nodded. They were familiar with Harry's godfather, of course.
"So, can we go now?"
"I guess so," Dad said with the expression of a prisoner on death row.
Hermione frowned at him before she looked around. "Any luggage?" That would be stored in her enchanted pocket to facilitate travelling.
"Just this." Mum held out a small package - a gift for Harry, probably. She took it, then grabbed her dad's hand and focused on her destination.
They arrived between The Burrow and The Rook, and Hermione ignored Dad's groaning to apparate back and fetch Mum.
Mum took a little longer to recover - Hermione should have taken her first - but a minute later, they were walking towards The Burrow.
"Did you hear anything about your paper?" Mum asked.
"My 'underwater archaeology' article? No," Hermione replied. They couldn't publish the discovery of Atlantis in muggle journals, but underwater remains of a hitherto unknown Caribbean civilisation? Worded cautiously and vaguely enough, it should pass muster. And they hadn't really faked the find - just moved a few relics up from the Puerto Rico Trench to a point they could have reached with a deep-submergence vehicle they could officially rent.
"Isn't that unusual?" Dad cocked his head at her.
"Yes," she admitted. "But the speculation about Atlantis such a find is bound to produce must have made the publisher extra-cautious." No one wanted to be seen as a loon who believed in myths, after all. "They won't drag their feet forever, though, and I've been writing more articles for The Quibbler." Which had gained quite the reputation as a serious archaeological magazine following their articles about Atlantis, in addition to Ginny and Luna's Magizoology articles.
And not that she would ever write for the Daily Prophet as long as they employed Skeeter. That witch… Hermione pressed her lips together as she remembered the odious witch's latest article where she all but called on Harry to break up with her because their lack of kids was obviously Hermione's fault, even though it was their mutual choice not to have children yet! Bill and Fleur had waited far longer before they had Victoire, and no one had cared about that. The witch was just angry that she hadn't been able to get any exclusive stories about the discovery of Atlantis.
Hermione smiled at the memory. The biggest story in the entire magical world, newspapers from every country covering the event, and Skeeter was limited to warming up vastly embellished stories from their time at Hogwarts.
Loud yelling drew her attention, but it was just Alanza, Belmira and Caskata racing towards The Burrow. Hermione smiled at the sight. Ari and Ron were the exceptions. Well, mostly Ari - she had grown up with different expectations and had wanted children as soon as possible.
To each their own - neither Hermione nor Harry were ready for a child, much less three shape-changing ones. But one day…
"Dear?" Mum sounded concerned.
"Yes? Sorry, I was wool-gathering," Hermione told her. She hadn't had a flashback. Hadn't had one for a long time now.
Hermione didn't have to check to know that Mum was looking at the three little girls. Wistfully, probably. She sighed. "Remember: They transform into jaguar cubs." Rambunctious jaguar cubs with a penchant for destruction that had even impressed Petunia - and she was a demolitions expert!
"Well, your children wouldn't," Mum retorted.
"They would have bouts of accidental magic, though," Hermione replied. Her parents had had their hands full with just her, and they had been far younger at the time.
"You could hire a babysitter," Dad cut in. "Even if you don't want to 'rely on Harry's money', you've earned more than enough by now, haven't you? Royalties from your book alone would be enough, wouldn't they?"
"Perhaps." The book was selling well, despite some 'political passages' to which certain countries took offence. And all without Lockhart's help, of course - Hermione didn't write fiction, after all. But she hadn't looked into the rates for babysitters. And to find a babysitter you could trust would be quite difficult. Not to mention that neither she nor Harry shared Ari's view that you should have kids before you risked your life raiding tombs so your family would survive if you met that curse you couldn't break.
They reached the entrance - none of the girls had bothered closing the door behind them - together with Ron and Bill.
"They played 'hunting' with Victoire," Ron said instead of a greeting.
"Oh." That meant Fleur and Ari would be at odds again. "I'm not going to mention the Cauldron of Life, then," Hermione said. Of the relics Kohlmeier had stolen from the Village of the Jinn, that was the only one of any importance. Apart from the jinn and some collectors, no one really cared about the staves and the other outdated trinkets. But the relic that might have been used to create entire species of magical creatures? Its historical value almost paled next to the political ramifications a thorough examination of the cauldron might have.
"Good." Bill smiled. "I don't think anyone is in the mood for another argument about the origin of the Veela."
Who, in Hermione's well-informed opinion, were most likely created by the Atlanteans as a slave race, even if the Veela continued to deny that. Of course, unlike other species, such as the sirens, who embraced the lore found in Atlantis since it let them claim human ancestry, the Veela were already accepted as a human-like species in most civilised countries, which coloured their opinion to some degree.
Stupid politics, Ari called it, and Hermione shared the other witch's opinion. Facts mattered more than myths, as far as she was concerned.
They found the girls, together with the rest of their families, in the extended living room. Harry was telling them about his new broom and had their rapt attention - Alanza's ice cream was melting without the girl realising it, Hermione noticed.
Harry would make a great dad, she thought - not for the first time - as she walked over to give him a hug and greet everyone else.
Harry Potter quickly stood as soon as he saw Hermione and her parents enter the living room. "Hermione!" He beamed at her, spreading his arms. "Hi, Gabriel! Hi, Ellen!" he belatedly added.
"Don't worry, Harry, we understand. It's not as if you were living together and last saw each other less than an hour ago." Hermione's dad had grown more sarcastic, in Harry's opinion, over the years. It wasn't that he or Ellen disapproved of Harry and Hermione's relationship, not really, but both had developed a slightly wary attitude towards the magical world over time. And Harry was, next to Hermione, their main connection to said magical world.
"Dad!" Hermione frowned at her father, but that didn't seem to impress the man much. Sighing, she shook her head and returned her attention to Harry and the children. "Have you been good?" she asked the giggling girls - they might not quite understand sarcasm yet, but they understood when someone was making fun of someone else.
"No! They hunted! Me!" Victoire protested at once.
"We were playing!" Alanza retorted.
"Yes!" "Yeah!" her sisters chimed in.
"Please!" Harry spread his hands. "No fighting or you won't get to ride on my new broom!"
"We'll be good!"
That always worked. Harry smiled at them. "But you have to ask your parents first!"
That sent the kids scattering. Victoire went to look for Fleur. The little Veela knew that Fleur was more likely to give permission, being a Veela herself and, therefore, able to fly. For a similar reason, Alanza, Belmira and Caskata usually went to look for Ari when they wanted permission to climb a particularly high tree.
Ron shook his head as he joined them. "Spoiling my daughters, hm?"
Harry scoffed. "As if you don't take them flying every chance you get."
"Have to start them young," Ron replied with a grin. "Have you gotten your copy of 'Journeying with Jinn' yet?"
"Lockhart's new book?" Hermione shook her head.
"Arrived today," Ron said, pulling the book in question out of his pocket.
"I expect it'll be like all his books: heavy on the fiction, light on the facts," Hermione said. She still took the book, of course. "Well, his description of his wedding is thought to be quite factual," she admitted, "but that's a special case."
Harry grinned. Married to Tahira - Harry couldn't imagine a more fitting fate for the ponce. The only witch he knew that had an ego to match Lockhart's - and the power and influence to keep him under her thumb. "He might not be able to 'spice up the plot' as much as he's used to with her."
Even Hermione grinned at that as she sat down on the couch with him. "Well, compared to Skeeter he's the picture of a diligent author," she commented.
Skeeter. Harry scowled at the thought. That muckraker kept attacking them in her articles, but she always stayed just this side of libel.
"Uncle Harry, don't glare! Your face will get stuck!"
Victoire had returned. He smiled at the young Veela. "Have you been listening to the twins, Victoire?"
She shook her head, but her expression betrayed her. She was probably planning to use a prank item from the twins on Ron's daughters.
Well, no one ever claimed Weasley family dinners were boring. It seemed his birthday would be no exception.
"...so we had to figure out a rotation for the deployment since the Hit-Wizards are still not up to their nominal strength, and Atlantis is too far from Britain to allow commuting," Percy explained. "It's quite the logistical challenge, actually, due to the limited ways of entering the enclave, especially for nations far from the Caribbean. While food and water aren't a problem, rotating personnel can be difficult."
"Yes," Harry Potter agreed. "During the first year, we were often on our own down there." Especially since the quality of the detachments sent by various nations varied greatly, and some were more concerned with keeping rival nations' wizards in check instead of working together. At least the most important issues had been worked out since then, and the fervour about everything Atlantean that had gripped the magical world in 2002 had subsided in the meantime, even though Hermione's book had fanned the flames again somewhat.
"And we were the only real guards," Ron said. Glancing over his shoulder, he added: "Do you need a hand, dear?"
Ari shook her head without taking her eyes off her daughters, even though they had stopped changing into canaries and back every few seconds (and screaming in terror) for ten minutes now. Victoire hadn't stopped smirking, though. This round had gone to her - or, rather, to the 'Canary Calamity Candy' Fred and George had developed. Which, of course, meant Alanza, Belmira and Caskata would soon be plotting to get back at the little Veela.
Harry sighed. Perhaps he should sound out Hermione about their plans to hold off on having children. A little daughter or son would be great. If Ron and Ari could handle shape-changing triplets, Harry and Hermione should be able to handle a single child, shouldn't they? Their child wouldn't change into a cat or a bird, anyway. And Auntie and Sirius would be happy to help out, wouldn't they?
And both would probably spoil the child rotten, Harry thought. He drew his wand when the fireplace flared up, but it was just Auntie and Sirius arriving.
"Sorry for being late," Sirius announced. He didn't sound sorry, though. "But Mr Sayadi arrived, and we had to explain to him how to find The Burrow."
"Mr Sayadi's ghost is coming?" Hermione asked, perking up.
"It'll take him a while to travel here, but yes, he's coming," Auntie replied. "He had a translation job in France."
"Great! I've got a few questions for him," Hermione said. Not just about languages, of course, Harry knew. But the ghost could be trusted - he knew about their uses of blood magic - some of them, at least - but hadn't said anything, not even to Lockhart, and he couldn't be compelled to talk, being a ghost.
With Ginny and Luna still on their expedition in North America, only Arthur and Dumbledore had yet to arrive before the party could start. And Mr Sayadi's ghost, of course.
Dumbledore arrived fifteen minutes later, stepping out of the fireplace with his customary smile and eye-watering robes. And, Harry Potter noted jealously, with more grace than Harry had ever managed himself.
"Greetings, everyone," the Headmaster said, nodding, before he was swarmed by four little girls.
"Sweets!" Alanza demanded.
"Please!" Belmira added.
Caskata nodded vigorously. "Yes, sweets, please!"
"Fawkes?" Victoire tugged on the Headmaster's robes.
"Fawkes had a burning day, so he couldn't come with me," Dumbledore explained.
"Aw." Victoire pouted and sniffled. "Can we visit him later?"
"Ah…" Dumbledore looked at Fleur.
"Peut-être si tu es sage."
Victoire nodded repeatedly. "Oui! Oui!"
"Us too!" Alanza piped up at once.
"You don't like birds!" Victoire shot back.
"Sure do!" Belmira replied, licking her lips.
Which set off Victoire. "You can't eat Fawkes! Maman!"
Dumbledore's assurances that it really was impossible, not merely forbidden, to eat Fawkes fell on deaf ears as the brief truce between the four girls ended in another row until Molly stepped in and threatened to withhold cake from them if they didn't behave.
At which point, Harry Potter approached Dumbledore. "Headmaster."
"Harry! Happy birthday!"
"Thank you, sir. How are you doing?"
"Ah, I've been preparing my Alchemy lessons with Horace. Last year there was some overlap with his N.E.W.T. class in Potions, so we want to avoid that this year. And Severus sent me a sample of his latest invention - I'm not allowed to go into details, he was very clear about that, but it was very cleverly done indeed." Dumbledore smiled.
Harry wasn't really interested in hearing about Snape's latest potion - unless it could be used for tomb raiding - but nodded as if he were.
Dumbledore chuckled - he wasn't fooled, of course. "But I expect you're interested in my own work."
"Yes, sir." Work that Harry and his friends had contracted.
"I still think Miss Granger would have managed to create it herself with a little more training," Dumbledore said as he pulled out a small package.
"Thank you, sir!" Harry put the package in his enchanted pocket. Hermione would have managed, he was certain. But none of them wanted to wait another few months. Their break had been long enough, and Ron and Ari's girls had managed to master their transformations now, so Molly could safely babysit them on her own.
It was time to get back on the broom, so to speak. Harry and his friends still had some unfinished business, after all.
"Do try to be a little more discreet than last time, though," Dumbledore said as Molly called everyone to take their seats at the table.
"Yes, sir," Harry replied. Of course Dumbledore had deduced what they were planning - their request had made it obvious, after all.
Magical Ottoman Empire, Constantinople, August 7th, 2005
Ron Weasley watched the wizards enter the Sultan's palace through his Omnioculars, then touched the pin on his collar. "They've taken the bait," he whispered. He was too high in the air for anyone to overhear him, and disillusioned as well, but talking loudly still felt wrong.
"That was to be expected," he heard Hermione comment. "The Sultan made it quite clear that he wanted relics from actual Atlantis, not from some minor outposts."
And the Sultan wouldn't let a minor thing like an ICW decree stop him from trying to acquire said relics through any means necessary, Ron knew. Although with Atlantis itself under heavy guard, grave robbing was not an option.
Robbing archaeologists who were analysing Atlantean relics recovered from the cavern, though, was another thing. The Sultan was probably amused that the pillar which his men had just acquired had been first discovered and described by Hermione.
He wouldn't be quite as amused once he found out that it was a fake, of course.
"Everything's in place then. Now we just have to wait until the time's right." That was Harry.
"We've been waiting four years already," Ari said.
"Then a few more hours won't hurt," Harry replied.
Ron grinned as he heard Ari huff. The closer they were to their goal, the more impatient his wife grew.
Turkey, Anatolia, August 7th, 2005
"One hour until midnight," Ron Weasley heard Hermione announce.
"Finally!" Ari exclaimed, jumping up from Ron's lap. "Let's go!" She was at the cabinet in the corner of the room before Ron had managed to stand up, almost jumping in place. "Come on!" She stepped into the cabinet and closed the doors. When Ron pulled them open a moment later, she had vanished.
Exactly as planned.
Harry was next, leaving Hermione and Ron in the tent. A minute later, Ari returned. "I smelled just one guard. Harry'll use his cloak to sneak past him and will take the other cabinet with him."
Again, as planned. If things continued to go as smoothly, Ron would start to get worried. Not that he'd say so, of course - Hermione would lecture him about superstition.
"Waiting again," Ari complained, sitting down next to him.
"He has to get through the wards on the Sultan's harem," Hermione said. "That'll take an hour or so. It depends on how much they have changed the protections since last time."
Since the cabinet opened again, revealing Harry, less than an hour later, Ron assumed the Janissaries or whoever maintained the wards hadn't really changed too much. "We're inside, and I've checked Kavya - she's not under the Imperius," Harry told them with a grin.
Hermione nodded. She would check herself anyway, Ron knew. As did Harry.
Ron stepped out of the cabinet into a far smaller room than Kavya had had four years ago. Part of her punishment for attempting to escape the harem, no doubt. There were no odalisques attending her any more, either. It didn't matter - as soon as Hermione had dealt with the spells on the Naga, she'd be leaving through the cabinet herself. Well, in an extended and shrunken trunk of Harry's, since a Naga was too large to fit into the cabinet.
"It's good to see you," Kavya greeted them. She sounded wary, in Ron's opinion - but then, their first attempt to free her had failed.
They were much better prepared this time, though. "Thank you," Ron replied.
"Hello," Ari said, rather curtly, then turned to Ron. "Let's go! We have to rescue the Nundu as well!"
Ron hustled Ari, both of them disillusioned, out of the room and left Harry to explain their plan to Kavya.
They didn't take long to reach the Nundu's cage. "Poor cat!" Ari whispered, almost reaching into the warded area.
Poor city, should the Nundu ever get loose, Ron thought. But then, that was another reason for taking the Nundu with them. Provided Dumbledore's concoction worked, of course.
As he started to dismantle the cage's protections, Ron really hoped it would work. Otherwise, this rescue would be more dangerous than fighting Kohlmeier had been.
Two and a half hours later - without the need to hide from the patrolling Janissaries Ron would have been faster - he was done. The cage's protections were under his control. "Throw the bait inside," he whispered.
"Have you finished?"
"I'll finish once it has taken the bait," Ron replied. There was no way he'd risk a Nundu escaping from its cage.
"Her, not it!" Ari corrected him. But she pulled out a rather large slab of meat and stuck a small vial into it before banishing it into the Nundu's cage.
The piece of meat bounced once, then the Nundu pounced and swallowed it whole. A moment later, it started to choke as the enchanted vial broke down in its stomach and released its contents.
"Oh, no!" Ari whispered.
"That's normal," Ron replied. At least, he hoped it was normal
The Nundu choked for a little while longer - smoke shooting out of its mouth - then collapsed.
It looked like Dumbledore's alchemical concoction worked as the Headmaster had told them it would. At least the sedative part. Whether or not the toxic breath had been neutralised Ron didn't particularly want to find out first-hand.
He flicked his wand and broke the last spell on the cage. "Go!" he whispered.
Ari was already moving, entering the cage and waving her wand as she pulled out a trunk. A moment later, the giant cat-like beast started to float towards the unshrunken trunk on the floor.
"We've got the cat," he whispered into his pin.
"We're almost done here as well," Harry replied.
"Good. Because the next patrol's coming in five minutes," Ron said. "And once they see that the Nundu's gone from her cage…"
Her destroyed cage, of course, Ron added to himself as he started to wreck the cage from the inside.
By the time Ron and Ari were back in the harem, it seemed like every Janissary in the city was looking for the Nundu.
They couldn't have asked for a better distraction.
Turkey, Anatolia, August 8th, 2005
Hermione Granger wiped the sweat from her brow. The Sultan's wizards might not have improved the defences on the harem by much, but the poor Naga had been covered by a lot of new spells and curses - many of them dark. Nothing she couldn't handle, of course. Especially after the Headmaster's lessons.
"Done," she whispered, smiling at Kavya.
"Truly?" the Naga asked.
Hermione nodded. "Yes."
Harry added something in Parseltongue as he opened his trunk.
Kavya hesitated a moment, then nodded - to herself, or so Hermione thought - and slithered into the trunk. Harry waved his wand, then stuffed the shrunken trunk into his pocket. "Let's go."
Less than a minute later, all of them were back in their wizarding tent. Where a very emotional Naga - Harry, of course, had had to let her out of the trunk right away - hugged all of them at once with her tail, hard enough to make breathing a little difficult.
Not that Hermione could blame the Naga for her reaction. She was finally free to return to her family. Just as Harry had promised four years ago.
Now all that was left to do was to drop off the Nundu in her natural habitat in Africa and to transport Kavya back to the Naga Nation in Magical India.
Where, or so Hermione and her friends hoped, they would also find more clues about Shangri-La. Information about the legendary magical realm was scarce, but the Naga Nation had supposedly had good relations with the Tibetan realm before it vanished from the face of the earth a little more than three hundred years ago. And if not, well, Hermione could think of a few more possible sources.
She grinned, baring her teeth. They had found Atlantis. Shangri-La couldn't be more difficult to find. But it was bound to be a lot more interesting than returning to Egypt.
Author's Note: I owe my betareader, fredfred, a great many thanks. He has provided vast amount of feedback, spotted typos and plotholes, brit-picked, and generally shaped the course of this story a great deal.