A/N: This is it, the end of the journey. This story's been an incredible bit of fun for me, and I hope for many of you as well. It's probably safe to say I'm just as sad to see it end as some of the more devoted readers are. Before the last curtain drops on this story, I have to give special thanks to my techno-lohtar Sierra Phoenix, who made posting possible, my wonderful beta Sil, who sanded off the rough edges, and last but not least, the readers. Thank you so much for all your wonderful support on this epic story. I won't forget how great all the people leaving comments about this fic have been during my dabble in the Harry Potter fandom.
Harry Potter apparated to the end of his driveway in the slowly falling snow the day before Christmas Eve. The path to the house was a swath cleared through the ivory drifts where Hermione had cast a heating charm to melt the snow clear through to the winter-brittle grass below. In the fenced pasture to Harry's right, Antigone gave a startle when he suddenly appeared, without warning, with a loud pop. To the mare's credit, she quickly realized it was the master of the house come home and went from the brink of bolting to nickering hopefully for a carrot in a matter of seconds.
Harry stepped over to the fence as the mare stuck her head over the top rail and nosed at his jacket. Harry chuckled. "You're lucky the feast at Hogwarts has something for everyone," he said gently and dug into his pocket for the carrot he had grabbed on his way out of the Great Hall. He broke it in half and gave both pieces to the horse, who crunched them loudly then snorted, her breath rushing from her nostrils in a white mist in the chilly air.
Twenty-year-old Harry gave the mare a final pat on the neck and turned his eyes to the house. He could see, in the front window, the Christmas tree twinkling with exactly-placed racing circuits of lights strung around the girth of the tree. Warm, inviting yellow light poured through the windows to stain the snow in the yard in cream hues. Icicles hung from the eaves and overhangs, catching the sun just enough to sparkle like lights that nature chose to string. From the driveway's end, it was the most comforting sight Harry could imagine seeing, be it on a good day or the most rotten day.
Their house was not large by any definition, they could have afforded a house five times the size, but they saw no need. It had all they required; a cozy house to live in, a place for Tiggy, and their property included a portion of a small woodland, which Professor Sprout had generously helped them to improve, where they could let loose and play as Knight and Sagehunter. The house itself was only a part of the package, and by anyone's accounts not the biggest part.
Their Camelot was as big as they saw need for it to be. Perhaps modest, but enough. Their home suited their needs for now. Any larger and they might waste unnecessary time looking for each other in it, Hermione liked to joke.
Harry, at the thought of his wife, smiled to himself and started toward the house. He thrust his hands in his pockets and Tiggy, seeing her source of treats had been exhausted, turned back to the task from which Harry had interrupted her when he apparated home, pawing at the snow to try and uncover bits of grass.
When Harry pushed open the front door the warmth inside the house suffused him in a great engulfing wave of comfort and content, as did that unique smell of Christmas that Harry was finally growing to love like most other people always had. The door jingled merrily, thanks to the jingle bells Hermione had affixed to the inside door handle. It was a cheery welcome for those returning home, but it served as a handy announcement of arrivals, too.
"That you, Harry?" Hermione called from the living room.
Harry closed the door behind him and shucked his jacket. "Yeah," he called back. He hung up his jacket, stomped off the snow on his shoes on the front rug, then moved beyond the foyer. When he came around to where he could see the living room he had to smile.
The fire burning warm and cozy from the stone fireplace was painting flickering orange light over the hearthrug where Crookshanks was curled in a ginger ball, dozing and purring with every other breath. On a perch set up in an unused corner of the living room, so she could think of it as her own, Hedwig was roosting. When Harry came into the room she gave a hoot of greeting.
At the well-known sound of salutation from her husband's familiar, and knowing to whom it would be sounded, Hermione looked up. Hermione was on the couch dressed in sweat pants and Harry's old, worn Quidditch T-shirt. It was practically thread-bare, the maroon was more a sickly purple, the gold a dingy yellow, and the letters spelling out 'POTTER' on the back were almost unreadable. But it was Hermione's favorite and she intended to wear the shirt until it literally fell off of her. She'd said as much. Harry hoped he was there when it happened. She had her hair pulled back in a loose ponytail and her feet were tucked underneath her on the couch cushion. And everywhere, all around her, were notebooks and sheets of paper. She had a quill poised over a sheaf of parchment in her lap when she stopped to look at him.
"Hey," Hermione said with a bright smile, "how was the feast?"
Harry shrugged. "I can't believe how small first years are, every year it's like they get smaller… surely we were never that little. And have I mentioned how much I detest all this Liberation Day stuff?"
Hermione's smile became gentle and understanding. "I know, but it really is an important day."
"Yeah, I know, and I might not mind putting up with it if it was just the one day out of the year, but making a drawn-out production of it… Merlin, Christmas gets lost in the shuffle with Liberation Day falling only a few days after Christmas day."
"Well, think how I feel," Hermione said with sudden sincerity and a dissatisfied frown.
"I mean… it's every day of the year for us, but come this time of year I have to share you with the wizarding world." Hermione began to smile slyly.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Ha ha… funny."
"And you oughtn't complain about Liberation Day… considering how close it came to being called Harry Potter Day."
"Don't remind me," Harry groaned and shook droplets of melted snow from his hair. "Besides, you know I wouldn't have stood for that; wouldn't be a Liberation Day or Harry Potter Day or whatever the bloody hell you want to call it if it hadn't been for you. Who was it who convinced me to become an animagus? And who was it who kept on me to work at learning wandless magic? I would have been done for without both of those abilities, and you made me apply myself to learning them. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be standing here bemoaning Liberation Day."
Hermione gave him a lop-sided, tender smile for his words, then her face paled slightly and she gave a faint grimace.
"Queasy?" Harry asked sympathetically.
Hermione nodded. "A bit."
"Would you like me to make you some tea?"
"That'd be great. Thanks."
"No problem." Harry went to the kitchen and put on a kettle, taking from the cupboard Hermione's favorite herbal blend. While waiting for the water to boil, he perused the odd assortment of Christmas cards pinned on the refrigerator. The Potters got an obscene amount of Christmas cards from people they'd never met or heard of, but cards from friends and family got pinned on the refrigerator. The newest, one that Harry had not seen yet, had an animated front sporting swooping dragons, belching red and green fire. He hardly needed to look inside to know it was from Ginny in Romania, where she was studying to be a dragon-keeper.
When the tea finished he filled a mug and carried it into the living room. When she saw him rejoin her in the living room, Hermione cleared off a spot on the couch beside her and put down her work on the coffee table to accept the steaming mug. "Thanks so much," she said with an appreciative sip.
Harry sat down close beside her and Hermione snuggled into his side in a well-rehearsed movement. Reflexively, Harry put his arm around her shoulders.
"I still wish you had come with me to the feast," Harry said wistfully. Harry and Hermione got an unending parade of offers to appear at public events around Liberation Day, and most of those they declined because all they wanted was to live their lives in peace, but every year they agreed to go to Hogwarts's celebration when Headmaster Dumbledore asked them to attend a feast in their honor. By unofficial tradition, after the spirited rejoicing and celebrating with the children and professors in the Great Hall, Harry and Hermione would retire with Dumbledore to the headmaster's office for a drink where they would pay respects to the memory of those who were lost to Voldemort's campaign. James and Lily Potter, Aberforth Dumbledore, Kimmy, Sirius Black, Hagrid, Alastor Moody, and so many others… it was always a long, sobering list, but they made it a point never to forget a single one who'd been close to them.
This was the first year of the last three that both of them had not gone (the first two Liberation Days after the fateful battle, Harry and Hermione were still students at Hogwarts, so naturally they were in attendance so it could hardly be viewed as a choice to appear on their part).
Hermione put her head on Harry's shoulder. "It's only the fifth anniversary; there'll be more. I wanted to make some headway on this," she gestured at the stacks of papers on the coffee table.
"How's it coming?"
Hermione was quiet a moment, then she sighed. "Are you sure you want me to do this?"
Harry smirked, rubbed Hermione's arm with his hand, and gave her a brief hug. "As certain as I was the other thousand times you asked me."
Hermione took another drink of her tea and seemed roll it around over her tongue before swallowing and speaking again. "There are countless people who write professionally who would jump at the chance to write the official Harry Potter biography, complete with interviews straight from the horse's mouth as they say."
"All strangers who don't know the Vanquisher of Lord Voldemort from any bloke on the street beyond my stupid scar," Harry said. "You know you're the only person I trust to do it right. Who knows me better? You were the one who told me that this book, my story, would be written by someone regardless of whether I wanted it to be or not, so make it on my terms, right? But if you don't want to do it—"
"No, I want to, I don't trust anyone else to do you justice either, I just… I'm not a writer. I've read more books than I can count, but that's not the same as writing a book. I may be absolute rubbish at it."
"I don't believe for a second you could be horrible at something if you tried," Harry countered, then he smiled. "Well, except for flying on a broom, maybe. Besides, we will have it proofed before it's published."
She mulled that over quietly, half of her attention elsewhere. Where, Harry didn't know, but he knew it wasn't on the book. "You still want Mum and Dad to read it before anyone else does?"
Harry nodded; on that he was certain of his decision. "Yes."
Hermione shifted against him as though to pull away and look at him, but at the last minute she chose to stay put, snuggled up comfortably against him. She said from her position tucked against his side, "You're rather adamant about that."
He was and he knew it. "Mione… there are so many things Jake and Miranda don't know about me, well," he waved at the papers, "you know how much there is, and I don't want total strangers to know the real me before they do. I care about them too much to do that.
"And I want Ron to read it before it sees an editor, too."
"Ron? Why? He's not exactly a bibliophile, after all. It was the most I could do in school to get him to do his required reading. Why would he want to read this?"
Harry smirked. "Because he and I will have to make sure you give yourself proper dues."
Hermione chuckled shyly into his shoulder, embarrassed and touched at once. "Harry…"
"And don't think we won't be right sticklers about it. We plan to be regular McGonagalls when she's grading term papers. If, by the end of reading that book, people aren't as enchanted with you as I am, then it's not been done right."
Hermione swatted him on the stomach with one hand. "Oh, Harry, stop it."
"Just giving you fair warning. You might end up the heroine of this book when it's all said and done."
She gave a theatrical groan at the very thought. "Merlin, no one would want to read it. They want to know about you."
"I'm all about you, Hermione." Harry placed a kiss on top of her head. "Another thing the public doesn't know about their ruddy hero."
Hermione snorted lightly, took another sip of her tea, and snuggled down tighter against Harry as though settling in for a nap. He wouldn't mind if she did; certainly wouldn't be the first time she'd fallen asleep on him.
Harry loved that they could play with one another the way they did. With every additional year free of Voldemort's rein of terror that they could put behind them, it seemed the laughs and jokes came more easily. Five years ago, he never would have thought himself anything near to a happy-go-lucky person by nature, but he was discovering that life with Voldemort dead was vastly different from life with the dark lord's fate unknown. Life with Hermione was better than anything Harry had ever known before. Not that it had always been laughter and hugs. There had been some bad times right after the final battle, for Harry and Hermione both. There were gloomy days when Hermione's recovery took a turn for the worse, days when Harry had to face the fact he had inside him the capability for performing horrifically dark magic. But even those unsavory moments and unpleasant reminders were becoming ghostly remnants of the past. They were finally getting on with life, forging ahead with one another, and actually having the chance to be happy in the process.
"I'm only on third year," Hermione murmured absently as she surveyed the seemingly unending sea of papers and notes. Her voice shook Harry from his thoughts and he just barely craned his neck to look down at Hermione's head pillowed on his shoulder. "This thing may take years to finish."
"Then it takes years… not as though we're hurting for money. And once this thing hits the stores… I'm glad you handle the finances and not me."
"I've thought of that, too," Hermione said pensively. "If I don't turn this into a travesty of literature… Harry, your story will probably be in every wizard home in the world. Magical children will grow up reading your adventures before bed and playing Harry Potter against the Dementors in the yard with sticks. You're our modern Merlin."
"Not my words, I heard it on the wizard radio," Hermione said with a smile in the sound of her voice, then her tone turned softer and more serious as she said, "but it's true."
Harry sighed, less than thrilled to say the least. But he too had heard that latest ostentatious nickname for him. As if Vanquisher of Lord Voldemort and the Boy Who Lived hadn't been enough monikers to have thrust upon him before he was twenty-one. "I try not to think about I," Harry grumbled. "So your book outsells Gilderoy Lockhart's best-seller. We'll just get another vault at Gringotts for all the money you make from this book and put it out of our minds completely."
Hermione made a thoughtful, ironic noise. "I've never heard of a celebrity with such a rotten opinion of money as you have." There was no recrimination in her voice, merely faintly amused observation.
Harry shrugged with the shoulder that was not serving as Hermione's headrest. "It's not what's important, but most people don't see it, and I guess that just… feels wrong to me."
"I know," Hermione said softly and laid her hand on his thigh. And she did know, he knew. She understood how he felt because he'd been given money in place of parents and had hated the trade every single second of his life.
But it wasn't appreciation for her depth of understanding of his quirky mind that was stirring Harry right then… it was the hand she'd so casually placed on his thigh. He'd been enjoying the calm, comfortable quiet of their evening, but shifting to a little less quiet and calm was definitely promising.
"I called Mum while you were out," Hermione said conversationally, her hand still on his leg. "I told her we'd be at Gram's at ten tomorrow morning."
"Uh huh," Harry returned as he brought up his free hand to trace Hermione's forearm affectionately… and in doing so just happening to nudge her hand a bit higher up his leg.
"Gram's really thrilled that you footed the bill to have Uncle Ben and his family flown over for the holidays; Mum said she's been going on and on about how wonderful it will be to have the whole family together for Christmas. If you ever had any lingering question as to whether or not Gram liked you before, you'll never have to worry again after this Christmas."
"Oh, good," Harry said, rather distracted in truth, as he shifted slightly forward on the couch cushion, wiggling his hips very discreetly closer to her perfect hand lying wonderfully, elegantly, enticingly high on his thigh.
"I've informed the owl post that we'd rather have our mail held than forwarded to Gram's house, so we won't be bothered during Christmas. Though we should still take along Hedwig. No reason not to now that Gram knows all about the world of magic."
"Sure," Harry responded while subtly managing to get Hermione's hand an inch higher… and winding him sweetly tighter. The heat from the fire was noticeably oppressive just then, and strangely concentrated on his face. His pulse was quickening and his stomach tying itself in exquisite knots.
Hedwig hooted haughtily and turned on the perch to present her back to the couple. Crookshooks looked over at them, gave a sniff, and stood to primly pad out of the room.
"Oh, and Harry?"
Hermione lifted her head from his shoulder to look him in the eye… and how well he knew that devilish glint in her gaze. It shot a bolt of desire through him, head to toe, and made his jeans uncomfortably tight. "You're so transparent," said with a saucy voice and a wicked smirk.
Harry was breathless.
Hermione put down her mug, turned back to him on the couch, and promptly straddled him. Harry's hands immediately went to her hips, those hips his hands knew so well, and he buried his face in her stomach, nibbling lovingly at her belly through the thin material of the shirt. Hermione's fingers raked through his hair and she tugged at the back of his neck until Harry complied, drew back, and looked up at her.
Hermione spread her legs farther apart as she sat down on his lap, bent down, and captured his mouth with hers. Harry slipped his arms around her bum and hungrily tugged her closer to him. Their bodies touched and moved away, an exquisite dance of flesh and body heat. Harry deepened their kiss. Hermione trembled and hummed throatily into his mouth as their tongues dueled like fighting serpents. She splayed her fingers over his chest as Harry slipped his hands underneath her shirt and touched her back, lightly tracing the line of her scar with his fingertips.
Hermione tracked her hands purposefully over his torso, down his stomach, and at last she found the fly of his pants by touch alone. Harry broke from lavishing attention on her lips to bury his face in the crook of her neck. Hermione freed the button of his jeans with practiced ease. He growled against her skin. Hermione gave a breathy laugh and blindly began to pull down his zipper.
The fireplace flared and changed from yellow to green. Hermione leapt off Harry's lap and whirled to face the fireplace. Harry jumped to his feet and turned to face the kitchen as he hastily tugged back up his zipper just as Arthur Weasley strode through the floo into their living room.
"Happy Christmas, Potters!" he called cheerfully, arms laden with gifts like a red-haired Saint Nick.
"Oh, um… happy Christmas, Mister Weasley," Hermione said in a high-pitched voice. She noticed and cleared her throat a couple of times.
Harry turned to face their guest… but made it a point to stand behind Hermione. "Hi, Mister Weasley."
Arthur looked a brief moment at both of them then belly-laughed. "Oh! Sorry to interrupt, I'll just leave these presents with you, and you two can get back to the holiday shagging."
Hermione blushed beet red and Harry didn't know whether to curse Arthur Weasley for showing up when he did or thank him for making his obvious excitement vanish in record time. At least he could stop hiding behind Hermione.
Arthur went to the Christmas tree to unload his armfuls of brightly wrapped boxes. Harry hurried over to help. "Thank you, Harry."
"Sure, Mister Weasley. Looks like Missus Weasley outdid herself this year," Harry remarked as he looked at all the gifts.
"Yes, well, with Molly's oldest boys married off and starting to have babies she's become a bit fanatical about the knitting, I'm afraid. Can't toss a cat in the Burrow without the poor thing landing on a knitting needle. Good thing we don't have cats. But on the plus side, Molly is getting a good deal better at knitting. The boys will actually wear their jumpers out in public now."
Hermione came over to join them and looked askance at the tubular item Arthur had not put down on the floor with the others. "What's that?"
"Ah this… a little something courtesy of the ministry."
Harry and Hermione exchanged a look, both equally baffled, neither with a clue what could be in the tube.
"Now, I hope you two like it, because I'll confess I had a hand in it. Last year at Liberation Day the Minster of Magic decided there ought to be a proper monument to the saviors of the wizarding world from the terror of Lord Voldemort."
"Oh no," Harry groaned, "Mister Weasley, if you tell me there's a statue of me somewhere I'm going to go spare."
Arthur chortled. "That was their first idea, a matching set of twenty-foot statues for the both of you in Diagon Alley. Oh, they were spectacularly detailed, too, I saw the miniaturized models. Fully animated, waving and brandishing wands like the swashbucklers of old… very heroic-looking."
Harry's shoulders sagged. Hermione just gave a sickly smile like one given a hideous shirt for Christmas by a batty old grandparent.
"But," Arthur continued, "I told them you'd go spare if they erected a statue in your likeness."
"Bloody right," Harry mumbled.
"So, what did the ministry do instead?" Hermione asked, looking just as relived as Harry to find out that the statue idea had been axed.
Arthur tapped the tube in his possession. "This. When I told them that neither of you would appreciate larger-than-life replica bird perches, they asked me, as I knew you and Hermione personally and well at that, what the pair of you would like. They do want your approval, bad PR to have the hero and heroine of the wizarding world look down on the administration, though at times I'm sure it seems they're not all that horribly concerned about your opinions of the ministry, but I digress.
"So, I thought a long time about what the two of you might like. Since neither of you are much in the way of monument people, and that's what the ministry officials wanted, a big public-winning monument to Harry and Hermione Potter, it was hard to think of something fitting. But," Arthur held up the tube triumphantly, "I really think I've come through on this." He extended it to Hermione. "Go on, open it."
Hermione took the tube, glanced at Harry next to the tree, then shrugged and pried open one end of the hollow tube. She pulled from inside a thick rolled bit of paper, of a matching size with a wall poster.
Hermione set aside the tube and unrolled the paper. When she had it held out before her, she just looked at it at first, face inscrutable, then she looked up at Arthur and said, "You did a very good job, Mister Weasley. It's perfect."
"Ah! I knew you'd like it! Wait until I tell the fellows back at the office."
Harry stepped over to stand beside Hermione and look at the oversized paper that she held.
It was a wizard painting, he saw at once. It depicted a forest, or the edge of one, and in the background, through the trees, one could see the regal sight of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with its great towers rising toward the sky. In the foreground of the painting, two animals stared out of the piece of art straight at them. One was a black jaguar with striking blue eyes and a white lightning-bolt shaped scar over his right eye. The other was a maned lioness with dark brown eyes. As Harry and Hermione watched the artistic representations of Knight and Sagehunter, the two cats nuzzled each other, then Sagehunter yawned and displayed great canines. Knight moved a few steps away and laid down on the forest floor, the tip of his tail twitching.
"It is perfect," Harry said, surprised despite himself, and he glanced up at Ron and Ginny's father. "But how does this give the ministry the monument they were slavering for?"
"Well, that's a complimentary replica of the real painting. The original's twenty-feet tall, those ministry heads have some preoccupation with twenty-foot tall monuments, and on Liberation Day it will be hung in the main lobby of the Ministry of Magic. The plaque on the frame will say 'In commemoration of the heroes of the wizarding world, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, shown above as the animagi Knight and Sagehunter, with undying gratitude and eternal thanks from the world of magic, hung this fifth Liberation Day'. A bit overdone, I know, but they're public figures, they're ripe with cheese."
"Well, if there had to be a monument, this will do very nicely," Hermione said as she smiled at Sagehunter swatting playfully at Knight's tail.
Harry nodded. "I could do without the twenty-foot-tall bit, but this is loads better than a statue."
"Let's hang it over the fireplace, Harry," Hermione suggested brightly, and Harry agreed readily.
They had to take off of the mantel the picture of James and Lily in the park dancing, as well as a muggle photograph of Jake and Miranda Granger, and a wizard photograph of the trio on their graduation day from Hogwarts. When those were safely out of the way, Harry and Arthur stretched, arms overhead and on their toes, to hang the painting. It magically straightened and stuck fast to the wall without the need for hammer or nails. The two cats came to acute attention at their new home and began to sniff around at the edges of the painting.
Hermione replaced the photos that had been taken down and stepped back to look at the finished effect. She stepped over to where Harry stood and hugged him around the waist. "It's great. We owe you big time for managing this in place of statues, Mister Weasley."
Arthur waved dismissively. "Nonsense, I'm just happy you like it.
"Well, I should be getting back to the Burrow before Molly wonders what's kept me. We're supposed to be going to George and Angelina's for dinner tonight, and if I keep Molly from Juliana and Geoffrey a minute more than necessary she'll have my hide. A bit of advice, you two, don't stand between a woman and her grandbabies, it's not pretty."
Harry smirked. "We'll keep that in mind."
"Happy Christmas, Harry and Hermione… I'll be out of here and you two can get back to what you were doing."
Hermione bit her lip and flushed pink. "Happy Christmas, Mister Weasley, and give our love to the family."
"You know I will," and with a wave Mister Weasley tossed a bit of floo powder into the flames and vanished through their emerald fireplace. Shortly afterward, it changed from green to yellow and orange and, were it not for the added presents under the tree and the new art on the wall, he may not have dropped by at all for how the room was just as it had been before his quick visit.
Harry shifted slightly and brought up his arms around Hermione from where he now stood behind her. They both watched their animagus likenesses frolicking in the painting. The artist had done an amazing job of capturing Knight and Sagehunter… or at least Harry knew the painter had done a wonderful job on Sagehunter, for it was a suitably eerie spitting image of the lioness being emulated, as all wizard paintings took great pains to be. It would suggest that the representation of Knight was equally spot-on if logic followed from Sagehunter's example.
"It's really very lovely, isn't it?" Hermione said softly as she brought up her hands to touch his arms as they crossed over her chest.
"Yeah, it is. Mister Weasley really saved our dignity by talking the ministry into this instead of statues."
Hermione almost laughed and leaned back barely in his embrace, her back pressing warmly and enticingly along his front.
"You know… we were in the middle of something," Harry whispered hopefully in her ear.
Hermione smiled then, a beautiful smile that bloomed on her face and made her almost seem to glow. She turned in his arms and looked up lasciviously at him. "So we were… better luck in the bedroom, perhaps?"
Harry didn't need to be told twice. With a grin, he scooped her up in his arms. Hermione squealed and instinctively wrapped her arms around his neck. "Harry!" she cried breathlessly. But she didn't offer anything more in the way of protest as he carried her through their house toward the master bedroom. Not unless one wanted to call her nibbling on his ear a protest, which Harry wouldn't. It made him laugh and walk faster, hungry for her touch, blind with a burning need to make love to her.
And when he did, Harry Potter, Vanquisher of Lord Voldemort, husband to Hermione Potter (formerly Granger), was the happiest man on Earth.
The beast to the beast is calling,
And the mind bends down to wait:
Like the stealthy lord of the jungle,
The man calls to his mate.