A/N: Yes – another one this soon! Don't you love summer leave? Many thanks to my beta, The Grey Lady, for her brilliant and invaluable feedback.
The Art of Grave Robbing
No one had warned him that teaching would be so hard. No one told him that children were generally loud and troublesome and self-involved, or that most of them had as much interest in learning as Hermione did in giving up all academic pursuits and becoming a trophy wife. No one had told him that students would ask him questions he didn't know the answers to, or deliberately poke and delve into aspects of his past best left forgotten. No one had warned him about lesson planning and marking.
It wasn't that Harry disliked the students. In fact, he felt a strange and fierce protectiveness over them that refused to go away even when they were at their most annoying. It was just that being a professor sometimes seemed like an insurmountable challenge when paired with the tasks of being Head of House and becoming Master of Death.
It was eleven 'o lock at night and he was still bent forward over his desk furiously marking seventh year NEWT assignments. Remus and Lily were a huge help when it came to accuracy and knowledge, but their aid was balanced out by James and Sirius, who had developed a habit of taking control of Harry's right hand whenever his mind wandered and writing scathing (if often truthful) annotations on the inaccuracies of a student's essay, or comments on their clumsy attempts at disguising the fact that their writing was getting bigger and bigger towards the end as required inches began to outstrip their knowledge on the subject.
"Can't you stop?" Harry begged, dropping his head forward onto the desk. "I know the kid's an idiot who thinks he can get through the course by reading the blurbs of every text on the reading list. But I am a teacher and can't be seen to be calling my student a…" he squinted down at the parchment beneath his nose, "'lazy, entitled, snot-nosed little bugger who couldn't figure out a cunning plan for cheating if the prize was a year's pass to Horatio's House of Witches of Easy Virtue. '"
:-And that's what's wrong with the modern educational system,-: Sirius said piously. :-Teachers just aren't honest with their students.-:
Harry was about to answer when he was interrupted by the flames flaring green from his fireplace. He swung round to see Luna's head hovering in the flames.
"Luna? Is everything okay?"
"I'm fine, Harry. Do you know your aura is bleeding? It's even putting the Wrackspurts off. Doesn't it hurt?"
Closing his eyes, Harry prayed for patience. "Is there a reason you're flooing me at eleven 'o clock at night, Luna, or is this just a social call?"
"Oh. Yes. You mentioned something when we were writing that article about you being Head of Slytherin. You remember? About being angry that the Ministry is concentrating its efforts on arresting people who are mostly innocent when they should be out catching Crouch and his followers?"
Harry did remember. It was just before Goyle and his mother fled the country when a warrant was put out for them, and just after they'd broken Draco out of the Ministry jails. "Yes, I remember."
"Well, I just thought you should know that it's getting worse. They've put out warrants for nearly all the Slytherins in our year – Pansy Parkinson, Theodore Nott, Blaise Zabini, Daphne Greengrass… all of them."
Harry pushed back his chair and came to crouch on the hearth rug, mind churning with the extra information. "Why? I don't think any of them were directly involved with Voldemort. I mean, they may have agreed with him, but I don't think they were actually Death Eaters."
"Neville says that they need to be seen to be doing something. I think Aquavirius Maggots have invaded their brains and are controlling them. I know the Ministry has a secret breeding programme. They can be very dangerous, you know."
"Neville?" Harry said. He hadn't had a great deal of time for socialising, but the last he'd heard, Neville was working for the Experimental Herbology Department at the Ministry. "What does he have to do with all this?"
"They're interested in his Catch Vines," Luna explained. "They're very clever. You imprint the magical signature of the person you want to catch on the seeds, then when that person is in view, you throw them and they explode out with these long vines to bind up the person. They'll follow anyone who tries to run away."
Harry sat back on his heels, trying to get his head around the conversation. "Um…can we back up a bit, Luna? Firstly, why did Neville tell you all of this?"
"Well, we have to talk about something over breakfast, Harry," she said reasonably, "otherwise it's just crunch-crunch-crunching and having to mime passing the ketchup."
"You're living with Neville?"
"Only until the spores are completely gone from his flat. I told him that breeding a toadstool that big in his living room was asking for trouble. Umgubular Slashkilters are attracted to them, you know."
:-This is like one of those dreams where everything makes sense until you actually wake up and think about it,-: James said.
:-It's Luna,-: Remus explained. :-Losing the plot is the only way to make sense of anything she says. A brilliant young witch in her own way.-:
"Fine, fine," said Harry, before Luna could delve into further detail about the dietary or possibly mating habits of Umgubular Slashkilters. "So why are you telling me all of this?"
"Well, you're Harry Potter, aren't you?"
Harry blinked. "So what? For the last time, just because I saved the stupid Wizarding World once does not mean I have to keep doing it."
"Well, no," Luna agreed. "But everyone knows you're now a champion for misunderstood Slytherins."
"I'm Head of House! Not a champion! And especially not for those Slytherins. Parkinson wanted to turn me over to the Voldemort, for heaven's sake!"
"Lots of people did," Luna pointed out. "You've got to give her credit for being brave enough to actually try and do it."
Nonplussed, Harry could only stare at Luna for a few long moments.
:-You know, this could work to your advantage,-: Remus said. :-If you want to get the Malfoy house elves out of the Ministry holding cells before anyone notices they're not the Malfoys, campaigning for the release of unfairly charged Slytherins would be a good cover.-:
Remus, damn him, had a point.
:-You could also see about getting my unpardoned pardon pardoned again,-: Sirius said hopefully. :-I'd rather re-emerge into a world where people dodn't believe I'm a mass murderer.-:
:-People don't believe that,-: Harry assured him. :-The Ministry talked about withdrawing your pardon, but I don't think they can actually do it. There's proof that Wormtail was alive and dozens of people backed up your story. Besides, Kingsley wouldn't allow it.-:
:-Kingsley's allowing this,-: Lily pointed out.
:-It might be time I went and had a talk to him about it,-: Harry sighed. He didn't really want to admit that the man pretty much terrified him. Harry had seen him take down four Death Eaters in two minutes during the battle without breaking a sweat. :-I had thought he'd be a better Minister of Magic than this, to be honest.-:
:-The Ministry is tied up in bureaucracy,-: said James. :-It's hard to get through that.-:
"Harry?" Luna sounded a little worried. "I might have been wrong about the Wrackspurts. You seem to have an infestation."
Harry shook his head and forced a smile for her. "Not Wrackspurts, Luna. Just lost in my thoughts."
She observed him through her large, protuberant eyes. "You have that look again, Harry."
"The 'War' look. The 'too much for one person to bear' look. You wore a version of it when you walked to your death at the Battle of Hogwarts."
"That's silly. I'm fine. Don't worry about the Slytherins. We can deal with that."
"Of course we can." The green flames flickered as Luna's slender hand reached through to rest on his arm. "I'll start with an article, maybe? On justice and equal rights for everyone?"
"Yes," Harry said, rubbing a hand over his face. "Mention the fact that we fought the war for a more equal world and that doesn't work if the inequality is just reversed."
Luna smiled. "You're a great wizard Harry. Completely mental, but great. You remind me of Professor Dumbledore."
The flames flared again and she disappeared.
"It really is time to start worrying when Luna Lovegood, of all people, questions your mental stability," he said. He'd got used to speaking his thoughts aloud since living with Draco and it was odd to have voiced them without receiving some sort of dry insult in return. Where was Draco anyway? It wasn't like him to wander around the castle alone at this time of night.
:-When did we last see him?-: he asked his family.
:-Lunch,-: Lily supplied. :-In the kitchens.-:
:-Not since then?-: Harry bit his lip. :-You don't think something happened to him, do you?-:
:-Like what?-: snorted James. :-He irritated someone into Malfoycide?-:
:-It's easily done,-: said Sirius.
Harry pulled himself to his feet and hurried to his room. Opening his trunk, he began pawing through his belongings, yanking things out and dropping them on the floor until he finally caught sight of the Marauders' Map. He pulled it out.
:-You know, that's a valuable artefact,-: Sirius said reproachfully. :-It shouldn't just be stuffed at the bottom of your trunk.-:
"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good," Harry said, ignoring him.
It took him a while to find Draco's dot on the map, mostly because he had not imagined Draco would be where he was. The little flying banner inscribed with his name hovered, without moving, alone in on the seventh floor corridor – right at the place where the door to the Room of Requirement appeared. Harry had avoided the place since his return to Hogwarts. He hadn't even checked to see if the room was still there. Like many places around Hogwarts it was haunted by memories of someone he couldn't save.
:-You shouldn't wander around the school at night,-: Lily fretted. :-What if you have a fit or get hurt? Or what if you have a lapse and become Sirius or James and they do something appalling to the Slytherins?-:
:-I can't just leave him there, Mum,-: Harry said, pulling a Weasley jumper over his head because even though it was April the corridors were still chilly and draughty.
:-I don't see why not,-: said Sirius. :-It might do him some good to toughen up a bit.-:
Harry made a brief, half-hearted attempt to flatten his hair, then left his rooms, keeping his eyes on the Marauder's Map. Luckily, he didn't meet anyone on the way and when he eventually got to the seventh floor it looked empty. He glanced at the map, made a brief calculation, then turned to stare at the place where Draco was sitting, covered by the invisibility cloak.
"Can you see me?" Draco's voice asked in surprise.
"In a manner of speaking," Harry said.
Draco's head appeared floating above the ground. It was low enough that he was clearly sitting against the wall. Harry walked over and slid to the floor beside him. When he turned to look at Draco, Harry felt his heart squeeze a little in compassion. Draco's face was marble-pale in the dim light of the torches that flickered further down the corridor. His eyes were bloodshot and dark-ringed, lips tight and pained.
"Does it still work?" Harry asked quietly.
"I don't know." Draco laughed, voice bitter. "I don't dare try. I'm afraid of what I'd ask for and what would happen if I was successful. I'm also afraid that it won't work."
Harry sort of knew what he meant. It must have been kind of like it had been with the Dementors in his third year. He hated reliving the death of his mother, yet couldn't stop longing for the sound of her voice.
"Would you like me to –?"
Harry jumped at the vehemence of Draco's answer.
"No, don't," Draco continued, in a softer tone. "I have a dream, sometimes, where the door appears and then opens from the inside and…and…Vincent comes out and and most of his skin is off and melted, and he's hardly recognisable. His wand is fused to his thumb and he keeps pointing it at me and asking me to help him because it hurts so much, but I can't. I keep asking the Room for something to help, but all that keeps appearing are bottles and bottles of snake poison."
:-Great Godric,-: James murmured, and Harry couldn't help agreeing. He felt a bit sickened.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered. "I'm sorry." His mind kept replaying the way the fiendfyre had swept unstoppably through the room, incinerating everything in its path. It must have been horrific to burn in its heart. "He wouldn't have survived, Draco." Harry was sure of it. "He would have been ash in seconds."
"The Room gives you what you need."
"Who needs a melting Crabbe with a wand thumb?" Harry said logically.
"Me. As punishment."
"Good God, Malfoy." Harry grabbed Draco's arm and yanked him, stumbling, to his feet. "From now on you're banned from here, okay? On the order of your hostage-taker. Put that bloody hood up and let's go down to the kitchens for a snack and some strong coffee. I'll need the caffeine to finish all that marking. Come on, Draco, stop dawdling." Draco followed Harry looking a bit dazed. Harry kept one hand fisted in the fabric at his upper arm and the other on the map. The further away they got from the seventh floor, the more Draco relaxed until finally he shook Harry's hand off and took a deep breath.
"Don't manhandle, Potter," he said with a trace of his usual insolence. "You have minions for that."
Harry beamed at him, relieved to have normal-Draco back. He glanced back at the map and frowned. "Hang on. Ron and Hermione are just up ahead – squashed into one of those alcoves. What can they be doing out at this time of night?"
:-Seriously?-: Sirius agreed. :-You can't think of anything?-:
"Shut up. Come on, maybe they'd like to come down to the kitchen with us."
"I doubt it. You'll be sorry when you see Weasley's freckled bits in all their aroused glory."
As Harry and Draco turned the corner, two dark figures shrank back further into the shadowy alcove and out of sight.
"I know it's you," Harry called out. "I've got the map."
"Bugger," said Ron's voice and both he and Hermione sidled out of the alcove looking guilty. They were both dressed entirely in black and had black Muggle hoodies pulled up to shield their faces. They were each carrying a shovel.
"Kill me now," Draco moaned from beside Harry. "I just interrupted Granger and the Weasel shagging."
"If that's what Slytherins think shagging is it's no wonder purebloods are dying out," Harry said, rolling his eyes.
"I can't see them, Potter. I have my eyes closed. Is it safe to look? Is Weasley's tackle hanging out? Oh Merlin, I might vomit."
"Ron's tackle is inside his trousers where it should be," Harry assured him.
"Can the two of you please stop talking about my tackle?" Ron begged.
:-Yes, please do,-: said Lily.
"What are you doing?" Harry said, staring at his friends. "Dressed in black and armed with shovels – anyone would think you're off for a bit of grave robbing."
There was an awkward silence.
"Grave robbing?" Harry sighed. "Really?"
"'Grave-robbing-really'!" Draco repeated incredulously. "That's your response?"
:-He has a point,-: Sirius said. :-Most people would be a great deal more horrified to find out their best friends were off to desecrate corpses.-:
"They won't be desecrating any corpses," said Harry. He glanced at his friends. "Will you?"
"Well," Hermione said evasively, "not in the strictest sense."
"Can I ask why you're grave robbing? And whose grave? I thought we were leaving off getting the Elder Wand from Dumbledore's tomb for the last minute."
"Ignotus Peverell," Hermione mumbled, staring down at her feet.
"Peverell?" Harry groaned. "This is a potions ingredient thing, isn't it?"
"No," Draco butted in. "I helped make that potion and I would have remembered if grave robbing had come up and put up a protest or asked for a raise or something."
"You're not paid," Ron reminded him. "You're a hostage."
"Well, you're irredeemably ginger. You don't see me harking on about it all the time."
"That's rubbish! Just this morning you spelled out 'ginger weasel' in my porridge with raisons."
"Can you two just be quiet for once?" Hermione snapped. She turned to Harry. "It's not for the potion. It's for another part of the ceremony. You're Ignotus Peverell's direct descendent – the one on whom Death's geas was laid. You need one of his rib bones as part of the spell. You coat it with the blood of a Thestral and use it sort of like a wand.
"I don't want to kill a Thestral!" Harry said with alarm.
"You don't need to kill it," Hermione assured him. "Just take a bit of blood. Hagrid's already said he would get it for us. I told him I was researching them and he seemed really pleased."
Harry felt guilty about that. "I haven't visited him for ages. I should go for tea at some point."
"He understands," Hermione assured him, patting his arm. "He knows you're busy with everything going on. We all know you're busy. That's why Ron and I were going to do this on our own. We didn't want you to have something else on your plate. "
"The grave is in Godric's Hollow, isn't it?" Harry said. "I'd like to go there again."
:-So would I,-: said Lily and James hummed agreement.
"Harry…" Hermione and Ron exchanged meaningful looks. "What happens if you have an attack? Or if you forget who you are?"
"Then you prop me up against a wall somewhere until I stop spouting blood and then pass me a handkerchief and a pain relief potion. Draco always has one on him somewhere."
"Oh, he does, does he?" Hermione's dark eyes narrowed thoughtfully as she studied Draco.
"He's unbearable when he's in pain," the Slytherin said defensively. "His voice gets all shrill and snippy and he groans all over the place like a boar sow in labour."
"Nice," Harry said. It was true, though. He had an almost constant headache, and even though his family were keeping their strong emotions to a minimum, his nose and ears had a tendency to start bleeding without warning at odd times. There was a rumour going round amongst the students that this, along with occasional attacks of nonsense and randomly changing accents, was a side effect of a curse Voldemort laid on him with his last breath. Luckily, the Marauders were quick on their feet and when one of them unexpectedly found themselves in front of a class of impressionable adolescents, they rallied masterfully. The Hogwarts students were getting a colourful and interesting education and had thankfully, thus far, kept the details from McGonagall.
"If you wanted nice, Potter, you should have broken a Longbottom out of prison," Draco answered him. "Malfoys don't do 'nice'."
"Longbottoms don't do prison," Ron said snidely.
Hermione sighed. "You're going to insist on this, aren't you, Harry?"
"I can hardly send you two off on your own to dig up bits of my ancestors while I laze around at home."
"At least go and fetch yourselves some warm clothing. We were going sneak into Hogsmeade through the humpback witch tunnel and Apparate. You can meet us there in twenty minutes."
The trip to Godric's Hollow was pretty excruciating. Draco spent most of the time complaining about the fact that Harry had never told him about the secret passage to Honeyduke's cellar before, the discomfort he was experiencing at having to borrow some of Dudley's old black clothes, the heaviness of his shovel, and having to spend extended periods of time in Gryffindor company. When Sirius briefly wrested control of Harry's right hand and shot a silencing spell at him, Draco spend the rest of the journey shooting him baleful looks and mouthing something that Harry thought was, "midweek, I eat sausages", but Remus suggested was more likely to be, "mistreatment of hostages".
Hermione and Ron both looked delighted when they realised Draco couldn't talk and Apparated to Godric's Hollow in good spirits.
The village looked different without a blanket of snow, although the spring air was still sharp with frost. The night sky was perfectly clear and the stars and crescent moon brushed the thatched roofs of houses and cottages with silver light. They had Apparated right outside James's and Lily's old house at their insistence and Harry turned to look up at the gaping hole in the roof where his old nursery was located.
:-Look,-: Lily whispered. :-Just as we left it. Just like it was that night.-:
:-When we're back we'll fix it,-: James said, and his mental presence moved closer to Lily's, curling around her protectively. :-We'll pick up where we left off.-:
It felt different, this time, to look at this relic from his past, Harry thought. Before it had been painful and filled with longing and regret. Now there was hope and anticipation. He allowed himself to imagine yellow lights at the windows and James and Sirius crawling around on the roof laughing together as they fixed the broken thatch. It was a beautiful dream.
A pointy finger inserted itself between two of his ribs and poked viciously. Harry jumped and turned to look at Draco whose bodiless head was floating beside him, the rest of him still concealed under the invisibility cloak. A pale hand emerged from thin air to point to the sign with the golden lettering explaining the events that had taken place here and all the subsequent messages written by visiting witches and wizards.
Harry moved closer to look at it. There were the original messages inscribed in Everlasting Ink, thanking the Potters for saving them from Voldemort. Then there were the messages of good luck, blessings and hope from the War. Finally, squashed into the gaps, and sometimes overlapping the older messages, there were dozens of newer ones.
You are the Boy Who Lived Twice. You have saved us all, Harry Potter! read one.
Another said, Our world owes you a great debt, Harry Potter. You sacrificed everything for us.
For the lives of my children and my grandchildren, I thank you, Harry Potter. You defeated He Who Must Not Be Named and saved us all.
There were so many it was almost impossible to read them all. Harry felt frozen by the outpouring of gratitude. It felt wrong, in a way. So many other people had sacrificed just as much as he had. Another message caught his eye, inscribed in red ink.
Crouch killed my babies, Harry Potter. I beg you to help us.
And another to the left: Our world needs you, Harry Potter. Save us from a new Dark Lord.
Harry reached out to touch these most recent messages, the weight of the desperation and hope pressing down on him and making his head throb even more insistently in pain. A pale hand reached out and yanked his away. He glanced at Draco who scowled and shook his head, mouthing something that looked like, 'Call your big bum'.
:-Not your problem,-: translated Remus, who apparently had the talent for lip-reading that Harry was sorely lacking.
"They have no right to ask this of you," Hermione said, coming up to stand on Harry's other side and taking his other hand. "This is not your responsibility."
"We have Aurors for a reason," Ron agreed. "Let them do their jobs for once. Come on - that grave isn't going to rob itself."
Harry trailed down the road after them, slowing a little as they passed the war memorial that turned into a statue of the Potters on the way. They reached the church and slunk through the kissing gate that led to the graveyard as inconspicuously as possible.
:-Please don't go to our graves,-: James begged. :-I don't like to think of my own corpse lying down there rotting.-:
:-It's probably already rotted,-: said Sirius, in what he appeared to think was a consoling way. :-It'll now just be a skeleton.-:
"Ignotus's grave was over here," Hermione told them, leading the way.
The grave was ancient and eroded, the name barely visible. As Harry stared down at it, Draco poked him again and motioned to his mouth.
"Are you going to be annoying if I take off the charm?"
Draco rolled his eyes.
"Fine." Harry waved his wand and muttered the counter-curse.
"Aw, mate," Ron protested. "I was enjoying the peace."
"It would have worn off soon anyway. I didn't cast it particularly enthusiastically."
"It's unfair to curse someone who doesn't have a wand," Draco muttered. He looked down at the grave. "Can't we use magic to dig this up?"
Hermione shook her head. "The part of the magical ceremony it's used in is very delicate. Any magic we use around the bone could leave a trace that would throw off the whole thing. I'm afraid it's digging the Muggle way for us. I'm going to cast one of the camouflage spells we used on our tent during the war so no one spots us in here. " She pulled an improbably large tarpaulin out of her handbag and spread it out beside the grave. "Earth on there, please."
"Can't we get your house elf to do it?" Draco appealed to Harry.
Harry sighed. "Just get on the ruddy grave and start digging, Malfoy."
"You know," Draco said, reluctantly obeying, "everyone says Slytherins are the bad ones, but since I've taken up with Gryffindors I've been involved in two prison breaks, been taken hostage, brewed a number of dangerous and highly illegal potions, delved into the Black Art of Necromancy, and have now taken up grave robbing."
"What can I say?" Ron said, digging with a great deal more enthusiasm than Draco was. "We know how to have fun."
"Fun is not the word," said Draco darkly. "I swear this ground is frozen. My spade's hardly going in at all."
Harry had to admit that he agreed. His energy had been sapped by his ill health and the monthly full moons, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd got to play a proper game of Quidditch. His muscles were painful and trembly after only fifteen minutes of digging. Ron, who spent a fair portion of his time lifting and carrying in George's shop and helping his brother with testing new inventions, dug strongly and steadily at his side, and even Hermione didn't appear to be flagging, probably from years of lugging round half a library of books wherever she went. His only consolation was that Draco, whose muscles and weight still hadn't quite recovered from his stint in the Ministry cells, was even worse off than he was.
:-Would you like me to take over?-: Remus asked.
Harry leant on his spade and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. His sweat was chilling quickly in the icy air. :-It's okay, Remus. I'm not going to get you to take over every time I felt physical discomfort just because you've had practise dealing with it.-:
:-Nah, mate,-: Sirius said, and his mental voice was tinged apple-green and rosy with a mixture of pride and amusement. :-He's offering you one of the advantages of turning into a ravening beast every month.-:
:-What do you mean?-:
:-As a werewolf my strength is enhanced should I choose to call on it,-: Remus explained in his mild professor-voice. :-I don't often do it because it brings the wolf to the surface which I try to avoid if at all possible. I don't think you'll feel quite the full effect, but enough of my Dark Magic has affected you that it should help to increase your strength at least a little.-:
:-Dark?-: Harry said, hating the matter of fact tone. :-You're not Dark, Remus.-:
Remus's mental chuckle was wry. :-I am a Dark creature, lad. I have a human side that fights it, but that's what I am and there's no real point in denying it.-:
A tendril of Sirius's mental presence reached out to brush over Remus's.
:-Come on, Harry,-: said Remus, taking control of Harry's right arm and halting his rather futile digging. :-Let me do this for you.-:
:-Won't the magic throw off the final spell or whatever Hermione was saying?-: Harry asked.
:-No. It's magic that's part of me. The only way it can influence anything outside of the body it has infected is if I bite someone in wolf form.-:
Harry gave in, secretly relieved. He felt his body's weight settle a little differently as Remus took over, his hands moving to a new position on the spade, his feet settling with a grace and certainty Harry had never really mastered off a broom, and then there was a slightly oily buzz rippling through the muscles of his arms that left an almost blood-like taste in the back of his throat.
His spade pierced deeply into the frozen ground at Remus's first push and his arms easily tossed the earth up onto the tarpaulin Hermione had placed there. In the same smooth movement, the spade was back and sunk into the earth again. Six feet down had felt like an insurmountable depth when Harry had started, but now, with the heat of the wolf buzzing in his veins, the task seemed easily doable.
It was a few moments before Remus glanced up to see the other three staring at him.
"Harry?" Hermione asked, voice uncertain.
Draco rolled his eyes. "That would be Lupin, Granger. Can't you tell?"
"Bloody hell," said Ron.
"I'm not doing this on my own," Remus told them. "Harry's poor body needs to be indoors in the warm. Come on, pick up those spades again."
The other three obeyed, and they began digging again. Two feet down, then three, then four.
"You know," Draco said, slumping against the muddy wall of their hole, "we were on our way to the kitchens for a snack. We never got it and now I'm starving. No one ever tells you that grave robbing is such hard work. In books they make it sound all exciting and mysterious."
"Stop your whining, Malfoy," groaned Ron, "or do you want to be silenced again?"
"He's actually more annoying silent," James told him, taking control of Harry's mouth for a brief moment and rubbing the still-smarting spot where Draco had viciously poked Harry's ribs.
"I find that hard to believe."
Remus wrested control back from James and kept digging. Five and a half feet down, Harry's nose started to bleed again and his mind bubbled and blurred. Remus paused to wipe it on his sleeve, staggering as dizziness overtook him. Slim arms caught him and slowed his collapse to the floor. Remus peered up at Hermione's blurry face.
"We're nearly done," she said gently, brushing the hair back from Harry's face. "Just sit there and we'll finish off."
Harry's consciousness trickled back into control of his body, but his limbs were shaky and weak, so he had no choice but to obey. It was with great relief that he heard the dull thunk of a metal spade hitting something solid.
"Ew – skull," Ron said, shuddering.
"Wonderful!" Hermione sounded far more enthusiastic than one should when faced with a centuries-old corpse. "Here, let's remove the dirt a bit more carefully now."
Harry watch as the other three used the edges of their spades to scrape off the mud covering the skeleton. It was fascinatingly grotesque, particularly when it became clear that Ignotus's corse had been buried with something clutched in its fingers.
"What is it?" Draco asked.
"Some sort of wax tablet," Hermione said, squatting down beside the body to gingerly prise it from the skeleton's fingers. "It has writing on it, but I can't make it out. I think it's in old English. Look – it's signed 'Ignotus'. I wonder if it's another message to you like the one in the book, Harry?"
"Let's take it back with us and we can cast a translation charm on it," Ron suggested. "The sooner we're away from here the better."
"Well?" Draco stood back from the skeleton, arms folded. "Get the rib and let's get going."
"I'm not touching it," Ron said quickly. "It's actual human bone."
"I'm not touching it either," said Draco. "This wasn't in my hostage-contract."
"You don't have a hostage-contract."
"Well, if I did, not touching human bone would definitely be in it. It might have Potter's ancestor-cooties on it."
"Oh, for heaven's sake," Hermione said, leaning over the corpse again. "And the humankind spent centuries believing that men were superior." She grabbed one of the ribs and hacked with her spade until it snapped off, giving it a clinical wipe over with the edge of her top before tucking it into her waistband.
"That is one terrifying woman you have there, Weasley," Draco said, his voice a mixture of horrified and reverent. "Are you sure you can handle her?"
"Don't need to," Ron said, gratefully picking up his spade to scoop mud back onto the skeleton again. "She pretty much handles herself."
"I'll bet she does," Draco said, obviously making sure he was on the other side of the grave to Hermione as they joined Ron in re-interring Ignotus's remains.
They were freezing, muddy, exhausted, and (in Harry's case at least) splattered with blood by the time they returned to Hogwarts. It was into the early hours of the morning and Harry had double DADA with second year Hufflepuffs and Slytherins first thing the next morning, so he scrubbed himself down as quickly as he could and dropped into bed while Draco was still puttering around and complaining about a lack of clean pyjamas. Just before he drifted off, Harry saw the Slytherin rifling through his own trunk and pulling out a large, misshapen t-shirt that had belonged to Dudley before the grapefruit-diet, inscribed with the immortal phrase 'save the whales'. It was probably a stupid thing for Dudley to have supported at the time, Harry thought sleepily as Draco pulled the garment over his skinny frame where it drooped like badly hung curtains. After all, if he'd been seen on the beach in his speedos that summer, he wouldn't have been sunbathing for long before Greenpeace turned up and well-meaningly tried to push him back into the sea.
The next morning, Harry was more zombie than man. He sleepwalked through most of his classes and narrowly avoided accidentally leading his sixth years to believe that Acromantulas flew flying Ford Anglias and were partial to opera music when his mind drifted halfway through the lesson.
By the time his last lesson was over (one that had included apologising to his seventh years again for the fact that he had still not finished marking their assignments), he never wanted to see another student again and persuaded Hermione and Ron to join him in her rooms rather than the Great Hall for a quiet dinner so they could examine the Ignotus's wax tablet. Draco, of course, tagged along because free food and a mystery involving a corpse and possibly Dark Magic were too much for the Slytherin to resist.
The house elves had provided them with a comforting, fragrant meal of ham and vegetable stew with buttered rice, followed by apple crumble and custard. They washed this down with hot mulled cider and by the end of it Harry was starting to feel marginally human again. Hermione's living room was a lovely, cluttered place with the dining table squashed into one corner and lit softly with golden lamplight. The rest of the room was comprised of squashy sofas, bookcases, complex-looking magical contraptions to do with Arithmancy and advanced transfiguration, and piles of scrolls and texts that wouldn't fit in the already bulging shelves. Harry felt as at home here as he had always felt at The Burrow.
"So," Ron said, draining the last of his mulled cider and then timing slamming his cup back on the table with a generous belch, "what did old Iggy Peverell have to say, then?"
Eyeing him disdainfully, Draco sipped his cider in a much more genteel manner. "At times like this, it is increasingly evident why Weasleys are considered a disgrace to the Wizarding World."
"Oh, belt up, Malfoy. Just because you were born with a silver spoon up your arse or whatever."
"Both of you hush," Hermione sighed. She stood up to retrieve the wax tablet from one of her shelves. She had wrapped it in a purple silk scarf. "Preservation charm," she told Harry, when she caught sight of him looking at it. "I didn't want the tablet disintegrating before we'd had a chance to examine it."
"Clever," Harry said, with unfeigned admiration. It never would have occurred to him.
The tablet itself was mostly square and about five inches tall and wide, and half an inch thick. The words, just recognisable as being written in the same ancient English as the original message in the book, were carved deeply into the yellowing wax.
"I think we'll need Remus to cast his translation charm on it," Hermione said. "It will work on wax, won't it?"
"Yes," Remus answered her, as he gently took control of Harry's body. "It works on any kind of written word." He waved the wand in a complicated series of patterns and, just as before, the carved letters wriggled and squirmed like a bowl full of maggots before rearranging themselves again into legible, if archaic, English. The four of them bent over the tablet, Hermione holding up her lighted wand to throw the engraved letters into sharp relief.
If thou hast reached the place where my bones do lie, then thou art truly my descendent, for any other unaccompanied by you would have found their blood didst boil in their veins.
"Bet you're glad I decided to tag along now," Harry said to a very pale looking Ron and Hermione.
The great Aelfgifu and I did hide with my bones the finale of Death's ceremony. When the lights of indigo four do shine above thy head, and the masks of the dead do gape their jaws, then thou should raise thy wand of my bone and trace the rune of eihwaz and then of perþ in the air before thee. Thou shalt then say 'emergi abeo anima'. Thus your endeaver shall succeed, and you, descendent mine, shall truly be Master of Death. Know thou this, however: Thou shalt do this but once. The Deathly Hallows shall give their power that you shall bring life. Then they shall be no more. Luck of the gods be with thee, my child.
"The runes of whatsit and what?" Ron asked.
"If you'd taken Ancient Runes, you would know, Ron," said Hermione. "Instead you chose to waste your valuable education time with pointless subjects like Divination." She grabbed a quill and parchment off a nearby chair and traced two simple symbols onto it. "That first one there is eihwaz: the yew. It links to change, death and transformation. It is used magically to bring about profound change or to ease a life transition. The yew tree has often been linked to death as it retains its greenery through the dead of winter and the red berries represent the blood of life." She pointed her quill to the second symbol. "That's perþ: the dice-cup. It's often linked to rebirth or new beginnings. It's obvious why they are both necessary for this ceremony."
"You're going to have to learn to draw them perfectly, Harry," Draco added. "With ancient runes you can't afford to get it wrong. One line out of place and it can change the whole meaning."
"Yay for me," Harry muttered.
:-We'll help you,-: James assured him. :-Lily is brilliant at runes and so is Moony. Pads and I never took it at school, but we both had to learn them alongside our alphabet as children. Remember, Sirius? A-B-C and ansuz-berkana-kenaz. There was a little song that went with it.-:
:-Don't you dare sing it! It went round in my head solidly for five and a half years. I reckon there's some sort of charm on it to force you to remember it for all time. It haunts my nightmares.-:
"On the upside, I have a very clear idea about the whole ceremony now," Hermione said. "I suggest we have some sort of dress rehearsal, though. Getting something wrong when using magic like this is a recipe for disaster."
:-Zombie apocalypse,-: Sirius said solemnly.
"All of Britain turned into a race the living dead," said Ron, whose mind was apparently running along the same lines.
"Not to mention Potter's head would probably explode in a very violent and messy way," Draco added, sounding unfazed by the prospect.
Harry felt as though a nest of pythons had hatched in his stomach and were now clamouring for freedom. "Cheers, everyone. I definitely vote for the dress rehearsal."
"And you're going to have to talk to Alex and Daniel," Hermione said. "They're an integral part of the ceremony. We need to get them on board."
"Yeah. I suppose I do." Harry was dreading the prospect. He had the unsettling feeling he was channelling Dumbledore and that history was beginning to repeat itself in an incredibly ostentatious and unsubtle way. He could only hope that these two little boys, who had been labelled by destiny for this task, would not be required to make the same kind of sacrifices that he had.
Since the introduction of Harry as the Slytherin Head of House, there had been a little more inter-House tolerance to be seen from those in Hogwarts – particularly the professors. As a result, Alex and Daniel were finding it slightly easier to spend time with one another outside of classes, and it was the Slytherins, surprisingly enough, who had first allowed Alex to sit at their table during meals. Harry felt his heart lift at this turn of events and didn't allow himself to lose his enthusiasm when he heard a seventh year mutter, "If we're going to the Gryffindor dogs anyway, we may as well go in a way that annoys the buggers as much as possible."
This was not to say that things were easy for the boys – they still suffered their share of bullying and shunning from their schoolmates – but they did spend less time in Harry's rooms for the most part. They now usually visited him just one or two evenings a week – cluttering up his living area with homework and exploding snap cards, tuning his wireless to stations playing 'Iron Beat of Divination' (a Wizard band popular with teenagers in recent years), raiding his biscuit tin for Jammy Dodgers and Salamander Creams and generally making Harry feel like he'd captured a bit of Weasley chaos and homeliness and set it lose in his quarters. Draco usually spent the time sulking in the bedroom and waiting for them to leave.
Which was why Harry was rather alarmed when, a couple of evenings after their grave-robbing exploits, he opened the door to his rooms o the unmistakable sound of Iron Beat of Divination's You Thought You Could Fool Me with a Love Potion and three voices – two child's and a man's – raised his laughter.
On stepping inside, he saw Draco, Alex and Daniel seated around a pile of exploding snap cards in front of the fire, all looking rather singed around the edges.
"Professor!" Alex said, looking up to see him standing there open-mouthed. "Look! We found an illegal Malfoy in your broom closet. Can we keep him? He's fun!"
"My broom closet?"
"I might have accidentally left the door unlocked," Draco said with a shrug. "It was the nearest hiding place at hand."
"We wouldn't have normally just come in," Alex said. "But Daniel's toenails were getting unmanageable and he needed something to lie on. We didn't have time to get to the Hospital Wing, so we came here."
Harry blinked and shut the door behind him, moving into the room to collapse on the chair. "Your toenails?" he asked Daniel.
"Ravenclaws," Daniel said. "Fourth years. Hex."
"I de-hexed him," Draco volunteered. "And taught them a good one for retaliation."
"We can now make Ravenclaws pee silver and green," Alex told him with unholy delight. "And it will burn."
:-I remember that one," Sirius said fondly. "We used a version of it on Snape once."
:-Good times,-: James agreed.
"You can't teach hexes like that to impressionable young children."
"Why not? I'm not a teacher."
"No," Alex agreed. "You're an escaped convict, right?" He turned to grin at Harry. "He says you broke him out of prison and that he's your hostage and that he now has to help you in your dastardly plan to break all the laws of nature with typical Potterly disregard for the rules."
Looking immensely satisfied with himself, Draco buffed the soot off his nails on the front of his robes. "There, Potter. I laid all your groundwork."
Harry gaped, struck speechless.
"Can we help you with your dastardly plan?" Alex asked eagerly. "I've never done anything dastardly before and Daniel wants to break some laws of nature."
Daniel nodded solemnly, although Harry was of the opinion that he was perfectly capable of breaking a fair number of laws of nature without his help.
"Er…er…ah…okay?" he stuttered.
Both little faces lit up. "Really?"
"But you can't tell anyone."
"A babbling curse couldn't get it out of me," Alex promised, and Daniel, rather unnecessarily, mimed casting a silencing charm on himself.
"It will mean a trip to London," Harry said. "And we'll have to sneak out."
Two sets of eyes widened and matching grins spread across their faces. "This is so cool," Alex breathed.
"I would be very grateful if you would help me with a ceremony I need to perform." Harry made sure his expression was as serious as possible. "But in order to do it, I need to tell you something that you must promise to keep a secret."
"Of course!" Alex said, and Daniel nodded in agreement.
"Okay." Harry met Draco's eyes over the tops of their heads and took a deep breath. "Have either of you heard of the Deathly Hallows?"