After much consideration I have determined that I will be posting the final segment of my three part Harry Potter fanfiction series. The reason for this is the inordinate amount of time that it has taken for me to complete this project. Additionally, I feel that my old policy of waiting until the story is completed before posting in order to prevent issues in smoothing out the storyline is unwarranted at this time with this level of completion. This note is to serve as a notice to everyone reading that it is possible I will have to revise chapters once they have been posted, but I do not foresee any likelihood of that happening. I'm sorry to have kept everyone waiting for so long, but I'm sure everyone will appreciate that priorities in real life have to come first. As I've mentioned before my real world duties include a great deal of technical writing and detailed reading which sap my ability to engage in frivolous writing as much as I would prefer. I hope that everyone will enjoy the forthcoming story. Chapters will be posted irregularly and at greater intervals than normal. Again, to my old readers, thanks for waiting, and to any new readers out there, please browse to my account so you can familiarize yourself with what has gone before. My series begins at the end of the fifth book. Harry Potter and the Bearers of the Light replaces book six. Harry Potter and the Prophecy War replaces book seven. This, the final episode, Harry Potter and the Secret of Sorcery, sweeps up most of the left over plot lines from the two previous episodes. Don't be alarmed if you notice that things are somewhat different than the cannon stories. I've taken the liberty of, ahem, fixing some of the mechanics of magic which I considered illogical in the cannon stories. Explanations for such differences are found within the stories themselves. Now, without further ado or administrative wrangling, I give you…
Chapter 1 – Splendorous Spoils
"Dobby," Harry called out into the empty space inside the dungeon level of Grimmauld Place. He and Hermione had just arrived via portkey from their wedding ceremony at Hogwarts to pick up some supplies.
"Harry Potter sir," Dobby squeaked from behind them.
"Did you get all the things on the list I gave you?" Hermione asked. Her long white cape shimmered slightly with her every movement.
"Yes Lady Potter," Winky said demurely as she appeared next to a misshapen pile of packages. "Winky and Dobby is good elves. We is doing everything precisely to your specifications."
"Dobby is still thinking that Harry Potter should be letting Dobby come along with him on his trip," Dobby said. "Harry Potter is too great to be traveling without his servant."
"Now Dobby, what did I tell you about that servant business?" Hermione said reprovingly.
"You're our friend Dobby, not just a 'servant,' okay?" Harry added. Dobby's eyes getting a little misty like they always did when someone was kind to him. "I know you want to come with us but we really need you to stay here and watch over Grimmauld Place. There's still a remote possibility that someone could try to attack the house and everyone else would need you to keep them safe."
Many of their friends, especially the one's that Death Eater remnants would most like to kill, were continuing to stay at Grimmauld Place for the time being. Tonks and Remus also needed to use the dungeons for their transformation once a month. Ron was of the opinion that Voldemort's followers would behave much like they did at the end of the first war and run away, but there was no sense in taking chances.
"You can count on Dobby and Winky sir!" Dobby said enthusiastically.
"We're going to be erecting barriers where we go to keep out visitors, including mail, so don't worry about us if we're gone for quite a while," Harry said.
"Winky understands sir," Winky acknowledged. "Winky remembers old masters liked to be alone often times."
Harry laid a hand on the pile of packages and furrowed his brow with concentration as he apparated silently away with the objects in tow. A moment later Hermione also disappeared with a swirl of white cape to leave the two little house elves standing alone with less work to do than most house elves would have been comfortable with.
"Are you okay Harry?" Hermione asked when she arrived. He was breathing slightly hard after the exertion of apparating so much material with him. Apparating one's self was fairly easy since a wizard's body was full of magic, but inanimate objects were much more difficult. Apparating someone else was wholly impossible for a reason Harry didn't quite understand. He didn't like to think about apparation much because the quarks of the process were partly responsible for his parent's death. If they had only been able to apparate him away from Voldemort's attack then there would have been no need for either of them to try and fight the dark wizard.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Harry said, his voice trailing off as he looked around him. They were in the middle of a cavernous dining room. The entire area was aglow with obviously magical lights since no specific source of the illumination could be found. The center of the room was occupied by an elegant long wooden table, but the scene was dominated by the imposing presence of a magnificent chandelier that could only be described as an artwork. The intricate design caught the magical glow and radiated forth the light back out with dazzling effectiveness.
Despite its beauty the young couple knew that they had a serious purpose for being there. Riddle Manor was a huge question mark when it came to assessing the remaining dangers that lurked from Voldemort's activities over the years. Harry and Hermione were so concerned that they felt compelled to disappear indefinitely to deal with the place themselves. The Ministry was too unreliable and Harry didn't want to risk any of the remaining Light Bearers, all of which had suffered in many ways more than him. Harry and Hermione still had each other after all.
"Amazing," Hermione said breathlessly, "Who would have thought that Riddle Manor would be like this?"
"This is the most fabulous mansion I've ever seen," Harry replied. "Even Malfoy's old estate couldn't begin to compare."
A chill ran through the two newlyweds as they continued to examine the room. Outside one of the huge windows they could see a dark shape flittering about nervously. Hermione caught Harry's elbow and together they made their way to the main entrance that was situated just off to the side from the dining room. They hadn't taken five steps out the door before they were confronted by their most fearsome allies.
"We serve the Masters of Undoing," the dementor said hollowly.
"We have taken control of this prize," Hermione said formally. "The dementors here will remove themselves to the perimeter of the grounds surrounding the main house and only approach to inform us if someone attempts to gain entry."
The dementor didn't reply with words, it just jerked its body in what might be considered a nod before gliding away ominously. The icy sensation that had been lurking in the background of the two teen's minds began to recede as the dark creatures put more distance between themselves and the mansion.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief as the door locked shut behind them with a squelch. Hermione took out her wand and frowned as she considered what their next course of action should be.
"I'm going to put a Fidelius Charm on this place Harry," Hermione said finally. She had dropped the Fidelius protection of the Light Bearers membership since the bulk of the people who were still secreted by the charm had already quit with their identities intact. The spells were difficult to maintain, carried inconveniences, and even some risks, so no one wanted to use them needlessly.
"While you're doing that I'm going to inspect the other spells," Harry said. He was, of course, referring to the other wizarding protections like the unplottable charm that helped hide the location of Riddle Manor. Thankfully those spells, which were typically easier to cast and more durable in the face of attempts to break them, were still relatively strong.
Harry didn't say anything when he finished his check before Hermione had completed the casting of the secrecy charm. The Fidelius was incredibly stressful to cast because its magic could work on the memories of potentially huge numbers of people. It was still amazing to Harry how someone who had known the 'secret' all their lives could have the knowledge forcefully suppressed in such a manner.
"Finally," Hermione murmured as she completed the casting. "I don't know about you, but I'm ready to get out of these clothes."
Harry grinned and Hermione gave him a coy look. "I know what you're thinking," she said. "First we've got to finish checking this place out."
Harry continued to grin, but nodded in agreement. It wouldn't do for them to be otherwise distracted should unexpected dangers continue to lurk in the expansive estate. Hermione flicked her wand and created two mannequins on either side of the entryway to the dining room. Each one of the conjured statues resembled Harry and Hermione's respective physiques. A quick switching spell later and their stately white garments were on the mannequins. Casual muggle clothing would be far more appropriate for scouring Voldemort's lair.
"This place seems to be set up for showing off," Hermione observed as they moved from one richly decorated scene to another.
"Voldemort certainly wanted to live like a pureblood even if he wasn't one," Harry replied.
"Amazing," Hermione breathed out reverently as they entered what could only be a library. The magically enhanced space of the room easily stretched up five stories from the entrance floor. They walked casually by the first shelf of books and Harry saw countless volumes over things that he had barely even heard of before.
"This must have been cobbled together from many different places," Harry said.
"All the Death Eater homes we destroyed…they must have evacuated their family libraries like Malfoy did," Hermione said. "I'm glad."
"Me too," Harry said. He grinned cheekily at Hermione's expression of wonderment. "Even you will be occupied for a long time by this many books."
"Some of these may even contain unpublished family secrets," Hermione said as she inspected a large red tomb. Pureblood families developed their own magical knowledge and kept it a secret from the larger community when possible. "A few of these books have to be one of a kind."
"We should probably keep moving," Harry said after a few minutes. He knew Hermione well enough to know that she could get sidetracked in a library for hours at a time.
"Wait, we need to check out these doors too," Hermione said. Harry looked to where she was indicating and noticed a set of doors partially hidden behind a bookcase.
"It looks like some kind of study or research alcove," Harry said once they had made their way inside.
"I think more important things than just research went on in here. Take a look at this," Hermione said as she handed him a piece of partially rolled up parchment.
"It's some agreement to meet for further negotiations," Harry said.
"Look there," Hermione said, pointing to a small symbol near the bottom. It was an intricate design that revolved around a sideways eight. "Vampires sometimes use that symbol. It's where muggle mathematics derived the symbol from."
"So Voldemort was planning to ally with vampires?" Harry said, though it wasn't really a question. "I wonder if he managed to."
"That letter is a little old," Hermione said as she shuffled through the other parchments. "There should be something recent that would tell more."
"No question about who sent this," Harry commented as he pulled a huge piece of thick tattered hide out from under the table. Some weird symbols were written on it in shaky script.
"What did the giants say?" Hermione asked casually as she continued to scan over various communiqués.
"They want to be paid for their services in addition to some agreement they already had," Harry said. "At least I think that's what it says."
Hermione had made Harry study about giants and their culture after their encounter with Gwap during fifth year. Giant was pretty easy to understand since the beings were notoriously dull in an intellectual sense. At least when one measured by reading, writing, and technical advance. In other ways, like hunting and fighting, giants were incredibly adept.
"Probably the political rights that Dumbledore was worried that Voldemort would offer them when he sent Hagrid to negotiate," Hermione commented. Harry winced slightly and felt Hermione flinch too through their connection. Hagrid's loss was still a rather rough subject for both of them, especially when he came up in discussion unexpectedly in such a way.
"Here," Hermione said finally. "This letter alludes to some kind treatment that would eliminate some of the side effects of the Nosferatu's curse."
"Er, sorry Hermione, I didn't pay attention when Remus gave us those lessons on vampires," Harry replied, referring to their third year.
"Typical muggle myth stuff for the most part," Hermione said. "Vampires can be killed by wooden stakes to the heart, beheading, or total immolation. The sun causes them great pain and they can't perform much magic even if they were once wizards, though they do have their own brand of vampire magic. They can turn into bats or become incorporeal mist, or at least the stronger ones can. They're pretty weak really, that's why you never see them around much."
"So Voldemort was trying to bribe them into joining him," Harry said. He was continually getting better at digging the point out of Hermione's mini-lectures.
"Seems that way," Hermione nodded. With other people she sometimes tried to tone her intense intellectual prowess to deflect the hard feelings that it sometimes garnered. For some reason others would take her intelligence the wrong way and assume that she was arrogant or something. Even Ron, she remembered painfully, had once called her a nightmare. Harry on the other hand had always been polite about her tendency to 'over achieve' and his admiration of her talents had only grown since their youth.
"Well, they didn't actually do anything so I suppose no harm no foul, right?" Harry asked hopefully.
"I think we should investigate at some point," Hermione replied. "But we shouldn't start anything if they don't. Anyway, did you find something in that stack?"
Harry looked down at the pile of papers in front of him. "Mostly routine reports from Death Eaters, but they're not really helpful since they all seem to use code names."
"If any of those reports detail engagements with Light Bearers we might be able to match names of Death Eater's we've identified to their codenames," Hermione speculated. "Probably not much use at this point though."
"We're going to be looking over our shoulders for disgruntled Death Eaters for the rest of our lives aren't we?" Harry asked unnecessarily.
"Not just Death Eaters," Hermione said lightly. "If you had of ever paid attention in History of Magic you'd know that the wizarding world has always suffered from an excessively loose rule of law."
"I had important sleep to catch up on," Harry retorted, amusement evident in his voice. "Besides, that's what I have you for."
"That's me, walking encyclopedia," Hermione said with a laugh. "We'll come back to the library later when we have more time. For now let's finish looking at everything."
"Good idea," Harry replied. They continued their search until they had been through every room in the mansion. Neither of them was fooled by the mostly innocuous seeming atmosphere though. There was no sign of vital wizarding necessities like potion making or equipment maintenance that Voldemort would have had to do. While it was possible that such activities could be farmed out to other locations it didn't seem likely that he would do so. They also knew from experience that wizards often took care of such things in a dungeon well away from their living quarters.
"There's got to be more to this place than we can see," Hermione said as they reached the opposite end of the house from where they had entered. She pulled out a red tinted eyepiece and Harry did the same so that they could peer through the walls. Hermione's hunch was soon proven correct. Behind a full length mirror in one of the small sitting rooms was a bare stone lined room containing a single gargoyle reminiscent of the guardian that sat in front of the entrance to the Headmaster's office back at Hogwarts.
"I think we can just step through the mirror," Harry said tentatively. He gingerly stuck his left hand into the mirror and it passed through as if the glass were water.
"Now we just need to figure out how to make this guy move," Hermione said as the two newlyweds perched on what was obviously the top stair of a moving spiral staircase.
Harry scrutinized the statue through his eyepiece until he noticed that the ear seemed to be a slightly different 'color' of magical aura. He pulled down on it and was rewarded by a slight rumbling noise of stone on stone movement. Hermione turned and put her back against his as they descended with wands at the ready for whatever they might encounter.
"Now this is more like a dark wizard's lair," Harry said softly as the staircase lurched to a halt. Harry thought idly that it was really less of a staircase and more of a strange elevator since one couldn't actually walk back to the top on a set of stairs, but he supposed it didn't really matter.
"I'll say," Hermione whispered back. "We'd better be careful of dangerous creatures. Anything could have moved in even in the short time since the dementors began guarding this place."
"I don't know," Harry replied as he continued to sweep the area with his eyepiece. "Voldemort seems to have kept the walls sealed tightly against the outside so corporeal creatures would have a hard time getting in here."
"Or getting out of here," Hermione said in a chilled voice as they entered the first room off of the main hallway. The room was filled with several rows of what appeared to be glass cages. Each cage had complex labels and tombs the size of muggle phone books sitting in front of them. Inside the cages were a variety of bizarre creatures that Hermione had never even dreamt of before.
"What was he doing?" Harry whispered as they moved carefully through the isles. They stopped in front of a small cage that contained a midnight black animal with a body roughly the size of a large cat, but with legs that were several times too long and triple jointed. The beast had three oversized claws on each spindly leg that appeared to be suited for digging.
"How are they still alive?" Hermione asked. It had been long enough that starvation should have killed most animals.
"Some of them aren't," Harry replied as he pointed out the rotting carcass slumped in the middle of a nearby cage. Some cages only had a pile of skeletal remains left.
The young couple flinched as the cat monster hissed and bared vampire-like fangs at them. Hermione picked up the tomb sitting in front of the cage and flipped through it.
"A lot of this is in some kind of code," she commented. "It looks like technical specifications for the thing's creation and maybe some observational details."
"Let's gather up some of these books and go," Harry said. "We need to find out what these things can do before we decide what to do with them."
"I suspect they'll all need to be destroyed," Hermione said, but she agreed with Harry's sentiment. Magic and especially magical creatures are too unpredictable to make uninformed action safe.
"The world certainly doesn't need a bloody werecat unleashed on it," Harry said as they closed the door behind them. Hermione quickly drew a fatal seal on the door to hopefully keep anything from getting in or out.
"This place doesn't look much more inviting," Harry commented when they entered what appeared to be an improvised workshop and potions lab. Strange looking devices, many of which were in pieces, were scattered around on the worktables. They were immediately drawn to a huge coffin shaped crystal box that was set up in the middle of the room. Various pieces of parchment were stuck to its surface, which was entirely smooth except for a small raised platform that had three circular indentations in it. Inside the indentations were two blue needles that pointed to different notches imbedded into the surface of the circular spaces. There were twenty-four notches in the first circle, sixty in the second, and sixty in the third.
"This is probably some kind of time measuring device?" Harry speculated.
"That seems the most logical explanation," Hermione agreed. "But what would Voldemort need with a big crystal box with a timer on it. Is something supposed to go inside it?"
"How would you put something in it?" Harry asked. There didn't appear to be an opening.
"Something looks funny," Hermione mused as she scrutinized the object with her eyepiece. "There seems to be a lot of magical energy inside it already."
"Yeah," Harry muttered as he looked closer. Through the eyepiece he could see a small maelstrom of magical energies swirling within the narrow confines of the crystal coffin. Hermione meanwhile continued to look through the notes, some of which were hastily scribbled and not yet put into any code.
"My gosh…" Hermione whispered. "Harry, remember when we made invisibility cloaks during sixth year?"
"Yeah, why?" Harry replied in a confused tone.
"Remember the ones we messed up on, the unstable ones," she continued.
"Er, yeah, what about them?" Harry said.
"This is just like those, only much, much worse," Hermione said. "This is some kind of failed conjuring decompression bomb."
"Bomb!?" Harry exclaimed. "How is that even possible?"
"Well," Hermione began expertly, "A normal conjuring usually fades away after it depletes the magic that sustains it. A permanent conjuring is self-perpetuating so for all intents and purposes it's 'real' as most people understand the concept. Somewhere in between those two extremes is an unstable permanent conjuring. It has the intense magical energies necessary to be self-sustaining, but is otherwise unstable or flawed. All that energy decompresses violently sometimes instead of fading away like a normal temporary conjuring. Voldemort has found a way to trap the energies of those unstable conjures, add them together, and store them for one huge release."
"How big of a release?" Harry asked, now thoroughly concerned.
"Big enough to level everything for several hundred meters around this house," Hermione replied solemnly.
"It's a good thing we stopped him when we did," Harry said grimly. "Who knows what he would have done with something like this."
"I don't think he planned to use it against anyone," Hermione said. "At least not this particular device."
"Huh?" Harry said uncomprehendingly.
"According to these notes the energy storage potential of this thing is far more than it currently holds," Hermione said. "After seeing the creatures in those cages I bet this was some sort of self-destruct to destroy the contents of that lab in case something got loose. Even Voldemort wouldn't have wanted to rule a world filled with uncontrollable magical monsters."
"I guess that makes sense," Harry said. "Still, we should probably think about moving it out of here."
"After we destroy that lab," Hermione reminded. "If something gets loose I want us to keep the option of sterilizing this whole area."
Hermione resumed eagerly flipping through the notes until Harry stopped her. As much as he enjoyed the gleam in her eyes and the bounce of her hair as she engrossed herself in an intellectual pursuit he knew that they needed to hurry up with their sweep of the dungeon. The danger posed by Voldemort's activities was still being determined, but he already knew that it was greater than even he had imagined.
"Looks like just a few more rooms," Hermione said as she adjusted her eyepiece.
"And one big room," Harry said as he pointed his wand at it. A quick flick of his wrist and the large double doors on the main chamber opened with a gust of air and an unimaginably foul odor.
"What was that?" Hermione asked after they both finished throwing up violently from the stench that had blasted out of the room.
"There's only one way to find out," Harry said reluctantly. Hermione nodded and they both cast bubble head charms to preserve a fresh air supply. Harry opened the doors again, but this time no blast of air rushed out of them.
"How horrible," Hermione said softly as they went into the circular room. Torches had flared up magically in reaction to their presence and the grisly contents of the chamber were brightly lit for the two to see.
All around the room half rotted corpses of people were chained shoulder to shoulder. In the center of the room was a symbol that Hermione remembered all too well. It was the soul draining seal that Voldemort tried to use on Harry.
"This is where he brought muggles after they had been treated with the magical enhancing potion to drain them of their lives and powers," Harry said unnecessarily.
Hermione approached one of the least deteriorated bodies and began subjecting it to a variety of exploratory spells. Harry felt his nausea returning and looked away from the ghastly sight. It was one thing to see people dying in battle, but quite another to be surrounded by half decayed bodies. Despite the bubble head charm Harry's memory was providing the smell to accompany the awful sight.
"As near as I can tell they all died just before the attack on Hogwarts," Hermione said finally. "That's pretty much what I expected."
"What should we do with them?" Harry asked. "I can't imagine that we could ever find their relatives."
"No, probably not," Hermione agreed. She began worrying her lower lip like she often did when in thought. "If we turned them over to the muggle authorities it would create too much of a stir. The Ministry would likely end up having to modify memories to smooth things back over."
"Well, we can't just leave them hanging here," Harry said.
"Of course not," Hermione replied. "I suppose we can transfigure them into bones so they'll be easy to transport and then bury them."
"Bloody creepy," Harry muttered as he began transfiguring. He soon realized that he had underestimated the number of people who had died in this single ritual as he worked his way around the room.
"How many did you do?" Hermione asked when they met in the middle.
"Thirty-seven," Harry replied soberly.
"Forty-one here," Hermione said. She flicked her wand and the bones all stacked neatly in the center of the room. Another flick and several black wires wrapped themselves around the bundle.
Harry levitated the bundle and walked slowly back to the spiral stone stairway where they had made their entrance. He supposed that he could apparate, but they were in no hurry and honestly he didn't want to use magic for every little thing like the Weasley twins were apt to do. The feel of Hermione's hands wrapped around his arm as they walked was plenty of incentive too.
"I'm glad to be out of there," Harry said as the sound of stone grinding to a halt could be heard once they were back above ground.
"Yeah, me too," Hermione said. She wrapped her arms around herself as if she were cold. Harry draped his left arm around her shoulders and gestured with his wand for the bundle of bones to drift ahead of their slow pace.
"Where should we bury these?" Harry asked once they stepped outside into the oncoming evening.
"Right in front of the house for anyone who wants to see," Hermione said determinedly. She waved her wand to create a shallow hole big enough for the bundle and then followed up with a large tombstone.
'Here Lies Seventy-Eight Unknown Muggles Slain In This Place By The Dark Lord Known As Voldemort'
Harry could tell that the entire affair had created a great deal of melancholy in Hermione because he felt the same sadness within himself. Everything was a constant reminder of how much harm Voldemort had done to so many different people.
"I think its time we unpack and start fixing some food," Harry said as he gently steered Hermione back inside.
"Um, what do you want to eat?" she asked. "I'm not much of a cook."
"Then it's lucky for us that I am," Harry said jokingly. "I thought we could fix some thick stew that we can leave sitting over the fire for days at a time. That way we'll have something easy to eat if someone who shall remain unnamed gets caught up in her work."
Hermione smiled warmly. "Okay, but I am not eating stew for every meal."
"We can always fix something else," Harry said. "I've got some preservation charms that will keep it good for a long time."
Hermione nodded and Harry looked away distractedly. He didn't say it out loud, but Molly had showed him many of her cooking techniques. Her name had the same effect on them that Hagrid's did, but Hermione was the one who always flinched the most. Even when they had gone to Molly right after Arthur's death Hermione had been unable to look her in the eye or even do much to comfort her. Harry knew that Hermione had felt Ginny's death very sharply, but the guilt she felt whenever she was around Molly was almost unbearable. Even though Harry knew that there was nothing Hermione could have done to save the red headed girl and even though Hermione knew that too, intellectually, it didn't stop her heart from wrenching itself out every time she thought about the Weasley matron.
"Plus," Harry continued. "It's only fair that I get to teach you something for a change. After all, I've practically been your apprentice now for years."
Hermione made a slight humming noise in the back of her throat. "Flattery, Mr. Potter," she said suggestively.
"Yes, Mrs. Potter?" Harry bantered back as pleasant thoughts began to push the weight of past sadness out of their minds.
"Mrs. Potter," Hermione repeated thoughtfully. "You know, I really like the sound of that, especially if your cooking talents are as good as advertised."
"Well, here's the place where we'll find out," Harry said. Hermione flitted into the kitchen area and began rummaging about for cooking implements, but her walk suggested something even tastier than food.
"What are you standing around for," Hermione said to shake Harry out of his thoughts. "I'm starting to get hungry."
Harry grinned at her and got to work. The things that they had brought with them were all in self contained preservation charms of several different varieties. Wizards had used magic to keep food fresh for many centuries, but it was only after muggles invented refrigeration that anyone thought to modify a freezing spell to create a magical icebox. Harry was sometimes surprised by how backward wizard society was when it came to innovative thinking. Even when muggle technology, like cars for example, was adopted it was always via modification, not through the outright creation of a magical equivalent.
"That wasn't so difficult," Hermione remarked once the finished stew was simmering over the open hearth fire pit that was situated in the middle of the kitchen. Clearly Voldemort had modified the mansion, which was originally built by muggles, to be more suitable to elves and wizards. At least Harry wasn't aware of any muggles who would have an open pit fire place in their kitchen.
"So what do you think of this house as a place to live?" Harry asked.
"Ah, its okay I guess," Hermione replied. "A bit too much extravagance for my tastes though. I'm always afraid of accidentally destroying some delicate fixture. I think I prefer Grimmauld Place to something like this."
"Grimmauld Place has become very comfortable hasn't it?" Harry said in agreement.
"I know I like it a lot more than I did before Dobby gave it a cleaning worthy of an elf," Hermione said. She didn't like elf slavery anymore than she ever had, but she readily admitted that the creatures were unparalleled at their jobs. "I'm not sure when it went from being a creepy old mansion where the Order held meetings to our home."
Harry wrapped an arm around her as they stared into the cooking fire. "My home is where ever you are."
"Yeah," Hermione said softly. "Where ever we are."
Harry felt her squeeze him lightly as she wrapped her arm around him too. He felt his insides glow with warm emotion as he stood there next to her. "Do you think it's ready?" he asked in a light tone of voice.
"You're the master chef," Hermione quipped. Harry lifted the lid and scooped out a moderate portion into two bowls Hermione provided from somewhere. Even though they were pretty hungry neither of them was much in the mood to eat with the memories of Voldemort's sacrifice chamber fresh on their minds.
The long dining room table made it impossible for them to sit across from each other comfortably so rather than conjure a new table they silently decided to eat side by side. Harry felt his emotions run a strange range as his thoughts jumped from one thing to the next. On the one hand he had just waded through mounds of death and dark experiments. On the other he was sitting next to the love of his life and it was supposed to be their wedding night. He could tell Hermione was feeling much like himself without even consulting their bond. Harry knew that she often covered her emotions with some kind of intellectual pursuit and on this night she was obsessing on the details of one experiment after another.
"I'll clean up," Harry said when he saw Hermione was about finished.
"Honestly," Hermione said jokingly. "Are you a wizard or not? I know how to enchant a set of scrubbers to handle dirty dishes if we don't want to just banish the leftovers outright."
The magical community differed over which method was preferable. Some thought that a good scouring charm could remove all traces of whatever one sought to get rid of, but others believed that banishing magic only got rid of the macro particles. In other words a dish cleaned magically might retain harmful bacteria, though until muggle science revealed the nature of bacteria no one had ever considered the issue in those terms. In any event animated brushes and boiling water were just as easy to use as a scouring charm so those who worried about clingy germs still weren't put out with extra work.
"I'm used to doing it the Dursley way," Harry replied with a laugh. The Dursley's were probably missing the magical lifestyle and all the free elf cooked food that came with it, especially since they no longer had Harry to serve as a maid. Even though the Dursley's had, in their own awkward way, attempted to reconcile with Harry after he saved them from a Death Eater attack on Grimmauld Place they were still not very comfortable around anything magical.
"Well, while you're doing things the magical way," Hermione teased. "Why don't you apparate back down to the zoo and grab some of the notes that were sitting out in front of the empty cages. I meant to pick them up on our way back, but I forgot. You can meet me in the room we picked out."
Harry nodded and with a ruffle of his muggle clothes he vanished away in silent apparation. With a Fidelius Charm in place on the old mansion they felt pretty safe about leaving the anti-apparation and portkey inhibition wards disabled. As soon as Harry arrived several of the animals started screeching angrily at him for disturbing them. They had dubbed the place the "zoo" for obvious reasons, but Harry found himself oddly reminded of the time he got to go out to look at creatures on Dudley's birthday right before he found out about his magical heritage. Of course there were no friendly snakes to talk to this time.
"Poor buggers," Harry said under his breath as he rustled through the documents sitting in front of the cages with dead animals. The bones looked like small woodland animals, but Harry could only imagine what they must have been like when they were alive.
The notes were of course in code and labeled with strange symbols. In fact all of the shared a common symbol that looked disturbingly similar to a depiction of the Sorcerer's Stone that Hermione had pointed out to him in a book once. They also shared a sketch of a nasty looking claw that was rendered entirely in dotted lines. Harry finished picking up all the various notes and then counted the number of empty cages again to make sure he hadn't missed any. He counted twice when the number came up one greater than they had counted earlier, but decided that they must have just made a mistake. The bones in each cage had all appeared to be relatively old.
"This is how you must feel," Harry said lightly when he apparated into the room Hermione had picked out for them to stay in while conducting their investigation. It was a smaller room probably meant for guests, but still decorated with expensive artifacts that one could only purchase from the finest magical vendors. "I think there are a thousand pages of notes here."
"That's probably how I usually look too," Hermione said smoothly as she emerged from the bathroom attached to the side of the main chamber. Harry tried to stutter out a response, but all he could do was gape at her like it was the fourth year ball all over again. She had obviously just washed her hair and she was wearing a long one piece white nightgown that was just form fitting enough to achieve tasteful elegant beauty.
"Don't just stand there," Hermione said, her eyes glinting happily as she lifted the stack of papers out of Harry's hands, "Go wash up while I take a look at these. No arguing, I know how bad I was after crawling around Voldemort's dungeon and if you'll recall I let you do some of the dirtiest work."
"Fine," Harry pouted, but it was just for form's sake. The amount of decay they had waded through would qualify a muggle for a week in decontamination. Fortunately their magical genes would resist virtually any known muggle disease that could otherwise be a problem.
"These notes are mostly in code too," Hermione's voice drifted in through the open door as Harry scrubbed himself down. "Some of it is handwritten thought and they seem to have gotten sloppy in a few places. It mentions something about the experiments having a reaction to transfigurations."
"Why would Voldemort want a creature that reacts to transfiguration?" Harry asked. "I can't imagine it would be too useful in combat."
"Conjuring is somewhat like an advanced transfiguration," Hermione said as she began to speculate. "I suppose having something that would attack a conjurer might be a useful distraction. Most of our easiest power spells involve high ended conjuring after all."
"Voldemort was into a lot of stuff that doesn't really make sense considering what his aims where," Harry said. "It's almost like he had another agenda that we never got to see."
"It's possible," Hermione said. "He would've needed some way to occupy his time had he achieved immortality."
Harry put on his pajamas and rejoined Hermione in the main part of the bedroom. "Did you notice this?" Harry asked. He flipped through a few pages and pointed to the two symbols that he had seen earlier.
"That's the Sorcerer's Stone," Hermione breathed.
"That's what I thought," Harry said. He leaned over and swung Hermione's feet into his lap where he could give them a gentle massage.
"Oh," Hermione said gratefully, "I wish I knew how to translate this ridiculous code."
"So do I," Harry said, "But don't you think we've done enough for one day?"
"Just a second Harry," Hermione said distractedly as she compared two different pieces of parchment as if they might just translate themselves for her.
"Hermione," Harry said softly, "We've got all the time in the world. Whatever Voldemort was doing he can't use it now."
"Oh, you're right Harry," Hermione said. She continued in a coy tone. "I just get so distracted. Now what were we going to do?"
She soon remembered what they were going to do as they explored an entirely new sort of magic.