Chapter 11: Repercussions and the First Task
Headmaster's Office, Hogwarts
0930 01 November 1994
"Absolutely not! Neville will not be participating in this tournament of yours."
"Mrs. Tonks, I don't think you understand…"
Her fury stoked even higher by the Headmaster's condescension, she leaned over his desk and spat, "No, you don't understand. What part of 'No' was unclear?"
Dumbledore sighed. This was why the organizing committee had insisted all contestants be of age. They hadn't foreseen an underage student finding a way around their defences or being forcibly entered by a third party. Once the furore had died down, Albus had been concerned that the student body would turn on young Neville. Sadly, no one had thought him capable of bypassing the Goblet's defences to enter him into the tournament. Most thought it a prank of particularly bad taste.
"Unfortunately, the Goblet was created in a time when there was no 'age of majority'. If a person was able to use magic, they were able to participate in the TriWizard tournament. If he does not compete, he will be stripped of his magic."
Andromeda's fear for her new son stoked the fires of her fury so that she was incandescent with rage, "If he get's hurt, Albus Dumbledore, I'll bring the entire weight of my family upon you. I've been reinstated to the Black family and am on good terms with my head of house." She got right into the old man's face, "I will kill you if my son is hurt."
Dumbledore blinked at the use of the word, 'son' by Andromeda. Recollecting the events of the summer he remembered that the Tonks' had been granted custody of young Neville. Obviously, Andromeda was very attached to her charge.
Glaring at the old man, Andromeda demanded, "Now, define, 'compete'."
Potter Quarters, Hogwarts
1030 01 November 1994
"Oh, hell no!" Harry objected.
Minerva raised her hands in a shushing motion. "I'm not advising you to talk to the Unspeakables, they've merely requested a meeting with the two of you."
"Can they compel us to cooperate with them?" Hermione asked.
"Legally? Cooperate? Probably not. Meet with them, most likely."
When Harry scowled again, Filius piped up, "They won't compel you, though."
Hermione paused, thinking hard. Her face quickly cleared and she nodded to Filius in concurrence. Harry rolled his eyes in annoyance, "For the stupid among us, please explain."
Hermione stood and moved to her upset husband. As she rubbed his back, she explained, "The Unspeakables may know very little about Elementals, but I'm sure they know that we're only gifted these powers in times of necessity. They don't want to piss us off. We're needed and they know it."
Calming, Harry asked, "Ok, good point. How do we use this to our advantage?"
"That's the question, isn't it? Maybe we meet with a few of the Unspeakables here and see what they want. I, personally, am unwilling to be a lab rat," Hermione stated.
"Me, either," Harry added, his scowl still in place.
Filius and Minerva exchanged a look known to educators worldwide when dealing with recalcitrant students. After a long-suffering sigh, Minerva replied, "I'll set up the meeting."
Filius cleared his throat, "About Mr. Longbottom…"
"Nymphadora is meeting with him daily now for defence lessons. We're going to start up with him on weapons training soon," Harry said in an offhand manner. "We'll help him as best we can."
Annoyed at being interrupted, Filius glared at Harry. Refocusing, Harry saw the irritated expression of his mentor and smiled sheepishly, "Sorry."
"Quite. As I was saying, Mr. Longbottom's first task is most suited for you two to assist him."
Harry sat next to his wife when she asked, "How so?"
Filius and Minerva exchanged a smile, "It has to do with dragons."
Harry looked to his grinning wife and laughed in delight.
Great Hall, Hogwarts
1200 01 November 1994
"Hey Longbottom, how does it feel to be the laughingstock of the entire European magical world?" Draco Malfoy taunted. "It's pretty pathetic that no one even considered that you may have entered yourself. We all assume it's a sick joke." The blond boy's eyes narrowed in malice, "You're a pathetic joke of a pureblood, you fucking squib."
Neville took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Nymphadora had entreated him to ignore the taunts in the belief that they would fade away if he didn't respond.
Unfortunately, Malfoy's taunts hit every fear Neville had ever had about his own magical ability. His new wand had helped him enormously with spellcasting, but his confidence was still low after so many years of his Grandmother's unintentional degrading comparisons.
As Neville let the deep breath out slowly, Malfoy taunted again, "Look, the squib is too afraid to even say 'boo'! Eh?"
A tap on his shoulder interrupted the Malfoy scion. Turning, he found petite, redheaded Susan Bones standing there, her face thunderous.
"What do you…?"
He never finished the sentence as the right fist of demure Susan Bones impacted his pureblood nose, causing pureblood blood to gush forth. When the left fist of the shy, retiring Bones heiress connected with the noble jaw of the Malfoy scion, said scion was rendered insensible as he fell to the floor.
"You're the pathetic excuse for a wizard you git! Stay away from my Neville!"
"Miss Bones!" Professor Sprout thundered. She'd just entered the Great Hall, the first professor to arrive for lunch. "Despite Mister Malfoy's egregious behaviour, yours was completely unacceptable! Twenty-five points from Hufflepuff and a detention this evening with me!"
Looking at her feet with a mulish expression, Susan replied, "Yes, ma'am." Even Sprout could tell that Susan was unrepentant. With a knowing nod, the Hufflepuff head of house followed Crabbe and Goyle as they dragged their leader to the Infirmary. Slytherin house was about to lose a good deal more than twenty-five points.
Turning to the Gryffindor table, Susan saw most of the seated students staring at her with glee. She glared at them causing many to look away quickly. The Weasley twins, she noticed, gave her a nod of respectful approval before returning to their meal.
Gathering her courage, she looked to Neville. He was watching her with unabashed awe. "Can I sit here?" she asked as she indicated to the empty spot next to the Longbottom of Longbottom.
"Please, do," Neville answered as he scooted over on the bench to give her more room.
After sitting down and gathering her meal from the platters, she hazarded a look at her dining companion. Neville looked thoroughly miserable as he stared at his plate.
"What's wrong, Neville?" she asked softly.
He half shrugged in response but said nothing.
Rolling her eyes, she poked him in the shoulder and jokingly said, "Don't make me punch you too. What's wrong?"
With a defeated sigh, he began, "Thank you. You stood up for me when no one else did." He said it loud enough for Susan to hear, but the Lions sitting nearby also heard it and flinched in shame.
Ignoring those around them, Susan gently wrapped her hand around Neville's upper arm, "You're my friend."
He nodded slowly in response, but was still silent. Making a decision, she wrapped her sandwich in a napkin and tugged his sleeve, "C'mon. We're going out to enjoy the last nice day before winter really sets in."
Mechanically, he followed her out of the castle to the lawn. They settled under a spreading oak, leaning on the trunk. Susan got a small thrill when her shoulder pressed up to Neville's. They were almost cuddling.
"Neville, you're the sweetest boy I've ever met. I punched out that foul git because I knew you were too noble to deal with him as he deserved."
"Too scared, you mean," he whispered.
Finally realizing Neville's problem, she rounded on him. "You listen to me Neville Longbottom." Her pointing finger caused Neville to half smile, "You're extremely brave! Who stood up to Harry and Hermione first year?" She paused, waiting for him to answer.
"Right. Who stood up to Malfoy on the train?"
"Who escaped from that demon over the summer?
"Right, don't tell me you aren't brave because those are just the three instances that come to mind."
Looking at the ground, he murmured, "But I get so scared."
Wrapping him in a hug, she whispered in his ear, "But you still do it. It's Ok to be afraid. Courage is acting in the face of fear, not the absence of fear."
Neville nodded and caressed her arm as she hugged him. "Thanks."
With a last squeeze, she answered, "Not a problem."
Turning, they saw Nymphadora standing there. "I'm sorry to be interrupting such a sweet, tender moment, but it's time for Neville's extra tutoring."
Neville and Susan both nodded and got to their feet. "Go ahead, Nev. I'll catch you up in a minute," Nymphadora told her adopted brother.
After Neville had left the immediate area, a grinning Nymphadora turned to the now nervous Susan Bones, "So he's your Neville now?"
Susan blushed as only a redhead can under the teasing of Nymphadora Tonks.
Headmaster's Office, Hogwarts
1000 02 November 1994
"Harry, Hermione, I'd like to discuss with you the display you put on for us all on Halloween evening." Dumbledore had summoned them to his office after breakfast. As usual, Minerva and Filius had accompanied them to the Headmaster's eyrie.
Harry rolled his eyes as Hermione huffed. "We did not put on a 'display' as you call it, Albus. We defended ourselves and your students from an implacable, vicious and deadly being." Hermione's eyes narrowed as she finished, "And our abilities are none of your business."
Not put off, Dumbledore twinkled at them with a half smile behind his ridiculous beard. "Now, now, your elemental powers are nothing of which to be ashamed."
With an exasperated expression, Harry looked to Filius and asked, "Is she speaking English?" as he jabbed his thumb at Hermione. "because he does obviously not understand my wife." Filius shrugged in response.
"We are not discussing our abilities with you, Albus. Is there anything else?" Hermione, at least, was keeping her temper under control.
Annoyed, Dumbledore made a serious mistake. He reached out to with his Legilimency, trying to probe Hermione's mind.
Her eyes flared red as she felt the subtle touch on her mind. "Bastard!" she hissed. Despite joining the Acies rune, Hermione had been afraid that Dumbledore would be able to influence her via mind magics. Dumbledore's attempt to separate her from Harry via Fawkes implanted a deep fear that she would lose Harry. She felt that her worst nightmare was about to come true as the feather light touch of the Headmaster's Legilimency probed her mind shields. She had no doubt that the Headmaster would insert a compulsion that would force her to leave Harry.
In fury, Hermione lashed out with her element, causing Dumbledore's robes began to smoke. Instantly grasping the situation, Minerva barked, "Hermione! Stop!"
Harry wrapped his wife in his arms, whispering to her in an attempt to calm her. "Legilimency?" he asked.
"Yes," she hissed as she glared at the now perturbed Headmaster.
Now Harry's eyes flashed and a rumble of thunder echoed in the room. He and Hermione had discussed the old man's behaviour on many an occasion, Harry's fears were similar to Hermione's.
"Leave, now," Filius commanded the apprentices, hoping to forestall a lethal confrontation.
After one last glare at the Headmaster, Harry and Hermione quickly left the office, the door incinerating as they reached it. The Elementals strode through the burning frame without a pause.
Minerva and Filius watched their students leave. Once they heard the gargoyle at the bottom of the steps close, the brother and sister rounded on the Headmaster with a vehemence that he'd never expected from them.
"You fool!" Minerva barked at her superior.
Taken even further aback, Dumbledore merely blinked at her.
"They could and probably should destroy you with a thought, yet you attempt to attack their minds? You stupid bastard." Minerva shook with fury at Dumbledore's arrogance. "I've saved your life tonight, Albus. You were about to be incinerated, you do realize that, don't you?"
Dumbledore nodded weakly. It was now crystal clear to him that his plans, manipulations and schemes were for naught. Harry Potter was far from biddable and very far from trusting him. Weeks later, Dumbledore would come to the startling conclusion that the Potters probably considered him an enemy. He never found out. The Potters never spoke to him again.
Bird and Bush Pub, London
1830 03 November 1994
"Me, too. I think I'm actually starving and exhausted, though."
Hermione chuckled at her husband as they slid into a booth. She rubbed his leg under the table and smiled. They were still newlywed enough that they occupied the same side of a booth, rather than to sit across the table from each other. Deciding on comfort food, Harry hopped over to the publican and ordered bangers and mash for him and fish and chips for her.
Meandering back to their table, Harry balanced a stout for himself and a Budweiser for his wife. Sliding in next to her, he groused, "I don't understand why you drink that shite."
Elbowing him in the ribs, she reproved, "Language. I like the flavour. True, it's a bit tasteless, but I don't fancy the strong flavour brews." She nodded at his Guinness as he sipped.
He smacked his lips and leaned back, putting his arm around her as he did so. They'd been shopping all day. Hermione had a few things she wanted to pick up, so Minerva and Filius had pushed them out the front gates of the castle.
"I think, they wanted us gone so we didn't kill Dumbledore."
She nodded in agreement. "He did so much good for the world, yet…"
He nodded in understanding her disappointment of the Headmaster. "Yeah."
"May we join you?
Looking up, the Potters saw a youngish couple standing in front of them. She was a strikingly handsome brunette in her mid twenties. Of middling height, she carried herself like the Queen. Yet, her eyes were warm and inviting. Wearing a casual blue floral patterned dress, she smiled in greeting.
He was prototypically Gallic. His sandy-brown hair crowned his strong features and his lean body. Not especially handsome, he had a gravity about him that neither Harry nor Hermione could pinpoint. He had asked the question and lifted his brow in query.
Always polite, Hermione responded, "Of course. I'm Hermione Potter, this is my husband, Harry."
Harry extended his hand to the gentleman, "How do you do?"
The man returned Harry's handshake, allowing his wife to slide into the booth before him. Harry was a bit perturbed that neither of their visitors had introduced themselves. For a quick moment, he had visions of Death Eaters and Voldemort attacking them, but brushed the ideas off. Just in case, though, he reached out with his power and harnessed the air in the room for a rapid strike, should it be necessary.
"That won't be necessary, Harry," the woman declared softly. "We are here to help you, not assault you."
She had a beautifully melodious voice, with a hint of an accent.
Slightly put out and more than a little on her guard, Hermione asked, "Is that so? Then I'm sure that you wouldn't mind introducing yourselves?"
"Surely," he answered. "But I feel as if we know you two already." Half turning to his wife the man said, "I am Nicolas Flamel. This lovely woman is my eternal bride, Perenelle."
"Oh, shite," Harry mumbled.
The Flamels chuckled at Harry's swear and Hermione's gobsmacked expression. "And before you ask, yes we really are them and no, we never gave Albus our Stone a few years back."
Quickly regaining control of herself, Hermione subtly cast a Privacy charm before she asked, "Would you mind terribly, if you explained what did happen then?"
Nicolas leaned back as the barman brought the Potters their food and retrieved another stout for the master alchemist and a bitter for his wife. Once everyone settled in, Nicolas began to weave his story.
"I was a bit perturbed when Albus wrote to tell us that Voldemort was on the move and looking for the Stone. He was quite insistent that if we retained possession of the Stone then Voldemort would be able to obtain it." Amending his statement, he added, "I was perturbed that Albus was asking for the Stone, not that Voldemort was seeking it."
Perenelle rolled her eyes in derision. "We've kept it safe for two thirds of a millennium through greater dark lords and more dramatic upheavals then Albus could ever dream. We seriously doubt that Voldemort could ever touch it or us."
Nicolas smiled, "Perenelle is fairly knowledgeable in wards and defences."
She smiled at her husband while placing an affectionate hand on his arm.
Hermione sighed and unconsciously melded herself to Harry's side. With fortune favouring them, she and Harry could last as long as or longer than the Flamels. She hoped that in six hundred and fifty years, she and Harry would be as in love as the couple across from them.
"Yes, well. Needless to say we have no intention of ever allowing anyone access to the Stone." Harry nodded while Nicolas continued. "You two are in a different situation entirely. Your immortality is completely independent of the world around us. You have a freedom that we lack."
Hermione had a host of questions that bubbled up from within that she tabled. Now was not the time to engage in a deep discussion of the technical aspects of alchemy. Nonetheless, she asked, "Do you think it would be possible for us to have a bit of chat later about your work?"
Harry started laughing, while Perenelle smiled. Nicolas nodded seriously, "Your reputation precedes you, Mrs. Potter. I will make the time to have a discussion of what will no doubt be of great moment."
A bit confused by the statement, Hermione merely replied, "Thank you, sir. Please, call me Hermione."
Perenelle took over the recounting. "We conjured a stone that in all appearances is exactly the same as our Stone. Of course, it could not be used for the creation of the Elixir or the transmutation of lead." She paused while a contemplative expression passed over her features. "We considered having the stone create a poison to see if Albus was employing a clumsy ruse to obtain the Stone. In the end, we chose not to do so. If he was false, the counterfeit stone was enough."
Harry was shaking his head, "So the stone that we risked our lives over was a fake?"
"Yes. I'm sorry that it was so, but we had no idea that Albus would use it as bait in his school. Most irresponsible, if you ask me." Perenelle narrowed her eyes in disapproval.
Harry's face went slack as he sat back in his seat. Pushing his mostly empty plate away from him, he sat staring into the mid-distance.
Hermione was well versed in recognizing her husband's expressions and this was one she hadn't seen often. Harry was furious. Rubbing his arm gently, she semi-apologized to the Flamels. "You'll have to excuse our reaction; Albus has very recently exposed himself as an antagonist of ours as opposed to a protagonist."
At Nicolas' questioning expression, Hermione explained about their seclusion in Tir na nOg, the attempted portkey kidnapping, their suppositions about Sirius' incarceration and the attempted use of Legilimancy by the Headmaster a few days before. By the end, the Flamels were indignant while Harry had finally calmed.
"As you can probably tell, we aren't big fans of the Headmaster at this point in time," Hermione finished with a flourish.
They drained their drinks and paused until the men returned with refills. Sipping his stout, Harry asked, "I don't mean to be rude, but why are you here?"
"We are here to help you two," Perenelle responded.
Frowning a bit, Harry continued, "With…?"
"Your task." When Hermione regarded Nicolas warily, he smiled, "We have many…friends…in your Department of Mysteries. We are aware of the existence of a certain prophecy."
Harry and Hermione both nodded their understanding. "We did not believe that Albus would be of much use to you because of our experience regarding our Stone. We felt that we could offer you our assistance and fill the role that he ought to fill."
"Thank you very much for your offer, but," Hermione paused as she reached for the right words, "Why now? And how did you know of our…abilities?" She reasoned that if the Flamels knew she and Harry were immortal, they also knew they were Elementals.
Nicolas' face hardened, "That is a discussion for a different venue. Even your excellent Privacy charm isn't good enough for that discussion."
Harry stared at Nicolas for a long moment, evaluating the truthfulness of the couple across from him. Since returning from the undying lands, he'd become much more wary of trusting strangers. One would think that growing up in the Dursley household, he wouldn't trust anyone.
The witch at his side had shown him that he could trust and not be hurt by it. At the same time, Dumbledore had shown him that trust had to be earned by behaviour, not reputation.
Making a decision, he turned to Hermione for her input. Knowing what he wanted, she gave him a short nod.
"Fair enough," Harry replied. "Let's get down to brass tacks then, shall we?"
Conference Room Ministry of Magic
1400 10 November 1995
Harry, Hermione, Minerva and Filius entered the designated room at the designated time. Neither Potter was enthused about meeting with the Unspeakables and had made it abundantly clear to their mentors that they were attending this meeting under duress.
Three persons sat on one side of a long conference table. They were hooded and cloaked, making their identities, even their gender, unrecognizable.
Minerva and Filius moved to sit down, while Harry and Hermione continued to stand. Harry was glaring at the anonymously garbed Ministry workers while Hermione tried to calm him.
The Unspeakable in the middle, gestured to an open pair of chairs for the Potters to sit.
This set Harry off. "Bugger this!" and he spun on his heel to leave. He would have, too, if Hermione hadn't grabbed his hand.
His face tightened for a minute before he deflated. Nodding his head, he turned around to face the table. "If – and I do mean if – my wife and I choose to tell you three anything, it won't be to nameless and faceless people. You will be upfront with us if you want any information from us."
An obviously spell-modified voice spoke from all around the room, "We do not operate under your conditions."
Now it was an upset Hermione that spat, "And we don't operate under yours. You want us, we don't want you. We set the terms here."
The Unspeakable on the right held up their hand and quickly cast a Privacy charm. The three hooded figures consulted for a moment, the other two waving their hands in agitation. Finally, the seeming leader on the right cut off discussion with a jab of their hand then dispelled the charm.
After a few more wand flicks, the Unspeakable on the right drew back the cowl on his robes to reveal a lean faced middle aged man with salt and pepper hair. "Mr. and Mrs. Potter, how do you do? I'm George Foster, head of magical creature research here at the ministry."
Hermione's eyes narrowed as Harry's face reddened. "Magical creatures?" she spat.
Holding up his hands in a 'hold on' gesture, he asked, "Please don't lose your temper. We don't really have an official department or section that researches Elementals. I've made it a personal study for many years, which is why I volunteered to lead this effort."
Harry and Hermione held their peace – for now.
Turning to his right, Foster gestured to his compatriots, "With me are Stella Berry and George McGowan. They will be assisting me in these efforts." The other two Unspeakables hesitatingly drew back their cowls so that the Potters saw a dark haired young woman and a balding man in his thirties. The other Unspeakables merely nodded their greeting to the Potters. Neither Harry nor Hermione returned the nod.
"Why are we here?" asked Harry in a very hostile tone.
In a soothing voice, Foster explained, "Historically, next to nothing is known of Elementals. We do know they appear in times of great strife and are champions of the light opposing a dark lord or infestation of deadly dark creatures. They are paired in male/female couples and are invariably married. The elements that are wielded by the couple are usually paired as air and fire or water and earth."
Foster leaned back in his chair, "That is the sum total of our knowledge."
"Sounds good to me," announced Harry as he made to stand.
"Please," Foster enjoined. "Please help us understand better?"
Harry glared at the Ministry employee. Hermione tugged on his hand, so he sat. Turning to Foster, she explained, "You will ask questions that we will either answer or won't. Do not pester us on a topic we refuse to answer. The repercussions could be…"
"Unpleasant," Harry finished with a cold grin.
Stella Berry noticeably gulped while McGowan ran his hand across his now sweaty bald pate. Foster was impassive as he nodded agreement. He turned to his assistants and nodded.
McGowan withdrew a scroll from his robes and unrolled it. In a high reedy voice, he asked, "At what age did you first manifest your abilities?"
Harry and Hermione had many discussions regarding how much or how little to reveal about their status as Elementals. Early on, they had decided to reveal nothing about Tir na nOg or how to get there - by extension the whereabouts of Sirius and Remus were off-limits as well. Neither would they reveal the full extent of their powers. Harry quickly agreed with Hermione that she would answer any questions directed to them unless they were specifically to Harry.
"I was fourteen, Harry was thirteen," Hermione answered calmly.
"What were the circumstances that your abilities first manifested themselves?"
"We were under attack."
Here Foster interjected, "By whom?"
Harry glared at Foster who didn't flinch. Hermione tersely answered, "By the being who killed my husband's relatives, the Dowager Lady Longbottom and whom we subsequently destroyed on this past Halloween night."
Berry was monitoring a dictation quill, but she piped up, "How did you age so rapidly?"
"Next question," Harry snapped.
Berry's face contorted in an outraged scowl and moved to reprimand the Potters when Foster laid a quieting hand on her arm.
Hermione notice the byplay and said to Foster, "Make your questions count. You've got another forty three minutes before we leave and there won't be a follow up interview."
"Now see here!" McGowan cried. That was all he said, as he was Silenced by Foster.
"Next question," Harry emphasized.
Foster took the scroll and scanned the questions. Finding a suitable one, he asked, "What, exactly, can you control with your elements." Seeing the Potters scowling, he amended, "Or as exact as you wish to be."
Hermione gave a very brief outline of what she and Harry could control and do. She did not mention either Fawkes or Nemeas, though.
"Hmm," Foster mused. Looking up, he asked, "Do you know how you do this?"
The question took both Potters aback. Looking at each other they just shrugged. After a few moments of contemplation, Harry answered, "We just do. It's similar to walking. One doesn't think 'left leg forward, push with right', we just walk. It's the same way with the element. It's an extension of us."
All three Unspeakables stared. Finally, Berry squeaked, "There's no incantation?"
Both Potters shook their heads.
Foster smiled. "Thank you very much for you time, Mr. and Mrs. Potter."
Potter Quarters, Hogwarts
1335 17 November 1995
"The spell won't work if you aren't focusing on the object you're summoning, Neville."
"Hermione, I'm doing the best I can," the fourth year grumbled.
"You'll have to do better than this. If you don't…well, I'm sure Andromeda will have my guts for garters otherwise."
Neville pulled a face. Deciding to stop fighting her, he sighed. "Alright." Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the scroll of parchment on the desk.
"Build a picture in your mind of the scroll. The texture of the parchment, its colour, the shape of it as it curls about itself," Hermione whispered.
Without opening his eyes, Neville lifted his wand and incanted, "Accio scroll!"
He was surprised and stunned when the scroll of parchment bounced off his chest.
Hermione clapped in happiness, "Well done, Neville!"
"I did it."
She nodded and smiled broadly, "Yes, you did."
"I'm not going to die on the twenty fourth."
Rolling her eyes at his defeatist mentality, Hermione agreed, "No, you won't."
He continued practicing the charm and as he built confidence with successful casting of the charm, he didn't have to take as long to focus his attention on the target. An hour later, he was Summoning objects at will. He even caught about half of them.
"Time for a break," Hermione announced. "Tea?"
"Please. Two sugars."
Hermione moved to their kitchenette and whipped up a tea. A few minutes later, she and Neville were munching some tiny cakes that Harry was addicted to when Neville observed, "You and Harry haven't been eating in the Great Hall the last few weeks."
The Daughter of Fire's face clouded over, "True."
She sighed in annoyance. When she saw Neville flinch at her scowl, she reassured him, "Nothing you've done Neville. The Headmaster has been…" She paused as she reached for the right words.
"A pain in the arse?" Neville offered with a little smile.
Hermione gave a light laugh. "I guess that about sums it up."
They were both quiet for a time, lost in their thoughts. He roused himself, "I want to thank you again, Hermione. With the professors unable to assist me in preparation for the tasks, you've been a lifesaver."
She smiled, "It's not a problem, Neville. We're friends."
He nodded, a bit pensive. She was a beautiful, powerful woman in her early twenties, married to the Boy-Who-Lived. He considered himself to be a near squib who no one wanted to be around. Hermione didn't know it, but her gentle affirmation of their friendship, helped turn around Neville Longbottom's life.
Becoming part of the Tonks family was the beginning. He missed his Gran, but Andi, Ted and Dora had accepted and loved him from the beginning. It was something he'd never felt from his Gran. Harry, Hermione and even Fleur and Gabrielle were his friends.
Taking a deep breath for courage, he asked, "You're a girl. Could you help me with something?"
Hermione didn't know whether to be insulted or complimented. She chose to be complimented. "Sure. What's up?"
"Well, you see…I really like this girl…"
"Susan Bones, yes." Hermione interrupted with a smile.
Neville's panicked look caused Hermione to giggle. "Go on, Neville."
"Well…is it that obvious?" he asked, his eyes still bulging a bit.
She cocked her head to one side, "To me it is, but that's because I know you fairly well. I doubt many others know it."
"What about Susan? Do you think she knows?"
"Ah, now you are treading into mysterious waters," she replied laughingly. "You see, I think she likes you quite a bit. And Dora agrees with me. But you see, a teenage girl has as much self assurance as a teenage boy – which means absolutely none at all."
"Oh," he said, not really getting her point.
Hermione waved it off, "So, what's your dilemma?"
"Well, I wanted to ask her to the next Hogsmeade weekend."
"Ah. My advice," she offered lightly, "Is to be direct. Rip the bandage off, as it were. Go up to her and say, 'Susan, would you please let me accompany you to Hogsmeade on the twenty first?' No beating around the bush and all that."
Scrabbling for a bit of parchment and a quill, Neville asked, "Could you please repeat that?"
Reaching over and gently placing her hand on his shoulder, Hermione said, "Neville, just be yourself. That's what a girl likes in a boy. An honest, sincere, nice boy who will treat her right. You are that young man, so just be yourself. You've known Susan how long?"
"Right. Eleven years. So you know she won't laugh at you or scold you for asking her out. In fact, she punched Malfoy for you, didn't she?"
His face brightened perceptibly, "Yeah, she did, didn't she?"
"Just be yourself and ask her to go to Hogsmeade with you."
"I will. Thanks again, Hermione."
"It's not a problem at all. We're friends, after all."
Greenhouse #3, Hogwarts
0900 16 November 1995
Susan was walking up to the greenhouses a bit excited, to tell the truth. Herbology first thing on Mondays was the only class that Hufflepuff and Gryffindor shared this year. The only class where she got to see Neville.
She knew most people didn't think too highly of the Longbottom heir. Having known Neville for the last eleven years, though, she was very well informed and acquainted with his strengths and shortcomings.
He was incredibly brave, yet devastatingly unsure. He was sweet and sincere, but cripplingly shy. Unexpectedly bright, he, unfortunately, lacked surety to persevere when challenged. She thought him very handsome where he didn't. To tell the truth, she wanted to snog his brains out.
Blushing a bit as this last thought crossed her mind, she saw Neville and his new sister Dora coming down the lawn. This last weekend she'd been let into the secret of who Dora really was. It was a huge relief that Dora really was his pseudo-sister and six years older. For a while, she thought she might have some competition from the new girl.
"Hi, Susan," Neville greeted her with a smile. Dora shot Susan a wink as the metamorph headed into the greenhouse.
The small blush continued, "Hi, Neville. How was your training on Sunday with Hermione?"
"It went really well! She's a regular brainbox, but in a good way. Sometimes I don't really understand what Professor Flitwick or McGonagall are trying to say, but Hermione can lay it out real plain like for me."
"That's great," Susan replied happily. She knew he struggled and was delighted that Hermione was able to help him.
She started to head into the greenhouse when she felt a light tug on her sleeve. Turning, she saw Neville had grasped her sleeve. He was also beginning to blush. "Er, Susan?"
A bit bewildered, she replied, "Yes?"
"Er, would you like to go to Hogsmeade with me this weekend?"
Happily stunned, she gaped for a moment before asking in turn, "On a date?"
His face fell. Completely misreading her response he muttered, "No, I guess not…sorry." He began to push past her to get in the greenhouse.
Realizing her mistake, she grabbed Neville's arm as he began to walk by. Later she would think that she over did it a bit, but in the moment it was the only thing she could think to do. Turning him toward her, she dropped her satchel and kissed him.
A long minute later, she broke the kiss, blushing heavily.
"I guess that's a yes," a dazed Neville said.
She hooked her arm in his and together they went to Herbology.
Forbidden Forest, Hogwarts
2300 21 November 1995
Sarkany was angry. Her human handlers had dared interfere with her clutch. She was the matriarch of all the Horntails, Mistress of a thousand battles and mother of a hundred Dragon Lords. Now she was chained and penned in a tiny box in an unfamiliar forest.
If it were not for her clutch, she would break free and destroy them all.
Her mate had been taken from her a year ago. T'challa had been moved to another preserve and she doubted she'd ever see her beloved again. Their last coupling had born fruit and two months ago she'd brought forth this clutch. Most likely her last clutch.
She was over seventeen centuries old, by far the oldest Dragon at the Fields of Fire preserve in Romania. Allowing herself to be 'kept' at the preserve had extended her life. By forgoing the routine battles for supremacy of her clan, Sarkany had avoided incurring the life shortening injuries that hastened the demise of most matriarchs and patriarchs of the Dragon clans.
Still, the old fire burned hot in her belly. The roar of the Chinese Fireball off to her left caused her to squint her saurian eyes. She too smelled the interlopers. They were human…but not.
From the trees in front of the Horntail flew the Firebird. All four of the Dragons fell silent as Fawkes flew amongst his kind, the creatures of fire. They watched in wonder as he sang a song of peace and joy. Sarkany and her sisters couldn't understand the words of the Phoenix, but the intent was clear: Be Calm, For She Has Come!
Hermione stepped from the forest and the Dragons stilled. Gone was the tumult and anger. Banished was the rage and ferocity. Instead there was a calm obedience to the power of the Daughter of Fire. Their Mistress.
Behind his wife, Harry floated into the clearing. If a Dragon could smile, Sarkany would have. She loved flying. The uninhibited joy to sail the oceans of the sky was her delight. The Son of Air was her friend.
Lowering her head in obeisance, Sarkany gave a low growl. The Fireball, Short Snout and Welsh Green mimicked her submission and soon the low harmonic of the Draconian rumble was reverberating about the clearing.
Hermione smiled. "Good even, my sisters."
Arena for the First Task of the TriWizard Tournament
1300 24 November 1995
"Thanks Dora, that's real helpful," Neville replied with a hint of cheek.
Andromeda shoved her daughter out of the way to embrace her new son. While he was wrapped in her firm embrace, she whispered to him, "I know Harry and Hermione have 'stacked the deck', so to say. But you be careful out there."
He nodded into her shoulder, enjoying the warmth of the mother-like hug. Eventually she let him go, sniffing suspiciously. Ted clapped Neville on the shoulder and entreated him, "Take care, son. Or Andi will kill me."
Neville laughed, as was Ted's intention.
Dainty hands wrapped around his arm as Neville's brand new girlfriend made her appearance. Susan was a bit blotchy as she had been crying on and off all morning. She'd been worthless in class and given up attending to lie in her bed, trying to control herself. She'd failed miserably.
Neville gave her a hesitant smile before tentatively leaning in to give her a quick kiss. The Tonks had the courtesy to look away during the all too brief embrace of the young couple.
The contestants were holding the animated model Dragons. Cedric was first with the Swedish Short Snout, then Viktor with the Chinese Fireball, followed by Fleur and the Welsh Green. Neville was bringing up the rear with the Hungarian Horntail.
Cedric was attempting to meditate. "It helps me to stay calm," he told the other contestants.
"You're completely barmy," Neville had murmured.
Fleur was pacing while Viktor sat on a chair, his expression bored.
Cedric was called out by the booming of a cannon. Fixing a jaunty expression on his face – his blanched, sweating, tight face – Cedric headed out to face his doom.
There was enthusiastic cheering as young Diggory took his spot. Shortly, though, the cheering became confused and the crowd fell silent.
"Well, Mister Diggory has his egg in forty two seconds. On to Mister Krum," the remaining three contestants heard Bagman announce.
Continuing to look bored, the Bulgarian bon-bon sighed, slouched to his feet. The cheering went through the same cycle and thirty seconds later a very confused Bagman announced, "Mister Krum has his egg in an even thirty seconds. We are going to take a quick break to ensure that the Dragons are all healthy. We'll continue shortly everyone."
Fleur and Neville exchanged smiles of relief. Hermione had come through as she said she would.
"I do not mind danger," Fleur mentioned, "but Dragons are truly ridiculous."
"Amen," Neville intoned seriously.
"Well, the Dragon Handlers assure me that all is well with our Draconian challengers, so we'll continue. Miss Delacour, if you please!"
Neville gave Fleur a reassuring nod which she returned.
This time the crowd was silent. Twenty five seconds later, Bagman called, "Well. Miss Delacour has her egg in twenty seconds."
The cannon fired for the last time, summoning Neville to his task. Swallowing back the contents of his stomach, Neville left the tent.
Harry and Hermione sat with Andi and Ted Tonks. Dora was in the student section, holding Susan's hand. It would probably be more accurate to say that Dora was having her hand broken while in Susan's vice-like grip.
Hermione had been singing softly under her breath the entire task. She was calling to the Dragons, soothing them the best she could with her words. The crowds were inciting the solitary predators, despite her entreaties of the previous evening. Overhead, Fawkes swooped and soared, adding his own crooning to that of the Daughter of Fire.
Harry only glanced at the rigged 'tasks' every so often. Just like on Halloween night, Harry had a very bad feeling about the day. Something really bad was going to happen and soon.
"What is it?" Andromeda asked. Harry's tension was palpable.
"Something is coming," he remarked absently.
Turning to Hermione he whispered in her ear, "I'm going to go aloft to see if I can find what's coming."
She nodded without breaking her song, her eyes conveying her message; Be Careful.
He smiled in return, "I will. And I'll be Disillusioned."
The Horntail was herded into place and chained down. Sarkany bristled at the ignominy of the chains so Hermione increased the power in her song.
All the people in the stands could see the Horntail visibly calm. After the golden egg was levitated into position amongst the real Horntail eggs, the Master Dragon Handler nodded to Filch who fired the cannon to summon Neville.
A few seconds later the fourteen year old young man stepped into the ring and froze. Sarkany was glaring at him as if Neville himself was responsible for her humiliation and degradation. As per the plan, Neville stood stock still, waiting.
Hermione increased her song again while mentally calling to Fawkes. The Phoenix increased his own song to the point where the crowd was becoming affected by the soothing effects of Phoenix song.
Sarkany grumbled the Draconian version of 'Oh, well,' and nosed down to her artificial nest, just as the other Dragons had done. With her massive snout, she trundled the golden egg out of the nest and toward Neville.
Following Hermione's directions to the letter, Neville gave the Horntail a deep bow before Summoning the egg. The overlarge gold coloured egg smacked into his hands at the eighteen second mark. Neville Longbottom was in first place of the TriWizard Tournament.
He began to back away when the thunder boomed and lightning flashed.
Harry was soaring high above Hogwarts' grounds, Nemeas about a half mile off to the south. He felt Fawkes singing increase in power and hoped that things were still under control down below. Hermione had talked to the Dragons for well over an hour the other night. She'd explained the Tournament, the task and the purpose of the task. Then she put forth all the reasons why the Mother Dragons should help the humans by providing the false egg and not slaughtering any who dared to approach their invaluable eggs.
"This will protect your unborn hatchlings. You, of course, are strong warriors, but your eggs…they are still vulnerable." She'd had to play to the historic Dragon ego, but in the end, she'd carried the day.
"You could have just ordered them to follow your direction," Harry had observed when they returned to their quarters.
Flinging her shirt to the hamper, Hermione had nodded, "True. But a subjugated Dragon isn't a friend. Just a slave. No Dragon can stomach being a slave for very long."
Flying overhead, Harry wondered if it would be as fun to fly with a quartet of Dragons as it was flying with a Golden Griffin. Probably more so, he smiled to himself.
A rapidly moving dark shadow in the forest caught his attention. He was tempted to ignore it, but the shadow was moving right at the arena for the task.
"Crap," he muttered as he dove lower to investigate.
The lower he flew, the more confused he became. The shadow was impenetrably black, yet it seemed to move and shape over and through the forest. At one hundred feet, he began to feel and hear it.
His mother's screams.
Now that he knew what to look for, he saw hundreds of Dementors in the darkness. They were gliding across the forest floor at the pace of a thoroughbred racehorse in the last quarter mile. But around them…what was…?
"Ah fuck!" Harry exclaimed as he pulled up to loop back on himself.
Lethifolds, thousands and thousands of Lethifolds. With a thought, a series of lightning strikes began to cull the Dementors. One by one, the demi-demons exploded to ash as five hundred mega joules of energy at approximately 30,000 degrees centigrade found it's ground through their bodies.
"Too slow, dammit!" he exclaimed. Now a hurricane force wind pummelled the approaching dark creatures. The Lethifolds went to ground, staying under the wind by travelling directly on the ground. The wind affected the Dementors not at all.
Realizing he needed help, he hurtled back to the arena. He first hovered over the staff section. Finding Minerva, he shouted, "Dementors and Lethifolds approaching from the forest! Get everyone out of here!"
Without pausing to see if his orders were being carried out, Harry shot over to his wife. Landing, he laid out the situation for her. Without speaking, she shot her hand in the air and was fire teleported away by the swiftly arriving Fawkes.
She appeared in the Dragon Pens, to find four adult female Dragons, who were sporting for a fight. With a grin, she drew her wand and unlocked the pen doors. Another wand movement and the Dragons were freed of their bindings.
"My sisters, there is work to be done."
Leaping onto Sarkany's neck, she urged her new mount to the skies. In a moment of misplaced comedy, she almost fell off the massive Horntail when Sarkany's wings began flapping. Chagrined, Hermione cast a Sticking charm on her butt to keep her firmly in place.
"To the Forest!"
Harry was frantically casting spells and using his element to try and hinder the advancing horde. He was riding Nemeas, as he was unable to fly while attacking using so many different spells. His Patronus was powerful, but Prongs could only drive away one opponent at time. Conjuring tall walls was ineffective as the Dementors and Lethifolds just swarmed over the obstacles like ants.
Looking to the west, Nemeas sounded his shrieking roar while he wheeled about. Harry couldn't help but smile; the cavalry was coming.
From Sarkany's back, Hermione had an excellent view of the situation. In a rather disturbing realization, the Daughter of Fire saw that the shadowy mass of dark creatures was close to the open lawn of Hogwarts.
"Destroy them!" she commanded the Dragons.
Hermione was forcibly reminded of World War II movie footage from the Battle of Britain when her Horntail mount tilted over and began her dive. Just like the Hawker Hurricanes and the Spitfires of yester year, the Dragons began their attack dives.
The Dementors and Lethifolds were flocking to the castle. Pulled by the multitude of magical auras, they didn't even consider looking up. The lightning had stopped flashing, the wind ended. Only the ethereal stag continued to drive off a few of them.
It is known that not much can affect a Dementor. The only sure fire method of driving off one of the demons is the use of the Patronus charm. This day, Harry added a method to destroy a Dementor: lightning. As did Hermione: Dragon fire.
In unison, all four Dragons opened their mouths and spewed forth the magical fire on the crowd of creatures below them.
A few days later, Hermione would comment that it was fortunate that the Dementors did not know of the Dragons arrival. At least half were incinerated in the first pass. Another quarter on the second pass.
After that, the Dementors took to the skies.
Like all other sentient beings, Dragons have emotions and memories. As such, Dementors have a similar effect on them that they do on humans. Crippling fear coupled with horror caused the Swedish Short Snout to stop flying all together. As the massive beast fell from the skies, Hermione screamed at it, hoping to jar its consciousness.
Out of nowhere, Fawkes flamed into being at the Short Snout's side. Grappling the Dragon on the neck, the Phoenix attempted something unheard of in magical history. He attempted to flame teleport a Dragon.
The Dragon and Phoenix disappeared in a massive ball of fire. Less than a heartbeat later, they arrived on the ground, Fawkes rendered unconscious from his efforts. The Short Snout was dead, though. A massive heart attack had taken her life.
Roaring in rage, Sarkany and her sisters began filling the air with fire. Walls of Dragon fire encircled and hemmed in the flying Dementors. In her own rage at what had been done to the Short Snout, Hermione took control of the Dragon fire. She stoked it hotter than is natural and shaped it into a sphere, the Dementors in the middle.
Slowly, Hermione shrunk the sphere of Dragon fire. With a tight smile, she eventually collapsed it, incinerating the Dementors within.
The crash of thunder directly in her ear nearly deafened her. Turning this way and that, she saw the smoking remains of the last Dementor fluttering to the earth. Finding Harry a quarter mile away, she blew him a kiss in thanks.
Without responding to the kiss, he pointed down to the Lethifolds. The mass of creatures was halfway up the lawn and would soon be at the castle walls. Once more, the Dragons began a dive and once more, incinerated the Dark Creatures.
Five minutes later, it was over. The Dragons and their Mistress landed around the fallen Short Snout. The Welsh Green lifted her massive head and screeched a keening noise that penetrated the castle walls to the west and the densest areas of the forest to the east. After a long moment, the wail of the Dragon faded away and the nesting mothers moved back to their nests.
Sarkany moved boldly to the nest of the Short Snout and smelled the eggs, the other two holding back. With a little snort, the Horntail gently picked up an egg in her mouth and carried it to her own nest, settling it amongst her own clutch. Hermione and Harry watched in amazement as the Fireball and the Welsh Green each took one of the remaining two eggs as their own.
In the wild, the other Dragons would have consumed the carcass of the fallen Short Snout and destroyed her clutch. Because the slain was in service to the Daughter of Fire, though, the fallen Dragon was being honoured by her companions.
"You Ok?" Harry asked his wife.
Wiping the tear from her cheek, Hermione turned away from the Dragons as they resettled in their nests. The Dragon handlers were tentatively returning to bind and secure the mothers until they were to be returned to the preserve the next day.
She shrugged with one shoulder in response to his question. He wrapped his arm around her and muttered, "Yeah. Me neither."
They looked up as they heard a series of brooms fly overhead. Harry squinted in concentration, trying to count the numbers with his enhanced hearing. "Thirty or thirty five, I think. Probably Aurors. Right on time," he finished sarcastically.
Hermione nodded before resting her head on his shoulder. Her silence telling him more than any words could. She felt responsible. The Daughter of Fire had led the Dragons into battle and one of their numbers had been slain as a result.
"It's not your fault."
She turned to her husband, doubt and self-recrimination in her eyes.
"Would I ever lie to you?" he asked.
"You might tell me what I want to hear to make me feel better," she replied in a whisper.
Gently, he took her in his arms and pressed her head to his shoulder. After a long minute she relaxed in his arms. Then the emotion began to flow and Hermione cried. She'd not known the Short Snout's name, but Hermione was the Daughter of Fire and therefore the Dragon was of her clan. Her family. She cried for herself, and the violence in which she had revelled. She cried for the hatchlings who would never know their mother. She cried for her Dragon.
Eventually, the storm of emotion passed and she wiped her face. "Thank you, my love," she murmured against Harry's chest.
"For you, anything," he responded before he placed a gentle kiss on the crown of her head. "I love you."
They stood there long, under the eaves of the Forest. The recovered Fawkes crooning a melody of love, healing and grief while Nemeas circled overhead. For now, the danger had passed.
1. I own nothing. Thanks to all who have taken the time to review, I appreciate it.
2. As usual, the status of all my stories can be found on the muggledad fanfiction (dot) net homepage. I usually update weekly.
3. Sarkany is the name of a Hungarian mythological dragon.
4. I seriously thought about ending the chapter right after Hermione calls, "To the Forest!" but that would have been just evil. Hmmm…
5. Recommendation for the chapter is 'Done a Runner' by Fantasyra. It's a fun tale of 'What if Harry'd had a brain?'