Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related concepts are owned by someone who isn't me. I will never seek or accept money for the circulation of this work.
Holly Evans and the Spiral Path
Chapter 50: Shattered
Search and Rescue
Natalia (Nymphadora) Tonks Apparated to the graveyard settled beneath the overcast skies in Little Hangleton, appearing suddenly on the mossy ground accompanied by a 'pop' sound. Her arrival was greeted by four nearby Aurors pointing wands at her, though she quickly evaded any potential spells by slipping on the moss to land on her arse. She held her badge up above the grave markers and they returned to their spellwork, documenting what evidence could be acquired from the crime scene- a ten yard radius crater in the low point of the graveyard. As Natalia regained her feet, she could see that the location was surrounded by toppled tombstones. Within the area where the ground had been scorched were several bodies, now protected from contamination by shrouds of white cloth that were quilted with runes.
The young Auror strode up to an older wizard in burgundy robes, evidently the scene captain as he was heard to bark out an order or two to the others. The short man looked towards Natalia with an air of impatience as she approached.
"Why are you here, Junior Auror Tonks? You were told after leading us here by Mr. Potter's instruction that you were not to return lest you interfere with the investigation. Aren't you supposed to be protecting him?"
"Harry's safe as can be made, Auror Mulkey. I... uhh... I dropped my Gringott's key earlier. I just need to look around for it. Please? I won't get in your way. I'll even do some paperwork for you if you'd just let me find it and go."
"Stay well out of our way, then."
"No problem, boss!"
Nat moved off to the edge of the scene, reading off names from the grave markers under her breath. "Oswald... Turtlehead... Johnson... Johnson... Jonson- really? Couldn't afford the 'h'? Levitt... Wilkes..." She occasionally lifted a crumbled piece of marble to review its inscription, if legible.
After ten minutes of searching, Nat found one amongst a pile that had toppled together; one that had a strange black stain at the edge. "Crichton. About effing time," she whispered.
First checking to make sure that her compatriots were paying attention to anything but her, she crouched over the stone, spraying it gently with water from the tip of her wand.
The black stain seemed to grow and bubble outward, until it finally popped into the rough shape of a lizard. Said lizard wriggled its head for a moment, and then hopped over to a dry limestone marker. It scribed a message on the stone beneath it; 'Hello. My name is Newt. For the last twelve hours I've been praying for rain.'
Natalia smiled a little and whispered, "Hello, Newt. My name is Natalia, and I want to take you back to your mum."
The ink on the stone was re-absorbed and a new message written; 'Mum's alive?'
"You think I'd be smiling at all if she weren't? Hop on, sweetie. We need to know what you know."
The lizard absorbed the writing once more, and then leapt onto Natalia's proffered hand. The witch stood up and declared "Found it!" disappearing from the graveyard with a 'snap'.
The Empirical Value of Friends and Loved Ones
Natalia caught up to Hermione at a jog.
"I did your damned grunt work. What's all the bustle?"
The Auror pointed towards a number of professors rushing past them from the hospital wing, led by Professor McGonagall.
"It seems that amongst everything else that Holly left behind was her journal, and Riddle actually sent Professor McGonagall a message in it! Did you find Newt?"
Natalia scowled at Hermione, then smiled and held up her hand where the ink lizard was bouncing.
"Oh, brilliant! Perhaps you could get her a parchment or scroll and she can tell us-"
Newt leapt from Natalia's hand to grab onto Hermione's face. The witch reacted at first by waving her hands in front of her face, but soon she connected with the lizard's inky eyes, initiating a Rapport of mind-speak.
'Take me to the journal. Riddle has a Time Turner, so we're already behind in dealing with this. I can tell you what I saw, later. It's not a short conversation.'
Hermione nodded. Newt crawled up into her hair.
Natalia scoffed. "Guess she's going with you, then. I'll be with our hero."
Hermione touched Natalia's arm in caution. "Nat, she's not able to heal that much of a burn. Mr. Pink has returned to the 'homestead of horror' as he put it. He's planning to look there for any alternate treatments. He left this mirror for us to keep in contact."
Natalia accepted the hand mirror. "She's not outta the woods, eh?"
"You saw her, Nat."
"Yeah... I did." The metamorph lost most of her usual energy in that moment. Her hair fell limp and turned a muddy grey. She turned and headed towards the entry to the hospital.
Hermione held a worried look as she watched her walk away, until Newt's claw poking her scalp reminded her of other priorities.
Hermione entered the office of Professor Flitwick at a full stride, but stopped suddenly. "Winky."
The elf appeared. "Miss Hermione? Is she dead?"
Hermione crouched down to face the bulb-nosed house-elf. "No, Winky, and I promise that we will do all that we can to save her. I need a favour."
"If Winky can help, helping will be done."
"I need the Sounding stone- the agate bookend on Holly's desk in the Madhouse."
Twin pops resulted in the heavy corner of rock being dropped into Hermione's hands.
"Winky needs more to do."
"Ehmm... we'll need some juice and maybe you could get us some biscuits?"
"Winky will be back with the first batch at ten."
Hermione stood up to face three bemused adults. Professors McGonagall, Flitwick and Vector followed her movements as she placed a sheaf of parchment, the stone, and a bouncing blob of ink onto Professor Flitwick's desk. She tapped the stone with her wand, causing the runes scribed into it to glow briefly. The ink formed into a lizard shape and scurried over to an inkwell. It absorbed the contents, changing colour to a deep indigo.
Hermione gestured towards the parchment. "This is Newt. She's Holly's... ehmm..."
From the agate stone, the sound of Lily Potter's voice interrupted, echoing the script written on the parchment in Newt's tiny scrawl.
'I am Holly's stenographer. I was with her in the graveyard but got left behind in the wreckage, until Auror Tonks just retrieved me.'
Professor Flitwick gave out a giddy yelp. "How wonderful! You sound just like Lily. What do you have to tell us, Miss Newt?"
'It's just Newt, Professor Filius. Now please, get out of my way.'
With a sweep of her tail Newt knocked over a full bottle of squid ink and then leapt into the spill to absorb it. She scampered over to the open Journal and soaked it in ink until every page was completely black to the edges. Her task completed, she stumbled back over to where Hermione was placing a second jar of ink and absorbed it as well. Slightly refreshed, she ambled over to the parchment with the agate resting on it.
"Hermione told me on our way up here about the Journal being compromised by Riddle. If it were me, I wouldn't have written Gra-," Newt scratches out the partial word and continues, "...Professor McGonagall that I had the Journal until I had finished reading it. Then again, I'm not a megalomaniac, so I wouldn't have written in it at all- it would have been better for him to not have alerted us to the fact that he's alive enough to read journals, much less break a blood-based seal."
Hermione interjected, "What do you mean? Why would Riddle not be alive?"
"MacNair hit Holly with the Killing Curse, and got the same results Riddle had in 1981- he exploded. Riddle was close enough that his new body was incinerated along with several others. The only thing going for us is that he wrote in it at all. The Compulsions are strong after so many pages. That he wrote in it to gloat, while still not having finished the work, seems to indicate that he fell victim to the urge to write before he realised why he was doing it. As they are tethered by a Protean Charm, any work he does to restore the ink-soaked pages will show here. Can he break the Protean?'
Hermione answered, "Good question. A better one would probably be 'how long will it take him?' He was a gifted wizard, as I understand it."
Professor Vector whispered a question. "And why do you know so much about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Miss Granger?"
Hermione stared down her Arithmancy professor before replying, "My best friend is his mortal enemy. I've made it a hobby."
Albus Dumbledore entered the room then, adding, "It is a prudent hobby in these dark times, Miss Granger, and one I support."
Professor Flitwick smiled. "Ah, Headmaster. We were wondering whether the Protean charm that connects this journal to its counterpart can be thwarted without damaging the work."
"Who would be doing the thwarting?"
Hermione replied, "Riddle, sir."
"If he were to break the link, the stone on the front would split. Rather than disrupt the connection, may I suggest that we use it? I have left us a failsafe, placed in at the beginning, in case such a thing were to happen. A signal from this side can destroy both copies."
Hermione gasped. "Destroy them?"
Albus nodded. "Or we can wait and see how much more damage can be done."
Hermione sighed. "Alright. Destroy the journal."
The headmaster sidled up next to Hermione, giving her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. He then flipped the journal to the end where a new, non-ink-soaked page appeared. He drew a complicated glyph there, signing it, 'Goodnight, Tom'. Soon, the center of the page charred black, expanding outward until it reached the edge and down to the spine. A moment later, the whole journal burst into flames. The stone on the front cover split just as the spine was turning to ashes.
Albus gave a satisfied look towards the others around the desk and then said, "Let us hope that we were in time to preserve a few secrets. Now, would someone please introduce me to this remarkable creature?"
The agate Sounding stone replied, "I am Newt, Holly's ink imp."
"And what is it that you do, Miss Newt?"
"I keep Holly informed, particularly if there's magic I know that might help her. You might try it sometime. Hermione, can we go now?"
Hermione suppressed a snort and grabbed the Sounding Stone from the desk. Newt hopped onto her sleeve.
As they left, Professor Vector turned to Professor Flitwick and whispered, "Would you be so kind as to Obliviate me now? I am an educator, and would rather leave war to the war-like."
Natalia was resting on one of the few free beds in Madame Pomfrey's domain. Her senior was a man she could trust. With Kingsley watching over Holly, she felt safe in taking a kip, just as his initial arrival had given her enough security to leave the castle and retrieve Newt.
As her mind calmed, she mused, 'That girl is a treasure- I would never have thought Newt would survive that.'
She felt a buzzing from her hip yank her from the edge of sleep.
Nat rolled over on the hospital bed and pulled out the hand mirror Hermione had given her. A whisper from beneath the closure said, "Kittyhawk? Kittyhawk!"
She whispered "Callisto", and the mirror opened to reveal the somber face of Sirius Black, curly pink hair notwithstanding.
"Oh! Hello cousin. I didn't know you had the mirror. Give me an update."
"Hermione says they used a backdoor made by the Headmaster to burn the Journal copies. Hols is still bathing in IB, with no idea if she'll recover enough skin to breathe proper. Where are you?"
"Moony and I returned to the cursed old homestead. We've been digging through the library for a way to help. We've found one."
"In that library? Mum used to threaten to lock me in there so I would eat my veggies. Do we even want to try it?"
"Oh, you'll appreciate this one; it's for covens."
Natalia grinned wide. "Tell me! Tell me!"
"Six witches must sacrifice blood for the sake of the seventh. All must love the witch to be healed. Works one time only. No men are allowed to contribute; surely that's what makes it the Darkest magic!"
Natalia forced herself to focus, taking on a grim expression. "Show me."
Natalia, Hermione and Minerva stood over that same hospital bed an hour later, while Madame Pomfrey inspected Nat's rewritten notes on the ritual.
Finally, Madame Pomfrey leaned back and said, "Despite Miss Tonks' handwriting, I believe I understand the underlying theory. This seems workable. It only borders the Dark Arts since no one is expected to permanently cripple themselves or kill anything. I am uncertain as to what the cost may be- these sorts of restoratives always come with a price. Do you know three more witches who truly love Miss Evans?"
Hermione gave her a challenging glare. "Aren't you going to help?"
Madame Pomfrey scoffed. "Don't look to me! My feelings for her are at best exasperation mixed with a grudging respect for her fortitude."
Hermione sighed and shared a look with Nat and Minerva.
The professor mused, "I know that Miss Lovegood might qualify, but does Miss Patil carry enough affection for this, or perhaps Miss Weasley?"
Hermione looked to Nat. "I can't get into Slytherin."
Natalia nodded. "I'll go. You head for the carriage."
They split up.
A half-hour later, Hermione lead Fleur Delacour by the hand into the room connected to the Hospital wing that they had set aside for Holly's Incubation Bath. She looked exceedingly annoyed, though quiet.
Natalia then brought Pansy Parkinson in, holding her in a fireman's carry. The dark-haired witch seethed through her gag and kicked out her bound feet fruitlessly. Once the door was closed, she was dropped on her arse and her bonds removed. Hermione then used her Warbler to replay Holly saying, "Are you my Violet?"
Violet shook off her ugly, smiled at Hermione and said, "Thank you for thinking of me." Hermione gave her a hand up to standing.
Luna then stepped out from behind Minerva. She pointed at each witch, counting up to six (tapping her own lips for the last number) and then asked "Is this a bloodletting? I haven't really washed up today, so if we're to do anything naked, I would hope you would forgive my earthy ripeness."
Much to Luna's disappointment, the ritual only required the women to expose an arm so that they could bleed into Holly's Bath.
Natalia cut first, using a silver knife provided by Madame Pomfrey.
"I am Natalia, who loves Holly because she gave me my name. Heal her wounds."
Hermione accepted the knife once Natalia's arm started to drip.
"I am Hermione, who loves Holly because she's my first lover and my best friend. Heal her wounds."
Violet took the knife and cut deeply into her wrist.
"I am Violet, who loves Holly because she told me the truths I didn't want to accept. Heal her wounds."
Professor McGonagall took the knife, flicked it a few times to clean the blade and then cut her forearm, gritting her teeth to hold back a gasp.
"I am Minerva, who loves Holly because she is the child of my heart. Heal her wounds."
Luna smiled and took the knife. She cut into her white skin and watched, entranced as the blood dripped into the solution. Hermione coughed at her.
"Oh! Right. I am Luna, who loves Holly because she gave me a second chance, and taught me patience by example, and danced with me, and gave me kisses without being tricked, and is terribly newsworthy, and tickled me so hard that I peed, and-"
Hermione growled at her again. "A-HEM!"
"...anyway I love her. Heal her wounds."
Fleur turned a withering gaze at Luna, accepting the knife from her after she had stared at the blood dripping off for another few seconds. She slid the blade across her arm.
"I am Fleur, who loves Holly for humiliating me as I deserved, and for giving me true ecstasy, which I did not. Heal her wounds."
Most everyone gave Fleur a disbelieving look that she returned with a sneer. "Nevair speak of zis, or I shall coerce gullible men to do 'orrible zings... to your pets." Crookshanks hopped up on a side table and hissed at her.
All six witches then chanted, "For our love, heal her wounds... For our love, heal her wounds... For our love, heal her wounds... "
The bath bubbled and roiled, until finally Holly lifted herself out of the liquid and attempted to scream. The witches watched in shock as her skin re-knit itself across her body, restoring her burned flesh, removing old scars and regrowing muscle and tissue. Holly collapsed into the bath once more, though Nat and Hermione quickly moved to pull her upper body above the surface.
Natalia smiled. "Hey, her teats are back to perky!"
Hermione groaned. "I'm so glad for you."
Nat replied, "I'm just accounting for the positives, here."
Hermione returned, "Then maybe you should be happy that her childhood scars are gone."
Nat pursed her lips. "She wore her scars like a badge of honour. Losing those scars... may make her feel vulnerable."
Hermione growled back, "I don't think it'll be the missing scars that will make her feel vulnerable, Natalia."
Holly stood up in the bath and then grabbed both women by the mouth to shut them up. She then pulled Natalia to her and kissed her lips. When Natalia moved to deepen the kiss, Holly gently pushed her back, shaking her head. Holly then turned to Hermione and drew her into a kiss and was rewarded with a crushing hug.
Once Hermione had released her, Holly nodded towards all of them in silent thanks.
She stood there, up to her hips in the IB solution, naked and bare, looking to each of them again with an expression perhaps of gratitude or fatigue.
Luna piped up, "I think she wants a towel," to which Holly nodded emphatically.
Holly was shuffled out of the room and into a hospital bed by Poppy Pomfrey a few minutes later. The women watched as she was aided behind the privacy curtain. Fleur was the first to then move towards the exit.
Hermione held up Violet, raising her wand with an apologetic look. Violet countered the motion. "Hermione, I'm fine as is. Watch." She shifted perspective and uglified into Pansy, who acted put out and oblivious to why her location had changed. A moment later, the expression softened, and Violet grinned.
Hermione shook her head. "Why didn't you do that before?"
"I couldn't until this ritual. You made this possible, I think, by choosing me. Impressed?"
Violet stepped closer, forcing the other witch against the wall. She placed her straightened arms on either side of Hermione's shoulders and then molded her body to Hermione's, whispering in her ear, "Then give me a kiss, you sexy mudblood slut."
Hermione shivered and stuttered a half-hearted protest. "I... uhhh..."
"Pardon me, princess." Natalia grabbed Violet by the shoulder and swung her around to slam against the wall next to Hermione. Before Violet could react, Natalia snogged her until she was weak-kneed.
"Thank you, Vi. You'll have an extra present next birthday for that. Maybe several."
Natalia stepped back with a smile, and then left. Violet slowly followed after, somewhat stunned. (Three hallways later, Pansy shook her head, wondering how she got turned around while looking for Draco's supposed 'secret library passage'.) Hermione watched them both go, and then followed Madame Pomfrey's path to sit vigil over Holly.
Luna watched the trading of threats and kisses while standing next to Professor McGonagall. Once all the other young witches had left, she turned to the Professor. "I think we're all a little churned up from expressing our love."
The Professor nodded. "I would agree."
"Can I give you a hug?"
"Ehmm... do you really feel that's necessary?"
"No. You look like you could use one, though."
Minerva slumped for a moment and soon found her waist being held by the blond girl. She hugged the girl back, tilting her head to rest on Luna's.
Their embrace ended and Luna stepped back to look up at Professor McGonagall again.
"I hate your class. It's not personal- I find the topic boring. Thought you'd appreciate the truth, though." Luna then turned and skipped out of the hospital wing.
Holly climbed into a bed, wrapping herself in the provided blanket. Hermione followed her into the private space and sat on a wooden stool nearby.
"Holly, I... I know you've just been through a lot. I just wanted to ask you something. All you have to do is-"
Holly flipped over to face Hermione and stared into her eyes with her remaining good one. Hermione heard Holly's voice in her head.
'I need sleep. What do you want?'
'Riddle broke into your journal. Natalia went back to the graveyard and recovered Newt- she's explained-'
Hermione stretched her arm to the mattress, allowing Newt to scamper along her sleeve and launch herself to splat against Holly's forehead. Holly had started crying and winced sharply.
Holly forced her eye open despite her joyful tears and cut off her Rapport with Hermione in favour of Newt, who had retreated to sit on her pillow.
After a few minutes, Hermione realised that the two had a lot to share and discuss. She moved over to settle into the 'vigil chair'; the one with all the cushioning charms she had added over the years.
Newt's baby inkblot Pog crawled out along her arm to watch them, too. After a few minutes, he climbed up to her shoulder. Hermione turned and locked eyes with the peanut-sized ink lizard.
'Why'd Holly ignore you for Newt-Mum?'
'I suppose Newt will communicate things more completely than I could.'
'Well, she was there in the graveyard with Holly.'
'Newt has almost always stayed with Holly, to keep an eye out for her.'
'Pog, that's why Holly made Newt in the first place.'
Hermione raised an eyebrow at the little imp.
'Shutting up now, except...'
'I like you better. I'll stick with you.'
Hermione smirked. 'Why?'
'People don't throw fire at you.'
'That is eminently practical.'
'Just like you.'
Hermione stayed to watch until Holly fell asleep. She walked out later to find Neville waiting outside, lurking sullenly.
"Hermione, they won't let anyone in, but I know you were in there earlier- I saw it on the Map in WWRX. Is... is she going to be alright?"
Hermione gave a curt reply. "Define your terms."
"I'm sorry, Neville; I'm a bit fatigued. I believe Holly will survive. Anything else is pure conjecture."
"How are you holding up?"
Hermione slumped and leaned back against a wall. "I'm... fine. I cannot fathom why, as everything is falling apart around me. Perhaps I'm in shock."
"If... if you want..." Forgoing any more of his stutter, Neville opened his arms in an offer of sympathy.
Hermione stood up and embraced the tall boy. Within moments she was sobbing her eyes out. Her emotional release was cut short when they heard a babble of adult voices coming towards them. Hermione stood back and wiped away her tears.
They saw Minister Fudge, Amelia Bones and a small troop of Aurors appear at the far end of the hallway. Even before they came near, Minister Fudge maneuvered to keep three Aurors between him and Hermione. He spat an officious, "Stand aside, children."
Hermione stepped away from Neville and stood in the path of their procession. She was physically swept aside by the Aurors.
That made Neville angry. He pulled out his wand, pointed it to his throat and intoned 'Sonorous', followed by "STOP!"
The collection was startled by the booming sound and turned as a group to regard Neville with irritation.
He pointed his wand at them, moving to place himself between them and the doorway. "YOU SHALL NOT PASS! NO ONE CAN COME IN HERE! I MEAN IT!"
Madame Pomfrey burst out of the doors to her domain, wand at the ready. "Just what is all this noise?"
"MADAME POMFREY, THEY WERE GOING TO-"
Amelia cocked an eyebrow and hit Neville with a Quietus.
"Oh, sorry. They were going to burst in on you. Holly can't be healthy enough yet to receive visitors, right?"
Madame Pomfrey slowly turned her gaze to catch the attention of the adult witches and wizards assembled in front of her. "I have three champions under my care right now, and none of them are ready to speak to anyone. Go away."
They all stepped back a pace. Just as Minister Fudge was gathering his breath to argue, Albus Dumbledore strode up from behind the small mob to stand beside the Healer. "If I may, I suggest we adjourn to my office, where any grievances may be given a proper airing without interfering with Madame Pomfrey's work."
The Minister huffed. "Dumbledore, there have been several deaths now associated with this catastrophe of a contest. I insist that Miss Evans be held here with additional Aurors to keep her in custody!"
Dumbledore nodded. "Of course; the Aurors should stay. We shall adjourn to discuss things, and we can let these students return to their dorms."
The collection turned and shuffled back down the corridor, soon accompanied by Albus after he gave Hermione, Neville and Madame Pomfrey a sly wink.
Hermione shook her head. "How do you do that? How does HE do that?"
"Trade secret, girl. Learn to be a healer and I'll share it with you. In the meantime, see to it that none of Miss Evans' other friends or enemies comes to visit, or I will be truly unpleasant."
Hermione took Neville's hand and started walking back to Gryffindor. Neville followed, after a last backward glance at the Aurors taking position at the doors.
Lee Jordan finished queuing up another long disk of calming music and walked around the sound wall into the lounge. Most of the Weasley family was present, including Mrs. Weasley and her eldest, Bill. On another couch were Nev, one of the Patil twins and that odd girl Luna, as well as a healthy-looking witch Lee had never noticed before. She was introduced as Erin Moore from Hufflepuff. Lee gave her his best smile, but she seemed not to notice.
Hermione stood up to gather everyone's attention. It took Mrs. Weasley an extra minute to finish criticizing the length of Fred and George's hair before Hermione could begin.
"Thank you for coming here. I know everyone has questions, but I think it's important that you let me finish what I have to say first."
Mrs. Weasley piped up, "Well, that seems a little rude-"
"Your lives are in danger. Forgive me if I'm curt about it."
"Whatever do you mean?"
Hermione sighed. "Holly has recovered somewhat and related the highlights of her battle to me. What happened is that she and Cedric were Portkeyed to a graveyard where they were forced to aid in resurrecting the Dark Lord Voldemo-"
A collective gasp interrupted her. Erin looked at everyone else with confusion, but Luna gestured for her to mimic the reaction.
Hermione squinted. "Yes, him. We'll just call him Riddle, yes? Things went worse from there. While Riddle was driven off, we know that he's out there. What's worse is that Holly's journal was among the things they took from her. As Riddle considers Holly and Harry his enemies, he may choose to strike at them through their friends. That means that all of us are potentially a target for his retribution. I'm sorry for that, but there it is."
Neville disrupted the stunned silence. "Can you... tell us what else happened?"
Hermione lost the colour in her face. "I-I really don't think that-"
Ginny said, "It might help Erin and Lee to understand what they are up against, if you were to explain a little."
Hermione sat down on a footstool, covering her head in her hands for a moment. Neville reached over to pat her shoulder. She looked up and stared into the faces of those gathered.
It wasn't just curiosity. She could see in each of them a desire to understand things, as if it might be a way to offer sympathy, to her if not to Holly directly.
Hermione firmed her resolve and spoke clearly after a brief throat-clearing. "He... ahhh... Riddle was aided by Peter Pettigrew in capturing Holly and Cedric. They used some of her blood and brought him back to full power. He then summoned his Death Eaters. After a bit of posturing, they... celebrated... using Holly's... body. She fought back after a bit, which resulted in her losing an eye... and her tongue... and Cedric being murdered. Somehow she tricked one of them into trying to kill her, and the spell backfired, burning many of them. Several died, and Holly was burned as well."
Again, the stunned silence settled over them.
After a bit, Luna asked, "Do you know which men died in the graveyard?"
Luna gave Hermione a grave and patient look. She explained slowly, as if to a child, "In case I need to cancel their subscriptions."
The moment's tension broke as the room erupted in laughter.
Luna looked around the collection with growing anxiety. "I thought you were friends. Why are you laughing at me?"
Mrs. Weasley patted her on the knee. "It's not a silly notion, poppet. I just doubt that their sort would read the Quibbler."
Luna relaxed into a knowing smile. "Ah. Lowbrow types."
"Exactly. There's no accounting for these cruel men's upbringing. I'm certain all of the humour and imagination has been burned out of them."
Fred added, "If not before, certainly at this point!"
Before Mrs. Weasley could admonish him, Fred's head had been transformed in to that of a donkey, by Bill.
Mrs. Weasley deferred to the humour of her son and then gathered the attention of the students. "Well. As long as we're together in danger, perhaps we should discuss what everyone can do to protect themselves and their families. I have a few ideas from what worked the last time, so get your quills and parchment out..."
As they settled in to discuss, Hermione pulled Padma to the side. She gave her a meaningful look. The Desi witch nodded reluctantly in agreement and whispered, "It is time. I will come to you after we leave school."
The Burying of Hatchets
Around three A.M., Holly rose up from her hospital bed and looked around. Two Aurors slumbered nearby in visitor chairs. She stood up and then waited, checking that they remained inert.
Overcome by shivering, she tenderly walked over to a glass-front cabinet and retrieved several white cotton blankets. Wrapping them around her body and covering her head, she then shuffled back towards her bed stand.
She poked around the area, eventually finding a wooden box, no doubt left there by Hermione. It contained a bag of her black cherry sours, a jade ring, a small cosmetic mirror and her old pair of Omni-goggles. She slipped on the ring and donned the eyewear, changing them into Lennon-style sunglasses. The mirror she stuck into the layers of bandage still wrapped around her hips.
Holly shambled out from behind her privacy screen where she saw a pair of Aurors standing watch. She silently moved up behind them and touched their necks. Both fell to the floor, asleep.
Now shivering again, Holly re-wrapped the blankets about her and left the hospital wing.
Holly pushed open the door to the Headmaster's office, clutching the layers of white cotton blankets tighter before entering. The second she crossed the threshold, Fawkes uncurled his head from under his wing and glared at her. The phoenix then disappeared in a burst of flame. After a pause, Holly shambled up to sit in the guest chair in front of the headmaster's desk.
The portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black came to life, its subject clearing his throat loudly. He bemoaned the state of his progeny. "So you and that canine fool are all that is left of the House of Black? What a pathetic showing. Perhaps the days of power and substance are truly withered from the Earth. I had such low hopes for you, and yet you still failed to achieve even an acceptable modicum of greatness."
Holly squinted at the portrait and lowered her tinted glasses, revealing her missing left eye.
"Pieces and parts are all you have left, you sorry excuse for a hero? What's wrong? Cat got your tongue?"
Holly opened her mouth- no tongue was present, only a bloody stump at the back, partly scarred over.
"Thank Merlin for small favours, then."
Holly turned from the portrait, stood up and walked behind the headmaster's desk. She reached up a bare arm from within her blankets, but lacking sufficient reach, she then clambered up onto the bookshelf to retrieve the Sorting Hat. Upon climbing down, she put it on. A brief pause concluded when Adrian said aloud, "My good friend, Rook. Of course I will speak for you."
She smiled a little and shuffled back to sit in the guest chair, retracting her arm into the protective warmth of the blankets.
Adrian spoke up from atop her head. "Phineas? I have a message from Miss Evans."
"What is it?" the portrait replied.
"She says, and I quote, 'Seventy years without your todger rammed into a firstie has made you a bit bitter. You ought to roam the castle paintings more. I'm sure there's a child to suit your fancy. Perhaps that portrait labeled 'Ariana Dumbledore' would...'"
"Adrian!" Albus Dumbledore exclaimed. He had heard the interchange as he was entering from his private chambers.
The Sorting Hat replied, "I was quoting the otherwise undefended Miss Evans. To whit- she insists on meeting with you away from the portraits to ensure some privacy. Given Headmaster Black's behavior, I couldn't agree more."
Holly walked into the headmaster's private chambers. They were perhaps unexpectedly plain, with a sitting area near a small fireplace, several bookshelves filled with dusty volumes, a pair of wardrobes and a large tapestry hung in the middle of the room to afford his bedspace some added privacy. The only curiosity was a glass cabinet filled with luminescent vials, with a small marble-topped table that extended out front. On the table was a stone bowl densely inlaid with runes. The glass vials held memories, and the bowl was Professor Dumbledore's Pensieve.
Holly shuffled into the warm space and settled into a comfortable reading chair. As the headmaster sat down across from her, she held out the crumpled paper bag filled with red candies. Albus' eyes lit up as if he were only ten years old, and he gladly sampled one of Holly's black cherry sours.
"Hmm! Very nice flavour. I see you've found a good balance between the Calming Draught and Tourville's Truth-telling tincture."
Holly shrugged, taking a sour into her mouth but removing it quickly while wincing in pain. She left her treat in a nearby ashstand. A shudder passed through her a few times before she was able to relax.
Albus gave her a sad look. "It is quite early, Miss Evans. Though, I suppose you would rather move through the castle when it attracts the least attention."
Holly merely nodded. (Newt slipped down the ashstand and began to explore the headmaster's private collection).
The headmaster extended a comforting hand to Holly's knee, causing her to retract deeper into her blankets. He pulled back into his own space with a sigh of resignation. "With all that has gone on in such a short period of time, I haven't had an opportunity to say that I'm sorry. I am. I did not anticipate anyone would tamper with my Portkey on the Tri-Wizard Cup. It was a foolish oversight."
Holly nodded again. The Headmaster scowled for a moment.
"Perhaps it would be best if I apprise you of the developments outside your recovery and the destruction of your Journal."
Adrian grumbled, "Excuse me, Albus. Holly has something to say on that matter."
"If you had left the Journal alone, we could have changed the content. Only her copy required truth to be written. Minerva wrote the truth because of a vow. We could have replaced some truths with believable lies that still fit in with what she originally wrote. Now he has no reason to doubt whatever he read. Good fucking job."
"I merely speak as instructed, Albus, though I'd have to agree on this point."
Albus replied pointedly. "Well, perhaps my thinking isn't quite so convoluted as to come up with such a scheme."
"No doubt you were proud of your foresight in putting in the self-destruct and wanted to show off."
"I do not 'show off', Miss Evans."
"Actually, I said that," Adrian corrected.
The headmaster grumbled for a moment, then began his explanation.
"What we witnessed was you and Mr. Diggory being transported from the center of the maze due to a Portkey Redirector coin."
Holly nodded slightly. Adrian added, "Provided by Cedric; he said it was at the request of a friend."
"Albus, she will tell you the important facts if she knows them. Mr. Diggory did not specify."
The headmaster nodded. "Of course. We then acted to replay the circumstances of your disappearance with the aid of Mr. Pink and Mr. Lupin, while Mr. Jordan redirected the audience's attention to the remaining champions' trials. Shortly thereafter Miss Tonks, appearing as Harry, stood up from the VIP stands, enlarged your Firebolt and shot off to clear the edge of the grounds, at which point she Apparated away."
Adrian explained, "Riddle had protections in place to prevent local Apparition and Protean links; they broke when MacNair blew up and incinerated Riddle's remade body."
"That would follow. It was often the case in the first war that Auror patrols would be cut off from contact, then found dead soon after. As to my recounting; from our perspective, Harry reappeared by Portkey only a few minutes later with you, Mr. Diggory and the Tri-Wizard Cup. You were brought to Madame Pomfrey's care accompanied by Harry, but poor Mr. Diggory was pronounced dead at the scene. His parents were devastated. I was then approached by Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, who accused me of bungling the safety of the once-finest school in Europe. They gathered their son Draco and left."
Holly said nothing for Adrian to recount, but it did make her think.
"Much arguing and chaos ensued. Almost an hour had passed when Auror Tonks returned to the arena as herself, saying that Harry had apprised her of the location of the incident. She then led a contingent of Aurors there on Director Bones' orders.
"Viktor Krum and Fleur Delacour made it to the center of the maze to find no Cup, no Holly or Cedric and no idea what to do about it. Thankfully Madame Hooch gave them a lift back to the arena, where they were apprised of their opponents' current condition. Both seemed truly hurt to learn of it, Miss Delacour in particular being inconsolable. It may please you to know that Mr. Izarek and Miss Magritte have recovered from their injuries, and also appear to have embarked on a relationship."
Albus smiled knowingly, but Holly just sat there, fatigued and bound up in her white cotton.
He cleared his throat and continued. "Yes, well the press was already gathered for the event, so the world now knows that Cedric Diggory was killed and that you were burned as if by dragon's fire. They also have heard from a less-ethical LED returning from the scene that the dead bodies of several prominent men had been identified, as well as evidence of a ritual being performed. Several other men of recognised families have been notably absent in the wake of these events, including an old friend of mine, Elphias Doge. We can account for nine dead in the graveyard."
Adrian related, "As Riddle has a new body, it looks like we know where he got the blood."
Albus leaned forward with interest. "How do you mean? Can you describe the ritual he used?"
Albus' voice changed to the most grandfatherly, understanding tone imaginable. "Holly. I know you have suffered. For the sake of so many others, would you tell me what you experienced? I will do everything in my power to make this the only time it is required. My recounting of testimony is considered incontrovertible these days. I will take care of this, so long as I know you are telling me the truth. Please."
He could see her frown.
Adrian asked, "Tell you, but not show you? Miss Evans might be able to share the memory, if you loan her your wand."
Albus looked at her with a grave concern. "Are you truly so willing to show this to the me; to the public? I was trying to spare you the pain of seeing it all again in detail."
Holly stared back at the headmaster through her tinted glasses. She sat back in the chair.
Adrian shuffled on Holly's head for a moment, and Holly's own voice echoed from beneath the brim of the Hat. "Cedric and I landed in the graveyard and were knocked out. When I awoke, Wormtail had me strapped to a statue near a 5' cauldron and was cutting my leg, saying 'Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken, you shall restore your foe.' He then dripped the blood into the mix."
The headmaster nodded. "Ah! I have heard of this ritual. The last would be the flesh of the servant, willing given, but Tom was an orphan- how would he get the bone of his father?"
"Probably from the big mausoleum with 'Riddle' carved over it."
"Oh, dear. I should have... What part did Mr. Pettigrew sacrifice?"
"Nothing that time; I spat a lung cookie into the vat before they could get to that step."
"Really? Well done, Miss Evans."
"I thought so. Eventually Wormtail lost his right hand and his big toe to the process, but Riddle came back."
"How did he appear?"
"Hermaphroditic, pale, hairless and with a serpent's nose and eyes, though they were coloured red. Only, I got one glimpse of him, and then he was gone."
Albus sat back in his chair to muse, "Interesting. I had no notion that he knew of his parents. When I first met him, I assumed 'Riddle' was the result of the local bureaucracy having a laugh in naming another orphan, not unlike Miss Quirke of your trainees. It wasn't until much later, when he returned from his journeys to pursue a teaching position here, that his middle name gave me cause to even reconsider that assumption.
"That he knew where his father was buried would have made this the obvious ritual for his rebirth. Now that he has extracted the bones of his father in preparation for the ritual used, he is no longer restricted to the astronomically powerful days to be reborn. It is most fortunate that his body, built upon your blood, was destroyed. He is a formidable opponent, even without such a powerful form to enhance his spell-work. Inhuman as he appeared, he would have been greater than ever before. On the other hand, and if we assume that he has rebuilt another body, it may be that his appearance will be more comely, allowing him to leverage his natural charisma."
Holly's voice echoed out from above her eyebrows. "I remember he looked attractive in his diary's memory. Did many fall to his charms?"
"Oh, yes. He was, as needed, subtle and polite and considerate- by all accounts the perfect Head Boy and a joy to teach."
Holly squinted, taking a knowing tone. "So. You couldn't kill someone you loved, I suppose. Is that why you've been molding me into your weapon? To do the thing you can't?"
Albus slumped slightly in his chair. "Miss Evans, whatever you think of me, do not presume to know the secrets of my heart. You see melodrama where none existed. I could not kill him because destiny anointed him as undefeatable by anyone, particularly me. I had to find a proxy to defeat him; one equally touched by destiny- a nemesis. The Symphony, as you so poetically refer to it, accommodated me. You are the instrument of justice, but I have always tried to treat you as a person. I have always hoped that, once your duty was fulfilled, you might grow into a great leader in the magical world. I saw in you some of the trials and burdens I had to bear in fulfilling my destiny. I have been trying to help you walk your path, but you won't accept my help."
Holly tightened her covers and sank into her chair.
Albus gave her a kind look. "I feel I should explain myself. I had trained some of the most promising wizards and witches seen in generations, but they all fell to Voldemort's power and skill. I had come to my last tether, seeking aid from the inscrutable vagaries of Divination instead of the reliable and trustable certainty of knowledge, research and strategy. That I was so promptly answered made me all the more suspicious, but I had lost some very good friends. I was quite tired of losing good friends. And so, I embraced the meaning of prophecy. I arranged for the best people I knew to be sacrificed, so that their child might save us all.
"When I first discovered that you had been changed into a girl, I was confused, but it took me only a moment to realize that it really didn't make a difference for my plans to groom you as a hero. You had been marked by Voldemort, so you were the one that could rise to be his equal and thus defeat him, where I could not. I put off correcting the problem of your gender until Harry would be necessary, hoping your obscurity would allow us more time to prepare you.
"I saw you when you arrived in 1991, carrying yourself in a manner unlike any young witch I had ever seen. Most muggle-raised witches are bedazzled by magic and the magical world and become the strongest proponents of its regular but responsible use. Instead, you almost regretted having to use magic, and were critical of those who did so.
"I arranged for a series of tasks and opportunities that would lead you into a better understanding and appreciation for our world. You bonded well with Hagrid, but despite your inclusion in Quidditch, you remained an outsider. And you were very critical of me, for no reason I could fathom. There were, we both discovered later, very good reasons for you to be angry with me, but those were not known to either of us then.
"Your friendship with the Weasleys and Miss Granger were my only consolation, the only ties that might draw you into caring more for our culture. After your altercation in the Chamber, I had hoped that you would settle into the role of a hero on your own. You were certainly insightful enough to see Lord Malfoy's involvement in the plot, and outwitted both of us in gaining a loyal ally in Dobby. Yet your savage treatment of Gilderoy Lockhart gave me great concern.
"And, you still isolated yourself and acted to drive others away, even despite the efforts of Miss Granger to improve your public image during the next year. That you engaged in sexual acts so early was not my preference, but your growing love for her seemed to temper your anger, and thus I saw every reason to encourage its pursuit. You were afforded a very loose leash to learn about yourself, your parents' generation of friends and the benefits of, shall we say, regular demonstrations of emotional support. I knew it had gotten out of hand when Miss Granger had nearly died, but I still held back in the hope that Minerva's mentorship and close involvement might guide you out of that wilderness.
"You see, I was somewhat aware of your mutations and expected to be seeing quite a lot of you last year, seeking my help to understand them. Yet somehow, your transformations led you to spurn my aid, the aid of the greatest living alchemist, rather than to seek it out. Ever and always, when I would expect you to warm to our world and to me, you instead grew colder and more combative, even frightening. This came to a head when you attempted to learn the talent of the Animagus. I didn't foresee the alchemical consequences of your gender change, and thus we were all caught off guard when you appeared as Harry."
The headmaster took another cherry sour and sat back, shaking his head.
"The week of your revelation was one of the greatest bungles of my life. I can't tell you just how frustrating it is to be bedridden with flu, right when a critical event is unfolding without guidance. In the space of a week, I lost control of everything. I would have interceded on Miss Parkinson's behalf, negotiated with the goblins for you, counseled and aided your transformative experience, helped you explore your past and legacies- it could have been a defining moment for our relationship. Instead, I was running a high fever and your life was fast becoming like a rotten onion- each layer worse than the previous.
"Everything fell into chaos from then on. You were in Azkaban- I had no faith that you would survive the experience with your sanity, nor any reason to expect you to retain the noble traits of fellowship, mercy, understanding... some day, I would like to know how you endured that. The woman that returned from Azkaban was again, exactly the opposite of my expectation. You were mature, focused, deliberate, and even merciful to both Sirius and to Professor Snape, when both men had given you cause to act with vengeful cruelty. I knew then that I had stayed too distant for too long, for I clearly did not understand your qualities.
"My guilt was hard to bear, but I tried to soldier on, to repair our relationship by correcting my mistakes with your relatives and with the goblins. Again, I was hamstrung by circumstance- I was already deeply involved with arranging for the Tournament, in order to reach out from our isolation in preparation for the upcoming conflict. Yet again, your tendency to attract tragedy ruined my plans.
"When you confronted me on so many truths that I had thought were well-hidden, I had to rethink my entire strategy in handling you. You had proven yourself capable and commanding, an outcome of your upbringing that still confounds me. I offered the truth and my guidance, but you were still so angry with me that creating bonds through sharing secrets proved nearly impossible.
"I hope that my treatment of you this year is a better indication of the respect I held for you. I was delighted and impressed at your handling of re-Sorting, the Slytherin House culture and the creation of the 'Remedial Everything' classes. Even Harry's 'coming out' seemed to indicate a hope shining out of the darkness surrounding you- a chance that you could be both villain and hero. Our bowling conversation was one of my happiest recent memories, and the way I had hoped our relationship might continue to develop. The day of the Second Task I was nearly skipping the halls with how things were developing... at least until the goblins' assassin struck. Even so, I was delighted by the opportunity to fight for you and take those goblins to task for all the grief they've heaped upon us both with their treachery.
"Unfortunately, you caught me off-guard again by becoming pregnant. It was unfathomable to me, given your preference for witches, that you would have had voluntary heterosexual contact, or that you would somehow in this one instance have eschewed your proven talent for forethought and responsibility and fail to protect yourself from impregnation. Add to that your choice to... murder the unborn, and I'm afraid that you are now lost forever as a hero."
Holly gave him a quizzical glare.
"Heroes don't murder the innocent, Holly. It is a foundational truth that I thought you understood- magic exaggerates the forces of... let's call it 'karma' for the succinctness in meaning. Taking the life of your unborn child has stained your soul; it will never be suited for great and noble achievement. Any great aspirations and endeavours of yours will always be tainted by that sin, destined to fall apart from the corruption with which it infects your intent.
"This does not invalidate your worth to the conflict, but I believe it's time to look for another to become the symbol that can lead the decent citizens of the wizarding world out of the coming struggle. It is good that you have developed a working relationship with Alastor Moody- he is a capable field commander and would be an excellent mentor for your new role. I believe you can overcome the burden of your mistakes and find a good that you can accomplish. With my help, you may be able to redeem yourself. Without it... I'm afraid you may have already fallen too far. If you are seeking the greater cause for your recent suffering, I think this may explain it."
Holly had sat through the headmaster's ramble with attentive patience. She now tipped her head down, slumping in the chair.
Adrian spoke up. "Albus, Holly would like... a hug."
The headmaster looked at Holly's downturned face and knotted his brows. He tentatively leaned forward in his chair, opening his arms wide.
Holly looked up with hope and smashed her arms around the headmaster's midsection in a tight hug worthy of Hermione's best efforts. With a sob, she leaned back out of the embrace. Tears fell down her cheeks.
She slowly removed Adrian from her head and set him on the side table. She then raised up the wand she had surreptitiously taken from Albus' belt and stuck the tip in her mouth.
Albus breathed out, "My wand? How did you- No! Holly, don't-"
She closed her eyes and concentrated, while tears streamed down her face. She whined in anticipation of the pain. A flash of magic erupted within her mouth.
Holly tilted her head back in a garbled scream. At the tip of the wand in her mouth, a new tongue slowly curled its way into existence, erupting through the cauterized flesh at the back of Holly's throat. By the time she pulled the wand from her mouth, Holly's scream was much clearer.
She tipped forward then, expunging a gout of bile, blood and vomit onto the stone floor. Ragged breathing followed, and Albus could see Holly twisting her new tongue to relieve it of excess fluids and test it for full function. She rolled it, twisted it, split it and lengthened it, rolling it back into her mouth once she appeared satisfied. Holly climbed back to her feet, Vanishing the sick and such with a deft twitch of the headmaster's wand.
"In case you were wondering, (cough) that was painful."
Albus slumped back into his chair. "Oh, thank Merlin. Miss Evans, I... I thought perhaps that you had given up."
Holly stared at the headmaster with a cold, hard anger. Eventually she whispered, "Thanks for the loan. Riddle has all my other wands."
"He has Harry's wand as well?"
"Sure. He doesn't know it because it's trapped in a Switching spell on one of my toe rings, but he does have it."
Albus shook his head. "It would have been better if you had kept Harry's wand! Foolish... if those two wands had met in a duel, the interaction of feathers from the same Phoenix would create an effect called Priori Incantatem- a war of magic, of wills. With this, you could have defended against him and escaped... whole."
"When were you planning on telling me this?"
Albus gave her a pointed look while gesturing at her forehead. "I didn't want the capability to be known to Tom beforehand. You have a link to the Dark Lord within your scar, and he could very well have taken that knowledge for his own use."
Holly simply groaned for a moment in frustration.
The headmaster prodded, "What else have you lost?"
"Everything in my kit and Harry's robes- the upgraded Omni-goggles, Marauder's Map, Veritaserum, various healing potions and salves, scrolls, two backup wands with holsters, my favorite pair of boots that fit really well, my Invisibility Cloak-"
"Th-the Cloak? You... you lost-"
"They stripped me bare, Professor. They stripped away... everything."
"Perhaps you should explain what else happened after you and Mr. Diggory left the maze."
"Not much to report- Riddle disappeared from sight. He was still standing right there, mind you, but I couldn't find him. He summoned his followers; when they showed up; they could see him just fine."
"You said before that there was an Anti-Apparation jinx in effect."
"Yah. They appeared like big balls of black smoke that then coalesced into men wearing full face masks and black cloaks. And very little else."
"Did you recognise any of them?"
"Several, by voice. MacNair in particular was happy to see me."
Holly crossed her arms over her chest and looked away. "Sir, ask Madame Pomfrey."
"Why would she know better than you?"
Holly's glare gave the headmaster pause. She spat out, "Because, Sir, SHE TOOK THE SEMEN SAMPLES!"
"Oh, I'd like to thank you, sir, for all your guidance. What was the point of having Moody teach me traditional magical combat when I can't even see Riddle to target him? What's the idea behind arranging a secret weapon so secret, even the intended user wasn't aware of it?"
Albus responded as if insulted. "Voldemort's protections are unique. Even having experienced them, I could never quite understand how he remained so undefeatable. So much about him is a mystery, as I said."
"This bullshit about me having fallen from grace is just about the skeeviest slimeball maneuver to pull on a girl who was recently raped. If I hadn't gone into this knowing what the likely result would be, I'd be falling to pieces for you to reassemble as you saw fit. Instead, Riddle's nightmares of past revels prepped me for the experience. I might as well have been acting on stage."
"Are you saying that you intended to raise the Dark Lord?"
"I'm saying you have some skewed perspectives on truth, fairness and preparation. If you had made it clear to me how important it was that he not be reborn through THIS ritual, I would have killed Cedric immediately and escaped without injury, and the Dark Lord would still be stuck in a gothic pram. Instead I get two months of the silent treatment and then 'oh, by the way, I brought in an employee of the goblins to cover your back.'"
"Would you have truly done such a thing? Could you, in cold blood, take the life of a friend?"
Adrian grumbled from the side table, "Ahh, Albus-"
Holly quickly interrupted, "That's not the point. Everything you don't tell me is a weapon he can use to destroy me. Are you trying to help him win? Is that why you couldn't put him down, before? Because you don't really want him dead? I mean, he wasn't always this capable, but he's always been this evil. Why didn't you kill him fifty years ago when the Basilisk was his pet, or forty years ago when he wasn't half as knowledgeable? Why not thirty years ago, before he had established a support network to do his rituals? Why is he not dead already?"
Dumbledore said, very plainly, "I will not kill."
"So what happened with Grindelwald? Or was he the last one, that forced the change in habit?"
"I did not kill him, either. He is imprisoned. I've never killed anyone."
"Bullshit. You killed James Potter. You killed the McKinnons. Don't play like your hands are clean."
Albus lurched to standing in indignation. "They are! I have never taken a life. Others die, but not by my hand. This is what makes me the leader of the light, and the most powerful warlock on the face of the planet. I will not kill, so righteousness protects me. Fawkes would not stay, otherwise. You will never be able to earn the companionship of a Phoenix or Unicorn. There are moral absolutes, rules that must not be broken, or they shall taint your soul forever in a way that truly blessed creatures can instantly detect. I am so, so sorry for you, Miss Evans."
She then stared down at the wand in her hand. "Moral absolutes, eh? Then why do you have Luna's wand?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"This is Luna's wand- or it was."
Albus paled. "Miss Evans, this is very important; when did you see Miss Lovegood using this wand?"
"January of '94, the day before the Animagus testing potion revealed my proper background. I was heading for Professor Lupin's lab when she intercepted me in the hallway. She said some things that eventually came true, but then tried to Obliviate me of the whole thing. It's the only time I've ever seen her try to cast a spell. I disarmed her and dropped her off with Madame Pomfrey. To tell you the truth, I've never seen her quite so unhinged, before or since."
Albus sat down in the chair as if he had lost all strength.
"We are, quite completely, undone."
"That is no ordinary wand. It is known as the Elder wand. Unlike a traditional wizard's tool, this instrument changes allegiance as the previous owner is defeated. It is rumoured to be the most powerful magical focus ever known, undefeatable in pitched combat in the hands of a skilled wizard."
"Well, no wonder the tongue-regeneration thing worked. I knew Poppy couldn't fix me, but I also knew that this could. That's why I came up here. That, and to settle accounts, you might say."
"But we are undone, Holly. Miss Lovegood defeated me by stealing it, you defeated her by disarming her in that hallway, and now... Tom has the mastery of it."
"Uh, pardon my French but FUCK YOU!"
"You are such a man. Did you think I was defeated? I knew I was going to be raped! He's been dreaming of having me raped ever since Christmas, and I've seen him recollecting similar revels, shopping though them like a menu for how I was to be tortured."
"You knew... yet you entered the maze anyway?"
"Yes. It's called courage. You know you're going to suffer, but you throw yourself into the fire in the hope that it'll do some good."
"That's as may be, but in the end-"
"In the end, he lost his body and I killed ten of his closest supporters, including Walden MacNair, who might have defeated me when he cut out my eye. Not bad for losing two pieces."
"One killed, one retired from the field. I'm done."
"And what of our destiny, Miss Evans? You still must kill me mercifully, isn't that right?"
"You aren't the white wizard. Cedric was. Right before he died, he told me that he was still a virgin, and that he didn't want his first time to be a bunch of men gang-raping him. Thus, he was killed."
"You mean, that's when they cast the Killing curse on him."
Holly snapped a glare at the Professor. "No. That's when I leaned forward, touched my forehead to his, and tore his soul from its tether."
Albus stood up to loom over Holly, an indignant rage bubbling to the surface. "You... you... you cannot have! The killing curse requires a venal hatred for the target- you and Mr. Diggory have been friends for years."
Holly stared up at him. "I had just been raped more than twenty times because I was trying to keep him alive! At that point, Riddle had him convinced he had to slit my throat or else be molested and then killed as well. After all that I'd done, he was going to kill me? Believe me, I had enough hatred!"
Albus stepped back, seeing a similar hatred brewing in Holly's remaining eye.
She continued, "They were all quite impressed, actually. Except Riddle. He was rather annoyed that I had accomplished something that he couldn't, and cut out my tongue."
"I used a Rapport to convince Walden MacNair to kill me. His Murderous Curse reacted to my protections just the way Riddle's had. He blew up, taking out everyone near him, including Riddle's new body. With Riddle's wards no longer supported by his magic, Apparation and Protean magic started working again. Most of the survivors fled immediately. A few took time dying. Like me."
.Albus sighed. "You aren't dead, Holly, and you aren't leaving; you have a destiny."
"I assume you're referring to the prophecy, the one that states 'the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not'; unfortunately you bet on the wrong horse."
"Why do you say that?"
"Take a good look at my forehead, Headmaster." She turned her face upwards.
Albus stepped forward, looking at the pinkish skin still recovering from being burned and regrown. The barest shadow of dark stubbly hair had started to grow back on her skull. Holly stepped a foot closer to aid his inspection- the Scar now appeared as a faint jagged line, with miniature sigils made of white scar tissue almost visible at the widest point. Albus bent down and concentrated his scrutiny on the detail towards the bottom.
"Remarkable! There are runes within the-"
With a jerk forward, Holly's forehead smashed into the Headmaster's nose, breaking it with a painful snap. The startled man dropped back into his chair, clutching his bleeding face and moaning quietly.
"My mother's protection forced Riddle's splinter out of my head. His 'mark of equals' is gone. You should be happy- I wasn't a very agreeable hero, after all."
"But Harry must-"
A hum rose from the Elder wand, causing the air to warp. Holly was aiming behind Albus at the small table with the stone bowl.
"Holly, what are you doing?"
The spell shattered Albus' Pensieve, sending pieces of quartz flying all over the sitting area. Silvery memories spilt onto the floor. Albus jumped out of the chair, rushing to gather them. Holly drew a long memory strand from her temple and dropped it in the middle of the spill. While Albus slumped to the floor desperately collecting memory strands, Holly turned towards his display case filled with glass vials containing similar silvery slivers of memory.
Literally hundreds of the glass tubes began to hum, a few shattering immediately. Albus stood up and stepped between Holly and the glass case to intercept the beam of sound, his old bones creaking painfully under the strain. Holly pulled back on the wand, ending the spell.
Albus dropped to his knees once more, wandlessly conjuring up a sturdy metal pail. He collected memory strands by the handful, yet a few still slipped into the cracks in the floorboards. Albus' blood dripped from his rebroken nose into the mix.
Holly grumped. "Fine. Keep the bulk of them. You'll have to re-experience those mixed-up memories to ever get them sorted out without a Pensieve, and somewhere in there is the full version of my six hours of Hell. 'I hope your summer goes well'. Accio Newt."
The little ink lizard zipped up from a bookcase into Holly's hand. A moment after the creature had returned to Holly's hand, they exchanged a long look. Holly grumbled in annoyance.
"Ah, so you do have it. Accio Potter Grimoire."
One of the larger volumes flew out of the same bookcase and into Holly's grasp. The headmaster interrupted his memory-gathering to growl out an admonishment.
"Miss Evans, you betray the memory of your parents and all those who died opposing evil!"
"Oh, grow up! You lied, stole and cheated but I still survive and have recovered another of my legacies. You should be glad if your Pensieve is the last thing I shatter today."
"You! You cannot know what you've done here! Imbecile child!"
Holly grabbed Adrian from the side table and strode out of the chambers and into the headmaster's office. Through the door, Albus could see the angry witch turn to face him. She had left the book and wand on the headmaster's desk.
"And for my last trick..." Holly held up Adrian with her off-hand.
The Hat protested, "What? Miss Evans! I need to remain at Hogwarts-"
"Settle down Adrian- I just need to stick my arm up your hole."
"This takes our relationship in a direction I had never-"
Holly swirled her bare arm in a semi-graceful display. "Nothing up my sleeve..."
Holly jammed her arm up into the hat, swishing it around a bit, and then pulled out forcefully. In her grasp was the Blade of Gryffindor, once more restored to its original etched broadsword shape. She tossed Adrian somewhat roughly into the Headmaster's chair, with a stage performer's flourish.
Holly stepped forward to place one bare foot at the edge of the Headmaster's desk, and then jumped up to stand atop the furniture. She swung the blade up toward the arched ceiling, and then turned the point downward and plunged the weapon through the center of the desk. Albus could be heard moaning over the loud grinding as Holly used her weight to drive the blade's length completely through the dense wood, until the quillions were pressed against its varnished surface. Beneath the desk, the tip of the sword penetrated the flagstone of the office, locking sword and desk into place.
"There's your precious school artifact. Never say I don't return what I've borrowed. It will come out when drawn by someone worthy enough to bear it. Someone who recognizes it for what it is." As Holly released her grip on the weapon, a subtle rumble echoed from the roots of the castle.
Holly turned and jumped down from atop the desk. She grabbed up her book and tossed the Elder wand to the floor at the headmaster's feet. "You should hold onto that, too. You might need it."
Albus grabbed the wand and stood up, his anger flaring forth like a tempest. "That is enough! Sit down, Holly. I will not allow you to give up just because you lost a battle."
Holly's stance remained solid and she squinted back at the Headmaster. "Nice try. Since I'm not suppressing mini-Riddle in my head anymore, I've some extra mental resources available to resist Compulsions and the like. You will never again be able to use magic to influence me, if I have a say about it. As to my immediate future, I'm getting a check-up from Poppy and then I'm leaving. My stake in this squabble is done and I have better things to do with my time."
She turned and strode over to open the door. Turning back, she added, "And if you take a moment to count the dead, I think you'll realise that I won, 11 to 2."
Once the door sealed shut behind her, the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black snorted. "I take it back. She's a Black, through and through."
Just outside the door, Holly smiled into the hand mirror. Sirius looked back, whispering, "I'll remind Phineas he said that one day. What now, Rook?"
"A checkup and escape. Let's have a Marauder lunch. If I don't show up, you'll know something went wrong."
"Anything to get out of this house. But, ahhh..."
"Meet me at my parents' old place."
Holly closed the hand mirror with a snap.
Holly did check in with Pomfrey for a full review; she was swinging her legs while sitting atop a gurney, wearing only a patient's smock.
The healer danced a new pattern above Holly's head, saying, "Albus sent me a message, saying that I should refuse to help you, since you've been expelled."
Holly bowed her head to Poppy. "I am grateful for your adherence to a higher code. You didn't tell him that I was pregnant, either, did you?"
"No! Of course not. I told Minerva, but that was because she's your godmother."
"I can live with that."
Poppy scowled at Holly's comment, then cast another diagnostic spell. Her frown deepened.
"Your injuries and healing have been remarkable, but magic cannot regrow an eye. Frankly, I'm surprised you were able to fix your tongue."
"Special circumstances. There was a little left in the back, and I already heal quickly. Some high-octane healing Transfigurations and I'm set."
"My dear..." The Healer took a hold of Holly's upper arm, earning a flinch and a hiss from her patient. "I'm sorry to bring this up, but... you're pregnant again."
Holly grimaced at that.
"The baby's development has been accelerated by the Incubation Bath..." Madame Pomfrey frowned and turned away. She whispered, "I can... give you a potion..."
Holly scrunched up her face in concentration. A moment's pause and she shifted form into Harry. The dark-haired boy looked none the worse for wear aside from missing an eye, but he convulsed immediately, clutching at a sharp pain below his navel. Pomfrey attempted to cast a Diagnostic charm but she was waved off. Harry groaned for a moment, and then reverted to Holly, collapsing to the floor in obvious distress. Another groan and she expelled a small lump of bloody tissue from between her legs. Breathing heavily for a minute, Holly finally came to a resting heart rate and looked up at the healer from the flagstone, sweating profusely.
"Problem solved. Let's not figure out who that belonged to, okay?"
Holly crawled back to standing. After a cleansing charm for Holly and a quick reinvocation of the diagnostic, Poppy Pomfrey wept openly and embraced her. The pale girl accepted the hug but didn't return it, too discomforted as she was with this sympathy.
"Madame, I appreciate the thought. I was wondering if you had collected-"
Poppy sniffed and turned away, holding up a hand for Holly to wait. A minute later, she returned from her office carrying a folding travel chessboard.
Holly's eyebrows lifted in surprise. "Interesting packaging."
"That was provided by Minerva. If you respect no one else, please honour her. She has risked more for you than for anyone in the time I've known her."
Holly accepted the wooden box, answering, "I do honour her. I do love her. But I make my own choices."
Minerva responded from the doorway, "That is all I could ever want of you."
"Mum!" Holly smiled and rushed over to embrace her godmother, taking no notice of her open-backed tunic flapping behind her.
Minerva wrapped Holly in a hug, holding the young woman's head to her chest. "I came to escort you off the grounds. Albus is in a bit of a snit, and with you without a wand, I fear for what some of the students may attempt."
"Okay. Let me put on clothes and then we can go." Holly squeezed Minerva again and skipped back behind the curtain to re-dress.
Minerva and Poppy exchanged a look. They would be talking extensively at a later time; for now, a nod of thanks and acknowledgement were all that was needed.
Holly emerged from behind the screen in muggle clothes- a dress shirt, jeans and trainers. She barked out, "Winky!"
The bulb-nosed elf appeared with a 'pop'.
Winky snapped to a stiff stance, saluted Holly and said, "Acknowledged," disappearing once more.
Holly turned back to explain to the startled women, "She'll take care of getting my things home."
Minerva arched an eyebrow. "Your things? Only your things?"
"We'll find out, won't we? Hey, if it bothers you, at least you'll know where to look."
Holly and Minerva walked together past the Aurors that Minerva had Stupefied on her way in. They slipped along the quiet school hallways, the early hour allowing them to avoid much scrutiny. They made it to the entrance, having avoided gawkers and Ministry officials alike. They exited the front door only for Holly to collide with a man in black wool robes and a familiar sneer.
Professor McGonagall had her wand pointed at Severus Snape's face faster than any of them thought possible. Holly raised up a hand to stay her godmother's arm.
Minerva growled, "Holly, we don't know where he has been!"
Holly nodded. "Yes, but he wasn't there. That's enough for me, for now."
Professor Snape drawled out, "So, Evans. Talking again, I see. Some curses never end, do they?"
"And some do. We'll see which, eventually." Holly then turned away and headed down the path towards the front gate.
Professor McGonagall scowled at her colleague. "I'll have questions for you to answer later, Mr. Snape."
"Of course, Minerva. I wouldn't expect otherwise."
Holly stopped at the gate, turning to face her godmother.
"I'm not coming back, y'know?"
"I realise. Perhaps you'll accept some informal tutoring over the summer?"
"Maybe. I can do Charms alright but wandless Transfiguration- that'd be a real achievement. Would you come by for lunch? It's really important to me that you're there."
"Yes, assuming I am not overburdened by other responsibilities."
"And what will you tell the Ministry officials when they ask why you allowed their prisoner to leave the grounds?"
Minerva thought for a moment, and then offered, "The headmaster insisted that you be removed. I hadn't realised that he meant for you to be placed into their custody. Oops."
Holly gave her godmum a crushing hug. She then stepped past the gate and Disapparated.
Home and Hearth
When leaving Hogwarts, Holly's first instinct was to go home, but she instead found herself Apparating to the play-park in Little Whinging. A familial urge had changed her plans.
Holly took the opportunity to scan her clothes for unwanted tracking charms. Having removed all that she could find, she then settled onto a swing set. Within an hour, she saw Dudley ambling towards the park in the company of two of his friends. Once she was seen, Dudley aimed his crew directly towards her.
Holly gave him a friendly smile as he approached. "What's doin', Big D?"
"Holly. I didn't think you'd be coming back here."
"I'm not. I'm here to warn you. There's a madman out to kill me."
Dudley's friends cackled at that. Dudley stepped forward, his expression darkening.
Piers Polkiss scoffed. "Are you serious? Big D, what-"
Holly growled out, "If you're not my cousin, shut up and stop listening."
Both boys stepped back and looked at each other, mumbling almost reflexively about football.
Holly continued with Dudley. "He killed my parents and a whole lot of other talented people, if you catch my meaning."
"What should we do?"
"Move. Move away, and don't tell people where. If you see strangely-dressed types, you run."
Dudley nodded slowly. "Hols, I don't get it. Why would you bother to warn us?"
"Because no one else in my world would think to do so. Good luck, Dudley. Love to your Mum."
Before he could reply, Holly was gone.
A few hours later, Holly joined Sirius, Natalia and Remus who were standing at the monument stone outside 106 Matchstick Court. All looked at the ruins of the house, burnt and collapsed.
Holly sighed. "Home."
Natalia grumped. "Where've you been, anyhow?"
Holly looked over to her. "Church. I wanted to make sure the headmaster was wrong about me being unredeemable. I stayed to pray awhile, since we all agreed on the mirrors to meet for lunch."
Sirius grasped her shoulder, causing her to flinch slightly. "Hols... I'm so sorry."
She turned to face him. "Mum is coming. We just have to wait for my Mum. She'll straighten this out."
Minerva Apparated next to them after a few minutes' wait. She appeared shocked as well.
"Oh, dear! Oh, Holly!"
"Mum, do you still have that Valentine's card I sent you?"
Minerva smiled weakly and retrieved the small cardboard missive from an inside pocket of her robes, near her heart. Holly flipped it open and touched the message within, whispering 'Phasmatis Reus'. The greeting changed verbiage, now saying 'The Nautilus is located at 106-a Matchstick Court, Godric's Hollow, Wiltshire'. As each of them read the writing, the house appeared before them in all its simple limestone glory.
They stepped forward into the garden, heading for the front door, only the local postman intercepted them to hand Holly some junk mail.
"I like what ye've done wi' the place, Miss Evans. 'Twas a shame to see it all run down fer so long. Folks in town agree. They'd like it if'n ye'd stop by the Ol' Flagon fer a pint."
"Thanks, Bruce. I'll come 'round a'time."
"Ah, brilliant! Bring yer friends, too."
They all stared at him as he walked on, aside from Holly who was still flipping through her post. As Bruce strolled off to his next address, they turned to Holly for an explanation.
Sirius finally broke down and asked, "Hols, what just happened?"
"Oh, that! It turns out you can't put the Fidelius on a monument, and this place has been treated like a shrine for a decade. So I had the cornerstone carved away from the house and left up front. A simple form at the local registrars and the old address amounts to a square yard of heathen devotions for the dead Potters. For the rest, Hermione and Padma came up with a recipe for the Fidelius that includes an inverted Muggle-repelling charm. Most places under a Fidelius are Unplottable and protected by Notice-me-not or illusions of ruins only visible to the mundane. In our version, magicals see a ruin that they feel is haunted by tragedy (unless they're in on the Fidelius), but the muggles just see the house, and that square yard of my original address stays registered with the Ministry as an unpopulated but protected historical site. I love the irony."
Sirius asked, "Won't the Ministry come to investigate any magic cast here?"
The young Auror grinned. "Not likely. So many self-rebuilding shrines, eternal flames and indelible messages have been left here over the years that the Ministry has a blanket 'never mind' policy on anything short of Fiendfyre."
"It's the spirit of the Fidelius taken further- hide in plain sight by not hiding from mundane sight. Those Gubraithian flames make great nightlights, too. I'll show you- I jacked like a dozen of them to border the deck outside my bedroom."
They entered the home and Holly led them all up to the observation deck. She walked over to a spyglass mounted on the railing, looking through it to some location beyond the forest in the distance.
Two elves popped into existence, staring up at Holly. She turned to address them.
"I need you to move everything important out of the Madhouse and into the Nautilus as fast as you can. Only what's important. Do you remember what those things are?"
Both elves nodded enthusiastically and vanished.
"Why the urgency, Holly?"
"Because those goblins are about to set the cottage on fire."
Taking a quick look through the spyglass, Sirius could see a half-dozen goblins accompanied by several of their curse-breaker employees at the edge of the Nott property, using Fiendfyre to 'find' the Madhouse by destroying it.
Sirius, Remus, Minerva and Natalia all started bustling around, moving to help.
"Stop! If they detect us, it's all for naught. We need them to think they were successful. The elves know what the important things are. The rest of the library will just have to... burn."
Remus gasped, "Lily's journals?"
"Yah, but at least I've made sure they'll burn completely. Winky and Dobby will save the memories along with the Turner Gyro and some rare magical substances. I have to leave the 7-second mirror and the Octogonagall- it'll be the perfect sign for Tom that he achieved complete surprise- he'll assume I'm sentimental."
Natalia snickered. "You are sentimental, Hols."
"Uh huh. I'm much happier with a well-lacquered McGonagall and a burnt piece of furniture than the reverse."
Holly gripped Minerva's hand in hers and leaned up to give her Mum's cheek a quick buss.
"Let's go to the den. I need to introduce you to one other important person in my plans."
The collection of adults followed Holly down from the 'observation deck' by way of the spiral stairs and into the den. Holly gestured for them to sit comfortably while she stepped through the brick wall between the nearby fireplace and a well-occupied bookshelf.
Holly returned holding a gurgling infant with a shock of strawberry hair atop its head. Holly beamed down at the little bundle, rocking her gently. The whole room quickly stood to get a look at the baby.
Sirius stared at the child and her mother in disbelief.
"Sirius, this is my daughter- your granddaughter, effectively. Meet Chrysalis."
Holly carefully set the infant into Sirius' cradled arms. He stared down at the fussing child with a teary-eyed look of wonder. "She's big!"
"She's about five months old- I've been caring for her in the Madhouse when I can. I didn't want to miss anything, and there was a good chance I wasn't going to live this long. Every day, I flew out to the forest, Apparated here and, well, usually whipped out a teat so she could feed again."
Professor McGonagall asked, "But Holly, how could you make the time? The Turner was burnt out."
Sirius lifted up a small amulet on a chain beneath Chrys' shirt. "You mean, this Time Turner?"
Minerva squinted. "No. That's not the one they had before."
Holly replied, "The frame, no. The pixie dust or whatever is inside? That was from the Turner we've been using. I just switched the center mountings for one of the burnt-out ones Lily left at the bottom of the concrete tube."
"But why lie to me about it?"
"You can't defend your mind. I didn't want Albus getting some idea about anointing my child as the next saviour of the wizarding world. Better he think I aborted her."
Minerva thumped her chest for emphasis. "I thought you aborted her! How could you put me through that?"
"Because, Mum, I almost did! I was a fraction of a second from just defying destiny and killing my baby in the womb. At least eight times." The group grew quiet.
Sirius broke the tense silence. "So... why didn't you?"
Holly paced about. "It was... you have to understand. This child, this wonderful girl, will not live to her twenties. If destiny speaks true, she'll die at the hands of my enemies, and probably in Diagon Alley, where she and I are Christmas shopping. She'll be proudly wearing her Head-girl pin and her head will be crushed like a grape, right in front of me. And for some damned reason, the fate of the world will then rest on my forgiving the ones that did it."
Minerva asked, "Is this one of the visions from Luna?"
Holly nodded. "The Couatl jarred them loose when he slapped me in the head."
Minerva shook her head. "That's... I still don't understand why you would want to raise a child, when you expect to lose her so horribly."
"You're not seeing the complete picture. Assume the Symphony's previews are accurate in this case. The following things are then true; I will survive this war. My girl will go to Hogwarts, where she will excel. I will still be in a position to seek terrible vengeance upon my foes. Even Luna appears in my vision acting relatively sane and unharmed. In a nutshell- we win. I wouldn't still be in Britain otherwise."
Lupin asked, "And if these rumblings of destiny are not accurate?"
"Then my baby'll be fine and I can love her for a lifetime. I'll probably send her to Brazil for school, just to fuck with the Symphony. Definitely so, if Albus is still the Headmaster by then."
Minerva smiled down at the infant, but then turned a concerned look towards her goddaughter. "Holly... there is a scar on the top of her head. How was she injured?"
"She wasn't injured, Mum. She was... protected. I inscribed the Glyph of Weeping on her, as Lily did for Harry. If I died in the fight with Riddle, my hope was that she would be-"
Minerva's face fell open with shock. "YOU! You would have continued on in her!"
The others stared at Holly as well.
Holly grumped a bit. After a moment, she whispered, "I don't like to lose."
Minerva clarified tersely, "And so, this little bundle of potential 'you' is named Chrysalis?"
"Chrysanthemum Alice Evans."
Sirius gave her a distrusting look. "Evans?"
After a few moments hesitation, Holly rolled her eye and confessed. "...Longbottom. I'm just not going to tell him for a while. No need to ruin his life. She's my reason for living, aside from you lot. I spent seven months in the Madhouse this spring, bringing this cute little drool-machine to term. She was born May 1st, with the assistance of Winky and divine providence."
Holly smiled and stepped forward to tickle her daughter's feet.
"Like her mum, she gets multiple names. When she's trouble, we call her 'Mayday', don't we? Are you a little catastrophe? Every day! Every single day! And that's why mummy had to cut her hair short, wasn't it you iron-gripped little gremlin?"
Natalia rested her head over Holly's shoulder, beaming at the fussing child in Sirius' arms.
"Awww! She's a little button! I want one!"
Holly turned around to face Natalia with a broad smile, taking the taller witch in her arms loosely. "Okay."
"Riddle's thorn doesn't feed me nightmares anymore. I passed my OWLs. I took the ACME's with Fleur. Albus expelled me. The Ministry won't wake up and the goblins are eternal, it seems. No reason not to build a family."
A brief panic then crossed Holly's face.
"W-would you marry me, Natalia?"
Natalia erupted into happy tears. She bellowed out a very ungirlish "YES!" and snatched Holly up in her arms to snog her breathless. The rest of the room's occupants stared at the newly-engaged women, stunned speechless. Remus in particular collapsed into a chair.
Chrysalis startled them all back to reality with a plaintive cry, kicking her feet in Sirius' arms.
Sirius resumed rocking the annoyed infant. "But... but... what about...?"
Natalia let Holly drop back to standing on the floor, but maintained a close hug.
Holly turned her head in Nat's embrace to face Sirius. "Saving the world? Do me a favour as an engagement gift."
"Tell Albus I quit. The Blade of Gryffindor stuck through his desk should have been sufficient notice of termination, but as you may have observed, the man is exceedingly dense whenever it comes to me."
The End of Holly Evans and the Spiral Path
Prelude to The Spiral Path
The Couatl said, "Natalia Tonks. It's probably pointless to say to you, but... love endures, love heals, love triumphs- especially in adversity."
Natalia grinned and replied, "Of course it does!"
Natalia and Holly left the den together that evening, leaving Chrysalis in the doting care and attention of the elder Marauders (under Winky's constant vigilance). They ascended the stairs to the main bedroom, closing off the Observation Deck for the night.
Holly lolled gratefully into a warm hug from Natalia. After a few minutes of a standing cuddle, Nat prodded, "You quit, eh?"
"Saving Albus from his mistakes? Absolutely."
Natalia nodded for a moment. Another thought darkened her expression. "Hols, after we're married..."
"Do we still get to sleep around?"
Natalia's face darkened. "Hols... if I'm not going to be foreswearing all others, then why are you marrying me?"
"Because I love you."
"Hols, don't start going mushy on me, now. This is a grumpy question."
"You get to invent Mrs. Potter. I'm not interested in being Harry anymore, but the House of Potter should continue while it still serves a purpose. After all, the only babies you and I can produce together will be Potters. I'm taking a long view of this."
"Hang on. You're not going to be seeing others?"
"Well, what about recruitment? What about the Ministry and bright witches and-?"
Holly stopped Natalia's rising babble with a pair of fingers on her lips. Natalia could see, even in the fading light of dusk, a haunted look come over Holly.
Her voice was strained. "My love, I'm the one foreswearing all others. You can handle recruitment. I don't want to touch, or be touched by, anyone but family."
"I'm sure you'll recover-"
"EVER..." Holly's fierce growl broke into a shuddering sob. "...ag-againnn."
Natalia wrapped Holly in her arms, holding her loose but allowing Holly to seek some measure of safety within her embrace. After a bit, she guided them onto their bed and drew Holly close to her once more. For the next several hours, they lay together as Holly cried herself into exhaustion.
When Holly finally fell asleep, Natalia settled them in beneath the covers.
Holly woke up to find herself curled into a ball at the edge of the bed, still in her day clothes from leaving school. It was dark outside.
Newt crawled up to her face and looked into her good eye.
'So, are we done with the whining, Miss Evans? You're not seriously just retiring to raise babies.'
'Newt, c'mon! How am I supposed to just go on?'
'First step; you get up. Second step; you assess. Third step; you decide.'
Newt climbed onto her shoulder as she rose to sitting on the bed. Natalia let out a brief snore but resumed deep breathing soon after. Another minute passed in silence before Holly stood up. She walked over to the full-length mirror near the door to the ensuite. She looked over her reflection, visible in the flickering light coming from a shuttered everlasting fire kept inside the door as a nightlight.
Holly carefully undid the buttons on her dress shirt, and then unbuttoned her jeans to pull them to the floor. She stripped off the shirt and removed the dark blue bra holding her breasts tightly to her chest. One last movement to pull down her knickers and she was naked.
Her hair had already grown out to an inch of burgundy fuzz on her head. Her missing eye made the shadowed socket look sad and deflated, until Newt slipped inside to fill the space as a greyish replica of an eye.
Holly felt a brush on her thoughts, almost a caress.
'On station. I can see from here and tell you what I think. I like this. Feed me some milk of magnesia and I'll even look like an eye, sorta.'
'Perfect. You'll be alright in there?'
'Mum, I'm not wild about being outside your body anymore. It's dangerous. Maybe with me in here we can both avoid any further calamity. I'm well-motivated to keep you undamaged. For one thing, I think you look really good without so many scars.'
'No scars, really.'
Holly stepped forward to look more closely into the mirror.
She was startled by a low whistle coming from the bed. Natalia teased, "What a fox! I wanna kiss that girl until she's creamy!"
Holly moved her hands to her hips. "You wanted me when I was a chestless third-year."
"Sweetie, I've wanted you every time I saw you... except in the graveyard- you were all melty and gross."
Holly grimaced. "Thank you for reminding me."
"Hols, I've learned that tip-toeing around your troubled past leaves very few topics open for conversation. For instance; I was thinking about this recruitment plan of yours. I don't think it'll work."
"I dunno how many will want to join a secret organisation if you're at the top of the pyramid, Hols. Especially if no one thinks you have any fire left in you after your battle with Immortal Lord Devo."
"That's a good point." Holly began to pace a bit in thought.
Natalia ogled her lover's naked body in motion attentively, like a pre-teen boy watching his first porno.
Holly interrupted her accidental strut of seduction, turning to Natalia to suggest, "What if there was some other figure at the top, one who had 'subjugated' me to work for a greater purpose? You would be recruiting for this mysterious being, and I would simply be an enforcer of his or her will."
"Top... subjugated... enforcer... yeah." Natalia shook her head to focus. "Um, I mean... well, who would it be though?"
"We'll call her 'Spiral'. Given my publicly-known agendas, it would make sense that I would submit to a woman. It would also relieve me of the burden of leadership so I can take care of Chrysalis."
"Hang on; maybe we create an imaginary leader, but someone has to do the actual leading."
"Sure, but it should probably be a consensus of the current leaders- me, Hermione, Minerva, you and maybe Padma. You all thought I was too out of control at times. This way, we agree on what we're trying to accomplish before I make any rash tactical decisions."
"If we can keep Riddle under control, we might be able to use his return for our purposes. We'll make it a distributed, hidden membership; follow the design of modern terrorist cells, but as a way to gather info and exert influence subtly. We can fix things if we get the right people to join and get them in the right positions."
Nat scoffed. "And how do we do that?"
"Find out what they want, what they hate, what they fear, then tell them what you know is coming and offer our protection. Make sure you get a vow before talking about anything. Tell them that anyone Marked will be able to resist Mind Arts somewhat, so when Riddle's people start 'changing' minds, they'll come running to us for protection."
"Where's the sex come in?"
Holly smiled back at her skeptical look. "The price of admission, plus they learn how positive reinforcement works."
Natalia thought for a moment before an excited grin overtook her face. "You mean, I can make them happy with a touch?"
"Yup. Padma and Hermione say they've engineered an enhancement called the Regent's Rune. With it, the regent- that's you- can recruit and swear in more followers and set their motivation. Padma has volunteered to be your first recruit, to verify that it works. Just don't tell anyone else that it's me they're working for- say it's the great and terrible witch known only as Spiral," Holly paused a moment in thought, then smiled. "And if they press you about it you can hint that Perenelle Flamel isn't dead!"
"As far as we know, yeah. But if she's not dead, this should get her to pop out of her hidey-hole to say something. Don't you think?"
Natalia smiled and flipped off the bed, gathering Holly into her arms. She took Holly's face into her hands and leaned down to caress the witch's lips with her own. She followed the tender kiss with another smile for her lover. "Not when you do it so well! What shall I do for you, me fancy?"
"Arrange a meeting with Amelia. We need to know where she stands and whether she'll leave me alone."
"Okay, but that wasn't what I was talking about..." Natalia let her hands glide down Holly's back to caress her rump.
Holly stepped back out of Natalia's hold and wrapped her arms across her chest. "I'm not ready."
Natalia watched Holly turn away, looking sad. She grew angry and stepped up behind Holly, drawing her arms to her sides and making her face the mirror. "Stop acting like you're somebody else. You're Holly! You've been seeing the nightmares of what you went through in that graveyard for years! You knew what would happen, and I KNOW you were preparing yourself mentally to handle it. And now look at you!"
Holly shook her head, holding her eyes shut.
Natalia shook her shoulders. "LOOK AT YOURSELF! You won! You survived, and got rid of his poison in your head, and had your body fixed up. It's like I said when you and I first hid in the Madhouse- every time you survive, you get sexier! He made you more powerful- SEE IT!"
Holly popped open her eyes to stare into the mirror. Natalia stepped back, allowing Holly her free movement without pressure, moving to sit on the bed so that Holly had only herself to look at.
She added in a whisper, "Honestly, is there anything more he could do to you? You've survived his fire. He's the one running scared, now. You're his nightmare."
Holly stepped closer to the mirror, gliding her hands across her skin as if to confirm that what she saw was real. A small crease of white showed where the curse scar used to be, where her protection still resided. The punctures from the Basilisk had been reduced to dimples. Her shotgun wound was gone completely and the hole made by the goblin-venom dagger now appeared as a reddish v-shaped mole on her right breast. Turning around, Holly could see that her back and legs were equally bereft of the reminders of past pain. Her trembling hands glided over her pristine flesh, until they rested just above her nearly hairless Mons. She pressed in there.
A faint stencil of whitish scar tissue spread out in a design beneath her fingers. Once complete, it appeared as an inverse of the center of the Spiral Mark. Holly closed her eyes and concentrated.
Natalia gasped and called out from the bed, "What is thy bidding, my liege?"
"What did you feel?"
"You, calling to me. Also, I'm totally randy now." Natalia grabbed her wand and vanished her clothes, turning to give Holly a feral grin.
Holly stroked the emblem again, along an outside curve.
Natalia clenched up, and then gasped, "Hhhhahhh! Sweetie, you better get over here before I start testing out candlesticks."
Holly smiled and walked over to the bed. She followed Natalia to crawl under the covers, where Natalia's legs drew her into a tight all-limbs embrace.
Five minutes later, Winky appeared at the foot of the bed, interrupting their favourite exercise.
"My... Holly, Winky has a message from her Hermione!"
Holly stopped Natalia's work on her recovery and flipped the covers from over her head.
"What? What's the message?"
"Miss Hermione says, 'Stop doing that. I almost confused Parvati for her sister and I can't Apparate from here.'"
Nat and Hols burst out laughing.
Finally, Holly said, "Send her my apologies and tell her I'll make it up to her later."
Winky bowed and popped away.
Holly shook her head. She mused, "Poor Violet. Pansy'll wake up out on the lawn, barely remembering some potent dreams that she'll want to suppress." She then tapped a fingernail against her teeth. "I wonder..."
"What's cooking in yer noodle now?"
A loud snap heralded the appearance of Fleur Delacour into their midst. She immediately fell to the floor with a gasp, her breath coming heavy and her fingers actively working inside her unbuttoned slacks.
Holly teased, "Always fashionably late, my flower?"
Fleur mumbled through a stuttering response. "H-had t-to... (mMMMMHH!)... cummmmmm... f-from France... Halfway here and I had to... had to... M'Dieu! M'Dieu! M'Dieu! Mon DIEUUUUUU!"
Natalia moved to crawl over Holly towards the Veela (who was still preoccupied with diddling herself), asking, "How did you capture this treasure, my liege-love?"
Holly shrugged. "She lost a bet."
"As your fiancée, I say you forsake all others only if I'm not there. It'd be rude to shun my guests."
"I can work with that."
Further conversation was drowned out by Fleur's ecstatic cry.
Holly heard Newt giggling in her head.
'That's how you go on, Mum. Fourth step; Natalia and Fleur lick you silly.'
Holly knew it wasn't going to be that easy, but at least now she had a plan.
Wednesday, 28th June, 1995
Hermione Granger had spent most of the trip home on the Express traveling back and forth along the train, assuring friends and the curious that the world hadn't come to an end with both Cedric and Holly gone from leading the school. Some few asked about Holly, but Hermione decided not to feed the rumours with anything except the publicly-known truth; Holly had survived a horrible battle and had now left Hogwarts as an adult. When asked about that last point, Hermione would hint that no one was sure when her birthday really was.
"Honestly! Does she act like a fourth-year? How many other fourth-years do you know that have killed a dragon? Show of hands?"
For the last hour (since changing to muggle clothes), Hermione had been sitting alone in her cabin, thinking. She didn't know what her own future would hold. She was also a little put out that no one had asked her about her own plans for the summer or the following school year. It seemed everyone assumed she was... normal.
Her reverie was interrupted by three boys from Slytherin sliding open the door to enter her cabin.
Stephen Montague spoke up, acting as ringleader for the other sixth years. "Waiting until the rest are gone before you slink back to the wretched hole that spawned you, Granger?"
Hermione could tell their intent was nefarious, but being caught by surprise threw her into a panic. She then realised that her deep thinking time had run through everyone leaving the Express at King's Cross Station. She simulated a panic (really- it was just an act), while her mind raced to clamp down and think of a solution; 'three opponents, already armed, limited space surrounded by glass and wood, non-muggle area...'
Montague and his friends Haugen and Warrington moved into the cabin with wands drawn. Warrington turned to seal the door and close the curtains.
Just then the loud roar of an engine was heard to echo throughout the train platform. It seemed to come from everywhere but it quickly was pinpointed to a red motorcycle literally flying into the space, landing with a loud screech of tires on cement. It was driven by a woman in dark red cyclist's leathers wearing a fully-enclosed helmet.
The cycle came to a stop outside the window behind Hermione. The rider removed her helmet and spoke out in a strong, proud voice.
"If you're done playing, we can go home now, Hermione."
The wizards in the cabin pointed their wands at Holly.
Hermione then sent off a spell that slammed all three into the ceiling and then dropped them to the floor with similar force. She rose from the bench, making certain that the wizards weren't moving to re-engage, but their moans and groans seemed to indicate that the fight had left them.
Hermione turned around and called out to Holly, "Done. I'll be right out." After casting a Shrinking charm on her trunk and pocketing it, she stepped over the foolish boys from Slytherin to exit the cabin.
As Hermione stepped off of the Express, she could see a crowd of thirty or more students a dozen yards down the platform, keeping a safe distance from the motorcycle and its rider. Hermione smiled at them.
"I'll be with Holly if anyone needs my help." She then walked over and swung her leg around to sit behind Holly on the motorcycle. She put on the offered helmet and then hugged tightly to her friend's back.
Three of the younger students let out a cheer, kicking off a succession of applause. It was only drowned out when Holly restarted the engine, spun the cycle around and jetted back out of the station, following the tracks of the Express back into the sunlight.
The story will continue in 'The Spiral Path'. It's not just Holly's story anymore.
One small point to mention, left over from Tangent 9501:
The Tangents don't appear in the Journal
While most of Holly's secrets are posted or at least mentioned in the Journal, there are a few that still remain hidden: Newt's survival and the source of Pog Granger; Fleur's turnaround in attitude; Neville's role as father to Chrysalis (and her existence); Holly's motorcycle-suitcase; Florean's role as secret-keeper for the Nautilus; the details of Holly's subjugation of Slytherin; Narcissa's seduction attempt after Lammas; the visions Luna gave Holly in a kiss; the Compulsion on Miles Bletchley; and (perhaps most importantly) Holly's true relationship with Pansy/Violet.
We'll see if that's enough.