Disclaimer: Not mine.
Coming Full Circle
Hermione settled onto the sofa, a child on each side, smiling up at Harry as she opened the picture book and began to translate as she read.
"Once upon a time, long ago, there was a village where everyone was happy. There were no wars, no angry words and no one wanted more than they had. This little village had always been and always would be. It was a little village, each family had their own house, and all the houses surrounded a square that they played games in and worshiped the gods that had given them this blessed place.
The village had protection on three sides by great mountains that kept it hidden and safe from other men. On the forth side, the villagers could see for miles over icy waters that sheltered them from the evils of the outside world and offered them fish and all manner of food.
They were happy living there, this people that had always been, until one day a great war broke out across the world, and the evilness came to them from over the mountains and from across the sea. Men in ships came and burnt their village, killing those that hid in their homes and the old men that tried to make peace. Since they were forbidden to use magic against another man, even as their world ended around them, they hung on to their beliefs and remained true to their gods, forgiving the men even as they died and their homes burned.
Their magic was the old magic that had been given to them to use only for good. When the war of men came to them, only the mother of the village lost her temper and used her magic to destroy the men of war. She caused their ships to sink in the harbour, and great fires to rain down from the heavens. Because of this, she and her people were not allowed to pass on with the gods as they had been promised since the beginning of time, but held in limbo, waiting. The mother was punished, and forced to live alone, until she could learn again the old ways and to forgive the sons of man."
"Umm, Hermione? Don't you think you could find something else they may…" Harry started, looking at the kids uncomfortably.
"No," Nada said, reaching out and slapping her hand on the book that Hermione held. "I want this one. See the picture?"
"We could find a happier story," Hermione suggested. "She thinks it looks like their old home."
"Nada wants this one. It was her turn to chose," Wilhelm said, looking up at Hermione frowning.
"One day, many years later," Hermione began again, laughing at Harry's disapproving look, "she found one of the men she had railed against, a man from across the sea. He had been sent to her as a test. She took care of him, feed him and carved his named into a great stone table, adding his name to that of her people. She learned patience again, and with it how to love. She again used magic only for good and once more had children that ran and played and learned the old ways.
The man she had saved became her husband, and together they lived three hundred years. One day, until unable to watch him die, she prayed to the gods and was allowed to join him. When she died, she took this husband to her people that still waited for her, and once again, she lived in her village as it had been.
You must remember, this above all else, It is only through keeping to the ways of the old people, to forgive those that raise their hand against us that we can be assured ever lasting life."
"Now, off to bed. We can read another one the next time you come." Hermione looked up and saw Harry watching her closely, a look of confusion evident on his face.
"Where did you find that book?" he asked.
"Durmstrang. One of their children's books that I thought was foolishness. Harry? There are forty-eight stories in this book. They are all like this. Some pretty little parables, some dark stories warning about greed and power. This has to be the key to the runes. Each rune was a world, and each world had its own…I don't know what to call it…like a personality…a focus."
"Come on kids, bed time," he said over their protests. "Aunt Ginny can read you another story tomorrow night. I am sure Auntie Hermione will let you keep the book for a few days."
After he tucked Wilhelm and Nada in bed, Harry picked up the book and flopped down next to Hermione. "What are you thinking? I know that look."
"I think I was a damned fool not to read this book instead of the scholarly attempts to explain runes."
"It's like Divination. It only makes sense if you know the real story already."
"Maybe, but it would have convinced me there was nothing to it and I would have stayed home. I mean, sure…the part about dying and going home is foolish…but he said Mara couldn't die…that part sounds true."
"I doubt you would have stayed home, and you never would have found Snape and Mulciber."
"The Snapes," she said, trying to grin. "Kingsley said the git is marrying her. At least one good thing came out of all this."
"Now, that's a surprise. I wouldn't think anyone would ever marry him."
"My mother used to say the same thing about me," she laughed, wrapping her arm around his. "Read me a story?"
"Sure." He opened up the book and started flipping through it. "Which one?"
"One about the new runes. I haven't had time to read them all yet. There is one in there about the importance of family and how children can keep a whole family together but your Russian may not be up to it."
He looked at her smugly and smirked. "I may surprise you. Are they all parables? I mean…like Muggle fairy tales? Teaching kids to be good?"
"No, not at all, some cover how to act in war, or rather how not to fight in one but to settle differences before things get that far. I rather liked that one. Okay, pick a different one, something darker."
"Oh, here, it says it is a story of self sacrifice and redemption."
"Umm…sounds like where Snape was." She yawned and laid her head on his shoulder listening to his voice drone on, only catching every few words as he read slowly, fighting with the translation.
"Hermione…sit up…did you hear that? I know I got it right."
"Listen…so this happy couple have this big fight, his wife, or whatever, gets mad at him, and in a fit of rage because he looked at someone else, she throws him into exile where he decides to stay because if he leaves she will die…some sort of magic thingy. Okay, so I may not have gotten that part right, but it goes on to say that years later she gets thinking about it….and listen …just listen…
'One day she was so filled with remorse that she found another marked as he had been marked, and he went down on his knees in the labyrinth and using their combined magic to touch her husband's mind they called him home. '
Fuck!" He looked at her, raking his hand through his hair. "There's more… it goes on that he comes home and yada yada… here listen… 'It was only through his love and protection that no harm could follow him out of his exile and into the world of mortals'. Now what the fuck to you think that means?"
"Let me see that."She grabbed the book and started flipping the pages. "There is one here about how you shouldn't take little things and blow them up to the size of a mountain. Harry? That place you and Ron almost killed each other."
"It's been six months," Harry pointed out.
"So what? It's been fucking centuries since these stories were told. I have to get out of here. I need to see Snape. Now."
"Hermione…they are children's…"
"Yeah, remember Occam's razor? This is crazy. It's crazy and it makes as much sense as all that bull shite we kept coming up with."
"Snape's gone," he sighed. "He and Constance are in hiding, not real hiding but he said he didn't want any publicity and…"
"Forget it." She jumped up and began pacing. "It says 'another marked as he had been marked", Snape isn't marked anymore." She stopped and turned to Harry. "Who didn't go to Azkaban that has the mark?"
"Only Malfoy. Everyone else is still in there."
"Draco," she whispered. "I need to see him."
"Hermione, it's been too long and I am not letting you do this."
"Then damn you Harry Potter, damn you to hell! If all I get back is his body…if that is all that is left…at least he will be buried properly! Not letting me! Since when do I take orders from you?" She grabbed her outer robes and hurried to the door, leaving only to stumble into an awkward apparation once she reached the gate.
After pounding on the front door of Malfoy Manor and having the door opened a crack as a small nervous elf peaked out, she had demanded to see Draco. Fuming as the door shut in her face she again pounded until Draco himself opened it and stepped to the side, indicting that she should enter. Once inside she felt her breathing quicken at the familiar sight of the main hall, remembering the last time she had been inside this place.
"I have something I have to ask you," she spat.
"Too late, Granger, or is it Weasley, I've lost track…I already received a floo from Potter." Draco folded his arms over his chest and sneered down at her.
"Forget him," she said, looking around nervously. "Are you alone?"
"No, the Dark Lord is in the next room and Bellatrix is waiting for you," he said sarcastically.
"Shut up, Malfoy. The last time I was here it was rather…harrowing."
"So I take it this is your pay back?" He smirked at her and tried not to grin.
"Listen," she said, rolling her eyes, "I know we don't like each other, but I need your help."
"I can pay you."
"Look around. Does it look like I need your money?"
"Fifteen minutes. Give me fifteen minutes before you side with Potter. Anyway, since when have you ever sided with him? You should help me just to spite him."
"I heard about your little excursion, Granger. If this has to do with the weasel…"
"Harry was told not to tell anyone," she said angrily.
"He didn't say a word. I talked to my godfather."
"Who?" she asked, confused when he turned and strode into the formal sitting room.
"Snape is my godfather. Didn't know that? I am surprised. I thought you were supposed to know everything. You see he was once friends with my parents, real friends, before all this started, or at least before my dear father was in too deep to get out like Snape did."
"I heard it was your family that convinced him to…"
"No one had to convince him, he did that all by himself," Draco said tiredly and flopped in a chair. "What do you want, Granger? It's been over for years."
"You've spoken to him since he came back?"
"Did he tell you where he has been? What happened to Ron?"
"Some of it, not the details. I know he stayed behind. I asked him about it a couple of times, he kept changing the topic," Draco admitted.
Hermione launched into a short synopsis of their last hours in the other world, and then summarized the book she had been reading to the Wilhelm and Nada, pointing out the similarities to it and what really happened. When she reached the part about 'another marked as he had been', Draco stood up and started pacing. "Okay, stop right there. It also says labyrinth, know any of those that just happen to be around here? Not a hedge…a real one?"
"The original meaning wasn't a maze it meant a hidden place, a safe place, a place that there was only one way into and out of. Usually a place underground."
"Right," Draco snorted. "You've seen the dungeons. Care to have another look for old time's sake?"
"If you won't help me with this I will find a way to take the mark myself," she hissed.
"You can't," he spat back. "You need someone to put it on you…to…" he started then looked at her quizzically.
"Go on. Tell me who put the mark of Voldemort."
"I don't know," he said meekly, turning on her with a glare. "Neither do you, so don't play all high and mighty with me!"
"Malfoy…listen. I am not asking you to go anywhere or to risk anything. I just need you to…"
"He doesn't need to get involved in something that he shouldn't be caught up in." Harry said angrily, striding into the room. "Bloody hell, Malfoy, you have to do something about those peacocks. The cock has it in for me, I know he does."
"You are the only one he goes after." Draco chuckled. "You must smell like an Auror, well trained aren't they?"
"Shite," Hermione said, slumping into a chair. "Harry, what are you doing here?"
"I come once a month to talk."
"Part of my probation," Draco quipped as he crossed to the liquor cabinet. "Usual?"
"Yeah," Harry said, sitting on the sofa and grinning at the look on Hermione's face. "Bring her a white wine, looks like she could use a drink."
"Only my probation was up a few months ago and he keeps coming. I've been meaning to ask you about that, Potter."
"Habit," Harry laughed. "Plus that you have the best scotch money can buy."
"I'll have to stop keeping it in stock. Try Midleton, not as…fruity…but even you can afford it. Unless you wife gives you an allowance," Draco muttered. "Now what is this all about…truly?"
"I told you," Hermione said. "It says you can call back Ron…the book, it says he's coming home."
"What? A kid's storybook? My son had a book that had talking trains and brooms that danced. Maybe I should…"
"Cut it out," Hermione spat.
"Okay, let's say I can call him back. Where is the labyrinth?"
"That's what we have to figure out. You knew Voldemort better than any of us did. Did he ever say anything about a place around here he could hide in?"
"I hate to disappoint you, Granger, but I was not on his list of confidants. I was on the short list of those due to be tortured for stepping out of line."
"Okay, let's make a list." She looked around the room and saw Narcissa's writing table. Finding parchment and quill she turned back to see both Harry and Draco staring at her in disbelief. "Fine, I am nutters. Just play along until they lock me up."
"Deal," Draco smirked, holding up a bottle and seeing Harry's nod his consent to a second drink.
"Okay, first…it has to be underground. Second, it has to be close…close enough for his followers to apparate into. Three, it has to…"
"Forget two." Harry sipped his drink. "Death Eaters could apparate farther than the rest of the Order, and we had some powerful wizards. Even if we tracked them we had trouble following."
"Fine." Hermione chewed the end of the quill. "Three, or rather…two, it was used to transport things from here to his manor."
"Or the other way around," Draco chuckled. "Sorry, just thought I would toss that in."
"Three, it is older than we are. It would have been built at the same time as the place Snape was at. He used it to…" She stopped and turned to Harry. "Didn't he make the Inferi in Albania? Isn't that what Dumbledore always thought? His hide-a-way was crawling with Inferi and those…those dead things."
"Yeah, I guess…he said Voldemort had an army of them."
"Why keep them on the other side? Why not here?"
"He did. Remember the cave…" Harry snapped his eyes up to Hermione's face. "Bloody hell!"
Hermione was on her feet. "We need to get there. Now. Fuck, he kept his army on the other side and sent them through when he needed them! That cave wasn't there just to hide a fucking locket, it was there to transfer his army in and out as he needed it. That's how he hid them between the wars. Where else could he have hidden a shite load of dead things? We had it backwards…the locket was there because of the Inferi, he didn't bring them just to protect it…they were already there!"
"Mione," Harry said in a warning voice. "You know the rules. No more running off…"
"I am not running off. I am going to a historical place concerning a book I am researching and the cave is most decisively a historical place," she said evenly. "Malfoy, do you know when it is low tide?"
"What the fuck do I look like?" Draco said in mock horror. "Some ruddy fisherman?"
"No, you look like someone who visits his father in Azkaban." Hermione put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "You go during high tide, we add twelve hours and we should be fine."
Draco turned back to the liquor cabinet as Harry started to list all the reasons they shouldn't go and then pointed out the futility of Hermione's quest. Listening to the Auror's arguments and Hermione's retorts, he chuckled and shook his head. "You two will never grow up. Face it, Potter, you will do anything she asks you to do. From day one I could never figure out which one of you had the worse ideas."
"Fine," Harry huffed, raking his hand through his hair. "Don't think you are getting out of this, Malfoy. Keep her here until I get back. Ginny still isn't talking to me for running off last time and now I have to tell her I'm doing it again."
"Harry?" Hermione said softly. "Don't tell her. Once we find out if it works…if we can truly bury him…wait until then. It's been hard on her."
"She's right," Draco said. "It's not dangerous if the Inferi are dead…really dead… and all we are doing is wasting a couple of hours anyway. What we don't need is a Weasley tagging along if his body is in the condition I think it will be in."
Harry took Hermione in a side-along to the small island just off the coast of Northern Scotland that sat within sight of the cave. He left her there and returned for Draco, depositing them both and waiting with them for the water to recede from the mouth of the cave. Once the tide was at the low point, he pulled three brooms from his pocket, enlarged them and handed one to each. Flying to the cave he had second thoughts when he saw how hopeful Hermione looked but knew it was too late to stop her form pinning her hopes on something impossible.
"Even Dumbledore was confused the first time I came here. There was a blood oath sealing it," Harry declared as they set down on their brooms. "Listen…if there are still Inferi in here we leave until we have more help."
Hermione nodded, searching he earthen walls for an opening, almost calling out when Draco pushed up his sleeve and with a small pocketknife nicked himself, letting his blood drip to the ground. A shuddering rumble began as rocks and earth slid aside, revealing an opening to the cave beyond.
"Oh my gods," Hermione gasped, slapping her hand over her nose. "What is that stench?"
Draco lifted his wand and began cleaning the air, his lip curled up in disgust. "Rotting flesh."
"The Inferi," Harry said, trying to breathe through is mouth, helping Draco clean the scent. "At least we know they are dead."
"Okay, Granger, if this is the labyrinth what now?"
"Since you never asked for the summoning spell I take it you know it." She looked into the darkness of the cave, hesitant to enter as she watched the emotions that flickered across Harry's face. She pulled her wand and helped rid the air of the smell of spoiled meat as she fought not to vomit.
As they entered the cave, Hermione had to turn her back on the sigh of bloated bodies in various states of decay, floating on a sea of filth. Vomiting onto the ground, she heard Harry doing the same. Draco silently cast a spell, setting the lake on fire, burning off the top layer and adding sweet smelling smoke to the air.
"That's as good as it's going to get," Draco said, fighting his own gag reflex. "Let's get this over with."
He fell to one knee, pushed up his left sleeve and touched his forearm with his wand. Hermione saw him swallow hard, his hand fisted on his wand so hard that his knuckles turned white. Laying a hand on his shoulder, she tried to reassure him only to have him shrug her hand off and begin an incantation she could barely hear. Leaning closer, trying to discern what he said, she saw Harry light the tip of his wand and point it into the dark recesses of the cave, lighting what appeared to be a sea of rotting flesh.
"Nothing," Draco gasped, sweat beading on his brow despite the coldness of the dank cave, the snake burning as it moved on his arm. "The fuckers dead and he still manages to control the bloody mark."
"Try again," Hermione implored, close to begging. "Remember, he is dead. He can't hurt you…not anymore."
Draco nodded and raised his wand to his arm and paused as he touched it to the stone floor instead, muttering the same incantation only this time feeling a swirl of magic as Hermione again touched his shoulder. He raised his voice, commanding Ronald to return, demanding that he follow his call to the labyrinth, to appear in front of him.
"There! I think I see something!" Harry shouted, increasing the luminous glow at the tip of his wand. "Hermione, help me!"
She raced to him, adding the light from her wand to his and saw the same pile of rags as he did across the pool of water, crumbled in a heap next to the fountain that had once hidden the locket.
"Accio broom," she called, waiting for the familiar feel of the broom handle to slap her palm, and hearing Harry and Draco's own commands, she mounted her broom and sped over the water and rotting corpses to the far side of the cave.
"Hermione, wait," Harry shouted as his feet touched down and he grabbed her arm, yanking her back. "Don't, you don't want to remember him like this. Let me take him home."
"Potter," Draco called from his position next to Ronald. "He's alive."
Hermione let out a sob and pulled away from Harry, throwing herself on the ground next to Draco and helping him roll Ronald to his back. She put her hands over her mouth as she looked up at Harry, her eyes full of tears. Ronald lay still, barely breathing, labouring as he sucked in each lungful of air. He was unwashed, unshaven, and thinner than they had ever seen him and showed no sign that he knew where he was.
Draco pushed Ronald's hair out of his face, not able to hide his disgust. "Bloody hell, are you sure it's him?"
"We have to get him out of here," Hermione cried, laying her head on Ronald's chest and clutching the tattered remains of his shirt in her fists. "My gods…how could I have believed he died. It's my fault…all of it."
"Mione," Harry said gently, pulling her back. "We both did. Now let me take him."
"I don't think you should do that," Draco said. "If he isn't dead now that would…sorry, Granger, but it would kill him, and I'm not sure apparation is any better. He can hardly breathe now, he gets squeezed and you can forget it."
"Fuck," Harry spat, raking his hand through his hair. "We should have thought to bring a portkey."
"What for? To transport a corpse? You said he was dead." Draco ripped off a shred of Ronald's shirt, then stood and took it as far from the others as he could where he started casting spells. Once satisfied he turned back to Harry and Hermione.
"It won't take all of us…but it's keyed to St. Mungo's," he muttered. "I expect you to get me out of this."
"I don't think anyone will care about an illegal portkey," Harry said flatly, nodding to Draco, knowing that since he carried the mark it was still a possibility.
"Harry," Hermione sobbed, still on her knees, gently stroking Ronald's forehead. "You take him. If Draco or I show up with him, it will take longer. They will just start asking questions. You're an Auror…they won't question you."
"She's right," Draco agreed, crinkling his nose as he walked closer to Ronald. "Get him out of here before we have another corpse."
"Get her home," Harry said as he knelt, gently lifting Hermione away, taking the scrape of cloth and holding it to Ronald's chest as the portkey activated and took them away.
"Did you see him?" Hermione sobbed. "He must have…I can't imagine what he went through. Did you see him?"
"Yeah, looked like shite." Draco shrunk her broom and put it in his pocket then mounted his own, holding his hand out to her. "Come on, I don't think you should fly your own."
Taking her to the small rocky island outside or the cave, he pulled her into his side and apparated to a small near seaside town to get his bearings and give them a place to clean off the smell that still lingered on their clothing. Once done, he spun them out again to a deserted alleyway in London.
"St. Mungo's is around the corner," he explained, flicking imaginary dust from his trousers. "The last time I used the main entry I thought the receptionist was going hex me. They still don't allow Malfoys around here. I have my own healer that comes to the manor."
"We are quite the sight." She brushed off the dirt from the cave and pulled off her outer robes, seeing him step back into the shadows. "Aren't you coming?"
"No, when I said they don't like Malfoys I meant it. Anyway, it was part of my probation not to be with more than six other people at a time. Until I have my discharge papers on me I can't go in there," he laughed. "Tell Potter this makes us even."
Hermione watched him apparate away before running to the hospital to be with Ronald. By the time she was allowed up to his floor, an entire squadron of Aurors where in the corridor, keeping people away from his room. Only with Harry's interference was she allowed to pass and make it into the waiting room where she began to pace.
After what seemed like an hour, but in truth was only minutes, the door opened and George rushed in, out of breath and sputtering. "He made it? He's back? I just heard…Mum is on her way and Dad went to pick up Ginny. Is it true?"
"George." Hermione flung her arms around his neck. "He's still in with the healers. I don't know what is happening. I saw Kingsley, he must have Harry with him."
"It's true?" He pulled her away just long enough to see her nod before he hugged her tightly. "My gods. He's back."
"Where is Harry?" Ginny said as she entered the room. "Is he hurt? Where is he?"
"He's fine," Hermione sobbed, pulling out of George's embrace as more of the Weasley family filled the room. "I don't know how Ron is…they won't say anything. They let me this far…but…no one will talk to me."
"You're sure? You're sure Harry is okay?" Ginny twisted her hands together, her voice shaking, on the verge of breaking into tears. "If you put him in danger…"
"Ginny!" Arthur said louder than he wanted to, hearing the sudden silence that descended over the room. "If she said Harry is fine I am sure he is. Now everyone, calm down until we get this sorted out."
"Fine? He's fine?" Ginny yelled. "She makes Harry run off again on one of her little adventures without a word to anyone and that's it?"
"Ginny, I am sorry. There wasn't anything dangerous. We just…"
"I need to see him," Ginny spat and headed out of the room. "I'm not taking her word for anything."
Hermione turned her back on the rest of the Weasleys and stood looking out of the window, knowing that the scene she saw did not exist but was only to give the room the appearance of normalcy. She felt her stomach clench and her chest refuse to expand as she fought for breath, not wanting to break down in front of everyone. On the verge of collapse, she felt two arms wrap around her waist and a head lean on hers. Leaning back into the embrace she felt like she was wrapped in Ronald's arms and began to sob.
"Charlie." Her voice hitched, not needing to look up to know who it was. "I'm glad you are here."
"It's okay, don't let her bother you. She gets like that sometimes when she is worried. She just heard that Harry…she is worried."
"Have you seen him?"
"No, Dad's going to try to talk to the healer."
"He's bad, Charlie, truly bad. If I didn't know it was him I wouldn't have recognised him. He looks like a walking skeleton…he's…"
"He'll be fine. He made it this far."
"Hermione…quick." Arthur stood in the doorway, a Healer standing next to him. "He's awake…he is asking for you."
"My god," she whispered and hurried to Arthur.
"They are going to put him under, he needs surgery. He said not until he saw you."
"He can talk? That's a good sign right, Dad? That means he'll be okay? He is okay now?" she pleaded, her eyes filling with tears as she watched Arthur' face, not seeing any encouragement.
Arthur opened Ronald's door as two Aurors stepped back letting them through, and nodded for her to go in first. She all but flew to the bed, grabbing Ronald's hand and laying her head on his chest.
"Ron, oh my god, can you ever…"
"Shhh…" he tried to smile, his mouth silently opening, trying to talk. Hermione lifted her head, studying his face as her eyes clouded with tears. Leaning over him he gently kissed his forehead.
"I thought I lost you."
Again, he tried to talk only to close his eyes and sigh deeply. Leaning down, putting her ear to his mouth, she heard the one word he managed to say before he fell back asleep.
The royalties from the sale of Hermione's children's book, Parables and Lessons of Love, was enough to support her continued research and academic work on ancient runes. The income gave her and Ronald enough security not to worry about finances as their vault at Gringotts continued to grow and the book went into its ninth printing. They had devoted years to studying the history of magic, unearthing ancient settlements and rewriting chapters of commonly held believes. Ronald's time spent as a curse breaker was invaluable and Hermione's penchant for organization and her file system, learned from Snape's library, made it impossible for anyone to steal information or to find her secret books. She made more discoveries in a few short years than most researchers had found in a lifetime. They were both much sought after as speakers and guest lectures, at not only Hogwarts, but also the schools on the continent and foreign Ministries, further adding to their influence and prestige in the Wizarding world.
They raised their children, until they were of age for Hogwarts, between archaeological digs and old cities with ancient libraries. Wherever evidence of old magical inhabitants was found, they went. Hugo was born in the Sudan, his sister on the dusty plains along the famous Silk Road and they both considered a tattered and well-used tent as home. Although they kept a small house in Godric's Hallow, they were seldom at home, preferring to travel from place to place, gathering information from the oldest wizards they could find. Hermione had been thrilled to meet the Mullah Ron had first told her about and planned her next book to be on the customs and almost lost magic of his people.
"It's time." Ronald squatted at the rim of a deep trench that had been dug in the hard soil of the oldest magical settlement they had yet found.
"I almost have it uncovered," Hermione said, squinting up at him and signalling the workers to haul up another basket of soil. "Tell Wilhelm to come here. He needs to see this."
"What do you think it is? It doesn't look like any of the runes, and the age is off."
"It's a table," she grinned up at him. "Like the others we found. It's covered with scratches. I think they are names. I thought he might like to see it. He should remember the inside of his mother's home."
"It's the fourth one," Ronald mused. "This must have been a large village here. We will have to rethink our ideas of this place…its more than a farm community."
"It may just have been here for a long time." Her brow wrinkled as the gazed back at the slab of blue stone. "There are a lot of names on here. If each slab only has the family that lived in the house, like we thought, this place must have been used for centuries."
"Anyway, leave it for now. We told the kids we would meet them for tea."
"Just a few more minutes. You know it would go faster if you came down here and helped."
Ronald nodded and carefully lowered himself down to Hermione, careful not to dislodge any dirt around the edge of the pit. He readjusted his wand to be closer to his right hand, avoiding eye contact with his wife as he did. The thought of being in a closed damp space still bothered him, and if that closed space was under ground, he had a hard time not giving into his memories.
"Ron? What is that? Under your right hand? Brush at the edge where you moved the dirt with your foot when you climbed down."
"Mione?" He looked at her in shock, moving back to let her look at the corner of the slab as he pulled his wand and lit the tip, affording her more light.
There, scratched clearly in fine script was a single word in modern English, not the yet to be deciphered language of the ancients they were studying. The name 'Padfoot' stood out in stark relief to the rest.
"Remember the story? The one that said…'When she died, she took this husband to her people that still waited for her, and once again, she lived in her village as it had been'."
"Mione," Ronald said running his finger over the name. "Let Harry see it, and the Blacks. After that I think we should bury it again."
Hermione opened her mouth to protest only to close it again, seeing the emotions that played over Ron's face. Biting her lower lip, she nodded.
"Not Harry. If he thinks there is someway to get back in there…if he thinks one of the unseen worlds takes him back in time…he may try to get to Sirius again."
"What about you? Now that you know it does, I don't want you trying it either."
She rose up on her knees and kissed his cheek. "I think I learned my lesson on that one. Ginny would even be proud of me and you mum may stop harping about how stubborn I am."
"I'll get Nada and Wilhelm down here."
Hermione watched him pull himself up to the surface and tell the workers they were abandoning the site before pulling out a small camera and snapping as many pictures as she could. Sitting back on her heels, she ran her hand over the stone slab, smiling to feel it warmer than it should be at this depth, understanding why these stones had once been considered sacred. Frowning, she used a small hammer to chip of a piece and shoved it in her pocket, furtively looking up at the surface.
This type of stone was not indigenous to The Isle of Mann. The closest place they had been found was on the coast of Wales. Although it had long been thought, by both Muggles and Wizards, that the stones had been moved, she wondered how. How would a magical community have moved such a slab at a time prior to wands…and why? A sudden idea struck her, an idea that she knew Ronald would object to.
Smiling up at the rim of the dig, she held her hand up to help Nada down, chiding her to be careful and not hurt the child that was not due for another month. Seeing Wilhelm, she moved to make enough room for the man he had become, seeing Sirius' grin cover his face.
"Aunt Hermione?" Nada said, looking at her strangely. "You have that look again."
"I don't know what you are talking about," Hermione scooted back enough so they could see the slab and pointed to the name she had found, avoiding Nada's eyes.
"Padfoot?" Wilhelm touched the name almost reverently. "Dad?"
"Yes," Hermione whispered. "I told you he went back to your mum."
Nada threw her arms around Wilhelm's neck. "I can't remember him, not his face. I only remember bits and pieces."
"His face? All you have to do is look at your brother," Hermione said quietly. "And you Nada, you look so much like Mara…"
"Do you think he is still there? That this is somehow…"
"No, now stop," Hermione said quickly, afraid of what would come next. "Maybe we can find more information up at Durmstrang, you know…something before the…"
"Don't even think of it," Ron called down to her.
"I'm not planning anything."
"Yet," Wilhelm muttered.
"I am not," she said emphatically. "I just thought we should read up on the stones and maybe head over to Wales…you know…just to see if this and the blue stones of the Muggles were cut at the same time. Maybe they knew about each other."
"Wife?" Ron called down, using the one word that always brought her up short, and told her that he knew what she was doing, while warning against it.
"Fine," she muttered. "Didn't you say the kids expected us for dinner?"
"Why don't we go on and leave Nada and Wilhelm alone for a while," she spoke to Ronald as she hugged each of the Black children in turn. Reaching for Ronald's hand, she had him pull her up.
Slipping her hand under his elbow they walked back to the tent to get ready to travel to Hogsmeade, Ronald talking of the children and Hermione thinking of the best way to convince Kingsley to let her just look at the rune. She wasn't listening to Ronald, only concentrating on her next project, making mental lists of all the supplies she would need.
"I said stop." Ronald yanked her arm, turned her to face him then cupped her face in his hands as he studied her face only to sigh deeply. "This time I at least know wandless and you make damned sure to put enough medical supplies in your bloody pockets."
"We can afford all the dragon hide we need this time," she said, smiling widely.
"Wilhelm will want to go."
"That's up to him." She nodded.
"Nada," she paused, unsure of the young woman who had been married ten years and was only now having her first child. "Of course it is up to her and Louis, but I think she will stay here. She doesn't remember them as well as Wilhelm."
"We won't find him," Ronald said firmly. "This is just an academic trip. A short one. In and out."
"Of course, I quite agree."
She took up his arm as they began to walk. "Ron? Could you get the potion from Snape? The one you used to transfer the mark? You know…just in case you want to share one of yours?"
A/N: No, I am not setting up for a sequel. Hope you enjoyed.