Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. I make no money here.
AN: This story was written for the 2010 sshg_exchange as a gift for lady_karelia. Many thanks to my super, wonderful beta, dreamy_dragon73. Just as a word of warning, as stated in the summary, this story eventually involves a triadic relationship and the rating is for later chapters.
Hermione sat at the desk in the library of Grimmauld Place, which she used as her study. She furiously scribbled across the page as numerals, runes and complex Arithmantic equations danced upon the parchment. The outcomes were constantly changing as she inserted different options into the mix. Still, when she came to the end of the process, she got exactly the same solutions she had gotten the first twelve times she had run the numbers.
"No, no, no! This just can't be right. There has to be another answer. This is not possible—I must be missing something somewhere—doing something wrong." But that seemed unlikely; she was one of the best Arithmancers at the Ministry of Magic and a rising star in her field.
Pulling out a fresh sheet of parchment, she started again from the very beginning. Maybe, time number thirteen would be the charm, would give her the right answers.
That was how Harry and Kingsley found her hours later: slumped over her work, her head resting on her arm, sound asleep, drooling a bit on the blotter, her quill still in her hand, pieces of parchment scattered about all across the desk and some fallen on the floor.
"What is all this, Harry?" Kingsley asked quietly, picking up a few of the many parchments from the floor.
"Some pet project she's been working on in her off time. I think she's becoming obsessed with it. She spends all her time in here after work, stays up half the night, spends all her weekends on it. I don't really understand all of it; I was never great at Arithmancy. I can comprehend the basics, and having been around Hermione so long, even a bit more, but all this..." He waved his hand around the desk. "It's way over my head. I have no clue what it all means. Something brilliant I'm sure.
"Let me put her to bed. She's driving herself to exhaustion. I'll be right back." Harry scooped his friend up into his arms and couldn't help but notice how slight she felt; she wasn't eating properly either, and he was sure she'd lost weight. He had planned to Apparate her upstairs but was afraid it would wake her up, so he just hitched her up in his arms and carried her to to her room.
When Harry came back down, Kingsley was perusing Hermione's calculations. He had a piece of parchment and was making his own notations and mumbling to himself. "What's up, Kingsley?"
"Harry, this stuff she's working on—it's cutting edge. It's unbelievable; she's been trying to find a way to return balance to our world. You know that in the seven years since Voldemort fell, our world has been on a downward spiral into shambles. The economy has never recovered; there have been outbreaks of plagues; rogue Death Eater wannabes terrorize the public; many people's magic itself has become erratic. Our whole world is out of balance. The theory is that there is an abundance of negative energy at play in everything we do. We need a way to bring that back into equilibrium. What Hermione is trying to do here is find an answer to it all. And from what I can see here, she's damn close to a breakthrough."
"So you actually can make sense of all of this?" asked Harry.
"Oh, yes, Harry. It's a special passion of mine. I chose to become an Auror, but Arithmancy was my first love. Do you think she would mind if I took this to look it over?"
"I'm not sure, she's kind of funny about her work. I'd want to ask her first."
"Well, she's redone the same formulation multiple times. It looks like she's trying to find an error. Maybe I could help spot it if I went over it on my own."
Before Harry could answer, a little voice came from the doorway. "Daddy, whatcha' doin'?"
"James, what are you doing up so late, mate?"
"I had a bad dream about the 'Stranges," the little boy said in a sleepy voice.
Harry sighed, and spoke quietly to Kingsley. "I'm sorry, Kingsley, it appears that Kreacher has been telling James stories again about the ambush at the Burrow. I am going to have to get him settled in. You can show yourself out, yes?"
"Sure thing, Harry, not a problem," replied Kingsley. Looking at the four-year old, he asked in concern, "Isn't James a little young to be hearing about all that?"
"I've tried to discourage him, but Kreacher seems to think James should know that his mother, grandparents and uncles were all heroes. He doesn't tell him all the gory details about the massacre, thank Merlin. But he's always telling him stories about the war and my role, Hermione, Ron, and Ginny, the Order, the Weasleys; you're even included in some of Kreacher's tales. Luckily, for the most part James views them more as fantasies rather than true life," explained Harry. "Goodnight, Kingsley, I'll see you at work tomorrow."
Harry scooped up his son and for the second time that night carried a weary body up the stairs.
Kingsley watched him leave the room with his little boy. They had all lived through horrible times but Harry more than most. He wondered how Harry was even able to function and keep it all together; he thought if it was him, he would have cracked long ago. After the war, at first everything had seemed to be on the right track. Harry had lived out his dream and become an Auror, rising quickly up the ranks. Ginny Weasley had finished Hogwarts the following year, and she and Harry had married; two years after that they'd had a baby, a little boy they'd named James Arthur after both of his grandfathers. They had had a fairy-tale life until that fateful day had changed it all.
The Lestrange brothers had escaped in the chaos following the final battle, managed to evade capture and gone into hiding. They'd never forgotten their thirst for revenge over Bellatrix's death, and Molly Weasley and her family had been the target of their fury. They'd bided their time, and nearly four years ago, after gathering a ragtag band of followers, they'd staged a raid on the Burrow and murdered everyone there. Arthur, Percy, Ron, Ginny, they'd saved Molly for last, making her watch as they'd tortured and murdered all the members of her family present.
Kingsley had been the Senior Auror that night and one of the first on the scene. Molly had been still alive when he'd found her and, much as Snape had for Harry, she had given him her memories before she died. It had been a deciding moment in his life. Certain factions had been trying for years since the end of the war to get him to run for the office of Minister, a position he'd held briefly as Interim Minister at the end of the war. He'd always refused, claiming he liked his job, which was why he'd returned to it. But after that night at the Burrow, something inside him had died, and Kingsley Shacklebolt had walked away from the MLE. He had sworn he would never deal with a situation like that again. He'd become Minister of Magic two years later and was now trying to deal with the woes of the wizarding world instead.
He started to put the parchment down on the desk, but something made him hesitate. As he'd explained to Harry, the way Hermione kept re-doing the same part over and over made it look like she thought there was an error. He would just take it and look it over, then let her know what he found. He knew he shouldn't without her permission, but he justified it by telling himself that her research could make all the difference to fixing the mess they were in. He placed one of the many duplicates of her work in the pocket of his robes and turned to leave.
The next morning found Hermione at the breakfast table, and when she heard about James's bad dreams, she scolded the aged house-elf. "You must stop telling him those stories, Kreacher; they're giving him nightmares."
"Hmmmpff," grunted Kreacher. "Is important for young master to be knowing his heritage. The noble house of Weasley is home to many heroes. Many brave witches and wizards. Young master is the son of Harry Potter; he needs to know these things!"
"Kreacher, I understand how you feel, but he's just a little boy. These stories are frightening, and besides, it's not good for him to dwell on such things."
"Miss Mymee is one to talk of dwelling on the past," muttered Kreacher, using James's pet name for her.
He was put out that she refused to allow him to make a fuss over her birthday each year. She had refused to celebrate the day for the past two years, and would again this year, as it was on that fateful day that the attack had occurred. Ginny had asked her to babysit James at her flat on the pretense that she had shopping to do. In reality, Ron had planned a surprise party at the Burrow for his fiancée's twenty-second birthday, and he had enlisted Ginny and Molly to help him pull it off. If little James hadn't slept late that afternoon and Hermione hadn't the heart to wake him up, she could very well have popped into the middle of a bloodbath with a baby in her arms.
"Don't change the subject, Kreacher," she admonished the house-elf. "Look, I understand your reasoning, really I do. Just try to tone it down, please; tell him your tales but leave out the scary parts. Okay? He doesn't need to hear those."
Three days later, after work, Kingsley came to number twelve Grimmauld Place and asked to talk with Hermione. He entered her study and placed the parchment he had taken earlier on the desk.
"This is a of a copy of my personal work. Just how in the hell did you get a hold of this?" Hermione demanded angrily.
"I'm sorry, Hermione, I took this without asking. I was here with Harry the other night, and I couldn't help but see all your work. It looked like you were running the same formula over repeatedly as if you were searching for an error. I thought if I gave them a look I could maybe help you out."
"So you just helped yourself to my private papers. What were you thinking?" she asked in outrage.
"I'm really sorry. I knew I shouldn't have at the time. But believe me, as Minister, I'm desperate for answers on how to help our world. I have a personal friend who is top notch at Arithmancy. I'd like you to consider bringing him in on this project as a consultant.
"Hermione, your work is very promising. It has such revolutionary concepts that I wanted to examine it more closely. I thought perhaps I could spot the error you were so obviously trying to find."
She wanted to be angry, but at the same time she yearned to be able to talk to someone who was knowledgeable in Arithmancy about her theories. She had kept this project a secret from her co-workers, so she had never been able to bounce ideas off of anyone. "You're familiar with advanced Arithmantic principals?" she asked, rather doubtful.
"Yes, in fact, Dumbledore tried to convince me to go into Arithmancy after Hogwarts; it was my best subject. But I was young and foolish, and the MLE seemed a much more exciting career choice. Still, I have tried to keep abreast of the newest developments in the field."
"So, were you able to find my error?" she asked, waving her hand at the papers.
"Hermione, this is amazing. You are amazing! Sweetheart, there is no error in your calculations. This is it. This is the answer to what ails our world."
"No, Kingsley. You must be wrong. I must be wrong. We both must be missing something because this just can't be right," she argued.
"Tell me how you're interpreting the results, then I'll give you my take on it," he advised.
"Well," she began while nervously shuffling together all the papers scattered about. "The indicators I'm reading suggest that a triad of some sort must be formed, consisting of three very powerful magical entities. These three must come together and work in harmony to form a partnership. And somehow between the three of them, some powerful magic will be performed that will bring the negative and positive energy flow back into balance."
"Good, because that's the way I read it too. So why do you believe you've made an error?"
"Because according to my calculations, I am one part of the triad, Kingsley, and that can't be right; it just can't. I don't want to do this. I don't want this responsibility," she exclaimed.
"Welcome to my world, Hermione," said Harry wryly from the doorway. "Kingsley told me he'd be stopping by, and he also explained his theories about what you've been working on. It looks like this time around you get to be the hero of the wizarding world, sis." He often called her sis to tease her, alluding to her unofficial position as his 'sister'.
"That's not funny, Harry," responded Hermione. "I want no part of this, not any of it."
"And do you think I asked for it when it happened to me?" he countered.
"No, I know... but this is just... I can't. Oh sweet Circe, this can't be happening," she whispered.
Harry came over and sat next to Hermione on the sofa. He put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a little squeeze of support. "Look, no one can make you do this. It's a decision you have to agree to."
"Yeah, like I have a choice. Like you had a choice. Everyone just expected you to take on the mantle of The Boy Who Lived. You didn't get to make a decision about assuming the role; it was handed to you when you were an eleven-year-old boy."
"I could have walked away, left the wizarding world, left everything behind," said Harry softly. "Don't think I didn't think of it—more than once in fact."
Kingsley pulled up a chair and took one of Hermione's hands; they were ice cold. "Hermione, Harry's right. No one can force you to do this. But it will have permanent repercussions on the magical world, or at least here in our little corner of it, if this triad isn't formed. And lets face it, you are not only the brightest witch of your age, but you've grown up to be probably the most powerful witch I know."
Hermione buried her face in her hands and sat silently for several minutes. Kingsley and Harry stayed quiet, letting her come to her own conclusions. Finally, she lifted her head. "How will we even go about finding the other two members of the triad? It seems like looking for a needle in a haystack."
Kingsley looked puzzled until Harry explained, "Muggle expression: looking for something almost impossible to find."
"Ahhh," he replied in understanding. "Maybe not as hard as you might think. We know the other two are very powerful, and I've been doing some research-"
"Oh, my gosh," interrupted Hermione. "Did you ever think the triad could be right here in this room? What more powerful wizard is there in Britain than Harry Potter. And, Kingsley, you are one of the strongest wizards I know as well. Wouldn't it be great if it were that simple?"
Harry and Kingsley looked at each other over her head; they both realized that even now she didn't understand the ramifications of this triadic association.
"It's not us, Hermione, but if you want to run the numbers to rule us out, feel free to go ahead," advised Kingsley.
"Why don't you believe it could be you and Harry?" she asked, slightly disappointed that it wasn't the two wizards before her. At least they weren't strangers. And she believed that they would have been able to work together well.
"Well, as I said, I've been doing some research, and this is type of event has happened before in British wizarding history, more than once, in fact. Harry and I don't fit the parameters. There's a tangible pattern to the event."
"There is? Show me," she demanded.
Kingsley pulled another parchment out and, walking to the desk, smoothed it out. Hermione and Harry both followed him over to look.
"First, as I said, we know they're powerful, and as I said, this has happened before. I've been able to identify at least six times in the last one-thousand years. It shows a couple of patterns. The first is gender based. The triad has always been a mixture; it's never been all male or all female. In almost every case it has been two wizards and one witch. All right then here, let's look at the other pattern I've found," he said, placing a second parchment on the desk.
Hermione studied it carefully. There were a series of letters in a column, three in each group. It appeared that there was a double letter in each group with a single letter. And wherever the single letter was, in the next group it was the double letter, so it looked like this:
"Okay, yes, I do see the pattern, but what does it mean, Kingsley?" she asked. But before he could answer, her eyes popped wide open and she gasped. "Fuck me! Tell me this isn't what I think it is?"
Kingsley replied in a conciliatory tone, "Now, Hermione."
"Don't you 'now Hermione' me," she snapped.
Harry added, "It might not be as bad you think, Hermione."
"Not as bad as I think? Harry, do you have any idea what these letters represent?" Before he could even attempt to answer, she continued. "I'll tell you what they represent: Houses, that's what. Hogwarts Houses to be specific: Hufflepuff/Hufflepuff/Slytherin, Slytherin/Slytherin/Ravenclaw,
Ravenclaw/Ravenclaw/Gryffindor and so on down the line. And here, this last one, that G there, that's me, Harry," she ranted, poking herself in the chest for emphasis. "And what do you see it paired with? Slytherin, that's what! So not only is this… this… thing, pattern, prediction, phenomenon or whatever it is, telling me that I'm supposed to put my life on hold to fulfill this stupid triad thingy but I'm supposed to do it with two Slytherins! No fucking way!" Hermione stormed out of the room and pounded up the stairs.
Harry and Kingsley looked at each other.
"Well," said Kingsley. "That went better than I'd expected."