A/N – Well here it is. The end. I think it's turned out pretty well, and I've enjoyed writing it. Thanks to Katesmom2 who has been on board since day one and has recently become my Beta, any mistakes which remain however are still very much my own.
For those of you reading multiple fics, there is a recap of the story so far bellow my author musings (sounds much better than author notes, right?) at the bottom of this chapter to help you remember exactly what has occurred so far.
Disclaimer: After twenty three chapters I have run out of ways to say I don't own Potter. But I don't. So there.
Chapter Twenty Three - Omens
"You alright mate?"
To Hermione's surprise it was Ron and not her who voiced the very question she had been considering broaching for much of the last hour. Her best friends concerns presumably motivated by the same thing which had her subconscious worrying at her bottom lip - namely Harry's uncharacteristic silence for much of the long journey south.
The trio were seated alone in a compartment towards the rear of the Hogwarts express, the rolling green fields and villages they sped past, little more than a greenish brown blur beyond the window. Ron was seated opposite Harry and Hermione, the latter curled up on her side with her head resting comfortably on Harry's shoulder, and, whilst it was fair to say that their conversations had been fairly banal from the outset, Harry had clearly been distracted and had eventually lapsed into an almost complete silence shortly after they had crossed the Scottish border back into England.
True enough, with the prospect of returning to his life with the magic loathing Dursely's weighing over him each year, Harry had rarely been happy leaving Hogwarts in the past. However, with Voldemort defeated and therefore removing the necessity of utilising the blood protection on offer at Privet Drive, Harry, she knew, had no intention of ever returning to that place.
Nevertheless, she could never recall him being quite so ... distant before.
Even his thoughts offered little in the way of insight for her. Unlike the previous, albeit rare occasions, that Harry had deliberately closed his mind from hers, Hermione was certain that this was not the case now. Then, his mindscape had appeared to her as nothing more than a blank sheet of obsidian, with not a single thought or trace of emotion permitted to leek past his impenetrable mental shields. But now, whilst his mind was open to her touch, Hermione had struggled to get a clear read on him; his thoughts clouded and confused, almost as if even Harry himself didn't know what he was supposed to be thinking.
She had at first attributed this emotional turmoil to the harrowing events of earlier that morning, when the whole school had attended Professor Dumbledore's funeral in the grounds of the castle. Hermione well remembered the almost overwhelming sense of grief and despair she had experienced when she had attended her first funeral following the sudden death of her maternal grandmother five years earlier, and knew, that Harry, more so than any other student at the school, had experience the same devastation today. The tears which flowed freely down his cheeks testament to the fact that he had regarded the former headmaster as something of a mentor and a surrogate grandfather all rolled into one.
It had been a deeply moving affair, with several dignitaries, friends and students past and present offering their recollections of one of the greatest wizards in recorded history - albeit with no mention of Lord Voldemort's role in his death.
Having wanted to avoid the mass hysteria that would likely follow the revelation that a wizard so feared, that even now few could speak his name, had resurrected himself, the ministry had made short work of covering up the true circumstances surrounding Dumbledore's death. Their cover story confirming both the existence of a cell of 'rogue' Death Eaters and the death of Albus Dumbledore at their hands, but little more than that.
Neither Harry, nor any of the other members of the Order had been overly pleased with the truth being subverted in such a fashion, but it had been made very clear to each of them that they had very little in the way of choice. Minister Fudge had at least agreed to sweeten the pot slightly, and had tabled a proposal to have a full pardon issued to Sirius now that they had retrieved the body of Peter Pettigrew, whom they were claiming to be the ringleader of the reformed Death Eaters.
But whilst Harry's mood, and that of the combined student body as a whole, could only be described as solemn, Hermione couldn't help but believe there was more behind Harry's morose demeanour than simple sadness at Dumbledore's passing.
Harry's grunted response to Ron's earlier question, pulled Hermione's attention back to the here and now. Harry had lifted his forehead from the window pane and was now regarding his best friend in the manner of someone who knew they had been addressed, but had been unable to comprehend the meaning of the speakers words.
"I was just saying that Hermione and I have decided to run away and become muggle accountants together."
"Oh ... What?" Harry's brow furrowed in confusion as Ron's words finally registered.
"Come on mate, you've been out of it ever since we left Hogwarts. I thought you'd be happy, Voldemort's gone ... you're free. We all are."
Hermione shifted her head from where it lay on Harry's shoulder and sat up so that she could lock her brown eyes with his. She had considered several probable causes of Harry's obviously troubled thoughts in the last few hours, all of which now clamoured for her attention as she regarded him fondly. "You're not still worried that he might be able to come back are you?" she asked picking one of the most likely at random.
"No," replied Harry, his tone betraying none of the uncertainty he had voiced shortly after the battle had been won. "Madame Pomfrey's the best. If she's says it's gone, I believe her."
Hermione offered a soft smile as she saw the conviction of his words reflected in the depths of his emerald eyes. He was referring, she knew, to the piece of soul Tom Riddle had placed within Nagini; a fragment they had been unable to destroy prior to the Dark Lord's destruction at the hands of Abaddon - a projection of death itself - leaving Harry deeply concerned that his nemesis might be able to find another way to rise again.
Those fears were assuaged, first by the discovery of the great snakes dead body within the ruins of the church in the immediate aftermath of the battle, and latterly by Madame Pomfrey, who performed a magical autopsy on the beast. She concluded that Nagini had succumbed to her injuries only when her magically strengthened resistance to curses and the like had been nullified when the piece of Tom Riddle's soul had been forcibly torn from her body at Abaddon's command.
Although satisfied that Harry now truly believed that Voldemort was gone forever, the question of his emotional distance still remained, and, with the subject successfully broached thanks to Ron, Hermione was determined to get to the bottom of it. Perhaps he's having second thoughts about burying the Elder Wand in Dumbledore's tomb, she mused recalling the lack of unanimous agreement amongst the surviving Order members as to how best to ensure that the power of the Deathly Hallows was forever broken.
She opened her mouth with the intention of asking just that, when she was distracted by a graceful shape outside the window. "Harry, look!" she exclaimed, working the muscles of her mouth to alter her original statement and draw Harry's attention to the window. "It's Hedwig."
Both Harry and Ron followed her gaze to look outside, where, sure enough, Harry's faithful snowy owl was gliding effortlessly alongside the swaying train, a letter clearly visible tied to one leg.
Harry stood and quickly pulled down the window allowing Hedwig to swoop in, the sounds and smells of the of the scarlet locomotive's snorting engine filling the compartment immediately. She landed gently on Hermione's lap and dutifully extended her leg to be relieved of her burden.
Slamming the window shut behind her, Harry smoothed his windswept hair out of his eyes and turned to face his familiar. "Thanks girl," he said affectionately as he smoothed the downy feathers of her breast whilst Hermione untied the note and offered it to Harry.
Accepting the proffered letter, Harry dropped to his knees and rummaged through his trunk stashed under the seat. He emerged a few seconds later with a few owl treats in hand and fed one to Hedwig immediately before placing the rest in her empty cage which sat atop the luggage rack. Upon finishing her reward, Hedwig gave a dignified hoot of thanks and pushed off from Hermione's lap, taking care not to puncture her flesh with her sharp talons.
"Who's it from?" asked Ron gesturing the note still clasped in Harry's hand as he covered the space between the two benches and flopped down next to Hermione.
Harry closed the door of Hedwig's cage and retook his seat closest to the window, sandwiching her between them. "It's from Sirius," he said excitedly as he studied the handwriting on the envelope briefly before ripping it open, unfolding the letter within and smoothing it out on Hermione's lap.
For a moment the compartment was silent as the three teens put their heads together to read Sirius's note;
Dear Harry (and Hermione and Ron too no doubt),
I'm a free man!
The Wizengamot have just overturned my conviction and returned me to my rightful position as Head of the Most Ancient and Noble House of blah blah blah (you know I'm not one for all that pomp and ceremony). The Black family assets have been unfrozen and returned to my control and I'm even being considered as the next Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot! I think I set dear Remus's recovery back a few weeks when I told him - who would have thought it? A Marauder as Chief Warlock! Heaven help us. Remus sends his regards by the way.
But that's not the best of it. Without a criminal record hanging over my head, I am eligible to fulfil my role as godfather to the full extent of your parents wishes. I am, as of this moment, your legal guardian.
I'll be waiting to collect you from Kings Cross this afternoon, and, I believe I am right in saying, that Stygan House (one of the homes belonging to the Black family estate) is located in Oxfordshire. If you like we can summer there.
See you soon,
ps - Your wife can come and stay too (wink wink), if her parents are agreeable of course.
Hermione's cheeks reddened as she read the last line, but could not deny that she was deliriously happy.
From a purely selfish point of view, she was overjoyed that Harry would be little more than a stone's throw from her parents home in Farringdon all summer. She had been unable to find a way to broach the subject of Harry staying at some point over the summer before the third task, and, following the battle of Little Hangleton, the last week of term had flown by so quickly in a haze of ministry interviews and debriefings that she had resigned herself to spending at least the first part of the summer apart from the most important person life.
Not that asking her parents to permit her boyfriend to come and visit was the most daunting conversation she knew she faced that summer - explaining their unique bond and subsequent status as a married couple was something she had been content to force to the back of her thoughts for several months, but could be postponed no longer.
Awkward conversations aside, she was also thrilled that Harry would finally have a chance at a normal home life; the kind of family life he had always deserved and desired in equal measure.
"Whoa!" exclaimed Harry bounding to his feet still clutching the letter, his eyes racking over the words again and again as if the very act of memorising them would ensure that they were true. "This is - this is great!"
"Oh, I'm so happy for you, Harry," said Hermione also getting to her feet and pulling her soul mate into a fierce hug. "But I thought Sirius's hearing wasn't till next week?"
Minister Fudge had given his assurances that Sirius's release was little more than a formality now that they had evidence of his innocence, but even so, the wheels of justice turned just as slowly in magical world as in the muggle, and Harry had been forced to make plans to board at the Leaky Cauldron for at least the first week of the summer whilst the details of his guardianship were finalised.
Within the prison of her arms she felt Harry shrug. "It was," he confirmed, "but I guess they brought it forward."
Just then the Hogwarts express thundered over a set of points sending the couple tumbling to the floor as the carriage rocked violently to and fro. Hermione landed on top of Harry with a soft 'oof' and for a moment there was silence as they stared at one another; bodies pressed together, noses mere centimetres apart, their world shrinking to just the two of them.
"Urgh!" exclaimed Ron, his tone one of part embarrassment and part jest. "Get a room!"
Their moment broken, Hermione snapped her head round to glare at the redhead fearing his attempt at humour ill timed considering Harry's distant mood that afternoon. However her eyes had barely begun to narrow in annoyance when the sounds of Harry's booming laughter filled the compartment, the burden of responsibility he had felt on his shoulders since he had learnt the truth of his destiny melting away as the sounds of Hermione's lilting laugh and Ron's deep belly laugh soon joined his.
His dour mood forgotten, the remained of the journey was an enjoyable affair as the trio made plans for the summer. With the prospect of three homes (two magical and one muggle) to split their time between, it was looking like being the best summer holidays any of them had ever had.
Before too long, the Hogwarts Express had slowed to a stop under the great arched roof of Kings Cross station, and Harry, Ron and Hermione joined the throng of pupils pushing out into the corridors.
Helping one another with their respective trunks and animal cages, the trio emerged onto the crowded platform, each of their eyes instinctively scanning over the heads of their fellow students for their parents.
"There's Mum 'n Dad," said Ron, easily identifying the heads of flaming red hair. "Come over and say bye once you've found Sirius and your parents," he called back as he ploughed into the crowd and was quickly lost from sight.
Hermione spotted the familiar balding head of her father next, and caught his attention with a cheerful wave. "Come on, Harry," she said slipping her hand into his. "I want to introduce you to my parents."
Harry didn't reply, but allowed himself to be guided through the quickly dispersing crowd.
"Is something still bothering you?" Hermione asked, realising she had never gotten to the bottom of what had been troubling him earlier in the journey as she sensed an abrupt return of his melancholia - his thoughts becoming clouded and uncertain to her once more. "You know you can tell me anything," she prompted when it became clear he wasn't going to reply immediately.
"Oh," said Harry sheepishly, running a hand through the back of his hair. "Er, well, to tell you the truth, I've been dreading meeting your parents..."
Hermione felt her eyes harden involuntarily.
"No! Not like that," he corrected quickly, recognising her obvious annoyance. "I mean, it would be scary enough being introduced to your Mum and Dad as the boyfriend," he explained, bobbing his conjoined index and middle fingers together in mid-air to mimic quotations marks, "but how am I supposed to look your Dad in the eye and tell him we're - we're - "
"Married?" supplied Hermione.
"Yeah," agreed Harry, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down in a display of nervousness. "I think I'd rather face Riddle again."
Hermione briefly considered telling her bond mate that he was worrying over nothing, but, as she knew she shared many of the fears Harry had just voiced, she elected to stick with the truth.
"You're right," she said coming to a halt still out of earshot of her parents and turning to face Harry, "it won't be easy."
A muscle twitched in Harry's jaw - this was obviously not what he had been hoping to hear.
"But," she added, dropping her trunk to the ground with a thud and taking his other hand in hers so that they were now looking into each others eyes, "we'll get through it like we always do."
"Together?" A lop sided smile graced Harry's lips.
Hermione nodded. Together.
Cedric Diggory watched his girlfriend of the last six months, Cho Chang, disappear into the milling crowd of platform Nine and three-quarters with a heavy heart - it was going to be tough being separated from her. After all, he had fallen hard for the Ravenclaw witch and this would mark their first meaningful time apart since he had admitted those feelings to her shortly after the second task; feelings, he had been overjoyed to learn, she reciprocated.
The unmistakable voice of Amos Diggory, his father, took his mind off her absence and he turned to face him.
Amos Diggory was hurrying towards him with arms wide, a beaming smile etched on his face, and, although Cedric had always thought of his father as a tall man, as he had discovered when his family had joined him at Hogwarts for the final task last week, he now had to direct his gaze downwards to meet his father's eye, having recently exceeded him in height.
"Cedric, my boy," said his father and Cedric found himself pulled into a warm embrace.
"Hi Da - aad," he replied, hissing in pain as his father's paternal pat on the back aggravated one of the partially healed wounds he had received in the maze.
Amos immediately released his embrace but held onto him by the shoulders. "Sorry son," he said apologetically. "I'm just so proud of you. Second place in such prestigious tournament will certainly open a lot of doors for you once you've finished school ... "
Cedric could only offer a non-committal shrug - in all truthfulness he had absolutely no idea what he wanted to do after school. He performed well in most areas but had yet to find anything at which he truly excelled, aside perhaps from quidditch.
" ... And who knows," continued his father, releasing him completely and grasping the handle of his school trunk as he made for the exit, "if you hadn't been cornered by that Blunt-Ended Shrimp of Hagrid's - "
"Blast-Ended Skrewt," corrected Cedric, falling into step alongside.
"What? Oh, yes, blast-Ended Skrewt. Who knows, you might have won the whole thing outright! That would've shown that Potter kid, eh Cedric?"
But Cedric wasn't really listening. He had stopped in his tracks as a strange sensation akin to walking through a wall of ice cold water washed across him.
"You alright, Ced?" asked Amos, registering that his son was no longer at his side and turning to face him.
"Yeah," replied Cedric uncertainly. "Yeah, fine," he added a little more confidently. "Just came over all shivery for a moment there."
"Ah!" exclaimed his father in a knowing sort of tone. "No doubt one of the first years getting in a last magical prank of the summer." As if to prove his point, Amos rose onto his tip-toes to peer past his son's shoulder, obviously expecting to catch the culprit in the act.
Cedric too turned his head to follow his father's gaze, but saw no one.
"Must have fled the scene of the crime," concluded Amos jovially. "Come on Ced, let's get you home."
As father and son made their way to the wrought iron arch that marked the exit from the magical world, the cause of Cedric's sensation of deep cold fell into step behind them; invisible to all.
The figure moved slowly and was veiled in black, it's features, aside from being clearly humanoid, so undefined that it appeared asexual.
Held before it in an unadorned golden candlestick, undisturbed by the beings passage through the air, was a lit candle, which, although obviously once tall and thin, had burned down to the end, the small stub of wax which remained clearly unable to fuel the flame for much longer.
The flame, like its bearer, was undetectable to all those who walked the earth.
All, with the exception of two.
Those the humans called the 'Masters of Death'.
- Fin -
A/M - *Cue evil laugh* Mwwwwaaaaarrrhahahaha!
Poor old Cedric. The guy can't catch a break! Hermione and Harry have succeeded in altering history and the bloke still has a death omen stalking him at every turn. I thought about using the Grim as the manifestation of that omen, but I liked the imagery of the veiled figure far better.
Well, no doubt you can now probably guess at least part of the focus of the sequel, but I will have to be even eviler (probably not a word, but you get the gist) and admit it will be a while before sequel gets written. Real Life is getting in the way, and what little time I am permitted to work on my hobby is focused on something else entirely.
I'd just like to take a moment to thank each and everyone of you who have read, reviewed or alerted/favourited my story. The sheer number of you has exceeded even my wildest expectations, so a heart felt thank you to you all. Especially to those of you who take the time to review each and every chapter - you know who you are.
Till next time peeps.
Ps - any glaring plot holes/mistakes just let me know. I'm going to be editing the whole story over the next few weeks before I start on anything new so hopefully I'll be able to fix any screw ups I've made along the way.
Chapters 1 & 2 - Set twelve years after the end of the war. Harry is a long term resident of St Mungo's and is clinically insane. Hermione has a plan to save him. She attempts to travel back in time using the standing stone but fails, killing herself in the process.
Chapter 3 & 4 - Fifteen year old Hermione wakes at the bottom of the lake during the second task. After she is rescued by Harry and they become a couple she discovers she is in possession of memories that are not her own. She visits Dumbledore in search of answers but is accused of being an imposter.
Chapter 5 & 6 - After an attempt at mind reading gone wrong, Dumbledore, Hermione and Harry all find themselves admitted to the infirmary. Dumbledore's suspicions are proven unfounded but a new a new mystery is revealed. Hermione is in possession of two magical core's, one of which from the future. Harry is also revealed to be bonded to the older Hermione, and thus in the present as well.
Chapter 7 & 8 - As Harry and Hermione struggle to come to terms with their new status as a bonded couple, other consequences of their link reveal themselves as Harry, now sharing the future Hermione's magical strength, nearly looses control of his magic after being taunted by Snape.
Chapter 9 & 10 - the trio share what they have learnt with Dumbledore and Sirius. In return, Dumbledore finally reveals the secrets he has held since Harry was born.
Chapter 11 – Hermione assures Harry that he does have a choice in regards to the prophecy, but he elects to face Voldemort regardless. They visit Dumbledore who informs them that Luna Lovegood will be their instructor in their attempts to access any latent memories from the future.
Chapter 12 – Harry and Hermione begin lessons with Luna and Hermione suffers a partial vision of the future which leads her to the belief that Harry dies at Voldemorts had in the original timeline.
Chapter 13 – Hermione and Sirius resolve their differences.
Chapter 14 – Harry, Hermione and Luna succeed in entering a lucid dream uncovering some details of their future.
Chapter 15 & 16 – Using the pensieve, the order are able to mine more information from Hermione's recollections of the future, allowing them to identify and locate the Locket as a Horcrux. Fulfilling his last orders, Kreacher is awarded the task of it's destruction after it becomes clear that the adverse effects of the piece of Voldemort's soul are too much for either Hermione or Sirius to cope with.
Chapter 17 – Dumbledore, whilst on a mission to retrieve the ring from the Gaunt shack, is once again cursed when he finds himself tempted to place the ring on his finger in the hopes of seeing his family once more.
Chapter 18 - Dumbledore reveals much of his back story regarding the death of his sister as well as introducing Harry and Hermione to the Deathly Hallows of which they now have all three.
Chapter 19 – Harry competes in the Triwizard championship, winning outright, but is transported to the graveyard in Little Hangleton.
Chapter 20 – Hermione goes to little Hangleton in an attempt to save Harry, but is too late to prevent the re-birth of the Dark Lord and subsequent capture at the hands of Voldemort and his supporters.
Chapter 21 – Our heroes 'die' and find themselves in limbo speaking with their elder counterparts.
Chapter 22 – Lord Voldemort is destroyed by the power of the Hallows.