The timing of this chapter could not be better, since in my mind (and this story) I have Luna's birthday as the thirtieth of October.
Disclaimer: Did Hermione, who by that point had mastered seventh-year material, jinx the D.A.'s roster with a spell that was embarrassing rather than effective? If so, I don't own the Harry Potter franchise; it belongs to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Press, Warner Bros., and whoever else she sold the rights to.
To Keep a Secret
Hermione shut her eyes wearily as she closed the library book she had been perusing. Apparently, Harry's strange brand of luck had struck again, and in their favor this time, for which she was quite thankful. She did not want to think about the consequences had they been visited with misfortune. "Harry, Luna? Could you two come over here, please?"
"What's wrong, Mione?" the pretty blonde asked.
"We've been pulling on the tiger's tail, and I'd really like to stop before it turns around and eats us," she answered cryptically. "Harry, when you first met with the Faery Queen, what names did she say she had been called before Lilith?"
"I told you that a couple of weeks ago. Astarte, Hecate, Morrighan, and Titania."
"Yes, that's what I thought you said." She held up a long roll of parchment. "I've done a little research into those names, and what I came up with is not exactly comforting."
He groaned. "Uh-oh. Okay, go ahead and tell us the bad news."
"Well, Titania is easy. That was the name she used most recently, I expect, considering that it was invented by William Shakespeare. The others are older, with a much stronger history. Hecate, for instance, was a member of the Greek pantheon."
"She doesn't think highly of herself, does she?" Luna said with a laugh. Harry smiled beside her.
"Oh, it gets better. Hecate should be near and dear to our hearts; she was the goddess of sorcery, witchcraft, healing and poisonous plants, as well as necromancy." This killed the others' mirth. "No one agrees on exactly where she came from. Theories suggest that she might have been a priestess elevated to divine status, the child of a lesser god, or even a powerful Titan who stood with the Olympians when they overthrew Kronos, the father of the gods. No matter how she started, however, her power was enough to earn the respect of Olympus despite not being of Kronos's get."
"So not a lightweight is what you're saying."
She nodded at her boyfriend's comment. "Very much not a minor figure. Next is Morrighan, the shapeshifting Celtic goddess of war and death."
Harry's eyes widened. "Oh, bloody hell."
"Literally," Luna whispered; her face and voice showed not a little worry. "And I had to brass her off."
"You're not the only one. I insulted her the first time I met her, too." He shook his head. "Still, just because she's taken the name of a… dark deity doesn't necessarily mean anything."
"We'll get back to that in a second. Astarte, the Greek name for the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, was also a war goddess, though she had ties to sexuality and fertility, as well. Appropriate considering Lilith is the mother of all fae.
"Luna, you're the only one of us who grew up hearing about their race. How old is she supposed to be?"
"Why couldn't you ask me an easy question?" the blonde griped lightly. "I doubt anyone but she and maybe some of her oldest and most powerful children would be able to answer that."
Nodding, Hermione pressed on. "Millennia wouldn't be a bad guess, then, would it?"
"Probably not. Why do you want to know?"
"Because a thought came to mind while I was reading all these stories. I initially assumed that Lilith gave herself these names because of their cultural significance, but what if it was the opposite? What if these mythical figures were actually based off her?"
Harry blinked several times in shock. "That… would not be good, though it does explain why she has a portal in her realm that kills you if she refuses to open her side. Do you have any good news, Mione?"
"Thankfully, I do." She leaned back and sighed. "I couldn't find much on Astarte, but Morrighan is depicted as more proud than evil. If someone offends her and then feels contrition for it, she's likely to forgive him. Once. She offers second chances, but if you don't learn the lesson the first time, she won't grant you a third."
"All right, then. That makes this easy." He picked up the books she had been reading and set them on the return cart. "Let's go to the Room, watch the memories of our meetings, figure out what we did or said that displeased her, and then make sure we don't do it again."
The Hufflepuff common room was a warm and cozy place. Overstuffed armchairs and wide couches dominated the space, and sinfully thick throw rugs were strewn about for those individuals who just did not feel like sitting up at the moment. Meandering around the congregated students were little desks that anyone could claim. The best part of these short tables was that the charms animating them caused them to grow bored of sitting on one person's lap for more than a couple of hours; when they inevitably wandered off, often with parchment and inkwell still on their surfaces, it was understood that the time had come for a break. They were friendly Badgers, after all, not antisocial Ravens.
The communal feel also lent itself to sharing victories and losses, not keeping secrets or lying to one's housemates, and that was exactly Susan's problem. Even now, the fifth, sixth, and seventh-years were complaining about how useless Umbridge's classes were. 'Avoiding confrontation' or 'leaving it to the Ministry' were not acceptable answers on the OWLs or NEWTs, but no one knew what was.
No one except her and Ernie; they alone were receiving proper instruction in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and it was eating away at her. Potter — Harry — had a real gift for teaching, able to figure out where his students were stuck and then clearly explain what they should be doing instead. Just from watching them mess up, he could tell them to jab harder or softer, add a quicker flick or curl the end of a wave into the following spin. The five members of their informal study group were greatly outclassed; with the head of the DMLE being her aunt, she had been the most advanced, and yet after just a few minutes, she knew Harry was on a whole other level, not that Hermione or Luna were far behind him at all.
What her contemporaries could do with their wands was actually kind of scary. There was just a crispness to their motions that she had only ever seen in the Auror bodyguards her aunt assigned her as a child.
Still, it wasn't right that Ernie and she were the only ones to get help. Maybe it was because the three tutors weren't Hufflepuffs, but they didn't seem to understand that hogging the information they had to themselves was more than a little selfish. If they had a list detailing what spells were potentially going to be on the exams, they had the responsibility to make sure the rest of the school knew, too.
She shared a glance with Ernie, who nodded. He had apparently been thinking the same thing.
Justin windmilled his arms wildly. "I mean, by this point she may as well quit pretending to teach us anything! We all know she won't tell us what we need. Unfortunately, with her suspending Hill and Richards, no one's going to volunteer to start up tutoring groups."
"That's… not entirely true," Ernie interjected. The other Badgers turned to him. "Draco Malfoy organized an informal knitting club a few weeks ago. We meet every Monday morning in Umbridge's quarters, and I'm sure you'd be more than welcome to join if you want."
Everyone goggled at him, Susan included. Merlin's beard, what is he talking about?
The boy flushed minutely. "What?"
"Did you… hit your head or something?" Megan Jones asked quietly.
"You just told them that Malfoy's teaching us how to knit," Susan explained.
"No, I didn't! I said we're learning knitting from Malfoy." He glanced around and frowned as the others started to chuckle faintly. "What now?"
"Have you started on little baby socks yet?" Hannah joked with a snicker, and that set the rest of the group off. Even Susan laughed as Ernie scowled more and more, but at least she was not as bad as the upper years laying on the rugs who were literally rolling around.
"Fine, I won't tell you any more about it! We'll see who's laughing if Dementors attack and I'm the only one who can make a security blanket."
The redhead joined her fellows on the floor.
Justin patted the scion of Clan MacMillan on the arm, though he drew back his hand warily at the other's snarl. "Don't worry, Ern. Your secret's safe with us."
"Well, I don't know about his knitting class, but we are part of a great group," Susan sighed as the last of her giggles faded. "Harry's been teaching us how to defend ourselves. It's not the same as Defense Against the Dark Arts, but it's probably more useful in the long run."
Silence once more, though when she glanced around, disbelief warred with horror in everybody's eyes.
"Er, Suz?" Tears streamed down Hannah's cheeks, but a resolute expression was nonetheless on her face. "I'm sorry, but I can't room with you anymore. I just don't think I would trust you alone with Christopher."
She blinked in confusion. What did Hannah's cat have to do with anything?
"Okay, something odd is going on."
"What do you mean, Ernie?" she asked, but then a suspicion struck her. She turned to the rest of the common room. "I know what I said, but what did all of you hear?"
"You said Peeves was teaching you how to mutilate kittens, and that it's not the same as drowning babies but probably more useful," explained a sixth-year rapidly.
A low rumble of rage clawed its way from her throat, and the Badgers seated around her scooted farther away. "Why the bloody hell do you just look like a poofter while I sound like an utter psychopath?!" she demanded from the other member of Harry's club.
He snapped his fingers. "I got it. McGonagall."
"When Dumbledore had us frolic naked in his office, she must have done something to our clothes. That's why we can't talk about what really goes on."
It took her a moment, but her jaw clenched as she figured out what he meant. "Oh, when I get my hands on Hermione, I'm going to make her regret that."
"Stop, just stop," Wayne Hopkins requested gently. "I don't know what you two are trying to say, but I don't want to hear anything else about killing babies or titillating Dumbledore or having revenge sex with the Grey Lady. Tonight's been weird enough already, and I can't handle any more."
"Shall we eat a little mud with Filch Tuesday?" Ernie asked ominously.
"Thanks for agreeing to work with me on this today," Neville said as he and Harry entered the previously forbidden corridor on Saturday. "I know you'd probably rather see the Quidditch tryout."
Harry shrugged. Honestly, he was a bit miffed, but not for the reasons the other Lion thought. He, Hermione, and Luna had planned to ransack Avery's house that morning, but with only the girls able to slip away, they had instead decided to diagram the ward scheme on that property as well as a few others. Trying to identify a set wards without negating the superficial layers was possible, but it required much more finesse than they usually had time for. It would, however, make breaking in that much faster, which would be handy if they did another night job as they had with Fudge.
"Not really. Call me self-centered or bitter all you like, but after playing Seeker for so long, I can't say I'd be very gracious to whoever takes my place. Honestly, I'm not sure I'll want to watch any of the matches this year, at the very least not our own team."
"No, I understand. It must be hard to have all your hard work stolen from you," Neville remarked in an obvious attempt to comfort him. It was unnecessary, but the gesture was appreciated. Angelina had not hidden the real reason for his resignation, and the rest of Gryffindor had clearly decided that no matter their other issues with him, an attack on their Seeker could not go without protest. Painting him as an absolute nutcase was one thing, but interfering with Quidditch? Unforgivable. The Weasley Twins had even sprung two pranks on Umbridge before McGonagall swept in and dragged them out by their ears.
Harry would have been touched by the house's response if he weren't flabbergasted at just how messed up their priorities were.
"Thanks," he replied. He pointed to a dummy, already set up and waiting to be hexed into oblivion. "So, the Reductor curse. Let's see what you're doing, and maybe we can find out where you've gone—"
The door chose that moment to slam open, and two fuming Hufflepuffs stormed inside. "Harry Potter, you have a lot of nerve!" Ernie shouted.
"More than is good for me, I expect," he shot back. "What's got your knickers in a bunch?"
"You jinxed us! That paper you made us sign the first time we came in here; there was some spell on it, wasn't there?"
He had to work to withhold his grin. "Why would you think something like that?"
"We were trying to tell some other people about this study group," Susan answered, "but every time we did, we said completely random things instead. We couldn't hear what we were actually saying, either."
"Now I owe Hermione," he muttered to himself. At their questioning glances, he explained, "She and I had a little bet going on about this exact topic. I thought you'd make it a month before you started blabbing, but she told me I obviously don't know a thing about Badgers and that we'd be lucky if you waited three minutes after leaving the room. Two weeks isn't really much better."
"So you did jinx us!"
"Ernie, Ernie, Ernie. Do you remember that first meeting, when we explained the rules to you? Luna said you couldn't tell other people about this. Not shouldn't. Not that we didn't want you to. Couldn't, as in we made sure it wasn't possible. We weren't sure we could trust you to keep it a secret, and clearly our concerns were valid."
The two Puffs gaped at him for a few moments before Susan regained her voice. "But this isn't fair! If you have a list of what we need to know for the OWLs, you should help everyone."
"Why? It's what's right! The whole school deserves to know about this, not just a few of us!"
Ernie gulped as Harry glared at him. The time-traveller approached the paling Badger, drawing his wand and rolling it between his fingers. "Right there." He tapped the left side of Ernie's chest with the tip of his focus, then moved over to the redhead before repeating the gesture. "And there." Moving back to his beginning position, he asked, "Do either of you remember what is so significant about those places?"
He pointed at Susan. "Last year, you both wore badges on those spots that read 'Support Cedric Diggory, the REAL Hogwarts champion'. That I won't argue too much about, but I seem to recall them saying something different if you tapped them. What was it? Oh, yes, 'Potter Stinks'." The pair had the decency to blush. "The Tournament, and before then, the Chamber of Secrets fiasco. Twice in four years the people in this castle have turned against me at the least provocation, and don't think I didn't notice how hostile everyone was when we first came back this year. 'The whole school deserves to know'? I don't owe the school a single damned thing.
"What's more, you two seem to have massively misunderstood something. I'm not a professor; I don't get paid to teach you this stuff. I'm doing it solely because Hermione and Luna persuaded me to give up my time to make sure you three, and Colin and Astoria next year, don't completely fail your Defense OWL. That means I get to determine who and how many to teach, and no one has any right to criticize me for it. Besides, as we told you when you asked about this very thing, there's no reason you can't instruct your house on these spells all on your own."
"But we can't teach this as well as you do," Ernie protested.
"And that's my problem… why, again? Rather than gripe about how I'm only helping a few people, you should be glad you're two of them. If you don't like the way I do things, you know where the door is.
"Actually, just get out." At their spluttered pleas, he continued, "You can come back the next time we meet, but right now, I don't want to look at either one of you. Your selfishness, your self-righteousness, and your hypocrisy disgust me."
Neville forced a weak grin as the Badgers staggered out the door. "I think you broke them."
I had forgotten. When I look at Ernie, or Susan, or even Neville to some extent, I see who they will be, not who they are. Susan in the old timeline had already lost her aunt, had fought against Snape and the Carrows for a year. She understood that just because she knew something didn't mean that everyone needed to know. Ernie realized that being 'fair' to everyone meant losing the advantage in a fight. The second war against Voldemort ripped away their naïvety, and the third killed the rest of their house pride. Yes, fairness is a wonderful thing, and loyalty and hard work are essential in almost every situation, but a pure Hufflepuff, or a pure Gryffindor, or a pure Ravenclaw or Slytherin, will not survive a war. Just as there is a time to be diligent, there is a time to find an easier path; battles can't be won without courage, but when you're outnumbered five to one, running away to fight another day is the best decision. We had to adapt to all circumstances, be whatever the situation required us to be, but here, a few traits are encouraged while all the rest are characteristic of 'other people'. Hogwarts teaches its students that a Badger shouldn't be brave, a Lion shouldn't be wise, a Raven shouldn't be crafty, and a Snake shouldn't be loyal.
I had forgotten… just how unprepared these kids are for the real world.
"Or maybe I gave them the kick in the arse they need," he answered softly before shaking himself from his reverie. "What were we… Reductor curse, that's right. Go ahead and cast it on the dummy."
"Okay. Reducto!" Nothing. "Reducto!"
After several attempts, Harry waved Neville closer. He examined the boy's wand and frowned when it matched the one in his memories. "Nev, I don't think I've asked you this before, but whose wand was this originally?"
"My dad's. Gran gave it to me; she said since he was such a great wizard, it should work just fine for me."
"The wand chooses the wizard, but it doesn't make him." When the mentally younger Gryff glanced at him confusedly, he explained, "My own twist on something Ollivander told me when I got my wand. Did he say that this one was a good match?"
"No, we didn't even go into his shop. Gran just handed it to me the day before we started first year."
The more I hear about the Longbottom family, the more I'm certain there's something very wrong with it, he thought as he shook his head. "While legacy wands generally work just fine, that doesn't mean they always do. Your incantation was right, and your motions practically flawless, so the only thing I can think of that's causing problems would be the wand, and that's nothing I can help you with. You would need to get another one. Honestly, with what you've told me about your mum, I predict you'd do better with hers, but the best match would be one that was just your own. Do you think your gran would mind taking you to Ollivander's over winter holidays?"
Neville looked down miserably. "She'd put the blame on me, like she always does when I tell her it doesn't feel right. She'd say, 'Your father always did such wonderful magic with this wand', or 'See? I can cast with it just fine'. It's a no-win situation with her."
"Well, then, if we can't get it done following the rules, we'll just have to ignore them." He smiled at the downtrodden boy. "The next Hogsmeade visit is a week from today. If you wanted, we could flag down the Day Bus and ride over to Diagon to see the old man. No one besides Mione or Luna would ever have to know, and they would only so they could provide us with alibis."
The young man continued staring at the ground for a moment, and Harry could tell he was tempted. Finally, Neville raised his head with a slight frown. "I… I think I want to keep trying to make this wand work for a while longer. Thank you, though."
Shrugging his shoulders, the time-traveler responded, "Okay, if that's want you want to do. If you change your mind, though, my offer will still be on the table. Just say the word."
"Thanks." Neville shook himself. "So, since I can't seem to get this spell to work just yet, what's next on the list?"
"Incarcerous, Reducto… I do believe it's the disillusionment charm after that." An old favorite of yours. Let's see which is stronger: your skills or that wand's stubbornness.
My gold is on you.
Luna stumbled forwards, her hands held by her two lovers and a blindfold hiding the world. Harry and Hermione had already wished her a happy birthday this morning, and she adored the silver locket and the photo album with her family's motto — Nihil est inpossibile si creditis praedurum — embossed on the front in gold leaf they gave her, but she had the feeling this was going to be the best present yet.
"Okay, you can look now." She pulled off the blindfold and sighed as she took in the state of the Room of Requirement. Others might be disappointed by the nearly empty state inside, but she was more than happy with the roaring fire in the fireplace, the thick carpet, the bubbling cauldron full of stamina potion, and the lines and lines of runes carved on all six surfaces of the cubic room.
"It's time," she whispered joyously.
"It's time." Harry whirled her around and kissed her passionately, his hands sliding down her body to rest on her rear and pull her tighter against him. Eventually he pulled back, and she mewed at the loss. "Happy twenty-fifth birthday, Luna love. You're physically fifteen, it's legal to shag you until you're little more than an orgasmic puddle, and by Merlin, that's what we're going to do."
"Not to mention, when we're done, you'll walk bowlegged, wear a smile that a Sectumsempra couldn't take off your face, and have a magical core thrice the size it is now," Hermione added.
"Oh, baby, I love it when you talk dirty," she said sultrily, and she couldn't stop the laugh that burst through immediately afterwards. She wandered inside and spun around in the middle of the Room. "This will be such a better first time than on that cot in the tent."
The brunette rolled her eyes. "Not to mention, you won't have to try — unsuccessfully, I might add — to keep me from hearing what you two were getting up to late at night."
"Hey, we eventually remembered to cast silencing charms," Harry defended. "And it's not like you have any room to talk. You're just as loud as she is."
Smiling, Luna shucked off her robes fast enough that someone might think they were on fire. "That's enough reminiscing out of both of you. We have other things to worry about right now." She bent over at the waist, facing away from the pair, and then flipped her hair out of the way as she looked over her shoulder at the two people she loved more than life itself. "Well, are you going to get over here and screw me, or should I get friendly with my wand some more?"
As if sensing the mood, the door to the Room slammed shut and melted into the wall.
Several people have requested a scene where the trio realize what a bad idea pissing off Lilith is. Here you go; don't say I never do anything for you.
While glancing over the past few chapters and writing this one, I realized that I made a bit of a goof in chapter 32 when McGonagall told Harry that the tryouts for the new Seeker would take place "tomorrow". That was supposed to, and now does, read "this weekend". If you have no clue what I'm talking about, don't worry about it.
The Lovegood motto is supposed to read "Nothing is impossible if you believe hard enough", but Google Translate doesn't know its head from its feet when it comes to Latin.
I had a very interesting set of reviews come in last Friday. How… oblivious does someone have to be to click on a story with bad!Ron as a tag in the summary and then complain when I portray him as a feckless, disloyal moron? Can anyone explain that to me? I honestly don't understand.
raw666: The news about Fudge was kept quiet for two reasons. First, in the public's mind, he's a has-been. Second, the DMLE doesn't want to create copycat thieves or alert "Mr. Fox" to any clues they have (not that they actually have any…)
Anon: If they got some Felix, yes, that could help Hermione brew it, but it's not a common potion by any means. Although, there is one place I could think of where they could find it…
Wrathkal: I don't follow Caer Azkaban, so this is the first I've heard of that interpretation. That said, I probably won't take that approach to the Decree. Yes, those kind of questions are exactly what my professor asks.
Intrepid101: How many more chapters this story has is a rather hard question to answer, mostly because I'm not sure, myself. Looking over my notes, I'm predicting about five or six more for 1995 proper, but while I have the ending mostly planned out, a lot of the spring term is up in the air. It could be anywhere from three chapters to thirty; I just don't know.
Guest: Yes, Snape getting boiled to death was this story. You want chapter 27 : )
Silently Watches out.