P;lDisclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter and most likely never will, so stop asking.
Harry Potter and Death's Bargain
Harry was surprised by the front page of the Daily Prophet on Monday morning. The headline was indeed about his marriage to Hermione but rather than the usual scandal-mongering he had come to expect from the Prophet it was instead a tasteful article presenting what few facts were available in the best possible light. It then went on to discuss what was known of Harry and Hermione's friendship of the past three years and wish them the best in their future together. They even had a decent picture of Harry and Hermione, it was one that had been taken during their second year, shortly after Hermione had gotten out of the Hospital Wing following the polijuice incident. It was one of the times they had gotten together in second year, in fact if Harry remembered correctly the picture had been taken just hours before Dumbledore had obliviated them. The picture showed the two of them walking hand in hand on the grounds, there was just enough snow to make for a scenic backdrop.
They received significantly more mail that morning than they had on Sunday, for ten straight minutes owls were dropping off envelopes for them. After a quick charm confirmed there were no harmful spells or substances contained in any of them they began opening a few of them. For the most part they were polite congratulations, though there were a few interesting letters mixed in. One letter suggested, in what the sender obviously thought was a tasteful manner, that if Harry ever decided that he was in need of a mistress or two that the sender had multiple daughters who would be interested in filling the position. After that letter they decided to just look for letters from people they knew.
As they were disposing of the last of their letters the Great Hall began filling up, and before they could finish the second round of owl post arrived. Many people received copies of the Daily Prophet, but Harry's eye was drawn to one specific owl. There amongst the see of brown feathers was one decrepit gray owl, Errol the Weasley family owl, and held in his talons was a bright red envelope. Molly Weasley had sent them a howler.
Harry had been expecting this since he came back and he had done his homework. A howler is actually a very simple enchantment, it takes a verbal message which can be imprinted by magic then plays that message. A time delay is activated when the letter is received and if the howler isn't opened the time delay causes an explosion which starts the message playing anyways. Because all howlers possess the same set of enchantments anyone who knows them well enough can change them in any of a number of ways. Unfortunately those on the receiving end are usually rather limited in what they can do with an incoming howler, after all what is the point of removing the time delay, or increasing the volume of a howler addressed to you? Howlers also had one last annoying enchantment on them, they were protected against redirection charms cast by the recipient. However a howler can only have one specific recipient and therein lies the weakness that Harry was about to exploit.
Pulling his wand Harry began muttering a string of spells under his breath subtly adjusting the howler coming his way. First he replaced the message stored on the howler, then he removed the time delay while increasing both the volume at which the message was played and the size and intensity of the explosion that would automatically be released when the howler arrived back in Molly's hands. He then cast a return to sender charm hoping that Molly had decided to address the howler to Hermione, after all it would be a good idea to send a howler to the boy-who-lived telling him how to live his life, people might think she was a nosy bitch, and they would be completely right.
Molly Weasley would be in for quite a surprise when Errol finally made his way back down to the Burrow. Thinking about it Harry was quite certain that Errol could not have made the flight from the Burrow in the time since the Prophet article, which meant that Molly had sent a howler before she should have known about Harry and Hermione getting married. Before Harry could follow this train of thought he was interrupted by another obnoxious ginger.
"GRANGER, YOU BACK-STABBING BITCH!" Ginny shrieked as she saw the headline of the Daily Prophet. Now anyone in Hogwarts would tell you that no one in their right mind should mess with Hermione Granger, after all she probably knew more spells than Dumbledore, and more importantly could find painful and humiliating ways of using every single one of them. Unfortunately for Ginevra Weasley there were two things working against her.
For one thing she was most definitely not in her right mind, after all she had only gotten five hours sleep in the last two days and hadn't eaten a real meal since Saturday morning. As a result of this she immediately fired off the hex she would become infamous for over the next few years. As her bat bogey hex went flying at Hermione the second thing came into play, this was not Hermione Granger timid bookworm, this was Hermione Potter vanquisher of dark wizards. Where once her spell choice would have been humiliating it was now debilitating.
Hermione's wand shot up and in rapid succession fired off a reflective shield, a vanishing spell, a depilatory charm, and a full-body bind. The shield immediately caused Ginny's hex to rebound which resulted in slimy green bats crawling out of the redhead's nose to attack her face. The vanishing spell removed all the bones in her right arm causing her to drop her wand, which she had been about to use to get rid of the bats. The depilatory charm ripped all the hair from her head adding shrieks of agony to the screams of terror and the sound of slimy wings. Finally the body bind caused her body to snap straight as a board, she was then knocked over by the bats still relentlessly attacking her face.
Less than three seconds after Ginny had fired her only spell the now bald and bleeding witch was on the ground helpless to defend herself against the mucus bats she so gladly inflicted on others. At that moment there was only one student in the hall who both cared enough about Ginny and was stupid enough to potentially cross Hermione to actually do anything. Unfortunately Ron didn't know enough magic to properly undo any of the spells on his sister so he settled for trying to knock the bats away.
In the thirty-seven seconds it took for McGonagall to get over to the Gryfindor table and dispel the bats they had already torn dozens of bloody furrows in the young witch's face. The cuts were so many and so deep that, even with magic, they would take days to heal and some would probably scar.
"Mrs. Potter, while I understand you were defending yourself, was it really necessary to use all those spells on Miss Weasley?" McGonagall asked, her disapproval evident in her tone.
Hermione shrugged "I didn't expect to get her with all three."
"Very well," McGonagall said as she waved her wand removing the body bind from Ginny "Miss Weasley you will serve a week's detention for your unprovoked attack. Now get to the Hospital Wing to have your arm fixed."
The rest of the week passed fairly quietly, at Hogwarts at least. After Hermione's display at breakfast on Monday everyone was much more polite to Harry than they had been the first time through that week. While no one had really changed their opinion of how Harry ended up in the tournament they were at least bright enough to keep their mouths shut. Classes were easy for Harry and Hermione since they had already sat these lessons before. With all the homework already finished for the month Harry was able to focus on catching up in his new classes and by Thursday he was already able to keep up with everything discussed in the class.
On Wednesday afternoon Errol finally arrived back at the burrow. Molly was in the kitchen at the time preparing lunch and was quite confused that the howler she had sent out had been returned unopened. She didn't have time wonder how that had happened before it exploded. The force of the explosion threw her against a wall where she slammed into her special clock completely destroying it. The explosion also shattered every plate, bowl, and cup in the cupboards, most of the pots and pans were thrown against walls bending them all out of shape, every window in the entire house was broken by the blast, and just as Molly thought it was all over a voice boomed out of the tattered red envelope "FUCK YOU MOLLY WEASLEY!" The voice was so loud that it rattled windows down in the village. So it was that Arthur Weasley returned home for lunch to find the kitchen completely destroyed and his wife bleeding on the floor with two ruptured eardrums.
Sirius Black didn't know what to think about the letter he held in his hands, he had already read it and reread it and he still didn't know what to think. His godson was in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Sirius had been expecting something like this. After all with Harry's luck it was pretty much guaranteed that if something dangerous was going on at Hogwarts he would be forced right into the middle of it. It wasn't even the request that he be wary of Dumbledore until they could talk that had him perplexed, after all Dumbledore was far from perfect and Harry had more reason than most to distrust authority figures. No, it was the last line of the letter that had thrown him for a loop. P.S. I kinda got married to Hermione on Saturday, hope to see you soon.
Sirius would have thought it was a joke, but it was so poorly executed that it really wasn't even worth the trouble of writing it. Then he thought it might have been a code of some sort, but nothing he did with the words made any more sense. Then he had seen the Daily Prophet from Monday and he realized that Harry had in fact been completely serious. He would need to get to Hogsmead as quickly as possible, his godson was married, they would need to celebrate.
The animagus potion had all been brewed properly, so on Sunday Hermione cleaned out and shrank down all but two of their cauldrons before taking the potions out to Harry who had been sitting in the main room of their quarters. When Harry drank the first two potions he understood exactly why no one used this method of achieving the animagus transformation anymore, the first potion tasted like rotten cabbage and left a fishy aftertaste and the second tasted like battery acid and burned like fire-whiskey going down. An hour later Hermione took out a couple of large jars and a small knife, after cutting their palms and allowing their blood to fill the jars they used a simple healing charm to fix their hands and downed a blood replenishing potion. They then had to drink another potion, this one with a taste reminiscent of raw sewage. After that Hermione returned to the extra room where she set to work on finishing the potions.
When that was all finished they sat down to a private lunch, they had decided that they enjoyed having lunch away from the Great Hall and had decided to continue to have private lunches every weekend. Part of the reason they did this was so that people wouldn't be suspicious if they weren't seen on a weekend afternoon if they had business outside the castle. While they were enjoying their lunch a brown owl flew in through the open window and door of their bedroom dropped a letter on the table and exited through the same method it had entered.
The letter was from Sirius, it was short and simple; In Hogsmead, we need to talk, Snuffles. Harry immediately took out a scrap of parchment wrote Moony's old stomping ground, tonight 9. Just as he was about to stand up to go to the Owlry Hedwig swooped into the room and looked at him expectantly. Harry figured it would be safe enough for Hedwig to make this one delivery to Sirius and handed her the note. As Hedwig left the room there was a scratching sound at the main door and Hermione went to investigate.
"Crookshanks. Did they finally get rid of my old bed?" Hermione asked of her half-kneazle as he sauntered into the room, his annoyed meow a definite yes. Hermione had been informed by her former roommates that Crookshanks had maintained his residence in the girls dorms, taking the opportunity to claim her now vacated bed as his own.
Now that the annoying big-eared things had removed his bed from its rightful place Crookshanks the Mighty, Vanquisher of Small Rodents, had decided to seek out his human assistant to see if she had set about acquiring proper quarters for someone of his stature. Surveying the room he decided that it would suffice and immediately claimed the most comfortable looking chair as his new throne. Crookshanks noticed that his assistant had recently received a letter from the dog-man, Crookshanks liked the dog-man for the simple reason that he also hated the rat-man. Crookshanks hated the rat-man for the simple reason that the scoundrel had the audacity to go masquerading as lunch.
As nine o'clock approached Harry and Hermione made their way out to the Whompping Willow under Harry's invisibility cloak. They immobilized the Willow before sneaking down through the secret passage to the Shrieking Shack.
Checking his watch as he entered the shack Harry called out "Sirius, you there?"
"Hey Harry," Sirius said stepping through a door into the hallway before pulling his godson into a hug "Hermione, I understand congratulations are in order for the two of you."
"Hello Sirius" Hermione said with a smile.
"So, two questions," Sirius said stepping back to look at the teens "Why didn't I get an invitation to the wedding? I mean, I'm your godfather I think I warrant an invite." Sirius pouted.
"It kind of just happened Sirius, but I promise if I ever get married again I'll send you an invitation." Harry said earning him a smack on the arm from his wife.
"What was your other question Sirius?" Hermione asked with a hint of concern.
"Where's the redhead?"
"Well that's kind of a long story..." Harry gave Sirius a quick explanation of everything that had happened since the Goblet of Fire had shot out his name, avoiding any mention of time travel. He went on to explain how Dumbledore had removed their memories in the past. By the time he was done Sirius looked like he wanted to go straight up to the school and strangle Albus Dumbledore with his own beard.
Trying to distract himself Sirius brought up a lighter topic "So you really sent Molly Weasley her own howler back?"
"I might have made some improvements first." Harry replied with a smirk "But you should have seen Hermione take down Ginny, three seconds flat she hit her with her own hex, vanished the bones in her arm, shaved her head, and put her in a body bind." Harry told his godfather with a look of pride.
"I didn't shave her head Harry, I used a depilatory charm." Hermione corrected her husband.
From the look of pain and shock on Sirius's face Harry figured he was missing something so he shot Hermione a questioning glance.
"The depilatory charm pulls the targeted hair out by the root, so it hurts a lot more than a shaving charm. There is one important reason why witches use a depilatory charm rather than a shaving charm, the depilatory charm prevents hair growth for six months." By the end of her explanation Hermione could barely contain her laughter.
"So not only is she going to have a bunch of those scars for a while, she's going to be bald for the next six months." Harry barely managed to get out before he broke down laughing. This of course set the others off as well.
When they finally calmed down Harry finally got down to more important matters "Okay, we need your help with a few things Sirius."
"Tournament?" Sirius asked.
"No, I've got that covered. We need you to help us get a few things that are necessary to get rid of Voldemort." Harry said, Harry was glad that Sirius didn't flinch at Riddle's made up name. "The reason why he didn't die all those years ago is because he used a piece of black magic to create a number objects known as horcruxes." Here Sirius did shudder "Ah you're familiar with them."
Sirius nodded solemnly "Familiar enough to know better than to look any deeper. That's some seriously nasty stuff, and you said he made more than one."
"Yeah," Harry said "arrogant bastard made six, one is destroyed, one is in our possession already, one is at your old house, one is with Voldemort, one is in Gringotts, and the last one we're going to dangle in front of Dumbledore and hope he bites."
"Why are you leaving one for Dumbledore to deal with?" Sirius asked with a hint of concern in his tone.
"Because if he bites it he'll choke to death on it." Harry said with what could only be described as a predatory grin. "What we really need you to do is run by Grimauld Place and pick up a locket, it's in a display case in an upstairs study. The locket was originally hidden in a cave but your brother stole it from Voldemort, your brother died retrieving it. If Kreacher gives you any trouble tell him you are taking the locket to destroy it, should see him turn right around. Then we just need a plan to get Hufflepuff's cup out of the Lestrange vault and we're good."
"Hufflepuff's cup? How did he get his hands on something like that?" Sirius asked slightly impressed
"Same way he got the locket, stole it from a collector." Harry shrugged.
"If the collector had it insured that might be a solution." Sirius suggested, seeing the confused looks on the teens' faces he elaborated "The only place you can insure a magical item against theft in Britain is at Gringotts, once they pay out the insurance claim the item becomes their property. If you inform them that a piece of Gringotts property is being held illegally in one of their vaults they would retrieve it, probably pay you a nice cut of the insured value too. Of course you might need to buy it off them once they retrieve it."
"Or..." Hermione began, a grin on her face.
"We could offer them some free advice as to who might be willing to pay full value for one of Voldemort's horcruxes." Harry continued, his face sporting a grin to match his wife's.
"Get Dumbledore to pay full value for something the Goblins would probably be willing to sell at a discount. I like the way you two think." Sirius said with a fierce grin of his own "I'll ask Moony to look into whether this collector..."
"Hepzibah Smith." Harry supplied.
"...Had an insurance policy. Hopefully she did because the only other options I can think of would require me to take up the position as head of House Black, which I can't do while I'm on the run from the Ministry. Before I go, I need to know, how do you know all this stuff Harry?"
"How are you at Occlumency?" Harry asked in return.
"Not too good right now, dementors are hell on mental organization." Sirius responded glumly.
"Once you're up to snuff I'll tell you as much as I can, but until then you'll just have to trust me." Harry told his godfather.
"What about you and Hermione? It wouldn't surprise me to find out Dumbledore knows Legilimency." Sirius asked.
"Him and Snape." Harry confirmed, seeing Sirius's face at the mention of his former arch-enemy he continued "He hasn't tried anything yet, but if he does he isn't going to get off lightly. The bastard has it coming. Don't worry about us, I'm covered and Hermione has always been better at Occlumency than me." Which was completely true, it turned out that Hermione's mind was well suited to Occlumency, once she had gotten the mental discipline required to empty her mind she rapidly progressed to the point where no one could enter her mind without serious effort. Luckily her ability with Occlumency had survived the multiple obliviations and subsequent time travel so she hadn't needed two months to be able to defend her mind.
"Alright, if you're sure. You'd better be going, you don't want to get caught out after curfew." Sirius said, giving both of them a quick hug.
"Sirius unlike you Harry and I do not make a habit of getting caught sneaking around at night." Hermione scolded the former marauder.
"Yeah, we haven't been caught since we were first years."
Monday and Tuesday passed without incident, though there were some close calls. Most people were smart enough to leave them alone, but from the looks they got from Ron it was only a matter of time before his innate sense of self-preservation was overwhelmed by his instinctive drive to be an insensitive prat.
Malfoy had limited himself to sneers, but both Harry and Hermione were quite certain that wouldn't last, after all no one would ever accuse Malfoy of being very bright. And the arrogant bastard could only hold his tongue for so long before he had to open his mouth and say the foulest thing that came to his useless little brain. Unlike other times Harry had no intention of letting it go when he did, while Malfoy may not have killed Dumbledore when he had the chance Harry knew it was more from a complete lack of spine rather than any moral compunctions. In short while Malfoy was to cowardly to be properly evil it hadn't stopped him from gladly collaborating with the rape, torture, and even outright murder of complete strangers, as long as he didn't have to get his hands dirty.
Finally Wednesday came and Harry and Hermione were anxious for the day to be over. It didn't help that the last class of the afternoon was History of Magic. Binns just kept droning on for an hour and a half about a goblin rebellion that, even by Binns's standards, was bloody pointless. The fighting had gone on for three months, the wizards forced through a treaty which didn't really give them much but made the Goblins look bad, and ten years later another goblin rebellion was started just to force the Wizards to renounce the treaty. Of course this being Binns it would take a week to finish teaching the first rebellion and by the time he got to the second one three months later only a handful of people would remember that the first one had even happened.
When it was finally over Hermione seriously wished she had agreed to Harry's suggestion of skiving off History of Magic, after all they had already sat through the class and Binns never took roll so they wouldn't get in trouble. In the end though she had been unwilling to take the risk as their classmates would definitely notice and tonight was not a night they wanted people to come looking for them. After a hurried dinner Harry and Hermione made their way back to their quarters where they locked and silenced the room before Hermione brought the completed potions out of the spare bedroom.
The standard method of becoming an animagus involved months of meditation to find one's form followed by learning the transformation over another period of months. The first transformation had to be preformed in the nude because it was artificially induced and no amount of concentration could influence it. The subsequent transformations were all about forcing the body to become accustomed to the transformation, it was a slow process that has to be taken one step at a time because every step takes a toll on the body.
With the potion they were using all those steps would be squeezed into the space of an hour, the first stage of the potion was a psychotropic that would mimic the meditative state that potential animagi would need to master. This would reveal the person's form to their subconscious mind this would allow the next stage of the potion to continue. The next stage was forcing the first transformation, this was always a disturbing sensation for an animagus, and with this potion it was even worse as the lingering effects of the trance could induce hallucinations which were usually quite terrifying. Then the person's body would be forced through hundreds of transformations in the span of a few minutes. The early pioneers of the potion described the sensation as being flayed alive while all your bones were being broken, all your muscles ripped at by ravenous beasts, and your entrails lit on fire.
Unfortunately the information that Hermione had read about the potion had not included the original notes, so as she stripped naked she was not aware of just what it was she was getting into. Without a second thought both teens raised their potions bottles in a toast and downed the entire potion. The only part of the process that was not horribly disorienting, disturbing, or agonizing was drinking the potion, which tasted like chocolate and raspberries. Sadly the teens only had a few seconds to appreciate the flavor before collapsing to the floor as seizures wracked their bodies after five minutes their bodies stopped shaking as they entered a trance. After ten minutes they regained some semblance of coherent thought just long enough to start screaming in terror as their minds were assaulted by images of the flesh melting off their bones while their bodies sprouted fur, their limbs reshaped and their skulls warped. After fifteen minutes they stood their as a pair of wolves, one black one brown, for all of a minute before they returned to their human forms, and immediately began changing back and forth between the two forms in fits and starts. And then the pain began, Harry was no stranger to pain, quite the opposite in fact, all but two dozen of his bones had received at least hairline fractures at one time or another, he had more skeletal remodeling than a retired champion boxer, he had been whipped bloody on more occasions than he cared to remember, he had even taken multiple cruciatus curses from Voldemort, but none of that prepared him for even a fraction of the pain he was now experiencing. For the next half an hour their bodies contorted while they screamed themselves hoarse as they were forced through a complete transformation approximately every ten seconds.
When it was finally over two wolves lay there panting in exhaustion. Not even bothering to try transforming back they simply curled up together and fell asleep on the floor, drawing what little comfort they could from the presence of their mate.
A/N: Hope you've enjoyed. Before anyone gets on me about skipping the weighing of the wands, if you read GoF the wand weighing was the second Friday after the champion selection, not the first as it is often portrayed in fanfiction.