Alyx walked onto the stage and noted Bob walking along the edge, his hands in his pockets and his head down. She walked over to find out what his problem was this week.
"So what's the problem this time?" she asked
He looked up at her. "I had this wonderful disclaimer all planned out involving Steven Speilberg and Tom Cruise. But then our German readers complained about Cruise and Speilberg pulled out because of our involvement in the exploitation of Llamas.
"I couldn't get a license for the fireworks and the health department denied us a permit to shoot a hippopotamus from a cannon. The police refused to allow the three hundred clown parade, complete with a minivan which they all can fit into. The Airforce said we're not NASCAR and don't deserve a fly over even from the Civilian Air Patrol let alone the Air National Guard.
"The popcorn I ordered for everyone arrived and now I have no one to give it to. What are we going to do with twelve tons of popcorn?" Bob shouted in exasperation. "The house is surrounded by thousands of hungry chipmunks now!"
Alyx looked shocked. "Watch a lot of movies?" she asked meekly.
Bob glared at her and she shrank back.
"So you're telling me we have no disclaimer?"
"No, we have a disclaimer, just not a good one," replied Bob.
"Yeah, use this," Bob said, handing her a kazoo.
"It's all we can afford, now start humming!" he commanded.
Alyx shrugged her shoulders and started humming "It's a small world" on her kazoo.
Bob turned to the audience. "If you don't know we don't own Harry Potter, then I'm not going to try to talk you out of your insanity. It all belongs to JK Rowlings."
Bob glanced at Alyx who continued to hum, obviously enjoying the experience. He shook his head in dismay and walked off the stage muttering to himself about "twelve freaking tons of popcorn."
The Power of the Press
The Granger Residence, Oxford, England, Dec 23rd 1997...
Harry stepped into the room and dropped his tie on the night table, then loosened the buttons on his shirt. "I never knew family parties could be so exhausting," he muttered as he sank tiredly onto the bed.
Hermione smirked at him. "You'll get used to it in a few years, I imagine."
When he shot her a sour look, her grin broadened. "You're not used to family parties, Harry. They aren't really meant to be fun. It's more of an exercise in which you see people you don't like and haven't seen in the last year and hear all about their illnesses, operations, who died and who's divorcing who."
"Hermione Jane!" exclaimed Emma from the doorway. "Please tell me you don't think like that?"
Hermione turned to look at her mother. "It's true, isn't it? You said it yourself often enough when we were going to these parties when I was little."
Emma stiffened for a moment, ready to rail at her daughter, then suddenly seemed to wilt. "Damn, I didn't think you were listening when I complained to your father," she said softly.
"So, you don't like those parties either?" asked Harry incredulously.
Emma sighed and walked over to sit on the bed next to Harry. "You have a problem with the idea because your family is very small, like mine. My parents had no brothers or sisters. I have no one but my Mum, Dan and Hermione. Dan comes from a big family with a lot of cousins, aunts and uncles."
Hermione moved to sit next to her mother, watching her.
"I know this confuses you. You think family means people close to you, people who love you. In truth, in the larger families, that won't always be the case. Your friends, the Weasleys, will continue to grow apart until such time as they will be people with a common ancestry, but little else in common."
Harry frowned. "I never thought of it that way. It doesn't seem right."
"No, it probably isn't right. But then, consider Hermione and her cousin, Frances. She's a sweet girl, but she's never liked Hermione and I know Hermione has given up trying to be friendly to her. Just because they're family it doesn't mean they like each other or that they have to."
Harry leaned back against the headboard. "So if you really don't like going to those yearly parties, why do you do it?"
Emma opened and closed her mouth several times, struck by both the simplicity of the question, and complexity of the answer.
Hermione laughed. "He's got you, Mum. Admit it." She turned to Harry. "Sometimes we do things not because we want to, but because we have an obligation to the concept of family."
Harry frowned. "Well, my family isn't going to be like that if I can help it."
"That's an admirable goal, Harry," Emma said. "But it isn't always possible."
He set his jaw defiantly and crossed his arms. He knew he was being stubborn, but he had a particular idea of what a family should be, where everyone was loved and supported. Family, in his mind, was the exact opposite of his life with the Dursleys.
"It's all right, Harry," Hermione added. "Your idea of family is what it should be and you'll be able to make it happen."
Emma looked at her daughter, alarmed. "Hermione?"
"Mum," she replied, "Harry's idea of family is totally opposite from what he had with the Dursleys. He and I have spoken about it before. I recognize that we Grangers have a close family to a point, but when you shove us all together for that annual party, I'm reminded each year that most of those people are strangers to me."
"You, Dan and Hermione are a family. Anyone who sees you together can see it. You might not think it, but in everything you do, you support each other," Harry said softly. "I saw it right away when you first came to Wainuvu. You and Dan flew around the world just so your daughter could reconnect with her friend. Most parents wouldn't have done that, even with the free tickets that Sirius sent you."
Harry reached across bed, touching Hermione, then Emma on the shoulder. "The three of you have something special, but it seems to vanish the moment you join the Christmas party." He shook his head and looked pensive for a moment. "Size isn't the problem. The number of people shouldn't matter. The Weasleys have a close, supportive family and they have a lot of people. I think... I think it's more a case of recognizing the bond you have with the people close to you and actively working to keep that bond alive.
"Hermione's right. Those people are as much family as the Dursleys were. You share common bloodlines, but have little else in common."
Emma frowned and crossed her arms. "You're right. Most of them are strangers."
"Do they have to be?" Harry asked intently.
She blinked. "What do you mean?"
"Hermione's told me stories about visiting her Grandma, your mother. You don't seem that close anymore. Why is that?"
Emma looked at Hermione, who shrugged. "Well, the whole thing about keeping Hermione's secret is part of it, I guess."
Harry nodded, then turned to Hermione. "You're an adult now, even though you haven't left school. The Ministry recognizes that fact. As such, you're allowed to inform Muggles of our world, as long as you follow the guidelines. If you're capable of deciding who you want to marry, aren't you also capable of telling some of your relatives about magic?"
Hermione stared at him, a bit shocked. "Break the Secrecy Statutes?"
He grinned at her. "No, you know I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that if you were able to share your secret with your Grandmother, you'd be able to bring her back into your life like she once was."
When her mother looked at her, Hermione couldn't deny the appeal she saw in her eyes. Keeping Hermione's secret had affected their family and, in a way, hurt all of them. The need to keep things secret resulted in them growing apart from everyone.
Hermione sat for a moment, thinking hard, then she looked at her Mum. "Do you think Granmum would like to come to Christmas dinner? I know it's short notice..."
Emma's eyes grew moist and she hugged her daughter. "I'll give her a call right now," she replied softly. "Thank you."
Hermione nodded and looked at Harry anxiously while Emma left the room. "How long have you known that Mum was missing Granmum?"
Harry stretched and she laid a hand on his leg, sliding it up under his pant leg for a moment.
"I thought I saw it when we went to last year's Christmas party, but I wasn't certain until tonight," he said, then he looked down at his feet. "I have a family that I sort of made. I realized after we visited my parents' grave that family, either by blood or by love, is too important to waste."
He looked up into her brown eyes. "Your Mum needs her Mum, just like you need yours. If she can't come on Christmas day, we'll go visit her and I'll help you tell her about our world. Your Dad didn't seem that close to any of his family, but I could see your Mum wanting to be with her mum."
"It was selfish of me to want to keep the secret, wasn't it?"
Harry smiled gently and she felt her insides melt. "No, just human. Besides, you couldn't make that decision until this year anyway. The Ministry doesn't mind seventh years telling their relatives, but doing it in your sixth year would have caused problems."
Hermione smiled, then turned away from him and lifted her hair. "Unzip me, please?"
He grinned. She knew a spell that would allow her to zip and unzip her fancy cocktail dress, but she preferred Harry's method. He rolled off the bed and stood behind her. He slowly lowered the zipper, kissing the exposed skin. She leaned back and sighed loudly when he wrapped one arm around her waist.
He leaned away long enough to slip the dress off her shoulders and let it fall to the floor. Then he started to kiss her bare shoulders. His hands slid upwards to cup her breasts.
"You're teasing me," she whimpered.
"Only a little," he replied with a grin.
She turned in his arms. "Two can play that game, Mr. Potter," she said huskily.
His eyes widened when her hands went straight for his belt buckle and he leaned in to kiss her. His pants fell to the floor next to her dress and she pushed him backwards onto the bed, then she crawled in next to him. With a casual wave of her hand, she placed silencing and locking charms on the room, then turned to kiss him again.
Christmas is coming early, she thought happily. For both of us.
The Shrieking Shack, Hogsmeade, Dec 24th 1997...
Severus Snape sprinted the last one hundred yards to the building. He had been watching it for months now and he knew that it was occupied once a month. The people of Hogsmeade were starting to avoid the shack again and when they spoke of it, they did so in fearful whispers.
Fools, he thought. It doesn't take a Merlin to see that the shack is occupied by a werewolf. That slut, McGonagall, must be letting Lupin use it. I know he's around somewhere.
"Dammit, Goyle, you're stirring those Ravenclaw guts backwards!" he growled to himself. Then he wrenched the door to the shack open and slipped inside.
"Luuupin," he crooned. "Here doggy, doggy."
Nothing moved in the shack.
He wasn't entirely sure why he felt compelled to come to the school, but he was nearly there. A noise drew him to a window and he was surprised to see the Hogwarts carriages heading towards the train station.
"The students can't be coming back this early. The dunderheads still haven't eaten their Christmas pudding yet. Oh, I do hope for some Christmas pudding."
Snape chuckled, then stopped himself and looked around warily.
"Luuupin. Here doggy, doggy," he crooned again.
After a thorough search of the shack, he returned to the window in time to see the carriages return to the castle. Occasionally he spoke to himself and muttered about the dangers of teaching dunderheads.
The Granger Residence, Oxford England, Dec 26th 1997...
Cassandra Kensington sat in the living room of her daughter's house and sipped her tea. She was a little confused, but would never admit it to anyone. Her husband, Earl, had passed away years ago, leaving her mostly isolated from her daughter, since they lived so far away. When Hermione started going to her school for gifted children, the isolation deepened and it saddened the older woman because she couldn't understand the reason for it.
Now, unexpectedly, she had been invited to spend the holidays with her daughter. It was a welcome change to spending the holiday with her friends and neighbors, but it puzzled her. Something had changed and the only obvious change she could see was that Hermione was growing into a beautiful woman, and she had a sweetheart named Harry.
When she first met Harry, she had questioned him as best as she could at the family Christmas party. He obviously thought the world of Hermione. He was a fine looking young man with the deepest green eyes and a faint scar on his forehead that was barely noticeable. She learned that Harry had met Hermione at her mysterious school, then he'd had to leave because of troubles with his old guardians. He kept in touch and, despite the distances between them, they started dating. Overall, she approved of him, but she thought there was a strange mysteriousness about the boy.
Christmas turned out to be a wonderful experience with her family. Dinner had been cooked by Hermione and Harry, to her surprise. Hermione cooked many of the standard holiday dishes under Harry's watchful eye; somehow he had managed to include a few exotic tropical dishes, too. She was astonished to find he managed to get fresh fish and fresh tropical fruits. It was one of the best meals she'd had in many years.
She spent a lot of time in the kitchen observing Harry and Hermione, and was pleased to see how well they worked together. Hermione was a decent cook, but it was clear that Harry was the master chef in the kitchen and Hermione the helper. They worked and joked while preparing the meal. And to Cassandra's intense pleasure, Harry stopped every so often to kiss Hermione on the cheek, embarrassing her in front her grandmother.
She had lived a long life and was very happy to be reconnecting with Emma and her family. It was clear to her that her granddaughter was very happy with her boyfriend. And she was observant enough to note that when they retired for the night, she went to the one guest bedroom, while Harry followed Hermione into her room.
That wasn't as much of a surprise to Cassandra as Emma might have thought. She was a product of World War II, where people lived and loved hard. Cassandra wasn't about to complain to her daughter about her granddaughter's behavior, when she herself had had a sweetheart she had spent many a night with at Hermione's age. And she'd never tell her daughter about that Yank Airman she dated for a while. Had he survived the war, it was quite possible that Emma wouldn't have grown up in Britain at all.
She looked up when the young couple stepped into the room. Hermione walked over to the couch and sat down next to her, while Harry took one of the arm chairs across from them.
She looked at Hermione and arched an eyebrow. "So, I guess it's time to get some answers?" she asked.
Harry chuckled and glanced at Hermione, who blushed. "What did I say about the apple not falling far from the tree? I thought she knew something was up five minutes after she arrived."
Emma came into the room carrying a tray with drinks and some pastries. She placed the tray on the table where everyone could reach it, then she sat down on the other armchair. Harry reached forward and grabbed a drink from the tray.
"Mum, there's something we want to tell you," Emma said hesitantly.
Harry leaned back on his chair and looked uncomfortable. Cassandra caught his motion, then looked at Hermione intently. "Child, are you pregnant?"
Hermione blushed to the tips of her ears and Harry started choking on his drink. Emma stood and walked over to him and pounded on his back a few times. After a moment, he nodded thankfully to her, then he remembered why he had been choking and blushed brighter than Hermione.
"What? No, Granmum, I'm not pregnant. Harry made a comment the other day and we've decided to remedy the situation," Hermione said hurriedly.
She paused and looked at her mother, unsure how to proceed. Harry shook his head and sighed, then he leaned forward.
"Mrs. Kensington..." he said.
"I thought I said to call me Granmum, like Hermione."
Harry scowled and nodded. "Yes, Ma'am, you did. But for now..." he sighed and ran a hand through his hair, making it messier than ever. "Well, to cut to the chase, your Granddaughter is a witch. She attends a school that teaches Witchcraft and Wizardry. Your daughter wanted to tell you, but it is against the law for a Muggle to tell another Muggle about the magical world."
Emma and Hermione turned to stare at Harry in astonishment.
"Harry!" exclaimed Hermione.
"What ever happened to easing her into it?" demanded Emma.
"It's easier to blurt it out and deal with it, rather than approaching it from the sides and hinting around the edges," Harry said apologetically.
Hermione turned to her Granmum, trying to gage her reaction.
"A witch," Granmum said dryly.
"Yes'm," Hermione replied softly. She raised a hand and used her ring to pour a glass of juice from the tray, then the glass lifted and floated over to her open hand.
Cassandra watched her granddaughter perform magic and one eyebrow slowly inched up her forehead. She turned to her daughter. "And this is the reason why you cut me out of your life for the past six and a half years?" she asked incredulously.
Emma flushed and looked down at her hands. She always had a problem when her mother used that tone of voice.
"It's not entirely her fault, Mrs. Kensington," Harry offered, trying to deflect her anger. "The law is very strict about telling Muggles... er Non-Magical people. Emma couldn't tell you - had she done so, she would have been punished severely. She could have lost custody of Hermione. It would have been different had you lived here, but since you didn't, the law was against you learning about magic."
Cassandra blinked and stared at the raven haired youth. Harry was a bit intimidated by this formidable woman, but he held his ground under her stare.
"And you're a what? Warlock? Sorcerer?" she asked acidly.
"He's a wizard, Granmum," Hermione said meekly. She hadn't expected this to be easy, but she never dreamed her grandmother would be angry.
Cassandra opened her mouth to say something. Six years of being kept at arms length was about to boil to the surface.
"You're angry and hurt," Harry said, jumping in before anyone else could. "I can understand that. But you need to know that, as much as your daughter wanted to tell you, she couldn't. The punishment would have been extreme. It might have even cost her her life. Her only choice was to keep the secret, and to stay away so that it wasn't accidentally revealed."
Cassandra's head whipped around to stare at him.
Harry shrugged. "I would be hurt, too, if she did it out of spite. But she was protecting you, Hermione and herself. Now the time has come to reveal the truth and try to heal the breach. Emma and Hermione want you back in their lives. That's why they are revealing the secret to you."
Cassandra closed her mouth and stared at him. He had just undercut her anger entirely! The hurt was still there, but it was lessened with understanding. She turned towards her daughter. "Emma?" she said, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears.
"It's true, Mum," Emma whispered. She couldn't help the fact that her own tears started half way through Harry's explanation.
Harry shot Hermione a glance and she immediately stood and moved away from the couch. A moment later Emma took her spot next to Cassandra and hugged her mother.
Hermione smiled and sniffed a few times, then she took her mother's seat in the armchair near Harry.
Harry grinned at her, then he reached into a pocket and pulled out a form, which he quickly filled out.
"Harry?" Hermione said softly, watching him. She was surprised to see him press his badge against the parchment, causing it to glow for a second. When the light faded, the parchment had shrunk down to a small card, which he passed to her.
"Part of the stuff they made me take. I never thought I'd need any of the Auror forms until today. Your Granmum is now a card-carrying Muggle," he replied softly.
She looked at the card which identified her grandmother as a Muggle who was privy to the secret about the magical world and should not be Obliviated. She grinned at him. "I knew there was a good reason for keeping you around," she teased.
"Hey!" he protested. "I'm sure I'm good for other things too."
She blew him a kiss in reply and turned her attention back to her mother and grandmother, who had finally separated from their embrace. She nodded in satisfaction and conjured a box of tissues, which she passed to her mother.
Emma smiled in thanks and pulled some tissues out of the box before passing it to her mother.
"Mighty handy talent to have," Cassandra said, then she opened her arms to Hermione. "Now come over here, granddaughter."
Hermione bounced out of her chair and rushed to embrace the old woman.
After several intense minutes of mutual hugging between the Granger women, they finally settled down. Granmum had moved to the center of the couch with Hermione and Emma on each side, holding her hands.
Cassandra looked at Harry with a happy smile. "Why do I have this feeling that you're somehow at the heart of this? Oh, I don't mind, but I had thought I was losing my family."
Harry blushed slightly and shrugged, embarrassed to be singled out. He might have said the words for them, but it really was Hermione and Emma who had done the hard work. "Families should be together," he mumbled.
She arched an eyebrow and glanced at her daughter.
"Harry noticed that neither of us seemed very happy at the Christmas party," Emma explained.
Cassandra cackled with laughter. "No one is happy at those parties, my boy. I only go so I can see Emma and Hermione. The rest of the time they're downright boring. Although, I did like it when Frances got smacked down last year by this young buck."
Harry found the carpet especially interesting. He didn't want to be reminded of that particular incident.
"Harry asked some pointed questions and convinced me it was time to tell you," Hermione rushed to add. She had also enjoyed Harry's response to Frances, but now wasn't the time to gloat. Later maybe, but not now.
Cassandra turned back to Hermione. "So you don't go to a school for the gifted?"
"She does," Emma replied. "Just not gifted in the usual sense."
"Hermione could have easily gotten a scholarship to any private school and from there on to Cambridge or even Oxford," Harry said hotly.
Hermione smiled at him.
Emma nodded in agreement. "That's true, but going to Hogwarts was the best decision for her, considering her talents. An untrained witch is dangerous to herself and others due to accidental magic."
Cassandra gripped Hermione's hands tightly. "I always knew she was special. Did you know my Grandfather told me his great grandmother claimed to have special powers too? Maybe he wasn't pulling my leg, after all."
Harry leaned forward with an interested expression. "I knew it! I always thought it came from your mother's side of the family."
Emma grinned at Harry, then she turned back to her mother. "Mum, you can't tell anyone about Hermione and her abilities. You can tell your bridge club how well she's doing in school and brag all you want, just don't mention magic or the name of her school."
Cassandra nodded slowly. "It's that dangerous?"
"For us it is, Mrs... Granmum," Harry said, catching himself.
Cassandra smiled, noting the slip. Had he been closer, she would have patted his knee.
"Witches have been persecuted and burned at the stake," Hermione said quietly.
"Yeah, but some of them enjoyed it," Harry added with a grin, thinking back to the witch who had enjoyed being burned at the stake so much she did it five times.
Hermione shot him a quick grin, then turned back to her Grandmother. "There is a whole magical world out there and I can show you some of it. But you mustn't tell a soul."
Cassandra snorted and eyed her granddaughter with a touch of disdain. "I take it your Mum never told you what I did during the war then?"
Hermione shook her head and even Emma looked perplexed. "You worked for the Ministry of Defense, I thought."
Cassandra chortled and shook her head. "I did, in a way, since everyone in uniform worked for the Ministry. I was a cypher clerk for the SOE. I coded the messages and typed them up for the radio operators. If I can keep those secrets, even after fifty years, I think I can keep yours."
Harry raised an eyebrow. He had read the histories of the war and knew that the Special Operations Executive handled only the most secret missions of the war. Some of what they did was only just coming to light, even after fifty years. "I'd say so," he muttered.
Hermione and Emma shared a surprised look that was tinged with relief.
Cassandra gently poked Hermione in the shoulder. "So? Show me what you can do. I'm sure that you must be a special witch to attract a fine looking sweetheart like Harry."
Hermione blushed heavily and Emma laughed. "Granmum!"
Harry laughed and sat back to watch Hermione and Emma reconnect with Cassandra.
12 Grimmauld Place, Dec 26th 1997...
Tonks stumbled from the Floo and was caught by Remus.
He had arrived with just enough time to put down his packages and prepare for her expected arrival.
"I'm going to have to put a permanent cushioning charm on you if you ever become pregnant," he murmured in her ear and she blushed to the roots of her hair.
"Hey now," Cindy called from the doorway. "No dirty comments until after dinner, when you can go home to your own bed and do something about them."
Remus chuckled and Tonks' hair turned bright red to match her skin tone.
"Happy Christmas!" called Sirius, brushing past Cindy in the doorway. He carried a large bottle in his hand and four glasses hovered behind him.
"I thought Harry would be here?" asked Remus who was looking around for him.
Cindy shook her head. "He canceled. He's performing his first official Auror duty today."
Sirius sat and poured four drinks, then motioned for everyone to take one. "Yeah, he's sorry about missing today, but this was important to him."
"What was?" asked Tonks, obviously burning with curiosity.
Nearby, Dobby, wearing a NASA jumpsuit with his name stenciled on it, stoked the fireplace. He had discovered the joys of being the highest paid elf in history and he used his wages, with Cindy's help, to purchase costumes from Muggle retailers.
The jumpsuit had been a compromise between Cindy and Dobby, who, unfortunately, hadn't seemed to grasp the concept of gender-based costumes. Cindy was not going to allow the little elf to wear a Playboy bunny outfit, ever.
Cindy curled up next to Sirius and picked up one glass. "You know how the Grangers attend a family Christmas party every year?" she asked.
Remus and Tonks both nodded.
"Well, Harry noticed that Emma and her mum weren't happy at the party. Under some rather tough questioning by Harry, he discovered that they were estranged, mostly because of Hermione being a witch."
"She doesn't approve of witches?" asked Remus. It was a common issue in many Muggle families.
"No, they never told her. They were so concerned about keeping Hermione's secret that they were losing touch with her and the rest of the family," Cindy replied.
"And what's Harry doing?" asked Tonks.
"He's witnessing them revealing the secret, and issuing her the Official Muggle-In-The-Know card," Sirius replied smugly. "It's the first time he's done anything officially as an Auror. He may be only a reserve Auror, but he can perform the witnessing and issue the card. Granted, the card is standard issue for an Auror stationed in Wellington, New Zealand, but it's still valid."
"He's tickled pink that he can do something like this for Emma," added Cindy.
"Huh," said Tonks. "Harry got off easy. My first official task as an Auror was to break up a party run by Mundungus Fletcher. As you can imagine, everyone was drunk and most were undressed. Let me tell you, there is something really off-putting about having not one, but three drunken witches throw up on your brand new uniform. I think I went home that night and cried."
Sirius and Cindy laughed at Tonks' comment.
"All right, so Harry is missing. What about you two? You've been back from Madrid for less than a week and it doesn't look like you got much in the way of a tan," Remus teased.
Sirius sighed. "I wish. I swear these conferences are better at putting me to sleep than any potion. We met daily from ten in the morning until four in the afternoon. Cindy and I got to see the sights and we managed to enjoy the hotel pool, but we didn't have much free time during the day to lie about in the sun."
"Did you accomplish much at the conference? I always thought they were mostly excuses to hold fancy parties in the evenings," Tonks said.
"Actually, we accomplished quite a lot. You know that potion they wanted to ban here? The Veela modification to your Wolfsbane? Well, we've increased the tariff slightly on it, but they are going to allow it to be imported," Sirius said proudly.
Remus stared at him in surprise. There had been rumors for over a year about a Veela colony that had developed a new version of Wolfsbane that made the transformation much easier. The British Wizengamot had originally been against its import because it was created by Veela, for werewolves. Neither group were much respected in the British Isles.
"Oh, Remus," exclaimed Tonks. She had been horrified by his state following a full moon, and anxious for him to start using the new potion.
"It's one of the things we managed to accomplish," Sirius said, then he sighed. "I haven't convinced Amelia to drop the werewolf restrictions yet, but every little bit is progress. As it stands, it took nearly two weeks to hammer out an agreement. The potion was just one small part of the economic package. That's why I didn't see much of the city."
"It's a beautiful city," Cindy said, jumping in to continue the conversation, "but I did find myself curious, Sirius. Why did we always find ourselves in the same restaurant as the French delegates? And why did embarrassing things always happen to them at dinner?"
"Embarrassing?" echoed Remus, his eyes narrowing speculatively.
"Embarrassing," repeated Cindy. "Like the French Ambassador being attacked by his lobster dinner. Now, I might be bit concerned when a five star restaurant serves up an uncooked lobster that nearly snapped off the Ambassador's fingers. Wouldn't you be suspicious?"
When Sirius looked around innocently, Tonks snickered loudly.
"Around Sirius? Being suspicious is a way of life," Remus replied.
Sirius looked at his fingernails for a moment, letting the silence in the room build up. Finally, he looked up. "I don't understand why the French had so many problems, but it wasn't my fault. I didn't hand the man a live lobster. Nor did I cause his elevator to jam for eight hours while he suffered from extreme flatulence. Besides, anyone that stuffy deserves to have a little lesson in humility now and then."
"Does that include you, my husband?" asked Cindy silkily.
Sirius blanched and looked at her nervously. "You wouldn't."
"Uh oh, she must have new dirt on him," Tonks said with a chortle.
"All right, let's be serious here," Sirius said plaintively. "What's going on at Hogwarts?"
Remus sighed and shook his head. "We still don't know for certain if the snake is in the castle or not," he replied unhappily. "Snake or Acromantula, either would be hibernating by now and there hasn't been a single incident since the elf child vanished. The students are jittery, but since they haven't experienced anything directly, they don't understand why the staff is nervous, and we don't dare tell them."
"You think it's bad there? You should hear from Emma. Since Harry returned from Scotland, he's been burning up the air lanes with his owl. Poor Hedwig has been going non-stop. He spends half his days combing through books, and the other half writing letters for Hedwig to deliver," Cindy offered.
"What's he up to?" asked Tonks.
"According to Emma, he's been in touch with a Professor at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, getting advice about what a tropical snake would do in a temperate climate. That particular correspondence has been going out from, and coming back through, the Japanese Embassy in London. He's getting a crash course in Herpetology."
"Herpawhat?" Tonks asked, staring at Cindy.
"Herpetology. It's a Muggle science; the study of snakes and their behavior. Actually, it's really a smart idea for him to learn this stuff. The snake is venomous, after all," Cindy said.
"Why not go to someone local? Surely there are Herpawhosits in Britain," Tonks commented.
"There are," agreed Cindy. "But Australia is home to the most venomous snakes in the world. He went there because he could use the Pac Rim Ministry to help open that particular door, and he needed an expert who worked with venomous snakes a lot."
Tonks nodded thoughtfully.
"So what's he using Hedwig for? He can't be sending love notes to Hermione," asked Remus.
"He's looking for someone to make a cloak that will conceal his face and voice so he can search the castle without revealing his identity," Sirius replied.
Tonks blinked. "Do they make such a thing?"
"They do now," Cindy said with a grin. "Harry had it made special. He even gave the company that made it the charms to disguise his face and voice. And he's commissioned a dragon hide suit that will cover him from his neck to his feet."
Remus leaned forward, placing his drink on the table. "I don't know if I like the idea of Harry rooting around in the castle alone. And the risk of his identity being discovered is huge."
Sirius shrugged. "Talk to him about it, then. He'll be here with Hermione for dessert later."
"I think I will," Remus said thoughtfully. Some of Harry's plans he agreed with, like learning more about snakes. But he didn't think it was wise for Harry to enter the castle.
"Dinner is ready Sirs and Siresses," Dobby said from the doorway.
The Shrieking Shack, Hogsmeade, Dec 31st 1997...
The locals avoided the shack because of its reputation. Until recently, the shack had been silent for several years and the local residents of Hogsmeade were convinced that the ghouls that haunted the place had been sated for a while. Then, suddenly this past August, an awful howl was heard coming from the shack again. The ghouls were back.
That end of town was once again terrified, and a committee of strong, ably trained wizards were dispatched to double check the fence around the building to make sure no one could get in or out. No one wanted to acknowledge the fact that the fence was worthless if there were real ghouls in the shack.
As in so many cases of legends, the tales far outstripped the facts. Local villagers swapped tales about children snatched in the middle of the night, but when asked, none would ever be able to provide proof. The few who knew the actual truth, mostly staff members of Hogwarts, kept quiet. It was better to keep people afraid and away from the building, than to turn it into a tourist attraction.
In one corner of an upper floor bedroom, a head appeared as if from thin air. A gaunt Severus Snape peered around cautiously and sniffed the air.
Last night was a full moon and Lupin should have come to the shack for the evening. If all had gone according to his plan, right now Lupin was sleeping in one of the bedrooms, recovering from the after effects of the transformation.
Snape crawled out of his tent, which shimmered and become visible when he left it. He stood quietly and smiled to himself. It was a good plan; it was a perfect plan. He'd capture Lupin and force him to assist him in entering the castle. After that point, his plan became a little more fuzzy. He had vague ideas of "showing those dunderheads" and "teaching them not to underestimate the great Severus Snape". And that was about it.
As far as plans go, it left a lot to be desired, but it was the best his twisted mind could come up with.
He crept stealthily from the room, carefully searching for his victim.
Meanwhile, his intended target was sound asleep in the arms of his future wife, recovering from a particularly difficult transformation at Grimmauld Place. Tonks held him and carefully massaged muscles that had been stretched to their limits. Next month he would begin taking the new potion, Harry had prepaid for the coming year for him as a Christmas gift. Both of them were eagerly looking forward to seeing how well it helped.
The townspeople of Hogsmeade scattered in terror when, for the first time in living memory, the ghouls of the Shrieking Shack lit off during the daylight hours. Several of the more logical people wondered why the ghouls were so interested in deducting points from Gryffindor.
The Granger Residence, Oxford, England, Jan 1st 1998...
"I've been talking to my daughter and granddaughter, and both seem to agree that, without your influence, they might never have told me about Hermione's abilities," a voice said from behind him.
Harry looked up from the textbook he had been studying, he turned in his chair to see Hermione's grandmother standing in the doorway. He motioned for her to come in and sit down.
"I don't know how much Hermione has told you about me."
She smiled. "She's had a lot of good things to say about you, although I admit I haven't seen the wings she thinks are there."
Harry blushed. "I'm not an angel," he mumbled, his cheeks burning with embarrassment.
Cassandra grinned. He was so easy to embarrass! "I'm curious as to why you pushed them."
"Did Hermione tell you I'm an orphan?"
She nodded, her lips pressed tightly together.
"I hardly remember my parents, and the only things I do remember are fragments from the night they were killed. My only living relatives believed that they could force the magic out of me by abusing me. As a result, I have two views of what a family is. On the one hand, I have my relatives and their abuse. On the other, I have my real family; people with no blood relationship to me, but who love and support me just the same."
He looked at her and for a brief instant there was a flash of remembered pain in his expression, then he smiled. "I'd like to think that my parents would have loved me like my family does. The most important lesson I've learned from my Godfather is that family is the most important thing."
He paused and took a breath. "Emma deserves to have her mum in her life and Hermione her grandmother. And you deserve your family back. In a way, I'm partially at fault because Hermione spent so much time with me instead of her family. Reuniting you with your family was the right thing to do."
Cassandra nodded, satisfied with his answer. "All right. Now, tell me how you feel about Hermione."
Harry looked down at his feet for a moment before looking up. Cassandra had an imposing stare that neither Emma or Hermione had.
"I love her. She means everything to me," he said softly. "I've asked Dan and Emma for their permission to marry her when she leaves school."
Cassandra looked at him intently. "Don't you think she's too young? Or you, for that matter?"
Harry's expression hardened. "No, I don't. She'll be eighteen when she leaves school and I'm already out of school. People in the wizarding world pair up earlier than Muggles. My own parents were married right out of school."
Cassandra leaned forward in her chair. "How do you know she's the one for you?" she asked, stabbing a finger at him.
"I know," he replied defiantly. "I can feel it." He thumped his chest with one fist. "I'd do anything to make her happy."
"And if that meant leaving her?" she asked, watching him like a hawk.
He looked down. "It would kill me, but I'd do it," he whispered.
"Granmum! What are you doing?" exclaimed Hermione from the doorway. She was horrified by what she had heard.
Cassandra looked up at her granddaughter. "I'm testing his commitment. I want to make sure he's good enough for you."
Hermione rushed into the room and scowled at her grandmother. She pushed Harry back slightly and sat down on his lap. He automatically wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her hair, breathing deeply.
"My mum asked your grandfather the same question," she replied with a soft smile. "And he answered in the same way."
Hermione looked shocked and uncomprehending and Cassandra stood and walked over to the pair. She leaned down and kissed Hermione's forehead. "Be true to each other and you'll do fine."
Cassandra straightened up and walked from the room.
"Old bat," Harry murmured without any rancor.
Hermione looked at him, then laughed. "Maybe," she whispered. "But Granmum is a smart one. When she gives advice, people tend to listen and with good reason." She looked around and noted they were alone. She waved her hand and sealed the door closed, then swiveled in Harry's lap until she was straddling him.
"I want to ask you something, but it's sort of embarrassing," she said.
He looked into her gaze worriedly. "Go ahead."
"You're a Metamorphmagus."
"I'm aware of that," he replied dryly.
She frowned at his tone and plunged ahead anyway. "I'm curious. When we're together, do you use it to... umm... enhance things?"
He arched an eyebrow at her and smirked. "Would you like me to?"
She eyed him suspiciously. "You haven't already done so?"
He shook his head. "I haven't felt any need and you never seemed to complain. From what I've read, I'm only a little larger than average." He leaned forward as he spoke, whispering his reply against her ear. She shivered in his lap and a wave of desire rushed through her. He was right, she had no reason to complain.
"I would have thought, with your being able to change things, you would."
He kissed her neck, slowly moving down to her shoulder. "Why change what seems to work so well?"
He paused and leaned back and she moaned slightly when he stopped. "Are you asking me to change?"
"No!" she said immediately. "I just thought that you would take advantage of it."
He grinned and rested his forehead against hers. "Someday, maybe we'll play like that. But I promise you, what you've seen so far when I'm not Evan, is totally me. Even Evan is basically me from the neck down. Tonks has different ideas, but she grew up with the talent. I didn't."
"What do you mean different ideas?" she asked, her curiosity now piqued.
"She was six when she first discovered her talent. Since then she's been changing every day, sometimes multiple times in a day. She really doesn't have a sense of self. She has a few favorite forms, but none that really say, 'This is me, this is who I was born as.' As a matter of fact, if you ask to see the real her, the best she can do is give you an approximation of what she thinks is the real Tonks. Once her ability kicked in and she started using it, she lost touch with her original form. Don't forget, she was only six."
He ran a finger down Hermione's cheek and she watched him intently. "It's hard to explain, but to a metamorph, there is a real risk of losing your base identity. I don't mean that one day I'll wake up and think I'm Sirius, but rather sooner or later you lose touch with the form you were born with.
"Remus understands that Tonks changes shapes the same way most women change outfits. He knows that she no longer has a true shape; it's been long forgotten. Tonks is change. I could fall into the same trap. Are you loving Harry or Evan? Does it matter? Are they the same people?"
He tapped his head lightly. "It gets confusing because I am used to being Harry, but Evan is nearly as comfortable for me. Sometimes I think it would be best for me to stop changing into Evan when this is all done and never change again. And then I remember what Tonks said. Being a metamorph isn't like being an animagus. Its more like a gender. We are born to a gender and that is what we are. Refusing to morph would be like refusing to be me."
"But when you sleep, you always return to Harry," Hermione protested.
He nodded. "That's true, but only because Harry is what I believe is my real form, the real me. Tonks doesn't turn back into something else at night. According to both Remus and Tonks, she either maintains her current form, or randomly changes when she sleeps. Tonks thinks she changes to reflect her dreams and Remus doesn't mind. She's always beautiful to him, no matter what her form is."
"So you're afraid of forgetting who you are?"
He looked at her seriously. "It's a real possibility for metamorphs," he replied.
She pulled him into a hug. "I won't let you forget that you're my Harry," she whispered. She was intrigued by the fact that he resisted the temptation to enhance himself. She didn't think he'd succumb to the same trap that Tonks had fallen into, mainly because he started so late and had a firm sense of self.
She realized she needed to rethink his metamorph talents. There were some intriguing possibilities, but those possibilities weren't totally risk free.
Headmistress's Office, Hogwarts, Jan 5th 1998...
The conference hadn't gone off like the Ministry had hoped.
With the exception of a small contingent of countries, mostly European and Northern European, the Ministry found itself snubbed and rejected by many of the delegates. The Americans were openly advocating the inclusion of new Muggle topics in their curriculum. And despite the noises coming from the British Ministry, the bulk of the delegates agreed to consider the changes. Then, to add insult to injury, the delegates voted to meet again in a year at the Salem Institute in the United States, despite Hogwarts offering to host it again.
The final result of the conference forced Minerva to write several reports to the Ministry explaining in detail why she felt they should agree with the conference's agreed upon goals. The Wizarding Education Administration had taken a very dim view of her stand on the subject. In their eyes, it looked especially bad when the Headmistress of Hogwarts failed to toe the party line like the rest of the Ministry. And unfortunately for Minerva, she was no Dumbledore; she didn't hold the same level of awe that he once held. Her position on the matter severely jeopardized her job at Hogwarts.
Minerva closed the reports and placed them in the folder, then she stood and took the folder in her arms. Another year past, and another set of reports to be filed in Hogwarts' infinite file cabinet. In previous years the reports were meaningless tripe sent to the Ministry, then filed and forgotten. This year they were read, and approved by Minister Bones herself. Bones had stepped in and put a leash on the WEA, preventing them from sacking Minerva for not following their position.
She stepped in front of a bookcase. A portrait on the wall noticed her and nodded. The bookcase slid into the wall and off to the side, opening a passageway. Sconces flared to life, lighting the way and she walked down the corridor.
After a short walk of about ten feet, she entered a room with several portraits, and the infinite file cabinet.
"I say, it's Minerva!" said one portrait.
"Yes, Oswald, another year has passed," she replied to the portrait. There were six portraits of former Heads of the school in the room. Of the twenty two former Heads in the last one thousand years, six had left the position in disgrace. Those six portraits were in this room.
Oswald Biederhurst had been a headmaster from 1742 to 1778 when he married the Head girl after she became pregnant with his child. That in itself wasn't bad enough, but he made the mistake of insulting King George III by suggesting he should grow up and let the colonies go. That was the last known contact between the magical world and the royal family.
She glanced up at the other portraits, including the one of Dumbledore. The portrait had been shocked to discover that it had been banished to the room with the other disgraced Headmasters.
Dumbledore looked at Minerva, his expression full of hope. "Minerva, I would like to..."
She held up a hand, silencing him.
"No, Albus. Apologies aside, we're still living with the results of your inactions and manipulations. You completely drained the accounts of several orphans and would have drained Potter's accounts had Gringotts not stopped you and alerted the Ministry."
She paused and looked at the painting intently. Dumbledore sat on a chair looking chagrined and contrite. The other portraits looked on and gloated.
"In a way, it's probably a good thing you were caught when you were. Harry has graduated, a full year ahead of schedule and is one of the most powerful wizards I have ever met. Had he discovered your deception, he would have probably killed you."
"Minerva! I assure you, what I did wasn't all that bad. I wouldn't have done it at all if it hadn't been the best for our world,," Dumbledore protested.
Minerva snorted. "And that, ladies and gentlemen of the court, is why the mighty Albus Dumbledore is relegated to the wall of shame, instead of occupying a place of honor in the Headmaster's office."
"Hear, hear!" said several portraits.
Minerva glared at them and they hurriedly hushed, then she turned back to Dumbledore.
"I don't know why I bother. You still think what you did was the right thing. You bankrupted four children to finance your little Order of the Phoenix. You placed Harry Potter into an abusive environment when you knew his parents had other plans for him. I swear, Albus, if I didn't know that the magic would create a new one, I'd order your portrait burned!"
She opened the file cabinet, placed the file inside, then she slammed it shut. She hated coming into this room; she made a mental note to speak to Pappy about relocating the dishonored Headmasters to a new room. Perhaps Myrtle's bathroom or the broom closets closest to the Slytherin dorms.
Daily Prophet Headline, Jan 6th 1998...
Hogwarts Receives Failing Grade!
Ministry Officials presided over the close of the one hundred and second International Educational Conference, only to find themselves and most of the European community snubbed by the other Magical Ministries.
The office of the Minister, still high from its success at the European Economic conference, was stung by the harsh reception given to Ministry officials at the conference.
Hosted at Hogwarts, the fifty six delegates met to discuss changes to magical learning and new advances that might be incorporated into the standard coursework. This year, however, there was a problem. Right from the onset of the conference, a large block of Ministries, led by both the North American Department of Magic and the Pacific Rim Ministry, pushed an agenda that any normal wizard would find offensive.
The Americans want to include Muggle learning, mathematics, sciences and their new field of technomancy into the standard coursework. Such changes are in direct opposition to the Ministry's position. The Ministry and the European community opposed the changes vehemently, with one notable exception. The Headmistress of Hogwarts, Minerva McGonagall, refused to denounce the American proposal.
"I feel that the American proposal deserves to be examined, rather than dismissing it out of hand. I have recently come to believe that we are doing a disservice to our students by limiting what we teach. We are educators, first and foremost, and therefore we, of all people, should not be turning a blind eye to new ideas," said McGonagall.
WEA officials were quick to attack McGonagall's position, citing her close working relationship with the disgraced former Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, as a possible source of her tainted thinking. One official said, on condition of anonymity, that, "She's spent too much time under Dumbledore, if you catch my meaning. I bet she knew what was happening to Harry Potter, too!"
Perky Weatherbee, reading a statement from Minister Bones, had this to say. "The Ministry recognizes that the WEA is an autonomous agency. However, we reject the calls for Headmistress McGonagall's resignation. While her comments were perhaps different than current Ministry policy, she is a private citizen, employed by a private organization and therefore not under the auspices of the WEA or the Ministry. Finally, we note that Headmistress McGonagall was asked her personal opinion, which she candidly gave. Yet she has taken no action to institute new classes and will not undertake such actions until approved by the Hogwarts Board of Governors."
(Continued on Page 2)
Several Azkaban Escapees captured. One still at large. Page 2
Drunk German Wizard Disillusions middle third of Eiffel Tower. Page 3
Hogsmeade, Jan 8th 1998...
Gustav Chesterfield was considered an eccentric even by wizarding standards. Well past a century old, the wizard appeared one day in Hogsmeade and purchased a run-down old home on the outskirts of town. It was one of the places furthest from Hogwarts and the train station that could still be considered part of the town.
Few people went near the Chesterfield home. It was rumored to be heavily warded and dangerous. Its owner was often seen scurrying around town, running mysterious errands that only he knew or understood. Chesterfield had proven to be impossible to come to know.
Gustav wasn't a powerful or imposing wizard; in fact, few could recall him ever doing much magic. He was anti-social to an extreme. He hated people; wizards, Muggles, everyone. Unfortunately, his odd habits would be his undoing.
It was late evening and Gustav had spent his time at the Hogshead Inn, sitting in a corner, drinking and glaring balefully at the other regulars. The new owner had renamed the Inn, but changed the name back when people refused to use the new name. When he left, he failed to notice the black shape that detached itself from the shadows and followed him. Snape caught him just as he was about to enter his house.
"Imperio," hissed Snape.
Gustav paused and for the first time in his life, he felt a pleasant sensation and an utter sense of relaxation.
"Let me in," Snape said.
Gustav nodded and opened the door wide. Snape glanced around and then darted inside the run down dwelling.
"Enter and close the door."
Gustav entered the home and closed the door, then he stood silent, waiting for his next command.
Snape looked around the room. He would not have risked this at all, but the little tent he had been living out of had run out of supplies. It had been two days since he'd eaten last and he needed food badly.
The room he was in was incredibly cluttered. Old Daily Prophets were stacked from the floor to the ceiling in several places, along with Muggle newspapers and magazines. One wall was covered in calendars dating back to 1931.
He could see the corridors nearby were cramped with all sorts of junk. The place felt downright creepy and he shivered slightly.
"Take me to your kitchen."
Gustav nodded happily and Snape followed him into the crowded corridor. He paused next to one door, which vibrated. "Stop!" he commanded. "What is that mysterious ticking noise?"
Snape eyed Gustav warily. He could feel a strong sensation through the soles of his shoes. Gustav turned and opened the door. Suddenly Snape reeled back, assaulted by the sound. The room contained hundreds of clocks, all ticking, gonging and ringing.
"Close the door!" he screamed, pressing up against a stack of rusted cauldrons.
Even under the Imperius curse, Gustav couldn't help but smile. He knew his new friend would be impressed by his attempts to save time. Thanks to his clocks, he had hundreds of years stored in that room.
Snape straightened up and glared at Gustav for a moment, then his foot lashed out, kicking the old man's feet out from under him. He ignored the pained cry as the man hit the floor. "No more funny business or I'll deduct points from you and give you detention!"
The old man gasped and nodded, waiting for the pain to ebb away. Then he slowly climbed to his feet and led Snape into the kitchen.
At a command from Snape, Gustav set about preparing a meal for his new friend.
"The days of Gryffindor's end are nigh," Snape muttered to himself.
"The badger will kill the snake," Gustav told him in a low growl. He had not attended Hogwarts, but he knew enough about how the school was structured.
"Yes, but not before the snake delivers the killing bite! And then all will know that I, Severus Snape, am all powerful! All will bow and worship at my feet and Draco will fix my hair."
"But the Eagle cannot outrace the snail without help," Gustav replied sagely.
Snape paused and stared at Gustav. He had not thought of that!
"Meh! Then I will let Parkinson worry about my hair. Draco can be in my harem."
Gustav nodded, pleased that he had helped solve his new friend's problems with his love life. Then the pleasant feeling started to ebb.
Gustav blinked and swayed for a moment. Snape pulled his wand and reapplied his Imperius curse. He didn't need his new servant getting away now. Besides, there were more important things to do, like catching Lupin.
The Granger Residence, Oxford England, Jan 20th 1998...
"Are you decent?" Dan called from the door.
Harry looked up from his desk. He was packing away several important items he had purchased for himself in the past weeks.
"Yeah, come on in, Dan," he replied.
Dan stepped into the room and watched Harry packing away the heavy gloves and snake hook. "I take it everything went according to plan?"
Harry grinned. "Even better than I expected. Professor Miller's letter opened doors real quick."
Recognizing the need to learn how to handle venomous snakes, his contact in Australia had provided him with a letter of introduction to the Curator of Herpetology at the London Zoo and he had spent the day watching and helping the snake handlers there. For the next few weeks, he'd be assisting in caring for all of the reptiles at the zoo while learning how to handle the venomous species.
"I'm not an expert by any means, but give me a few more weeks and I'll be able to handle the worst snakes safely. Today all I did was move fairly safe species, then clean out their enclosures."
"How'd you manage to convince Professor Miller to help like that?"
Harry walked over to his bed and sat, then he motioned to Dan to sit at his desk.
"The Pacific Rim Ministry approached Professor Miller at the University. They said they needed an expert for a snake problem that had some political difficulties tied to it. As far as Miller is concerned, there is a snake that needs to be caught in a very high profile location and no one can know about it, which explains why none of the usual experts are being called in.
"He sent me some recommendations on books to read, and has answered a number of questions I've had concerning snakes. Finally, he suggested that I approach the Curator of Herpetology at the Zoo and he provided me with a letter of introduction. They were basically given the same story Miller was given. Only in this case, it's being done as a favor to the Australian government."
Dan motioned to the leather gloves and the plastic noose stick. "Is that going to be much good against Nagini?"
Harry frowned. "No, not really. But I never planned on using it. Tonks has put me in touch with a company that makes armor for Aurors. It's expensive, but I've bought a suit of the stuff. I'll be protected from my neck to my feet. Not even Nagini will be able to bite through dragon hide. The snake hook is just a prop. I'm going to kill the snake, not collect it for a zoo." He shuddered slightly. "I have a bit of a confession," he said softly.
Dan arched an eyebrow. "Oh?" he asked, wondering what Harry was going to say.
"I really don't like snakes. If I had my choice, I'd rather be able to talk to Hedwig or Crookshanks instead of snakes," he said.
Dan shook his head and laughed. A moment later, Harry joined him.
"So, have you learned everything that Emma wanted to know?" Harry asked with a sly grin.
Dan's lips twitched. "She's concerned. Up until now it's all been talk and plans. But now that you're really chasing after Nagini, she's terrified for you and for Hermione. She's had several very bad nightmares. She's worried sick about you."
Harry nodded somberly. "I know. I also worry about what would happen to Hermione should anything happen to me."
He stood and walked over to his trunk and placed a hand on it. "My Will is in the first compartment. Sirius also knows where it is, and Gringotts has a copy on file. Should anything happen, Hermione gets most of what I own."
"She doesn't want what you own, Harry. She wants you," Dan protested.
"I know. This is just a precaution. Besides, I'd rather decide who benefits, rather than seeing it go to the Dursleys. They don't deserve anything."
Dan nodded unhappily. This part of the conversation he would relate to Emma, but he'd never tell Hermione about it. His daughter was a realist, but this was a dose of reality that no one wanted to discuss. He stood and walked to the door. "Dinner will be in about an hour."
Harry looked up from staring at his trunk with that uncomfortable piece of parchment. "I'll be there," he replied.
Dan walked from the room, leaving the door open and Harry moved over to sit back down at his desk. He flipped open the textbook on snakes. The answers are in here, he thought sourly, I just have to find them.
12 Grimmauld Place, Jan 25th 1998...
Harry tumbled out of the fireplace and frowned. He was lying on his back and mostly covered in soot.
"I thought you didn't use the Floo anymore?" Cindy asked. She sat on the couch looking at him in amusement.
She had been asked to join a partnership of doctors that consisted mostly of Squibs or wizards passing as Muggles. Until her office was completed, she was working from home, examining cases that she'd be taking over from a retiring doctor.
Harry climbed to his feet and cast a cleaning charm on himself. "I don't use the Floo if I can help it. But Floo is the only way in and out of the office at the Embassy."
"The Embassy? I would have thought you'd be snake handling today."
He shook his head. "No, I had to take the day off to go down to the Embassy to initiate a search for some information."
He looked at her intently. "You do know I'm not really serious about learning to handle snakes? I mean, I'm not going to capture Nagini. If I have my way, I'll find her and set the room on fire to kill her."
Cindy nodded. "I had wondered why you seemed so intent on learning something you weren't going to use."
Harry sat in a chair opposite from her and ran a hand through his hair tiredly. "It's something to do, I suppose. I can't spend any time searching the Forbidden Forest around the school. It's hip deep in snow and she's hibernating. According to what I've learned, she'll hibernate until sometime in April."
He paused and looked down at his hands. "I'm not used to being idle like this. I have a few items still to do, but none of it can be done now."
"So all this running around of yours is just something to keep you busy?"
He looked sheepish and nodded.
Cindy chuckled and closed the folder on the case file she was reading. "You know, you have a lot of people worrying about you."
He nodded. "I know, but keeping busy is the only thing keeping me sane. Otherwise, my only option at this point is to sneak into Hogwarts and search the school from top to bottom."
"Let's say you find the snake. What then?"
"Easy. I kill it and remove the Horcrux," he replied.
"Can you destroy it? I know Sirius said they were very difficult to destroy."
He frowned and nodded slowly. "I think I can. We think the object inside the snake might be a gem that once belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw. If that's the case, then I think I know a way to get the Horcrux out of the gem. If not, I'll have to seal the Horcrux in a box and take it to a blast furnace to destroy it."
"Will destroying it banish him or just free up his avatar?"
"No one knows," he replied with a shrug.
"You want this very much, don't you?" she asked gently.
He looked at her. "I want what you and Sirius have - what Dan and Emma have. Once this is done, I can really live with Hermione at my side. I just want to be normal, like everyone else."
"But none of us are really normal, Harry," she said softly. "Sirius is an animagus, and an ex-convict. Dan and Emma have their own quirks; even I have my foibles. No one is really normal. You're a metamorph and you're famous. Hermione is very intelligent and will be famous simply because she's your girlfriend."
Harry's expression darkened and she held up a hand, holding him silent. "Let me try it this way. You're a metamorph, right?"
"Can Hermione be one?"
"No. You're either born to be one or your not."
Cindy nodded. "True. You were born a wizard. Can you become a Muggle?"
He frowned. "No. I could swear off using magic, but it would always be there."
She leaned forward on the couch. "So, you'll always be a wizard and you'll always be a metamorph. You became famous, but the public is fickle, their memory won't last. What will last is what you are."
She paused and drew in a deep breath. "I'm an Internist. When I was studying, I thought about Oncology as a possible field."
At Harry's puzzled look she smiled. "An Oncologist treats cancer patients. I didn't go into the field because there is so much pain and suffering. Too much for me to bear. I've had patients die on me before, but not like some who work in that field."
She pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around her knees. "I always thought I was a failure because I couldn't hack one of the most difficult fields in medicine."
He watched her intently. They'd had many conversations in the past, but none like this.
"It wasn't until a few years ago that I realized that there really wasn't anything wrong with me. This is who I am. That's all we can ever be.
"We can't change our fundamental makeup. You hate that you're the Boy-Who-Lived, but when you finally kill off Voldemort's soul, you'll have earned that title for real. Think about it. Even if no one knows what you did, you will have earned the name they gave you as a toddler."
Harry stared at her for a long moment, then he sighed heavily. "Just live as best you can because there is no normal?"
She smiled. "Tonks would say normal is boring. Just live, Harry. Take Hermione off to someplace where you won't be hounded by the press and learn to live a regular day. Stop worrying about what's normal and what isn't."
He nodded. "I can do that. Maybe we should go back to Fiji for a few weeks after she leaves school. Bring her grandmum along..."
He trailed off, thinking hard.
Cindy grinned, then stood and picked up her folders. She patted him on the shoulder before she left the room.
He was so caught up in what he was considering he barely noticed her leaving.
Upstairs, Dobby, dressed as a vampire, including enhanced teeth, smiled happily as he prepared a room for his Harry Potter Sir.
Headmistress's Office, Hogwarts, Feb 5th 1998...
"Come in!" Minerva called from her desk. She was happy to have visitors. She was in the middle of another report to the Ministry, explaining why they couldn't give lessons in how to handle a Nundu in Care of Magical Creatures class.
The door opened and Remus and Tonks entered. Tonks was floating a large crate behind her.
Minerva arched an eyebrow at the sight.
Remus sat down in one of the chairs facing her, while Tonks gently lowered the crate, then took the other chair.
Tonks waved her wand a few times, setting up privacy wards, then she nodded to Remus.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Minerva, but Harry had this box delivered and he wants to talk to all three of us," Remus said.
Minerva nodded. "Is he coming here?"
"No. We'll use the mirror to talk to him," he said as he pulled a small mirror out of his pocket. With a wave of his wand, he expanded it so it was nearly as big as a single printed sheet of paper. He propped the mirror against some books, then touched the corner, activating it.
"Harry Potter!" he called.
The surface of the mirror rippled like water and Harry's face appeared in the mirror.
"Remus, do you have Tonks and the Headmistress with you?"
"We're all here and we're burning with curiosity about the box," Tonks said.
Harry grinned. "I've been doing a fair amount of research concerning the behavior of snakes in the last month, and surprisingly some of it paid off. The box contains something we can use to help draw Nagini out."
"So you do think she's in the castle, Mr. Potter?" asked Minerva.
Harry ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. "Honestly, Headmistress, I don't know. Wherever she is, I do know what she's doing right now and I know what she'll be doing when the winter ends and she wakes up."
Tonks stood and walked over to the crate. She used her wand to lift the top off and place it to one side.
"Normally, she'll hibernate until the ground temperature reaches anywhere from ten to fifteen degrees. If she's indoors, she'll wake sooner because the castle has a warmer temperature than outside.
"She's going to wake and will have one extreme priority. She'll need to eat, and that's where the contents of the crate come in. Has anyone opened it yet?" asked Harry.
"I've got it open," called Tonks. She held up a small white package.
"If you open one packet, you'll find that it contains a Muggle pest trap. It's meant to capture mice and rats. Each trap contains a triggered Portkey that will take the rat or mouse away from the castle. I don't want to be totally cruel, so the Portkeys will remove the rodents from the castle, dumping them in Sherwood forest. The traps themselves will reset after they send off a rat or mouse. My original thought was to dump the pests at Privet Drive, but I decided against it. That would be cruel to the animals," he said with a smirk.
"Starting in mid-March, we need to saturate the lower parts of the castle with those traps. Nagini should wake up around early to mid-April. If we fill all of the lower levels with these traps, we can cut back, maybe even eliminate, her food supply. With a little luck, the lack of lunch will force Nagini to leave the castle to find food.
"Remus, you need to pull that ward in until it covers just the castle itself and none of the grounds."
Remus leaned forward in his chair. "I can do that, Harry, but won't she see the ward? She must have spotted it when she came close to it. That's why she took an underground route."
"I'm hoping she won't see it mixed in with all of the other magic. Right now, the ward is a unique piece of magic and not intermixed with any other magic," Harry replied.
"How do you propose we distribute these things, Mr. Potter?" asked Minerva.
"You still have house elves there. Get them to do it, Ma'am, just make sure they don't do it alone."
"What will you be doing then, Harry?" asked Remus.
Harry's image in the mirror shrugged. "There's not much I can do until she comes out of hiding, Moony. Sometime in April I'll come back and set up camp in the Forbidden Forest. Once it gets warm enough, I may root around the castle some, but not a lot. And I still have some more research to do. This is effectively a double Horcrux. The soul component released will be stronger than usual. That means we can't just throw it into a blast furnace without extra precautions."
Remus took the small package from Tonks and opened it. Inside was a pop up plastic box with bait and a one way door. "We could have used these to catch Wormtail," he murmured.
Harry grinned in the mirror. "He received his justice, Moony. That's all that matters."
Minerva looked up with interest. She had not heard what happened to Pettigrew. "What happened?"
"I found his body in the old Riddle home," Remus replied. "As near as we can figure, he was killed by Nagini sometime around October of 1994."
"Right around the time of the tournament," Minerva said thoughtfully.
"So we start laying these traps out in March and hopefully we can drive Nagini out into the open," Tonks said. "I like it. I'd really like to see the end of this."
"You and me both, Tonks," Harry said. "I'd like to get on with my life."
"Speaking of that, Mr. Potter, I just thought I'd let you know Miss Granger is doing well. She's organized several study groups for all four houses. She looked a little tired, but not like earlier in the year."
"Thank you, Headmistress. I can't help but worry about her. I've only been able to visit once since she's returned to school. At least she won't have exams like I did. In the cold weather, my arm aches now thanks to that DADA exam."
"Yes, our exams are little more sedate. We don't expect our students to storm an Auror training camp," Minerva replied with a hint of a grin.
Harry blushed. "It wasn't my fault they didn't explain all of the details of the test."
Minerva glanced at the two grinning Professors in front of her and smiled tightly. "Yes, I'm aware of what happens when Professors fail to provide sufficient instructions."
Remus and Tonks looked away. They knew she wasn't talking about the Girls Dorm ward breaking; that was ancient history. No, she was still annoyed by the sixth years who hid a disillusioned hippogriff in her office. That was another project where they'd taken the lack of instruction and run with it.
"Remus, unless you need me for anything else, I'm going to go. I need to stop by the Japanese Embassy and see if there has been any response from my request for information."
"What are you looking for, Harry?" asked Tonks.
"I had an idea that the North American Indians might have magic that can deal with Voldemort's wraith. The request for information was sent through Embassy contacts. Once the Horcrux is broken, it will release a double fragment. In all of the previous Horcruxes, the soul fragment just dissipated because there was no consciousness associated with it. But this fragment contains a soul fragment and the independent wraith that existed when he was originally cast from his body. Will it just dissipate? I don't know, and unless Remus has changed his mind, he doesn't know what will happen, either."
Remus shook his head. "We just don't know what will happen. If we were destroying a regular Horcrux, the soul fragment would dissipate and that would be that. His wraith would lose its ability to anchor to this world and move onto the next plane. But like Harry pointed out, this isn't a regular Horcrux."
Harry waved and the mirror rippled again before turning a dull gray. The three sat silent, contemplating the possibility that destroying the Horcrux might not be the end of Voldemort.
From the Journal of Hermione Jane Granger (Private Entry), Feb. 15th 1998, Hogwarts...
It's been a very hectic month and a half and I haven't had much chance to write any private entries during that time. But I need to record these events.
Harry's been working extraordinarily hard, trying to learn about snakes and about spirit magic from North America. He also devised a rather clever plan to deny Nagini any food when she wakes up. He wants to force her into the open so that he can find her easier.
On the other hand, he nearly got caught here in Hogwarts!
I love Ginny, but she is turning out to be the nosiest girl I know. Ever since the announcement of her arrangement with Neville, she's been hanging out in my apartment a lot. She's been studying, but she also decided to use my little common room as a perfect place to plan her wedding, since she didn't have to deal with all of the Gryffindor girls and the catcalls from some of the less mature boys here.
I didn't mind, since I had agreed to her using the room under some strict rules and, for the most part, she willingly followed those rules. But one day she forgot her planner in the common room and she stopped by to pick it up before she went down for breakfast.
Unfortunately, she discovered Harry's invisibility cloak! She came into my bedroom demanding to know why I had it. I could feel the blanket next to me still settling to the bed because Harry had teleported away barely a second ahead of her entering the room. Naked.
I managed to get her to wait out in the common room until I could get dressed, and while I dressed, I quickly shoved all of Harry's clothes under my bed. I am certain she didn't notice them. I think. I hope.
Out in the common room, she confronted me about the cloak and I told her that Harry had sent it to me, which lead to me admitting that Harry did occasionally contact me through Sirius. She grilled me for nearly twenty minutes before I figured out that I could distract her by asking her a question about her wedding.
The problem is, I'm not sure she bought my story. She's a Weasley; she can smell a lie from a mile away, for Merlin's sake! And here I'm feeding her a tall tale about Harry living on a ranch in Wyoming and dating a Muggle cheerleader named Buffy. All I can do now is hope she didn't watch that Buffy movie like Harry and I did this summer.
All right, I'm smart; everyone says so. But I never said I was good at lying. After all, an eleven year old claiming she can take on a fully grown mountain troll? Honestly! How good of a liar can I be? I mean, I honestly thought blaming spilled milk on the cat would work with Mum. And I'll conveniently forget to mention that I was four at the time and we didn't have a real cat, just my imaginary cat named Bubbles.
And all the time I'm making up fairy tales, Harry has teleported someplace naked! I later learned from my Mum that he went to my house. My Mum stumbled on him coming out of my bedroom wearing my bathrobe. He crossed the corridor into the guest room where he kept his trunk.
The end result of this is that now Ginny watches me. I know she has more questions and she's just waiting to pounce.
After that, I changed the password to my door and now Ginny has to knock to enter the Head apartment.
The second time Harry visited was yesterday, on Valentine's Day, and I still smile just thinking about it. It was a night I'll never forget. We've had some pretty great sex before and I have absolutely no complaints about him as a lover. But sometimes he does things that don't involve sex that leave me totally stunned and I end up asking, when did my Harry take lessons in romance? Does he secretly watch romantic comedies when I'm not around or read the romance novels I keep on my night table? Well, I think I know the answer now.
He arrived here and the first thing he did was kiss me in a way that made me want him so badly. Afterwards, he didn't say a word, he just led me into the bed room and pressed his fingers to my lips, telling me to say nothing.
What followed was like nothing I've ever experienced. He conjured a huge wooden tub full of hot scented water, then he undressed me and helped me into it. He bathed me, from my toes to my ears. As he did, the lighting in the room lowered until there was just enough light to see by. From somewhere, I don't know where, music played softly. And he never once said a word!
When he was done, he lifted me from the tub and dried me off with the softest terry towels I've ever felt. He had even managed to remove the ever present chill from my room. For once the stone floor wasn't cold against my bare feet.
I'll admit, I've never been so pampered before and he had me so turned on. I expected him to take me to bed and make love to me, but that wasn't what he had in mind.
He laid me down on the bed on my stomach and started to massage my feet. I was startled for all of twenty seconds and then I relaxed. He slowly worked his way up my legs, massaging me. Every so often he'd stop long enough to apply a small dab of scented oil.
I melted. I became Hermione-the-Puddle. By the time he reached my shoulders, I was nearly asleep and he was showing no signs of stopping.
The next morning I awoke, still naked, from the best sleep I've ever had. There were several blankets covering us and the bed was so warm and toasty. I didn't care that I didn't have a stitch of clothing on.
It took me a long lazy minute contemplating the previous night before I realized that he had reenacted a scene from one of the novels I keep by my bed. He must have known from the way that book falls open to that particular scene that it was a favorite of mine.
When I finally focused on him, I found myself staring into those deep green eyes of his. He was awake and holding me loosely in his arms.
"You didn't stay up all night, did you?" I asked him.
He shook his head. "Not at all. Once I was sure you were asleep, I joined you. You've been working too hard again."
I looked away. He had somehow managed to learn how to look at me and leave me feeling ashamed of myself. It reminded me of the way Daddy can look at me and I know without him saying a word that he's disappointed. Harry rarely uses that look, but when he does, I know he's doing it because he cares what happens to me.
"I know, it just snuck up on me," I replied. Then a thought occurred to me and I smiled at him. "But if I start working too hard, you'll come along and do like you did last night, right?"
He leaned closer and kissed me with a chuckle. "My witch," he whispered.
I snuggled closer with him and kissed him hard. He was going to have to leave soon and after last night I wanted him so bad it hurt. He left an hour later than he had planned and I think he was almost as content as I was.
I'm already deep into a plan to turn the tables on him next time he comes here. He's also agreed to help me with my studying. He told me he wrote up what he remembered from his Transfiguration N.E.W.T. exam. I know his exam will be very different, but the quality of the questions will be a big help in preparing for the tests.
Hogsmeade, Feb 18th 1998...
Soon now, very soon,thought Snape. He suppressed the urge to cackle and he looked at Gustav, who was busy making dinner for both of them. For more than a month, Snape had been hiding in Gustav's home, which he found fascinating.
Besides the clock room where Gustav saved time, there was the sacred repository of missing socks. Gustav explain that the room contained all the socks that go missing. Snape believed him; the room was full to the ceiling and the walls bulged ominously. Gustav earned extra money by pulling out the socks and selling them to Gladrags.
Another room was filled with balls of all shapes and sizes and which he, appropriately enough, called the Ballroom.
Needless to say, Gustav was playing with a short wand and he turned out to be an excellent playmate for Snape.
Snape had found that Gustav had a potions workshop in the basement, although he spent the majority of his time experimenting with Muggle chemicals. Keeping Gustav under the Imperius was tedious, so he brewed dose of Liquid Imperius, which bound Gustav to him permanently. Unlike the curse, which left the victim performing in an obviously controlled manner, the potion allowed the victim more freedom. An astute Auror or Potions Master might suspect the victim of being controlled, but Gustav's normal behavior was sufficiently strange so that no one noticed as he went about his business in town.
"Gustav," Snape said from his chair.
The man turned to eye his friend eagerly. "Yes, my wonderful Master?"
Snape winced. No matter how many times he had told him to simply call him sir, the man's insanity was preventing the potion from assuming unwavering control.
"Have you found the key to that room in the basement yet?"
Gustav's expression fell. He hated failing the wonderful and powerful master. "No, Master. The locking spell is the best there is. It is, after all, the Holy room. How could I buy anything less than the best?"
Snape scowled. He had investigated every nook and cranny in this strange house, including the attic, where gravity was reversed, and the second floor bath, with miniature alligators in the bathtub. The only room he hadn't been able to enter was a room in the basement.
Snape blinked and his lucidity waned. "Curses! I'm sure there is something important in there."
"It is the Holy room, Master. Of course, it's important," Gustav said in agreement.
"Important enough to decimate those fool Hufflepuffs? I hate badgers."
Gustav nodded and peered at Snape with watery eyes. "Truly, the Holy room contains a wondrous means for you to bring your enemies low."
Snape bolted upright. "Like Gryffindors?" he hissed.
"Especially Gryffindors," Gustav said smoothly. He knew exactly what to say to please his master.
Snape leaned back, relaxing. "Gryffindors," he murmured. "They sneak into your rooms at night and fill your socks with the pudding you weren't allowed to have at dinner." His head cocked slightly and his eyes became unfocused. "Oh, hello, Draco. Why are you wearing such a large codpiece?"
"It provides room for his fish, Master," Gustav said.
Snape nodded understandingly. He should have thought of that.
12 Grimmauld Place, London, Feb 20th 1998...
Sirius stopped when he passed the open doors to the main sitting room. Harry sat on the floor between the coffee table and the couch. On the table he had several books spread out and a long rolled up parchment.
"Harry? I didn't know you were coming over today."
He looked up and smiled at seeing Sirius. "Dan and Emma are taking a long weekend, so I figured I'd crash here, if you don't mind. I could go up to the Manor, but no one's there except for a few elves."
Harry had visited Potter Manor and found it in need of many repairs. Remus had been able to keep the grounds around the cemetery neat and well maintained, but only a Potter could enter the Manor. Because of that, it had been unattended all these years. Harry had hired several friends of Dobby's to fix up the Manor, but it still felt like a large tomb to him. He hoped that someday he and Hermione would be able to call it home, but that wasn't today.
Sirius nodded then walked over to the couch and sat down. "You know you're always welcome here," he said. Then he leaned forward and eyed all the parchment and books. "What are you working on?"
Harry turned to the parchment on the table and nudged a bit of it. "I got this stuff a few days ago through my contacts at the Embassy. I have no doubt I can destroy the Horcrux when we find it. Now I'm more concerned about being prepared to destroy the soul fragment."
Sirius leaned back and looked at him. "You don't think it will simply go away like the others did?"
"The other fragments didn't have the consciousness that this one has. That's a big difference."
Sirius looked pensive for a moment before acknowledging Harry's point. "All right, but since we're on the topic, there's something else I think we need to consider."
"Your reintroduction to the Wizarding world in general. Once the last Horcrux is gone, Evan Black should slip into obscurity and Harry Potter should reenter the world. I'm sure Hermione wants to be Mrs. Potter, not Mrs. Black."
Harry sighed and leaned his back against the couch. "I hate to admit it, but you're right. What do you suggest?"
Sirius grinned. "Well, since you're asking. I used to say to your dad, if you have to do something, do it with flair."
Harry stared at him for a moment then groaned theatrically. "Oh, no. You're thinking of something real showy, aren't you?"
Sirius chuckled. "Well, think about it, Harry. We have to convince the Internationals and the Ministry that you've succeeded. Once they're convinced, they'll handle it from there."
Harry lowered his head to the table and banged it a few times. Then he looked up at Sirius. "You know, sometimes I think life was simpler when it was just me and Moony."
Sirius' face fell and he placed a hand to his chest. "You wound me!" he cried in mock anguish.
"Not mortally, unfortunately. All right, let's hear what the Marauder in your head is saying."
"What we need is a group from our Ministry, someone acceptable to the Internationals, and maybe one or two from the press who we can trust. Are you still sure you can destroy the Horcrux? It would be mighty silly to gather all these people and find you can't do it."
Harry's expression turned grim. "I can do it. Since we're dealing with some kind of gem, I've run a few tests. I'm afraid that I used up some of those loose gems that I found in the vault."
Sirius grinned. "Don't worry about it. Some of that stuff was downright ugly. You didn't break anything important, did you?"
He shook his head. "No, just loose gems, and some common stones I found in a stream while searching the Forbidden Forest. I made sure all my Mum's jewelry was put away before I even started looking."
He paused and looked thoughtful. "How are we going to do this, Sirius? I mean, I'm not happy about having the press there, but I guess it's necessary. But getting everyone together is going to be a problem."
"Let me handle it, Harry. I have the contacts we need. I just need you to create the Portkeys when the time comes."
When Harry nodded, Sirius stood. "I think I'll go see what Cindy is up to and when dinner is."
He walked out whistling a happy tune and Harry shook his head in amusement. He knew that Sirius was a real showman at heart. Whatever he thought up would be a surprise to nearly everyone. That's what frightened him.
From the Journal of Harry Potter (Private Entry), Mar 1st 1998, London...
I talked with Remus and Tonks today. I teleported up to Hogwarts, after a very nice dinner with Dan and Emma, so I could confer with them. Starting tomorrow, the lower levels of Hogwarts are going to be cleaned like they've never been cleaned before. Then the elves are going to lay out the traps.
I had to remind Remus that the Headmistress should not patrol in her cat form. She'd make a nice Nagini snack, which is what we are trying to avoid.
I don't expect the snake to be awake yet, but the rodents are, especially in the warmer rooms in the castle. By starting early, I hope we'll cut back on the only local food source for that blasted snake. Remus also convinced the Headmistress to allow the juvenile elves to move into the Shrieking Shack. Some of those elves are just the right size for Nagini to take them.
Hermione and I have been talking a lot via our mirrors. She's been studying hard and I've been helping by questioning her using the mirrors. Last night was typical of our conversations.
"Next, it can be used as a stabilizing element in potions requiring erumpent fluid. And finally, it can be used as an oven cleaner..."
I smiled at her image. "Very good. You got the twelve uses of Dragon Blood down pat. Now, what's the incantation for a light spell?"
"Lumos, Lumos Orbis for a free floating point."
"And the counter?"
"Nox. Come on, Harry, these are first year spells," she complained.
I grinned at her, then I started snapping questions at her as quickly as I could.
"Fine. The final incantation of the Fidelius ritual?"
"Securus falsus dissimulo fidelita."
"To harden or solidify a liquid, and I don't mean freeze it."
"To detect magic?"
"Name five poisonous plants used in potions."
"Digitalis purpurea, Hydrangea macrophylla, Nerium oleander, Onvallaria majalis and Wisteria sinensis."
"Good. Now, quickly name five reasons why you love me," I said with a grin.
She stared at me for a moment as if she couldn't understand the question. "Five? I'm not sure I can come with that many," she replied with a smirk.
"Hey!" I exclaimed.
"Well, stop fishing for compliments," she replied with a large grin.
"I was just seeing if you were paying attention," I muttered.
"Uh huh. When am I not paying attention?"
"Well, when I nibble on your earlobe you seem to lose..."
"Back to the topic. And trust me, there are a lot more than five reasons. There are too many to name here."
"All right," I replied smugly, then went back to reading questions off my list.
I won't say she's becoming obsessive, but I think this is giving me an interesting insight into her. For all the years before Hogwarts, she had few friends except her books. Hogwarts broadened her horizons and our being a couple broadened them even further. But her books and studying is like an emotional safety net for her. I believe that she still thinks of books as her friends and a test isn't really a test of her knowledge, but a test of how well she knows those friends.
It's silly, I know, but it's a very real part of who she is. I wouldn't change it for all the galleons in Gringotts. Emma is pretty much the same way. Dan even told me that when she was pregnant with Hermione, she spent her time reading books on pregnancy and child rearing.
As I see it, I have a couple things I need to do. I need to help her prepare as much as I can, even if that just means quizzing her via our mirrors at night. I also need to help keep her calm, which means she may have another couple baths and massages coming up.
Sirius and Remus didn't give me baths and massages, thank Merlin! But they did the same thing with jokes and humor. N.E.W.T.s are very stressful and having someone who can pull you back and make you breathe is essential.
Speaking of Sirius, he's changed his plans again and he won't share them with me! I swear he should have gone into show business.
I've told him that once I have the snake, he'll get notice from me and I'll wait only so long after that. Then I'm going to destroy the thing, with or without his dog and pony show.
I understand where he's coming from. I do have an obligation to the Internationals, especially the Pacific Rim Ministry and the Yanks. But it's my life we're talking about and I want it back. Since I was eleven, I've had this hanging over my neck like an axe ready to fall.
I want to be Harry again. I need to be Harry again. Every time I visit Hermione, I go as Evan and change back into my regular form once I'm sure she's alone. Just once I wish I didn't have to sneak around. I'd like be able to say "Hi, Ron!" and have him reply normally.
Somewhere along the line, Voldemort stole my parents, my friends and my life. And through all that, Hermione hasn't caught on to just how important she is. It's like she's my last link to Harry. Harry, Evan. Harry, Evan. Who am I? I know who I want to be, and once I catch that blasted snake, I'll be Harry again. I'll be me. The rest of the world can go hang, for all I care.
And here I go again, depressing myself and it's way too late to call up Hermione and talk to her. I think I'll go over that banishing ritual again.
Defense Against the Dark Arts Office, Hogwarts, Mar 25th 1998...
Remus looked up when Tonks walked in and smiled. "Back so soon?"
She nodded unhappily. "Yeah. The Department Healer says if I come back I'll be on desk duty until I can re-certify the fitness exam."
"I thought you were doing all right with that?" Remus asked worriedly.
"I thought I was, too," she replied. "But my leg went lame five kilometers into the ten kilometer run."
"But all that exercise you've been doing?"
She sighed and shook her head. "I have an appointment with a specialist at St. Mungo's this weekend. I was warned this might happen and that I may never recover completely."
Remus frowned. "You have healed, unless you've been hiding it from me."
"I'm not hiding anything, Remy. The Healer told me if I go back I'll be stuck at a desk until I can pass that exam. Then she told me it was likely that I'd never pass it. You know how difficult that exam can be."
"A desk job," he murmured and she grimaced at him. "I know what that will do to you," he said softly.
She pulled her chair away from her desk and sat facing him. "What am I to do? All my life, all I wanted to be was an Auror." Her hair changed to a dull flat brown and she looked at him with watery eyes.
He stood and walked over to her, then knelt down and took her into his arms. "I know, but we'll find something. There are a lot of things you can do, it's just a matter of finding something you like." He cradled her in his arms and she sniffled against his shoulder. This was a far cry from the normally spunky ebullient young woman he knew. This was the Tonks who hid behind the metamorphmagus.
"I'm positive," he replied. "In fact, I know the school on Fiji still has positions unfilled. They sent me a notice about them, asking if I knew anyone capable of filling any of them. I was going to ask Sirius about the Transfiguration position, but maybe I should ask you, instead."
Tonks pulled her head off his shoulder and looked at him uncertainly. "Really?"
He grinned. "I have the note on my desk. As I said, I was thinking about talking to Sirius about it, but frankly he's enjoying his political games too much, and Cindy is now involved in that practice in London. Besides, I just happen to know an Auror who will be moving to Fiji with a certain Magical Creatures Professor. She might want something to do with her time that would allow her to be close to her husband."
Tonks wiped her eyes on her sleeve and smiled at him. "You always know how to cheer me up."
He chuckled. "I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen you really upset like this."
She pulled away and stood up. Stepping up to his desk, she rooted around the papers, looking for the note he was talking about.
"Help yourself," he said.
"Thanks, I will," she replied with a grin.
He shook his head, climbed to his feet and moved back to his desk. He pulled out one of the drawers, reached in and drew out the parchment she was looking for, and handed it to her.
She gave him a pouting look. "You said on your desk."
"I wasn't being literal."
Tonks smirked at him and walked back over to her desk to sit down and read the note from the Pacific Rim Ministry about the new Fijian School of Magic. Her eyes widened, seeing the large number of job openings they were trying to fill. Surely there's something in here that would interest me, she thought.
"Have you noticed anything?" Remus asked.
She tore her eyes from the parchment. "Huh?"
He motioned to a wall parchment that he'd tied to a ward. He had explained to her a few days earlier that it tracked the number of times Harry's traps triggered. Big block numbers read four hundred and seventy two.
"In just three days?" Tonks exclaimed.
"That was my thought, too. Although the number is slightly incorrect."
"Incorrect? How so?"
Remus grinned. "Four hundred and seventy one rodents have been Portkeyed out of the school, and one feline."
Tonks' expression broke into a huge grin. "Mrs. Norris?"
"Near as Minerva and I can determine, she chased a rat into a trap and reached in with a paw to grab it when the Portkey triggered," he replied, grinning back at her.
"Oh, boy," muttered Tonks, shaking her head.
"I'll say. Argus is most upset about it. I didn't want to tell him, but Minerva insisted on it. According to her, Argus has refused to leave his office. She even went so far as offering to find a kitten to replace Mrs. Norris. He refused, rather rudely, so she reminded him that he'd been warned to keep her locked up while the traps were in use and that the staff was too busy to be bothered to retrieve her."
Tonks snickered. "The castle is going to become snog city now. That blasted cat caught more students than he did." She paused and looked at the parchment on the wall again. "Still, that is a lot of rats. That snake is going to be without any morning snacks when it wakes up."
"Hopefully Harry's plan will work, but I'm not keen about other parts of it."
"He's still talking about coming to the school to check the Chamber sometime in mid-April. I'm not happy with the idea of him exposing himself like that."
"He'll be here as Evan, and it can't take ten hours to check the Chamber. He'll be fine. Besides, he can always do that Auror teleport. While we're on the subject of Harry's ideas, have you moved in the ward?"
"Sirius and I pulled in the ward this morning, while you were at the Ministry."
Tonks smiled and stood up, then she walked over to him, swiveling him in his chair so she could straddle him. "You were never this lively two days after a change. That new potion seems to be working well."
He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her closer. "It's great," he said huskily, then he leaned in and sniffed along her neck.
Tonks smiled to herself. She knew he couldn't help it. It was the wolf in him. She thought it was kinky and rather enjoyed it.
Hogsmeade, April 1st 1998...
Severus Snape groaned and refrained from going downstairs to kick Gustav's body again. His leg had been badly broken and he had resorted to field medicine, which fixed the break without setting the bone properly, all because Gustav had forgotten the key to the locking spell on the Holy Room.
Snape gritted his teeth and bit back a snarl. He might be insane, but he wasn't stupid. He had misunderstood Gustav when he told Snape about the Holy room. He should have suspected it, considering the fact that he had a room that saved time, and the great sock repository.
The Holy room contained a hole. A thirty foot deep, rock lined shaft, to be precise. Obviously someone had tried to build a well and had come up dry. Or perhaps it was intended to be a cistern.
Snape didn't know and he didn't care. He just knew that after days of working to break the locking spell, he had accomplished it. He threw open the door, stepped into the darkened room, and promptly fell to the bottom of the shaft.
It took Snape nearly four excruciating hours to climb out of the hole once he found his wand and managed to heal the broken bone. When he got to the top he found Gustav waiting calmly, hoping his friend would be proud of his excellent holey room.
He lay panting and shivering on the cold basement floor while Gustav waxed poetic over the majesty of his glorious holey room and, in a snit, Snape uttered the one set of words one should never say to someone controlled by Liquid Imperius.
"Merlin, I wish you would drop dead already and be quiet!" he snapped.
Gustav, ever obedient, nodded happily and did just that, keeling over on top of Snape's injured leg, causing him to scream in pain and pass out. When he awoke, many hours later, Gustav still lay atop his injured leg, dead as a doornail.
That had been exactly five days ago and Snape was starting to worry. Gustav was making the house smell, despite the preservation charm and an air freshening charm. He had been tempted to burn the body, but the smoke might have attracted unwanted attention.
As far as his leg was concerned, the bone had healed, but at a strange angle, giving him a rather difficult limp and he ached continuously because of it.
"Stupid Gustav! He must have been a Gryffindor," muttered Snape as he rummaged through the larder. Finally, he stepped back and grunted. The cupboard was bare!
That thought made him giggle. "No bones for the doggie. Oh, Lupin, I'm coming for you."
His head snapped up and he turned to glare into one corner of the kitchen.
"Dammit, Longbottom! I said counter-clockwise, you dunderhead! Don't you know which way the clock goes? Follow the tick tock!"
He turned away and limped to the cold box. He opened it and saw it was still empty. It had been empty the last five times he had checked it, too!
"Blast and damnation! I must have food," he grumbled. A foul odor wafted up from the basement and his nose crinkled. That source of food was no longer an option.
He glance out the window and remembered the road leading out of the small village and up to the castle. There would be food at the castle, and dunderheads who needed punishing, and Lupin.
He hobbled out of the empty kitchen, muttering to himself. He would need to make plans and quickly.
The Great Hall, Hogwarts, April 2nd 1998...
Hermione stepped sleepily into the hall. She had been up late last night revising for her N.E.W.T.s, despite her promise to Harry. She had made a mental note to talk to him about it. She just couldn't help herself and she was worried that she was starting to obsess over the exams.
She skidded to a halt and blinked in surprise. The hall wasn't very full, perhaps twenty students in all, but they, and the one teacher were crammed into a corner. Professor Vector glared at someone behind Hermione.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't Miss Know-It-All," sneered a voice she thought she'd never hear again.
Slowly she turned around.
Severus Snape stepped out from behind the door. He held a first year Hufflepuff by one arm. The boy's other arm flopped uselessly at his side and he whimpered in pain. Snape held his wand to the boy's temple and the boy gave Hermione an appealing look that tore at her.
"So, they made the bushy haired rabbit Head Girl?" Snape asked.
"What do you want?" she spat. Time! I must delay him, she thought frantically. Harry! Oh, Merlin, what would Harry do in a situation like this? Help isn't far away. Keep him talking.
Snape tightened his grip on the Hufflepuff and the boy whined in pain.
"Now, now, Miss Granger, that is no way to talk to your betters. Mudblood bitch! You're just like the others. You want my supply of boomslang skin!"
"I wouldn't do that to you, sir," she said in a meek tone.
He glared at her. "Ten thousand points from Gryffindor, you slut! And tonight in detention I will teach you to spank Longbottom's bottom until he glows."
He's nuts! she thought frantically, though she nodded as submissively as she could.
Her hand shifted and his eyes narrowed. "Your wand, bitch. Toss it behind me."
She reached for her wand, then froze when he snarled, "Your other hand. Use your other hand to draw your wand."
She reached for the wand with her left hand. Someone behind her coughed and his eyes darted to a point over her shoulder. She snapped her hand outwards and as soon as the wand left her fingers, at the same time she cast a stunner at Snape using her ring.
Snape's eyes jerked back to her. He had enough time to shove the student away violently and then the beam made contact. He went down in a heap. Hermione leapt over him and snatched her wand up in her hand, then she spun on one heel to face him.
"Stupefy! Incarcerous!" she shouted, stunning him again and binding him tightly with ropes. "Levicorpus!"
Snape's bound body rose and she moved him away from the pile of wands.
Professor Vector ran over to get her wand and assist, if she could. She pressed a hand against a wall and a two tone alarm began to ring through out the castle. Heavy gears began to grind and the mammoth doors in the entrance hall slowly swung shut.
Vector looked at Hermione, who was staring at her. "It's an emergency lock down. The Headmistress will be here any minute, along with all of the other teachers. Those students still in their houses are being locked in."
The sound of running feet prevented Hermione from responding to Vector's comment. Remus and Tonks ran into the Great Hall, wands drawn. A moment later, Minerva appeared in her cat form, which she quickly discarded.
Tonks knelt over the injured Hufflepuff, who was cradling his arm and sniffling, while Remus restunned Snape, just to be on the safe side. Tonks waved her wand, stabilizing the injury, then she conjured a stretcher and gently lifted the boy onto it. Just then, Professors Sprout and Flitwick arrived.
Minerva signaled to Sprout, who gasped, seeing one of her students injured and visibly distraught.
"Pomona, take Mr. Winters up to Poppy. Filius, go to my office and use the Floo to contact the DMLE. Tell them that Hogwarts is in lock down and we've captured their missing prisoner," Minerva ordered.
Hermione walked over to a table and sat down heavily on the bench. The morning's events were taking their toll on her.
Tonks sat down next to her and conjured a steaming cup of hot chocolate. "Are you all right?"
Hermione wrapped both hands around the cup, but her hands were shaking too much to lift it. "I'm not sure," she said softly. She looked at her shaking hands with a touch of disgust.
"You know, when Evan captured that Death Eater, his hands shook afterwards, too. It's because your body is washing out the adrenalin," Tonks said softly.
Hermione looked up. "He never told me that," she replied quietly.
Tonks grinned. "Well, you know men. They don't want to admit they have the jitters from time to time."
"I'll have to ask him about it."
Tonks laughed. "Just be prepared when you see him next. If he's like Remus, he'll be trying to hug the stuffings out of you."
Hermione smiled, then cautiously lifted the cup to her lips. Her jitters were noticeably decreased. "I can live with that," she murmured. A hug from Harry would have been very welcomed right then.
"Miss Granger?" Minerva said. "Professor Vector says you are responsible for capturing Mr. Snape and releasing Mr. Winters."
"Yes, Headmistress. I stunned him. I didn't know what else to do," Hermione said warily.
Minerva stepped closer. "She also seemed to think you managed to cast a stupefy from a wand that had already left your fingers?"
Tonks nudged Hermione under the table with her foot. Her focus ring was still hidden and no one knew about it. "No, Ma'am. I had my wand, but I was so nervous I actually threw it after casting the spell."
Minerva's lips tightened and she leaned in closer. "Then that will be the story you'll tell the Aurors when they arrive," she said, then her voice dropped to a whisper. "I won't press, Miss Granger, but you're still a terrible liar."
Hermione looked down at the table and blushed heavily. It didn't help that Tonks was busy chortling next her.
Minerva straightened and closed her eyes as she connected to the wards of the school. Her wand glowed a soft pink while she worked the magic. Around the school, shutters screeched and banged open. The massive locking bolts on the main doors swung back into their rest position and the doors opened again.
When she opened her eyes, she turned to Hermione. "Miss Granger, you and Professor Vector will join me in my office. I will let the Aurors interview you there. Miss Tonks, Professor Lupin, once the Aurors arrive, please pass the word that all scheduled morning classes are canceled. Students should confine themselves to either their Common Rooms, the library or the Great Hall."
Tonks nodded and walked over to join Remus, who was guarding Snape.
Deep inside Hogwarts, April 2nd 1998...
Nagini raised her head and tasted the air. She was hungry and a little grumpy. There had been a loud grating noise and her hiding place trembled several times. Something was happening above her and she could feel it in the stones she lay upon.
It was early, but not by much. Besides, the warm air from the eternal furnaces heated the room nicely, making it difficult for her to stay asleep much longer.
Inside her, Tom roused from his strange dreams. He had nightmares of green eyes burning with an internal light and glowing hands that threatened him. He could feel anger from the one with the green eyes, but it wasn't anger fueled by hatred. No, this was anger fueled by righteous indignation and a desire for justice.
Tom tried to put those dreams out of his mind and concentrate on the task at hand. His connection to the snake had improved during the long hibernation. He had made no demands on the snake and used the long sleep to rest and let his strength accumulate.
Nagini looked around and tasted the air again. Her belly was empty and she had a burning need to put something in it. The air tasted of the furry food that scampered along on little feet, but the taste was old, as if it had been here and had gone away. That worried her. She wanted something to eat.
She slithered off her perch and examined the room again. There were three passages into the room that she could reach. One of them, she knew, would take her outside. Of the other two, one went up and the other went down.
"Down! Down! Take the downward heading passage!" shouted Tom.
"Down! Down! Take the downward heading passage!" whispered the voice in the back of her head.
Nagini examined the downward passage for a moment, but she could taste nothing from the hole. Either there was nothing to eat down there, or some kind of two legged magic prevented the tastes from coming up the passage.
With that in mind, she slithered up the other passage. She decided she would nest in the warm room, so she left her scent, which she could use to find her way back. Another time she'd listen to the voice in her head. Right now, she needed food.
Hogwarts, Gryffindor Head Girl's apartment, Apr 2nd 1998...
Hermione stepped into the small Common Room and trudged over to her desk. The day had been exhausting. She had been interviewed, multiple times, by different Aurors. Then the Aurors compared stories and come back for clarification on points. And everyone that had been in the Great Hall with Snape had to see a mind healer to make sure that Snape hadn't Confunded them, or used something darker.
By the time they finally released her, it was after the dinner hour and she was emotionally and physically drained and very hungry. Minerva had sent for some food for the people being interviewed, but she hadn't had much chance to eat anything.
She barely had a moment to place her book bag on her desk when a pair of arms engulfed her. She turned in the embrace, a smile pulling at her lips. It slipped when she saw the look of intense worry on his face. His eyes swept over her face, then up and down her body as if he were looking for something.
"I nearly lost you," he said, then he pulled her close, burying his face against the nape of her neck.
She tightened her grip on him. "Hey, I'm fine. The training you helped teach me did the trick." She felt him shiver in her arms. "Harry, look at me."
He reluctantly lifted his head away and looked into her eyes. The worry and fear were clearly written in his expression. She reached up with one hand and touched his cheek. "I'm fine. You're fine. We're fine. Snape is heading back to prison and everything is going to be all right. How did you find out?"
"Your Mum called me on my mobile from the surgery. I was in London, at the library. She apparently heard from Sirius, via an owl, and was very upset. She said you dueled with Snape and a student had been injured."
Hermione blanched and let go of Harry. "My Mum? Oh, Merlin, what did Sirius tell her? I wasn't injured, a first year Hufflepuff was. And I didn't duel with him, I surprised him with a ring based stunner."
Harry blinked and for the first time in over an hour relaxed and smiled a bit. "Sirius must have heard it from Remus and got the story mixed up."
"Maybe," she said dubiously. "But my Mum is probably worried sick by now if you're any example of what she thinks."
She turned and paced in front of him for a moment before turning back to him. "I'm going to pop down to my parents and let them know I'm fine. Do you want to come with me?"
Harry frowned for a moment, then shook his head. "No, I think I'll meet you there. First I'm going to stop by Grimmauld and talk with Sirius. I hope he just got things mixed up and this isn't a joke of his. Do you want me to follow you to Oxford first? This will be your first long distance teleport."
She grinned saucily at him. "There's a first time for everything."
He grinned back, knowing full well she wasn't talking about teleporting.
"Let Remus know where I'm going, so he can tell the Headmistress?" she asked.
He nodded and pulled out his mirror. He also made a mental note to see about adding the charms to her mirror so that she'd be able to talk to more than just his. Creating the mirrors was a complex process and very time consuming, which was why her mirror was one of the simpler ones. "I'll take care of that now."
She nodded and teleported away.
An hour later, Harry appeared in the shadows in front of the Granger's home in Oxford. It was full dark and only a small sliver of a waning moon and only the streetlights lit the street. He walked up to the door and rang the bell. He didn't want to barge in if Hermione was still dealing with Emma.
The door opened and Dan grinned at him. "Well, I was wondering when you'd show up. What took you so long?"
Harry slipped in through the open door. "I had to talk to Sirius. I wanted to find out why Emma had the story so wrong."
Dan frowned. "He wasn't pulling a fast one, was he?"
Harry shook his head. "No, but let me explain this in front of everyone. It'll save me having to repeat it."
Dan nodded and led him into the living room where Hermione and Emma sat. Emma's face showed that she had been crying, but she was calm now. Hermione smiled broadly, seeing him enter.
"Look what the cat dragged in!" Dan quipped from the doorway.
Harry walked in and sat next to Hermione. He closed his eyes for a moment, shaking his head, then he turned and split his attention between Hermione and Emma. "All right, I spoke with Sirius. It wasn't a prank of any sort. He had been speaking to Remus about what happened and Remus was talking to several people at the same time, Tonks, the Headmistress and an Auror named Shacklebolt. Between all of them, Sirius got confused, but he could see he wasn't going to get anything out of Remus. So he decided to go with what he knew; Hermione fought Snape and a student was injured. He wanted your parents to know that something had happened. He never meant to scare anyone."
Harry paused and he grinned slightly. "I think Cindy was planning on talking to him rather sternly about scaring your parents. But he was sorry. Sirius is too much of a practical joker to resort to something subtle like this."
His grin became a smirk. "On the other hand, I couldn't leave him without some form of revenge. When I left him, his hair was growing as the rate of about a foot a minute. It was really disturbing to see the hair sliding out from under his short sleeves."
Harry watched Emma and Hermione laugh. He was relieved to see that the tension was almost entirely gone.
Dan winked at him. He knew exactly what Harry was doing by telling about Sirius' hairy little problem.
Hermione turned back to Emma. "So are you all right now, Mum?"
Emma nodded and sniffed a little. "I'll be fine, dear. It's just that..."
"It's been a difficult year," Dan said, finishing for his wife. "Between Harry off on his snake hunt and you in a school that might be housing that snake, we've been dreadfully worried."
Harry leaned back on the couch and he gently rubbed Hermione's back. "I can understand that. But I think things would have been so much direr if Dumbledore were still around."
"That's not really it, Harry," Dan replied. He walked over to stand behind Emma and placed a hand on her shoulder for support. "I won't say we've grown used to the idea of you being in danger. But I think we've come to accept it. No matter how much we hate it, we know you hate it even more. The only consolation was that, for the most part, Hermione was safe.
"I think that, today, a lot of illusions were shattered. I know she's fine and wasn't injured, but she had to fight an escaped prisoner, and a child was injured. It's a jarring wake up call, no matter how you try to explain it.
"It was only a short while ago that the two of you were shyly holding hands and walking barefoot down the beach on Fiji. Now you're a trained wizard and Hermione will be one in a matter of months. Emma and I sit back and wonder where the time went. Where did the kids go?"
"We grew up, Daddy," Hermione replied softly.
Dan smiled a bit wistfully. "I know, pumpkin, and I couldn't be more proud of either of you. But your Mum and I wish it hadn't happened so soon. It's a scary thing for a parent to realize that he or she can't shield their child from the world anymore."
Hermione's eyes glistened and she gripped Harry's hand tightly.
"We'll be careful," Harry promised. The emotions from the elder Grangers was deeply moving to him. Sirius and Remus loved him and he knew that, but both would gleefully run into the burning building with him. Dan and Emma were asking for something more difficult; caution.
Emma smiled at him. "I know you will, Harry. Everything you've done for Hermione since you were forced from that school has been designed to keep her safe and in your life. We owe you for our daughter's life. She fought and won today, because she had you showing her how."
Harry flushed looked down and Hermione shot him a warm glance. Her mother's words were true. She wouldn't have been able to beat Snape with just her Hogwarts training. She sighed and looked over at her parents. "It's all over. I did what I had to and Timothy, the student who was injured, will probably be released from hospital by tomorrow. There are no more escaped prisoners to worry about, so I think I can safely go back to worrying about my exams."
She glanced at her watch. "I should be getting back to school."
She stood and smiled at her parents, then she turned to Harry and gave him a grin before vanishing again.
Harry stood uncertainly. He knew he couldn't go back to Grimmauld tonight. "Maybe I'll go up to the manor. The elves had the bedrooms fixed up now."
"Go to her, Harry. She'll need you tonight," Dan urged quietly.
Harry nodded and another thought occurred to him, then he too vanished from sight.
Thirty minutes later, he reappeared in Hermione's rooms. She looked up from her desk, startled by his appearance. "I didn't think you were coming back."
She looked at him, puzzled, when he held up a shopping bag. Then the smell hit her. "You brought dinner!"
"That Indian curry you like," he replied.
"I just may have to keep you."
"I hope so. I was going to head up to the Manor, since I doubt Sirius is going to want me around tonight, but your Dad told me to go after you, and I wasn't sure if you ate or not today."
"No, Sirius would not appreciate you showing up now. Not unless you know a nice depilatory spell," she replied, taking the bag from his hands. She pulled out several warm containers, then looked at him. "Stay. I mean, stay the night. I know it's not our regular meeting time, but I think I'd like to be held, especially tonight."
He grinned and reached for a container. "I'd like that."
Daily Prophet Headline, Apr 3rd 1998...
Escaped Prisoner Severus Snape captured at Hogwarts!
Severus Snape, the last of the at large prisoners who escaped from their parole hearings last August, was captured yesterday in desperate combat with the Head Girl of Hogwarts.
Hermione Jane Granger, a Muggle-born, engaged the wanted criminal after he had forced his way into the school and was holding students hostages. Miss Granger, of Oxford, England, encountered the deadly criminal on her way to breakfast. Snape was said to be torturing a first year student named Timothy Winters. Mr. Winters was injured, but was treated at the school and did not require further hospitalization.
Snape escaped from a parole board hearing along with four other dangerous inmates. Investigation and questioning under Veritaserum has revealed that while on the run, Snape committed a number of additional crimes, including casting Unforgivables and murder.
Escaping automatically added ten years to his prison sentence. However, Ministry spokesman Perky Weatherbee told the Prophet that the added charges would result in the DMLE seeking the Kiss for Snape.
In an unusual twist of fate, Miss Granger is one of the students, along with Harry Potter and others from Gryffindor house, that Snape was sent to prison for abusing. Miss Granger is said to be engaged to a cousin of Sirius Black. Black was a childhood friend and schoolmate of Mr. Snape.
Hogwarts suffered no damage during the incident and Headmistress McGonagall praised the quick thinking and actions of Miss Granger. "Her actions resulted in a timely end to what could have been a dire situation. Hogwarts owes a debt of gratitude to Miss Granger and, with the approval of the Board of Governors, she will receive an award for special services to the school," McGonagall said.
The Office of the Minister agreed with the Headmistress's comments, adding that, "Miss Granger will receive the reward for capturing the wanted felon and the Minister herself will petition the Wizengamot to award Miss Granger an Order of Merlin, Third Class."
Sources close to Miss Granger told the Prophet that she was a close friend of Harry Potter and was helpful when he received his award for special services in his second year. Rumors persist to this day that the young student is in contact with Harry Potter. Miss Granger will neither confirm nor deny those rumors.
The trial of Severus Snape is scheduled to be held on April 25th in Courtroom 10...
Snape, a complete list of the charges, page 2.
Wand mishap injures 4, St Mungo's stymied by magical buttock removal, page 3.
Veela-made products improve Wolfsbane potion, page 5.
Minister eases hiring restrictions, page 5.
Quibbler Headline, Apr 3rd 1998...
Ministry in Cahoots with Muggles!
In an exclusive report, the Quibbler has discovered that Ministries all around the world are participating in a conspiracy to allow the enslavement of magical creatures. We first became aware of the problem during a field expedition to America and something called a super market. And we'll freely admit we never did find out why its super, but there's no understanding those strange Americans.
In the super market we discovered that a company called Keebler has enslaved a race of elves and forced them to live in trees, baking biscuits for Muggles! Shocked by this discovery, we searched deeper and discovered that Leprechauns are being forced to make enchanted marshmallows for a Muggle breakfast food. A marshmallow is a sweet made from unripened peat bogs, or so we've been told.
Another Muggle company has enslaved a fairy and forces her to fly around their castle anytime they want.
This cannot be allowed to continue. We contacted the American Department of Magic to ask them about it, but they suggested that since we're a British publication, we should contact the British Ministry, who refused to return our Floo calls.
So we waited outside of the Ministry building until we could find our good friend, Mr. Weatherbee. After he got over his anger for our stunning and tying him up, he turned out to be rather cooperative. Perky reported that the Ministries worldwide don't care what the Muggles do, as long as it doesn't affect them. He then noted that the elves and fairies were being fed regularly and were as happy as our house elves.
To insure that Perky didn't get in trouble for telling us this, we did as he requested and Obliviated him, multiple times. Get Well cards, flowers and candy can be sent to Perky Weatherbee, c/o St. Mungo's long term spell damage ward.
Coming next week.
Harry Potter hired as Seeker for Holyhead Harpies. Says Polyjuice is wonderful stuff!
Ministry Spokesman attacks Newspaper publisher. Ministry Covers it up!
Hogwarts, Apr 10th 1998...
Nagini was not a happy snake. She had managed to avoid being spotted several times by the elves working in the castle. Unfortunately, the room in which she found the elfling was empty and tasted of misuse. Obviously, the children had been moved into areas of the castle that she couldn't risk entering.
And if that wasn't bad enough, the lower levels no longer smelled of food. She had caught some tantalizing tastes near some strange boxes, but nothing else. She had almost caught a small tasty creature, but it had run into one of those strange boxes and vanished from sight.
She sat patiently in front of the box for three days waiting for the food to come out, but it never did. Desperate, she made her way through the drain pipes until she found herself at an opening that led outside.
Tom looked at the opening through the snake's eyes and could see all sorts of magic covering it. He screamed at the snake to be cautious, but it was too late. Nagini had the scent of a rabbit that had been eating grass near the drainage opening.
Driven by hunger, Nagini slithered out of the pipe, practically on top of the rabbit, and struck with lightening speed.
Up in the Defense Against the Dark Arts office, a parchment with a map of the castle turned red and started emitting a soft bell tone. Unfortunately, the office was empty. The map stayed red until Nagini recrossed the boundary an hour later. A small notation was made to the map to mark the time of the crossings and the map color reset. The ringing stopped.
From the Journal of Hermione Jane Granger (Private Entry), Apr 10th 1998, Hogwarts...
The Headmistress told me today that I will be receiving an award for special services to the school at the leaving feast. Honestly, I never gave much thought about it, but then she told me that she'll make sure my award sits next to Harry's in the award case. That made me smile.
Of course, Harry's award means more. I mean, he saved the whole school from the basilisk in the Chamber. I just saved one student from a deranged ex-professor. Snape's quite mad, but there is no insanity plea in the Wizarding world. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but they say he's going to be Kissed for killing that poor man in Hogsmeade.
The Headmistress said that there is a lot of support for giving me an Order of Merlin. Frankly, I don't care about that. I didn't do what I did for awards or rewards. I won't even admit this to Harry, but I did it because I was scared out of my wits. I knew Snape was insane and I didn't know what he'd do. For a brief moment, I even forgot I was wearing my focus ring!
Note to self: In the future, when faced with deranged ex-professors, remember I'm wearing an extra spell focus.
The Headmistress also gave me a Gringotts draft that the Ministry sent over. It's a thousand galleons; the reward for capturing Snape. The money will help. There's this bridal robe I like that will cost nearly two hundred galleons. I had been saving up money for it, but now I can buy it outright. I haven't told Harry this, but I think I'd like to enroll in Mitsumi in the fall as Mrs. Potter.
Harry was so sweet that night. He brought dinner, which was fabulous. I was starving!
And afterwards, I think he stayed up most of the night watching me to make sure I didn't have nightmares. And I haven't had any, when he's here. It's when I'm alone that the nightmares begin.
Sirius sent me a note, apologizing for scaring Mum and Dad. And he sent them a rare bottle of Napoleon Brandy, which I know they will appreciate. He also offered to let Harry and me use the house on Fiji for a week, without supervision. When I told Harry that, he nearly exploded. Then he rather bluntly told me that he owns that house, not Sirius.
Sometimes I think Sirius and Ron must be brothers. They both have an amazing ability to get themselves in trouble by opening their mouths.
The morning after Snape's capture, Ron asked me why I risked my neck over a Hufflepuff. Hannah, who was sitting next to him, dropped her fork and turned to stare at him. She is rather proud to be a 'Puff, and she's been making her displeasure at that comment known ever since.
I never thought I'd say this, but she's got Ron groveling for forgiveness and he grovels rather well. I'd take lessons from her except that, for the most part, Harry rarely does anything that makes me mad enough to make him grovel.
That isn't to say he's perfect. The same curry that I love so much apparently gives him gas, much to his embarrassment. And he'll occasionally blurt something out, but usually nothing as bad as what Ron seems to do on a routine basis.
Hmmmm... Could it be an act? Could Ron be doing it deliberately? He's not that stupid; he can't be. But Hannah seems to enjoy pushing him around. Maybe he enjoys it. Just who wears the pants in that couple? Considering Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, it is possible that Ron likes an assertive woman.
I wonder if I can ask Ginny? Maybe not. Ginny seems to be channeling Mrs. Weasley a lot, too.
The Chamber of Secrets, Hogwarts April 11th 1998...
Nagini slithered out of the hole and immediately knew something was wrong. The air tasted of death. Big death.
She reared up in an instinctive reaction and looked around.
Tom crowed. Finally, they would get the help they so badly needed. With the Basilisk to aid them, they would take the school and chase out the wizards. Then, he could spend the time researching what needed to be done to fix his problem. He'd transfer the Horcrux to the Basilisk and use its magic to give himself a new body!
Tom pushed his connection to Nagini with all his power. "Lights!" the snake hissed in response to his command.
Torches flared and Nagini raised her head higher, looking around warily.
Then her eyes fell upon the body of the Basilisk. It lay in a pool of stagnant water, barely affected by the death that claimed it years ago. The poisons within the body and the cold environment of the Chamber had slowed the natural process of decomposition.
Nagini slithered forward through the stagnant pool. It was foul with mud and the accumulated muck of the centuries. She stopped inches away from the great snake and took in its injuries; its eyes were destroyed, a fang lay on the ground nearby and blood had spilled from its mouth.
She backed away, leaving grooves in the mud, and turned, heading straight for the exit. Whatever killed the great one was a powerful force, and one that she did not wish to encounter.
"Nooooooo!" Tom howled in the silence of his prison. In his despair, he lost his tenuous grip on the snake and slipped into the Horcrux.
Nagini paused just in front of the exit. The voice in the back of her head suddenly cut off and it puzzled her. The torches flared and went out as what little that remained of Tom's magic collapsed back into the Horcrux with his consciousness. To Nagini, that was an ominous signal. She dived straight into the hole.
It wasn't far to her nest, where she could rest for a while before she hunted again. This was a good place to live.
Defense Against the Dark Arts Office, April 13th 1998...
Tonks opened the door to the knock and Harry slipped inside. "I got your message to come immediately."
He wore a hooded cloak that concealed his face, and was dressed in soft blue dragon hide from head to toe. Even the gloves he wore were dragon hide. It was the closest thing he could come up with to a bite proof suit.
"Harry, come in," Remus said quietly.
Harry stepped into the room and pushed back his hood. Tonks closed the door and leaned against it. Remus sent off a messenger Patronus to inform the Headmistress that Harry had arrived, then he passed a parchment across the desk to Harry.
He took the parchment and examined it. "This looks like a map of Hogwarts, like the Marauder map, but not as detailed. And what's this in the corner? A date and time?"
Remus scowled. "I'm sorry, Harry. I screwed up big time. I brought the ward in like you suggested, then Sirius had an idea of tying it to a map. I took the idea and hooked the ward into this map, but I didn't take into account the snake recrossing the ward. The time and date indicates when the ward was triggered."
Harry looked down at the map and grimaced. "That was three days ago! Why are we finding out about it now?"
Remus wiped his face tiredly. "The map is charmed to turn red and make noise when the ward triggers. I wasn't careful enough, I'm afraid. I made a mistake when I made the map. It reset once the snake recrossed the ward."
Harry paced back and forth for a moment. A knock came from the door and Tonks opened it a crack, then opened it all the way to let Minerva into the room.
"Good evening, Headmistress," Harry said, halting his pacing long enough to acknowledge her.
"Good evening, Mr. Potter. I take it from wear and tear you're inflicting on my castle that they've told you about the snake?"
Harry stopped pacing and looked sheepishly at her for a moment. Why does she always make me feel like I'm a first year? he thought. I haven't been her student for four years!
"I think we need to check the Chamber of Secrets," he said. He raised a hand to gesture to the map. Before he could do so, the sword of Gryffindor appeared in it. He stared at it, unsure about what had just happened.
Tonks stared at the sword and Remus began to laugh.
"What the hell?" Harry muttered.
Minerva smiled. "It should be obvious, Mr. Potter. You are the last remaining heir of Gryffindor. The sword knows you may need it, and you are its rightful owner."
He shook his head, then turned to Remus. "Well? Are you up for a trip to the Chamber?"
"Now?" Tonks asked incredulously.
He grinned at her. "Why not? At best, there's a live snake down there. At worst, a big, stinking dead one."
Remus stood. This was a chance he wasn't about to pass up. "I'm going."
Tonks looked at him as if he was nuts, then she shrugged. "Why not? I'm sure it's more fun than spending my evening with my fiancé."
"Hey!" Remus protested.
Tonks stuck her tongue out at Remus.
Harry grinned, then turned to Minerva. "Headmistress?"
"The cat in me is curious. It's an area of the Castle I've never seen."
He smiled and reached into his bag. He pulled out a tight fitting hood, which he slipped on, then he put a pair of fingerless gloves on.
"Dragon hide?" asked Minerva.
Harry nodded as he went about checking the fitting of the suit. "Yes. If you spot the snake, don't approach it. Let me deal with it."
When the others nodded, he pulled the hood on his cloak up and walked out of the room.
"I guess we follow him," Tonks muttered.
Remus was already heading for the door.
The trip down to the cavern was smoother than the last time Harry had taken it. Once the sinks had moved away, he tried calling for stairs in Parseltongue. The stairs appeared smoothly and Harry shook his head.
"Last time, Ron and I jumped into the hole and fell down a long chute. This time, we'll walk. I didn't think Slytherin would jump down a slide every time he went to his chamber."
Myrtle watched silently as they vanished down the hole. The presence of the Headmistress was enough to keep her silent. She pouted a little about it, though. She would have liked to have asked that boy to stay and talk to her for a while. He reminded her of someone she once knew.
The group stopped at the cave-in. Harry frowned for a moment, then he lifted his hand, concentrating hard. The rock shimmered and flowed into a series of buttresses, holding up the ceiling.
Minerva nodded approvingly. "Excellent work, Mr. Potter, I couldn't have done better."
Harry smiled and led them deeper into the tunnel.
"You came here when you were twelve?" Tonks said in a whisper.
"Yeah. Voldemort had taken Ginny Weasley. I didn't want her parents to lose her," Harry replied as if the answer really was just that simple.
Tonks shook her head and followed along, looking around nervously.
He stopped them in front of a large iron door. "You might want to use a Bubble-Head Charm. The Basilisk is still inside and has been lying there all these years."
They nodded and cast the spell on themselves.
When they were ready, Harry turned and faced the door. "Open!" he hissed.
The door swung open silently and he led them inside.
"There are wards on this chamber," Remus commented.
"I felt them, as well," replied Minerva. "But they aren't part of the main castle wards."
"Could they be from Slytherin? They feel old," Remus asked.
Minerva frowned and stopped. Remus stopped and turned to look at her. "I can't access these wards at all. I think we might want to consider breaking these down, instead of trying to hook them into the castle. They don't feel the same."
"Could they be cast in that hissy language Harry's been speaking?" asked Tonks. She stayed close to Remus. There was an eerie atmosphere in the chamber and it was obvious that Tonks was nervous being there. The torches had lit automatically when the door opened. From their vantage point, just inside the door, they could hear the echoing drip of water. The torchlight danced and cast strange shadows among the snake statues.
Harry had moved deeper into the chamber, not waiting for the others.
Remus sniffed loudly and looked up from the doorway they had been examining. "Do you smell it? Even with the bubble charm, it comes through."
"Yes. Let's catch up with Harry," Minerva said distastefully. The quicker they could leave, the better.
The three hurried down the central avenue between the statues until they came upon Harry. He was kneeling on the floor, his knees in the stagnant water, peering at some grooved markings in the mud.
All three adults stopped next to him, but he only looked up when he heard Remus gulp audibly.
Remus tore his gaze from the body of the Basilisk. "You killed that thing?"
"Well, actually, we killed each other. Or we would have, if Fawkes hadn't stepped in and saved my life," Harry said, standing up. He pointed to a broken off tooth on the ground. "That fang was embedded in my arm as I stabbed it. I used it to destroy the diary."
He glanced over his shoulder at the beast. Truthfully, he didn't like looking at it. "Maybe we should just burn it."
"No," Minerva said. "I didn't realize it was this big. My word, what a boon! I'll make a Portkey to allow us to return here. The staff and I will salvage what we can for potions ingredients. With the proceeds from the sales of the ingredients we'll be able to fund so many programs."
Harry nodded and turned his attention back to the tracks in the mud, crouching down next to them. "She's been here and gone. See, this set of tracks shows her moving away from the body of the Basilisk."
"How can you tell?" asked Tonks.
He looked up and smiled. "You can tell the direction she went by the way the tracks are formed. The ridges are higher in the direction she came from because she's pushing against the ground in that direction. Of course, it wouldn't be that easy to tell ordinarily, but this is mud and she's a large snake. It would be impossible to say if it were sand. Besides, there are two distinct sets of tracks."
Minerva blinked in surprise and looked at Harry with a new sense of respect. Remus had mentioned in passing that he had been learning about snakes from Muggle specialists, but she didn't know he was that knowledgeable.
Harry pointed his wand and a bright beam of light arced out across the puddle. He trained the light against the wall, looking for something.
"There, see the hole in the wall?"
Everyone turned to look at it.
"Notice how it seems cleaner than the surrounding pipes? She must have used it to enter the Chamber," he said softly.
"So, what now?" asked Tonks.
Harry shrugged. "There's nothing to be done here. I'll set up my tent just inside the tree line by the castle. Remus, I'll need a copy of your map. That, or you need to carry it with you so you can see when the ward is breached and call me on the mirror."
Remus nodded and Minerva pulled out a Knut from her pocket and quickly cast a Portkey.
"Won't the ward prevent that from working?" Tonks asked.
"Maybe, but I'm guessing that there's no Portkey ward on this place. Portkeys are new inventions. Salazar Slytherin would have never known them," Minerva replied.
"Makes sense," agreed Remus.
Tonks walked over to Harry, who was staring at the pipe Nagini had used, and she put her arm around his shoulders. "Come on, then. There's nothing more we can do tonight. Besides, this won't be the last time as an Auror that you'll come up empty handed. Mad-Eye used to say any shift you can walk away from in one piece is a good shift."
He smiled briefly, then turned to walk to the exit.
The Forbidden Forest, Apr 23th 1998...
Harry reached into the oven and pulled out the large roast. He placed it on a platter and took it over to the table where Tonks, Remus and Hermione sat. Behind him, several dishes slowly levitated from the little cooking area of the tent to the small table that barely fit the four of them.
Harry handed Remus a bottle of wine and summoned two butterbeers for Hermione and himself.
"I don't understand it, Harry," Tonks said. "Shouldn't that snake have come out yet? I mean, it's been ten days!"
Remus poured the wine into two cups, then handed one to Tonks. Harry didn't drink, except on very rare occasions, and Hermione didn't want to touch any wine tonight. She still had three hours of studying to do when they were done.
Harry looked down at the meal he had cooked for his friends, then back up to Tonks. "Snakes don't eat like we do. In fact, it's not unusual for a snake in the wild to go days or even weeks between meals. Depending on the prey she took down, it could be as little as a week, or as much as a month. Personally, I think we won't have to wait that long. If she took a rat, she'll be hunting by now. We know she slipped out of the castle not far from the Greenhouses, and we know that Professor Sprout has a fondness for rabbits. She probably got one of them. If that's the case, she'll start hunting any day now."
Hermione smiled, the pride evident in her expression. When he realized that he couldn't search the forest in the winter, he had taken the opportunity to learn all he could about snakes. He had joked that is was just something to keep him occupied, but it was turning out to be time well spent. It reminded her of his third year, when he worked so hard to learn the Patronus spell.
"So, you think we should see her any day?" asked Remus.
Harry nodded. "I think she took down a fair sized rabbit, but it's got to be digested by now. She'll be poking around, looking for something to eat."
"Speaking of eating, Harry this is the best!" gushed Tonks. She was rapidly eating her meal and grinning at him.
He smirked. "Are you sure you're not part Werewolf? You seem to be wolfing that down."
"Oi!" she exclaimed to everyone's laughter.
Harry leaned back and grinned. He had cooked many a meal for the Dursleys and he hated it. When Sirius and Remus rescued him, he learned that it meant something for him to be able to cook for his family and friends. It meant something when the people eating appreciated the effort he put into cooking.
Hermione loved his cooking. She was only a fair cook and she had told him that cooking would be his job after they were married. When he protested, she commented that until he could figure out how he could nurse a baby, it was only fair for him to cook.
"All right, so Harry has the snake all tied up, or he will when it shows. What I want to know now is how often you two are doing the hugga chugga in Hermione's private rooms."
"Tonks!" both Harry and Hermione exclaimed.
"Merlin, Tonks, what a question," Remus said, dabbing the wine he had spilled on his robe with a napkin.
"Hermione and I have spent a fair amount of time together," Harry admitted candidly. "But I've been helping her study for her N.E.W.T.s."
Tonks hooted loudly. "Is that what they are calling it these days?"
Harry blushed and looked down at the table.
"Seriously, Tonks, Harry and I spend at least two hours a night talking via our mirrors. He hasn't come up to the castle since he set up his tent here ten days ago," Hermione said defensively.
Tonks stopped laughing and stared at her for a moment, then looked at Harry, who nodded.
"I don't want to be caught unprepared if Nagini shows up," He explained. "As much as I want to be with her, I know I would be a distraction, so we limited ourselves." He reached across the small table and gripped Hermione's hands. "We have years ahead of us. A few sacrifices now won't kill us."
"What will you do when you catch the snake?" asked Tonks.
"I've prepared a place in the forest where I can perform a ritual to remove and dispel the spirit. The steps are fairly simple until the end. Kill the snake, remove the gem and confirm it's a Horcrux. Then I'll destroy it in the location I've prepared. That should confine the spirit long enough for me to send it on."
He scowled then. "Unfortunately, Sirius managed to convince me to destroy the Horcrux in front of witnesses and he won't tell me who he's going to invite. He spoke about the Internationals, and the British Ministry, as well as some reporters he trusts."
Remus nodded. "Yes, he sent us our Portkeys, and I understand Minerva got one, as well."
Hermione's expression soured. "I didn't get one," she said softly and Harry blanched.
"I can get you one," he stammered. "But if you're in your N.E.W.T.s..."
"He has a valid point, Hermione," Remus said. "Your first N.E.W.T. exam is in just fifteen days. Besides, your presence would require explanations that the Ministry might not want to deal with. I know you've been involved in this since the beginning, but this is one time where it would be better if you weren't there."
"I'm sorry," Harry mouthed silently to Hermione.
She smiled at him, letting him know she wasn't mad.
Harry levitated the mostly empty platters towards the small sink. Nearby, a pot of coffee turned on and his radio started to play a music broadcast from Italy that he had come to enjoy.
"I hope everyone has room for chocolate cake," he said with a large grin.
"That's it!" Tonks said, slapping the table and making everyone jump. "Hermione, you can have Remus. I want Harry. Remus can't make cake!"
"I tried!" Remus protested. "I can't help it if it came out flat."
"Yeah? Explain why it tasted more like Pizza," countered Tonks.
Harry leaned back and smiled, just listening to them. This is what life should be like. Friends and family and just living well, he thought.
Hogwarts Grounds Apr 25th 1998...
Madam Sprout smiled at her class. They were second years and they were helping her prepare next year's crop of Mandrakes. She glanced away from the class when something caught her eye. Frowning, she walked to the glass wall and peered through. What she saw made her blood run cold.
All of the teachers had been warned about the possibility, but she never thought it would actually happen. There, outside the greenhouse, was the largest snake she'd ever seen!
She waved her wand in a complex pattern and a bell started clanging, then she turned back to her class.
"Children! Put the pots down and listen to me. Come closer. That's it, everyone gather around," she called. Help would soon arrive, but for now it was her job to protect her children. "In a few minutes we are all going to back into the castle. There will be several teachers and some elves helping. I want everyone to stay in a line and do not stray for any reason. We're going to walk straight to the Great Hall. Does everyone understand?"
"Yes, Professor," echoed the confused class. It wasn't time for class to end yet!
Sprout waited worriedly by the door to the greenhouse. Meanwhile, house elves started popping in from the castle. Pomona could see a cloaked figure race out of the tree line of the forest, a wand at the ready.
A shout from the side of the greenhouse drew the attention of the class and they rushed to look out the side windows.
"Children! Come back here," Sprout shouted worriedly.
"An elf is fighting a snake, Professor!" shouted one of the students excitedly.
"Here comes a man and he's got a sword!" added another.
Sprout moved to join her class. She reached the window in time to see the snake lash out and bite an elf. The elf staggered back and fell. The snake coiled and turned to face the cloaked figure, who raised his sword.
Nagini stuck, making firm contact against his thigh, and bounced off. Harry swung the sword of Gryffindor, cleaving her head from the rest of her body. He stepped back as Nagini's body thrashed around, spewing blood. The head rolled a few feet, coming to rest not far from where Harry stood.
"Children!" Sprout said shuddering slightly. She clapped her hands to get their attention. "Everyone is to follow me, right now!"
With that, she moved as quickly as she could to the exit. Once outside, she stopped by the door and urged the students to run for the castle. She turned and looked through the greenhouse, but rather than the cloaked figure, all she saw was a group of elves clustered around something.
She tore her eyes away from the group and noted the greenhouse was empty and her class was almost to the school. She gasped her robe, lifting the hem, and ran to catch up. The class was already entering the castle when Remus and Tonks came running out.
Minerva stood by the door, calming the students and instructing them to go to the Great Hall. Sprout eventually made it to the entrance, huffing and puffing all the way.
"Are you alright, Pomona?" asked Minerva.
Pomona nodded, still too winded to talk. "What... No, who was that person? He killed that snake you told us about!" she gasped.
Minerva's expression worried expression eased into a bright smile. "A friend, Pomona, a good friend to us all. Now, go to see to your students. If you need, cancel the rest of your classes for today."
Pomona nodded and slowly walked up the stairs to the Great Hall. Minerva watched her for a moment, then turned and purposefully strode out of the castle.
She quickly came upon an unusual sight. Remus and Tonks stood nearby, while Harry had pulled off his trousers.
Minerva arched an eyebrow.
Harry looked up, spotted her and blushed furiously. "I'm sorry, Headmistress. The snake bit me and I wanted to make sure her teeth didn't penetrate the dragon hide armor."
She nodded, noting he was dressed in a form fitting armor under his clothing. "A wise precaution, Mr. Potter," she said softly.
Harry looked up and grinned. There were two slight indents on the armor, but no holes. Remus placed a hand on his shoulder to steady him while he put his trousers back on.
Once he was dressed, he conjured a basket and levitated the snake pieces into the basket.
Remus ran a quick spell on the remains and smiled. "It's here."
Harry nodded and returned the grin. "I'll contact Sirius and let him get his show ready. I'll probably see you later tonight or tomorrow. It all depends on Sirius now, I guess."
Tonks walked over and hugged him, then Minerva did the same. "Well done, Harry," she whispered. "I see the Gryffindor in you is still alive."
He smiled at her, then picked up the basket and teleported away.
Minerva turned and her expression fell, seeing the dead elf. "Oh, no," she said in a horrified tone.
"He fought with the snake, Minerva," Remus said quietly. "From what I've heard, it sounds like he was trying to delay Nagini so the students could get away. Whether that was necessary, we'll never know. Obviously, he thought it was."
"Then he'll be honored for his sacrifice and his bravery," she replied, before levitating the body to bring back inside.
From the Journal of Hermione Jane Granger (Private Entry), Apr 25th 1998, Hogwarts...
He did it!
The whole castle is in an uproar today. Apparently, there was some kind of attack outside of Greenhouse Four and an elf was killed. That's basically what the teachers have told anyone, including me! As a result, the rumors are flying fast and furious and the teachers had to press all of the Prefects into service tonight just to keep the students calm.
I know the story, or I know most of it, now. A few hours ago I didn't. Apparently, the Headmistress is waiting until she has more information, but I think she's making a mistake. The rumors spread by some of the second years are scaring the firsties.
Harry called me around midnight. He's been trying to reach me all evening, but I've been helping the Prefects and only got back to my rooms around midnight.
He killed the snake!
I can't believe it. It's almost over! He says Remus verified that the snake contains a Horcrux. That was one of Harry's biggest fears; that he'd find the snake and discover they had been chasing down the wrong lead.
Tomorrow he's going to destroy the Horcrux in front of witnesses. He hates the idea, but even I can see Sirius' point of view. This needs to be done in such a way that people can believe it's finally over once and for all.
I also found Harry to be downright funny tonight. I think he inadvertently showed me what he could have been like had he not grown up with the Dursleys. Honestly, for a moment I thought he had been drinking!
He was pacing and talking to me a mile a minute. I sat on my bed, astounded and barely managing a grunt or nod where appropriate. He babbled, barely letting me get a word in edgewise. I was hard pressed to keep from giggling.
Now, don't get me wrong. I've seen Harry happy before, but this was different. He even reenacted the fight with the snake twice before I managed to drag him away from the topic by reminding him to contact my parents and tell them the news.
Now I'm sitting here and, for the first time in years, I feel like jumping on the bed and shouting for joy. Voldemort will be gone forever in a matter of hours and the British Wizarding world has no clue what is going behind its back.
The only bit of sour news is that Sirius has asked him to remain in his Evan persona for now. Harry is hoping he won't have to be Evan much longer.
I too wish he could go back to being Harry. I want the whole world to know just who my future husband is.
The Forbidden Forest, Apr 26th 1998...
He had spent most of the night talking to Hermione via their mirrors. He was still excited about killing Nagini. She wept with joy hearing the news. There had been many rumors running around the school and no one had thought to tell the students any more than that the danger had passed and an elf had been killed while protecting the school.
She wanted to teleport to him, but the teachers were making heavy use of the Prefects last night and she couldn't get away until she was exhausted.
Before Harry spoke with Hermione, he had contacted Sirius, who told him to hold off doing anything until the following morning. Harry reluctantly agreed, then broke off the contact so he could talk with Hermione.
That morning he walked into the clearing. He wore most of his dragon hide armor under his clothing, but his primary disguise was the fact that he was morphed into Evan Black. He surveyed the clearing and checked the wards he had put in place.
Off to one side was a long stone tablet lying on the ground. Along its rim Harry had etched a deep groove. Just inside the rim were carvings of animals and a set of runes. He had been meticulous in reproducing this tablet and had sent several photographs to America so it could be examined by an expert, who approved of his work.
He sat on a log and wished that expert had been able to travel to Scotland to help him. But the man was too old, he was pushing two hundred years old and probably couldn't survive the trip.
At Harry's feet lay a small bag containing several leather pouches of sacred powders and sands; items he needed to contain the spirit long enough to send it on. Next to that bag lay the basket containing the body and head of Nagini, Voldemort's familiar.
At precisely nine in the morning, several groups of people Portkeyed into the clearing, looking around curiously. Harry stood up, then picked up his bag and the basket and took them over to stone tablet.
Several of the people looked at him curiously, but he ignored them. He set the basket down and removed the pouches from his bag.
Sirius nodded to Tonks and Remus, who started conjuring chairs for everyone.
"May I have everyone's attention, please?" Sirius called. His wand shot sparks, causing most to turn to face him.
Everyone scrambled to find chairs and Harry watched, smirking to himself. Sirius seemed to be enjoying this immensely.
"You've been invited here to witness something that will probably never be repeated in the history of the wizarding world. But before we begin, I need to provide some background information so you understand the significance of what I'm about to show you."
"Four years ago at the opening of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a small group of people decided that Harry Potter's life was in danger if he continued to stay at the school. So we gambled. We took a chance, and we discovered we were right.
"Harry lived under the onus of a prophecy; he was Fate's chosen instrument. So when he refused to participate in the Tournament, he lost all of his magic. That much is true. Every bit of magic in Harry died that day... for about two seconds."
Sirius paused and grinned at the dumbfounded expressions among the British wizards and the two people from the press. Harry recognized several people from the Pacific Rim Ministry, as well as his former Defense professor, Julius Caesar Murphy, who nodded to him.
"Two seconds after the Goblet of Fire exploded, Harry's magic returned to his body, minus the tracking charms, bindings and other spells that were placed on him without his permission or knowledge. Harry withdrew from Hogwarts at that point, vanishing from sight. The simple fact, ladies and gentlemen, is that the man-made magic of the Goblet could not hope to compete against the will of Fate.
"Now, the members of the press who are present may print this story, but only when your respective Ministries allow you to. And I believe Minister Bones has something to say to you before I continue with the explanation."
Amelia stood up and faced everyone. "Part of what you will hear today is covered under the Official Secrets Act. You will never speak of the methods used by Voldemort to keep his spirit bound to this world. If I hear so much as a whisper, I will send you to Azkaban for the rest of your natural lives."
The representative from the Daily Prophet gulped and looked nervously about. His companion, representing the New York Global Cauldron, looked at him smugly, until Murphy stood up and looked at him.
"The American Department of Magic is classifying this information as Top Secret. Divulging any of this information will result in an extensive stay at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas," Murphy said coldly.
Murphy turned and nodded to Amelia, who smiled sweetly at the two reporters. "We will set a date upon which you can publish this information, and you will have an exclusive story for the first twenty four to forty eight hours, since you'll be publishing ahead of everyone else. Gentlemen, cooperate with us and wait until we say so, and you'll have a story of a lifetime. Or, you can choose to be Obliviated and leave now."
"I'll stay," croaked the man from the Prophet.
The other reporter nodded his head in agreement. He was an old news reporter and he smelled that this story had Golden Cauldron written all over it. He'd cooperate. After all, it didn't do well to annoy the government. Hell, he'd sit on this story for years if it meant he'd be able to break it to the wizarding world. He discounted the man from the Prophet, since that was strictly a British tabloid these days.
Amelia smiled and nodded to Sirius.
"Good," Sirius said. "Now that we have that unpleasantness out of the way, I want to tell you what we discovered and what we did."
Sirius grinned broadly. "We pulled the hoax of the century on the British wizarding world. Oh, I'll admit, when I thought of the idea it wasn't my intention to do so. But the simple fact is that a couple of people, who had no clue what they were talking about, spoke about matters they didn't understand and the British press ran with it."
Remus started to laugh and shake his head and Tonks started to snicker. Minerva shook her head ruefully and wished, not for the first time, that Sirius Black had never been one of her Lions.
"To be blunt, ladies and gents, Harry Potter is a wizard, and has always been a wizard. And that means that Voldemort still had his power. However, you gentlemen," he said, pointing to the reporters, "continued to harp on the idea that Harry was less than a Squib and, therefore, Voldemort was powerless as well. You pulled all his support away from him and gave us the opportunity to train Harry to face Voldemort, as well as track down and destroy all the items that made him immortal."
The man from the Global Cauldron glanced over at his compatriot and started to chuckle. The Prophet's reporter was staring at Sirius, his mouth opening and closing over and over.
Amelia stood and faced the crowd. She looked rather sheepishly at them. "I confess that I discovered this hoax just a few months ago and I looked carefully at what happened. It would have been different if the Blacks and Potters owned the media, but they did nothing to perpetuate the hoax. It was all done, innocently enough, by our media and our own smug attitudes.
"When Sirius finally told me the whole story a few days ago, when he handed me the Portkeys to this place, I was at first outraged. But that soon turned to shame. We let the welfare of our nation rest on the shoulders of one boy who had been ill treated most of his life."
Sirius nodded. "I gathered you here today because it's time to witness the final destruction of Voldemort. It's time to banish him forever from this world."
"You-Know-Who is here?" shrieked the reporter from the Prophet. The man stood and promptly fainted.
That was all it took. Remus and Tonks both began to laugh. Minerva sat next to the pair, her lips twitching wildly as she tried to control her own laughter. The American reporter pulled his wand and woke his fellow journalist, while every chuckled.
Harry, standing off to the side, waited for Sirius to give him the signal. He's having way too much fun with this, he thought fondly.
When the Prophet reporter returned to his seat, Sirius looked at him sadly. "No, Voldemort," he said stressing the word, "isn't here in a form that can hurt you. He's trapped at the moment as a spirit. We're going to free that spirit, then banish it to the next world."
Remus coughed and Sirius looked at him for a moment in confusion, then he remembered. "Oh, right! Um, Amelia, Mr. Murphy, would you like your experts to come up here and assist us?"
Murphy turned to "Mr. Smith", the Head of the Pacific Rim DMLE and Smith nodded. A nondescript Asian man next to Smith stood and walked up to stand next to Harry.
Amelia nodded to a very old man who was sitting next to her. He stood and walked over to Harry.
Sirius beamed at him. He was reported to be the Head of the Department of Mysteries. "I see we have Mr. Croaker, from the Department of Mysteries, but I don't recognize this other gentleman. Mr. Smith, would you provide the introduction?" Sirius called out.
Smith stood. "Mr. Yamada Taro is a member of our Department of Mysteries and an expert in the field of spirit magics. I've briefed him personally on what he will be doing today."
Sirius nodded and signaled to Harry.
Harry conjured a small table. "Last night I removed this object from the body of this snake," he said, then he carefully levitated a fist sized crystal onto the table next. The crystal was cloudy and seemed to pulsate, getting darker, then lighter.
"The crystal is a smoky quartz of rather pure quality and highly charged with very black magic. I strongly suggest no one touch it with their bare skin."
"Mr. Black!" shouted the reporter from Global.
Sirius turned around. "Yes?"
"Where is Harry Potter?"
Sirius smiled. "I daresay if things progress as planned, he'll be here in due time."
Amelia smiled to herself. She had no doubt who Evan was.
"Now, while our experts run their tests on the object, let me explain some of what was entailed in reaching this point," Sirius said.
Harry tuned Sirius out, listening instead to the two experts as they ran multiple tests on the crystal.
Croaker ran a test and then turned to Harry. "You really think you can destroy this, young man? This is no ordinary crystal. In fact, if my readings are right, my Department will want this to examine and study."
"That is not an option, Mr. Croaker," Harry replied. "I intend to destroy this today."
"But the research possibilities..."
"Are not worth the potential of you accidentally releasing Voldemort on the public again," Harry snapped. This delay was getting on his nerves and he didn't like the idea of this old man wanting to take away the Horcrux for study.
Croaker reached with one hand to grasp the crystal and Harry's hand shot out, catching him by the wrist and stopping him.
Taro stepped back and watched the two men intently for a moment. "I think perhaps we should leave this young man to perform his duty, my friend," he said softly.
Harry became aware of the utter silence as he stared down Croaker. Sirius had stopped talking and it seemed everyone was aware that something was going on.
"What's this?" demanded a voice sounding suspiciously like the Minister.
"Madam Minister, I must protest!" exclaimed Croaker. "They are talking about destroying a priceless magical artifact. It must be studied. We have a standing order that all objects of this nature are to be turned over to the Department of Mysteries. I will not allow the destruction of this object!"
Amelia stood, her expression furious. "Mr. Croaker, you will step away from that table and return to your seat, or I will have you stunned and placed into custody! You are interfering with sanctioned Ministry business."
Croaker glanced over to Amelia, his own expression turning angry. "You can't fire me, Amelia. I have as much support in the Wizengamot as you do," he retorted.
Harry, who was still holding Croaker's wrist, sighed. His hand flashed and Croaker crumpled to the ground.
Taro's mouth twitched slightly and he nodded to Harry. It was obvious to him that the young man had a hidden magical focus on him, probably a ring.
When Amelia gasped, Harry looked up. "Don't worry. He's not dead, just stunned. But I guess we'll have to Obliviate him."
Amelia nodded and stepped forward. Harry pulled his wand and Amelia reached out and stopped him with a hand. "Have you ever Obliviated anyone before?"
Harry swallowed nervously. "Ummm... just Sirius one time."
"What?" shouted Sirius.
Remus, Tonks and Minerva started to laugh.
Harry looked at the ground and shuffled his feet. "Yeah, he burst into my room when Hermione was naked."
Sirius stopped and looked crestfallen. "I saw her naked? I thought that was just a dream. And you took that memory away?"
"You thought it was a dream?" Harry asked, astonished. "You shouldn't be able to remember any of it, even in a dream!"
"Gotcha!" Sirius gloated. "That'll teach you to fool with the memories of your elders!"
Amelia shot him a look, then turned back to Harry. "Let me do it. I've more experience."
With one last glare at Sirius, Harry finally nodded and backed away from Amelia and Croaker.
It was over quickly. Amelia Obliviated Croaker, then wrote a quick note, attaching it to his jacket along with a Portkey. A second later, he was gone.
"I've sent him on to the Obliviation squad," she explained quietly. "They'll build him a new memory."
"I'm sorry that had to happen," Harry said softly.
Amelia smiled warmly. "It wasn't really your fault. I should have known better. Croaker has been at that job for fifty years and he's become a bit obsessive." She wouldn't ask, but she was extremely curious how Harry had managed to stun Croaker without a wand. She was of the opinion that wandless magic was hard to do and few could master more than a few simple spells.
"Mr. Taro, might we have your opinion on the object?" asked Amelia.
Everyone settled and waited to his Mr. Taro's views.
"The object in question does, in fact, contain a piece of a soul. I do not wish to speculate on how that piece got there, but the object exudes black magic of the vilest form. There are several curses and a heavy compulsion charm laid on the object. I daresay it is dangerous to the touch. I recommend that we proceed with its destruction immediately," Taro said in a softly accented voice.
Amelia looked to Mr. Smith. She knew he would be reporting back to his government, just as Murphy would report to the Americans. Between them, they represented the Internationals. When each man nodded, she in turn faced Harry again. "Please, proceed then."
Harry stepped forward, then levitated the crystal to the center of the prepared tablet. He knelt by the tablet and pulled out a black leather pouch from his bag. Opening it, he carefully poured out the powder so that it was spread around the edges, contained within the notched groove.
"What you are seeing is a mix of Muggle and magical methods designed to destroy the object and contain the spirit long enough for it to be banished," Sirius said, while everyone watched intently.
Harry sprinkled a silvery powder over crystal until it sat in nearly an inch of the stuff, then he carefully placed several red leather pouches around the crystal.
"The powder is a metal called Magnesium," he said softly. His audience strained and leaned forward to hear him. "It will burn very quickly and very hotly for a brief moment, but it will be sufficient to ignite the Australian Brimstone pebbles in the red pouches. That will take the temperature up to nearly eight thousand degrees."
"Fahrenheit?" Murphy asked incredulously.
"Centigrade," Harry replied. "The stone tablet is protected so the stone won't be touched, but it will crystallize the Bison and Sasquatch blood powder around the edges. Before that happens, Sirius will hit the powder with a simple spell that will energize it. That will provide a shield to trap the spirit."
Harry stood and stepped away from the tablet. As he did, he drew his wand.
"Sirius, if you would?"
Sirius nodded and stepped forward with Remus on his heels. Sirius touched his wand to the powder in the groove and muttered something. The dark red powder turned a fluorescent blue. He backed away and Remus cast a shield in front of the tablet to protect the watchers. Harry was in front of the shield, holding his wand out. He was aiming for the silvery powder at the base of the crystal.
He stood with his wand aiming and those present could see him concentrating on his spell. The air around him began to hum and crackle, then his body was engulfed in a golden aura. His wand flashed with a bright light and a tight beam lanced out, hitting the powder. There was an enormous flash of blindingly white light and then the brimstone pebbles caught fire.
A deafening crack filled the clearing and Harry was sent spinning away from the stone. He hit the ground about ten feet away and didn't move. Everyone ducked.
When the light and smoke cleared, everyone looked around warily. Remus lay on Sirius' legs. Tonks was next to Minerva on the grass.
Sirius lifted his head and looked at Remus. "I haven't been that drunk since seventh year," he muttered.
Harry blinked and wondered why he was looking at the sky.
He painfully pushed himself up onto his feet and looked at the tablet. The crystal was gone, vaporized by the intense heat, and the rock itself was scorched and blackened.
A transparent wall of blue light extended from the stone and came to a dome at a height of about six feet above the surface of the stone. Within the shielded area of the tablet, a black cloud hovered. Its surface roiled and bubbled like some boiling cauldron, then it slowly formed a face.
Harry walked shakily over to the tablet. Behind him he could hear the murmur of the people watching, and the terrified gibbering of the Daily Prophet reporter.
"I do," he said quietly to the wraith of Voldemort.
"Foolish child, you cannot kill me! You have set me free!" snarled the wraith. "I will enjoy watching you beg for a quick death."
"No, Tom, I have killed you. You just don't know it yet."
The wraith rushed Harry and bounced off of the shield. "What is this? What magic is this?" it cried, looking around wildly. There was no escape.
The Wraith bounced off the shield several more times, including one attempt straight down. Then it came to rest hovering at eye level with Harry.
"Release me and I will give you power and wealth," it said.
Harry shook his head sadly. "You have neither to give. You could have been great, you could have been the hope of your generation, instead you became a monster. It's your time, Tom. It's time to pass over," he said, raising his wand.
"WAIT! You can't! Who are you? I cannot be killed by you!" wailed the Wraith.
Harry closed his eyes and, releasing the hold on his form, changed back into Harry.
The Wraith recoiled and its smoky eyes bulging in horror. "Potter!" he hissed. "You can't do this."
Both reporters gasped, seeing Evan change into Harry.
"Oh, but I can, Tom. In fact, I'm the only one who can. Hopefully, in time, history will forget you," Harry replied, then he raised his wand again. "Ay chee ee who he ah ah doe nuh doe," he chanted.
Murphy's eyes widened and he grinned, hearing the Native American chant. "So mote it be," he whispered.
The Wraith recoiled from Harry's glowing wand and started to wail. It was a pitiful sound, as if it had glimpsed an eternity in Hell and was protesting the injustice of the judgment. The shield flared and began to shrink. As it did, the wailing grew louder and more tormented, then it changed, as if it were being pushed away. The sound shrank as if receding in the distance. The shield flared one more time, then it vanished, leaving nothing behind of its presence.
The Wraith of Voldemort was gone.
Harry stood, pale and trembling, weakened by the use of so much magic and by what he had seen. The price of the magic was to catch a glimpse of the punishment. It took all of his resolve to hold his wand on the tablet and not vomit up his breakfast.
He turned to Amelia, who was looking at him with something akin to awe. "It had to be done. I just wish I wasn't the one that had to do it."
Mr. Taro ran up to the stone tablet and quickly cast a Necromantic spell. Harry stared at the man, who watched his wand and the results. Then the little man grinned. "Voldemort is gone! His soul is finally summonable!"
"Thank Merlin Necromancy can't summon his soul back permanently," muttered Amelia.
Harry nodded tiredly, then he walked over to sit next to Tonks and Minerva. He ached from his fall, and from what he had been forced to do.
"All right there, Harry?" asked Tonks quietly.
Minerva sat silent, watching the pair. Around them, the others were milling about, talking in hushed tones. Everyone seemed to be heavily affected by what the had witnessed.
Harry ran a hand through his hair tiredly. "Suddenly I feel tired all the way to my bones," he said. "I've spent the last four years training to do this and now when its done, I almost feel sorry for him." He looked up at Tonks. "He could have been great. He had both the power and the intellect. He could have been as famous as Dumbledore, or maybe even Merlin. It just seems like a terrible waste now."
"You used a lot of magic today," Tonks said. "I don't think I could have done those spells and still be awake."
"Mr. Potter! May I ask you some questions?" said the Daily Prophet reporter.
Harry flinched back and Tonks steadied him. Minerva glared at the man.
The report backed away. "Maybe I'll talk to Mr. Black, then," he muttered.
Harry looked up to see Amelia Bones standing close by.
"Mr. Potter... Harry, I'm going to impose on you one last time and ask that you do not reveal yourself to our world just yet. With the final destruction of Voldemort, there are legal functions that we must perform and they could be performed more easily if no one knew you were still a wizard."
Harry nodded. "I wasn't too keen on letting anyone know I'm still around, anyway."
Amelia frowned slightly and adjusted her monocle. "That will happen soon enough, Harry. There is no way to avoid it, I'm afraid. But with the last heir to the Slytherin line now dead for good, we can maneuver to close the seat in the Wizengamot and close any outstanding Gringotts accounts. I imagine no more than four to six weeks would be necessary, assuming the Wizengamot doesn't leak the information sooner."
He nodded tiredly.
"Harry, go home and get some sleep," Tonks said gently.
"Yes, do so, Mr. Potter," Minerva added softly. "You did wonderfully today. A truer Gryffindor never existed and your parents would be so proud of you."
"It's good advice, Harry," Amelia offered. "Go rest. You've done your part; now let us do ours."
Harry nodded again. "Tonks, tell Siri and Remus I'm going home to Oxford."
Tonks grinned and gave him a wink, then she hugged him. He smiled back, then stood and faded from view.
Amelia stared at where he once stood. "That wasn't apparition."
"No, it wasn't," Tonks said. "It's something Aurors outside of this country learn. Because it was invented by a Muggle-born, it's been largely ignored here."
Amelia sighed heavily. "So much to do, but things look brighter now." She turned and walked over to Remus, who was talking with Murphy and Smith.
The Granger Residence, Oxford England, Apr 26th 1998...
Hermione appeared in her parents dining room, scaring Emma and making her drop her cup of tea.
"Good Lord! What is it with you wizards?" Emma exclaimed. "Can't you ring a bell and enter through the front door like everyone else?"
"Sorry, Mum," Hermione replied. She waved her hand, cleaning up the mess and repairing the tea cup. "Is he here?"
Emma nodded. "Yes. He said it was over and he was going to lie down for a bit. That was a couple of hours ago. He's still upstairs, unless he's popped away somewhere."
Hermione nodded and looked relieved. "Did he tell you anything?"
"Only that it was finally over. I didn't press him. He looked so tired."
"The Headmistress told me to come check on him. She said he had used a lot of high powered magic, which explains why he's tired. But she also said he seemed depressed about it now that it was done. I don't have all the details, though. I left as soon as I received permission."
Emma made a shooing motion with her hands. "Well, go check on him. I'll call your father and let him know you'll be joining us for dinner."
Hermione smiled and tried to resist the urge to dash out of the kitchen. That resistance lasted long enough for her to close the kitchen door behind her. At the soft click of the door latch, she bolted for the stairs.
Emma poured herself another cup of tea and shook her head as she heard Hermione running up the stairs. Some things never change, she thought with a grin.
Hermione carefully opened the door to her room and peeked in. On the bed lay Harry, sleeping. He had stripped down to his boxers and she frowned, seeing the large bruise that ran from one shoulder to the other.
She walked over to the bed and quickly kicked off her shoes before climbing in next to him.
He cracked one eye open when he felt the bed shift.
"Hi," she whispered.
"Hi," he replied. "I did it. It's all over."
"I know. McGonagall suggested I come home to check on you. I wish I had known about that bruise. I would have brought a salve for it."
He tried to shrug and ended up wincing. "It's not that bad."
She frowned at him for a moment, then snuggled a little closer. "What's wrong? Isn't this everything we wanted to happen?"
Harry sighed and his expression looked haunted. "I used an old form of Native American magic to banish him. They told me that this kind of magic enacts a price, but it was the only magic I could find that was assured of doing the job. There is always a price of some kind they said, but they never really explained what they meant."
"What kind of price?" she asked, suddenly worried.
"I saw where he was sent," he whispered. "I got a glimpse of his punishment. What right do I have to condemn someone to an eternity of that? It was horrible."
She reached out and smoothed the hair over his brow. "Shh. You had a right given to you by Fate. You weren't condemning anyone to anything, Harry. He should have gone there after he tried to kill you the first time. He created his punishment, not you. You didn't murder him. You brought him to justice."
He eyed her, his expression clouded with doubt. "It just seems like so much of a waste now."
"It is," she said, agreeing with him. "He wasted his abilities and powers, and in doing so, killed many good people who wanted nothing more than to live their own lives. Molly Weasley's brothers, your parents, Sirius' brother Regulus, Susan Bones' parents; so many people. It was a waste. But it's over now. Your parents have been given the justice they deserve, along with all those others."
He nodded sleepily and she smiled. Normally, she could feel the magic just pouring off him, but today she could barely feel it. "You used a lot of magic today. Rest and sleep, it will do you good."
He closed his eyes and his breathing slowly evened out. She waited and watched for a while before getting up and going back downstairs.
Emma looked up from the dining room table. "Is he all right?"
"He's tired and he's got a really nasty bruise on his back. I'll get some cream that can fix that. I think mostly he's sickened by what he did and what he saw."
"What did he see?"
"Some magics cannot be performed without paying some kind of price. In this case, he was given a glimpse into Riddle's punishment. He saw Hell, or rather, what Riddle envisioned it to be."
Emma shivered and Hermione smiled weakly. "He'll be fine. He knew there would be a price, he just didn't expect it to be that."
Emma nodded weakly and went to get her daughter a cup of tea.
The Great Hall, Hogwarts, June 8th 1998...
Hermione sat next to Evan, her hand creeping back to the beautiful ring that now adorned her finger. Harry had shown up early that morning, well before any of the regular guests arrived, and proposed to her.
She suppressed the urge to giggle. His proposal had been sweet and stumbling. His hands had been shaking when he offered her the box with the ring. She thought he was more terrified of asking her to marry him than he was facing Voldemort.
She looked down at her ring and grinned to herself. Then she reached for Harry's hand, gripping it tightly. He smiled at her knowingly.
She was amazed that the last month seemed to fly by, despite her taking the N.E.W.T.s. She spoke with Harry via mirror nearly every night, but he refrained from coming up to the castle. Amelia had requested that he keep a low profile and he was very willing to comply with that request. He was worried that the Wizarding World would go nuts when the story finally broke.
After he gave her the ring, Dobby appeared with breakfast and they shared an intimate meal together before he left again. He was going to escort her parents to the school, helping them past the Muggle avoidance charms. Both Sirius and Amelia requested that he wear his uniform today. That meant a scramble for him to get one via the Embassy last week.
Now they sat together with her parents in the Great Hall and she couldn't help but break into a smile. The girls of Gryffindor had gone insane, seeing the ring she was wearing. Parvati and Ginny both told her she was lucky to be marrying into the House of Black. She'd bit her lip to avoid laughing. If only they knew.
The story about Harry and Voldemort broke today with a noon time special edition of the Daily Prophet, and it set the whole castle aflame with rumor. According to the story, Harry Potter had fought with, and destroyed, Voldemort at Hogwarts barely a month ago! He had been here and he was a powerful wizard who was unattached.
A number of the unattached witches all flocked together, trying to figure out how to contact Harry and offer an arrangement. Hermione nearly snorted with mirth, seeing them running all over the place trying to find out how to get in contact with him. Several remembered that Hermione was once been his best friend and asked her, but she said she couldn't pass that information along.
She recalled seeing a rather disappointed looking Ginny Weasley sitting in the Common Room. She had been looking at the ring that signified her own arrangement and Hermione couldn't help but wonder if she was regretting it now. Hermione didn't want to agitate Ginny, who was already obviously upset. There was also the fact that Ginny knew that Hermione had been in recent contact with Harry to think about. Fortunately for Hermione, her Head Girl duties had kept her busy most of the day, and out of Ginny's sight.
Harry was out of the castle when the story broke and he had called Hermione, telling her that he had seen the paper. He was coming to the castle as Evan and, unless something happened, that's who he'd be for tonight.
A motion at the front of the Hall caught her attention and she turned to watch.
Minerva stood and the Hall fell silent. The farewell feast had been held earlier for the first through sixth year students and now Minerva was presiding over the farewell feast for the seventh years. As the meal itself was over, it was time for the festivities to begin.
Minerva smiled at the packed Hall full of students, family and well wishers.
Hermione had been told that she would be singled out, along with several other students, for outstanding academic performance. She looked around, spotting Ron and the entire Weasley clan. Nearby was Hannah and her parents, as well as Neville and his Gran. Lavender sat next to Parvati; the Patils were going out of their way to make sure Lavender didn't feel left out. Her family had not shown up for this dinner.
She sat with Harry, her parents, Sirius and Cindy. Remus and Tonks sat up at the staff table. She smiled and thought that, despite his decision not to pursue a career as an Auror, Evan looked downright dashing in the Pacific Rim Auror uniform. Harry was interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement, he just didn't want to be an Auror. Between them, they were eagerly exploring other options in that field.
Minerva smiled broadly at the assembled parents and students. "Each year we hold a special end of term feast for our departing seventh years. And each year we issue awards and watch tearfully as you leave us. In the past seven years, you have become part of the greater Hogwarts family. The students left behind are only a part of your legacy, as they try to emulate your successes."
She paused and took in the crowded Great Hall.
"This is a special class, one that has been touched by several unique individuals. And because of that, we have several special awards to hand out tonight. First, for the first time since 1978, we are awarding Ravenclaw Fellowships. This award is granted to individuals who obtain perfect scores on their N.E.W.T. exams.
"Last time this award was granted, it was given to Lily Evans, soon to be Mrs. Lily Potter. This year we are especially proud to grant the award to not one, but two students. Miss Padma Patil and Miss Hermione Granger, would you please stand up?"
Both girls stood and Filius Flitwick climbed down from his chair. He picked up two golden books, and scurried down the aisle to Hermione and then Padma, handing them out.
"You girls join the ranks of some of the brightest students ever to grace the halls of this school," Minerva said, smiling warmly. "Academically, your accomplishments have set new standards for educational excellence."
Hermione blushed and sat back down while everyone applauded.
"Well done," Emma murmured to her.
Minerva waited until the applause had finished. "Miss Granger also receives a special award for bravery in the face of danger. It was her effort that resulted in the capture of a wanted fugitive and the rescue of one of our students, who had been injured."
Again she was forced to wait for the applause to end. Remus presented her with a golden plaque; a copy of it would also be placed in the Hogwarts trophy room.
"While not technically an award, I would like to announce that three of our students, Mr. Ronald Weasley of Gryffindor, Mr. Terry Boot of Ravenclaw and Mr. Blaise Zabini of Slytherin have been signed on by professional Quidditch teams. Gentlemen, please stand up."
Ron stood along with the others. Harry applauded happy for his friend. As the applause continued, the doors opened and the rest of the school filed into the room. They were accompanied by the Minister and a number of people from the press.
Harry saw the Minister and the crowd behind her and groaned.
"Harry?" Hermione whispered in alarm.
He nudged her and pointed to the back of the room. She saw the crowd and gasped. She wouldn't, she thought. Would she?
Amelia was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Minerva smiled, seeing the Minister and the others standing there. "Now, normally at the end of this feast we conclude simply by wishing each of you well and hoping you'll come back and visit us sometime. But this time we have something else planned. If I may introduce the Minister of Magic, Madam Amelia Bones."
Amelia walked up the aisle and several cameras flashed. When she got to the top of the aisle, she turned and pulled a scroll from her pocket and began to read aloud. "By order of the Wizengamot, granted on this day of April 8th Nineteen hundred and ninety eight, Miss Hermione Granger is awarded the Order of Merlin, Third Class, for her bravery in the face of danger. For Miss Granger did encounter and subdue a wanted and dangerous felon who had already injured another student and killed a civilian."
She looked up at everyone present. "Let everyone know that Miss Hermione Jane Granger is inducted into the Order of Merlin for her outstanding actions. So mote it be!"
Harry grabbed Hermione and kissed her soundly, then gave her a gentle shove in the direction of Amelia. She stumbled slightly and walked up the aisle, her cheeks burning. She stopped in front of the Minister, who took out a small case and handed it to her.
"Well done, Miss Granger," Amelia said.
"Thank you, Minister," she said in a loud voice. She turned to face the assembly and smiled when she saw her father pointing to her and telling everyone in a loud voice that she was his girl.
Hermione started to move, but Amelia stopped her. "Wait," she commanded.
Confused, Hermione stood next to Amelia, while the crowd stopped applauding. When the room fell silent again, Amelia began to speak.
"We have one other award to give out today; one that should have been given long ago. No doubt you have all seen the newspaper reports and have heard the news over the wireless. Harry Potter is still a wizard. He left this school four years ago because of the danger he was placed in by an unscrupulous man. With the help of two men who are closer than family, he began a training regime that allowed him to graduate a full year early.
"I witnessed him destroy the last vestiges of the Dark Lord, once and for all time, just over a month ago, ending that threat to our lives. And when it was done, and Dark Lord was gone, instead of being triumphant and proud, he was saddened. What he said then is true today. We are what our choices make us. The criminal known as Lord Voldemort could have been a great man and a shining example of what all wizards should strive for. Thankfully, we stand at the beginning of a new age and we have such a wizard to be that example."
Amelia paused and her gaze zeroed in on Harry. "Mr. Potter, would you please join me up here?"
The crowd broke into hushed whispers and Harry felt like climbing under the table. Emma whispered something in his ear and he nodded, then sighed heavily. People were standing and looking around wildly for Harry.
"Potter?" someone shouted.
Where?" shouted another. "I don't see him!"
Harry stood and let his hold on Evan relax, changing back into his true form. His Auror uniform gleamed in the bright lights from the cameras; on his chest hung a medal given to him by the Americans. The Pacific Rim had told him that any time he wanted to become a full time Auror, they would allow it, but he had other plans.
Gasps came from around the hall. Hermione, from her vantage, saw both Molly and Ginny Weasley turn very pale. Ginny looked as if she was about to faint.
He walked up the aisle, trying to ignore the cameras that were flashing like fireflies. Neville's face lit up and he shot Harry a thumbs up that warmed him considerably. If no one else welcomed him back, at least Neville did.
Ron looked at him, confused. He was clearly undecided and Hannah was whispering furiously in his ear.
Harry turned his attention back to Hermione, who smiled shyly at him. He moved to stand in the space she made between her and Amelia, then she grabbed his hand.
Amelia pulled another parchment from her robe. "By order of the Wizengamot, granted on this day, April 8th Nineteen hundred and ninety eight, Mister Harry James Potter is awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class, for his unparalleled bravery in the face of a ruthless Dark Lord. By his actions he has saved not only Britain, but the whole of the wizarding world, for the Dark Lord's stain would have surely spread."
Amelia paused and pulled out a case. She withdrew an ornate medallion attached to a large ribbon. "By custom, the Order of Merlin, First Class, is always presented by a close family member to the recipient. In this case, I'll ask Miss Granger, his fiancee and Order holder, to present the medallion," she announced to the crowd.
Another gasp ran through the crowd as it finally hit home. Hermione's mysterious Evan from the south Pacific was really Harry Potter, and they were engaged! More cameras flashed, catching the scenes and reporters scribbled their notes or used dicta-quills. Sirius, Emma and Dan grinned broadly at the pair next to Amelia.
Ginny fainted and slid out of her chair.
Amelia handed the medallion to Hermione, who turned to Harry.
"Let everyone know that Mister Harry James Potter is inducted into the Order of Merlin for his outstanding actions. So mote it be!" cried Amelia.
Harry blushed and bowed his head, making it easier for Hermione to slip the ribbon around his neck. As she reached around his head, she leaned closer.
"Don't let this go to your head, hero," she whispered with a sly grin.
"You know it won't," he replied tensely.
"Good, but you've always been my hero," she said, then she kissed his cheek and pulled away from him, leaving him blushing more than he thought he possibly could.
Amelia stepped up next to Harry. "Smile for the cameras," she said without moving her lips.
Harry blinked and wondered if that was a spell or just a talent that all politicians development, then he smiled tightly for the cameras and waited until he could make his escape. Thankfully, the reporters had been briefed that Amelia would answer their questions, but Harry Potter would not be available for the press conference.
Minerva moved around to the front of the table, next to Amelia, and raised her arms. Slowly the noise in the hall died down.
"Thank you," she said with a smile. "All seventh years who haven't picked up their grades and certificates should visit my office before you leave the castle. I want to thank all the guests for coming tonight. I am certain you join me in wishing our leaving students only the best of luck as they move into their adult lives."
When everyone stood and clapped Harry grabbed Hermione's hand and pulled her towards her parents and his family. "Come on! If we hurry..."
He skidded to a halt and Hermione bumped into his back, nearly knocking him down. In his path stood Ron, Neville and the Weasley twins, who seemed to think Harry's return was some cosmic joke. Ginny sat nearby, watching Harry and Hermione with narrowed eyes.
Ron stepped forward. "At first I wasn't sure if I should hit you or hug you. But someone made me see the light. I don't like the fact that you up and left us without so much as a word, but I can see the sense of it," he said, then he blushed and Hannah smiled knowingly to herself. Then Ron stepped forward offering his hand.
"Once upon a time I had a friend named Harry Potter. I would be very happy to have him back."
Harry's eyes misted and he smiled, then took the offered hand. Hermione gripped his arm painfully tight and choked back a sob. He shook Ron's hand and that broke the spell on the others. They swarmed over him, welcoming him back.
Hermione watched, smiling at him, while his former classmates came up to shake his hand.
"Well done, Hermione," said a voice over her shoulder. She turned to see Mr. Weasley smiling gently at her.
"Thank you, Mr. Weasley," she replied.
"Had us all fooled, I think," he commented, watching Harry.
She shook her head. "No, that's the problem, sir. He didn't fool anyone. You fooled yourselves. No one had faith in the man that Harry is. He's unique. I knew it from the first day I met him."
Arthur Weasley glanced at his wife and daughter, who sat waiting for the crowd to break up. "I suppose you're right," he said with a sigh. "So, what now for you two? Some career with the Ministry? An Order of Merlin goes a long way on a CV."
"Harry and I are enrolling in school overseas. He already has a job as an Auror for the Pacific Rim Ministry. We'll come back to Britain in a couple years, but I think, for now, we want to just live without the pressures of being a Potter in Britain."
Arthur nodded. "I suppose that's for the best. Good luck to you and to Harry. I certainly missed that boy."
"He missed you, too, Mr. Weasley," she told him. When he smiled warmly, she turned away and joined Harry, who seemed a bit stunned at the reaction of the people. "Are you ready?"
He grinned at her. "I've been ready for this since fourth year. I think it's time to just live."
"Me too," she replied as she grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the Great Hall. Her parents and Sirius could catch up with them later. For now, there was a beach house in Fiji with their name on it!
School, marriage and the rest of the world could wait for the end of summer.
Bob's making me do the last AN as a way of speeding up the posting time. He says that, while he writes the disclaimer and gives the chapter a final read, I can be answering your questions. It sounds good, of course, but as it's 4:30am (pacific), I really don't think there's a rush on posting this. Personally, I think he's just being lazy.
Yes, the chapter is late. There are several reasons for it, but I'm not going to bother going into them. The chapter's been posted, so who cares, right? Yeah, I thought you'd agree with me.
Now, as this is the final chapter, do I REALLY have to answer your questions? ~Looks at all the eager faces staring back at her and sighs~
Fine, on with the freakin' Notes, then.
You hope we shot our beta? My, but that is rude. Beta's aren't machines, ya know. They have lives, families and, in the case of our betas, stories of their own to write and post. They're helping us, and you, free of charge. So sit down, shut up and enjoy the read, already!
Patrick: Yes, we check reviews from old stories, but we generally don't reply to them. If you do want a reply to a review you've left on an older story, post to our Yahoo group or send us an email and we'll get back to ya.
James Porter: There's no reason to be afraid of me. I'm actually a very sweet lady. ~Smiles serenely while oiling her whip~
Heathw: The answer to your Gringotts question is really very simple: Because Bob wanted it that way. As the author of the story, he's allowed to do pretty much whatever he wants to do. This is, after all, a non-canon story.
As for your complaint about Hermione, you're certainly welcome to your opinion. As I didn't write this story, I looked at her as having plenty of time to grow and mature. Most eighteen year olds I know are suicidally stupid in many respects. I wasn't much different at that age. Most kids aren't interested in improving their character. That comes with time and new environments/situations. If the story were to continue on through Harry and Hermione's college education abroad, you'd begin to see a different young woman emerge.
Oh, and yes, there is a difference between a mignon and a minion. A mignon, while delicious, lasts a few hours. A minion is for life! Besides, Crys is a bit too old and stringy to make a decent mignon. ~Snickers!
If you want more specific answers, email Bob. I'm just the AN author for this puppy.
~Straps Wyes to one of her nukes and arms it~ You dare? You complain about Bob's update time, yet haven't updated your own story in 6 MONTHS? You just lay there and think about that, buddy! If you behave, and UPDATE YOUR OWN FREAKIN' STORY, I'll think about disarming the thing.
Crys: No branding irons? You know, you're taking all the fun out of having minions in the first place. Let's see. Oh, I know! How about matching bikini waxings for all minions? This way, I still get to hear you scream, but don't have to deal with the smell of burning flesh! Oh, I like this idea. ~Straps Crys down on the table and smiles~ The technician will be with you in a few minutes. I'd do it myself, but there are some things that I really don't want to know about my minions. Oh, and when she's ready to rip out the hair, tense up real tight. It makes the pain even worse!
I know you're probably cringing inside right now, but really, be glad I hired a professional to do this. If I had to do it, I'd be plucking out the hair and swabbing the area with alcohol.
And just to prove that I am not nearly as sadistic as many people think, I'll point out Bob's suggestion for marking minions. He suggested I douse the area being waxed, then igniting it.
See? I'm much nicer!
Solicitor: Anti-matter? For me? Oh, thank you! I'd squeal like a fan girl, but that would be rather undignified, wouldn't it? I've had a star ship sitting in the back yard for years and it's been useless to me without anti-matter! Now I can finally blow this Popsicle stand!
Ranchbs: We've toyed around with the idea of writing original stuff, but keep getting bitten by HP bunnies. We may get there eventually. The lovely Abraxan has just published her own original work, which is available on Amazon. Join her Yahoo group for more details.
Kyle: The Quibbler's hounding of Percy was just something that happened. They didn't set out to drive the guy nuts. They were just looking for stories and inadvertently created one by torturing poor Mr. Weatherbee into the St. Mungo's long term spell damage ward.
As for Snape, the answer should be obvious now.
Eewec: The Quibbler stories are all Bob's. The only thing I've written for Power of the Press is the last few AN's. I won't say Bob's a nut case, but he's not all there, either. I was a perfectly sane 22 year old...then I met Bob. It was a slow progression, at first. But being with him, day in and day out, for fifteen years has taken its toll. Besides, sanity is so overrated...
The Resident: Nukes, anti-matter, guns and guillotines all have their place and function. However, a well balanced knife is also a thing of beauty if the person who possess it knows what their doing. Besides, it's difficult to cut a steak with a nuke. And a guillotine isn't much better. I went through four waiters before I figured that out.
GinnySohma: You want me to upload a video my nuke's blinking lights to YouTube? Okay, but that's kinda boring, don't you think?! Oh, wait. You meant...Er, right.
BDH008: No, we would not consider the shoveling of snow as a bribe for updating faster. It's not that we don't appreciate the offer, it's just that a great deal of the snow is gone and we're now gearing up for mud season. Sorry, but you missed the boat on that one. However, if you want to shovel mud, be our guest. It won't cause us to update faster, but it would be amusing.
TW: I don't know. Ask Bob. Why do you all expect me to have the answers to your questions? I didn't write this story! I just do the AN's! STOP PRESSURING ME, DAMNIT!
~Blinks~ Oh, I see Bob already answered you. Never mind then.
Vanishingact: No, Dan and Emma's relationship is nothing like ours. Dan and Emma are sane, you see. That makes all the difference.
Mrs. Tiffany Potter: Don't think I'm going to let you get away with that! I see what you're doing. ~Tosses the bunny back at Tiffany~ Yes, I agree. Snape would make a great villain for a sequel. Do let us know when you start writing it. You have our permission!
FallingMonkey3: For a sequel to this story, see Mrs. Tiffany Potter!
Lilredwitch: I'm always accepting applications from would-be minions. One can never have too many. The interview process can be painful, but I enjoy it. Submit your application, let me inspect your A-bombs and we'll get you an appointment with the bikini waxing technician. Crys will be glad for the company...and maybe someone to hold his hand. ~Snickers~
Tarkas: Join the rest of the world? Why the hell would we want to do that? You spell funny. You put the letter U in strange places (colour), you mix up were the R should go (theatre) and you measure things in metric! I mean, anti-clockwise? ~Shakes head~ When will you folks learn decent English?!
LadyImmortal: Bob's easy to bribe. Simply offer him porn. Vintage or not, he'll take it. Wine? Not so much. Strawberries are good, but the chocolate they're dipped in should be sugar free. The partridge and pear tree didn't survive transit.
Morriganscrow: The branding iron is out. Crys squirmed around too much...and the weeping was terrible. Screaming is good; tears are messy.
Particle_Accelerator: See, you should send us your scope! We'd get to use it much more than you. Northern Idaho has great night skies, we're self-employed and set our own hours (which explains why we're always up at night!). Come on, you know you want us to have it! No? Fine, okay, keep it.
Oh, and we do have a scope. It's even a Meade. It's just much smaller than we'd like. We've spent many a freezing night outside staring at the stars and planets.
~Slips into a kilt and picks up a 3 iron~ Oh, Wavelink? You did request wanting to see me use this lovely little toy in my next violet rampage, correct? I'm so glad you volunteered to be the victim. It's much more enjoyable when they THINK they want it. You'll change your mind soon enough, but there's no escape. Feel free to try, however.
That's it folks. If I didn't get to your question and you really want it answered, email Bob. It's his story after all. If he tries to get me to do the notes for another story he writes, I'm going to change their name. No longer will I write AN's. No, I'll write WN's; Wife Notes. I won't answer any of your questions, I'll simply torture, maim, splice, dice and fricassee everyone who reviews. Unless you offer bribes... Bribes are always good.
That's it for Power of the Press. I want to thank everyone for reading, Bob for writing and Keith and Dorothy for their beta work. I'd also like to thank the Academy... Er, never mind.
It will be at least a few weeks before the next story begins. That will be the X-Men crossover for all of you who haven't been paying attention.
Now, I'm off to pummel Wavelink with the lovely 3 iron he gave me, then join Bob in Wow. We hope you've enjoyed the story. We'll see you all in a few weeks.