A/N: Chap 35 review responses are in my forums. Thank you all for reading. And a warning-this is an unavoidably angsty chapter. I am not ashamed to admit I was a bit misty-eyed myself just reading through it.
Chapter Thirty-Six: Losing
Hermione never left the Black family library—she only ate when Luna or Harry bullied her into it, and even then, she ate in the library. She did not cry—not once. Nor did she sit by Justine's side as their friend burned in agony. Instead, she buried herself in obscure tomes to research possible antidotes to a poison that, according to the professional healer and the former head of magical law enforcement, did not have one.
It was a new experience and one Harry could have lived without, sitting a death watch for a loved one. Worse yet, Justine knew exactly what was happening. As much pain as she was in, she was conscious most of the time, though her brown eyes were narrow or squeezed shut.
There was no potion they could give her—any pain potions were simply burned out of her system by the poison, while Muggle drugs would have no effect on her.
"They petrified me, except for my throat," Justine told him, Luna and Amelia Bones in a hoarse whisper. "They said it was a truth serum, but I knew they were lying. They made me drink so much of it."
Though he dared not push his magic into her, Harry sat by the bed and held her hand. If he had to leave, Luna took his place. Justine asked after Hermione, but Luna just told her the other girl was busy searching for hope.
Harry remembered something Narcissa Black had said to him, though at the time she was speaking of Luna. "She's fourteen, Mr Potter," Narcissa said. "She could be the most intelligent witch in the world and still know only a fraction of what is out there. I know witches who have studied for centuries. What could your First Wife know after only four years of study? Do you think at that age she is equipped to know everything?"
Hermione was the smartest girl he knew, but he also knew she was only sixteen years old. If Mary Carlisle, who was a trained professional with both magical and Muggle medical degrees, said it was over, what did Hermione think she could do? Though it pained him, Hermione's desperate research actually made him feel angry, especially when her best friend asked for her and she wasn't there.
The worst part of it all, though, was that Harry wanted everything to stop so that he could be with Justine, and it didn't. The world simply did not care that a beautiful, brave, brilliant young woman of only sixteen was dying in agony. Things still continued to happen whether they wanted it to or not.
The new Ministry reopened—the Wizengamot was openly dismissed and was replaced instead by a smaller court of Elders held in favour of the Dark Covens to act as civil judges. Lucius Malfoy was named High Judge. Legislation was now the sole purview of the Sabbat.
Moreover, the Sabbat itself was broken, though that news came from a clearly agitated Amelia Bones. The Dark Covens elevated two minor covens to major status to form a quorum, and with that quorum, dismissed all the light covens from the circle entirely. Instead of nineteen covens, the new Dark Sabbat had only eleven, but it was still considered a functioning quorum within the ancient traditions of the body.
Amelia could not get any word as to whether the light covens were openly fighting or not, but there was talk of an outright civil war soon.
All this, while Harry sat holding Justine's hand, hating the world.
On their third night in Grimmauld Place, Harry left Luna and Tori with Justine and stalked down the stairs. Mary Carlisle had come again that day, but said nothing changed; Justine had perhaps two more days before her magic burned itself out.
"Her body may linger for a few days, but everything that Justine is, her soul, her animus, will be gone," the healer told them quietly.
Now, hours after the healer left, Harry stalked down the stairs to the ground floor, and into the library. He was fully prepared to yell at Hermione until she went upstairs to sit with her friend; he was not prepared to find his wife on the floor, surrounded by piles of haphazardly placed books, sobbing so hard she could not even sit up straight.
The only thing that could hit Harry harder than the sight of a naked witch was a crying one. His anger blew out of him so fast he could barely breathe. He walked slowly toward her and said, "Hermione?"
Instead of looking at him, she just sobbed harder and bent over, almost prostrate on the aged rug in the library floor. Using his wand, Harry moved the books to make room, and knelt down beside her. The moment he placed a hand on her back, she spun into his chest, clinging to him desperately as she cried.
Unsure of what to do or say, Harry instead held her and gently pushed magic into her, rocking as he did so. "It's called the Dementor's Curse because it's almost like the Dementor's Kiss," Hermione said, her voice muffled by her speaking directly into his chest and by her grief. "It's derived from Basilisk venom and Manticore saliva. It was first used by Herpo the Foul in 184 B.C. to murder the witch Canidia in Ancient Rome. It was because of him that the first Roman purge of witch-born occurred—almost 3,000 witches were found and killed by Roman magistrates for venificia—poisoning. He too was caught and forced to drink his own poison. Even he could not cure it." Hermione looked up at Harry, her face ravaged by grief and poor eating. "She was my very first friend, Harry. The first witch-born I ever saw or touched, and she's going to die because I'm not smart enough to save her."
Harry could no more have stopped his tears than he could have stopped hers. When at last he could speak, he said, "Our friend is dying because evil people killed her, Hermione, not because you weren't smart enough. It's not your fault. It anything, it's mine."
She leaned back, grimacing in anger, and hit his shoulder hard. "We've been over this! There's a huge difference between making someone a target and actually taking the shot."
Taking her face in his hands, Harry whispered, "And there's an even bigger difference between killing a person, and not being able to save them. She's been asking for you, Hermione. She needs her best friend—we're all she has."
He had to help her walk—grief stole the strength from her limbs—but together the two made their way up the stairs to Justine's room. Luna and Tori both looked up from where they sat playing exploding snap on the edge of the bed. "Hermione's here, Justine," Luna said gently before she took Tori's hand and led the younger girl from the room.
Hermione sniffed and walked gently to the edge of the bed.
"You look like shite," Justine whispered through clenched teeth.
"Sorry. I'm sorry, I looked and looked but I couldn't find anything on how to cure it; only all the people who've died from it, and the biography of Herpo the Foul and…and…God, Justine. God, I'm so sorry, I just couldn't…I don't know what to do."
"Be with me," Justine said softly. "You're my best friend—you're my sister. Please be with me."
Hermione walked around to the far side of the bed, slipped her house shoes off, and then climbed into the bed to lie next to her best friend. Harry held Justine's hands briefly, and said, "I'll be back soon."
He was barely out the door before Sybil found him. "Come with me," she said softly, so as not to disturb the girls.
Harry followed her back up the hall to the master bedroom suite. At any other time, he might have made a joke about her being here, but not now... "Harry, there's something I want you to think about. It's going to be the hardest, most terrible thing you've ever heard of, but I want you to think about it."
Harry went still with worry.
Sybil looked him in the face and said, "You know that our magic and our soul are one and the same thing. You've seen it. Mundane humans are different, but with us, magic comes from our souls. That poison is destroying her very soul, Harry. When it is gone, she will be truly destroyed, not just dead. We cannot save her life—I know how hard that is to hear, but it is the truth. However, you, Harry, could save her soul."
"What are you talking about?"
"End her suffering, Harry, and pull her soul out, just like you did with Barty Crouch Jr."
Harry staggered away from Sybil as if she stabbed him in the gut. "You're asking me to kill her?"
"No, Harry. She's already dead. I'm asking you to save her terrible, unnecessary pain, and save her very soul. And you need to be quick. Think about it, at least."
She turned and left Harry alone in the room. Or so he thought.
"She's right, Harry."
Harry turned and stared at Luna, who stared right back. "If it were me, I would not want to suffer."
He turned away from his first wife, unable to meet her unwavering stare. "I can't kill Justine."
He felt her hand on his shoulder, and as always their magic meshed seamlessly. "Harry, you wouldn't be killing her, you would be saving her."
With that, Luna left Harry to his thoughts.
At two the next morning, Harry left Justine's bedside where she and Hermione slept fitfully, and walked into the master bedroom. Luna and Tori were curled up together as they usually were when Harry was not with them, but he did not join them either. Instead, he walked to his trunk, cast a silencing charm, and dug around until he found three small boxes. He opened one with chocolate-toned gold crowned by a Gomedagam stone. He'd originally planned to give Hermione and Luna their rings over the holiday, and wanted to save Justine's until they bonded. He always thought they would bond right after his fifth year, when they had their O.W.L.s.
Of course, the holidays blew up, and it never seemed the right idea to give them their rings. And now… Harry wiped his eyes, closed the box, and slipped it into his pocket. He walked back to the bed and cast a mild sleeping charm on Tori. While she was his wife, for some reason he did not want her to be a part of what he wanted to do. It was selfish of him, he knew, but for once he did not care.
He woke Luna gently—her eyes popped open. "Harry," she breathed.
"I want Justine to be a part of our family," Harry told his first wife. "Officially."
Luna's eyes widened a moment before she nodded. "Madam Bones can perform the rites for a subsequent joining. I'll go get her. You want Tori to sleep?"
Harry nodded, and Luna simply accepted it. She climbed naked out of bed, moved to her trunk, and threw on her white supplicant's dress and crown of Hecate. When she was gone, Harry gently kissed Tori's forehead before he walked back down the hall to Justine's room. He opened it and walked inside.
Justine was breathing fast and shallow, her eyes squeezed shut. "I'm here," Harry whispered.
"It hurts, Harry," Justine breathed. "It hurts so bad."
Harry fought to control his tears. "Justine…I…I can end it. After I was kidnapped by Voldemort, he made me pull Barty Crouch's soul out of his body, and I did it. I pulled it out intact. I could do that for you, but…but you would die."
Justine forced her eyes open—in the dim room they burned with her sickened magic. "I don't want to hurt any more, Harry," she begged.
"Harry?" Hermione sat up, gently so as not to jostle Justine. "What's going on?"
Before he could answer, Luna returned with a sleep-dishevelled but very much awake Amelia Bones.
"Justine," Harry said, fighting to strengthen his voice, "Luna and I have both had visions of you being one of us. I still want that—very much. Would you bond with us? Now, while we can?"
A single tear ran down Justine's cheeks—rather than speak, she simply nodded.
"Will the bonding infect your magic?" Amelia asked.
"No, the poison is a physical thing," Hermione said, wiping her own cheeks. "It can only attack magic within the body. It has no effect on ghosts, for instance. Harry, are you sure?"
Harry nodded before he turned to Luna. His first wife stepped around him, climbed onto the bed, and leaned over Justine. Gently, again to ease her pain, the blonde Ravenclaw kissed Justine, opening the bonding for Harry. When she was done, Harry replaced Luna and kissed his newest bond-mate gently.
"I wish I could make love to you," Justine whispered.
"Me too," Harry said. He reached into his pocket and removed the box, showing the ring.
For one brief moment, Justine smiled and sobbed. "You got it for me?"
"I was going to give Luna and Hermione theirs over the hols, but it just never seemed the right time. This one I was saving or you, for this moment. I…" He stopped. His voice choking shut. He could feel their magic bonding together, though hers was terribly weakened and felt sickly because of the poison. "I'm so sorry, Justine. For dragging you into this—for not protecting you better. We should have left sooner. We should have done so much. But with this ring, I swear before magic that you are my wife, and that I love you. I love you so much."
He slipped the ring onto her finger—her hands were so emaciated from the poison it was far too large. Fortunately it has a self-sizing charm, but even so it felt loose; Harry didn't care.
Amelia Bones stepped to them, and said, "First wife, do you accept Justine Finch as your sister wife to bed your husband?"
"I do," Luna said. Her voice sounded clear, and somehow happy.
"Justine Finch, do you consent to be espoused of Harry James Potter as quaternary spouse?"
"I do," Justine whispered.
"Then by the authority vested in me by the last true Ministry of Magic, before magic, I declare Harry James Potter and Justine Finch man and wife."
Harry leaned down and kissed her again, his hand resting on her chest right over her painfully hot, dying magical core. "Thank you, Harry," Justine whispered. "Thank you, husband ... Now, there is just one last thing to do."
"I don't think I can." Harry sobbed despite his best efforts at control.
"Harry?" Hermione asked, confused and worried.
"Please, Harry," Justine said. "It hurts so bad, and it just keeps getting worse. Please take the pain away. If you love me, please let me go."
With a moan, Harry placed both hands on her chest, gripped her magic as if it were a silk sheet, and pulled.
Justine went instantly still as the air above her body chilled. Her burning magic cooled from molten red to a light, gentle pink the moment it left her body. Hermione, Luna and Amelia stared in shock at the soul of Justine.
"Thank you, my love," the spirit said in a gentle breeze before rising into the ceiling and beyond.
"Harry, what did you do?" Hermione whispered in a choked voice.
"He saved her soul and ended her suffering," Luna answered. Though her voice sounded bright, her own eyes glistened. She turned and left, leading a stunned Amelia from the room.
When Harry at last was able to meet Hermione's gaze, he was surprised to see she was not angry. Instead, she was quietly weeping as she snuggled back down next to the already cooling body of her best friend.
Though it was a risk, Harry insisted. And so, two days after she died, Justine Finch-Potter was buried in the Potter plot of Godric's Hollow. They arrived by apparition—Harry taking Luna, Amelia and Remus bringing Tori and Hermione.
Shacklebolt arrived a few minutes later with the coffin, carried easily with a Feather-light Charm. They dug the grave with their wands, secure in the magical community around them that such innocuous magic would not be traced, and levitated the coffin into the hole.
Amelia gave the ceremony. Justine was buried with her ring from Harry, a book from Hermione, a golden comb from Tori, a butterbeer cap necklace from Luna, and lastly a silver Hecate Crown signifying she died as a bride. Her body had been magically protected against any dark magic their enemies might have tried.
"May she find the peace in magic she was never allowed in life," Amelia finished.
Harry gently tossed the soil onto the coffin, as did the others, before Shacklebolt magically filled the hole in with the excavated soil. Rather than conjure a tombstone that would eventually fade, Harry carved a stone from a piece of natural granite they found in the forest nearby. The inscription Harry carved said, "Justine Finch-Potter, Beloved Wife."
When they were done, Harry walked alone to the edge of the graveyard while Hermione said her last goodbye. As he stared out over the magical village, his eyes came across a shattered, burned home on the edge of the town.
"Is that where it happened, I wonder?" Harry asked.
Luna was at his side, and nodded. "I couldn't even see it until I touched you. It must be charmed to you as a Potter."
"I want to go there."
"Okay." As simple as that, Luna accepted his need. Hermione might have argued with him, Tori would have whined. Luna, though, simply accepted it as something he needed to do. He smiled to her, kissed her forehead, and walked with her toward the house.
"Where are you going?" Tori asked, jogging up behind them.
"We are going to look at the Potter Cottage," Luna told the girl.
"Can I come?"
"We should actually stay together," Amelia said, joining them.
Hermione came up behind her, trailed by Remus and Shacklebolt as their guards. "I completely forgot their house was here," Remus said with a sad smile. "It is so heavily charmed none can see it without Harry."
"Then let's go see it," Harry said.
He led the way through the small mixed village with its narrow, ancient streets and gothic stone and wood houses. They reached the Potter home after only a minute or two of walking, and stopped on the edge of the wards.
"They recognize me," Harry whispered. He grasped the wards with his magic, and instantly he felt the same shift of awareness he felt when he claimed Grimmauld place. The wards here, though, were even stronger than at Grimmauld. The house was a standalone—at first glance no more than fifteen hundred square feet in two levels. The ground floor was walled in ancient stone, while the second floor was wood and plaster in the Tudor style.
They entered the front door to find the interior of the house littered with debris; faded walls still bore the scorch marks of the duel that killed his father. "The wards kept out looters," Remus noted as he came in.
Harry, though, ignored them as he walked not up the stairs to the nursery where his mother gave her life, but to the cupboard under the stairs. Over the door was a strange symbol scribed in residual magic only an aether could see—a line bisecting a circle within a triangle.
"Oh, that's Gryffindor's seal," Luna said, herself an Aether. "He was quite illiterate, you know. Not uncommon for his day and age. Fortunately for him, Rowena and Helga were both literate—which was even more unusual for that time."
"Harry, what's going on?" Hermione asked.
"Mum left me a message," Harry said. He placed his hand on the knob of the door, felt a brief prick as the ward in the door sampled his blood and magic, and then pulled it open. It did not reveal a cupboard as he expected, but a set of stairs.
Without looking back, Harry cast a light charm from his wand and walked down the stair underneath the house. When he reached the cellar, Luna also cast a light charm until Hermione found several lamps and cast bluebell flames into them. The mirrors within the lamps augmented the light, illuminating the room.
"Harry?" Luna whispered. "Are those…?"
"Wand blanks," Harry said as he walked to a huge wooden shelf broken into diamond-shaped shelves, each filled with dozens of different types of wand blanks. There was no dust on any of them, which meant there was a preserving charm on everything.
"Why would anyone have a jar of dragon heartstrings?" Tori asked.
Harry walked to the huge shelf she pointed out, and saw jars and jars of wand cores, all labelled in his mother's delicate hand. "Mum was experimenting with wands," Harry whispered aloud.
"She never told us about this," Remus muttered. "Why?"
"She was trying to make a male wand," Harry answered. "But she must have had problems. Maybe that's why she tried to save Ollivander? It's not easy."
Amelia Bones was staring at Harry long and hard. "You're saying you know how to make male wands?"
"Well, yes, I did make one that worked," Harry said.
"I know the theory, but Harry is better," Luna said. "His tactile magic makes it easier for him. For some reason my first want looked like the Wand of Frejya."
"So what are we going to do, Harry?" Hermione asked.
"We're going to fight back, and make sure no one else ever has to suffer like Justine did," Harry said, his eyes flashing with a righteous anger that would have made his mother proud, and his father worried.
To be concluded in Firebird's Fury: Book III of the Firebird Trilogy
Author's Note: Very special thanks as always to Teufel1987, JR and Miles for beta reading. If there are any major faux-pas, they are entirely of my own doing.