Rites of Renewal
Both curious about the girl in the stands, Dora and Fleur had followed the others to meet her. Dora stiffened as they drew nearer to the girl. Despite the bright sunny afternoon, a chill ran up her spine and she clutched Fleur a bit tighter for reassurance. A surge of anger knotted Dora’s stomach when she saw the girl with black hair scrunch up and try to hide her face; she recognised that look.
It was the same look which had caused Dora to nearly get herself expelled from Hogwarts - until Mad Eye had made her the offer that she couldn’t really refuse. It was the look which Dora had seen in her previous girlfriend’s eyes.
“Let’s hold back here for a moment Fleur,” she murmured. “I don’t wanna overwhelm her...” Though in truth, it was Dora herself who was feeling a bit overcome.
“Oui, Chérie...” Fleur nodded, biting her lip. The girl’s discomfort was quite apparent to her.
Finally having the chance to meet the girl that he had seen through Voldemort’s eyes, looking down from the top of basement stairs, Harry flushed and swallowed nervously when Luna introduced him. He felt embarrassed and ashamed to have seen Jennifer in such a vulnerable state.
Jennifer opened her mouth to say hello. But it had gone dry, and she couldn’t speak. Luna put her arm around Jennifer as Ginny sat beside them both.
“Er... Hi Jennifer... erm... it’s... er... it’s nice to meet you...” Harry trailed off lamely, not quite meeting her eye and mentally kicking himself for not being able to think of anything better to say. Hermione squeezed his hand comfortingly.
Jennifer was startled, seeing that Harry was as anxious about meeting her as she was to meet him. Jennifer relaxed slightly and Luna’s smile widened.
“Hello,” said Jennifer, her voice small and slightly quavering. “It’s good to meet you too Harry. Th...thank you! The headmaster... he told me that it was you - that you were the one to thank for rescuing me...”
Harry winced and swallowed again, turning even redder, wondering just how much Dumbledore had told Jennifer.
“It... it’s alright,” said Jennifer, peering at Harry gratefully. “If you hadn’t... if you hadn’t seen me somehow, nobody would’ve found me, and I... I probably would’ve died...”
After some more awkward introductions, it was obvious to Hermione that Jennifer was feeling a bit overwhelmed. Hermione suggested that they spend a bit more time together whenever Jennifer felt up to it; she and Harry left everyone to it, deciding it was time to visit Sirius. Taking the secret tunnel under the Whomping Willow, they arrived at the Shrieking Shack to find Sirius and Remus awaiting them. There was an afternoon Tea-spread on the table with pork pies, finger sandwiches, and slab of Cheshire cheese, but instead of tea a large bottle and several wine glasses stood on a lace doily in the centre of the table.
“I heard Ragnok really gave that Old Hag at the Ministry what-for,” Sirius grinned, popping open the bottle of Elf-made-wine. “...And that you took the Wizengamot by storm. Good show Harry!”
“And it appears that Tonks will be needing new employment,” Remus raised his eyebrows, his moustache twitching. “...And possibly new lodgings as well when she’s not in school?”
“Er... yeah,” said Harry, looking a bit surprised, wondering what Remus had heard. “I might as well tell you both anyway. I asked Dora to come and live with me and Hermione while we’re not at school...”
“...and she’s going to stay on at Hogwarts as a real post-grad student now,” Hermione added happily.
“Indeed,” said Remus. “Dumbledore considered that it might be good to maintain Tonks’ cover to keep her at Hogwarts anyway. She might as well further her education a bit while she’s at it.”
“That only makes sense. Dora will need to train for a new career anyway,” said Sirius, taking a swig of the Elf-wine. “At least until we get a more amenable administration in the Ministry.”
“Er... about that, Sirius...” Harry began, all of a sudden feeling a bit awkward, as he was more or less the one who had convinced Dora to follow her dreams.
“Please, don’t be cross with Harry,” Hermione squeaked, coming to his rescue, “One of the reasons Harry offered Dora to come and live with us, is because he wants Dora to be happy and do her music or draw comics...”
“Why would I be cross?” chortled Sirius, “I’m her elder cousin, not her father. I think that’s an excellent idea - she is your family as well, after all... and it’ll be nice for Dora to get a chance to pursue her dreams.”
“Andromeda and Ted might have a few issues though...” sighed Remus, “You’ll keep this to yourself for now I hope Sirius. It’s up to Dora to tell them.”
“Of course I will Remus,” Sirius responded in a slightly wounded tone. “I want Dora to be happy too. Speaking of which, it’s nice that she finally found a new girlfriend.” Sirius turned to Harry and smirked. “So Harry, I take it Fleur will eventually be staying with you and Hermione as well? Maybe Skeeter was onto something...?”
Harry and Hermione both turned pink, wondering how Sirius and Remus could have possibly gleaned their apparent knowledge of some of the Potters’ plans for the future. But they couldn’t help being amused by Sirius’s cheeky insinuation, regardless.
“Sirius, you promised you wouldn’t tease them...” Remus admonished Sirius. “In any case, whatever they get up to is their own business.”
“See what I have to deal with!?” Sirius rolled his eyes, then he winked at Harry and Hermione, taking another sip of the wine. “That’s why I love Remus though. He keeps me on the straight and narrow - keeps me sane.”
Remus smiled wryly, palming his reddening face. For their part, Harry and Hermione both grinned, tickled by the exchange. They took a sip from their own glasses of the Elf-wine. Harry thought it was about time to give Sirius a taste of his own medicine, and satisfy his curiosity at the same time.
“Er... I hope you don’t mind me asking, Sirius,” Harry began, a perfectly innocent expression on his face, “but why did you have posters of muggle pin-up girls on your wall? They were still there the last time I had a look in your room.”
Hermione and Remus both tried to stifle their smirks. For the first time during the visit, Sirius looked slightly abashed.
“Touché Harry! Well... erm... that’s a bit awkward to explain... On the one hand, I was trying to take the piss out of Mum and Dad by putting up pictures of muggles, but on the other hand, I...er... I didn’t want them or Regulus to know that I liked blokes too...”
Sirius glanced at Remus and grinned. “...Especially one in particular.”
After swallowing a mouthful of pork pie, Harry asked the next question on the top of his mind.
“Er... Sirius, I was wondering... We spotted a portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black in the National Portrait Gallery in London...”
“...and we were both curious,” continued Hermione. “If he was in Slytherin and a Pureblood, what would he be doing in a muggle art gallery?”
“Hah!” Sirius snorted. “Good question... He was after all a real Pureblood snob - and the most hated headmaster to ever grace the hallowed halls of Hogwarts. But during Queen Victoria’s reign he was the leader of a movement by some Pureblood families to openly take control of muggle Britain through the political process.
“It was to that end he made his presence known to the Queen’s court - but of course at the time pretending to be part of a ‘muggle’ Occult secret society designed to accustom muggles to the idea of wizard rule.”
“He was in large part responsible for the rise of muggle Occult groups during the late Victorian era...” Remus added. “Aleister Crowley is one of the most famous muggle ‘sorcerers’ from that period who was influenced by Phineas.
“The movement was eventually squashed by the Purebloods who believed that the wizard world should remain a secret. It is part of wizarding history not taught in history courses for rather obvious reasons.”
To say that Harry and Hermione were both stunned and fascinated by the information would be an understatement. They spent the rest of their celebration with Sirius and Remus peppering them with questions on the topic.
Following Tea with Remus and Sirius, still mulling over the astonishing revelations, Harry and Hermione made their way back to the castle, feeling mildly tipsy from the Elf-wine. They spotted Professor McGonagall and Flitwick near the entrance to the Great Hall, both looking a bit worn and frayed with what appeared to be blood stains on their clothing.
“Ah... there you are, Potters,” said McGonagall. “Professor Dumbledore would like a moment with you in his office.”
“Professor McGonagall, are you alright?” asked Hermione, concerned by the sight of the blood.
“Perfectly, Mrs Potter. Now don’t keep the headmaster waiting... no doubt he shall be wanting to clean up a bit as well.”
As Harry and Hermione took seats in the comfy armchairs in front of Dumbledore’s desk, they both noticed how disheveled and haggard he looked. His own robes were splotchy with red stains as well. Dumbledore waved his wand, and a pot of tea with three cups appeared, which the Potters were both pleased to see, as they hadn’t actually had any tea at Teatime with Sirius and Remus.
“Please, help yourselves, and bear with me for a moment... I must apologise for my appearance. It has been a rather long and trying day,” said Dumbledore.
“Remus told us you were rescuing muggles,” Harry acknowledged after taking a sip of tea. Curiosity got the better of him. “Did you have to fight any Inferi yourself Sir?”
“Ah, indeed, I did have to employ a disintegration curse several times myself,” the headmaster replied, “...and I am most grateful for the quick reflexes of Professor Flitwick. If it were not for him, we would most likely be having this chat in the hospital wing.”
“Are you alright Professor?” asked Hermione, her eyes wide at the frightful notion of Dumbledore being injured by Inferi.
Albus Dumbledore’s eyes began to twinkle, seeing the care and concern in his students’ faces.
“Quite alright Mrs Potter... Just a bit shaken still. However, perhaps we should move on to why I asked to meet with you and Harry. First, I wish to express my utmost relief that you both survived your encounter with the Minister.
“However, I also have some information to impart. I managed to uncover and compile some very interesting particulars about Voldemort’s history which I believe are important to share with you both.
“I have finally managed to obtain perhaps the most critical piece of the puzzle only recently, and I would like you to examine it with me. Though, I think perhaps it can wait until tomorrow, or even the day after... I am quite worn out and it behooves me to confer with some members of the Order after recent events.
“In the meantime, please feel free to make continued use of the delightfully magical Room of Requirement. I would also, at some point, perhaps... after one of your... erm... sessions, like to examine some of your Spell-work and observe any changes...”
“Really?” Hermione interjected, vibrating excitedly, “Are we going to do some scientific experiments then?” she asked. Harry’s eyes began to gleam with thrill as well.
The headmaster nodded, pleased to see the eagerness to explore the boundaries of magic in the Potters’ faces.
“Yes, indeed we shall Mrs Potter... and as I was about to say, I am especially keen to examine your Patroni - and if my instrument readings are correct, it would appear that your Patronus practice in the Room of Requirement has also accrued to Hogwarts. By all means, I would be delighted for you to continue your practice with such as well”
As Jennifer sat with Luna and Ginny on one of the stone benches along the front of the castle, plates of dinner on their laps, one by one stars began peeking like little diamonds from the deepening purple curtain of sky and she felt a surge of emotion. She took another bite of the shepherd’s pie and for the first time since she had arrived at Hogwarts, Jennifer actually noticed how delicious the food was.
“You alright?” asked Ginny, seeing a tear trickling down one of Jennifer’s cheeks. Jennifer nodded.
“Yeah... yeah I think I am actually...” Jennifer let out a peaceful sort of sigh, feeling the knot of tension in her middle unwinding. She glanced at Luna apologetically. “And thanks for bringing Harry Potter to meet me Luna. I... I suppose I wasn’t really sure that I could manage after all... but I did - I needed to. Sorry I wasn’t up for much more than that.”
“You don’t have to be sorry,” said Luna kindly. “I know Harry understands. It must have been very overwhelming for you.”
“I want to talk to Harry some more... I really do...” Jennifer offered Luna a wan little smile. “Maybe tomorrow I can manage to actually hang out with him and the others a bit...”
The Potters and Fleur couldn’t help but notice Dora picking at her food moodily all through dinner, her spiky hair listless and a subdued shade of violet. Harry and Hermione glanced at each other in silent communication as they walked back through the castle with Dora and Fleur to their respective quarters in the Unaffiliated corridor.
“Would you and Fleur like to join us for a bit, Dora?” asked Hermione, a note of concern in her voice. “Maybe have something to drink?”
“What? Oh... er...” Dora swallowed and glanced at Fleur, not sure what she wanted really. Fleur gave her a sad little smile.
“Chérie, per’aps you would like to talk a bit... non? ... tell us what ees wrong?”
Dora sighed. She hated talking about it - hated thinking about it. But now that the burning memory had been rekindled, Dora knew that she wasn’t going to get off that easy. She wasn’t going to be able to tamp it down and it might eat at her for days... or even weeks.
She bit her lip, eyes glistening, then slowly nodded. “Al... alright then... Might as well I s’pose. Maybe I’ll sleep a bit better if I do.”
When they were all settled around the crackling fire in the Potters’ sitting room, holding mugs of steaming cocoa, Dora finally revealed herself. As they listened, Harry and Hermione remembered back to the very first day that they’d met Dora, and the painful memory that she had glossed over during her first visit to their private chambers.
“It all ‘appened in sixth year,” Dora began glumly, chewing on a fingernail. “My girlfriend... it was after dinner and just before curfew one evenin’ - I found ‘er lookin’ a lot like Jennifer did this afternoon. She wouldn’t tell me what happened, but I kept naggin’ her until she finally did.
“She told me she’d been raped - didn’t wanna tell me ‘oo’d done it... but I finally got that outta her too. After she’d told me, I tracked down the bloke and went ballistic on ‘im... beat him to a pulp with my bare ‘ands...
“Anyway, the long and short of it is that when they pulled me offa him, she’d totally clammed up... she was too afraid of ‘is family to say anything or press charges - they were pureblood, old time Voldy supporters like the Malfoys, and she was muggleborn. Under the circumstances, there wasn’t much Dumbledore could do, and to make matters worse, the bloody bastard’s parents pressed charges against me!”
There were horrified gasps and shocked looks all around, but Dora paid them little heed as she went on.
“O’ course Dumbledore - bein’ ‘oo he is and all - knew that the arse’ole had it comin’... but he couldn’t do a whole lot to ‘elp me without proof. In the end, the best he could do was get Mad Eye to convince the parents to drop the charges against me... Dunno how Mad Eye managed it - maybe he had somethin’ on ‘em that woulda made them look bad.
“But anyway, the deal with Mad Eye involved recruitin’ me to join the Auror corps after graduation... so that’s ‘ow I got roped into the Ministry. And... and seein’ Jennifer today just brought it all back,” Dora concluded, the tears which had been threatening all evening finally breaking free and rolling down her cheeks.
Hermione bit her lip, wringing her hands. Harry put his arms around her comfortingly, but sensing there was a bit more to the story, his curiosity got the better of him.
“Er... if... if you don’t mind me asking, what happened to your girlfriend?” asked Harry a bit awkwardly. “I mean... obviously you’re not still together.”
“She... she was never the same after that,” Dora replied. “She sorta withdrew into ‘erself. I wanted to stay together... to look after her. But she pulled away, an’ I haven’t heard from her in a good long while.”
“I am so sorry Chérie...” Fleur pulled Dora closer into a warm embrace and kissed her forehead. “Zat you should ‘ave to relive such a tragique experience c’est horrible.”
“It’s alright now,” Dora sniffled, dabbing her nose with a hanky. “I’ll be okay... really! I think I just needed to get that outta my system. I’ve been holdin’ that in for a long time...”
Dora sighed happily as she woke, feeling a lot better than she had yesterday evening, especially snuggled in Fleur’s embrace. In fact, Dora felt a lot lighter than she had in quite some time. As Dora stirred in her arms, Fleur’s eyelashes fluttered open.
“Bonjour Dora.” Fleur smiled when Dora turned around, looking much more cheerful.
One of the things that Fleur liked most about Dora was her generally spirited nature and sense of fun. Seeing Dora so despondent the night before had been disconcerting to say the least.
“Mornin’ Fleur,” Dora grinned and planted a wet kiss on Fleur’s lips. “Up for some breakfast yet?”
“Oui, mon amour... Zat sounds très bien.”
On the way to the Great Hall Dora and Fleur waved at Luna and Ginny, who were heading towards the front doors with Jennifer in tow and platefuls of breakfast in their hands. The Potters looked up from the Mingling Table where they were already digging into their own breakfasts.
Hermione beamed and Harry washed down his mouthful of banger with some tea, grinning at Dora when she took a seat, both of them pleased to see her looking more cheered. Just as Fleur sat beside Dora, Hedwig swooped into the Great Hall and settled on Hermione’s shoulder.
“Good Morning Hedwig,” said Hermione.
She buttered a crumpet for the snowy owl who had dropped the two newspapers on the table beside her. Hedwig fondly nibbled Hermione’s ear before flying off with the crumpet in her beak.
“So, what’s the good news today?” asked Harry, his voice containing more than a hint of sarcasm.
Hermione peered at the headlines and sighed. “Nothing we didn’t expect Harry - take a look for yourself.”
Harry shook his head and grimaced. Both papers featured the Gateshead Inferi attacks on the front page, but the Daily Prophet’s top story had a lurid headline indicating that the Minister had found someone just as “creative” as Rita Skeeter had been to replace her.
The Potter Conspiracy:
Wizengamot Compromised, Imperius or Bribery?
Dora poured herself a cup of tea while she waited for Harry to hold up the paper for all to see. She took one look and nearly spat the first sip out when she read the headline.
“What a bloody load of rubbish...” Dora snorted, rolling her eyes.
Fleur glanced at the Headlines and scowled. “Eet ees too early for zis nonsense today... Per’aps some coffee first.”
“I’m glad you don’t have to work at the Ministry anymore.” Harry grinned at Dora as he picked up the Quibbler. His brows furrowed in thought when he saw the Quibbler’s headline.
Inferi Attack at Metrocentre Mall
Two Wizengamot Members Discovered among the Dead
“That’s odd! Does that seem strange to you Hermione?” Harry asked after skimming the article.
“Yes it does Harry. According to this article, the two members who were allegedly killed by Inferi are Henry Wensleydale and Marmaduke Ventosus Dithers - two of the “wobblies” in the middle who supported us during the trial.”
“Mr Lovegood’s reporter seems to think it’s odd too,” Harry remarked.
“You’re right Harry,” Hermione nodded as she continued reading. “It says here that, ‘...though they both live in the Gateshead area, neither one of them have been known to frequent muggle shopping centres. Despite claims by Ministry officials, Aurors interviewed on site declared that no wizard bodies had been discovered, suggesting that neither Wizengamot member was at the scene.’”
A voice distracted the four at the Mingling Table and they all looked up to see who had finally arrived for breakfast.
“Hi Neville,” said Harry.
“Morning Harry,” said Neville, smiling at everyone. “Glad you’re all back. It’ll be nice to have a bit more company.”
As Neville took a seat, Harry glanced at the staff-table, where Dumbledore and the professors appeared to be shaking their heads and groaning as they read their own copies of the papers. At one end of the staff-table, Harry spied Karkaroff and Viktor sitting next to him eating porridge.
At the other end Harry spotted a portly wizard wearing a maroon velvet jacket and sporting a walrus moustache chatting to Hagrid.
“I wonder who that is?” Harry muttered in puzzlement. Hermione shook her head, equally mystified.
“No idea...” said Neville, looking surprised. “I haven’t seen him before today.”
“He looks vaguely familiar,” Dora frowned pensively. “But I can’t recall where I might’ve seen ‘im before.”
Fleur shook her head. “I have nevair seen him eizzer, ‘Arry.”
“I suppose we’ll meet him soon enough,” Hermione responded after a moment of contemplation. “I expect he’s just a member of the Order that we haven’t met yet.”
“Yeah... that seems likely...” Harry nodded in agreement, before glancing down at the other end of the table again. “Viktor looks a bit down at the mouth today.”
“He is...” Neville sighed wistfully, thinking about Hannah. “He’s missing Lavender. He was hoping she might come to Hogwarts for the summer too, but her parents wouldn’t let her...”
“Maybe we should try and cheer Viktor up a bit later on today and do a bit of flying with him,” said Hermione.
“We?” Harry raised his eyebrows and grinned at Hermione. She blushed and poked Harry in the ribs, sticking her tongue out at him.
“I meant you and the others, Harry, not me... I’ll be watching from the stands where I know I’ll be safe.”
“Oh come on Hermione. Why not give it a go?” Harry said eagerly. “You can ride on my broom with me... I’ve been dying to take you up - there was just too much going on this year, but there’s loads of time now that it’s summer...”
“I... I really don’t think so Harry,” Hermione squeaked anxiously, seeing the gleam in his eyes.
“It’s really not so bad Hermione,” said Neville. “Since Viktor’s been helping me, I’m actually starting to enjoy flying...”
“Anyway, I’ll do all the work Hermione - all you have to do is hold on tight...” Harry gave Hermione his best puppy-dog eyes. “Don’t you remember how fun the ride on Buckbeak was? It’ll be a much smoother ride on the broom.”
When Hermione bit her lip, Dora could see her beginning to waver. Grinning, Dora reckoned that Hermione just needed a few more words of encouragement.
“Go on Hermione,” she said. “You’ll be perfectly safe with Harry. You know you will...”
“Fine... alright then,” Hermione grumbled, finally relenting.
“Right, sounds like a plan then Hermione. You won’t regret it!” Harry concurred happily while the others giggled. “Later on it is then.” Harry paused and looked serious, peering at everyone, especially Neville.
“I... I’ve been thinking,” Harry continued, “I want us to keep training to fight - Neville, you and Ginny and Luna ought to join us as well. And... and I think everyone should learn how to perform the patronus charm...”
“That’s an excellent idea Harry!” Hermione’s eyes shone. “Everyone needs to begin preparing for whatever Voldemort or the Minister throws at us now.”
“I agree,” Dora gazed at Harry proudly. “That’s an outstandin’ idea Harry. I can help with the advanced combat magic and the hand to hand - but we’ll follow your lead, alright?”
“Oh... er... what?” Harry gulped, suddenly nervous as they all peered at him eagerly. “Er... I...erm... I didn’t mean that I should be in charge - I just meant... Look, I don’t know enough magic yet...”
“That doesn’t matter Harry,” Dora retorted. “I can show you lot some things you may not ‘ave learned yet, but you, Harry - you’re a natural born leader. You’ve got all the right instincts - look ‘ow you took charge over the Third Task...”
“But... but I... I didn’t really do anything other than convince everyone to work together...” Harry interrupted, perplexed. “I fought as hard as I could, but it wasn’t enough. Fleur and Viktor and Cedric all got hurt - we could’ve all died...”
“But we did not - thanks to you ‘Arry...” said Fleur softly. “Eet ees because of you that we all lived. You brought us all togezzer - to fight as one. And do not forget ze Second Task - eet is only because of you that ze Grindylows did not overcome me...
“You are too humble ‘Arry - did I not follow you into battle wiz ze Nereid? ... And when you told me to leave with Gabrielle and Cho Chang, I did what you told me to do, even though I wanted to stay and fight. Eet ees you ‘Arry who really saved everyone in ze Second Task...”
“That’s the absolute truth,” Hermione said forcefully, glowering at Harry when he tried to interrupt Fleur. “Harry also knew exactly what to say to convince the Merpeople to let us go when they trapped us, and to stop them from fighting among themselves. He was BRILLIANT!” Hermione glared at Harry, daring him to contradict her.
Harry swallowed again, trying to think of something else to say.
“But you helped me loads Hermione,” Harry said in a small voice. “I would’ve never survived the Triwiz without you.”
Hermione’s features softened as she melted in Harry’s glistening gaze. She leaned in and kissed him.
“I’ll always be there for you Harry, because I love you. And I love you because you always step up to try and protect everyone without even thinking about it, no matter who it is, no matter what the odds - without even stopping to think about yourself. You always put others first - and that’s why we’ll follow you... wherever you lead us.”
Harry gulped yet again and sighed. Everyone seemed to be in complete agreement. How could he say no?
He had one final go at it.
“But what if I’m ever wrong?” Harry asked quietly.
“Nobody’s perfect Harry,” Hermione answered. “But we know you’ll always try to do the right thing, and... and I’ll always be there to help you find the right path Harry,” Hermione concluded.
“Alright then,” said Harry nodding. “If that’s what you really want...”
Hermione spent some time trying to teach Harry enough intermediate algebra so that he could start working on his Arithmancy summer assignment. Fleur was helping Ginny work on her summer homework and Luna was reading a book about Mind Healing. Dora leaned back in one of the library’s comfy chairs drawing some pencil sketches.
“Why don’t you take a break Harry! Do some runework, or maybe just some light reading for fun,” said Hermione, sensing his frustration.
“We can pick this up again tomorrow - there’s plenty of time. I think you’re really starting to get the hang of it Harry,” she concluded encouragingly.
“Thanks Hermione,” Harry sighed in relief, “My brain feels like it’s going to explode. I just don’t get quadratic equations. How can an equation have more than one correct answer?”
“Maybe you should go and fly a bit right now Harry,” Luna suggested. “It says in this Mind Healing book that sometimes it’s best to move on to a physical activity when you’re stumped about something.
“I’m surprised really. I thought there would be more magic spells involved... or potions. But it seems that a lot of Mind Healing doesn’t involve any magic at all - not directly anyway.”
Soon Harry had Hermione down on the quidditch pitch peering at his Firebolt dubiously.
“Are you sure about this Harry?” Hermione moaned.
“You can’t back out now Hermione,” Harry grinned. “There’s plenty of room. Just hold onto me tight and think about whatever you think about when you cast your Patronus.”
Hermione nervously straddled the broom behind Harry, wrapping her arms around his middle. She let out a little squeak of fright as Harry lifted off and soared into the air. Moments later he was gleefully swooping around the quidditch pitch, Hermione clinging to him with a death-grip, her bushy hair whipping in the wind. She opened her eyes briefly, shrieked, and shut them again.
Viktor grinned as he flew by the Potters on his own broom. Ginny, Luna and Neville zipped around behind them, trying to keep up. Viktor was delighted to have Harry back. Flying with friends was more distracting than flying alone.
As Hermione continued to clutch Harry around his waist, she slowly started to relax. It felt good to be holding Harry so closely, and she began to notice other surprising sensations. She was wearing a skirt, and a warm tingle of arousal coursed through Hermione as the vibrations tickled her and Harry soared higher and higher. She bit her lip, unable to avoid letting out a little moan of pleasure.
She finally opened her eyes properly, for the first time since the ride on the hippogriff enjoying the sensation of the wind rushing by. Harry banked hard, and Hermione gasped when the broom shuddered as the vibrations increased in intensity.
Sensing Hermione’s confidence growing, Harry decided it was time to be a bit more adventurous. Harry dove and flew low above the treetops heading towards the Black Lake, leaving the others behind. When Harry buzzed the surface of the lake and the fine mist of water stung her face, Hermione lost herself, squeaking happily and hanging onto Harry for all she was worth.
Harry felt Hermione’s responses and he grinned. His breath quickening and his pulse racing, Harry dove into the woods.
As soon as they touched down Harry dropped his Firebolt and he and Hermione tumbled giddily into the ferns and underbrush in a clearing surrounded by oaks, startling several squirrels who were arguing over a pile of acorns. The agitated squirrels scampered quickly up into the branches.
Hermione gasped as she peaked again. Harry was so hot that he didn’t care that they were outside, in the middle of the Forbidden Forest, possibly to be discovered by Hagrid or the centaurs should they stumble across them. Hermione heatedly tugged off her knickers and tossed them into the bushes, glad now that she wasn’t wearing jeans. She unbuckled Harry’s belt and they rolled in the leaves, both of them panting heavily.
Harry grinned as Hermione readied herself. Unable to resist, Harry feverously delved right in. Soon Hermione's back arched as another surge of ecstasy rippled through her; she drew Harry closer for an impassioned kiss. Hermione was soon taken by a rapturous crescendo of elation, and Harry exploded as the cyclone of ardour took him as well. Sparks of magic flew and the ground quaked.
A flock of blue-tits took flight, chirping and twittering above the trees, and the squirrels clung to the branches until the oaks eventually stopped shaking. Harry slumped on top of Hermione, gasping, and they both finally succumbed to oblivion.
When Harry came to, he grinned when he realised that Hermione was ready for another go.
Hermione stopped for a moment and grinned back at Harry. Sensing his puzzlement she answered his unasked question.
“I’m not really certain Harry. I... I think I just got a real thrill from riding on your broom with you. I suppose being scared of heights just added a bit to the excitement of holding you - and feeling safe with you as the wind rushed by - and feeling the broomstick vibrating in just the right spots... and... and...”
“Oh bother it - I’m over-thinking again...” Hermione shut-up and continued her ministrations while the squirrels watched, chittering in agitation.
Harry reached out both hands and stroked Hermione’s bushy hair. Despite having recently concluded a quite robust encounter, it didn’t take long for Harry to feel the surges of euphoria take him again. Harry gasped, hands tangled in Hermione’s tawny tresses.
A thundering of hooves broke the moment.
Hermione shrieked. She propelled herself into Harry’s arms and shivered. Harry’s eyes bulged and his gasps of pleasure caught in his throat. He held his breath and stared in trepidation at the centaur who had entered the clearing.
Harry gulped anxiously and held his trembling Hermione tightly. It was the last centaur in the world that he had ever wanted to see again.
Bane loomed over the pair darkly, his face displaying consternation and bewilderment. Hermione flushed and with shaking hands she pushed her skirt down to cover herself.
The centaur with wild black hair didn’t seem to know what to make of the situation. He had angrily entered the clearing with an arrow strung in his bow, prepared to unleash it into whomever had disturbed the forest - full grown wizard or student, he didn’t care. Firenze or Ronan weren’t around to restrain him today.
Bane’s rage battled his confusion as he peered at the two young wizards. Bane’s nostrils flared and he pawed the ground with his hooves. He had witnessed the last moment of the pair’s coupling, and the air was heavy with their scent.
The atmosphere of the glade near the lakeshore seemed to be quite different from what he had expected. Bane’s skin prickled as he sensed the presence of magic surrounding him. But this was unlike the magic he usually sensed when wizards were near, which more often than not felt like a threat of violence.
This felt more like Spring - like life itself. Bane glanced in wonder at the green shoots of new growth and the blooming wild-flowers poking up through the leaves and underbrush on the forest floor. They hadn’t been there when he had passed through the clearing earlier that morning.
The centaur stared at Harry and Hermione once more. The pounding of the boy’s heart caught Bane’s ears as the boy protectively clutched the girl. Bane swished his black horse tail and began to calm, unstringing the arrow from his bow.
“You are a very unusual wizard Harry Potter... most unusual indeed.”
Harry let out his breath heavily, relief filling him as the fierceness departed the centaur’s countenance.
“You and your beloved are welcome in this forest at any time Harry Potter. My apologies for disturbing you...” Bane swallowed and a brief look of sorrow crossed his features.
“It is my sincerest hope that our interpretation of the Movement of the Heavens is wrong - the world could use more wizards such as yourself. May fortune shine upon you... young wizard.”
“Bloody Hell Hermione - that was scary! I thought we were done for... Bane always hated me! I don’t understand... What just happened?”
Hermione stopped walking and turned to face Harry, biting her lip pensively, gazing at him with her big brown eyes.
“I think that perhaps he might have seen you for who you really are Harry,” she replied, her own features filled with perplex as she tried to make sense of things.
“I was terrified when he found us - Bane was filled with such a hate for wizards. But... but then he saw you with me... trying to protect me...” Hermione paused. She smiled and gave Harry a kiss.
“And I... I’m still not entirely certain why, but I think... I think suddenly, in that moment, Bane finally realised that you’re different from most wizards - like the Dragon and the Unicorn did.”
“You made a new friend today Harry,” Hermione concluded.
Harry blinked, then a smile crept to his lips and he shook his head in amazement. He leaned in and tenderly returned Hermione’s kiss before continuing the trek back up to the castle, his broom in one hand and Hermione’s hand in the other.
“Well... who would’ve guessed?” Harry said with a laugh after a few steps. “All I had to do to make friends with the centaurs was put on a show for them with you.”
“Prat!” Hermione giggled, swatting Harry playfully with her free hand.
As they drew closer to the massive doors of the Main Entrance, Harry and Hermione were spotted by the Headmaster and the man with a walrus moustache. They appeared to be exiting the castle to take a stroll around the grounds.
Hermione eeped, and blushed, quickly rubbing at the streaks of dirt on her face with her hanky. She had forgotten the state of her appearance after the commotion with the centaur, having just wanted to leave the clearing as quickly as possible. Hermione groaned, realising that she had also forgotten her knickers and left them dangling from the branches of a bush. Hermione tugged at Harry’s sleeve and he stopped.
Harry tried very hard not to grin as Hermione hid behind him and performed a quick spell to clean the dirty spots on her skirt. There was nothing she could do immediately about her knickers though.
“Ah there you are,” the headmaster said warmly as he and the man with the moustache approached. “Horace, I’d like you to meet Mr and Mrs Potter...”
Hermione turned crimson and bit her lips, crossing her hands in front of her skirt. For his part, Harry did an excellent job of maintaining a straight face, and he immediately stuck his hand out to draw attention to himself.
“Er... Hello...” Harry began.
“Harry,” the Headmaster continued, his eyes sparkling in the sunlight, “this is Horace Slughorn. He was once one of Hogwarts finest Potions professors, not to mention being an exceptional Alchemist...”
“Albus, please, you are too kind...” Horace interjected with an air of humility - though Harry could tell that Slughorn was quite chuffed at the heaped praise.
“...and former Head of Slytherin House,” Dumbledore said as Slughorn took Harry’s hand and shook it.
“Delighted to meet you Mr Potter... simply delighted,” Slughorn gushed effusively.
“Er... nice to meet you too sir,” Harry said with a polite smile.
“I have been following your career with quite some interest I must say,” said Horace, “and Severus has told me all about you and your wife’s exceptional talents with potions.”
Slughorn turned to Hermione and held out his chubby hand. “And I couldn’t be more pleased to make your acquaintance as well Mrs Potter!”
Blushing furiously, Hermione carefully kept one hand on her skirt and shyly reached out the other to take Slughorn’s and shake it.
“Er... Likewise Professor Slughorn,” Hermione squeaked, blushing and cringing at the sound of her own voice.
“Well, I haven’t been ‘professor’ in many, many years my dear...” Slughorn beamed at Hermione. “But thanks to Albus’s persistence, it appears that I shall be once more. I do so hope that you both elect to take my Alchemy course when the Autumn term begins. It would be simply splendid to teach two such fine young pupils as yourselves... simply marvelous.
“I thought being given the opportunity to teach you Mr Potter was reward enough I must say... I taught your mother... Lily was one of my favourite students - the brightest witch I have ever known - and certainly one of the kindest. And I am delighted to have the opportunity to teach your wife as well. I am told by everyone that Mrs Potter is another in Lily’s mould...”
“And there I thought it was the protections that Hogwarts had to offer which had enticed you Horace,” Dumbledore teased.
“Yes... quite,” chuckled Slughorn. “I still don’t know how you managed to sway Karkaroff to join forces with you, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Potters here had something to do with it.”
“Indeed...” Dumbledore peered at Harry and Hermione, keenly observing their pink faces, and disheveled appearance.
Harry gulped awkwardly and glanced at Hermione.
“Well Horace,” said Dumbledore sprightly, taking Slughorn’s arm, “I think we have taken up quite enough of the Potters’ time for now. You shall have plenty of time to get to know them better after all.”
“Oh... er, indeed. Quite so!” Horace said, looking a bit disappointed, “Bye for now then...”
Dumbledore gave the Potters a wink and Harry nodded gratefully, breathing a sigh of relief.
“Slughorn seemed quite nice actually,” Harry said cheerfully, washing Hermione’s back as the steam rose in the hot shower . “I’m not sure if he was happier to meet me or you really...”
Hermione turned around and gave Harry a soapy kiss.
“What was that for?” asked Harry.
“For trying to protect me as usual,” Hermione grinned and kissed him again under the spray of water. “Thanks for at least trying to keep his attention off me Harry. That was mortifying... I thought a breeze might blow up my skirt at any moment.”
“Er... you’re welcome Hermione! But if you keep kissing me in the shower we’ll never make it out in time for lunch,” Harry retorted with a grin.
Ginny and Luna raised their eyebrows knowingly and smirked when they spied Harry and Hermione entering the Great Hall at Teatime. Fleur and Dora, who had both been off doing their own thing, picked up on the unspoken signals. Viktor gave Harry a lopsided smile, but Neville looked very puzzled.
“Where’d you go this afternoon Harry,” Neville asked. “The last we saw you, you and Hermione were flying over the Black Lake...”
“They took a little detour to snog for a bit Neville,” said Ginny bluntly, rolling her eyes as if it should have been perfectly obvious. The others tried their hardest not to laugh and embarrass Neville further.
Neville turned pink, smiling bashfully. “Oh... er... sorry. I didn’t mean to be nosy...”
“No problem Neville...” said Harry, grinning.
Before they sat down to Tea, Luna took the Potters aside. “You should join me in the visitor’s lounge and have Tea with me and Jennifer. I think she’s up to chatting a bit today.”
“Are you coming too, Ginny?” asked Hermione.
“You should just go with Luna. I’ll stay here with this lot,” Ginny replied. “I doubt Jennifer will want to talk in front of too many people.”
Hermione nodded in agreement with Ginny’s sensible reasoning. She followed Luna to the visitor’s lounge with Harry at her side. The conversation began casually enough as they all chatted about innocuous things with Jennifer.
“Have you tried butterbeer yet?” asked Hermione. “It’s not as funny tasting as it sounds... It’s a bit like butterscotch, and it only has a teensy bit of alcohol in it.”
“Oh... er... yeah. I had some the other day with Ginny and Luna.” said Jennifer. “It was nice...” Jennifer paused and frowned pensively, as if trying to make a decision. It appeared that she had reached a conclusion when she took a deep breath and began to talk again.
“I... er... I’m sorry about your Uncle, Harry. Luna told me a bit about him and showed me her father’s article...” Jennifer paused again.
“I... I don’t know how you managed to l...live with that all those years...” she trailed off, her voice quavering, and bit her lip, not quite managing to say what she was thinking. Jennifer couldn’t imagine having to endure the torment of being Ratface’s plaything for years on end.
Harry couldn’t really think how to respond.
“Er... yeah... erm... it was pretty horrible actually,” he finally mustered. “I dunno how I managed it either really...”
Harry cast his eyes down, and caught a sketchbook sitting on the mahogany coffee table. He suddenly realised that he was staring at an amazingly lifelike pencil-drawing. His face darkened when he saw who it was.
“Did... did you draw that?” he asked, more or less rhetorically. It was obvious that she had and Harry immediately regretted asking the question.
Jennifer cringed. She had forgotten that she had left her sketchbook on the table.
“Y...yes,” Jennifer stammered. “I.... I... I c...can’t get his face out of my head.” Tears began to roll down her cheeks.
“I’m sorry...” Harry swallowed and tried his utmost to steady himself. “I didn’t mean to...”
“N...no, it’s alright!” Jennifer murmured. “I... I was g...going to get around to it anyway. I w...was hoping you’d t...tell me a bit about him.”
“Wormtail!” Harry muttered through gritted teeth. “His real name is Peter Pettigrew - he’s the one who sold out my parents to Voldemort. He’s the main reason they’re dead. He was their friend... and he betrayed them. They’d probably still be alive if it weren’t for him...”
“H...he r...raped me...” Jennifer blurted out, sobbing. “...loads of times.”
Despite having surmised as much - based on Harry’s vision - Hermione couldn’t help gasping in horror. Harry’s blood began to boil-over as an inferno raged in his gut and spread to his extremities; he had done his best to forget the image he’d seen through Voldemort’s eyes, but couldn’t any longer.
Jennifer had shocked herself with the statement. This was the first time she had been able to say it out loud - the first time she had told anyone - the first time that she had been able to clearly articulate it in her mind.
Luna curled her arm around Jennifer. Luna had suspected it all along, and she was relieved that Jennifer had finally been able to talk about what had happened to her.
Harry’s head started spinning. He couldn’t tell where Jennifer’s pain ended and his began; he just felt it all swirling together in the firestorm within. The walls began to close in - Harry couldn’t breathe properly - he felt like he was going to explode.
Unable to speak, Harry wasn’t sure that he could contain himself and not wanting to frighten Jennifer, he leapt up and stalked out of the visitor’s lounge.
“I’m sorry...” Jennifer wailed, “I’m sorry... I shouldn’t have left my sketchbook out...”
“It’s not your fault Jennifer...” Hermione cried out, “Please! You have to understand, Harry’s not angry at you. He’s angry at Wormtail... Luna tell her - Harry’s angry at Wormtail...” Hermione jumped out of her own seat. “Look after Jennifer, Luna... I’ve got to look after Harry - stop him before he hurts himself...”
Hermione fled the visitor’s lounge and looked around wildly for Harry. Thankfully, Harry hadn’t lost his common sense. He was on the marble staircase, headed for the Seventh Floor, looking for somewhere safe to release his rage. Hermione took off up the stairs after him, but they were already moving.
Hermione ran up the stairs as fast as she could and managed to leap from the staircase to the landing on the next floor. Hermione had to do that for every staircase as she followed Harry. She almost caught up to him.
Too out of breath to yell at Harry to stop, Hermione raced down the corridor and barely managed to catch the door to the Room of Requirement before it clicked shut. Hermione ducked and screamed when debris from an enormous exploding statue of Wormtail rained down upon her.
Harry’s voice cut through the ringing in her ears. “Hermione... I’m so sorry - I didn’t see you...”
Hermione blinked and the stunning effects of the blast began to fade, but there was still a haze of smoke and dust.
“Hermione - are you alright? Say something... please...”
Hermione could see the anxiety etched on his face. He was on his knees beside her, cradling her in his arms.
“I... I’ll be fine... Harry,” Hermione managed to gasp. “Really - I’m fine, just a bit dazed. But what about you?”
Relief flooded Harry’s features, but the guilt never left his eyes. Hermione glanced around the steel reinforced room at the concrete statues of Voldemort, Wormtail, and the Minister. Harry had apparently conjured this room specifically to use blasting curses on his enemies.
Hermione threw her arms around him as she clambered to her feet.
“I’m alright... I swear Harry!” she said firmly.
“Okay... okay.... That’s good then,” Harry gasped. “What about Jennifer? I... I didn’t mean to upset her. But I had to get out of there before I lost it completely.”
“I think she’ll be alright Harry. Luna’s with her...” Hermione replied, “And... and to tell you the truth, I think Jennifer needed the release too. I don’t think she’d been able to really face what happened to her until you... until you shared your feelings about Wormtail with her.”
Hermione continued embracing Harry and he felt the last embers of his fury washing away as he caught her familiar minty aroma.
“Crap,” Harry sighed. “I bet Jennifer feels bad about upsetting me now - even though it wasn’t her fault at all.”
Hermione led a much calmer Harry back downstairs to the visitor’s lounge where Luna had finally settled Jennifer. Harry and Jennifer shared wan little smiles. Jennifer brushed her long black hair out of her face, wiping away the remnants of her tears.
“I’m sorry Jennifer...” Harry began.
“No, it’s alright,” Jennifer interjected, “I get it - I know you weren’t cross with me. I... I want to thank you actually. You’re the first person I’ve really been able to talk to about it - and... and this is the first I’ve not f...felt ashamed about what he did to me.”
Harry nodded uncomfortably. He’d often felt ashamed about admitting what Uncle Vernon had done to him - which was more or less why he didn’t like talking about it.
“Er... I... I don’t know if it’ll be the same for you, but... but sometimes those feelings might come back a bit,” Harry admitted ruefully. “But... but eventually you learn to live with it...”
Harry’s face hardened slightly, and a spark lit in his eyes again.
“And... and I want you to know... If I ever come across Wormtail, I’m going to kill him.”
Jennifer picked up her sketchbook and smiled at Harry and Hermione, feeling her heart catch in her throat.
Jennifer swallowed, “I... I think I need to be by myself for a bit. But thank you again for talking to me - I mean it.”
“Will you come and have dinner at the table with us tonight?” Luna asked hopefully, her eyes full of concern.
“I... I don’t think I’m quite ready for that yet,” said Jennifer. “But I promise, I’ll be alright. I’ll see you later then...” She glanced back at Harry and Hermione, who both looked sorry to see her going, “Thanks again Harry.”
Jennifer hurried out of the visitor’s lounge, letting her hair fall in her face before anyone could see the tears running down her cheeks again. She didn’t know what she’d done to deserve finding such nice people who really seemed to care so much for a girl they had barely met.
“Will she really be alright?” Harry asked after Jennifer had left the room, wondering if he’d said the wrong thing. “She looked like she was about to cry again.”
Luna nodded, smiling sweetly, but Harry wasn’t convinced. He was sure that somehow he’d put his foot in it once more. Hermione put her arms around Harry and hugged him tightly.
“It’s okay Harry, you didn’t do anything wrong,” Hermione said. “It’s just going to take Jennifer some time to get used to having friends again.”
Harry breathed a sigh of relief. That, he understood. But he was still feeling badly about what had happened in the Room of Requirement.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Harry peered into Hermione’s eyes, looking for signs of pain or concussion.
“I’m fine Harry - really...” Hermione pulled Harry closer and kissed him passionately to prove it. “You need some cheering up - I think this evening after dinner we should have some fun in the Room of Requirement... if you’re up to it after our fun in the forest today...”
“Er... really?” Harry looked surprised. “You sure about that? I mean, you’re not too upset?”
Hermione shook her head and smiled.
That evening after dinner, Harry and Hermione returned to the Room of Requirement, both of them grinning. And this time they were prepared with towels, clean nightclothes, and slippers to put on after, not having to worry about being caught out by anyone.
“Blimey, wha’ the ruddy hell was tha’ ? There it is again. Wha’s goin’ on then?” gasped Hagrid when the castle shook and the lamps flickered for the third time.
Albus Dumbledore swirled the contents of his brandy snifter and chuckled, his eyes twinkling. He noted with satisfaction, that the magical lanterns and candles which lit the castle only flickered, and didn’t go out completely, settling at a brighter wattage after each tremor.
“Oh, nothing to worry yourself about Rubeus,” Dumbledore replied. “Hogwarts is merely adjusting to some ongoing upgrades...”
Minerva McGonagall nearly snorted her cocktail out of her nose, and had a coughing fit. Poppy Pomfrey rolled her eyes.
“There, there dear...” said Poppy, patting Minerva on the back.
Filius Flitwick exchanged a bewildered look with Pomona Sprout, who just shrugged in response.
Severus Snape might have been puzzled too, but he was spending the night at Narcissa Black’s manor.
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