Looks aren't everything, and is there a future in immortality?
The Devon Regional Floo Center is a modest, nondescript brick building on the edge of Exeter. It sees relatively little traffic, as tourists coming to see Tintagel Castle can Floo to several closer locations, and the local magical population is fairly small. As a result, the crowd of fifteen children and women coming in from London almost filled the space for arrivals.
"Are there any messages for us?" Professor Sinistra asked the rather bored-looking attendant.
"Who are you?" he asked in a monotone, followed by a yawn.
Trelawney answered, "We are Professor Sybil Trelawney, Professor Aurora Sinistra, Harry Potter, his wives, and Nym..."
"... Tonks," Trelawney concluded.
"Just a mo," the attendant muttered, shuffling back to a battered filing cabinet. After a minute's search, he returned, saying "Yeah, a guy calling himself 'Nick' left these for you. They go off at eleven-forty." With that, he thrust three bowling pins at the entourage, and returned to his desk and PlayWizard with visible relief.
"Six minutes from now. Cutting things a bit fine, aren't they?" wondered Sinistra.
"When you've lived for six hundred sixty years and created the greatest magical artifact ever, then you'll have the right to complain," said Trelawney primly, to several chuckles.
That wasn't really what Harry wanted to hear.
"Everyone, make sure you're touching one of the pins!" called Trelawney. "Or else I foresee you being left behind."
With a round of groans, the children and adults all touched one of the pins each, and a minute later, the attendant was alone with his fantasies once more.
What do wizards and witches look like?
Hundreds of thousands of people, most of them women and all of them Muggles, have died over the centuries because they matched someone's warped conception of a magic user's appearance.
Harry's Transfigurations and Charms texts had discussed the four basic parts of a wizard's appearance. The first was made up of traits that were inherited, as with most other living things. As Harry had heard so frequently, he had his mother's eyes and his father's facial features and general build. The second was called "residual self-image." In short, magic helped a witch or wizard retain his own internal picture of his appearance. The third was called an "aspiring image," and influenced a wizard's appearance toward an appearance that he desired; this factor was most important during a wizard's childhood. (Metamorphmagi had a much more powerful version of these two abilities, giving them the power to consciously change their outward appearance.) Lastly, all wizards and witches saw their appearance change with age, more slowly once they reached adulthood.
In short, most grown-up magic users looked partly like their parents, partly like they thought they looked like, and partly like they wanted to look. This meant that there were few truly ugly witches or wizards.
These traits had limits, of course. Magical injuries could not be healed effectively due to interactions with the spells causing the injuries. Any body parts lost due to such attacks could never be replaced naturally, and replacing those parts artificially was a difficult and dangerous process. Many witches and wizards paid little attention to their outward appearance, or had their own ideas of what they wanted to look like; as a result, they looked unimpressive or unpleasant to people with different tastes. Overeating and underexercising- common problems for wizards who didn't need to do anything strenuous- would inevitably result in weight gain, and removing that excess mass was also a dangerous procedure which few bothered to try. And lastly, magic generated by the body declined in extreme old age, causing magic users to seem to age rapidly before they died.
Six hundred sixty-two years certainly qualifies as "extreme old age." At first, when contemplating the Flamels, he thought they might look like older versions of Dumbledore- long white hair, lots of wrinkles. He briefly had the humorous thought that they'd look like fuzzy white raisins with legs.
Then he thought of a movie he had seen with the Patils a few years earlier, which had a man who aged into a skeleton because of a poor choice. He didn't know how long the effects of the Philosopher's Stone lasted, and was worried that they would run out before the visit... or worse, during the visit.
This was one of the ideas that had him rereading his books and that had haunted his sleep over the past five days.
The portkeys deposited the party in front of a modest but tidy gated estate, surrounded by trees, with no neighbors within a mile or so. Rolling hills stretched in all directions, and Harry thought he could see the ocean off to the left.
Trelawney tapped her wand against the outer gate, and then tapped it with one of the bowling pins. Quickly and quietly, the gate opened and allowed the visitors to walk up to the house. Hermione rang the surprisingly Muggle doorbell. Harry's heart thumped harder than ever.
The door opened to reveal the Flamels... and Harry sighed in relief. Nicolas and Perenelle weren't raisins or shambling corpses, but looked alive, well, and quite healthy and beautiful. Both were fairly short; Nicolas was no taller than Trelawney and two or three inches shorter than Sinistra, and Perenelle was half a head shorter than her husband.
"Come in, everyone! We're so happy to meet you all!" enthused Perenelle. The visitors entered the hallway, with Harry near the end of the procession.
The Flamels' living room was lavish, and the Flamels had thoughtfully arranged padded chairs and sofas in a semicircle facing two armchairs that were clearly meant for the hosts. Nicolas started to speack, his deep voice bearing a slight French accent.
"We want to say thank you for your efforts in defending the Stone. Although we certainly didn't expect that you students would be directly involved, we believe that you did everything you could, based on what the Aurors told us," Nicolas began. "We are glad that Hogwarts has students and professors like you."
As Perenelle picked up from her husband's remarks, Harry felt even gultier. It's one thing to think about honors you haven't earned, but quite another to listen to a man you respect give you praise that you know you don't deserve.
"...which is why we asked you to visit us. Harry, are you alright?" Perenelle inquired suddenly. Harry felt every eye on him.
"I'm," he took a ragged breath, "I'm all right, Ma'am. Please go on."
"Nicolas," Mrs. Flamel said, "You may want to talk to Harry privately. I think I know what the problem is, but I believe he would rather hear about it man-to-man."
Mr. Flamel guided Harry to an alcove just off of the living room, while Perenelle continued to talk to the other guests. He closed the door, locked it with a Colloportus spell, and then cast a spell Harry didn't recognize.
"This will keep anyone outside from overhearing us. It's the Muffliato spell. If someone puts an ear to the door, they will hear descriptions of all the operas I went to last year. No one can listen to that for long," Nicolas said, chuckling. They sat down facing each other.
"Harry, I haven't been young in a while, but I think I know what's wrong. You don't think that what you did was worthy of our thanks, and you feel embarrased that we make such a fuss over you."
"Mr. Flamel, that's part of it. But what about you? You made this Stone to keep yourselves alive, you've been using it for all these years, and you trusted us to keep it safe and now you're lost it because I couldn't protect it and now you're going to get horribly old and die and it'll all be my fault!" With that, Harry's last self-control disappeared, and he started to cry out loud, tears falling down his face.
Nicolas had half expected this, and knew what he needed to do. He hugged Harry to him tightly, rubbing his back, and letting Harry's tears fall on the shoulder of his robes. They continued to hold on to each other for several minutes, until the crying came to a stop.
"Harry, please listen to me. I don't know all that much about you, I'm afraid. I know the general details from the papers, and from a couple of brief talks with Ms. Bones," Nicolas told him. "I know that you had a bad childhood until you started meeting your wives- and I must tell you, Harry, that I haven't seen a harem this promising in many, many years." That was intended to get a chuckle out of Harry; when it failed, Mr. Flamel went on.
"We certainly didn't have it in mind that our Stone be defended by a group of schoolchildren. We certainly didn't want Voldemort to try to steal it. But you absolutely did the right thing, by us and by your family."
"My family, sir?"
"Nicolas, please, Harry. You've earned the right. Yes, those wives are your family. You care for them, right? You do what you can to keep them happy and make them feel loved?"
"I try to. I write poems and sing songs. I help them with their homework when I can, and bring them food from the kitchen when they get sick," Harry said, not sure what Nicolas was getting at.
"That is what people who care for each other do. That is what Nelle and I have done for each other for all these years. Yes, they are your family. To a lesser extent, the other women out there are, too. They were all willing to come here because they knew Nelle and I wanted to talk to you. They're all proud of you, Harry. Just like I am. They hope for good things from you, and you have delivered. In fact, I think some of them may be worried that they failed you."
"But I did fail you!" Harry exclaimed. "And you won't be able to keep living like you want to. And when you die it will be because..."
Nicolas stood up and started to walk around a bit. Harry didn't know what Nicolas was going to do now.
At last, Nicolas spoke again. "Harry, do you know when I was born?"
"Thirteen thirty, sir."
"That's right. Can you imagine what that world was like? I fought in the Hundred Years' War, Harry- not all of it, just one or two battles. I survived the Black Plague. When I was a young man, or even Dumbledore's age, no one in Europe knew that the Americas existed, or chocolate, or potatoes. Few people, even magical people, ever left their hometowns except to go to school or to war. This is a completely different world than the one I grew up in. I've had to learn English and French three times each- the languages have changed so much that you couldn't understand anything that was said back then.
"And I didn't just make the Stone to live for a long time. I did it because I thought it could be done. Because it was an achievement in itself, to do something no other wizard could do. And that will be true immortality, Harry. Even if Voldemort had been able to take the Stone, no one will ever take that away from me.
"Besides, there's one other thing about the Stone that you probably don't know. I won't explain the details now, but Nelle and I couldn't have any children while we were taking the Elixir. Now we can. We've decided that a child would be the best way to ensure that we will not be forgotten. You read about us in a book, is that true?"
"Yes, it is," Harry confirmed, feeling a little better already.
"Well, it's nice to have some privacy, but even the magical world has forgotten about us. What good is immortality if you are in a corner forever? We want to be part of the world again. And when we die someday, then we think we'll be ready for the next great adventure," Nicolas concluded. "Do you feel a little happier now, Harry?"
"Yes, sir, I mean, Nicolas."
"Then let us go out and return to our wives, Harry. I'm sure they've been gossiping about us since we went into this room," and with that, Nicolas canceled the spells on the door and the two of them emerged.
"Are you alright, dear?" asked Perenelle. Hermione and Mandy each ran over to Harry, followed by the other wives.
"Harry and I had to talk about the things that really matter," said Nicolas.
"What do you mean?" Mrs. Flamel inquired.
"How to take care of our wives, what else?" answered her husband.
If Mrs. Flamel had any ideas about what else they discussed, she kept them to herself. If there's one thing you learn when you live for 600 years, it's that there really is a time and place for everything.
"Don't tell him I said this, Harry, but my husband really is a smart man."
Perenelle Flamel was talking to Harry on the patio behind their house. In front of them, Harry's wives (except for Hermione, who was asking the Professors about something) and Tonks were flying around, using pine cones and the brooms they had brought to play an impromptu game of... something. The girls found that they hadn't lost much over the weeks since their last Quidditch game.
"What do you mean, Ma'am?" Harry asked.
"Call me Nelle, please. He expected that you might be feeling sad because the Stone was lost. You don't have to tell me or anyone else what he said, but your wives might want to know at some point."
"Nelle, are you really going to have a baby?"
"I'm certainly going to try," Nelle said, chuckling. "I don't know how long it will take us, but we have time still. Nicolas first used the Stone when he was just over fifty, and when I was not yet forty-five. We have many years ahead of us still."
"Do you think you'll ever make another Stone?"
"Maybe we will, and maybe we won't. We don't have to decide today. For now, I'd like to see a son or daughter grow up. If he's a son, I hope he'll be a little like you," Nelle mused. "Do you want to join your friends up there? It looks like a fun game they're playing, even if I cannot quite tell what it is."
"Maybe in a little while. I'm still thinking about what your husband said to me."
"As long as one of you does."
"Just kidding, Harry. I do love Nicolas. Always have and always will."
Tonks said that she had to leave that evening because she was expected at the Minstry bright and early the next day to resume her "training and guinea pig impersonation," so it was just Harry, his wives, and the Professors in the guest wing of the house that night.
"You'll be coming with me tomorrow, Harry. I spoke with my parents earlier through the Floo, and they're sending a portkey to deliver us to our home. It should be here before noon."
"Thanks, Millicent. I'm sure they'll be great."
"You still seem kinda quiet, Harry. Do you want to talk about it?" asked Lisa.
"He's still getting over how we whooped him in Pine Cone Pitch," laughed Susan.
"You did not!" retorted Harry. "I got that last one fair and square, and I've got the scratches to prove it."
"Anyway, whatever Mr. Flamel said to you, we'd like to hear it. Just whenever you're ready," said Hermione.
"And remember that we're all there for you, whenever you need to talk to us," assured Tracey.
"I'll remember that. Thanks, all of you. You're better than I deserve," responded Harry, obviously moved.
"We know," most of the girls chorused. With a round of laughter, the children settled down to sleep in their separate beds. ("Just wait until September," whispered Millicent.)
The following day, the big black owl arrived at nine-thirty, just after breakfast. The letter attached to the chain links said that the portkey would be effective at eleven.
Harry and Millicent bade the other girls farewell as they arranged for their trip back to London, and thanked the Professors, who said that this was the easiest chaperone duty they'd ever had. "Try to break that record, please," pleaded Sinistra in jest.
At eleven, Harry and Millicent were packed and ready, touching their trunks and the chain. The chain links glowed, a hook seemed to pull behind Harry's stomach, and the two of them were gone.