As always, the characters, places and things that you recognized belong to JK Rowling.
Rory Tennant strode through the halls of Hogwarts Castle, trying not to let his nerves get the best of him. He found it difficult to restrain himself to a dignified pace, and every so often he caught himself speed walking. He thought back over the long years he’d spent teaching defense to the never-ending parade of wretched, spoiled brats who passed through the school. It was a wonder that he’d been able to make it without hexing any of them.
All of that was about to come to an end. Soon, he would be Head Auror. He thought about how long he’d been forced to wait, thanks to Potter and the rest of his band of malcontents. They had no respect for authority or the chain of command. He had spent his entire Auror career following orders and carefully observing proper procedures while they routinely ignored protocol and made up the rules as they went. And did they suffer a single consequence? Never. Shacklebolt -- another one who was shameless about disregarding the rules -- had barely been able to contain his glee when Gawain finally retired and he was able to bestow the title on his golden boy.
Everything was about to change, though. Finally, there was a Minister who could see past all the idol-worship and nonsense and hold The Great Harry Potter and his friends accountable for their actions. This Minister would respect him for his age, wisdom and above all else his cautious, gradual approach to dealing with problems. In his wireless address, the Minister had already made it clear that he was a big fan of incrementalism. It didn’t matter that the progressives would soon chase him out of office. By then, Rory would be firmly rooted in the Head Auror’s chair and he’d make whatever political bargains were required to make sure that he stayed there. He caught himself just as he was about to break into a jog, and forced his feet to maintain a respectable stride.
He arrived at the entrance to the Headmaster’s office and looked carefully up and down the corridors. It was past curfew for the students, so he wasn’t surprised to find them deserted. Turning back to the gargoyle, he whispered “Gillyweed,” and started to take a step forward. He nearly walked into the wall when nothing happened.
“Gillyweed, I said” Tennant hissed at the ugly, stone statue, but it remained completely still.
“What in Merlin’s name is wrong with ye?” he asked more loudly, starting to lose his composure. “Let me in, the password is Gillyweed.”
“No, it isn’t.” Tennant nearly jumped out of his skin as Professor Astor’s voice jarred him out of his private moment of frustration.
“Mercy, lass, ye nearly scared me outta my wits,” Tennant huffed, trying to slow his racing pulse. “Why has Longbottom gone and changed the password?”
“You’d have to ask him that,” Astor replied coolly, “but he’s away at the moment.” Tennant could see the suspicion on her face.
He quickly thought of a lie that he hoped would be good enough. “I need tae get in. One o’ my students wrote somethin’ about a dark magic spell in an essay. There’s a spell book that he keeps in his office. I wan tae check my facts before I mark it right or wrong.”
Where Astor had looked suspicious before, she now looked almost amused. “Professor, you were an Auror. What could a student possibly put in an essay on dark magic that you would need to look up?”
In that moment, Rory’s brain had to work faster than it had in years. He hated the idea of lowering himself before any of the castle’s denizens, but he wasn’t about to watch his one chance at vindication slip away. “Look, lass. Tis been many years since I was an Auror, and in truth, I wasnae an especially good one. The essay is by one o’ my better students, an’ she put in the effort. She deserves the correct answer.”
Astor stared back at him with a confused expression. Now that he thought about it, this was probably the first time he’d ever expressed anything other than disdain for his students to her. He held his breath and hoped that she might think that he was turning over a new leaf.
“Alright, we’ll go up together,” she finally replied, still looking very uncertain. She leaned forward and whispered something to the gargoyle that Rory couldn’t make out, and it moved aside to reveal the spiral staircase leading up to the Headmaster’s office. So she didn’t even trust him enough to let him overhead the password. Or perhaps she was merely acting on Longbottom’s orders. Regardless, it made him feel a lot better about the next thing that he needed to do.
Together, they rode up the spiral stairs towards the door. Several times he caught her stealing glances back towards him. It irritated him even more. When they were nearly to the top, he raised his arm as if to stifle a yawn and his wand snapped out of the holster on his forearm into his outstretched hand. “Stupefy.” Astor fell backward and crumpled into a heap on the stone steps at his feet. He levitated her body into the air and opened the door, entering the cavernous room. The portraits on the walls slept peacefully as he hurried toward the cabinets that lined the far wall. Finding an empty one, he stuffed Astor’s limp body inside and cast a Bodybind Curse on her before closing the cabinet door.
Turning back to the wall behind the enormous wooden desk, he stared into the glass case that was mounted on the wall beside the great portrait of Albus Dumbledore. Gryffindor’s sword was truly a priceless treasure. The rubies crusting its handle sparkled in the lamplight while the polished blade reflected the colors of his robes back to him. He could only imagine why she was interested in it, but he assumed that she had her reasons. Perhaps it was only to test his loyalty. In any case, it was a test that he didn’t intend to fail. He opened the case and gently removed the sword, taking great care not to cut himself. If the stories about the blade being imbued with basilisk venom were true, a simple scratch could prove fatal.
Tennant concealed the sword in his robes and made his way out of the office and back down the stairs. He realized that he had no way of closing the entrance to the staircase without the password, but it really didn’t matter. By the time anyone learned what he had done, the second phase of his contact’s plan would be in full swing. Shortly after that, he would be on his way to London and his new life of power and prestige. Or the long-delayed continuation of his former life, depending on how you wanted to look at it. Either way, Hogwarts Castle with its dank, cold hallways and whining, self-important children would soon be a distant memory.
He made his way out the front entrance and down the hill toward the shores of the Black Lake. It was a typically cold night for Scotland in the late fall, and a low fog rolled off of the surface of the water. He came to a stop near the edge and took a long look at the sword in the moonlight. It sparkled and glistened magnificently. He could only imagine the price it would fetch from a collector. Then he turned and hurled it into the lake with all his might. As it disappeared into the water with a soft splash, he reckoned that all the gold in Gringotts wouldn’t be enough to replace the dignity and self-respect that Potter had taken from him.
Harry stared at the circle of determined faces surrounding him. The combined forces of the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore’s Army had once again gathered on a sketchy street corner near the New Blood Order’s warehouse, but this time their numbers were far greater and their objective was clear. Rosier had admitted that Rose and Octavia were being held inside the warehouse before George and Bill had stowed him securely in the cellar of the Burrow. Harry recalled the terrified look in his eyes as he answered their questions. Whatever Hermione had done to him, he was clearly unwilling to risk a second round of it.
Harry stole a glance at Hermione while Terry explained the layout of the warehouse. She seemed to be struggling to focus. Occasionally, Ron leaned close to her and whispered what Harry assumed were reassuring words into her ear, but her body language suggested that she felt anything but comforted. He and Ron had both tried to talk her out of coming. Even at the peak of her fury, she was only able to take slow, clumsy steps without her crutch. If they met strong resistance inside the warehouse, she would be a sitting duck. But when Harry explained his concerns, she fixed him with a look that could have melted glass. She made it abundantly clear that after all she had sacrificed to save her daughter and granddaughter, there was nothing anyone could say to dissuade her from taking part in the assault.
Hermione wasn’t the only one who bristled at the notion of staying behind. Shedding his usual air of gentility, Draco had informed Harry that he could go to hell if he thought for a moment that Octavia’s rescue would be left in the hands of others. Astoria quickly joined her husband, and Scorpius, Al and Hugo were all determined to take personal responsibility for Rose’s safe return. One by one, everyone present at the Burrow had declared their intention to take part. Even Percy stepped forward, leading Arabela to give him a reverential stare that made Harry feel slightly nauseous. In the end, Harry had to solicit volunteers to watch over Susan and defend the Burrow in the event of a counterattack.
The most difficult conversation he tried to have was with Esme. Harry did his best to remind her of her orders, which earned him a punch in the chest. It was foolish for him to even suggest that she stay behind; he knew that before he opened his mouth. He told himself that he was merely fulfilling his promise to Dauzat, but in all honesty he knew that there was more to it. They were about to apparate into a potentially deadly situation, and Esme was guaranteed to be in the thick of the action. While Harry was less concerned for her than for those who lacked her decades of training and combat experience, he still worried about her a great deal. In Esme, he saw the possibility of a future that he hadn’t allowed himself to imagine since Ginny died. He wanted her to stay out of the fight, as much for himself as for her own safety.
Just when Harry thought that his anxiety level couldn’t get any higher, Dominique, Louis, Freddy and Roxy all apparated with a pop, wands drawn and determination evident in their expressions. “Excuse me,” Angelina interjected, staring at her adult children, “but exactly where the hell do you think you’re going?”
“We heard that Rosie was here,” Roxy replied defiantly. “Where else would we be?”
“How about back at the Burrow where it’s safe?” Angelina retorted angrily, gesturing with her wand.
Dedalus turned to Hestia and tipped his hat with mock formality. “Pot, this is my dear friend kettle,” he mocked, earning him a venomous glare from Molly. “Kettle, meet pot.”
“Alright, everybody shut the hell up!” Harry shouted. His nerves were at the breaking point. If they didn’t get this over with soon, he felt like his head was going to pop. “We can’t waste any more time. For anyone who just arrived or hasn’t been paying attention, here’s the plan. Scorpius and his father will apparate into the warehouse. While Goyle here helps them to distract the Blood Order members, Scorpius will figure out how many there are and relay that information back to us using this.” Harry held up his fake D.A. galleon, then flipped it to Scorpius who snatched it out of the air. “Once we have a count, Ron and I will arrange a tactical formation for the first wave. If you’re chosen, you will apparate into the warehouse on my signal. If you’re not chosen, you will keep your bloody mouth shut and join Neville in the second wave. Are there any questions?”
There was a long moment of silence. Just when Harry was about to move on, Al spoke softly. “This is the real deal, isn’t it? Whoever is inside that warehouse is gonna try to kill us.”
“Aye, lad,” Seamus replied somberly. “So make sure you get them first.”
The instant that the disorienting effects of apparition passed, Scorpius looked around and tried to get his bearings. He knew from Terry’s diagram that they should be standing in the center of the warehouse, and that there were supposed to be small storage pens lining the sides. He turned and found his father calmly surveying their surroundings as Goyle stood impassively between them.
“Oi, Goyle, who’s this you’ve brought with you?” The voice belonged to a tall, thick-looking figure who was walking towards them from the darkened periphery of the warehouse. Scorpius involuntarily tensed up. It was the moment of truth. Would anyone remember that Goyle, who was not the Secret Keeper, shouldn’t have been able to lead them into the warehouse? The figure stopped about ten paces away and made a face. “What are you doing here, Malfoy?”
“It’s nice to see you, too, Nott,” his father replied, continuing to slowly scan the room. “Goyle here persuaded me that I may have been a bit rash when I turned down Flint’s offer. Scorpius and I have come to hear you out.”
“Hear us out?” Nott scoffed, sounding equally confused and irritated. “This isn’t some bloody supper club. You’re either with us or against us, and if you’re against us, I wouldn’t be caught where you’re standing for all the gold in Gringott’s.”
Scorpius began to catch sight of other figures lurking in the shadows, and inside his cloak he started to tap Harry’s coin with his wand. Including Nott, he initially counted six men. Suddenly another figure emerged from one of the storage pens. When the man spoke, Scorpius noticed Nott immediately tense up.
“Draco Malfoy! Well I’ll be damned.”
“Gamp,” his father replied, nodding cordially towards the wizard approaching them. Scorpius felt a shiver run down his spine. His estranged uncle had been sentenced to Azkaban before he was born, and the man made a chilling first impression. He had the most unnerving smile that Scorpius had ever seen. His wide eyes had a crazed look about them, hungry and dangerous. Scorpius felt terrified for his wife and daughter, and he redoubled his efforts to get an accurate count.
“I never expected to see you again, Malfoy,” Gamp continued, chuckling to himself as he spoke. “Tell me, how is dear Daphne?”
“Not quite as wide as she is tall,” Draco replied dryly, “but the holidays are yet to come.”
Gamp stared hard at Draco for a long moment. The entire room seemed to grow deathly silent. Scorpius realized that he was holding his breath as he clenched his wand with white-knuckled fingers. His eyes flicked to Nott, whose face had gone pale. Without warning, Gamp burst into uproarious laughter.
“If you like, I’ll have the old man send her to you,” Draco offered, flashing a wry smile. “He probably has enough gold to pay the shipping cost.”
“Ah, that’d be great,” Gamp snorted, wiping his eyes with his sleeve. “I’ll build a pen out behind the house for her.”
Nott seemed to find his voice as the tension ebbed. “You still haven’t answered the question, Malfoy. Are you with us or against us?”
Before Draco could answer, Gamp stepped to his side and clapped him on the back. “Come on, Malfoy, don’t be a prat. This Tenabra bird, she’s got the whole Ministry eating out of her hand. Life is gonna be like it should’ve been if the Dark Lord had won the war.” Scorpius saw his father stiffen at Gamp’s mention of Voldemort. “You know better than anyone how things could’ve been. You were there. You took the dark mark.” Gamp gave Nott a derisive sneer. “It’d be fun to have somebody else around here who has some backbone.”
With Nott’s attention focused squarely on Gamp and his father, Scorpius was furiously scanning their surroundings for more men. He had tapped the galleon in his pocket ten times, and the number seemed absurdly low compared to what Terry had told them to expect.
“What sort of fun are we talking about?” Draco asked stiffly. He appeared to be struggling to maintain a cordial tone. Scorpius realized that Gamp’s mention of the Dark Lord had upset the old man greatly. He made one last sweep of the room with his eyes and then tapped the galleon three times rapidly. That was the signal that his count was complete. Now they only had to wait for the cavalry.
“Just to whet your appetite,” Gamp replied, stepping away from his father with a flourish, “I’ve got a treat for you. The mudblood scum who ruined your boy here? She’s balled up on the floor in one of the pens.” Scorpius felt the heat rising in his chest. His wand twitched in his hand. “There isn’t much left of her, but you’re welcome to have a go if you like.”
Scorpius struggled to control himself, and the cold edge of his father’s voice mirrored the black hatred that he felt. “Are you implying that you’ve harmed a member of my family?” Nott backed away nervously as his eyes flicked back and forth between Gamp’s bemused expression and Draco’s icy glare.
Gamp finally let out a low chuckle. “Loosen up, Malfoy. What’s she to you? Tenabra hasn’t even let me start on her half-blood brat. I bet we can get some better screams outta her.”
What happened next was almost too fast for Scorpius to process. One moment Gamp was standing in front of them with a soulless, evil grin plastered across his face and the next instant he was lying on the floor with a sizzling hole in his chest. His father’s shoulders heaved slowly, his wand still pointed at the spot where Gamp once stood. Nott tried to reach for his wand, but Scorpius whipped around and blasted him across the room. Bright, red curses began to streak towards them from the far end of the warehouse. They were completely exposed, standing in the middle of an open space, so they both ran for an abandoned forklift. In their haste to find cover, they completely forgot about Goyle. Scorpius felt a slight pang of remorse as the fat wizard was cut down by a hail of indiscriminate cursefire.
Scorpius cast the strongest shield charm he could manage while his father started to hurl curses at the shadowy figures scrambling for cover in the darkness. In spite of his efforts, spells began to crack and pop against the side of the broken-down vehicle. The rear tire suddenly exploded, causing father and son to duck for cover.
“How long before this thing falls apart?” Scorpius yelled over the din of the fight.
“I have no idea,” his father shouted back. “Where in the hell is Potter?”
“On his way,” Scorpius replied. “I hope,” he added under his breath.
Ron watched as the tiny numbers magically imprinted on the edge of the fake galleon ticked upwards. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. There was a long pause and then the coin gave off a slight glow and buzzed softly in his palm.
“That can’t be right,” Terry declared, looking worried. “There were three dozen men at the last meeting I attended, and some of them couldn’t make it because they were on duty.”
“They’re either up to something or they’re really confident in Rosier’s ability to keep a secret,” Harry agreed. “Ron, we need more wands back at the Burrow just in case.”
Ron nodded and turned around to face the rest of the group. This was it. They were about to start a war. He looked at the expectant faces and considered his options. He and Harry had discussed the plan of attack in general terms, but Harry had left the specifics up to him. “Terry, Justin, Esme, Hermione, Dad, Bill, Eileen, Dedalus and Hestia, you’re with Harry and I in the first wave. Form up in a circle. Neville, Mum, Al, Hugo, Astoria, Percy, Arabela, George and Seamus, you’re the second wave in. Follow Neville’s lead. Fleur, Angelina, please take everyone else back to the Burrow and prepare for a counterattack.”
“What?” shrieked Dominique. “We came here to save Rose. You can’t just-”
“ENOUGH!” Harry thundered, silencing his niece. The authority in his voice surprised Ron. Harry was mostly one to lead by example. “This is a war. And in a war, people who don’t follow orders wind up injured or dead. Now go!”
Dominique looked at the pavement and mumbled something that sounded vaguely like an apology. Her mother laid a steadying hand on her shoulder, and a moment later she disappeared with the others.
“Places, everybody,” Ron directed, taking a spot in the circle with his back towards the center. He took a deep breath and drew his wand. Hermione stood next to him, staring straight ahead. He stole a glance at her. In the far recesses of his mind, it occurred to him that he might never see her alive again, and he fought back the urge to pull her into an embrace. This was not the time to think such things.
Harry moved into his own spot next to Esme. Ron saw him reach out and give her free hand a squeeze before letting go. “On three,” he said quietly. “One. Two. Three.”
Harry reflexively cast a shield charm as soon as the world spun back into view and dropped into a crouch as a jet of red light ricocheted off of it. The cracks and bangs of cursefire filled the air as he tried to orient himself in the dark room. To his left, he saw Draco and Scorpius huddled behind a barely-recognizable muggle vehicle that was riddled with blackened craters. A pair of bodies lay in the middle of the floor, one of which appeared to be Goyle.
Over the din of the fight, he heard Ron cry out, “Right side! They’re trying to catch us in a crossfire!” Chancing a look behind him, he could see Dedalus and Hestia furiously exchanging spells with a pair of dark forms that were working their way down the wall. Their wands twisted and turned in a tightly choreographed series of parries and counterstrikes. Harry mentally counted the various locations where curses seemed to be emanating and guessed that Scorpius had underestimated the number of defenders by at least three or four. In the dark, cavernous warehouse, it would have been an easy mistake to make.
Hermione let out a growl and launched a wall of orange flames in the path of the two wizards who were trying to outflank them. As they dove backward to avoid being set ablaze, Dedalus and Hestia easily picked them off. “Mione!” Ron shouted, and managed to block a sizzling curse mere inches from her left shoulder. She wheeled around on her crutch to face the new threat and Harry once again wished that they’d been able to convince her to stay at the Burrow. Even considering the powerful magic she was able to summon through her anger, the distraction she was causing Ron made their job more difficult.
“Give me a shield and be ready to cast a stun blast,” Harry shouted to Esme. She nodded and cast a powerful shield in front of Harry. He focused on a large shipping crate that was providing cover for a pair of their attackers and launched it into the air with a snap of his wrist. As soon as they were exposed, Esme fired a broadside of blue-white light at them which knocked them out as they scrambled to find cover. Her moment of triumph proved short-lived, however, as an errant curse struck her arm and sent her wand clattering away. She cursed loudly in French as Harry crouched at her side and shielded them both.
“Are you alright?” he shouted.
“Yes,” she panted, holding her arm tightly. “It is not bad, but it ‘urts like ‘ell.”
Harry could see blood starting to seep around her fingers, and he cast a tourniquet spell on her upper arm, making her wince. “Just until we can reverse the curse damage,” he yelled, then he turned back towards the fight.
Already the resistance from the remaining Blood Order fighters was beginning to wane. Hermione was pounding a bulwark where several of their opponents were taking shelter, unleashing the full force of her fury on the low metal wall until it finally buckled, exposing them to her wrath. Bill and Terry had another pair of wizards pinned down behind a stack of pallets, and they were slowly moving to tighten the noose. Harry helped Esme to her feet and pulled her close to his side as he began to fight his way toward Ron. He caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye and just managed to parry a curse from a figure racing across the floor. He recognized Theodore Nott an instant before Nott dove to the floor in the center of the warehouse and disappeared with a crack.
Moments later, Neville appeared with the second wave of their attack. Harry directed them to a defensible position in one of the storage pens and they set up a perimeter around Esme and Dedalus, who was nursing a nasty curse burn on his left leg. Molly and Astoria rushed to administer first aid as Harry slipped back into the remnants of the battle. Exclamations of success began to go up from around the warehouse as their remaining opponents were disabled.
“Search the warehouse,” Harry shouted, gesturing towards Al, Hugo, Astoria and Neville. “Wands at the ready. There could be more of them hiding.”
He watched as his friends and family fanned out. The cracks and pops of spells had died away, replaced by the sound of doors opening and piles of debris being shoved aside. He held his breath and waited.
Hermione leaned heavily on her crutch, trying to still her racing heartbeat. She was nearly spent after pouring all of her rage and energy into their attack. As her breathing slowed, her limbs felt like lead. It occurred to her that she hadn’t really slept in several days due to the effort required to keep the dragon contained. With the haze of anger momentarily lifted, she took a hard look at herself and realized that things were going from bad to worse.
Between her attack on Rosier and the intensity of the battle, the dragon should have been sated, but that wasn’t the case. It still seemed eager, ready to strike again in an instant. She was so close to success, to finding Rose and Octavia, but there was no sense of accomplishment or even excitement. All she felt was frustration and anger. The dragon was no longer content to merely torment her, it hungered for fresh carnage. She could feel it nipping at the edges of her self-control, urging her to find a new fight.
“Grandma!” From somewhere in the warehouse, Hermione heard Octavia shriek loudly. Astoria had found her. Hermione almost felt relieved until the dragon stirred threateningly. She knew she should have been feeling joyful and happy, but that had been stolen from her. A flash of white hair flew past as Draco Malfoy ran across the warehouse floor toward his wife, abandoning all semblance of dignity, and she found herself chuckling bitterly. The absurdity of watching the arrogant, pure blood prat lose himself in a tearful reunion with their granddaughter while she remained trapped inside her world of hate and misery was almost too much.
Moments later, Al’s terrified shout rang out from somewhere along the far wall. “Dad! Uncle Ron! We found her! Get over here, she doesn’t look good!”
Hermione felt her blood run cold, and she hobbled as fast as her wobbly legs could carry her, falling behind Harry and Ron as they ran across the warehouse floor. Her pulse was racing and her heartbeat pounded in her temples as she headed toward the source of the shouts. Ahead, Ron, Harry and Hugo surrounded Al as he carried a frail-looking female form wrapped in a blanket. Ron was stroking her hair, whispering frantically. Harry tried to transfigure a pallet into a soft place for Al to set her down, but he was so panicked that a four-poster bed sprang into existence on the warehouse floor. Scorpius raced past her, forcing his way to Rose’s side.
As she drew near, she realized that her nephew was not exaggerating. Rose was deathly pale, and her sunken eyes stared blankly ahead. She was shaking violently and seemed to pull away every time somebody laid a hand on her.
“She needs a healer!” Ron was shouting to nobody in particular. “Somebody get a bloody healer!” His hands were shaking as he cradled their daughter’s head. Hermione couldn’t remember her husband sounding so desperately frightened in all the time they had known one another.
Molly elbowed her way into the middle of the throng with a damp cloth in her hand and began to mop her granddaughter’s forehead. “It’s me, darling. Nanna is here.” Hermione knew that her mother-in-law was trying to comfort everybody, but she sounded shaken to her core. The rest of the family gathered in a loose circle around the bed. Arthur stepped up behind Al and Hugo to place steadying hands on their shoulders. Esme slipped her good arm around Harry’s back as he stood helplessly by, looking sick. “You’re going to be alright,” Molly kept repeating. “We’re going to take you home.”
But Rose was not alright. Her daughter, her beautiful baby girl, was slipping away before her eyes. Hermione stood rooted to the floor, staring, unable to move or speak or even think. The dragon was completely forgotten as she watched her family desperately try to coax Rose out of her comatose state. Her head jerked to the side as Octavia suddenly wailed miserably. “What’s wrong with her?” the little girl screamed. Draco and Astoria were struggling to shield her from the sight of her mother as she tried to wiggle free. “Daddy, what’s wrong? Mummy, say something! Grandma, Uncle Harry, make her better! Please, make her better!”
The next scream that Hermione heard was her own. “NO!” Her legs suddenly propelled her forward. All of her anger and exhaustion were completely forgotten. She dropped the leather satchel containing Herodonthus’s book and forced her way through the crowd. When she reached the bed, she tossed her crutch away and pulled herself to Rose’s side on her elbows. “No, no! It was all for you, Rosie. Everything I did was for you.” Hermione felt hot tears streaming down her cheeks as she desperately pulled her daughter’s head under her chin. “Please, come back to me. Mummy loves you, Rosie. You hear me? I love you, Rosie. Mummy loves you. Please don’t leave me.”
As the sobs shook her chest, Hermione heard Molly yelling something nearby. Her voice sounded very far away, but Hermione gradually realized what she was saying. “Look, she’s blinking her eyes! Keep talking to her!”
Hermione seized on the glimmer of hope. “Mummy loves you, Rosie Jane,” she repeated, rocking her daughter gently back and forth. She suddenly felt another arm wrap around Rose’s shoulders.
“I love you, Rose. I’ll always love you.” Scorpius’s smooth voice was choked with emotion. “Please don’t leave us, love. Come back to us.” Snuggled between her and Scorpius, Hermione felt Rose’s trembling gradually still. “That’s it, love,” he continued, “you’re gonna be alright. You’re safe now. We’re all gonna be alright.”
“Daddy’s here, Rosie.” Ron’s voice joined the chorus, shaky at first, but then becoming stronger. “I’m here and I love you, Rosie Jane. I’m never going to let anything happen to you again. You hear me? I love you.”
Without warning, Hermione felt Rose’s body jerk away from her. She and Scorpius both struggled to control Rose’s flailing limbs as she arched her back and twisted wildly. “She’s having a seizure,” Ron shouted. “Where’s that bloody healer?” But Rose’s gyrations ceased as suddenly as they had begun, and Hermione realized that she was now facing in the opposite direction, snuggling into Scorpius’s embrace.
“Sorry, Mum,” Hugo chuckled nervously. “You’ve been replaced.”
“Happens to all of us,” Molly chimed in from nearby.
As Hermione lay there, softly stroking Rose’s hair, the realization hit her like a ton of bricks. All of the anger and aggression and dark magic hadn’t been suppressing the dragon. They had been feeding it, making it stronger. In that moment of clarity, her memories of the past several days came rushing back to her. She felt repulsed. What had she become?
Hermione was suddenly gripped by a sense of moral certainty that she had not felt since before the blood boiling curse left her paralyzed. No matter the personal cost, she could no longer continue to hide behind rage and use dark spells to forestall the inevitable. The dragon’s control over her had to come to an end, once and for all. Love is the best cure for being angry, you know? Luna’s words came back to her as the dragon snarled and threatened her with its fury. She knew that it was a small chance, but it was still more than she deserved. It was time to face her fate.
She pulled herself into a sitting position and gestured to her husband. “Come here, love, there’s something I have to tell you.” Ron stood up from his place next to Rose’s feet and came around to sit on the bed beside her. Harry and Esme were also giving her a quizzical look. “Ron, I love you and I’ll always love you. I haven’t been myself and I’m sorry for everything I’ve said and done over the past few days. Harry, the same goes for you. Please tell Susan the same thing if...” Her voice fell to a whisper. “If I don’t make it.” Ron’s expression instantly changed from pleased to horrified. “Hold me, please,” Hermione asked, staring into his frantic blue eyes.
Just as he wrapped his arms around her, the dragon unleashed its fire. Hermione let out an anguished gasp and her knees flew to her chest as she doubled over in pain.
Ron went pale for the second time in five minutes. “Love, what’s wrong?” Even as she choked back a scream, Hermione felt concerned about him. He had been through so much, he really didn’t need another crisis. It dawned on her how much she really did love him, and the dragon made her pay for those feelings.
“Hermione, talk to me!” Ron was pleading now. “How many times do I have to ask for a bloody healer?” he shouted in his mother’s face as she tried to press a damp cloth against Hermione’s burning forehead.
“Just hold me, Ron,” she bit out between waves of agony. “I love you.” A small cry of pain escaped from her lips. “Don’t let go! I love you!”
Ron clung to her tightly. He suddenly yelped and cried out, “She’s burning up! Somebody cool her off.”
Hermione heard Harry and Molly casting cooling charms on her body, but the effect barely registered and the dragon continued to pour forth flaming bursts of red-hot pain. Through the agony and the cacophony of voices, she heard a whisper inside her mind. It’s not too late, Hermione. You can stop the dragon. Let your anger make you powerful.
“No!” she screamed. Ron and Harry looked at her in alarm, but she ignored them. She felt the anger trying to come back, seeping into her mind like water under a door. It will consume you, Hermione. Open your heart to my anger, or perish a fool.
“I love you, Ron,” she sobbed, clinging to his neck. “Don’t ever let me go. I love you!” Hermione thought back to their first kiss in the Chamber of Secrets, immersing herself in the moment and letting the memory drive the hateful feelings back. She felt somebody pulling her trousers off and jets of cold water sprayed her burning legs.
The dragon roared and thrashed, filling her veins with fire. She could feel its fury, its hunger. And something more. Forge your anger in the crucible of hatred. Save yourself while you can. The dragon wasn’t just hungry, it was... desperate.
“I love you, I love you, I love you,” she cried into Ron’s shoulder, fighting through the pain with the last of her strength. The dragon attacked her torso and her arms, pulling out all the stops in a furious attempt to break her. Your time has run out, Hermione. Embrace your anger or die.
“NEVER!” she shrieked at the top of her lungs. Her back arched violently, tearing her free from Ron’s arms. She felt the dragon’s grip loosen. A tiny window emerged and began to grow as the dragon gradually lost its hold. She felt her mind and body opening up and she let instinct take over. “GET. OUT!” she cried. Her skin glowed with a fiery, orange light which suddenly rose away from her body and dissipated with a loud crack.
The room fell oddly silent. At first, all Hermione could focus on was her desperate need for air. Ron wrapped his arms around her again and she sank into his chest. Stars swam in front of her eyes and every nerve in her body tingled. The burning in her lungs gradually abated, and she opened her eyes just a sliver. Scorpius had lifted Rose off of the bed and moved her to a safe distance while Harry, Hugo, Al, Arthur and Molly were all pressed close around her, waiting for a sign. “Love, is it over?” she heard Ron tentatively ask.
“I think so,” she whispered, slowly trying to take stock of herself. One question immediately came to her, a question that she was almost afraid to ask. But she had to know. With great effort, she managed to lift her head and shoulders a few inches off of Ron’s chest. She looked down at her bare legs and she could see steam rising off of her bright red skin. She focused hard, struggling to recall the sensation. The throng of family and friends surrounding her followed her eyes to her feet, and suddenly everyone was holding their breath. A roar of celebration filled the warehouse as the toes of her left foot wiggled slightly.
Tears of joy filled her eyes as Ron pulled her into a smothering embrace. She felt Harry’s hand on her back and somewhere nearby Hugo shouted out, “I love you, Mum!” It took several moments for the cheers and well wishes to die down, but one urgent thought occupied her mind. One thing remained to be taken care of, and as soon as she saw to it, she planned to go to sleep for a long, long time.
“The book, Harry,” she called out over the happy chatter. “It’s in the leather bag. Destroy it, please!” He nodded happily at her and walked away to retrieve it. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Arabela Dynt circling the bed, and Hermione thought it odd to see her leaving Percy’s side. Something was once again poking at the edge of her mind, like a forgotten thought. She put it aside as she heard a delighted squeal coming from the direction of Draco and Astoria Malfoy.
“You can go see them now, darling,” Astoria was saying as she and Draco let go of Octavia.
“Mummy! Grandma!” the little girl cried as she began to race across the short distance separating them. Hermione prepared herself to be leapt upon. In truth, she wasn’t feeling anywhere near up to it, but the idea of holding her granddaughter sounded like the most wonderful thing in the whole world. She closed her eyes and braced herself for the impact.
It never came.
Hermione felt confused. Had Ron or Harry intercepted the little girl to protect her? She heard a sudden gasp of surprise coming from all around her and her eyes snapped open. Halfway between the bed and the Malfoys, Arabela Dynt stood. Her slender fingers were clamped around Octavia’s shoulder and the point of her wand was pressed against the side of her neck.
“Arabela, what are you doing?” Harry asked, and it seemed strange to Hermione that he would be asking the question instead of Percy, who stood near Arthur, looking dumbstruck.
“Give me the book,” Arabela demanded. Her voice was cold and menacing. Hermione heard a muffled cry of fear, and saw that Rose had begun to writhe frantically in Scorpius’s arms. “If you attempt to deceive me in any way, she dies.”
“Everybody stay calm,” Harry said slowly. Hermione instantly recognized the voice. His Auror voice. He was taking Arabela’s threat deathly seriously. The thought that had been nudging the back of her mind once again vied for her attention as she held her breath.
Harry held the book carefully in front of himself as he took a couple of steps to put himself between Arabela and the bed. “This book is cursed, you know? You can see what it did to Hermione.”
“I don’t care what you think,” she replied dismissively. “Give the book to me and I’ll be on my way.” Hermione’s whole world seemed to narrow to Arabela and Octavia. Every word and every movement played out in exaggerated detail. Still, the nagging thought persisted. She thought of the tiles from the muggle board game that Harry and Esme found near Katerina Porcher’s body. Why were those eleven letters haunting her at a moment like this?
“Arabela, why?” Percy asked miserably.
“Shut up, Percy,” Ron snapped.
Harry gestured for them to be quiet without taking his eyes off of Octavia and Arabela. “Let her go first. We don’t want the book. You can have it.”
“What kind of fool do you take me for, Potter?” Arabela hissed. “I want the book first. Then I’ll release her.”
Harry’s posture and tone didn’t change. “No,” he replied calmly. “I have no more reason to trust you than you have to trust me. The only difference is that we have you surrounded.”
Arabela laughed coldly. “Try to play up your advantage.” She jabbed her wand deeper into Octavia’s neck, making her whimper. “See what it gets you.”
The eleven letters danced on the edge of Hermione’s consciousness. L-A-D-Y-T-E-N-A-B-R-A. What was it that her subconscious mind was trying to tell her? A-R-B-A-N-E-T-Y-D-A-L. They spun around, mixing and recombining. A-R-A-B-L-A-D-E-N-Y-T. It hit her like a clap of thunder, and Hermione gasped out loud. “You!” she hissed. A-R-A-B-E-L-A-D-Y-N-T. “You’re Lady Tenabra.”
Arabela stared at Hermione for a moment, then bowed her head slightly. “Clever. But a day late and a sickle short.”
Percy suddenly began to walk around the side of the bed. Arthur made a grab at him as he passed, but he managed to shrug off his father’s hand. “Take me, instead,” he said, causing Molly to gasp. “I’ll trade myself and the book for Octavia.”
“Percy, don’t be an idiot,” George whispered.
“I’m not an idiot,” Percy shot back, glaring at his brother. “This is Ron’s granddaughter we’re talking about. I have to do this.”
Arabela stared at Percy as he put his wand into his pocket. She seemed to think about it for a long moment, then nodded slowly.
“You don’t have to do this, Percy,” Harry whispered as his brother-in-law reached for the book.
“Yes, I do,” Percy replied, pulling the blackened leather tome from Harry’s hands. He tilted his head slightly towards Arabela and lowered his voice. “My mess. Only right that I deal with it.”
Hermione pulled herself upright on the bed. All thoughts of sleep were suddenly gone. She felt like a fool. The signs were right there in front of her. Percy’s odd behavior. His long-standing relationship with Arabela. Herodonthus’s rambling dissertations on controlling other people with dark magic. She looked up in alarm as Percy walked cautiously toward Arabela with the book in his hands.
“Stop him, Harry!” she suddenly shouted. “It’s a trick. She’s controlling him.”
Percy continued to walk grimly forward, unfazed by her words. “Percy, stop!” Harry called out, but Percy ignored him. He was only a couple of steps away from Arabela. Hermione gasped as Arabela suddenly pulled her wand away from Octavia and pointed it directly at her.
“You have interfered with my plans for the last time, Mrs. Weasley.” Her voice was like ice as she drew a bead on Hermione’s head.
“Protego!” Esme stepped between Arabela and Hermione. “Not again, you cowardly bitch! You murdered Katerina in cold blood. I will not allow you to kill anyone else.”
Time slowed to a crawl and Hermione watched in horror as the corner of Arabela’s mouth twisted into a cruel sneer. “Esme, no!” she tried to shout, but the words came too slowly.
“Avada Kedavra!” The bolt of green light pierced Esme’s shield charm like a sword through tissue paper and struck her squarely in the center of the chest. For one terrible moment, Esme seemed to hang in the air with her mouth open and her eyes wide. Then her body collapsed to the floor and Esme Osinalde was no more.
“NO!” Harry’s anguished cry rang out through the warehouse as he dove toward Esme’s unmoving body. Ron drew his wand and tried to get a clear shot at Arabela, but Percy was blocking his line of sight. The next sound Hermione heard through the thick veil of shock and sadness was a whispered curse, little more than a hiss, from behind Arabela and Octavia, where the Malfoys stood, largely forgotten. A bolt of chartreuse light struck Arabela’s wand hand, sending her wand skittering away across the floor. She let out a howl of pain and doubled over, clutching her injured hand to her body. Hermione saw her shoot one last venomous glare in their direction. Then she yanked Octavia closer to her, causing the little girl to yelp loudly. A fraction of a second later, Percy laid his free hand on Arabela’s shoulder and all three of them disappeared with a loud crack.
As soon as the echoes from their disapparition died away, an eerie silence filled the warehouse, broken only by Harry’s soft cries as he cradled Esme’s body in his arms.
The first thing that I feel like I should say is, I'm sorry. I know that many of you were hoping that Harry and Esme would have a long, happy future together, and you have no idea how much I wanted to make that decision, but it simply could not be. Second, congratulations to everyone who guessed that Arabela was actually Lady Tenabra.
As always, thanks are due to my beta reader, sophie_hatter, for her amazing support and insight. To everyone who has taken the time to offer a review, thank you so much!
200,000 words. It's hard to believe....
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