Chapter 36 : Changes, They Will Be Exciting
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Neville and Charlie sat slumped in two chairs. Not from fatigue or wounds suffered. Both men had recovered quite well in the week they'd been back. Their injuries had been minor and easily healed. They had clean clothes on, but both looked worn out, and much thinner. Charles Weasley especially. Leaner, wire-like muscularity, but gauntness as if recovering from long deprivation.
The others had noticed he seemed constantly hungry.
But the wizards were both jumpy men. They had discovered both had a mutual suspicion of doorways and there was a lingering worry if alone in a room or a sudden silence fell. A worried anxiety fell that was hard to tamp down unless either Charlie or Neville heard a familiar voice or sound from outside again. But the doubt was always there. That suddenly some hidden barrier had been crossed and a grumpy elf would be waiting for them once again.
Nothing like that happened, of course. No sign of Kreacher or whatever befell him, whatsoever. This morning, both had arrived at Harry's kitchen door. Irregardless if he wanted conversation or company in the morning (which he didn't), both pulled out chairs and sat down and helped themselves to his breakfast.
Neville was saying, “I don't know. It is a major change. But I ask you. Significant? Kreacher said there would have to be at least one major one. Impossible to get back at the precise moment.”
“We aren't exactly in same moment, anymore. Can't be. Totally different time-line.”
“Is it? All here. Well, most of them. The ones that matter, I mean. Luna. Looks, tastes ….”
Charlie rolled his eyes heavenward, “Uh, yeah, Neville. Get where you are coming from.”
“.....sounds, smells. All of it the same. But can it be?”
“We shouldn't complain, mind you. I'm not.”
“Me neither. I'm just saying. I mean …...it's always been something. The major difference from the other …..way more fantastical.”
Charlie gestured with a finger towards the object of this morning debate, Harry Potter. “Not ordinary. By any stretch. But we noticed the minute we walked in.”
Neville disagreed. “But not like the other places we've been to. Colossal changes. A seventeenth-century fortress ….”
“In a planet run by magical centaurs …”
“Tropical island resort of wizards.”
“The centaurs were, too!”
“Think that was totally natural for them.”
“Ummm, maybe on the resort island as well.”
“But this is just ….........against all reason of magic.”
“Harry would know.”
“Or he'd guess. Probably that.”
“You both know it is rude to talk about someone – like they weren't even in the room – while he is still there?” Harry Potter said irritably, setting the now-empty cereal bowl down carefully to let the Potter's dog lick it clean.
“Harry, this is very important. Nothing trivial about this. Or personal. The elf said there would have to be at least one major difference. Possibly several, but definitely at least one biggie. No possible way to get exactly back. Not safe to do so. We'd be running into the Door constantly, and maybe blowing up all creation again.”
Longbottom was fast becoming annoyingly professorial, in his off-time, in Potter's opinion.
Harry had heard their story about ten times now. Mostly, he believed them. “Well that obviously didn't happen, did it?”
“No, but you've changed!” Charlie said around a mouthful of Harry's biscuit.
Harry patted at his own face. “Not significantly. I don't have three eyes nor I am the dictator of the planet.”
Charlie brushed at his own bare upper lip. “Not entirely sure that's not in cards.”
“Very funny. You both may leave at any time.” Harry was normally a patient man, but these two were testing his limits.
Neville still seemed determined that they'd missed something. Eyes searching about the Potter cupboards as if the 'something' was hidden there. “It's got to be something we'd notice. That always happens in the fictional stories, why not now ….?”
“For the love of Merlin. I have to go put the dog outside....” Harry called Shep to him, but the dog was happily already charging for the backdoor.
Charlie mused some more, scratching Shep's head as he passed. The dog was not unfriendly to him, but seemed tentative about anything more. The dog detected something 'wrong' about his old master and companion. Shep would let him briefly pat him, and seemed happy to see Charlie, but that was it. Often retreating to one of the kids' rooms or outside, if Charles Weasley had entered the Potter home.
Charlie was happy Shep had a good home. He knew the dog was loved and cared for. But he was still sad. It was yet another of those unpleasant things in his life he had to accept.
Animals, dogs and cats, especially, were uncomfortable around dragons.
While Charlie raided the Potter's refrigerator for any possible portion of meat, Neville was also wool- gathering. The two seemed to do that a lot lately, when in the room together. Plus finishing each others sentences.
It was kind of creepy.
George Weasley – of course – immediately noticed the phenomenon. Happily and repeatedly remarked upon it, the immediate days after their 'rescue'.
To himself, Neville wondered idly if the proprietor of the Wheezes Jokeshop had recovered finally from the debilitating intestinal problems he had over the past few days. Longbottom knew all about special herbs that appeared just like normal table salt or pepper.
Nothing fatal, obviously.
Just …..persistently reoccurring. Whenever Neville so chose. That made Longbottom smile.
Harry came back inside, Ginny Potter following behind him, initially taken aback that they had unannounced guests. She had just returned from dropping Albus, Lily and Hugo off at their grandfather's. No school today for the younger kids and neither Ginny nor Harry could stay home, today. Plus, since he'd retired from the Ministry, Arthur was immensely more relaxed, able to concentrate full time on his old evening hobby of playing with Muggle inventions.
And the kids couldn't wait – the boys especially- to run into Grandpa Arthur's shed for further adventures with 'forbidden' stuff.
The Potters waited a moment or two, to see if either man made a move or sound to leave. When neither Charles or Seville did so, Ginny just shrugged to Harry and made quick motions to have the dishes begin to wash themselves.
She was getting on with her day and maybe it would encourage polite departure.
Harry scowled at Charlie's polishing off Harry's favorite leftover sausage. In fact, chances were good Potter would seldom get the chance to sit in his own house, ransack his own refrigerator for snacks.
He was still stuck being the temporary Dark Arts teacher, at Hogwarts. For the remainder of the school year.
Charlie'd restarted the 'new couples' audible musings, “Still has to be something, Harry. ….”
“....more than your mustache.” Neville finished.
“I thought maybe your new job ….”
Longbottom nodded, adding, “…...teaching- might also be it. Dark Arts, I mean that's a perfect fit for you.”
“Well, yeah. Potions might have been more a weirdness. Parallels with old Snape...”
“But....no. That is just too right. Maybe that's what it should have been …..”
“Harry in a dungeon?”
“No, that would be absurd. Tower potion making, that's the ticket …..”
“Just like Muggle fairy tales, …...yeah! Grim sorcerer in his dark tower...”
“Fumes billowing out, blackening the sky.....”
“Twisting the tips of his mustache, cackling ….”
“Do you think they'd notice, if we just left?” Harry's frown was partially hidden by the decidedly too long and definitely not twisted tip mustache that darkened his upper lip.
Ginny giggled, “I quite like it, actually. Does need a trim.”
Charlie in fact had winked an eye, telling her this was not just the two's now common habit of speaking in each other's presence.
But poking gentle fun at Harry Potter was a chance too good to pass up. At any time.
Neville shook his head. “Still there is something. It's going to hit us, like a pie in the face ….somehow. Shock the hell out of the both or one of us. It's always that way …..like two moons in the sky at night.”
“Hitler having won the war.”
“Voldemort in a Tu-tu.”
“Spock with a beard.”
Both wizards pointed fingers to one another, and eyed Potter speculatively.
“Goodbye.” Harry said flatly.
“No, got to wait for Hermione. She had to run into the house for her stuff.” Ginny helpfully delayed Harry's abrupt departure.
Just as Harry grumpily sat back in his chair, Hermione Weasley came bustling in through the Potter's backdoor.
“Finally!” Harry got back up.
Tiredly, Hermione felt the weight of her temporary office was a milestone upon her back. “No, sorry, Harry. I've got to go into the Ministry today. You'll have to be in charge this morning, till Professor Yi is back from convalescent leave. Replacing Twittingham will have to be argued about, by five different departments. Probably most of the day, in fact ….”
“Why me? Neville has seniority!”
“Got classes, mate. Fifth Years, their O.W.L.S's ….almost occupy my full time for the rest of the year. Got to catch up on the months I've missed.”
Hermione agreed. Academics was something she never stinted on. “Yes, that is of primary importance. We've got to reconstruct this school year the best we can. Especially with O.W.L.S NOT coming up, and it's still October, out here in the 'larger' world. And I need you, your lovely sunny attitude, and the fact that you now have figured out how to grade papers.”
“But I am the newest teacher there!”
“Ginny would, but she's no longer the Deputy or Head of House. And Dark Arts position still has seniority. Not the time one's present at the school.”
“Seems bloody unfair. Why did I get stuck with it?”
His wife dazzled them all with a sunny smile. “Yi is still on convalescent leave. Broke his shin bones stuck in a pot hole on the path. You love Hogwarts. Don't whine. Our business needs to be run. We have lots of clients that need catching up on.” She thought of the most important reason, last. “And I resigned, first!” Ginny said, matter of factly.
Harry stated petulantly, “I want to, too!”
“Can't. Just temporary till summer. So stop whinging.” Hermione just brushed her hands, eating one of the remaining donuts still on the plate on the Potter's kitchen table.
“I don't see why ….”
Hermione could feel this would be a year long discussion but repeated the reasons they'd already gone over. Many times! “The school won't replace me until July. Flitwick has gone and retired to someplace unplottable and where I can't wring his little neck. You'll do the job because I'm asking you. Hogwart's gets what it wants. Learn to live with it.” After a quick swallow of water, she said, “Besides. Not getting a stampede of people begging to take the Dark Arts post, now is there? It has ….shall we say..... an unfortunate reputation.”
“Boy, can I attest to that!”
“Castle didn't want me, it seems.” Ginny said in faux sadness. She wasn't really sorry. It gave her extra heartburn and the school gave her a headache she had forgotten about. Maybe Harry hadn't been entirely wrong about avoiding the place. As much as she was glad her son was doing much better at 'playing nice', Ginny sincerely wanted to revisit it solely by postal owl.
It was okay for that to be Harry's immediate problem, however.
Besides, Ginny had inherited all she really wanted from the castle. Minerva's ancient music player-cum-file cabinet. It had a proud place now in her 'new' personal study, in what had been James bedroom.
“This has to be it, guys. THE major contrast of the universes.” Harry was on to Charlie and Neville's theme of perverse changes between universes.
“Potter teaching at Hogwarts? Can't be it.” Neville really didn't think so. “This isn't weird enough. This is just the same kind of old twist-in-the-gut, turn-of-events that always happens to you, Harry.”
“Well …...” Charlie sat back, thoughtfully, “We should discuss it more in depth, then.....”
“More donuts?” Hermione asked helpfully.
“I'm ready, Neville.” Harry just got up, and held open the door.
Neville grinned broadly, at the other three, and followed Potter out the door.
“He's a lot sneakier, than I remember.” Ginny said with some consideration.
“Who, Neville?” Charlie smiled in remembrance. “Well, that's that experience of wily generalship, in the face of great peril.”
“I still find that hard to believe.” Ginny's eyes widened thoughtfully. “Neville Longbottom, leading a mounted charge of centaur lancers, against an army of jellyfish.”
“Merlin's honor, it is true. Plus there were crabs, kraken, shark-like things, squiggly stuff I am not sure what, …..all that really happened.” Charlie's eyebrows rose, just thinking of the two wings of the last attack sweeping in on either side of him.
And Neville getting embraced with his face crushed against the female centaur's chest. Worthy of several songs, he reckoned.
“And that's all?” Ginny's eyes re-narrowed with suspicion.
“We spent the rest banging about from place to place, trying to figure out how to get us back in alignment with our portion of the cosmos. Seemed about three weeks worth, in our time. No drama. No heroics.”
And never the whole truth. To anyone other than Neville.
But Charlie was dead certain they'd never tell the whole story to anyone else.
Certainly, not with the shade of another sister and a centaur seemingly lurking behind the face of the Ginny before him.
“You are a lousy liar, Charlie.” She batted him on the forehead – lightly – with a dish rag.
“Yes you are. You always give off a faint fart smell, when you are trying to be sneaky.” Ginny waved a hand back and forth past her face and all three smiled uncomfortably.
There was a moment of silence.
“It's my kitchen. You can leave now.”
Hermione pointed to her cup, which she helpfully just filled up. Charlie said around a mouthful of breakfast sausage. “Still got my tea. And more meat...”
“Oh, bother! Lock the door on your way out.”
After the door shut, there was another awkward silence for a few moments.
Finally, Hermione sought to reassure him. “The smell thing. I hadn't noticed, at all, myself.”
Charlie gave the air about him a worried sniff. Sensing nothing. “Neither did I. Hope Ginny was just making that up. Or maybe, think it is something …....dragon-ish.”
“Ughh!” She looked faintly nauseated.
“Only the males, Hermione. And thankfully, not all the time. If this works today – like I know it will – you will never come to know.”
Hermione looked grim. The Dragon museum director was really here to escort her to another kind of interview. And not one to the Ministry of Magic! “Why should HE care today, Charlie? He left me to my fate. Just walked away into a living inferno. Didn't care about us, Ron, or me or my children.”
“No, he probably didn't. Doesn't now.” Charlie took a big inhale of breathe. “In general, I've found them unpleasant to talk to.”
“They are monsters!”
“Fair point.” Charlie conceded, pushing his plate on the table away from him. “But he'll listen today. I made a bargain with him.”
“When?” she demanded.
“One of our last stops on the way home.”
Hermione blinked, a little disarmed with that knowledge but certain her information about Charlie's whereabouts since returning were most accurate. “But you've been with us, almost the entire time. Ron, Harry or Bill never noticed you sneaking off.”
“Who is being sneaky and nosy, now?”
Ron's wife pounded her palm on the kitchen table. “Answer me, Charles Weasley!”
“Neville and my travels. Not yours. Sometime between when my sister Ginny and Astrid met him, flying against the Black Dragon four years ago, and when we all first encountered him in the Cave of Wonders. Only it wasn't the first for him and me. Sort of.”
Hermione digested that for a few moments. “Doesn't seem ….possible.”
“Yet, it is. You know what traveling with Kreacher was like. I begin to wonder at all the crazy, miraculous things that have happened to all of us these past thirty-forty years, and begin to wonder if we know a tenth of what really happened.”
This hurt her head, just thinking on the contradictions. Hermione shook her head. And she wondered the same thing, too. About all their lucky fortune.
Charlie's wife came into the kitchen from the front door, after a gentle knock. She grasped two quality racing brooms in her hands. “All ready to do some flying?” asked Veronica (a.k.a. Astrid Vortigern Olafsdotter).
Hermione nodded. Resigned to follow them despite thinking this was all worthless. “Suppose so. Harry is safely on the way to Hogwarts. Ginny to work at Diagon Alley.”
The plain ordinary woman who was most definitely not 'ordinary' shook her head. “Not immediately. She watched the house from up the street, to see if you two were departing in another direction.”
Charlie's eyes narrowed. “Ah! That wicked little witch.”
“Is our job! Good at it, too.” His wife said matter-of-factually. “Besides, I thought she might do something like that, so I 'just happened' to see her on my way to the house. Had the brooms 'hidden', thanks to your helpful 'purse' spell, Hermione. And convinced her that I was coming to find you. And Hermione was probably trying to get you to talk about your mysterious trip.” Veronica smiled broadly, “I am to get you on your way.”
“And she bought that?”
“It was true. Wasn't it?” At their vague nods, Veronica smiled a little. “I never lie to her. She knows that.”
They got to their feet, smiling at one another.
Hermione Weasley, current Headmistress of Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, sagely said, “Never lie. Just not the whole truth!”
“I prefer ….... incomplete information, till the facts are iron clad. One of us will get the story out of him. Someday. And today, we will leave by Flue Network to the Ministry, then to Hogsmeade, then walk until we can just diverge from the path, slightly.” Veronica smiled a secret smile, “Because she was still watching, from a different spot, when I walked in here, a few minutes ago. I was a sister, once, too.”
[North Sea, off Norwegian coast]
The two broom riders coasted to an uneasy stop near the little rock. The time was midday, although that was subject to question, as no sun was visible since they'd left the English coastline. The sea-washed lump of stone seemed puny and miniscule to Hermione, at the very least. Not like the safe 'big' rock she planned to be going to, standing firmly on, and mentally block out the sights and sounds of the North Sea surging all around.
And talk to a dragon.
“I think I am going to be sick.” Hermione announced.
The other broom rider just grasped Hermione's to keep it from drifting and tumbling its unsteady rider into the briny deep. “You've faced nameless terrors, fought monsters, and are a little queasy about being a few feet above the water?” Veronica was not sounding sympathetic.
A series of rolling waves surged just under their feet. The size of office buildings. “Heights scare me. So do fathomless depths. So sue me.”
“It's shallow here.”
“I can't walk on the sea bottom, without magic!” Hermione retorted. “Or like one of the Undead.”
“It is a dubious talent.” Veronica agreed. “That's why you bring a magic wand, I believe. And there was little other choice, unless you could convince the Department of Mysteries into providing the magic carpet. Or a boat.”
“Boy, that would have made me spew!”
“Hence the brooms.”
“Why couldn't I ride on Charlie's shoulders. I have done that on a dragon before.”
“Funny you should bring that up, dear sister-in-law.” The red dragon with Charlie's voice sat flapping, just alongside, holding himself in midair with some difficulty in the gusty wind.
“There is little funny about this.”
“No, I wish you to behold this little bit of Norway before us.”
“Wet basalt, covered in bird poo. I had expected more 'land'.”
At the sound of Charlie's voice, the Great Gray Dragon unfolded, spreading out its wings in a futile attempt to dry itself. It seemed at first as if the rock itself was trying to take flight. But as it became more recognizable, the craggy scars stood out and the great milky eyes. Not jewel-like as Charlie's had become.
The gray's held great, incredibly vast, age.
Suddenly, Hermione was seventeen again, holding on for dear life to the back scales of this very creature in an incredible escape attempt from Gringotts.
“I'll be a son of bitch!” she mumbled.
The giant thing snorted air wetly out from the flared nostrils on its forehead. “WERE YOU WRONG IN THE SEX OF THE SAID CREATURE, CHARLES RODT WEASLEY.” The fearsome dragon rumbled in clear English, but palpably louder.
Vibrating the broom stick Hermione tightly clutched in both hands.
“NO, ELDEST. SHE IS RECALLING SEEING YOU, FROM BEFORE.”
“OH!” The beast said sleepily. “DISTINCTLY HEARD HER SAY SHE WAS A SON...”
“A MODERN EXPRESSION, FIRST OF DRAGONS. SHE HAS SEEN YOU BEFORE. AND YOU HER.”
“AHHH, YESSSSS' The dorsally-mounted nostrils opened and closed and gave the impression of sensing everything olfactory about Hermione. “WELL DONE. THE GOBLIN'S BANK! AND THE CAVE.” The Gray Dragon really did seem like a dotty old man, rudely awakened and not fully in his coherent faculties, at the moment. “TALENTED WITCH. WILL MAKE A FINE ADDITION TO OUR KIND ON THIS WORLD ….”
Both dragons were understandable. Hermione shouted back, “I didn't ask to be a dragon. I was injured by that one harlot riot of a black, you unleashed on my kind...”
The answering rumbled from the Gray made the water dance on the surface. “SOUNDS LIKE SHE IS NOT GRATEFUL,” The Gray queried the Scarlet.
“IT HAS BEEN A TRYING TASK, ELDEST. SHE IS GRAVELY ILL. THE NECKLACE WILL NOT PRESERVE HER MUCH LONGER.”
“IT WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO,” The gray dragon hissed with growing annoyance, like a broken steam locomotive.
The red dragon gave a good impression of trying sound patient. “CIRCUMSTANCES HAVE CHANGED, ELDEST. SHE HAS EARNED THE RIGHT TO DENY.”
“OHHHHH!” The mottled gray head shook itself, sending spray water flying about. “VERY WELL THEN. HAVE YOU BROUGHT IT?”
“OF COURSE.” Trying to suggest 'now' was not the time to irritate the 'Dragon-in-Chief'!, Charlie tried to put some gentle suggestive emphasis on cooperation in his words, the red dragon's head bent sideways, to fix Hermione with a 'happy' dragon grin. “HERMIONE, SHOW THE ELDEST OF ALL DRAGONS ON THIS WORLD THE MINIATURE.”
Past his great fangs, he attempted to whisper, “...ICKLY, QUAY. WHILE HE IS STILL HAPPY.”
Veronica assured her she had a hand on the broom, and so Hermione dug under her collar with both hands. And revealed the oddly-shaped, charcoal tinged four-footed crystal shape from underneath her chin. Then let it fall back under her shirt to her breast. Even taking it off her skin, now, caused Hermione to feel faint and weak.
Her ears couldn't hear it, but she could see from the way the water surface rippled outward from the stone, that the Gray Dragon resounded with tone beyond her comprehension. “IT CAUSED SO MUCH TROUBLE. SHAME TO LOSE YOU, MY DEAR. THIS IS A HARD CHOICE, AND YOU MAY NOT GAIN ALL THAT MUCH MORE TIME. HUMAN LIFE IS A BRIEF THING.”
“I will accept it. If it frees me from this.” She stoutly replied.
“YOU WILL NEVER BE ENTIRELY FREE OR UNTOUCHED BY THE DRAGONS, MY WITCH. IT IS DONE.”
Hermione cried out in pain and frantically dug at her shirt collar. Tearing away the buttons of the shirt as she yanked with both hands, freeing the now glowing figurine and looking with fear and some pain at the dragon-shaped scar on her upper chest.
Veronica took her free hand from her broom, whipped the figurine out of Hermione's fingers as it hung from the snapped necklace, and grabbed her with the other hand.
That was fine, except there was a sizzling sound, and Hermione grabbed at Veronica's hand, prying at the fingers to open them back up. The figurine was burning the palm of the vampire's hand like a hot coal. Veronica didn't even seem to feel it.
Hermione held out the hot thing, by the chain, out from her as far she could. A sharp claw from Charlie's wing took it swiftly from her, and tossed it toward the Gray Dragon.
Who caught it surely in great fanged open mouth. And swallowed.
“AWWW. VERY SATISFYING. FORGET SOMETIMES HOW COLD AND WET YOUR PLANET IS. I SHOULD SLEEP ON THE PROBLEM SOME MORE.”
Charlie gave a great dragon equivalent of a sigh, relieved this had not gone as disastrously bad as he had feared. He soothingly said, “OF COURSE, GRANDFATHER. SORRY TO DISTURB YOUR FURTHER REST.”
“HMMMMMM.” The Gray snorted with a spout of steam from his nostrils. “UNTIL THE TIME OF THE NEXT …...ASSESSMENT. YOUNGSTER. YOU WILL BE THERE.”
“GOOD, GOOD. FAREWELL HUMANS. WE WILL NOT MEET AGAIN.” The Gray folded itself back around the rock. In moments, the spray darkened rock looked no different that before.
[Yorkshire apartment, Upper Flagley, Charles & Veronica Weasley]
“What did it mean? We 'humans' would not meet it again. I was the only one out there.” Hermione sweltered under a pile of blankets wrapped around her in Charlie and Veronica's small kitchen. She was not cold. Just shaking.
It was some sort of nervous reaction to what just happened. And delayed terror at the flight low over the water.
“Must be just an expression.” Charlie'd mused. “You both are in human form. The Gray One was just being general for what you are.”
“Huh.” Hermione grunted with some lingering doubt. Fanning herself with an archeology magazine from the coffee table.
In fact, it was stifling warm in the room. Perhaps a way to discourage uninvited guests. Veronica had previously speculated it was Charlie mainly needing it to be tropically warm to be comfortable.
As for the vampire, she had not noticed it to be a problem in her own home before. Now Veronica felt distinctly uncomfortable, walking about, opening windows. She didn't say so out loud, but found the room oppressively hot!
And a lingering, uncomfortable feeling of vertigo.
But this was nonsense and possibly just nerves about what they had just done. She was vampire! They had little sensation of hot or cold. Or loss of balance!
The Charles and Veronica Weasley flat in Upper Flagley was small and modest. It fit the lifestyle of a plain witch. And her very plain and boring wizard of a husband, who was the director of a museum nobody in this little Northern town visited or heard of.
But it suited them. Charlie sat sipping tea, comfortable in his bathrobe and towel, sitting on the other side of the table.
Veronica had come back into the small kitchenet, after changing out of her wet clothes and drying her hair with another towel. She had a worried expression on her face, and a look of distant consideration. As if she were trying to remember something or listening to some internal voice. Clenching and unclenching the burnt hand.
Otherwise, she looked in the pink of health. In fact …
“Veronica, are you feeling well?” Hermione looked curiously at the vampire.
“Sure. Fine. Never better. In fact always the same. Bloody sweltering in here. Is it just me?” Veronica reached over and raised up the bottom edge of the small window, fanning herself. “Why do you ask.”
The temporary Hogwart's Headmistress reached up to feel Veronica's neck and jaw. “You are flushed. And actually warm. And maybe a little ….swollen. Are you retaining water.”
“No, course not. Ridiculous. Must just be coming out of the shower. Remember, I reflect the general heat of the surroundings. I was in the hot water. Soon, I'll be just like the room temp. Cold to you.”
“Hmm. Maybe.” Hermione suddenly reached at Veronica's injured hand, putting a hand on the finger tips to open it out for all three to see.
And Veronica said, loudly, “Ouch! Shit that hurts.”
On Veronica's palm, was the same shape burnt onto Hermione's chest.
“He said you could never be unmarked, after contact with Dragons.” Charlie ruminated, comparing the two shapes. “….never unmarked.”
“What does that mean?” Hermione recovered her chest. Then Hermione fixed the vampire with a look of amazement “…..... Veronica, you just said, 'Ouch'!”
“Cause it hurt like bloody hell!”
“It hurt a vampire?”
“Yes …...... yes........” Veronica blinked back, distractedly. “How is that possible? I haven't felt pain – real pain I mean – in several centuries. Oh, sure there was discomfort. When that ax almost took off my leg ….......”
“Remarkably dispassionate about near amputation, isn't she.” Hermione smiled at Charlie.
“Yet you should hear her moan about having to clean the kitchen, when we take turns at it. And I also do the bathroom all myself.”
“That's because men are pigs, and leave foul things about in the bathroom tiles.”
“Well, I wish I was hairless, then. Instead of red and scaly.”
Hermione's surprise changed to knowing pleasure. “She's just a little in turmoil, Charlie. The changes are sudden and dramatic and a little frightening.”
Veronica almost stood on her chair, “I felt something for the first time in ten centuries, Hermione Granger! Course I am in bloody turmoil.”
“Don't need to shout. I am going to get showered and dressed, myself. I need to get to Hogwarts, to somewhere I can write all this down.”
“Do you believe this? Do you believe this?” Veronica-Astrid yelled at the grinning Charlie. Veronica was shedding real tears. Incredulous at the change that had been done to her. Hermione having her health fully restored and her status as just a human witch again was great, but the disguised Norse witch, turned vampire and existing in limbo alongside humans for ten centuries.
She should shout from the rooftop. How does one get out there from the inside?
“All just the beginning. A very, …..very interesting turn of events.” Hermione grinned like the proverbial cat.
Veronica demanded, “Interesting? Beginning? How can this be?”
“We've both been touched by a being from a completely older and different place of existence. Their powers are probably beyond our imagining.”
“How are you changed? I mean, other than the scar,” Veronica asked with real worry.
“Just …...colder. Don't feel it as pain actually. Sort of ….detached feeling...from my surroundings.”
Charlie worriedly reached for her hand. Suddenly concerned that the 'bargain' he'd made with the oldest and also wiliest living thing on Earth had merely traded one life for another.
But...no. Hermione Granger Weasley's was still warm. Just not exactly, as she should have been.
“Some sort of trade. I am more so than I was and Hermione has taken a bit of myself as …...” Veronica's unmarked hand held Hermione face and turned her head about slightly. “No fangs. The eyes seem normal.”
Hermione got what the two were driving at, alarmingly stood to look at her reflection in the little kitchen window. Then came back to the table, and held Veronica's hand over the scared and discolored table. With a will, both women could ….exactly match the coloration and pattern of the table's wood top.
“Son of a gun!” Hermione exclaimed.
“Maybe he gave you each something of yourselves.” Charlie mused. “A trade ….to restore some balance.”
Hermione nodded, sitting back down. “Now that you say, I do have the oddest hankering for raw meat. Not blood,...mind you. But really don't need it cooked.”
“Yeah, …...yeah.” Veronica said in a shaky voice. “I know exactly what you mean.”
“Well, for you, that's perfectly normal. You'll get odd of cravings throughout your term.”
“What are you saying?” Charlie demanded.
“We weren't the only ones trading part of themselves, in this room, Buster.”
“When you two ran off to do a little private island boinking...”
Both Charlie and Veronica Weasley looked a bit sheepish, but had to admit it was true. “I suppose. Went back again, …..you know. Hermione.”
“I can assume that was a frequent 'yes', and I don't need anymore details. Except where the island is.” Hermione said smugly. “That was two weeks ago, in this time. She's been here or on hold rather, and all that good stuff has been …..percolating.”
“Exchanging that good wholesome DNA!” The witch bundled the blankets about her and got back to her bare feet. She felt a hundred times better, the moment the pain of the burn scar lessened. Hermione was also ecstatic about the change in events. “I can assure you, Mrs. Weasley, that you will be having a bouncing, gooing bundle of joy, arriving about sometime this late summer.” Hermione rethought her arithmetic, “Or maybe next fall? No, we are back to original calender, so its back to October again. If we are starting cooking now. So summer....”
“Baby! That's ridiculous!”
Hermione pointed a finger at Charlie. “You and Neville feel only gone about three weeks. We were under four months. She was trapped in time. Or maybe still stuck in this present and noticed no difference.” Hermione waggled her fingers, as if doing some mental calculation, “Yes, ….plenty of time. Keeping those good sperm on a low simmer. June baby.”
Both Charlie and Veronica looked back at Hermione in disbelief. Veronica raised up her hands to her face, and shouted, “Are you fucking kidding me? I'm a vampire. I am very dead.”
“Prove it.” Hermione was not impressed, gesturing with a hand for the change to commence.
Veronica looked at Hermione sideways, then gritted her teeth. Nothing more happened. She looked back at Charlie, to confirm nothing had happened.
But now Charles Weasley thought of several objections. “I don't have any …....I am sterile. She's a vampire. We can't ….don't.....there's no …..not compatible.”
“Did, not, was ….and...I have to say...” pointing some fingers to Veronica's slack-jawed shock “...further conclusive evidence of extended viability. Congratulations.” Hermione went to the doorway to the little flat's bathroom and bedroom, singing to herself “I'll start spreading...the news......”
Veronica just sat flabbergasted, her uninjured hand plastered flat against her belly. It was way too early to tell anything that way. Nevertheless, she reached over, grabbed Charlie's numb hand, and placed it under hers on her tummy again.
Tears of real joy began to flow.
“.....I'll be leaving this town.” Hermione's voice echoed off the bathroom's tile, getting the old shower started. She was terrible at singing. The embarrassment of the family. Hermione was banned from singing anything at home but 'Happy Birthday' by the kids.
“If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere”
Loved that double entendre! Frequently jumbling the words. Happily a-tonal. It reflected wonderfully in the shower. Hermione belted out in full volume.
Perfectly audible to the new family.
“...And make a new start of it ….”1
[Hogwarts Master's Tower, next evening]
Headmistress Weasley plopped her books down on her Tower desk. She no longer felt sick or ill or that cold dread of knowing she was slowly dying on her feet.
Proof of that was just by brushing her hair. It no longer felt brittle and stiff, but soft and it was coming back her normal brown, at the roots. And her eyes were 'young' again. There was no longer that cold, empty look in them. No hint of the occasional sparkle invading them.
Her old-ish eyes. Her bright, happy 'mom' ones, she meant.
Well, maybe she still was getting older. But no different than any other ordinary witch. But since the only real damage to her body seemed to be the ugly scar on her breast, and her prematurely occasional grayed hair, Hermione could well live with those.
As good as any tattoo to show off at the next party!
She looked up at the portraits, now more or less a full complement tonight. Though a few random ones were elsewhere. Albus was in his, chatting with Minerva and several others, with no seeming care in the world.
Merlin, she could have used him. Or maybe not. It was better he did not see her capable of being what Hogwarts wanted in leader in a time of crisis. She cleared her throat and announced, “My ladies and gentlemen, that is the end of the school day. We will adjourn for the evening.”
Rather anticlimactically, it seemed. No one did more than a vague wave off from Everard. There was barely any mumbling comments at all and various personages instantly moved out. With far more interesting portraits to visit in the castle.
Hermione caught the eye of the witch's high above Dippet and Dumbledore. Elsapeth the Great looked hesitantly back at her. Hermione nodded to the picture and toward her inner chambers, and Hermione picked up her stack of book reports on back without saying another word.
Most of the portraits didn't care. They barely acknowledged her speaking, in any case. Back to normal.
Once in her chambers, Hermione sat on her bed, facing the small empty mirror. Soon, a woman's figure moved into it, more vividly real than her centuries old picture out there in the main Tower room. The painting stood facing Hermione, seeming unsure of herself for a change. “Didn't expect you would ever talk to me again. I've kept silent.”
“I know. I didn't want you to, at first. But you were right about me. Made me push Harry and the others. You saved all our lives.”
Elsapeth seemed taken aback by that praise. She turned slightly to see if the seat was exactly behind her voluminous dress and petticoat and then carefully as she could, placed herself upon it, nervously adjusting folds in the evergreen velvet outfit, brushing imaginary flecks of dust or dirt. “I took a chance. You should have had your Minerva, to aid you. I don't think a new Headmaster has ever had to face such a crisis to the castle, so soon taking command. I had to do it.”
“I pray I never face such a time again. I don't care what you think of me. I cannot do this job.”
“You are still here. You belong.”
“Because Filius conveniently resigned as soon as he saw my face, walking across the Gate boundary. And disappeared sometime in the next morning, leaving a note he'd either be found somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa or a deserted island in the South Pacific. Either way, to 'bloody stay away from him'.”
“Little men have such tempers.” Elsapeth smiled sweetly.
“Big ones, too. You should have seen the Minister and some of his flunkies when they too crossed into the Main Hall and found me in charge. Think it was their worst nightmare.” Hermione rolled her eyes.
Elsapeth seemed untroubled by the governments concerns. “The Master of Hogwarts was seen as the only effective counterbalance to whomever was the most prominent leader of the Pure-Blood wizards at the time. The Minister is only your moderns equivalent of that. They can't stand the concept, but pay lip service to the idea of scholastic independence of Hogwarts. Only a real few, like that deluded fool Fudge, tried to subvert the Headmaster for real. They usually wound up at bad ends.”
Elsapeth the portrait looked curiously at Hermione. “You are feeling much better, I see. Our kidnappers gone?”
Hermione nodded. “Aurors took them an hour ago. I'd like to try to stay charitable, but my own daughter ended up nearly one of their victims, so I don't have to.” She sighed. “They will be forbidden magic, at least on British territory. Probably still end up to bad ends, themselves.”
“They are lucky you are so weak-willed. To strike at leader's family ….” Elsapeth tsked. “In my day, the gibbet was the penalty for just about every crime. Those boys will lose their wands, shown the door to the street and still get into more trouble. They will all probably end up in Muggle prisons, anyway. At least we can be comforted they didn't graduate as full-fledged wizards.” Elsapeth seemed unnerved at sounding charitable and comforting. “Listen to me. Next I'll be begging you to chase them down and offer them one more chance at redemption.”
Roles had indeed been reversed. Hermione didn't look charitable. “They were going to chemically interrogate a boy because of practical jokes. Filius – before vanished – examined their cauldron and pronounced it lethal.”
“Then we owe a debt to our little rule breakers. By conveniently giving us grounds for the kidnappers removal. And the one girl delinquent? What's to be of her.”
“She stays. Enough mitigating circumstances. My niece Jennifer spoke in her defense – as did my nephew …..”
“I like him.” Elsapeth smiled naughtily.
Hermione smiled back. “I thought you might.” She breathed a heavy sigh. “Well, I am only temporary till the summer. Then the Board can do their real politicking and find someone more amenable.”
“More of a kiss-arse, you mean.”
“Not my exact phrase, but you are probably right.”
“Pity. You belong in that cloak. In that chair. You should make your home from that bed. You will again, if the castle needs you, you know.”
“You'll have to catch me. I won't come willingly.”
“Think you've taken us past the dangerous bit. But you should think about it.”
“I don't want to become you. I don't want to be the woman I see when I look in your picture.”
That seemed to take Elsapeth aback. There was an awkward silence for a few seconds. “No, I didn't either, Hermione. There weren't liveable choices, for our people. Some were rogues no better than Malfoy's father. One was only slightly more charming than our mad-Scots tyrant.”
“Not much is really known about you.”
“Well …..then, what do you need to know but that I slept my way to the top.”
“All I have is from Batilda's History.”
“I did what I had to do. Bagshot is a load of rubbish, about me, any rode. She talked to society portraits, decades or centuries from the event. All of whom were catty bitches then. You couldn't be a woman in charge and not be declared a slut.”
“It would have helped a bit had you not so frequently dressed the part.”
“Part of the package, Hermione, in 1530. Be constantly ready to kill or be killed, or learn to pout fetchingly, prop up the 'girls' a little and bounce. Men – even ruthless ones with daggers – are surprisingly blinded by the sight, all too frequently.”
“I have a proposal for you. Let me write your biography.”
That took the painting by surprise. “Why would you?”
“I don't like such an obvious failure in knowledge. We don't know the first real thing about your times. It was all rewritten by wizards. And, not surprisingly, you were declared a Harlot, First Class.”
“Sounds better in French.”
“Will you let me do that?”
“Will you stay on as Headmistress?”
Hermione resolutely shook her head. “No. Not under any circumstances, beyond the end of the school year.”
“That's not fair.”
“You taught me about fair. All I know about your story is that you were a Pure-Blood witch from Bristol ….”
“No. Actually, a little village in the West Country, that ceased to exist when I was two. Parents got us out when we woke up one morning and found the entire town dead from the Plague. Before the neighbors could come and burn us alive in our house for practicing witchcraft to save our lives, Dad loaded us up in an ox-cart. Not much bigger than this dresser and we escaped in the dark.”
“See, none of that is known.”
“I really didn't die a virgin. That much is extremely true.”
“We can skip the explicit parts, in the bowdlerized version, for the grannies at the Ministry, and the twins Mimsy and Mamsy.”
“Oh, please. Their bedrooms should have had revolving doors. Some of the biggest hypocrites out there.”
“Will you accept my trying?”
It was the painting's turn to sigh. “Don't you have enough to write about? People who matter now?”
“Can't really. Not about my friends, not without hurting some of them. That's some more of my hypocrisy.”
“Along with your vampire friend?”
Hermione thought about it and had only a little compunction about lying to the painting. It had done so to her! “She's gone, Elsapeth. She's one of our lost in this mess.”
“Astrid wouldn't be. She's free now. Firenze the centaur is still missing as well. I am unable to communicate with the other centaurs in the Forest about that. Don't know if they care.”
“Shame. On both accounts. I understand.”
There was knock at the bedroom door. Hermione smiled at the sound and turned back to the woman in the mirror. “You'll have to excuse me now, Elsapeth. I am turning in for the evening.”
Elsapeth eyebrows shot up, and her cheeks brightened in rosie beacons by her smile. “Always learning, aren't you. You were a fast student.”
“My husband, you old witch.”
Whatever else, Hermione was, Elsapeth quickly vanished upon the opening of the bedroom door. “Honey, I am …...well, this sounds really weird, being here but …...I'm home.” Ron Weasley nervously came in and shut the door. “I mean...exactly how long is this going to last?”
He HAD allowed his mustache to get shaggy and overgrown. But then, it had been only three weeks since they'd been 'back' in the real world. Two more now back in the real world.
One good one – as far as she felt whole and normal again.
She was taking advantage of that healthy feeling immediately. The mustache 'nagging' could take place in the morning.
She kicked off her shoes and ran to jump up into his arms. “June, Ron. Then they can get someone better. Also, the castle likes to tease Harry a little. Force him to accept he is a better teacher than he believes he is. We'll be all back to normal by mid-summer's eve.”
Ron Weasley felt staggered, by her sudden reincarnation as a little girl. And her sudden weight in his arms. But he was a big strong auror. He could take it.
Though, he really wasn't expecting his world to be so turned around. All in a two weeks time. Hermione seemingly cured! But she wouldn't tell how! Charlie's wife transformed back to a mortal woman! With child!
But this was the strangest bit. By far. He was invited into Hogwarts master's bedroom. It was theirs!
No! He'd almost been ordered to come up here.
“That's great. Feels strange, coming up here. I mean ….you know. This was Dumbledore's. Feels kind of …..”
“Naughty?” She hopped down to her bare feet, but did not let go his hands, towing him insistently into the sleeping quarters and shutting the door.
“Yeah. Ummm, I guess.”
“Prepare yourself then. We are about to join a very exclusive club.”
Ron was looking rather blank. Delicious man, she thought.
“Wot you mean?”
“Despite this being a very old castle, lived in by many witches and wizards down the centuries, very few married couples actually lived in the Master's tower.”
Ron was rather slow. “I don't understand.”
Hermione patted the bed, next to her. “Come here, husband.”
1. Theme from 'New York, New York' film, 1977; Songwriters: John Kander, Fred Ebb.
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