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Author Notes:

Some readers may have wondered after the last chapter if Harry ever discovered that Snape was the Half Blood Prince. Nope, not in this story.

Chapter 6, The Final Quest, Part I

Harry woke the next morning from the best sleep he’d had since … well, since he could remember. And he knew it was all because of the wonderful witch lying beside him. He felt refreshed, lighthearted, and just so relaxed – like a tremendous burden had been lifted from his shoulders.

Hermione had moved away from him a bit, although their legs were still touching and her hand was resting on his arm. She was on her back, slightly turned toward him. And her tank top was enticingly loose. Harry considered the unmistakable invitation from the night before – should he accept? He was well aware that he could have had similar offers from a good percentage of the available witches in the United Kingdom over the past five years. (And there had been a few actual ones that had been quite explicit!) But he had never been the slightest bit tempted to take any of them.

He was definitely tempted by this one. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be very gallant to do it while she was asleep!

He rolled to his side, propping himself up on one elbow. With the other hand he lightly touched her bare shoulder, then ran his fingers down her arm. He noticed her lips curl into a smile, and took that as a positive sign. Next, he moved his hand down to her stomach and began stroking back and forth, softly, but firmly enough not to tickle. Slowly, deliberately, he moved it beneath the bottom edge of her top and allowed the back of his knuckles to graze against the lower part of her breasts.

Hermione had awakened, but kept her eyes closed, hoping to prolong as much as possible the overwhelming feeling of comfort and security that she got from sleeping next to Harry. When he began his ministrations, she allowed a smile to escape, wanting to encourage him to continue without scaring him off. She had to force herself to keep breathing – the urge to hold her breath was so strong – and her pulse quickened more the bolder his activity grew. When he finally made the first intimate contact, she moaned softly.

“Mmm. That feels nice,” she whispered. Harry let out a breath that neither of them had realized he’d been holding, causing her smile to broaden. Pushing forward, he extended a single finger and traced the circumference of one her breasts, intending to gradually work his way in toward the center.

Unfortunately, with excruciatingly bad timing, Hermione’s exquisite, unfailingly dependable brain chose this exact moment to remember something important she’d meant to tell Harry last night.

“Mum and Dad have invited us over for dinner today.”

Harry’s hand flew back as though it had been burned. Hermione’s eyes shot open and she inwardly cursed herself with language she’d never utter out loud. The scene would have been comical if it had occurred in a film, but neither of them felt like laughing just then.

“Harry, it’s all right,” she tried to reassure him as they both sat up in the bed. That statement could have been interpreted in two ways, and both would have been correct. Harry’s face was bright red, and Hermione’s was a bit flushed as well. She reached out and took his hands in hers.

Deciding to focus on the less intimate issue first, she continued. “It’ll be fine, they both like you. There’s nothing to worry about.”

If she weren’t trying so hard to ease his anxiety, she might have chuckled at the thought of the man universally acknowledged as the most powerful and confident wizard in the country cowering at the thought of spending the day with his lady friend’s parents.

“What if your dad asks if I’ve been sleeping with his daughter?” he blurted out. This time she did permit herself a smile, understanding the juxtaposition of the two activities in his mind.

“Just laugh it off,” she suggested with a shrug, scooting closer to him. “I’ll be there so let me answer, since it’s really me he’d be asking about.” Before Harry could raise the alternative scenario – what if she wasn’t there – she continued. “And that’s a very personal question. So he’d never be so rude as to ask you to reveal such personal information about me behind my back.” Harry wasn’t so convinced of that but didn’t contradict her aloud. “Besides, Mum will have threatened him to be on his best behavior,” she finished with a grin.

Then she took his hand and brought it up to her breast, pressing it back into place. “Harry. It’s OK.” This time the thin cotton of her tank top provided a layer of separation, but her message was clear.

Sensing his acquiescence, Hermione maneuvered herself so that she was sitting across Harry’s lap, her head leaning on his shoulder, and with her own hand coming to rest on his bare chest. She was quite pleased that his hand remained where she’d put it even after she let go of it. He chose to take the opportunity to explore the contours of this heretofore restricted area, ending with a gentle squeeze.

After a period of contented silence, Harry spoke again, requesting that they wait a few days before he concluded his recitation of the events of the final year of the war. Hermione agreed, aware of his need to regroup and recover from the emotional strain of having to relive the horrors of the war he’d been forced to fight at just seventeen years of age. Agreed, that is, as long as it was understood that she no longer needed that excuse to spend the night with him. Harry pretended to think about it for a minute before Hermione poked him in the ribs and shot him a glare. He grinned back at her and declared his enthusiastic support for the idea.

She did have a follow-up sixth year query though. “What about you and Ginny?” she asked. “You said you put your foot down at the end of the year.”

“Oh yeah, I did,” he acknowledged. “Well, you have to go back a bit, to the final quidditch match of the year, when we won the Quidditch Cup.” He proceeded to describe how Ginny had raced across the Gryffindor common room, jumped into his arms, and kissed him furiously. He claimed that it seemed like it dragged on for several days, but in reality was probably only for a few seconds.

He’d pulled away as quickly as he was able, then turned to Katie and kissed her too, then gave Demelza Robins, their third chaser, a peck on the cheek. Ginny and Katie had exchanged glares for the rest of the party. Ginny – Stay away from my boyfriend, Bell!  Katie – I’m not afraid of you, Weasley! (After all, she’d been friends with the twins for five years.)

Harry had finally laid it out as bluntly as he could during the intervening few days between Dumbledore’s death and his funeral, causing the little redhead to go into a sulky fit.

“Molly was furious when she heard,” Harry revealed. “I wasn’t exactly welcome at the Burrow after that day.” Hermione expressed surprise at that – given how close he’d been to the Weasley family.

“It wasn’t only because of Ginny,” he explained. “She also blamed me for Ron and Bill getting injured. Bill had been attacked by Greyback during the invasion of the castle, and ended up with pretty bad slashes on his face.” Hermione nodded, as she now recalled the eldest Weasley son’s appearance. When she met him at Gringotts she’d been distracted by his crippled state and hadn’t taken much note of his scars.

“Ron had his pelvis crushed when a wall fell on him,” Harry continued. “Once he recovered though, he didn’t have that much of a problem with me. He realized it was his own fault for refusing the Felix Felicis. Plus he got a lot of attention, since he was the only student seriously injured defending Hogwarts. The press played it up big. He was a hero. There was even talk of him getting an Order of Merlin, Third Class, but that was before the Ministry fell to Voldemort.”

Hermione nodded again – that fit what she remembered of her other good friend. He would have reveled in the praise, in contrast to Harry, who hated it. That thought reminded her that looking him up for a visit was high on her to-do list, and Harry wholeheartedly agreed. After a little more snuggling, she sighed and announced that they needed to get up and get ready to go.

-ooo-

Hermione informed Harry that they should dress ‘casual elegant’, which for him meant he wore khaki slacks with a light blue button down Oxford shirt. Hermione changed her outfit several times, ending with a navy blue mini skirt paired with a snug-fitting white tank top under a blue and white plaid blouse, worn open at the top. Sensing that she was now the nervous one, he told her she looked great and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek as they left Hogwarts.

Upon arrival at the Granger residence, Hermione’s mum whisked her away to discuss some detail of her ball gown, leaving Harry to be entertained by her father. He swallowed hard as the older man invited him into his study.

“Hermione thinks quite highly of you,” Harry was told once they were alone.

“I think very highly of her as well,” he responded quickly, wondering where this was going.

Mr. Granger nodded. “But she’s worried about you.” This caused Harry to smile – Hermione’s worry for him had characterized their relationship from the very beginning. Her father paused, studying the young man in front of him. “You’ve had a lot of bad things happen to you; been forced into some terrible situations. Things like that are hard to just walk away from. I’d like to show you something that might help.”

He walked over to a wall, upon which was displayed a framed medal with an accompanying citation. “Do you know what this is?” he inquired of his guest.

“Yes sir,” Harry replied. It was a Victoria Cross, the highest medal awarded for valor in the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth. He’d been told that his Order of Merlin, First Class was its wizarding equivalent, but he personally held this award in higher regard.

“My father served in World War II,” Mr. Granger continued. “He never told us kids much about what he did, and how he earned this. Didn’t really like to talk about it. I expect you probably feel the same way.” Harry nodded, beginning to feel his throat tighten.

“But I looked up his story when I got older. He saved his whole platoon when they were caught in an ambush. Crawled around behind the enemy – somehow they never saw him – and killed them all. To a man his mates swore it was the bravest thing they’d ever seen. But he tried to shrug it off, told everyone it was just something he had to do. His superiors practically had to force him to accept the honor.” Harry nodded again. He could certainly relate to that.

“The thing of it was, he was the kindest, gentlest man I ever knew. You should have seen him with Hermione. She’d climb into his lap and hug him, and he’d hug her back.” Hermione’s father paused, with a far off look in his eyes. “But he was also protective – nobody messed with his family.” He turned again to look at Harry and smiled. “I think Hermione got her courage from him. All through primary school, she always stood up to bullies. Never backed down an inch.” Harry smiled back, recalling the fiercely determined young girl from his first two years at Hogwarts.

Mr. Granger directed his gaze back up at the framed medal of honor. “He died the summer after Hermione’s third year at Salem.” After a respectful silence, he beckoned Harry toward the door.

“I just thought you might like to know about that,” he explained. “By the way, don’t tell Hermione the details of how he killed those soldiers. She only knew him as a beloved grandfather.” Harry nodded, but suspected that the man was underestimating his daughter. He’d be willing to bet that she’d looked up her grandfather’s war record too.

“Thanks for showing it to me, sir. I appreciate it,” he responded. Hermione’s father winced slightly at the honorific.

“I know you’re not ready to address me by my first name yet,” he declared, resting his hand on Harry’s shoulder. (And inwardly, he wondered if the young man might someday be calling him ‘Dad’) “But Mr. Granger is sufficient.”

While Hermione’s parents told some stories about their dental practice, the dinner conversation was mostly dominated by Hermione expounding on her first week at Hogwarts, and all the changes she and Harry were contemplating for the Muggle Studies curriculum. Amused by her enthusiasm, Harry gazed fondly in her direction, which did not go unnoticed by the elder Grangers.

At the conclusion of the meal, Hermione brought out the Daily Prophet to show her parents her interview. Her mother noted that the article mentioned Harry’s name at least half a dozen times.

“Actually, McGonagall says that’s fairly restrained for them,” Hermione informed them. Harry’s pained expression both confirmed that estimation and revealed his feelings about it. Hermione moved closer to him on the sofa and wrapped her arm around his in consolation. Again, her parents noticed their affection for each other, which was much more in evidence than it had been two days earlier.

“What’s it going to be like when the two of you show up at that ball together?” her mother wondered with some concern. Harry grimaced, then shrugged resignedly.

“Do you remember how the English press reacted when Prince Charles announced he was going to marry Lady Diana?” Harry responded. (He’d only been a baby at the time, but he’d later read about the media sensation.)

“You can’t be serious!” Mrs. Granger exclaimed. However, both of the young adults assured her that this was not a bad analogy. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she worried.

Hermione had heard this doubt so often she was getting tired of it. “Yes, we do,” she shot back in a tone of annoyance and determination that caught both her parents by surprise. The two of them shared a glance, realizing that this young couple was more serious than they’d thought.

Their daughter thought of a way that her mother might experience this situation for herself. “How would you like to go to Diagon Alley with us?” she offered.

Her mother wasn’t sure. “Won’t it look too obvious?” she pointed out. “You, Harry, and your mother all together?”

Harry grinned. “Have you ever wanted to be invisible?”

Later that afternoon Hermione and her mother passed through the Leaky Cauldron without notice, and headed for Flourish & Blotts. Once inside and out of sight of the other customers, Hermione threw Harry’s invisibility cloak over the older woman, then positioned her in a chair by the window (making sure that the cloak covered the chair as well, so no one would accidentally sit on her).

From her vantage point, Mrs. Granger noticed the commotion in the street as Harry approached. Pedestrians would look up, gesture to their companions, and move toward the growing mob surrounding him. Even if she hadn’t needed to keep quiet, she would have been speechless.

Just inside the doorway he met Hermione, and asked how her shopping was going. Her reply was too low for her mother to hear, but seemed to indicate that she’d found what she wanted. They exchanged a friendly hug that could not be construed as anything more, and yet there were still some audible gasps from the onlookers. From somewhere in the Alley a camera flashed. Harry said that he’d see Hermione back at Hogwarts, and they parted. Under the cloak her mother shook her head in disbelief. This was simply too surreal. How was her daughter going to be able to put up with this all the time?

-ooo-

Later that evening, as the Granger adults were sitting together in their living room, mulling over the events of the day, Hermione’s father asked the big question.

“Do you think they’re sleeping together?”

His wife shook her head thoughtfully. “I don’t think they’re having sex yet.” She knew the young witch and wizard’s relationship had changed within the past two days, and she was pretty confident she’d be able to tell from her daughter’s body language if they’d gotten that intimate with each other.

“But sleeping?” she continued before turning to her husband with a devious grin. “You always say, ‘don’t ask a question if you don’t really want to know the answer’, right?”

The man groaned, shaking his head in mock dismay. “How can they have fallen in love in just one week?” he wondered.

“I don’t think it happened just this week,” she corrected. “I suspect it started eleven or twelve years ago. The process was just interrupted for ten years. He’s the main reason Hermione was so devastated when we sent her to Salem, you know.” He nodded in acknowledgment.

“Were we wrong to not let her see him during summer holidays?” he asked next.

“We did what we thought was best,” she responded with a rueful shrug. (The family had spent the summer break that first year in the States. And the next year Harry hadn’t responded to Hermione’s letter, so she’d regretfully given up on seeing him during that break.) “She would have gone through all that grief and anxiety all over again at the end of each summer, if we’d done it differently,” she added, recalling one of their justifications for the decision. “But it did turn out all right in the end, don’t you think?”

Her husband shrugged, but she poked him playfully on the arm. “Well, I think it’s very romantic,” she declared with a smile. “It’s like they were meant to be together all along, and now they’ve found their way back to each other.”

-ooo-

That week’s issue of Witch Weekly had an article speculating on which lucky witch Harry Potter would be escorting to the upcoming Victory Ball. One of their reporters had worked out his rotation system a year ago, and everyone knew that it was Katie Bell’s turn. However, everyone was also aware that she would be unavailable due to her quidditch schedule.

A reporter had contacted Susan Bones, who would be up next, but she responded with a curt ‘No comment’. None of his other friends would say anything either. Still, she was listed as the most likely candidate, but a few other names were suggested as possibilities, including Daphne Greengrass and even Cho Chang. New Hogwarts professor Hermione Granger, who had been spotted in Diagon Alley with Mr. Potter twice in the past week, was mentioned at the end of the article almost as an afterthought.

Hermione had been eager to see her other best friend that she hadn’t seen for a decade, and she got a chance that week. Harry had contacted Ron, and they scheduled a visit for an evening that week. Unfortunately it didn’t go as well as she’d hoped.

It wasn’t unpleasant; it was just that they didn’t have that much in common any longer. They definitely did not click as well as she had with Harry. In retrospect, she had always had more in common with Harry than with Ron, and the transition into adulthood had done nothing to change that situation. Ron and Lavender were not interested in Hermione’s university studies, and neither regarded Muggle Studies as all that important. (To Ron, muggles were for the most part just an eccentric habit of his father’s.)

After a while, Ron took Harry into another room to talk about quidditch, leaving Hermione with Lavender for ‘girl talk’. But Hermione hadn’t really been very close to Lavender at school, and to her dismay the two still had little to talk about. She eventually ended up listening to her former roommate go on and on about her children.

Ironically, where Hermione had once, to some extent, envied the attractive and vivacious girl Lavender had been, the woman she had become had now put on some weight following her two pregnancies, which seemed to have aged her more than ten years. Unexpectedly, Hermione found herself wondering if the buxom blonde would end up like looking like Molly Weasley. Finally, the disappointed witch managed to catch Harry’s eye with a pleading look, and he announced that they needed to be going.

Other than that, the next few days passed by uneventfully. The nights, however, were more interesting. The young couple continued to share a bed, and took the opportunity to explore the new dimension in their relationship, each learning how and where the other liked to be touched. It was an extremely rewarding course of study.

Finally, on the day of the Victory Ball, Hermione suggested to Harry that it was time to finish his story. She explained that it would be more appropriate if she knew everything before attending the celebration itself. Harry pondered this for a short time, then agreed. After all, he intended to tell her eventually, and this was as good a time as any.

“How long do you need to get ready for the ball?” he asked after a few seconds of consideration.

“Oh, I … two hours, I suppose,” Hermione replied hesitantly, caught off guard by the apparent change of topic. “Better make that three,” she amended after further thought. “Fleur’s sending over a hair stylist.”

“OK, right after lunch then,” Harry decided. “That should give us plenty of time.”

-ooo-

When Hermione entered Harry’s room she found him standing and staring out the window, clearly troubled, no doubt over their impending talk. She walked up behind him and wrapped her arms around him, resting her head on his back.

“You know I love, you, right?” she asked him softly.

Harry turned in her arms and smiled. “I know. But will you still love me tomorrow?”

Hermione shot him a curious look. “That sounds like a song my parents used to listen to,” she recalled. “I forget who sang it though.”

“More than one group, I think,” Harry informed her. “But the version I heard was by The Four Seasons.” The look Hermione gave him at this revelation demanded that he explain further.

“After the war ended I found more of my parents’ stuff, which included my mum’s record collection, which was mostly 60’s rock music,” he revealed. “I used to sit and listen to some of the songs, feeling sorry for myself because I was so lonely.” He shrugged. “That one struck a nerve because the wizarding world seemed to alternate loving me and hating me.”

Hermione could feel her eyes dampen at the tone of longing in his voice. “Harry, I promise you that won’t ever happen with me,” she vowed, wrapping him up again in another fierce embrace.

When she released him, Harry nodded and took a deep breath. He picked up a small, somewhat worn and battered book from the table next to his sofa. “I think the best way to start is with a visit to Godric’s Hollow … and this book.”

Hermione leafed through the pages as they made their way to the Hogwarts gates while Harry explained that The Tales of Beedle the Bard were wizarding children’s stories that were well known among those raised in the wizarding world. He then directed her attention to one story in particular, The Tale of the Three Brothers. Being a fast reader, she finished it in short order and turned to him expectantly.

“Notice the symbol that’s drawn in above the title,” he pointed out. “It represents the three gifts in the story. The line is the wand, the circle is the stone, and the triangle is the cloak.” Hermione glanced down at the page, nodded, and then looked back up at him.

Harry took a deep breath. “It turns out that they’re real,” he revealed. “The story was probably embellished, with the part about them being given out by Death himself, but the three brothers were actual people – most likely very powerful wizards who created those three magical items.” He paused at the look of disbelief on Hermione’s face and nodded gravely to show that he was completely serious.

“There is a group who call themselves Questers, who’ve dedicated themselves to seeking out those three items, which they call the Deathly Hallows,” he continued. “They identify themselves by displaying that symbol. And they believe that if the Deathly Hallows are united, it would make the possessor the Master of Death.”

Hermione was still shaking her head, but by now they’d reached the gates so Harry broke off his explanation. Wrapping his arm around her waist, he turned on the spot and disapparated. They reappeared on the outskirts of a little village, and Harry led the way into it, toward a small square at the center of town.

First he showed her the war memorial, an obelisk covered with names of soldiers killed in action, which magically turned into a statue of the Potter family when they neared it. Hermione smiled at the depiction of baby Harry in his mother’s arms, and gave his hand a small squeeze. Next he turned toward a small church on the other side of the square, leading her around behind it where a kissing gate guarded an ancient cemetery.

Harry pushed it open, but partway through he stopped and gave Hermione a quick kiss. “I’ve wanted to do that ever since I first heard about these,” he grinned. She rolled her eyes at him, but couldn’t help grinning back at his antics. He took her hand again and guided her through the rows of tombstones, some ancient, some more recent.

He paused to point out the grave of Kendra and Ariana Dumbledore, the mother and sister of their former headmaster, which surprised Hermione. When she commented that she’d had no idea he and Harry were from the same village, he scowled briefly and told her that Dumbledore had never seen fit to mention it to him either.

Next he stopped at the tombstone of James and Lily Potter. Hermione pressed herself into his side and he wrapped an arm around her as they stood silently paying their respects for a few minutes. Internally, Harry was introducing the young witch to his parents and telling them that he thought she might be the one he was looking for – a partner to share his life with him. He felt a warm glow as he finished, which he took as a sign of their approval.

While she waited for him to conclude his silent conversation, Hermione conjured a wreath of roses and stepped forward to lay it on the grave. The appreciative hug she received as she returned to his side filled her with a warm glow of her own.

“I try to come here at least four times a year,” he informed her as they moved down another row. “My birthday, Halloween, Christmas, and Easter.”

“I’ll be happy to come with you each time, if you like,” she offered. His response was another quick kiss of appreciation.

“Now, I need to show you something else, that sort of brings the whole story together,” he declared, stopping at an extremely old, weathered stone that looked like it must have been there hundreds of years. And in fact, it had been.

Hermione caught her breath when she spotted the symbol of the Deathly Hallows just below the name – IgnotusPeverell.

“Yes,” Harry confirmed in a low voice. “This was one of the three brothers from the story. He was the one with the invisibility cloak … and I’m his direct descendant.”

“You don’t mean … your cloak!” Hermione gasped.

“Is the one in the story,” Harry confirmed. “And it gets even more bizarre. The brother with the Resurrection Stone was Cadmus Peverell, and he was the ancestor of Marvolo Gaunt, and ultimately of Tom Marvolo Riddle. Also known as Lord Voldemort.” Hermione’s eyes went wide as she grappled with the idea that Harry and Voldemort were descended from two legendary brothers.

“And in the ultimate irony, Voldemort, who spent so much effort trying to escape death, didn’t even realize he’d inherited one of the Deathly Hallows,” Harry continued. “He turned it into a horcrux.”

“The ring,” Hermione breathed softly.

“The ring,” Harry confirmed.

“So, what about the wand?” she ventured after taking a few moments to absorb this shocking revelation.

“It passed from wizard to wizard down through history,” he told her. “It went by several names – the Elder Wand, the Deathstick, the Wand of Destiny – but was lost for a long time before Gregorovitch, a wand maker on the continent, found it. It was taken from him by Grindelwald, and from Grindelwald by Dumbledore.”

“You mean …?” Hermione felt her knees go weak as the full implication struck her, and Harry shot an arm around her waist to steady her. “Dumbledore’s wand, which you picked up after he was killed, and …” she broke off, hesitating to bring up the next part.

“And used to kill Snape and Malfoy,” he finished for her. “You see, control of the wand passes on whenever a wizard is killed or defeated. I’m not sure if it passed to Malfoy when he disarmed Dumbledore on top of the Astronomy Tower, or to Snape when he killed him, but either way it’s mine now, since I killed both of them.” He paused, watching her eyes as she processed this information and reached the correct conclusions, first narrowing in concentration and then going wide again.

“Yes, it was a big factor in Dumbledore being considered the most powerful wizard of his time, and also for me now,” he confirmed.

“So at that point you controlled two of the Deathly Hallows,” she mused. “And the third was the stone in the ring, which Dumbledore had …”

“Which comes up again later in the story,” Harry broke in. This resulted in a glare from Hermione which clearly communicated that ‘later’ had better be ‘sooner’. He responded with a cheeky grin that didn’t placate her a bit.

“Come on, there’s one more place I need to show you here before we go back to the castle,” he announced. Reluctantly, she allowed herself to be led from the cemetery and through the village until they were heading back out towards the countryside again, and the houses were spaced further apart. They stopped at the end of a street in front of a wrecked cottage with rubble scattered across the yard, which was filled with waist high grass and bounded by overgrown hedges. It didn’t take long for Hermione to figure this one out – it was the house where Harry had lived as a baby, where his mother and father had been killed by Voldemort but he’d survived.

Harry showed her the hidden magical sign commemorating his parents’ death and his first defeat of the Dark Lord. Then he told of the first time he had come here, with Dobby during their hunt for the horcruxes. How they’d been accosted by Bathilda Bagshot who’d somehow spotted him even though he was under his invisibility cloak at the time, and beckoned him to follow her

“Bathilda Bagshot?” Hermione interrupted. “The writer of History of Magic? Did she live in Godric’s Hollow too?” Harry nodded and continued with the revolting revelation that it had actually been her corpse, inhabited by Voldemort’s familiar, Nagini, who had attacked him once he’d entered her house. To Harry’s dismay, hexes had seemed to have no effect on it.

But Dobby, who had made himself invisible, had followed along. He’d stopped the giant snake in its tracks and threw it against a wall with a burst of house elf magic. This had given Harry time to draw Gryffindor’s sword and kill the snake before it could strike again.

“Not too much problem compared to the basilisk,” Harry quipped as the story concluded. Hermione allowed herself to exhale a sigh of relief, but then frowned.

“Wait a minute. When did you get the sword?” she demanded.

Harry ran his had through his hair and shot her a sheepish grin. “I guess I’d better go back to that part,” he admitted. Hermione rolled her eyes and huffed in response, but didn’t resist as he wrapped an arm around her again and apparated them back to Hogsmeade.

As they walked back onto the Hogwarts grounds Harry related how he’d had a long talk with McGonagall after Dumbledore’s death and informed her about the prophecy, including the information he’d received from the headmaster about Voldemort’s horcruxes. The stern professor had reluctantly concurred with his idea to leave school to carry out the mission of finding and destroying the soul repositories, and also agreed that he should take the Sword of Gryffindor to use to destroy them when he found them. She then expertly transfigured an identical copy to replace it on the wall of the Headmaster’s office.

After Dumbledore’s funeral Harry and Dobby had simply disappeared. They had set up several safe houses – ordinary flats throughout muggle England and Scotland. Dobby was adept at hiding himself from muggle and wizard alike, so Harry appeared to be no different than any other teenaged male striking out on his own, struggling to make ends meet.

At this point Harry noticed Hermione becoming more and more impatient, and realized that she was still waiting to learn the fate of the ring. He surprised her again by telling her that Dumbledore had left it to him in his will.

“What? How …?” was all she could manage initially. He grinned again and took her hand to lead her on another private circuit of the lake.

“He left me two things – the book I showed you earlier and a snitch, the one I caught in my first quidditch match,” he explained. “With no clues other than that symbol. It was almost a year later when I discovered that the ring was inside the snitch, although I’d suspected it earlier. It had a cryptic message that read, ‘I open at the close’ but that was all. I finally had the idea to try to cut it open with the Elder Wand, and that worked.”

He looked away across the lake and his eyes unfocussed briefly. “I only used it once. I talked to my Mum and Dad … for real instead of just to their tombstone.” He felt Hermione’s arms encircle him from behind and leaned back into her comforting embrace for several satisfying seconds.

“But what was the point?” Hermione complained once they’d resumed their trek around the lake. “What did any of that have to do with finding and destroying the horcruxes? I can see how useful the wand would have been, but it doesn’t seem like he intended you to have that one. Why such a vague set of clues? And why the stone at all?”

Harry shrugged. “He liked to play mind games with people. I guess he wanted me to figure it out for myself or something. But it seemed more like a distraction to me.” A dark look flashed across his face, but Hermione did not see it.

“That’s so … so … arrgh!” she fumed. “I don’t understand him!” She turned back to Harry and scowled. “I can at least see now why you don’t have as much respect for him.” Harry nodded stonily.

“I wasn’t the only one,” he told her with some satisfaction. “After he died his image took a real hit. Two books were written about him – one by Elphias Doge, a close friend of his, that treated him like a saint and the other a tell-all by Rita Skeeter that painted a less than flattering picture of him. Guess which one was more popular?”

Hermione made a mental note to get hold of a copy of each one and read them for herself. “But, Rita Skeeter was the writer who made your life so miserable during the tournament,” she pointed out.

Harry nodded. “But she also helped me out fifth year,” he countered. “And it turned out that pretty much all of the stuff she wrote about him was true, even if she did put the worst possible interpretation on it. For example, he was friends with Grindelwald when he was younger.”

“No!” Hermione thought she should be used to Harry’s surprise revelations by now, but they kept throwing her off balance.

“Yes, he was,” Harry assured her. “They spent the summer together the year after he graduated from Hogwarts. Grindelwald was Bathilda Bagshot’s nephew. According to Rita, and she had an actual letter from Dumbledore that supported it, they made plans for world domination together.” Hermione could only shake her head in stunned amazement.

“But they had a falling out, supposedly when Dumbledore didn’t approve of Grindelwald’s methods. And Dumbledore’s sister was killed during their argument, which really shook him up. He regretted that until the day he died.”

They walked on in silence for a time, as Hermione digested this new revelation. When she finally looked back at Harry again, he took up his tale once more.

“Getting back to the summer after Dumbledore died, Dobby and I were getting things in order for our horcrux search, and I was also getting accustomed to using Dumbledore’s wand,” he revealed. “Mind you, I didn’t know it was the Elder Wand at that point, just that it was particularly powerful. And in the meantime we had Bill and Fleur’s wedding coming up. There was quite a dispute on where to have it, but Molly insisted on hosting it at the Burrow. I thought that was a bad idea, since a gathering of that size would be quite an inviting target for an attack, but remember, I wasn’t too popular in the Weasley household at that point so my opinion didn’t matter. Molly didn’t even want me to be invited to the wedding, but Fleur wasn’t having any of that. I ended up attending under a glamour as a guest of the Delacours.”

“But as I feared, during the reception all hell broke loose …”

-oooOOOooo-

There was one flaw with this plan, Harry thought to himself as he sat at a table surrounded by Fleur’s friends and relatives – he didn’t speak French. Fleur’s mother had done a superb job with the glamour charm (which were evidently a Veela specialty) so no one would recognize the blonde haired ‘Delacour cousin’. She’d even managed to mostly conceal his scar. But the only person he knew among Fleur’s other guests was Viktor Krum, and Harry had to act like he didn’t really know him.

It didn’t matter – Krum was only interested in the pretty girls present, and currently had his eye on Ginny. He was welcome to her as far as Harry was concerned, although Ron, Fred, and George were keeping a close watch on that particular pursuit.

There was a benefit to the relative lack of distraction, however, since Harry was nervously anticipating a Death Eater attack, and wanted to stay on high alert. As the happy event continued without interruption he was beginning to think they might get through it. But then it happened.

With a loud, earsplitting crack, the wards came crashing down, temporarily disorienting everyone present as a wave of fractured magic rolled over them. And when the guests regained their equilibrium they were faced with the terrifying sight of Voldemort himself leading a dozen or more of his Death Eaters toward the head table.

Harry clenched his time turner in one hand as he hurriedly began to concoct a plan. A few brave souls stood up and drew their wands to confront the invaders, but they were quickly and harshly dealt with. With no coordinated response, the resistance soon faded. For his part, Harry knew he needed to restrain himself until he could manage to catch his foes by surprise.

However, his hand was about to be forced. As Voldemort reached the bridal party, he loudly demanded, in a raspy, hissing voice that sent shudders through everyone who heard it, “Where is Harry Potter?”

When no response was immediately forthcoming, he leveled his wand at Fleur and snarled a threat to permanently disfigure her lovely face if Potter didn’t reveal himself at once. Immediately, Bill leapt to his feet, drawing his wand, but Voldemort was quicker, casting a curse that Harry couldn’t hear from where he was, but caused Bill to collapse, screaming in agony. As Fleur’s voice joined his in a horrified shriek, Harry decided that it was now or never, and rose to his feet.

“Tom Riddle, you are nothing but a coward!” he shouted. Voldemort whirled in fury as several nearby Death Eaters took aim with their wands. But before everyone’s eyes, Harry vanished!

As he reappeared an hour into the past, he quickly dove to the ground and rolled under one of the now empty tables. Since the ceremony was still in progress, no one was looking in this direction as he hurriedly pulled his invisibility cloak over himself and dispelled his glamour. Now, the waiting was going to be the most difficult part.

Quietly summoning Dobby, he explained what he had in mind. Dobby fetched his Firebolt, and nodded rapidly as Harry explained that he was to wait unseen until his future self stood and shouted, then he should do what he could to hinder the Death Eaters while taking care not to put himself in danger. Harry knew that these instructions would hold only as long as he was unharmed – after that Dobby would enter the fray with no regard for his own safety.

For his part, Harry would stay under his invisibility cloak (which for some reason seemed to be even more effective lately, since Dumbledore’s death) (1) and move into place near the head table. There he hoped to somehow counter whatever curse Bill had been hit with, and then entice Voldemort and his Death Eaters into chasing after him. He thought he could probably kill Voldemort right then and there with a surprise attack, but knew that would be futile since he hadn’t destroyed the horcruxes yet. A serious injury would be a perfectly acceptable outcome though, he thought grimly as he replayed Voldemort’s cowardly attack on Bill in his mind.

Finally, exactly an hour after he’d activated the time turner, the scene repeated itself. Under the cloak, only a few feet behind the head table, Harry had to fight to keep his stomach from emptying itself as he witnessed up close the curse that Voldemort had cast. It was some horrifying combination of flesh dissolving and bone vanishing spells that began with Bill’s feet, and gradually worked its way up his legs. His screams rent the air as his lower limbs began to disappear.

Knowing that he would need all the power he could muster, Harry used Dumbledore’s wand, while holding his own in reserve. As soon as Voldemort turned toward the taunting shout from the crowd, he allowed the wand tip to emerge from the confines of his invisibility cloak.

‘Finite Incantatum!

He poured everything he could muster into his silently cast cancellation spell, and was relieved to see the magical disintegration stop at Bill’s knees. He managed to force himself to look away from the sickening sight just as Voldemort turned back in an even greater rage, somehow aware that his curse had been countered.

This time Harry’s holly and phoenix feather wand in his other hand seemed to act almost on its own accord – it shot up and a golden jet of light impacted the dark lord squarely in the chest. With a loud crack the evil wizard was hurled through the air, his wand flying off in another direction. A satisfying crash signaled his flight path’s intersection with a table filled with bottles of champagne, wine, firewhiskey, and other alcoholic beverages.

But Harry didn’t take the time to enjoy the view. Seizing his broom from where he’d hidden it, he hopped on and took off in one motion, streaking over the heads of the astonished crowd, hoping the second part of his plan would work as well as the first.

Unfortunately, he hadn’t counted on the fact that Voldemort had left lookouts on the outskirts of the Burrow. With a sixth sense developed from dodging unseen bludgers, he swerved just in time to avoid a pair of red streaks that shot past him, missing by inches. He immediately banked into a sharp turn and readied his wand again.

However, another player now entered the fray. A flash of white feathers entered his field of vision as an enraged snowy owl left her post in a nearby tree and dove down on the wizards who would dare attack her master.

“Hedwig, no!!” Harry screamed. He watched helplessly as one of the Death Eaters fired a blasting curse at point blank range.

The faithful owl’s sacrifice was not in vain. Shaking his head furiously to clear the tears from his eyes, Harry took full advantage of the distraction provided by his familiar. A pair of overpowered blasting curses of his own avenged her death, leaving bloody holes in the ground where his assailants had stood. But it was not nearly enough to offset the hole that was now tearing his heart in two.

Shouts from behind him let him know that there would be no time to grieve, as a handful of Death Eaters had summoned brooms of their own to take up the pursuit. And to Harry’s astonishment, soaring above them like smoke on the wind, was Voldemort himself. Flying without the aid of a broomstick.

Harry shot off again, out over the fields and woods of the countryside along the Otter River. This was as far as his plan had gone. He knew his Firebolt was the fastest broom in existence; his relatively low weight and his skill would ensure that none of them could catch him. But how long would they chase after him before giving up? There was only one way to find out.

But there was yet another unforeseen factor to alter his calculation. Voldemort was not on a broom, and so was not limited by any such performance characteristics. He rapidly outpaced his followers, and Harry quickly realized that he would have one more confrontation before this day was over.

In fact, it was rather anticlimactic. Even though Voldemort had borrowed another wand, Harry’s original wand still asserted its mastery over the dark lord. Again, without Harry seemingly even needing to aim, he scored a direct hit with his first spell, and Voldemort was blasted backward with a crack and a scream that seemed to echo across the gradually darkening horizon. Temporarily stunned and now unsupported, the artificial body that housed his foe plummeted to the earth. It was too much to hope that this incarnation of his nemesis would be destroyed by the damage he’d just inflicted, but with any luck he would be out of commission for a while.

Harry, though, flew on into the dusk, not knowing or caring where he was headed. He might just fly all the way to Scotland; there was no way he could go back to the Burrow, not now or possibly ever again. This disaster had been visited upon the Weasley family because Voldemort had come looking for Harry Potter.

Tears streamed down his cheeks as his thoughts turned back to his beloved familiar. Here was yet another loss in his life, possibly the most painful one so far. He was too young to remember his mother and father, Cedric was just an acquaintance, and Sirius … he never really got to know the man that well; he represented an ideal more than a reality. But Hedwig had been his faithful companion all through the darkest times of his recent life. (2)

And it wasn’t over yet – he dreaded the likelihood that there would be more deaths to come. Who would be next?

-xox-XOX-XOX-xox

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Author Notes:

(1) The idea that the three Hallows reinforce each other has appeared in other fanfics, for example Coming Back Late by Paracelsus on portkey dot org. (also posted on fanfiction dot net under the author name alchymie).

(2) I was sickened by the casual way Hedwig’s loss was treated in Book 7. I feel that Harry would have been affected a lot more than JKR showed.
 

A quick clarification  - no one knows, at this point in the story (the wedding), that Harry has the Elder Wand – including Harry.  Voldemort attacked the wedding hoping to find Harry there, but not because he thought Harry had the wand.  It wasn’t until after his battle in the air against Harry (both in my story and in Book 7) that he decided that he needed it, and therefore to seek it out.

 

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