Homecoming

Sat. 29 June

Pansy’s hand rested on the front door of the Parkinson residence—her home—her former home. The grains of oak were worn and familiar. The week had been exhausting. The events at the ministry, Dumbledore’s passing, and all that had happened in the Wizengamot weighed on her shoulders. They sagged from the effort of it. Papa had tasked her with one job, a seemingly simple job. Get Harry Potter into a meeting, and so far she had failed.

Part of the problem was that no one seemed to know much about where Harry Potter was living now. He had been seen in the Wizengamot with Susan Bones and Hannah Abbott, but other than that—and the Wizengamot gallery was no place to get his attention—he’d withdrawn from public view. That wasn’t odd for the summer, but Pansy had even visited the muggles Harry had previously lived with—dreadful people. The Dursleys failed to distinguish between dignity and pride. It was disgustingly common.

But the truth was that Pansy was herself to blame. Twice now, Harry had been in a guaranteed location and she’d blown both opportunities and why—because no one trusted her.

‘And why should they?’

It was a voice from deep in Pansy’s heart. This was justice and what Daphne would call karma.

‘I’m sorry.’

This invocation and response was becoming common. Pansy’s mind had split into parts each unsure if it could trust another. Her logical, rational mind had pulled away and isolated itself from the assault of so many mistakes. And the her heart—the part that might have admitted to love—was crying in a ball in the corner. And lost and adrift among so much change was the part of Pansy that was left. The part that had to face the consequences.

After what happened with Draco, Mama had constantly reminded Pansy that when one door closed another one always opened and that change was the only constant. That’s why she wasn’t allowed to live at home right now. It was why she had to stay... elsewhere.

Pansy looked to the door in front of her—so familiar and yet now so alien—and knocked.

* * *

“Come in.”

Neville was sitting in the chair. He’d finally been able to get out of bed this morning for more than a few minutes. It was amazing how joyful sitting in a chair could be after weeks of nothing but lying still in bed.

Today was a good day.

As the door opened, a grey unkempt head of hair emerged. It was Dr. Soulager.

“Hi, Neville.”

The doctor insisted on informality. He clearly wished to cultivate friendliness with his patients. Neville understood this, but showing less than complete deference to adults ran against the grain of his upbringing.

“Hello, Nathan.”

“So... it looks like we’re going to get you out of here. Trust me when I say that a hospital is the worst place to recover from injury or illness—it makes no sense. But at least you’ll be able to sleep a whole night without interruption and in a familiar bed with your family close by. And sometimes that’s more important than anything else.”

Neville agreed with the sentiment, but his entire being revolted at the thought of leaving the hospital. The hospital was comfort—safety. Everything else was pain.

“Neville, when we talked last time I only wanted to introduce myself. You certainly have plenty to think about already. But now we must get down to brass tacks. You’re worried about pain. You should be—it’s no joke. What you are experiencing is completely understandable and I can’t take that fear away, but together we can fight it. There are many tools we can use and—if it’s okay with you—I want to give you one of them now.”

Neville was eager to learn any tool that could guard against the raw pain and fear that welled up from his soul. A charm, a potion, anything would do.

“Okay. What do I need to do?”

“Actually just listen. The first and most important tool against fear is hope. You are not alone. There are many patients that have gone before you and statistically there is very good chance that you’ll be able to return to a normal life.”

He tried to be gracious about it, but hope was more abstract than Neville had hoped for.

“Also, I’ve gotten to know your Grandmother. She’s a determined woman. She’s going to push you and believe me you’re going to need that. I can tell that she’s a hard woman, and so I also wanted to tell you how lucky you are to have your girlfriend close by. Hannah’s a good compliment to your Grandmother.”

Nathan paused noting Neville’s lost expression.

“Um... Hannah’s... we’re not... we’re not actually going together. At least... we haven’t talked about it.”

Nathan became animated at this with a unconstrained smile.

“Well you should! You let that lovely girl get away and I’m sending my son after her—kidding, kidding. She’s been by your side almost as much as your Grandmother. Official or not, you two have some things to talk about.”

Neville stopped to think about it. Of course he liked Hannah and was interested in her—that way. But he had just assumed that she would tire of him. He was weak and now everyone could see that. But if she had been around that much...

As Neville absorbed this revelation, Nathan’s smile fade.

“So we need to talk about the mechanics of managing your pain. Hope is an antidote to fear, but not physical pain—not directly. First of all, you should know that it is always easier to soothe pain before it gets out of control, so we’re going to be keeping you on some basic pain potions around the clock and I will teach you a charm for handling moments of acute pain.”

Yes, that is what Neville needed—what he wanted. He needed a escape.

“I’ll be available day or night if the pain does get out of control, though it would be best for you to learn to manage it yourself. Still, you must feel free to ask after me at any time. I am at your disposal for at least the next eight weeks. Now if you are ready, the time has come to step unto the breach and face your first great obstacle...”

Nathan held up an empty palm and with a swish of his other hand a folder containing at least thirty leaves of paper materialized.

“... Paperwork.”

Neville wasn’t ready. The paperwork daunted him. Each page, each signature a step closer to the unknown outside world that he thought he had understood. That he now knew he could never understand, never face.

“What about the suppression charms?”

Neville knew the answer to this question but maybe if he asked one more time the answer would change. Nathan’s normally congenial face hardened. His answer was quick and belied no opportunity for negotiation.

“This morning was your last administration. Suppression is not a way to heal.”

* * *

“I understand, but it says here that Neville is not to undergo any form of apparition for at least two weeks. Does that include getting home?”

Hannah watched as Lady Longbottom clarified the details of Neville’s discharge papers with a slender nurse technician. She felt a little guilty about becoming over-angered with her elder. After Hannah had time to think through the situation, she still didn’t agree with her ladyship’s hard love approach to Neville, but after what happened with Frank and Alice it was perhaps understandable.

“Yes, madam. The impact that a splinching could have on the patient’s psychological state advises for an excess of caution. The hospital has any number of public floo stations and of course you can get a cab to anywhere in London.”

The guttural sound of disapproval that issued from Augusta’s throat was so singularly evocative of disdain that Hannah had to turn to hide her smile. It seemed that even magic could not stop bureaucracy. The pair had been systematically working through the literally endless stacks of forms—each page silently replaced by another upon completion.

Susan had remained at the manor to prepare Neville’s room and Harry wanted to make a special dinner to celebrate their friend’s release from hospital. So busy had been the preparations for discharge that Hannah had barely more than said hello to Neville.

“This says that Neville should return once a week to be checked over. Is that really necessary?”

“Oh, let me see that one. Yeah, this isn’t right. The notes I have indicate that Dr. Soulager will be paying house calls twice a week for the foreseeable future. So an outpatient visit should not be necessary. I’ll talk to the doctor and we’ll get that corrected.”

Lady Augusta sighed with strained patience.

“How much of this remains?”

“Other than this page of discharge instructions that requires correction, we’re done. They’ll be one more form that you or the patient will need to sign as you actually leave just recording your departure.”

“Good enough, then.”

* * *

Hermione sat down at the small writing desk in the corner of Ginny’s room. It seemed that all she did any more was send and receive letters. This latest was for Mum and Dad and didn’t seem to want to end. It had six pages already. The primary obstacle to completion was that Hermione couldn’t think of a way to tell her parents about the new law potentially restricting her rights, so she was avoiding it by writing about anything and everything else. She feared they would bring her home without further input. Hermione couldn’t leave Ron, not after what she had done. Harry had said it—he could have protected Ron, but she couldn’t. She had let him fall victim and she would not shirk that burden now.

In the end she decided it was best to stick to just the facts.

‘One more thing, the ministry rules have recently changed. I cannot leave the magical alcoves and return without a border proceeding of sorts. Because of political changes, the structure of the Wizengamot has shifted and the prevailing sentiment is against first generation witches and wizards. I don’t want to get into the details but you shouldn’t worry. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley have made me very welcome here. Just know that in order to visit you will need to schedule an official process through the Ministry. I’ll include a copy of the contact instructions for the muggle outreach office.’

That didn’t sound too alarming. Hopefully Mum would get the letter as Dad always worried too much and Hermione didn’t want that. The letter was already embarrassingly long. It was probably best to just sign it off.

‘I love you Mum and Dad, Elly’

When she was twelve years old Hermione had decided that Dad’s nickname was unacceptable. It was a silly, girly nickname and at twelve Hermione had been ‘mature’. But now she felt a certain nostalgic endearment to the diminutive. It wasn’t even a name, really. She had taken on spelling it as Elly, but it really was the initials L.E. to which Dad had addressed every postcard when he had traveled to India for several months when she was young. It stood for Little Emma in honour of her mother.

Hermione missed her parents. It had been a long summer and it wasn’t even July yet. She leaned forward and rested her head on the desk.

Her mind wandered.

* * *

“Hey you, sleepy head.”

Hermione jolted awake. She had fallen asleep. She wiped the corner of her mouth where she had drooled a little. Ginny was just closing the bedroom door.

“Hi! How was the game?”

Hermione quickly tried to wake up. She ran her hand through her hair failing to bring it to heel.

“Fine. The boys aren’t any real competition though. I beat the pants off them. They got too used to the Cleansweeps and forgot how to fly a standard broom.”

“How do you play with only a handful of people?”

“Oh, it’s easy. There’s no snitch, no bludgers, just a quaffle and two teams. We play to seventy but you can pick anything. We had an odd number so Dad played all-time defense. You should come next time. A flight would be good for you.”

“I don’t know Ginny. You know I am not really the sporty type and I am just tired.”

”Then you definitely need to get in the air. It’s invigorating. I never feel so free and open as when I am flying. We don’t have to play quidditch, but I am going to get you on a broom. Next week—you watch out.”

Ginny sat on her bed and flopped down on her back, her arms going behind her head. Hermione was utterly taken with Ginny. She was such a strong person and was being so kind. She was the type of girl that had made Hermione’s life miserable in primary school. No, that wasn’t fair. Ginny was actually the type of girl that had utterly ignored Hermione. But, in truth, it was nice to have a friend close by.

“Ginny, are we friends?”

Ginny sat up and gave Hermione a look that communicated both puzzlement and amusement.

“What an odd question? Yeah. I suppose so. I mean, you saved my arse in the Ministry and you seem much less uppity now that I know you better.”

Uppity. Know-it-all. Bossy. Hermione had lived with these her whole life. Why was being smart such a sin?

“Why did you think I was uppity?”

Ginny stopped and thought about it. Hermione could see her deciding how much to share before she turned directly at Hermione at let her have it.

“Because you insist on showing everyone that you know everything like it’s some kind of failing that they haven’t read the year’s text before the start of classes. You despise the ignorance of others or at least you appear to. It isn’t that people hate your smarts. It’s that they feel measured against your standard which to them seems like an impossibility and definitely not worth the effort.”

“... Ginny?”

Ginny rolled her eyes at Hermione’s reticence.

“Yes?”

“I just want you to know how much it means to me to have you with me. You didn’t need to be so kind to me after what I did to Ron. And you’ve been great, really.”

Ginny closed her eyes and took in a deep breath and then looked directly at Hermione.

“It wasn’t. Your. Fault.”

* * *

Harry placed the last serving dish on the Longbottom dining room table. It was a simple garlic mash. Harry loved cooking. He hadn’t really thought about why, but perhaps it was because the Dursleys had hated it so much. The kitchen had been hot and there wasn’t any place to sit, so they steered clear and for the most part left him alone while he cooked. Or maybe it was that food was the only contribution Harry had gotten some recognition for. But whether this or that, cooking for friends was that much more joyful as they shared in his sense of accomplishment.

Lady Augusta had returned with Neville in the mid-afternoon after which Neville had gone straight to bed to rest. Susan had gone to talk with Hannah who was still distressed about Neville’s condition. And Lady Augusta had been sending owls to friends and distant family announcing Neville’s return home. All in all the day had managed to be busy without having all that much to do.

As he had discovered on his second day in the manor, two good tugs of the call rope notified the other occupants of the manor that dinner was served.

Harry stood by the meal that was spread out across the generous table and waited for the others to arrive. The first was Susan who with no ceremony sat at one side of the table.

“Hannah’s getting Neville.”

Harry began to ponder topics to discuss with Susan as it would be impolite to let silence stand between them, but was rescued by the arrival of her ladyship.

“Good evening.”

Harry greeted Augusta and pulled out her chair, the one that was just to one side of the head of the table leave the Lord’s seat to be unoccupied. She turned to Harry with no small amount of annoyance upon her face and pierced him with her unmatched stare.

“I can manage my own chair, Harry. I don’t keep servants on principle. Every living occupant of this home is a guest or family and will behave as such. Now sit down and stop fussing over me.”

Harry nodded somewhat meekly and caught Susan’s smirk as he proceeded around the table to sit next to her leaving two juxtaposed seats for those yet to arrive.

“So, Lady Augusta, was there any difficulty in getting Neville signed out. You seemed to think you would be back sooner.”

“Bah! You would think I had centuries to live to see the time they waste—papers upon papers—signatures and instructions. It was as if the body were powered upon wood pulp.”

Despite the acerbic tone of her words Augusta beamed joy. Having Neville home was important to her and no gauntlet of bureaucracy would stand in the way of her enjoying it.

A sound from the hallway heralded the arrival of Hannah and Neville. Harry stood and opened the door as they arrived. Neville glided into the dining room seated on an old style wheelchair being pushed gingerly by Hannah.

As Hannah passed through the door she glanced at Harry communicating by grimace that this was not likely to go well. Neville looked paler than when he was released and seemed to stare at a nothingness about a foot in front of him. His head rocked almost imperceptibly forward and back.

Harry gently closed the door and returned to his seat next to Susan.

“Good evening, Neville.”

Her ladyship spoke with a distinctly softer tone. Harry had overheard Hannah explaining to Susan that for the first couple of days it would be helpful to speak quietly as Neville would be sensitive to loud noise and to any stimuli that exceeded the ambient.

Without looking up Neville responded with failed cheeriness.

“Hi, Gran. What’s for dinner?”

“Well, Harry, you being tonight’s chef, please describe your dishes.”

“Um. Sure.”

There was nothing truly special on the table, but maybe Lady Augusta wanted to recognize his effort. Or maybe she just felt awkward speaking in hushed tone.

Harry succinctly described each dish and where appropriate a bit of how it was made. He was feeling silly describing how to make mashed potatoes when a shrill noise cut through the manor. It didn’t have the ramp of a siren nor the pulse of a klaxon. It was a clarion tone that warbled only slightly.

Lady Augusta was out of her chair immediately. She closed her eyes and placed upward facing palms above her head.

Harry’s attention was drawn away to the other side of the table where Neville was rocking in distress and vocalizing somewhere between a moan and a scream. He was in danger of falling from his chair, so Harry rose and worked his way around the table crossing paths with Susan who was on her way to Lady Augusta.

“Where is it? Is it outside?”

Susan clearly had more of an idea of what was happening and Harry left her to assist.

Harry was just within reach of Neville and Hannah when he tumbled forward out of his chair. Hannah had been kneeling before him trying to comfort him and was now underneath Neville who seemed to have lost all sensibility. He was bashing his arms with fists closed in a steady rhythm unaware that he was striking Hannah at the bottom of the stroke. Harry had to get Neville off of Hannah before he really hurt her.

Harry grabbed Neville’s ankle and pulled him backwards slowly bringing Hannah free. Harry tripped on the wheelchair that was still behind him and fell on his backside. His clumsiness was rewarded with a kick to the face from the erratically thrashing Neville.

Harry scuttled backwards even more rapidly reaching for his wand. Never had Harry seen such unpossessed behaviour and he was worried that Neville would hurt himself or someone else. Harry usually kept his wand in his pocket when he wasn’t in casting robes and this position posed an awkward draw.

From across the room Lady Longbottom’s eyes opened showing a pearlescent unnatural sheen.

“I see you.”

Her voice echoed with odd effect.

Susan was still with her ladyship. She proffered her hand.

“Take me with you.”

Augusta grasped Susan’s hand and the two disapparated.

What the hell was going on?

Harry returned to the task in front of him. With one last attempt his wand came clear. Hannah was getting up. From a crouched position she waved him off.

“No don’t.”

But Neville had lost it and stopping him physically would surely cause more damage. Harry levelled his wand at Neville.

“Petrificus.”

Neville’s arms snapped to his sides and his legs locked straight and together. As the full-body bind took effect Neville’s yelling ceased. Harry knew from practice that Neville was still aware and still felt everything. He was still in pain.

Harry looked to Hannah whose face showed a rapidly forming bruise on her cheek. He lifted his hand to explore a wet feeling and found his lip bleeding. The ear splitting tone suddenly ceased leaving a heavy silence and an accusatory emptiness.

“I’m sorry, Hannah. I had to.”

A beat passed between them as Hannah refused to meet Harry’s eyes. Neville was still in pain and Harry didn’t know the right spell. Somnium would manifest pain as nightmares. Quiesco would calm his body not his mind. Hannah’s wand came out amid sniffled tears.

“Soporocoma.”

No visible change occurred in Neville, but Harry felt a great amount of tension leave the room.

“There. He’s in a deep dreamless sleep.”

Hannah still wouldn’t meet Harry’s eyes.

“I didn’t want him to hurt you.”

“Do you know what it’s like to be petrified, to be wholly unable to act but aware of everything going on around you? Because Neville does.”

Harry did know. He had practised it mean times, but that would be little consolation. Hannah stopped to take a great breath before finally facing Harry.

”You should figure out what happened to Susan and her ladyship.”

* * *

Susan was trying to keep up with a surprisingly fast Lady Longbottom. As soon as the two had materialized in the manor garden, the elder of the pair had cast a number of spells that Susan had missed. These had granted a vigour to her ladyship that was quickly challenging Susan’s physical limits.

“H-how many are there?”

She didn’t turn around. All she did was raise two fingers in response. Her wand hand came up to point her wand to her throat.

“Exaudia.”

“You will find no quarter here.”

Augusta’s confident voice echoed from out the air surrounding Susan. The comment was addressed to the intruders.

“I advise you leave or surrender, but if you insist upon a conflict I will not deceive you by pretending frailty.”

When the ward had activated, Susan had recognized the perimeter warning, but she didn’t know who nor where nor certainly why. Susan’s concern for Lady Augusta had evaporated after seeing her channel such power and now she was feeling somewhat exposed.

“Where are they?”

Augusta lowered her wand.

“There are two of them sitting on the east patio. I can’t make out their identities, but I suspect this is a message more than an attack. Come on. But stay back.”

Susan again took Augusta’s hand and apparated near the east patio. Susan’s breath caught. Sitting on the patio chairs proud as peacocks were a masked death eater and Fenrir Greyback, a werewolf. Susan remembered her training, both from Harry’s D.A. and from Auntie Em. Take in your surroundings. Wand out. Present a small profile.

“Relax, little whelp. If I meant to take you, I would have. You smell more than a little appealing. But alas I have other instructions.”

Fenrir’s slick maleficence lodged a palpable fear in Susan’s chest. Augusta did not flinch.

“I take it you are delivering a message. If so, get it out and get out. I am not by nature a merciful woman.”

Fenrir slowly arose from his chair ambling casually forward. Susan brandished her wand evoking a pair of placating palms. But Fenrir did cease his forward march.

“The Dark Lord left detailed instructions to be carried out upon the unlikely case of his demise. His instructions upon the house of Longbottom were not specific. In general I have interpreted him to mean that I should kill you and burn your home to the ground. But I could be persuaded to overlook your little den of mongrels—for a price.”

“Take your protectionism elsewhere before I relieve you of your head and with it any further desire to torment the good and righteous.”

“Righteous?! The bitch barks. Too bad your pup never had your teeth. Bellatrix made short work of him and his weakling mate.”

“Exhilima!”

The shouted incantation saw its targets thrown several hundred feet backwards before disapparating. Susan hadn’t even seen Lady Augusta draw. The electric tingle of the powerful spell ran down Susan’s back. She had never seen it before.

“Where did you send them?”

“One moment.”

Lady Augusta reached her arms out and focused ostensibly channelling magic.

“There—it’s done. I sent them out past the boundaries of the grounds and engaged the active wards. Those two will find it very difficult to enter the grounds again.”

“What did they want?”

Augusta took a deep breath and exhaled before replying.

“To make us fear them. With the Dark Lord gone, they’ve lost their main claim to power and their primary icon of fear. Greyback was always an independent soul. He intends to ensure that his reputation continues to precede him.”

* * *

Hannah finished filling her cup of tea before turning back to Dr. Soulager who was leaning on the kitchen counter sipping his own cup. It was late for a house call but the doctor had not asked any questions. He was a patient man and Hannah felt a little bad leaning on him so soon and at such an hour.

“Thank you, Doctor. I wasn’t sure how to best unwind our spells without making Neville’s condition worse. Sorry to take you away from dinner.”

“It’s okay, Hannah. I think Mrs. Soulager is glad to have me out of her hair from time to time. It isn’t easy living with a practitioner of psychology and neurology. Every conversation carries a little too much meta.”

“Still. It hasn’t even been a day.”

Hannah wasn’t sure how this was going to work. If they couldn’t even manage for one day... maybe Neville was right. Maybe hospital was the right place for now. Hannah felt a hole form in her centre, below the lungs but above the diaphragm. It was a black void manifesting her inadequacy.

“Hannah. You didn’t do anything wrong. It was, if I understand Augusta’s explanation correctly, a freak incident that should not repeat. There was no foreseeing this.”

“But it was almost nothing. Just a sound. And...”

Hannah felt the void grow and consume her torso. Her breathing quickened.

“And I couldn’t do anything. He wouldn’t listen and then Harry had to pull him off me and...”

“Hey.”

Dr. Soulager gently put has hand on Hannah’s shoulder.

“You need to understand that it wasn’t his fault either. His brain is a little haywire. It will improve with time.”

“I... I know. The neural pathways that perceive pain are overloaded and until his synaptic activity resolves to a new balance his behaviour will seem erratic.”

Hannah had read that among Neville’s discharge papers. She understood what that meant on the surface, but it was different to experience the magnitude of that statement in person.

“Hannah, I am more than willing to talk with you whenever you need. Your continued health is important to Neville’s recovery, but you may want to consider a counsellor of your own or just an understanding friend. Sometimes talking it out or just finding a friendly shoulder to cry on can help, and my first responsibility will be to Neville.”

The sudden return to the logistics of real life shocked Hannah slightly. She paused the impending descent into self-judgement.

“Thank you, Doctor. I’ll... I’ll think about it.”

“Of course. And please feel free to talk to me any time. I should be getting back home, but do let me know if Neville’s condition isn’t improved by morning. I really think a good night’s rest will help everyone settle in.”

As the Doctor turned to leave, Hannah took a deep breath and collected herself. Neville needed support and Hannah could be strong for that. She had pillows for crying and screaming.

“Two last things, Hannah.”

He paused with the kitchen door in hand.

“First, it’s okay to have feelings about this. Don’t push everything down. Let it out.

“Second, call me Nathan.”

With a small smile Nathan left for home.

Hannah was forced to consider the possibility that Dr. Soulager might be practising Legilimency without consent. He certainly was perceptive.

* * *

“No, dear. I’ll sleep in the conservatory tonight. You will stay with Hannah in my room. I think she will need someone to talk to and so I truly appreciate your staying overnight. But with a young man sleeping in the guest room just down the hall, I must—as proper chaperone—ensure you are in a room that can be locked.”

The look of exhausted aggravation that Susan returned to Lady Augusta caused the old woman to laugh with delight. If Auntie Em and Hannah were going to rib her for her interest in Harry, Susan didn’t need this crap from Augusta as well.

“Lady Augusta, please...”

“In all seriousness, I snore like an apnoeic troll and no one nearby would get any sleep at all and I do think Hannah could do with the company. And there is no point in moving Harry out of the guest room.”

Susan couldn’t help but visualize Harry sleeping only a few meters away in a room by himself. It was titillating. Susan tried to stop herself. Such interest would be inappropriate in front her ladyship. Despite this, Susan felt warmth run to her face.

“Or maybe it is Harry’s room that need be locked?”

Okay that was it. Susan was embarrassed.

* * *

Sun. 30 June

“Good morning, Susan.”

Ugh. Susan and Harry had a lot in common, but being a morning person was not one of them. Susan’s head was still full of cotton. It didn’t help that her sleep had been interrupted by Neville waking up in the early morning hours. Poor Hannah, she hadn’t even made it back to bed after that. Susan resolved to check in on them after breakfast.

“Good morning, Harry.”

Harry was already busy half-way through making eggs and pancakes, and coffee was on to brew. Where did he get this energy?

“Sleep well?”

No. But the question was merely a pleasantry.

“Yeah, I guess. Have you heard from Hannah or Neville?”

“Nope, but Lady Augusta left early for services. She said to apologize to Hannah. She was planning to go along, but her ladyship felt that she needed rest more than ministry.”

Hannah would not like that. Well, Hannah would be fine, but Hannah’s Mum would not like that. Faith was a big deal in the Abbott household and was not to be taken at all lightly. Hopefully Lady Augusta would intercept and explain what happened.

Harry turned off the stove and turned back to the kitchen counter baring the most delicious looking eggs. Harry set them down in front of Susan before seating himself just across from her.

“So what happened last night? Lady Augusta was busy talking to your Aunt for hours after the alarm. Was it some kind of attack?”

Susan briefly considered that spreading information about the incident might be non-ideal, but Harry was living here so it seemed prudent for him to know.

“It wasn’t really an attack. Two death eaters came to threaten and extort Augusta—for money I guess—to not follow through on the Dark Lord’s final instructions.”

Harry instantly keyed in on this.

“Wait! The death eaters are still following instructions left by Voldemort? We have to stop them.”

“Harry, hold on. It’s a ploy almost certainly. If they can make us fear them, then they can gather power and use it against us. In truth, if—”

Susan took a quick breath. If Harry could say the Dark Lord’s name than she could too. Particularly if he was already dead.

“If v-Voldemort is dead, then the death eaters are done. Some like Lucius still have political power, but the reign of terror is over.”

“But what if he still has influence over them—some kind of spell.”

“Harry, Voldemort’s magic was cancelled when he died, so unless there is third party magic involved it won’t matter.”

“You’re probably right. It’s just hard to acknowledge that he’s gone. I mean, it’s given me my life back. I used to plan week to week. There wasn’t much point in going further when the most powerful dark wizard in existence is out to kill you. I keep thinking that there should be some higher purpose, that I had a destiny to fulfil. What was in that prophecy? Now that’s it’s gone, will it still come to pass? Or did it already come to pass?”

Susan was taken aback by the depth of Harry Potter’s dilemma. She had never taken Harry to be a deeply thinking person. He was always an agent of action. What would that be like? To know that your destiny was governed by a prophecy only to have that destiny either changed or fulfilled before you even learned what the prophecy was.

“So what are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know. I played with the idea of becoming an Auror, but that was before this all became real. Back when I thought the future offered me nothing, Auror made sense because it aligned with the skills I needed to fight Voldemort. It still feels right though. I’ll probably stay the course and graduate from Hogwarts a mediocre student.”

“Mediocre is just another way to say ‘normal’, right? ‘Normal’ can be a good thing.”

“Yeah, but I’ve never given thought to much beyond Hogwarts. Where should I live? Should I have a family? Children?”

Wow, this was going to places that were uncomfortable for Susan fast. It would be inappropriate to let Harry gush about all of his dreams when Susan was at least somewhat interested in being part of them.

“Maybe you should just take it one day at a time. I’m sure when the time comes you’ll know.”

* * *

One day at a time. She could do this. Just one day at a time. Hannah was exhausted. She had barely been able to get to sleep in the first place. And after Neville woke up in middle of the night, Hannah had curled into the comfortable sitting chair in the corner of his room and tried to rest. Her mind had had other ideas.

Neville was taking the whole thing really well—as well as could be expected. He was embarrassed. But since he didn’t remember the full details, Hannah had spared him most of it. Some carefully applied foundation and blush had hidden the bruise and she would talk to Harry and Susan about what to share with Neville.

Hannah knew in her heart that this was where she needed to be, but there was a part of her psyche that was asking tough questions. What was she doing? Neville wasn’t her responsibility. If he really was like this forever, was that what she wanted? Was that how she imagined her life?

No. It wasn’t.

But the questions and doubts orbited a central well of hope. Neville was likely to recover. Everyone continued to insist that this was the case. And Hannah could be part of that.

Mum had always said that the best part of finding long-lasting love when you were young was that you grew together. And if you cared for each other and cultivated thoughtfulness of each other then neither would subsume the other.

Oh, shoot! Hannah had forgotten to water the Flitterbloom again. Neville’s plants were his life, he had cultivated a garden in the conservatory. It was truly wondrous, really. Well, the Flitterbloom had missed its watering in the past without ill effect and most of the other plants could take care of themselves—a fact which was creepy now that Hannah thought about it.

A gentle knock at the door startled Hannah from her half aware musings. She crawled out of the chair and ambled over to the bedroom door. She opened it just enough to slip out and noiselessly closed it behind her.

“Hey, you okay?”

Susan’s concern was welcome despite Hannah exhaustion.

“Yeah, I didn’t get much sleep, but it’s good to know that Neville is resting. Can we talk?”

“Yeah.”

Susan and Hannah walked a few doors down to the master bedroom closing the door behind them. The words just started spilling out.

“Sue, I don’t know if I can do this. And I don’t even know if I should. And I hate myself for that. Where do I draw the line between what he needs and what I want? What do I do?”

The warmth of Susan’s hand clasping hers was reassuring. Susan led Hannah over to the bed. Sitting down to Hannah’s left Susan placed an arm over and around Hannah’s shoulders.

“You should always ask what you want first. If you want to stand by Neville, then you’ll find that you can. And if you want to go another way, then—no matter what anyone says—that’s going to be for the best.”

Hannah felt her tears start to fall. This was not the first time even this morning that Hannah had cried. How many tears could one cry in a day?

“But let’s be honest Hannah. You’re like me and I have no idea what I want. Watch the people around you and until you feel like one of those connections shouldn’t be there any more hang on to them. Because the threads that tie us together are hard to weave and easy to snap.”

In non sequitur, Susan chuckled. Hannah wasn’t exactly sure why any of this should be funny. As Susan’s jocularity passed she offered a last bit of advice.

“Maybe you should just take it one day at a time. I’m sure when the time comes you’ll know.”

* * *

A star of light trembled in a clear sea. Spikes of bright and dark vacillated evincing an ephemeral pattern that was product of a million independent variables. A singleton composed of countless non-unique constituents but forming a non-repeating identity. The ‘one’ spawned of the formless many. Individuality.

Pansy lifted her eyes from the water swishing in her clear goblet that rested in her hand to look down the Parkinson dining room table. Was that all there was to life? Was she just another indistinguishable cog in the great machine?

She downed the remains of the liquid considering exactly what to say. In the end she resolved that nothing was to be said and so she sat and waited for the questions that her father had to ask—first.

“Pansy, I gather you do not have good news to share. What is posing the problem?”

They all hated her. That was the problem. She had burned every bridge following the path laid out by an aristocratic lifestyle that no longer fit within the confines of a modern society. But that wasn’t the real question being asked.

Pansy set her goblet down gently.

An adult takes responsibility for the challenges they are presented. The problem was that Pansy wasn’t behaving like an adult.

“It isn’t a problem, Father. I have been researching the best approach. All I need to know is when the will readings occur. I assume Harry Potter is featured in both the wills of Albus Dumbledore and Sirius Black. Since he will be present at those readings, I can guarantee some result positive or negative.”

“Pansy, even if I knew the dates that the wills were to be read, you know well that the ethics of my profession would not allow me to reveal sensitive information. The participants to the reading will be notified fourteen days prior to the occurrence and not prior. And no one else. Besides is that really the best time?”

Damn it. Father could be so stubborn. The readings were perfect. Harry would be mostly alone and since they could take anywhere from thirty minutes to twelve hours, or multiple days occasionally, Harry would not have other activities scheduled. They were perfect except that the boy, being sentimental, would probably be emotional.

The headmaster’s will was most likely to be read first. The last will of a Lord of Black would take months to prepare for and possibly days to read.

One date and time. That was all Pansy needed.

“I’ll find another way.”

Pansy saw her father chuckle, but he remained silent neither challenging nor affirming her stated course of action. He was not known for his humour, so what was he playing at?

“Miss.”

Pansy startled slightly. One of the house elves had come up behind without her noticing. The elf cringed as Pansy sharply turned her attention.

“Miss, I am so terribly sorry to disturb you.”

Pansy waved off the ceremonial deference.

“You have a letter miss. It arrived certified owl from Gringotts only a few minutes ago.”

The young elf, whose name Pansy could not recall, proffered a small envelope which she accepted. The tone necessary to dismiss servants came naturally to Pansy.

“Thank you.”

Pansy turned the letter over and examined the wax seal on the back. It was a soul-seal—it was coded such that only one person could release the seal. Physical force would result in the instant destruction of the contents and sometimes the interloper.

Pansy checked the addressee one last time. She had only received four soul-sealed letters in her life.

“Accio”

From across the room a small letter opener snapped into Pansy’s hand. Pansy pointed her index finger to the seal.

“Finite”

The seal turned from a bright luminescent gold to a waxy grey, the magic holding the seal having completed its duty. Pansy slipped the opener under the seal and broke it. Inside was a small four by seven card.

The last will and testament of

ALBUS PERCIVAL WULFRIC BRIAN DUMBLEDORE

who having passed this the eighteenth of June shall be executed upon the premises of

GRINGOTTS WIZARDING BANK

within the offices of the Noblesse Exchequer upon a Saturday this

THIRTEENTH OF JULY

The presence of one

PANSY PERSEUS PARKINSON

is requested.

So that’s what the smile was about. At least Pansy had her answer. She placed the card back inside the envelope and set it down on the table. Returning her gaze to her puckish father sitting at the head of the table, Pansy focused on not pouting. While that was an effective measure for manipulating her father, what she needed here was respect.

And information.

“What business does the professor have with me? You preach about ethics, but... did you do this?”

Pansy held up the envelope in accusation. Her father’s smile vanished.

“Of course not. I may or may not have known you were a listed attendee, but I would never falsify the will of a client.”

“So what does he want with me?”

“Pansy, dearest, I have no idea. But you weren’t the only student invited nor was the entire school invited. You will have to show up and see what is to be. Now, you see that you no longer need my help. Tomorrow I expect you to be back out of the house as your mother has requested.”

Pansy reflected on her long suffering exile. Get through this. Get through this and maybe things can go back to normal.

“Yes, Father.”

The two ate in silence for another several minutes. The only sounds were the gentle click of silverware on dishes and ticking of the mantle clock. Though it sounded incongruous, Pansy felt at home here—familiar. She didn’t want to leave again.

“Father?”

“Yes, dearest.”

“Why do you want to meet with Harry? He doesn’t have any significant power or influence.”

Aster Parkinson set down his utensils and napkin.

“Well, it isn’t any of your business, but if you want to know, what I can tell you is this: the boy may not have power, but he does have influence. The people will listen to what the boy-who-lived says. And who knows what the future will bring. Maybe one day he will have power and if so I would like it to be on my side. If you are worried about me exploiting him, worry not. His interests likely align with mine, and if not that is fine, but I want to talk to him. I would already have done so if my favourite daughter were not so ineffective in her task.”

He did not say this to be cruel. Pansy knew her father well enough to know when he was pushing her. Considering what happened with Draco, Pansy’s road in life would by necessity proceed along the route of business and politics. Father had spent the last year pushing Pansy without relent to increase her mastery in economics and policy.

And Pansy loved him for it. She had to. After everything, he hadn’t disowned her or hidden her or shamed her. Pansy was so sure that her life was over, but while everything had changed the world still opened up before Pansy. And her father was the only reason that was possible, since she would never have a husband of any status.

Two weeks.

* * *

Fenrir Greyback drew a great breath. The cold, crisp Wiltshire air carried with it a deluge of useful information. It would rain. Maybe two hours. The human village was a mere six miles south. And there was an opossum in a den twenty meters roughly to his left.

Fenrir had never had a problem with being transformed into a wolf. In some ways it felt as though he always had been an animal soul trapped in a vile human body. He lived for the hunt, the fight. He lived to bring all he could see into his domain. Lycanthropy was not a curse; it was salvation. It was a release from the moral trappings and social shackles of humanity. Among wolves the smart and strong survive without concern for the weak.

Not that he wasn’t a gregarious creature. On the contrary, his pack comprised several hefty males—not too strong of course—and more than a handful of tenacious females. Vicious creatures. Violence and power were the best aphrodisiacs. Humans didn’t know what sex was.

But tonight was not about the pack. In fact, this was about protecting the family. The mark on his left arm burned with deadly threat. Curse that deformed mutt! But after tonight Fenrir’s duty would be complete and he would be free of the infernal mark.

His last target was less than a hundred meters away. Fenrir breathed deeply again. They were all asleep. Of course that would change as soon as he crossed the wards, but he was no coward. Those who refused to face the challenge were by definition weak.

Fenrir relished the coming bite. Nature was a funny thing—being a werewolf came with the normal pleasure in reproduction and while the sex was amazing, sex was not how werewolves reproduced. The desire built in his centre. No human would ever understand the blinding ecstasy of the bite, the sensual flood of the first draw, and the warm resolution of release in knowing that a former human now belonged to you.

No. Resisting this was an abomination. It was the core of his being. And he was bringing that terrifying intercourse to his target now comfortably asleep and unaware.