"You want us to what?" It was Ron, surprisingly, who objected first. "Are you out of your mind?" He stared at Hermione with his mouth dropped open, looking as if she had just suggested summoning Voldemort to them.
"No, I am not out of my mind, Ronald." She said primly, holding the well-worn book in her hands, much like a child might hold onto a favorite stuffed toy or blanket. It occurred to Harry that to Hermione, there was a good chance this book might have once had the same role as a teddy bear might to another child. "There's no harm in trying."
"Actually," Harry cleared his throat, "there might be. You're suggesting calling another powerful wizard –"
"Enchanter," Hermione interrupted, correcting him.
"Enchanter, then." Harry pushed up his glasses. "You're suggesting calling an enchanter of unknown origin and with unknown motivations to us. How are we supposed to know whether he's on our side or not? Maybe he'll get here and we'll tell him that we need his help and then he end up joining Voldemort." Ron squeaked. "Oh shush it, Ron."
Ron had the grace to look sheepish.
"Because he's Chrestomanci, Harry," Hermione said as if she were talking to a very small child. "He protects magic and people. He – he's like Dumbledore, except minus the manipulation." She paused, thinking it over. "Well, maybe he has been a bit manipulating. Sometimes. But, well, it was a lot of miscommunication and how was he supposed to know that Cat could be trusted and –"
"I still think it's a horrible idea," Ron cut in, crossing his arms. "Like Harry said, we know nothing about this – this enchanter. Nothing at all, except some silly story from a muggle children's book and –"
"I used to think magic was a myth until I got my Hogwarts letter." Hermione's voice was full of bite. "And look how real magic actually is. I'm not saying that it will actually work, but that it is worth a try. Chrestomanci is a good man, dedicated to helping people who need him, and it seems to me like we could certainly use some help." Her tone softened at the end and she sent Harry a pleading look. "Just let me try it, Harry. At the worst I'll end up looking like a fool and Ron can have his laugh."
Harry ignored Ron's indignant shout in response and massaged his temple. It was true, he reflected, that help was desperately needed. Even if Harry alone could defeat Voldemort, there were still an overwhelming amount of Death Eaters to contend with. And there were the Horcruxes, of course – perhaps this Chrestomanci fellow could figure out a way to find the rest of them or at least come up with a better way to destroy them.
Suddenly, he felt terribly silly. He was contemplating summoning a character from a series of children's books. If that alone did not prove that he needed some reprieve then what would? It was the same as if he considered conjuring up Winnie the Pooh or one of the characters from Hermione's newest beloved book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard. It was insane, it was pointless, and yet it would make his good friend happy and they really did not have anything to lose…
"All right," he said, nodding his head once. "Go ahead. Try to summon this Chrestomanci."
Hermione shot him a grateful smile and cleared her throat. "It's actually terribly easy to do, all you have to do is say his name three times and –"
"Three times? That's it? Just say his bloody name? I swear, this is a crackpot idea and –"
"I don't see you coming up with anything better," Hermione bit out, glaring at the red-haired boy.
"Ron, Hermione – that's enough." Harry held back a sigh. "Just – do it, Hermione. We might as well see if it works."
Hermione straightened her posture and pushed her hair back behind her ear. She seemed to be mentally preparing herself just like she used to before an exam, and it was a comfort to see that while the war had changed them, there were some things that would always stay the same. "Chrestomanci," she called out in a loud, clear voice. The background noise of the forest stilled. "Chrestomanci. Chrestomanci."
She pursed her lips and turned back to the boys. Ron seemed triumphant, but Harry only nodded. The idea might have been silly, but it was clear that it weighed heavily on his friend. "Well," she said, crossing her arms, "there went that idea. I suppose the first thing to do is start foraging for something to eat and then make plans for tomorrow."
"I guess." Harry started to reach out a hand and then let it fall again. "Do you want to pitch the tent?"
"Who, me? I suppose, though I don't think I'd be very good at it." The three teenagers whipped their heads up, mouths dropping open at the same time. The voice was cultured and smooth and certainly unexpected. Harry turned around slowly, his eyes locking with Hermione, who had gone from a wilted weed to a blossoming flower within seconds.
"You're Chrestomanci," she breathed, her hand instantly clutching at her chest. "You're real."
"I never doubted for a moment I was real," the man answered, looking extremely out of place in the forest. He wore a dove-grey suit and his dark hair was slicked back. He looked like a business man or possibly a lord, not at all like a wizard in robes. "Now who are you?"
"I – I'm Hermione Granger, and this is Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley. I'm a witch and Harry and Ron are wizards and I am very pleased to meet you. I adored reading about you as a child and I had always hoped that you would be real, but I never really dared to try calling you until now and we could really use your help –" Harry realized he had to cut off Hermione before she talked the enchanter to death.
"I'm Harry," he said, holding out a hand. The Chrestomanci took it and gave it a firm shake. "And what Hermione has not yet mentioned is that we are in the middle of a war."
"A war." Chrestomanci repeated the word with distaste. "I really do hate wars."
"Well, so do we." Harry motioned at his friends. "There's this Dark wizard, Voldemort. He's all about blood-purity, you see. He wants to kill all the muggle borns – that is, witches and wizards with non-magical parents – and he doesn't seem to mind killing muggles as well. He's pretty much taken over right now and thanks to this prophecy, I'm supposed to be the only one who can defeat him and we're looking right now for his Horcruxes –"
Chrestomanci raised a hand, stopping Harry mid-sentence. "A prophecy, you say?"
"Er, that's right. 'Neither can live while the other survives' and stuff…" Harry trailed off, unsure. "There's more, of course. But pretty much I have to kill of Voldemort and could really use some help, at least with his followers. We – we're on the run, the three of us, searching for his Horcruxes – pieces of Voldemort's soul. And only after we find them all and destroy them can Voldemort be defeated…somehow." Harry shrugged. "I still don't know how, to be honest. So really any kind of help or assistance would be great."
"I can't do anything." The words are said flatly. "I'm sorry, but there is nothing I can do. You see, I can only help when I am the last option completely. It's –" For the first time, the Chrestomanci seems to show a display of emotion, "I have always found it rather ridiculous. But you must understand that if you are named in a prophecy, that it is your destiny. Perhaps if – perhaps if you were dead and this Voldemort fellow was still around, I might be able to do something. But until then, you have to figure things out yourself."
"But you're Chrestomanci," Hermione took several steps closer to the point she was practically nose to nose with the enchanter. "Your duty is to help people who need it. Surely there must be something –"
"There is nothing." For a second, a flicker of sympathy appeared on his face before it disappeared into the neutral mask he wore. "Hermione, was it? If you seem to know so much about me, you will know that there are rules that govern my position. I am unable to break them. Your world has a savior – your friend. You have a plan of action. I do not even know what a Horcrux is – you would find that I would be, at most, a burden towards your quest."
"But we need you." Three heads whirled to stare at Ron. "Look, I thought you were some silly muggle character from a book. But if you're real – if you can really do what Hermione says, then we need you on our side. So only Harry can destroy Voldemort – can't you at least help with his followers? They're tearing the world apart, sending people to prison, murdering them, kidnapping – it's chaos. We need some kind of intervention."
"I'm sorry." Chrestomanci shook his head. "I will say it once more – I feel for you and your plight. But I cannot help you. I best be going now. I wish you the best of luck."
In an instant the enchanter was gone.
"Well, that was…" Harry didn't know how to continue.
"I'm sorry," Hermione sniffed. "I – I honestly thought he could help. But he –"
"He believes in us." Ron shrugged. "So yeah, he can't do anything. But now we at least know that it's not hopeless. It seems he would only step in when things were that bad. If he can't step in, then great. We have at least some chance of surviving." His stomach rumbled. "Now, can we find something to eat?"
And, normalcy restored, the three friends separated to search for food.
"You seem down." He leaned back into his wife's grasp as she massaged his neck muscles, her touch alternating between light and forceful – which was just what he needed. "Does it have anything to do with that visit today?"
"I told a group of children that I could not help them." He closed his eyes briefly. "A prophecy – there was nothing I could do but offer my sympathies."
"And it wears on you." Millie stopped her ministrations and turned to face her husband. "You're a great man, Christopher. And if you really were unable to help them, then things must not be as dire as they seem."
"I believe 'dire', my dear, is relative." He stretched out his long legs, leaning forwards in a stretch. "And from what little they told me, things were quite dire. They did not seem the type to exaggerate."
"They're teenagers," his wife countered, though Christopher could hear the beginnings of uncertainty in her tone. "And if you truly could not help…"
"In order for me to help, the situation must be so terrible that I am the only one who has the slightest possibility of making things right." He stood and held out his arms. Millie stepped into them and he drew her close, burying his head into her shoulder. "Just because there is another savior prophesized does not mean that things will be remotely easy on the children and their world. It is my duty to worry and care for all the worlds, my darling."
"And the fact that you can't help in this matter drives you insane?" She reached up and stroked his dark locks. "I am so sorry." She waited until he met her gaze before smiling at him. "You might be unable to directly interfere. But is there some way to offer your help? Or offer the help of others?"
Understanding dawned in his eyes. "My dear, I like the way you think."
"Well, Cat has been looking rather bored lately. I'm sure a trip in order to learn about the customs in a different world would be quite helpful." She patted his shoulder and then stepped away from him. "And to be honest, I've been thinking about taking a vacation. Perhaps Cat and I will decide to travel together."
"Perhaps you will." Christopher stroked his chin. "Perhaps you will."
"You know, most nine-lived enchanters come from my world." Cat peered across the room at the young girl. "I can't even remember a case where one came from another world."
The girl shrugged, folding her hands in her lap. "Well, perhaps it is time for a change, then."
"I suppose…" Cat trailed off, taking her in. She certainly had had nine lives – and actually had a fair amount of them left. And there was something about her that reminded him of Janet or Gwendolyn, though her coloring was wrong. "Miss…"
"Miss Weasley," she answered, sitting tall. "Miss Rose Weasley."
"Miss Weasley," Cat repeated with a hint of a smile on his face. "I do believe your maternal grandmother was a relative of mine."
"I'm sure she was, sir." Miss Weasley answered promptly. "My grandmother spoke often of a life began in another world, though she told it as a story. It was only after my mother introduced her to another nine-lived enchanter that my grandmother began to put the pieces together."
And now Cat could not keep the smile from forming on his face. "I remember meeting her. Very well, then – may I call you Rose?" She nodded. "Rose, welcome to Chrestomanci Castle."