Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Macbeth, Act V, Scene ii
A L L O U R Y E S T E R D A Y S
.-~* Day 1 *~-.
Harry woke up to bright yellow light and a faint vibration on his ribs. He groaned, scrunching his eyes against the insistent summer morning, and turned his head to inspect the alarm clock on his bedside table, surprised to find that it had only just gone half-past five.
He shoved at the small, still-vibrating bundle of fur on his chest, prompting it to rapidly uncurl, bare its teeth at him, and then whisk out of the room.
“Morning Purr,” he muttered softly, as he swung his feet out of bed with a sigh, hunching his shoulders up to his ears, before hauling himself upright and flinging open the curtains.
Grimmauld Place was no more picturesque than any other patch of North London, but in the brightness of what already promised to be a spectacular summer’s day it looked almost idyllic. Harry stretched his arms upwards and then swung them back, reaching behind him to alleviate the lingering soreness from yesterday’s combat training exercise before he headed downstairs in search of coffee.
“Less than presentable!” trilled the mirror on the landing as he slouched past, and Harry dragged a hand over his two days’ growth of beard in acknowledgement that the mirror might have a point. The house was quiet in the way that it only was when James wasn’t there, and Harry was almost glad when Wiss appeared in the kitchen, butting her head against his ankles and clearly hoping for a treat.
“Bugger off,” he growled, though his heart wasn’t really in it. The cat merely gave him a long look that stated quite clearly that, though she might be leaving him alone, it was entirely of her own volition, before she stalked out into the hall.
There was no further sign of Purr, though Harry watched where he placed his feet as he set the kettle to boil on the charmed stove and rummaged in the cupboards for a new bag of ground coffee. Both cats were unnervingly silent, distinguishable only by the slightly differently shaped white splotches on their faces. James had named them when he was five, thinking himself terribly clever. Harry found a strange irony in having a cat named Purr that barely made a sound.
Coffee fixed, he meandered slowly back through the house, charming the curtains open with lazy flicks of his wand as he went.
It had taken them nearly a year after Hogwarts to fix the house to a habitable standard, and on days like today, when the light bounced off the teal-painted walls in the living room, and the ancient chesterfield sofa practically glowed with comfort, Harry could barely remember the gloomy miasma of the place that Sirius had haunted. He finished the last of his coffee as he reached the bathroom, ready to do battle with the cantankerous plumbing.
“That is decidedly improved,” the mirror remarked when Harry strode past, freshly shaved and showered, as he tried, with limited success, to towel-dry his hair and finish buttoning his shirt at the same time. No tie this morning at least, not after the unfortunate incident with Perkins the last time they’d met with the Merpeople. He’d just reached the kitchen and put some toast on when the inglenook fireplace blazed green and Rose Weasley came tumbling through, looking distinctly red around the eyes.
“Oh,” she said, when she saw him. “Hi, Uncle Harry.” He saw her glance quickly around the kitchen before she pulled herself to her feet, all elbows in a way that reminded him of Ron, though her tear-stained features were completely Hermione. “Is James here?”
“At his mum’s I’m afraid,” Harry told her, with a sympathetic smile. “Anything I can help with?”
“I don’t know,” Rose sighed, suddenly mulish in that mercurial way of teenagers. “Want to help me kill my parents?”
“I'm inclined to think it's a little early in the day for murder,” Harry said mildly, turning to summon another cup from the dresser, just as the toaster pinged violently and disgorged its contents onto the countertop. “Ah,” he said. “Toast? Tea?”
“Just coffee,” Rose said glumly, sinking into one of the mismatched kitchen chairs. “Black, please.” Her eyes went to the toast but she said nothing, accepting the mug Harry handed to her. He got a plate out, then flicked his wand at the fridge to summon the jam and butter, fishing the Marmite from one of the cupboards and plonking everything down in front of Rose, along with the plate of toast.
“Thanks,” she muttered, not looking him in the eye as she started scarfing down something that was about two parts strawberry jam to one part bread.
“So, why are you looking for a murder accomplice?” Harry asked, sipping at his own refilled mug of coffee as he watched Rose make short work of what should have been his breakfast.
“They’re just fucking - sorry -” she glanced guiltily up at him “- they’re both the worst.”
“Right,” Harry nodded, still fairly mystified. “Any particular reason they’re the worst, or -”
“I’m supposed to be with Mum all week, right?” Rose stabbed the tabletop with a finger as though to make a point, and Harry jumped at her suddenly strident tone. “But she told me this morning that she’s got to work on some stupid piece of legislation and it would be better if I went to stay with Dad and Padma, when she knows Hugo’s a bloody nightmare and they’ll just ask me to babysit, and it’s just so unfair and I don’t -”
“Hey,” Harry stepped round the table when Rose started hiccoughing, kneeling down to wrap her in a hug. “I’m sure you can stay with Ginny and James if it’s going to be a problem, and your mum wouldn’t be working if she could avoid it.” Rose snuffled something that sounded like disagreement into his shoulder, and Harry winced. “Sometimes being a grown-up is just as shit as being a teenager.”
Rose gave a startled laugh, pushing herself backwards and swiping at her eyes. “Uncle Harry that is inappropriate language,” she gasped, sounding so like Hermione that he was momentarily thrown.
“Yeah, well,” he shrugged. “I’ve earned the right to use it.” He grabbed the edge of the table to haul himself upright, dusting off the knees of his trousers before he offered Rose a hand up. “Does your mum know where you went?”
“Probably,” Rose shrugged, though she avoided his eye. “I mean, I said I was going to see someone who actually cared about me so it’s not like -”
“Fine,” Harry sighed. “Are you going to tell her where you are, or am I?”
“Ugh,” Rose squirmed. “Can you? Please?”
Harry gave her a look that he hoped conveyed his disappointment, but might have just said that he was regretting giving her his breakfast. “Just this once. Now bugger off to Ginny’s before I change my mind.”
“Thanks!” Rose gave him a brief, tight hug around the middle before she grabbed a handful of Floo Powder from the mantelpiece. “See you later!”
“Great,” Harry muttered, pushing his glasses up his forehead to pinch the bridge of his nose. It was still barely seven when he snagged his Auror’s coat from the hallway closet and stepped into the living room Floo. He didn’t like the mode of transport any more than he had as a teenager, though fortunately he was rather better at enunciating his destination now, and managed to step out into the open-plan living area of Hermione’s flat without incident.
“Hello?” he called. “Anyone home?”
“Harry!” Hermione appeared in the doorway to Rose’s room, her face frantic. “Thank goodness you’re here, Rose ran off about half an hour ago and I thought she’d be back by now but she isn’t, and I’ve got to finish drafting this amendment before the first session of the Wizengamot and there’s just -”
“Calm down,” he told her, catching her wrist and forcing her to stand still. “She was just at mine, and I’ve sent her over to Ginny’s to hang out with James.”
“Oh thank God.” Hermione’s shoulders slumped momentarily with relief. “That’s a much better solution, but I didn’t want to just foist her on you, and then of course the moment I suggested she go and stay with Ron you’d think I’d tried to start World War Three.”
She turned away as she spoke, starting to flit around the room to collect the various bits of parchment that were scattered across the sofa, dining table, and kitchen counters. “It’s not even as though Hugo’s an awful baby! He’s much more pleasant than she was at that age, and he doesn’t try to - oh bugger.”
Harry, who had vaguely tuned out as he examined the spines of Hermione’s muggle book collection, turned around in time to see her stick her finger in her mouth, rolling her eyes as she tried to stuff her handful of parchment into her bag. “Papercut. Natural antiseptic,” she garbled, when she saw him looking at her. “I don’t know why somebody hasn’t come up with a charm for parchment to stop it doing that.”
“Stick it on your to-do list?” Harry suggested dryly, to be met with a fond eye-roll. “Come on, it can go right in between establishing cast-iron Beings rights for werewolves and solving the enigma of how to raise teenagers.”
“You’re not nearly as funny as you think you are,” Hermione told him sternly, her eyes shining as she pointed her wand at him in a mock threat. The sun caught the gold in her hair and faded the tiredness from her face, leaving only the spark of mischief, and Harry’s breath caught for a moment as he stared at her.
“Harry.” Hermione’s tone indicated she’d already said his name a couple of times. “Harry! Come on, we’re going to be late to the Ministry, and you’ve got that meeting at Loch Maree this morning.”
“Yeah,” he said, giving his head a shake to clear the oddly fuddled feeling. “Yeah we should - let’s go.”
“You or me?” Hermione asked, as she stepped to his side, linking her arm through his.
“Er.” Harry tried to think straight as his heartbeat inexplicably sped up. “You, I think. I’ve had too much coffee this morning.”
“It’s no replacement for a proper breakfast,” Hermione told him primly, and Harry was about to reply that he had been going to eat breakfast, actually, but he’d let her runaway daughter steal it while he was trying to be a responsible parental figure. It was probably fortunate that his response was lost in the whirl of sound and colour as Hermione apparated them right into the main atrium.
“I’m due in Courtroom Three in five minutes,” she said, standing on tiptoe to press a quick kiss to his cheek. “Thanks for dealing with Rose!” she called as she hurried away towards the lifts.
Harry stood for a moment, trying to work out why on earth Hermione was suddenly making him feel more like a fifteen-year-old boy than the father of one, when he was jostled from behind.
“Mind out there!” said the disgruntled warlock who had just apparated in behind them.
“Sorry,” Harry muttered, abruptly setting off towards the Minister’s office, his head still full of the particular glow of Hermione’s skin as he made his way down the narrow corridor.
“Morning Kingsley, sorry I’m - oh balls,” Harry swore, as he strode into Kingsley’s office and promptly collided with Annabel Vance and her trayful of half-empty coffee cups that had apparently just been cleared from Kingsley’s early morning meeting.
“Auror Potter!” she squeaked. “I didn’t - can you - is it -”
“Tergeo.” Kingsley raised one eyebrow wryly as he cast the spell, clearly unimpressed by his clumsy underlings. “Harry, I would have thought that seventeen years with the DMLE would have taught you to look before you come charging through doors?”
“Yes, Minister,” Harry nodded, from where he was helping Annabel right the now sparkling-clean coffee cups on the tray. “Sorry about that, Annabel, can I help you -”
“Oh no, I’m always dropping things, really it isn’t -“
“Much as I’m sure Miss Vance would appreciate the help, Auror Potter, we have a portkey leaving in about ninety seconds time,” Kingsley remarked casually, waving a half-inflated football at Harry. “Ringing any bells?”
“Ah,” Harry nodded. “Yes. Right.” He threw Annabel a regretful look which was met with a blush and a tentative smile as she slipped out of the room. “It’s been a bit of a morning I’m afraid.”
“Already?” Kingsley asked dryly, as Harry came to stand next to him, placing a finger on the football.
“Rose and Hermione had a fight, and I had to do some smoothing over.”
“Indeed.” Kingsley nodded, fixing Harry with one of his trademark inscrutable looks. Before Harry had a chance to ask what this particular look was supposed to communicate, he felt the sharp yank of the portkey behind his navel.
A light breeze was ruffling the waters of Loch Maree when he and Kingsley touched down. After twenty-odd years Harry had just about mastered landing on his feet after taking a Portkey, but it was often a close-run thing, and he was glad of Kingsley’s steadying hand on his elbow as his knees wobbled. They’d landed in a stand of oak trees on one of the larger islands that dotted the Loch, and Harry took a deep breath of air that even in the heat of summer managed to retain a refreshing crispness, especially when compared to London.
“Ready to have a chat with some Merpeople?” Kingsley asked, not waiting for Harry’s response before he started off towards the water’s edge.
“As I’ll ever be,” Harry sighed, mostly to himself. Around him the oak leaves whispered in the faint wind, an alarmingly human sound, and a chill worked its way down his spine as he followed Kingsley, in spite of the warmth of the day.
“And then,” Ron paused to chew the huge bite of sandwich that he’d just taken, “he threw it across the room and said ‘Not on Tuesdays, Daddy!’”
“Christ,” Harry groaned, hiding his smile behind his hand. “You couldn’t pay me to go back to the terrible twos.”
“Sometimes I wonder why I agreed to another,” Ron nodded sagely, wiping mustard from around his mouth.
“That’s a horrible lie,” Harry shot back. “You always wanted more kids.”
“Yeah, but like, I’d prefer it if they just arrived when they’re about five, you know?” Ron smiled gently, the face of a man utterly besotted with his children. “Rose was absolutely adorable at that age. Not that she isn’t now,” he added guiltily, looking at Harry with a suddenly panicked expression.
“Hey,” Harry said, raising his hands, “I’m not the dad police. Whatever’s going on with her I’m sure it can be explained by being fourteen, outrageously smart, and having two divorced parents to play off against one another. Trust me,” he fixed Ron with his most earnest look, “It almost makes me nervous that James isn’t trying to play mind games with me and Gin.”
“Boys are easy,” Ron said. “Mum always said that Ginny was more trouble than the rest of us put together, especially once she started going out with you.”
“That’s an absurd accusation.” Harry took a final sip of his beer, frowning. “Did she really say that?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Ron smiled, draining his own glass.
“Mm.” Harry narrowed his eyes, dusting crumbs from his lap. “Right, Auror Weasley, if you fancy being mysterious, you and Dean can go and check out these reports of a disturbance in Upper Flagley.”
“Oh, you vindictive twat,” Ron grumbled good-naturedly as he rose to his feet. “I was only pulling your leg, there’s no need to give me the short straw.”
“You should think better of it before you tease your boss then,” Harry said tartly. “Though I’m fairly sure it’s nothing, so really you’ve no reason to complain. From what I remember of our little seventh-year camping trip it was a nice little town.” He smirked, “Think of it as a day-trip, buy Dean an ice cream.”
“I’m sure he’ll be thrilled about that,” Ron grinned. “You just wait, Auror Potter, I’m going to tell your ex-wife that you’re taking out your unfair resentment of redheads on me.”
“Go ahead.” Harry flapped a bored hand at him, laughing. “I’m sure she’d be happy to take out her unfair resentment of hapless Aurors on you as well.”
“Blimey.” Ron scrubbed a hand over his face as they wove through the Leaky Cauldron towards the back door. “Imagine if that was a thing.”
“I’d rather not.” Harry reached into his pocket and tapped his wand against the brick wall that led into Diagon Alley.
“Dad!” someone shouted, and Harry looked up as he stepped through the archway to see James waving frantically at him from outside Quality Quidditch Supplies.
“Right,” Harry muttered to Ron. “My son is unusually pleased to see me, so my well-honed detective skills tell me he wants something.”
“Good luck with that,” Ron murmured back. Rose appeared beside James at that moment, directing a scowl at her father when he tentatively raised a hand to wave at them. “Cripes. Say sorry to her for me, would you?”
“Do I have a sign on me today that says Granger-Weasley family liai- he’s gone,” Harry sighed to himself as Ron disapparated away, and he crossed the broad cobbled street to where the two teenagers were standing.
“Hi Dad!” James grinned up at him, green eyes glinting with calculation. “They’ve just got the Nimbus 4400 in stock, and Demelza said they’d hold one if it was in your name, so obviously -”
“James,” Harry sighed. “For the last time, I’m not buying you a racing broom.”
“Um, it’s not a racing broom though?” James shook his head, undeterred. “It’s an all-weather, all-conditions broom, equipped for long distance, endurance flying, and the occasional speed trial if you -”
“What did your mother say?” Harry asked, glancing around to see if Ginny were nearby. “Isn’t she here with you?”
“She’s buying new dress robes at Twilfitt & Tattings,” Rose said, the faintest trace of longing in her voice.
“She said to ask you,” James answered Harry, staring at him with the steadfast determination of a terrible liar.
“Rose?” Harry asked, raising an eyebrow and realising belatedly that he was channelling the Minister.
“Um.” Rose winced, flushing. “Um, she said that she definitely wasn’t buying it for James and he could ask you but fat lot of good it would do him to get the pair of you in trouble.”
“Rose!” James yelled. “You dirty snitch!”
“James, one of these days you’re going to learn that it’s really in your best interests not to cross your mother,” Harry sighed, clapping his son on his shoulder and finding it higher up than he remembered it being the weekend before. “Did you grow?”
“Don’t try and distract me,” James huffed, before smiling slightly. “Yeah, another inch. I’m going to overtake you soon.”
“We’ll see.” Harry smiled, turning to look up the street. “Now, since I’ve been heartless enough to refuse to buy you a new broom, how about an ice cream instead, before I have to head back to work?”
“I guess,” James sighed, while Rose nodded enthusiastically. The three of them turned towards Fortescue’s, where a queue was snaking out of the door, the wizarding world clearly keen to take advantage of the unusually warm day. James and Rose were debating the pros and cons of all-weather charm treatments on broomstick twigs, and Harry was so absorbed listening to them that he almost walked right into someone.
“Oh,” Romilda Vane smiled, showing gleaming white teeth that were eerily shark-like. “Harry! How lovely to see you.”
Next to Harry, James went stiff as a board, while Rose made a stifled groaning sound.
“Romilda,” Harry nodded curtly, trying to sidestep the alarmingly buxom witch and finding himself headed off.
“It’s been ages,” Romilda cooed. “You never come to any of my parties.” She stuck her bottom lip out in a pout that had been silly when they were at school, and now made her look faintly ridiculous. “And you’ve got dear Johnny with you -”
“James,” Harry heard his son say dully, though Romilda didn’t pause.
“- and darling Rosie, so nice that the two of you can spend time together, given all the divorce.” Romilda said this last word in a stage whisper, as though the two teenagers might not want to hear it, despite both marriages having broken down amicably some time ago. “And Harry, you’re still not remarried?” She batted her unnaturally-enhanced eyelashes at him. “Such a shame, I’m sure there’s hundreds of witches who’d want to make an honest man of you if you’d just take two minutes to see what’s right in front of your -”
“Yes, well, I'm very busy with work, actually,” Harry gabbled. “Gosh, is that the time? Must be going, sorry kids -” he pressed a few Galleons into James’s hand “- see you both, bye Romilda -”
He disapparated in a rush, landing in the Ministry atrium and nearly colliding with Hermione.
“Harry!” she clutched his arm as he steadied her, managing to keep them both from falling. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” he said, feeling his heart start racing again without his permission. “Just running away from Romilda Vane.” He winced, “I’m afraid I left the kids to the wolves but -”
“Oh she won’t pay them any attention if you’re not there,” Hermione sighed. “And they won’t bother being polite to her either if they don’t have a parent hovering to make them mind their manners.”
“She wouldn’t deserve them being polite to her, anyway,” Harry said, trying not to laugh. “To be honest I doubt she’d even notice, insults are like water off a duck’s back with that one.”
“Quite,” Hermione said darkly.
Harry looked closer at her, and realised that her eyes were distinctly red-rimmed. “Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Just peachy,” she growled, looking around and then frowning at something over Harry’s shoulder. He glanced in the same direction and saw Roger Davies stood across the room, talking to a witch he vaguely recognised from the Wizengamot. “Not here,” Hermione sighed, when Harry gave her a questioning look. “Walk me to my office?”
“With pleasure,” Harry said, resisting the impulse to put an arm round her. When he looked back Davies was watching them, his eyes narrowed, and his mouth a thin line.
“What was that about?” Harry asked, as soon as they were in the lift.
“Roger nixed the proceedings,” Hermione sighed, crossing her arms and leaning her head back against the wall of the lift. She blinked rapidly at the ceiling, and Harry realised that she was trying hard not to cry. “Filibustered on some nonsense about needing to review protection orders on ghouls in houses over a hundred years old.” Her lip quivered slightly. “He might as well have spoken for a hundred years, I never even had a chance of getting to the floor.”
“Shit,” Harry said. “I’m sorry. When will you get another chance?”
“Recess starts tomorrow,” she reminded him as he followed her out of the lift. “So not until September.” She bit her lip, scuffing her foot against the worn patch of carpet as she unlocked her office door with a twitch of wandless magic. “I shouldn’t have left it so late, but werewolves had to go in as an addendum otherwise someone would have pruned them out before the Beings Bill made it anywhere near the Wizengamot.”
She ducked behind her desk, and Harry frowned, wondering if she’d decided to simply hide, before she emerged with a bottle of Ogden’s and two glasses. “Indulge me?” Hermione asked.
“I probably -” Harry started, and then looked at her again, and decided that it didn’t really matter that he’d had a beer at lunchtime. “Yeah, go on then.”
It didn’t seem very long before they were somehow onto their fourth glass, and Harry was thinking guiltily about the paperwork that was probably accumulating on his desk. It was hard to care, however, when Hermione was squinting at him rather squiffily. He watched the finger that she had held up to emphasise her point waver slightly as she gestured with the hand that held her glass.
“It isn’t as though he even cares either way whether werewolves are classed as Beasts or Beings!” she cried. “He just can’t bear for me to get a win!”
“You think he’d shabo- shadow- sab-oh-tage a much-needed piece of lettuce- legs- new law just to piss you off?” Harry asked.
“Of course!” Hermione said, slamming her glass down and swaying towards him, tipping forward from her perch on the edge of her desk. Harry made an awkward attempt to grab her from where he was sat in the chair, and she ended up sliding into his lap, her face against his shoulder.
“Oh,” Hermione breathed, lifting her head up and looking at him, blinking slowly as though she wasn’t quite sure how she’d ended up there. “Hello.”
“Hi,” Harry said, swallowing carefully. “Um -”
“I always forget how green your eyes are,” she said, tipping her head thoughtfully, and leaning towards him until their noses were basically touching. “And now you only have one,” she giggled.
“Yeah?” he replied, heart in his mouth. “So do you from this angle.”
“Mm,” Hermione hummed thoughtfully. “Good angle, that.”
One moment she wasn’t kissing him, and then suddenly she was, and it wasn’t just a kiss but something powerfully right, cutting through Harry’s mild inebriation and right to the core of him as Hermione made that humming sound again, only this time it was against his mouth, and she did it as she slipped her tongue between his lips and her hands under his shirt and her fingers were like ice and he gasped -
“Oops,” Hermione said, leaning back. “That was...oops.”
“Yes,” Harry agreed. "Yes it was." He thought for a moment, then scrunched his forehead, puzzled. “What does… what does ‘oops’ mean?”
“It...um…” Hermione frowned slightly as her eyes tracked back and forth across his face, apparently searching for something. She was holding onto his shoulder with one hand, the other at the placket of his shirt, worrying the buttons.
“What?” Harry pressed her, his voice barely a whisper. Hermione blinked, and her fingers tensed against his collarbone.
“This,” she said, leaning in again. This time the kiss was purposeful, the press of Hermione’s lips deliberate against his. She wriggled in his lap and Harry sucked in a deep breath as he slid his hand around the back of her neck and felt blood rush to his groin.
“Why haven’t we -” he asked.
“I’ve no idea,” she replied, sounding a little short of breath. “We’re idiots.”
“Yes,” Harry agreed just as breathlessly, “Yes we are - utter, complete -”
“Harry!” Ron’s voice rang through the room and Harry and Hermione sprung apart like guilty teenagers, Hermione’s fingers even flying to her mouth as they stared at one another.
“You need to get to Upper Flagley right now, mate.” Harry looked around and found Ron’s Jack Russell Patronus in the corner of the room. “This is some properly weird shit and we’re not - what? - no, I’m just -”
The message cut off abruptly, and Harry looked back at Hermione, her expression of consternation matching his.
“Erm.” Harry carefully shifted his hips backwards in the chair. “Have you got any Sober-up?”
Once they’d each downed a helping of the potion they stared at one another for a long moment.
“Well…” said Harry, rubbing the back of his neck. “I should - should probably -”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Hermione sighed. “I’m coming with you, obviously.”
“Really?” Harry asked, blindsided by this. “Why? I can call for backup from the Department, it isn’t as though -”
“Ron didn’t call the Department, he called you,” Hermione said. “Which makes it highly likely there’s already a full complement up there. We’ve been squirrelled away in my office for -” she checked her watch and winced “- two hours, so -”
“Bugger.” Harry returned the wince. “You’re right, so let’s -”
“Yep,” Hermione was already out of the door and heading towards the lifts. Harry shot a quick Colloportus at her door before he ran after her.
“So what did the report say?” Hermione asked once they were in the lift. She had her eyes trained carefully on the door and Harry took the hint, not looking at her as he pulled the memo from his pocket.
“Uh,” he said, frowning down at it. “‘Unexplained magical activity in the Upper Flagley area, blah blah blah, close proximity to the former Avery residence, yada yada, atmospheric distortion bullshit bullshit, temporal disturbance -”
“Temporal disturbance?” Hermione frowned at him as they arrived in the atrium. “What on earth would cause that?”
“It’s usually the wards on these old manor houses going a bit senile, normally nothing to worry about, so I don’t know why Ron’s - watch out!”
An owl had come swooping down from the ceiling, nearly colliding with Hermione’s head as it dropped a note into Harry’s hands.
Urgent assistance requested at Avery Manor. All Ministry staff holding NEWT-level or higher in Defence Against the Dark Arts are required to report to the village hall in Upper Flagley.
“Shit,” Harry breathed, as Hermione read over his shoulder. “Shit shit -”
“Come on.” She grabbed his hand, her grip tight enough to hurt as she tugged him towards the apparition point. He was still swearing as they landed on the village high street, where it immediately became clear that something truly terrible was going on.
“Harry, Hermione!” Dean yelled, waving madly from behind the smoking ruins of what had once been a bus stop. “Quick, find some cover before -”
“Oh, my god,” Hermione gasped, her eyes on something over Harry’s shoulder.
“What?” Harry whipped his head around in time to see something very large and very horrible bearing down on them. He barely had time to push Hermione behind him and choke out a spell before the darkness reached him, a burning pain lancing through his chest as he was engulfed in a cloud of malevolent energy and everything went black.
"They were found near the library,” said Professor McGonagall. “I don’t suppose either of you can explain this? It was on the floor next to them.”
She was holding up a small, circular mirror.
Harry shook his head, aware of Ron doing the same next to him. He couldn’t take his eyes off Hermione’s petrified form: her eyes open and glassy; her golden skin pale in the candlelight.
.-~* Day 2 *~-.
Harry shot up in bed, breathing hard, and dislodging Purr from her preferred spot on his chest. She arched her back and bared her teeth at him from the floor before whipping around and disappearing from his bedroom.
“Fuck,” he breathed, dragging a hand over his face. The dream had been alarmingly real, a fairly humdrum day gone swiftly bizarre, with the whisky-fuelled semi-tryst in Hermione’s office, followed by the - whatever that had been, in Upper Flagley.
“Ugh,” he grumbled, wondering whether it was too late to go back to sleep. As was to be expected in the middle of July, the glow of the curtains made it clear that the morning was already sunny, and Harry turned to squint at his alarm clock, sighing when he saw that it was just gone half-past five, and reluctantly hauled himself out of bed.
He threw the curtains open, rolled his shoulders back in an effort to abate the twinge under his shoulder-blade that had been leftover from the combat exercise yesterday, and then headed for the stairs to make himself some coffee.
“You need a shave, young man,” the mirror called after his retreating back, and Harry’s hand sprung to his chin. He’d had a shave, he remembered, in the dream, but his rather-later-than-six-o’clock shadow was very much present, and so he waved a hazy arm in acknowledgement.
“Better now?” he asked, a single order of coffee, shower and shave later, as he squinted at his reflection and tried to simultaneously towel-dry his hair and do up his tie.
“Decidedly,” the mirror confirmed, and Harry paused, feeling an odd prickle of déjà-vu against the back of his neck.
“Tie,” he muttered, pulling it off again. He had the meeting with the Merpeople this morning, just like in his dream, and god help him if he wore a tie that one of the babies took a liking to. Perkins had nearly drowned last time.
Yawning, he went back down to the kitchen to put some toast on, pausing with his hand on the breadbin. There was just something about this morning that he couldn’t quite -
The fire blazed green behind him, and Harry spun on his heel in time to see Rose come spilling out of it, red-eyed and sniffling. “Oh, hi Uncle -”
“James is at his mum’s,” he said, the words spilling from his mouth before his brain had quite registered what he way saying. “Does your mother know you’re here?”
“No,” Rose said, any lingering petulance forgotten in the face of his urgent tone. “I told her I was going to -”
“Doesn’t matter,” Harry said, crossing the room quickly and grabbing her shoulder to turn her back to the fireplace. “Look, Rose, I’d love to offer you a black coffee and some sympathy but I really need to speak to your mum, so I can’t really be accessory to her murder this morning.”
“Ooookaaaayy,” Rose said. “But I mean, how did you know I want to kill her?”
“It’s not important,” Harry chucked a handful of Floo Powder onto the flames. “Probably best for you to go straight to Ginny’s.”
“Fine,” Rose said, giving him a look that said in no uncertain terms that he was behaving like a crazy person, before she obediently ducked into the fireplace. As soon as she was gone Harry threw more of the glittering powder into the flames, and stepped in.
“Hermione!” he yelled as he clambered into her living room. “Hermione where -”
“Harry!” Hermione was stood in the kitchen, hands pressed white-knuckled to the countertop. “What are you - have you seen Rose?”
“She’s fine, she’s at Ginny’s” he said impatiently, practically bolting to her side and gathering her into a hug, dropping his nose into her hair and trying to tamp down on his sense of relief that she was ok - she was ok - she was ok -
“Harry.” Hermione’s voice was muffled from where her face was pressed against his chest. “Um. Harry, are you - is everything -”
“You’re alright?” he asked her, running his hands down her arms, checking her for injuries or harm or - or something - finally cupping her face in his hands, and realising that she was staring at him, much as her daughter had just been, as though he’d gone completely mad.
“I’m fine,” Hermione said, taking a gentle hold of his wrists to prise his hands from her face. “Are you?”
“Yeah,” Harry replied slowly, releasing her to take a step backwards. “Yes, I’m - you’re sure you’re okay?”
“Other than the fact that I’m clearly a failure as a mother?” Hermione smiled, “Why wouldn’t I be?” She shook her head quizzically as she moved away and started gathering up pieces of parchment. “You’re being very strange this morning, anyone would think you’re the one who’s kid had -”
“Watch that,” Harry warned her, just as Hermione swore, lifting her finger to her mouth and turning to stare at him. “Paper cuts,” Harry shrugged, smiling weakly. “Someone should invent a charm for parchment.”
Hermione’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll put it on my to-do list,” she said slowly. “Have you been practicing your Legilimency or something?”
“No,” Harry shook his head, feeling slightly sick. “No, but I am late for work so -”
He had his wand out and had apparated away before finishing his sentence.
Once he reached the Ministry he rushed down the corridor towards Kingsley’s office, flinging the door open and then stepping smartly to the side to avoid Annabel, who was just struggling out with her trayful of coffee cups.
“Goodness,” she blinked in surprise. “Good reflexes, Auror Potter.”
“Yeah,” he mumbled dazedly. “Something like that.”
“Ah, Harry!” Kingsley called. “Perfect timing, we’ve got two minutes before this portkey leaves, and I was just about to start wondering whether you were going to stand me up.”
“No,” Harry said, trying to smile and coming up with something that was probably more of a rictus grin. “Not today.”
When they arrived, the Loch looked exactly as it had the day before (the today before?), tiny ripples lifted by the same breeze that skated down the back of his neck and made the oak trees murmur to one another.
“What the hell is happening?” Harry breathed to himself.
“What was that?” Kingsley asked, looking over his shoulder with one eyebrow raised.
“Nothing, Kings,” he shook his head and hurried after the Minister towards the water’s edge, where he could see the sleek heads of several Merpeople already emerging from the Loch.
The talks went without a hitch, exactly as they had the time before: a lack of grievances on either side meant that after a couple of hours of exchanging pleasantries and information with the Merchief, Harry and Kingsley made their way back to the Ministry.
Just like he had done in yesterday’s version of the day, Harry had an hour to spare for paperwork before he was supposed to meet Ron for lunch at the Leaky. Unlike then, however, he spent most of it frenziedly looking up any scrap of information that he could find on Upper Flagley, which turned out to be not very much at all.
The memo requesting an Auror attend the scene had been filed as a matter of course after a routine magical survey a couple of days earlier, which didn’t help settle the queasy churning in Harry's stomach. By the time he reached the pub he was feeling sick with nerves, and Ron stood up from the bar as he approached, eyeing him nervously. “Alright there mate?”
“No,” Harry said. “Not really. I’m having a truly bizarre day.”
“Okay,” Ron replied slowly, sounding oddly like his daughter. “Want to tell me about it here or - not here then,” he nodded, as Harry grabbed his arm and hauled him towards the door.
“What did you do yesterday?” he asked Ron peremptorily as he pulled his wand from his pocket and tapped at the brick to open Diagon Alley.
“Harry, what -”
“Just answer the question,” he growled, as he pulled Ron after him to sit down among the clutter outside Eeylops Owl Emporium, where they had a clear view of all the comings and goings on the other side of the street.
“Fine,” Ron frowned. “I was at the Ministry most of the day giving evidence in that Bowtruckle smuggling case, then I went straight home once they dismissed us because Padma was working late at St Mungo’s so I needed to watch Hugo.”
“Right,” Harry said. “And what did you give Hugo for dinner?”
It was truly unfortunate how quickly you could get used to people looking at you as though you were going insane.
“Well, I had planned on giving him some leftover chicken that my mum sent home with us on Sunday. Except,” Ron’s eyes crinkled as he recalled something, “oh, you’ll love this -”
“He threw it across the room and said ‘not on Tuesdays’,” Harry intoned monotonously.
“Yeah!” Ron’s eyebrows shot up his forehead. “What, did you already speak to Padma or something?”
“No,” Harry sighed, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “No. You already told me. Yesterday. Which was the same as today.”
“Mate.” Ron shook his head slowly. “You’re not making any -”
“Any minute now Ginny’s going to appear with James and Rose,” Harry interrupted him. “She usually uses the Floo at Flourish and Blotts so - there they are.”
Ron blinked in surprise as the three of them appeared outside the bookshop. “Ginny will go to Twilfitt & Tattings,” Harry said, “and James and Rose will go to Quality Quidditch Supplies.”
The two men watched, silently, from where they sat partially hidden among the riot of empty cages outside the owl shop, as Ginny gave James a couple of Galleons and then waved the two teenagers off. She herself headed in the other direction, neatly sidestepping Romilda, who tried, unsuccessfully, to engage her in conversation before heading towards Fortescue’s.
“How did you -” Ron started, but Harry shook his head.
“There’s something really weird going on in Upper Flagley,” he bit out. “Yester- before, I sent you up there, and I went back to the Ministry and um -” he paused, suddenly realising that he wasn’t quite ready to tell Ron exactly what had delayed him at the Ministry. “Well, I got held up, anyway, and then you sent a Patronus telling me you needed my help, only by the time I got there everything had gone to shit.”
“Right,” Ron bit his lip slowly. “So do you think we should…?”
“I think we should go and check it out,” Harry decided, nodding to himself. “But we should send a note to the DMLE first, just in case.”
Ron stared at him for a long moment before he tipped his chin to his chest. “Alright then.”
Harry felt a rush of gratitude as Ron accompanied him without question to the Owl Post Office, and then took his arm, holding his wand ready as Harry apparated them north.
At first glance the village looked entirely different to how it had (Harry had to come up with a better word than yesterday): no pall of smoke hanging in the air; buildings intact and trees moving gently in the light breeze that cut through the summer stillness.
Looking around, Harry felt the strange shiver of déjà-vu once again, and glanced at Ron just in time to see his friend look away. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “Are you sure we’re in the right -”
There was an odd, percussive boom from somewhere behind a distant stand of trees, and the ground under their feet shook even as the air around them shimmered.
“Yes,” Harry said. “Yes, I’m pretty fucking sure.”
“Yeah,” Ron nodded. “Yeah okay, well I guess - bloody hell.”
His eyes had gone round as saucers as he and Harry both stared at the great, dark thing that had risen from the direction of the Avery Manor. It was vaguely humanoid, though oddly misshapen, and utterly enormous. As it started to lumber towards them a shape opened up in the side of it, almost where a mouth would have been, and the thing issued a guttural, ear-splitting roar.
“WHAT THE SHIT, HARRY?” Ron yelled. “How the fuck did you say you dealt with this before?”
“I didn’t,” Harry replied, staring at the thing in horror as it moved towards them at terrifying speed. “I think - I think it killed me.”
“And it didn’t occur to you to tell me that earlier?!” Ron threw him a look of utter disbelief. “That might have been a bit fucking helpful, you know -”
“No time!” Harry cried, shoving Ron away from himself. “Go! Get back to the Ministry, get help, get everyone -”
“What about you?” Ron yelped. “What are you going to - Harry no, no you can’t -”
“I’m going to do what I did before,” Harry said grimly, pushing his sleeves up and readying his wand. “If I do the same thing, if I -”
“You don’t know that,” Ron’s voice was strangled, though Harry looked over his shoulder to see him scrambling backwards. “You can’t possibly be sure.”
“Well it’s a bit late for anything else,” Harry sighed, planting his feet firmly as the thing cleared the trees and became completely visible. He could feel the dark energy of it now, sticky as tar, catching at his feet and fingers and coating his tongue with an oily taste.
He heard the soft whump! as Ron disapparated behind him, and felt his stomach drop with dread.
“Come and get me, motherfucker,” he growled, seeing, improbably, a flash of Hermione’s face as he brought his wand up. “Expecto -”
“Peeves!” Harry muttered, grabbing Hermione’s wrist. “In here!”
They tore into a deserted classroom to their left just in time, pressing their ears to the door and standing nearly nose to nose, breathing hard as they listened. Peeves seemed to be bouncing along the corridor in tearing spirits, laughing his head off.
“Oh, he’s horrible,” whispered Hermione, her breath tickling Harry's cheek. “I bet he’s all excited because the Dementors are going to finish Sirius…” she checked her watch. “Three minutes, Harry!”
He blinked, momentarily distracted by the way the moonlight made strange, silver shadows on her face.
.-~* Day 39 *~-.
“Honestly, Romilda?” Harry sighed, his patience entirely exhausted after six weeks of fending her off on an almost-daily basis. “Because you were a pain at school, and I thought by now you’d have realised that I wasn’t interested when I was sixteen, and so I’m definitely not interested now.”
“Well that’s -”
“It’s not rude, it’s blunt,” Harry corrected her before she could say it. “I don’t need you right in front of my nose to see that you’re a bitch. That’s rude, as is -” he made an obscene gesture at her before taking both kids by the arms “- this.” Harry ignored Romilda’s cry of outrage, flashing her a contemptuous smile as he disapparated.
“Jesus Christ, Dad.” James said as soon as he’d found his footing in the alleyway off Soho Square. He and Rose were both looking at Harry like he’d sprouted a second head. “What’s got into you?”
“Nothing,” Harry sighed, fishing in his pocket for his muggle wallet. “It’s just been a really long day. Listen, why don’t you and Rose go to the cinema or something? Have an afternoon in Muggle London.”
“Really?” James nodded eagerly before he gathered himself, and eyed Harry suspiciously as he accepted the notes his father pressed into his hand. “I mean - if you’re sure, I guess we’ll -”
“Thanks son,” Harry wrapped his arm around James’s shoulders, wondering, as he had almost every time so far, when he got so tall. “I love you.”
“Get off,” James laughed, though he squeezed Harry’s arm briefly before he wrestled free. “Honestly Dad, have you actually lost it or -”
“Not yet,” Harry shook his head. “Not quite yet.”
“Harry, you were brilliant!” Hermione said squeakily. There were fingernail marks on her face where she had been clutching it in fear, and Harry raised a hand to touch her cheek, smiling at her like an idiot as she went on, “You were amazing! You really were!”
Something warm and golden and wholly unrelated to the feeling of having just defeated a dragon started to unfurl itself in his chest, but then he caught movement over her shoulder and looked up to see Ron standing there, very white, and looking at Harry as though he was a ghost.
Harry dropped his hand from Hermione’s face and squashed the feeling of - whatever it was - down in order to face Ron.
.-~* Day 106 *~-.
“You have to kill me,” Harry grimaced, dragging himself backwards and trying not to look at the shattered end of his tibia where it was sticking out of his shin.
“You’re having a laugh,” Ron said, glancing at him over his shoulder, face contorted with the effort of maintaining the shield. Hermione gave a hollow chuckle from where she was knelt over Harry’s leg, having just finished casting the Vulnera Sanentur. Blood was running freely down her face from a cut on her forehead.
“It doesn’t end until I die,” Harry panted, “and I’m no good to you like this, we’re just prolonging the -”
“Don’t say inevitable,” Hermione almost snarled, and Harry caught her hand, stopping her before she could cast the pointless Ferula charm.
“You’ve trusted me this far,” he whispered. “Trust me now.”
Hermione stared at him for a long moment, their faces close enough that he could pick out all the different shades of brown in her eyes.
“It doesn’t count,” Harry murmured, leaning in and kissing her quickly. “You won’t have done it tomorrow - it won't ever have happened.”
He watched her steel herself, squeezing her hand in his as she lifted her wand.
Girls were screaming - Hermione was screaming his name, and Harry turned towards her: the sound of her voice, the flash of silvery light on her eyes.
“It’s alright son, I’ve got you,” Moody said, his arm under Harry’s supporting him.
“Dumbledore said stay,” said Harry thickly. He wanted to stay, he wanted to be there, where Hermione was; where it was safe and -
.-~* Day 152 *~-.
He opened his eyes a crack, saw the bright, yellowy morning sunlight, and scrunched them closed again with a whimper.
The thing reached London by seven in the evening, and Harry stood on the roof of Grimmauld Place and raised his wand defeatedly, thinking of the taste of Hermione’s mouth the time before, desperate and bloody, with the faint underlying flavour of whiskey.
“Expecto Patronum,” he croaked, seeing the soft, glowing outline of the stag against his closed eyelids as the dark energy engulfed him.
He caught a brief glimpse of a gloomy high-ceilinged, twin-bedded room; then there was a loud twittering noise, followed by an even louder shriek, and his vision was completely obscured by a large quantity of very bushy hair. Hermione had thrown herself onto him in a hug that nearly knocked him flat, and Harry’s arms rose automatically to hold her close, to confirm that she was there - she was really there - warm and golden-skinned and real real real -
.-~* Day 294 *~-.
“If you think for one second that I’m leaving you here to do this alone then -”
“You’ve done it before!” Harry shot back at her, dodging out of the way without even looking as a large clod of flaming brick flew past and took out the bus shelter. “And anyway, I’m the one that lives through this!” he yelled, trying to shove Hermione back as the spell picked up pace behind them, the creature’s roar heightening to a piercing screech. “I’m the one that’ll have to do it all again tomorrow so -”
“Well why don’t you see if I’m more willing to turn my back on you then?” she hissed, closing her hand tight around his arm. “Together, Harry Potter, or so help me -”
“Fine,” Harry spat, twisting his fingers into her wild hair and kissing her - a vicious, desperate kiss that Hermione returned full force. “Tomorrow it is.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” she whispered, before they both raised their wands.
“Bellatrix Lestrange did that?” whispered Hermione, horrified. Her grip on Harry’s hand was so tight that it was painful, unshed tears glistening silver in her eyes.
.-~* Day 363 *~-.
“You go on, Minister,” Harry tried to make his smile as blithe as possible, hoping against hope that this would be one of the times that Kingsley decided not to question him.
“You’re being strange,” Kingsley said, his voice a deep rumble that was perfectly at home amid the trees and the rocks and the mountains. “But then again, Harry, you’re always fairly strange. Don’t get lost on your way back.” He folded his arms around the football, still considering Harry as the stained leather started to glow blue in his grasp.
Once he was gone Harry stood for a moment, savouring the peace, before he walked back down to the shore where the Merchief was waiting, as he almost always was.
“When did you start noticing the ripples?” Harry asked without prevarication. The Merchief didn’t like small-talk, he’d learned.
“Two days ago.” The being’s large, yellow eyes moved steadily over him. “It’s warm.”
“The heatwave,” Harry nodded. “And then this morning -”
“Strange magic.” The Merchief said, tipping his head backwards and taking a deep snort of air. “All over you, boy.” He bared his long, sharp teeth in a hiss. “Bad magic.”
“What sort of bad?” Harry pressed him. “And don’t tell me it’s none of your business, because we’ve played that game before and it doesn’t go well.”
He counted the seconds as they stretched into a minute, then two, and all the while the Merchief stared, his tail flicking back and forth in the shallow water.
“Ghoul magic,” he said finally, and Harry’s head shot up to stare at him. “Blood.”
“What do we do?” Hermione asked Harry, trembling from head to foot.
“Well, we don’t stand here waiting for them to find us, for a start,” said Harry. He fished for a smile but came up empty, eyes catching on the way the shimmering bell jar lit her cheek in gold. “Let’s get away from this door.”
.-~* Day 419 *~-.
“Just what, exactly, is it that you think you’re doing, Potter?” Roger Davies was almost white with anger, red blotches standing out on his cheeks as Harry shoved him roughly into a chair, securing him with a muttered “Incarcerous .”
“Harry -” Hermione started to say, her eyes wide and staring. “Harry, are you sure this is the best way to -”
“Your name is Roger Alexander Llewellyn Davies,” Harry sighed, sinking down onto the large, comfortable sofa that took up one wall of Roger’s ridiculously oversized office. “Your parents are Angwyn and Toreth Davies, I’m sorry about your sister.”
“How did you -”
“Tell your secretary everything’s fine,” Harry said, meeting the other man’s eyes steadily. “You don’t need to send the papers to Mrs Elstree until this afternoon.” A moment later there was a knock at the door, and Roger’s slim, fair-haired secretary walked in.
“Sir, is everything -”
“Fine,” Roger said curtly, not looking away from Harry.
“And do you need the papers for Mrs -”
“We can send them this afternoon.”
The woman paused, her eyes moving from Roger, to Harry, to Hermione. Harry dropped his head into his hand, rubbing at his eyes. “Delia Hobbs, born 16th October 1987. You’ve got three sisters, the youngest of whom is still at Hogwarts. Your father has gambling debts, that’s why you’re working, but Roger’s helped you set up a fund to make sure your sisters don’t have to." He paused, sifting through the memories. "You might as well tell him that his dinner’s cancelled now.”
Delia gaped at him, her mouth slightly open, before she turned to Roger. “Your - your dinner was cancelled, sir.”
“Close the door behind you,” Harry said, as gently as he could. “We’ll be gone in five minutes.”
Once she’d left the room he looked back at Roger. “I need you to tell me exactly which year of the Annals of the Ancients was referenced in Grimmelesse and Ghoulenesse.”
“Why?” Roger’s voice was devoid of inflection, his eyes hard and flinty.
“Because once we’ve found the source material about how they’re used in wards we have a much better chance of dismantling the one on Avery Manor before it goes rogue and kills everybody.”
There was a beat of absolute silence in the room before Roger gave a derisive snort. “I don’t know what you’ve been smoking, Potter, but -”
“You caught your first quaffle with your left hand,” Harry said, leaning forward and closing his fingers firmly around Roger’s bound wrist, ignoring Hermione's sharp intake of breath. “You scream more when I cut that one off than you do when I start with the right.”
The remaining colour drained from Roger’s face as Harry held his stare.
“We’ll see you soon, mate,” said Ron anxiously, shaking Harry’s hand.
“Really soon, Harry,” said Hermione earnestly. “We promise.”
Harry nodded. He somehow could not find the words, tried to put it all into the hug he gave her instead. Hermione’s breath hitched a little, and he could feel her silver prefect’s badge digging into his chest.
.-~* Day 480 *~-.
“The toast is for you,” Harry said before Rose could utter a word.
She blinked, surprised, then looked towards the table. “Oooookaaay...is James here?”
“At his mum’s,” Harry told her as he stepped around her on his way to the fireplace. “I want you to head over there as soon as you’ve finished that - no -” he held up a hand as Rose started to protest. “No arguing, I know you’re hungry, you always are.”
“Says who?” Rose called after him. Harry ignored her as he called Hermione’s address into the flames.
“Rose is at mine,” Harry caught Hermione’s wrist before she could say anything, yanking her into a hug. It had been particularly bad the time before, and the feel of her, warm and alive, was a relief. “She’s having some breakfast, and then she’ll go to Ginny’s.”
“Oh, thank goodness for that.” Hermione sagged against him for a moment, and Harry dropped his nose into her hair, inhaling the rosy scent that he’d learned over the past however many days.
“Don’t bother,” he said as she pulled away and started gathering pieces of parchment. “You’ll get a papercut, and Davies is going to filibuster you anyway. It always goes better when you just believe me straight away.”
“What are you on ab- ow.” Hermione frowned down at the blood welling at her fingertip, and then up at Harry when he sighed and took her hand, putting her finger in his mouth.
“Natural antiseptic,” he said in response to her vaguely scandalised look, withdrawing the finger from his mouth and briefly pressing his lips to the cut. “Don’t pretend you weren’t going to. You’re right, it isn’t worth wasting a healing spell. And yes, someone should invent a charm for parchment. No -” Hermione froze, mouth slightly open, and her eyes wide “- I haven’t been practicing my Legilimency.”
Hermione’s gaze searched his face for a moment, following the line of his unshaven jaw. “You haven’t -”
“You like it better when I don’t,” he said; enjoying, as he had a number of times before, the way the blush climbed her cheeks.
“And how would you -”
“We’ve done this a few times now.”
“We have, have we?” Hermione’s eyes narrowed as she considered this, her gaze sharpening. “Well, before you think you can just waltz in here and pick up where we apparently left off, when -”
“25th December 1997.”
“Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.”
“How many -”
“Three,” Harry sighed, and Hermione flinched, before setting her jaw in challenge.
“Where do -”
“Here,” he said, stroking his thumb over her earlobe. “And here.” The brush of his lips against the edge of her jaw. “Here,” he murmured in her ear as he drew a finger down the curve of her waist, prompting her to draw a sharp breath, her fingers closing on his biceps.
“And?” she whispered.
“And here.” Harry slid his hand up beneath her skirt to touch the spot at the top of her inner thigh that she’d shown him on the twenty-third - no, the twenty-sixth day.
“Right,” Hermione swallowed carefully. “So, say that I believe you, even then -”
“You’re right,” he said, pushing her gently backwards until her calves hit the sofa and she was forced to sit, before he dropped to his knees in front of her. “You’re always right,” he murmured as he slowly drew her underwear down her legs. “But Annabel doesn’t drop the keys to the records room until quarter to eleven, so we have a couple of hours before we need to get going.”
“We do, do we?” Hermione asked faintly, pushing a hand into his hair as he parted her thighs and dipped his head between them. “So I guess - oh - I guess - ah - how many times did you say we’ve -”
“Two hundred and eighty three.” He licked the flat of his tongue up the length of her slit, flicking it against her clit and savouring the way she shivered against him. “Here, that is. Sixty seven at the Ministry. Nineteen -” he let his teeth graze against her flesh and hissed when she yanked at his hair. “Nineteen times in Upper Flagley, when we’ve got up there really early -”
“Where’s -” Hermione gasped as Harry replaced his tongue with a finger and rose up to kiss her. “Shit, Harry, this is - this is insane - I -”
“It’s in Yorkshire,” he told her, kissing her neck, her collarbones, the tops of her breasts. “North Riding. We stopped there for a day when we were Horcrux hunting. Traditional seat of the Averys. We - well, you - think that one of the blood wards on the Manor -” Hermione dragged his mouth back up to hers, her other hand scrabbling at his belt before he felt the fizz of wandless magic.
“Explain later,” she ordered, as she shoved his trousers down.
“You’re covered in blood,” said Hermione. “Come here -”
She raised her wand, said, “ Tergeo!” and siphoned off the dried blood with the pale-gold spell.
“Thanks,” said Harry, feeling his now clean face. “How’s my nose looking?”
“Normal,” said Hermione anxiously, and he felt affection warm him as he patted her hand.
.-~* Day 517 *~-.
“Demelza,” Harry said, leaning his arms on the counter and making his best attempt at a charming smile. “Let’s say that my son has managed to persuade me that a new broom might be in order, what would you recommend for something that could fly two people a short distance very quickly, and that would be impervious to most atmospheric magic?”
“Specific much?” Demelza laughed, pushing her auburn hair off her forehead and leaving a streak of broom polish behind. “Normally I ask customers to give me a few more details about what they might actually want to use the broom for before I start -”
“Melz.” Harry used the nickname that he remembered from their days on the Gryffindor team, which for some reason always seemed to have the result of making her take him seriously.
“Alright,” she nodded. “So, most people like the Comets -”
“Not a Comet,” Harry said. “Not enough punch.”
“Right.” Demelza looked quizzically at him before reaching towards the Nimbuses.
“Not a Nimbus either.” He shook his head. “Too much drag on the stirrups.”
“Do you want my help or -”
“What would be the next one you’d suggest?” Harry asked.
Demelza huffed a sigh, then her forehead scrunched as she considered the selection behind her before finally reaching up and grabbing a light-coloured broom from one of the upper shelves. “Well, in that case, people tend to dismiss the Cleansweep 20 because it gets pretty unreliable over time,” she said, smoothing her hand over the handle. “But even though the enchantments do go downhill pretty sharply, they’re bloody powerful when the brooms are new, so if you’re only going to be using it for a quick jaunt I’d say you probably couldn’t -”
“How much?” Harry asked, already pulling out his wallet.
Demelza gave him a considering look, before she pushed the broom across the counter to him. “Have it,” she said. “They’re an absolute nightmare to sell to sane people anyway.”
“Listen,” said Hermione impatiently. “‘Of the Horcrux, wickedest of magical inventions, we shall not speak nor give direction’ … I mean, why mention it, then?” she said, slamming the old book shut; it let out a ghostly wail as it released a cloud of silvery dust. “Oh, shut up,” she snapped, stuffing it back into her bag as Harry ducked his head to hide his fond smile.
.-~* Day 603 *~-.
“How many times have you watched me die?” Hermione gritted her teeth. In the wash of sunlight her face looked sallow; pale and waxy from blood loss. Harry was a master of Vulnera Sanentur by now, but his bag, with its stash of Blood-replenishing Potion, had been lost when he’d misjudged the angle at which to land on the roof.
Harry pressed his mouth into a line, shaking his head rather than answering, as he looked out of the grimy window, counting down silently. Five - four - three - two -
“Answer me!” Hermione demanded hoarsely, grabbing weakly at his shoulder as the explosion echoed from somewhere on one of the lower floors and her shout became a scream of pain.
“A hundred and six!” Harry yelled back at her, the words catching in his throat to become a sob. “A hundred and six times, alright? And before you try and make a joke about it for the seventieth sodding time, no, it doesn’t get any fucking easier.”
Hermione’s lip trembled, her eyes welling with tears as she lifted her hand to rest it on his cheek. “We’re idiots,” she said, her voice fading to a croak. “It really - it really shouldn’t take imminent doom for us to - to realise -”
“No,” Harry agreed, turning his head to press his lips to her palm, twining his fingers with hers as he shifted her in his lap. Hermione winced, then fixed her eyes on his.
“Don’t forget to tell me tomorrow,” she wheezed, the words very faint.
Harry dropped his forehead to rest it against hers, shuddering with the effort of holding in his sobs as he felt the rich darkness of the magic gathering strength around them. ”A hundred and seven,” he murmured, taking a deep breath before he sat up, fingers white-knuckled around his wand.
Tomorrow, he told himself, trying to summon the image of her smile, the dig of her fingers in his skin and the sound of a sharp breath.
“Expecto Patronum,” Harry choked the spell out and watched the stag form, sluggish and faint, as the howl of the creature rose to a crescendo, and the floorboards burst upwards as the darkness came to swallow them whole.
“Well, here goes,” said Harry, and he raised the little bottle of golden potion and took a carefully measured gulp.
“What does it feel like?” whispered Hermione.
Harry did not answer for a moment. Then, slowly but surely, an exhilarating sense of infinite opportunity stole through him; he felt as though he could have done anything - could reach out and kiss her right then and there and it would be - but no, he had to get the memory from Slughorn. Hermione could wait.
.-~* Day 604 *~-.
Harry strode out of the fireplace, ignoring Rose’s yelp of surprise as he crossed the room without a word and caught Hermione in his arms to kiss her soundly, trying to imprint the feel of her, warm and alive, onto every sense.
“Harry,” she said faintly when he released her, face flushed and eyes slightly out of focus. “What on earth are you -”
“I love you,” he said hoarsely. “But I can’t do this to you today. I can’t do it to myself.” He forced himself to back away, to look away, to leave her standing there as he climbed back into the fire and called “Avery Manor!”
"Harry, did you ever even open A History of Magic?”
“Erm,” he said, smiling for what felt like the first time in months: the muscles in his face felt oddly stiff, but he couldn’t help delighting in the relief of it which Hermione must have felt too, because her eyes sparkled, almost silver in the light of the camping lantern, as she stared back at him.
.-~* Day 738 *~-.
“So we’ve already tried Felix?” Hermione asked.
“Yep,” Harry nodded, shifting to try and get more comfortable as they lay sprawled together on the sofa at Grimmauld Place. “It’s pretty good for getting us into the Manor, but now that I know how to do it it’s just a bit of a waste of time to track it down. We’ve got to be missing something; destroying the ward in situ doesn’t seem to have any effect on the loop.”
“Right,” she murmured. “And you said it’s always something either silver or gold that catches your eye in the dreams?” She pushed herself up to rest her chin on her forearms, folding them across Harry’s chest as she frowned at him.
“Yeah,” he said. “When we found the application from Lazarus Avery to include a time-turner in the wards in 1822, that was when we first knew to look for it. You’re pretty certain it’s the heat that makes it explode, and with the ghoul ward already unstable it sets the whole thing off, but we’re still not sure how or why I’m trapped in the loop.”
“Hmm.” Hermione pursed her lips, and Harry watched her thinking, knowing better, by now, than to even try and interrupt. Instead he traced his fingers in a lazy pattern on her naked back, and tried to ignore the ache where one of the sofa springs seemed to be digging into his ribs. “Can you think back to the first time?” she asked eventually. “Was there something different about -”
“The first time?” Harry gave a hollow laugh, pulling himself into a seated position and nearly dislodging Hermione. “Oh, let me see, it’s only been what, about two bloody years of this, let me just cast my mind back - ”
“I can’t help you if you’re going to have an attitude about it,” Hermione snapped. “It’s not my fault that you got yourself -”
“Got myself? ” Harry shouted. He felt the way the words caught in his throat, felt the start of tears, and looked up to see Hermione watching him, alarm clear on her face. “I didn’t want any of this,” Harry whispered. “I didn’t want to - to watch you - to have to, over and over and -” His voice broke as his shoulders began to shake and then Hermione’s arms were around him, her hand smoothing his hair.
“Shh - I’m sorry - I can’t imagine, can’t even begin to -”
“Ow,” Harry yelped, flinching backwards as her fingers caught the sore patch on his shoulder that was still leftover from the two-years-ago of yesterday.
“Harry.” Hermione’s voice had an odd note to it that he somehow hadn’t heard her use before. “What is that?”
“What’s what?” he asked, craning his neck to look over his shoulder where her fingers were now probing the skin of his back.
“This,” she whispered, and he gave a hiss of pain as she pressed against something - something hard that was somehow lodged under his skin, under his shoulder-blade where -
He remembered, suddenly, the blaze of pain as something shot through his chest, that first day. “Oh.” They stared at one another. “Oh, shit.”
Then he heard a terrible cry that pulled at his insides, that expressed agony of a kind neither flame nor curse could cause, and he stood up, swaying, more frightened than he had been that day, more frightened, perhaps, than he had been in his life…
And Hermione was struggling to her feet in the wreckage, and for a moment - for a moment he was so relieved to see her there, to see her standing, that the feeling burned through him like a blaze of golden light -
.-~* Day 757 *~-.
“Let me get this straight,” Padma panted, hurrying behind them as they darted between the rosebushes dotted along the high street towards where the Aurors were hunkered down in the blasted remains of the village hall. “You need me because there’s - something - you have to do that requires the application of licensed surgical spells that you don’t have time to learn, and you have to do it less than -”
“Four minutes before the ward explodes, yes,” Harry snapped impatiently.
“Give or take,” Hermione shrugged as they approached the group of Aurors.
“Oh no,” Ron shouted when he spotted them. “No, you have got to be bloody kidding me, Harry, what is my wife doing here?”
“No time,” Harry said. “And don’t ask me why I’ve got a broom, we don’t have time for that either.”
Ron’s mouth closed with an audible snap.
“Dean, don’t bother,” Harry sighed, without even looking at the other Auror. He already knew the particular expression of surprise that he’d see on Dean’s face as he lowered his wand.
“You’ve got about two minutes until it blows,” he told Ron. “Hermione and I are going to fly in there as soon as Padma’s opened the incision in my back and cast the time-delayed cauterising charm -”
“- because otherwise your heart gives out before Hermione can pull out the shard of time-turner,” Padma muttered.
“Huh?” Ron turned to stare at her as though she’d completely lost her mind.
“I keep telling you,” Harry growled, “We don’t have time to expl- ”
The toadless boy was back, but this time he had a girl with him. She was already wearing her new Hogwarts robes.
“Has anyone seen a toad? Neville’s lost one,” she said. She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair and rather large front teeth.
Harry had the strangest feeling, like something molten and silver had slipped into his veins at the sight of her.
.-~* Day 760 *~-.
“You’re sure?” Hermione asked, as she groped inside the wound.
“Argh,” Harry groaned, trying to ignore the pain. “Yes. It has to - we just have to -”
“Got it,” Hermione said, wrenching her hand free with a sickening sucking noise, and Harry immediately felt the glow of Padma’s spell working as his flesh knit back together in the absence of Hermione’s hand.
“Now what?” Hermione asked, looking at him expectantly when Harry turned to her.
She had it grasped between her fingers: a long shard of twisted metal and glass, glinting silver and gold in the sunlight.
“I don’t know,” he breathed, swallowing hard. “We’ve never got this far before.”
“Ah.” Hermione nodded. “Right, ok, so -”
“Drop it into the ward,” Harry told her, relying on instinct now and wishing fervently that he’d had the foresight to go back for the Felix again. “Then we’ll -”
Hermione opened her hand and the shard fell into the heaving dark. At once the boards beneath their feet groaned ominously, the ward beginning to roil in the large cavity at the centre of the staircase. “Expecto Patronum!” Harry shouted, directing the stag down into the mass of blackness. For a moment they both watched as the blinding silver light swelled outwards to enclose the throbbing magic.
“I’ve never seen your patronus that bright,” Hermione whispered, as he pulled her onto the broom behind him.
“Well I’ve been practising it pretty much every day for two years,” Harry tried to smile as he turned to look at her, though his heart was in his mouth, and he was dizzy with uncertainty. “And I’ve had plenty of inspiration.”
Hermione gave him a searching look. “What do you -”
“Hold on tight,” Harry cut her off before she could ask. “I think it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
They had barely made it to the boundary of the wards when the familiar echoing boom washed over them, the sound as much feeling as noise when it was this close, sending them tumbling off the broomstick in a muddle of limbs.
“Is that it?” Hermione asked, as she pulled herself upright, reaching a hand down to help Harry to his feet.
“I don’t know,” he said, turning to follow her gaze back towards Avery Manor, where black shadow roiled with silver light in a growing cloud.
“We need to get back to the others before -”
“It’s too late either way,” Harry said, catching her arm and holding her in place. “If it’s done, if it’s over, we -”
Hermione didn’t let him finish the sentence, surging upward to press her lips against his, fierce and defiant and perfect and everything - everything - that he had fought and killed and lived and died for in a single, furious kiss.
“Sorry,” she said, when she pulled away, and Harry nearly laughed, hysteria bursting in his chest like a bubble as the ghoul-ward gave its piercing roar behind them.
“Sorry?” he repeated. “Hermione Granger, I have kissed you drunk, I’ve kissed you sober, I’ve kissed you -“ in one, memorable instance “- while high as a kite -”
Under their feet the ground shuddered, the warding wrenching itself free as the Manor began to collapse. Hermione’s eyebrows twitched together, her mouth opening, but Harry placed a finger over her lips, feeling a rush of adoration that she still thought she had time to ask him questions. “I’ve kissed you for the first time literally hundreds of times now,” he whispered, “and it’s never the same, but if something goes wrong that might be our last, first kiss, and it was -”
He didn’t have the words for it - couldn’t think of how to even start saying it - and so he just kissed her again instead, treasuring the feeling of her as the wave of dark magic swelled and broke over them.
.-~* Day 1 *~-.
He woke up to the faint vibration of Purr’s sleeping breath against his ribs, the yellowy morning light spilling around the edge of the curtains, and an insistent tap - tap - tapping against his window.
Harry flung himself out of bed without a thought for Purr, who hissed silently at him as she always did, before he threw aside the curtains and wrenched open the window to admit the Ministry Owl.
Hands trembling, he scanned the parchment, hardly daring to hope -
Emergency meeting - all other business cancelled - Avery Manor - implosion - magical shockwave -
Harry jumped at the sound of Hermione’s voice echoing up from one of the lower floors, before he raced out of the door, taking the stairs two at a time until he reached the living room and stopping, hardly daring to believe his eyes at the sight of her standing there.
“Harry!” Hermione’s face was an odd mixture of confusion and frustration. “Did you get one of these? Apparently they’ve even cancelled today’s session of the Wiz-”
“You’re alive.” Harry caught Hermione around the waist, picking her up and spinning her in his arms, barely getting a hold on himself before he kissed her. “You’re alive, you’re alive, you’re -”
“Confused?” she suggested, and Harry laughed delightedly, setting her down and brushing her hair back from her face, drinking in every angle of her face.
“What’s going on?” Hermione asked, smiling bemusedly up at him. “Harry, is everything alright?”
“Yes,” he breathed, leaning in to rest his forehead against hers, feeling the truth of it settling into his bones; into the odd, hollow space beneath his ribs that was already filling with the sound of Hermione’s voice and the shape of her smile. “Yes, I think it just might be.”
. . . -~ * ~- . . .