Unspeakable Artorius emerged from his superior's office with a confident stride. His colleagues were watching him with interest and he knew it. He also knew that he couldn't afford to show them the exhaustion he was feeling. Artorius was still very much the new guy; even after three years.
Artorius was a member of the 'Operations Branch' of the Department of Mysteries. It was the most reclusive and secretive part of an already reclusive and secretive organisation. Its members were looked on with suspicion by even their own colleagues in what was known as the 'Research Branch'. Operations specialized in taking out rising Dark Lords and dangerous creatures, gathering intelligence not readily available to the public and conducting experiments that were considered too dangerous for Research to attempt. They worked both within Britain's borders and overseas. Operations' motto was, appropriately, The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.
Operative Artorius had joined the unspeakables a year after the Second Blood War had ended. Most of the unspeakables had heard their leaders cursing Dumbledore's running of Hogwarts at one point or another as each year failed to produce the required standard for the Department. This lack of suitable recruits had meant that especially the Operatives' numbers had suffered. Some jealous tongues insisted that the Department had simply lowered its standards when they admitted Artorius, whoever he really was.
The entire Department of Mysteries was aware of the new screening measures that Minister Shacklebolt had demanded to prevent any more traitors like Rookwood spilling the Ministry's most closely guarded secrets to terrorists who would use them to harm the British people. They also knew that the only reason that Operations had been able to restart its missions abroad was that Artorius took most of those missions. Despite that there was a lot of mistrust for the one and only new recruit to come in after the war; the only new recruit Operations had had for nearly twenty years.
The minister may have insisted that new screening measures be implemented but those didn't include a full disclosure of everyone's identity to the rest of the Department. Researchers might feel comfortable sharing their identity with their fellows, but it was unthinkable that an Operative would share their identity with anyone, especially if they were a threat to budding Dark Lords across the globe. Thus the suspicion continued, carefully out of earshot of Director Croaker or Head of Operations Juvenal.
Those two high-ranked unspeakables were the only ones who knew Artorius' true identity and they did not take kindly to any member of the Department treating any other with the kind of naked suspicion that Artorius dealt with every day.
Artorius himself ignored the suspicion directed at him. He had faced much worse in his private life, not that the other unspeakables would know that. It didn't sit well with some of Artorius' colleagues that even their open distrust did nothing to unsettle the man. Even the idea that Artorius was a man was really speculation at best; glamours and other illusory charms could hide a lot about a person. Artorius himself was quiet, rarely speaking and preferring to watch; when he was at the Ministry that was. Juvenal kept his newest asset busy and Artorius was rarely even in the country.
He had just returned from another international mission and delivered his report to Juvenal. That news was likely to be all over the Department within the hour along with whatever details of his mission the Head of Operations chose to declassify. Artorius knew that the unspeakables had a more efficient gossip-network than even Hogwarts. Privately he thought this might be due to how much they were supposed to keep secret, even from each other. When your conversation topics were so rigorously curtailed, anything you could talk about became the only way to interact on a social level with your colleagues.
Artorius made it to the door of his office without anyone speaking to him, not that that was particularly unusual. He was grateful all the same. The mission had taken longer than he had expected and he could do with a moment to prepare himself for the fallout this would cause in his personal life. After he stepped through the door, Artorius summoned a small wooden tile from his desk. It was carved with a series of runes that wouldn't make any sense to anyone as they were. When that tile was placed into the appropriate spot on the doorjamb, however, it completed a set that would raise powerful privacy wards.
Artorius slotted the tile home and pushed a tendril of magic into the runes. He felt the wards go up and heaved a sigh of relief. His shoulders relaxed from the proud posture he had been displaying. His hands came up and pulled down the hood of his grey cloak to reveal long, shaggy black hair tied into a loose ponytail, a rugged, unshaven jaw and the most piercing green eyes that you could ever wish to see. Behind his privacy wards Operative Artorius briefly allowed himself to be Harry Potter once again.
Harry moved behind his desk and flopped down into the chair behind it. He ran his hand through his hair pulling it out of its ponytail. He grimaced as he did so. I'm going to have to get a haircut before I go see Ron and Hermione. She'll keep tutting at me all night otherwise. Harry groaned as another thought hit him: he still had to request leave for Ron and Hermione's wedding. He didn't doubt that it would be granted. His cover as a reclusive war hero worked most of the time, but even that would be put in jeopardy if he didn't show up for his two best friends' wedding.
After scribbling and sending a quick note to Juvenal containing his request and his reasoning behind why it should be granted Harry once again leant back in his chair. He allowed himself to feel a sense of homecoming for a moment and let his mind wander. When McGonagall had asked him in his fifth year what kind of career he wanted he would never have thought he would end up in the Department of Mysteries.
At the end of the war, Harry had insisted on taking McGonagall's offer of returning to Hogwarts. His friends had only been mildly surprised, assuming that he wanted to be closer to Ginny after a year away from her. While it was a perk of returning, Harry had a far more pressing reason: he didn't want people to just hand things to him that he hadn't earned. Kingsley had offered him a place in the Auror Academy even if he didn't take his N.E.W.T.s, but Harry had turned him down. He was determined to take his exams and make his way in the world the way he would have had to if he hadn't been famous. McGonagall had given him the Head Boy position as well as the Quidditch Captaincy for his final year and, predictably, Ron had pitched a fit. Harry had understood where his friend was coming from; he still remembered Ron's description of what he had seen in the Mirror of Erised back in first year. On the other hand, Harry felt that Ron shouldn't be having a go at him. Harry hadn't been the one to select himself for those positions after all.
In the end it took a screaming match between Ron and Hermione to get the redhead to come around. Harry had tried to be careful about not shoving his badges in Ron's face, but it was hardly the end of his Weasley woes.
At first their final year at Hogwarts had been almost idyllic. Sure, most of the student body spent as much time as they could gawking at the Young Heroes, but that wasn't really any different from Harry's standard Hogwarts experience. It took Hermione some time to adjust to it, but Ron took to the attention like a duck to water. Harry and Hermione were frequently thankful that their friend was willing to take the spotlight and answer the never-ending questions from everyone around them.
Harry had also resumed his relationship with Ginny. Again, in the beginning he felt like he was walking around on a cloud. That had changed with their first date in Hogsmeade. There were reporters everywhere. Harry had felt like a zoo animal, constantly on display. When they returned to the castle he had apologized to Ginny for the disaster of a date, but she had just smiled and told him that she had enjoyed her time with him. The next two dates had been just as bad. Harry had tried to sneak out and find some secluded spot to spend some time with Ginny but no matter what he did, the press managed to find them.
Harry had been absolutely furious that they were intruding so much on what he viewed as his private life. He had suggested to Ginny that they should stay in the castle and have a picnic in one of the empty classrooms or by the Forbidden Forest. Ginny had emphatically refused, saying she was not about to locked up because of some reporters. Harry had let himself be convinced to give Hogsmeade another try. He and Ginny had spent a week planning out how they would avoid the reporters. The Friday night before the Hogsmeade weekend Harry finally discovered the reason the press kept finding him.
It was Harry's turn to patrol the castle and he took his task seriously. The students had mostly learnt to confine their after-hours activities to nights when Harry wasn't patrolling. His secret was, of course, the Marauders' Map which allowed him to find students wandering the corridors faster than even Mrs. Norris. That particular night he spotted Ginny's name in a classroom near the Owlery. He knew he was going to let her off anyway, she was his girlfriend after all, but decided to go see what she was up to.
When he got to the room he knew she was in he opened the door carefully so as not to startle her yet. Inside he had seen Ginny bent over a piece of parchment writing furiously. He had snuck up behind her, curious to see what she was working on and intent on playfully suggesting that she needed to be 'punished'. Harry had imagined that they would snog for a bit before heading back to the Gryffindor Tower together.
When he had drawn level with her shoulder he had been surprised to see what looked like a letter to Barnabas Cuffe, the editor of the Daily Prophet. It wasn't until three paragraphs in that Harry had realised that Ginny wasn't writing the man a warning to stay away from them. Instead she had meticulously outlined the plans the two of them had come up with to evade the reporters that would surely be descending on Hogsmeade and how Cuffe's reporters could get around those plans.
"What the hell?!" he had exclaimed in shock. His forgotten goal of surprising his girlfriend succeeded magnificently as she let out an ear-piercing shriek and leapt to her feet, her hand already going for her wand.
"Harry! What on earth were you thinking, yelling in my ear like that?" she had gasped out, one hand on her chest as if to keep her heart from jumping out.
"Never mind that. Have you been telling the press where to find us this whole time?!" Harry had exclaimed incredulously, still trying to get his head around the idea. Ginny's guilty expression had only shone through for a brief moment before she had gathered herself and given him an imperious look.
"Yes, I have. If I left things up to you, we'd lose our place at the top of Witch Weekly's Most Popular Couple listing." she told him.
"I don't want us to be 'the most popular couple' according to some vapid list. Damn it, Gin. All I want is to be left alone to live my life in peace." Ginny had just given him a patronizing look.
"Of course you want to properly manage your fame, Harry. You're just being silly." she had told him. "I suppose it's not even your fault that you're so confused; you're a boy after all. Just let me handle this, Harry. You just focus on enjoying having me on your arm and I'll take care of the important stuff." The ensuing argument had been loud enough to draw several staff members to the commotion. The end result had been that Harry had ended the relationship and they both received detention and lost points.
Over the next several weeks Harry had once again been on the outs with Ron, who had taken his sister's side without hesitation. Hermione had understood Harry's position better, but had still hoped that he and Ginny would work it out. They never did.
Harry could somewhat understand why Hermione had thought that. Her relationship with Ron seemed to consist of an endless cycle of fighting, breaking up, making up and getting back together. It's fine for the two of them. They must enjoy the way their relationship works if they're getting married, but I hated the idea of having to fight like that for the rest of my life.Harry sighed as that thought brought him back to the present. I should probably get some paperwork done before I leave for the day. You never know when I'll be given another mission.
Harry straightened up, tied his hair back from his face again and looked over his desk. His eye fell on the pile of letters on his desk. Harry always cast a Mail Redirection Ward on himself when he went on a mission. He knew how bad his luck could be and an owl arriving at the wrong time would be a ridiculously stupid reason to die.
He shuffled through the letters idly until one caught his eye. It was a muggle paper envelope with just his name on the front. Harry's curiosity peaked as he tried to think of anyone in the muggle world who would be writing to him in a style that suggested only a passing familiarity with the magical world. Coming up blank he decided to take a look and find out. He scanned the envelope with multiple security spells before opening it, reminding himself that it wasn't paranoia if the threat was real. His spells came back clean and Harry carefully removed the letter inside. It was short and tearstained.
We know that you are overseas for business and may not receive this in time, but we hope that you do. Three days ago Hermione was hit with a dark curse. No one seems to know exactly what it was but it's slowly eating her magic and the healers are predicting that it will start on her body once her core runs out. They have told us that we should say our goodbyes and that they have given up hope. Please come home as soon as you can.
Harry felt like someone had punched him in the gut. Hermione's dying? How can Hermione be dying? Trying to pierce the numbness that had settled in his thoughts, Harry scanned Mrs. Granger's letter once again. It was dated two days ago. Two days since the Healers gave up hope. At that thought Harry's numb shock was replaced with frantic activity. He quickly locked up by replacing the 'privacy tile' with another one that would keep anyone not keyed in out of his office and carefully hung his grey cloak away before he apparated out with a louder than usual crack.
Harry appeared in the lobby of St. Mungo's and immediately strode over to the reception area. He almost cursed the three people in front of him out of his way, but managed to remind himself that Hermione would definitely chew him out for hurting people to get to her. That didn't stop him wanting to yank the receptionist over her desk when she went starry-eyed upon recognizing him. When she finally heard his question after three tries she did sober up and quietly gave him directions to the private ward where Hermione was being kept.
Harry raced up the stairs to the fourth floor and would have torn into the room like a whirlwind if he hadn't met a familiar figure in the hall.
"Harry? You made it..." Richard Granger looked surprised to see his daughter's friend.
"Mr. Granger? I'm not too late then? Hermione's still..." Harry trailed off unable to finish that thought. Mr. Granger's face was grim as he nodded.
"She-... she's still hanging on. She's sleeping for longer and longer periods of time." Tears were starting to run down the older man's face. "According to the Healers she'll sleep more and more until she simply won't wake up anymore." Harry could feel Mr. Granger's grief like a physical presence in the room. Unfortunately he had no idea what he could do to alleviate it.
"Can-... can I see her?" Harry asked. That didn't sound like my voice. By the ancients, but everything is wrong today. Mr. Granger heaved a shuddering sigh and nodded. He turned around and started walking towards one of the doors. Harry quickly followed, studying the man from behind. Mr. Granger looked like there were heavy weights attached to his limbs as he moved. Everything about the man seemed to be pointing down.
When they entered Hermione's room Harry saw Helen Granger sitting by her daughter's bedside while a gaggle of Healers looked on. Every pair of eyes in the room turned to the new arrivals. The Healers gasped in awe as they saw the Saviour enter the room. Mrs. Granger just gave him a sad, watery smile.
"I see you got my letter." she said softly as she stood up to make room for Harry. "Thank you for coming." Harry just numbly nodded. He couldn't imagine staying away once he had heard of Hermione's condition. Mrs. Granger gently guided him into the chair she had been sitting in.
Once Harry's eyes locked onto Hermione's face they didn't leave it again. He blindly reached out and took her hand. She looked too small, too frail, to be the spirited young woman he thought of as his best friend. Her cheeks were sunken and she looked like she hadn't eaten in days. There were bags under her eyes making her look tired even as she slept. Even her hair looked limp and lifeless.
Harry had no idea of how long he sat there. It wasn't until he felt a hand on his shoulder that he jolted back to reality. His head jerked up in surprise to find Mrs. Granger standing behind him, her eyes as fixed on Hermione's face as his had been a moment ago. He quickly stood while trying to apologize.
"I'm so sorry, Mrs. Granger. I should have realised you would want to spend time with her." The words tumbled from his lips. Mrs. Granger had opened her mouth, but whatever she had been about to say was forgotten as Harry's stomach gave a loud growl. Her mouth closed into another sad smile.
"Have you even been home yet, Harry?" she asked him gently. Embarrassed, Harry shook his head. "Go get something to eat. You won't do Hermione any good if you fall over. Richard's just gone up for a spot of dinner as well. Why don't you join him?" Harry mumbled something that could have been both an apology and an acquiescence and turned to leave. At the door he hesitated and looked back. Mrs. Granger had already retaken her seat at Hermione's bedside and was looking at her daughter's face as if trying to memorize every bit of it. Feeling like he was intruding on something extremely private Harry hurried out of the room, closing the door behind him as quietly as possible.
Following the signs Harry made his way up to the fifth floor and the visitor's tearoom. He bought a sandwich from the girl behind the counter without even noticing her awed look. A quick scan of the room was all it took for Harry to find Mr. Granger. He made his way over and sat down across from the man. Mr. Granger looked up briefly to see who had joined him and nodded in recognition when he saw who it was before letting his eyes sink back to the cup of tea in his hands.
The two were quiet for a long while. Harry ate his sandwich and Mr. Granger stared at his tea. After he was done with his food Harry wanted to get a cup of tea and debated whether he should fetch Mr. Granger one as well; the one in his hands must be cold by now. I might as well. Even if he doesn't feel like drinking it, holding something warm might help. Decision made, Harry went over to the till and placed his order. When he came back he set the tea down in front of Mr. Granger who blinked in surprise.
"Thought you could use a new one." Harry said in answer to the man's blank stare. Mr. Granger looked down at his cold cup of tea with blank eyes. After a long moment he moved the cold cup out of the way and grabbed the hot one.
"Thanks." he muttered at Harry in a rough voice.
"You're welcome." Harry responded lifting his tea to his lips. Mr. Granger shook his head.
"No. I mean for everything. It-... it helps to know that there are people in this world that care for… my daughter. That's what we hoped for when we-... when we sent her to Hogwarts." Mr. Granger apparently couldn't quite bring himself to say Hermione's name.
"Hermione makes it easy for us, sir." Harry said softly. Silence fell heavily between the two men again. Mr. Granger seemed lost in thought to Harry though he was occasionally sipping his tea. Mr. Granger's words kept ringing in Harry's head. They threw up questions that were almost painful to consider. Where is everyone else? Where is Ron? His speculation ran in circles as he tried to figure out why no one else was there at Hermione's bed. Luna could be abroad somewhere, looking for a new creature. Neville should be at Hogwarts and might need to wait for classes to let out or even for curfew if he's on the patrol schedule tonight. Ginny is probably on the road with the Holyhead Harpies; I think that they had made it to the Europa League this year. She might need to wait for practice or some other responsibility to end. Ron… Harry had no idea where Ron could be. His friend had been signed by the Chudley Cannons as a reserve Keeper, but as far as Harry knew the Cannons' season was already over. Harry was reluctant to disturb his companion but the question was starting to drive him mad.
"Mr. Granger?" The man slowly raised his hollow gaze to meet Harry's. "Did Ron say when he would be back tonight?" The hollowness was filled with a burning hatred as soon as Harry said Ron's name.
"Don't mention that bastard's name around me!" Mr. Granger hissed out with surprising venom. Harry blinked in shock. Why on earth would the otherwise gentle and easygoing dentist have that kind of reaction to his future son-in-law's name?
Mr. Granger seemed to realise that he was piling his aggression on the wrong person and sighed, drawing his hand across his face. "I'm sorry about that, Harry. I just-" Mr. Granger trailed off as his jaw clenched shut and rage twisted his features. He had to take several deep breaths to calm himself. "That worthless, little shit left and told us he wasn't coming back."
Harry wanted to claim that Ron would never do that, that he was a loyal friend through thick and thin. His conscience wouldn't let him though. Harry remembered their fourth year and The Hunt. But they're engaged now. Ron wouldn't have gotten engaged if he wasn't prepared to stick by Hermione no matter what; would he? Even Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon stuck together when they were faced with what they considered problems. Eventually Harry managed to croak out "Why?"
Mr. Granger snorted in response.
"Said he wanted to remember her as she was, not as an invalid in a bed. If you ask me the bloody coward couldn't stand being here after he condemned my little girl to die." That made even less sense to Harry.
"I thought there was nothing anyone could do? Was it someone who was aiming for him? Did Ron fire off the curse by accident or something?" Harry was floundering as he tried to understand. Mr. Granger gusted out an angry sigh.
"No, though he might as well have." the dentist growled. "The second day Hermione was in here the Healers were getting desperate. One of the younger ones mentioned that Hermione's magic wasn't strong enough to help fight off the curse. He thought that she could make it if they performed a ritual of some sort to link her with someone who could help her by supplying the magic needed for some of their treatments to work." Mr. Granger fixed Harry with a gimlet eye as he continued.
"They found a ritual that would do the job. The downsides were that it was irreversible and that if the curse killed Hermione anyway, the person linked to her would die as well. Apparently it was invented by a pair of lovesick Romeo and Juliet style teens to force their families to accept the relationship. Still, it was the only chance we had. Every single one of her magical friends left that day and none of them have been back since."
"Which Healer?" As Harry had listened to the story, it felt like a balloon was slowly expanding inside his chest. If what Mr. Granger says is true then there is still a chance. I can still do something. Hermione's father was staring at him uncomprehendingly.
"Harry, are-... are you saying that you would-"
"Yes." Harry's answer was grimly resolute. There was no doubt in his mind that if there was even a sliver of a chance that he could do something to help Hermione he would. We've done more with less. I'll deal with our friends once Hermione's on the mend. Mr. Granger's shoulders shook once and a tear made its way out of his eye. "We can do that later, sir. Right now we need to find that Healer. Hermione needs us."
Damn it, man, get yourself under control. This is what you and Helen have been praying for. Harry's right. I can gawk at our fortune like a simpleton later. Richard Granger squared his shoulders and gave the man across from him a single nod. They got up without another word and Richard led the way back to the fourth floor. He shot a longing look at the door to his daughter's room before moving down a different corridor. Harry moved silently along behind him. Richard eventually stopped in front of a door with the name 'Rutherford Poke' stencilled on it in gold lettering. He raised his hand and hesitantly knocked.
"Come in." called a baritone voice from the other side. Richard opened the door and led the way in. Inside, behind a desk, sat a bear of a man with a mop of blond curls on his head. "Mr. Granger, has something happened?" the man asked in concern when he saw who had come in. The honest concern in his voice was something that Richard had heard from far too few people concerning his daughter recently.
"No, or rather nothing bad has happened." As he said that, Harry stepped out from behind him causing the Healer to gasp.
"Harry Potter. What an honour to meet you. Is there anything I can do for you, sir?" Richard was blown away by the man's sudden change in demeanour. Up until now he had been consistently and unfailingly professional. Confronted with someone Richard thought of as 'Hermione's friend from school', the Healer had turned into a nervous, obsequious wreck. Glancing to the side, Richard saw that Harry had undergone a metamorphosis of his own. Gone was the young man who had rushed into the hospital, desperate for news of his friend. Standing next to Richard was a man with an implacable, even regal expression on his face.
"Yes, Healer Poke. You apparently mentioned a ritual to, Mr. Granger that might help his daughter. Could you tell me about it?" Even Harry's voice had changed somewhat. It came across both laden with authority and entirely confident that everything would work out for the best simply because he would accept no other outcome. Healer Poke, however, started fidgeting.
"Ah, well, yes. The Rite of Binding. I'm afraid it is almost useless now." The man got out in a tremulous voice. Richard felt the small hope that had sprouted in his chest die a painful death. I can never tell Helen about this. It would kill her to know that we finally found someone who wanted to help Hermione, only for it to prove to be too late.
"Why is it almost useless?" Harry's tone hadn't wavered.
"Well, you see, the Rite binds two participants together at a magical level. This allows them to share their magic and there have even been recorded instances of participants sharing emotions. The depth of the bond would seem to vary per pair, but the ritual has been so rarely performed that we really don't have a reliable dataset from which to extrapolate the factors that might determine the strength of the bond and why-" Harry cleared his throat and gave the Healer a pointed look, causing the the large man to look like a reprimanded schoolboy.
"Ahem, the reason that the Rite would be useless now is that the amount of magic that would need to be poured into Ms. Granger's core is so great that it would likely kill the other participant and would almost certainly leave them a Squib at the very least. That is outside of the other risks: if the ritual goes wrong, both could die. If the ritual does work and Ms. Granger proves beyond saving, both would die. If the ritual works and Ms. Granger is saved, the stress may leave both participants Squibs. If everything goes well Ms. Granger and the other participant would be bound for life in a way that we still don't fully understand." Towards the end of his declaration the Healer started shooting commiserating glances at Richard.
"What would we need and when can we do the Rite?" For almost a full minute you could have heard a pin drop. Richard was having trouble breathing in any kind of regular pattern and he could feel tears burning his eyes.
"M-mr. Potter, we couldn't possibly risk… I mean… your importance to the magical world-"
"Enough!" Harry thundered cutting of Healer Poke's nervous ramblings. "This is not about what is important to the magical world, nor does the magical world get to decide what I do with my life. Hermione is my dearest friend. She is important to me and I will do whatever I can to help her." The Healer was trembling in his chair now and Richard thought that the man might be praying for the ground to swallow him up.
"But you'll die!" came the piteous cry from the Healer.
"Then so be it! I'm not all that scared of dying and I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I stood by and did nothing while Hermione wasted away. Now, how do we go about performing this Rite?" The Healer opened his mouth, probably to protest again, but ended up seeming to choke on his tongue. Richard glanced to his side to see if Harry had cursed Poke. As far as he could see Harry had managed to shut the man up with a glare rather than magic. In the privacy of his own mind Richard could admit that he was relieved to be standing beside that glare rather than facing it.
"The Rite of Binding requires that both participants enter into it without any interference." Healer Poke began, sounding close to tears and utterly defeated. "This means that you will have to leave your clothes, wands and personal effects outside the runic circle. Outside the Ritual Chamber would be even better. I have a diagram of the required circle and it can be drawn up within ninety minutes. The ritual doesn't call for any specific astronomical influences. Inside the circle, both participants must make an incision in their palms. They must press those incisions together and each speak the incantation: 'I give of myself, that we may be one'. Aside from that the standard restrictions apply." When the Healer stopped talking Richard held his breath though he couldn't articulate, even to himself, exactly why. Poke was slumped in his chair looking like he had aged two decades in as many minutes.
"I assume St. Mungo's has a Ritual Chamber?" Harry was the only one in the room who seemed utterly unaffected by the proceedings. Poke nodded. "How soon can the Chamber be prepared for the Rite?" Poke pulled a book towards him and opened it up. He spent a minute looking through it.
"The Rite could take place two hours from now." he admitted.
"Get the room set up." Harry didn't even wait for confirmation as he swept from the office. Richard found himself following without too much conscious consideration. He shuddered as he remembered that Hermione had once told him that the gods of classical Greece, Rome and Egypt had been powerful wizards and witches. Having seen Harry in action, Richard had to admit that if this young man had lived 3000 years ago, Zeus, Jupiter, Horus and the rest of them would have had some damn stiff competition.
Harry led them back to Hermione's room. As soon as the door closed behind them the persona of the implacable deity seemed to slip off his shoulders like an old coat. He turned to Richard, once again looking like that old school friend of Hermione's.
"If you don't mind, I'm going to meditate until they come get us. I think I could use it." he said sounding tired. Richard just nodded and moved over to join Helen by Hermione's bed. Once Harry was settled in and breathing regularly, his wife ran out of patience.
"Richard, what's going on? The both of you look like you just got conscripted." Richard took a deep breath and told Helen what had happened since Harry had joined him in the tearoom. He had to hold her back when she got up, determined to give Harry a hug.
"Leave him for now. He asked us to let him meditate and honouring that is the least we can do." Helen sat down reluctantly and grabbed Hermione's hand once again. The two parents remained silent as they tried not to get their hopes up. Years later, Richard would be unable to say whether the two hours passed in the blink of an eye or took an eternity to tick away. What he did remember was that Healer Poke returned along with another Healer who introduced herself as Healer Heather Pollingtonius, Director of St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. The old biddy tried to get Harry to reconsider the ritual; the Saviour should not risk his life so needlessly.
Richard was secretly grateful that Helen was getting to see what he had called Harry's 'Ancient God Persona'. Sure, laugh it off as hopelessly poetic until you see it for yourself and feel that presence. Harry proved to be utterly unmoved by the old Healer's pleas and simply demanded to know if the Ritual Chamber was ready. Eventually the Healers admitted, however reluctantly, that it was. They gave Harry and the Grangers a pair of undyed linen shifts.
"These will provide the least possible amount of interference in the Rite. If you wear these into the Chamber you will at least be able to preserve your modesty." Healer Poke told them. Harry conjured a screen in one corner of the room and went behind it to change. He refused to come out until the Grangers had changed Hermione. Richard thought that, if he understood it correctly at least, Harry would have to remove Hermione's shift in the Ritual Chamber but he was inexplicably pleased by the younger man's actions. It's the thought that counts I suppose. Harry is certainly going about this with Hermione first in his considerations and we can't ask for more than that.
When Harry Vanished the screen he joined Helen and Richard at the bed to wait for the Healers to escort them to the Ritual Chamber. Richard took the opportunity to ask Harry a question he had had for almost two hours now.
"Harry, can you tell us what the 'standard restrictions' are that Healer Poke was talking about?"
"Don't disturb the circle. Don't deviate from the script. Don't stop once you start." Harry looked up catching both Grangers' gazes with his. "Those are the basic laws when dealing with rituals and rites. They are a very finicky branch of magic and things can easily go wrong. Some of the worst atrocities in wizarding history are due to a ritual gone wrong; Atlantis for example." Richard felt like his heart had lodged in his throat. Harry seemed to notice and gave him a wan smile. "Don't worry. This will be a simple rite and it is highly unlikely that anything that drastic will happen." Richard felt uncomfortably aware that Harry hadn't said that nothing would go wrong. Before he could comment on the matter the door to the room opened and Healer Poke walked in.
"It's time." he said with an air of one announcing his own funeral. Harry and the Grangers got up and watched as Poke tapped the bed with his wand. It floated up off the floor and followed him out the door which widened itself to accommodate the bed easily. They followed Hermione's bed to a stairwell Richard hadn't noticed before. The group walked down the stairs until Richard was sure that they were underneath the hospital quite a ways. They stopped when they reached what looked like a waiting room hewn from the bedrock. At the far end was a dark archway with a vault like stone door. Poke set the bed down gently and turned to the small delegation that had followed.
"Only the participants in the Rite may continue on from here." Healer Poke began. "Mr. Potter, do you remember what you must do?" Harry nodded. Healer Poke knelt down next to Hermione's bed and pointed his wand at her. "Enervate." Hermione's eyelids fluttered and a moment later she gave a pained little groan.
"Ms. Granger, you are about to undertake the Rite of Binding. Do you remember the particulars?" Richard could see her nod weakly. Poke patted Hermione's arm and stood back up and looked at Harry. "Proceed whenever you are ready. There is an appropriate implement waiting for you in the middle of the circle."
Harry handed his wand to Richard and was about to turn back to Hermione when Helen grabbed him in a tight hug.
"No matter what happens, I can't thank you enough for what you are doing for my little girl." she said into his chest. After a slight hesitation on Harry's part Richard saw him return the hug. When he released her Helen gave him one final squeeze before opening her arms and letting him step away. The two Granger parents held each other as they watched Harry kneel down next to the bed and pull the covers away.
Okay, Hermione, here we go. This is just going to be another case of us kicking Chance in the odds. Harry slipped his arms under Hermione and lifted her up. He felt a rush of dismay as he realised just how light she was. He stood up and adjusted Hermione so he had a firm grip on her, gave her parents and Healer Poke one final nod and turned his steps toward the archway. When he had passed through it he heard the door shutting behind him. Harry stood still and waited to give his eyes time to adjust.
There were a few candles spread around the room. He could see a group concentrated around what looked like a stone table and moved over to it. He laid Hermione down on top the table and took a deep breath before removing his linen shift. He was unusually aware of the movement of the air across his skin. His hesitation before removing Hermione's shift was a lot more pronounced. I'm sorry Hermione. I hope you don't feel uncomfortable about this when you're healed but we're really low on options right now. Harry carefully removed Hermione's shift and tried to keep from lingering anywhere with his eyes or hands. She's your best friend and if ever there wasn't a time to be admiring her body, this is it! When they were both naked Harry once again lifted Hermione in his arms, desperately trying to ignore the feeling of her naked skin on his.
The light of the candles was just enough to allow Harry to pick his way across the lines of runes that formed the ritual circle. When he reached the centre he was barely able to make out something laying on the floor from the way the candlelight glinted off of it. He knelt down next to it and steadied Hermione against his chest. When he picked it up it turned out to be a dagger made of what looked like obsidian, though 'shard' might have been a better description for the half-formed lump of rock.
Harry took a moment to make sure that Hermione was in a comfortable position and to steady himself before he started. He dragged the rock-shard across the palm of his left hand making a cut that bled steadily. He took Hermione's right hand and made a similar cut along her palm. He placed the implement carefully on the ground next to him and grabbed Hermione's injured hand with his, making sure to press the two cuts together. He thought he felt her move against him, but in the semi-dark it was hard to be sure.
"I give of myself, that we may be one." Harry spoke in a clear voice. He looked down and waited for Hermione to complete the Rite. When he had sat there for several seconds without hearing anything he bent his head closer trying to look into her eyes without letting go of her hand. He was shocked and a little scared when he saw that her eyes were once again closed.
His conversation with Mr. Granger when he first arrived at the hospital flashed across his mind. Nonono, she can't be falling asleep for the last time. Not now. Not when we're so close. Harry shook Hermione's shoulders making sure that he didn't dislodge his grip on her hand. When she didn't respond Harry tried squeezing her injured hand. All the while he could feel the magic swirling about them. If they didn't finish the Rite soon it was going to become unstable and while they might not cause a second Atlantis, the results would not be pretty.
Harry was getting desperate when a mad plan occurred to him. If I do nothing we both die and this wouldn't be the first time our skins got saved by a poorly thought out scheme.
I wish that actually made me feel better about this. Harry gently opened Hermione's eyelids. He only got a glance of her eyes before they rolled back into her head, but it was enough. His training with the unspeakables had made him a Master Occlumens and Legillimens and an instant was all it took to enter Hermione's mind.
Hermione! Hermione, come back to me! He was feeling his way through the murk that her mind had become because of the curse. Hermione! He felt a stirring to one side and headed in that 'direction'. Hermione, please, you need to wake up! Harry, kept up his mental shouting as he searched for Hermione's consciousness. When he finally found it he realised he should have anticipated what her reaction would be. Thankfully he felt her mind struggle to give the command to her mouth and used his free hand to clamp her jaw shut.
No, Hermione! You're in the middle of a ritual. Don't say anything except: 'I give of myself, that we may be one'. It was difficult to keep the mental connection as he felt her struggling in the conscious world. Once he had finished his warning she stilled and for a moment he feared that her consciousness had fled again.
Rite of Binding? Even Hermione's thoughts sounded weak.
I'm not sure if I should be worried that she can't remember what Healer Poke said or impressed as hell that she figured out the Rite from just the incantation.
Harry? Hermione's muddled thought reminded Harry that he didn't have time to waste here.
Yes, it's me. Just complete the Rite, Hermione.
Because you need this. Because you'll die if we don't. Please, Hermione, finish the Rite. For a few heart-stopping moments it was still in Hermione's thoughts.
"I… give of… myself, that… we… may be… one." It was soft, so soft it was barely there, but she had said the words. As soon as she did Harry felt the magic swirling around them gain a purpose and cocoon them. He felt a draw on his own magic as the Rite tried to balance what they each had. Without another thought Harry threw his will behind his magic and started pushing it through the link they had established. As Harry encouraged his magic through the link he kept subconsciously repeating one thing. Heal her. Heal Hermione. Take away the Dark Magic that's hurting her. Heal Hermione.
Magic is a strange and wonderful phenomenon that not even wizards and witches fully understand. One thing that is known is that magic is driven by the intent of the practitioner. As Harry's magic poured into Hermione's body it had been given one directive: heal Hermione. As his magic filled Hermione, Harry could feel it encountering Dark magic that was attacking her body, not allowing it to heal. His will was brought to bear on these pockets like a tidal wave, washing them away.
Had anyone been able to observe the Rite they would have noticed that Hermione was slowly being encompassed by a golden glow. Everywhere that glow touched a black miasma rose from her body. Eventually, when the glow managed to cover her entire body, it flared brightly for a moment before disappearing with a loud clap that sent a rush of wind outwards. The candles extinguished and the lines of the circle were wiped away, leaving the two friends in the dark Ritual Chamber.
Harry was feeling light headed as he desperately clutched Hermione to his chest. He was breathing like he had just run a marathon at the Olympics. When he felt like he had won back some control over his limbs he gathered Hermione to him and carefully stood. His head spun at the movement and Harry braced himself, determined not to let Hermione fall. He completely ignored the markings that he could no longer see in the darkness as he walked out of the circle. As soon as he had taken his first unsteady step, Harry heard the door open with a grating sound. Too tired to care about modesty and all too aware that he might soon drop the girl in his arms Harry forced his steps towards the light streaming into the Chamber.
Outside the Chamber the Granger parents had waited anxiously with Healer Poke. It was as tense as any wait outside an operation theatre had ever been. They had not been reassured when Poke had started becoming restless and casting anxious glances at the sealed archway. He had tried to convince them that nothing was amiss when they asked if something was wrong, but his behaviour left Helen thinking that he was lying to keep them calm. When the door crunched open all three shot up like they were spring-loaded. For a long moment nothing seemed to be happening and then they saw something move.
Helen's eyes grew wide as she saw Harry shambling out of the darkness with Hermione clutched to his chest. Despite most of her attention being on her daughter a part of her couldn't help but notice the extensive scarring all over Harry's body and the tattoo of some kind of celtic knot on his right pectoral. He stumbled over to the bed that was still standing in the waiting room and somehow managed to kneel next to it and gently place Hermione on top of the mattress. As soon as he had withdrawn his arms Harry's eyes rolled up into his head and he collapsed.
Poke was by their sides in a flash casting diagnostic charms. He scanned Harry first and frowned as he got the readings back. He then turned to Hermione and Helen felt a small amount of relief that Harry was apparently well enough that the Healer wasn't applying emergency treatment. That relief fled in the face of what she witnessed next. Poke cast the charms over Hermione and his eyes widened and his jaw dropped. He cast more charms which didn't seem to reassure him at all. Suddenly the man launched into a frenzy of spells, casting faster than anything the Grangers had ever seen. Light after light raced around and through their daughter's body. Helen was starting to fear the worst when Poke abruptly stopped. Helen couldn't take the suspense any more.
"What's wrong, Healer Poke? Is Hermione going to make it?" The Healer looked up at the Grangers with an absolutely lost look in his eyes.
"There is absolutely nothing wrong with your daughter. Her core is a little depleted, but has already started refilling and she is a little undernourished, but it's nothing that a few square meals won't fix." He shook his head in wonder as Helen felt her legs give way. Richard only barely managed to catch her. "This defies everything I know of Healing. The Rite was supposed to reinforce her core with Mr. Potter's magic permanently, not heal her beyond anything we've ever seen. I mean, even her scars are gone." Turning back to the two naked young people lying in front of him, Poke suddenly seemed to realise something and blushed before conjuring a stretcher and levitating Harry onto it. He then conjured a sheet over Harry and with a flick of his wand the covers of Hermione's bed rearranged themselves over her. He then tapped the bed and flicked his wand at the stretcher and both lifted into the air and started to follow him as he made to leave the room.
The two Granger parents followed along behind the floating furniture, neither entirely sure who was holding whom up. Helen thought she could see Hermione's colour improving with every step they took. She decided that, even if she didn't know how yet, she wanted to repay Harry Potter for what he had done for them; somehow, someday.
Harry woke up to sudden cold burning on his chest. He knew that sensation: Juvenal was calling him in for a new mission and he was to respond ASAP. Riddle might have objectively been a genius but he was helped unbelievably by the secrets Rookwood had passed on. He had taken Operations' communications method and twisted it to suit his purpose. None of which changes the fact that I need to get out of here soon.
Harry sent a pulse of magic out from his body which showed him the room around him almost like echolocation. When he had determined that he was alone, Harry sat up and looked around. He didn't recognize the room he was in. Memories of the night before slammed into his mind. He remembered Hermione had been cursed, rushing to the hospital, performing the Rite and… and nothing. Wait, no, I remember walking out of the Ritual Chamber and… did I collapse? Ancients, that's embarrassing.
With a grunt Harry swung his legs over the side of the bed and got up. He staggered the first step away from the bed and one of his hands shot up to his head while the other grabbed for the bed behind him as he felt suddenly dizzy. The dizzy spell passed and Harry started searching the room. He found his clothes on a chair and quickly changed into them but he couldn't find his wand anywhere. I think I gave it to Mr. Granger for safe-keeping. I'll just have to hope that he still has it.
Harry carefully looked out his door and when no one seemed to be looking back he slipped out and moved down the corridor. It didn't look familiar to him and at the end he took a turn based more on intuition than knowledge. Another turn brought him face to face with the main hallway down the fourth floor. Now that he knew where he was Harry moved forward more confidently and within minutes he was standing outside Hermione's room. He slipped in quietly and was surprised when he did so.
Inside there was a gaggle of Healers clustered around Hermione's bed. Off to one side stood Hermione's parents looking anxiously hopeful. Harry joined them as unobtrusively as he could. He realised he might have done that a little too well when they didn't even realise he was there.
"Mr. Granger?" he began quietly, but he never got any further. Both Granger parents whipped around when they heard his voice. Before Harry could get another word out he was grabbed in a powerful hug by Hermione's father.
"Thank you, Harry. Thank you." the man was murmuring over and over in a rough voice. Harry awkwardly patted him on the back. When Mr. Granger released him Harry had just enough time to see that all the Healers had stopped what they were doing and that they and Hermione were now watching the scene in front of them. The next thing he knew a teary-eyed Mrs. Granger had also pulled him in for a hug. He could almost swear he could feel Hermione's amusement at his discomfort with all the physical affection.
'Looks like someone neglected his personal grooming.'
I knew she was going to give me flack for that. Harry's eyes widened as he realised that he hadn't actually heard Hermione's criticism outside of his head. As gently as he could he disentangled himself from Mrs. Granger and turned to the bed where Hermione was looking a little wide-eyed.
'Harry?' she asked tentatively. Harry threw up the occlumency shields that he had started developing during the war to keep Voldemort's Horcrux from forming a backdoor into his mind. It felt wrong to use them now to keep Hermione out, but until he was sure what this was he couldn't risk exposing the secrets he had sworn to protect with his life. Keeping eye-contact with his friend he moved over to her side. He never even noticed the way the Healers parted for him.
"Hey, Mi. How are you feeling?" he asked out loud, taking her hand in his.
"Harry," she whispered, "what did you do?" Not having any better answer for her Harry shrugged helplessly.
"I'm sorry, Mi, but the Rite was the last chance we had of getting you through this." he told her.
"Harry, the Rite doesn't explain how you managed to heal me. It wasn't designed for that." She pulled her hand out of his grasp and used it to pull her other sleeve up. "You even healed my scars. Harry, none of this makes any sense. What on earth did you do?" Harry couldn't answer; he was too busy goggling at the unblemished skin of her forearm. That's impossible. She still had that disgusting word carved into her arm last night. I'm sure of it; at least, I think I am. Almost in a trance he reached out and traced her skin. He felt a shiver running up her body which drew his eyes back to her face. Hermione was giving him an uncertain searching look.
"I-I have no idea what happened to cause this, Hermione." Harry said as honestly as he could. It was apparently the sign for the Healers to start asking him a thousand questions at once. Harry answered them as best he could until he felt his tattoo flair again. He held up his hands to quiet the wizards and witches in front of him.
"I am very sorry, but I'm going to have to cut this short for now. I received an emergency message from work this morning. I stayed and answered your questions to make sure that Hermione will be alright, but now you're starting to just satisfy your curiosity. I will return later, but I really must be going now." The Healers started protesting.
"Mr. Potter, you shouldn't be going anywhere. You were magically exhausted last night." one of them tried. Harry gave him a sardonic smile.
"I'm quite aware of that. Since it didn't stop you from interrogating me I think it's safe to assume I can at least go and ask what the emergency is, don't you?" The Healer had the grace to look abashed. Harry took the chance to turn to Hermione and press a kiss to her forehead. "I'll be back as soon as possible, I promise." She nodded her head at him and got a concentrated look on her face. Harry could feel something come up against his mental shields. Against his better judgement he lowered them.
'Harry! Were you shutting me out? I thought I was going crazy talking to myself.' He could feel Hermione taking control of her emotions. 'We are going to have to talk about this, Harry. I don't think I read anything about telepathy when I read up on the Rite.'
'I know, Mi. I really do need to go now, though. I think I know someone I can ask for a little help in diagnosing this. Can you keep it from the Healers for now?' Harry realised that he was picturing Juvenal and that Hermione could probably see him. He threw his occlumency barriers back up. Hermione could clearly feel that Harry had blocked off their connection again as she gave him a nod.
"Thank you, Harry. I've not said that yet and I think I'll be saying it for a while to come." Harry just smiled and nodded in understanding. He turned back to the Grangers and realised that everyone was once again staring at him. Harry ignored it for now and walked up to Hermione's parents.
"Mr. Granger, do you still have my wand?" he asked. Mr. Granger nodded while giving Harry a look that the younger man couldn't quite place. He reached into his blazer's inner pocket and drew out eleven inches of holly. He held the wand out to Harry.
"I think you should call me Richard, Harry."
"Yes, sir. I mean, Richard." Harry said feeling more than a little self-conscious. Mrs. Granger stepped in between the two men and grabbed Harry for a last hug.
"And I'm Helen, young man." she chided him playfully.
"Yes, umm, Helen." Eventually Harry made his way out of the room and down to the lobby. He paused for moment to focus on his destination and apparated without a sound. He reappeared in his office. Back sooner than I would have liked. Harry took his grey cloak from its peg and put it on. As he pulled the hood up the built-in charms cast his face in a perpetual shadow. He carefully unlocked his office and strode out. When Artorius got to Juvenal's office he knocked once and waited.
"Enter!" The young unspeakable opened the door and stepped inside closing it behind him. He walked up to his superior's desk.
"You rang?" Juvenal looked up.
"Don't be a smartarse, Artorius. I've your next assignment here." the man growled holding up a folder. Harry made no move to take it.
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to turn this one down, Juvenal. I have a bit of a family emergency and a complication besides." Juvenal lowered the folder back to his desk.
"I'm aware of your family emergency. In fact I'd say the whole bloody ministry is, even if they don't know it pertains to you. You have my condolences."
"That will be unnecessary." Harry interrupted. "She will make a full recovery." It was quiet for a long moment in the office.
"I take it you aren't just being needlessly optimistic?" At Harry's nod, Juvenal continued. "Should I just assume that this miracle somehow ties into your complication then?"
"It does. In order to bolster her magical reserves enough to allow possible treatments to be effective I performed the Rite of Binding with her. The Rite had some unexpected consequences. She is currently healed of not only this most recent curse, but also the scars of past curses. The complication is that we have manifested telepathy. I can keep our minds separated through occlumency. Preliminary observations also suggest that distance may be a factor and that eye-contact isn't. The problem is that she is aware of the manifestation and experience tells me that I will not be able to keep her out forever. My focus will slip at some point. You will have to decide whether to read her into all my missions or to discharge me with all that that entails." After he had spoken his piece Harry sat quietly. He knew what it would mean if Juvenal decided that he was too much of a security risk, or that Hermione was. Harry would be Obliviated of his time with the unspeakables to preserve their secrets and turned out into the world with his cover story becoming the only history he would know.
Juvenal was quiet for a long time as he considered the options laid out before him. Harry knew that nothing he said or did would hurry the process along. Juvenal's ability to foresee the way events would play out could make Machiavelli drool with envy and was a large part of why he was the current Head of Operations.
"Do you believe she would be an asset to our Department?" Harry started at the unexpected question. He considered it, or rather, he considered Juvenal's reasons for asking it. Deciding it could go either way with the man in front of him, Harry made the decision to be as honest as he could.
"I think I can objectively say that she would. Her intellect is unmatched. She has quite similar experiences to mine as she was there for most of my youthful misadventures. I think she would prove to be an asset to either branch though her natural inclination might be more towards Research." Juvenal nodded and stayed silent for a while longer.
"Keep your occlumency shields up for now and bring her in for an interview as soon as you reasonably can. Between the support you could provide each other on the outside, her natural abilities and your recent... manifestation... I think it is high time we started trying to recruit the young lady." Harry nodded and made to stand up.
"One more thing, Artorius." Harry relaxed back into the chair and waited. "Are you sure you are turning down the investigation into the attack on a Ms. Hermione Granger?" Juvenal asked as he tapped the folder in front of him. "I would hate to think that we were letting a madman with an unknown arsenal run around unchecked."
Harry gaped at the figure in front of him before abruptly standing up and snatching the folder from the desk. As he turned around and marched out of the room he could hear Juvenal chuckling behind him. Prick.