Hermione woke up with a pair of arms wrapped around her and a glow suffusing every fiber of her being. She burrowed a little deeper into the body next to her as memories of last night came back to her. Wow. That was absolutely amazing. I didn't know that sex could be that good.
'I'm inclined to agree.' Hermione looked up with a grin at hearing her lover's thoughts.
"Good morning, Harry." she purred out before pressing a kiss to his lips. She pulled back before she could get too carried away. Noticing the way her body was already reacting Hermione checked Harry's hands. Yep, shimmering. "How do you do that?"
"That shimmer of magic around your hands and the effect that it produces in me?"
"Oh." Harry seemed a little embarrassed. "Um, apparently while I was... under Meridiana's thrall I associated 'feeling good' with my Patronus Charm. I took memories of when I felt good, wrapped those feelings in magic and tried to push them out to her. I still don't know how I got that to work." Hmmm, I think that I might want to research that; a lot.
"I'll have to figure out how to do that too. I don't think it's fair that you're the only one who can do that."
"What do you mean?"
"I want to make you feel as good as you do me. In fact, do we need to be at work any time soon?" A moment later a set of misty numbers was floating over her head as Harry cast a Chronometer Charm. "Ah, I was afraid of that." The happiness filling her up meant that it was difficult to hit the proper note of disappointment. "Guess we'll have to reschedule for lunch and dinner then." she added impishly earning herself a light swat to the backside for her teasing which unleashed the laughter that was bubbling inside.
"I'll get breakfast started." Harry told her with another kiss before swinging his legs out over the side of the bed. "You can have the shower first." Hermione had to restrain herself from dragging him back down with her and managed to get up herself. Good heavens, I don't think I've ever been stretched so deliciously Hermione thought to herself as she felt aware of her body in a way she hadn't since her first time with Ron. She almost danced into the shower and turned on the hot water. As she stepped under the water she started humming and by the time she was toweling off she was actually singing. She got dressed quickly and hurried downstairs to find that Harry had outdone himself and the kitchen was filled with delicious smells. Hermione found him already sitting at the table with a cup of tea and a plate of breakfast in front of him and cheerfully ignored all the open chairs around the table to simply plop herself down in his lap for another kiss. When they separated this time she stole a piece of toast from his plate.
Breakfast took a bit longer than normal, but Hermione didn't think she'd ever enjoyed the meal more. Even having to do the cleaning while Harry hurried upstairs to get ready for the day as well didn't put a dent in her mood. They apparated into work at the same time even if they each landed in their own office. They both reached for their bond at the same time, still giddy about being together in a way that was new to their relationship.
Hermione pulled the parchments she'd been working on last night towards her without really looking at them; she was really far more preoccupied with when she could get to see Harry again. So it was that when she looked down at her work she had to blink away the equations she thought she saw to realise that she had gone a different route on them. I know that what I just saw is in there though. It would make perfect sense; if I just… Hermione pulled a fresh piece of parchment and started working at the idea her mistaken first look had given her. Despite her teasing words to Harry earlier that morning she worked straight through lunch as the work absorbed her in a way it hadn't since the days when she had first started. When a knock came on her door Hermione would have ignored it if not for the mental call.
'Harry! Come in.' She allowed herself a moment to admire the way he moved as he entered and closed her door behind him.
"I just wanted to ask if you want me to bring you some dinner?" he asked her.
"No!" she exclaimed. 'I'm not missing dinner with you.' The happiness she could feel coming from Harry made her feel proud that she could do that for him with so small a gesture and determined to provide that happiness as often as she could. "Let me just clear this stuff away."
"How did it go today? You felt really focused on your work."
"I think I'm getting close to a breakthrough on this. At this point it's just a case of finding one spellprint that will tie all these equations together." Hermione felt Harry combing through her memories and understanding of her project while she packed her work away carefully. She could feel that most of her work didn't make sense to him but he could follow along with the general gist of things.
"Why haven't you tried the Imperius or the Fidelius yet?" he asked her curiously after a while. Hermione froze in the middle of what she was doing. The Imperius and the Fidelius? "Well, it's just that one of them affects everyone's mind and the other is very specific to one person at a time, both affect the mind… I mean I get that they might not be considered illusory charms but-" Harry never got any further as his head was yanked forwards for a searing kiss.
"You wonderful man! That could be just the breakthrough I need! I know the Fidelius, but I've never cast the Imperius. Could we make a quick stop by the lab before we go home?" She felt Harry's acquiescence before he could even say the words and started pulling him towards the lab. When they got there she saw that Echo was still working and ignored it for now.
"Okay. Cast through here." Hermione instructed as she placed Harry in front of the Thaumaturgic Separator.
"Imperio." Hermione checked the read-out and nodded.
"One more, please. Just to be sure." Harry complied and Hermione found herself with a second read-out which was almost identical to the first. "Excellent." She took care of casting the Fidelius herself. Gathering up her new data Hermione turned to Harry with a beaming smile. 'Okay, we can go now.' She was practically skipping along next to him as they made their way back to her office. I was right.
'Right about what?'
'Oh, that you would have a way to help my research move on because of all the nonsense you're always caught up in.'
'You know what I mean. And I was right. Examining the Imperius Curse and the Fidelius Charm alongside a broad sample of illusory charms has never been done before.'
'So you saw all this coming a mile away.'
'Well, except for the bit where you shagging me rotten gave me a much needed mental reboot. Speaking of which, I think I may need a top-up.' The two unspeakables grinned at each other and raced the rest of the way back to her office and their home.
"Unbelievable." Haephestos murmured for the seventeenth time since Hermione had joined him in his office. On his desk in front of him were her final calculations. After working through the fiendishly complex equations from the spells Harry had suggested Hermione had found the common link between all the spells that she theorised was the formula for the interaction between magic and the mind. Thanks to the inclusion of two such different spells I was able to correct for the commonalities between the various illusory charms. Thank you, Harry Potter. She watched as her superior trailed stubby fingers across the equations in wonder. "What you've done here, Guenevere, will shape magical research for years to come. You know I can't promise you publication under your own name though you certainly deserve it and I will petition Croaker for it, but I can promise you that generations of unspeakables to come will know what you've done and honour you for it."
"I understand, sir. Thank you."
"I have your next assignment here, though it may be a bit tame in comparison to what you've just accomplished. If there's ever something you want to research, you just let me know though. I'd say you've earnt at least one free run with this result."
"I will think it over, sir." Hermione said as she accepted the folder her superior had prepared. With a quick nod she made her way out of Haephestos' office, leaving him to stare at the work she had brought him some more.
Hermione made her way to her lab while reading the file she had been given. 'An analysis of the declining strength of the brother wand effect as it spreads across a greater number of cores taken from the single source to produce an algorithm with predictive abilities'. That would have been more useful a few years ago. Oh well, I can at least figure it out for the next generation. I guess I'll need to requisition quite a number of wands to get reliable samples. Maybe Harry can get a hold of Voldemort's old wand. It might be one of a very few pairs out there. Maybe I can use my own wand to identify the source of the core? I wonder if there might be something in the spellprint? Maybe that's just the last project still knocking around in my head. Hermione walked into the lab still muttering to herself and didn't notice her colleague trying to get her attention.
"Huh? Oh, Echo, I'm sorry. I was off in my own little world there. Was there something you needed?"
"Not needed as such. I was hoping for a conversation though." Hermione couldn't help but notice that the witch wasn't her usual brusque self.
"Sure. I haven't started on this yet and there's no real hurry."
"It's just… I've been watching you and Artorius and I'm a little worried that you two might be getting too close. Believe that I speak from experience when I say that you can't trust operatives. They just take what they want and move on to the next girl."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Echo, but believe me when I tell you that Artorius is not like that."
"Guenevere, you don't know him. That's the whole point of being an operative: no one knows anything about you!"
"Actually, I've known Artorius since before I even knew the Department existed."
"He and I have always been… close. Didn't you notice that our codenames match? I mean our covers, should we need them, are even married."
"Now that you mention it…" Echo shook herself. "But he's an operative! Does Croaker know abut this? Does Juvenal?!"
"Of course they do."
"And they didn't obliviate you?" Hermione shook her head. "Are-... are you really sure about Artorius, Guenevere?"
"Trust me, Artorius is an absolutely wonderful man and you don't have to worry about the two of us getting too close. I seriously doubt he and I could get any closer if we tried and so far it's something I wouldn't trade for the world." Echo gave a rather shaky nod as she turned back to her work. It was quiet for a long several minutes as Hermione tried out various spells to find the one that would give her the clearest and quickest identification of her wand's core.
"I'm sorry about what I said. If you're really sure he's as wonderful as all that… well, I'll trust your judgement."
"Thanks, Echo. You should know that I'm not the only one who thinks so; my parents absolutely adore him. Oh, that reminds me, we've not had dinner with them for a while. It's just been so busy… I really should get something organised." Hermione was mostly murmuring to herself at the end of her statement, but Echo had apparently heard her anyway.
"I'm happy for you, dear." she said softly before turning back to her own experiments.
That evening Hermione floated the idea for dinner with her parents to Harry and he agreed that they could go, though there was one thing he wanted clarified.
"Are we supposed to tell them that we're, um,..."
"Sleeping together? We could. If you prefer we could also take some time to figure out where we stand for ourselves before we say anything." Harry thought it over for a moment.
"When did you want to go visit them?"
"I was thinking we could go this weekend." Harry nodded as if something had been confirmed.
"Hermione, will you go out with me on Friday?" Hermione caught on to what Harry was really saying almost immediately.
"I would love that, Harry." she told him with a smile before she kissed him thoroughly.
In the end their date went well, despite some nervousness about it being a date, but all their planning around Hermione's parents proved to be utterly useless. They had barely stepped through the door when Helen dragged Hermione upstairs for a conversation. They came back down with Hermione blushing like an English tea rose and Helen smirking like the cat that got the cream. She walked straight over to Harry and drew him into a tight hug.
"Welcome to the family! I've already told Hermione, but you really should have said something. We could have done something special. No matter, we can do that another time. Oh, I'm just so happy for both of you." Feeling a little overwhelmed, Harry turned to Hermione for help.
"She just knew, Harry. I don't know how, but she did." Helen snorted in response to Hermione's defence.
"Please, dear. You come walking in here glowing like the morning sun and you expect me not to assume that you two finally caught up to the rest of us in figuring out what's what?"
"What's what what?" Richard Granger wanted to know.
"These two finally realising that they're not 'just friends'."
"Oh." Richard looked a little taken aback for a moment before shaking his head. "It was inevitable I suppose."
"Would you two stop acting like all this was written in the stars and we were the only ones too thick to see it?"
"Well, since you've stopped acting like that's not the case I don't see why not." Helen teased her daughter cheerfully.
"Harry, remind me why I wanted to spend time with my parents again?"
The months passed blissfully for the new couple as they settled into their lives together. Harry was kept in the country as the international crises seemed to be slipping into a lull while there was a rumour of some Death Eater sympathisers getting organised back home. Harry had tracked down every lead he could find on the supposed terrorist cell, but each and every one led to a dead end, usually because a nosy neighbour had gotten angry or drunk or both before calling in a tip. His presence also helped Hermione to work on her own project as he had, in fact, managed to get a hold of Voldemort's old wand, promising Minister Shacklebolt that it would be returned once he had finished with it.
Hermione's work was progressing a lot faster than on her first project and she often commented to Harry that Haephestos hadn't been exaggerating when he'd told her that this project couldn't match up to her first for complexity.
What held their attention far more was their budding relationship and the way it allowed them to rely more fully on their bond. Being able to read each other's first reactions to everything caused a few arguments, but also made the compromises more meaningful since they could feel what the other was giving up and why. Hermione also found that she was constantly reminded of Harry's almost alien way of dealing with emotions and tried her best to show him how she dealt with them without being overbearing about it. It took more effort than she would have hoped, but it wasn't enough that she would want to lose her relationship with him for anything. The attack that had started their bond had almost drifted out of their minds until it suddenly resurfaced in late November.
"Mum would really like to have us over for Christmas but I'm not sure how practically she's thinking." Hermione was saying. "I know for a fact that they have their house quite thoroughly organised for two people living there. I just don't know how to tell her that without setting off a guilt trip to get me to agree to come over anyway."
"Why don't you just invite them over to our place for the holidays? We have more than enough room and being magical, thinking practically is a secondary concern." Harry answered her with a grin as he poked fun at one of her pet peeves about magicals. Hermione hardly noticed.
"Oh, Artorius, could we really?"
"Well, yes. What did you think was stopping us?" By now the rest of the unspeakables were getting used to seeing the fearsome Operative Artorius hugged in the corridors by his partner and, according to some of the rumours, his wife. It had also made him more approachable for the rest of the Department when they saw a bit of humanity in him past his reputation.
"Um, Artorius?" Harry looked up from the hug with his girlfriend to find a giant of man standing there like he was about to scuff his feet on the floor. "Juvenal wanted to see right away."
"Thank you, Goliath. Sorry, love. Duty calls."
"Oh just go see what the old grouch wants already." Hermione told him playfully causing a snort of amusement from the man still standing next to them. "I'm done for the day so I'm going to head home. See you there?"
"Of course." Harry turned to walk to his superior's office and found Goliath scrambling out of the way in front of him. Harry refrained from commenting and just continued on his way. When Harry knocked on the door Juvenal's usual call of "Enter!" sounded tense.
"Ah, Artorius. Get in here and take a seat. I have an emergency mission for you."
'Hermione!' Harry's mental call was sent out the moment he landed in the hallway.
'I'm in the study, Harry. Why do you feel so agitated?' Rather than responding Harry made his way up the stairs and into the study.
"Juvenal gave me my next assignment. I'm to go to Sweden and investigate a suspicious assault. A wizard was cursed in broad daylight. The curse is eating away his magic and his body is expected to be next. He's in a hospital, screaming in pain."
"And you and Juvenal think that this may have something to do with the attack on me."
"Well, it does sound similar. I know I can't stop you, but please be careful, Harry. I can't perform that ritual again to save you." Hermione tried to inject some levity into her admonition, but it fell flat.
"I know, love. I'll be careful." Harry assured her, reinforcing his promise with a stream of emotions over their bond.
"When do you leave?" Hermione asked.
"Then you had better get to our room, Operative Artorius." 'I intend to make use of the time we have left before you leave.'
At Arlanda International Portkey Station the customs wizard cast a bored eye over the passport in front of him and then compared it to the man in front of him. A quick wave of his wand sent a Disspelling Charm at the unremarkable looking Mr. Arthur Grey. Satisfied that the man hadn't cast a glamour on himself the customs wizard handed him his passport back.
"Välkommen til Sverige, herr Grey." The man accepted the passport with a polite nod and moved on. He left the terminal and found the Magibussarna service into Stockholm.
"Trollholmen." He told the conductor who nodded and managed to communicate that the trip would cost a galleon and one sickle. Arthur Grey paid the fare and settled down at the back of the bus. At least this ride is smoother than the Knight Bus he thought to himself. When they arrived at Stockholm's magical quarter the Englishman got off and headed in what he hoped was the direction of his hotel. He thankfully managed to find it quickly and the staff's excellent command of the English language meant that he was soon checked in to his room.
The moment he closed the door behind him Arthur Grey started casting security spells and wards. Only once he was sure that no one would be monitoring the goings on inside without him knowing did he remove what looked like a simple wedding band. As the ring left his finger the image of Arthur Grey flickered and resolved into Harry Potter. These Glamourings really are a wonderful invention. It's too bad that the eggheads haven't figured out how to minimise the required input for a continually replenishing enchantment. I don't like having to choose between possibly being spotted or possibly passing out if the draw on my magic becomes too much.
Putting the ring down, Harry made quick work of unpacking what he would need for his mission. A quick meditation to recover and focus my magic as much as possible and then I'll head out to talk to the Healers at the Eirs Magiska Sjukhus.
An hour later Arthur Grey left the hotel and made his way deeper into Trollholmen. He arrived at the hospital in short order and showed a British Ministry of Magic identification at the reception before asking after the case of a man who had been hit with a magic eating curse. He was collected by a Healer only a few minutes later.
"Good evening, herr Grey. I am Healer Wikström."
"A pleasure to meet you, Healer." Grey replied as he shook the man's hand.
"I understand you have some interest in the case of Lukas Henriksson?"
"Possibly. We believe we had a similar case in Britain. The victim's magic was 'eaten' for lack of a better word. We are all grateful that she managed to make a full recovery but we are worried by the lack of knowledge we have on the curse that did this."
"If your patient recovered then it is not the same curse."
"How can you be so sure?"
"No one survives Nidhogg's Hunger."
"This curse has been used here more often?" Grey asked with surprise colouring his voice.
"Not for two thousand years or more. It is a legend from the days when the Asgeir ruled the North, both magical and not."
"And yet you have been able to diagnose your patient with its effects."
"The diagnosis was made by a colleague with a certain… fascination for these sorts of legends." the Healer said, his tone making clear what he thought of the matter.
"You were unable to convince your superiors of your diagnosis?" Grey asked in a commiserating fashion.
"I had no diagnosis to give, herr Grey. This was not our best guess, it was our only one."
"I see. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Is there any possibility that I might speak with your patient?"
"You may speak to him as much as you wish; I doubt he'll answer though. Lukas Henriksson died seven hours ago." Damn. That's unfortunate. At least I have a possible name for the curse."Out of professional curiosity, herr Grey, how was the patient in your country cured?"
"A friend undertook the Rite of Binding with her to strengthen her magical core. As I understand it things didn't go as expected. Our Healers are still working on the how and why of the matter as far as I know. I'm afraid the matter is a bit beyond me, but if you contact St. Mungo's they may be able to provide more information."
"I believe I may do that." Healer Wikström said as he seemed to be looking into the distance at something Grey couldn't see. He's as much of an academic as Hermione is. "I will bid you good day, herr Grey. I must return to my patients."
"A good day to you too, Healer Wikström." Grey left the hospital and hurried back to his hotel; he had a letter to write.
I've found the victim; or rather, I've found his grave. He succumbed to the curse far more quickly than what happened in St. Mungo's. The Healers here did have a name for what ailed their patient though. They referred to a legendary curse, used by the Asgeir when they ruled Scandinavia. See if you can find anything on 'Nidhogg's Hunger'. I'm going to check the immigration records on this end and see if I can find any familiar names.
I hope you are well and I miss you something awful. I am not whole without you.
All my love,
Hermione re-read the letter for the umpteenth time. 'I am not whole without you.' I feel it too, Harry. I've gotten so used to having you around and in my head that it just feels wrong to not have you here. The bed feels cold and I feel perpetually alone.
Juvenal had been pleased with Harry's progress and the hunt for her attacker climbed in priority. The woman I was a year ago would have been pleased with that and pushing for more. Today I don't care as long as Harry comes home safe.
Hermione was a bit ashamed of that thought. She knew that the longer this psychopath remained at large, the more people could get hurt. And yet the faceless masses seem less important when it's Harry out there actively hunting this monster. Hermione forced herself to put the letter down and dragged her attention back to the ancient, untitled tome in front of her. Ever since Harry's breakthrough the entire Research Branch had been working on finding and analysing this curse. At the rate we're going though I shouldn't be surprised if Harry somehow discovers a cure before we've even worked out the incantation.
Damn it, Granger, FOCUS! With a mental shake Hermione went back to deciphering the ancient Futhark the book was written in.
Harry tried to suppress his growing anticipation as he crept closer to the wooden cabin ahead. He was making his way through three feet of snow and couldn't afford to screw up because he was overeager. If I set off a trap or give away my position this dirtbag could get away. So Harry moved slowly, under a Notice-me-not Charm, and scanned every step for traps and wards before he moved forward and then covering his tracks. He had found out from the immigration records that this particular cabin had been reserved by a Vincent Crabbe. Quite the achievement for someone who was immolated by Fiendfyre during the Battle of Hogwarts. The logical conclusion was that there was an Englishman here who did not want to be found. It matches what we know so far. Hermione was specifically targeted after the perpetrator found out she was in Hogsmeade. That means a local or someone she knows and either would certainly know at least some of the casualty list. It's on the bloody monument for crying out loud.
Once he was in range, Harry started putting up anti-transportation wards. He wove the magic together slowly in case the person in the cabin was sensitive to changes in the flow of magic around them or had some manner of alarm set up. This was first and foremost a capture mission. There are a lot of questions I want to ask this bastard.
Once he had the wards up, and no one had come charging out looking for intruders, Harry continued his way on to the building. The curtains were drawn across the windows, preventing Harry from looking inside.
"Hominem Revelio." Harry's spell detected one person inside. Right, don't get cocky. This person has already proven that they know spells the rest of the world has forgotten. There could still be more than one person if there was a concealing charm in whatever grimoire they were using somewhere. That means that the strategy is 'overkill'.
Harry drew a phial of potion from his pocket and palmed it in his off hand. The phial was a clever find by the eggheads in Research. A thin layer of glass separated the top and bottom half of the phial. The two halves had been filled with a pair of potions that reacted… energetically when they came into contact with each other. Throw the phial at a hard surface so that it was damaged and it became a magical flashbang grenade. This should keep any undetected hostiles off balance long enough to take out the bait and find them. If he's alone, well, no harm in being careful. Harry cast a quick Silencing Charm on his ears and took a deep breath.
"Bombarda!" The wooden door exploded inward. Among the flying shrapnel was a small glass phial. A moment later the hut was filled with a blinding light and a thunderous noise.
The moment Harry felt the flashbang's shockwave hit him he Disspelled his Silencing Charm and charged through the wreckage of the door. He saw a body slumped against the wall and fired off a Full Body Bind. Dropping to one knee he scanned the rest of the room. Seeing no one, Harry took a moment to cast a Disarming Jinx and a few more binding charms at his prisoner. Once was sure that the man wouldn't be going anywhere in a hurry he went through the rest of the cabin systematically to make sure that he wouldn't get a nasty surprise to the back while he worked the bastard over; he found no one.
Convinced that there weren't any imminent threats, Harry made his way back to the first room. Standing over his prisoner he nudged the man's head back with the toe of his boot. Well, well, well. Theodore Nott. That's not who I was expecting. Harry quickly cast Repairing Charms at what was left of a pair of chairs and levitated the still unconscious man into one. Harry made sure that Nott was tied to the chair before he cast a Reviving Charm. A small part of him revelled in the pained groan that issued from his captive's lips.
"Evening, Theo." Nott's head shot up, causing him to grimace in pain. "Oh dear. That looked like it hurt. Maybe you should refrain from making any sudden moves."
"Who are you?" Nott slurred out. Harry sighed and backhanded the man across his face getting a whimpering half-sob in response.
"You should probably refrain from asking questions too. You're here to answer them."
"You think I'll tell you anything?"
"Well, not voluntarily, no. Lucky for me there are a few ways around that non-issue." Nott paled as he understood what his captor was saying. "Normally, I would use Veritaserum. It's effective, reliable and humane. You and your little friends, however, made the rather significant mistake of attacking the woman I love, so 'humane' feels more like a downside."
"The woman you-... wait! You mean Granger? I didn't think anyone gave a damn about that bitch except for… Potter!" Nott's eyes shone with his realisation. "Morgana's might, Potter. You actually had me worried for a moment there." There was a mocking note to Nott's voice. Harry lowered his hood since his identity had been uncovered anyway.
"And you're not worried anymore?"
"Please. As if you have it in you to actually torture someone." Nott scoffed. Harry just gave a chilling smile.
"Legillimens." There was absolutely no subtlety or gentleness to Harry's probe. He tore through Nott's Occlumency shields without a care for what he left in the wake of his attack. Memory after memory passed before him and Harry stored them all in his own mind to relay them back to the Department. One of the first memories he found was the attack on Lukas Henriksson. The memory also revealed that Nott had been acting on another's orders when he committed his crime. Harry hunted through the rest of the man's memories for the person who had given that order. He was vaguely aware of Nott screaming uncontrollably. When he found the memory he was looking for Harry immersed himself in it to gather as much information as possible.
He found himself in a wood paneled study. Expensive was his first thought, though it was quickly corrected to showy. Whoever lives here wants their visitors impressed with their wealth and status.
"We need to lure that mudblood back into the open." a voice was saying. Harry noticed a pair of wingback armchairs sitting in front of a fire. They had gilt frames and what looked like black velvet upholstery. Definitely showy. With an ease born of long practice with Hermione, Harry shifted his perspective so he could see the occupants of the chairs. Nott and Malfoy. Now this is more along the lines of what I expected. Nott might never have shown any initiative, but Malfoy usually showed more than was good for him. "The curse should have killed her, it was killing her. One of my informants at the hospital told me that there was one visitor aside from her family present when she was cured: Potter. She has since become as elusive as he is. I would theorise because she is with him, wherever he is hiding. We need to know if Potter's really found a cure and where he's hiding. I want you to discover that for us."
"You want me to hunt Potter? The man who killed the Dark Lord?" Nott asked aghast.
"Not at any risk to yourself, I assure you. If I know Potter, he'll be searching for the culprit himself no matter what the aurors are doing. All we need to do is create a similar situation elsewhere to draw him out."
"If he's searching for the culprit, you should be the one to dance with the dragon."
"I will be here to finish Granger off once we have confirmation of whether or not he knows of a cure… unless you would prefer to hang that target on your own back?" Nott was quiet for a few seconds after Malfoy had laid his rather obvious trap.
"What do you need me to do and how is it not going to blow up in my face?"
"Leave the country and cast Nidhogg's Hunger on someone, it doesn't matter who. Potter will come running and, in drawing him out of Britain, you will have already decimated his resources. Simply use the same procedure I did with Granger and, as you've seen, you will not be caught." As Malfoy spoke he flicked his wand and a silvery cloak floated over to Nott who took it admiringly. That looks new. He must have fired through another one to get Hermione. He's really sinking some serious coin into this if he's buying an invisibility cloak per attack.
"What do I do once I've got Potter's attention?" Nott asked as he stuffed the cloak into a pocket.
"Inform me that he's there and make sure that he does not find you. Your message will be the signal for the rest of us to move on Granger. If Potter leaves the country there, send a warning and return to us. We will hold Granger at usual location for an interrogation and some… entertainment. You may as well meet us there." These bastards want to hurt Hermione? Over my dead body.
"You've thought all this out, haven't you? Had you chosen where I should go as well?"
"Personally, the irony of reintroducing this curse to its homeland appeals to me, but you may go wherever you like."
"You are too generous." Despite Nott's sarcasm he had obviously followed Malfoy's instructions to the letter. Harry pulled out of the memory and tore at Nott's mind for the next pieces of information he needed. Where this 'usual location' was and whether any messages had been sent back.
The location turned out to be a muggle warehouse, hidden with magic that Nott and Malfoy's little group used for activities that they didn't want connected to their own homes. Nott's ravaged mind also revealed that he hadn't sent any messages back since he hadn't realised Harry was in the country. It was the last scrap of information Harry managed to retrieve before he found himself standing in an empty void. Confused, he searched for any sign of Nott's mind, but found nothing.
Harry drew back out of his captive's mind to find him with his head hanging down, his chin touching his chest. Harry wrenched Nott's head up by the hair and found vacant, unseeing eyes set in a slack-jawed face. A string of drool was leaking from one corner of his mouth and a trickle of blood had come out of his left nostril. Bugger. I didn't think he'd give out that quickly. Harry tried Legillimency again and once again found an empty nothingness. There's nothing more to be learnt here.
Returning to his own awareness, Harry started casting Repairing Charms. He carefully restored the room and unbound Nott. The moment it was free the body slumped limply in the chair. Harry vanished all the food he could find, took down his wards and performed one final check of the house. Finding nothing, he apparated out. The muggles will find him and by the time they do it will look like he got snowed in and starved to death; probably because he will starve to death. With any luck the muggles will think that he was some kind of religious zealot fasting to prove a point.
Harry returned to his hotel and checked out. With Nott gone, there was nothing to be gained by staying. Juvenal can deal with the politics of telling the Swedes what happened to their perpetrator. Right now, I need to take out the rest of these idiots before they can lay a hand on Hermione. That night Arthur Grey took a portkey back to England.
Hermione's head shot up from the ancient tome she was poring over. The bracelet on her left wrist had suddenly turned burning hot. Mum! Dad! She didn't hesitate and barely took a moment to clear away her work and charm her cloak a different colour before apparating out. Hermione arrived at her parents' house to find the wards flaring under the strain of a magical assault. About thirty feet to her right stood a pair in hooded, black robes with curses streaming from their wands. Hermione's own focus was up in a flash but before she could get a spell off something struck her in the back and the world went dark.
When Hermione came to she could feel that she was sitting in a chair. Cords dug into the flesh of her wrists, chest and ankles. The feeling of scratchy cloth against her face and the darkness that still engulfed her when she opened her eyes told her that there was a hood covering her face. She could hear indistinct voices. Deep. Probably male and in the next room over.
Harry's going to be so disappointed in me. What was I thinking charging in like that? Now I'm a captive and I have no idea if my parents are even alive.
No. I can't think like that. Come on, Hermione, you've seen all those missions of Harry's. Think. What can I do? I'm still alive so they must have a plan for me. Interrogation or ransom? People who know I'm an unspeakable and want to get the Department's secrets? Someone who knows I'm close to Harry and is trying to use me to get to him? That last thought made a frightening amount of sense to Hermione. I don't know anything yet, but if they are after Harry it will be my turn to defend him. The resolution to protect Harry calmed Hermione down and let her focus on trying to gather more information. The indistinct voices were getting louder until they were cut off by a sharp "Quiet!". Hermione felt the hood being roughly yanked off of her head and blinked as she was blinded by the sudden light.
"Hello, mudblood. Did you miss me?" That voice sounds familiar. Hermione blinked sight back into her eyes and hissed in fury when she saw who had caught her.
"Malfoy." The blonde smirked at her. Feeling superior are we? "Morrighan's cloak, this is embarrassing; caught by a ferret. Harry's never going to let me live this down." The smirk on Malfoy's face twisted into a sneer.
"Don't worry, mudblood. That won't be an issue by the time Potter gets back from Sweden." What?! How does he know where Harry is? "Oh? Did you not know? Or did you not expect me to know?" The smug satisfaction was back in full force on the former Slytherin. "The Malfoy name is still respected, mudblood; not that you'd understand something like that. There are still those who vie for my favour. Witches and wizards like the one that told me that whenever Potter disappears a Mr. Arthur Grey leaves the country. Or the Swedish bureaucrat who let me know that Mr. Grey had landed in his country." So we still have a vermin problem at the Ministry.
"I'll be sure to let Kingsley know that he has a leak. He'll be eager to plug it."
"If you were to survive, I'm sure you would." Malfoy mocked. "In the meantime, we have some questions; questions you are going to answer."
"How to undo whatever it is that you did to your hair?" There were guffaws of laughter from the other wizards present.
"Crucio." Hermione screamed as the Torture Curse sent pain tearing through her nerves. When it lifted only seconds later she found herself panting as she hung limply against her bonds. "I hardly think that you should be commenting on anyone's hair, do you?" Cruel glee radiated from Malfoy's voice. "That was just a little taste of what awaits you should you not cooperate. Now, how did you survive Nidhogg's Hunger?"
"How do you know that name?"
"Crucio." This time when the curse was lifted Hermione could taste blood in her mouth and feel the spit, tears and mucus covering her face. "I'm asking the questions here, mudblood. However, it would be shame if you didn't understand how much danger you're in, so I'll explain." You never could resist bragging, you ponce. "I was the one who found the spell in one of the grimoires the Dark Lord left behind at Malfoy Manor."
"Were you the one that cursed me as well?"
"Of course; though there were a lot of us who wanted the pleasure." I'll just bet there were. "Of course, I'll probably give one of the others a chance once we don't need you anymore."
"And when will that be?"
"Soon enough. Now tell me how you survived or we'll reapply the curse and let Greengrass analyse what happens." Hermione could see the statuesque blonde standing quietly at the back of the group, watching her with cold grey eyes. What do I do? If they discover that it was a one-off and that Harry's magic is now bound to mine, I'll be under that curse faster than you can say 'Quidditch' and by extension, so will Harry. If I don't tell them anything we'll be in the exact same danger. Partial truth it is.
"Harry cured me." Hermione bit out, not having to feign her disgust at having to do so.
"Hah, I knew it! How?"
"I don't know. I wasn't exactly lucid when he did it."
"And you expect me to believe that in all the months since you never once asked him?"
"Some kind of ritual was all he would tell me." Malfoy gave her a considering look.
"If he wouldn't share it with you then it was likely Dark. I look forward to asking him about it when he gets here."
"What makes you think that he's going to come here?" A vicious smile spread on Malfoy's lips.
"Oh, you'll love this, mudblood. Potter's in Sweden right now looking for the person who cast Nidhogg's Hunger. Nott's an idiot and a coward. Potter will eventually find him and Nott will agree to tell Potter whatever he asks for to save his own stinking hide. His pride won't last more than a day, if it even keeps his mouth shut for an hour. Nott will then have a fatal accident, courtesy of a Swedish auror with a gambling problem, before the matter ever comes to trial so we probably won't even be charged with anything due to lack of evidence." There were smirks all around now. They're probably just relieved that it wasn't them that had to play bait.
"Among other things, Nott will tell Potter that he sent a message back here that was the signal for your capture. He will even tell Potter exactly where we are. When Nott has his accident, Potter will realise that the aurors can't do anything without proof or we will gut him and the government in the Wizengamot. True to form the Saviour will come charging in and meet his doom at our wands and traps." I have to stay alive no matter what they do to me. If I'm alive, I'll be able to warn Harry.
'Warn me about what?'
'I'm here, Hermione. What's happened?' Hermione's relief was overwhelming. It might be faint, but it was without a doubt the touch of her lover's mind.
'Harry, you have to be careful! Malfoy's setting a trap for you. He's the one behind all this.' Hermione pushed her memories of the past half an hour or so across their link so Harry would know not to come near them.
'Nice try, love, but I've just apparated in. Keep him talking. Malfoy doesn't know that I know anything about wards, but it's still going to take me some time to break them down without setting off alarms.'
'Harry, it's too risky!'
'When's that ever stopped us? Now, distract him and I'll have you out of there in twenty minutes tops.' Hermione mentally cursed up a storm, knowing that Harry would at least be made aware of her displeasure. The sycophantic laughter around her was just dying down so Hermione took her chance.
"But why, Malfoy? You have to know that if it comes out that you killed us you're going to be fed to a dementor."
"It's a risk we have to take." Malfoy growled out. "You and Potter are destroying our world and no one else is willing to stand against you."
"And here I was thinking you just wanted revenge."
"More the fool you. Alone, neither of you is a threat. Potter doesn't give a damn about politics without you and no one gives a damn about you without him. That Universal Rights of Magicals bill would never have passed if Potter hadn't stood at your side to ask for votes. Your bill criminalising Cruelty to Elves would have been laughed off the floor if it hadn't been Potter presenting it. Something had to be done before you brought the world our ancestors built down around our ears!" Malfoy's chest was heaving and his cheeks were stained with angry red blotches as he screamed the last sentence in Hermione's face. He seemed to realise that he had lost his composure and turned away from Hermione with his fists clenched by his side. When he faced her again his expression was as cold as she'd ever seen it.
"Neither of you ever appreciated the value of subtlety, but you have an absolutely uncanny luck. I mean to see it run out today." Hermione felt something hard being pressed into her palm. She recognised the object the moment her fingers closed around it. My wand! A moment later the bindings around her wrists were vanished and a warm hand caressed them.
'The wards were almost insultingly weak.' Harry's voice sounded in her head. 'I'm happy you're alright, love.' She could feel the relief and tenderness in his thoughts.
'I'm happy to see you too, love. What's the plan?'
'I'll attack as a distraction while you vanish your bonds. I'd like the next part of the plan to be you getting out of here, but since I hate surprises during a fight: just hit them hard and don't take any risks.'
'Alright. I love you.'
'And I you.'
"Are you even paying attention, mudblood?!" Malfoy screamed, reminding her that she and Harry were not alone. "You should be grateful, you little cunt! My face is the last thing you'll ever see and that's more than you deserve."
"Funny. I was thinking something similar." a pleasant baritone said from behind Hermione. A flash of red streaked over her shoulder and ensured that the expression of shock on Malfoy's face would never get a chance to change. Hermione felt the warm spray of Malfoy's blood and some of his more vital organs hitting her in the face. She resolutely ignored it in favour of vanishing her bonds. It didn't take long, but when she looked up there were two more bodies collapsed on the floor in pools of spreading blood. She could see several people sprinting for cover while three others were dueling what looked like twenty square feet of empty space.
Hermione's wand came up and she tagged one of the duelers with a full body bind. His limbs snapping to side caused him to overbalance and land on his face with a crunch that could be heard over the sounds of the battle. His comrades froze in surprise for only a moment, but it was enough as a ribbon of liquid silver snaked forward and sliced them both in half as if they were made of soft butter. Hermione barely had a moment to notice the geysering bottom halves collapsing before a stone dome erupted around their remaining opponents. She noticed a grim looking Harry Potter fading back into view as he approached the dome.
"Should I break it so you can curse them?"
"No need." Harry replied, his voice brimming with cold fury. Despite knowing that none of it was directed at her, Hermione couldn't suppress a shiver. "I put this thing up around them. Since I left the anti-transport wards up they are currently caught like rats in a trap." As soon as he'd spoken Hermione heard explosions coming from inside the dome.
'They must be able to hear us. Maybe we should talk like this, Harry.'
'When they're being so obliging?' Hermione looked at Harry in surprise for a moment before his plan filtered through to her. 'If you're opposed to this, I won't.' Hermione didn't need to ask why Harry felt the need to do this; she could feel his reasons and his doubts as if they were her own. She weighed it all and found it easier to come to a decision than she had expected.
'Do it.' Harry nodded his understanding and placed the tip of his wand against the dome, which was starting to crack. He snarled out the guttural incantation Hermione had first heard when she had seen his Cult de Rais mission in their shared dream and a moment later the blasts from inside stopped. A slice of the dome crumbled into the sudden silence. Through the opening Hermione could see long lances of stone criss-crossing the entire inside of her captors' last prison. The silence emanating from inside told her what she couldn't see. They never stood a chance.
'No, they didn't. Would they have given you one?'
'...no. Does that make what we did right?'
'It doesn't. Do you think that they would have stopped with us?'
'And that does make a difference.' Harry came over and pressed a soft kiss to Hermione's lips. "Thank you for having trouble with this. I've gotten used to taking lives and I don't like it."
"I didn't exactly stop you."
"No, but you questioned whether this was the right thing to do."
"And that's enough?"
"It is for me." Hermione considered that and rose up on her tiptoes to return the kiss she'd just received.
"Okay then." They stood hugging for moment longer before Harry drew back.
"I'll portkey the live one to a holding cell. His interrogation can wait until after we've made sure that your parents are alright."
"Thank you, love." Hermione said with feeling. As the adrenaline was draining out of her system the trembling in her muscles as a result of the Cruciatus exposure was becoming more pronounced. She was actually grateful when Harry slipped an arm around her while he waved his wand to take down the remaining wards. Once he was finished he dropped a small brass ring onto the chest of their now wild-eyed captive and watched him disappear in a swirl of colour before apparating the two of them away to check on her parents.
The two unspeakables landed in the Grangers' back garden. Hermione almost collapsed as her muscles couldn't quite manage to correct her landing but Harry's arms kept her upright. He helped her to the back door and knocked heavily on it. They had to wait a short while before the door was opened and Helen Granger peeked outside curiously. She let out an ear-splitting scream at what she saw.
"Hermione! Baby, what happened?! Where did all that blood come from? Who is this?" As her mother rattled off a string of questions Hermione looked at herself and Harry. He was wearing his unspeakable robes and they were both still covered with Draco Malfoy's blood. Harry seemed to have realised the same thing she had.
"Oh, um, whoops?" The sheepish voice actually seemed to knock Mum out of her hysteria a little bit. Hermione decided to jump in before all the screaming brought the neighbours running.
"None of the blood's ours, Mum. Are you and Dad alright?"
"Of course we are, dear. Why wouldn't we be?"
"It's a long story and one I will tell to you in its entirety once we have Hermione somewhere comfortable." Harry interrupted. Hermione could see the realisation of who was under the hood hit her mother like a physical force.
"Of course, come in." Mum was fussing over them as they stepped into the kitchen. The familiar surroundings and knowing that Mum and Dad weren't hurt were draining the last of the adrenaline from Hermione's system. She could still hear her mother interrogating Harry though. "Are you sure she's alright? I thought she said she wasn't injured?"
"Actually, she said that the blood's not ours and it isn't. Hermione was magically tortured though." Hermione felt another pair of arms come around her and heard her mother's sobs in her ear. "She'll be alright, Helen. There wasn't any permanent damage done and the people who did this won't be trying it again." Hermione felt herself being lifted into arms she recognised as Harry's and laid her head in the crook of his neck as she felt herself sinking into darkness.
The next morning Hermione woke in her bed in her parents' house with a groan. I feel bloody awful.
'I'm not surprised. That's what the Cruciatus is supposed to accomplish. Is it safe to let your mother come upstairs yet?' Despite the teasing words Hermione could clearly feel the worry in Harry's thoughts.
'Give me a minute. I doubt that Mum's entrance is going to be quiet.' Hermione just laid there for a minute trying to gather strength for the prospect of being well and truly mothered. 'How much do my parents know?'
'Not that we're secret agents or that we can communicate telepathically, but pretty much everything else.'
'Can we tell them about this now that Malfoy is a pile of meat?'
'You realise that it will still put our secret at risk?'
'I do. I don't want to lie to them about it though.'
'Then we can tell them as soon as you're ready.'
'Thank you, Harry. Do you think you can come pick me up?' It was quiet for a moment before Hermione heard footsteps on the landing outside her door. It opened quietly to reveal her boyfriend in normal clothes. He smiled at seeing her awake and came over to press a soft kiss to her lips.
"Hey there, sleeping beauty."
"After last night? I doubt it."
"To me you are never less."
"Cheeseball." Harry just grinned at her.
"Ready to face the parents?" Hermione grimaced.
"How bad is it?"
"Well, I had to explain the concept of the Cruciatus and it upset them. They seemed rather pleased that the blood belonged to the guy who did it." Harry paused for a moment. "Your mum can be downright bloodthirsty, you know that? Anyway, I think I have them convinced that you won't suffer any lasting harm and that the only medicine for the Cruciatus is time. I'm not sure we're going to get you out from under your mum's eye any time soon though."
"That's about what I expected. Can you cast some charms to make me presentable? We can have a long shower together when I'm sure my parents aren't going to burst in on us." Harry smiled at her and started waving his wand as Hermione felt the dirt and grime leaving her and her clothes straightening themselves out.
'You say things like that and then accuse me of being reckless.' Harry thought at her in a transparent attempt at levity.
'I'm being careful!'
'You're being naughty.'
'Is that a complaint?' Harry just grinned down at her and pressed a kiss to her lips again.
"Not at all. Can you walk?" It turned out that Hermione needed Harry's support to keep her balance as she shuffled down the stairs. In the kitchen he was forced out of the way by a pair of extremely worried parents who had to fuss over every inch of her before they were satisfied. In the end Harry came to her rescue by reminding them that Hermione would be better of sitting and would perhaps benefit from a warm beverage. The result was that a few minutes later Hermione was sitting on the living room couch leaning her head on Harry's shoulder and clutching a hot cup of tea. She gave her boyfriend a nudge and caught his gaze. Her question would have been clear even without their bond and Harry nodded in response.
"Mum, Dad, Harry and I have something to tell you and it may sound unbelievable."