Harry Potter thought he was the luckiest little boy ever. While it was true that his parents had died when he was a baby, and his maternal aunt and uncle with whom he lived didn't like him very much, he had a wonderful best friend and also something that very few others in the world had: magic.
Magic was what kept him safe ever since he was left with his aunt and uncle. The wizard who left him there, one Albus Dumbledore, either assumed that family always stood together, or else had some other purpose in mind when leaving him with his mother's estranged sister. Either way, Dumbledore had forgotten a rather small detail about the Potter family; namely, that the Potters had house elves that hadn't accompanied them into hiding in Godric's Hollow, and that the bond between house elf and family was strong enough to overcome any spells obscuring the location of one of the family, if that family member needed the elf badly enough.
While Harry didn't consciously remember the incident that brought Rizzy, Luzzy, and Jevvin back into his life, Rizzy had told him about it. Aunt Petunia, upset at having her nephew dumped on her doorstep like a bottle of milk and unwilling to do more than absolutely necessary for him, had taken to using old-fashioned rubber pants over his nappy to contain any leakage, and only changing him once a day. Naturally, this resulted in a spectacularly severe case of nappy rash, leaving baby Harry in a lot of pain. When Uncle Vernon became annoyed with Harry's whimpers, he picked up the toddler by the pajamas he wore and threatened to give him something to really cry about. The terrified Harry wished desperately for Mummy or Daddy or someone to save him, and the three remaining Potter house elves responded to that surge of emotion and popped into Number 4 Privet Drive.
Jevvin froze Vernon Dursley in place, while Luzzy floated Harry down to the floor. Rizzy, whose main duty had been caring for Harry, looked appalled at the condition she found him in. A snap of her fingers found him clean, dry, and in fresh pajamas, with a soothing cream spread over his sore bum and bits.
She then shook her finger at both adult Dursleys. "Yous is bads peoples! Little Master never hurts yous! Yous bes seeing how it feels!"
Vernon gave a pained cry and Petunia moaned as their nether regions were suddenly covered with a rash to match their nephew's.
Luzzy shook her head at Rizzy. "Yous is knowing betters. Luzzy will fix." Luzzy frowned at the Dursleys and asked, "Why is yous having Little Master here? Mistress Lily be saying Little Master goings to Master Doggy or to Mistress Allees if she is being gones." A casual wave of her hand vanished the Dursleys' rashes.
Vernon inhaled deeply in preparation for bellowing at these freakish little creatures, but Petunia, realising they couldn't defend themselves if the little beings wanted to harm them, elbowed him sharply in the ribs. "All I know is that I found him in a basket on the step a few days ago," Petunia grumbled. "The letter with him said we had to take him in so that the freak that went and blew up his parents doesn't find us and blow us up as well. We weren't given a choice, and I'd have said no if anyone had bothered to ask. I've got enough to do in raising my own son properly, I don't need to spend my time on my freak sister's little brat."
Luzzy considered this for a moment. "Fine. Yous is taked Little Master in. Now wes is knowing he is being here, so wes can be caring for him while yous be caring for yous boy. Some things elveses can't be doing, though. Elveses can't change looks, so yous is needing to take Little Master to play and to healers and things. Jevvin cans do gardening, keeps plants healthy and nice." She pointed at the male elf as she said his name and his usual work. "Rizzy is nanny-elf, bes taking care of Little Master until Master James and Mistress Lily wented hideying. Rizzy also bes helping yous with your boy. And Luzzy," she indicated herself, "bes cleaning houses and cooking for Mistress Lily most times." The elf smiled fondly. "Mistress Lily said Luzzy bes wonderful cook but is liking to cook special mealses herself sometimes."
Petunia frowned as she tried to sort through the house elf's speech patterns. "Let me get this straight. You want to look after him," she nodded towards her nephew, who had fallen asleep once the salve relieved his aching bottom, "but you can't take him elsewhere. We give him house room, you'll not only look after him, you'll help out around the house and garden in exchange for us doing the things you can't do?"
"Yes," Luzzy nodded. "Wes is good elveses! Wes not bes letting other muggles sees us! And we bes making sure Little Master bes not speakings of us, ever."
"Very well," Petunia agreed reluctantly. "It's far better than simply trying to deal with him without any help."
And so Harry had been given the smallest bedroom in Number 4, the elves supplied furniture salvaged from Godric's Hollow, and Petunia discovered that Luzzy produced meals that satisfied Vernon and Dudley while leaving plenty for herself and Harry, at a significant savings to her grocery bill. She convinced Vernon to simply ignore the presence of the elves altogether, and for the most part, he ignored Harry as well. She couldn't ignore her nephew, as he did need to go along when she took her Dudders to the local play park, but she also knew that Rizzy would follow invisibly, so she could safely allow Harry to play in one area while she watched her precious Duddikins in another. She was especially glad for the unseen assistance because – much to her chagrin – she discovered that Dudley had a tendency to barge in and take what he wanted, when he wanted it, and that included pushing smaller children off the swings or merry-go-round if he thought he could get away with it, and needed a much sharper eye kept on him than Harry did. She didn't want her son becoming known as the neighbourhood bully.
The park became even easier, as well as more attractive, the summer the boys turned four. A new family moved into one of the large homes near the park, the houses that screamed 'wealthy' to observers, as opposed to the 'comfortably well-off' air of Privet Drive. The family had a single child, an adorable little moppet with wild curly hair and sparkling brown eyes, who took an instant liking to Harry. Over the next couple of years, the two children became nearly inseparable. They'd take turns pushing each other on the swings, ride down the big slide squished together and holding hands, and always shared their snacks with each other. Petunia approved of the girl as a friend for her nephew because her parents, Rob and Carol Granger, were dentists with their own practice and she felt that exposing Harry to as many successful normal people as possible might reduce any freakish tendencies he had. Perhaps he'd even choose to remain in the normal world for secondary school, if he didn't want to leave his friend Hermione behind. So, she happily allowed Harry as many playdates with Hermione as he wished, made friendly overtures to Carol Granger, and even made sure Dudley never bothered Harry or Hermione.
But what Petunia didn't know, was that little Hermione was a witch just as Harry was a wizard.
Even Harry hadn't known at first that Hermione was also magical. When they first met, they were just two kids who loved playing together. On nice days, they played on the swings and ran around the play park before sharing their snacks while playing tea party. On wet days, they still usually played together, most often at Hermione's house because Dudley was a very energetic little boy and Petunia had discovered that if she didn't let him have some running-around time outdoors regardless of the weather, he would expend his energy by jumping on soft furniture, climbing up bookshelves, and emptying every cupboard in the house. So, she would drop Harry at the Grangers' home and go shelter in the gazebo in the park while letting Dudley tire himself out.
But it was on one of those wet days that Harry discovered Hermione could do things like he sometimes did. They were halfway through their first year of primary and coming up on the Christmas holidays, so Hermione thought it would be fun to make cards for their families. Harry agreed and the two of them were happily drawing figures at least vaguely resembling Father Christmas and his reindeer, when Hermione decided that she wanted to put red glitter on Rudolph's nose to make it shiny. She rummaged in her arts and crafts cupboard and found the glitter, then tripped when she turned to come back to the table. The glitter started to go flying, Hermione shrieked in dismay, and the glitter suddenly returned to the jar. She looked nervously at Harry, tears in her eyes as she was sure he was going to call her a freak or worse and then stop being her friend.
But Harry was beaming. "That was brilliant, Hermione! How long have you known you're a witch?" he asked. "Is your mum a witch or your dad a wizard?"
Hermione sniffled. "I'm a what? You're not scared! Mummy gets scared when I do things like that, so I try not to do them."
Harry got up and hugged his friend. "It's okay. I can do things like that too sometimes. Remember when Mr. Bowen's hair went blue that time? I did that, although I didn't mean to. But I got mad 'cause he was saying mean things about you 'cause you're getting better marks than his grandson, and then his hair went blue! I know it was me, though, 'cause Rizzy teached me to feel my magic so's I don't do much by accident. Most of the time I feel when it's about to bust out and I can stop it, 'cause Aunt Petunia hates magic so I try to keep from doing any around her or Uncle Vernon and Dudley."
"I remember Mr. Bowen's hair," Hermione nodded, wiping her eyes. "Who's Rizzy?"
"Oh, um… Rizzy's s'posed to be a secret," Harry admitted sheepishly. "She's a house elf. I gots three, but Rizzy's the one that minds me so's Aunt Petunia can take care of Dudley. Luzzy helps cook and clean, and Jevvin helps in the garden. They're why Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon don't mind me living with 'em, 'cause they do a lot of helping."
"I'll keep your secret, Harry, I promise," Hermione said. "Can I meet Rizzy?"
Harry nodded. "Sure, just not today. She doesn't follow when I'm comin' here, 'cause she's not s'posed to be seen by muggles, even on accident. But she does follow on sunny park days, just in case a bad person tries to hurt me while Aunt Petunia's busy with Dudley. Next time we go to the park or you come over, you can meet Rizzy then. We just gotta hide in the bushes, if it's in the park." He giggled and added, "Even Dudley knows about the elves, but he don't keep secrets really good, so I think they magicked him to not talk about them. He sees 'em in the house, but outside, it's like he forgets they're there."
"Okay, I can wait until then," Hermione said, cheering up. "Let's finish the cards."
The two did just that, each of them making cards for both Grangers, all three Dursleys, and each other. When he got home that afternoon, Harry told Rizzy that Hermione was a witch and wanted to meet her. He promised that she would keep them a secret, but he thought it was a good idea because if she met them, they could teach her the same things they taught him. Mostly that was about how magic was a big secret, but that when he was old enough, he'd get a letter inviting him to a magic school, and that's when he would get his wand and start learning to do magic properly. And that learning to keep his temper and always stay as calm as possible helped him not do magic by accident. They also had books for learning to read that were different from the ones in school, and Harry knew Hermione loved reading, so he was sure she'd love to see new books.
And so Hermione learned about magic from her best friend and his house elves, although before long they decided to let her parents in on the secret as well. That way, Rizzy could accompany Harry to the Granger's house, where the two preferred to play so as to avoid Dudley and his more rambunctious friends. Petunia was more than happy to let him play at the Grangers', as it meant he was away from her family that much more often. The two children agreed they would learn as much as possible from the elves while keeping it a secret, right up until the time came that they would go to magic school.
The remainder of the school year passed quietly, and the summer holidays started. That summer, something exciting happened on the telly – Prince Andrew got married to a pretty lady called Sarah Ferguson! The wedding happened a week before Harry's birthday, and he was very impressed with the whole affair. He thought about it for a few days, and then on his birthday he asked his aunt about weddings and she laughed at him.
"Weddings happen when two people love each other a lot and want to spend their lives together," she explained. "Prince Andrew just had an extra-big, extra-fancy wedding because he's a prince. The rest of us do things a lot more quietly, just celebrating with our friends. But it does make a good excuse for a girl to wear a dress that makes her feel like she's a princess for a day."
Harry nodded. "Thanks, Aunt Petunia. You know what? I'm gonna ask Hermione to marry me! Do you think she'll say yes?"
Petunia laughed again. "She might, but don't you think you're a little young?"
"No," Harry said.
"Well, just make sure her father doesn't object," Petunia said, still chuckling.
The next day when he went to Hermione's to play, he dropped to one knee, like he recalled seeing on several telly programmes, and looked up at his best friend. "Hermione Jean Granger, will you marry me?" he asked.
Hermione, who had been just as impressed with the latest Royal Wedding as Harry, squealed happily and tacklehugged him. "Yes, yes, yes!" she babbled.
He hugged her back, grinning, before extracting himself. "Oh yeah, Aunt Petunia says I gotta make sure your father won't mind."
"I'll go with you," Hermione said. "Daddy hardly ever says no to me."
"Okay," Harry agreed. They approached Rob Granger as he trimmed the rosebushes. "Mr. Granger?" Harry asked. "Hermione and I want to get married. Is that all right?"
Rob thought that was the most adorable thing he'd seen. "Well, I know you like her a lot, so I guess it's okay. But you have to make sure her mother and I attend the wedding!"
Harry and Hermione both brightened. "We will!" they chorused before scampering off.
Rob went back to work, chuckling to himself.
Harry and Hermione put their heads together and started planning. "My dress I got for Easter is white," Hermione said.
"And I've got my suit from Easter, too. You should have a veil, though," Harry said. "Not so big as Sarah Ferguson's was, though. I'm s'prised she didn't trip on it!"
Hermione laughed. "Me too! Let me ask Mummy." She clambered to her feet and called up to where her mother was hoovering. "Mummy!"
The noise of the hoover stopped and Carol called back down, "What is it, Hermione?"
"I need a veil, Mummy," Hermione called, moving to the bottom of the staircase. "Me and Harry are gonna get married, just like Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson!"
Carol appeared at the top of the stairs. "Oh, you are, are you?" she chuckled. "All right, I think I can help." She went into one of the spare rooms, where they could hear her rummaging in the wardrobe. She came out again with a box in her hands. "You have to promise to be super careful with this, if I'm going to let you wear it to your wedding. It belonged to your great-grandmother."
"I promise, Mummy."
Carol opened the box to reveal a delicate tulle veil edged in lace and attached to a white satin headband with an aquamarine heart in the centre. On a grown woman, the veil would be about elbow length, which she thought would work out to stopping just above Hermione's knees. "So when exactly is the wedding going to be?" Carol asked.
"After lunch," Harry said firmly. "Mr. Granger said it was okay with him as long as we 'vited you and him, and you usually gots time after lunch, so we can have it then."
Like Rob before her, Carol thought this was the most adorable thing she'd seen. "Would you like to have your wedding in the back garden, then? And who will be doing the service?"
"Rizzy," Harry answered as though it ought to have been obvious. "Do you want a garden wedding, Hermione?"
Hermione considered the options. "Sure, if it stays nice out. Can I carry some flowers? Sarah Ferguson had lotsa flowers."
"It won't be a huge bouquet like hers, but I'm sure we can find you some flowers if you want them, Princess," Carol said with a nod. "Why don't you two go back to planning the wedding while your father and I finish up the chores that need finished. That way we'll both be able to be there for you."
"Okay, Mummy," Hermione said. "We'll get everything set up and ready, then we can have lunch and change for the wedding."
"All right, sweetheart," Carol said. She got up and went back to her hoovering, snickering at how cute and serious the two kids were being.
Harry helped Hermione move her collection of plushie animals out to the garden, to be the congregation. They set them up in rows on either side of a central aisle. Then they set about the serious business of picking flowers for Hermione's bouquet, choosing a few pink roses, white daisies, and sweetly scented lavender. By the time they'd gotten the flowers into water to keep fresh for later, it was time for lunch.
After they ate, Rizzy popped back to Privet Drive to get Harry's Easter suit and shoes, then she helped him change and tie his bow tie. She also stuck a pink rosebud into his lapel before taking him out to the garden and showing him where to stand to wait for Hermione.
Meanwhile, Carol helped Hermione into her dress and white patent leather shoes and secured the headband and veil firmly into her bushy curls. She called Rob over to get some pictures of their tiny 'bride' while she improvised a bouquet wrap from tissue paper for Hermione's flowers. She headed for the garden first, giving a soft, "Aww!" when she spotted Harry waiting at the end of the aisle, the 'congregation' of plushies, and Rizzy holding a Book of Common Prayer standing in the place of the officiant. The kids really were going all out for their play wedding, so she called back, "Rob, they're all set for you to escort the bride in!"
Rob walked out with Hermione reaching up to keep her hand in the crook of his elbow. He had to hide a grin as Carol started humming 'Here Comes the Bride' for their walk up to Harry. Deciding to go through all the motions to please the kids, he bent down and kissed his daughter's cheek before placing her hand into Harry's.
Rizzy, using her very best English, piped up, "Who giveses this girl to be married to this boy?"
"Her mother and I do," Rob responded, no longer able to hide his grin as he slid his arm around Carol. The Grangers watched with fond amusement as Rizzy went through the entire Church of England wedding rites for the kids. The house elf even produced 'rings' for them to put on each other's fingers; that the rings in question seemed to be black rubber o-rings such as could be found inside of most kitchen faucets didn't bother Harry or Hermione in the slightest.
At last, Rizzy pronounced them husband and wife, and told Harry, "Yous may kiss yours bride!"
Harry smiled, leaned in, and very gently kissed Hermione on the lips. As he did, a shimmering golden glow surrounded the two of them and soft giggles could be heard.
The Grangers, busy taking pictures, dismissed the glow as a trick of the light, and assumed the giggles meant that Luzzy and Jevvin had come unseen to the wedding, having made the acquaintance of all three house elves in the last six or seven months. In an effort to continue the fun of the 'wedding' Carol decided they ought to have a reception as well, so she sent Rob to the store for a package of fairy cakes – as dentists, they usually didn't allow sugary treats in the house aside from certain traditional holiday sweets – and put music on so the kids could have their first 'wedded' dance. They took more pictures, of the kids dancing together, of them carefully sharing a fairy cake, and even one of them kissing each other on the garden swing, thinking all the while how adorable these two looked and how determined they were to get the details right in their little pretend wedding.
Hermione didn't want Harry to go back to Privet Drive that evening. "We're married now," she protested to her parents. "So why can't he stay here?"
Only just twigging to the fact that the kids thought they were married for real, Carol knew she had to tread carefully. "Well, sweetheart, there's a law that says you have to be sixteen before you can live with your husband or wife full time. If you want, I'll have Daddy call the Dursleys and ask Harry's aunt if he can sleep over tonight, but only just for the one night. He'll have to go home after that."
"But why?" Hermione cried.
"Like I said, Hermione, there's a law. Marriage is supposed to be only for grown people, that's why you're supposed to wait until you're sixteen. That's because lots of married people have little ones pretty soon after getting married," Carol said. "You're too small and young yet to have a baby of your own. By not letting you live together until you're old enough to have a baby without hurting yourself, that prevents bad things happening to you."
Hermione frowned, but heaved a theatrical sigh before resigning herself to the inevitable. "Okay, but you tell Daddy that Harry just has to sleep over tonight, please?"
"All right, sweetie, I will."
Harry spent the night at the Grangers' place, and life continued on more or less as usual for the next few years. He and Hermione were always within the top five of their year all through junior school, and as they got older, the elves would make trips to Diagon Alley and pick up books on wizarding culture and etiquette, magical history, and spell theory. The elves also taught them to meditate and clear their minds; while they weren't able to build mindscapes or more than the most basic of occlumency shields, they would be aware of anyone attempting to use legilimancy on them, and whoever attempted legilimancy would know they'd been noticed. As their last year of junior school drew to a close, they became more and more excited, anticipating the arrival of the letters inviting them to the magical school the elves called Hoggywartses.
In June of 1991, in an ancient castle in Scotland, Professor Minerva McGonagall pulled out the Book of Magical Children together with the enchanted quill that generated the acceptance letters for the incoming first year students. As she touched her wand to each name in the Book, the quill jumped to life, writing the acceptance letter – different for muggleborn and muggle-raised than for purebloods and wizarding-raised – and addressed the envelope as well. She noted in passing that a 'Granger, Hermione Jean' no longer seemed to be listed. Well, hopefully the family had simply moved abroad, and nothing happened to the girl. When she got to 'Longbottom, Neville Francis' she smiled; not only would young Neville be starting Hogwarts this year, so to would Harry Potter! She looked forward to seeing the children of her former students and friends who had met with such sad fates.
But when she reached the name Potter, she nearly fainted. Because there, directly under 'Potter, Harry James' a new entry had appeared: 'Potter, Hermione Jean (nee Granger)'. It couldn't be! Could it? But how? Harry wasn't even eleven yet! Minerva let the quill write the two letters, frowning slightly when Harry got the standard pureblood acceptance letter even though he was living with his muggle relatives. She didn't think Lily's muggle sister would know enough of wizarding ways to prepare young Harry to rejoin the wizarding world without the extra books suggested for incoming muggleborn students to help them adjust. She added them to the bottom of his letter as 'suggested reading for someone who has been raised outside of the wizarding world' before letting it fold itself into the envelope now addressed to Lord Harry Potter, smallest bedroom, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. She watched carefully as the girl got the muggleborn acceptance letter, hers going to Lady Hermione Potter, back bedroom, 7 Poplar Avenue, Little Whinging, Surrey. Minerva wasn't sure whether to be relieved or not that the two weren't living at the same address. On the one hand, them living apart argued that Harry Potter wasn't married. On the other hand, if the girl really was married, would they have to confront a husband to try to get her properly educated? Potter wasn't exactly an uncommon name, and as much as she hated to see it, she knew there were cultures that married off girls as soon as they hit puberty. Still, on the off chance that this did involve Harry Potter in some way, she decided she'd better tell Albus.
After setting the quill to generating the next letter, she tossed a pinch of floo powder into the hearth. "Albus Dumbledore," she said clearly.
"Yes, Minerva?" the headmaster asked. "Is something wrong?"
"Maybe," the deputy head replied cryptically. "Please come to my office, as I'd rather not discuss this over an open floo."
Dumbledore sighed, but knew Minerva wouldn't bother him unless she had a legitimate concern. "Is it urgent enough to floo over, or may I take the time to walk to your office from mine?"
"Walking is fine, Albus, but it is something you'll want to see immediately," she told him.
"I'll be there in a few minutes, then," he said before breaking the connection. Popping a lemon drop into his mouth, he stepped out of his office and made his way to Minerva's. When he saw what she wanted him to look at, his face drained of all colour. "It can't be," he whispered, a look of horror coming over his face. "He's needed, the wizarding world cannot help but need him! Don't send those two letters tonight, Minerva, I have to check something at the Ministry to see how to proceed from here."
Dumbledore hurried out of her office, calling for his phoenix. Minerva shook her head and went back to her task, leaving the letters for the possibly married couple off to one side.
Albus Dumbledore, with the assistance of Fawkes, his phoenix companion, flamed directly to the Ministry as most workers were leaving for the day and hurried to the Hall of Records. Grateful that the records clerk had already left, as he did not want even a hint of this to reach the press, he considered how best to proceed. Finally, he simply stood in the section devoted to bonding records and raised his wand. "Accio bonding record for Harry James Potter," he said, silently praying that nothing would happen. To his dismay, a record book flew off a shelf and opened itself as it sailed towards him.
His heart sank, but there it was: Harry James Potter and Hermione Jean Granger, bonded via… wish magic? On 1 August… 1986? Harry Potter… bonded… at the age of six? How in Merlin's name had that happened? Well, through wish magic, obviously, as there was no bonder listed. But what did it mean that a child barely six years old would form such an attachment to someone outside of his own family that wish magic… intent magic… would actually work and create a bond? And since he'd placed Harry with his muggle relatives, and Minerva said the girl was muggleborn, it was nearly certain that the families had no idea what had happened. With a sigh, he banished the record book back to its place on the shelf and exited the Hall of Records.
Back at Hogwarts, he was treated to a scathing tirade from Minerva, which he knew was entirely deserved.
"I warned you, Albus, I warned you that they were the worst sort of muggles! Did you check on him personally, even once all these years? I didn't go myself because YOU assured me that he was doing well, and I made the mistake of assuming you'd been to see him and knew this for a fact! And now you say they've been bonded since they were six? What was his life like, that he'd manage to bond with the lass on pure intent, without even a bonder present?" Minerva paced around his office angrily as she spoke. He had no doubt that if she took her animagus form right now, her tail would be lashing and she'd be caterwauling loudly. "And how are we supposed to handle this? By law, they're married! Perhaps it won't matter this year or next, but eventually they'll want to be together and since they're married, the school doesn't have the right to keep them apart. Do we even have accommodations for married students?"
At last, a question he could answer. "Well, we do have married student quarters, actually," he said. "You might recall that during the muggles' Great War back in 1915 or so, quite a few of the muggleborn students got married right after they sat their OWLs, just in case they were conscripted by the muggle military before they finished school. Parents were encouraging their sons to marry early, to be sure they'd have children before dying in the war – and yes, at that time, the war was going badly enough that people were thinking in terms of 'when' he'd be killed as opposed to 'if' he'd be killed. Anyway, we just haven't needed to use them since 1962, the last time we had a wand-point wedding that the witch in question didn't leave school immediately. You weren't Head of House or Deputy Head at the time, and in any case, both of the young people were Hufflepuff and therefore not your responsibility."
"And how do we tell the families?" Minerva wanted to know. "They have the right to know what's going on with their children! And they're muggles! They won't know anything about magical bonds and the laws regarding them. Will they even believe us?"
"I certainly hope so," Albus said with a sigh. "I'll be the one to tell them about the bond and everything I can with regards to it and what it means. But I would appreciate it if you came along also, as you'll be the one escorting the youngsters to Diagon Alley for their school things."
Minerva sniffed. "I'll go with you, if only to see you getting your arse kicked figuratively if not literally. I've never yet seen a father liking the idea of his little girl finding herself a boyfriend, let alone a father liking the idea of his little girl being married without his knowledge. And for you to not only be the bearer of this bad news, but to be telling him that his little girl got married when she was but six? Perhaps I ought to tell Poppy to have a bed waiting for your return."
Albus fervently hoped that bed wouldn't actually be needed, as he summoned Fawkes to take the two of them to Little Whinging. He decided to approach Harry's family first, as they, at least, were aware of magic's existence. Minerva, better versed in what muggles considered appropriate clothing, took charge of transfiguring their robes into conservative if rather old-fashioned business attire before they walked up Privet Drive and knocked on the door of Number 4. He frowned as they approached; the blood wards he'd set up all those years ago were barely discernable, a good sneeze in the right direction would likely shatter them. Yet nothing should be stronger than love-enhanced blood wards, so what had happened?
"May I help…you!" Petunia Dursley hissed, recognising Professor McGonagall. "I suppose you're here to give the boy his letter, are you? He's over at the Granger's as usual, playing with their daughter. Shall I call and have him sent back here so we can get this over with? I had hoped he'd prove not to be one of you freaks, but I guess I should have known better than to hope."
Minerva McGonagall raised a brow at that. "Freaks, are we? Did that include your sister?"
Petunia sneered. "Of course it did. Why did you saddle me with her brat when she died? Didn't that rich freak she married have any relatives? I'm just glad the boy's freaky little servants popped up a few days after you lot dumped him here, so at least I didn't actually have to do much of anything for that little freak besides give him a room. And the freaky servants did enough around here to pay his rent for him."
Both Hogwarts professors looked appalled. "But… you're Lily's family," Albus blurted out. "Families always help one another! I thought you'd be glad to raise your sister's son."
"I want no part of anything freakish if I can help it," Petunia snapped. "If you're here to take the boy off to school, good! And don't send him back, either! Not if he's going to be learning that freaky stuff." She started to reach for the phone.
"Wait a moment," Minerva said. "We actually need to visit the Grangers today as well, so we can speak with Harry while we're there. But could you please explain what you mean by 'freaky little servants'?
"Those little elf things," Petunia said. "The one that mostly helps in the house calls itself Luzzy, and the other two are Jevvin and Rizzy. Ugly little beasts, they are, with big eyes and bat ears. But they stay invisible most of the time and took charge of the boy so that I only ever had to bring him for his checkups and such. I would rather not have done, but they said they couldn't make themselves look normal enough to go out in public." She paused a moment and then picked up on the first part of Minerva's statement. "And are you telling me that sweet little Granger girl is also a freak?" She gave a mirthless laugh. "And here I'd thought all that time playing with her was helping him be more normal. I had hopes of him turning down your freak school so he could stay with her and be normal instead. I just hope her parents don't think she caught the freakishness from the boy."
Albus continued to stare at Petunia in disbelief. "I… you… you really don't care what becomes of Harry?" he asked. "He's your sister's son, your flesh and blood."
"I've already told you; I want no part of any freakishness if I can help it," Petunia said. "I accepted the help of those freaky elf things because it gave me more time to look after my Duddikins, and because they could be invisible so that I could forget they – and the boy – were here, most of the time, anyway. And because whatever they did in taking care of him mostly kept him from accidentally doing something freaky, at least anywhere I could see it. Quite frankly, if those elf things hadn't shown up, we'd have dumped the boy at an orphanage. As far as I'm concerned, my sister never existed, and that boy is not part of my family and never will be. Oh, don't worry, I didn't abuse him or anything like that. Normal people don't mistreat children, after all, but I certainly didn't go out of my way to show him any affection either. Why should I? I never wanted him here."
Albus looked ill, feeling the wards collapse completely with the harshness of Petunia's words. "I see," he said slowly. "Well, in that case, I will endeavour to remove him from your custody as quickly as possible. I can't say exactly when, but I shall do my utmost to settle him elsewhere before he needs to report for school."
"Good. The sooner he's gone from my home, the better," Petunia said curtly. Softening just slightly, she added, "I do wish him all the best for his future, mind, just as long as his future is well away from me and my family."
Minerva nodded, her nostrils flaring with distaste. "As you wish, Mrs. Dursley. We'll make sure he's gone by the end of summer. Now that we're aware Harry's house elves are here with him, we can contact you through the elves, which I believe you would find less distressful than our usual owl post delivery system. I don't anticipate any sort of regular correspondence, mind, but we would at least want to make sure that we don't schedule collecting him for a time when your family needs to be elsewhere."
"I appreciate that," Petunia said. "Good luck with the Grangers." She shut the door behind them as they exited the house and gave a sigh. No more than two months and the boy would be gone, along with his freaky little elves. On the whole, it was a good thing, even if she did have to admit she'd miss the help in the kitchen and garden.
Albus Dumbledore still looked faintly ill as he and Minerva McGonagall approached Poplar Avenue but he perked up quite a bit upon seeing a boy with black messy hair and glasses running up the opposite side of the street, apparently racing a girl with wild brown curls and laughing eyes.
Both children carried books in both hands, making it harder for them to run. The boy reached the front gate of one of the larger houses and turned in moments before the girl. "Ha! I win!" he teased his companion. He pulled her into a hug as she swung in through the gate.
She kissed him lightly on the lips as he returned the hug. "You always win," she answered with good humour. "Mum says it's lucky I have you to stir me up like you do, or I'd get fat and lazy sitting on my bum with my nose in a book all day."
"Maybe, but it's good I've got you to encourage me in my studies," the boy countered. "Without you, I might have tried to win my aunt's approval by making sure Dudley did better in class – and as poorly as he does, I'd be lucky not to go into remedial classes if I did that!"
The girl laughed. "Well, I can't have a husband who lacks intelligence, now, can I?"
Husband? Albus and Minerva looked at each other and hurried to cross the street. Fortunately, Poplar Avenue didn't get much traffic at this time of day, so they avoided any accidents despite crossing in the middle of the block without checking for cars.
"Excuse me," Minerva called to the pair. "Would you happen to be Harry Potter and Hermione Granger?" She didn't use the girl's… married name… just yet. To her surprise, the two burst into laughter.
"Oh, I think I know who you are," the girl said with an excited bounce. "And yes, that's Harry and I'm Hermione. Won't you come in?"
The kids escorted the professors into the house, where Carol Granger was putting lunch on the table. "Did you two have a good morning at the library?" she asked. "And who might this be?"
"I'm Professor Minerva McGonagall," Minerva introduced herself, "and this is Professor Albus Dumbledore. He's the headmaster of a very special school for gifted children, and I teach there as well. Your daughter Hermione, as well as her friend Harry, have both qualified for enrolment in our school. We understand that this may come as a shock, so let me preface by asking, have you noticed occasional odd happenings around your daughter?"
"She's had accidental magic happen since she was two," Carol replied calmly. "We were quite glad when young Harry saw it and explained it to us. Although I admit the explanation was a bit hard to follow given that they were five and six at the time. It made more sense than anything else we'd come up with, and then too, Harry introduced us to his elf Rizzy who pretty much raised him. The kids and the elf all cautioned us not to speak of magic to outsiders, though, or even to the Dursleys. Of course, the request that we not talk about it to the Dursleys had far more to do with their prejudice against magical people than anything else. Or as Harry put it, "They don't really like me 'cause they don't like magic. Right now, they like Hermione and I wanna keep it that way.'"
Harry wrinkled his nose. "Well, it's true, they don't like me because they don't like magic and they know I'm magic. I don't want to think what it must have been like for me before Rizzy and the others showed up."
The two Hogwarts professors looked gobsmacked. Neither one was quite sure how to proceed with an invitation to a muggleborn, when that muggleborn and her family had apparently known about magic for several years. Minerva recovered first. "Er, yes, well, we've just come from the Dursleys, actually. Mrs. Dursley seemed concerned that you, Mrs. Granger, would blame Harry, and by extension herself, for Hermione's magic."
"Pfft," Carol shook her head. "For one thing, Hermione did what we now know is magic before we moved to this neighbourhood, so we know it's not something she learned from Harry. And unlike Petunia Dursley, I'm not prejudiced against magic or people who can perform it. We're quite looking forward to when Hermione is old enough to be allowed to show us the things she's learned. I'm sure you must be horribly busy, if you would prefer not to accompany us to Diagon Alley, I'm sure Harry's elves would be glad to help up out. I know they could get us there and back easily enough and shrink the packages for us to carry more easily. Have you got the equipment lists?"
Minerva handed them over. "I must say, this has certainly been one of the quickest and easiest muggleborn visits I've done. However, we do have one other thing to discuss with you before we leave. Albus?" she prompted the old man.
"Ah – yes, Minerva," Dumbledore said, looking highly uncomfortable. "I, ah, wondered if, in any of your interactions with the elves, if they had ever mentioned anything about bonds or bonding with you when they spoke with you?"
Harry shook his head with a grin. "No, but then again, Hermione and I never asked about anything like that. We wanted books about etiquette and laws and things first. Don't want to upset the children of the former Death Eaters right away, after all."
"So you've never spoken of bonding or marriage or anything like that?" Dumbledore persisted.
Hermione grinned. "Not with the elves, but I think I've always known Harry and I would get married someday. Well, we did 'get married' right after Prince Andrew did, back when we were six," she reminisced, doing finger quotes as she referred to their little garden ritual. "Mum's got pictures. We were so cute! Mum, show Professor Dumbledore the pictures of that little wedding we had out back."
Dumbledore looked stricken at Hermione's words and dropped into the closest chair. This could be dreadful! As Carol returned with the photo album, he steeled himself and said, "You know, it's not unheard of for magical children to form close bonds with one another. Usually this won't happen until their later teens, but on some occasions, it will happen earlier. I have reason to believe that in the case of you two, it has."
"What exactly does this bonding entail?" Carol asked, holding out the photo album open to the pictures of little Harry and Hermione in all their finery, standing before Rizzy. The camera had successfully captured the glow that had surrounded the young couple on that day.
Dumbledore actually clutched his chest when he saw the picture. "I'm afraid it means that these children have been married for several years now. Magic itself married them. Their names have appeared in the Hall of Records in the Ministry of Magic."
Carol raised a brow. "They're not old enough to marry legally, although they've certainly made it clear that they intend to marry as soon as they can."
"No, no, you don't understand! They. Are. married. Married by magic, recorded as married in the Hall of Records," Dumbledore reiterated. "In the magical world, they've been married for years! This is… oh dear Merlin, the goblins!" With that last cryptic sentence, Dumbledore apparated out with a loud pop, leaving a bewildered Professor McGonagall to face an increasingly annoyed Carol Granger and two excited kids.
"Please explain to me exactly how these two can be married when they are several years too young to marry legally in Scotland, let alone in England, not to mention what in the name of sanity do goblins have to do with anything," Carol requested in the flat tone that suggested she was keeping herself calm through sheer force of will.
Professor McGonagall sighed, a thickening of her Scots accent betraying her discomfort with the situation Albus dumped into her lap. "Weel, to start, ye understand that while the Wizarding World reports to the Prime Minister and Crown, for the most part, 'tis a separate entity from the world ye live in. Laws that changed in yer world haven't changed in ours, or sometimes laws in our world are there to cover situations ye'll ne'er face in yer world. This is one. A bonding, that's magic's way of saying there's no one in the entire world as would be a better match for your lass than yon laddie. Such bonds dinna happen between muggles, so ye haven't a law to deal wi' them. In the case of bondings, because they're so unusual, the couple are considered married as soon as the bond forms. This also invalidates any prior betrothal contracts or even engagements. Each bond is different, of course, but from what I know of bonds in general, if they're going to happen, they'll happen when the two in question share a kiss after there's been talk of marriage. That glow ye photographed is the visible evidence of the bond settlin' in."
Harry and Hermione listened quietly, not at all disturbed at the thought of already being married. Carol wasn't quite so calm. "So you're telling me that the law I've known all my life is irrelevant because Hermione is a witch? What if her father and I refuse to allow her to attend your school, what then?"
"Ye canna refuse," Professor McGonagall said softly. "Hermione is listed as a Potter now in magical records. Legally, in our world, 'tis Harry that has final say, as he is magical and ye are not. I dinna know for certain, but I believe the law emancipates them. And before ye ask, I again dinna know for sure but I suspect that's what flung Albus into such a tizzy about the goblins. I do know he put a mail ward on Harry when he gave him into his aunt's custody. As the Dursleys dinna like magic, they can pretend it doesna exist if there's naught to call it to their attention. Wizards send mail by means of owls, and Harry is a well-known figure in our world. It's part of why he was sent to his relatives, to keep him from falling prey to the lure of his fame. However, if the mail ward Albus put on Harry kept him from being inundated with fan mail as a small child, it sounds as though it also prevented the goblins from reachin' him wi' his financial statements. They'll not be best pleased, as he's one of their top five depositors." She sniffed, adding, "The goblins might be upset wi' Harry for 'ignoring' their correspondence, or they might be more correctly blaming Albus for overstepping his authority. 'Tis most likely why he rushed out of here as he did."
"What happens if the Grangers try to keep Hermione from Hogwarts?" Harry wanted to know.
"If she were not bonded to you, her magic would be bound and she and her parents obliviated of the knowledge of magic," Professor McGonagall said. "That's because of the Statute of Secrecy, of course, to make sure there aren't any slips. Given the bonding, though, and yer position in our world – I dinna like to say it, but 'tis nae out of the question that the Ministry might take custody of the lass and make her parents believe she died somehow." She held up a hand before Carol could protest. "Mind, I'm not saying I agree with them doing anything of the sort. However, from what little is known about soul bonds, it can be painful on the bonded to be separated fer any length of time. I'm sure the children have been sleeping in their respective houses, but have constantly been together otherwise, am I correct? School, playtime and anything else?"
Shaken, Carol nodded. "Yes. They've even slept over here or at the Dursleys on occasion, even though it's considered unusual to allow friends of opposite genders stay overnight together."
Professor McGonagall nodded. "Aye, such a thing is even less accepted in the wizarding world, yet it would be encouraged for a young bonded pair. The very idea of the two halves of a bonded pair being kept apart for more than a day would be anathema to us. I'm sure yer concerned with the future as weel, given yer lass is as clever as I've seen. Harry's mother was much like yer daughter, a witch born to those wi'out magic, and I recall her saying how we were, and I quote, 'behind the times' and needed to stop thinking a witch had to choose between a career and marriage. It may be that yer lass will be one to change that thinking, as I once thought Harry's mum would do, before she was killed. I dinna see Harry as the sort of lad to insist on his lady staying home wi' the bairns, if she wanted to do more wi' her life."
"Of course I wouldn't insist Hermione stay home," Harry said. "What can I do to keep the Ministry from taking Hermione away from her parents? I like Mr. and Mrs. Granger too; they've been much nicer parents to me than Petunia and Vernon Dursley ever have. I don't want them made to forget us, and that's what would happen, right? If they were made to forget Hermione, they'd forget me too."
"Aye," Professor McGonagall said with a sigh. "Wizards can be – bigoted, as yer elves must have mentioned, else ye'd no asked for books on manners. Some bigotry is obvious, but worse is that some bigots wouldnae believe ye, were ye to tell them they were being so. The obvious bigots, they spout their nonsense that purebloods – the longer the family line, the better – are superior to all others. Then the short-line purebloods, then the halfbloods whose parents were all magical, then halfbloods wi' a muggle parent, then muggleborn, and finally muggles. Unpleasant to be sure, and not above bribery to get laws passed that favour themselves, but at least ye can see them for what they are. Most of the rest, and I canna swear I'm no guilty of it myself by times, have the habit of thinking of muggles as clever children – yet most of them ne'er met a muggle in their lives. They think the Muggle Studies class at Hogwarts teaches all they'll need to know about muggles, yet I'm aware from my visits to invite the muggleborn to Hogwarts, just how much ye've done wi'out magic. And that some of what ye've done surpasses what we do for the same task. Telly-fones, as an example: wizards talk to friends over distances by tossing a special powder in the fire, then sticking their heads in the flames when they turn green, while calling out the name of the hearth they're trying to reach. Ye pick up half of a contraption nae much bigger than yer hand, push a few buttons, and talk. Granted, ye canna see the person yer talking to, but yer also seated comfortably rather than being on yer knees wi' yer head in a fire."
Carol sighed. "Okay, so it seems the only way to avoid losing both my daughter and my memories is to accept this… this magical marriage, and to give permission for Hermione to attend Hogwarts. I assume there's no way of hiding it, particularly from Hermione's father? He's going to be even more upset than I was, to learn that the kids really did get married that day."
Harry grinned. "I can always remind him that he gave his permission," he said. All three females turned to look at him. "What? I really did. I'd asked my aunt about weddings and told her I wanted to marry Hermione, and she said to make sure her father didn't object."
Hermione giggled as she remembered. "Oh yeah, you asked me to marry you and then after I said yes, you said you were supposed to ask Dad's permission. Of course, Dad thought it was adorable and said it was fine as long as he and Mum got invited. So he really did give his permission!"
"How will this be handled at school?" Carol wanted to know.
"Hogwarts has quarters for married students, although they've fallen mostly out of use since around 1920. Younger marriages were relatively common back then, especially amongst young muggleborn wizards, who were facing conscription to go fight in that Great War that was going on at the time. Their parents were urging them to marry their sweethearts in their final year of schooling in hopes that they'd father a child before being taken away to fight," Professor McGonagall explained. "And of course, there have been a few wand-point weddings over the years where the witch in question wanted to complete the school year with her peers. I realise these two are a good deal younger than that, but I feel it's best if we simply started them off where they would eventually end up anyway. Their yearmates would be used to the idea that they've got their own quarters away from the house dorms and it won't seem like they're suddenly being given… opportunities… that the rest of the student body is not. That is my hope, anyway, as I would really prefer not to have any wand-point weddings in the next seven years. Giving them married quarters will also let them spend a significant amount of time together even if they're sorted into different houses and therefore don't have all their classes together. The one thing I will say is somewhat lacking at Hogwarts is a place where friends and siblings in different houses can spend time together socially. I've pushed for an all-house common room of some sort for years, but a fair portion of the staff and the majority of the board of governors feel it would simply provide more chances for inter-house bullying – that it would only make the rivalries between the houses worse."
Hermione started to laugh again. "Looks like we get to live together before we're sixteen after all, Harry! Remember that tale Mum had to tell us, that marred people by law couldn't live together until they were sixteen? Guess we won't have to wait that long after all!" Her laughter rang all the more merrily for seeing the blush on Harry's face.
At that point, a glowing silvery-white billy goat galloped into the Granger's kitchen. As Carol, Hermione, and Harry stared at it in shock, it opened its mouth and spoke in Headmaster Dumbledore's voice. "Ah, Minerva, my dear. I seem to have run into a spot of trouble at Gringotts and I need for you to bring young Lord and Lady Potter to the bank as quickly as possible. Thank you." The ghostly image faded out once it delivered its message.
"What was that?" Carol asked, one hand on her chest and her eyes wide.
"A messenger patronus," Professor McGonagall said. "The patronus charm is a powerful protection against a couple of the nastiest creatures that exist, and it can also be used to send brief messages. It takes a fair bit of power to cast, though, and many witches and wizards never master it. Have I yer permission to bring the children to Gringotts to resolve this 'spot of trouble' Albus hae gotten himself into? Yer welcome ta join us and at least see this magical new world yer daughter is becoming a part of."
"You know, I think I'd like that. Harry, phone your aunt and tell her we're taking you to London. And I'm going to leave a note for Rob, in case we're not back when he gets home from the practice," Carol said, rising and grabbing a pen and a slip of paper from a magnetic holder on the fridge. She jotted the note quickly and stuck it under another magnet, then grabbed her purse. "Shall we go? How are we getting there?"
Harry, who'd darted across the kitchen to make his phone call, dashed back to the group in time to hear the professor's reply.
"We'll be taking the Knight Bus," Professor McGonagall said. "I hope none of you are inclined to motion sickness. It's a rather rough ride, but there are too many in our group for me to side-along apparate and Albus requested us to come quickly so there isn't time for you to drive us, Mrs. Granger, otherwise I would suggest that option. We just need to go out to the side of the road so that I can call for it."
They exited the house and watched as the professor stepped to the kerb and stuck her arm out, holding her wand straight up, almost as if she was hitchhiking using her wand in place of her thumb. With a loud bang! a purple triple-decker bus flashed into being on the road beside her. The door opened and a gangly youth with a spotty face and crooked bow tie hopped out. "Welcome ter the Knight Bus, emergency transport fer the stranded wizard or witch! Oh, Perfesser McGonagall, lookit, I did get the job!"
"And you won't have it long, if you stop to chat with everyone we pick up," grumbled the driver, a wizened old fellow wearing glasses. "Kids these days…"
"Ya, mon," agreed a shrunken head hanging next to the driver.
"Four to Diagon Alley, Mr. Shunpike," Professor McGonagall said. "No need for drinks." She passed him a number of gold and silver coins and got her group aboard, pointing them towards the easy chairs filling the bus. "Sit down and hold on tightly," she cautioned them.
Bang! The bus leapt forward, moving at an incredible speed. Every so often it would stop or change direction, each time with a bang! and a suddenness that sent the chairs sliding around the interior of the bus.
Harry laughed. "This is almost as good as the dodgems!" he called to Hermione, whose chair had just slid from beside his across the bus and crashed into her mother's. The next change of direction flung her back against his once more, while Professor McGonagall slid into the wall.
One more bang! and the bus door opened as it came to a halt. The spotty-faced youth called out, "Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron!"
Mrs. Granger was the first one off the bus, followed sedately by Professor McGonagall and then by the excitedly grinning children. Carol shook her head ruefully. "Please tell me we can travel home by normal means? That was, well, I think calling it a rough ride was a bit of an understatement."
Minerva gave her a sympathetic smile. "I suppose that depends on if we do the children's school shopping today or not," she said. "It might be a bit awkward for you three to haul two large school trunks to the nearest train station, even assuming that one will get you where you want to go."
Practical Hermione had a solution. "Mum, you could always find a pay phone and call Dad to come fetch us. We're on Charing Cross Road, there's bound to be a working one nearby. We can find somewhere close to here that we can wait, since we know it'll take him at least an hour and that only if there aren't any traffic jams along the way."
"Perhaps we can decide the best course of action once we find out what we're needed for at Gringotts?" Professor McGonagall suggested. "Depending on what they want, it might be that there won't be time to shop today, or at least, the shopping time would be quite minimal. In that case, I would suggest buying the children's wands today so that they can open the passage into Diagon Alley and then you can return at a later time for everything else. Mrs. Granger, you likely won't be able to see the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron unless you're holding hands with one of the children. We have to go through there to enter the Alley."
Carol took both kids' hands in hers and gasped as a shabby little pub bearing a sign of a cauldron with green fluid dripping from a crack in it suddenly seemed to squeeze itself in between a record store and a used book shop.
Professor McGonagall ushered the group through the tavern and into the brick-walled courtyard where the bins were kept. Counting up and over from the right-hand bin, she tapped a particular brick with her wand, and the wall shivered wiggled, and the bricks folded themselves into an archway leading to a narrow street lined with shops that looked like something out of a Tudor village with the addition of Victorian gas-lamps lining the street. One modern-looking building, of white marble, towered over the rest of the structures in the Alley. "That big white building is where we're headed; that's Gringotts. Try not to stare when you first see the goblins, as they can be rather touchy."
Moving through Diagon Alley, they caught tantalising glimpses of shop windows filled with strange plants, oddly shaped bottles, and assorted other paraphernalia. Odd smells wafted from an apothecary, along with a snatch of conversation about the cost of dragon liver. A few moments later, they ascended the marble steps of Gringotts and entered the bank. Harry, Hermione, and Carol tried not to stare as Professor McGonagall stepped up to the counter. "I believe we're expected by whoever was meeting with Albus Dumbledore, she said briskly.
The goblin teller nodded. "One moment." He turned to the wall behind him, pushed a button, and said something in a harsh-sounding language. The button glowed as a different voice issued forth. The teller nodded. "Gripaxe, bring these people to conference room A," he said to a nearby, younger-looking goblin.
"Come," Gripaxe told the group. He led them down a tunnel and into a small chamber. Another trio of goblins sat there watching Albus Dumbledore, who was bound to his chair. Several other chairs were arranged around a table with a pair of stone boxes sitting on the table.
"Thank you, Gripaxe," Harry and Hermione chorused.
The apparent leader of the trio around Professor Dumbledore looked at the pair in surprise, as did Gripaxe himself. The goblin leader studied them for a moment and nodded. "Lord and Lady Potter, now that you're here, we can determine the extent of this one's malfeasance. He's admitted to illegally blocking your mail, but we need to know what else he might have done before we decide on his punishment."
"Yes, sir," Harry said, noting that Professor McGonagall's lips had nearly vanished as she pressed them tightly together in annoyance directed at the headmaster.
The goblin leader gave a harsh chuckle. "Call me Glaivestrike," he said. "We at Gringotts need to confirm your identities first thing. This is just a formality, you understand, as you're the only wish-bonded couple anyone knows of. To do so, please stick your right forefinger into the hole at the front of the box; it will draw a few drops of blood, but it is regretfully necessary."
The two children walked over to the boxes and poked their fingers into the holes as instructed, wincing slightly at the needle-stick but giggling as their fingers were pushed out of the opening once the box had absorbed the needed amount of blood. After about three minutes, Hermione's box popped open, Harry's following a minute or so later.
Hermione looked into the box and then pulled out a sheet of parchment. It bore her name, her parents' names, and her husband's name, confirming the date of the bonding as 1 August 1986. Next it showed a portion of family tree, identifying her as the direct-line heir of the Dagworth-Granger family. It also gave a list of magical affinities (arithmancy, potions, healing, animagus ability) and at the bottom, noted an inherited tendency to osteoarthritis after the age of seventy or so.
Carol looked over her daughter's parchment and chuckled a little. "I guess it's good you decided you didn't like skiing?" she half-asked, half stated. "Breaking something on the slopes would just worsen the chances of arthritis."
"I'm more interested in the family tree," Hermione said. "It looks as if Daddy comes from magical people who lost their magic at some point."
"Hector Dagworth-Granger founded the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers," Professor McGonagall explained. "It was thought his line died out a few generations ago, but it is quite possible that a child or grandchild of his was a squib, that is to say, a non-magical person born to a wizarding family. They most often end up moving to the muggle world and are rarely heard from again, at least by wizards. If you were to have a full heritage test done, it's quite possible that your mother is also descended from a squib, only in her case, not from anyone who was in a position to head a family. As it is, the Dagworth-Granger family is, like most in the wizarding world, patriarchal, meaning that a female can be regent but not head of the family. That position would fall to your son, should you have one in the future."
Hermione blushed but grinned at that thought. "I'd better have at least two, since I've got the Dagworth-Granger line to pass along and there's the Potter line to consider as well."
Meanwhile Harry had pulled out his own parchment and looked it over. "According to this, I'm Lord Potter-Peverell since our bonding emancipated me," he said. "I'm also Heir Black through my godfather, the presumptive Lord Black…" he scanned further along the parchment, "… yes, Sirius Black, godfather by ritual and blood-adopted by him as well. How come he's the presumptive Lord Black, not Lord Black? Wouldn't he be Heir Black if his father or whoever was still alive?"
Dumbledore paled and made a sound of distress.
"Sirius Black is in Azkaban Prison for betraying your parents," Professor McGonagall said. "He's the one who led… but wait, he couldn't have, not if he undertook the Godparent Ritual." She looked puzzled as she added, "The Ritual should have killed him, for bringing harm to you. Yet he was convicted…"
"Actually, he wasn't," Glaivestrike said dryly. Our records indicate he never had a trial. Isn't that right, Chief Warlock Dumbledore?"
"Erm… it was awfully busy at the time, I couldn't say for certain…" Dumbledore mumbled, trailing off at the scathing look his deputy directed at him.
"What else have you got, Harry?" Hermione asked. "We can find out after we're done here, who to see to get your godfather a proper trial and all that. You'll not want him left in prison if he's likely innocent."
Harry looked at his magical affinities. "I'm supposed to be good with runes, potions, warding, defense, and animagus ability. I'm also a parseltongue, whatever that means. I have an inherited problem with my eyesight, that's supposed to be correctable with a potion, but I can't take it until after I'm twenty-one so that both my eyes and my magic will be stable enough to handle the corrective changes. I've also got something called a soul leech in my scar." He looked around at the adults and goblins for an explanation.
Glaivestrike spat something in his native language and punched Dumbledore in the nose. "You dared leave a child with a soul leech in his head? Left him with muggles, no less?" He turned to Harry and said, "Gringotts would be pleased to remove the leech from you, at no cost to yourself. This…" he once again spat something in the goblin tongue, "will be the one to pay, from his own personal vault. And if what I now suspect turns out to be true, he will be barred from Gringotts for the next ten years. Either that, or he can shovel up after our dragons for five."
Dumbledore, now liberally spattered with blood from his freshly broken nose, just nodded feebly. "But the prophecy," he muttered. "I thought I knew what it meant and tried to make sure it all would work out properly. Was I wrong?" Everything he'd worked for was gone. He closed his eyes, a defeated expression on his face.
Glaivestrike turned to Professor McGonagall, "You, Professor, have always been quite professional in all of your dealings with Gringotts. We would welcome your continued patronage, both for yourself and on behalf of Hogwarts."
"Thank you," she replied.
He looked back at Harry, Hermione, and Carol. "My apologies for ignoring you. We goblins are quite protective of our children, as we have a much more difficult time reproducing than wizards or muggles. The very idea that this… person… left you, Lord Potter, as a small child with that abomination in your head, well! If you will accompany Gripaxe to the healers, we can get that taken care of within the hour. We have a comfortable waiting area where your good lady and her mother can relax while waiting for you to return."
Harry nodded. "Yes, sir, but before I go, what is a soul leech, anyway? I haven't seen any mention of them in my reading."
"Nor should you have, young milord," Glaivestrike replied soberly. "Among the goblins, there is but one Forbidden Magic: the splitting of the soul in order to create a soul anchor. Without going into detail, the soul is split by the murder of an innocent, and the resulting soul piece placed in a receptacle by means of a ritual. A soul leech results when the soul is split but the ritual does not occur for some reason, the soul piece simply latches onto the nearest living magical being. It is fairly easy to remove the leech, which can then be used to locate any other soul anchors that might exist. If any are found, we will, of course, destroy them."
"Oh, okay, then. Let's go get this thing out of me," Harry said with a nod. He turned and hugged Hermione, giving her a small, swift peck on the lips. "For luck," he said as he followed Gripaxe deeper into the goblin catacombs.
He soon found himself in a space which resembled a 1940s hospital ward but for the walls of undressed stone. Several goblins chattered in their own language, seeming both concerned for him and angry that he was only just now being treated. One had him lay down on a bed, then placed hands over his eyes and muttered something and he knew no more.
When he woke up again, Hermione was holding his hand and smiling. "Your scar is almost completely gone," she said. "Oh, and Professor McGonagall went to get Daddy and we're all going to stay at the Leaky Cauldron tonight and do our shopping tomorrow."
"Sounds good to me," Harry said. "When can I get out of here?"
"After your exam, to make sure everything's healed well," Hermione said. "It shouldn't be much longer."
Sure enough, the healer bustled over a few minutes later and released Harry. Gripaxe escorted him, Hermione, and Carol back up to the main floor of the bank. The two children were given pouches of coins as well as self-updating ledger books, two for Harry and one for Hermione. "If you'll come back tomorrow at five in the afternoon, we'll have your family rings ready for you, and we will also bring in a solicitor to discuss a few legal issues including this prophecy Dumbledore mentioned as well as Sirius Black's situation and how best to rectify it," he said.
They thanked him for his assistance and headed back out to Diagon Alley.
Arriving at the Leaky Cauldron, they met with a worn-looking Professor McGonagall and a frustrated-looking Robert Granger in one of the Cauldron's private rooms. Carol just dropped into a seat beside her husband and buried her head in his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around her before looking at the two children. "You know you're not old enough to marry," he said.
"Daddy," Hermione said in the tones of a pre-teen girl certain that her parent is being unreasonable, "I know we're not old enough to marry in the muggle world, but we're already married in the magical world. It doesn't change our relationship any, it just means that to anyone magical, I'm Lady Potter instead of Miss Granger. If some of what we've learned about the way muggleborns are treated is true, it's probably a good thing. Oh, did you know that you're descended from wizards? When we were at Gringotts, they did a test to check our identities and it turns out I'm the heir to a prominent family that was thought to have died out. Look at this." She pulled out her parchment and pointed to the partial family tree.
Rob looked at the tree but flinched when he noticed the parchment called her Hermione Potter nee Granger, bonded 1 August 1986. "That's great, Princess, but I don't see how you can sit there and say being married doesn't change your relationship with Harry. Marriage brings responsibilities, responsibilities that neither of you are ready for, I don't care how mature you both are or how much help you'll have from the elves."
Harry decided to speak up. "Sir, when I was six, I asked you for Hermione's hand and you granted it. I didn't know then that we'd bond that day, but I can't say that I'm sorry we did. Hermione is right when she says nothing will change in our relationship, at least not anytime soon. I have every intention of giving her a proper wedding that her whole extended family can attend, once we're old enough to do so in the muggle world. And if it will make you feel any better, I promise we won't make you a grandfather before we're out of school." He blushed as he said this, but his expression remained steady and sincere.
"How can you be so sure of that, when this… this person," Rob gestured towards Professor McGonagall, "wants to give you private rooms at Hogwarts?"
"Honestly, Daddy!" Hermione looked offended as well as embarrassed. "We're not yet old enough for sex and won't be any time soon. The whole point of private quarters is that we are married by wizarding standards, so it's expected of us to live together. And more to the point, if our classmates are used to us not being in the dorms from the start, they won't see us being given private quarters when we are old enough to consider, uh, being intimate as us getting permission to be intimate when the rest of them aren't getting that same permission."
Rob turned beet red. "Hermione! Are you seriously sitting here announcing to the world that you're planning on having sex with Harry?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "No, Daddy, but it's not as though you haven't known forever that Harry and I planned to get married when we grow up. So, magic made it happen a little – okay, a lot earlier than we'd planned. We're still not going to have sex any sooner than we would if we weren't married; the only difference will be that we won't be sneaking about, doing it in the back seat of a car somewhere hoping not to get caught, and I won't ever have to worry that Harry's interest in me is solely to try to get into my knickers." She took a deep breath and blew it out again, trying to get a rein on her temper. "Look, I know this is hard to take. I've heard you say more than once that your worst fear as the father of a daughter is that she'll meet a boy like you were when you were seventeen. But you've known Harry for five years now; is he that boy?"
"No," Rob admitted grudgingly. "He's not. I wouldn't have let you two have sleepovers if I thought he was. But my daughter is supposed to be a virgin even when she's fifty, celebrating her thirtieth anniversary, and wondering when her kids are going to give her grandchildren; it's a father thing and I refuse to acknowledge anything different."
"Sir, you've known me for years and you know I've been in your dentist chair," Harry said, trying to lighten the mood a little further. "Given that I know exactly what you could do to hurt me, do you really think I would push Hermione into anything that might make her unhappy?"
Rob's lips actually twitched at that, as if he might have grinned if they were discussing anyone else but his daughter. "Well, no."
"Are you going to keep arguing and making poor Professor McGonagall uncomfortable, or will you at least try to accept the situation the way Mum has?" Hermione asked.
"I guess I have to learn to deal with it," Rob sighed. "Professor McGonagall, I apologise for my attitude since you came to get me and explain the situation. You didn't cause the issue after all, and I've always taught Hermione that one shouldn't shoot the messenger that delivers unwelcome news. Please forgive me for metaphorically doing just that to you."
The professor nodded. "I canna blame ye for being upset by the news. I may not have bairns of my own, but as head of Gryffindor House at Hogwarts, I stand in loco parentis for plenty of students and so I've been on the receiving end of unwelcome news about my charges enough times to understand how it feels. And then, I like as not have to be the one to break said unwelcome news to the parents besides."
Carol lifted her head from Rob's shoulder, her expression suggesting that she had been less in need of his comfort as she had been keeping just enough of his attention on her to prevent him from doing anything like grabbing Hermione and physically dragging her away. "Now that we've come to that much of an agreement, can we order dinner and see about our rooms for the night?"
Professor McGonagall showed them how to order a meal sent up from the menu on the table, but said they'd have to go to the common room for breakfast as menu ordering required a wand and due to the events of the day, they hadn't had time to go to Ollivander's for the children's wands. She also made sure they all had their room keys before taking the floo back to her office in Hogwarts. The Grangers and Harry weren't sure whether to laugh or be impressed that wizards could travel through fireplaces connected to a network.
Tom let them into the Alley after they ate the following morning, and they quickly purchased the uniforms, potions supplies, and three-compartment trunks with full security features. Harry called for Rizzy, who popped in to accompany them and shrink the packages, and who also suggested that he and Hermione pick up some non-uniform robes, pointing out that the school uniform wouldn't be required on weekends and that they might want the option to choose between wizarding robes and muggle clothing depending on the weather and the occasion. Rizzy also suggested the Granger parents buy robes as well, so as not to stand out as obvious muggles while in the Alley and reduce the chances of being accosted unpleasantly by the more bigoted denizens of the wizarding world.
They decided to purchase their telescopes and stands in muggle London after failing to be impressed by the quality of the wizarding equipment. The owner of Starry Eyes, the shop which sold astronomical instruments, seemed disbelieving that muggle-made telescopes could possibly be better than his offerings, but agreed to look at whatever the Grangers brought in later on, and he would place anti-smudge charms on the optics as well as the spell that allowed wizarding telescopes to see the stars even on cloudy nights, for a small charge, of course. They paused for a quick lunch at a small tea shop before setting out to complete their shopping trip.
At Ollivander's, Hermione took about half an hour to find a compatible wand, of delicately carved vinewood with a phoenix feather core. Harry took over an hour before finding a holly wand, also with a phoenix feather core, and then had to listen to the creepy old man muse about the odd coincidence that the other wand bearing a feather from the same phoenix was the wand to give him his scar. They split up to handle the shopping at Flourish and Blotts; knowing that both children loved to read and learn, the Grangers took charge of collecting the required textbooks, while Harry and Hermione toured through the store searching for books that piqued their interest. As they had been aware of the wizarding world for years, they didn't need the usual muggleborn orientation guide, but Rizzy did point them to a potions supplemental text that contained guides to various preparation methods and why they made a difference to the final result, reasons for stirring in one direction over another, and a chart of ingredient interactions.
When they returned to Gringotts, Gripaxe escorted them directly into Glaivestrike's office. Rob looked a little intimidated by the goblin guards with their spears standing by the doorway and decided that perhaps he should let Carol do the talking, as she'd dealt with these beings once already. Glaivestrike got right to business, although he addressed himself primarily to Harry.
"As horrible as it may be to contemplate, Lord Potter, we traced five soul anchors using the leech removed from your head. One is actually stored within our vaults!" Glaivestrike looked furious at that, which Harry considered understandable. "As the owners of the vault in question were properly sentenced to Azkaban for life, Sirius Black currently has legal control of the vaults. As his heir, Lord Potter, will you grant permission for us to recover this abomination from the vault in which it is stored?"
"Absolutely," Harry said, nodding. "Where are the others, were you able to find out?"
"One appears to be hidden within Hogwarts, so we will be sending a team there as soon as the school year is over next week. It's apparently been there for some years now without harming anyone, so we feel it's preferable to wait another few days before going to hunt it out. It's presumably somewhere the children can't find it, but whatever protections are on it may harm anyone in the vicinity when we try to eliminate it, so better the children are gone from the school altogether before we attempt to find and destroy that one. Another has been traced to an area near Little Hangleton, which appears to be more or less deserted; we'll be sending a curse-breaking team within the next twenty-four hours. The final two are harder to pin down, as they appear to be in private homes with non-standard wards. I can say that one seems to be here in London or very close to London, while the other is somewhere around Wiltshire."
Harry nodded, then asked, "Will you be able to get at those two?"
"Not by ourselves," Glaivestrike said. "However, once we've retrieved and destroyed the one within our vaults, we can send a solicitor to Madam Bones and let her know our findings as well as showing her the destroyed one as proof these vile things exist. She is probably the one member of the Ministry that the Goblin Nation trusts unreservedly, as she is well known for adhering to the law and refusing all bribery attempts. In fact, we highly recommend that you and your solicitor go directly to her over the matter of Lord Black, as we believe she's the only person in the current government who will listen and give you a fair hearing."
"I'll keep that in mind," Harry said. "What about this prophecy thing I heard Dumbledore mention?"
"Prophecies are recorded in the Department of Mysteries, you'll have to speak with your solicitor or perhaps with Madam Bones to find out more information about them or how to hear them," the goblin said. "Speaking of solicitors, once we're finished here, I'm sending you to one of the main-floor meeting rooms to speak with Solicitor Lawrence Fine, a partner in our preferred firm of Howard, Fine, and Howard, to go over what little information we have regarding the Black case." He opened a drawer in his desk, withdrawing several ring boxes. "Lady Potter, the Dagworth-Granger regent's ring is yours," he said, passing the box over to Hermione. It should be worn on the middle finger of your right hand."
"Thank you," Hermione said, sliding the ring onto the proper finger. It flashed blue for a moment and resized itself to fit perfectly.
"Lord Potter, these two both go on the middle finger of the right hand," Glaivestrike said, "Potter ring first, then Peverell. It's actually the Peverell regent's ring, but the head's ring has been missing for decades. The Black heir ring goes on the right-hand ring finger."
Harry slid the two rings onto his middle finger, blinking when they flashed silver and deep purple respectively before resizing and merging together on his hand. The Black heir ring gave a green flash as it resized. "Were the two rings supposed to merge?" he asked.
Glaivestrike gave a small smile; as well-informed as these two children were, they still showed their muggle background on occasion. "That's common when one is head of more than one House. If you have House specific business for one or the other, you simply will the ring to show whichever House is doing the business at that moment. But for general purposes, such as when you're dealing with members of the Wizengamot, the merged ring identifies you as the Head of both Houses without weighting your hand down unnecessarily. Should you become Lord Black as well in the future, the Black Head-of-House ring will also go on your middle finger and merge with the other two. Now, I've also taken the liberty of bringing out a set of Potter ancestral wedding rings, as they are imbued with protections against compulsions, legilimancy, and confundus curses, as well as having potion detection charms on them. Particularly given your youth, I highly suggest you and Lady Potter wear them."
Rob closed his eyes with a sigh as Harry slipped the ring onto Hermione's finger and she returned the favour. It's for her protection, he reminded himself. It's for her protection. Carol actually looked on with some approval, liking the idea of protection for her daughter even if it was in the form of a wedding ring.
Harry looked at Glaivestrike with a smile. "Is there anything else we ought to think about before meeting Solicitor Fine?" he asked.
"You both might consider enrolling in our secure mail service," Glaivestrike replied. "All mail sent to you, save with your personal post owl, will be redirected to Gringotts, where it will be screened for any spells, curses, or harmful contents before being sent along to you. While Dumbledore handled things poorly with regards to the mail wards he placed on you when he left you with your relatives, he wasn't entirely wrong in doing so. You are famous, and fame always attracts a certain amount of attention, for good or for ill. I'm sure you've heard of fans of musicians or sports stars in the muggle world sending invitations to private meetings, or even seductive photographs in an attempt to entice the object of their adoration? Now picture that mail being enchanted to make the recipient attend that meeting and do whatever the fan wished. Or worse, someone who hates the famous person sending a gift such as a plush toy with a bomb hidden inside."
Rob blanched at the thought. "Sign up for it, the both of you," he said. "This… bonding… is going to become public knowledge by the time you're settled in at Hogwarts, if it doesn't come out sooner. If Harry really is as famous as everyone says, it's a sure thing the nutters will come out of the woodwork once he's seen around, and as his… his wife," he choked a little on the word, "you, Hermione, will come in for a share of it. Especially hate mail from girls and women who might have hoped to land him for themselves."
Harry nodded his agreement. "Yes, please sign us up for the service," he said. "Fan mail will be hard enough to deal with. I sure don't want to deal with hate mail and worse."
"Me either," Hermione agreed.
The pair filled out some parchmentwork for the service, and when Gripaxe came to escort them to the meeting with the solicitor, he brought a pair of lightweight metal boxes about the size and shape of cigar boxes. A moonstone mounted on the top of each box would glow when mail was waiting and would flash if anything waiting had been deemed urgent. Cursed mail, anything containing potions or other harmful substances, and howlers would be destroyed. Satisfied with the arrangements, they tucked the boxes into Carol's handbag and followed Gripaxe up to meet with Solicitor Fine.
That meeting went fairly quickly, as they gave him what little information they had regarding Sirius Black's status as prisoner who'd never been convicted. They gave him a copy of Harry's identification parchment which listed him as Harry's godfather by ritual and parent by blood adoption. They also inquired about setting up an appointment at the Ministry to find out more about the prophecy mentioned by Dumbledore, which apparently had some connection to Harry, and Rob brought up a point that none of them had yet thought about: that if Harry's parents had been involved in fighting that wizard terrorist back then, it seemed odd that they didn't have a will on file somewhere, especially as the Potter family seemed to be in the upper echelons of wizard society. Solicitor Fine agreed that seemed strange and would look into it along with the Sirius Black situation. They set up another meeting for the following week, to give him time to investigate everything and headed back to their rooms at the Leaky Cauldron.
Rizzy surprised them by popping in, her expression an odd combination of pleased and worried.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked immediately.
"Little Master's Auntie bes hurted," Rizzy blurted out. "Uncle and Duddees bes hurted too. Little Master's Auntie calls Rizzy and say she hates to bes asking, but will Miss Miney's Mum bes letting Little Master stay at least until theys bes better enough to come back from hossy-petal?"
"Good heavens, of course!" Carol exclaimed. "What happened to the Dursleys, do you know?"
"Theys wented out for dinners," Rizzy said. "Theys called it a boofee place. Rizzy bes hearing neighbours say, Duddees bes eating so much he does whoopsies all over Uncle when Uncle bes driving home, so Uncle bes crashing the car."
Harry and Hermione looked at each other and burst out laughing. "It figures it's Dudley's fault," Harry wheezed. "I know it's not really funny they're hurt, but I can just picture Uncle Vernon's face when Dudley threw up on him, he really hates stuff like that. I bet he freaked out and slammed on the brakes or something, and lost control of the car."
Hermione nodded, still giggling as well.
Even Rob and Carol were grinning. Rob nodded his own agreement. "That sounds likely. Heck, I'd probably do something stupid like jerk the steering wheel if one of you kids threw up on me, just from the startle factor, and I'm not particularly bothered by such things."
"For which I'm profoundly grateful," Carol put in. "It meant I had help with nappies when Hermione was little. I bet Vernon Dursley never changed a nappy in his life.
"Mum!" Hermione protested as she turned bright red.
Rizzy nodded. "Miss Miney's Mum bes right, Uncle never bes changing a nappy. Never even bes in same room when nappies bes getting changed."
Carol chuckled. "Well, Rizzy, you go ahead and tell Petunia we'll be happy to keep Harry for the rest of the summer. We'll go see the Dursleys in hospital once we're back in Little Whinging tomorrow and see if they'd like us to collect their mail and newspapers, so they don't pile up until they get home again. Fortunately, they don't have any pets to worry about caring for."
"Rizzy do, Miss Miney's Mum," the little elf said before popping out again.
By the following week, Harry was comfortably settled in the Grangers' guest room, he and Hermione had obtained telescopes that had the proprietor of Starry Eyes in ecstasy over the clarity of the optics, and read about half of their new textbooks along with the supplemental books for newcomers to the wizarding world. Solicitor Fine sent them a message, asking if he could come to their house for their next meeting, as he'd uncovered some information he didn't want overheard. After checking with Rob and Carol, Harry sent a message back saying he was welcome at any time.
He showed up that very evening, just as they were finishing dinner. "Thank you for having me over," he said, as Carol showed him into the sitting room.
"Thank you for coming out to meet with us," she replied, gesturing him to a comfortable chair and offering a cup of tea.
"I'm beginning to think Professor Dumbledore is growing senile," Solicitor Fine said. "I've looked into the status of Sirius Black, and you and Gringotts were correct in saying he'd never been convicted – he never had a trial, and as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, one of Dumbledore's duties is to oversee all criminal trials. I also learned that he sealed your parents' will, Harry, using his position as Chief Warlock and claiming that since so many of You-Know-Who's followers were still at large, it was safer to place you somewhere they'd not think to look for you rather than to paint a target on whichever family your parents chose to take you in if anything happened to them. I've not only confirmed that there is a prophecy thought to be about you, he's the one who witnessed it, but he refuses to relate it to anyone, saying that you're supposed to enjoy your childhood until You-Know-Who comes back. But then he also says you being bonded ruins everything, because you won't trust him above all others, you'll trust your bondmate more." He paused to take a sip of his tea. "Also, and this is the part I didn't want overheard, at least until you decide what to do about it, he's the one who authorised those Adventures of Harry Potter books, with all of what should be your share of the profits going into his accounts."
Harry shrugged. "I think I agree, he's senile," he said. "I'm more interested in seeing the will and getting my godfather out of prison. As for the books, I'd like them stopped, but I'm not too concerned about the profits I should have been getting. Since I never would've agreed to the books in the first place, I wasn't looking for an income from them, you know?"
"I've set up an appointment tomorrow morning at nine for you to speak with Madam Bones, head of the DMLE, Department of Magical Law Enforcement. You can talk to her about stopping publication of the books, as well as getting your godfather his trial," Fine said. "And if you want to hear the prophecy despite Dumbledore's insistence that you're too young, that can be done while you're there at the Ministry, after you've spoken with Madam Bones."
"Can we all go?" Harry asked. "I mean, of course I want Hermione there, but I'd feel better if her parents were there as well. Can they get into the Ministry even though they're not magical?"
"They can, although I would advise them to dress in robes instead of muggle clothing," Fine said. "No point making it obvious to the bigots that there are a couple of muggles in the Ministry."
Carol gave a rueful chuckle. "I'm glad Rizzy suggested we buy robes then," she said. "I wasn't sure we'd need them, but I guess we will."
Rob sighed as Solicitor Fine nodded. "I feel stupid, wearing robes," he muttered. "Like I'm out in public in my dressing gown."
"Pretend you're in fancy dress for a Renaissance Faire," Hermione suggested to giggles from her mother.
The solicitor looked confused for a moment but shrugged it off as a muggle thing. "The other thing I didn't want overheard, the goblins' curse-breaking team came back from Little Hangleton; they not only found and cleansed another artifact, as they called it, they said it's yours and asked me to bring it to you – the lost Peverell ring. Being emancipated so young, it'll be best if you properly look the part of Lord Potter-Peverell. Rings, formal robes with your family crests, all of that. It won't completely keep people from treating you like a kid, but it will help some."
Harry nodded. "How do we get to the Ministry?" he asked. "I know Hermione's mum didn't like the Knight Bus too well, and I don't think her dad will like it much better." He looked at the rings on his right hand, willing the Peverell regent's ring to appear, and exchanged it for the newly cleansed Peverell Head of House ring. It flashed and merged with his Potter ring.
Solicitor Fine chuckled. "As it happens, I've arranged to come by with a portkey for everyone who is going," he said. "They're not especially comfortable either, but the discomfort will be over in less than a minute, as opposed to as much as half an hour on the Knight Bus."
"What's a portkey?" the ever-inquisitive Hermione wanted to know.
"It's an object enchanted to transport people from one place to another. They can be one-way, round-trip, or reusable; set to activate either at a specific time, by password, or under specific circumstances," the solicitor explained. "We'll be using a round-trip portkey activated by password, which will take us to the Ministry and then back to the original point of activation," Fine explained. "When it's activated, you'll feel a sensation like a hook in your belly pulling you about. When you feel yourself slowing down, try to get your feet under you as if you're walking and you hopefully won't fall when you arrive. That said, nearly everyone falls on arrival the first few times they portkey, so don't feel badly if you do."
Carol gave a rueful grin. "Thanks for the warning," she said. "What time shall we expect you?"
"I prefer to be a little early, in case anything goes awry," Fine said. "Is half past eight agreeable?"
"We'll see you then," Rob said with a smile. "Is there anything else we need to know tonight?"
The solicitor shook his head. "No, I think that covers it all, at least for now. I'm sure there will be more to go over once Sirius Black gets his trial and we get the will unsealed, not to mention hear the prophecy. At the moment, though, we've got to wait for those in a position to do something about those situations, to actually do something." He stood and shook hands all around. "Until tomorrow, then." He vanished with a pop.
The meeting with Madam Bones went better than anticipated. She had known and worked with Sirius Black in the late 1970s and had always found it hard to believe that he'd betrayed the Potters given his close friendship with James. However, she had been in a healing coma in St. Mungo's, still recovering from the Death Eater attack that left herself and her niece Susan the lone surviving members of the Bones family when Sirius was arrested, and busy with adjusting to life with a baby for the first few weeks after she recovered. Like most people, she mistakenly assumed he'd had a trial and been convicted.
Now, seeing evidence that he'd never been tried, she immediately ordered him transferred to a Ministry holding cell and put under the care of a healer. His trial would take place in a week, once some of the physical damage from his incarceration was healed.
Next, they presented the evidence from Gringotts of the horcruxes, stressing that two plus the soul leech had already been destroyed and that they had a fair idea of where to find a third and would be seeking it out and destroying it shortly. She quickly agreed to work with a Gringott's curse-breaking team in order to get at the other two; the curse-breaking team would be able to locate the presence of a horcrux within about a square-mile area, and she and her aurors would have warrants to search any wizarding homes within that area.
She could unseal the Potters' will on her own authority as head of the DMLE, especially as it could possibly be used as evidence for one side or the other in the Black trial. She looked ready to curse Albus Dumbledore herself upon reading that Peter Pettigrew was the Potters' Secret Keeper, that she herself had been on their list of possible guardians for Harry (fifth, behind Sirius, Alice and Frank Longbottom, Selene and Xenophilius Lovegood, and Heather and Malcolm Campbell), and that Harry should be made a ward of the state rather than be put into the custody of Petunia and Vernon Dursley, if all the named guardians were unavailable for whatever reasons.
Hermione had started to tear up at that, until Harry reminded her they wouldn't have met if he hadn't been placed with the Dursleys, so at least some good had come of it.
Robert muttered, "But if they hadn't met, my daughter wouldn't be married right now." Carol elbowed him sharply and he shut up again, looking uncomfortable.
Finally, Madam Bones wrote up a cease-and-desist order for the publishers of the Adventures of Harry Potter books pending an investigation into the legality of the authorisation granting them permission to produce the series. Solicitor Fine took his leave of the group at that point, to deliver the order to the publishers.
After all that, she escorted the group to the Department of Mysteries to collect the prophecy orb. Once Harry pulled the orb marked 'S.P.T. to A.P.W.B.D. Dark Lord and (?) Harry Potter' from the shelf, an Unspeakable appeared and led them to a small chamber where they could listen to the prophecy.
"As it concerns you, Mr. Potter, it is up to you who may stay to hear the prophecy or not," the Unspeakable said. "Once everyone is present whom you wish to be there, tap the orb with your wand to play the recording within." The shrouded figure exited the room and waited just outside the door.
"You all might as well stay," Harry said. "I'd just end up telling you about it afterwards." He took a deep breath and tapped the orb with his wand.
A silvery mist flowed from the orb, forming the figure of a woman dressed in a manner stereotypical of mediums and fortunetellers on police shows – layers of ruffled skirts and shawls, glittery bangles and necklaces, even a colourfully patterned headscarf. Thick glasses made her eyes look huge as she murmured something they couldn't make out in a wispy voice. Suddenly, though, her eyes glazed over and her voice turned from a wispy soprano to a harsh and guttural baritone. "The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies..."
Harry and Hermione looked stunned and clung to one another. "I have to kill or be killed?" he whispered brokenly. "I don't want to die!"
Hermione buried her face in his neck, shaking her head. "I won't let you be killed," she whispered in return.
Of the adults, Madam Bones spoke first. "That's it? A vague description of someone being born at the end of the seventh month being the one fated to end You-Know-Who once and for all? I can see where Harry fits the first part, being born on 31 July, but even then, that's only on the modern calendar. What if it refers to someone born at the end of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar? Or the Chinese calendar?"
"For that matter, how do you know the 'Dark Lord' in question is even this Voldewhosis character? Rob asked. "Honestly, we've seen enough magical history books thanks to the kids' quest for information to know there've been any number of so-called Dark Lords over the years."
"I… you know, that is a good question," Madam Bones admitted. "Divination is a rather wooly subject, and in most cases, it's not obvious who the prophecy is about until after it's been fulfilled. Dumbledore obviously thinks it's Harry or he wouldn't be pushing so hard to bring him to his way of thinking and doing things. I wonder… Merlin, that would be vile, even if he's not the kindly grandfather he likes to pretend he is… but it is possible, as awful as it is to think…"
"What's possible?" Carol asked.
Madam Bones sighed. "Well… you have to understand just how badly off we were, in the months before Halloween 1981," she said. "The Death Eaters had so many people in inside positions, either actual supporters or else people under spells forcing them to do the bidding of the person who cursed them, that they had information on pretty much everyone in the Ministry, including the DMLE. We couldn't get a clue about them, yet they were showing up in our hidden homes to attack us for daring to say that bloodlines didn't matter. People were getting frantic, and I honestly figured the Ministry would fall before the new year. You-Know-Who was, is a terrorist in the truest sense of the word and he wouldn't hesitate to kill a child to prevent that child from becoming a threat. If one of his Death Eaters overheard the prophecy being made, or worse yet, if a desperate Dumbledore told it to someone he suspected of being in league with You-Know-Who…"
"Then he'd target children born at the end of July, in hopes of removing a threat before it became a threat," Rob finished grimly. "And then Harry somehow survived the supposedly un-survivable attack with a scar – 'marked as his equal' in Dumbledore's eyes, I'm sure, and if the old coot suspected anything like the horcrux things we've been told about, he'd know Voldewhosis isn't completely dead yet. Dumbledore got the glory of dealing with the last Dark Lord, that Grinderbald bloke back during the Second World War – I reckon he figures if he can't be the one to save everyone again this time around, he'll get a share of glory if he sets himself up as the mentor of the actual savior."
Madam Bones growled. There was just no other word for the angry sound that issued from her throat. "I'm seriously starting to re-think sending Susan to Hogwarts, if Dumbledore remains in charge," she muttered. "But the worst is, we've got suspicions here, but nothing even solid enough for me to bring the old man in for questioning. Not yet, anyway. I'm hoping Sirius Black's trial turns something up that I can use to question him."
"What are the options besides Hogwarts?" Carol asked. "We've already been told that the kids' bonding emancipates them, and that as Hermione is counted as a Potter by magic, Harry gets the final say over us in terms of education and things like that. We obviously don't want to forego magical education and have our memories tampered with, but I'm also starting to think that Hogwarts with Dumbledore in charge might not be the best idea either. Unfortunately, since Harry wasn't raised in the magical world, he doesn't know any more than we do about what else is available."
"Well, homeschool is always an option, at least for the core subjects," Madam Bones said. "By core subjects, I mean Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, Defense against the Dark Arts, and History of Magic. Most folks count Herbology and Astronomy as core subjects as well, but those are more difficult to manage at home due to the lack of facilities. Of the electives, Arithmancy and Ancient Runes can easily be done homeschool, those two honestly wouldn't need the Muggle Studies course to pass the OWLs and NEWTs if they wanted to, Divination is, in my opinion, worthless unless one is known to have the Sight, and Care of Magical Creatures is nigh-impossible to teach outside of a school setting unless one has connections with a magi-zoologist or someone who works at a magical creatures preserve."
Rob raised a brow. "No classes in English literature or grammar, no sciences aside from astronomy, no non-magical history, no arts or music, no sports, no advanced maths, no foreign languages? What if they want to go on to university in the future? It doesn't sound as though a Hogwarts education will prepare them for GCSEs let alone A-levels. I understand they've got to be trained in magic or have it bound for their safety as well as the secrecy bit, but honestly, it sounds as though Hogwarts doesn't offer half the opportunities of even a council-run secondary school, let alone one of the elite schools. Seriously, twelve courses in total and they're not even expected to take all twelve?
"Homeschool certainly looks more beneficial to me," Carol agreed. "About the only thing missing is organised sports, and there are enough clubs around to cover that as well. For that matter, if we got together with a few other families with magical children, we could split the costs of the tutors and give the kids a wider social circle at the same time. Your Susan would be welcome, if you were serious about reconsidering Hogwarts."
"And if they do go to Hogwarts, we can always see about tutors to keep them up to speed in their non-magical subjects, since it sounds as if they'll have quite a bit of time on their hands outside of their regular classes," Rob said. "But we can discuss the options as a family, later on."
Madam Bones nodded distractedly, having a lot to think over for herself. "And I should get back to my department, get those warrants ready for as soon as Gringotts sends those curse-breaking teams. I was thinking, if Harry really is the 'Chosen One' destined to end You-Know-Who forever, once we find all the horcurxes, Harry could be the one to toss them all through the Veil in the Death Room here in the Department of Mysteries, at least if they're not anything valuable. That might fulfill the prophecy as far as 'at the hand of the other' goes." She got to her feet. "I'll be in touch as soon as I know anything about any of the subjects we've discussed today."
Carol smiled. "Thanks, and if you don't mind one more small burden, would you be able to put us into contact with one or more people who might be interested in tutoring? We obviously don't know anyone who would qualify."
"Sure thing," Madam Bones said with a nod as she headed out.
Carol moved over to the kids, who were still huddled together. "Were you listening to any of that?" she asked softly.
Harry looked up at her with heartbroken eyes. "Are you going to hate me because I have to kill this Dark Lord person?" he asked. "I'd rather die than for you to hate me."
Both adult Grangers swooped in to wrap the pair in reassuring hugs. "Never, Harry, never," Carol said. "No more than I hate my grandfather for having been a soldier who killed Nazis back during the Second World War. You might not exactly be a soldier, but if you're truly fated to oppose this terrorist, taking him down will be a good thing. He kills for the sport of it. If you do end up killing him, you'll be doing so to save all the people he'd otherwise be hurting and killing. Do you see the difference?"
"I think so," Harry sniffled.
"My Grandad was in the war as well," Rob said. "One thing he told me was to always fight for justice, but never for vengeance. You're probably a bit young to understand, but if you go for revenge, you risk becoming the sort of person you're up against, because you start focusing on hurting them like they hurt you, rather than on stopping them from hurting others."
"You mean like how you told us it was okay to hit back when those bullies tried to steal our lunches, as long as we weren't the ones to hit first?" Harry asked.
"Just like that," Rob confirmed. "Also, I can't help but wonder if Dumbledore is the only idiot thinking Harry has to die. He might have thought Harry's scar was a proper horcrux thing, in which case, to the best of his knowledge, Harry would have to die to get rid of the thing and make Voldeshosis mortal again, and then anyone – such as himself – could off the bugger."
Carol agreed. "Given what he said about Harry was supposed to enjoy his childhood until the time came for him to confront Voldewhosis. Why bother training the lad in magic or weaponry if he's got to take one for the team and die?"
"But with the soul leech gone, Harry won't have to die now, will he?" Hermione perked up at that thought.
"Not if we have anything to say about it, Princess," Rob said. He might still be uncomfortable at the thought of his daughter and Harry being married in the wizarding world, but he did care for the lad all the same. "Madam Bones thought that letting Harry toss the last couple of horcrux things through something she called the Veil in a place called the Death Room, that would fulfill the prophecy. But on the off chance Voldewhosis doesn't die when his horcrux things are all gone, we're going to get the both of you kids the best possible education so that you'll be prepared if you do actually need to face him somehow. I'm seriously starting to re-think Hogwarts, though, at least if Dumbledore stays in charge there. Let's see if Madam Bones can come up with a reason to remove him as Headmaster. I think we'd be all right sending you two there if that Professor McGonagall was in charge. She, at least, seemed truly concerned for her charges."
"Although we'd still want to see about either tutors or correspondence courses of some sort, to let you keep up with your regular education as well," Carol added. "You'll both have more options if you can sit at least your GCSEs and hopefully also your A-levels. That way you can always have a regular career if you don't find anything you fancy doing in the wizarding world."
"Anyway, kids, let's go home for now, and wait for either Solicitor Fine or Madam Bones to contact us," Rob said. "We can't do anything else to help at this point. Sirius Black is going to get his trial at last, and between the Gringotts team and the magical police, they'll surely find those last two horcrux things in the next few days," Rob said. "Who's for pizza tonight? And maybe we'll even bend the rules a bit and have ice cream afterwards."
Harry and Hermione brightened considerably at that idea as they grasped the portkey that would take them home again.
Several days later, Madam Bones made her way to the Grangers' home. After exchanging pleasantries, she gave the family the good news. "Sirius Black was exonerated at his trial, although he is currently in St. Mungo's – that's the wizarding hospital – to recover from his incarceration. Unfortunately, the creatures that guard Azkaban – that's the prison – are particularly nasty and have a terrible effect on people who are exposed to them, particularly for long periods of time. But he's in good spirits and looking forward to getting re-acquainted with his godson. Albus Dumbledore is also at St. Mungo's; it came out during the Black trial that he knew Sirius couldn't have betrayed the Potters to the Dark Lord because he was the one who cast the Fidelius Charm with Peter Pettigrew as the Secret-Keeper. I detained him for questioning, planning to keep him in a holding cell for a couple of days both to enforce the idea that he's not better than anyone else and also to allow time for any preventative potions he might have taken to leave his system. But he collapsed halfway between the courtroom and the holding cells; he's had a brain aneurysm according to the healers. They say it's unlikely he'll ever walk or talk properly again."
"What will happen to him, then?" Carol wanted to know.
"That will depend on how well he recovers, or if he recovers," Madam Bones said. "According to Professor McGonagall, he's been under extreme stress since he accompanied her to give Harry and Hermione their Hogwarts letters and discovered their bonding. Given the situation, the healers say he may have another aneurysm or a heart attack, either of which could kill him outright. If he recovers enough to speak coherently, he'll be questioned as to why he allowed Sirius Black's imprisonment when he knew the man couldn't be guilty as well as why he sealed the Potters' will. Solicitor Fine also let me know that the publisher who put out the Harry Potter adventure series did so with Dumbledore's permission, as the man declared himself Harry's magical guardian due to Sirius being incarcerated, and he plans to sue Dumbledore – or his estate, if he dies – for the percentage of profits that should have gone to Harry but didn't."
"How much is that likely to amount to?" Carol asked. "I don't want to seem mercenary, mind, but I got the impression that the books in question were quite popular."
Madam Bones snorted. "Popular doesn't begin to describe them," she said with a chuckle. "They've only been in the top ten children's bestsellers since the first one came out. I think at one point, when the series had gotten big enough, The Tales of Beedle the Bard was the only top ten children's book that wasn't part of the Harry Potter series. I freely admit, my Susan grew up reading them, as have most wizarding children under the age of twelve. So probably quite a lot."
Harry groaned and dropped his head to the table with a thud. "I'm doomed," he mumbled, causing Hermione to giggle.
"Don't worry, I'll protect you," she murmured back, causing her mother and Madam Bones to grin.
"Also, we did find the last two horcruxes," Madam Bones said, getting back to business. "Would you believe one of them was in the old Black townhouse in London? Sirius let us into the place before reporting to St. Mungo's for his treatment, and according to the house elf we found there, his younger brother had joined the Death Eaters but found out the Dark Lord created a horcrux and decided that was too dark and crazy even for him, so he stole it to try to destroy it, only he died from the injuries he suffered in stealing it before he could destroy it. The goblins cleansed that one, as it was the locket of Salazar Slytherin. It'll be presented to Hogwarts at the opening feast this year, along with two others that the goblins cleansed, the cup of Helga Hufflepuff and the diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw. The other one turned out to be the Dark Lord's old journal from his school days; we found that at Malfoy Manor along with quite a few other things that taken as a whole, should see the man in Azkaban for life. The Minister for Magic isn't happy, but that's mainly because Lord Malfoy has been one of his biggest 'campaign contributors' from the start, and he's going to miss the steady influx of galleons in exchange for support of particular legislation in the Wizengamot. Fortunately, the Minister didn't find out I'd arrested Lord Malfoy until he'd already been questioned under veritaserum – truth potion – and even the Minister didn't want to be associated with someone capable of some of the crimes the man confessed to. We just need Harry to toss that journal through the Veil in the Death Room and see if that completes the prophecy."
Harry looked up at that. "How will you know if it's completed or not?"
"According to the Unspeakables, if a prophecy orb goes dark, it's been fulfilled. We'll have Harry grab the orb and take it with us, so we can see if it darkens when he throws the journal through the Veil. If it does, great! If not, we have to think the Dark Lord has managed to regain a body in some fashion, either a magical construct or possibly by possessing someone. Either way, once the new body dies, so will he, because his horcruxes will all be gone and presumably at that point anyone could kill him. Maybe we'll be really lucky and he'll get hit by a bus while crossing the street to get to the Leaky Cauldron," Madam Bones said.
Both kids chuckled at that mental image. "When can we go to the Ministry?" Harry asked. "Might as well get it over with as soon as possible."
"I can take you right now, if you don't mind going alone," Madam Bones said. "I can side-along apparate one person. But if you all want to go, I'll need to submit the paperwork for a portkey."
"Go ahead without us and get it done," Hermione urged Harry. "Then we can look forward to the reactions of everyone at Hogwarts when they find out we're married."
Harry thumped his head on the table once more at Hermione's words, making everyone chuckle again. Then he got up, saying, "Just give me a moment to get my robes on. I should look respectable if I'm going to the Ministry." He darted out, returning a couple minutes later in his formal robe. "Okay, I'm ready."
"This won't be comfortable," Madam Bones warned him as she took his arm. They vanished with a pop.
Harry sucked in deep gulps of air when they appeared in the Ministry Atrium. Madam Bones gave him a minute to recover before they headed to the lifts and went down to the Department of Mysteries. Grabbing the orb first, they let the Unspeakables know they were there for Harry to destroy the Dark Lord's final horcrux. The Unspeakables collected a lead-lined chest from a hidden storage area and fitted Harry with a pair of dragon-hide gloves.
"To make sure the horcrux is properly affected, you can't throw it through box and all," one cautioned him. "We didn't find any wards that could hurt you if you touch the journal, but better to be safe than sorry, just in case we missed anything. The gloves will protect you from most curses and compulsions, just in case."
"All right," Harry said. He pulled on the gloves, then waited until he was standing in front of the Veil. It was an eerie-looking thing; fluttering wisps of mist and cobweb hanging from a large stone archway, moving almost in time with what sounded like hundreds of whispers from the darkness behind the Veil.
The unspeakable carrying the chest opened it. Harry carefully lifted the old journal from within, turned, and hurled it into the center of the archway. As the book crossed through the Veil, ink spurted from its pages. A humanoid form of oily black smoke burst from the journal, screaming in a high-pitched voice that seemed to sound inside the heads of everyone present as well as in their ears. In far-away Albania, the animals of the forest fled a particularly dark and rocky area as a shadow screeched and wailed, feeling its connection with the earthly plane snap. When the screaming stopped in both places, the prophecy orb turned black.
"It's over," Harry said with relief. "It's really over."
Madam Bones brought him back to the Grangers' house, where he promptly cuddled into Hermione while Madam Bones explained what had happened.
The young couple knew they would still face plenty of problems: Death Eaters and sympathisers who might want them dead for their roles in removing the Dark Lord, women and girls unhappy that Harry was already married, people generally unhappy that Harry the person wasn't like the Harry of the book series. But whatever would come, they would face it together. After all, Magic itself had bound them.