Hi y'all! I apologize for how long this chapter took. Real life decided that November was a good month to throw as many projects as it possibly could at me. It was just fantastic. Anyway, I have a special Christmas chapter planned but there are several more chapters before then, so in all likelihood, we'll be celebrating Christmas in July. Especially as the next two chapters seem like they'd rather dance a bad polka on notional television than let me write them, so...
I am also starting an overhaul of several chapters, so there may be inserted chapter/major changes soon. I'll let you know as that happens.
Thank you to everyone who read this, and thank you even more to the people who have stuck with this story or followed it, and thank you most to Lost O'Fallon Girl for reviewing!
"Ginny, you've been at that for the last half hour! Will you please sit. Down!"
Ginny flopped down next to Hermione on the Entrance Hall stairs and huffed. "What is taking him so long?"
"The same thing that was taking him so long last time you asked. He's meeting with Professor McGonagall."
Hermione groaned and rested her head in her hands. "Ginny, my answers have not changed in the last five minutes."
"Fine," she sighed, crossing the staircase and leaning against the railing.
A moment later, Hermione heard footsteps above her and turned to see Harry approaching.
"Finally!" Ginny called. "What took you so long?"
"Hello to you too," Harry greeted his girlfriend, placing his arm around her waist.
"So really, what took you so long?" she persisted as they made their way down the stairs and across the grounds.
"We just had a lot of little things to discuss, like whether Snape's portrait should be hung in the Headmistress's office."
"It'll be hung. Snape was key to defeating Voldemort, after all."
Hermione nodded, but she knew from the look Harry gave her that he wanted to ask her about something when they could be alone.
"So, Hermione," Harry continued, "I heard you're restarting the D.A.?"
"Yeah. Harry, I've been meaning to ask you about that."
"What about it?"
"Do you have time to come be a guest teacher?"
"I can get time."
"Great. Any idea when?"
"Week after next?"
"Sure. Any day in particular?"
"You don't already have one?"
"We're using the coins again."
"Oh. Well, in that case, Tuesday?"
"Who's a part of this?"
"Dennis and Justin are the only people left of the original D.A. other than Luna, Ginny, Neville, and I. We have students from every house-"
"Wait, there are Slytherins in the D.A. now?"
"Yeah. Evan Moore is one of our best."
Harry chucked under his breath and shook his head. "It's probably a good thing Ron had to work. He'd go spare if he heard that."
"Yeah, probably," Hermione agreed. "But he'd already have gone spare if he were here because we're going somewhere on Halloween. We always seem to have bad luck."
"Here's hoping tonight is different," Harry sighed as they reached the edge of the grounds.
"As I'll ever be."
They turned and disapparated, reappearing a moment later in the outskirts of Godric's Hollow.
As they made their way towards the center of the town, Harry took Hermione's hand and placed his arm around Ginny's waist, making both witches smile.
Before long, they were standing in front of the statue of Harry with his parents. Harry slowly walked toward it, gazing up at his parents and himself. Then he turned away, his eyes glittering, and led the way towards the graveyard.
He paused at the gate. Everything looked vastly different from the snow-covered place it had been the first time they had visited. The gate groaned as Harry gently pushed it open and stepped into the cemetery.
He made his way along the rows, with Hermione and Ginny by his side. Suddenly, he knelt down before a headstone. KENDRA DUMBLEDORE, it read, AND HER DAUGHTER ARIANA. Below that was a quotation:
WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS, THERE WILL YOUR HEART BE ALSO.
Harry reached out and gently traced a finger along the granite.
"Is that really-" Ginny began quietly.
Hermione sighed and let her eyes close. She knew, now, the story behind this grave.
Then Harry stood and continued through the cemetery. Hermione stayed behind a moment and conjured a wreath of flowers she placed on Kendra and Ariana's grave, giving Harry a moment to himself.
When she caught up, she found Harry kneeling before his parent's marble headstone. Ginny was beside him, keeping hold of his hand. His eyes shone in the sunset's light.
After a moment, he glanced up at Hermione, and she handed him another floral wreath. He gently placed it before standing with a little nod.
"It's hard to believe it's really over," he whispered. "I keep looking over my shoulder and expecting to see someone, anyone, following me. How do we go on like this?"
Hermione reached out and took his other hand. Before she could say anything, the evening breeze seemed to whisper, "One step at a time."
A year ago, she would have dismissed the sound as her imagination, but now she just allowed a small smile to prick at the corner of her mouth. She was different now. They all were.
Harry stood with his eyes closed for a moment before turning and leading the way out of the graveyard, hand-in-hand with Ginny and Hermione.
They wandered along the streets of Godric's Hollow in the darkening twilight. Then, finally, they came to the Potters' cottage. It looked only slightly different without its blanket of snow; the hedge was still overgrown, and now it was evident the lawn was, too, and the house itself was covered in dark ivy. Harry gently released Hermione's hand and placed his on the gate, prompting the memorial sign to appear.
The sign's golden lettering was now all but illegible underneath the messages visitors had left. Many of the messages were new. Hermione knew she should be bothered by the magical graffiti, as she had been the first time they had been here, but now she found it oddly heartwarming.
After reading plenty of the messages, Harry yanked at the gate until it came open with a loud screech.
"Harry, you can't seriously be considering going in there!" Hermione exclaimed.
He ignored her and carefully made his way up the path, Ginny still by his side. She shot Hermione a quick look. Hermione sighed and reluctantly followed her friends towards the house.
"Don't say I didn't warn you," she muttered, the feeling that something wasn't right pricking at her mind.
Ginny reached out to open the door, but it wouldn't budge. Hermione was about to suggest they go back when Harry gently touched the knob. It sprang open. He stepped gingerly into the house, his friends right behind him.
The living room was covered in ivy. Hermione could make out a few shapes that looked like furniture, and saw the top of a lamp poking up from the sea of green in the corner. There was a picture of Harry on a toy broomstick hanging on the wall opposite an arched doorway, which she assumed led to the kitchen.
Suddenly, a sharp creek splintered through the silence. Hermione whipped around and saw that Harry was climbing the stairs. She groaned slightly and cautiously followed, dodging a few stray tendrils of ivy.
"Are you sure about this, Harry?"
Once again, he ignored her.
Ivy was growing down the hall at the top of the stairs from an open door, and it rustled slightly in the breeze. Hermione felt a chill run along her spine. As they inched towards the door, Harry grabbed Hermione's hand.
"This is it. This is where it happened," he whispered, more to himself than anyone else.
The room was so thick with ivy, hardly anything was visible. There was a mound in the center of the room that must have been Harry's crib.
Her free hand brushed a leaf. In that instant, it seemed like the walls had come to life. Vines were snaking across the floor towards them. They turned to run back down the stairs, but the ivy had woven itself across the doorway, effectively sealing it.
"Diffindo!" Hermione cried, to no avail.
Harry yanked her down the hallway and away from the growing plant. She grabbed Ginny's hand and tried to disapparate, but couldn't. They would have to figure some other way out.
"Bombarda!" The spell ricocheted off the plant. "Duck!" she shouted, dragging Harry and Ginny to the floor with her just as the wall where they were standing exploded. She winced as stone shards sliced at her back.
Then, ivy began to wind around her ankles. She fought desperately to get free, but it just kept coming. Harry grabbed her hand and pulled.
"Incendio!" she panted. The flames devoured the vines, but burnt Hermione in the process.
She scrambled to her feet beside Harry and Ginny. Ivy tendrils curled themselves over Hermione's fire, putting it out.
"That's not even fair!" Ginny cried as Harry dragged the two witches further down the hall and into the room at the end.
Hermione ran to the window and looked out. They were still high up, but this was the best chance they had. "Jump!"
Harry and Ginny went first, giving Hermione just enough time to send a patronus to Professor McGonagall. All it said was "trouble," because her professor knew where they were, and she couldn't risk it being intercepted. Then, she jumped.
Hermione and Ginny landed roughly but seemingly without serious injury. However, there was a crunch as Harry landed. He had broken his leg.
The ivy kept coming. Ginny pulled Harry's arm around her shoulder and heaved him to his feet, helping him away from the building as fast as she could. Hermione quickly lit another fire to delay the vines for long enough for them to get away, but it didn't work. The fire was out within seconds.
Tendrils of ivy lashed out from the walls of the house, reaching for the three. Hermione jumped over one swipe at her knees and ducked another, however, Ginny was not as fortunate. As a vine sped toward her, she gave Harry a hard shove into the street and out of the way.
Next thing Hermione knew, Ginny was ensnared in ivy and launching back towards the house. After sending a quick banishing charm at Harry to get him as far away as she could, Hermione grabbed on to the end of a vine. She let go before it could wrap around her wrist and seized another. She swung forward again, twisting sideways to avoid another swipe.
Finally, she spotted Ginny. She planted her feet against one vine and pushed off as hard as she could, landing with a thud on the ground beside her. Ivy had wrapped around Ginny's neck and was attempting to strangle her.
Hermione severed the vine with a well-placed fire. She gathered her friend into her arm and pulled her away from the tendrils that were lunging for her. She turned to go back the way she came, only to see the space she had come through was already blocked. She looked around frantically, but could not find another opening other than one almost ten feet above her.
She hurriedly cast a hover charm on Ginny and evaded a few more tendrils while trying to maneuver her through the gap. Hermione knew this spell would take almost all the energy she had left and would only hold for a few seconds.
Just as Ginny drifted through the plant, the spell slipped; Hermione took a shuddery breath. Then, there was a sudden heat. The ivy surrounding her was gone in an instant, and before the flames flickered out, Hermione caught a glimpse of Harry with his wand held like a torch, Ginny clutched to his side, surrounded by a ring of fire.
She ran towards him before the plant could recover. As soon as they got back to the street, she grabbed hold of her friends and apparated to outside the gates of Hogwarts.
She could feel something warm trailing down her back as she and Ginny helped Harry up the stairs to the school. With each step, her legs throbbed, and her vision was beginning to get blurry.
"Madam Pomfrey!" Hermione called when they entered the hospital wing.
The witch hurried out from her office, looking slightly irritated at being disturbed this late at night, but her expression changed to one of concern when she saw the three.
"Miss Granger, this is the fifth time you've been here this week! What's happened now?"
Hermione ignored the confused glances her friends sent her and managed, "I'll explain later," before her vision went black.
She awoke after an hour to the sound of Harry quietly calling her name. He was in the bed to her right, and Ginny was across from her, still asleep or unconscious.
"That didn't go well," he stated.
"I told you so."
"What was that?"
"I don't know. My guess is that the plant was enchanted by the dark magic left behind from Voldemort's curses."
Harry nodded and relaxed back into his pillow, staring blankly at the ceiling.
Hermione glanced around the hospital wing before noticing a jar on the table beside her containing several stone fragments. Out of curiosity, she reached to pick it up, but winced backwards halfway there. Evidently, the wounds in her back were more serious than she thought.
As she flopped down again, she remembered the look Harry had given her earlier and asked, "What did you want to talk to me about?"
"You first. Why is this your fifth time here this week?"
She sighed, "I've been working on creating a spell to find information about a certain topic. Ideally, it would give me a list of texts that mention it, but, well, so far I've gotten whacked in the face by flying books and knocked about by minor explosions."
"And ended up in the hospital wing four times."
"Yeah," she sheepishly affirmed. "Never overnight, though."
"Oh, Hermione," Harry chuckled.
She blushed slightly and attempted to change the subject, prompting, "So, you wanted to talk to me?"
He nodded. "Two things, actually. First, is Professor McGonagall somehow more powerful than before? It felt like… like there was a sort of… energy around her."
"She hasn't said anything, but I think she is. Now, don't ask me how. I haven't a clue as to that. I do know, however, that it happened right after she fixed the Room of Requirement."
"Okay. Second, when we were discussing whether or not Professor Snape's portrait should be hung, she said that he tortured her. Do you know anything about that?"
Hermione let her eyes close before she nodded.
"Do I want to know?"
She sighed. "If I show you, you can't let her know."
Slowly, he nodded. Hermione tried to stand, but a wave of dizziness overtook her and she collapsed back onto the bed.
"Oh, come on!" she growled. "Are you any better?"
Harry slowly hobbled over to Hermione's bed.
"Look at us," she seethed, "stumbling around like we're a thousand years old!"
He placed a soothing hand on her shoulder.
"Come here," she huffed, placing two fingers of each hand on his temples. Then she carefully directed him to the memory she wanted him to see.
When the memory had finished, she allowed her arms to drop back to her sides.
"Now I understand why she was hesitant to hang his portrait," he murmured. "How many more of those are there?"
Hermione couldn't answer, and looked away.
Just then, Madam Pomfrey bustled back in.
"Back to bed with you, Mr. Potter," she commanded. "And take this. Miss Granger, it's good to see you awake. You really do need to be more careful," she stated, handing Hermione a potion as well. "Drink."
She grimaced at the taste as she obeyed the medi-witch's orders. Just then, Professor McGonagall hurried into the hospital wing.
"For heaven's sake, you three!" she exclaimed. "What have you gotten to this time?"
"Only a plant," Hermione muttered, shrinking under her professor's glare.
She sighed and crossed her arms.
"Okay, so it was enchanted by dark magic…"
"And?" the professor prompted, impatiently.
"It was inside Harry's old house…"
"How daft," she groaned, her nostrils flaring slightly. "I'd have thought the three of you would show more prudence. Please, try not to land in any more of these escapades."
"We'll certainly try, professor," Harry said, "but with our luck, I'll make no promises."
"Very diplomatic, Potter," she stated, sinking into the chair between Harry and Hermione's beds. "I've always hated politicians."
Harry gave a sheepish smile that quickly turned into a smirk.
Hermione waited an amused moment before starting, "Professor, did you…"
"Yes, I got your message, Miss Granger. Well done. I had secured the castle and was coming to find you when Madam Pomfrey found me. Is there anything else about tonight I should know?"
"I don't think so."
"Good. Now, get some rest. I shall expect to see the three of you doing better by tomorrow."
"Yes, professor," Hermione murmured, smiling slightly, as she nestled into her pillow and fell asleep.