Chapter 14: The Ravenclaw Christmas Gala (Year 6)
BYOT (Bring Your Own Tissues, if you've forgotten that handy little acronym). Not because anything bad happens, but for lots of other reasons. Also, I disclaim all lines which did not originate with me. Enjoy.
"Now it is Christmastime,
"Oh, now it is Christmastime,
"And now we'll sing and dance till Easter,
"Then when it's Eastertide,
"Yes, then when it's Eastertide,
"We'll sing and dance until it's Christmas!"
"Firm grasp of the obvious the Swedes have," Draco remarked to Harry, skirting the kiosk he'd named where it sat between the Norwegian one and the Finnish along the wall of the Great Hall. They'd lost Hermione to a hunt for lucky swallows somewhere in central Europe, and Meghan had slid herself deftly between Graham Pritchard and Stewart Ackerley to join the ring-dance which was taking place to the cheerful children's song.
Around the world in eighty Christmases. Harry glanced around the Hall. Though there aren't nearly that many kiosks set up…
Each team of Ravenclaws who had presented a country at breakfast, and quite a few who hadn't, were manning the kiosks which lined all four walls of the Great Hall on this, the last afternoon of the Hogwarts term. The small, round tables Harry recalled from a few other occasions had reappeared in place of the long House tables, and his schoolmates thronged them, dressed in their holiday best, eating, drinking, chattering, and pointing here and there.
It's not as tightly organized as I would have expected from the eagles, but that's probably the inter-House influence. Getting them to loosen up a bit, let a few of the details take care of themselves. Harry grinned to see the various combinations of faces at the tables within his immediate range of vision. Take that, Voldemort—we're beating you without ever having to step onto a battlefield.
Not that we're doing so well there.
His mood slipped a notch or two. The war outside the walls of Hogwarts was grinding on its dismal way, with every few days bringing more notices of death and destruction to the Daily Prophet. The Order and the Red Shepherds were helping, he knew, but there was no way they could be everywhere.
It's like Ron said that one time—we're on defense here, and we can't possibly cover all our hoops with the Keepers we have. They can hit us anyplace they like, attack Muggles or mixed families or magical targets, because to them, anything's legitimate. We have to find them before we can take them out, and they've had fifteen years to get good at hiding from us…
But I'm not going to think about that right now. He drew a deep, deliberate breath through his nose, enjoying the scents of spice and pine and smoke that wafted to him from the various kiosks' decorations and food offerings. This is Christmas, the last one we're going to have as a whole Pack. We need to make it the best we possibly can.
"Seen Ron anywhere?" he asked casually, letting his eyes scan the Hall, looking for Weasley red.
"He said he was heading over to Australia…" Draco pointed. "There he is, on the beach."
"The beach?" Harry craned his neck to see. "Oh, that's right. Christmas comes in the summer for them." He frowned, a detail from that particular day's breakfast lecture recurring to his mind. "Think they were having us on when they mentioned kangaroo salad?"
"Why don't we drop over there and find out?"
"Sounds like a plan."
"Your change is two-twenty, and enjoy your holiday," said the silver-haired woman in the apron, handing first the bakery bag, then the money, across the counter. "Next, please?"
"I'm still thinking." The man she had addressed looked up from the glassed-in shelves of baked goods with a small, polite smile which warmed his blue eyes. "Go ahead and help someone else."
"I—yes, of course." Sue Robertson turned to her next customer, her mind whirling. What's Remus doing here? Not that I'm unhappy to see him, but does he have bad news?
No, he wouldn't leave me hanging if something'd happened to Dorothy or Terry. It must be just a visit to say hello—
Or it could be a trick. Someone using his face to gain my trust.
A moment's examination of her memories told her how she could find out.
When the bakery department was clear for the moment, she went to the oven and retrieved a sheet of fresh bread rolls as the timer sounded, then walked to the pass-through, holding the tray in one oven-mitted hand. "I don't suppose you brought me anything new to read?" she asked as Remus came to the other side of the counter. "Maybe something by that one author we used to talk about?"
Remus smiled and displayed the cover of the book he had under his arm, decorated with a picture of a lady's fan. The title was The Maiden Remains, and the author's name…
Valentina Jett. But someone could have guessed that—
Sue glanced down as the weight of the tray lessened in her grasp. Remus had relieved her of it with his free hand.
On which he was not wearing an oven mitt, or anything else of the sort.
"Well, then," she said with an answering smile, opening the pass-through to let him in. Strictly speaking, that was against store rules, but she doubted anyone would notice. "How've you been?"
"Up and down. More up these last few weeks." Remus set the tray down on a cooling rack and handed Sue the book. "We had a few things happen we'd all been hoping for, but hadn't been sure were possible. But I'm talking in riddles, which is rude. What I'm really here to ask is, can you spare an hour or two after your shift is over? Danger's making dinner, and before that, there are some things we could use your help with."
"My help?" Sue hefted the book in her hand, enjoying its thickness and weight. A quick glance at the back cover showed her the ever-welcome words Volume I. "Is this to do with that secret project Terry keeps writing me bits about? Nothing that would give anything away," she added quickly as Remus frowned. "Just that he's involved in something big, something to do with the war, and something that I might get to know about one of these days."
"Not precisely Terry's project, but one that dovetails with it. One started by a young man you might remember. Percy Weasley."
"Ah yes." Sue nodded. "The boy who'd lost his girlfriend in that attack, and wasn't sure what to do with all his anger. He found something, did he?"
"Several somethings. But this one has an amusing side to it, one I think you'll appreciate." Remus followed her towards the staffroom. "It has to do with travel…"
"No, no, no! I told you and told you, we're starting out on the right foot! Let's try again. Arms linked—heads up—aaaand weeee're off to see the—"
A red fox leapt clear of the collapsing pile of bodies and boxes, scampered several feet away, and rose onto its hind legs, chittering in amusement. "Need some help?" George Weasley asked as he emerged from his Animagus form, still laughing, and drew his wand. "Maybe a dance instructor?"
"Dancing, we can do," said Danielle Reading, shoving a box to one side and sitting up. "Walking, apparently not. You all right?" she asked the small, furred form revealed as George levitated another box out of the way.
The fox, to all appearances identical to the one which had escaped the minor disaster, wrinkled its nose as though thinking hard, then nodded and reared up as the other one had. "Fine, just fine," Fred Weasley told his girlfriend, rotating his shoulders with a wince. "Though I've got to get better control than that. Transforming in public would be bad for my image."
"I thought you were registered," said Lee Jordan, uncovering his head. "I know I am."
"Registration's not the point." George Vanished two other boxes, then stowed his wand away and bent down to the person lying beside Lee. "The point is, we're supposed to be the ones who do the surprising of other people. Not the ones who get surprised ourselves."
"And uncontrolled Animagus transformations are a decent giveaway that one was surprised." Fred climbed to his feet. "All right, there, Crystal?"
"I'd be better if you lot could do a simple skip-step without tripping over your own feet," Crystal Huley grumbled, but she was smiling as she accepted George's hand to pull her upright. "At least we're not doing this in the Diagon Alley shop, or in the Pepper Pot. Can you imagine?"
"I'm trying not to." Danielle winced. "And I'm also trying not to think too hard about Percy in charge alone at the restaurant, and Roger at the shop. If they get busy—"
"Which is why we're doing our best to find a quick way back." Fred waved towards the crimson-painted portion of the floor in the vacant shop in Hogsmeade, wide enough to take four people walking abreast, seemingly dead-ending at the wall. "But it's not working very well yet. Shall we just go this once, and try the fancy stuff later?"
"Be still my heart." Danielle gaped at him. "Fred Weasley is warning people not to get too fancy!"
Before Fred could fashion a suitable retort, the red-painted section of floor suddenly lit up, two lines of light shooting upward from its outer edges to form an archway on the wall. Brighter and brighter it shone—two figures appeared within the glow—
"Good afternoon, everyone," said Remus Lupin, releasing Sue Robertson's hand. "How go things? I'm not sure if all of you have met Sue or not—"
Introductions filled several moments, during which George and Lee set up enough boxes to serve as seats for everyone. "So what was it like?" Danielle asked after shaking Sue's hand. "How did it feel?"
"Fast." Sue shook her head, as though trying to dislodge water in her ears. "I've taken the M1 out of London before, but never quite like that!"
"The Red Roads." Fred inclined his head towards the painted boards on the floor. "A simple, yet practical, magical transit solution."
"M for Muggle, meaning one member of your party must be without magic." George nodded to Crystal and Sue. "And A for Anyone, which is just what it sounds like."
"Set up to take advantage of the existing Muggle roadway system," Lee finished. "With some very, very impressive spellwork by Mr. Percy Weasley." He frowned. "I still can't quite catch how he did it…"
"He's using the fact that even Muggles have a form of magic." Remus drew his wand and sketched a human figure in the air with a thought bubble over its head. "When enough of them believe in things, know and trust that things exist, those things take on a life of their own." The figure doubled, quadrupled, multiplied immensely, with the individual thought bubbles merging and growing until the cloud above the figures' heads dwarfed the figures themselves. "Muggles know that the roads they call by these names will take them quickly from one place to another. Percy simply tapped into that collective body of thought and added a touch of magic." He spread his hands, vanishing his drawing. "Though 'simply' is the wrong word for a spell of this caliber, and I strongly suspect 'touch' is as well. How long have you been working on this?"
"Three months, and a lot of help from the Order," said Danielle. "And it's still nowhere near what we were planning to begin with. Muggles can't use the Roads alone, there isn't enough magic in the spell to hold up to that, so it won't work if you've just got a load of Muggles being chased by Death Eaters, they'd have to have a witch or wizard with them…"
"They probably would in any case, if they knew about these," Sue countered. "Which you have to, to find the entrances and to know the words that start them up." She chuckled. "Who came up with that?"
Crystal raised her hand. "I wanted something memorable, and something the purebloods wouldn't likely know," she said. "This seemed to fit both categories."
"And speaking of purebloods, we should get back." Fred pushed himself to his feet. "Davies is competent enough, but he hasn't got any proper business sense. He'll probably be giving people discounts on the merchandise if they can answer Christmas trivia questions or some such."
"We're giving them discounts if they give us ideas for new products," George pointed out.
"That's not the same, not the same at all."
Still wrangling, the twins escorted Crystal to the front lip of the red-painted section of floor. Danielle fell back to take the hand of Sue's that Remus wasn't holding.
"Whenever you're ready, ladies," said Lee with a gallant bow, stepping up on George's right.
Crystal cleared her throat, Sue lifted her head, and in careful unison they spoke the five words which triggered the activation of the Red Roads. The painted boards began to glow once more, the archway formed out of light, and the two parties stepped forward, Crystal and Lee and the twins first, Remus and Danielle and Sue behind them—
And vanished into the wall, the glow dimming into nothingness behind Sue's right heel.
Kangaroo salad, to Harry's amusement, was real, and surprisingly tasty. He'd also enjoyed the lamingtons on offer at the Australian kiosk, and was currently nibbling the coconut off the chocolate coating of his second square of vanilla cake as he wandered through the Hall, listening with half an ear to the bits and snatches of contrasting Christmas music. Here a melancholy Russian carol about a rose garden, there a cheerful French one about torchlight—
The clear notes of a flute rang out through the din, carrying a melody Harry knew well, one he remembered from the first December he'd ever spent at Hogwarts. It was coming from the direction of the American kiosk, where a mock-up of a rustic living room had been erected, honoring the film in which this particular song had made its debut. Leaning against the side of the upright piano, eyes half-closed in concentration, Draco was playing "White Christmas" to Hermione's softly-chorded accompaniment from the bench.
Harry glanced around and spotted the person he wanted, thankfully only a short distance away. A quick wave brought Colin Creevey to his side, and a few whispered words made Colin grin and nod fervently. Harry moved away into the crowd, letting himself drift without any specific goal in mind, smiling secretly as he heard Colin's camera go off behind him.
Fox usually hates getting his picture taken, but he's too far into his music to notice this time, and he never has to see this one anyway…
Draco surfaced from the half-trance he often fell into while he was playing to hear applause. He and Hermione had garnered an audience, a dozen or so younger students, a few closer to his own age, and—
"Wotcher, little cousin." Tonks caught his halfhearted punch on her open hand and ruffled his hair with her other one. "Now, now, none of that. Nice idea, House holiday parties. I'm only sorry it didn't happen while I was here."
"You look…festive," said Hermione, coming to join them.
"Bit bright for you?" Tonks grinned, tucking a strand of red-and-green striped hair behind her ear. "It's got its uses, though. Charlie and I are headed to France tonight—Bill's going to the Delacours' for Christmas and we said we'd fly wing for them—and this will help make sure we don't miss each other over the Channel. You lot are still at Headquarters, aren't you?"
"Far's I know." Draco frowned, turning his head, as a trace of a familiar voice caught his ear. Either one of the Ravenclaws did a lot of research into a mid-Atlantic accent, or—
"Forgot to tell you why I'm here," Tonks added in a studiously casual tone. "Auror Office got contacted by Gringotts the other day. Seems some important American witch or other was planning on coming over here for Christmas, and the American goblins would take it very kindly if we didn't let her get hurt in our silly little war. So they assigned me to keep an eye on her until she met up with her family." She looked past Hermione. "Which it looks like she has."
Hermione turned around and beamed. "Aunt Amy! Happy Christmas!"
"Same to you," said Amy Freeman, releasing Letha—which I think I can get away with calling her again, since term's technically over—just in time to intercept Hermione's running hug. "And don't you look nice?"
"Thank you." Hermione blushed a little, straightening the silver collar on the red plush robes she'd chosen for the occasion. Draco knew she generally preferred cooler colors, but he'd dropped a hint or two in Luna's and Ginny's ears, and as he'd hoped, the advice of his twin's fellow Warriors had prevailed.
A nice dark green for me, nothing too fancy, just in keeping with the season. A lot like Harry's, actually. We're different enough that the same shade flatters us both. As for Pearl… Draco snickered under his breath, spying his little sister across the Hall with no trouble and beckoning her over when she looked his way. Looks like what Luna wore to the Yule Ball, only more so. Much more so. Silver and sparkles everywhere.
And the saddest part is, she's cute enough to make it work.
"I'll be taking the train home with you tomorrow," said Aunt Amy, grinning at Meghan's gleeful squeal from across the hall as she spied her great-aunt. "Letha has work to do elsewhere."
"Work?" Draco cocked an eyebrow at his Pack-mother. "Everything all right?"
"Everything is just fine, Draco," said Letha in a particularly cool, quelling tone.
The one she only uses when she's got mischief on the boil.
Especially mischief meant for us.
I think I'm scared…
"So," said Aunt Amy the next day, settling into the corner seat in the Pride's usual compartment on the Hogwarts Express. "Goblins." She smiled slightly. "Best place to start, as always, is what do you know already?"
"Goblins and wizards don't get along," said Ron immediately. "Because goblins won't share their secrets for crafting metal and putting magic into it, and wizards won't repeal the laws that mean goblins can't use wands."
"I've heard Bill talking about them sometimes," Ginny added. "He gets frustrated at having to explain to them over and over how wizards think about owning things, because they either can't or they won't learn it."
"But should they have to?" asked Meghan tentatively. "I mean, if the things that we're talking about were theirs to begin with, shouldn't they go by the goblins' rules?"
"How can you have different ways of owning things, though?" Neville frowned in puzzlement. "Either you own something or you don't."
"Not quite," said Harry. "Think about my Nimbus Two Thousand, back in first year. I wasn't permitted to have my own broomstick, so Fox and I shared it, because then it wasn't my own, it was ours." He grinned. "Which is rules-lawyering to the last degree, but that's what Marauders do best."
"True, and a good place to begin," said Aunt Amy, drawing all eyes back to herself. "Because you've got an advantage or two if you're going to have to go talk to goblins, Harry, coming out of who and what you are."
"You do." Aunt Amy tapped a finger against her shoulder, in the spot where Harry's pendant chain could just be seen before disappearing under his robes. "You have your Pack, and your Pride. And to some extent, your DA. That's the first thing to understand about goblins, is they're far more group-oriented than most wizards these days, even your purebloods. Every decision they make is weighed not just for how it will affect them, but how it will affect their clan and the other clans they're allied with. Or feuding with." She grinned. "If you ever need to stall a goblin, just get him talking about the latest marriage-alliances his clan's working on, and how that affects various lines of inheritance. He'll be good for a couple of days."
"So do they think of most wizards as too individualistic?" Hermione stroked Crookshanks, wincing as his claws pierced her robes in rhythm with her petting and his purr. "Too much interested in only themselves, and not in how their choices change everything around them?"
"Among other things." Aunt Amy glanced out the window at the trees and mountains, blurring into obscurity as the train rushed along its tracks towards distant London. "They also think wizards rely much too heavily on what they call book magic. Even if those laws you mentioned were repealed, Ron, I don't know how much they'd take up wand-using. There've been partial repeals in a few states back home, and we haven't had hordes of goblins rushing the wand stores."
"What sort of magic do they use, then?" Luna was tracing a pattern on a maze-like design emblazoned on the back cover of this month's Quibbler, and her voice was more distant and dreamy even than usual. "And how do they learn it, if it isn't from books?"
"Oh, they use books. But they also have a lot of emphasis on learning for themselves, and on finding personal ways to do things. They're a bit contemptuous of most wanded spells, because anyone can use them. Just repeating, they call it, parroting back what you've been told. Not real magic at all."
"But…that doesn't make sense." Hermione frowned. "You have to learn your own tricks and twitches about any spell before you can make it work really well for you! It's all in what you imagine, what you think about when you're casting, and that's as personal as anything could possibly be!"
"True enough, but how's a goblin supposed to know that, with no experience with wanded magic?" Aunt Amy chuckled. "They see classes full of children repeating back the incantation the teacher told them to say, and all of them getting more or less the same results from it, so that's all they think it is."
"I'd think they don't understand wands very well, either." Ginny drew her own pine wand from her pocket. "It's like Professor Dumbledore was reminding us the other day—every wand is different, as much alike as they may look. And the wand chooses the witch, or the wizard." She smiled. "But that runs into the same problem, because if most goblins have never had wands of their own, they couldn't know that."
Aunt Amy nodded, looking impressed. "Letha told me you ones would be quick to catch on," she said. "All right, so that's one of the reasons goblins don't think much of wizard's magic. But what you'll need to understand most, Harry, is another of those reasons. Most goblins believe in keeping everything in their lives, their magic and anything else they do, firmly rooted in what's around them." She patted the seat, the wall, the window. "In the physical, the everyday. And like wizards, their magic is rooted in their souls. So the common belief among goblins is that into every piece of work a goblin craftsman creates, he places a tiny fraction of his own soul."
Eight breaths were sucked in simultaneously.
"Just like—" Meghan began, then broke off, looking distressed. "Something else we've been studying," she finished rather lamely, making a face. "That was silly of me, wasn't it?"
"At least we know the Jinx works," said Harry. "Sorry," he added to Aunt Amy. "We'd tell you if we could, but…"
"Don't fuss, I've been under operational security myself." Aunt Amy drew a finger across her lips. "Need to know. Which I don't. But obviously you're all familiar with the concept, which makes my job easier. Knowing that much about goblins and their magic, can anyone tell me why goblins might get a bit huffy when humans claim to own their work in perpetuity?"
"Because if there's a bit of soul in there, then it's almost a person," said Neville. "And you can't own people." He frowned. "You can hire them, though. Buy their labor, or something else about them that you want, if they're willing to sell it. Is that how goblins think about selling their work? Like hiring out to do a job?"
"Points to the wizard with the potion piece." Aunt Amy grinned. "That's precisely how they think about it. And precisely why they're so offended when wizards, quite understandably by wizarding rules, keep the items they've bought from goblins and pass them down to their own children. To them, it appears very similar to slavery."
"But what happens when the goblin who made whatever-it-is dies?" Ron had his pendants out and was spinning them on their chain in time with his words, his carvings and gems blurring into a rush of gold-red-gold. "Who's got the rights in it then, if the goblin whose soul's in it isn't around anymore?"
"Is that why goblins make a big deal of inheritance and alliances?" Draco glanced at Aunt Amy, who was nodding approvingly. "Because it isn't just about what you've got now—it's about everything your ancestors ever had or made. And it's got to be clear, perfectly clear, who inherits what, because there are bits of people's souls in play and they…need to stay with their descendants?" He frowned. "Or at least their own clan, if they didn't leave any kids or their bloodline died out further down in history."
"Very, very good." Aunt Amy applauded softly. "Anything else?"
"What about putting wizarding magic on goblin-wrought things?" Hermione drew her dagger from under her robes and held it flat on her palm, then concentrated for an instant. It fell through her hand and clattered to the floor. "Would the goblins be offended that Draco used his green pendant-jewels to make our daggers do that? Or that Harry's has basilisk venom in it? Though that's not really magic, not conscious magic, the dagger just absorbed it when Ginny stabbed Sangre in the face…"
"Would your parents be offended if someone else taught you a strong, useful spell?" Aunt Amy countered. "A good spell, one you could use to make your life's work easier?"
The Pride shook their heads.
"The same rule applies. It's one of the few times goblins approve of wizarding magic, is when it's used to improve their work. And since you brought up your pendants, Hermione, I've been meaning to ask if I can see them while I'm here. The stories Letha's written me about them, how you made them and what they do, make me think you might actually have reproduced some of the goblins' working methods by accident."
Harry sat up suddenly, struck by a thought. "Goblins aren't offended if wizards improve their work with magic," he repeated. "But what if they don't? Improve it, I mean? What if a wizard…" He paused to work out his phrasing, to make sure he would get a meaningful answer without violating the Tongue-Tying Jinx. "If a wizard was Dark, very Dark. And he wanted to perform a really nasty spell on a goblin-wrought piece, a spell that's even a little like what the goblins do to make their work special, to make it magical. Only it takes what they do and it twists it all around, it turns it evil. If he'd done that, and done it more than once…"
Aunt Amy looked piercingly at him, but her voice when she spoke was level. "Once would be quite enough to get the cooperation of the goblins towards stopping that wizard and bringing him down. If you could prove, to the satisfaction of the clans, that such a thing had been done."
Harry Wolf-grinned, seeing his excitement mirrored on the faces of the Pride around him. "I think we can do that."
Given that we still haven't worked out how to get the locket open, and Kreacher said nothing he could do to it affected it while it was shut…yeah, I think we can do that. They ought to be able to tell the difference between a goblin's soul-bit and Voldemort's, that's for sure!
And once we have the goblins on our side, anything Voldemort might have hidden at Gringotts will be ours. Whether that's the cup, the brooch, or both. He crossed his fingers. Here's hoping for both—wouldn't that make our lives so much easier?
But, Harry acknowledged with a sigh, that was unlikely. Voldemort had his faults—which is the only reason we're still in this war at all—but stupidity was seldom one of them, and placing two of the items which kept him alive in the same location, no matter how secure, definitely qualified as stupid.
So we need to be thinking about other places he would have considered safe, or important, and what kind of safeguards he might have used. He buried the ring at his mum's old house with a curse on it, he woke up the memories in the diary so it could control people and gave it to Lucius Malfoy to hide—Harry allowed himself a brief snort at the multitude of ways in which that clever plan had gone wrong—and he tucked the locket away in that cave by the sea Kreacher told me about last summer, with all the Inferi and that nasty potion you'd have to drink. Probably found the cave that one time the matron mentioned to Dumbledore, when he hurt those little kids …
And he keeps Nagini, or her Inferius, with him all the time. So we'll just have to plan to get her right before we do him. Harry settled his weight more comfortably in his seat, licking his lips to savor the scent of Ginny beside him, the rest of the Pride around him, with their mingled pleasure and anticipation of both the Christmas holidays and this new lead on finding and destroying their enemy's treasures.
Treasures. His eyes rested on Hermione, happily comparing with Aunt Amy a point of magical theory as taught by Hogwarts and American schools. Hard to believe it's been almost a year since Hagrid died. I remember when I was little I used to think Father Christmas must be very tall, because Hagrid always came to visit us at Christmastime, and he always had the best presents for us.
I still miss him. We all do. His hand sought Ginny's and pressed it. But the girls are safe because of him, and he gave us so much besides that. His love, his loyalty, the way he always believed in me, no matter what I was up against…
He closed his eyes, the better to remember. It was a few days after the ill-fated third task of the Triwizard Tournament. He and the rest of the Pride had gone down to visit Hagrid, and he, Harry, had become lost in his memories, so many of which circled around this place…
Harry walked slowly around the cabin, touching things as he went, while Hagrid made tea. Here was Hagrid's big chair, where he'd sat on the gamekeeper's knee when he was four… here the big bed he'd hidden under when he was seven… this table was the one Wormtail's cage had rested on, the night Ron and Meghan brought him here…
Harry jumped. From Hagrid's tone, this wasn't the first time he'd called his name. "Yeah."
"You all righ'?"
"No, yeh're not," said Hagrid. "But yeh will be. Trust me."
Harry smiled to himself. And I did, and I am. Not perfect, not the happiest person in the world, but all right.
Another moment from that same visit came to him, and rang true against Danger's words from the summer.
"What's comin' will come, an' we'll meet it when it does."
"When you have enough for tonight, you have all you'll ever need."
Harry opened his eyes and smiled at Ginny, who was watching him curiously. "You're my enough for tonight," he told her. "And whatever's coming, I can meet it as long as I've got you."
"Good to know." Ginny grinned at him. "Because Ms. Freeman told us something else about goblins while you were off having the guided tour of the inside of your head. Their females don't often leave their home caverns—dealing with wizards is considered dirty work, not the sort of thing a properly-brought-up goblin girl would do—but every serious negotiation between goblin clans involves both males and females. So if you want to prove to the goblins that you're willing to talk on their terms, you're going to have to take one of us—" Her free hand indicated herself, Hermione, Luna, and Meghan. "—with you."
"Not you," Harry said promptly, pointing to Meghan, who stuck out her tongue at him. "And sorry, Luna, but I think the goblins might get nervous if I brought a Seer to a bargaining session."
"I understand." Luna turned the Quibbler ninety degrees and began to trace the pattern again. "So will it be Ginny, or Hermione?"
Harry looked at Aunt Amy. "Will it make a difference?" he asked. "If the goblins are all about family, they might think better of me if I had my sister along. Adoptive sister, but still."
"But that's like saying you're ashamed of Ginny," said Draco before Aunt Amy could reply. "Or that you think you're too young to be sure about her. Which, yes, you're young, we all are, but we're not unsure or ashamed." He shrugged one shoulder. "Most of the time, anyway."
"I am your alpha female, Harry." Ginny's freckles were standing out more than usual, but her voice was clear. "If you're going to talk to the goblins as if the Pride were a clan of its own, I really ought to be the one to go with you."
"And if we did things the way goblins do, with arranged marriages for the benefit of the clans involved, you two would make a good match even if you didn't love each other," said Hermione. "Counting the Pack as one clan and the Weasleys as another—which you almost are," she added to Ron, who smirked. "It's an excellent alliance, on both sides. Strength to strength."
"Sounds like it's settled, then." Harry squeezed Ginny's hand again, enjoying the power behind the return pressure. "Anything else I should know?"
"Plenty, but we have your entire vacation to discuss that." Aunt Amy paused, frowning. "Though there is one I should bring up now. Goblins always open meetings by exploring the links between themselves and the people they're meeting with, and between all members of the various parties. Don't be offended or put off if they seem to be spending a lot of time on that. It's just their way of establishing who they're dealing with. And having said that…" She grinned and Summoned a broad, flat, wrapped package from the shelf above Harry's head. "Who wants one of their Christmas presents early?"
Several spirited rounds of magical Cluedo, complete with working secret passages and animated pieces similar to wizarding chessmen which occasionally tried to murder one another with whatever weapon came to hand, occupied the rest of the train ride.
"What did Tonks give you before she left?" Hermione asked Draco under the bustle of disembarking at platform nine and three-quarters. "You looked so sad, and so happy, all at the same time."
"It was something she found in Aunt Andy's papers, when she finally got around to going through them this fall." Draco withdrew a folded, faded letter from within his denim jacket, where it had rested against his heart. "She thought I ought to have it."
Hermione took the letter from his hand and frowned as she unfolded it, as though the handwriting was awakening faint echoes in her near-perfect memory. It ought to, Draco knew. His sister had seen it before, though she might not at first think to connect a letter received many years ago by Andromeda Tonks with her twin's magical adoption contract.
But when she sees who wrote it…
"Oh!" Hermione let out a little gasp. "It's—" She looked up, her smile shaky but true. "Of course. Of course she would want you to have this." Her fingers rested against a passage near the end of the letter. "Especially because it happened just like she wanted. All of it."
"I have saved my son and ruined my husband," Draco quoted softly, accepting his mother's letter back and returning it to its place. "My work is done."
The twins clasped hands for one moment, sharing joy, sorrow, fear, peace, but strongest and deepest of all, love.
Then they turned to follow their Pride out into the bustle of King's Cross station four days before Christmas.
"Harry, I'm a little worried," Meghan confided as she and her big brother left platform nine and three-quarters side by side. "Why do you think Professor Black didn't ride home on the train with us? Is she all right?"
"I'm not sure, Pearl, but—" Harry stopped, looking past Meghan into the station. "Maybe," he said a trifle unsteadily, "she wanted to tell us something."
Meghan followed Harry's line of sight.
Then she shrieked.
The weekend crowd at King's Cross, magical and Muggle alike, turned with indulgent smiles to watch the sobbing teenage girl hurtle across three lanes of foot traffic and fling herself at a tall woman, who closed her arms around the child with a look of boundless love on her face.
"Hello, Pearl-girl," Aletha whispered, hugging her daughter tightly as Sirius embraced them both, smiling through his tears, and as the rest of the cubs converged on them, Harry grinning from ear to ear, Draco and Hermione wearing near-identical smirks of satisfaction. "I'm home."
Hermione hummed "Go, Tell It on the Mountain" as she hurried along one of the corridors of number twelve, Grimmauld Place, looking its most festive for Christmas Eve. Letha's restoration to her full self had the Pack in fine fettle for the holiday season, and pranks of the silly and harmless variety had been in full swing for the last few days.
Which just means I'd better check my bed very well tonight. After that seven-fishes dinner Danger decided she wanted to try, the one from Italy. Hermione smacked her lips, giggling at her own silliness, but it was a fact that both her forms were very fond of fish. But for right now, I need to find a set of Hogwarts robes and give them to Dobby or Winky to be cleaned and pressed, because after dinner, we're having our picture taken.
Padfoot had explained his idea for replacing his mother's portrait in the front hall of Headquarters, and Hermione liked it a great deal. Number twelve belonged to Dark wizards, or at least wizards who didn't care how they got what they wanted as long as they did get it—and that's almost worse—for too long. We need to put our own mark on it, to make sure the world knows who belongs here. Especially if Meghan means those things she's always saying, about her and Neville living here someday…
Taken by surprise, Hermione squeaked. "What—Harry!" She pressed a hand to her heart, smiling weakly, as the person she'd named stepped out of a doorway. "Don't do that to me!"
"Sorry, didn't realize you hadn't spotted me." Harry glanced up and down the corridor. "Do you have a moment?"
"Of course, but why—oh." Hermione had just seen what Harry was holding partly behind his back. "Does it have to be now? Shouldn't we wait until tomorrow?"
"I got you something else for tomorrow." Harry handed her the wrapped package. "This is private. Ron helped me get the workings right, but even he hasn't seen what was meant to go inside it." He smiled sheepishly. "Mostly because I didn't have it until an hour ago, when Colin's owl got here. I'd been wondering if it was going to arrive in time, but it did, so happy Christmas, Hermione."
"Colin? Colin Creevey?" Hermione laughed, beginning to undo the wrappings. "Whatever did you get me that you needed help from Ron and—"
She broke off with a gasp as her fingers stripped off a layer of paper and revealed the answer.
The glass globe between her hands was about the size of one of the crystal balls she had seen in the memory Ron had once shared with them of Professor Trelawney's Divination classroom, but the vision inside was obscured only by bits of falling white. Surrounded by snow, her three-dimensional photographic self sat at a piano, dressed in red and silver, playing soft chords—chords, Hermione realized faintly, that she could hear—to accompany Draco, in his forest green, smiling at her with his eyes as his fingers moved deftly along the stops of his flute, the pure, clear tones soaring out to bring his good wishes for Christmastime to everyone who could hear him.
"May your days be merry and bright," she quoted, watching the tiny twins within the musical snow globe. "And may all your Christmases…" Her voice failed before she could finish.
"It won't ever be the same without him," Harry said softly from beside her. "But now, whenever you look at this, you can be there again. At the Ravenclaw Christmas Gala, when everything was still all right."
Hermione nodded, her throat still too tight to say anything. Instead she pulled Harry into the biggest hug she could manage on short notice.
Because only you would think to do this for me. To give me this little piece of happiness I can always keep, to drive away the bad memories before they're even made.
This is why I love you, Harry Potter.
And this is why, no matter who he kills, Voldemort can never win.
"Happy Christmas, Harry," she whispered when she could speak again. "And thank you."
Remember, I'm just the Chronicler. Don't yell at me for writing down what I see in the worlds.
Chapter 10 of LSSR continues to grow, and will probably go up tomorrow sometime.
Narcissa's letter to Andromeda, for anyone who wants a refresher, is in Chapter 22 of LwD.
Please don't forget to review.
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