Harry & Hermione
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MattD12027 - Harry Potter and the Eternal Right
Chapter 25 - Solace
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related plot events and characters are the property of JK Rowling.
Summary: PostHogwarts. Harry must deal with the horrors of war, and in doing so he will embrace his heritage and leave a lasting legacy on the world.
A/N: Here's a chapter completely from Harry's POV. Some of the scenes (later in the chapter) are especially poignant for me. I hope you enjoy! Please review.
Chapter 25: Solace
"Merlin…" Hermione breathed. Harry could only nod in agreement. He barely noticed the arrival of Dumbledore and Helen, because his attention was too focused on what he was seeing…and he was seeing complete devastation. The upper floor of the Ministry of Magic—closest to the ground—was in ruins.
He blinked as a drop of water fell onto his face and rolled into his eye, and looked up to find the source of the annoyance. He was expecting to see the ceiling, but instead he was looking straight up into the overcast night sky. The drop was from the light rain that was falling; it was sprinkling, really, but the rain was still there. There was a hole where the ceiling should have been, about five meters wide. Harry blinked again as water splattered directly onto his pupil.
"What the…?" he said, as he rubbed the irritation away. He looked around, and saw that Helen, Hermione, and Dumbledore were equally as stunned by what they were seeing. All of it…the front desk, the statue and the fountain, the elevator shafts, the lounge…all of it was a smoking ruin. And here and there, there was grisly evidence of witches or wizards who had been in the path of the destruction…
"Was this…what are they called?" Helen asked. "Was this a bomb?" She was turning slowly around in a circle, taking in everything as she did so. Harry noticed her eyes lingered on the rather charred remains of someone for a bit longer than anything else, and he wanted to comfort her, but he knew that now was not the time.
"Muggles can't get in here," Hermione answered.
"But who's to say someone magical wouldn't use one? From everything I've read, they're fairly lethal."
"You're right, Helen, but there are certain spells that have much the same effect as a bomb would," answered Dumbledore. He had a faraway look in his eye, which had none of the usual twinkle; he seemed to be considering something.
There was a disturbance to their left, and, instinctually, Harry willed up a very strong shield around their group and micro-Apparated to stand in front of them. He saw that there was no need to worry, though, because it was just Amos Diggory, working his way through the rubble from a lower floor. The older man raised his eyebrows at Harry's casual display of power, but shook his head and turned to Dumbledore.
"All of us on the lower floors just felt the entire structure vibrate, but other than that, there was really no indication that this had happened. It wasn't until someone tried to use the elevator that we realized something had gone wrong…and…well, just look around," he said, all in one breath. He remained gazing at Dumbledore, obviously waiting for some kind of response from the venerable old wizard.
"There were no survivors? None at all?" the Headmaster queried.
Amos raised a hand. "Well, actually, there is one. Somehow, he's miraculously unscathed—a little shaken up, which is understandable, but unharmed." Amos's eyes slid to one of the corpses, and then back to Dumbledore's face. "He was the only one, though."
"We need to talk to him," Dumbledore replied.
"Alright…he's at the emergency medical care station five floors down. You all can Apparate there if you want," Amos said.
Dumbledore looked at the three young people with him, and Harry noticed he lingered on his face longer than either Hermione's or Helen's. It was as if the old man was trying to say something with that gaze…
"Everyone meet down there," Dumbledore said, and just before Harry vanished, he heard him say to Amos: "And Amos, get this cleaned up—"
There was a momentary feeling of being squeezed through a space far too small, and Harry was suddenly squinting at the much brighter light in the new room. It took him a second to adjust to it, but when he did, he saw he was in a very small clinic. It was just a place that those who worked at the Ministry could go for minor emergencies.
Hermione, Helen, and Dumbledore soon joined Harry, and they stood silent for a moment, taking in their new surroundings. Hermione reached over and grabbed Harry's hand, and he squeezed it. He looked over to her and smiled, and she smiled back. Harry was sure Helen was watching them, and he didn't even need to look to know that Dumbledore witnessed their little interplay. Dumbledore had witnessed a lot more, though…so it's not like there was some subtle meaning in it. They were just drawing comfort from each other.
A door opened to their left, and a Healer beckoned the four of them through. They soon found themselves in a small examination room, standing across from a table, upon which a young wizard sat. He had a very vacant gaze; his eyes had no luster and they were not focused on anything in particular. His skin was pale and his hair was plastered to his head. Harry thought it was a pretty pitiable image, and he felt bad for this young man. He had undoubtedly just witnessed something terribly horrific, and he probably knew that he was the only survivor. On top of those images, which would be indelibly burned into his mind, he most likely had some survivor's guilt.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Excuse me…" He looked to the Healer.
"His name is Jonathan Stevens."
"Excuse me, Mr. Stevens," Dumbledore said, trying to get the attention of the young man. He remained motionless, staring at nothing…saying nothing.
"Mr. Stevens!" Dumbledore said, a little more forcefully. There was a flicker of movement from his eyes, and his right arm twitched a little. Harry watched as Jonathan slowly came back to reality from wherever he had been; his eyes slid over to Dumbledore's face. A look of confusion settled over his features, and he knitted his brows.
"Albus…Dumbledore?" he queried. Albus merely nodded, and waited for Jonathan to continue speaking.
"Why are you…why are you here?" he asked. His voice was shaky, but a bit distant, and Harry presumed that the man was in shock.
"Mr. Stevens…" Dumbledore started. "Jonathan," he tried again, with a little more compassion, "can you tell us what happened here tonight?" Harry, Helen, and Hermione just stood by, silent, and let Dumbledore do all the questioning. They would undoubtedly be discussing it later, but for now, Dumbledore was running the show.
"What…happened?" Jonathan echoed, clearly confused as to what Dumbledore was talking about. His shock must have been incredibly deep, if the trauma was already blocking itself from his mind.
Dumbledore approached him and gently placed a wrinkled, wizened old hand on his shoulder. With the other hand, he turned Jonathan's face toward his by the chin. The Headmaster smiled gently into his face.
"Yes, Jonathan. I know this is hard for you, but I need you to help me here. I need you to describe what happened up in the atrium for me. Can you do that for me?"
A pained look came over Jonathan's face, as if the images were rushing back into him, and he faltered for a moment. Dumbledore strengthened his grip, both on his shoulder and on his chin, and held him up from falling.
"No…no, Jonathan. None of that. We're all here now. See," Dumbledore said, looking over his shoulder at Harry, "back there is Harry Potter. No one can hurt you now. Alright?"
Harry felt very odd. Dumbledore had just told the wizard that they were all safe because Harry was there, but in reality the Headmaster, Helen, and himself were capable of incredible feats of magic. Hermione wasn't weak, but she couldn't reach that next level. Harry new he was the most powerful of the four of them, but he had no idea by how much. Was Dumbledore implicitly hinting that he knew, and that it was by a lot? Or was Harry reading too much into it?
Jonathan looked past Dumbledore and saw Harry, and just stared at him for a moment. Just as Harry began to grow uncomfortable under his gaze, he looked back to Dumbledore and slowly nodded. He took a deep breath.
"Now, what happened?" Dumbledore tried again.
Jonathan's voice was slightly less shaky as he started: "I…I was just sitting at my desk—I'm the guard who checks wands—when it all happened. There was a great crashing noise…it was terrible…"
"What did it sound like?" Dumbledore prompted.
"It sounded like air was ripping itself apart. That's the only way I can describe it. And then…and then I'm not sure, exactly. I think all the lights went out…but, in any case, everything went black. Not black as in…like it is outside at night," he said, thoughtfully, with a firmer voice, "but totally black. Pitch black."
Harry saw Dumbledore raise an eyebrow, and he did not ask another question for a few moments. As the silence was about to stretch on into awkward standards, the Headmaster refocused on Jonathan, who had been looking at him expectantly.
"And what did you do?"
"Well, I had fallen off my stool when the noise happened, because I was startled. I was half under the desk at that point…and I think that's what saved my life," he finished, quietly.
"Why?" Dumbledore asked, gently.
"There was a…wind…or something, that ripped through the entire place, smashing everything and killing everyone else. My desk was partially blown apart, but part of the panel in the front remained, and I guess that's what saved me."
"Yeah, I mean, I guess so. There's no other way to describe it. Like I said, everything was black, so whatever it was, I couldn't tell. It was some sort of pressure…almost like a wave of pressure."
"Hmm…" Dumbledore mused, and let go of Jonathan. "Thank you very much, Jonathan. I think you have earned a few days off. You should go home and get some rest," he said, and turned toward Harry and the two others. He inclined his head to the door, and they followed the old man out. He turned to them.
"Meet back in my office—we need to discuss a few things," he said. He turned and strode away, in the direction of an office, leaving the three of them alone. Harry turned to Hermione and Helen and raised an eyebrow.
"What do you two think?"
Helen shrugged, and Hermione pursed her lips. After a moment, she said, "It sounds like it was done by one person." Helen turned to her.
"How can you tell?"
"Well…did you see the point of entry when we were up there? It was a hole in the ceiling—if there was a whole host of them, why wouldn't they just blast the whole roof apart? Also, if it was more than one person, why did they stop at the top floor? It seems like whatever that…pressure wave…was, it was pretty powerful. Why wouldn't they continue on and maximize the damage?"
Harry and Helen had no answer, and just shrugged. Hermione shook her head. "No…it was probably one person. That doesn't explain the darkness, though." She lifted a hand, indicating she didn't know. Harry moved up to Hermione and wrapped his arms around her waist, and pulled her to him.
"I hardly think this is either the time or the place for that, Mr. Potter," she said, even though she leaned into his embrace.
"Do you not want me to Apparate you back to the Headmaster's office?" he asked, with a laugh in his voice. Helen smiled at the two of them, and Disapparated with a murmur of air. Hermione pecked his lips and smiled innocently.
"If you're sure that's all you want to do, then let's go," she said. Harry didn't need to be told twice, and the next thing they knew they were both standing in front of Dumbledore's desk. He was already sitting in his chair.
"How nice of you two to join us," he said, with a slight smile. He motioned the three of them to the chairs facing his desk, and they all sat.
"So," he started, "this has been an interesting night so far."
Harry raised his eyebrows at the old man. "You should be careful with the Floo network, Albus…you never know what you might see on the other end." Harry noticed that Helen looked to him with narrowed eyes, but he didn't know why.
"Ahem…yes, I believe I have learned that lesson sufficiently enough tonight," Dumbledore said, and then looked pointedly at all three of them. Harry noticed that he included Helen in that telling gaze; perhaps Helen had been similarly…involved at the time Dumbledore had come calling. That would have been an interesting coincidence. Come to think of it, he had vaguely felt Paul's magical signature in the castle earlier…but Harry didn't need or want to think about that. He'd already had that conversation with her, so what she did was her own business.
"Anyways," the Headmaster said, moving on, "what do you three make of what happened?"
"It was most likely one person," Hermione said, repeating what she'd told Harry and Helen just a few minutes before. Dumbledore nodded.
"Yes, I reached that same conclusion. So…it was the work one person. Who could it be, though? Or, a better question, I suppose, is why would someone do that?" He looked to Harry. "I can't think of anyone who blatantly opposes the Ministry at the moment."
Harry pondered the situation for a second. As Defense teacher, as well as being the most powerful wizard in the world, he was kept relatively well informed of any threats to Wizarding society. At the moment, however, there really weren't any. The Wizarding World, especially in Britain, was enjoying a time of almost complete peace. Sure, there were still petty crimes here and there, but there hadn't been a homicide or rape in months now—that anyone knew about, anyway. So no, he couldn't think of anyone either.
"Neither can I, Albus. This doesn't fit the current mood in Britain." He stopped. Something about what he said reminded him of the weather, but it was only a fleeting connection, so he continued. "It all seems rather sudden, and rather violent. I haven't seen that kind of destruction since…well, since the Second War."
"Could there be any Death Eaters left over, or anyone connected to Voldemort?" Helen asked. She looked between the three others in the room, coming to rest on her father's face. He saw that her face was calm, but he could see something in her eyes that made his heart ache for her. There was slight apprehension there—she would never completely be over what happened to her. Even though she could prevent that sort of thing from happening again, with relatively no effort, there would always be emotional scarring. Harry hated that there were people in the world that could do things that hurt their victims for so long after.
"No, I don't think so," Dumbledore replied. "There has been no activity on that front for nearly eight years; the last we ever heard of them was that the few who were left—mostly people who had been away from Britain when Voldemort fell—were quietly leaving that life and starting again elsewhere, so as to avoid the consequences. There hasn't been even a whisper on that front."
"Was it just a random act of violence?" Harry asked?
"Are there such things as 'random acts of violence'?" Dumbledore asked. "Most have some sort of purpose, sane or not, and one would think an attack on the Ministry of Magic is supposed to mean something." Harry shrugged in response.
"What about the darkness?" Hermione asked. Harry could tell that was bothering her very much, because that was the second time she had brought it up. It didn't make any sense to him, but he wasn't sure if it was important. Most likely the lights had just been extinguished…
"That's another interesting point, Hermione. There is a strong possibility that the lights just went out, and our panicked and shocked Mr. Stevens resorted to hyperbole to describe it, but we cannot be sure." Dumbledore's gaze slid to Harry's for a moment, and again Harry got the sense that the old man was trying to hint at something. Harry furrowed his brows. But what could it be? Was he missing something?
So there had been an absolute blackness, supposedly. Did Harry know of anything that was absolutely black? Had he ever encountered anything like that? He supposed that Voldemort's heart must have been pitch black, but conjecture like that wasn't getting him anywhere. There was one thing, he realized, with widening eyes, which he did know of. Dumbledore must have seen the look on his face, because he nodded toward him.
"Alright…well, I think we've said about as much as we can tonight. If this is just an isolated incident, then I don't think we have much to worry about. If it happens again…then we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. Have a good night," he said, and the three of them started to get up. Harry lingered by his chair, and Hermione gave him a questioning look.
"I'll be right out…I just need to talk to Albus for a moment," he said, and Hermione nodded, although she looked curious. She and Helen exited the office, and Harry turned to the Headmaster.
"So, Harry, I assume you made the same connection that I made?"
"I believe so, Albus, but…that's impossible, isn't it? Surely we would know if there was someone else…"
Dumbledore's gaze went to the window, upon which rain was pattering away again, and Harry saw the old man's shoulders slump. He was so old…
"Would we? I don't know…it does seem farfetched, at best, but can we rule it out?"
Harry shook his head. "No, I suppose not."
"Best be on your toes, Harry, just in case," Dumbledore said. Harry stared hard at him for another moment, and then slowly nodded. He would be; he was ready for anything. There was raw power in him that he'd never tapped into before, and if the time came when he had to, he would. He didn't think it would, though. He didn't think what he and the Headmaster were talking about was what had happened tonight. At least…he hoped so.
Harry inclined his head. "Have a good night, Albus," he said, and turned away. His peripheral vision caught Dumbledore removing his glasses, setting them on his desk, and reaching back up to rub his eyes. All sixteen and something decades of the old man's life hit Harry at that moment, and he became angry at what had happened.
The twilight of Dumbledore's life was waning, and for the past ten years or so, he had been able to live it in relative peace, free of the monumental worry the Second War had put upon him. Now though, just when it had seemed to Harry that the Headmaster would get to live out his last few years of life in complete peace, something, or someone, was apparently threatening that. Harry shook his head as he stepped off the revolving stairs into the corridor beyond. It didn't make any sense. Who would be doing this now?
Winter came very early. The first snowfall was during the last week of October, and the season never looked back. It didn't snow every day, or even every other day, but the sun didn't show itself once. By the time December rolled around, Harry began to wonder if he would ever see the sun again. He was mercilessly tempted to Apparate to Sicily on some weekend, if only to escape the relentless cold and glumness for a few short days. He never did, though, and he could see that the depressing environmental conditions were also wearing on others.
Whenever he passed someone outside, he noticed that they were most often looking toward the sky, with a frustrated or whimsical look on their face—mad at the weather, or remembering fondly what the sun on their face felt like. Harry had never experienced anything like it in his life, and he hoped that he never would again, whenever it decided to stop.
There never was another incident like the one that had occurred at the Ministry, and as time rolled on, it fell further and further away from his every day thoughts. His teaching, his developing relationship with Hermione, Helen's seemingly improved state of mind toward that very relationship, and the goddamn weather took up his thoughts.
It was 'developing' because, ever since they had been interrupted that night in September, another opportunity to explore the more physical aspects of their feelings for each other just hadn't presented itself. They had tried, on several occasions, but it always seemed like they were called away at the last second, or interrupted by something supposedly more important. It frustrated them both, but they took it with a grain of salt. It had taken them so long to even realize what they felt for each other, that they could stand waiting a little longer for that ultimate step. And, as Hermione had put it one time after a student had ruined their plans for an intimate evening, the longer they waited, the more fulfilling it would be when it finally happened.
As the holiday season came about, Harry, Hermione, and Helen made plans to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas away from Britain. Dumbledore was visiting his brother, so they wouldn't feel sorry about not being there with him, and Britain was just too cold and overcast for them. They had to get away for a few days.
The students left without much ado, and soon the castle was cold, empty, and drafty. There were small piles of snow near some of the windowsills, which only added to the sense of isolation and desolation. Harry would stare at those piles, those cold mounds of frozen water, and think vaguely of all the time that had passed since he'd last been as content as he was now. He had a good job, a loving daughter, and a solid relationship with a wonderful woman. The weather was only a distraction, really; he couldn't complain too much.
He would shake his head and wonder where the introspection came from, and then continue on with his day, forgetting those thoughts among the myriad others in his mind. The final few days before he, Helen, and Hermione left for Sicily were filled with last minute preparations and end-of-semester grading, but the time eventually came for them to depart. They said their farewells, and one by one Disapparated from Scotland.
Harry lingered for a moment, his eyes on the lone light burning from the window where he knew the Headmaster's office to be, and silently wished the man a peaceful and happy Christmas. Just before he Disapparated, he noticed that it had begun snowing again, but then he was gone. A lone flake wafted down through the space he had just occupied.
Harry exited through the glass door, and moved to lean against the railing of the veranda of his villa. The December Sicilian sunset captured his gaze for a few moments, and he smiled and breathed deep the crisp, cool evening air. This was the life: it was the middle of winter and he could be comfortable in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. He curled the toes of his bare feet against the edge of the veranda, and swept his eyes away from the sunset toward the beach.
The lonely visage of Hermione next caught his attention, and he gazed wonderingly at the sight. She was dressed in white slacks and a beige t-shirt; she was standing down near the water, facing toward the Mediterranean. One side of her was lit up in orange from the sun, and the other was dark, contrasting the two sides of her like the two sides of their relationship. At one time, they had been bitter, but now they were full of love for each other.
A wind swept up, and Harry watched as her hair cavorted around her head and her slacks whipped against her legs. She brought her arms up and wrapped them around herself, and rocked slightly with the breeze. Harry turned and started to make his way down the stairs to the beach. The stone felt cool against the soles of his feet, so the slightly warmer sand was a welcome change. Hermione hadn't moved, so he continued walking toward her. The sound of the waves crashing against shore grew louder and louder as he approached her; he heard the cries of several gulls wheeling overhead, and the wind was a constant sigh in his ears.
He came to rest by Hermione's side, and slipped an arm around her shoulders. She stood still for a moment, and then slowly leaned into him. They stood like that for several minutes, watching as the light faded from the day, as the colors of the sunset withdrew from the water they were staring at.
"Where's Helen?" she asked.
"She's relaxing somewhere inside," he replied, and squeezed Hermione a little tighter to him. She felt so good, resting against him like that. He'd forgotten how fine it felt to have someone in his arms, and now that he had been given the opportunity to remember, he didn't ever want to forget.
"This is so much nicer than Scotland," she said, a bit wistfully. The only colors left on the water were blues and purples, and they were receding quickly. Harry looked to the west and caught the last of the lighter hues as they melted from the sky.
"I'll say," he replied, and another silence ensued. As the day faded completely, Harry turned his head slightly and laid a lingering kiss on Hermione's cheek. It was cool from the wind. She unwrapped her arms from herself and placed them around Harry's chest, so they were mutually intertwined.
"All your presents wrapped?" Harry asked, playfully, rocking the two of them back and forth a bit. He felt Hermione nod against him.
"Oh yes, all two of the presents," she replied, and laughed softly. "I especially like the Christmas…er, palm tree you procured. Fits the Sicilian mood perfectly."
Harry smiled against her hair; as his eyes adjusted to the new darkness, he could see the lights from the villa were now reflected on the waters of the Mediterranean.
"I thought you might like that. It's a bit of a change from the usual Fir tree, but I think it works."
"It does," Hermione affirmed. "Wanna head back inside?"
Harry nodded. "Sure, let's go." They let their arms drop, and Harry grabbed her hand and started toward the villa. He looked over to her face, which he could make out in the light coming from the villa, and smiled at her. She smiled back, and playfully swung theirs linked arms as they walked. Harry couldn't help the laugh that escaped him. They were so carefree and easy with each other now—it was an amazing and marked contrast with how they had been just five months before. He hoped it lasted, and he would do everything in his power to make sure it did.
They climbed the steps slowly, enjoying the last remnants of the warmth from the day as it faded. As they ascended the last step, the sliding door opened and Helen stepped out. She was wearing a pair of jeans and a light jacket. She nodded to them and made her way toward the railing, leaning her back against it once there.
"Why don't we sit out here for a little while longer?" Harry asked Hermione. He saw her eyes go briefly to her bare arms, and moved his hand slightly. A jacket appeared on her. She shook her head at him for a second, and then led him over to the couch set against the villa. They sat down and leaned into each other again.
"Nice night," Helen commented, and turned around, so that her back was to them. She leaned her elbows on the railing and stared out at the dark waters.
"It is," Harry said. "Helen…why couldn't Paul be here?" he asked. He knew that they were now heavily involved, and he was happy for them. Maybe someday soon he would get to walk Helen down the aisle…that would be one of the happiest times of his life. There was no doubt about that.
"He had to be in America this year," she said.
"For Christmas?" Harry asked, a little affronted. He hated the idea of having to work his life away, and when someone told him they worked on Christmas, it just affirmed his belief that people needed to relax more often. Life was too short to always be working.
Helen nodded slowly; Harry watched as her straight brown locks swung lightly against her head. She leaned more into the railing. "Yeah, for Christmas," she sighed. "It's not that big of a deal, though…at least I get to be here with you two."
Hermione moved slightly against Harry. "You know, Helen…I never thanked you…" she trailed off.
"For what?" Helen asked, without turning around.
"For…getting past the resentment you had for what I did all those years ago," Hermione said, carefully. Helen hung her head for a moment, and then turned around to face them once again. She moved to sit across from them, in a chair set against the railing.
"It's hard to stay like that when you see how it upsets things," she said, and stared directly at Harry. There was something in her gaze that he couldn't quite place, but he thought it might have been appreciation.
"I think one of the reasons I was bitter was because I didn't know what it was really like," Helen said, and Harry could hear some insight in her voice. She was looking within herself, examining her own life and priorities, and speaking about them to Hermione and him.
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked softly.
"I was afraid of…loving someone," Helen explained. "I was afraid I wouldn't be able to."
"Yeah. Oh. I didn't know what it was like…I had nothing to relate what you and my father have to. I could only see what happened in the past." Helen and Hermione were speaking directly to each other now. Harry was content to just sit back and listen.
"What made you get over your fear?"
Helen smiled to herself—she was staring at the calm waters of the pool. "Your lover," she said, and laughed softly. Harry blushed slightly, but he couldn't keep the smile off his face.
Hermione laughed as well. "I see…so it's you and Paul…?"
His daughter nodded. "It's Paul and I. We've been friends for so long now…there's no way it couldn't happen."
Hermione looked at Harry and smiled. "I know how that feels…although your father and I were…slightly…interrupted."
Harry had to say something. "You aren't calling Ginny an interruption, right?" His voice was mild, but the question was a serious one.
Hermione shook her head vehemently. Helen looked up at the both of them. "Of course not, Harry…I would never do that." Harry nodded, mollified. "I meant my stupidity."
"You mean our stupidity," he corrected, and pulled her closer to him. "But, the past is the past. We have each other now, and that's all that matters. May Ginny rest in peace," he said, and looked to the starry sky. May she rest in peace, indeed. He could finally close that chapter of his life forever, or at least for as long as he was in this world. He might get the chance to explain himself to Ginny in the next life, but that would be then, and this was now. He loved Hermione.
"Yes," Hermione said.
An easy silence settled over the veranda for the next few minutes, with nothing but the cool wind blowing their hair to disturb it. Harry watched as Helen turned her head and stared down the length of the dark beach, and he saw that Hermione was now gazing at the stars. His eyes went to the pool, on which there were now a few ripples.
"I don't think I've ever seen stars so bright," Hermione said. It was the first anyone had talked in at least ten minutes.
"Hogwarts has some pretty clear nights," Harry commented. The stars did seem bright tonight, though. It was probably because it had been so long since he'd seen them.
"Hogwarts had some pretty clear nights," Helen corrected, and Harry just nodded in her direction.
"Have we seen the stars since we've been back?" Hermione asked, and the parallel between his thoughts and the conversation silently amused Harry.
"I don't think so," he said, and Hermione must have heard the amusement in his voice, because she sat up a little and looked at him.
"Something funny?" she asked.
"Yeah…yeah something is. It's nice to just be able to sit here and talk about mundane things, like the stars. It's peaceful."
"Would you have it any other way?" she asked.
"I wouldn't," Helen answered, and both Harry and Hermione looked to her. Helen raised an eyebrow toward the both of them. "Well, I wouldn't."
"Neither would I," Harry said. He put his arm around Hermione and drew her close, and pecked her on the cheek.
"I think this is the first Christmas I've had outside of Britain," Helen said, after another moment.
"Umm…I think this is mine, too," Harry said.
"I wish I could say the same, but unfortunately, I can't," said Hermione. Harry noted some forlorn tones in her voice. He squeezed her shoulder.
"Come now, there must have been a good Christmas or two in the States," he said. He tried to keep his voice light—he wasn't sure if it was something Hermione necessarily wanted to talk about, or if it was something he really wanted to hear about.
Hermione sighed. "There was one…the first one…but even that one seemed strained. It was the first anniversary of Ginny's death…"
"Ah," was all Harry said. Silence again. It lasted longer this time, and before Harry knew it, he felt his lids getting heavy. The soft whisper of the breeze was hypnotizing, and if he weren't careful, he'd soon be snoozing away. The sound of Helen yawning broke his stupor, and he sat up slowly. He caught Hermione opening her eyes; it seemed like they all needed to head for bed.
"I think I'm going to go to bed," Helen said, and stood up. She nodded to Harry and Hermione, and passed through the glass door into the villa.
"I think it's about time we head there as well," Hermione said, and pulled Harry into a standing position.
"We?" Harry said, arching an eyebrow.
Hermione smacked his arm lightly. "Don't get any ideas, Mr. Potter. Tonight, we sleep. Nothing more," she said, and led him into the villa. They passed through the quiet rooms, some lit and some not, until they reached the master suite. After their nightly preparations, they settled down onto the comfortable mattress, under the satiny sheets.
"Sleep good, Hermione," Harry said, and rolled over to get comfortable. He felt Hermione moved against his back, and she draped an arm over his body. She let out a contented sigh.
Harry awoke to the scent of the Mediterranean wafting in through the open window, and noticed that he and Hermione had not moved during the night. Her arm was still draped over him, and he could still feel her warm body against his. He closed his eyes, inhaled deeply the scent of the Sea and of the beautiful woman sleeping against him, and opened them again.
"Hermione," he called, softly. She stirred gently.
"Hmm?" she intoned, and rolled slightly away from him.
"Happy Christmas." He heard her exhale.
"You too, Harry. Happy Christmas."
Harry rolled over and looked at Hermione. The morning light coming through the window lay across the bed, engulfing both of them in a bright halo. Hermione looked especially spectacular, though, because it reflected brilliantly off her white nightgown.
"You're beautiful, Hermione," he said.
She smiled, staring at the ceiling. "And you're so cute," she said, and rolled toward him. Their noses were almost touching.
"Cute?" Harry asked. "What about 'rugged'? Or 'roguish'?"
Hermione brought a hand to his face; she caressed the stubble that had grown there since the previous morning, when he had last shaved. She closed the few inches between their mouths and kissed him. It was a light kiss, but Harry sensed a deep passion there. He knew she felt it from him, too.
"Cute," she affirmed, and sat up, laughing. Harry watched as she moved through the light, mouth open, teeth showing, with the laugh escaping her lungs. The light and the merriment lit up her face wonderfully, and he couldn't ask for a more perfect way to wake up on Christmas morning. Harry sat up as well, wrapping his arms around Hermione, and laid his head on her shoulder.
"I love you," he said. He felt her press her cheek against the top of his head.
"And you know I love you," she replied. "But now we have to open presents!" she exclaimed, and bounced out of bed. Her enthusiasm spread to Harry, and he felt like a schoolboy once again, bounding out of bed and down the stairs, catching that first glimpse of the pile of presents, a thousand possibilities of what they could be fleeting across his consciousness.
Except now he walked arm in arm with Hermione out of the room, and rather than down the stairs, he caught his first sight of the two presents for him through an adjacent doorway. And now…now he didn't dwell on what might be in them; rather, he felt love for the two beautiful, intelligent, and fiery women who had given him them. As Hermione and Harry entered the sitting room, they saw that Helen was already there, rocking slowly in the recliner by the glass door, which she had slid open.
"Good morning, sleepyheads," she said, and sipped what smelled like hot cocoa. Harry thought that was a good idea, and conjured two steaming cups of the sweet, warming liquid for himself and Hermione.
"Thanks," she said, and they both sat down on the sofa. She curled into him and began to sip her drink.
"Who gets the honors this year?" Harry asked.
Hermione and Helen looked to each other, and then they both looked at Harry. He rolled his eyes at them, and then lifted his hand. He levitated them one of their presents, and was soon repeating the gesture. They all got each other very small gifts—the real gift was being there, with each other, on that peaceful Christmas morning. None of them had felt that serene in a very long time.
"Thank you, kind ladies, for the wonderful gifts," Harry said. They both nodded; Hermione pecked him on the cheek.
"And thank you, Dad and Hermione, for mine."
Hermione nodded to her. "Likewise, Helen and Harry." Hermione sat up a little bit, and took a breath. "There's been something I've been meaning to ask you two."
"Oh?" Harry and Helen said at the same time.
"Yeah…I was wondering if you two might train a bit with me? Now, I know I'm nowhere near as powerful as either of you, but I wouldn't mind getting more in shape and maybe leaning how to use a sword. Can't hurt, right?"
Harry looked to Helen, and she nodded to him. "That sounds like a great idea, Hermione. We can start as soon as we return to Hogwarts."
Hermione sat back, obviously contented. "Alright. Thanks, you two."
"No problem," Helen said. She smiled at Hermione, and leaned back in her chair. Harry watched as her eyes moved to look outside. She took a sip of her hot cocoa and set it back into her lap. Hermione snuggled against him, resting her head on his shoulder.
This is what family was. Explicitly understanding each other with what's only implicitly stated or observed. Harry smiled, took a sip of his cocoa, and rested his cheek against Hermione's brown hair.
The three of them returned to Scotland later that day to a swirling snowstorm. The weather had apparently decided to envy their absence, and grew worse during it. It didn't let up for several days, and when it finally did, there were several feet of snow on the ground. Surprisingly, though, it warmed up a bit after that, even though it remained overcast, and the snow was gone by the middle of January. It didn't snow again—it only rained and iced, and made more miserable weather than if it had just snowed.
Classes continued on their daily path, and Harry, Hermione, and Helen fell into their routines with a slightly renewed vigor. Their brief respite in Sicily had provided a necessary solace for their frayed nerves, and had warmed some important part of their souls. Paul and Helen grew closer, and Harry was glad to see that Helen was almost always happy. He loved to see her smile and hear her laugh, and that was what she was doing a lot of now.
Speaking of being happy…Hermione and him finally had the chance to consummate their relationship, and it was every bit as spectacular as they were both expecting. Harry found out that Hermione was surprisingly flexible, in interesting ways, and Hermione found out what being the most powerful man on earth did for one's stamina. In short, they satisfied each other in every way, both physically and emotionally.
Harry and Helen started to train Hermione in some of the physical skill sets they had both learned, and she surprised them both by picking them up rather quickly. She was enthusiastic and easy to teach; she accompanied Harry for part of his runs every day, and already he could see improvement. Maybe some day in the near future she would be able to take him on in physical combat—she was nearly as fast as Helen, but she needed to hone her reflexes quite a bit.
As winter passed into spring, the weather passed from one monotonous phase into another. Instead of icy rain, it was now just rain. Harry thought it might have been getting worse, but he supposed that might just be his annoyance at how long it had been going on. He had had enough of it. He wanted some sun.
But, he couldn't dictate the weather, so he'd just have to live with it. He did have one thing to look forward to, though: Hermione and him were going to be teaching a joint Defense – Transfiguration class during the third week of April. He knew the students were looking forward to it, as well. It was going to be great fun.