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Harry Potter and the Last Horcrux [final]
Reaching the End of the Path
By Mike [FP]
Stories begun in 2006 (post-HBP)
From this chapter through to the end, the contents were in draft and/or outline form at the time of Deathly Hallows' publication in 2008. An effort was made to keep from being influenced by DH; I haven't spotted any serious slips in that regard, but if you do happen to find evidence of said influence... well, it's accidental. This is definitely post-Half Blood Prince fanfiction, and all that entails (Grindelwald's very different history alone should have demonstrated that).
Reaching The End of the Path
October 13, 2004 The Black Cloister, John O' Groats, Caithness, Scotland
Harry leant against the outside of the cottage. He was out of breath, wet to the skin, and mud-splashed to the knees. He reached for his wand and took advantage of the seclusion to clean and dry himself before entering.
Gudrun was preparing a particularly foul potion. “You will not recover all at once, no matter the effort,” she said without looking up.
“I have eighteen more days to try. Besides that, it'll be more than a little overwhelming to have her back. I need to be healthy enough to manage everything,” he returned.
“If the ritual design is not complete, remember that Samhain will come again in 2005,” she pointed out.
“I know you told Siggy that you understand what I'm doing, but I don't think that you do,” he said.
Gudrun's whole being tightened; “Permitted or not, it is disrespectful to call the faúra-gaggja 'Siggy',” she bit out.
Harry said, “Would you lighten up? Have you heard from Ron today?”
Gudrun turned from her potion making and crossed her arms. “Do not attempt to fool me. You cannot be as well recovered as you show to others. I am closely watching,” she said.
“There's no pretending here. I haven't felt this weak since the end of the War,” he admitted.
She said, “You suffered an alcoholic blackout that could as easily have been described as a coma.”
“That wasn't a blackout; it was Siggy's doing and you know it. It's true I needed to stop drinking. She dried me out and you called me out on my behaviour. I needed both, and it's honestly that simple,” he said.
“It was not the faúra-gaggja's doing, despite her tales,” said Gudrun.
He said, “I thought Siggy was your mentor. Are you accusing her of lying?”
“She has become erratic. This is not just my observation; more than one elder says the same,” she explained.
“You think she's off because she began to recognise the true nature of Magic. You know... in a way, you're not very different than the Unspeakables,” he said.
“You insult me!” she growled.
He returned, “Prove me wrong, then. All of you see the world in absolutes – it's just that you have a different set of absolutes. You apply a concrete framework to the grœð, which is a total contradiction. Siggy knows better. I think she's always known better, but couldn't admit it to herself until the last couple of weeks.”
“It is grœð, not the grœð. It is an energetic force, not a being,” she said.
He shook his head and said, “There you go again with the same crutch. Sorry, but you just don't get it.”
Gudrun gestured to the stove. “This is for you. It is a Detoxifying Potion. This will be the only time that I do this for you,” she said.
“I haven't been drinking! I've not had a single drop in over a month. Even if I wanted to drink – which I don't – how would I manage it with everyone hovering all the time?” he snapped.
“Your behaviour is altered. Given your recent habits, it is an obvious conclusion,” she held firm.
He fired back, “I'm cold sober and I'm tired of your superiority complex. It was Hermione's worst trait, too, but she was growing out of it. What's your excuse?”
She went quiet for a while before she suggested, “There are times that... people who have a life-changing experience, an ecstatic experience. ... sometimes their behaviour will appear strange to others. Perhaps this is what I see?”
“All that's happened is that I can see the solution even more clearly than before. The Magic behind all of this was right there in the very first chapter of Ravenclaw's grimoire, sitting there on my shelves from the start. I didn't know enough then to understand the truth of what I was reading, let alone act on it,” he told her.
She said, “Your ritual design is incomplete, Harry. It doesn't pass first proofs, let alone second proofs.”
“Of course it does. The independent variable, if you need to give it a name, is identical in both instances. Your definition of design is too narrow – it doesn't even scratch the surface,” he disagreed.
“Your independent variable is not a variable. It cannot be defined. It identifies nothing. It is a repeating error in your calculations,” she said.
He said with a sigh, “Of course it defines something; it's just that you can't measure it, at least not in the ways you've learnt. I was hoping you could be included in this, but you don't believe in Magic. I wonder, do you actually believe in anything?”
Her face coloured and she said sharply, “Sharing in the gifts of the Healing Order is in and of itself an expression of belief! Of course I am capable of belief! As for magic, the existence of this does not require belief; it is a matter of fact.”
He explained, “Being part of the Healing Order is an expression of faith in a system of belief, which isn't the same at all. Ron's no different. He has faith in the system of magic he's been taught. You don't need to learn how to use magic by shouting out incantations that imitate Latin. Most of the magic that you Icelanders perform is nothing like that at all. What Chen Lu's adepts or the Watanabe school teach is nothing at all like either the Roman or Norse systems of magic, and the indigenous people in America have an affinity to magic different than all of those. That's a big hint to the reality of Magic, by the way.
“To be a part of this, you have to believe in Magic. Period. Not in an incantation, not in a rune, not in a force that you can name and study... you just have to believe. You have eleven days to decide if you're able to do that. It's entirely on you,” he added with a friendly pat on her shoulder.
Gudrun took a chair from the dining table and sat heavily. After a long pause, she ventured, “I knew from the first that you were of considerable practical intelligence, Harry, but you were not a scholar in any way. Now you speak of mysterious things, just as the elders do. You also speak of Chinese mages and Japanese schools and the magic of my homeland with great familiarity. How is this possible?”
Harry laughed softly and then asked, “Did you think I sat here all this time, reading books and getting pissed? Where do you think all of these books came from? These aren't the sort of thing you pick up from Flourish and Blotts. I don't like sounding arrogant, but I own the broadest magical library on Earth – maybe even the most complete in some fields. Dobby and I have found books that were nothing more than ancient legends and rumours. For a very long time, I studied eighteen hours a day and seven days a week. I was in China for two months; Chen Lu himself gave me two full weeks of one-to-one instruction. I spent a summer at Watanabe with masters of arithmancy and charms; a few weeks in the American west; a few months in Eastern Europe; studied warding with a master runesmith... I've seen things you can't imagine. Hell, I've seen things that I still can't imagine.”
Gudrun rolled her eyes; “Please, Harry, it is not possible to accomplish all of these things in merely five years,” she said.
“That's true, I'd have never managed it in five years,” said Harry.
“Then how... oh... you didn't... you couldn't!” Gudrun insisted.
Harry smirked and said, “Didn't take you long to figure it out, eh?”
“How did you convince the English Unspeakables to grant you a time-turning artefact? In fact, how did they obtain such a thing? It was my understanding that all were destroyed some years ago,” Gudrun asked.
Harry's smirk broke into a full-on smile. “And you even guessed where it came from... I'm impressed,” he said.
“Well...? I am waiting for you to explain,” Gudrun said impatiently.
Harry said, “They kept several in their hidden levels. These are a lot better than the one Hermione used at Hogwarts, too. I think they've always kept the most interesting stuff down there – a second layer of misdirection, right? As for how I got them to give it over...? I participated in the casting of an Unbreakable Vow that said I would share the re-embodiment ritual after we've invoked it.”
Gudrun gasped, “You can not do this! You can not give such knowledge to those... those beasts!”
Harry shrugged; “I wasn't planning on it,” he said.
“But you submitted to an Unbreakable Vow! Is it your plan to lose your magic or to die?” Gudrun demanded.
Harry's smirk returned. “I said I participated in the casting of an Unbreakable Vow. Nobody will lose their magic over this. Unbreakable Vows are intent-based magic, and I never intended to follow through. Therefore, I vowed nothing,” he said.
“But... if the Vow did not take hold, then the Unspeakables would know this,” Gudrun reasoned.
Harry said, “They know that the Vow was cast, of course – there's a lovely little light show throughout. The only way to truly know if any kind of spell works is to see its effects. For most wizards, testing an Unbreakable Vow wouldn't be much different than testing a Killing Curse. They expect it to take their magic, and so it does.”
Gudrun stammered, “That is... it is... but... vows and oaths do not work in such ways... you can't...!”
Harry crossed his arms and said in a very formal way, “I, Harry James Potter, also know as John James Black, hereby state that I will never share a re-embodiment ritual of any sort with the Department of Mysteries or with anyone that is currently or has previously been an Unspeakable in the Ministry for Magic of the United Kingdom.”
“STOP!” Gudrun shouted too late.
Harry said, “Nee!” and a beam of light projected from the tip of his wand; “Still a wizard and still breathing,” he pointed out.
Gudrun's mouth dropped open in shock, and Harry snorted at her, “If you're going to do that, the least you could do is floss... you've a bit of plaque right there...”
“But you can not do what you have just done! It can not be so simple... this is not possible...” she spluttered.
“What, you didn't think I could say 'nee'? We don't really need to use fake Latin, remember?” he said.
“No! The Unbreakable Vow – how did you defeat the Vow?” she growled.
Harry said, “Like I said, vows and oaths are intent-based magic. While the Unbreakable Vow was being cast... are you really sure you want to know how I did it? I can guarantee you're going to have a headache, probably the nasty sort at the back of your head that just keeps hanging on.”
“You will explain,” she growled.
He sighed, “All right, then. I put my other hand behind my back and crossed my fingers.”
Gudrun's eyes threatened to pop free of her head as she shouted, “You crossed your fingers?”
Harry explained, “I said the words and then I did something completely opposite at the same time. Give magic a paradox, and the paradox wins. It's the same with a time-turner. If you try to change something that isn't supposed to be changed, then it simply doesn't change... had that happen to me once, and it's the damnedest thing. If you see yourself, then it was intended for you to see yourself; you don't suddenly cease to exist or blow up the universe.
“As for intent-based magic, it only works if you intend it to work. If you use an Unforgivable Curse and don't intend it to work, even subconsciously, then it won't work. I can personally vouch for that one. Now if you do actually believe that you've made a vow under pain of death, then the magic behind it will kill you if you break the vow. If it's made under pain of losing your magic, then Magic won't respond to you any longer. If you don't intend any of that – if you don't actually believe the oath will hold firm – then you won't die or lose your magic. That doesn't prevent you from participating in an oath casting. You do have to have very, very clear intentions in mind, or it might not work out the way that you plan. Here's the heart of it, Gudrun: the stories about paradoxes always being fatal or Unbreakable Vows always being unbreakable...? Fairy tales, that's all. The stories are mostly to keep wizards honest, or at least keep them from getting them killed if they're weak-willed.”
“But this is impossible...” Gudrun weakly protested.
Harry smiled and said, “Not if you believe in Magic... and besides that, it would be impossible for any Unspeakable to recreate what I'm going to do. I doubt they could even understand it, and if they could, they would never accept it.”
After she settled herself, Gudrun asked, “Have you read every book in this cottage?”
“Some of them more than once,” Harry said.
“How long have you possessed the time-turner?” she asked.
He said, “Since November 15, 1999. It was a memorable day.”
She asked, “How often have you put it to use?”
“It's been something like ten years since I started doing this, maybe a bit longer than that. Honestly, it wasn't easy to keep track of things. I owe Dobby more than I can say. There were almost always two of me, and we had four of me living here at the same time from last December until... hmm... it must have been a few days after the last time Ron came here alone. Was that in June? July? I can't remember,” he said.
She took several long and slow breaths before she said, “The world has not ended despite your best efforts. All of this, your view of magic... this is difficult for me to accept. It is opposite to everything that I have been taught.”
“You believe what you've been taught. That's fair enough; I believed what I was taught at Hogwarts. Can you believe in Magic?” Harry asked.
After a long period of silence, Gudrun said, “It is dangerous, choosing to believe in magic. Evil men, those without morality... these could become worse than Voldemort. That which we are taught, it places limits upon such men.”
“What about the people making the limits? The Ministry controlled the Aurors, practically owned the Daily Prophet – that bloody rag, good riddance to it! They set the rules for everyone based on a dozen people's opinions and a few bags of gold. Voldemort didn't even use his wand to take over Britain. He walked through the front door, and the Ministry had set the table for the rest of it,” Harry countered.
“But magic is a powerful tool, a terrible tool –” Gudrun started.
Harry cut her off, “You know that Magic isn't a tool. People see it as a tool because we're trained to use it that way. Magic just is.”
“It is not so simple as that. Form relates to function for a reason. Structure serves a purpose,” Gudrun insisted.
Harry asked her again, “Do you believe in Magic, Gudrun?”
“It is dangerous for me to do this,” she protested.
He said, “Only if you go it alone. I know we've been at each other's throats for a long time, but I've had enough of it. I'll be there for you. Even if I wasn't willing to stick by you, Ron would gut me like a fish if I didn't. Besides, you're more than stubborn enough to keep from losing yourself. Let me put it this way: Do you think you're able to believe in Magic?”
Her breath hitched before she managed to say, “I... I don't know.”
“Honesty to one's self is the beginning of your path, grasshopper,” he said.
Her brow furrowed; she said, “A grasshopper is an insect, is it not? I am certainly not an insect.”
Harry shrugged his shoulders. “It's just one of Chen Lu's sayings, he has hundreds of them. His adepts thought it was funny for some reason; they laughed like lunatics whenever he called me Grasshopper... never did understand why,” he told her.
“I know that the ritual structure that you allowed me to review was incomplete. It was as though I was seeing one floor of a tall building. I would like to see the full formulae and diagramming, if you are willing to allow this,” she said.
He said, “You're more right about that than you realise. When I put those together, I was still looking at all of this the old-fashioned way. This wizard in Poland showed me a completely different way to go about ritual design. He was older than Siggy, I think, and completely mad... looked like a house-elf without the long ears. Anyway, the runes are plotted in a series of three-dimensional arrays but the equations were seven-dimensional out of necessity."
She spluttered, “But... but... runes are inherently two-dimensional constructs... and... you... the equations... seven dimensions...?”
“Why not? We're talking about applied rune work; far too much arithmantic calculus for my taste; some fuzzy logic here and there; and a dash of quantum mechanics thrown in for good measure. It's magic, silly!” he chuckled.
“You... ARGH!” was all she could manage.
He snorted, “Ron wouldn't be very happy with me if your brain explodes.”
She growled at him, which only made him laugh louder.
Finally he said, “Look, you can see all of it if you like, but the design's a guideline. At this point, it's basically an indirect image of a portion of a ritual. Most of the runes won't actually be inscribed; they'll be invoked.”
After a thoughtful pause, she said quietly, “I am frightened by this. What you describe is so very dangerous, Harry. I don't know if I can... I may be unable to accept this.”
He said, “I'm telling you, you're stronger than that. If you can't believe in all of this mess, you should at least believe in yourself. Look... if it helps, remember that I spent ten years figuring this out – ten years without any sort of life getting in the way. If you insist on looking this over, try really hard to see it with open eyes. There's a fundamental principle in the background – one that gets at your independent variable – but if you blink, you'll miss it.”
“What is it that I will miss?” she asked.
He gave a wry smile that belonged on a man seven times his age and said, “I won't deny that you're one of the brightest people I've ever met, and I've been around some pretty sharp sorts. If you can keep your mind open for just long enough to get out of your own way, then you might not need me to answer that.”
October 24, 2004 The Black Cloister, John O' Groats, Caithness, Scotland
“He never comes to the door. We're just to walk in and announce ourselves,” Ron said.
Luna sing-songed, “How lovely to live in a place with no need for locking charms or wards!”
“It might not be anything to do with need,” Neville suggested; “I know he still intimidates me, and that's without meaning to do it.”
Ron pushed open the front door and sighed, “He's been at it again. Every night the place is cleaned up, and a few hours later it's like a poltergeist had the run of the place. I never would have guessed that Dobby was with him for all these years.”
“There are books everywhere...” Neville murmured.
Luna mused, “I never pictured Harry as a bibliophile. Clearly he is infected with Hermione.”
“Er... Harry? We're here! Where are you?” Ron called out.
“I'm at the back,” Harry returned from somewhere on the other side of the crowded sitting room.
“Where's the back?” Ron asked.
“Behind the Paracelsian Compendia – you know, the stack of books with the blue bindings?” Harry said.
“Why don't you just pop up so we can see you?” Ron snapped.
“Thought you had a decent sense of direction...” Harry said distractedly.
“I'm just going to start knocking down these piles of books, you know?” pouted Ron.
A bit of Harry's unkempt hair appeared above one stack. “Don't even think about it,” he mock-growled.
Ron, Neville and Luna picked their way around books and half-open boxes filled with scrolls until they stood facing their dishevelled friend. He was unshaven and his hair was a bird's nest.
“Bloody hell, mate, I thought you were starting to take care of yourself?” said Ron.
“Just revisiting some assumptions... there isn't a lot of time left, you know?” Harry said.
“Did you not greet me with the same assessment last year?” Luna asked.
Harry rubbed at the bridge of his nose and said, “Really? It seems longer than that...”
“I have not seen you since December,” Luna said.
“I'll take you at your word. Erm... I'd cook some tea, but I'm not sure that I have a kettle anymore,” Harry said.
“There is food. Fortunately for you, it was the villagers who brought the food and not I,” Luna said.
“Dottie and her hens really have been good to me... I should give a proper thank-you. There's still some table space in the kitchen, I think,” said Harry.
Ron rooted through one of Dottie's baskets of food as Harry took stray books and parchments off the dining table and stacked them in a corner. Luna went for for plates and such. Neville enlarged a short case of butterbeer that had been in his pocket.
“Be careful with that shrinking business. Surely you've heard about Dennis Creevey?” Ron said.
Neville winced and said, “That was wicked awful, but it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't stuffed up the shrinking charm in the first place.”
“To suddenly find a loaded trunk where one's todger belongs must be very disorienting. I suppose that it might be a quick cure for someone with todger envy, though I suppose that the three of you wouldn't know about that. Surely you are all secure in your manhoods?” Luna said.
As Ron choked and spluttered, Harry told her, “You're supposed to wait until the butterbeers are open before you spring that. It's all in the timing.”
Luna said, “I shall strive to do better.”
Harry said, “Never change, Luna... we love you just as you are.”
“Gudrun's en route, by the way – an uncooperative labour, she said, and that's all I need to know about it,” Ron announced.
Luna added, “I spoke to Ginny earlier today and she expected to arrive at about this time.”
“So, Harry... you, me, Ron, Luna, Ginny, Gudrun... that's six. For a ritual, I'd figure on either three or seven participants. I suppose you might not figure into that number as the caster, so perhaps we're waiting on two more?” Neville reasoned.
Harry said, “Well thought out, Neville. I do figure into it – or I can, at least – so it's one more. He's around here somewhere...”
“Harry Potter, sir, is the messiest wizard there ever was! It is like taking care of a dozen grown wizards to work for the House of Potter!” came a familiar squeaky voice.
“...and there he is,” Harry said.
Luna said serenely, “Greetings, my elvin friend.”
“Dobby remembers Miss Lovegood and Mister Longbottom most fondly. Welcome once again to the Black Cloister, Mister Weasley – Harry Potter is surely happier for your presence,” the house-elf said.
"We're waiting on Ginny Weasley and Gudrun,” Harry told Dobby.
Dobby said, “Dobby will wait at the front door. Mister Longbottom, is it the butterbeers that you are bringing?"
“That's right,” Neville said.
“Very good, sir. We are taking any spirits or Muggle beers and dumping them in the loo, but the butterbeers may stay,” Dobby explained.
Neville squinted at Harry and asked, “What's this...?”
“Gudrun and her old boss dried me out,” Harry said.
Luna chimed in, “Harry was drinking heavily the last time that I saw him. It was clear that he was not ready to change, but now he has stopped. Things do tend to happen in their own time, you know?”
Harry's eyes widened. “What did you just say?” he asked.
“That you were drinking in excess –” she started.
“No, no, at the end,” he said.
“Oh! Things tend to happen in their own time, no matter how hard we might press,” she said.
“It keeps coming back to that, doesn't it? The grœð said that years ago, more or less,” he said.
Luna regarded him for a few moments with a particularly hard-to-read expression before she said, “Gudrun's grœð spoke to you? This should be an interesting story, but it will wait until the others arrive.”
Ron nibbled on a sandwich, swallowed carefully and then asked, “So how's life at Hogwarts, Nev?”
Neville stopped eating to answer, “It's the best choice I've ever made. I think this is the first year that really feels settled, and that's nice. The castle's fully functioning now – better than before, to my way of thinking. I know I don't miss those sodding moving staircases. The Founders should have sacked their architects, if you ask me.”
“Is it true that the Board of Governors proposed to rename Slytherin House after Harry?” Luna asked.
Ron laughed, “No offense, Luna, but that one's too mad for the Quibbler.”
Neville looked to Harry and said, “I'm afraid that's not a rumour, Harry. There's not much sentiment for old Salazar these days, not in public at least. It failed by a two vote margin.” Harry's jaw dropped at that; admittedly, he did live at a remove from magical Britain, but that particular manoeuvre hadn't reached him.
Ron huffed, “Harry, mate, you're a smashing wizard but you have to admit that's a bit rich. I suppose the Board figured a new sign over the door would change everything?”
Luna changed the subject and said to Neville, “I have always wondered about this, Neville: what is it like to be employed by a ghost?”
Neville gave a wry smile and said, “If I had a sickle for every time I'm asked about that, I'd be a wealthy man. It's like working for anyone, I guess, except that she's at it twenty-four hours a day. She does give the Board fits, I'll say that for her. They can't say no to her because she just ignores them and then they look pathetic. They can't sack her because she's in charge of the entire system of wards, and there's still no good explanation for that. Most of the students love her, excepting the ones who like to make real trouble. If you thought old Dumbledore knew everything that happened at Hogwarts... even though she's a ghost, I still can't get used to the fact that she knows where everyone is and what they're on about. I'll tell you this much: being her Deputy leaves me feeling as useful as an ashtray on a broom.”
“Don't you have to sign everything for her?” Ron asked.
Neville shook his head; “She just points at a parchment and then her signature appears, like she wrote it with silver ink,” he said.
“Does Headmistress McGonagall have an appointed assistant?” Luna asked.
“Why, are you interested in the job?” Neville asked.
Luna said, “I was only thinking that she might need someone to turn pages in books, pick up parchments and such.”
“She doesn't need any help with that,” said Harry.
Neville's brow creased in thought. “No, she doesn't... and how do you know, Harry? I didn't think you'd been to Hogwarts in years?”
“Actually, I've been there for the library a few times. The thing is, Minerva and I exchange post every few days; I'm just not comfortable being seen by the students. She doesn't need an assistant because she isn't a ghost,” Harry said; before a shocked Neville could manage to get out a sound, he added, “Ahh, Ginny and Anders are here.”
Neville blurted out, “Ginny's not here, and you can't just throw something like that out there –”
“Hello? Hello?” Ginny called through the front door.
“See? I told you she was here,” Harry said smugly.
Ron said, “You've set proximity wards at last.”
“I don't have any wards, you know that,” said Harry; “I felt her apparating in and it was obviously a side-along.”
Ron said in disbelief, “You felt her apparating... are you joking?”
“W-what in Merlin's bloody bordello do you mean, McGonagall's not a ghost?” Neville spat out.
Luna sat up straighter at that; “Merlin did have his own bordello, then? Did he hire Turkish witches, and is it true that they had round heels?” she asked.
“They were mostly Welsh and had perfectly ordinary heels,” Harry said without batting an eye.
“They... Welsh... huh?” Ron spluttered.
Neville pressed, “What are you playing at? She's a ghost – I work with her every day, so I ought to know!”
Harry explained, “Minerva pledged herself to Hogwarts just before she was killed, not just to save the students but to save the castle itself. It's the only place she's ever thought of as her home. Basically, she did what my mum did for me. She died to protect her children, and she did so with crystal-clear magical intent. Now, Dumbledore turned my mum's sacrifice into the basis for a warding scheme anchored by blood. The old man was a classical alchemist, but certainly not a warding expert. If he'd known what he was doing, he'd have left well enough alone and I'd have had more protection than I ever got through that botched binding to my harpy of an aunt.
“Here's the thing, Neville: when Hermione bound herself to me by ritual, we were also bound together by an ancient curse-sharing charm. The Killing Curse tore her loose and the first ritual sent her through me like a slingshot. She would have been gone forever if it wasn't for that charm. Instead she forced Voldemort's horcrux out of my head and you know the rest of it from there. When Minerva bound herself to the castle by way of providing protection for the students, she created a second tie to the wards; the headmistress is already connected to them. The Killing Curse tore her soul loose but the second binding to the wards held onto her. It's the same as Hermione, more or less – she's still Minerva, minus the body of course.”
Ginny took that moment to cross the room and pull Harry into a warm hug. “You look better than the last time,” she said.
“People keep saying that,” Harry said.
“Perhaps because it is true?” Anders called from the entryway; “...and please unhand my wife.”
Harry stepped to one side of Ginny and reached for Anders' hand. “Good to see you, old man,” he said in a posh voice.
After a quick handshake, Anders sniffed loudly, buffed the nails of his free hand against his shirt, and said, “Such a simple home, old chap, not at all befitting of a man of your stature... and you're even more bookish, which I wouldn't have thought possible.”
As one, Ron and Harry said, “What's wrong with bookish?”
Harry's brow quirked and Ron said quickly, “Talking about Gudrun, of course – she's bookish...smarter on her worst day than me on my best,” to which Harry stifled laughter.
Ginny turned to Anders and asked, “Did you bring the package?”
“Ehh... package? To which package do you refer?” Anders returned.
“The package – you know, the reason we came here?” she shot back.
“Ahh, you refer to the case,” he said briskly.
“Case, package, whatever – I don't care what it's called, you prat. Is it here?” she snapped.
Ron rolled his eyes and said wearily, “Bloody hell... tell me you're not going to start arguing?”
Neville took a pull on his butterbeer before he said, “It isn't arguing, it's foreplay.” Ginny's mouth formed a silent “O”, Anders laughed loudly, and Luna had to pound on Harry's back when he inhaled a bit of sandwich.
“Nev, did you just say that?” Ron managed.
Neville shrugged; “It's Hannah's fault, really,” he said casually.
“You have left Ginny speechless. Will you teach me this?” Anders said with a smirk. He had an unusual smile, Harry thought; his upper lip barely revealed his front teeth.
Gudrun joined them a quarter-hour later, shortly followed by Madam Gísladóttir. After she was introduced around as Siggy – which drew groans from Gudrun – the ancient witch conjured a stiff-backed chair that even McGonagall might have found austere.
Harry spent the next forty minutes providing a meticulous explanation of the ritual he had planned and his thinking behind it, including a hint of his greatly revised views on magic itself. He didn't reveal all of it, because he honestly wasn't sure if anyone present save Gudrun and Siggy could handle it. No one made a sound save Madam Gísladóttir, and she merely gave approving noises in the right places.
Luna was the first to break the silence. “It is obvious that you are holding something back, but I am certain there's a good reason for it.”
“So it was all there for the taking in Ravenclaw's Grimoire... wow...” Ginny breathed.
“Hard to imagine, isn't it? She realised the truth of Magic, but went on to build a school that obscured it,” Harry sighed; with a wave of his hand toward the nearest set of overflowing shelves, he added, “All of this work, all of this studying, and it was in my hands almost from the time I woke up in hospital.”
“Now I understand what you meant about things happening in their own time. You had the information in hand from the beginning but could not have put it to use,” Luna said.
“Certainly the ten years of additional studies were required, Harry; we have discussed this,” Gudrun pointed out.
“Um... ten years...?” Ron began.
Harry rolled his eyes and chuckled, “That's a story for another time.” Then the room went silent again for a full minute while the group mulled over everything they had learned.
Neville broke the silence; “I won't even ask how you figured out all of this, but I believe all of it,” he said; “Just tell me what I can do to help.”
“Talismans,” said Harry.
After blank looks from Ron and Neville and several nervous hops from Dobby, Madam Gísladóttir cleared her throat and clarified, “As young Harry told us, each who takes part in this ritual will give of their own free will something that they believe to represent a part of Miss Granger. Each must interpret this in their own way, but the elements of the ritual are to be represented in total.” Gudrun didn't yet know enough to argue with that, and Harry was glad that Siggy followed on to his limited explanation. It was for the best, even though it bound him into a more strict ritual than he liked.
Luna looked to the parchment before her, littered with notes strewn in all directions. “There are ten elements and seven participants. Hermione is of course Spirit. This leaves Form; Bone; Flesh; Blood; Magic; Fire; Earth; Water; and Air,” she said.
“I'm responsible for everything that the rest of you don't cover,” Harry said, thus binding himself further. Luna nodded and scribbled something.
Ron asked, “Do we have to keep it a secret from each other, or do we work together on this?”
“You ask an excellent question, Mr. Weasley,” Madam Gísladóttir said with a smile.
“We must work together, of course, so that we address as many of the elements as possible,” said Luna.
Ron pointed out, “You must have given Ginny and Anders the list earlier, if they brought something today.”
“I had a pretty clear idea of what should be used for Fire and Ginny agreed with me,” Harry said.
Anders put a long and narrow wooden case atop the table and told them all, “We have come through in a big way, as they say.”
Ginny leant across the table and opened the case; she explained, “These are no ordinary dragon heartstrings – we could have asked Charlie for that, after all. These are from the same dragon's heart as the string that was in Hermione's wand.”
“Bloody hell...” Ron breathed.
“I must agree with Ronald on this,” said Gudrun.
Harry was in shock. He gathered himself and asked, “Anders, I know you say that you can find anything, but Ron's right. Bloody hell, man... how?”
Ginny grinned and said, “From your own papers, actually.”
“I've never given you any papers, have I?” Harry said.
“Ginny refers to the records of Mr. Ollivander, old bean. They fell to you as Hermione's heir of record. They have been most helpful to us, as we have been able to support much of the English demand for wands in the absence of a suitable wandcrafter. We will of course return the records to Hermione following the ritual,” said Anders.
Harry's throat tightened at the certainty in Anders' voice. Ginny and Anders truly believed in Magic even if they weren't ready or able to call it that, he realised, and the weight on his shoulders lifted slightly.
Ginny went on, “I don't know about the rest of you, but I figured that Ollivander didn't actually keep records. It seemed like he just knew things. As it turned out, he had very detailed notes – more detailed than anything we ordinarily keep in the course of business, and that's saying something. He had identified the individual dragon that gave the heartstring in Hermione's wand. From there, Charlie was a big help. We finally found out that Gregorovich had three strings left in his stock.”
“He did not want to part with unmatched raw material, but with some persuasion he decided to sell us all three of the strings,” said Anders, and Harry decided that he didn't want to know anything more.
“Why couldn't you just use the one from Hermione's wand? Don't you have it, Harry?” Ron asked.
Harry shrugged and said, “I figured Kingsley had all the stray wands burned.”
Dobby tugged at Harry's sleeve. He began, “The wandmaker Ollivander was the destroyer of unclaimed wands, Harry Potter. Several family wands were taken to the wandmaker by Dobby for old Master...” but stopped and abruptly began to beat his head against the side of the table. Ginny snatched the house elf by the shoulder to stop him.
Harry was startled, as Dobby hadn't punished himself in years. “You heard a lot of things in that place. It's in the past, my friend,” he said kindly.
Dobby sniffled, “Dobby's old habits are hard to break, but they will be broken one day. Dobby remains honoured to be called friend by Harry Potter, for Dobby calls Harry Potter best friend instead of master.”
Harry patted the house elf on the back and said, “You've come so far, Dobby, and it's all right to be proud of that. I know I am, and you know that Hermione will be over the moon. You're probably the most learned house-elf that's ever lived, my friend,”; he looked to his friends around the table and added with pride, “Dobby was the first to go through most of these books. He took notes – bloody good ones, too. He organized everything, from scheduling to travel to food. I'd have been lost otherwise. Truth be told, he knows more about classical Arithmancy and charms theory than I do, and he's absolutely world-class with runes. His approach is unlike anything I've ever seen or even heard of.”
Then he turned his attention to the house-elf and added, “Sometime you should show Gudrun and Siggy what you can do, Dobby. I'm saying this again because I really meant it. When this is finished, we're travelling to America or Brazil, or even Japan if we have to – somewhere that those cowardly bigots at the Runeworkers' Guild don't have any say. You're going to sit for oral exams and get that Mastery, because you've damn well earned it.” Dobby's greyish skin flushed a pale green and he bowed his head.
Neville had been in deep thought, staring at something no one else could see. He asked abruptly, “I was thinking, could the talisman for Earth be made of wood?”
“Plants are of the earth so there is a natural connection,” Luna said.
“I know what happened to Hermione's wand, Harry,” Neville said. When Harry's eyes bored into him, the Master Herbologist went on, “Right after the War ended, Kingsley told me that he was looking for something to do with all the, you know... um... extras. There were so many of them. No one ever told me that Ollivander used to handle it. Everyone else was so busy, so I agreed to do it. It wasn't long after that when McGonagall asked me if I might come to Hogwarts and develop a plan for restarting the greenhouses.
“I brought in some Druids to survey the grounds and asked them to help me figure out what to do with the wands, too. Yes, I know most people don't think much of the Druids these days, but the grounds and the original greenhouse – it was Greenhouse Three when we were in school – they were blessed by the Druids in 1022, and we were trying to recreate things the way they were before...”
“That was brilliant, Neville,” Ginny said.
Luna gave an ethereal, pearly-white smile and added, “The only one who doubts you is yourself.”
“Go on, Nev,” Harry encouraged him.
Neville cleared his throat and said, “Right, then... the Druids believe in returning everything back to nature, see? We took apart all of the wands and extracted the cores. We ground the dragon heartstrings and put the grindings into dragon dung for fertilizer. We buried the animal hairs. We burned the feathers to ash and scattered them to the winds. We thought about burning all of the wand wood and churning under the remains, but that's when it struck me: all of that wood was imbued with magic, and had been for years. I thought that if any of it would take root, the trees and plants would make for bloody powerful wand stock. Not only would we be returning it to nature, but someday the magic would be used again as well. I figured it was a way to remember all of our people who died and... well... I figured that for the other side, it was sort of a second chance, right? The wood gets chosen by a new wizard eventually, and then maybe dark becomes light.
“The trees were planted at the edge of the Forest nearest to the castle. The shrubs and vines take up the whole central section of the Gardens of Remembrance, around the folly. We identified the owner for every wand that we could, and I recorded the owner and wand core for each plant that survived. There's a vine that was cultivated from Hermione's wand, Harry. I wouldn't have wanted to take a large cutting until now – we weren't sure how hardy the plants would be – but the entire garden's coming along better than anyone expected.”
Harry smiled at him and said, “Things happen in their own time, right? That's the perfect talisman for Earth, Neville. Thank you.”
“The Ministry's taking care of it again for, you know, anyone that doesn't pass their wand to family. I... well, I was thinking that the Garden should be the place we take the wand of anyone who fought in the War, if that's what they want. Muggles do something like that, a special place in their cemeteries for people who fight for their country. Since we don't have cemeteries, I figured this was the next best thing,” Neville said.
“Bloody brilliant,” Ron said, and not a few eyes went suspiciously watery.
Harry told Neville, “I want that done for me when the time comes. You should get Kingsley involved and see what comes of it.”
Luna said without warning, “Hermione's greatest mental gifts are her prodigious memory and her dedication to a cause, no matter the difficulty or reasonableness of it. Therefore, Air will be represented by a Jobberknoll feather. I will provide it.”
Dobby drew himself up and announced, “Dobby will provide the talisman for Magic, Harry Potter. Dobby is a magical being and so it is right that Dobby does this.”
Gudrun said, “The base fluid for the cauldron should itself be the talisman for Water. I know of a way to provide the ideal fluid. Please allow me to do this.”
“Do you believe in Magic?” Harry asked her.
“I believe in you, Harry. I believe that you can do this. Belief in yourself, anchored by the belief of the coven, is the variable in the proofs of your ritual,” she returned.
Harry let out a nervous breath and said, “That's not exactly how it is, but you're close enough. I'm glad you can be a part of this, Gudrun – you... you can't know how important that is to me. For Ron to do this and you to be left out... it wouldn't have been right at all...” Gudrun stood, walked to Harry, leant down and embraced him.
“Are we good, then? Are we finally good?” Ron asked.
“We're good, brother – all three of us,” Harry said. Gudrun let out a small sob and tightened her grasp on Harry until it was Weasley-worthy; he whispered into her ear, “I know you're taking a risk. We won't let you fall – you know that, I hope?”
Ron didn't smile as Harry expected; instead he let out a slow breath and said, “I'll take care of the flesh.” There was something quite odd in Ron's tone but Harry accepted the offer on its face.
Madam Gísladóttir said, “I will assist Harry with the remaining talismans.”
“I have an idea for Form and Bone, but I'll need your help in being certain about Blood,” Harry said.
“And I shall provide that help,” the ancient witch returned.
Harry looked around the table, from one friend to the next. “I can't thank you enough for doing this. It's been a long road to get here,” he said.
“You're not alone in this, Harry. I hope you're going to stop turning everyone away,” Neville said.
Harry's throat tightened; he said thickly, “You've come a long way from the boy who couldn't keep hold of his toad.”
“And you're not a skinny midget anymore, Potter,” Ron said lightly.
“You were never alone, Harry Potter – you just forgot that you had friends,” Luna said.
“Why did I forget? It wasn't the Glumbumbles, was it?” Harry asked with a straight face.
“No, you were just being stupid. Men are especially good at that,” she returned, and the serious part of the gathering came to a sudden end.
I certainly threw a few very different ideas out there in this chapter, so I thought that perhaps my thinking behind them might be helpful to some:
THE FATE OF WANDS AFTER DEATH OF THE WIELDER
When first reading the Harry Potter series — books 1 through 5 were released at the time — I wrote down many pages of questions. Having a lot of questions wasn't really surprising; the complexity (and inevitable inconsistency) of Rowling's world is a major driver behind the huge volume of Potter fanfiction, after all. One of my questions was: what happens to the wands of wizards who die? Neville used his father's wand, so we knew that at least some families kept and passed down wands. We didn't know what happened to James and Lily Potter's wands. Ollivander had said that 'the wand chooses the wizard' and Neville's wand work was always subpar, so it was reasonable to think that wands were for the most part never re-used. Since I wrote from the working theory that there were no wizarding burials (see the next bit), I figured that either wands were cremated along with the decedent or that someone was responsible for receiving the wands of the dead. Ollivander seemed not only a likely candidate for this, but also creepy enough to relish the task. So there you are. It never once occurred to me prior to DH that Ms. Rowling would rely so heavily on the 'wand choosing the wizard' bit as the substance for her conclusion -- it's internally consistent in retrospect, but still falls flat for me. Sorry.
WHY ON EARTH WOULD A WIZARD BE BURIED INTACT?
Considering the variety of unpleasant magical purposes for human remains — inferi, necromantic rituals like Voldemort's re-embodying in Goblet of Fire, and so on — why would wizards be buried at all? Prior to Half Blood Prince, my working theory was that Harry hadn't visited his parents' graves and no one talked about their graves because wizards simply didn't have cemeteries. Obviously, Dumbledore's showy entombment put paid to that. I incorporated my working theory into Harry Potter and the Years of Rebellion, and a traditional-but-disappearing funerary ritual for vanishing a corpse ("Sending") is a significant plot element. I stubbornly stuck to that in Last Horcrux as well, despite the conclusion of Half Blood Prince, hence Neville's reference to the lack of wizarding cemeteries. Although Dumbledore's bier and the Godric's Hallow cemetery were consistent with Ms. Rowling's plot choices, and despite the fact that her wizards seem almost culturally incapable of critical thinking, reason suggests that any wizard who elects to be buried intact is a fool.
A KNIGHT WHO SAYS 'NEE'?
I couldn't resist. Sorry again. The idea of Harry saying something nonsensical while casting a spell came from Bobmin's Wizard's Fall series. It's one of the most amusing traits I've seen attributed to powerful!Harry, and I had just read the series at the time I was writing this. Therefore, let it be known by all that Harry is a (duly invested) Knight who says 'Nee!' :D
TIME-TURNERS, WORLD-SHATTERING PARADOXES AND TEENAGE GIRLS
Time-turners potentially causing earth-shattering or fatal paradoxes is an idea I rejected immediately upon reading Prisoner of Azkaban. Give 3rd-year!Hermione a rule and you know that she'd follow it scrupulously. McG and/or Dumbles didn't want anyone to notice what Hermione was doing, as it would create more trouble than it was worth. My take is that Dumbledore impressed upon them that they must not be seen because of the criminal/political ramifications of what they were about to do, not because of any paradox previously impressed upon Hermione. Seriously, if time-turning was as dangerous as Hermione implied in PoA, do you really think anyone would have given her a device capable of causing the death of the user or the re-setting of the universe in order to take two extra classes? Even with the lack of wizarding common sense often evident in the books, that falls beyond the pale. Based on DH, it's reasonable to suspect that Hermione was being set up by Dumbles from as early as 3rd year to play the roles of Expert On Everything and Enforcer of the Rules in Harry's life. As such, she was 'specially trusted' with the time-turner.
Dumbles acknowledges in the train station that he gave Hermione the Beedle the Bard book with the intention of making her act methodically and thus to 'slow down' Harry, just as he gave Ron the Deluminator with the expectation that Ron would falter during the quest and eventually need to relocate Harry and Hermione. That suggests a very detailed and very extended set-up of the whole trio on Dumbles' part. (Although the interpersonal behavior in 6th year should have given him pause regarding the stability of his plan...) If the above is true, then it follows that the warning about paradoxes was the magical equivalent of telling a child not to run with scissors in hand for fear of putting an eye out.