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Stories begun in 2006 (post-HBP)

Author Notes:

This is the final, edited, complete version of Harry Potter and the Last Horcrux.  Chapters 1 through 14 were completely written prior to publication of Deathly Hallows in 2008; chapters 15 through 19 and the alternate ending were in draft or outline form by that time.

EIGHT
Seeking Shelter From the Storm

“There’s another copy?  Are you serious?” Hermione squealed.  A dog began barking in the distance and she winced.

“I wouldn’t joke about that; now keep your voice down, right?” Harry said quietly but forcefully.  He wondered if the sobering charm hadn’t fully taken.  Hermione seemed almost giddy. 

She held his hand and swung their arms back and forth like little children did.  “It’s just so amazing!  I didn't dare stop to read it before… can you imagine?  Rowena Ravenclaw wrote it!  Rowena Ravenclaw!  The spells that could be in there… some of them haven’t been seen in a thousand years.  I can’t wait to have a go at it!”

“Could you shout out ‘Ravenclaw’ and ‘spells’ a bit louder, please?” muttered Harry.  Hermione winced again, but she still swung their arms and excitedly squeezed his hand.

He couldn’t resist teasing her.  “If you start skipping, I’ll have to stun you,” he whispered.

“You wouldn’t dare!” she laughed, and proceeded to skip for a few steps.

Harry shook his head and smiled.  “What’s gotten into you?” he asked.

Hermione summoned a posh accent.  “I’ve had a grand evening, Mr. Potter.  I feel positively celebratory,” she said.

“Er… ‘celebratory’?  Right, then – I know you’re Hermione and not someone in disguise, at least,” he said, which earned him a mock-punch on the arm before she seized his hand again.

“It’s a lovely night and I feel… safe, I suppose,” she said.

Harry looked around the area.  “We’re walking down a dark street, it’s after one o’clock and there could be anyone hiding down the alleys,” he observed.

“Please, Harry, do continue to ruin the moment,” she said flatly.

He snorted loudly and began to laugh.  She laughed with him and then moved from holding his hand to nearly wrapping herself around his arm.  Her head rested lightly against his shoulder as they walked and the monster in his chest purred and he didn’t know what to do about it.

“I was thinking –” he started.

“Were you now?” she said.

He grumbled, “Do you want to hear this?”

Her head nestled into him; “Sorry, I was just having you on.”

It took effort for him to speak.  “I… erm, I was thinking,” he began again, “that we didn’t need to let a room.  There’s the cottage, right?”

She nodded and said, “That’s a very sensible idea… but what about –?”  Harry wrapped his free hand around her arm, brought the cottage to mind and pulled the both of them through an impossibly narrow tube that crossed the sea to the mainland in a trice.

They landed roughly but it was still steadier than a portkey.  Hermione immediately pulled free and began battering his chest.  “What were you thinking?” she demanded.  “Even you had most of a pint –”

“The last ferry left at nine o’clock,” he pointed out.

She was worked into a froth. “I know where the cottage is!  There was no reason to side-along…”; then she stopped abruptly and demanded, “Where are we?  We’re not even at the –”

A rush of shockingly cold water struck them from behind.  Harry lost his footing and barely managed to keep Hermione from being swept backward.  He wiped wet sand from his nose.  They were on the beach, he realised, a hundred feet short of the cottage.

Hermione struggled to her feet and spat a mouthful of sand.  “You stupid, inconsiderate… oooooh!” she growled and resumed her attack on him.

Harry raised his arms to block her; “Hermione…”

She didn’t relent; “You are a prat, Harry Potter, a big bloody prat!  Look at me!”

“Hermione…”

“Not a word!  I’m not finished with you yet!” she roared. 

“Erm… there’s a man with a staff right behind you,” he said.

Hermione rolled her eyes.  “Oh, that’s rich!” she snapped.

“You appear to be Harry Potter and his companion,” came a calm deep voice from behind her, “but you understand why I must ask for the emergency passwords?”  Hermione let out a panicked shriek.

“Evans, Puckle, and Prewett,” Harry said quickly.  The man lowered his staff and made a motion.  Five others emerged from shadows; Harry hadn’t even spotted the shadows, let alone the men.

“You were not expected, Mr. Potter, but you are welcome,” the Icelander behind Hermione said.

“I hadn’t realised you were still here,” said Harry; “We can go somewhere else.”

The man raised his hand to stop Harry.  “Mr. Lupin said that this was your place, and not that of his group.  We were prepared to live on the land and we shall do this,” he said.

One of the other men added, “We thank you for the use of the building.  We will make it ready for you.”

Hermione pulled her fingers through her sodden hair.  “That’s not necessary,” she sniffed.

“It is right,” the first man said simply.  Harry looked around and the other four were nowhere to be seen.

“You’re good at this,” Harry said.

“We were sent for that reason,” the second man said.  “I am Einar.  This is Magnus.  The others do not speak English.  We are of the Guardians of Midgard.”

“We are like your Aurors,” Magnus said quickly.

“Aurors don’t move in the way that you do,” Hermione observed.

Einar gave a bland smile and said as if he was reading it from a note card, “After much debate, the magical peoples of the world agreed by treaty that there would be no armies.  The Althing pledged this on behalf of our people.  We have no army.  The Guardians of Midgard keep the peace.” 

Magnus chimed in, “Like your Aurors.”

Harry laughed, even as Hermione appeared to be scandalised.  He said, “Nothing at all like the Aurors, but we don’t mind - do we, Hermione?”

She let out a huff and said, “Under the circumstances, no, we don’t mind.  It’s quite late.  You’re welcome to stay in the cottage, honestly.  Aren’t they, Harry?”

Harry hesitated before he said, “Of course – you’re welcome to stay.  We won't put you out in the middle of the night.”

Magnus flung something from his hand and a sleek nylon tent emerged from the grass at the edge of the beach, already staked to the ground.  “It is not an inconvenience,” he said.

Harry fished out his wand, brushed it clean, and pointed it toward Hermione.  He started the incantation for a simple cleaning spell to remove the sand from her.

She slapped away his wand, spat, “Don’t even think of it!” and stomped away toward the cottage. 

“Bother,” Harry groaned.

The two Icelanders laughed heartily.  “A lonely task lies ahead of you,” Einar managed.

“We have seven sleeping mats for six of us.  The seventh will be yours if needed,” Magnus chimed in.

Harry glared at them and followed Hermione inside.  He could still hear laughter as he closed the door behind him.  A trail of sandy shoe prints led toward the main bedroom.  Two of the Icelanders passed him with arm-loads of gear; both shook their heads at him sadly.  Making a mess of things was apparently a universal language.

He stood before the bedroom door for a good while before he caught the sound of a shower running.  After a bit of pacing, the perfect idea occurred to him: a distraction was definitely in order.  He let the Icelandic guards know that he would be gone again for a short time, and then disappeared with a quiet pop.

All was quiet in the makeshift village at Deerness.  Harry kept to the shadows rather than using disillusionment or anything else likely to trip wards.  Nothing was moving around the Weasleys’ temporary home at such a late hour save a few goats.  One bleated at him for a moment before it returned to gnawing on the sparse grass.

It seemed as if the veranda creaked with each step.  He palmed his wand just long enough to look for proximity wards, traps or obvious Wheezes.  Finding none, he slipped open the front door; thankfully it was well oiled.

Once inside, he was actually less concerned about a bit of noise.  He had learned over the last few summers that noises were constant in a house filled with people.  He considered collecting Hermione’s things, but wanted to take no chances on waking Ginny.  Mrs. Weasley had offered him his own room.  He hadn’t gone inside, but figured Ron would have put his bags there.

He was gob-smacked to find his things beside the bed, and Hermione’s clothes and books unpacked throughout and the room clearly used.  As quietly as he could manage, he piled her clothes into one empty case – forcefully paying no mind to some of them – and her books into the other.  There was no getting around a feather-light charm, he realised, and so he took the chance.  Nothing in the house seemed to stir.

On the way down the corridor he noticed that the echoes were distorted, which suggested imperturbable charms.  By the time he reached the stairs, he’d figured that four of the five bedroom doors were charmed.  Two of the four bags he was guiding nearly struck the railings, but he managed to reach the ground floor without a tell-tale thump.

Mr. Weasley stood between him and the entry hall.  “Good morning, Harry.  Rather early in the morning for a visit, isn’t it?” he asked.

Harry dropped the bags in shock.  Even lightened, they still made a terrible clatter.  All he managed was a confused babble.

“Don’t fret – no one heard that,” said Mr. Weasley.

“I… er… tried to be quiet…” Harry mumbled.

“I don’t need a ward to know when someone’s entered my home, you know?  When you have teenagers, you’ll understand,” Mr. Weasley said.  “Would you care to sit for a while?”

Harry shook his head; “Hermione’s expecting me.”

“I never saw Hermione for someone who would run from her troubles… seemed stronger than that, somehow…” Mr. Weasley said absently.  Before Harry could object, he went on, “Her father said some awful things to the both of you; even her mother said as much.  He’s terrified, you know?”

“He should be,” Harry returned quickly.

Mr. Weasley sighed, “He wants to understand why his only daughter would follow someone to her death.  I’ve wondered the same now and again, and I’ve had the benefit of knowing you for some time.”

“I don’t want anyone to follow me,” Harry said.  “I’ve tried to keep it from happening.  I tried to leave alone after the wedding, I wouldn’t let Ginny come along, and I tried to get Hermione to stay here after Ron…”

Mr. Weasley said, “Molly and I lived through the last war.  We have some basis for understanding all of this.  Hermione’s mother and father don’t have that, Harry.  By some miracle, we’ve not lost any of our children to this.  If that should happen, it would be horrible beyond words, but we would press on… somehow, we would press on.  For the Grangers, though…” He ran his hand through what remained of his hair.  “They have one child and they feel they’ve already lost her to magic, but she’s still alive – they can still find a way, you see?”

“When the time comes, you have to help me,” Harry said.  “I need you to keep her here, right?  I need you to keep her with you and Mrs. Weasley and everyone else.”

“She’d never forgive you for that,” Mr. Weasley said, “and I can't imagine she’d ever forgive us, either.”

It was hard for Harry to respond but he forced out, “If it keeps her safe – if she’s alive afterwards – I could find a way to live with that.”

The sounds of the night began to niggle at Harry before Mr. Weasley finally said, “It’s not at issue tonight, then, is it?  Let’s think on it, the both of us, hmm?  Off you go, then.  If Molly wakes and spots the charms, it’ll make for a long day,” said Mr. Weasley.

“You… you’re just going to let me leave?” Harry asked.

Mr. Weasley scoffed, “What would you have me do – try to catch you in a body-bind?  You’re more powerful than I, and we both know that.  If you’ve managed to evade the Death Eaters on their own ground for most of a year, then it stands to reason that you can handle yourselves… er… despite what some might think.”

As Harry moved his bags to the veranda, Mr. Weasley put a hand on his shoulder and asked, “Promise me something, would you?  Promise me you won’t just disappear, eh?  You’re going to need help, and we’re organizing to give it.  Promise me that you’ll talk sense to Hermione as well?  Her parents can't remain here, of course, and she really shouldn't leave it like this.”

“We won’t disappear, I can promise you, but she’s made up her mind on the rest,” said Harry as he left.  Somehow he managed to creep outside the wards with four bags without raising notice.  The whole experience left him very concerned about security; he made a mental note to discuss it with Remus. 

It was difficult to apparate with four bags, and for a moment he wondered how he could explain to Hermione that her clothes had been splinched.  As a pop rang out, he wondered what would happen to a splinched horcrux.  He had aimed for a few feet from the rear door to the cottage but instead ended up four feet above the ground and a few feet from the Icelanders’ tent.  By the time he made his excuses and reached the house, he decided that it was a good thing the guardians were so professional; if they’d been Aurors, he’d have most likely found out what those staves could do.

The door to the bedroom was unlocked.  He rapped twice softly and opened it.  She sat on the side of the bed, facing away from him.  There looked to be a towel wrapped around her waist; another was draped over her shoulders.  She was brushing her hair.  Her back was bare and damp, but he couldn’t turn away.

“You left,” she said.

Harry dragged the trunks and cases inside.  “I went to fetch your things.  I thought you might like to have some –”

She quickened the pace of her brush even as she cut him off, “You went for our things in the middle of the night?”

“Er… Mr. Weasley says hello,” he said.

The brush stopped and she shook her head slowly.  “Were there any other greetings to pass along?” she asked.

“He'd silenced all the bedrooms,” said Harry.  “He’s a lot smarter than most people give credit, you know?”

She resumed brushing and said nothing, so he opened her trunk.  “Here are some pyjamas…  I’ll just leave them out for you,” he said, and headed out into the corridor.

“I didn’t know if you were coming back,” she said, so quietly that Harry nearly missed it. 

He took a step backward into the room and closed the door.  “Not coming back…?  Why would you think that?” he asked.

“Because I snapped at you, Harry.  You were trying to do something nice for me but I snapped at you, and you left, and I thought I drove you away, and that you were going to go off and find him yourself just to be done with it, and I was going to be here alone waiting for you but you were never going to come back,” she blurted out; “You were never going to come back, and you'd go off and do something stupid and noble, and I was going to be alone and I’d never recover from that…”

He rushed to her side.  “I was coming back,” he said.  “I came back.  I wouldn’t do that to you.”  His arm slipped around her shoulders.

“You would if you thought it would save me,” she said.  “I know how you think; you’ve probably planned it already.”  He didn’t have an answer for that.  Her eyes were watery and he hoped she wouldn’t cry.

“I want you to live –” he said, because there was nothing else to be said.  In a trice he found himself with a girl in his arms, wet terry cloth bunched against his chest, and cold clumps of brown hair streaked with white draped across his shoulder.

“ – and I can’t let you die, I just can’t,” she said.  “I’ve given up nearly everything for you, Harry.  I gave up the Head Girl badge – I gave up school altogether!  Who knows what I'll be able to do after this?”

“I’m sorry for that,” he said.

She pulled back slightly, enough to look him in the eyes, and used one of her fingers to still his lips.  “I’d do it again,” she said; “Do you have the faintest idea why?”

“I’d do it for you, as well,” he said.  He could tell for certain that the horcrux in the Grimoire had been destroyed.  Instead of a drain, he felt renewed energy and suspected that she felt the same.  Her face was still thin, but no longer drawn.  She had already gained some weight due to the strengthening potions.  She looked less like someone hiding in the shadows, and more like the Hermione that he had known. 

She closed her eyes tightly and let out a frustrated huff.  “When you look at me, what do you see?  A friend?” she asked.

His hand was on her bare back and he pushed away the urge to run it up and down.  “Best friend,” he managed to say.

“Do you see anything more than that?” she asked.

He babbled, “Erm... seeing quite a lot at the moment... I thought you didn’t want… er… I thought you were waiting for… uh…waiting until you get… you know… death do us part, and such…?”

“I don’t want to die,” she said.  “I want to live, and so do you.  I want to feel alive; don’t you want that?”

“But… you and me…?” He couldn’t finish the question because he didn’t know the answer.

She edged forward until all he could see was her eyes; “I’ve given you everything else I have to give.  Do you understand?”

He crushed his lips against hers and she gave a startled squeak before she pressed into him.  He leant forward and she fell back.  His hand moved unfettered from her hip to her shoulder and the only thing more amazing than the feeling against his fingertips was the sound that she made.  Towels and clothes struck the floor until all that remained on the bed were a quilt, a sheet and two friends grown closer than either had ever imagined.

    

When he woke there was light streaming through the blinds and Hermione was sitting up.  She wore one of his baggy T-shirts and had Ravenclaw’s Grimoire opened on her lap.  She bit her lip in concentration and he let out a long breath.

“It’s every bit as amazing as I expected it would be,” she said with a broad smile.

“Do you know, I was thinking the same thing?” he smirked.

“Oh, you!” she huffed, but the corner of her mouth quirked.

“You shouldn’t be reading,” he said.

“What should I be doing, then?” she asked.

He opened his arms to her and she seemed surprised.  It took a moment before she set aside the Grimoire and tentatively nestled against him.

“Are we still… are we all right?  Was... err... was it all right?” he asked.

She flushed and looked away.  “It was awkward at first, honestly, but… well… in the end I’d say it was rather more than all right,” she said.

“Not one to mince words, are you?” he snorted.

“I thought you’d prefer I be direct,” she said nervously.

He used his hand to lift her chin, and said, “Only if you want the same from me.”  She nodded furiously but her eyes said something else.

“I never expected this, but I'm glad for it,” he admitted; “I need us to be all right, Hermione – I need that more than anything.”

“If you’re asking whether we’re going to remain friends, then we’re all right,” said Hermione.  “I won’t see that change, certainly not over a single night –”

“Don’t say that – don't make this less than it is,” Harry said sharply.  “You and me, we aren't the sort for a cheap shag!  Being direct, are we?  Well then: I could have done this with Ginny last year, but it didn’t seem right.  Last night was right – bloody brilliant, in fact – and I don’t like the idea of a single night, not in the least.” 

He kissed her firmly on the forehead and she smiled broadly and pressed into him.  He hadn’t the slightest idea whether he’d said the right thing or not, honestly, but she certainly didn’t seem bothered – quite the opposite, he thought. 

Hermione was still in his arms when he heard a sharp crack that came from somewhere between the cottage and the sea.  Before he could speak, she had already pulled away.

“I heard it too,” she said. 

Harry reached for his denims from the floor.  “Stay here and bar the door,” he said curtly.  Hermione snorted and recovered her own clothing.

“Look, I meant what I said,” protested Harry.

Her eyes bored into his and she said sharply, “You’ve never treated me like a damsel in distress, Harry; don’t start it now.”  She settled into her trainers and reached for the doorknob.

They crouched down when they reached the veranda.  A single black-robed figure was fighting the Icelanders; two were downed, but the other four were moving to encircle the attacker.  An unmistakeable slashing curse flashed from the attacker’s wand and narrowly missed its target.  Harry’s hand tightened on his wand and he edged forward.  Hermione wrapped her hand around his arm to slow him.

Harry said coldly, “It’s Snape.”

“I saw the spell as well,” Hermione said, “but why would he be so obvious?  It makes no sense, if you think on it.  Perhaps he taught it to someone else?”

Harry watched the man’s movements for a few moments.  “No, it’s him all right,” he said, and cold anger flooded into him.

Two of the Icelandic Guardians landed spells on Snape and he dropped to the ground twitching.  A third cast bindings while the fourth attended to their fallen comrades.  Harry rushed outside even as Hermione continued to grab at his arm.  The Icelanders were startled for a moment, which gave enough time for Harry to land a fierce kick into Snape’s side.  Before he could strike again, both his arms were pulled backward. 

Magnus said calmly from behind him, “He is skilled.  We were surprised in the beginning.”  The fallen Guardians were already on their feet.

Harry wrested one arm free and wordlessly summoned his wand, before he was again restrained.  “Let go of me!” he demanded.

“Stop, Harry!” Hermione said.

“…can keep your mouth closed at least… emotions are still like a wireless…” Snape said, his voice gaining strength as he went along.  “Go on, Potter… kick me again… your father would have…”

The Icelander let Harry free, but Hermione moved into his path and planted her hands against his chest.  “No,” she said quietly, and he relented.  Then she turned on Snape and said coldly, “We’re not like you.  We won’t kill for killing’s sake, and we surely won’t be baited into it!”

Snape said in the silky tone that most of a generation of Hogwarts students heard in their nightmares, “My, my, Miss Granger… your hair, your clothing… you’ve been thoroughly debauched!  It appears that the range of services you provide to Potter has been expanded.  There is no Head Girlship to entice you… I wonder what reward was offered you in exchange for your virtue – ?”

Harry didn't need to respond.  Einar grabbed Snape by the hair and dragged him to his feet.  The Death Eater reacted like a kneazle thrust into a bucket of water.  

“First, you offer apologies; then you are questioned; and then you are punished,” the burly Icelander growled.

Hermione strode up to Snape until her face was inches from his and snarled, “You know nothing about me, nothing at all.  Why should anyone listen to you? You’re nothing but a murdering turncoat!”  Then she reared back and slapped him across the face harder than Harry thought possible.

Magnus released Harry and gathered up his staff.  With two sharp raps against the ground, it transformed into the largest sword Harry had ever seen.  “You will tell me your name,” he said to Snape.

Snape’s lip curled and he began to retort, but Einar wrinkled his nose and once again grabbed the ex-professor by the hair; this time he pulled hard to one side.  “You are þræll? Your master is Skí-maðr?” he asked.

Snape began, “I am a spy for the resistance –"

Einar cut him off, “I do not like spies, and you reek of græð.  Answer the question now, þræll.  Who are you?”

The former professor somehow managed a superior expression as he announced, “I am Severus Snape and the emergency phrase is ‘asphodel in an infusion of wormwood, valerian roots and sopophorus bean, with one clockwise stir after every seventh counter-clockwise stir’.” 

“Why did you not present yourself at the front entrance?” Magnus shouted.  “You endangered my people without need!  Why did you not state your purpose?”

“As if I would have been received without the wolf’s teeth at your throats,” snorted Snape.

Harry was pole axed; “What the… you mean…?”

“Who was foolish enough to give you a pass phrase?” snapped Hermione.

Snape rolled his eyes, the only part of himself that he could reliably move.  “Lupin, you fools!” he said.  “He should have arrived by now, but this can wait no longer.”  He looked to Magnus and added, “I will have to rely on you to carry the warning.  The Dark Lord’s minions know the rough location of the village.  It must be moved immediately.  There is at least one traitor hidden amongst the resistance.”

Magnus barked out something, and one of the Guardians who did not speak English traced runes on the ground with the end of his staff.  He tapped the runes in an intricate pattern and nodded.

“Go!” Einar commanded.  Magnus and three of the four others stood atop the runes and abruptly sank into the ground.

Harry grabbed Snape by the front of his robes.  “How soon?” he shouted.  “When are they coming?”

“There are scouts combing a part of the islands to the north, an area no more than two miles by three miles.  These scouts have portkeys that will return them to a staging area of some sort.  I do not know how many fighters are needed to subdue the village, as I have not been there,” Snape said.

“Not many,” Harry muttered under his breath.

Hermione began to ask rapid-fire questions.  “What if they’re already under attack?  Do they have a safe rendezvous point?  If it comes to it, where could we hide that many wizards?  What about –?”

“There is a plan,” Einar said.  “We wait for the others, and we see.”  One of the Guardians emerged from the ground shortly thereafter.  He was bloodied and bruised, and he rattled off a frantic message. 

Einar nodded and the Guardian once again sank into the ground.  Before anyone else could react, he tapped Snape on the head with his staff and the Potions Master fell backward, unconscious.  “Now we can speak of the plan aloud,” Einar said.  “Mr. Potter, you must send, ehh… höfuð-faðir to the school.  It is the gathering place.”

“My what?” Harry asked.  Einar struggled for an English word, but ended with a frustrated shrug.

Hermione put on a thoughtful expression.  “Protection… protector… your patronus, Harry.  Send it to Professor McGonagall – tell her we’re coming, all of us.”  Harry took deep breaths, focused, and sent his stag racing to the south.

“Mr. Lupin says you are a fighter,” Einar said to Harry.  “We go now and we fight.”

Hermione took a deep breath before she said, “We’re both fighters.”

Einar captured her eyes in a way that she couldn’t shake off.  “Young miss, þræll do not wound – they kill,” he said. 

“I’m well aware of that.  We're wasting time,” she fired back.

Einar shook his head; “You do not understand.  We will not stun.  If they are þræll, then they will die.”

Even as Hermione paled, Harry gave his wand an intricate wave.  “So mote it be,” he growled.

Hermione looked first to Harry and then to the Icelander.  “I won’t take an oath to kill,” she said; “Anyone I face will fall and they will stay down.  If that will do…?”

Einar nodded.  “Keep your eyes closed and do not breathe,” he told them just as he touched the runes and the three of them sank into the earth.

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