Title: Assalto di Gioia (Part 1_of_4)
Pairing(s): Harry/Draco, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Neville/Luna, James/OC
Summary: When a mystery unfolds and Aurors are sent to investigate, Harry Potter finds himself in the middle of the unexpected. Someone he has tried to forget from his past is pushed back into his world and he suddenly finds everything changing. What happens when he learns the truth of the mystery and gives in to the truth of his own heart?
Warnings: Language, Sex between men
Total word count: 33,393
Disclaimer: This story/artwork is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros. Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.</b>
Author's notes: romaine24, I tried to fit in as many of your requests as possible. I hope this meets all your wishes! Title taken from Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria
Beta(s): Lily (just--drive) who was so patient with me and was very prompt with her work. A special thanks to Alex (malachic). She was a great sounding block and provided the smelling salts when I needed them most.
Eying the scene in front of him with trepidation, Harry Potter quelled the sudden panic that had risen in him upon arrival. He had been warned on what to expect before having left headquarters, but nothing could have prepared him for this.
Where there once stood a small mountainside village now lay a flattened field. No hint of what had previously existed could be found. Trees and stones lay as flat as paper on the ground, looking as if they had been rolled out like paper thin dough. To the far right side, a sizable chunk of the mountain was missing, almost as if a giant had swiped out part of the earth.
When they had been briefed, they had been told that they would be Apparating to a blast site. But this…Harry couldn’t find words to describe what this was. It was unfathomable to think what could have caused so much destruction.
His partner’s soft and awestruck whistle pulled him out of his thoughts. He turned his head and raised an eyebrow at Ron Weasley’s grim expression.
“What is it?”
Ron jerked his head to the left and said in a carefully neutral voice, “They’ve got Unspeakables here, probably around ten of them or so, maybe more.”
Harry looked over Ron’s shoulder and sure enough there was a group of wizards in charcoal grey robes huddled around a table. He looked back at Ron. “Must be serious then. Reckon we’ll have to work with them?”
“Most likely.” Ron shrugged as if brushing the fact aside, but Harry could tell the other man was still tense, holding himself for anymore surprises.
They made their way through the Apparition point and headed in the direction where the majority of their colleagues had gone. As they walked towards the growing gathering of witches and wizards, they were surprised to see that Aurors and Unspeakables weren’t the only Ministry employees being called upon.
“Looks like a bloody Ministry function.”
Harry hummed quietly in agreement and took a sudden step to the left, making his way around an excited group from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. He kept walking and spotting a familiar bushel of fuzzy brown hair, headed in that direction. He was unsurprised to see Hermione Granger-Weasley. But he was rather surprised to see her companion, Neville Longbottom.
He and Ron reached the two and he gave Hermione a quick hug and kiss on the cheek, quickly turning her over to her questioning husband. Harry turned to Neville and noticed that his friend’s face was even more pale and drawn then the last time he had seen him.
“‘Lo, Neville. Surprised to see you here.” He held out his hand and Neville took it, shaking it firmly.
“Hello, Harry. I have to admit, I’m as surprised as you are. Not quite sure what I’m doing here.” He turned as if surprised to find Ron there and quickly regained his composure. “Ron. Hello.”
“Neville.” Ron nodded quickly and shook his friend’s offered hand.
The four of them huddled together in quiet contemplation, watching as even more witches and wizards arrived, before Neville spoke up again.
“Harry. Ron. Whatever this is, it’s huge. I believe they even have goblins aboard.”
Ron’s eyes widened a bit before he grunted and shook himself. “What do you think this all means? And what the bloody hell happened here? We were told this was a blast site, but this…this is pure and utter destruction!”
“I know, but as for what it means? We have no idea. You weren’t given any other information, were you? Harry?”
Harry turned to Hermione and noticed the worry lines around her eyes had deepened. He had the fleeting thought that perhaps she knew more than she was letting on. He shook his head and answered, “No, nothing else.”
Her only response was a non-committal hum and then she turned away, ignoring them. Ron had folded his arms and was surveying the scene quietly and Harry knew he was taking in as much detail as possible for later perusal. It was something that made his best friend one of the finest in their department.
He glanced to the side and noticed Neville looking around with worry. He walked over to his friend and clasped him lightly on the shoulder. Neville started slightly, but didn’t jump. He looked up at Harry, his hazel eyes looking strained and tired.
“Neville, do you think this has anything to do with Luna and Malfoy?”
Neville shrugged and looked away. Harry let go of his shoulder and gave his friend time to compose himself. The other man took a deep breath before turning back to Harry. “I don’t know, Harry – but, and this is going to sound weird – I’m hoping it does, you know?”
Harry took in his friend’s pale countenance and nodded. “Yeah, I know.”
They stood around, waiting for further instruction. After several minutes, Hermione and Ron joined them again, all four once again quiet and lost in their own thoughts. At this point, Harry wouldn’t have been surprised if the Minister himself showed up.
A quarter of an hour passed and even more witches and wizards showed up. By now, the air was humming with the subdued curiosity and worry of the growing crowd. The gathered group was an eclectic one and held all manner of Ministry employees and several private sector specialists.
Harry was looking around – taking in as much information as he could and trying to see who he recognized – when he caught sight of Hermione. She hadn’t said another word after turning away from them and the frown she had worn earlier seemed to have become permanent and had grown deeper. Again, the feeling that she knew more came and he wondered just how much she wasn’t telling them. Hermione turned suddenly towards him and caught his eyes; hers were bright and filled with an unreadable emotion. Harry blinked and looked away; he had no idea what was wrong with her, and was almost afraid to find out.
A short moment later, three officious looking men made their way up from the Apparition point and headed to the table where the Unspeakables had been crowded around earlier. Harry didn’t recognize them, but could tell from their elegant Ministry issue robes that they were pretty high up in the hierarchy.
He listened intently as one of the men, a large, heavyset blond, explained why they were all here. Apparently, a very rare and originally believed to be nonexistent magical object had exploded in the area, demolishing the small village and all of its inhabitants.
Because of the lack of knowledge in regards to the object, they had all been summoned to find any clue possible to help determine exactly what had set it off. They were going to be divided into groups of six, each having a specialist or two from certain academics, depending on the area of the site they would be canvassing.
The group waited patiently as names were called out and little by little the crowd shrank as the new groups were directed to a tent within their search parameters. Harry was somewhat relieved when his name was called out with that of his three friends, it would somehow make the obviously mundane scavenger hunt much more bearable.
They were given their instructions and each a packet containing all the necessary information. After being taught the spell that would help them communicate with each other in case of any findings or emergencies, the four Apparated to their designated workstation, about five kilometers away from the main tent. There they met up with two other wizards and introduced themselves.
Valentino Rutherford was a tall, balding, waif-like man with black hair and beady eyes. His robes showed him as being from the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes and his hands were constantly smoothing and readjusting his clothes. Harry took an instant dislike to the man and greeted him coolly.
He quickly turned to the other wizard and recognized him as an Unspeakable. From what they had been told, most of the teams would have at least one Unspeakable. And if his quick headcount of the crowd had been correct, that meant there would at least be around thirty of the charcoal robed wizards in the area. He hadn’t been aware that there were actually that many of the specialized Ministry workers.
Beau Huddlestone–or Stone as he demanded to be called–was a stocky man, with a burliness around him that reminded Harry of Viktor Krum. He was about Harry’s height with thick brown hair and large watchful eyes. Although the man was brusque and didn’t mince his words, Harry felt as if he could easily work with the no nonsense man, and shook his large hand cordially.
After the introductions were finished, they made their way into their tent and settled around the large conference table set up in what would normally have been the sitting area. Right away, it was obvious who would be heading their group as Hermione and Stone took the two seats nearest the wall and called them all to order.
As they discussed the situation and waded their way through the countless documents they had been given, Harry’s suspicions on what Hermione knew grew. It seemed as if she and Stone were the only ones that had a real grasp of what was going on. He kept glancing at her every now and then but she refused to meet his eyes.
Harry kicked half-heartedly at a small stone and sighed. It was late in the afternoon and after two weeks of fruitless searching, he was getting rather frustrated. He sighed and summoned his field canteen, taking comfort in the cool metal as he tipped his head back and took a long drink of the never ending supply of chilled water.
The forty or so teams that had been set up at the beginning had dwindled down to around twenty, just over half of the original group of people still working. Many used prior work engagements and important appointments that couldn’t be missed as excuses. The majority had simply said it was a waste of time and left, promising to return if something did happen.
Harry himself would have gone back to his rather mundane job, but he held back, as did Ron and Hermione. They stayed as a silent show of support for Neville, who seemed to be falling apart at the seams. Their quiet and normally cheery friend had become even quieter with the passing days and Harry knew that any form of news would either help him or, most likely, break him.
Harry sighed again before setting off. He had thought it rather pointless to continue the search in this part but Neville’s desperate eyes had begged him to go on. And so Harry was now searching the last part of the outer ring of their search parameter.
Any time he wanted to throw the towel in and head home, he would look up to where Neville sat, furiously pouring over all the documents and maps they had gathered in the last two weeks. He would be cataloguing each and every scrap of plant material found, setting aside time to also document their other findings. Each time he saw his friend’s hollow face, it looked more and more strained. He would remind himself that he wasn’t doing this only for Neville, but for Luna and, maybe, even Malfoy.
He scowled at the thought and stopped at the edge of the wards encircling their designated area of the blast site. At first, he had doubted that the blast could have had anything to do with either Luna or Malfoy’s disappearances. Then, each day, the tiniest of clues would surface and they all led to the same conclusion.
In a small Muggle village situated within the inhospitable mountain landscape, two wizards had been witnesses to the explosion. The chance that the two wizards could possibly be the two missing in action Unspeakables was slim. But the chance was there.
Harry shook his head and pulled himself out of his musings. He still had at least another kilometer to go before heading back to the tent and their makeshift camp. He had found it surprisingly easy to volunteer as part of the twenty-four hour shift, staying at the site and being put on call at all hours. True, he hadn’t seen his family for two weeks, but, for the moment, it was best that way.
He was about to turn around and head back the way he had come when a small sound reached his ears. Harry froze, not wanting to scare whoever or whatever had made the sound. Straining his ears, he heard it again, slightly louder and bit more clearly.
To say he was shocked was an understatement. Two days into the search it had been officially declared that no living creature had survived the blast for at least seventy-five square kilometers around the area. The few plants that had made it were thick shrubbery that had quickly grown into an oddly shaped and self-generating forest. Hermione had explained that it must have happened because of the magic from the blast, but wouldn’t go into further detail.
Again, the sound came to his ears and he cocked his head to the side. It was coming from the bramble of bushes that had shot up last night. If he was right, he estimated that the animal or whatever it was, had to be at least three meters or so in. Normally, it wouldn’t seem like much, but not only was the area now covered with twisted and thorn covered bushes, it was well outside the safety net of the border ward Stone had put up.
He only hesitated half a second before realizing that this could be an important breakthrough. He looked up and glanced around him, quickly picking Hermione as the closest to him. Tapping his wand lightly against his left wrist, he whispered the words necessary to activate the communication spell. When the sound of static met his ears he called her name out and waited for her to look up.
She did so and nodded, tapping her own wrist. After a few seconds, her voice came out from his wrist, wavering slightly. “What is it Harry? Did you find something?”
He noted that her voice sounded as tired as she looked before brushing the fact aside. “I think I may have, but I can’t be sure. You’re the closest to my area. Mind popping over here?”
“Okay. Let me tell the others and I’ll be right over.”
Harry nodded absently to himself as the spell hissed and shut off. They had certain procedures to follow and alerting those closest to them to inform of any changes to protocol and therefore allowing for everyone to be kept count of was one of them. He was starting to worry that he wouldn’t hear the sound again when Hermione popped into view in front of him, her hair frazzled and the lines around her eyes set deep.
Harry’s own eyebrows went down into a frown. “What is it, Hermione?”
“Nothing.” She waved a hand in dismissal, but he could still see she was shaken by something. She sighed and attempted to run a hand through her curls, growling slightly when her fingers stopped midway. “Rutherford is being a prick and almost wouldn’t let me come over. He kept saying something about laws and this and that. I just think he’s insane.”
Harry couldn’t help it and snickered at his friend’s put out look. He shook his head at her and smiled gently, hoping to appease her. “I know you don’t like him ‘Mione, but just ignore him, yeah? I’d hate for you to be transferred over to another team.”
She sighed and crossed her arms across her chest defensively. Her glare only made him raise an eyebrow in return and finally the corner of her mouth quirked up. “Oh, you’re incorrigible Harry Potter!”
“I know.” He grinned, happy to have loosened his friend’s tension.
“Now, what is it Harry, what did you find?”
“Well, not so much as found, but heard.”
He shook his head and tried to find a way to explain it but thought having her hear it herself would help much better. “It’s better if you just listen. Stand here,” he directed her to the spot where he had been waiting for her, “and well…just listen.”
“Harry, we don’t have time for –”
She huffed but gave in, her eyes closing and her forehead scrunching in concentration. He stood with her as they waited silently. Just as he started to agonize over his earlier worry about never hearing the sound again, it came. It was softer than before as if whatever was causing it had moved away, or as if it was growing weaker.
“Oh!” Hermione gasped and put her hand up to cover her mouth in surprise.
Harry grinned widely, excited that she had heard it too. His smile grew as he saw awareness creep into her eyes for what this could mean.
“I need you to wait here Hermione, I’m going to step outside the wards for a bit,” he held his hand up to forestall any arguments, “‘Mione, if I’m not back in fifteen minutes, come for me, ok?”
“But Harry, once you’re outside the wards, we won’t be able to feel you at all! Oh Harry…”
He smiled gently at her worry. It never failed to surprise him how almost twenty-five years later she still acted like the protective mother figure that had helped him throughout school and the war. It didn’t seem to matter to her that he had not only passed Auror training, but also that he had been doing the same job for over fifteen years. He grasped her small hand in his and looked into her soft brown eyes. He didn’t have to say a word; she relented with a small sigh and pulled away, obviously upset.
“Ten minutes, Harry, nothing more. I will go in there myself and pull you out if I have to. Now go!”
He nodded and turned toward the bramble forest. Feeling the soft telltale fizzle of a protection spell wash over him he looked back to Hermione and noticed that she looked vaguely smug about catching him off guard. He shook his head at her in mild amusement; she never did cease to surprise him.
He pulled his wand out from its holster and pulled off his long Auror’s robes, as they would only serve to get him tangled and stuck. With one final glance back at Hermione, he stepped into the bush, the wards wrapping around him for a second before practically spitting him out on the other side.
Harry stumbled and cursed his clumsiness. Inside the forest of brambles and thorns, time seemed to stop and he couldn’t correctly gauge how much time had actually passed since he’d stepped out of the wards.
He half expected Hermione to come rushing through to rescue him from Merlin knew what at any given moment.
Pausing, he took a moment to catch his breath and glanced back. The path he had forged through the bushes seemed to close back in on itself, almost as if the branches were re-growing in his wake. He muttered another curse under his breath. The now non-existent path meant the trek back would take just as long and that was for sure to send Hermione into hysterics.
He hadn’t heard the sound at all but figured it was mostly due to his noisy stomping. Ears alert, he slowed his breathing and tried to listen for signs of life.
A soft mewling sound was coming from directly ahead. He panicked as he noticed the sound getting weaker and weaker.
Pushing away any emotions to what this could mean, he carefully forged his way ahead, picking out a path gingerly, afraid to startle whatever it was. The closer he moved the louder it got, although it still sounded relatively weak. He pushed aside a thick branch covered in broad leaves and stopped in surprise.
Huddled in the center of a small clearing was what looked to be a newborn kitten, it’s mewls coming from a barely opened mouth.
With more care than he had ever taken in doing anything Harry cleared the branches covering the clearing and set them aside. He knew he didn’t have long before the bramble started growing again.
When there was an opening large enough for him to reach through he conjured a small blanket and folded it. Reaching through he carefully picked up the mewling kitten and placed it on the soft blanket. He took a moment to study it, amazed that such a tiny and virtually helpless animal had survived the blast and the weeks following.
The kitten was no larger than his hand, its large head awkwardly out of proportion from the rest of its body. The paws were about as big as Harry’s thumbs and had short, pointy claws attached. Its eyes were closed and the ears flattened back onto its head. Harry took in the soft pink nose and barely opened mouth and suddenly realized that the animal must not have had anything to eat for a good while.
He reached for his side and unclipped the canteen from his belt, glad he hadn’t sent it back to the tent. He cut off a piece of the blanket and drenched it in the cool water. Placing two fingers gently under the kitten’s head he lifted it slightly and brought the soaked towel to its mouth. He was proved right when the small animal greedily sucked up the water from the scrap of cloth.
He spent the next few minutes re-soaking the cloth and pressing it up the kitten’s small, pink mouth. He was sure his ten minute limit had long expired and was surprised that Hermione hadn’t burst through the brambles yet, demanding to know where he was and what did he think he was doing worrying her like that.
He shook his head and tossed the scrap of blanket aside, hopefully Hermione would have enough sense to not lecture him when he had such a fragile animal in his care, though he doubted it. He slid his hand underneath the folded blanket and carefully picked up his new charge.
Just as he was about to turn around and head back through the bramble forest Hermione literally did burst through the branches. Her hair was even more frazzled and a few branches and leaves had gotten stuck in the frizz. She had a few scratches across her cheek and smudged dirt on her forehead and chin. She glowered at him and placed her hands on her hips, her look demanding an explanation. Harry smiled at her and thought that she suddenly looked like the bossy eleven year old he and Ron had rescued from the troll.
“Hello, Hermione. Fancy meeting you here.”
She opened and closed her mouth a few times before snapping it shut and glaring. Her wand snapped up and pointed at him and Harry thought he saw a few pink sparks come out the end. “Harry Potter, I told you ten minutes. TEN! I have been waiting for over half an hour! Do you happen to know how worried I have been? I had to find Ron and let him know I would be coming in and then we had to tell Neville and Stone and bloody Rutherford and then I had to trek in through this bush of thorns and all you can say is Hello?”
“SORRY?! I’ll show you sorry you ungrateful prat! I swear this is the last time I ever work with either you or Ron. You are both going to be the end of me! Sometimes I think you haven’t changed a bit in the last twenty or however many years that I’ve known you. Honestly, Harry! I would think you’d have enough sense to come back after not finding anything and not continue to go through this God forsaken place and run into who knows what! Wait until I tell –”
“Hermione, I did find something.”
“Then we’ll see how sor–” Hermione cut herself off and looked at him, mouth agape. “I’m sorry?”
“Look,” he pointed to the bundle held gently against his chest, “it took me a while to get the branches out of the way to be able to reach it. Then I spent a good bit giving it some water. But Hermione, it’s alive!”
She stepped over to him, pulled back the fold of the blanket covering the kitten and gasped. “Harry…”
“I know! Isn’t it amazing? To think that it survived this whole time alone. Poor thing, but as soon as we turn it over–”
He stopped and stared at her, noting that her anxiety had switched from being focused on him to the small animal in his hand. “What?”
“You can’t. You can’t turn it over to the Ministry. Harry, we have to do something! Oh Merlin…” Hermione’s voice trailed of in a low moan and Harry could do nothing more than stare at her, completely bewildered.
“Hermione,” he spoke her name slowly, carefully annunciating each syllable, “what exactly do you mean?”
“Oh Harry,” she came closer to him and gripped his wrist tightly, “you just can’t! If the ministry gets hold of it they’ll turn it into some bloody experiment. I’ll never forgive myself if I let that happen! Promise me! Promise me, Harry!”
Harry stepped back from her, afraid that the sudden shrillness in her voice would wake the poor creature. “Well, if I don’t, then what exactly am I supposed to do?”
Hermione turned slightly away, her hand still fixed on his wrist. She scrunched up her nose and narrowed her eyes. Harry could practically see the list of information she was going through in her mind. What seemed like an eternity later, but was really only a minute or so, she turned back to him with a solemn and grim look on her face.
“Go home and take it with you,” she held up her hand and stopped his coming protests, “Apparate directly into your study, don’t let anyone see that you’re home. I’ll go back and make up a story about you finding an owl from home, saying there was an emergency with one of the children.”
“Hermione, this won’t work and you kno–”
“Shut up and listen, Harry, this is important!” Her hand tightened painfully, her eyes were glittering in a way he hadn’t seen them do in years. “The wards in your study, can you key me into them?”
“Ok, do that as soon as you get in. Stay in your study, do you understand? I’ll show up as soon as possible. I’m going to try and convince Ron to stay, take your spot on the twenty-four hour shift for a day or so. I’ll tell the others it’s not a life threatening emergency or anything, but you just had to leave right away. That should give us bit of leeway for a day or two.” She brought her other hand up and tapped at her lips thoughtfully, “Yes, that’s all. Do you understand Harry?”
“I do Hermione, but I don’t understand why.”
She sighed and squeezed his wrist once more before letting go. “You trust me, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then trust me in this, Harry, please. Now go, before any more time passes, I have to head back.”
She patted him on the shoulder and stepped back, watching him carefully as he pulled the small bundle closer to his chest and Apparated home.
Harry had been pacing in his study for about an hour, muttering about the crazy ideas of one Hermione Granger and how he would never listen to her again and how he would make her pay dearly when he was interrupted by a small cough. Startled, he stopped and looked up surprised to find the subject of his mutterings looking at him with an amused glint in her eyes.
He couldn’t contain himself anymore and exploded.
“What the bloody hell took you so long? I have been worried sick! I have that animal in my home with no idea what the importance of it is and you…you…YOU!”
Hermione merely kept on looking at him and raised her eyebrow in question. She seemed eerily calm for being the one to have rushed him home without any clear explanation. Her subdued manner only incensed Harry further. He was stopped short of another rambling tirade by her gentle smile.
“You know Harry, had you being paying attention instead of plotting the gruesome death of, now how did you put it, ‘one evil and deceitful Hermione Granger,’ you would have noticed that I’ve been standing here for the past fifteen minutes.”
Harry flushed and he felt the tips of his ears turn red. “Sorry, you just happened to scare the living daylights out of me earlier.”
She gave him a rueful smile and shrugged. “I’m sorry for being late.”
He sighed and sat down in one of the armchairs in front of the fireplace. He gestured towards the other one and she sat down. It was then that Harry noticed she was carrying a large rucksack and what looked like a picnic basket.
“Does anyone know you’re here?”
“You mean do my wife and children know? No, they don’t.”
“Harry, I know you haven–”
“‘Mione, stop. It’s ok, I’ll let them know I’m home soon enough.”
“Ok.” She slipped a book out of her bag and opened it, quickly flipping through it and finding the page she was looking for. She looked up at him and frowned. “Harry, where is it?”
“Where is what?”
“Sorry, sorry, I know, bad time for jokes and all that. It’s right over there,” he jerked his thumb to the side and pointed to a wooden box sitting off to the left of the fire that had previously held his prized dragon hide Quidditch gloves. The box was now stuffed with blankets and pillows. Lying on top of it was the small kitten, covered with a thin piece of cloth so as to keep it warm but not suffocate it.
Hermione’s face softened and it seemed that the last vestiges of the stress she had been carrying around left her. She smiled gently and went back to her book, her finger trailing down the page. After a moment, she cried out triumphantly, “I knew it!”
Harry jumped, slightly startled. “Knew what?”
“Do you mind bringing it over here?”
He glanced over towards the box again and shook his head, “I’d rather not, if that’s alright. It took me quite a long while to get it settled down.”
“Right.” She closed the book, her finger holding her place in it, and stood up. “That’s all right, I’ll go to it.” She got up and quietly made her way to the box by the hearth. Kneeling down, she set the book to the side and opened it back up to the page she had been reading earlier.
“Hermione, what are you doing?”
“Trying to determine the sex of it, of course.”
Oh, of course, why didn’t I think of that? Harry thought, somewhat acidly. He truly loved Hermione, but at times she got so lost in her own world that it drove him up the wall. He still hadn’t managed to figure out how Ron, of all people, was able to put up with it.
Sighing, he joined her on the floor, kneeling beside her. He watched her as she lifted the sheet covering the animal up and carefully checked him. A few glances between her book and the kitten and she smiled triumphantly.
“Hermione, would you mind sharing with me what has you all excited?”
“Oh, it’s nothing Harry, only that if what I think is true then everything is going to be all right.”
“Is that so? And what is it that you think may be true?”
She grinned at him and shook her head, “Oh no you don’t, Mr. Potter. You are not getting information out me that easily.”
“Well,” he huffed, put out that she wasn’t telling him anything else, “if that’s the case, then I guess you can take the ruddy animal home and leave me the bloody hell out of it!” He stood and stalked over to his desk. He stood there for a few long minutes, staring glumly out the window of his study. He heard the shifting of robes as Hermione got up and walked over to him.
“Harry, I’m sorry. It’s just…”
“If you tell me that because of your job you can’t tell me anything, then forget it. Take the animal and go.”
“That’s not it Harry,” she sighed and laid a hand on the back of his shoulder.
“Then what is it ‘Mione? Lately you’ve been acting more and more mysterious than usual.”
Hermione leant into him and instinctively, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, giving her a gentle squeeze. They were silent, neither willing to break the peace. After a few moments, Hermione sighed again and pulled away, giving him a peck on the cheek.
“I’m sorry, Harry. I haven’t meant to be so elusive, really. It’s just that since Luna and Draco disappeared, the Unspeakables have been harassing me for information.” She snorted and turned away, heading back to the warmth of the fireplace. “They somehow think that I may have more information than they do. As if that were possible. Bloody Unspeakables, I can’t stand them!”
Harry turned to her and leant back on his desk, crossing his feet at the ankles. “Well, how much can you tell me?”
“Not much Harry, at least for now.” Hermione gave him an apologetic shrug.
“Well, how about you start by telling me what I’m supposed to do with that,” he pointed towards the kitten which was now curled up on its side, paws tucked under its tiny jaw.
“I can tell you that it’s a male. And that it’s one of the rarest of magical creatures.”
“Is that so? What is it then?”
“It’s a Liger.”
“Liger,” she looked down at the animal wistfully, a dreamy expression on her face. “Well, to be more precise this is an Andalusian Spotted Liger.”
“And what exactly is a Liger?”
“It depends on whether you look at it from a Muggle’s standpoint or that of a wizard’s.”
Harry sighed, he was getting irritated with her word games. “And pray tell, dear Hermione, what is the difference?”
She only grinned, as if not noticing his upset. “Well, to a Muggle, a Liger is merely a crossbreed of a lion and a tiger. Nothing more. But, to a wizard, it is so, so much more!” She dropped down next the box and gathered her book to her chest, holding it close as a child would hold a beloved stuffed animal. The dreamy expression on her face deepened. “You see, Harry, Ligers are such rare creatures that they are mostly believed to be legend. The last recorded sighting, and I use the term recorded loosely of course, was back in Merlin’s day. Not since then have they been spotted. That’s why we can’t let the Ministry have a hold of this kitten. Now, I had heard of them before, but hadn’t actually seen one. Not until a few years ago.”
Harry frowned as she paused, her eyes going unusually bright again. He went over and settled down next to her. The golden light of the fire cast part of her face in shadow and brought out dips and hollows he’d never before noticed. He laid a hand on her knee and squeezed it gently, giving her time to continue.
After a moment she took a deep breath and started again, “I was contacted about six years ago, almost seven now, by a wizard needing information on Ligers, the Andalusian to be exact. At first, he didn’t explain why and I never questioned him. I mean, what did it matter? He was a legitimate wizard seeking me for my expertise in research. And I doubted that he would have any nefarious plans considering he was getting the information from a Ministry employee. Right?”
Harry nodded in agreement. “Right.”
“So I did my job and researched. What little information I was able to gather, I copied and gave him a well documented packet of. He seemed very grateful when I finally handed it to him, as if it held the answers to all his prayers. Very odd that.” She took another deep breath and looked down at the small kitten. “A few months after that, he came back, the wizard. He was acting strangely and kept demanding that I get more information for him. When I told him I would try but couldn’t guarantee anything else as I’d already exhausted all my resources he…he broke down crying in my office.”
She stopped again and took a shuddering breath. Harry didn’t quite understand why this affected her so much so he sat there quietly, his hand still on her knee, and waited.
A few minutes later she sighed and looked up at him. “Obviously, I can’t tell you who this wizard was, confidentiality and all that. But Harry, I never expected this man to just breakdown like that. He’s always so well composed and put together, it shocked me thoroughly. I managed to calm him down and after a bit was able to get more information from him. He confessed to me that he had finally mastered the Animagus transformation and to his shock he had changed into a Liger. He knew he had to keep this development a secret and begged me to not tell a soul. I promised him to do so and tried to gather what additional information I could.”
Harry stared at Hermione, “You mean to tell me that this wizard transformed into an animal that is believe to be legend? Just like that?”
“Yeah, Harry, just like that. I can’t explain it and neither can he. But Harry, he’s amazing! He invited me to his house to see him in his transformed state and…wow. It’s truly marvelous Harry. The Liger is not only a magically powerful creature, it’s absolutely magnificent. It looks nothing like the animals Muggles have come up with. First of all, it’s a lot smaller than you would think, about the size of a small panther. Its coat is short, except around the scruff of the neck and at the end of the tail, where it has tufts of fur, much like a lion. Depending on the region it has either stripes or spots. And the color also depends on the region.” She paused grinning widely at him, “That’s how I was able to determine what this guy is, due to his markings. True, he’s still very young, but they’re there.”
“Hermione, for having very little information on the animal, you seem to know quite a bit.”
“Oh, that’s because for the past six years the wizard and I have been researching and combing through any text that has the merest mention of the Liger.”
“Of course,” Harry smiled softly at her.
“Harry, I’m not quite sure, but this small kitten may be related to the wizard in some way, or it could be an actual Liger, not an Animagus.”
“Wouldn’t the fact that it’s a kitten and not a full grown Liger be a good clue?”
“Not necessarily, considering where you found him. I have reason to believe that because of the magic from the blast if it was either an Animagus or a Liger, it was reverted back to being a kitten. We know because of the wizard I’ve worked with that Liger Animagi are possible. And as for being a kitten for the past two weeks, I think it has to do with the magic from the blast.”
“Ok, I suppose that makes sense. Now, what? Exactly what am I supposed to do with this animal?”
“Keep it here of course!”
“No, don’t even think about it Hermione.” Harry scooted back from her and the box holding the animal in question, shaking his head.
“Harry, you have to!”
“Why me? Why can’t you keep the blasted thing in your house?”
“You know I can’t, not with Crookshanks. Harry, please! You must.”
Pulling further away, he leaned against one of the armchairs and stared into the fire. How was he going to explain the sudden appearance of such an animal? He knew that if Hermione didn’t take it in, it would have to stay with him. There was no way he would let such a defenseless creature try to make it on its own. Harry sighed. He didn’t know how he was able to get himself in these messes.
“Fine, I’ll take it in,” he grumbled at last. He winced as Hermione squealed happily and dove at him for a hug. “Now, what’s the plan this time?”
“Oh Harry, it’s simple really.” She let go of him and sat back. “First, go back to the blast site tomorrow; explain to everyone that the emergency was nothing more than a sprained muscle on one of the children. Then, explain that because of the upcoming Quidditch season you have to be at home, given that your wife will be out of town the majority of the time due to coaching her own team. Then, go to the Ministry and cash in all your accumulated holiday time and then file for a leave of absence to start after that. No, Harry, no protesting. Not only will this give you time to care for the kitten, but you’ll be able to spend time with your family.” At this, she gave him a pointed look and he flushed and looked away, any further protests immediately quelled.
“Then you come back here to your study, take the kitten and Apparate to your front step. After you tell your family of the changes, introduce the animal and say that he is the family’s new pet.”
“Then…well, we’ll see what happens from there.”
“Hermione, you do know that this is an entirely insane idea.”
“Yet you’re still expecting it to work?”
She gave him a smug grin and he sighed. Of course she was expecting it to work.
Harry sighed as he Apparated back into his study. After a day of being cooped inside the room, he had been happy to get out. Now, he was more than happy to be back in it and he was seriously contemplating the fact that he could live there forever.
Having gone back to the blast site he had reported in and explained his situation to his direct superiors there. Then, he had gone to the tent he had spent the past two weeks in, gathered his belongings, and told the same story to his friends and two co-workers.
The look of utter devastation on Neville’s face had killed him.
It had taken all his will power and a very powerful glare from Hermione to keep him from diverging from the plan. It had been relatively easy, explaining how his family needed him and he how he couldn’t leave his children all alone while their mother was away.
Neville, being Neville, had understood. He had given Harry a soft smile, stated frankly that of course it was understandable, he knew all about families needing each other, and had immediately turned back to his pile of paperwork and uncategorized plant samples.
After that, Harry had immediately gone to the Ministry to file the necessary paperwork for his holiday and subsequent leave of absence. Surprisingly enough, they had been more than happy to give him what he needed. He was the Savior of the Wizarding World after all.
Rolling his eyes, Harry walked over to the box that held the small kitten. It seemed as if the small animal had grown while in the one day he had been under Harry’s care. Hermione had helpfully provided goat’s milk and small, specially designed bottles from which to feed the Liger from.
He reached down and carefully placed his hand under the sleeping animal and picked it up, cradling it gently to his chest. The kitten made a small sound of protest before curling into a small ball and falling right back to sleep.
Now, he had to face his family.
Harry winced and carefully aimed his body as his fifteen-year-old daughter launched herself from the dining room table and tackled him into a hug. He smiled down at her bright blue eyes and bent down to kiss her forehead. Despite everything, he had missed his children.
“Well, look who decided to finally show up. Remember you have a family, did you, Harry?”
Harry sighed and met his wife’s cool glare.
Ginny Weasley-Potter had grown into a formidable woman. At first, any small change in her had set Harry’s blood racing. Now…now he could barely stand to be in the same room as her, afraid they’d one day come to blows.
“Hello, Ginny,” he carefully maneuvered himself to his spot at the table, mindful of the teenager still clinging to him. He faced his two sons with a warm smile and relaxed as they returned the sentiment with smiles of their own. “I’m sorry I was gone for so long, but I wasn’t able to get away until now. But I’ve finally cashed in all my vacation time and filed for a leave of absence after that. So I’ll be able to spend more time at home.”
His news was met with squeals and shouts of joy from his daughter and subdued cheers from his sons. Ginny just raised an eyebrow in surprise and the aloofness in her demeanor diminished somewhat. He smiled tentatively at her and she nodded curtly. It was a start, at least.
“Dad, what is that?” The question came from seventeen-year-old Albus Severus. It always startled Harry how his quiet son carried so many of the qualities of the two men he was named for. At the moment a pair of bright green eyes were eyeing the bundle in his hand with guarded interest.
“Did you bring us something?” This time he turned to Lily Luna, his beautiful daughter. He loved his two sons greatly, but she was the light of his life, her bright and plucky attitude always managing to bring a smile to his face.
And he did just that, smiling down at her before glancing back at Albus and then at his oldest son. “In a way, yes. I found this little guy and he was in dire need of a home so,” he shrugged, “I brought him here.”
He held out has hand and lifted the cloth covering the kitten. He grinned at their reactions. Lily immediately started cooing over the animal, exclaiming how adorable and cute he was. Albus merely raised an eyebrow and coolly stated that it was quite interesting indeed.
It was nineteen-year-old James Sirius that asked, “So, is that a new family pet or what?”
Harry looked up and met his son’s brown eyes. “He can be.”
James nodded. “Okay.”
Harry relaxed and slid his eyes over to Ginny. Her lips were pursed and she had laid her cutlery down, her dinner forgotten. He knew they would be talking about this later.
“Dad,” a petite hand tugged at his sleeve, effectively grabbing his attention, “I want to name him. Can I? Please?”
“Yes,” he cringed and pulled the animal back from his daughter’s renewed squeals, “but Lily, I must warn you. This animal may grow to be too big and we may have to eventually let him go. Do you understand?”
Lily scrunched up her nose and narrowed her eyes, looking very much like her aunt. She sighed, looked up at him and nodded.
“Alright, what do you want to name him?”
He raised an eyebrow and listened to her harried description of the name and why she wanted to name the animal such. After a calm I do not mind it from Albus and an absent-minded Whatever, it’s cool from James, the Liger was named Achilles.
That part over Harry gently placed the animal in his lap and talked with his children. He didn’t worry about Ginny’s continued silence. He knew that as soon as dinner was over she would be cutting into him.
“When does your holiday start?”
Harry sighed, she hadn’t even given him a chance to sit down. “Effective immediately.”
“For how long?”
“Considering I haven’t taken any time off in the past five years and it’s all carried over, six and a half months. Then my leave of absence kicks in and that will be for another six months. So, I’ll be home for the year.”
Ginny crossed her arms and glanced sideways at him. “Is there a reason you’re using all your time when half the time your children are not going to be home?”
“Of course there is! I wanted time off. How hard is that for you to understand?”
She huffed, “Well considering you were so immersed in your work where you wouldn’t even Floo your children…I had no fucking idea!”
“NO! Harry, I don’t get it. I don’t get you. Not anymore.” She turned from the window she had been staring out of and looked at him. “Harry, for almost a year now you have been avoiding being at home as much as possible. Then, out of the blue, you decide to take all your holiday? AND a leave of absence? Tell me, exactly, how am I supposed to understand that?”
Harry growled, trying to reign in his emotions and ran a hand through his hair. He knew what she was hinting at. He sat down on the edge of their bed and glanced up at her before looking back down at the rug. “I have my reasons Ginny. I also want to spend time with my children. With my family,” he paused, “and with you.”
“Oh that’s rich,” she let out a sarcastic sounding laugh, “you want to spend time with me? When?”
“Starting now Ginny.”
“Well good on you. Considering I’m going to be leaving for half the year in TWO weeks. Or did you happen to forget that part?”
“No, I didn’t. But once the kids are in school I’ll be able to travel with you. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted? For us to travel together again, like we did when we first got married.”
“Yes, I’ve wanted that. But I can’t get over the fact that all of the sudden you’re going to have all this time on your hands! What are you going to do when you’re not with me or the kids?”
“I don’t know! Read, write, and travel myself, anything. Or do I have to map everything out for you? Should I have Hermione write me up a detailed schedule as well, broken down by the hour? Would that help ease your mind?”
“That’s not fair, Harry! She did that for me because of the team’s hectic season.”
“I know. It’s called sarcasm, Ginny. I mean…for crying out loud, what do you want me to do?”
“I don’t know. I just can’t stand the thought of you sitting around all day doing nothing.”
Harry stood up and paced up to her, glaring into her face, “I am not going to sit around and do nothing! There are plenty of things I could find to occupy my time.”
“Oh sure, I can guess what that could possibly entail.”
“Don’t start with that again. What do you do when you’re home all day and the kids are at school?”
“That’s ridiculous! I have a house to take care of and –”
“Don’t give me that crap, Ginny. Half the time when the kids are at school and it’s off season, I’m the one taking care of the house while you’re off doing whatever.”
“That’s not true!”
“Yes it is! And you know it! Don’t come preaching to me about what I’m going to do on my time off. Demanding that I report to you! What I do is my business. If it affects you or the children in any way, I will let you know. Otherwise forget it!”
“I am not preaching! Or demanding anything! I just want to know where my husband will be when not at work!”
“Why Ginny? What are you so afraid of?”
“You know perfectly well what.”
“That was ONE time. ONE thing. And if I may remind you, it happened BEFORE we were married. We were apart at the time!”
“Stop YELLING at me!”
“Then stop making ridiculous and unjustified accusations!”
“They are justified! How do I know that you won’t go running back into that…that…”
“What Ginny, afraid to say it?”
“I don’t have to, you know what I mean.”
He leaned closer at her, leering menacingly. “Go on, say it. In the past twenty years that we have been married you haven’t said it once. Say it.”
“Say it, Ginny!”
“Then stop accusing me of something that happened over twenty years ago!”
“How can I forget it when you almost left me for him?”
“I didn’t leave you! I’m right here, aren’t I? I have stood by you, with you, through a lot. We have raised three children, four, if you count my godson. What more do you want?”
“I want for what you did to never have happened!”
Harry stepped back from her and turned away, taking his turn to stare out the window. He couldn’t believe she was bringing this up again. He had thought they were past this.
“Ginny, this is pathetic. How can you suddenly, out of nowhere, bring something up that was supposed to have been forgotten years ago?”
She leaned against the wall and pursed her lips, the red in her face fading a bit. “I never forgot it Harry. How could I? The man I was in love with spent six months with another man! That isn’t easy to forget. Did you forget it?”
“No, I never did. But that doesn’t mean I think about it every day. It doesn’t mean that there will be the chance of it happening again. You know that.”
She looked at him, a cold fury hidden in her eyes. “No, I don’t, Harry.”
“Why? What have I done that could lead you to believe I would ever do something like that? We took vows Ginny. For life. I would never do anything to hurt you.”
“Harry, you already hurt me. You hurt me the second you told me you were seeing him. Another man. That is a hurt that will never, ever, go away.”
“Ginny, I love you. Why can’t you see that?”
“Because apparently my love wasn’t enough for you. You had to run into someone else’s arms.”
“What?! What about you? You ran into someone else arms for a good part of that year as well. Several someones if I may add.”
“Oh? How so?”
“What you did was wrong and immoral.”
Harry stared at her, eyes wide. He could tell this was something she had been holding in for years. But it had taken her fifteen years to bring it up. And immoral is what she called it?
“Good Merlin, you can’t be serious.”
“I am, Harry. I’ve never forgotten it. I have never been able to trust you fully.”
“Oh, so, while apart, if I had run into some woman’s arms, you would have got over it by now?”
“Of course! Just like I got over the fact that you slept with five different men that year! Do I question you every time you leave the house? When you’re traveling with the team, do I demand to know where you are and who you’re with? No, because I trust you.”
“I told you, that’s different.”
“How? If I was able to forget that you slept with other men and I trust you to not do it again, how is that different?”
“It just is.”
Harry sighed and closed his eyes. This was pointless. He had felt them growing apart, day-by-day for the past year or so, but what she had just revealed to him…he’d had no clue that she was feeling that way. Had been feeling that way.
“This is ludicrous. I am not going to argue with you over something that happened in the past and can’t be changed. If you can’t get over, haven’t got over it, that’s your problem, Ginny. I just wish you had told me sooner.”
“Why? So you could run off to him again?”
He shook his head and pulled out his wand. With two quick flicks, he had an overnight bag sitting on the bed and clothes automatically packing themselves in. “This conversation is over. For good. I’m going to stay at James’ flat tonight.”
“Fine, do whatever you want.”
They stood in tense silence for a few moments while Harry’s bag readied itself. As he was heading out the door she called to him. He turned to her and met her eyes.
“Take that bloody rat with you. It’s disgusting. And until you have had it checked over, I will not have that thing in my house.”
He didn’t answer. He made his way to the parlor where his children were arguing over who would get the first watch over Achilles. He smiled sadly at them.
“What is it, Dad?” James looked up at him, eyes bright with understanding.
“Nothing. I’ll be staying with you tonight, ok?” James nodded, not needing to say anything. Harry turned to Albus and Lily, “I’ll be taking Achilles with me to James’s flat, ok?”
The only answer he received from them was a subdued ok and goodnight, Dad from each. He picked up his new charge and cradled it gently to his chest, having the small animal breathing softly in his hand calmed him somewhat.
As he was walking out the front door to Apparate, he glanced back up the stairs and saw Ginny standing there, arms wrapped around her stomach, tears glistening on her perfect pink cheeks.
Where had they gone wrong?