Unofficial Portkey Archive

Coming Back Later by Bexis

Coming Back Later


Coming Back Later

(A/N: I'm uncomfortable doing this, but I've tried to contact the rightful owner of the "Coming Back Late" fic, Paracelsus, repeatedly over the course of several months - always unsuccessfully. As noted in Chapter 46 of "Late," I had agreed to beta Paracelsus, since I thought "Late" was one of the best in progress fics on Portkey. I didn't want it to be abandoned. As time went on, I even undertook to write a version of Chapter 47 that I hoped Paracelsus could edit to his taste. I sent it to him months ago, but never received a response.

I continue to believe that "Coming Back Late" is simply too good a fic to be abandoned. So after much thought, I have decided to post this - written by Bexis, not Paracelsus - version of Chapter 47. If Paracelsus wants me to take it down, I will. You, also, can tell me whether my effort is worth continuing. So without further ado:

Chapter 47 - A Will, A Way, And A Were

Any time she met with Blaise Zabini, Hermione was on her guard. This meeting, though, was worse than uncomfortable. Shortly before it began, her necklace - which she now wore religiously whenever she left home - began feeling strangely cold to the touch. She tried rubbing it, then added a Warming Charm, but nothing helped. The meeting was too important to cancel, and she had called it, but throughout its duration the necklace's exquisite frigidity threatened to distract her.

With this wizard, Hermione could not afford distractions. She needed Blaise to parry feelers from several continental Ministries seeking to reschedule the International Conference on crime that Minister Shacklebolt's (not to mention her own) death had aborted. However much Hermione preferred to reconvene without delay, it was essential to maintain her pretense of compliance with the Cartel's blackmail, until the plot against Rose was traced to its origins - which may well include present company.

A brisk rap on the conference room door ended the meeting early. Without waiting for acknowledgment, a pasty-faced Gawain Robards entered. Ignoring Blaise, he directed his words to the Minister. "Madame Granger, we've had a serious magical incident in a Muggle area. There's at least one death, other serious injuries, and a Muggle power failure. Obliviators are on the scene, but I think you will agree that the Muggleworthy Excuse Committee needs to be convened immediately to deal with this."

As Minister, Hermione chaired that committee, unless she chose to delegate that responsibility. Faced with the first external crisis of her Ministry, she unhesitatingly took charge.

"Blaise, can I count on you to keep the ICW situation on hold for the time being, until our own house is in order?"

"Absolutely," Blaise agreed, suppressing pleasure at the continuing fruits of his agent's efforts. "As unfortunate as this latest incident undoubtedly is, I should be able to use it to our advantage."

Hermione hurried out, Robards following in her wake.

Instead of proceeding directly to the Excuse Committee's normal meeting room, Robards motioned Hermione into a nearby alcove and incanted "Mulffliato." He began, "Madame Granger, you will recall that a short while ago you informed me confidentially that circumstances required you to run a secret operation on what is ordinarily considered my department's turf. Well, unfortunately there's been…."

"This has to do with Harry Potter, doesn't it?" Hermione cut him short.

"Umm … yes, in part."

"What's happened?"

"As best we can tell, Mister Potter and your ex-husband…."

"Oh, Merlin, Ron, too? Are they all right?"

"No, Madame Minister, they are both at St. Mungo's," Robards struggled to get a word in.

"Let's go to my office," a visibly upset Minister directed, starting off at a brisk clip. "Tell me on the way."

"The two of them took it upon themselves to invade some sort of illegal potions-making operation," Robards revealed as he hurried to keep up. "That operation was also under surveillance by a DME agent, who if he wasn't working for you, has gone rogue."

"Dennis Creevey." It was a statement, not a question.

"Yes, I thought so," Robards confirmed. "He was with a Ministry elf who has been in your … detailed to you."

"Yes, Canby."

"Canby saved Creevey's and Weasley's lives by taking them to St. Mungo's," Robards observed. "He wasn't affected by whatever…."

Suddenly Hermione could barely breathe. She stopped in her tracks, with one hand resting on the corridor wall. Robards had to dodge to avoid running into her. "Please, tell me that Harry's not dead," she whispered.

"No, Madame Minister, he is not," came the blessed response. "He was badly injured in a magical explosion. Canby told the healers it was a reaction between two potions smashed together."

Hermione breathed a bit easier. "Thank Merlin. I'm sorry, Gawain, but after my own recent close call, I don't think I could take anymore. What two potions…?"

"I'm not sure, Madame," Robards confessed as Hermione started moving again. "But please do not misunderstand me. My information is that Mister Potter was very badly injured. He may not survive the night…."

"Oh, God!" Hermione shrieked in a most un-Ministerial fashion. She took off for her office at a dead run.

Sheryl leapt to her feet when an out of breath Hermione Granger stumbled into her office. "Merlin, what happened, Hermione…." Just then Robards poked his head in the door. "…I mean, Madame Minister…."

"I can't stay! I have to leave for St. Mungo's - immediately. I don't know for how long!" a red-faced Hermione panted. "I need you to get those packets - all of them - from the special cabinet! Quickly, Harry's been hurt…!"

Sheryl stood there, perplexed, watching but not hearing her plainly frantic boss give orders she could not follow. Robards figured things out before anyone else. "Finite!" He ended the Muffliato.

"…You'll have to tell the press … oh, blast it! Just tell them that I've gone to St. Mungo's because Harry Potter has been badly hurt - along with Ron and…."

She stopped as she saw Sheryl's jaw drop. "What!?"

"Hermione, what do you want me to do?"

"I just told you!"

"You'll have to tell me again, you were under some sort of silencing spell."

Hermione did, and repeated much of what Robards had told her. While repeating the information, she realized that a critical piece of information was still lacking. Turning back to her most loyal department head, the Minister asked, "Gawain, you mentioned a death. Who was killed in the incident?"

"The operator of the potions laboratory, Robards answered. "You're well acquainted with him - Draco Malfoy."

Draco Malfoy? So Harry was right after all….

Suddenly, the walls seemed to be closing in. Like a dragon's claw, cold tendrils of guilt tightened around Hermione's heart. She had gone too far - she knew it. Her too-clever-by-a-half lawyer's ploy to obtain evidence (never used) that Jack Swivingham had been murdered was solely and totally responsible for this … for Harry fighting for his life.

Her deal had sprung Draco Malfoy from Azkaban and put him back on the streets of the wizarding world. That deal, she now knew, had endangered the lives of the only two people in this world that she truly loved, her only daughter and … Harry….

No - Hermione could not allow herself to fall to pieces at this of all times.

Her powerful mind lurched wildly, the makings of a desperate plan beginning to gel. The vials of antidote locked in a cabinet in her office…. Her notes, in the same place…. The deathly cold of her necklace, reflecting Harry's perilous condition…. Something Harry had once said about what happened in the Chamber of Secrets all those years ago….

Hermione recalled something else Harry had said - much more recently. In an emotional moment, one of unguarded candor, he had let slip his true motives for going through the veil. Harry had not cared a "rat's ass" about his own survival, he had declared, if she had died.

In a moment of similar clarity, Hermione now realized that she felt exactly the same way.

Then, Harry had been an exile; thought by almost everyone to have been dead for well over a decade.

Hermione Granger was Minister for Magic.

"All right," Hermione snapped to her two-person audience. "Wait here. I'll be right back.

Striding purposefully into her inner office, Hermione removed the security spells from a nondescript gray metal filing cabinet. She scooped up the contents of the top drawer.

"Sheryl, please make me four copies of these notes, and two copies of this file - and get someone trustworthy from the Board of Potions Regulation and Control up here on the double."

Her assistant grabbed the copying and bolted for the door.

"Gawaine, as you know, I authorized an extraordinary investigation. I apologize for intruding on your department's turf, but this is exactly what it was about. Someone, whom we now know was Draco Malfoy, attempted to poison my daughter with synergistic and extremely deadly potions. I strongly suspect that the reaction between larger quantities of those same potions caused today's explosion."

"Malfoy was working for the Cartel, that's obvious. While nothing actually happened to my daughter thanks to a lucky accident, we played along to try to draw the perpetrators out. Sure enough, within days of the attempt, I was the target of a blackmail demand that I cease cooperation with the ICW's investigation of the Cartel. The antidote for the potions has been serving as both the Cartel's carrot and stick."

"Hence, the secret investigation to uncover the blackmailers while at the same time feigning compliance…. It's all in my notes, which Sheryl is copying for you. Since today's incident blows everything sky high, forget about secrecy. I want your department to put everything you have into investigating this and catching the remaining conspirators. I want that potions lab turned inside out…."

Sheryl's return with the copies only momentarily distracted Hermione.

"…Here, one complete set for your Aurors. This other set is for the ICW. Follow the money. I want to know how and by whom this was funded. Malfoy was less than two weeks…."

Hermione paused, her mind working furiously.

"Minister, should I…?"

"Like I was saying, Malfoy was fresh out of Azkaban. Practically penniless and out of touch with wizarding society for fourteen years…. Gawain, I'm not trying to run your investigation, but I strongly recommend that you focus on anyone we know with Cartel ties who also might have known Malfoy - to whom he might have gone so early. Ask lots of questions, and get specific answers … starting with whether they've been to the Crowned Hart lately…."

The Minister's implication was unmistakable. It did not need to be made explicit.

"Sheryl, here is a sample of the antidote. It's small, but I can't afford to part with anymore. Harry needs the rest." Hermione handed her a half-empty vial. "I've run some tests. The results are in my notes. I want the Board to make this its highest priority. The sooner we can duplicate this antidote, the better - it will save lives, particularly if the Cartel tries using this again."

"Madame Granger," Robards interrupted, "one last thing … the Muggleworthy Excuse Committee does need to meet about this."

"You'll have to chair it, Gawain," Hermione replied. "I'm going to St. Mungo's the moment I'm done here. Be creative…. I think … an illegal drug lab gone wrong sounds closest to the truth. Illegal, jerry-rigged power hookups can explain the outage. Can you take it from there?"

"Yes ma'am." Clutching documents that promised to be the starting point for a great deal of DMLE activity over the coming weeks, Robards left.

"Minister … Hermione, please be careful," Sheryl pleaded when they were alone.

"I can't help it. I have to try to save him," Hermione declared, but her voice sounded almost pleading, and her eyes were rimmed with barely unshed tears. "I have to. I only have two doses of antidote. I doubt that's enough. If it's not…. If I hadn't released Malfoy…."

"No. Blame the Cartel. They started this, not you."

"True, but irrelevant," Hermione shrugged. She grabbed her traveling cloak. "I love him and I don't want to have to live without him."

"Okay, but what do we tell the press? You know they'll go crazy when they learn where you've gone and why. I have to tell them. The Minister can't just vanish."

"Blast the press. At this point, I'm past caring," Hermione spat. "I'm leaving. Just tell them the truth, I suppose. If this costs me my position, so be it. I didn't ask to be Minister anyway."

"Canby!" Hermione called.

It only took an instant for the elf to appear. He looked mortified, as if he blamed himself for the recent catastrophic events.

If she noticed, Hermione did not let on. "Take me to him," she ordered.

* * * *

Bedlam had descended on St. Mungo's when three elves had popped in bearing serious casualties from a sting operation gone awry. Canby, wearing a Ministry tunic, was first, arriving with Dennis Creevey in tow. The Enforcer was barely conscious.

As bystanders rushed to aid this wounded wizard, a few seconds later an almost dazed elf in a red tunic emblazoned with a bright gold lightning bolt arrived. She dragged with her a wizard with hair almost as red as her clothing. Ronald Weasley was barely breathing.

A third elf, also in red, popped in before onlookers had a chance to react. She brought with her the inert form of perhaps the most famous wizard in the world. Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived Again, was barely alive.

Those with merely "serious" injuries were whisked away to be treated in the Potion Poisoning wing. As so often with Harry Potter, matters were extraordinary - both his condition and his notoriety. His condition was beyond grave. Judging him too precarious to be moved, St. Mungo's critical care healers commandeered the nearest available large space, the waiting room. In that location they brought to bear everything in their armamentarium in a desperate attempt at saving the life of the Boy Who Lived Again.

As for Harry's notoriety, within ten minutes someone had tipped off the Prophet that the very same Boy Who Lived Again was at the hospital, teetering precariously on the edge between life and death.

When the Minister for Magic added her personal presence to the madhouse, perhaps half an hour later, the healers feared they were losing their battle. Harry was on both magical and physical life support. Some forty percent of his skin - from mid chest to his knees - had simply vanished in the explosion of two large flasks of synergistic potions.

While that injury alone would not be fatal, since magical means of dermal and epidermal regeneration existed, Harry's condition was such that his body could no longer interact with these means. The magical consequences of the explosion were worse. The shock had severed Harry's innate links to the magical forces that pervaded the world.

Harry was cut off from magic.

For a wizard, magical isolation, if not remedied, was invariably fatal. Irrevocable destruction of magical connections powered the Killing Curse. Although a number of combinations of spellwork and potions could - at least theoretically - counteract at least some incidents of magical dissociation, the healers at St. Mungo's were proceeding blindly. They were completely in the dark about the etiology of Harry's precarious condition.

That changed when Hermione arrived on the scene.

"Minister Granger, our apologies, but as you can see we're rather overwhelmed right now," stammered the first St. Mungo's staffer who noticed Hermione's presence.

"I must see Harry Potter, and the healers treating him, immediately," she demanded. Canby, having delivered his boss to where she needed to be, discreetly shrunk to the side and moved to join two other elves forlornly huddled between two emptied and abandoned magical crash trollies.

"I'm sorry, but that's impossible, Madam Minister. He's fighting for…."

"Sorry doesn't begin to describe what you'll be if I don't meet them immediately," Hermione snapped, in no mood for niceties. "I know what happened to Harry, and I have the antidote." Not waiting for an answer, she pushed past the dumfounded staffer and stalked towards where she sensed the most activity.

The crowd parted before her commanding figure - save one. "Madam Minister, about Mister Potter, do you have a statement for the record? Report…."

"Silencio! And get out of my way!" Hermione dealt with the impertinent interruption.

Several healers, in their distinctive pea-green robes, were actively working on Harry. Their patient was almost completely blocked from view by a thicket of tubes, talismans, charms and crystals. Hermione buttonholed the most important-looking healer not so occupied.

"I'm the Minister for Magic," Hermione briskly introduced herself - as if any were necessary. "Harry was working undercover for me when he was injured. These notes contain the formulae for the two potions that exploded." She thrust a copy of her notes at the astonished healer. "And these vials contain two doses of the antidote for their synergistic combination." She pressed the precious vials upon a healer's assistant who happened to be listening in. "Please save his life."

"Umm … yes," the healer paused, needing a moment to process the potentially life-saving information that had just appeared, as if by magic, from such an unlikely source. But after the recent Prophet stories, was it really so unlikely?

Recovering, he grabbed the proffered parchments and gave them a hurried once over, his trained eye focusing on the important facts, and omissions.

"Minister Granger, I cannot thank you enough for this critical information. But have you any estimate of the magnitude of Mister Potter's exposure to these potions?"

Hermione's face fell. "No, I'm afraid…." Then she remembered. She had an eyewitness! Spotting her target slumped miserably with Brillig and Ayesha between the emptied trollies, she called, "Canby!"

In an instant the loyal elf was at the Minister's side, anxiously wringing his hands. "Do you know how much potion exploded?"

The elf's ears twitched as he thought hard. "Yes, there were two flasks, each about the size of … of a Quaffle, ma'am."

While Hermione interrogated her elf, the healer reread her notes. "A Quaffle's worth each? That's impossible. The release of that much iocane, particularly in an enclosed space, would have instantly killed every wizard at the site, and probably poisoned a large number of nearby Muggles. Surely, something else…."

Canby was ordinarily most deferential to wizards - it was ingrained behavior. But now he sensed Hermione's growing distress. Whether or not bound in law, he was undeniably bonded to her in fact. "That's not how it happened," he interrupted. "The wizard Malfoy wasn't being allowed to add the iocane. We was arresting him for possessing it. We took it away from him first…."

The healer nodded, but his stony expression did not lift. "Madame Minister, ordinarily at this juncture I would only discuss a patient's condition with his authorized next of kin, but Mister Potter's well-known history…. He has no next of kin. This antidote … I doubt those vials hold more then twenty CCs. That's far too little to counter an exposure of this evident magnitude, even under ordinary circumstances…."

Again sensing Hermione's distress, Canby did the only thing he could think of. He reached out and took her hand before it started shaking.

"…But Mister Potter's condition is such that no amount of antidote would likely be effective. This patient's innate connections to the surrounding magical environment were forcibly severed…."

Hermione's head started spinning. She knew as well as anyone the bleak prognosis for what the healer was describing.

"…so Mister Potter has been placed on magical life support. But his condition has continued to deteriorate. Unless a miracle happens, he is unlikely to survive the night."

No! This could not be happening! It was too soon, the bitterest of ironies. After more than fourteen years of wandering in an emotional desert, she had only been reunited with her soulmate for six short weeks. Less than a month ago had they discovered, and been able to act upon, what they truly felt for one another. Fate could not be this cruel - colder than the necklace that at that moment hung icily at her throat.

She had no choice.

"Then I insist that I use my magic in interposition," Hermione declared loudly enough that everyone in the area stopped to listen. She drew herself defiantly to full height, expecting resistance.

Resistance she received. "Madame Minister, I cannot allow that. While interposition has occasionally been used as a cure between wizards of exceptional affinity, it can't possibly succeed here…."

"I refuse to accept that without trying," Hermione almost shouted. "This necklace…" She pulled it from beneath her jumper and displayed it to the reluctant healer. "…it has been specially charmed - profoundly - by probably the most powerful wizard of our time, to link me personally to Harry."

She deliberately left her implication vague. If Dumbledore came to anyone's mind, so much the better. If forced, she would tell the truth, even if that would blow Harry's carefully constructed cover story sky high. Nothing mattered now but his survival. Everything else, even the office she held, had faded into the background.

"Madame Minister," the healer protested, as all other conversation, indeed, activity, ceased - save for the muffled wheezing of Harry's life support charms. "Did you not hear what I just told you? He's been cut off, severed, isolated. Tragically, he's gone. I can't be more blunt than that. You can't reach him. Even assuming you're close enough to Harry to interpose successfully, you'd be dumping your magic into space. It's a futile gesture, however well and sincerely meant, but it could kill you. Forget wish fulfillment; think about your position…."

"Brillig! Ayesha!" In what seemed like a complete non sequitur, Hermione turned and addressed the two grieving elves.

"Y-y-yes, Mistress Hermione?"

"Can you still feel Harry? I know how you found him before."

Bonded house-elves could always feel the presence of their masters. While Hermione had played along with the charade that allowed all concerned to deny that bonding had occurred, another convenient fiction fell in the face of in extremis circumstances.

"He's … he's a-flickering," Brillig halting answered, mortified at being the centre of everyone's rapt attention - with Master Harry's life hanging in the balance. Ayesha, even more terrified, mutely but furiously nodded her head in agreement.

"That settles it, Hermione declared, simultaneously shedding her traveling cloak and thus revealing her sash of office (she had arrived directly from the Ministry).

"Even if your charms can't detect it, Harry's magical links are not completely gone. His elves still feel him. We can't wait any longer, and I don't do wish fulfillment, as you call it. I have to act for Harry - not me! I will exercise my plenipotentiary emergency powers to order it, if you force me to!"

For an agonizingly long moment, one could have heard an owl's feather drop.

"Minister Granger," another healer spoke. I am Hippocrates Smethwyck, Head Healer on Duty. Ordinarily I would not countenance such a perilous course of action, but everything is about as far from ordinary as I can imagine. You may proceed, but I must insist on contacting the next of kin."

"Harry's only living relative, magically, is his godson, Ted Lupin, a student at Hogwarts." Hermione felt profoundly empty as she spoke those words. "But he is a minor…."

"No, Minister Granger," the Head Healer corrected, "I mean your next of kin. I have authorized you to proceed. I did not say I would allow even you to commit suicide in a futile act. If Mister Potter's condition is indeed hopeless, there must be someone empowered to act in your best interests while you are incapable of so doing. That is the law, as I'm sure you know, counselor."

The Head Healer's words - each one absolutely true - hit Hermione with another hammer blow. Aside from Rose, who was only eleven, she had no legal next of magical kin. She had divorced Ron, and unprecedented but undeniable act of will, and in any event he was somewhere else in the same hospital, incapacitated by his own injuries.

Her parents? Hermione had never fully reconciled with them in the wake of her Obliviating them during the War. Mum and Dad had never accepted what they saw as her invasion - however necessary - of their mental integrity. Thus they had chosen to stay in Australia.

As Minister, Hermione surely had the power to grant a medical power of attorney to anyone she designated, but to whom? She and Harry had deliberately kept their budding romance secret from everyone, even their closest friends. Whom could she depend on to appreciate exactly how much Harry really meant to her … that his life meant more to her at this moment than her own?

Who could appreciate that she loved Harry more than she had ever loved anything, or almost anyone, in her life…?

* * * *

Very few Gryffindors remained in the common room; most having retired for the evening. Ted Lupin and Tori Weasley occupied the same remote corner that they had claimed as their own since that memorable night Ted had invited Tori to use his wand.

That memory was not foremost in Tori's mind at the moment. She was far more concerned with the lack of any tangible progress in cracking their latest case. "Ted, we need to review everything," she whispered insistently. "Face it, Rose won't be able to keep up her end much longer. She's not patient enough. She doesn't like being cooped up pretending she's sick. Sooner or later, and probably sooner, she'll give up the game. And then what? They'll try something worse."

"So?" Ted replied, unconvinced. "I'm sure that your idol, and our new Minister, is more than a match for anything those creeps can throw at her."

"Teddy," Tori hissed, deliberately using the childish version of his name, "you know that's not true. You said yourself that your discovering that book was mostly luck."

Ted winced. Luck had been involved, but less than he had let on. Quailing before his girlfriend's angrily flashing eyes, he retreated. "All right," he signed. "It sounds like you've been plotting…."

A smile returned to Tori's face. "I have. Answer this - Why have we been maintaining this charade in the first place?"

"Easy - so the blackmailers don't know that they've failed."

"Precisely," Tori nodded. "And how would they know that?"

"Aaahh…," Ted muttered, his realization growing as her Socratic exercise continued. "They must have someone on the inside here at Hogwarts. I'll bet it's a Slytherin."

"If your godfather's right that Draco Malfoy is involved, then that's not much of a bet," Tori agreed, keeping her voice down. "And I'm willing to bet that it's a student. Professor Shingleton hasn't shown the slightest interest in Rose's `affliction,' and besides he doesn't have Rose in any of his classes, since he only teaches Arithmancy and Ancient Runes."

"We can certainly check," Ted agreed. "Don't forget, I have that map. When Rose `falls ill' again, starting tomorrow, we can see if he goes anywhere near her."

"Probably a waste of time, but I suppose useful," Tori shrugged. She stole a kiss, more to make sure nobody was watching them than to pursue anything more. Ted could be skittish.

Ted was unhappy at having his suggestion dismissed so quickly. "I suppose you have a better idea?" he asked, suspecting her answer.

She did not disappoint. "You suppose correctly, mon cher," she said, running her finger along Ted's collar. "Assume, as I do, that they've somehow recruited a student here. As you say, that person is almost certainly in Slytherin. Further, I'd be willing to bet that the spy is in at least one class with Rose. That limits our universe of prime suspects to Slytherin first years."

Ted was impressed, if rather distracted by her closeness. Tori's reasoning, while not infallible, had logically reduced their list of possible culprits to no more than a dozen - and class lists were freely available. "So you're saying we should track Slytherin first years, as well as Shingleton, tomorrow with the Map? We'll need to work in shifts, since we have classes, and they could spy on Rose practically anywhere she goes, before being `confined' to the Hospital Wing."

"The Map will be a big help, but we can narrow things down a bit more," Tori continued. "A first year can't have a broom, or go to Hogsmeade like you did. If we keep watch on the Owlery…."

A look of satisfaction crossed Ted's face. "Now, I can do you one better, genius that you are," he hissed. "There's a broom closet with a trapdoor leading to the Owlery's rafters. Back in third year, when I got detentions for that incident with the Weasley's Wheezes Technicolor whoopee cushion, I used it when assigned to clean the perches. It's locked, but I `inherited' a penknife that opens doors. One of the blades is damaged, but still more than a match for any broom closet."

"We could hang Extendible Ears," Tori added, shifting herself still closer to him. "We could overhear our quarry's delivery instructions."

"I could even hide out up there," Ted offered, forgetting about classes. "I know some spells that might intercept the owl. That would be progress."

"I said we," Tori insisted. "We're in this together." She watched him closely.

"But … you'd miss classes…. And it'd be boring, cooped up in that closet. Who knows how long…?"

"Not with you, I wouldn't," Tori replied, batting her eyelashes seductively and giving his thigh a squeeze. "I'm sure that, between us, we could figure out something to occupy ourselves while we waited."

Tori was concerned. Ever since they had gotten together, Ted had been surprisingly reluctant to advance the physical side of their relationship. His idea of "the next level" seemed limited to snogging sessions. Again, she saw that flash of anxiety, even fear, in her boyfriend's eyes. There must be something he was scared to let her see, or perhaps to feel. Why wouldn't he tell her…?"

"Umm … well, I think we ought to check with … with Harry … before we … well … do this," Ted stammered. "After all, we wouldn't want to compromise…. Oh my…."

Suddenly, Ted was looking well beyond her. From merely avoiding her eyes, he had now focused on something behind her - something that caused his jaw to drop. Tori turned and looked.

Only on rare occasions did Gryffindor's Head of House venture into the common room. Like now….

Professor Longbottom had just finished climbing through the portrait hole. His stern mien indicated that this was no social call.

Tori's eyes widened as Headmistress McGonagall herself entered. The Headmistress' lips were so thin as to be invisible. Someone must be in a great deal of trouble. Someone….

Tori shot a look at Ted. He looked just as surprised as she - but not guilty. Still, he was a master at disguising his emotions. Had there been…?

Her own father entered, his face as pale as she had ever seen it.

Now Tori could hardly breathe. She had done nothing to warrant this.

Oh mon dieu! Had something happened to maman? Tori held her breath, waiting for the inevitable summons.

After scanning the common room, Professor Longbottom's eyes landed on her. Tori braced herself, poised to respond….

"Will Ted Lupin come here?" It was not a question. Already half out of her seat at the sound of his voice, Tori fell back with a thud.

"Ted," the professor repeated. "Now - it's urgent." Tori watched with morbid fascination as Ted left her side and robotically approached the three adults, like a man about to be executed for something he did not do.

What could Ted possibly have done? Why was papa here? Had someone lied about them … their relationship? Mostly due to Ted's reluctance, they had not done anything - well, very little - that could warrant papa's intervention.

Tori strained to listen in, but almost immediately Headmistress McGonagall cast some sort of spell that filled her ears with a buzzing sound when she tried eavesdropping. Tori could do nothing but watch as Professor Longbottom gravely informed Ted of some recent event, probably calamitous. For an instant, Tori thought she saw Ted's hair start to curl and darken, but then - suddenly - his face went white, his jaw slack, and his hair abruptly turned ashy gray.

Tori could stand it no longer. Some tragedy had surely occurred. Ted needed her!

Impetuously, Tori nearly sprinted past the few other thoroughly confused Gryffindors still in the common room. Reaching Ted's side, she grabbed his hand and declared, "Ted, whatever it is, we'll get through this together."

But the buzzing in her ears only increased. Ted almost jumped at being touched. Tori saw his face. He was sobbing. She had never seen Ted cry before. The adults, taken aback by her sudden intervention, had stopped talking and were glancing questioningly at one another. After a long moment, Bill finally nodded.

Headmistress McGonagall lifted her spell. That terrible buzzing stopped. Then she reapplied it with Tori on the inside.

"Ted! What happened? Is your grand-maman…?"

"No, it's Harry," Ted choked out, his voice lifeless, "and Hermione…"

"What!?" Tori clutched Ted's limp arm like both of their lives depended on it.

"As I was saying," Professor Longbottom summarized for her benefit, "Harry was right about Draco Malfoy, but his taking matters into his own hands may well cost him his life. He's on dual life support at St. Mungo's, cut off from the magical forces that sustain us all. Hermione … er, the Minister, is at this moment doing something to try to save…. I'm not exactly sure what…. She's put her own life at risk … she could die, too…."

Even Professor Longbottom was too choked up to continue. Tori was emphatically reminded that those two were probably the professor's closest friends from school. Tori felt Ted slump into her side.

Headmistress McGonagall, fighting back her own tears, took up the narrative. "Mister … I assume that since you're Mister … Harry's godson, he's mentioned to you, that is, well, that you're his only magically recognized relative. Even though you're still a minor, you need to be involved in any decision … decision, well, to end things…."

"Oh, Merlin," Ted moaned. Tori almost stumbled as Ted's legs went wobbly and he leaned heavily into her, no longer able to support himself. She felt Bill's strong arms steady them both.

"…Because Ted is a minor, Professor Longbottom, as his Head of House, may assist as needed in loco parentis. The Minister … Hermione, has insisted in interposing her own magic in a last ditch effort to save Harry's life…. It's quite … possible that she could … perish … in the attempt…."

With each portentous word, Ted and Tori clung to one another more desperately.

"That's why I'm here," Bill muttered, his tight voice almost squeaking as he tried to hold himself together. "Hermione designated Fleur, that's right, your mother, as her effective next of kin. I've come to collect Rose, as this involves both her parents…. Ron went with Harry, and was also badly injured - but he'll live," he quickly added.

"Miss Weasley-Major, can you wake Rose Weasley - gently - and get her down here as quickly as possible?" Professor Longbottom asked. It was a request, not an order. "Every minute counts."

"Can … can I come, too?" Tori haltingly made her own request.

"I think…. I think I'll leave that to Ted," the Headmistress responded.

Tori could feel Ted's breath on her neck. "Yes, I think I'd like that."

* * * *

In an uncharmed bed, Ted tossed fitfully. Since he, Tori, and an almost catatonic Rose had arrived at St. Mungo's in the wee hours of the morning, he and his girlfriend had taken turns trying to sleep in the room they - not that way - had been assigned. Those attempts had been mostly unsuccessful.

When not lying awake, Ted had spent most of his time cooling his heels in a drab institutional waiting room, praying nothing would happen. He had been ushered in to see Harry - and Hermione, for the time being they were one in the same - only once. For about ten minutes he had watched Hermione's unmistakable and unmoving bushy mane through a maze of tubes and talismans. Ted was not sure if he saw Harry at all.

But most of the time he sat, staring at a closed, battleship gray door, knowing that somewhere on the other side his godfather and his godfather's best friend/lover lay together in a life-sustaining embrace. Somehow she was using her magic to try re-tethering Harry to this world. Ted did not know what "interposition" meant, but more than once he had overheard healers discussing it in hushed, awestruck tones.

Ted dreaded that waiting room. At any minute a healer could emerge from that door with news that Hermione's effort had failed, and he would now have to make the most awful decision imaginable.

So far, so good. The moment of truth had yet to arrive.

Ted solemnly resolved that he would never say - never even think - anything unflattering about Hermione Granger ever again.

When not lying awake, Tori spent most of her time trying to console her cousin Rose, who virtually shut down emotionally on the news of both her father's and her mother's fates.

Tori also found herself comforting maman, also on the verge of cracking under the strain. Maman had the responsibility, voluntarily assumed at Hermione Granger's express and earnest request, to call a halt to Hermione's effort to save Harry's life by utilizing their apparently unique connection to one another to pump her magic into him - or so maman had been informed by the healers.

The situation led mother and daughter into a lengthy conversation about the meaning of love. Maman was convinced that deep and abiding love drove Hermione's actions, and that Hermione would rather perish in her attempt than live to see it fail. Knowing this, Hermione had appointed maman to the role of guardian of her best interests, not to let that happen - even though the woman in question might personally disagree with the result.

In the end, Hermione's responsibilities as Minister for Magic had overridden her personal desires - but only because she knew that Harry would want it that way.

Tori ultimately agreed with maman, but remained profoundly relieved at not having that cup before her. Could she ever do the same…?

When Tori returned to check on Ted, a new idea had come to her.


"Hi, Tori."

"Did you sleep at all?"

"Not really. Spent the time dreading some healer coming for me." Ted's stomach growled audibly.

"Would you like me to get us something to eat?"

He smiled wanly. "Thanks, but I had quite enough of hospital food overnight."

"I could try to sneak out and find something better," Tori offered. "You always have to be reachable, not me."

Ted winced at the reminder, true though it was. "Are they still out there?"

Tori stepped to the window and drew back the curtain. "If anything, more are there now than when we arrived."

Once it became clear that Hermione would not be leaving St. Mungo's anytime soon, Aurors had arrived and raised security wards around the hospital. To gain access, the group from Hogwarts had to pass through a subdued crowd of onlookers. As news spread of what was happening inside, witches and wizards spontaneously gathered to keep silent vigil within view of the building.

A free special edition of the Prophet had been distributed minutes before Ted and Tori arrived. A copy of the extra now lay on a side table, with recent magical pictures of Harry and Hermione staring longingly in each other's direction. Below the pictures, a headline screamed: STARCROSSED? MINISTER OFFERS HER LIFE FOR THE BOY WHO LIVED(?).

"I'll pass, then, at least for now," Ted declined her offer.

Tori stared at the Prophet for several seconds before turning back to Ted.

"Every minute that passes, I have to think, makes the worst less likely."

"Merlin, I hope so," Ted sighed. "I don't know … know if I could do that. I'd rather kill myself."

Tori gasped in shock. "Ted, don't say that! Don't even think that! Think about … the rest of us! Anyway, I'm constantly more optimistic that it won't happen, so I have an idea - it involves you."

"Gah!" Ted flopped back on the hard mattress. "So tell me … Merlin knows I could use to think about something that's not morbid, for a change."

"Okay. You've never exactly told me, but I gather that after Harry did his runner, you `inherited,' if that's the right word, his personal effects." She waited for Ted to confirm this.

Ted did. "Well, yeah, I got that kind of stuff. Most of it's still in my gran's vault, though. I'd rather give it back, but Harry has told me several times to keep it - although that might more for the benefit of Gringotts' goblins than anything else."

"Can you get one thing out," Tori asked, "for my sake, if not yours?"

"Umm, sure. What do you want?"

"I have this idea - if she succeeds in saving him. I mean, it's been going on quite long enough…."

"What is it?"

"Harry's mother's wedding ring."

At the mention of that, Ted's heart started beating almost out of his chest. All he could think was she couldn't mean…. Harry had told him, more than once, that he had to come clean with her, but he had been too … scared, ashamed, cowardly, whatever, to reveal his darkest secret to the woman he believed he loved. Now she was….

"Tori, why?" Ted choked out, his throat suddenly dry as a totally new terror beset him.

"I want you to give it back to Harry," Tori declared. "And if he doesn't understand what to do with it, then we'll bien sûr lay it out for him. They've gone on long enough. But she'll never ask him; she's too self-conscious about looking twice his age, for one thing."

Ted found he could breathe again. "You … you want to play matchmaker between the Minister for Magic and the Boy Who Lived Again?" Her proposal was more audacious, if less personal, than he had thought. Still, he was profoundly relieved at having dodged a bullet Tori had not fired.

"Why not?" Tori retorted, her eyes defiant. "I think it's beautiful. After all they've been through, they deserve a little happiness, don't you think. I know Harry's your hero - I admit that Hermione's mine - but they're just not romantics at heart."

Harry? Not a romantic? If Harry was a failure at love, than what was he?

Then and there, Ted decided he did not want to dodge that bullet after all.

"All right, I'll do it," Ted agreed. "But can you sit down? There's something I want to talk about, too. Something I need to tell you. Harry would want me to."


His face had flushed red, in dramatic contrast to a minute or so earlier. "Just … please." Ted motioned to the shabby gray-green plastic scoop chair near the bed in which he was still laying.

Tori sat. Her flawless blue eyes, which had never looked larger than right now, bore into him. Unasked questions danced in them, but her expression was … hopeful.

"There's something you should know. I need to tell you now, before anything goes any further…."

"Ted…" Her voice fairly caressed his name.

"I'm…. I'm a werewolf," Ted blurted it out and tightly closed his eyes.

She was on her feet, Ted could hear it.

He expected the next sound would be the door slamming, but….

Suddenly she was on top of him, her lips pressed passionately against his, her tongue demanding entrance.

Ted had envisioned a variety of reactions from Tori when she learned of his great congenital affliction - revulsion, fear, pity, betrayal - but in his wildest dreams he had never expected, not for an instant, that her response would be to snog him senseless.

It all felt so wonderful; he suppressed his surprise and let her carry on.

Eventually, they came up for air.

"Umm … Tori, did you hear what I said?"


"I said I'm a werewolf. I have been since birth."

"I know."

"You - what - you know?"

"I figured it out a while ago. That's something else you can thank Hermione for."

"But…. If you knew, why didn't you say something?"

"Because you hadn't - and now you have." She leaned in and once again took possession of his lips, forcefully.

Another break in the action. Another question.

"When did you, you know, figure it out?"

"Shortly before you first let me use your wand, after Hermione explained why werewolves can't have children."

"And you let me go ahead? How could you? How can a witch like you love a werewolf?"

Tori drew back and looked him straight in the eye. "I don't love a werewolf. I love one Theodore J. Lupin, who happens to be both a werewolf and a metamorphmagus. And now, at last, I can let myself believe that you really love me, too."

Needless to say, another physical demonstration of that fact followed.

"How did you know? I mean, I do, of course but…."

"You finally passed the test - the sincerity test."

The penny dropped in Ted's mind. "Which was telling you the truth about being a werewolf."

"Precisely," Tori confirmed. "Until you could tell me that, despite all the implications it undoubtedly has, I couldn't be sure - absolutely sure - you were serious about our relationship."

By now, she was practically sitting in his lap. They were both in the same bed.

"Well, you obviously know the worst of those implications - that werewolves can't have children."

"No, I most certainly don't know that," Tori protested. "You're here, aren't you?"

"Yes, but my mum…."

"…was also a metamorphmagus," Tori finished his sentence for him, putting a finger against Ted's lips to silence him. "She must have done that super-cell-deep metamorphosis, the one you used to fool the Castle's wards, every full moon throughout her pregnancy with you. That's the only way you could have been born."

Sometimes there were distinct advantages to associating with super-geniuses - especially falling in love with one.

He would have to remind Harry.

"But you're not a metamorphmagus," Ted pointed out. More than the press of Tori's magnificent body against his was leaving him breathless. The turn of their conversation presumed that they would….

"But you are," Tori replied, with certainty enough to leave no doubt that, this too, she had figured out in advance. "When the time comes, you can do the same supermorph, but into your human side. We'll have to test my theory, of course, but I'm personally convinced that the morph will affect your sperm - just like every other cell in your body."

Tori had just made that assumption explicit. "M-m-my … sperm?"

"Of course, but we'll have to test it - not now, of course."

She rolled full on top of Ted and proceeded to snog him within an inch of his life - until….

"Theodore Lupin! Just what in hell do you think you're doing with my daughter!?" Bill Weasley's harsh voice rang from the doorway.

In a flurry of arms and legs, Ted and Tori jumped apart and futilely tried to pretend as if nothing had been happening.

"Well?" Bill's face was just as stern as his voice.

"What did it look like? We were snogging." Tori answered, her words expressing all of the defiance of a teenager in love.

"Well, you'd best put a stop to it," Bill growled.

With the teens bracing for the worst, Bill's features lightened almost immediately. "I've just been told that they're out of mortal danger. Hermione did it. Harry's reconnected to his magic. He'll live, as will she."

Ted could have floated out of the room. "Can … can I see them?" he asked.

"Not now," Bill shook his head. "He's still in a deep coma. His recovery will be long and difficult. It could take weeks. But I'm assured that he will recover. The healers showed Fleur and me his restored aura."


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