Title: There Are No Constants
Pairing: Hermione/Fred (Hermione/Ron)
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: All but death can be adjusted, but even then sometimes there are exceptions
Warning(s): Complete DH canon compliancy - and, no, not in the necrophilia sense – and no adultery either. Compliancy with most of JK Rowling's interview canon, though in all this I may be as inconsistent as she is. Easily evaded mild torture, and non-violent character death mentioned. Smut that is only very secondary. . . .
Author's Notes: Originally written for the hp_springsmut exchange.
Hermione stood in the center of the joke shop, dressed in her warmest jumper with her cloak swirling around her. Verity and Aurelia – the woman George had hired to help over the 'holiday season,' were already inundated with customers. Witches and wizards – all under the age of fifteen – were running around the shop, looking for appropriate Halloween merchandise that they could blow their few galleons on. Angelina Johnson, the past love of Fred's life, and the somewhat girlfriend of George, was striding down the aisles, likely looking more for the owner than any merchandise.
For her part, a headache was threatening with the ruckus around her. The night before had been sleepless, tossing and turning all alone in the bed. Not from Ron's absence, which she was oddly grateful for, but from the prospect of the day, what they were going to do. She'd grappled with her conscience all night, even as she ran through the steps of the magic in her mind to keep it all straight. It made for eyes that had dark bags under them, and skin that looked as gaunt as a vampire. Already she knew Verity had been sending concerned glances her way, but ignored them as much as she tried to ignore the children around her – which was a task in itself. Hermione hoisted her bag more firmly over her shoulder, the satchel carrying the items that she'd already acquired in it. She'd stolen some of the reserve polyjuice from the Ministry, heading into each establishment disguised as a different person from work whose hair she had plucked. No trail to be left behind. She'd even made sure to buy one item as herself, to not seem to be purposefully excluding.
Merlin, but she wanted this to wait. If not indefinitely, at least until she could research and theorize more. An amalgamation of books had led her to the point she was confident in the magical theory of the act, that it would succeed. But the after, the consequences…..the anything, it was all still up in the air. But George had read it right. It could only be done one night a year, at least with the highest guarantee of success, and he wasn't up for waiting another.
She was torn between being grateful and perturbed when he finally bounded down the stairs. But, once she took in his expression, it lightened some of the load she was carrying about going ahead.
For the first time in a long time, he seemed happy. A grin lit his face, and he winked at Aurelia, and twirled Verity in a dance move, before ducking around a corner and yelling loudly at a few of the children fascinated with the goblin toys, making them scream in frightened delight. He even winked at Angelina, and gave her a smacking kiss on the cheek, as she laid the patented daydream charm she had supposedly come for on the front counter for the staff to ring up. "Top of the morning to you all," he said to the world at large, putting on an Irish accent that would have made Seamus Finnigan wince.
Hermione could tell the other three women were utterly confused, and hesitant in returning his exuberant joy.
She grabbed his arm, not wanting to be catty, but wanting to explain to him that they had to get started, and was shocked when he wrapped her up in an tight bear hug that lifted her off her feet before releasing her. "Think you can manage without me for a few hours?" He asked the bemused women behind the counter, "I know it's a hardship without my manly presence, but…."
"Go," Verity shooed him. "Though why you're so bloody excited about a healer's appointment is a mystery to me."
Hermione raised her eyebrows at the excuse he had apparently concocted to get out of the shop for the day without causing alarm, but George was nodding soberly, motioning to the side of his mouth. "Teeth been giving me a fucking large amount of pain, and Healer Abercrombie finally decided he could spare the time to fix them for me. He made some snide remark about getting 'wisdom' teeth in spite of not having any, so I'm assuming that's the problem. Miss Granger here is being kind enough to apparate me there and home, since apparently I'll be on quite a few painkilling potions. I've already lost one ear, don't you know."
Normally too much explanation was a sure sign of a lie, but the others seemed to be lapping it up. Verity patted her boss's cheek comfortingly. Shorter than he, the mothering was an amusing sight. "You take all the time you need to recover. Halloween's over after today, and after the post holiday sale tomorrow, business won't be bad. We can keep it under control until Ron gets home."
"You're a doll," George gave her a smacking kiss as well, grinning as he leaned back. Verity shook her head, looking at Hermione as if to say 'has he already been spelled'?
Angelina shrugged. It looked casual, but Hermione was sure it was anything but. "I don't have any plans for today, and I was considering going to visit Katie at St. Mungo's anyway…." As was the elder girl's apparent luck, she had been put out of commission at the Battle of Hogwarts, this time more permanently. A spell had cleaned out her memory, and she was in the spell damage ward near Neville's parents. She'd heard enough from George to know he couldn't bear to visit her, but that Angelina and her friend Alicia Spinnet visited without fail.
"No need," George shook his head, "unless you're planning on doing the books for the shop after as well. Hermione's been gracious enough to step in for this end of the month accounting with my….infirmity," he winked as if it was his customary laziness from the old days, "and my dear younger brother skiving off to France."
The older woman looked crestfallen, but she didn't object as George waved goodbye to them all, leaving the other two to deal with the crowds pouring in as he slung an arm around Hermione as they exited the shop. As the door closed behind them, she couldn't help but look up at him in bemusement despite the fact they were about to employ….well, borderline magic.
"Never knew you to be such a creative liar," she told him with a roll of her eyes, even as she shifted out from under his arm. "Ron's pants at it. Never mind body language, he can't even come up with a plausible one." She shook her head, snickering, "Though what possessed you to come up with getting your wisdom teeth out…."
George shrugged, sliding his hands into his pockets as they wandered down Diagon Alley. "Needed something that might keep me out of commission for a few days if I'm not around here, implying I'm being laid up at the Burrow. Best I could come up with that wasn't too serious. I'm not a healer."
He would have kept walking, but she took his arm to stop them for a moment. "We can apparate from here," she explained, hoisting the items in her bag, realizing exactly how much this was becoming her responsibility more than his, but it had been by her own design.
"Where?" George asked, surprised.
"We were hardly going to be starting this process in the middle of London," Hermione rolled her eyes, even as sthe wrapped her arm around his waist to apparate. "But," she dropped her voice, "first stop is Hogwarts."
"We can't exactly apparate in…" George began.
She shot him a look. "The wards don't apply to the Forbidden Forest."
Understanding dawned in his gaze, and she wondered what he thought the alternative was. They didn't exactly sell vials of unicorn blood, not even in Knockturn Alley. There was a black market for that sort of thing, but it was more dangerous in it's own way more so acquiring the sample themselves. Those people would sell you out for a smile and a coin if anyone came looking, and there was no way to guarantee the sample was real. And Hermione wasn't going to be privy to anything that supported the slaughter of unicorns, for that was how they usually obtained the blood. It was a practice the Ministry had been trying to curb for years, and unsuccessfully. People were willing to take any risk to stave off death when the worst was done for them already.
"You still up for this?" She asked, and watched as he nodded quickly, after only a moment's hesitation.
Wandering through the Forbidden Forest brought back memories of her school days. Hermione found it odd that she'd faced worse, she'd been tortured by the most sadistic witch out there, and that she was a good few years older – but nothing got under her skin like the Forest. Every tree vine looked like a resting spider leg, every noise an attack waiting to happen. Both she and George walked through nearly back to back, wands at the ready, prepared for anything that could be thrown at them. It had been tempting to head for the gamekeeper's cottage and ask for Hagrid's assistance, but subtlety and discretion were not his forte, and 'help' wasn't always as helpful as it seemed. Still, there was comfort in his hulking presence, and the confidence he had – irrational though it was.
"Can we….I dunno, call them somehow?" George hissed.
"No," she whispered back. "We just have to hope that they…."
They'd been wandering for an hour, the forest a forbidding place even in the middle of the day – the sun hidden from gaze, but still it shocked her to see a unicorn appear at the top of the crest of the hill before them. Fortuitous timing, but she'd been on guard for hours, and the appearance couldn't come a moment too soon. Especially if they wanted to get everything set up and prepared – and practiced – before the midnight hour. She motioned silently towards the slowly trotting figure so George would notice, but not wanting to startle it. He glanced up, and a tight smile lit up his face.
Hermione would estimate the age of the creature to be about four or five. The golden colour still tinted its fur, but the horn had sprouted from the forehead – it's silver peak glinting in the sunlight that peeked occasionally in through the trees.
It cut at her to be trying this with a near babe, but unicorns were hard enough to catch as it was. This one at least would be trusting, to an extent. And it wouldn't bolt at the sight of a human male.
Slowly, they moved towards it, Hermione a cautious smile on her face as they went, trying to seem welcoming. "Slide around the side," she told George, reaching into her pack as she pulled out the carrots she had brought with her, apparently one of the treats that could lure a young unicorn – one of the things they had in common with their more plebian horse brethren. He moved to obey her, and she added, "Now, start petting her slowly, just running your hand along the grain of her fur as soon as she takes the carrots. Make your presence seem innocuous."
As the young unicorn whinnied and took one of the carrots, George began rhythmically petting her, similarly to what Hermione had done with Crookshanks as a child. "That's it," Hermione crooned, as the unicorn relaxed under his touch while eating the snack. "You like that, don't you." She held out a second carrot, and the unicorn took it, munching away contentedly. There was no shying away now, and an element of trust between them.
She kept her hands still as she offered the third carrot, but once the unicorn accepted it even easier, she reached forward, capturing its head between her hands – and not letting go, her fingers entangling in the golden mane. "Shh," she said, her hands now shaking, as the unicorn began to make a whining noise, and buck against her grasp. "Shh!" Hermione tried to calm the unicorn, as she nodded to George to do what they had planned.
He drew the needle she'd brought from his pocket, even as Hermione murmured a mild painkilling spell under her breath, doing what she could to ease the unicorn's discomfort.
It was obvious that George had never heard, nor seen, a needle before – but she'd versed him on its use. It was the only way she could think of to get the minimum amount of blood possible, and still be able to do the spell. She had planned this all out to the tiniest detail, minimizing the risk of getting caught, but more importantly minimizing the risk to others and to themselves. The easiest would have been to cut the unicorn, to gather the blood that way, but it would have hurt the creature the most – and had the most risk of the being bleeding out as she had no idea about the creature's healing capacity. Awkwardly, he grabbed the needle, jabbing it into a vein on the unicorn's side, causing the creature to writhe in pain. Hermione kept the head grasped as tightly as she could, trying not to harm the animal further.
The second he pulled the plunger out, gathering the blood, then the needle itself, she motioned for him to grab the calming draught she'd prepared from the bag, and they force-fed it to the unicorn.
It stopped the violent attempt to get away, but it didn't kill the look in the unicorn's eyes.
Breathing heavily, Hermione released her stronghold on the unicorn's head. Her own body was shaking, more so from the violence of the act they'd done, than the exertion. She felt like she'd committed some unforgivable betrayal. Though she'd expected to not be at peace, she didn't think it would feel like this. The unicorn seemed to feel something similar, for though it seemed to meet her eyes momentarily, it was gone in galloping bounds as soon as it was released – dirt flying out from under its hoofs as it sprinted off to hide again in the forest. Never to be tricked again.
They'd aged the creature before it's time.
Hermione took the needle carefully from George, emptying the blood into the vial she had waiting. Her hands were shaking, but they were better than his, which simply couldn't seem to stay upright and kept falling uselessly to his side. "You still want to go ahead?" she asked quietly, avoiding his eyes to make the decision easier should he want to back out.
But there was no hesitation in his affirmative response. "If I haven't backed out after that, I'm not going to," he said, voice sharper than she'd ever heard it. The implication that she should stop asking was there.
The closer it got to the time, the more nervous they became.
A large part of which had to do with the fact they were sitting and waiting right near Fred's grave in the Weasley family cemetery not that far from the Burrow.
It gave an ominous sense to the whole thing, the graveyard, though the sun was still hanging overhead. This wasn't like a quick stop through, leaving flowers and paying one respects. It was all in her imagination, but Hermione could feel like the dead were stirring beneath them. Shaking her head, she tried to ward off fanciful thoughts, but they kept slipping through. You couldn't be doing something like this, on a night like this, in a cemetery and not have them. She'd already killed all the time she could, setting up the supplies around the grave, and had instructed George as best she knew how. All that was left to do now was wait. Every sound seemed like someone from the Ministry coming to stop them, every pass of the wind suggesting the shifting of the dead. And every thought of the future was about everything that could possibly go wrong – and there were a lot of things, if she really stopped to think about it. Which she didn't want to. She wanted to perform the spell herself and give it the best chance of working, but it was George's brother, and George's risk to take – and his consequences if there were any.
"You're sure your family placed a stasis charm on the body?" Hermione asked for the umpteenth time, shivering in her cloak.
"Merlin's shorts," George cursed, "Yes Hermione, we put a bleeding stasis charm on the body before burying it."
"It's somewhat important," she snapped. "Unless you want a walking, talking, and sentient Fred in a decayed body."
That was enough to give them both pause, the very thought of that.
To pass the time, and stop her from biting his head off, Hermione began to speak, explaining the theoretical basis behind what they were about to do. The mechanics they'd repeated time after time, until he knew the acts and the spells off by heart, but the basis in what they were doing he had no idea. He didn't have to in order to perform the ritual, but sharing the knowledge now was as much for her comfort as to enlighten him. There was a good amount of time left until sundown, and they had to fill it with something. For her part, she might think twice about it, even if George was resolute.
Hermione began abruptly, needing to talk about something. "Funny enough, all this is based in the art of necromancy – conjuring the dead for the intent of divination. Not asking them for help, looking for answers. People think that without the limitations of their physical bodies, they can transcend the earthly plane and have knowledge of the past, present and future. The real necromancy is raising the spirits of the dead into a medium, and then banishing it to the….well, whatever comes after death." She took a deep breath. "What we're going to do combines that with the production of inferi. However an inferius is simply a reanimated corpse, doing the bidding of the d…the dark wizard that created it. But our goal is to reanimate the body, and the spirit, and lock the two together through the strongest ….well, essentially it's a binding spell, we can create."
She knew she shouldn't be excited about the idea, to see if they should actually do it. Hermione knew she should be abhorring it every step of the way, not feel the thrill of excitement. It wasn't the nature of what they were doing, it was the challenge that excited her.
George's eyes were glazing over, but she continued, knowing they would sit there worrying otherwise.
"It can…well, in theory, be done any time of the year," she went on to explain. "But this, the 'night of the dead' if you will, gives it the greatest chance of success. Some muggle religions that pretend at witchcraft discovered some of the magical properties of Samnhain, though they can't utilize them properly without innate magical ability. They pretend at reanimating the dead, of conversing with spirits, but don't really accomplish it. According to muggle Celtic lore, Samhain is a time when the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead become thinner, at times even fading away completely, allowing spirits and other supernatural entities to pass between the worlds to socialize with humans. Some Wiccan rituals invite these spirits of the departed to partake in their festivities. Whatever they actually accomplish, beginning at sundown on October 31, the lines between alive and dead become…fuzzy for lack of a better description, there's no denying that. And, if you cast the final charm precisely at midnight, you maximize your chances of a successful ritual."
She'd made him understand what could go wrong, but George didn't seem to care. His only reason for maximization of probability was to increase his chances of getting Fred back, not limiting damages. It was a fine distinction, but an important one.
Having run out of fun facts and trivia, Hermione reviewed her notes a few more times as the sun continued to set, George sitting in anticipatory silence beside her.
When darkness seemed to settle over the graveyard, they both started to get antsy. Hermione motioned towards him to get started, because they had only a few short hours, and a complicated set of magic to perform. As she cast an incendio, lighting a fire under the cauldron she'd set up off to the side, George began to wave his wand and sketch out two circles which overlapped each other, the tombstone in the middle of the overlap. As the cauldron warmed, she took stock of the necessary ingredients she'd acquired earlier.
Chinese Chomping Cabbage, the most innocuous ingredient she had bought. She'd found it, the Newt eyes, and the hellebore in the apothecary of Diagon Alley polyjuiced as Harry – Merlin forgive her. The asphodel, the powdered horn of the Romanian Longhorn that she'd paid entirely too much for, and the Armadillo bile had been acquired in a backshop in Knockturn Alley while she was polyjuiced as the undersecretary to the Minister. The others - the cockroaches, the flobberworm mucus and the Murtlap essence were simply commandeered from the Ministry's potion stores. And the pomegranate had been easily acquired, in a fashion which amused her, from a muggle grocery store. The re'em blood and runespoor eggs she had in her own personal stores, the latter being technically a regulated item that Charlie Weasley had helped her acquire years before.
The strands of unicorn hair she'd walked in later and bought herself. Its tactile strength was used in a variety of spells, and the one lone ingredient would hardly raise eyebrows.
The base to be used for the brewing of the potion was essentially what the muggles called milk of magnesia – a simple solution of magnesium hydroxide in water. She'd once tried to analyze that into it's more base components, how it worked as neutralization on the acidic components of the ingredients…but her knowledge of chemistry was cursory given her primary schooling had been at Hogwarts, and there was no muggle explanation for magic - or the so called 'reactions' that happened with each stir and it's direction, with each little fleck added, with each minute that passed. No hydroxide ions mixing in to turn acid components to water was ever going to account for how the oddest ingredients could make you fall in love, could make you hate, could calm you, freeze you, kill you, make you spill your darkest secrets….
…bring you back from the dead.
Slowly, Hermione emptied the three litres of the milky substance into the cauldron, listening in satisfaction as it began to heat, tendrils of smoke escaping from the liquid as the bubbles began to form. She could see George out of the corner of her eye, gathering the candles from the bag and his sheets of the runes that he was to use in the casting of the final spell. The potion she was going to create was essentially a paint to be used, though hardy so innocuous.
Grind the cabbage with mortar and pestle, careful to avoid the leaves.
Five minutes, five slow stirs counterclockwise – never stopping.
Two cockroaches, dunked in armadillo bile, the substance for sharpening wit – or in this case, giving it. A sprinkle of the powdered horn of the Romanian longhorn. A quick turn clockwise, a kilogram of hellebore. Let it brew, let it brew, never letting it reach a rolling boil.
Cutting the heat abruptly – adding the rest of the armadillo bile drop by drop.
Hermione was reaching a feverish state as the brewed the potion, the heat from the flames making her cloak feel a thousand pounds heavier. It was pink now, the consistency of cotton candy almost – light and fluffy as she stirred it around. Taking a whiff it reminded her more of salt than anything else however. This was the part, outside of the planning, that she could do best. Brew this to be used, which had to be no more than three hours old when it was used in the spell. She was bordering on arrogance, but she knew George didn't have the ability for this aspect, even with step by step instructions.
Cracking the runespoor egg, the yolk and the smallest half of the shell added in one fell swoop – the other she purposefully tossed aside.
Asphodel, the tie to the afterlife and the underworld.
Brewing with 6 clockwise turns, re'em blood for the strength of life – drop by drop.
Then adding the rest in one fell swoop during a quick counterclockwise turn, and increasing the strength of the fire as she tapped in the flobberworm mucus to thicken the potion to the consistency of a paint-like substance.
And finally removing the cauldron from the heat, and drop by silver shimmering drop that reminded her of memories from a pensieve, adding the unicorn blood.
Pouring it into the clean and sterilized vials she had brought, Hermione hurried carefully over to tombstone where George was waiting. "Almost midnight," he offered quietly, looking at his watch as she set the vials down – she hadn't realized how quickly time had passed, her intention had been focused on the brewing of the potion. She wanted to do the rest for him, but from here on out it would be him – her only role offering suggestions should he forget anything. It wasn't like this distinction would make any difference in the eyes of any Ministry officials, but in terms of any magical consequences it likely would. Again, there were so many small distinctions during the act, but they were all seemingly important ones.
As she stepped back, George began. He cast containment spells around both the circles, keeping himself and the items sealed inside – and most importantly what would be created when it occurred. Each would be used in a different manner – the one on the left for the spiritual necromancy, the one on the right for the more bodily version similar to raising an inferi. They key was to do it almost simultaneously, then cast the rest of the magic before both completed their rise. It was the overlap of the two circles that become the most important.
It was along that ellipse that George began. Seven discrete mini circles around the border of it – the mythology of the number seven in the runes important in the spell they were about to cast. Seven times he traced the symbol around the ellipse with the potion to be the center of those mini circles, placing a red candle on top of it, the symbol of the basic creature based runes being the key in all of this which few people knew the meaning for – the undetailed symbol of the number seven was a being rising from seven flames, in this case representing the rise from the dead. Another one he sketched in the middle of the ellipse, uncovered now, but would be covered by his own body later.
Around each candle covering a symbol, another rune was traced seven times in a circular fashion. The first was kenaz, which among other things represented the vital fire of life, new strength, and energy. The second was hagalaz, controlled crisis leading to completion. The next was algiz – standing for awakening or higher life. The next Sowilo – the sun – power available for positive change. The fifth was thurisaz, a reactive force and a regenerative catalyst. Next came Mannaz for divine structure, intelligence, awareness. And the final one he sketched seven times around the last central candle was Dagaz for breakthrough and the balance point, the place where opposites meet. Things ready now, George straightened, putting aside the brush that had created the symbols, and making sure his wand was grasped tight, the unicorn hair that would be needed later in a neat pile at his feet.
Hermione began watching her watch carefully, waiting to give him the signal to go as soon as midnight hit.
When the hour came, she began to shiver, but called out to him, and George began.
Stepping into the left circle, he called out the spells to invite the dead to arise in necromatic practise. But in this case, with the containment charms keeping he and Fred's grave ensconced within, it would only work on this one grave, especially when Fred became called by name. From the beginning ego invite vos to the final ego ordo vos with corresponding slashes of his wand, Hermione could feel something begin to stir. For a moment she thought it was her imagination, but as George lept to the right circle, she could have sworn she heard something too.
There, he began with a slit in his arm, blood dripping onto the ground – calling forth for an inferi to be bound to him, though subtle changes in the spell altered the magic, but Hermione's concentration was lost on the actual work of it as the ground actually began to shake with each new spell he uttered, paying attention to that instead of what he was actually doing. She could swear it was getting to the point it could be felt at the Burrow, miles away. By the time she refocused, guiltily, George had slipped into the ellipse that came from the joining of the two circles – standing directly on top of the center rune.
"Come to me," he commanded, not a spell - simply a control of the spiritual being and body he should be able to command.
All that intensified was the shaking – but it seemed to be concentrated beneath his feet this time. For a moment, George was at a loss and he called back to her, "What the bloody hell do I do now Hermione? They were supposed to appear….."
She was at as much of a loss as he. "Just cast the spells," she called back over the rumbling. "We can't afford for them to become distinct before they are bound!"
George looked dubious, but he followed her instructions. Raising his wand, he yelled, "Incendio," a multitude of times, lighting not the candles, but the symbols written in the potion around them. As the flames erupted they in turn lit the wick, only intensifying each outpouring of fire. He repeated the name of each rune in turn after he lit the grouping, calling on the magical properties.
It was then that Hermione saw it, even if George was too preoccupied to notice. On either side of him were seeming reflections of himself, but with two ears of course. The one on the left was a faint outline of similar build, the one on the right, a grey opaque shadow of the exact same proportions. Her heart leaping, she yelled to him loudly, "Finish it!" And, looking startled, he only nodded, bending down and grabbing the unicorn tail hairs. George laid them in tandem around the circumference of the ellipse, and waved his wand to make one continuous thread without end – the binding circle of life. And as he muttered, "Gebo," he traced the pattern of the rune on the palm of his hand, drawing blood lightly. It was the rune of sacrifice, giving balance.
Bending his knees, George uttered the last spell, "Meus vita cruor," as he placed his palm over the large central rune featuring the creature rising from the 7 flames. Each spell unique to the ritual was taken from the more literal translations of Latin in the more old school magic, back when witches and wizards still did things like this, before spells became bastardized into their more current and common versions.
But it wasn't the literal Latin translations Hermione was thinking about at that point.
When his palm hit the ground, a rushing noise filled her ears, and she felt a wave of something hit. Her vision went blurry, as if a cloud was passing in front of her. She called out for George – but couldn't hear an answer. She tried to fight it, but it was holding her at bay. She felt lost in a fog, something swirling in front of her that was keeping her from the circles, something much stronger than the containment spells George would have placed on them. After all they were more for keeping things in, then keeping them out. It was like being on the edge of a hurricane – not quite caught in the ripping winds and pelting rain, but effected by it all the same. And her best guess was that George and….Merlin willing Fred, were caught in the eye of it.
All of a sudden, it all stopped abruptly.
Disorientated for a moment, Hermione only stood there. Then, shakily, she tried to make her way over the grave.
She could see George's fallen figure, back turned to her, seemingly curled up in the fetal position, and her heart began to clench. What had gone wrong? Were there any consequences? Was he okay? It had seemed to be conducted by the book, he hadn't even stumbled over a spell, it had been done perfectly. But there was no sign of Fred, only the curled figure…
Hermione believed that until she was practically standing over them.
Because facing George, in a nearly identical position, their knees touching, was Fred – clad in the dress robes he'd been buried in. She felt her knees almost give out.
It was George's eyes who opened first, and the look of amazed wonder on his face was enough to emphasize why she had helped him in the first place. He went to reach for his brother, then stilled his hand, like it couldn't be real. And he laid there like he couldn't move, like it might send Fred back to wherever it was he had been summoned from. But there was a grin on his face that wouldn't die, now that the shock and awe was wearing off. Hermione bent down, resting a hand on his thigh, to offer comfort and shared joy – then reached her hand across hesitatingly to Fred's neck, to check for a pulse.
It was at that point his eyes snapped open, narrowing when he saw the two across from him.
He didn't say anything for a moment, then it came out suddenly. "What the bloody hell is going on?"
They were gathered around the kitchen table of the Burrow, all of them. Not just the twins and Hermione, but nearly every single member of the Weasley family save Ron. Molly and Arthur were in their nightclothes, having stumbled down wands at the ready when they heard the other three of them moving around in the kitchen. Ginny and Harry had apparated in – together, after the mutiple floo calls had gone out – not even catching any flack for it. Bill and Fleur had been next with their daughter, followed by Percy. Charlie had been sleeping heavily upstairs, in for a visit, and he had wandered down after his mum went up and grasped his ear. But with all the people crowding the room, they all seemed at a loss for what to say.
Like the first moment they'd seen him, they stared at Fred like he was a circus act, making him the center of attention as they sat in chair and leaned against counters in a circle around him.
"Is he…..real?" Molly asked hesitantly. Hermione had expected her to rush and embrace her son, but it didn't seem forthcoming.
"No mum, I'm a figment of everyone's bloody imagination," Fred shot back. She wished he'd changed out of his dress robes, because it really was leading everyone to believe he was literally a walking corpse.
"He's real." George's grin was wide. Hermione had already slid off to the side, content and preferring to fade into the background. "And one hundred percent alive. Bloody brilliant it was."
It seemed the explanation to Fred, who had been dead, was going over much better than it was with his family – the ones she thought would be the most overjoyed. He had accepted it all at face value, not questioning the how or the why. It hadn't taken much explanation before he and George were latched onto each other, hugging in a fashion that was hardly 'manly', like they would lose each other again if they didn't crush each other's bones. But the family, from Arthur down to Ginny, had this expression on their face like they were seeing Voldemort incarnate sitting in front of them. George was running through the explanation in more detail than she would have liked, and that certainly wasn't helping fix the situation. At least he hadn't mentioned the unicorn blood, or how they acquired it, but at the rate he was going he would in a moment or two.
"You shouldn't have done this," Harry's voice was quite as he slipped up beside her, the two of them apart from the Weasley crowd.
"I couldn't not," she told him quietly, "not when George was going ahead as it was."
He shook his head calmly, so much more mature than the rash boy he'd been before. "Wasn't it you who lectured me once before on…"
She shot him a look. "Harry, it's done. It can't be taken back."
It was obvious he wanted to say a lot more, but only nodded, accepting her words, and she knew he would back her like she'd done for him so many times before. As she looked at Fred, she realized there was no way she couldn't have done this – not with the bright, vital, loving man he was. She could only hope she hadn't opened Pandora's box, but so long as they moved away as quickly as possible, there would be no fallout, with people knowing the possibilities. This was a family that could keep their mouth shut.
"What if the Ministry finds out?" Harry asked softly, as George was still doing most of the talking.
"They won't," she told him firmly. "And even if they did, it's not technically against any laws." That rang hollow now to her too. You didn't have to outlaw something that should be impossible, but that didn't mean it would be accepted.
Whatever response Harry was going to make, was likely mirrored in the words that came out of Molly Weasley's mouth next.
"Dark magic," she gasped, resting a hand on the edge of the counter, "George, you invoked the dark arts."
"No mum…" George tried to convince her, but she wasn't listening.
"Yes you did! Don't argue with me George Weasley. Oh, Merlin, you've broken the law and you've gone against everything we've ever fought for, everything we've ever tried to teach you children. You went against everything Fred died for." If Catholicism was a wizarding notion, Hermione would have half expected her to start making the sign of a cross as she looked at Fred sitting in the chair, or sprinkling him with holy water. "You've become was bad as they are. Oh, George, what have you done?"
He looked like he'd just been struck. "It's not….I mean really it's not. But even if….it's Fred!"
This wasn't the reaction either of them had been expecting.
She shook her finger at him like he was an errant schoolboy, not someone who had just raised the dead. "No, it's not Fred. It's something evil, something against the moral code. You go right back to that graveyard and…reverse it, yes, that's what you'll do." Molly turned on Hermione then, "And you! How could you give him the idea?"
"I didn't…" Hermione began, shocked - but bit her tongue, because in essence she had, and she had certainly helped.
They were all looking at her now like she was a leper. But it wasn't just her, it was all three of them. Hermione, George, Fred – like they were some evil trinity. Like they'd just renounced the light and made a binding oath to follow Voldemort. So many comparisons, all applicable. Condemnation and fear, all wrapped up in one. Hermione's mind couldn't quite comprehend it. Ginny, Percy – the latter especially, she was sure they would have approved as it was because of what they'd said that she'd based her decision on. And Molly and Arthur – this was their son. She'd – well, she and George – had given them back their son. And they were looking at her like she was contaminated somehow. Hermione felt the sudden urge to turn and run from the room, not used to the scorn. She looked for Harry, the only semi friendly face in the crowd, but he was standing with his arm around Ginny for support, not offering her the help she needed right then.
But it was Fred who spoke next, breaking the silence, and every tense feeling that seemed to be bouncing back and forth across the kitchen.
"Oi, Mum," he said in tolerant amusement, standing up and walking towards her, "never knew you wanted to get rid of me that much."
Molly took a step backwards, but stilled, tears filling her eyes. "Don't…" she said, her voice broken.
"It's me," Fred said, stopping in front of her, but not touching. "Fred, Forge, whatever. Your bloody son. The boy who set fire to your flowerbed when he learned how to cast an incendio, the one you nagged until the day he died about not getting his NEWTS, and the one who, along with George, – if you're to be believed in your moments of anger – put you through two days of labour apiece. It's me, thanks to George, thanks to Hermione." He raised his arms, danced around in a circle with a wide grin, borrowed his brother's wand and transfigured the bowl on the table to a bunch of flowers. Random acts, but it seemed captivating none the less. Again, he stood in front of, smile fading as he said more quietly. "It's me."
"Still want me to take him back to the graveyard and reverse the magic?" George asked with raised eyebrows.
But Molly was transfixed by the sight of the elder twin standing in front of her, now that he was making her look, not just ignore the image of her one son sitting at the table.
Her hands shot out, resting on his shoulders like she wanted to shake him, fingers fisting in the smooth black material of the dress robes he'd been buried in. And for a moment, she gave in, a single shake. Then a sob burst forth, and she stepped back, hand fisted over her mouth like she was trying to stifle it. Arthur came up behind her, and rested his arms around his wife, holding her to him. The kitchen was silent, save for her sobs, nobody quite sure how to react.
"Fred," she finally said on a wavering gasp, though she still made no move towards him, "oh…my….oh my boy."
It shifted the mood in the kitchen, but only slightly. Tolerance, though not acceptance exactly. And as they gathered around Fred – son, brother – Hermione began to shrug into her cloak, getting ready to head out the back door and leave them to it. There was a sting to this she hadn't expected. Maybe a small part of her had wanted. . . .oh, not thanks, but. . . .close to that. Something that sounded less egotistical. But wariness was hardly objectionable – no time to wrap their heads around it, and no time to accept that it was possible, let alone occuring. No evidence of their own that the spell wasn't rooted in the sacrifice of babies or some such rot. This hadn't been done to ingratiate herself in with the family, but she hadn't expected it to push her further out, even if hopefully for the short term. But as she turned to go, there was the popping sound of apparition, and Ron was beside her.
"Got your urgent owl Dad," he said, shaking snow off his cloak that had obviously come from one of the international apparition stops along the way since the trains weren't running at that hour. "What's going on?"
Then he saw a full set of twins, and the only thing he could keep repeating was, "Oh bloody hell."
Work was supposed to be an escape, but for once, it simply wasn't. Hermione was spending more of her time sitting at her desk, staring blankly at the wall then doing anything productive. Her mind was preoccupied with things not applicable to dark wizards and catching the offenders, at least not in the direct sense it normally was. And, not just because she'd handed in what she believed to be her finished research on the death process - to Robards directly, a rare honour, explaining that she believed it to be the effective way to raise the dead. Of course there was no added explanation that she knew it's effectiveness to be true. Somehow his satisfaction and few words of praise meant less than they normally would, for she would normally feel a flush of pride in her work and its acknowledgement.
It was all ringing hollow because of her own personal experience. With the fact that she wasn't feeling the satisfaction she had expected coming out of the entire experience either.
Two days and things were hardly back to normal, nor even….settled.
The family had accepted Fred, at least as much as they were able. They were still treating him like glass that would break at any moment, and with a certain level of fear and wariness. And George, he was still ecstatic. He'd been nowhere near the joke shop for the entire time, never leaving his brother's side as they stayed at the Burrow, ensconced in their old room. She supposed that should bring her enough satisfaction, and it did, but it was hard because all the fear and condemnation had settled on her shoulders. They liked the outcome, but they blamed her for the process. George might bear the more existential consequences if there were any, but they wanted to turn a blind eye to their son's involvement. She was a convenient target. It wasn't overt, but it was there, simmering. Ginny had cancelled tea on a flimsy excuse, and Percy couldn't even look her in the eyes when they passed in the hallway.
And Ron…Merlin, Ron. He might not have left her, but he'd pulled away since the moment he had apparated into the Burrow kitchen and learned what was going on. In bed, he slept as far away as he could from her. She didn't think he'd touched her, nor really spoke to her, since they'd returned home that night.
She didn't even notice when the quill she'd been twirling around her fingers snapped in half, the sound suddenly surprising her.
Hermione sighed and waved her wand to repair it, bringing her out of her reverie. But she was glad to not be staring off into space when her door opened with no knock, and Harriet Fillengeny – the auror in charge of the Death Eater case - stuck her head in the door. "Granger, you're with me. We've got a trip to Azkaban."
Surprised, Hermione bit her tongue on asking 'why'. She usually was fairly under the radar in the department. Her legwork was used, but nobody ever really paid any attention to it, she'd never really set foot in Azkaban, and her field experience was limited - if one used a generous description. But she'd learned you didn't question those in charge – well, or at least you shouldn't. She'd snapped at her more immediate supervisors more than a time or two, or gone around them, but Harriet was a bit higher up on the food chain, so to speak. And that was worthy of at least temporary subservience of nothing else. She gathered a few things, and shoved them in her bag quickly, grabbing her cloak and falling into step with Harriet once she managed to catch up.
The elder witch adjusted her eye patch as they walked to the apparition point, the only spot on the floor where the act was allowed. Suddenly she started explaining, "We have Gormley," the death eater they'd captured weeks before, "in custody there. Not ideal, considering we still can't give the dementors the same free reign they had before Voldemort's rise, but there you go."
That still didn't tell her much. "And you need me why exactly?" Hermione asked, as she nearly ran into the wall of one of the cubicles as she tried to keep up with Harriet.
The other woman shot her an annoyed glance, like she should know the answer, but she responded anyway. "You've got the magic figured out, so this time we get to interrogate him actually knowing something going in. Have to figure out exactly what they know, and hopefully, how far off base they are."
"Oh," Hermione responded faintly, already feeling a little queasy at the idea as Harriet stood on the one contained spot where the wards were lowered, and apparated out.
For the moment at least, her own concerns were pushed aside.
Ever since the wards had been lowered, and the hit wizards stepped aside to let the two witches into the cell, Harriet had attached herself to the wall with arms crossed, and left Hermione to it on her own. After a panicked look towards the older witch, Hermione had begun, not sure what to ask first, or how to ask it. She'd stumbled through the opening questions, and botched the entire investigation process, but it hardly mattered because Gormley's cooperation consisted of sitting on his arse and staring at her in amusement, his answers non-existent. She could have asked him his name and he wouldn’t have answered. For not the first time, Hermione wished they had veritaserum that had been bypassed the first time he was interrogated after being brought in. Maybe it was time in Azkaban that was seemingly unending, but not even threatening seizure of property helped either.
She had no go ahead from Harriet, but she decided to assume they weren't going to worry about his eventual release, considering they could keep him in Azkaban forever – and he was low enough down on the totem pole the Death Eaters would never stage a rescue just for him, and their power was diminished enough they could never stage another full scale overthrow of the prison. Meaningful because then, she could ask him anything, giving the process away to him – and not having to worry about it getting back to those who were in a position to do something about it.
But he wasn't answering any of the questions regardless.
And when Gormley didn't even respond to her question if any of his colleagues had been making any inquiries about unicorn blood, Harriet finally shifted away from the wall.
Nodding at the hit wizards to leave the room, she waited until they did, and pulled out her own wand, the "Crucio," out of her mouth before Hermione could react.
"Harr…" she cut off her objection when she was completely ignored. Hermione ducked her head away, unable to watch as Harriet let Gormley writhe in pain for a few moments, before ending the curse and going back to her seemingly uninterested position against the wall. Having experienced the curse herself, she knew she could never use it, not even on Death Eaters. But even if she had objected, Harriet wouldn't have listened, and she had no recourse.
She asked the question of Gormley again, as he gasped for breath and tried to keep himself upright.
"I don't fucking know," he shot back, each word punctuated like a sentence as he tried to get them out.
"Try again," Hermione said, even as she saw Harriet's wand rise slowly.
He shot them both a nasty glance, but said again. "I really don't know. I was usually working with Rookwood, and he was focused nearly entirely on looking for spells. Didn't think potions or…whatever, would do any good. Besides, not like all of this is easily accessible. We can't exactly walk into the bloody apothecary without getting arrested."
"There's the black market," Harriet pointed out quietly from her position by the wall.
"Same problem," he told her with derision, "there's usually some hit wizards undercover, looking to trap you. And we don't have the numbers, or the power, anymore to get around that. Besides, people who sell stuff under the table aren't usually the kind you can trust to keep your presence a secret."
Harriet seemed to accept his answer, but Hermione turned her head to look at the other woman. "There's always polyjuice," she pointed out quietly, "not as hard to brew. They could go in as anyone, even multiple anyone's, to avoid detection."
For all that Harriet was impressed with the deduction, Hermione was surprised to find Gormley's eyes on her assessingly when she turned to look at him again. Like she had given him something new to consider.
"Let's start this again, shall we?" Harriet came up beside Hermione, and the moment was lost.