Chapter 18. Sunrise; Sunset
Hermione’s seven years of magical schooling did not prepare her for this spectacle — these dozens of wizards and witches... human beings... set upon each other, willing to fight to the death. Yet, she is no shrinking violet; she can accept that, for war as unavoidable as this, a wild melée among all interesting parties may simply be best. The masses of Darkness are finally out in the open, met on equal terms by the passionate, disciplined and willing defenders of the Light. This is far preferable over another ambush on the defenceless.
Hermione is immensely grateful that Gemina Wilsey’s heroics, and Ron’s Patronus, have derailed Bellatrix’s lust for another blind-side attack on Hogwarts. The tradeoff, of course, is that everything has now come to a sudden and dramatic head. For better or worse, the Second Wizarding War will likely end right here in this forest glade.
Or will it?
Ten minutes ago, the battle seemed so unsustainably fierce it might have flamed out before sunrise, but now everything is changed. Fury has been confined; pinned in place; bound to a drum tight tension. Not daring to trigger catastrophe, all combattants dark and light are stock still; spectators to one gripping central drama... and Hermione finds herself in the centre of it.
The drama is an eerie standoff, where Voldemort and the three Lestranges slaver hungrily, gauging an opportunity to attack Harry Potter at his weakest.
And only three teens are positioned to stand in the way!
It is hardly an even match. Hermione and Ron are ardent but they have never experienced magical brawls of this magnitude. Gemina Wilsey is immensely qualified… but she is faltering. The signs are subtle, but Hermione senses that the girl’s shield is fluctuating in a worrisome way; that a tension in her face and limbs suggests dire pain.
Under such conditions, facing down the scourge of the Wizarding World is a bit insane, but Hermione has no intention of surrendering. Unfortunately, fear is creeping in; fear comes to her only when she's short on answers and that is now the case for two very sticky questions.
What on Earth are we to do?
How much longer can we do it?
Lacking any plan, they have limited themselves strictly to defence. They have managed to beat back several tentative barrages from the Lestranges, but Hermione’s exhaustion mounts with every exchange. Ron and Gemina surely can’t hold out forever either.
What is worst, everyone knows that Voldemort has not yet unleashed his full power.
Hermione wonders what Dumbledore or Mad-Eye would do to break this impasse, but they are both dead, and all of the other experienced fighters are frozen, impotent, sensing that the slightest move to intercede could spell Harry's death. Nobody even dares say anything.
Still, there has to be some way out, and Hermione's mind races.
What what what to do? How can we break this-
Astonished, Hermione's retinas are streaked from two stunning bolts of light that split the early morning — one slashing down close behind her; the other… right beside her.
Harry and Ginny have learned plenty of magic at Hogwarts but, like Gemina Wilsey, they know that there are many things that school teachers do not teach, or don’t know to.
In the past two years, the two teens have likely learned as much useful magic outside of class as in. At times, they gleaned interesting ideas from prowling about the library; sometimes from improvising.
And sometimes they acquired new skills from dire improvisational necessity.
Last year, from the desperate (and nearly disastrous) incident in Malfoy Manor, Ginny discovered that the old three-D’s approach to Apparition is more of a guideline rather than a rule. Determination, of course, is critical; Deliberation becomes pretty second-nature after a while… but the terms for identifying a Destination seem to be remarkably flexible.
Thus, when her boyfriend has vanished without a trace last year, Ginny had raced out past the Hogwarts boundaries, and blindly Apparated.
The closest she came to defining any destination was a single thought. ‘Harry’.
It worked. Brilliantly. And so now, upon blindly Disapparating from the lake in Cornwall, what Harry and Ginny concentrate on is getting to wherever the Wizarding world needs them to be. Quickly.
Once again, magic does not disappoint. Their transit through the Apparition tunnel is a cannon blast — faster and more immediate than anything they have ever experienced… but for one miniscule delay.
In the instant before their feet strike the ground, they are puzzled (though happy) to hear a voice — clear as a bell, and full of Wilsey cheek, saying, “Tag, luvs! You’re it!”
And suddenly, there they are — Ginny is suddenly standing in the pre-dawn glade of the Forbidden Forest, shoulder-to-shoulder with Ron and Hermione. Harry is two steps back.
It’s difficult to say who on the battlefield is most shocked by all of this, but Voldemort is not immune to the surprise.
He rather hates surprises; his eyes bulge; he scowls deeply. He's uncertain whether to care that the red haired girl facing him is now wearing a purplish jumper instead of black tights, but he does not like what has happened to Harry — eyes now sharp and focused; body defined and substantial.
Something has changed, but after a night fraught with unexpected setbacks, Voldemort has no more patience for nuance or delay. One plan after another has been gutted, but he is convinced, with prompt decisive action, that he will still walk off this battlefield as a glorious victor; as the undisputed lord of all Magical Britain!
“Step aside, children.” He sneers at the three teens in front; his mouth twisting into a feral snarl. “I have unfinished business with Harry Potter. You cannot shield him any longer.”
Harry gently pries apart his line of friends. “Ron? ‘Mione? Would you mind keeping the Lestrange brood in check while I talk to Riddle?” He gestures to the side, where Bellatrix is clearly itching for a return to frenzied violence.
Hermione catches Harry’s eye, holds it for a second to confirm that he truly is back; is in control; is ready to lead. She grins, half in relief, half in thrill, and pulls Ron to the side.
“You little snots!” Bellatrix apparently takes offense at the shifting dynamic. She veers aside, attempting to get an angle at Harry. “You can't tell Me who I'm-”
“Shut it, Bella!” An irritable flick of Voldemort’s hand quells the rising. The dark menace focuses in full on Harry, scanning his face; noting with quiet satisfaction that the wand he confronts this time is merely the old Holly and Phoenix.
Then Voldemort seems to realise that Harry is still not alone. He scowls. “Oh? The little miss won't step away from her playmate? Is the wee Potter afraid to face me, alone? Man to man?”
“That’s rich coming from you, Riddle.” Harry’s face is cold. “A craven hiding in the shadows of Malfoy Manor? Ordering cronies to do your filthy bidding? Sending twenty thugs to attack a single defenceless Muggle family? You thrive in deceit and darkness, but now your cowardly schemes are plain to all… And it’s nearly dawn.”
Voldemort grits his teeth; angry sparks burst from his wand… but he cannot disguise a wayward glance over his shoulder toward a brightening horizon. He growls. Time is short; time is now! Narrowing eyes scorching with caustic boil of hatred and haste, he trains his wand on Harry, and…
Harry's and Ginny's arms descend to their sides.
“What…?” Voldemort gapes in shock. “Are you not…? Do you not intend to fight?!”
“Your only fight is with yourself, Tom.” Ginny’s face glows in the spreading radiance of morning. “Turn aside. Stop and consider the last remaining shred of your soul, and we’ll let you go.”
The ghoulish form shifts, trying to evade the reflected gleam from their hauntingly placid faces.
Yet, there is no escape. The harder he tries to cast them in shadow, the more luminous they appear.
Seething, he brandishes his weapon. “Fools! I may not be master of time, but I AM the master of the Elder Wand. By Wand of Destiny, your end is nigh! By the Death Stick, you now must DIE!”
“No.” Harry’s face bears the hint of a smile.
“NO?!” Voldemort fires a thundering blast of hell fire straight up. “I AM THE-!!”
“No you’re not.” Harry’s grin takes full bloom. “You will never be master of the wand.”
“That is A LIE!” Voldemort’s gangly, malformed bellow clangs off the distant crags. “I drove the goat Dumbledore off the Astronomy Tower. I took his wand! I am the MAST-”
“No, you’re not.” Harry shakes his head.
“Then, WHO IS?!” Smoke curls from the reptilian head.
Voldemort stares at Harry.
He continues to stare, incredulous.
Slowly, abhorrently, he deigns to glance at the girl at Harry's side.
Voldemort strains his ears for a long moment, desperate for the sound, somewhere within this stunned congregation, of someone bursting into laughter; confirming what must surely be farce.
Yet, there is no sound.
“Listen, Tom.” Harry takes a half step forward. “In the nearly two thousand years since the Elder Wand was made, there has only ever been one true master. The story is long and your patience seems thin, but it’s easy to prove. All we need to do is ask Ginny to-”
“NO!!!” Voldemort lunges, willing every ounce of his hatred into the Elder Wand. A monstrous tongue of toxic green execration spews…
… Swerving upward??
Hundreds of feet above their heads, the bolt of hatred can be seen arcing across, over, and back down again, shrieking through the crystalline sky…
… like a boomerang.
The deformed, defiled eyes of Thomas Marvolo Riddle gape in stark horror at the green comet of vile, self-inflicted death.
A second before it reaches him, the erstwhile Lord Voldemort is scrambling backward over rough ground…
And, broken, he falls.
For a moment, the fumes of morbid, sulphurous decay cling to his spent, wasted form… but as the first rays of dawn burst from a distant crag, a sharp gust of cleansing air sweeps down from the hills…
Moments pass, quiet, solemn and still…
Then, from a nearby tree not damaged the night’s carnage, a solitary thrush begins to sing.
It is rather a tiny plot — a clearing in the rowan grove above the orchard. In all his many visits to the Burrow, Harry had never had cause to view this place before, for time spent with the Weasleys has been ever so focused on ‘life’.
Yet death will ever be a part of life, and this evening there is freshly turned earth on the hallowed heroes' ground between the stones marking Gideon and Fabian Prewett.
The last solemn words of farewell have long since faded into silence. Everyone else is long gone.
Setting aside broken hearts, Molly and Arthur have descended to the wake, somehow finding the strength to be gracious hosts to the many mourners. Bill, Charlie and Percy departed shortly thereafter, endowing quiet strength to the almost ghost-like shell of brother George.
Everyone trusts that the four teens will join the gathering.
As soon as they’re ready.
But Ginny is not. Not yet.
Nobody will deny this time she is entitled with her lost, beloved sibling.
Though her eyelids are pressed tight, the moisture on Ginny's lashes catches the setting sun. A silent tremor wracks her chest, and Harry pulls her close. She draws inward and shelters her tears in the warmth of his shirt; in the space above his heart.
Harry lowers his chin into her hair, gazing dumbly at the stone by which they kneel.
b. 1978 — d. 1998
Lived and Laughed and Loved and Left
Ginny pulls back a half inch, her finger traces the words from James Joyce that are a near perfect encapsulation of her brother’s stay on Earth.
Near perfect. For Ginny cannot quite accede.
Harry can just barely hear her whisper…
“He didn’t have to leave. None of them did. Not so soon.”
Harry says nothing. He knows how difficult it was for Ginny to be the last Weasley to learn of her brother’s death; to grasp how Voldemort’s temporal meddling had claimed yet another life dear to her. He knows that their ‘old’ existence (the one in which easy, painless victory seemed so assured) is lost forever, and the truth of a Pyrrhic outcome is still so very difficult to accept.
Harry realises that there will be much more pain before any of them can adjust to a world in which Fred, and Colin Creevy, and Mad-eye Moody, and Amelia Bones, and dozens of other good witches and wizards, did not survive to see the dawning of a new peace.
Harry grasps all this, and he knows that Ginny understands equally well. Perhaps it is for this reason that he wisely doubts if any words he might stammer right now will soothe his girlfriend any better than the warmth of his arms and the quiet beating of his heart.
So he holds her. In silence.
As Ginny sobs; as her fingers dig deep into his back, he presses his hand between her shoulders and moves his fingers in slow, gentle circles.
This helps. A lot.
She settles, and subsides, child-like, back into her place of refuge. Just above his heart.
Nearby, Ron fidgets slightly, feeling the evening chill. Hermione is turned obliquely, watching the last rays of sun fade from the uppermost boughs. For the first time all day, her tears have dried. Restless, her eyes shift higher, scanning the deep azure… until they settle upon a star.
Her eyebrow quirks. “You know…”
She trails off.
Harry opens his eyes. Two years ago, he would likely have given his friend a stern glance lest she say something unhelpful. But now he trusts her implicitly. Deeply. “Er, did you say something, ‘Mione?”
Hermione frowns. She opens her mouth, then closes it. She glances at the star again, then commits. “You know, you're right, Ginny. He did not have to leave. None of them did.”
Ginny emerges, wide-eyed. She, Harry and Ron all stare at their friend, yet Hermione barely notices. She is still gazing upwards, watching as more and more tiny points of light spark up in the silent Devon sky. She begins to turn in a slow circle, her voice issuing in a chant-like whisper.
“Once upon a time there was a reality where the Wilseys and Graveners and many other wonderful people suffered terribly, so that we might live free. Today, perhaps, there is a new reality where our actions, and our suffering, have given to others the promise of peace and happiness in a place where the merry chaos of some Fred Weasley, by whatever name, still billows like the purple smoke of a ridiculous Weasleys’ Wizard Wheeze.”
Harry and Ron are speechless; astonished at the beautifully whimsical words; so exquisitely evolved beyond the Hermione they used to know.
Ginny swallows; a tiny noise escapes her throat. Perhaps it was part-sob… but all four of the teens are certain that it was at least part-laugh. In affirmation, she surges to her feet, pulling her best friend into a fierce, Weasley-esque embrace.
This time, Hermione gives as good as she gets. Tears flow anew, yet these are the essence of healing, not bitterness. And, however misted Hermione’s eyes may be, she cannot help gazing up into the sky one final time.
Like a bitter nordic winter, the prickly whiteness has a numbing quality. For Hettie Gravener, the flaming volcano is gone. Vitreous boulder, snake-nosed villain and arrogant ponce have vanished. The Resurrection Stones are no more. What remains is utterly featureless.
Within the blank universe, Hettie Gravener floats.
"Okay." She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. "This again."
She pauses an indeterminate time. She lets many many questions race through her mind without attempting answers.
Finally, she decides that she is ready. Whether for great excitement or grave disappointment, she will open her eyes.
She does so.
Not quite certain what to make of her first glimpse, she shuts her eyes and tries again.
Again, she finds herself looking at the same baffling scene that, most definitely, does not bring to mind a dull swotting session at the Frances Compton Library.
An inordinate number of children are running this way and that, shouting and laughing; annoying the blazes out of their rather harried looking parents.
The surface upon which the children are running is, apparently a... train platform?
Hettie stares across at a huge red and black locomotive that is so astonishingly... Victorian?? And many of the children are wearing bizarre academic robes?
Prickly whiteness seemed a sight more logical than this, and her brain-
"Crabby crayfish!" Hettie jumps. There is a boy standing beside her — maybe ten or eleven; slight, yet seemingly no more than two inches shorter than she. He has an adorable swoop of jet black hair, and a pair of utterly innocent, astonishingly green eyes. Eyes such as she has only ever seen on…
“I’m Henry Paulter.” He extends his hand.
“Er, Henrietta Gravener.” She accepts his hand tentatively. “Um, this is my first time here and I, uhhh, don’t know…”
“Oh? You’re a first year too?” Henry smiles. “Sorry, I’m surely as baffled as you. I grew up in France where my mum worked for the ICW, so this is all-”
Both Henry and Hettie leap. They stare at a billowing cloud of cartoonish smoke, from which emerges a family of red-haired children and teens, shepherded by two exhausted looking parents.
"Empty your pockets!" The red-haired mother's hands have captured a couple of ears, belonging to pair of identical twins. The boys cringe in horror as a torrent of brightly coloured sticks, tubes, rockets, orbs... things... pour from their robes, onto the platform.
Yet, both Hettie and Henry find their attention drawn elsewhere. Hettie is eyeing Henry curiously, and Henry is definitely interested in the smallest member of the family — a petite red-haired girl.
"Not fair! Not not not not not NOT!" The girl is berating her father, who appears rather at a loss. "I've been left off the train every year for ten years. My magic is better than Rob's, Frank's or Geoff's, so it’s simply not fair that… that…"
The girl's eyes slowly widen, her rant dissolves… for Henry is walking straight toward her now, with Hettie in tow.
Henry gives the girl a pleasant smile, but turns to the father. "Forgive me for intruding, sir, but I couldn't help overhearing your predicament, and I was wondering if you heard, last Friday, how the Hogwarts Board of Governors approved ICW Guidance Number 442 for the advanced placement of magically advanced children? The new policy supports early enrollment of magically advanced ten-year-olds."
The red-haired girl is openly gawking at Henry now.
Her father frowns and attempts to summon his wife. "Mary, what's all this about ICW Guidance Num-"
"Not now, please Andrew." The mother is tugging her hair as she rifles through the twins' oddments. "Muggle blasting caps?! Do you have any idea what these things can do?? What in Merlin's name possessed you to..."
"If you’re interested, sir, my parents can expedite the paperwork." Henry waves a well dressed young couple over. "My father is on the Hogwarts Board, and my mother, as British Education Attaché to the ICW, helped to draft the Guidance. Mum, I'd like to introduce you to my new friend, er..." He sweeps his hand toward the red-haired girl.
In the blink of an eye, astonishment cedes to opportunism. “Gemina Marie Wilsey!" The small girl grasps Henry's mother's hand. "I'm most honoured to meet you, Madame Attaché! I've always dreamed that someday I might serve with the ICW!"
Smirking, Hettie can merely shake her head as the bewildering / bemusing saga continues to escalate. The sudden emergence an elderly curmudgeon who must surely be the infamous Auntie Murietta (“Let the girl go, Andrew! School will teach her discipline! And maybe you and Mary can finally sort out that teetering hovel of yours! Why, in my day…!”) gives Hettie her cue to politely disengage and begin walking toward what, seemingly, is her new destiny.
A train to the next great adventure?
Hettie is about to cross the threshold into the closest car when instinct makes her pause. She looks back and chances to spy, shuffling listlessly across the platform, upstaged (as always) by an endless series of gregarious siblings, a red-haired boy — older than Gemina but younger than the twins.
Hettie grins knowingly and waves.
Like a normal eleven-year-old boy, he blanches and makes for a different car.
Hettie’s grin broadens, and she moves quickly to intercept…
“Airell Paternas, it’s getting late!” The man who looks rather like an older version of Harry Potter waves impatiently from the crest of a hill. “Do not tarry, or the wolves will eat you!”
“Wooo h’h’WOOOOO! I will scare them away father.” A boy, who looks like… well, quite like a much younger Harry Potter, stirs himself to a half-hearted trot up the hill. “Why did we not invite Uncle Tio or Mus along? They walk much slower, and I can easily keep pace.”
“We do not invite them to the lake. It is a place sacred to Britons, and they are not Britons.” The man extends a hand to his son. “And please do not speak your uncles’ names aloud. They are wanted dead in three corners of the Empire.”
“Happy chance we all live in the fourth corner, is it not?” The boy grins, accepting the proffered hand. “Is it true, father, that you and my 'Uncles-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named' tricked the terrible god Letum into giving up objects of great power?”
“Airell!” The man rolls his eyes. “You should not believe everything your Uncle Antioch tells you. Better still, do not believe anything he tells you.”
“You just said his name, father.”
“Yes, I suppose I did.” Ffodion Ignotus Peverell shrugs, with the hint of a wry smile. “Now hurry! Your Aunt Anni awaits us at lakeside.”
One final time, a woman in a flowing white robe extends her hand beneath the cool sheen of the lake. She closes her eyes and, in more than just her imagination, she is touching the face of the only man she has ever loved.
And somehow it feels as though the man she loves, though kneeling beside a secluded Apennine pool many hundreds of leagues to the south, is reaching also for her, placing his warm hand atop hers.
They remain that way for a long while, until the sun’s final rays have gone to rest, and the western sky is but a faded rose.
“Farewell again, sweet Iberian prince.” The woman smiles softly. ”Rest well, for your people need you strong and wise.” She withdraws her hand from the pool until just the tip of one finger remains, barely gracing the cool surface. She gazes blankly over the quiet water and sighs. “The same I say for you, mother.”
Slowly, Annisgwyl stands. Smiling, she reaches to clasp hands with her twin and her favourite nephew. Together, they walk in silence up the hill, and into a spreading dusk.
The grassy northwestern hill is capped by a blazing ruby. There is one final silent eruption of piercing splendour… then it is gone, leaving behind a dark silhouette of landscape, the moody bronze of sunset dying beneath a veil of lilac cirrus, and a sloping vault of deep royal blue.
As the first star makes its appearance, Ginny squeezes Harry’s hand. Sitting upon an old glacial boulder, still flushed from their hike, they dangle bare feet into the placid lake, stirring a ring of silent ripples. Turning to each other, their arms weave their way to very familiar places. Breath and hunger draws them both inward to the unified being that is ‘them’.
With stars and water as their only witness, there is strength and healing. The lingering westerly glow kindles fires of passion, just as the smooth stone beneath now bestows a stability and permanence that they have waited all their young lives to discover.
Later... much later, as they lie on their backs gazing high into the aethereal mist that is the Milky Way, Ginny cannot help but raise her hand for another glimpse at what has just been placed upon her finger.
It sparkles. A billion times more magnificent than the Resurrection Stone.