“Thank you for making it down this early, Thomas.” Nigel Warren, a short, balding man with a dark mustache grumbled. He wore a brown mac and a tweed hat that had seen better days.
A tall man in a long black raincoat held an umbrella over the both of them and grinned down at him. “Nigel, it’s pouring down. You’ll catch a cold.”
“Better off out here than in there,” said the shorter man jerking his head. “Not natural, I’m telling you.”
The door to the small cottage opened and a young red haired man wearing rubber gloves and carrying a camera came out.
“We’re done with the pictures, Nigel, Thomas,” said the man, nodding at each of them. Ryan McConnell’s curly red hair stuck out in all directions and his green eyes sparkled. He snapped a glove out and offered his hand. “You can take another look before we bag and tag him.”
“Don’t know how you do it, Ryan,” said Thomas Byron, shaking his hand. “Gives me the shivers.”
“Wherever there’s a mystery, forensics will always be there to solve the case,” the red haired man boasted.
“Off with you now,” said the shorter detective. “Give us a minute.”
The red haired man scuttled off to a white van and the tall man chuckled.
“Must’ve driven Alice nuts when they were kids,” said Byron.
“Drives me nuts now,” said Warren as he pulled two pair of rubber gloves out of his pocket and handed a pair Thomas. “But she thinks it’s cute that I work with her brother.”
“What can you do?” Byron chuckled as he struggled with his gloves and tried to keep his umbrella up.
“This one’s creepy,” said Warren, opening the door to the house.
There was a corpse on the floor. A blonde lanky man was taking pictures from all different angles. A brown haired stocky man took picture of several objects in the room. A dark haired woman with her hair in a bun was taking notes in a black book. She turned as they entered.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” said the woman.
“This is Detective Byron, Detective Morgan” said Warren. The taller detective shook the woman’s hand.
“Please to meet you, Detective Byron,” said the woman. She was wearing a feminine black suit and a white shirt. “This is an interesting case. Has Detective Warren filled in the details?”
“No, he just said I should come out,” said Byron.
He looked down at the corpse. The priest lay prone on the floor. He was positioned as if he had answered a knock at his back door. A look of fear was plastered across his face.
“Know anything about him?” Byron asked.
“Not a lot,” said Morgan. She flipped her book closed and let them to the kitchen. “His housekeeper found him. We talked to her about an hour ago. Thinks some neighborhood children gave him a fright and his heart gave out. He’s led his parish for over twenty years. Christened every child for miles. Married most couples around here. No one ever had a problem with him.”
“You’ll be talking to other people, of course,” said Byron.
“Of course,” she stiffened.
“Thank you, Shelley,” said Warren. “We’re all a bit off this early in the morning.” He elbowed Byron.
Byron mumbled an apology and offered to fetch coffee and cookies for the crew.
“Thank you,” said Morgan. “That would be wonderful.”
Byron shuffled off and Morgan turned to Warren.
“No, I was going to have a chat with the housekeeper and put the file in ‘unsolved mysteries,’” Morgan said sarcastically.
“He’s not used to competence,” said Warren. “So good at his job they put him in charge of the interns.”
“Poor man,” Morgan winced.
“Loves it,” said Warren. “Knew he’d be our man.”
“I certainly hope so,” said Morgan.
“Madame Bones,” said Byron into a small black cellular phone as he walked down the street. “I believe we have a problem.”
“Apparently the Weasleys are joining us for Christmas,” Severus said, reading a scroll from his mother.
“Does that surprise you?” Hermione said as she cast her line. “Pieter and Arthur really hit it off.”
One of the elves had remarked there was an invisible barrier on her ledge and she had no chance of falling. Since then, Hermione had promised Severus she would join him at least once. So far she had caught three fish and Severus had caught none. She couldn’t figure out why he seemed to think something he was so easily infuriated with was relaxing. As she pulled out her fourth he gave up and began reading his mail.
“Mother always liked a full house,” said Severus. “She has a lot of sisters.”
“Must be nice when your house is that big,” said Hermione. “How many Aunts do you have?”
“Eleven on that side,” said Severus. Hermione paled. “Two on fathers.”
“Wow,” said Hermione. “That’s a lot of kids to herd.”
“You should talk,” said Severus, rolling the scroll and placing it next to him on the ledge. “You’re trying to mother an entire school.”
“That’s not fair,” Hermione said, scowling at him.
“You’re 18 years old, Hermione,” Severus said. “Please. Frolic.”
“I beg your pardon,” Hermione said, a bitter look on her face.
Severus found himself laughing. Not this usual chuckle or clicking sneer, but for once a full laugh. Hermione looked startled.
“Sometimes you remind me of me,” said Severus. “It’s a bit disconcerting at times.”
Hermione threw him a dirty look and recast her line. She hoped she caught another one, just for spite.
A post owl swooped down through an owl entrance of 12 Grimmauld Place a crisp November afternoon and burst into the kitchen. It dropped several letters in a red tray beside the wide chute before it sat on a nearby perch and hooted.
Harry padded over in stocking feet and scratched the owl behind his ear tufts.
“Got a few, Neville,” he said as he fished out the Daily Prophet and a scroll. He passed a scroll and a blue shimmering envelope to Neville. He pocketed the envelope and unrolled the scroll from his Gran.
“Gran says we’re all going to the Snape’s for Christmas,” said Neville, his eyebrows raised.
“Who’s ‘we?’” Harry asked as he reached for a bowl in his kitchen.
“Apparently all of us,” said Neville. “You too, Ron.”
“Not bloody likely,” snorted Ron as he stirred a pot of soup.
“Your mum’s already agreed,” said Neville.
Ron grumbled into their lunch, but didn’t say anything more. Harry seemed awfully cheerful.
“You seem keen on the idea,” said Neville.
“First time in France,” said Harry, chancing a glance at Ron.
Ron didn’t seem to notice, but Neville knew the real reason. Harry and Ginny had been writing an awful lot of owls to each other lately.
“I hope the rest of his family isn’t so creepy,” said Ron as he served soup to Harry.
“Pieter seemed alright,” said Neville. “That Anna and your mum showed each other baby pictures all night.”
“Didn’t know you could fit so many pictures in such a small wallet,” remarked Harry.
“The one of Bill naked on a rug was cute,” Neville chuckled. “You should send that one to Fleur.”
“Not a bad idea,” said Ron. “If I can wrestle it away from mum.”
“You’re a great brother, you know that Ron?” Harry said as he sat down with his soup.
Neville looked at it and got up to get his own.
“I do try,” said Ron, smiling widely.
“Glad I’ve never made you mad,” snorted Neville as he poured himself a bowl of soup.
Neville still had a bit of a limp, but didn’t require a cane anymore. Occasionally he still carried it because he thought it made him look debonair.
Green flames leapt high in their hearth and they turned to see Hermione stride into the kitchen.
“Hey, Hermione,” said Harry cheerfully. “You’re just in time for lunch.”
“Already ate,” Hermione said. “Is that Mrs. Weasley’s potato soup?”
She had crossed the kitchen and was peering into the pot.
“It’s her recipe,” said Ron.
“Well, maybe a bit,” she said, grudgingly.
“Don’t eat the candy,” Neville said as she sat down. A small dish of glistening ribbon candy sat in the middle of the table.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” said Hermione. “Is it from Fred and George?”
“Yup,” said Ron, shoveling soup into his mouth.
“What does it do?” Hermione asked.
“No idea,” said Harry. “No one’s been willing to try a piece.”
Hermione shook her head and blew on her soup.
“Does he treat you well, Hermione?” Neville asked.
Everyone at the table froze.
“Honestly,” said Hermione, annoyed. “I should type up a press release.”
Harry laughed and tried to shake out the stiffness Neville’s comment had struck him with.
“He’s smarmy, but decent,” said Harry. “Trust me. I know.”
“Gods, that’s creepy, Harry,” Neville shivered.
“Must take some getting used to,” Hermione said.
“It’s really convenient, actually,” said Harry. “I know all these spells and I didn’t even have to study.”
“Zap me, Harry,” said Neville, jokingly. “I could use some help in the memory department.”
“Knowing you, you’d get it all mixed up,” said Ron, shaking a spoon at him. “Crack the earth in two trying to make a cup of tea.”
“Probably right,” Neville said sheepishly as everyone else laughed. “Got a letter from the Department of Experimental Horticulture, though.”
“Yeah?” Harry asked. “What did they have to say?”
“Want me to work for them,” said Neville.
“Congratulations, Neville!” Hermione exclaimed.
“That’s great news,” said Harry. Ron nodded and sipped at his soup. Hermione had heard nothing about Ron working at all. She was honestly afraid to ask.
“Gran’s really proud,” said Neville. “I think she’s kind of relieved I’m not an auror. That last skirmish was enough for this family.”
Hermione nodded and glanced at Harry. He looked almost pained for a moment, but it passed quickly.
“So what brings you to see us?” Ron asked.
“Do I need a reason?” Hermione asked.
“Thought you’d be working,” Neville said, looking at the clock.
“Blaise has it covered,” Hermione said. “It’s calmed down immensely since we made Hodgekins and Gilby fertilize the gardens with dragon dung and very small shovels.”
“I imagine it did,” Ron chuckled.
Neville made a disgusted sound.
“I hear we’re going to spend Christmas together,” Harry said.
“All of us?” Hermione said, her eyes widening.
“Anna hit it off with mum and Neville’s Gran,” Ron said. “She’s staying here, but Neville’s coming with us.”
“Wow,” said Hermione wondering how big the estate was.
Harry fixed her with a strange look.
“Not that I don’t want to see you all,” said Hermione, looking at him. “It’s all a surprise and I’m wondering how large the house is.”
“This house could sleep that lot,” Ron said. “I’m sure his house is the same size or larger.”
Green flames crackled in the hearth and Remus Lupin walked into the kitchen.
“Are you going to the Snapes for Christmas, as well?” Ron asked as Remus entered the kitchen. “And don’t you have classes?”
“Not that I know of,” said Remus, looking mildly surprised. “And no, I’m free this afternoon.”
“You can come if you want to,” Hermione said.
“I’ll pass,” Remus said. “But I’m sure these fools will drum up something for New Years.”
“Bit early to plan,” said Harry. “But probably.”
“I’d like to help,” volunteered Hermione.
“What’s wrong, Hermione?” Ron asked.
“What makes you think anything is wrong?” Hermione asked.
“You’re here in the middle of a school day and you want to plan a party at someone else’s house,” said Ron. “Don’t you find that a bit odd?”
Hermione looked back at the eyes boring into her and sighed.
“Severus seems to think I need to get out more,” she sighed.
“Well, I agree with that,” said Ron. “The Ministry will be accepting applications soon. You should apply.”
Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but Neville interrupted her.
“You can’t stay at Hogwarts your whole life, Hermione.”
Surprisingly, she closed her mouth.
“Wow, Neville,” said Ron. “You have to teach me to do that!”
Hermione made a face at him and ate a spoonful of soup.
“Hey, Hermione,” said Harry, not wanting to see a disagreement on such a good day. “Do you and Snape want to come to my first game?”
“If he can get away,” said Hermione.
“He’s ‘Severus’ now, Harry,” said Remus, sitting near Hermione and elbowing her.
“I’m sorry,” said Harry, shaking his head.
“Must be confusing, sometimes,” said Hermione. “I’m sorry Harry.”
“Hey,” said Harry. “I’m alive.”
“And things have been settled,” said Neville, darkly.
Hermione looked at Neville. He really did look older. Harder. She wasn’t sure this was a good thing.
“And it’s over,” said Lupin. “Thank God.”
They ate in silence until their bowls were empty and Hermione cleared them away.
“It’s kind of neat, though,” said Harry, breaking the silence.
Ron cracked a smile at him.
“You the most powerful wizard in the world, Harry?” Ron asked.
“I think I might be,” said Harry. “Have to talk to Dumbledore.”
Hermione and Neville began to clear the table and put the dishes near the sink tucked away in one corner..
“That’s funny,” Neville said thoughtfully to Hermione as she set the dishes on the basin.
“What?” asked Hermione.
“Harry still needs acknowledgement from Dumbledore to see his own talents,” said Neville.
“So?” Hermione asked. Neville stood so he could talk to her in lower tones. They began washing dishes together.
“So,” said Neville patiently. “Talking to Harry, You-Know-Who was really involved with a feud with Dumbledore. The killings were bait. The Deatheaters were bait. The Ministry was a chessboard. The whole thing was personal.”
“Still,” Hermione said. “He doesn’t know the extent of Dumbledore’s knowledge.”
“True,” Neville admitted.
“And most of the spells transferred from You-Know-Who probably aren’t even legal,” said Hermione.
“That’s not true,” Harry said loudly.
“What?” asked Hermione, dropping a bowl with a loud clang.
“Many spells I learned were perfectly legal,” Harry said. He tapped a glass of water with his wand and ice formed slowly. An ice rose grew and bloomed before it became crystalline.
“Wow, Harry,” Hermione breathed as she took the glass from him.
“It’s permanent,” said Harry. “Will you pass it on to Ginny for me?”
Ron gave Harry a look Hermione couldn’t decipher, but she hazard a guess.
Ron liked Harry. They were best friends. Harry was a good person. However, Ginny was Ron’s little sister. No matter how old she was, she was Ron’s little sister.
“Sure,” said Hermione. “She’ll be the envy of every girl at school.”
“What? With a mug like that?” Ron gestured at Harry.
Harry burst out laughing. Hermione was thankful he was accepting his appearance without getting strange about it. Well, except for the Hogsmede incident.
“Sure,” said Hermione.
It was true. Most of the young girls were in awe of Harry. Most of the counseling had to do with fears of Voldemort hiding somewhere in Harry, ready to do him harm, not of Harry himself. A muggle-born girl suggested an exorcism.
“You’re just jealous you aren’t getting any fan mail,” Harry said smirking.
“Fan mail?” Hermione asked.
“Oh, yea,” said Neville. “Got a room to go through it all. Seems like the whole world had to send an owl.”
“Oh, this I’ve got to see,” said Hermione, laughing.
Harry embarrassedly showed her the room that was intended to be his den. Piles of letters towered on his desk and unopened mail bags littered a corner of the room.
“Good Lord,” Hermione breathed. “You’re answering them all, Harry?”
“The twins are helping,” admitted Harry.
“The twins?” Hermione asked, confused.
“They figured out how to enchant a Quoting Quill to write in my handwriting,” Harry said.
“Don’t you mean a Quik Quotes Quill?” Hermione asked.
“No,” Ron said, appearing behind them. “Quick Quotes have themes.”
“Themes?” Hermione asked.
“Yea,” said Harry. “Rita Skeeter had a ‘Tragic’ one. They have other ‘flavors’ like Romance or Annoyed.”
“Quoting Quills just take dictation,” said Ron. “Better that way.”
“No kidding,” said Hermione practically choking at an image of a lonely witch getting an ‘annoyed’ letter from Harry. “You don’t want anyone to accidentally think you’re proposing.”
Harry made a face.
“Want the grand tour?” Harry asked.
Ron’s room was still orange as ever. More posters than ever adorning his walls. Only one token poster of the Hornets was stuck on the back of his door.
Neville’s Gran helped him decorate his rooms in dark woods and cream wallpaper. It was a bit sparse, but Neville said he was working on it.
Harry had done his bedroom in dark woods with light yellow accents.
“Getting into the Hornet’s thing?” Hermione asked him, an eyebrow quirked. He had just grinned at her.
Hermione walked from room to room, impressed at all the work the boys had accomplished.
“Mum helped a lot,” Ron admitted.
When her tour was wrapped up, Hermione looked at a timepiece Anastasia had sent her.
“I hate to go,” said Hermione, cringing slightly.
Ron, Neville, and Harry had seen her to the kitchen. Remus had already returned to the school after he had finished his soup and borrowed a book.
“One of us is usually home,” Neville said, as he handed her the ice rose for Ginny. “You’re always welcome here.”
“Thanks,” said Hermione, gratefully. Then she thought for a second. “Is it alright if I brought Blaise, sometime?”
The boys were unusually silent. Hermione knew they didn’t trust Slytherins. They had good reason.
“Of course,” said Harry, finally. Ron shot him a look, but he ignored it. “Any friend of yours is welcome here.”
“But Harry-,” Ron began to protest.
“Dumbledore trusts him,” said Harry. “And he always was a disappointment to his father.”
Hermione felt a part of her heart go soft. How hard it must be to be rejected by a parent for being a good person. She must remember to invite Blaise to tea one afternoon. She hardly knew anything about his family. Maybe it was better off that way.
“Bloody hell, that’s creepy, Harry!” Neville exclaimed with a semi-disgusted look on his face.
“Well, it’s not my fault!” Harry burst out.
Hermione wanted to toss floo powder in the hearth and disappear, but she was riveted to the spot. Ron looked as if he’d like nothing more than to join her and whoosh off back to Hogwarts.
“Um-,” Ron said awkwardly, not knowing what to say.
“Can’t you do something?” Neville asked.
“If I could, wouldn’t you think I would have done it?” Harry asked, obviously annoyed.
“I’m not sure I would,” Neville said.
“What?” said the kitchen in unison, confused.
“Harry, do you even comprehend what you’ve been given?” Neville asked quietly. “That’s a lot of power, Harry.”
“I don’t understand,” said Harry.
Hermione understood. Neville was right.
“Harry,” said Hermione. “You know it all.”
Harry shook his head, not understanding.
“All Voldemorts secrets, his motivations, his plans,” Hermione said. “His knowledge.”
“The historians have already-,” Harry began.
“Harry, you have names and locations,” said Ron, to everyone’s surprise. “You know who can be trusted and who can’t. You know where things are hidden. Where people disappeared to. Has anyone questioned you about that yet?”
“No,” said Harry, paling slightly. “Good Lord.”
“You aren’t responsible,” Hermione said quickly. “No one will blame you.”
“You don’t know that,” Harry said.
“Have you even read any of that mail, Harry?” Hermione asked.
“No,” Harry confessed. “Just got the room set up. I assumed it was just the standard assortment.”
“You might be surprised,” Hermione said, shaking her head. “Good luck.”
“Either way,” said Neville. “Even if Dumbledore is more powerful than you, think of what that means. Think of how powerful he is, and you’re only 18.”
“Too bad there’s no wizarding college,” Harry joked.
“What’s college?” Ron asked.
“School after school,” Hermione said.
“What on earth would you need that for?” Ron asked, flabbergasted.
Hermione and Harry explained the collegiate system to Ron. Neville seemed impressed.
“I can see how it would help Harry,” Ron said. “But what about the rest of us?”
“Think of what 4 extra years of focused experiments and schooling would do for the wizarding community,” said Hermione.
“Might give a few more a chance at becoming aurors,” Ron mused.
“Might give me a chance at anything,” said Neville.
“Come off it Neville,” said Ron. “You were always tops in Herbology. You’ll do great at the Ministry.”
“You need to believe in yourself, Neville,” said Hermione. “I have a feeling they do plan on training you.”
Neville gave her a small smile and his cheeks turned red.
“If I need to know anything I’ll send you an owl,” Neville said shyly.
“Send me an owl anytime you want,” Hermione said. “That goes for all of you.”
“Will do,” said Ron.
“And don’t bicker,” she chided, as she threw a handful of powder into the fire. “Lots of things have happened that we can’t change now. Deal with it.”
Neville looked guilty. They all looked a bit guilty, actually.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, as she disappeared.