Element the First: Water
"Harry! Harry, are you there?"
Turning away from the insistent voice coming from the parlor fireplace, Harry Potter murmured into the mass of flowing red hair burrowed against him, "If we pretend not to hear, do you think she'll go away?"
The hair giggled. "Not likely. Might as well see what she wants."
He groaned as he disentangled himself from the limbs and locks of Ginny Weasley, sat up on the loveseat and activated the magical floo connection on his end. "Harry Potter, Boy Who Lived, Savior of All Wizard-Kind, Order of Merlin First Class, Minister's Special Advisor, and Too-Busy-To-Snog-His-Girlfriend, at your service," he said with obvious resignation.
Hermione Granger's now visible head laughed in the green flames. "Sorry about that, Harry. I know it's your day off, but something's come up and we could really use your expertise here. Could you floo over to McGonagall's office?" Her excitement was palpable even through the magical fire. "Ginny is welcome to come as well."
"Sure, Hermione, just give us a few minutes to freshen up. This better be good or you'll never hear the end of it."
It was an idle threat that he had started making a lot lately. A day off for Harry was a poor fiction anyway; he was in such demand at the Ministry of Magic the last few weeks – ever since that day after the Battle of Hogwarts when he had met with the new minister, the remaining heads of house at Hogwarts School, and his close friends (including all the Weasleys) in the Hogwarts Room of Requirement. Declaring he was tired of secrets, he told them about his activities of the last two years and everything he had learned, including Trelawney's notorious prophecies, Dumbledore's research into Voldemort's history and the true nature of Severus Snape's loyalty. It had been an emotionally wrenching occasion for everyone. Afterward, Minister Shacklebolt had asked for Harry's assistance in the rebuilding of their society, an opportunity he could hardly refuse.
Working with the ministry had been the most rewarding experience of his life, but also the most draining. He rarely had a chance to relax, which for him meant either spending quality time re-establishing his relationship with Ginny after a long year apart, or flying on his new LightningBolt broom, a custom racing model built especially for him as a gift from the Firebolt Racing Broom Company.
The new broom was one of the few perks of being famous that he actually enjoyed. Most of the attention he had received since defeating the darkest wizard in centuries had been more of a nuisance than anything. The awards, demands for public appearances, and constant attention from the wizarding media were all bad enough, but he had never thought the sight of an approaching owl would give him a sense of nervous trepidation.
That was before The Howler.
This particular missive was even more notorious than a typical howler (which was annoying enough) because it arrived just after Fred Weasley's funeral service as the entire Weasley clan, mourning along with dozens of friends, Order of Phoenix members, Ministry officials and significant others, were lingering at the Burrow to share memories of the well-loved prankster. Harry was of course horrified at the appalling timing for such a diversion from the solemn occasion, but was driven beyond embarrassment when it burst open to emit a seductive alto voice that very loudly proclaimed the sender's undying love for the Boy Who Lived. It was starting to describe just how that love would be expressed in very colorful detail before Harry could gather his wits enough to attempt to silence it. His first attempt was a Reducto blasting hex, but the inherent magic of the Howler brought the blasted bits back together so that it continued in a chorus of nasal soprano voices. A Muffliato finally cast a blessing of silence over the gathered company, but Harry, along with Ginny beside him, had to hear out the entire salacious proposal. Ginny didn't seemed to mind too much, whispering in Harry's ear that it gave her "ideas for later on" while the heat continued up his face.
But Harry's heart dropped into his shoes as he saw Fred's surviving twin brother George approaching. What could he possibly say to someone after creating such a scene at his brother's memorial?
"Harry, thank you so much," George said as he dabbed at the tear tracks on his cheeks. "If I didn't know better, I would say Fred just pranked his own funeral and the Savior of Wizard-Kind at the same time." He started to chuckle as he slapped Harry on the shoulder. "In fact, I know that's exactly what he did. The look on your face is priceless."
Harry could only stare in bewilderment as George burst out in hearty laughter for the first time since the battle that took his brother's life. He spread his arms and yelled up toward the heavens, "That was brilliant, Fred! Show those Marauders how it's really done!"
Some of those looking on were as shocked as Harry at George's outburst, but those who knew him well were secretly smiling, hoping that The Howler had begun a healing for the single twin who had survived the Battle of Hogwarts. An investigation never uncovered who actually sent the infamous note, so George's presumption was never disputed.
After The Howler, the arriving post owls brought an increasing flood of messages and gifts from adoring citizens, fan girls and those who just wanted to say a personal word of thanks for all he had done. Harry had his house-elf Kreature sorting it all for him just so he could manage to keep from drowning in it. He prayed for a quick end to the public's fascination with him, but honestly doubted that would happen for a long time to come, if ever.
Several minutes after Hermione's call, Harry stumbled out of the fireplace in the office of Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he noticed a large group of people already seated around a table, adorned in full wizard robes. Harry felt a little underdressed in his Muggle casuals.
"I'm sorry, professor," Harry apologized as he cleaned the floo powder off himself and Ginny, who had just stepped out after him. "I didn't realize this was a formal meeting."
"Nonsense, Mr. Potter, we are just having a chat about the castle and its repair. Would you and Miss Weasley care for some tea?"
After the two new arrivals were settled into a couple of conjured armchairs next to Hermione and Harry's best mate Ron Weasley, McGonagall began introductions around the room. "Everyone please welcome Harry Potter, who should be familiar to everyone here, and his friend Ginny, youngest of many Weasleys that have graced the halls of Hogwarts over the years. Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley, let me introduce the Hogwarts Reconstruction Committee. Here on my right is Mr. Perry Armstrong, newly appointed chair of the Hogwarts Board of Governors, who must approve any modifications to the castle."
"So pleased to finally meet you, my boy," intoned the chairman, "and personally thank you for your accomplishments over the years. I can't say that I'm glad the final confrontation of the recent war happened on our grounds, but it does provide another chapter in our illustrious history, nonetheless, and we want to make the best of it."
Harry shook the hand of the tall, imposing white-haired gentleman, unable to respond with anything but a polite "Thank you, sir."
The next two guests appeared to be younger, but still at least twice Harry's age.
"This is Caractacus Rubble, our Chief Wizard Engineer for rebuilding efforts, and his wife W. Olivia Wembley of W.O.W. Architecture in London. Together they have agreed to take on the challenges of restoring and enhancing our facilities here for the next generation of magical education."
Harry flinched a little under the iron grip of Engineer Rubble, who just nodded his square-jawed head in friendly acknowledgement. Meanwhile, his better half was animatedly gushing over Harry and took his hand in both of hers; obviously she was the designated communicator in this odd coupling. "Harry Potter, I can't believe I'm shaking hands with you – may I call you Harry? There is so much we have to discuss here and it is such a thrill to know you will be involved in the project as well." Somehow the architect's perfectly coifed hair and stylish dress robes didn't quite fit with the gushing fan-girl demeanor, but Harry was getting used to people's excitability when greeting a celebrity like him, much as he hated it.
"Of course, you already know Professor Flitwick, Hermione, Ron, and Bill."
Professor Flitwick was the Charms teacher at Hogwarts and now had also taken on McGonagall's former post of Deputy Headmaster. Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley had been named (or bribed, if Harry's cynical side could speak) Head Girl and Head Boy for the next year at Hogwarts and thus were acting as student representatives for the castle's reconstruction. Harry reasoned that Bill Weasley, eldest brother of Ginny and Ron, must be on loan to help sort out some of the more difficult enchantments surrounding the centuries-old school. He had been a curse-breaker for Gringott's Wizard Bank after all.
The Headmistress continued. "As you may have surmised, we have been discussing some additional facilities at Hogwarts as we undergo our rebuilding. Miss Granger has come up with a very intriguing proposal to further inter-house interaction and the well being of the students. Hermione?"
Hermione was already on the edge of her seat and eagerly commenced explaining her idea. "The concept was inspired by my Muggle upbringing, Harry. Near our home was a community-owned building that had an indoor swimming pool, areas for playing different kinds of Muggle sports such as basketball, squash, bowling – the kinds of activities that people like to do in groups and also help keep one's body in good physical condition. If such a facility were available at Hogwarts and open to students from all houses…"
Harry interrupted, "That's a great idea, Hermione! Everyone gets to have fun while getting to know other students outside their own house, and they get another reason to skive off studying!" He smirked at the anticipated glare from the headmistress. "So all you have to do is build this place, right? What do you need me for?"
"Harry, as we were thinking about that, it occurred to me that we already have a large unused space the perfect size, it just needs a little fixing up!"
Harry was confused. "Hermione, you're talking about a huge area, and Hogwarts doesn't have any large unused rooms, and nothing is bigger than the Great Hall… except..." His voice drifted off and his eyes went wide with comprehension. "Unless you're thinking what I think you're thinking, and I'm thinking you're absolutely mental!"
Ron snorted. "Couldn't have said it any better myself, mate!"
He turned to McGonagall. "You aren't serious, are you?"
"Very serious, Mr. Potter - that's why your presence was requested."
Harry shook his head. "This is so wrong in so many ways. As it is, the place is horrid. It's practically inaccessible, and it needs more than a little fixing up!"
Harry's eyes met those of Ginny, who merely raised her eyebrows at him, not offering an opinion yet. He stared into the faces looking at him around the room. "Don't you remember what happened down there? It was a miracle that we came out alive." The last remark was almost a whisper as he recalled one of the most terrifying episodes in his short life, which had seen more than its share of such personal horror.
Architect Olivia looked alarmed. "I didn't realize that a danger existed."
Hermione waved her off. "Oh, Harry took care of the danger years ago. The basilisk is dead. It's perfectly safe now."
Now the engineer's eyes lit up. "There was a basilisk?"
"Yeah, until I ran a sword through its skull while it drove a fang in my arm. One of my favorite memories. I would have been dead inside a minute if Dumbledore's phoenix hadn't dropped in to help me out." Harry's sarcasm belied his growing irritation with this absurdity.
"What else did you conveniently forget to tell them, Hermione? Did you mention that this was Slytherin's Chamber of Secrets we're talking about? His self-glorifying monument to arrogance, racism, and blood-purist rot? That the Last Heir of Slytherin left an enchanted diary that nearly sapped Ginny's soul down there when she was merely a first year? If he had been successful, we would have had to put down two Voldemorts, not just one, you know." As everyone tried to get their minds around that horrible thought, Harry leaned over to Ginny and whispered, "Not to mention I'd be left without you as a snogging partner."
Ginny recovered quickly, thankful for his attempt at comic relief. "Damn right." She gave him a wink and squeezed his hand under the table.
Hermione countered, "That's another reason it makes perfect sense – how best to show how wrong Slytherin was by turning his creation against his misguided ideals. Fix it so that all houses, pure-bloods, Muggle-borns, and everyone in between can all enjoy it."
"Erm, well, I guess that makes sense in some perverse way," Harry said. He ran his hand through his perpetually messy hair as he considered Hermione's logic. "Okay, assuming I agree to help with this little makeover, you still haven't said what you need me for. It's not like Kingley's going to grant me time off to work on a school playground."
McGonagall huffed a little. "Actually, Mr. Potter, he did exactly that this morning after we explained the importance of this project to his overall efforts in improving the Wizarding World and attitudes toward Muggle-borns. As to exactly why we need you, you bring a unique perspective to the project with your knowledge of Slytherin's dark magic, especially that of his last heir. Not to mention the fact that no one else can access the Chamber, since there are no other known living Parselmouths." The guests gave a start at that pronouncement.
"Yeah, there is that," Harry muttered.
"That's not all," Bill added. "I've been checking the area for the types of enchantments used, and we can't find anything. Not only is it unplottable, but there's not even evidence of a magical signature such as a Fidelius Charm would produce. Nothing at all, like it doesn't exist. There's some very strong concealment magic in place."
Harry looked in Bill's eyes without a hint of a smile. "I guess that's why it's the Chamber of Secrets, yeah?"
Bill didn't laugh. "Harry, I've been discussing this with Professors McGonagall and Flitwick, Engineer Rubble, and even Albus' portrait agrees: We're going to need all the magical power we can muster to overcome what's down there. We need you to retrieve the Elder Wand."
Harry shot to his feet. "Bill, you of all people should know that is not possible! You performed the re-sealing enchantments yourself! I am not going to desecrate Dumbledore's tomb again, and it's not a topic open for discussion."
"Harry, no disturbance of the tomb will be necessary," said a familiar voice, resonating with calm reassurance. Harry turned his head towards it and found himself staring at his former headmaster and mentor, reclining comfortably in the frame of his portrait.
"Erm, hello Professor."
"Greetings, my boy. It is wonderful to see you well again, and I hear marvelous reports from your work with Kingsley at the Ministry. So much, in fact, that I wonder how all could be accomplished in such little time. I hope you have been taking appropriate time off for yourself, Harry. An unbalanced life can lead to a state of unstable health and mental lethargy. A little fun and relaxation can be extremely restorative to one's energy and spirit, especially when assisted by those closest to us." He winked at Ginny who blushed only slightly as she returned his smile.
"Sir, you really think I should retrieve the Elder Wand? You know its history better than I do."
"Yes, Harry, and remember that a wand can only be powerful at its master's bidding, and you are now the proper master and owner of the Elder Wand. In your hands it can be a powerful tool for good, as it was for me for many a year. There are great needs to be met, and the immeasurable potential that rests in the combination of your strength of character and the magical power of the Elder Wand is too great to ignore. You have my blessing to reclaim the wand and fully realize your true capabilities. I have complete faith in your ability to resist the temptations of power which ceaselessly plagued this old wizard." His smiled widened. "You may wish to continue this conversation with Filius, who I believe has arrived at a proper solution to your other dilemma."
"My other dilemma?"
"Yes, the physical retrieval of the wand."
"Oh, of course. Erm, thank you, sir, again. For everything."
"My pleasure as always, Harry. Speaking of which, don't forget to have fun."
Harry broke into a full grin for the first time since he entered the office. "I won't sir."
The meeting in McGonagall's office adjourned for lunch in the Great Hall, where they met a number of the work wizards helping restore the ancient castle. Many of them were former students who had loved the school as a second home in their youth, and it would always be a special place for them. The others had caught the spirit of the place as well, coming together with a dedication they all shared for the project, and the unique experience would be a highlight of their careers, not to mention the source of many a tale to pass along to their descendants.
Most of the Reconstruction Committee remained in the Great Hall enjoying their respite before they were to join Harry in Moaning Myrtle's favorite haunt. They had been flabbergasted to learn that the long-sought entrance to the Chamber of Secrets was hidden in a girl's bathroom, but nothing about the Chamber or its creator fit any accepted traditions.
"Are you sure you're okay with this craziness?" Harry glanced sideways at his girlfriend, carefully stepping around piles of broken rubble, scaffolding and stacks of new stone materials as they made their way from the castle steps towards the lake.
Ginny lifted her head towards the sparkles of sunlight reflecting off the dancing surface of the water. "I suppose so. It's not like I remember much of the Chamber itself as I was under Tom's spell when I was down there. The nightmares have all but gone away now. Besides, this will give us some good memories to replace the awful ones."
Harry turned her face toward his. "I'm all for that, you know." He bent down to give her a gentle kiss.
They continued their stroll down to the lake without haste, wanting to savor each other's company and the serenity of their surroundings. A slight cooling breeze had a calming effect on the revelations that had come their way and they were able to survey the new additions to the grounds objectively.
The white tomb of Dumbledore was now the centerpiece of a new memorial garden beside the lake. There was a dark marble tomb for Severus Snape near a tall obelisk installed after the Battle of Hogwarts. It listed the names all those who had died or suffered injuries while defending the castle against the onslaught of Voldemort and his followers. Harry could not help but admire how the garden's simple layout and appropriately placed flowers that were charmed to bloom all year long could bring about the feelings of calm introspection that washed over him.
"It's beautiful isn't it?" Ginny spoke his thoughts for him. "It seems to be lacking something though."
He turned to her. "What do you mean?"
"I'm not sure. I guess it's just that all this is about death and remembering the past, not about life and moving forward."
Harry looked around, his eyes drawn once again to the lively ripples out in the lake. Maybe she was right. Maybe what Dumbledore had said about balance worked in other ways as well. He would have to think about that.
Only Bill and Professor Flitwick had joined Harry and Ginny on their trek to Dumbledore's tomb, and it was the diminutive Charms professor that was explaining his special summoning charm to Harry when they arrived.
"After discussing the tomb's new protective enchantments with Bill, I believe that the charm will not be affected. Of course, this summoning charm only works with something that rightfully belongs to the summoner, so there is no danger that anything else can be removed from the tomb."
Harry was grateful for that. It seemed ridiculously easy, but Flitwick had assured him that this was not a well-known charm, nor could many wizards accomplish the focus of energy required to summon an object through solid stone. He practiced the wand movements and incantation several times before addressing the tomb itself.
"Sorry about this, sir. I don't mean any disrespect, and I hope you understand that what I am about to do was not my desire, but I was convinced that it was for the greater good, as you once put it. And, your portrait gave me its blessing." He looked up at the others. "Well, here goes."
He recited the incantation Flitwick taught him and brought an image to the front of his mind of the Elder Wand, the wand that he had just weeks ago placed back in the cold hands of Dumbledore's body after retrieving it in that world renowned final confrontation with Voldemort. Harry waved his holly phoenix wand over the tomb. There was a bright flash of light as the Elder Wand arced through the air and Harry once again caught it with the reflexes that had served him well as Seeker.
This time, he didn't have to worry about fatal retaliatory curses or appreciative crushing crowds; it was just the four of them in the quiet of the midday breeze.
Not sure what else to do, Harry merely offered, "To the Chamber then?" and they followed him back toward the castle.