Harry and Daphne met often with Hermione. She wanted to be brought up to speed on what he was planning and why. Harry explained in detail about his research within the Hall of Secrets at Pembroke College where he had access to the writings of Merlin. Hermione was shocked, although she wasn't sure which part she found more surprising, that Harry was doing research on his own or that he had access to long lost writings of the greatest wizard in the recorded history of magic. She knew that she wouldn't be able to just up and leave without giving her notice to the ministry, so she had two weeks to finish her work. During that time Harry and Daphne were working on figuring out where they would need to head next. The only information they could find about thunderbirds was in the stories from native American tribes and their folklore and myths. Harry had asked Hermione to help with gathering what information she might have access to from her current position at the Australian Department of Magical Creatures. There was no local information but she was able to make contact with her counterpart in the Department of Magical Creatures for the Congress of Magic in the United States. They had only a limited amount of information, but it seemed to be more than what Harry was able to glean from the notes he had written back at Pembroke.
Harry had decided that he would make the travel arrangements for the group, as they decided that they would have an easier time traveling via the magical international floo system then by muggle transportation. Trying to explain wands and the hide of a griffon to customs officials didn't seem to any of them like a task they wanted to take on. Daphne was trying to find out the details of the upcoming trip, but Harry just kept giving vague answers and reassurances that everything would be set in place when Hermione was free to travel. Hermione was concerned that they had not done enough planning for the trip, but she could tell that Harry was getting anxious about getting the next mission under way. Daphne and Hermione were starting to wonder just what was making Harry so anxious. Over lunch one day they broached the subject.
Hermione looked at Daphne and then turned to question Harry as she had his girlfriend's silent approval to begin the questioning. "You seem tense, Harry," she commented, "is there a timeline in which you have to complete this task?"
Harry was at first surprised by the question. "While there is no official deadline for completing the whole task, I do feel compelled to complete everything as quickly as possible." He ended his comments and took a sip of water, clearly not offering any further explanation. Daphne remained silent, as she thought she understood his reasoning, but she had not felt it was her place to share all of that with Hermione.
Hermione glanced back at Daphne and noted that she was not about to offer any further explanation, so she turned back to Harry to pry him for a more clear answer. "What is compelling you to get this done? You mentioned that this was for some sort of mission. Why on earth would you need the hide of a griffon and the tail feather from a thunderbird? I suppose the next thing your'e going to tell me is that you will be hunting a dragon." Hermione thought to herself that Harry really did seem to get himself involved in some pretty crazy things.
Harry raised an eyebrow when Hermione mentioned a dragon. Hermione noted his reaction. She nearly dropped her glass.
"You can't be seriously thinking of going after a dragon," Hermione gasped. "You were nearly fried by the Hungarian Horntail, we were all scared out of our wits when we flew off on that Ukrainian Ironbelly from Gringotts." Hermione paused, and then she gasped. "That's what this is all about isn't it?" She looked from Harry to Daphne and then back to Harry. "You're doing this to pay them back."
Harry shrugged. "I really don't have a choice in the matter. I am beholden to the goblins until I repay the debt which I owe them." He sighed slowly as he avoided her gaze.
"But what about me? And Ron? What do we owe the goblins? We were there with you?" Hermione was becoming more agitated, and Harry could hear it in her tone.
He avoided her eyes as he answered. "I met with Ragnok, I made a deal with them. I am the only one who needs to repay them anything for what happened. It was because of me that you two were there." He turned to face her as he continued. "You and Ron are free to continue any and all business with Gringotts, that much should be more than obvious to you by now. I still have to complete this task for them, and then I will no longer be in their service."
"But why? How? You have to bring them back a dragon? A live dragon?" Hermione was beside herself. "That's suicide! And what does it mean to be in their service?"
Harry took in a deep breath, looked at Daphne who gave him a reassuring smile, and then he looked back at Hermione. "I have limited access to any of my inherited wealth that is tied up in Gringotts until I complete this task for them. As long as I am indebted to anyone, I cannot take up my titles of Lord Potter or Lord Black. I cannot take up my family seat in the Wizengamut, as anything I would say or do would be suspect that I was being controlled. You already know enough about politics among wizards, I cannot afford to do any of those things until I am a free man. Daphne understands this. And thankfully, her father understands this." Daphne reached out and clasped her hands over his as she smile tenderly at her man.
Hermione was starting to understand.
"My life is on hold until I complete this. Daphne can be nothing more than my girlfriend until I complete this and free myself from this indentured servitude. The sooner I complete this, the sooner I can move on and put the whole war behind me. This keeps it ever present in my mind."
Hermione understood. She took up a new identity and moved to the other side of the world. That was how she had tried to move on. Until Harry came back into her life. She realised just how much she had missed her friends and the magical world of ENgland. While she did feel more accepted here in Australia as she had quickly been able to make a name for herself within the Ministry of Magic, a name that was not based on the war or her association with The-Boy-Who-Lived, or even based on her birth status, but merely on her own accomplishments.
Hermione started to feel for Harry and Daphne and their predicament. "So," she began as she tried to get her thoughts around this concept, "you need the griffon hide and the thunderbird tail feather and then you can have a way to catch a dragon."
Harry chuckled, "If only it was so simple." He looked at Daphne and squeezed her hands. "After getting the tail feather, then I need to get the venom from a chimera, and then the tears from a unicorn. Then I can cast the protection spell and approach a dragon, and then bring it back to Gringotts."
Hermione laughed uncomfortably, "But no Horcruxes to find and destroy? Why does it always seem you have to accomplish the impossible, Harry?"
"Just my luck," he grinned.
Daphne was glad that Harry had told more of the task ahead to Hermione so she would understand just what it was that they were trying to do. And now she also understood how Harry was having to put his life on hold until he had this all completed. "So, Harry," asked Daphne, "when do we leave?"
He gave his girlfriend a sly smile, "Tomorrow at noon. We will use international floo travel, and go from Sydney to Tokyo, then to Honolulu, then to San Francisco, and from there to Boston."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Why Boston?" she asked, confused as to why they would head all the way tot he east coast of the United States when they would arrive on the West Coast and their destination was the Great Plains.
"Trust me," he said simply, "it needs to be done this way."
Even Daphne gave him a curious look, not sure what he had planned.
The two women were more tired than Harry when they walked through the international floo gateway in Boston. The arrival was in a magical portion of Logan International Airport, which made almost as much sense to Harry as the Hogwarts Express leaving from platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station. Harry had shrunk everyone's luggage and had it hidden in a pocket in his dark robes. He continued to wear the wide brimmed hat that obscured his scar from being seen by any passersby. Harry hated having attention drawn to himself, and he figured that anywhere he went throughout the world that someone could recognise him as there were plenty of stories about the Boy-Who-Lived defeating the Dark Lord Voldemort. It was international news and he definitely had no desire to be an international celebrity.
Daphne was holding onto Harry's right arm and Hermione was walking along on his left side as they were moving through the crowds at the terminal. Hermione finally spoke up. "Okay, so now we are here in Boston, now what?"
Harry grinned at her. Daphne just tugged on his arm slightly trying to get him to explain his plans further. She turned to look at him and she noticed a large smile appear across his face. Then from behind her, a familiar voice called out, "Daphne!"
Daphne turned and shrieked as a tall brunette came running towards her through the crowd. The woman embraced Daphne and crushed with a bear hug and spun her around. Daphne couldn't believe that her best friend, Tracey Davis, was here in Boston, greeting them upon their arrival. Harry noted a tear in Daphne's eye as she whispered thank you to her boyfriend. The two squealing women stopped their hug and Daphne then melted into Harry's arms to hug him. Tracey turned to Hermione as she greeted her, "Hey Granger, how are you?"
Hermione had known Tracey and Daphne in passing through some of the classes they had together, and she knew enough of the two former Slytherin women that they were very close friends back in school. "I am fine, Tracey," she answered, trying to be less formal and used her first name.
Tracey then turned to the group as she spoke, "So, Harry told me when he contacted me that he wanted to surprise you by coming here to see me."
Daphne just squeezed Harry once more with her left arm as she looked back at her best friend, not sure what to say. "So, we can take port key back to my aunt and uncle's home in New Hampshire. They have a really pretty place up in the mountains on a secluded lake."
Harry looked at his two traveling companions, "I was thinking that we could take a few days for Daph to visit her best friend, and we could then make arrangements to head west and continue our journey then."
Tracey looked from Harry to Daphne, and then back to Harry. "You never did tell me why you all were coming to the states."
"We're on a quest," Harry replied with a grin. "I seek the Holy Grail." He received blank stares from the two Slytherins, but a slight chuckle from Hermione.
Hermione tried to explain, "It's from a movie. It's a muggle thing." The two confused friends just nodded politely as if the explanation made all of the sense in the world.
Hermione turned to Harry, and with a slight glare she added, "No talk about burning witches, or building a bridge out of one, or I might just turn you into a newt!"
Harry smiled at her comment, but he wisely decided against any further Monty Python banter as it would probably only irritate his girlfriend who was feeling as though she was left out on the joke, which he knew that she had been.
Turning to the other two women he then gave a more serious answer, "I have several tasks I am working on, and currently I need to find a thunderbird, which I believe would be most likely to be found in the Great Plains. You know, where there are cowboys and indians and buffalo."
Tracey sighed, "You must have watched too many muggle western movies." She then encouraged them to follow her. "The port key departure area is over this way, we have to leave the protective wards so we can activate it."
Several hours later the young wizard and his three young witch companions were relaxing on a deck, overlooking a deep blue lake with mountains surrounding the area. The spring weather was still a little chilly, but there was a warm breeze for this April day. Tracey commented that not too much farther north, there were still areas with snow on the ground, so they should appreciate the unusually warm spring weather they were having. Tracey was telling Daphne about everything that she had been up to, including taking some advanced courses at the Salem Institute for Magic, which was not too far away in Massachusetts.
When her aunt and uncle had arrived home from their work, they came out onto the porch to greet their niece's guests. Tracey made the introductions. Upon greeting Tracey's uncle, Harry stood up and shook his hand. Uncle Tim shook Harry's hand and made a brief note of the scar on Harry's for head.
"So, young man, you are the mysterious Boy-Who-Lived," he said with a slight grin. "There are those in my department that argue that the stories concerning you and that dark lord were merely myths and legend spread by the previous administration to cover up their own corruption. But I was aware that our Congress of Magic was preparing a strike force to repel any possible attacks if your own countries civil war started to spread out past your borders. All of that Pureblood nonsense they still have back there is quite sickening. The magical society here on this side of the pond have long since come to understand that those witches and wizards born into non-magical families can often be some of the strongest magic users within our society. I'd enjoy hearing your first hand experience of some of the adventures which you are rumoured to have had while you were a student with my niece."
Harry was a little surprised by this greeting and looked towards Tracey.
"Uncle Tim is the equivalent of an Unspeakable," she explained.
Harry raised an eyebrow. Turning back to Uncle Tim, he replied, "I would be happy to have a chat with you, but perhaps you could answer some questions for me. I have a particular interest in some native American myths and magical creatures. Maybe you might have some information you could share with me."
The two men looked at each other and then Uncle Tim gave Harry a big smile. "I hear you're quite the Quidditch player."
Harry blushed slightly.
"Well, I am not that much of a Quidditch fan, however," added Uncle Tim, "I have become fond of this muggle sport that have here, called baseball. There's a game on the television this evening, featuring the local favourite team, the Boston Red Sox, why don't you join me as we watch it."
Harry looked over to Daphne who gave him an encouraging nod, so Harry smiled back at his host as he answered, "Sounds like fun."
Daphne enjoyed immensely her time to catch up with her best friend, Tracey Davis. Hermione had tried not to invade on their time together, so she sat with Harry as he watched baseball and discussed his personal mission with Tracey's Uncle Tim. Harry explained that he needed to obtain the tail feather from a thunderbird. Tim frowned at the idea initially, but then he offered what little advice he could. He suggested that Harry contact a shaman from the Lakota tribe, indicating that they were located in South Dakota.
Hermione was starting to feel like the odd one out, so she took the opportunity to explore the local community library. While there, she was able to do research over the internet, and she learned as much as she could about the legend of thunderbirds and the Lakota nation. She quickly understood that the legends about the mystical birds indicated that they travelled in the midst of either severe storms or some sort of natural disaster. The Great Plains states are known to have severe weather patterns from time to time, and she studied what she could about this as well.
After several days of relaxing while visiting with Tracey, Harry announced that they should begin their quest again. Uncle Tim gave them the name of a contact within the Lakota nation. They trio travelled by muggle means to arrive in South Dakota. Tracey had joined her uncle as he took them to the Manchester-Boston Airport. She gave her friend a long hug and turned to Harry and whispered a 'thank you' for taking the time to visit so she and Daphne could catch up. Tim handed Harry a slip of paper with a name and an address.
They arrived in Sioux Falls later that day, and then arranged for a rental car to drive across the state to Rapid City on the western side of the state. Hermione had obtained her driver's license when she was in Australia, a simple fact they were all grateful for when they realised they would be using more muggle transportation. During the long drive across the state, Hermione regaled them with what history she had learned of both South Dakota and the Lakota nation. They would be heading towards the Badlands, and area that had special meaning to the Lakota people. Harry shared what little he knew of native Americans from the occasional western movies that Dudley would watch and he occasionally would get to see parts of the action, or at least hear dialogue as he was laying in his cot in his cupboard.
Eventually they arrived at the Grand Gateway Hotel where they had a reservation for a suite. It was late at night by the time they were settled in, and they all made a hasty retreat to their beds. Hermione was surprised that Harry and Daphne were not sharing a bed, despite their traveling together. She made a mental note to ask Harry more about his relationship with Daphne when she had the opportunity.
The next morning, they all slept in and got a late start to the day. Harry's note from Tim indicated that they had a pre-arranged meeting at one in the afternoon with the man named on the paper. Harry presumed from the previous conversations he had with Tim that this man was perhaps the shaman for the Lakota tribe. After a later breakfast, they set out to find their contact. The address was located in a small village near the Badlands. There were simple one story homes in a neighbourhood that had seen better days. Hermione pulled the rental car, a small SUV, into the driveway of the house which matched the address they were given. Harry lead the way to knock on the door.
A tall man with dark hair pulled back into a pony tail greeted them. Harry introduced himself, explaining that he was given the name of a Lakota shaman to contact about a special project he was working on. The man eyed Harry and his companions carefully. Then he introduced himself as John "Running Wolf" Whitecloud and he invited them into his home. John explained that he had received a phone call telling him of these three young friends who were coming to discuss some important issues about Lakota legend with him. He then gave a short explanation of his role as shaman to the local tribe.
"So, here I have a couple of witches and a wizard to asks me about thunderbirds," he said hesitantly. "Not exactly how I figured to be spending the coming week," he added with a slight grin.
Harry looked around the room they were in, and turned back to their host. "Well, this was not at all what I was expecting," he said as he was about to explain the reason for their visit.
"This isn't a John Wayne movie, you know," said the obviously irritated shaman, "not even a Kevin Costner film. We don't ride around on horses screaming war cries or live in tepees any more. Some of us still remember the old ways."
Harry bowed his head slightly as he blushed. "I'm sorry," he stammered in apology, "I didn't mean it like that. I guess I had no idea what to expect."
Running Wolf eyed him closely. "Well, no stereotyping, please. When I was told of your coming, I was not expecting a couple of old hags with crooked noses and large warts flying around on brooms with a bunch of flying monkeys."
Daphne looked at Hermione and mouthed "Flying monkeys?"
Hermione whispered back, "I'll explain that one later."
Harry cringed slightly at the rebuke. "Let me start again," he said trying to ease any tensions. "I have need of obtaining a tail feather from a thunderbird."
John Whitecloud eyed him carefully. "I am sure we can find you a nice eagle feather somewhere."
Harry fidgeted slightly. "No, not an eagle feather, a thunderbird, the legendary mystical bird of the Great Plains. I know most people do not believe they even exist."
John sat back in his chair and looked at the three people in front of him. "You're serious then," he said quietly and then after a slight pause he added, "I thought that this was some elaborate prank. How do I know you are really a wizard or witches?"
Harry looked at Hermione and Daphne and then he turned back to John. With a quick flick of his wrist his wand was in his hand. "Lumos," he said softly and a bright light appeared on the end of his wand. "Nox," he said and the light went out.
"Is that enough proof for you?" he asked, "Or do you need to see more?"
Wrinkling his brow at the site he had just seen the shaman simply nodded as he said, "That was plenty or at least a good parlour trick."
Daphne snapped her wand into her hand as she stated "Wingardium Leviosa," as she waved her wand at the chair that their host was sitting in. After he rose up into the air a couple of feet she made a quick swish of her wand and the chair and its occupant came to a loud thud back on the floor.
Raising an eyebrow at Daphne he added, "All right, so that isn't just a simple parlour trick."
Hermione sighed and then she began to explain what she had learned about thunderbirds from the studying she had been doing. John nodded as he listened to what she had to say. Then he turned to them as a group as he began to educate them all.
"The wakinyan is the creature which you all are referring to as a thunderbird," he spoke slowly with a reverence in his voice for the subject they were about to discuss. "We do not discuss these things with outsiders usually, but you have shown me some interesting things yourselves. The wakinyan is not well understood, even among most of the Lakota or our neighbouring human beings. The bird is often thought of as a harbinger of doom, of and omens. However, it is a simple creature. A simple but terrible creature. It chooses to fly across the plains from time to time, usually during the spring or summer. As it flies across the sky, it gathers clouds and wind and rain. The resulting storms that accompany the wakinyan as it flies can become terrible, spawning tornadoes and hail and tremendous damage. If it flies during the winter, it can create severe blizzards. This is not a creature one should want to come in contact with."
Harry looked at Daphne, then Hermione and then back to John. "I have faced a dragon, and I have defeated a griffon. I do not think I am afraid of a large bird."
John frowned. "You should be," he said softly.
Hermione spoke up and asked, "How do we find the wakinyan?"
"You wait," he answered simply. "You wait for the right storm, and then, if you have a way to venture into the heart of the storm, you may find the wakinyan. It is a terrible and fierce creature, I would not imagine that it would be happy to encounter anyone in the midst of its travel."
Hermione started to ask another question, but was silenced by their host. "That is all I have to tell you," he said. Then he looked at them all sombrely, "I can tell you no more. I would wish you well on your quest, but I fear that you will not have a safe travel."
Daphne felt a shiver run through her at that comment.
"Thank you for your time," said Harry as he got up to offer his hand in thanks. "You have been more than helpful."
John shook his hand but frowned, "I fear that I have been less than helpful, but merely added to your danger."
The three friends retreated to the Ford Explorer and began their trip back to their hotel.
"Well, that was not exactly charming," commented Daphne.
Hermione nodded in agreement, but then opined, "He did give us some useful information, if not a dire warning as well." She then turned to Harry, "So, do you have a plan formulating yet?"
"I'm working on it," he said with a thin smile. He reached back to Daphne who was sitting behind Hermione and he gently squeezed her hand. "I'll be fine, we'll find a way to do this, to get the feather."
She smiled back at him, but she was having a hard time feeling very convinced by his words.
After arriving back at their suite, they arranged for room service as they began to discuss their plans for finding the thunderbird or wakinyan. Hermione shared what she had been learning about weather patterns.
"Apparently there are people who call themselves storm chasers," she explained. "They drive around in trucks with equipment to take measurements of tornadoes. There was a movie a few years back, apparently, that had people doing that. We can use the rental car, but we will have to find a way to track the storms."
Harry held Daphne's hand as they contemplated what Hermione had shared with them. "Well, if we don't have any of that equipment, is there another way to track storms?"
Hermione sighed. "The muggles have computers that could help us, they even have portable ones, but I doubt that we could have a way to connect to the internet while we are driving around." She quietly thought more about what information she had learned. "Well, they also have a muggle television channel called the Weather Channel. That might help us identify areas where storms are forming. We would have to check it out in the evening and then the next morning to figure out where we need to go."
Harry thought about their options. "It seems sort of hit or miss," he stated, his frustration evident in his words. Harry got up and went to his room to lie down.
There was an awkward silence as the two women sat alone for a few minutes after Harry had left. Hermione cast a glance at the door to Harry's room and then back at Daphne. Daphne noted the look and simply asked, "What?"
"You and Harry," Hermione stated quietly, "you're not sleeping together." It was a statement, and not a question.
Daphne shifted slightly in her chair. "Not that it is any business of yours, but no, we're not."
Hermione did not miss the coldness in Daphne's words. Internally Hermione sighed, as she felt that she might be losing ground on the friendship she had been establishing with her best friend's girlfriend. "I'm just surprised, that's all. You're two young adults, I just sort of assumed."
Daphne worked to check her anger as she could sense the sincerity in Hermione's words. "Just because so many other young people start shagging at the first chance they get, that does not mean that we have to. Harry and I have been taking our growing relationship slowly. I thought you had understood that after all of the talks we have had." Daphne paused as she thought about her relationship with Harry, and the slight embarrassment of discussing it with anyone, particularly Hermione. "We have a closeness that we are allowing to develop slowly. Maybe we're both a little old fashioned, well, he definitely is; but we have decided to hold off on certain levels of physical intimacy. We'll have plenty of time for intimacy when this is all down and behind us."
After another awkward silence Hermione simply said "Thanks."
Daphne raised an eyebrow, "Thanks for what?"
"For being willing to open up, and for not hexing me for butting in to your private life with Harry." Hermione gave a slight smile. Then she got up and went to her own room in the suite.
The next day they all woke up early, and found Hermione was staring at the television which had some sort of colour coded maps with various lines across the middle of the screen. Harry and Daphne stood behind her and just stared at the screen in front of them. Hermione didn't turn and look back at them as she commented, "I think we need to head south. There appears to be some storms developing over Nebraska, and maybe Kansas."
Daphne looked at the screen and then back at Hermione. "It doesn't look like Kansas is just a short drive away."
Hermione turned back and answered, "No, it could take all day to get to Kansas, but we ought to get started." She then turned to Harry, "So have you figured out how you plan to reach the wakinyan when we find a storm?"
Harry shrugged his shoulders. "Working on it, a combination of my Firebolt and some protective charms, and the griffon hide."
Daphne squeezed his hand gently sharing her concerns.
The three then checked out of their suite and climbed into the vehicle. They started to drive towards Nebraska, hoping to find large storms forming over the plains. They spent the next three days without coming anywhere near a thunderstorm, let alone a large storm system with tornadoes and hail that could indicate that a thunderbird was nearby.
On the fourth day of storm chasing, they came across a large storm system moving northeast. From a distance they could see the large anvil clouds forming and the radio in the car had issued a tornado warning. Harry jumped out of the Explorer when they had pulled off of the highway. Hermione cast a notice-me-not charm on him as he prepared to fly into the storm. He put the griffon hide on like a cloak, while Hermione cast a charm to keep his glasses from falling off or from fogging up. Daphne cast a warming charm on him. He then gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, followed by a quick hug for Hermione as he kicked off of the ground and flew into the air chasing the approaching storm.
Harry found the wind currents and the up and down drafts to be difficult to navigate. Playing Quidditch in the middle of rain and fog seemed like child's play compared with the effect the weather was having on his flying. He quickly appreciated the protection charms and the warming charms the two witches had cast on him as he flew into the clouds of the storm. He came out of the clouds by shooting upwards on a big updraft just before there was a crack of lightning below him. His ears ached from the tremendous clap of thunder that emanated form the storm just below him. He spent over one hour navigating in and out of the clouds, but he found no evidence of a mystical bird.
By the time he arrived back to where Daphne and Hermione were waiting for him, he had been flying for close to three hours. He was soaked through all of his clothes, and knew he would have felt worse if it wasn't for the warming charms. Daphne greeted him with a tremendous hug, as she explained how worried she had been while he was gone.
Hermione merely frowned in frustration as she stated that they had accomplished nothing. Harry's beaming smile confused her though.
"Other than being totally exhausted," he said cheerfully, which was surprising considering how cold and wet he appeared, "it was a successful adventure."
Hermione raised an eyebrow, "Successful how?"
"Well, for starters," he replied, "we learned of the importance of the various spells you cast. However, I have some ideas for more spells that should help. Such as a water repellant charm, a protection from lightning, and probably even ear plugs to protect from the thunder."
Hermione nodded and she started to smile. Harry was turning this into a learning exercise, and she felt proud that he was able to do that.
Daphne looked at him with concern though. "I was just worried about you with being gone so long."
He gave her a wet hug as he kissed her on the side of her neck, "I know love, but now I know how to be safer when I am up there. Another important safety precaution would be getting gloves to help keep a grip on the broom."
Daphne noted that Harry was starting to shiver from how wet he was and she quickly cast some drying charms on him. The three then got back into the vehicle and headed off to find a place to get some dinner and then a place to sleep for the night. Along the way Harry excitedly relayed all that he had learned while flying through the clouds and the storm, the excitement of learning to use the up and down drafts, the thrill of flying with thunder and lightning all around. The two witches thought he was crazy.
The next morning Harry bought himself some gloves at a sporting goods store they had come across in Lincoln, Nebraska. Harry wasn't exactly sure why there were gloves designed for playing football, but Hermione pointed out that American football was different from football in England. Later that morning they came across a small storm. Hermione was sure that there was no way that there would be a thunderbird in the storm, but Harry wanted to try flying through the storm with using the gloves and the added protection. Two hours later he returned, less wet but even more excited. Daphne gasped as he explained how at one point a lightning bolt forked around him. He reassured her that it showed that the protective spells they were using actually worked.
Over their dinner that night, Harry continued to recall some of the experiences he had flying through the storm. Daphne finally turned towards Hermione, "Does he always get like this? All excited before and adventure or a Quidditch match?"
Hermione sighed as she looked over at Harry. "Before a Quidditch match, yes, before and adventure, not quite so much."
Harry frowned at the teasing he was receiving from the two witches.
Daphne gave him a gentle hug, then she looked at him sternly. "This may all be fun and games to you chasing storms and flying around on your broom, but if and when you find the wakinyan, I expect that it will not be so exciting."
Harry leaned away slightly, but stayed within Daphne's gentle grasp. "I know, the excitement will be overcome with the danger."
Daphne pouted slightly, "That's what we're all worried about, the danger part."
Harry saw the look of concern and love in her eyes, and his mood softened. He pulled her back into a hug, never taking his eyes off of hers, "I will be careful. But I need to do this, you know that." He pushed a lock of her hair behind her ear, "But I will be careful, for you."
It was nearly a week before they found another large storm. Harry again flew in and out of the storm, avoiding the large funnel clouds that were forming below. But again, he had not found any evidence of a thunderbird.
They were now driving across the plains a log the Kansas and Oklahoma border. The weather was unseasonably warm for early May. The number of storms that were forming was increasing, as well as the severity. Over breakfast in a hotel, Hermione heard a severe weather alert about a large storm system forming northwest of their location. The weather maps indicated that it could be the largest storm they had yet to investigate. However, it was still several hours drive away form where they were and she sighed thinking there was no way they could reach the storm. Harry tore his eyes away from the television when he heard her sigh. He looked at Hermione and then back to Daphne.
"I need to get to this storm," he said simply.
The two women gazed at him. Hermione protested that they would be driving for hours before they could get close to it. Harry continued, "No, I need to get to this one. You two drive north to intercept the storm's path. I will fly straight there."
Daphne felt afraid as she thought of Harry leaving on his own like this. "It will take you over an hour or two of flying just to reach that storm," she protested. "You'll be exhausted when you get there."
He gave her a gentle hug, "I'll be fine," he tried to reassure her. "Hey, I am doing this for us as much as for me. I started this mission in earnest after we met at that pub. You're the one who has given me the motivation to accomplish this and get my freedom back from the goblins. Meet me north of here in a few hours."
Hermione and Daphne gave each other worried glances but helped cast the protective charms on Harry before he headed up to the roof of the hotel and then he took off on his broom. The two women did not waste any time getting checked out of the hotel and on their way heading north to intercept the storm system.
Harry was impressed by the size of the storm when he was still over a hundred miles away. He had not seen the anvil clouds rising so high on any of the other storms they had been investigating. His pulse quickened as he grasped the broom handle more firmly as he willed the Firebolt to travel even faster. He was sure that this would be his chance.
Daphne was holding onto the map in her hands so tightly that her knuckles were turning white. Hermione noted this and tried to comfort her. Stating the obvious, she commented, "You seem a little more tense than usual today."
Daphne barely took her eyes of the road in front of them to look askance at Hermione. "How will we be able to find him? What if something happens to him?"
Hermione smiled, "Simple, I added a tracking charm." Daphne started to relax slightly. "To both Harry and his precious broom."
"Thanks, Hermione," she replied. "That means a lot."
Hermione reached over with her hand and gently squeezed Daphne's wrist. They continued their drive in silence.
Harry could see the start of funnel clouds dipping below the bottom of the storm. He was grateful for the ear plug charms, as they not only protected him from the deafening claps of thunder but from the air pressure changes that could mess up his balance as well as cause plenty of pain. The cloak fashioned from the griffon hide was secure around his shoulders, flapping behind him, almost like the cape of a super hero in American comic books. Harry dove into the clouds, the drying spells keeping his glasses clear, but the fog and mist still made it hard to see very far. He was appreciative of the gloves he wore when a sudden updraft sent him spiralling towards the thinner air above the storm. He corrected his flight path, trying to head towards the centre of the storm. He had learned how to judge some of the wind movements during his previous forays into smaller storms, but this storm was clearly much larger and much stronger than anything he had encountered. He tried to fly high over most of the clouds, which was difficult to do with the size of the thunderheads. The air was becoming thinner, and he was starting to feel short of breath, when he noted what appeared to be a calmer area with wind circling in unusual patterns around it. He dove his broom towards the disturbance. Several lightning bolts streaked towards him as he approached, but he held his course and did not veer to the left or to the right, and he was thankful for the protective charms that continued to cause the bolts to fork and move around him. He thought he saw a glimpse of blue and white and silver. Harry's heart beat quicker as he wondered if he had glimpsed his quarry. As he was flying towards the blur of colours ahead, he could feel the winds become stronger and start to shift direction. He spun slightly as he did a barrel roll, but maintained his balance. A gust of wind hit him in the side, strong enough to make him think it might have been a bludger in the middle of the storm. But he continued to press on.
The clouds and mist started to thin out. He could see in front of him there was a giant and awesome appearing bird, with a wingspan of easily thirty feet. The head of blue and silver feathers turned and faced him as it soared on its out stretched wings. The black eyes seemed to bore through him, obviously unhappy to be disturbed by any intruder. It opened its mouth and a bolt of lightning shot forth with a loud screech. The lightning did not fork until just before it hit Harry and his broom. The smell of ozone was almost overwhelming. The creature was becoming increasingly agitated as Harry continued to move closer. The wakinyan started to spin to face him as it began to beat its wings quickly. Harry was amazed by the gracefulness and the strength with which the creature moved. The sudden gust of wind from the beating of the birds wings knocked him back, and he almost let go of his broom.
Harry was able to grab tighter and pull himself out of the downward spin he had fallen into and started to climb back towards the giant bird. The storm raged even more fiercely in response to the anger of the wakinyan for being disturbed. Harry burst through the clouds into the clear air around the bird, only to see he had to duck before being grabbed by a talon. He spun around and saw he was heading straight for the tail of the beast, and he reached out with his hand. The thunderbird spun in mid air, catching Harry from behind as it flapped its wings in anger and in pain. Harry felt something hit the back of his head, and then everything went black.
Hermione and Daphne were listening to the weather reports, of a massive storm. They were getting closer to the storm but they were still over fifty miles away when the reported stated that there was a report of a class 5 tornado forming. The hail from the storm was increasing as well, causing damage to many crops below. They were close enough to see several new funnel clouds start to shoot out from the storm and a dramatic increase in lightning strikes. They were both worried about Harry when suddenly it seemed that the storm became suddenly quieter and the clouds seemed to be pulling back in on themselves. The dramatic change in the strength of the storm initially was encouraging, and then Daphne cried out, "Dear God, no."
Hermione could feel her own heart sink, wondering what it could all mean. She stopped the car suddenly, and then she used her wand and the tracking spell to determine where Harry could be. She felt a faint tug pulling north. She pulled the vehicle over and stopped on the side of the road.
"Something's wrong," she stated. Hermione was worried enough she decided to try to apparate to Harry's location. She told Daphne, who chided her, explaining that it can't be done. "We have a destination, Harry's position," she continued. "I have to try," she cried.
Daphne nodded, and reached her hand out to Hermione. "Let's do it together then."
They felt the familiar squeezing as if going through a tube and then found themselves in the middle of a field that had been levelled by the storm. They spun around and Daphne noted a golden lump to their left, and she ran towards it. Harry was covered in griffon hide, but he was not moving, appearing deathly still. Hermione knelt down next to him and reached to feel for a pulse. Daphne was too scared to even ask. Hermione looked up with a slight smile, "I feel a faint pulse," she said as tears rolled down her cheeks. Daphne knelt next to him as well. They both had limited healer training and quickly assessed for any obvious damage. They could not find any broken bones or obvious injuries. Searching the area, they found his broom which had been shattered on the fall, and then they noted that in his hand he still tightly held on to a large blue and silver feather.
Daphne turned to Hermione, asking out loud the questions she had been to afraid to voice since they arrived. "What's wrong with him? Why won't he wake up?"
Hermione was becoming increasingly worried. "I can't figure out what happened to him. The griffon hide protected him from the fall, as did the charms we placed on him. I'm not sure what to do next."
Daphne quickly cast the patronus charm she had learned from Harry, and sent a desperate call for help to Tracey and her uncle. Hermione had managed to assess Harry and determined he had no neck injury or internal injuries. She had conjured a pillow for him and a blanket to cover him.
Ten minutes later, Tracey and her uncle had arrived at their location. Daphne was in tears as she and Hermione had explained what happened. Tim disappeared quickly and then returned a minute later with Running Wolf by his side. The shaman looked over the stricken young man, noted the feather still in his grip and then he made a quick assessment. Turning to the group, with a solemn tone he stated that he had no advice to offer, or any explanation for what might have happened.
"We need to get him to a hospital," said Hermione, stating aloud what they all instinctively knew.
"The closest major hospital to here would be in Wichita," stated John Whitecloud.
Tim shook his head, "No, we need a magical hospital." The group looked at him. "We'll need to get him to New Orleans, there is a magical hospital and research facility affiliated with Tulane. I will be right back with a medical team."
Daphne just knelt next to Harry, holding his hand, and Tracey sat behind her, rubbing her shoulders.
Several minutes later Tim arrived with a medical team. Daphne noted the insignia on the white robes of the healers, Saints Cosmos and Damian's Hospital. The team quickly evaluated Harry, had him on a stretcher and apparated away. Daphne was left holding onto the feather with Hermione and Tracey trying to comfort her. Tim was trying to calm them all down.
"He is in the best hands possible," he said. The three witches waited for more reassurance. "The healers will need some time to evaluate his condition, what happened to him, and what needs to be done."
Forty-five minutes later the group was being escorted into the hospital room where Harry was being evaluated. A tall man with light hair stepped forward after reviewing notes on a clipboard. "My name is Healer Richmond," he said as he greeted first Tim and then the young women. "Who is next of kin?" he asked as he looked at them all.
"He has no family," said Hermione, holding back tears, "but Daphne, here, is his girlfriend, they have been a couple for many months."
The healer looked taken aback. Then he turned to Daphne, and he continued with his somber tone. "I am sorry to say, but he is in a very grave situation." Hermione held onto Daphne from behind as she shuddered at the news. "We have concluded all of the tests which we can perform."
"What happened?" cried, Daphne. "What is wrong with him?"
The healer bid them all to take a seat as he tried to explain. Tim quickly conjured chairs for the group of them.
"Physically he is fine, but his previous injuries are incredible," he said with obvious shock at findings they had discovered. "He has countless previous injuries, broken bones, re-grown bones." He looked at Daphne and Hermione. "Can you tell me anything about the scar? Is it true that this is the Harry Potter?"
Hermione looked at Daphne and then answered for her. "He is the Harry Potter that defeated the Dark Lord Voldemort. He received the scar on his forehead when he was just fifteen months old when he was attacked with the killing curse."
A frown deepened on the healer's face. "I take it that was not the only time he was hit with that curse," he said without asking a question. Hermione simply nodded in agreement with the statement.
"A most unusual case," he muttered. Then he looked at the group again. "Our healers and the unspeakables we work with have never seen anything like this ever. He survived at least two castings of the killing curse, that alone is incredible. His body has suffered an amazing amount of physical trauma for his young age, one would think he was what the muggles would call a daredevil. There is evidence that he has been attacked with the cruciatis curse on multiple occasions, and it seems he had some dark magic hidden within his scar that was torn from him at some time, perhaps a couple of years ago."
Daphne held onto Hermione's and Tracey's hands for comfort. "But what does all of this mean."
"What ever happened to him up in Kansas was traumatic on a magical and physical level. The cloak he had on seemed to absorb most of the physical trauma. However, his magical core received an incredible blow. We have never seen anything like this before."
"What do you mean?" asked Hermione seeking clarification. "Does he just have exhaustion of his magical core?"
"At first we thought that might have been the problem, however, his magical core is quite astounding in its capacity, beyond that of the most powerful wizards I have ever examined and worked with," said the healer. "His magical core has been shattered, perhaps more akin to one having their spleen ruptured. If your spleen was ruptured and not healed or removed, then you would bleed to death internally. In the case of a ruptured magical core, his magic will slowly leak out, until it is all gone."
Hermione took a deep breath, and then spoke again. "So, what do you need to do to repair his magical core?"
The healer took a deep breath, and then slowly stated, "There is nothing we have that can heal a rupture to the magical core. I have never seen such an injury. I am consulting with healers throughout the country and even across Europe. No one has seen such an injury."
"But there must be something you can do," cried Daphne. Tracey put her arm around her friend's shoulders.
"Have you ever broken a wand?" he asked. "Repairing a wand with a broken core just does not work. We can repair wands, and to repair the magical core of a wizard or witch, well, that is something that cannot be done."
Hermione asked the healer for Harry's possessions. He raised an eyebrow and handed her a small trunk. "His things have been placed into the trunk and then it was shrunken. Perhaps it should go to his friend," he added.
Hermione returned the trunk to its normal size, opened it up and pulled out Harry's wand and handed it to Daphne. Daphne gave her a puzzled look and the healer had a look of confusion. "So, this is Harry's wand," she said as she looked at her friend, "do you think this wand can heal Harry?"
Hermione shook her head. "When we were hunting the horcruxes," Hermione began to explain and ignored the questioning looks from those around at the mention of the dark items, "I broke this wand of Harry's by mistake."
"But that's impossible," said Daphne, "I have seen him use this wand countless times."
Healer Richmond scoffed, "That can't be done. It would take something with the power of the fabled Elder Wand to repair such a thing, and we don't have time for children's stories and fairy tales. Your friend is dying, there is nothing that we can do."
Hermione glared at the man. "How much time before his core has completely leaked out?"
"With the size of his core, it would be a matter of days, maybe four or five at the most."
"Come Daphne," stated Hermione, "it seems we don't have much time."
AN: I have taken liberties with the myths around thunderbirds. I have also taken some liberties in reference to Native American Indians, I mean no one any harm or disrespect. I hope that you all continue to enjoy the story.
AN: I have received some reviews that are less than positive - which is helpful for keeping the story on track and keeping it readable and I am not against receiving such reviews (and I continue to try to reply to all reviews that are not posted as anonymous). A couple of minor points: there is an important reason for the set up at the end of this chapter, and it will be revealed with the next chapter. For those who like Ron and question my Ron bashing, I am sorry but I find his character abusive to Harry and Hermione in the books. In my opinion, he is lazy, rude, arrogant and as bigoted as Draco Malfoy in the books; and he was not a very faithful friend. Warning: the Weasley bashing in this story is not done - but it is not put in gratuitously...