A/N: Hello friends. This is where I would normally apologize for taking so long, but as you know, earlier this year my life went though a big change that left very little time for creativity. I will not let my stories go unfinished, but it will take time. So please be patient. There are only 3-4 chapters left in this articular story and i hope to have the next chapter sooner rather than later, but we will see how thing progress.
Harry slipped into his suite with a very tired sigh. It was really late and he was trying his best to stay quiet so as not to wake Daphne who was likely fast asleep by now. His forehead was wrinkled in contemplation as he was still trying to work out why he couldn't get that new spell right. It was supposed to surround your enemy in a type of force field that would nearly freeze them in place. He had the wand movement correct and he was pretty certain he had the inflection right, but the spell just wasn't working the way it was supposed to. His instinct to ask Hermione for her insight was tampered down by his desire to keep his friends safe and out of this fight.
He was so lost in his own thoughts that he failed to notice someone sitting on the sofa. That is until she raised her wands and lit the lamps. Harry's wand was in his hand and a spell on his lips, but he calmed himself when he saw Daphne looking back at him. She was dressed in her night clothes, which usually made Harry feel more than mildly interested in doing scandalous things to her. The expression on her face helped to keep those thoughts at bay tonight.
"I thought you'd be asleep." Harry said with a faint smile.
"I should be." Daphne said calmly. "We both should be. We should also be studying for OWLs, and planning our wedding. But we're not, are we? No, instead I'm sitting here all by myself in the middle of the night wondering if you're going to come back tonight or collapse from exhaustion somewhere."
"I'm sorry." Harry said shaking his head. "But it really isn't all that late…."
"Now really isn't the time to try and joke with me Harry." Daphne said warningly. Harry had the good sense to look contrite.
"I know what you've been doing, all locked up in the Room of Requirement, and I know why." Daphne said getting to her feet. "I had a pretty long conversation with Hermione the other day and she helped me figure out why you've been killing yourself with training."
"You talked to Hermione?" Harry looked puzzled. "But I thought you two hated each other."
"Don't try and change the topic." Daphne replied quickly. "Now I'm going to ask you a couple of questions Harry, and I want you to be honest with me."
"Alright." Harry said with a nod, though he felt suddenly nervous about where this conversation was heading.
"Do you trust me?" Daphne asked.
"Yeah, of course I do." Harry said becoming more confused.
"Are you sure?" Daphne pressed. "Don't try and spare my feelings here Harry."
"Daphne, you know I don't trust easily, but I trust you." Harry replied.
"Do you respect me?" She pressed on, looking into his eyes as if looking for any hint of dishonesty.
"Yes." Harry nodded.
"Do you think I'm weak, or that I can't take care of myself?' She asked.
Harry started to think he knew where this was going. He shook his head in the negative. "No, I know you're perfectly capable of taking care of yourself in a fight."
"Do you love me?" She asked after a slight pause. Harry crossed the room and took her by the waist and kissed her very sweetly.
"With everything that I have." He said. Daphne sighed with relief and then looked deep into his eyes.
"Then why are you keeping me at arm's length?" She asked. He started to pull away, but she held him tightly so he couldn't get away. "We're about to be married, and that means that your troubles are my troubles. Whatever the challenge is, we face it together. Understand?"
"I know what you're getting at Daphne, and I love that you want help me. But this is something that I have to do alone. It isn't your fight."
"So you don't understand." Daphne said grimly as she pulled away from him. "Then allow me to explain it in terms you will comprehend."
Harry felt a shiver crawl up his spine as Daphne stared hard at him in a way he hadn't seen since they first met.
"When someone insults you, you usually let it roll off as if it's nothing." Daphne began. Harry nodded for her to continue. "But if someone were to say something bad about Hermione, or Neville, or Weasley, or me… you'd go completely mental and try and make them pay for it, am I right?"
Harry could only nod at this.
"That's how I feel about Voldemort and you." Daphne said and Harry had to physically take a step back as if he'd been punched in the gut. He stared in awe of his wife to be.
"You… you said his name." He said in bewilderment.
"Yes, I did." Daphne confirmed. "I'm not going to let myself be afraid of him or anyone anymore. You're fighting to protect me and all the people you care about. We're fighting to protect you. You've got to get it through that thick head of yours that you aren't alone anymore. I'm right at your side, no matter what happens. And Tracey and Neville and Hermione, we're all going to be there for you, even against Voldemort. And if we're going to die, then I want to die fighting next to you because I love you Harry Potter."
Harry began to smile as he stepped forward and took Daphne's hands in his. Daphne wasn't finished, but her tone did soften.
"This whole war is so much bigger than just you and that bastard." She said, looking at him imploringly. "It about our whole world and everyone in it. Yes, I get that you are at the center of it all, but it also bigger than the two of you."
"I get what you're trying to say." Harry tried but Daphne shook her head.
"No Harry, you don't. If you did, you wouldn't be exhausting yourself locked up in the Room of Requirement all alone. You'd be helping everyone in this school to prepare to fight. You wouldn't be keeping me and Hermione away from training with you. You'd be pushing us to work harder to train with you so when the time comes, we could fight by your side. Instead, she and I have been looking up hexes in the library so we could start learning to fight with you."
"Okay, wait a minute." Harry said waving his hands in front of him. "When did you and Hermione become friends?"
"I don't think we're friends exactly." Daphne replied. "I don't know that we will ever be friends either. But we have come to understand each other better. And we both want to help you. Like I said, we're about to be married, and that means I stand by you, no matter what it is. Because that's what families do."
"I really appreciate that you…" Harry started but Daphne wouldn't let him say more.
"Do you?" Daphne cut across him. "Because it doesn't feel that way to me. It feels like you're trying to keep me in some sort of glass case so I won't get hurt, but you're hurting me. You're hurting us by keeping me at a distance Harry. I get that you're fighting for us, for the life we could have. I love you for that. But I need to help you. I want to help you. I need you to believe in me the way I believe in you."
Harry sighed and came around to sit down. Daphne watched him as he processed what she had said and actually smiled softly when he began to nod.
"You're right." He grimaced. "It makes me sick to my stomach to think about what could happen to you or Hermione or anyone else I care about. And you're right that it isn't about just me here. But the fact of the matter is that this only ends with Voldemort and me. This all ends when one of us dies."
"But unlike him, you're not alone. You have people who will stand beside you because they love you." Daphne pointed out. Harry nodded and reached out to take her hands in his. He looked as if he was contemplating what to say next when he suddenly looked up at her with a rather surprised expression on his handsome face. Daphne was puzzled by his expression, but remained silent, allowing him to work out whatever it was that had just occurred to him.
Harry's mind was working hard as what Daphne had just told him swirled in his mind, bringing forth a memory of a conversation he'd had months ago with Dumbledore.
"You said the prophecy said I would have some sort of power." Harry said looking at his headmaster curiously. "I don't have any special powers."
"Ah." Dumbledore said looking encouraged. "There is a room at the Ministry that remains locked at all times. Inside a mysterious and wondrous magic is studied. I believe that you possess that power within you. And I am prepared to prove to you that you do."
"What power?" Sirius asked on the edge of his seat.
"Put simply…" Dumbledore said looking at Harry pointedly. "Love."
Harry's shoulders sank and he let out a long exasperated breath. "Are you joking?" He asked sounding sour. "Love? What kind of power is that? How am I supposed to kill Voldemort with love? Hug him until he melts?"
Both Dumbledore and Sirius sniggered and Dumbledore shook his head.
"No. I doubt Lord Voldemort would even allow you close enough for a handshake. Though he is now able to touch you without causing himself pain, he still fears you. No, you will fight Voldemort but unlike him, you will not be fighting for yourself. You will be fighting for every person you care for, and that will give you strength." 1.
"What if that's the answer?" Harry whispered to himself.
"What is the answer?" Daphne asked.
"It makes perfect sense but is it open to that sort of interpretation? And how could I be sure that it would happen that way? I mean every time we've faced each other he's isolated me." Harry continued talking to himself while Daphne tried to comprehend his rambling. "We'd have to isolate him, or at least keep others occupied somehow… But if we could, we'd have the numbers, and he couldn't possibly… I mean he's strong, but even he couldn't… it could work."
"Harry what are you on about?" Daphne demanded.
"I can't believe I never thought of it before." Harry said triumphantly and then he shot to his feet, pulling her with him. He pulled her to him, kissing her deeply. "You are bloody brilliant, you are!" Harry said when he broke the kiss, leaving Daphne a bit shaky on her feet.
"Are you ever going to tell me…" She began but Harry took her hand and started for the door.
"We need to see Professor Dumbledore right now!" He declared.
"Harry?!" Daphne nearly shrieked. "Do you have any idea what time it is? I'm not even wearing a dressing gown!"
Harry slipped his robe off and helped Daphne into it before dragging her off to the Headmaster's office. So infectious was his excitement, that she forgot to put anything on her feet.
A few moments later Harry was knocking on the Headmaster's door.
Harry practically burst through the door, still holding Daphne's hand.
"Harry?" Dumbledore asked looking puzzled at the two teens who'd come to see him. "Is something wrong?"
"Harry?" A large man in bright purple robes asked. Harry turned and glanced at the bald man with the thick graying mustache.
"Sir, you said that love was my power. The power that could defeat Voldemort." Harry said rapidly. The large bald man shivered violently while Dumbledore merely nodded.
"I believe that it is, yes." Dumbledore said, urging Harry to continue.
"These past months I've been killing myself training to face him alone because that's what the prophecy said… or at least that's how we took it to mean. But what if we're wrong. What if I'm not meant to face him alone? Maybe it's just got to be me who casts the final spell? What if I'm meant to face him accompanied by the people who love me… who give me strength?"
Dumbledore stared at Harry for a long moment before a small smile began to appear on his ancient face. His eyes widened and Harry thought that twinkle that always appeared in the old man's eyes brightened.
"I think you may be on to something Harry." The Headmaster stated proudly.
"But how would you isolate him?" The heavy bald man asked. "Surely his followers would never allow you to get close enough…"
"Forgive me." Dumbledore shook his head. "Harry. Miss Greengrass, this is my old colleague Horace Slughorn. Horace, this is Harry Potter, and Miss Daphne Greengrass, Harry's Betrothed."
"A true honor to meet you both. I taught your parents Harry, and yours as well Miss Greengrass." Slughorn smiled jovially.
"I've heard of you." Daphne's eyes brightened. "My mother still tells stories about parties you hosted here at Hogwarts.
"So what do you think, Professor?" Harry said to too focused on his idea to really pay attention to Slughorn.
"I fear Horace is correct in that the Death Eaters will try to prevent any of your friends from standing with you, but Voldemort will wish to face you alone. You have embarrassed him far too many times for him to allow anyone but himself from dealing with you. The difficulty will be in making sure that we can get you friends to you when that confrontation happens, but I believe I may have a few ideas that we might explore."
"So you think it's possible?" Harry looked enthusiastically at the old man.
"I do." Dumbledore smiled. "Now, as it is quite late, I must insist that you and Miss Greengrass return to your suite and get some rest. I'm afraid that Horace and I have some important matters to attend to at the moment. I will speak with you again soon on this matter and we shall strive for a solution."
"Thank you Professor." Harry smiled, looking relieved somehow. "It was very nice to meet you sir."
"Perhaps I could visit with you both soon." Slughorn smiled. "I would love to hear how Miss Greengrass' mother and father are, and I might share a tale or two about your own family Mister Potter."
"I think we'd enjoy that sir." Daphne smiled.
The teens bade the men a good evening and left.
"I find it amazing that so many of those subjected to the Ministry's ridiculous law have managed to find a modicum of happiness." Slughorn stated.
"It has been easier for the young." Dumbledore observed. "They are not yet so set in their ways, and are more open to possibilities. Even so, I do hope that they will be the only ones forced into marriage against their wishes. It is the right of every single person to find love with whom they choose. I have spoken to Cornelius on the matter, and he has admitted that he was influenced by, shall we say, less than scrupulous individuals? He has assured me that he will have the law repealed and that he was wrong in pushing it."
"What changed his mind?" Slughorn asked.
"I believe the fall of Azkaban was the biggest factor." Dumbledore claimed. "But also the suspicious deaths of people he trusted played a factor I am sure. Regardless, he has finally accepted the truth, and announced it to the world."
"Painted a rather large target on his back." Slughorn said grimly, shaking slightly as he imagined how many Death Eaters were currently seeking his head.
"He has taken extra security, but if we are able to finish our task, he may not need it any longer." Dumbledore said looking Slughorn in the eye. "Which is why I think we need to get back to our earlier discussion about where Tom Riddle traveled after he left Hogwarts."
Saturday morning saw Hermione Granger waiting for Astoria Greengrass and Joshua Montague outside of Professor Umbridge's office. The three had arranged to leave together at ten am. Hermione had arrived roughly fifteen minutes early with her overnight bag, and her garment bag which held her bridesmaid dress. She was still shocked that Tracey had asked her. They had only become friends this year, and Hermione wasn't sure that they were close enough, but Tracey had insisted. Besides, Neville had become a good friend and Hermione really wanted to be there for him on his wedding day.
Hermione wasn't alone for very long. Montague arrived with a sleepy smile and a friendly "Good Morning."
He leaned against the wall on the other side of Umbridge's door, and Hermione took a moment to observe him.
While she had not really ever spoken to the Slytherin boy herself, she knew that both Harry and Neville had become friendly with him. She also know that it was due to Montague that there had been an amendment to the Ministry's law that allowed those under it to become recognized as adults. But she had no clue as to how close the boys had become and that was why she had been shocked when she learned that Montague would be standing with Neville when he took his vows today.
As she watched him now, she had to admit that he was actually quite good looking. He was taller than she was, with broad shoulders, a chiseled, handsome face, and wavy brown hair. He was dressed in plain beige trousers and a long sleeved blue shirt. His eyes were closed now and he looked ready to fall asleep.
Hermione felt a twinge of jealousy for Pansy Parkinson who was set to marry Montague. He was quite attractive, and from what she had learned through Harry and others, he was incredibly intelligent and motivated. Perhaps if the Legacy Preservation Act had not been created, and they weren't from two feuding houses, she and Joshua might have dated.
That might have been nice. She thought idly.
"And here she is." Montague said breaking Hermione from her thoughts. She turned and found a sleepy looking Astoria grumbling to herself as she approached, dragging both her knapsack and her garment bag behind her.
"Don't think your sister would appreciate you being late." Montague said with a soft smile. Astoria shrugged.
"Lucky for me, she's not the one getting married today." Astoria replied. Montague just chuckled and knocked on Umbridge's office door.
It felt like it took a long time before Umbridge came to the door, only opening it a crack to peer out.
"Yes?" She said in her high falsely sweet voice. "How may I help you?"
"We are attending the Longbottom-Davis wedding." Montague said. "We need to use the floo."
"Wedding guests are not allowed to leave the school until after noon." She said a bit harshly and attempted to close the door.
"We're part of the wedding party." Hermione said quickly.
"Then you should have gone last night." Umbridge argued.
"Only the Maid of Honor and the Best man had permission to leave." Joshua explained, and Hermione could tell he was beginning to become irritated. "As you told them a week ago when they submitted their guest list."
"Then you will have to wait until after noon to go to your friend's wedding. Those are the rules." Umbridge said, now losing the "friendliness" in her tone.
"Professor." Hermione said flatly. "I understand that you are likely very busy at the moment, but you did tell Neville and Tracey that the rest of their wedding party would be able to join them by ten am so that we could see to our duties as part of the wedding. No one else has had any trouble getting all of their wedding parties out the night before the ceremony, and it feels as though you're simply changing the rules to hurt Tracey and Neville."
"I think that will be detention Miss Granger, for speaking ill of a superior. You need to learn respect for your betters." Umbridge said, and Hermione felt a surge of anger wash through her. She'd heard Malfoy say similar things to her over the years and it never failed to get her dander up, though she'd always been able to let it go. Astoria it seemed hadn't learned how to do that.
"You cow!" She shouted. "All she did was point out how unfair you're being to us when you've let other people do what they needed to do! You're playing favorites!"
"And a detention for you.."
"What seems to be the trouble?" Professor Dumbledore asked, seeming to appear out of nowhere. He was walking towards them with a shorter heavy man with a bald head and a very thick mustache.
"I was just telling…" Umbridge began.
"Professor Umbridge seems to be trying to keep us from attending the Longbottom-Davis Wedding today sir." Montague said quickly. We're all part of the wedding party today."
"Then why did you not leave last night?" Dumbledore asked, looking towards Umbridge, who cringed slightly.
"Professor Umbridge told Neville and Tracey that we would not be allowed to join them until today at ten, and now she's telling us we have to wait to go with the other guests." Hermione explained.
"Even though she's let other wedding parties go the night before." Astoria added.
"I see." Dumbledore nodded. The man beside him looked appalled. "Well, I see no reason for this, so off you get. Professor, please allow these three to use your floo to join their friends on this special day. And from now on, I would like to have copies of all guests lists sent to my office so I know which students will be absent and for how long."
"As you say." Umbridge scowled, though she did open her office door wide and allowed the three students through.
"It is poor form to show favoritism of students Professor, and you would be wise in treating all students in the same manner." Dumbledore reminded Umbridge who pasted a false smile on her pouchy face. One by one the three students stepped into the floo and disappeared in a flash of green flame. When Astoria vanished, Dumbledore wished Umbridge a pleasant day and he and Professor Slughorn continued on their walk. Umbridge shut her door and went to her desk, jotting down a few notes before going to the floo herself and throwing in a handful of dust.
"Jotham Baris?" she said. There was a long moment before the head of a man appeared in the flames. He head thick bushy eye brows and a thick mustache. He had small eyes and a very round face.
"Dolores?" He asked in a deep bellowing voice.
"Jotham, I believe we're running out of time. How many are willing to stand with us?"
Hermione stumbled out of the floo but managed to remain on her feet. She had appeared in a rather glorious looking round lobby. Joshua was at the desk speaking to a man dressed like pictures of bellhops from the nineteen forties. She looked around admiring the beauty of the room. There was a row of lifts on her left, and a very grand looking stair case that wrapped around the room. There was a lot of natural light coming in as the ceiling seemed to be glass, and the sunlight bounced of a huge chandelier.
"This place is amazing." Astoria smiled. "Tracey's got good taste."
"This way." Joshua called to them.
The girls followed him up the grand winding staircase to the second floor which held a large ballroom. At the far end was a raised dais with steps leading up to it. There were rows of chairs being set up by people dressed like the man behind the desk down stairs. There were four women in cream colored robes who were arranging flower displays and hanging decorations.
Annabelle Davis, Tracey's new stepmother, and wedding planner appeared at the front of the hall talking to a man and woman as they followed her.
"… with the elven wine. There should be twenty barrels of goblin ale as well." She was saying.
"And what of the cake?" The man asked nervously.
"Henry I told you they will love it. It's a masterpiece, truly." She smiled. Annabelle noticed the three teens and patted the man's shoulder, excusing herself.
"There you are. A little late."
"We had some trouble getting through." Joshua said wryly.
"Yes, I was told there could be some issues last night." Annabelle scowled. "But you're here now and that's what counts. Joshua, the boys are out that door and down the hall third door on the right. Ladies, follow me. We've got to hurry because the photographer will be here in an hour."
Montague waved as he went to join the boys while Hermione and Astoria followed Annabelle through the ballroom, out a side door, up some stairs and down a long hall. The room they entered was rather large with four large sofas around a low table. There was a huge window that overlooked a dense looking forest which had a light mist clinging to the treetops. On the opposite wall was a small buffet table with fruit and tea as well as some chocolate, which Annabelle warned had been laced with a calming draught for the bride.
"Good morning!" Daphne said stepping out of a room across from the entrance. She was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Her hair had been done up in a princess knot with some tendrils of beautiful blonde locks framing her face. Her make-up was done elegantly and really highlighter her natural beauty. "What took you guys so long?"
"Umbridge." Hermione and Astoria said together. Daphne rolled her eyes and poured herself some tea.
"I'll leave you to it." Annabelle smiled. "Does she need anything else?"
"No, the chocolate helped." Daphne grinned. Annabelle let out a sot laugh and left.
"I take it she had a breakdown?" Astoria asked.
"No." Daphne shook her head. "But she finally passed out from lack of oxygen to her brain. She was talking so fast I don't even know what she said. It actually wasn't as funny as I thought it would be."
"Oh they're here." Said a heavyset woman with long brown hair and a lot of makeup. "Which one is first?"
"That's Alana, our stylist for the day." Daphne said. "Why doesn't Tori go first."
"I told you not to call me that!" Astoria snapped, though she did follow the stylist into the next room.
"Did she really pass out?" Hermione asked.
"Oh yeah, at breakfast." Daphne confirmed. "It was really scary. She was talking about how she didn't feel ready and how she was worried about… well everything, and I couldn't get her to stop. I even thought for a moment about using Neville's method."
"You kissed her?" Hermione looked shocked.
"I said I thought about it." Daphne corrected quickly, a slight blush on her cheeks. "I didn't actually do it. Gross."
"Sorry." Hermione smirked.
"Anyway, she kept going and going, and then she just sort of…" Daphne mimed fainting and Hermione gasped.
"She came to and Annabelle brought her some of that chocolate and she's been good since then. Annabelle said the chocolate will disappear about an hour before the ceremony and that the draught will wear off about a half an hour after that, or sooner if she doesn't eat anymore."
"That could make the ceremony interesting." Hermione noted. "Where is the blushing bride?"
"She's in there." Daphne pointed to another door. "She's spending time with her father until the photographer arrives."
"Where are we taking pictures?"
"In the garden." Daphne said, guiding Hermione to the huge window. Daphne pointed down, and Hermione saw what looked like something out of a fantasy book. It was simply beautiful. There was a small wooden bridge over a stream, and a an elegant gazebo not far from the bridge. There were well cared for shrubs and hedges and flowers everywhere. Hermione was somehow reminded of an elven village from the works of Tolkien.
"Wow." She sighed.
"I know." Daphne nodded. "Tracey was over the moon when we were shown last night. Of course Neville loved it. Even Harry seemed pleased.
"How are the plans for your wedding going?" Hermione asked after a long pause. Daphne sighed heavily as she returned to the center of the room and sat down. Hermione followed, sitting on one of the other sofas.
"It was going alright, but I've been having a lot of doubt about things lately." Daphne admitted. "I'm not sure if I'm planning the wedding I want, or the one I'm expected to have."
"Have you talked to Harry about it?" Hermione asked. Daphne shook her head.
"We haven't had time really. Between everything with Tracey's wedding, and his training all of us…" Daphne shrugged.
"How did you get him to change his mind on that?" Hermione asked. Daphne kind of smirked.
"I'm still not exactly sure, but I said something to him that gave him some kind of idea where he needs all of us with him. He's positive that that's how he's going to beat Voldemort."
"At least he's listening to you." Hermione laughed softly. "I could barely get him to finish his homework these past four years."
"Yeah." Daphne nodded. "But we haven't had a chance to talk about the wedding, and I keep thinking about what you and I talked about. And I've been thinking about what I really want as well. I just don't know if any of this is me."
Daphne motioned all around them and Hermione nodded that she understood. Hermione couldn't help but think of how much Daphne Greengrass had changed since she'd become betrothed to Harry.
If Harry and Daphne had married on September first, Hermione had no doubt that their wedding would have been the most lavish and decadent affairs ever.
"So what are you going to do?" Hermione asked. Daphne could only shrug.
"I've still got a few months, but I don't think it's going to be nearly as involved as Tracey's has been." Daphne sighed.
"You're up Hermione!" Astoria shouted as she entered the room. The thirteen year old looked incredible after being attended to by Alana.
"This could take a while." Hermione said, tugging a lock of her bushy hair and giving Daphne a wry smile. Daphne chuckled and watched Hermione go as she thought of her own upcoming wedding and what she wanted while wondering how she could avoid any chance of Voldemort ruining it all.
Things progressed very fast after Hermione finished with Alana the stylist. Astoria, Daphne and Hermione all put on their light peach dresses and the matching high heeled shoes. Tracey emerged from her private room, just radiating beauty in her wedding gown. The four girls spent an nearly two hours taking photos in the garden with Tracey's father and her stepmother before Tracey and her father had to meet with the wizard who would be officiating the wedding. A few minutes later they were all lined up outside the ballroom, as the string quartet began playing music. Astoria, escorted by Joshua Montague led the procession, splitting at the steps of the stage. Hermione, escorted by Neville's uncle Algie, a short, thin man with thinning salt and pepper hair and an unyielding smile followed Astoria and Joshua's example.
Next came Daphne and Harry. The couple made their way to the stage wearing smiles. Both Daphne and Harry were feeling nervous, and Daphne couldn't help but think about how nervous she would feel when it was her wedding. She'd seen how bad Tracey had been earlier that day, and knew her friend was no longer being helped by calming draught. Though Tracey was remarkably holding it together.
Neville, who had escorted his Grandmother into the ballroom before Daphne and the others had been lined up was staring at the entrance of the ballroom waiting impatiently for his first glimpse of his bride. Daphne noted that Harry had whispered something to his friend before taking his place on the steps of the stage.
The music changed and everyone in the ballroom rose as Tracey entered the ballroom, escorted by her father, who was actually teary eyed. Tracey was also misty eyed as she stared at Neville as if there was no one else in the room. Daphne glanced at Harry who caught her eye and gave her a smile that made her own eyes begin to sting.
The officiator began the ceremony and Tracey and Neville, hands joined, stepped up on the stage together.
Through the ceremony Daphne kept her eyes on Harry, her mind already picturing the day when they would be joined. Occasionally she would looked down to the gathered, wonder how many people were here because of Neville and Tracey, and how many were here because Augusta Longbottom was a person of influence in the government and society. Daphne began to think about all the people who really mattered to her, and how many people she felt obligated to send invitations to because of who Harry was. The more she thought about it, the less excited she was for her own special day.
The ceremony ended when Neville took Tracey in his arms and kissed her to great applause and Daphne was torn from her musings as the officiator introduced Neville and Tracey Longbottom.
The next hour was pretty chaotic with pictures and greeting guests. Daphne couldn't help but laugh every time she looked at her best friend. Tracey was beyond happy. She was talking almost non-stop and making everyone laugh. They laughed even harder whenever Neville kissed her to silence her for a few moments.
"They look really happy." Daphne said to Harry while the newly wedded couple took romantic pictures on the bridge.
"I think Hermione would have preferred a different escort." Harry snorted nodding towards his friend and her older escort who was laughing and shouting encouragement to his nephew.
"I meant Tracey and Neville." She said, elbowing her boyfriend playfully.
"I know." Harry claimed, rubbing his ribs. "I thought Neville would have been more nervous about all this, but he was just so calm."
"Did he eat any chocolate?" Daphne asked with a smirk.
"No." Harry replied. "Why?"
"Nothing." Daphne continued to smile.
They continued to watch as their friends finished getting pictures taken and then went into the ballroom, which had now been turned into a banquet room. There was a long table where the wedding party and the parents of the bride and groom along with the new happy couple sat. Daphne and Harry took their seats and waited for the new couple, who was currently with the wedding official and their parents, or in Neville's case, his grandmother.
"I think Tracey would have preferred something smaller." Daphne said softly. "She doesn't even know half the people here."
"Neville wasn't too happy about the extravagance either." Harry said. "I think he would have preferred something much smaller."
"Ours will likely be bigger." Daphne sighed. She chuckled lightly at Harry's puzzled expression.
"Come on Harry, you're... well you." She grinned, softly reaching up to caress his cheek. "Everyone is going to want to be present when we're married. From the Minister of Magic all the way down to the lowest Ministry assistant. Everyone in our world is going to want to be present at the wedding of the Boy-Who-Lived."
"That… I … I never really thought about that." Harry admitted.
"Of course you didn't." Daphne smiled. Because you never think about how famous you are and how much the people of our world look at you. It's one of your most endearing qualities. But it's true. And it's something we have to consider. We don't want to alienate anyone."
"Potential future allies and all that." Harry nodded.
"You've been listening to Joshua." Daphne grinned, and Harry gave a non-committal shrug.
"I get it." Harry sighed, squeezing Daphne's hand encouragingly. But I really don't like the idea of hundreds of people we don't know coming to see us get married just because of who I am."
"You could charge admission." Joshua Montague said over Harry's shoulder. "Sorry, I heard my name."
"It's okay Joshua." Daphne said warmly.
"If you charge admission, you guys wouldn't have to pay for anything. You could literally have anything you want at your wedding. You could get the Weird Sisters to play the reception." Montague noted.
"I guess that's not a bad idea." Harry shrugged.
"I've been thinking." Daphne sighed, and looked deep into Harry's eyes. "And I think I've come up with a better idea."
"What?" Harry asked interestedly.
"I'll tell you later. It's Tracey and Neville's day." Daphne smiled as the new couple was entered the hall and everyone rose and applauded.
The party began in earnest then, and the string quartet that had played at the ceremony played now as Tracey and Neville had their very first dance. Daphne watched her best friend dance with her new husband, squeezing Harry's hand with joy and anticipation of her own first dance at her own wedding. When the song ended, everyone applauded and then other couples came out and joined Tracey and Neville and began dancing. Harry stood up and offered his hand to Daphne who accepted with delight.
They danced for two or three songs before Tracey asked to dance with Harry who could not refuse the bride's request. Daphne danced with Joshua Montague, Neville, and a few other guests, including Neville's Uncle Algie who was just delightful.
Daphne thanked Algie for the dance and turned to look for Harry and was surprised when her father stepped forward with a smile.
"Hello father." Daphne said pleased to see her parent.
"Hello daughter." Cyrus Greengrass smiled proudly. "Would you honor me with a dance?"
"Nothing would make me happier." Daphne said taking her father's hand. "Besides, there's something I'd really like to discuss with you and mother."
"Would this be in regards for your own wedding?" Cyrus asked.
"It does." Daphne said. "I know we've already made preparations, but today I realized that I don't want any of it."
"Really?" Cyrus asked. "I was under the impression that you were making all the final decisions."
"I was." Daphne nodded. "But recently I was made aware of something that I think I always understood. And it led me to think about other things that I really don't want to be part of. I don't want a spectacle."
Cyrus nodded and continued to dance with his daughter. He'd learned that it was best to let Daphne reveal things in her own time. He didn't feel he would have long to wait as she seemed a little eager to discuss her new plans for her wedding, and something also told him that he was not going to be upset by whatever she had in mind.
When the song ended, Daphne urged her father to find her mother and that she would find Harry and then come seek them out. Cyrus agreed and went to find his wife, who as it turned out, was talking to Tracey's father. After a few pleasantries, Cyrus excused himself and Abigail and went to find a quiet table. It wasn't long before Daphne along with Harry joined them.
"It's good to see you Harry." Abigail said, greeting Harry with a hug.
"Thank you." Harry said. "It's good to see you both as well. I didn't realize how close you were with Tracey."
"She's kind of like our third daughter." Cyrus said with a smile looking fondly across the hall where Tracey and Neville were now enjoying a meal together. Tracey was smiling so brightly that she could have easily lit the room. Neville looked truly happy as well, watching his bride more than he was eating.
"What is it you wished to talk to us about?" Cyrus asked, turning to Daphne who took Harry's hand.
"I don't want to wait until August for our wedding." Daphne said quickly. "I don't want a big wedding spectacle. I want to marry Harry in front of my friends and family. I want to be surrounded by the people who matter most to me and Harry. And I want to be married in front of the fountain at home."
Harry looked very surprised at this, but quite pleased at the idea. Cyrus and Abigail were beaming, and Abigail stood and came around the table to hug her daughter tightly.
"Is this what you truly want?" Cyrus asked. "What you both want?"
"To be honest this is the first I've heard of this." Harry said. "But if Daphne wants this, than that's what she should have."
"Who are you thinking of having?" Abigail asked.
"No more than thirty people, if that." Daphne said. "Our family, our friends."
Abigail and Cyrus looked at each other, both beaming with pride.
"And I really like it if we could do it soon." Daphne said.
Everyone looked at Daphne who shrugged. "I've been feeling a lot of pressure and stress with all the arrangements and everything, and I think I'd like to avoid anymore of that. I' have my dress, and I have Harry and that's all I need. Well that, and your blessing."
She said this last part looking at her father who reached across the table to take his firstborn daughter's hands. He squeezed them as he smiled, fighting to keep the tears out of his eyes.
"Not only do you have my blessing Daphne, you have my promise that you and Harry shall be wed in two weeks time at our home. You leave all the arrangements to your mother and I and it will be just as you want it to be." Cyrus said. Daphne got up and came around the table and embraced her father tightly.
"What's going on?" Astoria asked as she came over to her parents and sister.
"You're sister's going to get married." Abigail replied, wiping at her eyes.
"Well duh." Astoria rolled her eyes. "We've known that since September."
Abigail covered her mouth as she giggled while both Cyrus and Daphne laughed out loud. Harry simply shook his head while grinning.
"Why do I feel like I'm missing something here?"
"Sometimes I do miss these halls." Horace Slughorn said reverently as he and Dumbledore walked. It was very late and nearly everyone in the school was asleep. It was the perfect time for them to undertake their mission.
"I can understand the sentiment." Dumbledore smiled softly. There is a great deal of history here, history in which we've both had a hand in."
Slughorn grimaced but Dumbledore shook his head.
"You should not let a single mistake taint what you have done here Horace. Many students owe their successes to you. You helped them on their paths."
"Perhaps." Slughorn shrugged slightly.
They continued to walk in silence along a long corridor that led to fountain courtyard where the Grey Lady could usually be found. It was said the Ravenclaw ghost only ever looked at peace when she was looking at the fountain.
She spoke to them before they even laid eyes upon her.
"I know why you've come Headmaster." Came the soft ethereal voice. She took form in front of them, a tall willowy beauty with long flowing silvery hair and dark haunted eyes, even for a ghost.
"My dear Lady, I beg for your help." Dumbledore said pleadingly.
"Many have asked sought to possess my mother's treasure." The lady said as she looked past the men before her. "Only one was ever charming enough to get me to reveal its location. He found it and then he perverted it. Twisted it into something foul. He befouled my mother's legacy and I am to blame."
"My lady," Slughorn said, choking up a bit. "I am to blame as well. He came to me and sought knowledge of the darkest arts. I fell prey to his charm as well. But we have a chance to right the wrongs were unwillingly a part of."
"Do you know where the Diadem is hidden?" Dumbledore asked. "Tell us so we may undo what Tom Riddle did."
The Grey Lady floated in front of them considering what they were requesting. Slughorn made a sound as if he wished to say more but Dumbledore placed a hand on his wrist and shook his head slightly. Slughorn knew that they said all they could. He only hoped that they had said enough.
"Professor Dumbledore, you have proven many times how trustworthy you could be over the years. I will choose to trust you. I will take you to the Diadem if you consent to let me remain and make sure it is destroyed."
"It would be my honor, dear Lady." Dumbledore said gratefully.
The newly formed trio ventured back into the castle and up to the seventh floor. The Grey Lady stopped in front of the Portrait of Barnabas the Barmy and turned expectantly to the Headmaster, who looked confused.
"My lady?" Dumbledore asked.
"My mother's Diadem rests within the room of hidden objects. There, behind the wall." The Grey Lady said gesturing towards the blank space of wall.
"The room of hidden objects?" Horace asked Dumbledore. "Is there such a place?"
"I have never attempted to delude myself into believing I knew all of Hogwarts secrets." Dumbledore said as he gazed upon the wall. "Though I am reminded of time I was in desperate need for a bathroom and I was presented with a room with a very large collection of chamber pots. I have also heard the house elves talk about getting cleaning supplies from a room they call the Come and Go room."
"Could it be?" Horace asked thoughtfully, almost delightedly.
"Could it be what?" Dumbledore asked.
"The famed Room of Requirement." Slughorn said with glee. "I had heard many of my students talk about a room that could become anything they needed. For some a library with rare books, for others a respite away from their classmates, and sometimes, a room where they could hide things they shouldn't have in their possession."
"A room of hidden things." Dumbledore said sounding relieved and hopeful. How do we get inside?"
Slughorn's smile melted a bit as he turned to face the Headmaster and shrug. The two men turned to the Grey Lady who gave them a look of confusion.
"Could you…" Dumbledore began but the Grey Lady shook her head.
"Were I to go through the wall I would find nothing. It takes a mortal to activate the room." She claimed. Dumbledore puzzled over the conundrum for a few moments, pacing before the blank space of wall until he turned to the other two with a small smile.
"Blinken?" he said aloud. A moment passed and an old, slightly hunched over House Elf appeared and bowed. Like all house elves, he had long, bat like ears that drooped, and big bright brown eyes. He had slightly saggy skin and tufts of white hair in his ears.
"The Headmaster beckons Blinken, head of the House Elves?" the elf said in a gravely high voice.
"Thank you for coming Blinken." Dumbledore said respectfully, bowing in return, and making the elf grimace slightly. "I wonder if you may be of assistance. We are trying to gain access to the Room of Requirement. Would you be able to tell us how we would get inside?
"Of course Headmaster!" Blinken said, straightening a bit, his hands coming together. "Three times you must pass before the wall, thinking hard about what you need, and then the door appears."
"Oh it can't be that simple." Slughorn said disbelievingly.
"We shall see." Dumbledore said, pacing back and forth, his face contorted with concentration. After the third pass, nothing had happened.
"What did you think of?" Slughorn asked.
"The Diadem, or course." Dumbledore said, examining the wall.
"Perhaps that was too specific." Slughorn observed. "The Lady did say it was in the room of hidden objects."
Dumbledore nodded and tried for a second time. His effort was rewarded when a large rather ordinary door appeared. Horace clapped his hands together and smiled triumphantly. Dumbledore opened the door and stepped inside with Slughorn close behind.
"My word." Dumbledore said as he took in the sight before him.
The room was cavernous, even larger than the Great Hall. Everywhere stood heaping piles of junk. Broken wands, cauldrons of rancid potion, furniture that was likely cursed, books, cloaks, empty bottles, bottles full of unknown muck, brooms, and countless items that would have made Argus Filch rip what was left of his hair out.
"I have no words." Slughorn gasped.
"I don't even know where to begin." Dumbledore confessed, stepping forward and nudging a moldy rug with the toe of his boot. It gave a small squeal as if he'd disturbed something that was living inside of it.
The Headmaster turned to the Grey Lady, "My dear Lady, do you know where your mother's Diadem rests?"
"I am chained to it Headmaster." She claimed grimly. "It is this way."
Dumbledore and Slughorn followed the ghost through the detritus of centuries of rule breaking students and likely instructors as well in to the heart of the room. There was an unruly order to the room. Though the piles appeared to be built up at random, there seemed to be pathways that were clear enough for them to walk without fear of disturbing any of the rather precarious looking piles.
They rounded a corner where a large wooden cabinet stood with a grimy seat haphazardly draped over it. They stopped at a broken marble bust of an extremely ugly looking warlock. On its head rested a seemingly simple braided silver band. The braid held a small oval of gold with a raven etched into it. The craftsmanship was beautiful in its simplicity, and the crown was quite exquisite really.
"My word." Slughorn said, stepping forward. Dumbledore snatched his pudgy hand before he could lay his fingers on it.
"Beware Horace." Dumbledore said meaningfully.
Slughorn nodded, feeling his face flush with embarrassment.
"So what do we do now?" Slughorn asked.
"We do what we came to do." Dumbledore said. "We destroy it."
Dumbledore summoned a small cauldron from a nearby pile of junk and gave it a strong cleaning charm.
As he did so, Slughorn found himself entranced by the famed Diadem of Ravenclaw. It was probably the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen, and it was an extremely special historical artifact to boot.
Something that had once belonged to one of the four founders of Hogwarts. Such a shame it had been perverted into a Horcrux.
As he examined the Diadem, Slughorn thought he was hearing a familiar voice talking to him… flattering him. Time itself felt as if it was moving backwards, and he felt as if he was back in his old office surrounded by students that he felt would become powerful, well thought of members of wizarding society.
Sitting across from him was the impossibly handsome young man with those hypnotic eyes, and that hint of a smirk. Tom Riddle.
He'd been such a capable, powerful, intelligent young man. There hadn't been anything that could even hint at what he would one day become.
"How could you have been so blind Professor?" The voice of young Tom Riddle asked arrogantly.
"Dumbledore knew from the day he met me. How did you not see what Dumbledore knew?"
"How could I?' Slughorn asked. "You were so charming, so charismatic…"
"You knew all through my rise what I had done, and you never told anyone. How many lives could have been saved if only you'd told Dumbledore what I had asked about that night? How many families would be alive today? How much blood is on your hands Horace?" the voice continued.
"STOP IT!" Slughorn shouted.
"HORACE!" Dumbledore shouted. "Get a hold of yourself."
"It spoke to me Albus." Slughorn panted, tears stinging his eyes. "It… it knows what's in my heart. The guilt I've carried for so long."
"In a moment Horace, you shall be redeemed." Dumbledore said, turning and aiming his wand at the Diadem and casting a levitation spell.
The Diadem however, remained firmly where it sat.
"Very interesting." Dumbledore sighed. "It appears we will be unable to move it with magic. We must physically move it."
"I shall do it." Slughorn said and before Dumbledore could caution him, the old potions professor and grasped the tiara and lifted it with ease off the bust of the ugly warlock. A second later, Slughorn was howling in great pain, and his hands were blistering and blackening.
"The Cauldron Horace! Put it in the cauldron!" Dumbledore shouted. Slughorn complied quickly and backed away looking at his cursed hands. They looked as if they'd been severely burned, and had begun to rot. Dumbledore thinking quickly cast a stasis spell of his colleague's hands, preventing any further damage until they could finish their task.
The Diadem itself was shaking in the bottom of the caldron, as if it sensed its own end. Dumbledore reached into his robes and withdrew a large bottle of a sickly looking yellow fluid.
"What is that?" Slughorn asked.
"Basilisk venom." Dumbledore said as he carefully unstoppered the bottle and poured the contents into the cauldron. He backed away quickly as he was unsure what was about to happen.
For several moments, nothing happened. Only a sound like a soda releasing its carbonation could be heard. And then, without warning, the cauldron exploded sending venom laced shrapnel in all directions. Dumbledore managed to conjure a large shield to protect himself. Shards of sizzling black metal fell to the floor, smoking and smelling of burnt flesh.
"You did it." The Grey Lady stated, and Dumbledore looked up at the ghost of Ravenclaw and found her fading.
"My tether has been severed and I may now pass on. Thank you Headmaster. Thank you." Helena Ravenclaw said over and over as she faded from this plane and began her journey on the next great adventure.
"Goodbye, dear Lady. May you at last find peace." Dumbledore smiled.
Dumbledore turned and found Horace on the floor, his fat hand pressed against his neck, blood seeping through his fingers.
"Horace?" Dumbledore gasped, sprinting to his old friend's side. When he got close, he saw veins standing out black on Slughorn's face and neck. The basilisk's venom was working its way into Slughorn's body. Dumbledore knew just how fast the ancient serpent king's poison could work. Even if he placed his old friend into a stasis charm and levitated him to the hospital wing it would be too late. The venom was just that powerful. There was only one hope now.
"Fawkes!" Dumbledore called out. "Fawkes please hurry!"
Slughorn's lips were turning blue and he was struggling for breathe. Tears ran from his eyes that had turned red from broken capillaries. He reached out frantically and grasped Dumbledore's hand.
"Al-bus…" He choked out, spitting out the words in great pain. "for…give…"
You must try to remain calm Horace. Please." Dumbledore said, fighting back his own fear as his friend began to spasm and all color drained from his face. More and more veins began to blacken and Dumbledore called again for his faithful familiar.
The phoenix appeared in a flash of flame and landed softly on Slughorn's belly. The creature bent and Dumbledore reached out to move Slughorn's hand. A spurt of blood shot up and Dumbledore noted how cold his colleague's hand felt. Slughorn wasn't shaking anymore and his breathing had become deeply shallow.
Fawkes bent low and a single tear drop fell into Slughorn's wound. Then the brilliant red bird began to sing one of the saddest songs Dumbledore had ever heard from his familiar. It was too late. Horace Slughorn was no longer breathing. His eyes were opened wide in fright. His arms had gone limp and there was a thick white froth at the corner of his mouth.
Dumbledore stared down at his friend wondering how it had happened. He had been certain that he'd conjured a large enough shield. Yet, if Slughorn had moved aside in order to see what was happening, he could have gotten around the shield. On top if that, he'd already been weakened by whatever curse he'd suffered when he'd handled the diadem.
Dumbledore slowly and reverently reached out and shut Slughorn's eyes as Fawkes continued to sing its haunting lullaby.