Whispers in the Night

Disclaimer: I'm just playing in JKR's sandbox and make no money from this. Please enjoy the story and feel free to leave comments and critiques, it's the only way to get better at this. I'm writing this story for my own enjoyment.

Content Warning: This story will contain mentions of abuse and scenes containing but not limited to swearing, violence, smut and other Adult Content.

Author's Note: 1. This is so much later than anticipated but I finally got this finished. The reason this took so long is three-fold: vacation visiting family was extended beyond initial expectations, I'm trying to outline as much as I can and back it up well ahead of time so no more tragedies occur, and starting another project which will be posted shortly after this. Honestly, if I lose all of my data again, you'll be getting one-shot clips of events I have in mind for the future of this story and nothing else. I have through Christmas of 5th year outlined in detail, and certain scenes meant for 6th/7th year planned out because heavens above do I want to get to the fun stuff, then just broad strokes for the rest of my timeline. Hopefully I'll be updating once a month at the least for a while.

2. Thank you for your patience and support in this. I do intend to finish this story one way or another and the notes/reviews I've gotten have been great encouragement... mostly.

3. I am branching out a little with my fanfiction. I'm starting another monthly-ish updated story for Avengers that will be Romanogers based. If you're interested, it's called Dreams and Wonders and you will be able find it in the Avengers Movie section, or in my profile.

4. Some sections are longer than others based simply on the inspiration I had for each, and the content I could provide for each. It doesn't mean I think any less of certain characters, just that I couldn't provide more without making the chapter feel clunky and even more forced.

5. As always, I'm happy to hear from you! Let me know what you think!

Chapter Fifty-Four: A Hardworking House

Diagon Alley seemed to have the same hustle and bustle as it ever had, even before the "Voldemort Doppleganger" was dropped in the news and the azkaban breakout. Sure there were more aurors and LEO's out than ever, but it made people feel safe rather than making them feel threatened. Crime had gone down, commerce had gone up, and people were, if anything, cautiously optimistic.

Susan was glad to be home, especially considering what she was heading for now, but she dearly missed France. Or rather, she missed what France had meant and done for her and her loves. The intimacy, the closeness, she yearned to return to france but knew that they were needed here in Britain, at least for the time being. Besides, she wasn't about to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime no matter how many intimate moments the House of Wolves promised her.

The muted stumping of Alastor's fake leg brought her back to the moment and reminded her that she wasn't alone. In fact, no-one had been left alone for long these days. Whether it was adults or just friends, everyone had come closer together, to strengthen the ties that bound them, and no doubt protect what they feared to lose. Alastor's presence, however, was full of comfort and support, and not just safety and protection. He was here as her adopted uncle, and wanted to be with her in Amelia's stead since she couldn't make it for this momentous occasion.

The tinkle of a bell chimed over her head as Susan entered Ollivander's wand shop for the second time in her life. Like never before she felt the magic in the room, felt the eddies of the numerous wands flow throughout the shelves as they called out to be given a partner, a friend with which to grow. Susan had become much more attuned to her magic over the course of the year, a part of her training to be a wand-maker, and to feel those wands call out was itself a life-altering feeling.

"There's so many," Susan whispered to Alastor as she went to a shelf and gently caressed the cases. "So many tethers of magic, so many wands seeking, yearning to be held, to be given a partner they know they could change the world with… It's beautiful."

"Aye, I can see it lass," Alastor said as he surveyed the room slowly with his enchanted eye. "And I feel it too. I always liked this shop, just to see if I can tell what kind of wands I might be facing, what kind of magic might be out there waiting for me, and waiting to be discovered."

"I didn't take you for a poet, uncle Alastor," Susan teased him as she caressed the case of another wand.

"I appreciate beauty lass, that's not a crime," Alastor grumbled back at her. "But if you tell anyone I'm going soft, I'll stick all of these wands up your arse and burn them just to see what happens."

"Not a pleasant experience, I assure you," a peaceful, too-calm voice spoke from the door behind the counter. Ollivander stood there with an easy grin on his face, his cool eyes bored into both of them with a calculating, observant gaze that would be hard to rival anywhere. "And no, I will not regale the story of how that incident came to happen. Perhaps when you're older, Miss Bones… Much older."

"Master Ollivander," Susan said with a bow of her head.

"Oh come now dear, no need to bow before me," the man said with a wave of his hand as he rounded the counter. "You have yet to fully become my apprentice, and I daresay you have already succeeded in impressing me with your sensory skills. Perchance could you identify one for me to truly test yourself?"

Susan paused for a moment and glanced to Alastor, who for once closed his left eye and gave her a wink. She would receive no help, even if Alastor could still see out of that eye with the lid closed. Instead, Susan turned back to the shelves and extended her hand, let a tendril of magic coil about it and draw her to the case before her. It was not a wand she was entirely compatible with, but also not one she would be incapable of using should the need arise. It was, for all intents and purposes, neutral toward her.

"Ash and unicorn hair…" Susan spoke carefully as she reached out to try and learn more of the wand. "Fourteen-no, thirteen and three-quarter inches. Possibly… springy?"

"You have well-developed senses my dear, quite well developed indeed," Ollivander complimented her as she moved to the case and revealed a wand exactly as she had discerned through magic. "It is always best to touch the wand and test it to be absolutely sure, but you are not wrong, Miss Bones. Now, instead of testing your knowledge of my wands, let us test those you yourself have come to make."

"Of course, sir." Susan moved over to the counter with the wizened wizard at her side and Alastor just behind her. With only a single breath of hesitation Susan reached into her bag and pulled out the chest that Ollivander had given her when this topic first came up about nine or ten months ago. When she opened it, she had on display no less than ten wands.

Ollivander's eyebrows rose in surprise at the sight of so many, but a grin escaped him nevertheless, despite its brevity as it vanished when he reached within to examine each wand on its own. His grasp was gentle, even when he seemingly bent them to the point of nearly breaking before he moved onto the next. He gave nothing away as he examined each and every single wand, and only at the last did he show greater interest.

"Ah, I see now I was not meant to procure a donation from her, but you, one of her eventual loves, was worthy of such," Ollivander mused softly as he took the last wand almost intimately in his hands. "Veela hair and holly, nine and a half inches, rigid… a commonality among the wands your group shares," stated the old man with a smile. "Meant to protect those you love with fierce passion… And soothe the hearts of those you love so dearly. Yes, this is a lover's wand, but also meant for the saboteur, to lull an enemy into complacency before delivering the finishing blow."

"Much like Fleur, in some ways," Susan joked lightly. Alastor chuckled, as did Ollivander before he turned to her completely as he returned the wand to her.

"I am sorely tempted to ask for the wand to be in my possession, but I can guess she asked it never to leave the care of either of your families?" At Susan's nod, Ollivander sighed and snapped his fingers. "A missed opportunity then," he offered dramatically before he turned somewhat grave. "The one that bears maple and sphinx-mane, nine and a half inches with a rigid quality… Miss Davis, how is she?"

"She is… getting by, thank you for asking after her," Susan answered gently as she slipped the wand back into the chest.

"She faces a riddle that vexes her, one that her wand is responding to because it is curious, and looks to solve the puzzles challenged to it. She will find her way, but be sure to offer her the support she needs," the wand-maker advised before he turned to the other wands. "Ahh! Dogwood and unicorn tail hair! A particularly happy wand, social and outgoing, willing to aid others and bring light to the darkness. A fine specimen for a first try if I do say so myself, Miss Bones."

"You would know which one I made first," Susan said pleasantly, though she resisted a roll of her eyes.

"Of course, each wand grew with you as you created them, and though your first wand may not be as elegant as the veela hair and holly, nor this particularly handsome hippogriff and fir wand based, no doubt, on Alastor's own twelve inch and rigid wand, a wand meant for a warrior and a survivor, this dogwood wand is a fine specimen and an equal in power to any of them," Ollivander explained cheerfully.

He examined the others; a silver-lime and centaur tail hair meant for a seer, a dragon and cherry, one she was particularly proud of given the volatility and power of such a pair, and the thestral with yew, a wand meant for someone that has known death, or would know it well in one form or another. From one to the next he examined them before he paused. "Rowan and phoenix… from Fawkes no less… I did not realize he was donating any more."

"He visited me while I was in the infirmary after a particularly rough duel," Susan explained quickly. "He gave me a few feathers but I haven't dared use any others besides this one as a test of my skill."

"Indeed, but I find your skill particularly adequate to have accomplished such. In fact, I believe I am ready to formally teach you on weekends when you can be made available at Hogwarts," the wandmaker stated with a smile. "That is of course, if you accept my formal offer of apprenticeship, Miss Bones?"

"Of course!" the redhead piped up quickly, an unbound smile across her lips as she stared at the wand-maker. "It would be an honor to learn from you for as much time as you can give me!"

"Indeed, and so you shall. We will meet during the remainder of the summer a few times before you leave, and on select weekends I will attend to your training at Hogwarts." As soon as the words left his mouth, Ollivander found himself in an excited hug from the young woman and fondly returned it before he held her at arms length and took her hands in his. "Now, know that every wand-maker develops their own style, and that will be true of you as well. I shall provide my knowledge of basic and advanced concepts and theory, while you yourself take on this independent study of the art. Do you accept me as your Master, Susan Amelia Bones?"

"I accept the opportunity to be your Apprentice, Gerrick Ollivander," Susan said as their magic met and swirled about them, coursed through their veins as brief glow surrounded their clasped hands. With a wide smile the man set his head to hers before he backed away and began to prepare cases for each of the wands she had provided him.

"These, with your permission, will be held and sold here within my shop, and you will receive profits for their sale," Ollivander informed her aas h began to provide cases and labels for each..

"I would be honored, sir!" Susan beamed back at him, overwhelmed with the feeling of their Master-Apprentice bond as she was with his offer to sell her wands in his shop.

Just then, the bell above the door toned again and a young family entered. Ollivander smiled and welcomed them as he finished categorizing the wands on the counter before he rounded it and approached them. "First time at Hogwarts?"

"We're both squibs from old families," the woman said with a smile. "Our children both have magic, however, so we're very excited to see them get their wands."

"Of course! The first bonding between wand and witch or wizard is always a spectacular sight to see," the man said before he looked to the thirteen year old girl before him. "And what might your name be, my dear?"

"Agatha Selwyn," she spoke proudly, but even more excitably. "I can't wait to meet other witches and wizards besides my family. And Hogwarts! Oh I simply can't believe I'm actually going!"

"Indeed! Always a happy occasion," Ollivander assured her. "Now let me just get your measurements." The old man gave Susan a queer and curious look as the measurements floated above Agatha's head. He gave a clipped nod before he made his way behind the counter and instead of reaching for the shelf, reached for one of the wands Susan had just given him. "How about… this one?"

Susan held in a gasp as the man offered the younger girl the dogwood and unicorn wand. Her nerves were afire with the desire for affirmation that her craft was sufficient to give someone a lifelong partner of magic, and the anxiety of her wand being rejected. But as the wand met Agatha's hand, sparks popped out of the wand with loud bangs and fireworks exploded all about her as a wind corralled it all in a spiral around the young woman. The Selwyn family was clapping happily as Alastor set a had on Susan's shoulder and gave her a wink of support, pride clearly in his features that filled the young woman with even greater confidence than before as she witnessed her first ever wand find its partner on the very first try.

"Wow!" Agatha exclaimed as her family hugged her and a grin split her face clearly. "Magic! Real magic! I actually did it! Oh I can't wait to tell everyone!" The girl gave pause as she turned back to Ollivander. "What kind is it?"

"That, I believe, I shall leave to my apprentice to answer," Ollivander began proudly s he moved back to Susan's side and set a hand gently on her shoulder. "Miss Bones is, after all, that wand's creator."

The family looked stunned but no less pleased as Susan slowly stepped forward, a smile on her face as she wiped a small tear of joy away with a casual flick of her finger. "Dogwood and unicorn hair, eleven inches even and rather bendy," Susan told the young woman. "Keep it with you always, be loyal, and it shall never turn away from you."

Agatha's beaming smile grew to almost impossible proportions before she practically tackled Susan in a hug spouting "thank you" left and right before she backed away and really looked at her. "Oh my gosh! You're Susan Bones! I'm going to be going to school with you! And you're Ollivander's apprentice?! Oh that's so cool! What can you tell me about Hogwarts? What's it like? Will I make a lot of friends there?!"

"Agatha dear, let the poor girl breath," her father said with a smile as he shook Susan's hands. "Smethwick Selwyn, Squib line heir of the Selwyn family. Sorry about her."

"Not at all sir, I was just as excited about Hogwarts at her age," Susan said with a grin before she turned to Agatha. "I think, Agatha, it's best that you learn for yourself. But if you ever need anything, don't be afraid to ask me."

"Of course! You're the best person ever! You've given me a true chance at magic!" Agatha practically squealed. "Is there anything else I should get?"

"Well a holster and polish wouldn't go amiss," Susan teased her gently as she gestured to Ollivander, who had an array of each ready for inspection by the family. Not long later, the family left and Ollivander was handing Susan most of the galleons from the wand's sale. She smiled up at him, and he at her before her gaze turned to Alastor. Susan tilted her head in curiosity and before she could stop herself, a question escaped her. "What about Staffs, Master Ollivander?"

"Garrick, please," the wand-maker told her, to which she nodded. "As for staffs, they are an advanced study that we will broach when I feel you have a better grasp of the art of wand making… However, knowing that curiosity is often a cause for advancement itself, I will give you three blocks to carve out as you wish as practice for the staffs you will focus on later, under my supervision."

Susan nodded gratefully and once they had gathered everything, Susan left with her chest full of new books and blocks of wood, as well as the wands Ollivander allowed her to keep, namely the phoenix feather and veela hair. As they left the shop, Alastor held her shoulder and whispered in her ear. "I'm proud of you, lass, and so is Amelia. The world is yours for the taking and I can't wait to see what you make for it to handle. We'll drink to celebrate when we get home."

Susan beamed at the old gentleman she considered her uncle and leaned into his side as briefly and casually as he would allow in public. "Thank you, Alastor. That means so much coming from you... Now, last one home has to tell Auntie you let me drink!"

***Greengrass Imports and Exports Warehouse***

Daphne's quiet steps were hardly ever noticed in the warehouse, whether due to her stealth or just the general noise level, one could never be certain, but it was rare that anyone ever knew she was approaching them if she didn't want them to know. Now, however, was one such time she let those she wanted to speak to be made aware of her presence, at least, when she got in range. At a table in the middle of the warehouse stood her father, Cyrus Greengrass, and Salvador Zabini himself.

What she knew of their meeting was that they were negotiating trade ines and options for delivery. Salvador wasn't exactly the cleanest wizard in the world, but nobody could really touch him because they never had proof of his actions. Her father was much the same, slippery and cunning, and he had raised her with similar goals in mind. Of course, her goals had evolved beyond his own as of late, yet she still made her father proud with what plans he knew she had for the future.

"Deliveries are getting riskier with each passing year. They're checking almost everything we bring in for expanded spaces full of the goods you're providing us," Salvador spoke with a fairly sicilian accent. "We either need alternative methods of transportation, or to move operations somewhere they don't expect."

"Front businesses are all well and good, but they still provide an option for a delivery check," Cyrus told the Magical Mafia Godfather, as Daphne liked to label him. "And having that many businesses under your name without actually having the business could provide issues."

"So why not focus on one new business, and expand the front of the other," Daphne chimed in from the side. Salvador looked intrigued by the idea, and Cyrus, though concerned, nodded for his daughter to continue as he gestured her toward the table. The faith he showed in her wasn't surprising, but his willingness to have her involved in… sketchy business practices for his most valued customer certainly did. With a subtle nod in return, Daphne approached the pair and looked at the map.

"If you're looking for another business, especially outside Italy to keep the goods separated, and offer further options to discreetly transport between business stations, why not begin a reserve menagerie for all sorts of magical creatures?" Daphne provided smoothly. She watched both men before she looked over the magical map of france and marked a place not too far off from where she suspected the Flamel fortress to exist. "A menagerie here would provide adequate climate for most creatures, and you can always set up warded environments for them so the investment not only protects the creatures, but allows them to breed and thrive in such conditions. That will allow you to generate all sorts of revenue from magical creature sources, along with allowing you to transport a wider variety of items and objects to the reserve, both for use there and letting it act as a waystation before other goods are supplied elsewhere."

The pair of men considered the idea before a glimmer entered Cyrus' eyes. Daphne had always been sweet on the animals at Greengrass court, and though she hadn't taken magical creatures, he knew she had taken the exam at the end of this past year so she could join the fifth year class for OWL studies, which she had passed with flying colors. Aside from that, he knew she could generate supplies from such creatures not only for herself, but for those around her that might require such resources. He was proud of her, not only for manipulating this situation to her advantage, but for thinking years ahead, as he too recognize where she had marked out a place for this business.

"I must say, young Daphne, I am intrigued by your astute observations and your acumen for this kind of work," Salvador complimented her sweetly. He examined the map again, having suspicions of his own before he nodded after a few calculations between secure warehouses in England, Germany, Spain and Italy. "I am impressed. I think, perhaps, this endeavor would be most agreeable, although it will take some time to set up, and more than a little start up gold."

"So you use the profits from the fist front to set this up legally, and using that legal extension of both that business and the beginning of this menagerie, you still gain the profits from other business practices," Daphne explained easily. "As for methods of delivery, I do have one that I don't think either of you have thought of."

The men looked to each-other, curious and a little put out that she may have thought of something they hadn't. At a gesture, her father bade her continue. Without hesitation, Daphne reached down her blouse and into her bra only to procure a tome that most definitely should not have fit inside the cup of her brassiere. As soon as the tome was set on the table, she reached down the other side and procured not only a bag lightly filled with coin, but a bottle of wine from Cyrus' personal rack collection. Her father began to laugh and Salvador chuckled mischievously.

"A woman's wiles!" Cyrus cried out amongst his laughter before he wiped a joyful tear from his cheek. "You would imagine such a solution, hiding goods in your unmentionables." Her father swiped the wine and examined the label before he shook his head. "I should have never taught you how to break into any room in the manor. This wine should never have left my personal stores."

"I had hoped to share that with everyone at Bones Manor this evening when we meet them for dinner," Daphne said innocently, her doe eyes big and pleading, though neither man bought it.

"Fine, fine, you win, Darling," Cyrus said fondly as he kissed her head proudly. She smiled up at him just as confidently and he pat her back gently. "Just don't tell your mother it was your idea. I'll say I had you retrieve it for me."

"Thank you daddy," Daphne said as she kissed his cheek.

"A woman's wiles indeed," Salvador chimed in with amusement at the Greengrass pair. "She has you wrapped around her finger."

"My entire family does," Cyrus half-joked to the italian as the three of them laughed. He turned his gaze back to Daphne. "So, undetectable expansion charm in a sewed in pocket, i'm guessing?"

"Where the foam insert can go, yes, and it still provides decent support, though it can get uncomfortable if too much is placed inside," Daphne said a little cautiously, trying not to let on how she had discovered that. Both men, however, could imagine how she learned that but let it lie where it was. With that out of the way, Daphne continued. "No man really wants to search a woman's clothes unless he's a pervert, and if you keep a woman handling the goods, well, you can use that to your advantage. I certainly have with moving goods around at Hogwarts last minute."

"Indeed, we will definitely consider such a potent option for transport," Cyrus said more formally as he watched her. "Are you expanding your business there soon?"

"I have to," Daphne spoke plainly as she took out a map of Hogwarts from her bra and laid it out. "I've got contacts in each of the houses and now in the infirmary as well, which extends to certain staff members. I can't make all of the drops or payment points myself if I'm to keep business smooth and steady… But I have a meeting in regards to that with two of my favorite redheads after I'm done here."

Cyrus' eyes widened briefly. "The Carrows?" Daphne nodded solemnly. Cyrus understood bringing the Carrows into the fold, especially so because they had gotten their revenge and would need a way to support themselves until they could completely claim the family vaults, which had locked out everything but trust funds until one of the Carrow Twins took their OWLs. "A fine choice, you can trust them."

"I have since we met as kids, and even more the past few years, we all stick together, even more now," Daphne stated calmly. Salvador nodded sadly, having heard the news himself from Blaise and Isabella. Daphne, however, smiled at them both. "Well, now that I've given my ideas and gotten approval, I've got that meeting to attend. You'll help me with the lists later, daddy?"

"Of course dear," he answered fondly as he kissed her head once again. "Now go on, expand your piece of the family business and give those girls a chance at something more."

Daphne swiftly picked up the wine, coin purse and tome and returned them to her enchanted bra as both men rolled their eyes in amusement. She winked playfully at them which caused her father to groan before she made her way to the floo. In no time Daphne had made her way to Bones Manor and up the stairs toward the family rooms. Tracey had taken the room across from Susan, and the Carrows had taken the ones at the closest end of the hall across from one another. Everyone had offered to let them room together but Flora and Hestia were adamant about not sharing a room, simply for the fact it helped them differentiate that much more, even if they loved being identical in so many other ways.

Daphne didn't even have to knock on their doors, however, as Flora's was open and she and Hestia were trying on clothes. They did that often, mostly just to fluster Harry and tease Tracey and Susan with his reaction. It was all in good fun and they all understood the reason behind it, to relax and grow close and just know that they supported others and were supported in turn. Both Carrows were also bi, though Hestia had her eyes on one of the Patil twins, and Flora wasn't sure who she wanted to be with as of yet.

So to see them trying on bikinis, since they were only weeks old considering their entire wardrobes had been rebuilt by the collective Bones family, was a sight to see. Daphne sighed leisurely as she leaned in the doorway with a slight smirk on her lips. "It really is a shame you two don't share."

"You want a sea of redheads around you, hmm?" Hestia teased her lightly.

"I think it's more she has that whole twin fantasy going on in her head," Flora added with an equally devilish smirk as she purposefully bounced in her swimsuit to draw eyes to her curvy frame.

"Mmm twin fantasies, I'll have to ask Tonks if she's ok indulging those," Daphne hummed with a twinkle in her eye until all three of them snickered. Daphne moved to each and hugged them close before she settled on the bed and gave opinions on their wardrobes for a while. Eventually the pair of twins were in blouses and jeans, as was the norm for most female residents of Bones manor. "So, I have a proposition for the both of you."

Flora raised a curious eyebrow at that. "We're not joining the House of Wolves, at least, not as lovers. If I ever need a sperm donor for a kid, I'll just outright ask Harry or someone else."

Hestia smacked her sister's arm and Daphne rolled her eyes. They had all joked about them joining now and then just for kicks and giggles, but Daphne wasn't interested in teasing right now. The idea of Harry being their sperm donor, however, wasn't something Daphne had ever considered, and so frowned lightly but wiped it away quickly. "That's not what I was going to ask, but thanks for letting me know you'd ask him for that."

"No problem, he's about the only bloke I trust besides the other boys, and I'm not sure the other girls would be comfortable with it," Flora spoke somewhat seriously before she shook those thoughts aside. "Anyway, enough line continuation ideas; what was it you wanted to ask?"

"Well, I wanted to offer you both a business opportunity," Daphne spoke gently as she leaned forward to look them both in the eye. "I want you both to work for me."

"But we're not in other houses, having us as contacts wouldn't work as well as with someone else," Hestia pointed out easily.

"Not as contacts, but as fellow smugglers and marketeers, even enforcers if it came down to it," Daphne explained quickly. Before either could chime in, she continued. "I can't be in multiple places at once, and if things pan out at the Ministry like my dad and I think they are, I'll need to be more careful with my movements. Having three of us moving around collecting payments, making deals and deliveries will be a lot safer than if I'm doing it myself. That and it gives us more options for enforcement. Lead our errant buyers where we need them in some way, strike quickly and remind them who they're dealing with. If we're on the quick and sly, they'll never know what hit them."

"Division of labor with enforcement opportunities hmm? Any other benefits?" Flora wondered aloud for herself and her sister.

"Access to the goods at cost for yourselves, and a fair profit from any sales, like commissions," the brunette informed the pair of redheads casually. "I'd say, twenty percent commission on sale, and no buffing the prices up to get more out of it unless we absolutely have to because of rarity or risk."

The pair of twins paused thoughtfully before Hestia threw up a quick privacy ward around them. Daphne respected their privacy and instead looked over the bikini's and modeled them over her own clothes. She would need to pick a few more out for herself again soon. She liked having a variety around. As she set the third set down, the pair of twins had lowered their ward.

"Well? What's the verdict?"

"We'll do it, Daph," Hestia agreed kindly. "And don't think we don't know why you're doing this… But thank you for approaching us as possible employees rather than friends in need of aid."

"And we do appreciate what you're doing, both as friends and as business partners," Flora continued more gently than her usual brusk attitude. "So, when do we start?"

Daphne grinned and pulled out the map and tome, the latter of which was actually hollow and contained a ledger for past transactions in her business at Hogwarts. "Right now."

***Ministry of Magic - Auror Department, Training Room***

For neither the first nor last time did Dora dive behind a barricade in a facsimile of Diagon Alley, or rather, what had once been a decent facsimile of Diagon Alley. She had been called in for training and only when she got there did she realize she was the only one, outside of the Director herself. Amelia had smiled charmingly at her, offered her a chance for this to be her evaluation and they had agreed. So far Dora thought she hadn't done so bad. She had evacuated all of the ghostly civilians without incident covered their escape routes, and now was fighting Amelia while trying to limit collateral damage to her surroundings, something Amelia had no problem making her life hell with.

If Dora had to guess, maybe two shops were still standing completely, and the rest may as well have lost all of their stock by that point; stupid fucking exploding curses. She peeked around the edge of the building, watching Amelia brazenly stalk toward her. Amelia wasn't the director for nothing, which meant the woman had something up her sleeve that Dora had yet to deal with just yet. So, the metamorph made a choice. She had already saved the lives of the alley's "inhabitants" so it was time to go all out, regardless if the buildings stayed intact at this point.

"Bombarda, Confringo, Flama Lancea!"

The triple threat combination was met with the quick, almost effortless spellwork of the greatest witch of her age. Amelia weaved the magic she had prepared earlier and watched as the spells slipped through the shield runes she had put in place to wreak more havoc on the alley by reflecting the spells around. With another flick of her wand, the duel between mentor and protege began.

Tonks and Amelia danced around one another's spells, shields flaring every half second to deflect, reflect, or squash spells as they came near. Debris became a weapon, dust became their cloaks, and magic their tool to wield all of it. Dora tossed an entire brick wall at Amelia only to hurl a series of exploding hexes after it to cause a shower of debris and fire. Amelia, however, quickly transformed the explosions into her own shield from the debris before sending it back in a wave of earth that splattered against another explosion, only to be followed by a wave of water that threw Dora off of her feet and carried her away.

"Son of a bitch!" Dora spat as she coughed up a mouthful of rancid water and nearly gagged.

She was about to retaliate, vaporize the entire lot before her legs twitched, and that's when the pain began. Lightning coursed across her limbs, not enough to kill her, but enough that the current pulsed across her entire body, set her to shaking in place, unable to move as the current stunned and paralyzed her, causing her to seize up until her wand was torn from her, and the water brought up around her, freezing her in place… But not before Dora had wandlessly blasted a wave of water toward Amelia and flash-boiled it with the final spell she cast from her wand.

A scream of shock and pain answered the last ditch attack but Dora knew it was already over. A gust of wind coursed through the area and washed the rancid smelling steam and water away. For being a facsimile of the alley, it sure had a realistic flair to it… which unfortunately connected to the Ministry of Magic's sewage lines at one point. Tonks gagged on the smell again and nearly lost her lunch. In fact, she probably would lose it, later, in the bathroom, right before she scrubbed herself raw with sponges and cleaning charms to get that crud off of every micrometer of her.

"Ten minutes, zero casualties, five civilian injuries, extensive property damage, and you are apprehended by the suspect," Amelia called out as she fixed the surroundings with an errant flick of her and Dora's wands and set the world more and more to right with each passing second. Amelia approached her protege with a stern look and examined her up and down before actually smiling. "I'm impressed, Shacklebolt had one civilian casualty against me not a week ago in a similar situation, and John Dawlish had five."

"Thanks for the compliment boss," Dora gasped as she took a breath of clean air and revelled just for a moment in her mentor's pride in her. "But my tits hurt from that bludgeoner I took keeping the civvies safe and my nips are about to poke through this ice if you don't get me out."

"Of course your language and decorum could always improve, but I'll just let your mother handle that," Amelia teased her. With another flick of her wand the ice vanished and a warming charm hit Dora that felt like she'd just walked onto a Carribean beach. "You've done well, Auror Tonks, and I'm very proud of how much you have advanced in the past year. Auror First Class might be within your reach sooner than expected."

"Thank you… Madame Director," Dora replied almost breathlessly. She was stunned, completely and utterly stunned by such a proclamation. She had advanced from Junior Auror to Auror Second Class quickly, namely due to Moody's training, Amelia's mentorship, and her string of successes all throughout training and her career. But to have her promotion hinted at being within reach? It was a big leap. Auror first class was one step below Senior Aurors and Squad Captains, a position Tonks desperately wanted to reach. "I'll do my best."

"Good, but you still need to bring your full force to bear. When the civilians were gone, you should have opened up completely instead of worrying about collateral damage," Amelia informed her. Instantly Dora went to refute that before the Director held up an imperial command to halt. "Don't get me wrong, if I had been solely focused on attacking you, then you should have tried to avoid collateral damage, but my target obviously was the alley, and I had already torn it asunder, caused the terror and panic that I needed to. Leaving the alley a wreck was bound to happen, and although defending it is admirable, it is only truly manageable in a group, even against a single assailant casting exploding curses like children go through Bertie Bott's Beans.

"So next time, when faced with someone who is trying to cause collateral damage to the surroundings, who is trying to destabilize the area when you're on your own, limit their actions by taking them out as quickly as possible," Amelia schooled the young woman before her. She paused briefly to let those assertions sink into Dora's mind before she nodded in approval. "When you're in a team, containment is possible and the logical course of action. But when faced with destruction for the sheer terror it inspires when on your own, put the threat down as quickly as possible."

"Yes ma'am, understood."

Dora's reply was so reminiscent of the Academy lesson where they had first met that Amelia couldn't help but smile, and neither could Dora. In a brief moment of levity, Amelia hugged the young woman and handed her back her wand before she crinkled her nose. "Showers, both of us, now."

"Ohhh thank Merlin!"

The words had barely left Dora's mouth before she turned and practically ran for the exit of the room. Amelia followed her at a swift, but professionally paced walk as she quietly chuckled to herself. When Amelia reached the locker rooms, Dora already had both of their toiletries ready and was stripping down to her skivvies and promptly tossing her clothes into an industry level wash bin that House Elves would handle. Thankfully, it was mandatory for all auror personal to keep at least one extra set of clothes in the building, so both of them could wash up without worry.

As the pair stepped in the showers, Amelia cast the strongest privacy wards she knew on their stalls and gave the young auror a significant look.

"You know, boss, the last time you looked at me like that, we were digging up dirt on Harry's relatives to get him free of them," Dora noted casually as she began to thoroughly scrub herself clean. "What's the look for this time?"

"The coming years, especially with what we know is out there," Amelia said vaguely. Despite privacy wards, there was always a chance someone found a way to listen in with some new magic or other. "But also some developments in our world that need to be watched closely."

Tonks nodded slowly, taking the information seriously as she made a detective's wall in her head of what she would probably be facing sooner rather than later. "Something you need me to keep an eye on then… Like what?"

"Like the advancements of this educational reform the Ministry is all over," Amelia began quietly. It was an important job, one she really should set one of her most loyal of senior or master auror's on, but Tonks could get the job done, and was far more loyal than any other of her aurors. If Amelia chose to leave and become a PI and Hit Witch, she had no doubt Dora would be hot on her heels. "The school governors are asking for auror assistance in supervising the school, keeping it safe given recent happenings. There will not be as large a contingent as last year. In fact, you will be there alone, with only the recently expanded Hogsmeade MLE Branch for support. Because of that, I want you to keep on eye on the reforms going on, and blow the whistle should anything seem suspect"

"Right, but I don't know why you would pick me. I'm not part of the educational reform crowd, nor a part of the Department of Magical Education," Tonks spoke slowly. Her brain worked over the issue before she reached a conclusion. "You want me to protect the kids more than you want legal oversight of the goings on at Hogwarts, right?"

"As sharp as ever, Dora," Amelia spoke fondly before she firmed up back into the Director persona. "I do in fact, support the Educational Reform movement. It's not that we have fallen behind the rest of the world, but that things could still improve, as all of the schools involved in the Triwizard Tournament saw. Our youth have the potential for so much more, and the people have seen it. Harry has asked me to support the bill as his proxy for Potter and Black, and I'm also supporting it as Lady Bones. We both have certain… suspicions of who may be involved and concerns about how it might turn out, but that is why we want legal oversight.

"You will be there as an auror to protect the students with twice weekly patrols by local LEOs, and Griselda Marchbanks will be there as part of the Department of Magical Education representation as more certain oversight of what is going on with this current reform movement…" Amelia explained before she sighed. The water felt good, and she was more clean by the moment, but this entire reform business was a bag of cats getting ready to tear itself open. "The Minister, however, pushed for his Senior Undersecretary to chair the effort of the educational reform. Griselda is most displeased with that decision, but does have final say on all reform suggestions and requests put forward by the undersecretary given that she is on the Wizarding Examinations Authority that oversees and conducts both OWL's and NEWT's… And the fact that she's on the Board of Governors as well as the Head of the DME itself also lends her greater power, but we should still be watchful."

"Amy, if you want me to spy on the bitch, you don't even have to ask." Tonks smiled as Amelia rolled her eyes, though the subtle smirk upon the Head of the DMLE's lips was more than enough for Dora to know she had hit the nail on the head. "I'll keep an eye on her, interfere where I can and make sure the students stay out of her way if at all possible. My House of Wolves won't go anywhere near the froggy cunt if I have a say in it."

Amelia snorted openly before she cleared her throat and assumed a more professional demeanor once again. "Language, Dora. But thank you. Just try not to cause too much of a ruckus. Griselda can handle herself and the school politically, but Umbridge is a time bomb of cunning and spitefulness. I don't trust that woman as far as I can banish her in any situation."

"Reading you loud and clear, Madame Director," Tonks finished with a drawl that made Amelia roll her eyes and smile. The pair got on to discussing what they'd like for dinner, battle tactics, and improvements to reaction times throughout the country. Tonks had some ideas that were worth experimenting with, and Amelia's insight proved an invaluable asset to the young auror. Their bond as mentor and protege was growing, and they would take the world by storm if worse came to worst.

***Hogwarts - Trophy Room***

Returning to the halls of Hogwarts early was not something Tracey Davis had ever even thought she would do. However, there was a good reason behind it. Bill Weasley had been tasked by the Board of Governors, with recommendations from Amelia and Gringotts, to sweep the school for lingering curses, especially the one upon the Defense Against the Dark Arts teaching position. Alastor had managed to provide Hogwarts with the highest DADA OWL and NEWT scores than even Professor Lupin, which itself meant he had brought about the Highest scores in the past 50 years, and the board wanted the man to continue in the position if at all possible. Thus, Bill was dispatched to the school to wipe out any curses he found with extreme prejudice.

Plus it will snub that snakey bastard something fierce to have his fucking curse broken, Tracey thought vindictively.

"So, why exactly did you have me tag along, Bill?" Tracey wondered aloud, voicing the thought that had been on her mind since being asked to go with him.

"You're a good conversationalist and I might get bored on my sweeps."

Tracey rolled her eyes at the semi-sarcastic remark. "So glad to know I'm here to entertain you. I could be practicing magic and preparing for school or… Dolohov, right now while you've brought me here. So why am I wasting my valuable time coming with you again?"

"Because you'll learn more from me than a book," Bill informed her as he continued scanning the halls and every room they passed. "That is, if you want to."

Tracey almost missed a step as she heard such a reply. She had learned plenty from him and Amelia in the past few weeks, but this sounded more like- "Are you making me an offer?"

"More like I'm putting you through an entrance exam," Bill countered quickly as he glanced over to her. "Now, if you want to pass, I suggest less talk and more scanning."

The blonde nodded slowly, somewhat stunned at the turn of events before she eagerly took her wand out. She paused in uncertainty, her mind filled with various spells before she looked to Bill. "What exactly am I looking for?"

"You're learning already," he chimed with a wry grin as he waved his wand more intricately for a moment before he nodded. "We're looking for wards, curses, and intent or credential based spells. It might have the makings of a ritual, but a ward is the most likely."

"And if it's a ward it would have to have an anchor, as would most other options," Tracey surmised.

Bill nodded in approval and before he could say another word, she began casting in silence. The curse breaker watched her detection and diagnostic spells, noting the ones she used before he offered her a grin of approval and kept up his own casting. When they finished the current floor, Tracey gently pulled on his arm to get his attention.

"Shouldn't we focus more on the DADA offices, classrooms and quarters of the past fifty years?" It was a question worth asking, and Tracey quickly followed up with another. "What about a place nobody is sure exists? Or a place where everything is set just so that wouldn't be disturbed or investigated all that much?"

Bill chuckled lightly at the thought and examined both suggestions mentally. It was entirely possible, especially the latter two. Of course, Alastor would have noticed a curse in his office, room and class last year, so those places were out of the question, but there were always other places the DADA position could have been held.

"We'll make a proper curse breaker out of you yet," Bill spoke proudly as he pat her shoulder. "Where do you suggest we start, blondie?"

Tracey glowed lightly with praise from Bill. In the past few weeks, she had taken to him as an older brother, maybe even a surrogate… No, not yet, maybe not ever, she thought to herself. Everything that happened was still too fresh. In any case, his support and that of Amelia and the others had meant a lot. Now that Bill was supporting her with possible career opportunities, he might become a mentor, or dare she think it, a master for her apprenticeship.

"Classes, offices, and rooms can change from year to year, so to have something anchored there wouldn't be as effective unless the ward covered the entire school, which is possible considering what Tom had time to do," Tracey surmised as she thought over the possibilities once again. "Plus, those would be the first places anybody like the professors or aurors would look, and probably have looked given what happened to some of the previous DADA professors. So my guess is somewhere static but central, or supposedly hidden."

"Meaning?" Bill prompted, both curious and proud of her conclusions.

"The Trophy Room, or the Room of Requirement would be my best guesses." Tracey tilted her head in thought before she nodded. "Yeah, I would start there then spread my focus out."

"Then let's get going," Bill said as he trudged once more through the halls toward the Trophy Room. "You may just be on to something. If you're right, you just might impress me, blondie."

"It's Tracey," the blonde playfully snapped back as she sent a hex wide over his shoulder. Bill laughed in response, and the blonde couldn't contain her grin of joy, anticipation and excitement. "But I look forward to proving I'm better than you, since I'll be responsible for finding it."

"Oh-ho! Ambitious are we? Well, you are a slytherin so I suppose that comes with the territory," Bill joked to Tracey as she smirked proudly right back at him. "Don't get too cocky though. Just because you find it doesn't mean you'll be able to solve and break it, or be able to even get to it. You have a long, long way to go until you reach my level, Tracey."

"Says the most successful Weasley boy in three generations," the blonde fired back at him with a wink. "You should've been a slytherin."

"I value the bravery to be oneself no matter what others think far too much for the adoption of everything self-preserving that can happen in Slytherin," Bill commented with a light shrug.

"Sounds like advice you give out regularly," Tracey noted gently.

"To those that need it at least, and it's been valuable to them and me in equal measure."

A smile was all the answer Tracey offered as they made their way down a few more stairs then through a few more corridors until they reached the trophy room. Curse Breaker and potential student both began their spells and found a few. Preservation, dust prevention, dust attraction, rust removal, cleaning, on an on the residual signatures went but nothing came up that could be harmful. Although Tracey now knew why the damn place was dusted so often by anyone who had detention with Filch. Obviously someone didn't like who some of the trophies belonged to, but didn't want to get caught so instead applied it in an area instead of a single trophy.

"Should we take those off?" Tracey noted casually about the dust collectors.

"Nah, let the rest of the school suffer as they try to figure out why it always gets so dusty," Bill jibed with a chuckle before he looked to her. "Strike one, Davis. Let's hope your next suggestion works out."

"It will, or I'll eat my own knickers." Bill stopped dead in his tracks as he looked at the blonde, who after a single glance back, broke out into gales of laughter.

"I don't even want to know how that of all things came to your mind," Bill waved off any explanation swiftly and sternly as he followed the blonde out.

Tracey continued to laugh for about half of the trip to the seventh floor corridor. Once there, she assumed a think posture, her right elbow cradled in her left hand as she twirled her wand about in her hand in thought.

"Something wrong?" Bill asked in concern.

"The destination," Tracey stated with some certainty. "There's no way to know which room the bastard may have put it in and there could be dozens, hundreds, or thousands of rooms inside this masterful work of magic. Hell, he could have left the thing in a password protected room that had to be specifically asked for, or even thought of in parseltongue for all we know."

"I'm not so sure." Tracey looked over to Bill as the man pondered the question himself. "Tom may be a parseltongue but if he wanted to modify, activate or access whatever curse he put on the DADA Professorship position he would have to make it hidden but quickly accessible, not just to him but possibly a follower if he couldn't make it."

"So we can eliminate one language request, but that doesn't mean there's not a password," tracey argued easily. "He could always tell them the exact phrase, like fidelius."

"True but he wouldn't use that, or at least he never has in the past," Bill explained smoothly as he continued to probe the possibilities in his mind's eye. "He would hide something important in either an obscure place only he knew about, in plain sight like his followers do. Change the appearance, alter perceptions, sure, all of that is possible, but in plain sight works for him as well as any invisibility or stealth he used in the past. I know that because I've read the Gringotts' files on Death Eater safe house raids from the previous war."

"So, needle in a haystack?" Tracey wondered briefly.

"Sounds as good a place to start as any."

"Then I've got just the place." Tracey began to pace in front of the stretch of wall. Back and forth she walked three times, her thoughts shaping the room she wanted until the door appeared before them. With a quick push, Tracey grinned at the sight before them. "Welcome to the Room of Hidden Things. Daphne and I discovered it when Harry first showed us this place. We wanted to see its capabilities in creating rooms and see what could happen. This place was a treasure trove of antiques and hidden goods. Although the money was all gone, no doubt taken by the elves once they were certain nobody was coming back for it to fill Hogwarts' vaults."

"Not bad, Davis, not bad at all," Bill complimented as he entered the room.

Both of the curse breakers began to scan the area using area of effect spells rather than specific target detection to pinpoint any possible magic. Unfortunately this room, much like the trophy room, was drenched in all kinds of magic. Charmed objects, experimental magic, and all sorts of magical objects littered the room near to bursting, and it was easily twice the size of the Great Hall. As they neared a cabinet that Filch had moved out to make all of Hogwarts more hospitable, Tracey felt something was off, as if her diagnostics weren't showing her everything she needed to know. So instead, she searched with her eyes and peered closely at the area she felt the distraction was coming from.

"Hey Bill! Something feels wrong over here," Tracey said as she waved her wand in the direction of the vanishing cabinet. "I get the feeling I'm close to identifying something but it doesn't register. Kinda like my own perception magic but different. More like… obscuration, or absence."

"Advanced notice-me-not variety spellwork," Bill concluded, to which Tracey nodded at his astute observation. The Curse Breaker cast a number of spells before his eyes fell on an object not seen in centuries, supposedly. His eyes widened in disbelief before he began scanning again and paused to gasp in surprise. "The Diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw… and that bastard had the nerve to put a curse on it that harmed the knowledge of countless hundreds or thousands! Irony loving asshole."

"You mean the Diadem that would make you the smartest, wisest, cleverest son of a bitch in the whole world, that Diadem?" Bill nodded to Tracey's question and she cursed a little more as she shook her head, before a feral grin lit up her features. "To be honest, I'd be as dastardly and irreverent if it meant achieving a goal if I absolutely had to. It seems his sense of vindictive irony has played out in his favor after all. So how do we undo it?"

Bill sighed in concern and weariness. "That would be the tough part." The redheaded male took a few steps forward an examined it more closely with his magically enhanced senses, glowing earring and all, along with his diagnostics, before he let out a cautious breath. "We have to break his enchanted curse ward without harming the diadem, a process that will be dangerous no matter which way you look at it. You see it's a misfortune enchantment, and from what I can gather, it could potentially transfer to anyone that so much as casts a spell on it. Thankfully it hasn't activated on either of us yet, so it must be looking out for direct interference. You get this magic locked solely on you instead of bound to a ward scheme attached to the intent of a position and, well, you've got the exact opposite of Felix Felicis hounding you for Merlin only knows how long… until either you die of old age, or it kills you is my guess, likely the latter rather than the prior."

"So let Dumbledore handle it, he could use some misfortune," Tracey snipped lightly. Bill tossed a light scowl her way. "What? I'm not fond of him for his prior decisions even before I got to know Harry and excuse me for disliking his second chances policy because it let so many Death Eaters go free when they pleaded Imperius Defense and he knew otherwise. Besides, he is one of the most magically knowledgeable people in the world. He should be able to handle something like this."

"Not your problem, so let someone else handle it, huh?" Bill asked her with a bit of snark in his tone.

"Better someone else's life than mine, and I'd like Dolohov's head bloody on a silver platter before I kick the bucket, thank you very much," Tracey spoke more seriously back at him. "Besides, our lives are a bit more important than the stagnating defensive education policies of the last fifty years."

"How moral of you," Bill sassed her quite sarcastically as he kept his eyes trained on the diadem. "You're not entirely wrong, but we do have a job to do… Or at least, I do. If you don't want to help, that's your business. You can walk away right now, Tracey, no harm no foul. But if you helped me, we have a better shot destroying the enchantment and keeping it contained while we do so rather than me doing it alone."

Tracey sighed. She knew a guilt trip when she heard one and while not nearly as subtle or overt as others she had heard, it was effective enough. Plus, she could tell when an offer was being made. If she helped him she had an in for an apprenticeship, and if not, well, she would probably miss that opportunity.

I am not throwing away my shot.

"Do you want me on containment, or destruction?"

Bill grinned as he looked over his shoulder at her. "That's my girl. I'm guessing you're more familiar with containment rather than deconstruction right?"

"I can take down wards and dissolve enchantments, but I haven't studied that and the theory behind it nearly as much as I have warding in general, including containment," Tracey informed him.

"Alright, then here's what we're going to do." Bill went on to explain the entire process, including teaching her the precise containment ward she needed to know and practicing it on a few random items he created to test her skills. Once certain she could do it, Bill let her set up the containment ward and tested it around the item before he began his intrusion and began his favorite part of Curse Breaking.

Instantly the Diadem glowed and power burst forth, lashing out in sickly tendrils that sought out the magic of both intruder and container alike. Tracey, however, wasn't about to let the bastard's enchantment anywhere near herself or bill, and she would ensure it was less than nothingness itself before she gave up. She reinforced her containment ward in layers, each more potent than the last as she put pressure on the spell to keep it anchored until Bill was ready to sever all of its tethers completely.

Bill, meanwhile, slipped his spells in through every avenue he could. Subtle dispelling charms, to brute force battering ram spells whipped the enchantment around as he weaved one form of spell into the other, combining and twisting them into an enchantment of his own that would sever every connection the enchantment had to the diadem before nullifying it in every sense of the word: complete and utter destruction. Seconds passed, then minutes, and soon both had beads of sweat pouring down their faces until finally the spell screeched out of existence in a flash of sickly orange and the Diadem of Ravenclaw glowed with an inner brilliance they had never seen before.

Bill had just turned to smile at the beaming Tracey before they both heard a voice.

"You've cleansed it!" The curse breaker and the hopeful young woman spun around completely to see the Grey Lady floating before them. "I swore I would never speak of the Diadem or any other artifact of Hogwarts to another soul after that boy stole my secret from me, and now you have cleansed his accursed taint from it that harmed the knowledge of so many. Thank you so much, my mother's legacy remains intact!"

"So this really is the Diadem of Ravenclaw?" Tracey spoke with wonder as she examined the beautiful jewelry before her.

"Yes, but it will not solve your issues, nor that of the world," the Grey Lady spoke solemnly. "It might enhance your knowledge, grant you insight, but it cannot foresee all ends for you or others. It should remain hidden so that the temptation of its power does not corrupt another soul… Not while that monstrous man still lives."

"Riddle?" The Grey Lady nodded and Tracey's shoulder fell. She bit her lip to resist the temptation of just one touch, one crowning. Even though Helena had warned her, she could still try, couldn't she? Even so, she knew Bill would stop her, and Helena would likely turn every ghost against her if she tried. "Well, there's always the vaults at Gringotts."

"And the Headmaster's Collection," Bill noted. Tracey answered him with a scowl before the redhead clarified himself. "As in the School Headmaster's Collection, not Dumbledore's. It's essentially a gringotts vault hidden somewhere inside the Headmaster's office only accessible to the Headmaster and the Deputy after signing a contract with their magic. What is placed inside by either of them cannot be taken out by anyone except them."

"Yeah, just what we need, Dumbledore thinking he really does know everything with that thing on his head," Tracey snarked before she sighed in defeat at the look on Bill's face. "Fine, it's not my place to decide anyways… but Flitwick deserves to see this, and he's meeting Fleur today."

"I agree," the Grey Lady spoke once more to the surprise of both. "The Half Goblin Champion truly embodies the cleverness, imagination and wit of my mother's House. I would be honored to witness him accept the Diadem into his care before giving it to the Headmaster."

"It's settled then," Bill said as he conjured a velvet pillow and eased the Diadem onto it carefully. "Let's get this to Flitwick and then inform the Headmaster of what we've accomplished on orders from the Board of Governors."

Tracey remained where she stood as Bill began to walk away. After a few steps, the redhead gave pause and looked at her. "Well, you coming blondie or do I have to find a different apprentice out there somewhere who's not nearly as much fun to have around as you are?"

Tracey's face lit up with excitement and joy. So he had accepted her! She practically leaped at him in a running tackle to hug him only to hold him tight with a smile on her face. "Thank you, Bill, I won't let you down."

Bill smiled happily at her as he wrapped one arm around her and returned the hug. "Never doubted you for a moment."

The blonde smiled up at him one more time before they separated, and as they did, she struck him right on the ass with a stinging hex. "And my name is Tracey!"

Despite the sting on his ass, Bill laughed along with Tracey as the pair of them made their way out of the room as Master and Apprentice to hand over their hard-won gains to those that deserved to witness their find.

***Hogwarts - Flitwick's Office***

"Small Professor Flitwick will see you now!"

The bubbly voice of a house elf broke Fleur's quiet contemplation. She had been thinking over the past few weeks, months even, how drastically her life had changed, and how it still could. So much had happened, so much had changed around and in her that it was almost hard to believe. Even now, change was on the horizon, and it was no doubt possibly one of the biggest changes of her entire life.

"Thank you, I'll be right in."

The elf vanished with a nod and a small pop while Fleur stod and prepared herself. She wore her dueling robes, for how else should she dress when meeting such a champion as Filius Flitwick in regards to the amazing offer he had made her near the end of last year. If she were a lesser woman her nerves might have gotten the better of her, but they didn't. Fleur was proud of herself, of her accomplishments and skills, confident in them to the point she had fought Death Eaters twice now and survived. She knew she had a long way to go, but she knew herself, knew her skills, and knew who could best help her develop as the Champion she intended to continue being.

She knocked politely on the door, and after the brief "enter" she received the veela proceeded within. Flitwick sat on a raised chair behind a large desk, though he seemed larger than life in such a place. All around the room his exploits were on display, both in the Dueling Arena, and the enchantment circles. Fleur couldn't help but admire everything she saw, to take it in, to breathe in the magic of this place even as she witnessed one of the ultimate tests of enchanting: Gubraithian Fire.

The brazier behind the goblin was filled with a single small shrub wreathed in the pale blue flames of glory eternal personified in infinite fire. It billowed lightly behind the Charms Master and Dueling Champion as i it were an extension of his aura, and the young woman truly saw the greatness of the small man before her. He really was larger than life, in his own way, and so few saw him as such.

"Do you like it that way?" Fleur thought aloud as she observed the half-goblin before her. "Having everyone underestimate you, think you a simple teacher and a retired champion, when you know better?"

An almost feral grin slipped across the wise wizards face as he waved his hand and a tea set skipped across a rainbow to land on the table and begin serving them. "It is a comfort I am loath to part with, admittedly. I do like being perceived as a kindly old champion and teacher, always eager to help and explore new tricks and spells of magic."

He gestured for her to sit and Fleur did so at his invitation as she returned his feral grin with one of almost equal intensity as the small man continued. "But I dare not hide it from you, not when I know you see through it as easily as I see through your own little mask, Miss Delacour. It is all about perception, in some cases, and I rather like making sure my enemies never know what hit them, just like you."

"Is that why you chose me?" Fleur asked as she tested the tea that skittered over to her. It was good, just this side of the sweetness she enjoyed in her tea. "Because we are alike?"

"I chose you because I see greatness," Flitwick answered her seriously before he sipped his own tea and continued. "I see ambition and cleverness and emotion all about you. I witness such passion in you that it is hard to look away, for fear I might miss a work of art made by your mind and magic. Fleur Delacour, I see passion and pride, both in you and that which I can have in being your Master."

The man paused for a moment, letting the gravitas sink in before he smirked. "But also, yes."

Fleur smirked right back at him and the pair chuckled with one another at the amusing admission. The pair idly sipped their tea for a moment until Fleur broke the silence. "Does it also have something to do with our heritage?"

"A superficial reason on the surface, but it is one I did consider," the Ravenclaw Head of House answered calmly. "I like proving the world wrong, even if I also like fooling it."

"I see that Goblin viciousness coming out," Fleur teased him with a wink. Flitwick rolled his eyes, but the wry grin on his lips spoke of savage satisfaction in such a compliment from her. "But you're not wrong about me, Master Flitwick. I am full of fire and passion, full of ambition and imagination. I want so much more out of the world, out of my life and the lives I share my own with, that I cannot help but pursue it as fire does the air it consumes to fuel itself.

"But I would never dare rely on others for validation, not when I can find it in my own mind and heart, and be the stronger for it," Fleur continued as she gazed into the eyes of the Champion before her. "I welcomed the validation and love that came from finally becoming a true part of my House of Wolves, but it did not control my actions. I am my own, as is my mind, and I hope you can not only accept that, but thrive in teaching me because of it."

Flitwick offered a sincere grin as his head bobbed, slow and shallow at first, but progressively more certain and vibrant as she finished her statement. In the quiet that followed, he nodded fervently in response to her as he leaned forward in his chair.

"Yes, Miss Delacour, I will thrive in teaching a student whose passionate heart and mind burn so brightly as yours," Flitwick spoke so softly she might have missed it had she lost focus for even but a moment. "And you shall thrive and learn to burn all the brighter if you truly accept me and my teachings."

Fleur's lips parted into a radiant smile. She glowed with pleasure and excitement, happy to have come to this moment of acceptance. Even so, such radiance dimmed as she took a breath and set her tea down.

"I'm sorry for taking so long coming to a decision about your offer, and I am glad you still have it open to me." Flitwick nodded, but said no more as Fleur spoke and continued with her line of thought. "I asked for time to decide because I knew it would be hard to leave my home and family behind, to leave Beauxbatons behind me to come here and accept your tutelage. But my family is coming with me, and with them I have my home still; and a piece of my life at Beauxbatons that refuses to go anywhere but with me is following. I have nothing to hold me back, and I would have come even if they tried to.

"So yes, Master Flitwick, I accept your offer of Apprenticeship, and look forward to our partnership."

Flitwick leaned back in his seat all the while she spoke, and when she finally gave her acceptance, the half-goblin leaned forward. He extended his hand toward her before he slipped his wand from his sleeve holster and held it out to her. When she eased her hand around the other end, she offered her own to him and he held it with respect and reverence.

"I accept."

Magic pulsed about the pair and roared in their ears as Master and Apprentice were bound together, just as so many before them had been. When the magic that flowed around them swirled about their arms and flashed around their grasped wands and hands, Fleur knew it was done and smiled brightly.

"So that's what it feels like," Fleur said slightly breathlessly as she and Flitwick eased away from on another with matching smiles. "I have wondered what the Master-Apprentice Bond would feel like for some time."

"No doubt others in your House of Wolves have experienced it before, or are feeling it now, and have refused to speak of it," Flitwick guessed with ease, to which Fleur nodded in assent. "It is a very personal thing, and while similar in many ways it can also be different from bonding to bonding. I know Harry and Poppy have a very strong bond, and Tonks and Alastor as well, or perhaps it has shifted to Amelia, as teachings could be passed down one generation to the next in their case. Even so, it is a personal thing, and you nurture each-other's knowledge and magic, your experiences, as closely as family do. I am as honored as you, Miss Delacour."

"Please, Professor, call me Fleur," the young woman replied with an easy smile. "You have earned that right."

"And you have earned the right to call me Filius." The pair shared a smile and a nod before they both eased back in their seats. "So, during the school year you will attend extra lessons with me as we both have time. It may change day to day, but at least one day every weekend we shall meet and we will arrange our meetings via patronus messages. Next summer you will enter the dueling circuit as my apprentice to face your opponents and learn as you grow as my student and a duelist both. Your enchanting we shall work on extensively when we have time, and you will study the various theories and styles on your own quite often while I advise you, for it is an art and science both, and not all of it can be taught, but it must be learned from within. I will accommodate your classes and other learning as best any master could in this situation, but I expect nothing less but your best, Fleur."

"Of course, Filius, and you will have it," she assured him with ease. A thought came to mind, and she could not help but grin. "And what happens when we both end up in the infirmary after a rough day of master-apprentice bonding?"

"Oh the usual, we go and get badgered by the local healer and her tetchy, raven-haired apprentice who makes the most delectable cookies as get well gifts. We shall annoy the local healers while we make them proud of us all the same," Filius chattered on with a laugh and a smile as he leaned back in his seat more; a laugh Fleur reciprocated with equal gaiety. "Oh it will be an interesting year, my dear young lady."

Fleur nodded before she heard a knock on the door and raised an eyebrow. "It seems it might get more interesting yet. Shall I?"

"No, no, remain seated," Filius assured her as he leaned back in his seat, waved his wand and opened the door. "William? And young Miss Davis? What can I… ahh! Of course, the Board finally decided to deal with the curse. Do you need my aid?"

"Nor sir, in fact we have already finished," Bill informed them as he and Tracey stepped into the room. The two blondes shared a smile, though Tracey's hid something and fleur was curious as to what, especially since she could not see whatever it was Bill had hidden behind his back.

"Indeed? Then to what do I owe this visit?"

"The return of a relic of your House, sir." Flitwick look confused for a moment before bill moved his hand from behind his back. In it was a medium velvet pillow and atop it a conjured silk covered, embroidered skillfully with the Ravenclaw House Crest. "As Head of House Ravenclaw, it is only right that we present this to you, now that it has been recovered and the taint that afflicted it has been cleansed."

Tracey took a pinch of silk and slowly lifted it off of the pillow to unveil something neither duelist and enchanter ever thought they would see. Flitwick shot up in his seat, stood upon his platform in awed reverence as he gazed upon the most powerful and precious artifact of Rowena Ravenclaw, and perhaps one of the most amazing enchanted items in all existence.

"The Lost Diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw," Filius barely breathed as he accepted the pillow from Bill. "Oh dear me! It is more beautiful than I ever thought it would be! And the enchantments! So subtle and yet glorious and gorgeous! Why I never thought my eyes would witness the recovery of such a work of art…" The Head of House Ravenclaw looked to the pair of them. "My House and I cannot thank you enough for retrieving this from the unknown places it has been. I… I do not even know what to say except thank you and that I cannot wait to study such an elegant marvel as this."

"And I too would love to see you study and learn from my mother's work, Master Flitwick," the Grey Lady softly sang as she floated into the room. "But I fear others learning of its discovery, and wish it protected. I at least wanted to honor you with knowing it exists, with seeing it with your own eyes, before we seal it safely away in the Collection."

"But my Lady, I could protect it…"

"Filius…" Helena soothed him with a sighing smile as she graced the diadem with her ghostly fingers. "I would trust you with this any day as I have entrusted you with the Head of my House for these many decades, but I do not trust the world not to seek it out. Let it be sealed in safety until Riddle is no more, and then I will gladly see it brought to you."

Flitwick look to be torn between his duty to the ghostly Heir of his House, and the desire to truly witness and experience the glory that was the diadem. With a mourning sigh, he brushed his hand across it and closed his eyes. He held the sapphire-crowned tiara in his hand and let it gleam in the light of his Gubraithian Fire before he lowered it back onto the pillow.

"As you wish, my Lady," Filius acquiesced softly as he admired the crown before him. "I will see it protected with my life. Even with it guarded in the collection, I shall ensure its safety above all others treasures it contains so that your mother's legacy will live on to inspire so many others."

"And that is why you are my most trusted, Filius," the ghost spoke before she laid a chilled kiss upon his brow.

The half-goblin bowed to her as he resisted the ghostly shivers that touches his brow and held the pillow carefully as he looked to Fleur. "Well, my dear, you were not wrong."

"No sir," Fleur agreed with him a she looked to the ghost. "As his apprentice, I will see it protected as well, Grey Lady."

"Thank you, Fleur of the House of Wolves."

Fleur beamed at the ghost before she looked to Tracey just in time to see the blonde slip around Bill and hug her tightly. With a gentle laugh, Fleur embraced her honey-blonde companion closely as they revelled in the exciting news of Fleur's acceptance.

"We have other news as well," Tracey said as she parted from Fleur and looked to Bill. The man nodded and Tracey's smile got even wider if that was possible. "Bill has accepted to take me as his apprentice. We're going to do the bonding in the infirmary when we go to see Harry, as we figured you would be there for that appointment for Cedric."

Fleur's eyes widened and without hesitation she pulled Tracey close and planted a deep kiss upon her lips. The pair sighed into it, breathed in their scents and suckled on one another's lips until their breath had left them, and two throats had been cleared nearby by their respective masters, which sounded more like chuckles. Fleur and Tracey ignored them and the veela looked into her love's eyes with a smile.

"I'm so proud of you," Fleur sighed to her.

"And I of you, darling," Tracey breathed just as quietly.

"Well, now that that's over with, would you all mind accompanying me to the Headmaster's to inform him of what we have discovered and to place this in the Collection?" Flitwick said to a round of nods. "And afterwards, we will go to the infirmary together, as I too look forward to witnessing the bonding of another Master and Apprentice… You know, I wonder who else has bonded this day."

"Hopefully Susan and Monsieur Ollivander," Fleur chimed softly before she looked to Tracey. "Any word?"

Tracey shook her head. "Not yet, but I hope it turned out well for her too."

"Well then, let's be off!" Bill began as he retrieved the cloth from Tracey and eased it back atop the Diadem. "The sooner the better."

***Hogwarts - Hospital Wing***

To see a prepared hospital wing was one thing, but to get one ready over the course of the next few weeks was something else. Harry could swear he had brewed more long shelf-life potions in the past week than he had in an entire month at the end of last year. Of course, by then they were trying to keep stock low, but still! It amazed him how much time and effort went into it, especially because he and Poppy went about it without using magic to help for almost everything they were able to do without it.

"Remind me again why I'm in this room in the middle of summer?"

"Because you're my apprentice, Harry," Poppy answered with a low drawl.

"Give me a better answer, please?"

"Because you love being here, even through the complaining you do half the time."

That was actually true, so much so he had to hide a smile, though based on Poppy's knowing grin and wink it was a futile effort anyway. They had already cleaned the sheets and blankets, resupplied most of the cabinets and stock, and were preparing ingredients for other potions they would have to brew. Snape had stopped by briefly to see if they needed help, but to his grudging respect he knew Harry's potions were already on par with that of a healer, at least up to a certain year and practice. So the Potion's Master departed without incident and left the Healer and her apprentice to their work, which seemed to have slow down in anticipation of the coming appointment.

"Harry, come sit with me a moment," Poppy called for him as she conjured a tall table and chairs and sat in one to maintain readiness. Harry did as asked, and no sooner had he sat down than a light tea was brought before them, no doubt asked for by Poppy ahead of time. "I wanted to discuss something with you that I believe will benefit your training and our current situation."

"And what might that be?" Harry asked slowly to give them both time to prepare their tea.

"Your OWL year is technically approaching, however, I want to change that," Poppy began to explain as she slowly stirred her tea with all the calm of a regal queen sat upon her throne. "I would like it if you were to take your OWLs early, next week, in fact."

Harry had just about lifted his tea from the saucer when he froze. His body was still, not a single hair moved until he set the tea down and looked across the table at his Master. "I'm sorry, I must have misheard you. Did you say you wanted me to take my OWLs early?"

"Yes."

"Next week?"

"Precisely."

"Uh-huh…" Harry slowly raised the teacup to his lips and promptly downed the entire thing, hoping he might just be hallucinating, and if h wasn't, that it would induce a sense of calm. No such luck. "Are you having me on, or simply mad?"

"We're all a mad here," Poppy said in an excellent imitation of the cheshire cat, grin and all. "But I am serious, Harry. I need you focused this year, ust as much as last year, and with OWLs approaching the collective stress you will feel will only grow. I want them done and over with as soon as possible and I am certain you will thank me when you see what happens this year."

Harry leaned back in his seat as he contemplated that idea. It was a big leap, massive even. People could leave Hogwarts and start getting jobs with just their OWLs. Those that stayed for their NEWTs were looking for higher paying jobs and special certifications, likely masteries in at least fifty percent of the cases. Why in the world would Poppy want him to take them early? Stress? It was possible, but there was something else. He turned the thought over in his mind before he reached a conclusion, one of many to be certain, but one that could have quite the effect on things.

"The educational reform bill and effort," Harry mused aloud. "You don't trust it."

"No, and I sincerely doubt you trust it completely either," Poppy put it bluntly. "I want nothing to stand in the way of our apprenticeship, and while I advised the other adults we're familiar with to push any possible apprentices to complete their OWLs early, none have been quite as prepared for them as you have been."

"What do you mean?" asked Harry, nonplussed at her statement of confidence, however brief.

"I wasn't just preparing you to survive and win the tournament last year, nor to be a first year apprentice either," Poppy replied to him as she gathered herself for what was to come. "I, and others, were preparing you to face your OWLs as soon as possible, not just because of the Tournament or your Lordships, but because we want you to be ready for anything because we wanted to push you to your limits and see how brightly you would shine. The schools did it as well but much more subtly. What do you think the challenge books were for?"

"Well to provide a challenge, to get everyone up to speed and ahead of the curve…" Harry paused at the thought and realization struck like lightning. "So far ahead of the curve that the fourth years that competed are ready for OWLs and sixth years that did the same are ready for NEWTs, am I right?"

"Indeed you are, especially so in the theory aspects, since you know the practical aspect of the challenge was the final projects. But you, Harry, were pushed in all aspects of your education," Poppy told him clearly as she leaned in slightly. "I want you to make this choice, Harry. It isn't an easy one to make, but I think it is for the best if you take your OWLs early. We will revise on each subject for a single day, ensure you remember everything, not that I haven't been subtly doing so the past month anyway, and make you ready for the OWLs."

"But this is such a huge endeavor!" Harry argued back.

"And the Tournament wasn't?"

"That was different! It was for survival!"

"And this is for your future beyond survival, Harry!"

Harry froze as he watched Poppy urge him with such earnest care, devotion, and concern that she almost snapped at him. The Healer was so devoted to ensuring such a simple thing as a future beyond his survival that it astounded him, stunned and shocked him to the core. Really, he shouldn't have been. Is entire life had been about survival until the past two years when it had been about something far more than he ever believed he could have. He had family, friends, and five of the most beloved women in the world at his side. So what was there after survival?

"I've never told anyone this," Harry admitted gently as he looked at Poppy, his Master, his surrogate grandmother, with a look that broke her heart and stole it all at once. "But I never planned anything beyond the end of each year. I honestly believed I'd be dead before I escaped the Dursleys, and after coming to Hogwarts I didn't believe I'd live to see graduation at most… I know I promised and bound myself as your apprentice but I never saw beyond graduation… With everything happening I guess… I guess I still don't."

"But you have so much to live for, Harry," Poppy assured him as she took his hand atop the table in her own. "I want to make sure you have plans for after graduation. I want to ensure your future is secure, and this is part of my desires for you, part of my wish that you would share the same desire."

"I do want that, Poppy," Harry told her as he looked from their clasped hands to her powerful blue gaze. "I just don't believe I'll live to see the end of seventh year sometimes. I fight with all I have to get there and then… And then I face the nothingness of death twice within about two years. I'm not sure I'll survive a third time, and I'm afraid to make plans beyond the next year because I don't want to disappoint anyone, because I don't want anyone to hate me for not being there."

"Oh, Harry, you would never disappoint us like that," the healer assured her dearest apprentice as she squeezed his hand. "We know it's hard to make plans for the future but they should be made anyways! You want to become a healer in full don't you?" Harry nodded before Poppy pressed forward. "And you want to put a ring on those girls' fingers and have a home with them, don't you?" He nodded again. "And children?" Harry's jaw trembled before he nodded again. "Then let me help you reach that dream, that future, your heart's desire."

Harry swallowed down the lump in his throat, and after a few silent moments, his head bobbed one more time as he regained his composure and met Poppy's earnest gaze with an equally honest one of his own. "So, this starts with OWLs, yeah?"

"Yes," Poppy declared, as much in her hard-won victory as it was in answer to his question. "Are you up to the challenge? It won't be easy, but I have faith that you will do all I hope for and more, Harry."

"Poppy, it would be my genuine pleasure to show the world how great your teaching is," Harry answered her proudly. "I'll get the highest scores in fifty years if that's what it takes to do it."

Poppy grinned at him. "Flatterer."

"I'm quite good at that." The pair chuckled briefly at the recurring joke as they made their tea again before Harry sighed. "Going to be a hell of a next two weeks."

"And you'll be all the better for it," Poppy assured him. She checked her watch and straightened up some more as she finished preparing her tea. "Cedric will be here shortly, and I'm sure Fleur will be early so we can go over the final procedure."

As if saying her name had made it reality, Fleur entered the room, but she wasn't alone. With her came Professor Flitwick, Professor McGonagall, Bill, and Tracey. Harry had almost expected Dumbledore to show up but wasn't disappointed he was absent, quite the contrary, in fact. At the sight of his two favorite blondes, Harry left his seat to greet them with a pair of welcoming, chaste kisses.

"How did it go?" he asked them both.

"I accepted Flitwick's offer. I'll be attending Hogwarts next year," Fleur announced with a brilliant smile. Harry took her in both of his arms and spun her about as they kissed once again, briefly celebrating the announcement before she found her footing again. "I'm glad someone is as happy about that as myself."

"I did it first," Tracey teased them before Harry could get a word in. The trio laughed and the adults shook their heads lightly as they spoke with Poppy. Bill, however, remained close until Tracey stepped to his side. "And I accepted to be Bill's apprentice. We wanted you to witness it."

Harry's smile, if at all possible, grew even wider. The Hardworking House of Wolves certainly had great things coming their way. He would have wrapped her in his arms and kissed her as well if the professors weren't also interested in the events and congratulating the pair. Tracey blushed at the praise from McGonagall and Poppy, and again from Flitwick before she turned to Bill. The pair held their wands out to one another and grasped them with ease as the pair formally accepted the apprenticeship and mastery to one another and to magic. The swirl of magic and the pale golden wind that surrounded them was radiant until it finished and everyone applauded their efforts.

It reminded Harry so much of his own bonding with Poppy as her apprentice and she as his master when they had found a private moment in the infirmary to formally bond shortly after their agreement. They had been surrounded by cyan and silver then, the pair wrapped in a whirlwind of life-altering energy and magical bonding that they nurtured with equal care and affection. It allowed them to find one another, most of the time, and allowed them flashes of insight into the other, or what they were saying. It was familiar and had a familial quality to it, much like the family magic, but more focused. It was comforting, and it would only grow until such time as the apprentice was ready to become a master themselves and be released from the tutelage their master provided them.

He saw Tracey adjust the feeling of another presence on the edges of her senses and grinned. It had confused him as well at first, but it had eventually just become a part of him that was almost negligible most of the time unless they were both under stress or during a particularly intense lesson.

His thoughts were interrupted by the flare of green in the fireplace as Cedric and his parents came through. The congratulations for the new master and apprentice continued for a few moments until everyone saw Cedric. He was standing tall and proud before them, though his nerves clearly showed, especially in the anxious looks his parents gave him and the healers. Harry wsa the first to move as he approached Cedric and gave his fellow champion and friend a strong one armed hug that the young man responded to with equal vigor.

"Good to see you, you're looking good," Harry said happily.

"Well I've had time to get adjusted and a lot to look forward to," Cedric replied before he was greeted by the others in the room. He eventually turned his gaze to Harry, Poppy and Fleur. "So, what's this new treatment you wanted me to try?"

"I'll let Fleur explain," Harry said as he looked to his girlfriend proudly. "She enchanted it after all."

At Cedric's raised eyebrow, Fleur smiled brightly at him. "Cedric, you gave up your arm to save Harry's life, and you would have done it for any of us that night, I know. Harry, Poppy, Andromeda and I have been researching possibilities with help from Alastor, and I think I have something that might help you."

The sandy-haired young man's brow rose even higher, if possible, but he allowed himself to be led to the bed beside Harry's plaque-bearing one where a wooden case laid before them. As soon as they were near, Fleur opened it to reveal an arm, one made of a variety of materials, but at its core was metal, wrapped in leather straps and silk cloth. Amos and Sherry gasped at the sight while Cedric stilled in shock.

"How…?"

"Harry tested the range of motion using the leather straps at first, testing how it would move before we added the armor and got a better sense of how the arm would react to various maneuvers," Fleur began to explain professionally. "I ended up recording them through enchantments I laid upon the armor so that it would read intention, reaction and the like. Afterwards, I attempted to animate it on a training dummy with some mixed results at first before it finally came together. Any time I wasn't training or relaxing, this was my endeavor, my greatest and most important project of enchantment… and it's all for you."

"You… but that's… You made me an arm?!" Cedric barely breathed as he stepped back to lean against Harry's bed. "Will it even work?!"

"That's what we want to test, and we can always modify it over time," Fleur assured him, with support from Harry and Poppy. "If it doesn't work now, that doesn't mean it won't later, and there's always ways to improve on it," the veela continued as she stepped toward him. "Please, Cedric, let Harry and I attempt to repay you for everything you gave up that night."

Cedric looked from one to the other, even to the other adults in the room watching. Flitwick was torn between watching Cedric and examining the arm, but his support for the effort was there. Everyone in the room, in fact, wanted to see him try it on, to see if it would work for him. It would be a test, perhaps the first, maybe the last, but it would be a test that could change his life, maybe put it back on a much more steady course than he'd had the last two months.

"Will I… be able to feel anything?" Cedric wondered curiously.

"We hope so, and we also hope it might ease away the phantom pains," Harry chimed in professionally. "It's going to tap into your magic and mind, and hopefully become a part of you through that method as it becomes more and more attuned to you. It will register your intentions, you reactions, and hopefully your muscle memory so that it will act as if you hadn't made your sacrifice at all. Like Fleur said though, if it doesn't completely work now we can always make adjustments later."

The room was quiet, filled with low murmurs of excitement and interest, but still fairly quiet as Cedric came up with his decision. Eventually he nodded and began to take off his robe and shirt. When he was finally bare chested, Harry and Poppy began to show him how to put it on and fit it to his shoulder so it would sit comfortably and function with the most ease. As the weight settled on his body, he felt like it was in his heart and stomach as well. It was the moment of truth, and when Fleur explained to him how to activate it, how to tap into it and make it a part of him, he had to resort to his occlumency to keep calm.

Poppy, however, anticipated that and he took a small, measured dose from her. He gave her a thankful smile and held his wand at the read. As he pressed it to the pauldron that covered his rounded stump of a shoulder, he put all of his intent and magic behind the words and felt his magic reach out and clasp onto something else altogether. He breathed deep, startled at the sensation of his mind and magic mixing with the enchantments. It took a few moments, but eventually he looked at the arm in a mixture of fear, doubt, and hope.

"Go on, Cedric," his father urged him. "Try! Please try!"

"Don't pressure him," his mother countered as she watched this moment.

Cedric shut them out, his gaze locked on the silk covered gauntlet that made up his hand. He took one last deep breath and with a thought tried to curl his hand into a fist…

And it worked!

Cedric inhaled sharply at the sight, at the feeling of a hand where there should be none. He unclenched the hand slowly, then again, back and forth before he slowly curled the arm to look at the sky-blue silk of his palm. He turned it over, looked at the back of it where his house symbol laid on top of a Triwizard cup, and he let out a choked laugh. He extended his arm slowly, testing it more and more before he brought it back near his chest and touched his heart, where he could feel, as if on the edge of his senses, just a little bit of the hair on his chest.

The pull of a tear on his chin and another on his nose alerted him to the tears of joy that spilled from his eyes. Cedric might never be completely whole again, but he'd be damned if this didn't make him feel like it! He took a deep, shuddering breath at the sight before he finally looked up to see the happy looks on everyone's faces. His gaze fell on Fleur, Poppy and Harry, and he offered them a similar happy smile.

"Thank you."

Fleur smiled brightly as she approached him. She gave him a hug with both arms, and as the first act with two arms once again, he returned it in earnest, doing his best no to crush her, but also show his appreciation. Her laugh reached his ears and he knew exactly why Harry loved to hear and talk about it when they finally parted. She looked from Cedric to the arm and the pair smiled before she backed away and his parents mobbed him.

As he had done with Fleur, Cedric quickly embraced his parents, one in each arm as his mother cried gratefully into his shoulder, mutterin thank you prayers to every god and quietly to the ones responsible for everything they did to make this happen. Cedric knew she would show her appreciation to them another day, but he was glad to hear it as he cradled her close in his new left arm. Amos about cried for joy as he kissed his son's head and they examined his range of motion and abilities.

Out of the corner of his eye, Cedric saw Harry standing to the side, uncertain in his bearing as he watched what was happening.

"Hey, Harry," the black-haired teen almost jumped as he looked Cedric in the eye for the first time since cedric put the arm on. "Think I can arm wrestle you with this thing? Cause I'm pretty sure I traded up."

Harry let out a great, bellowing laugh and his shoulders slumped in relief as the guilt he carried with him for months finally fell away. Fleur wasn't the only one who had spent countless waking hours thinking about this moment. Harry quickly moved in and embraced his friend, and Cedric held him tightly. Their friendship hadn't been strained since that day, but Cedric knew how much guilt Harry carried over it, just like he carried the weight of Sirius and Remus's deaths before. This was one less weight the young man would have to cary, and Cedric was glad to have an arm back and give his friend the relief and resolution he needed so badly.

"No more guilt," Cedric demanded quietly.

"Cedric-"

"No," the blonde cut across Harry's protesting whisper with a sharp one of his own. "No more guilt. You helped Fleur make this for me with Poppy, Andromeda and Alastor. I can never thank you enough for this, or for being my friend."

Harry tried to hide a sniffle but nodded with much more certainty than moments ago. "Same here, Cedric. I can't thank you enough for forgiving me."

"There's nothing to forgive, so no more guilt."

Cedric assuaged harry's fears in that moment, and the pair nodded once more before Harry actually pulled the table over and they tested it. Within seconds Harry's arm met the table and Cedric had to laugh as Harry rubbed his knuckles from the impact. Cedric knew he would have to work on a lot of things, go through therapy and training to learn how to deal with it, but it was the best gift anyone could have ever given him at that moment.

As Cedric looked once more to Fleur, Harry, their masters and everyone else, he couldn't help the words that escaped him.

"Thank you… so much."