A/N 1) –Thank you all for your continued support, and thanks to my Beta CaskettFan5, who is making me a better writer, check-out his story Harry Potter and the Unexpected Friend it's a great read.
A/N 2) – Recommended Reading – it's a fantastic story called Big Brother is Listening by Holz9364. It's a post Hogwarts tale and obviously built around a game show like big brother but in the wizarding world. The Daphne that Holly brings to life in this story is one of my all-time favourites.
A/N 3) I am sorry that this has taken so long to come out but there was a fatal incident at my work and that has seriously affected my will and want to write added to several other things going on in my personal life. I want to thank those that have written to ask how I am doing I would like to dedicate this to all those people.
Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns it all; I am just playing in her sandbox and just maybe I am getting better at it, tragically I don't own anything of it except maybe Daphne, but then she probably owns me.
- AFW -
Harry yawned slightly and refocused on the date at the top of the Prophet again trying to figure out where exactly the last three weeks had disappeared, giving his head another shake to try and clear way the last of the cobwebs of sleep.
Those three weeks had passed in what seemed a blink of an eye since he had stumbled across the seven as they had been called in the prophet only three days ago, he smiled as he remembered the article, it was one of many now as more and more reports were printed regarding the Battle of Hogwarts, virtually every page for the last three days had been full of similar stories. Some were follow ups of previous articles whilst others broke new stories of heroism from the side of the light.
The seven's article had developed after a third year Ravenclaw that had been locked into the Hufflepuff dorm along with the rest of Hufflepuff and Gryffindor houses first, second, third and fourth years after their failed evacuation, had eventually told the story to their mother. The girl had sung the praises Daphne, Susan and Co, after suffering nightmares for weeks regarding what had actually happened that night in the bowels of Hogwarts. She told her mother how the four Puffs and three Snakes had banded together to make their last stand outside the Hufflepuff dorm.
She had explained how they had used extendable ears to listen and an opacity charm on part of the wall that remained standing to watch as the battle raged outside their collapsed dorm room door, frightened and huddled together they had heard the screams of pain and watched as one by one their defenders had fallen, knowing that soon they could be trapped and alone without help.
The mother in turn had sent an emotional letter of thanks to the Prophet praising not only Susan and the Hufflepuff's but also Daphne, Tracey and Blaise. In fact she was nothing less than effusive with her praise of the Slytherin Trio especially towards Daphne who her daughter had identified as being the last one standing at the end of the skirmish.
The Prophet who had been carefully maligning Daphne's character via Rita Skeeter articles in the days prior to the letter from the mother of the Ravenclaw who was also the wife of a significant shareholder. They had felt duty bound to publish the letter in its entirety.
The publication of the letter the next day by happy chance also coincided with Nathaniel's visit to the paper with his Lawyer regarding the release of the original near slanderous Skeeter article which been published three days prior and similar articles had been released in the following days.
According to Daphne, Nathaniel and his Lawyer had been very thorough in their communication regarding the abysmal standard of factual reporting in the paper and reminded them that House Greengrass actually held stock options for the paper via their holding company and knew a vast majority of the other shareholders personally.
Needless to say the paper had performed an about face then undertaken an investigation into the events in that corridor, and had broken the story with a front page photo of a bloody but still beautiful Daphne, Harry thought, standing alone at the end of the corridor her six companions laying bodily at her feet spells pouring from her wand.
The Valkyrie of Hogwarts they were calling her, for as the picture clearly identified Daphne with blonde hair moving around her as she dodged and returned fire, had collected her fallen comrades close to her as though she was one of Odin's chosen maidens sent to collect the glorious dead from the battlefield.
What he and the others had wondered was how the Prophet had managed to get a photo of the event. Nathaniel had eventually managed to find out through some of his remaining contacts in the Ministry that evidently the new editor of the Prophet Samuel Davies, the eldest brother of Roger and one of two remaining sub editors, had managed to arrange for a meeting with a prisoner currently being held for trial in the DMLE holding cell. He was one of the few surviving members of Voldemort's army who had been involved with that skirmish.
The photo had been taken from a copy of his memory of the event just before he had passed out for the final time after being hit with a bone breaking curse which had broken all the bones on the right side of his chest and arm. Payment was apparently a Prophet supplied lawyer and given that the Prophet had reprinted that particular edition three times it seemed, Harry acknowledged, that it had been a sound investment.
Daphne had taken one look at the paper, flushed and fled from the Great Hall in embarrassment. It had taken Harry several hours just to get her to look at him again; apparently he wasn't the only one uncomfortable when singled out in such a manner. He had decided that it was a bridge too far to get her to come back to the Great Hall for lunch and so they had begun to eat all their meals in private with Kreacher providing them a great variety of meals.
He stifled another yawn and smiled when Daphne gave him an echoing yawn of her own, receiving a playful glare from the blonde witch in return. Yesterday had been another long day in a myriad of long days and unfortunately an extremely eventful one at that.
It had started off well enough he supposed in the days following the first day that they had both awoken nude, Harry had quickly become accustomed to and very comfortable with a naked Daphne Greengrass snuggled up beside him.
He had also noticed but he was pretty sure that she hadn't yet, that whoever had a hold of the intimate part of the other awoke last, it was almost like their bodies were trying to embarrass them deliberately. Although to be fair he conceded to himself finding himself clutching Daphne's left breast when he awoke some mornings was hardly a cause for unhappiness.
On the mornings when Daphne held him she was usually sprawled partially across him her head on his chest, boobs squashed against him with one leg thrown over him for good measure. However for the last three mornings when this had happened he had found himself becoming aware of the small patch of curls at the apex of her legs against his skin.
Embarrassingly for him this had led to all sorts of improper thoughts running through his mind, which then led to little Harry inflating in her hand, sending bolts of electricity through him in a way that he didn't fully comprehend as her hand shifted and moved in her sleep. His limited intimate experience with the opposite sex was seriously hindering him here he knew but prior to this he felt that he really didn't have time to follow those urges.
Yes Ginny and he had explored each other a bit in broom closets and Ginny had once stoked him through his boxers as he had felt her through her underwear, but nothing had prepared him for the feeling of Daphne's soft hand gripped around him as he felt his pulse throb against her hand.
Yesterday morning however her hand had been twitching in her sleep as he woke already rigid and pulsing in her hand, he had tried to control his own sleepy and incoherent thoughts but it was too late, the pressure that he had only ever experienced with his own hand had already been built and before he was fully awake or aware he was spilling his seed over her hand and his own belly.
As he lay there desperately trying and failing to get his twitching and breathing under control, shame and embarrassment had found him as his mind finally comprehended what had just happened. Hastily summoning his wand to his hand he had performed a cleaning charm on himself and Daphne just as she began to wake.
It had taken him several hours before he could look at her without slightly blushing and several times she had asked what was wrong, but there was no way that he going to be having that conversation with her until he was far more comfortable and clear in his own mind as to how he saw her.
Yesterday had also brought the news that finally Kingsley had been sworn in as Minister, it had taken twelve days instead of the original seven to ten estimate that Kingsley had given them in his letter to Hermione. During that time it was almost as though everything was in a holding pattern, only with the resumption of the Daily Prophet deliveries ten days prior had news started to filter out about what had happened and even then it had been sketchy and disjointed.
Of the senior staff at the Prophet only Skeeter had come through unscathed, although Barnabus Cuffe the editor and only other senior staff member had in the end reportedly suffered a mental breakdown hours after Nathaniel's visit and was on a leave of absence. Although it was whispered that the leave of absence was actually in the DMLE holding cells and that he was currently being investigated for collusion with a terrorist organisation.
Most of the senior reporters had been at the Battle of Hogwarts having got wind of the battle through pirate radio and unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you looked at it many had been caught in the crossfire as they tried to get a story from the chaos which they hoped was going to make them rich and famous.
The numbers of dead and injured rose daily and Daphne had taken to obscuring these articles with Kreacher's help much to Harry's annoyance after she caught him brooding over one such report. Harry vehemently disagreed that he was brooding over the article but she had merely raised an eyebrow in disbelief at him before firmly taking his mind from the article with a morning snog.
Snogging Daphne was something that he could definitely get on board with, and that morning when she had come round the table and sat on his lap facing him before slowly engaging his lips with hers was going to stay in his memory for a very long time.
She had at some point pushed his hands under her top and on to her bare back and he had taken great pleasure in drawing lines up and down her spine with his fingertips, although he was positive that she had enjoyed it just as much as he had.
He was also sure after playing the memory over in his mind a few times that his imagination had been playing tricks on him when he thought he had heard a growl of frustration as his fingers paused over the clasp of her bra for a few moments before moving on.
Feeling his cheeks blush slightly he took a bite from his toast and looked up from the paper to find Daphne watching him, a knowing smirk on her face and one eyebrow cocked. He felt his cheeks darken further as he locked eyes with her for a few moments before he conceded defeat and looked back down at the paper, Daphne's small chuckle marking her total victory over him on this occasion.
- AFW -
Daphne watched as Harry lowered his head again and read the paper; he was frustratingly noble at times. She could see that she was going to have to take a firm guiding hand if she wanted him to progress their relationship.
She knew that this should disturb her; maybe it didn't because some of her memories were still mostly locked away. She had been catching glimpses of memories, on the occasional flash here and there and nothing that she could recognise before they were gone.
She licked some strawberry jam from her fingers, glancing up to see Harry's eyes widen slightly before he once again ducked his head back to his paper. Shaking her head at his antics she went back to perusing her own copy.
She flicked her eyes up, looking through her eyelashes to find him watching her once more, 'Well at least he found her as interesting to look at as she found him she supposed.' She had just about decided to ask him what was going on when a strange House Elf and Kreacher popped into their temporary dining room.
Kreacher bowed low, 'Master, Tibney has an urgent message for you.'
Tibney wrung her hands before finally managing to squeak out, 'Mistress Malfoy, bids you to comes quickly to the Manor Lord Black, they's be's under attack from bads mans in black, and the Aurorsy aren't responding via the floos.'
Harry was on his feet in an instant, 'Why aren't the Aurors responding?'
Tibney continued to wring her hands, 'The floo's be outs. And I donts knows whoses to see at the Aurorsy's.'
'Kreacher find Neville, let him know what's happening and bring him to Malfoy Manor as soon as you can. Then I want you to find Auror Dawlish and let him know what is happening.' Daphne was on her feet and coming around the table as he moved away from the table and reflexively flicked his wand into his hand.
Kreacher bowed and popped away with a 'Yes, Master.'
'Harry I think we should wait for Neville, Tibney how many were there?' forestalling Harry by looking at the elf.
'Tibney be's seeings seven Mistress Black,' the little elf replied now clutching her pillow case and wringing it between her hands.
She heard Harry's sucked in breath but she ignored the connotations that were implied by Tibney's declaration of her as the Mistress Black, instead focusing her attention to Harry. 'Harry we need to wait for Neville, seven is too many for just the two of us,' she saw a protest on his lips so she stepped forward and poked a finger into his ribs. 'Don't even think about telling me to stay out of this, you can't go without me anyway remember?'
Frustration passed across his face, but he eventually gave a reluctant nod, 'Fine but when we get there you do as I say, alright?'
'No problem, I can do that Harry,' she leaned up to give him a kiss just as Kreacher popped back in with three other people, before he popped away again.
'I better not have had my breakfast interrupted so that I could watch you two snog Harry,' Neville cracked as soon as he had his bearings.
Turning Daphne saw her sister, and Susan with Neville, smiling at Neville's wise crack.
'Malfoy Manor is under attack from at least seven assailants dressed in black, Narcissa has requested help from her Lord Black, and I am going to need your help mate,' Harry's voice was clipped and to the point.
Neville scrutinised him for a moment before drawing his hand from an offhand holster and nodding. Behind him both Susan and Astoria did the same.
'And exactly what do you two think you're doing?' Daphne asked eyeing both witches as she drew her or Harry's wand into her own hand.
It was Tori who answered, 'Exactly what you are Sis, besides three versus seven is nowhere near as good as five on seven.' Susan only nodded her agreement.
'Tori you're under age …' Daphne started.
'Bite me, we will deal with that later, if or when it becomes a problem, now are we going or are we going to stand around here all day and gossip about your love life,' Tori asked with an impish grin.
She was about to retort when Harry spoke up again, 'Fine then you all do as I or Neville command.' He waited and got nods all round before laying out a quick formation. 'Neville and I will be on point, five metre's apart. Neville will be right and I will be left, Daphne you'll take the left side, three metre behind me and two metre further to left, Susan you're the same on the right and Tori you'll take the rear.'
Tori looked ready to argue but Harry talked straight over top of her, 'You either do as you're told or you stay behind Tori.'
Tori scowled but nodded.
'Right Tibney, take me Daphne and Neville first, put us somewhere safe but outside we want to come at them from behind and then come back for the two girls.
Tibney nodded her head shakily and reached out with her hands for both Harry and Neville with Daphne completing the circle between them.
- AFW -
Tibney popped them into a hedged garden some fifty metres from the left wing of the manor. The sound of spell fire could be heard from inside the house.
'Remind me to start brushing up on my skills again Harry if we are going to kept doing this sort of shit,' Neville said in a quiet but terse voice. 'And for the record I'm not happy that Tori is coming along on this either!'
'Well mate when she gets here you can send her home,' Harry snarked back knowing that Neville wasn't really angry just letting the tension get to him as he prepared for battle and hearing Daphne giggle at them both.
Neville scoffed, 'Not that stupid mate … sorry I shouldn't have taken it out on you.'
'Daph, you watch our backs, make sure no one is sneaking up on us but don't give away our position, come back in a couple of minutes.'
Daphne gave him a curt nod, but said nothing moving along the hedge row to peer around the other end.
Neville peered around the edge of the hedge, 'two hostiles at the door but they are facing in towards the house.'
'Idiots, see anyone else?'
Neville leant out further and then to Harry's surprise ducked low and scooted out to a raised garden bed five metre's closer to the house.
Harry moved himself up to peer around the edge of the hedge as Neville had been doing, seeing one further other than the two black cloaked figures at the door. Neville slid to the ground pressing his back to the garden bed and faced Harry holding up a single finger and pointing over his left shoulder at a forty five degree angle, before holding up his hands in a five and a zero.
Nodding to him Harry waited for the girls to arrive, tension building in his own body, his magic singing in his veins. Another small pop and alerted him to the fact that the other girls had arrived with Tibney and saw Daphne returning from the other end of the hedge. Waiting until she arrived to address them he pulled Susan and Tori a little further behind the hedge.
'Tibney can you, without being seen, get to Madam Malfoy?'
Tibney closed her eyes, before opening them and shaking her head, 'No sorry Master, she and Master Draco be in the enclave.'
'What about Lucius?' Harry asked.
Once more Tibney closed her eyes, when she opened them tears were rolling out of them, 'Tibney cannot find Master Lucius, he is not being anymore.'
'Shit,' Harry remarked, 'Well there go our leads into the escaped Death Eaters, okay Tibney I know you're sad, but I need you to do something for me can you scout around without being seen and tell me where all the bad men are inside?'
Tibney gulped, 'Tibney be's trying her best Master,' before Harry could stop her she popped away.
'Crap,' Harry slapped his leg quietly. 'If she gets herself killed Hermione will murder me.' Focussing back on the girls he commanded, 'Wait her for a moment whilst I get Neville.'
Neville scrambled back into the hedged garden after checking no one was watching and they re-joined the girls. 'Okay mate, lay it out for us.' As Neville quickly scratched a diagram into the dirt Tibney popped back next to him.
'Four bads mans be outside the enclave and two mores be in the hall way, Master. Master you must be's fast the wards in the enclave, they be's falling soon.'
'Right, so quick and dirty then and nine idiots all up,' Harry mused looking at Neville's drawing. 'This ones the real problem,' Harry said pointing to the single figure. 'We can't leave him behind because he will be at our backs but there's a large chance that these others will see if we take him out first. Thoughts anyone?'
Before anyone could speak the elf beat them to it, 'Tibney can be's helping with that one sir.'
Harry looked at the elf, 'Are you sure, little friend?'
Tibney's eyes went very wide and then she was nodding her head enthusiastically, 'Tibney be's sure Master.'
'Right then, Susan you'll be our shield until Tibney has taken out that goon, we move at a walk, no running just like the D.A. Susan. Daphne keep your eyes peeled on the left, just because we haven't seen anyone on that side doesn't mean they aren't there. Tori you need to keep pivoting whilst we are on the move, call a halt if we spread out too far, I want us no more that fifteen metres apart at the most. Everyone got that?'
After their various methods of assent, 'Right then, Tibney are you ready?' With a vigorous nod the little elf indicated that she was, 'Okay, I want you to do whatever it is you are going to do once he sees us okay, I want to be as close to the other two as possible before they start casting.'
Once more there was a round of assent, 'Okay let's move, we'll go left of the garden bed, putting a bit more distance between us and that goon, keep together, keep each other safe and put them down hard and out of the fight permanently, Neville can you produce a four spell chain at the start of every engagement.
'You know the one that goes, Bone Breaker, Exploding Curse, Conjunctivitis Hex, Five Arrow Hex?'
Neville's eyes widened but he nodded resolutely.
'Good after that it's a free for all.' Harry knew that although they hadn't done much with regards to spell chains in the DA this had been one of the last things they had tried to learn and that Neville was one of the more proficient with it once he had his new wand.
Harry took a deep breath exhaled and quietly said 'three, two, one, move.' His walk was brisk but not fast, he veered left opening up ten metres around the garden bed to allow their formation to pass around it smoothly. Neville's eyes were locked on the targets in front of them and he used a moment to scan the left side with Daphne.
He was confident that Tibney knew where all the former Death Munchers were but complacency was not a good idea. Seeing nothing with his quick scan he left Daphne to it and focused ahead on the left target knowing that Neville would have the right.
When they were twenty metres from the door an aborted shout sounded from the right followed by a small crash, drawing the attention of the two thugs at the door. They were obviously both shocked to see five people advancing on them and froze momentarily which cost them dearly.
Both his and Neville's wands flicked out in the same pattern, firing a chain of spells that Harry had mentioned. A bone breaking hex, looped into and exploding curse, followed by the conjunctivitis curse lastly a sagittus quinn or five arrow hex.
The two bodies smashed into the wall, bloody pulpy messes both held in place by five arrows that were peppered through their bodies. Harry called a halt quietly, 'Okay in order, me then Neville, Susan, Daphne then Tori.'
'Harry,' Daphne protested quickly.
'No Daph, Susan is familiar with our D.A. tactics you aren't so you and Tori will bring up the rear,' his tone was firm broking no argument.
Daphne huffed but nodded.
They lined up on either side of the double doors and Harry ducked in going from left to right Neville following in ten seconds later doing the opposite.
They could hear spell fire more clearly now, the main staircase was in front of them directly in front of the atrium they were all positioned in. He stuck his head out low around the corner and couldn't see anyone, except the slowly rotating and floating body of Lucius Malfoy.
He felt bile travel up his throat, suddenly finding himself with urge to decorate his shoes with the contents of his stomach. There was no way that he could let Daphne, Tori or Susan, see the mutilated and almost decapitated body of Lucius Malfoy. He signalled everyone to remain where they were whilst he regained his composure.
Several shuddering breaths later and with a flash of inspiration he called 'Tibney.'
The elf quietly popped in eyes wide with fear, 'Yes Master?'
He knelt down and softly spoke to the elf, 'Two things, firstly where is the enclave?'
'Upstairs, downs the right corridors, last door'es on the left and then you's must come back throughs the next three rooms,' the little elf said in a very quiet voice. 'Master must hurry the ward'es be's almost down.'
'Second and I am sorry to ask this of you, but can you please pop into the next room and move your former Master to a different room. Place him on the floor and cover him with a sheet and then come and find us once the fighting is over?'
The little elves eyes grew wide and teary, nodding she popped away.
Harry turned and saw them all watching him, 'Trust me you didn't want to see it, I definitely could have done without seeing it.' Taking a deep breath he composed himself, 'Alright everyone ready?' again there were nods, 'Okay Neville and I first, Susan follow after five seconds and Daphne and Tori five seconds after that. Let's go mate.'
They walked upstairs unimpeded, and halted at the start of the corridor, thirty metre away at the end were two more hoodlums, standing together talking. Neither had their wands in their hands that Harry could see. Indicating to Neville to take the one on the right, he counted down on his fingers from three, before they both smoothly stepped into the corridor and walked towards the other end.
He heard Susan step out and follow some five metres behind them. An alarmed shout of 'Hey' was all the invitation that he and Neville need before they were once more casting the same chain spell. The result was the same as the first time, however just as they were about to continue their journey down the corridor a wall some ten metres in front of them blew out, followed by bolts of coloured light as spells from the four remaining Death Eaters poured into the corridor.
He hadn't even managed to get a shield up when a cutting curse clipped his left shoulder, and the floor in front of him exploded, peppering him with debris and knocking him off his feet. Neville fared a little better managing to get his shield in place but was hit by a banishing curse which broke through the hastily erected barrier and blasted him backwards, into a marble pedestal knocking him out.
Susan stepped past him and sent her own barrage of spells into the room, resulting in several cries of pain and seconds later three cracks of Apparition.
- AFW –
Daphne watched horrified as Harry was obscured by debris and dust blown out of the floor. She felt the stinging hits of pain on her left shoulder, arms and chest and before she knew what she was doing she had abandoned her sister to rush forward to Harry.
Susan had stepped past him and the unconscious Neville and she was pouring a barrage of spells into the room, eliciting a series of pained cries. She was aware of what was happening around her but her focus was solely on the black haired boy who was as she drew closer rolling to his feet as though nothing had happened.
She reached his side and turned him, panic screamed in her brain, he was injured. How badly? What was serious? What could be treated later? 'Are you okay,' slipped from her mouth.
He shook her off, 'Daph get back in position they could apparate in at any moment. I'm fine, just some flesh wounds, now get back to your position or go and help Neville, he's out of it at the moment.'
She stamped her foot and growled, 'Harry Potter …'
'Daph we don't have time for this, get back in position or help Neville until Susan and I secure the area. Move!' he said pushing her away from him and in Neville's direction.
She ground her teeth together, she could feel pain radiating off of him, but grudgingly admitted that he had a point, she moved towards a frantic Astoria and prone Neville. 'Watch our backs, I'll look after him,' she said curtly drawing Tori to her feet and pushing her away.
She felt another stab of pain in her side that she knew was Harry's and ground her teeth in frustration, before she felt the feeling of pain from Harry recede as somehow he ruthlessly squashed the tether. Drawing Harry's holly wand over Neville's form, and muttering several diagnostic charms as she went, she pushed his pain from her mind as she tried to concentrate.
'What's wrong with him Daph?' Tori's panicked enquiry floated over her shoulder.
'He's unconscious, now be quiet while I check him,' she bit back tersely, worry for Harry still roiling within her. She could feel him through the tether, pain occasionally rippled through it, making her want to growl in frustration every time she felt the stabbing in her side, reinforcing her Occlumency barriers suppressed most of the referred pain and she got on with what she was doing. She finished her diagnostic on Neville, 'He's fine Tori, just knocked out, no broken bones or anything. He should wake soon, though he'll have a thumping headache when he does.'
She stood, waving her wand over Neville's form once more and putting his unconscious form into a medical full body bind, in case he needed to be moved quickly. 'Stay with him and keep your eyes peeled. I'm going to go and check on our other two heroes'.' She stalked away wand out and toward the hole in the wall, but before she made it to the debris field a call came for her.
'Daphne we need you,' Susan's voice bellowed through the corridor.
Before she rushed into the room she made another decision, pivoting she called to Astoria, 'Tori change in plans, levitate him and follow me.' She clambered over the broken wood panelling and pieces of rock which had previously made up the wall.
In front of Susan lay an ash white Draco Malfoy, left arm almost severed, a large gash on his forehead and another bloody wound on his left leg. Narcissa knelt behind him cradling his head, gently running her fingers through her son's hair as blood ran down the side of her face from a cut on her temple.
Her eyes flickered to Harry who was sitting on a chair with his breathing somewhat laboured; pain still pulsed through the suppressed bond. She wanted to go over to him and berate him first then try to heal him but knew that Draco needed her skills more. She flicked her wand over him casting a stasis charm on his leg whilst she focused on his arm.
She tried a suturing charm, but her fingers failed her. She knew that it was likely that the Cruciatus damage was likely to have taken some her fine motor skills, which might take some time to return if they ever did. She didn't dwell on it moving onto more basic yet still powerful healing charms that she was sure that she could do. They wouldn't heal him but they would stabilise him enough for transport.
Ten minutes later she sat back on her heels, 'That's it, that's all I can do, we need to get him to a Medi Witch or Wizard.' Just as she finished her statement Tibney popped in, 'Excellent timing Tibney, you need to take the young master here to Hogwarts Infirmary. Get Madam Pomfrey to him as soon as you can.'
Tibney looked at Narcissa, whose tear filled eyes were glistening, merely nodded her assent and then the elf popped away taking Draco with her.
Daphne sighed in relief until she felt pain stab into her side once more. 'Harry,' she scrambled to her feet and swept a diagnostic charm across him. He was pale and struggling to breath, hunched over on his left side.
The charm flashed up the results in front of her eyes:
· Four broken ribs
· Two cracked
· Punctured lung
· Three hemothoraxes, one severe, two minor.
'Dragon shit, Kreacher,' she almost screamed, he needed medical attention and he needed it fast, his heart was already labouring and he was bleeding out into his chest, with her fine motor skills shot there was little that she could do, but she tried anyway.
Just as Kreacher popped into the room she felt a significant pull on her magic, she could feel him slipping away from her, unsure of what to do and feeling panic rising within her she did the only thing she could think of and pushed her magic at the tether, before collapsing on Harry's still form and blacking out.
- AFW -
Harry woke to that god awful smell of sterilisation potions, 'the Infirmary again brilliant. Daphne and Hermione were going to kick his arse six ways to Sunday.'
One of the witches in question was sprawled across him, her head on the opposite side of his chest than normal. Discreetly as possible he tried to move, but found himself unable to move more than his head, he closed his eyes. 'Shit that must mean that he had done some real damage to himself.'
A sigh or some noise must have escaped his lips because when he opened his eyes again he found himself starring into the enraged, red rimmed, blue eyes of a very pissed off Daphne Greengrass.
She punched his shoulder and a small amount of pain rippled through his chest and abdomen, 'If you ever do anything as stupid and moronic as telling me not to diagnose your injuries again Harry James Potter,' she punched his shoulder again. 'Then I won't be held responsible for what I do to you once you're better.'
Her eyes suddenly watered, and a tear welled up and out of her left eye, 'You almost died you idiot, I could feel your pain, and you wouldn't let me look at you to make sure that you were ok, do you have any idea what you put me through as I was trying to heal you, every spell I cast failed, and the more I failed the more pain I could feel from you, right up until I could feel your magic slipping away from me.'
She buried her head into his chest which sent another small spasm of pain through his body, he wanted to reach out and comfort her, but he couldn't and he didn't know what to say that would offer her support. So he stared at her helplessly as she took a shaky breath and continued to quietly rant at him.
'Kreacher, basically had to kidnap one of the St Mungo's healers from one of the Hogwarts Temporary Wards as Madam Pomfrey had her hands full with Draco … you nearly died Harry, I could feel you slipping away from me literally through the bond. I was losing you and there was nothing I could do,' she lifted her head and looked at him once more. 'Do you understand Harry, I could feel your life ebbing away from me and I could do nothing to prevent it.'
She stood suddenly, 'We need to work out what this bond means to us Harry, because I don't think that I can go through something like that again.'
He still hadn't managed to say anything, his mind was a jumbled mess once more and before he could really fathom what was happening she had come back to his bed and was peering down into his eyes once more.
'I am happy that you are awake, but you really hurt me today Harry and scared me nearly to death.' She kissed him gently on the forehead, 'You should have died today Harry, none of the Healers know how it is that you actually survived those injuries for that that long, please don't do that to me again.'
- AFW -
He was healing fast; she thought as she watched him sleep, two days after the Malfoy Manor attack and he would likely be on his feet, tomorrow and fit as a fiddle the next day. It was the bond, she was sure of that now; her mother had confessed to her the day after the attack about the discussion that she had with their house elf about the bond magic.
She wasn't sure if she was comforted by the fact that the bond had sustained Harry or concerned with the idea that this ancient style bond would irrevocably tie her to Harry Potter for life. On the one hand he was wonderfully generous, kind, handsome and magically powerful, but the other side of the equation included the fact that she no longer had a choice in life partners.
But did that matter any longer, she knew now that she was falling for him or had fallen for him, when he lay dying in front of her she had felt her heart breaking, she had felt helpless and trapped. If he died would she ever find someone who measured up to him, she had railed against her internal monologue, but what was the point, of all the men in the world she could have chosen, fate had tied her with a man who was one of the most selfless, compassionate and caring she had ever meet, what more could she ask for in a partner?
Sighing she stripped off her clothing and got into bed not even attempting to put on her pyjamas, after all what was the point when they ended up on the floor every morning without fail, even when he had been potioned to sleep for the last two nights, each morning they were naked, and still no one could tell her how.
He woke slightly as she slipped in beside him, sleep filled green eyes blinked at her and he smiled, snaking his good arm around her and pulling her close. A small wince flashed across his face so fast that she almost didn't see it, but his crooked smile returned instantly and she couldn't help it as it melted her troubled thoughts away. Her leg rolled over one of his on its own accord, but instead of allowing herself to snuggle into his chest she propped herself up on her elbow slightly.
She stretched herself up his body moving herself so that her face was level with his moving her elbow above his arm and allowing him to slide his hand down over her ribs and lower back, still he refused to go any further without specific instruction. She reached her other hand out and caressed his cheek with her hand; his stubble prickled her fingers as she allowed herself to study his face. She had sat by his beside in much the same manner as he had for her. Her nipples hardened in the cool air and she knew that if he looked down he would be able to see a clear view of her breasts if he actually had his glasses on and yet his eyes never left hers.
He was a noble idiot, but he was her noble idiot, with a wry grin on her face she stopped his words before he could ask by lowering herself down and capturing his lips. His other hand came up and brushed over her ear, fingers tangling in her hair and he pulled her down on top of him more completely.
As she lost herself in his kiss, her last lucid thought was that they really needed to talk and work out how to further their relationship, but for right now she felt that white hot spring coiling in the pit of her stomach and she kissed him harder hoping that it would help her find a release, but knowing that it would only serve to wind the spring tighter.
- AFW -
She woke, pleasure flowing thrumming through her body, Harry's length of warm hard steel was once more trapped, rubbing against her outer lips, shooting small bursts of sparks through her, she felt something brush over her clit, sending what felt like naked flames through her blood, threatening to allow it to catch fire. Again something strummed against that little bundle of nerves and she whimpered, biting her lip as she tried to take stock of her body.
It was Harry, his hand was on her leg but his thumb was moving over top of her as though he were lightly strumming a guitar, heat pooled low in her stomach and that hot spring that had wound tight last night after a wonderful snogging session, seemed to wind itself even tighter. Her breathing became short and sharp tugs of air as he strummed her over and over again.
She wriggled trying to get more contact, waiting him to push her over the edge of the precipice that he was helping her climb, when suddenly he stopped, and she heard a sharp intake of air near her ear. 'No,' she scrambled for his hand grabbing it before he could move it move more than a centimetre.
'Please Harry, please … don't stop … please just a little more …' she begged him. She could feel her face turning red but she didn't care, she wanted him and she needed him to touch her right now, it felt right. He stiffened and said nothing as she placed his hand back where it was, and she waited. He did nothing, growling low in her throat as she could feel the frustration and that unscratchable itch behind her skin; she moved his thumb with her own feeling that thrum of pleasure again even if it was diminished because she was creating that wonderful friction.
Still he did nothing, so she moved his thumb again with her own, 'Please Harry … please.'
She had thought that it was a losing battle until he hesitantly moved his thumb back down on his own, the pressure was different, softer yet still satisfying in a frustrating kinda way, but still it was progress. She let out a contented sigh, 'That was good Harry, please keep going.' As she bathed in the feeling of his touch she knew she wanted more, she wanted to allow her legs to roll open, allow him more access, but her position on her side prevented that and she could feel herself growing frustrated.
A low growl issued from her throat, and she rolled to face him, he watched her with large eyes clearly startled by her sudden move. She climbed up his body and kissed him hard, 'Do you trust me Harry?'
He stared deep into her eyes and she met his gaze unflinchingly, his eyes twitching as they looked for something in the depths of hers that only he knew. Finally he gave a small nod without breaking eye contact. Her smile was radiant she knew that, but she couldn't help it, she kissed him once more plundering his mouth with her tongue until his danced for a time with hers.
When she ended the kiss, she smiled at him again; 'I want to do this, okay Harry? This is my choice and I am choosing for this to happen okay?' He swallowed before nodding once more, his eyes never leaving hers. She rolled on top of him, positioning herself so that her back was to his chest before she lifted her hips and tucked his hard length under herself.
He sucked in a breath as she lowered herself back down removing her hand and allowing his manhood to be snuggly positioned between her bum cheeks and his abdomen. She could feel his length pulsing and bucking slightly in its flesh cage with his head finishing in the small of her back.
She searched for his hands finding them splayed either side of his body and wrapped them around her pulling his right hand down to where it had been strumming her before and closing his left hand around his favourite left breast. She moved his right hand once more, guiding his thumb to that wonderful bundle of nerves and moving his fingers along her lips.
Her legs rolled out and she opened herself up to him encouraging him and allowing her head to loll back against his shoulder. She ground his right hand down wanting more friction and when he responded her hips gave a little buck which pulled a groan from him. He kissed her neck, sucking on the pressure point behind her ear, as his left hand started to roll her taut nipple between his fingers ripping an answering moan from her.
And then she was lost to pleasure, her hips bucked and moved on their own, Harry's fingers wound the spring back up tighter and tighter, they never move into her body, but they teased her entrance and all the while his thumb ground down on her clit. Her breath became hard to catch, coming in sharp little bursts. She felt the sweat beading on her skin, pooling between their bodies making their skin slick and hot as her body pulsed with energy.
Harry to was groaning with every buck of her hips as her sweat slick behind slid along the length of his hard penis, she hadn't intended for this to be pleasurable for them both, but all the same she was happy that he was getting pleasure from her body as well. She could feel their combined ecstasy through the tether, feeding back in on itself as it built, driving her body on as the pressure built more, until she could no longer handle it and suddenly she was pushed off the cliff and her body spasmed.
Lightning danced along her spine and her body arched up, her core contracted, unclenched and contracted again, the process repeating over and over again faster than she could comprehend. Her legs bucked uncontrollably, her hips tilting which pushed Harry's hand hard down on to her clit sending another bolt of lightning up her spine repeating the process.
Dimly she heard Harry's low moan and grunt near her ear as he sucked on her neck, his hard length seem to pulse and twitch as something hot and sticky splashed against her lower back, but she was too lost in her own mind to pay it much attention. She had no idea how long her body shook and bucked, her vagina fluttered like a bird and Harry's hand and fingers were now scoldingly hot on her oversensitive clit so she plucked them away wrapping it around her neglected right breast, running her hands over his as a bolt of what felt like the most awesome magic pulsed through her system, over and over again.
Slowly her mind seemed to push through the stars that had enveloped it; she turned her head to see Harry watching her with a goofy grin covering his face. She closed her eyes and leaned her head against his, before kissing his neck, a small sheen of sweat that had form there left a salty taste on her lips, 'Thank you Harry that was amazing.'
'Thank you too Daph,' his voice was a contented sigh as he planted a lingering kiss on her temple, before he wrapped his arms around her pulling her tight to his chest, and she closed her eyes contentedly.
- AFW -
Harry was desperately trying not to blush every time he met Daphne's eyes, he didn't regret what they had done this morning, but that didn't mean that he didn't feel somewhat ashamed by taking advantage of the situation where he had woken up playing with the most intimate part of her body.
His eyes found her again and he heard her sigh and she reached out and captured his hand pulling it in to her lap, 'Harry stop feeling guilty, did you not enjoy what we did this morning?'
'Oooh what did you guys get up to this morning,' asked a bouncy Astoria as she and Neville sat down opposite them for lunch after another morning of helping with the school repairs.
Harry felt his face flush once more as he pulled eyes away from Daphne's, but she didn't let his hand go.
'This must be good,' Tori said with a somewhat lecherous grin. 'Well if it helps to get your story, just this morning Neville got up close and personal like with the girls,' she looked down grabbing her bust and moved her hands up and down drawing everyone's attention to her well-developed breasts. Breasts that Harry thought might just be bigger than her sister's.
Pumpkin juice sprayed over the table as Neville turned and goggled at the girl sitting next to her, 'I did no such thing!'
Tori leant her head forward and massaged her temples, 'Neville, you don't get the juicy details from my sister without sharing something.' With an exaggerated sigh she looked up and stared at Daphne, 'Fine, that was my rather vivid dream this morning, but seriously what did you guys get up to this morning?'
Another spray of pumpkin juice shot out of Neville's mouth, 'Gods damn it woman will you stop doing that,' Neville asked plaintively.
Harry watched as Daphne just raised a single eyebrow at her sister. Tori met her sister's gaze for several seconds before obviously reaching some sort of decision that Harry couldn't comprehend. Pushing her seat back Tori stood, 'Neville come with me,' and with that she stepped away from the table.
Neville looked forlornly at his lunch before sighing to himself and standing himself. Taking his hand Tori virtually pulled the older boy from the room.
'Well, I think Neville is about to get an anatomy lesson before dinner, if Tori can convince him to explore a little,' Daphne chuckled.
Harry's eyes snapped to the retreating backs of his friend and his girlfriend's sister, before turning his attention back to Daphne, 'Are you serious?'
'Very much so, Tori has always been competitive with me, she knows that we did something this morning and she is going to use what she is about to go and do to wheedle the story of our morning out of me.' She gave another small wry chuckle, 'She does know me well though, there is no way that I would give anything to her without something in return.'
'You mean that you're, going to tell her what we … er umm did?' his question came out slightly strangled.
Before she could reply, someone else stepped up to where they were sat, 'Mr Potter and Miss Greengrass, I wonder if I could see you in my office after you have finished your lunch?' Professor McGonagall enquired once their attention had been turned to her.
'Certainly Headmistress, shall we say in fifteen minutes?' Daphne answered before Harry could even engage his brain to swap from one conversation to another.
'Excellent, Miss Greengrass I will see you both then,' said the stern woman who nodded to them both before taking her leave.
'Eat up Harry, we can discuss the other topic later,' Daphne smirked at him.
Harry glowered at her playfully but didn't comment, instead he started collecting food one handed as Daphne it seemed was loath to let his hand go.
- AFW -
As they entered the Headmistress' office hand in hand, Harry was surprised to see that there were two other students already waiting with McGonagall. All three looked to the open door and McGonagall invited them in to sit. Susan smiled widely at them, but the smile still never really reached eyes which were slightly bloodshot from what Harry assumed was crying. The Ravenclaw Oliver Rivers inclined his head as they sat down before returning his attention to the Headmistress.
'Thank you both for coming, I invited you all to meet with me today because I would like to know what your plans are for the next year as I would like to offer you all a role within the school that hasn't been held in nearly twenty five years yet I think that it will help with the rebuilding and recovery process of our school.'
McGonagall continued, 'Whilst none of you have been prefects, that is not the position that I will be asking you all to fill.'
'So what is it you are asking of us Madam Headmistress?' Oliver asked in his deep voice. Harry had never really had much to do with the solidly built boy from Ravenclaw and took a moment to observe him. He was approximately the same height as himself, but with more of a solid build. His shoulders would easily be two inches wider than his own, his sandy brown hair was long enough to tie back but only had a couple inches that escaped the black silk string.
'I should like it if you would all consider taking up the roles of House Captains.'
'What exactly would this role entail Headmistress?' Susan asked before Harry could voice his own query.
'Well, I will provide you all with a written description of that actual position soon but essentially it a role outside of the prefect structure. You will have the same privileges as the Head Boy and Girl but your role will be to develop social activities for the school, during the year. You will be the conduit through which I hope to bring joy, happiness and healing to our school,' McGonagall concluded leaning back and steepling her fingers in front of her as her elbows rested on the arms of her desk chair.
'I think it's a great idea Ma'am, but why us?' Harry asked slightly puzzled as to why he would be asked when clearly Lavender or Parvati would be more adept at developing ideas for the types of things McGonagall was asking them to do.
From the corner of his eye he saw Daphne give him an exasperated look, before his attention was taken by McGonagall again. A small smile quirked the lips of the Headmistress, 'Because Mr Potter, you are all leaders of your Houses. Whilst none of the others here are as overt with their leadership as you, Daphne and Susan were instrumental in securing the Hufflepuff common room against the Death Eaters, protecting it to their own detriment and are being recognised for their actions in the papers as we speak.'
'Mr Rivers on the other hand is a slightly different case, it was through his efforts that the school elves managed to support Mr Longbottom throughout the school year. They had been forbidden to acquire supplies for the fugitives by the Carrow twins and Severus had to back their stand or be seen to be subverting the student population. Mr Rivers' used his own house elves and money along with several other Ravenclaws to secure and supply the hidden students for the last seven months of the school year.'
Harry saw the other students' heads swing with his own to stare incredulously at the other boy who was now blushing and refusing to meet their eyes. 'It was the least I could do, besides I had help,' was the mumbled comment that broke the silence after several moments.
'Of which I am aware, however you were the driving force behind the initiative. You did very well Oliver, you should be proud of what you achieved, without you they would not have survived until Mr Potter arrived,' McGonagall's voice was warm, kind and full of pride in the softly spoken Ravenclaw boy.
'There is also one further reason, all of you are the Heirs to great Houses, you will all have a duty to our world as you grow up Miss Bones and Mr Potter will have that thrust upon them as soon as they leave school, and at some point Miss Greengrass and Mr Rivers' will join you in that arena.'
'Whilst none of you are obligated to return to school, I would hope that you will consider it and help heal our society from the ground up. I would also ask another favour of you all.' At their nods of acquiescence she continued, 'In two days' time I am going to be asking several staff and board members to help me raise the Hogwarts wards again, we have had a Gringotts ward master and former alumni Jonathon Applebee here for the past week identifying and configuring a way to bring the wards back up.'
'He has almost got everything ready and is going back over the final calculations as we speak. I am not a ward master, nor am I the former Headmaster Dumbledore and to be quite frank would have no idea where to start, but Jonathon will step us all through the process. I am asking you all as he believes that it will require the magic of thirteen witches and wizards working in concert and believes that the best combination form his understanding of the ward constructs is to have the head of the school, plus four staff, four board members and four students involved in this process.'
The staff and I, along with the remaining Aurors have been casting daily Muggle-Notice-Me-Not charms over the Castle and grounds to at least maintain the statute of secrecy, but we will need a more permanent solution as soon as possible.'
Almost as one but in various words all four of them volunteered themselves to help.
'Then please wait here whilst I go and retrieve Jonathon so that he can explain what you will need to do so that you can make an informed decision,' with that McGonagall stood and exited the room.
- AFW -
Daphne's hand was warm in his own as they walked back into the Infirmary. The Headmistress had passed along a message from Madam Pomfrey that she would like to talk to the pair of them at their earliest convenience. They had walked in silence after leaving the Headmistress' office and Harry assumed that they were both lost in thought regarding the information that Ward Master Applebee had relayed to them.
'Blood rites, they would be participating in a blood rite to bring the legendary Hogwarts wards back up.' He had been furious as soon as the Ward Master mentioned what he thought was dark magic but he had been mistaken. It had taken Daphne sitting on his lap and whispering in his ear to get him to stop and listen.
The blood rite wasn't what he thought it would be, it would require each of them to be located at different key stones, and allowing their blood and magic to power the wards, it would likely drain them all to the point of collapse and there was a chance that their efforts may fail, but if everything went well then the wards would solidify and hold.
'Ah Miss Greengrass and Mr Potter, I was so hoping that I would get to see you soon,' Poppy Pomfrey greeted them before they had walked more than a dozen steps inside the doors.
'Madam Pomfrey,' Harry inclined his head to the Medi Witch, 'What can we do for you? The Headmistress said that you want to see us.'
'Indeed Mr Potter, please follow me,' with that Madam Pomfrey turned and walked further into the Infirmary without looking back.
Daphne exchanged a look with him, but shrugged indicating that she didn't have any ideas as to what Poppy wanted so they fell in step behind her.
Madam Pomfrey held the curtain of a cubicle open and gestured them both in, Hermione was sleeping peacefully, still skeletal, her features sharp and edgy but no longer pale. What surprised Harry the most however was the fact that she was not alone in her room. A most unusual visitor sat next to her bed his left arm strapped across his chest and a walking stick lying next to the chair.
He looked up at their entrance, nodded to them both before returning his attention to the girl in the bed, a small frown was marring his features.
'We have a problem Mr Potter,' started Poppy, 'Actually I believe we have two, but I do not know how significant the second problem is.'
'Malfoy what have you done?' Harry half snarled trying to move towards the now confused looking blonde only to be held back by Daphne.
'Mr Potter, control yourself this has nothing to do with Mr Malfoy,' snapped Poppy glaring at Harry.
'Oh … umm sorry,' Harry said contritely ducking his head as a slow blush crept up his neck to his cheeks. 'Carry on then, what's the problem?'
Poppy narrowed her eyes at him before giving a harrumph and continuing, 'As I was saying we have a problem, Miss Grangers medical costs need to be met, the problem is that her account at Gringotts has a hold on it and I need money to access the potions I need to help with her recovery. Horace could brew the potions but unfortunately the ingredients are quite expensive ...'
'So take it from my vault then,' Harry interrupted, he had more than enough to cover this surely especially with the amount of gold that Dumbledore had accrued for him over the years.
'I had already taken the liberty of enquiring if that would be possible knowing it likely that you would make such an offer, however I have been informed by Gringotts that your accounts are also at this stage along with those of the Weasley family subject to a hold,' Poppy informed them.
Harry's mind was swirling with worry, when Daphne spoke up, 'How much do you need to access the appropriate ingredients?'
'Approximately three and half thousand galleon's per dose, the ingredients for the potion are extremely rare and costly to procure; it is a good thing that Miss Granger will likely only require a single dose of Le Renouveau and not a complete course of ten potions,' Poppy replied looking over the sleeping girl. 'Do you have the means to procure this many galleons from somewhere else on short notice Mr Potter ?'
Before he could answer a croaky voice beat him to it, 'Take it from my vault.'
Six eyes turned and examined Draco as one, 'Excuse me Mr Malfoy?' Poppy asked the blonde wizard.
Draco cleared his throat, but never took his eyes off of whatever he was staring at on Hermione's bed, 'I said take it from my vault and whilst you are at it get rid of that scar on her left forearm as well, and fix any other damage that you can as well.'
Harry blinked before comprehension dawned on him as to what Draco was staring at, Hermione's arms were lying alongside her on top of the blankets, and stark against her pale forearm was the carved word "Mudblood" the skin knotted and still blood red. Draco's haunted eyes never left her arm.
'Are you sure Mr Malfoy?' Poppy's tone was subdued, at his curt nod she continued, 'Would you by chance know where the knife is that inflicted that wound, Mr Malfoy?'
Harry's mind was racing, he didn't know how he felt about Draco paying for Hermione's treatment but at this stage apart from asking either the Greengrasses or Longbottoms for assistance he didn't know what to do. So instead he settled for gratitude, 'Thank you Mal … Draco, but you don't have to do this you know.'
Draco's eyes still never left Hermione's arm, 'Yes I do Pott … er,' he paused for a moment, before his eyes swung to Harry's. His grey eyes were pain filled and full of horror, 'Yes I do Harry, I have my own reasons and I know that I tormented her for virtually the entire time I have known you both, but she didn't deserve what my Aunt did to her in front of me, no-one did. My family owes her a debt that we will never be able to repay … just as you do.'
His eyes stayed locked on his own until Harry finally nodded his acceptance, Draco gave a small nod of his own before they moved on to Poppy, 'I will bring the knife back in the morning it was part of my Aunt's affects delivered to my mother yesterday morning from the Ministry. Until then use this to buy what you need.'
Draco fished a square token about on a cord from his pocket. Each side was about three quarters of an inch and it was golden in colour, the cord dangled from one of the corners and Harry could see as it rotated beneath Draco's hand a stylised G on one side and a coat of arms on the other.
'And the second problem?' Daphne asked as Harry tried to get his head around the unfamiliar Draco Malfoy standing in front of him.
'We found this in her pocket, we think this may have set off her mental breakdown, but we don't know why,' said Madam Pomfrey handing a note to Daphne.
'What's it say?' Harry asked turning his mind from Draco, knowing he was unlikely to solve that mystery any time soon and walked to the opposite side of the bed to take the hand of his unconscious best friend.
Daphne frowned at the parchment before reading,
Miss Hermione Granger,
It is Gringott's sad duty to inform you that Wendell and Monica Wilkins died in a muggle motor vehicle accident just outside of Mildura, Victoria, Australia on the 3rd of May 1998 at approximately ten thirty in the evening local time.
Muggleborn Liaison Officer
'Oh shit,' the words escaped his lips before he could think straight. Harry felt Daphne's eyeson him so he turned and looked into her ice blue orbs as they searched his for answers, 'They were Hermione's parents, to protect them she changed their memories and identities and sent them to Australia so that Death Eaters couldn't use them against her or … me.'
Daphne's hand came to her mouth and blood drained from her face, before she turned stricken eyes towards the girl on the bed.
Again he felt eyes on him and he turned to meet Draco's dead eyes, they were void of emotion and his face was an impassive mask, without another word Draco rose, dropped the token into Poppy's hand and strode from the room.