Disclaimer: Everything belongs to JKR.
AN: Many thanks to my editor, Federer Rex, who kept me nagging to continue this story, and did a marvellous job to turn my Denglish into proper English.
The first adrenaline rush that had somewhat numbed Daphne's pain ebbed off as they reached the hallway that led to the infirmary. Daphne hissed and hunched, as if to prevent her clothes from getting into contact with her skin.
Harry stopped. 'Wait, love, I'm going to carry you.'
Daphne shot him a glare and moved on. 'Over my dead body, Potter, I'm not some damsel in distress.'
'No, but you're in pain. Wasn't it somewhere in my vows that I'll take care of you or something like that?'
She snorted. 'You wouldn't know, love. You can't remember making your vows.'
He laughed at that. 'True.'
She joined in his laughter, although her laughter soon ended with another hiss.
He glanced at her. It was clear from her puckered brows and the way she bit her lip that the pain was worse than she was saying. Why on earth was she being this stubborn? He let out a breath when the door to the infirmary came into sight, and he moved ahead to push the door open.
Madam Pomfrey was at her desk, quill in hand and a surprised look on her face as they entered. Her face darkened at the sight of him.
'Mr Potter! Why—'
Daphne caught up with him and halted in the doorway.
Madam Pomfrey stopped what had seemed to become a rant at him, got up from her seat and rushed towards Daphne. 'Mrs Potter, what happened?'
'I caught an entire pot of tea in my lap, not sure what I did, but the handle snapped on the teapot. Harry had just used it, too. Just like my luck at the moment.' She attempted a wan smile, but it wasn't convincing.
'Oh, you poor dear! Where did the hot tea hit you?' The matron guided her to the nearest bed and motioned her to sit down.
Daphne obeyed with a soft hiss. 'My lower stomach and thighs.'
'Alright, let's get you out of these robes.' Madam Pomfrey flicked her wand and summoned a screen from a corner of the room. The screen erected itself around Daphne's bed and shut Harry out. He stepped around the screen.
Madam Pomfrey's no-nonsense voice forced him into a hasty retreat.
'I don't care if you are married. My patient will have privacy during her examination. If your wife agrees, I'll inform you about the extent of her injuries and her treatment. Until then, let me do my work, Mr Potter!'
'Sorry, Madam Pomfrey.' Warmth crept into Harry's face. How could he have forgotten what a mother dragon the matron was?
Despite her pain, Daphne smirked at him over Madam Pomfrey's shoulder.
Harry retreated to lean against the wall opposite Daphne's bed and crossed his arms in front of his chest, while his fingers drummed a staccato beat on his biceps. No sound came from behind the screen. That dratted woman must have put up Silencing Charms.
At last, the screen vanished. Daphne sat on the edge of the bed and was slipping her shoes on. Madam Pomfrey had her back to him and her wand out. Something from one of the cupboards that lined the far wall of the infirmary soared into her waiting hand.
'Put this on the affected areas twice a day today and tomorrow, Mrs Potter, and you should be as right as rain by Monday.' She handed a small tube to Daphne.
'Thank you, Madam Pomfrey.' Daphne slipped the tube into the pocket of her robes. She looked up, and a smile appeared on her face as she saw him leaning against the wall. 'I'll live, love. Only superficial scalding. Madam Pomfrey dealt with it, and I'm already much better. The pain has gone. It's just tender now.'
A weight lifted off his chest, and Harry sighed. He pushed himself off the wall, stepped beside Daphne, slipped his arm around her shoulders and squeezed. 'Well, Thank Merlin!' He dropped a kiss on top of her head.
Daphne stood and wrapped an arm around his waist for balance. 'Am I free to leave, Madam Pomfrey?'
'You are, dear. Mind you, no hot baths for another week.' She patted Daphne's hand, gave Harry a curt nod, then turned back to her desk.
Harry slid his arm down to Daphne's waist, and they ambled towards their apartment.
Terry waited by their door, his jaw set and mouth a grim line.
Harry's stomach dropped. He'd found something.
'We've got to talk,' Terry said as soon as they had caught up with him. He waited until Harry had opened the door and ushered Terry and Daphne into the living room, then pulled the shrunken teapot and handle out of the pocket of his robes, enlarged them, and put them onto the coffee table.
Daphne's gaze wandered from Terry to him and then towards the teapot. 'You found another one.' It was a statement, not a question. She walked towards her favourite chair in the bay window and plopped into it, her face a stony mask.
Harry sat down on the armrest and put an arm across the back of the chair. His stomach knotted itself into a tight ball of fury. This time, the prankster had gone too far.
Terry picked up the teapot, turned it upside down, and pointed at a slight scratch at the bottom. 'Here it is. The same set of runes as we found on the threshold of the Defence classroom.'
Daphne took the teapot from his hands and examined it. 'This is rather ingenious. There's only a few in the castle who could do this, besides the teachers.' She put the teapot back onto the table and wiped her fingers on her robes as if she had picked up something dirty.
Harry gave a harsh laugh. 'Daph, I don't care how ingenious that bastard is. This has gone on too long. This latest prank hurt you.'
'It was only superficial.'
'You've been lucky,' Harry and Terry said in unison. They shared a weak grin.
Terry ran a hand through his hair. 'Look, Daphne, Harry is right. This could have been worse, and the other pranks weren't harmless, either. Your belongings were destroyed and your homework, too, which could have impacted your grades. That is not nothing.'
Harry hugged his wife to himself. 'As I told you yesterday, love, we need to tell McGonagall.'
Daphne slumped. 'I hate to tell on someone.'
'This is not telling.' He gave her another hug for encouragement. 'Daph, you know the rules the board of governors laid down for bullying at the beginning of the school year. This is bullying at its worst, and you know you should report it. If you don't, I will.' He raised his chin, his jaw set.
She sighed. It sounded defeated. 'All right.'
Terry got up. 'I'll leave you to it. I've got to revise Gamp's law or McGonagall will feed me to her cat.' With a goodbye wave, he left their apartment.
Daphne sighed, rested her head against his side, then pushed herself to her feet. 'We had better go see her now. This has already cut into our revision, and I don't want to waste any more time.'
Headmistress McGonagall leaned back in her chair and regarded them with an assessing look.
With Harry's help, Daphne had told her everything that had happened to her, beginning with the strap of her bag breaking and ending with this morning's attack.
'I had noticed some commotion at the Hufflepuff table, and that you and Mr Potter left the Great Hall, but thought nothing of it. I'm sorry, I should have investigated it.' She turned towards Harry. 'You are sure this prank was aimed at Mrs Potter?'
'Positive.' Harry nodded and produced the broken teapot from the pocket of his robes and enlarged it. He turned the teapot upside down and handed it across the desk to Headmistress McGonagall. 'Look at that scratch at the bottom.'
The headmistress pulled a drawer of her desk open, took out a looking glass, and examined the teapot. She gasped. 'This is perfidious.' She put the looking glass and the teapot on her desk and looked at Harry and Daphne, her lips pressed into a thin line. 'Be assured, Mr and Mrs Potter, that the teaching staff and I will look into this. It is intolerable that a student got hurt because of a so-called prank. We'll do everything in our power to find who is responsible for this.' She motioned towards the teapot with one hand, and her lips became even thinner. 'The necessary actions will be taken as soon as we catch them.'
Harry leaned forward in his seat. This sounded more forceful than any action Professor Dumbledore had taken to subdue the bullies at school. However, how serious were Headmistress McGonagall's promises? 'What are you going to do? Will you call in the Aurors to investigate?'
The headmistress shook her head. 'No, not yet, I should say. While the attacks on Mrs Potter are spiteful and the latest caused bodily harm, I don't think the latter is the initial goal of whoever is behind this, so calling in the Aurors seems like taking a sledgehammer to break a nut. I reserve the right to revise my decision, should the pranks escalate.'
'What will you do then?'
'You are certain the same person engraved the set of runes onto the door of the Defence classroom and the teapot?' Headmistress McGonagall asked instead of an answer.
'Absolutely, the magical signature on both sets is the same,' Harry said.
Headmistress McGonagall nodded. 'The course of action I'm proposing is based on that. You said you destroyed the set of runes on the door to the Defence classroom. I'm counting on the prankster discovering that soon, and hope they will want to replace the runes. They have had way too much success with them not to. In the meantime, I'll ask the house elves to monitor the door around the clock. If the prankster shows themself, they will report to me, and the board of governors will deal with them.'
Harry's eyes became wide. 'You're talking about expulsion?'
'The board of governors and I didn't draw up these new rules of conduct because we had too much spare time on our hands, Mr Potter.'
He exchanged a look with his wife.
Daphne gave him a small nod and stood. 'I'm satisfied with that. Come on, Harry, Monday will be here soon enough, and I still have work to do.'
They said goodbye, left Headmistress McGonagall's office and returned to their apartment, where they spent the rest of the day revising for their exams.
On Sunday, Harry and Daphne had agreed on meeting with their friends in the seventh year common room to quiz each other on the topics that would most likely come up in the exams and got up early on Sunday morning to enjoy a leisurely breakfast in their apartment to make up somewhat for the hard day ahead of them.
Daphne sighed. 'I miss our visits with Teddy and Andromeda.'
A warm spot ignited in Harry's chest, and he smiled at his wife. 'We'll make up for that when the exams are over. Friday afternoon, as soon as we are both done, we'll ask one of the elves to pop us over to Andromeda's and spend the afternoon with them. You really love him, don't you?'
'What's not to love? He's so small and precious, he's—' The ringing of the Banishing Box interrupted her.
Harry cursed under his breath and pushed his chair back. 'Merlin's saggy balls! Who the hell's sending letters on a Sunday?' He walked into the living room and returned with three envelopes. One of them bore the seal of the Ministry of Magic. He turned it in his hand and studied the seal with furrowed eyebrows. What was that about?
Daphne put down her teacup. 'Oh, that has to be your invitation to the Ministry's Yule Ball.'
He groaned and sat down. 'Please, tell me you're kidding, love.'
'Crybaby!' She laughed. 'A ball won't kill you, Harry.'
The memory of Richard Sprout pointing his wand at him at their wedding ball popped up in his mind. 'I'm not so sure about that. The last one almost got me. And you.'
Daphne bit on her lip. 'Sorry, that was a dumb thing to say.'
He opened the letter with the tip of his wand and pulled out a card made of thick parchment with the seal of the Ministry of Magic embossed onto it. 'As you said, the invitation to the Yule Ball.' He tossed the card across the table so it slid towards his wife. 'Do we have to go?' His cheeks grew warm. He sounded like a whining toddler.
Daphne slapped her hand on the card just before it hit the butter dish and shook her head at him. 'Yes, of course we do. Stop whinging, it doesn't become you. You know very well that as a member of the Wizengamot you have to attend, not to mention that you are magical Britain's biggest living hero.'
'Ugh!' He opened the next two letters and spoke to her as he read them. They were both short and to the point. 'Are you in a conspiracy with Gordon and Kingsley? They both wrote and told me I had to attend.'
She snorted at that. 'No, but I'm not surprised. They know you too well.' She sobered. 'I know you don't like the public attention we are most likely going to get. Neither do I. However, don't you think people will leave us alone if we show ourselves once in a while on events like the ball?'
'That's an interesting theory, Daph.' Harry sighed and banished the letters to their folders on his desk. 'However, I doubt it'll work.' He emptied his teacup and stood up. 'Come on, it's about time to meet the others.'
Their friends already waited for them in the study area next to the common room. Hermione's foot tapped the floor in an impatient beat, and she glared at them as they walked into the room.
Harry shared a look with Ron, and they both rolled their eyes as soon as Hermione turned her back on them.
Of course, she was the one who organised their study session. That got her some good-natured ribbing from their group. However, they left her to that; after all, she was the most organised of all of them, except for Daphne, maybe. She split them up into pairs and one group of three and had them quiz each other. Daphne worked with Meghan in one corner of the room, and Terry, Ernie, and Neville sat at the table next to them. Ron and Lisa retreated to the corner opposite.
That left him working with Hermione. They took turns to quiz each other on the properties of potion ingredients. Harry thought he did well, given this was his least favourite subject.
Hermione, however, didn't share his opinion. 'You covered everything, except you forgot to mention the use of moonstones to enhance the effect of mint combined with flakes of unicorn horn in beauty potions.'
He rolled his eyes at her. 'Since that is rather obscure knowledge the examiners probably don't know, I'm sure omitting that one won't lead to me failing the exam.'
Hermione looked at him as if he had grown another head. 'Harry, you can't say that, knowing things like this might be the difference between Exceeding Expectations and an Outstanding.' Even her hair seemed to bristle with indignation.
'I'll take that chance.' He bent forward and took the book from Hermione. 'It's your turn.'
'Are you sure you don't want me to go through the list with you once more so that you'll remember everything?'
'Positive. Come on, Hermione, what's the use of aconite?'
She launched into a long-winded explanation that followed the textbook almost word by word.
His finger followed the text and he nodded at each point she mentioned. 'Well done, Hermione, you got it all.'
'Are you sure? I'm certain I forgot something. What about the seven uses of angelica, and the consequences of incorrectly mixing asphodel into a solution of dragon blood and rat hearts? Clockwise or anti-clockwise, it matters, Harry!' She didn't wait for his response, snatched the book out of his hands and flipped through it at a frantic speed.
Harry raised both his hands. 'Whoa, take it easy, Hermione.'
She didn't pay any heed and muttered something intelligible to herself.
He shook his head. This was like before their O.W.L.s all over again. Some things never changed. He'd better leave her to that, she'd snap at him if he tried to convince her she was most likely better prepared than their entire group put together. He turned in his seat to see how his friends were faring.
Ron and Lisa both had a book in their lap and took turns asking each other questions. By the smiles on both of their faces, they seemed to make good headway.
Ernie, Terry, and Neville were already finished. Terry and Ernie had a chessboard between them, and Neville watched the game. He made a comment that made the other two laugh, but no sound reached him from the table, a sure sign they had put up a Silencing Charm.
His eyes tracked to the corner where Meghan and Daphne sat. He couldn't hear their voices, so they also had put up a Silencing Charm. Meghan had the book in her lap and was quizzing Daphne. Daphne's hands fiddled with a quill, her face was flushed, and she frowned in deep concentration. Meghan shook her head at something Daphne said, and his wife huffed and threw herself back in her chair, the colour of her cheeks deepening.
Harry's stomach fluttered, and his breath hitched. It seemed as if Daphne's revision wasn't going well. No wonder after everything she'd been through over the last couple of days. It had not only cut into her revision time but had upset her much more than she cared to admit. Merlin, he couldn't wait until they could leave the castle. If it weren't for that ridiculous Ministry rule that anyone who wanted to take the N.E.W.T.s had to attend Hogwarts this year, he'd pull both of them out of school, get them private tutors, and return only for the final exams. However, did they need their N.E.W.T.s, given how much had changed since they received their Hogwarts letters during their honeymoon? He had to give that some thought and, of course, talk to Daphne.
Hermione handed the textbook back to him, and he resumed the quiz, only to have her snatch the book back for a second time not even two minutes later, and look up another detail she was sure she had got wrong.
Harry sighed. This was going to be a long afternoon.
At last, Hermione called it a day. The others had long ago finished their work and left, except for Daphne, who had settled down with her books at the table and read through her Transfiguration notes one last time.
'Are you joining us for lunch in the Great Hall?' Hermione asked as she packed up her books.
Harry looked at his wife.
She shook her head. 'I'd rather stay at our apartment today and get some last-minute revising done.'
'Alright, see you then tomorrow.' Hermione swung the strap of her book bag over her shoulder and left the room with a small wave at them.
Harry took Daphne's hand, and they ambled back to their apartment.
Just before they turned into the corridor that led to the apartments for the married students, Daphne stumbled and bumped with her shoulder against him. 'Ouch!'
His arm shot out to steady her. 'Are you hurt?'
'No, I just stumbled.' She looked over her shoulder, her right leg bent, and examined her foot.
His gaze followed hers. The heel of her right shoe was missing. He huffed, not again! 'I guess if I'd examine the floor of the area we just passed, I'm going to find another set of runes,' he said.
Daphne sighed and put her foot back to the ground. 'With no doubt. I'm tired of this.' She motioned to hobble towards their apartment. When he didn't follow her, she stopped, turned around, and arched a questioning eyebrow at him.
'I'd better find the set of runes and destroy it.' Harry gestured towards the floor. 'Headmistress McGonagall will want to know about this. It's another spot she can watch and maybe catch the perpetrator.'
'Right. See you in a few, then.' Daphne continued her way to their apartment.
Harry sighed, knelt, and got to work.
The rest of the day passed as they had planned. Daphne was calm and in a positive mood about her preparations for the exams when they went to bed that night, and Harry thanked all the deities he could think of for that.
On Monday morning, Daphne woke up with a groan. She swung her legs over the bed and kept sitting there for a while, doubled over, her arms slung around her abdomen, and rocked herself.
Harry's stomach sank. What was wrong? Was she going to get sick? Had the prankster somehow got a potion into her that made her sick? He crawled over the bed and sat beside her. 'Daph, what's wrong? Do you need to go to the infirmary?'
She shook her head, although a small grunt of pain escaped her lips. In the grey light of the early morning, her skin had a greenish tinge, and Harry's heart made another uncomfortable leap.
'It's nothing, love, just cramps. I thought I had two or three more days until it starts, but you know how it is. These things can't be planned and always come when you least want them.'
A weight lifted even though the worry remained. While that wasn't good—Daphne had recently suffered a lot of pain during her monthlies—at least it wasn't another attack from the prankster. He put his arms around her, pulled her towards him, and dropped a kiss on her forehead. By now he knew better than to come too close when she had cramps. 'Is there anything I can do for you?'
Sure enough, she stiffened under his touch, yet she gave him a strained smile. 'Get me a Pain-Relief-Potion, perhaps?'
He got to his feet. 'Give me a sec.'
Daphne's half of their bathroom cabinet was well stocked with makeup utensils, and there were even a few phials of Pain-Relief-Potion on the top shelf. Harry grabbed one, returned to the bedroom, and handed the phial to his wife.
She snatched the phial out of his hand, uncorked it, and downed its content in one large gulp. 'Ewww!' She shook herself and put the empty phial on her bedside table. 'That stuff is horrible. At least it works instantly.' She got up and stretched. Her eyes fell on the alarm clock next to their bed, and she let out a gasp. 'We need to get ready, Harry, or we will be late!'
She disappeared into the bathroom, and Harry let out a deep breath. It seemed the crisis was averted, for the time being. She looked much better, her skin had lost the greenish hue. There was hope she'd made it through today's exams without another bout of pain. If only the prankster held off today, everything would be alright.
They met their friends in the Great Hall for breakfast. As always on the morning of an exam day, the cavernous room was teeming with nervous energy. Some students still poured over their books, trying to get some last-minute information into their heads, while others tried to maintain an unperturbed facade.
Their exam week started with Transfiguration. Harry escorted Daphne to the classroom and took his seat next to her. Under the watchful eyes of Professor Metcalfe, he got out quills and ink.
Besides him, Daphne rummaged through her bag. Red spots had appeared on her cheeks, and she murmured something to herself.
Harry leaned towards her and put his hand on her arm. 'What's the matter, love?'
Her head swirled around, and she stared at him with wide eyes. 'I can't find my quills and my ink pot.'
His stomach gave a jolt. Not again! Why did the prankster have to choose the last moments before the exams to strike again?
Aloud he said, 'Let me have a look, love, chances are that you are too nervous and just overlook them.'
She rolled her eyes at him, yet handed her book bag to him.
A short, yet thoroughly search of the bag had him come up empty-handed, too. He suppressed the swear word that was on the tip of his tongue. It wouldn't help Daphne at all. Instead, he picked up his bag once again. Thank Merlin, Hermione had drilled into him from their first year on to always be prepared and always carry a couple of spare quills and ink pots with him on exam days. He pulled out a few quills and an ink pot and put them on her desk. 'Here, they should last you through the exam until you can get your own.'
She gave him a wide-eyed glance, then let out a deep breath, and her shoulders slumped. 'You're a lifesaver. I'll make it up to you.'
'No doubt.' Harry winked at his wife.
Daphne's cheeks pinked, and a slight giggle escaped her mouth. 'Prat!'
A weight rolled off Harry's shoulders. Daphne seemed to be back to normal, the incident with the missing quills already forgotten.
Professor Metcalf cleared her throat, and the class fell silent. A short flick of her wand distributed the stack of parchment on her desk among the students. 'You have three hours. Begin.'
Harry took a deep breath, pulled the parchment towards him, and read the first question.
'Well, that wasn't as difficult as I had thought it would be,' Hermione said on their way back to the Great Hall for lunch. 'Although I am not quite satisfied with my answer to question number twenty-seven b, I feel I should have elaborated some more on the different applications of Gamp's Law, after all—'
Harry and Ron exchanged a look and burst out in laughter.
'Give it a rest, Hermione,' Ron said and bumped shoulders with her. 'You know that neither of us wants to discuss the exams now that we're finished.'
Hermione made a face, then joined their laughter. She bent forward to look past Harry at Daphne, who snuggled into her husband's side. 'What about you, Daphne?'
Daphne shook her head with a small laugh. 'I'll pass, I'd rather catch my breath before the Arithmancy exam this afternoon.'
Hermione made a face, yet relented.
They met their friends at the Hufflepuff table. After lunch, Harry and Daphne went for a walk down to the lake.
'This was a good idea.' Daphne took a deep breath as she walked next to him. The icy December air put some colour back in her cheeks and for the first time that day, she looked relaxed.
Harry had no more exams that day, so he escorted Daphne to the Arithmancy classroom. Merlin only knew what the prankster could come up with on the short walk. Daphne didn't need more excitement that day. He made sure she had everything she'd need for the exam, and then settled down in a small alcove opposite of the classroom door to wait for her.
Three hours later, the classroom door opened, and a smiling Daphne came out, followed by a somewhat harassed looking Hermione.
Harry sighed in relief; it seemed Daphne's exam went well. He stepped towards his wife and put an arm around her shoulders, and she snuggled into him with a content sigh.
'Aren't you coming to the Great Hall for dinner?' Hermione asked as he made no move to walk down the Great Staircase, but turned into the direction of their apartment.
Harry shook his head. 'It has been a long day, Hermione. I think I can speak for Daphne when I say that all we want tonight is a quiet night and maybe get some revising done.'
'You can say that again,' Daphne murmured.
Hermione furrowed her brows. It didn't look as if she agreed.
He couldn't care less.
She pressed her lips together, gave them a small nod in a "suit yourself" way, and continued down the Grand Staircase.
Harry let out a breath he had no idea he'd been holding. Neither he nor Daphne talked on the short walk to their apartment.
Daphne made a beeline for the nearest sofa and slumped gracelessly with a groan and clutched at her stomach.
She nodded, eyes squeezed tight. 'The potion wore off.'
'Do you want me to get you another Pain-Relief-Potion?'
'Better not. They're rather strong, Madam Pomfrey warned me not to take more than one a day.'
He searched his brain for the few things he knew about how to deal with women's monthlies. Ernie and Terry had been rather frank about what Morag and Lisa went through each month. Strange, back then he'd thought that Daphne dealt much better with her monthlies, she'd never given him the slightest indication that they were troubling her at all. Only in the last month or so did she seem to suffer more. Maybe she should go see Madam Pomfrey again.
Since another Pain-Relief-Potion was out of the question, he went into the kitchen and prepared a hot bottle for his wife. When he returned to the living room, Daphne had stretched out on the sofa, her eyes closed and her hands held protectively over her lower stomach. He picked up her hands and placed the hot bottle beneath them.
'Ooh!' Daphne opened her eyes with a contented sigh and smiled at him. 'You know that I love you, don't you?'
Harry huffed in amusement. 'You've mentioned it once or twice, yeah.'
Daphne scrambled to a sitting position and patted the space next to her. When he complied, she took his hand.
'Imagine that I, Daphne Greengrass, who was raised to be the perfect Pureblood wife and to always present an immaculate facade to her husband, married a man who doesn't give two hoots that I'm out of sorts once in a month and even goes out of his way to make me feel better. You have no idea what that means to me, Harry.'
Harry stroked her hand, then winked at her. 'I aim to please.' The next moment, he sobered. 'The other day Ernie was complaining that Morag was out of sorts, so we compared notes. It made me think that even though we've been married for almost five months, you've never shown any sign of your monthlies. It changed last month. Did you do something different?'
Daphne's face flushed a deep red. She lowered her head and bit her lips.'I didn't think you'd notice.' She raised her head and looked at him. 'There is a certain potion, it has to be taken daily and it suppresses all the uncomfortable side effects of being a woman. My mother had her house elves deliver it to me the day we told my parents of our marriage, and insisted that I took it. Back then, I was still insecure about our marriage. Yes, we were attracted to each other and both made an effort to make it work, but would that be enough? Would you still care for me if I was less than perfect?'
'Daphne, you daft sod!' He pulled her towards him and pecked a kiss on her lips.
'I know that now. That's why I decided two months ago to stop taking the potion. It comes with a price.'
His stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch, and he sucked in his breath but kept silent.
She fixed her watery gaze on their linked hands 'It reduces the lifespan. Most witches who take that potion don't live to see their fiftieth birthday.'
He startled. The next moment he pulled her towards him and held her close. 'What! Promise me you'll never take it again! It's horrible that anyone would willingly damage themselves for a perfect image. I want to grow old with you, spoil our grandchildren with you. If it means putting up with being kicked out of bed occasionally and bringing hot water bottles and pain relief potions for you, it's not much of a sacrifice.''
She snuggled against him. 'I know that now; I'm so happy that I don't have to put up an act for you and that you love me how I am, period pain included.'
The next morning, Daphne seemed to be much better. She walked to the Great Hall beside him without a sign of pain. The tension building in his shoulders eased. He hated seeing her in pain.
After breakfast, they went to the greenhouses for their Herbology exam. Daphne fidgeted with the hem of her robes while they waited for Professor Sprout.
'Nervous?' Harry whispered into her ear.
She made a face and nodded. 'Herbology isn't my favourite.'
'You'll be fine.' He put his arm around her waist and squeezed her.
'Your words to Merlin's ear.'
Professor Sprout opened the door to greenhouse four and turned to lead them in. Inside of the greenhouse, there stood a long line of potting tables. Each table held a young Venomous Tentacula.
Harry made a face. The bite of a grown-up Venomous Tentacula was deadly, and while the small plants on the tables didn't contain enough poison to kill a human, it was still enough that their bite would require a trip to the infirmary.
'The plants are teething and need to be repotted,' Professor Sprout said. 'That is the first part of your exam. The second part is to harvest five milk teeth. You have an hour. Go!'
At the table next to him, Daphne let out a huff of frustration. 'I hate working with these! Of all the plants they could use for our exams, why Tentaculas?'
Harry gave her a quick sideways smile. 'It's only an hour. You know your stuff, you can do it.'
Professor Sprout cleared her throat and gave him a warning stare.
He acknowledged that with a sheepish smile, pulled on his dragonhide gloves, and set to work.
The trick in dealing with Venomous Tentaculas was speed, combined with the right spells to quieten down the plant. Harry prepared everything for the repotting and laid out the tools he'd need to harvest the milk teeth. His plant seemed to be still asleep in its old pot. Its longish tentacles hung over the rim of the pot, and the whole plant gently undulated, as if breathing in deep slumber. He hurried to finish his preparations while the Tentacula was still docile. Hitting the Tentacula unawares with the Calming Charm was crucial, otherwise, it would fight back: they sensed magic and became restless at its use on or near them
Besides him, Daphne did the same. She even hummed a low lullaby to keep her Tentacula asleep.
Professor Sprout passed her work table and gave her a nod of approval. 'That is a very good idea, Mrs Potter. Plants are sensitive and sentient beings, just like us, and they react to emotional stimulation.'
Daphne straightened a bit.
Harry grinned to himself. No matter how strongly Professor Sprout was convinced that the Venomous Tentaculas reacted to someone singing to them, he wouldn't be trying it. That might have disastrous consequences if the plant took offence to his singing voice. Instead, he pulled out his wand and cast a strong Calming Charm on the plant. It didn't stir, and he breathed slightly easier. He took a spreader from the table and gently forced the fangs of the plant apart to get at the loose milk teeth. They were an expensive potion ingredient. In short order, the small basket Professor Sprout had given him to collect the teeth was full.
The professor came over to get the precious harvest. "Very well done, Mr Potter. You, too, Mrs Potter," she said to Daphne, who just put the last tooth into her basket.
Daphne gave her a satisfied smile in return.
Now came the tricky part. He had to make sure the Venomous Tentacula wouldn't get aggressive and turn on him when he took it out of its old pot and put it into the new larger one. They were notoriously difficult if the ambient temperature was even a few degrees too low, hence the magical greenhouse. Harry took a deep breath and renewed the Calming Charm on the plant.
It did not react.
Harry removed the Tentacula from its pot, put it into the new one, and added a generous amount of shredded horn of dragon claws as he filled up the remaining gaps with fresh potting soil and pressed it into the pot with his hands.
At last, he was finished. He put his Venomous Tentacula on the shelf Professor Sprout had pointed out for them for later grading, pulled off his dragon skin gloves, and wiped the perspiration from his brow with his sleeve. Another difficult exam done. With a relieved sigh, he turned back to his workplace to clean up. Professor Sprout would deduct points if they left a mess behind.
Daphne was in the last stages of repotting her Tentacula.
Harry put his tools away, wiped off the bench, and went to the door of the greenhouse to wait for his wife.
Daphne picked up her repotted Tentacula and took it to the shelf to be graded. She put the plant down, turned her back on it, and dusted off her gloves.
The moment Daphne turned her back on it, the plant reared its tentacles as if awakening from a deep slumber, stretched, and bared its fangs.
A solid ball of ice formed in Harry's midriff. "Daphne, move!" he called, already bringing his wand to bear and casting a silent Calming Charm on the Tentacula.
The Tentacula dodged, already agitated, and his charm passed bare inches from his intended target.
Daphne whirled around, her eyes wide. She jumped back, but not far enough.
The fanged tentacles slashed down at Daphne's unprotected head. Sharp teeth sunk into her forearm just above the dragon hide gloves that she had instinctively raised to protect her face.
Daphne collapsed, unconscious.
The ball of ice shattered.
His instincts screamed to rush towards her, but he managed to resist. Time and speed were crucial when it came to the poison of the Venomous Tentacula. The sooner he got Daphne to the infirmary for treatment, the lesser the repercussions she would have to face because of the poisoning. He flicked his wand and conjured his Patronus.
Most of their classmates were still in the last stages of their task and were slow to react to his call of alarm. At the blinding silvery light of his Patronus filling up the greenhouse, annoyed exclamations echoed through the room, and some turned around to glare at him. The sight of Daphne lying motionless on the flagstone floor made the complaints die in their throats, and their expressions morphed from annoyance to mute horror.
Professor Sprout, who stood at the other end of the greenhouse, whirled around. It took her a second to comprehend what had happened, then she hurried to a cabinet in the corner, opened it, and snatched something from the shelves inside.
'Find Madam Pomfrey and tell her to get ready for an incoming patient poisoned by Venomous Tentacula venom,' Harry told his Patronus.
The silvery stag turned on its heels and vanished.
Harry reached his wife just before Professor Sprout.
Professor Sprout crouched by Daphne's side and fastened something to her robes. She pulled out her wand and touched the small object.
'It's an emergency Portkey that will take her to the infirmary immediately,' Professor Sprout told Harry while rising.
Harry nodded. Everything around him seemed to be floating, while at the same time colours and noises seemed to be twice as bright and sharp as usual. He took a deep breath to centre himself. He had to keep his wits about him, Daphne needed him.
Professor Sprout put a hand on his arm. 'Go see your wife, Mr Potter, and don't worry. She's in good hands. This is not the first time an accident happens when a student has to deal with a Venomous Tentacula. Madam Pomfrey knows exactly what to do. I'm sure Mrs Potter is already conscious again when you turn up in the infirmary.'
'Yeah, right.' Was that croaking voice his? 'Excuse me, Professor Sprout.' He turned around and hurried out of the greenhouse.
Many sympathetic glances followed him, and some of their classmates called well wishes for Daphne after him. Hermione, Ron and Neville stood close together near the exit. They all looked rather grim and gave him encouraging nods when he passed them.
The next moment, he was out of the door and ran up the path that led to the castle. His heart slammed against his ribcage and not because of the exertion of the run. Merlin let Professor Sprout be right and Madam Pomfrey knew what to do. Even though it was unlikely that the bite of an immature Venomous Tentacula was lethal, it was still painful, and the venom could have serious after-effects if not treated right. He hated to see Daphne suffer.
His angst carried him into the castle and up to the infirmary in new record time. He pushed the four to the infirmary open and hurried inside.
A screen obscured a bed at the other end of the room.
At the noise of the doors bursting open and his footsteps running down the aisle, Madam Pomfrey's head peeked from behind the screen, her face like a thundercloud. 'Mr Potter! Stay where you are and give me the space to deal with my patient! No noise, either, it hurts your wife!' Her voice was a harsh whisper.
Harry stopped right in his tracks and collapsed onto the nearest bed, to catch his breath and to ease his screaming leg muscles. His breath evened and he tried to listen into the ongoings behind the screen. All he could hear was the low muttering of Madam Pomfrey, and soft whooshes as summoned potion vials zoomed from medicine cabinets. There was no sound at all from Daphne, and his stomach constricted in a hard ball of fear.
The door of the infirmary opened once again, and Headmistress McGonagall entered the room and walked up to him. 'How is Mrs Potter?' she asked, her eyes lingering on the screen.
'I don't know. Madam Pomfrey is still working on her..'
Professor McGonnagal put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed in silent sympathy. Together, they waited until Madam Pomfrey left Daphne's bedside.
Harry's heart shot into his throat at the Matron's grim face. 'Daphne?' he croaked.
A small smile appeared on Madam Pomfrey's face. 'Will be as right as rain tomorrow.' The smile vanished and gave place to a frown. 'Although I'd like to give a piece of my mind to whoever at the ministry thinks it a good idea to let children work on highly dangerous plants for an exam. They are bound to have accidents, as stressed as they are. Each year I send a note of protest to the ministry when they decide about the exam assignments, and each year they ignore me.' She huffed in exasperation.
'May I see her?' Harry cut in before Madam Pomfrey could open her mouth again and continue her rant.
Madam Pomfrey's face softened. 'Of course, Mr Potter. Don't give me that look, she will be fine. I gave her a mild Sleeping Draught to support the antidote. She will be asleep for at least another hour.' She stepped aside to let him pass.
Harry thanked her with a terse nod and walked past her towards Daphne's bed.
As the matron had told him, Daphne was sound asleep. She lay on her back, the blanket drawn up to her armpits, and her arms laying by her sides on the blanket. Her face was unnaturally pale, and her left forearm was wrapped in a white bandage where the fangs of the Venomous Tentacula had caught her.
Harry walked to her side, sat down in the visitors chair, and took Daphne's hand between his clammy ones.
Silence descended. The whispers between Madam Pomfrey and the headmistress sounded unreasonably loud in the quiet room as he fretted over another incident involving his wife. A few minutes later, soft steps and the sound of a door opening and closing brought him out of his introspection.
Madam Pomfrey appeared at Daphne's bedside and waved her wand across Daphne's body. She gave a satisfied nod. 'The antidote is working as it should,' she whispered to Harry. 'Just give her some time.'
The matron left to walk towards her small office, and Harry continued his silent vigil at his wife's bedside. He sat almost motionless, her hand between his, and his eyes never leaving her face.
He'd lost all sense of time, his legs were starting to cramp from an all-encompassing tension, when Daphne's hand twitched and her eyelids fluttered.
Harry tightened his grasp around her hand and lent forward. 'Daphne?'
Daphne opened her eyes and turned her head in the direction of his voice. A tired smile appeared on her face when her gaze focussed on him. 'Hi!' she whispered.
He let out a relieved sigh, the tension eased and his heart felt feather-light. It seemed Madam Pomfrey had worked another miracle. 'Hi,' he whispered back and scooted closer to his wife. If his smile was a bit unsteady, only she would see, so he didn't mind. 'You gave me quite the scare.'
'I'm sorry.' Daphne's voice was a bit stronger already. 'I was careless. I should have put a stronger charm on that damned plant. And I shouldn't have turned my back on it until I was out of its reach.' She grimaced.
'Yeah, maybe.' Maybe she was right and it had been one of those freak accidents that just happened around Venomous Tentaculas. Or maybe she was wrong and the prankster had struck again. He kept his thoughts to himself, Daphne still looked pale and needed the rest, not to be worrying about possibilities. 'How is it?'
Daphne grimaced again. 'My head is killing me.'
'It will hurt for some hours yet,' Madam Pomfrey said from behind him. 'Here, this should help.' She stepped next to Harry and handed a potion vial to Daphne.
Harry helped his wife sit up and steadied her hand as she downed the Pain-Relief-Potion.
Madam Pomfrey walked around the bed to inspect Daphne's arm. A flick of her wand, and the bandages around Daphne's arm vanished to reveal perfectly healed alabaster skin. 'There will be minimal scarring,' Madam Pomfrey said with a satisfied smile. 'Although I expect the healed skin to itch for a day or two. You can leave now and recuperate in your rooms, provided you promise to rest for today and take this potion tonight before you go to bed.' She summoned another potion vial from the far side of the room.
'Thank you, Madam Pomfrey,' Harry said and pocketed the potion vial, while Daphne let out a small cry of joy and cast the blanket aside.
'Take it easy, Mrs Potter!' Madam Pomfrey admonished with a frown at Daphne, but said no more and returned to her office.
Harry helped his wife change from the hospital gown back into her school robes, waited for her to gather her belongings then led her out of the infirmary.
'Thank Merlin!' Daphne said as soon as they were back in their apartment and sank into the desk chair. 'I was afraid Madam Pomfrey wanted to keep me overnight. I would have gone crazy there!' She turned towards her part of the shelf and took out her Charms notes.
'What do you think you are doing?' Harry asked.
Daphne raised her head from her notes and rolled her eyes at him. 'Revising, of course. We have a Charms exam tomorrow morning, remember?'
'I do. I also remember Madam Pomfrey telling you to take it easy today.'
She cast his objection aside with a wave of her hand. 'A little reading won't kill me.'
He hummed at that, but let her have her way. Meanwhile, he knew her well enough to know that more objections from him and any attempt to pamper her would make her dig her heels in. If what Madam Pomfrey had said about lingering headaches was true—and he didn't doubt the matron's expertise—the pain would catch up with his stubborn wife soon and force her to take a break. He took out his Charm notes and sat down on his side of the desk and put his head down.
A studious quiet permeated the small apartment, only disturbed by the faint rustling of parchment when one of them turned a page. Every now and then, Harry would look up from his reading and take a quick look at his wife.
Her eyes were glued to her notes at first, but as time went on, a small frown appeared between her eyebrows. Eventually, the frown deepened. Daphne's hand came up and massaged the bridge of her nose.
Harry bit on his tongue to prevent himself from commenting.
A few minutes later, Daphne's hand came up once again, a small moan escaped her, and she rubbed her forehead with the palm of her hand.
'That's enough, love.' Harry stood up from his seat and took her notes away.
'You've heard what Madam Pomfrey said, and I think you had enough. Come on, I'll tuck you in.' He walked around the desk and put his hand under her elbow.
I'm not a toddler!' Daphne grimaced, but got up without protest and allowed him to take her to their bedroom. She had to feel really bad to give in without further complaints. He watched her get comfortable, handed her the potion, retrieved the tube, kissed her forehead and then closed the curtains.
He went into the kitchen and made himself a sandwich. Over Daphne's accident and the time spent in the infirmary he had missed lunch and was now feeling a bit lightheaded. Dinner time was soon, but he didn't feel like joining their classmates in the Great Hall, and even if he did he wasn't about to leave Daphne alone. A plate in one hand and a bottle of butterbeer in the other, he walked back into the living room and settled down on the couch.
He ate his sandwich, sipped his butterbeer, and thought about the events of the day for the first time. Until now, he'd been so occupied and concerned for Daphne that he couldn't think clearly. Was it possible that Daphne's accident had been arranged by the prankster? If yes, it was the fourth attack within four days, and two of them had sent her to the infirmary. Did runic arrays work on plants? He didn't know, but he knew someone who might. He pulled out his wand and cast his Patronus.
Ten minutes later, he got up at a light knock on the entrance door and went to open it. 'Neville, thanks for coming.' He held the door open for his old roommate.
'Evening, Harry. You need to talk about something? Daphne's accident?'
'Yeah.' He led Neville to the living room, thankful that he was that fast on the uptake so he didn't need to explain much. They sat down in the chairs opposite of each other, and Harry summoned two butterbeers. 'I need your help to figure something out,' Harry said, and Neville sat a little straighter.
'What is it?'
'Daphne's accident at the end of the exam today—I'm not sure it was an accident.' He described all the little pranks on Daphne and what he and Terry had found out about how they were being orchestrated.
'So you want to know if it is possible to set up something similar with a Venomous Tentacula?' Neville asked at the end of his story.
'That's rather unlikely,' Neville said in the decisive voice of an expert. 'Firstly, the prankster would have to etch the runes into the plant. Even though you can only work with Tentaculas by putting them under Calming Charms, they don't last long and are weakened by the manipulations you do on the plant. I imagine that etching something in parts of the plant will stir the defensive instinct of the Tentacula immediately so that the Calming Charm will fail and the plant will lash out. Secondly, if there was a set of runes that weakened the effect of spells on the plant, it would already have shown during the exam. Daphne would have had problems taming her Tentacula. However, there was no sign of it. I should know, I was working next to her during her exam. And lastly, how could that so-called prankster know which plant would be assigned to Daphne?'
Harry exhaled and leaned back in his chair. 'Thank you for setting that straight for me, Neville. I think I'm beginning to see attacks everywhere.'
'That's not surprising, given your history,' Neville said with a humourless chuckle. 'However, I wouldn't say you are wrong, either. It wouldn't take the elaborate setup as it did for the other pranks to cause the Tentacula to go after Daphne. A simple Stinging Hex, shot at the plant when Daphne turned her back, would have broken through the Calming Charm and activated the plant's defence instincts immediately.'
'In a room full of witnesses? I can't imagine anyone would draw their wand and start casting spells if there's a chance to get caught immediately.
'They were all distracted by their own Tentacula, plus they all had their wands in hand to get the assignment done. Even Professor Sprout had her wand out all the time in case of an emergency and she needed to step in. It's Venomous Tentaculas we're talking about. Baby Tentaculas, but still.' Neville's calm voice was like a bucket of cold water over Harry's head.
'Fuck!' He threw himself back in his chair, rubbed his tired eyes with the pads of his hands, and looked up at Neville. 'So, it could have been everyone in the room.'
'Everyone who had a clear shot at Daphne's plant and who was reckless and cold-blooded enough to use an opportunity that presented itself, yes.'
Harry heaved a sigh. Herbology, while not an easy N.E.W.T., was a favourite topic, nevertheless. Professor Sprout accepted everyone who had managed to scrap an "Acceptable" into her N.E.W.T. class, so the class was pretty crowded. Everyone in their year who returned to Hogwarts after the battle was there. That meant that three of his main suspects had been there this morning: Nott, Pansy, and Seamus.
Had anyone been near enough to Daphne to fire a spell at the Venomous Tentacula? He sighed again, this time in frustration. He couldn't remember, and he didn't want to ask Neville, either, out of fear to sound paranoid. Aloud he said, 'Thank you for answering my questions, Neville. That helps a lot.'
'I'm happy I could be of use,' Neville said. 'How is Daphne?'
'Hopefully, sound asleep. Madam Pomfrey released her from the infirmary around mid-afternoon, and she tried to revise a bit for tomorrow then, but had to give up not long after starting because her headaches caught up with her. Madam Pomfrey said that would happen. So, I tucked Daphne in, gave her the potion Madam Pomfrey said she had to take, and really hope she's over it by tomorrow.'
Neville's eyes became wide. 'And my cousin didn't resist once?'
'Nope.' Despite his worries about his wife's condition, Harry couldn't fight the grin that crept over his face.
Neville laughed. 'She must feel really bad. I know Daphne, she won't give up her study time for anything.' He slapped his thighs with both hands. 'Speaking of studying, I'd better get going and do some last-minute revising for tomorrow.'
He took his leave, and Harry settled down at his desk once again to follow his friend's example. Ten minutes later, another knock on the door interrupted him.
This time, his visitor was Astoria. She stood in front of the door, her face pale, and hands clasped into a tight ball.
'How is Daphne? I just heard what happened this morning from Pansy at dinner. I didn't know— Nobody told me— Why didn't you send me a message?'
Harry gaped at her. 'That— That didn't occur to .'
Astoria huffed and brushed past him. In the living room, she stopped and looked around. 'Where is Daphne?'
'In our bedroom, and asleep, I hope. That accident did a number on her.'
Astoria gave him a strange look and sat down on the edge of a chair, her hands folded in her lap. 'Are you sure it was an accident? I wonder, considering all the strange things that happened to her lately.'
Harry sat down on the sofa and leaned forward, his elbows on his thighs and his hands dangling between his legs. 'She told you about that?'
Astoria nodded mutely.
'Did she also tell you that we found out how some of the pranks were performed the other day?'
'What? No! How? Tell me!' Austria exclaimed with wide eyes.
He told her about each prank that had happened to Daphne and what they had found out. 'That made me wonder if today's happenings really were an accident, just like you did,' he concluded his tale. 'I even asked Neville for his opinion on that. He's the Herbology expert, he would know if it is possible to tamper with a Venomous Tentacula as they did with Daphne's things.'
'What did Neville say?'
'He thinks it unlikely. If there was foul play, someone shot a hex at Daphne's plant when she turned her back. I doubt we can ever prove that. The greenhouse was rather crowded, the N.E.W.T. Herbology class is large, and at the end of the exam, everybody was cleaning up and taking their plants to the shelf to be graded, so people were mingling a lot and not at their assigned places anymore. It could have been anyone.'
'Not anyone in that class has a grudge on Daphne,' Astoria said.
Harry sighed. 'No, she's friends with most of them. There are only three people I can think of who might have done it: Nott, Parkinson, and Seamus Finnegan.'
Astoria hummed to that and leaned back with a thoughtful expression. 'What about Granger?' she asked at last.
Heat welled up in Harry's, and he clenched his teeth. Hermione had always been his staunchest supporter, the only one he could rely on one when everyone else had left him, Ron included. The thought she'd attack Daphne was atrocious. 'Not Hermione. Keep her out of this. She and Daphne got over their differences and are friends now. Besides, Hermione knows my feelings for Daphne and wouldn't do anything to hurt me. She's one of my oldest friends.'
Astoria's expression became contrite at his harsh words.
Harry shifted in his seat. Had he been too hard on her? Merlin, she looked like a puppy that got told off.
'I'm sorry, Harry, I didn't mean to offend your friend or hurt you. It's just—'
'—you're concerned for your big sister, and you want these attacks to end, and by now you're so paranoid you're suspecting everyone,' Harry finished the sentence for her. 'Yeah, I get that. I was like that myself this afternoon until Neville set me straight. Sorry if I was a bit harsh on you.'
'No, I'm sorry,' Astoria said. 'I shouldn't have suspected your best friend without reason. After all, I don't know her at all.' She straightened in her seat and smoothed her school robes over her knees. 'May I see my sister?'
Harry gestured towards the door of the bedroom. 'Of course. She's in there. But don't wake her.'
Astoria got up and peeked her head through the bedroom door, but didn't enter the room. A few seconds later, she pulled her head back. 'She's sound asleep and seems to be fine, as far as I can tell. Thank you, Harry, we're both worried.' She gave him a sisterly hug on her way to the door, then left the apartment with a wave of goodbye.
Harry looked at his Charms textbook that still lay open on the desk. He wasn't feeling like revising anymore. Today had been stressful, and he was spent. A good night's sleep could only help, so he levitated his textbook into his backpack with a wave of his hand. Maybe he will develop the enthusiasm for some last minute cramming tomorrow morning, so it wouldn't hurt to have it with him. With a snap of his fingers, he closed the latch of the backpack, yawned, and turned to the bedroom to join his wife.