AUTHOR'S NOTES: The Rotten Writer returning with another chapter of Soul Scars. WARNING, Fluff ahead! We're coming down to the wire, gang. Next chapter should be a much more action packed romp and I'm looking forward to it.

Let's all thank Tyrannic Puppy for some awesome beta help, this chapter. Rhys has had life pummel him over the head recently so he's been busy and that's more important.

Disclaimer: Nope, not my characters or world. Oh well.

Please enjoy chapter 40 of Soul Scars!

Soul Scars Part Three

The Greengrass Problem

By,

Rtnwriter

"Don't try to convince us of anything," she said in a quiet murmur.

Harry blinked and stared at Hermione in surprise.

"But I'm tryin-"

"Don't try to convince us of anything. Don't explain to us where you're going with this. Don't give us any information beforehand," she insisted, cutting him off. "Just lay out the information and see if we come to the same conclusion that you did on our own. That's going to be the best way. If you start out trying to convince us, we'll have preconceived notions, and that might color our thought process."

He took a deep breath and let it out in a frustrated sigh before nodding.

"Yeah, okay."

She smiled, pecked him on his cheek, and moved over to sit at the large conference table the Room had supplied in between Daphne and Susan. Also at the table were Neville, Blaise, Amelia, Kingsley, Tonks, Remus, the Weasley twins, and the Headmaster. Plates of food were scattered across the table, supplied by an ecstatic Dobby, as well as notepads and pens, supplied by Hermione. She really didn't want to deal with quills for this. Harry approached the black board and picked up a piece of chalk, filling in the information and timeline that he'd started before. At the bottom he wrote:

James Potter- Stag. Sirius Black- Dog. Peter Pettigrew- Rat.

Then he went back above again and wrote out the timeline he'd started earlier in the week.

Oct 31st '81 Riddle attacks – Nov 3rd Black arrested, Pettigrew killed – Summer '93 Black escapes after reading Daily Prophet – Oct 2nd '93 Neville finds Snuffles in village – Oct 31st '93 Black attempts to break into Gryffindor Tower.

Immediately, one of the twins voiced a question.

"Who is Riddle?" he asked and Harry looked at the board for a moment before looking back at the redhead.

"Riddle is Voldemort's real name. Tom Riddle. He was a Slytherin and Head Boy here back in the 40's."

Twin one nodded and leaned back in his seat.

"Okay… so I was talking with Moony the day the Minister showed up," he said, gesturing to Remus, "and he explained that Black wasn't the only unregistered animagus. Turns out that my dad and Peter Pettigrew both also made the change back in their fifth year."

When most of the gathered students looked to their Professor he simply nodded.

Harry pointed to the bottom of the board where he'd re-written the animal forms.

"Black was a dog, a big black dog, hence his nickname, Padfoot. My dad was a stag, hence Prongs. Pettigrew was a rat, which explains Wormtail. Now, we know that someone betrayed my parents and led Riddle to them that Halloween night. According to my mum's journals and both my parents letters, it's very possible that Black was not their Secret Keeper, but we don't know that for sure. Three days later, Black and Pettigrew are on a crowded street in London. Words are exchanged, there's an explosion and when Aurors arrive on the scene all they find is Black, on his knees in the middle of the road, laughing hysterically."

The group nodded, the girls taking careful notes of what Harry was saying as well as writing down any questions that occurred to them.

"From what we now know, Black was thrown almost directly into Azkaban. He wasn't interrogated, no charges were filed, he was never even given a trial, right?"

They nodded again.

"Personally I'm wondering if they really bothered to do much of an investigation that day, or if they just obliviated everyone they could, as fast as they could, and swept things under the carpet, but that's something to focus on later. Moving on, Black spent the next twelve years sitting in prison before he escaped. We can probably guess he used his animagus form in order to make his escape, somehow, but why did he wait so long? Why wait that many years before escaping?"

"The Prophet said that Fudge gave Black his copy of the paper on the day he inspected the prison and a couple days later he was gone," Daphne offered. "Some of the guards were quoted saying that they heard Black muttering 'he's at Hogwarts' in his sleep."

"Right," Harry agreed, pointing at Daphne. "'He's at Hogwarts'. But who is 'he'?" He waited a moment but there was no answer forthcoming. "Everyone assumes Black was talking about me, but why would he suddenly decide that? Was there anything in the prophet that day that mentioned me or Hogwarts?"

"Maybe he saw the date and realized that you should be at school by now," was Hermione's suggestion and Harry shrugged.

"Possible, but that strikes me as pretty unlikely. Anyway, let's come back to that in a bit." He pointed at the board. "Neville found Black, in his animagus form on October 2nd and brought him up to the castle. If he was trying to get to me, why did he wait until Halloween, during the Feast to try to get into the tower? During a Holiday Feast the tower would be completely empty, all the students are required to be in the Great Hall at that time. And for that matter, if he was after me he could have attacked me during our Care of Magical Creatures class when he actually did attack Malfoy in an effort to defend me."

"You are suggesting that he was attempting to reach someone other than you?" Dumbledore asked, staring thoughtfully at Harry's timeline.

"Exactly. I think there's a third party involved here, the 'he' that Black was talking about in his sleep."

"Couldn't he have been trying to get into the tower to wait for you?" Tonks asked and Harry shrugged again.

"Again, it's possible. But, by attacking the Fat Lady's portrait he ruined any chance of that. As soon as anyone got to the entrance they'd know something was wrong. I think he was after someone that he thought was already in the tower."

"But you already pointed out that the tower would be empty," Susan objected.

"Empty of students," pointed out Hermione. "You're thinking someone who isn't a student."

"Like who?" asked one of the twins with Blaise nodding beside them.

"Hold on." Harry turned to the girls, glancing briefly at the adults that had been present Halloween night as well. "When we confronted Black in the corridor, what did he say? Exact wording as best we can manage."

The seven of them frowned while Remus and the others watched on.

"He said a lot, Harry," Amelia pointed out. "Much of it rambling and nonsensical, really."

"One thing he said was, 'he'll kill him'," Harry said. "Two different 'hims' And he also said that the Dementors couldn't have him until he, meaning Sirius, had killed the 'traitorous bastard'."

"Someone betrayed him?" Daphne asked.

"Or someone betrayed my parents and him." Harry looked directly at Remus. "Before he said all that he yelled the name, Peter, and he said the rat had been hiding and he was so close."

Remus paled as Harry turned and circled the word rat next to the name of Peter Pettigrew at the bottom of the board.

"But Pettigrew is dead," Kingsley argued. "All they found of him was a finger after the explosion."

"Maybe," Harry admitted before he reached into the inside pocket of his robes and pulled out the front page of an issue of the Daily Prophet and started to unfold it. "This is the front page of the same issue of the Prophet that Black saw the day Fudge came to inspect the prison."

Quickly he hit the paper with an enlarging charm and then fixed it to the chalkboard next to his timeline with a sticking charm .

"Hey!" Twin one said.

"That's the article about-"

"-Dad winning the Grand Prize Draw-"

"WORMTAIL!" Remus roared and leapt to his feet, running around the table until he was standing right in front of the enlarged image, his brown eyes gleaming a furious amber. There, right in the center of the family of nine stood Ron Weasley, one arm around his little sisters shoulder, and on his opposite shoulder sat his pet rat, Scabbers.

"You believe that rat is Peter Pettigrew?" Dumbledore asked, carefully.

"I know it is. I saw Peter change hundreds of times. I'd recognize that rat absolutely anywhere," Remus snarled, his hands clenched tightly into fists as if restraining himself from attempting to reach into the picture to grab the rat.

"That's Scabbers," Twin two cut in.

"Yeah, Percy had him for years before giving him to Ron."

"How much of Pettigrew did you say they were able to find after the explosion?" Harry asked Kingsley, who blinked in surprise.

"Just a finger," he said.

"Isn't Scabbers missing a toe?" Harry asked the twins who, reluctantly, nodded.

"Harry, what made you think of all this?" Hermione asked, curiously and he turned his attention away from the twins to focus on her and said, simply, "Crookshanks."

She blinked in confusion.

"Moony told me that Peter Pettigrew had the animagus form of a common brown rat. Halloween night Sirius is yelling for someone named Peter. The day after Halloween, Ron's rat disappears, leaving some blood on his pillow and some ginger cat hairs. If Pettigrew actually did fake his death back in '81, then the whole thing with Scabbers and Crookshanks is disturbingly similar."

The lot of them sank back into their seats, with Remus slowly making his way over to the nearest empty chair, each of them absorbed in their own thoughts for several minutes. The girls started asking questions, drawing Harry and the twins into the discussion as they hammered out some information, and while they were doing that, Kingsley leaned toward Amelia.

"Seriously," he muttered. "If you don't try to recruit this kid for the Aurors, I absolutely will. I kind of want to introduce him to Moody, I think the two of them would get along like a house on fire."

"That's kind of what I'm afraid of, actually," she muttered back.

"So, the Weasley family has had Scabbers the rat since mid November of 1981, but rats like that don't live more than four years, five at the very most, if they're extremely lucky and well cared for. There is no way that rat should still be alive," Harry was saying to summarize the answers given to his girls by the twins.

"If the rat is Pettigrew," Amelia said. "Why hide all this time?"

"Well, I admit there's a lot of guesswork here but… if Sirius went through the Godfather Oaths, then there is no way that he was my parents Secret Keeper. And since it wasn't Remus, who else might they have chosen?" Harry asked. "I could be wrong, I admit that, but I think it is at least possible they made Peter, their other best friend, the Secret Keeper, and then didn't tell anyone about it in order to protect him, or maybe Sirius was supposed to be a decoy. Now, if that much is true, was he secretly a Death Eater, or did Voldemort find out, somehow, and torture the information out of him? I don't know. But what do you think Sirius would do if he even thought that Pettigrew had betrayed them?"

"He would have rushed off to track him down and kill him," Remus admitted. "Sirius always was a hot head."

"And, confronted with Sirius, maybe Pettigrew blows up the street himself, disappears in his rat form, and leaves a finger behind to frame Sirius for the crime."

"But there's no way he could have known that the truth wouldn't come out in Sirius' trial. If he was trying to fake his own death there are so many ways it could have gone wrong," Susan mused. "Unless that wasn't the point," she added and Harry waited, silently, as she worked through the issue in her own head. "It probably didn't matter to him, then, if the truth was discovered during the trial. At the very least it would have been a good distraction, because while Sirius was being arrested, then waiting to be questioned, and waiting for his trial, that would have given Pettigrew plenty of time to disappear before anyone even thought to start looking for him. And then there was no trial, so no one was even looking for him, so he was safe."

"That was my thought, too," Harry agreed, smiling brightly at her.

Amelia cleared her throat, drawing everyone's eyes to her and, when he turned her way, she held Harry's gaze with a steady look of her own.

"This is great work, Harry," she said. "I'm convinced. At the very minimum, it appears that Pettigrew likely faked his death and has been hiding as a pet ever since. Whether he betrayed your parents or not remains to be seen. That all aside, I do have to ask, what, exactly, are you hoping to achieve with this?"

It was at that point where Harry finally faltered, when he opened his mouth to answer and realized that he really had no explanation to give.

"Well… I guess, when it first occurred to me, I thought we could use it to get a trial for Sirius out of Fudge, but I guess I already handled that part the other day, didn't I?"

Amelia kept silent, and simply observed as Harry frowned, trying to puzzle out his reasons.

"If he's still alive… and if he was my parents Secret Keeper, then Pettigrew needs to be caught."

"For revenge?"

He blinked at that. "What? No! No, he needs to go to trial and he needs to go to prison if he's guilty. And…"

"And?" she prompted.

"And… and if I'm right, and Remus is right, and he is still alive, then that means that Sirius didn't kill him. He's not a murderer, but right now he's trying damn hard to become one. I don't know him, but I don't want him to turn into that. He was an Auror, and from everything I've heard before the supposed betrayal and all that, he was a good man."

Amelia's smile grew slowly, but in no time it was wide enough to split her face in half. She stood and walked over to him, noting absently that everyone else turned away, even if Remus did have to force the twins to turn around, giving her and Harry a touch of privacy.

When she reached him, she put a hand on each of his shoulders, looking directly into his glowing gaze.

"Justice for the fallen, and protecting the innocent," she told him. "The motto of the Aurors." She pulled him into a tight hug and whispered quietly into his ear, "I cannot begin to tell you how very proud I am of you."

She pulled back soon enough, and the two of them composed themselves as Amelia returned to her seat.

"Did you have any other revelations for us, Mister Potter?" the Headmaster asked as the rest of the room returned their attention to Harry. "Or is raising a wizard from the dead enough for you, for one day?" The aged wizards blue eyes were twinkling madly and Harry couldn't help giving him a lopsided grin.

"No, Sir. I think I'll save something for another time."

Amelia let out a quiet chuckle before she pushed herself back to her feet. "All right, then. Shack, Tonks, we're adding Pettigrew to our search. If his name comes up on that map I want him caught before he even knows he's been compromised. Headmaster, the Dementors have been recalled by the Minister, but there are still pockets of them that haven't been accounted for yet."

"I have long said that it was a mistake for the Ministry to ever ally with such foul creatures," Dumbledore muttered in a dark tone. "I will ensure that the students and staff are aware to still exercise caution."

The three members of the DMLE left first, Amelia listing out orders while they went, soon followed by Remus and the Headmaster. The twins took off moment's after, saying something about a prank on the Slytherin Quidditch team, leaving Neville, Blaise, and the four bondmates behind as the room shifted around them into a non-house specific Common Room. The girls were almost immediately comparing notes on Harry's theory while Neville and Blaise sat quietly, each lost in their own thoughts.

"Is this what your life is always like?" Blaise suddenly asked, and Harry looked up at him, confused. "I mean, I heard rumors about first year. The whole school has heard rumors, but no one knows exactly what happened. I saw the articles about last year, obviously. You fought a basilisk and killed it. This year you out maneuvered a pureblood Lord, manipulated the Minister and just uncovered a crime more than a decade old that no one even knew existed!" He looked around at the five of them with one of the most shocked expressions on his face that they'd ever seen.

"Yeah, Blaise. This is kind of what it's like, being around me," Harry admitted, a sinking feeling in his gut. "I'll understand if you don't want to-"

"I want in."

Harry blinked as Blaise cut him off. "Wait… what?"

"I want in, Harry. I know I'm not as close a friend as Neville here, but I'd like to think that we've gotten a lot better since my heavy handed screw up last year. You and Daphne have your Slytherin tendencies, but you are still way too Gryffindor for your own good. I think you could use a real Slytherin in this group to make sure you all stay alive to see graduation."

Harry's mouth was hanging open in his surprise, and even Daphne had arched an elegant brow in shock at the unusually plain spoken declaration.

"Won't that cause trouble for you in the snake pit?" Neville asked. "We wouldn't want to cause you any problems and we can't be much help to you down there."

"Perhaps," Blaise admitted with a nonchalant shrug. "But they talk about you, Harry, in the Common Room, you know, and a large number of my Housemates are afraid of you. Your power is greater than you really know. Magically, politically, financially. You have influence with some powerful members of society and most of my House is afraid to mess with you because they know you could crush them, if you were ever so inclined."

Harry frowned and opened his mouth but Blaise cut him off again before he could say anything.

"And no, that is not why I want to be a part of this. I swear, I am not trying to use you or your fame. I'm just pointing out that openly declaring myself on your side isn't as dangerous as it might immediately sound."

"Then why?" Harry couldn't help but ask. "Straight answer, Blaise. None of the typical Slytherin hedging around the topic without actually answering the question."

Harry was sitting tall in his seat, his eyes gleaming brightly and fixed intently on the Italian born wizard. With every moment that passed, his eyes glowed brighter and brighter until Blaise felt as if he was staring at two killing curses that were barely contained behind Harry's irises.

Taking a deep breath, he started to speak. "Do you remember when Tracey introduced us in first year?" he asked.

Harry nodded.

"I said I would rather be friends with someone like you than the opportunistic back stabbers that made up the majority of my House."

"I remember."

"Well, that was only half true, really. It wasn't so much wanting friends other than the opportunistic backstabbers, since I don't consider them friends at all, but more about wanting friends, period. Tracey is the only person I've ever been able to call a friend. I like you." He glanced around at the silent girls and Neville who were observing the interaction carefully. "All of you," he added, "and I like having friends that I can relax around without worrying if I'm going to get a knife between my ribs, figuratively speaking. I see what you all have together. Trust and honest friendship and I want that. I want to be a part of something that isn't considering what someone can do for me or what I can leverage out of someone else.

"I see the best parts of all four of the school Houses here. Loyalty, bravery, intelligence, and cunning. I'm not blind. My mother and I see the rot in our society. The problems that keep leading to the rise of Dark Lord after Dark Lord. Something needs to change. Personally, I think you're going to be involved in that change. Everything just seems to happen around you, Harry. And, aside from the chance to forge some real, honest friendships, I can see how being involved in that change could be a good thing for myself, for my mother, and for my House."

Neville and the girls watched Harry carefully, his face impassive and his emotions blocked to his bondmates after Blaise finished speaking. It took some time, several silent minutes while Harry just stared at the Slytherin before he slowly smiled, threw his head back, and absolutely roared with laughter, startling everyone still in the room with his reaction.

"Just what is so funny?" Hermione finally managed to ask when Harry got himself under control.

Still chuckling, he was barely able to respond. "Typical Slytherin… even when he's being honest and sincere… he's still looking for a way to benefit."

With that, he broke down laughing again with Neville quickly joining him once he put the details together. Hermione was frowning at her hysterical bond mate while Susan was snickering quietly and Daphne simply rolled her eyes and leaned back in her seat, a small smirk turning up the corners of her mouth.

Once the boys finally calmed Harry sat up in his chair where he'd been slumped over in his mirth and looked at Blaise. "Honestly, Blaise. I really think that's the most sincere you've ever been. And you're a Slytherin, I really can't fault you the ambition that makes you just look for ways to benefit from an opportunity. You want 'in' as it were, then you're welcome. It might be tricky with us being in different Houses, but we'll try to make sure you're included in anything that we get involved in, as much as possible."

Leaning forward, Harry extended his scarred right hand and Blaise accepted and shook the offered hand, grinning broadly as he wondered, just how much was his life going to change getting in deeper with Harry James Potter?

#####

"Guys, do you mind if I steal Harry for a moment?"

Daphne, Hermione, and Neville turned from the entrance into Gryffindor tower to look at Susan who was standing back a few feet, her hands clasped together in front of her. They glanced to Harry, who looked just as confused as they felt, then they shrugged.

"Just don't break him, again, please," Neville requested. "It's been enough of a chore keeping his head on straight this year."

The girls snickered as Harry sputtered at his friend for a moment when he felt a hand wrap around his arm and he found himself being pulled away from the portrait of the lunatic Knight the staff had chosen to replace the portrait of the Fat Lady while her canvas was still being repaired.

"Come along, Harry," Susan said in a disturbingly sweet tone of voice to the sound of more laughter from behind them. "I promise this won't hurt a bit."

"That's not exactly filling me with confidence," he muttered, but let himself be drawn away. He had absolutely no worry that any of his girls would ever do anything to hurt him intentionally.

They wandered the corridors, seemingly aimlessly for some time, until Harry noticed they were heading toward a small courtyard built near the greenhouses. A simple, but elegant fountain sat in the exact center of the flagstone courtyard with clinging vines growing along the walls. A small garden filled one end that, in spring, would have filled the area with the scent of the many different flowers that were routinely planted and cared for by some of Professor Sprout's Hufflepuffs. Neville had helped the year before and impressed the motherly professor with his knowledge and innate understanding of the plants and what each species needed to thrive.

"Susan, what is it?" he finally asked when she took a seat on a stone bench by the frozen over fountain and patted the bench beside her for him to sit.

"I think it's about time we had a little talk, Harry," she said and he resisted the urge to groan.

"What about?"

"Whatever it is that's bothering you."

"Nothing is bothering-"

"Harry, you're anxious and confused. I'm not trying to push you to open up, but it's obvious something has been bothering you. If you have a question, or something to say, just say it. If not, well, it's been a nice walk and I can honestly say that spending a quiet bit of time with you isn't a hardship in any way." Her cheeks were just slightly pink when she finished, but Harry didn't notice, having resorted to pacing back and forth in front of the bench.

That action alone told Susan just how much turmoil he was in. When Harry was confused or anxious he would still stroke that scar behind his jaw, something he was doing right at that moment. When he didn't have an outlet or a solution to what was bothering him he couldn't sit still. He paced, he moved, he prowled like a caged animal, restless and on edge.

"Daphne kissed me," he suddenly blurted out and then cringed, his eyes squeezing shut as he froze in place.

Susan blinked, surprised by the sudden outburst, but pleased once she got over the initial shock.

"Yes, she did," she said, calmly and his eyes flew open as he turned sharply to stare fully at her.

"You knew?" he gasped and she nodded.

"Of course I knew. Hermione and I did help get you to go talk to her at the New Years party, remember?"

"But she loves you," he finally said after several stunned minutes of silence.

"Yes, she does, and I love her too."

Her completely calm manner was probably the most confusing part of the entire confusing situation for Harry. Much like Hermione, though he didn't know it, Harry had learned more than a little about relationships, affection, and love through reading. Reading something without ever experiencing it was not going to make him an expert, however, and everything else aside, he knew enough to understand that people didn't tend to appreciate someone they loved kissing another person. So why was she so calm?

His mouth worked soundlessly for a few moments, moving up and down without a single word escaping before Susan let out a small giggle, unable to contain a hint of mirth at his dumbfounded reaction.

"Harry, why do you think Daphne kissed you?"

His mouth snapped shut with a click and he frowned, his brow furrowed deeply.

"I haven't the foggiest, especially if she's supposed to love you. I don't want to get in the way of that and I don't understand why she would do it."

"Have you considered the idea that she might like you?" she asked.

He gave her a confused look. "Neville asked the same damn question. I'm not stupid, I know you three like me, and I like you. All three of you are my best friends. You know me better than anyone, you're a part of me. Why does everyone seem to think I'm suddenly too thick to understand that?"

Susan resisted the urge to let out an exasperated sigh. Maybe we think you're too thick because you really are too thick to understand that we love you, you silly prat. Merlin's pants, you're lucky you're cute, Potter, she thought as she closed her eyes and tried to figure out the best way to approach this.

When she'd brought him out there, she really, really hadn't expected what she was presented with. She thought this might have been exactly the type of situation that she and Daphne had been warned to avoid with Harry. They couldn't come right out and tell him all four of them could be together, not yet. Especially as he really didn't seem to have the slightest understanding of just how much their bond was going to develop. For a moment she felt a surge of hatred for the Dursleys. Years of telling Harry that he wasn't loved and never would be had left him with a severe blind spot for affection.

She opened her eyes, decision made, and only hoped she wouldn't confuse the boy too much more. "Harry, look at me please?" she asked and he stopped the pacing he'd resumed and looked down at her, their eyes meeting and she held his gaze, attempting to push everything she felt for him toward him through their bond as she spoke. "I kissed Daphne, and she kissed me, because we love each other. I can honestly tell you that Daphne would never kiss someone that she didn't feel very strongly toward."

That said, she stood keeping her eyes locked firmly on his. He didn't back up as she moved, leaving them standing only inches apart. Unlike Daphne, Susan was only two or three inches shorter than he was, so she didn't have to look up too far to maintain that eye contact as she slowly leaned closer to him.

"And I wouldn't ever kiss someone that I didn't want to be with," she said in a quiet whisper just before letting her lips close on his.

Harry froze in shock, even though he'd suspected what was about to happen after his experience with Daphne on New Years. That did nothing to prepare him for the reality of Susan's lips against his own and for a moment he could only marvel at the sensation, his mind freezing up entirely.

Her lips moved gently against his and his pulse shot up as his heart began pounding in his chest. Susan's kiss was gentle, soft, with only a minimum of pressure applied. It was a simple, chaste, but loving caress that seemed to promise something more that he couldn't begin to comprehend.

Just as his mind kicked back into gear, Susan pulled back, both their eyes opening and he felt lost for a moment in the expressive blue pools that stared so intently at him from less than two inches away.

"Before you start to question and wonder and drive yourself crazy," she whispered, her breath brushing teasingly across his mouth, "just understand that we're not expecting anything from you. Not right now. All three of us understand you're not ready. When you are, though, we need you to know that we'll be here. Don't worry about us, the four of us. We're going to end up where we're going to end up. Wherever that will be." Her right hand came up and softly caressed his cheek as she fought back the tears that wanted to well up at the confusion and barely restrained fear that she could see in his glowing green eyes and feel through their bond.

"We're not going anywhere, Harry, so don't worry about trying to understand everything right away. Just be patient, let it come naturally, and when you're ready, you know exactly where to find us."

She hesitated for a moment before she leaned forward and kissed him again, just a quick peck of her lips against his, then she slid out from between him and the bench behind her and walked back into the castle.

Behind her, Harry turned and sank down onto the bench, his thoughts in turmoil. Unbidden, an image rose to the forefront of his mind. A picture of a gold framed mirror and a reflection of an older version of himself with the three essential women in his life standing with him.

#####

When Neville, Daphne, and Hermione entered the Common Room, all three of them grinning at the almost panicked look on Harry's face as Susan led him away, Hermione muttered something about laying down and then waved off their concern before heading up to the dorm. Entering, she quietly closed the door behind her, grateful to find the room empty, then walked over and flopped back onto her large four-poster bed.

For several moments she stared up at the canopy above her with unseeing eyes before she groaned and rolled over onto her right side, drawing her legs up onto the mattress in the process.

"Why is this so difficult?" she muttered.

She lay quiet, her mind spinning even as her body felt as if it was made of lead, heavy and unresponsive. Keeping up with twelve different classes, plus their morning and evening training… she'd officially bitten off far more than she could chew and she wasn't sure exactly how to make things easier for herself.

There was absolutely no way she was going to skip out on the training and let her bond mates down. However, the thought of dropping a class or two filled her with dread. Hermione Granger had never failed at anything academically related, and she wasn't about to start now, thank you very much.

She sighed, mentally admitting that training and classes were only part of her problems. She groaned and rubbed at her temples as she started to argue with herself, again.

"This is stupid," she muttered. "Mum was right, I do love them, so why can't I just…"

She shook her head and sat up.

"No, I have been agonizing over this and driving myself crazy. I'm not going to worry about it right now."

She started to get out of bed, then suddenly stopped, her brow furrowing into a deep frown. "But it's been almost four months," she muttered, sinking slowly back into the soft mattress.

"Urgh… I thought this bond was supposed to make things easier for us," she whined. "I've never been more conflicted in my life!"

The door to the dorm opened, and Tonks walked in, still wearing her Cedrella Black guise.

"You know," she said, a teasing smirk in place on her full lips, "they say that talking to yourself is one of the first signs of insanity."

Hermione snorted out a laugh and fell over onto her back again. "Sounds about right," she muttered. "I certainly feel like I'm losing my mind."

A few moments later she felt the mattress shift beneath her as Tonks sat down on the bed.

"Still trying to work out your Greengrass problem?" Tonks asked in a sympathetic tone.

Hermione glanced up at Tonks' concerned violet gaze. "What?" she asked, confused. "No, we solved that issue last month. Lord Greengrass shouldn't be bothering us anymore."

Tonks laughed, lightly. "Wasn't talking about old Cyril," she said. "I meant your problem not being able to decide if you want the lovely Lady Greengrass that is currently sitting in the Common Room with Lord Longbottom."

Hermione gaped at the smiling Auror for a moment before her cheeks flushed and she looked away, muttering an embarrassed, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Hermione, I'm not blind or stupid, and I'm a metamorph. I can read people about as easily as you read books. It's been obvious to me since I got here."

Hermione's red cheeks darkened further but she didn't say anything.

"Seriously," Tonks tried again. "I'm not going to tease you or anything. I like you guys. You, the other girls, Neville, even that Blaise kid is growing on me and Luna is a riot. I can tell that this is tearing you up, so what could it hurt to ask for a little advice?"

Hermione chewed nervously on her bottom lip for a few moments before she sighed and sat up, moving back so that she was leaning against the headboard.

"I just don't know what to do," she said, twenty minutes later, after giving Tonks the short version of her one, conscious kiss with Daphne and the conversation she'd had with her mother over the break.

Tonks looked thoughtful, going over everything in her head.

"Okay, first question, then. Are you past this idea that maybe you've been changed to accept something that you might not have accepted without the bond?"

Hermione nodded. "Yes, mum was right, it's fairly obvious, thinking about it, that we had to have been compatible before bonding. I can believe and accept that, now."

"Good," Tonks said, nodding her head. "Do you believe that you are honestly in love with them? All three of them?"

At that, Hermione flushed again, and winced, slightly. Tonks certainly didn't pull any punches with her questions. But, slowly, she nodded her head. "Yes," she almost whispered. "I've thought about it, a lot. They mean so much to me. I honestly can't imagine a future without the three of them in my life. Even trying leaves me wanting to curl up in bed and cry my eyes out. I… I want to be with them… I do, I just… I…" She trailed off, helplessly, unable to find the words she needed and Tonks leaned forward to gently pat one of her hands where they were clenched into tight fists on her thighs.

"If you want it, what's stopping you?"

Hermione squirmed uncomfortably in her spot on the bed, reluctant to voice her thoughts.

"You've always considered yourself to be straight, haven't you?"

Timidly, Hermione nodded.

"But you're finding Daphne and Susan to be attractive, and now you're questioning your entire identity, aren't you?" Tonks asked with the air of someone speaking from first hand experience.

Hermione nodded again, a little more easily, even as she studied the Auror in a new light. While she was doing that, Tonks had sat back in the bed, her head down, deep in thought. She remained that way, silently considering the situation for some time before she let out a deep sigh and looked up at the bushy haired witch.

"I might have some advice," she said, a trifle reluctantly. "But I'd need to tell you something that I've never told anyone. Not even my parents. I would need you to promise me that you won't ever repeat it to anyone, not even your bond mates. It's deeply personal, but I think it'll help you."

Hermione had never seen the young Auror more serious and immediately made to reassure the woman. "You don't have to-"

"I want to," Tonks cut her off. "I want to help, okay?"

Her earnest expression, more than anything, cut through any of Hermione's protests, so she gave her promise.

Tonks smiled, flashing her perfectly straight and perfectly white teeth for a brief moment before settling back on the bed and stretching her legs out in front of her, carefully arranging her uniform skirt as she did so.

"Okay, first you need to learn a few things about metamorphmagi. So, what is a metamorph?"

Automatically, Hermione gave her memorized, textbook answer.

"A metamorphmagus is a witch or wizard born with the innate ability to manipulate their physical features at will."

Tonks grinned. "Close, but no cigar," she quipped, then kept talking before Hermione could protest. "That is exactly what the books say, to be fair, but the published information on metamorphs is incomplete, and for good reason."

She paused and took a deep breath before continuing.

"What the books should say is, a metamorphmagus is a person born with the innate ability, yadda, yadda," she said, and Hermione frowned.

"But, that's what I said."

"No, you said 'a witch or wizard'."

"Isn't that the same thing? It's just changing a word instead of mentioning both genders."

"Changing a word changes the meaning, Hermione, you know that. Here's another question. Am I a witch, or a wizard."

Hermione blinked but quickly responded. "A witch."

"Wrong."

Hermione blinked again, sitting up in keen interest now. Something was off here, and her constantly active mind was analyzing the information she had but found herself lacking enough details to put the puzzle together.

"I am not a witch," Tonks said, speaking over Hermione's mental musings. "Nor am I a wizard. Not technically. Being a metamorph is more than being a witch or a wizard with a unique ability. Technically, metamorphs should be classed as a different species. Well… maybe not species, but we would definitely be considered a third gender."

Now Hermione was extremely confused. "But you're… I mean…" she trailed off, flushing brightly and Tonks grinned at her.

"Yes, I've got all the womanly anatomy but that's all psychological, or unconscious, really. Look, let me backtrack and try to explain a few things. Remember when I said that I had a base form? An appearance I would look like if I didn't make any conscious changes to my body or my face or hair?"

Hermione nodded, her fingers itching for a pen to take notes, but she reminded herself that Tonks didn't want any of this repeated, so she quelled her instinctive reaction to learning something new and just focused on what the other woman… person, was saying.

"Well that's really only partly true. Yes, it's true I have a form that, if I relaxed all of my morphing ability and just let myself change into a… resting state, I guess, then that is how I really appear. But it's still just an appearance, still a disguise, in a way, and not in any way dictated by who my parents are or my biology. See, for a metamorph, our bodies are fluid, and our appearance is not defined by our genetics. You, for example, have physical features similar to each of your parents because your body is made up of information taken from both of them when you were conceived and as you developed, right?"

Hermione nodded eagerly.

"I don't have that." She waved one hand to take in her current guise. "This is actually what I would call my base form, just aged down so I appear to be thirteen, or so. No one has ever seen it except my parents. The shape of my eyes, parts of my face, my build, these are traits from my mum and I have other features similar to my dad. But, hypothetically, say I was adopted at a very young age and never knew that my adopted parents weren't my biological parents. My unconscious mind, along with my morphing ability, would have had me looking like a child born from those two people because, as far as I knew, I was, so my body would reflect my mental image of my 'self'.

"That's what being a metamorph means. Our bodies are really unimportant. Our appearance isn't something we're truly attached to because what we look like, what physical gender we appear to be, that's not really who we are. Mentally, I feel that I am female, so my body is female. But if I wanted, I could be male, with all the accompanying organs and even the ability to get a woman pregnant. That's what I mean by a third gender. A metamorph can be male, female, or both whenever it's desired."

"So, you appear female because you prefer to think of yourself as female?"

Tonks shook her head. "It's not a matter of preference. I didn't decide one day 'you know what? I think I'm more girl than boy so that's what I'll stick with'. It's similar to homosexuals, they didn't decide to be gay, that's just how they are, and my body reflects the 'me' on the inside, my sense of self and individuality."

Hermione shook her head in amazement, but then frowned a moment later.

"This is all really fascinating, Tonks, and I'd really love to discuss it more and learn more, but what does this have to do with my problem?"

"I'm getting there, just trying to give you a little background info. See, when I hit my formative years and started wondering about dating and such… well, I found that I didn't find men attractive, not in a physical way. So, I wondered if maybe I was gay, but after a while I decided I wasn't any more attracted to women either. That really threw me for a loop, lemme tell ya. Eventually, I decided that it's not the person's body that I would find attractive, but the person. As a metamorph my appearance isn't of vital importance since I can change almost however I want, so in looking for a partner, their appearance wasn't any more important to me than my own.

"What I learned was that it was the person that I could find attractive, and once I liked the person, then I found myself desiring the body that came with it, whether they were male or female. I think it might help you to look at your situation in a similar way. You love Daphne, and you love Susan. Since you love them, it really is only natural that you would start to find them attractive, start to want them. That doesn't change any part of you or your own identity, your own sexuality, even. I mean, do you want to kiss me?"

Hermione started and leaned away from the Auror. "No!" she blurted out, then immediately felt guilty. "I'm sorry, I mean, you're attractive, you're beautiful, even, but I don't… I mean…" She trailed off, muttering unintelligibly as Tonks burst out laughing.

"I'm sorry," she gasped out. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to tease you, I just meant to make a point. If you identify as straight, you still are, even if you find Susan and Daphne desirable. You love the people that Daphne and Susan are. I don't think you're likely to suddenly start checking out other women if you just admit to yourself that you find those two attractive and give yourself the chance to explore a relationship with them. Just… consider that for a while and see where it leads you, okay?"

Reaching out, Tonks patted Hermione's hand again and slid out of the bed, making her way towards the door.

"Tonks?"

One hand on the latch, Tonks turned to look back at Hermione, cinnamon colored eyes meeting violet.

"Why?"

Tonks cocked her head to the side, something she'd picked up from her time spent chatting with Luna.

"Why, what?"

"Why did you tell me all that? About metamorphs, and about yourself. You could have easily just said that last part about loving the person, not the body, without telling me something so personal."

"Yeah, I could have." Tonks shrugged. "But doesn't it make more of an impact for you to know and understand that I have good reason to know what I'm talking about there? You know what I am now. You know what I dealt with, trying to find my own sense of self. I went through a lot of agonizing and doubt, wondering if there was something wrong with me. If sharing that with you helps you avoid some of what I went through, then it is more than worth it."

"Thank you. For the help, and for trusting me, I swear, I won't ever repeat it to anyone."

Tonks smiled warmly. "Any time, kid. Seriously, all of you guys have grown on me."

"Are you heading downstairs?"

Tonks nodded and Hermione considered that for a moment before her posture suddenly changed. She sat up straighter on the bed, her shoulders squared and her chin came up, her head high and level without being snooty. In a word, she looked determined.

"If Daphne is still down there, could you tell her I want to talk to her? Susan too, if she's there?"

Tonks blinked. "Are you sure? That's kinda fast, you know, you can take a little more time to mull it over."

"I don't want to mull things over," Hermione disagreed, shaking her head. "I've been arguing with myself for months and you're right. I do love them and I can move forward, or I can keep standing still, agonizing over something that isn't likely to ever change unless I just do something about it." She gave a weak smile. "Honestly, I'm terrified, but I need to talk to them."

Tonks hesitated for a moment before she walked back over and wrapped the girl in a quick hug.

"You know they'll wait as long as you need," she muttered and Hermione nodded.

"I know. But I think they've waited long enough. And… I think I've waited long enough.

"All right." Tonks pulled away and, just before she slipped out of the room, she looked back. "Good luck."

#####

Neville was long gone, excusing himself to hit the Greenhouses as Daphne sat on the sofa near the fire, cradling a softly crying Susan Bones in her arms. The tears had been flowing ten minutes earlier when the girl returned from her chat with Harry and hadn't said much since she threw herself into her bondmates arms, sobbing almost uncontrollably. It was at Daphne's insistence that Neville left, but Susan had manage to get out that Harry wasn't to blame for her tears, so at least Neville wouldn't be tracking his friend down to have a few pointed words with him.

"Better?" Daphne asked as Susan's tears finally subsided.

"A bit, yeah."

Daphne smiled, a soft, sad thing. "You know you can't hide anything from me anymore, love."

"Dammit."

That caused Daphne to laugh, just a bit.

"What happened," she finally asked. "You were such a confusing mix there."

Susan mumbled something into Daphne's shoulder that she couldn't make out, muffled as her voice was.

"What was that?"

She looked up as a pair of fifth years walked past their corner of the Common Room and silently thanked Merlin for the invention of privacy charms. The people in the room knew that the two of them were there, but none would notice the intimate position they were sitting in, hopefully. Not that she would push Susan away for anything, not in a time of need such as this.

"I kissed Harry," Susan repeated herself, turning her head slightly so she could be heard more clearly. "He told me you kissed him. I swear he was worried I would be upset or something. When I wasn't that just confused him more."

"So what happened?" Daphne asked, quietly pleased for her… girlfriend? Partner? Well, Susan was her bond mate, plain and simple, the rest they could figure out as they went.

"I told him that we kissed because we loved each other, and that I knew you would never kiss someone that you didn't feel very strongly for."

"Hmmm."

"Then I told him that I would never kiss someone that I didn't want to be with, and I kissed him." Susan straightened up a bit more, sniffling quietly and Daphne dug a handkerchief from one of her pockets which she handed over.

"Thank you," she said, quickly wiping her eyes and nose. "So, I kissed him, and I told him not to worry about where things were going with us. I said we knew he wasn't ready, but we would wait for him. Said that all three of us understood he wasn't ready yet, but when he was, then he knew where to find us, and I walked away."

"Why'd you leave?"

"... because he was… he was so scared," Susan moaned, quietly. "Merlin, Daphne, if you'd seen it… felt it… I… I was touching his cheek, I could feel him and see it in his eyes. He was so confused and so just utterly terrified. I swear, it broke my heart. He's gotten used to friends, but the very idea that anyone could care more for him than just being a friend… those fucking Dursleys," she suddenly snarled furiously. "Dammit, Daphne, he has absolutely no idea how to handle the idea that we might actually love him. I don't know if he's scared to be loved, since his parents were the only ones he knows did love him, even if he can't remember it, and they died, or maybe he really doesn't think he's worth being loved. I don't know.

"I even asked him if he considered the idea that you liked him, and he looked at me like I was an idiot. He said he knew we liked him, and he liked, us we're his best friends. I think the idea of actual love hasn't even entered his head, like he just can't comprehend it."

Before Daphne could form a response they heard someone quietly clearing their throat and turned to see Cedrella standing nearby.

"Sorry to interrupt," she said, "but Hermione asked me to tell you that she needs to talk to you. Both of you. Nicely done privacy charms, by the way. I'd have never noticed you if I hadn't had a compelling reason to find you."

Sighing, almost imperceptibly, at the interruption, Daphne stood. "Thank you, Cedrella," she said. "Is she still in the dorm?"

Cedrella nodded. "You might want to hurry, and… be gentle with her, okay? She's got a lot on her mind."

Daphne and Susan exchanged a look, the latter of whom was rapidly regaining her equilibrium with something to focus on other than her worries for Harry as she stood to join Daphne.

"Should we be worried," she asked.

"Nah," Tonks said, letting some of her usual persona shine through for a moment. "She just wants to talk to the two of you."

"We'll head up now, then," Susan said, moving away from Daphne and toward the stairs with her bond mate following closely on her heels as Cedrella dropped into the armchair that Harry usually commandeered for himself and stared into the fire.

"Cupid ain't got nothin' on Tonks," she muttered, a grin playing around her lips as she made herself comfortable and waited for any of the bonded, or their other friends to return. "Next time they decide to scatter across the entire castle though, Imma smack the livin' daylights out of 'em. Least I know where three of them will likely be for the foreseeable future."

Upstairs, Daphne pulled Susan to a stop before she could rush into the dorm, forcing the redhead to turn toward her and she stepped in close, drawing Susan into a hug.

"We're not going to worry about Harry, right now. He… he needs time and we're gonna keep showing him that we care for him. He'll get there, but there's nothing more we can do right at the moment, agreed?" she asked and Susan let out a long sigh.

"Yeah, I guess you're right, I just hate it."

"I do, too, love, believe me." Daphne pulled back, looking up into Susan's eyes. "Ready to find out what's on Hermione's mind?"

Her only response was a quick peck of a kiss against her lips and Susan turned back to the door, pulling it open so the two of them could step inside. Hermione was pacing restlessly back and forth in the empty space in front of the beds as they entered and closed the door behind them, her fingers twisting together anxiously in front of her. When she saw them she suddenly froze in place, her posture stiffening and her eyes filling with fear for a few moments before she forced herself to relax. To the more muggle aware Susan, she seemed to epitomize the phrase 'deer caught in the headlights'.

"Ummm…. hi," she said, awkwardly, to which they responded with their own greetings before Hermione turned and gestured to her bed. "Why don't you two sit?" she offered, and, without a word spoken, Daphne and Susan moved over and sat side by side on the edge of the bed, each of them regarding their flustered bond mate with concern.

Of the four of them, Hermione had had the greatest trouble with Occlumency. She had a highly organized mind before beginning, which normally would have made learning and applying the discipline easier for her. But along with her organized way of thinking she was also extremely intelligent and curious, and that sent her mind off in dozens of different directions, frequently simultaneously. That ability to multitask and think on different subjects at the same time served her well, academically, but made the singular focus of maintaining Occlumency shields more difficult. As such, her shields tended to fluctuate, allowing brief glimpses into her emotions that shot across their bond in short bursts.

Apprehension, excitement tinged with fear and nerves, a startlingly deep sensation of desire and longing. Hermione wanted something, they determined, but whatever it was frightened her even as the idea of it thrilled her.

"Hermione, what is it? You're worrying us," Susan finally asked after Hermione had resumed pacing without saying anything else. Susan was startlingly reminded of her conversation, not an hour earlier, with Harry, and how he'd prowled back and forth in front of the bench where she'd sat. She idly wondered if they were all going to be taking on more traits and habits from their bond mates, and if it was because of the bond, or simply an effect of their frequent and close proximity to each other.

"I'm sorry," Hermione said, blowing out an explosive breath that did little to relieve any of her tension or anxiety. "I don't mean to worry you… I'm just… I have to talk to you, to both of you. But I'm nervous and I don't want to mess up."

Daphne leaned forward slightly, speaking in a calming tone. "Just say what you need to say, Hermione. If there's any confusion, we'll discuss it as we go." Inside, Daphne was keeping the tightest possible grip on her own Occlumency, not that it did anything to stop Susan from feeling the sudden spike of longing and hopeful anticipation that shot through the blond witch beside her.

Hermione took several deep breaths and managed to stop pacing, but couldn't stop her hands nervous motion, fingers twisting and winding together as they were clasped tightly in front of her. So tightly, in fact, that she was leaving marks on her skin and Susan reached out to gently pry the girl's hands apart, rubbing the marks soothingly with her thumbs once she succeeded.

Hermione's smile was timid, and trembling, but the gratitude she felt was genuine as she squeezed Susan's hands briefly and took a step back. Taking a moment to center her thoughts she decided to just jump straight into things.

"Tonks was up here, just a few minutes ago," she said. "She had some advice for me and I think it's what I needed to hear more than anything. It's given me a new perspective, at least, on something that I have been having a lot of difficulty with." She turned, slightly, to look more fully at Daphne. "The morning after you kissed me… remember I said I was straight?"

Daphne nodded, her hopeful feeling sinking, just slightly, but she refused to let herself worry too much right away.

"I think that's what has been giving me the biggest trouble over… over this whole situation." Hermione waved one arm as she spoke, taking in all three of them with that single gesture. "It… well it made me think. I mean… dammit, I find both of you very attractive, but I've always felt I wasn't interested in other girls, so what the hell does that mean? I've been worried that our bond was changing me, doing something to make me accept the idea of being with you, something I wouldn't have decided on my own." She trailed off and started pacing again.

"Mum asked if it mattered and I guess on one hand it doesn't really, but to me it does. I don't want to lose myself in this bond. I want to be me. I want to be my own person and not be changed to fit into something else. This whole thing has had me questioning who I am and what I want." She suddenly stopped and spun to face them again and her voice dropped to something small and quiet. "It didn't take me long at all to decide I wanted you, both of you, and I want Harry. And I do think that's because of the bond, but my mum helped me understand that it wouldn't have changed us. I know I suggested it before, that we had to be compatible, but I didn't think, at the time, that we were compatible in order for the bond to form. Obvious, in retrospect, it just didn't occur to me, then, that we had to be compatible even before bonding.

"So, then I was back to being confused again. If we were so compatible why wasn't I more like Susan and attracted to boys and girls? Why isn't Daphne attracted to boys too? I couldn't understand it and it frustrated me and worried me and…" She trailed off again, her hands clenched into fists at her sides, her face flushed and her eyes filling with tears that didn't fall before she shook her head sharply.

"No, that's not important. Tonks' advice is the important part here. And actually, it reminded me of something I thought when you were kissing me, that night," she added the last part as she turned more fully toward Daphne again.

Daphne and Susan were taut with worry. Both of them wanting nothing more than to rush to the girl and hold her, attempt to soothe her worries, but they were carefully restraining themselves, not wanting to push or derail their bond mate's wandering thought process.

"What was that?" Daphne asked in a slightly hoarse voice as their eyes met.

"When you kissed me I… I was confused and I was shaken. A part of me was saying to kiss you back, but I felt I wasn't interested in girls and that part of me that wanted to kiss you said that first and foremost you were our bondmate and a girl second."

"Wh-what does that mean, exactly?" Susan couldn't help but ask.

"It means that what I feel for all three of you has nothing to do with your gender, how you look, or anything on the outside, but the person that I know you are on the inside." She paused again, shifting her weight, nervously, for a moment before taking another deep breath and rushing onwards. "And that was Tonks' advice. She pointed out th-that I love you for the people that you are, and not for your bodies, and really, it's only natural that… that loving and wanting who you are would be followed by wanting what you are."

When she finished both girls sitting on the bed were struck silent, their thoughts latching onto a couple of very important, words.

Love.

Want.

Hermione moved closer and gently took Daphne's hands in her own, drawing the smaller girl to her feet. "I told you," she murmured softly, "that as soon as I knew what I wanted, that you would be the first to know. I'm sorry that Tonks kind of found out first, but it helped me make this decision, as much as it still terrifies me."

Daphne's hands, almost convulsively, squeezed Hermione's, holding tightly as if afraid the other girl would slip away at any moment and she shook her head.

"That's okay," she croaked out, suddenly more anxious than she'd ever felt, even when she finally told Susan that she loved her.

"I thought, before, that if I was going to do this, I really wanted us to be alone but… it didn't feel right not to include Susan in this." Hermione carefully extracted her hands from Daphne's grip and let them slide up her arms until they were resting atop her shoulders. "I've been thinking about this for months," she whispered, her eyes seemingly boring into Daphne's cool blue irises, "and I really want to kiss you now, but… can you… can you please just let me…" She trailed off and some of the Gryffindor bravado she'd leaned heavily on so far left her in the face of what she intended.

Thankfully, Daphne understood and nodded. She stood straight and placed her hands lightly on Hermione's waist, but made no other movement. "Go ahead," she whispered back. "You just kiss me, if you want, and I won't push."

The smile she received for that declaration alone made her feel the months of waiting and uncertainty were completely worth every second of it for this moment.

Hermione's hands moved, softly brushing back the long strands of honey blond hair that were hanging loose in front so they fell along Daphne's back. Gentle fingers traced up the sides of her neck, leaving a trail of warmth behind that sent a tremor along her spine until, like that night months ago, Hermione's hands cupped her face, her thumbs stroking her cheeks and Daphne's eyes fell closed, almost completely against her will.

Beside them, still sitting on the bed, Susan was almost vibrating with excitement and she couldn't have held back her startled gasp of surprise even if she'd been prepared for it. Hermione slowly leaned forward, her own eyes closing, and the moment their lips met both girls were surrounded in a silent burst of brilliant light.

From the outside, Susan watched as Hermione's silver aura and Daphne's green blended with auburn seemed to writhe and coil around each other as if battling for dominance for a few moments before they merged into each other. Before the light faded, and their lips parted, it was clear the difference that had been made. Hermione's aura was a blended mixture of green and silver with lines of auburn running through it, auburn that was a part of, but still apart from the rest, while Daphne showed blended green, auburn, and silver, yet the silver and auburn never interacted as the colors shimmered and shifted.

Daphne didn't think she'd ever experienced a sensation at once so tense but also so exquisitely sweet. Of the girls, Hermione had been the first she'd felt drawn to, the first she'd noticed and felt more toward as their feelings strengthened and grew through their association and being able to sense each other through their bond. She loved Susan completely, but the concern over how the girl kissing her would react made the moment all the sweeter and she had to force herself not to deepen the kiss or pull Hermione closer to her with the grip she had on the other girl's waist.

For Hermione, her first kiss had been when she was petrified and unable to feel it. Her second, she'd been so shocked that she'd hardly been able to register it, despite her many, many attempts to and her discussion with her mother over how it felt. Now, with her attention focused, her mind examined and catalogued the sensations. From the gentle puff of Daphne's breath across her cheek, to the feeling of the girl's hands on her waist, the warmth of her cheeks beneath her palms, and the extremely soft sensation of her lips. Before she pulled back, she'd examined every feeling that kissing Daphne had brought out in her and came to one, solid conclusion. She really wanted to do it again.

Her eyes opened just in time to see Daphne's eyelids also lifting, revealing her cold blue irises, but before either of them could do or say anything else an extremely loud squeal startled them both. A body slammed into the side of them, two arms wrapping around them and all three staggered slightly, stumbling several steps before they fell over onto Daphne's bed. Hermione let out a slight grunt as Daphne landed on top of her, even as her mind attempted to make sense of the rapid fire rambling by her left ear.

"-as so beautiful. I can't believe how amazing it looks from the outside. You two were so bright I couldn't believe it and-"

"Susan! Slow down," Daphne blurted out, cutting the excited redhead off even as she attempted to move off of the girl beneath her.

Susan's lips clamped shut even though a few ecstatic, if muffled, sounds still escaped her, her eyes bright and excited. Eventually, the three of them managed to untangle themselves and move up the bed so they were laying on the pillows with Hermione in the middle between two of her bond mates.

"Now, what were you going on about?" Daphne asked, propping her head up on one hand with her elbow on the pillow so she could look at Susan over Hermione.

"You two!" she squealed, bouncing happily. "You bonded! When you kissed, I saw it. The light around you, Merlin, it was so bright and the colors shifted together and blended except…" There she trailed off, sadly, as a thought occurred to her. "Except with Hermione, there were lines of my soul through the aura but they were separate, not blended together like yours and mine was when we saw Pomfrey. And in Daphne's the colors were all blended but mine and Hermione's colors never touched, they didn't interact at all."

Daphne and Hermione exchanged a look at that and Daphne gave her a small smile, jerking her head in Susan's direction. "I'm the only one that's kissed all three of my bond mates. Do you feel like adding a second to your collection?" she asked, her lips twitching into a teasing smile.

Hermione smiled, rolling her eyes at the blond's teasing tone of voice, but she felt she had to say something, first.

"Thank you."

Daphne blinked.

"For what?" she asked, brow furrowing in confusion.

"For letting me set the pace. I know you wanted that kiss to be more, and I want more, believe me I do, I'm just… it's still going to take me a while to really adjust to everything."

Daphne smiled and leaned forward, placing a quick peck to Hermione's lips before she leaned back, looking down at the bushy haired witch. "I don't mind going at your pace. I think I can speak for Susan when I say we'll do our absolute best not to push you any faster than you're comfortable with." Susan's rapid nodding spoke for itself so she said nothing and Hermione slowly turned onto her left side, coming face to face with the Bones heiress.

"We've all got a lot to get used to, and Harry to eventually get through to," Susan said. "We'll take all the time we need but I've been waiting since the summer before second year to say this to you, too. I love you, Hermione. We love you, and I can't begin to tell you how happy I am that you can say the same."

Hermione leaned forward and paused, their lips less than an inch apart. "I love you, too," she whispered, then closed the distance between them as light exploded around their bodies.

#####

"How dare he… how dare that… that little half blood mongrel. To speak to the Minister that way…"

Dolores Umbridge stalked through the halls of the Ministry toward her office, her posture and every step radiating a furious rage. Luckily, there was no one present so late at night to see and she entered her office with none the wiser. Quickly moving across the room to her desk she reached into her robes and pulled out a heavy gold medallion suspended from a thick chain.

It had taken days to get hold of this particular item without anyone knowing she had it, but patience was a virtue, and despite her temper, Dolores was a woman that understood the value of patience. Particularly when the end result would be teaching an upstart thing the folly of disrespecting his betters. From the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, this medallion was one of only six in existence. Two were kept permanently at another location off the coast in the North Sea. One had disappeared years earlier, and the other three were kept in the Department under careful lock and key and protected by a multitude of wards and enchantments.

The one she held in her hands was the missing one, the one she had hidden herself a long time ago when she was fresh out of school and had only just started in her work for the Ministry. She had looked to the future and planned ahead, knowing that one day it might come in handy.

Reaching into one of her desks drawers she pulled out three photos and set them on top of the desks flat surface before she pulled out her wand and muttered a long string of an incantation, pointing the wand first at the medallion, then at the photo to the left. A pale blue glow surrounded both medallion and photo a moment later and she repeated the process with the other two photos. Taking the medallion firmly in hand she pressed the tip of her wand to her throat.

"Find them, but do not enter the school. If you see them, take them. Teach them what it means to defy the Ministry."

Removing her wand she tapped the medallion and it glowed a sickly green color before the light faded and she tucked it back into her robes, leaning back in her seat with a supremely satisfied smile on her face. On her desk, faces peered up from the photos. One, the photo used in the wanted poster for Sirius Black, in another, Potter stood with his sluts in a photo that was taken during the Ministry function where he'd been awarded his Order of Merlin, something she had been strongly against, but Cornelius would not be swayed when she attempted to convince him to block it. The last photo showed a slender waif of a girl with long white blond hair and slightly too large silvery blue eyes.

At that moment, a hundred Dementors that had yet to leave the forest that bordered the grounds of Hogwarts turned and moved toward the school with a singular purpose in mind.

They would wait.

They would bide their time.

But they felt a sense of glee, if such foul, dark beings were capable of such an emotion, because they knew that, eventually, the time to wait would end, and they would have the opportunity to feed.