Whew, this went quicker than the last one, and I had a lot of fun writing, even though I should probably warn for some things. Like angst, and attempted crimes and stuff. It might be triggering to some, so please proceed carefully.

Warnings aside, thank you for your continued support and wonderful comments! As always, they make me happy, especially now when it's even harder to connect to people than it was before. Fanfiction is a huge source of joy for me, both as a writer and a reader. 3

Dobby's Deceit

Part 21

Both Snape and Dumbledore were absent during lunch. Harry could only imagine what was going on right now - and what it meant for him and Hermione.

"You look like you're thinking what I'm thinking," Hermione muttered as she spooned sweet potato puree onto her plate. "I bet a galleon that we'll be called to the headmaster's office right after class ends."

"Dumbledore wanted to see you yesterday already," Harry reminded her. "I'm just waiting for Mr. Finch's note. Wanna bet that Snape will be there and demand a retraction, and a grovelling apology?"

"Not particularly." Hermione blew out a breath. "I honestly forgot the Malfoy situation for a moment. Our meeting with them should be tonight, shouldn't it?"

"I think so," Harry said.

Parvati across from them snorted inelegantly. "No wonder you've forgotten that, our paper really stunned all of Magical Britain. Lav and I had a look into the mail room after class, there are already letters in there, and some were red and smoking. We can be lucky if Hogwarts is still standing when everyone had time to really digest our news."

"Good lord." Hermione put down the spoon and rubbed her hands over her thighs. "Are there any news about Snape or Dumbledore yet?"

Parvati grimaced. "Snape actually went to class, but apparently he was a monster to the fourth and seventh years. I don't know why Dumbledore allowed it, since everybody wants him gone so much."

At that, Lavender piped up, "On the plus side, the DMLE will come calling tonight. Susan Bones told me so. Maybe Snape'll do a runner before then. I'd much rather do study hall than suffer another hour in his presence."

"Who wouldn't?" Neville murmured and flushed a little when his yearmates goggled a little at him. "What? Just because I'm lucky enough to have class with Madam Stone now doesn't mean I've forgotten what Snape's class is like."

"It's only been a couple of weeks anyway," Hermione agreed and smacked Seamus' arm. "Stop being dumb gits, I know you're better than that."

"Ow," Seamus complained. "That actually hurt."

"Right. Sorry, Neville," Dean said with a little glance at Hermione. "Still, the sooner he's gone, the better. I don't even care anymore how it happens."

"Nobody does," Ron said with his mouth full. Everybody around him groaned but he just barrelled on, smugly declaring, "Maybe the hippogriffs will eat him. Or better yet, the spiders in the Forbidden Forest. Or hey, maybe the dementors will suck out his soul ... even if it probably isn't very tasty."

"Huh." Dean cocked his head a little. "I could live with that, actually."

"You're both horrible," Parvati complained, only to be drowned out by the protests of the other Gryffindors, who were firmly of the opinion that Snape deserved whatever punishment was coming his way.

Harry tried not to feel too hopeful about that glimpse of Ron's former personality, but it was hard and put a damper on his appetite. Hermione, who nearly always seemed to know what was bothering him, just took his hand under the table and held it tightly, affording him enough comfort to eat at least enough to not feel hungry all afternoon.

Then they trudged to Arithmancy with the Hufflepuffs, which was mostly spent discussing the news about Sirius Black. Especially Susan Bones asked a lot of questions and took it with dubious grace when Harry repeatedly rebuffed her attempts to weasel further information from him. It helped that Jerry, his now confirmed house elf valet slash bodyguard, poked Harry every now and then, reminding him to keep quiet.

Finally, Professor Vector punished the Hufflepuff girl's curiosity with a ten point loss and the threat of detention if she didn't cut it out.

"But everybody wants to know!" Susan protested. "Hermione can't just throw all of that out there and expect us not to ask questions. Besides, my auntie and the aurors need to know."

"Your aunt is well able to ask her questions in an official setting," Professor Vector said tartly. "With Mr. Potter's legal representative present, because he's a minor and any information obtained your way might well be inadmissable due to that fact. Don't let me catch you bullying him again, Miss Bones. The consequences to you might not be grave, but the same cannot be said for your aunt. Lord Black has hired the best lawyers in all of Europe, don't think he won't set them on anybody who dares harm his family."

"Yes, Professor," Susan said reluctantly, but her chin had that stubborn set to it that Harry knew so well from Hermione.

"Mr. Potter, I suggest that you refrain from answering any questions at all from now on if your lawyer's not present," Professor Vector said. "It wouldn't be your fault if your father's lawyers tore someone apart for interfering, but I know that you'd take it hard, regardless. I think we can all agree that Hogwarts is currently experiencing enough drama without adding the threat of personal ruin to it."

Harry nodded gratefully and, when no one was looking his way, stroked Jerry's quivering ears soothingly and muttered a quiet thank you for his watchfulness.

The rest of the class passed in tense silence. While not as aggressive as Susan Bones, by far, the other students were nonetheless violently curious and followed Harry and Hermione as they hurried off to their last class of the day, Transfiguration.

They had just turned a corner, away from the stream of students, when suddenly a slight flimmer, like heated summer air over asphalt, appeared in the air.

"Harry hold fast!" Blue hissed in warning.

But it was too late. A second later, Hermione's hand was ripped from Harry's and her cry echoed even as she was already gone.

"Hermione!" Harry screamed, provoking answering shrieks from the other students. He felt his magic heaving up in fury. "Dobby!"

At once, Dobby appeared, half a dozen other elves behind him. All their eyes were huge, taking in the horrifying dance of magic all over his body.

Running footsteps alerted him to people coming to investigate, but he didn't care.

"Find her and bring her back!" Harry ordered in a tone he'd never before taken with any of them. "And one of you tell Sirius. Go!"

All of them popped off immediately, only Jerry remaining by Harry's side. Dismayed cries sounded when Harry's classmates realized what had happened. To protect himself from their inquiries - and fervently hoping that the teachers wouldn't find him right this moment - Harry put up a Muffliato, hissing the incantation out in parseltongue to ensure absolute privacy. A magical barrier set by Jerry held the students back, who were hammering and shouting fruitlessly at it.

"They not be taking long," Jerry reassured Harry. "No wizard can hide Harry Potter sir's Miss Mione for long. Dobby be bringing her back."

Even as he said it, Dobby was popping back, eyes even wider and expression frantic. "Harry Potter sir be coming now! Dobby be following Miss Mione across the channel and then back, but he not be able to take Miss Mione away from bad man. Dobby be popping Harry Potter sir though Hoggywarty's wards. It be unpleasant. Snakelings better be staying here."

Outside the wards, the students surged in surprise at Dobby's appearance.

"We will not!" Sweetie protested sharply.

"Harry needs us!" Blue cried.

"They come with me. I'll protect them." Harry placed his hand in Dobby's. "Jerry, send as many elves after us as you can. Who knows what's awaiting us."

"Jerry will!"

"Then let's go, Dobby. Hurry."

Harry nearly yelled when Dobby's magic gripped him tightly and unceremonously squeezed him through several rough tunnels, all the while tossing him around like a flipper ball. Colours flashed all around and through him, filling his lungs and stomach, mouth and eyes.

You won't stop me!, he raged at the restricting magic. Back off now, Hogwarts!

A trill cut through the angry howls, both Harry and the magic's, and a pair of large bird feet closed around Harry's upper arm. Huge, fiery wings buffeted Harry against the strongest currents.

"Fawkes!" Harry cried, or he thought he did. The ride was definitely messing with his awareness.

Another warbled trill echoed through the magical storm.

Together, it seemed to say, and Harry immediately followed the impulse and reached out as well as he knew how with his free hand.

There was his link to Dobby dragging him along, as firm and full of trust as always, and then there was something wild and independent grasping at him from several directions. Feeling suddenly fiercely grateful, Harry acknowledged the support the snakelings and Fawkes were offering, and with everything he had he latched onto it, gasping when he suddenly seemed to sprout wings and a vision that defied his comprehension.

Whatever he'd believed to see before, it absolutely paled in comparison to what he could perceive now. Thousands of arcs of magic, elegantly intervowen and connected, spanned the horrifyingly dark space they were hurtling through. The vibrant, fuzzy net grasped at them all, trying to trap them like flies in a spider's web, but Harry refused to let it. He used the newfound wings, as one with Fawkes in that moment, to twist and dance around the cloying magics, and what they didn't manage to evade, they burned away with their combined power.

Then, abruptly, they were through the giant, all-encompassing ward net and the ride became so smooth as to almost seem like stillstand.

We've arrived, Harry thought, together with Dobby, who knew exactly where to drop them off.

"Miss Mione be in there," Dobby said after a rough landing on a sandy road, pointing at a small manor on an even smaller hilltop. "It be Old Dumblydore's family house. It be heavily warded and protected by poor, wretched house elves."

"What?" Harry asked. "Dumbledore's house?"

"He not be present, but mean Potions Master Snape is." Dobby began to tug on his ears. "Potter elves be trying to break in, but Dumbledore elves be listening to Snape, even though they not want to. They be forced to do terrible, terrible things." He suddenly gasped. "Harry Potter sir's Miss Mione be needing help!"

"Get me in there," Harry demanded, stumbling a little under Fawkes' weight settling on his shoulders. "Then send someone to the aurors. And to Brady! We'll probably need him."

Again, Dobby grabbed Harry's hand and pressed all of his considerable magic forward, against Dumbledore's wards. Fawkes gave a sharp cry and beat his majestic wings. And just as he thought about how dead useful it would be to be able to see Magic, it happened. Harry's normal view vanished under the heavy veil of magic, showing what was really going on around Dumbledore's property.

"There is no weak spot," Blue hissed with frustration. "Old man is very good at warding. Fiery Fawkes and Dobby are not strong enough to carry us through."

"I will bite the old man's magic," Sweetie declared and, without waiting for a comment, lunged out of Harry's sleeve and actually bit into the dome of protective magic that was locking them out.

At first, nothing seemed to happen, but then a small, dark spot appeared in the angrily writhing ward net. It looked like a small cavity, or a mould spot in between bathroom tiles.

"Again, Dobby," Harry ordered. "Keep strong, Fawkes. We'll burn through that ward!"

They pushed again, all their magic combined for their purpose, and the small black spot actually began to grow larger. The ragged edges ripped further and further. Already it was large enough to allow Harry's pinkie finger through.

"Greasy Git Professor be attacking Miss Mione," Jerry wailed. "I be helping!"

Harry gasped when the little elf's magic artlessly latched onto him, binding itself to the pool of magic already available. The spot behind his breastbone sang with vibration and heat and he had never felt more grateful in his life for his friends' unconditional support.

"We'll have to get her out of there," he choked out. Foregoing his wand, Harry placed his hands next to the rip in the wards. Just like they had burned Professor Quirrel in his first year, they now did tremendous harm to the resisting magic, until he could curl his fingers into it and really tear.

The wards writhed violently and tried to repel all of them, only to recoil just as violently when Sweetie and Blue both bit it again with all the ferocity their small bodies could muster. A moment later, the edges of the rapidly expanding hole began to dissolve into pink smoke. It looked spectacular through Blue's eyes and mixed with the floating sparks Fawkes' wings set off as they beat against Dumbledore's protections.

For several moments, Harry got lost in the dual sensations of tearing up a magical construct, and accepting more and more of his elves as they offered their strength. He was overcome with their love and loyalty, just as he was overcome with the strange ethereal sight of magical currents and nebulas making up the reality around him.

Suddenly, Fawkes began to sing, the vibration taking form as a streak of scarlet power. It darted through the hole in the wards and, amazingly, began to attack it from the inside, dealing tremendous damage from the unexpected direction.

"We be going now," Dobby's voice sang in Harry's vast, seemingly empty mind.

Connected as they were, they all dissolved into another streak of warm light and materialized in a small confusion of large ears, beautiful feathers, and long, sinuous bodies.


Hermione's panicked voice tore Harry out of his daze. He had to blink a couple of times and yet the horrifying picture didn't change: Snape had Hermione backed into a corner. Her wand was lying broken on the floor a few yards away, just like the two Potter elves that, somehow, had managed to go with her when she'd been abducted.

"He won't help you, Granger," Snape snarled before Harry could speak. He clearly hadn't noticed Harry's arrival, so focused was he on her. Spittle and blood flew from his lips. "You won't get out of this, you little bitch. I'll make you pay for ruining my life! Who knows, you might even like having me for a husband; you young witches are insatiable, after all. Not that you'll have a choice."

Harry decided that setting Snape on fire would be a great thing to do and let his wands slap lightning quick into his hands.

Dobby, however, was even faster.

With a little snap of his powerful fingers, Snape was flung away from Hermione and right into an antique looking sideboard. The wood crashed and several of Snape's bones broke with sickening cracks. He slumped down, not unlike Lucius Malfoy all those months ago, and remained there. At once, half a dozen Potter elves were on him, binding him with their magic.

"Harry!" Hermione wailed and ran into Harry's open arms. "You're here! Oh my god! I was so afraid!"

Harry staggered under the strength of her grip. "I know, 'Mione. I know. I'm so sorry it's taken us so long. You're safe now." He kissed her hair and held her tightly enough to hurt, but she was far from complaining. If anything, she was pressing herself against him even further. "He's out cold, Dobby already has him in chains. The other Potter elves have subdued Dumbledore's house elves. Look."

"He ordered them to hurt Saffron and Eli." At that, Hermione burst into great, heaving sobs. "He killed them!"

"They not be dead, Miss Mione, but it not be looking good," Dobby said, carefully touching the downed elves' hands. "Dobby be calling Naddy. She be knowing about house elf injuries."

At once, Naddy appeared. She was all business and began to order Harry's elves around as she saw fit. Her last act before vanishing with the two hurt elves was to order Harry to break Snape's wand.

"That way, he be your prisoner. You also be hitting him with stunner. Dobby better not be caught by bad Ministry people," Naddy explained. "Ward breaking be confusing wizard diagnostics, but you hurry now."

With that she was off, and Harry entrusted Hermione to Jerry's gentle care to do what Healer Williams' elf had advised. He'd much rather have Hermione break the man's wand, although she encouraged him to do it for her readily enough. Afterwards, he hit Snape's unconcious body with two rather mean stunners and asked all the elves to place even more chains around him. Even Dumbledore's house elves did so, and with quite a bit of vicious satisfaction, too.

Suddenly it was very quiet in the house.

Miserably, Hermione blew her nose and asked in a tiny voice, "What now?"

"Now we wait for help," Harry answered. Putting his arm around her, he led her towards the sofa and helped her sit down. "Your wand is gone, I'm afraid. What happened?"

She blanched and clenched her hands into his robes. "He ... he used something to get us out of Hogwarts, and ... and I think we actually went to France for a second. Your elves found us there, though, and tried to attack. Snape activated the thing again before they could and it landed us here." She licked her dry lips. "He immediately raised the war wards. Saffron and Eli managed to come with me, again, I don't know how. He ordered his house elves to kill them but I guess they disobeyed." She looked at the shivering, horrified creatures and smiled tremolously. "Thank you. So much."

"It be wrong, wrong thing to ask of us," the oldest of the house elves squeaked. He looked ragged and half dead on his feet. Going against Snape's explicit order seemed to put a serious strain on them all.

"You did very well," Harry said quietly. "House Potter owes you a great debt. Please don't hesitate to ask for whatever you need."

The three Dumbledore elves bowed deeply, shivering, and Harry's house elves looked at him with deep gratitude.

Returning his attention to the shaking girl in his arms, Harry placed another kiss onto her clammy forehead. "What then?"

Hermione sobbed again. "He ... oh, Harry, I can't even think it."

"He didn't touch you, did he?" Harry whispered anxiously. "What he said ..."

"No!" Hermione shuddered and gagged. A little calmer, she repeated, "No. But he was working towards it. I tried to defend myself - I think I got one good wallop in - but then he got my wand away from me and broke it. Then he ... he took off Madam Pomfrey's protection charm after it hurt him, and he ... he wanted to ... force himself on me. To ... to ruin my life, like he said. He said that I'd have no choice, after, because I was a mudblood with no standing, and that he deserved my money for the job I'd cost him."

She began to cry again and Harry thought he'd die from the hatred he felt for Snape.

Fawkes fluttered over to them and settled into Hermione's lap. With little trills he encouraged her to put her arms around him and when that was done he began to sing, long and melodious.

All the elves quieted down and Hermione relaxed completely in Harry's arms.

"He's good," she murmured drowsily. "I hate Snape so much."

"Me too," Harry growled.

"Help be coming," Dobby announced, ears perked. "It be aurors and Harry Potter sir's Finch and Brady."

"Oh thank god," Harry exclaimed. Suddenly he was very, very tired. The stark, real world began to lose focus and a bit of that astonishing mage sight crept back, showing the dancing and glittering magic all over the room. Hermione's form changed from human to otherwordly beauty, the colours of her agitated, yet exhausted magic a beguiling mix of purples and dark oranges and calm cobalt blues, with soft streaks of all kinds of greens, pearl, and earthy tones lending balance to their overwhelming brilliance.

She was absolutely breathtaking even now and Harry couldn't help but feel pride in having her for a friend.

"Harry!" he heard Healer Williams frantically call. "Harry, are you alright? By the Lord, he's exhausted! No! Don't touch him, Auror. You go take care of that child abductor over there! Mr. Finch, you'll have everything in hand here? ... Great."

"Brady," Harry whispered. He took one hand from Hermione and let it fall onto the man's forearm. "'m so tired."

"I know, Harry." Williams' blue-green eyes seemed overly large as they peered into Harry's. "You and Hermione are safe now. You rescued her. It's time to go back. Your friends will keep watch until the scene has been fully processed."

"You're sure?" Desperate, Harry clung even tighter to Hermione while at the same time reaching out beseechingly with what little magic he could muster in his fingertips.

"I'm sure," Williams promised. His small smile was as warm as the answering magic pouring from him. "Sleep, Harry, everything will be fine."

And Harry went under.


When he woke up, Harry instantly knew that he wasn't alone - and that he wasn't at Hogwarts.

"Easy, Harry," Healer Williams' voice said soothingly. "You have the snakelings with you, all of them, as well as quite a few of your house elf friends."

"Where am I?" Harry asked roughly. He accepted his glasses and the glass of water Williams offered. Carefully, he took a few sips until his throat no longer felt so dry. "What happened?"

"You're at Gringotts currently, in the hospital wing. Sharptooth arranged for it, since my residence at Hogsmeade wasn't up to our security standards yet and Sirius vehemently forbade us from taking you to St. Mungo's."


"She's here, as well. Her parents insisted on keeping her out of Hogwarts for the time being and Sharptooth had no issue securing a room for her. Her healer of record is with her. She's fine, I promise, just shaken up." Williams sighed and patted Harry's arm. "You're incredible, you know that, right?"

Falling back into his pillow, Harry groaned. "I panicked and did something stupid. I should've called for help and stayed at school instead of haring off like an idiot."

"Viewed logically, yes, you probably should have," Healer Williams agreed gently. "Hermione is protected by the single most effective protection spell on earth, Snape would've killed himself trying to assault her."

"I know. But I forgot when it happened. It was so sudden and I couldn't do nothing," Harry said miserably. "She was just gone and it felt so wrong."

"Of course it did. And no matter what people have to say on the matter, Hermione is very grateful that you were the one rescuing her. Just imagine the trauma of seeing her professor killed for trying to rape her. No matter the circumstances, she'd have suffered greatly for it."

Harry swallowed loudly and confessed, "I wanted to kill him for even trying. I could've, after Dobby smacked him down."

"But you didn't, and I don't think you would have, given more energy and time." Healer Williams took his hand off Harry's arm and instead ran his fingers through the boy's hair. "You set out to rescue your friend, and you achieved that goal admirably. The forensics at the scene said that you all but shredded Dumbledore's family wards. They couldn't believe that you've done it by yourself."

"That's because I haven't," Harry said. "I had a lot of elves, and Fawkes, and Sweetie and Blue with me. They all helped. We got through the wards together." He paused as sudden tears welled in his eyes. "How are Saffron and Eli?"

"Naddy is taking care of them, they're healing nicely," Williams assured him. "Dumbledore's elves suffered considerably for disobeying Snape's order, though, and it's not certain what'll happen to them now."

"It wasn't their fault," Harry protested. "Even being told to obey Snape is a crime! They're victims, same as everyone else."

"Mr. Finch will certainly argue their case, but I'll be honest. British law is very unfair to house elves. Right now they're caught up in the case, meaning that Dumbledore can't cut them loose without facing a huge fine for destroying evidence, but he's made it clear that he's very disappointed in their part in Hermione's abduction and will likely give them clothes as soon as may be."

"What?" Harry scrambled back up, nearly dislodging his loyal snakeling companions. "That doesn't make any sense! He told them to obey Snape's orders! He must have! And now he's going to punish them for doing as he asked?"

"As I said, house elves don't enjoy many protections in Great Britain."

"But the DMLE will know that Dumbledore's involved," Harry pressed. "Nobody tells their house elves to obey someone else like this for a lark. He's at least guilty by association!"

Williams paused, clearly searching for the right words. "This whole thing is ... it's very ugly, Harry, and Snape trying to harm Hermione for telling the truth about him may be just the tip of a very nasty iceberg, I'm afraid. Dumbledore is definitely implicated, the problem is that, as the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, he's enjoying diplomatic immunity. It's up to the ICW to revoke that immunity so he can be questioned and, if appropriate, tried, but that'll take some time. Until then, he'll still be at Hogwarts and build his defence."

"I can't believe it. Hogwarts is the worst school, ever." Harry ground his teeth and only let up when Blue flicked his cheek with his little tongue. "Do I have to go back there? I guess I'm in a lot of trouble, anyway."

Williams' face gave it away, but the healer said, "You are, for leaving Hogwarts without permission, and for destroying Dumbledore's wards. But you know that your father and his lawyers will do everything in their power to put those accusations into context, and Hermione's parents have already declared their intent to sue Snape, Dumbledore, Hogwarts, and everybody else who's getting in their way. Last I heard, Mr. Finch roped his protegé into taking on the Grangers so he'll have his time free for you. This means the young man will also get to deal with the Malfoy settlement, which is quite a feather in such a young lawyer's cap. The Grangers have also declined letting Hermione leave Hogwarts formally as they want to see the whole weregild thing through. Mrs. Granger's exact words were, 'Now more than ever.'"

"Yeah, I can understand that." Harry petted the four snakelings for a minute and then asked, already exhausted by the news, "Just how long was I out of it?"

Healer Williams laughed, warm and loud. "Only four days. You were magically exhausted and for all that you woke quickly enough. Your father was worried, of course, and tried to come here as soon as he knew where I'd taken you. Thankfully the goblins in Italy restrained him and talked him out of it. In fact, Walker will use this newest disaster to further the case."

"Will that work?" Harry asked. "Right now, I don't think I can believe anything anybody tells me."

"Then at least believe that you, in my personal opinion, did the right thing. I've excused you from school for another week to fully heal your exhaustion, you should use it to rest and regroup. We can talk it all over at our leisure." Healer Williams smiled. "Even better, Hermione's parents excused her from school as well and allowed her to stay here until you're ready to leave. She's just waiting for you to invite her in."

"Really?" A huge weight slipped off Harry's shoulders. "Can she come in right now?"

"Of course. Snakelings, you'd better scram." Williams waved his hand a little once the four snakes had hidden themselves under Harry's pajamas and the door opened noiselessly.

Immediately, a small tornado in the shape of a girl rushed into the room and towards the bed and flung itself without any hesitation at the boy.

"Harry!" Hermione cried, nearly strangling him with the strength of her hug.

Right after her, Crookshanks jumped onto the bed and burrowed his head between their bodies, purring happily.

A little horrified, Harry felt his eyes go wet at the very real proof of her continued existence and relative wellbeing. "Hey, 'Mione. 's so good to see you. Hey, Crooks."

"Are you okay? Are you still tired? You didn't hurt yourself, did you?" she babbled into the skin of his neck. "I was so worried when you blacked out."

"Careful, Hermione," Healer Williams cautioned through his chuckles. "He's fine, but he's currently no match for your, ah, enthusiasm."

Hermione squeaked and scrambled off Harry. "I'm sorry!"

"I'm not. Come back here," Harry demanded. "I was just asleep. How are you?"

"Better," Hermione said, although she still looked rather vulnerable to Harry's eyes. "Do you want to know what happened to Snape?"

"They'd better not let him go," Harry said, tucking Hermione to his side and sighing happily when Crookshanks lay down on the other side.

"They can't," Hermione replied with obvious relief. "Since you broke his wand for his attack, and you're the heir of a noble and ancient house, you and your dad got right of first judgement. It's positively medieval, but right now I'm very glad about it."

"Where is he, then?" Harry asked. "Azkaban?"

"He'd definitely deserve it, but no. Right now, he's enjoying the goblin's hospitality," Williams said.

Harry snorted. "Somehow I don't think that's an improvement."

"It isn't," the healer affirmed with a grim smile. "But since Sirius is confined to Gringotts Italy for the moment and can't oversee Snape's stay in the dungeons of his family's manor, he decided that letting the goblins have some fun was the next best thing."

"What's going to happen with Snape?" Harry wondered. "Will he have a trial?"

"Yes, definitely. Madam Bones is positively livid and ready to charge Snape with everything she can possibly get away with." Williams cleared his throat. "The thing is that you two might get out of testifying personally because you're minors if you don't want to, but that is a somewhat involved affair. You'd need a legal representative, so it must be Mr. Finch or an equally qualified law person because Sirius and the Grangers certainly can't do it. One is still a wanted criminal in Britain and the Grangers are mundanes; both prevents people from taking up legal positions, I'm afraid."

"What would that mean for us?" Harry asked.

"We'll have to make our statement in front of the judge and declare Mr. Finch our legal representative," Hermione said quietly. "It's different than having him as just our lawyer because he'll actually speak in our stead and fend off all sorts of intrusive questions. It's sort of like Sharptooth is your steward instead of just your account manager. Taking this step will make Mr. Finch into something like family, in a business sort of way."

"Oh." Harry needed a moment to process this. "Is he ... is he willing to do that for us?"

"He is," Healer Williams reassured him. "The whole firm is very invested in setting all of your affairs to rights, and I've heard from Mr. Finch himself that he's quite taken with you specifically, Harry. He'll be by later to formalize the agreement - if you're ready to take that step, of course. You can always decide to give your statement yourselves, if that's not for you, although your parents don't recommend it."

"What do you want to do?" Harry asked Hermione. "Is it okay if a guy represents you? I know that you prefer a female doctor."

"I've had a couple of days to think about it," she admitted, "but I'm still not sure. In a way it'd be good, wouldn't it? Having a man stand in for me could shake things up a little. On the other hand I'm ... please don't be mad, but I can't help but suppose that men in general find my situation not really ... important, I guess. Men rarely understand what women have to live with every day in our society. A female lawyer would probably understand much better and argue my case accordingly."

"You know that it might be possible to win Ms. Stone for your case," Williams said, "but I think you should have a talk with Mr. Finch first. Sirius chose him to help Harry for a reason. Out of all the cut-throat lawyers of that firm, he's the most sympathetic to an adolescent's sensibilities. Walker and Stone are far more happy destroying corporations and countries, although their work is always excellent and they'd both represent you admirably."

"I'll talk with Mr. Finch, I promise," Hermione murmured. "As I said, it might be good to shake things up. The Wizengamot is mostly made up of old men, so women are already at a disadvantage, and who knows whether they'd even really listen to one, anyway, lawyer or not."

"In any event you'll have to submit your memory. Healer Spleenbash will oversee the extraction of yours, Harry," Healer Williams said. "She is quite committed to finding out what really happened after Snape insulted her to her face while she healed his injuries. Needless to say that Snape refused to submit his memories; he'll be questioned with veritaserum."

"Oh, did she draw the short stick or lost a bet or something?" Harry asked. "I should probably apologize for that."

Healer Williams actually snorted with laughter at that. "You may, of course, but it's hardly necessary. She's sort of adopted you and views it as her duty to straighten out any trouble you find yourself in. Exhausting yourself magically in the attempt to rescue your friend certainly counts as trouble, so you'll just have to deal with her, eh, mothering. Such as it is."

"Er, if I have to provide a memory ..." Harry debated for a second whether to exclude Hermione from this conversation and decided that it was still necessary. In parseltongue, he went on, "If I have to provide a memory, people will know how I got through all the wards. I don't think that'd be good. The snakelings are too young and I don't want people to know about them. Who knows what they'll try to do to them."

"I'll petition Chief Ragnok and your father to view it first, if you want me to," Williams promised. To Hermione, he said, "There are unfortunately things that shouldn't be known yet. I hope you won't feel slighted; it's also for your safety."

"I know that," Hermione said softly. "I don't much like it, but I understand." She brightened a little. "Can I have a book on goblin healing while you're extracting Harry's memory?"

"Consider it done," Williams said, visibly relieved. "Now, since you haven't eaten in a couple of days, Harry, I'll let your elf friends take over. Don't eat too much at first, but do drink as much as you feel you need - just not all at once. I've already asked your friends not to overwhelm you."

"They won't," Harry said, already smiling. "When can I see Eli and Saffron?"

"In a couple of days, or so Naddy told me. Right now they're almost completely healed, but they still need a lot of nutrition to get their strength back. Naddy asks that you order them to take it easy for at least another week because they're already impatient to prove their worth to you."

"They already did that," Harry said. "Jerry."

Jerry hopped off the little stool he'd sat on at the far corner of the room and eagerly jumped onto the bed. "How may Jerry help?"

"First of all ..." Harry reached out and pulled the helf into a one-armed hug, making the elf half hang over Crookshanks' huge, fluffy form. "Thank you. I thank you so much for helping me find Hermione. What you all did was amazing."

"It be privilege to help my Harry Potter sir," Jerry muttered and blushed.

"Can you please tell all the others that I'm really proud of them? I'll talk to you all soon, as soon as I'm out of here, I promise. And tell Saffron and Eli to take it easy. Whatever they need, you'll make sure they get it, yes?"

"It will be done, Harry Potter sir," Jerry squeaked. "I be getting clothes for Harry Potter sir now. Harry Potter sir not be wanting to meet his Finch in his pajamas."

He popped away and reappeared immediately with a full set of clothes. A snap of his fingers saw Harry dressed. From there, Betty took over, snapping her own fingers to set a table for three with some light foods and a large jug of elf berry lemonade.

"You be relaxing now, Harry Potter sir," she fussed. "Magics be needing much care. Harry Potter sir's Miss Mione, too!"

"We'll be good," Harry said, stroking her cheek. Under his shirt the snakelings writhed a little restlessly, but thankfully Hermione didn't notice as she was alredy getting up. "The food smells really good, thanks."

Satisfied, Betty popped away, leaving only the three Potter elves who'd had babies in the room. The little ones clung to their parents and wailed thinly, clearly wanting some attention.

"Sorry, I ..." Harry pointed helplessly at them and Healer Williams indicated for him to go.

"Can I see them, too?" Hermione asked. "They're so tiny!"

The elves bashfully accepted Hermione's inclusion and Mora, the youngest of the parents, even allowed the girl to stroke her baby's tiny hand.

"They're all doing well?" Harry asked the elves, who were beaming with pride. "It's been a while since I've seen them last."

"All be well," Cinnamon squeaked. "Babies be strong and curious. Cinnamon be having to watch out in the kitchen. Peppy be wanting to help."

"Isn't that just adorable?" Hermione cooed and sighed happily when said Peppy stared at her with large, moss green eyes and tentatively reached out with one thin arm.

"Miss Mione be careful," Cinnamon warned. "Babies not be having much control. They not be meaning to, but playing might hurt good witchies and wizards. Or worse, little ones be liking witchie or wizard so much they accidentally try to bond. It not be fun for anyone."

"Oh!" Hermione glanced at Mora. "Uh, wow. Thanks for trusting me with your child, then. I'd never try to do that, of course."

"Mora be knowing that Holly be far too young," Mora answered shyly. "She be mostly sleeping yet. But Peppy be older. He be awake often and looking for mischief."

Happy, the only house elf dad of the little group, cleared his throat a little, politely directing Harry and Hermione's attention to himself. His kid was clinging to his body like a little possum, contentedly snuffling into his uniform, now that Harry was close. "Babies be more curious now because Potter elves be without proper guidance for so long. Harry Potter sir's presence be settling them right down as they get to know their master. That's why we be here, and for Harry Potter sir's protection, of course. We be hoping that this be alright."

"That's fine," Harry promised. "I meant it when I said to tell me what you need." He grinned and rubbed his index finger over Peppy's wrinkly head, causing the tiny thing to squeal with laughter. "They are rather cute, so it's not a hardship at all."

Baby watching thus commenced, Healer Williams directed Harry and Hermione to the table and carefully oversaw Harry's meal, reminding him twice to take it easy and not stuff himself with everything in sight.

Afterwards, it was time to receive Mr. Finch.

Accepting a cup of tea, Mr. Finch opened his leather briefcase and took out a whole sheaf of thick parchment pages.

"These, Mr. Potter, are the forms you and Miss Dagworth-Granger are required to oversee and sign. This is the contract for my duty as your representative for the stated court appearance, and this is the settlement paper the Malfoy family has sent for your perusal. Miss Dagworth-Granger received hers three days ago but has refused to make a decision until you were well again."

"Oh, right, the Malfoys," Harry sighed. "We should probably get that out of the way first, since we missed the meeting." He took the time to read the offer fully and began to scowl halfway through. "Sirius warned me, but they really are trying to short-change me. One hundred thousand galleons for nearly killing me and not much else. What about you, 'Mione? Is it any better?"

Hermione huffed and handed her parchment over. "No. It's even more insulting than yours, considering what Mr. Finch told us when the weregild first came up. They offer a hundred thousand galleons in a tightly controlled trust fund, an apprenticeship with a Potions Master that I know works for them, and a magical vow on the life of their son that he won't try to harm me again as long as we're both at Hogwarts."

Mr. Finch's mouth tightened slightly even as he nodded. "Mr. Potter's offer being arguably more valuable than Miss Dagworth-Granger's is the actual insult in this already insulting situation. Mr. Reader, that is the new family lawyer for the Grangers, and we have taken the liberty of outlining a counter-offer, with the intent of raising your expectations instead of lowering them as the negotiations proceed. I thought that giving them three opportunities to do the right thing after the first sally is fair; however, the opportunities for amendment may be as plentiful or few as you deem fit between now and Yule. Your parents, Miss Dagworth-Granger, have authorized me to accept your decisions as theirs, since you are the injured party."

She accepted the outlined counter-offer and nearly laughed as she read it through. "This is much better."

"What does it say?" Harry asked. After a wary glance at Mr. Finch's placid face, he amended, "If I may know, of course. Sorry."

"Oh, you definitely may know," Hermione told him. "Mr. Finch proposes three-hundred thousand galleons in damages, free of all stipulations, a lifetime all access pass for the International Wizarding Library which is worth another fifty thousand galleons, and the purchase of a small property for my use worth no less than then a hundred thousand galleons. In addition, Draco Malfoy is to leave Hogwarts forthwith, never to return as long as I am a student there, and he is to swear a magical oath to leave me alone for as long as he lives."

"Oh, that sounds much better," Harry said. "Do you think they will agree?"

"They most likely will not," Mr. Finch said in that dry voice of his. "While the stated terms are the absolute minimum for attempted murder of a minor member of Britain's magical society, the Malfoy family will likely think the demands far above Miss Dagworth-Granger's station. Their next offer might be higher than their first, though not by very much - and so will be our next counter offer higher than this one. We shall see how long it takes for them to understand the game they're playing."

"If they haven't learned after three refusals, they deserve to be brought to trial and pay the proper weregild anyway," Harry said. "I'll leave it to you, Mr. Finch. Whatever you and Sirius think is fair is good enough for me. Well, as long as Hermione also gets what she deserves and Malfoy definitely has to stay away from us."

"Yes, I agree," Hermione said. "I don't need the money, but I want Malfoy gone from our lives. You seem to have it well in hand, and I'd by no means wish to suspend any pleasure of yours, Mr. Finch."

Healer Williams snorted loudly in the background and Finch actually smiled.

"My thanks, Miss Dagworth-Granger. Please sign here and here, that'll generate a form letter of rejection, and that's for your agreement to the counter-offer. You too, Mr. Potter. Very good." The lawyer placed the signed parchments into his briefcase and shuffled the remaining forms into two neat stacks. "I understand that your position regarding my involvement in Potions Master Snape's impending trial is a difficult one, Miss Dagworth-Granger. Have you come to a satisfying conclusion yet? If not, there's still some time before the preliminary hearing."

Hermione coloured a little. "I have. I'd like you to represent me."

Mr. Finch blinked once, visibly surprised. "You do?"

"Actually, yes, now that you're here in person." Repeating her reasons for doing so to him, Hermione then asked for her form to sign.

Mr. Finch handed it over readily enough, though he still seemed a little surprised.

Harry signed his next, noting that Sirius had already scrawled his full signature underneath the legalese. Seeing it brought him an unexpected little thrill of pleasure, almost like homesickness, but in a good way.

Once these parchments were put away as well, Harry said, "Well, I guess that's Snape taken care off, at least. If they let him walk, people will probably lynch him in the streets."

"They just might," Williams said, getting up from his seat by the house elves and joining them at the table. "You should see the headlines of the European press. People were going crazy over the abduction. The European Guild of Potions Masters has immediately expelled Snape from its ranks, and of course Mr. Reader is preparing a demand for weregild as we speak. In mundane terms, you could also call it injury award. While Potions Master Snape did not significantly harm Miss Dagworth-Granger physically, the trauma of being forced through Hogwarts' wards and having a personal protection ward taken off with the intent of marriage via rape and underage pregnancy was considerable."

"Right." Harry huffed, fighting down the rage that wanted to be let out. "Will he go to Azkaban?"

"Yes, he probably will," Mr. Finch said. "The aurors who've been called to the scene examined everything thoroughly and left a certified copy of their findings with me directly afterwards. This will severely hamper the ability of ... concerned parties ... to tamper with the evidence. However," and he turned to Harry, "there is the matter of your involvement, Mr. Potter."

"How bad is it?" Harry asked resignedly.

"It is unofficial as of yet," Finch explained, "since the ICW is very interested in protecting you to ward off even more trouble from Lord Black's legal team, but it is my unfortunate duty to inform you that the destruction of Headmaster Dumbledore's family wards has attracted the attention of the Unspeakables of the British Ministry."

"I don't know what that means," Harry said. "Who are they?"

"The Unspeakables are studying rare magical phenomena and are authorized to disregard certain civil rights to do so," Healer Williams said. "They're a mix of a wizarding secret service and a band of whacky scientists. These last few days it's been a constant battle to keep them away and your father is rather certain that they'll continue trying to get you into their hands for studying."

"They can forget it," Harry said bluntly.

"Lord Black was of the same opinion," Mr. Finch said with another of his bland, rather scary smiles. "He told me to inform you that you are to provide your memory for the Snape trial only, with a very clear restriction of access to it besides. It'll also be destroyed immediately after the conclusion of said trial. The ICW has already agreed to these terms with an unbreakable vow, to much protest out of the British Ministry. The vow is the price they had to pay for keeping such a high profile trial in Britain, and so they grudgingly agreed. The penalties for a breach of contract, no matter how small, would be debilitating to Magical Britain, both magically and economically. They won't risk it."

"I think I'm a little in love with your dad," Hermione confessed, eyes shining with both awe and mirth. "There are shows on the telly where people throw their money around like he does, and it's always entertaining, but to actually witness it ... who knew the law could be so dynamic and interesting?"

"We live for opportunities like this," Mr. Finch said, dry as always but with a distinct air of satisfaction about him. "It helps that Lord Black is rather creative in his revenge-taking."

"How so?" Hermione inquired.

"I can't go into the particulars, of course, but several members of the Wizengamot may never be the same once Lord Black's grievance with them becomes known." Mr. Finch smoothed the lapel of his expensive robes. "At this point some of it is contingent on their good behaviour, of course. Your father is hardly unreasonable, all things considered."

Harry shared a look with Healer Williams and had to bite his lower lip to keep from laughing.

"He also asked me to impress upon you the importance of personal integrity. He said, and I quote: If you must blackmail unpleasant people, make sure to be discreet and to uphold your end of the bargain - but don't hesitate to squash them like the little worms they are if they try to cross you."

Choking on his inappropriate laughter, Harry stuttered out an acknowledgement.

"That's excellent advice," Hermione said with a nod.

"Now, let's talk about practicalities," Healer Williams interjected, amused. "The preliminary hearing was decided to take place two days after Harry's waking, at Gringotts, to accomodate Harry's security requirements. Therefore, Healer Spleenbash will visit tomorrow morning to secure your memories of the incident. We should've waited with Hermiones, considering the Unspeakables' rather ardent interest, but the goblins were eager to write the list of charges and Hermione didn't have the heart to make them wait."

"Can I see it?" Harry asked, all levity forgotten.

Hermione lowered her gaze. "I'd rather you didn't. It'll only make you angry."

"I don't care," Harry said, taking her hand. "Snape made himself my enemy, but I want to know whether it'll be Azkaban for him, or Sirius' idea of justice after all."

"You shouldn't say things like that," Hermione whispered. "You're better than that."

"I'm really not," Harry answered, his amusement now completely gone. "He tried to really hurt you, 'Mione. I won't ever let people get away with that if I can help it."

"You found me very quickly," Hermione said. "He didn't have much time to harass me, thankfully."

"It doesn't matter. If Brady hadn't put that parsel spell on you, he might've gotten away with it." Harry narrowed his eyes at Hermione. "What are you trying to hide?"

"Nothing. I just ..." Hermione blew out her breath when his stare didn't let up. "Okay, it's stupid but ..."

"But?" Harry pressed.

Hermione's fingers clenched around Harry's. "I'm very good at physically defending myself, but what good is it when a wizard can disarm me so quickly and just stun me anyway? I felt so weak and incompetent in that moment, Harry. Everything happened so fast. I ... I don't want you to see that, because then you might think that I've badgered your for nothing. I don't want to lose that time with you."

"You won't," Harry hurried to say.

"And it's hardly your fault, Hermione," Healer Williams added. "Going by your account of events, Snape was disillusioned when he grabbed you, and disarmed you as soon as his portkey deposited you in Dumbledore's house. He's a fully grown and trained wizard, and a Death Eater to boot. The aurors discovered the Dark Mark on his arm when they processed him into the holding facility at Gringotts. I daresay that few civilians would've known how to react in such a situation."

Harry glared first at Healer Williams and then at Mr. Finch. "Snape actually is a Death Eater?!" Under his robes, the snakelings began to squirm with agitation. Goldie and Sweetie were also hissing quietly to bring them Snape so he could be bitten posthaste.

"He is, which is why Lord Black saw fit to confine Potions Master Snape here, instead of at the Ministry," Mr. Finch said. "It's an open secret that the Dark Lord still has a lot of sympathizers there. And then there's Dumbledore, who apparently wants his pet Death Eater back very much."

"Remind me to show you the newspapers of the last days," Williams said dryly. "You'll at least feel vindicated, even if Europe is going spare over what's happening in Britain right now."

Harry needed a moment to process all this. The desire to have one of his elves pop him to Hogwarts so he could give Dumbledore a much deserved punch in the nuts warred with his need to stay close to Hermione, who was still downcast and embarrassed by her earlier admission.

"I hope Dumbledore's gonna get fired over this," he finally managed to say. "There's no way he didn't know about Snape."

"No, there isn't," Mr. Finch agreed. "I'm sorry to say that you and Miss Dagworth-Granger will have to sign several more contracts and writs as the trial progresses, but the sting of the blood quills will be worth it." He stood and bowed. "I thank you for your trust in my services. I'll see you in two days at the preliminary hearing."

The two teenagers, who'd risen promptly to return the bow, wished him a good evening and promptly slumped back down in their chairs when the lawyer was gone.

"You took it rather well, all things considered," Hermione ventured after a short silence. "I don't know how you do it."

"It's mostly repression and ignorance, though I can't do that forever, can I?"

Hermione smiled crookedly. "I don't think so."

"You mentioned the news, Brady. How bad is it really?" Harry asked with a sigh, rubbing both hands over his face. "Anything I should've seen before I show myself again?"

"You should probably see all of it eventually, so you'll be prepared." Healer Williams opened his bag and took out a stack of newspapers and chose the oldest, and edition of the WIT. "Hermione heroically even refrained from reading more than the Daily Prophet so you could be outraged together. Let's start with this. See the headlines?"

"Young Heiress Abducted At Hogwarts, Black Heir Comes To The Rescue," Harry read, face slipping into a grimace. "Really?"

"That's one of the less sensationalist ones. The abduction made the radio news that evening because several students immediately wrote home, and the next day the European press had already caught on. Gringotts was very forthcoming with the name of their prisoner, and as your family is Snape's actual jailor, there was nothing the British Ministry could do to hush it up. They were hating their own laws a lot in that moment." Healer Williams put the paper down and raised the next one. "Look at this one."

Hermione coloured. "Kidnapper Revealed To Be Death Eater, Black Heir Narrowly Prevents Tragedy." She glanced at Harry. "Not that it isn't true, but ... wow. I really get now why you hate your fame, Harry. It's horrifying."

Williams chuckled. "It could be worse. You should read the articles the press has published about Snape, Dumbledore, and the whole dismal situation at Hogwarts, and that's not including the rainbow press. The WIT has bought the entire Herald edition and look what they've done with the material over night. I like this one: Parents Demand Death Eater Professor's Head On Pike, Unearth Archaic Law To Make It Happen."

That, at least, made Harry laugh a little, even if he was still feeling rather numb about the brouhaha Snape's insanity had caused.

Flipping through the pages, Hermione suddenly exclaimed, "There's a ton of stuff about Dumbledore in there which the Prophet didn't even mention ... he's what? Married to Grindelwald? That's not in any of the biographies I've read!"

"At this point I refuse to be surprised," Harry said, crossing his arms. "Next people will tell us he had an affair with Snape."

"Thankfully not, apparently. Oh, they've really painted Hogwarts with a very dark brush," Hermione continued. "There's a table comparing it to the other large European schools - I wish I'd thought of that! - and Hogwarts is losing badly. The only saving grace ist he teachers, actually, even if they're hampered by the Ministry's guidelines. Ooooh, and look here! A lawyer opened an official inquiry about the tuition. Looks like it'll become a class action suit very soon! I hope everyone gets their money back, even if they've long since graduated."

Harry could hardly keep up with the things the newspapers had uncovered these last four days. Only part of it was about him, thankfully, and the basilisk was miraculously still secret for the time being, but he obviously hadn't done himself any favours by running off to get Hermione out of Snape's clutches. He might have been a local celebrity who'd stirred up some international interest due to Sirius' impending trial, but now the rest of the world seemed interested in jumping on the crazy Boy-Who-Lived band wagon as well.

"I don't like it," he pouted when Hermione was done laughing about several reader's letters that made him appear like some sort of mythical hero. "These kids have no right to ... to imagine me as their prince or something. Bloody hell. As if those stupid books weren't bad enough."

"Madam Stone, the lawyer, not your tutor, is working hard on getting those out of circulation, and the first damages have already been paid, but a lot of them are now getting a second wind due to all the attention. The used books market is thriving. Sorry." Healer Williams looked pityingly at Harry. "Even worse, someone snuck a recent photo out of Hogwarts and sold it to a paper. Wait ..." He fumbled with the latest newspaper and found the page. "Here it is. You and that hippogriff, it's a good motif at least."

"Who did it?" Harry asked angrily. The Harry in the photo waved and shrugged helplessly, as if commiserating with his unfortunate situation. Picture-Buckbeak was unconcerned as ever, poking picture-Harry into the shoulder with the flat of his beak and demanding attention.

"Not Colin Creevey," Williams answered readily, "but your friend Ronald. When questioned by your head of house, he admitted to stealing it from Mr. Creevey, who, by the way, is beside himself with worry. Ronald got two hundred galleons for it, although the family has already returned the money to your father to avoid a very public scandal."

"That's something, at least," Hermione murmured. "I never thought that Mr. Weasley condoned such behaviour."

"No, he doesn't. In fact, something good came out of that debacle," Healer Williams said. "Lord Black managed a Floo talk with Arthur Weasley and asked point blank what was wrong with his two youngest children. He insisted on being satisfied and Mr. Weasley, feeling himself obliged as a cadet to the Black line, promised to find out."

Harry gave up his tense posture. "Really?"

"Yes, Harry. He vowed to do so, even as it dawned on him that his wife may have hidden certain crucial pieces of information from him." Williams sighed. "Your father got the impression that Mr. Weasley didn't have the control over his family he should have, but receiving the vow did a lot to quell his misgivings ... for now. We'll have to wait and see what Mr. Weasley's inquiries will turn up."

"Do you think Mr. Weasley will think to look for the use of family magic?" Harry asked.

"If he doesn't, your father will certainly point it out to him. Mr. Weasley's acknowledgement of the family ties took the taboo away. It probably wasn't Ronald's intention, but he handed the means to solving this mystery to us quite neatly."

Hermione pondered this for a long moment. Finally, she said, "I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but what if that's actually the case?"

"What?" Harry asked, a little sharply.

"You heard right. What if Ron did it to ... to help us along?" Hermione asked. "He's a strategic genius, even if he doesn't seem to have many other useful talents, and he's been labouring under several strong behaviour changing spells for months. What if this is his attempt to reach out?"

"Everything I've heard of the boy so far paints a different picture, but I obviously don't know him as you do," Healer Williams said slowly. "It could've been a deliberate act, but it could've also been a happy accident."

"I don't believe in Ron's goodness," Harry muttered darkly. "Not anymore."

"Should you get to question him, you can find out," Hermione said to Williams. "Harry needs to know. You will, won't you?"

"I will, and for Ronald's sake I hope that it was a cry for help and not yet another act of petty cruelty in a long line of them." Healer Williams checked the time with a lazy wave of his hand. "It's getting close to bed time. I won't tell you to leave, Hermione, but bear in mind that Harry still has a lot of recovering to do. Does nine sound fair to you?"

"Yes, of course. Thank you for allowing us some time together."

Williams smiled. "Consider it a little gift from Harry's father. And speaking of which ..." He reached into an inside pocket of his robes and got out a sealed letter. "This is for you, Miss Dagworth-Granger."

Hermione accepted it and gasped quietly at the sight of the red wax seal. "It's really the Black crest. It's ... imposing. It doesn't seem so stately in the books."

"Magical family seals rarely do," Williams replied. He smiled fondly at the two teenagers. "Enjoy the calm before the storm, you two. One of Harry's elves will send you to bed later."

"Thank you, Healer Williams." Hermione could hardly take her eyes off the letter.

The healer took his leave then and Hermione reverently opened the missive.

"What do you think will be in there?" she asked, nervously tracing the neatly folded corners.

Harry shrugged. "His thanks for your articles, probably."

"Do you suppose he's angry at me for dragging you into yet another hair-rising adventure?"

A grin crept onto Harry's face. "He wouldn't waste proper parchment for a private bollocking, believe me. It'd have either been a howler, a mean prank, or something nasty via lawyer. Besides, if anyone deserves a bollocking, it'll be me for not thinking things through. As soon as Brady springs me, I'll begin looking over my shoulder!" At her alarmed expression, Harry sighed. "It'll be alright."

"Okay ..." After taking a deep, fortifying breath Hermione flipped the page open. "I'll just read it out loud ..."

Harry kept his eyes trained on her as she began to read.

"Gringotts Italy, Rome

November 4th, 1993

Dear Miss Hermione Dagworth-Granger,

It has come to my attention that my nemesis Severus Snape has attempted to ruin your life, and that my son and his little elf friends have hunted him down and arrested him mere minutes after your abduction.

For that, I'm deeply sorry; no person should have to endure the questionable attentions of that greasy git, even if I'm glad that my boy was able to stop that utter waste of magic before he could finish what he started. Therefore it'd greatly ease my mind if you allowed me to cover the cost for proper mind healing. Not only does the hook-nosed slimeball not deserve any room in your thoughts, both you and Harry deserve to explore your relationship without his shadow hanging over you.

To that effect, I've asked Healer Williams to introduce you to a compatible mind healer, which hopefully has already happened. If not, please feel free to choose as you please, cost certainly is not a consideration.

That bit of unpleasantness out of the way, please allow me to convey my utmost gratitude for your pragmatic yet gripping presentation of the facts regarding my case. Harry's steward at Gringotts told me that the Hogwarts Herald edition was sold wholesale to the Wizarding International Times, for three thousand galleons no less. Congratulations! As far as I know, no student paper ever managed this feat. Your name was favorably mentioned several times as well and the honour is well deserved.

I do not wish to come across as wishing to pay for your work, but I must insist on offering a boon for your brave involvement. No one has done as much to help justice prevail as you did, and Harry assured me that you've always been one to involve herself when confronted with injustice, which is a commendable trait in any person.

Therefore, please allow me to present an offer of full Sponsorship to you and your parents.

It's the least I can do to help a witch of your generous character and active mind to find her way in the magical world - and to lend a layer of protection that your parents unfortunately are ill equipped to provide. Please allow me to do for you what you've already done for me: provide assistance, shelter, and means as needed so you can grow up to be the best witch you can possibly be.

It would give me great pleasure if you were to accept my offer, so take your time discussing it with your parents and Mr. Finch before you decide.

Awaiting your answer,

Your friend,

Sirius Black

Lord of the House of Black"

For a moment, Hermione stared silently at her letter. To Harry, she seemed utterly stunned; even her mouth was open a little as she was breathing shallowly through it.

"Are you alright?" Harry asked eventually, getting a little worried.

Hermione started. "Yes! Yes, I am. I'm just ... a little overwhelmed." She raised wide, vulnerable eyes to Harry's. "Did you know about this?"

"Not a thing," Harry answered. "I hope you'll take Sirius up on his offer. Getting Snape out of our heads can't happen quickly enough."

"I ... yes. I will. Definitely. And ... and the offer of Sponsorship? Is that alright with you, too?"

Harry frowned. "Why wouldn't I be okay with it? I'd say you deserve it! You got things going, he sure is right about that, and it's obviously true that you need more protection that my friends and I can provide." He scowled at that.

"You did just fine, Harry, truly. You found me - you saved me! But it's a huge thing to offer," Hermione argued. "We've talked about it a little after Ginny's play for mentorship, do you remember? You've just got your father back; I'd never want to intrude on your relationship. And this ... this sort of guarantees that I'll be underfoot often."

"Well, Sirius does what he wants," Harry said, not really seeing the problem there, "and he'll probably hound you if you refuse. Hah, hound. Besides, I'm pretty happy about having another thing keeping us close."

"And refusing such an offer is just not done," Hermione murmured, heaving a gusty sigh. "I don't want to offend your dad, of course, and I'm truly very grateful for the incredible offer. But I'll have to talk it over with my parents. It's a life-changing decision, no matter which way one looks at it. Are you sure you wouldn't mind me being around? There'll be meetings to discuss my education, at the very least, and probably more if we like each other personally ... as I said, it'd take time away from you two."

Harry tilted his head questioningly at the letter and took it when Hermione shyly nodded. Softly, he stroked over the black ink of Sirius' handwriting and smiled when a tiny touch of magic brushed against his awareness.

"It's only fair that he gets to give you the shovel talk, too," he said, grinning at Hermione's surprised sputter. "Beyond that I'd be happy for him to have more friends. Besides, who says that those meetings have to be private? I mean, they can be, and some stuff probably should be, but if you don't feel short-changed, there's nothing keeping us from talking about things together, or is there?"

"No, there isn't. You're right." Hermione grabbed Harry's hands, her own a little sweaty with nervousness and excitement. "Oh my god, Harry. Ever since learning about the wizarding world, I thought I'd have a successful but rather unspectacular life. Then I met you and now there's adventure and possibility around every corner."

"But also danger," Harry countered. "I know that it's not my fault, but you're my best friend and I want you to be safe. I really don't have a problem with you getting sponsored. You should do it."

"My parents will flip," Hermione whispered and then grimaced. "Ginny, too. Oh my god, and can you imagine what Ron'll have to say about it?"

"I don't care what other people think. If you're fine with it, that's all that matters."

"I guess you're right ... I'm just afraid of other people acting out like Malfoy because they feel somehow slighted." Hermione gripped Harry's hands more tightly. "I don't think I can live like that, Harry."

"You won't have to. Sirius will protect you - he will be able to, you know." Harry raised his captured hands and placed a little kiss on Hermione's white knuckles. "Do you want to Floo call your parents?"

"I ... yes. I do." Flustered, Hermione bit her lip. "I'm completely stupid right now. It's embarrassing."

"Tell you what. Let a Potter elf take the letter to your parents and ask them to call you when it's convenient. You can send the explanation for what Sponsorship means along, that'll be less questions to answer."

Hermione nodded. "Alright. Sounds perfect."

As she was still mostly stunned, Harry took the letter, called Jules for a copy of the relevant information and the Floo address to Hermione's room, and then sent the little elf off. Once Jules was gone, the tension left Hermione's body and she slumped into Harry's arms.

"Sorry for being such a ninny," she mumbled into his shoulder.

"Nah, I understand." Harry burrowed his face into her wild hair and closed his eyes as he breathed in her scent. "I'm just sorry for dragging you into all this. I never wanted you in so much danger."

"Not your fault," she reminded him. Quietly, she breathed Harry in just like he was doing. "Things will be different now."

"Yes." Harry saw no way around it. "I've no idea how, though."

"Me neither."

They fell silent and just took comfort in each other's presence.

"It be nearly nine," Happy squeaked a long while later. "Happy be calling security elves now for Harry Potter sir and Harry Potter sir's Miss Mione."

"Thank you," Harry murmured. Carefully, he cupped Hermione's shoulders and pushed her upright. "Will you be alright?"

"Yes, thank you. Healer Rodriguez gave me sleeping potions. She said I can take them until I start the mind healing. They're not very strong."

"Okay. That's good." Harry looked at her, only now really seeing the signs of exhaustion on her face. "I'll talk to Brady, too. You're not alone in this, promise."

They nuzzled each other for a few minutes longer and then said their reluctant goodbyes.

Harry was missing Hermione almost immediately, and it took a long while for him to fall asleep, despite his exhaustion.


"Well, well, look who's found his way back to Gringotts so soon," Healer Spleenbash greeted as she strode into Harry's room, followed by Sharptooth. "Greetings and lots of gold, Heir Potter. No, no, do not offer me refreshments, youngling, I do not have time for pleasantries. There's a dirty wizard awaiting my tender mercies. Here is the pensieve ... let's begin."

Healer Williams grinned at her. "Greetings to you too, Healer Spleenbash. How wonderful to know that our mutual enemy is suffering by your skilled hand. Steward Sharptooth, may your clan's riches ever grow."

"So mote it be," Sharptooth replied, shrewd eyes nearly glowing in the semi-darkness of Healer Spleenbash's office.

"I'm glad to see you both," Harry said earnestly. "Brady helped me meditate, so we can start right away, if you want."

Healer Spleenbash bared her teeth in a terrifying smile. "Oh, I want. But first, the modalities. Chief Ragnok wishes to see the memory of your rescue mission." She pulled a sealed letter from her sleeve and placed it on the table. "Officially, he seeks proof of Dumbledore's dishonourable behaviour both as your guardian and as Hogwarts' headmaster. Unofficially, he's as curious as nine hellcats to find out how you managed to tear down some of the strongest family wards in the country."

Harry took the letter and opened it. After reading it once quickly and a second time much more thoroughly, he said, "He must be really curious." He handed the letter to Healer Williams, who fairly pounced on it. "And he even promised absolute secrecy."

Healer Williams whistled, impressed. "He's offering five thousand hectares of land in Nicaragua. The land has been deforested before the magicals there bought and secured it, but it's still a very good offer."

"Do you think it'd be worth it?" Harry asked. "Will the elves be able to grow things there?"

"Yes, of course. Chief Ragnok thought to approach your father and Steward Sharptooth as well, and both encourage you to accept, if you're so inclined."

"Dobby," Harry called, smiling when his friend appeared at once. "Hey you, I've got possibly fantastic news. Chief Ragnok offers me a lot of land in exchange for the memory of our latest adventure. Five thousand hectares in Nicaragua, isn't that great?"

Dobby's eyes bulged nearly out of his skull and he let out an involuntary squeak.

"I don't know where it is, but I'll ask so you can check it out," Harry continued. "If you say it's good, I'll make the deal."

Dobby darted forward and fiercely hugged Harry's legs. "Dobby be so happy!"

"Do you have the coordinates?" Healer Williams laughed. "I rather think the little guy wants to leave right away."

Smugly, Healer Spleenbash fished another piece of parchment from her sleeve and handed it over. "Of course. Gringotts prides itself on always being prepared."

Harry gave Dobby the parchment and not a second later, Fawkes suddenly flamed into the room, grabbed Dobby's arms with his huge talons, and flamed away again in a vortex of fiery magic.

"I guess Dobby's got everything figured out," Harry said lamely, stunned.

Healer Spleenbash was hardly less so, and had to clear her throat twice to regain her voice. "Let's get to work then, Heir Potter. Travelling with a phoenix will see your elf back rather sooner than later, and I'm pretty sure that you'd like to be prepared for his arrival."

Under her supervision, Harry went through the memory of Hermione's abduction several times before letting Healer Spleenbash extract it. Afterwards there was some more haggling with Sharptooth over the right to watch the memory, which was swiftly solved, and then they all watched the projection in tense silence.

Harry couldn't quite believe how majestic and terrifying their travel through Hogwarts' wards had been, or that seeing the magical world through Blue's eyes would affect him this much. There was a lump in his throat that the little snake was doing his best to flick away with sweet, tiny snake kisses.

"We did magnificently," Sweetie declared as they reached the moment of her heroic first bite into Dumbledore's wards. "Brother and I helped."

"You helped so much," Harry agreed and kissed both her and Blue's little heads in thanks. "Without you, we'd never have gotten through." He smiled a little soppily at the preening snakelings.

Healer Williams caressed Goldie and her quiet brother soothingly. "They're upset that they weren't with you when it happened."

"And I'm glad they were safe," Harry replied at once. "I wasn't really thinking, which was stupid. Snape could've hurt us, house elves or no."

"Thankfully you and your friends managed to apprehend Snape before irredeemable damage was done," Sharptooth said, smirking scarily at the still image of the crumpled Snape. Whether Healer Spleenbash had knowingly chosen that moment to stop the projection, or hadn't cared, Harry couldn't tell, but it was rather satisfying.

"Those two are still disappointed." Williams handed Goldie and the quiet one back to Harry. "Maybe you could spend some more time with them in the next few days."

"You're always welcome," Harry told the two snakes and helped them settle around his arms. "You'd have done very well, I'm sure."

"Our bite is very strong," Goldie hissed, sounding a little sad. "We should've helped siblings."

"Being small is inconvenient," the quiet brother added. "And very annoying."

"I want to see it again," Sweetie said, slithering in lazy circles on the table. "Inside the pensieve. I want to see all the magic around me like brother always does."

Harry could tell that everyone was eager for the experience, but he himself had no wish to relive that traumatic afternoon yet again.

"You can, but I'll stay here," he said, crossing his arms. "Er, have fun, though, I guess."

All the snakelings except Blue promptly crept back to Healer Williams, Sweetie even going so far to choose Healer Spleenbash for a perch. The goblin didn't show much surprise outwardly, but the short welcoming pat was telling enough.

"You sure that you want to stay here?" Harry asked Blue.

"Seeing magics isn't special for me," the snakeling replied, taking up his favourite spot around Harry's neck and sprawling as much as a slim snake could. "I stay here and keep you company."

"Alright, then let's go," Williams said, smiling softly at the sight. "The sooner we'll be back."

"Don't go wandering while we're in there, youngling," Sharptooth warned. "Gringotts is quite busy right now, the guards won't have time for play."

"I won't," Harry promised. "I brought a book, and Betty said she'd bring me a snack."

The memory took around thirty minutes to play out, although Williams had assured Harry that the whole ordeal had been much shorter in reality, only a little more than ten minutes.

When Harry had asked how that could be, Williams had said, "What your mind perceives does not have to be the same as objective reality. Sometimes, minutes feel like hours - usually when something unpleasant happens - and sometimes hours of happiness pass in the blink of an eye. Such is the magic of time, it's all to do with context and perspective."

While the two healers, Sharptooth, and the three snakelings were gone, Harry settled down to read his book on martial broom fighting. Blue read along, hissing questions every now and then and generally showing much more interest than Harry thought possible for a ground-dwelling being.

"Harry train that," Blue said when the time was almost up and the tray with snacks almost completely plundered. "I like flying, and I can bite enemies when necessary."

Harry grinned broadly. "Oh, I will. The Come And Go Room will be big enough. Maybe it can even form into an indoor Quidditch pitch!"

"Maybe it can form a teacher," Blue hissed lazily. "Would be much easier for Harry."

"Yeah, it would be easier, but that's probably asking too much." Harry closed the book and slipped it into his bag. "Having the room at all is already a gift and I feel sort of bad for keeping it to myself."

"Harry is a Hogwarts Heir, it's your right," Blue countered. "The house elves said so. Kin comes first."

In that moment, the six memory watchers were flung from the pensieve and landed roughly in their chairs.

"Wow, what a ride!" Williams said. He stared at Harry and Blue. "Blue has one hell of a mage sight."

"Very impressive, just like this one's ability to corrode magic," Healer Spleenbash agreed, helping Sweetie off her arm. "The Chief will be pleased."

"You should've beheaded that slimy excuse for a wizard, Heir Potter," Sharptooth growled. "None should live when they plan on injuring an innocent youngling so."

"Obviously I'm not confident in the Ministry's ability to hold a fair trial," Williams said, "but Mr. Finch is prepared for their tactics."

"No one will be able to see my memory except for the people at the trial?" Harry asked, suddenly anxious. "And it'll vanish afterwards?"

"Yes," Williams said patiently. "Sure, Magical Britain could decide to violate the injunction the ICW has issued, but that'd cost them one billion galleons in damages, as well as the automatic loss of your British citizenship, so the Unspeakables still wouldn't have any legal right to claim you for study. As for illegal tactics ... the ICW war mages are alerted. The subdivision dealing with child endangerment takes its job very seriously."

"I bet the people at the Ministry are furious," Harry mumbled.

"Oh, we know they're furious," Healer Spleenbash said cheerfully. She gestured with her long, bony fingers, urging the silvery memory mist into a vial. With a flash of light the vial then sealed itself. "We expect quite a few friendly-worded demands for your time, of course, but you may rest assured that your lawyer has this well in hand. You can, however, expect to receive quite a few galleons in micro damages for trying to circumvent the ICW."

Harry flushed uncomfortably. "It feels wrong taking that money. It comes from people's taxes, right? They shouldn't have to pay for what the Ministry is doing wrong."

"First of all, the public is positively slavering for that information," Healer Spleenbash said dryly. "And second, if you don't want to keep that money, you can always invest it in worthwile projects. Margot Muschelschaum's Day School comes to mind. They're always grateful for donations, and it could be argued that the public owes them their support anyway."

That sounded good in Harry's opinion. "They can have the micro damages, I don't want it. Although ... I totally forgot to ask what they might do to my house elves. They did most of the work getting those wards down."

"Legally, since you're the head of your family, they're literally viewed as an extension of your body," Sharptooth replied. "Their bond to you won't allow anything else. Therefore they can't be punished by the Ministry unless they're sentencing you. They might try to do that, of course, but it's unlikely with the ICW having a weather eye on the situation, and of course with Mr. Finch in your corner."

"Oh, okay. That's good."

"Besides, Naddy's advice to mark Snape as your prisoner while the magic in that house was all over the place took the elves out of the equation altogether. As far as the aurors are concerned, you flung Snape into that wall." Healer Williams grinned. "She's a clever little thing."

As if she'd been called, said house elf suddenly popped onto the table, a tray with several plates full of a light lunch in her hands. "Naddy nearly always be knowing best. Wizards be eating now, it be lunch time already. Also, Harry Potter sir's Miss Mione be waiting outside. Master Brady be calling her in now." She turned to the goblins. "If honorable goblins be wishing to lunch with my Master Brady and the young ones, I be getting lunch for you also."

Sharptooth nodded. "We'd appreciate it. The usual fare will do."

Naddy popped away and the door to Healer Spleenbash's office opened, letting Hermione and Betty in.

"How did it go?" Hermione asked at once, barely taking the time to buss a kiss onto Harry's cheek. "Was it very horrible?"

"Yes," Harry grumped. "I'd rather not show you."

Two plates popped into existence before Healer Spleenbash and Sharptooth, both filled with unidentifiable plants and roots, and something that looked suspiciously like fat, writhing larvaes in a thick sauce.

"Too late, we agreed to share," Hermione huffed, completely unfazed by the squirming goblin food. "We'll watch them together tomorrow and you won't change my mind." She snatched one of the plates off the tray and began inhaling the food as soon as Williams and Harry had taken up their forks. "Gosh, that's so good after my exercises. Who is the cook today?"

"I am," Betty beamed. "Dobby be very proud of Betty's progress."

Harry took a bite of the chicken curry and could only agree. "You've got every right to be proud. It's fantastic. Thanks, Betty."

Betty blushed with pleasure, hugged Harry's knee and popped away amidst the fond chuckles of her friends.

They busied themselves with their food and then it was back to his room for Harry to get a much needed nap in.

Hermione, who wasn't ready to part with him again so soon, looked mournfully at the two healers until they relented and allowed her to spend nap time with Harry. As soon as they were alone, Hermione abandoned her specifically conjured bed and crawled under Harry's covers. It was a good thing that goblin magic hid the snakelings under Harry's clothes, or she might've had a scare at their contiuous movement.

"Tomorrow is our talk with the judge," she whispered into Harry's neck. "I'm a little afraid."

"I'm more concerned about Snape's lawyer. He'll probably spout a lot of rot," Harry said. "I'm glad we won't have to hear it during the trial, and that the whole thing will be sealed."

"Me too."

Harry began petting her hair and shoulders. "I really thought third year could be quiet for once since there hasn't been any sign of shady Voldemort activity so far."

Hermione snorted. "To be fair, it all has to do with the Dark Git anyway." She craned her head to look searchingly at Harry. "Do you think he'll be gone for real one day?"

"Yes," Harry said simply and kissed her forehead.


Judge Hyacinth Monroe was over ninety years old, had a face full of craggy lines that hinted at both humour and anger, and came across as a total hardass. This might or might not have to do with the fact that his parents had chosen to saddle him with a female name, although Harry honestly couldn't imagine anyone teasing this behemoth of a wizard because of it. He was so huge, in fact, that the desk in the secure visitor office at Gringotts seemed just right for him, while everyone else felt dwarfed in its presence.

Mr. Chilton, who had been appointed as Snape's legal advocate, seemed to be the complete opposite: he was of far smaller stature, had a head full of dark hair, and seemed to take extraordinary care of his apparel to the point of pompousness.

Harry suspected that someone with a lot of money had secured his services.

Once introductions were over, Judge Monroe pointed to two chairs in the second row and said in his gravelly voice, "Heir Potter, Heiress Dagworth-Granger, please be seated. Gringotts advised me that you've elected to let your lawyer speak for you. Is this still the case?"

"Yes, it is," Harry said, watching with interest as two rolls of parchment on the judge's desk flashed brightly.

"Good, good. Mr. Chilton, please present your letter of mandate before we commence."

Mr. Chilton pulled a roll of sealed parchment from his briefcase and handed it over to the judge, who unceremonously opened it.

"Everything seems to be in order," Judge Monroe said and this parchment flashed as well. "Then let's begin with the sighting of everyone's memories. They'll play an important role in this trial and I expect as little bias as possible, and no tampering at all. Let me have it."

Mr. Finch stepped forward and placed two vials onto the large, gleaming desk. "Gringotts oversaw the extraction and sealed the vials with the usual spells. They've been under dragon guard until I came to retrieve them this morning, Your Honour."

Judge Monroe tapped both vials with his wand, eliciting an elaborate sequence of flashing lights and runes. "Accepted. Mr. Chilton?"

"Er, Professor Snape declined offering his memory of the incident," Mr. Chilton said.

"And his reason?" Judge Monroe asked.

"He's still very upset and confused by everything that's happened. Furthermore, he's not comfortable laying out his romantic interest in Heiress Dagworth-Granger in that manner." Chilton cleared his throat. "I understand that the young lady is rather sought after?"

"I should hope not, as she's well under the age of consent," the judge fairly growled. "Very well then, I'll mark Professor Snape for questioning under veritaserum. You may take your seats, sirs, and do remember the vows you've taken."

After the lawyers had settled down, Judge Monroe poured the first of the memories into the large pensieve on his desk. It was Hermione's, which made sense, Harry supposed, since it had all started with her abduction.

With baited breath, Harry watched Hermione's forced portkey travel to France - they all could see a street sign in the periphery - where Hermione showed a remarkable presence of mind and landed a nasty looking hook right into Snape's face when the man was distracted by the swift appearance of Saffron and Eli, the two elves Harry had tasked with Hermione's protection. Unfortunately, Snape was neither stupid, nor weak. He managed to grab Hermione again and growled out, "Dumbledore Manor!", whisking Hermione away again.

Portkey travel already sucked, but it sucked even more watching it second hand, Harry decided. Rushing through that wormhole, when everything vibrated and spun was a special kind of torture.

Thankfully, it didn't last longer than a couple of minutes. Snape and Hermione were spat out in the living room Harry had found them in later, and to Snape's rage Saffron and Eli had managed again to cling to Hermione and get through Dumbledore's wards.

"How did you ... kill them!" Snape screamed at the three Dumbledore elves who had come to investigate. "They're trespassing!"

It was heartbreaking to watch the horror on the elves' faces as the magic of their bond forced them to comply with the order. They attacked Harry's house elves swiftly and Saffron and Eli, already disadvantaged by the wards fighting them, stood no chance, especially since their primary worry visibly was Hermione's safety.

Snape in all his glory didn't even look at the fight; he used Hermione's moment of shock to rip the wand out of her hand, break it and toss it aside.

"You got one lucky punch in, Granger, but it won't happen again," he snarled. Blood was streaming from his broken nose and his black eyes were feverish with hate. "I merely wanted to kill you, but you know what? I have a better idea. What is the saying? Waste not, want not."

Harry anxiously bit his lip when Snape tried to grab Hermione, only to be rebuffed by Madam Pomfrey's protection spell, as well as a fierce slap to the reaching hand by the girl herself.

"Leave me alone!" Hermione cried, her eyes flickering behind Snape for a moment, to the fighting house elves. "No! Don't kill them, please!"

Snape used the chance to grab at her again, with the same result, this time visibly more painful.

"Ouch. Right, I forgot." A nasty smile spread over Snape's sallow face, revealing his crooked teeth. "Poppy's pesky little chastity spell. No matter, it's taken off easily enough." His smile widened. "I'll even let you stay awake for it, because it wouldn't be any fun otherwise, would it now?" The forced cheer then fell away and he coldly said, "Moppy, Jolly, Krissy, hold her in the corner until I'm done with her."

Rage bubbled up in Harry again, not just for Snape being a disgusting bastard, but for also ordering Dumbledore's elves to corral her in while his magic washed over her. He felt violated on Hermione's behalf and hated himself for not actually killing the man when he'd had the chance.

It took Snape four or five minutes of continuous chanting and wand waving to actually break the spell, which at least kept him from talking, but his leer was nothing short of monstruous when the spell finally fell away in a sickly flow of light. In contrast, Dumbledore's house elves were looking miserable and horrified.

Then, Harry saw himself silently appear in the room with an impressive flash of phoenix fire, his half dozen or so elves shimmering away from him like ninjas and plucking away Dumbledore's house elves like they were nothing more than helpless children. They didn't fight too hard, though, and Harry once more felt deeply grateful for their relative disobedience.

Hermione's shocked yet relieved cry of Harry's name spurred on Snape's hateful little monologue, each word more damning than the last and then ... then everything happened very quickly. Dobby flung Snape away like a ragdoll and then there was a moment of Hermione clinging to him and crying her eyes out as relief washed over her like a drug.

The memory ended there and Harry felt so fiercely protective of his girlfriend right then that he didn't know what to do with himself. His magic got away from him, reaching out and tangling with Hermione's cramped fingers in his hand.

A moment of silence made the memory even more poignant.

Mr. Chilton cleared his throat at last, nervously tittering, "Yes, Professor Snape was quite overcome with passion, wasn't he?"

Even Mr. Finch looked incredulously at Snape's lawyer.

"I hope that you defence is not based on that inane statement," Judge Monroe said baldly.

"Er," Mr. Chilton tugged a handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbed at the fine sweat on his forehead, "in fact, Professor Snape filed a Request For Early Approach ... it must've gotten lost in the mail if you haven't seen it yet ..."

Mr. Finch rose, waiting for the judge to achnowledge him. "You mean to say that Professor Snape, a teacher at Hogwarts who is known for unprofessional behaviour as well as frankly appalling personality defects, filed a Request For Early Approach to forge a romantic relationship with Heiress Dagworth-Granger, a young woman he has, several times in the hearing of his students, called an insufferable know-it-all? That same young woman he has barred from his class because she dared point out his defects in a rational manner?"

"Yes," Mr. Chilton said, regaining some of his confidence. "She is very young, of course, and having her in his class only added to his conflict. He drove her out to ease his way, obviously."

"At the cost of her education?" Mr. Finch asked dryly. "How thoughtful."

Judge Monroe snorted. Loudly. "I see that this is the same defence the Malfoy Heir is using. Frankly, it is disgusting, but I'll allow it."

Chilton smirked.

"However," Judge Monroe continued, "I'll only do so to discourage other idiots from trying that same tactic in the future. Make no mistake, Mr. Chilton, your client is the worst sort of wizard; his being a Death Eater is not his only fault, merely the most apparent. Trying to use an outdated law to ruin a bright young woman's future because she called out his faults is beyond the pale."

"Outdated the law may be, but it's not unlawful," Mr. Chilton pointed out, not quite gleefully, but close to it. "It is Professor Snape's right as an eligible bachelor to approach Heiress Dagworth-Granger's magical guardian with his Request."

"And it is Heiress Dagworth-Granger's prerogative to accept to decline," Judge Monroe answered. He returned Hermione's memory to its vial and poured Harry's into the pensieve. "Let's continue before the morning gets away from us even further."

Harry's memory started and he took Hermione's book on goblin healing from his robe pocket to pass the time. Hermione's sporadically tightening grip on his hand told him well enough how the viewing was progressing, and when it was finally over, she turned and hugged him again, eyes wet with tears and whispers of gratitude leaving her mouth.

"I think we've inopportuned Heiress Dagworth-Granger and Heir Potter enough for today," Judge Monroe said as he cleaned up. "No, Mr. Chilton, I won't entertain any more discussion, no matter how impressive Heir Potter's actions were. Even saying as much as you did was inapropriate. Save it for the trial." He nodded at Mr. Finch and the two teenagers. "Good day to you."

He left through a door at the back of the room, his black judge's robes sweeping behind him.

"You know," Harry said to Hermione, "if I can have a crush on Neville's gran, I can have a crush on Judge Monroe, right?"

"Only if I can have a crush, too," Hermione said, lifting her chin at Mr. Chilton's glower.

Mr. Finch turned towards them. "It's time to go back to your rooms, but I have it on good authority that Healer Williams plans on spoiling you with ice cream from Fortesque's ice cream parlor."

"We're going," Harry said, tugging Hermione to her feet. "Good day, Mr. Chilton."

Chilton's face soured even further and Harry could agree that being a snob to people who deserved it felt good.

End of part 21