Disclaimer: Everything belongs to J.K.R.
AN: This story was written as a contribution to the Haphne Summer 2021 Collection. You will find the collection here:
The collectionis a community project to celebrate 500 members on the Haphne discord server,:
discord dot gg/pKSdvJQvhU
Just delete the spaces and replace 'dot' with '.' after you copy and paste into your browser.
A big Thank you! to my betas, Akamoroti, who helped pull the plot to the light of day and checked my sometimes weird English, and Federer Rex for the Brit-picking. It's thanks to them that everything reads smoothly and not weird.
Breakfast the next morning was a quiet affair. Children and counsellors alike were still tired from the excitement of parent's day.
Harry woke up after his second mug of hot chocolate and looked skyward. It was time for the post owls. Would The Daily Prophet cover the camp or ignore it, because it wasn't a Pureblood event?
Low hoots and the fluttering of wings announced the mail. A haggard-looking barn owl settled down in front of Nihal and waited until he had untied the newspaper and dropped the obligatory five Knuts in the small pouch tied to its other leg. It snatched a strip of bacon from Ray's plate and took off.
"Hey!" Ray called after the bird, much to the amusement of the other children, giggles chased the owl out.
Daphne cracked a smile.
Harry's attention, however, was on Nihal and the newspaper in his hand.
He unfolded it and studied the front page. "We made headlines again!" He looked up from behind the newspaper and beamed. "The article covers most of the front page."
Loud cheers, clapping, and stomping feet met his announcement.
"What does it say?" Azadeh asked from the next table where she sat with Terry's and Lisa's group. "Don't keep us guessing, read the article already."
Nihal laughed and bowed at his wife's request.
The cheerful chatter around the table died down while they all listened to the amazingly accurate account of yesterday's event.
Harry let out a relieved breath. This was the second time The Daily Prophet had done an excellent piece of reporting on an event that involved him. It seemed as if the magical world was ready to change. Even better, the article hadn't mentioned him once. With a smile on his face, he poured himself another cup of hot cocoa.
Nihal turned the page of the newspaper to read the articles on the inside. "Oh, here's an article about you, Daphne and Harry. Complete with photos."
Harry's stomach sank. Shit! He lowered his cup with a groan and exchanged a look with Daphne, who had furrowed her brows and bit her lips.
"What does it say?" she asked.
Nihal folded the newspaper and held it out to her. "See for yourself."
Daphne took it from him, and she and Harry bent their heads over the newspaper to read the article.
The photos were the first thing that stood out to him. There were many, at least half a dozen, and they captured Daphne and him throughout the day. The centrepiece was a picture that showed them sitting together on a blanket, Daphne between Harry's legs, and he had his arms around her. They both looked at something and laughed, then Daphne turned her head around and said something to Harry. He replied with a laugh and a peck on her lips, before they both turned their attention back to what they were watching.
"That must have been while we watched the sketches," Daphne said with a smile. A faint blush tinted her cheeks.
"Yeah. I was careless. I should have thought something like this would happen. This is not the way I wanted us to become public."
Daphne's smile faltered. "Are you embarrassed to be seen with me?"
His head jerked up. "What? Merlin, no!" He raked his fingers through his hair. "It's just—remember what happened to Hermione during the Triwizard Tournament, when Skeeter wrote she dropped me in favour of Krum."
"She got a lot of hate mail," Daphne said, her eyes widening. "Wasn't she hurt by a substance in one letter and had to go to the infirmary?"
"Yes, she was. I don't want something like that happening to you—because of me."
Daphne leaned towards him and pecked his cheek. "That's sweet of you, love. However, if I'll get hate mail, it won't be because of you, but because those people are morons who think they have a say in your life just because you are The-Boy-Who-Lived or whatever they call you these days. Besides, I'm not a fourth year but an almost fully qualified witch with some nasty tricks up her sleeves." She drew back and shot him a feral grin. "I know how to protect myself."
"I know you're not a damsel in distress, Daph. Still, I hate the thought that you might get hurt."
She gave him another consoling peck, turned her attention back to the newspaper, and read the article that came with the photos. "It's not that bad," she said at last, raising her head. "Lots of speculations, of course, but whoever wrote this article did their homework. It seemed they talked to the kids and some of our friends without them knowing what they were up to and got a pretty accurate picture of how we got together. They say we're sweet."
"Ugh!" Harry grimaced, but had to snort. "Well, that's a lot better than they did during the Triwizard Tournament and the year after that. If it doesn't get worse, I won't complain."
Daphne turned another page and tensed. "Well, don't get your hopes up." She motioned with her hand towards another article.
Harry leaned towards her to read the headline.
The Hero and the Heiress
A comment by Barnabas Cuffe
"That sounds like the titles of the novels my aunt used to read," he said.
Daphne snorted at that, although a frown stayed on her face. "I doubt we will find the article as entertaining as the novels. Cuffe has a mean streak, he thrives on conflict and never hesitates to instigate one. We won't like what he wrote."
He raised an eyebrow. "Is that so? Well, there's only one way to find out."
Once again, the blonde and the black heads bent over the newspaper to read.
'Harry Potter, also known as The-Boy-Who-Lived, The-Man-Who-Conquered-You-Know-Who or the Saviour-of-the-Wizarding-World, is currently staying in France, where he took on a summer job as a junior counsellor for a summer camp the heads of the esteemed families of Shafiq and Fawley organised to help our young children to overcome the trauma they suffered under the reign of terror. Informed sources report that the young man is not only enjoying the beautiful French countryside and warm climate but also has an eye on his pretty co-counsellor, Daphne Greengrass.
While nobody in their right mind can begrudge our Saviour behaving like a young man of his age should, this editor can't help but wonder if Mr Potter has nobody close to him to advise him of the perils that are waiting for a young man of his station.
Especially the perils as one Miss Daphne Greengrass.
The well-known Greengrass family is one of the oldest families of magical Britain. Among the last members of the famed Sacred Twenty-Eight who actually kept their blood line pure until this day, they always were staunch supporters of Pureblood Rights. However, rumours have it that they did more than just support Pureblood Rights during the last war. Rumours also have it that the current head of the family, Cygnus Greengrass, was one of the big financial backers of You-Know-Who. The DMLE investigates the dealings of Greengrass Tradings and the personal vaults of Mr Cygnus Greengrass while I write these words.
That brings us to the fair Miss Greengrass.
Eighteen-year-old Miss Daphne Greengrass is the eldest child of Cygnus Greengrass. For want of a male heir (the second child is also a daughter, who is reported to be of sickly constitution), Miss Daphne will follow her father's footsteps as the Head of House and will also take over his seat on the Wizengamot. As the future Head of the House, and already being of age, Miss Daphne is supposed to be deeply in the confidence of her father. This editor can't believe she knew nothing of the dealings of her father and wasn't involved in them.
What game is Daphne Greengrass playing?
Considering her family's allegations during the war, this editor can't believe that the affection she shows to our Saviour is genuine. It seems more like an intricate plan to gain favour with our hero as a bargain chip in the pending investigations.
Mr Potter, it seems, isn't aware of that possibility. Let's hope someone will warn him of the young woman soon.
The article was like a fist into his gut. He had trouble breathing, and the blood rushed in his ears. Harry took a deep breath to calm himself, raised his head and looked at Daphne.
"Cuffe just warned me, didn't he?"
She looked back at him, her cheeks pale, and her eyes a pair of dark, worried clouds. "Harry, it is not—"
Her apparent terror went straight to his heart. "Of course not," he said and put his hand on hers. "Do you think I trust the source this comes from? After all they did to me in the past? We will talk later. This is neither the time nor the place." He tilted his head towards the group gathered around the table.
Nihal looked at them with a thoughtful expression, while the children were plain curious.
Daphne let out a breath, and some colour returned to her cheeks. "You're right, we'll talk tonight." She turned her hand under his, gave him a gentle squeeze, and got up.
Harry followed her example. They had a job, after all.
While he went about his duties, the effects of the article lingered on, no matter how hard he tried not to think about it. The Daphne he knew had nothing in common with the calculating woman pictured in the article, yet he couldn't suppress the snakes of doubt raising their ugly heads inside of him. What if Daphne's behaviour had all been a ruse? What if—
He forbade himself to go down that path, to get lost in speculations—or worse—act on assumptions based on how things look. He'd done that too often in the past. His suspicion of Snape wanting to steal the Philosopher's Stone was a prime example of that. True, he'd been a naïve child back then, so that might excuse him. However, he was an adult now and he was supposed to act like one, so he wouldn't jump to conclusions. He'd talk to Daphne first.
Harry forced his attention back to the task at hand, only for his thoughts to return to their hamster wheel seconds later.
The day dragged on until it was—at last—time for the traditional singing of the camp song and sending the kittens to bed.
This time, Daphne beat him and was already waiting for him in front of his tent when he came out, her arms pulled tight around her torso in a gesture of self-comfort.
If she was acting, she was very good.
Her desolate posture tugged at his conscience. She'd done nothing against him; all he got from her was loving support and advice. He gave himself a mental slap, she'd done nothing to deserve this. His mixed feelings were because of that article from Cuffe, and he of all people should know how The Daily Prophet messed around with people's lives and didn't care about truth and accuracy at all. He'd trust her until she proved otherwise.
This decision made a weight drop off his shoulders. He stepped towards her and took her in his arms.
"You look like you've had a lousy day."
"I have." She snuggled against him. "I couldn't help but worry how you'd react to this horrible article as soon as you had time to think about it. I thought that you'd—" She broke off, lowered her head, and bit her lips.
"Break up with you?" From her demeanour, it wasn't hard to see where her thoughts had gone.
Daphne nodded, her head buried in his chest.
Harry tightened his arms around her. "I won't lie to you, Daph, that article messed with my head a little. However, what Cuffe wrote is as opposite to how you've treated me as it can get. I'll go with what I know, although I think we'll have to talk about the allusions he made, if only so we both know what to say and do when people will confront us with that, and they will. We both know it."
She raised her head and looked at him. "You're thinking of the response to Skeeter's articles about you in The Prophet?"
"Yeah. People got the wrong impression of me because of her and treated me based on the poison she spread. It was hell at the time. I don't want something like that to happen to you."
Daphne disentangled herself from his embrace and held her hand out to him. "In that case, we'd better take this somewhere private."
"Good idea." He took her hand, and they walked the familiar path out of the camp and towards the cliffs. Instead of stopping there, as they usually did, and enjoy a snog, Daphne pulled him with her towards a steep set of rock-hewn stairs that ended on a narrow stretch of gravel. It was dry right now, but Harry could easily imagine the angry waves hammering against the foot of the cliffs in winter.
They walked along the water's edge into the direction of the wide bay with the official beach of the camp. Nobody could overhear them here, not even with a Listening Charm. Whatever they said to each other, the endless slapping of the waves on the shore would cover their words.
Harry cast a sideways glance at his girlfriend. Had she counted on this? He wouldn't put it past her.
Daphne turned her head with a strained smile at him. "That article—" she began.
"It's a load of bullshit. I know you are not out to take advantage of me."
She relaxed and pressed his hand. "Thank you, Harry. That means a lot to me. Yet there are people out there who will believe every word."
"I know. It happened to me before, and I don't care about that anymore." Did he really?
"That's very noble of you. And—short sighted. That article wasn't that far off the mark."
Harry's stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch. He stopped in his tracks and gaped at his girlfriend. "What?"
Daphne bit her lips with a worried upward glance at him. She couldn't quite meet his eyes. "Just hear me out, will you?"
He nodded, still unable to grasp the implications of what she said.
"The article was accurate in my father's associations and his dealings with Riddle and his minions ever since the autumn of ninety-five. Father believes in Pureblood Supremacy, and he welcomed Riddle's return, although he would never steep as low as to dirty his wand with the blood of Muggleborns. His words, not mine, when I asked him why he didn't join the Death Eaters."
"I bet that wasn't the M-word he used," Harry said with a snort.
Daphne cracked a wry smile. "Of course not. I gave you the politically correct version. While he didn't fight, he still has blood on his hands. Cuffe got that part right. He supported Riddle with gold ever since his return. Father as much as admitted that to me after the battle, although he never said it this plainly. With Father, it's always a lot of allusions and veiled hints. He expected an investigation into his dealings; that's the reason he didn't object when I applied for the job here. He thought it would be good for the reputation of our family." She looked to the ground and her cheeks coloured. "That's not all, however. He was delighted when he found out that you and I had to work together closely."
Harry's neck tingled, and his head snapped back in a sudden realisation. He knew where this was going. That bastard! "Did he do what I think he did?" he asked.
Daphne's head jerked up. "How do you—"
"—know that he ordered you to make a move on me? Easily, I just had to put two and two together. I've dealt with many people like him since the end of the war. They are not that difficult to see through. Did you become my girlfriend because he ordered you to?"
The anguish in her wide eyes and her voice were genuine. Harry exhaled. He hadn't realised how tensed up he had been. "Good."
Her hand snaked up and fisted in the front of his t-shirt. "You are so lovable, Harry. I felt attracted to you from that first meeting at the Leaky Cauldron. When Nihal explained what they were aiming to achieve with the camp, the spark his words ignited in you was visible. Working as partners with you has shown me how passionate you are about bringing a change to our country. That's also what I want, and it makes me feel connected to you. Besides that, you're kind, respect my opinion and always encourage my ideas. I'm not used to that much consideration, not from the males in Slytherin, and even less from my father."
"But—you are his heiress."
"In name only. My father is very conservative, to put it nicely. He rules the family and our fortune with an iron fist. The women are just decoration, and a female heir is useless until she marries a man who will take on the Greengrass name and who will manage the family holdings for her until the male heir she is supposed to bring into the world is old enough to take over."
"How lovely." Harry grimaced. "The Prophet suggested that you were in the confidence of your father, as it seems to be a custom for the heirs of their houses. I gather from what you said that this is not the case."
"Father would rather bite his tongue off than confide in me," Daphne said with a huff and dropped her hand. "That's even more true since I turned out to be a Bloodtraitor. However, that doesn't stop him from using me for his advantage."
"By telling you to make a move on me. What does he expect of me? That I'll nip any investigation into his business in the bud because you are my girlfriend and it could reflect badly on me?"
Daphne sighed. "Yeah, I guess."
Harry snorted. "That would go over so well with Kingsley. He is neither Fudge nor Scrimgeour."
"I know. And you aren't Lucius Malfoy. You'd never take advantage of your fame in that way. That's why I told Father straight away that I wouldn't do it when he suggested flirting with you."
Harry broke out into laughter. "We all know how well that worked. When did he ask you?"
"Right after our first meeting at the Leaky Cauldron."
His eyebrows shot up at that. "We ran into each a few days later, and you flirted with me then. Be honest, was it because of your father's orders?" He held his breath for her answer.
Pink shot into Daphne's cheeks, but she met his gaze and held it. "No, it was because you were so adorably embarrassed and so chivalrous. It was the complete opposite to what I've been told about you for years, and I wanted to get to know the real Harry Potter."
Harry exhaled, put his arms around her and pulled her towards him. "Thank you for that. Few take the time."
Her arms snaked around his waist as she snuggled against him. "Their loss, my gain," she murmured into his chest.
They stood like that for a while.
"How are we going to deal with the repercussions of Cuffe's poison?" Harry asked, his chin still resting on Daphne's head.
"I don't know." She stepped backwards with a sigh and pushed a strand of hair out of her face. "Maybe—If we continue like this, and if they notice we are going strong, they'll leave us alone?"
However, her voice didn't sound very convincing.
"Fat chance!" He snorted and took her hand to amble back to the camp. "I think we should wait and see how and what the response to Cuffe's article will be, and then decide what to do. Although I think you have a point, presenting a united front is a big part of that."
Daphne just nodded at that and leaned against him on their way back.
Harry mulled over his last words. A united front. That wasn't difficult as long as they were at the camp and spent most of their time together. However, summer would be over soon, Daphne would return to Hogwarts, and he would join the ranks of the Aurors. How would they manage then, with crammed, conflicting schedules?
A blanket of post owls seemed to darken the sun as they sat at breakfast the next morning.
Terry looked up. "What the f—"
A huge eagle owl dived out of the flock, a red envelope in its talons, and dropped it into Daphne's bowl of cereals. Milk splashed on Daphne's polo. She rubbed at the stain absentmindedly while staring at the smoking envelope in her breakfast.
The next moment, a storm of envelopes hailed down on them. Quite a few envelopes hit the children with sharp edges, and they cried out in pain.
Harry jumped up, whipped out his wand, and cast a Shield Charm over their table. Daphne and Nihal followed a split second later.
The letters slid off the shield and fell to the ground in a circle around their table. A boy from Azadeh's table bent down to pick up one letter.
"Don't!" Harry bellowed, banishing the letter away from under the boy's fingertips.
The children looked at him with huge eyes. They weren't used to him raising his voice in their presence. He ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath to calm himself down.
"We don't know what is in these letters. They might contain dangerous substances that will harm you as soon as you touch them." The image of Hermione hissing with pain, her hands an angry red and covered with boils, was still vivid in his mind.
The boy drew his hand away as if he'd touched scalding hot water.
"Harry's right," Jessica said and got up from her chair. "Let's collect the letters and put them away. We can check and sort them during lunch break. I don't want to lose a lovely morning over the idiocy of some wizards and witches."
Harry shot her a grin. "I don't want that, either."
Everyone laughed, the sudden tension that hung over the camp broken.
The counsellors got up and levitated the letters into sturdy wooden boxes Nihal had conjured. Harry made sure to vanish each howler he saw.
"Good idea," Anthony said. "Don't want our breakfast spoiled by screaming witches and wizards." He vanished another howler with a flick of his wand. The other counsellors followed suit. The pile of letters diminished considerably because of that.
Yet, when they were finished, Nihal still banished three boxes full to the brim with letters towards his and Azadeh's tent.
"That should keep us safe until we have time to sort them," he said, and sat down to continue his breakfast.
Harry also sat down and cast a look at Daphne. How would she take the sudden public interest in her person? Hermione had had a hard time after Skeeter's lies. Until today, there were still wizards and witches who believed she had dropped him in favour of Krum, and she still got the occasional hate mail because of that. Was Daphne, who'd grown up in the wizarding world, better prepared to deal with those out there who took offense that they were together?
Her cheeks were rather pale. Shit!
As if she felt his gaze upon her, she turned her head. There was a belligerent sparkle in her eyes.
An avalanche got off his heart. It seemed he didn't have to worry about Daphne. He bent towards her. "You look as if you are ready to tear apart those morons who sent you the letters," he whispered into her ear.
"You bet," she whispered back, and a feral grin spread across her face.
Harry snorted. "Let me know if I can help you."
"Thanks," Daphne said, helping herself to a fresh bowl of cereals and fruit, "I already have an idea or two." The sparkle in her eyes intensified.
"Sounds good to me." Maybe he should pity the morons who'd ignited her wrath, but somehow he couldn't find it in him.
Breakfast ended. The remaining food and the dishes disappeared from the table, summoned by the elves of the camp with their special magic.
It was their free day, so Harry turned to Nihal. "Daphne and I will go through the mail during our free hours this morning."
Nihal made a face. "I'm sorry that your few free hours get spoiled by this. I'll banish the boxes towards the big tent as soon as the kittens are safely away."
The groups cleared out for their morning activities, and the four healers disappeared into the healer's tent for their parchment work. Harry and Daphne stayed behind in the big tent. Seconds later, three wooden boxes materialised on the table before them.
"Alright, let's go to work. Are you familiar with the detection spell you can cast on mail to make sure it contains nothing harmful?"
Daphne shook her head, and he spent the next minutes to show her the useful charm Kingsley had taught him the day after the battle of Hogwarts when he had got swamped by owl mail.
His girlfriend was a fast learner, so it didn't take long until they fell into a rhythm of levitating half a dozen letters out of the boxes, spreading them out on the table, casting the detection charm upon them, and sorting the letters into a couple of different wicker baskets Daphne had conjured, depending on the content of the letter.
"Finished!" Daphne said about half an hour later. She levitated the last letter into a basket and sunk back in her chair. "I'm spent." She brushed a strand of hair out of her flushed face.
"Yeah, this was hard work," Harry said. It was mid-morning by now. The sun stood high in the sky, and despite the pine trees casting a pleasant shadow on the tent, it was already hot. "May we have some water, please?"
A bottle of cool sparkling water and two glasses appeared in front of them. Harry poured Daphne and himself a glass, and they drank thirstily.
"What are we going to do with those?" Daphne motioned with her empty glass in her hands towards the baskets filled with letters and put the glass back on the table.
"We'll give those that reacted to the Detection Charm to the Aurors, give the children their letters that got lost in the avalanche that rained down on us, and read those addressed to us that aren't harmful."
Daphne glanced at the two baskets filled to the brim that held the letters addressed to either Harry or her. "Oh, whoopee!"
Harry laughed and finished his water. "There's no way around that," he said, putting his glass down. He glanced at the basket that would go straight to the Aurors. It was also filled to the brim with letters addressed to Daphne. His heart sank. Why were people so hateful?
"What about I read your letters and you read mine?" he asked. "Maybe it won't get at us that much then."
Daphne nodded, and they both picked a letter and opened it.
The letter he had picked seemed to have been written by a Pureblood lady and a staunch supremacist. While it was polite enough, the lady didn't hide her disappointment at Daphne 'consorting with a Halfblood' and 'ruining the noble blood of the Greengrass family.' The letter ended with polite regards towards Daphne and her father. Daphne's sister wasn't included.
Why might that be? Harry made a face as he tried to decipher the signature. Margery Selwyn. He had to remember that name. He put the letter aside and looked up to see how his girlfriend fared.
Daphne's face resembled a storm cloud. She glared at the letter in her hands as if she wanted to set it aflame with the power of her gaze.
"What's in that letter that has made you this mad, Daph?"
Her head snapped up. "This silly cow takes offense that you got yourself a girlfriend that isn't her. She'd already made preparations to get the job. But see for yourself." She tossed him a wizarding photo.
The photo showed a pretty witch in her late twenties, with a voluptuous figure and very little put on that figure to hide that. She moved and twisted in a way that was probably meant to be seductive and blew him a kiss.
His cheeks grew hot. "Eew!" He put the photo back onto the table, the offending side down.
Daphne chuckled at that, mollified, and opened another letter. The storm clouds on her face appeared again. "Here's yet another one!"
Harry reached over to look at the picture and got a light slap on his hand for his efforts.
"Don't you dare, mister! Your share of female beauty in this world is sitting right next to you. You don't need to look at anyone else."
"Yes, dear." Harry chuckled. She was cute when she was jealous.
Daphne pulled out her wand and vanished the photo, then summoned parchment, ink and quill from her tent and jotted something down.
Harry leaned over to have a peek. "You wrote down their names?" His eyebrows shot up.
"I've got to know who to look out for," she said darkly. "It starts with indecent photos, and next thing you know is that one of those tarts has fed you a Love Potion or bound you into a contract with a Compulsion Charm."
Harry snorted, but the laughter stuck in his throat when he saw Daphne's concerned eyes. "You think that's a possibility?"
"It has been done before to men who have less to offer than you."
This wasn't jealousy, this was concern for his wellbeing. Warmth blossomed in his chest, and he leaned towards her to kiss her cheek. "Thanks for looking out for me. I've resisted an Imperius Curse from Riddle, so I am confident I can deal with a Compulsion Charm, but the thought of Love Potions freaks me out. I've seen what one has done to Ron."
Daphne stiffened. "You have what?"
Harry became hot under the collar of his polo. Damn, his tongue had run away with him. He'd forgotten he hadn't told Daphne much about his adventures yet.
"It happened when the Goblet of Fire portkeyed me away at the end of the Triwizard tournament."
"I remember the interview you gave Skeeter that was published in The Quibbler" Daphne said with a frown. "You described how V—Voldemort returned, but you never mentioned that he used the Imperius Curse on you."
"I didn't think it that important," he said with a shrug.
Daphne took in a sharp breath. "Of course you didn't. Oh, Harry!"
"Well, that's besides the point right now." He had to distract her. He didn't like that sad look in her eyes. He motioned with his chin towards the two baskets filled with letters. "We have work to do."
His girlfriend nodded in agreement and reached for the next letter, although something in the small side glance she gave him before she opened the letter told him she wouldn't forget about Voldemort and his second-favourite curse soon.
He reached for the next letter and followed Daphne's example. Over the next hour, they both spoke very little, except for a snort here and an exclamation of disgust there, while the pile of letters read beside their elbows grew.
Harry let out a sigh of relief when he put the last letter on the pile.
Daphne followed his example seconds later. "I feel like having a shower, and not because it's too hot today," she said with a grimace.
"About half of the letters you got were young witches offering their—uh—services to you, so you don't have to sully your reputation with me. Most of the remaining letters were from older witches and wizards who wanted to let you know that you've sullied your reputation by consorting with me and that you could do much better with one of their daughters, granddaughters, or nieces. One even contained a marriage contract."
"Oh gods, don't tell me they are still a thing!"
His girlfriend chuckled at his horrified exclamation, although she didn't sound amused at all. "They still are, in certain circles. My father tried to bind me in one when I was still a toddler. Thankfully, my mother put her foot down, despite him being a tyrant, and made sure he couldn't enter me or my sister into a marriage without our consent."
"I see from which parent you got your determination."
"From both, I guess," Daphne said with a small laugh. "And your diversionary tactic doesn't work, love. I think you'll love to hear that a small minority of the letters were from wizards and witches who want to congratulate us and are happy that you are happy." She took her lower lips between her teeth in a bout of nervousness. "One letter was from the W—from Ginny. I'm sorry I read it. I didn't notice the signature before it was too late." She took a letter from the pile next to her elbow and held it out to him.
Harry took the letter and read it. It contained three words only, besides the signature.
Told you so!
Daphne gave him an uneasy side glance. "What's that about? Of course, you don't have to tell me."
He ran his hand through his hair. "Believe it or not, it was Ginny who pointed me in your direction."
"She found me laughing about one of your letters. Did I ever tell you how much I enjoyed them?"
"You did, love."
"Anyway, she said you were beautiful and suggested that I should make a move on you." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't know if that was her bad conscience speaking about not picking things up with me. When we ran into each other in London, I remembered her words, and I thought, hey, why not? A new girlfriend was the last thing I wanted back then, but I thought it couldn't hurt honing my flirting skills. Thankfully, you were nice enough not to laugh at me."
Daphne gave him a blinding smile. "Remind me to thank her for that the next time I see her." She leaned towards him and gave him a peck on the cheek. "You were so cute, how could I laugh at you?" She drew back, sobered, and gestured towards the pile next to his elbow. "Don't you want to tell me about the letters addressed to me?"
"No, I don't want to, but I have to, I guess," he said with a sigh. "They are as bad as the ones I got. There are the disapproving Purebloods who think you are a Bloodtraitor. Some are polite about it, some are openly threatening you with things that made me sick to the stomach. Honestly, I think some of these should be investigated by the Aurors. Same goes for many letters you got from angry witches. 'Calculating bitch' is among the friendliest names they have for you. And there were a few letters from Pureblood males." Heat shot into his face and he averted his eyes. How would she take the outrageous offers she'd got from them? Merlin, it had taken the little self-restraint he'd developed over the last year not to jump up and apparate back to England and show those bastards where they belonged.
"Let me guess, they offered their protection since I'm now spoiled goods?"
His head whipped back. "How can you be so calm about that?"
"I grew up with a man like them, remember?" She barked out an angry laugh. "Bastards!"
"Yeah, I have a good mind to hex them into the next millennium."
"Don't, love, they are not worth the trouble." Daphne put a calming hand on his arm. "However, all those letters are a taste of what awaits us when we return home, aren't they?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so."
"Maybe you are better off without me."
Daphne's voice was so low he hardly understood the words. A jolt went through his body as the meaning set in, almost painfully, and his stomach seemed to turn. He swallowed the bile that rose in his throat. "No, never!" He turned towards her, slung his arms around her, and pulled her towards her. "They can't harm us if we stick together."
"We already established that point last night," Daphne said with a sigh. "They'll make it damned hard on us, and it won't be easy, with you at the Aurors and I at Hogwarts. We'll only see each other on Hogsmeade weekends, and even that depends on your schedule. What are the chances we can preserve our feelings for each other if we have to deal with hostility for being together in addition to that?"
"We'll have to find a way. We will find a way."
"Your word in Merlin's ear," Daphne said with an unhappy laugh.
The entire camp spent the afternoon at the beach as a group. Their time in France was nearing the end. Sunday would mark the end of their trip when Portkeys would take them back to the gates of Hogwarts, so the kittens wanted to make the most of the warm beach.
A group of girls had gathered around Lisa and Daphne. They braided each other's hair and shared stories of their horseback adventures. Laura sat between Daphne's legs and was chatting incessantly, while Daphne waved her wand over her hair and her locks braided themselves into an intricate style that looked like the hairdo of Princess Leia in Star Wars.
Harry suppressed a snort. Who would have thought that those two would get along this well? In the beginning, everything had pointed towards Laura becoming a great pain in Daphne's behind.
Neither braiding hair nor riding was his forte, so Harry got up in search of some like-minded company.
Morag, Neville and Hannah all were in the water, supervising a large group of kittens that were frolicking in the surf, among them Arthur and Fergus. However, he didn't feel like swimming, so Harry looked for the other counsellors.
Blaise and Anthony had rented a couple of brooms and organised a game of broom tag high above the beach. Of course, Julia and Antonia were two of the flyers. Harry stopped, shaded his eyes with his hands and watched them for a while. Julia's prowess on a broom in such a short time was amazing. Just like him, she was a natural flyer. There was no doubt she'd make it on the Quidditch team of her house in her second year.
As always when on the beach, Terry played beach soccer with another group of kittens. A loud cheer went up from that group as he watched. Ray threw his arms in the air to celebrate the goal he'd made, while Samantha and Kun hugged him from behind. Azadeh and Jessica were sunbathing and simultaneously had an eye on the children who'd opted to spend the afternoon sunbathing and reading.
It seemed he was out of luck, everyone was busy, and his and Daphne's kittens were well cared for. Private moments were scarce at camp, however, so he wouldn't complain. He turned around and ambled towards the waterline for a walk along the beach. Some alone time to think about how he and Daphne should go on upon their return to England was what he needed right now.
The letters had not stopped yet, neither the bad nor the good, although the flood had diminished to a steady, daily trickle of which the Aurors still got their share. The rest simply thought they had a right to tell him how he should live his life and whom he should be with.
Harry balled his fist. The nerve of some people!
"Mind if I join you?"
Harry jumped and turned around. "Oh, sorry, Nihal, I hadn't noticed you."
"My fault, you were deep in thought, I should have warned you." The older wizard caught up with him and gave him a sharp side glance. "Anything I can help with? You've become awfully quiet during the last couple of days. Has it to do with the many threatening letters you got? I could understand if they made you uneasy."
"No, not that." He ran his hand through his hair with an embarrassed laugh. He really should learn to hide his emotions better. "I'm used to threats against my life, so that part doesn't concern me much."
"That is a very sad statement."
Harry shrugged. "That's part of being the Boy-Who-Lived and Riddle's target ever since I entered Hogwarts. I guess I resigned myself to that at some point. It's over, thankfully. I don't like to talk about that, it stirs up too many terrible memories."
Nihal gave him a look as if he didn't agree with that statement, but said nothing. The two young men walked for some time in a comfortable silence.
At last, Nihal said, "If the threats against you aren't concerning you, what is it then? Because something is worrying you, Harry, that is plain to see. I'm here to listen if you want to talk about it."
Did he want to talk? Talking about his problems had never been his strong point. However, it couldn't hurt to ask for the opinion of someone older and more experienced. Someone who obviously lived in a happy relationship for quite some time. Was there a secret to get that far?
"It's because of those letters. They show what will await Daphne and me as soon as we get home. It's going to be tough."
"That's a given. Are you unsure how to deal with the letters and the hostility?"
"Yeah, to a certain degree. Well, it's obvious that those that were charmed to hurt Daph go to the Aurors, as do those that threaten her with murder or bodily harm. But that doesn't silence the morons out there who are hostile and will say bad things about her, no matter if they are true or not."
"It's up to you and Daphne to soldier through that and show them they were wrong. They will realise that soon enough if you stick together."
Harry sighed and kicked a pebble out of his way. "That's what Daphne said. Only—I'm not sure if it will work."
Nihal gave him a sharp side glance. "Do you have second thoughts about your feelings for Daphne?"
"No, Daphne is the best thing that has happened to me in a long time. I can see us lasting. However, I thought that about Ginny and me, too, and probably it would have been that way, hadn't the war come between us."
"Snape killed Dumbledore, the ministry fell, and from that moment on, I was a hunted man. I knew it was going to happen, so I broke off with Ginny. I didn't want to make her a target. Still, I thought—We both hoped—"
"That you could pick up again when the war was over? It obviously didn't work that way. What happened?" Nihal asked in a soft voice.
"Honestly, I still don't know." Harry let out a deep breath. "Ginny basically implied on my birthday that she would wait for me. I clung to that promise while I was on the run. The promise of a happy future was the only thing that kept me going. Yet, when I returned—"
"She was with someone else?"
"No, nothing like that. Her brother got killed in the Battle of Hogwarts. The whole family was beside themselves with grief, and Ginny wanted to be there to support her parents and brothers. Her thoughts were elsewhere. It wasn't the right time to make a move on her again, although I tried to be there for her."
"Ah, yes, that's understandable. How did she take that?"
"She was friendly and thankful, and for a while it looked as if we would get our happily ever after."
Harry barked out a laugh. "Nothing that dramatic. No, we just talked about our plans for the future one day. I told her I'd love to become an Auror and have a family soon. I didn't notice at first that Ginny became quieter and more withdrawn with each word that I said. When I ended, she told me that my plans didn't align with hers. She wants to pursue a career in professional Quidditch and trained hard in every free minute for the try-outs. She told me she was planning on playing until she was too old or too injured to carry on. Marriage and children were not in her plans, at least not for the next fifteen to twenty years."
"And you decided not to get back together because your dreams clashed? That's a very mature decision."
"Ginny decided. I would have accepted her decision to pursue a career in Quidditch first and start a family much later. Ginny wouldn't have it. She said it wouldn't be fair that I had to let go of my dreams while she had everything. She said it might make me bitter at some point and destroy our relationship."
Harry shrugged. "Yeah, probably."
"You don't agree with her?"
"I'm not used to my dreams being taken into consideration, so Ginny's reasoning wasn't that big a deal for me. I would have coped, as always. Yet she brought up another point that convinced me. She said that the war and the year apart had changed us both. We weren't the young teens anymore that fell for each other, but different people who weren't that compatible anymore. I was in denial at first, but as time moved on, I could see her point and was able to let go of her."
"So, you don't have feelings besides friendship for her anymore. That's good. At first, I was afraid that you were torn between your feelings for Daphne and your ex."
"Daphne and I are good." Harry exhaled. "I can see us lasting. If only the summer didn't have to end."
Nihal gave him another sharp glance. "What are your and Daphne's plans after the summer?"
"Daphne wants to return to Hogwarts to get her N.E.W.T.s, while I will join the Auror Department in September." His shoulders sagged at his last words and he started to the ground.
"Ah, that's it!"
Harry raised his head to look at the older man. Nihal's face had brightened as if a lightbulb had gone on in his head.
"You are afraid that history will repeat itself and that you and Daphne will grow apart during her time at Hogwarts."
Harry jumped and stared at Nihal. Was that man an Occlumens? He hadn't voiced his fears loud and clear even once, not even to Daphne, although they had touched the subject.
There was a lot of understanding in the smile Nihal gave him, and he relaxed.
No, Nihal wasn't an Occlumens who pried into his thoughts without being invited. He was just a mind healer and accomplished at making people face their problems.
"Yes," he said in a low voice, avoiding Nihal's eyes. Damned, why was it always so hard for him to admit to fears and insecurities?
Nihal touched his arm in a slight gesture of comfort. "That is understandable. Why don't you return to Hogwarts? I'd have thought you'd need your N.E.W.T.s before you can join the Aurors."
"The Ministry offered anyone who was in the D.A. and fought in the Battle of Hogwarts a spot in the Auror Academy. We're supposed to have an extended course where we can get the N.E.W.T.s we need while also training for the job."
Nihal whistled. "That sounds tough. Are you sure that you want that kind of pressure after everything you've been through?"
"Yes—No—" Harry ran a hand through his hair, sighing. "It is what I thought people expected of me after the battle. I got rid of Riddle, and they trust me to deal with the remaining Death Eaters to make magical Britain a safe place to live in."
"The expectations of others are not a good reason for a career choice."
"I know. It's not the only reason, though. I wasn't looking forward to going back to Hogwarts."
"Why is that so?"
"Too many bad memories, I guess. Each year I spent in the castle, something horrible happened to me. The battle was the last straw. Too many good people died there. I'm afraid their memories will haunt me as soon as I put a foot in the castle and there is nothing to distract me."
"You won't be alone there. Your friends would be with you. Also, the last year is rather demanding and will demand most of your attention."
Harry rubbed his neck with a fleeting side glance at Nihal. "That's what Hermione said. However, she will get caught up in her studies the moment she is back at school and probably forget that I'm there when she gets lost in her books."
"That bad?" Nihal asked with a snort.
"You have no idea!" Harry rolled his eyes. "Ron won't be there to keep me company. He already said he was taking a year off to help his brother George to get his shop back in order and will decide then what to do. I'm not very close to my other housemates, so—" He let the sentence hang in the air.
"Did you always want to become an Auror?"
Harry shrugged. "It was the only thing that appealed to me when we had career guidance in fifth year. That, or going into professional Quidditch, and I couldn't see the teams lining up to make me an offer." He shrugged again. "I didn't take the fancy subjects necessary for becoming a healer or a curse breaker, which limited my options. Also, back then I thought I was going to fight Riddle for a long time. Becoming an Auror seemed sensible."
"I can see where you're coming from. However, a lot of your reasons for wanting to become an Auror are no longer viable. Doesn't it make sense to re-evaluate your career plans, considering the changes in your life? You are still young enough to catch up on subjects you missed to become a curse breaker, for example. Going back to Hogwarts will help with that."
Harry's head whipped around and he stared at Nihal. "That never occurred to me."
"That's obvious." Nihal chuckled and patted his arm. "Think about it, Harry, instead of just following plans you made years ago and under the lasting impression of the fight you fought. You still have so many options in your life, it would be a pity to waste them." He raised his hand in goodbye and turned to walk back to his wife.
Harry gaped after him. Nihal surely had given him fodder for thoughts.
'You still have so many options in life, it would be a pity to waste them.'
Nihal's words refused to leave him alone during the next couple of days.
If Daphne noticed how preoccupied he was, she never let on, although sometimes, when she thought he wasn't noticing, she'd give him a slightly concerned look. However, he was not yet ready to talk to her about the conflict raging within himself—at least not before he understood what was going on with him.
That wasn't easy. He'd never been one for introspection. He'd always jumped head first into everything. It was damned sheer luck that he'd survived his adventures. The question whether he should go for the Deathly Hallows or continue pursuing the Horcruxes was the only time in his life he'd thought over things in depth.
It had also turned out brilliantly.
Harry grimaced. Maybe he should start thinking more about the decisions he made. He had some alone time for that tonight. Lisa and Blaise had become the next couple out of their group, but it seemed they'd already had a spat, and Daphne and the other girls where with Lisa tonight, to comfort her, while Blaise had gone off to Merlin knew where and Neville and Terry had a fierce game of wizarding chess going on.
He checked the Monitoring Spell he had cast on his tent. Soft snores echoed through the otherwise silent night.
Terry raised his head. "My litter was also out as soon as their heads hit the pillows."
"As they should," Neville said, his eyes not wavering from the chessboard while he contemplated his next move. "We tired them out with all those Muggle ball games we played this afternoon."
"And then swimming and a water fight to cool off," Harry said and got up. "I thought Ray would fall asleep at the dinner table and drop his head on his plate, but no such luck. Might have taken him down a peg or two."
His friends laughed at that. Neville moved his bishop and looked up at Harry. "Where are you going?"
"Down to the beach. I need to clear my head."
Neville's gaze flicked to the girls, who were sitting huddled around Lisa on a blanket under a pine tree. A lantern hung on a low branch of the tree cast a golden light on them. They had their heads stuck together and talked in hushed whispers.
"No romantic stroll in the moonlight tonight. Poor Harry." Neville chuckled.
"No making out for you tonight. Don't get frustrated," Harry countered, and Terry guffawed.
Neville whipped out his wand and banished one of the chess pieces that lay next to the board at Harry's head.
Harry caught it with the speedy reflex of a seeker before it could hit his forehead and tossed it back to Neville. "Tell Daph where to find me if she is still up to see me when the girls have finished their heart to heart, will you?"
Neville raised a hand in agreement, and Harry turned and walked away.
It didn't take long to reach the stairs that led down to the beach. Instead of going down, he sat down on the low wall that secured the stairs and enjoyed the view of the lights of the Muggle villages scattered around the wide bay.
It was a good place to take stock of his life.
He grimaced. It had been little of a life until now, hadn't it? The early loss of his parents, the neglect, no, the hate, he'd had to endure from the Dursleys—that wasn't how he wanted his own kids to grow up if he should ever be so lucky to have a family.
Heck, no child should grow up as he did.
As long as he could remember, circumstances out of his control had dictated his life. As if his upbringing wasn't already bad enough, he'd had a madman after his life ever since he'd found out he was a wizard, the fight for his life culminating in the discovery that he had to sacrifice his own to get rid of the monster.
No, nobody should have to go through this.
He shoved the memories of the night of the battle back into the recesses of his mind; they were still too raw to contemplate. It was better to concentrate on the future.
For the first time in his life, he was free of any obligations. True, there still were expectations directed at him, but it was his decision to make if he wanted to fulfil them or not. That was liberating, exciting and—frightening.
Harry chuckled to himself. Why did his life always have to be this complicated? Why couldn't he be carefree and live for the moment as Ron and most of the Weasleys did? Oh well, that was a moot point. He couldn't change how he was as easily as he could change the colour of his eyes with a simple spell.
He bit his lips. Until now, he'd always lived up to the expectations directed at him. His uncle and aunt had wanted an obedient house elf, and he'd tried his best to please them. Hermione wanted him to do his best at school, and he'd worked hard to live up to her expectations—if it hadn't been for Ron, who wanted him to fool around with him, so he hadn't taken his schooling as seriously as he should've and now he regretted that. Dumbledore had wanted him to finish off Voldemort, and he had walked to his own death.
"Huh, I sense a pattern here," he said to himself, and scratched his neck.
Now, Kingsley wanted him to take care of the rest of the Death Eaters. Hermione nudged him to finish his education, and Ron had already hinted that it would be cool if he could take off a year and work with him at Weasley's Wizarding Weezes.
A sigh escaped his mouth.
Did he really want that? To be honest with himself, he was tired of living up to other people's expectations.
Then there was Daphne. She made him as happy as he hadn't been for a long time, not since those enchanted few weeks with Ginny. Only—this time it didn't feel like out of another man's dream.
It felt real.
And Daphne had told him she wanted them to last beyond a summer fling.
Harry took a deep breath. He wanted that, too. Merlin, who was he fooling? He wanted much more. In his vague dreams about his future, Daphne played a star role as his friend, his partner, his lover—and as the mother of his children.
She was also the only one who had uttered no expectations, except that she wanted him to choose what was best for him.
His heartbeat sped up, and his breath caught as a sudden realisation overcame him.
Daphne was right. The only expectations that mattered were his own—and hers, if she was going to become a permanent part of his life. He'd do anything in his power to make that dream come true. However, joining the Aurors might jeopardise his dream. He couldn't let that happen.
His course of action was clear, wasn't it?
Soft footsteps made him look up. The moonlight illuminated a slender female figure with light hair. Daphne; he'd recognise her anywhere, and he slid from the wall to welcome her while his heart made a joyous leap. He walked towards her and gathered her in his arms for a deep kiss.
"What was that for?" she asked when they came up for air. "Not that I mind at all. However, what brought that on? Did you miss me that much?"
"That, too. No, something much more important than that."
"And that is?" Her eyes searched his face, all playfulness vanished from her expression.
"I've decided about what to do in September."
"Oh, that's good, I suppose." Now her expression was guarded.
He couldn't blame her; they'd both only touched the difficult subject, both afraid to jinx their summer.
"I'm coming with you to Hogwarts."
The change in her expression was like the sun breaking through from behind clouds. She whooped, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him once more.
He lifted her up and spun her around, joining her laughter.
Nothing could go wrong as long as they were together.