[Author's Note: This is it! Thank you for sticking around through all of these epilogues. Volksbrot was laughing his rear end off as they just kept coming.
If you've enjoyed this piece, please check out my profile for a link to the first chapter of my next story: Harry Potter and the Beast(s)...and Draco.
Also, special thanks to Ausstin who pointed out this chapter was on AO3 but not FFN. I thought I posted it on Friday, but I apparently forgot to actually hit the darn button or something. Argh. Sorry.]
Epilogue 3: A Rose and a Briar, Twining Upwards
Part 1: Indirect Methods Will Be Needed
Rustynail sat down across from the two middle-aged women in his usual conference room and ignored their stares of disgust. "Mrs. Crabbe," he nodded to the tall, thin woman who looked like she kept her face in shape with daily lemon-sucking, "Mrs. Goyle," he nodded to the short, squat woman who glowered at him through long, greasy hair that might once have been dark brown.
"Goblin," Mrs. Crabbe said. Mrs. Goyle just kept glowering.
"It's my privilege," Rustynail said, doing his best to ignore their attitudes, "to present you with an offer from an anonymous benefactor." He slid two identical letters across the table to them. Their eyes had lit up at the word "benefactor" and they snatched the letters eagerly.
To: Mmes. Crabbe & Goyle
From: Another devoted friend of our mutual friend
By now I'm sure you're as worried as I am about the condition of your husbands and our mutual, much-admired friend, and recent information into which I've come into possession has made me even more concerned. I have reason to believe Malfoy Manor's protections were betrayed from within. Naturally, my first thought was to blame the owners, but I have good reason to believe they did not survive the incident.
The alternative is much worse: that we have a living traitor somewhere still within our midst. My personal suspicion rests upon Lord Selwyn, but I lack proof. Meanwhile, the fate of your houses hangs by a thread, and I cannot allow that. Your families are among the strongest friends our cause has, and I shudder to think of them being snuffed out by a traitor at their school without the protection of House Malfoy.
Therefore, I have a proposition for you. I don't wish to reveal my true identity yet due to the probable traitor, but I do want to help. If you'll assent to a binding contract to remove your children from the dangers of Hogwarts and tutor them privately, you'll each receive a sum of money sufficient to pay for the finest tutor in the country for the next year and a half, plus twenty percent as recompense for your own troubles. Even if you don't, please accept the ten galleon coin attached to this letter as a token of my personal gratitude for both your time and your family's devotion.
A friend of a friend
Both of the women reread their letters twice as if trying to wrap their heads around the contents, but it didn't escape Rustynail's notice that they stuffed the coin into their pockets as soon as they finished the first read-through.
Finally, Mrs. Crabbe spoke up again. "What a lovely letter," she said.
Mrs. Goyle nodded.
"I think we'd both be happy to accept this offer, wouldn't we?"
Mrs. Goyle nodded again.
Rustynail gave them a toothy grin and pushed two contracts across the table. "Just touch your wands to these contracts, then, and I'll let your benefactor know you've accepted." He would never tell his colleagues, but working with the new Lord and Lady Black was genuinely fun.
Part 2: Getting What You Pay For
"You did what?" Hermione's voice echoed around the empty Charms classroom, eliciting winces from Harry and Ron.
"I paid Crabbe and Goyle's mothers to withdraw them from Hogwarts," Harry said.
"But...why?" Ron asked. "You've hated them since our first day here and you gave them all that money!"
"Lots of reasons." Harry began ticking them off on his fingers. "This gets those two bullies out of our hair and keeps them away from the underclassmen, none of whom deserve what we went through. If their mothers use the money to pay down debts, we end up with dumber, less capable enemies later, and if they use it to tutor them...well, you've seen those two. That's money down the drain. Without the blind loyalty of those boys, Theo's position as Malfoy's heir apparent as the most powerful person in Slytherin is no longer secure. Say what you want about Draco, but he was a fairly skilled and cunning wizard. Theo's weaker on all counts. That means Theo and other Slytherins will have to spend more time securing their own power bases and have less capacity to cause us trouble. Blaise Zabini is already gathering support for a challenge of his own, and why not? He's wealthier, better-looking, and a better wizard than Theo."
"He's also a pompous prat," Ron grumbled. Hermione just stared at Harry.
"He is, but he's not a Death Eater fanboy," Harry said.
Hermione finally managed to string some words together. "Harry, I'm not sure if I should be horrified or amazed at that plan. It feels...dirty, if that's the right word, but it's going to make this school so much better."
"That's how I felt when Daphne explained it to me," Harry said. "I'm still uncomfortable with it, but I'm sick of standing by while I know those gits are hurting people and doing nothing to stop them. Oh, and there's one more thing: we put some stuff in the letters we sent their mothers about how we thought there was a traitor in the high-level Death Eater ranks, so that's why we were staying anonymous. Hopefully, those two families will leak the information and sow distrust among any Death Eaters who are still out there."
Ron grinned. "That's brilliant, mate. I'm starting to wish we had a Slytherin friend years ago to pull stuff like this."
"I don't know," Hermione said. "I know you did this for the right reasons and the outcome will probably be good, but this doesn't feel right."
Harry sighed. "You're not wrong. It's just...the last time around, my parents gave everything they had and I was scarred for life to win the war, and then everyone else lost the peace. Dumbledore doesn't seem to have changed his tactics since then, so I'm doing it myself. I trust you both to warn us if we're going over the line, and I think Daphne does, too."
"That's harsh, but you've got a point," Hermione said. "I don't want another generation of children to die in this war."
Ron looked at Harry thoughtfully. "Speaking of your scar, though, have you noticed it seems to have gotten smaller recently?"
"Now that you mention it, yes," Harry said. "I was wondering if it was finally fading."
Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "Since when does anything ever happen coincidentally with that scar?"
"Has it hurt lately?" she asked. "Have you had any more flashes of Voldemort's thoughts?"
"Neither," Harry said. "I haven't felt even a sting from it since...Daphne and I did that thing we can't tell you about yet."
Hermione stared at him. "Harry, what did Daphne have to do with Voldemort?"
"Nothing intentional!" Harry said quickly. "Things got weird after Malfoy attacked her."
"How upset am I going to be about what really happened that week?" Hermione asked.
"And how awesome will I think it was?" Ron added, and got smacked in the arm for it.
"Very," Harry said.
Part 3: Forgiveness
Harry and Daphne sat on the couch in the drawing room they'd come to think of as theirs, listening as the echoes of apparating cracks faded into the creaky silence of the old house. "Well, that could have gone better," Harry said.
"It could have gone worse, too," Daphne replied. "They're not going to try to have us sent to Azkaban."
"I know, I know, and I think Hermione really did forgive us by the end. It's just…" Harry leaned back against the couch and sighed. "Hermione and Ron are my oldest friends, and now I feel like they're scared of us."
Daphne wrapped her arms around his neck. "I'm sorry. This is all my fault."
"I won't let you apologize for ending the war," Harry said as he adjusted his arms to return the embrace. "Fleur didn't seem to mind, either, once she realized who was in that pile she saw you burn. She's right, you know. Those are the kinds of people who hunted down her grandmother's Veela relatives during Grindelwald's War."
The room lapsed into silence again for several minutes before Harry spoke up again. "What's wrong?" he whispered. After so much silence, speaking at a normal volume almost seemed rude, though he couldn't have explained why.
"I'm scared about Tori," Daphne said. "Will she look at me like Hermione did when we finally tell her?"
"I don't think so." Harry said. "Hermione and Ron are my friends, but they'll never love me like Tori loves you. I'll never forget how, on the night we got married, the first thing she did after waking up from your curse was to hand you back the wand you'd dropped. She knew what you'd done and she still forgave you as easily as she breathed. She'll never turn her back on you."
Daphne's only reply was soft sobbing into his shoulder.
"It's OK," Harry whispered into her hair. "I just hope Tori doesn't get mad at me for dragging you into it."
"Never," Daphne said once she'd recovered a little. "She's pretty sure her big brother is the best person in the world."
"Then we'll earn that," Harry said firmly. "You and I, together, until it's time to go on the next adventure and I can finally introduce you to Sirius and my parents."
Daphne started crying again at that, and Harry had a feeling he was, too.
Part 4: The Very Best
Harry waited until only Ron was with him in their dorm room before pulling a package out from under his bed and passing it over to his friend. "Could you give this to your parents for me, please?" he asked.
Ron's eyebrows shot up. "Are you sure? That's worth a lot of money, mate."
"I'm positive," Harry said. "I would never have known what to pick out, myself, and I really appreciated the advice from your parents. I absolutely want to buy them another one as a way to thank them."
Ron stared at the package in his hands. "They'll love this, especially with grandchildren on the horizon now. Thank you. So, what will you do with yours?"
"Oh, this isn't for me," Harry said.
"It isn't?" Ron asked.
"This is payment," Harry said, "for a favor I haven't requested yet."
Part 5: Revelations
Harry was still reeling from his last conversation with Dumbledore as he walked into Professor McGonagall's office with Daphne on his arm. She'd been expecting him and wandlessly shut the door behind them with the merest twitch of her eyebrows in its direction.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Potter...and Ms. Greengrass?" she asked. "I got the impression from Harry's message that this was to be a private meeting."
"It is," Harry said. "After what Professor Dumbledore told me, Daphne and I had a conversation and decided we needed to tell you some things."
"Mr. Potter! Albus told you that in strictest confidence."
"And if he'd waited much longer," Harry fired back, "then the Pureblooded faction on the Board of Governors would have been able to choose his replacement. We barely have enough time as-is to round up the necessary votes."
"Excuse me?" McGonagall asked.
"Lucius's old faction had a seven-to-five margin on the Board," Harry said. "I'm arranging to fill the late Lord Yaxley's seat myself, and Lord Burke was...well, more interested in a pair of Wizengamot votes on some import/export issues than continuing to serve on the Board. He was content with the eldest surviving Greengrass taking his place."
"Unfortunately," Daphne continued, "this messes up some of our other plans. You see, as part of my swearing-in when I take my seat publicly on the Wizengamot and then the board, everyone will find out that I'm no longer technically the Heiress Greengrass. My husband now holds the Greengrass seat jure uxoris and I'll be seated as his proxy."
"Your husband! You're still too young to marry."
Daphne snorted in an unladylike manner. "You have no idea how much I wish that had been true at the start of the year. No, Professor, my parents would have been able to bind me to marriage due to some old laws Purebloods wrote to keep daughters in line, but I was able to take advantage of another one of their disgusting old customs and marry myself off first."
She and Harry took a deep breath, held out their left hands, and willed their rings into visibility. Harry took her hand in his and said, "I would like to present my wife, the Lady Black."
McGonagall paled. "Oh, Harry, what have you done?"
"He saved my life, Professor," Daphne said evenly. "We'd intended to wait longer before going public with our true relationship, but neither of us are willing to put the same people who wrote the laws allowing me to be married off against my will to Fenrir fucking Greyback in charge of this school."
"Merlin, child." McGonagall fell back in her seat, so pale now that Harry was starting to fear for her health.
"It's been a long year," she said. "I'm sure you've heard the rumors that I'm spying on Harry for the remaining Death Eaters by now?"
"Yes, but I-"
"Those rumors are true," Harry said. "We've been feeding them dribs and drabs of useless information or things that sound true. Once the marriage comes out, though, I don't think we'll be able to ensure Daphne's safety in Slytherin dorms anymore. I'm afraid we'll both be taking private tutoring next year."
"I understand," McGonagall said. "I wish I could offer you more protection down there."
"We hope you'll be able to do more than 'wish' in the future," Daphne said. "With your permission, we'd like to put your name forward as the next headmaster."
"I'm...stunned. I...I've been worried for the last year whom the Board might appoint and how I could possibly protect the children from them. And you're just offering it to me?"
Harry nodded. "Realistically, Dumbledore's bloc on the Board was never as organized as Malfoy's, so you're the only candidate we'd be able to push through, regardless. We believe in you, though."
"The Board has been tying Dumbledore's hands since the end of the last war," Daphne said. "We should be able to provide cover for you to make real changes to protect students."
"Thank you," McGonagall said. "This will make a huge difference in the lives of a generation of children." She shook her head. "Merlin, both of you are so grown up now. Where did the years go?"
"Racist Purebloods took them from both of us," Harry said. "We're going to fight to ensure they can't steal anyone else's childhood."
Part 6: The Only Request
Over the course of the year, Daphne had gradually spent more and more time sitting with Harry under the guise of her "mission," to the point when no one was surprised she sat with the Gryffindors for the End-of-Year Feast. However, everyone was surprised when she and Harry rose from the table in the middle of the dessert course and doffed their robes to reveal, in Daphne's case, a white blouse covered with a stylish short green jacket and matched to a knee-length green skirt and two-inch heels, and, in Harry's case, a slightly old-fashioned well-tailored suit accented with an emerald green tie and handkerchief. Arm-in-arm, the two made their way down the table to the second-years' section, attracting so much attention in the process that no one noticed another student rise from his seat and follow them. Harry's stomach was in knots as all of the things that could go wrong ran through his head, but they had a plan and he had to trust the plan.
All discussion at the Gryffindor table ceased as Harry released Daphne's arm and approached Tori, who spun around in her seat and giggled nervously as they approached. Unnoticed even by Daphne, Harry clenched his right hand into a fist twice rapidly, then knelt down a few feet in front of Tori.
"Astoria Greengrass," he said as he pulled a piece of rolled-up parchment from his jacket, "as the eldest living relative of Daphne, the Heiress Greengrass, I present myself to you as Harold James Potter, the Heir Potter and Lord Black, and hereby request your approval of this betrothal contract between myself and Heiress Greengrass."
Tori barely let him finish the sentence before launching herself off the bench and wrapping her arms around his neck. As the echoes of her squeal of delight died away throughout the hall, she whispered "Best big brother ever" into the side of his neck.
The Gryffindor table broke out in cheers and clapping, as did most of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. Tori ignored them all though, and ran straight to Daphne to give her a hug, too. Harry followed her more slowly, partly to give her some time to hug her sister and partly to smile at the student who'd shadowed them. The smile he received in return finally comforted the butterflies in his stomach, and he allowed himself to focus on his bride-to-be/wife of nine months. Merlin, their relationship was confusing.
"Thank you," Daphne said as soon as he was close enough to hear her over the din. "Why did you ask me to dress up for this, though? That doesn't seem like you."
"I thought you'd want to look good for our photograph." Harry gestured to their silent shadow, who waved shyly.
"Harry," Daphne said slowly, "why does that little boy have the most expensive and capable moving picture camera in the entire Wizarding World?"
"You said all you wanted was to be able to see Tori's face when I asked her," Harry said. "I thought that meant you'd really like a picture, so I bought Colin the camera and he trained with it so he could get the full shot of Tori's reaction." He paused. "Daphne...are you crying?"
"Shut up and kiss me," Daphne croaked out, and he did so. That kind of crushed Tori between them, but she didn't seem to mind.