Chapter 8


Peace. Utter peace… the tranquility that characterized the refuge that was his mind caused a small smile to curve his lips. The outside world was inconsequential there, all that mattered was him. Within the sphere of his Occlumency shields, he could think freely, in a smooth, unfettered manner. He could languidly access memories, shift them around and categorize them not only by genre, but by importance. The knowledge of magic, his most necessary tool, stood strong at the forefront of his mind, available immediately for smooth, quick recalling.

The mind was an odd thing. It was not the center of his consciousness that enabled the quickest recall of knowledge and memories, it was the periphery, closest to the shields he was currently building. While his consciousness was at the very center of his mind, his awareness and recollection were at the periphery, woven in through his mental shields. His consciousness was what characterized him, the traits and tendencies that made up his character. Near the consciousness of his mind were things such as the various memories and feelings that he associated with people, the nature of his relationships with Tonks and Cho, and other assorted memories and feelings that made him who he was. The mind had a natural shield, a basic framework, to be more precise, that consisted of his awareness and recollection. Near these 'qualities' stood other factors of the mind, things such as knowledge and emotion. In Harry's case, these were sorted by priority… his magical knowledge and the emotions associated with that knowledge were grouped together, layered almost entirely against the sphere of his mental shield, the few gaps filled by other crucial knowledge, such as his knowledge of languages, culture and human interaction.

While the mind automatically layered itself in this manner to work optimally, there was a certain leeway possible where one could shift certain elements around, to a certain degree, for greater effectiveness. And it was this leeway that Harry was exploiting, organizing his knowledge, memories and emotion for the most effective mental organization known to the Wizarding World. Expert Occlumens had been experimenting with the layout of the mind for centuries, eventually coming to conclusions that had perfected the art, creating rules and procedures that had been derived through centuries of disgusting experimentation on the minds of Muggles. By 'editing' the framework of the Muggles' minds, and examining the resulting effects on their memory, emotions and personalities, Wizards had found and decrypted the secrets of the mind. Disgusting as the history of Occlumency was, the lessons learnt were invaluable to someone in Harry's position… that being the position of someone burdened with the destiny to duel a Dark Lord to the death.

He withdrew from his mind slowly, and opened his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he leaned backwards, stretching his back, and hearing a few satisfying pops.

Tonks, hearing the sound, looked up from the Daily Prophet and smiled at him. "Everything alright?" she asked, moving to join him on the couch.

He smiled back at her, pulling her onto his lap. "Yeah, everything is in its right place. Anything interesting in the papers?"

Tonks' smile faltered slightly. "They found the bodies of the Centaurs we rowed with," she said cautiously. The destruction Harry had wrought that day had not left his mind easily, he had carried a slightly troubled look for a while after the incident, returning to normal only recently.

He sighed. "What does the Prophet say about it?"

Tonks scanned the paper to make sure she had the information right, and replied "They seem to think that a cave troll or two came close to Hogwarts, met the Centaurs and bashed them into the ground. They can't seem to find any other reason, and the magical residue would have worn away by now, so they really haven't a clue. As for the clearing, they said that an overcharged bolt of lightning struck a patch of boomslang, causing it to explode violently. I guess there weren't any bodies left… not after what happened." She trailed off, looking at him cautiously.

He nodded, then shrugged. "Hell," he muttered, "they'd never believe the truth anyhow. I'm supposed to be a lunatic, not someone who can toss a sea of fire from his hand."

She cast a quick look at him, and seeing a slight smile on his face, grinned in response. "Alright," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck and pressing her body against his, her head tucked under his chin.

He nodded awkwardly, due to the fact that her head inhibited the movement, and echoed her words. "Alright. You're sure you want to help me with this?"

She made a clucking noise, and pulled her head up, glaring at him. "Harry Potter," she said imperiously, "when your exalted Queen states her intentions, she means to follow through with them!"

He laughed, wrapping his other arm around her and squeezing gently. His nose brushed hers, and eyes closed, he muttered "Does my exalted Queen know exactly what I want to do to her right now?"

She blinked, then began laughing hysterically when he began tickling her. "Stop!" she shouted, unable to stop laughing. He did, grinning at her. "Playtime doesn't start until we're done here," she said, scowling playfully at him.

"Alright," he agreed reluctantly, then sighed, steeling himself. He laid down, resting his head on the pillow and closing his eyes. Tonks did the same, lying a few inches away from him and taking his hand into her own. The physical contact between them would make the next process easier on Tonks.

He barely heard her soft voice as she whispered "Legilimens."

Harry fell into the comforting darkness of his mind, almost immediately finding his center. In the 'distance', he could see his magical core, and beyond it, the core of magic that fueled his Metamorphmagus transformations. He mentally grimaced at the sight of his magical core, seeing the dark strips that leashed and held his magic captive. But the core itself was pulsing almost excitedly, knowing that it was a matter of hours before it would be liberated from its cage. The strips quivered, holding tight but slowly giving way to his magic … in roughly twelve hours, Harry Potter would finally be a free man.

He turned towards his mental shields, almost screaming giddily as he once again looked upon the nearly completed shield. By the beginning of the summer, the framework for the shield had been completed. It had looked like a muggle construction site in some ways, for there appeared to be a globe-like shape wrapped around his mind, created of metallic-looking beams that curved and interlocked in a crisscrossing fashion, leaving small diamond shaped holes through which his 'mind' could still be seen. Now, after constant work each night, there remained but five such diamond shaped holes to fill. Filling the last ones, though, was an entirely different task in comparison to laying the first. As the mind was being 'blocked off' from invasion, there was considerable mental pain involved in sealing the mind away. Obviously, the shield did not restrict Harry from accessing his mind, the shield was simply a permeable barrier to the owner of the mind.

There was also the tear in Harry's mind to be considered, the tear through which Voldemort and Harry were able to access each other's minds. Around this tear, Harry had constructed yet another framework for a shield, and had then constructed the shield within days. This had no painful effect, as Harry was not blocking off his mind, he was blocking off Voldemort's access to his mind. In essence, he had sealed the tear entirely, thereby turning it into a dead-end. With some luck, this would also have the effect of getting rid of the excruciating pain in his scar each time Harry was within a few feet of Voldemort.

Now, he gazed at the framework apprehensively, wondering how much more excessive the pain would be in comparison to the original mind shield that he had constructed. After Salazar had begun tutoring Harry, and consequently using the powers of his portrait to rifle through the boy's head to examine his knowledge at the time, he had immediately recognized the twinkle in Dumbledore's eye, and the gleam in Snape's to be legilimency. He had been furious at the two, almost reaching the point where dignity was sacrificed in the name of righteous anger at the two adults who treated Harry's mind with as much respect as one would show to a toilet. Harry personally felt that Salazar himself would not be averse to the idea of snooping into students minds occasionally, if there was warranted suspicion… Salazar's anger was because it was Harry, his son-slash-apprentice, who's mind was being assaulted.

Harry had spent a good portion of the summer he had stayed in the Leaky Cauldron crafting a minor shield. Within this shield he stored the memories of meeting Salazar, and the knowledge and emotions associated with what he had learnt through means that Dumbledore or Snape would consider illicit. By knowing enough basic occlumency by the time his third year ended, Harry was capable of hiding this shielded section of his memories deep inside his mind, and was capable of shrouding it with other memories to make it seem harmless enough to avoid suspicion. Yet, the completion of even that small shield, which he had later dismantled without any pain, had been painful enough to cause several trips to the apothecary during his stay in Diagon Alley.

He felt Tonks' mental presence take his 'hand' in her own, and he jumped slightly in surprise. She looked at him carefully, then said "We should finish this now, Harry."

He nodded at her, smiling slightly and receiving an encouraging smile in return. Almost 'floating' in his mind, outside his mental shield, were the remaining five diamond shaped pieces that had to be fit in to the framework in order to complete the shield. Working alone, it would have taken Harry a good hour to place each piece in its place, due to the sluggishness caused by the mental pain. With Tonks at his side helping him, it would take less than ten minutes per piece. The pain, however, was inevitable. Regardless of who was lifting the piece into place, Harry's mind would be assaulted with pain as his mind was sealed off to him. Unfortunately, to build the shield, Harry had to be outside it, which essentially meant that the more complete the shield was, the more his mind would treat him as an attacker rather than the owner. Once completed, however, the shield would solidify, the lines melting away to form one solid shield through which Harry could pass without any trouble whatsoever. At least, he thought ruefully, Tonks wouldn't have to experience the pain at all … once was enough.

As they concentrated, the first piece began lifting off the ground. Immediately, Harry began to feel a dull ache in the 'mind' of his mental representation. As the block slowly moved higher and higher, the pain intensified to the point where he was gritting his teeth, trying to focus on moving the block rather than on the pain that assaulted his mind. When the piece finally fell into place, Harry performed the mental equivalent of dropping to his knees, releasing a deep breath that he had been unaware of holding. Tonks looked at him with sympathy in her eyes, but lifted him to his feet again. He could take pain, that was for sure. When she had completed her mind shield during Auror training, under the guidance of her mother, the pain had been overwhelming enough that after each of the last ten pieces, she had to take a headache relieving potion. To avoid overdosing on the potion, though, it had taken Tonks three days to do. Harry had put the last five blocks in by himself, and in one go, needing only two headache relievers after the grueling task. Now, faced with the final five, she was beginning to worry… there was no doubt that the second and third could be accomplished, but the final two could be a task far too daunting to accomplish in the same attempt.

Again, they went through the motions, lifting the second block off the ground and carefully maneuvering it into place. As it fit in with a click, Harry sank to his knees again, letting out a soft moan. Tonks, both proud and worried, gave him a minute to relax before hauling him to his feet again. He never spoke a word, never protested in the slightest when she stood him up again. The next two blocks went in even slower, as the intensity of the pain was enough to debilitate Harry's effort to the point where Tonks was doing most of the work. Barely able to keep his eyes open, Harry steadfastly stood again, and began lifting the last block. Tonks, glancing at him worriedly, was quick to help, throwing as much effort as possible to move the block. The quicker it was over, the quicker they could leave Harry's mind and get him a headache potion.

The last block rose with painful slowness, worrying Tonks even more. She could not even chance a glance towards Harry, for her slight lack of attention could cause the block to fall back down. Instead she pushed with all her might, frantically trying to get the block into place as she felt Harry's 'hand' growing limp in hers. Even with their combined effort, it took a full twenty five minutes to fit the block in, at which point Harry collapsed completely. Picking him up, thankful that his pain was now gone, she was horrified to see his mental representation bleeding from the nose. Shaking him back to consciousness, she almost screamed "Leave your mind! NOW!"

Seeing him disappear, she heaved a sigh of relief, following in his tracks. In the bedroom, she awoke with a start, snapping upright and immediately checking on Harry. As his mental representation had indicated, his nose was bleeding somewhat severely, and his eyes were shut tightly as he groaned in pain. Reaching over to the table next to them, she gathered up a vial of headache relieving potion and uncorked it, tipping the contents down his throat. Almost immediately, his groans subsided, and he released a sigh of relief. His eyes snapped open, baring their incredibly vibrant shade of green, and he gazed at Tonks with gratitude, a look that she returned with one full of love.

"Sit still," she muttered, "your nose is bleeding." Grasping her wand, she tapped the tip of his nose with it, murmuring "Episkey." The healing charm worked immediately, and the slight trickle of blood ceased. A wave of her wand and a silent Scourgify charm vanished the blood from his face and nose. "All done," she whispered, smiling widely.

He smiled at her. "All done, indeed," he said, grinning widely at the truth of the statement. His mind, once fragile and open to exploitation, was now strong and healthy, and invulnerable to attack. There was no such thing as destroying someone's shields, surpassing or breaking them in any way. Once a shield was created, it was there to stay, unless the owner of the mind decided to dismantle the shield. Voldemort, if – and only if – the tear in Harry's mind was still open, could theoretically destroy Harry's mental shield, since it could only be done from the inside. But that was out of the question, as the tear had been sealed away, and now there was nothing to fear, as the shield was in place and there to stay.

"When are you leaving for Diagon Alley?" Tonks asked, getting out of bed.

"Um …" Harry replied, "now?" He leaned in to kiss her before he left, but she dodged out of reach, grinning cheekily. Harry pouted. "But I wanna!" he exclaimed, a remarkable impersonation of a child.

She laughed, pinching his cheek jokingly. "Have a good time finding your knives," she said, before smirking widely at him and sauntering towards the pool and dropping her robe as she walked. "I'll be relaxing for a bit."

Harry, mouth dry, could only gape at the unfairness of it all as she gave her hips some extra swing, her delectable rear quickly moving away from him. For a second, he simply stared after her, barely registering the flirtatious grin she threw at him over her shoulder.

Then, leaping from the bed and tearing at his robe as he sprinted after her, he muttered "The hell with Diagon Alley! Wait for me!"

It was about two hours later that Harry found himself in Diagon Alley. To his right was the Apothecary, and to his left, the entrance to Knocturn Alley. His hood up to throw a slight shadow across his face, Harry smiled slightly, amused by the fact that the closest store to Knocturn Alley was the Apothecary. It seemed so fitting, but ironic all the same. Turning into Knocturn Alley, he walked in about eighty feet before walking through the thin alley between the Gorgon's Eye, a pub of great disrepute, and Alan's Nightshack, a bordello-slash-inn of equal disrepute. Sneering ever so slightly, he stepped over the body of some drunken lout who had collapsed in the narrow alley, and continued on. At the end was a brick wall, degraded by years of filth and rotting away to some extent.

Feeling somewhat reluctant to use his newly polished, newly customized wand on something that filthy, Harry instead drew Salazar's wand, and used it to tap the stone that was nine bricks from the left and eight up. Holding the tip of his wand perpendicular to the brick, he used his fingers to roll the wand in place until it had completed three clockwise rotations, causing the wall to melt away and reveal a new alley. In stark contrast to the filthy, yet modern Wizarding World that Harry had just been standing in, what lay before him was so comically different that it made him chuckle. It was as if he had been thrust back in time to the Medieval ages. There was no cobbled road, merely a dirt road pockmarked here and there with clumps of grass. Imprints of horseshoes could be seen everywhere, though the horses themselves were suspiciously missing.

He continued forward, hearing the wall seal itself behind him. The alley, oh-so-creatively called Medieval Alley, was fairly short, extending no more than a hundred feet. There were around six shops, including what looked like a stable. Harry supposed that the stable housed the horses that had trampled the ground everywhere. The shops themselves were humorous, being nothing more than stone cottages with wooden signs affixed above the doors that declared their wares. The one nearest to him read "Trumbull and Sons," in simple lettering. The name was underlined by an exceptionally long sword, perhaps ten feet in length, and obviously created with the sole purpose of being the underline for the board.

Raising an eyebrow in amusement, Harry began walking towards the entrance, murmuring "This is the best smithy in all of England?" Entering, he found the shop to be dimly lit, and was somewhat surprised to see that rather than having multiple rooms, the entire inside of the cottage was just one massive room. An assortment of bladed weapons covered every wall, shelf and display cabinet in the room, the candle lights reflected off the shining blades. Harry supposed that if there was too much light, this many reflecting items in the room would make shopping a rather troublesome experience. Nearby, he saw a flight of stairs descending into the lower level of the shop, and going by the increased warmth as he approached it, and the slight red glow he could see below, that was where the weapons were forged. A bell hung from the ceiling, and Harry guessed that he was to ring it in case he needed assistance. Rather than look around aimlessly, he immediately rang the bell a few times, stepping back a few paces.

From below, a man came trudging up the stairs. Perhaps sixty years of age, he looked extremely tired, and was covered in sweat, no doubt due to the heat of the furnace. Seeing Harry, he raised an eyebrow. Harry's clothing, while formal enough to denote someone deserving of respect, was also practical enough to allow him limitless movement, and the possibility to have hidden multiple weapons. Warily regarding Harry, the man slowly extracted his wand, making sure that Harry could see each move that he made. Pointing the wand towards himself, he whispered a low-powered energy charm, and then a few charms that removed the sweat from his clothes, hair and skin, and made his clothes smell a bit more pleasant.

"Good day, m'lud," the man said as he stowed his wand, bowing slightly in deference, "what can I do for yeh today?"

Harry pulled his hood down, revealing his carefully morphed face. His real face made him look old enough to avoid any questioning and inconvenient identification problems when it came to buying lethal weapons such as war blades, but to hide his identity, and to be doubly sure, he had morphed his face to look like a much older version of Seamus Finnegan, minus the freckles and the obnoxiously misshapen teeth. Of course, to be taken even slightly seriously, he'd sharpened Seamus' features to some extent, thinned the lad's thick eyebrows, and retained Harry Potter's eye and hair color.

"I'm looking for daggers, of sorts," Harry said, his voice smooth and ever so slightly coaxing, "war blades, to be more precise. In the twenty to twenty four inch range … needless to say, I'm looking for the very best."

"War blades? We haven't sold a pair of those in ages, m'lud, I dunnae think we've got a good set lying around 'ere," the man replied, then went on to introduce himself as Oliver Trumbull, the owner and proprietor of the shop.

"Let's have a look at what you've got, then," Harry sighed, purposely neglecting to introduce himself, "if I don't find anything satisfactory, I suppose I'll have to commission a set."

Trumbull's eyes gleamed at the thought of making a set of war blades, and Harry amusedly filtered his thought process out. The man was truly obsessed with perfection, immediately planning every step of the crafting of the blades. At least, Harry thought, he could trust the man to put his full effort in if it came to having blades commissioned.

Trumbull led him over to a display case in the far corner of the shop, babbling excitedly about the benefits of having blades commissioned rather than readymade. Harry, giving the impression that he was paying attention, instead took the time to examine the few war blades that the man did have. There were three pairs, each made with shoddy craftsmanship. They were extremely alike to the ones that the Goblins had offered him, ornate and pretty-looking, but ultimately useless in every sense of the word.

He shook his head, frowning. "No, no … I'm afraid these won't do at all, Mr. Trumbull," Harry said, "they aren't very well crafted at all, none of them meet my specifications, and they are all far too ostentatious for my liking."

Trumbull, trying to affect a grave mood, nodded slowly, and spoke almost in a tragic voice, "Aye, these were made to be ornamental fer the most part, with a little practicality added for those who like their shiny things even shinier than usual, if yeh know what I'm gettin' at. I'm afraid this'll have to be a custom job."

Harry sighed, agreeing reluctantly with the man. The last thing he wanted was to wait for his blades to be made. The man led him to a makeshift cashier's table on top of another glass case of trinkets and bladed weapons. He pulled out a measuring tape and all sorts of other tools, then walked around the display case to measure Harry. Deciding that it would be best if he asked the man before touching him, and noticing that his customer seemed extremely occupied at the moment, Trumbull cleared his throat. It had no effect. Confused, he tried to find what Harry was looking at, and his eyes alighted on a familiar pair of items in the glass case that he used as a table.

He chuckled, but Harry did not even move, his enraptured gaze falling squarely on the wondrous objects. Finally, closing his gaping mouth, Harry turned to Trumbull, and in a slightly strangled voice, murmured "Show me those."

Trumbull once again crossed the display case to remove them, but as he crouched to do so, spoke. "I'd entirely forgotten about these, m'lud, they've just been sittin' there so long that they dun even register in me head as war blades, yeh know? Anyways, m'lud, I'll be sorry to inform yeh that these aren't fer sale."

"Oh?" Harry inquired, his voice slightly weak, "Why ever not?"

"Heh," the man said, standing again, now bearing the items in his hands, "they're a bit of a family heirloom, yeh see. Me father was makin' them even on his deathbed, and when he bit it, Merlin rest his soul, they were almost complete. I was the one to fashion the handles for them, and create the scabbards. Never actually intended to sell them, yeh know, m'lud?"

Harry gingerly took the first of the two blades from Trumbull's hands. The man had inserted the blade back into its sheath. Harry, pupils slightly dilated as his eyes roved over the sheathed war blade, couldn't believe the utter beauty of what he was looking at. The scabbard was made of dark brown leather, sturdy and tough in texture and malleability. At the opening of the sheath, and at the slightly curved, pointed tip, the sheath was adorned in gold, artfully melted, then molded upon the leather. Between the two gold-tipped ends of the scabbard, the leather was embroidered with some kind of string, taking the pattern of vines that crept from the opening of the sheath to the pointed end.

From the gold-adorned opening of the sheath emerged the handle of the blade, made not of wrapped metal, but of wood. The wood was a light yellowish-cream in color, upon which vine-like patterns were etched in melted, painted gold. The handle was slightly curved, to compensate for the hollow of one's palm, and despite being lacquered wood, the grip on the handle was astonishing. Grasping the scabbard securely, Harry pulled on the handle, even more pleased when the blade slid out without requiring much effort. As the blade was revealed, Harry had no other choice but to let loose a gasp of appreciation. The utter beauty of the blade was so breathtaking that Harry could scarcely believe that human hands had created such perfection, magic or not.

The blade was silvery, made most likely out of iron, but magically polished to the extent that it had the reflective clarity of stainless steel. The end of the handle was diagonal, so the blade seemed to emerge in stages. The handle was about six and a half inches in length, the blade about fifteen and a half inches in length. The blade was straight for the first ten inches or so, then curved slightly, the sharpened end meeting the tip to leave a wickedly sharp point. But the most remarkable thing of all was the design on the blade. Trumbull's father had indeed spent a lot of time on this blade, evident more so in this final facet of the blade's 'personality' than in any other of the exquisitely created elements.

The smithy had, with great care, engraved thousands of tiny holes in the surface of the flat side of the blade, on either side. Each hole was perhaps a fraction of a millimeter deep, and just as wide. A quick look towards what Trumbull held in his hands showed that the same was true of the other blade. The holes were a pattern, each so close to the next that together, the holes painted a picture of a long vine emerging from the handle of the dagger, then curled down the length of the blade to culminate near the tip. What was more miraculous was the fact that each of these holes, without fail, had been refilled with gold, so that it appeared as if a vine of pure gold had extended its way down the surface of the blade. Amidst the artificial sea of gold was the pattern of a vine that similarly extended itself down the length of the blade, splitting into various other 'arms' as it sprawled down the length of the golden area. This silver vine was ingeniously created by leaving that thin path down the blade free of the small holes which were now filled with gold, thereby creating a solid vine that smoothly stretched itself amidst the sea of gold.

Despite the gold, the silver, the bright colors, the blade as a whole possessed such a beautifully muted quality that it pained Harry to see it go unused. He could feel the magic in the blades, magic that had seeped in as Trumbull's father's life extinguished itself as the blades were created. He knew, that with just the minimal amount of encouragement, he could persuade Trumbull's father's magic into bending to his will, towards preserving and enhancing the masterpiece that he had created.

"How much?" he whispered, looking deep into Trumbull's eyes. Trumbull's eyes widened, as he saw the flare of emotion, the sudden possessiveness, the naked desire in his customer's eyes. He gasped softly, taking a step back.

"I …" he whispered, looking pained, "I cannot sell it to you." All traces of his accent had departed him.

Harry, looking into the smithy's eyes, knew this to be the truth. No amount of money could convince the man to part with the blades. He sighed deeply, shaking his head sadly, and placed the blade back into its scabbard, then set it on the table and took a step back. Trumbull slowly, almost reverently, placed the blades back onto the plaque that had held them, and returned them to the display case. He looked up, only to stumble back in fear, for Harry's wand was pointed at his face. He never stood a chance.

"Stupefy," Harry incanted, the red beam buckling out of his newly customized wand and striking the smithy in the face. The man, immediately unconscious, dropped to his knees first, swayed dangerously towards the display case, but then fell to the side, landing heavily on the floor.

He paused before reaching into the case, looking back at the fallen man sadly. It certainly felt wrong to steal the blades from him … it felt wrong to forcibly take something that held such emotional power, to take away the legacy of the man's father. Yet, it felt so right to take them, to hold such beautiful blades in his hands and wield them with skill that few others possessed. Languishing away in the dingy shop, their fate would be bleak … one of rust and sadness as they sat in a display cabinet, at the mercy of the elements, and subject to the sadness they would bring each time they reminded Trumbull of his dead father. With Harry, they would live lives of adventure and action, they would fulfill the mandate under which they were created, and their purity would stand in stark contrast to the evil that they would slay.

Harry sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose and closing his eyes. Obviously, it would eventually become common knowledge that Lord Harry James Potter, Boy-Who-Lived and Wizard Extraordinaire, possessed war blades of such incredibly uniqueness. And for a man in Trumbull's position, that of a worker with professional interest in blades, it would be immediately revealed that the blades bore a stunning resemblance to the blades his father had created. And that would most certainly pose a problem … the last thing Harry needed was to be accused of stealing the blades, it would do wonders in destroying his image. He scowled, cursing his impulsiveness.

'What to do, what to do?'

He sighed again, a vague idea entering his mind. Leaving Trumbull on the floor in a daze, he left the shop quickly, returning to the alley from which he had entered. A disillusionment charm and a levitation charm later, he walked back into Medieval Alley, the body of the drunken lout floating invisibly behind him. Entering Trumbull and Sons once more, Harry undid the charms on the lout, dropping him to the floor gently. He sliced open the man's sleeve, and twirling his wand expertly at the revealed skin, incanted "Creo Imago!"

As intended, the illusion took shape, causing the vile mark of Lord Voldemort to etch itself across the man's inner forearm. Whispering the incantation again, but now waving his wand over the man's body, he placed another illusion… one of death. He would have simply transfigured a block of wood, or some such object into a fake body, but until his power was restored to him, he simply did not have the magical resources to cast such a spell. While walking back to the alley to retrieve the drunk had taken time, it was far less taxing, as all that was required was the illusion on the man's forearm.

Satisfied with his illusion, Harry quickly stunned the man, then levitated a scimitar off the nearby wall, and dropped it on the floor next to the man. Turning to Trumbull, Harry once again pointed his wand at the fallen man, and incanted "Obliviate!" The whispered incantation erased the artificial memories implanted by Harry just minutes previously, and once again opened the man's mind to suggestion. Using legilimency, Harry easily forced his thoughts into Trumbull's head, receiving a groan in return.

He stood, and changed his features back to his own, not disguising his height, weight or musculature in the least. Elongating his hair, he pulled it back into an extremely short ponytail, thereby prominently displaying his scar. Now, drawing a look of worry upon his face, he began shaking Trumbull, lightly slapping his cheek. Moments later, Trumbull slowly regained consciousness, a look of confusion on his face.

"Are you alright, sir?" Harry inquired, adding an anxious note to his voice. Trumbull nodded his assent, his eyes widening comically as the implanted memories penetrated the haziness in his mind.

As far as he knew, the man on the floor was a drunken Death Eater who had entered the shop roaring obscenities, and had then attempted to attack Trumbull with the smithy's own sword. A customer, Harry, quietly browsing Trumbull's goods on the other side of the shop, had intervened, striking the man behind the ear with the bottom of his sword's hilt, dropping the man and saving Trumbull from being decapitated.

Gratitude flooding his thoughts, Trumbull looked to the savior of the Wizarding World with tears in his eyes. "Thank you, thank you so much," he whispered, his emotion filled voice nearly causing Harry to manifest the guilt that he was feeling.

Harry, looking extremely worried, whispered "I killed him… he's dead, I didn't mean to! Oh Merlin…" Trumbull, shocked, turned his gaze to the 'Death Eater', immediately noticing that there was no rise-and-fall of the man's chest indicating breath.

Making a quick decision, Trumbull turned to Harry, and said "Mr. Potter, please… it wasn't your fault at all. You were defending me. We'll… no. This never happened, Mr. Potter, and neither you nor this filth ever entered this shop." Looking at the body, Trumbull pulled out his wand, and focusing hard, pointed the wand at the body and muttered "Evanesco!" In a disturbingly slow fashion, the body evaporated away into nothingness.

Harry blanched, his jaw dropping at the action. This was most certainly not a part of his plan… all he had intended on was for Trumbull to not consider him a murderer. The lout might have been exactly that, but it wasn't a crime punishable by death… and it was irreversible, what had happened. A wave of guilt slammed into Harry, for through his actions, he had made Trumbull a murderer, and he had caused the unnecessary death of a man.

Harry turned wide eyes to the man, then slowly nodded, looking as if he were incapable of phrasing his gratitude. Right now, there was no point in ruminating over what had happened… he needed to simply go through with his plans, and think on his stupidity later. This was a prime lesson to learn, he knew… to never let his impulsiveness get in the way again.

"Thank you," Harry whispered, then closed his mouth with an audible click, furthering the impression of gratitude left on the man.

"No, thank you, Mr. Potter," Trumbull gushed, "if it weren't for you, I would be dead now!"

Harry, an embarrassed air about him, squeezed the man's shoulder comfortingly. "It was not a problem, Mr. Trumbull," he said, his voice smooth and his tone polite, "I could not let him harm you. I must implore you to keep this between us, though, it cannot be known that I visited your shop. I have… certain enemies, as I'm sure you know."

Trumbull nodded frantically. "How can I ever repay you?!" he exclaimed, hurriedly standing, "How can I ever even hope to match what you did for me?" Even as Harry began to put up a feeble protest, he exclaimed "Choose anything in the shop, anything at all, and it shall be yours."

Even as Harry feebly protested some more by citing various heroic reasons to negate the need for a reward, and thereby causing the man to insist more forcefully, he was inwardly trembling due to the effort that it took to prevent his satisfied smirk from reaching his face.

"Well," he allowed, a slight blush of guilt staining his cheeks red, "I was looking for a pair of war blades…"

Thirty minutes later, Harry stood outside Gringotts. Everything had gone exactly according to plan, and more so. He had finagled an oath of silence from Trumbull with ease, which certainly allayed a great many of Harry's fears. Due to the thoughts and commands imprinted into Trumbull's mind by the Memory Charm, it had been extremely easy to convince the man to part with the blades, which now hung snugly on Harry's back in a similarly free leather harness. It was over and done with. Harry, out of guilt, had decided to transfer fifty Galleons to Trumbull's vault… after all, he had stolen the blades.

Luck seemed to favor Harry that day, for the teller he approached upon his entry into the bank was the same teller who he had intimidated so successfully the last time. A hard stare, reinforced by the vibrancy of Harry's eye color, was all it took to make the teller quake in his seat. Harry's demand to meet Curledtoe immediately was immediately acknowledged, and the Goblin leapt from his seat, only too eager to direct the human to Curledtoe's office, where he would be far away from the teller's desk.

A few minutes and an agonizingly bright walk through the halls of Gringotts, courtesy of the gilded statues and ornaments, Harry stood outside Curledtoe's office, while the teller entered to warn the Director of his arrival. Through the door, Harry heard the muted snarls of Gobbledygook being spoken, and a moment later, the teller reopened the door and bowed him in.

Striding in confidently, Harry nodded to Curledtoe, then took a seat without being invited to do so. It wasn't an insult, but the impoliteness inferred a lack of respect and a disdain that Curledtoe was wise enough to recognize and internalize. There was nothing to be gained from making a foe of a Wizard with a level of power, both Political and Magical, like Harry Potter.

Snapping his fingers to conjure tea for his guest, Curledtoe politely greeted Harry. "Good day, Lord Potter. How might Gringotts assist you this afternoon?" Harry inwardly smirked… perhaps Curledtoe was willing to treat him appropriately. After all, the conjuration that he had just performed would leave him close to magical exhaustion, as Goblins weren't especially powerful when it came to anything except warding.

Harry took a sip of his tea before answering, letting the hot liquid slip down his throat as he chose how to phrase his demands. "Curledtoe," he said, acknowledging the Goblin, "I am in need of several things this afternoon, and it just so happens that you are the one who shall provide them." It was delicately phrased, but bore all the tact of a bull in a china shop, Harry knew. It did not hurt to assert, then continually re-establish his superiority … he needed to seem disdainful, but entirely knowledgeable of the power that he possessed to make his commands have any worth.

"Please, do go on," Curledtoe replied, a small, cold smile revealing his razor-sharp teeth. He knew exactly what was happening … three hundred years ago, he could have killed Potter for disrespect such as this, but the power of the Goblin Nation was not, and by all rights, would never be that which it was so long ago. Wizards could crush them, and they would, if it wasn't for the convenience that Gringotts provided for them. It also helped that if the Goblins were destroyed, the economy would collapse for weeks until the Wizards were able to properly set up the bank once more.

"Of course," Harry replied, taking another sip of his tea. It was remarkable, he mused, how even a few seconds of silence could add such tension to a conversation. Reaching into the breast pocket of his robe, Harry withdrew two business cards with his index and middle fingers, and carelessly tossed it on the table. By the way the light dimmed in Curledtoe's eyes as the spinning of the first card revealed the firm's emblem, Harry knew he had achieved the shock value he had desired. The Goblin had not even flipped over the second card yet.

"I take it," he said, his gaze directed towards the tea as he stirred it, "that you have heard of Dominic Waters?"

"I have," Curledtoe ground out, successfully speaking the understatement of the century. It had, after all, been Dominic Waters who had sued Gringotts on the behalf of a client some eight years ago, removing a vast sum from the Goblin coffers. An exceptionally talented lawyer, Waters had the much-coveted ability of twisting words to great effect, bringing tears to the eyes, and rage to the hearts of the Wizengamot. He was, by far, the most successful lawyer in the history of the Magical Legal system.

"Excellent," Harry said, once again sipping his tea. "I had the opportunity to discuss my position with Mr. Waters a few days ago, specifically the treatment of my vaults at the hands of Gringotts. A truly disappointing history, I said to him. He seemed rather inclined towards taking the offensive, so to speak," he said, smirking darkly at Curledtoe's ill-disguised look of horror, "but I thought we should wait. After all, if we can forge a comfortable, profitable working relationship, I see no reason to be hostile … do you?"

Curledtoe forced both the smile on his face and the overly polite tone, knowing that if he so desired, the human could once again debilitate Gringotts' coffers. "But of course, Lord Potter. We here at Gringotts are determined to make this particular relationship particularly profitable, as you put it."

Harry nodded pleasantly, sipping at his tea while Curledtoe flipped the other card over with some hesitancy. Again, his eyes dimmed slightly, for the Human had carried through with his earlier threat.

"Ah yes," Harry said, as if just recalling an ancient, amusing fact, "I also had the privilege of meeting with Edmund Albright later that same day. He quite graciously agreed to take over from Gringotts in his new capacity as the manager of my vaults. I understand that it is a terribly prestigious position, to be the Vault Manager of the Boy-Who-Lived. Something of a shock to me," Harry said, the small, dark smirk playing about his lips the only thing that indicated to Curledtoe that the airy, pleasantly apathetic manner of speech was fake.

"Of course," Curledtoe repeated, inwardly swearing. Potter had come through on his threat, and now the 'profitable' relationship that Curledtoe had promised, practically on threat of legal action, would mean that the profit would be one-way. Gringotts would earn nothing from managing the Potter Vaults or any other vaults that he was Heir to. The only income from Harry Potter would be the yearly 50 Galleon per vault Bank Fee, a rate that had been established and set in stone in Goblin Law. Yet, the interest rate that Potter's Vaults operated on would have to be increased significantly, for the relationship had to be 'profitable' in some way. Given that Potter could live comfortably off the interest just on his Trust Vault, when the increase in the interest rate on that vault and on the Potter Family Vault was taken into consideration… he would be bleeding the Goblins dry.

Bitterly, Curledtoe resigned himself to having lost to the young human across from him. He had played his cards close to the chest, and now it was obvious that instead of stupidly trying to call his bluff, Curledtoe should have spent the last two weeks mollifying Potter into being lenient. Truth be told, Curledtoe had severely underestimated just how vengeful the human could be… had had expected to deal with a furious youngster, not with a calculating, manipulative one.

"I wonder, Lord Potter," Curledtoe began, "when does this come into effect?"

Harry, smiling slightly, drained the last of his tea, and examined the dregs. "Next month," he said, then smiled darkly, "oh … that would be tomorrow, wouldn't it? I apologize, Curledtoe, I've simply had so much on my mind lately."

Inwardly seething, Curledtoe forced himself to nod. "Is that all, Lord Potter, or can Gringotts assist you further?"

Harry, now leaning back in his seat comfortably, spoke calmly, without a hint of the airy, pleasant tone he had employed earlier. He was not impolite, simply curt with his demands. "I expect, of course," he said, his entrancingly green eyes holding Curledtoe's gaze, "that my associates, Messrs. Waters and Albright, shall be treated with the respect and courtesy that they deserve. They shall not be denied any information that pertains to my holdings at Gringotts, and if they so desire, provided they give their oaths to examine nothing except for the files that pertain to me, they shall be given access to the Gringotts Repository."

Curledtoe's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "Access to the Repository?" he snapped, "I think not! The information in the Repository is extremely sensitive, and for Goblin eyes only."

Harry inclined his head slightly, peering at Curledtoe, who seemed to have shrunk back slightly, following his outburst. "Yet," he said softly, "the information pertains to me, Curledtoe. I doubt that I have to remind you that if I choose to pursue legal action against Gringotts, that it will be less than easy for a search warrant to be obtained? You know as well as I do what would follow a decision like that."

Curledtoe, distractedly nodding and staring at the table, leaned his head against his fisted hand. "Yes, yes," he said vaguely, looking troubled, "this is true." His head snapped up violently, and he glared at Harry, who gazed back, unfazed. "Provided they give their oaths, you say?" he demanded, satisfied when Harry nodded, "Very well. We shall allow it this one time, Lord Potter, but never again. You will have to swear your own oath, to never reveal that Gringotts allowed this … this travesty to occur. Your associates will have to do the same."

Harry raised an eyebrow. He had thought of using that little tidbit of information for bartering, exchanging information for information, or information for trust or loyalty. Yet, it was a small loss … he had not truly thought that the idea would be successful, it had only come to him while he had been speaking a moment ago. Now, a moment later, he was poised to gain information from a location that Gringotts held at a level of security unmatched anywhere in the Magical World. Of course, the information would be on himself, and the past dealings of his family back to the very creation of Gringotts … but the value was in the fact that the Repository was a statement made by Goblins about the vaults they tended to, and the clients they assisted. This included remarks made by Goblins through the centuries, remarks about the members of the family who the Goblins had made contact with. It was these remarks that were useful, as the Goblins often had informants in places that could mean that there was knowledge about a family's past transactions – knowledge about things such as shady business deals, alliances and agreements with unsavory characters and the like – that could be used as blackmail material, if the Goblins decided to earn more by selling information… which they frequently did. By gaining access to those files, it would be simple for an oath-sworn Vault Manager like Edmund Albright to magically erase anything potentially harmful to Harry's position.

"Very well," Harry agreed, "I shall sign my vow as soon as I have alerted my associates to the fact that they shall, indeed, be allowed access to the Repository. Their signed vows shall follow mine." Curledtoe examined Harry, searching intently for any sign of falsehood, then nodded his agreement. This was the best he could get, and he would have to take it, being entirely aware that until Potter spoke to his new Manager and Lawyer, he was free to tell anyone. This would have to be agreed on in faith, something that Curledtoe normally refused to transact in.

"Anything else?" the Goblin asked, pleasantries disposed of for the moment.

Harry nodded once more. "I shall present myself before the Wizengamot on the fourth of August, during the first Convention of the month. As I mentioned the last time I was here, I shall require the test of Blood Purity, so have all the appropriate potions prepared. I will require your presence at the Wizengamot, and I fully expect that it shall be you who is present, and not a subordinate of yours. Your presence is needed during the disputing of the Black Will, and the affirmations of Lordship."

Curledtoe blinked, then nodded. He had an important meeting on the fourth, but he would be forced to cancel it, it appeared. "Anything else?" he asked, unable to entirely keep the biting tone out of his voice.

Potter smirked amusedly, and nodded, much to Curledtoe's consternation. "The last time I was here, I had asked for a comprehensive Statement of my standings here. I understand that Edmund Albright will have access to these in my name, but I require a copy of my own."

A snap of Curledtoe's fingers later, a thick, nondescript brown folder sat on the table. Grasping it securely, Harry stood, nodded at Curledtoe, then smoothly walked out of the Bank. He had a few clothes to buy… if he needed to act the part, he certainly had to look it, too. Stopping briefly to convert a thousand Galleons into Pounds, he walked out with a wad of cash an inch and a half thick.

The trip back to the Chamber was uneventful. Apparating to the shore of the lake as near to the Hogwarts wards as he could, Harry trekked across the pebbled, sandy beach in solitude, humming the tune to some Muggle song that had been playing in the shops he had ventured into in Knightsbridge. Ahead of him, the great cliffs behind Hogwarts loomed, the jagged steepness as daunting, as wondrous as the Castle itself. He smiled slightly at the thought of Hogwarts… what he considered his 'home' was a Castle, a thought that never failed to amuse him.

'Your house is in Victorian design, huh? Interesting. Oh, me? I just live in a Castle.'

He grinned at the thought, kicking a pebble into the water. He could easily imagine himself saying something like that as a child, having spent nearly a decade in Dudley's shadow. Then, he grimaced, thinking of the punishment he would receive for making outlandish claims like that.

He approached the bare wall of the cliff, walking alongside it as he headed towards the small 'natural' alcove that lay ahead. His fingers brushed against the stone as he walked, and he continued whistling the tune. In his pocket, conveniently shrunken, were the multiple bags full of clothing and footwear that he had purchased… if he was going to assume his Lordship, he had to look the part, at the very least. Absolutely butchering the song as he now began whistling it, he spared a few thoughts for the contents of his purchases. Yes, he had spent thousands upon thousands of pounds, as well as a considerable number of galleons in the Magical boutiques, but he didn't feel a shred of guilt. Having grown up wearing cast-offs, dyed shirts bought at surplus stores and Gypsy flea markets – only to still look shoddier than the Pikeys who stole then sold the clothes – he was then thrust into a world where he was worth millions… it was warranted, he thought. Having grown up poor, then finding fortune, he felt it was only natural of him to splurge beyond what was necessary. Rather than simply looking good, he would look great. He would convey the image that he sought to, that of a man with money and taste… the power would come from his status, and the respect would come from the way he used it.

As he took a quick look around, then ducked into the shadowed crevasse to enter the Chamber, he grimaced slightly. Despite having bought the clothes for the 'look', he felt an almost girlish sense of anticipation and excitement to try them on and really wear them. He smiled then, thinking of the little present that he'd bought for Tonks, a token of his appreciation for the invaluable help she had provided over the last month.

On entering the Chamber, he found it to be empty. A note stuck on the door to the bedroom, the way Tonks always left her notes, indicated that she would be back in the early evening. He smiled, seeing the smiley-face signature that she always included at the end of her notes, and took the bags out of his pocket. A wave of his wand removed the shrinking spell on them, and they expanded immediately, cluttering up the bed. He chuckled, and began waving his wand, thankful for magic, especially in situations such as these.

The shirts immediately lost their creases, then flew into the closet, settling tidily on the clothes-hangers. The robes followed next, settling themselves similarly, and then the various trousers that he had bought. It was somewhat entertaining to watch clothes of different colors flying through the air and organizing themselves in the closet. Underwear and socks, belts and tight vests worn under the clothing flew to their places next, clothing that Harry was very grateful to have… in the past, he had had the misfortune of once again wearing either Dudley's cast-offs, or transfigured clothing. Lastly, the shoes arranged themselves on the shoe-racks on the floor. Eyeing the new set of boots that he had bought, Harry smiled inwardly… of all his purchases, the boots were his favorite, inexplicably so. They were entirely normal in appearance, sturdily crafted and bearing steel toes, the deep brown leather seemed to gleam. They had been expensive, and of a brand that Harry had never heard of, yet they were incredibly comfortable, and gave him an odd sense of strength when he had tried them on. Recalling the expression on one cashier's face, as he had paid his bill by picking out hundred-pound bills from a large roll of cash, he grinned again.

Altogether pleased with his day, as everything had gone extremely smoothly, he changed into something comfortable. Wearing a pair of shorts and running shoes, leaving his upper body bare, and feeling especially comfortable in his new clothes, he walked into the small training room that he had set up. The room was square, twenty feet by twenty feet, the floor covered with weights and other exercise paraphernalia. He had transfigured everything in the room, using permanent-weight charms and a multitude of shaping spells to create what he now had. The previous contents of the room were simply large, heavy metal poles meant to be swung around for exercise. He now retained only a few of them, for he was better served by using them in some exercises. The most defining feature of the room, however, was the enchantment on the ceiling, a variation of the enchantment on the ceiling of the Great Hall. It showed the sky outside, but the variation was that it somehow gave a touch of reality to the weather. When it would rain, there would be a certain sensation of moistness in the room, almost an illusion. When the sun shone, however, the effect seemed to be magnified to the point where Harry's skin actually got tanned by it. As Tonks put it, much to Harry's amusement, if she were not a Metamorphmagus, she would have used the room for tanning herself while in the underground Chamber.

After warming up, he spent two and a half hours working out, pushing his body to the limit. Covered in sweat, muscles tense and rippling from the intensive work out, he finally stopped, laying the dumbbell in his hands down. As he warmed down, he heard footsteps approach, and grinned when Tonks entered the room. She stared at him appreciatively, letting loose a wolf-whistle before crinkling her nose.

"For the love of Merlin, Harry, did you kill an animal in here? It smells awful!" she exclaimed, trying to hold in her laughter as he glared at her.

"It can't be that bad," he insisted, then grinned devilishly at her. Her eyes widened, and she attempted to flee, but he grabbed her quickly, and wrapped his arms around her tightly, pulling her close to him.

Laughing hysterically, yet thrashing against his grip, she shrieked at him, pounding her fists on his chest. All it did was make him smirk, and pull her closer, pressing her body tightly against his. "Aww, that's just disgusting, Harry!" she complained, still laughing, "You've got sweat all over me!"

He grinned at her, his smile disarming as always. She relaxed into his arms, shaking her head in a 'what-am-I-to-do-with-you' manner, making him laugh again. "Come on, then, d'you really want to run away from me?" Harry asked, playfully pouting at her.

"I'm having second thoughts about letting you grab me, Potter," she replied, grinning at him and kissing his cheek. She pulled away a second later, looking revolted, and spluttered "Yuck, sweat!" He burst into laughter, releasing her.

A smile on his face, he took her hand in his as he walked towards the pool room. "Letting me grab you, missy?" he asked, laughing at her playful scowl.

"Get out of your clothes, then," she said, tugging gently on his shorts, "and get into the pool. Merlin, you smell like a Dragon's ass."

He pouted again, and she stuck her tongue out at him, already pulling her own robes off. As he acquiesced, undressing next to her, his eyes met hers. She glared at him for a second, but then her usual happiness-filled gaze returned, and she winked at him, making him smile. Having taken off his shorts and shoes faster than Tonks could take off all her clothes, Harry grinned, and grabbed her into his arms, then leapt into the pool with her. She shrieked, and upon surfacing, glared at him, swatting his shoulder, bare from the waist down.

Standing in the pool, he held her tightly, her legs rising to wrap around his hips. "You know," he said, "you're kind of pretty." She blinked at him, then burst into laughter, kissing him between giggles.

"And you're the oddest man I've ever met, but I suppose you'll do," she said, grinning happily at him, and receiving a grin in return.

As he asked her about her day, his fingers nimbly danced over her front, caressing her gently as he unbuttoned her shirt and discarded it, then helped her out of her bra and panties. Undressing her underwater wasn't as exciting as doing it when he could actually see her skin being revealed inch by inch, but it had some odd quality of exciting him in a manner that made it seem as if he were unwrapping a gift. As always, the sight of her naked body excited him – despite the view being distorted by the rippling water – but he quelled his libido forcefully, and pulled her back against his body.

"I've been wondering," he murmured, nuzzling her neck, "why you were fainting so much when you first came over this summer."

She laughed softly, caressing his skin, and replied "Took you so long to ask, eh?" He smiled slightly in response, and feeling his lips curve against her neck, she shivered. "At the Ministry, I got hit by that leg locker curse, and I fell backwards. I was pretty lucky, 'cause if I'd been an inch out of position when I fell, the back of my head would've hit the corner of one of the stairs near the archway. I still hit the stairs, but I hit the flat part, and that gave me a bit of a concussion. The Healers told me that too much excitement could make me black out, but I wasn't really expecting to get that excited over the next few days, was I?"

He laughed, pulling her up slightly so that her breasts rested on his shoulders, her head leaning down slightly to look at him. "And I excited you, did I?" he murmured, kissing the tip of her chin.

She blushed initially, then smirked at him. "Of course you did," she replied, now leering at him, "the first thing I saw in your room was your tight little bum, and then you turned around." She winked at him, and he blanched for a second, then burst into laughter. She kissed him, wrapping her arms around his neck snugly, and whispered "Yeah, you excited me."

A slight blush still gracing their cheeks, he kissed her back, pulling away with a look of delight. "You're amazing," he declared, drawing a happy smile on her face. Then, he smirked at her playfully, and asked "So, what was that 'seduction' about?" The blush that immediately crossed her face made him laugh out loud.

"I dunno," she murmured, blushing shyly with the same, virginal innocence that had driven him wild that night, "I'd fallen for you pretty hard, but I was scared… you were already taken. I tried talking myself out of doing anything, but all I accomplished was to convince myself to do the exact opposite. Then I realized that even though I'd convinced myself to do it, I didn't have the guts to actually go through with it… so I took a bravery potion. It was bloody mortifying, the way I acted." She stopped talking, blushing brightly, and when he laughed, she groaned in embarrassment and tucked her head back under his chin.

"Don't be embarrassed," he murmured, lifting her chin until she looked into his eyes, "it was the sexiest thing I ever saw." She turned even redder, but he could see that she was slightly pleased at his comment. "And I'm glad," he continued, now cupping her cheek, "I'm glad that you didn't give up on me."

She smiled prettily, and kissed his cheek. "I'm glad, too," she whispered.

"Tell me," he asked, now looking a little serious, "Why did you believe me so easily? I mean, if some kid told me that he was learning from a dead Founder, that he was older than he should be… I'd dismiss him as a lunatic. You just accepted it."

She smiled at him slightly, cupping his cheeks and gazing into his eyes. "It was you," she whispered, as if it answered everything, and as he realized a second later, as joy filled his heart, it did. He blinked, having frozen for a second, then pressed his lips against hers urgently, his hand rising to cup the back of her head, fingers threading through her hair as he kissed her. The urgency, the passion in the kiss was incredible, and they clutched at each other in desperation as their lips met time and time again. Finally slumping against each other, they drew heavy breaths, cognizant of the sudden change in their relationship.

Breathing so heavily that she was almost gasping, she giggled slightly, and said "In any case, you were eighteen." Remembering the joke from that first evening, he burst into laughter. Hugging her to him, he kissed her forehead and relaxed.

The warm, soothing water lapped against their skin as he sat on the underwater ledge, pulling her into his lap so that she sat sideways. The water level was just under her chin, just below his collarbone, and in complete relaxation, they simply sat there, holding each other.

The silence was peaceful, soothing… romantic; it seemed almost a tragedy to break such a companionable silence. So Tonks was a little surprised when Harry spoke.

"I'm in love with you," he whispered, the words unnaturally loud despite the soft manner in which they were spoken. It was the first time either of them had said it out loud. He felt her stiffen slightly in his arms, and he cast a worried look at her, suddenly unsure of himself.

"Are you?" she asked, after a pause. The silence had grown uncomfortable now; tension seemed to mar a perfect setting. Slowly, she inclined her head up, and looked in his eyes. He swallowed, feeling uncomfortable, and looked back into her eyes, finding them unreadable for the first time. A slow panic began to grow within him, and even as he ached to squash it like a pest, he found himself unable to do anything but give in to it. Had she… had she not written, each day, in her notes that she loved him? Had she not ended every note with the line that brought such happiness to his heart? Had he not labored enough over this, had he not gone through enough pain in accepting that Cho was right, that there would be another that he would love? Had the last twenty minutes meant absolutely nothing?

He had loved her since before she had touched him that night two weeks ago, and he had lied to himself only to find out in the most fulfilling, yet painful way, that it was indeed true.

"Yes," he said, his throat suddenly dry. Nervousness, fear and sadness together could not even dent the conviction in his voice.

She smiled at him sadly, her hands rising to caress his cheeks gently. "And I love you, Harry," she whispered, "more than I can even understand." The tension slipped away immediately, and with it, Harry's worry. He sighed deeply, slumping slightly and feeling almost boneless. In those few seconds, he had experienced fear greater than anything else he had ever even imagined.

"Then why are you sad?" he asked, his hands caressing her cheeks just as hers held his. She saw a wetness in his eyes that could not be attributed to the water, and it stirred her heart.

She kissed him, gently at first, then more passionately, sliding her hands from his cheek to the back of his head, threading her fingers through his hair and tightly holding his lips to hers. His response was similar, his arms holding her body securely, the power in his grip making her feel safe, rather than threatened. His tongue sought hers, sliding against it gently even as their lips met forcefully. It was both cathartic and worrying… while the kiss was reassuring, for it was filled with the love that she so obviously felt for him, she had not actually answered him.

When she finally withdrew, tears stained her cheeks. Still, she smiled bravely at him. "What's there to be sad about?" she asked, smiling widely even though all she wanted to do was to cry in his arms. She hurriedly wiped away the tears, smiling at him, then kissed him again. "I'm not sad," she whispered, "I am happier than I've ever been, Harry. I love you."

He repeated her words, though his gaze indicated that he did not believe her entirely about the sadness. His lips brushed against her forehead, and smiling slightly, she slipped her head back into the crook of his neck, leaning against him once more. The contact between their bodies, that of bare skin against bare skin… it suddenly meant so much more, it suddenly felt that much more reassuring. The tension slipped away entirely, and they continued sitting there, the silence not just comfortable, but comforting.

'What's there to be sad about?' he thought, a sinking feeling telling him that he already knew the answer: Cho. He doubted, of course, that she bore Cho any ill will at all… that was completely unlike the person that she was. However, just like any other woman, she would be dead-set against the idea of sharing him… and there was no possible way that Harry could even believe that he could find the 'conviction' within himself to ask it of her. 'Fuck,' he thought, quite eloquently evaluating his situation. He was hopelessly in love with both women, and hopelessly capable of resolving the situation in any manner.

Tonks' eyes flicked up for a second, seeing the conflict clearly written on his face. He seemed so vulnerable then, so confused and lost. She looked back down at the water and closed her eyes, breathing deeply. She felt him shift against her body slightly, drawn out of his reverie by the slight movement of her body as she took in the breath. Despite her obvious problem with her situation, despite everything that made life a trying experience, she felt… content. Where she was right now was comforting. Sitting in his lap, his arms wrapped tightly, lovingly around her, the feel of his skin against hers, added to the sexuality, and the lack thereof, of their situation… it all made for a romantic, comfortable feeling.

And then, he ruined it.

"Cho's going to be here in a while," he whispered.

'Fuck!' she thought, inwardly groaning at the ruined moment. She would have shown some amount of her anger, despite not wanting to make her 'problem' obvious, but one look at his face silenced her. He looked so lost that she found herself shocked at the wetness that suddenly emerged in her eyes.

"Hey," she said softly, turning and caressing his cheeks, "this has to happen, Harry, better now than later." Some spark of life seemed to enter his eyes, and he nodded, slowly at first, then more decisively.

His eyes met hers, and he smiled weakly, pressing a kiss to her lips. "God, I'm clueless," he whispered, his pain shining through in his gaze, the vibrant emerald green never failing to cause a reaction, "I can't lose you, Tonks, and I can't lose her."

She reciprocated his sad smile, a bit jarred by the depth of the emotion in his eyes. Her sad smile remained as she once again caressed his cheek, silently staring at him until he averted his gaze. She could almost feel her heart melting, the depth of her problem seeming small in comparison to his, and she shivered slightly despite the warmth of the water, feeling a strange urge to make a sacrifice in some way to make things easier for him. Then, a second later, an opposite emotion coursed through her body, one that told her that she had already made a sacrifice… and she accepted it, without knowing why, or what the sacrifice could possibly be.

He laughed harshly, a barking sound so reminiscent of Sirius that it startled her, and whispered, "Fuck… this should be the happiest day I've ever had, but I ruined it for myself." He shook his head, and rose slowly, still holding her to him, now carrying her bridal style as he strode up the steps that led out of the pool. For some reason, he seemed almost reluctant to let her go, she thought, and was proved correct as he set her on her feet, but kept holding her close.

Not struggling against his embrace at all, she nonetheless looked at him worriedly, and he purposely avoided her gaze. His hand reached out and lifted a towel from the rack, wrapping it around her torso and gently drying her skin with the softest of strokes. She kissed his neck, moaning slightly as his hand brushed a specific spot, but he moved slightly, denying her the access that she wanted. Feeling slightly rejected, she stiffened, yet made no movement to push away from him. As he wrapped the towel around her torso and secured it, he whispered an apology into her ear, and brushed his lips against her cheek.

She looked into his eyes as he pulled away, and he held her gaze with his own sad one for a second, then blinked. Silently, she took a towel from the rack, and used it to towel him dry just as he had dried her off. Then, taking his hand, she led him into the bedroom to get dressed, still silent.

What would come, would come.

Cho stood next to the lake waiting for Harry, whiling away the time by skipping stones across the water. She was a bit confused as to why he had asked her to meet him here of all places… while he had kept his secrets, she had gathered, at the very least, that he wasn't a fan of Dumbledore. So why meet her so close to the school? She had come here at his request… he had asked her, a month ago on the train, to be there with him when he underwent his Magical Maturity, and she had immediately agreed, flattered that he would ask her to be with him during such a personal experience. His maturity, he said, was due to start at 7:53 PM, and it had just turned 7.

She had foregone robes this time, wearing only a pretty red summer dress. Without being vain, she knew she looked good. 'Perhaps,' she thought, somewhat disgruntled, 'perhaps even better than Tonks looks.' With the red dress accentuating her slender, yet curvy figure, the setting sun bringing a slight flush to her cheeks, and her hair falling down her back like a waterfall, she looked far better than she modestly believed.On the ground next to her was a small bag that contained a few changes of clothing, a tightly-sealed flask of exotic tea, and two very important letters.

Hearing the sound of a rock moving, she turned, only to see a troubled-looking Harry Potter emerge from a darkened alcove in the cliff wall. He looked incredible… apparently he had finally bought clothes that fit him, for he wore a nice collared shirt, and a pair of slacks, both of which were form-fitting enough to clearly indicate the muscularity of his body. What was amusing to her was that even though he had bought the clothes himself – she knew him too well to think that someone had helped him with his decisions – his sense of style was impeccable… he knew what fit of clothing flattered him best, and he knew what colors looked good. It was a huge rarity among males his age, one that made her smile appreciatively.

As soon as he spotted her, his expression changed to genuine happiness, a large grin stretching his face. She smiled back happily, and a moment later, was snugly ensconced in his arms, reunited with the man she loved.

She could smell him, that indescribable, yet unmistakable scent that was so reminiscent of some of the experiences they had shared, and sighing happily, she relaxed in his arms. Pulling back to look into her eyes, he smiled – with a hint of sadness, she noted – and whispered "God, you look so beautiful." She blushed prettily at the praise, and gave in readily when his soft lips brushed hers, his tongue finding hers gently. When he pulled away, she was breathing heavily, looking content. It was remarkable, she mused, that he did not even realize what he did to her with just a simple kiss. It was overwhelming… passionate, yet loving all at the same time. It was as if he was blissfully unaware of everything he was… how he walked with such feline grace, how he held himself as if his body were a compressed, coiled spring, simply waiting to fly into action. It made him all the more desirable, and yet, he studiously ignored every female – and male – who ogled him.

"Thanks for coming," he murmured, still holding her and stroking her cheek with his knuckles. She could see beyond the false cheer that he projected, see the inner turmoil that plagued him. Despite the overwhelming love that she felt for him, and despite the overwhelming love that she could clearly see in his eyes, she still heard the nasty little voice in her head that whispered "At least he feels bad for fucking around behind my back…"

Blinking, and feeling guilty for even such a normal, warranted thought, she kissed him gently. "Harry," she whispered, cupping his cheeks, "where're we going?"

He smiled at her, and lifted her bag, leading the way. "We're going to the Chamber of Secrets, Cho," he said, smiling slightly. A look of disbelief on her face, Cho's mind finally fell into place when Harry, already walking, laughed and called out "Coming?"

She caught up to him, and in her excitement, began asking him question after question, which he laughingly answered, finally letting her glimpse the parts of his life that he had kept secret. The expression of awe did not leave her face until they had actually entered the Chamber, where she asked "Salazar Slytherin made this place? It's a bit… gaudy, don't you think?" The expression of stunned disbelief on her face made him laugh, and he told her about the descendent who had so garishly decorated the Chamber.

Harry led her to Slytherin's portrait to introduce her, and found that his Master was already waiting for them. Bowing gracefully, Lord Slytherin formally introduced himself, and exchanged a few pleasantries with Cho, being polite enough to answer a few of her questions. He had gone through the same experience when Harry had introduced him to Tonks, and was quite amused to find that the questions from both young ladies were quite similar. It wasn't that shocking, he supposed, as their Ravenclaw minds thought similarly… unlike others, who would ask him obvious questions like 'Are you Dark?'

After a few minutes of fielding questions amicably, Lord Slytherin excused himself, claiming that he had some work to take care of. Dubiously nodding, Cho walked away with Harry, wondering what exactly a Portrait needed to do to that was so pressing a matter. She followed Harry through the Chamber, listening to him as he told her about the history of the place that they now stood in. The Basilisk, and its home, she learned, was on the level above this one… at least, it was, until Harry had killed it three years ago. Presently, they walked through a doorway which bore a solemn wooden sign that read 'Living Quarters'.

Entering, Cho saw Tonks for the first time in what was two weeks for her, but roughly a month and a half for Tonks. Tonks sat on a sofa, facing away from them, but turned towards Harry and Cho when they entered the room. She looked beautiful, Cho saw, radiant as always.

Allowing a small smile to curve her lips, Cho greeted the older woman warmly. "Hullo, Tonks," she said, seeing Harry wince slightly from the corner of her eye, "how are you?"

Tonks, looking a bit pale, offered a slightly weak smile in response, and replied "Not all that bad, I suppose. And yourself?"

Cho responded similarly, and the two exchanged pleasantries in an oddly formal way, similar to Cho's conversation with Lord Slytherin. Just as Cho inwardly thought 'I'm giving it away!' Tonks panicked, thinking 'Oh god, she knows!' Still, revealing nothing, the two continued to chat, and Cho took a seat near Tonks.

As Harry, looking paler now, moved to put Cho's bag away, she stopped him. Grinning beautifully and making his heart flip-flop, she opened the bag and withdrew the flask of tea.

"You have to try this, both of you," she declared, showing them the flask, "it's the most fantastic tea on Earth."

Tonks, unable to stop herself, smiled at Cho's enthusiasm, nodding agreeably. "Did you make it?" she inquired, "And what kind of tea is it?"

Cho set it on the table, waiting for Harry to get back, and spoke excitedly. "It's this stuff my mum picked up a few weeks ago. She isn't a fan of Earl Grey and the sort of tea we generally drink in Britain, so she owl-orders these exotic leaves from these Merchants who trade in magical teas. This one's from India, from this plantation in a place called Darjeeling. The trader told my mum that a Unicorn fell asleep in the patch where the leaves used in this came from, and after it left, the patch glowed for a few days. When they tried the tea that was made from that patch, it was, and I quote, 'the most delicious thing they had ever tasted'."

Tonks looked impressed. "A Unicorn, huh? Wow," she said, making Harry laugh. He had come back from the bedroom while Cho had been speaking, and had caught the end of the conversation.

"Lets try it, then," he offered, waving his wand and conjuring a few teacups and saucers, some milk and some sugar. Cho poked him in the side as he sat, making him yelp. "What was that for?"

She stuck her tongue out, and gestured to the flask. "Heating charm, you berk," she replied, laughing at his mock-insulted expression. He acquiesced, waving his wand once more, and when Cho took the cover off the flask, a plume of steam emerged. She poured the tea for all three of them, then sat back. "You're supposed to drink it black," she said, as Harry reached for the sugar, "even though it's… murky green." He grinned, and took a sip.

Immediately, his eyes widened, and he took another sip, then looked up again. "This… this is incredible stuff!" he exclaimed. A moment later, Tonks echoed his sentiments with equal gusto, a large smile on her face as she sampled it. The three quickly drained their cups, and Cho poured once again.

This time around, all three decided to savor the drink, sipping at it slowly. "Cho," Harry said, "you have to get your hands on more of this stuff. It's fantastic."

She smiled, replying "I can get my mum to buy it. It's bloody expensive, though… she paid six whole Galleons for a small tin."

Tonks choked on her tea, looking up with wide eyes. "Six Galleons?" she asked incredulously, "That's – well, I guess they'd charge more for Unicorn tea, but still… that's robbery! That's how much I made in a day last year!"

Cho nodded her agreement. "That's what I told my mum. Still, I'm happy she bought it, it's the best tea I've ever had."

They sat in silence for a while, sipping at the tea. Surprisingly, it was Cho who broke the silence. "So," she stated calmly, "I suppose we have something to talk about." Both Harry and Tonks' heads immediately snapped up, a slight flush of guilt staining their cheeks.

For a second, there was silence, then Harry sighed. "Yeah, Cho," he started, "we do." He paused for a second to tug at his collar, then continued. "I haven't been honest with you," he said, "over the last two weeks – well, it was a lot longer for Tonks and I because, well… y'know, the time-dilation – I haven't been, well… faithful."

He paused, realizing that his nervousness was causing his speech to deteriorate, knowing that he had to explain himself properly. Across from him, Cho's gaze was steely, unwavering. There was neither acceptance nor reproach in her gaze, she simply stared at him emotionlessly. On the sofa adjacent to them, Tonks was frozen, completely silent and staring at the ground. Her cheeks were flushed, Harry noted, as were Cho's. The heat he felt on his face meant that his cheeks were probably similarly red.

Harry once again tugged at his collar, then pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing. "I've fallen for her, Cho," he whispered, knowing that it was bluntly put, but unable to think of any other way of saying it. He laughed harshly, "I guess I proved your prophecy right, huh?"

She stared at him, and he tugged at his collar uncomfortably. "I guess you did, Harry," she said, her voice flat. No matter how much she had prepared herself for this, it still hurt. Even spending the last two weeks crying herself to bed each night, that pain did not even compare to the pain she felt now. "Do you even love me?" she asked, her voice harsh. She squashed the guilt that she felt when he recoiled, a look of hurt in his eyes.

"You know I do," he whispered softly, "you know I love you." He tugged at his collar again, feeling extremely hot for some reason.

"Do I?" she asked harshly, then turned to Tonks. "For all I know," she said, staring at Tonks but addressing Harry, "you've spent the last two weeks – oh, no… it was 'a lot longer for Tonks and you' – fucking all day long, without having the decency to even tell the person you're engaged to that she isn't the only person in your life." Harry flinched, and Cho felt some perverse satisfaction at being able to hand back some of the pain she had felt for the last two weeks. "Merlin, Harry," she continued, "had you already started fucking her before you proposed to me? So, Harry, tell me… do I really know that you love me?"

Tonks was silently crying now, tears trickling down her cheek. She had not even imagined that the conversation could go so badly. Each insult to Harry struck her like a blow to the gut, drawing fresh tears.

Cho turned back to Harry, again squashing the guilt as she saw the unshed tears in his eyes. He moved off the couch and knelt before her, taking her immobile hand in his.

"I swear to you," he whispered, "I didn't mean to hurt you. I swear to you that I didn't mean to cause you pain. You're right, I should have come to you immediately, I should have talked to you about it." She glared at him, and he fell silent, allowing the tears to slip down his cheeks. He took some solace from the fact that she hadn't wrenched her hand out of his grasp.

Cho's cheeks were bright red now, and she looked to be struggling to keep something in. "You're right," she snapped, "you should have told me. But that still doesn't answer my question, does it? How do I know that you love me? How do I know that I'm not just being strung along here? How do I know that I mean more to you than just someone to fuck when she's not around?" She usually never used language like that, so it made her words all the more painful to him, for he knew that he must have caused her such pain and grief that it had changed her entire personality.

"All I can say," he said quietly, "is that I do love you. When I told you that day that I loved you, I meant it with every fiber of my being. All I can hope for is that you believe me, even if I don't deserve it." He shivered slightly… even as she glared down at him with such fury, she had never looked more beautiful. Despite the situation he was in, he felt an uncontrollable lust building within him. All he could think about was taking her into his arms and ravishing her for hours and hours, making her scream in pleasure, making her feel the extent of his love for her. Trying, and failing to squash the thoughts, he tugged at his collar in frustration.

She stared at him for a few more minutes, sitting silently and never once blinking. Her eyes held his, almost as if they were reaching into his soul and weighing his truthfulness. Behind her, on the couch, Tonks continued weeping silently. She felt guilty for having started this… thing, having been the one to instigate the relationship between Harry and herself. While she felt no remorse for loving him, she felt the pain that he felt, and ardently wished that she had kept her feelings to herself, if only to spare him the pain he felt now. Yet, gazing at the two, she felt a growing lust within her, an unbearable urge to hold Cho down and help Harry worship her body for hours, to attempt to physically translate the love that he felt for her. Cheeks stained red by the lewd thoughts in her mind, she kept her head bowed in shame.

"Please, Cho," he whispered, holding her hand tighter and almost begging her, "please believe me. I would rather die than knowingly hurt you. If…" he paused, tugging at his collar irritably, "is it boiling hot in here, or am I hallucinating?"

Cho looked at him for another second, judging him. Then, satisfied, she gave in to the lust potion that she had mixed into the tea, moving forward and crushing her lips against Harry's.

The force of the movement pushed Harry to the ground, but he paid it no heed, instead holding Cho tightly, and losing all control over his body. The kiss was intense, tongues slipping against each other, hands wandering, squeezing tightly. He moaned into her mouth as he squeezed her buttocks tightly, pressing her body further against his.

Sitting on the couch, Tonks stared with wide eyes as the two of them rutted on the floor like wild animals. With a loud crash, the small table was thrown off to the side by an errant limb, the flask of tea and the teacups crashing to the ground near the wall with a shower of glass and porcelain. As the two of them kissed so passionately, Tonks made to run into the bedroom, knowing that it would take little more for her to loose control. Then, as she began to move, Harry's arm snapped out, his hand grasping hers tightly, and he pulled her down to the ground with them. As soon as her body hit the floor, Harry's lips had moved away from Cho's, and found Tonks', kissing her with equal passion. Every last shred of control evaporated from Tonks' mind, and she gave into the kiss with a moan of pleasure.

As Harry pulled her closer to him, Tonks felt a lance of surprise as Cho made no protest, instead moving down Harry's body to kiss and lick his neck, and what little of his defined chest that she could see in the unbuttoned area of his shirt. Harry's right arm held Cho tightly, hand gripping her buttocks and holding her firmly against him, while his left arm pulled Tonks to him, hand gripping her similarly. Then, unable to control herself, Tonks detached her lips from Harry's, and pushed Cho aside, leaping on her and pressing her lips to the beautiful Asian's. Amusingly, it was Harry who moaned first, the action making him lose the last shreds of self control. As he moaned, Cho cupped Tonks' cheeks gently, then lowered her mouth and began licking away the tears still present on the Metamorphmagus' face. Then, as the two witches grappled at each other, passionately kissing and stroking, he began unclothing the two of them and himself with hurried, impatient motions.

Once contact between the three had moved to a skin-to-skin level, all was lost. The three rutted against each other like animals in heat, sweat-slicked bodies rising and falling with the tides of pleasure that struck them. Never before had they indulged themselves as they did now, and it was only in the haze of their post-coital bliss, after multiple encounters that had worn their energy away, that any semblance of rational thought returned to them.

The three had, over the course of innumerable orgasms, moved from the couches to the bedroom, collapsing on the king-sized bed and continuing their orgiastic exploration of each others' bodies. Now, coming off the high, they regarded each other with dumbstruck shyness, unable to formulate any kind of statement. Fully aware of what they had done, they were now naked, still languorously wrapped around each other and covered in sweat and bodily fluids. Within each of their minds, they warred between the impulse to pull away and cover themselves up, and the knowledge that it wouldn't matter… that each of the others in the room was now intimately acquainted with their features.

The silence was broken when Harry, sitting up against the head of the bed, doubled over, gripping his stomach. His features were contorted into a look of pain, and he gasped, falling to the side. Both Tonks and Cho immediately panicked, cradling him in their arms without any attention to their nakedness, repeatedly inquiring what was wrong. His face having lost all pallor, and with a look of nausea on his face, Harry could only stutter out one word.

"M-Ma-Maturity," he gasped out, then retched slightly, a look of disbelief in his eye as he realized that the three of them had spent what was virtually three hours in bed. He felt a rush of pride, considering the stamina he had displayed, but was rudely interrupted by a painful bout of retching as he reflected on the events that had transpired.

Eyes widening, the two women quickly acted, moving him to the edge of the bed, so that his head was almost falling off it. Sprinting into the other room, Cho retrieved their wands and returned, waving hers to conjure a simple bucket, which she placed next to the bed right by Harry's head, in case he felt the urge to vomit. A moment later, he did, making the two women wince and look away, lest the sight, sound and smell combine to inspire nausea in them, too.

For the next few hours, both women knew, Harry would be incapacitated and unable to talk. What had just happened, however, needed to be talked about, or things would simply worsen. Harry was lying sideways on the bed on his stomach, his hands clutching the edge of the bed tightly and his head dangling off the edge of the bed so that he didn't vomit on it. The two women were sitting on either side of him, touching him in one way or another to gently reassure him of their presence. Curiously, all three were still naked, and had made no move, as yet, to retrieve their clothing.

For Tonks, it was getting unbearable. This time, it was she who broke the silence. "What – What just happened?" she asked quietly, looking down at her knees.

Cho, who was concernedly gazing at Harry, now looked up. "What d'you mean?" she responded, realizing too late what her answer must have sounded like.

"Don't play with me," Tonks growled, furiously suppressing the blush that threatened to explode out of her as certain memories came back, "I know you used some potion on us. What I want to know is why… why the hell you decided that would be a good idea?"

Cho, seeing red, lashed out in anger. "Don't you dare," she snapped, "don't you dare reprimand me for putting Lust Potion into the tea, considering what you've been doing behind my back for the past two weeks." Harry, delirious yet somehow aware of what they were talking about, groaned in discomfort.

Tonks recoiled as if she had been struck, then in a much calmer voice, asked "Lust Potion? You had to have known what would happen, so why on earth would you…?" She trailed off, seemingly lost for words.

Cho lost her angry demeanor, looking down. Taking a deep breath, she raised her eyes, and with a curious look of respect in them, quietly said "Because I met a woman who was willing to sacrifice everything for her love, and she asked me to do the same."

Tonks, now more perplexed than she was earlier, stared at Cho, intelligently mumbling "Huh?" In response, Cho simply waved her wand silently. Across the room, her small, black bag rose off the ground and floated towards the bed. Grabbing it out of the air, Cho reached in and produced two letters, which she then passed to Tonks.

"Read those, starting with the sealed letter addressed to you. Then read the open one that's addressed to me," Cho spoke, her voice soft. As Tonks dubiously took the letters, then began reading them, Cho turned her attention to Harry, conjuring a wet cloth and using it to dab at his sweaty forehead. From the times she had witnessed Harry's magic come alive when they had made love, she knew better than most how powerful he truly was. While her Maturity had lasted nearly three hours, indicating that she was far above average in terms of power, she knew that this would be an even longer experience.

On Harry's other side, Tonks had finished rereading the first letter a third time. Eyes wide, she set it down, then picked up the other letter. A few minutes later, looking weak, she put it down. Then, much to Cho's surprise, Tonks hugged her knees to her chest, and sat in silence, staring at the wall. There was no movement from her for the next ten minutes, but just as Cho was beginning to get worried, Tonks relaxed slightly.

Turning to Cho, she spoke. "You – I gave you this? I asked you to do something like this, and you actually agreed?"

Cho smiled slightly, and nodded. "You visited my home two weeks ago, two days after I got engaged," she said.

"You agreed… and you swore a Magical Oath?" Tonks asked, still looking at Cho in disbelief. Cho simply smiled at Tonks and shook her head. Tonks, eyes bulging, asked "I put that much faith in you? I put enough faith in you to ask you to do something like this, to help someone in love with your fiancé, and then Obliviate myself of it?" Here, Cho smiled again, then nodded.

Tonks seemed to go boneless for a few moments. Then, in a flurry of movement, she had moved across Harry, and had grabbed Cho into a tight hug, almost refusing to let go. A moment of uncomfortable silence passed for Cho, who was extremely aware of Tonks' bare breasts pressing against hers, but the discomfort soon passed when she saw that Tonks was crying.

Pulling back from the sobbing Metamorphmagus, she smiled slightly, wiping her tears away, and asked "What's there to be sad about?" Tonks shivered slightly, recalling how she herself had used the same words earlier that day.

"I don't know," the Metamorphmagus sobbed, "I don't know if I can do this, I don't know how you can do this… Merlin, I'm so confused!"

Cho allowed Tonks back into her embrace, holding the older woman tightly. As much as she didn't want to, it was time to make good on the magical oath that she had made to herself: to go through on what Tonks had asked of her.

"You know as well as I do, Tonks, that no matter what happens, you'll still love him," Cho whispered. "Harry is easy to love, he's easy to like, he's easy to spend time with… the only thing difficult about him is letting go of him, and you know this. If you distance yourself from him, your love will only grow, that much I can assure you – I tried, once, last year – and then, it gets painful."

Tonks nodded against Cho's shoulder, her eyes still full of tears. "But how do I do this with an open heart? How can you do it, how can you stand to even touch me now, knowing how I feel about him?"

She smiled again, her sadness peeking through. "I can't," she whispered, "but I will. I could see, even that day a fortnight ago, how much you love him, Tonks. When you love someone that much, like we do, sacrifices have to be made. For us to be happy, he has to be happy, Tonks… and for him to be happy, he needs both of us. For that happiness, I must learn to love you, and you must learn to love me."

Tonks pulled back, her eyes wide. She opened her mouth, as if to say something, but abruptly closed it with an audible click. She sat back, looking pensive, and turned her gaze to Harry. As Cho watched her, she saw the immediate love that entered Tonks' eyes as soon as she looked at Harry, despite the fact that the object of her love was currently vomiting once again.

A few minutes passed in a much more comfortable silence than earlier, Tonks simply staring at the wall pensively while her hand absently played with Harry's hair. Then, she turned to Cho, looking like she had made a decision.

"How do I learn to love you?" she asked, leaning in close as if to learn some sort of secret.

Cho nearly laughed, but managed to keep it to a small smile. Then, taking a deep breath, she leaned forward conspiratorially. "Like this," she said, then pressed her lips against Tonks'. The kiss was awkward at first, due to Tonks' surprise and reluctance, but she slowly gave in, enjoying the kiss on a purely physical basis. It was progress in its own way… a few hours ago, she would have been shocked, even repulsed by the idea. Perhaps 'repulsed' was the wrong word, for it was clear that Tonks had, in fact, harbored at least some intrigue, for otherwise the Lust Potion would not have caused her to be physically attracted to Cho.

Cho broke the kiss off gently, still cupping Tonks' cheek. Eyes closed, they rested their foreheads against each other, noses brushing. "We'll have to start out slow," Cho whispered breathily, "get ourselves used to the idea of touching another woman like that. The romantic side of things will progress from there, I hope… perhaps within a few years we will be as close to each other as we are to Harry."

Tonks mumbled her agreement, then whispered "Do you hate me?" She pulled back slightly, now looking the younger woman in the eye.

Cho blinked, and stared into Tonks' eyes for a few moments. Then, she shook her head. "Not anymore," she whispered.

What Tonks and Cho, and even Harry himself, had expected to be a five to six hour wait ended up taking nine hours and forty eight minutes to culminate. After the first two and a half hours, the binds on Harry's magic finally fell away, and his aura bloomed around him as his magic stabilized itself. It took the next seven hours for his maturity to fully pass, seven hours during which his magic was stabilized, introduced to his body in stages to accustom the magical pathways to holding and channeling such a massive amount.

When Harry finally awoke, as he had fallen asleep once the nausea of having his magic unbound had passed, it took him a few moments to re-orient himself. On either side of him lay the women he loved, their bodies close to his, in constant, reassuring contact with his skin. As he stirred, moving into a sitting position, Tonks and Cho awoke. Immediately, they began questioning his health, making him laugh at the display of concern.

"I'm fine," he whispered, then continued in a normal voice "I'm better than fine, in fact. I'm finally whole again… it's a fantastic feeling." He looked up gratefully as Cho slipped him his wand, and he tapped his lips with it a few times, silently casting spells to wash and clean his mouth, freshen his breath and soothe his throat after all the retching and vomiting. Putting the wand down, he immediately felt Cho's lips against his own, then a moment later, she had pulled back, and it was now Tonks who's lips were pressed against his.

"Thank you," he whispered, the emotion in his voice making it crackle slightly, "thanks for loving me even when I don't deserve it." He finished quietly, and received a kiss on the cheek from Tonks and a warm embrace from Cho.

"If we only loved you when you deserved it," she amusedly said, "we'd have very little time left to do anything else. It's just easier to keep it as a full-time job." He stared at her for a second, then laughed the laugh of someone truly happy. His arms wrapped around their shoulders, holding their bodies against his as if he felt comforted and strong simply from their presence.

"I took the liberty of preparing the ritual potion for all three of us," he said, referring to the ritual to prevent any further manipulation to the Magical core, "and I'd really like both of you to do it with me. I… I don't want to take any chances," he said.

Tonks nodded first, followed immediately by Cho, and Harry smiled with relief. "The potion has to be drunk, and a short chant has to be incanted. There aren't any wand movements… all you have to do is lie on your back, completely still, and keep your wand over your heart, parallel to your body with the tip pointing towards your head."

It took an hour to practice and memorize the chant, then perform the rituals, but they finally accomplished it successfully. When Harry, who was the last to undergo the ritual, stood, a huge smile lit up his features. Seeing the expression on his face brought a smile to the lips of both women, who were pulled into ecstatic embraces one after the other.

Still grinning stupidly, Harry set Tonks down, and whispered "I'm free. I'm finally free."

An update, finally :P

I should apologize… one should only write fanfiction if they regularly have the free time to write, and that certainly hasn't been the case with me. I've had a tough two semesters at college, with the future looking like it'll only be tougher. My personal life looks set to get more complicated too (getting engaged, whoo!), so that's more writing time lost. So, I'm sorry, I won't be able to update on a regular basis. This update itself has taken almost ten months to come out. I will try my best to write as I find the time, but I'm one of those authors who needs a good four to five hour stretch in which I can start out slow, then pound out a good 5000-8000 words. Therefore, I'll regretfully have to inform you that the next update will probably take a long time.

I'm hugely flattered by the reception that this fic has had… a simple seven chapters (until this one), only 70,000 words, but it's still been taken so well. Thanks for every review, PM and general encouragement that I've received.

People to thank for this chapter:

CJCold has again chipped in his thoughts to help with the quality control on what I write, and he was quite gracious in doing so, considering that it's been nearly ten months since I last asked for his help. Cervus and Thalarian, both fantastic authors and good friends, were instrumental in keeping me interesting in writing this story, and instrumental in helping me work past my (self-imposed?) mental block when it came to writing this chapter. IP82 and Taure also contributed significant help with critiquing the chapter as I passed it on to them scene-by-scene. Thanks, all of you, for your patience and your help.

That's all, and good night.