Disclaimer: I am not J.K. Rowling. This work is to in no way to be considered an attempt on my part to challenge her ownership of anything belonging to her. This is a work of fan fiction and no monies, royalties, et cetera are being profited from the work.
Author's Note: Yes. Again, I found a plot bunny that refused to leave me alone. I'm not sure whether I want this to actually be a story or not, maybe just another one-shot, but every time I thought I had found a reasonable place to stop, I felt the need to keep writing.
I will leave it up to the readers to decide if there should be anything more beyond this. With a first chapter of over 20,000 words… I can't promise how soon a new one could come out, but you never know…
X O X O X O X O X O X O X O X O X O X O
THERE'S A WAY
"Are you sure about this?" The older man asked, his dark eyes standing out in stark contrast to his pale skin though barely still visible from the shadowed corner of the room. Overall, everything was dark… the immaculate bedroom seeming almost out of place considering the depth of their conversation.
Carefully, he observed how his daughter sighed, a white hand reaching up to push her brown, almost black, hair from her face, her pink lips twisted into some forced semblance of a smile, though he could easily discern that any happiness failed to reach her eyes… eyes that were as dark as his.
"Is it going to work?" She finally inquired. "Do you think we can do this? Now? Especially after… after…"
"After Sirius Black's death?" He shrugged, suddenly wishing that his wife had come with him to visit their daughter, to bolster their child's courage and resolve for what was going to happen. Too much could go wrong, too easily in fact… but if they could succeed, even just the tiniest fraction of what they dared to hope, it would all be worth it. And as for his daughter…
"Daddy?" Her voice was so soft, almost a whisper to be lost in the gloom of the evening light that barely passed through the dark curtains hanging over the windows.
"I'm not sure, angel." He admitted. "Black's death was… unexpected. And trying to deal with Harry Potter without him will not be easy."
"I know." His daughter expelled a breath wistfully. "Trust me, I know…"
X X X
To the casual observer, the room might seem to be that of any other typical teenager living somewhere in the mediocre center of Privet Drive, which is located somewhere in Little Whinging… which, of course, could only be found in the nation of England. After all, there was the fifteen year old boy lying on his bed in the room, personal belongings scattered across the floor and hanging haphazardly from the drawers of the small dresser along the wall, regardless of the fact that it was a perfectly perfect day outside with the sun shining bright and nary a cloud to be seen. There was evidence of school texts tucked away in a satchel and the hint of his school's insignia across a uniform peaked out from the open closet door.
And take into consideration the actual person occupying the room. As stated, fifteen years old, though a little on the small side in regards to height. Black hair that melted into the shadowy gloom of the tiny bedroom… black hair so long and unkempt that it would have most parental types screaming for a haircut, especially after the bright green of his eyes could be found. A straight, strong nose in the middle of a smooth face… still young in age, but the favoring of a true heartbreaker already apparent for any that could pull him from the melancholy demeanor that he seemed to wrap around himself like a warm and familiar blanket.
The fact of his current state of dress, clothes well too large for his lithe form, could be attributed to the latest teen fashions from the Americans… terrible dressers without any fashion sense whatsoever, the truth of the matter is more than most would care to dwell, polite society often hoping to overlook such mundane horrors that are visited upon the weaker, none caring to truly learn that their neighbor, mayhap your neighbor, down the street in that pretty white house and the lovely rose garden out back could be such monsters. And it is with that unwelcome thought, a mental image of a boy being cruelly abused by those that ought to have been the very ones protecting him, that the veracity of what is seen comes into the light.
The room is tiny; almost too small for a growing boy, much less a teenager... almost a man. The furniture is all in states of disrepair, broken. There is evidence of locks on the door to keep the teenager a literal prisoner in his own home. Bars on the window. And let's not even enter into the possibility of what it could mean that there is a flap at the door's bottom… images of prisoners and their cells forcibly press upon the innocent first glances.
Of it all, however, the worst is that the teenager seems resigned to his surroundings, the lack of simple creature comforts. No. The dark-haired lad was oblivious to the squalor all around him, his focus clearly upon the piece of paper that he was staring at… the scent of the strange barnyard owl that flew into his window near on an hour ago still lingering, apparently to deliver said message and leave without a reply.
Never good tidings when a response was neither expected nor allowed.
The raven-headed teenager grimaced as his eyes scanned over the parchment grasped tightly in his hands, the paper's normally smooth surface crinkled and worn from being abused, tossed aside and yelled at… all right before being smoothed back out, only to go through the process again. It didn't seem to matter how many times he read the offending message… it stayed the same.
We've been ordered to appear at Gringott's in Diagon Alley on Friday, June fifth at ten o'clock in the morning for the reading of Padfoot's will. I've tried to delay this, but even Dumbledore's best efforts were blocked by the Goblins.
I will pick you up first thing Friday, say around nine. We can pick up some dress robes and get to the bank in plenty of time for the reading.
I'm here for you, Cub. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.
"June the fifth?" The teenager sighed. "That's tomorrow."
His voice harsh from the tears that now filled his eyes, anger building inside of him… the same anger that had lent its power to him juts a few weeks earlier that allowed for a necessary outlet, the result of said outlet being the destruction of the headmaster's office at school.
The anger… the rage… grew. And as the young man closed his eyes, the room seemed to suddenly fill with the smell of ozone, as the hairs along the back of his neck and up and down his arms and legs stood up, the very air within the small square space becoming thick, the oppressive weight of magic almost tangible enough to reach out and grasp. Magic for the taking. It was a level of power beyond the capabilities of most… more like all, all but three… perhaps four, and yet it was noticed by no one, not even the originator of such dangerous capability.
No, the boy focused squarely on controlling his breathing in order to calm down and not doing anything that might upset his aunt or uncle, the ingrained response of acting as the omega in a family of the worst type of muggles beaten into him from an early age. Only through time and patience and the friendship of a select few were those dangerous pathways slowly fading… but not yet.
Such was a day in the life of Harry James Potter during the summer before his sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
All he wanted was to be left alone…. And bar that, he wished with all that he could muster that there might be someone willing to stay with him, to never leave. Everyone else had left. Mum. Dad. Godfather…
His godfather… one of the very few last remaining links to his parents, James and Lily, was dead. Harry had been fooled by an evil monster into believing that Sirius Black had been captured and was being held at the Department of Mysteries. It had all been nothing more than an elaborate hoax. Nothing but a trick… a trick that he'd fallen hook, line and sinker for and that had ultimately cost Harry his godfather.
Worse, though, was that it was all over a stupid prophecy that had been spoken by a crackpot of a teacher nearly twenty years ago… an irreplaceable artifact of power and knowledge. It had broken during the fight, all for naught. Sirius was dead for nothing. And just like the prophecy, Harry had returned to Hogwarts broken, only to be told by his headmaster that they already knew of the prophecy and what its hidden words meant.
Since his fifth year term had ended, Harry had been blissfully left alone, only the occasional owl from his friends. Supposed friends. Each letter read the same…
How are you?
Write back soon.
So far, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna and Ginny had all written to him to say the same thing over and over and over again. Every letter almost looking like it was taken from a template that each of his closest friends had used to write to him, not an original or differing thought in the bunch. Ron had not even mentioned anything about the Cannons.
Balling the parchment up, Harry sighed as he tossed it over into the wastebasket located by the desk in his room. Shaking his head, he leaned back and rested on the hard pillow on his bed, his hands clasped behind his neck as he studied the stained patterns along the ceiling for the billionth time since arriving back to this hellhole, his mind racing at the various possibilities of what he would do if he was finally on his own.
If ever there were an opportunity for freedom, no matter the price, Harry would jump at it. Damned be the consequences.
Taking a movement to remove his eyeglasses and set them carefully on the bedside table, Harry closed his eyes and imagined a world where he could travel, seeing the sights across the globe. There was no threat of Voldemort or Death Eaters. No headmasters with twinkling eyes that took it upon themselves to choose the direction and destiny of someone else's life… his life. It was a dream of magic and wonder and very, very little responsibility… some place where Sirius was still alive and was laughing at a joke Harry had told.
And there was a girl… there had to be a girl if it was going to be a good dream. Harry sighed again as he considered. Blonde hair? Or maybe brown? Red? He smiled as he thought about the various girls that he knew from school, every House and every year.
It was the dream of a teenager… and for the first time of summer holiday, especially since having received the letter basically ordering his attendance to a will reading from a man that Harry would have given up every knut he'd ever owned or would ever own to have back… Harry Potter smiled.
Such was a normal day in the life of Harry Potter.
X X X
That Friday found the raven-headed youth resting comfortably on the front step of his aunt and uncle's house as early as seven in the morning. His clothes were still too big, much like saying that his cousin's shoe was too big for a mouse to wear, but that didn't matter since the summons to the bank had included Remus' offer to pick up dress robes.
To most people, typical teenagers especially, being locked out of one's own home and forced to wait for hours in the early summer morning might have seemed a cruel or unusual punishment. After all, there were no video games to play or programs to watch upon the television, nor was there a telephone or any type to use in order to call a friend or a loved one… or anything. To get to the point, other than watching the first morning post run and to see the various homes suddenly coming to life as children were herded off to school and the morning commute to work was begun, there was absolutely nothing to do.
For Harry, however, the quiet of the morning was almost spiritual in it's healing. The very quiet of the day, ignoring the cars and shouts, once gone, left a silence that made up the sound of the Earth breathing. Birds singing and insects buzzing. A breeze brought in the percussion of the trees and leaves.
He smiled as the world and universe kept him company.
A pop to his left brought Harry out of his philosophical musings, the sound of someone apparating close by enough to bring him awake from an internal poetry recital about leaves and bugs and back to the ready, his hand grasping his wand tightly as he moved into a defensive stance.
Harry felt his mind go quiet, readying for the eventual attack, Remus Lupin's form came from around the side of the house. As his amber eyes rested upon Harry waiting for him, the older man smmiled. "Ho, cub."
It sounded like Moony. And it certainly looked like his former Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, but Harry had been though too much to let his guard down just yet. From what he could see, Remus was still reasonably well built, although there was a brittleness in his facial features that Harry hadn't been sure was there before. Hair still going gray despite a relatively young age… and his clothes…
Harry shook his head at the thought of Remus Lupin taking him to buy clothes. Talk about the blind leading the blind. Relaxing only slightly, Harry smiled back. "What's the first thing you ever said to me?"
If Moony was offended by Harry's question, he didn't show it as the man threw Harry an amused expression and looked down at the ground. "Did Mad-Eye teach you to ask such hard questions? Uhm… I think I offered you a piece of chocolate."
Nodding, he lowered his wand. "That was it." The two men came together quickly and shook hands.
"How are you, Harry? Really?"
Shrugging, the younger man appraised his former professor carefully. "Fine, I guess. Nothing really to…"
"You know its okay to be sad, don't you Harry?" Remus' gaze was full of sympathy. "I miss him, too. None but me left now. I always thought I'd be the first to go…"
Harry wiped at his eyes hoping that the itchiness would soon go away. There wasn't much he could say, but he knew that the older man needed comfort just as bad, if not maybe a touch more, than he did. Leaning closer, Harry brought the man into a hug… a manly hug, as they both started tearing up. "Merlin, but I miss him, Moony."
"Me, too, cub. Every moment of every day. Me, too."
X X X
The vicious looking goblin stopped at the door, his eyes glowing ominously in the darkened hallway. "This way, gentlemen."
Following the direction of his hand…claw, Harry nodded respectfully and entered into the fairly large meeting room located somewhere in the lower level of Gringott's bank. His first instinct was to pull at the collar of the new dress robes that Moony had bought for him just a few minutes earlier, but refrained to prevent another scolding from the former professor. There was a large circular table in the room's center, as well as nearly twenty chairs… and those were not counting the ones that were located against the wall across the room.
"Who all is going to be here?" Harry asked softly, trying to keep his voice from echoing.
Remus followed him into the room, neither he nor Harry noticing that the goblin had left. "No idea, cub. I'm sure that besides you and me, we'll have to deal with someone from the Malfoy family and…"
"Malfoy?" Harry turned, his eyes flashing. "Why in…"
"They were family to the Blacks. You know that." The older man sighed. "His cousins were Andromeda, Narcissa and Bellatrix."
At the last name, Harry felt his stomach give a lurch and he moved quickly to the nearest chair. Thoughts of Bellatrix firing her wand at Padfoot… his taunting of her, before he was struck and forced through the Veil. Harry closed his eyes to try and regain his equilibrium.
The young man's plight was not lost on the sometimes werewolf. "I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't think about…"
Harry waved the apology off. "Forget about it, Remus. It's just too soon. It's why I was so upset about having to be here today." He smiled up at his father's and godfather's best friend as the Marauder gently patted Harry on the shoulder, the silence stretching comfortably between them.
They both looked up as the doors opened and as a short goblin, even by their standards, entered into the chamber. Seeing that he had both of their attention, he smiled quickly offering a glimpse of his razor sharp teeth as he pulled a thin envelope from his inner coat pocket.
"Mister Harry James Potter, I presume?"
At the goblin's question, Harry nodded. "I am, sir."
The goblin arched an eyebrow at the younger human, the use of an honorific even as general as "sir" was not common, especially from wizards. Apparently, the rumors of young Mister Potter were true. "I was instructed to give you this before the others arrive."
Harry took the envelope; his name was scrawled on the side. Glancing up at Moony, the older man shrugged as Harry turned to look at the goblin who was waiting patiently. "Now, sir?"
The goblin smiled again. "My apologies. I have been instructed to wait for you to read the letter and then I must witness its destruction prior to allowing anyone else into the reading."
"Everyone is already here?" Remus asked.
"Oh, yes. Most have been here for several minutes." The goblin nodded. "Everyone has been instructed to wait until after you have read the note. No one knows what it says."
"Can Remus read it with me?"
It was not a completely unexpected question, although the earnest expression and open manner that Harry Potter was using in dealing with the goblin was enough to cause him to relax. "No. I am afraid that the instructions are implicit that you alone may read it."
Shaking his head, Remus smiled as he patted Harry on the shoulder one more time and then moved over to where the goblin was standing.
Harry looked at the two of them as the watched him. Taking a deep breath, Harry tore open the envelope and pulled out the small piece of paper.
Let me begin by saying how sorry I am. For you to be reading this means that I have failed you. Failed the promise I made to James and to your mother. To take care of you. I am left with nothing but to say that I am truly sorry.
Now, to the hard part. I want you to do exactly as I say. Do not react to anything said, done, or not done at the reading.
I want you to be happy… and if I can't be there to see it, I want to know that I caused it. Remember that happiness is not always where we expect to find it… I never thought after so many years in Azkaban that I'd find my greatest happiness at caring for you.
I know you want to be left alone… but maybe that's not what you need… and if I cannot keep you company, maybe someone else might want to.
Answer yes to all questions asked specifically of you by the goblins. It will not be easy, and you are probably going to curse my name before the reading is over… but you must believe. Believe that I am doing everything for your best interests.
Forgive an old dog one last trick.
That was it? It was definitely Padfoot's handwriting. And trust him? Of course he would… but… Harry scratched his head as he read the note a second time and then a third time. There were no other answers. When he finally got up to about the twentieth time reading the quick note, he sighed and was surprised to find tears running along his cheeks.
"Are you okay?"
At Moony's words, Harry stood and handed the envelope and parchment to the goblin. "Thank you…" He smiled ruefully. "I didn't get you name."
The goblin nodded. "I am Rithack."
"Rithack." Harry smiled. "Thank you, Rithack."
The diminutive goblin nodded and carefully placed the letter and its envelope on the ground. Sharing a quick look with the two wizards, he smiled and pulled out a small vial from an outer coat pocket. Taking a moment to wipe his hand on the kerchief he had, Rithack removed the vial's cap and allowed a single drop of the liquid contained to escape and fall on the paper. Barely a moment passed before not even ash was left.
Remus smiled at Harry. "Goblinatic Fire Oil. Burns anything."
"Very good, Mister Lupin." The goblin returned the vial into his pocket. "And if you will excuse me, but I must instruct the others to be brought in."
"Thank you, Rithack." Harry offered as he moved back to his chair.
"The pleasure was mine, Mister Potter."
Harry grinned. "You can call me Harry."
Rithack opened his eyes wide in surprise. He smiled again and formally bowed to the young wizard, an act of honor he had never offered willingly to any other non-goblin. "Thank you… Harry. Unfortunately, for the upcoming meeting, I must continue to refer to you as Mister Potter."
Harry nodded. "I understand. Thank you, Rithack."
After Rithack had left, Remus turned a bemused smile on Harry. Looking at the older man, Harry rolled his eyes and leaned back in the chair. "What?"
Whatever reply Remus Lupin was going to offer was cut off as the doors were suddenly thrown wide open and several people were being escorted into the room, all led by Rithack. Harry felt a smile come unbidden to his face as he looked over to see Hermione and her parents immediately following the goblin. As their eyes met, Hermione smiled only briefly before moving over to a chair several places away from where Harry was sitting.
Normally, Hermione was always next to him, a constant in his troubled life. The fuzzy haired beauty that had done everything that she could to support him and make sure that he made it through the day with at least the chance of keeping his sanity. He ran his gaze over her, taking in the nice skirt and top she wore, a muggle outfit for a wizard's will. All that was missing for her to be everything that Harry needed right now from a friend was the lack of a smile for him.
Something had to be wrong.
Not able to figure out what was going on, Harry watched as the entirety of the Weasley family, Percy included, were next escorted in. He watched as Arthur Weasley and his wife, Molly, directed their children to sit as far away from Harry as possible, none of them willing to meet his gaze. Even Ginny… the cute redhead who he'd learned had had a crush on him, was looking anywhere but over to where he was sitting.
"Remus?" Harry whispered. As the older man drew closer, Harry lifted his hand to hide his lips from the others at the table. "What is going on?"
"Albus." The werewolf answered back.
Not sure of what to make of such a cryptic statement, Harry nodded and looked back towards the doorway as more people were coming in. Harry quirked an eyebrow at the next couple to walk in, having never seen them before. He watched as the two nodded towards him… maybe Lupin, before sitting down closer to Harry than either of his friends and their families had. He nodded back and then waited. There were still several seats left vacant.
He had just enough time to turn around before he was literally accosted by bubblegum pink hair and tanned skin. Smiling, Harry looked up at Nymphadora Tonks… just Tonks to anyone that wanted to keep their manhood attached to where it was supposed to be, and started to ask her how she was doing, but Sirius' words came flooding into his mind and instead just hugged her and mouthed later.
As always, Tonks was the picture perfect definition of insanity. She was a metamorphmagus, able to take the shape and appearance of almost anyone. With such a power, she could be the most beautiful and desirable woman alive. The epitome of every male fantasy. Instead, Tonks liked to look like a punk rocker reject, down to the leather studded pants, biker boots and wildly colored hair. In Harry's opinion, all she needed was a nose ring and the look would be complete.
As Tonks pulled out of their quick hug, Harry glanced to see two older people staring at the two of them in obvious disapproval. At seeing the direction of his gaze, Tonks grinned mischievously and moved over to stand between the two. "Meet my Mum and Dad, Harry."
"Nymphadora." Tonks' mother… Andromeda, he remembered… admonished her daughter. Harry watched as the young Auror sighed and nodded and then followed her parents over to where they chose to sit, close to the Grangers.
Motioning towards his wrist, Harry was able to get Remus to lift his arm and allow Harry to see the time. fifteen minutes after ten. Guess someone was holding up the party. Shifting to get more comfortable in his chair, Harry looked around the table and was amazed at how so many people refused to meet his gaze… all of his friends… not counting the strange couple sitting closest to him.
The sound of scraping brought Harry's attention, as well as everyone else in the room, towards where Rithack was pulling out several files from a folder that he'd brought with him. Harry smiled in amusement as the goblin took the chair immediate opposite of Harry, thereby giving him the most direct line to the person in charge of the reading. Looking around the room, Harry could tell that the significance of Rithack's seating choice was not lost on anyone else, either.
"Well… doesn't this look like fun." Harry turned his head to see Draco Malfoy standing in the doorway.
"What's he doing here!" Ron seemed to explode from his seat as it took Fred, Charlie and Percy to pull him back from charging around the table.
"I, unlike some of you, belong here."
"Now, Draco…" Narcissa Malfoy, Draco's mother and Sirius' cousin, patted her son on the head as she came into the room, her ice cold eyes on those already assembled around the table, thereby missing the look of loathing on her son's face. "Be nice…"
"Yes, mother." He sighed softly.
The couple that had been sitting nearest Harry were watching everything carefully. "Narcissa?" The dark-haired man finally spoke. "Where's our daughter?"
"How should I…?"
The unknown woman stood suddenly. "You told me that you would make sure that she got here on time. A fact, I might mention, that not even you or your son could accomplish."
"You forget yourself, Esmeralda!" Narcissa's collected demeanor suddenly vanished as her blue eyes darkened rapidly.
"Forget myself? No… not today… not if what I think…"
"Alda! Dear!" The man… her husband, most likely, suddenly interrupted. "Why don't we wait for a… ah…" His eyes lit up. "Here is our wayward daughter now."
Everyone in the room turned to look past the two women about to start a physical fight and over the blonde head of Draco Malfoy to see a pretty young woman enter into the room. She had dark brown hair, a very stylish cut for her face, the hair barely reaching her shoulders. The young brunette was dressed simply, a nice robe that somehow accented perfectly to her figure rather than being a shapeless blob that seemed to happen for everyone else.
Harry's green eyes met her dark brown… almost black, as he considered, and smiled. He was surprised to see a frown on her face followed by her brow furrowing in obvious confusion.
"Pansy. Please sit down."
"Yes, Mum." The brunette replied.
Pansy? Pansy Parkinson? Harry took a breath as he realized why she had seemed confused by his smile. Since the first week of Hogwarts, she had been firmly on Draco Malfoy's side of the ongoing war between the two of them.
Why was she here? Harry turned back to the rest of the table. Looking around the table, he saw that everyone else in attendance seemed to be of the same mind as him, the unasked question of why the Parkinson family was in attendance for the reading of Sirius' will. Could she be here because of her betrothal to Draco? What was going on?
Rithack cleared his throat, a sound that Harry could only associate with the grinding of flatware stuck in a garbage disposal. At the sound, everyone at the table turned to look at him, while those few still standing quickly found seats. Harry only idly noted that there were empty chairs on either side of him and Moony…
The door opened suddenly as Albus Dumbledore, possibly the greatest wizard to live, walked into the room, every eye turned to look at his dramatic entrance. Nothing like a flair for the dramatic. Harry quirked an eyebrow at the garish bright blue wizarding robes that he wore, the bottom of which seemed to float around him unimpeded by silly little things like physics or gravity. He smiled, the old happy grandfather routine and immediately swept of his hat with a flourish.
"My apologies. A meeting ran later than I expected."
The goblin seemed unimpressed. "Sit, please. We are ready to start."
Dumbledore chucked softly, his blue eyes sparkling like a midnight sky. He nodded curtly and moved immediately to sit between Harry and the Parkinson family, Pansy sitting with her parents rather than with her intended, Draco Malfoy, on the other side of the table nearer to the Weasley family.
"Yes, well…" Rithack started leafing through the various parchments in front of him. Finally finding the page he was looking for, he glanced around the room. "Seeing as all parties that are able to attend are here as required, we shall begin, skipping all of the normal formalities unless any one has an objection."
Harry considered the note that his godfather had left for him, but decided that as the goblin had not specifically asked him a question, there was no reason to agree and instead chose to follow the advice to do nothing.
Rithack nodded at the silence that answered his question. After a moment, he smiled, bearing his sharp teeth again. "Excellent, then as required by the last testament of Sirius Orion Black, I shall begin…
"I, Sirius Orion Black, being of sound mind and body, free from any and all curses, potions or other altering outside factors, do hereby state that the following is to be the proper division of the properties, monies, et cetera that currently make up the Black Family Estate.
"To begin, and after a careful accounting of everything that is within my power to bequeath, as determined by Gringott's upon the day of this reading, I am prepared for the following:
"As of this reading, all ties, contracts, betrothals and other alliances are put on hold. This means that any uses of properties or agreements and contracts made, magical or otherwise, whether by me or any other Black ancestor prior to this moment are to be considered null and void."
There was a collective gasp from around the room. Harry turned to see that Andromeda Tonks, Tonks' mother, as well as Narcissa both looked stricken at the words. In that moment, Harry wished he had Hermione sitting next to him to help explain what had just happened, but she was still looking away from where he sat. What was going on?
"Now, we will get to what my previous statement means in a moment. Let's actually move on to some of the fun stuff…
"To Albus Dumbeldore, Headmaster of Hogwarts… I offer to my alma mater the amount of ten thousand galleons to be used to create a fund for providing school supplies and clothing to those children, no matter their parentage and lineage, that wish to attend Hogwarts but do not have the proper funds. Never let it be said that money was a bar for those that wish to learn.
"To Remus Lupin, the last of the Marauders, my dearest friend and compatriot, I leave the sum of either three-hundred thousand galleons or five percent of the Black Family fortune, whichever is greater. It thrills me to no end that the money that I have that you always refused is now yours. It is your decision to give it away if you so desire, but at least I know that I finally got the last word.
"Moony, old friend. Take the money. Live life. Grab hold of that little spitfire that you have so far refused to accept in your life and help guide a whole new generation of Marauders."
At the words of his friend, Remus began crying; the fact that tears were running down his cheeks in front of those also in attendance bothered him not at all. Harry watched, wanting to offer comfort to the graying wizard, but held back, knowing that if the roles were reversed, he'd be grateful for the sympathy but happy that he'd been left alone to maintain his dignity.
"To Nymphadora Black," Black? "My favorite living relative, I leave the sum of ten thousand galleons to do with as you choose. I have a few ideas of what I would like for you to do… based on some of our recent conversations, but as there are obviously others present, I will just offer you a wink and knowing smile."
Harry wanted to laugh at the blush that crept up Tonks' face.
"To the Weasley Family… I leave the amount of one hundred thousand galleons. I know that you will probably try to refuse this, but I want you to please reconsider. For too long, you were the only family for Harry. For no other reason, I would want you to have this money, but I also find that I hate that good, upstanding wizards and witches have too long paid the price for their morals. Spend it. Save it. Give it to your children. Or give it away. It is for you to decide. Let this be my last way of saying thank you for what you've done for the boy who should have been my responsibility."
Molly Weasley was openly weeping, Arthur's arm around her. All of the Weasley children looked gobsmacked, their eyes wide at the thought of so much money falling into their laps.
"Now, in addition to that, I want to individually offer five thousand galleons to Ronald and Ginny, two of my godson's best friends. Your parents may decide to give away what I gave them, but I will not let them take away my personal thanks to each of you.
"To Hermione Granger…" The goblin cleared his throat. "I leave to you five thousand galleons. You, too, have also been a long time friend to Harry. I hope that this will help you in whatever capacity you might choose, whether as a beginning for your further education beyond Hogwarts, or towards whatever endeavor for changing the world you might next choose. I expect great things from you."
Harry watched as Hermione finally looked over at him, her skin glowing brightly in embarrassment at his godfather's words. Guilt, perhaps?
"In addition, I have left a list of books from the Black Family library that I want you to have. I am sure that you more than any one else will truly appreciate the knowledge that can be found within their pages.
"To my cousin, Andromeda Black." Black again? Harry was sure that her name was Tonks. "I offer to you ten thousand galleons. I have taken care of Nymphadora, so you cannot wave off the money to her. I want you to have a vacation once its safe. If anyone deserves it, you do for all of the advice and love you have given to me all of my life."
The room seemed to be in amazement at everything that had happened so far. Harry stole a glance over to where the headmaster sat, his eyes twinkling madly. Something was definitely up.
"Now, to Harry James Potter, my godson and my true Heir, so named and recognized by the Wizengamont and Gringott's bank. To you I give seventy-five percent of the Black Family fortune, as well as the contents of the family vaults, 621 and 92, all properties owned and the contents contained there within, all stocks and bonds of businesses owned, along with all vehicles. These are yours, Harry. I know that there is much that you have in front of you. Consider this all that I can give you now to help you along the way, and beyond."
"What!" Draco Malfoy stood up, his eyes blazing. "How dare he give a filthy half-blooded Gryffindor all of…"
"Sit down, Mister Malfoy!" Rithack bellowed, his demeanor one of not being ignored. Harry watched as Draco's mother placed a hand on her son's arm and pulled him back into his chair. You could tell that he wanted to say more, but her urgent whispering seemed to slowly calm him down, if but for the moment.
Harry looked around the room, his mind numb at everything that had happened so far to see that many people were talking among themselves. In fact, everyone was busy amongst themselves except for Headmaster Dumbledore who was watching Harry carefully, as were the Parkinson's except for Pansy, who was staring carefully at the table, refusing to look anywhere or at anyone.
"To the real crux of the matter." The goblin began reading again. "As stated previously, all agreements, contracts, alliances, et cetera have been summarily dissolved. I do this because we are at war. A war that is destroying our world… that has most likely led directly or indirectly to my death, and I will not have our Family ended here and now.
"So, here is what I have decided… Andromeda Black, once Andromeda Tonks. If your husband can prove before this body that he is free from the Dark Mark, is in no way affiliated or in league with Tom Riddle, also known as Voldemort…" Harry watched as the goblin spoke the name without a problem, but that most of the people assembled around the table shuddered. "I will offer that your marriage is still in effect, contingent upon the agreement of my Heir, Harry Potter."
For a moment, tears of joy began to run along the older woman's face. At the final pronouncement of his name, however, she turned quickly and stared at Harry. Unable to stop, he squirmed in his chair and met the woman's hard gaze.
"Mister Potter?" Harry turned to look at Rithack. "Do you wish to allow the marriage contract to remain in effect?"
Sirius' words ran through his head. "Yes."
Andromeda exhaled a breath loudly, her eyes suddenly filled with a softness as she turned and hugged her husband. The goblin smiled. Harry wondered briefly if he knew what Padfoot's note had said to him.
"To continue, Narcissa Black, once Narcissa Black. I hold your husband to the same standard. If he can prove that he is free of Voldemort and does not carry the dark mark, I will allow the marriage to remain, contingent upon Harry Potter's approval."
Harry had expected another outburst, but at a glance, Harry could see there would not be one as Narcissa Mal… Black had a death grip on her son, her fingers digging tightly into the younger man's arm.
"Mister Potter? Shall your godfather's wishes be upheld and the marriage dissolved until such time as proof can be provided?"
Numbly, Harry nodded. "Yes."
The goblin nodded. "Well, in such case as proof cannot be determined, Sirius Black has stated that an allowance of one thousand galleons each month be deposited into a vault set aside specifically in the event of such. This will occur for one calendar year, after which time, either proof of the will's restrictions be met or the marriage contract shall be ended permanently."
No one said anything at the announcement. Harry found it interesting that Narcissa seemed resigned, almost as if she had been expecting it, while Draco looked positively ill.
"What this means is that Lucius Malfoy is, until such time as the party in question can prove his innocence, the end of the Malfoy line. Henceforth, both Narcissa and Draco will go by the surname of Black, and shall be afforded those rights and considerations belonging to the Noble and Ancient Family Black."
Narcissa looked at her son and had to force her hand loose from her son's arm. She leaned over and ran her hand along his shoulder as she shook her head. "Later, my son. Later."
"And finally we come to Bellatrix Black… formerly Bellatrix LeStrange. As there is no was that your husband can prove before this body that he is free from the Dark Mark, as he is a convicted Death Eater and known supporter of Voldemort, I leave you with nothing. I am ashamed that you are still free and would, if you could prove it to the satisfaction of my named Heir to have turned completely from Voldemort, offer you the protection of the Black Family name. So, it is with a heavy heart that I strip you of all rights regarding our family, until such time as you might turn from the dark."
Silence filled the room as the goblin finished. "Are there any questions before we move on?" When no one answered, Rithack nodded.
Rithack waited until he had everyone's attention before continuing. "Now, to the only other outstanding contracts and agreements that I aw aware of. First… I would ask that Harry Potter allow that group of bird watchers to continue using my home…. Your home now, Harry, as a safe place to meet. While I may not agree with all of their decisions, I think that the ending is worth the price."
The goblin looked at Harry once again. "Do you agree to this request, Mister Potter?"
"Excellent. Then, to the next matter… to the guardianship of Harry Potter. As he is now my sole Heir and the head of House Black, I move for his immediate emancipation. For too long, those of the Black Family have been held down too long and forced to remain in confinement, whether jailed by either the actions of others or of themselves, no more."
After reading that last part, Rithack looked up and met Harry's gaze. "Mister Potter, the paperwork is ready and everything has been signed. All you have to do is agree. Do you wish to be emancipated?"
Barely able to dream that his wish was here, Harry nodded silently, ignoring the dark look that Dumbledore was now giving the goblin.
Harry watched as Rithack nodded once and pulled out a piece of paper and slid it across the table to rest in front of him. Looking down at the paper, Harry could see that all he had to do to be free from the Dursley's forever was to sign his name on the line indicated. Reaching for the quill offered, Harry quickly began writing his name.
"Harry… I think you should consider…" Dumbledore's voice was filled with disapproval, but Harry ignored him. Once done, Rithack took the parchment and nodded, setting the paper in a folder to the side.
Dumbledore sighed loudly, the twinkle notably absent from his eyes as he looked to the goblin. "Is there anything else?"
"Just one last thing." Everyone turned to look at Rithack who set the parchments aside and looked directly at Harry. "As the arrangement of marriage between Pansy Parkinson and Draco Malfoy, now Draco Black, was based upon an agreement by Herakles Black, grandfather of Sirius Black, and Triton Parkinson, great grandfather of Miss Pansy Parkinson, to join the two noble lines, it has been hereby nullified."
Harry was surprised at the obviously happy expressions on the faces of Pansy's parents. Apparently, there was more going on between both Draco and Pansy in the Slytherin common room than a happy romance like everyone had suspected.
"However, while the arrangement has been nullified by the acts and decisions of the will today, the agreement was one that now leaves the Black Family indebted to the Parkinson Family, as the reason for such an arrangement was met on their side, the Parkinson Family now has the right to petition their desire for compensation."
The goblin smiled at Harry. "Do you wish at this time to listen to their requests for fair compensation?"
Sirius… what do you have up your sleeve? Harry sighed as he nodded. "Yes."
At his word, everyone seemed to suddenly sit up to pay attention. Something big was about to happen, though Harry was definitely in the dark as to what was about to happen.
Mister Parkinson smiled as he looked at his wife and daughter. They seemed to hold a silent conversation, the looks between each of them carrying significant words that were never spoken. Harry watched as Esmeralda Parkinson raised an eyebrow at her daughter, who then blushed and nodded. Whatever has passed seemed to finally end the discussion, as the father turned to look directly at Harry.
"Well, young man, I must say that I have been very impressed today… something that I can say has not happened to me in a very, very long time."
"Thank you, sir."
The man waved his hand as he smiled. "Please, call me Franklin. No need for formalities. Not right now."
Harry nodded silently.
"Well. I cannot say that I am displeased entirely that the betrothal of my daughter to young Mister Malfoy… forgive me, Mister Black, now being ended. I was never completely comfortable with the political maneuvering of Lucius Malfoy to force the betrothal, as his son was the only male heir to the Black family, even if indirectly.
"But now my daughter is let free, and while that may not seem like much of a hardship in today's world, for a family as old as mine is, such could be the ruination of so much that I… we… have worked for."
Dumbledore moved to block Franklin from maintaining his gaze with Harry's, but Harry refused to allow the old man to interfere in his life yet again and shifted so that he could stay in sight of Pansy's father.
"Sir... Franklin." Harry amended. "I'm not sure that I understand."
"And you might not, at that." Franklin sighed. "The Parkinson Family, while pureblooded and of strong ties to history, it is not titled. We have no land, to use a common turn of phrase. Too much of how we are now built is… was… based upon the fine print of the marriage agreement, and while you have agreed to consider compensating my family for the contract's ending, I'm not sure that there is anything I can ask for to make up for its ending."
Harry narrowed his eyes as he considered the older man's words carefully, ignoring the headmaster's attempts to catch Harry's eye. "Are you asking me to allow for the marriage agreement to stand between your daughter and Draco?"
"No." He smiled sadly. "Rather, I'd ask that you consider allowing the marriage contract to stand, but between my daughter and yourself."
His eyes widening in disbelief, Harry felt the air leave his lungs at the man's words. Was he actually wanting to have him and Pansy…? That the two of them would…? Not even realizing what he was doing, Harry found his gaze on Pansy.
So far, she refused to look at him, her eyes demurely looking down, although he could detect the hint of a blush along her cheeks.
Harry wanted to talk, to try and figure out what was going on, but the room seemed to finally catch on to what was going on and exploded. Narcissa and Draco were the first ones up. "How dare you, Franklin!" Narcissa screamed. "To tear your daughter away from the one she loves for your own gain…"
"Pansy!" Draco cried out, his voice harsh. "What is this!"
Ginny was quiet, her eyes filled with tears, held in a tight embrace of her mother and her older brothers. Ron was up, his face nearing a shade of red that resembled his family's trademark hair as he protested the very idea of his friend, a Gryffindor, being forced into a betrothal with the Slytherin slut of Hogwarts.
Across the table from them, Hermione was trying to explain what was going on to her parents, both of whom seemed completely lost in everything that was going on. Harry silently wished once again that whatever had her away from him was over so that she could explain it to him.
"I will not allow this." Albus Dumbledore suddenly spoke up, his voice hard. "I will not allow for such machinations to go on amongst students in my school. I will not allow it."
"Allow it?" Rithack suddenly spoke up, his voice as close to a sneer as a goblin might be able to pull off. "What makes you think you have any say here, wizard? This is a matter between the families Parkinson and Black, neither of which are under any say that you might have."
Dumbledore rose to his full height, his eyes glowing like blue chips of diamonds. "Perhaps not, but I am a counsel to the Family Potter, and while they were not landed either, to use Mister Parkinson's quaint usage of the term, I have every right to confer with young Harry regarding what happens here today."
At the smug look of the headmaster, Harry turned to look at Remus. The werewolf seemed completely lost, his face pale as he shook his head at Harry. Chewing at his lower lip, the dark-haired teenager looked to the goblin for assistance.
Rithack nodded. "Mister Potter… do you wish to have the room cleared?"
Whatever the goblin might have offered, that was definitely not it. For a brief moment, he considered answering in the negative. Why would he want to be alone? He hated being alone… but the letter from Padfoot kept coming into his mind. Agree with the goblins.
I hope you know what you're doing, Padfoot…
Sighing, Harry nodded. "Yes, please."
No movement occurred. Rithack said nothing, but suddenly, the doors to the meeting room burst open and ten goblin warriors, all armed to the teeth… literally, all stepped into the room. No one really had much of a chance to say anything as Rithack stood, his demeanor pleasant but firm.
"Mister Potter, Heir to the Family Black, has requested that everyone except for Franklin Parkinson, Esmeralda Parkinson and Pansy Parkinson be escorted from the room. As the will has been read, but for a few paragraphs left strictly for his Heir, there is nothing but for the turning over of vault keys and of specifically named possessions, which will occur in another room."
When no one made a move to leave, the goblin sighed. "Leave. Now. Or you will be removed."
Harry watched in amusement as the wizards and witches and muggles were all escorted out of the room. He ignored the looks of disapproval that were shot his way, especially from the Weasley family and from Dumbledore. He remained silent until the ten guards made sure that they were all out of the room before securely shutting the doors.
Harry looked around the suddenly very empty conference room to find himself alone with three Slytherins and a goblin.
"I'm sure that was very difficult." Esmeralda offered quickly, cutting off Harry's words. "It was well done, although I'm sure you will have to smooth over several ruffled feathers before things get back as they were."
Harry laughed, the first real laugh he could remember in a very long time. "I'm not sure things could ever go back to the way they were. Too much has happened."
"You can only move forward." Franklin smiled.
Standing from his chair, Harry stretched, his body upset for having sat in the hard chair for too long. Rolling his shoulders, he stepped away from the table and examined the room, ignoring how the three… four, if you counted Rithack, were all watching him.
Turning, he tilted his head and looked at the elder Parkinson. "Without everyone else in the room, why don't you tell me what is really going on."
He watched as the husband and wife shared a look, but it was Pansy's reaction that helped keep the smile on his face. "I told you he'd see through it."
"See through what?"
Franklin sighed as he ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair. "You are definitely nothing like I expected… a good thing for you, I think, but it leaves me wondering how to handle everything."
"I prefer the truth." Harry offered.
"Yes. Pansy said you might." The man smiled at his daughter before looking back at Harry. "The followers of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named are putting several pureblood families in a difficult position, Harry… May I call you Harry?" At his nod, Franklin continued. "On one hand, we can offer his Death Eaters support and if he wins, we'll not suffer for it."
"But if we do not give him what he wants," Esmeralda began to speak. "Well, we become targets."
Harry leaned on the wall as he crossed his arms over his chest. "Go on."
"We do not support Him. Not at all." Franklin spoke again. "My father died fighting him during his first rise to power… something that cost him his life in the end. I don't want my wife and daughter to live a life like I was forced to lead after my own father's death… I had hoped to stay neutral in all of this, but then the marriage agreement hit after Pansy was born… the first time there was a suitable match between the Black Family and mine."
Franklin held up his hands. "I know. What does that have to do with anything? I'm ashamed to say it, but I had hoped that perhaps the combining of our two families, Draco together with Pansy, might be enough that He and His followers would leave us alone."
"You were pawning off you own daughter!" Harry felt his face grow cold. "How could you even consider doing something like that?"
At his words, Pansy looked up in surprise. Harry was actually… defending her? Without realizing it, she began to smile and, for the first time, actually dare to hope.
Franklin, on the other hand, dropped his gaze from Harry's. "It really wasn't like that. We had to marry them together, the contract was binding. I just hoped that it would be all… and if Draco turned out alright, then my daughter would be safe."
"But Draco wasn't." Pansy offered softly. "You know him, maybe better than anyone else, friend or enemy. He's horrible."
Harry lowered his brow in confusion. "Then why…?"
"Why did I hang all over him?" Harry nodded. Pansy shrugged her shoulders. "He was cute, at first, and he was my intended. And, let's face it; in a House like Slytherin, it paid to be connected. Being betrothed to the Malfoy name kept me safe."
Harry hated to say it aloud, especially in front of her parents, but he had to know the truth. "But all of the rumors…?"
"That my daughter is a… a scarlet woman?" Harry nodded to Pansy's mother. The dark-haired woman's eyes suddenly twinkled. "Memory charms."
Esmeralda smiled. "Once Draco and some of the… others… began their advances on Pansy, making demands, we decided to take drastic action. We taught her to use memory charms that would keep her safe."
"After that, it was enough." Franklin sighed. "The Malfoy Family had to abide by the agreement, but Draco didn't want to go near her. Others tried, and once they were given the false memory of having had her, they left her alone, too."
Harry was dumbfounded. "How could you live like that?"
Pansy smiled. "I'd rather people believe a lie than to have the lie forced as a truth upon me."
"And once you finally married Draco?"
"I'd tell him the truth. Give myself to him and let him decide." Pansy replied sadly. "It wasn't like I… we… had much of a choice…"
"And you were okay with that?" Harry never realized that Pansy's parents were stepping out of the conversation, allowing for Harry and their daughter to work everything out. "Marrying Draco?"
"Like I said, it wasn't my choice…"
Harry cut her off. "And if it was?"
Pansy looked up at him, her dark eyes starting to sparkle. "Like any girl at Hogwarts, I had my teenage dreams about boys." She smiled softly. "I will honestly tell you that Draco was never anything but a nightmare to me… but it was a nightmare that I never thought I might escape."
"And a betrothal to me?"
Pansy smiled brightly then. "What girl wouldn't want to be engaged to marry The-Boy-Who-Lived? Even for a Slytherin?"
Harry laughed. "I doubt I had too many admirers among Slytherin."
"You'd be surprised. Not everyone is a follower of Him. Most Slytherin, like me, want nothing to do with You-Know-Who. We just want a chance to live our lives the way we want."
"Voldemort giving your House a bad name?" He teased back, suddenly glad that Pansy didn't shiver at the evil wizard's name.
Harry returned to his seat and looked over at the goblin that was watching everything silently. "So, Rithack… what do we do now?"
"Well, Mister Potter, that depends entirely upon you." He pulled out several pieces of paper. "If you decide to go along with the Parkinson request and formally allow for a betrothal between yourself and their daughter, then you would both agree to a potentially magical binding. Each of you would then be required to either marry or petition for the ending of said betrothal upon reaching adulthood."
Looking over at Pansy, Harry started chewing at his lower lip. "What do you mean by adulthood? Both of us or just one?"
"Both, Mister Potter." The goblin grinned. "As you are emancipated, however, you are considered an adult now by wizarding law. You need only wait for Pansy to reach the age of seventeen on…" Harry watched as Rithack looked down at a parchment in a folder. "December thirtieth of this year."
"Six months?" Harry squeaked as he sat back down.
The goblin nodded. Harry looked over at where the Parkinson's sat patiently. Shifting carefully in his chair, he considered how to say what was on his mind.
Pansy's mother seemed to be the first to understand Harry's dilemma. "Franklin, dear. Why don't we step outside for a moment?"
At his wife's suggestion, the wizard looked carefully between both his daughter and Harry before nodding and standing, offering a hand to his wife. Harry watched as they both leaned down to whisper something in their daughter's ear before they both stepped outside. Once the doors closed, Rithack stood and moved to the far side of the room, allowing for the two teenagers to have some privacy.
Once alone, Pansy seemed to revert to how she acted earlier during the reading of the will, her eyes downcast. Suddenly very unsure, Harry got up and moved into the chair vacated by her mother. At the closer proximity, Pansy looked up, her dark brown eyes meeting his bright green ones.
Harry licked his suddenly dry lips. "What do you want, Pansy? Are you looking to be betrothed to me... to get married in December?"
"I'll do whatever you need to protect your family. You don't have to… to sell yourself to me, if that's what you think you have to do. I can help you if you need it."
"Sell myself?" Pansy suddenly screeched, her eyes furious. "Is that what you think of me? That I'd allow myself to be… sold, like some common tart on the street? That I'd have no say in my own destiny? Is that what you see in…?"
"No!" Harry shouted over her, forcing her to be quiet. "That's not what I said! What I meant." He sighed as he leaned back in the chair, his hand unconsciously running through his messy back hair. "We've barely spoken three words to one another in the five years we've known each other.
"You were a part of Umbridge's Inquisitional Squad. You tortured me and my friends. You've been nothing but a hanger on to Draco Malfoy since I've ever known of you… and now, suddenly, we're supposed to get married and live happily ever after? Is that what you want?"
"Yes, damnit!" Pansy spoke, her eyes flashing dangerously. "Merlin, yes! I want the good-looking guy in school that the wizarding world thinks is the Chosen One. I want the star Quidditch player and noble Gryffindor that looks to protect those that can't or won't help themselves."
Harry watched as she stood and began to pace, her hair willowing out as she moved. "Forgive this poor, insignificant Slytherin for daring to dream, but I like the idea that I can be thought of as something more than a slut that spreads her legs to any bloke looking for an easy score. To make a difference in the world where people respect me and my opinions matter.
"I like the idea of keeping my family safe, but not at the cost of my own happiness." She looked at Harry then, her gaze nailing him to the spot. "And I would offer myself to you for any of those reasons, the chance to keep my family safe… I love my parents, but I was the one who came up with this idea. Me! I convinced my father to seek out Sirius Black. Me!"
"What!" Harry exclaimed. "You talked with Sirius?"
She nodded. "It took a fortune, all on its own, but Daddy found him… a way to talk to him, pass along messages. After weeks of convincing him that there was no dark motive, not a trick of the Malfoys or any of the Death Eaters. I got a chance to correspond with him… to tell him my idea."
Pansy smiled sadly at Harry. "He wasn't supposed to die. We were working to use the Malfoy's to learn of where Peter Pettigrew was and then turn him over to the Aurors. Once that was done, Sirius was going to do all of this for us… for you. He was supposed to talk to you and get you to see what we were doing."
"So, this is just a scheme to save your family?" Harry couldn't tell if he was upset at the thought or not.
"No." Pansy sighed. "You are so thickheaded sometimes. Typical Gryffindor." She smiled. "Saving my family is just an added bonus. Do you even know how most purebloods get engaged? Betrothed?"
Harry shook his head silently. Pansy smiled as she sat back next to him. Carefully, slowly, she laid her hands atop his. "When someone became seriously interested in somebody that they fancied, they'd have their family talk to the family of the one they wanted and ask for a betrothal."
"You asked for me?" Harry asked, surprised. "You asked Sirius for me?"
"Is that so shocking?"
"I've never been all that successful with girls." Harry admitted.
Pansy smiled. "And I know nothing of how to actually deal with boys. Everything that you've ever heard about me is based on memory charms that my parents cooked up."
Harry moved his hands so that they were each holding each other's hands. "So…"
Is this the part where he was supposed to be cursing Sirius' name? He silently considered the Slytherin girl in front of him, their hands holding on to one another. Would it be so bad? Merlin above knew that he barely understood the wizarding world, was dependant upon Dumbledore and the meager droppings he fed to Harry whenever he liked. Maybe a political move might be just what was needed… and besides, it wasn't really like there were any other serious prospects for him. Maybe Pansy was exactly what he needed… and he did have six months to try and figure it out. If it didn't work, he could still help her and her family out, away from Voldemort.
He grinned. Why not? "Want to get married?"
Pansy tilted her head as she looked at him. "Are you sure? I mean, I want to… to at least try. I know I set most of this up, but now I'm so unsure. We have six months to figure out if we're compatible."
"My thoughts exactly." Harry shrugged. "Why not? Nothing else in my life has ever been normal. Who's to say that a tricked betrothal to a pretty Slytherin that used to be engaged to my least favorite schoolmate isn't exactly what I need in my life?"
Pansy grinned mischievously. "You think I'm pretty?"
He ignored the bait. "So, wanna get married or not?" Harry asked again.
"It's not going to be easy, you know."
"Nothing worthwhile ever is." Harry sighed.
Pansy leaned over and hugged Harry. He stiffened at the contact at first, before he finally relaxed and found himself hugging the brunette back. As they pulled apart, she smiled at him again. "I would like to ask one thing from you, however."
Furrowing his brow, Harry looked at her carefully. "What?"
"A better proposal before we actually get married."
X X X
The paperwork had been relatively simple once they'd agreed to try it out, a practice run for their engagement. Rithack had the two teenagers signing paperwork quickly, both of their hands growing tired before it was all over… copies of everything handed to Harry. Afterwards, another goblin and a ministry wizard entered the room from a hidden door and witnessed the formal betrothal, both having to hold hands and run their wands over each other.
Harry had been surprised at the golden nimbus that had briefly surrounded them during the incantation that they'd both said, though Pansy had seemed delighted at seeing the light.
Once finished, Pansy and Harry had asked for her parents to be brought back into the room. Both came in, their faces full of worry at having left the two alone for so long… several hours, Harry would later learn… until they were informed by official decree handed to them that Harry Potter and Pansy Parkinson were formally betrothed.
From there, Harry was quite unsure as to how he should then proceed.
"Harry…" Franklin shook the younger man's hand as his wife was hugging her daughter. "I do not mean to be presumptuous, but as you both are wanting this to be an actual marriage, if such is possible, and with time being as short as it is…"
Harry smiled at the man's stumbling over his own words. "What are you thinking?"
Franklin smiled. "It is so refreshing to not have to attempt politics with someone." He glanced over at his daughter and wife, both of whom were watching them carefully. "I was going to suggest that you might like to spend the rest of the summer at our home… before the both of you are scheduled to return to Hogwarts."
Before Harry could answer, Pansy's father kept going. "Its nothing fancy, our home, but you might like the time to get to know each other… and if this is not something that both of you can decide is right for you, it can be ended before there are any mistakes later on."
Looking over at Pansy, Harry felt a warmth inside at seeing the hopeful smile on the teenager's face. Smiling, Harry nodded. "I'd like that, very much."
Pansy squealed in delight as Esmeralda smiled. Franklin simply nodded. "Excellent. Excellent. Then perhaps we can arrange to go and pick up your things… that is, if you wanted to come over immediately?"
Harry began to nod immediately, but began to consider his predicament. "There are a few things that we might need to discuss before we are all decided on how the rest of the summer is spent."
At the looks he was now getting, Harry sighed and motioned for all three of them to sit down. "As your daughter and I are now betrothed…" He paused, amazed at how he felt about getting married to a girl he barely knew. What was he doing? "You should know that I am not very well liked by Voldemort's followers."
Franklin grinned. "You mean the fact that He's trying to kill you?"
At Harry's nod, Franklin looked over at his wife and daughter. "After Draco's father was captured, we paid an obnoxious amount of galleons to have out home well protected. Besides the Fidelius charm, there are several wards set about our property, with only myself as the Secret Keeper. Of the entire wizarding world, only the three of us know where it is now… and outside of my dying, there is no way for anyone to discover where we are."
Franklin nodded at Harry, his face very serious. "Trust me, young man. No one can break these wards outside of Dumbledore or You-Know-Who… and neither knows where to start looking. Almost half of the Parkinson fortune went to paying for it all."
Pansy grinned as she reached out over the table and hesitantly again took Harry's hand in hers. "Harry… we had to be safe, especially considering that after your godfather dissolved mine and Draco's betrothal agreement, we had to make sure we had protection in case you said no."
Taking a deep breath, Harry smiled. "Okay. Let's go."
"Excellent." Franklin said as he stood from the chair.
Harry smiled over at Pansy when a thought cam to mind. "But… before we go…." As everyone looked over at him, Harry grinned. "Do you think we might be able to grab some lunch? I'm starving."
X X X
Outside in the main lobby of Gringott's Bank, Diagon Alley branch, several people were in the middle of an argument that had been going on for several hours. All of the participants, regardless of age, family or lineage, were oblivious to the glares the were receiving from the other patrons of the bank, as the assorted group of wizards and witches and muggles refused to move so that there was no way that the object of their discussion, Harry Potter, might escape without their having a chance to discuss what had happened after they'd been forced to leave the reading of Sirius Black's will.
On the one side was Albus Dumbledore, the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamont, current Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the leader of the Order of the Phoenix, the self appointed guardians of the Light and protectors of Harry Potter, the Chosen One. Firmly in his camp were Arthur and Molly Weasley, as well as their sons Bill and Charlie and the Granger parents… muggles, the both of them, but adults and clearly (in their minds, at least) in the right.
Apposed to them was the younger generation that included Fred and George Weasley, their younger brother Ron and younger sister Ginny, Hermione Granger and, in a surprise shift, all three Tonks. They were metaphorically being led by Remus Lupin, the last Marauder, as well as being the former most beloved professor at the aforementioned Hogwarts.
Not in attendance for the argument were Percy Weasley, excusing himself immediately after being escorted from the room on the claim that he needed to get back to his job at the ministry, and Narcissa and Draco Black, both formerly Malfoy, who had refused to remain in the bank a moment longer than necessary.
"I still don't see where you think you know what's best for Harry." Remus growled. If the object of his ire was worried, the elderly wizard didn't show it.
"And I have told you, time and time again, that Harry must stay at his family's home for a duration of time each summer to ensure that the blood ties that Lily Potter passed along to her sister remain in effect. To do anything else is too terrible to contemplate."
"But why?" Ron pressed, emboldened by the fact that he had others surrounding him that supported the argument, most notably being Hermione whom he secretly fancied. "You say that it's too horrible to consider, but you're not telling us why. For all Harry knows, you're just making this stuff up as you go."
"Ronald Bilius Weasley!" Molly nearly yelled, her voice echoing off the stone structures of the bank's interior. "You will not speak that way to Professor Dumbledore."
For a moment, Ron's ears tinted pink at his mother's scolding, but Fred and George took that moment to come to their brother's rescue, diverting their mother's attention away from what the youngest Weasley male had said. "But why does Harry have to stay there for the entire summer? Every year, the time he has to stay at that awful place changes."
"That's a good point, boys." Ted Tonks (another muggle) looked over to where his daughter's former boyfriend, Charlie Weasley, stood. "Charlie… you work with dragons and understand wards… and Bill, you work as a curse breaker. Does any of this make sense to you?"
Everyone turned to look at the two eldest Weasley children as they looked at one another and then back towards where the Chief Warlock stood. "Not really." Bill finally admitted. "But I trust Professor Dumbledore, and if he says that Harry has to go back, then he has to go back."
Fred snorted. Hermione smiled apologetically towards her parents as she moved to face off against the Headmaster… her ever nerve-ending screaming at her for questioning an authority figure in such a way. "Sir, its not that we don't trust you. Far from it, but we blindly followed your advice about ignoring Harry during the reading… something that I still don't understand, and because of that, we were all kicked out of the meeting, you're now asking us to blindly follow you again."
"Exactly." Ron added, ignoring the death glare his mother was giving him. "You took us away from Harry, not even letting any of his friends write to him so far this summer, especially after everything that happened at the ministry… and now we're out of the loop as much as Draco."
"And he's in there with three Slytherin."
Andromeda Tonks smiled for a moment. "Actually, only two Slytherin. Franklin was a Hufflepuff."
Hermione turned and looked at the elder Tonks. "Pansy's father was in Hufflepuff?"
"Hey!" The younger Tonks glared. "And what is so wrong with Hufflepuff?"
Both Fred and George began to laugh. "Tonks! You were…"
As the metamorphmagus glared at the two of them, Albus looked over at Remus Lupin. Where had he lost the werewolf's support? "Remus, please…"
"No, Ablus. No." Remus sighed. "I'm not going along with it. You heard Sirius' will just like the rest of us. Harry's an adult in the eyes of the ministry. You can't make him do anything he doesn't want to do." He crossed his arms over his chest.
"Don't do this, my friend."
Remus glared at the older wizard. "Do this? I'm supporting the son of my dearest friend, the godson of my other dearest friend… a friend I am still mourning for, I might add." The graying wizard looked around the lobby. "I failed them both. I will not fail them again."
Albus Dumbledore glared at the Order member and started to retort when a door across the lobby opened and four figures suddenly emerged. He watched, as Harry was oblivious to the group that had all gone quiet and were observing him as he continued to talk animatedly with Franklin Parkinson, the two Parkinson females trailing after them.
"Harry!" Ron called out suddenly, causing the raven-haired teenager to suddenly look up. Albus observed that he seemed shocked to see everyone still waiting for him, but his attention quickly moved over to where Ron, Hermione and the Weasley twins made their way over to where they were standing.
"Mate, what took so long?" Ron asked. "Is everything okay?"
"What's going on, Harry?" Hermione inquired at the same time. "You were in there for so long…"
Harry looked at both of them, his eyes full of curiosity as the two he counted as his oldest and dearest friends were both apparently talking to him again. For a moment, Harry considered ignoring them, giving them the same treatment that they had forced him to endure during the reading.
Looking over to where the Parkinson's had moved to, offering Harry a bit of privacy, Harry smiled softly before turning his intense gaze back at his friends. "So, we're talking again now?"
Both Hermione and Ron blushed, as they dropped their gazes to the floor in front of Harry's feet. Ron shrugged as Harry waited. "Sorry, Harry… Dumbledore said we had to leave you alone…"
Harry snorted. "Great. And those letters?"
At his question, Hermione looked up, her eyes wide. "Letters? What letters? We've not been allowed to send you anything lately."
Harry's eyes narrowed at her words. "No letters? I've got a stack of them from you guys, Ginny and Luna and Neville, too."
"I can't say for sure about Luna or Neville, mate, but we haven't sent you anything, Harry." Ron looked bewildered. "Honest."
"So, Harry…" Fred called over Hermione and Ron's shoulders. "You betrothed, yet?"
"Hermione?" Harry asked.
He watched as the bushy haired girl shrugged. "I don't know, Harry… unless Professor Dumbledore…"
"Hey, Harry." George called over Hermione's words. "What about it?"
Fred laughed. "We want some dirt. Are you engaged or not?"
Ron's eyes looked up to meet Harry's gaze, not realizing that he was being carefully evaluated, Hermione was warily looking for Harry's reaction to the question. As the moment passed, Ron grinned. "Get off it, guys… Harry's not with her."
Ron ignored Hermione's attempts to get him to stop. "I knew you weren't going to hitch yourself to that slag…" Hermione seemed to catch on a moment before Harry reacted, as she quickly moved in-between her two best friends.
Harry took a step forward, his green eyes suddenly like pools of emerald flames. "Do. Not. Ever. Say. That. Again." Harry ran a shaking hand through his hair. "For your information, Ron, I've decided to go ahead with the betrothal to Pansy…"
"What!" Ginny's voice suddenly came from behind the twins. Harry glanced around his friends to see the youngest Weasley standing there, her eyes suddenly filling with tears at hearing Harry's words. "You… y-you're engaged to a Slytherin! To Parkinson?"
Sighing, Harry turned and held his hand out to Pansy. He watched as she looked at his offered hand almost as if he held a knife at her, until her eyes lifted to meet his. Silently, they looked at one another. Whatever it was she saw in his gaze seemed enough, as the Slytherin brunette moved slowly away from the relative safety of her parents and took Harry's offered hand in hers, allowing herself to be brought into the conversation… although the not-so-subtle shove from her mother didn't hurt to get her started in the right direction.
"Pansy." Harry smiled at her, his hand squeezing hers in support. "These are my two best mates, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley."
Ron looked completely dumbfounded, his mouth hanging open, as his gaze kept moving back and forth between Harry and Pansy. Hermione, on the other hand, seemed to come back to herself quicker and forced a smile that she hoped silently was somewhat believable.
Offering her hand to the Slytherin that had once hexed her, Hermione took a deep breath. "Congratulations on your betrothal. You are very lucky." Hermione hoped that her cryptic statement was taken for all that it was meant.
Pansy shot a quick glance at her intended before lightly taking the other girl's hand. "I know. And thank you."
Both girls dropped the other's hand as quickly as they could, neither wanting to anger Harry any more than he apparently already was. Harry turned to look at Ron, the stunned expression still on his face. Sighing, he moved on to where the twins both stood, the expressions on each of their faces could only be described in one word: amused. He waited, as the two finally looked at one another and then offered huge smiles.
"And these two troublemakers are Fred and George Weasley…"
"Leave it to our little Harrikins…."
"To find a stunning beauty…"
"At the reading of a will." Fred finished.
George bowed deeply, pushing his youngest brother to the side as he drew closer. "A pleasure to meet you, the future Mrs. Potter."
Not to be outdone by his twin, Fred smiled and offered another bow, his eyes waggling. "We hope that we will be seeing so much more of you in the days to come."
"Yes, a visit to our humble shoppe."
"Or a stop by for some tea."
The twins spoke together suddenly. "Both would be fabulous."
Pansy couldn't help but laugh at the theatrics of these two. They were definitely more than she originally thought… but then, she smiled over at Harry. Why would Harry surround himself with fools? Perhaps there was more to all of his friends than just what they initially appeared… though how Ronald Weasley was more than he appeared she couldn't begin to fathom.
Movement caught her eye as she watched a flurry of red hair quickly move away… the youngest, Ginny, moving away before having a chance to be introduced. Pansy internally grimaced at the girl's quick retreat. Idly, she ran through the catalogue of rumors that she had accumulated about most everyone in the school… her mind finally finding what was nagging at her. Ginny had a major crush on Harry.
Well… that had to be stopped, and soon.
"Ron?" Harry's voice brought her out from her thoughts. "Ron. Are you going to introduce yourself?"
She watched, as Ron seemed to finally shake himself out of whatever stupor he'd found himself in, as his eyes sheepishly fell onto the brunette next to his best friend. Ron quietly tried to figure out what was going on… he could admit that she was attractive, but his mind kept coming back to the fact that she was a slut, had dated Draco Malfoy and was in Slytherin.
Finally, Ron forced a smile. "Sorry. It's nice to see you, Pansy."
Pansy was thrilled that he hadn't offered his hand to her. "Thank you. It's nice to see you, too."
Whatever other pleasantries might the assembled youths forced themselves to endure for the sake of friendship was suddenly interrupted as the shadow of Headmaster Dumbledore fell over all of them, his eyes twinkling merrily. "Harry. So glad that you are done. Congratulations on your betrothal. We have juts enough time to have a quick, late lunch and then get you back to your family's…"
"No." Harry interrupted, ignoring the looks that passed from Molly and Arthur Weasley who had followed at his tone.
The twinkle in Dumbledore's eyes began to fade. "No?"
The dark-haired teenager shrugged. "No. I'm having lunch with the Pansy and her parents."
His blue eyes started to shine again. Harry wanted to slap the smile off of the old man's face. "Of course. If you would like them to join us before we…"
Dumbledore looked at Harry, the sparkle fading again. "Harry, really. You don't have much time before we…"
Harry pinched at the bridge of his nose. "Headmaster… no disrespect intended, but as of this morning, I am no longer a child in the eyes of the law. I will not be going back to the Dursley's. I am not spending another moment in that godforsaken house with those people."
The teenager felt his anger rising again. "No. And more to that, no, you are not invited to lunch."
Harry ignored the incredulous looks that were passing between the Weasley's and Hermione. By far, this was the most that anyone had ever publicly stood up to Albus Dumbledore since… well, forever. Looking over at Pansy, seeing the sudden spark of pride in her eyes, Harry looked back over at the man he had once considered a grandfather. "Now, if you will please excuse me… I'm hungry and we have a long trip ahead of us."
"Trip?" Hermione suddenly asked, trying to ignore the sudden lump in her stomach.
Harry smiled at his friend as he nodded. "Yep. The Parkinson's have offered to allow me to go with them on a trip while I try to get to know their daughter. We've only got six months before the wedding."
"What!" Fred exclaimed.
George looked shocked. "Six months?"
"Wedding!" Molly nearly shrieked, Ginny was huddled in behind her, the threat of tears easily realized by anyone that knew the petite redhead.
Pansy smiled, suddenly enjoying how well Harry was handling everything. He even stood up to Dumbledore! He was acting positively Slytherin. Wanting to join into the fun, she moved forward. "Absolutely. We have until we're both adults, and since Harry was emancipated today and my seventeenth birthday is in December…"
"Absolutely not!" Molly cried.
Everyone assembled watched as Arthur tried to hold his wife back, but the Weasley matriarch was refusing to be budged. "Harry James Potter. You will stop this foolishness this instant and go along with the Headmaster. Such childishness… married, and at your age… why I never…"
Ignoring the red faces of the Weasley family, not to mention the embarrassed look from Hermione, Harry sighed. "Mrs. Weasley." He interrupted. "Molly…"
At the use of her first name, he watched as Ron's mother paused in her tirade and looked at him. Silently, Harry sent a look of warning to Ron and the others, hoping they understood and would someday forgive him.
The look enough was almost enough to alleviate the onslaught of guilt he felt at being rude to the woman who had taken him in and made him like one of the family. Shooting a quick look around the people nearby, he could see that everyone else was just as amazed at his temerity as Molly.
Pansy was floored. She watched as Harry shrugged into the silence. "Now, Molly… I am sorry about that, but you have to trust me to know what I'm doing."
"But, Harry…" The older redheaded woman spoke, but she stopped when Harry raised his hand.
"Please. There is so much going on… and you deserve to know about it, all of you, but not right now. I have some things to take care of." He took a breath. "However, if you're just itching for an argument, why don't you ask the Headmaster here about why he was forging your son and daughter's names of letters he was sending me."
Harry watched as several adults, as well as Ginny Weasley, all turned and looked at the long-bearded wizard, shouts of "is this true?" and "what's he talking about?" and gasps of surprise filled the bank's lobby, the resounding echoes filling the air and reaching everyone within shouting distance.
At Dumbledore's reproachful look, Harry smiled. "Well… it was great seeing all of you."
Pansy allowed for Harry to pull her along after him, his hand staying firmly intertwined with hers, as he pushed his way through the people in front of them. For some reason, she suddenly felt lighter than she could ever remember, a smile on her face, as she quickly caught up to her betrothed as he led her out of the bank. With both of them in front, neither saw the looks that passed between her parents, nor the scowls of the people he'd suddenly left behind… each of them faced with either chasing after him or continuing on in their questioning of the leader of the Order of the Phoenix.
Harry stopped momentarily, as he looked over his shoulder. "And Ron?"
Poking his head from around where his father and mother were animatedly discussing something, although the constant finger pointing in Harry's direction seemed to clear up what the main topic was, the redhead looked so lost that Pansy actually began to feel sorry for him… only just a little bit, however. "Yeah, Harry?"
"Could you send Hedwig after me? She'll know where I am." Harry didn't even wait for a nod before turning back towards the front entrance of the large stone building.
After the four of them made it out the door, all of them ignoring the various looks that flittered across the various faces in the crowd of Diagon Alley, Remus Lupin chased after them and fell into step along with Harry.
"You okay, cub?"
Harry nodded. "Just deciding to take charge of my own life, Moony."
The older wizard smiled sagely. "I can respect that, but you have to admit that all of this is a bit… well… sudden…"
"Not really." Harry replied as he felt a supportive squeeze from Pansy. "Last year, things didn't go well for me… and I thought it would have ended with Padfoot's death."
"Were you at the same meeting as me?" Harry joked, the sarcasm literally dripping from his mouth. "Today I learned that Dumbledore has faked messages to me using my friends' names, that my friends were willing to go along with a plan to make me feel alone so that he could keep control over me, that Sirius had a plan for me that extended beyond Voldemort… and that there was actually someone out there that wanted the chance to love me."
At his last statement, he felt Pansy squeeze his hand again. He stole a glance over to where she walked beside him to find her pale skin blushing brightly. Smiling, he squeezed her hand back in return.
"I've had to endure a lot, Moony. More than anyone should ever really have to go through." He sighed. "Not that I'm necessarily looking for sympathy or pity. Far from it actually. I just want a chance to live… I think I have that right, at the very least."
Remus nodded, the memory of talking to James suddenly filling his memories. Harry was so like the parents he never knew. They'd both be so proud.
"And if you want to go find that spitfire that Padfoot mentioned in the will, the two of you can join us for lunch." Harry grinned. "Besides, I have a few favors to ask of both of you."
The older wizard looked at Harry with surprise. "Y-you know who he was talking about?"
Harry laughed, a wonderful sound to everyone walking along with him. "Anyone in that room should have figured it out by watching your eyes and her blush every time she caught you looking."
"Fine." Remus growled, knowing when he'd lost. "Where are you going?"
Looking over at Pansy's father, Harry shrugged at the man's smile. Finally, Franklin nodded. "How about the Centaur's Star Chart across the way from the twins' shoppe? They're supposed to have a steak that's out of this world…"
Remus groaned. "That sounds like something Sirius would have said."
The raven-headed teenager smiled again, offsetting the sadness at the loss of his godfather. "Who do you think told me about it last summer?"
X X X
The Centaur's Star Chart was nothing like anything that Harry had ever seen in the wizarding world, and considering that he had spent almost every summer of the past four years at the Burrow with his best mate, Ron, and the rest of the Weasley's, that was saying a lot. Nothing in the room was what could be described, in any fashion, as normal. Abnormal, maybe, but not normal.
The door leading into the restaurant had been painted midnight blue with stars winking all over it. As the four of them (Remus had run off to find his mystery date) approached, the door seemed to melt, the dark blue fading from sight and the stars burning out, allowing for them to enter unimpeded.
Barely taking a step over the threshold, they were immediately accosted by a very tall and very thin man dressed in what everyone could only consider as a ballet leotard with spotted stockings on his feet and a Tokyo Rangers cowboy hat atop his oil drenched hair atop his head that insisted that it was his lifelong dream and pleasure to escort them to a table of their choosing. It was only after he had turned to lead them further into the building that Harry realized that the room would have been more at home in a Dali painting than it would in the real world… if he was still in the real world.
Nothing matched. Not the paint, nor the tables and chairs. There was no rhyme or reason to anything. Eventually, Harry could only ignore the insanity and focus on Pansy and her parents. Franklin and Esmeralda seemed to be taking it all in stride, but the dark-haired teenager clutching his hand tightly seemed as overwhelmed as he was. Taking some small comfort in that, Harry pulled her closer to him and was rewarded when she turned her face to his and offered him a dazzling smile in gratitude.
"You table, sirs and madams." The restaurant employee bowed, his arms extended to point them to a nice table that was carefully sat in one of the corners away from the windows, as Franklin had specified. Nodding in appreciation, Harry watched as Pansy's father pulled a chair out for his wife and Harry decided to mimic the gesture. It was worth it as he saw an immediate blush return to his future wife's cheeks, as well as a smile from his soon to be mother-in-law.
Sitting down in the chair by the wall, Harry took a moment to look around from where he sat and was amazed to find that all of the decorations and design of the interior suddenly seemed elegant and beautiful. The table was polished and clean, while everyone was seated in matching chairs that were comfortable and pleasant to sit in. The flatware all matched and, upon closer examination, the silvered handle of each was engraved with the image of a centaur.
The restaurant was much nicer indeed than what he had originally expected.
Franklin looked up to see Harry Potter apparently dazzled by the magical effects of the restaurant and quietly waited, along with both his wife and his daughter, for any questions that might come up. Unable to stop himself, he felt his lips curl up into a smile at the enigma that this young man threw at him.
On the one hand there was the public's image of the Chosen one. The-Boy-Who-Lived. The Daily Prophet painted him as an arrogant, misguided glory-seeker that was left without all of his metal faculties after destroying You-Know-Who as a child nearly fifteen years earlier. In contrast, The Quibbler showed a kinder, gentler savior that was forced into situation after situation, with only luck and his friends as the reason he'd made it out alive so far.
Neither really seemed like the teenager sitting across from him, so Franklin moved on to the various personal reports he'd gotten on Harry. Of course, the Malfoy's had him as a mere nuisance, a "fly in their potion" that would be crushed under the heel of their Dark Lord upon his eventual rise to power. Franklin shuddered as he remembered listening to the Death Eater propaganda speeches on weekends where he and his wife had been forced to escort their daughter to the Malfoy mansion and had been surrounded by such evil… the Nott's and Zabini's and others.
Those in the ministry were even wilder, the vote on Harry Potter either being either in the "completely for" camp or the "completely against" on the polar opposite. For some reason, he offered no middle ground in opinions. He was either hated or loved.
It was a black or white issue.
And as to the actual friends, family and loved ones that Harry surrounded himself with, those select and lucky few, he could learn nothing from them. For nearly a year, he had tried to cajole, bribe, blackmail or whatever else he might have to resort to in order to find out anything of this young wizard that possibly might know the secret to escaping the rising threat of the darkest wizard to have ever walked the land. In fact, it had only been Sirius Black that had eventually decided to talk to him and his daughter at all, although he really only gave the barest of information along with promises to speak with his godson.
That had left Franklin to depend upon the one person's view of Harry Potter that was the source of originating the desire to learn about the boy in the first place… Pansy.
His daughter had been adamant in her desire to escape the clutches of Draco Malfoy. Franklin sighed as he remembered Pansy coming home after a supervised visit to meet her betrothed at that time, her eyes red from crying. It had taken nearly an hour to get her to fess up that the little blonde-haired boy had been mean to her and that she had no intention of ever seeing him again. It had broken his heart to have to lie to his daughter and tell her that everything would eventually work out.
Over the years, he and his wife had helped Pansy find a middle ground, a way to stay true to herself while giving up her public appearance, the decision to allow only those she loved and trusted to know the truth, the rest of the world could be left to know only the lie.
The choice had not been an easy one. Franklin had been forced to suffer from the innuendos and slighted words and phrases at holiday events and at work, the rumors of his daughter's… indiscretions, carrying from the children at the school (and maybe the professor's, as well) to their parents. Too many times, he had wanted to yell at them, to proclaim his daughter's purity… how clean she was even after having to wallow in such filth, but he held his tongue. The loyalty to his daughter and to his family's safety came first.
"I don't get it." Harry finally admitted, a self-depreciating smirk on his face. Franklin watched as Pansy smiled and reached over to lay her hand atop his, pulling the boy's gaze to meet hers.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Well… sure, but…"
Pansy giggled. If for nothing else, as a father to hear his daughter so happy at this moment was enough for him to want to give the boy every chance his daughter had begged him for.
"Harry." Pansy's voice was light. Happy. "The restaurant uses several illusion charms to offer their patrons as much privacy as possible. They never know who they are serving and we have no idea who is serving us."
"But how can…?"
Esmeralda leaned over and caught his attention. "Harry, this is a very nice place, but too often, bad elements like to use it as a place to conduct business in private."
Franklin's wife picked up the unfinished question. "Why did we agree?" At his nod, she smiled. "Because the food is wonderful and it will allow us time to get to know each other without the interference of anyone else."
"What about Remus and Tonks? Will they be able to find us?"
"Aha!" Franklin interjected after Harry had revealed Lupin's date. "I knew it!"
"Daddy…" Pansy scolded, but her father ignored her as he pointed a finger at his wife.
"You, my love, owe me one backrub." Harry laughed at the maniacal glee that appeared on the older man's face. "I knew it was that girl… I told you so."
Esmeralda smiled patiently. "Yes, yes, dear. You were right."
Harry looked at Pansy to find that she was smiling now as well. She was definitely very pretty when she smiled like that. Memories of a pug-faced girl rolled through his mind… the dark intelligence behind those eyes. He was happy to say that her face and body had grown up quite nicely. Harry watched as she turned to glance back at him, Pansy catching Harry's eyes on her, and he smiled as she dropped her face in obvious embarrassment at having been the subject of his examination.
Choosing to ignore her blush for the moment, Harry turned and interrupted the playful argument that was starting to brew between her parents.
"So… before Remus and Tonks get here." At his words, both paused at what they were saying and turned to look at him. "I was wondering if we might consider getting some questions out of the way."
Franklin shot a glance at his wife before slowly nodding. "Of course, Harry. Of course." He forced a smile as he took a sip of water from the glass that materialized next to him. "Where would you like to start? I am my family will offer whatever information you require regarding the Malfoy's, the Nott's and any others that you might want. We are very serious about this alliance."
Harry took a deep breath as he leaned back in the chair. His face revealing nothing. "While I appreciate that… and I really do." He smiled as he shot a look at the three who were carefully watching him. "I was thinking more along a different line of questions?"
"Different?" Esmeralda Parkinson inquired, her eyes wide.
Harry nodded. "Sure. Like, what exactly is expected from me now that Pansy and I are betrothed?"
The tension that had been rising in her parents seemed to suddenly vanish at the question. Franklin visibly slumped in his chair while his wife broke out in the largest smile Harry had ever seen, her eyes sparkling so brightly that she could have given Dumbeldore a run for the patent at that moment.
She clapped her hands together as she leaned closer to Harry. "So… as you don't know anything about it, we can tell you whatever we want and you'll do it?"
Harry would have taken her words as a threat, but Pansy's outraged cry pulled him back. "Mum! Don't even think about it…"
"Too late." Her mother smiled like a Kneezle after having eaten the rat.
"Now, dear." Franklin looked at his daughter, his eyes teasing. "Your mother is right. This is an excellent time to set some ground rules…"
"Ground rules?" Pansy's back went straight. "What do you mean by that? We're to be married in six months and you want to quibble over what is and isn't proper?"
"Exactly." Esmeralda sniffed. Harry only watched, almost sure that they were teasing their daughter… but as this was a territory that he was definitely not comfortable with, he allowed for Pansy to fight the battle. "After all, young lady, though you are both now intended for one another, we cannot just let you run off and… well…"
"Pansy Rose Parkinson!" Her mother cried. "I will not have such language in front of me… and I was going to say kissing."
"Kissing?" Harry watched as Pansy grinned predatorily. "Oh, at the very least, we'd have to call it snogging, mother. We do only have six months to make sure we get everything out of the way…"
Franklin lowered his head into his hands. "A father should not be forced to listen to such as this…"
Pansy barely spared a glance at her father. "Besides, mother, you and Dad did invite Harry to spend the rest of the summer holidays with us… in order for us to get to know each other better."
Harry felt like shrinking into the chair at the look that Pansy's mother was suddenly giving him, the twinkle all but gone from her eyes. "Yes, but your father and I expect everyone to be on their very best behavior. Do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am." Harry immediately replied. He held the woman's gaze until she nodded before turning to look at her daughter.
"Of course, Mum." Pansy waved her hand as if the question was not even worth answering. "Both of us will be on our very best behavior."
Even Harry could tell that she was being a Slytherin about the question, in her mind she had already worked out… well… something. For a moment, he considered trying to figure out what it was, but Remus made an appearance at the edge of the table a moment before a very pleased looking Tonks followed him in. Harry couldn't help but notice how Tonks' hair was now a very pretty shade of purple and her eyes were near luminescent gold in colour.
"I hope we haven't kept you waiting long." Remus quickly offered as he pulled a chair out for his date.
"Sorry about that." The metamorphmagus added as she smiled at the brown-haired haired wizard, and then turned to smile mischievously at where Harry and Pansy were both sitting. She waited until Remus had sat down before starting in on her attack.
"So… Harry…" He swallowed under the Auror's gaze. "What are your plans for the rest of the summer?"
Closing his eyes, Harry centered himself before looking back at the young Order member. "I plan on spending time with my betrothed… I believe you've met?" He jerked his head over to where Pansy was quietly watching.
Tonks nodded. "We know each other. Actually, from my mother and Frankie here. Hufflepuff reunions are always a blast."
Harry arched an eyebrow as he stalled to put it all together. The silence seemed to stretch out; the only break coming after the waiter appeared to take their drink orders and a promise of a free appetizer since they'd had to wait. Harry ignored it all as he considered Tonks' words carefully.
Once everyone had been served their drink and a bowl of dumplings was set in the table's center, Harry pausing only long enough to taste the lemon flavored water provided, he looked over at where Franklin sat, as well as to Pansy before looking back at Tonks.
Tonks and Franklin both glared at him, before the older wizard sighed. "Why is it that everyone always underestimates the Hufflepuffs?"
Harry wasn't sure how to answer that… memories of Cedric Diggory running through his mind's eye as he focused his attention on the golden eyes under the purple hair.
"You knew, didn't you?" When she didn't immediately respond, Harry pushed onward. "Sirius talked to you about it… about the letters and the offer, didn't he?"
At Tonks' nod, everyone else at the table seemed surprised… surprised enough that Harry believed that none of them were faking it. Sirius had actually kept his cards close. Smiling, he watched as Tonks sipped at her butterbeer.
"I didn't know everything." Tonks finally admitted after setting the bottle back onto the table. "Not even a little bit, truth be told."
"What did you know?"
The purple-haired witch shrugged. "About seven months ago, Sirius contacted me about several things he needed… wanted to get done. He begged me to help, especially as he was still in hiding and was limited on what he could get accomplished alone."
She took another swig from the bottle before continuing. "I agreed and so began the great conspiracy for the future survival of Harry Potter. During everything, he started asking what I knew about Franklin Parkinson. I immediately, of course, wanted to know why, but he would always steer the conversation his way. So, I told him about everything I knew."
"That was it?" Harry asked.
Tonks shook her head. "No. He wanted more, so I then went to my Mum… thanks by the way for allowing her and Dad to stay married. I wasn't too keen about being a bastard… and once I learned all that I could that way, I passed it along."
"But he wanted more." It wasn't a question, But Tonks grinned at Harry.
"So he asked you to use your Auror connections?" Harry continued to lead the conversation. At Tonks' nod, he licked at his lips. "And you learned what exactly?"
At his question, the object of his questioning looked around the table. "I realized what the Malfoy's were doing to Franklin and his family… about how they were taking advantage of the situation and I asked Sirius what was going on."
"I've seen all of the letters from Frankie at first. Pansy later. I had them authenticated… I wanted to make sure it wasn't a trick." Tonks smiled softly. "And then I agreed with Sirius about setting you up with Pansy for marriage."
"So… you and Padfoot, huh?" Harry was gratified to see that even Remus was shocked. "The two of you decided what was in the best interest for everybody else?"
At least Tonks had the decency to blush. Dumbeldore refused to admit his interference even after getting caught. "I could say I was sorry, Harry, but it'd be a lie. Sirius and I talked long into the night about a lot of things, but it was mostly about you… about how much you had on your shoulders and what it would take to make things easier for you."
"Tonks…" Remus started to interject, but Harry waved him off. Surprisingly, the werewolf followed the suggestion.
"Harry… you need someone. Sirius saw it. I see it. Hell, even this walking fur rug next to me will admit it if you ask him." Tonks smiled sadly. "Your friends see it."
"Ron and Hermi…"
"Are both unbelievably sorry that they betrayed you like that, listening to Dumbledore rather than talking to you." She interrupted him. "By the time Remus came to fetch me, I think just about everyone was against him."
"Not as dumb as they look…" Pansy muttered under her breath. Harry ignored it and smiled at the Auror.
"Whatever." He sighed. "Look. It's not that I don't appreciate everything… I mean, I'm going to give it a shot." He returned the smile that Pansy shot his way. "I just wish someone would've let me in on the plan."
"He was going to, cub." Remus smiled sadly. "Things just got…"
"Out of control." Tonks finished.
At the uncomprehending looks from Franklin and Esmeralda, Harry offered them a quick smile. "I'm sure in the coming weeks, we'll have time to sit down and discuss all of this."
Pansy's father nodded. "Of course, Harry. Whenever you're ready."
Tonks looked over at them before anyone else could say anything. "Remember, Harry… you know a lot of secrets. Be careful what you say…"
Pansy leaned over the table; Harry tried to keep his gaze from falling to her chest, as the young woman placed her hand possessively on Harry's arm. "My parents might need to make Oaths, but I'm bound already… the betrothal ritual offered a nimbus."
"What!" All of the adults were suddenly alive with activity. Harry leaned back, their reaction to whatever it was that she had said… something about the light during the ceremony, enough that Harry wanted to be a safe distance away.
"Pansy Rose!" Esmeralda called out, her dark eyes flashing. "How could you not say something…?"
"A light? Truly?" Tonks asked, her normally tanned features suddenly pale. "What colour?"
Harry looked over to see Remus carefully scrutinizing him. Sighing, Harry decided to place himself into the thick of it, especially as he listened to several of the other questions that Pansy's parents were now throwing at her.
"It was a pale yellow… maybe white glow. Maybe gold." Her parents stopped badgering her with questions, both of their dark eyes swinging over to where Harry sat. "I take it that it means something."
Ignoring his sarcasm, Franklin started to speak, but his wife bestowed Harry with a triumphant smile as she leaned back in her chair, a queen about to hold court and spoke first. "Most betrothals are nothing more than political agreements, signed off by the ministry and a useful tool for combining family lines, preserving the purity of the blood."
"I'm not a pureblood…"
Esmeralda gave him a warning look, causing Harry to stop his thought in mid sentence. "However, in days of old, there were records of betrothals that were decided upon by the magic of the two to be married… a light would glow, signifying whether there was a good chance for a match."
"Whether we might be compatible or not." Pansy offered at the glazed eyes of her intended.
Harry sighed, as she looked at everyone else at the table, everyone's attention on him and him alone. "I say again that it must have meant something."
"Cub… Harry…" Remus chuckled softly. "The brighter the colour, the better the match… and if you're saying it was pale yellow or white… I dare not even consider what gold might mean…" He smiled as Pansy bobbed her head up and down. "Then the match might be near perfect."
"But what does that have to do with Pansy and Oaths?"
"Oh…" Pansy shot a look at her parents. "In a magical binding, a contract has to be followed to the letter… that's how Dad got Lucius to keep us as protected as we were." She paused to wait for Harry to nod before she continued. "Betrothals that have a nimbus appear are magical contracts, so we're bound by the letter of our intentions."
Harry shook his head, sighing. "I don't think I'm getting it."
Tonks grinned as she snapped her fingers to pull Harry away from his inner thoughts. "Harry? What did the marriage contract say?"
The raven-haired boy shrugged. The adults laughed as Pansy swatted his shoulder lightly. "What? You signed a contract… a magical betrothal and you didn't even read it?"
"I trusted Sirius. He told me to agree with the goblins in whatever they suggested."
Franklin stood, his eyes wide. "What? Sirius? How?"
Remus laughed. "The letter, right?"
Any immediate response was forced to wait as the waiter finally returned to the table, salads being distributed in front of everyone. Harry smiled as he thanked the waiter and took the time to place his napkin in his lap before take a bite of the salad. It was delicious.
Harry grinned at Franklin. "The salad is wonderful, thank you…"
Harry looked over to where his former Defense Against the Dark Arts professor was frowning in disappointment. Sighing, Harry smiled and indicated for Remus to tell the story, giving Harry a chance to actually eat. He glanced over to his right and felt a smile tug at his lips at the mischievous look Pansy was throwing his way, as she chewed through a large bite of her own salad.
By only a hair's breath, Harry was able to finish his salad as well as two slices of bread that their waiter had provided before Remus and Tonks had filled Franklin Parkinson in on the mysterious letter that had been left for Harry, though the actual contents were known only to Harry himself… but they were able to get the gist of its contents across.
Setting down his fork, Harry dabbed at his mouth with his napkin before looking up into the dark brown eyes of the Parkinson patriarch.
"So… you really had no idea of any of this?"
Harry shook his head. "Not a clue."
Esmeralda, her salad mostly untouched, took a sip of her drink before clearing her throat. At his look towards her, she smiled benevolently. "So… you trusted your godfather, Sirius Black, enough to go against the concerns of your friends and the Headmaster of your school and agree to marry our daughter?" Harry nodded silently. "Why?"
Harry laughed at her blunt honesty. Silently, he considered that if most of the adults in his life would've treated him with much the same, he'd have had a much happier childhood. Taking a sip from his own glass, he contemplated how to answer her.
"You never actually answered about Pansy not needing to take an Oath."
Pansy laughed, pleased that Harry wasn't going to just roll over for her parents. Leaning back, she smiled as he turned to look at her. "If you read the contract, it clearly states that I must obey the Heir of Black that I marry, offering him all that I am…" At Harry's incredulous look, she couldn't help but wink at him. "As well as provide him with at least two heirs of his own, though one will have to be Black while the other Potter."
"Enough of this." Esmeralda tried to interrupt. I want to know…"
Ignoring Pansy's mother, Harry shook his head. "What? No Parkinson heir?"
"Wait… what!" That certainly captured her attention. Harry turned to watch as Esmeralda Parkinson began sputtering, her husband very little help as he, too, seemed shell-shocked.
Harry reached over and shared a grin with his future wife… maybe… "Sure. I mean, the least I could do after getting such a lovely bride is to offer one of our three children…"
Did he just call me lovely? "Just three?" Pansy teased back.
"Well," Harry laughed. "Let's say we aim for three, but let nature help work its way along in deciding if there should be any more."
They both stopped and glanced over at her parents. Harry, at seeing their expressions, was very worried that maybe they had broken them beyond repair.
"Harry…" Franklin all but whispered.
Pushing his salad plate away, Harry leaned back. "So, I get a wife that has to obey me, provide me with children and I get to be free to go my own way for the rest of the summer."
"Not so bad a deal Sirius came up with, is it?" Tonks added.
He wanted to jump for joy. Maybe wishes could come true. "Not too bad."
For the rest of the meal, the conversation turned to lighter subjects, mostly Franklin and Esmeralda offering tidbits and other useful pieces of information about how they might spend the remaining weeks of the holiday, though Harry had to smile every time Pansy's mother tried to bring up the idea of a Parkinson heir again and again. Through it all, Harry kept mostly quiet, his mind still running ninety to nothing over everything that had occurred since receiving the letter yesterday evening.
Once the late lunch was finished, they all stood, Harry offering his hand to Pansy, who accepted it with a smile. Harry silently left a mental reminder to himself to try and spend some alone time with the pretty brunette. If this was going to work, they definitely needed to get to know one another… not to mention try and formulate a battle plan for how to handle the coming school year… at least until Christmas.
As they started to leave, Remus held Harry back for a moment and leaned closer. "Harry. You said something about wanting to ask a favor?"
"Right." Harry offered the older wizard a grateful smile. "I don't want the Parkinson's to see the Dursley house, how I was forced to live. Do you think you and Tonks can go and get my stuff?"
Tonks smiled beautifully, her hair changing to a shade of auburn and her eyes going midnight back. "That's probably a good idea. Albus might have some plan ready for when you show up to get your stuff. We can check it for tracking charms and the like."
Esmeralda smiled. "We can wait here if you would like to get his stuff and bring it. I'm afraid that once we are on our way, he will be out of touch for a while."
Harry started as he realized that he had never considered the idea. "Thanks." He looked over at everyone and then sighed. "Do you think you might check us all out now for any tracking spells?"
The young Auror smiled and nodded. He watched as she pulled out her wand from her left sleeve and waved it a few times, mumbling under her breath. Looking around, Harry felt his stomach tighten as several points on Pansy, Esmeralda and his own robe suddenly glowed brightly.
"Damn." Remus sighed. Harry watched as the werewolf pointed his wand at each spot and destroyed the tracking charms. Harry immediately felt better about it.
Franklin Parkinson, who had watched it all, smiled sadly. "I actually expected as much. I thank you, Tonks. Remus. Our wards would have destroyed them, but even just giving the general location of where we were headed might have caused a few… headaches later down the road."
"Any time, Frankie." Tonks laughed cheekily.
Harry watched as Remus walked over to Pansy's father, his face set. "I would like some way to check on Harry every once in a while. It's not that I don't trust you necessarily… but I…"
Esmeralda smiled. "Of course. You want to make sure Harry is safe. When would you like to visit?"
Sparing an apologetic look at his best friend's son, Remus sighed. "How about that wizard's Oath now… safety for Harry, as well as a promise to keep his confidences."
Initially, Harry almost expected them to both argue, to be offended by the suggestion. It was with great relief that he accepted the Oath from each of them. Once it was all said and done, while Harry still felt some guilt over asking so much, Remus smiled with obvious relief and hugged Harry tightly.
"You call me if you need anything. Anything."
"My word of honor, Moony."
It was apparently the right thing to say as the graying wizard finally released him, his eyes misting over, as he allowed Tonks to pull him away from Harry. For a moment, Harry almost considered asking the two of them to come along… butterflies dancing inside of his chest, but then he looked back over to where Pansy was carefully watching him, her eyes so full of hope.
He could do this…
Suddenly feeling much better, Harry shared a quick smile with Pansy as the two teenagers followed her parents out of the restaurant, one last wave to Remus and Tonks and a promise to meet them in an hour at the designated apparation point for Diagon Alley.
Time to try out his new life…