A/N: Sorry this one took so long. Between the 'Con and then reality… a new boss at work. Then there was my significant other getting sick. Now I'm sick. Reality sucks sometimes.
This one is shorter than the others, a trend I'm not happy with. The first chapter over 20k. Second at 15k and now this one at 13k. Hopefully I can get things back on track… there was just so many different spots that I wanted to touch on here… and I barely got to many of the people that I wanted to see, but to add them now might have lended to a chapter that would have taken another couple of days to write, and I already promised a few readers to have this chapter out by today at the latest.
Thanks for all the reviews.
I think I might need to seriously consider a Beta for my stories (Yes, stories, plural). Anyone interested should let me know. I want someone that has experience; good grammar skills and a Brit-picker would be fabulous.
X O X O X O X O X O X O X O X O X O X O X O
AN ABSENCE OF TRUTH
The desire to destroy something, anything, was almost more than he could stand as he the parchment he held in his hands shook from the rage that continued to build inside. His teeth grinding so hard that he could hear the enamel near to cracking, Harry closed his eyes and attempted to take a deep, calming breath… all to no avail.
He turned his emerald gaze towards the soft voice from the doorway, the only light in the room spilling in through the hallway, illuminating all around Pansy in a halo of light, giving off the appearance of an angel, some otherworldly being that could maybe save him from the foolish actions of those that were determined to run his life for him. Taking another gulp of air, he forced a smile on his face as he looked over at his betrothed.
"Morning, Pansy." He blinked twice as she shifted her weight; the outer corridor lamp's illumination glaring in is eyes for a second, spots filling his vision. "I was wondering where you vanished when I woke up this morning."
It had been two days since the shopping trip with Esmeralda, Pansy's mother, and his grief induced breakdown. He still wasn't exactly sure how his crying on the older woman's shoulder had led to the state of the sleeping arrangements now, but starting that night, Pansy had joined him to sleep.
Nothing had happened… well, nothing that her parents could really find fault with, though how they could blame him when apparently they had agreed to it in the first place, he decided not to try and answer. Either way, he had been near to a stroke when she had come into his room after he'd climbed into the bed, wearing only a long shirt and whatever was hidden underneath and promptly directed him to move over so that she could spoon in behind him.
To say that he had been tense, a pretty girl, his betrothed, no less, in bed with him… he had been sure that sleep would not be visiting anytime soon, but instead, she had kissed him briefly, the fire that they had been experiencing lately strangely absent, as she curled up in his arms and began talking… talking about nothing, really. She had talked about her father's stew that night and whether Harry would like her family after the newness had worn off. Of how their life might go for the future, all jokes to her parents aside about children. Harry had initially grunted out responses, but once he realized that they were not necessary, had simply listened to the sound of her voice and faded into slumber.
Harry had worried upon waking the next day about how he'd react; on whether her parents would kick him out or ask him to leave… or that Pansy would say it had all been a mistake.
It was nothing like he'd expected. Instead, her mother had waited until after lunch to explain that it was very common for betrothed to begin doing things together that married couples often did. Emeralda laughed at his nervousness, saying only that they were offering him a lot of trust, the opportunity to sleep with their daughter and that he would be given ever opportunity until he betrayed them.
It was the action of an adult dealing with another adult; something he had sorely lacked from others in his life… and Harry had smiled once he understood.
That night and then the next Pansy had come to his room for bed. Each time, they had moved a bit more, taking the opportunity as two teenagers could on learning some of the differences that could be found between males and females. Harry had to agree silently with the laughter he knew Sirius would have offered that there were definitely perks to having a girl in bed… only as he was slowly falling asleep that he realized, albeit briefly, that it hadn't hurt as much as yesterday to think about his godfather.
Pansy hesitated only a moment before answering the unasked question, bringing Harry back to the present. "Mum had said she wanted to talk to me. I thought I could get up and be back before you woke up." The brunette tilted her head. "Why are you up? It's barely a decent hour to call morning."
Sufficiently distracted, Harry shrugged as he jerked his head towards the partially open window. "Hedwig finally arrived. Brought a message."
Pansy chewed at her lower lip. "How did your owl find you? We're protected."
"She's always been able to find me. No amount of charms or other means of invisibility can keep her away."
Padding into the room, Pansy looked over to see that indeed, the snowy owl was resting on the ledge of the window, large eyes silently appraising her, almost like she was searching Pansy's soul to determine whether she measured up to the requirements Harry would need.
"Pet her?" Harry smiled, the message in his hand momentarily forgotten. "Girl?" As he raised his left arm, the owl moved quickly, the wings seeming to barely move before she launched from the sill and onto his arm, talons barely squeezing as his familiar moved to his shoulder.
Harry looked up to smile at Pansy. "Come on. She won't bite." He smirked. "Not hard, anyway, unless you make her mad."
With some trepidation, the girl moved closer, her had outstretched as she carefully ran a finger along the breast feathers of the magnificent bird. "She's beautiful."
""Your friend, Ronald, sent her?" Again, he nodded. His eyes never left hers as she smiled at Hedwig before turning her dark gaze to meet his. "Not good news?"
Harry sighed and Pansy felt a chill run along her spine. "That bad?"
In answer, Harry lifted he wrinkled parchment and handed over to her. "Seems that there is a plot to prevent Sirius' will from going through… especially over points of my being emancipated."
Taking the letter, Pansy only briefly ran her eyes over the words contained within, her mouth dropping to a frown at the horrible penmanship, before she sought out her betrothed's eyes again. "Draco and his mother?"
He laughed, though none of the humour reached his green eyes. "Dumbledore, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and who knows who else. Most of my self-appointed guardians and keepers are deciding they don't like the idea of my cutting their strings."
"I thought they were…" She wasn't sure how to finish the question.
Harry shrugged as he shifted how he was sitting on the edge of the bed. "There's still a lot that I haven't told you, explained. Too many people seem to be looking to determine the path that my life takes."
"I hope you didn't think that I would… that Mum or Dad…?"
He smiled at Pansy, it reaching his eyes thing time, even if only for a moment. "You did, but its okay. You were upfront about what you wanted… and, truth be told, I liked what you were manipulating me towards."
She smiled back. "And you don't like what they're offering?"
In response, he only shook his head.
Sighing, Pansy moved over to sit next to him, blushing as Hedwig started cooing for more attention. "What are you going to do?"
"I have no idea."
A voice from the doorway brought them both up short. "Perhaps I might offer a suggestion."
X X X
"… and as there are no disputing arguments," Albus Dumbledore sighed. "I am left with no recourse except to find in favor of…."
"Again, Chief Warlock, I must protest this violation of rights, as we have received no word from the party in question or any representation as to whether he was even notified of these proceedings." Amelia Bones interrupted, her words accented by the way she carefully polished her eye monocle before placing it back over her left eye. "This has all been rather… rushed, to say the least, and I find that having the rights of any wizard, even one as young as Mister Potter, reprehensible."
"I've listened to your arguments, Amelia." The elderly wizard coughed slightly. "But you stand in the minority. And as such, your objection is noted, but the decision shall remain that…"
The only hint of warning of what was to come came as shouts could be discerned outside of the auditorium before the doors leading into the Wizengamot burst open, the raised voices and rush of bodies spilling into the room, as a multitude of persons entered. For but a brief moment, the panel of wizards and witches listening to the case before them glared in obvious surprise before the Chief Warlock and several others all stood with wands raised at the ready.
Other doors to the left and right burst open, as well, leading to the chaos, as several Aurors and MLE personnel moved in to protect the Wizengamot from the impending attack.
"Silence!" Minister Fudge cried out, his voice enhanced through magic. "I demand silence!"
There was only a brief pause as faces turned to look at the portly wizard, his face a dark red in colour, before many started to break out into fighting again. Albus Dumbledore chose that moment to once again remind all in attendance why he was considered the most powerful wizard in history since Merlin himself.
No one even heard a spell being cast, but the room seemed to suddenly fill with the odor of ozone and magic as everyone, including the members of the court were frozen, their limbs stilled into inaction. The only movement that was left were the bodies of many people, in the process of moving, that were no longer balanced, frozen in the middle of whatever they were doing, as they fell to the ground.
"What is the meaning of this?" Dumbledore's voice was like a whip, the eyes of many of the intruders trying to widen in worry. "What is going on?"
With a wave of his hand, the light coloured wand flicking back and forth, allowing for the Wizengamot and the Aurors to find themselves suddenly released from their immobility. "I want answers. Now!"
"Chief Warlock. I am Sergeant Handal" A dark-haired Auror bowed briefly. "Several people attempted to storm the doors, to force their way past the doors. In an effort to turn them away, they became… violent."
Several of the council turned to look at where Auror Handal gestured. Albus felt his eyebrows rise into his receding hairline as he looked over many of the accused wizards and witches. There were several familiar faces.
Grimacing, Albus released Andromeda Tonks from the spell. "Andromeda." His voice was hard with disappointment. "What are you doing here?"
Standing tall, the woman lifted her chin and looked coldly at the powerful wizard. "I intended to ask you the same thing, Albus."
"How dare you…?" Delores Umbridge hissed from where she stood, her toad-like features bent into a mask of fury and hatred. "You dare question…"
I dare? I dare?" Andromeda all but screamed. "How dare you… all of you… to breach the last will of my cousin, to place yourselves above the rights and desires of his heir. Who are all of you to decide what is best for another?"
"We have every right." Fudge countered. "This is the Wizengamot. It is our right to decide what is best for every being of magical descent upon the lands of Britain and the Isle."
At the current Minister of Magic's words, several of the council visibly flinched. Amos Diggory actually shuffled his feet in obvious embarrassment before he sat back down, his whole demeanor one of weariness. "While I am not of the same… opinion… as out esteemed Minister, Mrs. Tonks. I do have to say that the points raised by Arthur Weasley regarding young Mister Potter are valid. And that he did not respond to any summons…"
"Summons?" Andromeda Tonks laughed. "What summons? And besides, how would he answer as you have been in session all morning and the doors were locked, all petitioners or calls told that you were not to be interrupted? Was this a closed session?"
"Closed?" Amelia Bones waved her hand and released the others that had been left paralyzed. "This was an open date." She turned to look at the Chief Warlock. "Albus?"
"Not now, Amelia."
"Yes, now." The woman stood. No one in the chamber failed to notice how the Aurors that had been trying to protect the Wizengamot were now moving over to support their department head. "You told us that all attempts to summon Mister Potter had been unsuccessful."
Dumbledore barely refrained from rolling his eyes. "I attempted to contact Harry several times over the past three days. To date, nothing I have tried has worked."
"Did you consider alternate means?"
The council as one turned to watch as a dark-haired witch, fairly nondescript, spoke up. Amelia frowned. "And you are?"
"Sorry. I forgot." The woman blushed before her face began to melt, the features seeming to blur before the sharp features of Auror Tonks came into view, her eyes a bright pink to match her hair as she smirked playfully.
Amelia raised her eyebrows, the monocle falling, only prevented from hitting the floor by the chain that held it to her breast pocket. "Report, Auror Tonks."
The metamorphmagus bowed formally. "Both I and Remus Lupin are able to contact Mister Potter. Both Arthur Weasley and Albus Dumbledore know this. At no time were either of us approached regarding any summons, nor were we told of today's case regarding the will and testament of Sirius Black."
"And why would you be required to be summoned, girl?" Umbridge sneered.
Tonks opened her mouth to retort, but Remus Lupin threw back the hood of the cloak he was wearing and smiled. "Well, as I understand the laws of testaments and hereditary issues, anyone involved in the determination of a will is required to answer a summons and be present for any rulings regarding the possible denial of properties received, no matter their value, great or small."
"And as both Mister Lupin and I were specifically named in the will in question, we should have been allowed to speak and, at the very least, been allowed witness any testimony for or against said rulings."
Several witches and wizards on the raised platform were now arguing amongst themselves, all the while shooting baleful glares at the Chief Warlock, which Albus was obviously ignoring. For his part, Minister Fudge seemed almost on the verge of exploding into a rage, but for the numerous spectators that were now filling the doorways. For their part, both Tonks and Remus glanced over to several of the people that had stormed the castle with them. Luckily, their identities had not yet come into question.
Diggory sighed again. "I think it might be best that any determination be postponed…"
"Amos!" Albus finally reacted.
"I second such a motion." Amelia jumped at the opportunity.
"Wait…" Dumbledore quickly attempted to call order to the impromptu vote, but the rest of the council seemed to also realize that the only opportunity to escape the chaos. "We had a judgment that should stand…"
"And I second that we uphold the previous judgment, especially as mister Potter has avoided all opportunity to answer this summons." Fudge laughed gleefully. "Why, I don't even see him here to defend anything that you claim to be the case."
"No, Amelia." The Minister interrupted her. "We have no idea of whether the claims of these people are true or not. To me, it seems that they only seek to interrupt the lawful deliberations of the Wizengamot."
"A vote then?" Albus spoke into the silence that followed the Minister's words, his actions to interrupt the possible war of wands that looked ready to take place between Fudge and Amelia. "All in favor of upholding the previous judgment to overturn the will of Sirius Black?"
Albus cringed at the voice, knowing that his hope for a quick resolution was definitely not going to happen. The council and assorted guests (whether invited or not) all turned as a short figure in a blue robe pulled his hood down, revealing to all that Harry Potter had in fact come to the Wizengamot. "I demand to be heard prior to any judgment."
"Mister Potter." Fudge moved to catch the boy's attention. "So nice for you to make it. Aurors? If you'd please make sure that that young man cannot leave after the council's decision is read."
Ignoring the maniacal gleam that filled the portly politician's face, Harry brushed past the Ministry personnel and moved to the center of the room, pausing only for a moment as he gazed at Remus and Tonks, offering them both a quick smile.
"I formally oppose this convening of the Wizengamot to determine the will and testament of my godfather, Sirius Orion Black. Further, I find fault with the council as a whole for their failure to properly insure that all parties that are required to attend such a decision were not notified, namely… me."
"Harry…" Albus attempted to interject, but the boy waved him off.
"No, Chief Warlock." The Headmaster visibly flinched at the verbal hit. "As I have been appraised of my rights as a wizard, I understand that I can call into question the legality of these proceedings."
Silently, he thanked Esmeralda and Franklin for the couching they had provided this morning. For not the first time since this had all began, he wished to have Pansy here with him, to offer support… but the safest thing she could have done was to remain behind along with her parents.
"Furthermore, I formally object to the Wizengamot's efforts to curtail my decisions as an adult wizard, afforded to me by the laws of our society."
"While I applaud your words." A wizard that Harry didn't know stood to speak. "The very nature of these deliberations are whether you are, in fact, an adult wizard and can call into question any objection."
Harry grimaced. Hermione made her presence known, as she stood closer, dropping her hood and stepping forward to be heard. "So, it is the very decision of this Wizengamot, without formal ruling, that even though Harry has been named an adult that it can strip away his rights as an adult wizard in order to make a ruling?"
"That's not…" Another witch scrunched her face up in distaste. "We are not trying to…"
"My apologies." Hermione refused to be dissuaded. "But this council is, by the very fact that you are meeting here now, choosing to take away the rights of a wizard in full standing under the law, even as he has committed no crimes and broken no laws under this court's jurisdiction."
"Miss Granger. That will be enough." Dumbledore's voice was harsh, his eyes cold as he regarded the young witch standing in front of him. "We will not be taken in hand by an underage witch, such as yourself."
"And you won't accept my words?" Harry offered bitterly.
The Headmaster looked like he was about to speak, when Remus stepped up again. "Then I will question it."
"A werewolf? A creature of the dark?" Umbridge laughed. "You're lucky we don't arrest you on the spot."
"Then I will." Tonks spoke next. "Or as a metamorphmagus, am I now suspect, as well?"
Umbridge glared at the young woman, but another wizard faced off against her. "I'm afraid, Auror Tonks, that as an employee of the Ministry, you cannot take sides in this. In fact, you may be called to enforce our rulings." No one liked the way he grinned. "Or will you defy the will of the council?"
Whatever response Tonks might have started to offer was never learned as Hermione laughed. "And who brought up this concern before the Wizengamot?"
Amelia looked at the bushy-haired girl. "Arthur Weasley. But I fail to…"
Hermione grinned, interrupting. "So… ministry personnel cannot question the proceedings?"
Dumbledore immediately saw where the girl was going and moved to stop it before it could be spoken aloud, but others in the Wizengamot seemed to grasp what she was saying. "Then Arthur cannot be involved."
"Exactly." She smiled in triumph. "And if your ruling is that ministry personnel cannot be involved in this matter, especially one, I might add, that was involved in the dispersion of properties in the will, then there can be no ruling on a matter that has not been properly brought before the Wizengamot."
Silence filled the chamber, as everyone seemed to be flabbergasted at how easily the young witch had maneuvered the arguments. No one seemed sure of what to do before Molly Weasley stood from where she had silently been watching everything.
"I want to bring this matter up before the council." She declared hotly.
Amelia Bones stood, her gaze leveled at the Chief Warlock, warning him to silence, as she turned to address the redheaded woman. "I appreciate your concern in this matter, ma'am, but I am afraid that you fall in the same category as your husband. He works at the ministry, not to mention that you were named as a beneficiary in the will."
"I will stand to bring the charge that Potter shouldn't be let free to roam around without supervision."
Many turned to see who had spoken. Harry felt the breath leave his body as Snape stood, his beady eyes dancing at being able to take what he'd been given. A final revenge against his childhood tormentor.
Dumbledore seemed to stand taller, more in control once again, as he looked at the Potions Master. "Severus Snape. Do you hereby officially declare a concern regarding the emancipation of Harry James Potter?"
Harry was struck mute. He watched as Hermione turned sorrowful eyes to her best friend, a silent apology that while they had careful maneuvered the arguments their way, that they now were caught by their own net… no one they had brought with them not in some way either named in the will or working for the ministry.
"May I ask a question?" Harry asked into the silence, ignoring the looks that were shot his way.
"You may." Amelia Bones responded before anyone else could tell him no.
"As a new charge has been presented, might I request time to properly prepare a defense, as I have not been officially summoned to this new hearing?"
"A valid question, Harry." Albus stepped between him and Amelia, refusing to allow Amelia the chance to offer any quarter. He refused to be denied. "I am proud to see you suddenly so well versed in the laws of the wizarding world. In another instance, I would be extremely proud.
"As it stands, however, I am afraid that you have wasted too much of the Wizengamot's time already and I must refuse your request."
"But… are you not also in question? You, too, were named in the will."
"No, Miss Granger." The Chief Warlock cut her off. "While I applaud you, as well, for your masterful working of the system, I must have your silence in these chambers unless specifically called upon. If you look carefully, I was not specifically named, but the institution of Hogwarts, which I acted only as representative of."
Hermione seethed with anger as she shot a glance at Harry before moving to sit down. Both Remus and Tonks, as well as Andromeda Tonks moved over to flank her.
"Arthur?" Albus turned to the red-haired man. "It seems you are no longer required. You may either be excused from the remainder of these proceedings or may take a seat." Nodding, the Weasley patriarch looked at Harry, the boy refusing to even acknowledge the man's presence, and moved over to sit next to his wife.
"Well… I believe we were about to vote?" Amelia slumped down in her chair at Dumbledore's words. "All in favor in overturning the emancipation of Harry James Potter please say aye."
The ayes filled the room. "All opposed?" Harry nodded as barely over ten wizards or witches voted to uphold his godfather's desires. To himself, he swore to learn the names of each one and to offer them his support in whatever endeavor they might require some day.
Albus turned to look at the young man. "Harry James Potter. Accept the will of the Wizengamot. Effective immediately, you are hereby returned to minority status, all rights and privileges afforded as an adult are hereby stripped. As a minor, you are required to be placed with a proper family that can act in your stead. It is the decision of this council to place you immediately with the Weasley family. Do you understand?"
"I hear you."
At the boy's snide tone, Severus grinned as he stepped closer. "Chief Warlock. As it was my petition, I ask that you might hear a further concern."
Dumbledore lifted his eyebrows. "Yes?"
"I call into question the entire will of Sirius Black. As the emancipation has been overturned, I think that sufficient cause has been established that his time in Azkaban, as well as his status as a fugitive in the eyes of the Ministry, leaves sufficient concern towards the Black fortune." The professor smiled evilly. "I move that the entire will be further reviewed."
"I agree." Minister Fudge did all but laugh. "I move that the Wizengamot be called to officially look into the final will and testament of Sirius Black."
Harry seemed to lose all the strength inside as he heard them, that they were going to take away everything… not just his freedom, but to return the Black fortune to the Death Eaters and other supporters of Voldemort… not to mention restoring the betrothal of Draco and Pansy. Under the eyes of the Aurors who had moved over to stand guard over him, Harry sat heavily on the bench.
"I'm sorry, Pansy…"
At his words, Hermione turned a concerned gaze at her friend, the fact that he was once again forced to follow the will of others.
Amelia Bones stood, her eyes hard. "I will second the Minister's motion." Everyone turned to look at the leader of the Aurors. "I do, however, feel that we should adjourn until after a proper investigation into the full ramifications of the testament can be discerned."
Fudge looked upset, but he seemed to consider for a moment. "Agreed." He finally stated. "We will reconvene on…" He looked down at the small book he held in his hand. "September fourteenth. That will give all parties enough time to be properly notified. Are we agreed?"
Dumbledore nodded. "I agree." Seeing everyone nod, he looked around the room before settling his gaze on Harry Potter who seemed oblivious to the Aurors that surrounded him. "Unless there is anything else, I hereby declare this meeting of the Wizengamot closed. Dismissed."
Hermione immediately stood, her intention was to go to Harry, to offer him some type of comfort, but was blocked from reaching him by several Aurors. For his part, her friend looked beaten, his eyes closed. She watched as both Arthur and Molly drew closer, their gait unsure, although she detected the triumph glowing in their eyes.
"Harry…" Molly Weasley moved up to rest her hand on the young man tat had now been ordered into her charge. "We need to get you home."
"Yes, Potter." Snape jeered. "Time to go."
For a moment, it looked like he going to launch himself at the professor, his eyes momentarily flashing in anger. Hermione held her breath, as everyone present seemed to realize that the Harry might explode. The hairs along her arms stood on end as the Aurors and other wizards and witches in the room all seemed to prepare for the magic to be released.
Almost timidly, Fudge reached over and snatched Harry's wand from his grip, foolishly mistaking the idea of disarming Harry was the way to alleviate the impending danger. Smiling, the overweight Minister of Magic handed the wand to Arthur before glancing back at the young wizard. "You can either peaceably follow the Wizengamot's rulings or we can hold you until you see reason.
"Please, Harry…" Lupin pleaded from where he sat. "Live to fight another day."
Glancing over at Hermione, she watched as the unearthly glow left Harry's eyes. He nodded, almost to softly to be noted, but everyone seemed to catch the exchange as the tension level noticeably lowered.
"Come on, Harry." Arthur spoke. "Let's go home."
"Home?" Harry asked, his voice dark. "Yes. Home."
Albus, realizing that something was wrong, immediately began gesturing, the magics spilling outwards over everyone, but not in time. The room watched as Harry raised a hand and touched the clasp on the cloak he was wearing. With a pop, the portkey in his possession activated, yanking him away from the chamber without anyone having a chance to fully restore the shields that had been broken without anyone taking notice.
The Chief Warlock looked reproachfully at Tonks and Lupin who only shrugged in response.
Fudge immediately exploded into action. "I need for an immediate warrant for Harry Potter to be thrown into effect. I want that young man found immediately."
"Minister." Amelia Bones moved closer. "I understand the charge of truancy, but are you sure sending out squads of Aurors to find one boy is a good idea?"
"He went directly against the rulings of the Wizengamot, Bones. We cannot afford for the decisions of this council to be summarily ignored, no matter who or why. I want him found."
Sighing, Amelia took a moment to put her monocle back on as she addressed the Aurors present. "You heard the Minister. Find Harry Potter."
X X X
Portkeying was nearly as bad as traveling by FLOO… and that was just a normal portkey. It was still nearly a minute after he had activated the emergency measure that Franklin had insisted upon and he was still not at his destination, the calibration of the measures taken to make sure that he was not tracked forcing him to remain in a transit state.
Pushing down his need to be sick, Harry waited as the wards that surrounded the Parkinson home did their job and evaluated his threat rating. He waited, as patiently as humanly possible, until finally, he could feel his body straightening out of the warped position that traveling in such manner always put him in and physically returned to the world's reality.
His footing was immediately gone, his balance lost, and Harry felt himself begin to fall to the ground. From somewhere, he was never sure exactly where, hands reached out and caught him, struggling to prevent gravity's claim on him. Closing his eyes, he slowly righted himself, before he turned and looked into the dark eyed gaze of his betrothed, who was smirking.
"Trouble on the landing?"
He wanted to smile. Really, he did… but with the day he'd been having and with what he had to tell her, his lips just wouldn't respond. Sighing, he allowed her to hug him, enjoying the comfort she offered.
"Was it that bad?"
Both teens looked up to see both Esmeralda and Franklin Parkinson waiting at the doorway, having left the foyer of their home empty for Harry's arrival via portkey, although Pansy had been silently pacing in eyesight of the landing spot since he'd left earlier that morning.
"Well?" Franklin prompted when Harry had still offered nothing.
Turning to look at the parents of his betrothed, Harry snaked his arm around her waist as he took a breath. "Even moving as fast as we did, the Wizengamot was in full session. They were reading the verdict when we got there."
Pansy gasped. "You were too late?"
He shrugged. "I think we would have been too late if we'd gotten there yesterday." Seeing Franklin frown, Harry shook his head. "They were set up just like you'd predicted. Guards refused to let us in. I'm glad Remus had those little surprises he picked up from the twins."
"You had to break in?"
"Yeah." A ghost of a smile appeared on Harry's face. "We got in and Hermione found a way to throw out Mr. Weasley's argument about my emancipation…"
Esmeralda tilted her head. "So, you won?"
"No. Snape ended up taking over the charge and Dumbledore let him do it… railroaded right over any argument." He squeezed Pansy's waist. "And with it decided no one that worked for the Ministry or that was named in the will allowed to bring suit or defend against the emancipation, it ruled against me."
Esmeralda began to sway, her husband's arms reaching out to steady her. "I think I need a drink."
"We all probably do." Harry agreed cheekily.
The four of them moved into the living room, while Franklin first made sure his wife was sitting comfortably on a chair before moving to the bar and pulling out a bottle that Harry didn't recognize. At the look Harry was giving him, Franklin chuckled. "You deserve a shot, but let me warn you that it's potent. You'll be useless for much of anything else for the rest of the night."
"Daddy!" Pansy shrieked, her cheeks blushing. It was only further confirmation of the day Harry had been having that his face remained cool at the elder wizard's ribbing.
Accepting a glass of the blue liquid, he nodded in thanks and took a sip. His body immediately protested the burning liquid, the deceptively cool colour of the alcohol hosting a heat that all but ripped the skin from his tongue and throat. Coughing, he smiled in obvious thanks as Pansy patted his back in sympathy.
"Goddess… above…" Harry gasped at the air that he sucked in. "What is that?"
"Freida's Frozen Flame." Esmeralda answered after she took a sip of the one handed off to her. Harry watched as Pansy shook her head in the negative at the offered glass. "The recipe was thought lost after the Third Goblin Rebellion, only recently having been re-found. Bottles with dates prior to this century are very rare."
Franklin smiled. "About two years old."
His green eyes widening, Harry looked at the liquid in his glass. "Just two years?"
The Parkinson patriarch nodded. "Anything older would probably knock you out. I'll make sure to provide you a bottle when you have your first child…"
"Dad!" Pansy admonished her father, though the older man only chuckled.
"Quit teasing them, dear." Esmeralda glanced at Harry. "What else haven't you told us?"
Eyeing the glass carefully, Harry leaned back into the couch that he and Pansy had commandeered as their own. "I was ordered to go to the Weasley home. They have custody of me at the moment." He sighed as he started shaking his head. "In fact, they have my wand."
Harry looked up. "Can they track me with my own wand?"
Franklin waved his hand. "Don't worry about that, for now. That was part of the reason you were held in the wards for so long… I activated everything but the wall. With you back, I should probably put it all up."
"Well… the whole will is in question at the moment. Snape used the reversal of my emancipation as a crack to overturn everything."
"The betrothal?" Pansy asked softly.
Esmeralda nodded. "We expected something like that, although he hoped it would go differently. It wasn't immediately overturned?"
Harry shook his head. "No. We have until a hearing in September. The fourteenth, I think."
Franklin nodded. "I can get some people on it immediately. Hopefully, we can get things going fairly well between now and then."
"What does it all mean, though?" Harry asked. "I could really care less about the money… it was never the money I was worried about, though I do not want the Malfoy's to get their hands on it."
Esmeralda leaned forward after taking a heavy gulp of the drink in her hand. "At the moment, everything but your emancipation stands. You and Pansy are still betrothed; Bellatrix, Narcissa and Draco are Blacks; the monies handed out remain… but if the Wizengamot rules against the will, everything will be up to the courts."
"And with my having run…"
Franklin nodded in sympathy. "Your having ignored the rulings of the council will definitely go against you."
"What about Harry and I getting married." Pansy asked, her voice rough with unshed tears. "We had a nimbus! How can they force me to marry Draco!"
Franklin finished off his drink and carefully eyed the bottle that was still resting on the bar's shelf. Harry watched as the man licked his lips before carefully looking at his daughter. "I'm not sure."
Pansy looked at her father accusingly. "Not sure?"
Esmeralda patted her husband's knee. "Pansy. Love. You and Draco were never formally betrothed. It was an agreement between men who died long ago. There is no precedent for such a determination between suitors… not that didn't involve a duel."
Harry leaned forward, his hand held firmly in Pansy's grasp. "A wizard's duel?"
Both parents nodded at his question, though it was the witch that answered. "Yes, but don't go to quick to issue a challenge. There are several hidden rules in a duel. You go and challenge Draco and he could tie you up in legalities that will have you wandless and blindfolded in front of a firing squad."
"What if Pansy and I got married now?"
Harry ignored the immediate gasp to his side as he kept his gaze firmly upon her father. Franklin carefully considered before he exchanged a glance with his wife. "Yesterday? I would have agreed. But today, you are a minor. Without your guardian's approval… which could be anybody at the moment, it would be considered void."
Harry finally turned and looked at the dark-haired teen next to him, as he offered her hand a quick squeeze and he smiled. In silent query, he waited for Pansy to say something.
Pansy shrugged. "I throw my lot in with you, Harry. We are bonding… and if we can keep you away from the authorities until the bonding is complete, we'll have much leverage to our advantage."
He nodded and leaned forward for a chaste kiss on her lips. "So… we're fugitives."
They both looked at her parents, who had amused expressions on their faces. "Well then…" Franklin sighed. "If we're to be running from the Ministry, then there are going to have to be a few new ground rules…"
Esmeralda rolled her eyes as her husband began lecturing the two. Honestly! At this rate, it would be some time after the end of the next century before these two could finish the bond.
X X X
For not the first time since his parents had returned from the Wizengamot, Ron rolled his eyes at the choice of words that his parents were currently regaling all of their children with.
It had been a difficult morning, to say the very, very least. Both his Mum and Dad had left early this morning, neither even taking much of a moment to eat breakfast or to kiss their kids goodbye before vanishing into the FLOO. Waiting ten minutes, they immediately moved to call Fred and George, who promptly arrived along with Tonks, her mother, and Professor Lupin.
The idea had been only quickly thrown together a few days before, Hermione wanting to go over everything in triplicate, but the time allotted refused to give them anything to work with. So, it was that Hermione had accompanied Professor Lupin and Tonks and her mum, plus they were gong to pick up Harry and try to storm the Wizengamot, to prevent the legal blindside that Ron was ashamed to admit his parents were a part of.
Fred and George had vanished afterwards, claiming that the shoppe needed them, but Ron secretly suspected that they didn't want to be involved in the punishments that were sure to fall once their parents realized that the only way Harry could have known about the proceedings was from their own household. Ginny and he had decided to face their parents, standing up for Harry.
It sounded good, in theory, but as the minutes ticked away as the two youngest Weasley's were left alone in the house, the desire to be on the frontlines diminished all the way to all out terror and the need to escape… a feeling that came too late, as they had only just made it to the kitchen door when the rush of the FLOO announced their parents' arrival.
From there, it had been every child's worst nightmare. Molly Weasley was fearsome as a protective mother, but was downright terrifying when she was upset with her own offspring. Ron took the moment of silence that happened between his mother's catching her breath and his Dad's shaking his head to tally up the list of summer punishments that had been thrown at him and Ginny so far.
Outside of Hermione being sent home for the rest for the summer (a fact that made Ron strangely more upset than anything else, so far), both he and Ginny were going to be painting, washing, cleaning and de-Gnoming just about everything that there was to be done.
Holding in a sigh, their parents' tirade now entering the second hour mark, Ron looked over to see that Ginny looked almost as bored as he did.
"And another thing…" Molly's voice cut through Ron's internal musings. "Absolutely no owls with your friends until you go back to school. And that's IF we let you return for classes."
"You already said that."
Ron turned in shock at his younger sister's words. The absolute stupidity (though he was secretly jealous that she'd been brave enough to attempt it) to interrupt their Mum.
"What?" Molly Weasley stopped in the middle of her yelling as if struck on the cheek.
"Young lady!" Arthur roared. "How dare you…?"
"No." Ginny crossed her arms over her chest, her brown eyes sparkling dangerously. "Not how dare I? Not we, Ron and me." The petite redhead brushed her hair back over her shoulder. "How dare you!"
Ginny turned and walked out of the kitchen. Ron watched as his parents both floundered momentarily, their faces dumbstruck. It was then that Ron realized that as they had both been punished with every threat that their parents had ever offered… the fact that they had started to repeat the punishments… what else could they do?
Shrugging, Ron followed after his sister into the living room and offered her a smile as he sat down in their father's chair, across from Ginny.
"Do you know what you're doing?"
"Do you?" Ginny retorted.
As he had no answer, Ron simply blew the hair from his forehead and waited. Barely a moment passed, though it almost seemed an eternity, as their parents both stormed into the room.
"Ron! Room! Now!"
Looking over at where Ginny calmly watched the proceedings, Ron leaned back into the chair and shook his head, careful to keep no expression on his face. "I think we're beyond the divide and conquer. How about we talk about this?"
"Talk? TALK!" Molly's face was near to a shade of purple, as she took a dangerous step towards her youngest son. She was brought up short at Arthur's hand falling to her shoulder.
Ron watched as the two silently communicated before Molly stomped off back into the kitchen and their father sat down on the couch next to Ginny. Just the fact that he hadn't tried to get Ron to vacate his normal seat was a victory in Ron's mind, although a very, very tiny one.
"I don't understand what's…"
"Dad." Ginny interrupted. Ron watched as his father looked at the tiniest Weasley and raised his eyebrows. "You betrayed all of the trust that Harry had with this family. You realize that, don't you?"
"Honey. I know you think that…"
"No, Dad. Harry prizes loyalty over everything else. He's almost a Hufflepuff in his regard to how he treats his friends. He would give everything for us… he almost did in saving me in my first year." She ignored the haunted look that seeped into her father's eye, the look that he got every time she brought it up. "He saved your life at Christmastime. And this is how you repay him?"
"This was for his own good."
"Dad." Ron decided to interrupt this time. "You might as well give it up. Neither Ginny nor I are going to apologize for what we helped do. Not going to happen." He sighed. "You can send Hermione home. Force every possible chore you can think of for us to do. It won't matter…"
"Don't you want Harry safe, Ron?" Arthur asked.
Ron exchanged glances with his sister. Ginny sighed. "Dad… what makes you think he's safer here than where he is now?"
At watching the way his father looked down at his hands, Ron realized why the arguments were al falling flat. They were lying.
"You were sending him back to those people." Ron accused. "To those horrible Muggles."
Ginny caught on at his words. "You were! You talk about Harry's happiness and safety, and you were going to send him back to that… to that…"
"Listen. Both of you." Arthur ran a hand through his thinning hair. "Headmaster Dumbledore has worked very hard to make sure that the wardings are able to keep Harry safe. You must learn to trust your elders. It's for his won good."
Ron threw his hands in the air. "That's all anyone talks about. Listen to yourself, Dad. It's always for his own good. But have you ever really looked at how good it is for him? For Harry?"
"Son." Arthur slumped his shoulders. "You have to trust me that I know best."
Ginny laid a hand on her father's shoulder. "Dad. We trust you to care for us. Don't doubt that. But what right do you have… do any of us have… to decide Harry's fate?"
"He has no one, Gin-Gin." Arthur smiled.
His daughter only shook her head. "He did have someone, Dad. Sirius Black. And he decided that Harry should be free… and you allowed Professor Dumbledore and the rest take that away."
Ron decided to throw the final nail into the coffin. "And if you and Mum died tomorrow… does this give the professor and the others in the Order the right to overturn what you and Mum decide for us?
"You and Mum have given the Ministry the ability to overturn wills, to decide which final words can be followed and which, if the Minister or whoever decides they don't like it, can be tossed aside."
Arthur had no response.
The Burrow was quiet as the two children silently left to go to their rooms, the silence broken only by the soft tears that Molly Weasley shed at the state of her family, the desires to protect one they considered their own to the best of their ability versus what they knew to be right.
Upstairs, however, hidden under a hastily erected privacy ward, the two youngest Weasley siblings looked over at one another, their eyes both filled with a pain too much for shoulders that had seen as few years as each had.
"Do you think we did the right thing?" Ginny asked.
Ignoring the plaintive note that was evident, Ron leaned back on the pillows of his bed, ignoring how the Cannons magazine he'd been reading tore under his bulk. "I just don't know, Gin. We're going so fast… things are moving, spiraling out of control."
She nodded. "But to allow for Harry to stay with Parkinson." No. She would not cry. Not now. Not again.
"Should we have done something else?"
Ron shrugged, silently wishing he'd thought to grab something from the kitchen to snack on… the leftover candy from earlier already gone. "That Slytherin snake has done something. I don't know what… or how. But its up to us, his friends, to make sure he's safe."
"But if Mum and Dad were right…?"
"They weren't. You knew it. I knew it. Merlin above, even Hermione knew it. And add in Professor Lupin and Tonks…"
"I wish he could have come here."
Ron closed his eyes. "Me, too."
Ginny carefully dispersed the warding before she slipped out of the room… the house so much more quiet without Hermione there to gossip with, as well as the fact that the twins would be avoiding the Burrow for the foreseeable future.
"Stay safe, Harry…"
X X X
The week passed fairly uneventful for Harry after the insanity of his brief appearance at the Wizengamot. He smiled, the memories of the bluster that Franklin had forced him to endure… leading him on that he was going to be monitored so that he was never alone with Pansy. It was actually just the opposite. In all honesty, he now would have to say that his week as a fugitive from the Ministry was perhaps some of the best time he'd ever experienced in his entire life, and that included the times he had spent at Hogwarts.
Pansy had recommended that Harry consider trying to use her wand, seeing as how his had been taken away before he escaped. It wasn't a perfect fit, hers feeling slightly off whenever he attempted to cast anything stronger than a levitation spell, but as the days progressed and they spent more time together, the blending of their auras seemed to reduce the amount of resistance the magical focus tried to throw against him.
Then, there was also the learning about what the Parkinson's did. Franklin, it turned out, was a stay-at-home father, his wealth from his family name enough that neither he nor Esmeralda were required to work. He spent most of his time collecting old books and scrolls, a collection that rivaled many private collections that could be found in ancestral homes across the continent, although the practicality of those old tomes were not much considering most were vague written histories and accounts of days long past.
No, it was Esmeralda Parkinson that was the breadwinner of the family… not that it was really required. Pansy had explained later that it was probably a good thing that her mother worked, especially considering the amount of galleons that they had spent in their recent endeavors, the finding of Sirius Black and the protection of their home. Harry was amazed to learn that Pansy's mother actually was a curse-breaker, much like Bill Weasley was for Gringott's, though the elder witch worked freelance for those that could independently hire her for a specific job.
Over the past nights, dinner was a time for Harry to become closer to his future in-laws, allowing them to regale him with the various stories of past jobs they had done, of old tales that had been discovered. The four of them would spend hours at the dinner table, the discards of the meals left to be cleaned later (a chore that Harry had been assigned very quickly) as they talked about their plans for the future, the different ideas of how to deal with the coming trials they had to face, or just to play games as a family. All in all, it had been fabulous.
And that allowed for the rest for the day to be spent with Pansy, of trying to strengthen the growing betrothal bond between them… not to mention the chance at actually finding love for the brown-haired Slytherin… or at least strong enough like to be satisfied.
Harry grinned as she remembered last night… of how the surge of passion that had seemed to overcome them so strongly early on in each other's presence, an absence of late that both he and Pansy had wordlessly agreed was a worry, had returned.
"Pansy?" He'd called out from the washroom, his teeth clean and breath newly minty fresh.
The girl had poked her head around the edge of the doorway, her eyebrow quirked in silent query. Harry had glanced at her from the corner of the mirror, spying that she was currently wearing only one of his Gryffindor Lions Quidditch jerseys… a fact that a Slytherin could look so nice in the red and gold of his House too much for words alone… not to mention that her hair looked a bit wild from changing clothes, nor to even take in that the material of his shirt only reached about mid thigh on her; the smooth, white legs appearing beneath to reach the floor.
He had wanted to ask her why they both slept in the guest room, his room while he stayed here, rather than in her own room… a room that, in fact, he had not yet seen once he thought about it.
All thoughts of mundane questions had left.
The scene was a perfect picture, one that he would find a way to photograph a memory from a pensive, no matter the cost.
In the clear reflection of the mirror, he could just catch Pansy in her readiness for bed, the details of her… of the room behind her… all of it burned into his brain. Without looking, he knew the sight he must seem, dressed only in some sleeping shorts and his glasses, the water that had sprayed his chest while washing his face still there… his black hair still damp from his shower earlier.
Harry had known the fire was back as much for her as it was suddenly for him, his body responding to ways that were so much more obvious than how the two dealt with his morning situation each time they awoke from sleeping in the same bed. No, there was no immediate escape, though at the way he watched Pansy's eyes dilate, the rise and fall of her chest seemingly, almost too softly to catch but that he was watching for any telltale clue, speeding up, her heart rushing in time with his.
Control was contained, but then she smiled… her eyes, dark and mysterious, had sparkled, the corner of her lip tilting upwards. It had been too much. Harry had moved to reach her, only to find she had moved just as he had, each of them meeting the other halfway.
Her lips were soft as he remembered from their last kiss… just a little while ago, though while that had been a chaste, simple brush of lips… a testing of the liberties they each had with one another, this had none of the gentle simpleness that had occurred today; or for any of the kisses they had shared in the past few days.
Harry had been concerned for a moment, the emotion that filled him as he crushed her to him, his arms around the small of her back, forcing her against his own need for her. He shouldn't have worried, Pansy's arms snaked around his neck, her fists full of his hair, forcing his face down to hers… their lips bruising one another, tongues dancing in a battle for supremacy, neither really caring who might win or lose. The rest of the room… all of their surroundings… completely gone as they were the only two beings in the universe at that very second.
There was the sensation of falling, that moment where gravity had won, but it seemed to be only a trivial matter, as Harry felt Pansy break contact, her lips pulled away from his only for a moment, as she exhaled the rush of air forced from her body as Harry fell on her, trapping her between the soft feather mattress and his body's hardness. The loss of the kiss had been inexcusable, so his mouth trailed along the soft whiteness of her neck following through to her throat. The moan that escaped his betrothed's mouth under his ministration spurred him on, his teeth moving to bite down on her… marking her just as surely as she had marked him previously.
The rustle of fabric alerted Harry to the fact that his hands were, in fact, moving up underneath the jersey, the skin that met his own pausing him only momentarily. Harry pulled back from the squirming girl, her own lips nipping at his ear as he moved to look into her eyes… green meeting black, or it was supposed to… but Harry saw that her black eyes were sparkling with an emerald hue.
"Harry… please… don't go…" Pansy all but moaned.
All thoughts of eye colour or anything else seemed to fade as leaned in for a kiss. The sweetness of the move was apparently too light for the woman underneath him as Harry felt himself being flipped, a move he could have prevented but didn't, allowing for Pansy to climb on top of him, her legs straddling him… his eyes catching the hint of lace on her knickers before she began licking at his chest… her own hands now searching beneath the clothing he wore.
"Hey? Hey? Harry!" Seeing that she had finally caught his attention, tilted her head. "What are you thinking about? Where'd you go?" Pansy asked playfully from across the kitchen table, her sandwich paused halfway to her plate.
He knew that his face was starting to brighten, the heat along his ears enough of an indicator that she had embarrassed him.
The singsong laugh that escaped her lips was a sound that very few had heard, the time of purgatory between birth and finally catching Harry Potter not offering much in the way of allowing for laughter or happiness. Stretching out her hand, she ran a finger across his cheek, enjoying how even the slightest touch could cause such an influx of emotion to pass between them through their bond,
"Wicked witch!" Harry accused playfully.
Pansy fluttered her eyelashes in a fashion she'd seen other girls at school do when flirting, looking over at her betrothed from a seductively lowered gaze. "Yes? There was a question there?"
Harry laughed… an act that she soon joined him in, as both leaned closer for a quick kiss before returning to their light lunch.
"Anyway…" He began, but Pansy cut him off, the twinkle in her eyes not yet finished.
"You didn't tell me what you were thinking so hard about."
"Last night, if you must know." Harry finally admitted.
Pansy nodded, her lips curled in a devil may care smile at having gotten him to admit it… not that she hadn't also been replaying their night's activities over in her mind either. Truthfully, it was talking all of her willpower to not push for more.
They had come dangerously close, oh so close to finally breaking down that last barrier to their bond. A barrier that her mother had told her most likely wouldn't happen without actual intercourse.
How Harry had been strong enough to stop things from going too far, she couldn't answer. With all of the touching and licking and kissing and… well, everything… it had been almost too much, Pansy's senses had been near to overload. But he stood firm.
They had tried many different things over the night… sleep had not been easily coming to either of them. Not in the state they had found themselves. Pansy had pulled on every possible rumour and gossip that girls shared. She suspected that Harry had done the same… hands carefully exploring, lips and teeth and tongue tasting every inch of skin… inside and out.
Pansy had to fight the blush when she remembered her own release… the first she'd ever experienced not by her own hand. The shyness that had threatened, for Harry to see her in such a state, but the tables had soon turned. Harry's own that created a wonderful wetness that she never dreamed possible, a mess that had them both giggling, each reassuring the other that it was okay.
"But we have other things to discuss."
At Harry's words, Pansy shook herself out of her memories, the sudden need to shift carefully in her chair her paramount concern, lest she allow Harry to realize just what te very thought of him could do to her.
"Like what?" She tried to follow his train of thought.
"The bond, of course. After, well…"
Pansy nodded. "Last night."
"Exactly. I'm not sure about you… we haven't really talked about it since getting up. But I… well…"
"You can feel more of what I'm feeling right now than ever before, right?"
Harry nodded, relief evident on his face. "Yes. Like right now… well…"
She knew that it was her turn to blush. "Do you know what I'm thinking right now?"
It was no amount of small relief that she watched as he shook his head negatively. "No. Not what you're thinking… not really. It's more like…"
Pansy watched as Harry looked around over both his shoulders, his eyes narrowing as he made sure they were alone.
"Harry?" She asked after he stood and moved over to the door leading out of the kitchen, carefully listening at the wood's surface before peaking out the door..
He held his hand up as she started to ask a question, forestalling her. She nodded silently as she watched the young Gryffindor move back to his seat.
"Tell me what's going on."
At her words, Harry turned back towards her. For a moment, she wasn't sure what he was doing, the way he leaned over the table and stared directly at her. Looking up into his eyes, she felt the air leave her lungs as she gasped.
His eyes, those beautiful emerald orbs. They seemed to glow with a darkness.
"I noticed it last night. When we were… well…" At her nod, he smiled. "Anyway. Your eyes sparkle with some of my green. This morning while I was brushing my teeth, I saw in the mirror that your colour seems to be showing up in my eyes, too."
"What does it mean?"
He shrugged. "Probably a side-effect of the bonding. The closer we get, the more alike our eyes will become."
"I've never… no where did anything say anything about that."
"Anyway… back to your question." Harry leaned back in his chair and took a sip of the milk he'd decided to have with his sandwich. "A few moments ago, you were feeling… feelings are what I get. Anyway, you were feeling… well…"
Pansy smirked. "I was thinking about last night, too."
Harry nodded. "We should tell your parents."
"Everything?" She asked playfully.
Groaning, Harry ducked his head. "Other than some of the…"
"Sure. Personal aspects of what we're doing." Harry picked up his sandwich. "They should know about the stronger links to emotion, as well as the eye colour thing."
She watched as he finished off the last bit of his roast beef sandwich. Looking down at her own, half eaten, she pushed the plate away and waited, taking only a few moments to finish off her water.
"Harry?" At his inquiring look, she smiled bravely. "Aren't you scared?"
Harry swallowed and finished the last of his milk before looking back at her, his face drawn seriously. "There's a lot to be scared about. Did you mean anything in particular?"
"About the will. Or about school. Will we be together? The Ministry. You-Know-Who. All of it." She sighed. "What happens if I have to go back to marrying Draco? How about…?"
"You will not marry Draco." Harry interrupted her, his eyes suddenly very green. Pansy felt her throat tighten, as she was suddenly flooded with emotions, all from Harry. Possessiveness, jealousy, friendship… and something else that she wasn't quite sure of, maybe because he wasn't ready to acknowledge it either.
"We are together now, Pansy." Harry continued, oblivious to what she was experiencing. "Whether you and I decide to go through with this marriage… no matter what the decision of Padfoot's will is, I won't let you fall into Draco's hands. Never."
Tears spilled out from he eyes, blurring her vision, as she realized that Harry would save her, would protect her at all costs, no matter the danger. Forgetting how she and her family had tried to manipulate him… to convince Black through whatever means necessary, none of it mattered. Harry would be her champion.
And in that moment, whether Harry realized it or not, Pansy knew that she could love him. Would love him. And that she would offer all that she had, body and soul, to this melancholy Gryffindor… The-Boy-Who-Lived. Her betrothed.
Pansy Rose Parkinson smiled through the wetness that filled her gaze, as she suddenly found herself in his arms, Harry kneeling in front of her chair, his arms wrapped tightly around her, comforting her. His voice whispered platitudes of meaningless nothings in her ear, the warm breath tickling at her hair.
Oh, yes. She would love him. No matter what.
X X X
"Mom? How do you know if you are in love with someone?"
The older woman moved out of the kitchen to stare at her daughter, still sitting at the dining room table. Of all of the possible questions she had considered that her daughter might ask her today, the sullen way she had been moving through the house over the past few days… this was definitely not the one she thought might come up.
Well… not at first, anyway.
Sighing softly to herself, she moved back into the kitchen to wipe her hands on the towel that she kept near the sink at all times and moved to seat herself across from her daughter, suddenly glad that no one else was in the house for this particular talk. "Why don't you tell me about it?"
As her daughter lifted her head up from where she sat, a forlorn expression on her face… she noted that there seemed to be the hints of tear tracks along her cheeks.
"Hermione… talk to me. Please."
Eileen Granger sat, watching carefully as he daughter sighed. Finally, the younger woman spoke. "There's always been the three of us. Me, Ron and Harry. Nothing could ever come between us."
Her mother nodded quietly. When Hermione didn't offer anything further, she decided to try and steer the conversation.
"Do you think you might have feelings for one of them? Ron, maybe?"
She shook her head. "I just don't know. I'm only sixteen, Mum. I thought there'd be time… love was for later. There… there's just so much that has to be finished now."
At the renewal of her daughter's tears, Eileen nodded. "Harry, then."
She leaned back and took a deep breath. "Honey. I know that the three of you have been close… you and Harry, maybe a tad more than with Ron, but love?"
"See? I knew you'd react like this. That you'd dismiss it as a schoolgirl crush. An infatuation."
"Hermione Jane!" She scolded. "I have never dismissed anything you've brought to me. When you fist got your letter into this new world, I might have been skeptical, your father and I, but we kept an open mind. We've taught you to think things through."
"But thinking is going to cost me everything!" Hermione nearly shrieked. "I've been thinking about everything and trying to figure it all out, and now he's engaged to some Slytherin hag… Mum! It'll ruin everything!"
The elder Granger tried to reason it through, to understand, but couldn't keep the question from being asked. "But… I thought everything was about Ron. Isn't that why you always asked to visit his home over the summer?"
"No. Yes. I don't know!" The bushy-haired girl absently pushed at her hair. "I know Ron likes me, even though he's too thick-headed to realize it. And while I'm not opposed to seeing if we could date some… I kind of always saw myself ending up with Harry.
"But then Ginny asked how she could get Harry, asked for my help." Hermione sighed. "And I remembered you and Dad telling me that people often date several people before they end up finding the one they belong with… you said you dated three different guys seriously before meeting Dad."
At the admission, Eileen smiled softly. "Your father and I suspected something like this might happen one day… you taking us as examples too literally."
At her daughter's confused look, she tilted her head and regarded her daughter carefully. "You're trying to force love into a book, honey. You expect to be able to know what the next chapter is going to tell you and the end is there for you to read or not."
"You expected to be the one female constant in both of their lives, Hermione. That you could decide what was best for them, whether as far as school was concerned, or relationships."
"But Harry's going to be married. By wizarding law, his betrothal to Parkinson is all but binding."
Eileen's brow furrowed in thought. "I thought you said that the wizard-go-met or something was going to throw out Mr. Black's will. Isn't that what you said…?"
Hermione chuckled softly. "Wizengamot. And maybe."
"Well… you have until then to decide if you think Harry is worth the trouble, to stop the engagement if it is allowed to go through… and if it's not, well… you have the chance to move in then."
"Mum… no… I can't do that."
"Because of why? Ron? Ron's feelings?"
Eileen sighed. "I think you need to figure out what you want, dear, well before you start making plans to break up an engagement. Or a friendship."
"But what if Ron is the right one for me? But I let this… this…"
Hermione wrinkled her nose at her mother's poor choice of words, but nodded. "Fine. What if I can't find out if I love Ron… really, really love Ron because I never had the chance with Harry."
"I don't know, dear. I really don't." She smoothed out the tablecloth that had bunched up while they had talked. "Either way, you said that his emancipation had been overturned?"
"Well… as you explained it to me, they had to marry in December because she would be seventeen and he was emancipated…"
She watched her daughter transformed by the train of thought, too focused on her feelings to look at the various possibilities that had presented themselves to her. "Then they can't marry until July of next year. Harry's seventeenth birthday."
"And a year is a better amount of time to determine what your true feelings are… much more than six months."
Hermione launched herself at her mother, hugging her tightly as she whispered her thanks over and over again. Once she pulled back, a real smile once again on her face, Eileen lifted her eyebrows.
"So… what's are you going to do?"
"I need to talk to Ron… and then to Harry."
"And Ginny?" Her mother asked.
The supposedly smartest witch of her generation sighed. "And I definitely need to talk to Ginny… and probably a lot of other girls in our school, as well."
"He's really that big of a deal?"
Hermione smiled bitterly at her mother. "In the wizarding world? Oh, yeah. He's probably the biggest deal since a lone wizard decided to talk to an orphan boy about a sword stuck in a rock."
X X X
"Miss Black." The goblin bowed respectfully. "How might I be of assistance this evening?"
The blonde-haired aristocrat looked down her nose at the misshapen creature; disdain filling her eyes as she contemplated lowering herself to such a level that she could properly make her request to such a lesser being. That it had even dared to use her maiden name, never mind what that Potter brat might have considered a victory this past week.
"I have come to understand that the will of my dearest cousin, Sirius Black, has been called into question. As such, since I may not avail myself of the heir in question and have been relieved of my rights to the Malfoy vault… my husband's vault. I therefore need to know how I might withdraw galleons sufficient for caring for myself and my son."
Harkist looked up at the woman, his beady eyes missing nothing as a scowl marred his features, pulling the scar that ran across his left eye into stark relief. "I do not understand."
Narcissa all but rolled her eyes as her hand loosely played with her wand, the desire to hex the abominable little monster almost too much to withstand. "The Wizengamot refuted Potter's emancipation. A hearing has been called in two month's time to determine the overthrowing of Sirius' will."
"I don't see…"
"I was instructed to seek you out." Narcissa coldly interrupted. "By the desk clerk. I cannot access anything from the allotted monies left to me by the current Black Heir, nor am I allowed to make withdraws from Lucius' account.
"So… I ask again… where do I withdraw money from?"
She watched in satisfaction as the green and gray skinned little brute made an elemental gesture over his desk… Goblinatic magic. Leaning back in the chair that he had failed to politely offer, she considered where Draco had gone earlier, his demeanor so much darker than she had thought possible… he was not taking Potter's victory during the reading well, at all.
Narcissa contemplated her offspring's anger, not for the first time wondering if it had more to do with the forced bastardization… or with the Parkinson slag. She remembered her son's outrage at being betrothed to the pug-faced girl so early in life… the fact that she had somewhat outgrown it, finally found pleasant features as she aged was a blessing. But Draco would have none of it… his anger growing with each passing year.
It was in his third year that the rumours truly began, of little Parkinson dropping her knickers for any that gave her a wink and a tickle. A common trollop. Lucius had laughed… it had been the first time that Narcissa had caught the gleam of rebellion in her son's eye.
Now, however, when Draco was finally free from the betrothal, the little whore forced upon Potter… forced to take last place behind the whole of Slytherin, suddenly Draco became possessive… refusing to allow the Potter boy to take even those things that he had cast aside.
His hatred of the Gryffindor golden boy was truly staggering.
"One moment, please." The Goblin spoke, tearing her away from the musings of her son.
To say that Harkist was confused was the understatement of the millennia. Glancing briefly at the pages that magically appeared in front of him, the edges of the parchment ripping slightly as his claw grasped the thin material too tightly, he stood suddenly, his height shrinking even further beneath the cold witch's gaze, as he moved to seek out someone that could provide an easy solution.
His back turned, he never saw Narcissa Black, a Malfoy in all but her name, currently, looking over at the pages that the confounded goblin had left inadvertently behind in his hurry to get her answers.
Nor did he see the dark smile that suddenly filled the woman's face.
X X X
Albus Dumbeldore paced back and forth before the fireplace, his whole body still with anger and his steps ominous in their resounding echoes, the several other wizards and witches inside the room refusing to interrupt the powerful wizard.
His long white beard swaying, the Chief Warlock and current Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry pivoted to a stop and stared hard at the congregated personages. Leaning heavily on his gnarled staff, he turned to rest his blue-eyed gaze upon the couch where Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks rested patiently.
"Unless you can give me a reason not to, I think it would be best if you were both excused from any future meetings or plans with the Order."
Several gasps filled the room, but the two in question barely looked at one another before nodding. It was Tonks, her hair a bright, lime-coloured green that stood first, her hands on her hips, though her posture was relaxed. "It's cool. I'm out."
"Tonks?" Charlie Weasley asked, his face open in surprise. "You can't mean that?"
"She does." Remus stood, his hand resting possessively on Tonks' shoulder as he looked at her former beau. "We both do, in fact."
Turning to look at Dumbledore, the werewolf smiled sadly. "You've lost sight of the greater goal here, Albus. You think that by controlling Harry, making him follow your rules and what you think is best will help win the war. You're wrong."
"I think that will be enough, Remus."
The former Hogwarts professor shrugged and nodded when Tonks squeezed his hand. He allowed the young Auror to pull him over to where they could each grab their cloaks before leaving.
"You're going to just let them go?" Mad-Eye Moody growled from a shadowed corner, his magical eye spinning all around the room. "They hold some serious information. They could cause problems for us later down the line."
"Moody!" Tonks snapped. "Who are we going to tell? You-Know-Who? Whether Dumbles over there wants to admit it or not, we're on the same side… even if we can't agree with going on with this… this farce of protection for Harry."
"Will you not tell us where he is?" Minerva McGonagall asked, not for the first time that night. "If we could get Harry to listen… to understand what's at stake…"
"He knows what's at stake, Min." Remus whispered, though his voice carried through the gloomy room of Grimmauld Place. "Probably more than any of the rest of you do."
"Just take your trollop and go, Lupin." Snape sneered from where he stood, his tone mocking. "Once again, you seek to coddle the boy when the end of a stick would get the desired results…"
"Severus!" Albus interrupted, ignoring the fact that Remus had to be held back by Tonks. "You will be quiet."
"Of course, Headmaster."
"Let's go…" Tonks muttered under her breath, her gaze shooting daggers at the greasy haired potions teacher.
"I would ask that…"
Remus turned to glare at the Headmaster. "Another request for Harry to contact you? Really? What a surprise."
Turning to glare at Minerva, the graying wizard seemed to slump. "We had a line of communication open. I would have gladly kept you informed on what was going on… but you had to pull that stunt at the Wizengamot. You betrayed everything that Sirius wanted for his godson… what Lily and James would have wanted."
As he turned away, Tonks patted his back soothingly. "You've no one else to blame but yourselves. You want Harry to be something… I still don't understand what, but you really think he'll listen to a word you have to say after betraying him like that?"
She laughed. "He'll side with the Death Eaters before that happens."
Dumbledore's face went white, as several in the room, most especially Professor McGonagall and Molly Weasley covered their mouths in surprise. The older wizard sighed. "You think he'd turn dark?"
For just a brief moment, the Supreme Mugwup contemplated the idea that he had failed twice… once with a young Tom Riddle and now with Harry Potter. Could he have made such a mistake twice in his life?
Remus spat at the man. "Of course not, you senile old fool!"
"Remus Lupin!" Molly tried to chastise the man, but the werewolf ignored her.
"What we're saying is Harry has as much chance as going dark as the sun has of turning into water… and as for trusting you again any time soon… well, you might start looking for that rainy sunshine."
"Let's go, Remus." Tonks pulled at his arm.
Nodding, the two outcasts of the Order of the Phoenix looked around, their eyes hard. As they stepped into the FLOO, their destination whispered, Remus shot out a final taunt. "And remember… this place isn't safe now, not since the will was called into question."
Once the green flames had died down, the room now two persons emptier, Amos Diggory turned to look at the Chief Warlock that had recruited him to join this organization dedicated to battling He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in every guise he might attempt. "What did he mean by that? Not being safe?"
Albus waved his hand. "This was one of the properties bestowed to young Mister Potter by his godfather. When Fudge decided to call into question the entirety of the will's determinations, everything fell into a type of… limbo."
"But we're under all of the necessary charms, right Albus?" Minerva asked from where she was sitting.
Whatever the Headmaster was going to answer with, no one would know since Moody suddenly sprung from where he was standing, his magical eye focused directly toward the front door for a brief second before swiveling towards the back of his head… his face in a scowl. "Ready for attack! Ready for attack! We've got incoming at the front door… the back door… and upstairs. Apparations!"
Molly screamed as the front door suddenly blew, the fragments and debris from the wall brick and wood rained down on all inside, the smoke washing over tem, as jests of light… magical energies from spells and hexes began slipping into the room. Shields were hastily erected as the wall separating the kitchen area and the room they had all congregated in was suddenly gone, replaced instead by the various outlines of Death Eaters attacking.
Bill Weasley was quickly felled, the after image of a purple hued light striking him in the back of the head, as the rest of his redheaded family seemed to congregate around him.
"Portkeys are out. Wards are all over us." A wizard screamed as a cutting hex sliced at his arm.
"FLOO is down too…" Professor Flitwick cried out, his wand swishing around overhead, the smoke being pushed out and away from the other Order members. "I think Remus and Tonks just beat it before it was cut off."
Looking up from where a chunk of the ceiling had fallen on his shoulder, knocking him to the ground, Albus Dumbledore looked up to see the outline of Lord Voldemort striding in from where the front door once stood, his eyes gleaming in the bloodiest of reds.
"Why, Albus." His voice hissed. "What an unexpected surprise…"