[s] ... [/s] denotes strikethrough

quick note: i don't know if mr and mrs granger's appearances were properly described in canon, but if they were i have ignored that and just made them up. hope no one minds :p

--- Chapter Sixteen ---

[s] Reason (vb): think logically [/s]

[s] Reason (vb): use an argument by way of persuasion [/s]

Reason (n): an explanation

Reason (n): a rational motive, cause or justification for an action

Two floors below, Draco was just entering the kitchen. He prided himself on being infuriatingly awake in the mornings, which would explain how his hair managed to look damn near perfect at only 8 o'clock in the morning. A fact that didn't go unnoticed by the room's other two tousle-haired, bleary-eyed inhabitants.

"Morning," said Draco, opting for his most annoyingly chipper voice to start the day. Hermione did at least have the courtesy to flash him a half-smile, although Ron's mumbled greeting would probably have been indecipherable to a troll.

Heading for the cupboards under the countertop, he asked, "Are the others up yet?"

"Nope, don't think so."

There was a pause, as Draco opened one door, then the next to be presented with a jumble of every type of cooking utensil and non-essential foodstuff he'd ever known existed. "Then, do you know where they keep the bread?"

"Mmm." There was a shuffle of slipper clad feet, then a loaf was thrust into his hands.

"Where-" he was cut off as Hermione (at least he assumed it was her under all that hair) pointed at the bread bin on the side. Draco rolled his eyes, before starting in on the loaf with a bread knife that was handily already out on the counter. "I take it you're not really morning people then?" He couldn't help the smug tone that suffused his sentence.

"Honestly, I didn't get a huge deal of sleep." Draco saw Hermione's eyes flick up to the ceiling, while Ron nodded in agreement. The girl brushed her hair behind her ears, and took a sip of coffee before asking, "Did you speak to him at all last night?"

"Not a huge amount."

She sighed, looking miserably upwards again, "I just ...I feel so awful for him. I wish I could make it all better. Well, not me per se..." she trailed off, glancing at Draco, who had just taken a huge bite out of his slice of bread. His eyes widened and he swallowed hurriedly, choking out,

"What, I'm supposed to fix this?"

"No, but you just ...you spend more time with him, don't you? I mean, Ron and I have each other and I guess we haven't really... well we've..." she stopped again.

Draco raked his hand through his hair. "You think you've what? Been deserting him or something?" he asked, his tone incredulous.

Hermione stared into her cup, her hair hiding her face, "Yes. No. I don't know."

The kitchen was horribly quiet now. Draco half wished someone would walk in and save him from this before he said something stupid. Instead, Ron just put his arm around his girlfriend's shoulder and continued explaining, "It used to be just us three, you see. Don't get me wrong," he started as Draco opened his mouth, "it's not that we don't want you with us. You're actually quite a decent human being, surprisingly enough. But it's tricky, with us going out now, we don't always see as much of Harry as we used to. I guess we don't know him as well you do now."

Draco looked at him in complete shock; he'd been friends with them for what, less than a year? "That's ridiculous. You guys are his best friends; it's always been that way. It's just this whole thing... I know Severus better than you two, so I can help more with that side of it. Nothing more than that."

Neither of them looked particularly convinced, and Draco sighed in frustration. He should have seen this coming, what with all the time he and Harry spent together nowadays. It wasn't his fault though, that while they'd been 'studying' in the library, Draco had helped Harry decide on the best strategy for coaching his team from the stands, or helped him with his homework when he got tired or... No, that wasn't fair; they had their own lives to lead. He tugged at his hair again, giving up completely on his earlier neatness, and looked at the pair before him.

"Look, for what it's worth, I know you mean well and you obviously care a great deal about him. That being the case, maybe you could try just talking to him. Don't smother him with questions about how he's feeling, just ...talk."

Hermione shuffled uncomfortably, then moved off towards the kettle. Draco winced mentally - he'd been in the corridor yesterday when Harry and Hermione were talking and had heard most of it before she came out and saw him. "I didn't mean that you'd done anything wrong, it was just an idea."

"I know," she said, keeping her eyes on the tap. Unable to say anything more without digging himself a bigger hole, Draco just watched her as she silently filled the kettle and set it on the stove.

Ron, meanwhile looked thoughtful, "I don't even understand all of this, though. I mean, Sirius shouldn't have told Snape that, I know. But Snape? He's said all that, and worse, before now."

"Yeah, but being rude in the classroom is completely different," said Draco as he joined Hermione, grabbing a mug and teabag for himself as she went to work on coffees for her and Ron. "This was personal," he added.

"It's always personal with those two," said Ron, frustrated, dropping into a seat at the table.

Draco didn't answer, looking at the girl beside him. She rolled her eyes, but failed to keep the gratitude from her gaze. "No, it always used to be," she sighed, "Snape hasn't made any reference to his dad for ages."

"Yeah, so he's nasty again, big deal," countered the redhead, as he grabbed the milk, "It's still been worse before."

"No it hasn't," interjected Hermione, "Don't you see? It's the fact that he even brought it up again, regardless of how hurtful the actual comment may or may not have been. He only ever did it to get at Harry, to hurt him."


"So," said Draco slowly, "the fact that he's resorted back to it is worse than when he was just mean all the time. It means what Harry did was apparently bad enough to negate the last year or so." The kettle continued to bubble happily on the stove, filling the room with its gurgles as the conversation withered into another awkward silence.

Ron finished adding half the world's sugar stock to his coffee and looked at Draco, shaking his head, "You know, however much sense you're making, you still sound like a ponce, Draco."

"Cheers," muttered the boy, taking a gulp from his tea, before realising that it was still boiling hot. He swore vehemently, eyes watering as Ron laughed.

"It's good to see you're not completely perfect," said Hermione, smiling even as Draco glared at her.

At that moment, the door to the kitchen swung open to admit a tetchy-looking Harry. His emerald eyes simmered behind his glasses, accenting the frown on his forehead. He made straight for the loaf of bread on the side and began to saw away at it. The others in the room had no way of knowing that he wasn't angry so much at the current turn of events, moreover he was annoyed to find his mind playing tricks on him in his sleep. Since getting his bearings after waking up, he'd felt the past day come crashing brutally down on him as his dream continued to tickle the corners of his conscious. He'd also remembered that the house was about to be invaded by a whole host of people. And all that made for a decidedly grumpy young man, who was currently, it seemed, trying to cut into the counter-top. He stopped, grabbing the piece of bread lying beside the knife and sighed before turning round and smiling half-heartedly at the others.

"Sorry," he muttered, closing his eyes and leaning back against the counter, "Bad night."

It wasn't until eleven that the first of their guests arrived. Sirius and Remus had come downstairs soon after Harry had, joining in with the general melee of breakfast making still going on in the kitchen. After that, Remus had set them all to working out the sleeping arrangements for the next few days, seeing as they were going to have many more people than bedrooms. All except for Sirius, that is, who had glowered all through making himself coffee and then stomped off back upstairs without a word. Remus apparently hadn't had a lot of success reasoning to him the night before.

The next few hours spun by in a whirl of camp-beds and chaos. Somewhere between Hermione being picked up and bodily thrown onto one of the beds by Ron and Draco and Ron flailing around in a duvet that seemed determined to keep him as its prisoner Harry perked up a little. Enough to hit Draco soundly around the head with a nearby pillow when he tried to tickle him.

Suddenly, a loud thump, followed almost instantly by an identical one, broke through from the sitting room below. They all walked in to find Fred and George hopelessly entangled on the floor in front of the Floo, Ginny resting across both of them obviously not letting either of them stand up.

"Uh hi," muttered George, straining his neck to see them as they all filed in through the door to stare, "We-"

"-just dropped in," said Fred into the carpet. The room was still for a nanosecond before it exploded into laughter. Ginny got gracefully to her feet and sauntered over to greet Remus.

"Mum sent us ahead to say that the rest will be over in a bit," she said, "Dad's going to send the luggage through in about ten minutes, so you might not want to be standing too close to the fire. Or lying near it," she smirked, looking back over her shoulder as her brothers slowly worked their way onto their feet, grumbling.

"Have I told you recently how glad I am to be in your good books, Gin?" muttered Harry. She just grinned and hugged him and Hermione as Ron went to help his brothers, still laughing. As Harry pulled back, he noticed Draco lurking behind him and stepped aside to allow Ginny access to him. She moved back from Hermione and turned to greet him.

"Hi," he said, stopping her dead in her tracks. It was several long seconds before she managed to mumble some sort of response, by which time they had an audience. A nosy, interfering audience.

"Aww, no hug for Draco?" chirped Fred, coming up behind his sister.

"Poor guy," added George, his face completely dead-pan. Harry wasn't sure whether to laugh or cringe as Ginny tried to hide her blush behind her hair. It was made worse when Draco, also a curious shade of red, attempted to help with a hug. It would have worked too, if it hadn't been one of those awkward, almost-head-butting type of hugs.

Remus was quick to dive into the silence that followed with an offer of something to drink. As he and the others left the room, Ron and Hermione carefully positioned so that Ginny couldn't kill her brothers, Harry whispered to Draco, "All you need now is a white horse and some shiny armour." Then he bolted.

True to his word, the luggage and Arthur Weasley tumbled through the fireplace ten minutes later at the same time as Hermione's phone rang. Her parents had mailed it to Grimmauld Place after she'd explained that the house was still invisible to Muggles, despite having had most of its wards released at the end of the war. With a look of resignation, Ron went to help his father with all the cases, while Harry hastily checked his glamour, smoothed down the front of his pullover and followed Hermione out of the door. As soon as they stepped outside, Hermione ran down the steps and into her father's arms. Mr Granger was a short, stocky man with thinning brown hair. His slightly dishevelled clothing seemed to imply that he was retired rather than the dentist he actually was. Harry hadn't seen this man often, but it would be safe to say he liked him. How could anyone not like a man who laughed loudly when one of the cases he had hastily dumped in the snow sprang open, spewing clothes onto the ground. Behind him, Mrs Granger rolled her eyes in a manner that made one think she was rather used to this sort of thing. With her hair neatly done up in a bun at the nape of her neck and a pair of glasses perched on her nose, you could easily see where Hermione had got her studious nature from. Her clothes contrasted strongly with her husband's, from the pristine white blouse she was wearing to the sensible black pumps on her feet. Harry walked down the steps and over to her as Hermione knelt in the snow with her father, laughing as they tried to brush the flakes off a large woollen jumper.

"Hello, Mrs Granger," he said formally, shaking her hand, "It's a pleasure to see you again."

This was a woman who had perfected the art of looking down at people through her spectacles, even though she was roughly the same height as Harry.

"Thank you. You're ...Harry, right?"

"That's me," he ducked his head under her scrutinising gaze, "Shall I take you inside?"

Hermione's father came up on the other side of Harry, valiantly attempting to dust down the knees of his snow-sodden trousers. After failing dismally in that respect, he turned his attentions to the boy beside him, grasping his hand firmly with a, "Good to see you again, Harry. Hermione's kept us up to date with all of your news. How's the Quidditch training going?"

"Oh, umm... it's been ok this term. We beat Slytherin ...that's one of the-"

"One of the four houses, I know. It may have taken a while, but Hermione has managed to teach us a fair amount about Hogwarts."

Harry grinned, adding, "I bet she's read you the entirety of 'Hogwarts: A History'." There was an indignant squeak from behind him as Mr Granger chuckled.

Mrs Granger said something to her daughter at that point, but Harry didn't quite catch it; his eyes were drawn to a man further down the street. He was fairly ordinary looking from the neck down, sporting jeans and a plain black sweater. The man's hair however was vivid purple and grown down to around his shoulders. Reginald "Reggie" Bucklin: one of the Daily Prophet's hounds. Harry had seen more than his fair share of him over the past school year after Rita Skeeter's resignation. He seemed to have become the leading reporter on Harry's affairs, always managing to turn up wherever he was least wanted but, after the hype at the end of the war and Harry disappearing over the summer, it seemed he had fallen back into line with the rest of them, appearing here and there with little pieces of news. But now, here he was, less than six houses away from them. Luckily, it didn't seem as though he had noticed anything unusual about their small party, but if they didn't move soon he might just think to look twice and from past experience that was all he would need to see who they were. Harry nervously mussed his fringe over his forehead and nudged Hermione.

"Look," he whispered, jerking his head towards the approaching figure.

"Oh gods, it's that Bucklin again. We'd best get inside," she grabbed one of the cases beside her, "Come on, Mum, Dad. Let's go."

Both of her parents, having heard what they'd said, were looking at the reporter. Harry winced, hoping they wouldn't attract his attention. In all fairness, he did have very eye-catching hair. People were bound to look at him oddly from time to time.

"Dad," hissed the girl, gesturing towards the remaining cases with her free hand. Mr Granger, it seemed, had seen the steely glint in Hermione's eye and instantly hopped to, picking up both cases and following after his daughter with his wife close behind. Harry ducked his head and tried to look unhurried as he walked up the steps. He could hear Hermione's mother's "But this is just a wall. Are you sure there's a house here?" as well as Hermione's frustrated, "Just trust me, ok?" and was glad that there was no-one else out on the street. If there were any Muggles around they'd have had to wait for them to leave before walking, as Mrs Granger believed, into a solid wall.

Hermione stepped half into the doorway to prove it wasn't impenetrable then ushered her amazed parents past her. Harry was waiting behind them and quickly cast a glance over his shoulder. For a brief moment his eyes connected with Bucklin's then the man walked on by and Harry practically fell through the doorway in relief. The very last thing he needed over the holidays were reporters camped outside the house. He was just grateful that no-one seemed to know of the house's location due to it's past use as the order's headquarters. It may not still be warded, but it was one of the best places to hide out in; not many reporters would think to search for a house that, to all intents and purposes, hadn't existed until a few months ago.

Mrs Granger's voice cut through his thoughts, "What was all that about?"

"You know how I told you about the Daily Prophet meddling in Harry's life? Well that was one of its lackeys: Reggie Bucklin," said Hermione, with open disgust in her voice. Bucklin hadn't just inherited an interest in Harry from Skeeter; he'd also been allocated his fair share of hatred from Hermione.

"Ah, welcome," came Remus' voice as he walked down the hall towards them. Introductions were made by Hermione which incorporated Ron, Draco, Ginny, Arthur and the twins who all came clattering down the stairs moments later. After the formalities were over with and Hermione had taken her parents off to see their room, Remus turned to Harry.

"What's this I hear about Bucklin?" he asked, his expression as stony as Hermione's had been.

Suddenly, all eyes were on him as Ron jumped in with, "Bucklin? What's that bastard been doing now?"

Harry grimaced, "With any luck, nothing. He was just walking down the street outside the house. I don't think he even saw me."

"Awfully coincidental that he happened to be on this street don't you think?" The mutter came from either Fred or George and caused a stir of agreement in the group.

"He probably just lives near here or something." Harry could see Ron open his mouth to respond, and groaned inwardly. If it hadn't been for Mrs Weasley's voice breaking through from the sitting room just then, he might have had to turn tail and run back out onto the street, Bucklin or no. He'd had far too many of these 'discussions' about Bucklin before and they only ever served in getting people worked up. Fixing his best smile in place, Harry once again filed into the living room as the last few guests arrived. Molly was already exclaiming about how tall Ron was, stating that he must have grown at least an inch since term began. Behind her, Charlie stumbled out of the fireplace, barely managing to stay upright. He'd grown his hair slightly longer since Harry had last seen him, and the rolled-up sleeves of his jersey showed new burn marks and scratches on his arms. As he moved aside to be greeted very formally by both Fred and George, with much bowing and gesticulating involved, Bill appeared where he'd been, equally unsteady as he landed. In contrast to his brother, Bill had finally cut his hair, no longer wearing it in a ponytail (although he'd managed to keep his earring). Fleur appeared seconds later, alighting gracefully on the floor beside her husband, not wobbling in the slightest despite holding their daughter in her arms. Harry's heart gave a jolt, watching as Bill put his arm around Fleur's shoulders and leant over to check on the four-month old she was cradling against her. He was relieved when Molly swept him up in a tight embrace, obscuring his vision of the happy couple.

"Harry, dear, how are you?"

"Fine, thank you." Over her shoulder, he could see Arthur making his way towards the Grangers.

"Isn't it lovely having all these people here? It really is a shame Percy couldn't make it, but he's meeting Penelope's parents," her eyes shimmered with the prospect of a potential engagement. Fred, George, Harry and Ron had bets going on when he'd propose. "Well, I'd better go and greet the host ...is Sirius not here?" She didn't wait for an answer before bustling off to see Remus who was currently talking to Fleur and Bill. Harry looked away, spotting Draco hovering in the doorway. He would have dragged him into the room had he not been accosted suddenly by the ever-present twins and pulled over to greet Charlie.

"Harry! How's it going?" There was something about Charlie that just put you right at ease. Harry could still remember meeting him for the first time, feeling in awe of the tall, well-muscled man. It was weird not to have to crane his neck to look him anymore.

"Not bad. What about you?" He glanced at his forearms, "I see you've been working hard."

Chuckling, Charlie raised his arms up to the light, turning them over to show the numerous injuries across them. "Being mauled you mean? We've got a particularly tetchy Ridgeback at play over there." He lowered his arms again, tucking his hands into his pockets to complete his laidback appearance, "And you? Lots of schoolwork at the moment?"

"Yeah, you know, studying for my N.E.W.T.s this year."

"Oh, gosh, I remember those. Don't know how I got through them - I couldn't even scrape a Dreadful now. Still, you-"

George cut across him with a sigh of, "Boring." He and Fred were sporting identical looks of suffering, as Fred put a hand to his head and said gravely, "There was a time when young men found better things to talk about."

Charlie punched him lightly on the arm, causing Fred to mock-collapse into his twin's waiting arms. Laughing, Harry decided to put them to better use, "Maybe you two could do me a favour?" They turned their heads to look at him, interest piqued, "Do you think you could manhandle Draco over here?" He'd barely got the words out before they were gone, wending their way through the room. "Have you met him?" he asked Charlie, as he saw Draco trying vainly to evade the twins.

"The ex-Malfoy heir? Don't think so."

Fred and George had somehow managed to capture Draco and scurried back with him in tow. They bowed and scraped as they drew near, presenting the non-plussed boy to his companions, before deciding to turn their attentions to Ron.

"Draco, this is Charlie. Charlie, Draco."

Draco eyed the other man up, eyes lingering on his arms, "You're the brother who works with dragons?"

That elicited a snort from Charlie, who hid his arms behind his back as he said, "How'd you guess?"

Job done, thought Harry as he sidled off. Molly and Remus were just leaving the room, no doubt to finalise sleeping arrangements. Harry was about to go and help Ron escape from the twins when he felt a hand on his arm, "'Arry, it eez so lovely to see you again."

He turned reluctantly, his brain supplying, "Fleur, Bill. Great to see you too. And this must be Victoire." They both smiled down at their daughter causing Harry to stumble a little on his next words, "Sh-... She's gorgeous."

"Thanks," Bill grinned up at him, "It's quite a relief she's quiet at the moment."

"'Ey, she 'eard that," Fleur said indignantly, glaring up at him. Bill, with practised ease, swooped in to peck her cheek, managing not to jostle the infant in her arms.

"I'm sure she won't hold it against me," he murmured. All of a sudden, Hermione appeared at Harry's side, immediately taking his place to greet Fleur and Bill. Harry slipped away gratefully to the sounds of Hermione cooing over Victoire, and went over to Arthur and Mr Granger who seemed to be talking about torches.

After lunch, everyone settled down in the expansive sitting room. The younger ones ended up playing chess, gobstones and exploding snap, while the adults chatted pleasantly about everything and anything. By the time evening rolled around, Harry was situated in the kitchen helping Ron and Bill lay the magically enlarged table for all of them as Remus and Molly busied about making supper.

"Has Sirius come down yet?" asked Remus as he dug the plates out from one of the many cupboards.

Ron looked up, "Haven't seen him."

Remus sighed, pushing his hair back from his face, "He didn't appear for lunch either. I don't suppose you could go and get him, could you..." he turned to look at Harry then seemingly caught himself before adding on, "Ron?"

"I'll go," Harry interjected.

Ron was holding a large selection of glasses in his hands and started setting them all carefully down whilst muttering, "No, don't worry, I'll just-"

Harry delivered a swift, "I'll go, Ron," before walking out of the room, aware that he was being watched from probably all angles.

He took the stairs slowly, trying to steady his nerves. This was ridiculous, it was Sirius for crying out loud. His over-excitable, completely irresponsible godfather. He knocked timidly on the door, waiting for the mumbled 'Come in' before turning the handle.

"Siri? It's me," said Harry, pushing the door open gently.

Sirius himself was sitting cross-legged on the armchair in the corner of the room, one elbow resting on its slightly worn arm. His clothes looked decent enough, although his hair was incredibly mussed, as though he'd run his fingers through it a lot. He looked up as Harry entered the room but gave no other sign of greeting.

Harry stood in the doorway, waiting. When nothing else was forthcoming, he said, "Remus wanted you to know that it's supper now and... I..." He paused for some sort of response, then stepped further into the room. "Please, don't be mad at me."

Sirius lowered his eyes with a muttered, "'M not."

"Yes you are." The door clicked shut as Harry pushed it closed behind him, "You haven't spoken to me since yesterday."

For a moment, he thought the other man wasn't going to answer him. Then suddenly, he raised his eyes and snapped, "Well, can you blame me? I've just found out you've been..." he made some obscure gesture in the air, "...with Snape." He let one of his legs hang off the front of the chair as he sat up straighter, kneading the fabric of the chair arm with his fist.

Eager to placate him, Harry said quietly, "It's really not that big a deal."

This, however, only served in angering Sirius more. He thumped his fist onto the chair and growled, "Yes it bloody well is! It's Snape. You... and him.... and now you're..." he trailed away, fuming silently. In all the time Harry'd known him, he'd never seen Sirius get this worked up about something. Angry yes, but he always managed to express himself (often by shouting). Harry could sense this wasn't going to go well.

"Nothing's changed, Siri. You were fine with this 'til you found out it was his. I don't see how it really makes a difference to you whose it is. It's not like he and I are still..." he broke off at the look on Sirius' face. Something seemed to have snapped in the animagus and the words he had mislaid a moment ago suddenly flowed back into his mind.

"It makes a difference to me that he laid his dirty hands on you. It makes a difference that the perverted-"

Harry cut across him, rising to the bait against his better judgement, "Gods, you make it sound so... sordid."

Sirius' eyes flashed, his tone becoming harsher, "What else is it? He obviously took advantage of you."

"What? You think he forced me?" Harry conveniently forgot at that moment that both Remus and Poppy had alluded to the same thing. Right now, he was concentrating on the man before him and no one else.

Sirius faltered, then sneered, "I'm supposed to believe that this is what you wanted?"

"Yes. Yes you are," said Harry incredulously, "It's not exactly a difficult concept to grasp."

"No," said Sirius firmly, "It's disgusting enough as it is, but I don't believe you're stupid enough to have brought it on yourself."

If he was thinking clearly, Harry would have cut his losses and left then. Better to leave it unresolved and take a chance to cool down than continue an argument that was rapidly spiralling out of control. Instead, however, he raised his eyebrows and asked, "So I'm disgusting and stupid now?"

"Apparently so. I mean, it's Snape," said Sirius in a tone that seemed to imply that that was all that needed to be said on the matter. The very simplicity of that statement hit a nerve.

"You know," Harry said coldly, "I was thinking this over when I came up here, trying to work out what to say. I had answers all ready for your objections to him being older than me, or being my teacher, but you don't really care about that do you? You only care because it's someone you hated in school."

He was breathing more heavily than normal with the effort of trying to keep his voice restrained. However, when Sirius, instead of looking contrite merely asked, "Does it matter what my reasons are?" Harry lost the will to keep his voice low. He didn't care if the rest of the house heard him anymore.

"Yes!" he half-shouted, raking his hand distractedly through his hair, "I... I thought you'd have had better reasons for doing what you did."

That stopped Sirius in his tracks. Whatever he had been about to throw at Harry died in his throat. He looked confusedly around before asking slowly, "What I did? What the hell did I do?"

"You told Severus, didn't you?" hissed Harry, "Even when I was begging you not to, you didn't listen."

Sirius still looked puzzled. When he said, "So?" Harry seriously considered punching him. Something held him back and instead he just ground out, "So now he hates me and it was simply because you wanted to get one over on him again?"

"What does that matter?" shrugged Sirius, "He hates you, big deal." Quite honestly, he could have had the same effect if he'd slapped Harry. It was a few seconds before the boy could bring himself to respond.

"Don't... don't you care at all?"

"What? About him?" asked Sirius in disbelief.

"About me!" Harry was surprised the entire household hadn't stormed the room yet, with the volume his voice had risen to, "Do you even know what he said to me after that? Did you know that he told me that I'd fucked up, that this child was a fuck-up?"

"You see?" Sirius crowed triumphantly, "He's an evil basta-"

"No! He's not. That wasn't meant as bloody ammunition to throw back in my face. Gods, all you can think about is your stupid schoolboy feud, while I have to hear... have to deal with..." he broke off, then swore viciously. Turning abruptly on his heel, he stalked out, slamming the door so hard behind him the handle shook.

He took the steps two at a time, determined to make it out of the house before he could be stopped. He saw Remus coming out of the kitchen as he strode down the corridor, but he swerved off to the right before he could attempt to talk to him and walked out into the dimly lit garden once more.

It was relatively mild outside and since it wasn't actually snowing, Harry didn't need a cloak, which was fortunate as he hadn't even thought to grab one on his way past. He wanted to scream until his throat was raw, but he knew the others would be upon him in a matter of seconds if he did that. Instead, he kept walking, right down to the trees at the far end of the garden, kicking the snow on the ground as he went.

He could go back and walk out the front door. Just go and lose himself in the city. But he'd most likely just get cornered by one of the people in the house and be made to stay. He looked at the wall in desperation, trying to work out if he could climb it, but seeing as it was quite a bit taller than him he guessed not. Still, the rage coursing through him made him want to get out and run as far as he could until he was a long, long way away from this house and these people. He paced erratically around the end of the garden, looping back on himself then suddenly turning this way or that. Several times he started back towards the house with the idea of marching back up to Sirius' room to continue the argument, but then he'd think better of that and turn around, kicking at the ground in frustration.

Slowly, the heat of his anger left him and he stopped walking, letting out a shuddering breath. He felt his mind clear and his rational thoughts come back to him, pushing away half-baked ideas of escape. He cringed as he realised that probably everyone had heard him screaming at Sirius, and wondered absently if he could stay out here until they all forgot.

The bench caught his eye, and he moved over to sit on it, feeling almost lethargic without the fury in him. If Draco were here he'd no doubt have spent the last however many minutes (or hours, he really didn't know) telling him to calm down for the sake of the baby. Sometimes, he wondered if Draco was more concerned for her welfare than he was. His fingers twitched towards his wand, releasing the glamour he was still wearing. Through his thin pullover the curve of his stomach became clearly visible. Almost painfully so; the reality of it was unavoidable now. There were no more little flutters of hope that he could still resolve things with Severus by telling him the truth. He'd hit a dead-end and turned to find himself alone and feeling far too young to have made the right decision. He felt a tingling feeling in his fingers and feet as panic washed over him. This was all really happening. It was real and it was so much more terrifying than he'd really bargained for. He scrambled around in his mind, trying to work out how he'd been so complacent over the past month. He flexed his fingers, as if that could dispel this sudden anxiety, and rested his hands on his stomach. He was so on edge that he actually leapt to his feet when something flashed to the side of him. Whipping his head around, he saw the tell-tale wisp of smoke that was common with wizarding cameras in the bushes to his left, even as the culprit shimmied up and over the wall, his camera swinging wildly on its strap around his neck. There was no mistaking that hair.

"Oh, fuck it all," swore Harry, rubbing his face tiredly. He reapplied his glamour in a futile attempt to undo the last few moments, but the damage was done. No doubt Bucklin would be apparating that very moment to the Prophet's offices. He wished he hadn't taken the glamour off. If he'd just kept it on until he was in his rooms... Although, in fairness, he wasn't to know that there'd be reporters in the shrubbery. It really didn't matter now; the photo was taken and would no doubt appear somewhere in the Prophet tomorrow.

"Harry? Supper," called Hermione from somewhere near the house.

He traipsed back, weighed down by thoughts of what Severus' reaction would be to this. The way they'd left things, he'd probably be back to assuming that Harry did it for the publicity. Of course, thinking about Snape just lead him into a twisting maze of thoughts about the man, and it wasn't until he got into bed that he suddenly realised that he still hadn't told the newly arrived guests about the baby. He'd just have to try to get to the paper before anyone else in the morning.

He almost managed it. However, as he walked into the kitchen, he was met by the sight of both Draco and Charlie poring over the paper that was currently lying on the table. They both looked up as he came in.

"Did you know about this?" asked Draco, pushing the paper over to him so he could see it more clearly. Harry was dismayed to see that the article had apparently made it to the front cover. He nodded dumbly.

"Why didn't you tell us?"

Yawning, Harry muttered, "You couldn't have stopped it. Besides, it was last night before supper and I just sort of forgot. I dunno, I was thinking about other things."

Draco looked like he was about to ask what else there could be to think about, but then he decided better of it. He could probably guess.

"I take it this is true then?" asked Charlie, finally speaking up. There wasn't anything judgemental or disappointed in his tone - he might as well have been commenting on the weather.

Harry's looked at his feet nervously, then up at the other man. "Um... yeah."

Charlie's only response was a nod before he made for the kettle. Nothing else. No opinion, no advice, no further questions. Just an acceptance of the fact. Which, at this early hour of the morning, suited Harry just fine.

Draco, however, wasn't so easily pleased. "But how did Bucklin get that photo?" he demanded.

"He got into the garden. The wards are still down, and he just climbed over the wall," Harry said distractedly as he started reading the article. Draco opened his mouth, closed it again, then shook his head and waited until Harry had finished.


Reporter: Reggie Bucklin


Harry Potter, Saviour of the Wizarding World, has been out of the public eye for a while. That's not to say he hasn't been busy though; it would seem moreover that our Hero has a lot on his plate at the moment. Currently studying for his NEWTs at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Mr Potter is also pregnant. The photo of him was taken yesterday afternoon in London. Many of you may be shocked to be reading this and we must ask ourselves whether our children are receiving enough health education at Hogwarts for this to have happened....

Harry skimmed through the rest of the article which continued in much the same way, blaming the teaching staff at Hogwarts and speculating about the identity of the other father. He took a deep breath, then lowered the paper.

"So?" asked Draco.

"So what?" Harry couldn't see anything unusual about the article. It was pretty much what he'd expected; scandal and blame.

"Who do you think it was?"

Now Harry really was confused. "Huh? It was Bucklin, wasn't it?" He did a quick double check to see that the reporter had been named. Yes, there it was, under the title. Not easy to miss really.

"Didn't you see this?" Draco pulled the article back towards him and looked over it quickly before finding the bit he wanted and pointing it out. Harry craned his neck round to read it at an angle.

...an unnamed source alerted the Prophet of this late on Saturday evening...

At that moment, Severus Snape choked on his anti-hangover potion as he glanced groggily at the morning's paper. He scanned it quickly. It was the same as always; reporters sticking their noses in where they weren't wanted. He looked at the name under the title.

Bucklin. Figures.

Bucklin had made himself unpopular last year with the vast majority of Hogwarts staff by continually fire-calling them to try to get an interview. Even now, he still called a selection of them every month or so, just in case. Going back to the main article, something caught Severus' eye.

Unnamed source? Is he lying, or did someone finally crack?

Disgusted, Snape tossed the paper aside. Really, the last thing he needed to think about now was Harry. He'd successfully avoided that thus far due to a combination of fire-whiskey and unconsciousness. Not bad for a day and a half's work. Walking over to make some coffee, he noticed a small card at the other end of the table. It looked like a business card from this distance. Thoughts of coffee abandoned he strode swiftly over to the card and picked it up.

Reginald Bucklin? Why on earth... wait... no. Unnamed source? Surely not...

He turned it over slowly, a sense of trepidation building in him.

Please be blank.

It wasn't. Scrawled on the back in purple ink were the simple words 'Thanks for the tip-off. RB'

AN: hey, as always sorry for the slow update. RL was pretty busy what with A2 exams and everything. Also, as you may have noticed, this is a rather massive chapter - i just didn't want to split it up because i like it like this, but it did mean that while i had the majority done for quite some time, i only finished it late yesterday. hopefully there aren't too many mistakes in it :s

about bill, fleur and victoire - i have no idea when they actually got married in relation to my rather skewed timeline, so i've just assumed that they've been married about a year and that victoire is four-months old. this is almost certainly wrong, but to be honest, i've messed with much more than that from canon, so i'm sure you'll forgive me :D

i'm leaving to go to Mallorca for a week in about... 2 hours, so i won't be able to reply to your reviews, should you deign to leave them. wouldn't it be nice to arrive back to hundreds of comments? (*sigh* i can dream). anyhoos, just letting you know that i will reply to you at some point, just not instantly. thanks for your continued support with this - whenever i get a new review it really pushes me to get my current chapter finished :D

next chapter: everyone's reactions! and probably liver failure for poor sev.

cheers for reading!