Title: Death's Pride
Chapter27 – Continuing Threads
Ship: H/Hr/L, Nev/Sus B/Han A, Draco/Pansy, Ron/Lav
Warnings: Suggestive Language, Nudity, Adult Situations, Adult Language, Grandchild-obsessed Grandmother/Aunt
Key: "Speech", 'Thoughts', "Speech laden with magic", §Parseltongue§
[Author's Note:] - Butterfly Effect– It has been said something as small as the flutter of a butterfly's wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world. – Chaos Theory
Sorry this is really late. New apartment, new job, reformatting computers and other stuff. Life. Only 27K Words this time. I'll try to do better next time.
Slight update to Bella's Death scene – Chapter 19 (posted as chapter 20 – I Will Follow Him.) I forgot it the first time around.
Basilisk & Horcrux – Many people question this in general and, while I agree with the question, I point out what I think to be a very, very simple explanation for why the venom didn't get rid of ol' Tommy Boy's runt of the Horcrux litter. What do you guys think of it when you get to it?
Malfoy's Debt Bill: I am SERIOUSLY surprised by how many people think Draco's proposed bill for allowing the Ministry to buy debts was all about Hermione and Ginny. I have had so many reviews and PM's about this that I still find it crazy, even after months of not updating and having a chapter come out and explain it. Draco would be happy to get their debts, but only to cause Harry pain. That is NOT his ultimate goal, however. It would merely be a bonus. He explained this when speaking with Crabbe and Goyle.
Recommended Story of the Chapter: "Fairy Champions: Tale of Time" by Zabyne (H/Hr/L – A good submission of my "Champions of Lilith" challenge.)
xXx STORY xXx
Tuesday – March 1, 03:40 – Newcastle upon Tyne
The passing darkness could easily have been mistaken for a simple shadow, or even just early morning fog. But it was, in fact, the soul of Bellatrix LeStrange, wearily trudging forward. Well, trudging as much as vapor could trudge.
It had taken her almost two months to make it from Azkaban to the shore of the mainland. She'd originally been just angry and mad enough to make good her escape, but that had quickly changed to a form of exhaustion she had never experienced before. She could barely make out shapes and colors, barely heard anything and couldn't seem to move anything. It had taken her quite a while to even realize that she was without a body.
The last three months were spent learning how to survive. She had never experienced the disembodiment of her soul before, though it had been pulled slightly from her body before with eager dementors who would do their best to dislodge it. The crazed Death Eater had no idea what had happened. Just one moment, she was arguing with a poofy-haired witch and, the next, she was flying through the air. And then her energy seemed to pretty much leave her at once.
In the last few weeks, she learned how to absorb the life energy of other creatures, though she only had the strength and ability to devour minor life forms: rats, snakes, cats, dogs and in one gleeful evening recently, she had even found a prison for beasts they called a shelter filled with a veritable smörgåsbord of various pets.
It had been two weeks of constant hunger and feeding before she thought she understood what had happened. When her master had granted her the boon of keeping one of his most precious possessions safe, he had explained what it did, knowing her loyalty to him was absolute. She was batshit crazy and could go off at the slightest annoyance. But she was loyal and immune to the imperius and magical vows protected the information from truth potions such as veritaserum. They would kill her before she provided the information. And while Voldemort looked upon his most fanatical as something of a loyal and favored pet, he was willing to allow her death. Especially since he could then bring her back.
He then made her learn the process and allowed her the delightful joy of picking out a lovely little muggleborn girl to be her sacrifice, then she got to play Mortician with the rest of the family. The insane witch had made her own horcrux out of the silver shackles her mother chained her up with when she needed to be disciplined. She had taken them with her when she got married. Using them was the only way she would let her husband bed her, though it never actually happened since he preferred his brother, and the shackles meant a lot to her. Plus, they were heavily enchanted to make them extra durable. She was worried such things would affect the rituals, but her master had assured her that he had already done so with a few such enchanted items with no ill effects.
Each creature whose life force she devoured made her stronger and allowed her the benefit of repairing her memories that the dementors had been crushing to make her more palatable to feast on. And she felt she now understood better why.
Bella cackled madly as she 'digested' her first human soul and life force, throwing her head back, or whatever the non-physical equivalent was, and groaning as she felt the power and energy suffusing her being. It was like the same rapture she felt when she was serving her master! It was better than sex! She not only got to kill the three year old boy that had been playing in the yard, but she took his life as her own!
"Jay-Jay?" The two year old girl stuck behind the play pen looked at her older brother in confusion, holding her sippy cup to her chest like a form of protection. "Not sleep time, Jay-Jay!"
Bella floated down and behind the girl, relishing in the squeal of pain the toddler let out in a vain attempt to fight the intrusion into her soul. In her joy, Bella couldn't help but laugh and sing. "Hush little baby, don't say a word. Aunty Bella's gonna remove you from this big dark world... Hehehe!"
Saturday – March 5, After Breakfast in unused classroom – First time through day
Harry closed the door to the classroom and threw up every security charm and ward he was aware of before turning to Neville, who looked at him in confusion and wondered why Susan and Hannah were exempt from this particular meeting. Daphne had wanted to speak to Hermione and Luna alone and Harry had been quite insistent on speaking with him, calling it 'Family Business' and saying it would be up to Neville to speak to his ladies after assuring them he had no intention of keeping things from them.
"Okay, before anything else, you cannot, under any circumstances, tell Susan or Hannah about any of this," Harry said as soon as he turned around.
"B-but you told them I could-"
"Nope," Harry interrupted the obviously confused boy. "Just better not to make them think I wanted to exclude them and start a fight."
"Yea," Neville said slowly, "but now I have to be the one to tell them I can't tell them."
Harry stared blankly for ten seconds that seemed like minutes to the nervous and shy Gryffindor with two Hufflepuff girlfriends. "I will not stop you from telling them this if you think they can handle it, but please let me know if you are going to so I can make things safer. If they tell anyone, it could lead to problems and then death of loved ones."
"What's going on?" Neville asked curiously.
Harry took a deep breath and closed his eyes, readying himself for what may come. "Neville, what I'm about to discuss with you is not a part of the plan. The plan of doing what I'm going to tell you about, that is. I'm actually doing this because I respect you and think of you as a very good friend. Because I trust you and don't want you to suffer mental anguish from not knowing."
"But?" Neville urged, feeling very ... vulnerable. The term 'mental anguish' wasn't something one liked to hear about.
"Neville, did you know your mum was my godmother? And mine, yours?" Harry began, getting a confused shake of the head in return. "Well, that, along with my respect for you, had me see what I could learn of your parents."
Neville looked down, turning red in embarrassment and feeling ashamed that someone knew of his family's darkest open secret. Well, that he was aware of, anyway. Everyone had skeletons in their closets. "Why are you bringing them up, Harry?" Neville asked almost accusingly, feeling like Harry was about to torment or mock him for his situation, but knowing he wouldn't do that and the opposing thoughts warring within him, making him feel a little sick to his stomach.
"I've learned your parents aren't the way they are from overexposure to the Cruciatus," Harry explained gently, making Neville look at him in confusion and rage. But he spoke to interrupt the angry rant Neville was about to release, hoping to also explain before the Longbottom scion thought to try and curse him. "Neville, they may have been exposed to it, but they're under the effects of a curse that is keeping them this way."
"What?" Neville asked in a growl, fury rising within him. "How did you learn this when the Longbottoms have spent hundreds of thousands of galleons, over a million in fact, in medical treatments, treatments that have left us with only a quarter of our original wealth, and examinations and they all say the same thing?" Neville growled out, eyes glinting and forgetting the lessons his grandmother had drilled into him about never discussing family finances in detail outside of the family.
"It's a curse that was part of the Black family library," Harry explained, understanding Neville's rage and trying to give him the information he knew the distraught boy would be demanding. "The LeStranges were there looking for information, which your parents wouldn't have had. But ... well, you probably know the history with Bellatrix and her skill. I mean, there are no records of anyone else going on like your parents after overexposure. People have lost themselves, but always came back or died because of just how bad it affected them. They never just drag on like that. She wouldn't have done that to them on accident. But she may have used a curse she knew about to keep them from talking in the hopes of coming back for them later."
"Do you know how to cure them?" Neville asked, stepping closer and not caring that he sounded as desperate as he probably looked, even if Harry would have used the term 'maniacal'. The young lord in him didn't give a rat's arse about knowing he was essentially begging. The little boy that wanted his parents was too powerful to fight with. "If I have to, I'll swear vassalage to House Potter if you need me to," he pleaded.
"No need for that, mate. I have the counter spell, but this is where it becomes a problem and why I'm talking to you," Harry explained, motioning the other boy to calm down before conjuring some comfy chairs to sit and talk in. "The spell can only be performed by the Lord Black because it has to be done in a room that was created to break the magic that the family spells, which this is one, were designed to implement. Or, to be more precise, only the recognized Lord Black, or someone who makes a magical claim as such and is accepted, can enter into unless brought in by that same Lord. Apparently, whatever magic is in the Head of House rings is what these things use to show they can be used, like some element in a ritual or something."
"Almost all the older magical families have them," Neville said absently, trying to control his breathing. "I know the Longbottoms and Potters do. It's added into the spell when it's created in order to help stop magic theft of family spells and why they're called that. You'd have to break them down and rebuild them to take care of that, at least for some. Just depends on the spell. So we have to find Sirius Black?" He asked. "I'm sure Gran will help us if we can catch him."
"Not an issue," Harry responded with a smile and noting to himself to break down all spells Hermione got from the piles in case of a similar problem. There was just too much risk after learning about that and neither him or Hermione had considered it until then. "I already have him." Harry felt a shiver race down his spine at the dark, evil and predatory smile that slowly spread across Neville Longbottom's face.
"Give him to me," Neville demanded darkly, looking firm and dangerous with his shoulders pulled back, his head pitched forward and a glare of dark and murderous intent showing just how serious Neville was as he slowly stood. The low, evil tone of his voice was something Harry had never once remembered from the normally reclusive boy. "Give him to me, Harry, and I swear to you, he'll tell me anything we want to know," he ended, shaking slightly in repressed rage.
"Uh, that isn't necessary," Harry said, shocked and honestly, a little intimidated. "He really is innocent of everything he was accused of. He's been staying at Potter Manor until I could get him a trial and his freedom, but he checked on them for me after he found out about them when I explained my thoughts. He's offering to do this, but he wants to do it as soon as possible and won't be able to do so legally until free. So, he's planning on essentially kidnapping them because the counter curse takes three days for each of them to get healed. What I need to know is, do you trust me enough to take care of them?"
Neville was silent for several minutes. The question of trusting Harry was a no brainer. He trusted Harry entirely. But the question was actually, did he trust Sirius Black? A man he never met and had only ever heard mentioned in the same way as Bellatrix LeStrange? After more than ten minutes, he let out an explosive breath of air. "Do you trust Black? Can he do this? Can he be trusted with my parents?" He asked, finally deciding he had no clue about Black, but knew he could trust Harry. He just had to actually hear the younger boy say the words.
"Yes," Harry said simply. "They were friends and knew each other. He doesn't want to leave them that way any longer than necessary. He wasn't as close with them as he was with my parents, but it wasn't far off."
"Is there any chance he's doing this in hopes of them testifying on his behalf?" Neville asked after a moment, his thoughts turning to his training that you always had to be suspicious of a person's motives, especially if they appeared clear. In short, he didn't know what to think or feel and all he had to fall back on was what had been drilled into him since before his earliest memories. It was also kind of hard to throw off thirteen years of mental conditioning towards a person.
"Sirius will be free regardless," Harry assured the other boy firmly. "The Minister is obsessed with his image and publicity. As soon as your parents are back, Sirius plans to have me bring him in, but we're going to cure them first, just because we can't rule out the possibility of someone doing whatever they can to see him killed. He was put into Azkaban without a trial for a reason," the Potter lord explained. "That's why we aren't waiting until after. Fudge is easy to manipulate and bribe and I'm aware of four Wizengamot members who are taking an unhealthy interest in Sirius' situation. Three of those have lackies in the Ministry who are spending too much time visiting the holding cells, so we don't want to risk losing the chance to help them if ... well, the worst happens to Sirius. And we don't plan on letting your parents go public until after the trial, regardless, just in case they need to heal up, some." Harry decided against letting Neville know he was next in line for the title of Lord Black, making his decision much easier, but possibly making him more apt to ... remove the doubt, so to speak.
Neville closed his eyes as tears trickled down both cheeks, the distant feeling of hope swelling within him. He let out a shuddering breath before swallowing and looking at Harry critically, judging him. Examining him. Examining his own feelings. "You will be giving me the week out of school and Sirius will meet with me and Gran first," he demanded at last.
"The Potters have a time-turner," Harry said gently. "No one will even know what happened or that you were gone." Harry accepted Neville's demands, but took him back a few hours to meet with Augusta earlier in the day. There, he repeated everything and explained the plan to the last of the Longbottom line more fully so they understood as much as he could make them aware of. Granted, the woman demanded an oath to prove his innocence despite everything, and then they went straight to Sirius where it was all repeated yet again.
The plan was fairly simple, though Hermione argued it was still more complex than it needed to be. Sirius would go to Saint Mungo's and get the two patients with the help of Dobby, using Sirius' presence to bypass the Black wards. This part of the plan required arguing with Neville and Augusta that they couldn't go for safety, but they would already be at Black Manor where Neville's parents would be taken. The actual Manor rather than their London home known as Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. It was Plan 'B' turned Plan 'A' after discovering they couldn't remove the Longbottoms without proving medical treatment due to laws in place to protect the family Heads from overeager scions or random family members looking to rise in power from lack of care. And the hospital would scoff at the idea of muggle means of healing, so that idea was out as a cover story. Thus, the hospital wouldn't allow Frank and Alice to be taken anywhere, and kidnapping was the name of the game.
Hermione was not happy with this, feeling it was too convoluted, but agreed it was easier than 'Plan C', which was Harry making up a fake company dealing with healing and medical advancements.
Once at Sirius' family home, which was on an unknown island somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle, they would use one of the largest time-turners that Harry had stolen that turned time by a full month, unaware it was an experimental model. They only knew that it was designed, according to the paperwork that came with it, to take all occupants within a sealed room backwards, working only for living beings, which would cause Neville to see far more of his Gran than he ever wanted to, and Sirius to admit he still hadn't recovered from his time in Azkaban as the older woman did things to him that even Madam Rosemerta hadn't done since cloth wasn't a living substance.
At that point, Sirius would take each of them into the Black ritual room for three days to be cured with the proper counter spells at the appropriate times with the two healthy Longbottoms spending their turned time watching him like hawks. Very dangerous hawks capable of casting very painful spells, hexes and curses, save for a lack of wands.
Augusta would also hit Sirius with a time-delayed castration curse, giving him a single week to take care of her children before she would either remove it, or activate it, making him beyond happy they would return in time for the harridan to pick up her wand.
Saturday – March 5, 09:40 – Potter Manor – Second time through day
"It's a very good thing Daphne declined coming," Luna stated as she twirled in gentle pirouettes through the Archway from her own home that had been installed for Xenophilius. Since Emma would expect them from the magical device rather than coming from one of the outside cottages, they didn't want to suggest any activities the mother may not be willing to overlook. And, since their own Arches were with their past selves, they couldn't use them since they would be in Luna's personal quarters, and it was too risky to try Hermione's. None of the young teens felt like trying to explain why they were in one of the cottages, despite tacit approval from their parents to explore the physical side of their relationship. At least from them all but Dan, who preferred to ignore such a thing could ever happen. And since they used the Arches fairly often, they didn't want to risk taking their trunks through time in case one Arch didn't know which device to connect to, possibly causing problems.
"We'd have just done this our yesterday with her, instead," Hermione shrugged. "I considered it anyway since it would give us more Harry time today, but you were right. We should try to be seen at Hogwarts during the days we consider normal," the brunette admitted. In truth, what had won her over was the knowledge that she would be more normal with another repeated day and less likely to be mean to whoever her tailor would be. Plus, she was far too embarrassed at the risk of appearing aroused to be dressed up. The last two and a half weeks for her, counting turned time, had been ridiculous with her increased sensitivity. Though, a good amount of that could have been Harry's massages for her aching body from the growth spurt, too. He had been less willing to help her in that regard when he thought she wasn't quite herself. Part of her loved that he wasn't willing to do wicked things when she wasn't quite of her own mind, but another part of her hated it, for obvious reasons.
"You just wanted to finish your final project for Runes and Arithmancy," Luna accused with a bright grin, wrapping Hermione's arm with her own and resting her noggin on the older girl's shoulder. "Did you, by the way?"
"Harry and I both did, yes," Hermione said happily. "Well, Harry finished the one he plans to turn in and is making the actual devices for Filch to try out soon. He kept finding little things that were wrong and wanted to get all the bugs out of the wands that he could find."
Luna's response, which would have been very curious about what bugs could be in the wands, was lost as Emma squealed and rushed the two girls to envelop them into tight hugs. The perky blonde was all too enthusiastic to return the hug, squeezing both older women tightly. She just made sure Emma's hug was around the shoulders rather than her middle like Hermione's.
"I didn't think I'd have a reason to get dresses with my daughters for ages!" The Granger matriarch exclaimed, shooing the teens back through the Arch and to her own home since they would be visiting the muggle world and wholly unaware she said something she had only been beginning to think even to herself. While she didn't think of herself as Luna's mother, she was beginning to think of Luna as her daughter-in-law and had begun to speak about her as thought it were already the case when not watching her words.
Luna, however, enjoyed the idea of being seen as a daughter knew her smile wouldn't leave her the rest of the day.
The girls quickly filed in and Emma confirmed Hermione had the card Harry had provided for her during the summer since he wanted to ensure they got not only dresses, but anything else they needed to make the girls outshine everyone else. From there, it was a drive to Harrods, where Emma felt was the best chance for something for the lithe blonde.
Both girls sat in the back seat of Emma's relatively new Lexus, which had been a gift to her from Dan after Hermione began Hogwarts. The two excitedly discussed dresses while Hermione also made it a point to explain what to expect in a muggle store and to avoid mentioning anything magical.
After what seemed like hours to the two young ladies, they finally arrived and Emma had to actively grab their shoulders and slow them down to keep them from rushing off. Emma was amused by just how amazed Luna was by the store as the blonde kept a death grip on Hermione's left arm as they went up to the first floor where the majority of women's dresses could be obtained. While it was meant to be for older, and thus larger, clientèle, she was aware that the two youngsters were also willing to use magic to resize anything that the shops wouldn't make from scratch or resize for them. They also decided, due to Hermione's recent growth, to get a few extra things as well, which had been an eye-popping experience for the pureblood witch.
Luna had to be dragged out of the lingerie section, almost with a fight, but was happy with the new knickers she and the others had obtained. She was also quite sure Harry would enjoy them, too. And Hermione was quite happy to get new ones that somewhat matched her dreams, mostly in black lace. Luna was also very sure that some Victoria woman couldn't have any secrets left. The perky blonde was also very sure the woman was a Madame somewhere with a small army of ladies working for her. And the chipper blonde was proud of herself for only wandering into the children's section for half an hour to get some pairs of panties that had cute pictures. And sparkles. She rather liked the sparkles.
But Luna'd gladly wear the sexy underwear, even the see-through things, after ensuring it wasn't pre-owned, first, after the Granger women confirmed Victoria wasn't a Madame. It was almost worth wearing clothes for! And the girl who enjoyed having her bottom played with found new friends in the form of thong panties, though she was only allowed a few of them. But Hermione had snuck in a few see-through versions with a wink and a comment that Harry would appreciate them. The brunette then snagged a few for herself while telling Luna that the blonde girl would get used to the unique design when asked.
Luna would be back. Even if she had to find a way to bribe Hermione, she'd be back. Or Harry. Luna was sure Harry wouldn't need much convincing. He'd do almost anything he wasn't opposed to after some kissing, or to get kisses. It was also very easy to make him follow her if she was naked, she'd learned. She just couldn't go too fast or he'd try to catch her. And she'd have to figure out a way to get all the way there without other people seeing her, too, which could pose a challenge.
However, when they found their way into the nirvana of silky dresses and lacy accents, Luna knew right away that she was in for a long experience of trying on various garments. "This would be impossible if we didn't know at least the basics of what I wanted," the blonde stated as she looked around more wide-eyed than normal while Emma got them some help. "I'm almost afraid of getting lost in here. Will you help me?" The blonde asked.
"Of course I will," Hermione grinned at her co-girlfriend. "Now then! Let's make you sexy for our man, hm?"
Luna and Emma both tried on various dresses, each one, much to the consternation of the concierge assistant, a special sort of dress that was not considered in the height of fashion in the upper class social circles. And despite her attempts to change their minds, they focused on them to the exclusion of much else. 'At least the mother is willing to get something decent,' the assistant thought, annoyed. Emma was looking for something with a little more classic history than the current fashion trends, but that was something the concierge understood. That it was still an expensive dress and a decent commission. The girls' dresses were all over the board.
Emma found her dress first, falling immediately in love with a sexy and beautiful number that would show her pregnancy without making it overly obvious, but refused to let the girls see it. An appointment was made immediately to do a resizing two days before the ball. It was a strapless, sexy black number that hugged her chest and showed an ample bosom with a sweetheart neckline made of chiffon while the skirt went to just barely touching the floor with a cascading ruffle effect from an empire waist line. The top hugged her body down to her baby bump several inches down where a silver body clasp wrapped around like a vine with flowers that ran across a third of her torso, despite only being about three inches tall. But the vine went into the top and wrapped around like hidden under wire to assist with holding her dress up. It also came with a wide, sheer black wrap.
Emma was a frugal woman when it suited her. Especially with a baby on the way. Knowing some of the people at this party would like little more than to harm her for being muggle, she would ask the kids to charm the silver accents to ensure as little as possible could hurt her baby, just to be safe. Assuming such a thing could be done, anyway. She knew Harry had obtained similar items for the girls, but didn't know if the kids could do so and wouldn't trouble them to pay for such a thing.
Luna, however, tried on almost thirty dresses by that point, finding each one absolutely wonderful, but not what she wanted. Either it was beautiful, but would clash horribly with what Hermione was wanting in style and theme, or she would find something that wasn't right with it. Usually, it was how childish the dresses seemed that the concierge was pushing her way. If she were half a decade younger, they would have been perfect. But Luna didn't like the idea of big, poofy skirts or petticoats that would stick out as far as her arms could reach. A few of those dresses made her look like a bell one would use to call a butler or maid.
But the blonde had a nefarious plan. At least nefarious by Luna's standards. With a rushed plea, Hermione grabbed the adults' attentions while she snagged three of the adult women's dresses she had found and wanted, and rushed them into the dressing room, where she resized them with magic to fit her perfectly.
"Okay, we're ready," Hermione called out with a grin, knowing what had happened and approving the younger girl's actions.
"What do you think?" Luna asked nervously, stepping out and showing off a black dress that was simply gorgeous, but lost something on the young girl that an adult Luna would have had no problems communicating in spades. Surrounding Luna's body, and covering the important bits on her chest, crotch and bottom, were black slivers of silk that barely glinted with the right movements. The design was such that it accentuated the lower back and shoulders, the breasts and the toned tummy of the younger girl, showing off her recently-developed core muscles, her naval, and her rounded, perky breasts. The majority of her dress was transparent, but there were a series of slashes made of silk that covered her modesty, at least by non-magical standards. Luna was quite pleased that it covered her nipples, but showed off the rest, but the older women weren't quite as enthused. One, because she was a mother, and the other because the thirteen year old had a surprising amount of sex appeal that she knew she would never get on her own.
Connecting those tempting slashes of silk was an extremely sheer lace with glints of silver and black, along with a skirt that hung to the girl's ankles on the front, but trailed a couple inches on the ground at the back. And where the back itself was bared, for all intents and purposes, with the lace going up to mid-back and free from silk from her lower back and up, the front of the dress rose up to Luna's neck where it was fastened with a silver choker.
Hermione was also proud to note the svelte blonde had transfigured her knickers into something that matched the dress in such a way as to hide her private bits without anyone able to see, though she also suspected the use of illusion and disinterest charms to ensure no one really thought about it as, with a closer look, Hermione couldn't even be sure the girl had underwear on. And the younger girl's bottom was hidden with a gray-black material so it couldn't be seen.
In short, her body was hugged by lace that hid almost nothing and glinted with sparkles when the light caught it just right, but it was as though artistic and modest claws had ripped through the dress in strategic points to cover her body just enough, and then a similar-lace skirt dropped from her waist to the ground and it looked as though the whole thing was held up just above the girl's chest with the ring around her neck, even though it fit her like a glove.
"It's gorgeous," Hermione said in shock, running a hand over the material and Luna's body, leaving a trail of goosebumps on the younger girl's flesh. The dress wasn't very much for maintaining body heat, but Hermione's hands were very warm. "If you go in front of Harry like this, you're likely to give him a heart attack!"
"Don't you think it's a little ... revealing for Harry's ball?" Emma asked, catching the attention of the assistant who couldn't recall that dress in such a small size but knew her ears twitched when she heard of possible cash cows. Emma was also intrigued to note that it looked like skin she was seeing, but nothing to indicate it other than the girl's belly button being visible. Either that, or Luna had very small areola and was completely shaven since there were no other indications of her lack of undergarments. Harry would happily confess to the truth of both of those thoughts, though not to the mother of one of his girlfriends. "I mean, if you were older, it would be lovely, but he's accepting his lordship and I thought most of those attending would likely have a more ... antiquated view of fashion." Actually, Emma thought the little blonde was gorgeous, but could only be trusted in such an outfit where she was guaranteed safe, which wasn't during a party where the goal was to make enough people drunk to not even remember the night. She was also worried about a pretty young girl hiding little to the imagination in that situation with a whole party filled with old men who she recently learned will be expecting to be 'entertained' by girls. And, on top of all of that, in a society that has the legal age of consent barely in the double digits, despite the large amount of social conventions that make it less likely. She was a mother and was quite fond of the lovable girl.
"Well, we are going with a costume ball theme," Hermione explained. "And we want to look good for him, especially if we're stuck on his arms all night long." Though, in truth, she slightly agreed that this should be for something more private and definitely more intimate unless they were going to the muggle world. She didn't think the magicals could handle something of this caliber. "And, I suppose to be fair, there's little ... hiding ... to be had with it."
"Well, I'm still covering more secrets than that Victoria woman," Luna muttered with a sigh, thinking this particular dress was her favorite. It was like wearing clothes without wearing them, "but I suppose you're right. I'd like to keep this one, though. If nothing else, Harry has promised to take Hermione and I on dates soon. If not that, then I can at least wear it to tease him," she said with an evil little smile.
"That's fine," Hermione agreed, smirking to match her sister in crime, so to speak. "Harry's offering to get us whatever we want and did suggest we get a couple so we could decide later if we wanted, not to mention he wanted us to get a couple things for ourselves to make a day of this."
The assistant stayed silent, but began to pay much more attention to her clients and decided to become much more helpful to the children who were apparently the focus of the trip. The commission wouldn't be bad, either, it would seem.
"I can agree with that," Emma offered, mostly to avoid risking a scene since she didn't know how well Luna would take a 'no'. She had never really had to tell the girl that before unless it was to stop playing with her food or to not take her clothes off at Harry's home once. Similarly, she wasn't Luna's mother, and she knew Xenophilius would allow her whatever she wanted. To that end, Emma knew she had no real say in the matter, especially since she wasn't paying, as well.
Hermione caught the dress a few moments later and handed it to the assistant, who put it aside to be purchased later, and sat down, staring at the door Luna would be coming from and musing about how ... nice ... it was to be doing something so wonderfully normal now that she was feeling so much better and after her growing was nearly done, according to the school healer who was still a little intimidated, though proud of Hermione's more than perfect score results on her medical book exams.
Hermione still had that rage within her, trying to claw its way out. But being away from school and doing something with her mother and co-girlfriend, she found it easy to not get angry while trying to understand the feeling and why it was there.
It was only a few minutes later that Luna once again stepped out, this time in a pure silk, silver number with a thin, gauzy material in shiny black-green lace, absently leading Hermione to believe Luna had developed a penchant like her own for the materials as the bushy-haired brunette was suddenly no longer in the Harrods changing rooms.
[Memory Recollection: Part 1 – Hermione's Life & POV, two lives previous]
"What's she doing here!?" Ron bellowed, using the Deluminator that Dumbledore had bequeathed the angry redhead in his will to return to Harry's side after discovering how it worked, knowing the boy would likely leave Harry at some point. He had been gone from Harry and Hermione for almost six months, leaving them two weeks into the hunt with a note that stated he was heading to Hogwarts to act as their spy and send reports after heading home to apologize to his mother so she could also help with the story and say he was cleared to validate the spattergroit story.
That they had Luna in the group had not been taken well.
"She was always meant to catch up with us, Ronald!" Hermione exclaimed, standing defensively between the self-conscious Luna and the infuriated redhead who actually had spittle flying out of his mouth as he screamed. "You knew that! She was going to spend a month getting the extra supplies for us and contact her father's friends about that symbol!" The bushy-haired girl was not about to say anything about what they knew of it when she didn't feel safe letting him know.
"I didn't think you were serious!" Ron screamed! "Replacing me, now, are you!? Harry! Mate, why would you betray me like this?"
"You're the one who left with nothing but a note!" Hermione screeched, a faint crackling at her fingertips as her anger reached a point never before obtained by the bushy-haired one. "You took most of our wizarding money and perishables!"
"I had to eat on the way, didn't I?" Ron asked condescendingly.
"Ron, you left us without any warning when we were already in a pretty bad place," Harry finally inserted, speaking calmly in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. He was also far more confident in himself than he was half a year ago because this Harry had slept with two girls in his bed for almost three months, purely for body warmth they told each other, and the girls had been hinting at a willingness for more and had even kissed him some while sleeping, or so it appeared. He actually hadn't been quite as happy in a while, despite the guilt at feeling as much. He had also been in over a dozen skirmishes with Death Eaters and had come out victorious each time. "You just up and left us without anything since to say how you've been. You said you were going to be our spy in Hogwarts, but we never got a single letter from you."
"They were restricting letters out or refusing outright, mate!" Ron explained earnestly.
"That isn't the point, Ronald!" Hermione snapped angrily. "You abandoned us! And we got letters from Neville and Susan! Luna did exactly as we all agreed on and without her, we would have probably been captured by now!" Indeed, it had been the dreamy blonde's idea to hire on Dobby and Winky and the two elves had been a godsend and made their lives infinitely easier and better and they now never went without food or warmth. And with Winky joining them, which had been barely in time to save the withering house elf, Hermione knew her parents were now completely safe, or as safe as possible. They had refused to be obliviated and stayed in their home and Hermione couldn't do it anyway, no matter how much she wanted to, after Luna had explained her plan was doomed to failure since there would be too many holes in any life she hand-crafted for them. Too many small details missing that would lead to the obliviations failing.
"Well, that's just great for you, then, isn't it?" Ron sneered, crossing his arms. "Look, we can't trust her! She-" The rest of his rant, that he believed Luna just wanted the fame, prestige and probably Harry as well, went unsaid as Hermione's rage exploded.
"Can't trust her!" Hermione screamed, stepping towards Ron and pointing her wand. "Obliviate you son of a bitch!"
[End Memory Recollection: Part 1]
Hermione's eyes widened as she suddenly remembered snogging Luna on Harry's bed that night while he was on watch and how they had expected him to catch them, which would have led to the inevitable talk of wanting to be with him together, only to have fallen asleep instead.
[Memory Recollection: Part 2 – Hours after previous memory at night]
"Thank you, Harry," Hermione said, kissing her best friend on the cheek as he relieved her for second watch. They had moved the tent after Hermione spent several hours making Ron forget everything about the prophecy and the horcruxes, but found herself forced to leave practically everything else because she knew she couldn't remove that much information without causing too many holes, which would cause the obliviations to fail, just like the potential with her parents. Thus, she removed the knowledge of that meeting and used Dobby to send him back to the Burrow, which would later turn out to be a mistake since she also didn't grab the Deluminator, which would lead to their later capture, torture and deaths, causing time to be reset once again when Ron betrayed them.
"Any time," Harry offered, kissing Hermione on the forehead, making her smile brightly before she disappeared into the tent.
"I'm sorry about earlier," Hermione told Luna after seeing the girl staring at a picture of the original 'Golden Trio' that was on Harry's table by his bed and not sleeping, as she should have been. "Ron's always been a git, but he knew you were going to be here. He's just an ass."
"It isn't your fault," Luna said quietly. "Ronald has never really liked me. The only times he has ever spoken kindly to me were when adults were around or someone that would get angry for it. He used to tell me to stay away from you and Harry during the DA meetings, as well."
"I know," Hermione sighed. "I saw that when I was sifting through his head to make sure he couldn't threaten our mission." The Gryffindor was silent as she sat next to Luna and wrapped her into a hug, which was gratefully accepted. The comfortable silence lasted perhaps ten minutes before Hermione decided to continue speaking what was on her mind. "You know, I always knew I was close to Harry. That we shared a bond that was vastly different than anything I had seen in school, or at all, really. I never really understood what it was."
"And now?" Luna asked, curious. Everyone knew about Hermione and Harry's bond. They just suited each other perfectly.
"Well, in Ron's mind, I noticed he lusted after me. He didn't love me," she snorted, "though he thought he did. He saw me as an easy mark and female pair of bits that might prove useful for a while. He didn't think of it quite like that, but it was the gist. But, he saw how close Harry and I were and he was sure that if we had the chance, we'd end up together."
"I'd agree," Luna commented after a moment, noting Hermione's hesitancy at the concept of being romantically involved with Harry. "You two being a couple would be like all those dreams and fantasies that are found in those romantic books. Not the bodice rippers, where it's all based on sexual attraction and dirty sex, but honest affection. You may have bodice ripper moments, of course, but almost everyone sees the two of you as perfect together. It's also unanimous that your children would be just as equally impressive, though it's also unanimous that their hair would be hopeless."
Hermione blushed at the frank discussion of her and Harry having sex, but couldn't say she was opposed to the idea. Or disagree about any of their children's hair. "Um, the reason Ron was so upset and angry was because he was also beginning to notice the same thing with you and Harry, and the two of us, to a lesser degree. And when he showed up, we were very cozy with each other, so he thought the three of us were ... together."
Luna was silent a moment before nodding. "I will admit that if Harry asked me, I would agree to be his lover, his pet, or even his girlfriend or wife if he so desired me. And while I believe he would accept if I asked him, and I know he has feelings for me, I know his feelings for you are beyond anything I can imagine. I will admit, as well, that I am in love with him. But I would rather he have the better woman, and the stronger relationship," the blonde stated, forcing herself not to cry with her years of practice. "I will never do anything to jeopardize the relationship the two of you are close to having. That's why I've shared your bed only when you urged me to for the shared warmth, and why I only kiss him goodnight, because you urged me into it and made it into a nightly ritual. Same with when we wake up."
Hermione blushed, taking a deep breath. "Recently, my mother explained something to me about her relationship with my father, to explain how they raised me when it came up in the summer after our fifth year, or right after the events at the Ministry."
Luna looked curiously to Hermione, glad for what looked like a change in the subject, but silently wondering if it truly was.
"My mother ... well, she had a few girlfriends before she met my dad. Had one when she met him, honestly, and they just sort of pulled him in. And, to be honest, I'm ... open to the idea, myself...," she went on, trying to suggest without having to say what she was offering. However, the blonde simply tilted her head, unwilling to believe what she hoped to be hearing. "That is to say, I wouldn't mind if you ... wanted to try and work with me to get Harry involved with us. The two of us being his girlfriends. And the two of us, together, too."
"Really?" Luna asked, shocked for the first time in a very long time.
"My idea started out just to offer myself to Harry as a ... er, stress reliever of sorts," Hermione said with a red face. "My mum explained how effective it could be in a war, and knew how tense and on edge I normally am anyway. She told me not to be a slag, but for someone I truly cared for? It could make things difficult, but could also help keep myself and Harry sane. That's why I urged you into this, so I wouldn't feel so self-conscious doing it alone and so it wouldn't stand out as much, while also possibly giving him a second option if you were both up for it regardless of what happened with me. But also, because I was seeing the same thing Ron did, but between the two of you, and was thinking if not me, then Harry might choose you. All I really cared about was that Harry's needs were taken care of and he wasn't overstressed any more than was really necessary when we could help him."
The two were silent a few moments before Hermione couldn't stand the lack of noise. "What ... what do you think? Could you even ... well, do you even think of girls that way? Or would you want to even do this?"
"Love is love," Luna stated simply, looking at Hermione like it was such a simple concept, it should have been obvious. And to her, it was. "It doesn't really matter what the plumbing is as far as I'm concerned. And ... I wouldn't mind. If you wouldn't," the younger girl stated shyly.
Hermione smiled brightly and launched herself forward, hugging the other girl tightly. "How do we want to tell him? After the last few months, I don't think he'll deny us. And I'm fairly sure we'll have to brain him over the head with what we want for him to get our meanings."
"Well," Luna said with a coy smile. "We could always start playing and ask him to join when he comes in for my turn at watch," she offered, leaning forward and claiming Hermione's first kiss with her own, taking only a moment to lean backwards and pull the unresisting girl on top of her and grasping Hermione's bottom firmly, causing her to squeal into Luna's mouth. 'Yes ... I think I like that sound in Hermione,' Luna thought, slipping her friend's shirt off as Hermione began to work on her own clothes.
By the time Harry came in, both girls would have succumbed to the urge to sleep not long after becoming naked and long before they could do much more than some exploring. Seeing the two burrowed under blankets, he would take the third watch as well and watch the girls act oddly the next few days, never realizing what had happened between them.
[End Memory Recollection: Part 2]
'That! That! It didn't happen!' Hermione told herself, arguing that the memory had to be fake until she realized Luna's breasts weren't that large yet, and they never lived in a tent. She also didn't have a scar running down the middle of her chest, either. But with her other memories, she knew how and why it existed in what she just witnessed. 'Oh my god! Is this what Harry was talking about with getting his memories back?' The brunette blinked rapidly, realizing this was the same thing she had experienced while at Azkaban. The real main difference, however, was that the emotions from the memories were different than what she was feeling right then, so it was obvious to her that things had developed differently in that time line between them. In a way that led to her seeing Luna as much as a romantic interest as Harry.
'Would ... it be so bad?' Hermione wondered, remembering a moment where she had been lost to Luna's hands before shaking her head. 'No. If it happens, it happens. But ... this Ron didn't do those things, even if they started out as the same person. And I'm not even sure why I'm angry with Lavender. I'll make sure Harry, Luna and I are careful with trusting him, but if Harry is giving him a chance after the last life with love potions, and probably that one as well, then I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, but keep my eyes bloody well open. I know he lied about me and Harry and spoke badly about us behind our backs from the memories I saw in his head ... I won't trust him, but I won't push him away, either. Lavender is making him a better person, albeit slowly. I'll do the same as Harry seems to be and just not pursue the friendship. It seems to be dying off, anyway.'
"Is it bad?" Luna asked, bringing Hermione's thoughts back to the present as she realized she was still in Harrods and Luna had asked a second time about how she looked in her dress and was beginning to look despondent as she was thinking this dress was her favorite.
From the top down, Luna's dress had a delicate silver chain around her neck that attached to a clasp on the front, that held tightly to the silk of her dress. Right at the clasp, it drew down and covered her breasts and hugged her body snugly to her thighs, where it loosened and flared out like a general skirt to the floor. From the top to the bottom, there was a steady progression from shiny silver to a green so dark it looked black.
At her waistline, she had an extra skirt made of lace that had the same color progression as her dress, but not only did it lower to the floor, it also fanned out to attach to wide cuffs on her forearms.
Along the back of the dress, from the top of her dimpled derrière, her back was bared, showing a slender and graceful curve that Hermione would admit came across as sexy, even to her. Especially with her most recent memory retrieval.
"It looks lovely," Hermione said, throwing her memories to the back of her mind now that she knew what and where they were so she could sort them later. "And to be honest, the silver is nicer than the black. It makes you look more cheerful."
"Yellow would do that better," Luna pouted. "But you're right. It might be a little much for the ball."
Hermione chuckled lightly before wrapping the younger girl in a one-armed hug. "Now, we get to go back to find you some knickers to wear under this that will match instead of the basics we already got, and then down a floor to find some nice jewelry and then we get to find shoes!"
"Do I have to wear knickers?" Luna whined, making the adult women look at her in amusement, though only one of them expected the follow-up, "I'm sure Harry would appreciate it if I don't!"
Saturday – March 5, 15:00 – Mistress Morgana's: Still Second time through the day
"Is it really that difficult to get an appointment here?" Hermione asked as the shop proprietor, Morgana, had her stripping down for measurements. "One of my friends said her parents made appointments when she was born for coming here before she started Hogwarts and I couldn't tell if she was joking or not."
Mistress Morgana let a deep, throaty chuckle that oozed sex appeal at Hermione's question. The woman had long, dark black hair that hung below her butt, what looked like naturally dark pink, full lips and large, brown eyes that had a different sort of twinkle than Albus Dumbledore. She was also wearing a corset that Hermione was very envious of over a dress that wouldn't be out of place in a noble court from the Middle Ages for casual wear. "Our selections tend to be of exceptional quality and most commonly, tailor-made for each customer, just like we're doing here. There are those who make such long-standing appointments, I'll admit. Those tend to be individuals who don't use my services commonly and the closer an appointment is made to the date of that appointment, the more it costs, thus leading to more financially-sound clientèle as my common appointments."
"Uh," Hermione froze with an expression of shock on her face as she realized exactly when Harry had made this appointments. "Harry only set these appointments up a week ago. How much did that cost him?" She asked shakily.
"Nothing," Morgana chuckled again. "In fact, I'm making your dresses at cost for him."
"What? Why?" Hermione asked, ignoring Luna's widened eyes and her mother watching the exchange carefully, obviously making mental notes herself.
"Your boy toy is giving me an obscene amount of acromantula silk," Morgana said with a seductive smile. "Anything I make for you that can be will be made from this silk. And since it was enough for a couple hundred dresses, and is the best known silk in the world, we have an agreement where his family, which includes you and Miss Luna here, get appointments when you want them, for at least the next fifteen years. With me, specifically, anyway. My girls who task the store in general will generally pick up any others," she said, indicating the one-way window that showed a dozen girls from fifteen to thirty in similar attire to their boss who was taking care of Hermione's outfit. Some of the girls quit their schools after OWLS, or tested out early, and never bothered to continue, and were easily of centerfold material. They all, also, only really cared about fashion and appearances, which is why they preferred to get the job as soon as possible, since Morgana only took the loveliest and most alluring as her helpers, though they had to be capable as well, since they actually did make dresses.
After a moment of silence, Luna got into Hermione's line of sight. "Remind me to show Harry my gratitude for being such a good boy toy," she told the shocked brunette who nodded slowly. 'That's such a fun phrase. Boy toy! Boy toy! And so accurately descriptive, too! He's a boy and I get to play with him.' Were she capable of expressing her emotions right then as she felt them, Luna's face wouldn't have been much different than that of a content and happy cat.
"Be good," Emma gently warned and chided, though not really able to fault the young girl for her logic.
"I intend to be," Luna almost growled with an evil little smirk that just looked adorable on her, making Emma chuckle and remind herself she wasn't the blonde's mother. Not yet, at least.
As she was being measured and used as a manikin, Hermione learned that Morgana's was not only a premier clothes maker of the very finest outfits in magical Britain, one of the first high-end shops of its kind, but it was also the only magical sex-shop that could be said to have class, which meant it wasn't a mix of a toy shop for adults with a brothel in the back and carnal activities happening on the sales floor, something akin to Belinda's in Knockturn Alley with clothes rather than a bar, but it was almost all mail-order if it wasn't an outfit. No one in upper society, and most in middle ground, wanted to be seen getting such vulgar items, at least in the public face. In point of fact, the duo that had delivered Draco's gift box had been from a sister-company that was owned by Mistress Morgana's. But instead of owl, one could, if they paid a small fee, get a themed delivery. And for the right price, that theme would stick around for the personal touch.
Hermione made a mental note to get the catalog from Harry after whacking him upside the head for having such a thing since they weren't together at the time and she wasn't sure why he would have known about such a place, but that it probably deserved a good whacking, anyway. Especially since she knew he used Morgana's catalog for that prank on Draco. She also felt he'd need the whacking since she was going to do something she considered repulsive and suggest he look into Morgana's ladies for their party since she wasn't actually sure where they would have found them, anyway. She also wondered if he knew about all of that when he gave her the gift voucher for the shop and whether or not it was for the kinkier purposes, or for the dresses and clothes.
It wasn't all sex aid, though. Sure, the catalogs had lubricants, toys and the like. But Mistress Morgana's was also the same name brand for sexy nightwear and fetish outfits. It was a family-owned business since its inception almost four hundred years previously, and wholly owned and run by mother and daughter, who kept the tradition alive by naming the females of the line 'Morgana'. There was also a rumor that was most certainly never confirmed or denied by the owners as to whether or not they had any Veela heritage.
The fun, according to Morgana, was in the mystery. A mystery that had Emma's red-cheeked interest to the point she pocketed a catalog herself. Her sex drive hadn't quite gone down to normal standards yet as it had when she was this far along with Hermione. And while she couldn't get any of the outfits that would be tight, since her tummy was now showing, it didn't mean she wasn't a woman with her own interests. Especially now that her and Dan were back on such friendly terms.
"How does this feel?" Morgana asked, tightening the corset that Hermione had been adamant that she would get. It had been a fantasy to have a corset dress ever since she had seen one in a movie when she was six and she couldn't wait for her breasts to grow in to wear one, though she hadn't expected to make it possible until she didn't live at home any longer. "It should be snug, but not really tight, and you should be able to breathe properly, despite the belief otherwise."
Hermione breathed in deeply, watching herself in the mirrors surrounding her and twisting this way and that. "It's pretty much perfect," the happy brunette said with a smile. "The top is cupping me a little less than my bra, but it's pushing them up a bit more, too."
"It's designed to give that little extra push to show them off," Morgana said, squeezing Hermione's sides gently, testing how much give there was and then slipping a finger over the top of Hermione's breast and seeing just how loose it felt by letting a finger slip under the cup of the corset just to the first knuckle. "But, you're right about being a little loose. But I'll also be fitting the inside with some of that silk for comfort and because it can be charmed much more easily than leather and feels absolutely divine. So, it'll be a little tighter after that, but not by too much. We'll check it with your fitting before the big day, of course."
Hermione felt a shiver race up her spine with those words as her vision shifted and instead of a leather corset and pantsless bottom half, she saw herself older, trying on a white dress and a veil before she shook her head. This wasn't like before with seeing her talk with Luna, but a daydream of a girl who could imagine herself getting ready for her wedding day. She grinned widely as she realized that it was a very easy, and very happy, event for her to envision.
"You'll want the standard charms?" Morgana asked. "Comfort, temperature, protection from popping out with a mild adhesive charm? We've also got the standard host of buzzing and tickling charms with various vibration settings and-"
"Eep! Er, no," Hermione blushed.
"Er, right, sorry," Morgana chuckled nervously, smiling apologetically to the reproving look Emma gave her. "Force of habit to ask."
It took another hour for Hermione to get a basic corset that would be detailed later, which would go just to her hips before a skirt would flair out with leather and lace straps that hung down to the ground in long strips two inches wide in a grouping thick enough to hide her legs, though propriety, and a mother's stern look at Mistress Morgana, allowed for a regular skirt to be hidden below it all so there would be no accidental flashing going on.
Hermione left the building a happy witch who was looking forward to Harry's ball.
Saturday – March 5, 15:15 – Potter Manor while girls are shopping
"A part of me has been wanting to have this conversation ever since the topic of betrothals came up," Dan said, sitting in what was meant to be Harry's seat in the smoking room in Potter Manor. It was, surprisingly, the only one in the vast mansion and geared towards males, most certainly. It had an included bar that was stuffed to the gills with alcohol the likes of which would be the envy of anyone who cared about such things. Scotches, whiskeys, bourbons, rums, brandy and gin, along with various others. The collection that was there and visible, alone, was probably worth more than the dentist's house.
The room was also all dark colors, with dark woods, brass accents, a nice brown, Purbeck marble floor and a white wood that Dan just couldn't identify that was stained a beautiful honey bronze up to the dark wood ceiling. It bespoke wealth, power and comfort while being only a little ostentatious.
"But, other than our first conversation when this whole thing came up, I've not really had the opportunity to speak with you alone since you're always with one of the girls."
"What conversation?" Harry asked, drinking a fruit juice blend since he had been exercising much of the day and didn't want to ruin his work. "I mean, er, I've learned what I need to know about boys and girls, and Hermione's promised if I have any questions I can-"
"Please forgive me," Dan interrupted with an expression on his face that was half fear and half pout, "if I ask you not to tell me anything that suggests my little girl is anything but a chaste girl who can't even fathom the concept of a 'penis'," he finished, swallowing thickly. "I don't know how far the three of you have gone and I really, really don't want to know. I'm here if you have questions. I am. I'll even try to answer them to the best of my ability and I won't even get angry as long as she doesn't get pregnant until after school. I've consigned myself to believing that either you've deflowered my daughter, or that you haven't, and it doesn't matter since you can do it whenever you get the idea in your heads at that school where there's no stopping you and there's nothing I can do about it except believe it won't happen until you're married."
"... Deal ...," Harry said after a moment, his face bright red and refusing to look the grown man in the eye. Hermione's favorite place was in his lap while snogging, and there had been a few enthusiastic thrusts of their hips that had almost joined them in the past. Harry Potter had no desire to discuss those near misses with her father.
"You are aware, are you not, that almost no one finds their soul mate, or their life partner, early in life?" The father asked, pouring a little scotch into a glass and unaware of how close he was to the truth, only that the boy was set to marry his daughter and he knew that the snifter he just poured was worth his monthly salary and despite being petty, felt the boy owed him at least that much for this conversation. "And even when you think you have, could even swear that you have, romances that start early in life almost never continue into adult life?"
"I am," Harry responded, understanding a little of what the conversation was going to be about, he thought. "And I know you have no reason to believe this, or even understand it. But I know, as do Hermione and Luna, that this is more than your usual young romance. There's more to it than that, even if I can't really explain it."
"How many girls have you thought you would grow up and marry?" Dan asked in response.
"Two," Harry answered. "And I'm engaged to both of them." It wasn't a lie, either. He had lusted after Cho Chang, but he also knew it was never going to go anywhere except perhaps the bedroom at best. And he now knew that even that was likely because of potions. He had also been with Ginny Weasley, the only other girl he had held any feelings for, but he'd just wanted to be with someone, and she was willing, and certainly rather pretty. His rationalizations meant little, however, since it was all about potions at the time, anyway, since he had never considered her before that as it was. The only other girls had been Luna and Hermione, who he was now with.
"Then how do you know what you feel for them?" Dan asked quietly, looking into the liquid in his tumbler. "I don't doubt that you love them, Harry. Any fool can see you do. And that they love you. But is it the deep, all-encompassing, forever kind of love? If you don't know anything else, how can you know?" Unasked, but still heard, was how the young lad could fully love more than one girl. Dan had been in a relationship with Emma and Rebecca, but he had always known it was Emma. He cared for, even loved, Rebecca, but neither of them could have been more than bed partners without his wife.
"I could tell you that I want to wake up in a hundred years and see them at my side rather than anywhere else," Harry began after a minute of silence. "I could say I would walk through Hell and back for them. I could even tell you that I can't imagine my life without them. All of it is true, but it's also ... inadequate. It may sound cheesy and maybe even ridiculous, but there aren't words in any language to really define just ...," Harry cut off, trying to put into words what he was thinking.
Dan looked at the boy in front of him, watching him frown and try to clear his thoughts up.
"They make my soul sing," he finally finished with a sigh and slump of his shoulders. "That's really the best I can come up with. I want to be a better person, make the world a better place, just for them. If they went dark or evil, I'd follow just because I couldn't bear to see them hurt. If they wanted the world, I'd give it to them wrapped in a bow." He shrugged finally, trailing off again.
"I've never seen Hermione as happy as she has been since Christmas," Dan said quietly, almost whispering, staring off at nothing and sipping his drink absently.
"Her and Luna are the best things to have ever happened to me," Harry spoke into the silence, not sure how to feel about the man who seemed so ... lost.
"Promise me you won't hurt my little girl," Dan said after a couple minutes, looking imploringly at Harry. "Promise me that whatever this secret bond thing between all of you is, this sure thing you all are talking about, that you won't hurt her."
"As earnestly as if I were swearing our vows to each other right now," Harry swore, "I love your daughter. And I want to marry her, and be with her for the rest of our lives. We'll argue, have our ups and downs and do little things to annoy each other, I'm sure. But we belong to each other. And may all the gods in whatever realities exist have mercy on anyone who would hurt her, because I will kill them if they do," he finished.
"Thank you," Dan said almost too quietly to hear.
After a moment, Harry wandlessly summoned the bottle Dan had poured from earlier to refill the older man's drink before refilling his own from the pitcher next to him. "Now, why don't you tell me an embarrassing baby story for me to innocently bring up during dinner," he suggested.
Saturday – March 5, Dinnertime – Potter Manor: Second time through day
"And after the assistant points out that wearing pretty underwear can make a girl feel more sexy and desirable, Luna points out she can agree with that, but if she has to wear a dress, then there's no reason to wear something under it and gives this impassioned speech about nudity being freedom as we're heading to pay. Some mother with her three-or-so-year old daughter clucked her tongue while the daughter exclaimed someone finally understood her and tried to get out of her coat."
Hermione wasn't sure she should mention Luna's rather rational argument that knickers wouldn't be seen under a dress.
"So, you had fun, then?" Harry asked later that evening after everyone ate their dinner. Dobby knew today had been a lot of shopping for the girls of his new family and thought it would only make sense that they got food with 'all the dressings'. His own joke had cracked him up, but only Luna seemed to get it and laugh with him. Xeno might have, had he been there that weekend.
Each member had a butterflied roasted duck with an extra crispy skin with a red plum dipping sauce. With a spring salad and rosemary and garlic roasted potato cubes, both waxy red and sweet with red onions baked in the duck drippings, the meal sat comfortably with a bottle of Pinot Noir and chocolate mousse. The adults even let the kids have a glass of the wine.
"I got a bunch of new knickers and shiny dresses and almost started a nudity revolution in a clothing store," Luna said happily, but tiredly, from where her head was resting on his lap. "It was great," she sighed wistfully.
"And it was fun," Hermione agreed from her place on Harry's shoulder. The meal was over and the Triad were now relaxing by the fireplace in Potter Manor, where Sirius thought they were simply playing hooky and always willing to assist someone out of school. He was also out like a light in his dog form from overindulgence of the wine and from chasing his tail after a bit too much wine. "I also got my dress, though I think Mum almost had a heart attack when she saw me in it."
"I thought she said your dad would have a heart attack," Luna asked, looking up at her co-girlfriend.
"That too," Hermione giggled.
"I have to admit, you girls looked excellent."
The Triad looked to the side where the new voice came from, each jerking in shock a little, but relaxing when they saw Lora.
"Hello," Luna stated simply, giving a small yawn. "Harry's lap is taken, but feel free to take the chair. I'm not particularly fond of it."
"Thank you, but I think I'll leave it here," Lora said with a grin. She had come to enjoy the little blonde's personality quirks. The angel tried not to let herself get emotionally connected to any of Harry's friends, as most had very good odds for dying, but had failed. Luna was a bit like a playful, cuddly fungus. She just grew on you whether you took precautions or not. "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, officially this time."
"Er, right," Harry blushed. "Lora, this is Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood. Ladies, this is Lora ... Well, Lora."
"Great timing there, Casanova," Lora rolled her eyes. "Still, congratulations on making everything official and all that. I didn't really say that at Christmas."
"Thank you," Hermione accepted. "It's a pleasure to officially meet you, too. But, if you don't mind my asking, is everything okay? Or is there another emergency?"
"Nope! This is my scheduled visit," Lora explained happily. "I was going to show up about a month ago, but you bonded that night we last spoke, and you've been working on it since then with some astounding ... dedication," she said with a lecherous smirk at the red faces of two of the three. Luna just smiled winningly. "Because of that, I wanted to give you time to work on it a bit."
"Have we been doing it right?" Hermione asked. "We're close to finding out a way to speak telepathically. Luna and I can get into each others' minds and were almost able to make the bond form."
"As long as you keep trying, there's no real way to do it wrong, per se," Lora said with a shrug. "And everyone is different. Not to mention you having full control, which I'm not aware of ever happening before. But yes, you're doing well with it. It's actually pretty fast, too. Even if we were guiding you, you'd likely have not gotten it so fast. So, kudos."
Hermione beamed, seeing the praise much like a professor's despite the situation being a bit more serious.
"What did you do with the horcrux that was in my scar?" Harry asked suddenly. "Or is it still there? I mean, the basilisk venom in the Sword of Gryffindor was supposed to kill these things, but when I was bitten by the basilisk, it didn't, so-"
"-Hold that thought," Lora interrupted, holding a hand up. "Why do you think you're a horcrux at all?"
Harry opened his mouth to answer, but suddenly frowned. He closed it, then opened it again, trying to start over, but the words wouldn't come. "Er, to be honest, I don't know. I feel like I know I am, but can't remember why I think that," he admitted, knowing he was never told this. Or if he was, then he was obliviated. That's the sort of thing you remember unless made to forget.
Lora stared at him long and hard, not really sure what she was looking for as she tried to gaze into his soul. "I know you've been recovering some of your lost memories. But apparently, that wasn't one of them, or not a full recovery," she said with a heavy sigh. "In a few of your past lives, you were told that, but if you don't remember that, then all the better."
"Well, I never thought of it before now," Harry explained, still frowning. "It just sort of came out. But, it would explain why my scar hurts when he's around and why I got visions through his and Nagini's eyes. Oh! Nagini! I think she's one, too!"
Lora shook her head. "Grandpa Whiskers thinks your scar is a horcrux and, in a few of your past lives, you learned that was his thought about it. If that were the case, then once the basilisk venom from the bite went through your bloodstream, it would have killed it. At that age, it'd take less than a minute for your blood to circulate through your entire body, especially with such a higher heart rate from the situation."
"But?" Harry asked at the same time as his girls did. Each was paying rapt attention.
"It isn't one," Lora said simply. "Don't get me wrong. There is some residual magic stored there, sort of like a magical scar rather than physical, and it was tainted by his soul, but a simple cleansing ritual would clear that up. The part that Whiskers is worried about is little more than a psychic imprint. Basically, a small portion of your mind was touched by his from a Legilimency probe to see if he could find anything that made you special, which is a common thing with infants and toddlers if they're subjected to such scans – a small imprint is left on the infant's mind sort of like a fingerprint. It's why it's considered evil by you mortals to do so except in extreme situations. That's why Whiskers didn't do it to you that night to learn what happened, even though it was an extreme situation. That's why you've got that mental connection and why Occlumency, or any mental defense, was so desperately needed. It's literally nothing more than a mental connection. But because it led to the dark wanker and reeked of his magic, your headmaster, in his infinite wisdom, thought it was a portion of his soul rather than simply a connection to the actual soul. And you're so naturally adept at defending yourself because you're mind has been doing that subconsciously since that night. And if you read up on the bloody horcruxes, then you'd know what you had wasn't one. Nagini is, but there are so many ways to kill a snake it shouldn't be as dangerous as you would think if you do it intelligently."
"I'm glad to hear that," Harry sighed in relief.
"If it just needs to be killed," Hermione began, "then I can think of a few dozen ways to do it safely."
"Thanks," Harry said with a small smile, kissing her chastely on the lips.
"Care to tell me why you haven't cleansed the objects you've already managed to obtain?" Lora asked archly, raising a thin eyebrow in accusation. "You've got the diadem, you know where the ring and locket are, and you know where Gryffindor's brooch is, though you haven't obtained it yet."
"Diadem?" Luna asked, perking up and raising her head. That was a rather rare term that she only usually heard referencing a single item.
"I'm worried about what might happen if I start destroying them without having all of them," Harry explained. "I don't know that he won't sense their destruction."
"Did he seem to know about the diary?" Lora asked snarkily. "Lucius was still alive, which means, no. He didn't."
"Firstly, Lucius was more valuable to him alive rather than dead," Harry explained. "I thought about that, too. But you also told me, and rightly so, that I can't rely on anything I knew from a past life except simple knowledgeable facts. Things that are not really able to change like spells and theory, not variables. And certainly not guesswork that I couldn't rely on then, to say nothing of this time. Maybe he knew, maybe he didn't. Whatever the case, Lucius was alive and that could have meant he was too valuable or the dark wanker was unaware."
Lora's mouth snapped shut where she was about to mock him again. "Sensible," she finally admitted, grudgingly. "But they were destroyed at intervals every time. Don't worry about that. Worry more about having a godfather with a pliable mind anywhere close to one of those things, instead."
"Will he be okay?" Hermione asked fretfully.
"It's minor, but it's trying to affect him," Lora admitted. "It isn't as stupid as wearing a horcrux and risking possession like you guys did in the past, but he'll end up like Kreature eventually." Granted, that would be after a decade or so, but that didn't matter.
"This diadem," Luna pressed, looking between the angel and Harry. "Is it Rowena's?"
"Yes," Harry admitted. "Why?"
"It's said it opens up your mind to its fullest potential while you wear it," Luna exclaimed happily, clapping her hands and bouncing on the cushions of the couch. "It basically lets you recall every moment of every day you were conscious in your past and form links between seemingly irrelevant information to make leaps of logic so brilliant it's like you're a Seer!"
"I thought I heard it was supposed to give you the knowledge of everyone who has ever worn it," Hermione suggested, wondering about it now.
"There are several theories," Luna explained. "But anything that takes knowledge doesn't sound like it would give knowledge as well," she mused.
"Luna is quite right," Lora offered. "Rowena gave me much the same explanation as she did. It just amplifies what is already there, assuming the enchantments on it are still there. It, like Harry's sword, were gifts from the goblins."
"That's amazing!" Hermione breathed out in wonderment. "Can we try it on, Harry? Please?" She tried her best puppy-dog look while Luna offered her best Nargle-eyes look.
"Once it's cleansed, then I don't mind," Harry said without needing convincing. "I'd like to ask the Gray Lady if she has any preferences for it, though, after that."
"Before you do," Lora butted in, "Rowena suggested you wear it while updating your mindscapes and making various plans. However, despite everything, once you get the Stone cleansed, she'd like you to summon her so she can chat with her daughter and they can discuss it with you."
"Stone?" Luna asked, looking quizzically between Harry and Lora. "The Philosopher's Stone? From Harry's first year?"
"No, the Resurrection Stone," Lora explained calmly, snorting quietly in amusement at Luna's stunned expression. Those large, doe-like eyes got impressively large when she was shocked. A rare occurrence on its own. "The Dark Wanker didn't know the power of what he had, which was for the best. But Harry can acquire and cleanse that and then use it to bring back Rowena."
"That's just it," Harry grumbled, wrapping an arm around his blonde Second at her whimper as too many emotions erupted within her for her to really understand what she was feeling right then. Her father's near-obsession with the Deathly Hallows, the chance of seeing her mother again, the kind of power Harry could possibly get from such items, amazement at learning a childhood fable truly was real and not just a possibility, Voldemort's bad luck in not knowing what he saw and all sorts of other things. "I don't know enough to get the ring, or the brooch, for that matter. I don't suppose you can tell me how many of these things there actually are? If my scar isn't one, then I'm kind of worried about missing one," he explained.
"I can't," Lora sighed. "Not without stopping these little get-togethers entirely. And, just because you don't know enough, doesn't mean you don't know a race of treasure hunters," she hinted.
"It was you," Harry said after a moment of staring. "You're why I've been so open with the goblins," he accused.
"And why the goblins are so willing to help despite not trusting humans any longer," she admitted. "I reminded them of something they, too, had forgotten, just like humans, about your shared history. They'll still take any opportunity to get gold from you, but unless you ruin it, they won't try to steal it from you in the form of half-truths and manipulation, but as fees for their services with an equal. That's also why you wanted Griphook to be your manager. By requesting him, you elevated his family from Weasley status in their society, to something more akin to Malfoy, using a Malfoy description, that is. Well, Lucius Malfoy, not Draco. That little cretin needs to be euthanized before too much longer," she stated, looking Harry in the eyes and speaking darkly.
"What? But why?" Hermione asked. "What's he done?"
Lora rocked her head from side to side as she thought of how much and of what to say. "I can't really tell you anything, I'm sorry. But I'd suggest keeping a very close eye on him. I'd also like to remind you of why you got rid of Umbridge now rather than later," she stated cryptically. From Harry's nod, it seemed he understood. Just because he didn't do anything yet in the time line, Harry knew he would unless he caused a change. So, he would only change if someone made him somehow. In other words, he went bad once and would again if given the chance to. Same as Ron, except the situations were slightly different. A cute girl could fix Ron. Not Draco.
"Can I ask a few things about our memories?" Hermione asked shyly, getting a nod. "How are we doing that? I mean, I've received a few when we ... well, went to Azkaban. I also remembered two from when you were talking about Luna being with us on the hunt, or at least one like it, from Christmas. Harry, I can understand, but how am I?"
"That's both incredibly difficult, and easy, to answer," Lora said with a frown. "The short answer is because you are bonded with Harry, that makes it all possible. The longer answer is that, but also because we don't just kill off those other versions of you and make you new again, or give you different souls. We just ... reset everything. It's why it's so rare for us to do this at all. But, because those events happened somewhere, somewhen, they are connected to you. The you in those lives didn't want to lose those moments because they were important while the you of this life sort of feels as though you need to know, or something triggers the memory sort of like déjà vu, so you remember it. It's actually very impressive. Even I can't get the memories from where they are, none of us really can, but you're doing it, and more than once or twice."
"So, I wanted to remember about Ron being a prat to us?" Hermione wondered in confusion.
"Is that really what you remember?" Lora asked. "Or is there more to the memory?"
"Well, there's a lot more, of course," she admitted with a quick dart of her eyes to Luna, who was watching placidly. "I learned he was able to find us through something Dumbledore left him in a will, that he spoke badly about us after leaving us and ... other ... stuff."
Harry idly wondered why Hermione appeared to be getting excited and red while looking guiltily at Luna.
"Well, there you go. Something in that memory was likely relevant to something going on, or something you wanted to know. Or something may have just triggered it," the bluenette death angel shrugged. "To be honest, it's very possible him ending up with Lavender triggered it, so I wouldn't be worried about it." Seeing the questioning look, she continued, "Lavender was all over Ron like Ginny wished she was over Harry while you were on a potion to desire him, so you disliked her and didn't understand why. And your rage towards him began about the same time, if you recall."
Harry shuddered and ignored Luna's amused eyes at the idea of what Lora was suggesting while Hermione simply frowned and pieced together what she knew from Harry's head and what she was told.
"Would you like to come to Harry's Auream Ball?" Luna asked suddenly. "You could just come for the food and drink and a good excuse to dance."
"Wh-what?" Lora asked, blushing lightly.
"Well, you're helping us, and it must be dreadfully boring just coming down here to work," Luna explained.
Lora couldn't really explain why that offer touched her so much. But, it did. And that was a little too mushy for her. "I'd like to, but I can't," she said. "Being down here outside of pre-authorized leave times would count towards my time with Wonder Boy, here." Privately, she considered that she only wanted to come if she could bring Meghan, her girlfriend who was not allowed down.
"Will we go to Hell for killing people?" Hermione blurted out, red faced. "I mean, with what we're doing-"
"-Stop," Lora commanded, shaking her head. "What you're doing is not only with good intentions, but to stop evil. You're doing good, protecting people. Even what Harry is doing to Snape has people happy. Granted, it's mostly his victims, but no one is upset about it. Snape's got much worse coming to him as it is, the sort of things that can only happen to you when you're already dead to really take the suffering. Unless you willingly kill innocents for no reason, you'll be fine. Or torture for fun, sacrifice people for personal gain, that sort of stuff."
"Good," Hermione said quietly, relaxing.
"I don't really have much more time. I wanted to point out you've not been dealing with the horcruxes and discuss the bond, but you're doing really well, there. I also wanted to tell you that I was amused at how well you've manipulated Fudge," Lora said with a smile towards Harry, getting an amused bow of his head in return.
"Out of curiousity, was my growth spurt because of this bond?" Hermione asked. "Well, mine and Luna's, but mine was ... odd."
"Oh! Yes and no," Lora stated. "The bond made it do a lot more, but it was always going to happen. You just grew a bit more than you would have and your magic expanded a bit more than it would have, both happening a little faster than it would have originally. You know how Harry saw you as you were a few years older and your magic worked unconsciously to adapt you a bit and make you change how you would have wanted to a little so what you will become will be more appealing to you, even though the changes will be fairly small. It's very rare for someone to truly know what they'll look like in a few years as aging potions base growth on how you've already grown rather than choices you'll make later like healthier eating habits and the exercising you've been doing. Have you noticed you're a bit more like how you picture yourselves as sexy now?" Lora asked, having certainly noticed herself. She really liked their toned tummies, but was too lazy to bother with the exercise for herself. "Your breasts are fuller and perkier without really growing too much and you've gained a little more height than you would have. And you may have noticed your hair taming a bit? Your magic was working on your desires for how you wanted your older body to look now so it would work out a bit. In short, instead of growing the way you would have, you're adapting a little to grow how you wanted to."
"And my mood swings?" Hermione wondered. She had to admit, she was liking magic a lot more when hearing it was essentially giving her the thinner waist, calmer hair and, if it really worked on her wants and desires, then she couldn't wait to find out if it would lead to wider hips as well. She had come to terms with knowing Luna's breasts would be larger, but Hermione was really wanting more than a stick-like figure around her waist.
"Like I said, your magic forced your body to adapt and grow more quickly than it would have," Lora shrugged. "That was all you and the hormones to make it happen, though the new memories would have actually been a large part of the rage, now that I think about it, since they weren't sorted and were outside your mental defenses where they were the only unfiltered thoughts you had, leading to more rage than anything else." Privately, she couldn't help but think, 'and I am so glad I don't have to deal with a menses!'
"I suppose that makes sense," Hermione muttered. "I mean, I got angry easily, but it was almost always with murderous thoughts about Ron."
"Is that why my boobs caught up with Hermione's?" Luna asked, grasping her chesty mounds and rocking them back and forth, making Lora laugh as the quirky blonde tried to change the focus of the conversation to something more pleasant. And Luna thought her breasts were quite pleasant, thank you very much! And so playful, too.
Harry would agree.
"Yes, it is. It's also because you wanted them, though. But, you were much more even-tempered because you are generally a calm and sweet person and weren't dealing with rogue memories on top of everything. So, you got stuck in cuddle mode." Lora shook her head, silently wondering how Harry had become so lucky to find two great girls. "But in your case, you won't be much larger than you would have been since you didn't want to be, just get there sooner. Anyway, last questions? I've got to go." Getting negatives, the death angel stepped through a mirror, causing Luna to bump her nose when she attempted the same.
"That was ... random," Hermione said as Luna rubbed her sore sniffer.
"They've all been that way," Harry said, wrapping his arms around Luna as she fell into his lap.
"Let's go to bed," Luna suggesting happily. "I got some pretty nightclothes I want you to see me wear before I take them off so we can go to sleep!"
Saturday – March 5, Before dinner and before previous scene – Campsite in Forest of Dean
"This is ... wonderful," Sarah Dempsey murmured lazily, her bare back warming her from Xeno's bare chest. Say what you will about the man, but he was a very attentive lover and shared a love of cuddles the same as Luna. They were on a section of grass next to a lake where they had made camp with a repelling ward around for a kilometer, ensuring they would be left alone by any humans. Wards for warmth were in place, but a fire kept them extra toasty for their comfort. It was dusk and the forest was beginning to quiet. "It's a little hard to believe we haven't done this before," she said, curling into his chest.
Sarah was barely thirty, and Xeno was only forty-seven. He looked much older simply because he was balding and had a beard Father Time would be proud of. Where he had once had chestnut brown hair, it was now full-on white. It had changed the night he learned of his wife's death in his grief almost spontaneously and simply never changed back. Throw in his odd personality and he'd be a shoe-in for senile old man. Despite having the drive of what amounted for a man just entering middle age as a magical, he hadn't slept with Sarah until that day out of a running sense of betrayal for his wife. Even after what his dear Luna had told him. But now, it had just felt right. And he had felt free enough to do it without shame.
And he could almost swear he heard her and Lily Potter cheering him on.
It had also been one of the reasons she fell in love with him. He not only enjoyed nature as much as her, but also enjoyed it just as passionately. And what was more, he didn't try to suggest they should make like the animals they were watching and mate as several other naturalists she had met. Sarah hadn't been much older than Luna when she'd nearly been raped in a violent assault before ripping the man's balls off, literally. Sadly, it hadn't been the last such situation and was among the reasons, along with a home life with violently argumentative parents, that she loathed staying around people. And her number of friends had matched Luna's until this recent year. Xenophilius was wonderful to have around as a refreshing change of pace. She trusted him. Felt safe with him.
"I'm sorry, love. I suppose I just had to come to terms with the fact that I actually had someone in my life again," he responded, kissing her temple.
"Wanna talk about it?" Sarah asked without looking up, knowing something had been on his mind all day and for the last couple of weeks. "I know you've got something on your mind. I could only distract you for a little while."
"I suppose I'm just feeling old," Xeno chuckled deeply, coming more from his chest than his throat. "My little girl is happy for the first time in years, truly happy, and engaged. I know she's sexually active, though I also know it isn't more than some basic exploration. I suppose I feel bad because I don't really have a problem with it."
"Why do you think you should have a problem with it?" Sarah asked curiously.
"She's thirteen years old," he said, shrugging. "She could be having sex at any moment, regardless of my preferences, and she's going to be leaving home, starting her own family. We've been all the other's had the last few years since Celeste died. We essentially lived in our own world together. Now, we have to join the real world, and she has another man in her life, another woman as well if I'm honest," he snorted in amusement before turning melancholy. "Another family," he whispered.
"You know the first sentence you told me after saying hello was about how much you thought Luna would love watching the jackalope kittens begin exploring their home," Sarah mused thoughtfully. "Practically everything from that moment suggested she was the center of your universe. If you didn't think she'd like to experience something, you wondered if she'd try to kidnap whatever fuzzy creature we were observing and raise it to be her minion." The brunette cocked her head to the side and blinked rapidly. "You never did get around to explaining that one."
"She has been," Xeno popped in, ignoring the subtle question about Luna's proclivities. That week she had decided to become a dark lady had been the most awkward time to raise a little girl. And she had refused to tell him how she got all those squirrels to march in formation while wearing those tiny little hats out of walnut shells. "I suppose you make a valid point, though."
"I think that maybe you're just coming to realize your baby's leaving the nest," Sarah reached backwards and clasped her hand behind his neck. "And I think that's why you set up this little vacation, isn't it?"
Xeno was silent for a moment before caving. "Partly," he admitted. "I also didn't think it would be quite right to have a girl's father join in dress shopping. At least, Celeste always laughed when I offered to help when she was alive," he mumbled. "But I think that was more about my color preferences."
'Smart woman,' Sarah thought to herself with a grin. She loved Xenophilius, but the man was more colorful than men were supposed to be. "I have to admit, I really do like Luna and her friends. But it's kind of nice to be just the two of us in our own little world again." She sighed in contentment as Xeno kissed her neck gently. "And as much as I like Luna, I'm also terrified of her. She has such a strong impact on you that it's more than just a little scary. Thankfully, she's adorable. I'm also terrified of that party they're organizing."
"You really don't have to go," he offered, agreeing with her about his little girl. Sarah had expressed on New Years night just how much she liked and feared Luna, for much the same reasons. Like a cute, cuddly bunny with teeth, claws and a penchant for lobbing hand held explosive devices against those it didn't kidnap and torture with mind numbing children's songs.
Sarah had a frightening imagination at times. But he didn't notice it as anything odd.
"No, but I want to be there to support Luna and her friends. It's important to her and I really do like her. She's not going to need me for anything with her friends and Hermione's mother, but being there to support her is the best way for me to support you, too. It'll let her know I'm not trying to ignore her or don't care about her, too."
"Promise me something, then?" Xeno asked, getting an affirmative. "If you get too nervous around so many people, let me know and we can either find a more private location or leave. Okay?"
Smiling at how considerate her man was, Sarah turned and gently lowered herself into Xeno's lap before snogging him stupid.
Sunday – March 6, 06:45 – Around Hogwarts somewhere
Charlie Weasley blinked at the group of men and women around him. He was part of a group of twenty magical creature experts that he only today learned had been hired by Harry Potter to do a cursory observation of the lands he owned to identify any inherently dangerous creatures that were a threat to his people. They had been selected based on their reputations, though he had a strong suspicion his reputation came from fellow redheads, and the wide area of expertise they shared amongst them all. They were a little on edge with that understanding.
He was also a little annoyed because he had been in the country for two months, being told his mystery employer was waiting on getting the group together from various places for this venture. While two months of pay for doing nothing was nice, it was also horrible. He was stuck with his parents, one of which fussed over him like he was a child again and all but begging him to find a nice girl and settle down. And with the urgency in his mother, he was beginning to think she would set him up with someone if he didn't do a runner soon.
The last thing he wanted was his mother setting him up with a date.
"No," Harry responded to a question that had been sent his way. "The Forbidden Forest is off limits until I get a chance to speak to the Centaurs. They're friends with Hagrid, and he's offered to speak with them on my behalf to set up a meeting so I can tell them what I have planned, but that was about two weeks ago and they're hesitant to meet up with me. I can tell you now, I intend to destroy the acromantula colony, and it's bloody huge."
"How huge are we talking about?" The Ministry flunky from the Department of Control and Regulation of Magical Creatures asked nervously, somewhat annoyed with the Minister for agreeing to Harry's suggestion of a Ministry presence in case they wanted to help clear out the infestation. Well, be aware so they can offer to do it for a price. The clean-up was offered for free in the hopes that they may get something out of it to sell. The flunky shivered as he looked over at Walden Macnair, who was sharpening his axe while staring awkwardly at Lord Potter.
"Last year, I was in the middle of their nest and there were thousands of the bastards, and most I saw were the size of a horse. Some were the size of small houses. Even going back in my memories, I couldn't count the number of ones that were the size of family pets," Harry said, smiling as the men and women looked at each other nervously.
"Why were you in their nest?" Charlie asked.
"I was trying to find information about the basilisk," Harry responded, looking almost confused about their confusion. "I already killed it, so don't worry about that. I've also checked to make sure there aren't others." Harry looked away as he continued his orientation, ignoring the looks of confusion and some of outright disbelief. "What I'm looking for this group to do is essentially check over my land and check for signs of something that shouldn't be there. While we won't be going into the forest, I do want us to check for any signs that something is leaving the forest. I'm especially worried about those acromantula."
"And why should we be willing to take a child into potentially dangerous territory, even if he is our employer, when we'll have to look out for him and risk ourselves?" Macnair asked a little rudely. However, these were all professionals and he was only asking what they were all thinking, so no one cared to call him on it since most in their lines of work had a tendency to be a little rough, anyway.
"I'm your backup," Harry grunted, using tones and expressions many saw in each other that he'd developed over the course of a war that they had developed in harsh professions. "I'm there in case the acromantula, specifically, are more of a risk than I've been led to believe or recognized. Plus, it provides a reason for me to go in and kill them and remove the threat they pose to the students if they're willing to come out and attack us, regardless of what the centaurs want. I don't want that, but I'll take it if it means keeping the school safe. We used to go into the forest twice a year to keep it clear of things that were a threat to the school, or at least manageable, but that stopped a few hundred years ago and I intend to fix that error. And the acromantula colony has grown this much in just fifty or so years since they were introduced to the forest, leading me to believe they'll soon be too larger for the forest to provide for them in just a few years. I'm honestly surprised it can as it is."
"With all due respect," Charlie began, "what am I here for? The nearest dragons are Welsh dragons and about a hundred miles away on the mountains over there," he said, pointing at the uninhabited mountains to the west and south across the lake and on the other side of Hogsmeade. "And those things don't really get all that large. They're like overeager puppies that like to fly, pounce and play. But with claws, large teeth and always hungry."
'That was actually probably the best way to describe the little buggers,' Harry thought. They were about the size of a Great Dane, though about twenty feet long from snout to tail, and 'overeager puppy' was definitely them in a nutshell. But, they'd migrated from Wales, who'd been proud at one time and put them on their national flag, to Scotland as a popular and exotic pet. Or guard dragon for some pureblood homes that could keep them fed. However, attempts by students to domesticate them enough to turn them into familiars, and the inevitable failure, they'd found a new home in the nearby mountains that had once housed trolls before they'd been cowed to only half the mountain while the dragons got the other half. The dragons could fly, albeit only short distances, and they weren't as strong as wyverns, so they had little use to anyone but as the slightly exotic pet and guard dog. Hungry guard dogs.
"Well, as you know, there are a series of caves between the ocean and the Black Lake. I want to be on the safe side, there, but I also wanted the widest skill set possible," Harry explained. "I also want your expertise, all of you, on whatever we may find that needs to be dealt with. If possible, I want to see about relocation or discuss ways to make sure things stay as safe as possible." Harry mentally noted that seemed to earn him some respect from those who worked in preserves and chose to instead to save the various creatures they worked with rather than those such as the Death Eater, who preferred to kill when he could. "And I don't think Hagrid is the best idea for taking safety precautions," he mumbled to himself.
"Any other questions?" Seeing there were none, Harry led the group across his lands, finding the exercise actually yielded some shocking safety risks from the forest. Acromantula had, indeed, been leaving the forest and preying on the wildlife. There were also signs of other carnivorous creatures that went in and out, but nothing that was such a menace except for signs of werewolves that Harry knew weren't caused by Remus. Once they were done, a decision was set up to take the next month to make a plan and see if Harry could get in contact with the centaurs since that would help tremendously, especially since they were being watched by the equines during their examinations. Harry turned time and worked with Dobby to track and monitor Macnair to discover not only where he lived, but who he spent time with and where they went, as well.
From the number of tracks that led back and forth, Harry decided it was also time to meet the roughly seventy families who lived on his lands. As much as he thought it was unlikely, he wanted to make sure no one was missing and he needed to make sure he knew what they were doing, too.
Friday – March 18, 14:30 – Wizengamot Chambers, a half hour after meeting
"I do not see how that is in any way relevant," Thomas Castleberry grumped. Thomas was a ninety-six year old pureblood who was in many ways like Lucius Malfoy. His five foot ten frame was stocky, though he had a bit of a belly, and his square jaw was clean-cut and framed by dark gray hair with deep set gray eyes. He was a bigot who loved power and wealth, but unlike Lucius, he didn't want more than he currently held. His vices were food and young women. So much so, in fact, that he held a tendency to purchase mistresses around the time their ages went into the double digits and then sold them to Belinda's Brothel around the time they'd normally graduate from Hogwarts until they earned enough to strike out on their own. However, where Lucius would use them until they were ruined and then simply dispose of them, Thomas would give them an excellent education where they could function in society, all at the low, low price of being his toy until he was done with them. He was also very kind to them, though they also knew not to upset him. He also wasn't above selling his vote if it wasn't truly against his own views.
"The muggle world believes in that nonsense that a man can only have one woman," Draco repeated a little differently than his original opening salvo to try and turn the politically-valuable pureblood to his side. "Harry Potter was raised by muggles and he is infected with their ideas. Look at what he said he intends to do with Hogsmeade! He is trying to ruin our culture and heritage with muggle ideas!" The blond boy warned forcefully, trying to keep them from remembering Harry was also getting a second wife.
"That is entirely relevant! Don't you see? If we don't work to limit his power now, then there's no telling what may happen! The rights and privileges that came with the Founder lines, particularly the sovereignty of Hogsmeade Valley from the Ministry, expanded to his other titles." Draco allowed his smirk to show through, looking almost like he was attempting to kiss the air from the side of his mouth. The older man straightened almost imperceptibly to show he'd understood something from what he was told. "You see now, don't you? All the land owned by the Potters broke from Ministry control just as Hogsmeade Valley had never joined. Do you see how this concerns me?"
"I do," Thomas said thoughtfully. Hogwarts, and the lands that came with it in Hogsmeade Valley, which included the lake, the forest, the mountains and a fair bit of the ocean beyond that fed into the lake had been joined in under the banner of Hogwarts. It was a sovereign nation that fell under the name of Magical Britain, but the British Ministry held only the basic of authority on those lands. In the late 1700's, and by 1806, every independent land that fell under the British Ministry's purview had fallen to its authority save that which could not be compelled: Hogwarts.
Hogwarts, alone, was left outside of their influence because it couldn't be magically claimed by the Ministry. The lands were somehow tied directly to the castle by the Founders, rather than a family line, and the castle wouldn't bow to anyone but the headmaster, who didn't have that authority, thus leaving it beyond their control. Since it was the will of magic, the magicals acknowledged it as declared. It was believed that Magic itself protected the land and school. And thousands of years of accepting the will of magic as superior to their own meant they weren't about to question it now. Not when they knew the consequences were usually disastrous.
Thomas Castleberry understood this. They all did. But few, if any, had actually thought about what it meant for those same protections to be granted to yet more land or people. The Lord Potter had quite a bit of land and business to his name that had been granted an autonomy because he'd gained it from the Founder lines. The perfect example would be those new businesses, which the Ministry would be unable to collect bribes and taxes from.
"So, you're worried because he's trying to pollute our way of life with muggle ideas and because he doesn't fall under our authority?" Johnathan Bell asked, trying to catch up. He still had aspirations for something beyond being a secretary for the head file clerk, but his appointment as proxy would only last so long as he was useful and able to explain what was going on to Lord Burke, who he served still.
"Was it not clear?" Draco drawled in annoyance. This Bell fellow seemed to believe himself useful from what the young lord could tell. 'This clerk ghoul doesn't seem to know his place. Nothing but a glorified secretary.'
"I agree in principle," Castleberry continued, ignoring the byplay of the proxy and boy in front of him. In point of fact, he understood what was being suggested and had to agree that having that kind of power in the hands of someone like Lord Potter could, and would, prove disastrous. The muggles also had problems with slavery and underage girls servicing their masters, and he was quite against that line of thinking! "Wizardkind is our own society. We accept their spawn, but we are better than they are. He will only drag us down to their level."
"Exactly!" Draco exclaimed as quietly as he could, but still as forcefully as possible. It wasn't quite what we meant to convey, but it was close enough that he'd accept it for now and try to more thoroughly get his hooks into the old man. 'Playing these fools is almost too easy,' he mentally laughed to himself while Thomas felt like he was playing one of his educational, political role plays with his grandson. A particularly unskilled and disliked grandson, at that.
In short, he saw the boy as a pompous buffoon on a good day, and a little brat when feeling charitable.
"We need to either stop him from spreading his power or find some way of making him fall under Ministry control," Draco broke out again. "That's why I'm coming to each of you. I need support so he hasn't got the power to essentially ignore our laws and infect our younger generations with muggle filth. You've already heard he intends to change Hogwarts classes starting next year. Making introductory classes to the muggle world compulsory for those living in an all-magical household."
"Yes, and a magical one for those from the muggle world. I believe I've also heard that Woughen lad in Inheritance said Potter's next in line for the Black line, too," Johnathan Bell chipped in, making Draco sneer in revulsion.
"Actually, I have just as much claim for the Black title. More so, when you consider my mother was a Black and my ties to the family line are stronger," he stated imperiously, unaware that Sirius' will negated that advantage. Especially since it would annul Narcissa's marriage to Lucius and remove her from the Black family before announcing Harry as the new Lord.
"What do you propose?" Lord Castleberry asked. "Removing power from any of the lords is difficult under normal circumstances. But lord of a Noble and Ancient House is all but impossible. And sets a dangerous precedent."
"Ah, but I'm not asking for anything that the rest of us haven't already had to do," Draco said in a voice that was almost a sing-song. The idea that he could remove some of Harry Potter's power by essentially getting him to succumb to the authority of the Ministry was a heady, happy feeling that filled him with a sense of amazement in himself. Pansy would end up exhausted that night in his celebrations. "All of our families sacrificed their right to rule their lands and the people upon them for this Ministry and this halfblood upstart thinks he can use that autonomy to poison our world! And he intends to use the power of some of those family lines despite not having a wife or heir for the line. I cannot, and will not, accept that insult to tradition and law. With or without you, I will stop him," Draco swore harshly.
"Stop who, Lord Malfoy?" Albus Dumbledore asked as he approached the group of three.
"My concerns are mine, Headmaster," Draco responded immediately. Technically, using the title of power in a school was a slight upon the older man, but not one worthy of calling out under the circumstances. By all rights, his most powerful title should have been used, but outside of a formal function related to those powers, it wasn't as big a deal what titles were used. Unless it was someone who demanded a title be used, anyway, such as Draco was now doing with most people. "For now," Lord Malfoy finished.
"I will send you my response soon," Castleberry stated stiffly before walking away, signaling with his eyes that the older man would hear from him later.
"And I'll discuss things with My Lord Burke and see his response," Bell said nervously before spinning and scurrying away quickly. The last thing the Head of the Department of Records wanted was to come to the attention of Albus freaking Dumbledore.
"Remember, Mister Malfoy, that everyone here has been in politics longer than you have and can play the game better," Albus warned, wondering what Draco was up to, but knowing regardless that it wasn't good.
"You seem to forget yourself," Draco sneered, drawing himself up. "I am Lord Malfoy, trained since I could walk and speak to handle my duties. Not like that whelp Potter. You should be ashamed of yourself for leaving him with that muggle filth. He's the last of a Noble House, even if he is a mongrel. I can't expect you to know what someone responsible would do to ensure the last of an Ancient and Noble House knew their place in society since your own is neither of these things. I've been prepared for my role in life and am living up to it."
"So it would appear," Albus said simply, trying to wrap his head around what he might mean. He lost the chance to respond as Draco harrumphed and walked away. He watched just long enough to see him stare at Harry, who was chatting with the Minister and Amelia Bones. Sighing, the old man walked over to where the group was at, hoping he could be of some use there.
"-isn't right," Harry was saying as Dumbledore approached. "I think Malfoy is looking to find a way to legally get another girl or something, but how a man runs his own House should be up to him."
"I agree," Amelia said with a nod. "But at the same time, I find myself giving grudging agreement that a family with substantial holdings should endeavor to continue their family name. You are a prime example of this. You have several family names, but you can only legally manage them as a proxy unless you name an heir or wife for that line. House Potter is the only one you can vote with for that very reason, and that keeps those other Houses out of the political fray where they should be."
"I quite agree, quite agree," Minister Fudge said, looking at Harry with a strange smile. "You'll find, Lord Potter, that one can never know what the future will hold and it is the duty of the Head of a family to ensure their line continues."
"Well, as a man who currently has five titles, the last thing I want is ten women in my life," Harry deadpanned, making Amelia smile indulgently while Fudge laughed out loud. "His proposal to force a person to have a mistress if they are the last of the family line doesn't sit well with me. I admit, I disliked the fact he phrased it as 'a wife and a spare', but the concept remains valid. A man should not be required to take a second woman for the sake of having children."
"It's only if an heir has not been sired after a year," Minister Fudge said with a patronizing grin. "I think, once you get a little older and can more fully understand the details of such a motion, you'll likely realize it isn't as bad as it sounds and could be quite … fulfilling," the minister said with a knowing grin while Amelia snorted derisively, showing what she thought of that statement.
"Ah, but the details are the most prescient," Albus interjected, coming into the conversation. "The wording of the law, while showing young Malfoy's inexperience, is also very telling. It actually demands a mistress for each lordship if an heir is not sired within a year, meaning young Harry here, for example, can only have two heirs within that year, at best, leaving him vulnerable to the law and allowing three women into his life as mistresses. And without wives for those extra lines, they would automatically be elevated as such should they become with child."
"Not what I wanted to hear," Harry grumbled. "But it isn't just me," he warned, looking at Amelia. "That could also be Susan needing two men in her life. She may be betrothed to Neville now, but he is forgoing rights to the children so she can continue your line. With this law, she may be forced to essentially be with a man she doesn't want, which is paramount to rape, is it not?"
Amelia flinched, recalling the law's vernacular would not isolate males. She had approved of that fact initially, seeing it as a way for women to be just as important as men, but hadn't caught that little detail. Women were often equals to men in terms of magic, but that wasn't always so when they were rarely allowed to learn outside of the home, which usually meant household spells with homemade wands. Only with the creation of Hogwarts were women more freely allowed to learn magic since Masters usually only wanted male apprentices. Or to be more precise, women feared what any potential master may do and only a few were willing to brave the odds of becoming a plaything during their education since one in a thousand, at best, wouldn't abuse the relationship. "Point taken, Lord Potter," she mumbled. Times had changed, and women were primarily equal to men now, but their society had grown upon a male-dominated one in which women were generally seen as little more than chattel and, because laws rarely went out of effect, they hadn't raised to much more than that in the eyes of their government. The Head of House could still sell the women in his family, even before they were born, or any guardian could, really.
Harry was about to open his mouth when he realized he was suddenly warm on his left side. Looking, he blinked owlishly as Shade appeared to be there, having not just arrived, but been there a while from the bored look on her face. "Hello, Shade."
"Lord Potter," the woman greeted simply, keeping an eye on the people around the group like she were a body guard instead of a friend. "Minister Fudge, Director," she greeted the others, ignoring Albus, who she still felt was something of a charlatan. She never did forgive him for not being fully capable of wandless magic like her and Harry.
"Something I was hoping to get some agreement on," Harry begun when it appeared Shade wasn't really interested in talking. "Do you think we can amend Malfoy's bill about life debts to make it more clear? From what I understand, not only are they almost impossible to actually acquire, but the nature of them means they could be anything from passing the salt to handing over a person's entire estate, legally, or even becoming a slave."
"What did you have in mind?" Minister Fudge asked curiously.
"Well, we don't want to risk ruining anyone from this, right?" Harry asked, making sure if they disagreed they would come out as cruel and vindictive. "Why not set it up to say such a thing would demand a tenth of their net worth in liquid assets? Or something where it isn't so horribly open to interpretation. Is it just me, or does it sound like someone could try to buy the debts I've earned, say with Ginny Weasley, with some money, but they they could essentially demand anything of her, like I suggested a moment ago?"
"You are quite correct," Albus interjected. "Though it isn't as clear-cut as that. The wording of the law as it is right now means you would have to come to an agreement to sell that debt within about two more years, or set up some sort of agreement with Miss Weasley, or the Ministry can purchase the debt."
"But that's the part that is bothering me," Harry explained. "The Ministry buys the debt to be auctioned off to the various departments or various lords. How do they determine the value?"
"Case by case, my boy," Cornelius explained. "She's young, a child in fact, and has no wealth or chance of leading a family line, outside of marriage, so the debt is worth very little. But, if someone wanted the girl, specifically, then it would probably show in the auction, I suppose. She is a pureblood, so some could see her as a cheap method of obtaining a bride for those who care about lineage."
"So, for such a debt, she'd be considered chattel?" Harry asked with a deep frown.
"The short answer is yes," Amelia sighed. "As you said, life debts are almost impossible to get. Not like honor debts or financial debts. Few people want to risk their lives for another and, as you already know, you have to be innocent of the situation, so it can't be engineered, and situations like war where you willingly go into a life or death situation doesn't allow for it for some odd reason. Magic is in charge of those debts and there is little we can do about it," she continued.
"I know growing up in the muggle world gives you certain ideas on how the world should run," Albus stated softly. "Especially about the equality of men and women and how they should be treated. But Magic is our ultimate authority. To try and cheat Magic is to invite tragedy."
"But you make an interesting point all the same," Fudge stated magnanimously. "Perhaps some of us shall get together and look into what we can do for the sake of making it less dire. As it is, the law won't back-date current debts, so all debts have three years from its initiation for the sake of care."
"I'm terribly sorry," Fudge blustered after a moment of looking around, looking to Albus and Amelia and seemingly forgetting about Shade. "But I need to speak with young Harry here about a private matter between us, if you don't mind?"
"Not at all, Minister," Amelia offered, knowing Croaker had to be around somewhere since Shade was there. She offered her farewells and went on the hunt while Albus provided a cautionary eye to Harry, trying to impart warning before he, too, left.
Shade only took a few steps away, maintaining her guard demeanor, which was something Fudge was used to with his Auror entourage, so he didn't think too much of it.
"What's on your mind, Minister?"
"It's about Sirius' trial," Cornelius explained. "And your friend, Hagrid's. I am not able to simply issue a blanket pardon without actual questioning, but I did confirm I can try them with Amelia, Albus and a third party outside of myself." He also found out Harry could try the man on his own land, but since they weren't required to acknowledge the results, but had to disprove them to take any action, it would still lead to a trial. So, no point in mentioning it. Especially if Harry were to realize what that could do if he wanted to use that power elsewhere, such as with anyone he found guilty.
"So, you've got a trial date?" Harry asked hopefully.
"I will accept the role of your third party," Shade offered from right beside the two males, making Fudge jump slightly and crush his green bowler hat to his head in fear of losing it. "And I believe Croaker would be willing to accept if another department head is required."
"Er, yes, that ... er, should be fine," Fudge stuttered.
"When should we do this?" Harry asked excitedly. "And do you think it would be easier, and less troublesome, if it were done somewhere other than the Ministry? I can have them both at Hogwarts, or my manor home, any time you need us."
"How about tomorrow?" Cornelius asked. "And to ensure there's no chance of anyone claiming this was set up to allow him his freedom, I'll have members of the press and witnesses I think we can trust there to get the truth out quickly."
"Might I suggest not having any witnesses that had even a suspicion of Death Eater involvement in the past?" Harry warned nervously. "We know Lucius, for example, was truly bad, not that you could have known that, but what if others used the same Imperius defense and got away and are like him and want to kill Sirius? Since he's made magical vows to his innocence and lived, that means he is, indeed, innocent, and too many people have seen the proof of that for the Ministry to come out of that without a black eye."
"Yes ... yes," Cornelius muttered. "That was actually something I'd already thought of. If Bagnold were still around, I'd have her on trial about this right after Sirius, to be honest. I'm still considering that with Crouch. But I'm keeping him well out of this for those same reasons," he explained honestly.
"Well, I can get them here without causing too much of a scene," Harry assured. "When do they need to be here?"
"Let's say eight in the morning," Cornelius offered. "There'll be fewer people here than any other time since most don't get here until nine, anyway. I'll also send an owl to the Daily Prophet to let them know they may want to hold off on their papers."
"Uh, I own it now," Harry said with a blush. "Or at least, I have control over most of it. Didn't really think much of it until one of my girls pointed it out to me. I'll head down there now so I can also let them know I'm aware of this."
A shiver raced down Fudge's spine at that little bit of information. It was a surprisingly little-known fact that the Potters had a very small ownership claim on the paper when it first started. But, with all the deaths of various families that got absorbed into other lines, which also went with their holdings and estates, it would seem they wound up gaining a substantial portion of the one business any politician would sell their, or their mother's, soul for. Some had sold their daughters for far less than that, in fact. Other than the Quibbler, it was the only other newspaper form of communication to the masses. There were magazines aplenty, of course, but those sold because they didn't have news in them! 'Perhaps it's time to consider a Ministry-owned newspaper,' Fudge mused to himself, thinking about how it would explain his greatness and how he protected the masses while ignoring things that would cause a panic or make that same public lose faith in him.
Quickly agreeing with everything, the Minister left, leaving Harry to look expectantly at Shade. "I ... decided to accept your offer to go to your function," she said a little nervously, though not showing it.
"I'm glad," he said with a smile. "Hermione's mum, Emma, loved having you over. I think she'll be happy to have another woman around that she knows. She's a little uncomfortable in the magical world, especially since she knows about the prejudices and because she's pregnant and surrounded by wands."
"Would you like me to guard her?" Shade asked seriously, making Harry's mouth snap shut.
"Er, not necessary," he said after a false start. "I just thought you may be the same and want to spend time with someone you know. I certainly would, but won't be able to, unfortunately. I just wanted you to come as a friend."
Shade's lips quirked in an attempt to smile before she squashed the urge. Without her cowl and cloak, she felt practically naked and didn't want people to see more of her expressions than needed. At least not in public like this. "I'd like that. Would you like me to accompany you to the Daily Prophet?"
"If you'd like," he offered, walking out, getting his wand, and then going to Diagon Alley while they discussed their training methods for wandless casting and how Harry was getting along with what she had already told him about her training methods.
Friday – March 18, 17:30 – Hogwarts: Room of Requirement
Hogwarts twisted, turned and, most importantly, twirled, making her little dress flare out and wrap around her in a swirl of color that made her giggle. She was three feet and three inches of giggles and pale limbs, with knobbly knees and pointy elbows. Her bushy blonde hair hung to the small of her back, though it was also very thick and silky smooth. Since the castle-turned-girl didn't understand how to make it bushy like Hermione's, she decided to just make a lot of it. She also had little curled bits like corkscrews that framed her face that she loved making bounce from moving. The rest looked like she had just gotten out of a fierce wind or off of a broom.
Her eyes were hazel, naturally, but shifted depending on her moods. Right now, her excitement and exuberant joy made them a bright, vivid green that even nature would have been envious of, though they were bright, cerulean blue when she was sad, brown when hurting and gray when angry or serious.
And 'Grammy' and 'Grampy' on Mummy-Hermione's side would fall in love with her perfect teeth, she was sure. Even if the front two were a little on the large side.
Her dress, however, was a moderately new addition. She was wearing a bright, neon pink T-shirt with a pale yellow dress that hooked on the top with shoulder straps like a pair of over-alls. She had little shorts on underneath the light skirt since she heard Mummy-Hermione telling Mummy-Luna that boys would look up them. And having had teenagers within her halls for a thousand years, she knew what they were looking for, too, and didn't want her Daddy to have to go after them.
Along the skirt, however, were bunnies and squirrels frolicking on a grassy field, actually bounding around and playing in an animated series of loops. Since it was mostly magicals that had found their way into her halls, it was their sense of fashion that she had acquired.
She would never be cured of that particular affliction...
"Today's the day! A day for deeds of greatness!" She yelled to the heavens, her tiny fist clutched tightly and held aloft. Then she quickly brought both hands to her chest as her eyes widened. "Eep! Gotta tinkle!"
Unaware of the danger, Harry strolled back into the castle, making it in time for dinner. But before he sat with his girls, he went over to the half-giant, who had half a table cloth tucked into the front of his shirt as a napkin. "Hey Hagrid?"
"'ow can I help yeh, 'arry?"
"I've got a huge surprise for you, if you can be awake and ready to leave tomorrow by seven," Harry responded, grinning widely.
"A surprise?" Hagrid repeated, comprehension dawning a few seconds later. "Yeh didnu', did yeh?" He sniffled.
"Just be ready to go," Harry said simply, patting the man's hand and trying not to watch the man's bottom lip tremble as he fought tears, making strange squeaking sounds that sounded like he was trying to talk, but couldn't quite make the words form.
Poor little Flitwick looked bewildered as the half-giant turned to the half-goblin and bawled into his shoulder.
"It's happening?" Hermione asked happily as she saw Hagrid's reaction. She knew something about his trial and Sirius' would be happening soon.
"Tomorrow morning," he said with a grin. They spent the next hour going over Harry's day before switching to what the girls did.
"I think the Thundercats will have something to show you soon," Luna said brightly. "They've been working very hard on it and are almost done."
"I've been wondering about that," Harry murmured. "I'm still getting reports, but it seems a lot of people learned how to keep them out, at least those that may have something to hide," he mused, looking briefly at Malfoy and the blank-faced Pansy. He frowned when he thought he saw a shimmer on the girl's cheek before he was drawn back to the conversation and forgot about it.
"They're still doing what you wanted, but ... well, doing something else in their free time," Luna explained, bending down to rest her chin on the table and open her mouth as her green beans did a conga line into her mouth. "I love animation charms," she stated happily before letting out a little burp.
Once their pudding was eaten, the Triad, along with Neville and his two girls, Ron and Lavender and Parvati got up to leave at the same time. They would be having their Defense meeting soon, so the rest of Harry's lieutenants had stood and met them at the doors of the Great Hall and began to walk to the first empty classroom they would come across to discuss what would be getting taught in about an hour.
But they never quite made it.
Ten yards out of the Great Hall, high-pitched, happy giggles seemed to come from everywhere at once, making the group look around themselves and a few of them already pulled out their wands, unsure of what was going on.
"Hello?" Cedric Diggory called out, being the oldest and his inner Hufflepuff making him decide to draw the attention of whatever was there.
The giggles sounded closer and louder.
"Who is it?" Harry called out, trying to get a feel for whatever was around them. However, other than confusion, a little fear and some agitation from his friends, all he felt was … mischief.
Half singing and half yelling the most famous portion of Flight of the Valkyries with nothing but "Nah, nah, nah nah, nah!," a tiny, brightly-colored figure dropped from the ceiling and directly onto Harry, who didn't have enough time to yelp in surprise, much less move. The impact drove both figures to the ground with an "oomph!" of displaced air before the smaller figure sat up and shook her head, looking at the people around her who were staring in muted shock. "Hi!" She cried out gleefully, waving in an over-exaggerated fashion before falling forward to glomp the dizzy Harry.
"Daddy!" She yelled, laughing and hugging him tightly. A moment's pause, and she practically leaped up to squeeze the stuffing out of Luna, who hugged back by sheer reflex. "Mummy-Luna! MWAH!" She kissed the shocked blonde's cheek before pouncing on the wide-eyed Hermione, giving the same treatment. "Mummy-Hermione! MWAH!"
"What?" Cedric asked, looking around in confusion as the green-eyed girl began to babble so quickly over her words that some of them actually sounded like they were being spoken over one another.
"And I learned to use the potty, but I had to remember to sit sometimes, and I had to remember to lift the lid sometimes, and sometimes I had to remember to breathe a lot, and sometimes-" the little girl rambled on, leaping once again back to Harry, or 'Daddy', as she seemed to proclaim. Repeatedly and loudly.
"Harry?" Hermione asked, still not sure she was processing what she was seeing. "What the hell is going on?"
"She's so cute!" Luna gushed, pinching the little girl's cheeks, making her smile and ramble all the faster until she suddenly went blue and and the rambling stopped with her mouth opened about as wide as it would open as she seemed to pause suddenly before she had to take in a deep, gasping breath as the little girl suddenly remembered the need to breathe. Then the rambling continued.
"And twirling and spinning are fun!" The little girl gushed before adopting a look of disgust. "Using the potty, not so much," she said at almost normal speeds before her expression brightened again. "And fingers are so fingery and wriggly!"
Harry raised himself from the ground, despite the little girl being stuck to him like a limpet with her tiny arms wrapped around his neck and her legs around his torso with a yell of 'NARGLE BACK RIDE!', and looked at the rambling figure to those surrounding him, which now included a fair number of confused students, then his girlfriends and then back to the little girl. It only took him a few moments to realize what he was hearing and figure out who the little girl was, though that didn't really help his current situation very well. "Uh, I can explain?" He asked more than stated, getting a raised eyebrow from Hermione and serene blinking from Luna while others just looked at him as if he were barmy or waited to hear what he had to say.
"And I have ten wiggly toes!" The girl proclaimed happily, kicking her feet out that were shoe and sock free so he could see her newest trick of wriggling her toes really fast without having to wiggle her fingers, too.
"This I have got to hear," Hermione stated flatly, looking at the beaming face of the little girl attached to her fianceé's back. She knew Harry had never slept with a woman, especially not four or five years ago, since the girl looked to be about four years old.
"Er," Harry mumbled, looking around at the growing sea of faces.
"Who are you?" Cedric asked curiously, looking at the little girl that was both cute and goofy-looking, but somehow adorable, all in one.
"Um, I don't really have a name," Hogwarts said somewhat bashfully, finally taking note of all the people around. She blushed and hid her face by putting it in the crook of her daddy's neck, suddenly realizing she was quite shy now that people could actually look at her. "Daddy, Mummy-Hermione and Mummy-Luna haven't named me, yet."
"Don't look at us," Hermione snorted, putting her hands up defensively. "I don't know any more about what's going on than you lot."
"Well, obviously our daughter from the future came back in time," Luna stated as if it were completely obvious, looking back at the little girl. "Did you come back so we could start thinking of what we would name you earlier?" She asked the girl. "I've always wanted to use the name Mister Snuggles, but I was thinking of giving that to Harry, and you're not a mister, anyway. Or if you are, I suppose you're very androgynous, at which point you're a very pretty little boy."
"I'm a girl!" Hogwarts stated somewhat affronted.
"You see?" Luna sighed, turning to Hermione. "Clothes just keep getting in the way."
"She's not from the future," Hermione stated, shaking her head. "Harry? What's going on?"
"Can we go visit Grammy and Grampy?" Hogwarts gasped as the idea struck her, making her squeal in delight and bounce on Harry's back, choking him with her arms around his neck slightly.
"Guys, this is Hogwarts," Harry explained. "I … may have given … uh, her, the idea of making a body a while ago."
"I'm only called Hogwarts when I'm the castle," the little girl sniffed disdainfully. "You have to name this me." A half a moment later, she gasped again. "Gah! Gotta remember to breathe!"
"What on earth is going on he- Oh!" McGonagall stopped in shock as she saw a tiny little girl, cute as a button, latched to the back of her most confounding student. "Hello there. And who might you be?" She watched in some amusement as the little girl crawled up Harry's back, making him squawk as she used his hair as a hand hold, to sit on his shoulders so she could hold out her hand to shake McGonagall's.
"I don't have a proper name yet, but you can call me Little Miss Potter. Or, since I'm part of Daddy, Mummy-Hermione and Mummy-Luna, I suppose you could mix up the names and call me 'Lunarie', but I don't think that's a word. But I'm not very old yet, so I might be wrong. But it's the closest I can come up with to a word with all the names."
McGonagall, much to the grudging respect of the Weasley Twins, merely blinked as she shook the tiny little hand before she looked at the three kids she knew were in the middle of this. "Do explain before I find myself handing out detentions like candy."
"Candy!" The girl proclaimed happily. "I've wanted to try candy since forever!"
Luna gasped in horror. "We didn't let you have candy in the future? Are we monsters?"
"Ma'am, can we go somewhere private?" Harry asked, wishing things didn't just seem to happen around him.
"People will just make up their own stories," Hermione explained, figuring out what had happened from what he already said. "Better to have it out here. The truth is crazy, but better than the rumors would be."
The choice was taken out of their hands when Hogwarts in girl form decided to speak up. "Daddy and I spoke, he suggested me making a body to inhabit so I can spend time with him, Mummy-Hermione and Mummy-Luna and I figured out how. Then I had to learn to walk, talk, breathe, potty and twirl and now here I am."
"Oh, thank the goddess," Luna breathed in relief. "I'm not sure I could handle a future where I didn't give my daughter candy."
McGonagall was suddenly even more confused, leading to Harry being a little more detailed when he explained the child was a personification of Hogwarts. "The castle is alive?" She asked, feeling lost.
"Hey! It's not my fault you couldn't hear me!" Hogwarts complained, leaning forward to rest on Harry's head like a table with her chin on her crossed arms. "I … woke up somehow before school started a few months ago."
"Let me get this straight," Lavender began, coming up and playing with Hogwarts' long hair. "You're the castle, Hogwarts, but you made a body so you could spend time with Harry, Hermione and Luna?"
Thinking it was a strange custom the girl was performing that didn't tend to happen within the school, Hogwarts reached her own hand out and ran her fingers through Lavender's hair as well while responding, "yup! Me and my family!" She chirruped. Then she bent over to look at her daddy from above, amusing herself with seeing him upside down. "Are you proud of me?"
Actually, he kind of was. It was hard not to be at least a little caught up in her happiness and with the knowledge that she figured this out all on her own just to be with him and his girls. He smiled brightly and then lifted her up, making her squeal in joy as she was lifted over his head and spun around so he could rest her on his hip like parents the world over, though it was mostly because his neck was beginning to hurt from the awkward position.
"You're pretty amazing, alright," he agreed, getting a very wet kiss on the cheek from the affectionate little girl with a loud 'MWAH'. Seeing Hermione looking at him with one of the looks that seemed to convey an entire conversation, essentially stating he was taking this very well for obviously having been a surprise to him as well, he simply shrugged. "It's sometimes shocking just what you can get used to," he told her in response to the look.
"This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home."
Harry and Hermione looked down to see Luna playing with the tiny toes that had been put in her general vicinity, to some delighted giggling.
"Mister Potter," McGonagall said, sounding as though she had a sudden and ferocious headache as she pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes with a sigh. "Just … Determine if this will cause problems and, if so, then deal with it before hand. If not, then … I don't know," she finished, shaking her head and going to tell the rest of the staff.
The little girl dipped her head down as she watched the Scotswoman leave so she could whisper into her daddy's ear. "I think it's past her nap time."
"I think we should go and talk to our new little friend somewhere private," Hermione said after a moment, looking between Harry and the apparent new addition to their family.
"Guys, can you all let everyone know the Defense session tonight is canceled?" Harry asked his lieutenants. "Er, something came up."
"Really, Potter?" Daphne asked somewhat rudely while rolling her eyes. "Something just 'came up', did it? We'll tell everyone, but we'll also want the story later. And please leave your unique brand of crazy wherever I'm not likely to find it, or it me." Shaking her head, Daphne left for the dungeons while Susan, Hannah and Lavender couldn't stop the comments amongst each other that Harry had essentially adopted a daughter since said daughter appeared to have adopted him and wasn't likely to let go any time soon.
The Triad walked to the Room of Requirement in moderate silence, if you ignored the rapidly speaking four year old on Harry's shoulders, where Harry explained what he knew. The portraits had been telling him to visit Hogwarts and he'd procrastinated, causing Luna to hold the little cuddle monster Hogwarts had become close to her, before the new girl in the group explained a history of what she had done to become mostly human.
She had been curiously proud of her achievement of learning to use the toilet and proclaimed her potty greatness more than a few times, while letting her parents, as she wouldn't think of them as anything else, know that she thought humans were awesome, but that she would definitely have left that part out when designing them and probably would have added another two legs because it made walking and running easier.
"You're telling my parents," Hermione told Harry after the tale was over and she had Luna and Hogwarts, now named 'Mia', laying in her lap and discussing their toes.
Saturday – March 19, 03:30 – Blackmarsh (Black Manor)
"Let's be on with it," Augusta growled, jabbing her wand at Sirius as the man situated the tabletop time-turner Harry had 'liberated' from the Ministry onto the desk in the little study they would be using for their departure into the past.
"Just a moment, you old prune!" Sirius growled back. "Forgive me if I'm not performing at my best. Someone decided they would go ahead and actually curse me so I'd lose my bits in a week and it's affecting my concentration! Plus, this isn't the sort of thing we want to get wrong, now, is it!" He asked rhetorically.
"Both of you stop arguing," Neville demanded. "It won't help my parents in any way and it just upsets all of us! I'm more annoyed that it's taken us this long to get here than it has to get them out of the hospital."
"I've told you," Sirius stated again with a sigh, tired of having to say it all over again despite understanding the need for the two Longbottoms. "We had to wait until me and the elves got this place habitable and, even more importantly, we had to make sure everything was ready for the ritual room. It had to be cleaned, then cleansed and I had to go through the wands here to find one that would work for me. On top of that, it only made sense for me to study up on this spell and be sure I knew what I need to do to counter it."
"What is there to learn?" Augusta asked, sitting on the couch where her comatose children were resting. "A few wand waves and a spell and it should be reversed. You never did explain why it takes three days, which is a part of my displeasure."
"What hit them is less spell and more enchantment," Sirius explained, knowing Augusta had not asked specifics beyond how it affected her children partly because it was unimportant and partly because family magic was always a touchy subject amongst purebloods. "That's what made many of the Black spells so sinister. It isn't a simple counter, which is also why Saint Mungo's would have had a hard time diagnosing it. It looks like spell damage, but it's an enchantment."
He set the time-turner for a week, looking around to ensure they had everything. "Anything else we need to get or do? This is our last chance before we activate this thing."
"Let's just get this done," Neville said, ready to make things happen.
"Okay, the notes say this model will take anything alive back to the date set on it up to a month that's in a sealed room. I know a week is cutting it close, but we don't want to risk pushing this thing to its limit."
"I am ready," Augusta stated quietly, going to the others after checks on the windows and doors were complete.
With the dials set, Sirius pressed the large button on top, causing a silvery-blue mist to escape the clock face and rush along the floor, walls and ceiling before the entire room began to sparkle with white, silver and blue sparkles before each sparkle seemed to erupt into a tiny burst of light, making everyone close and cover their eyes and stumble slightly as they felt like the world shifted just a smidgeon.
"That was certainly different," Augusta began, looking at her hands as the sparkles seemed to cling to her hands for a brief moment.
"It-" Whatever Neville was about to say lodged in his throat as he turned to speak to his grandmother and look at his parents, only for his face to contort into an expression of utter horror. First, his eyes landed on his very naked grandmother and all her … wrinkles. And in his agony of seeing his own grandmother naked, he moved his eyes to look away, only to then land on his mother. Reeling back, he spun as he began to involuntarily scream, only to look at a very naked Sirius, who was staring lecherously at the eldest Longbottom.
A decade in Azkaban was a long time.
They would take only a few minutes to realize that only living material, meaning their bodies and what was attached to them like hair, and the time-turner had gone back in time. They were without wands, clothes or the other things that had been in the room with them, such as Augusta's overnight bag.
And once they would finally stop cowering behind things in an attempt to cover themselves, and one burst of accidental magic from Neville who noticed Sirius' glance at his mother, despite being innocent and despite the fact that the Lord Black was as horrified to see one of his best friends that he saw as a sister naked, they would get to work as quickly as possible, with Augusta loudly proclaiming Sirius would be lucky if she didn't just let her curse run its course for such an injustice.
[Author's Note] – The Ball and a few other scenes were getting ridiculous when tacked on with all of this. Enjoy.