More Important Things
Petunia Dursley chatted pleasantly to the postman before checking through their mail, noticing that one item was handwritten on a stiff white envelope she opened it first and had to sit down as the breath had just been knocked out of her. She held in her trembling hands an invitation that had just rocketed her world out of its nice stable orbit. Vernon came over to determine what was wrong with his wife and discovered she couldn't even speak; he took the wedding invitation from her shaking grasp and looked nonplussed as a note fell to the floor.
Reading the names on the invitation had him joining the note, sitting on the floor beside his wife. Gathering his courage he reached for the slip of paper, unfolded it and began reading out loud.
My name is Emma Granger and we've actually met before though were not properly introduced at the time, our daughter Hermione was the girl that Vernon grabbed that day in the station where my husband pointed out that laying hands on our daughter was not a good idea.
I feel compelled to inform you that this action also cost your family their home and employment as Harry was prepared to forgive your treatment of him but NOBODY touches Hermione and gets away with it .I write this purely to convey that, should you decide to attend with the purpose of causing a scene on our daughter's wedding day Harry's wrath would know no bounds.
Harry has been my son for the last five years and is already married to Hermione in the magical world but while both have embraced magic they have continued adhering to their non-magical roots which is why he wants her to have the church wedding of her dreams.
For all that time they and their close friends have trained and fought a civil war that ended last week when Harry led an army against the British ministry, killing the evil wizard who had murdered his parents and tried to kill him. He's a hero throughout the world but to me he'll always be my son Harry, a man with more capacity for love than anyone I've ever met and I bless the day he became part of my family.
If you wish to attend I think we should arrange to meet for dinner, getting any awkwardness out of the way before the wedding and allowing time for you to become reacquainted. Harry is no longer the skinny, bespectacled little boy you remember but a proud warrior of whom there's already talk of erecting statues to.
Dudley wondered what was keeping his parents so he and his girlfriend Jasmine went to look for them, finding both sitting staring into space had him raising a questioning eyebrow until his father provided the answer.
"We've solved the puzzle of the mysterious Lord who's marrying that local girl next week, its Harry and we're invited to the wedding."
Dudley also ended on his bum sitting on the floor as his legs refused to bear even his greatly reduced weight, a bemused Jasmine lifted the invitation while Vernon hid the note as her eyes nearly popped out her head. "Hermione Granger is marrying some lord, do you know him?"
Dudley nodded before asking, "Do you know her?"
"We were in the same class at primary school, buck teeth, bushy hair and scarily intelligent so she was bullied something rotten by everyone. She went to some private boarding school for a year then the whole family just disappeared off the face of the planet, sold their dental practice and, come to think of it I can't even remember where they lived. The ridiculous story going around about this wedding is that some master criminal was after them and they had to flee the country, who could possibly believe that?"
"Believe it or not because it's actually true, he was after Harry and this Hermione Granger was his best friend, Harry is our nephew and had to leave the country so we moved as well." Petunia's statement had all the Dursleys going over the last five years of their lives.
Vernon had soon discovered what it felt like to be unwelcome in a family member's home; Marge was fine for a week or so before the continual bitching started. They had money saved but wanted to wait until he had a job before buying a house to try and reduce travelling to and from his new place of employment, with nothing turning up in four months they were getting desperate for a place of their own.
Marge had Dudley working in her kennels all summer and then every weekend while Petunia helped with the administration generated from running your own business before having her 'eureka!' moment.
In bed with Vernon that night she passed on her idea, "I know you're having difficulty finding a decent job without a reference but I had an idea today that might solve all our problems, Marge is her own boss with her business attached to her home so I was wondering if something like that couldn't work for us."
Vernon's eyes lit up and they spent most of the night discussing what type of business they could run as a family, three weeks later they had a bid accepted on a small grocers store in Crawley that included accommodation above the shop. The store was only four hundred yards from the now fidelius charmed home of the Grangers.
Dudley had worked his arse off helping set up their new home and shop; they discussed the situation as a family and had ploughed every penny they owned into this business so if it didn't work they were out on the street or back at Marge's.
Dudley had his eyes well and truly opened during his stay with Aunt Marge as the kindly lady who used to visit Privet Dive had been replaced by this alien being who ordered them about as if they were freaks. The revelation that this was how they had treated Harry was not lost on them, Dudley would quite happily carry cases of beans from the basement storage area and place the cans on the appropriate shelf as anything was better than continually cleaning out dog kennels.
It had been physically, financially and psychologically hard for the first few years but they had persevered and were now starting to reap the benefits, probably the hardest thing in the beginning was being pleasant to everyone who entered their shop as this was not a natural trait of the Dursley family but essential if you wanted repeat business.
Their store was now flourishing thanks purely to their own hard work and both Vernon and Dudley had shed the pounds to prove it but perhaps the biggest change was in their attitude, when Dudley had brought Jasmine home and introduced her as his girlfriend both Vernon and Petunia had been delighted. The girl's parents were frequent customers of their shop and really nice people but the Privet Drive Dursleys would never have accepted Jasmine because her skin was black.
Yes they were different people now so did they want to reintroduce Harry back into their lives? They would talk about it as a family later but in the meantime they needed to get up off their collective arses and go through to serve some customers.
Liberty stood waiting for fan-ghost Ginny to supply them with information like 'why were they here?' but the pubescent poltergeist was far too busy staring at Harry with ectoplasmic drool practically dripping off her chin. Nym beat Hermione to the punch, "Excuse me miss but we were told there was someone here who needed our help and could lead us to this basilisk, could you tell us who that is?"
It was impossible for a ghost to blush but that didn't mean Ginny didn't give it her best attempt, "That would be me, my body lies down in the chamber of secrets and I can't cross over while it remains there. By the time I became a ghost the castle was deserted and you are the first real people I've ever talked to, my spirit is tied to the grounds of the castle and can't move beyond its boundaries. The basilisk is in the chamber sleeping and has been since the students were killed, it won't come out again until it's called so the castle is perfectly safe at the moment."
She then got as close to Harry as ghostly possible without actually passing into his body, "I know you killed him Harry, I could feel my life force being set free from his evilness. You're so brave Harry to defeat him once again and I'm just sorry we never got to meet," she panted.
The idea of this pre-teen ghost salivating all over Harry had the members of Liberty battling to try and hold their laughter in as their leader squirmed and Hermione was ready to explode.
"Em miss, do you think you could lead us to this chamber?" Harry asked.
"Oh Harry, my name's Ginny and you should know I'll do anything for you," she attempted to take his hand and lead him through the still closed door which proved too much for Draco.
The blond wizard was on the floor, laughing his arse off at Harry's discomfort which opened the floodgates for the others. Soon only Hermione and Harry were left standing but when Ginny's head appeared back through the door with a serious pout on and enquired if Harry was coming Hermione lost herself to laughter as well.
They made their way through the castle with a severe case of the giggles as the fan-ghost chatted incessantly to Harry the entire time but they pulled up short when the team reached their apparent destination of a girl's bathroom.
"What is it with you and girl's bathrooms Harry?" sniggered Nym.
"Hey I'll have you know I fell in love with my wife in a girl's bathroom, she was in there with this right troll though," this had the effect of rendering Nym speechless and earned him a kiss from Hermione.
"Well done darling, you finally got the better of Nym's teasing," it also had Ginny fuming.
They entered the bathroom and Ginny shouted, "Hey Myrtle, get out here and meet my Harry, I told you he would be coming for me."
Before any of he group could say anything another ghost appeared from one of the cubicles and immediately ran her eyes hungrily over three of the most gorgeous guys she'd ever seen in her life or death. "Hello there boys, they call me moaning Myrtle and if you want to hang about you can find out why."
Suddenly Draco didn't find the situation quite so humorous, "Ginny why are we in here and how do we get out?"
Ginny was more concerned with Myrtle at the moment, in another situation it would have been funny watching a ghost trying to stamp her foot in anger, "I've told you for years that Harry's mine, you can have the other two. Harry you need to say 'open' in parseltongue to that sink there."
Harry had his arm around Hermione who was now grinding her teeth in an attempt to hold her temper, as this ghost's antics were increasingly less amusing, he approached the indicated sink and did the deed. Everyone watched as the sinks all moved to reveal a slide that led into the bowels of Hogwarts.
Myrtle batted her eyelashes, "If any off you boys get killed down there you're more than welcome to share my toilet, we could be nice and cosy in the u-bend."
Draco was into the tube like a ferret down a rabbit hole to escape from Myrtle before Nym regained control of the situation, "Nice of you to volunteer for point duty Draco so radio back with the situation, at the moment all our Intel is coming from a ghost whose not playing with a full bag of marbles and I'm not happy with that. This is a combat situation here so time to put our game faces on."
Draco's voice came back over their earpieces, "Guys this place is dark, damp, filthy and a couple of inches deep underfoot in what I hope are animal bones. Oh Merlin! Can you ask Harry's ghostly groupie just how big this bloody thing is?"
Harry turned to the ghost, "Ginny, just how big is this basilisk?"
"Oh it's at least sixty feet long with the wickedest fangs you've ever seen."
Susan was down the tube before anyone could say another word.
"She's not bloody joking guys, there's a shed skin here that's at least fifty feet, hey Suz nice of you to join me."
"There's a tunnel that leads to another door that Harry will have to open before you reach the chamber proper," Ginny said.
Draco's voice came back to them, "Can confirm that as well, large circular vault-type door covered in metal snakes. Need Harry down here before we can proceed any further."
"Ok, we'll be right down," Nym turned to the others "we really should leave someone up here in case anything goes wrong down there, any takers?"
One by one the other four silently jumped into the tube leaving Nym standing there herself, "I didn't think so," as she followed them down.
Liberty stood at the door and went over their strategy, Harry and Hermione would each fire a couple of CS gas grenades at it then fall back to there trusty magical Ruger MP9 submachine guns while the rest of them would be using their automatic rifles, loaded with the heaviest ammunition they carried to pour bullets into its head area.
They put on their infra-red goggles and cast bubble-head charms before Harry hissed at the door, it opened and torches lit along the walls giving Liberty points of reference as they slowly checked the chamber.
Harry scanned the chamber but except for Liberty nothing showed, he found that by looking down under his infra-red glasses he could see where he was stepping and advised the team to use this method to ensure they didn't trip over anything. He almost had a heart attack when a voice right beside him said "It won't come until it's called you know, I'm lying over there waiting on you Harry."
He cancelled the charm and lifted his glasses to see ghostly Ginny very close to him pointing at a small body lying up ahead; Harry approached and couldn't believe his eyes as the body was in perfect condition. The body of Ginny Wesley looked as if it had just fell asleep an hour ago and would wake up any minute refreshed and ready for class.
"I think there's some kind of time spell on this chamber as the basilisk has been here over a thousand years but had lived a long life and was about fifty feet long when Salazar brought it here." She gazed longingly at Harry, "It looks as if loves first kiss could awaken me."
This was the last straw for Lady Potter-Black, "Harry James Potter, if you even think about kissing a corpse that's been lying there for five years then you better practice puckering up to Hedwig because I won't be kissing that mouth for at least the next decade!" Hermione's voice may have been ice cold but they could all tell her anger was simmering just below the surface.
Harry tried to return everyone's focus to the task at hand, "Ginny where does the basilisk come from and how do I call it?"
"It comes out of that statue's mouth and you have to call in parseltongue saying something like 'I am heir to Salazar Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts four, come and do my bidding' and it will answer you."
Harry gently picked up the body and moved it over against the wall as Nym set up their lines of fire, fan-ghost Ginny went gaga and spun like a top while rising up to the roof.
"I'm in Harry Potter's arms, I'm in Harry Potter's arms – oh mum will be so thrilled."
Hermione certainly wasn't and looked ready to rip the basilisk's head off with her bare hands and stuff the gushing ghoul down its neck.
Harry stood beside her and checked everyone was ready before putting on his infra-red glasses, placing a bubble-head charm and called for the beast.
Through their bond Hermione found she could understand parseltongue though was unable to speak it so when the beast replied, "You are not my master and will die" she was already firing a CS canister into the mouth of the statue.
The shape that showed up on infra-red was enormous as the Potters fired the gas and retreated to give the rest of the team a clear shot, their MP9's were enhanced with magical magazines that held five hundred bullets each which should keep even a basilisk off them long enough for the heavier weapons to bring it down.
The noise in the chamber was terrible as the basilisk screamed from its burning eyes and the bullets slapping into its body, it was dead in less than two minutes. Liberty gave the beast the same chance those students had in the corridor, none at all.
Hermione smashed a vial of potion on the floor which absorbed the gas right out the air as the team removed their glasses to get a look at the beast, a slow whistle from Neville summed up all their feelings.
Ginny the ghoul floated down from the ceiling, "Oh Harry that was so impressive but really all you needed was a cock!"
Hermione exploded, "That's it! I'm going to exorcise the little slut right here and now."
Nym grabbed her before she could do anything but Ginny just continued as if Hermione didn't exist, "Tom had me kill all Hagrid's cockerels because the crowing of a cock is deadly to the basilisk."
All of Liberty turned in Hermione's direction as she blushed like a traffic light, "Hey I can't be expected to remember everything, I made a mistake so sue me!"
Nym's grip became a hug, "Hermione we're just glad you make mistakes like the rest of us, by my count that's your first."
Harry came over and kissed his wife, "Hermione darling to me you're still perfect." This was exactly the right thing to say as she quickly calmed down.
Harry removed his mirror, "Albus Dumbledore – hi professor the team is currently standing in the chamber of secrets at Hogwarts with a rather large but extremely dead basilisk."
This was met with total silence from the other end.
"We would appreciate it if you could come and bring Amelia and Griphook with you, the entrance is in a girls bathroom that's home to a ghost named Myrtle."
Albus was only capable of nodding as all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place for him and he ended the call to get moving.
"Harry when you take my body out of the chamber I'll be able to cross over, I can wait for you if you like."
Harry tried to let the young ghost down gently, "Ginny, my wife and I are soul bound and will be together in the next life as well as this one, I have plenty of room in my heart for family and friends but Hermione holds my very soul. I can never love another the way I love her so it would be wrong of me to ask you to wait for something that can never happen."
Albus raced into the fabled chamber to be met with the sobbing ghost of Ginny Weasley and a sight never seen before, the biggest bloody basilisk that ever lived.
Amelia, Remus and Griphook were right behind Albus and their reactions were identical to his, the sheer awe of the spectacle in front of them really didn't require words.
"Hi auntie, I think we can say Hogwarts is now safe to re-open," said Susan while the team packed their gear away.
Harry called Griphook over, "How much would you say this is worth and how would that gold usually be distributed?"
"I have no idea Harry other than to say it's worth a fortune, a basilisk of this size has never been found. As to the distribution Hogwarts would be due a slice but most of it would go to the finders, there really is no precedent for this." The goblin replied.
After a brief conversation with Hermione over their bond Harry made a proposal, "How about this, one third to Hogwarts to get the place up and running, one third placed in a fund to help the victims of this war and the last third to the finder's family, the Weasleys."
Amelia objected to the split, Draco and Susan were getting married at Christmas and she felt they deserved a share along with the other members of the team. Even sharing one-third between Liberty would set the young couple up for married life. "Harry I think you're being overgenerous there, the team took down the beast so should share in the spoils."
Harry saw right through her and smiled, he went over and put his arm on her shoulders, "Amelia if this is what I'm doing for strangers then I don't think my friends will ever have to worry."
Amelia actually blushed like a schoolgirl at having been so easily read by Harry, "There's nothing wrong in caring for your family Amelia and Susan and Draco are family to me as well, the Weasleys have it pretty hard with loosing both their youngest children, Percy's trial is tomorrow and the twins told us they haven't been home for three years after their father had to pull them off Ron when he spouted his pureblood pish. A lot of fences will need mending before this country is back up and running so if a little gold can help then I'm all for it."
Griphook walked over with a little black book in his hand, the T. M. Riddle on the front was all the clue the goblin needed. "I think this is how he did it, the girl would write in this and he would answer worming his way a little further into her soul every time. She would have needed a pretty strong anchor to resist him."
Ginny's ghost was still crying, "I'm sorry Harry, when you got married Tom told me he would help me win you back. I was dead before I realised he was lying to me."
"No one blames you Ginny, Voldemort fooled the whole country for years. I would have liked the chance to get to know you as I think you would have made a terrific friend."
A ghostly blush covered her face, "Thanks Harry, I think I could have lived with that but now we'll never know."
They watched as Albus conjured a cover for the body and headed towards the door, ghostly Ginny kissed Harry on the cheek before fading into nothing.
Remus spoke to Amelia, "I think we need to get Cissi and Minerva down here along with all the press we can muster, it's imperative that people know Hogwarts will be safe and having the new head and depute standing in front of the basilisk is about the best way I can think of."
"Ok people the press are coming, that's our cue to leave," yelled Nym "And we all know Draco is just dying to chat to that cute ghost Myrtle again."
The group groaned at Nym's sense of humour but didn't intend to wait around for the press, Liberty had just completed what they all hoped would be their last mission.
Arthur Weasley looked round the figures sitting at what had been the hub of a very happy family, there were no smiles at the Weasley kitchen table today as they had just buried their youngest member. The gentle wizard couldn't help but think he'd failed Ron somehow as the twisted and bitter man he had been growing into bore no resemblance to the remaining members of the family.
He had four sons sitting round the table with the missing one, Percy going on trial tomorrow to determine his level of involvement in the ministry's crimes. He'd been one of the wizards on top of the steps but Arthur prayed his authority-obsessed son hadn't been involved in any of the atrocities that were carried out in the ministry's name.
His gaze rested on his wife and though Arthur blamed himself for Ron he knew Molly had never forgiven herself for Ginny, it took her two years to finally admit their daughter wasn't coming back to them.
He was sure his wife had some kind of breakdown but with his department at the ministry being no-longer needed as misuse of muggles was actually encouraged, he found himself forced into retirement with a pittance of a pension that didn't allow for expensive medical care, it barely allowed them to put food on the table.
Fred and George found themselves having to flee the country after violently disagreeing with Ron's pureblood ranting and only Lord Potter-Black's education budget allowed them to continue living and attending school in France. The new way for advancement in their pureblood society had been to inform on a family member and since the twins couldn't bear to be in the same house as Ron anyway this was the first time they'd been back since.
The following summer Ron arrived home leading his reward by her collar, Molly was most definitely not in her right mind and just treated Elizabeth like a daughter-in-law who she thought needed fattening-up. Molly was right but the reason she was so skinny soon became apparent as Ron ate most of her food after he cleared his own plate. This year he had arrived with Ann as well and they had been stretched to the limit trying to feed everyone with Ron still eating everything within his reach.
They had received a letter from the girls dissolving them of any blame for their son's behaviour and thanking both he and Molly for the care they were shown at the burrow, Arthur had been in tears for hours at that.
They were all sitting quietly hoping they weren't going to have to go through this again when the noise of someone aparating outside had all the men reaching for their wands while Molly went to put the kettle on, a well known voice shouting 'hello the burrow' calmed their fears as Albus Dumbledore had come to visit.
The ancient wizard felt every one of his years bear down on him with the emotional intensity of his task as he carried Ginny's body into the house and laid her gently on the kitchen table, the only sound heard was Molly's favourite teapot hitting the floor and shattering into thousands of little pieces as it slipped from her numb hands.
Albus really didn't know what to say in this situation so just stuck to the facts, "Liberty entered Hogwarts today and killed a sixty foot basilisk in Slytherin's chamber of secrets before recovering Ginny's body. She'd been possessed by a dark magic item that held Voldemort's horcrux and he used Ginny's life energy to return, that information is classified and won't be published as the unsuspecting girl never had a chance against the dark lord."
Albus waved his wand to remove the cover off Ginny and then had to quickly use it again to stop Molly hitting the floor as she fainted, he levitated her through to the other room and placed her on the sofa while trying not to intrude on the soul racking sobs coming from the five grown men in the other room.
He was soon joined though by a very angry Bill Weasley, "I know what a horcrux is and someone had to give it to Ginny, I want a name Albus."
"It was given to her by Lucius Malfoy who has already paid for it with his life and family name."
Bill was still looking for someone to lash out at, "He had a son, that will do for me."
Albus shook his head, "Bill, Draco has been a Black and fighting for the light since before Ginny died, he's a member of Liberty and was down in that chamber to kill the beast and recover Ginny's body."
Bill felt Fred's hand on his shoulder, "Listen Bill, George and I beat ourselves up over this for ages, wondering if we hadn't left Hogwarts would we have been able to save her. We eventually had to reach the decision that we were not to blame, we now know it was Voldemort and Lucius Malfoy. Draco isn't anything like his father and both of us were there when they took down a dozen death eaters that attacked at Harry's seventeenth birthday party. Trust me when I say they took them down, they did it in under ten seconds and none of the death eaters got back up."
George had joined them, "We spoke to Draco at that party and he's definitely one of the good guys, the name Black has been turned to the light by him, Harry and that other girl Nym. Sexiest, most beautiful woman I've ever seen but you just know if you step out of line she could rip your head off and spit down your neck. These guys are a team Bill and you seriously don't want to mess with them, especially when you're in the wrong."
Albus could see the twins were getting through their brothers grief driven anger, "I also have seen them in action, they went through an entire camp like ghosts and again none of the death eaters got back up. I was there hoping to try and sneak a couple of the prisoners away while they rescued the entire camp and got them all to safety in a few minutes. I had the honour of standing shoulder to shoulder with them when we re-took the ministry and Draco, Neville and Harry are three of the finest young men this country has produced. Draco is also marrying the minister's niece at Christmas while his mother is the new headmaster of Hogwarts as Minerva opted to regain her old position. I know what it feels like to want to lash out in anger Bill, I wanted that sadistic, murdering liar Snape to suffer so much I could taste it. When Snape got the drop on Hermione at the ministry Draco killed the man who was his godfather without a second's hesitation."
Molly woke and began sobbing, "Oh Albus, thank you for bringing my little girl home. Every night I still have visions of her lying alone in some dark, damp place and wondering why her mum doesn't come for her or the nightmare of the poor dear being savaged by some unknown beast. She looks so serene and at peace, please will you thank Lord Potter-Black and the rest of his team for allowing us to say goodbye to our little girl properly."
Arthur now had his arms round Molly, "Albus how can she be in that condition?"
"We think it's something to do with the magic in the chamber though whether it will continue now that the basilisk is dead we don't know. I must also tell you that Liberty have awarded a third of the gold raised from the carcass of the basilisk to the Weasley family as Ginny was the one who found it, the rest is going to help Hogwarts restart and as aid for the victims of this war."
Bill was now looking embarrassed for his earlier outburst, "Albus even a small basilisk could generate a fortune in potion ingredients alone, you said this thing was sixty feet long?"
"Yes it's easily the biggest basilisk the world has ever seen, Griphook couldn't even put an estimate on how much gold it would generate and that's saying something for a goblin."
Arthur hated doing this but needed to know, "Albus what have you heard concerning Percy?"
The old wizard choose his words carefully, "Our initial investigations have Percy tagged as a low level collaborator, he did what he was told but didn't seem to be involved in anything that would cost him his life. We have been attempting to get people who fall into this bracket to work for the benefit of the magical community for a set period of time rather than sending them straight to Azkaban and it looks likely that this will be the outcome with your son."
Arthur sagged back onto the sofa with relief while Molly kissed Albus on the cheek before joining Charlie who was still sitting with Ginny, the Weasleys would be having another funeral after all but this one was a blessing as they finally got the chance to say farewell to their only daughter and lay her to rest in peace.
The Dursleys were in the back of a fabulous limousine on route to meet with Harry, they had finally decided to attend and Dudley had dug his heels in claiming that if he had anything to do with it Jasmine would be joining their family so might as well find out what she was letting herself in for. The girl was excited and a little worried as, while she hadn't been the worse at bullying Hermione when she was at primary school she had certainly been involved. The chauffer had handed them each a personal invitation to Potter Manor but what they didn't know was that without this they wouldn't even see the building.
The limo windows were tinted to ensure that the occupants couldn't discover it's method of travelling and only twenty minutes later it pulled up in front of what could only be described as a mansion. They walked gobsmacked up the stairs and were greeted at the massive double doors by Emma and Dan Granger, "Welcome to Potter Manor, Harry and the rest will be right down. I hope you don't mind but everyone at dinner tonight has lived with us so long we all consider one another family and always try and eat at least one meal together every day."
At the sound of laughter they looked up and watched as the seven members of Liberty joked their way down the sweeping staircase and all three Dursleys felt like antelope that had been invited to dinner by a pride of lions. Just the way these people moved screamed predator and proclaimed 'mess with us at your peril'.
Harry walked over to the stunned group with his arm round Hermione's waist, "Good evening everyone, glad you could make it." He shook hands with Vernon and Dudley and kissed Petunia and Jasmine on the cheek before carrying out the introductions.
Jasmine was totally out of her depth, the invitations had said casual dress but these four young women redefined the meaning of that term, they were simply stunning and obviously very close leaving Jasmine feeling like an outsider from another world.
Hermione sensed this and took the girl by the arm, "I'm borrowing Jasmine to discover all the gossip I've missed out on, coming girls?"
They led the girl away while Draco and Neville headed into the games room leaving Harry with the Dursleys and Grangers, he showed them into another reception room and had them seated before speaking, "Dudley I'm assuming this is serious between you both or you wouldn't have brought Jasmine here tonight."
Dudley was having a hard time equating the man in front of him as Harry but one look into those eyes and he felt compelled to tell the truth, "I'm saving up to buy her an engagement ring before asking her to marry me after we finish college."
Harry appeared deep in thought for a few seconds when in fact he was discussing his next move with his wife, "Dudley if there's one thing I've learned it's to live life for today because you never know what tomorrow brings. Jake!" The elf appeared wearing a glamour, "I need you to go to Gringotts and bring me the case that Hermione liked so much the first time she saw it and why haven't I seen my goddaughter today?"
Jake was beaming with pride, their daughter was born just as they re-took the ministry and the couple had asked for permission to name the baby 'Liberty', Harry had agreed if he and Hermione could be the godparents making Jake and Sophie even prouder than they already were with baby Libby becoming the apple of everyone's eye.
"She's slept most of the day my Lord but I'm sure Sophie could bring her by when she wakes in the middle of the night." He popped away leaving Harry smiling and shaking his head, "Nym is really a bad influence on them."
"Harry saying you've changed is probably the biggest understatement of the century, just what have you been doing?" Petunia asked.
"That's a story for another time when we've got a week or two to spare," Jake had popped back, "Dudley if Jasmine is going to be family then are you ready to make it official?"
Harry opened the case that Jake had given him and his cousin was dumbstruck, "These are rings that have been in my family for generations and you're family Dudley, you can choose one for her or let Jasmine choose for herself, assuming she says yes of course," Harry joked.
Petunia had tears streaming down her cheeks, they'd treated this boy terribly yet here he was helping her Dudley, she could have handled him shouting at her better than this which was tearing her heart out with remorse at her treatment of her sister's son.
Dudley was now shaking, "I think it would be better if she chose her own ring but now I'm terrified that I'll mess up asking her, how did you manage to ask Hermione?"
Harry gave a rye smile, "I was eleven and didn't think I was going to see the next morning never mind twelve, Hermione had to go and get help while I faced the monster that killed my parents so I just took her in my arms and kissed her. A few weeks later we were becoming betrothed when our magic took over and married us, we had our fifth wedding anniversary last month and share a soul bond that lets me know Jasmine is spilling all your secrets to the girls Dudley."
The Dursley's looked from Harry to the Grangers in disbelief, "Harry always tells the truth and as you can imagine I was not too happy at my daughter being married before becoming a teenager, I have to admit though that I was wrong and he's the best thing ever to happen to our family and as much my son as Hermione is my daughter."
Dan's ringing endorsement led to Vernon speaking for the first time that evening, "Harry why are you doing this for Dudley?"
Harry looked his uncle directly in the eyes, "Dudley is serious about Jasmine but it's against our law to tell her about magic unless she's family, putting a ring on her finger helps both of them out and allows us to have open discussions. We all lived in New York for five years and everyone here tonight is quite comfortable in both worlds so please don't feel pressured into this, it's your choice Dudley."
"I so want to do this, I just hope she doesn't freak out!"
At the use of that word all the Dursleys had a sharp intake of breath but Harry was very calm, "Guys I've had to killed people with my bare hands, that word has no power to hurt me anymore. I've just asked Hermione to bring Jasmine in so get ready cousin."
Jasmine was a lot calmer by the time she returned, these girls were not only beautiful and extremely close but good company as well. Hermione seemed to bear her no ill will and was genuinely interested in what she'd been doing since they last met. She noticed the tension in Dudley the second she entered the room and his mother had all the signs of having been crying, Jasmine was starting to wonder just why she'd been quickly separated from her boyfriend when he walked over to her and dropped to one knee.
"Jasmine you are the best thing that's ever happened to me and I want to be with you for the rest of my life, will you marry me?"
The room was totally silent as everybody awaited Jasmine's answer, "You know I want to Dudley but I have to ask why here, why now?"
Dudley was still on one knee trying to make his mouth work, "Harry has offered to supply the ring."
Jasmine now gave Harry a questioning look, which he couldn't ignore; "There are secrets that only family are allowed to know, putting on Dudley's ring makes you family allowing us to talk freely about anything. Dudley wouldn't have brought you here tonight if he didn't care deeply about you and is already saving to buy a ring, I'm just helping my cousin out by offering a family ring."
Jasmine's brow furrowed in concentration, "You're not all vampires or something?"
Harry laughed, "No vampires but you might find the odd werewolf thrown in for good measure."
She looked back down at a now perspiring Dudley and smiled, "Yes Dudley I'll marry you but you get the job of telling my mum and dad."
It was a relieved Dudley who got up and kissed his new fiancée before leading her over and opening the case, Jasmine almost swooned when she saw the choice available. Her eyes were immediately drawn to one that had a pear shaped diamond in an elegant setting of white gold, it was exquisite and her parents combined annual salaries would probably just manage a down payment on the ring of her dreams.
Dudley noticed where her eyes kept returning and a quick nod from Harry had him removing it from the case and slipping it onto Jasmine's finger. The ring shrunk to fit but she was so mesmerised by the moment that she didn't even notice, Dudley got another kiss before everyone was given a chance to view the ring in its rightful setting.
Harry watched as both Hannah and Susan kept returning for another look inside the case, "Girls you know I think of you as family and should any gentlemen be lucky enough to have you fall in love with them I would be honoured if you chose one of these rings."
"Well, guess that's our cue Nev!"
"Ok Draco but since they decided the wedding date already shouldn't they be the ones doing the asking?"
"Do you really want to tell your kids that the wife asked for your hand?"
"Ok let's do this."
Both pulled ring boxes from their pockets, knelt before the girls and asked in unison, "Will you marry me?" before squealing in pain as Nym twisted their ears.
"Ok you pair of jokers now try kneeling before the right girl or so help me Merlin I'll convince them to say no."
"Aw Nym, I wanted to see what was in the box in case I changed my mind," joked Susan.
"I don't mind you having a try of my ring but keep your hands off my Neville!" Both girls burst out laughing before their young wizards knelt and did it properly.
Nym felt a pair of arms encircling her from behind as she wiped a tear away, "Are you ok?" Harry asked.
She leant back into him, "Yea, I just think I'm never going to find someone for myself. I mean I'm beautiful, talented, athletic and thanks to you little brother filthy rich, what chance have I got of finding someone?"
Harry smiled and kissed her cheek, "You forgot modest with a great sense of humour."
She twirled round and hugged him, "Hey Harry, you're getting better at the comebacks, must be all the practice I give you."
He was saved from any more teasing by Jake announcing that dinner was served.
Jasmine sat at dinner with the casual explanation that magic was real and she was surrounded by witches and wizards ringing in her ears but it was to the ring on her finger that her attention kept returning. The girls mind had equated that the ring was real therefore magic must be real, the plates appearing and disappearing occasionally made the Dursley's jump but Jasmine found it to be the most exciting night of her life.
Dudley asked the question that the whole wizarding world wanted answered, "Now that the war is over what will you do?"
It was Nym who jumped n first with an answer, "Take a vacation!" This drew some laughter until people saw she was serious, "We've put our lives on the line time and time again, seen things no one has a right to see and been forced into taking the type of actions that none of us would have considered even a few years ago. We have to try to get some normality back into our lives and our choices would appear to be lying on some strangers couch and spilling our guts to find out were repressing memories – Doh! The other option is to be there for each other helping those who have a bad day by understanding exactly what their going through. Personally I choose to have Harry rub sun tan lotion on me while listening to the sound of the surf during the day and dance with these gorgeous young men in the evenings. Harry has just divided the Black fortune between me and Draco, Neville is very wealthy in his own right and the Potters here are bloody loaded, it's time for us to be carefree and celebrate the fact that we came through this in one piece."
Nym found herself receiving hugs and kisses from the rest of the team and the Grangers before Vernon asked a question that had been bugging him since they got their invitation. "Harry how did you find us? Very few people from our old life knew where we went."
Harry actually appeared embarrassed, "When you bid for that shop we made sure the bid was accepted because it was right next to an area we already had under observation, your shop is only a few hundred yards from mum and dad's house and the plan was to put you there if you needed rescuing. You are my last remaining blood relatives and they would have given a lot to get there hands on the Dursleys, I had you guarded night and day to make sure that wouldn't happen."
Petunia was really struggling with her emotions, "Why Harry?"
Harry looked at his aunt as if she was crazy, "We repeatedly risked our lives to rescue people who were strangers to us, do you think we would leave you to be tortured and killed?"
She ran from the room in tears as that was apparently what she did think, "I'll go Harry," said Emma as she followed the crying woman out the room.
Petunia was holding on to the banister at the bottom of the stairs, not knowing where to go as Emma led her to the Granger's first floor bedroom and into their own bathroom.
Petunia was washing her face as she spoke to Emma, "Is Harry doing this for revenge because we treated him terribly as a child?"
Emma sat the woman down beside her, "Harry is the kindest, most generous man I've ever met who doesn't have a deceitful or dishonest bone in his body. I've watched him and the group grow into the people you see now, I've cried when they went on missions and wept when the returned safely. I love him like my own and he wants your family to be part of his life which is why I'm sitting here talking to you, my instincts are to scratch your eyes out for hurting my son but that's not what Harry wants. He's seen enough death and torture to last him a lifetime so is holding out the hand of friendship to the Dursleys, please understand I am not. For a mother to do that to her sister's child is so wrong it makes my blood boil but for the love of my son I will give you another chance, hurt him again and nothing will stop me. You've built a nice business and home for yourself that I could destroy with a few home truths in some well chosen ears, I know these people and you would be run out of Crawley. You've been given a second chance that I don't think you deserve but if you can't accept Harry's lifestyle tell him now before you break his heart again."
Strangely enough this was just what Petunia needed to hear, Harry's forgiveness was eating away at her because this woman was right – she didn't deserve it. "Thank you for your honesty, I actually appreciate it. I would now like to return downstairs and hope I haven't spoiled anyone's evening."
They re-entered the dining room and Harry immediately got to his feet to check everything was alright and ended up in an uncomfortable hug with his aunt, "I know sorry isn't good enough but it's all I can offer at the moment, I hope we can start over and get to really know one another and your beautiful wife to."
Harry could only nod at his eventual acceptance by his family, he thought that he was over that but a small corner of his mind still craved their approval. Drama over they moved through to the lounge for drinks and coffee, Harry pulled his cousin aside, "Dudley would you stand with me at my wedding? The three girls are Hermione's bridesmaids and while I have Draco and Nev I could use a third."
"Harry I would be honoured, I just want you to know I'm no longer that arsehole you grew up with and anything I can do you only have to ask."
Lying in bed that night holding his wife Harry felt as if he'd exorcised some of the ghosts that haunted his childhood, Hermione knew exactly how he felt because she had the same feelings after dealing with Jasmine.
"Did mum have words with Petunia?" Harry asked.
"Oh I think we can assume that's a safe bet, I also saw dad being rather intense with Vernon in a corner. They're struggling to understand where we're coming from."
Harry held her tighter, "I know love but we've seen where hate can lead, if I can genuinely forgive them then it removes a dark stain from my soul. We'll all carry the burden of the people whose lives we took till our dying day but this was like a sore that could have festered, instead the wounds have begun to heal and may even grow into something that's healthy."
"Harry you will never go dark as your family and friends just wouldn't allow it, speaking of family I think it's about time we started adding to ours."
"Now that my brilliant wife is one of the best ideas you ever had."
Every male on the beach over the age of twelve thought Harry Potter was the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet, the wizard in question just happened to agree wholeheartedly with that opinion. He'd just finished applying sun tan lotion to his pregnant wife and was now rubbing it into Nym's back while thinking she really knew her stuff, this was way better than lying on some physiatrist's couch. They were at the Potter house in Australia with the two honeymooning couples who'd missed coming down to the beach again today, there seemed to be some friendly rivalry going on as to who was going to get pregnant first between Susan and Hannah with both husbands very willing accomplices.
They had spent so much time as a group looking out for one another that when they were separated for any length of time they started to worry how the others were. Harry and Hermione's honeymoon was only five days old when they contacted Nym to see if the rest of the group wanted to join them in Italy, such was the state of agitation amongst the five that they arrived in time for dinner and the whole group visibly relaxed.
They didn't live in one another's pockets but each member of Liberty had forged bonds with the other six that bordered on a pathological need to ensure they were safe, this had gotten them through the war and while they were sure it would decrease in intensity over time none of them thought it would ever leave them totally and plans were already being discussed to live close and raise their children together.
Nym let out a sigh of contentment as Harry's strong hands rubbed the oil into her shoulders, this really was better than anything she could have hoped for. When she was growing up she had few friends and was also well acquainted with the word 'freak', moving to New York had seen the end of 'Tonks', the brash girl with more front than a Vegas hotel. Nym was a creation of Harry's with his unconditional affection forcing her sixteen year old self to take a long hard look at the roads before her. Having people like you for who you are rather than who you can transform into was a confidence boosting revelation, being 'big sis' to the Potters changed her life forever
This had given her life focus other than the dream of being an auror and she took her new role very seriously, Nym had effortlessly enveloped the other four into her new family as they came along. Harry and Hermione were the heart and brains of their group but Nym was its soul, she was the one who pushed them the hardest and installed into their very being that the most important thing was they all came home after a mission.
That was the mantra that served Liberty so well through the war but if it now meant they got nervous when the only people they trusted to watch their backs weren't there then that was a small price to pay for what they had gained. Nym had been offered any job she wanted by her mentor, Amelia, and Jim Brogan actually had an 'Elite Operative' badge minted with her name on it saying he considered her to be on extended leave and her office was waiting on her. She'd also turned down offers from numerous cute guys because she didn't feel ready to pull away from the group enough to give a serious boyfriend the attention they would deserve and only someone who'd been through what they had could ever hope to join it.
Nym really was happy with her lot, spending the day with the couple she loved and whose child she'd be godmother to. Tonight she would be dancing with three gorgeous guys, the fact they were all married and she would go to bed alone didn't bother her too much. The right man would come along someday and meanwhile her surrogate siblings treated her like a princess.
Hermione glanced over at her husband as he was broadcasting his thoughts again, Harry was worried that Nym was putting her life on hold for them. She knew he would miss Nym terribly when she does leave but Harry didn't seem to understand that Nym felt the same way about them. All seven of them were the only child their parents had but the bonds between them were stronger than anything short of marriage, when you know that these people would step in front of a bullet for you it's a pretty humbling experience.
The last time Harry broadcast as strong as this was as she walked down the aisle and he just kept repeating 'I'm so lucky' over and over again. She had to threaten him with a duel assault from mum and Nym to get him calmed down enough to take part in the service. The wedding was more for their parents sake than anything else, her dad looked so proud as he walked her down the aisle with her mother as expected in floods of tears.
Jasmine had phoned to say there was a real buzz all over Crawley after she casually let slip that she'd met Hermione and her future husband on the night she became engaged to Dudley, the groom's cousin.
Hermione was aware that by 'buzz' she meant total disbelief that she was getting married at all, far less to her Harry, she could see the gaping mouths of her former classmates as she entered the church on her fathers arm. This was nothing though to the gasps as she left on Harry's, the muggle photographer had a hard time judging his exposure as the couple were glowing on the steps of the centuries old church.
A nervous Draco's best-man speech was unintentionally hilarious as he tried to tell the story of their first meeting in that bathroom but had replaced the troll with a wolf for the non-magical in the audience, unfotunately he forgot to remove the club from the order of events. The muggles in the crowd must have assumed he was on drugs as the wolf wrecked the bathroom before Harry jumped on his back and shoved a stick up its nose while those who knew the real story had tears of laughter running down their cheeks.
Their first dance together was truly magical and both found it safer to stay on the dance floor to avoid all the hangers on that just seemed to appear out the woodwork.
She was quickly pulled out of her daydreaming and took a sharp intake of breath.
Nym could feel Harry stiffen and was immediately alert for danger, she had her wand strapped to her thigh in an invisible holder while another one at her wrist held a razor sharp blade. She turned her head to look at Harry and saw tears fill those startlingly green eyes, he answered her unasked question.
"The baby just kicked for the first time!"
The three were soon in a group hug with each unable to contain their joy at becoming a mum, dad and godmother this summer.
Harry may have had tears on his cheeks as he hugged the two witches but the thrill of feeling a new life moving through the bond he shared with his wife was awe inspiring. His thoughts travelled back to the day it all started when he told Minerva there were more important things in life, this was definitely one of them.
A/N Thanks for reading.