Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his whole universe belongs to J. K. Rowling and her associates. I'm just having a good time playing with it all, and I, unlike the owner, don't make a penny from it.
A/N: My apologies for the wait. My muse disappeared on me a while ago, and when she came back and saw what I'd written in her absence, she committed suicide.
A number of connoisseurs recognized the tip of the hat to Doghead Thirteen in ch. 2. He'll pop up again from time to time. He's the creator of 'Harry MacFeegle' and 'Harry Johnson', not to mention the utter awesomeness that is 'the Book of Dobby'.
The Scottish Connection
Freedom, plans and talks
It was Sunday morning, and Harry was slowly coming to, after a Saturday night that had run a little later than it was supposed to. As the synapses that controlled his higher brain functions slowly began firing, he started cataloguing the differences from yesterday morning that he could hear, smell, and feel, even before he considered opening his eyes. Things like a luxurious bed; a pleasant temperature in the room; the scent of lilacs in his nostrils; and something heavy, warm and soft draped over him, where he was certain he'd had a light blanket when he went to sleep.
When his hands prodded the form on top of him, they encountered what he believed was a feminine posterior, and a lovely one at that, encased in what had to be a pair of the tiniest knickers known to man. Roaming further, the hands crossed a lot of warm, smooth skin, and lastly, they found two soft, firm mounds which sent his senses into overdrive.
'Damn!' he thought. 'I hope I'm not seeing brown when I open my eyes'. Internally counting down from three, he quirked an eye open. 'Blonde. Phew! I'm safe', he mentally congratulated himself. 'Would've taken some explanation if she'd been a brunette'. He shivered. It wasn't that the concept of waking up under a severely under-dressed Sally or Isobel was repugnant to him in any way. Quite the opposite, really. He was a teenaged boy after all, and they were both really nice, very pretty, and very healthy girls, but the thought of what the young lady currently on top of him would do, should she find him in this position with one of her cousins, was downright terrifying.
Thinking a little further, it dawned on him that his relief might be a tad optimistic. He was safe from Katie's terrible vengeance alright, but how about her parents? There was an outside chance, they wouldn't appreciate finding their near-naked daughter in bed with him, regardless of him clearly remembering going to bed alone.
Hearing the muffled sounds of a household waking up, he decided to wake up Katie before someone came in and screamed bloody murder at them.
"Katie..." He regretfully moved his hands to safer areas, and gently shook his 'comforter'. "Wake up." She made an indecipherable sound while burrowing her face deeper into his neck, and ground her... assets... into his torso, causing him an immediate - and rapidly growing - problem.
"Don't want to," she rasped. Then she giggled, and her breathing seemed to change. "Feels like you're up already."
Harry groaned softly. "Of course I'm up. I've got the sexiest witch in Gryffindor, if not the whole bloody school, lying on top of me, wearing two square inches of fabric. There's no way, any male with working bits wouldn't be up in my situation." He slid his hands down to her derrière and squeezed, making her moan. "Now can we get going, before I do something to you that I'm not quite ready for, and your dad definitely wouldn't approve of? I'd rather not get myself killed by him on my first day here." She wiggled her posterior firmly into his hands, not helping his growing problem at all.
"I'd much rather lie here all day. I'm really comfy like this." She nibbled his neck, and his problem got worse still. "Oh... and if you intend to stay with us, you'd better learn that it's mum who's the dangerous one, and she knows I'm here."
Harry winced. "Now you tell me?! Do you think that I'll at least be allowed time to write out a will?"
"Don't be such a sissy, Harry," the amused girl retorted. "You can stand up to Dumbledore and his Order; the Dark Lord and his minions; the Minister and his lackeys; and Amelia Bones and her monocle - and you're scared of little old mum? She loves you already and, as I said, she knows I'm here."
"Easy for you to say. It's not your life on the line here," he pointed out.
"Pussy!" she giggled. "She's not going to kill you, you know. Castrate you with a wooden spoon is a definite option, but she'd never kill you. Uncle Albert likes you, and he might get a tad upset if she goes and makes you dead," she finished with another giggle, as she rose in all her glory to straddle him. She wiggled a little. "I really like your idea of rising in the morning," she sighed.
By now, Harry had rallied most of his vital functions, and a thought surfaced: 'This isn't like Katie at all. I wonder what's happening'.
"What's going on, Sunshine?" he asked quietly. "Why....?" He gestured helplessly. "This isn't like you." She flinched.
"Why do you ask, Harry," she asked, more than a little scared. "Don't you like what you see?" He sighed.
"Katie... I'm fifteen, male, and looking at my gorgeous girlfriend, who just happens to be sitting almost naked on top of me - in my bed no less. Of course I like what I see. I just want to know why... Why this? Why now? Why here?" She flushed and looked anywhere but at him. Harry sighed. "Katie... Please."
"Mum woke me up around two because you had a nightmare," she murmured. "She said, I would probably be a better choice than her to go check on you."
"Thanks. You must've done a good job. I don't even remember waking up." He brought his hand up to caress her cheek. "But there's more to it than that, isn't there? I distinctly remember you wearing a nightie when we said goodnight, so why don't you now?" Katie looked down, flushing once more. Harry sighed again. He suspected he knew the reason now.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Eliza, Iain, and Sirius were finishing their breakfast.
"So, what's on today's agenda," Sirius asked noone in particular.
"Well," Iain pondered. "I guess Albert will come over at some point. I'm sure he'll have a few dozen wads of documents to go over with Harry," he smiled evilly, "and I assume the girls are going out shopping for the Potter Patriarch, while he's otherwise occupied. The Chocolates will probably seize the chance to subject Katie to the full grilling, while Harry isn't there."
"Chocolates?" Sirius' eyebrows rose.
"Yeah... It's what we've always called them. Sally and Isobel, that is. They've both got this dark chocolate colouring, while Katie's as light as they come" Iain looked thoughtful for a moment. "Speaking of Katie... Where is she anyway?" he asked, turning to Eliza. She sighed.
"She's with Harry."
"She's where?" Iain growled. She growled right back.
"Stop right there, you big lug! Your daughter is currently in her boyfriend's bed, and I suspect in his arms, because said boyfriend had a nightmare. I thought she'd be the best one to calm him down, so I woke her up and sent her to him. Now since you're already all worked up, I may as well tell you that she seemed to 'forget' her nightie when she went there, and I'll also tell you that you'll leave them both alone about it," she said sternly, looking for the world like a lioness defending her cub. "Harry is far too noble to do more than a bit of touchy-feely, if that much, and Katie's got issues with her looks. This may or may not be a way to settle them, but either way you won't mention it. Are we clear?"
At the same time Iain said "yes, dear," Sirius said "Issues? Why would she have issues? She's a very pretty girl, and judged by Harry's behaviour last night, she doesn't have anything to worry about as far as he's concerned. He hardly noticed Sally and Isobel after they'd said hello, unless they spoke directly to him. He's got it bad, he has."
"I know that, and you know that, and Harry knows that," Eliza sighed. "Sally and Isobel both know as well, but Katie doesn't. At least not consciously. She compares herself to her cousins, and they're both quite voluptuous girls, courtesy of the Wallace genes, while she's built completely different herself. She sees a lot of eye-catching curves, deep brown eyes, and loads of thick, luxurious hair, all of which she doesn't have, and no matter how good she actually looks herself, it makes her feel like a scarecrow. She's terrified that Harry will catch on to Isobel having her eyes on him, and then dump her like that Weasley boy did. It's quite typical and perfectly normal for a teenaged girl, and it's a bloody nightmare for the teenaged girl's mother! I'm kinda counting on Harry to open her eyes to her own qualities, and if a 'forgotten' nightie can help with that, then so be it."
"Oh!" Both men looked sheepish.
"Moving along swiftly," Iain took over, "we need to take Harry to Little Crossroads to take control of whatever wards are still there, and then on to The Pottery. I don't know if he can take it over today, or if he needs anything special for that first. Albert should be able to tell us when he gets here. The Pottery will be a great place for him to train, and we plan to work him over at least four to six hours a day until school starts again. We may need to get the girls in on it too, or at least Katie. Albert and I will work with him on Mind Magics for an hour or two in the evenings. Both his electives at school are useless to him, so Eliza will tutor him in Arithmancy and Runes whenever possible. Then we'll see if we can get him a placement test first thing when they go back." He took a sip of his tea, as he sorted through his mind.
"We're counting on you to teach him how to fight properly, rather than duel formally, although we may be able to persuade Calum to give him a few lessons on how to apply his available power - and by all accounts, he's got a lot of it. My thought is that you should concentrate on a few hexes and charms, and make sure he can put everything he has behind them. Things like blasting- and cutting hexes, bludgeoners and banishers. I mean... For Heaven's sake, he opened against the Dark Lord with a disarming hex! Teach him how to shorten incantations as well, or to make his own."
"OK," Sirius commented. "From the top: Why Little Crossroads, if he's going to be at The Pottery? Why only four to six hours? And Calum who?"
"He'll need to control Little Crossroads because nobody other than the inhabitants will ever be able to apparate into The Pottery, and you can't floo in without being cleared and keyed into the wards. Little Crossroads is only a half-mile down the road from The Pottery, and it will make a good apparition- and floo-point, since we believe it to be best to keep direct access limited to him alone at the moment." Iain paused to take another sip of his tea.
"About the four to six hours, it's only for the fight training. Mind Magics, as well as what Eliza has in store for him, comes beyond that. And still we have to remember that he's a teenager; that he'll want time with Katie; and that he's still taking nutrients, so we can't work him as hard as Bones used to work you guys." Sirius shivered in remembrance of the aches and pains, Amelia Bones used to inflict on him in training.
"Calum is the Chief Warlock, as in Calum Wallace, Mhairi's Family Patriarch and Katie's godfather. According to Albert, he's taken a shine to Harry - and also according to Albert, Harry has a lot more magic than he's shown so far. Calum has ways to maximize power output, regardless of level, that very few will ever learn. I think the last one he taught was Katie, after he found out how low powered she is, but we think he might just be persuaded to teach Harry."
"Wow," Sirius gulped. "You guys have really thought this through. I hadn't really understood how much planning you guys have been doing."
"We'd like to think so, yes. Actually a lot of it comes down to Harry's input over the last month, and Mhairi and Eliza sorting through it, and then putting something useful together. Now we just need to see the snitch released." He paused... "Of course the thing about the Prophesy they told us about changes some things, but I still think the initial plan is sound." He stopped as a thought hit him.
"Hmm.. Actually we're going to have to talk some politics over the next few days as well. Albert believes, Harry could hold the key to the Minister's chair, and Calum agrees, so I guess he'll need a quick who's who. It's not like he can make an informed decision when he doesn't know any of the possibilities. Oh... And he needs to see the Master Healer at the Department of Mysteries again. There's a ritual that needs doing to fix his scar."
"Oh... kay," Sirius drawled. "And what's after lunch?" Iain and Eliza chuckled.
"Katie... Look at me... Please." She just blushed harder, and Harry thought he heard a suspicious sniffle too. A sudden flash of inspiration allowed him to reach for her, and pull her into a hug, and a few seconds later, Katie was crying her eyes out on his shoulder. Except for the crying part, Harry had to admit that being chest to breasts with his girlfriend, without fabric to ruin the feeling, was an enjoyable experience.
Eventually, her crying wound down to a quiet sniffle, and Harry thought it might be safe to reopen the interrogation. "Sunshine... Is all this about Sally and Isobel?" he asked gently.
Katie looked like a deer in headlights. "Wh-what do you mean? Why would th-they have s-something to do with anything?"
"Please, Katie," he retorted. "I may not be a Ravenclaw, but I'm neither stupid nor blind. Yesterday you were a lot more possessive when they were near, than when they weren't. As if they were threats to you... To us. They're not, Sunshine. Nobody are."
"How can you say that?" she hiccuped. "Have you even looked at them? They're beautiful, and I know at least Bel wouldn't mind a go at you."
"Of course I've looked at them. I'm a teenaged boy, and the Handbook says, I should ogle pretty girls whenever I can," he attempted to joke. "They're both nice girls, and they're good looking too - so what?"
"That's exactly what I mean, Harry!" she all but shouted. "You've got two beautiful girls with curves in all the right places hovering around you, and at least one of them wants you. Where does that leave plain tomboy Katie? I even drop my top, and you don't even touch my tits! You just want to know why I show them to you," she complained angrily.
Broadside delivered, she made to stand, but she didn't quite make it before Harry pulled her in again.
"Whoa! Calm down, Katie. What's the problem here? I don't really care where they've got curves, you know. Okay, it makes them a lot easier on the eyes that they've got them where they're supposed to be, but it really doesn't matter. As far as I'm concerned, I'm dating you, not them."
"Why?" Katie mumbled into his neck - after she'd given up struggling.
That brought Harry up short. "What?"
"Why are you dating boyish Katie, when you could have someone like Bel? She's got curves, beautiful curls, and gorgeous eyes - and what've I got?"
"Excuse me?!" Harry was baffled to say the least. "Katie, when was the last time you looked in a mirror?" She snorted and looked away. "Seriously! I'm dating the prettiest girl in Gryffindor. What would I want someone else for?"
"You don't have to say things to make me feel better," she said dejectedly. "I know I'm not a great catch, and I can't hold a candle to Bel and Sally - or someone like Alicia. I just wanted to know if you're dating me out of pity," she trailed off.
Harry was thunderstruck! "Please tell me you don't mean that, Katie." She just looked sullen, then looked away again. He shifted his grip from her waist to her shoulders, and then leaned back a little to get a good look at her.
"Don't you know you're seriously hot?" She turned back to him, and looked at him like he was ready for admission to St. Mungo's mental care ward. Harry groaned inwardly. Here in his bed was one of Hogwarts' prettiest witches, and she couldn't see it herself. 'How to go about this?' he pondered.
Slowly, Harry's hands moved from her shoulders to her thighs. "Sunshine, nobody has anything on you," he said softly. "You've got killer legs..." his hands crept slowly upwards, caressing her thighs as they went. "...The most spectacular arse in the known universe..." he cupped her bum and squeezed gently, before continuing upwards. "...Perfect breasts, made even more perfect by being just inches from my face..." he placed a kiss in her cleavage, before sliding his hands over both assets in a gentle caress that forced a soft gasp from her, and continuing upwards to frame her face. "...And you've got a very pretty face, with beautiful eyes I could easily drown in," he finished his evaluation, gazing tenderly into said eyes, and eliciting a deep blush on said pretty face. "It's funny, you know," he murmured into her hair. "You're the prettiest and sexiest witch in Gryffindor, if not the whole school, and you don't even know it," he shook his head. "Or maybe you do, but you don't believe it." He broke off when he heard what sounded like a repressed sniffle. 'Dear God, not again', he moaned to himself, but when he looked up, he saw shining blue eyes filled with wonder.
"You really believe that, don't you?" she asked with a hitch in her voice. "You actually mean what you're saying!" Slowly her face lit up in comprehension.
"Yeah," was all Harry could say. "Of course I do."
"But..." she hedged. "I don't understand... Why didn't you even want to look at my tits then, much less touch them?"
"Believe me, I want to," he smiled wryly, "and the rest of you too, but not this way. I really enjoyed both the feeling and the view when I woke up, and I'm all in favour of waking up to that every day, but..." he stopped to phrase it properly, "...I'd prefer you giving me that kind of show because you want to, not because you think you have to. I'm very interested, even without the show. Trust me, I am," he finished with an exaggerated leer at her chest. Katie blushed fiercely.
"Sorry," she mumbled contritely, "but what was I supposed to think? Bel begun her play already yesterday, and I know I'm not much compared to her...."
"Will you just stop that now?" Harry was getting annoyed. "Yes, Isobel is a very pretty girl. Beautiful even. That has nothing to do with you. You're a very pretty girl Katie, not to mention so sexy, you can make my brain stop working with a look. That has nothing to do with her. To be a bit clinical, you're both fine examples of your respective body-types - and it doesn't really matter anyway." She shot him an incredulous look. "Don't get me wrong. Dating a witch who rates both second and third looks does my ego a world of good, but that's not the most important thing." He leaned forward and placed a hand between her breasts. "What's in there is what matters, Katie. Sure, it was you being a very pretty girl that made me have naughty dreams about you in the beginning, but it was finding out that you're a kind, caring, and giving person, that made me want to date you." Katie clung to him, and dissolved into a blubbering mess.
A few minutes later, she was back to almost normal, and somewhat able to continue talking. "I... I won't doubt you again, Harry," she said, her voice still not all steady, and her eyes glistening. "I just want to understand..." she trailed off. "I mean, I know what I am..."
"No you don't. You think you do, but you really don't. You know the picture you've made of yourself, but the Katie who's my girlfriend is not that picture."
"Please, Harry, I really want to understand this. I mean, I've seen guys look at Bel for years but never at me, except for George and now you." Harry snorted.
"Now? Are you kidding? Believe me, I've been looking and dreaming since I found out why boys and girls are different, so either I've been better at hiding it than I thought, or you've been so preoccupied looking at boys looking at Isobel, that you haven't noticed all those ogling you." She blushed brightly.
"But..." she sputtered. "...I've always heard about boys wanting 'tits & ass' on a girl, and I don't have much compared to Bel, so why would they look at me?" Harry sighed.
"OK, how about we do it this way, then... You tell me why she's apparently the Gods' gift to wizards, and then I'll tell you - again - why I think you are. Deal?"
"O-OK," came the shaky reply. "Do I just rattle the whole thing off, or what?"
"However you want. It's up to you."
"Right, where to start... Her hair. It's thick, long, curly, and has a colour that should be illegal. Mine is thin, limp, and boring," she huffed.
"She's got lovely hair, alright. I can't argue with that, so I'll argue about yours instead," Harry replied with a wink. "It's thin - not much you can do about it, is there? Well actually there is something you can do, and you've already done it. I'll admit that you probably had the most drab hair of anyone at Hogwarts a couple of years ago, but the style you have now is great. It really suits you. It frames your face nicely, and when it's just a little wild - like now - it's dead sexy." Her jaw really wanted to drop.
"You really think so?" He nodded, and her eyes became a little brighter. "Her eyes, then."
"What about them?"
"Don't be an idiot, Harry. They're deep, almost black, and you can literally see her soul in them sometimes."
"So? I've already told you, I could happily drown in yours. They're very expressive, you know, and they suit your colours. Isobel's eyes wouldn't be right for you." She shook her head.
"Fine! The most obvious then," she pushed on in exasperation. "Bel's a D-cup, I'm a B."
"Yeah, and you'd look ridiculous with breasts her size. It's about body-type, Sunshine. She's built wider and heavier than you, so she can 'pull it off', for lack of a better term, although they're close to being too big even on her. Picture yourself with her breasts, and then tell me you want that. The same goes for her bum as well, so no need to mention that," he smirked. "That's 'tits & ass' taken care of too. Anything else?"
"OK, Smart arse. If I'm so perfect, why do the guys look at Bel, and not at me?" Harry shook his head in dismay.
"Have you heard what I've said at all?" he sighed. "First things first: You're not perfect. Nobody are, but to me you're pretty close.
Next: I've already told you, lots of guys look at you - a lot. Probably as many as there are looking at Isobel, but with the noted difference that the ones looking at you are actually looking at Katie - The Girl, while most of those looking at her are really gawking at Isobel - The Boobs. Ask her what she'd prefer some day. Lots of the gawkers probably don't even know her name, or that she's actually both a very nice and really smart girl. I imagine that's why she invented the Ice Bitch. It's a lot like people looking at my bloody scar, rather than at me."
"I... I'm sorry," she sniffled. "I never thought of it that way. It's just that I've always seen people looking at her, ever since we were small. She was really pretty already back then." She got a mischievous glint in her eyes. "Isn't it in the Handbook too, that you're supposed to like big tits?" she asked, a little too innocently.
"I guess so," he answered in a rather disinterested tone, "but it doesn't say, I'm supposed to be obsessed with them. It's just not that important to me, Sunshine. Of course I've looked at Isobel... and Angelina... and Lavender... and quite a few others, and I'll probably sneak a look at several more, but that's all it is. Yours are just as they should be. They're beautiful, soft, and just the right size. Anyway, I'm dating all of you - not just your tits." Katie was stunned.
"When did you grow this mature, Potter?"
"Probably when I found myself an older woman," he grinned. "I've been trying to boost my level of maturity to meet hers, and then it turns out that she's even more fixated on Isobel's tits than the dogs of Hogwarts are," he joked. Katie turned scarlet as she looked down, and suddenly the puzzle came together for him.
"I'll be damned!" he exhaled. "You're crushing on her, aren't you?" he asked gently. A second later he was shocked when she jumped up and made to bolt for the door. His arm shot out, and he caught her around her waist.
"Whoa, Sunshine! What's wrong?" He was honestly puzzled at her reaction.
"What's wrong?!" she yelled. "I'll tell you what's wrong! You accusing me of being... of being..." she trailed off, tears starting to fall.
"Easy now, Sunshine," he said, pulling her into a hug, which she didn't really respond to. "I'm not 'accusing' you of anything. I'm asking you if you're crushing on Isobel. What's so bad about that?"
"I don't believe you," she wailed. "You claim you care for me, and then you tell me I'm a dyke!" Harry groaned.
"Calm down, would you? I'm not saying you're a lesbian, for God's sake. I'm asking if you're crushing on her. Nothing wrong with asking - or with crushing - is there? Or with being a lesbian, for that matter... Not that I believe you are."
"Are you serious?" she asked incredulously. "Of course there's something wrong with being a lesbian. They're persecuted and unwelcome everywhere..."
"...in magical Britain, because women doing women don't make good brood mares for the purebloods. I know. But then again, I'm no pureblood, am I? Their values really don't mean much to me..." Harry interrupted.
"...and how can you say that crushing on someone not your partner isn't bad?" Katie asked as if she hadn't been interrupted at all.
"Because a crush is just that, Katie... A crush. That doesn't mean being unfaithful, does it? It means that you can appreciate certain qualities in someone, and maybe that you'll be toying with some naughty thoughts about that someone - and those qualities - every once in a while. It doesn't mean that you're about to throw your crush down and screw them stupid. Well... At least in my mind it doesn't." Katie was thrown.
"I'll ask again: When and how did you grow this mature? Or perhaps better: Who are you, and what did you do to Harry?"
"I've been talking to Mhairi and your dad a lot over the last six weeks. Albert and your mum as well, but I think Mhairi and Iain are mostly responsible for it." He ran a hand through his hair. "I've never had adults to talk to about anything, and talking to them - asking them questions enough to make them sick - has helped me get some distance to the immature, sulky twat, you knew as Harry. He was starting to cramp my style anyway, so I'm glad I'm mostly shot of him. Although the Order and my supposed friends would tell you that he's going stronger than ever," he finished with a mischievous grin.
Katie smiled wickedly. "Yeah, Sirius said you pulled the stony face off real nicely, and..." she trailed off, as Harry's softly caressing hands begun wreaking havoc on her thought processes.
"Good try, Miss Bell," he whispered, "but it won't get you out of it." He manhandled her into sitting in his lap, her back against his chest.
"You can't just..." she started to protest, but the sigh that followed when his hands roamed up to tease the sides of her breasts, kind of ruined her stern rebuke. Harry smirked into the side of her neck.
"Of course I can, Sunshine. Now answer the question. Are you or are you not crushing on Isobel?" She squirmed. "Katie..." Harry said in an ominous tone. When that didn't work, he decided to play dirty. He removed both hands from her salient points... and dropped them to her inner thighs, where he very lightly dragged his fingernails upwards from just over her knees. At Katie's strangled whimper, he stopped! "It's not that hard, Katie. It's a yes or no question. Are you or aren't you?"
"No... Yes... Ooh, I don't know!" She made an exasperated sound - something like a snort gone wrong - as she hit his pillow.
"Okay... As long as you're sure," Harry quipped.
"Don't be an arse, Potter," she grumbled. "...And I'm going to get you for that one. That was a dirty trick."
"Yes, yes, Bell. Now quit stalling and tell me what you mean. It was a fairly simple question, and 'all of the above' is not a valid answer." He encircled her, and pulled her in to rest firmly against him. "You're not getting out of this, Miss Bell. The sooner you spill, the sooner you'll be released," he whispered, making her shiver.
"I don't think I want to be released," she purred. "This is nice, and if you move your hands up a bit, it would be even nicer."
"Not now, Katie. You're about to tell me something, and I can't concentrate on that if I'm groping you." He made to move his hands away from her.
"No, please," she whispered as she blocked his movement. "It's not that easy, you know," she continued. "I'm not crushing on Bel. At least I don't think so," she tentatively began her explanation. "I love her to pieces, but she's always been a sore spot. I mean... She was always the pretty one, even when we were small... Always the one being cooed over. She's got more than half again the power, I've got; she's incredibly smart and focused; and even with the Ice Bitch character, just about everybody likes her and wants to be with her. All I've got to show is Quidditch, and that doesn't make people want to be with plain Katie. It's a bit hard not to feel hard done by, when comparing myself to her, and I can't help being afraid she'll steal you away, when I see her around you," she finished, pushing herself further into Harry's embrace. He sighed.
"Katie, would you please listen to me?" he rebuked. "You're in no way plain. On the contrary, you're remarkably pretty and sexy, and I'll bet you're just as smart as Isobel. The difference is, you're not flashy, and that's a good thing."
"Hey! You think Bel is being flashy to dazzle people or something, Potter?" she almost growled.
"Relax, Katie. I don't think she's flaunting or anything like that... It's just the way her whole personality works. I just like yours better." He chuckled a bit.
"What?" she snapped.
"Easy now. It's just that I think it's kind of funny. You're finally telling me what your problem is with Isobel, sounding for the world like you're putting up a front with her, and the next thing I know, you're jumping to defend her from something she doesn't need defending from. I just thought it funny, is all..."
"I'm not putting up a front," Katie protested indignantly. "I mean, she's always been there for me, always been my best friend. I've always been able to tell her things, just like she's told me stuff." She looked confused. "I don't know how or when, but she changed, and I've been sort of jealous of her lately. How could I not? She popular, smart, caring, gorgeous with that beautiful face, cracking arse, and tits like nobody's business..." she stopped dead, hiding her face in her hands. "Oh God!" she moaned. "I am crushing on her, aren't I?"
"Sounds like it from where I sit," Harry quipped, squeezing her gently.
"Bugger!" she swore. "This isn't awkward at all. No Sir, not one bit," she sniffed as she turned in his embrace, and buried her face in his chest.
"It's not bad, Sunshine," he soothed. "I understand you well enough. I mean, she's hot - almost the hottest girl in school. Of course if you crushed on the hottest, it would make you look narcissistic, so you'll have to make do with the second best," he tried to lighten the mood, and was rewarded with a smack to his shoulder.
"It's not funny!" she hissed. "How am I going to look her in the eyes now?"
"Erm... By looking just over her nose?"
"Quit making jokes about this. Prat!"
"Calm down, Sunshine. What's changed, other than you knowing why you've been feeling strange about her?"
"That's just it. I don't know what's changed in the first place. I don't know why I'm crushing on her. It's not like I'm crushing on Sally, now is it? And since she looks as good as Bel, that can't be it, so why?" Tears of frustration pooled in her eyes. "I've dated George, and I'm dating you, so it's not because I'm gay. Why is this happening?"
"I don't know, but let's try to find out," Harry replied, drumming his fingers on her hips as he thought.
"Right... You've always had this minor case of hero-worshipping her, mixed with equal parts big sister and best friend, right?"
"Probably not the way I would've said it, but yeah..."
"And all of a sudden you discover that she's sexy. According to yourself, you get jealous of her, and you're somewhat skittish around her, right?"
"Yeah," Katie replied mulishly. It was like he was telling her that she was both dense and a shrew.
"How long have things been this way?"
"I don't know. About a year or so."
"Okay, maybe we're getting somewhere." Harry's brow creased in thought. "That puts us somewhere in the summer holidays last year," he mused. "Did she score a particularly tasty guy just ahead of you, or did anything happen between you?" he asked, and was astonished when he was answered by an atomic blush.
"I guess something did happen," he said dryly. "Now the question is, what?"
"I... We... Erm..." Katie stammered, her blush now extending to somewhere below her breasts.
"Yes?" he asked silkily.
"We... We wound up in bed," she blurted, averting her eyes. "Bel was frustrated about her OWLs, and from being hit on by morons all the time, and I was annoyed with George always trying to get into my bra and knickers every time we saw each other, and... well... One thing grabbed another, and suddenly we were kissing on the bed, and the next minute we... Well, you know..." she hurried through her explanation, awaiting the explosion from Harry. When nothing happened, she looked up, only to see him with his jaw hanging and glazed eyes. "Harry?" she called softly. Slowly his eyes cleared.
"Damn!" he breathed, shaking his head. "That's a nice image," he said reverently. "Absolutely drool-worthy." Her ire rose instantly.
"What?" she hissed, eyes narrowing. "I'm telling you things I'd never thought I'd tell anybody, and you're mocking me?" Her normal, almost imperceptible, Scottish lilt now becoming a full burr.
"Easy, Sunshine," he tried to placate her. "I'm not mocking anybody. It just wasn't what I expected, you know. I thought you'd had a fight or something, and then you tell me it's the exact opposite. I'm just a bit shocked here. Besides, it's in the Handbook. Girl-plus-girl action is supposed to turn me on, and when it involves two of the sexiest girls, I've ever met... Believe me, it's turning me on!" Only then did she realise that he had indeed reacted to what she said, although the reaction wasn't verbal. "Damn!" he exclaimed again, before he shook himself out of his very pleasant stupor.
"Right," he continued firmly. "Before you go and find out where your nightdress decided to hide itself during the night, so we can get down for breakfast, I need to know something."
"Yes?" she asked warily.
"To be blunt: Am I your second choice to Isobel, or the rebound from George?" She was horrified!
"What? No!" she gasped. "Why?... How can you think that?" she rushed out.
"It sounds like you have some issues with both of them, and I don't know what those issues are," he replied. "Look... I'm perfectly aware that I'm nowhere near your league, but I'll never ever be anyone's second best!"
"I... I have issues with George alright. Nobody likes being dumped, and the way that arsehole dumped me would give anybody issues. I promise you, you'll never be second best to him. If anything, he was second best to you. I've had naughty ideas about you since my third year after all," she confessed with a faint blush. "Bel... I don't really know," she continued. "I guess you could be right. We ended up not seeing each other for a couple of days, and then it was like it never happened. We've never talked about it at all. I guess we should..." she looked contemplative. "Anyway, I don't fancy her as such. At least I don't think so. You're not second best to anyone, Harry. That much I'm sure about," she finished with as much sincerity as she could muster.
Harry looked into her eyes intently. "OK," he finally said, "but we're going to have to talk some more soon." Katie looked alarmed, and he continued: "I have no problem with being screamed at if I earn it, but I don't want to be chewed out for something you think I might do at one time or another. It's not fair to me." She blushed a lovely crimson, and looked down.
"O... OK, Harry." It came out sounding very contrite.
"Cool! Now that we've agreed on that, I suggest you locate your wayward clothes while I shower. That way we might make it to breakfast before it's lunchtime."
"EEP!" Katie yelped as she dashed for the door. "I didn't realize it was that late."
Watching Katie's bouncing bottom in a minuscule pair of satiny knickers, Harry just couldn't help himself. "Damn! That arse should be either illegal or sculpted in marble."
Sirius looked up from his fifth cup of coffee that morning. "Well would you look at that!" he exclaimed, pointing at Harry and Katie as they came in, hand in hand. "The lovebirds deigned to join us mere mortals. It must've been hard, being apart for so long. Catching up definitely took some time," he sniped with a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows.
"Stuff it, Padfoot," Harry retorted, "or I'll send you to the vet for a neutering. Then you can work on your sniping while you recover." Left with no real comeback, Sirius - for once - did the sensible thing and kept his mouth shut, while the couple seated themselves and dug in.
When they were done eating, Harry sat back with his third cup of tea, and with Katie firmly planted on his lap. A bit embarrassing really. Both because her parents were there; because his godfather would be sure to give him a ribbing about it; and mostly because he couldn't help reacting to that little minx grinding her posterior into his family jewels. Perhaps it hadn't been his brightest idea, telling her how sexy he thought she was. Still he managed to act like nothing was out of the ordinary. At least he thought so.
"So Padfoot. How's it feel to know, the Ministry isn't after your head any more?" The adults fought valiantly to keep from laughing at his predicament, and Eliza promised herself that she'd have a talk with her daughter, today, about the differences between teasing and flirting on one side, and harassment and humiliation on the other. Maybe she'd cover the basics about 15 year-old boys too while she was at it.
"It's brilliant," Sirius finally answered the question. "I haven't slept this well since my Hogwarts days, and just sitting here, knowing I can relax and nothing will happen... It's so great, I don't have the words for it." Then he smirked.
"What about you, Patriarch Potter?" Sirius really enjoyed the annoyed scowl on Harry's face. How do you cope with freedom? Or do you have help?" He waggled his eyebrows suggestively. Harry kept up the annoyed expression.
"Can it, Padfoot. At least let me finish my morning tea, before you take the conversation below the belt." Sirius actually pouted!
"You're just like your dad, you know. No fun at all until after ten." He thought for a moment. "Actually, I thought you'd been below the belt yourself, waking up with a scantily clad young lady, and then taking your time getting down here. I thought about going up there to fetch you, but I was afraid I'd see something that would scar my innocent mind." Eliza levelled a death glare at him, and Katie blushed furiously, but Harry headed them off.
"Honestly Doggy. You've spent far too much time with Ron Weasley. He's the only other one I know who can stuff both feet in his mouth in one go." He shook his head, and Sirius had the grace to at least look chastised.
"It's not that it's any of your business, but we were late coming down because we had a moment, and I just had to take the time to tell Katie how wonderful she is." He looked thoughtful. "And then she had to locate her clothes of course," he deadpanned, earning him a swat from Katie.
"Harry!" she squeaked. "Behave! My mum's here." The awkward moment dissolved in chuckles. "I just wondered," she continued, "if I'm as wonderful as you say, how come George dumped me that easily?" She raised a challenging eyebrow at him. Harry thought for a few seconds.
"I could say it's because he's an idiot, but besides it being obvious, it would be too easy. I think it's a matter of distance." Katie did a fine imitation of a question mark.
"Distance? What's that got to do with anything? Alicia lives in Carlisle. That's not too far from here, and with the Floo and apparition it doesn't matter anyway." Harry snickered.
"That's not what I meant."
"Then what?" This was the 'don't mess with me voice'.
"Like I said, it's a matter of distance... More specifically the distance between your knees compared to that between Alicia's. Perhaps he thought Alicia offered a more open approach..." He coughed. "Or maybe he was looking for a wider perspective."
"Good Lord, Harry," Iain exclaimed. "That was so bad, even your dad would've liked it." Eliza and Sirius nodded in agreement, while Katie looked suspiciously like Goyle in Transfiguration class.
"You're... You're saying I was dumped because I kept my knickers on, and Alicia didn't?!" She shook her head as if trying to clear it. "That's what I call having the priorities straight. 'You know Katie, I really like you, and I'm happy that we've been together for two years now, but Alicia's standing right over there, and she'll drop her knickers if I ask her. I hope we'll still be friends'." She shrugged helplessly. I honestly thought his kid brother was the only one in that family without a brain." Harry wrapped his arms tightly around her, and a couple minutes later, her world was turning the right way again.
"Actually," she ventured, "I'm kinda happy George is thinking with the wrong end. If he didn't, I wouldn't have bagged Potter here." Sirius pounced on that.
"Speaking of which," he said. "How did you guys get together, and when? Judged by the way the others vetoed Ginny's guess yesterday, you two weren't in the cards." Harry grinned.
"Luck mostly. I've had my eyes on Katie for ages, well relatively speaking... Only she's so far out of my league, I never thought I stood a chance. Then one night it turned out, we'd decided on the same spot to sit and be pathetic.
Harry silently padded down the stairs from his dormitory to the common room. It was very late, and – as it had become normal since coming back from Voldemort's resurrection party a few days earlier – he'd become fed up with tossing and turning in his bed for another sleepless night, listening to the thunderstorms that were Ron and Neville sleeping. As he reached the last step before entering the common room, his gaze swept the room for late night stragglers. To his dismay, he noticed a blond mop of hair over the back of his favourite couch. He'd recognize that hair anywhere. After all, he'd been her team-mate for four years, even if there had been no playing this year, and his dismay had nothing to do with not liking the girl – he did – but her being there interfered with his desire to just be left alone, as well as his plan to crash on that particular couch. 'Bollocks!' he thought. 'I guess I'll just get up to bed again.' As he turned to head upstairs again, a sound finally made its way into his mind, and it dawned on him that something was wrong with the girl on the couch. Was that a sniffle? He turned again and made his way over there, carefully approaching the oblivious witch.
"Katie," he whispered. "What's wrong?" The witch jumped.
"Circe's tits! Harry," she snapped, hand on her chest. "You scared me half to death. I didn't see you coming."
"Sorry," Harry said – not looking like it. "That doesn't answer my question though," he pointed out. "Why's the cheeriest girl in Gryffindor sitting here, crying at far-too-late o'clock at night?"
"You don't want to know. Trust me on that."
"You're entirely wrong, Miss Bell. If I didn't want to know, I wouldn't have asked, would I now?" He arched an eyebrow at her.
"Please, Harry. Leave it, alright?"
"No... No, I don't think I will. Whatever happened to do this to you, you need to get off your mind, and I've just volunteered to take the load."
"Harry.. Let it go. Please. I don't want to talk about it."
"OK. I'll talk about it then. I'll take a guess, and you'll tell me when I'm right." Harry frowned in concentration. "The female curse? Nah.. If it was this bad, you'd be with Madam Pomfrey." Another frown. "Bad news from home?"
"No, it's not that. Please Harry..."
"OWLs then. You've just had your last exam. Did you screw it up?"
"I screwed them all up! There. Happy now?" She hid her face in her hands, but she couldn't hide the tears. Harry tentatively put his arm around her.
"No, Katie, I'm not happy. Why would I be? I'm sorry that a friend feels this way, and I'm sad that you won't talk to me." He squeezed softly, trying to offer a measure of comfort. "How could you possibly screw it all up? You're one of the smartest in your year..."
"The Twins," came the muffled reply, in between a couple of hiccups.
"What?!" was Harry's eloquent reaction. "But... Aren't you dating George? Or did he break up with you?"
"He did back in February. Through a note. Bastard!" She sniffled again. "You don't pay all that much attention, do you Harry?"
"I usually do, but I've been kinda busy, what with trying to stay alive and all." He squeezed a bit firmer, then his hand dropped from her shoulder to her waist. "I'm sorry about George. He's a twat! Couldn't you get some help from the A's?"
"No, I couldn't. He dumped me for Alicia, and when I yelled at them, he and Fred started a terror campaign. They've pranked and humiliated me at least twice a day since March, and I've been so out of it, I burned all the exams. I may have made Acceptable in Transfiguration and Astronomy, but I'm sure I've crashed all the others." Harry turned to fully face her, and pulled her into a hug.
"I'm sorry," he said, with all the sincerity he could muster. "If I'd been paying a little more attention, I might have been able to do something."
"You're sweet, Harry, but you don't have to fix everybody's problems," she said. Then she kissed his cheek.
"I'd be happy to, if it gets me that kind of rewards every time," he replied with much sincerity. "Seriously though, I think I have a way to make them leave you alone. Well, if you want me to, that is."
"If you can do it, and you really want to, I'd appreciate it," she offered a weak smile. Of course, if I fail my exams again at the Ministry, it's all redundant..." Her face fell.
"You'll do brilliantly, Katie. You're too smart to burn them when you've had time and peace to prepare." He thought about it for a few seconds. "I'll get a hold of them on the train, and then I'll come down harder on them once I escape my prison for the summer."
"What do you mean?" Katie was puzzled. "What prison?"
"Dumbledore has this idea, that I have to live with my aunt and uncle in order to be safe. Problem is, they hate me as much as I hate them. I spend my summers as their House Elf, doing everything in and around the house, and I'm supposed to exist on next to nothing. He says it's because of some special wards from my mother, but if she loved me enough to sacrifice herself for me, she'd never want me to live with those animals." Harry's face showed his opinion about both the Dursleys and Dumbledore quite clearly.
"I'm sorry to hear that, Harry. Nobody should be with people they don't like. What does your parents' will say?"
"I don't know. I've never seen it."
"What?" Katie half yelled in surprise. "It should've been read when you turned eleven, at the latest. Something about this smells funny." Her forehead creased, and her nose crinkled, and Harry suddenly found, it was an adorable look on her. He did an internal double-take... He didn't think of Katie as adorable... Did he? Well... Come to think of it, he did. Frequently. Since midway through 3rd year. Although 'pretty', 'delectable', or 'sexy' were more common adjectives in his musings regarding the delightful Miss Bell.
Her face lit up. "I think I may have a solution for you. That is, if you want to do something about it," she said hesitantly. "It's not that I want to interfere, but you sound like you'd like to be somewhere else than at your relatives' place."
"Please! If you can get me away from those animals, please tell me how," he pleaded.
She smiled. "My dad's a solicitor, and he's no fan of the Headmaster. I'm willing to bet next term's allowance, he'll be happy to get a chance to look into your placement and other stuff. He always says he liked James and Lily, and if he can make a few dents in Dumbledore's armour, and do your parents a favour at the same time, I'm sure he'll be all for it."
Harry was floored. "You'd do that for me?"
"Of course I would, Harry," she smiled. "You help me with my problems, and I help with yours. It's only fair."
"Thanks, Katie. It's a deal." And then one of those coincidences happened. Harry, thinking that since Katie had already done it, it would be alright to do so, leaned in to kiss her cheek, just as she did the same.
Bullseye! They turned their heads to drop the kiss at the same time, and instead of kissing cheeks - as planned - they hit each other's lips full on.
Startled they broke apart, although not very far, and looked at each other, surprise and a small tinge of hope in Harry's eyes; confusion, then realisation, and finally determination in Katie's. She reached out, but then seemed to falter. Harry took the plunge, and pulled her the rest of the way in.
If asked, neither of the two would ever be able to explain what happened in the next few minutes. All they knew was that everything around them faded into insignificance as the kiss grew warmer and deeper, and when it ended, Katie was in Harry's lap, panting, and trying hard to control herself.
"Damn!" She smiled brightly, as she exhaled slowly and carefully. "What do I have to do to get more of that?" Harry's mind immediately went into overdrive.
'No way, Potter. Forget it. You're fourteen and she's sixteen, not to mention one of the smartest and prettiest girls in school. It's not going to happen.' Harry tried... He really did, but... 'What the Hell. Gryffindors charge ahead, don't they?'
"Be my girlfriend?" The world stopped for a second, and he was already regretting his abject stupidity when Katie pounced on him, wearing that brilliant smile again. Harry decided right there and then that he'd do whatever it took to put that particular smile on her face as often as possible. Then they were kissing again, and Katie made a small and - so Harry thought - very feminine whimper of either pleasure or encouragement, and coherent thinking became unimportant and much too difficult.
They spent the next couple of hours cuddled up with each other, talking about nothing and everything, alternating with a bit of kissing - although somewhat more restrained than the initial barrage - before they drifted off.
The morning after their great revelation, Harry was awoken by the evil, early morning sunlight creeping into the room. He spent a few seconds figuring out the what, why, and who of the situation. Yes, he really did ask Katie to be his girlfriend last night. Yes, she'd very nearly snogged the life out of him. Yes, he was currently spooned up against her back - slightly awkward since she was at least three inches taller than him - his left arm tightly around her waist, and his right upper arm pillowing her head, and the lower arm crossing her chest to place his hand on her left breast. Apparently she liked it there, as she had a hand covering his, so even if he thought he was a bit too forward - and he did, however pleasant it was - he couldn't remove it. Oh well, at least they still had their clothes on.
He somehow wriggled himself forward enough to drop a kiss below her ear. She stirred, so he dropped one more, a little more forcefully. She blinked owlishly, groaned, and then stretched in a way that made Harry's pulse speed up significantly.
"Morning," she rasped. "What time is it?"
"Good morning, Sunshine," he chirped. "It's fairly early, but we're in a bit of a compromising situation here, and I really don't want to be run over by the rumour-machine right now, and I don't want it for you either. Besides we still need to make a decision."
She turned over and pulled him in for a cuddle. "What do we need to decide?" she asked into his neck.
"We need to find out if we're going public or not."
"Ashamed of me?" she pouted, once again doing interesting things to Harry's heart rate.
"Heavens, no! Why would I be ashamed of dating someone that far out of my league?"
"Why then?" she asked, rather pleased with his assessment of her.
"Voldemort." She flinched.
"Now there's a mood-killer. What about him?"
"He's got it in for me, for some reason or other, and he won't hesitate to use you to get to me. I don't want you in that position."
"Why do you think he's after you? It could be a coincidence."
"Nope! When we were taken to the graveyard, he ordered Pettigrew to 'kill the spare'." He took a couple of steadying breaths. "He killed Cedric, and that tells me that I'm the prime target. He's after me alright."
"Okay, we'll lay low for now, but you'll have to find a way for us to see each other for the next week, until we go home. I really liked what we did last night, and I don't intend for it to be a one time thing. If we're to be apart for most of the summer, you'd better make sure I'm thoroughly kissed when we go home, Mr. Potter," she said in a stern tone.
"Sounds good to me. I'll figure something out before tonight.
Erm.. Can you do a breath freshening charm?"
"Sure. Why?" her eyes were full of mischief.
"Duh! I don't know any, and I really want to get started on the thorough kissing thing before people start coming down for breakfast, but I don't think you'll appreciate my morning breath at all. It's classified as a weapon of mass destruction."
"Ooh, I do like your way of thinking," she purred. "Come closer, Harry."
Harry's mind shut down.
The young couple shared a soft kiss, but it was their eyes that made the adults suck in harsh breaths. There was something there that went a lot deeper than the average teenage romance. Something that made them even more determined to make sure, their plans for the limited time they had would succeed.
Harry shook himself back to reality. "And that was it. The Scots know the rest, and so will you, once we find enough idle time to sit down and talk for a few hours, Padfoot."
"Better make that time soon, Harry. And let me just say again: You're so much like your old man. Smooth as a rasp with the ladies, and still you make it work." The Marauder grinned. "Of course it took James five years to catch Lily. You seem to work a bit faster than that." Harry rolled his eyes.
"Yes, thank you Padfoot. Enough about my merits as a ladies' man." He turned to Iain. "Am I right when I think there's a whole lot planned for today?" Iain nodded and quickly gave him the highlights of the explanation, he'd given Sirius earlier.
"Oh...kay." Harry's eyes were glazed. "You will make sure I'm still alive at the end of the day, right?" Iain chuckled.
"I wouldn't dare otherwise, Harry. Your girlfriend would never forgive me, not to mention that she'd probably inflict something painful on me." Harry made a face.
"A big strong wizard afraid of dainty little Katie?"
"Does the expression 'Duh' mean anything to you?" That got a round of laughs.
"Right." Suddenly Harry was all business. "The ladies are going shopping - please don't bankrupt me - and I'll be looking at parchment with Albert. When's he due anyway?"
"Right about now, I believe. You never know with Albert, but I think he likes you well enough to be on time."
"I'm honoured," Harry said dryly. "Am I dealing with Solicitor Perks, or with my guardian?"
"Your guardian, who happens to be a solicitor," came Albert's voice from behind him.
"Oh, hi Albert," Harry turned to him. "Still on your high from yesterday?" Albert grinned.
"Trust me, Harry. If we can follow through on yesterday to the extent I hope we can, that high is going to be permanent. Mhairi is going to loathe you."
"Me? What have I done?"
"Made it possible for Mhairi's husband to take down the Minister and his chief sycophant, and cut Dumbledore off at the knees. She really hates my victory dance."
"Still no reason to hate me," Harry grumbled. "Anyway, we'd better get a move on. It seems I'm needed to take over a house or two today, and we're going to have a war council tonight." He sighed dramatically. "But I guess it's parchment for now."
"Don't be such a whiner, Harry. You might even like some of what you're going to read." Albert grinned. "Remember, the ladies like loaded young men, and some of these sheets are going to place you in control of a decent load of assets." Harry made a face.
"Maybe... Can any of it give me back what the old goat stole? No? Then it's of no real consequence." He snaked an arm around Katie. "As for the ladies, I don't really care. I've got the one I want right here, and the rest can go..."
"Mind your language."
"What do you mean? I was going to say, the rest can go queue up to have a shot at Padfoot." He tried for an angelic smile, but couldn't quite manage it.
"Sure you were." Katie cuffed him over the head.
"Aww, come on Katie," he whined. "You can't tell me, you won't enjoy seeing the fangirls when they find out, the Bloody-Boy-Who-Didn't-Want-To-Die is out of their reach? I'm so looking forward to it." Katie looked somewhat abashed.
"Well... There is that, I suppose," she conceded. "Now, you need to get cracking on whatever uncle Albert's got for you, and I need to meet up with Bel and Sally, so we can get to spending a whole lot of your money." She jumped off him and took off for her room to finish dressing. Harry shot a look at the wads of parchment and groaned.
"Are you sure these numbers are correct?"
"Yes, Harry," a somewhat exasperated Albert replied - for the third time in a few minutes. "If they're wrong, it won't be by more than ten percent at most, and it may just as well be to the good side. I couldn't get it all completely fresh from Gringott's, but it's near enough." He looked closer at Harry. "What has you in such a tizzy? I mean... It's a nice pile of gold for sure, but it's not like it'll make you stinking rich." Harry just looked at him blankly.
"I've never had anything that was truly mine, until Hagrid gave me Hedwig," he spoke in monotone. "Other than her, I've only ever had my school stuff. This is more than I ever thought I'd have, and if a little idea I've had works out, I will be stinking rich." Albert wasn't sure what to make of the glint in his eyes.
"Later. I need to talk to my hidden ally first, but if we can make it work, I'll tell you first thing."
"Hmm..." Albert grumbled. "I guess I'll have to live with that."
"Yeah, but don't worry. It's not time limited. At least not until we start it. After that, it might well be." He sat up straight again. "So that was numbers, and more for Director Bones to hit the Old Goat with. Have you come across the deeds to Little Crossroads and The Pottery?" Albert held up an ornate document.
"This is for Little Crossroads. The Pottery is so old, there's no deed for it. Besides, hardly anybody know about it."
"How's what?" Albert countered. "The age thing? The Pottery is believed to be the true ancestral home of your family. That puts it at roughly 1200 to 1400 years old. The knowing? It's unplottable, so even if the Muggle authorities have your address, they won't wonder why they get no taxes from there. Also the wards - when they're at full power - are the strongest in Britain bar none, so Magicals have a hard time finding it too, unless they're keyed in." Harry's expression had been growing ever happier during the explanation, and now he was beaming.
"That's brilliant! I had wondered where I was going to stay after this summer, but I think I know now."
After a terse hour spent dealing with the Goblins of Gringott's, to formally claim his inheritance, Harry, Albert, and Iain had gone to Lancashire to claim the Potter properties there. The Pottery was a smallish, half-timbered cottage, built on and around a ninth century hut. It was situated in the road-end of the plot, with a large stone building standing behind it. The large building still held the potter's wheel, kiln, and storage space of the original pottery. Both house and pottery were in good condition, and the wards were surprisingly strong for having been without maintenance for 14 years. The property's ward-book gave the answer to that. There were five Ley-lines congregating under the plot, and the ward anchor was hooked directly into the centre of their meeting point. Harry only needed to take control of the anchor through a simple blood ritual, and the whole ward scheme was back at full power. The air around The Pottery was humming for nearly a full hour, before everything settled down, and even then the wards could be physically felt.
Little Crossroads was a different matter. The small mansion was in a depressing state, having stood unused and almost unwarded since 1980. Even Dobby's jaw dropped at the sight when he was summoned, but he quickly reverted back to his usual, bouncy enthusiastic self when it dawned on him, that this was something he could do for his Master Harry Potter sir. He was joined by the Bells' Elf, Dixie, who'd been moaning about a lack of work for months. Now she got her wish.
Having outlined for the Elves what was needed, and having determined that the Floo was still functional, the trio made their way back to Blacket House and dinner, before the evening's Ministerial who's who, and war council.
"So you're basically saying that the best choice for Minister is also the worst?" Harry was massaging his temples in a futile attempt to stave off a mounting headache. Calum looked at him apologetically.
"Aye lad. That's what it comes down to. Amelia would be a brilliant Minister, but it would leave the DMLE with Rufus Scrimgeour, and that's to be avoided if at all possible."
"Right," Harry addressed the room at large. "Bones is out. Cresswell is out for now because of his heritage, but we'll work on trying to put him in the chair in ten years or so. Calum's out because we don't know who'll take his chair, and Arthur Weasley is out because that would be the same as making Dumbledore the Minister. Ogden is a maybe, but probably won't want it, and Griselda Marchbanks is the same." He looked around at the people he'd basically put in charge of getting a decent Minister elected. "Who's left of the good guys? Longbottom doesn't have the clout, nor do the Clans." He went silent, and after a minute, a devilish expression appeared on his face.
"Uh-oh," Sirius moaned. "Brace yourselves people. That expression on James' face always meant trouble, and I think it does on Harry's too."
"Calum?" Harry asked. "Who can be elected Minister, and how is is that determined?" The big man was happy to get that question. Everything he had on Harry stressed that he was reluctant to use even obvious sources of information, so to have him asking without being coached suggested that he was honest about wanting to change.
"That's a question a lot of people should ask, Harry," he began, "because if they did, they'd be so thoroughly disgusted, they'd change the system even if it took tearing down the Ministry." He sat back. "Eligible for the office of Minister of Magic are witches and wizards who hold a seat - or an unrestricted stewardship - in the Wizengamot."
"That's just fifty people!"
"No, Harry. That's just thirty-five people," he corrected him. Harry eyed him speculatively.
"How's that? There are fifty seats there."
"True, but apparently you haven't learnt how they're distributed..." Harry snorted.
"Not bloody likely. If it's of any importance, I don't know about it. Dumbledore made sure of that." Calum reached over and dropped a weighty hand on his shoulder.
"Then we'll have to educate you, lad." He stood and poured himself a king-sized drink.
"The fifty seats in the Wizengamot are divided into three groups," he began. "The first and biggest is the group of the twenty oldest families. Those seats are hereditary - as implied - and each seat is under the control of the Family Patriarch - or Matriarch, although only one family currently in possession of a seat is matriarchal. These seats can be voted by proxy, which is how we plan on eventually getting Cresswell elected, since he's not a member. There are no restrictions on who and what the steward should be, besides human and not convicted of any major crimes. You, I, and Sirius hold three of those twenty seats. Coinneach MacNeil, Laird of Grand Clan MacNeil, also holds one." Harry looked aghast.
"You're telling me that forty percent of the Wizengamot have their seats because their families are old, no matter how incompetent and corrupt they may be?"
"Aye, that's what I'm telling you." Calum nodded. "The next group of fifteen are those who are elected by the Wizengamot. They're personal seats that can't be stewarded, and they're given for life. The only way to lose such a seat is by having it revoked by the Wizengamot, and that won't occur unless you're convicted of something major, or if you've been declared mentally unsuited. Ogden, Malfoy, and Marchbanks hold such seats. Aonghas MacKenzie, the Laird of Grand Clan MacKenzie, does too, as does Dumbledore."
"I don't bloody believe this!" Harry ranted. "Braggarts and incompetents are there because they're inbred through enough generations, and they then sit and elect their corrupt friends for lifetime seats so they don't have to be alone when they sit and pick their noses. No wonder this country is in deep shit." Calum let out a rumble.
"Can I quote you on that, lad?" Harry glowered at him. "I actually think that quote could win you some good friends, Harry, but never mind." He seemed to focus again.
"The last group consists of the fifteen 'short' seats. They're the Wizengamot's 'proof' that democracy isn't a foreign word, although those seats prove that it's still a foreign concept. The holders are elected by the public for a five year period. They're family seats, and can only be stewarded by family. Albert is currently in his first term in one of those." Calum paused, and smiled at Katie as she handed him a fresh tumbler of whisky.
"Now, I told you that only thirty-five people can be elected Minister, right? That's because the Minister is elected in the same election that decides the short seats. That means that the holders of those seats can't be in the ballot, because nobody knows if they'll still have a seat after the election, and new candidates won't know if they'll be elected, so..." he trailed off.
"I thought I was prepared for things to be bad," Harry shook his head in disgust, "but it's actually worse. Ninety percent of the population completely cut off from any real influence." He made a face. "Banana Republic!" Only Albert and Eliza caught it.
"Anyway... You've said that all three Grand Clans have a seat each, at least for now. Are there any more Scots? And what about the Welsh or Irish? It seems to me that this is an English club." Calum looked at him sharply, while Albert seemed to be catching on.
"There is one more Scot these days. Airchie Farquharson of Braemar holds a short seat. Ogden is there for the Irish, as is Eoghan O'Leary in a short seat. The Welsh only have Cilydd Llywarch these days."
"Incredible," Harry muttered. "Sixty-five percent of all magicals in Britain are represented by fourteen percent of the votes. It supports my idea though." He looked at Sirius. "You're not going to vote your seat yourself, are you?"
"No way! Perhaps once I'm eighty." Sirius looked absolutely horrified at the idea.
"Great. Calum, can you come up with a Welsh who'll steward a permanent seat for... say twenty-thirty years?" Calum didn't even have to think about it.
"Poseidon Davis is your man, Harry," he said with absolute conviction. "He's from Cardiff, but he has the ear of the clans up north too."
"Not to mention that he's your son-in-law," Albert quipped.
"That too, but that's not why I endorse him," Calum defended himself. "It's because he's respected in both camps down there, and he can make things happen. He's a bit of a bastard, but if he gives you his word, nothing and noone can make him break it." Harry looked at him intently. Then he nodded.
"Alright," he said. "If you can persuade him to take it, there's a seat for him." He looked around with a shifty expression. "Which of our seats is the best for an aspiring Minister?"
"Potter!" Albert exclaimed, quickly followed by the others.
"Okay, Davis for the Black seat then." He stopped abruptly. "Any relation between him and Tracey Davis in my year?"
"He's her uncle," Isobel replied. "She's wired much the same as he is. If you bother her, she's a bitch, and if you're a friend to her, she'll be a friend to you. That's why Malfoy is still flinching at the name." Harry laughed.
"Sounds like you have a lot of fun in that dungeon of yours." Then he turned to survey them all, a big grin on his face.
"Eliza? How would you like to be the interim Minister of Magic?" A storm of 'are you crazy?' hit from every angle, except one. Mhairi had a calculating look on her face, and when she held up a hand, the shouting stopped.
"It makes sense," she said, drawing looks of consternation. "Think about it. Handing Poseidon a seat will go down well with Ogden, and Eliza for the other will secure his block for us. Most of the windbags will see her as a Perks, a witch from an English family related to the Longbottoms - and she is of course - but he will see Mrs. Bell, a vote for Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Same with Llywarch and Farquharson. Eliza actually being a Perks - and a witch - should give us the Bones-Longbottom block, and Marchbanks might join in too." She looked at them all, her eyes shining. "We might actually be able to pull this one off," she finished, her voice filled with wonder. That quieted everybody right down, and a couple of minutes later, Calum began chuckling quietly.
"This is going to turn magical Britain on its ear, lad. I hope you're ready to deal with it."
"You're the one who told me to think about who I wanted to take over, and I did just that. Not my problem if people don't like it."
"I hope you're right," Calum said as he rose from his seat. "But for now you'll have to excuse me. I have a few arms to twist, and not a lot of time to do it in." All rose to leave, and froze when a dainty cough sounded. Everybody turned to look at Eliza.
"I was asked a question before. Do I get to answer?" she asked archly. Several of them gulped. Eliza Bell was not to be taken for granted!
"You all seem rather convinced that I'll take it, but why would I? I don't particularly fancy getting a stomach ulcer, and I'm not keen on being crucified in the press as morning entertainment."
"I can understand that," Harry said softly. "Probably better than anyone else." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "I won't say you should, but we'd like you to take it because it will be a wake-up call for magical Britain, and because you can do a lot of good in that position. And of course because you're gifted with something that's increasingly rare these days: Common sense." The rest murmured their agreement, but otherwise stayed silent. They seemed to know that Harry was the one with the best chance of persuading her.
"We're not asking you to give up everything for an ungrateful society, you know. We're basically asking you to be a placeholder. I imagine you could be elected for a full period in three years, giving you eight years in the seat, and then you can pass the Potter seat to Cresswell, and the Minister's chair to Director Bones. She should have a decent replacement trained up by then. Whatever else happens, we're not asking you to take it permanently." He did his best to be as open as possible, as Eliza stared him in the eyes. Finally she sighed.
"You mean what you're saying, Harry. Thank you for the vote of confidence." She stepped back to look at them all at once.
"Okay, I'll take the blasted seat, but only until 2003, and you'd better start looking for alternatives in case the interim period goes badly. If it does, I'm not going to run in '98." Several people released breaths they weren't even aware they were holding in.
It was a much relieved group that broke up for the night, and a few minutes later, only Harry and Katie were left in the room. Harry was fidgeting, and Katie was puzzled.
"What is it, Harry?" she asked.
"Sleep with me tonight?" he asked hesitantly and almost inaudibly. She cocked an eyebrow at him.
"Dressed like last night?" The eyebrow rose even higher.
"It's up to you," he blushed. "You can wear a nightie over a pair of pyjamas if you like. I just want to hold you and be held. I've never felt as good as I did this morning, and I'd like to feel that again." She looked at him for a long time.
"Come on," she said, holding out her hand. "Let's get to bed."
A/N: My most profuse apologies for this. I've been at a loss about how to write this chapter, and to be honest, this wasn't it. It is however the least crappy of the numerous attempts I've made, so it'll have to do. The 'bed scene' was supposed to be short and sweet. It was not supposed to take up half the chapter, but it turned out Katie had quite a number of issues to address.
I know that the 'getting together scene' will seem dreadfully cliché, but it does actually have some truth to it. The Harry-Potter-specific issues aside, it's a watered down version of how I got together with my first girlfriend 30 years ago, only our waking up involved a total absence of clothing and a lot more action.
Sadly the trouble I've had with this means that I've royally destroyed my storyline, so I'll have to rethink how to go on from here. That in turn means, I offer no guesses as to when ch. 4 will come around.