Disclaimer: My house belongs to the bank, my work belongs to my boss and my money is always confiscated by my wife. And Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling. Damn...
Chapter 22: But the one who deserves it?
Hermione was still staring at Harry's new features when she remembered her parents being hurt.
"Mom! Dad!" she yelled as she stormed ahead, towards Harry. He reacted slightly startled, but quickly recognized her, giving up his protective position to let her approach her parents. Stepping aside, he watched Viktor kneeling down next to Sirius, waving his wand over the huge dog, looking puzzled. Harry could see and hear the dog breathe, indicating it was still alive. He would have liked to help, but he was still running on adrenaline, watching out for more attackers, feeling the blood hammer in his temples. He wasn't really able to think coherently, but still knew somehow that his healing skills were spotty, at best, and of no use here. Viktor had meanwhile called out for his parents, who rushed towards their son.
Their sudden movement startled Harry into turning towards them, causing his injured wing to briefly catch on the structure of the well. Harry almost dropped to his knees when the pain rushed through him, and only gripping the low wall for support kept him upright. Moaning, he reached for the source of the pain in his back, only to quickly let go of the wing's root when he briefly got hold of it. A few looks left and right later, he had a picture of what was going on.
"Bugger," he gasped.
"Well, that can wait," he added as an afterthought when he noticed some people approaching the town square, all in green robes and red hoods, trying to assume a fighting stance of some sort. Viktor's father was already approaching the new arrivals with his hands raised high, talking a mile a minute.
"Probably Aurors," Hermione voiced her assumptions about the men listening to Branco and staring at Harry and the carnage.
"I guess," Harry wheezed, feeling more and more exhausted as the adrenaline driving him left his system. "They seem to be mistaking me for a vampire, though, as far as I think I understand."
"Viktor had the same reflex. I caught him calling you Dracula when he saw your wings," Hermione replied from his side. "If only they would get on with the talking and start helping!" she cussed while trying to mend a cut on her dad's arm.
"How are they?" he answered with a question, his breath ragged as he leaned heavily on the well's low wall, patting himself down carefully to check for further injuries.
"Alive, breathing, dad's bleeding," she replied with a sigh. "The diagnostic spell shows something is wrong with his side. I'm pretty sure it shows broken bones, but there's so much more, and I can't read it properly," she whined.
"Will he live five more minutes for them to start helping?" Harry suddenly asked, in a quite tense way that made Hermione stop and stare at him.
"Yes, it's not that bad," Hermione replied, a bit miffed at the way he had worded his question. "I almost can't believe you all made it. You were great."
"Not that good," he said in almost a whisper while slowly slipping to his knees, against the wall, cradling his chest. "I'm afraid they got me," he wheezed, extending his shaking, bloody hand for her to see.
With a cry of his name, Hermione was at his side, almost stumbling over his now limp wing. Harry didn't hear nor feel it, anymore, as he slumped down, unconscious.
Funnily, the sense of smell worked best of all his senses when Harry woke up. Especially since his transformation, but it had always been that way. Ron always lamented that his nose was all clogged up after sleeping, but Harry never had that problem. His hearing, on the other hand, was almost always muffled like he had rubber plugs in his ears right after he woke up, but would clear up in a few seconds, or after popping them with his jaw. Opening his eyes was always a painful chore, even when he wasn't waking up in a hospital, like he assumed he was, right now.
Choosing to postpone that particular, but painful, task, Harry started his usual post-combat check. He'd already noticed that the air smelled like potions - hospital bed, no surprise. It was not quite as strong a scent of disinfectant, more like a normal room that had been scrubbed thoroughly, like Aunt Petunia sometimes did - probably his room at the Krums' house. Smell of blood, very close by. Harry went with the theory that this was directly connected to the dull pain in his belly, and the feeling of a bandage wrapped around him.
A faint whiff of peach - Hermione? The smell of potions and blood right in front of him made it hard to sort the other smells out. He also started to feel dizzy from trying to focus on it.
Still, there was another dull pain in his back, where his wing grew out. The thought made him snort with suppressed laughter. He could hear someone rising from a chair when he did so.
"Wakey wakey," Hermione whispered near his ear. "You must be the only one to beat up five werewolves and wakes up laughing," she spoke, trying to sound mirthful, and planted a kiss on his lips.
Harry had to clear his throat twice to reply. "Now that's something to wake up to," he chuckled, making a few painful blinks. It was awfully bright in the room.
"If it weren't for us in the room, you would be waking to much more, I guess," Sirius spoke up from further away, followed by a slapping sound. Sophie seemed to be present, as well.
Harry could almost hear Hermione's eyes rolling.
A few light footsteps later, he felt some different lips brushing against his cheek. Now his eyes were wide open.
"Thank you for saving three of the most important people in my life. You really are a great young man, never forget that. And if I knew it wasn't just out of a sense of obligation," Sophie said with an undertone that made him realize she wasn't talking to him, "I would be ok with any reward you receive."
Now Harry was sure he could hear Hermione's eyes rolling.
"I just did what I had to," Harry protested, "Anyone would have done the same, it's nothing."
Sophie giggled softly in reply. "Never change, Harry, never change," she said, softly brushing his hair out of his face, bending over and kissing his forehead before she stepped back from his bed.
"Would you mind stopping kissing other men? At least in my presence?" Sirius heckled from his place in a chair across the room. Harry briefly wondered if Sirius managed to get away unscathed until he noticed the walking cane leaning against his leg.
"Honey, that man saved three lives I value higher than my own. If it wasn't for the fact that one of those was my soon-to-be husband who believed he could wrestle a werewolf that wasn't his friend, I would be administering any reward due," Sophie shut him down with extreme prejudice.
"Sorry, kids, you got caught in that blast, as well," Sophie said sheepishly when she realized what she had just said. "Bad taste to bring that line in front of you."
"Don't worry, the look on his face was worth it," Hermione replied with a grin. Sirius' expression changed from 'Christmas is cancelled' to 'bloody traitor' when his gaze found her in reply. Hermione just grinned wider at him before her own gaze found Sophie. "But that topic is done with, yes?" she said in a suddenly very cold tone.
"Got it. Sorry."
"Good idea. How is anyone? And what time is it?" Harry spoke up, trying to get clear of that topic, as well.
Hermione cleared her throat. "Mum and dad are fine, in a non-Harry sense. Mum had banged her head pretty badly, and is mostly sleeping off her concussion under a potion. Takes a bit longer for Muggles, but she should be fine in a couple of days," she explained, stroking Harry's shoulder as she spoke.
"Dad got lucky, he was hit with a mostly backhand strike that only broke his ribs," she said, raising her hands and moving her fingers to make imaginary quote marks when she said 'only'. "He has a couple of minor scratches, though," she said, quite sadly.
"He'll live with that, if it comes to the worst,I guess," Harry replied, sighing deeply as he reached out for her. He promptly had to take a sharp breath when his chest twinged because of that, but shook it off, ignoring his state. "And you, Sirius?"
"I won't be dancing for a while," was the reply from the again grinning man. "Broke my hip on my forced landing. Got to keep my weight off my right leg for a few weeks to let things get back in order."
"That's strange. Maybe we should get some of our own healers? They didn't patch me up too well, neither," Harry laughed dryly, but everyone else just shook their heads.
"You're wrong on all counts, son. Those Aurors turned me back to use their first aid on me, but that shifted the bones and made things worse for the healers to sort out when they arrived. I'm not angry at them, I had serious internal bleeding that they needed to care to, but didn't know where things were on a dog. You are a different kind of cake," Sirius explained.
Harry's brow furrowed in reply to these news. "Great. So, what is wrong with me, now? Apart from the obvious," he said, pointing his right thumb at the wing hanging out of his sheets. "Wait a moment," he said, looking up and down the appendage that reached from the headboard to almost down to his feet. "Is it just me, or is it bigger than it was last night. I mean, I was only out for a night, right?"
"You see, son, that's the thing," Sirius replied carefully. "It's been a year..."
Harry stared at Sirius like the man had just grown a second head. "But, but," he stammered as he tried to get to grips with what he just heard. "You just said you'll be ok soon, and the Grangers…" he stammered, trying to get his thoughts in order.
"You are despicable," Sophie suddenly hissed in Sirius' direction. "How could you tell him such a thing, now? We agreed to make up stories, for now, and then easing him into it! I wanted him to get used to the things that changed during his come before he learns his father is crippled for life!" She spoke, softly caressing Harry's shoulder while she scolded her fiancé. Or husband? Harry wasn't sure, anymore. His head felt fuzzy, and in his confusion, he turned to his best chance to hear the truth. And that he did...
"Aunt Sophie!" Hermione cried indignantly, her eyes so wide they almost bulged out of the sockets. "Harry, don't listen to them! It's just the morning after!" she hastily tried to reassure Harry, instantly getting back to shouting at Aunt Sophie.
"I can't believe you're doing that to him," she screeched at Sophie. "For him, it's par for the course," she vented her anger while pointing at Sirius, "but you, as well?"
"Oh come on," Sophie laughed, while Sirius only grinned proud like a dog that actually caught the car, "that was perfect - when would one get the chance to bring this joke, again!"
"Given his life so far, next Tuesday!" Hermione spoke with a huff, shaking her head and murmuring about her doubt on some people's sanity, while she turned her attention back on Harry, who still was looking confused. "They just pulled your leg, it's ok, it's really just been a few hours, half a day, tops," she said, kissing his cheek over and over again, stroking his hair. "How could you!" she hissed at Sophie, again.
"Harry, tell her it was funny!" Sophie tried to defend herself.
"Not quite for me, but that's how these jokes work, I guess," Harry replied, letting his head fall back into the pillows. "Would just have been my luck to have that item tacked off my list, too," he said with a shrug.
"That's my boy - stiff upper lip and all," Sirius said with a proud smile. "Anyway, they couldn't do too much for you. You soaked up all healing spells they tried, but all it did was making your wings grow, it seemed. They noticed after an hour of work," he grinned.
"After that, they simply popped your wing joint back in place, filled you up with potions and wrapped you up nicely. You can count yourself glad you were out – I can attest to the fact that such proceedings are less fun than it sounds," he told him, grimacing as the last bit of information triggered some unwanted memories. "Well, the healer will swing by before noon to check in on us all, we'll see, then."
"We'll see," Harry sighed, still looking at his wing. "So much for me ever blending in with humans. Malfoy will have his day made if he sees me like that, provided they even let me back into Hogwarts."
"One step after the other, Harry. First, you got to get better. And I guess the first step towards this goal is that we leave, so Hermione can start with that rewarding stuff she got in mind," Sirius replied, smiling from ear to ear as he rose to his feet, fumbling with his cane.
Harry stared at him with eyes so narrow that they were almost closed for a few seconds before he finally replied with a growl in his voice.
"Hermione, be a dear and hand me that candle from the night stand, would you?"
Giggling like children, Sophie and Sirius rushed - or hobbled, in Sirius' case - out of the room, leaving Harry in Hermione's care.
"Sometimes it feels like they are the children, and we're watching them, isn't it," Hermione sighed, immediately regretting her statement when she noticed Harry's reaction to that painful topic.
"Can you imagine what a kid of them would be like? Especially if Sirius really goes along with that project he's working on with the twins," Harry replied after a defeated sigh.
"Haven't I told you, yet?" Harry asked unnecessarily, and hurried to explain. "You know they always wanted to open their own joke shop, but lacked the money, right?"
"Didn't they win a pretty sum with those bets on the world cup?"
"In theory, but Bagman never paid out. In the end, they simply placed it as a new bet on me winning the Triwizard Cup."
"Yeah, that did hurt them. Still, they saw it as simply a roadblock, and you know they never give up. Now here's the kicker - when I told Sirius about them, their pranks and their dream, over the stay at Privet Drive, he actually went and contacted them. He's been working with them on finding a suitable place, materials, and so on, funding most of it," Harry explained.
Hermione knew him too well to not pick up on the subtle lines between what he had said. "Most?" she asked pointedly, one of her eyebrows raised at Harry, a smirk on her face.
"Well," Harry replied evasively. "My money isn't doing any good in Gringotts, and Sirius agrees that they could turn out a great investment. It is their dream, and they are good at this stuff. And it's not as if we were going all out, only a thousand Galleons, each," he tried to talk himself out of her unyielding stare.
"You know that there's only one possible answer from me to that, right?" Hermione said, and Harry nodded, sadly.
His expression became one of surprise when she grabbed his head and kissed him hard enough to make his wound protest.
"Doing things like that for your friends is why I love you so much," Hermione said with a brilliant smile plastered over her face. Harry gaping at her made her realize the bomb she just dropped on him.
"But, but," he stammered, trying to come up with something to mope about. Doubling down, she decided to make it unmistakeably clear.
"Yes, I love you, you winged dolt. I do, and I always will. Nothing will change this," she spoke as she grabbed his hand and squeezed it.
"Someone's coming, three people," Harry interrupted Hermione, seconds before the actual knock at the door
"Are you decent?" Sophie's voice rang out.
"At least I'm a decent person, unlike others," Harry grumbled under his breath, before calling out for her to enter.
"Hey, guys. Doctor is here. Sirius is trying to get some breakfast, so I'm your sole chaperone," Sophie greeted them giddily as she waltzed in.
In her wake, Victor and an elderly man entered. Harry didn't know him, but he reeked of being a healer, in more than one sense. Not only was the behaviour a dead give-away, but the bag Victor was carrying reeked of healing potions, in the literal sense. At least to Harry.
"Hello, Harry. Big show. Yoh know how to draw a crowd," Victor greeted them while the man had started to cast spells at Harry, only briefly nodding at them before he started.
"Are they still there?" Hermione asked, looking worried.
"There? Who? What are you talking about?" Harry inquired, while trying to evade the annoyingly prodding wand as good as he could.
"Townspeople. They were quite agitated and followed us back here last night," Hermione explained. "Frankly, I'm amazed they're still here."
"Nod still," Viktor replied, his thick accent telling that he'd been speaking a lot of Bulgarian, recently. "Most vent home, but now, more and more are returning."
"With torches and pitchforks, eh?" Harry said with a huff, glaring at the healer waving the wand over his face. Sophie couldn't help but chuckle at the mental image.
"No, none of that! Still, the Huntsmen are guarding the house, just to be sure there's no weird one," Viktor chuckled.
"Weird is my job," Harry replied, ignoring the healer saying something to him. It#s not as if he would understand a single word of what the man said.
"Cough," Viktor said. When Harry only stared at him, he explained his intent a bit better. "The healer wants yoh to cough, Harry."
Rolling his eyes, Harry complied. Hermione had meanwhile found something to ask about.
"Huntsmen? Who are they?"
Viktor looked initially surprised by that question. "Our... How do yoh call them in Britain? Aurors!" he replied after finding his bearings and the right words. "For hundreds of years, their main job is to hunt dangerous creatures and occasional criminals, so the name stuck at some point in time. Muggles even used a variant of one story about them, but they got it wrong. The grandma was actually a werewolf, the girl mixed up the dates and came on a wrong day and the luckily nearby huntsman who saved her wore the red hood. That's their uniform, green robes, but red hoods."
"Oh," Hermione replied, her face contorted in a hilarious mix of disgust, wonder and sadness as she absorbed that childhood-shattering piece of info.
"That's quite interesting, I think. Are there more fairy-tales that are overlapping with true events?" Sophie inquired.
"Yes, they got a lot wrong, like Saint George killing dragons when he actually raised them and vos watched catching an escaped one, or Dracula being a Vampire," Victor chuckled.
"Wasn't he?" Hermione and Sophie asked in unison. "I read the book, and some books in Hogwarts also say he was," Hermione insisted.
Viktor was appalled by that reply. "In Hogwarts, too? Dey should throw dat book away! No, Vlad Tepés vos a Draculea - a Dragon Knight!" he exclaimed, his accent getting even thicker when he was enraged.
"Wait! Wasn't that what the people called me? My memory is a bit fuzzy," Harry interrupted, his voice drowning out a request of the healer.
"You called Harry that, as well - I heard you," Hermione confronted Viktor, drowning out the healer for a second time.
"I did. He looks like one. At least like the Tepés line of dem was supposed to have had wings, but dey never spat fire, I think," Viktor retorted. "Maybe it would be better if I told yoh about the Draculeas," he offered when he got interrupted.
The healer had been ignored for too long. After his multiple attempts to communicate with Harry, or Viktor, had failed during the heated end part of their talk, he reached out to pinch Harry's nose and then simply poured his potion flask into Harry's open mouth. Calmly, he started cleaning up as if that was completely normal procedure, while Harry still sputtered and protested, Hermione stared, and Sophie was trying hard to suppress her laughter.
Packing his bag in a precise and efficient manner, he spoke a few words to Viktor, Harry's glare following his every move. "Honestly I never thought I would ever miss Madame Pomfrey's bedside manners," he grumbled, making Hermione bite her lips to prevent a laugh.
"He's a grumpy one, but good," Viktor chuckled. "He told me he estimates yor wounds will take a week to fully heal - which is surprisingly fast considering the source," he relayed the information given to him. "But something is bothering him about yor scar on the head," he explained tapping his own forehead to specify.
"That's the one I got as a child, when Voldemort tried to kill me," Harry replied. Viktor translated for the healer, but the man only shook his head, vigorously, talking in a very serious manner that raised Harry's hackles. Hermione reacted the same, and he could smell Viktor becoming uneasy, too.
"What is it," Hermione demanded before Harry could. He almost smiled when he realized how protective of him she had become.
"He insists it is not just a scar. He can't really pinpoint it, but says it is - vot's the word - oozing? It is very full of dark magic and something else. He says he needs to report the Ministry to have them check on it," Viktor explained.
"I don't want that!" Harry called out, hissing sharply when his ribs and his wing protested against him sitting up so quickly. "It's been checked over again and again, and should be left in peace. Tell him that!"
"Harry, do you think that's wise?" Sophie interrupted. "You know, these people seem to know what they do, and if they think they need to have a look at it, it might be wise to let them," she proposed.
"I know what it is, it is a scar from when Voldemort tried to kill me, nothing more," Harry insisted hotly.
"And who told you that?" Sophie followed up with another question. "Dumbledore?" she probed after Harry didn't reply immediately. "Has anyone ever looked at it?" was her next question after another significant silence.
"Pomfrey probably has, but..." Hermione tried to argue, stopping when she realized that this didn't really help their point along.
"He insists, it' mandatory to report such a thing. Actually, this wouldn't change a thing if you want to not meet the Ministry, Harry," Viktor spoke up. "We already got an owl about a visit - the Minister and the Huntsmaster are coming to see yoh," he told Harry with a broad grin that intensified when Harry dropped back on his pillow with a harsh expletive. Viktor stopped grinning when the healer prodded him and babbled something.
"I'll be back in a minute, he always wants me to carry his bag for him," he spoke as he picked up the bag, and followed the old healer to the door
"Could you fetch the others on your way back?" Hermione suggested. "So you don't have to tell your story, twice."
"Wot story? Oh, the Draculeas, right!"
"You'll escort the doctor to the fireplace, and I'll get them," Sophie spoke up, almost shoving Viktor out of the room, closing the door after her. The moment it closed, Hermione's hand hit Harry's shoulder.
"Oy! What's that for!"
"For almost making me laugh at the doctor! That would have been so rude!"
"He wasn't the politest, neither."
"You're missing the point!"
"You didn't," Harry lamented, rubbing his shoulder theatrically.
Hermione rolled her eyes when he did that. "You seriously try to score pity points, pretending little me had hurt you? After slapping those werewolves around like rag dolls, you lost that privilege," she spoke with a smirk that would have made Snape proud. A second later, both of them were laughing happily.
"I love seeing you in high spirits," Sophie exclaimed when she entered Harry's room, holding out the door for her hobbling fiancé.
"Harry's probably high on these brews," Henry spoke with a wide grin, entering behind Sirius. "Margret's still out, cold, from that stuff the doc gave her, so we'll have to excuse her for the time being."
"How is she?" Hermione asked, while Sirius started conjuring up seats for everyone.
"Getting better. Usually, all you can do for a concussion is time and stuff to ease the symptoms, but these potions do actively mend the damage, I'm told. Instead of weeks, we are looking at a couple of days! Amazing, I say!"
"Would be even faster if she was magical," Sirius commented as he indicated Henry to sit on the finished chair. "On the other hand, some other potions work even better on Muggles. Innate magic is a fickle thing and can resist healing magic, just like any other spell cast on you. Like it does in Harry's case, for example. Powerful wizards are the worst patients, a nurse once told me in private," he told with a wink. "That's why healers are rare. You need talent to trick the patient's magic into helping, you can't force it to accept healing. Anyway, we were promised a story!" he quickly continued, covering his change of topics before Sophie got wind of it.
"I know, but Viktor is not yet back, so we're stuck waiting," Hermione said.
"Don't know what held him up, it's been almost fifteen minutes," Sophie added.
"He's coming, I can hear three people approaching," Harry said, settling the question. Everybody was looking expectantly at the door, waiting for it to open. When it finally did, the visitors were not the expected ones. Viktor was followed by three men, a chubby man in green suit and a big gold chain which immediately made Harry suspect he was some kind of official, probably the Minister. The next man was slender man with hollow eyes and purple robes, with greasy hair not unlike Snape's, and a lingering smell of potions lab around him. The fourth man wore green robes, but with a red hood currently lying limp over his shoulders. His presence almost instantly put Harry on high alert. The way he moved, a casual grace and efficiency, screamed 'predator' to Harry's senses. The fact that the man walked without any noise, making no visible effort, and immediately noticed Harry watching him, re-enforced that feeling.
"Please excuse the sudden change of plans," Viktor spoke, "dey were already waiting downstairs for the healer to finish."
"Please stay seated," the older man in purple spoke as he entered the room. "I've been informed you all have been hurt, but are on the way to full recuperation. In the name of my country and people, I want to apologize for the events of this evening. I'm Minister Oblansk, and this is Huntsmaster Sekely," he said in a deep voice, while the red-hooded man made a slight nod in their direction.
"We had to keep you waiting a bit after convening with Healer Rudnik, waiting for Master Sula to arrive, he is the leading expert for dark arts in our employ," the Minister explained, introducing the last member of his entourage.
"Am I under arrest?" Harry asked right away, not beating around the bush. The Minister's reaction was a thoroughly confused stammer.
"What? No! Why would we?"
"I believe the young Mister Potter is asking if we consider him a dark creature or not," the Huntsmaster said in a calm voice. Harry had to concede the fact that he was impressed by how the man had shown not the slightest hint of surprise when he had asked that unexpected question, but simply had solved the puzzle.
"Oh! You certainly are a direct man, Mister Potter. To answer your question, no, not at all. Don't worry, this isn't a such a situation. It's more of a political visit, and the offer of a deal I hope you can't refuse," the Minister chuckled, trying to recover from his blunder.
"Deal? I only used lumos spells! And Harry was trying to save my parents. This must fall under reasonable use!" Hermione protested.
The Minister opened his mouth to retort, closed it, and opened it again, without saying anything. Finally, his shoulders slumped as he shook his head. "This must be a translation issue, I've no idea what you are talking about, Miss. What kind of use?"
"Reasonable use, the exception from the under-age Magic ban," Hermione argued.
"Oh! That thing," the Minister said happily, waving her off. "We don't have such a silly law. Children are watched over by their parents and teachers, and are taught to behave. We never saw fit to regulate that beyond the implementation of the Statute of Secrecy."
"So it's about the men I killed last night," Harry killed the developing mood.
The Minister stared at Harry in the same confused manner he had worn basically ever since this talk moved past the introduction. Again, it ended with a sigh and sad shake of his head. "Mister Potter, your actions of last night have been thoroughly reviewed and investigated, and the Ministry of Bulgaria officially declares all your actions lawful. This was a definite life or death situation, and your use of force was well within the legal limits," he declared in a very official tone. "Furthermore, the Ministry wishes to express their regrets and apologize for that event happening, in the first place," he continues, now addressing the whole room.
"We certainly do not blame your country or people for this," Sirius replied as the first of them.
"If anyone, then we are to blame, we shouldn't just have gone off on ourselves, not knowing anything about the country. Werewolves or muggers, it was a recipe for disaster, and I'm sorry for the trouble we've caused," Henry said from his spot near the window.
"Mister Granger," the man in purple robes spoke up. "In a way, you and your group have done us a great favour. This particular pack has been roaming the country for the best part of the year. Our Huntsmen have barely managed to keep them away from the Muggle centres, but they had caused at least 15 casualties we know of until today. Worse, at least 8 persons, all Muggles, got injured, but have survived their attacks."
Now it was Henry's turn to look confused. "You call that worse?"
"I understand your confusion. But, dead people don't suffer no longer, and the infection is a life-long curse. These people are forced to let their friends and families believe they are dead, to leave their lives behind, and deal with the effects of the curse for the rest of their lives. More than one condemned us for not letting them die," the man replied sadly.
"So I..." Henry gasped, instinctively reaching for his bandaged side.
The man in purple immediately raised his arms in a pacifying gesture. "I doubt so, Mr. Granger. Your wounds were only scratches, and quite shallow. At most, you will feel restless at full moons, and get more fond of meat in your diet. Healer Rudnik said he is quite sure you did not get infected. And our young friend here should be completely immune, as far as we know."
"I see. One more question. I was under the impression wounds could be healed easily with magic, why are we just patched up like this?"
"Sadly, the curse also interferes with healing. We can close them faster than natural healing, but I'm afraid it will take time. A week, at least."
"If it is an infection, maybe it can be cured," Sophie interrupted suddenly, voicing what had occurred to her. "Maybe there is help for the poor people afflicted with this illness."
"Many of our most talented healers and potion masters have tried, so far with nothing to show for except for the wolfsbane potion, Miss," the purple robed man replied in a strained tone.
"I thought more along the lines of scientific analysis. Identification, extraction, analysis. There might be an easy way to fight it, maybe a way to immunize," Sophie explained to the now very confused man.
"You mean Muggle methods? How could you possibly study a magical disease?"
Sophie huffed and rolled her eyes. "Well, if it worked on him, it might as well work for a werewolf," she snapped, pointing at Harry. "I could ask Remus is he's willing to play guinea pig."
"Under full protective gear, of course, I'm not stupid," she added, when she felt all eyes resting on her, misrepresenting the feelings behind some of those.
"Before we continue, I propose that Master Sula has a look at Mister Potter's scar. It would be a shame to waste his precious time after we had to call him into this meeting," Huntsmaster Sekely spoke up.
"That's a surprisingly good idea," the man in question spoke up. "Mister Potter, would you mind if I cast some spells on you? Nothing invasive, just detection. You won't feel a thing, and it won't harm you, nor anyone else," he continued.
"If you have to," Harry replied, only barely refraining from frowning at the man who slowly approached him, drawing his wand after getting permission. To be fair, the following sequence of wand movements and long-winded complicated words that resembled Latin, but only barely, was impressive, even to him. Hermione was positively giddy at what she saw, but Harry was more jostled by the fact of how powerful the magic was. He could feel a kind of static building up as the man went to work, overcoming the resistance to magic that Harry usually posed with something resembling ease. It was almost unsettling to experience that kind of power from that unremarkable man.
Before Harry could follow that quite insulting train of thought deeper, he could feel the spells taking hold on something in his forehead. It wasn't an actual feeling, more of a pull in his mind, like a piece of rubber getting pulled taut, along with a dark green hue that seemed to spread out over his forehead. Before the pull could become uncomfortable, it was gone, along with the static, and the green glow.
"What in Merlin's name was that?" Sirius' voice was the first to break the silence.
"What was what?" Sophie demanded, echoed by a weaker demand voiced by Henry.
"There was a black mist seeping out of the scar while he cast the spell. You said you wouldn't do anything invasive!" she accused the Potions Master.
"I apologize, but I was forced to change my approach due to the resistance Mister Potter posed to my detection spells. Anyway, I've got an answer, although it isn't the one we hoped for," the man replied, looking a bit upset.
"To be frank, I can say that there is definitely something wrong with it, but I will need to share this memory with a collegue," he said, with Huntsmaster Sekely briefly smirking behimd him.
"So you got no idea, but think it is bad?" Sirius dug deeper.
"Well, I do have a theory, but I would rather withhold it until I confer with someone with more experience in this field," the man tried to weasel out of an answer.
"With much more experience," Huntsmaster Sekely added. "There isn't anyone who knows more about obscure magic than this one, I guarantee."
Hermione and Harry were tempted to challenge that with bringing Dumbledore into play, but didn't get the chance to do so.
"Right. Let's agree to postpone this topic until we have his input," Minister Oblansk tried to take command of the conversation, briefly glaring at his companions, before addressing Harry directly.
"Mister Potter, now that these concerns are out of the way, maybe we could start this talk over, and return to the primary reason for our visit? First and foremost, are you familiar with the history of this country? Especially the part concerning the Draculeas?"
"We know about the book, and we learned about Vampires in school," Harry replied dryly. "But Viktor already hinted that this was not quite right."
The Minister started chuckling as he heard this, and soon was in a deep belly laugh. "I'm sorry, Mister Potter, but this is a classic misunderstanding. The character of Vlad Tépes was more than slightly misrepresented in that book. He wasn't a vampire, neither, but a Draculea, a Dragon Knight."
"We were already told that much," Harry replied, "but haven't yet gotten around to the explanation of that term."
"I should explain about them, then, if you don't mind. It has been a long day, but it is the core reason of our presence here," Minister Oblansk insisted.
"Oh, we don't mind, at all, please proceed, Minister," Hermione spoke for the group. Sophie smirked, but she was on the edge of her seat, as well.
"The Draculeas, which means 'Sons of Dragons' were a knightly order, protectors of the people against dark, and a part of the Huntsmen. The Huntsmen are an old organization, going back so long that we don't know when they were founded. Our Huntsmen are the continuation of this, and yes, Red Riding Hood goes back on them, but the red hood was worn by the huntsman," the Minister explained, anticipating the question expertly.
"By the nature of their job, Huntsmen often interacted with Muggles, and also had quite a few in their ranks, as well as werewolves fighting for revenge. The Draculeas were something that resulted from a very skilled potion master offering to improve the Muggle's combat power by giving them them the strength of a Dragon, in exchange for a pardon, more than thousand years ago. He managed to turn three volunteer Muggle men into half-dragons, but was killed by a basilisk – at least that's what the legend says - before he could turn more. Of course, he left only few notes, all encrypted. What the new Draculeas knew, though, was that their blood would be able to turn others, as that was done by their creator. Sadly, it turned out that only one in eight survived the blood transfer, but these would turn into the same kind of Dracul as their donor. Odds were better if people were related, up to one in three, in some cases. The Tépes family was one of these lucky cases, and always had some volunteers. Due to the amassed influence, they became powerful nobles over time."
"Wasn't Vlad Tepes Romanian?" Hermione asked.
"No, his late descendant of the same name featured in the book was. But the wizard sides of our nations are almost like one country, anyway. And the Huntsmen are a joined force between us, for practical reasons."
"You know, the problems in transferring just scream 'wrong blood type transfusion' to me," Sophie quipped.
"Sophie!" Henry barked as he tried to stop her derailing the talk, again, but her comment had already piqued the interest of the Potions Master.
"Yes, there are basically eight types of blood in humans, some common, some rare. If you mix them, they will react badly. Should be easily avoidable if you filter the blood. Anyway, you had more than one kind of half-dragons, I gather from the 'Lines' you are mentioning?"
The Minister and the Huntsmaster were staring at Sophie in an almost slack-jawed manner, while Potions Master Sula was smiling softly. "I think we definitely have to talk, later, Miss..." he said, trailing off.
"Doctor Sophie Alistair," she replied with a smile. "Soon, Black," Sirius added his two Knuts.
"Doc.. Oh! You're a Muggle healer! How interesting. We never had the chance to talk openly to one of your profession," Master Sula replied with no small amount of suddenly found appreciation. "We definitely will need to talk at a later point of time. And yes, there were three, actually two usable. The first person turned was more lizard than man. The second transformed into something akin to Mister Potter, although he never was able to breathe fire, as far as we know, which is a very interesting feat in young Mister Potter's physiology. The third man was turned by injecting a jug of the second man's blood into his veins, but he turned out different, stronger, but with no wings. After that, the lines kept stable, but the line of the first man was never continued," he started to talk in a way that sounded like people discussing their trade, a stark contrast to how he had acted before, only stopping as a sharp glare from the Minister silenced him.
"That practice was continued for centuries, and the Draculeas were our elite troops among the Huntsmen, especially the winged ones, who could hunt down creatures most efficiently. Vlad Tepés was extremely good at this, and was famous because of it. Sadly, we only ever had few Draculeas. For some reason, they could only turn others for a short time after their turning, and never sired offspring, so they never grew numerous. A handful, at the height of their time, and then the last one failed to find any suitable candidates before his blood went stale," the Minister tried to take over, again, and once more, failing.
"Makes sense, I figured the cells would die off after some time, once Harry was fully changed," Sophie spoke up, again, once more taking command of the conversation. "It might be a good idea to filter the active components out of the blood, maybe with a modified dialysis machine, and freeze them for later use. That would also eliminate the problem of blood type intolerance, come to think of it," she proposed in a stream of conscience, blurting out what came to her mind.
"I don't exactly know what you are talking about, but the process you are proposing sounds promising," Master Sula replied, "Please, elaborate."
"No, this is of utmost importance," he insisted when the Minister tried to shush them to get back to his point. "Please, Doctor Alistair," he said, trying to ignore the daggers the Minister glared at him.
"Well," Sophie continued," it isn't exactly the blood that makes the change, but specialized carrier cells. Are you accustomed with the concept of micro-organisms?"
"I've read about that concept in Muggle literature, but I find myself having problems with the details of it. Especially since they seem to be helpful and harming, both," Master Sula conceded with a charming smile.
"A working model would be to think of them as tiny animals, small enough to fit a million on the point of a needle. In this special case, they are working tirelessly to multiply, changing their host into what you call a Draculea as a by-product. Once the host is fully converted, they can't reproduce anymore, and die off," Sophie tried to explain in simple words.
"I find myself believing that your prior assessment was correct. This sounds very similar to what we know to happen to the bodies of Vampires and Werewolves," Master Sula replied. "Apart from the fact that their curse does not die off, and does infect others."
Sophie tilted her head in thought. "These organisms seem to have different reproductive processes, then. In case of a Vampire, I'd not be surprised if they consume blood, causing the need to drink it," she theorized.
"Very much possible. Anyway, you proposed you might be able to create a concentrate of the changing agent? Distilling it into something that is devoid of harmful side-effects?" The Potion Master asked, almost excited at the prospects.
"That is the plan. I guess we should freeze them in batches, so we reduce thawing losses. Given how infectious they are, I believe we could get a couple dozen doses from him," Sophie mused. "And of everyone else, as well, and then there is the natural reproduction with turned females."
"Was that ever tried, before?" Hermione joined in, blushing slightly when Sophie shot her a knowing grin in reply.
"Good question, Miss. To be honest, due to dangers, bad chances of success, and the general times, giving it to a female was seen as waste. It wasn't even given to Wizards, only Muggles, for Wizards were too valuable, as well," the Potions Master replied.
"But these notions are a thing of the past, Miss," the Minister stepped in, the Potions Master almost withering under the Minister's intense glare. The Huntsmaster, who had stoically listened to everything said until then, sported a slight smile when Master Sula took a step aside.
"This is where our offer comes into play," the Minister said, taking a deep breath before he turned towards Harry. "Mister Potter, we would ask your help to found new line of Draculeas," he proclaimed, immediately catching up to the frown that these words brought to Harry's face. "You don't seem too thrilled of that."
"No, I ain't," Harry replied with a frown. "Subjecting people to this curse is nothing I'd support."
"Mister Potter, you seem to be mistaken. We aren't subjecting, but only enabling. Since last night, I have been approached by no less than fifteen Huntsmen, asking to be the first who would be allowed to try at being turned, and that was while everyone had to face the odds of dying in the process. If what Miss Alastair proposed turns out to be true, we would face a veritable avalanche of volunteers," Huntsmaster Sekely informed Harry.
"You do not know the role the Draculeas played in our society, but most people heard about the last ones from their grandfathers, the great deeds they did for our people. They are heroes, a notional symbol, and the change is considered a honour and gift. We will be able to create a new race, a true population, a strong population, allowing the healthiest and fittest people, men and women, Magical or Muggle, to be turned, and they will be the cornerstone of a new era of peace in our countries, and maybe the world," he said, for the first time showing passion.
"And there could be a place for you, here, with the Huntsmen. A place among people like you, a task, something to live for. And it would be your legacy. You would be father to a whole race!"
"Indeed. But you don't have to decide right now," the Minister interrupted hastily, visibly afraid that his college would try to force Harry into a corner and pin him down on an answer. " You would be welcome here, Mister Potter. We would award you citizenship, and a place to live. There is a small hunting seat nearby one of our bigger settlements, in the Rhodopian mountains, which I believe you would find more than adequate. It is beautiful there. Your family would be welcome, as well, and Miss Alastair, we would love to have you supervising that endeavour. Whatever the cost, we will finance it. But look, we already have claimed too much of your precious time. We will leave now. Discuss, make up your mind, and most important, recover. We will be in touch, once you have recovered from your injuries," he spoke, making a strategic retreat, the Krums escorting them out of the room.
Hermione didn't need to wait for the discussion to know what Harry would say. Huntsmaster Sekely, knowingly or by accident, had offered Harry everything he ever wanted. A home, a position to help people, a family of sorts. A place where he could be one of many. The last weeks, Harry had become more and more preoccupied with the burden of being the only one of his kind, a lone freak of nature, deprived of many things others would enjoy naturally. Harry might not know it yet, but she knew he already had made the decision.
There hadn't been much talk about the topic for the rest of the day. While the offer hung above everything, the day was devoted to recuperation. Sirius and her parents had retired for quite some time after lunch. Harry had been adamant to take that meal with them in the dining room, but after that exertion, he was just as knackered as the others. They almost had to carry him back up to his room.
Hermione tried to take her mind of the proposal, and the possible consequences, but it kept on bugging her. She tried to retire early, but all it did for her was more time to toss and turn, creating scenarios, each worse than the one she thought up, before.
When dawn approached, Hermione was standing in front of Harry's door. Even though she had been planning this for the last five hours, she still took almost five minutes for her to find the courage to carry on with her plan. Finally, she turned the knob, quietly pushing the door open.
Walking into his room, Hermione smiled. Harry had stirred, but he kept on sleeping. It was a strange thing she noticed during their naps at Hogwarts. While he used to have a very light sleep, earlier, he now slept like a rock. As long as he wasn't disturbed too much, he would sleep on, no matter what happened. In a way, it made sense that an alpha predator sleeps without fear. He only murmured something in his sleep while she stepped closer and dropped her robes to the ground. Carefully, she slid under the blanket, snuggling into his arms.
Out of instinct, Harry pulled her closer. Only moments later, he partially wrapped his wing around her, as well. To Hermione, it was weird to feel the wing against her skin. It was leathery, but soft. She had expected it to feel cold, but it was warm to the touch.
Against her earlier fears, Hermione felt right at home there, as she laid on his shoulder, her leg entangled with his as she spooned against him.
Her fingers were playing with his chest, she wondered how it must be like to have wings like that. It seemed strange that Harry could lie on his back, having them. But the way they folded against his back, he probably could lie any way he wanted to. She chuckled as she realized that he probably could do the full bat thing, wrapping himself, and even her, in his wings if he wanted to. Hermione found that all this wasn't as scary as she thought it might be.
Emboldened by that realization, Hermione started to gingerly let her fingers slide across his chest, to his shoulder, and finally, down to his arm. Taking a last deep breath, she made the decision she had been postponing all day.
Hermione woke early, as always. The sunlight was almost painful to her as it shone through the eastern window, straight into her face. Much to her surprise, neither she nor Harry had moved one inch from the position they fell asleep in. Her mouth felt dry, and she was feeling more than a bit light-headed. Actually, the very moment she moved, she felt sick.
Slowly, careful not to jostle Harry, she removed herself from his embrace and rolled out of bed. She had to fight a bout of vertigo when her feet hit the floor. Shaking her head, she donned her robes as quickly as she was able to. Her first stop was the loo. She didn't get sick, but even some water later, the world was still spinning. Figuring she might simply be exhausted and in need of some food, she made her way downstairs with a plan to raid the pantry.
"Hello, Hermione," Henry said as Hermione padded into the kitchen.
She jumped in shock when she found her father sitting at the table, a mug of coffee in his hands.
"I heard you walking by our door," he said, sipping his cup, while Hermione leaned against the table. Her head was spinning as she tried to put things together, and her legs didn't respond too well, anymore.
"Hardest decision I ever made, not to stop you," he admitted, staring out of the window, not noticing how she grabbed the back of a chair to hold herself upright.
"But you are almost an adult, and after we went down the supportive route, getting you on the pill and everything, I could hardly go in and drag you out there," he spoke with a dry laugh. "Harry loves you, and you love him, you are in this for the long run, so I guess it's fine with me," he argued aloud, more to his benefit than to explain himself. "Still, I couldn't go back to sleep, and certainly didn't want to stay up and listen in, so I went and got me a book," he said. "Want a cup of coffee, too?" he asked over another sip, but set down his cup, quickly, when he finally looked up and noticed Hermione's feverish face. Immediately, he stood and rushed over, feeling her forehead for temperature.
"You're burning! What happened? Do you feel sick?" he gasped. Hermione's reply was to faint in his arms.
With a brisk motion, he had her cradled in his arms, ready to carry her up into her room.
As quick as he could without bumping her into the door, he walked out of the kitchen with his burden, heading for the stairs. Faster than he thought it would have been possible, he had her in her room, depositing her in her bed and turning her nightstand lamp on. For a short moment, her feverish expression made him hesitate, stroking her forehead helplessly before he snapped out of it.
Medical training kicking in, he felt her pulse, before prying one of her eyes open to check her pupil reflex, his own eyes widening in shock when he did so. In a daze, he stood up and walked a few paces, both hands running through his hair as he shook his head, before turning to face his daughter lying before him. In a vain hope, he checked her eyes again, but with the same result. On a whim, he checked her arms, and found a puncture mark.
"You stupid thing," he sighed in resignation. "You couldn't just sleep with him like any other girl, could you?"
Happy Christmas/Hanukkah/Yule/Holidays/whatever to all of you.
And a big thank you to embi and Alix for helping me out with this stuff.
The last two months have been quite busy here, I'm (mostly) done with the stable build, I survived a food poisoning, and many other things. Still I kept on writing, and since I didn't want to split this chapter into two, I figured I'd make it a double feature.