A/N: Rumours of my death ( or more importantly, this story's) have been greatly exaggerated. I'm sorry to everyone for the long wait, but both Real Life & the dreaded Writers Block rose up together. Trust me when I say that I want to finish writing this as much as you want me too.
I would like to a moment to dedicate this chapter to my Grandfather, whose funeral was on Wednesday... just 48 hours before he would have turned 89.
16 Nov 1923 - 23 Oct 2012
Lovable rogue to the end.'
When Major Greengrass entered the hall of Malfoy Manor, he paused for a moment at the sight of the Dark Lord scowling, while a robed Death Eater crawled away. From the whimpers and gasps coming from him, Voldemort had inflicted the Crucitius on him. Clearly, the news he brought had not been to the Dark Lords pleasing. From the expression on his face, Voldemort appeared to be in a murderous mood. He considered turning around and coming back later, once Voldemort had calmed down from whatever it was that had enraged him, but his entrance had not gone unnoticed. "Greengrass! Do you have Potter?"
Discreetly Greengrass made sure his wand was loose in its holster before approaching the Dark Lord. "I'm am afraid to report that Potter was not at his summer muggle residence."
For a long moment Voldemort said nothing. Greengrass would have relaxed, had the scowl not deepened. "Explain… this." Voldemort hissed finally, the sounded echoed by the large snake that was coiled around the legs of the throne on which he sat.
"There were no wards present at the dwelling." Greengrass begun. "There were traces, indicating that there had been at some point. It looks like he never actually returned to that home this summer."
Another long silence. "And where did the muggles say he went?"
Swallowing nervously, Greengrass shifted his hand a little closer to his wand. "After observation, I determined that none of them would assist. From what we overheard, they hate the boy almost as much as yourself. So I enacted your orders regarding the muggles and their home."
Voldemort learned forwards. "You killed them?"
"Blew up their house with them inside." Greengrass clarified. "The chances of survival…"
"You fool!" Voldemort roared as he stood up straight rapidly, wand appearing in his hand instantly. "You said you would deliver me Potter. We know he's not with any of his friends. Now without that dwelling, we have no contact for where he might be!" Anger blazed in Voldemort's eyes. "You have failed!"
"Have a care, Voldemort." Greengrass snapped back, his ire raised. "I only said it was a possibility that we could acquire him there. 'When your enemy goes to ground, leave no ground to go to'."
"Don't make useless quotes to me!" Voldemort raged, his wand coming up. "You failed in your mission, and you know how I punish failure…"
Greengrass whipped his own wand out as he spun out of the path of the torture curse. Bringing it around he snapped off a wordless disarmer, but the Dark Lord just batted it away. Voldemort responded with a wide area cutting curse, forcing the major to duck and roll to evade it. Even as he did, he heard the dreaded words. "Avada Kedavra!"
He tried to roll again, but his lack of an arm hindered the motion. But then… no green light washed over him. Looking up, he saw one of his Storm-Wizard bodyguards crumple to the floor, green traces running over him. The other was throwing himself to the side, scrabbling for cover.
Greengrass understood then. His bodyguards, who had stayed by the door, had seen the duel start and had begun to move up to defend their superior. Voldemort however had not forgotten them.
"Stay out of this!" He yelled even as another spell came from the Dark Lord.
"Yes… we would not want too many of your men falling now, do we?" Voldemort sneered.
In his youth, Greengrass had been a deadly and highly skilled dueller, partly because he'd become proficient in using his pistol in his off hand. He'd risen fast in the ranks of the Magi-SS due to a combination of his skills and mentality. But age was draped over him now, and he had never fully recovered from the vicious duel he'd had with his brother so long ago, in which he'd lost his arm. Since then, he'd been forced to rely solely on his wand work. Most of the time, he was able to simply wait his foe out, allow them to drain themselves before launching vicious counter-attack. Others he'd simply crushed under a deluge of dark curses.
Voldemort, however… Greengrass found himself having to revise his opinion of the Dark Lord. He'd already sensed that he was powerful, but the display Voldemort was putting on was of an even higher level than Greengrass had expected. But this wasn't mindless power and brutality: it was directed, controlled, malicious. A mere flick of his bone handled wand dissipated or deflected the strongest curses Greengrass could throw out, all while moving with languid moves. There was none of the at times frantic moves Greengrass had to perform to evade the chains of over-powered curses that lashed at him; the Dark Lord could have been having a mock duel with school children. Greengrass had settled into a holding pattern, waiting for the Dark Lord to tire. But after several minutes Voldemort showed no signs of fatigue at all, when any other wizard would have been flat on their backs out cold from sheer magical exhaustion by now. Instead, Voldemort continued to throw around over-powered curses and hexes like they were going out of style. And not just those, but charms and some transfiguration spells were also thrown into the mix, forcing Greengrass to deal with unexpected diversions. A hanging tapestry became a mirror, and Greengrass had to shield from two directions at once, as the Dark Lord was bouncing some of his spells off it to come at him from behind.
All too soon it ended, as a step back to evade yet another killing curse turned into a sudden fall backwards. Greengrass gasped as the wind was knocked out of him from the impact with the stone floor. Struggling to rise, he glanced down to see that Voldemort had transfigured one of the stone slabs into grey coloured liquid mud, making a hidden foot trap. He had not more time for reflection as another barrage of spells came at him. A hastily cast shield held them back… but not the Crucitius that followed.
Pain worse than even the separation of his arm tore through him, and Greengrass lost count of time or even awareness of his surroundings. Then the pain ended, though every nerve still stung. Faintly he heard a clattering sound, as if a body laden with metallic objects had fallen to the floor. Then the Dark Lord was stood over him, one boot kicking his wand away.
"Never forget who is the master here, Greengrass." Voldemort spoken menacingly, before his wand pointed right at him. "Avada Kedavra!"
The green bolt shot out… and impacted a couple of inches to the right of Greengrasses head. Blinded by the flash of green light, he turned head away from the impact point, the very real sense of fear pounding through his veins.
"Don't fail me again Major, or next time I won't miss deliberately." The dark shape that was Voldemort straightened and turned away. "Come Nagini."
A rasping sound acted as counterpoint to the Dark Lords footfalls as they receded.
Walking down Diagon Alley, Harry tried very hard not to notice the looks from those his group passed by. While his family had over the summer talked with him about the benefits of his status and fame, he still didn't like it. He admitted it had its uses, but he really didn't like the fame at all.
Still, at least today it wasn't just him that was the centre of attention. Almost the entire extended Potter family had come to the Alley together. Due to their numbers, it had been decided that the Potter Estate would purchase a minibus to transport everyone in one good, as Amelia had warned that the Floo was still unsecured in her view. While the old lockdown she'd discovered had finally been removed, she didn't trust the staff in that department at all.
Of course, the number of staff she trusted with her niece's life outside her own could be counted on both hands, with fingers left over.
While most of her time was being taken up with plans for teaching a vastly updated Muggle Studies course next year, Lily had used the purchase of the minibus as a practical lesson in runes and charms, and how they could be combined. Based on the work she and the Marauders had done on her car, the family had gone over the blocky, inelegant vehicle, adding similar charms and engraved runes. It didn't look like much – Fleur in particular had not been enamoured with it - but that minibus was almost as tough as a tank now, what with the fortification runes and bunker charms placed on it. After Ginny had let slip the event at the Burrow, Arthur Wealsey had overseen the whole thing… and had been incessantly asking about how the vehicle worked. Several times Lily had to smack his hands away from components before he got hurt.
It had struck Harry then just how misinformed the Magical World really was regarding the Non-magical one. Arthur was supposed to be the Ministry's expert on all things muggle, but he was woefully out of date, and frequently mispronounced common words… which Lily had not tolerated at all.
Over the course of the day as they worked, Arthur's promotion at the Ministry had come up. He had clearly been pleased as punch at his elevation… that is until Harry had noted something.
His old role had been to protect Muggles from the pranks of mean spirited magicals. His office had barely been more than a broom cupboard, and he'd had one assistant.
His new role was to protect magicals from a flood of counterfeit protective items, amulets and the like. He now had an office area that matched the Durlsey's total ground floor plan, and almost two dozen witches and wizards as assistants.
When Harry had raised this contrast, Arthur had appeared bewildered at why it was an issue… while the muggles and muggleborns in their group had scowled.
Arthur had returned home a man with a lot on his mind after the ensuring 'discussion'.
Forcing thoughts of the elder Weasley from his mind, Harry glanced around the Apothecary, their first stop on their trip. With all the Hogwarts bound students in their group here, plus adults, they almost filled the store themselves. Emma Granger was the only exception: she was waiting outside, as the contents of the store made her queasy. Harry, having already gathered all the items needed to top up his potions kit, allowed his thoughts to wander once more.
The news of the defeated Death Eater/Giant attack in Kent had clearly help boost the morale of the Magical world. What had not been released to the press, which Amelia had told them later, was the main reason the attack had been thwarted… the tank belonging to the Army group Daniel had been training. It had been a relief that their controversial and risky idea had already proven to be effective. It was hoped that when the infantry engaged, they produced similar results.
Although the magical world was focused on the events in Kent, the Family had been distracted by news of a more personal nature. The Surrey Police Force had contacted them, relaying the explosion at Privett Drive. Both Vernon and Marge Dursley were pronounced dead at the scene, while Petunia was still in hospital, her condition critical, but stable. At first the police and fire service had thought it was a tragic accident, but investigation had discovered fragments of explosive devices, thus they were investigating. Harry doubted they would find anything, but within the Family it was reckoned that Voldemorts Magi-SS were behind the attack.
His mum Lily had actually gone to visit her sister in the hospital, but things hadn't gone well. As soon as Petunia had seen her she'd started screaming and swearing, blaming everything on her and her 'Freaky' family. It had made Petunia's condition worse, and put Lily in a depressed mood for a couple of days. The others had rallied round her, showing how much they loved and respected her. The fate of Dudley however, was still very much up in the air. He'd been out of the house during the attack, and now in 'protective custody' while the police and Social Services tried to figure out what to do with him.
Once the last ingredients were purchased the group moved on. As they walked down the Alley, Harry couldn't supress the smile that formed on his face… not that he wanted to. On his right arm Hermione walked with her arm linked through his. Where she'd always been ever since they'd met really. But it was Lily on his other side that really put the smile on his face. He'd always been slightly envious of the other kids, walking around with their parents. Now he had his mother back.
As they passed Florish & Blots Hermione started to drift away, but Harry refused to let her go. "Remember you promise." He said teasingly. Hermione huffed, but he could tell that she was not truly annoyed. Before they had left, they had almost had to force her to promise to stay out of the bookstore until the end, when they would all gather their new books. Harry knew, from experience, that once within the shop Hermione would lose all track of time. By making sure that they visited the bookshop last, they could get everything they needed without rushing… and be sure to have the gold to pay for everything. Behind the pair Lily chuckled softly, though she too gave the bookstore a longing look.
It was as they were crossing the open area before Gringotts that Harry froze. "What's wrong Harry?" Daphne asked as she and her sister Astoria came up behind them with their mother. Seeing that he was looking towards the entrance to Knockturn Alley, everyone turned to look… to see a very recognisable head of hair emerging from the dark alley. Seemingly to feel eyes on him Draco Malfoy looked up, straight into Harrys glare. His features twisted into a scowl of hatred and his mouth started to open, likely to let an insult fly. But then his eyes moved over the group, and he appeared to decide that this time it was not worth it… likely because the Head of the DMLE was stood there watching him like a hawk. With a toss of his head he walked down the other side of the street towards the Leaky Cauldron.
"Damn, way to spoil a good day." Hermione muttered.
"I'm rather more concerned about why he was in Knockturn to start with…" Daphne said softly, her tone troubled.
"Whatever he was doing, it can't be good." Harry stated firmly. "I'd bet he was on a mission from Voldemort."
"That's a sucker bet if there ever was one." Susan chimed in as her Aunt sighed.
"Regardless of our personal opinions, there is no law against being in… that, Alley." Amelia said, her tone laced with frustration.
Behind her Daniel Granger was looking between her and the alley way. It looked like the stereotypical dark, dangerous alleyway. "I assume you've not swept it clean because it suits you to know it's there?"
Amelia turned to regard the former solider with some surprise, before he expression morphed into one of resigned amusement. "Partly. At least while all the shady dealing are going on down there we can monitor and keep most people away." She sighed deeply. "But the main reason is simply I don't the manpower or the backing to root out all the undesirables down there. And those that fought back would take a lot of my Auror's with them. We'd be crippled. I can't risk that."
"Hmmm…" Daniel took another long look at the Alley as the group walked past. Harry was sure that the former solider was forming and discarding military plans to scourge Knockturn in his mind.
A few moments later all thoughts of Draco or Knockturn were driven from their minds, as the front of the Weasleys twins shop had come into view. It was radically different to how they had last seen it… in fact it was impossible to miss it. Bright, almost garish colours and sparkles forcibly grabbed ones attention and drew one in. 'I'll give it to them. They certainly know how to capture attention.' Lily thought as she followed her son towards the shop. She paused however when she saw the one advertisement.
'Why are you worrying about
You should be more worried about
Despite herself, Lily could not help but laugh at the send up of the Ministry warning posters the Twins had created. The front of the shop was swarmed by younger children, all gaping at the products on display. Overhead, a floating board the size of a pool table announced:
'Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes will be opening TODAY!
(Less than an hour to go now!)'
Harry led the group down the side alley to the twins private entrance. Once they were all there, he knocked crisply on the door. Barely a moment later the door flew open.
"Welcome to our dream!"
Harry looked at the two, slightly shocked. Not at their greeting, that was expected. It was their outfits. Harry had had visions of neon pink or glaring yellow robes, clothing that would have been as eye watering as eye catching. Instead however, the pair of them wore rather muted dark red robes, from under which the collars of dark grey shirts could be made out. The final image was rather understated, for them.
"Hey guys. I see you're ready to go."
The twins grinned diabolically. "Oh we are."
"Everything's in place."
"Come see!" They said together now, both reaching out and latching onto an arm, almost dragging Harry through the rear workspace to the shop floor. The rest of their group followed on behind, guided by a ruefully smiling Alicia, wearing a similar outfit to the twins.
Stepping through, the change in the shop floor from Harry's first visit was breath taking. It was riot of colour and motion. Everything and anything bounced, hopped, squawked and squeaked for attention from all sides, every shelf and row. Behind the counter, clearly ready to serve, was a blonde-haired young woman in a similar outfit to Alicia's. Hermione thought she looked vaguely familiar, but couldn't place the face.
The twins now released Harry, stepping forwards before spinning to face them all from a clear region of the shop floor, just before the counter. "Dear friends…"
"…We bid you welcome…"
"…to the greatest shop on Earth…"
"…Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes!" They both threw an arm out, clearly encompassing the whole shop.
"Feel free to look around."
"Don't be afraid to ask for details…"
"…on anything that catches your eye!"
"…As your Harry's Family…"
"…You get a discount!"
"One hundred per cent, in fact." They paused for a moment.
"In fact, if you think about it…"
"…Which we did extensively…"
"…You get things for free!"
Harry shook his head. "Guys, that's too much. This is your livelihood."
The twins suddenly sobered up. "Harry, you gave us this."
"Without those winnings, we'd never have gotten here."
"And let's not forget he of pranking fame…"
"…Padfoot, also known as Sirius."
"We've learned so much…"
"…Nuggets of wisdom…"
"…that this is the only way…"
"…we can repay."
After that, any protest died in Harry's throat. Tentatively at first, the group fragmented, each member browsing at will. Lily was pleasantly surprised to see that the two really had taken on-board what she'd told them, after their 'prank' on Daniel. There were less of the 'trap' pranks than she'd feared at first, and more items that were clearly intended for group fun and amusement. Oh, quite a few things could still be used for pranking, but nothing would have lasting effects beyond a half hour, usually. She nodded with satisfaction at some of the warnings the twins had put on the products, warning that the items were not intended for use on muggles or the very young or elderly.
Daniel chuckled when he found the section devoted to muggle 'magic' tricks, card games and the like. Some of the ring puzzles he heartily approved of, as they were not only toys but also taught useful traits and skills.
The girls all cooed over the pygmy puffskins that rolled around in their glass container, though Daniel had barked out a laughter at the sight, before asking how many they started with, and how much they had been feeding the little fur balls. He'd then gottening into regaling the twins with the story of the Tribbles, which had prompted the pair to look at the collection they had a little nervously.
Harry was looking closely at the 'Ship in a Bottle' display, which featured a moving ship on perfectly scaled waves. According to the details, the waves and even weather within the bottle could be set to whatever the owner wanted, just with their wand. They could also put a model of whatever ship was desired in the bottle, from the 16th century sailing ships to modern warships, or so they claimed. Harry figured they were hoping to tap some of the muggleborns for details for the more modern craft. He was considering asking them to put a replica of his ancestors ship, the Pegasus, in a gallon bottle, when he heard Hermione call out. "Harry, Fred, George. Come over here." Harry hurried over to where her voice came from, heeding the dangerous tone in her voice.
As he reached Hermione, Harry saw they most of their group had converged on her. She was stood facing one shelf, her expression one of tightly controlled outrage, which made Harry swallow reflexively. Fleur was stood next to her, not even trying to hide her outrage.
"You called, Hermione?" One of the twins asked nervously, clearly having picked up on the danger signs.
"Oui. What are those doing here?" Fleur answered for both women, her hand shooting out to point towards the shelf. Harry turned his head to look, and instantly scowled.
A pink box sat on the shelf, with rows of heart shaped bottles within, each filled with a dark red liquid. The sign saing 'Love Potion' was kind of redundant. Harry turned to regard the twins. "Well?" He asked questioningly.
The nearest twin gulped. "Well… they're kind of a tradition…"
"There's always been love potions…"
"…Always will be."
"These aren't powerful at all."
"Last only fifteen minutes, at best."
"A lot can happen in fifteen minutes, boys." Eleanor said coldly, her eyes hard.
"Yes… what if a girl gets drugged with one of these, and throws herself at a boy that normally she hates?" Daphne asked cuttingly. "Say… Ginny and Draco?" Both twins winced then shuddered at the mental image, before going ghastly as Daphne pushed on. "And suppose they fumble into a broom closet, and both forget about the contraception charm… why, there'd be a good chance you'd end up uncles to one of Draco's kids. Do you really want to risk that happening?"
The pair looked at each other. "When you put it like that…"
"…We did try to make sure that it'd be obvious if someone was under the influence…"
"Not good enough." Daniel now stepped in, towering over the two young men, who found themselves backing away from the soldier. "You are both young men. Would you really turn down a girl throwing herself at you?"
They both jerked a thumb at Harry. "Harry would."
Harry rolled his eyes as Nevile snorted.
Seeing the looks around them, the twins looked at each other. "Maybe we should reconsider…"
"…Maybe we should." They were already moving the box off the shelf.
"No need to antagonise our benefactor…"
"…or the man capable of breaking us in half…"
"…or the half-dozen or so very powerful…"
"…not to mention beautiful…"
"…and scarily intelligent…"
"…witches that are close to said people."
Once the love potions had been taken out back, the tension relaxed. Harry decided to have the 'Bottle-ship' as something to take with him to Hogwarts. A couple of other items were chosen, before the group made their exit. Lily lingered a moment to give both twins a long, hard look, which had both bowing their heads in shame, before following her family out the side door. As they moved away they could all hear the joyous yelling as the Twins shop opened its doors to paying customers.
Then the bookstore was ahead, and Lily forgot all about the Twins blunder as she rapidly followed Hermione inside, the rest of the family following in their wake.
A few days later Daniel Granger smiled slightly as he leaned against the wall, watching the young group walk across the lawn of Potter Manor. He could no longer really call them teens anymore, he supposed.
It was another glorious August summer day, the sun shining down on the Manor brilliantly. Ever since sun up he'd put them all through their paces, training and conditioning them. Now, after a noon shower, he'd turned them loose for the rest of the day to unwind. They were only a few days away from returning to Hogwarts, and he insisted they make the most of the remaining time.
As always, Harry was in the centre of the group. It was around him that they had gathered, forging their group identity really. He really was a one-of-a-kind, humble but honest, courageous and caring. And so determined. Daniel had to - very reluctantly - thank the Dursleys for that aspect of his character. No matter what he threw at him, Harry just kept on going, pushing himself to the limit. In fact Daniel often had to pull him back, before Harry hurt himself by pushing himself beyond his limits.
Right now though the young man could just what he was, a young man with messy hair that was still damp from a shower and a large classic picnic hamper in his left hand. His right arm was linked with Tracy's today. The dark haired girl had come a long way from the reserved, closed off person she'd been when she first arrived. Oh she still played the 'goth' look, but it was much less bold, less obvious. The toning down of the dress showed how she had become much more confident in herself and her own body. She'd started to tan a little as well, the other girls accepting her as an equal, allowing the walls to come down.
Hermione and Luna walked slightly to the other side, Luna's pet mini dragon cavorting and circling above them. His niece had come a long way from the shy, demure young girl he remembered from his last visit to his brother's family, who more often than not hid herself away in her books. Now she was a stunningly beautiful and confident young lady, whose brilliance, intelligence and compassion shone through.
Daniel chuckled to himself. Harry seemed to have a knack for attracting the attention of such young women. His eyes wandered across the rest of the group. Fleur Delacour would always stand out, as she was beauty defined. There had been times when he'd found himself just watching her, enthralled by her beauty for a few moments. But as she got closer and closer to Harry, those moments became less often. Effortlessly elegant, she had also shown that her wit was as great as her beauty. And her defence of Harry that one time… Daniel had been forced at points to play the 'Bad Guy' with their training, especially with Harry. As the lead member, he had to remain focused on the goal, not react to the enemy's taunts and threats. It had been something that Daniel had picked up on early on: Harry was deathly afraid of those around him getting hurt, or worse, due to their association with him. It was something that a canny foe would exploit, and so Daniel had had to tackle the issue head on: there was no time for gentler, more subtle methods. It had been, difficult, as he truly liked the young man, but it had to be done. But an unexpected side effect of the process had been to draw out the girls own protective instincts for Harry. All six of them had been much more aggressive about it, but Fleur had been something else.
It had been a massive shock to him when, the one time, she had come at him in an almost berserker like state, her body changing even as she hurled herself at him. Fingers had turned to claws, eyes narrowed and great feathered wings had sprouted from her back, while honest to god flames had wreathed her arms and hands, occasionally lobbed at him in the form of fireballs. It had taken Harry to call her off: Daniel had been playing defensive, as he didn't want to hurt her. It had been clear in her altered eyes that Fleur had been horrified at her change, before she had fled into the forests. Harry had followed while the others had filled him in on Fleur's nature. When the two had returned, Fleur back in her normal form, she had apologised but Daniel had waved that off: for what he had to do with Harry, it was deserved. He'd also complimented her on the powers, but she had to learn control. The two had worked some more independently on her maintaining focus and control even while transformed. From what he'd heard, the magical animagus training had helped her as well.
Of course, the others were not slouches in the beauty department either. Both Daphne and Susan each filled one of the 'classic' ideals of beautiful women, the 'Swedish Blonde' and the 'Buxom Redhead'. Daphne's grace and elegance was second only to Fleur, while Susan's figure was well toned as well as full. Both however were brilliant in their own right, though he would always say Hermione was the true genius in the group. But then, she was his niece.
Luna had seemingly slotted in perfectly as a little sister to Harry, the two understood each other, even on the increasingly rare occasions when she would say something completely off the wall or obscure. It normally took a lot of thought to work out just she was talking about when she got into that mood. Daniel had sensed early on the fragile state she was in, but in this Luna was truly in luck. She was surrounded by people who cared for and loved her, allowing her to find her own strength and her feet once more. He could just tell that anyone trying to get close to her – and well they might, as she was blossoming into an attractive young woman in her own right – would have a lot of very intelligent and powerful people watching them closely. He doubted than anyone who even thought about doing her harm would find themselves in a world of hurt.
Slightly apart from that group was the young couple of Neville and Hannah. Young Neville had become as close as a brother to Harry, something the boy badly needed. They both did, really. Daniel had had to work Neville hard at first to get him to stand up for himself, but there was a core of steel within him. The problem had been that Neville hadn't known, or believed, that it existed. Young Hannah was clearly a good match for him, as her cheerful, outgoing personality helped bring the reclusive Neville out of his shell without making it a war. She gentle coaxed him out, rather than dragged him. She'd had the most trouble at first focusing on things, and even now was the most reluctant to engage in conflict. But she could hold her own, and that was enough for now, as Neville fought well enough for three others.
"You look pleased with yourself."
Daniel turned his head to regard the woman approaching him. Narcissa Black had also come quite a way from how she'd been when they first met. Some extra flesh had been layered over her figure, though she would always be slender. The paleness of her skin had given way to a healthier light tan, and while she still moved with grace, she'd dropped the forced perfectionism that had lingered for a while. Her new life appeared to agree with her.
"Just contemplating the Gang." He nodded towards the group who were disappearing into the tree line. Narcissa stopped besides him, her eyes on the small figures.
"Yes, they have come on a lot since they came here." She mused. Daniel took a moment to look at her once more. The skin of her jaw and neck had filled out, giving her a more natural, graceful look. Her brow had relaxed, the blond hair falling more freely. Early on she'd maintained tightly drawn hairstyles, but as of late she'd relaxed that.
"As have you. And your sister."
Narcissa nodded in reply. Bellatrix had changed the most since they had all moved to Potter Manor. The formerly gaunt, almost withered woman had regained a measure of her youthful figure, though she suspected the marks of Azkaban and service to Voldemort would forever haunt her. Her frame was more wiry than skeletal now, and her hair had regained some lustre. The largest change had been in her eyes though. Now they danced with a little light once more, instead of being filled with pain, malice or fear. Narcissa suspected that Bella still held herself accountable for what she'd done while a servant of Voldemort, but at least she no longer seemed suicidal. What would happen after Voldemorts was defeated though… she couldn't fathom.
"It's a very… relaxing and soothing place. I can almost feel the protectiveness of the grounds wards." She turned her head partly to look back at him. "I felt most safe last night though."
Daniel shifted as a slight tinge filled his cheeks. The two of them had sat down for a simple late meal together, as they had both been kept away from the main family meal for their own reasons: he'd been hip deep in welding the Military Team into an effective force, while Narcissa had been going over the Wizengamont's billings. It hadn't been planned, but the two had eating together, talking about a range of subjects. Daniel had been surprised at how easily he'd been able to talk with the witch, as normally he'd struggled with the opposite sex. Only Emma, his brother's wife, could he converse with freely normally.
"You're welcome. I enjoyed your company as well." Narcissa smiled shyly, emotions she hadn't felt since she'd been a teenager rising within her. "It's nice to relax and slow down once in a while." Daniel continued.
"Hmm, I have to agree." She looked at him a bit closer. "So… what's next on your agenda?"
Daniel half shrugged. "Well, I need to go over some deployment plans with the force, look over the Potter's old plane my son's been raving about…" He looked at her, a slow smile forming as he saw the fading look in her eyes, the slight tremble of her lips. "…But I'm sure I can make time for lunch with a lady, if she wishes it." He said as he offered his arm to her.
Narcissa's smile returned full force as she threaded her arm through his, accepting the invitation. "I'd be delighted."
Sitting on the bank of the stream, Katie sighed softly. 'Mum would have loved it here.' She thought morosely. 'She'd have loved the history of this place…'
A single tear tracked down her cheek as Katie thought about her murdered parents. Their funeral had been earlier in the day, driving home that they were gone. And though in her head she knew it wasn't true, in her heart she felt so alone. The others tried to help her – her teammates, Harry's expanded family – but they couldn't touch her deep enough.
The twins had been sombre, for them, for most of the day. But as the afternoon wore on their natural exuberance had broken free. Their tricks and gags had lifted her spirits a bit. For a little while.
Thoughts of her parents drifted back in. Her mother had been a history teacher, while her father an architect. Both would have been thrilled to visit Potter Manor she mused. Her mother for the history that was so ingrained into the place you could almost touch it. Her father would have found the buildings fascinating. The way the Potters had over the years reworked what would have been an austere barracks into a welcoming, comfortable home…
Feeling an upsurge of grief, Katie fought back tears as she grabbed the broom that lay to her side. Mounting it, she took to the skies, losing herself in the feel of the air rushing over her face, sending her tears trailing back. Shooting into the sky, she immersed herself in her flying, leaving all her worries and fears behind on the ground. Pushing her broom to the limit, she flew about as if she were playing a match, only without the other players or the balls involved.
After some time she pulled back on the handle, bringing the broom to a hover. Breathing heavily Katie pushed her hair back, feeling the first beading of sweat on her brow. The flight had been a release, an escape from her depression, no she was loath to end. Sitting back she looked around.
Below her feet Potter Manor was spread out in all its glory under the summer sun. It was only from the air that one truly realised the scale of the grounds. From here she could see almost all the buildings that made up the manor. The Bones manor rose up to her right, while to her left the glass roof of the refurbished Greengrass home shone in the sun. Just to the side of her left knee the Potter's artificial cove shimmered, gentle waves lapped at the pale sand ahead. On the rocky outcropping she had a good view of the ruined watchtower that stood on the top, clearly once a sentinel that looked out over the valley behind her. Further out to her left the M25 was a rippling, multi-coloured thread the roar of the engines muted partly by distance but mostly by one set of the wards that protected the manor. Those same wards kept her safe from view, or rather notice. From what had been explained to them when they first moved here, instead of the much more common Muggle repelling wards, Potter Manor used a ward that acted more like a 'Notice-Me-Not' charm instead. People outside them could see her on her broom if they looked, but the sight would not register.
To her right the expanse of the Monkswood Forest stretched out to the horizon, a sea of green treetops and waving branches. Just at the limits of her vision she could make out the first elements of the city of London. A couple of roofs poked up out the forest, but by and large the land was dominated by the trees.
Nearer to hand however was a open region of grass, set on the slope of a shallow hill, the rear edge boarding the extent of the property. Small white, grey and black marks were scattered over the hillside, which had a commanding view of the manor grounds. Katie shivered in spite of the summer sun shining down. That area was the ancestral graveyard for the Potter family. Generations of Potters, and those close to them, were buried there. The family didn't go up there much, though there had been one mass visit a couple of weeks after they had all moved in. Lupin and Harry had carried between them a marker stone, and laid it down beside the grave of his father, James Potter. Lacking a body to bury, it had been the only way for them to say goodbye to Sirius Black, Harry's godfather and the one who had been the instrument of the Potter Family rebuilding itself. Despite her own grief, it had been heart rendering to see Harry make his goodbyes, to say nothing of Professor Lupins. The poor man had broken down beside the marker, clearly lamenting the loss of his last childhood friend.
Most disturbing of all had been Lily Potter's breakdown at the grave of her husband. Normally she was so poised, so collected and self-assured. To see such a strong woman drop to her knees in tears, tracing with a finger the engraved name in the headstone, which had clearly been out there for years... It brought home just how much this family had been hurt that night. For the first time Katie saw the truth behind the 'Boy-Who-Lived' myth. There was nothing to celebrate about Halloween, not for this family.
A noise intruded into her thoughts, breaking her away from her gloom. Looking around, Katie realised that it had been growing for a little while, but she'd not paid any attention to it. Motion out of the corner of her eye made her turn to look up... and she smiled slightly in reflex, the tension in her muscles easing. It was then that she recognised the sound.
The easily recognisable shape of a Spitfire was approaching. The noise had been the sound of its Rolls Royce Merlin engine. It had given the Pure-blooded in their number a chuckle when that little fact had been mentioned around them. The famous fighter changed direction slightly, and Katie watched as it began to bank round. The sunlight played across the aircrafts skin, the RAF insignia proudly displayed.
As she watched the plane, Katie's smile widened a bit more. Richard Granger had kept himself in the background, but he'd been a wonderful new friend. He'd been much more approachable than any of the other adults around. Only Lily was better, but her time was taken up with her own son and Luna, her duties in the government, managing the Potter estate, and recently her attempt to modernise the Muggle Studies course at Hogwarts. Richard however... his only real duty had been doing the training course to fly the old fighter... which he'd passed a week ago. Since then, he'd been up almost every day, getting the feel for the old but lovingly maintained fighter.
Surprisingly for her, the two of them had gotten on extremely well, easily able to spend hours just talking about anything and everything. While he was most interested to hear about Hogwarts and his cousins time and experience's there, he'd also been interested in her. For her part, Katie had been enthralled with his life, how he'd pushed himself to make it into the RAF, the training he'd gone through to achieve his wings.
Acting on impulse, Katie kicked her broom to full speed, racing up on the slow moving aircraft. Coming up alongside, she slowed down a little to match speed. The roar of the engine cut off any other sound, but her attention was fixed on the cockpit. Within the canopy she could Richards head turn to regard her, and he waved. Smiling sultrily, Katie blew him a kiss in return, before rolling away.
Returning to the ground, Katie watched as Richard brought the spit around in a gentle bank before lining up with the grass lawn to the south of the manor itself. The plane's shadow flickered across the stream for an instant, then the forwards wheels touched the grass. The plane bobbed up a little before the wheels settled, the tail slowly lowering to greet the earth as well. The engine note changed as the plane slowed down to a crawl before the hanger. As she walked over Richard swung the Spitfire around on its right wheel, spinning it almost completely around to point back the way it had landed.
Walking forwards as the engine died, Katie watched as the canopy was pushed back. "Welcome back." She called as she got close enough to run a hand over the upper wing.
"Hey there." Richard called as he unbelted himself. Placing both hands on the rim to balance he lifted himself up and out of the pilots seat. It was a narrow space, when compared to the modern planes he'd trained on. As he did, Katie watched him intently, her eye's catching the way his arms flexed, even under the traditional flight jacket he wore.
"I've been meaning to ask." She said as she moved around the nose, her fingers brushing over the tri-bladed prop. "Why do you wear the old uniform when you fly this?"
Richard paused, one foot on the left wing, the other still in the cockpit, as he processed the answer. "Seemed the right thing to do, you know?" He finally answered as he finished getting out. "A way to honour the original owner of this beauty. And all the other pilots of them,"
"Well, it suits you…" Katie said quietly.
Richard looked at her curiously as he straightened from his jump down from the wing. The two of them had been getting closer over the last few weeks, no doubt about that. The others had seen it too. In fact, during the past week he'd had both Potters seek him out and warn him about breaking Katie Bell's heart. Truthfully Richard could not decide which of the two was scarier: Lily's constrained emotion or Harry's quiet intensity.
He'd admitted to himself a while back that he found the brunette witch very attractive. She wasn't as endowed as some of the other girls at the Manor – including his own cousin, though Richard tried hard not to think about Hermione like that! – but he personally thought that Katie had the perfect lines. Like the Spitfire, she was perfectly proportioned, with barely a trace of excess flesh. Unlike other girls her age though she didn't starve herself to achieve the look. In his opinion, it was better to have a little extra rather than not enough. Being able to count ribs at ten paces was not sexy, in his book. She also had a pretty face, with soft eyes set in gentle curves of lightly tanned, flawless skin.
More important than her looks however, was the person behind them. She was smart and witty, maybe not in the same field as Hermione but definitely not a dummy. And while most of the time she'd been depressed a little – quite understandable, given her recent loss – there had been several occasions when her real self, that of a lively, confident young woman, emerged.
Tossing his gloves and helmet up into the cockpit, Richard took a step forwards, before gently resting his hand on Katie's upper arm. Her head came up, hazel eyes meeting his caramel gaze. "Will you be okay?" He asked softly.
Katie's shoulders slumped as fresh tears welled up in her eyes. "I… I don't know." She said hesitantly, a lone tear running down her cheek. "I mean… It's just… I can't believe their… actually…"
"Shhhh." Richard enfolded the crying young woman into his arms, guiding her head to rest on his shoulder. Katie's arms snaked round him as a fresh bout of crying took hold over her. As she cried, she noticed something. Within the circle of this young pilot's arms, she felt safe. She had felt it before, but not this intensely. With him, she could take a step away from her pain.
Richard continued to hold her, one gently stroking the smooth skin at the top of her back, the edges of her shoulder blades only just touchable. A small part of his mind noted how well they fit together, how they were almost the same height, but he pushed that train of thought aside. This moment was about her pain, not his wandering thoughts.
After a few minutes her sobs died off. Pulling back a bit she straightened, using one hand to wipe away her remaining tears. "Thanks." She half whispered, her tone tinged with embarrassment.
Richard smiled faintly. "Any time." He replied softly. Katie looked up at him firstly in shock, then a small smile began to twitch the corners of her lips.
Neither of them spoke it aloud then. But both knew that their relationship had changed, deepened, with heights yet uncharted to come.
Ginny sighed as she latched her school truck closed. 'Hermione was right. Packing before the morning of leaving IS less stressful.' A wry smile formed on her lips. 'Surprise, surprise.'
Flopping back onto her bed, Ginny allowed her mind to wander back over the summer just gone. It certainly was a lot different than any previous summer… and very different from what she'd expected at the end of last term. Back then, before the events with Malfoy and his curse on Harry, she'd planned on having Harry around the Burrow for most of the Summer. Dreams and hopes, which she now knew had been planted and fuelled by her mother's desires, of catching his eye had been running wild in her mind.
Then the events of the last week of term had utterly crushed her, smashed those dreams and ruined her hopes. She'd started to spiral into a depression… one that she doubted she had the strength of will to climb out off if she had fallen.
Then the discovery of the remnant of Tom in her mind… that had shaken her, badly. But worse had been the discovery of her mother's manipulations. Ginny doubted she would ever trust her mother again now.
But there had been some happiness over the summer. The visits to Potter Manor to train after the Death Eater attack had been hard at first, but over time she'd manage to overcome her envy at the other witches. Especially Hermione. Another pang of guilt swept through the young redhead at how she had treated the older girl… no, young woman. She had been using her for her own ends, manipulating her... just like Tom Riddle had used and manipulated her.
A light knock on her door drew Ginny's thoughts out of those painful memories. "Ginny, can I have a word?"
"Sure dad." She replied, sitting up as she did.
Arthur Weasley stepped in, pushing the door closed as he did. As he turned back to her, Ginny was struck at just how old her father looked at that moment. The issues with Ron and Molly, the 'discussion' at Potter Manor over his new job, the war in general... it was all taking it's toll on him. There was more than a hint of grey creeping into his hair, the lines on his face deepened. Even the way his moved spoke of weariness. As he settled down next to her Arthur's eyes wandered around her room. Ginny felt a blush creep up her skin: the bare areas where she'd used to have her 'Boy-Who-Lived' posters and the like were painfully obvious. Having seen for herself Harry's true nature – without the overlay of her artificial affections – she had realised just how false that image was of Harry, and how it demeaned him and his family.
A small smile broke onto Arthur's face when his eyes landed on Ginny's school truck. "All packed for the morning then?"
"Yes daddy. I guess spending half the summer with Hermione and the others has rubbed off a bit." There had been a tiny pause before she said the others girl's man, but Arthur decided not to call her on it. The look on his daughters face told she too had noticed, and was happy with herself for it.
"Good. At least now we only have to get Ronald packed." A silence fell between them as they thought about the youngest Weasley male. After a few moments, Arthur took a deep breath. "Ginny… I need you to do something for me, while you're at Hogwarts."
Ginny looked at him worriedly. This sounded bad.
Arthur looked her straight in the eye. "I need you to keep an eye on your brother." Seeing the confusion on her eyes, he explained. "You know, just as well as I, that there's something very wrong with Ronald right now. But for the life of me I can't put my figure on just it is."
Ginny nodded in response. She too could not quite work out just what was wrong with her brother. He seemed to regress to a child-like mentality earlier in the summer, but as of late he seemed to have regained his mental maturity. But he'd also changed, and not for the better. There was a coldness to him now, an emotionless way that was just not Ron. His eyes… seemed dead whenever she looked into them. She refocused her attention on her father.
"I can't shake the feeling that there's something more going on in him, and that we've not seen everything just yet. I need you to watch him, track his changes… and alert McGonagall if things start to get out of hand."
Ginny nodded firmly now. "I will dad. There's something very wrong with him. Sometimes…" She shivered involuntary. "…When he looks at me, I feel that it's his body, but something else is looking through his eyes."
In the hall outside, hidden the shadows, the figure of Ronald Weasley stood silently, listening carefully to their every word.
"You all right Harry?"
Harry gingerly pushed with his arms, lifting his head from Susan's shoulder to look down at her. "Just… let me… get my… breath back." He gasped out.
"Susan, you're supposed to wait until after marriage before you kill him!" Daphne mock scolded the redhead from the side.
"Mmmm…but what a way to go." Fleur drawled sultrily. "Squeezed to death between a sexy woman's thighs at ze height of passion."
Soft laughter filled the bedroom as Harry drew himself out of and off Susan, who continued to lay on his bed, a blush filling her cheeks. She did allow her left leg to drop down, allowing him to roll off her onto his side. Across from him, Hermione and Daphne sat cuddled into each other, while towards the foot of the bed Tracy sat up on her side, watching. Like the others, her own preferences had emerged as they had spent time together. Tracy was more of a watcher, sitting back slightly and enjoying the spectacle. She participated eagerly when approached or it was just her and Harry, but in group sessions like now, she liked to watch.
As he settled onto his side, Harry felt a delicate arm snake round his waist as full breasts pressed against his shoulder blades. "I'm going to miss 'his…" Fleur half murmured as she muzzled his neck. "So many months… alone in bed…" There was longing in her tone.
"We know Fleur." Daphne said softly. "These last few weeks have been… Harry?" She paused seeing Harry's face twitch.
"Yes?" Harry answered innocently. At least, he tried to.
"Harry, you know we can read you like a book now." Hermione gently scolded, though her tone was filled with affection. "What are you up to? Don't make us force you to tell us..." Fleur ran her tongue up the side of Harry's neck in time with Hermione's words, prompting a shiver from the young man.
"Okay, okay. Well, remember I talked with Professor McGonagall the other day, about my classes?" At their nods he pushed on. "Well, I'll be taking the catch up Runes OWL in addition to my other classes..." he had to pause at the looks of pleased surprise on the girls faces. "Hey, after seeing how they're used all around us, I really ought to know at least the basics. Anyway, we got talking about tutors, not just for Runes but in general. There's still a lot of things I need to know. Hogwarts, in earlier days, used to have classes for things like finance, politics and the like. Well…" Now a smile began to form on his face. "…Between us we agreed that I would need a tutor in business finances, to properly manage the Potter and Black estates. And our first choice for tutor is you, Miss Delacour. The offer comes with full Hogwarts board, including a room in our married quarter's suite…"
Harry couldn't finish his sentence as he was suddenly pulled backwards. The warmth of Fleur's hold vanished just before he was rolled onto his back. A pair of lips almost crashed onto his before any sound could escape him. From the soft fullness he recognised them as Fleurs.
A dry chuckle escaped Daphne's throat as she watched Fleur aggressively kiss Harry passionately. "I think we can take that as her acceptance of the role."
"So our routine's going to remain?" Tracy asked, her eyes fixed on the coupling pair as Fleur swung a leg over Harry. One of her hands had slipped between her legs, while the other hefted her breast.
"Oh, yes. Certainly if I have any say in it." Hermione answered Tracy, her breathing quickening as Fleur gave a small gasp, one that only she made, and only when Harry was sheathed within her.
Susan grinned mischievously. "And as the future Lady Potter, your word carries a lot of weight."
Hermione playfully swatted Susan's still upraised knee. "We're all equal Susan. You know that."
"Oh I do." Susan replied, rolling over to snuggle against the other two, her hand reaching out to burrow into Hermione's hair. Exerting a gentle pressure, she pulled Hermione's head down. "And as such, I need some loving too."
Daphne smiled as she watched her two best friends kiss each other passionately. Hogwarts, the War, everything outside this room could wait till the dawn.
A/N: My plan is next chapter will deal with the trip to Hogwarts and the welcome feast. I hope to be able to complete it in time for Christmas... wish me luck.