A/N: Hello world! Miss me?

All joking aside, I'm sorry for the long gap between this chapter and last. I know it's trite, but it's all I can say.

What really annoys me is that I can't really define why there's been such a delay. The will and desire was there, the ideas and plot... yet everytime I sat down to try and write up some more, it just didn't flow. My creativity has been almost gone these last few months. Not just in writing, but in all my other creative pursuits. Minatures, drawing, game modding... it's all been dead.

Any how... Onto this chapter. To be honest... I'm not completely happy with it. It was put together a bit at a time, and is more 'filler' than anything... but does lead to one of the first major events of the school year, one that I've had planned since the start. Maybe one day I'll go over and rewrite this...

In any case, hope you enjoy this, and Happy Christmas!

Chapter 46: Settling in, Playing with Fire

The next morning, Harry woke up to a sea of brown hair. Smiling lightly, he gently drew the figure lying in front of him tighter to his body, prompting a delighted moan from her. Leaning forward, he gently kissed Hermione's temple, just above her ear. "Morning my dear. Sleep well?"

"Umm… very." After a few moments Hermione sighed deeply. "Harry… about yesterday…" She begun.

"Hermione." Harry softly cut her off, running one hand up her arm. "You were not at fault. It was just bad timing, what with us all returning to Hogwarts the day before. Resuming classes after our summer…"

Hermione smiled happily at his words. Harry was right: it was just rotten luck that her period would coincide with their return to Hogwarts. The first day of any new school year was always stressful, particularly for her. And with the radically altered summer they had just had… adjusting back to the pace of life within Hogwarts was a shock.

But the shock was wearing off now, and with it her balance. She tightened her hold on his arm that wrapped round her waist from underneath. "What did I do to ever deserve you Harry?"

Even though she couldn't see him, she could easily picture the sheepish grin on his face. "I ask that question regarding you and the others every single day."

"Oh Harry…" Hermione sighed as she leaned back into him, drawing comfort from his solid presence. She had always felt safe and protected when close to him. She knew, deep down, that anything that threatened her safety had to get through him first… and Harry was a most formidable barrier indeed.

Her smile broadened as she felt his lips pressed against her temple once more. But then he lingered, gently trailing them down to her ear, then down the curve of her neck. A sound that could have been mistaken for a purr escaped her throat as she tipped her head a bit to give him better access. His free arm trailed down her body, lighting brushing her hip before touching her knee. She could feel his eagerness pressing against her posterior, even as that hand started to move up her thigh, caressing her skin as it slipped under the hem of her nightdress…

That moan turned into a sigh. "Harry… I'm sorry, but… not now."

Harry paused in his ministrations, before lifting his head enough to speak softly in her ear. "Hermione?"

His breath sent rippled through her, but Hermione focused past them. "I'm sorry, but right now… It'd just be too uncomfortable for me to enjoy it." Feeling him draw back a bit, Hermione rolled over to face him, her regret and apology clear in her eyes. "It's not that I'm unwilling, but…"

Harry however just smiled lightly and kissed her softly, derailing her thoughts. "I think I understand. And I'm not angry. I guess… after all the action lately…"

Hermione giggled as the tension within her eased. "We have been acting a bit like rabbits in heat, haven't we?"

"And not just us. Susan and Daphne are just as bad. And as for Fleur…"

A faint blush tinged both their cheeks. Of all the women in the family, Fleur was in a league of her own when it came to passion. While her main desire was for Harry as expected, she was more than willing to engage in imimate acts with the other young women. Long talks with her, as a group, had eased the few concerns that had arisen within the others. It was part of her veela nature, though that did not completely cover it. Her French upbringing was also much more relaxed about sexual matters than the British raised girls. Indeed, her actions had allowed them all to loosen up with each other as well, explore areas of intimacy that they might have shied away from otherwise.

Without a doubt, they all much preferred to be with Harry… but they now also enjoyed being with each other.

Heaving a sigh, Harry sat up, caressing Hermione's shoulder one last time as he did. "Have a lie in this morning Hermione. Take it easy for now."

Hermione looked up at him. "Harry… I can still… you know…" Her eyes darted to his crotch for a moment. "… at least give you some release…"

Smiling gently, Harry used one finger to close her jaw. "You don't have to do that Hermione. I know how you feel about that act." Hermione flushed again. It was true: she was not a fan of oral sex. It made a nice change now and again, but it wasn't something she really enjoyed. Her thoughts stilled when Harry leaned forward to kiss her forehead once more. "You just have a lazy morning, and I'll see you in Transfiguration."

As he stepped into the shower Hermione allowed herself to stretch out and relax in the large bed, rolling onto her back as she did. A happy smile creased her face. 'What did I ever do to deserve such an understanding, thoughtful young man?' Harry's display of maturity and restraint just endeared him even more to her.

A soft 'thump' drew her attention, and she glanced down to see a familiar squashed face trot up. "Crookshanks…" she greeted her Familiar as the orange-ginger part kneasle rubbed against her face, his purring filling her ears. Stroking his fur, Hermione allowed herself to relax, feeling all the tension and stress fade away.

When Harry emerged from the en-suite bathroom he smiled at the sight before him. Hermione was sprawled out on the bed, her face and body relaxed. Crookshanks was nestled next to her head, curled into a round, orange ball of fur. One yellow eye eased open as Harry settled onto the bed, watching him intently.

"Don't worry Crookshanks." Harry said softly as he stroked the part-kneasles back, eliciting a purr from the cat. "I don't want to wake her either." Quietly pulling on his clothes, Harry paused for a moment before bending over to lay a gentle kiss on Hermione's brow. Her reaction was a little shifting of her body and a low, throaty sound of happiness, though her eyes remained closed.

Smiling fondly, Harry made his way down the stairs to the living area. The sight that greeted him when he reached the bottom caused him to pause in contemplation. Sat with their backs to him, talking between themselves, were the blondes in their 'family': Daphne, Luna and Fleur.

Harry found himself taking note of the different shades of blond hair before him. Like most young men, he'd only ever really thought that there was one 'blond' colour for hair. But before him were three very different shades, each different… and each also 'blond'. Daphne's was the most yellow of the three, that of sun bleached corn. Her hair was worn short, just brushing her shoulders. Luna, sat in the middle, wore her pale hair down to mid-back, loose and free, but not as straggly as it had been in the past. The care and attention of his mum had clearly helped the young, sheltered girl. Fleur, by contrast, had her hair trailing down to her hips, a long tail of nearly white strands, which put him in mind of the colour of pearls. Fortunately, the tone of her hair was distinctly different from Malfoy's.

How long he stood there, on the bottom step, just watching the three, Harry would never know. But it seemed no time at all that a bug-eyed lizard head with curled, twisted horns popped up over Luna's shoulder, looking at him. Luna's pet Terror, Gobbler.

"Morning Harry." Luna called out, without turning her head around. "Sleep well?"

Smiling, Harry stepped over to the three, meeting the gaze of both Daphne and Fleur as he did. "Quite well, thanks Luna." He stopped next to Fleur's chair. "What of my French flower?" He asked with a crooked grin.

Fleur grinned even as a blush reddened her cheeks. "Oh you are certainly getting better, Harry." She replied before pulling his head down for a morning kiss.

Once Fleur had released him, Harry dropped a kiss on Luna's temple while giving Gobbler a chin scratch – being careful not to scratch at the back of the jaw, which would have made the little dragon fall asleep in an instant - before facing Daphne. "And you?"

"Quite well, I must say." Daphne replied with a heartfelt, if small smile. She allowed him to sit down between herself and Luna before leaning forward for her kiss. As she drew back her eyes tracked back to the stairs he'd come down from. "How's Hermione?"

"Better." Harry answered, just before a plate with bacon, egg and hash browns appeared before him, along with a tall glass of apple juice. "Thank you Dobby." He called into the thin air before facing her again. "She's feeling a bit guilty about how she acted, but I think I helped her over it. I told her to have a bit of a lie in this morning. Take it easy."

Daphne nodded, touched at his thoughtfulness. Even now, Harry Potter still continued to amaze her.

On his other side Luna sighed. "I, however, need to be going. Ancient Runes." Holding Gobbler close Luna stood up, her free arm dropping to grab hold of her book bag. The little dragon crooned as he laid his head on her shoulder. Her progress out of the room was halted by Harry putting his arm before her.

Harry swallowed before speaking to the younger blond who he regarded as a younger sister. "Remember Luna, we're here for you. If anyone gives you trouble… though I'm sure Gobbler will leap to your defence quickly enough." He finished with a cheeky grin.

Luna smiled brightly. "Oh, I know he will." Her eyes glimmered slightly. "Thank you Harry." She said softly before almost skipping out the doorway.

"I hope she'll be okay." Daphne said softly, her eyes on the closing door. "I think yesterday everyone else was still in shock… seeing her with Gobbler."

"Well… he does make an impression." Harry replied, his mouth twisting into a smile as he thought about how they had found the little dragon, and how he'd introduced himself to Seamus at the Welcoming Feast.

When Hermione came down from her lie in a couple of hours later, she was much more relaxed and calm. In only a couple of days, the 'Family' found themselves adapting to the daily routine of life at Hogwarts. Despite it not being Potter Manor, they all found themselves enjoying the interactions with their fellow students… some quite surprisingly. Zabini appeared to have taken what Daphne had said to him on board, as he stayed away from Malfoy and his group. Tracy reported that from what she'd seen, it was only the core group left now: several who had hung around the 'Death Nibblers' – as Harry liked to call them – were conspicuous in their absence.

Lavender was a surprise to them, especially Hermione. Were as in the past five year she had seemed set to fulfil the 'blonde bimbo' stereotype, Lavander had returned to Hogwarts this year much more focused and serious. She still laughed and giggled a lot, but there was a drive in her eyes that hadn't been there before.

Not that surprising however was the reactions of the other boys in their year group. Harry was on the end of several dark looks from them at first, Dean in particular looked very put out. Recalling that his former dorm mate had been cultivating a 'Ladies Man' image, Harry guessed that now Dean felt shown up by himself, what with having two of the three hottest girls in their year group around him all the time, along with the rising star that was Hermione. Not to mention Fleur. Fortunately, a few frank discussions with the other boys made them gradually back off, even start to relax and joke with the family.

The exception really was the Ravenclaws. Indeed, the upper three years of the House of the Smart seemed to be affronted by the whole family. Of course, the Ravens had had a reason to resent Hermione ever since she'd entered Hogwarts: she out performed them academically at every turn. Susan and Daphne had also been in close completion with them in their best fields, but now that they were working much more closely with the brunette genius, they too were rising above the Claws. Harry's work also showed a marked improvement, and it easy to see that he would likely continue to rise in the ranks.

Slytherin House appeared to be divided. On the one side were the Death Nibblers, led by Malfoy. While so far he'd been less verbose than other years, the hatred in his eyes whenever he met the gaze of Harry or the girls was, if anything, greater than ever. The other, far larger faction appeared to want to have nothing to do with either Draco or Harry's group, appearing to want to stay well out of it. Mostly it was the younger years, though they did have the seventh year prefects with them. Astoria had sounded this group out a little, and it seemed that the consensus was that none of them would mind Draco's little band disappearing.

Luna smiled happily as she almost skipped inside the castle after Herbology. These first two weeks of her fifth year had been the best two weeks of her entire Hogwarts experience thus far. Far more confident and relaxed within herself, Luna found everything brighter, cheerier. And it was down to having a loving family around her, friends who supported her. Not one single item of hers had gone missing, which certainly helped. She still mourned her father, but she knew that he'd want her to be happy, not brood and cut herself off from the world. And Harry, Lily, Hermione and the rest helped immensely, just by being there, offering their love and fellowship without strings or conditions or pressure. As such, Luna had found herself sinking deeper into the families embrace far more than she would have thought she would of.

Of course, another key factor was her familiar. Gobbler refused to be parted from her, insisting on coming to lessons with her. At first had caused some troubles, as the little dragon was not afraid to make his displeasure with those students who mocked or belittled her known. Snape had tried to have him confiscated – and knowing him, killed and rendered down into potion ingredients – but Gobbler would not let the potions master within five feet of him. The argument between Dumbledore and McGonagall had, apparently, been heard three floors away. In the end, a compromise had been reached; Gobbler had to stay within her book bag during lessons. If he came out and made mischief, he would be put down.

Snape however had not reckoned – or had forgotten – that Luna had several very bright and clever people who considered her family. Now her book bag had a 'Snorknack Pocket', a little pouch with a greatly expanded interior, in which the little dragon had plenty of room to curl up and doze while in the bag, without affecting the space she needed for her books and the like. Of course, Gobbler was also highly curious and nosy, and often he'd poke his head out of the bag, looking around as she either walked to class or was in lessons. Luna didn't mind: it helped remind her that he was there if she ever needed him.

To be far, he was also a hit with nearly all the other girls in the school, especially the younger years. They thought he was adorable.

Gobbler, naturally, lapped the attention up.

"Oh great, here's the loony. Potter let you out, or could he not stand your crazy any more?"

Then again, there were always exceptions.

Luna halted before turning her head to regard the three girls who stood in the corridor. These had been her biggest tormentors in Ravenclaw, she knew, but had never turned them in, partially because of fear of retaliation, but also because she truly felt that their actions were not really worth bothering about. But now Luna understood that because she'd not struck back, the three had only gotten worse, bolder.

Turning the other cheek was all well and good, but often bullies only understood power.

"Hello Marietta, almost didn't recognise you without your balaclava."

The central seventh year flushed red with anger. Luna noted that faintly visible on Edgecombes forehead 'SNEAK' could still be made out, paler against her flushed skin. She'd have to compliment Hermione on her spell work.

"That bitch had no right to jink that contract!"

Luna sighed. "Do you have anything insightful or meaningful to say? Or should I just assume the nargles have been nesting again?"

Marietta sneered. A very Malfoy-esq sneer Luna noted. "At least you know when you're not wanted. Ravenclaw house can finally hold its head high, with you no longer around to ruin the picture, babbling on about your crazy fantasies and imaginary creatures."

Luna tipped her head to one side slightly. "What makes you say that everything I said was false?"

"Please! Those creatures you kept on about… none of them exist!"

"The Crumple-Horned Snorknak does. So do the others, you just don't believe."

"Ha! I'll believe it when I see one with my own eyes!" Marietta almost snarled.

"You already have." Luna sing-songed, before undo the latch on her bag. Gobbler, who she'd felt had become agitated during the encounter, now stuck his head up and out, eyes narrowed at the three girls. All three recoiled as Luna pointed at the twin curled horns that spiralled from the back of the little dragons head. "See. Crumpled horns."

"T… That freak dragon-frog thing doesn't count!"

Gobbler clearly didn't like the comparison, as he hissed in reply.

"Everything all right here Luna?" Fleur's voice came from a side corridor, preceding the older blond as she stepped out to stand beside Luna. Gobbler crooned as she gave him a short stroke, though his eyes never left the three older Ravenclaws.

"Everything is fine here." Another voice came from behind Marietta, causing her face to twist into a smirk of triumph. From where she'd been stood further back in the corridor, hidden in the shadows, Cho Chang stepped forward, aggressively squaring herself against Fleur. "Just a little internal Hogwarts business. Nothing that a visiting… teacher, need concern herself with."

Fleur eyed the raven-haired Chinese girl curiously. "You were the one that Cedric took to the ball during the Tournament, aren't you?"

Cho stiffened, her eyes hardening. "I see you finally learned to speak properly."

"I've had some excellent coaches. My condolences about Cedric. He appeared to be a fine young man."

"I suppose you'd all about that. Least I know Cedric didn't fall for your… charms."

As Fleur bristled, Cho looked between the two of them. "You both really are two of a kind aren't you? Two misfits, both in exile. Why don't you both do the world a favour and just disappear? Potter deserves a proper witch, not a loony nor a beast."

Gobbler hissed once more, anger pouring over the familiar bond he had with Luna. Not that she was any better, as she could feel her temper rising. Fleur's eyes were narrowed, and Luna could see that her nails had lengthened and sharpened…

"Why don't we let Harry be the judge of who he want's around him, hm?"

Five sets of eyes snapped to the side, to see Lily Potter stood there, with an ultra-stern McGonagall and a heavily frowning Flitwick. From the corner of her eye, Luna could see how Cho and her friends all paled drastically.

"Professors! We were just…"

"We all saw, and heard, what you were just up to, Miss Chang." McGonagall said, her tone firm. "I have to say that I am very disappointed in you."

Lily, having stepped over to stand with Luna and Fleur, looked towards her fellow professors. "Can I leave these four in your capable hands Professors? I know Harry and the others were asking about Luna earlier. He worries easily about his adoptive sister." Her emerald green eyes levelled on Cho, the threat clear within them.

"Yes, you may indeed Lily." Flitwick spoke, his voice lacking any other of the usual warmth or humour that it normally contained.

As they passed the bullies, Gobbler let out one more hiss, before snuggling back into his pocket. From behind them, Luna heard Flitwicks voice bark out. "You four, my office, NOW!"

Emma Granger smiled happily as she watched her daughter. Hermione had certainly come a long way since she had been eleven… and it was all thanks to the presence of the young man she was currently in the middle of kissing passionately. Ever since her first day here at Hogwarts, Harry Potter had been central to her daughter's life, even more so after that first Halloween.

Of course, there had been others, Emma mused as she looked around the Potter family Common Room. Most of the other teens were watching the two with smiles and grins. All friends of Harry and Hermione. Gathered together to celebrate Hermione's birthday, something Emma knew had not happened in years previous. Harry had always been aware, and had gifted her precious daughter each year – aside from the first, but he could be excused from that – but most of the others had not known. Part of the blame for that was that Hermione had never really made a big fuss about it; her life before Hogwarts had been much more insular, with just her parents to celebrate with.

Now though, she had a much larger family, and a circle of friends to share it with. Harry and Lily had organised this after class event. For once Harry had convinced Hermione to leave homework for an evening, and just enjoy herself. Emma had backed him up, which had been the critical point in the agreement. Personally, Emma reckoned that Hermione was still a little shocked to see her, her father and her uncle here. It had been Lily who had thought up a way for them in get inside the castle, past the muggle-repelling wards. She'd used the 'Room of Requirement' – a seemingly actual magical room – to 'create' a doorway between the castle and their new home at Potter Manor.

A sudden squawking drew her attention, to see the Weasely Twins grinning at a five-foot, bright yellow canary, which was looking around in confusion. After a few moments the canary moulted, to reveal Tracy, who patted herself down before glaring at the two now laughing twins. Shaking her head, Emma sighed. Pranksters to the heart, even after Lily's little talk with them. Still, at least now they were not malicious about it, and with their shop, were turning their passion into a profitable business. Hermione was an intellectual genius, but those two were inventors of the highest order.

After Dobby brought forth the cake, presents began to emerge from pockets or from behind bags. Blushing bright red, Hermione found herself with an embarrassment of riches. But it was her reaction to Harry's gift – purchased way back in their first two weeks of the summer, that Emma was looking forward to seeing. Fancy inks and books were all well and good, but jewellery really did touch a womans heart. Harry already had her heart, truth be told, but Emma believed that the occasional gift only helped to show just how much one felt for another.

She was not disappointed.

It was clear that Hermione instantly recognised the shops logo on the protective box, as her jaw fell open. She hesitated, prompting others to urge to open it. Finally she lifted the lid, just enough for her to see within… and immediately whirled to face Harry.

"Harry! You shouldn't have!" She said incredulously.

Harry just smiled in reply. "I say how you looked at that. And after what you did – have done, over the last few years – for me, it's the least I could do."

Hermione wrapped her arms back around him. "I've already got everything I could ever want in repayment." She said huskily.

"True. But you deserve more." Harry laughed as he hugged her. "Truth is, without you I'd have been lost. I can't recall how many times you've saved my life, either by teaching me what I needed to know or just being there. So once more, thank you."

"Enough with the sweetness, though it is very sweet indeed." Lavender Brown spoke up. "But what has Harry got you Hermione?"

Blushing bright red, Hermione stepped back to the box. Hesitating only briefly, she removed the lid before reaching in. A chorus of gasps and croons followed when she lifted the Tiara out of the box. Even Emma, who had known what was within the box, was impressed. The tiara was made from spun silver, lightweight and airy in design, but with interwoven strands that gave it strength. The sapphire at the top, while small, was flawless. A couple of smaller diamonds bracketed the central gem.

"Merlin! Hermione, next time we have a ball, you have got wear that!" Lavender's eyes were wide as she stared at the gleaming silverwork in Hermione's hands. "You'll had the lads eyes popping out! They'll queue to dance!"

Hermione was bright red once more, but her eyes were dancing. "There's only one young man in my life." She replied, her eyes on Harry.

Deep within the Forbidden Forest, where the trees grew tall and dense, a hollow in the ground was the sight of an unusual meeting.

"Our kin grow ever hungrier. There is just not the meat we need."

"Agreed. If we don't find a source of meat soon, many of our kin will perish in the coming cold."

A mass of hissing amd clicking came from the throng that surrounded the central three beings. Long, multi-jointed legs waved in the gloomy air.

The third being spoke now. "Our numbers have grown beyond what we can sustain. A new nest must be established elsewhere."

The second waved a leg furiously. "And where would you suggest? Our hunters have roamed to the edges of this forest. Barren lands surround us. We are trapped."

The first, the largest, was silent for a moment. "There are that small group of two-legs to the east…"

"The armed four legs lie between us and that food." The second hissed, pincers clacking together. "Those prey have killed many of our kin. No, attempting to gain that food would only mean the loss of many more of our kin."

Silence fell, save the clanking of pincers, as the three 'leaders' thought.

"There is that other herd of food…" The third spoke slowly. "To the north. Hundreds, enough to feed our kin for many moons. Rich, succulent… We can all taste their flesh on the wind…"

The other two looked at the third. "Many are young… juicy flesh."

"There is the great beast close to them…" The second warned. "…but the flesh from that one would feed us many moons alone…"

"If we assemble our kin… we could easily…"

A sudden thud interrupted the first ones speech, prompting all three to jump and spin to face the deepest part of the hallow… were a natural earth cave was located. Slowly, a much more massive form emerged, legs like grey, haired tree limbs drawing the rounded bulk of the body further out, each footfall easily heard.

"No…" An array of milky-white eyes stared out blindly as the deep voice spoke. "The school… is not for feeding on. I promised Hagrid… we will never hurt the children."

"Father, our kin are dying! Starving! We must have food!"

The huge creature slammed a leg down. "I said no! We will not… prey on them. It is… Forbidden. You will not… hunt there…"

"Will you deny your sons and daughters food?"

"We will carry on… as we have always done. No human… will be harmed. This… is my decision." The huge creature backed into the cave, every movement slow and stiff.

The three largest watched their father retreat into his lair. Once all movement was hidden, they turned back to regard each other.

"He will not last many more moons."

"That is our father you speak of!"

"Our father is blinded by his 'promise' to a two-legger! To a prey creature!"

"But you heard him: the young prey is forbidden."

"For now. Once he has passed…"

"…Then we hunt, and take for ourselves, and our kin."

"Yes… agreed."